By Rich Logsdon
It was eleven o'clock on a hot Saturday night in July of 1972, and twelve-year old Ike Boudine and his uncle Sweet Lou were sitting in Lou's '64 primer gray Cheyy pickup in the parking lot of Gretta's Burgers and Shakes. Gretta's was the only fast-food drive-in in the small town of Hazelwood, Idaho, just twenty-three miles east of Twin Falls.
"Ain't nothin' like a dog fight t'put a edge on a appetite," wheezed Sweet Lou Boudine, inhaling deeply on his Camel cigarette and glancing at his nephew seated next to him. Sweet Lou had smoked Camels for years, ever since the Korean conflict. On the seat between him and Ike, he had placed his light green inhaler. It had occurred to Ike more than once that his lovable Uncle was preparing to die.
A three hundred and eighty-pound man with a flaming red beard, red hair, and a sure eye for ferocious canines, Sweet Lou was proud of his nephew, who at one hundred and ninety pounds had established himself as the school bully. Born with the disposition of a pit bull, Ike could kick the living shit out of anyone at Hazelwood Junior High School, and that had included some huge ninth graders this past year. In short, Ike could fight.
"Yep," said Ike, smacking his lips as he bit into his fourth Gretta burger. Ike loved the squishing sound his mouth made when he bit into a tasty hamburger. "That was one good dawg fight."
"An' I do love a good dawg fight," yodeled the boy, his mouth spilling over with food. Like all the Boudines, Ike pronounced the word "faht" and ate enormous amounts of food when he was happy.
Sweet Lou coughed, used a red cloth to wipe the sweat from his brow, cleared his lungs, and spat a huge glob of bloody mucous out his window. "Those was two mean dawgs, Lil' Ike," wheezed the uncle, flipping his cigarette out the window with his left hand, then turning to face his nephew and rubbing a thick callused right hand through the boy's dirty blonde hair. "But our dawg kicked butt," Lou added. Ike watched as Uncle Lou took a puff from his inhaler and then grabbed the hamburger on the dashboard, unwrapped it, studied it, then took half of the Getta burger into his mouth at a single bite. "Yessiree, he did kick ass," wheezed the uncle through a mouthful of bun and burger.
Indeed, it had been a night to remember for Ike Boudine, who later in life, as an English professor in an Arizona community college, in the midst of a lecture on (say) Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow, would remember this night as his rite de passage.
In celebration of his Ike's twelfth birthday, Sweet Lou had taken Ike to the weekly dogfight, held in Ned Junge's barn just three miles southeast of Hazelwood. (A local high school teacher with a passion for the works of Joseph Conrad, Junge felt an obligation to reveal this very dark side on the weekends.) Growing up, Ike had seen plenty of dog fights, many good ones, but never a real one, fought in the pit, with money on the line and men gathered around cheering their favorite.
It had been Ike's first real dog fight, and the main event had featured an out-of-town Doberman named Jett Black, and one of the Boudines' pit bulls, Little Pearl. (While just a pup, Little Pearl had been allowed to sleep in bed with Ike.) It had been a night to remember, Little Pearl snatching victory out of the ugly jaws of sure defeat, and Ike wanted more.
When he and his uncle were still a mile from Ned Junge's barn earlier that evening, Sweet Lou driving the rutted dirt and gravel road off the main highway, Ike could see a glow in the distant and knew it was from the light poles surrounding the Ned Junge's dog-pit barn. It was a moment that Ike, even as a college English professor years later, would fondly remember and compared, in a heart no colleague was allowed to see, to St. Augustine's vision of the Heavenly City of God. As the truck neared the Junge farm, Ike felt on the verge of an ecstasy the disciples must have felt upon learning of their Master's resurrection.
As the pickup bounced into the farmyard, Ike quickly estimated that there were close to one hundred vehicles parked around the Junge place, some in the large yard but most of them out on the road. Ike noticed that the local sheriff's cruiser was parked right next to Ned's mailbox.
"Lots o' cars 'n' trucks, Uncle Lou," said Ike, suddenly intimidated by the numbers of people he would have to see.
