Insolvent or busted shuffleboard players are often able to get bankrolled by people like Chuck the Backer for half their winnings, if any. There are also specialists such as Caroline, who are, in effect, backer brokers. "Caroline, he wears a little black derby," Jean says. "You won't shut him up no way. Ask him can he play any game, that's his road game. Never spends his money. But he'll sell you a backer."
"For a split, he'll get you a backer," says Billy. "Chuck the Backer, he can't play for nothing."
When Billy is playing, Jean banks the winnings in her purse or in her panty girdle. "They've taken Billy a couple of times," she says, "but they never took me. I had this .25 automatic. I could get five bull's eyes out of 10 at 30 yards. When he's playing I always make sure to find me a seat with my back to the wall and watch his back. He can't watch his back and front, too." On several occasions Jean had to show the gun to get them out the door. Jean does all right with her hands, too. She has two or three small scars about her mouth from fights. The Mayses lost the .25 after Billy used it on a man who robbed him at knife point in Miami. Billy says to only push him so far. He once accidentally scalped a man by punching him between the eyes. Another time he rammed a broomstick down a man's throat, which is the only thing he's ashamed of in this line.
Jean doesn't like to let Billy have more than $100 in his pockets. "The shorter money he has, the better he plays. Every time he has $200 he loses. Just keep him with $100 and he wins. Billy shoots his best game when no one's watching or on real short money."
Billy is what is known as a marathon player. "I don't really get warmed up till I stay up 24 hours," he says. "In 1961 I played one man for 60 hours without stopping. I had already been up a day and a half. Oklahoma City. I won $1,800. Anytime a player starts playing a marathon player for a few hours it's just like sticking a gun in his belly and saying give him your money, because he's going to get it." Unlike most players, if Billy is playing a session—10 or 15 straight games—he stays away from the booze. "When it's for serious money he drinks milk," says Jean. "I don't go in these places to drink," says Billy. "I can drink at home." And, unlike most players, Billy isn't on pills—what they call goodies. "I can stay up longer without them than with them," he says. 'Wacky Dan [which is not his real name], he misses a three, he runs outside, takes 10 bennies, runs inside, misses another three. Another player buys them 10,000 at a time."
"One guy I was playing asked me whether I had any goodies on me," says Jean. "I gave him two tranquilizers."
"But the longer you stay up," says Billy, "the softer that pool table gets to looking."
Billy considers shuffleboard a more difficult game than pool, and shuffleboard players more socially acceptable than pool players. "In pool you start making balls in a month," he says. "To be any good in shuffleboard takes you a year. I've never seen a pool player that's worth a damn—as being a good guy. Shuffleboard players are businessmen, have real nice jobs, with a few exceptions. Bill Milton makes false teeth. Garry Moore is a postman. Kenny Herdman is a superintendent for Bell. Clyde Jones—they call him Jonesy—he has a nursery."
Billy feels he's better than they are because he is more cunning. "There's 100 players that shoot or lag as good or better than I do," he says, "but they don't win the games I do. So there's got to be something else. I outthink them. It's like playing chess. You got to play way ahead of your opponent. A lot of them don't know how to play way ahead. In this game all you concentrate on is stealing points. Knowing how to get them is the main factor. The others concentrate on hitting weights and lagging and hope the other guy misses. I make them miss, make them do stuff they don't want to do. They finally get disgusted because they can't hit the weight where I put it. Whenever I find a place I can't shoot pretty good, I try to make sure a player don't get to put nothing on me there. In other words, I block that spot. Every player has a weakness that a player can beat him with. I have one. I'm the only one that knows it and I'm not sure of it. The majority of boards, it's hard for me to stick five inches off the rail in the deuce or trey.
"But overall I haven't lost to a single player in the last five years. Three times I've lost money. Jonesy. Bill Van Curan—they call him Bill Van. Mexican Tommy come out ahead of me one night. Bill Van outlagged a four on me for $500. An impossible shot that was possible. That was the only time I've ever seen it. I've outlagged a lot of threes, but I never outlagged a four. But I get a big bang out of watching them beat me. It's the thrill of their lives. It tickles me."