Chapter 27

This entry is part 28 of 44 in the series Smile

Chapter Twenty-Seven — The Cock Fight

The next day Chuck and I started west from Veracruz which is on the Gulf Of Mexico but still only about a day’s drive to the Pacific Ocean. Through this narrow part of Southern Mexico the country it is quite flat and a jungle of cactus. It rained like hell!

“Chuck, that girl that I took out, you saw her.” I couldn’t get her and her problem off my mind.

“Sure, a real doll. She didn’t look Mexican at all.”

I told him her story. “Someday, Chuck, I’m going to get her out of there.”

“I don’t blame you, Joe. She’s a beauty all right.”

I thought to myself, here is a real woman, born under the worst conditions in the world. Her mother, a prostitute, born in a whorehouse. The daughter is born there, yet somehow the mother had educated herself and her daughter, and had given her hope and courage to go on. The mother had died dreaming she could finally be able to escape from that dismal prison. Now little Juanita had the same dreams. Life is a game, but a bitter game. Somehow I couldn’t convince myself that this little girl was playing a game. She looked like twenty-four carat gold to me, and twenty-four carat was what I had come here to get — in gold anyhow.

As I sat there listening to the hum of the motor and taking cat naps, I thought I was lucky to have a good driver like Chuck, and how patient he was to do all the driving and let me sleep. He never complained. I guess maybe he figured his snoring at night kept me awake and he would make up for it by letting me snooze.

Then suddenly and abrutly I was awakened from my peaceful nap by a stabbing pain! My foot! My left foot! Had it been cramped on the floorboard? Connie! I jerked up straight, stamped my foot and the pain was gone.

Chuck was just as surprised as I was, and with genuine concern asked, “Are you okay?”

Now that I was awake I decided to tell Chuck the story of how Connie had put the hex on my left foot. The pain left when I was at Bill’s house after I brought out her picture. “Today when my mind is on Juanita I get a pain. How do you account for that, Chuck?”

“I can’t, but odd things happen — things we can’t understand. Guess the best thing to do is, not try to understand them. For instance, I have an uncle who can remove warts.”

“You’re kidding,” I laughed.

“No, if you have a wart you want to get rid of, go to my uncle. I know his hocus-pocus works. He took a wart off for me.”

“What does he do?”

“He puts his finger on the wart, closes his eyes and says something mysterious, and in a few days the wart is gone.”

“What does he say?”

“I don’t know. He just sort of mumbles something. I guess it’s his secret.”

That night we stayed at Tehuantepec, and the rain came down with such a vengeance that it was frightening. Next day the road took us up over more high mountains, and there were countless slides of dirt and rock that threatened to cause us trouble. But we made it safely and came down out of the mountains into the town of Arrigua.

Arrigua is another place that will always be vivid in my memory. The streets have cobblestones nearly the size of footballs. Anything smaller would be washed away by the water pouring down the steep slopes.

At a service station we found a fellow who could understand our English and speak a fairly good imitation of it.

“You cannot go on,” he said. “The roads are washed out. Even the railroad is under water. This is more rain than we’ve ever had.”

I could believe that all right. Well, here we were trapped in the town of Arrigua. The road we had come over was impassable by now and probably all the other road in just about any direction.

“Chuck, old boy,” I asked, “what do we care? We have a comfortable place in our Palace to sleep and plenty to eat, so we can take it easy until the rain stops and the roads are cleared out.” We found a place to park the Palace at a railroad siding and settled in it to wait. What a deluge! In eight days thirty-six inches of rain came down.

When at last the rain had quit, the sun came out bright and hot. The country was steaming and it was like being in a Turkish bath.

Then one day Chuck said, “This stew is getting very thin. We’d better go down the street and see if we can find some fresh meat.”

I agreed.

A street market ran through the middle of the town and there you could buy most anything. For blocks there were tables piled with all kinds of fruits, vegetables and meats. The rain should have drowned out the flies; but no, they were thicker than ever — millions of them crawling all over the food stuff. Just to look at it nauseated us, so we decided that the canned goods in the truck were really delicious.

That night Chuck’s stew tasted mighty fine.

After we had eaten, Chuck suggested taking a drive around town to snap a few pictures. This seemed like a fine idea, so we started up the Palace’s engine and set out. On the outskirts of town we saw a crowd gathered in front of a cantina.

“Looks like something going on, Chuck. Let’s stop.” I suggested. And there was really something going on — a cock fight! I had often heard of cock fights but had never seen one. We parked and walked over and joined the crowd.

Wooden stakes had been driven in the ground every few feet making a circle about ten feet in diameter, and a piece of canvas about three feet high was stretched around them forming a fence. This was the fight ring, or pit. Inside the ring were two roosters jumping high in the air kicking hell out of each other on the way up and on the way down; feathers were flying wildly. The excited spectators were shouting and yelling, each for his favorite bird.

The natural spurs on the bird’s legs had been sawed off and replaced by some very wicked looking spurs. These artificial spurs were as sharp as needles and about an inch and a half in length.

