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November 27, 2023
"Mes de los Muertos"

Eight Ball

By Frederick Foote

Tuesday. It was a dead as a doornail Tuesday night in my bar, The Rusty Spur. No games or fights or anything else worth watching on the TV. No controversy or shenanigans in our town or county worth the spit needed to talk of them. It was as if this part of West Texas was caught in a kind of dull as dust malaise.

There were four regular customers and a salesman of some kind all trying to make enough noise to keep the ghost and shadows at bay when the tall, thin nigger in black and red stepped in the door with a loud, "Hey, what's happenin' in this sorry excuse for a saloon? Where the fuck is everybody?"

The loud mouth spook was as black as pitch wearing shades blacker than him. He stood there in the doorway in his black jeans, jean jacket, and boots, and fire engine red silk shirt. He had our attention as he stepped to the bar.

"Now, gather around and listen up. I'm late, way behind the eight ball late. I'm broke, busted, and disgusted." He tipped back his black baseball cap. "But, my blues can be your good news. I come to liberate your money and other trifling accessories. I come to play. I come to give you a hell of a payday or to take everything you own. What you say? Anyone up for a winner takes all, everything on the line, dick in the dirt game?"

Old Willie Sanchez drinks the last of his beer, sneers at the interloper, and points at the garrulous, black instigator. "What? What fuckin' game? You don't come in here like you own the fuckin' place. You --"

"What do it matter what the game is? You just want a fair shot, right? Speaking of shots, I could use a beer and a shot. I need to wet my whistle and drown my sorrows." The uppity nigger turns to me. "What you doin' with that Donald Trump sign behind the bar?" He turns back to face my few customers before I can respond. "The game's pool. You got pool tables, a pool room, pool players. If that's your game, it's mine too. Mr. Trump, a round for the house and you on me. Let's get this joint to jumpin.'"

I'm about to throw the skinny, black fool out until he pulls a hundred-dollar bill from his jacket pocket and slams it down on the bar in front of me.

"You said you were busted." I inspect the bill carefully as the regulars rush to the bar to pig out. "This better be real."

The flashy nigger smiles at me with blinding white teeth. "Real? Real. Are you kiddin? I'm the real deal come to reel in your most valuable possessions and all your cold, hard cash.

"I'm broke, but I ain't dead broke. Now, Mr. Bartender, no malice intended, but you look close to dead broke. You keep the drinks comin until Benjamin is copper and coins. Now, give me two long necks and two bourbons for my partner and me."

I'm pouring and opening and glad for the business. I turn back to the unexpectedly generous dark dude and place his beers and bourbons in front of him. "What partner? Ain't you by yourself? I didn't --"

The black hombre nods towards the door and the small, thin, blonde girl with the pixie haircut, a long narrow face with oversized brown eyes, and tiny features. I swear to God on high she was not there a second ago. The bar's silent as the tomb as we watch the tiny creature in the tight jeans, frilly white blouse and red cowboy boots approach the bar. Her arms, hands, and fingers are unreasonably long. She grabs a beer from the bar, they touch bottles and silently toast each other.

My customers find their voices.

"What the fuck?"

"Who, what, where the hell did she, it come from?"

"Fuck me, but I --"

"An elf?"

"The Tinkerbell from hell!"

"Mother of Jesus, protect me now."

"Hey, fellows, this here is Hecate." The Negro poses with his hand on his petite companion's shoulder. "Me, well they just call me, Haden, or Cool. I like Cool. Call me Cool. Now, ah, Hecate's a hustler. She likes you folks. Shit, we like you folks, so I lay it out for you who we are and what we want. What we want's all we can get. Right? Hecate will beat your best and teach the rest. Now, our time's short. Can we get a game here tonight?"

None of the regulars shoot that good. I mean, they're fair players at best.

I look at Sanchez, and he returns my look and hustles out of the bar to find Bart Brown, the best pool player in West Texas, bar none.

"OK, OK, I see. No players. No sweat. I can respect that. You'll drink up and enjoy the night. We'll get in the wind --"

The salesman turns to Cool. "How much a game?"

"What's your name, Man?"

"Samuel, from back east, Trenton. I'm in mortuary sales. I'm an amateur, but a serious student of the game."

Cool shakes hands with Samuel and smiles like a fox fixing to feast on a goose. "Samuel, we're kindred spirits. Education's my middle name. Graduation's my game. I spared no expense in seekin' my education. So, how much you willin' to spend for this educational pool lesson?"

"Oh, well, I wasn't prepared for any significant expenditure on this trip. I'm afraid that I only have about $1,000 on me at this time."

Cool scratches his head and paces the floor. He stops and has a whispered conversation with Hecate. "Samuel, man, I'm sorry, but brother, for $1,000 -- I'm afraid that that's not quite the level of opportunity that we were seekin.'"

