Published November 26, 2016
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Among Thieves

by Jack Coey

McGee and Carney stood, holding cues, and studying the table. McGee
stepped forward, bent over, and took a shot.
“You didn’t have the angle for that,” criticized Carney.
Carney ran three balls and McGee saw the bulge in his front pocket.
It was with great relish and enthusiasm, he’d seen Carney pull out his wad,
and lick his first finger and thumb, and snap off bills while keeping eye
contact on whomever he was paying. It amused McGee, the wad looked
like an off – center, semi – hard erection.  McGee asked him what he did
for work, and he answered,
“Self – employed.”
“Doing what?”
“Ah….hospitality industry.”
He was always alone. They would run into each other at the pool hall, and
lately they drank beers together after shooting pool. Carney was around six
feet tall, black hair, and somewhat overweight. McGee had the sense he
could handle himself. That and he didn’t what to know too closely what he
did. The mystery was part of Carney’s appeal. They started out being
matched at pool, and McGee lost interest, and Carney beat him all the time.
Carney stood at the edge of the table, holding the stick, and said,
“What’s the matter with you man? You’re in a fog.”
McGee sheepishly laughed.
“A chick’s got me suffering,’” he admitted.
“That sucks,” said Carney chalking his stick and chomping gum.
“Women are like buses,” Carney said, “wait twenty minutes for
another one to come along.” He chuckled and bounced his stick up and
down. McGee pretended to be amused. He saw a police cruiser through the
front window.
“Cops,” he said. Carney was down the hallway and out the back door. McGee
laughed when the cops went across the street to the coffee shop.

He hadn’t seen Carney in awhile when this girl showed up. He was shooting
pool by himself. She was, maybe, five foot three with a hard face, red
lipstick, and heavily made up eyes wearing short shorts and a tank top with
beads, and a soiled pink ribbon in her matted blond hair. She jerked a
cigarette out of her mouth and asked,
“Seen Carney?” Blue smoke came out of her mouth.
“Not for awhile,” answered McGee, “you his sister?”
She smiled showing a missing tooth.
“Funny….real funny.”   
“Just got out of choir practice, right?”
“He owes me money.”
McGee grinned.
“For selling Girl Scout cookies?”
“Have you seen him or not?”
“No. But if I see him, I’ll tell ‘im you were looking for him.”
“Don’t trouble yourself.”
She dropped her cigarette on the floor and ground it out with her foot.
“Hey!” Max yelled, “Use the ashtray.”
She headed toward the door and gave Max the finger.

