I was working another dead end job, a themed restaurant under twenty feet of water. Only the patrons were permitted scuba gear, whereas the staff were forced to the surface every minute or so to fill our empty lungs before descending to refill the drinks. We kicked down with the appetizers, swam down with the main course, and submerged with the dessert tray. It was hard work, but the clean up was easy.
We were getting ready to close. My last group of the night was a crowd of ten. Their orders sent streams of silvery bubbles to the surface, and the searchlights of their helmets played across the glossy surface of the menus like the opening night of some new film. I placed their orders, finished the rest of my tables.
When they were all served, I headed down one last time to see if everything was all right, treading water and giving a thumbs up and an open-eyed nod to the table. The steak wasn’t cooked properly, there were problems with one regulator hose, one (slight) mixture malfunction, and some complete pain in the ass changed her dessert selection three times. Great.
I was hanging onto the egress bar around the top of the room, having already delivered the check, when I saw them leave. I took three quick breaths and jack-knifed down, using long, slow strokes. I was tired, and took my time getting to the table, watching as they headed for the exit hatch. It wasn’t until I within reach of the table that I saw a gold Zippo lighter had been left behind. It was balanced on one corner, obeying the commands of some unseen passing eddy, shimmering like pirate treasure in the glow of the recessed lighting. I turned, the party was already headed for the exit hatch.
As I swept my hand in to grab the Zippo, it obeyed the miniature tsunami from my hand, and leapt from the surface. I examined it, noting the initials engraved across the face. It looked expensive.
But now I was out of air. What to do? Head for the hatch and hope I could catch them, or get a breath first? The longer I waited, the further they got. I opted for air. I could catch a breath and either swim after them with it, or have them paged in the changing rooms beyond the moon pool.
I was within a foot of the surface when I felt a hand clasp my ankle in an iron grip. I panicked – who would be so fucking stupid? The wait staff knew better than to horse around like that. I tried to kick free and looked about in vain for a handhold, but this part of the restaurant was designed to allow maximum movement, and there were no egress rails at this level. And now I was being pulled down…
My heart was pounding in my chest. I needed air badly. I could see the shimmering of the kitchen lights through the surface just a few feet away When I was finally able to twist around, I recognized one of the patrons from my last table. His face was contorted in an angry sneer behind his faceplate, his eyes full of scorn.
“He thinks I’m trying to steal it!” I tried to hand it back to him but he indignantly refused, and I could see him trying to hail the manager over the intercom. The manager’s observation bubble was dark, however, as they were probably toweling off to count the till.
Spots were dancing before my eyes. I tried to make the international ‘diver in distress’ gesture, but gave up in favor of trying to kick my way free again.
I coughed and took on a lungful of water, struggled again, and then nothing. The Zippo drifted out of my hand and tumbled slowly down, end over end toward the floor. The last thing I saw was a look of sudden realization cross his face. His hand relaxed, but it was too late.
Shit. So much for my share of the tips.