Petrouchka had disappeared two fights previously, secretive and sinister in a dress of murky Tyrian crépe and a little belle epoque brooch of dead white diamonds, but she made her way back toward their tier alone, ignoring the flesh banked on either side. She smoothed her skirt beneath her and sat down beside Lilian, falling to gazing at the latter's profile, her grey stare fixed and brilliant, as though wiped clean. Susan had already succumbed to the same wondering scrutiny. Lilian's nails were painted sombre rosewood brown, matching the discolouration encircling her wrists, if not the pink abrasions on the right side of her throat and running down beneath the neck of her black dress, powdered over, though still apparent to the particular observer. There was a darkness, half-suggested and half apparent, about her mouth, disguised by the deep shade of her lipstick. She seemed either weary or preoccupied. Petrouchka leaned over and dug a finger into Susan's ribs.
“Look...” the vampyre exclaimed down at the cage. “I think I recognize!”
On the floor of the pen stood the protagonists they had awaited, the first an enormous Chechen exile with close-combat scars recorded on his elephantine limbs and a light brown crop so flat it seemed to have taken the dome of his skull along with his hair. He stood in the midst of the ring and roared like a hormonal stag, forming his great arms into a sarcous arc from which the vessels bulged as though attempting to escape his lobster-coloured skin. The second wore a silver gimp hood perforated at the crown to expose a haughty hoplite plume of scarlet hair and decorated with thunderbolt appliqués. Framed within a martial context, William’s proportions found a sudden and unmistaken raison d'être, all the more intimidating for the white strobe that rendered him arrantly radiant, his variance redoubled by both the flushed and sweating density of the neighbouring flesh and the swimming disparity posed by his own lamp-black tattoo. Its restless, almost painful contrast shifted against his back when he turned. His bare chest was emblazoned with her first name in huge black letters, some awkwardly inverted during their mirrored application. Petrouchka cackled, delighted.
“Lucky he put on chest.”
“Oh god..." Susan groaned. "That had better be magic marker." Through her hands she allowed herself another taste of William's flagrant, almost dizzying otherness while he stoked the crowd’s enmity with a circuit of the wire, careful to provide those ringside with a view of the insulting fingers he held up to their faces. A bloc of intoxicated Chechens chanted football songs and smashed their fists against the chain link as he drew closer; standing before them, he dragged the zip across his mouth, releasing a disturbing length of tongue and using it in an even more provocative manner between his fingers than the uncomplimentary gesture he had already offered. His contumely greatly amused Petrouchka, who stood up to catcall imperialist slogans.
The notional referee called William back and motioned to the bunny-eared card girl; she swayed into the ring in a glittering green bustier so tight that her breasts almost met her pancaked chin. On her exit, the match was declared and the veteran lurched forward, shooting a massive fist at William’s gloved head. He took it glancingly and roped his opponent’s neck with an arm, raising thick wrinkles with the lock exerted on his jowls and nape until its victim began to paw at him frantically; William let him go, eyes bright as he watched him stumble backward, a deep, throttled colour darkening his head. When the man lumbered again toward him he weathered the blows swung at his mask with his arms by his sides, inviting more. Petrouchka shrieked at him, small fists balled against her throat in an attitude of fierce elation. Susan clutched the hem of her dress and compelled herself to breathe, blinking away the sight of the impacts, tasting the brutality that displaced the air around them like exhaust fumes. The behemoth snapped William’s head back over his shoulder, snarling in ursine fury as it rolled forward again to stare at him; beside her, Lilian lay one leg over the other as she gazed down at the cage, William's opponent trailing him as the latter walked in reverse, conducting them both past the man’s compatriots where he came to a halt and lay prone against the wire. The Chechen fell on him in an impressive flurry, thudding his fists into his midriff with grunting dedication but in the midst of the assault the masked figure lifted his arms and leapt up, catching hold of the links and swinging out to loop both legs around the man's neck, dragging him against the mesh. Blinded by the black silk groin that had taken possession of his face, the contender flailed while his supporters heaved the cage wall en mass to shake William loose, until his head twisted toward them in a manner so startlingly demonic that some of them let go and stumbled back. Planting his feet on the man’s shoulders, he kicked the Chechen backward, slamming him into the ground and splattering the canvas with his sweat.