Charlie Walking Horse, the cheap Indian S.O.B, pulls off his Stetson and starts pulling one-hundred dollar bills from the sweatband. Charlie ain't never bought a round or treated a soul. And now he lays out ten one-hundred dollar bills. Shit! The damn inscrutable Redskin turns to Cool. "I want to see her play."

Cool throws up his hands and replies to Charlie. "Look here, I, we, I don't want to start no shit or hurt no feelins, but we runnin' late and Hecate ... It would ruin her reputation if she played for chump change. But, I'll play you. I'll give you the break, spot you two balls and, I'll put up five grand to your two grand. Now, how about that? Is that fair?"

Samuel's nodding his head yes and the dumb ass Indian's shaking his head no. Cool just smiles and starts pulling Franklins out of his pockets until he has laid ten grand on the bar. Even Charlie likes these odds.

Samuel ducks out to his car and returns with a custom pool cue made of some kind of carbon fiber composite with pearl and ivory inlays. Cool laughs out loud, admires the cue and compliments the salesman. "Sam, you don't mind if I call you Sam? Good. Sam, you just played us, man. That's professional quality shit there. You done took advantage of us, but that's OK. Go ahead and break."

Samuel gets a good break, drops the six and nine balls. The salesman knows his way around a pool table as he pockets the eleven and chooses stripes. Samuel has good position for the ten, but that's the ball that Cool tosses in the side pocket along with the easy shot thirteen as spot balls. He leaves only the difficult bank shots.

I look up and the damn bar's filling up. Now, all they got to do's start drinking.

Samuel takes his time, makes the fifteen-ball shot and leaves himself a shot at the twelve, but Cool stops him.

"Samuel, hold up. What kind of car do you own? Not your rental. Your own self car."

Samuel looks a little irritated as he responds, "Why? E Class Mercedes sedan, last year's model. Again, why?"

"Look, you more than a student. We'll see that. So, you paid sixty, seventy, eighty thousand? I bet you what you paid for it against your pink slip. How about that?"

"You want to bet me my car? I don't think so. I don't think you have that kind of cash --"

And again, out of nowhere, is Hecate with a sports bag full of cash. Cool places ninety thousand cash on the bar.

Samuel smiles, "That's a bet. Take twenty back. I only paid seventy."

Cool laughs, "Or, or I could add more, say, for example, what did you pay for your home? I mean ..."

Samuel shakes his head, "One million five hundred thousand. You probably need another bag or two."

Samuel sinks the fourteen and has a simple bank shot on the sixteen when Hecate appears with another bag of cash. She shows it to Samuel.

Cool smells the money in the bag, "Aaah, smells sweet, sweet, sweet. If you game, and, if you throw in that cue, this could all be yours in a few minutes. How about it?"

The bar's crowded now. Sheriff Bigelow and the mayor are here along with Reverend Potts. The place's heating up.

Samuel looks at the crowd and studies Cool for a minute. "I won't ask you the source of your cash or why you carry so much. Will it cause me any problems if I win it?"

Cool looks at Hecate. Hecate shrugs. Cool addresses the crowd, "No problems from us or the money. Now, if we win we would like to take possession of the home and car within twenty-four hours, deal?"

Samuel wipes his brow, and stares at Cool and glances at Hecate and quickly looks away. "Sure, sure, twenty-four hours."

"Now, you sure you want to do this bet? Twenty-four hours is a killer deadline to move out of a house full of --"

"Cool, let me take my shot, already."

Cool steps back and Samuel lines up the shot, but stands up, rubs his forehead, circles the table and returns to his spot. He lines up his shot again -- and misses. The color drains out of his face. He blinks rapidly. He wipes his sweaty hands on his pants.

Cool grabs a cue from the wall and makes jokes and keeps the crowd laughing as he runs the table calling his pockets. The negro sinks the eight ball with a trick double bank shot flourish.

Samuel's holding his stomach as if he just got punched in the gut. He stands by the table sweating like a hog eating onions.

Cool buys the almost full house another round as Bart approaches Cool. "Cool, my name is Bartholomew, but everyone calls me Bart. That was a smooth and nasty psych game you played on that poor fellow."

The two shake hands. These two are like heavyweights at a championship fight. All eyes are on them, but Cool calls Hecate, and she steps up and offers her long bony hand to Bart.

Bart bows as he shakes hands with the elf-looking woman. "Hecate, it is my pleasure. Do you also play pool?"

"That's your competition, Bart. I just play for fun and to educate others on occasion."

Cool looks over at Samuel sitting at the end of the bar looking dazed. "You get to play the boss, the queen of the hill, number one. You lucky son-of-a-gun you."

