The trucker stopped on the side of the road; the sudden jerk of the cab coming to a halt waking me up. I waited groggily as he got out, walked around the front of the truck and opened the door for me.
"This is it," he said as I hopped down.
It was bitterly cold. I looked around but the only thing that I could see was a building across the street, barely shown by the glow of a streetlamp. The trucker shut the passenger door and started to walk away when I spoke up.
"Where are we?" I asked, my southern accent still thick even after being on the road for eight months. "I thought you said you were gonna take me as far as Laughlin City."
He stopped. "This is Laughlin City," he replied and continued toward the building, dodging a beeping pick-up truck as he crossed the road.
I was curious, and freezing, so I crossed the road and hurried toward the brick building. Inside there were two rooms: a bar and a larger room that had a wrestling ring inside a metal cage. Both rooms were filled with people. It was very loud; yelling and screaming, booing and cheering. There were two men in the ring, one was lying face down on the floor. My heart skipped a beat when I saw the other. He was standing in a corner of the cage closest to me smoking a cigar. He was rough looking, with dark messy hair and mutton chops to match. He was clad only in jeans and there were dog tags hanging loosely from his neck. He was very muscular. A third man strolled into the center of the ring holding a microphone; I guessed that he was the referee.
A bell rung three times and two larger men came into the ring and dragged the guy on the floor out. The referee began to speak.
"Ladies and gentlemen! In all of my years I've never seen anything like this!" he started.
"Come on, come on," someone shouted impatiently.
"Are you gonna let this man walk away with your money?" the referee continued, motioning to the guy in the corner.
"NOOOOOOOO!!" roared the crowd.
"I'll fight him!" a man shouted and made his way out of the bleachers.
Some of the crowd cheered, some booed.
"Ladies and gentlemen: our savior!"
I moved around, trying to get a better look. The bell rung again and 'savior guy' started wailing on 'shirtless guy', punching and kicking him in the back. Every time a blow connected, I winced. Then 'savior guy' let 'shirtless guy' have a go at him. Two fists came into contact and 'savior guy' howled in pain. That gave 'shirtless guy' the chance to get a whack at him. 'Shirtless guy' knocked 'savior guy on the side of the head, then kneed him in the stomach, which made 'savior guy' stumble backwards. Finally, 'shirtless guy' head butted 'savior guy', and that knocked him out cold. The bell rung yet again as 'shirtless guy' gave his lifeless opponent a final kick and returned to his corner.
"Ladies and Gentlemen, tonight's winner, and still King of the Cage: The Wolverine!"
The crowd roared. I waited for almost everyone in the room to leave before wandering into the mostly empty bar.
X X X
I sat down on a stool in the bar and dropped my duffel bag beside me. Someone was sweeping the cage, and the trucker that drove me up here was on lying on the couch behind me, asleep. There was music playing softly in the background, and a television above the bar that was on at a low volume. I didn't pay much attention to it; it was the half-full tip jar that caught my eye.
"Want something new, honey?" the bartender asked in a gruff voice, then noticed what I was staring at. "You're stickin' with water," he sneered, moving the jar to the other end of the bar.
I watched as a guy, 'The Wolverine' walked in, now fully dressed.
"I'll have a beer," he grumbled as he sat down a couple of seats away from me and tossed a $20 bill onto the counter. He put a new cigar into his stern looking mouth, and lit it.
The bartender opened a bottle of beer and handed it to him, taking the $20. The news came on the tv and the bartender turned it up. I kept my head down, listening to it and stealing glances at 'The Wolverine'. The news anchor started to speak.
"Ellis Island, once the arrival point of hundreds of thousands of American Immigrants is opening its doors again. Preparations are nearly completed for the upcoming ….." I started to tune it out. I could only think about the gnawing hunger in me and how it was affecting the life growing inside of me.
"……World's economic climate and weapons treaties, to the mutant phenomenon and its impact on our world stage."
I suddenly looked up when he mention the word mutant. It caught my attention and it must have gotten Wolverine's attention too, because he looked up at the screen. It made me guess that he was like me, a mutant.
'Savior guy' came up behind Wolverine and started pestering him.
"You owe me some money," he demanded.
Another man, possibly his friend came up behind him. "Come on buddy, let's not do this."
'Savior guy' waved him off. "Nobody takes a beating like that without a mark to show for it."
Again, his friend pleaded him to stop
"I know what you are," 'savior guy whispered into his ear.
"You lost your money. You keep this up, you'll lose something else," Wolverine threatened, almost inaudibly.
Now I was scared. I watched, as if in slow motion, 'savior guy' turned back to his friend, whip out a knife and headed toward 'The Wolverine'
"Look out!" I screamed without realizing it.
Wolverine had jumped out of his chair and had 'savior guy' pinned against a pillar by three foot-long metal claws coming out of Wolverine's hand. The claws were at his throat.
"Get out of my bar, freak!" yelled the bartender who held the barrel of a shotgun to Wolverine's temple. He shredded it, retracted his claws, grabbed his beer and stormed out of there. I waited until the screen door banged shut before grabbing my bag and following him.