One way or another I had to justify this hooligan’s trust in me. I decided to play a card I’d had up my sleeve for all of two minutes, ever since I’d seen the way the docker had left the balls.
I had adopted the orthodox position of a player intent on scoring: left foot pointing forward in the direction of travel, right foot braced at a right angle. The weird thing about my classic crouch over the cue ball which lay on the left just below the cluster of pins was that, instead of aiming at either of the two balls which lay on the right hand side of the table, the docker’s ball six inches from the top cushion and the red just above the wooden diamond, I was preparing to launch Connor’s white down the table into the bottom cushion.
“No, son, no,” someone called out. The crowd was in an uproar.
“Ah’m urrnae goin’ tae say this twiced,” another voice shouted. “You play doon the table instead o’ where the red and the spot are at the tap o’ the table, Connor’ll plunge ye..”
“Ah’m urr goin’ tae gi’e ye the same warning, son,” another voice chimed in. “Ye mess up this shot, ye’ll hiv a face fu’ o’ Mars Bars (scars) furr the rest o’yer life.”
I ignored them and proceeded to drive the cue ball with considerable force towards the bottom cushion. It zipped off the bottom into the upper left cushion. From there, it bounced against the top cushion and struck the red firmly to drive it in the direction of the skittles. Slowly, ever so slowly, the cue ball kissed the docker’s spot ball. This was a cannon worth two points. But what’s this? The red is trundling inexorably towards the two pin and after what seemed an eternity knocks it over.
Two points plus two more for the cannon brought Connor’s total to twenty-one.
Ba-ram-ba-ram-ba-ram-ba-ram – most of the audience started banging on the linoleum floor with their cues.
Jackie (The Hat) Connor emerged from the office and placed his body, leaning slightly forward, directly in front of me. Why such an extreme posture? He smiled. “Ye didnae play the safety shot, did ye?”
“No,”I said, my voice barely rising above a gasp.
“But yer crookie shot won me the game.”
Barely audible: “Aye.”
“Ye done good, pal,” Connor snorted a laugh. “Come doon tae the café next tae The Doctor’s Pub at the corner of the PR and Cornwall Street the night. Ah’ve goat a proposition furr ye – tae dae wi’ writing.”
“What will I be writing about?” I asked.
“Me,” he snapped. He detached a half dozen pound notes from the thick bundle he’d picked up from the mantelpiece and gave them to me. “That’s you weighed in, pal,” he said.. “Urr ye game?”
I could only nod rapidly in agreement. As gazed reverently at the fan of money in my right hand something clicked deep inside me. Getting paid handsomely for something I liked to do caused endorphins to launch themselves in my mind. ‘Be still, my foolish heart,’ I silently prayed. I knew that I’d be chasing this buzz for the rest of my life.
Yes! I said to everything and to all of it – Yes! Yes! Yes!
“Come doon tae Lorne School the night at seven,” Connor commanded in clipped tones. “Staun outside Stinson’s. Big Andy here’ll pick ye up in a white van. “ Abruptly he and his minders headed for the exit. In the doorway he paused and raised an admonitory finger in my direction and barked: “Be there, Bella boy!”