"Well, this is another mind game, I suppose, to unnerve me after watching your superlative play. I would much rather play pool than mind games. I have ten thousand dollars to play either of you."

Cool grits his teeth, bites his lip and trades looks with Hecate. "No! 10,000 is, is -- Okay, here's what we'll do. This should work. You play Hecate, and you put up your ten K and your soul, and we put up, oh, $100,000 --"

"Wait! My Soul?"

"I'm sorry, Bart, but Hecate and I are behind schedule, and we don't have time to dicker, but I'll throw in Samuel's Benz and his home. All yours, and you don't have to put up any money. Win or lose you keep your 10,000. Now, that's a deal."

I come out from behind the bar and join the crowd.

I see Hecate up close. Up close she doesn't look young like she did from behind the bar. Up close she looks old as in centuries, not years. No one stands real close to her. No one looks her in the eyes.

The crowd's all abuzz, talking about the soul business. Bart shouts over the din. "My soul! Are you kidding? That's absurd. Outlandish. More mind games. Cons --"

Cool waves his hands for quiet and gets it. "Bart, we're offering you nearly two million. We really do have to be elsewhere, so, if you reject this offer just say so, and Hecate and I can get on up out of here. No harm. No foul."

"My soul. Are you, you are serious? Reverend Potts, what's going on here? If you know."

Potts starts to answer, but snatches a quick look at Hecate and loses his desire to speak or stick around. Potts starts to back toward the door.

"OK, OK we take that as a no. We bid you all --"

"Wait, wait. How do you know if I even have a soul?"

"Good question, but if you do, you lose it if you lose the bet. If you don't have a soul, we lose nearly two mill for nothing."

Cool starts toward Samuel, but Bart grabs the black man's arm. "What do you do with my soul if I have one and you win it?"

"Use it as it suits us. Now --"

"Hold on, hold on. Do you have to kill me to, to, you know, take it?"

"No. You lead your natural and usual life span. This transaction doesn't impact your life span, man."

"Will I go to hell?"

"Bart, I really am short on time. I just need a minute to iron out some details with Sam --"

Bart grabs Cool again and spins him around. "We have a bet. My soul against your money, but I want cash, not the car and the house. Cash here and now. Understand?"

Cool glances at Hecate. Hecate points at the clock behind the bar.

"Deal. We'll round it up to two million, cash." Cool turns toward and calls out to Samuel. "Sam, get your ass over here, and see if you want to put your soul on the line to redeem your property."

There are times in a man's life when he must step up and stand by his principles. "No! No! And hell, no! Not in my bar. Not as long as I live. This is wrong, and we all know it. Shame on us. Go on home, Bart." I turn to Samuel before he can speak to Cool. "Mister, you need to cut your losses --"

Bart grabs my shirt and's yelling and spitting in my face.

Samuel's pleading with Cool.

Everyone's shouting.

A fist fight or two breaks out.

There're the sounds of glass and furniture breaking.

And then, then, there's the sound of applause, a pair of hands clapping and we all turn to see Hecate and Cool clapping and looking at me. Cool graces me with a grand smile. "Mr. Bartender, you all right. You all right, even with your Trump sign. You got scruples. I respect you for that. We out." Cool turns to Bart. "Sorry, Bart, but this is his bar, and we do have to hit the road."

"Fuck that! We got a bet. We can drive to --"

Samuel is screaming, "I'll take your bet. I --"

"Bart, Sam, no! Not tonight." Cool turns back to me. "Look -- what's your name, man?"

Cool offers me his hand, and I shake it as I respond. "Braddock, Harrison J. Braddock."

"Bart, Sam, this man, Harrison here's giving up the house's ten percent of the two mill and the ten percent tip we leave to stand --"

I grab Cool's arm as words fly out my mouth, "Wait! Wait, hold on, just a minute -- you mean four hundred K? You, are you -- four hundred grand cash tonight? Is that right?"

Cool looks puzzled. "Sure, unless your house cut on bets is more than that. I just assumed you get ten percent of all the bets you hold --"

# # #

Hecate's letting Bart break. I'm sold out of cold beer. The whole damn town's here.

My four hundred K is minutes away no matter the winner or loser.

I turn to Hecate, "Cool said you were busted. How can you be busted with two mill in walking around money?"

That malevolent little blonde pixie gives me a sly, nasty, evil look as Bart sets up to break. She whispers in my ear, "Not money -- souls. From no souls to three. God bless you, Harrison."

Her voice's like a knife to the gut, a cold wind on my soul. Oh, God. Oh, my God. What the fuck have I done?

The break sounds like thunder inside the bar. It drowns out my prayers, and pleas, and no one cares about my tears.

Article © Frederick Foote. All rights reserved.
Published on 2017-03-06
Image(s) are public domain.
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