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Doing the Hustle

July 04, 2005
July 04, 2005

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July 4, 2005

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Doing the Hustle

The black widow is to pool what Ben Franklin is to kites, Wallenda is to heights and Google is to sites. Her ink-black Rapunzel hair, Asian beauty and killer stroke make her the most famous player in the world.

This is an article from the July 4, 2005 issue Original Layout

So why doesn't anybody in this Indianapolis pool hall recognize her?

Because she's in disguise.

See, I had this sinister idea: Could I walk into a pool hall with the most famous player in the world and hustle people for money?

Hey, it's not like Jeanette Lee hasn't done it before. The daughter of Korean parents--her dad still runs a tiny newsstand across from the Empire State Building, and her mom's a retired nurse--she started hustling at 18. "I never hustled people," she says. "I just gambled against them. Every guy thinks he can beat a woman. The only disguise I needed was showing up female."

The most she's ever taken off a guy? "Well, $90,000, years ago," she mumbles.

But now that she's on TV more than Larry King, she needs a disguise. A slender 5'9", she has spent most of this day getting her nose widened, her bust stuffed, her butt and thighs padded, her head wigged and her eyes covered in cheap sunglasses. Suddenly, at 33, she's a hoochie mama.

The disguise is so good that a guy sidles up to her at the bar in the pool hall and asks, "You workin'?"

I laugh out loud, and she responds in perfect hoochie style, wagging her index finger in my face. "Donchu even disrespec' me like that!"

I'm playing Billy, her stake horse, and I'm wearing a wife-beater, a bad hat and cheap gold. I'm pretending to be drunk and throwing hundred-dollar bills on the felt, the traditional bait for pigeons.

Speaking of pigeons, the one we're after just walked in.

Our hustling guru, George Breedlove--reformed hustler, one of the best players in the world and the Black Widow's husband--told us the guy would show up. He's a local shark, and as soon as he hears (by way of George's anonymous call) that there are a couple of drunks and a hoochie betting Benjamins over at Claude & Annie's poolroom, he double-times it straight into the trap.

The mark unpacks his cue and goes, "You guys wanna play for a little money?"

Ahh, music to the hustler's ear. It's like a chubby man wandering into a cannibal convention and asking, "Anybody know how I can lose all this fat?"

Pretty soon, the mark is playing $100 nine ball against George, and George is dumping like crazy. Meanwhile, Jeanette is at the next table, banging balls as though she's a rank amateur, her mouth wide open, butt out, head poking up in the air like a sea turtle's.

"Hell, let's play for some real money," George says. "How about you play our girl here?" Well, the mark figures he can beat Jeanette with the wrong end of his stick, so he puts up $700 to my $500. Best of five. Nine ball.

Sometimes you'd kill for a video camera--the No. 4--ranked women's player in the world itching herself with her cue, primping in the window and holding the stick like a nail file. She tries to throw the first game, but the mark scratches on the 9 ball.

In the second game Jeanette starts burying balls off two and three cushions. Even when she purposely misses, she leaves him blocked in like it's 5 p.m. on an L.A. freeway. She wins the game.

Now the pigeon is frying. He's got $700 riding on the third game, and this hoochie is getting luckier than Paris Hilton's Chihuahua. Now she combos the 1 into the 9, sending the 9 off the far cushion and back the entire length of the table into the corner pocket. "Yo, Billeeeee!" she screeches. "So, like, I win, right?"

Game over. Match over. Hustle over.

The mark is so hot you could bake a calzone on his forehead. "Double or nothin'?" asks George. Jeanette pinches my side, hard. "We have to let this guy off the hook now," she whispers.

Party pooper.

I take the Black Widow up to him and say, "Do you know who this is?"

He can barely stand to look at her. "No," he grunts.

Jeanette takes off the crazy sunglasses and the wig. "Now?" I say.

His eyes go as wide as tea saucers. "The Black Widow?" he groans.

He is a good sport, furniture salesman Jim Calder is. A lot of guys would've cracked the bridge over somebody's skull for this. "I've lost more than that before," he admits, "but never to a girl."

The hardest part for us is giving the $700 back. "Do we have to?" George whines.

As we leave, the bartender, Scott Hart, scratches his head at the end of a very odd night. "I knew we had a pro in here tonight," he says. "I just didn't realize which kind." ■

• To see a photo gallery of Rick Reilly's pool outing with the Black Widow, go to SI.com/lee. If you have a comment for Reilly, send it to reilly@siletters.com.

The mark figures he can beat Jeanette with the wrong end of his stick. But behind the disguise she's the world's most famous player.
COLOR PHOTOPETER READ MILLER