Major (capital “M”) angst and have tissues at the ready for this story.
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Ian and Kane exchanged a look and approached the table. Kane stood back for a few moments, watching and waiting for the current game to end. The braggart’s opponent decided he’d had enough and was just trying to wiggle out of another game when Kane spoke up. “I’ll play ya.”
The bald man turned and eyed him. Obviously thinking Kane was easy money, he smiled and Kane had to force himself to breathe. The man opposite him had the same smile and horrible rotted teeth as the john his mother had tried to sell him to. He shook himself mentally. “Okay, I’ll take ya on,” Bad Teeth said and waved toward the table. “Wanna break?”
“Nah, I’m not very good at it. Why don’t you?” Kane suggested, stepping to one end to rack the balls.
“K. Ya play fer cash?” the guy asked.
Kane wanted to roll his eyes. Why else does someone play in a bar like this? “Sure, I think I can do that.” He pulled a roll of money out of his pocket and caught the look the other guy gave him when he saw it. “Uh, how much?”
“Let’s start easy, say… ten?” He smiled again and Kane suppressed the shudder.
“Well, okay,” Kane hedged. “I think I can do that.” He peeled a bill off the roll, which was made up of mostly fakes – Kane was no fool— and stuffed it back into his pocket. They anchored the cash under an ashtray and Bad Teeth picked up his cue. Kane finished racking the balls and stepped over to the wall to choose one for himself.
He watched the other guy break and sink two solids. He called his shots and made the next three. Kane watched carefully, learning the guy’s moves and preferences. Finally, it was his turn. He sank the first one but deliberately missed the second, looking sheepishly at his opponent. “Sorry, been a little bit.”
“Nah, no worries,” the guy said, looking over the table. “Hey, ya gotta name, kid?”
Kane raised his eyebrow at the ‘kid’ comment, but said, “Hayden.”
“Nice ta meet ya, Hayden. I’m William, but they usually just call me Bill.” He held out his hand and Kane swallowed the bile at the tattoos all over the hand and portion of arm that showed when his sleeve raised. He shook the offered hand putting a bit of a tremor into it, most of that fake. “Yer friend gotta name? Or do he talk a’tall?”
“Oh? Him? Not much. James. But we call ‘im Jim.’” Bill waved at Ian, who waved back and took another sip of his beer.
Bill turned back to the table and cleaned the solids on his next turn. He missed the eight ball, but didn’t, at least, put it in the wrong pocket. Kane cleared a few of his before deliberately missing again and handing the game to Bill.
Bill grinned his rotted toothy smile and ‘talked’ Kane into another game. Kane steered this one, bought Bill another beer and lost again, though he ‘improved’ slightly over the last game. “Guess it’s coming back to me,” he said, with a chuckle.
Bill still had plenty of confidence and Kane’s money – and another free beer to boot – so he just laughed. “S’okay there Hayden. Couple more, ya might just win it back.”
He slapped Kane on the shoulder and it was only the slap that kept him from snickering. He ordered two more beers, got a knowing smile from the bartender and waited while Bill set up this time. They upped the ante on the game, which Kane was glad of, since he was ‘remembering better’ how to play.
He managed to ‘slip’ at the last second and, though he broke the balls, missed actually sinking any, though it was a close call with a couple of the solids. Bill happily took over the table claiming those solids and sinking two more, to boot.
Kane took his turn and let the game progress. He calculated carefully, set up three more of those games and knew that if he could work it right, one more would set the stage nicely. He progressively got a little better, while managing to still lose to Bill. Bill was getting drunker and drunker as the games went on and betting more and more.
“Well, I guess I’ve lost enough for the night, Bill,” Kane said, moving to return his cue to the rack on the wall.
“Aw, surely ya wanna play one more game?” Bill asked hopefully.
“Nah, I really can’t lose anymore, gotta pay the rent tomorrow and buy food,” Kane said, turning toward the door.
“How about this…” Bill started and Kane managed to repress the urge to grin. “Why don’t we do this… If ya win, ya git everythin’ back and an extra thirty, ta boot. If ya lose, I’ll just take…” he pretended to think it over, “how ‘bout I jus’ take ‘nuther… thirty?”
Kane started to shake his head and opened his mouth to speak but Bill cut him off. “Double. I’ll give ya double yer money back.”
Kane looked around the bar and noticed they’d attracted attention. He glanced at Ian and knew that his friend had noticed, as well. It seemed that most of them simply had amused looks on their faces. A couple looked hostile and Kane’s eyes darted to them, giving Ian the hint. His friend gave a minute nod in response.
“Okay, I think I can do just one more, Bill. Since you’ve been so great tonight.” Kane patted Bill on the shoulder.
“Alri’ I’ll even let ya break,” he said, generously.
“That’s great of you, Bill.” Kane pulled the last thirty out and put it under the ashtray. The bartender stepped up then, and Kane noticed Mitsuo was back in his usual booth in the corner, watching the exchange intently. He resisted the urge to gulp and turned his attention to the bartender.
“I think it’d be best if’n ya give me tha money, Bill. Jus’ ta keep it fair,” he held one beefy hand out.
Kane hadn’t bet on that. He watched, though, as Bill handed the money over and the bartender counted it out, stuffing it into his shirt pocket and crossing his arms over his chest. Kane looked from Mitsuo to the bartender to Bill, then handed the bartender his thirty. The burly man nodded and put it in with the other money.
Bill moved back to the end of the table and set up. Kane took a deep breath, added chalk to the end of his cue, wiped his hands on his jeans and got into position. He inhaled carefully, took aim and on the exhale, took the shot.