Bridges and Hardtack ran the fight down in Lower Valley on Tuesday nights. There was risk, but the take usually outweighed it. They were beginning to think they could run this racket long enough to make their fortunes.
Then came the night of the raid. Two pit bulls were slaughtering one another, and the crowd was making a holy racket when the whistles started blowing and someone said on a blaring bullhorn:
"Fight's over boys. Time to go to town and get bedded down in the county jail--your new home away from home!"
Bridges and Hardtack had this worked out in advance, just in case. They ducked into a tunnel they'd dug in the side of a hill and made a quick getaway.
They came out the far tunnel opening, laughing and whooping it up because they had gotten away without being seen. They'd get the hell out of there, go someplace else far, far away and set up operations all over again. Everything was gonna be just hunky-dory for them.
The tunnel entrance was only a few yards from where they kept the old pickup parked. Every now and then the came out, pushed away the brush hiding the vehicle, and started it up and drove it around a bit to make sure the battery stayed fresh. Now they started toward the truck.
Half a dozen shadowy shapes slunk out of the brush covering the pickup and crouched in the weeds.
"What the hell is that?" said Bridges.
"Looks like dogs. But I ain't never seen no dogs exactly like that. They got snake like bodies and alligator snouts--full of teeth."
"I heard something a while back," Bridges said. "The Government's been breeding animals that can attack like soldiers, or something like that. Wonder could some of 'em have escaped and made it out here?"
"What're we gonna do?" Hardtack said.
"I'm pretty good with dogs. You know that. Ain't seen one yet I couldn't make friends with--or turn into a rabid killer. Let me see what I can do with these fellows. If we can somehow slip past 'em and get to the truck, we oughta be all right."
"Go ahead. Better you than me."
Bridges started forward, legs bent at the knees. He made soothing clucking sounds with his tongue and softly patted the sides of his thighs. "Good dogs, friendly dogs, steady, steady, now boys. It's gonna be all right. You don't want to give us no trouble, you hear? Just let us past and we'll be all right."
"I think you got 'em on your side, man," Hardtack said, letting his frown turn to a half-smile.
"Yeah, I think we'll be just fine. You just follow me slow and easy, and I'll keep on talking to them."
They were almost to the truck. Bridges reached out and gingerly removed brush from the vehicle's front and side; enough for them to climb into the cab and move forward. He said a few more soothing words to the strange dogs, then climbed up into the pickup.
"Okay, Hardtack. Come on in, and let's get out of here!"
Hardtack took a step forward, his foot snagging on a fallen tree branch. He stumbled into the side of the truck and let out a howl of pain as his forehead struck the door frame.
The sudden, harsh sound seemed to awaken the dogs, and they immediately sprang into action. Bridges pulled Hardtack into the cab, but couldn't get the door closed. The dogs leapt forward, snapping at the two men with several dozen razor-sharp teeth. Bridges and Hardtack were quickly torn to shreds, then the real dog fight began as the strange beasts fought each other over the remains of the kill.