Wolfe’s Unpaid Beer Tab
Those present, lifted their full bottles of beer, “To Wolfe, may he rest in peace!”.
Somebody picked up the cheap looking urn and unscrewed the lid, “Let’s do this now, we can all spread his ashes, ok?”
A woman with the dark greasy hair took the urn and stood close to the flames, she looked out into the darkness in the park, then down into the urn. She couldn’t see anything in there, just a dark space. After she jiggled the urn a little, ash came out and caused sparks in the fire, she passed it to the next set of hands. A man in a denim jacket quickly shook the urn and a big clump of dust spread out in the night air of Viktoria Park, the breeze took it, then threatened to turn it back into their faces. They all stepped away from the floating particles, and one or two of them giggled. The urn was passed on and each person cast a spoonful of Wolfe’s remains to the night air, until the plastic container was finally empty. There was a general feeling that Wolfe was now gone, sent to someplace where he could finally rest that wild soul that caused him so much trouble.
Wolfe was a man who liked to fight. He also liked to talk, to have friends, and get along with people. But his soul was troubled by the things he’d seen. He had been a soldier in the Parachute Regiment, a place where men study war and violence. Each man trained with a series of responses on how to deal with any given situation in combat. Wolfe left the army, but the army wouldn’t leave him.
The violence followed him around into bars and clubs, into every nook and cranny of his soul. Even when he slept, those demons kept coming at him, so he had to respond and fight with his fists. He was a proud man, and he responded to the conflicts of life in the way he had been taught.
His heart yearned for peace. He knew that friendship was the pathway that led to a place where a person could talk and not fight, to learn and trust, but the demons wouldn’t have any of that for him. His mind built fortresses where he’d stand watch, on guard, gun cocked and ready and aimed outwards. He was a good soldier. If he was on your side, he’d never let you down.
If you crossed Wolfe, he’d plan his attack. He’d even let you know that he was coming for you — he wanted you to have a chance to do something about it.
The drink seemed to dampen his thoughts, it gave him the chance to settle and be calm enough to chat and joke at the bar. He’d talk to anybody, listen to their stories and build a short-lived friendship that lasted an afternoon. Later, the same person would only get a nod from him next time they entered the bar. There was a shy boy in him somewhere, and it wouldn’t let him reveal too much of himself. But to the person entering the bar, it was as if Wolfe didn’t want to know them anymore. Making good friends was a tough puzzle to crack for Wolfe.
Maybe it was that shy boy in him that caused people to like him. He had a smile that would warm any sad heart, and he didn’t like to see a person alone. He knew about how they felt, so he’d draw them in to his circle at the bar. Always reassuring them with a good joke and a pat on the shoulder. They’d feel wanted and spend an evening of loud banter in Wolfe’s company. A crowd gathered around him, and that must’ve made him feel better for a while, so he wanted to share those warm moments with others.
They would get to know a man who was open and friendly, who drank too much, but always remembered when it was his turn to buy a drink.
Wolfe liked to keep a bar tab. It would build up until the bar owner, Carl, would tell him; time to pay up. Wolfe would argue, but then look into his wallet and draw out the several sheets of money to pay off three weeks of drinking. Then a new tab would begin, and in three weeks time, Carl would tell him to pay off his tab again.
Wolfe would always dispute the tab. “It’s way too much, I couldn’t drink that much in a month!”, he’d say this while throwing his long arms around like a windmill.
Carl would wave the tab around, then slap it down on the counter. He’d place an index finger on the total price, and repeat, “Pay up, or no drink for you”.
Wolfe would pay up. But he liked the drama of not making it easy for Carl to get his money.
When Wolfe’s friends took his ashes to the Kreuz-berg in Viktoria park, where they lit a fire, smoked a joint in remembrance to him, and drank and joked about who's going to pay Wolfe’s last beer tab, the woman with the long greasy hair spoke up about that one time that Wolfe didn’t pay his tab. When he point-blank refused to acknowledge that it was even his tab.
The others sat down close to the fire and waited for her to start. The man in the denim jacket stood away from the group and looked out into the darkness across Berlin.
She sat on a beer crate and leaned towards the flames, they flickered on her face and oily hair, and she kept crinkling at a half empty can of beer as she spoke.
“Carl the bar owner argued hard, he wanted his money. But Carl didn't realize that he was digging his own hole where Wolfe was going to put him.”
“Carl demanded that Wolfe pay up now, or be banned for six weeks. That was a cheap trick. To make a man who needed a drink shake in his boots like that, it didn’t faze Wolfe too much, it just brought the worst out in him.”
The group shifted on their seats, one or two sniggered at that last remark. They knew that Carl didn’t know what was coming.
The oily haired woman continued her story.
“The other customers in the bar stopped drinking, and turned to watch the argument turn nasty, that amicable partnership of drinker and barman had turned into one of the keeper teaching the needy a lesson. As Carl stabbed his index finger repeatedly at the total sum of money written on the tab, and demanded immediate payment, Wolfe’s eyes turned dark. His face blanked out, and we knew he wasn’t listening to Carl anymore. He was making plans about how to get back at Carl.”
“You pay up, now. Or, you get out of here a find the money”, the woman looked around at the faces closest to the fire and said, ‘That’s exactly how Carl said it, and we all know what happened next, right?’. The group nodded and mumbled their agreement.
