View Full Version : The Mortal Lock

09-09-2002, 11:49 AM
Here's a story with a moral, although I don't know just what it is. Tincup Wallis has a close call.


The Friday afternoon action at Tincup Billiards was as fast and furious
as it ever gets. There was a four-handed $5 golf game in full swing on the big
snooker table, with hickeys going for half a buck each, and it had been on the
verge of a fist fight since the beginning, which was its customary status. A
fight among that bunch might be even funnier than the insults that filled the
air. If it ever happens, I hope I’m on hand to see it.

Rollover Patin had an eight-ball match going on a bar table, where he
was playing a race to fifteen with the guy who delivers the frozen pizzas. They
were playing for a meatball po-boy and a beer, and they were well-matched.
Neither had ever run a rack in his life and the normal game would see each of
them get maybe nine or ten turns at the table, and would likely end with an
error of some kind by the player shooting at the black ball. Most games were
lost, not won, if you know what I mean.

Tincup Wallis, the owner of the place, was playing one-pocket with an old
coot for $20 a game, and giving up 11-7. The old-timer couldn’t have won a
game if he had been getting 12-4, but he was hoping to make just one bank
shot with his $1600 cue before closing time. He requested an adjustment after
every game and never got it, but he continued to play anyway. Tincup was in
his glory and intended to stay there.

Bricks was practicing by herself on the third table, wearing a pair of her
famous skin-tight short shorts that looked like they could give way at any
minute. Every game in the house was suspended when Belly Gautreaux
slipped up behind her with an old bar towel. When Bricks bent over to shoot,
Belly ripped the towel in half with a loud rending noise, and Bricks went
straight up in the air like a bottle rocket, no doubt figuring that her garment
had finally given up the fight and exposed a cheek or two. It was the highlight
of an already exciting day, appreciated by all, including Bricks.

Tincup’s elderly victim was named Eugene, and it seemed like he had to
take a lot of verbal abuse while losing a double sawbuck on every game.
Playing with Tincup was like that. If he ever got you down he loved to step on
you. After Eugene went two-and-out on a potential five ball run that Ray
Charles could have handled with no trouble, Tincup advised him that if he was
a baseball player he would be a Milwaukee Brewer, this being the worst team
he could think of. A baseball discussion began, in loud voices, and we find
that Eugene was a Yankees fan while Tincup was a big supporter of the
Diamondbacks from Arizona. Eugene said the Diamondbacks were a one-shot
wonder and unworthy to carry the Yankees’ baseball bats, and one thing led to
another and the one-pocket game was temporarily halted, pending some
resolution of the next World Series.

“Tincup, you damn’ thief,” said Eugene, “I’m stuck two yards in this here
game, and if you want to try for four I’ll make you a proposition you won’t even
need any cojones to book. You want to hear it?”

Tincup halted with his mouth open to speak and turned to look at Billy
Jones, his janitor, who was having a beer in one of the spectator seats. Billy
was trying not to laugh, as anybody could see, and he cupped one ear with his
hand so as not to miss what Tincup was about to say. Tincup had already
taken the gas twice within the past month, betting on cinches, and Billy could
hardly wait to see him go down for the third time. It sort of put Tincup on the
spot and he didn’t like it.

“Stuff it up your grocery chute,” said Tincup. “I don’t even want to hear
it. Is it my shot?”

“I’m sure glad you said that,” said Eugene. “I come near putting my foot
in my mouth, there, and you done let me off the hook. And yes, it’s your shot if
you’re following me.”

Tincup selected a shot and got down on it and then stood up again and
chalked his stick for the third time. Without turning away from the table, he
said, “What was your proposition, anyway?”

“You said you wasn’t interested.”

“Yeah, but what if I had been interested - what would you have said?”

“Well, I was gonna offer to let you multiply the Diamondback scores
whilst I was adding up the Yankee scores and bet you the $200 on who would
have the biggest total after maybe a dozen games. Must have been out of my
freakin’ mind. Thank you for turning me down.”

“I didn’t understand that. Multiply what scores, Eugene?”

“Well, keep a running total on the number of runs each team made in
each game, with you multiplying on your side and me adding on my side. One
of the dumbest ideas I ever had, and I’ve had me a few. I believe I’ll give $100
at church on Sunday and still come out $100 ahead on the deal.”
Tincup still hadn’t hit his shot on the pool table. He stood gazing up at
the ceiling, doing sample calculations in his head, and after about the fourth
imaginary game his eyes began to get bigger, but only for a few seconds. Then
they began to get sly and cagey and maybe even a little bit evil. “I might have
had to go for that. Maybe I spoke too soon. Good thing you backed out.”

