Meeting Wes Keys
Deep sea fishing takes patience. First you have to find a spot in the ocean that looks as though there are fish in it. Then you cast your lure and pull it through the spot, being careful not to frighten the fish away, always alert for a strike.
The usual spots where I went looking for fish had been pretty much empty for a couple of weeks and it was Sunday, the day that fish were hardly ever around, even during good times. I’d heard of a couple of spots which were new to me, up along route 70, around Marlton, So I figured maybe I’d try there some time even though it was outside my usual area for trolling.
Something about South Jersey you should know. This area I’m talking about is due east of Philly, just across the Delaware River. First places you come to on the Jersey side are Gloucester or Camden or Pennsauken or Burlington, depending which bridge you cross. My home town, Gibbstown N.J., is about 20 miles or so south of Philly, and it had about 2500 people in it, (only three towns smaller anywhere around) one traffic light and three bars: Billy Burts, Cheeseman’s and Kenny’s. Gibbstown was on the southern most end of an area that ran about 50 miles north by 30 miles east where there are towns and towns and towns and more towns, and south or east from Gibbstown it was farms and orchards with ponds and lakes scattered about. As you drive in the area you cross from one town to another and there is hardly ever a sign that tells you which town you are in. This will give you some understanding of the density of people in the area. Traveling 10 miles was a long way through towns. And every town was a unique place but most of them seemed hooked together, there were no dividing spaces where there were no buildings. Some were tough kinds of places, like Gloucester & Camden, and others were a bit upper class, like Haddonfield & Audubon. This area is packed with people and bars. The time period I’m talking about was through the 1960s and the only dart game played in South Jersey was the American type of game. It wasn’t necessary to travel very far to find a bar and crowd that you’d never seen before.
So – it’s Sunday – I hadn’t found a game outside of league night for a while – what the hell – off I go looking for the places I’d recently been told about. The town was named Marlton and was about 25 miles away. I drive up route 130 through Woodbury and to Ellisburg traffic circle in Belmawr and then on to rt. 70, and through Collingswood and Haddonfield to Marlton. Drive slowly; look for the places on both the left and right since I didn’t know where, exactly, they were. I know the names of the places but not what they look like or their addresses. I spot one. It’s on the right and I’m in the left lane and can’t get across the traffic in the right lane, of course, so I look for a place to do a U turn. As I go I spot one of the other places and it’s on the other side of the street, right where I’d be turning to. I make my U turn and come to the other place first. Since I’m here why not check this place out?
Not very many cars in the lot and that’s not a good sign. It looks kind of dumpy but let’s see what we have here. Dirt parking lot, door in front on the street side, Schlitz beer neon sign in the window. Inside its sort of dingy, TV behind the bar, one person sitting at the bar, talks with the barmaid. It is early afternoon which is not really the best time for fishing. The dart board is on the other side of the bar where the rest rooms are. Yea, hi, just a coke I think, thanks: to the frumpy looking bar maid. She’s seen her better days. I light a Chesterfield; half the ash trays still have butts and ashes in them. The place smells like stale smoke and beer taps that need cleaning. It’s sort of like the joint is getting over a hang over from the night before. Like this is a night time place not used to daylight and doesn’t like it.
Nothing to do but drink, look at the TV, or talk to the barmaid or other guy. The guy at the bar has the appearance that most bar flies have at that time of day: rumpled clothes, needs a shave and probably a bath. Shot glass in front of him, half full, and a glass of beer, also half full. Looks like it might be a lively place on the right night what with tables over by the wall where the rest rooms are and a bumper pool table over there too. Shuffle board behind me along the wall on the street side. It’s a hang out kind of place.
