The Square or The Tiger and The Wolf Played Pool

The most dangerous predator is the one that smiles

by T.J. Shanter

The room was gray-walled and dark, the assorted lamps bolted to the ceiling lighting the bar only dimly. It was warm, not a sound nor movement disturbing the stagnancy of the surroundings. A impressive pool table seemed the center of the room, the wood edging and legs gleaming dully in the bad light. The chairs and tables arranged around it lent a unusually displaced air of entropy to the atmosphere, as did the uniform smoke that curled and wafted around the room, spouting from various cigarettes and mouths, reaching gray-blue tendrils upward and pooling in intoxicating clouds of smog in the corners of the ceiling. The whole room was clothed in a unmistakable, surreal quality probably due to fact that the room was misty with smoke (or perhaps it was what was in the smoke) and no one not one of the patrons was really aware of where they were. In fact, I doubt that any of them knew at all. Welcome to The Square.

At this moment, a figure stood by the pool table, cue in hand, and seemed to be gazing thoughtfully at the object before him. His cheekbones were high and finely shaped. Two lines slanted downward from them, curving to meet and cupping into a round but slightly pointed chin. His skin had a tawny cast to it, a shade more golden than chocolate. Thin, arched eyebrows roofed two smiling eyes, sparkling like the sun through a jar of honey. The eyes were like broad almonds in shape, and darkly outlined. The dread locks that were his hair were long enough to just brush his earlobes and temple, and were streaked with dark brown and light orange.

He was gazing at what appeared to be a plain, off-white billiard ball. A cue ball. It rested innocently in the exact center of the table, not moving. It was alone, not a single other ball was in sight and the young man walked around it, cue stick hanging casually in his hand. Then he turned, and gazed at the door, which was opening. A woman entered, striding in easily as if she'd gone this way a hundred times before. Anyone else new to the turf, in entering would have frozen at the dozen or more glares and stares that greeted them. The customers of the bar ranged far, but not far enough to include anyone that you would want to share a milkshake with on a sunny Saturday afternoon.

Scruffy punks occupied a number of tables in the corner, tight leather creaking as they leaned back in their chairs. Tufts of dyed hair that were colored blue, purple, green, and some that had faded to a tired mauve, hung in way of glazed eyes. Tattoos and piercing covered most visible skin which wasn't, thankfully, (for your sake and mine) very abundant. In another part of the room lurked a few pale-faced bringers of doom, pushers of pain. They stood, faces stoic, eyes blank. A few of them looked up as she passed, lips curling into sharp sneers. She passed without paying them a glance, walking straight towards the pool table.

Her lips were blood red, a well-chewed cigarette dangling from them, scattering ghostly ashes as she walked. Her nose was thin, slightly upturned and straight bridged. Her skin seemed to contain no color at all, a pale ivory against her jet black hair. Her hair was short and curved the tiniest bit forward at the ends, swaying against her cheeks. It was parted down the middle, combed away from the pale forehead with the slightest hint of a widow's peak. Her eyes were covered with round mirror shades, hiding them, and any emotions held there in. Her hands were tucked away in the pockets of a long, gray-black trench coat that swung ever so slightly around her legs.

She took a cue stick from the rack, and turned back to the pool table. She walked to it, and stood at one end of the table, surveying it up and down. As she reached for the cue ball, a well-muscled bouncer in a well-fitting black t-shirt stepped purposefully up to her. He cleared his throat as she turned to him. He gave her a polite smile before he spoke, exposing even white teeth, evidently planning to let her down easily. His smile soon faded as she looked him up and down over the rims of her shades, then turned back to the table as if he were a mere fly, not to be bothered with. His jaw set, he moved a arm to intervene, coming quickly to his point, "Excuse me, but you'll have to leave."

She lifted the cue ball from the table, and turned to him with a slight smile. "But," she placed the cue ball on the tip of her cue, balancing it perfectly. It began to spin. Soon it was a whirling ivory sphere, humming softly. The room was completely silent, all eyes riveted on the woman and the bouncer. The tension in the room was overwhelming, the only one who seemed at ease was the golden-skinned stranger, who looked on with amused interest. The bouncer had frozen.

"But," She repeated, "No one leaves The Square."

Gently she tilted the cue stick forward. The ball tipped, falling toward the ground. The ball struck, and rolled toward the bouncer's foot, inch by inch. The bouncer's eyes were wide. He swallowed. Everyone's eyes were on the cue ball as it rolled, edging closer and closer. The ball stilled, and the bouncer let out his breath. Then, as if alive, the ball slowly rolled the last inch, touching the bouncer's steel-toed boot. The large man was gone. Stooping down, the woman picked up the two balls. In one hand she held the white cue ball, in the other, a black eight ball. She smiled, and blew off the dust, polishing it with her thumb. Holding both billiard balls in one hand, she moved back towards the table. There was a scraping of chairs as several people rose from their chairs. This was their cue.

Two figures advanced. The drug-dealer pulled a long, wicked-looking knife from his belt. The other, smaller, was a short girl with ratted hair and eyes that were two dark smudges in her face. She bore a switch-blade, which she flipped open with a snick. Both were grinning. The two strangers, cue sticks in hand, regarded them calmly. The taller one dove. The two pool players sticks cracked out in quick succession. The woman's caught the attacker at the base of the neck, the man's struck him in the small of the back. He dropped to the ground with a loud clack. The room was suddenly in a uproar, demons from the cesspools of society leapt out, all equipped with their personal arsenals.

The woman dealt out her blows calmly, moving out of range of swinging blades and jagged hooks, then stepping back in to make her shot. Billiard balls dropped to the ground, bouncing and rolling. The man looked up just as a large man in a gray suit jumped at him. He ducked, then brought the butt of his stick down into the offender's ribs. Soon the room was silent, even the rolling and clacking off the billiard balls littering the floor had stilled. Except for the two, the room was completely empty, cigarettes butts smoking serenely from their respective ash trays.

The woman pulled out the triangle, and cued the balls up.

She looked over at the man: "Want to play pool?"

He smiled, moving around the table with liquid grace that reminded her of a tiger, tracing the edge of the table with one finger. He leaned over the table comfortably, tip of his stick resting on two fingers, aimed at the white ball. He looked up at her, a dread lock falling into his face and his eyes glowed, tiger-like, in the near darkness. He smiled.

"Come here often?"

Copyright, © 1997 by T.J. Shanter

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