"That's on account o' this is the fight o' the century, Lil' Ike," his uncle responded in a tone that always inspired in Ike a reverence for the wisdom Sweet Lou had accumulated over the years.
"Jesus H. Christ," gasped Ike, nervous about getting out of the safety of his uncle's truck and kicking himself silently for having used the Lord's name in vain on the night before the Sabbath. "Lookit at all them cars." It occurred to Ike that the local Baptist minister might be there, too.
"Oh, well, hehhehheh, He might be here, too," said Sweet Lou, turning sideways and winking down at this nephew, obviously forgiving the boy for his verbal transgression, and suddenly the nephew grasped the importance of a fight that pitted the reputedly vicious dog of the insidious Chinaman Sung Wung Liu against the very best canine from the Twin Falls area. Though he had never seen Liu, Ike had heard stories of the huge Chinaman, how two weeks ago after Jett Black had literally torn apart Abe Crenshaw's dog Blue Crusher the Chinaman had removed his shirt, gone into the pit himself, and roared a challenge to anyone man enough to fight him. It reminded Ike, surprisingly knowledgeable of the Bible at that young age, of the Philistine Goliath taunting and challenging the Israelites to come out and fight.
Sweet Lou's good friend Mike Turnkey had had met the challenge and stepped in the pit immediately, removing his shirt and showing the Chinaman his hugely muscled arms and the animal tattoos which covered every inch his body. Locals figured then that the Chinaman had met his match--until, of course, the actual match began. Mike never stood a chance, rumor had it, the Chinaman Liu somehow quickly getting Mike in a vicious headlock and then, in front of Mike's family and friends, beating Mike's face to a bloody pulp with a closed fist. The local code of honor forbade anyone from breaking up another's fight, so all the men, young and old alike, had watched in dazed, numbed terror until Mike lost consciousness. Only then, as the Chinaman continued to kick and hit his immobile adversary, who lay unmoving on the ground, had the locals pulled Liu away form the prostrate Mike Turnkey. Terrified by the huge Chinaman, no one considered evening up the score for Mike.
When Ike walked into the barn behind his Uncle, the air was blue with smoke and smelled strongly of whisky, a drink Ike would learn to love from this night forth as he became a part of this group of men. Shouts filled the air, and behind the yelling of the spectators Ike could hear the vicious growling and yelping of the two dogs currently in the pit, and it was at this moment that Ike knew he was in the right place.
An hour later, after witnessing three dog fights from his Uncle's seat of honor in the corner of the pit, Ike waited in the reverential, hushed silence that normally preceded a main event, breathlessly anticipating the arrival of the demonic dog, Jett Black, and the crowd's favorite, Little Pearl.
Sadly and suddenly, it occured to Ike as he sat there that the evening would likely be marred by the death of the only animal that he had ever grown to love, but as his Uncle had reminded him, he had to learn to be a man about such things, so when the villainous Liu had his seconds set the cage containing his black devil into the pit and Sweet Lou had his seconds do the same with the cage carrying Little Pearl, Ike stood from his seat and cheered wildly and loudly like all of the other men. (By this time, accepted by the men, Ike had drunk a fair amount of whiskey himself and knew, even as a twelve year old, that he had found a permanent friend to help him through his darkest hours.)
As the cheering died down, all eyes were drawn to the huge Chinaman, who had removed his shirt and was now pointing an angry finger at Sweet Lou Boudine. "After Jett Black dog kill your mutt," Liu began in his broken English, throwing out an insult by referring to the Boudine dog as a mutt, "then I punish you." "Fine enough, " was all that Uncle Lou had said, his attention upon his own fighting dog. At that, Liu had barred his own teeth and growled at Lou, and Ike was sure that he had seen fangs in the Chinaman's mouth.
No one had expected the Chinaman to issue a challenge before the dog fight, and Ike stood silently, a lump in his throat, heart beating wildly as he looked at his uncle, who simply looked at Liu and muttered, "Well, let's first git this over with." Ike felt in his heart that this was going to be a very bad night and, before the dogs began, was wondering how he would get his Uncle home that night. He feared seeing his own flesh and blood beaten senseless before him.
