Florida Keys – Gill’s Bar and Grill
As everyone in the bar waited in tense silence, Shark positioned the cue stick between his fingers and concentrated on his last shot. Suddenly, the white cue ball blurred as it streaked across the table toward its target. The impact sent the eight-ball screaming at a perfect angle toward the far corner pocket. The ball smacked the center of the black leather pouch and fell downward. The crowd cheered.
Shark was victorious for the seventh game in a row. High fives were everywhere. This was his place, his bar, his table. He was the world’s only Great White pool-playing shark, and the pool table at Gill’s Bar and Grill was his small sea.
Shark watched his opponent slowly circle the table. He noticed how the hyena eyed it carefully, how he took note of the number of balls left and the exact position of each one. The hyena was dressed in a fancy suit that covered his rail-like, wily frame. He wore a fedora hat that sat atop a weathered face accentuated by a long, thin snout, the tip of which had a small, coal-black nose. His entire appearance put Shark on edge. Although the hyena was much smaller, Shark knew the species were some of the most dangerous, ferocious predators in the world. Hyenas were famous for the strength of their jaws and the ferocity with which they carried out their kills. On top of all that, there was something about this hyena in particular that Shark did not trust.
The hyena reached down in his pocket with his long, bony fingers, retrieved a crisp hundred-dollar bill and put it down face up on the table. He looked directly at Shark. His eyes were yellow except for the center, where small, deep black pupils stared. “Care to go again?”
Shark retrieved his latest winnings from the table. He whipped out a roll of cash and inserted the new bill. “You’re down seven hundred,” he said as he snapped a rubber band around the cash and placed it back in his pocket. “If you’re giving away money, I’m just the guy to take it.”
Shark felt cocky tonight. He could afford to be. The seven hundred in his pocket burned a hole. It would go a long way buying rounds for the bar, something he always offered his friends after a big win. If the hyena wanted to keep playing, Shark figured it just tendered more free booze for him and the boys.
Shark grinned and exposed the whites of his sharp, triangular teeth. “Rack ’em.”
Dog Z Boy, a lean golden retriever and Shark’s best friend, placed a half-full bottle of beer on the side railing. Shark looked at him; the golden fur on his long, skinny arms hung below the short sleeves of the loudest tropical shirt Shark had ever seen. The two loved to joke with each other and Shark could not pass up the opportunity. “Dog Z Boy!” Shark yelled. “Where’d you get that shirt — you steal it off a blind-drunk tourist?”
Dog Z Boy looked up at Shark as he approached the table. “No, I’m pretty sure I stole this one out of your closet.”
Shark and the crowd all laughed. Shark looked over at the hyena who maintained a cold, blank expression. That’s one cold-hearted son of a bitch, he thought.
Shark walked over to Dog Z Boy and raised his right palm into the air. “You got to love it, Dog Z Boy. As good as you can take it, you always seem to be able to give it just a little bit better.” Shark and Dog Z Boy high-fived one another. “Now make yourself useful, and rack ’em.”
Shark loved Dog Z Boy like a brother. No matter what, he thought, Dog Z Boy always seems happy to see me.
Dog Z Boy had a huge smile on his face as he reached under the table and collected the balls. He put the balls in the rack and quickly arranged them into proper eight-ball formation. He lifted the rack slowly and stepped aside.
The hyena stepped forward as he chalked the tip of his cue. “I was thinking that maybe, just for this one game, we might consider raising the stakes.”
Shark shot an ominous look directly at his opponent. The type of stare that let it be known that he was one of the top predators in the world and didn’t like being messed with. A player raising stakes after losing seven consecutive games meant only one thing to Shark — the hyena was a con man, a hustler. Shark looked up and again noticed the large wolf standing cross-armed by the door. He was muscular and well toned. His fur, a mix of tan and brown, lay perfectly flush on his chiseled face, a face that lacked any kind of expression. He had a snout much smaller than the hyena’s, the tip of which had a dark brown nose. His eyes were a deep, steely blue. Large whiskers bowed out at each side just below his nose, creating a giant, very cool-looking mustache. He looks slick, Shark thought. This guy is handsome and a lady killer. Shark knew the wolf was obviously the hyena’s bodyguard and would be a worthy adversary if a brawl broke out. Shark was not a big fan of hyenas, especially ones wearing fancy suits and fedora hats. But he was also not the type to back down from a challenge. Hustler or no hustler, he would have to play him. “What did you have in mind?”
The hyena pulled out a postcard from his jacket pocket and held it up for Shark and the crowd to see. “Well, seeing that you have taken almost all of my money, I thought I might put this up against, say, one thousand dollars cash.”
Shark gave the hyena another cold glance. He’d been taken a few times in the past by hustlers and had also hustled a few times himself. But a postcard against one thousand in cash didn’t make much sense. “What gives?”
“Ah, well, you see it’s not just the fact that this is a postcard, but rather who the card is from.” The hyena moved forward to give Shark a closer look.
The front of the card showed a thatched-roof, open-air tropical bar. The inscription read: Greetings From Tiki Wiki Billiards. Pool-Playing Paradise.
The hyena flipped over the card, making certain to cover the note portion with his hand. As Shark looked over the back of the card his eyes grew wide. He had not heard anything from her in over a month. And now, here in front of him, on a postcard held by a total stranger appeared her name, Vixen, and a return address at a place called Tiki Wiki Billiards, Viti Levu Island, Fiji.
Shark grabbed at the card. “Let me see the note.”
The hyena quickly pulled the card back and placed it inside his jacket pocket. “For that to happen, my great white friend, you’ll have to beat me one more time at this game they call pool.”
Shark felt his cold-blooded temperature start to rise. Who was this guy? And how did he know Vixen? Where did he get that card? Shark knew he had only two choices: end the hyena’s life with one bite and take the card, or see the situation through and play. He again looked over at the large wolf. He thought for a second, realizing the first option would not be as easy as he thought. For all he knew, the wolf could be packing a piece. Playing it cool would be the best choice for now. Shark locked eyes with the hyena. “It’s your break.”
"Shields' debut allegorical tale takes place in an Orwellian alternate world in which animals talk and earn their livings and fall in love right alongside humans... Shields has a flair for adventure writing...The book is filled with exciting action sequences...An exciting...clever...animal adventure." Kirkus Reviews.
Excerpted from "Shark & The Wolf: Predators and Prey" by Daniel D. Shields. Copyright © 0 by Daniel D. Shields. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.