Loss lubricated the caged ring where four canine legs twitched muscle beneath soiled fur. Red the color of rose drooled from Boono’s teeth, a black tan Walker hound. Puddled onto Ruby’s lifeless, golden Cur hide.
Outside the heated glow of the ring retired Canine Officer Iris stood like a bastard child with a clubfoot and elephant man features. Watching Asian Neanderthal men count out crumpled bills to the winning wagers of Boono. But not Iris. He’d been MIA from his home all week, stoned on blood wagering, was now twenty grand in the hole after Ruby lost.
A gun pressed into the rear of Iris’ skull, followed by Sadah’s broken-middle-eastern tongue in his ear.
“Iris, you know option. Forty-five to brain or go flesh rule. Fight Boono barehanded. Kill him. Walk away owing no coin.”
Iris turned around. His cataract eyes met the pugilistic glow of Sadah’s, whose hair hung in thick intestinal strands. Framed her stained glass complexion of mocha flesh. She had ball bearing shoulders attached to gunmetal-tight arms. Wore a wife beater with a forty-five caliber Glock in her grip. She was an Iraqi immigrant who hated America for invading her homeland. Earned coin from the locals who worked the power plant and factories within surrounding counties. Men and women who craved carnage. Wagered their pay and sometimes their lives on the dog fights Sadah and her clan of misfits held within a gutted ammunition warehouse along the banks of the Ohio River.
The thought of fighting Boono like a Roman Gladiator made Iris’s bones ache with fear and adrenaline. In his mind, not knowing whether he’d live or die outweighed the coin.
Iris leveled his tone to Sadah, “Put your hand canon away sweet tits. Know lots’a faces are here to wager. See somethin’ bleed. And I aim to give’em somethin’.”
Sadah smirked. Iris turned. Made his way through the shadowed frames. Walked toward the lighted ring where Boono snorted and circled Ruby’s motionless shape. Iris’s hand met the cage door. Hinges squeaked open. Crumpled bills for the closing bets passed hands.
Detective Stray Duke caught movement through a window of reinforced chicken wire. Returned to the planked front door. Shouldered it. Busted the jamb. On the other side stood the six foot seven nightmare whose gar mouth of odd-angled teeth ruptured the air with, “Who duh-”
Stray dropped him to the abandoned chicken house’s slatted floor with a 100,000 volt stun gun. Watched him twitch and foam into unconsciousness. Traded his stun gun for handcuffs. Rolled the frothing beast onto his chest. Cuffed his fence post wrists behind him. Rolled him onto his back. Pulled two marbled sized chunks of smelling salts from a packet in his leather jacket’s inner pocket. Inserted them into the beast’s bull-sized nostrils. Stepped back. Waited for them to dissolve.
The beast’s eyes burned open with pools of dampness. Stray palmed the iPhone. Fingered the touch screen. Glanced down into the six foot seven nightmare’s browless Asian slit-eyes. Knuckle-scarred lips and Cro-Magnon skull. Glanced back and read the positive ID that flashed below the digital wanted photo from the criminal database website, “Adolf Tzu. Half-Chinese German Neo-Nazi. Affiliated with one of them there offshoot hate movements.”
Adolf had a square black patch of hair above lips that zigzagged like stitches. Algae colored tats carved symbols up arms with a severed larynx tone, “The fuck are you?”
Stray backed up. Pulled his worn leather jacket open, revealed a golden glare. The badge attached to his waist. Offered, “Harrison County Detective Stray Duke.” Swapped the wireless device for a filterless smoke from his outer pocket. Fired up a tangerine glow. “Know they’re tryin’ to ban these sons a bitches? Believe that shit?”
Adolf’s river rat grammar coughed, “Fuckin’ pork king. You didn’t come here to talk about coffin nails.”
Stray’s eyes scanned cobwebbed corners. The decaying mold-stained walls. A hardwood table with piles of tiny black bones and insect shells on a ceramic saucer. Two rusted chairs pushed beneath it. A dry-rotted cot in a far corner. It’s what happens when the US cities overpopulate with any and all shades of immigrant. They flood the rural working class towns. Bring adrenaline-fueled strains of crime and criminal. Someone like Adolf. A low life tool who plants a mailbox at the door of a prehistoric outhouse so he can call it home sweet home while earning his keep through acts of human debauchery.