The two dog owners crouched by their dogs' cages, ready to release the catch, and when the ringmaster gave the signal both men slowly raised the entrances to their cages. Released from his cage, Jett Black stood for an instance looking at the crowd and then charged viciously at Lil Pearl, attempting to grab the Boudine dog by the throat and quickly seizing the head of the unmoving pit bull in its massive jaws. In spite of the frenzied encouragement from the crowd, Little Pearl seemed helpless as the other dog bit at him, now spinning slowly in circles, mouth open wide, whining in severe pain. As Jett Black seized Lil' Pearl by the neck and bore the other dog to the ground, Ike realized that this would likely be the shortest match of the night. Little Pearl wasn't putting up a fight, and in spite of Uncle Lou's shouted commands seemed resigned to allow the black beast to tear the back of its bloodied head off.
Ike was near tears and, in a moment of desperation, closed his eyes and uttered a silent prayer, asking the Good Lord to please step in on Pearl's behalf. It's my birthday, God! Ike had silently shouted at the one being he knew could alter the course of the fight.
Opening his eyes, Ike figured the prayer was pointless--Little Pearl would be dead in a two or three minutes-when suddenly, with a savage intensity that Ike would come to recognize as the trademark of a true Boudine, Little Pearl turned at the speed of light, seized the larger dog by the throat, and bit and tore with unrestrained fury. The fight, everyone knew (the insidious Liu included), had suddenly been decided in the favor of all that was good and right.
"A answered prayer, Uncle Lou," Lil' Ike whooped, jumping up from his chair, arms raised above his hear, unable to restrain his excitement. "Uncle Lou! A goddamn answered prayer is what it was!"
A roar of victory went up from the crowd, most of whom had bet on Little Pearl as the sympathetic favorite. The bigger dog lay panting and bloody on the ground, its throat torn open, moments from its passage from this world into the great dog pit in the sky.
Ike could not hear what Uncle Lou said over the roar of the crowd, but he didn't need to. When Uncle Lou looked in Ike's direction and gave his nephew and smile and a nod of the head, that was enough. A religious man, Sweet Lou Boudine, never discounted the power of prayer.
As the Chinaman Liu stood over his dog, shouting commands in his native tongue and pulling crazily at his pony tail, Sweet Lou Boudine literally picked his own bloodied dog off the ground. He held Little Pearl over his head and strode around the Chinaman and around the outside of the pit to the cheers of his friends.
In the silence that meant the fighting wasn't over, Sweet Lou put his dog down, shoved Pearl back into the cage, locked the cage door, and removing his own shirt to reveal a body covered with red bushy hair turned to face the now outraged Liu. This would be a ferocious fight, the crowd thought to itself, many remembering that in high school and during his first two years at the local junior college, Lou had been regarded as one of the toughest and meanest kids around. His expression bordering on the savagely satanic, a growl rumbling in his throat, the Chinaman put his head down, screamed like one of the damned, and charged Uncle Lou like a bull.
Lil' Ike having prayed silently for his uncle, Sweet Lou was ready, had probably been ready all week, raring back and landing a perfect and powerful right cross to the Chinaman's jaw. All knew the crack of bone on bone and realized that, almost before the fight had really begun, Sweet Lou Boudine had put the devilish Liu's lights out.
Again, Ike was ecstatic. "Praise the Lord!" he shouted, raising his arms in the air like the people did at his friend Dave Ricci's Pentecostal Church just outside of town.
As the Chinaman lay unconscious on the ground, bleeding freely from the mouth, his jaw broken, Sweet Lou did something that Ike would remember frequently, even years later when he was giving a lecture on Milton's Paradise Lost. Walking across the ring to his nephew, Sweet Lou reached out his big fat callused right hand, grabbed Ike affectionately by the front of his overalls, and pulled the huge surprised boy stumbling into the ring. It was a miracle that Little Ike, feeling the effect of the whiskey and giddy from the euphoria generated by Pearl's victory, remained on his feet.
