I follow him down a worn and wooden staircase spiraling into unmentionable gloom. At the bottom landing, my eyes adjust to the dimness along with the smell of dead bugs, old rag mats and marijuana. A radio crackles a love ballad slow and dreamy in a distant cubical hidden behind dingy red curtains. In shadows, men and half clad women mingle, talk, fuck. I glance up to the one light bulb hanging from a wire at the low ceiling.
“A three watt job, obviously.” I mumble.
“What?” He says.
“Nothing. You sure it’s here?” I ask, lighting a Lucky.
“Yeah. It’s here.”
Before we hit the room, I can hear the noisy chatter of The Others. We enter a large space of an underground parking garage, lit intermittently by dim overhead lamps. The grey concrete floor is cracked and wet from piss and spit and possibly water. I didn’t ask. A few parked F-150 trucks lined a wall. Around the knot of nine, perhaps ten guys, the air is a London fog of carcinogens, the floor a carpet of crushed cigarette butts. Dried blood as black as midnight splattered here and there.
“You’re late.” Smiles a tall thin lad in oversized and well-worn street clothes. He approaches us and offers two red plastic cups of tepid beer. I take one. My friend takes the other.
“The taxi driver got lost finding the place.” My friend lied giving the lanky guy an arcane street-wise handshake. Same kind I remember in my Glory Days in TJ: Fist bump, slide of fingers, followed by a soft snap of fingers…back then became such an unconscious way of habit that once I returned to reside in the States, bewildered many of The Wypipo upon first greeting.
My friend points to me casually with beer in hand, “Guero wants to check out the fights.”
“He got money?”
“Some.” I says. “Might leave with more, if all goes right.”
I stand immobile and cold as ice as the lanky guy takes my cigarette, puffs, and places it back between my lips, “Ever seen these fights before?”
“Nope. Always wanted to, but never got around to it. Guess today I’m getting around to it.”
“Alright. But, just remember, what happens here stays here. Don’t go calling your Tia and telling her all kinds of shit. Got it?”
First they brought out the roosters. A short, fat goober in dingy clothes with a milky cataract in one eye went around collecting bets in his frayed straw cowboy hat. I slid him a one hundred peso note and bet on El Tiburon. I liked the song. Felt lucky. Amid blaring music and deathly hollering, the two fowl tore each other to bloody pieces. I had to admit, the spectacle was exhilarating. I noticed they both were outfitted with razor hooks attached to their left feet. Interesting. The group of encircling men goaded and sweated as El Tiburon was slashed to ribbons, falling and flipping onto the concrete a crimson splattered mess.
Win some lose some, I thought.
One eye, amid some pomp, fetched two more roosters. Another bet was placed on Chiki-chiki, seeing as the winner of the last bout was going to fail from strict exhaustion. I was wrong. In a few minutes time, Chiki-chiki was regulated to be thrown in someone’s deep fryer vat. Several men who also lost bets accused the game rigged. Probably was. I did not care.
“Te gusta?” My friend asked, handing me another drink.
“Si. Mi gusta. This is how I like my sport. Bloody.”
After another cock fight, in which I did not bet, they brought out the dogs. Two hundred peso minimum. I looked the two beasts over. One was a stocky, grey pit-bull of muscle and scars. I didn’t catch its name, but mentally called it Woola. The other dog was a boney mongrel of mixed blood, a bristling, snarling, yellow-fanged beast as black as night. I slid two hundred pesos into One Eyes hand and pointed toward Woola. After he snatched all the remaining bets from the bloodthirsty spectators of cigarette smoking and sweaty men, the main event (for me, at least) began. My chest heaved in excitement as I stood and watched the two snarling beasts snap at one another. Woola seemed he had his glistening ebony opponent clamped down in a death embrace, but the feral mutt slipped free and amid a series of chomps at vital arteries, brought Woola down. As my dog whimpered and was dragged out dripping blood and gore, I told my friend it was time to cut.
Though macho and sour faced, several of the men bid adios, as did the lanky guy as we made our way back to the spiral staircase.
Up on street level, the night air was crisp and the low housing neighborhood surrounding us was strangely serene. We stood under a starry navy sky waiting for a taxi.
“How much did you lose?” He asked.
I adjusted my cap, “Enough to remember this unusual experience till the end of my days. Wanna go downtown? Get a coffee?”
“Sure,” he said. “You didn’t like it?”
“I didn’t not like it. Perhaps I am too civilized.”
“Or American.” He smiled.
I smirked, “Or American. You going home or you wanna crash at my place tonight?”
“I can stay tonight. Tomorrow is my day off.”
As a lone taxi bumped up the dusty road and squeaked to a halt, I opened the back door and as he slid in, I said, “Now that’s money I don’t mind spending…”