Nine Ball is rotation pool, the balls are pocketed in numbered order. The only ball that means anything, that wins it, is the 9. Now the player can shoot 8 trick shots in a row, blow the 9, and lose. On the other hand, the player can get the 9 in on the break, if the balls spread right, and win. Which is to say that, luck plays a part in 9 ball. But for some players, luck itself is an art.
The Color Of Money
Pool, Chrysine had decided, was a warrior’s sport. It required strength, agility, a steady eye, and the skill of not only knowing how hard to hit the ball, but where. She found it almost relaxing, in a way. There was no pressing need to react instantly to her opponent's moves (or, in this case, shots), instead she could take her time, study the lay of the battlefield and her forces arrayed thereon, and then make her play. The Lieutenant was right—having a hobby certainly helped with her peace of mind.
Of course... he’d also said she should try dating... and he’d mentioned David Cho both as someone who both was interested in her and knew how to shoot pool. So here she was, just outside the Jungle’s garage, to ask Technical Sergeant David Cho if he’d like to teach her the ins and outs of cue sports.
The garage was, as usual, a sea of noise. Patrol cars and spinners were scattered about, along with tools, parts, and containers of automotive fluids. Power tools competed with engines and a blaring radio over who could make the most noise. She wasn’t sure who was winning, but even keeping her ears tight against her skull only managed to filter it down to a dull roar.
A quick glance showed her no sign of David Cho, which was probably due to the fact she had no idea what he looked like. Taking a deep breath and straightening her jacket, she decided to ask the trio gathered around the sleek black form of an APD interceptor.
“She just sips nitro,” the center one with the grease-stained overalls said in a voice full of excitement. “With Phase 4 heads! 600 horsepower through the wheels! She's meanness set to music and the bitch is born to run!”
The one on the right, tall and blond and dressed as a patrol biker, waved a hand in front of his companion’s face. “No good! He’s in a coma, man!”
“Uhm..., excuse me?” she asked, as her tailed lashed nervously.
As one the three turned around, with the biker breaking out into a wide smile the moment he realized who’d interrupted them.
“James Goose, ma’m, how can I help you?”
“I am looking for Technical Sergeant David Cho.” She tried to ignore the expression on his face, which had started as almost a leer and now faded to disappointment.
“Cho?” Goose motioned to the far side of the garage. “He’s over there. Just look for the XSWAT spinner someone chewed up and spat out.”
Goose sighed as she walked away. “Good God, would you look at that tail?”
“I’m looking,” his companion in the overalls nodded. “Goddamn, XSWAT sure has some fine looking officers.”
'Over there' led her to a spinner that did indeed look like someone had chewed on it for a while and then spat it out when they'd gotten tired. She wasn't sure what had happened to it, but she suspected the Grinder was the answer. As for David Cho, she presumed he belonged the pair of legs sticking out of the passenger side door. Adjusting her jacket again (in case it had slipped out of place in the last 30 seconds), she knocked lightly on the vehicle's battered frame.
“Technical Sergeant David Cho? Lieutenant Brogan told me I should talk to you.”
PRANG! "Ow." Cho jumped in surprise, smacking his head into the firewall. His side-cutter slipped and cut the wrong wire by mistake, sending a brief shower of sparks across his skinsuit, as the fuse-block he was pulling fell from his other hand, and burnt out fuses spilled out across the spinner's floor. Finally, with some difficulty, Dave extricated himself from his ridiculous position, situating himself upright in the seat at last.
At that point he realized who was talking to him and how foolish he must have looked. Turning several interesting shades of red, he stammered, "Oh, uh... hi there! Officer Chrysine... I was just working on... what can I do for you?" He managed an embarrassed smile.
“I want to know about Pocket Billiards.” She stopped at the look of confusion on Cho’s face. “Pool, Sergeant Cho. Lieutenant Brogan said you could teach me how to play pool.”
Dave relaxed a little—here was a subject he was comfortable with! "Pool? Oh, hell yeah! Mitch and I used to shoot together when we were young. I mean, younger. I'd love to teach you, Chrysine. Eight ball, nine ball, I even know a couple places with snooker tables... anytime you like." Dave made 'pool cue' motions with his hands as he finished speaking; his embarrassment had given way to enthusiasm. Chrysine noticed the 'bridge' Dave formed with his left hand was different from the one Mitch used. What did that mean, exactly?