“I don’t owe that much. And if you don’t admit it, you’ll regret I was ever in your stinking bar” — ‘Wolfe was standing close to the bar, leaning over towards Carl. He had an empty glass in his hand.’ she told them.
“Carl didn’t budge an inch on the price written on Wolfe’s tab, and Wolfe didn’t want to pay somebody else's tab. He was trying his hardest to stay calm, so he ordered another beer. This made Carl mad as hell, the cheek of demanding more when you haven’t paid for the first. That’s what Carl thought, that’s what I reckon tipped the whole scene into mayhem’, The oily haired woman took a loud swig from her can of beer, then threw it into the darkness.
“Well then, Carl pointed at the door and told Wolfe that he was banned.”
“You’re gone. Six weeks minimum — no, you’re banned from this pub for life, fuck you!” — ‘Carl shouted that at Wolfe’.
‘Wolfe’s mind must’ve started reeling off old stories, like army days, his eyes darted around the bar. He knew he had to save face, do something to get the upper hand. He only knew how to deal with life with his fists and the fire in his heart.’
‘That’s when Wolfe calmly stood in the pub doorway, turned around and spoke real cold,’ she looked around for the joint and flipped her hand at the man holding it. He passed the yellowing joint to her.
The fire crackled, and the group started to edge closer to keep warm. The man in the denim jacket had walked away, but he’d be back, she knew he would.
“Wolfe said to Carl, you’re fucked. I’m coming back for you, Carl. So, tool up a little, think about it for a moment. You could have just served me another beer and it wouldn’t have mattered.” — ‘ Then Wolfe walked out the door and after a couple of customers looked along the street, they told Carl it was all clear. Everybody breathed out, even me. So we carried on with drinking’.
‘About two hours later when things were really quiet, Carl came out from the otherside of the bar. He flipped the hatch and walked towards the doorway, where he stopped, put his hands on the small of his back and stretched, The sunshine on his face. He was happy not to be serving the customers.’
The oily haired woman looked around the group, their faces were still, but the flicker of orange flames danced on their faces. They all knew that Wolfe doesn’t forget. He always did what he says he’d do, and he’d leave no man standing when he’d said he’d drop them all. He was good to his word.
The woman carried on speaking after taking a toke on the joint, ‘ Carl, like I said, was stretching his arms outwards. Then he yawned and groaned a little, like a small dog does with that grunting noise. He didn’t see it coming. But I reckon he felt it right down to his bones,’ She looked around the fire and saw the gawping faces. The man dressed in denim jacket had returned, he stood behind her, arms folded proudly. She felt his presence, she knew he was back from his walk.
‘Well, Wolfe had ordered himself a cab, and told the cabby to take him to the bar — you know, The Black Swan pub, in Leibniz Strasse. The cabby did what he was told, to let Wolfe go into the pub and wait for him, then take him back home.’
‘The cabby didn’t ask any questions, and he felt it was none of his business as to why his passenger was carrying a baseball bat around with him.’
The man with the denim jacket leaned over and whispered into her ear while the others laughed together. She looked up at the man, put her hand on his cold fingers. The fire spat and sizzled, and sparks floated above the trees. She saw the man’s face light up and that he was smiling. It pleased her greatly, he looked happy. She loved this man. When he wandered away into the darkness it made her unhappy not knowing where he was.
‘Wolfe walked right up to the doorway. He told Carl that he’d already warned him about what was about to happen. Wolfe laid into Carl, really hard.’ She grabbed a beer from someone’s hand and swigged at it, then gasped smokey breath into the dark.
‘He hit him round the head with the baseball bat, and Carl went down like a pile of bricks. Carl, and we all know him as Yorkshire fellow, stood right up and took a swing at Wolfe. His fist hit him hard in the face, and Wolfe stepped back. That gave him space enough to swing again, and then one more time — just to be sure.’
‘Carl was staggering. Wolfe had hit him three times, once in the chest, and twice around the head. That was enough, and I reckon Wolfe knew it.’
‘Well, Carl dropped to the ground. His head was done for the day, and blood was running all over the concrete by the doorway. Wolfe knew he’d done what he’d said he’d do, so he walked back to the taxi and got inside.’
‘You know when we all went to Carl at the doorway? That was when I saw Wolfe sitting in the back of the cab. He didn’t look too pleased with himself. In fact, I reckon he was full of shame, his face like I’d never seen it before.’ She touched the hand on her shoulder, the denim man stood quietly and listened to the story.
“So that’ll do it, I reckon. That’s how Wolfe didn’t pay his last beer tab,” She said.
“Well, I aint payin’ it — why should I?” One of the other men said.
“That’d defeat the object of Wolfe hitting Carl, right?” Said a young woman sitting close to a man who had fallen asleep. She stroked his hair.
‘Carl ended up dozing in a hospital bed for a week, then he came back and carried on like nothing much had happened.’ She said.
“Yeah, he got a vacation — he was always saying he never got time to himself. So, I think Wolfe did him a favour.”
The group stood up, raised their hands and touched cans of beer. While they did this, one or two of them looked up to the starry night sky and sighed.
“To Wolfe and to Carl, both wild at heart and good in their bones, friends.”