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Requiem for a Lightweight:
The Ongoing Saga of Stroker Smith
by Ace Toscano
Stroker glanced out the window just in time to see Otis Griswold jog by. Maybe Griswold had it right. Running was a solitary thing. No teammates to worry about. No sponsors to deal with. Nobody sharking you or giving you shit.
As Griswold disappeared behind Russo’s place, Stroker was visualizing himself running... running in races for seniors -- taking the ribbon in 5k, 10k, 20k races, maybe even a marathon. And there he was on the podium, cameras flashing, his picture destined for papers from Florida to California. Soon as he finished the dishes, he thought, he’d have to go online and order himself a good pair of running shoes, top-of-the-line running shoes.
Playing pool was something altogether different from running, especially, when you did your pool playing in bars. Otis Griswold wouldn’t want any part of that. Otis Griswold definitely wouldn't want to fuck up his lungs with secondhand smoke. On a typical evening, Stroker might suck down a couple cubic tons of other peoples cigarette smoke. And, many the morning after, he would wake up feeling like he’d just chain-smoked ten cartons. Please note, he hadn't actually smoked since 1990.
Otis probably wouldn’t like the poolrooms either, not with the nitwits you were forced to deal with, nitwits like that old OCD demented POS Chris McCaskill or, as Stroker liked to call him, “McAsshole.” He was always prowling around the pool room, replacing stools, ashtrays, bridges, racks, pieces of chalk, placing them just where he thought they should be. One day, when Stroker's Instroke cue case, containing his custom made Josey cue, was leaning against a stool McCaskill deemed out-of-place, the asshole threw it to the floor, threw it like you would throw a battering ram through a door. Another time, the wack job had accused Stroker of sneaking over to his table while he was off making his OCD rounds and swapping a plain old blue dot cue ball for his treasured measled orb while the actual perpetrators, three young guys on the table next to his, were laughing their asses off and goofing on him. Chicken shit bastard actually told people Stroker stole from him. McCaskill probably figured his advanced age was insurance against any ass-kicking. He might soon discover it wasn't.
But, maybe, thought Stroker, maybe he was giving Griswold too much credit. Maybe the Grissard would fit right in with those bastions of senility. All he really knew about Gris was that he jogged by his window each morning like clockwork and that the association had warned him umpteen times about playing his radio too loud. Talk radio. If the dumbbell had been playing music, nobody would have given a rat's ass; but Rush Limbaugh? and that network of screwballs? that was much more than resident Democrats could take. Griswold would be better off feeding that load of crap to the boys at the pool room. Hell, he'd probably gain a legion of followers.
The only thing wrong with this thread was that Griswold didn’t play pool - he just jogged.
Such is life.
Stroker googled “best running shoes” and came up with Brooks Glycerin 8. They had a 5 star rating on amazon, so he ordered up a pair of size elevens for $129.99. No one could say he wasn’t serious.
Let’s say you were good at something, once. Something like… ping pong, yeah, ping pong, for instance. Okay, okay, if you insist, “table tennis.” Whoop-dee-fuckin'-doo! Let’s say you grew up with the game, played it in the church basement, at the YMCA, at the boys club, at the CYO, anywhere they had a table and paddles. After high school, you, naturally, chose a college known for its table tennis program, like Imadork U, and earned yourself a full scholarship. I know, this sounds a little “out there” but this is only an analogy, so bear with me... maybe, for a more exciting alternative, I should’ve picked tidily winks. Anyway, you were a hot shot ping pong player and your team not only won the conference title, it went on to win the fuckin’ NC double “A” championship! “Eat It, Eat It, Raw Raw Raw.” Following your appearance on ESPN and the team’s trip to the White House where you were honored by a mildly distracted President Nixon, you, along with a couple teammates, were named to Team USA. More whoop-dee-fuckin'-doo! During the two years leading up to the Olympics, you traveled the globe playing table tennis in China, Korea, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Russia and in many countries no one ever heard of. You didn’t win any medals -- no one expected you to. Still, you held your own against the best of the best.