Stray ran a hand through his silver hair. Blew smoke.
“Past six months, Harrison County’s had fifteen unsolved missin’ persons. Two nights ago a anonymous call was made. Give the plate number to your Toyota 4x4 leavin’ White Cloud Flats after throwin’ several packages down the hillside. Know what we recovered?”
Adolf’s slit eyes glared up from the floor, his lips slobbered, “Fuck you.”
“Fuck me? Alright Gulliver, travel on this, after investigatin’ the anonymous call and gettin’ forensic’s involved, nine of them missin’ persons was found. At least pieces of them was. Some had skin. Some didn’t. Ones with skin had hound bite marks. One’s didn’t had fractures from teeth in the bone. Also found remains of six dead hounds. But it ain’t the nine people nor the six hounds I care about.” Pausing, Stray pulled hard on the smoke. Shook his head, told Adolf, “Reason I’m here’s the undiscovered numbers. Specially number fifteen.”
The Neanderthal lay still as paved asphalt, lips stuck on pause.
“I’s afraid you wouldn’t wanna talk. So I brought some friends to grease that tongue of yours up.”
Stray dropped his smoke. Smashed it into the floor. Kneeled down to Adolf’s feet that were laced up in a pair of combat boots, said, “But first I gonna have to ruin these purty red laces.”
He pulled his Buck knife from his side. Flipped the blade open. Severed the red laces of Adolf’s boot. Pulled the boot free. Shook his head at five bare toes, cadaver pale, toe nails thick and yellow like a sucked on lemon drop.
“Son of a bitch! You ever hear of toe clippers?”
Adolf started to kick. Stray removed his stun gun, made the Neanderthal stiffen up with another 100,000 volt zap. Put the gun in his jacket. Pressed the serrated edge of his Buck knife down onto the Morel mushroom looking big toe. Separated skin. Then came the blood and the popping of bone.
Adolf opened his mouth, gagged.
Stray left the toe dangling from the foot by a trace of skin. Turned around. Walked out to his cruiser. Opened the trunk. Removed a canvas sack that jumped and bounced with vehemence. Went back into the chicken house. Dropped it down next to Adolf’s head.
Blue veins rippled beneath Adolf’s skin. Drool thickened from his zigzagged lips and he stuttered, “Th…shitts inn…ttthat?”
Stray blew smoke, said, “One part fire ants two parts poisoned flesh. When they ingest they teeth into your blood stream. Make a swelled up tick-headed-bitch like yourself see blackness seepin’ in behind your eyes. You got about five minutes to tell me how them bodies got hacked and chewed by hounds, where the other numbers are. For I place that sack over your head, introduce you to my Nazi hatin’ friends.”
Adolf stuttered, “Mmmuh…toe…wwhy you cut it oooff?”
Stray laughed, “No reason, just meanness.”
Winners of flesh rule were kept in the ammunition plant’s dank basement where the rats with spiked fur grew to the size of house cats. Feeding on the dropped pieces of losing men and hound that the winners were forced to flay and dismember for dumping. Or they faced consequences worse than their owing no coin.
When men weren’t segmenting the dead or working a corner of flesh rule, they were chained to the basement walls. Fed spoiled meat and white rice. Pissed and shit in a bucket. Some had fingers broken like crayons. Others had golf ball sized openings replacing eyes. But everyone was tattooed by canine bite marks wrapped in rags with their left Achilles tendons severed, offering a permanent gate and taking any thoughts of escape from them.
Sadah personally woke the men every morning with a bucket of ice water. Followed by the juice of a battery powered picana, a wand with a brass tip meeting their beaten bodies. The reason she kept them, let them live; it was Sadah’s revenge, her belittlement of Americans for what they’d done to her people. There were no winners in flesh rule except the ones watching.
Between rounds men doused the gladiators in high octane petrol. Added extra burn to open wounds. Two silverback-sized hands held Scab, a purebred Blue Tick in his corner beneath the yellow neon with shoulders slumped. His hide a nicked sheen of carnage. Ribcage expanding with each growl.
