Tom and Randy, Pool Detectives

We really were like a couple of mismatched detectives. Randy, a tall, athletic, light-skinned African American dude from Findlay, and me, a pale, scrawny, long-haired kid from Powell. Randy looked most of the time like he was coming from a basketball game but had had time to shower, and I, most of the time, looked like a Third World freedom fighter who had been sniffing glue and needed sleep and was wearing more clothing than the weather called for.

Randy was well-spoken, and I was a bit of a mumbler who didn’t like to look you in the eye. If we were on the trail of the same killer, like most mismatched detectives, I would not have survived the scene where we get into a brawl. But we weren’t on the trail of the same killer – it was just that we met in college, and had found that we had a lot more in common than you’d think. Mostly, what we had in common was icy cold beers, poker, and pool.

See, the way it worked back then was, we didn’t have telephones in our pockets. We had them in our apartments, and there were little boxes attached to the phones which recorded messages on cassette tapes. Right about then, they were coming out with these “answering machines” which did not use tapes, but instead made digital recordings. That was the kind of thing that could flat blow my mind.

So what we’d do was, while we were throwing cards around on a picnic table the night before, we’d compare notes about class schedules, work schedules, and papers due, and we’d determine when we could both stop doing productive things, and we’d say, okay so that’s when we’ll meet at the Drake Union, where they had cheap pool tables, and draft beer for a buck and a quarter.

That particular day, the time we figured we could stop being productive was three o’clock. Yes, it was a Monday – so what?

We’d simply get a table and then play game after game of eight ball, usually balancing out pretty evenly, sometimes slanting over toward an embarrassingly one-sided ass kicking, and then slanting back. We’d play for beers so, that mattered.

Frequently, the money would then slide back over the card table later that night, finding its way home. It was a lot like we drank the same twenty bucks for several years, just rolling back and forth between us.

Ostensibly, the reason the Drake Union on the OSU campus had a pool hall was that you could take billiards classes. There were a few bowling lanes, too, if you were into that sort of thing – which we weren’t. Now, why was there also beer for sale in the OSU building? I have no idea.

I’m not sure, but my guess would be, they probably cut that out by now.

The Drake Union was on the north side of campus, not too far from the Horseshoe. It was a fairly complicated building, and you had to know your way around to find the basement pool hall, cutting through several study rooms – bristling with students who were not there to drink beer in the middle of the afternoon - and then down a quiet, tiled hallway with a couple of bathrooms to one side, and then you’d open a door. There was barely even a sign.

Inside, it was so relaxing that it made us suspicious the first time we found it. A dozen or so decent tables, a sound system that was perfectly adequate but easy to talk over, and a little bar with a bored guy behind it, who only sold draft beer. Was this some kind of trap?

Nope, not a trap. Just tip that bartender a few bucks right off the bat, and buddy, you owned the place.

That afternoon bled into the early evening pretty smoothly, and resulted in a half dozen trips to the bathroom. Both Randy and I clearly noticed each time we went in that there was somebody sitting in one of the stalls, on the toilet. You might think that after six times or so, we’d say, man, there’s always somebody in that same stall, or maybe, gee, I wonder if that’s the same guy sitting in that stall all this time?

Since I can’t smell, I couldn’t tell you if there was an odor, but if there was, Randy didn’t pick it up, or he thought to himself, unpleasant smell in the Men’s Room, not exactly a big news story.

So we rocked in and out of there for several hours, taking leaks, washing hands, and despite our heightened Pool Detective skills – you see things, we observe them – it did not occur to us for a second that there was a dead guy in there, until the cops showed up.

Apparently there an elderly man who had been an usher at every home OSU game for thirty or forty years, who followed the same routine every game. He’d go to the campus McDonald’s, get a breakfast sandwich and coffee, and then he’d walk across campus to the game. He was a remarkable figure, apparently, to the general Horseshoe community; they recognized him and thought of him like a minor folk hero. A true Buckeye, they’d say.

So when he didn’t show up that day, it made the news. The guy had been in the news before, in a little human interest piece – he’d been an usher a really long time and looked like he was going to do it until the day he died, the piece said. A little column, I think, in the Dispatch.

And it was right. Two days before Randy and I cracked the case – well, practically cracked it. I mean, we were there, when it was cracked, and we’d been in the room with the dead body quite a few times, taking a leak, thinking, man, I love playing pool and drinking a few icy cold beers.

So anyway, two days before Randy and I practically cracked the case, the usher came into the Drake Union to use the bathroom, and he died in a stall, and he sat there for two days.

Our investigation later revealed that the cleaning guy had encountered him Saturday night. He’d been wearing a Walkman – which was an iPod the size of a brick that used cassette tapes like the answering machines did – and so when he opened the door, it hit someone’s knee and he just said, “Oh, my bad, sorry dude.”

And since he was wearing his Walkman, he didn’t register that the guy didn’t answer. He certainly didn’t think to himself, better check and see if that guy’s dead.

Eventually, the bartender found him. You probably think that means the bartender cracked the case, but don’t be ridiculous. Bartenders pour beers, they don’t crack cases. To crack a case, you have to be a pool detective. That’s where me and Randy came in.

Sure, our investigation began after the cops arrived, and sure, they hogged the collar. They were all like, we’re cops and you guys are half in the bag and you didn’t even notice he was in here and one of you isn’t even twenty-one.

We were used to it. We knew that cops and pool detectives should be on the same side, but there was always infighting. Posturing. Look at me, I’m an actual law enforcement officer, and you’re a not-very-serious-or-observant college student.

Sometimes you hit the mean streets, we’d found, and sometimes the mean streets hit you back.

But that’s how it is, the life of a couple of pool detectives. No one thanks you, everyone’s out for themselves, everyone’s focused on who actually detected stuff. I mean, sure, our methods were unorthodox. Damn straight, we ruffled some feathers, broke a few rules. Stepped on a few toes, you know what I’m saying?

But we got RESULTS. Or at least, we were frequently hanging around with beers in our hands, when the results showed up.

One time a guy stole Randy’s ID, and then four months later the guy came into the bar I worked in, recognized me, and said, “Hey man, I stole your pal’s ID. Here it is.” Then me and Randy and him sat down and had a few beers and a couple of laughs about it.

That’s kind of like cracking a case, although again, the case did just sort of crack right in front of me, while I was thinking about something else.

You know what, I’m tired of talking about this. We were super duper pool detectives, I’m telling you.