Some Breaks Inevitable
Casper Malone had the freakiest trick shot anybody had ever seen.
Once a pool game got down to the eight ball, Casper would pull his glass eye out and set it on the side of the pool table. He’d then shut his good eye tight. Once blind, he would proceed to sink his shot to perfection, every single time, and no matter how difficult the shot was.
Duncan Share had witnessed this phenomenon himself hundreds of times. He’d seen Casper hit three-rail bank shots and seen him jump the cue three feet across the table and sink the eight ball in perfectly. He’d seen Casper do it to others, and he’d seen Casper do it to him.
He’d seen it so many times, in fact, that he became obsessed with beating Casper Malone.
At 21 years old Duncan had been playing and studying Casper for four years, and he’d never seen him lose nor miss that eyeless finish shot. But every man has a weakness, Duncan told himself. Even Casper Malone.
So, just like every Sunday at noon, Duncan walked into Delio’s Chalk and Break to study and challenge his nemesis.
He set up two tables from Casper. He no longer tried to look nonchalant about it. They both knew the routine. Duncan would shoot around and beat a couple lesser players, then after about three hours he’d challenge Casper. They’d play twenty bucks game for five games, because one hundred bucks was exactly how much cash Duncan had leftover after payday.
The sheer routine of it all was probably why Casper slipped up that day. After a couple years of this routine, Duncan had become part of the pool hall’s decor, as invisible as the green felt on the tables.
A guy that had driven in from the city to challenge Casper was losing badly, game after game. Casper moved infuriatingly slowly around the table with each shot. It was part of his game. Casper never talked boisterously and never showed off in any obvious way. Instead, he mocked his opponent’s with his sheer nonchalance and ambivalence towards the threat they posed.
Casper was really feeling it on this day, as he always did when people traveled long distances to challenge the legend. The fellow he was whooping was, in fact, a bona fide international billiards celebrity.
It made no difference.
Casper destroyed the man. Game after game he sank every shot, never even letting the challenger up to the table.
Duncan had seen this happen dozens of times, but this time he noticed something different.
While taking really difficult shots, not knowing anyone was watching and so no showing off or rubbing it in, Casper would close his good eye and look only through the glass one.
This seemed impossible, of course, but Duncan watched him do it over and over again.
It’s that goddamn eye, Duncan thought.
That’s why he’s so good.
Duncan wasn’t a big fan of the internet, despite his demographic, but that night he got to researching. He was determined to find out where Casper had originally come from.
There naturally wasn’t a a great deal of news covering small town pool hustlers, but there were mentions on local blogger’s sites and on pool enthusiast sites. Digital archives in library sites helped, too.
The very first story about Casper appeared in 1977, in the Rolla Daily News, out of Missouri. It said that in a case of tragic irony, “local man” Casper Malone had lost his own eye in a car accident after being the first person ever to beat local pool legend Sammy “Cyclops” Saucilito…who himself had only one real eye.
The next Sunday, instead of going to Delio’s to face Casper, Duncan drove four and a half hours east to Rolla, Missouri.
He wanted to see a man about a glass eye.
Sammy “Cyclops” Saucilito lived in a trailer on a couple acres about ten miles north of Love’s Travel Stop. A brown patch with loose threads spraining out of it covered one eye. He smelled like old whiskey and cigarettes. His five remaining teeth looked like burnt tombstones.
“Yes, I remember that son of a bitch,” Cyclops said, smoking filter from a cigarette butt he’d scraped up from the yard. “I’ll never forget Casper Malone.”
They were out in front of Cyclops’ trailer on one of those brutally hot Missouri days. Cyclops sat in his lawn chair with a little cooler on the ground beside it.
Horse flies crawled around Cyclops’ mouth. Cyclops made no move to swat them away. Cyclops appeared to not give a good shit one way or the other.
“He took your eye,” Duncan said.
“Manner of speaking, yes,” Cyclops said. “Though the eye wasn’t never really mine, I guess. I’d wonned it off someone else myself, who’d wonned it from someone else, and so on and so forth back a long, long ways I guess.”
“How does the eye work?”
“You can see ever’thing with that eye, son,” Cyclops said. His voice shook as if he was afraid. “It’s clarity. Perfect clarity.”
“So all the shots line up just right, then? Even the tough ones?”
“The shots?” Cyclops looks at him as though uncertain what he was talking about. “Oh, the pool shots. Yes, they line up just right, that’s true. They’s about the only thing’s that do, though.”
“How’d you lose with the eye, then? If the shots always line up?”
Cyclops squinted his one good eye and dragged off the smoking filter before flicking it off into the grass.
“Why’s you want to know, son?”
“Because I want to beat him.”
“You want to be the bigshot, is it? You want all the popalarity and money?”
“No,” Duncan said. “I just want him to beat him.”
