Two for the Show
He promised me half the money if we won. I had my eye on an iTouch. But that wasn’t why I was there. Dewayne always had a loose stance and big feet. You know what they say about men with big feet. In his case it was true. He’d look at me with those baby-blues, and I would have done anything he asked me to. I could see how Bonnie got mixed up in all those bank robberies.
Dewayne was in the barn when I got home. It was February and cold. Perfect fighting weather. ”Hey,” I said stepping in out of the wind.
“Come hold him for me. How did it go?” He handed me a red rooster, a Doc Robinson Hatch. He was well-rounded and felt like a football in my hand. I placed his breast in the crook of my arm and his legs between my fingers. I petted him, rubbed his hack feathers down.
“I peed in a cup.”
“And.” Dewayne was about to open a stall door but he stopped to look at me, waiting.
His smile said it all. He forgot the door and came and kissed me.
“So what are you doing?” I asked, feeling Doc’s soft, shiny feathers.
“We got an invitation.” He got in the stall and after a tussle and a cloud of dust came out with my Lacey Roundhead. I loved that damn rooster. He had a set of lungs on him that wouldn’t stop, and he would break at least three feet off the ground every time.
“Where.” I secretly hoped it was Blackbluff; they paid the Sheriff off.
“Newman’s in Gordon. It’s invitation-only.”
“Ah, Dewayne.” I put on my best pout. The only one of the bunch I cared for was Old Man Newman, as we called him. I didn’t even know his real name. Still don’t. He had seven careless sons that ran in a pack like dogs. I’ve seen bleeding cocks tossed in pens with no food or water. They were bad for the sport. I wasn’t a happy camper.
“It’ll be all right. Southern Cross is coming, and you know how I feel about them.”
Southern Cross whipped us three years ago. Killed every rooster we had. Dewayne was still sore.
“Gaff or knife?” I asked.
“Good.” I didn’t want my rooster in a knife fight. Those fights got too bloody too fast.
We took the two-year old cocks out behind the barn where they’d be sheltered from the wind while they sparred. Dewayne slipped the boxing glove on the Roundhead’s spur and wrapped the elastic around his leg to secure it. He did the other leg, then we traded roosters, and he did the same to Doc. The roosters coursed with energy at each other’s presence and were voicing their opinions, piercing my ears. My Roundhead kicked and squirmed, trying to break free, so I turned around where he couldn’t see Doc, and talked to him like a baby.
Ready, we let them face. They pecked each other till they were both pinched and mad, kicking to turn it on. Dewayne stepped back four paces, and on three we dropped the cocks to the ground. They never walked in a circle as some do. These two ran straight on and jumped, breaking into a midair shuffle, flapping their wings and stabbing with their feet till they hit the ground. The Round Head clamped down with a good bill hold and held tight to shuffle again. Dewayne dashed, reaching to stop them. ”Get him, Layla.”
I got my Round Head and talked him down, petted him. ”Good boy, that’s the way to kick ass.”
“He was going in for the kill,” Dewayne said shaking his head. ”Let’s face’em again see how they do.”
The roosters broke high again. We both smiled. If they flew like that now, how would they fly when they were fed and worked out? We handled them and pulled their little boxing gloves off. ”It’s a five-cock show. I think we’ll take these two, Killer, the Mclean Hatch cock, the Red Fox Gray and the Billy Ruble.” Like a baker, we always threw in an extra.
“When is it?”
“Next month. Red’s paying half the entry fee, and we’re riding with him.”
We dropped the roosters back in their pens, and I tossed in a handful of grain.
During the next month the roosters spent their time in the fly pens. Two weeks before the fight Dewayne fed them a mixture of cooked rice, boiled egg whites, ground beef and cinnamon along with their grain. He cooked that concoction up himself. I was green eighty percent of the time, so there was no way I was touching it. I didn’t even want to see it.
The countdown was on, and we were getting calls about who was coming. It seemed as if a lot of the old timers were coming out for this one. Twenty-four hours before the fight Dewayne put the roosters in their dark-out boxes for rest and focus.
The day of the show I was up early vomiting when I heard Red’s Z-71. I pulled myself together and went outside. Red was a small-framed red-headed guy with an easy laugh. He had Billy with him. I said hello to Billy and he nodded. He looked like he felt as bad as I did, only his was a hangover.
