Request for comment on a story posted on a personal website

I have used an urban legend to write a story meant to be posted on a personal website. It is supposed to be a funny story. Any reactions are welcome.
Thank you.

Here’s the story (1800 words):

Mr. Philip McCallister was a shrewd old man. He had a talent for manipulating people and making money out of nothing.

One day Mr. McCallister joined his latest acquaintance, Joseph Price, to an auction. Mr. McCallister had always been on his own and avoided any company but Joseph Price, who had a gentleman aura about him and looked young for his age, managed to access his inner circle due to two main reasons. First, his new friend was not a typical wealthy man whom Mr. McCallister could enjoy robbing of his money. Mr. Price’s retirement pension allowed him to lead a decent life, but he didn’t possess any belongings that could tempt a con artist like McCallister. And second, Mr. Price was an excellent Texas 42 player, which made Mr. McCallister, a proud Houston inhabitant, cultivate a relationship that could satisfy his only vice. Or so he thought.

Mr. Price used to make money by means of manual labor and had never participated in a public sale. In his opinion, auctions were a deceptive environment that could only degrade human nature. He would never have made use of such services except he had recently suffered a stroke attack and, in compliance with his physician’s counsel, had resolved to quit smoking. He was planning to sell his sterling silver cigarette case and hand the money over to his daughter, who struggled to complete a law degree.

Once he heard of Mr. Price’s intention, Mr. McCallister offered to accompany his friend out of sheer amusement. Public sales had always made him feel like a fish in the water. And when Mr. McCallister spotted the first item offered for auction, a box of Davidoff cigars, he decided he had to buy them. The starting price was $10,000.

“You’re bidding on the vintage Cuban cigars?” Mr. Price was horrified by his friend’s decision. “What are you going to do with them?”

“Have them, of course,” the old man smiled and held up his placard. “And probably smoke them in the meantime.”

Smoking had just become a dangerous habit for Mr. Price and to spend so much money on a single box of cigars sounded preposterous.

“You can’t eat your cake and have it,” Mr. Price muttered under his breath.

“Don’t worry,” Mr. McCallister whispered in his friend’s ear. “I know a way to enjoy these cigars and get my money back.”

Although he bought the box of Davidoff cigars for $15,000, the old man was quite excited about his purchase and felt like celebrating. He invited Mr. Price to dinner, but his friend had an errand to run.

“Don’t forget about our game tonight though,” Mr. McCallister said. “Do you reckon Claire could join us?”

Mr. Price paused.

“I’m afraid she resents Texas 42,” he put on his best poker face. “I’m sure we’ve talked about this before.”

Claire was his daughter and she loved 42 – she just abhorred Mr. McCallister.

“What if you mentioned I needed her legal advice?” The old man continued unperturbed as he placed his hand on Mr. Price’s shoulder. He was accustomed to his friend’s white lies. “I could really use Claire’s help with something, if she’s not too busy of course.”

“I’ll tell her,” Mr. Price accepted. The man knew his daughter enjoyed expressing her formal opinion regarding the substance or procedure of laws more than she hated his friend.

“All right.” Mr. McCallister gave Mr. Price a hard handshake. “Then, it’s settled.”

Niko Niko’s Greek was the best place to celebrate his acquisition, but the old man knew it was too late to make a reservation. He called Stavros on his cell phone.

“Of course you’re welcome, Mr. McCallister,” Stavros declared. “You don’t need a reservation.”

Stavros was an ambitious young man who used to work as a security officer at the residential complex Mr. McCallister lived in, but he decided to change careers when his wife became pregnant with twins. Now he had a job with an insurance company in the morning and worked as a waiter at night.

When Mr. McCallister entered the restaurant, the line had been out the door for over an hour and people in the queue cast on the old man malicious and furious looks. He had been lucky to get a good parking place too, which appeared to be the only drawback at Niko Niko’s Greek.

Although the restaurant brimmed with customers, the atmosphere was calm and relaxing. Everyone was having wine and enjoying conversation. Mr. McCallister had just finished his salad with Feta cheese when Stavros brought the Kooloumadas dessert.

“Nice Havanas, sir,” the young man pointed at the box of Davidoff cigars Mr. McCallister had placed on the table.

“I’ve just bought them for $15,000,” Mr. McCallister said rather distracted. “Look, Stavros. My friends and I are playing Texas 42 tonight and I was wondering if you could join us as a fourth player.”

“But of course, Mr. McCallister,” Stavros blurted out. Then he added in a more restrained tone: “I mean, yes, sir.”

Stavros had been looking for a way to make Mr. McCallister his client ever since he got his job with the insurance company and this sudden proposal seemed the perfect opportunity to approach the old man businesswise.

Stavros was surprised to see he was the first to arrive at Mr. McCallister’s place.

“My friends are a little late.” The old man gestured Stavros to sit at the 42 table, where the box of Davidoff cigars lay next to the dominos. “Have you seen my suite before?”

“No, sir.” The young man cast uncomfortable glances at the antiques and rich decorative accessories in the room. He mustered up his courage to bring up the subject he had come for: “Everything here looks so expensive. Forgive me if I ask you a rude question, Mr. McCallister, but are you insured?”

“Of course, I am,” the old man snorted. “Not only the apartment, but also every single item in it individually.”

“I see,” Stavros sounded disappointed. But then his eyes lit under a sudden spark of inspiration: “What about the Havanas?”

“What about them?” Mr. McCallister replied.

“You said you had just bought them for $15,000.” Stavros pointed at the box of Davidoff cigars on the table. “Aren’t you going to insure these too?”

