“We’re gonna be late,” Carly said.
“Then drive faster.”
“I can’t, I’ll get a ticket.”
We drove past UTEP, The University of Texas El Paso, and down the I-10 toward the border. Strip malls and office buildings gave way to desert as we approached the port of entry into Juarez. It was already dark and the bridge and check points were well lit. We got in line and then we waited. The waiting had become worse in recent months. In fact, it almost took longer to get into Mexico than it did the States. Increased pressure from the U.S. had forced Mexico to beef up security and reluctantly they had, searching random cars for guns and drug money.
An hour later, we were creeping through the dirty streets of the city. I climbed in the backseat and peeled my work clothes off my body. I still smelled like ranch, horse, and the faint smell of manure. Not a pleasant odor but I really didn’t care.
“Did Tony see you leave?” Carly asked.
“Yeah. I told him we were going to a movie.”
She laughed. “Looking like that? Your excuses are getting more pathetic. You’re gonna have to think up something else soon. He’s bound to find out.”
“He already knows, he just doesn't say anything."
“Face it, you’re just not Tony’s type.”
“I know that.”
Carly laughed again. “Does he?”
I pulled on a pair of snug athletic pants and a sports bra. It was all I had. I braided my hair and secured it behind my head.
We were only a mile and a half from the U.S. but you’d never know it. It was not the part of Mexico most tourists saw. Carly maneuvered down a deserted side street, negotiating past abandoned cars and piles of rotting garbage. It was the seediest part of Juarez, the scariest part, a part still heavily patrolled by the cartels. We pulled into the remains of an old parking garage, one that had been abandoned long ago. Chunks of busted-up concrete littered the ground and it's pock-marked walls were covered in graffiti. It was unsuitable and downright dangerous. One good shake from an earthquake would send the entire structure to the ground.
We parked and quickly got out, our senses on high alert. I heard a rustling sound and whipped my head to the left. A feral dog was digging through the remains of someone’s discarded lunch. Other than that, the garage was a wasteland.
We reached a metal door and opened it, heading down a flight of poorly lit stairs to the basement. The smell of urine was stronger than usual, the staircase darker, and I nearly fell trotting down the familiar steps. I could already hear the cheering and felt my adrenaline kick up a notch. We opened a final door and entered a large room. It had a cement floor with cement pillars and no ventilation. It was hot, like hell hot, and reeked of sweat and booze. The place was packed, wall to wall, with spectators and drunks. Everyone was crowded around a large mat in the center of the room. There was no cage, no ropes, and its occupants were beating the holy tar out of each other. There was nothing civil about the place. The continuous flow of liquor kept everyone happy but a couple of beefy ex-cons stood near the door, ready to bash heads together, just in case.
I heard a loud whoop as one man threw a mean roundhouse, striking the other in the jaw. We stood on our toes and watched for several moments. The fight was ugly, un-disciplined, un-professional and nearly un-supervised except for a scrawny, young, Latino man who tried to play referee. He nearly got himself knocked out in the process. Luckily for him, the fight didn’t last long. They rarely did. I’d been in my share of underground fight clubs and this was by far the craziest. It was raw, unsanctioned, illegal. There were no weight classes, the rules were rarely enforced, if you could even call them rules, and even then, you were lucky if the ref could save you when things went bad. You were pretty much on your own. I’d even heard one guy had died there a year ago and the body dumped outside of town. But it was just a rumor.
I felt a sudden hand on my arm. I knew who it was even before I turned around. I smelled the potent odor of cheap cologne and booze. It was Lloyd, one of the weekend regulars.
“Brought my wad tonight baby, don’t let me down," he said. His crooked teeth were yellowed and chipped. He smiled and my stomach churned as his noxious breath hit me full in the face. Lloyd was creepy but harmless and he was always there. In fact, he never missed a fight. I made the rounds at three different clubs and Lloyd knew them all. I usually kept my distance, but he’d find me, say hi, and remind me how much was at stake for him if I lost.
I gave him a quick, tight-lipped smile and turned back to the mat. I watched impatiently as the ref wiped it clear of blood and sweat. Then he waved me over. I jumped, bringing my knees to my chest, and felt like I might explode.
“Let’s see cheddar, girl! I need that cheddar!” Lloyd shouted. He wasn't my only supporter. I had a small following, a few faithfuls, that came regularly. They didn’t really love me, they loved what I gave them - a high, just like they gave me. And, of course, the possibility of next month's rent. Money was always changing hands.
The other girl finally came onto the mat, if you could call her a girl. She was five eight and had thirty pounds on me, maybe more. She was fat, her stomach sticking out of the bottom of her blue baby tee. Her dark corn-rows were extra-tight just like the scowl upon her face. I could tell she was strong but it didn’t concern me. She didn’t bother to loosen up. She just stood there, her arms beefed out like a left tackle, and stared me down. I knew immediately this fight would be fought standing up. There was no way I would win a grappling match. She’d just roll over and sit on me.
There wasn’t much introduction - no fanfare, no music, no cheering. The UFC it was not. The ref brought us to the middle and muttered some made-up rules, his accent so thick I could barely understand him. I reached for Jack’s pendant, still hanging around my neck, and brought it to my lips. The ref finished his speech and darted backward out of the way. Tiny smacked her fists together, determined to pound me into oblivion, then grunted and came at me swinging...