Sweat hangs heavy in the stale air, and excited murmuring echoes around the darkened chamber. Young men surround me. They are hard men, covered in tattoos and piercings. They stand waiting, oozing testosterone from their pores. These men crave violence. It’s hard-wired into their DNA. Tonight they are getting their fill.
In the middle of the chamber is an octagonal cage with a ten-foot metal fence that teases the roof. Two, sometimes three, men enter the cage, but only one ever walks out. Blood smears on the concrete floor provide grim evidence of the previous competitor’s graceless exit.
A man, freakishly big with hands the size of spades, prowls the floor. He has a bulbous head, with harsh lines and eyes like small marbles. White hairs pepper his thick beard, which comes to a point at his chest, like a stalactite hanging off his chin. Tattoos disguise his bald head, and he is bare-chested, displaying muscles growing on top of muscles.
He has the crowd in the palm of his hand. They stand in silence, watching their champion in awe, waiting for his instructions. Such is his confidence that he has his back to his opponent. He takes a few deep breaths to compose himself, then raises one fist in the air. The crowd cheers and chants his name.
Goliath. Goliath. Goliath.
Two men jump up and down next to me, spilling their beer on my shoes. I shake my head, but the moment has taken them, and they don’t notice my reaction.
Goliath—not his actual name, of course—turns to face his opponent. His arms are stretched out at either side of him, mockingly showing his albatross-like wingspan. He bounces up and down as though bopping to a tune as he throws a few playful punches into the air. The cage shakes from his resonance.
In any normal room, Goliath’s opponent would dwarf the occupants. Here he looks ordinary, a velociraptor against a T-Rex. He’s clean cut, with a serious face and a shaved head. A crescent tattoo next to his right eye appears symbolic, perhaps identifying his affiliation to a gang or a permanent reminder of a crime he was party to.
This is a handicap fight. Goliath is a minus 20, and his opponent is a minus 10. Which means his opponent gets to pick a weapon to the value of ten. He selects knuckle dusters, places them on his hands, and stretches his fingers in and out to feel their weight. It’s foolish. Knuckle dusters mean he will have to get into Goliath at close range, and that’s the last thing he wants to do if he wants to walk out. He should have picked something to increase his reach, like the baseball bat or the baton.
In theory, everyone has an equal chance of winning in a handicap fight. It means the bookies can tempt more people into parting with their cash, but few are betting against Goliath. He’s undefeated.
A horn blasts to signal the start of the fight, and the crowd falls silent in eager anticipation. “Come on, Brooklyn!” a lone voice nervously shouts, but no-one else seems to back the contender.
The men stare at each other, tip-toeing around the outside of the cage. They weigh each other up, assessing each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Then Goliath, bored with the foreplay, runs at his opponent and attempts a flying kick. His opponent, the man called Brooklyn, jumps to the right, pivots, and lands a hard punch on Goliath’s back. Goliath moves with the hit but barely reacts. The contact gives Brooklyn confidence, and he jumps gently on the balls of his feet, ready for the next attack.
Goliath is a little slower this time, a little sheepish after exposing himself so easily. He moves towards Brooklyn, light on his size 15 feet. Brooklyn sidesteps around the cage, taking care to keep the distance between them, his arms blocking his torso and face defensively. Goliath takes a step forward, feints with his left, then tries a roundhouse with his right. Brooklyn is too quick. He ducks under the punch and plants a flying knee into Goliath’s midriff. Goliath stumbles briefly, and Brooklyn darts out of the way before Goliath can grab him.
A loud roar of frustration bounces off the walls. It’s not the easy fight Goliath was expecting. The crowd fidgets. There’s a lot of money riding on this. The bookies will win big if the champion falls.
Goliath shakes the cage, and for a second, it looks like it’s going to collapse, but then he turns his frustration towards Brooklyn. He’s not playing games now. He wants to end it. With his hands extended in front of him, Goliath marches towards his opponent. Brooklyn ducks and dives to escape his wrath, but Goliath has gone berserk, and the knuckle dusters no longer concern him. He falls on his prey like a wolf on a rabbit. A sea of arms and legs thrash relentlessly at Brooklyn’s face and torso. There’s no skill involved, just blind power fuelled by anger.
