They continued to shoot pool well past 11:30 in the dimly lit pool hall despite both having to teach the next day. Doug came from America and Steve from post-industrial Walesand like most Western 20-somethings in a non-descript Chinese city they taught English to kids who didn’t seem particularly interested in learning it.
That was life, and they often slipped away to the pool hall where they drank to beat the stifling humidity and forget about the boredom of their situation. On this night, they sipped a brownish-colored alcohol from plastic cups that’s name translated to yellow wine even though it had the syrupy consistency of schnapps. The pool hall’s manager had given it to Steve for free, which Doug found both inexplicable and delightful, but Steve casually shrugged off.
You ever go to that shop about three blocks west of school, Steve asked as he sized up the last remaining striped ball on the table.
Ya mean the bodega where that hot-ass Chinese chick with the long sexy hair works, Doug replied with alcohol-slurred speech. About the only place around here to get ice cream?
That’s the one.
Oh yeah. I know it. That chick there’s freaking hot, but looks miserable. Maybe if I could talk Chinese like you it’d help because I can’t even get her to smile.
Why’d ya ask?
Because that twat back there is her husband, Steve said ominously as he pointed over his shoulder with his left thumb.
How ya know, Doug asked as he blatantly stared at the man sitting against the opposite wall with his arm around a girl who looked less than happy about it.
This is my third year teaching here; some things happen that you don’t know about.
I guess, Doug dumbly shrugged, but who’s the girl he’s with? She’s hot, but not as hot as his missus.
That’s Mr. Wu’s niece.
No shit, Doug said astounded. Ya mean the guy who runs this place?
The guy behind the counter who gave ya free booze?
He looks fucking pissed. Guess I’d be pissed off too if some chachi wearing a cheap gold chain was trying to work my niece right in front of me.
As would I, Steve said and then pocketed the 8 ball in the far-right corner. Game, set, and match. Another one mate?
Not tonight Steve-O. I’m feeling it and I ain’t gonna make work tomorrow if I keep drinking. Ya staying?
Yes, Steve said as he looked darkly at the would-be cheater. I have something to sort out.
Ok, Doug blithely said and then gave his friend a fist pump and smile before he stumbled out of the pool hall.
After Doug left, Steve racked the balls again and broke them, all the while keeping an eye on the would-be lothario with Mr. Wu’s niece. He had just pocketed the last solid when the cheating husband clumsily lunged for a kiss only to be slapped brutally.
This finally aroused Mr. Wu’s simmering anger and he heatedly yelled at the cheating husband who shouted abuse right back. In the commotion, Mr. Wu’s niece ran off to safety and after more shouting and threats the cheating husband finally arose and skulked out of the pool hall.
Immediately after he had gone, Steve looked at Mr. Wu who gave him a confirmatory nod of his head. Upon seeing this, Steve set down his pool cue on the table without saying a word and walked out into the muggy night.
The next day after work Doug walked quickly to the teachers’ dorms and straight to Steve’s flat. Hey buddy, Doug said to Steve when the latter opened the door, did you hear what happened last night?
No, Steve calmly replied.
Remember that loser husband with the wandering eye at the pool hall?
Yes. I pointed him out to you.
Oh yeah…well apparently he got his ass kicked and now he’s in a fucking coma. Maybe Mr. Wu is a gangster or something and roughed him up, Doug concluded, barely able to contain his excitement.
Unlikely, Steve nonchalantly replied. By the way, who told you?
Yifan; at work today.
Yes, she’s a local girl, isn’t she? Cops know anything?
Nah. Yifan said they’ve got nothing. Why?
Cool; and I’ve got an idea, Doug continued. Let’s get some ice cream at that cheating bastard’s bodega if it’s not closed today. Maybe his old lady’ll smile at me now that he’s out of the picture.
Perhaps, Steve said with a devious grin. Let me get some money.
He retreated into his flat while Doug waited in the outer hall. When Steve emerged, he closed his door and they set off for the store. Upon arriving and somewhat to Doug’s surprise, the store had not closed and the beautiful woman, of whom he had lustfully spoken the night before, sat behind the counter.
They both quietly shuffled in and each took a Magnum bar from the freezer on the back wall. Doug paid his ¥6.50 first, but much to his chagrin, the woman behind the counter barely acknowledged him. Instead, her attention immediately turned towards Steve, who now approached.
Steve began speaking to her and what they said quickly outstripped Doug’s Mandarin vocabulary. The woman soon reached across the counter and took both of Steve’s hands in her own and lovingly gazed at the top of them. Then Steve leaned forward and kissed the left side of her cheek and she blushed with affection. It was only now that Doug noticed Steve’s black and blue knuckles, all of them skinned and swollen.
You sly dog, Doug said with an epiphanic giggle, as he stood in the shop’s doorway. What’ve you been up to buddy?
Things, Steve answered with a wink. And remember, some things happen around here that you don’t know about.
Peter Anderson lives in Oxford England where he teaches economics at St. Edward’s School. Between grading homework and handing out detention he likes to write fiction as a hobby.