I take my coke around to the dart board side of the bar. Search around for the light switch on the dart board. I’m told the bar maid will turn it on. Thanks, I give her. I shoot a handful and discover it really is early afternoon – my arm hardly works. I’d better throw some to get some kind of stroke. I could pretty much tell this place was not going to pay off. I killed twenty minutes and two cokes, and then headed for my car. There was another place just up the street, between where I was headed in the first place and this joint I was just leaving. I pulled in the lot, three cars, not looking good but who knows? Same act. Just a coke I think, thanks, to the bartender. There’s a dart league schedule on the wall by the dart board. Hope brightens. I recognized the names of a couple of the bars on the schedule, looks as though Thursday night is the night in this place. I could turn the dart board light on myself. Three guys at the bar, watching TV, one has a bottle of beer and the other two have shot glasses with what looks like water back. Heavy boozers in the afternoon are not dart shooters. The beer guy could be, so let’s go into the act. Walk to the dart board, turn on the light, shoot a few. Well, they feel better than they did in the other place. Coke is gone, order another one? No, maybe a small draught beer this time. Can’t drink coke all day, that stuff will get you so wired you can’t sleep. That’s supposed to be from the cocaine in it I think. After about another twenty minutes beer guy leaves. OK, that’s long enough here, lets go see if there is anything at the place I started for in the first place. Some body with too much money for the talent they have will probably walk in just after I leave: wouldn’t be the first time. I’m already thinking about a couple of other places I know of but it is just too early in the day for them, even considering the travel time to cover the miles and towns to get to where they are.
Let’s see what this place has to offer. Bigger, paved parking lot, and steps to climb to the door. Hey, the place looks kind of clean. Hi, no, I think I’ll just have a coke, thanks. Four guys are on the far side of the U shaped bar, dart board is on this side of bar. Two guys sitting at a table in front of the window about even with the u part of the bar. This looks like it might be one of those days, maybe I’ll just call it quits. But not just yet, maybe someone will come in.
Over to the dart board, find the light switch, shoot a couple of hands full and go back to my seat, which is at the bar about six or eight feet behind the oche. Nibble at the coke, wander back up to the board, putz with the darts, keep and eye on the guys on the other side of the bar because they’ve noticed what I’m doing. Back to my seat and look at the TV for a few minutes. Nibble some more at the coke and head back to the board. “Pardon me,” comes from the shorter guy at the table by the window. “Want to play a few games?” Sure, nothing much else to do, I say. You want to warm up? “Nah, I’m not very good so it won’t make much difference. “ Oh? OK. Want to shoot the cork to see who calls the game? “Huh? Yea, sure.” He is not as bad at this game as he seems to want me to believe. It shows, in the way he is so comfortable. I’ll give you one I say and I’m thinking: come close to the cork but don’t hit it. He misses outside my shot. Every thing counts for six innings, I ask? “Yea, sure.” I’ll go second, I say. “OK.” He shoots, two doubles, scores four, with one dart outside the scoring area, I shoot and hit four too, but one triple and one single with one dart outside the scoring area. He can group two, I can’t. We take turns for the six innings, both hitting fours and fives; I have one dart missing most of the time. No sign of being able to group three darts from me, or him. I never win by more than three points.
How about we skip the cork and just play loser first, I ask. “Alright with me, he says. You want to play for something, he asks?” Oh, I don’t know about that, I say. He shrugs, “makes it better to play for something.” Yea, I guess. How about a drink, I say? “I’m full of drinks, he says. Why not play for the price of a drink or a quarter a game?”
I like how this is going. It’s not so boring now. Well, I guess that would be better. I can only drink so many my self. I guess a quarter would be alright, I say. We play the same game again. This time he wins by two. “I got ya on that one,” he says with a big smile. I give him a quarter. You made a couple of good shots, I say. OK, same game, I ask? “How about three innings instead of six, he says?” Why not, I say. I shoot first and this game I win and again it’s by three. Gimme my quarter back, I say, and he smiles. “Same game” he says as he shoots first. I’m sizing him up for an increase to $.50 a game. We play for about fifteen minutes and then other guy at the table says, “Why don’t I get in the game too, no sense just sitting here?” The situation changes, big time.
Hmm, I think. I’m caught between the two of them. I’ve seen this before. I need to watch how this goes. I need to be very careful here. This could go a couple of different ways.
