He was an older man. Thatís not to say he was old. But older than the average crowd, and with completely gray hair and mustache. He was wearing army fatigue trousers and a faded denim shirt. He had been sitting at the bar for several hours. He spoke when spoken to but otherwise minded his own business..whatever that was.. Considering the time he had been sitting on the end stool, it would have been expected he would have been at least half drunk. In reality he had finished only three beers in the time he had been in the Lake House.
Sitting at the bar were the normal regulars. Most were listening to George spout off. George was a somewhat unsavory character, prone to cheat at cards, lie about his golf handicap, and cheat on his wife. He also drank to much and thought himself a pool hustler. Actually George was a pretty good gambler. He always looked for the edge and was not afraid to venture his money. He won more often than he lost. Right now he was regaling his audience with stories of his wife.
"Iím telling you thatís the coldest woman in this part of the country. Every time she hikes her skirt to take a leak the thermostat kicks on! One time I bought her Christmas present and didnít want her to know what it was so I hide it in the stove. She ainít never looked in the oven and donít know how to turn it on."
Everyone laughed though they had heard the stories many times. The Older man in fatigues politely laughed along with the crowd.
"Damn" said George. "Iíd like to play some nine-ball if there was anybody in here thought they could give me a game."
When no one said any thing the gray haired man said, "well, I donít know how good you are but Iíll shoot you a couple."
"Well, goddam I donít know anything about you either, but Iíd play Willie Hoppe a couple just to see him shoot," said George. "Does twenty a game scare you?"
"I guess Iíll try a few if you understand Iím gonna quit if I see youíre hustliní me."
"Hell, I ainít never hustled nobody," responded George with a smirk. "Rackíem up."
The old man and George moved to the tables and the small crowd followed. They lagged for break, with George winning. He broke the rack making two balls and proceeded to run the rest of the table. He followed that by breaking again and running out again. Finally he broke the rack and did not pocket a ball. The old man made two balls, missed and left an impossible shot for George. He tried an impossible shot and the old man ran out the table. It went that way for an hour, each player staying either even or George a game or two ahead. After an hour the old man pulled even. Then he went ahead by two games. George came back to even. The old man moved ahead by two. George won one. The old man won two. George won two. The old man won three. When closing time came the old man was up by five games, or $100.
They returned to the bar for a final nightcap as OíBrien was checking up. "I hope youíll be back tomorrow", said George. "I want some of my money back, but you gonna have to give me a spot."
"Iím not sure Iím gonna be in town after tomorrow" said the old man. "but if I am, Iíll come by. I enjoyed the game and the fellowship." With that he slid off his stool and out the door.
The next afternoon about 5 PM the old man came in the door. George was already there on his usual stool. "Goddam, I thought you had skipped town," said George. He was on his third beer.
"Well I should been gone, George, but I really enjoyed this place and Iíd like to give you a chance to get your $100 back."
"What about a little spot? I was thinking maybe you ought to give me the eight, nine and the break, just to make it even."
What George was asking for was a handicap. Under his proposal, he would break the rack every game, and would win if he pocketed either the eight or nine ball before the old man could make the nine. For most players this was a tremendous spot. No one had ever given George this kind of spot, and he had only given it to some of the young kids just starting to learn the game. The ones George knew he could beat playing left handed.
"Like I said, George, I only came by to give you a chance to get your money back. Iíll give you the eight, nine, and the break, until you get even from last night. OK?"
"Hell, rackíem up."
Unlike the previous night, every time George missed the old man ran out the table. When he could not run out, George always found himself dead behind another ball with no hope for a shot. After only an hour George had lost another $200, and they were back at the bar.
"You shot better today than you did last night." said George.
"If you give that kind of spot, you got to shoot better," said the old man. "Tell you what. Letís play again and Iíll give you the same spot, plus Iíll only make my balls in the corner pockets at the end of the table where the rack is."
"You mean you can only shoot balls into those two corner pockets, I get to use all the pockets, plus I get the eight, nine, and the break?" George couldnít believe this. Nobody could spot him this much. "Hell, rackíem up."
Two hours later, George was down another $300. By now nearly everyone in the Lake House was watching the event. George declared heíd enjoyed all this shit he could stand. One of the younger guys, whoíd been playing dominoes said, "hell, I think I can beat him with that kind of spot!"
George yelled, "Goddam, you canít beat me. How you think you gonna beat him with any kind of spot?"
Picking up on Georgeís assessment of the hecklers skill, the old man said, "Tell you what, young fellow. Iíll play you for $50 a game, and give you the same bet George had, except Iíll use only one of the corner pockets. That is if you ainít just whistliní Dixie!"
"Hell, rackíem up."
In less than an hour the heckler was out $250, and ready to get back to his dominoes game, when the old man said. "Partner, I tell you what. If you want your money back, Iíll give you the all time best spot in the history of pool. You let me break, and all you got to do to win is make the nine ball hit a rail."
"Hit a rail?"
"Yeah. Just make a good hit and move the nine ball into any rail on the table."
"Hell, rackíem up!"
The old man broke the rack and methodically ran all the remaining balls. He did this five times before the heckler called it quits, and ran out of money. The old man was now up $1100 over the two nights.
"How the hell can I make the nine-ball hit a rail if I donít ever get to shoot?" complained the young fellow.
"You canít," said the old man pocketing his money, hanging his stick, and moving out the front door without looking back.
As the door closed and the old man disappeared, George said, "who the fuck was that masked man anyway?"