The Pool Tournament

It’s eleven on a Sunday at Club 23. Over the years, the annual St Patrick’s Day pool tournament drawn competitors and spectators from miles around. Pool playing leagues have approached the owner to be one stop in their tour toward finding a national champion. The owners would decline.

All the coin tosses were done using the owner’s prized Eisenhower silver dollar. The silver dollar went into the air. The challenger called heads. It bounced once. The eagle was up. Soon after, solid and stripped balls struck each other, signaling the beginning of another tournament.

The odds-on favorite for the last ten years was Mark Roland. Mark stood at an unimpressive height of 5’2”. A slightly overweight man known for his skills on the table and his walrus mustache. He won the last ten tournaments. The best any challenger could for was a close second place.

A pendant in the shape of a half heart hung around Mark’s neck. He called it his good luck charm.

On evenings when Mark had a few too many beers, you could ask him about who wore the other half. He would tell of the love of his life. Her parents objected to them being together. In 1969 Mark got shipped off to Vietnam. When he came back home, her parents had whisked her away. Mark searched but never found her parents took her. In his sorrow, Mark drowned himself in the only other things he loved: playing pool.

This particular Sunday, a thirty something brunette strolled into the bar and up to the owner. She handed the owner the entrance fee and said her name was Linda. Linda didn’t look like any of the other women who played pool. She looked more like a rodeo queen at 5’10”.

When Linda went to play her first game, the regulars mumbled amongst themselves. They didn’t expect Linda to win more than two against the regulars.

Club 23 had two pool tables measuring 78 inches x 39 inches. Smaller than a regular tournament table. The pockets were larger. The local players consider the smaller tables and larger pockets an advantage over visiting challengers.

The afternoon turned into evening. The players were defeated one by one. It looked like Linda might be the one who would be challenging Mark’s undefeated title.

Linda won all her games by a slim margin. A few locals put money on Linda, being the one who would play Mark.

Nine o’clock came. The ones who needed to go home and get ready for the next day’s work stayed. day.

At eleven o’clock, Linda called and sunk the eight ball in the corner pocket, making a game with Mark.

Mark’s mustache quivered. It has been years since Mark had seen anyone play as well as Linda.

The owner put himself between Mark and Linda. He held out his 1971 Eisenhower silver dollar. He showed them the bust of Eisenhower on one side, then he turned it over to show them the eagle.

Mark motioned toward Linda, “Ladies first.”

“I’ll take tails.” Announced Lind with confidence.

The coin flew in the air and bounced on the green felt before it landed with Eisenhower showing.

Mark, wanting to get this evening over quick, broke. A solid fell into the side, another fell into a corner pocket. Over the next few minutes, Mark sunk all his. Only the eight-ball remained. It was a difficult shot. He had to shoot around one of Linda’s.

Mark called two banks and the side pocket. A difficult shot, but Mark had made similar shots before. The cue ball struck the eight ball and bounced off one rail. It missed the side pocket. The cue ball bounced off one of Linda’s and fell into a corner pocket. A gasp followed by silence. The unbelievable happened. It had been years since Mark lost a game, less alone a tournament game.

To redeem his pride, Mark challenged Linda, “Since you didn’t have a chance to take a shot. Will you give me a rematch?”

Linda looked at the pool table and back at Mark. Mark’s lucky pendant hung out from his shirt. She smiled and said, “Two out of three for the championship.”

“Fair enough,” Mark went and racked the balls. He took care to make sure they were tight, thus making the break difficult for Linda.

It didn’t affect Linda’s break. She sunk four balls and ran the table. From the corner of her eye, she could see the anger from some locals. She heard them mumbled, “Who is this girl coming in and beating Mark?”

Linda knew from several of their faces lots of money was riding on Mark winning. When it came time for Linda to call which pocket to place the eight ball, she picked the far-left corner pocket. The cue ball hit the eight ball at a strange angle. Then bounced off a couple of Marks and dropped into the side pocket. Linda lost the second game.

No one dared leave. This match between Mark and Linda would become a topic of discussion for years to come. Everyone wanted to see if Linda would win this third match against Mark.

Mark’s mustache vibrated. The only time people saw the mustache vibrate was when Mark was nervous.

The bar owner stepped up and announced to the crowd. “It looks like we can’t go home until we have a winner. I’m going to flip the coin one more time. Linda called it last time. Mark gets to call it this time. Whoever wins this game wins the match.”

Bets were placed.

The same Eisenhower silver dollar was shown to Mark and Linda. Mark called heads in the air.

Eisenhower landed face up on the green felt.

“I’ll break.” Mark said.

Over his next few minutes, Mark sunk all but two stripes. Then he scratched.

Linda took the cue ball and placed it. She sunk all but one of hers.

Mark took the chalk and chalked up the tip of his stick and aimed. He sunk all but one.

Linda pulled from her back pocket of chalk on a chain. At the end of the chain hung a half heart pendant. She set the chalk with the pendant on the rail across from Mark. Linda missed her eight-ball shot.

Mark’s mustache vibrated hard and fast. His eyes watered. The spectators saw Mark’s hands shake. Locals were asking themselves, “What’s happening to Mark? Is this the night Mark will be unseated from his throne as champion?” No one dared leave.

Mark lined up his stick with the cue ball and the eight to the side pocket. He pulled back and a wild, erratic motion sent eight off to where it bounced off the side rail.

Linda looked Mark in the eye. Her lips could be seen mouthing the words, “Thank you, dad.”

She bent over the table, lined up her shot, and with one confident motion hit the cue ball, sending the eight ball into the corner pocket.

The patrons of Club 23 couldn’t believe their eyes. They didn’t know how to act.

Mark walked up to Linda. He picked up Linda’s chalk with the pendant. He took the one from around his neck and put the two together. “Where did you get that heart pendent?” He asked.

“My mother gave it to me before she died. Her parents forced her to marry my father, a lawyer. She always talked about the true love of her life and how he loved to play pool. After she died, I wanted to meet the man who my mother always loved. I taught myself pool and set out to find you.”

That match between Mark and Linda has been told many times over at Club 23. Many say that was the night Mark found the daughter he wished he had.