Now, fast-forward about 25 years. Though there’s a ping pong table in your rec room, you hardly ever pick up a paddle. In fact, the last time you actually played was at your class reunion weekend where you played so miserably that you were ridiculed by your old teammates who all seemed to have forgotten you were once star of the team. It was embarrassing. Table Tennis had been your life, once, the one thing you had ever been any good at, and, now, you couldn’t play worth a shit.
When you do find time to recreate, rather than cooping yourself up in the rec room, you’d much prefer to run out to the club with your daughter, she plays pretty good golf, and squeeze in 18 holes. One day, while you are in line at the club house, waiting to buy a dozen slightly-used golf balls, you notice a flyer on the wall promoting an upcoming table tennis tournament for club members. First prize is $250. Admittedly, you can no longer compete at the championship level, but against the drunk and overweight club members? That would be a different story. You knew you could handle them. The spinners, the defense-only blockers - they’d be shooting blanks at you. And they could never handle your top spin or your smashes. If you enter, you will surely win. So you do, and you win an easy $250.
After a couple weeks of praise and congratulations from your fellow club members, you find yourself enjoying your elevated status. What had been a severely atrophied self-image has suddenly been reversed. You’re club champion, now. No need to explain to the boys that your skills have eroded - they think you’re a star. To them, you are somebody.
For a time, you sign up for every table tennis competition that comes down the pike. You even become a part of a team that ventures forth and kicks the shit out of other teams comprised of unskilled novices and their brethren, the terminally uncoordinated. Why not? You’re representing. You even build a shelf in the rec room for your new trophies. One question, however, continues to gnaw away at you - “Is there really any value in beating these bums?” In time, the prestige that goes along with being the best ping pong player at the Shady Hollow CC starts to wear thin. You remove the trophies from the shelf, store them in boxes and carry them out to the shed. To hell with ping pong, you say… I mean table tennis, whoop dee fuckin’ doo… you’d rather play lousy golf.
So it was with Stroker Smith and pool to a, somewhat, lesser degree.
The hour glass blinked on and off and whirled as the glucose monitor analyzed a droplet of his blood. Wake up, stumble to the bathroom, take a leak, wash his hands, test his sugar - this is how every day started. He often joked to the guys that he was a slave to his prostate. That was partially true, but, to a greater extent, his diabetes was in charge. Not that he complained about it. By now, ten years into the routine, he was used to it.
Seventy-three. He had figured it was low - his lips were tingling.
“What’s for breakfast, sweetheart?”
“Pancakes,” she replied. “And grapefruit. What’s your reading?”
The lows never bothered Ellie, unless he was driving around and suddenly felt lost, like he had been hurled into strange surroundings. At home, it was different. But, when it came to high numbers, she cracked down like a glucose nazi, accusing him of sneaking too much of this or that forbidden delicacy. Stroker, himself, realized that managing diabetes was not an exact science and, so, he took the daily ups and downs in stride. Only thing was, this was Monday, which meant he would have to play in the pool league tonight, which, in turn, meant that he would have to keep his sugar on an even keel. His reactions to sugar too high and too low ran from uncontrollable shaking to difficulty concentrating. Neither effect was conducive to good pool playing.
Of course, Ellie cared little about the ups and downs of his pool game and knew less. He never bothered her with details of matches that would require numerous f-bombs to describe - she didn’t care for cursing that went beyond the “darn,” “damn” and “shit” threshold. Which also explains why she had no knowledge whatsoever of the war he had recently waged against Lumis Pepper over a, now, infamous hundred dollar bet he had yet to collect on and, unless he wound up going to jail over it, which remained a distinct possibility, she probably wouldn’t. Neither did she know about Lumis’s vow to get even... or the hooker.
Lumis Pepper was one of those loudmouth bores with little worthwhile to say and an undying penchant for saying it who pop up in pool rooms from time to time. Stroker had been practicing by himself at one of the back tables at Chalkies, one day, with, unbeknownst to him, Lumis Pepper watching over his shoulder. When he cut the six ball to the left, down the rail into the corner pocket, absently applying right hand english to the cue ball in order, probably, to keep it somewhere in the middle of the table, Lumis chirped from behind him, “You put inside english on that ball.”