“Oh, yes,” Mr. McCallister frowned and pulled a cigarette pack out of his pocket. “I was wondering if I could insure them against fire.”

“Fire?” The young man laughed. “But they’re meant to burn.”

“My friend we’re playing 42 with tonight,” Mr. McCallister’s voice trailed off. The cigarette jutted out between the first two fingers of his right hand and the book of matches in the other were shaking. Stavros felt the imperious urge to help the old man light his cigarette, but he was not a smoker. After a couple of fumbled tries, Mr. McCallister put everything back in his pocket and sat at the table. “My friend’s house has burned down in an overnight arson attack. And the perpetrator is still at large on account of his mental illness.”

“I’m sorry, Mr. McCallister,” Stavros shifted uneasily in his chair. “I think I can insure your Havanas against fire.”

The young man had brought the necessary papers with him. By the time Mr. Price and his daughter arrived, the standard contract had already been filled out and signed by both parties. Mr. McCallister was supposed to make his first premium payment by the end of the week, when a large sum of money entered his bank account.

Mr. McCallister was jovial all night long, although he and Stavros were constantly beaten by Mr. Price and his daughter. Once, the young man made a remark about the lenience arsonists were treated with, at which Mr. McCallister patted Mr. Price on the back. Claire eyed them both warily, but her father maintained his usual poker face. He suspected it was just one of the many tricks the old man used when he lost.

As soon as Stavros left, Mr. McCallister showed Claire the contract.

“This is what I wanted to ask you about,” he said. “Do you think there is a chance I should be paid if I smoked the cigars?”

“Technically, yes, since the cigars are insured against fire,” Claire had to admit. “But I would strongly recommend against it.”

By the end of the week, Mr. McCallister had smoked all the 24 Davidoff cigars in the box. Having still to make a single premium payment, the old man filed a claim against the insurance company. As a sequel to his original request, Claire agreed to counsel Mr. McCallister, who was going to represent himself before the judge. The insurance company denied McCallister’s right to any compensation given the fact that he had consumed the cigars in a normal fashion, but the judge was impressed with the rigor Mr. McCallister’s demand had been drawn up by his young assistant. In his claim, the old man stated that he had lost the cigars in a series of small fires.

“Mr. McCallister,” the judge spoke as he examined the contract. “You hold a legal policy from the company. The policy warrants that your cigars are insurable and guarantees that the cigars will be insured against fire, without defining what the firm considers to be unacceptable fire. I believe the insurance company is thereby obligated to compensate you for your loss.”

The firm’s lawyer was dissatisfied with the judge’s ruling, but the manager wasn’t willing to endure a lengthy and costly appeal. Thus, Mr. McCallister received $15,000 for the rare cigars he had lost in the fires. However, as soon as the old man cashed his check, the insurance company had him arrested on 24 accounts of arson. Mr. McCallister asked for Claire’s legal advice again, but she refused.

“I strongly advised you not to use this stratagem,” she said. “If the firm uses your insurance claim and your testimony from the previous case as evidence against you, you will be convicted of intentionally burning the rare cigars.”

Mr. Price’s daughter was right. The insurance company won and Mr. McCallister was sentenced to 24 consecutive one-year terms.
It’s been a year since Mr. McCallister was convicted but he’s planning to be released earlier based on good behavior. At his request, the old man’s suite is being looked after by Stavros, whose family has moved to his apartment on Mr. McCallister’s expenses. Despite the McCallister incident, the young man has been promoted within the firm and, due to his salary raise, he no longer has to work for Niko Niko’s Greek. Stavros sometimes enjoys dining out with his wife there and he never needs a reservation. The limited parking space remains a drawback though.

Well, I’d already heard a variation on the legend (man buys expensive cigars, insures them, smokes them, claims loss by fire, gets hit with arson charges) so I admit I glossed over a lot of the individual detail to get the end to see if that’s where you were going.

I guess I’m not the best judge. Too impatient.

I’m sorry, but there seemed to be a lot of unnecessary detail in the story:

  • sterling silver cigarette case
  • struggled to complete a law degree
  • Texas 42 player (I don’t know what this is)
  • Stavros was an ambitious young man who used to work as a security officer at the residential complex Mr. McCallister lived in, but he decided to change careers when his wife became pregnant with twins. Now he had a job with an insurance company in the morning and worked as a waiter at night.

Perhaps it would be better as a much shorter story (or you could add another twist of your own which brings in the aforementioned details.)

I, not having heard the legend, did get a smile out of it. However, I think it could be edited down to 1500 words easily, maybe even 1200, while maintaining the essence of the story, and would benefit from some judicious cutting.

As a former Houstonite myself, the Niko Niko reference made my day, though. :smiley:

Thank you for your reactions.

I should have mentioned the website is supposed to provide interesting reads for people whose purpose is to improve their English reading comprehension. In this context, 1500 words is the minimum length. The odd, the historical and the current are relatively covered. What the site misses badly is the funny. If I develop another urban legend into a story any time soon, I’ll post it in the same thread.

Best regards.

One note: the phrase but the judge was impressed with the rigor Mr. McCallister’s demand had been drawn up by his young assistant doesn’t parse very well.

Perhaps but the judge was impressed with the rigor with which Mr. McCallister’s demand had been drawn up by his young assistant?

Far too long for the punchline and the length leeches out all the humor. It can easily be cut to 500 words without losing anything important. The details are all a distraction and don’t any anything to the story. The speech comes across as stilted. As Pogo once put it, “Anyone left listening would have stopped by then.”

IIRC, the original joke probably runs about 300 words. There is a reason for that. As someone once said “brevity is the soul of wit.”