Otis Crater was late for the fanciers’ organizational meeting at the Cherokee Lounge for good reason. He had just stabbed a U-Totem attendant following a discussion of the economic impact of a five-cent price increase on a six-pack of beer.
Crater kicked open the lounge door and bounced off the wall, scattering a table of Arabs who had made the mistake of thinking the Cherokee was a hangout for University of Texas exchange students. Crater carried the remnants of a six-pack under one arm and cradled his baby pit bulldog, Princess, under the other. He looked like a crazed, bloody scarecrow.
“That sorry bastard started it,” Crater told those already gathered for the meeting. “I had turned my back to leave when he came at me with a butcher knife. He tore open my right side. Daddy was out in the truck with Princess and a load of cedar. I said: ‘Don’t ask me why right now, just give me your knife.’”
“Did you kill the sorry bastard?” Stout asked.
“I don’t know,” Crater said, as though he hadn’t considered the question until now. “I ’spect I made him a Christian. Daddy told me, ‘You’re a goddamn fool springing a knife on a man when you can’t even see straight. You’re liable to cut yourself as him.’ I think I got myself in the thigh.”
Crater and his family are cedar choppers, a profession they have followed for a hundred years or longer. Cedar chopper has become a generic term, like redneck, almost without precise meaning. But there are still real people out among the evergreen hills, spring-fed creeks, and wild backroads west of Austin who earn their keep by clearing stands of scrub cedar for land developers. Their wages are the wood they cut in a day. They drive broken-down pickup trucks, deal in cash, preach self-reliance, and maintain a fundamental faith in the use of physical force.
Thus, an increase in the price of a six-pack is of genuine concern. One could well imagine Crater’s old daddy embellishing the story for the domino players, who would nod approval and observe that Otis was a good boy, if inclined to be a little hot-headed on occasion. “Heh, heh,” his daddy would say, “I taught him better. First slash, he missed by eight inches and cut his ownself in the leg.”
Stout, a telephone company lineman, had summoned the fanciers to call to their attention an ad in Pit Dog Report, an earthy, nearly illiterate “Mag. of reading and not to many picturs” published in Mesquite and circulated nationally.
The ad read:
OPEN TO MATCH
Any time … any where
BULLY, male, 54 lb.
A DEAD GAME DOG!
Parties interested could contact Mr. Maynard at a post office box in Phoenix, Arizona. It wasn’t necessary to mention that challengers lacking the proper securities need not respond. They had all heard of Mr. Maynard and his legendary beast, Bully. Mr. Maynard was the Max Hirsch of pit bulldog breeding, and Bully was Man O’ War. Bully had every quality a fighting dog can have—gameness, biting power, talent, stamina, bloodline. As the saying goes, a dead game dog.
“We’re gonna get it on!” Stout declared, cackling and slamming the magazine on the table.
“He’s crazy as a mudsucking hen,” Crater said, addressing the table. J.K., a professional breeder who works with his daddy, ran the tip of a frog sticker under his walnut fingernails and said nothing. Annabelle, a girl with an Oklahoma Dust Bowl face who lives with J.K., was practically sitting in J.K.’s lap, which was as far away as she could get from Stout.
“I got fifteen hundred bucks,” Stout said. “That leaves fifteen hundred for the rest of you.”
Crater looked down at Princess, who was chewing on his foot. “What are we gonna use for a dog?” he inquired. “I’m afraid Princess here is a shade might young. Boudreaux’s dead…Tombstone’s dead…and that dark brindle of J.K.’s wouldn’t make a good lunch for a beast like Bully.”
“Tell him,” Stout said. Then J.K. related what fate had brought their way.
It seemed that J.K.’s daddy knew a driver who knew a dispatcher who had a brother in El Paso who had a dog named Leroy. Leroy was so god-awful bad nobody in El Paso would speak his name, but for a price his owner was willing to loan him out. J.K. and his daddy had taken a pretty game dog named Romeo out to El Paso where Leroy had had him for high tea.
But that wasn’t all. J.K.’s daddy noticed that one of Leroy’s toes had been cut off—cut clean, not like in a fight, but like a man had taken a chisel and cleaved the toe with a blow from a mallet.
Crater looked around the Cherokee and whistled. Stout yelled for some beer. They had all heard the story, how you never saw a genuine Maynard dog with a full set of toes. This was the result of a legendary training technique peculiar to the Maynard kennel. On a pup’s first birthday, Mr. Maynard drops him in the pit with an older, experienced dog. As soon as the animals hit in the center of the pit and get a good hold, Mr. Maynard cleaves off one of the pup’s toes. If the pup lets go his hold, if he loses heart and wines and slobbers, Maynard cleaves open his head and goes about his business. But if the pup holds on, if he keeps on fighting, Maynard has found a new beast to ward off the wolves of his trade. Any time you see a three-toed dog, move over.
“You trying to tell us Leroy is one of old man Maynard’s stock?” Crater asked.
“I’m trying to tell you Leroy is the son of Bully!” Stout cackled, banding his giant fist on the table. “Only the sainted Doctor Maynard don’t know it. He thinks Leroy is dead somewhere out in California.”
“He won’t for long,” Crater said. “Don’t you