Posted 13 years 344 days ago ago by Admin
Shoot-out at the Corner Bar!
("Fearless" and Me Get the Short End of the Stick!) by Dorcey (Captain Methane) Wingo
'Long about nine o'clock in the mornin' me and "Fearless" Dougie Farfel pulled up to the dusty entrance at the front of the Corner Bar. The dust cloud we sucked along under our outfit's Ford pickup followed us on into the open door and billowed like thousands of tiny stars as we stood framed in the shaft of early morning light.
It was so dark inside it took awhile for our pupils to dilate and find our way around. Somebody hollered, "Howdy boys!" We hollered back and shuffled slowly toward the voice, feeling our way blindly along the barstools.
We were two tired chopper pilots, having just put our French helicopters to bed after a long night of flying "frost protection" missions over the L & D Ranch. (That'd be where your Almond Joy & Mars bars get their almond crunch!)
'Round about February through April, Mother Nature needed our help to keep the tender young almond flowers from freezing their little buds off. And our choppers usually did the job, blasting the warm air just above the trees down through the cold air, obliterating any chance of frost for up to an hour at a time. Once the sun rose, we became free men again until around dinnertime. Not bad for a couple of young, handsome bachelors on a spring job in central California!
Dougie & me was veterans from the 'Nam, so it was traditional to stop by the local watering hole on our way back to the hooch. We'd shoot the breeze and have a cold one while we unwound from hovering over the frosty almond orchards in the dark.
As I paid for the long necks, I heard Doug mumble something about a friendly little game of "8-Ball." He came up with a quarter, and about that fast, we was on our way to the back of the bar, where an old pool table stood quietly waiting for us.
We'd played at this table before, and she was a beauty. Regulation size, leather catch-pockets, level as the state of Texas, and nary a rip on its virginal green expanse. A big shaded lamp hanging low over the table sported Clydesdales haulin' the "King of Beers" through a picturesque Christmas scene. Merle Haggard was on the jukebox. Pool playin' just didn't get any better than this!
"Rack 'em, Easy Money!" I called out as Doug fingered his quarter.
The first game went down pretty slick, 'cept I lost and had to rack 'em as Dougie pulled out his fixin's and rolled a cigarette.
"Why don't you break down and buy a pack of smokes, Fearless?" I asked as he was putting the last of his spit down on the little ribbon of glue to finish the twirlin.' I already knew the answer:
"Cause I'd smoke 'em too fast if I did," he wheezed, firing up a big Ohio Blue Tip kitchen match off his bony backside, lighting up his cancer stick.
He blew smoke all over the table (?) then meticulously placed the cue ball down near the center of the break circle and waitedpatiently, as I carefully pulled the wooden triangular rack off the colorful balls.
'Long about then I heard a commotion off to my left as the rear door of the bar swung open, brightening up the field of play for a second as an old man made his way over the threshold, limping. He hobbled along with the aid of a black wooden cane. A little over five foot tall and eighty years old if he was a day, we made eye contact briefly and his eyes gleamed like the sun off 'a chrome pistol!
I couldn't help but notice that he was holdin' a dollar bill in his left hand as he made his way between the pool table and my barstool. As I stood there with the rack in my hand, the old fellow slapped the dollar down on the rail next to me and announced profoundly to the three occupants of the building,
"Dollar sez I sink the 8-ball on the break. Left side pocket!"
I looked at Doug. Doug looked at me. I smiled, straightened up, and started to offer the old fellow his dollar back, but then I noticed - in the big mirror on the wall - that the barkeep back yonder was grinning from ear to ear, noddin' his head like one'a them fuzzy bobble-head dogs in somebody's rear window.
"Done deal!" Doug and I said in the same breath, and I offered up my pool cue to the old gent. He ignored me and ambled around to the breaking end of the table, where he flamboyantly gestured for Fearless Dougie Farfel to stand aside. He then looked me straight in the eye and replied,
"Don't need no stick, Sonny! I got my stick right here!"
And as comical as it looked, he raised that old crooked wooden cane up level with the table, showing Doug and me the standard old rubber-crutch tip at its dusty terminus.
Doug reminded me later that I snorted under my breath as the old geezer stepped up to the table, rared back and smacked that danged cue ball with a stroke as straight and true as Ralph Rudolf Wanderoni, Junior hisself. The sound was not unlike a fifty-caliber Hawkin rifle on a cold mornin’!
When the smoke cleared, as they say, the eight ball was rolling slowly along the last two inches of its journey - straight into the left side pocket, where it fell with a thud that I can still sometimes hear in my nightmares to this day.
Doug stood transfixed like some pitiful wax museum figure as I hesitantly peeled a new dollar out of my b***st pocket and slid it under his. The old hustler collected his winnings and sauntered off toward the bar.
Looking up into the mirror, the bartender already had the man's cold beverage of choice waiting, and I knew that we'd been had. The look on the bartender's face was worth the dollar! The look on Dougie's face was priceless!
That was near thirty years ago, but if I ever do stop by Atwater again, the Corner Bar will be where I pull up. I gotta find out how he did it! And how many notches the Corner Bar Hustler has on his cane!