“You need to stay out of the way. The crowd goes nuts. There’s no ref, no rules, and things get ugly fast. If someone bet a lot of money on me and I lose, it’s not just the other fighter who wants to kick my ass. Be smart. If you feel the crowd turn, get the f**k out of Dodge, or better yet, haul ass outta here now.”
She folded my stuff against her chest and gave the blonde a searching look. The other girl shrugged and looked back at me.
“It’s your call, Dove. I told you something about that text didn’t seem right.”
Her head snapped back in my direction. “Is it safer for you if I go?”
I didn’t get to tell her “hell yes” it was better for me if she left because Nassir appeared by my side.
“Time to roll, lover boy.”
I gave Dovie one last look and stepped around her into the crowd. I rubbed my hands briskly over my shaved head and tried to shut down the noise and the smell of sweat and anticipation. I brushed off pats on the back and high fives and growled at Nassir, “What’s that guy jacked up on?”
He shrugged. “Who knows?”
“Clean fight, my ass.”
“Did you really expect anything else?”
Not from him.
“Keep an eye on the girl, Nassir. If anything happens to her in your house, I’m holding you personally responsible.”
There were only a few people between me and the raw circle.
“You better make sure you make it out the victor if you want to ensure her safety.”
I gave him a dirty look and he just offered that perfectly crafted smile at me. I wanted to punch him, but just then there was a roar worthy of the Serengeti. The last of the barrier between me and my opponent ducked out of the way and I was hit with the equivalent of a human bulldozer. I smacked into the cement hard enough to have my ears ringing and to have Big Bird dancing an Irish jig above my head. I grunted when I felt heavy jabs on either side of my ribs, but it was hard to hear anything above the shouts of the crowd and the bellowing breath of my attacker in my face.
I got a hand around his throat and shoved him up and off of me, not to the ground, but far enough away that I could throw myself up to my feet. He wasted no time in lunging at me again, only this time I was ready for him, and caught him across the middle with a well-placed knee that had him buckling over. He was strong, but the narcotics were making him frantic, not able to predict my next move, so I felt no remorse in clipping him hard across the side of the face while he was hunched over. A spray of blood out of his mouth followed the blow, and angry gasps and shouts from the crowd echoed off the rafters.
I jumped back as he suddenly surged upward and rammed the crown of his head right into my unprotected gut. That hurt. The wind whooshed out of my lungs and blackness started to tinge the edge of my vision. It set me off-kilter enough that I didn’t rally enough to block his next punch, which split my cheek clean open. I tasted my own blood in the aftermath and it made me furious.
He swung a wild kick at my legs and missed. I grabbed one of his arms and wrenched it up behind his back. I cranked on it just hard enough to hear a loud pop and let it go. I didn’t want to break it, but jacking up one of his hands would save me more of those brutal body blows. I spit out a mouthful of blood and gasped as his free arm suddenly snaked around my neck. I don’t know how he got that kind of leverage, but he sure as hell was using it to his advantage. He squeezed and squeezed and I clawed at his skin until it was slippery with blood. I couldn’t breathe. He was straight choking me out.
Right before it was all said and done, I threw my head back as hard as I could because I could hear him snorting out breath in my ear. Luckily I had a superhard head, because even over the screaming crowd and the blood rushing in my ears, I heard the thin bones in his nose snap and the furious howl that followed. The second nose in as many weeks that I had broken, only this guy wasn’t Benny. He was juiced up and out for my blood. I jumped back as he barreled, unwieldy, toward me. My head hurt, my ribs had to be bruised, and the rusty taste of blood from my face and my newly reopened lip cut was filling my mouth. Someone in the crowd threw a beer bottle in the circle and it shattered at my feet. I guess maybe I should’ve thought first before tossing that glass over the railing.
I dodged him once, and then once again, and landed a solid blow to his knee with a kick on his last pass. I was getting tired, but he had chemical fuel to keep him going, even though his face looked like raw meat and his dislocated wrist was hanging at a weird angle at the end of his arm. It needed to end . . . like now. I was trying to put together the best way to make that happen, pinpoint his weakness, when he bent down and pulled something out of the side of his boot. I swore loudly and took an involuntary step back when the switchblade flicked open. The sight of the weapon literally made the crowd erupt. More glass and liquid I didn’t want to try and identify rained down on us. This wasn’t going to go well for me.
He charged again and I barely escaped the blade. I felt the razor-sharp tip skim across the taut and sweaty skin of my abdomen. I backed up, keeping one eye on him and one eye on the knife in his good hand.
“Shit.” His eyes were all kinds of crazy and out of control. He had to be hurting as much as I was, but there was no sign of it behind the glassed-over and vacant gaze due to the drugs. He parried, I moved. He thrust, and I jumped back. I realized the only way to get this over with was to let him get close enough for me to get the knife out of his hand.
I took a deep breath, stepped into his next forward motion, felt the blade slice cleanly across my ribs, high, close to my armpit, and locked my arm down so that he was stuck. We were now eye-to-eye. His nose was beyond f**ked up and he was huffing and puffing like a bull. He wasn’t going to go down without a serious effort. I twisted, used the leverage I had despite my side being flayed wide open, and bent, and bent until I heard the bone crack and the knife clatter to the ground at our feet. He howled, screamed, and struggled to get me to let his now-useless arm go. I refused until he toppled to his knees in front of me, blood and snot smearing the black paint all across his face.
I put my knee under his chin so he had to look up at me.
He screamed a litany of swearwords at me.
“Seriously, dude. Are we done?” I squeezed the broken arm even tighter next to my gushing side. I was losing a ton of blood.
He made another noise and tried to grab for me with the hand I already dislocated. I sighed. I shoved him back and delivered a swift, nasty, totally dirty kick to the face. His eyes rolled back in his head and he fell over like a baby rhino taking a tranquilizer dart.