In the book, Malcolm first meets Shorty at a poolroom in Roxbury, Massachusetts. There, Shorty is the employee who racks up balls for the pool players. A pool rack is used for this purpose; it is a plastic or wooden frame used to arrange the balls before each starting game at the pool table.
When Malcolm sees Shorty, he is filling up an aluminum can with hand powder. This is the powder billiard players sometimes use to help them maneuver the cue stick with greater ease. As Malcolm and Shorty talk, Malcolm lets on that he's looking for a job. Shorty promises to put out a good word for him; in short, Shorty takes on to Malcolm immediately, and he promises to show his new friend around. Shorty hails from Lansing, Michigan. He dropped out of his first year of high school and lived with some relatives in Detroit for a while. Then, he moved to Roxbury, near Boston, where he now lives with a cousin.
Shorty is only working at the pool shop until he can gather up enough money to start a band. Meanwhile, thanks to his gambling habits, Shorty is able to put together enough money to buy a saxophone. He takes saxophone lessons after work and believes that there is plenty of money to be made playing gigs at clubs around town. It is Shorty who finds Malcolm his first job as a shoe-shine boy at the Roseland State Ballroom in Boston.