The Pool Game. An excerpt from my book Bootlegs and Anecdotes
The Pool Game
It was Tuesday evening and I was home preparing for my sixth anniversary surprise dinner for my beautiful wife Twyla. I’ve been working for hours, but finally down to final details. It was about ten thirty, and I was nearly finished hand plucking rose petals off of freshly picked stems from our garden when I noticed the backlight on my cell phone glowing. I turned the ringer off earlier so I wouldn’t be interrupted, so I have no idea how long the call’s been coming through. When I looked at the screen, I saw that it was my best friend Ronald. I became immediately irked and annoyed. Not just because Ronald interrupted me at a bad time but also because I noticed that he’d re-set his picture in my contacts on my phone. It was a close up of himself with his tongue hanging his mouth like a thirsty dog, and the only reason he set that picture was because he knew I’d have this very reaction when I saw it for the first time. And tonight, the obnoxious image of Ronald’s tongue flashing at me was the last thing I wanted to see. I often ask myself why I keep Ronald around. Twyla constantly questions me why I keep him as a friend and, at this very moment, looking at his face flash on my phone, it gives me a good mind to ask him for that very answer.
But it isn’t just the flashing picture that’s bothering me. It’s also the fact that Ronald is calling my cell instead of the house’s landline. All of my friends are very well aware of Twyla’s ten o’clock rule. I know it’s a ridiculous rule, but she compromises with me as well so I indulge her. In secret, I laugh with my friends about the rule, rather they laugh at me, but they respect it and honor it, but for some reason, time and time again, Ronald insists on believing he’s an exception. The image on my phone taunts me as it flashes almost as if Ronald knows, at this very moment from the other end of the line, that it’s doing just that.
I rubbed the sides of my eyes to contain my frustration when the beauty of the room caught my attention. The decorated plates sat on either end of the table, a crystal stem vase, a gift I gave Twyla on our second anniversary, placed at the center of the table, holding the reddest roses I’d ever seen and quiet storm music played silently in the background. I couldn’t help but to visualize the smile on my wife’s beautiful face. After that pleasant visual, I was no longer annoyed, but I couldn’t let Ronald think that he could get away with breaking my house rules one more time, so I stubbornly answered the phone with a stern but phony angry greeting. I pressed the answer button and opened my mouth to talk, but Ronald anticipated my timing and spoke before I could say hello.
To my surprise, Ronald immediately apologized about calling the cell, never explaining why he called the mobile instead of the landline, but followed by his apology with an invitation to a game of pool. Admittedly, I was caught off guard by the nature of the phone call, and since my rage wasn’t genuine, I found it tough to follow through with false resentment. I looked around the room one more time and realized that with the exception of the plucked rose petals, the surprise was all set. Twyla won’t be home for another few hours, so, realistically, I had time to waste. I pretended to act reluctant but eventually agreed and told Ronald I’d meet him at the pool club.
After I hung up the phone with Ronald, out of consideration, I called Twyla to let her know of my plans. I was hesitant at first. The last thing I needed was for my wife to think I forgot about or was brushing off
our anniversary for a beer with Ronald, but to my surprise, Twyla actually had a smile in her voice and encouraged me to go. Against my better judgment, I ignored the strangeness of her response. I just told her to call my cell when she’s on her way out and that I’ll be back by time she gets home.
Thirty minutes later, I walked into the pool club. Ronald was in the bar, waiting. We opened a bar tab and talked about nothing for a little while before carrying a few pints of beers to the pool area in the back. The room wasn’t as crowded as it usually is when we come here. Then again, it is Tuesday night. There were ten tables, eight were taped off for repair, and one was being used by a single player. We drank a couple more beers, Ronald set up the table and I broke the rack. Th balls raced wildly across the table but only the nine ball dropped. I sipped from my frosted beer mug and strategically reviewed the table in preparation to take my first shot.
