I had been sitting for close to an hour in the empty bar when he lumbered in through the swivel doors. He was short, rotund and fat with a protruding belly that led the way while he brought up the rear. I watched him pause at the threshold while he reconnitered the empty bar. A rueful expression seemed to mar his facial features; he had matting his chin, a stubby two-day growth of beard, unkept and haggard. There was just myself and the barman who lolled behind his desk with half shut eyes. He clicked open an eye, studied the stranger and then shut it again; he'd probably found the fat stranger uninteresting. Anyway, the stranger seemed to make up his mind finally. He came towards my table and hoisted himself on a stool facing me; his belly rested firmly on his knees; it looked like a can of rubbish.
"Hi ya, fella" he asked with an oily smile. He had a missing front tooth that somehow reminded me of bunny the rabbit. I told him offhandedly that I was okay. Next, he eyed the can of beer on my table the way a wall gecko would a butterfly fluttering temptingly in its path.
"I think I quite recognise you," he continued, his eyes never leaving the can of beer."You're a writer, huh? Israel M, right? or you could pass for a kinsman of his."
I was aghast.I wasn't a writer and never read books. I considered reading strictly for lazy, sit-at-home folks. Besides, I'd never heard of the name Israel M! Frederick Forsythe, James Hadley Chase and RObert Ludlum, yes but never Israel M. Who the hell was he anyway...some obscure writer? But I declined a direct answer to the stranger.I just stared at him.
"well, the name's Dunhill...Bob Dunhill. Pals call me Bob...you could call me that too." He mentioned the name Dunhill like he meant to say Nino Brown. He looked hopefully at me
"I got something juicy for you, pal; a story you could turn into a book. you gonna do that?"
I told him to get on with it that I would decide if it was worth the time. I took a long swig at the can of beer. His adam's apple jerked in his throat. For a moment I thought he would wrench the bottle from my mouth.
"It's gonna cost you a couple of beer cans," he told me "maybe I get one now. My throat's scratchy. Engines get oiled so they dont break down."
without knowing what I was doing I signalled at the barman and he came over and in a few seconds my companion had downed two cans of beer. At this juncture I hadn't the slightest idea of what I was buying. Slightly angered, I cajoled him into continuing with the story. He cleared his throat and again eyed my can of beer. I felt terribly sorry for him so I got the barman to replenish his table.
"you know you're a gent...a damn good fella. well, here's the story. You could turn it into a book and you could make millions selling it. Me...am content to drink beer, no talent for writing them stories. So you wanna know who robbed the safest bank in Geneva?"
He stared conspiratorially around him and then leaned forward, "That's me! you don't believe me, right? It's the goddamn truth. I did it, singlehandedly! No one knows this...not a third ear. I was never caught! I done more steals than the New York mob put together. I was never caught. Now that's an unbroken record! So what you gonna title the book...The lone perfect artist or some other sensational stuff? you see, fella, the ticker is I never been caught."
I watched him empty the cans of beer with dismay. I haven't learned anything useful. He rolled off the stool and said he had to visit the loo. I watched him waddle to the johnny, a door sandwiched between the barman's desk and a giant, ugly cupboard. At this juncture the swivel doors opened and a dirty, skinny kid walked into the bar. He carried a newspaper that I judged stale from the look of it to the barman. I watched him shake him awake. Dunhill soon returned to his stool and made to resume his boring story of heroism and personal exploits but the barman, followed by the impish-looking street urchin came over and cut him short.
"You steal my goddamn money while I birdnapped!" the barman thundered, glaring at Dunhill. "Give it up this moment or I call the Sheriff!" Dunhill looked horrified. Besides, he was a perfect act! This was incredible, prodigiouse event. He turned a hurt look at me ,
"he dreams!" then to the barman," what! accuse me of robbery? I never done a thing like that."
"You got ten seconds, mister," the unfriendly barman thundered again, shaking with rage. I noticed Dunhill trembled slightly. The barman tapped the thin boy's shoulder
"He saw you steal from me.You aren't smart enough! He caught you redhanded. Did you not, Pip?"
"Sure did." the street kid answered confidently with an impish look. " he's got it loaded down his pant's pocket...in the back"
"A goddamn kid!" roared Dunhill "no one's ever done this to me! A goddamn, f***ckin' street urchin! This kid needs to be locked away!"
" I call the sherriff now" the barman said resolutely as he fumbled in his pocket for a cellphone. I had been listening and watching the the mild drama with unabashed interest and amusement. My hero was being stripped of his record and dignity and by a kid! It was hilarious. I spoke carefully to the barman, explaining to him that the gentleman could not have stolen his money since he - Dunhill- hadn't any money on him. (He'd told me so earlier)Then I calmly asked Dunhill to set matters straight by emptying his pockets before his accusers. He was flummoxed. All was silent for a long while. We waited. Through the glass swivel doors we could see a blue police van pull up across the street. Seeing there was no way of getting around the situation Dunhill slowly dipped a hand in his pocket and pulled out the stolen, crumpled bills. I wasn't surprised anyway. His missing front tooth made the smile he offered me look pathetic, more like a grimace. This was a powerful dent in his story. As the barman began to scoop up his money, patting the kid gratefully on the shoulder, for the first time I seriously began to consider the idea of writing a story. I was an opportunist and out of job - never tell this to Dunhill as he might likely be coming your way next!- I figured this would make an interesting reading.Who knows, I might be able to regain the money used in paying for his cans of beer!