First, I closed the windows and bolted the flimsy aluminum door. Then I flicked on the overhead light and snapped the Venetian blinds shut. Without the cross ventilation it was stifling inside the trailer. Outside, in the Florida sunlight, the temperature was in the high 80s, but inside, now that the door and the windows were locked, it must have been 100�. I wiped the sweat away from my streaming face and neck with a dishcloth, dried my hands and tossed the cloth on the floor. After moving Sandspur's traveling coop onto the couch, I checked the items on the table one more time. Leather thong. Cotton. Razor blade. Bowl of lukewarm soapy water. Pan of rubbing alcohol. Liquid lead pencil. Sponge. All in order.
I lifted the lid of the coop, brought Sandspur out with both hands, turned the cock's head away from me and then held him firmly with my left hand under his breast. I looped the noose of leather over his dangling yellow feet, slipped it tight above his sawed-off spur stumps and made a couple of turns to hold it snug. Holding the chicken with both hands again, I lowered him between my legs and squeezed my knees together tight enough to be sure he couldn't move a wing. Sandspur didn't like it. He hit back with both feet four times, making thumping sounds against the plastic couch, but he couldn't get away.
I pinched off a generous wad of cotton between my left thumb and forefinger and clamped my fingers over his lemon-yellow beak. There was just enough of a downward curve to his short beak so he couldn't jerk his head out of my fingers. He couldn't possibly hurt himself as long as the cotton didn't slip.
Impatient knuckles rapped on the door. Dody again. At that moment I would have given anything to be able to curse. "How long you gonna be, Frank?" Dody's petulant voice shrilled through the door. "I gotta go to the bathroom!" I didn't answer. I couldn't. I hadn't uttered a word in years. She rapped impatiently a couple of more times, and then she went away. At least she didn't holler any more.
My right hand was damp again, and I wiped my fingers on my jeans, still holding Sandspur's beak with my left thumb and forefinger. I picked up the razor blade and cut a hairline groove across his bill as high up as possible. This was ticklish work, and I cut a trifle too deep on the right side. I dropped the razor blade back on the table and released the cock's head, then picked up the lead pencil with my left hand and rubbed the point across my right fingertip until it was smeared with liquid lead. Pinching off more cotton with my left hand, I caught Sandspur's beak again and rubbed the almost invisible groove with my lead-smeared forefinger. I took my time, and Sandspur glared at me malevolently with his shiny yellow eyes.
As soon as I was satisfied, I unloosened the thong around his feet and put the bird on the table, washed his legs with the water and rubbed his breast and thighs. I repeated the rubdown with alcohol. I was particularly careful with his head and bill, only using cotton dipped in alcohol.
Finished, I returned the items to my gaff case and dumped the soapy water and alcohol into the sink. Sandspur was a good-looking fighting cock, and after his light rubdown he felt in fine feather. Holding his head high he strutted back and forth on the slick Masonite table. He was a White-hackle cross in peak condition, a five-time winner and a real money bird. I knew he would win this afternoon, but I also knew he had to win.
I stepped in close to the table, made a feinting pinch for his doctored beak, and he tried to peck me. I examined his beak, and even under close scrutiny the bill looked cracked. The liquid lead inside the hairline made the manufactured crack look authentic even to my expert eyes. As a longtime professional cocker, I knew the crack would fool Mr. Ed Middleton, Jack Burke and the accordion-necked fruit-tramp bettors. I picked up Sandspur and lowered him gently into his coop.
I opened the door, but Dody was nowhere in sight. She was probably visiting inside one of the other trailers in the camp. After sliding up all the windows again, I lit a cigarette. What I had done to Sandspur's bill wasn't exactly illegal, but I didn't feel too proud about it. I only wanted to boost the betting odds and my slender roll.
Although I knew I couldn't possibly lose, I was apprehensive about the upcoming fight. Everything I had, including my old Caddy and my Love-Lee-Mobile Home, was down on this single cockfight. And Sandspur was the only cock I had left. In my mind I reviewed my impulsive bet. I had been a damned fool to bet the car and trailer.