A few moments later, I positioned to take my shot but before I could hit the eight ball, I felt a stiff poke to my back. It was the guy playing on the table behind ours. He poked me while positioning his stick for his shot. After my harsh reaction, he politely acknowledged his mistake and excused himself. He saw that I too was preparing my shot and gestured me to go ahead of him. I wasn’t in a rush, and it was apparent that he was only breaking so I insisted that he go on ahead of me. He nodded in agreement and took his turn. I sat on the corner of my table and watched patiently for the stranger to take his shot. That was when Ronald and I witnessed the most amazing thing either of us had ever seen before. After he hit his eight ball to break, the balls scattered throughout the table each disappearing into holes one after another until every ball was gone. It was a perfect game. Both Ronald and I froze after seeing the amazing and impossible event. Without a second glance, the man proceeded to re-rack his table, but before he reached into the gutter to retrieve his balls, he looked our direction expressing a coy but arrogant grin.
Granted, the shot was very impressive, but from my point of view, the guy’s attitude was unsportsmanlike and unnecessary. The urge to argue with the man was tempting, but I decided to ignore him and continue with my shot. When I positioned to take my shot, I noticed the rage growing in Ronald’s face. Apparently, he too was annoyed with the guy’s obnoxious expression. Most people can resist the temptation to confront unnecessary confrontation in the social environment, but I was the lucky guy with a friend who’s gotten into fights from being insulted from being called Chicken. Really, that happened.
It was a year ago and Ronald and I were out on the town. It was a summer weekend, and the downtown streets were flooded with hundreds of people having a good time. We were enjoying ourselves, minding our own business, when we walked past a group of bar hoppers. As we walked by, one of the guys bumped Ronald’s shoulder, knocking him off balance, as they crossed paths. It took a lot of will power on Ronald’s part, but to my surprise, he refrained confronting the stranger and remained on his stride. But apparently, Ronald wasn’t the only unpredictable guy out that evening. The other guy was clearly inebriated. He turned in our direction and began rambling drunken nonsense. The guy clearly had his mind set on fighting that evening. Ronald slowed his pace and responded, but I immediately grabbed his arm to discourage him. Ronald accepted my hint and turned back around. That’s when the other guy shouted out, ‘Chicken’.
I laughed almost uncontrollably when I heard the corny comeback and nudged my elbow toward Ronald’s, assuming he shared my enthusiasm. But to my unfortunate surprise, when I turned to look in Ronald’s direction, he was standing face-to-face with the guy. Funny quickly turned to serious. I rushed the five feet to remove Ronald from the unnecessary confrontation, but before I could stop him from doing something stupid, Ronald had already hit him. Ronald hit the guy so hard that he literally spun before falling and crashing into the pavement. We stood there, preparing for him or his friends to strike back, but he didn’t get up. He just lay there, snoring. We stood there in shock. Even his friends hesitated before bending down to help him. A few seconds later, I tugged Ronald’s sleeve and gestured that we go, and we ran as fast as we could without looking back.
That incident was a year ago, and there hasn’t been a single occurrence in Ronald’s life since then that would prove that he’s overcome his hotheaded ways. It was clear right at that moment that I should have stayed home to focus on details pertaining to my anniversary surprise, but instead, I’m at the pool club with an unstable man who’s on the verge of making my life more difficult than it has to be.
I stood and watched as Ronald started on a course guaranteed to ruin my evening. He rushed toward the man and stopping just short of ramming into him. That’s when the shouting match began. Fortunately, the only blows thrown were verbal insults. The two of them sounded like children in a playground. The argument was baseless and they both knew it, but regardless, neither of them was rational enough to back down. The juvenile dispute lasted for about thirty seconds before the pointless dispute eventually died on its own momentum. But during the preceding thirty seconds, they continued to stand face-to-face in silence. They appeared to be staring each other down like they were posing for a promotional boxing poster, but the argument ceased, and it seemed like the pool hall spitting bout was finally concluded and they were prepared to split and go their separate ways. I grabbed Ronald’s arm and took a step back toward our area, hoping that Ronald would follow my stride, but it didn’t work. Ronald couldn’t walk away without getting in a final word.
“You can’t do that twice,” Ronald challenged.
The guy looked at Ronald and relieved an outrageous and ridiculous laugh. I watched Ronald and saw the frustration build in his eyes until rage got the best of him. Ronald refused to allow the man to make a fool out of him. Suddenly and without warning, Ronald threw both hands violently into the guy’s ribcage, knocking him several feet backwards. The unexpected shove caused the guy to lose his footing and he eventually tripped over his own feet. As he fell, he hit his head on the corner of the pool table and continued on a fast journey toward the floor. Ronald stood over the man and dared him to laugh again. I ran over and grabbed Ronald’s arm and demanded him to quit. I stood between him and the guy and shoved Ronald backwards toward our table. As I lead Ronald back to the table, I watched his face the entire time so I could anticipate, and hopefully, counter any sudden and unexpected move. That’s when I heard the guy shout out. “I’ll take that bet!”.
