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DEL AND HIS BROTHER WILLIE were playing pool. It was a Wednesday night, and Doc Brown’s Pub and Eatery was nearly empty. Patterson Malone sat alone in a booth, nursing a whiskey. Martin Fletcher and his wife sat at a table, laughing and joking over dinner. Janine Milner had wandered through earlier with her girlfriends, but they had quickly left when it was clear there were no boys to chat up, no free drinks to be had. Theodore and Pontius sat at one end of the bar, arguing like old men do. And, of course, Miles Braeburn sat at the far end of the bar, alone and away from the other patrons, his finger securely wrapped around a Jack Daniels and ice. The room had gone quiet when he walked in, but Miles had sat down in the same spot he always sat and ordered his whiskey, and the room had quickly returned to its normal volume. Miles wanted to be ignored, and soon he was.
Del lined up his cue, and the table exploded with sound and motion, balls scattering across the table. The seven ball shot across the table and dropped cleanly in the corner pocket.
“Willie,” said Del, obviously pleased with himself. “You gotta learn to play more defensively, else I’m gonna run you right off of this table.”
Del was a physical opposite of his brother: Del was extremely fat while Willie was rail thin; Del was short while Willie was uncomfortably tall; Del’s face looked like someone has mashed it in when he was a child while Willie’s face was bony and angular, his nose long and hooked like a bird’s. Beyond those differences, they were unmistakably brothers; they shared the same pale skin, the same dark and beady eyes, the same greasy brown hair. They even sported the same baseball cap with the logo of the shipping company for which they both worked.
“I ain’t playing for the sake of winning,” said Willie. “I’m jus’ playing for the sake of playing.”
“Seems you is playing for the sake of losing,” said Del, sinking another ball. “Now git us another couple drinks.”
“I got these last couple,” said Willie, frowning as Del lined up against the nine. “B’sides, the Doc’ll be around in another minute; he’ll get us then.”
The cue ball shot across the table and made fierce contact with the nine, which rattled momentarily in the pocket before dropping into the hole and clattering through the mechanisms under the table. Del looked at the table smugly, and then across the room, his eyes falling on Miles, still sitting in the shadows at the end of the bar. A crooked, wicked grin crept across his face.
“Yeah, I’ll git it,” said Del. He crossed the room to the bar, a slow swagger that more closely resembled the waddle of a penguin than anything else. He nestled in between two barstools a few feet from Miles and, still holding the pool cue, flagged down Doc Brown.
“Mr. Brown,” Del said. “Another round for my brother and myself.” Doc Brown grabbed two fresh glasses, eyeing Del suspiciously. “It seems my brother is an unworthy opponent, and grows weary of my kicking his backside every night. I can’t help but wonder if there’s anyone here willing or able to provide me with a bit more of a challenge.”
Doc Brown marked two tallies on their running tab and drifted to the taps, saying nothing. He tilted a pint glass against the spout and pulled the handle without looking at it, his deep-set eyes still watching the two men at the bar. Del turned to Miles with a flourish.