Soon the strongest personality traits of one bled into the other. Delicious wanted nothing more than to lose weight, but he lacked the discipline. Bristol, ascetic by nature and fitness-conscious, became a 24/7 personal trainer, weaning Delicious from his cheeseburger-and-large-fries diet and making sure they stayed only at hotels that had pools and gyms. By 2000 Delicious had lost more than 100 pounds, putting him under two bills for the first time in a decade. Bristol also impressed upon Delicious the need to save money. He kept his pal out of casinos and forbade him to gamble on things like the color of the next gumball to come out of the machine. Plus, Bristol helped persuade Delicious to take the antidepressant Paxil, which a doctor in New Jersey had prescribed for him but he hadn't been using.
In turn, Delicious persuaded Bristol, a self-described hothead, to temper his temper. Watching Delicious work a room--cracking self-deprecating jokes, buying drinks, making everyone in his orbit comfortable-- Bristol came to see the power of kindness.
"I was strung so tight, after a game I'd be ready to fight the other guy," says Bristol. "Danny would beat a guy out of $10,000, and the guy would invite him to come over for dinner and meet his family. Everywhere we went, people fell in love with him. I was like, How do I get to be like that?"
Owing mostly to Delicious's disarming personality, he and Bristol never once found trouble. Delicious had a cardinal rule: If he sensed tension at the table, he'd dump a game, make sure everyone came out even and leave the joint. One night Bristol was on the verge of coming to blows with an opponent he thought was cheating him. Delicious interceded--by shoving Bristol against a wall. "I figured if the two of us fought, at least only one of us would get hurt," says Delicious. "Even though it would have been me."
Along the way they discovered that their game's iffy reputation is at odds with reality. There is a dignity, a sense of honor among players: You lose, you pay up. Delicious claims he once beat a sucker out of $6,300 in Jefferson City, Mo., and the mark had to pay part of his debt with a personal check. Delicious had been taught to accept only cash, but he took the check and it cleared, no problem.
Conversely, even after winning big and getting paid, Delicious would ritually give a little money back to the player he'd beaten--enough to get home, maybe even stop at the strip club on the way. "Danny got a reputation for having a huge heart, a road player with real good character," says Steve (the Mechanic) McAninch, a current pro and veteran road player. Besides, for Bristol and Delicious it was never about cleaning out the average pool player. "I was always looking for the millionaires and the rich doctors and the high-stakes gamblers," Delicious says. "I wanted to take money from the guys who could afford to lose it."
How much money did they make? Delicious estimates that he and Bristol grossed $500,000 together in their four-plus years on the road, though they could blow through $1,000 a week, easy, in expenses. (Delicious also made money by himself playing solo.) In their best year they figured they topped $200,000.
Hustlers are known to apply a little English to the truth. The results of their games don't appear in the newspaper; the Elias Sports Bureau cannot confirm that Delicious won $5,000 that wild night in Fargo. But ask around, and few players dispute Delicious's financial claims. "Put it this way," says 007. "You've got to win four out of five games to make it as a hustler. Danny won like 99 out of 100. I know that because I got paid when he got paid."
Adds Ronnie Wiseman, a top pro from Detroit who doubles as a road player, "I know a lot of people who lost a lot of money playing Kid Delicious."
Delicious is quick to point out that whatever his winnings totaled, his real accumulated wealth might be measured in stories. There was the time he walked into a Wyoming pool hall and busted Cheyenne Pete, one of the best players west of the Mississippi, in 80 straight games. ("It's true," confirms his victim, Pete Trujillo, owner of Plush Cue Billiards in Cheyenne.) Then there's the time Delicious was in Duluth and drove almost half the 160-mile distance to the Ontario border on a gravel road to beat some guys out of a few grand. And the time in Baltimore that Delicious beat the brother of a prominent professional wrestler and then returned to beat him a couple of times a week for the next month. And the time he cruised into rural Manchester, Ky., and stood on the dirt floor of a modern-day speakeasy ( Manchester is a dry town), lording over a table with ragged felt and uneven rails before leaving with $5,000.