"Excellent." The tall Clade nodded and graced David with a smile. "The Lieutenant said I should get a hobby, and I think I have found it. And I would like to learn anything you can show me."
Now Dave looked a little nervous again. "Ohhh-kay. Uh, Mitch has had you guys... I mean gals, you know... the Crash Team, working some pretty odd hours lately, Chrysine. Would, ah... Friday night be good for you? Maybe we could have a bite to eat first—if you'd like to...?"
"Friday?" Chrysine paused and thought a moment. "I usually spend Friday at the gym... But I could cut that short by an hour and meet you afterwards. So, yes, Friday would be good for me."
"Alright. Friday night I'm at McGuire's OTB in Beta Sector. They've got billiards, and a decent kitchen, so I'll wait for you there. 1625 Neil street." Dave thought for a moment. "So Chrysine, what got you interested in pool?"
“The Lieutenant.” Cho’s expression indicated her answer didn’t make much sense, so she leaned against the battered spinner’s side (ignoring the creaking of the outer panels), and started over. “When we went to the Armageddon Clock he started to teach me pool since I was unsure what else to do there. I have found it to be an excellent way to relax and a hobby suited for my arena training.”
Dave nodded vigorously and laughed. "Oh yeah, I taught Mitch everything he knows about pool. But I made sure not to teach him everything I know." He turned to look at the spinner he'd been dismantling. "Sadly, this thing isn't gonna salvage itself—I gotta get back to work here. See you... uh... Friday night, Chrysine."
“See Friday, Sergeant Cho.” She gave him a friendly wave and walked off, picking her way though the automotive abattoir with care.
Dave took a moment to watch her walk off, his eyes tracking the swaying of her hips and how her thickly-furred tail kept time with each step. “Fridays at the gym?” he mused, imagining what a sweaty Chrysine would look like.
* * * *
What to wear? What to wear? She didn’t want to wear the same clothes to McGuire's she’d worn to the Armageddon Clock. It was nice, but considering the effect it had at the Clock, it probably wasn’t a good idea to wear it to her first date. Perhaps something slightly formal, classy even, but still suited to playing pool. Which ruled out dangling sleeves and short skirts.
Chrysine stared at the contents of her clothes closet and sighed. She’d ask Officer Thornhallow, but Didi was still in the hospital. Hemelshot? Yasha? Lorraine would probably drag her off for more color analysis, while Elizabeth had said...
She& had told her to ‘be her own person.’
With a slight smile, Chrysine nodded to herself. She would get her own clothes this time.
* * * *
Dave Cho walked into the ancient building housing McGuire's OTB facility with the usual ease of a long-time regular. Tonight was going to be special! He said hi to the bouncer at the massive front entrance—in a past life, the loading dock of an old factory—and informed the man that he was expecting a guest. Her name was Chrysine, she was a Clade, and she was not to be hassled in any way, or the manager would hear about it! Then he paid her cover charge, plus a bit extra.
He made his way into the well-lit dining/bar area, from where he could see pretty much everything—the billiards tables, the entrance to the game room, and a couple dozen big screens showing various sporting events (including Lace & Steel, of course!) and the current odds on their participants for those who would place bets. The furniture and fittings were classic wood and brass, with green-shaded lamps over the tables and the bar. Relaxing blues played in the background, mostly drowning out the din of the holo-screens and the obnoxious noise from the slots in the adjoining game room.
Dave went over to the bar, got himself a drink, reserved a pool table for later, checked out the L&S card to see if there was anyone worth betting on, then settled in to wait for Chrysine.
* * * *
At first glance McGuire's looked like a fortress—the sort of place she’d trained to assault as part of XSWAT’s ‘urban pacification’ segment back at the academy. The spinners and ground cars out front ranged from old and battered to pristine and hideously expensive. The other patrons only spared her a brief glance, she suspected they thought her to be part of the staff, not another customer. The doorman, on the other hand, gave her a through visual inspection before rumbling “Ms Chrysine?” When she nodded in assent he motioned her through the door with one hand. “Go on in, the cover charge has been taken care of.”
