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Scott Wolven

Eight Ball

That August, as soon as the word came that Ackerly had been spotted in Texas, we moved fast. Jimmy Work and I drove my blue pickup truck the three days from New York to El Paso my brother was already there, waiting out the blistering Texas heat inside a diner north of the city. Jimmy Work was glad to be on the road. He'd been doing time at McNeil, the federal joint in Puget Sound, for about seven years. He didn't say much during the ride, just looked out the window and enjoyed the highway view and the sky. We met my brother at the diner.

"Are you sure it's him?" I asked. The three of us were sitting in a red fake leather plastic booth, eating egg breakfasts with coffee and breathing cool conditioned air.

"I'm sure," my brother said, nodding. "I checked it out myself." He sipped his coffee. "He's hustling pool games down at the Exchange Hotel."

"It makes sense," I said, pointing my chin at the diner windows and further toward El Paso itself. "I think he's originally from here."

We finished and I paid and tipped and the three of us walked across the hot parking lot and got into my brother's full-sized black Ford Bronco. The air above the macadam shimmered with heat demons. Jimmy Work climbed into the backseat and checked the gun, a pump-action three-oh-eight short-barreled, with a black, Parkerized finish that, from a distance, you might mistake for a shotgun.

My brother was sitting behind the wheel. "What's he calling himself?" I asked.

"Al," my brother said. "He says he's Al Broughton from back East. I heard him say that to a couple guys before he won their money."

"Well if he can't pay me when we get there, he's all done," I said.

There was a metallic snap from the backseat as Jimmy Work clipped the three-shell magazine to the underside of the three-oh-eight. "He'll pay," he said. "One way or another." Jimmy Work pulled a pack of Camels out of his shirt pocket, shook one loose, lit it and took a drag. He rested the rifle on the seat next to him. He talked around the cigarette. "I forgot Texas was this hot," he said. He wiped his brow with a red kerchief and stuck it in his back pocket. "Hotter than the steam off my piss," he finished. His denim work-shirt was soaked through with sweat. "Did I ever tell you about Bob Luce?" he asked me.

"No," I shook my head. "You didn't." My brother turned to look at us.

Jimmy Work nodded. "Bob Luce was the first guy from Texas I ever knew. Don't mess with Texas was about the first thing he ever said to me. He was a big guy, maybe six nine, close to three hundred pounds. He was at McNeil."

My brother started the truck and flipped on the air conditioning.

Jimmy Work talked. It was as if he wasn't in the back of that Ford anymore.

"Right next to McNeil was another small island. After I'd been there about two years, the feds built another smaller facility on the other island. A couple of us got transferred over they took us there shackled and cuffed in a boat and Luce was one of us.

The smaller joint they called the island workhouse and it was less restrictive, lower security. We'd go out and cut trees and dig holes it was all fenced in and guarded and where the hell were we going to go?" He took a long drag off his cigarette and kept on.

"Luce, he looks over to the shore of the backside of the peninsula and see's Indians fishing. You could tell they were Indians because their trucks didn't have plates and they looked dark, with long black hair, just like Indians. There must have been a reservation there. Usually there were at least ten Indians, fishing and drinking beer.

Luce starts to yell over, everyday. He's a big guy, loudmouthed, so his voice carries 'Hey Chiefy' he yells over one day 'I want to scalp your squaw.'

He keeps it up, everyday. Maybe half an hour a day. 'Hey Big Chief' and 'Hey Red Man!' And the Indians on the shore would give him the finger, but they never yelled back.

He kept it up right through the fall into the winter. Snow came and one of the guards told Luce to shovel off the basketball court. Luce separated off from the rest of us, he went over to the court area to shovel. There was this crack!" Jimmy Work smacked his hands together. "Luce fell down and the snow was all bloody around him. Those Indians blew the back of his head off with a high-powered rifle. We scrambled around for a minute and got back inside the facility. No other shots came." He looked at me and my brother. "I don't think they looked too hard for who did it," he said. It was the most I heard him talk. Ever.

"Can you blame them?" my brother said.

"No, no," Jimmy Work said. "People get what they deserve."

"What did you miss most while you were in?" I said.

"I thought I missed being out," Jimmy Work said. "But it all seems the same to me now."

"Let's go," I motioned my brother.

Jimmy Work ended up slamming the truck door closed on Ackerly's head before it became clear that we were serious, not just pool players who would fold up and fade away. Jimmy Work grabbed Ackerly in a headlock, took him kicking and yelling through the back door, into a paved alley behind the Exchange Hotel. My brother opened the door on the big Bronco and Jimmy Work shoved Ackerly headfirst onto the driver's seat, then yanked him back a little by the seat of his jeans and his belt and slammed that door for all he was worth. Akerly's knees buckled, his legs went soft. Jimmy Work slammed the door again and then again, harder. Ackerly's voice was muffled, because he was screaming into the truck, so it didn't sound as loud as you might think. Then Jimmy Work pulled Ackerly out onto the black top. Blood was all over Ackerly's head and he was in a fog.

"It's in my trunk," he said. He weakly flipped a set of keys out of his pocket. My brother went over and picked them up. "The Barracuda out front," Ackerly finished.

We stood there while my brother walked down the alley toward the street. Ackerly sat on his ass bleeding. My brother came back down the alley with a green gym bag and gave us the thumbs up.

Fast, Jimmy Work reached into the backseat of the Bronco and came out with the gun. He brought it up to his shoulder and drew a bead on Ackerly's left leg, the upper thigh. Jimmy Work took two steps forward and fired and Ackerly rolled around on the ground. Then he passed out. I watched Jimmy Work's eyes as he did it all and if he blinked or looked away, I didn't see it. He wanted to leave a reminder, a warning for others. People don't limp for no reason and especially around a pool hall or a bar you notice those things, if money's involved.


Scott Wolven is finishing an MFA at Columbia University and currently teaches creative writing at Binghamton University (SUNY). His story "The Copper Kings" was selected for Best American Mystery Stories 2002, and his story "Controlled Burn" was selected for BAMS 2003.

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