Chapter 6 -- Lamb’s Pool Hall
Tommy clicked “Compose Mail” and typed as fast as his fingers could move.
“Be careful! I don’t have an ‘Uncle Ted’. Stay ignorant. BTW, do you have Slab’s number?”
He’d forgotten about Slab. One more broken promise to worry about. If this was just a big game, or if it was something that could be resolved quickly, he had to make sure Slab was taken care of. Either that or move to another state.
I hate email. It was horribly slow, but in this case, it was a lot safer than using the various instant messaging systems. At best, he’d have to send Kati the contact information, and that would be one more link that the Cleaners could use to find him.
His neighbor looked at her watch again, prompting him to check the battery level. He had ten more minutes at best.
Beep. Finally! He opened Kati’s reply.
“Wait a sec .........
“Tommy-Boy! U blue me off!!! I waited Lunch, and you Dissed me. I need this Grade. Meet me at Lamb’s Pool Hall. Now!!!!
“PS. This is Kati. Slab looks pretty steamed. I hope everything’s okay. You’ve got me curious. I expect a full report l8tr. Glad you’re still alive.”
And that was that. He deleted the email account. Kati’d get a bounce if she tried to contact him that way again. And so would “Uncle Ted”, if they identified Kati and started monitoring her network activity. It was too dangerous to use that address more than once. He cleared the browser cache and shut it down. The laptop owner asked for two bucks, and he was too distracted to haggle. He snagged a flat, honeyed pastry on the way out.
Sorry Slab. I guess you’ll have to study on your own. I guess it isn’t fair....
Tommy paused, his hand on the handlebars.
He remembered Mom’s words about fairness.
She’d been listening to him gripe about something long forgotten, back in Evansville. He’d been in grade school.
“It isn’t fair!”
She adjusted his collar. “What’s not fair?”
“Joel got to be class announcer. I wanted to do that.”
Nick was in earshot. He shouted from the other room, “You can’t count on ‘fair’ in this world.”
She whispered, “Maybe not, Tommy, but it’s important that you always be fair to others. Promise me that.”
“Okay Mom. I’ll do my best.”
Could he take the time to help Slab? He could blow off the economics teacher’s study circle with a clear conscience, but the big guy counted on him. Just making an appearance would smooth over his feelings.
I’m just killing time right now anyway. I should at least try.
But where in the world is Lamb’s Pool Hall? It had to be in Slab’s neighborhood, somewhere near the school. Just go south, I guess, until I see a familiar road sign.
Mysterious cleaning men, and unknown uncles aside, having Slab mad at him was a serious problem. He’d made a promise and welched on it. It wasn’t something he could explain away.
Nick wouldn’t understand, and he didn’t intend to tell him about this side trip. What was it? Twenty-four hours now? He’d been left hanging, and now he’d let down his friends as well.
There was nothing he could do for Kati. He could see that puzzled frown of hers in his mind -- all he saw from her most days. Where had that sunburst of a smile gone? All she wanted was... well, for things to be normal again, he guessed. Nothing had been normal between them for so long he’d forgotten what it felt like.
But Slab -- he was different. Slab wanted a good grade, or rather he wanted to avoid a bad one. Even with things upside down, he could help with that. Most times, he didn’t have to teach the guy anything. He had a good enough memory. Usually there was just one sentence, one concept, that made all the difference.
Unfortunately, the sports hero confidence he had on the field and on the court hadn’t translated to the books. ‘Tommy-Boy’ had bailed him out before, and so Slab needed him. Or so he thought.
If he could just locate this pool hall, make his apologies and talk him through his latest worries, he could leave the boy confident enough to get through his finals.
The street names were familiar now, even if the neighborhood wasn’t.
This is close enough. He pulled over to the curb and fished out his cell phone. Snapping the battery back in place, he waited until it came alive and found the network.
He unfolded Chet’s piece of paper and dialed Nick’s mystery number. Ring. Ring.
That was enough. He popped out the battery again.
Messages with no content again. If Nick were on the ball, he’d know that Chet’s warning call had come from his son’s phone instead of the ancient analog cell phone Chet used.
Hi, Nick. I met Chet and we’ve exchanged information. I know you’ve been working on the Marissa for some reason. The Cleaner’s have been in the area looking for something, but they haven’t found me.
And yes, I got your empty message and I understood it. We’re hiding from them, and I’m smart enough to send you this empty message in return.
There was a hole-in-the wall diner. He pulled up on the sidewalk and propped the bike against the wall. The woman at the cash register frowned when he asked for a phone book, but she handed it over.
But there was no “Lamb’s Pool Hall” listed.
Now what do I do?
He went back outside, and stopped and held his breath when he saw the man leaning over his motorcycle.
Stop suspecting the worst. He’s just looking at it.
The black man, not much older than he was, looked at him. “Yours?”
“What kind? I’ve never seen sump’in like dis.”
Tommy shook away his first impression. It was just a guy admiring his ride.
“It’s a kit bike. Half the parts are Harley-Davidson, but it’s electric. It’ll do sixty on a good charge.”
The guy licked his lips. Tommy resisted the urge to show it off. He didn’t have time for this.
But...the guy might know the neighborhood.
“By the way, do you know where Lamb’s Pool Hall is?”
Interest in the bike vanished. “Why you wanna know for?” He looked Tommy over suspiciously, taking in his clothes and bearing.
“Uh. I’ve gotta meet someone there.”
He laughed. “You don’t want to go there!”
Tommy shrugged. “Hey. I don’t have any choice. The guy whose waiting for me makes two of me. I really don’t want to disappoint him. You know where it is?”
Reluctantly, he nodded.
The local hesitated, looked down the street, and then scratched the thin whiskers on his chin. “I can’t tell you. You unnerstand? But we could ride there.” He gestured to the bike.
Tommy shrugged. “Okay.” He pulled the bike upright and said, “Get on.”
They went several blocks, making more turns than Tommy thought reasonable. But he just nodded when his guide pointed to the curb.
“This the place?”
“No.” His voice was low, and he looked nervously about. “Go on two more blocks. Black windows.” He hopped free and started walking rapidly down the street and vanished into an alleyway.
Tommy sighed. “What am I getting myself into?”
Slab wouldn’t send him into danger, would he? The string of buildings had seen better days. Much better days.
He drove at a walking pace the two blocks and sure enough, there was an unmarked dark red brick building with windows painted black. He stopped at the curb and stepped off the bike.
A giant of a black man stepped out of the shadows and with a voice that rumbled, said, “You don wanna be here.”