"We want a piece of the big guy."
"O.K., but you'll have to spot him three balls."
Suddenly Delicious, a decidedly better player than Bristol, was taking on Warsaw's hacks--shortstops, in pool lingo--with the benefit of a three-ball handicap. After dumping the first few games, he demanded a high-stakes rematch. Sure, the locals snickered, we'll gladly take more of your money. Delicious then played his best. His smile illuminated by the dim bulb overhead and the neon sign in the window, he potted ball after ball. He and Bristol walked out with $4,000. "Needless to say," says Delicious, "we didn't sleep in Warsaw that night."
Other times Delicious would head to a college bookshop, buy a sweatshirt ("assuming they had my size," he says) and spill beer or smear cake on the front of it. Then he would walk into the campus pool hall and deliberately fumble a stash of hundreds as he tried to buy a Coke from the vending machine, provoking taunts and giggles. Inevitably he'd get an invitation to put $20 on a game. A college kid would beat him and then call his friends: Come down here quick! I got this clumsy, fat-ass freshman ready to gamble away a stack of hundreds! Finally, when the stakes were sufficiently high, Delicious would run the table, leaving the frat boys to lick their wounds--sweet payback for all those times he had been teased about his weight.
Before long Delicious and Bristol were wiring $5,000 money orders back home to their parents. And by trial and error they were grasping the niceties of road playing. When they tried to save money, sleeping in the car or eating fast food, it exacted a price from their games, so they rarely stayed in any hotel south of a Red Roof Inn and often treated themselves to steak dinners. Realizing that an expansive pool vocabulary could blow their cover, they took pains to use incorrect lingo. "We'd say, 'Are there any money sticks?'" recalls Bristol. "They'd grin and say, 'Huh? You mean a money game? Sure, come on back!'" They also armed themselves with Sneaky Petes--exotic sticks that are made to look like cheap house cues. "When you [hustle] games, you've got to be able to play good pool," says Delicious, "but you've got to be able to act good too."
Delicious and Bristol had their big scores--$20,000 in Davenport, Iowa; $20,000 in Philadelphia; $5,000 in Myrtle Beach, S.C.; and $5,000 in Charlotte, they say--but on nights when there wasn't a game to be had, they could make nice cake by performing sleight-of-hand. If you gave Bristol a few tries and bet $100 against him, he'd throw your car keys into a pocket on a table 50 feet away. If you stood back five feet from a table and held the cue ball in the air, he could hit a clean break out of your hand. Delicious would place a quarter atop an 8 ball in the middle of the table and bet $100 that, with 10 tries, he could hit the cue ball and make it carom off five rails and finally touch the 8 ball so softly that it would not knock off the coin. If you gave him odds, Delicious would also bet you that he could throw a stack of quarters onto the table and have all the coins land on heads. These, of course, were tricks he and Bristol had perfected on those slow nights in West Haven.
Nor were they beyond basic grifting. A favorite scheme entailed setting up the cue ball along one rail and the 8 ball along the opposite one. They'd bet a local that he couldn't walk around the table three times and then hit the cue ball into the 8 ball. Easy, right? As the poor sap took his three laps and everyone in the hall crowded around to watch him make his money, Delicious would remove the chalker from the table while Bristol surreptitiously wiped the chalk from the tip of the guy's cue. The sap would hit the cue ball, and it would leave the chalk-deprived cue and miss the target. "Everyone would have a good laugh," Bristol says, "and we would have our hotel money for that night."
Before leaving a town, the two always asked if anyone knew where else they could find action. But they also relied on Greg Smith, a pool spy--007, they called him--to alert them to money games. A former road player from outside Chicago, Smith has a folder as thick as a phone book filled with information about pool halls and players throughout the country. Name a pool hall, and he knows not only the names of the money players there but also the order in which to play them. Whenever 007 heard about a whale looking for action, he would tip Delicious and Bristol. All he asked in return was a cut of the booty.
Delicious and Bristol would be hustling games in, say Bessemer, Ala., and 007 would send word that big money was rolling into a pool hall in Watervliet, Mich., or Beloit, Wis., or Sarasota, Fla. "Boom!" says Delicious, banging his hand on a table. "We'd get into our car, look at a map, drive through the night, crash at a motel and then show up that next night to get in on the action. We made a ton of money thanks to him."
early in their four-year road trip the relationship between Delicious and Bristol started to evolve into something out of a classic buddy movie. They divided everything 50-50: the loot, the expenses, even the girls. When one of them was playing poorly, the other headed to the jukebox and put on a song that would jack up his partner's confidence--Zeppelin or the Doors for Bristol, Kid Rock for Delicious. Each also tried like hell to help the other improve his stick. Stuck one week in St. Louis without any action, Bristol spent a few days dissecting the mechanics of Delicious's break, making it at once more powerful and more accurate. The tutorial came with only one proviso: Whenever anyone asks Delicious about his break, he's obligated to say, " Bristol Bob taught me everything I know."