When his uncle released his grip on his nephew's overalls and the cheering died down, Ike proudly took his place in mid-pit next to the man who would be hailed for the next forty years as a dog-fighting legend in Western America. "This here evenin' is fer Little Ike," bellowed the now wheezing Sweet Lou Boudine, "who's birthday happens to be right now."
Overcome by a love that is still shared by the dog-fighting families of southern Idaho, Ike looked up at his Uncle, who at 6' 7" towered over the six-foot twelve year old, and noticed a tear running down Lou's fat and hairy cheek. Ike realized that he was crying too as everyone, with the exception of the unconscious Liu, joined in to sing several rounds of "Happy Birthday, Lil' Ike."
As the crowd sang, some holding bottles of Kentuck-5 whiskey in the air in celebration, Ike hugged his uncle and, if he had had the chance, would have hugged Little Pearl too. But Ike knew that Little Pearl, who at times when he was growing up to become a man had almost seemed human, was watching the ceremony and was certainly smiling as much as is possible a pit bull who had nearly been killed in a fight that it had miraculously won.
"Uncle," said Ike, stuffing the last of his own Gretta burger into his mouth and briefly considering ordering another. Ike particularly loved the fact that Gretta, one of Sweet Lou's old high school flames, put gobs and gobs of mustard on her special burgers. Ike loved mustard, which now tasted particularly good.
"What is it, Lil' Ike?" Sweet Lou wheezed with all the tenderness an uncle could muster for a nephew that, the good Lord willing, would do the Boudine family proud one day. To his dying day, which would occur six months later on a pheasant-hunting trip, Sweet Lou would cherish this moment spent with his nephew.
"Uncle Lou," Ike began again, still filled with the elation generated by the bloody, frenzied dog fight, as well as his uncle's swift victory over a man who clearly represented all that was evil on the planet, "I do guess I have become a dawg-fightin' fool. Yessiree, Uncle Lou, I am surely a dawg-fightin' fool. Jes' like you." The boy nearly sang his words. "Dog-fightin' fool" was a phrase that Sweet Lou had used commonly and proudly to describe himself. And at that moment, both the boy and his smiling, wheezing uncle lived in the ecstasy of "dawg-fightin' fools."
Between puffs on his inhaler, which he had to use more and more frequently now that he was growing older, Sweet Lou smiled broadly and looked down at the boy.
Ike's remark had made the whole evening worth while for the huge man, who found himself exhausted and breathless after his own brief fight. Lou realized that, at forty-five, he was no longer a young man. "Yes, boy," said the uncle, smugly, gasping for breath that had been slowly taken from over the years by three packs of cigarettes a day, "I guess you surely are that. A god-fearin', dawg-fightin' fool."
Ike looked up at his uncle, the only human being on the planet he truly admired, glanced past Lou at the huge yellow neon sign that blazed "Gretta's Burgers and Shakes" into the night sky, and smiled. The blazing sign reminded Ike of the Good Lord Above, Who surely had intervened this very evening to save the life of the dog. "I do love dawg fights," said Ike again with the calm finality that generally follows only a religious conversion. "Yes, I surely do. Now take me home, Uncle Lou. We gotta git up early in the mornin' for church."
"Amen, Lil' Ike," wheezed Sweet Lou with a grin on his face and another tear in his eye. "Amen." An elder of the local Southern Baptist church, Lou started the pickup, tossed his burger wrappers and milk-shake container out of his window and onto the pavement for Gretta's boy Huey to pick up tomorrow morning, put the vehicle in reverse after a ferocious grinding of the gears, and slowly backed up. Shifting the vehicle into first and looking at his nephew, Sweet Lou Boudine floored the accelerator and took the Chevy pick-up to eighty-five miles per hour down the deserted Main Street. He knew Ike liked to go fast; after all, he thought, that boy is growin' up awful fast.
Certainly, it had been a night to remember.
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Author of dark and disturbing fiction, Rich Logsdon has published stories on and off the web. An English professor teaching at a community college in Las Vegas, Rich is also editor-in-chief of the print magazine Red Rock Review.