The Hustler and the Mysterious Stranger

On a warm stormy evening,
In a pool room up to no good,
I met up with a Hustler,
We were both too tired to shoot,
So we took turns a starin’,
Through the pool room in the darkness,
The boredom overtook us,
And he began to speak.
He said, “Michael, I’ve made a life,
Out of reading players’ faces,
Knowing what their speed was,
By the way they held their cues,
So if you don’t mind my sayin’…. 

The corny monologue was cut short by a blinding flash of light and we were shaken by a sonic boom.  KA BOOOM!  As the echoes of thunder faded, the hustler exclaimed, “WOW!  That was a close one!”  I turned to look at the hustler seated next to me.  Years of living on the road had not been kind to him.  His faded and torn blue jeans and the worn soles of his shoes were subtle reminders of the tough existence he had carved out for himself.  The shiny faux-platinum watch on his wrist and the large gold nugget ring on his left pinky failed to hide the truth of his station in life.  I turned my attention back to the empty tables in front of me.  As my eyes readjusted to the darkness, I suddenly realized there was a guy standing next to table number eight that I had not noticed a moment before.  He was rather tall, maybe six foot three, and wore a tattered oil cloth jacket that shimmered slightly when he moved.  I could never get a good look at his face, but had the distinct impression that he was old…very old.  I leaned over and nudged the hustler, “Hey, check out that guy.  Where did he come from?”  The hustler turned his head and grunted, “Hummph.  I never saw him come in…never seen him in here before.” 

We watched as the stranger moved silently around the table, setting up a string of fifteen balls right down the middle of the table, each separated by a few inches.  I leaned closer to the Hustler, “What’s he up to?”  The Hustler grunted noncommittally and shrugged his shoulders, never taking his eyes off the stranger.  The stranger was standing a few feet away from the table.  He slowly chalked the tip of his cue; his eyes sharp and focused intensely on the balls.  After a few seconds he approached the table, moving with the eerie smoothness of a cat sneaking up on a mouse.  When he reached the table, he bent at the waist and placed his bridge hand on the cloth.  In one smooth motion, he pulled his shooting arm back then stroked through the first ball.  The ball hit the far rail and rebounded cleanly into the corner pocket…a perfect kick.  He stood, repositioned himself a couple inches down the table, and fired again.  The object ball ricocheted off the far rail and landed squarely in the corner pocket…another perfect kick.  He continued down the table: stand, move, set, fire, stand, move, set, fire.  He worked his way down the line like a well oiled machine, all fifteen shots a work of perfection.

I glanced to the hustler sitting next to me.  As our eyes met, he raised an eyebrow, shrugged his shoulders, and turned back to watch the stranger.  Again, the odd guy was setting up a line of fifteen balls down the middle of the table, each a couple inches apart.  Then he produced a cue ball from his jacket pocket and placed it next to the line.  The hustler leaned over and whispered in my ear, “He’s gonna try to bank them all in the same corner pocket.  He’ll never do it.  Kicks and banks require slightly different aiming points…most people don’t know that.”  The stranger studied the table for a few moments, got into his shooting stance behind the cue ball, and fired the first shot.  The object ball banked off the far rail and obediently rolled into the corner pocket.  Simultaneously, the cue ball reversed direction, rebounded off the near rail, and rolled perfectly in line for the second shot.  The stranger stood, chalked his cue tip again, and got into position for the next shot.  I glanced over to the hustler to get his take on the situation, but he didn’t return my look.  A bead of sweat rolled down his temple and he tapped his fingers nervously as he stared at the table.  The stranger was at it again.  He worked his way down the line like a Gatlin gun firing in slow motion, all fifteen bank shots perfectly executed with the cue ball obediently moving into perfect position for the next shot as if controlled by an invisible string.

The stranger placed another set of fifteen balls on the table and started again.  After a couple minutes of flawless shooting, the hustler stood.  I turned my head, “Hey, you don’t want to watch this?”  He shook his head and studdered, “N-Nah, I gotta go…gotta go see somebody.”  He turned and quickly exited out the side door.  I stayed and watched for another fifteen minutes as the stranger cleared table after table, each shot a perfectly executed bank.  KA BOOM!  Another crack of lightning, this time REALLY close.  The building shook with thunder.  I glanced over my shoulder to the bar to ask Dave if we should kill the lights.  Dave wave waved off my concerns.  When I turned my head back, I realized the stranger was no longer at the table.  He was standing at the front door, cue case on his back, staring out into the torrential rain.  “Wow, that’s odd,” I thought to myself.  Not wanting to miss the opportunity to pick up some pointers from him, I called out, “Hey, Mister!”  He didn’t acknowledge my call, and continued to stare through the glass door.  I raised my voice, “Hey Mister!  How did you make all those bank shots?  What’s your system?”  No response.

I stood from my chair and began moving across the room toward him.  “Excuse me, Sir.  Could you tell me the secret to your banking…”  CRAAACK!  A bolt of lightning hit VERY close and the power went out.  The entire room was plunged into darkness.  I could still make out the stranger’s silhouette against the front doorway.  He turned his head slightly toward me and opened his mouth, emitting a weak raspy sound not unlike the sound of a crypt being opened for the first time in a thousand years.  His voice was watery, as if he were speaking from the bottom of a well.  “My secret?” he hissed.  I stood in silence, unsure of myself and too afraid to respond.  He lowered his head for a moment, then delivered the following words with a slow robotic cadence, “Point three point eight one point three one point seven two point oh two point seven three point two five four point oh four point five five point oh six point oh.”   CRAAACK!  The lightning temporarily blinded me and my hair stood on end.  When my eyes readjusted to the darkness, I realized the stranger was gone.  I dashed through the front door, hoping to catch him in the parking lot and ask him to explain what he meant by his words.  I looked up and down the street, but he was nowhere to be seen.  “What the heck?  Where did he go?”

I walked back inside, drenched from the rain.  “Hey Dave!  Did you hear what that spooky ole guy said?”  “Yeah, I heard it…what did you make of it?”  “I have no clue.” Dave responded, “Yeah, and he slipped out without paying his table time.”

I thought about his cryptic words and tried to make sense of them.  After a few moments of reflection, a light went off in my head, and a broad grin slowly spread across my face.  “Hey Dave, I’ll pay for his table time.”  Dave looked surprised.  “Why would you do that?”  I could barely contain my excitement and beamed, “Because, in his final words I found an ace that I could keep.”

What was it that I had figured out?

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