“Outside,” said Stroker, calmly, without agitation, just figuring Lumis hadn’t been watching that closely.
“Inside!” Lumis said again.
“No,” repeated Stroker. He set the shot up again. “I gave it a little right, just like that - outside english”
“That’s inside english,” Lumis insisted.
“That’s inside english! Lookee here,” said Lumis as he circled the table and set the shot up again. Gesticulating adamantly with his hands, he explained, “The ball goes inside the rail and inside the pocket - it’s inside english.”
Stroker shook his head and sighed. “Outside.”
By now, as Rufus Joiner liked to say, old Lumis was carrying on like he had his tit in a wringer. His face was redder than a rooster’s dick, veins were popping out of his forehead, and his ill-fitting false teeth were flopping around his mouth. “I’ve known the difference between inside and outside english my whole life,” he whined in his native West Virginian drawl. “You can’t tell me any different.”
“Well, Lumis, you been fuckin’ wrong your whole life.”
“I’ll bet you my hundred to your fifty that I’m not wrong!”
“Okay,” said Stroker, “that’s a bet.”
Rather that survey the other players who were in the pool room, Stroker decided it would be best to bring in definitive proof. He had a shelf full of pool books, any one of which would support his position. He would bring in a book, next day, and they could settle the bet. What the hell - a hundred was a hundred.
Lumis must have developed doubts, because, as Stroker learned later, he started asking around, quizzing people about their knowledge of inside and outside english. By the time the next day and the moment of reckoning came around, Lumis had been re-educated on the subject.
“Now, let’s make sure we know what we’re betting on,” he said as Stroker held up one of Phil Capelle’s books.
“You said,” began Stroker, “that, if you cut a ball to the left with right-hand english, that that’s inside english. I said...”
“No, no, no,” said Lumis. “That’s not what I said. I know the difference between inside and outside english. I’ve known it my whole life. You misunderstood me. We actually were both betting on the same thing.”
This wasn't Stroker’s first time around the block. He knew right off that what Lumis was doing. “Listen to me, fuck head. You’re the one who wanted to bet. You're the one who was flapping his gums about how smart you were and how dumb I was. Now, you want to back out. Fuck you. And, if you don’t pay me, every time I see you from now on, I’m going to ask you where my hundred dollars is. And every time someone mentions your name when I’m around, I’m going to tell them what a worthless piece of hillbilly shit you are.” And, he pretty much lived up to that, calling Lumis out on a daily basis often showering him with the most unpleasant and unflattering epithets from as far as ten tables away. He knew he wasn’t ever going to get his hundred, but he didn’t really care - it was worth more than that to spread the word that Lumis was a scum sucking deadbeat who didn’t pay his gambling debts, and that’s all he cared about.
Stroker had been introduced to the pool room when he was 12. The movie The Hustler had spawned, back then, a renewal of interest in the game of pocket billiards and friends of his had started hanging out at Teasdale’s Billiard Academy on Main Street in Grover, New Jersey, forty miles west of NYC. It was a time when he was spending more and more time away from home and the prevailing tension that lurked there. Teasdale’s became his refuge. Because his Uncle Nicky had long been known as the best pool player in town, he immediately had standing among the regular patrons and with the owner, Moulton Tizzy Teasdale, as well. One day Tizzy made him a proposition: if he would help Tizzy remove and fold the table covers each day at opening, he would be granted one half hour of free practice time. Stroker, always pinched for cash, accepted eagerly.
He put those 30 minute sessions to good use. Applying himself to the game of pocket billiards like he had never applied himself to anything, guided only by his own powers of reasoning and Mosconi’s little red book, Stroker quickly worked his way through the local talent and, by age 16, he was easily separating guys ten years his senior, guys who worked for a living, from their hard-earned money. Spotting them 15 to 25 in fifty point straight pool, they never had a chance - running 40 to 50 balls had been nothing. He remembered fondly the many times when, zoned out at the table, pocketing ball after ball, an opponent would have to tap him on the shoulder to get his attention and let him know that he had run out and the game was over. Otherwise, who knows, he might have gone on forever.