Red saw me coming and smiled. ”Mornin’, Layla.” He draped his arm across my shoulder and walked me to the barn. ”Are you ready to win the farm?”
“If we get a trophy it’s coming home with us, Red. Don’t even try your shit this time.”
He laughed. Dewayne was checking the cocks, pulling them out one by one and tossing them on a carpet-covered table. Their faces were scarlet. They stomped their feet, crowed, and strutted in a circle dragging their wing tips, then stomped their feet some more. They reminded me of soldiers ready for battle.
“They look good to me,” Red said, taking up Killer. Killer did his usual thing of staring people in the eye, daring them to make the wrong move.
They loaded the dark-out boxes in the van, and I got the gaff box. For morning fights we always started the day with biscuits and coffee from a nearby gas station and ended it at Waffle House either laughing or upset. It always depended on how much money we won or lost.
It was a two-hour ride filled with scuttling, crowing roosters.
Red turned onto a blacktop road and followed it till he came to the Newman place. They had a long driveway, and sitting at the end of it was Bobby Newman. He had his junky little Isuzu truck pulled over to the side with the hood up for a decoy in case the sheriff came poking around. He was leaning on a John Deere green mailbox talking on the phone. Red pulled up beside him, and Dewayne did the talking. Bobby informed us no cell phones were allowed on the property; if they saw us with one they’d promptly escort us out. We all paid our ten dollars, and Bobby pulled out a walkie-talkie and motioned us through the gate.
The old-timers had already arrived. A huge guy named Tiny was there with his Sid Taylors, so black they looked purple in the sun. Jake was there with his Jarrett Round Heads the whole countryside was envious of. There was a big guy there that was known to carry a small pistol in his overalls. I never liked the way he looked so I never cared to ask about his name. Red backed up to the barn by a rusty Ford F-150 that belonged to the Pettamores. ”Ah hell; look who’s here, boys and girls,” Red said.”
“I wonder if they’re flat gaffing today?” Billy asked as he sipped a beer at seven in the morning.
“Nope, not today,” Dewayne said. ”If I meet them I’m checking their gaffs. If they’re flat, they’re going home.”
Old Man Newman was a short, toothless guy that time had whittled down to skin and bones. He met us cracking a joke and laughing. He saw me and said, ”Heyyyy Faby.” He meant baby.
I put my hair back behind my ear and smiled. ”Mr. Newman.”
The barn was big enough to hold a combine and three tractors. A corral of sorts was built in the middle with bleachers on the right. I settled on the bleachers up high away from most of the dust and so I could see out the window. I always kept an eye peeled for blue lights. Old Man Newman’s wife was in the back selling bologna biscuits like she was Hardee’s. She had a small kitchen built back there and probably made more money than her husband. The smell mixed with sawdust made me queasy. It was hard, but I was trying to keep my breakfast down.
All of the entries were weighed and paired up and the fights started at nine. The place took on a party-like atmosphere, with cheering men, women and even some kids. Bets were fired off like rifles in hunting season. I’ve got forty on the red. I’ll take that. I’ve got twenty on the grey. You got it someone would call back. They made me dizzy. I noticed Dewayne down on the floor motioning for me. I worked my way down and across the pit as two roosters flew at each other in a torrent of feathers and steel. ”What?” I asked.
“Come help me.”
I had to hold the Ruble, legs up, for Dewayne to heel him. He wrapped moleskin around his spurs, slipped on the gaff and tied it down with waxed thread. ”We’re meeting Southern next.”
I made an ugly face. If things went like last time Dewayne might go home cussing again.
“Where’s Red?” This was his job, not mine.
“He’s drifted off with some road whore for now.”
“Well I hope he comes back soon, because I’m not holding Killer.”
“He’ll be back. Don’t squeeze him, Layla. Damn.”
“I’m not squeezing him, Dewayne!” A pair of old men turned to look at us. I lowered my voice. ”You’re just nervous.”
“You don’t seem so laid back yourself, hon.” His voice thick with sarcasm.
“Don’t be pissy with me because you’re meeting the big boys. Got it?”
“I’m sorry, I got it. Just loosen your grip a little bit.”