“I never backed out. You backed out, without even hearing what I was
gonna offer. I used to have me a pet mouse with more heart than that.”

“Yeah, but don’t offer it again. That’s the best advice I can give you. We
might find out about a couple of hearts.”

“Well, since you put it that way, I’ll offer it again, right now. I can’t play
much pool, but I will gamble. What about you? I dare you to turn it down.”

Tincup was in a sort of panic. He was looking at Billy Jones out of the
corner of his eye and he was thinking about a guy named Blake and another
guy named Donnie. “Forget it, Eugene. I gamble but I don’t steal. (That was a
bald-faced lie) I don’t want any more of your money. My conscience is starting
to hurt me already.”

“Suits me, but I wanted everybody to see you doing the crawfish act, and
they did. Backing up, all the way home. You need you a rearview mirror to see
where you’re goin’.”

The one-pocket game was over. Tincup went and sat down with Billy
Jones. “Billy,” he said, “never take another man’s proposition. If it sounds too
good to be true, it probably is. I got news for that old fart if he thinks he can
pull my wool over the ice.” He winked at Billy like a wise old owl.

“You picked a fine time to get weak, Tincup. I’m sitting here doin’ my
arithmetic and tryin’ to think of a way to lose that bet, but I don’t believe there
is one. You did Eugene a big favor, but you didn’t do it out of charity. You
were just afraid he was too smart for you, even if you didn’t see how.”

“Billy, some of these guys around here say I’m hard-hearted. They call
me a locksmith. Well, they can think again. Eugene got out of line and I let
him off the hook instead of robbing him. It’s good PR.”

You might think that’s the end of the story, but it’s not. Before Eugene
made it to the front door, Wardell Wascom stepped out of the golf game and
grabbed his arm and said, “Say that bet again, Eugene. I might not have got it
right.” Eugene went through it again for him. “I’ll take that bet for you, and
me and you can gamble, even if Tincup is feeling a little bit faint.”

“Well, kiss my looky-yonder!” hollered Eugene. “How about if I just bring
all my money down here and dump it on the floor and all you buzzards can get
on your knees and elbows and rassle over it!”

“Now who’s backing water?” demanded Wardell Wascom.

“You got it, Mr. Big Mouth! Twelve games for each team, starting tonight.
Two hundred bucks and we’ll post it for Misty to hold. Now leggo my arm. I’m
sick of Ali Baba and the rest of you thieves. I’m goin’ to the house.”

And that’s how it began. Wardell showed up on Saturday with a whole
sheet of poster board all done up with lines for keeping score every day, and he
insisted on taping it to the bulletin board with a little felt marker tied to it. He
had already posted the Friday night scores. The Yankees were ahead by 7 to 5
after one game, but that didn’t last long. By Sunday it was the Diamondbacks
by 20 to 11 and then 120 to 14 by Monday morning, and it did nothing but get
worse from there. By Friday it was halfway home, with six games for each side
on the board. The Yankees were up to 31 and Arizona had 9,600.

Eugene came in every day after lunch and looked at the board and shook
his head sadly and walked out, past a whole row of guys giving him the horse-
laugh and offering to lay heavy odds to get some of his proposition. Wardell
made it a point to be there every day until Eugene had come and gone. He
always made a couple of insulting remarks, and he was ready to bust just
thinking how clever he was. On Wednesday he offered to let Eugene buy out
for $199.25 and that got a good laugh out of the crowd. Tincup Wallis followed
the scores and gave Wardell a daily tongue lashing for what he was doing to the
old man, but his heart wasn’t really in it, and Wardell wasn’t listening anyway.
Billy Jones and Rollover Patin had regular skull sessions about this strange
bet, without discovering anything helpful.

Well, on Friday night the Yankees made nine runs against Detroit and
the San Diego Padres shut out the Diamondbacks by 4-0. Eugene showed up
on schedule on Saturday and noted that the total for the Yankees was correct,
but that Wardell had written down 9,600 for the D’backs again. And Wardell
was leering at it over Eugene’s shoulder. Eugene turned around real slow and
looked at him.

“Wardell,” said Eugene, “how many runs did your team make last night?”

“We done hit a little stump last night, Eugene. Them Padres shut us out,
and your Yankees made a big step toward catching up, with them nine runs!
Haw! Haw! Haw!” roared Wardell, filling the pool room with his breath that was
part cigar and part garlic.

“Didn’t you forget to do your multiplying this morning?”

“They wasn’t none to do, what with being shut out. Maybe tomorrow I’ll
get another chance. If I’m lucky. You think?”