Then, one fateful day, he had a falling out with Teasdale. The previous afternoon, he had been half-way through his free practice session when Danny Orbus came through the door wanting to play. Next day, figuring he still had fifteen minutes coming, he extended his free practice session to 45 minutes. When he brought the balls up to Tizzy, Tizzy jumped all over his ass saying, “Don’t think I’m not keeping track of the fuckin’ time, you ungrateful cock sucker.”
“I had time coming from yesterday,” the young Stroker had said in his own defense.
“Who the fuck said you could carry time over from one day to the next, you motherless prick?” he sneered.
Truth was in all the years he had been opening up for Tizzy and taking his free time, this issue had never come up. Stroker had just taken for granted it would be okay. Obviously, judging by Tizzy’s outrage, it hadn’t been. Still, the old fuck might have approached him in a kinder, gentler manner. He hadn’t deserved to be talked to like he was a fucking thief. “Fuck you,” he had said to the old bastard. Then, he walked out.
Tizzy had probably missed him the next day at opening. And, the day after that. About a week later, Tizzy had managed to relay word to Stroker through a friend that he wanted him to come back so they could straighten out their little “misunderstanding.” “Misunderstanding my ass,” Stroker had said. “You can tell that cheap fuck I’m never going back there.”
And he didn’t, not until a few years later, anyway, after he heard Tizzy had sold out and moved to Florida. Stroker, married by then, hadn’t played pool in years. Still, he assumed he could play. But, when he stopped by the pool room one day and actually tried playing, he discovered he couldn’t hit a fuckin’ rail. Plainly speaking, he was a bum, a goddamned chump. He tried to make a come back, but after a couple weeks of dedicated practice it was obvious he just didn’t have it any more. Guys who would have ducked him a few years before could, now, beat him easily. That humiliation proved too much for his fragile ego - after all, he had been widely known as Stroker Smith, hot shot pool player. Now, he was just a joke. So, he quit playing pool, once and for all.
Then, some thirty five years later, after he discovered that Florida golf courses were hopelessly overpopulated with senile old farts who couldn’t get around a ladies’ course in under six hours, and that the clubhouse of the old fogy’s trailer park he had moved into had a couple 8 foot pool tables on which he could play for free, he decided to take up the game of pool again. He quickly discovered that he still couldn’t play a lick. But, at this stage of his life, with no one around to remember his former brilliance and more patience than his younger self had ever had, he wasn’t discouraged. He decided to take advantage of the opportunity and dedicated himself to getting better. And he did get better. But, it was a painfully slow process. He ran 50 balls at the clubhouse one day and decided it was time to take his show on the road. Banging the balls around by himself was no substitute for action - if he was going to get better, he would have to start playing for something.
Playing bad in the clubhouse with no one around was one thing. Playing bad in the pool room in front of others was another. Still, Stroker managed to lessen the potential embarrassment with the thought that he “didn’t know these fuckin’ people, anyway.” Even if he turned out to be the bum who dropped a quick fifty bucks to the resident douche bag, it wasn’t like it was going to make national headlines. So, finally, after three weeks of stalling, he took his show on the road.
Now, what he expected, based on his prior experience, was that as soon as walked into Chalkies pool room, before the door swung shut, resident players eager to separate him from his wallet would be racing over to him en masse with all kinds of shady propositions. And, though he wasn’t about to let himself get suckered, he was resigned to dropping a few bucks.
Wasn’t going to happen. He learned quickly that the afternoon crowd at Chalkies not only did not gamble, they were afraid to death of the prospect. He asked one old guy if he wanted to play a game of straight pool to fifty points for ten dollars.
“No,” the guy said. “I don’t gamble,” which meant, thought Stroker, he was afraid of losing his money.
On top of that, the clown didn’t shoot straight pool. He played nine-ball, for funsies, of course, and eight-ball, but straight pool was as foreign to him as downtown Shanghai. Stroker had a hard time accepting that - a pool player who didn’t play straight pool. It boggled his friggin’ mind.
Stroker declined invitations to participate in games that were strictly social, including a never-ending non-betting ring game that occupied four or five of the regulars daily. He couldn’t see how playing with nothing at stake would improve his game, so he developed the habit of practicing by himself.
