Anyway they begged her to let them take me along and she knew they wouldn’ let nothin’ bad happen to me… So I started ridin’ with them, to all the clubs and pool halls. The first time I went with them, they came into this place wearing checkered pants, cuffs up high on their legs, looked like bumpkins. One big ol’ guy and a little bitty skinny one, standin’ together, looked to me like a number 10! When they walked in, the sharks started smilin’ to themselves, an' lickin’ their chops!
And they would hoorah one another, one be tryin’ to shoot, the other sayin’ “MAIN, what you doin’, you don’ know what you doin’! You cain’t shoot pool!” Instead of hoorahin’ the other guys, they would hoorah each other, and it had an effect on the guys playin’ against ‘em. Built up their confidence. They jus’ knew they had a couple of suckuhs. They would act like they were nervous an’ frustrated, jaw back an’ forth, all the while playing a bad game on purpose, an’ the others grinnin’ real big. They would make small bets at first, lose a little money- then build up to big money. When they had ‘em all believin’ they were a couple of country rubes, they would accidently win one… and Rifle say, “You lucky dog, you could never make that shot again!” Then Fatty would act the fool, challenge him, an' everybody to put their money up. All a sudden there would be a PILE of cash on the bar.
Fatty would set it up, and then suddenly Rifle would make a lucky shot too… they would play doubles and an’ rake it all in… Everybody shakin’ their heads… They would go all over an' do this over an’ over again. They would blow in like some comedy act, everybody smiling,’ an’ leave like bill collectors with everybody sad…
One time they came into a place with a whole suitcase full of money. By then I was sort of like their caddy… I carried the money. Must have been somethin’ like $20,000 in there. They would come into a place like that, lay the suitcase down and make the bet. All or nothin’. They seemed to know the crowd they were dealing with. I don’t know how they did it, but this time they got everybody to match them, an’ they found a couple of sharks ready to take them to the cleaners. I was holdin’ that suitcase, and there was twenty more thousand dollars, piles of money on the table. By now I had learned to play along… act scared, like they were gonna lose my money. I think people trusted ‘em more cause they had a little kid along.
Then something unbelievable happened. The other team had the first shot, and the first guy hit those balls like they were a tree stump, and we all watched as the balls kind of spread in slow motion… just making room for the 8 ball to meander out of the bunch and then the white ball came rollin’ back for second lick an’ very gently tapped the 8 ball and they both plop-plopped into the side pocket. The whole crowd was speechless. Everybody just stared in disbelief. The game was over, and Rifle started gathering the money. We had nothing to carry it in… he showed me how to stuff it into my socks, into my pants, anyplace you could stuff a wad of cash, an’ we got outta there in a hurry!
They taught me how to play Pigeon Toe. You have to have two things to play Pigeon Toe. A hard stick and a soft flo. The floor has to have some give… or else you can put a wad of cardboard under one leg of the pool table. Makes the corner spongey… It takes some practice, but after you shoot, you can tip that table just enough to make the balls come to you…. And down in the pocket. One time I tipped it too much and the white ball almost went in too… I was just prayin’ that it would stop, ‘cause I couldn’t tip it back up when they were all watching my corner. So I learned how to win before I learned how to play.
Fatty and Rifle decided it was time to buy a new car. They went to the dealership, and told the salesman they wanted a good car, right then. When the salesman seemed a little doubtful, Rifle let him know right quick, there was no question whether they could buy a car, but how much would they pay for the trade-in? The salesman, never fearing that the deal would ever go through, agreed to their terms. Then they took a test drive in a black and white, almost new Cadillac, and then told the guy they were going to buy it right then.
The salesman tried to be diplomatic, thinking that they had no idea how complicated it might be for two poor Negroes to get financing for that car. Then they popped open their trunk and showed him the money. There was around forty thousand dollars in paper bags and the suitcase lyin’ in there. He seemed stunned. We were in their new car in less than thirty minutes. We took off with that salesman standing at the curb with a stupid look on his face, like it was a joke or Candid Camera or somethin’. We drove around the block laughin’ and came back around waving, and Rifle got out and told him that the Lord had smiled on him today, as he stuffed a dollar in his shirt pocket. The guy just stood dumbfounded. “Oh here’s another one!” Rifle laughed, like he was cleaning out his pocket, as he found another dollar and stuffed it into his pocket with the other one. Then we drove away, leaving him standing at the curb. He just stood there, like he had seen a ghost.
But that car was the cause of all kinds of trouble. I’ll never forget that next Sunday, we drove over to a new club downtown. It actually wasn’t a new club, just an old club with a new paint job. The owner had painted the front blue and named it the Blue Front Lounge. Everything was the same on the inside, but she did put up a new sign on a tree in the front of the place… a 4 x 8 sheet of plywood, she painted white with a blue whale on it. Everybody came from around the neighborhood to gawk at this new sign. It was a big deal… There wadn' much art in the ghetto. They just sat around and looked at it, like it was the Statue of Liberty. They couldn't have been more excited if it was a drive-in theater.
Anyway, we went in and there was an ol’ woman runnin’ the joint, big juicy woman called Ellie Mae. And at the bar was the most beautiful light-skinned woman I had ever seen. She was young and beautiful… a nice shape, and legs like butter. When she spun around on that barstool it drove me crazy. I was just ten, but I knew she was fine. The old woman axed me how old I was. “I’m 42, how old are you?” I said, real tough. She just walked off. I was trying to impress the girl. So she got tough with me… “You got the pot money, big man?”