Upon hearing the man’s unexpected retort, I froze with surprise and reluctantly allowed Ronald to break free from my grasp and return back to the man’s table.
“What’s the bet?” Ronald asked as he extended his arm to help him up from the floor.
I couldn’t help but notice how strange it was that Ronald assisted the man to his feet. But then I thought how stupid it was to consider that gesture being the odd part of the evening. As the guy regained his upward posture, he massaged his own shoulder and began offering rules of the challenge.
“If my next shot isn’t a perfect one like my last, you can take the revenge you deem suitable for what you believed to have been an inappropriate gesture that I gave you before,” the guy announced brimming with confidence.
“That sounds fair,” Ronald said with a grin and rolling his eyes upward as if to enjoy the devilish thought in his mind.
“But if I get every ball in on my first break, then she’s mine,” the man concluded.
“It’s a deal!” Ronald shouted without hesitation.
“Wait, what?” I yelled as I rushed in Ronald’s direction.
I charged into Ronald and shoved him until his back crashed into the wall.
“Are you crazy? Who in the world is she?” I exclaimed. “You don’t know who this guy is, what he’s capable of, or what influences he’s got outside of this place. You don’t even know what you’re betting, Ronald!”
“Relax!” Ronald insisted. “Like you said, we don’t know who she is, right. There is no she. The guy’s an idiot. He called his own sucker’s bet. Do you see any she around here? Well, do you Ronald!?” Ronald exclaimed. “Calm down and take it easy for once in your life. Besides, this guy’s full of it. We both know it was a lucky shot, and it’s an impossible one to repeat. So when he fails, and he will fail,” Ronald said sadistically, “he’s gonna wish he’d never came in here tonight.”
Ronald looked at me dead in my eyes with an intense crazy glare, then he picked up an empty beer bottle, and like we’re in the Wild West, he slammed it against the jukebox shattering it into a pointed weapon. At this point, I knew there was no stopping a deranged fool in an insane state, but I snatched the broken bottle from Ronald and I reluctantly stepped aside and sat down. As much as I knew, I should have just left and gone home; I watched intensely for the foolishness to play out. Ronald sat down beside mine, and we watched patiently as the guy began to rack his table.
I looked around and saw an instant crowd gather in the room. This was especially strange because it’s Tuesday and this place never looks this full this early in the week. Someone must have sent a tweet out to everybody in the neighborhood during the argument earlier. However, they were summonsed, and the crowd grew larger by the minute. Suddenly, the pool area was packed, and we all waited in united anticipation.
The man performed the pointless ritual of matching each ball by color. It was completely pointless; he needed more than pool ball diversity to make that shot. A stranger from the crowd walked toward us and sat in the empty seat next to Ronald’s.
“Did you bet that guy?” the stranger asked Ronald.
Ronald conversed, but I ignored the dumb question and peered at my watch and realized that I’d been out too long. I turned to tell Ronald I was leaving immediately after this, but I stopped short when I saw that he was in mid conversation with the stranger beside him. I tried to overhear what they were talking about, but there was too much noise to understand anything they were saying. The only thing I could make out was something the stranger said: “It was a mistake.”
After their brief conversation, the stranger looked and watched the guy rack the table. I couldn’t help but notice the look of contempt in the stranger’s eyes. Actually, it was beyond contempt; it was an expression of pure hate. Then he turned and looked at me the same way. “What was that look about? Who is that guy?” I asked Ronald.
Ronald just looked at me with a doubtful glance, slightly nodding his head like he was enjoying the moment. I don’t think he heard a word I said. Then something caught Ronald’s attention. He pointed his finger in a jabbing motion toward my feet as to suggest urgently that I look at them. So I looked away and diverted my attention toward the floor. There was blood everywhere. I didn’t notice it before but I must have sliced my hand on that beer bottle I snatched from Ronald moments before.
