By Bill Butler
When I was 17, my summer job was helping out in a pool hall located in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. A shadowy place, it had a dozen brightly lit tables and the fragrance of cigars. One afternoon, the room was empty except for my friend Rudy shooting pool with two older guys at a back table. Rudy was anorexic looking and blind in one eye. He was also a pool shark.
From two tables away, I saw Rudy pick up his pool stick, lean over the table, and poke the que ball. The white ball hopped over a blocking ball, and gently tapped another, which slowly rolled across the green felt.
The two guys groaned when it clunked into a corner pocket.
Rudy smiled and held out his hand.
“What the hell was that?”shouted one of the two guys.
I felt the anger in his voice.
Both guys picked up pool sticks and moved towards my friend.
I stepped out of the shadows into the table’s cone of light.
The guys paused.
I slid a hand into my sports jacket. “We don’t need any trouble here gentlemen. Put what he won on the table and leave.”
The two guys leaned their pool sticks against the wall. One took out his wallet and threw five twenty-dollar bills on the table. Without a word, they left the poolroom.
Smiling, Rudy took his pool stick apart and put it into its brown leather case. “You have a gun?”
I pulled a black plastic comb out of the otherwise empty jacket pocket and ran it through my hair. “Why would you think that?”