“Sho do!” I barked and I strutted to the back to put it into the pot. She didn’ scare me. Everybody had to put up two hundred dollahs to play. Non-refundable. If you acted the fool, caused any trouble, they would throw you out, but you didn’ get your money back. This cut down on fights… at least during the games. I put it in. I never took my eyes off of the girl with those fine legs.
Then here comes her husband- young stallion, sharp-dressed player, a golden boy in a black suit, bow tie, thinks he’s a professional pool ace. He’s got a preacher with him, I guess he’s come along to give him the edge… Divine support… and there’s this little short guy, kind of a little trouble-making leprechaun, bounces in and starts heckling the golden boy with the yella wife. He knows that the guy’s got a tempuh. And one false move and he’s outta there. If he won’t leave, they carry him out. Starts to tease at 'im. The fine lookin' woman swaggers over to the front door, which has been left open. She must have been through this before. All you can see is that stunning figure silhouetted in the doorway. She’s ready to go. He starts sweatin’ and pullin’ at his bow tie.
The midget says “C’mon main, you might as well pull that damn thing off, niggah, you know you nevah gonna make it through the afternoon- you already sweatin’!” Leprechaun laughed like a little demon. Everybody wanted to smack him.
The preacher slugged down his Schlitz tall boy, and I just started prayin’. Golden boy was visibly irritated. The leprechaun would not stop. “An’ I wish you would get outta the way, so I can still see that fine lookin’ woman with the buttery legs in the doah!”
Golden boy tugged at his bowtie, his jaw muscles flexed like steel bands, an’ he looked like he was gonna kill the midget, but later. The little guy had no idea the woman was his wife, but he began to realize that he had bow tie in a tight spot, so he put down his beer and came over to him, kinda like a bully, or a circus clown, lookin’ for a fight… “I tell you what, did you see that car? Did you see the car they are drivin’ in? You know who she’s goin' home with don’cha? Look at her, she lookin’ at that big black and white Cadillac! An’ she wants to go for a ride!” Golden boy was about to explode. I ducked under the woman, an' I had the keys, I jingled ‘em an’ said, “You wanna see the car?”
She looked back at bow tie, but he was way too distracted. “Can I get in it?”
“Sure you can. I’ll turn the air-conditioning on for you.” I said, smiling like I was about to take her on a date. “Get in the back seat and feel how that soft leather feels on your legs.” I was almost beside myself. She slid in.
Meanwhile the leprechaun finally tripped the trigger inside the Blue Front and Golden Boy jerked off his bowtie and began to strangle that little guy until he finally quit laughing. When he was through, the leprechaun was out cold and they was out of the game. Fatty and Rifle gathered up their winnings while the preacher held his friend at bay. They ran out of that place like it was about to explode and jumped in and fired up the Cadillac. We were two blocks away before they realized one thing. Butter legs was still in the car.
We hated to go back, but we circled around and pulled up to the Blue Front, and she hopped out, grinning and embarrassed... an' probably scared. We watched as she walked towards him. She was either stupid or downright fearless. Rifle tried to think of what to say… “It wasn’t her fault man, we don’t want any trouble, we don’t even know that little debul inside! An we didn’ know she was in da cah…” Bow tie was standin’ there, looked right through us all, and he had a shotgun held next to his leg, leanin’ on the blue whale. He was ready to kill somebody. An' everybody had come outside an' was laughin’ at him. He had thought she left with us just like the midget said. When she came up to him, he grabbed her by the throat and began to push her down to the ground. He caught her so fast she never made a sound. With his back to us, everything happened so fast, I kicked our sawed-off shotgun under the seat so Rifle could snatch it up, and quick as a cat, he ran over and took him out.
Just like that.
He whacked him on the back of the head, real neat- like with the barrel of the shotgun. Nice clean hit. Bow tie dropped like an anchor. The preacher said ”Oh my God!” and even Rifle said “Lawd, lawd…”
An' bow tie never moved again.
Of course, you know what happened next, somebody had already called the police about the midget incident. They came shortly and Ellie Mae gave the whole run down, who did what, and when.
The cops were walking around, inspecting the living and the dead, listening, trying to see it in their minds… one of ‘em finally said, “You mean, this dead guy laying here, he assaulted that little unconscious fellow in there, and then this gal here ran off with these guys in the Cadillac, afraid, and then this dead guy went and got his shotgun, and threatened to do them harm, and then she came back... why I don't know... and then he was holding and whoopin’ this same woman and these guys in the Cadillac came back up to the deceased, who was armed with this shotgun, and took him out?”
“That’s what I’m sayin’,” Ellie Mae uttered unconvincingly.
“And no shots were fired?” None of it made any sense at all.
“That’s right. It’s a wonder mo folks wadn’ hurt… An’ dis preacher here will vouch for the same thing. He came wit da main.”
The cops looked at me, all big-eyed and sad, and Fatty and Rifle, who looked more like a Vaudeville act than dangerous killers. “You men better get that kid outta here…” was all they said.
No charges were ever filed.
Rifle and Fatty were good ol’ men… taught me how to hustle, an’ how to stay outta jail. My best friends until they died. One died one day and then the other died the next. I sure missed ‘em. Sometime I’ll tell you ‘bout when they drove me to Texas to stay with my grandmother for the summer. They were supposed to take me to the bus station… but just passed it up and kept drivin’… Big Mama put ‘em to work when they got to Brazoria… Said that was the worst mistake they ever made…