The Shot

The Shot

Curly Ed leaned over, sighting squint-eyed down his cue. He
looked peaceful, but we all knew it’d been about forty-sixty that
he’d stick the lit end of his Camel on the outside of his face
when he’d stepped behind the bar to grab a light. He had the
inkeeper’s curse–he liked to taste what he sold, and sometimes he
forgot which side of the bar he was on, and it did him no good.
Like tonight when, gassed and stoked on Bud, primed with three
fingers of the hard stuff, he’d ante’d up a week’s take.

Against Little Man Al.

It wasn’t the juice that had him. It was Ed’s table; for
thirty years, when the day was slow, he’d pop a few and nine-ball
until the evening rush. The little hotshits from the college could
buy him his weight in Comfort and he’d still twirl his stick under
his right arm, growl cheerfully about The War, and prestidigitate
their book money into his wide back pocket. I’m pretty fair
myself, but my mind remembers all too many Fridays when I came home
with half a paycheck or worse. Emma’d give me the unholy what-for,
and I’d hear about it for weeks. There was this look she’d get in
those hazel-dark eyes…Since she went, I’ve played a lot, but
never for money.

So Ed had it lined up, stood bent over, his gut on the
hardwood. He stayed there too long, longer than you need to. I
saw Frankie grin sardonically, and exchange a look with Sweet Lou,
his perpetual partner-in-crime–but he didn’t say anything. Nobody
did. You shut up and let a man do his business. Jack, the baby of
us at forty-five, took a good long pull on his Bud–if any of us
thought Ed had a chance, he wouldn’t have done even that.
It happened, anticlimactic. A nice hit–but it’s the edge of
the ball that gets you, and here Ed gave it a little too much
English, a little too little arm. It came *this close*–but, as my
father always said, close only counts in horseshoes and
handgrenades.

Ed winced, stood staring at the table for a minute, then
turned away. He’d played a careful game, making sure to leave Al
the worst shots in the history of pool, but that hadn’t held him
off before and it wouldn’t now. He began to pour himself something
way too strong, as, with a rapid-rifle Mosconi shot, the Little Man
snapped the white ball off three corners and tipped the three into
a side pocket, leaving the cue lined up to pop off the five thatlay up the corner.

And that was it. All Al had to do was snap off a combo, the
twelve to the two, and he’d have a one-foot straight shot on the
eight. And the combo couldn’t have been straighter or easier if Ed
had gone amongst the balls and moved them around by hand. That’s
the beauty of watching a master walk the table–he places
everything so well that his eventual win seems less a matter of
skill and more a matter of destiny.

Little Man Al chalked his cue with the imported dust he got
from God-knows where and eased his ridiculous girth forwards. A
table weighs one ton; we alway joked that, with the Little Man
resting on it, it weighed two tons. Al, taking his time, balanced
his stick, checked once more, and shot. As he was pulling his
stick away the air filled with choke smoke and accelarating glass,
erupting into the room, the walls, and us. A voice rippled through
my skull–not my ears, my skull–“Zob Norbidgqartke, give yourself
up! This is the Intergalactic *Police*,”, only the word *police*
wasn’t quite right, it was kinda twistslithery in my head, and Al
turned, unzipping his flesh, resplendent in his purple and orange
scales with green stripes and black polka dots and pink hearts,
firing some sort of enormous sluglike weapon out through what had
been the picture window of Smith’s Pub, big beams of light and heat
searing our skins even though we weren’t in their path. A gigantic
metallic spider with pseudopods appeared in the window. Ed blasted
it twice, but the thing held up some sort of box with legs and
pressed a complicated series of what looked like Braille letters on
the side. Ed was encased in a great block of sunlight, and then
both he and the spider were gone, leaving nothing but the wreckage
of the bar.

We stared. If we hadn’t seen it, didn’t have the evidence
right in front of us, no way we’d have believed it. “Jesus,” I
said. “Good God,” echoed Sweet Lou, the words sounding hollow and
awed. Frankie, for the first time ever to my knowledge, couldn’t
say a word–he just stood there, frozen like day-old molasses in
February. Ed was the first to move, taking a hesitant step
forwards, shaking his head. “I can’t believe it,” he said. “Never
in my life would I have thought Al would miss an easy one-two
combo like that one.”

Jeff Mach Written by:

Jeff Mach is an author, playwright, event creator, and certified Villain. You can always pick up his bestselling first novel, "There and NEVER, EVER BACK AGAIN"—or, indeed, his increasingly large selection of other peculiar books. If you'd like to talk more to Jeff, or if you're simply a Monstrous Creature yourself, stop by @darklordjournal on Twitter, or The Dark Lord Journal on Facebook.

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