I collected a bunch of napkins from the table next to me to soak up the blood spilling from my wound. There was so much blood that I figured I must have sliced a major vain. I devoted all my effort into keeping more blood from escaping. As I sat and applied pressure to my hand, my mind started to wander. I thought about the possible consequences of this bet and his seemingly arbitrary use of she possibly meant? I’m the closest he has to family and he doesn’t have a single close female friend. Ronald was right. It was just a sucker bet. I continued to think about the fate of the evening as I nursed my hand. It seemed that no matter how much pressure I applied the napkins only got redder, so I reached for another stack but my focus I was interrupted by a loud crack sound and Ronald grabbed my arm. When I looked up, the table was clear. There wasn’t a single cue ball on the table. I sat and stared in pure amazement. Oddly, the room was completely silent, and just like the table, the room cleared out fast. I was absolutely confused and asked what I knew to be a dumb question. “What happened?”
“Do you see any balls on the table? What does it look like happened?” Ronald said in a solemn tone.
I was stunned, shocked, and amazed. I stared at the table, then I looked at Ronald. His head was collapsed toward his lap. After a few moments, he looked straight ahead and rose to his feet. I watched Ronald as he hesitantly walked in the man’s direction. The man looked right through Ronald as if he were a ghost. Then he quickly turned his back to him.
“It’s over,” the guy said with a stern voice as he reached down for his duffle bag. He picked up his bag and his jacket and ran for the exit without looking back. Ronald took a few steps back, fell into his seat, and released a deep sigh of relief. This concluded the strangest evening I’d ever encountered. I don’t know exactly what was happening, and I didn’t want to know what was happening. I looked at my watch one last time and proceeded to do what I should have done a long time ago. I picked up my coat, grabbed some napkins, and rose to my feet. Then I turned toward the exit and looked at Ronald.
“Look, this was it,” I said in a low controlled tone. “Manage your temper and adjust your attitude. This was the last time you can count on me to stick around during one of these insane situations. Tonight is my anniversary, and I’m going home to my wife.”
I told Ronald how it was deliberately not saying good–bye, but before I could take my first step toward the exit, he grabbed my arm. I turned around and looked at him.
“I’m sorry,” Ronald said, stiffening his grip on my sleeve.
I looked at Ronald for a second and acknowledged his regret. I gestured a slight nod, then I turned around to walk away, but Ronald held his grip so reluctantly I turned around one last time.
“There’s one more thing,” Ronald said. “I can appreciate a good surprise, but before you go home with an attitude, I need to tell you that Twyla asked me to invite you out tonight. She knew you were planning something for her, but she wanted to do something for you for a change. So be surprised when you see her. Twyla’s got a surprise for you at home,” Ronald concluded in a barely audible tone.
I didn’t have time to waste, so I nodded my head, turned around, and at last, I exited the pool club and headed home. When I drove into my street, I saw lights from police and ambulances bouncing off the surrounding houses and the hollering sounds of sirens flooded the air. As I approached my house, I noticed yellow police tape stretched in front. I instantly stopped my car and ran in the direction of the plastic divider. As I advanced closer to my house, a neighbor grabbed me, stopping me in mid stride. I yelled and demanded that let me go, but he countered my struggle with additional strength and insisted that I calm down. After a few moments, my adrenalin drained and all of the fight in me was gone. My muscles quickly weakened, and I collapsed freely in my neighbor’s arms as he guided me toward the concrete sidewalk. I felt crippled and weak, but I demanded to know what was going on.
“About twenty minutes ago, we heard horrible screams,” the neighbor explained. “The screams were so loud and violent that they drew most of us to our doors, and when we arrived to our lawns, we realized the sounds were coming from your house. It appeared that we caught the tail end of the incident. All I saw clearly was a man run from your property and drive off in his car,” the neighbor concluded.
“My wife! Is Twyla okay? Where’s Twyla?” I yelled frantically.
I instantly regained my strength, jumped to my feet, and completed the distance to my house. I broke through the tape and saw my worst nightmare in living color. I couldn’t believe it. The ‘She’ the man was referring to was my Twyla. That son of a bitch killed my wife.
Three Years Later
The rain came down hard. It’s been years since I could remember standing in a storm like this. If I watch closely enough, I could see red clay from the surrounding brick walls run through the cracks of the cobblestone ground beneath my feet. The alley where I stood was about three feet wide and I was soaked, but I wasn’t alone. The grips of my fists squeezed only harder each frustrating moment. I stood
miserable drenched in the rain, but I was filled with unadulterated satisfaction. I was finally face-to-face with the man I’d been hunting every day for the last three years.
