By Amir Said
The jukebox had been removed. In it’s place sat two wooden bar stools. They were perfect for viewing the pool table action, but it had been decided that no one should sit in them. There was no caucus on the matter, it was simply understood that those two stools were off limits. Even when the place gradually begin to return to its normal numbers, it didn’t seem odd to anyone that two pool-side seats remained empty.
As months doubled-up and years stretched on, O’Tools had become legendary within the world of high stakes pool games. Lucky 9, Jack Tuna, Nick the Chip, Baby Face Melvin, Perry Morton, all of the top money players in the city had made there way to O’Tools. On any given night, a guy like me could snatch two, maybe three grand in some of the side games. The allure of the big take brought out every pool shark, every flip & stick pool jockey in town. Weekends were always a sight. Them college boys would come into the bar area, get liquored up and then stumble back into the pool room. Looking to impress their dates, they would get in on the pool action, but they lost their shirts every time. Sometimes, they lost their dates, too.
Dusty, the owner of O’Tools, had put down his stick long ago. He hadn’t played since that thing with the jukebox. His mind was on turning around the joint. I don’t think that he ever had the intention to hold major money games in the spot. The place had built up a good rep for straight pool, no hassle. Plus, the cops didn’t throw no static. So Dusty allowed things to go on the way they were. Truth is, he really couldn’t have changed things even if he wanted to. There was too much cash on those back room tables; too much cash to let anybody let change happen. Nawgh, Dusty didn’t rock the boat. He took his 10% house cut, and went about the business of operating his bar…
Two years after that jukebox incident, this kid comes into O’Tools. His name was Victor—everybody called him “Vic the Kid.” He couldn’t’ve been no more than 13, 14 years old. He was lanky, not tall or nothing, just skinny. He wouldn't exactly scare you if you crossed him in the alley. He had real tight eyes, too. Always looked like he was taking everything in real deep, you know… Anyway, Vic would’ve been kicked out and never seen again, had it not been for Jackie Nines stepping in. As it goes, Frank Otto, (who could only be described as the most inconsistent, unlucky bastard to ever play a game of pool), was locked in one of his famous “break even” games…
Frank Otto was a pretty good pool player, he just had the misfortune of perpetually breaking even. No matter how many games he played, no matter who he played, Frank Otto never did better than break even. So we’re all in the pool room. Jackie Nines is back there placing side bets on all the tables. While this is going on, Vic the Kid comes in. Don’t know what he said to the waitress, (I think her name was Ginger, or it might have been Dottie), I don’t know… Anyway, a couple of guys move up on ‘em, you know to “escort” him out of O’Tools. Nobody wanted a repeat of the jukebox thing, and nobody wanted a spade in the place, either. They grab Vic the Kid up and start to pull him out of the pool room.
“Hey, hey, hey, what’s all that for? Easy on the kid,” Jackie Nines says.
They called him Jackie Nines on account he was a classy dresser. He was always dressed to the nines, this guy. Jackie was connected, too. He was cool with everybody: the Italians, the Jews on Delancey, the brothuhs up in Harlem. He even had friends out in Brooklyn. Jackie did, uh, what-a-you-call-it, “freelance”. He was a "freelancer". Yeah, he did a lot of "freelancing". So needless to say, when he spoke on something, it was pretty much law in O’Tools... You know, in fact, come to think about it, I remember Jackie Nines telling Poor Mike not to sit on the stools. Yeah, that’s right. Don’t know if he meant just for Poor Mike Donavan not to sit there or even for just that night. All's-I-know-is after that, no one sat in those stools…
“Say, kid, what are you doing here?” Jackie Nines says to him.
“I’m just looking for some work, Mr. But I didn’t want any trouble,” Vic says back to him.
“Nobody wants trouble, kid. But it has a way of showing up, anyway... Here!” Jackie Nines goes into his pocket, pulls out some cash, tells Vic to take it and go get something to eat. Vic takes the money, thanks Jackie, then walks out of the pool room.
Moment later, you hear Frank Otto mucking it up. This hard luck case finally breaks past even for five sour bucks.
“I can’t believe it,” Jackie Nines says out loud, “this unlucky bastard goes past even… Patty!” he calls out, summoning his side-man, Patrick, (everybody called him "Patty Guns", on account when he punched a guy, his hands shot out like a bullet from a gun). Well, Jackie Nines tells Patty to go get that kid… Then he points to Frank Otto.
“You,” he says, pointing to Frank Otto, “get over hear, I wanna see you do that shit again.”
Five minutes later, Frank Otto’s going head up against the great Perry Morton. A couple of shots in, Patty returns with the kid.
“Hey, kid, what’s your name?” Jackie Nines says to him.
“Victor,” the kid replies, looking scared as shit
“Victor… All right, 'Vic the Kid', this is what I want you to do for me. I want you to stay here and watch this bum play pool. If that guy right there beats that fat fucker over there, you got a job." Vic nodded his head in agreement. “O.K., come on, let’s sit down.”
Jackie Nines goes over to the two stools, he sits down in the left stool, Vic the Kid follows him and climbs into the one on the right. Nobody says a word, and the pool game just keeps goin'.