Tuesday nights Chalkies hosted an open nine-ball tournament which Stroker entered once, played like the chump in, embarrassing himself like he’d shit in his communion suit, but continued to attend, anyway, as a spectator rather than a participant. What he discovered was that there were some pretty good players on the gulf side of Florida, much better, in fact, than he had ever been, even as a hot-shot teen. Sure, he would’ve made a respectable showing back then, back when his stroke was straight and his eyes were sharp, but these guys were veteran 9-ball players. Not only could they make all the shots, they could move the rock with precision. They were way out of Stroker’s league. Hell, the way he played now, everyone still pumpin’ blood was out of his league.
It was also on Tuesday nights that Stroker got to know Rufus Joiner. A good ol’ boy from Tennessee, Rufus wasn’t much of a threat to the crowd at Chalkies, but he, reportedly, was doing pretty well on the local barroom circuit. On Thursday nights, he’d hit a bar down in Tarpon Springs that hosted a weekly 8-ball tournament. At his urging, Stroker joined him one night and, without losing a single game, sailed through the winner’s side, winning a hundred dollar prize in the process. Next week, he repeated and, as quickly as that, he was a member of the local bar pool scene. Tuesday nights found the boys at another bar tournament, this one at the bowling alley’s on old 54 down in New Port Richey. First time out, he won there, too.
Stroker wasn’t kidding himself - he didn’t have an inflated idea of who he was in the grand theme of things or of how he ranked among area pool players. He knew it was only a bunch of bar players he was beating, a bunch of guys who thought they could shoot pool but who actually weren’t all that. Still, it felt good winning for a change and hanging with guys who, deluded as they might be, actually thought he could play.
Not long after he joined the bar tour, one of his new bar buddies asked if Stroker would sub on his bar league team because they wanted to make a run at first place and one of their regular players was screwing up the works. Stroker complied, lost only one game in the last five weeks of the season and propelled his friends to the league championship. Accepting an invitation to become a permanent part of the team, Stroker was the ringer who’s role it was to seal the deal. He started playing in leagues on Mondays and Wednesdays and accumulated trophies at an incredible rate.
While all this was going on, he continued to hit Chalkies every afternoon to work on his game. He had, by now, improved to the point that he wasn’t half bad, even on the big tables. On the bar boxes, he was deadly. He had finished as individual point leader for the last four sessions and his teammates, talking about a five-peat, were comparing him to Jimmie Johnson. Not bad, you might say, for an old timer of 64.
But, Stroker wasn’t all that pleased with himself. Tom Cruise among the pygmies is how he saw himself. Yeah, maybe he had a room full of trophies but, when you got right down to it, what did they signify? Nothing, except that he was getting his jollies by beating a bunch of bar players who, technically, didn’t know shit about pool. Hell, you’d be hard pressed to find three guys in the league who knew how to hold a stick. Whoopee! C’mon, Freddie, let’s hear another chorus of We Are The Champions.
Sure, he’d become a legend in the local bars, but all that really mattered to him was that in the pool room he was still a bum. You wouldn’t catch him bragging to his acquaintances there about his bar league success because anyone with half a melon would know exactly what he was doing - gettin’ his jollies by beating up on a bunch of nits. That was just plain pitiful.
“Toast or a cupcake,” asked Ellie.
“I better have both,” he decided.
He loaded up his syringe with fifteen units of Lantus, the slow-acting stuff. Fast-acting insulin before meals, slow acting insulin at night. It wasn’t really a pain in the ass, it was his life.
Unlike Stroker, who had to perform the rituals of the diabetic before heading out on league nights, his teammates would simply climb into or onto their rides and head out. No problema.
Well, that probably wasn’t exactly true. He could envision Buzz, the Buzzer, trekking out to his work shop last minute to roll a few bombs. It was a condition of life that Buzz and his other teammates could not play pool without a frequent infusion of weed. Every so often the three of them would slip out the bar’s back door to partake in their favorite pastime. “Going to the dumpsters” was how Stroker referred to it. Of course, he realized he was probably inserting himself into the equation when he imagined Buzz slinking off to the work shop. For all he knew, maybe Buzz just plopped his ass down at the kitchen table, in front of wife and kids, pulled out a baggy of buds and went to work. Who knows? These were creatures of a different world.