“I don’t know how you made that shot, and I don’t care how you made the shot,” I said, reminding him of the pool game three years ago. “I’m not going to waste time beleaguering because we’re both well aware of the events of that evening. Tonight, the only things we’re going to talk about are the facts. Did I say facts,” I asked rhetorically. “I meant fact. The fact is I’m not the one who you bet that night,” I explained blinking frequently to avoid being blinded by the persistent downpour. “You killed my wife! my wife!,” I yelled. “She was all I had in this world, and you took her away from me. I don’t care who you are, how old you are, if you have a mother, sister, wife or child. The only thing that I want from you is what you took from me and I want her back this very moment. I don’t care how you get her. That’s for you to figure out.”
The last three years of my life made me an angry man but not an insane one. My head is clear and I’m very in touch with reality. I’m hardly under the delusion that the man could actually resurrect my wife from the dead. I know what is and isn’t possible. The fact is I’ve thought of nothing else except this very moment for three years. I never really planned out what I would say when this day finally arrived, but it was true. If he doesn’t produce my wife, right now, I am going to kill him where he stands.
Just at that moment, I prepared my lips to say some lame Dirty Harry quote, but I was all but drowning in the downpour. I took a moment to get a good breath before continuing with my threats and I was just about ready to speak again when he took advantage of my pause to intercept.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he rambled. “I didn’t kill your wife. I didn’t know anything about your wife before a few years ago!” the man whimpered.
“Don’t lie to me,” I countered. “If you’re so innocent, why would you know about my wife as of a few years ago?”
“It was a few years ago that I noticed you stalking me. I went to the police, and they informed me of an investigation with your wife,” the man rambled. “I didn’t kill your wife. It wasn’t me! I promise you, it wasn’t me,” he pleaded.
“That’s right, you did elude me a dozen times, but it’s not going to happen this time. Not on this rainy night and not in this alley. Tonight, blood is going to shed,” I promised the man, clutching him closer.
“I’m telling you the truth. I promise you! Listen to me,” the man demanded. “I acknowledge I was at the pool room on the corner of fifth, I remember that night. I especially remember because you’re friend threatened my life, yeah, that’s right. Your friend threatened me.”
“What are you talking about, you liar,” I yelled. “I was there the whole time. You accepted the bet and my wife’s life were your terms,” I hollered. “Then you drowned the balls. You won the bet then and killed my wife.”
“Dude, I never even performed the bet. I didn’t take the shot,” the man exclaimed. “I started to rack the cue balls, but your friend’s buddy picked up the balls and put them back into the ball gutter. That’s when he threatened me. Then he took the cue stick from me, cracked it in half, and left the pool room. After that, your friend got up and told me to leave and never come back. Dude, you were right there. You were cleaning your bloody hand, but you were right there.”
I slowly loosened my grip from the man’s collar and collapsed my arms to my sides. The man took advantage and turned to run the opposite direction but slipped on the muddy cobblestones below him. I thought back in my mind and compared his story to my memory and replayed it over and over again and again. Then it occurred to me what Ronald actually said to before I left that night. I thought he said Twyla’s got a surprise waiting for you at home. Now it makes sense. What he actually said before his sneaky grin was, “I’ve got a surprise waiting for you at home.”
I turned around and began to walk angrily into the dark end of the alley. The violent thoughts of torturing and dismembering my best friend were the only visions on my mind. But before I could walk a full five steps the man called to me.
“Dude!” The man yelled as he sat on the ground in an upright position, “Did it just occur to you, right now, that your friend was responsible for your wife being dead?” The curiosity of the man’s statement made me freeze in place. “I was there that night dude and you two weren’t acting like two people who were only friends. Naw, you two were nothing short of best friends. At least that’s how it seemed.” He said shouting over the loud sound of falling rain. “For a man who was able to keep up a convincing yet deceptive front like that for as long as he did, he must have been carrying an intense amount of rage against you for a really long time.” The man said laughing. “No offense dude and I’m not saying that there’s any excuse for doing what he did, but you have to answer to yourself one very important question: What in the bloody hell did you do to him?”