Inside it was far quieter than the Armageddon Clock and far less confusing. McGuire's look was very ‘Old World’ as opposed to the Clock’s cutting edge neon and chrome. Of course, that didn’t stop them from having the newest in holo-screens either.
Chrysine paused to watch two Lace & Steel fighters pirouette across the screen. It was an unarmed match, with Malice Alice versus Ilsa the She-Wolf. At the moment the fight seemed to be a draw, but that was typical for matches like this. Usually the participants ended up grappling on the floor while tearing each other’s costumes along strategically placed weakened seams. Eye candy for the masses. She shrugged and moved on. It wasn’t like it was real fight, like she’d done in the arena. That had required skill. This was just brawling.
Dave spotted Chrysine the moment she walked in—he was sitting with his back to the entrance, watching the mirror behind the bar like a hawk. He didn't bother turning around. That was a 'desperate jerk' sort of move. He watched the other patrons as they very subtly sized her up. Was she fresh meat or new competition? Chrysine's attention was immediately drawn to one of the holo screens showing a Lace & Steel match; she seemed strangely oblivious to all the attention being focused on her. Dave felt pretty sure that a couple of patrons, L&S fans like himself, recognized her, but they didn't say a word. Harassing other patrons, even famous ones, was the fastest way to get tossed out of McGuire's. It was a place people came to be left alone.
Before long, Chrysine spotted Dave sitting at the bar and came over to him. He turned around and motioned towards the empty place next to him. He knew (unlike Mitch) that Clades prefer barstools to chairs and booths. "Hey, Chrysine. I've got us a table, but if you like we can just eat at the bar."
“Hello, Sergeant Cho.” Chrysine glanced at the bar and then over at the dining area. “I think sitting here would be fine.” She settled onto the barstool, her long tail almost wagging.
He turned away for a moment to get the barmaid's attention. "Yo, Tara! My friend here is doing some catch-up drinking. Set her up with whatever she likes. And then hit me again." He turned back to Chrysine. "They've got a pretty good bar here. Kitchen's not bad, either." He looked up at her, then up some more, as if he had just noticed the difference in their heights for the first time. "You look good tonight."
“Thank you.” Her pale skin made the blush all the more obvious. “I selected everything myself this time. I thought it would project the right image. Do you think so?”
Dave nodded enthusiastically. "Oh yeah, perfect for this place. Looks great to me... but I don't even know what you wore last weekend—did I miss out? Maybe you can show me sometime."
“Okay.” Her nod was almost as enthusiastic as Dave’s. “But not here... this is not the place for it.”
The barmaid, Tara, a mousy blonde with numerous visible piercings, came over. She didn't seem the least bit intimidated by a Clade twice her size. "What'll it be, hon?"
“Ahhhh...” Chrysine paused and then thought a moment. What was it the Lieutenant had given her back in the bunker? “Thirsty Bitch, please, thank you.” As Tara left she turned back to Dave. “What do you recommend for dinner?”
Dave grabbed a couple of laminated menus from a rack on the bar and handed her one. "Uh... there's really nothing fancy here, Chrysine. Steak, chicken, pork tenderloin if you prefer, your basic side dishes; then there's burgers, sandwiches, soup, and salads. I don't recommend the pizza here. Decent appetizers, though." He looked over the menu for a moment, then pointed out the sandwich section. "They've got a really awesome muffuletta here!"
Her ears twitched at that, and Dave found himself following them with his eyes. "A what?"
"It's the ultimate sandwich. Tell you what—you can try some of mine. But what would you like? Uh... you caught me off guard here. I don't usually order for my dates."
“I would like chicken.” She pointed to an entry on the menu. “That looks good.”
"Ah. Can't go wrong with the chicken." An awkward silence followed for a few seconds. Dave took a long drink and smiled hesitantly. "Uh, you know, Chrysine, when we're out of uniform, you don't have to call me 'Sergeant Cho.' My friends just call me Dave."
"Yes sir." There was a pause then a hesitant smile. "Dave."
Sipping at her beer, Chrysine eye's tracked around the bar, taking in the decor and the patrons. Finally, they settled back on Dave. "So... what would I need to shoot pool properly?"
