The Amber Thief

I ponder on the circumstances and events that have led to this, and of course, whether I would change anything. A bitter after taste is often left once the machinations of hindsight have taken place. It began two weeks ago on a Friday afternoon in the public bar of the Sir Henry Barclay Hotel in Heidleberg. The place was as hectic as ever and tradesmen, punters and the usual habitual drunks were competing for the bartender’s attention on the other side of the ‘jump’. I was the hapless fool attempting to keep up with their demands, scampering around like decapitated poultry. Paltry was my attempt, as there were just too many rasped throats and lolling tongues. Not to mention a wealth of bulbous noses, that much like road maps, exhibit epic capillary development.
I never have enjoyed the position of bartender and the mixed feelings involved as I promote the alcoholism of the average ‘Jo Blow’. My old man was a drunk and a violent one at that, and I could never quite come to terms with the lives and families I helped destroy… in order to fill the coffers of the greedy Publican. It is paying my way through university though, as self serving as this may sound.
This is what I recall of that day….
“Three pots of heavy mate, and make it quick will ya ! I am as dry as a nun’s nasty” roared the well mannered tradesman. He has to roar just to be heard above the din of a bar full of drunks, cigarette smoke, and the horse racing that blares out over the public address. The pub is organized so that you face the punters as you pour the beers, then place the frothing glasses neatly in a row on a towel that runs the length of the bar. You always ensure just the right amount of head crests the vessels, lest you wish curses and even the occasional object being hurled at you. On this day I do all of this as per usual, and thanking my customer for the money, turn my back to the clientele to face the cash register and conduct the transaction. I turn around once more to hand the customer his change and am soon confronted with an extremely angry fellow.
“Now you have charged me for three pots, haven’t you?” questioned the ‘gentleman’, his anger clearly seething away very close to the surface.
“ Yes that’s right Sir, that is what you asked for. ”
“ Then why the bloody hell do I only have two pots of beer in front of me you bald headed moron?” . This guy’s a real charmer.
Mean drunks are often belligerent but I try to not let it get the better of me. I have worked in many bars, and am adept at standing my ground trying duteously to develop a thick skin. Rapid thoughts pass through my mind as to what could have occurred, and you have to be wary of tricksters that wish to gain free beer.
Such is the guile of some of the desperate types I have met in this esteemed profession. As I know with absolute certainty I poured three glasses of beer, I quickly look around every where for the magical yet spectral beer. The aggrieved customer, a rather large bloke with his face growing ruddier by the second, stares aggressively. Scenes of Hiroshima flash by my imagination and on this occasion I am forced to abide by that nagging edict ‘ The customer is always right ’.
How I loath it!
I quickly pour another beer mystified by the odd turn of events, and hand it to the customer who simultaneously thanks me with
“ Are you daft mate, can you not count to three ? ” adding as he turns to his two mates standing nearby
“ Bloody hell fellows, they will give any one a job these days ! ”
Yes. Yes. Laugh away you pricks I think to myself, but I make a determination to get to the truth of this situation. I have that same crawling sense of frustration when something is misplaced that was held only a moment ago, and refuses to be found. Not to mention the bile that is remnant in my throat from certain acerbic comments. I busy myself with the ever pressing throng plying for my service and as is often the case when your mind is taken elsewhere, the gate is released and the waters of knowledge tumble down the spillway… with a flurry. All of a sudden it dawns on me, for it was only one hour earlier or approximately sixty customers ago that the first strange event for the shift took place. A dwarf had approached the bar requesting a glass of ale. He had stated that because of unfortunate times that had befallen him, he would be unable to pay for it. The dilemma in these instances are, that if I were to grant his request for a ‘freebie’ with so many regulars as witness, ‘Free for one, free for all !’ would be the catch cry howled from the rooftops. So with my best customer service voice I responded
“ Sorry mate ! Can’t do, if I give you a beer without charging for it, they will ALL want one. ” I remember stifling a laugh and thinking… there goes another happy customer.
With that little coin of information now firmly retrieved, I conduct a quick reconnoiter of the bar. Across a sea of patrons through the Benson and Hedges sponsored haze the answer to the mystery is revealed. Way over in the back corner is an adult of child like stature, sipping away on one of Carlton Draught’s finest. I turn to Lisa, the other bartender on duty who generally serves the lounge bar, and quietly enquire
“ See that fellow over there in the corner, did you pour him a beer ? ”
“ What ? The little guy ? ”
“ Yes him. ”
“ No ! ”
“ Are you sure ? ”
And losing her patience “ Yes, I am sure. No, I did not serve him. Don’t you think I would remember serving a little freak like that? ”
Lisa is not really known for her tact, and as I have ascertained the identity of the amber thief, so am I disinclined to answer the crass question. Setting off from behind the bar I intend to have what some may describe as an assertive discourse with my pilfering friend. I arrive at his table where he is obviously doing his level best to ignore my presence, and snatching the half empty glass of beer from under his nose, I commence thus…..
“ Out !! You bloody idiot ! Go on, piss off and don’t come back ! ”
