The man sitting at the table looked up at me from the stack of disheveled cash. He huffed and tilted his head off the side as I fumbled in my pocket for my wallet. I pulled out a ten and handed it to him and he grabbed his pen. “Who you putting this on?”
I looked down into the pit at the six men sitting in a circle. I had talked with the one wearing the red headband earlier, and I hoped he would make it. “The red headband.” I said. The man nodded and gave me my receipt as I stepped off to the side to take my seat.
Next to me was another man, a corporal like me, dressed in an identical uniform. He nodded as I took out a pair of cigarettes, offering him one; he refused.
“Another Tuesday night, huh?” the man said.
I lit my cigarette and took a puff. “Yea. You got a leave coming up anytime soon?”
“Me neither.” I looked down at the ring. “Who’d you got your money on?”
“What do you mean? You’re not betting?”
“Why not? It at least makes this a little more interesting.”
The man nodded his head and turned towards me. “Can’t do it. I don’t even want to be here.”
“You spend your entire check already?”
“No. I just can’t bring myself to bet on this.”
“You one of those Mormons or whatever?”
“Nope. Just don’t like this.”
“Why you here then?”
“Nothin’ else to do.”
We stared at each other for a moment, then he reached towards my pocket and grabbed my pack of cigarettes. “I could probably use one, actually.”
He sat there, smoking my cigarette for a minute then turned towards me once more. “You don’t have any problem with what goes on here?”
I shrugged my shoulders. “What else we supposed to do with them?”
“I know. They’re all fucked. But it doesn’t seem right. We shouldn’t get enjoyment out of this.”
“Why not? Either we do it during the day, or they can do it themselves here at night. During the day, we’re the ones doing it and it sucks. Here we at least get some form of excitement.”
“I know. I know. But what about their dignity?”
“Dignity be dammed. They could have avoided it. They caused this whole mess. I’d be home right now, bringing in the harvest if it wasn’t for these animals.”
The man dropped the cigarette to the ground, it was only half-smoked, and crushed it under foot. “How do you know they caused it? Because command told you? It could have been us.”
“You better be careful. You’re walking a mighty fine line.”
“Fuck the line. There’s so many damned lines right now I don’t know where to step. Command tells you one thing; your conscious tells you another. Fuck the line, man, fuck it.”
I turned away from him and stared down into the pit, watching the man with the red headband. He had also been a farmer, lived pretty close to where I grew up too. We talked about how much we loved the land and just wanted to be back home.
“It’s not like I want this to happen.” I said. “But what am I supposed to do?”
“You don’t have to make a bet.”
I turned towards him to say something, but the game was about to start and our commander walked into the center of the ring with a shiny revolver. Our commander spun the barrel and handed it to my guy; he was the first to go. I watched intently, while all around me the crowd chatted amongst themselves. As a group, they only really got into it at the end.
My guy looked up into the crowd, his headband was covered with sweat, and he found me. Our eyes locked for a moment, and I could see the fear in his eyes. He hesitated and the crowd began to pay attention and boo. The commander kicked him and my guy closed his eyes before bringing the gun up to his head and pulled the trigger.
The bang filled the room.
I looked down at my receipt and tore it in half before pulling out another cigarette. I turned back to the man next to me. “You’re probably right.”