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the man with three thumbs – chapter 3 of 3

The Third Thumb

The story so far

Later that day Mrs. Aitken left the hospital and took a bus home. She was still damp from the morning’s downpour and was sneezing intermittently.

She had decided that as soon as she got home she would run a hot bath, and after that she would make a pot of tea and turn on the radio in the kitchen. Then she would take out a couple of sausages and an egg for her dinner. Just like every other day. After that she planned to count the money that the police had just given her before she left the hospital. The money that they had found in her son’s pocket that night in Casualty.

She reckoned that there was about three thousand dollars in her handbag. The police had offered to drive her home but Mrs. Aitken did not accept favours from any man.

At about the same time Eric and Tom the hospital chaplain were sitting in the television room waiting for Les to roll his cigarette. Tom had wheeled Aitken in after his mother and the police had left, and now they waited for him to complete his story of the previous night. A couple of cans of beer stood opened by their feet.

‘ The bloke would bet on anythin’, Les continued through the blue smoke, ‘ there we was standin’ in the bar havin’ a quiet drink and the silly bugger’s bettin’ on how many rings are on me glass after I’ve finished it ‘

‘ This is Spotter’s mate is it, the punter? ‘

‘ Yeah. ‘

He went on.

‘ For a hundred bucks he says five. I say four without lookin’ and I take it orf him. Easy. ‘

Old Eric cackled with delight.

Tom had to ask. ‘ How did you know there were only four rings on your glass? ‘

Les gave him a long look.

‘ Mate. I always only take four to finish a schooner, ever since I was a kid. Anyway, then he wants to go double or nothin’ on just about anythin’ in the room and he couldn’t throw a dart to save his life. We ended up throwing double twenties for fifty bucks a time and he was doin’ his money cold every throw, plus he was pissed.

The bloke was dead set nuts. Then when he realized that I’d ended up with about half his wad he went the whole Muhammad Ali on me. ‘

A nursing sister walked by and the three men shifted their beer cans back out of sight. Eric chortled softly as she disappeared back into the ward.

Aitken picked up his beer and took a long and appreciative pull at it.

‘ My oath this is a nice drop, ‘ he said, ‘ there’s no such thing as a bad beer.’

‘ Or a good job. ‘ added Eric.

The two old men listened to Les’s tale to it’s completion and by then he had wearied of the telling of it.  Eric volunteered to push him back to the ward and Tom set off in search of his grandson, whom he found with Larry the writer on the patient’s verandah, the boy was attempting to play Waltzing Matilda on a hamonica.

‘ Come over here Larry, I’ve got a story that might interest you.

‘ Les’ problems started when Spotter’s mate decided that he wanted all his money back and to get it he turned violent. Poor old Aitken copped a fair hiding but he managed to hang on to the money. ‘

Larry had sat silently as Tom retold the tale, knowing that his old friend was going to keep the best for last. But he had to ask.

‘ Where was the third thumb? ‘

‘ In his Les’s pocket, ‘ replied Tom with a laugh, ‘ the Police found it and the money when they searched him in Casualty. Apparently they made a bit of a joke of the matter in the ward and Eric overheard them. ‘

‘ And, ‘ asked Larry, ‘ the thumb, whose was it? ‘

‘ Spotter’s mate. He was having a bad night. He thought he had finished off poor old Les and started to go through his pockets looking for the money he had lost but Les had enough fight left in him to pull them both down onto the floor.

They went over a table on the way and landed on a pile of broken glass. The bloke had had his hand in Aitken’s pocket at the time and his thumb was sliced off by the same piece of glass that punctured Les’s thigh.

Then the Publican showed up with a carload of coppers. Les still had the money, the other bloke was quietly coshed and taken away, and someone called for an ambulance.

End of story. ‘

Mrs. Aitken picked up the brass-framed photo of her only son Leslie and held it up to her bedside light. The boy was wearing a pair of oversized swimming costumes and was holding a gushing hose over his head. Behind him on a rope clothesline was a large pair of overalls ballooning in the wind. She remembered the day and the suffocating heat that had driven him outside in the backyard to play with the hose.

He had a huge grin on his face and was shouting something at her. She had forgotten what.

He had always been a good boy.

2 Comments Post a comment
  1. Again, you do dialogue so skilfully. That’s a rare gift.

    November 23, 2011
    • hey bh

      Just an ear for the manner in which a story is told, especially the older australians (can I say that?) that have sat around a table with a few beers with a story to tell – they are a rare breed those old boys and their way of speaking is all but lost in the cities. Their quiet and descriptive discourse, their slang.

      November 23, 2011

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