The Hustle

by Mark Stellinga

2005 Mark Stellinga, all rights reserved.

ell grab yourself a seat along the bar, and have a beer,
You won't believe the story that you are about to hear.

I don't recall waht night it was, and don't recall the year,
But this is how it happened, friend, and, yes...it happened here.

Behind the bar the barmaid scanned the booths for needed drinks,
When, all at once, into the room this stealthy figure slinks.

He slowly saunters through the door...he gives the maid a glance.
For sixty seconds, nothing moves...the place is in a trance!

He pauses by the jukebox, where the tiny colored lights,
For just a moment danced upon his blinding pearly whites.

He squinted through the darkness, then slipped off his tattered cloak,
Swept back his tousled silver hair with one hypnotic stroke,

Then strolled across the room to where the old pool table stood,
And tapped his fingers gently on the scarred but prettywood.

I don't know why I did it, but the place was packed that night
When, as he plucked the cue ball from beneath the smoky light,

From somewhere deep within my soul the haunting challenge came.
They say I said, "Hey, rack 'em up...if you wanna shoot a game!"

He said, "O. K., but, just for fun." He racked, then grabbed a stool.
Then added, "Take it easy...I've played very little pool!"

I pulled a damn good house cue off the wall and grabbed some chalk.
I dusted down the tip real hard, and watched him like a hawk.

I'm not sure why the crowd had gathered near to watch us play,
But someone yelled, "So bust 'em...if you got no more to say!"

When...as I leaned to break 'em...in the corner of my eye...
I saw the ivory fingers...and I felt my throat go dry.

I stared for just a moment at the worn and lifeless fist.
I'd heard the tale, but always thought the man did not exist.

I slowly raised my head until I saw his chiseled face.
His eyes were old, but crystal clear, though smoke now filled the place.

But as I pondered who he was, another guy yelled, "Break!"
And so the game began, and you could feel that table shake.

But, when the last small spheroid came to rest upon the slate,
Not one damn ball was down, and now my turn had come to wait.

He slithered to the cue rack, and he grabbed an old house stick,
Then turned to me and asked, "I guess this means I get to pick?"

"That's the way it's played", I said, "now, show us what ya' got,"
But don't forget that...when you miss...I only need one shot!"

Then...with his wooden weapon poised upon that ivory fist...
"You've HAD your shot," he softly said, "'cause I have never missed!"

With whittled ivory fingers nestled 'neath the powdered tip,
His stroke was soft and silky, with a firm but gentle grip.

"Five ball in the corner," was the first I heard him call.
The crowd had gone dead quiet, as I watched the first one fall.

The cue ball found the seven frozen tight, and knocked it loose.
I'd broken well, the rest were out, and then he mumbled..."deuce."

The two fell hard. I saw the old man's eyes, well...kind o' squint.
The tip had fallen off his cue, and man...that thing was bent!

With icy concentration in the fissures of his his face,
He pointed at a corner pocket."Guess I'll play the ace."

But then it happened..."whitie" gave the nine a little kiss,
And there he stood...not one good shot. If he was gonna miss,

The time had come, so I said smartly, "What's it gonna be?"
He slowly raised his head, he found my face, and said to me,

"Would you like to lay a little money on the line?"
I glanced back at the table. He was snookered on the nine!

"You're on", I quipped, and then, though why, I'll never understand,
I glared into his gentle eyes and said, "How 'bout a GRAND?"

The crowd drew down around us tight. The barkeep killed the box.
The old man scanned the room and found this flashy little fox.

He counted out a thousand bucks, then gave it to the chick.
I glanced back at the table, at his bent and tip-less stick.

"Your money, friend," he taunted, so I matched the emerald wad.
"Now, call your shot," I grumbled, as I gave the lie a nod.

"Seven, in the side, five rails," was all the old man said.
The damn thing went so easy you'd have sworn the shot was dead!!

His leave was great for anything, but the best shot was the six,
And I remember noticing, no matter what he picks,

The leave is "automatic," and before the six had dropped,
The man was stroking on the three, and as the cue ball stopped,

He drilled it in the side, then drew it back to leave the four.
In less than fifteen seconds he had run to just one more!

The eight was sitting lonely on a corner pocket lip.
With nothing lying in the way, he let the old cue slip.

His running of the table brought a cheer from allmy friends.
He shook my hand and whispered, "This is how it always ends!"

I never saw that guy again, and never caught his name.
And, no, I won't forget that night...
that face....
that fist....
that game!