“ Hey, give that back to me, that’s mine !” yelled the little man. I am surprised at how loud his response is, but quickly realize the cunning bugger is well versed in methods of attaining sympathy and playing the ruse. I get an uneasy feeling as all eyes avert to our corner of the pub. An all encompassing hush comes over the bar, and I can see concerned expressions across all of the patrons faces as they inwardly question ‘ Why is the bartender picking on someone half his size ? ’
I fear this is not going to be quite as smooth as first thought.
“You know what you did ! Your a thief, and if you want to go around stealing drinks…go do it elsewhere. Now get out before I call the police. ” I also speak loudly, with the hope the crowd will comprehend what has transpired. Wishful thinking really, as the alcohol unfailingly dulls the senses… as well as any logic. They only think they know what they see.
I walk away with the half empty glass, and as I get to the middle of the floor feel the light grasp of a tiny hand pulling at the sleeve of my arm holding the stolen property. Surrounded by all the customers I turn around to find the dwarf trying to regain ‘his’ beer, and just maybe some semblance of dignity. He should have taken up a career in the dramatic arts so skilled was his act, as he feigns persecution. I shrug off his hand that has grasped my arm and this is when Shakespeare himself would be proud. Dashed against the vomit stained, beer slopped, cigarette butted stinking floor of the Sir Henry Barclay Hotel… flopped the little man.
Indeed ‘ Fosbury ’ himself would have envied this guy’s expertise. Gasps of indignation break out every where, for SEE how the bully treats the dwarf.
Cries of ‘Gee aren’t you a tough guy! ’, ‘ Leave him alone you asshole ’ and ‘ Pick on somebody your own size ’ rattle through the pub. I appear to be on a slippery slope with things quickly getting out of hand. I guess I feel much like how Ned Kelly would have felt just prior to having his neck stretched. Only ‘Ned’ was no doubt more popular.
“Try it on all you like little man, but the only person you are conning is your small self. Now get up and get out ! ” I demanded of the prostrate purloiner.
I notice a strange quiet come over him as well as what I have commonly termed ‘Mad eyes’. ‘Mad eyes’ presents itself in the form of a fierce look whereby someone appears slightly unbalanced. You see it regularly in pubs. And so it seems I have hit a nerve. I don’t think the small, little, minute fellow enjoys the use of dimensional adjectives when referring to him. I make a mental note of this as my beloved mother’s words ‘If looks could kill !’ ring in my ears.
Shortly afterwards he finds himself relocated to the pavement out the front of the hotel. Back inside the idyllic atmosphere of the pub, I look at the clock on the mirrored wall behind the bar and it is only six o’clock in the evening. Four more hours of being subjected to constant questions and abuse from a bar full of angry drunks, before I can dim the lights and yell ‘Last drinks’. If only I could complete a university degree in two years instead of four.
So now I am back to near enough the present, in this dour tale of woe. I had never previously met this short person and you can imagine my surprise as when late on this very night whilst locking up, I sensed movement from the shadows. He advanced with startling speed, and quite frankly scared the crap out of me.
Dwarfs, midgets, little people, or perhaps the vertically challenged. I wonder what the politically correct way of referring to them is. No mind, if there is any justice in the world at all, I will eventually track down that devilish little person who purportedly goes by the name Arthur. He was wearing a Swiss hat complete with feather, black Beaumont braces and burgundy jodhpurs. Maybe I could approach the shoe shops in the area and enquire about funny hatted dwarfs who purchase black school shoes in the size a three year old child wears. I cannot describe the depth of ignominy I felt as the little fellow laid the Bata Scouts into me, whilst I lay bleeding to death on the ground.
All the time smiling with satisfaction.
There cannot be too many people around that fit this description.
Once I have recuperated I look forward to the opportunity of erasing that smile from his maniacal face. A face that will no doubt haunt my dreams… or should I say nightmares. It is difficult for my mind to resolve the eerily chilling way a person’s countenance can change from smiling civilian to psychotic killer… in a split second. Equally frightening was the glimpse I caught of the largest butcher’s knife I had ever seen. The way the stainless steel gleamed in the shop front fluorescent lighting, and the speed with which it was utilized. It was perversely surreal the way time had halted in that moment. Even as he plunged the dagger into me ‘et tu brute’ style…. I was unable to convince myself it was happening. I now know it was not a figment of my imagination.
As I lay in the emergency room of the Alfred Hospital under the influence of the morphine, I have time to reflect on events gone by…and actions I should have taken. The doctors work furiously to stem the bleeding and the worried looks on the nursing staff press home the seriousness of the situation. Curiously there is a strange inverse relationship taking place whereby the more panicked the staff appear, the calmer I feel….or could it be my life falling away as ‘mors mortis’ approaches.
Perhaps I was at fault and should have allowed that one SMALL concession of a free drink. Whoops ! ( I used one of those words again ) I must quickly look around for any vertically challenged nurses that may want to finish the deed. As often stated hind sight is all well and good if you enjoy the reed upon the back. I do not enjoy self flagellation. I do not believe in regrets, but regretfully feel that at this juncture whilst I float above the operating table, staring down at my lifeless body….. I have a ‘TINY’ wish of things being different. )
R.Mc.Mahon 11/06/2010

The Amber Thief


Melbourne, Australia

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