Ch 3: A game of questions

As Niko pulled his jetski next to the dock he saw Katko sitting in one of the deck chairs. He shook his head and turned off the engine. Tying the jetski to the deck so the waves wouldn’t move it away, he paused to light a cigarette.

“How’d you find me?” Niko asked.

Katko pointed to the sign above the waterside café which had the word “Niko’s” in bright red letters. Katko in front of Niko sign

Niko chuckled. “Yeah, I guess that pretty much gives it away.” He took a drag on his cigarette. “Been here long?”

Katko shrugged. “Long enough. But then again I’ve nowhere better to go, so I enjoyed the wait.” He looked closely at the water. “Where’s your Mer friend?”

Niko tapped off the ash of his cigarette. “She had something else to do. Which is fortunate for you. She doesn’t like furries very much.”

“Yes, that I noticed.”

Niko watched as Katko sat patiently waiting. “You’re going to sit there until I talk to you, aren’t you?”

Katko sighed. “I would prefer not to. Some shade would be nice.”

Niko glanced around, but no one was present in any of the adjacent parcels. The afternoon sun illuminated the puffy white clouds that hung in the denim blue sky. “I guess you can come in for a little while. But just so you understand, I’m not answering any of your questions.”

Katko nodded and grabbed his backpack. The bleached wood of the dock creaked as he made his way to the entrance of the cafe. The room was casually decorated. Two overstuffed chairs sat in one corner and a table and four chairs was in another. A green couch ran across the back wall, under a cork bulletin board that had a number of photos and notes pinned to it. Dominating the room was a large, regulation size pool table. The soft sound of an acoustic guitar could be heard from speakers which appeared to be hidden in the large plants which were located around the room.

“Nice place you have here,” said Katko.

“Thanks,” replied Niko. “Take a seat. I’ll be back in a minute.”

Niko went up a staircase in the back. He returned a few minutes later, his swimsuit and t-shirt replaced by a pair of jeans and a black cotton shirt. Katko was sitting on the edge of one of the overstuffed chairs, his backpack on the floor next to him. He gestured to the pool table. “Does that work?”

Niko laughed. “Why wouldn’t it? I wouldn’t have bothered having it if it didn’t. Do you play?”

Katko nodded. “A little. Billiards, mostly.”

“We play pool here, but it’s about the same. Billiards uses two cue balls, right?”

Katko walked over and examined the cue sticks on the wall. “Yes,” he said, taking one down and checking to see if it was straight. “Two cue balls and a red object ball, to be precise. There can be a difference in the table size as well, although the dimensions may vary depending upon the setting. Game rules are likely to differ a bit, however.”

Niko racked the balls on the table. “Well, the rules for 8 ball pool are pretty simple. Solids or stripes depending upon which gets pocketed. You have to call your shot. If you split, that is hit two balls at once, your shot is over even if you sink one. Sink the cue ball or don’t hit any balls at all and it’s a scratch, which allows the other person to place the cue ball anywhere they want before their next shot. That’s about it. Oh, and don’t sink the 8 ball until last.”

“Doesn’t sound very difficult.”

“Pretty cocky for someone who hasn’t played pool before,.” said Niko with a chuckle.

Katko shrugged. He picked up the chalk cube and chalked the tip of his cue stick. Them he looked at the tip and blew upon it, sending a small cloud of blue dust to join the smoke from Niko’s cigarette. “Care to make a wager on it?” he asked.

Niko watched him. “What are you suggesting?”

Katko’s brief smile showed his sharp teeth.  “A question for a question,” he replied. “For each ball I sink, you have to answer a question. For each one you sink, I have to answer one of yours.”

“What makes you think I have anything to ask you?”

Katko made a sound that reminded Niko of a bark. “I’m a furry. Everyone has questions for furries. I’m sure you can think of something.”

“Not me. No offense, but there’s nothing I really care to know about furries.”

Katko nodded. He picked up the cue ball and looked closely at the green felt on the table before setting the white ball down. He rolled his cue on the table, watching the tip once again to make sure the stick was straight, then lined up his shot. “You don’t even want to know why I came looking for you?”

Niko remained silent as Katko broke, the balls traveling around the table. Two of them, one a solid and one a stripe, disappeared into the table’s pockets.

Katko shooting pool“See,” said Katko with another short barking laugh. “You’ve got nothing to worry about.” He stepped back and examined the table. “Sunk the seven and the nine, so it looks like I get to choose.” He looked over at Niko. “But before I do, are you in or not?”

Niko took a final drag from his cigarette then dropped the butt to the floor. “Fine,” he said, rubbing it out with his foot. “But when I win, you leave. You’ll never return or tell anyone that you found me here.”

Katko smiled. “Deal,” he replied.

Niko selected a cue from the wall and chalked its tip.

“12, top left,” Katko said, the cue stick sliding effortlessly through his fingers and striking the cue ball. The cue ball struck the 12 ball and sent it into the pocket Katko had indicated. He sniffed once, then started to look for his next shot.

Niko stood silent, watching.

