“Eight ball, corner pocket.”
Jake tapped his cue on the pocket in front of him. Across the table, his friend Lane shook his shaggy head as he took a long draw off his bottle of beer.
“No way,” Lane grumbled. “You think you’re gonna bank it twice?”
Jake scanned the table, his shot as obvious as the stains on Lane’s work shirt. “I’m going to bank it three times.”
Lane scoffed. “Bullshit.”
“You doubt me?” Jake asked, feeling a slight warmth creep up his face. “How long have we been friends?”
Lane shrugged and didn’t answer. He and Jake had been roommates their Freshman year at the University; academia had not been Lane’s strong suit. He left school after the first semester of his second year, but he and Jake never stopped hanging out.
“How about this?” Jake offered. “If I make this shot, you pay for the table. If I don’t, I’ll buy you a bucket of that nasty import beer you love so much.”
Lane’s eyes narrowed as he thought it through. “I still don’t see why I’m paying for anything. You’re the one with rich parents.”
“That’s them,” Jake replied, “I’ll be paying my debt off for fifteen years. You’re the one who’s gainfully employed.”
Running his hand through his short brown hair, Lane hesitated. “You’re hustling me.”
Heat flashed through Jake’s body, but he held his temper. “How am I hustling you? I told you the shot, you called it bullshit. If you’re confident I’m going to miss, take the bet.”
“All right, calm down, dude,” Lane replied in his lazy drawl. He caught Jake’s eye and grinned. If anything was going to keep Jake from calming down, it was being told to ‘calm down,’ and Lane knew that.
Jake’s lips pursed and his grip tightened on the cue, but he forced himself to take slow, even breaths. He wasn’t going to let Lane bait him into making a mistake. “Put up or shut up.”
Lane glanced through the smoke-filled haze of Smitty’s looking for help that wasn’t ever going to arrive. Finally he shrugged and nodded. “Okay. Fine. Take my money.”
Jake lined up his shot, slowly inhaled, and let it go. As sure as the Sun rose in the East, the cue ball banked once… twice… three times… and sank the eight ball in the pocket.
“Son of a bitch,” Lane muttered. “You’ve been practicing.”
“Every so often,” Jake replied. ‘Every so often’ was at least three times a week, enough that Rita was concerned about the time he spent in Smitty’s. “It helps me unwind after all the nonsense of law school.”
“At least you got something to fall back on if lawyering doesn’t work out,” Lane replied. He turned towards the bar/checkout desk at the front of the building.
“Hold on, where are you going?” Jake asked. “Who said I was done playing?”
Lane sighed. “Come on, Jake, are you gonna make me lose to you for another hour?”
“I’ll let you break and take the next shot,” Jake offered. “I’ll even buy you that bucket of terrible beer.”
Lane’s eyes brightened at the prospect of free beer. “Deal. But you can’t rub my face in it, okay? Don’t be a jerk.”
“When am I ever a jerk?” Jake replied. It was his turn to head for the front now. “Rack ‘em up. Nine ball this time, I’ll teach you not to suck.”
With Lane’s muttered cursing behind him, Jake weaved between the ranks of pool tables on his way to the bar. Coming here was a good choice, he could feel the tension washing off his back, and the almost-headache usually throbbing at his temples was completely gone. He loved law school – he was even good at it – but he wished it involved more moving around.
With the bar in sight, Jake paused to let a tall, skinny guy stretch over a table to take an impossible shot. Up at the bar, beer-bellied Smitty loudly conversed with a couple of bar flies Jake recognized. They also recognized Jake whenever he came in, so maybe Rita had a point about spending too much time here.
The front door flew open. A beefy guy in black motorcycle leathers and a black helmet rushed in. Jake saw the pistol in his gloved hand and time slowed down.
Jake took one step forward. Two. He ducked low under the cue as the skinny guy took his shot.
The robber raised his pistol, pointing it directly at Smitty’s forehead. People at the bar and the checkout counter flinched and turned away in slow-motion.
The robber said something, his voice muffled by the helmet. But his intent was plain as the death stare on Smitty’s face.
Jake took another step forward.
The bar back reached across the bar and smashed the robber on the forearm with a baseball bat. The robber’s hand spasmed and he dropped the pistol.
Smitty pulled a sawed-off shotgun from under the bar.
Jake took another step, clearing the pool tables. Another step or two and he would be in tackling distance.
The robber turned to flee.
Smitty leveled the shotgun and pulled the trigger. Click.
The robber barreled out of the building, his pistol forgotten, smashing the glass on the front door. The sound of a motorcycle speeding away filled the night.
The pool hall had gone silent, nothing but held breaths and wide eyes. Jake heard the sound of his own heartbeat loud in his ears as time resumed its normal pace.
“GOT-DAMMIT!” Smitty yelled. “Who unloaded my shotgun?”
Two hours later, when the cops had taken their pictures and finally allowed Smitty to sweep up the broken glass, Jake finished telling his story to the detectives.
The woman detective, Martinez, studied her notepad as her male partner went to talk to the uniformed officers. “That’s a pretty thorough description of events, Mr…. Lynch.”
She raised an eyebrow at him.
“Yeah, I’m one of them. Lynch and Brockhurst.”
Her pen tapped her pad. “Right. Law school. Of course. You got a future.”
“I got my Dad’s future,” Jake muttered.
“If you don’t mind me asking,” Detective Martinez continued, gesturing at the dive that Smitty’s clearly was with the lights on, “what’s a guy like you doing in a place like this?”