Brooklyn’s defenses weaken as he collapses under the pressure. On the floor, he has no hope. Goliath rains his hammer-fists down. The crowd cheers, but then the cheering wanes as Goliath shows no signs of stopping his onslaught.
In handicap fighting, there is only one rule—don’t kill your opponent. You can maim, disfigure, mutilate, and dismember, but if you kill, you lose. It’s like potting the black ball in a game of pool, only to see the cue ball drop into the pocket. If you lose, you don’t get paid, and neither does anyone who has backed you.
As brain matter spills out onto the floor, the red mist clears, and Goliath realises his mistake. He stands up, giving the body a gentle kick with his foot in the vain hope his victim might respond, but there’s no chance. Brooklyn’s face no longer has any form and lies somewhere between a solid and a liquid, a disgusting red slime. Two men enter the cage, throw a towel over the dead man to save some of his dignity, and drag him unceremoniously out by his ankles.
The MC announces the match has finished as a draw, and the crowd sighs a murmur of discontent. I don’t think Brooklyn will care too much that he didn’t lose. Then, the moment I’ve been waiting for. Are there any other contenders?
I wouldn’t normally spend my evenings in a place such as this underground dive, but I need information, and I’m fresh out of other ideas. Before Atë turned to fog at the baby shower, she told me if I wanted dirt on Jimmy Crease, I’d have to get to his bodyguard, the man they call Goliath. It was the one good thing to come out of the baby shower. I did some digging and discovered Goliath spends his spare time competing in illegal underground fights. They are held in an old munitions factory that has sat empty since World War Two and has grown into serious disrepair. A sign at the entrance indicates someone has obtained planning permission to convert the site into something more useful. I suspect the owner is clueless about its current extra-curricular use.
“Are there any other contenders?” the MC repeats, and most people take this opportunity to study the artwork on their trainers.
I push towards the front. “Me!” I shout, and people glance my way, confusion etched on their faces. Whilst I’m no slouch, my mortal skin does not strike fear into the hearts of men in the same way Goliath’s does. Given his recent atrocity, they’re not sure whether I’m joking or crazy.
The MC raises his chin in the air and squints, trying to pick my voice out from the crowd. He spots me and does a double-take.
“You sure about this, kid?” he asks as I reach him. The MC looks like a Vietnam veteran, and I suspect everyone looks young to him.
I nod my head. “I’m sure,” I tell him.
He looks at me for a few seconds. “Your funeral, kid.” He pauses and looks at me. “I tell you what, kid, I’ll give you a chance. I’ll put you on plus 50 for this fight. Goliath is a minus twenty, so that gives you a 70 weapon. Get in quick…well, stranger things have happened.”
I’m offered a samurai sword, an axe, and a Morning Star from a box. “I recommend the sword,” the MC tells me.
“No weapon,” I reply. “I’ll be fine.”
“You see the last fight?” the MC asks, incredulous.
“Don’t worry,” I reassure him, flashing a smile.
He shakes his head and scratches his brow. “Okay, like I said, your funeral. What’s your name, kid? I’ll introduce you, and then you walk in. You might at least want to take your jacket off, unless you have chain-mail hidden underneath it.”
“I’m Prometheus,” I tell him, ignoring his suggestion.
“Okay, Prometheus. May you rest in peace.” The MC turns his microphone on and turns to the crowd. “We have a new contender,” he yells, and the crowd cheers in response. “Please welcome to the arena, Prometheus. A plus 50 who has chosen to fight the Champion weaponless. Place your bets now. I know where my money is.”
I can hear tittering in the crowd as they spot me making my way towards the entrance. Goliath is crouching down in the corner of the cage. He looks at me as I enter and gives me a sinister smile.
I smile back…