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U.S. Keds is a kid, just turned 15, who haunts Jack and Jill's and plays with his $150 Balabushka pool cue and is always a threat to run out any nine-ball rack. At times he has run several racks in a row. In Jack and Jill pool parlance he plays "jam-up" and knows how to "draw his rock," which means, quite simply, that he is very, very good. Luther Lassiter watched Keds narrowly and probably had an idea about how good the kid might get someday, but he wasn't saying. Lassiter is a tough man with information.
Champagne Eddie Kelly, Wimpy's competition in the finals, came in and began warming up. He had won the one-pocket division of the tournament, and Luther Lassiter had won the nine-ball division. Kelly, supposedly the best all-round pool player in the country, was heavily favored to win the first three games, all one-pocket, and then they would play nine-ball until one of them won 14 games altogether. The question was, could Lassiter spot Kelly those first three games of one-pocket?
Pumpkin thought Lassiter could win.
"I used to love to watch Kelly play when he was around here," said Pumpkin, a computer-programmer job refugee since last April. "He was such a tiger. Even when he got behind he wouldn't quit. He'd just really bear down and play out of his mind. Then he went out to Vegas and he changed, the way Beanie says they all do. He saw too many people go busted. Now all he thinks of is whether he's got the best of it. He's lost that tiger."
Tiger or no tiger, Champagne Eddie had defeated a fine group of pool players to win his division. And so had the old man, Luther Lassiter. Steve Cook, only 23, who had won the Stardust Open in Vegas last year and played well always, was one of their victims. So was Wade Crane, 25, ranked second to Lassiter as a nine-ball player in the South. Jimmy Rempe, 23, who had been hustling in pool halls all over the country since he was 16, had also done well.
Among the older and wiser hands who fell were Weenie Beanie, DeValliere, Pat Lynch and Eddie Taylor, the Knoxville Bear. Lynch, who is in the construction business, is the silent man, speaking only when spoken to and then as briefly as possible. Taylor had not been playing much before Arlington, but he did manage to give Wimpy Lassiter his only nine-ball defeat.
By the time Kelly and Lassiter had finished warming up the tournament room was crammed. People filled all the 120 permanent seats, spilled over onto some folding chairs and even jammed the little corridor by the exit. A few stuck their heads through the curtains to the main room.
Bob Purdum, the announcer, watched as Kelly finished knocking in his last practice balls, then he walked over and made the introductions. Lassiter pulled his two-piece cue from its alligator case, and Kelly stood quietly watching.
The one-pocket was quickly over. Kelly controlled the breaks carefully, and took two tight games and one laugher and was three ahead, as everyone expected. Now for the nine-ball.
Kelly shot first, breaking well and winning, to make his lead in games 4-0, and he continued to dominate the play—to the crowd's disappointment—until he led 10-3. By then Lassiter was pressing on every shot. In the 14th game Lassiter got to shoot first, and the place became absolutely quiet as he drew the pool cue back slowly through the fingers of his bridge hand for the break. Then, with an astonishing snap of his wrist, he whipped his lower arm forward through the cue ball, which slammed into the diamond-shaped nine-ball rack. The sound of the break cracked through the room, and balls zigged across the table in bewildering tangents of color and movement. But Lassiter and the crowd were riveted on only one of them: the yellow-and-white nine ball. It bounced off the back rail and came running down table to the left corner pocket, where it hung for a moment, then tumbled over the lip and fell in. Before the ball hit the bottom of the pocket, the roar went up. Now the score stood Lassiter 4, Kelly 10.