William dropped, smoothing back the tail of hair that crowned him and circling the man who climbed slowly to his knees, seizing his head suddenly and sinking his teeth into his bawling victim's cheek. With a mouthfull of blood he turned to spray the howling supporters like an expectorating fire eater, splattering red into their rage-flushed faces until the bleeding man wiped blindly at his leg and brought him down; Susan stood up, slapping her hand to her mouth as William was pinned to the mat and pounded with a mortar-like fist until his hooded head should have given way into a fractured pulp. She shouted at the men who bayed against the wire and threw her cup of ice and cola on them while her favourite tired of the beating and butted his opponent viciously, hurling him sideways and flipping back onto his feet. The knee he swung into the Chechen’s features flattened his nose across the side of his face and snapped his peg-like teeth; Susan felt it in the base of her spine, the vampyre rejoicing, whistling through her fingers. Lilian leant forward to light a cigarette even as Susan swore to herself.
“You wouldn't want it so bad if it didn’t flip off half of fucking Grozny.” the former assured her, standing and making her way toward the bookmaker that had accepted their wagers along with those other punters versed in William’s technique.
The latter concluded his performance with a showboating roundhouse kick, whipped from a turn into the staggering Chechen's profile, felling him as though he were a rotten cedar. Blood polished the lower half of his silver mask and ran into the black letters smeared across his chest, gleaming on his pointed teeth when took the card girl’s bunny ears and placed them on his head to walk a victory lap of the cage. Lilian returned with their winnings, frowning behind her cigarette and apportioning the money between them.
Small throngs of groupies and sweating, pink-faced fans crowded the corridors as they made their way through the battered backstage stalls. Lilian hived off without explanation, phone against her ear, leaving Susan and Petrouchka to locate William. They found him in a stainless steel cubical performing primitive ablutions with a black, patched hose, aiming the water into his face and spitting at the drain. Susan stood against the wall with his fresh clothes folded on her arm, her stare wide and unblinking while he chuckled in Russian with the vampyre. Emerging, he punted Petrouchka a portion of his elastic-banded winnings; she drew a note to hand to Susan.
“Kotik... buy new dress.” she urged. “Really, you are pretty girl... why do you wear these thing, like babushka?” The little vampyre handed her another and patted her hand sympathetically. William sucked back a smile, though Susan's stare grew wider still as she beheld the left side of his face, prompting him to consult the shard of mirror glued to the wall beside him. The eye had been fixed in that state provoked by violence, lurid chartreuse green around a sliver of pupil while the other had returned to a more equable appearance.
"Whoops." he murmured, flicking at the lid. "Monster eye... stays like that if I take too many on one side." He glanced at her sideways, stepping into his trousers. "Ça va, Christabel?"
"No, I... yes..." Susan replied, both arms clutching the winnings secreted in her handbag, her concerns clumping together in her throat. "How can you just... walk out there like that? Everyone can see you..."
"I think the take would drop if I made them turn the lights off."
"But... you look so... obvious, god... it does my head in. I thought you had another fight...”
“The guy bailed.”
“He probably didn’t want to get battered into intensive care by a masked fruitcake.”
“It was good enough for Ramzan.”
“I think you've still got Ramzan stuck in your teeth.”
He ran his tongue over them as he buttoned his green shirt then leant over the sink, sucking a draught of hand sanitizer from the plastic bottle.
“Where’s Frost?” he inquired through a mouthful of suds. Susan shrugged and glanced behind them. “Shit... we're supposed to be keeping an eye on her...”
“I don’t think she’d let us tie her up.” she muttered. "But while we actually have money we should go to the shops... we're out of almost everything." When she turned to question Petrouchka the vampyre was as absent as the subject of his query, having melted back into the heavily-fleshed darkness outside the changing room.
CONTINUED NEXT WEEK
© céili o'keefe do not reproduce