It was a few days after that Carney was there when McGee walked in.
Carney was at a table by himself.
“Hey man, some chick was looking for you.”
“Yeah, you.”
“I don’t know.”
“She was short – blond hair, around nineteen years old, I would say.”
“I don’t know.”
Fuck it, thought McGee, if he don’t care.
“Wanna shoot?”
“Nah. I’m gonna have a beer.”
McGee walked to the bar, and Max gave him a beer. He could hear the
clack of the balls. He sipped his beer, and thought about Mona. She was in
the mid-west going from town to town in a bus. He thought about her being
with someone else and he didn’t like how that made him feel. Women sure
can get to you, he thought. He took a good swig of beer this time. The door
opened and in walked a big man wearing a fedora hat with a feather, and a
pin-stripped, double – breasted suit. He was carrying a black tube. He wore
three gold rings on one hand and two more on the other with a large watch.  
Around his neck was a gold necklace, and a gold tie pin through his tie. He
smoked a cigar, and walked up to Max at the bar pulling the cigar from his
mouth and looked at it length – wise before he said,
“My name is Roosevelt Tibbets, and I want to challenge the lead
shooter of this hall to a five thousand dollar game of eight ball.”
Max blinked his eyes and jerked his head back, and yelled,
Carney approached the bar like an altar boy to the altar during high mass.
“This gentleman has a proposition for you.”
Roosevelt puffed on his cigar making himself hard to see. Carney and Max
fanned smoke.
“I challenge you to a five thousand dollar game of eight ball,” declared
Roosevelt. Carney’s Adam’s apple bounced up and down and he became
momentarily light – headed.
“That’s more money than I got,” he squeaked.
“That assumes two things, son. The first is that you’ll lose, and the second is
you’ll have to pay it all at once.”
“He’s got a point,” said Max. Carney shot him a dirty look.
“Pony up,” said Carney.
Max pretended he didn’t hear.
“You could win five thousand bucks,” interrupted McGee. They turned their
heads, and when they looked back, Carney was transfixed. He stared straight
“Five thousand bucks,” he murmured.
“Look at what he’s wearing,” said Max.
Carney looked at Max perplexed.
“He probably didn’t get the money for those clothes from digging
Roosevelt shot a blue line of smoke from his cigar. Carney coughed and
waved his hand.
“He didn’t buy that suit from digging ditches,” Carney numbly said.
“That’s right,” said Max, “he probably won that money in high stakes
tournaments, and he makes more money by hustling small time cushion
bumpers like you.”
McGee laughed at that one. Roosevelt gave Max a look.
“You’re bad for business,” he said.
“I’ve been skinned by guys like you more times than I care to admit,”
said Max.
“I’m in,” said Carney.
“You’re a fool,” said Max, “and don’t come crying to me for money, I’ll
tell you right now.”
“Your choice of table,” said Roosevelt.
Carney pointed to the one in the back far corner. Roosevelt went to the
table, and placed a ball at the center of the table, and watched it roll to one
“I don’t agree until this table is level,” he said.
Max came out from behind the bar, and got on his knees, and adjusted the
table. Roosevelt placed the ball and it didn’t move.
“Good,” he said.
He went to a table and chair, and set up a little dressing room. He took off
his fedora; placed it on the table, and took off his suit coat, and placed it on
the back of the chair. He took off his gold cufflinks, and put them in his
pocket with his gold necklace. He rolled up his sleeves and loosened his tie,
and saw he had an ashtray for his cigar. He took off his watch and put it in
his pocket.  He opened up the tube he was carrying, and screwed together
his cue stick. He sighted it to see it was straight. He lit himself a fresh cigar.
“Cue ball off the far cushion to see who breaks,” he said. Roosevelt
took out a handkerchief. The audience was Max and McGee. Carney shot
first and was pleased he kept the cue ball short of the middle pocket.
Roosevelt shoved his handkerchief in his back pocket, and bent over, and
kept the cue ball no further than the white dot.  
“Custer’s Last Stand,” commented Max. Carney never heard of a pool shooter
named Custer.    
“Call the eight ball,” said Roosevelt. He broke and sank a solid and
ran three more before he missed. Carney felt like there was no oxygen; his
chest was heaving. The door opened and a couple of guys from down the
street came in. They second they got in the door they could tell something
serious was going down. They slowly approached the table and one of
them nodded at Max. Carney chalked his cue and studied the table.
Roosevelt blew smoke over the table. Carney bent over to take a shot
through a haze of blue smoke. Just as he thrust his cue, he sneezed,
sending his ball no where near a pocket. Max threw up his arms and yelled,
“Oh, Jesus!”  
Roosevelt laughed and ran the table. When he looked up, Carney was gone.  

An hour later, McGee was at the bar with Max.
“I had to do it,” said Max.
“Of course. He has a network of thugs who would be in here everyday making
life miserable until he got his money. Those guys are as serious as cancer, and
the best thing is to get rid of them.”
“Yeah but it cost you five grand…”
“Until I get my hands on Carney….”
“Good luck with that. You think he’s dumb enough to come back?”
The door opened and in walked the short shorts girl.
“Oh Jesus,” said McGee. He saw she was hassled, flushed.
She looked around and McGee said,
“Hey, sister, I’ll buy you a beer.” She smiled and walked to the bar.
“Have a seat,” offered McGee, “Max, this young lady is looking for Carney. I
guess he owes her money.”
“You know where he is?” asked Max.
The girl pulled out a cigarette and lit it.
“Beer’s on the house if you tell me,” offered Max.
The girl laughed.
“That’s a good one,” she said, “a hundred should do it.”
Max hung his head.
“How do I get myself mixed up in this shit?” he muttered. He walked
back to the office, and came back with a hundred dollar bill.
“The ambulance should just be getting to the emergency room. I
stabbed him twice in the chest, and I think he’s still alive.”
McGee and Max looked at each other.
“What the fuck?” Max pleaded into the silence.

Jack Coey lives in Keene, NH.
Phoenix Photo&Fiction.
Phoenix Photo&Fiction: "Among Thieves" by Jack Coey
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