“I suppose that protocol requires me to ensure that you are actually the Niko Donburi that I think you are,” Katko said, adding a bit more chalk to the tip of his cue. He bent over the table and prepared his shot. “You are, are you not?” he asked, glancing over at Niko.

Niko’s jaw clenched for a moment. “Yes,” he replied.

“I knew it!” said Katko, with another short bark of a laugh. He looked back at the pool table. “15 long, bottom left. Off the cushion.”

They watched as the cue ball bounced off the cushion and then rolled to the striped 15 ball, propelling it down the length of the table where it stopped, just short of the pocket.

Katko shook his head. “Your shot.”

Niko examined the table. His cleanest shot was the five ball into a side pocket. He made the call and took the shot, sinking the ball. “Okay, who are you and what are you doing here?”

Katko shook his head. “That’s two questions, not one.”

Niko started to say something, then stopped. “Okay, then. Why are you looking for me?”

“I would think that’s obvious. I’m here to get you to start performing again.”

“I don’t do that anymore.”

Katko shrugged. “That doesn’t matter to me. I’m just here to get you to start doing it again.”

“Why?”

“Nice try. Ask that again after you make your next shot.”

Niko muttered under his breath and looked for his next shot. “2 ball, my top left.” The cue ball hit the intended ball, which rolled to the pocket but struck the edge of the bumper too hard, causing it to miss the pocket and roll to a stop against another ball in the middle of the table.

“Damn,” said Niko.

“Tough break,” replied Katko. Niko watched Katko neatly put the 11 ball into a pocket. “How long would it take you to be able to do, say, an hour long performance?”

“I told you, I don’t play music anymore.”

Katko looked at him. “Okay, if you were going to play music again, how long would it take you to be able to do an hour long performance.”

Niko shrugged. “Maybe a year, maybe six months. I haven’t touched a guitar for a couple of years, though.”

Katko nodded then walked past Niko to the other end of the table. Niko resisted an urge to grab Katko’s orange tail. Katko missed his next shot.

Niko called the 6 in a side pocket and sunk it, but also knocked the 10 ball in. “You’re welcome,” he said to Katko.

“I appreciate it. Your question?”

“Do you have a gig or something you want me to do? Is that what this is all about?”

“That’s really two questions but I’ll go ahead and answer them both since you were so kind to knock in one of my balls. Yes, I have an event for which I seek your performance. But this is about much more than just a live music event.”

Niko tried to sink his 1 ball but failed. Katko countered with his 13 ball, sinking it neatly into a corner pocket. “What is it going to take to get you to play a show for me in three months?”

“I’m not interested,” replied Niko.

“I didn’t ask if you were interested. I asked what it was going to take to get you to play a show for me. That’s a different question.”

Niko remained silent for a moment. “I’m not playing any more shows and there is nothing you can do to get me to do so. There, how’s that answer for you?”

Katko looked at him. “I see. May I ask you a different question since you didn’t exactly answer the one I asked?”

Niko mulled this request over for a moment. “Yeah, I suppose so.”

“What’s the first thing you recall after the surge at the gallery?”

Niko’s eyes widened. “How did you know about that?”

Katko smiled briefly. “It’s my turn to ask the question, remember?”

Pool table shotNiko watched as Katko select a target for his next shot. “Not much,” he replied. “I was rezzed back to my home, some time had passed but I didn’t know how much. I wasn’t my normal self, that much was for sure. But I don’t remember what happened from the gallery to my place.”

He watched as Katko drove the 14 ball into a pocket as the cue ball disappeared into the other corner pocket. Niko removed the 14 ball and put it back on the table, then placed the cue ball next to the 1 ball and drove it into a side pocket.

“How did you know about the surge at the gallery?”

Katko looked at him. “I was there.”

Niko moved around the table and knocked in the 3 ball. “What do you mean, you were there?”

“I was at the opening, along with Esch, you, Filthy. There were a lot of us there.”

Niko looked closely at him. “I don’t remember seeing you there.”

Katko shrugged. “You didn’t know me then. That doesn’t mean I wasn’t there, however.”

Niko tried to put the 2 ball in a side pocket but failed. He lit a cigarette while Katko put the 14 ball in a corner pocket.

“Are all your capabilities back to normal now?”

Niko took a drag off of his cigarette. “What do you mean by capabilities?”

Katko put down the cube of cue chalk. “I think you know what I mean. Can you rez a prim, receive in-mind messages, shapeshift, tp, fly.”

Niko looked at Katko for a moment, then exhaled a plume of cigarette smoke which filled the air between them. “Yeah, sure. I can do all that.”

Katko looked at him for a moment, his black eyes blinking. He then returned his attention to the table. “Eight ball, off the rail, side pocket by you.” Katko struck the cue ball hard, rocketing it at the bumper at a slight angle. It bounced off the bumper and hit the 8 ball, knocking it towards the side pocket where Niko was standing. Niko suddenly reached out and grabbed the 8 ball, stopping it.

“Why do you think I couldn’t do those things?” he asked.

Katko grinned at him, baring his sharp teeth. “Because you told me you couldn’t.”

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