Charles Keating Stiffed Me on a Nearly $1,000 Restaurant Bill: A Reader's Remembrance

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Charlie said, almost sheepishly, "Don't worry about it, they'll find us." They found us, all right. To be more accurate, they found me.

Charlie was practically sprinting into the bar. Hot on his heels were his secretary and her husband, the wind lifting her hair back. They never even noticed the waiter bringing the check. "Here you are, sir" the waiter said with a grin, and he dropped the check in front of my nose. As I looked around for Charlie, I got a grand view of his ass heading into the bar and heard him order a drink.

What a setup, I thought, I'll pay this and settle with him later. Opening the cover, I saw that this dinner for eight people ordering modest wines and eating food that left me ravenous was $985. Just 15 American greenbacks shy of a grand. "Happy birthday, Honey," I said to my catatonic wife, who was equally as hungry as I. As I dropped my American Express card into the check wallet, I thought how nice it was that my appetite had disappeared in the last few moments. Neither one of us was very hungry anymore.

As we stumbled into the bar, Good Time Charlie sidled over to me and said, "I hope I didn't sponge off you too badly" (That word again!).

I replied, "Charlie, I'll let you know your share later." His face turned a little gray, and he ordered another drink. His cohorts were still there, looking the other way and laughing at their good fortune to have found a sucker who would spot them for a dinner. It was just like the good old days to them. The days when Keating really did own this place and sponsored dinners that dwarfed the amount I spent on this one. I had heard about the "good old days" that evening. The stories about the how the guests at dinner would find stacks of hundred dollar bills under their plates. How only the finest of everything was ordered with the bill always being torn up. Yes, I had heard the stories, but I'd never believed them until now. Still, I thought it odd that [his secretary and her husband] who, apparently, work for a living would think that I would buy them dinner. I could almost understand why Charlie would think it, him being a great man and the honor of [his] allowing us to dine with him.

I thought I'd drown my sorrows in the overpriced drinks the Phoenician had to offer and watch in amazement the number of people all coming over to Good Time Charlie. They were hugging him, kissing him, wanting their picture taken with him, laughing, and, tangentially, touching what they perceived to be "greatness." If only they knew him the way I did, I mused, as I downed another Absolut Citron on the rocks. "I wonder who is picking up the tab for all this booze" I asked my wife. She smiled and shook her head at my stupidity.

It was only after Charlie had his fill for the evening -- stumbling over to me and giving me his patented line again about how much he regretted "sponging" off me -- that he and his crew made their triumphant exit, avoiding the unpleasant task of paying yet another tab. As my signature scribbled across the bar tab of almost $200 (bringing the total for the evening to roughly $1,100), I decided that I wasn't going to let Good Time Charlie (or GTC, as we now refer to him) get away with it. Nope, he was going to pay me what he owed me.

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Tim McWeeney