Cyclops leaned forward in his lawn chair and peered into Duncan’s eye. “Nah, you want the popalrity,” he said. “And the money, and you’re a damn fool for both because the price ain’t worth the ride.”
Cyclops’ one-eyed gaze lingered on Duncan for a moment, and then looked away. A hard wind blew in a wave of heat and rustled the grasses.
“There’s things in this world no person’s meant to see, boy. But once you get that damn eye in your head you can’t help but see ’em. Bad things, son. The kind of things that’ll wind you up in a place like this.” He gestured towards his trailer.
“For a time, the pool keeps you alive. It gives you a shelter against all the other things you spend all day long seeing. It’s your refuge. It’s your prison. It’s the only place you can feel even partial free or alive. When it’s over, though, you can’t never see the pool balls the same way again. Them other things, though?”
Cyclops looked up into the clear sky and recoiled as seeing something terrible up there. He sobbed and nearly cried before gathering himself. “You can’t unsee them other things, boy. Never, never, never. They’ll ruin ya.”
Duncan felt a shiver despite the heat. Cyclops wasn’t crazy, crazy looking as he was. Everything the man said came out sounding sober and sane.
Still, Duncan wanted to beat the cocky bastard Casper Malone. He wanted to be the guy at the back table, chopping down all those Big City hotshots, making money hand over fist.
“So you won’t tell me the secret, then? I don’t need your protection. I’m a big boy.”
“Oh, I’ll tell ya,” Cyclops said. “I can’t help but tell ya. That’s part of the bargain, too. I’m just trying to say that if you had any sense at all you’d let this go and turn back now.”
Cyclops relaxed back in his chair. The tension seemed gone. He laughed easily. “I tried to tell ya to turn back. Nothing more a Christian man can be expected to do, but I can see it don’t make a dame different with ya. You remind me of myself when I was your age. Remind me of Casper, too.”
Cyclops reached into the cooler by his lawn chair and pulled the last beer out of the melted ice. “Now you run to the store and get me a case of PBR and I’ll tell you all you need to know. I can see plain as day that no amount of nightmares is going to stop you from the road you’re headed.”
Duncan felt a weird wave of pride at the remark. Even he knew it was a foolish thing to feel.
Duncan Share walked into Delio’s Chalk and Break the next morning. He didn’t go about his usual routine setting up a couple tables away from Casper. This time, he strode right up to the old man.
He wasn’t actually sure what he was going to do, though. He’d been replaying in his mind over and over again the warnings Cyclops had given, and far as he could tell, Casper was probably a lonely, tormented man, whose only joys were hollow pool victories in games he had no real chance of losing to begin with.
By the time Duncan was within speaking distance of Casper, he’d changed his mind about the challenge and simply felt sorry for the old man. In that moment, he wanted to do nothing more than shake Casper’s hand and wish him good luck.
Before Duncan could say anything, Casper laughed shrilly.
“Finally worked up the nerve to skip the sidegoggling and come right at me, did ya? Well, don’t peacock too much on that son. Any damn fool can work up the nerve to challenge a giant.” Casper leaned forward as if sharing a deep secret. “But it takes ones with real balls to beat ’em, and I don’t even believe your balls have even dropped yet, have they, son?”
Rage swept through Duncan Share, overriding all other thoughts and emotions.
Even as he responded, Duncan knew he was damning himself to a lifetime of horrors. He still couldn’t stop it, though. It was inevitable as spring.
Come hell or high water, Duncan Share was going to shut up that son-of-a-bitch Casper Malone once and for all.
“I know your secret, Casper,” Duncan said.
He set his case on the table beside him and started assembling his pool stick.
“With that eye of yours, you can beat any man. But, the eye also demands that you accept any terms the challenger challenges. Any terms.”
Stick assembled, Duncan started to chalk, smiling over the tip at Casper. “And the term under which I challenge you is that you set that eye aside, and we play for it.”
Casper didn’t say anything. There was nothing to say, really. That was the rule, ancient as the eye itself — the man who had it could not change that rule of the game, even if he wanted to.
To Duncan’s surprise, a real, genuine smile spread across Casper’s face. The old man plucked out his glass eye and set it on the side of the pool table.
“Well what took you so long, kid?” Casper asked. “I was fixing to drive you up to Cyclops’ myself if you didn’t get your ass in gear soon.”
Casper broke the balls. It wasn’t a terrible break, but it wasn’t all that special, either.
Duncan stepped up to the table. A voice in his head screamed for him to miss and lose the game on purpose, but he knew it wasn’t going to happen. He could intentionally lose no more than a fish could intentionally breathe outside of water.
He was who he was, a young man in desperate need of seeing things, and of being great at something.
He crouched, eyed down the shot, and drained the two ball with a crisp, cracking blast.
His game was on that day. He could feel himself on the verge of greatness.
Copyright 2018, Jeff Suwak