"Well, the main thing is lots of practice. Back when I was at my best, I'd shoot several times a week. The local champs practice every day, but they're professionals. Ah, the other thing would be a good cue. For you, I'd think a 16-ounce..." He noticed her quizzical look.
"Yeah, they still use ounces for cue weights, even though the whole world's gone metric. Except Liberia, but I don't think they have pool there... the national past-time is amputation." He held up a hand and made a chopping motion at the wrist. "Sixteen ounces would be about 455 grams. Anyway, they've got everything from 8 to 16 here, so you can see what works best before you go buy one."
"Of course." Chrysine rested her chin in her hand, "It is like the arena. Always try your weapons before selecting them. Do you suppose we could get a pool table in the station rec room?"
Dave smiled and nodded. "That'd be great." He shrugged and held up both hands in a 'who knows?' gesture. "But the Captain might not like it. And then of course, there's..." For the first time ever, Chrysine saw a truly mean look on Cho's face "...Hooker!"
Chrysine almost choked on her beer at that. Setting the bottle down she carefully swallowed and then took a moment to compose herself. "I do not understand Lieutenant Hooker. Why is he on the force?" She shook her head, "He does not seem to understand what it is we do."
Dave's expression softened. "He's a functionary... a specialist, same as me. Hell, I don't understand a lot of what goes on at XSWAT—I just keep the machines running. I guess he keeps his job 'cause he's good at it. The real question is why he's such a jerk, you know?"
"'Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man's character, give him power'," Chrysine said with a wry smile. "Lieutenant Hooker has let his power go to his head. He sees everything as an affront to his position. If a squad looks unkempt and disorganized, then it means he is unkept and disorganized. He is not content to let things be, but must show everyone who he is and what power he welds." She shook her head, "So unlike the Director, who is secure in her power and does not see the need to impress on others her capabilities at every opportunity."
Dave returned her smile. "So... what does that tell you about your squad leader?"
That made her think for a minute. "That he is a specialist. His former duties as the Director's chauffeur do not lend themselves to investigations such as we are currently undergoing. However," the smile returned, "I also think he is wise enough to know it."
He gave her a knowing grin. "He was a lot more than her chauffeur..." He saw the look on Chrysine's face and went on, "...no, that's not what I mean. She taught Mitch all kinds of other stuff over the years. You never know what he's gonna do."
The Clade nodded. “No, you never do. The Crash Team has many surprises.”
"It sure does! You, for instance." The way Dave looked at her made Chrysine blush. He lowered his voice a bit. "I really am glad you're on the Crash Team, Chrysine, both for Mitch's sake, and mine."
“Oh...” She tried, and failed, for a light tone of voice. “Why is that?”
Dave continued giving her that very serious look. "Mitch needs all the help he can get. He's had more combat training than me, but I'm sure he's a lot safer with you around. He says you're one of the best he's ever seen, but I already knew that." Then his face brightened up a bit. "And besides, if it weren't for you, I'd most likely be eating dinner alone tonight, Chrysine." He smiled and raised his bottle to her. "Here's to you."
"Ahhh... thank you." She raised her bottle as well and took a hesitant sip.
As if on cue, Tara arrived and slid a plate in front of Chrysine. Glad for the interruption, she dug in, the smell of roasted chicken reminding her of how hungry she usually was after a work-out.
Over dinner, their conversation turned to subject of Mitch's estranged wife, and their boss, Madam Director Jamadigni Renuka. Dave admitted to being somewhat familiar with her, as her husband's best friend, as well as her mechanic. Chrysine was surprised to find that not even Mitch's closest friend knew why they'd separated. As far as Dave knew, everything had been fine up until it happened.
He also told her about the night he'd first met Jama himself... when Mitch had brought him her personal Stozwind spinner with a hundred bullet-holes in it... and Jama had faced off with Mitch's psychotic ex-girlfriend right there in the garage. "If Mitch hadn't gotten a clue and gone home with Jama that night, I'd have kicked his sorry butt, I can tell ya!"
Chrysine told him about her intent for Angie to meet the Director and Dave heartily agreed it was an excellent idea. He recommended that Chrysine try going through Liz to set up a meeting—she was rather close to Madam Director. Closer than anyone on the Crash Team except Mitch, but that's a sore subject with her, now....
