The mid-morning sun filtered into the third story, apartment window, obscuring the numbers on the clock radio. It really wasn't necessary for Bobby to actually see the time to know what part of the morning had arrived. The sound of his alarm had told him it was time to get up two snooze slaps ago. It was Saturday morning and that meant it was time to get to work.
Bobby crawled out of bed and made his way to the washroom where he fumbled for the light switch with half-closed, sleep-encrusted eyes. Turning the cold tap all the way on, Bobby paused to look at his reflection in the mirror above the sink. The speckled gray, receding hairline and dark-circled, brown eyes were not quite what he expected to see. The vibrant, dog-days of his youth were still fresh in his mind, and this tired, used old man looking back at him wasn't who he wanted to start his day with.
"Fuck it," he thought out loud. "we all gotta grow old sometime."
Bobby cupped the ice-cold water in the palms of both of his hands and splashed it all over his face and head. He hoped that this might work to cleanse himself of some of the smell of last night's rum and cokes, or the stench of Mario's stolen Cuban cigars.
Tossing off his t-shirt, Bobby reached for the coat hanger that was hanging off the back of the washroom door. He carefully removed the white, cotton shirt, the dark, navy blue jacket, and the matching, perfectly creased dress pants. He put each item on with meticulous precision, making sure he didn't cause any undue wrinkling in the process. He was, after all, the best-dressed man on the job anywhere in Toronto, or so he was often told. Bobby enjoyed this reputation immensely, and did what he could to live up to it, at least as best as his cash flow would allow.
"Dress for success and success will find you." His dad had always told him. That may have been the only piece of advice that he had ever taken to heart from his dad or from anyone else. Bobby didn't like the opinions of others all that much. When his dad died back in 72', Bobby had cried for that entire morning. After that he went out and bought himself a new suit. For Bobby, money always made bad things better.
Bobby swung his car into the parking lot at 11 am exactly. Wrestling with the keys, his coffee, and a long, black case, he kicked open the door to his brand new, 1988 Camaro, leaving a dirty footprint on the door's inside panel.
"Shit." He remarked, climbing out of the car, being extra careful not to spill any coffee on his clean shirt.
"Hey Bobby, you need a hand there? Don't you look fucking rough today man. Even those pretty clothes can't hide that hangover. Looks to me like mister Armani was out playing a little too late last night. Eh Bobby?" The fat, bald, Iranian man standing in front of the car chuckled.
"Fuck you too Mo." was the response.
The two men wandered together past a few of the West Eglinton Street store windows, until they reached a glass door, blacked out with spray paint with a neon sign mounted above it. The sign read "Coronation Billiards", but the lights meant to illuminate it were all turned off.
"They open yet?" Bobby asked impatiently, yanking at the door.
"Hold all your fucking horses man; I got the keys right here." The Iranian man said, pushing Bobby aside to fumble with the lock. "You got that kid from Atlanta to play today. He's supposed to be here by noon, so I grabbed the keys off of Kieth last night when he closed. I wasn't gonna have to rely on that English bastard waking up this early. We got alatta cash coming in this joint today man; alatta cash Bobby, alaaatta cash." The two men climbed the carpeted staircase and stopped at a second set of locked doors at the top.
"Both doors locked? Fuck, is Kieth ever a paranoid bastard. What's he thinking? Somebody's gonna break in and steal a goddamned pool table?" Bobby spat on the carpet, waiting for Mo to unlock the second set of doors. Once opened, he pushed his way through into the dimly lit room. Eighteen pool tables stretched out to the back wall.
"Hey Mo, where are the fucking lights in this joint?" Bobby asked.
"On the wall on the way into the kitchen. Make sure you flip em all on." Mo responded.
Suddenly, the lights over each of the pool tables began to light up, one by one, illuminating all of their worn, green cloths.
"So, how much we making off of this guy today Mo?" Bobby shouted from the kitchen where he had begun to help himself to the fridge.
"I don't know yet. You just go ahead and do what you do best and let me worry about all of the details. I'll figure out what my end is when the boys get here. Hey… I just heard the door downstairs; that must be them now." Mo moved behind the bar and poured himself a drink.
The creaking of the entrance staircase gave way to the glass doors being swung open by an entourage of five, finely dressed Asian men. After hanging up their coats on the coat rack by the front door, they made their way to the bar and got comfortable on the barstools facing Mo. Mo then proceeded to pour them a round of drinks.
Bobby laid his cue case down onto table eight, and then fetched a tray of balls from behind the bar. He took them back to the table and placed them into the rack. The attention of the men at the bar moved to him as he took off his jacket and hung it up on the wall adjacent to the table and began rolling up his shirt sleeves.
"Hey Bobby," one of the Asian men at the bar shouted, "what kind of cue you use?"
"Meucci. I like the tapered shaft. It gets me some crazy junk on the cue ball." Bobby opened up his case and produced the two halves of his cue. After screwing them together, he removed the rack containing the balls and smacked them with his hand, sending them all flying around the table. Then he proceeded to take aim on the cue, and shoot each of them in, one at a time.
"You gonna beat this guy today Bobby? I got a whole lot of money riding on you. You better play good today Bobby." The Asian man shot back the rest of his drink and motioned for Mo to pour him another.
Bobby smiled and continued to shoot the balls into the pockets.
After only ten minutes of warming up, the creaking of the staircase announced the arrival of another patron to the billiard room. The entrance doors opened and in walked a tall, brown-eyed kid, maybe twenty years of age. He had short cropped, brown hair, and sported blue jeans, a t-shirt, and a brown cue case tucked under his arm.
"You must be Cory. I'm Bobby." Bobby shouted, moving quickly across the room to greet, and shake the visiting player’s hand." You need to warm up for awhile first?"
