Charlie squeezed his eyes shut; he just couldn’t watch.
Around him people were shouting, cheering, and cursing; their voices echoing off the barn’s high ceiling. Tuesday nights were cock fights, Thursdays was reserved for dogs, but Colonel Mason saved the main entertainment for Saturday night.
Charlie peeked through his fingers; to his right, the Colonel fanned himself with a newspaper. His sons, Albert and Little Jim sat on either side, slack-jawed and blank-faced. All around Charlie, people booed and waved tickets, desperate to get the bookie’s attention.
At the barn’s center was a large earthen pit, surrounded by stacks of aluminum bleachers. The pit was ten feet deep with blood speckled two-by-fours arranged along its walls. It’s floor, a mix of red clay, hay, and feathers.
Charlie’s fighter hunkered in the corner while the Colonel’s man smashed him with a barrage of strikes and kicks.
“It’s a fix,” shouted the drunken man next to Charlie. “He ain’t thrown a punch!”
The file had said Jasper Gray was a psycho. Thirty years ago, he had killed fifteen people, three of them police officers in Knoxville, all with his bare hands. He might have been bad once, but now, Jasper just looked like a flabby old man with a comb-over getting his ass kicked.
“Should have gotten Clevon from D wing,” Charlie said under his breath.
The Colonel’s fighter was Homer Teets. Big and bearded, Homer had a chest like a cement mixer. His large knotted hands that were equally good at punching as they were taking Charlie’s money.
The Colonel grinned like a southern-fried gargoyle in a ten gallon hat, watching as his fighter yanked Jasper to his feet. Jasper’s nose hung to the side, a torrent of blood soaking the front of his hospital gown. Homer grabbed him by the crotch and neck, hoisting the old man over his head.
“Who’s king of the pit?” Homer grunted.
Charlie covered his face with his hands. Screams made him look again.
Homer was screeching and pawing at his face. Blood streamed through his fingers as they pressed against his gushing eye.
Jasper was holding his eyelid.
Struggling to his feet, Homer leaned against the walls of the pit, panting and cursing. Jasper advanced on him, ducking under a sloppy right hand, and sidestepping a kick.
Pulling back his arm, Jasper made a pointing gesture with his hand. A hush went over the crowd as he drove his finger deep into Homer’s chest.
The big man jerked back as Jasper pulled his finger free with a bloody plop. The old man hit him four more times, ramming his gore coated finger repeatedly into Homer’s torso. He slunk down the walls of pit, his eyes open and dead.
Charlie jumped to his feet, pumping his fist in the air.
“That was a good fight,” Charlie told the Colonel after the last of the onlookers emptied the barn.
Jasper Gray sat beside him on the bleachers, rocking back and forth gently and humming to himself.
The Colonel squinted his eyes. “You steal that boy from the crazy house you work at?”
“Consider it a work furlough,” Charlie said. “Maybe I could loan him out to you for cheap?”
Colonel Mason dismissed the idea with a wave while his sons moved in. “I don’t think so, Charlie.”
Albert and Little Jim grabbed Charlie by the arms, holding him while he struggled.
“But we had a deal!” Charlie cried.
The Colonel drew a bone-handled knife from his belt. “Gotta be alive to have a deal.”
Jasper hummed softly as Colonel Mason pulled his knife across Charlie’s throat. Gurgling, Charlie fell backward into the pit and landed with a crunch. His legs twitched for a moment and then he was gone.
The Colonel stood in front of Jasper, the bloody knife dangling from his fingers. “Now don’t get riled up, son. This will be over in a second.”
Jasper leapt to his feet as the reached for him. His hands whipped about, snapping ligaments and severing bones. The Colonel’s boys crumpled to the bleachers in bloody heaps.
Jasper smiled and pointed a bloody finger at the Colonel.