Death Plays a Foul Game

Death Plays a Foul Game at the Cockfight Club

Trouble with Gamecocks

Black-and-white illustration of a gamecock. Drawn by Paul Pope.
Death Plays a Foul Game.
Artwork by Paul Pope.

As reported by The Eastsider L.A., earlier this year Los Angeles police shut down a Montecito Heights cockfight ring, resulting in the arrest of 20 people along with the confiscation of 36 roosters (35 living; one dead) that had been groomed for cockfighting and nearly $6,000 cash.

Then, just a few weeks ago, something similar happened in Camarillo when police raided a cockfighting arena.

So of course I was reminded of the time fictional detective Ben Drake, main character of By the Balls: The Complete Collection (written by me and Jim Pascoe), followed a girl — and found himself in the middle of an imbroglio at the Cockfight Club.

Here’s a short excerpt from that crime fiction tale, titled “Death Plays a Foul Game:”

I saw her glance my way. The expression on her face puzzled me: a combination of playful indifference and joyous vindictiveness. Specifically, the way she latched onto this guy’s huge arm and the way she leaned up to plant a kiss on his cheek suggested that she must be doing this mostly for my benefit. Whatever.

Trying my best to ignore her, I walked over to the pit. I couldn’t deny that I was curious about what this cockfighting business was all about. Besides, it couldn’t hurt to blend into the crowd a little better.

I guess I thought I’d see two roosters beating the feathers out of each other, real no-holds-barred action. Instead, what was most likely the end of the fight found these two fighters tired, barely able to stand, and only occasionally lunging in to peck at the other’s head.

I had to struggle to see these birds, both because of the crowd in front of me and because of the three guys huddled in the pit with them. A guy crouched behind each cock, tending to it. The guy nursing the more-injured rooster lovingly stroked the bird’s neck while trying to wipe the blood from the animal’s eyes. He even stuck the rooster’s head in his mouth; when he pulled it out, he spit the excess blood onto the dirt. Then it was ready to fight again.

Instead of watching the last throes of the fight, I found myself intrigued by the third man. Unlike the other two fellows, who wore dirty T-shirts and faded, muddy jeans, this one came decked out in a gray sharkskin suit, an open-collar tuxedo shirt, and a Mexican wrestling mask.

He looked like a dance hall demon, except this was no dance hall. He squatted down, knees pointing outward, and hovered over the men and their birds. He shook in a fit of ecstasy or hysteria—probably drug-induced—as he counted to ten. He drew two lines in the dirt with his index finger, then the men placed their roosters behind the lines. Wings outstretched, the cocks met in one last, tired embrace.

The end was quick: the one rooster fell beneath its stronger opponent. More blood had covered the losing cock’s eyes—only this time, they were closed. The poor bird laid there like a wet towel, its feathers dark and slicked with blood. The winning cock walked around the loser. My eyes caught the reflection of the bloodied knife strapped to the shaft of its left leg.

The story itself is a bit of an homage to Charles Willeford’s Cockfighter, with a brief nod or two to Chuck Palahniuk‘s Fight Club.

Learn more about By the Balls: The Complete Collection.

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