And, on pool nights, Wiley Baker, Buzz’s sidekick, reportedly had a difficult time extricating himself from the comfort he found between the sheets, if, in fact, his bed bore sheets. Again, Stroker realized he was taking liberties. Anyway, Buzz’s usual excuse for arriving late was difficulty dragging Wiley Baker’s “lazy ass” out of bed. While probably a contributing factor, Stroker allowed, the leisurely loop they traced through the county’s back roads while sharing a pre-match blimp did little to hasten their arrival.
Team captain, Timothy Calderone, TC, had no punctuality issues. Most nights, he was first to arrive. Having sworn off booze, cigarettes and marijuana, he was unencumbered, except for a nasty disposition. He’d work all day cutting lawns, race home, gnash teeth with his girlfriend, Tammy, shower, eat, strap his cue to his back, then, jump on his Harley and hit the road. All night long, during their matches, he and Tammy would exchange angry, hate-filled text messages, some that he shared, some that he didn’t.
After his snack, a thorough teeth brushing, three partially successful attempts to empty his bladder, one stint on the toilet during which he tried not to think of that positive stool sample - “Gee, thanks Doc, it’s nice to hear something positive for a change,” Stroker finally dragged his tired ass out of the trailer. It was twenty-five to eight when he cruised into the Beer Factory’s parking lot, leaving plenty of time, he thought, to get in a couple practice games before the match started. Generally speaking, with the boys venturing to the dumpster for some pre-match fortification, things didn’t get started till eight fifteen. He couldn’t help notice, with a sigh of resignation, an array of Harley’s lined up out front of the Beer Factory’s entrance. That meant, more than likely, they’d be playing the gang from Ivy’s Road House, tonight. The Nomads.
For some reason, TC, Wiley and Buzz held the Nomads, in high esteem. Last time they had played, TC had inadvertently motored up to Ivy’s wearing a red flydanna and was immediately put on notice that to ride into the Nomads’ lair with an unauthorized display of the group’s colors was a violation of the biker’s code so blatant and disrespectful that under different circumstances it may have wound up being severely detrimental to his physical well being. Thankfully, Stroker had an intimate connection with one of the Nomad’s top dawgs, Charlie Evans, and because of that the situation quickly fizzled and the gang forgave TC for his flydanna faux pas and bestowed on him various biker-style hugs of condescension.
It was one of those “small world” coincidences that had landed Stroker and Charlie Evans in the same pitiful ten team bar league in the remote outskirts of Florida’s redneck civilization. Fact was, they had met years ago trout fishing at the Paulinskill River in Sussex County, New Jersey. Charlie, his brother and dad, natives of Morristown, would drive up most Saturdays during the fishing season to fish in one of Stroker’s favorite stretches of water, one that ran from a dam just east of Blairstown down to the steel railroad trestle. Thing was, unlike Charlie who was light complected, Charlie’s brother and dad were blacker than Jackie Robinson. Among the Nomads who couldn’t go five minutes without referring to the n-word in one form of usage or another, that bit of trivia most surely would have effected the current leadership structure. But, if passing was the way Charlie wanted to go, Stroker figured he had that right and wished him all the best. Though they never spoke about it, the cordiality he always bestowed upon Stroker showed that Charlie was very appreciative.
It was common knowledge at Chalkies that most mornings would find Stroker doing laps at Veteran Park’s walking circuit. He did it mostly for the exercise, but he also enjoyed being outdoors in a bucolic setting that was very hospitable to various species of birds, including pileated woodpeckers, bluebirds, hawks and, frequently, bald eagles. Johnny Jones, especially, an outdoorsman himself, was always eager to hear about sightings Stroker had made during his morning strolls.
Though he wasn’t on a first name basis with anybody, he knew others who frequented the park by sight and he made it a practice to nod and say “good morning” as they crossed pathes.