“OK,” says the blond haired guy (he’s the short one who got up first). Did I mention the blond haired guy spoke with an accent? Sounded like Swedish or something. “Shoot the cork, He says?” Sure, I say. No body introduces them self and nobody seems to mind that we don’t know each other’s name. I’m liking this more all the time.
We play a few games. The dark haired guy seems very comfortable around the board and his stroke is much smoother than the blonde’s. I’m about one quarter up when the dark haired guy says “Let’s make it fifty cents. No body’s getting hurt here.” Blondie says “OK with me.” I guess that would be alright, I say.
I’m still working on what’s happening here. And we play a few more games. I’m now about a dollar up. Blondie says “I got to go to men’s room,” and darky says “C’mon we don’t have to wait for him to come back.” Yea, I guess, I say.
We play two games he gets one I get one. Blondie comes back. “I’m tired of playing, I’m going to sit down and have a drink.”
It is now me and Darky playing three inning games for fifty cents a game. Ah so, this is the way this is going, I think. I win the next game and the next then lose the third. Darky is now hitting fives and sixes pretty steadily. “You play pretty well, huh, he asks?” I don’t do bad, I say, with just a bit of attitude. Darky hears what he wants. We play a few more games. “What do you say we make it a buck, he says?” I’ve seen seed money lost early before. I glance at the money on the bar by my coke. Sure, I say.
Now Darky has heard and seen exactly what he wants to hear and see. Darky walks to his table, sips from his drink and says something to Blondie softly enough that I can’t hear, while he looks out the window for a few seconds. We play a few more games and Darky is now hitting sixes and sevens and my coke now has more company, in the form of money. And now it’s the kind of money that doesn’t make noise when you drop it.
Darky walks over to Blondie, speaks to him softly enough that I can’t hear, while he looks out the window and takes a sip from his drink. He decides now is the time. I’m ready to be hauled in, hook firmly in my mouth. “You’re doing very good. How about two?” I take a drink from my coke and move the money on the bar around a bit with one finger, I can go for that, I say.
Darky is now getting down to it. He is hitting sixes, sevens, and eights in tight little groups of darts and my coke is getting more dollars for more company. He is winning games, and often. The ones he is losing are being lost by one, two or three points. He is just barely out of the money and only needs to improve on that one dart. He also knows I can’t keep this up and he just needs one more point to change the direction of the flow of money before he tries to raise the stakes.
Darky walks over to his shill, Blondie, sips his drink, looks out the window and speaks softly to Blondie. Blondie says something to him. Darky comes back to the board and makes a proposition. “You’re getting into me pretty good there, and we’re waiting for our dates to show up so how about giving me a chance to get my money back?” I touch the money around my coke. I can go for that, I say. “Two innings for five bucks?” Sure, I say. I have now been set up for the kill.
We get to playing; the only words exchanged are used to call the game. We’re playing winner calls the game and loser first. We play for maybe half an hour. Darky walks over to the table, takes a sip of his drink, looks out the window and speaks softly to Blondie. Blondie says something. Darky says “I’d like to stay here and clean you out but we have to go get our dates for dinner. You’re lucky you caught me at a bad time.” There’s nastiness to his tone.
As I toy a finger around in the money by my coke – It’s really too bad you have to go, I say.
You’re lucky I got to go, comes from Darky, with a bite to it.
I look him dead in the eyes – The only thing you got to do is remember that in order to hustle some body you have to be better than they are, I say.
Blondie and darky left. As I pulled out of the parking lot I was thinking about how really effective losing one and winning two is. On another day I learned from some people in Philly that Wes Keys and his money backer traveled all over Philly hustling and his big mouth got him in a lot of trouble. And hurt a bit.
Too bad they had dates that were supposed to show but then they had to leave to pick them up before I could find out just how much faith Blondie had in Darky.
Fishing on Sunday can be fun. Especially when you get to meet a Wes Keys.