"Naw, let's just play pool man." Cory responded, the southern drawl obvious in his speech.
Cory laid his case down onto table eight, flipped open the lid, and pulled out his cue. "Race to ten? Nine ball?" he asked.
"Sure, sounds good to me." Bobby replied.
All eyes in the place were now fixated on the two men as they lagged for break. Mo moved to close the blinds, stopping a sunbeam that was inching it's way towards the player's table.
Bobby broke first, and ran the table out, not even pausing to breathe.
Cory returned the favor, running his own table in the second game. His break had been thunderous, and his technique was flawless. If anyone had mistaken him for a young amateur, they certainly knew better now.
Bobby approached the table and prepared for the break of the third game. As he bent down and aligned his body for the opening shot, he suddenly paused, stood up, and looked across the table at Cory who was staring back at him with a look of bewilderment.
“Y’all gunna shoot or am ah gunna haff ta shoot fer ya” Cory commented.
“Sorry man, washrooms calling me.” With that, Bobby laid his cue down on the table and strolled over to the men's room near the back wall of the club. When he got inside the lights were off. Standing there alone in the dark, Bobby closed his eyes and breathed in deep. Thoughts he had been having of his father that morning unexpectedly filled him with grief. An abrupt image of his dad coming home from work with a bag of candies held out by his white, liver-spotted hand; the sight of him in the hospital sleeping; the dialysis machine next to him blinking out the minutes of his life that were left to share. Then, further back, when his dad was happy; in the back yard tending to his tomato plants on a wet spring morning. He would be wearing his favorite, ragged jacket and his favorite gloves; the one's with all the fingers cut off of them. There would always be such a smile on his face when Bobby had come out to help with the weeding.
Bobby turned on the lights and moved to the sink to wash his face. Tears streamed down his cheeks, leaving a salty taste dripping in through his open mouth. He turned the cold tap all the way on and looked up in the mirror. That old man was there again, staring back at him with those same dark, penetrating eyes, and that pale, wrinkled skin. It was all so unfamiliar.
Bobby washed his face, dried it with some paper towel, and checked his clothing for any chalk that might have gotten onto it. He then turned the washroom lights back off and pushed his way through the door out into the main room.
“Sorry boys, just had to drop the kids off at the pool." There was no sign of the emotion Bobby had just shared with the man in the mirror. "You ready to lose Cory?” Bobby asked, confidently grabbing his cue back up off the table and swinging it hard into his next break.
"You shuuure a big talker Bobby-man. You ain't tryin' ta shark me, are ya Bobby?" Cory questioned rhetorically with a sarcastic sneer.
Control of the table swung back and forth with run-outs, Masse and jump shots from both players, wowing the small crowd of onlookers. Finally, with the match tied at 9-9, the tension in the room had gotten nearly unbearable.
"Hill-hill Cory; and it's my turn to break. Hey Mo, go get your video camera. I wanna use this next game on my instructional video… How to Win at Pool, By Bobby Leighton." Bobby laughed as he crashed the cue ball into the pack, sending the balls flying. With the one ball having dropped off the break into the bottom right pocket, Bobby arched his fingers over top of the seven ball to get a clearer shot on the cue. On the back of his hand, the small tattoo of an eight ball stuck out, as it faced up at his audience. The reflection of the table's light bounced off the silver rings on his fingers, captivating the crowd with their shine.
The only sound in the room was the murmur of the refrigeration system and the clack of balls as they bounced off one another. Bobby calmly walked around the table pocketing shots with a robotic exactitude, until the only ball that remained on the table was the final nine ball. It lay precariously perched over the corner pocket where it threatened to drop of it's own accord. Bending down for this closing shot, Bobby's bridge was tight as steel. The cue flowed back and forth over his knuckle like corn on the cob sliding across a bar of butter. Then, when the moment felt just right, Bobby's tip impacted the cue sending it sailing across the table where it smacked into the nine, dropping it into the pocket. After hitting the nine, the cue ball stopped for a second and then vaulted forward, following the nine ball down the hole.
Cory laughed out loud. "If y'all is gonna use that game in yer video, you best be leavin' out that sorry endin'."
The out-spoken Asian man smacked his fist down onto the bar, making a bang that echoed throughout the room. "Fuck Bobby, How could you lose like that? Didn't you see that the cue ball was gonna follow it in? Fuck Bobby, you just cost me a lot of money."
"Sorry guys, just ain't my day." Bobby separated the two halves of his cue, and his emotions from the situation at hand. He put the cue back into it's case, closing the lid with a snap. His emotions, thoughts of his father, his creeping age, the lie that his life had become, all went into his gut where he slammed that lid as well. It didn't quite close all the way though. Bits and pieces would climb out when he was drunk, tired, or alone. But, not now. Now, it was time for the reality in front of him, and emotions were not welcome in this place.
"I gotta go boys. Thanks for the game Cory. Congrats."
After a quick handshake with Cory, Bobby exited through the glass doors and scrambled his way down to the street. Several hours later, back at Bobby's apartment, the phone rang. Bobby got up off the couch and picked up the receiver.
"Hey Bobby, it's Mo. Great game today buddy. Everything worked out great. I got your money." said the voice on the other end of the line.
"How much we make off those guys?" Bobby asked.
" Twenty-five Gee's. Ten thousand for you, ten thousand for me, and five thousand for Cory." The voice replied.
"Good stuff Mo. I'll be down there sometime tomorrow to grab my share. I'm just gonna steal a few hours sleep before my match at the Cue Club. I'm playing some fish down there tonight."
"Sure thing Bobby. Another day at the office eh buddy?" The laughter trailed off as Bobby hung up the receiver and laid back down on the couch. “Another day at the office." Bobby thought to himself. In a few more moments he was back asleep.