I was slaving away at another dead-end job; a seafood theme restaurant under 120 feet of water. Only the patrons used scuba gear; we staff were forced to the surface every minute or so to fill our empty lungs, and then dive back down to refill the drinks, or kick back down with the appetizers, main course, and, finally, the dessert tray. At least the cleanup was easy.
I remember the night distinctly. We were getting ready to close; my last table was pretty big, a crowd of ten diners whose dinner chit-chat sent streams of silvery spheres rocketing to the surface, lit by the nodding searchlights of their helmets. The beams played over the walls like the opening night of some great new film.
There were the usual problems: the lobster wasn't done right, there were problems with a regulator hose, one minor mixture malfunction, and one lady changed her drink order three times; but nothing major.
I had delivered the check, and was hanging onto the egress bar around the top of the room. I was getting my breath and contemplating my evening plans when I saw them leave.
I used long, slow strokes, taking my time getting to the table, as I watched them head for the exit hatch. It wasn't until I was a few feet from the table that I saw it: a glowing gold Zippo that had been left behind. It balanced precariously on one corner, obeying the commands of some unseen passing current. I turned to see the party already headed out the exit hatch.
As I swept my hand in to grab the lighter, it was swept ahead of the miniature tsunami generated by my hand, and it leapt gently off the surface into my fingers. I examined it closely. There were initials engraved on the back, and it looked fairly 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 away they got. I opted for air, and headed for the top. I could catch a breath and dart after them with it, or I could have them paged in the changing rooms beyond the hyperbaric chamber.
I was within a foot or two of the surface when I felt a hand grab my ankle in an iron grip. But being this close to the staging pool, I couldn't get a good look below me to see who it was. None of the waiters would pull a stunt like this.
I tried to kick free and looked about for a handhold, but the staging area was designed to allow maximum movement for the staff, and there were no egress rails at this level. And now I was being pulled down.
My heart was pounding in my chest, I felt my eyes bulging. I desperately needed the air that was now six feet from me; I could see the shimmering of the light. Finally, I was able to look down, and I recognized one of the patrons from my last table-- his face twisted in an angry sneer behind his faceplate as his eyes focused on the lighter in my hand.
"He thinks I was trying to steal it." The words crossed my mind in a blur, neck and neck with, "I need air."
I tried to hand it to him, but he refused it. He began signaling the manager's observation bubble, which was empty as they were probably toweling off or counting the till.
I could see spots swimming before my eyes, and a stream of bubbles climbed out of my lips and headed north toward freedom. I was kicking frantically, but he had a vise-like hold on the edge of the bar.
I couldn't go up, I couldn't go down. I made the international "Diver In Trouble" gesture, but I began to panic and gave it up in favor of trying to kick my way free.
I coughed on a lungful of chlorinated water, struggled again, and then,.. nothing. The Zippo drifted out of my hand, tumbling slowly down, end over end, toward the floor. The last thing I saw was a look of sudden realization cross his face. His grip relaxed, but it was too late.
Shit. So much for my share of the tips.