George was a staid English gentleman and creature of enduring well-established routine. Every day at precisely at six-o-clock he made himself, and anyone with him, an evening cocktail, then after dinner he would serve a glass of premium Laphroaig Scotch whisky. His before dinner cocktail was a special concoction which he called a “Trinity”. Daily he lovingly mixed it to the same unchanging recipe. George was not an alcoholic and never over imbibed he was merely happy with his routine, and enjoyed his tried and true evening pick-me-ups which he often referred to as his medicine. He bought his liquor wholesale by mail and parsimoniously stored it in a converted air-raid shelter under his home.
It was behavior like this which gave his family and friends the impression that George was a man of unchangeable demeanor. Some even extended their belief in his permanence to thinking that he, frankly, didn’t care where he lived as long as it afforded elegance and permanence. The deduction about his living arrangements derived from the fact that he lived in the same house for forty years, and had watching it gently morph to accommodate the whims of his three wives. He had never imposed his will on their demands except to insist that they not move and that the garden and wine cellar remain his private domains unsullied by female presence. But suddenly, after his retirement and his third wife had divorced him, he surprised everyone and sold his solid residence to buy an historic converted school house adjacent to a church-yard. Even his dogs were surprised by his move. When asked why he chose to uproot at this stage in his life he explained that the change was to give him a new garden to design.
County Durham is a gently undulating place and the site of George’s new home was no exception. It was perched on a hill so that you entered at the main level from the front garden but exited at the rear one level above the back garden. The site enabled the inclusion of a lower level basement under the house. The only access to this lower level was from a driveway which ran parallel to house on its west side. As is so common in England the drive was also a public right-of-way and provided a short cut to an adjacent row of homes and to the street on the north side of the church yard. With little hesitation George made this undercroft his cellar and stored his liquor here in the unchanging climate of a basement cave.
George quickly settled into his new home and as soon as he had the interior arranged to his liking he began to work on the gardens. He dug flower beds and vegetable beds, excavated ponds, constructed a greenhouse, and built stone walls. As time went on the garden began to take on his personality and he enjoyed the results. He re-established his regime, made his evening Trinities and drank his after dinner Laphroaig. Life was good he thought. But then a minor inconvenience assailed his calm, when he noticed that his whiskey cellar seemed to be decreasing faster than he was drinking.
At first this ordered man thought that he had made a mistake in his records. He calmly rechecked his accounts and made a new inventory. He checked the lock to his store-room cellar. Everything was in order, he returned to his garden and plants. But about a fortnight later when he went down for another bottle of whisky he found his supply to again be short one bottle. The storeroom was otherwise untouched and had the same musty smell and damp air. He deduced that someone was helping themselves to his supply probably doing so as they passed by on the right-of-way. He called out a locksmith and changed the lock and went on with his life in the belief that his problem was solved.
But his problem was not solved and when he went down to pick up another bottle for himself he found his supply to again be short by one bottle. This brought him to two ordered conclusions. First, that his visitor was undeterred by locks and second, that he drank at about the same rate as he did.
It is interesting to note that George never, for a moment, thought that his thefts were perpetrated by a woman. He always saw him as a man, a middle-aged man such as himself, one who had a refined taste and enjoyed a good Scotch, one who was restrained and resourceful one who could pick a lock with ease. A man George could admire. He never considered the occult and never wondered whether this unknown person might have so much in common with him and that, perhaps, they might become friends, No, true to his ordered personality George’s overriding concern was to protect his liquor and to stop the attrition. He evaluated his options. A new heavier duty lock might solve the problem but he thought that it was obvious that his visitor had already proved himself undeterred by locks and so he discounted this option.
George decided to test a new theory that his visitor was not a whisky drinker but merely fenced the stolen bottles for a little extra cash. He innately disliked this theory since his Scotch as exclusive brand of Laphroaig from the island of Islay. This whisky has a distinctive smoky character combined with notes of iodine, seaweed and salt. The distinctive flavor is derived from peat which is ascribed to the water from which the whiskey is made and to the peating levels of the barley. It is an acquired taste and is, to the uninitiated, almost medicinal in flavor, but to the connoisseur a precious elixir. He went to the village off-license liquor store to check their supply of Scotch. He wandered down the aisles looking at the store’s display. He talked to the salesman at the counter where he learnt that they didn’t carry Laphroaig or, indeed, any Whiskies from Islay – never had. To save face George bought a couple of less expensive popular blended whiskies.
When George got home he placed the inexpensive whiskies on the shelf from which his attrition was occurring. He wasn’t sure if he wanted his visitor to settle for what he considered an inferior product but he needed to know. He was almost happy when he next went down for a bottle to see the two bottles still standing where he had put them but then he started for the nearest bottle of Laphroaig had disappeared. George’s thief was a Scotch connoisseur.
George went to the local police station and made a report. He suggested to the desk sergeant that an analysis of the people who used the right-of-way ought to assist in solving the mystery. The houses to the south were fairly affluent and those to the north less so. He suggested that the thief had to be someone who travelled the right-of-way on a regular basis, perhaps every day. The desk sergeant grunted and told George to stick to the facts which he meticulously transcribed into a report.
George went away disappointed and decided to do some of his own sleuthing. Over the next three weeks he reworked all his garden beds along the right-of-way and scrutinized everyone who passed by. They all smiled at him, some paused to gossip about the weather while others merely responded to his greeting with similar greetings. When the gardens were completed George was no further along in his quest and when he went down to replenish his upstairs supply he again found that one bottle had gone. So, he thought, the perpetrator is doing it at night when I am in bed or on the mornings that I do my charity work.
Finally George smiled in glee for he thought that he knew the perfect solution. He hurried to his dust-bin and retrieved his last empty Laphroaig bottle. He carefully washed it and fitted it with a funnel from his kitchen drawer. Then he placed the assembly on the floor next to the toilet. Over the next few days he gleefully watched the bottle fill with a liquid which looked like whisky. When it was full to his satisfaction he screwed on a cap and patched the top to resemble an unopened bottle.
He went down to his cellar and was happy to find that the thief had not yet returned. He placed his prepared bottle on the shelf closest to the door in the place from which the pervious bottles had disappeared. George had tremendous self-control and did not inspect his cellar for over a week, but when he did so he was delighted to find that the prepared bottle had disappeared. He called his children to share in his macabre celebration. His pleasure was so great that he afforded himself two drams of whisky that evening.