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JO?O ANTONIO

Malagueta, Perus e Bacanaço

"(...) The bar owner was straightening things out, realigning the bottles. Taking his time. At this precise moment a slight, agile, squat man entered the pool hall, in hustler attire – black suit, thin tie, narrow square-toed shoes. One of these lithe, hurried and precise little fellows who invariably sport trim little mustaches.

Bacanaço took a good look at him, sizing him up.

– This short-ass is some turkey about to lose some cash.
The man greeted the bar owner, smiled, sipped his drink and sidled towards the table.

In no time, he was chatting up Bacanaço.

– Hi, mate, are you up for a game or just passing through?
Perus cringed. The man was Robertinho, one of the best snooker players in Pinheiros, a fine shot able to conceal his true game. He had met him at Aimoré, a seedy joint on Rua Teodoro Sampaio, and they got along well. Buddies almost.

– It's negotiable, mate.

Buddies. Mentally, Perus pleaded with Bacanaço not to challenge him to a game. Robertinho was an ace player, slippery fish and worse still, able to hide his true colors. If he wanted to, he could formulate a plan, he could spend two or three hours losing, like all great hustlers. Then, he would attack, double the bet, play his real game, and leave the other guy dumbfounded, baffled as to how he had lost. Bacanaço and Malagueta didn’t know him, the mulatto was going to make a killing. And all the more so here, in this pool hall, on these tables that Robertinho knew like the back of his hand... He would play like a champion.

– Two of two hundred and fifty.

Damn! Bacanaço had challenged him to a game. At his command Malagueta would cross swords with Robertinho. The old man would be soon destroyed, lose one, two, ten, twenty games, all. He would floor him. Robertinho played three times better than the old man, in the natural logic of the game. What a disaster! And Perus couldn't get out of the game...

– Let’s go to it, mate – Robertinho was already taking his jacket off.

When the hustler spotted Perus, he pretended he didn’t recognize him, as according to the unspoken rules of snooker, in that situation both should remain silent and let the game proceed. That’s how hustlers behave among themselves – it's the rule. And, being a rule, Perus could not let Bacanaço or Malagueta know. He could not grass on Robertinho, because the game was really good for him. He could not say anything. If he did, Robertinho would accuse him of being a "traitor", which is the one word that most offends the hustler. And he'd also get into a serious fight. Bacanaço was exultant, gloating. Perus was suffering. He could not save his friends from that snake in the grass and, if they played, he knew only too well the sad aftermath – Robertinho was going to leave them completely broke, without a single penny to buy a cup of coffee. Neither Bacanaço, nor Malagueta or Perus could match his game.

– I play for real, son – the small man doubled the value. And my game is relentless – "winner takes all, loser pays up". Are you up for it, mate?

His game was merciless.

Bacanaço acted with arrogance, telling Malagueta to go ahead and play.

– My employee is an old hand. Get playing. One does not give or take breaks here, this is a man’s game, not for the squeamish. How much?

Five hundred cruzeiros. Perus sighed. They had fallen into the trap, what a disaster! There was no choice but to look on and wait for the inevitable. He would watch Robertinho win a game, two, or forty. To the hustler, a good professional, the work would be the same. And Perus could not say a single word. To begin with, Malagueta’s money would disappear. Then Robertinho would sting Bacanaço. And then...

But Robertinho was wicked and gave them a tease. Surreptitiously, he let himself be carried by Malagueta’s game, lost three games of five hundred, paid up calmly. He was measuring his game, studying.

– You’re inspired, old man!

Bacanaço was euphoric with the adversary. The guy was going to lose a lot, Malagueta was good on this table. Maybe he was going to make four or five contos from this game. A stroke of luck, a big stroke of luck. And he teased.

– Go for it, old man!

Perus knew the score, and watched on, simply waiting for Robertinho’s comeback, that would come, relentlessly, shattering the whole farce, whenever the trickster decided to.

But Robertinho, slippery fish that he was, lost another two games. Bacanaço drank some beer, made jokes, clicked his fingers.

– Go for it, Malagueta!

Perus, heartbroken, in his corner, followed the men’s movements, bending over the table in turn to take their shots. He waited for the retaliation. The counter-attack would come and it was going to hurt. Malagueta would be at a loss, Bacanaço would puncture like a burst balloon. He could foresee it. A disenchanted look appeared in the clear eyes of the boy.

– Is it worth a conto? Let’s go for it?
The value was doubled. Bacanaço agreed. Perus was on the alert, the punch was coming. Malagueta went to work.
He worked hard. But Robertinho won, still hiding his game, winning by a small advantage.

Bacanaço doubled. They went for two contos a game. They went at it again. Malagueta said:

– You start.

Robertinho began to show his true class. Put a spin on the white ball. Sank a high number stylishly. Lined the ball up again to pop the next one in.

Malagueta started to panic. Bacanaço was on the alert. Perus crestfallen The old man could not help but to sigh. The game was not going well...

The other chalked his cue and showed his true colors. Two, three dozen points in a straight run more or less. A fantastic player, that Robertinho. An ace. (...)"

São Paulo, Ática, 1987, pages. 70-73.