In the opposite corner stood Edwin Newall. He was fifteen grand in the hole. Was in the second round of flesh rule. His head was pricked by black stubble. Claw marks streaked his mortar thick jaw. Blood formed creek beds down clenched fists. Ran from eight penny nail sized bite marks. Behind him a backwoods dialect said, “You go out runnin’ this time. Lure that bastard into your grip with your left. Trap’em with your right.”
When the forty five exploded into the air Edwin’s boots clumped across the concrete surface. Scab’s four paws clicked like horseshoes. Edwin shielded his sternum with ball bat forearms. Scab leaped at Edwin.
Stray entered the ammunition plant where violence bounced from the rusted tin walls. Approached the mass of dark shapes that gathered around the lighted ring. His eyes probed outlines for number fifteen. His father. A retired canine officer of Harrison County with a taste for gambling who’d left his home nearly four weeks ago. Never returned.
Sour scents of men and women burnt his inhale. Their cheers more savage than human. Stray rested one hand inside his leather jacket, gripped the forty caliber H&K. Bumping through bodies, tilting bottles of booze, making his way to the lighted area. Watching a man and hound clash in the caged ring.
This’d been going on every Friday night for six months. Locals betting on dog fights ran by an immigrant female named Sadah. Every so often she made sure a wager got his or herself too far in the hole so they could go flesh rule. Fight the hound. Get a chance to settle their debts. Owe no coin by becoming a belittled slave. Pull higher wages from the crowd. Nine losers fertilized the hillside of White Cloud Flats. That’s how Adolf explained everything before Stray introduced him to his sack of copperhead friends. Made his body jerk and bulge like a bullfrog.
Stray watched the ring. Saw the hound clamped down onto the man’s forearm. His free arm pinned and squeezed the beast between his arms. The hound’s claws climbed the man’s flesh. Cheers grew to a fevered pitch. The man spun the hound around in circles like a shot-put.
Beside Stray, a female with red twines of hair repelling from her head hollered in a broken tone, “Damn that American!”
In the ring, the man twisted the hound’s momentum, slung him over his head. Slammed him down onto the concrete surface. The hound released the man’s forearm. The man stutter-stepped away. Shook his head. Quicker than a blink the hound was on all fours. Jaws locked around the man’s shin. Gnawing his balance. Taking him down onto the ring’s surface.
The female beside Stray screamed, “Kill him! Kill him!” Stray kept a measured beat on her. Watched the darkness highlight the chiseled grooves of her shoulders. Arms. Legs. Then Stray glanced back to the ring. Watched an old man enter with a red ten-gallon canister, limping toward the downed man being mauled by the hound. The female beside Stray cursed in uneven words, “Fucking shit dick man. Get this leper out of ring.”
Two Neanderthal sized Asians entered the other side of the ring with machetes. Stray worked his way through the perverse cheers. Followed the gray patches of pavement that led down into the ring.
The Neanderthals bore down on the old man. Stray pulled the trigger of his forty cal. H&K. Opened the first Neanderthal. Then the second. Limbs broke open and screams scattered onto the concrete. The old man turned with bruised arms. Scabbed face. Fingers missing. Bandages the shade of cheap bourbon, told Stray, “The hell you standin’ their like you got fetus alcoholic syndrome or some shit boy, shoot that bitch hound.”
Men and women stomped their feet, chanted, “Slaughter! Slaughter!” Shattered their beer bottles against the cage and all around Iris and Stray. Behind them Scab worked his jaws into the bone of Edwin, who no longer showed restraint.
Stray grabbed Iris’s arrow-thin arm. Told him, “I’s getting your ole ass out’a here.” A hard burn flamed the meat of Stray’s left shoulder. Spun him around to the female he’d stood by moments ago, who now aimed her Glock at him. Said, “Fuckin’ Americans always-” In one motion Stray raised and pulled the trigger of his pistol. Opened Sadah’s right knee. Her Glock hit the concrete. She lost her center, collapsed. Iris staggered to her. Hot moisture flowed from Sadah. Created a large bullseye around her. Iris glanced down, up-turned the red container.
Saturated Sadah with pure petrol as the crowd chanted, “Burn’er, burn’er, burn’er!”