When they finished eating, Dave went to check on the pool table he'd reserved. Chrysine sat at the bar, and Tara came to take their plates. She looked in the direction Dave had gone, then smiled at Chrysine. "D'you mind if I ask how you two met?"
Chrysine glanced over her shoulder, then gave up when she realized Dave was lost in the crowd. “It was the Lieutenant’s idea, actually,” she paused at the look on Tara’s face. “ Lieutenant Mitch Brogan, my CO. He thought it would be a good idea for me to get a hobby, and taught me a little about pool. I liked the game, so he told me to talk to Sergeant Cho about learning more.” She wondered if any of that made sense to Tara.
"Wow, small world. He used to watch you on Lace & Steel—but when you left L&S, he quit placing bets. Said he couldn't trust anyone else for an honest fight. He still watches, but he's afraid the fights are fixed, you know?"
“Fixed?” Chrysine clearly recalled the look on her trainer’s face as he fell from a bullet to the back, as well as the short Yakuza assassin who intended to do the same to her. “Yes, I know very well what he means.”
At that point Chrysine noticed Dave halfway across the expansive billiards hall, setting up the rack on an immense tournament-sized table. He caught her eye and waved for her to join him. She thanked Tara and began making her way over to the table.
When Chrysine arrived at their table, Dave handed her a cue, suggesting she shoot a game with the heavier one first, then a lighter one, to see which one she liked. Then he suggested she break. Looking over the table, she noticed several differences from the one at the Armageddon Clock immediately. It was a good deal bigger, and the side pockets looked wider. Dave used a different pattern from Mitchto rack the balls. There wasn't any ball return—they stayed in the pockets until retrieved. Most importantly, it was quieter. There were no onlookers, nor anyone else waiting to use the table; Dave had reserved it for the whole evening. Chrysine would havefound this more relaxing, but this meant she had Dave's undivided attention, which made her a little self-conscious.
They shot a couple of games 'for practice' after whichDave smiled and shook his head. "Well, I can tell you've been shooting with Mitch—that boy's got some bad habits. First things first.We gotta find you something else to drink, then we'll work on the pool." He heldup the empty bottle of 'Thirsty Bitch' and made a face.
"Why?" she asked , feeling a little self-conscious. "What's wrong with it?"
"Nothing, really, if that's what you like. But around here... I'd recommend something a little more... uh, sophisticated."
"How about Bintang then? It is what the Director drinks."
"Well... like I said, I don't usually order for my dates, but I'll make an exception this time." Dave racked his brain for a few moments... something for the lady... then he called the waitress over.
"Black and Tan for me, cranberry and Absolut for her." He looked at Chrysine. "Trust me, you'll like this."
The Clade gave him a skeptical look and then shrugged, her ears flicking back and forth. “If you say so.”
Dave smiled and picked up his cue. He wasn't conversant in Clade body-language, especially Chrysine's ear-flicks, but he'd figure those out as he went. "Okay, let's work on this eight-ball game. First we need to talk about putting english on the ball." Chrysine had to wonder why anything in pool would be referred to as 'english' when the game actually seemed to require learning a whole new language. But the basic idea was simple—it was the subtle nuances that took practice. She was working on that when their drinks arrived.
"Nobody makes a black and tan like Tara!" Dave held his glass up in front of the light; the boundary between dark beer and pale ale looked as sharp as the terminator line of nightfall seen from orbit. After a cautious sniff, Chrysine tentatively tried her drink—it was strong, pleasantly berry-flavored, ice-cold and very slightly pink. She paused for a moment as if making up her mind. Dave regarded her expectantly....
“Nice,” she gave him a small smile. “I like the taste of cranberrys and the bite of the vodka. Very smooth.”
He grinned back at her in relief. "Glad you like it. Enjoy."
They returned to their game. Dave didn't make a chore out of learning the ins and outs of billiards. He simply practiced with Chrysine, and gave her what advice he could when appropriate. She was a very quick study.
The alcohol, she noticed, didn't seem to be helping her much. Dave, on the other hand, actually seemed to shoot a little better after finishing his drink, which didn't seem entirely fair. Chrysine decided to slow down until she figured out what was going on.