Suddenly one of these long steel spurs found a vital spot in one of the birds, and killed it, ending the fight. A big Mexican with shiny gold teeth started passing out pesos to the grinning winners. We decided that he must be the stake-holder.

Chuck and I went into the cantina, bought a couple of beers and came back out to watch the proceedings. Steel spurs were being taped on a couple of angry cocks in preparation for the next fight. Before the birds were turned loose in the ring the owners held them near together, letting them peck, and pull at each other so that the instant they were set on the ground the fight would be on.

The fellow we had met at the service station came over to me, asking, “You wish to bet on the fight, SeƱor?”

“I wouldn’t know which bird to bet on.”

He shrugged. “Who knows, one bird is as good as another. But one of them will be lucky.”

“How do we go about making a bet?” I asked.

“Pick the bird you wish to bet on and give to the stake-holder the amount you wish to bet. He will get it covered for you.”

“What do you say, Chuck? Shall we give it a whirl?”

“Might as well. Maybe we’ll be lucky.”

“Let’s each bet ten pesos on each fight,” I said. “If we lose, it won’t be a hell of a lot.”

Chuck agreed. We picked a bird and handed the stake-holder twenty pesos.

Being in the game with a bet made it more exciting and stirred our enthusiasm to where we were yelling for our bird just like everyone else. We were in good voice. I don’t know if the shouting helped or not, but our bird won!

“Shall we collect or let it ride?” I asked.

“Let ‘er ride,” Chuck said. “Let’s go whole hog.”

On the next fight we really got into the spirit of the thing and looked both birds over carefully before betting. We didn’t know what we were looking for, but we argued a bit then agreed on a bird.

Again, our bird won!

The guy from the service station told us that the next fight would be the last one for the day.

“Shall we collect or let it ride?” I asked Chuck again.

“Let the tail go with the hide,” he grinned. “If we lose, we are out only twenty pesos, and if we win, we’ll have a hundred and sixty pesos.”

We went into the cantina again, drank a couple more beers. I brought a bottle with me when we came back out to select our bird. We put on quite a show examining the next birds for the round, but finally came to an agreement.

The service station man. being our interpreter, said, “The stake-holder says you are too lucky. He can get no one to cover your eighty pesos, but he himself will bet you fifty against your eighty that you lose.”

It would spoil the fun if we didn’t bet on this last fight, so we told him it was okay with us, and we bet eighty against the fifty.

The fight was on.

The birds stood there for a few seconds, eyeing each other. The feathers on their necks bristled out; each waiting for the other to start something. Abruptly our bird lay down his bristling neck feathers and walked across the pit, clucking like an old hen calling her chicks; scratching and pecking at the ground. The stake-holder roared with laughter and our interpreter told us that if a bird refuses to fight, the bet is lost, and the bird will be killed to make sure that he leaves no little cowards to grow up in its place. Even the owner of the bird feels embarrassment on such occasions.

All of a sudden our bird stood up straight, flapped his wings and crowed. The other one came at him with a rush. Ours jumped high in the air. As the other passed beneath, he came down on top of him with his legs shuffling and slashing. He grabbed the top of his opponent’s head with his beak. Now they began dashing around the ring with our bird riding piggyback. The bird underneath went faster and faster trying to unseat this devil on top of him.

Finally he made a sharp turn. Our bird fell off, and without a backward glance the other bird kept going. He jumped the fence and took off on the run cackling like a hen. Our bird hopped up, shook his feathers and crowed! It was our turn to laugh; and laugh we did.

I tipped back my head to take a drink of beer from the bottle, and in the middle of the gulp, a fist took me under the chin. I staggered back and Chuck caught me. There were bells ringing and bright spots in front of my eyes. I saw two of everything. I laughed, because everything seemed crazy. I shook my head and could feel and see the blood fly from the cut under my chin. The grinning face of the stake-holder wok my head and could feel and see the blood fly from the cut under my chin. The grinning face of the stake-holder was in front of me, and his right hand with the big gold ring on it was drawn back. I knew I couldn’t take another blow and stand up.

The bottle was still in my hand, so I threw it at the face of the stake-holder, and caught him in the mouth with it. He staggered back, and spit out some gold teeth. “Another watch-fob for Chuck,” I thought.

I shook my head again, trying to get rid of the cobwebs. All at once everything was clear. The guy had a knife in his hand now, and a sneer on his toothless face. I grabbed the bottle Chuck was holding and tried once more. This time with better results. The bottle hit the guy over the right eye, glanced off and hit the door glass in the cantina, shattering it.

The fellow’s eyes rolled back. I kicked him in the groin for good measure, stepped in closer and hit him in the solar plexus with my right with everything I had. I landed a right and left to his face as he was going down. He hit the dirt, and rolled over. He lay still.

His hands had been full of pesos when our fight started. Now these were scattered on the ground. Just then a stiff breeze came up and pesos were blown all around and down the street. Pesos were everywhere — our pesos. The fight was over and everybody was chasing pesos.

I yelled at Chuck, “let’s get the hell out of here!”

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