There was a cardboard sign duct-taped to the old neon GoldSky sign: Cockfights, $20 admission. The doorman was short but built, and to Shane he seemed like he could just snap for no reason. The ring was set-up in the old lobby entrance on top of the marble, just before the original green and yellow zig-zag carpet. The slot machines were gone, sold off probably, but the red felt tables were still there. It’d been three or five or seven years since it’d shut down. Shane couldn’t remember.
It was smoky even though there were only a few guys there. The ring was bigger and neater than Shane had expected. It was a plywood octagon about 15 feet wide and up to his waist, and the ground was smooth patted dirt. There was a man standing by himself with a camera around his neck. The top of his head was bald, and the leftover hair on the sides was pulled back into a ponytail. Had to be Ed. They introduced themselves, and Ed talked like he was picking up a conversation they’d already started. “This town was originally supposed to be called Casino, but Don Laughlin was too much of an egomaniac. This town really makes no sense in a depressed economy. We should just scrap the whole thing and go our separate ways. It had a good run. Well, okay, I guess.”
He’s very bitter, Shane thought. Ed said that the mayor had sent him an angry email about the survey article, saying soon they would all know his name. He handed Gabby a copy of the paper. They laughed. The headline was BREAKING NEWS: LAUGHLIN HAS A MAYOR, and below there was a black silhouette. The article never actually said Gottlieb’s name. “That’s why he was so mad. That and the silhouette instead of his picture,” Ed said. Gabby folded it carefully and put it in her purse.
A bunch of guys came pretty much all at once and all seemed to know each other. They chain-smoked and passed around plastic handles of brown liquor, and a guy with sunglasses set on top of his head offered Shane a swig from a bottle of rum. He took a pull and was ready for blood. Drunk guys got drunker and lost patience. Gabby got nervous. “I don’t think I want to be here. I feel like I’m about to see something I’ll have nightmares about forever.”
It got loud when the first rooster walked through the fire exit door, and suddenly everyone had cash out. They handed it to one guy who handed it to another guy, and there didn’t seem to be any kind of system. The black and orange cock was on a leash, but he wouldn’t go any further, so the owner picked him up and put him in the ring. “See, he doesn’t want to be here! They have to force him!” Gabby said.
Everyone went nuts when the next cock came out. His body was pure white, and long black feathers sprouted up and hung from his backside. He was bigger than the other one, and he strutted right up to the ring, ready to go. “Jack,” the guy with the rum told Shane. “Like Jack the Ripper. Undefeated.” Aren’t all roosters that are still alive undefeated? Shane wondered.
Jack’s owner held the champion cock over the pit to tease the crowd, but there was some problem at the door. The stout bouncer’s face was red and a man in a suit stepped past him, Mayor Gottlieb. He put his hands on his hips like he expected something. The guys glanced at him then looked back to Jack, impatient. Gottlieb stepped up closer to the ring and put his hands on his hips again.
“He’s the mayor,” Shane announced, but they just seemed confused. “Of Laughlin,” but this annoyed them, and it wasn’t until the cops rushed in that everyone ran.
They sprinted past the card tables towards the other emergency exit. Gabby ran with them, her curly ponytail bouncing, and dudes flew past her. Shane braced for her to get flattened, but she suddenly turned right and moved away from the door. Jack the Ripper was loose and she was chasing him. She picked him up and made for the exit. “Put him down now, bitch!” The grey-haired owner said and went after her. The great rooster flapped in her arms and fought back, but she held on. Shane had no idea what she was doing, but it didn’t seem all that weird. She was so impulsive. Shane ran toward her, not sure what his plan was. His belly bounced, but he was faster than the old man. They were side-by-side when the man reached his arms out to grab Gabby. Shane lowered his shoulder and rammed into him, and he fell harder than what Shane was going for, face-planting on the carpet.
“Sorry!” Shane said, and they ran through the exit and around the building to the Saturn. “Did you see me light that dude up?!” he said. “I saved you. What the hell are you doing with the rooster?”
“I saw the chance to rescue him so I took it. His talons are so sharp.”
“Jesus Christ.” There were streams of blood running down her forearms. “Or it might be the goddamn razor blades attached to his legs!” Shane said. Just above his feet were shiny three-inch-long sickle-looking blades, held on with electric tape.
“Those sick bastards,” she said.
“Just leave him on the ground and let’s go.”
“No way,” she said and tossed Jack into the backseat. She tried to calm him down while Shane drove, but he kept flapping his huge wings and tearing at the cloth seats. Shane was terrified he would slit his throat from behind. Gabby’s blood got everywhere, and they almost got in three crashes.
“I saw the chance to rescue him and I took it,” Gabby kept saying, her bloody arms wrapped in paper towels. She unwrapped the tape and took the razor blades off while Shane held him down. Jack was stronger than he could’ve imagined.
“Rescue him? He’s a chicken. We eat chicken all the time.” When he let go, Jack charged at him and chased him out of the backdoor.
Gabby came over, and Jack let her pick him up. She’d gained his trust somehow. “It’s so cruel what they make him do. He was a gladiator slave. Maybe we’ll eat him, but we’d kill him humanely. You can break their necks real easy. Just a flick of the wrist, I think,” she said, softly stroking his neck.
“Flick of the wrist?…Did you see all that money everyone was betting?” He said, standing in their little dirt yard. “Jack is supposed to be some great champion cock.”
Shane shrugged. “He’s got to be worth a lot of money.”
“You want to sell Jack back into slavery?” Gabby said. “After what I went through to save him?”
“We’ve been living off butter pasta for the last two weeks, and rent is due in like four days.” Neither one of them had worked in months. He’d been a short order cook but got fired after his second shift because he didn’t know how to cook. It was obvious he’d lied on his application. Gabby had been a cocktail waitress at Harrah’s, but she threatened to stab a guy at a blackjack table with the broken stem of wine glass after he’d dropped it on the ground on purpose and told her to bend over and pick it up. The floor manager hadn’t stood up for her. She still talked about ways to get revenge on both of them.
She set Jack down on the kitchen tile. “It’s not like we can just go pawn him,” she said.
“We’ll sell him back to the owner.”
“If we try that, they’ll just shoot us.”
“Let’s make a ransom note!” Gabby said, all-in now. “We’ll cut the letters out of magazines. I’ve always wanted to do that. We can ask for $300!”
“Three-hundred bucks is nothing to gangster guys like that. We can get $1000.”
They couldn’t find any magazines in the house, so they tried cutting the letters out of old copies of The Gazette but gave up after a couple words and just wrote the rest in black pen.
IF YOU WANT TO SEE JACK THE RIPER EVER AGAIN, DROP OFF 1000$ CA$H INSIDE A ENVELOPE ON THE SIDEWALK OUTSIDE THE ENTRANCE OF THE OLD FORTUNE CASINO AT 7 TOMMOROW NIGHT
They took off for GoldSky in the Saturn. The plan was to slide the letter under the emergency door, but when they got there the door was open and a light was on, and that messed everything up. Shane wondered if some of them lived there. Before they could think of something, someone came out of the door and walked towards them fast.
“Oh shit!” Shane said.
“Hey fuckheads!” the guy shouted, and Shane hit the gas and clipped the curb. Gabby rolled down the window and threw out the letter.
“Read that!” she yelled back at him.