Damn, it’s hot!
Taylor wiped the sweat from his forehead with a towel, then glanced across the make-shift ring at his opponent. The man was huge, definitely not Filipino.
Must be Samoan, Taylor thought. He’d seen a few Samoans during his time in the special forces and respected them. Solid operators.
Taylor stood just a bit under six feet in his socks and weighed in at a solid one-hundred-and-ninety-five pounds. His opponent was about four inches taller and a good bit heavier. He could also hit. The big man had trained, probably Muay Thai. While the Samoan’s technique was a bit sloppy, he moved like a Thai boxer; and his elbows and knees were wicked. It had been a punishing knee to Taylor’s ribs that had prompted the end of the first round.
These unsanctioned fights typically went for three rounds. However, there was no timer or bell, nor were there anything you could really call rules. If a fighter got injured, the center referee would pause the fight long enough to ensure the fighter could continue. That pause effectively ended the round. While a few fights Taylor had fought in had gone two rounds, he’d yet to see one make it to three. They were too brutal for that. Tonight was Taylor’s twelfth such fight.
A few weeks back, broke and badly in need of a drink, he’d stumbled into a bar that happened to be playing host to a local “fight night.” After watching the first two amateurs go at it, Taylor, unimpressed, started to leave. But then he saw the winner handed five thousand Philippine pesos, roughly the equivalent of one hundred and fifty dollars, so when the promoter called for two more volunteers, Taylor made his way out onto the dance floor.
The fight was short despite, or maybe because of, Taylor’s dire need for a drink. His training saw to that. Collecting his winnings, he’d headed straight to the bar and, after a few shots, felt steady enough to venture down the street to the liquor store where he picked up a bottle of his self-prescribed medication. From there, he’d stumbled back to his apartment.
Since that night, Taylor had participated in eleven more human cockfights. He’d lost the next two simply because he was too drunk even to stand, never mind defend himself. However, the instinct for self-preservation combined with the need for cash and Taylor modified his drinking habits enough to fit his fight schedule. Then he began to win, quickly becoming a favorite with several locals who started betting on him instead of the local Filipino fighters. As his winnings grew bigger, those betting on him began to win a great deal of money. His fans were happy. However, some of the local gangs began to take notice. They also had their favorite fighters, and they were not very pleased about constantly losing to this American drunkard.
This fighter, tonight, was the toughest Taylor had faced so far. Although they were pretty matched size-wise, this man was tough as nails and knew how to fight. That last knee to his ribs had hurt.
Lucky I don’t have a few broken ribs, Taylor thought.
He took a swallow from the beer he’d left sitting on a stack of crates when called up for his fight. The venue for tonight’s fight was an old warehouse along the Pasig River in the Tondo district of Manila. Tondo is the largest district in Manila in terms of area and population; it was also the district with the highest crime rate in the Philippines. Taylor figured there had to be at least one murder per week. Fortunately, most of these killings were drug-related and did not involve foreigners or tourists. However, he also knew some extremely dangerous men and women lived there.
While not precisely Madison Square Garden, someone had set up the rundown warehouse with chairs and tables circling a marked-off fight ring. A make-shift bar sat along one side of the building and seemed well-stocked.
A pungent combination of cigar, cigarette, and marihuana smoke filled the air, and the alcohol flowed freely. A sizable crowd of people had shown up for tonight’s event. Taylor had begun to notice that the clientele attending his fights had improved as he continued to win. More affluent spectators were now in the crowd; some appeared to be successful business people, and a few Taylor recognized as leaders of some of the more prominent local gangs. He saw fewer and fewer of the societal dregs who’d frequented his earlier fights in local dives. The fact that more women were now in attendance did not escape Taylor’s eye either. They were typically attractive women, often on the arms of well-dressed men. But then there were also a few women who seemed to be on their own. Two had caught his eye, especially since both had been present at his last two fights. They looked to be twin sisters, and both were stunningly beautiful.
The referee called. Wiping his forehead again and taking one last slug from his beer, Taylor made his way back into the center of the ring.
Time to end this before I screw around and get hurt.
The Samoan, confident he’d hurt Taylor badly with that last blow to the ribs, came on strong, pressing his advantage. First, he fired a hard cutting kick at Taylor’s right leg, which Taylor narrowly avoided; he immediately followed with a left jab, then a hard right elbow strike toward the temple. Taylor slipped the jab and raised his left forearm to deflect the elbow. It was what the Samoan fighter was waiting for, and he launched a brutal shin kick at Taylor’s bruised ribs.
Taylor shifted slightly to his right as his left arm dropped suddenly, hooking around his opponent’s kicking leg and trapping it against his left side. Ignoring the screaming pain from his badly bruised ribs, Taylor shifted back to the left and slightly forward, taking his opponent off balance. Grabbing the fighter’s windpipe in a vise-like grip, his right leg swept the Samoan’ ‘s left leg out from under him, driving his opponent to the floor. The big man hit hard. Taylor followed him down while maintaining control of his opponent’s right leg. He dropped his right knee into the man’s groin, and a loud groan escaped from the Samoan’s clenched teeth. Pressing the man’s leg toward his chest with his left shoulder, Taylor reached down with his left and grabbed a handful of hair. Jerking the man’s head around, he slammed his fist into the right side of the man’s massive jaw, which must have been chiseled from granite because it did not shatter. However, the Samoan still collapsed back onto the floor. He was out cold; the fight over.
Taylor released his grip on his opponent’s hair and stood up. Then, swaying just a bit, he paused, looking down at the unmoving form. Abruptly, Taylor turned and walked over to the stack of crates to finish his beer.
Okay, time to collect my money and get the hell out of here.
Sensing a presence behind him, he turned. A woman stood there looking up at him. It was one of the twins he’d spotted earlier. She was even more breathtaking up close. The woman smiled.
“That was a great fight. You are an excellent fighter.” She paused, her eyes boldly roving over his six-foot frame. “I have made good money from your last two fights.”
Taylor nodded. “Glad to hear that, ma’am. Now, if you will excuse me, I have to get cleaned up and collect my winnings. It was nice talking to you, ma’am.” He turned to walk away.
Taylor paused and looked back.
“There is a shower here at the warehouse you can use if you like. And, I can make sure your money is safe until you are ready to leave.”
Taylor frowned, then chuckled. “Why would I do that,” he paused, “… trust you to keep my money safe?”
“I like you, and let’s just say I want to … uh … buy you a drink. After that, who knows.” She smiled again, then shrugged, leaving the possibilities hanging.
Taylor’s mind began to consider those possibilities.
I could use a drink, he thought.
And this lady was damn pretty, even if she did only come up to his chest. “You don’t think the owner of the warehouse would object to me using the shower?”
Again, the woman smiled. “I can guarantee it. I, well, technically, my sister and I own the warehouse. So, Taylor? What do you say? Can I call you Taylor? Or, would you prefer I call you something else?”
“Sure, Taylor will do. And what should I call you?”
“My name is Blessica, Blessica Baguinda.”
Taylor knew the name. Everyone in the Tondo district, and probably throughout the entire city of Manila, knew the name. Blessica and her sister, Mahalia, ran the Dalawang Mga Ate Na Mafia, or Two Sister’s Mafia.
Blessica saw the look on his face. “I see you have heard of me.”
Taylor nodded. “I have. You and your sister are, uh,” he paused, “shall we say, well-known in some circles.”
“Does it matter?”
Taylor thought about that, then shook his head. After all, he was not exactly a model citizen himself. “I guess not.”
Blessica smiled widely. “Great. Let me show you to the shower.”