Being pretty good with faces, he recognized as a newcomer a nice looking young lady who, traversing the circuit in the opposite direction, flashed him a wide smile as she went by. He was still contemplating her enthusiasm when he passed her again down by the tennis courts, this time smiling like they were old friends. She didn’t seem to be walking that fast, making Stroker wonder what had brought them back together so quickly, but he didn’t dwell on it. When, not a quarter mile further on, he bumped into her again, same smile, same glow, alarms went off. If nothing, Stroker was a realist. In his sixty-four years, he had never once been accused of being a babe magnet, nor had he ever been greeted with such enthusiasm, not even by his mother.
She stopped in front of him. “Can I ask you something?” she asked in a please-please pretty please tone of voice.
“Sure,” said Stroker. “Go ahead.”
“Mind if I walk with you? I hate walking alone.”
“Well, I’m not going to be here much longer, but you can walk me to my car. Maybe, I’ll take you home with me.”
“Oh, you’re so sweet,” she purred. “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”
With that, she came aside Stroker, took his hand in hers and, pressing her cheek against his shoulder, fell in step beside him.
They had gone about twenty yards when Stroker stopped.
“Sweetheart, do you think you could do me one little favor?” he asked.
“Oh, sure,” she said, eager to please.
“Would you please tell Lumis that I said he shouldn’t be pimping out his daughter.”
“GONADS?” Stroker always yelled that out when they played the Nomads, not to goof on the bikers, but to goof on his teammates who were afraid he was going to instigate a confrontation.
TC wandered over. “Shut up, will ya,” he whispered. “You’re going to get us killed?”
“GONADS?” He winked at Charlie Evans who could barely suppress a laugh.
By the time the barmaid Vicki served up a hug and a diet soda and Stroker had assembled his cue, it was quarter to eight. As usual, Buzz and Wiley hadn't arrived. Stroker checked his cell phone to see if they had called. They hadn’t. He dug a quarter out of his pocket and set it on the rail of the pool table to establish his place in order for a practice game.
“We’re playing!” announced TC.
“I can wait,” said Stroker. “I’ll take the next game.”
“We’re playing,” repeated TC, more emphatically.
“What are you talking about?”
“We started the match.”
“What?” Incredulous, Stroker looked again at his watch. “It’s only quarter to fuckin’ eight,” he said.
“They wanted to start, so we started,” said TC.
“Your fuckin’ team isn’t even here, yet.”
“You're here. Buzz and Wiley are on the way.”
“This is fuckin’ stupid!” said Stroker. “I don’t even get to practice?”
TC had moved over by the Nomads’ table. He was shouting, now, evidently unhappy that his authority was being questioned. “We started. Okay? We want to get done before midnight. Some of us have to work for a living. Live with it.”
“Fuck. You. Asshole,” said Stroker. Without a word to anyone, he took his cue apart, returned it to his case, and walked out the door.
He was halfway to his car when TC came running out of the bar. “They wanted to start,” he said once again. “They're the Nomads.”
“You're a fuckin’ asshole” Stroker shouted over his shoulder. ”Live with that!” And that quick, his season, his quest of a five-peat, and his career as a bar player all came to an end.
Realizing his body couldn't take the pounding, he slowed to a walk, then stopped. Running wasn’t good for you. It couldn’t be if it brought on this much agony. His knees felt like they’d been pummeled with a sledge hammer and he was pretty sure his right foot was broken. Plus, he needed air. Doubled over, he fought to catch his breath, drawing in deeply, once, twice, three times. What the hell had he been thinking! He must’ve been out of his fuckin’ mind!
A trio of crows mocked him from atop the cyclone fence that enclosed the ball field. Thanks, he muttered, right back at ya.
And just when he was thinking that this running horse shit was worse than a colonoscopy, he glanced back over his shoulder and there she was, Lumis’s hooker, coming as fast as her high heels could carry her.
Damn that fuckin’ Lumis.
“Are you all right?” she asked with syrupy concern.
“I’m... okay,” he told her, between breathes. “Just restin’.” Then, he took off, running as fast as he could.
Three weeks later, when he finally got around to turning his cell phone back on, there was voice mail from Charlie Evans. "Hey, old buddy," he said, "I was just wondering if you enjoyed that little number I sent over to the park for ya. Sweet, huh? Let me know."
Copyright © 2004- by Ace Toscano. All rights reserved.