Perspective | A Prohibition Era Tale of the World’s Largest Runoff Manager
With apologies to Damon Runyon: One day, I am sitting at Bennie’s Bar on Forty-Sixth Street, wrapping myself around a cheese and onion omelet.
For quite some time, little of note is taking place, other than the second Dempsey-Tunney set-to, which many regard as being conducted not entirely as it should be.
In walks a character not seen on Broadway in 10 years, who goes by Nuggets, as in gold. Nuggets needs me to deliver a package to some dame in Bermuda, to urgently make square what until now is not square.
Nuggets enquires politely whether I will effect this delivery for him, which I decline since I am never comfortable far from Broadway and the world with which I am familiar.
He then reveals to me the business end of a John Roscoe he has hidden up his sleeve, and I conclude that a sea voyage might do me the world of good.
What happens in Bermuda is to a large degree unusual but not too extreme, at least while the action is in Bermuda. They have an arrangement down there, a proud old tradition whereby everyone is pleasant and alcoholic beverages are widely available.
We sail all night and arrive in Bermuda the next day, where we ride a dog-cart to a small cottage. Nuggets remains at a distance from the property while I deliver a package to a sweet little doll, with feet like mice.
Later that afternoon, Nuggets is all gussied up in a fine blue suit, with a stiff white collar and a tie like a migraine headache. Into our cabana stroll some citizens, fully clothed except for they wear no pants. Instead, they wear shorts and knee socks.
Nuggets is unmoved by this maladroit behavior, probably thinking that later, the no pants fellers will not even have the shirts on their backs, so what is a few pair of breeches, more or less?
He gives them the big hello and suggests I investigate the scenery. He leaves the door ajar, and I hear much of what follows.
The no pants guys are insurance jockeys, with plenty of coconuts of their own and also legal title to the coconuts of other people. Nuggets tells them that he will be running off with their hard-earned. I am certain he says this.
His exact words are: “We will enter into run-off.” I think I will enter into cardiac arrest. This upsets me more than the no breeches business.
It might take five years, Nuggets says, running off with the money before it is all gone. The no pants guys agree to give him a five-year start, which is sporting, although not, in my opinion, sensible.
They sign many documents. Nuggets talks about wiring something — I figure he is telling them he will be stealing their jalopies, too. A spot of back-slapping later, the no pants guys are taking the wind.
As we shove off for the return leg of our sea cruise in the dead of night, I ask Nuggets for an outline of what is recently taking place. He explains that he is now the owner of an insurance company, as agent for some egghead already in the racket who must remain anonymous.
Then he explains that further questions might damage my health.
And that is really all there is to tell of what happens in Bermuda, except that I read, a few years later, that Nuggets becomes what the blats call “the largest run-off manager in the world,” in Bermuda, and he is never arrested for it. &