I SCANNED the packed room, hoping to find an old mate as quickly as possible. Coming back to this place again was harder than I thought. My chest tightened when the door shut behind me—it felt like walking down the memory lane. The air was thick with the same smell of alcoholic beverages, cigarettes, chalk, and felt.
A curvy woman passed by me with a tray of cold beers and a large bowl the size of basketball full of crisps, making my stomach grumble. At the dim-lit corner, a couple started to snog on their table and didn’t give a shit on the replayed football match on the flat TV screen bolted on the wall.
What was wrong with you people? That was the real football for bloody sake! Our European football, and not some bunch of bollocks!
The drinkers laughed boisterously beside the pool players who were carefully analyzing the angle of the ball on the fifth table. Across it, the two blokes slapped down their bets confidently as if they already presumed who was going to win.
Then there he was—the familiar figure about my age, same built as I am, and an inch taller than my six feet two inches height. The light hanging above the table made the tattoo of Mjölnir’s symbol stand out on his right arm. He twisted his cue to the chalk square expertly.
Bloody Shark. I inwardly smirked.
He leaned on the table, then slid a cue shaft along the crook of his hand and hit the cue ball, knocking the balls into each other. A roar erupted around, gathering more audience around him.
His opponent was a skin-head bulky guy, leaning across the table. He intently watched the balls rolling in front of him, waiting patiently for his turn, but I was sure it was never going to happen. I could bet a hundred quid on it that Shark was going to win, effortlessly.
A low chuckle rumbled in my chest as I sat down on the wooden stool. Bottles of different types of alcohol lining behind the bar. A sign prohibiting the minors, a liquor license, and alcohol sponsor signage posted on the right side.
A late fifties old man with an untrimmed graying and thick beard approached with a friendly smile. “What can I get for ya, fella?”
“Just a beer. Thanks, mate.” I smiled back, fishing some bills from my jeans.
“It’s on the house,” he intoned.
Surprised, I stared at him like he was tricky jigsaw puzzles. Seconds ticked by, I busted out laughing. “Jett?” What the! It was Brett’s uncle, who co-owned the Rogue Pool house.
His face split into a grin, showing off his two bottom crooked teeth. “Thought you wouldn’t recognize me, Skip.”
Still laughing, I extended my hand for a handshake. “I almost did not recognize you, Jett. What’s the deal with the beard? How’s business, life, and Lorcan?” I met his son with Brett back in London.
“Oh, come on. Let’s not talk about my boring life, but Lorcan is in LA. So, you stay here for how long, son?” He grabbed a long glass behind the bar counter and pressed the beer tab. The beer bubbled up. He then placed down in front of me.
“Thanks. Not for good, but I’ll stay for a year or so.” I sipped the beer. The yeasty and bitter taste slid down, washing out the worry clogging in my throat. My stomach churned as it reminded me of why I was back after seven years.
“Good to know, son. Good to know.”
Another cheer erupted and glasses clinked simultaneously from where Brett was playing. The skin-head, bulky man cursed fiercely, face reddening with anger.
“He won,” I confirmed.
“Yup, poor man. He doesn’t have any idea who Brett is,” Jett concurred proudly.
Brett was a pool shark. Unfortunately, he stopped competing when his grandma died almost four years ago while he was on States tour.
At the corner of my eye, I saw the framed photo of Brett and his team. Other photos were The Minnesota Fats’ Rudolf Wanderone and The Filipino’s pride The Magician Efren Bata Reyes.
“Thanks, man!” That was Brett. “Nice game, by the way.”
I chuckled when I sensed him heading towards us. I turned to face him. “You’ve got to be kidding me! You tricked him, Sharknado. You’re a pool shark, and he is barely a rookie. That’s literally cheating!”
His big brown eyes widened in surprise. He then grinned and spread his arms wide as if to welcome me. “Look who’s here, fellas?” He threw his hands in the air in an exaggerated way. “Finally! Finally, he finds his way back to where he truly belongs! The United States of fucking America, where burgers and fries are our religion, right fellas?” He got everyone’s attention, raising their drinks. “Welcome home, Skipper Braddock Linton, my mate!”
I slid from the stool, laughing my arse out. “That’s quite British-y, don’t you think? We’re here in US soil, Brett Rogue.” We hugged with a back slap. He was my roommate in college and had been my best friend since then, but I had to go back to England to work with my father after I graduated.
“I thought you were joking when you called last week, mate. Are you in trouble? Are you now in the MI-6 most wanted lists?” Still grinning, we sat on the stools just like old times.
Jett placed down a bottle of beer for him.
“Not in trouble, as far as I know, not in a wanted list either, Jack Reacher.” I laughed. When was the last time I laugh like this? We talked over the phone, exchanged emails, but not like this. I missed the old times when we were just screwing around, partying, and not caring about tomorrow.
The last time I met him was three years ago with Lorcan, but we were busy enjoying the London night. Scratched that. I was totally pissed most of the time to even remember.
“Most wanted bachelor then, Mr. Bean?” His brow waggled playfully, smiling with mischief.
I snorted, “I’m engaged, Ethan Hunt.” I wish.
His eyes bulged. “No fucking way, James Bond!” He slammed his hands on my thighs, making me jerk up and wince in pain.
“What the bloody hell was that?” I grimaced. “Of course, I was lying, Stephen Curry?”
“I thought you’re serious, plonker.” He sipped his beer, keeping his eyes on me.
“What’s wrong if I’m engaged, daft? I could have just fallen in love in a week and planned on getting married.”
He snorted, “That’s Mission Impossible, E. L James. The last time you were heartbroken, I and Lorcan flew from LA all the way to London to mend your stupid broken heart. And the last time I talked to you over the phone, which was just last week, by the way, you seemed far from being in love, so, I know you’re lying. I might consider if a hot babe will jump into your knickers tonight, then you take her to your flat and shag her brains out.”
“Bloody hell. Why her? Why not just Simon Cowell?” We high-fived and laughed—a deep thunderous laugh like we used to do. I hadn’t gotten a chance to tell him the reason why I was here, and it made me felt like an arse.
I scratched the back of my head where I tied up my bronze curly hair into a bun. Talking about my ex just ripped the old wound open. I couldn’t blame her for choosing her career over me because that time I was also busy working my arse off to make my own name and prove to Dad that I deserved to be a Linton, and not because I was his son.
“Still hurt, huh?”
“Barely.” My accent thickened, especially when I was upset or worried about something. I pushed the empty glass. “Jett, scotch, please.”
“You’re not gonna piss your arse, Linton. It’s your first night in New York after seven bloody years,” Brett imitated my thick accent, which he quite fancied at it and lured lots of girls during our college days.
“Nope. I’m gonna beat your sorry skinny-arse over snooker,” I challenged him, though I knew who was going to win.
“Fucking Brit!” he spat out, laughing carelessly. “Carry on, Harry Potter. So, what will get if I win?”
“Anything, Kardashian.” I shrugged, extending my hand with determination.
“I can’t believe you know all these shits.”
“Blame it on Clyve. He didn’t stop talking about shits since he started producing a morning show.”
“Wow! Good for your bro, mate.”
“Now, what if I’m going to win?”
“Are you serious?”
“Okay, anything,” he answered, sounding unsure. His brows squished together.
“Are you sure?” With confidence, I arched my brows as I gripped his hand to seal the deal. My heart started to hammer in my chest. What the fuck had gotten into me to play the game that he had been playing all his life?
“Yeah, King Arthur.”
“I have unfinished business with someone, but can I have your word that you won’t kick my arse—”