Making sure nobody on the staff was looking, Dave showed her how to execute masse and jump-shots. "They hate it when you do that—it can damage the table." he explained. It was interesting, however, that the cue ball could be made to go around or over an obstacle if needed.
Dave's shooting skill peaked after his second drink, then went into a decline after the third. Chrysine's... didn't. He politely offered to buy another round.
Her ears twitched as she though about it. Was this some sort of feint? A ruse to make her let down her guard? They were not playing for money, after all, so she doubted he was trying to con her into making extravagant bets or the like. Perhaps he really was feeling the effects of his drinks. He’d had a few, both here at the table and back at the bar. And the more he drank the more relaxed he seemed. And nothing said she had to drink whatever he ordered....
“If you wish, Dave.” She nodded as she set up the table for another game and then watched him as he spoke to waitress. If he ended up trying to impress her with his ability to hold his alcohol then she’d simply take his keys from him. The Lieutenant would not be happy to hear his best friend had been hurt driving home from what was supposed to be a pleasant dinner date.
"Sure. I think you're gonna take me soon." In response to the rather uncertain look on Chrysine's face, Dave quickly added, "I mean, on the table." This did not help. "Uh, I mean... you'll be winning a game soon, Chrysine. You're getting better, and I'm getting... slightly drunk." He looked at her empty glass and grinned at her accusingly. "You're not even buzzed, are you?"
She thought a moment and shrugged. “No, not really. Fox-class Combat Clades are are built pretty tough, it takes a lot to put me down.”
"Oh... kay. Next time I'll know that." He laughed. "You know, watching you shoot pool... it reminds me of when I used to watch you on Lace and Steel. Most of the fighters took on a 'persona' in the Arena—you could tell it wasn't real. A lot of pool-sharks do the same thing. But you're different. You didn't put on an act; you just focused on the fighting. And now I see you shooting pool, doing the same thing... no act, just focus. I like that."
It was the first time Chrysine remembered Dave saying anything serious. She knew he was getting drunk, but now he sounded more sober than ever, all of a sudden. What brought this on, she wondered?
“Technical Sergeant Cho? Are you feeling okay?”
Dave cocked his head for a moment, as if thinking to himself. Then he looked back towards Chrysine with an odd smile. "Never better. Having a drink and shooting pool with a fine-looking lady. But what's this 'Technical Sergeant Cho' business?" He shook his head disapprovingly. "We're off-duty, just hanging out, Chrysine... you should call me Dave."
"Of course I will, but I will call you Technical Sergeant Cho when I need to get your attention." She smiled. "So, let us shoot some more pool."
He shrugged. "You want my attention?" He readied his cue and prepared to break, then cast a mischievous glance over his shoulder at Chrysine. "Just keep smiling at me like that."
The smile vanished with a flush of embarrassment.
His break sent a solid and a stripe into opposite corner pockets. He stood up straight and grinned. "Who says a drunk can't shoot pool? Table's open."
Chrysine won. And it wasn't a fluke—Dave's game wasn't really thrown off (much) for being slightly drunk—she was getting better. They played a few more games, and Dave lost a couple more before they were finished.
"The important thing is to keep practicing." Dave told her as they prepared to leave. "Want to do this again next week?"
“Of course!” Her ears went up as her tail swished. “Same time?”
Dave noted Chrysine's tail movement with increasing interest—he was finally beginning to catch onto Clade body language.
"Sounds good. Shall I walk you home?" He smiled at her hopefully.
“Oh that is okay,” Chrysine said lightly, “I think I can manage.”
Dave took a deep breath. "Look, Chrysine, I don't know what Mitch told you about me, but I'm a gentleman..." he emphasized the word comically, "...and Angelus is dangerous after dark..." now he was being completely absurd, he cracked a smile, "...and if I didn't make certain that you arrived home safe and sound, I don't think I could live with myself. So let's go."
The idea was ridiculous; she was perfectly capable of getting home on her own, and if his neighborhood in Beta Sector got any worse, he'd need Chrysine to escort him home, not the other way around. But Dave obviously felt that he should make the offer.
The tall Clade quirked an eyebrow and them gave Dave a smile as she held out one elbow. “Of course Technical Sergeant Cho, I would be delighted to have you walk me home.”