Four Seconds to Lose

By: K.A. Tucker

chapter one


■ ■ ■

CAIN

10 years ago

Blood drops decorate the dusty gray concrete like an abstract piece of art. The stocky brute facing me—his bottom lip split open, an angry cut across his cheekbone—can account for some of that. But given the colossal beating I’m taking at the hands of this recently paroled rapist, most of that blood is probably mine.

Holding my left elbow tight against the ribs that he just splintered with a series of powerful blows, I struggle not to wince as my feet shuffle back toward the ropes of the makeshift ring. Screams and shouts bombard me from all angles, echoing through the underground parking lot of the downtown business building. Normally I have a decent crowd of rich bitches throwing their names, numbers, and “pretty boy” comments at me. Not tonight, though. All of these people took the twenty-to-one odds against me and they’re no doubt picturing sandy beaches and shiny BMWs.

Hell, I almost bet against me. But, there’s not a person in the world that I trust with that kind of money to place it for me. Except maybe Nate. But he’s fourteen and a known associate of mine, so I might as well have painted a target on his head if I sent him to the bookie.

“Come on, pansy ass!” Jones bellows, slamming his meaty fists together, a wicked grin on his face.

I remain silent as Nate splashes my face with cool water and I swig some back, trying to rinse the coppery taste out of my mouth. I’ve heard this guy likes to draw his beatings out, so I’m not worried about him charging me like a bull. I am worried about the crowd shoving me in, though. I can feel their impatience swelling in the air over my pause. They want to see my skull hit the ground. Now. This is real underground fighting. The kind that brings the high-rolling criminal element and thrill-seekers together like family at Christmas. There are no weight classes here. No drug tests. No rules. No true refereeing. The match doesn’t end until one fighter’s broken body is collected off the ground.

Not exactly the world a loving father would introduce his son into. But I don’t have a loving father. I have a mean wannabe-mobster prick of a dad, who—after pounding on me enough to teach me how to hold my own and harden my muscles beyond their years—decided he could make some real cash by throwing me into L.A.’s illegal fighting scene. At the age of seventeen, when my body wasn’t even fully developed but was solid on account of the grueling workouts my dad insisted on. I can’t say that I went unwillingly. I’ve even enjoyed it, most times. It’s always my dad’s face I’m bashing in, his bones I’m snapping, every time I raise my fists.

Every time I pulverize my opponent.

And now, at nineteen years old, I’ve ended up fighting for my life in the upper echelon of this illicit world. I could win big on this one with what I put down. Or I could end up in a body bag. As I gaze at the goon in front of me—steroid-enhanced pecs twitching with anticipation, ugly veins protruding from his neck, his face a hideous mess of blood and ink—I accept that I probably won’t be the last one standing here, tonight. I’m a fucking moron for showing up to this fight. Jones is likely high on meth. Nothing short of two shots of fentanyl is going to bring the animal to his knees, and I don’t have elephant tranquilizers in my back pocket.

“Zee!” Nate’s voice cracks behind me, using my fighter name. I glance over my shoulder at the scrawny kid in my corner. My only reliable confidante, the one by my side through every single fight. He’s holding his cell phone to his ear, his ebony skin turned a sickly ashen tinge. “Somethin’ big is going down at Wilcox.” Wilcox. My parents’ street. Nate’s wide molasses eyes flicker to my waiting opponent before returning to my mangled face.

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