I knew I was nervous and was probably holding on too tight. All I could think about was the new laws against fighting that were in place. If we got caught it was a felony. We could lose our home. Dewayne could get sent to prison. Being pregnant was making me see things differently. Yet, there he was, working hard at something he loved to do. For once, I was torn.
Finished, he took the Ruble from my hands and thanked me, apologized.
“I’m going to sit down.”
The current face-off in the pit was winding down, and the red rooster seemed to be winning even though he was panting. The handlers had their chickens in their hands waiting for the referee to say when. The guy with the gray seemed a little out of sorts. He listened to its chest. It was rattled. It had been gored through the lung and was choking on its blood. The handler promptly wrapped his mouth around its beak and sucked the blood out and spat it on the ground. That was it for me. I shoved people aside and ran outside by the barn a vomited. ”Layla?” a thick, slurry voice called. I turned. Billy was sitting on his cooler of beer under a tree.
I wiped my mouth and went and sat on the ground beside him. ”Hey.”
“You look a little green, gal.”
I stayed there till Dewayne’s fight was over, till the cheering crescendoed and died down. He’d tell me what happened.
I went back in and found Dewayne; he was smiling.
Time and fights wore on. It wasn’t long till people were walking around eating hamburgers from the kitchen. We were on our last fight. In the run for the money. Our last rooster was Killer. I hoped he’d focus on the other chicken instead of Dewayne. The fight was about to begin and bets were being met. I was in my usual spot, on the edge of my seat. Red told me the pot was up to seven grand. By the time Red got his half and Dewayne paid the property taxes we’d each have four hundred bucks to blow. My iTouch was riding on Killer.
Dewayne searched me out and winked. I gave him a thumbs-up and smiled. The referee counted them down, and the handlers set their cocks on the ground. Killer turned and looked back, and I tensed up. The other rooster was one of Tiny’s Sid Taylors. It ran and walloped Killer. He rolled Killer two feet. I bit my nails. The ref called for a handle but before they could get him Killer stood up and looked back at that rooster with nothing but fire in his eyes. “Uh-oh,” I said. People were on their feet cheering. Dewayne picked up our rooster and breathed on his face to cool him down. After a long, torturous minute the ref let them go again. This time Killer wasn’t concerned with Dewayne; he tackled the Sid without mercy. I stood up. This could be it. The money was close enough to smell. The referee called for a handle and Dewayne started for Killer. It was then that Leon Newman came running out from the back yelling, “A raid! A raid!” My heart clenched. All heads turned his way. He had a walkie in his hand, and it was squawking like a mad mother hen. I stood up with the rest of them.
“The sheriff’s at the gate! Get your shit and go!” He was waving his arms and pointing at the double doors.
People started cussing and running. I was one of them. I lost track of Dewayne as I made my way down the steps. I couldn’t see him. He had moved from where I’d last seen him. I went left while everyone else was going right. Going against the tide slowed me down and made me start to cry. What if I couldn’t find Dewayne? What if they took him to jail? Hell, what if they took me? I was pregnant.
I neared the pit and looked but I still didn’t find Dewayne. If he left me I’d kill him the next time I seen him. He wouldn’t do that. Blood roared in my ears like a freight train. A bloody hand reach through the crowd and pulled me out. Dewayne. God, I’d never been so glad to see him. He had Killer upside down by the feet, the bloody steel spurs still attached.
The crowd was thinning but the sirens were getting stronger. We went out the back and ran down the pasture past the cows and a jack-ass. I was glad I had worn my tennis shoes. I looked to my right and there came Billy with his cooler. He fell in with us and we hit the woods and hightailed it up the middle of a small icy creek. My iTouch got further and further away. A safe distance away we slowed to a trot. Dewayne’s hand was pouring blood. Killer looked like he’d rather have been dead. We stopped and listened. It was quiet. “Can you believe this shit?” Dewayne griped.
“What happened to your hand?”
He held Killer up by the feet. “I was pulling them apart and he came after me. Sent it right through my hand. If he hadn’t cost so much I’d wring his damn neck.”
Billy pulled out a pocketknife and cut the string to take the spurs off and Dewayne turned Killer upright. For once, he actually behaved like a chicken instead of a mad dog. Billy poured a beer over Dewayne’s hand, and we walked on, crossing fence lines and roads, till we came to a store.