“Wardell,” said Eugene patiently, “how much is 9,600 times zero?”

“You cain’t multiply by no zero.” Wardell still didn’t get it.

“Maybe you can’t, but I can.” Eugene took the felt marker and made a
big X through the 9,600 and wrote a big O. It got so quiet in Tincup Billiards
you could hear Wardell’s garlic breath going in and out. You could see he was
trying hard to think of something to say, but there didn’t seem to be anything,
either for him or for anybody else.

Eugene rotated his head around and had a look at everybody in the
place, and then went to the counter. “Missy, give me that $400 under the
drawer in the register.”

All of a sudden, Wardell thought of something to say. “Hold on, Eugene.
I guess you figure you done won my money on a technicality, but let me remind
you it ain’t over, not by a long shot. We got six more games to go, and I got
some more of that multiplying to do. Misty, you just put that money right back
in that drawer!”

“I’m surprised at you, Wardell. You got even more ignorance than I took
you for. What if Arizona makes about eight runs tonight. How much is eight
times zero gonna be? You want some time to work it out, or can you see it is
gonna be zero again?”

“Bull crap!” screamed Wardell. His face was getting pretty rosy and his
eyeballs were sticking out. “How am I supposed to get off that zero? I don’t
know if this is illegal, but it’s damn’ sure unfair! You’re trying to cheat me!”

“You don’t ever get off the zero, Sport. You get used to it. When you took
this bet you figured you was stealin’ and that didn’t bother you a bit. You
figured that was okay, didn’t you? Now it turns out you’re the baloney in this
sandwich and you want to call out the National Guard? It was a legitimate bet.
If Arizona never gets shut out I lose by a million and this would be your $400
and you could have laughed at me from now on. Well, it didn’t work out for
you, and for the first time in a week I get to see you without that crap-eating
grin on your face and I like it better and better. Gimme the money, Misty.”
Misty got it for him and he flipped her a $20 bill.

Eugene left the premises, maybe strutting just the tiniest bit, and
Wardell Wascom was just a couple minutes behind him, but there was no
spring in his step. All the others stood around the poster for maybe twenty
minutes, reviewing Eugene’s calculation and trying to understand what had
happened. The Bet was all anybody talked about around the joint for maybe
ten days. The consensus was that it was a real gamble and not a heist. Most
folks felt that Wardell got what he deserved, but they really couldn’t say too
much about it, because he had been the only one in the building that spoke up
and posted his cash. That had to count for something.

Tincup and Billy Jones hashed it out at length, sitting down at the end of
the counter on slow days. “Billy,” said Tincup, “would you say I’m getting
smarter, seeing as how I didn’t get caught in that trap?”

“The thing is, it wasn’t a trap at all. It was a legitimate proposition, and
it had nothing to do with math. The adding and multiplying was just to
misdirect your attention. It was just betting on whether or not your team
would get shut out at least once in the next twelve games. Wardell could have
won his bet, but he didn’t. His biggest mistake was all the mouthing off he did
when he thought he had a mortal lock. Everybody can learn something from
that, but we probably won’t. In his shoes, you’d have been worse about it than
he was.”

“I saved my money this time, Billy, but I didn’t get to gamble. I guess I
feel sort of left out of the action.”

“Tincup, I cannot tell a lie. It’s a good thing I didn’t have $200.”

09-09-2002, 12:09 PM
Great stuff once again Vapros. Put me first on the list for the book when it comes out. And give me directions to Tincup Billiards. That place sounds like a blast!


09-09-2002, 12:27 PM
Another excellent "lifes lesson" Vapros. I'd definitely look "real hard" before gambling in Tincups place. lol ***Lester***

09-09-2002, 12:55 PM
Love it, Jenkins!


09-09-2002, 01:02 PM
tap tap tap... great story.. sign me up for a subscription.. k

09-09-2002, 01:14 PM
Thats an entertaining story Vapros.

Just out of curiosity, I checked to see what the actual estimated odds were on that bet. Based on the last five days of all of major league baseball, ignoring any particulars of the Diamondbacks and their schedule, that bet looks like even money. Of course a larger sample would provide more accurate results, too.


09-09-2002, 04:20 PM
Great story..I've been on the losing side of this bet while a young kid in the Navy.. in the 60s with a Dodger and Cardnials scores for a month.. both got shut out.. Drysdale and Gibson were in ZERO runs per/inning streaks.. Drysdale won and set a record that didn't fall until the 90s with Oral Hersiser(sp?) that was stopped in the opening inning of the next year with a game at Cincinnati.. Gibson did get the lowest era that year.