The next evening the hustlers are back in tournament uniform—coat and tie, gracious manner and quiet dignity. The atmosphere would flatter a Davis Cup match. You tell yourself the performance of the previous evening was a silly dream. Only Fat Man is still in character.
He begins a monologue on his favorite subject: a lawsuit he says he intends to file against 20th Century-Fox and the author of The Hustler.
"That was my life story. They just changed my name to Minnesota Fats. There never was any Minnesota Fats and if there was one he couldn't beat a drum. I beat the best. This Fast Eddie is fiction. They just played him around me.
"Me, I'm the Fat Man. I used to sit in the big pool halls like the Ames Billiard Academy in New York or Bensinger's in Chicago and wait for these little punks around the country to get good enough to want a piece of Fat Man. Take Squirrelly over there and Joey [Joey Spaeth, Cincinnati]. They both came after me at Bensinger's. I knocked the little punks in the bleachers.
"Look, I can go into court with thousands of affidavits saying I'm the one and only Fat Man. Besides, thousands of people told me I could have played the role better than Jackie Gleason. I used to be in vaudeville, you know.
"The other day someone sends a postcard to Johnston City. It was addressed to ' Jackie Gleason, The Hustler.' The mailman didn't have any trouble delivering the card to the right person because everybody knows I'm Fat Man.
"In New York I'm New York Fats. In Chicago I'm Chicago Fats. Why, I'm Minnesota Fats, too. Right now I'm Johnston City Fats. I'm suing. I got a good case."
Fat Man's pitch drowns out the quiet click of the balls as Danny Jones and Earl Schriver of Washington, D.C. stroke practice shots. Tugboat Whaley, a West Coast hustler who in his day made a living off marks by posing as an old tugboat captain, bends his gray head under the bluish light over the table. He racks the balls with the meticulous touch of a surgeon. Tugboat is the referee.
"I didn't know who he was when he came in a few weeks ago," George Jansco says. "He told me he was Tugboat Whaley and I remembered the name. He and his wife drove 2,500 miles from San Francisco just to see the tournament. They're both 65. I told him he was working for me—he's the official tournament referee."
"The rack is important," Whaley explains. "If the balls aren't racked just right the guy shooting second could have a big advantage; he could run out the game."