Victor walked with a brisk step and a broad smile, both of which faded in seconds. Though it was only ten in the morning the temperature was already 35° Celsius, and its equivalent in Fahrenheit. Victor glanced up at the sun, which beat down on him like Keith Moon upon a snare drum. He noticed the pub nearby, and decided to escape the heat and offer his wares to some early drinkers. He went inside.
The smell of stale beer and tobacco assailed his nostrils, while an electronic orchestra of poker machines clinked and beeped in shameless harmony. Behind the bar, beneath the obligatory showcase of cheaply framed sporting memorabilia, the pub owner leaned against a bench, lost in contemplation (or perhaps just bored). At the bar, a defeated-looking chap of at least sixty-five years sat hunched over a near-empty glass. Victor approached the bar, set his briefcase on a stool and took off his jacket. “Morning, gentlemen,” he said.
The owner nodded in reply; the old man snorted.
“It’s a hot one out there today,” continued Victor. “You’ve got the right idea, mate,” he said, slapping the old man on the back.
The old man swung around on his stool and slurred an indecipherable but obviously annoyed string of syllables.
“What can I get you?” asked the owner.
“I tell you what,” said Victor, “give me whatever my friend here is having.”
“Three shots of gin and a schooner,” said the owner.
“Good grief, man. It’s not even noon. Uh, just the schooner for now, I think.”
The owner filled a glass and clunked it on the bar mat. Victor took the glass, savoured a long draught and then set it back down with a satisfied sigh. He turned to the old man.
“Let me ask you,” said Victor, “what is your dream? If you could do anything, and money was no object—what would you like to do most?”
The old man sat up. He looked at Victor. “My dream? I… I don’t know. No one’s ever asked me.”
Victor looked at the old man with a stare that was penetrating without being presumptuous, and a half-smile that was caring without being condescending. Interest without agenda, trustworthy and true. It was a look generated by only the most wise and humble souls, and Victor had learned to imitate it. The old man’s gaze seemed to soar off into the distance, before returning and settling, at peace, upon Victor.
“I think,” said the old man, “I’ll have another beer.”
The owner grinned and poured the old man another drink. The old man payed, and then took his drink into the next room to play the poker machines. He muttered a few vulgarities as he passed, basically insinuating Victor was a homosexual. It was meant more as an insult than a guess at his sexual orientation, but Victor was undeterred. He turned to the owner.
“Look, mate,” said the owner. “Whatever you’re selling, I’m not interested.”
“Of course you’re not,” said Victor. “You want to make money, not waste it. That’s why you’re standing on that side of the bar, not this side. So what if I said you could sell an extra fifty beers a day?”
The owner folded his arms and looked at Victor. He sniffed. “All right,” he said. “I’ve got nothing else to do—show us what you’ve got.”
© 2019 MILES VENISON ALL RIGHTS RESERVED