Jake felt the heat rising up his face. “You mean why don’t I keep to my own?”
She stared at him for a moment. “Sorry, that question came out wrong. You could go anywhere in Austin to play pool. Why did you come here?”
“Because here nobody asks me questions like that,” Jake replied. “Usually.”
A smile flickered across Detective Martinez’s face. “Yep. Law school. Definitely. Thank you for your time and your detailed statement, Mr. Lynch. If I have any more questions I’ll give you a call.”
She headed for the door, and Jake could feel something slipping out of his grasp. He needed something from her, but he didn’t know what.
“Um… hold on… Detective Martinez?” Jake stuttered as he hurried after her. “I… what happens after this? I mean, Smitty and that motorcycle guy. There’s a story there, right?”
“Mr. Smith does have a… colorful past,” the detective replied. “I think an incident like this is to be expected, honestly. Probably why he keeps a sawed-off behind the bar.”
She turned away, but Jake put his hand on her arm. Judging by her angry reaction she wasn’t used to people touching her.
“Like… what crimes would you charge that guy with?” he asked. “Assuming you catch him.”
Her brows furrowed. “Oh, we’ll get him. Count on it. As far as charges, that’s up to the District Attorney. Any other law-school questions you have should probably go through them. Okay?”
Two uniformed officers were taking an interest in him, so Jake let go of her arm. “Okay. Yeah. District Attorney. Got it.”
“Hold on. You’re saying you don’t want to work at Lynch and Brockhurst?”
Her fists on her hips, Jake’s sister glared at him with one eyebrow raised. She looked so much like their mother Jake almost felt the need to point it out. Almost.
“You do?” He dipped his brush in the paint can and went back to cutting in the edges of her living room wall.
“Of course,” Claire replied, in a tone that told him she thought he was being stupid. “It’s our family…. thing.”
“You were going to say ‘legacy,’ weren’t you?”
“Shut up,” she snapped. They both hated it when their father went on about the generational legacy Lynch and Brockhurst was. His father, and his father before him, on back into the dim recesses of Texas history, lawyers all, a tradition to be proud of, et cetera, et cetera.
“It’s the DA’s office,” Jake said, his hands working while his mind bounced around. “Never a dull day. And I’d be fighting the good fight, putting away the bad guys.”
“Junior DAs don’t prosecute armed robbers,” Claire countered as she put her auburn hair behind a scarf. “You’d be doing misdemeanors for years.”
“Gotta pay your dues,” Jake replied, with the confidence of someone who’d planned his career trajectory in an afternoon.
Claire took up a paint roller and started slathering paint where Jake had finished. “When are you going to tell Mom and Dad?”
He turned to face her. “About that… I was thinking I could use a little help.”
His sister paused, frowning. “Are you serious? This is your thing, don’t drag me into it. Wait a minute… is this why you agreed to help me paint? You want me to do your dirty work for you?”
“Well, with me,” Jake said. “Come on, Mom doesn’t yell at you so much.”
“That’s because I’m not an idiot so much!” Claire snapped. “Sorry, Jake, you’re on your own with this one.”
They stared at each other across Claire’s living room. Like so many other disagreements when they were growing up, Jake’s little sister got the best of him.
“If you’re going to go, could you rinse out the brush first?” Claire shook her head as she turned away.
“You said you needed help,” Jake said. “So I’m helping. You don’t have to call me an idiot.”
Together, the siblings put down a layer of fresh paint, the tension between them slowly dissolving.
“You said you were going to make dinner, right?” Jake prompted.
Claire laughed. “I said I’d buy you a burger. You can bring Rita, too, if you want.”
“She’s at some pageant thing,” Jake replied. “Houston? Dallas? I don’t know.”
With a sigh, Claire put down her paint roller and jammed her fists back on her hips. “See? This is what I mean when I say idiot. You need to take an interest in this girl, Jake. You need to know where she is and what she’s doing. And why she’s doing it. Otherwise she’s going to find someone else.”
“Okay, fine,” Jake said, he was getting used to surrendering. “I’ll call her when we’re done. You sound more and more like Mom every day.”
“Be honest,” Claire replied, “that sounded a lot more like Dad.”
“Jake? Your father’s off the phone now. He has a few minutes.”
Val Lynch’s assistant, Stewart, nodded down the hallway that Jake knew so well. As he approached his father’s office, for the first time ever Jake’s knees wobbled. This law practice, this office, this way of life was his birthright. His destiny. As the oldest child he was expected to cheerfully follow in the footsteps of all the other Lynch attorneys before him.
He was about to toss that tradition out like yesterday’s garbage. No wonder his palms sweated while his mouth was dry as a desert. Jake had never fainted in his life, but the way his head spun he was fairly certain he would find out how fainting worked before the afternoon was over.
“Hey, boy, come in, sit down,” his father said genially, barely looking up from the paperwork on his desk.
Instead of sitting Jake stood, directly across the desk. He folded his hands in front and relaxed his knees, just the way the wedding planner coached the groomsmen in his cousin’s wedding. Evidently locked knees would make you pass out, and Jake wanted to avoid that.
Slowly, his father raised his eyes. Val had a gentle face, long and angular, and kind eyes even when he was angry. “Something on your mind?”
Jake hesitated. His throat was so dry, he wasn’t sure words would come when he opened his mouth. His father waited patiently. Was that a smile on his face? Couldn’t be.
“I know what I want to do when I pass the bar exam,” Jake croaked. “I don’t think Mom’s going to like it. You’ll probably have some strong feelings, too.”