At last we stopped at a large building some distance outside the city, which looked more like an ex-palace than anything else. All the crowd alighted, and I done likewise, though I was completely mystified. There was no other houses near, trees grew dense on all sides, the house itself was dark and gloomy-looking. All together I did not like the looks of things but would not let on, with Bat Slade gazing at me in his supercilious way. Anyway, I thought, they are not intending to assassinate me because Slade ain’t that crooked, though he would stop at nothing else.
We went up the walk, lined on each side by tropical trees, and into the house. There the oily bird struck a light and we went down in the basement. This was a large, roomy affair, with a concrete floor, and in the center was a pit about seven feet deep, and about ten by eight in dimensions. I did not pay no great attention to it at that time, but I did later, I want to tell you.
“Say,” I says, “I’m in no mood for foolishness. What you bring me away out here for? Where’s your arena?”
“This here’s it,” said the oily bird.
“Huh! Where’s the ring? Where do we fight?”
“Down in there,” says the oily bird, pointing at the pit.
“What!” I yell. “What are you tryin’ to hand me?”
“Aw, pipe down,” interrupted Bat Slade. “Didn’t you agree to fight me in the serpent pit? Stop grouchin’ and get your duds off.”
“All right,” I says, plumb burned up by this deal. “I don’t know what you’re tryin’ to put over, but lemme get that handsome map in front of my right and that’s all I want!”
“Grahhh!” snarled Slade, and started toward the other end of the pit. He had a couple of yeggs with him as handlers. Shows his caliber, how he always knows some thug; no matter how crooked the crowd may be, he’s never without acquaintances. I looked around and recognized a pickpocket I used to know in Cuba, and asked him to handle me. He said he would, though, he added, they wasn’t much a handler could do under the circumstances.
“What kind of a deal have I got into?” I asked him as I stripped. “What kind of a joint is this?”
“This house used to be owned by a crazy Spaniard with more mazuma than brains,” said the dip, helping me undress. “He yearned for bull fightin’ and the like, and he thought up a brand new one. He rigged up this pit and had his servants go out and bring in all kinds of snakes. He’d put two snakes in the pit and let ‘em fight till they killed each other.”
“What! I got to fight in a snake den?”
“Aw, don’t worry. They ain’t been no snakes in there for years. The Spaniard got killed, and the old place went to ruin. They held cock fights here and a few years ago the fellow that’s stagin’ this bout got the idea of buyin’ the house and stagin’ grudge fights.”
“How’s he make any money? I didn’t see nobody buyin’ tickets, and they ain’t more’n thirty or forty here.”
“Aw, he didn’t have no time to work it up. He’ll make his money bettin’. He never picks a loser! And he always referees himself. He knows your ship sails tomorrow, and he didn’t have no time for ballyhooin’. This fight club is just for a select few who is too sated or too vicious to enjoy a ordinary legitimate prize fight. They ain’t but a few in the know–all this is illegal, of course–just a few sports which don’t mind payin’ for their pleasure. The night Slade fought Sailor Handler they was forty-five men here, each payin’ a hundred and twenty-five dollars for admission. Figure it out for yourself.”
“Has Slade fought here before?” I ask, beginning to see a light.
“Sure. He’s the champion of the pit. Only last month he knocked out Sailor Handler in nine rounds.”
Gerusha! And only a few months ago me and the Sailor–who stood six-four and weighed two-twenty–had done everything but knife each other in a twenty-round draw.
“Ho! So that’s the way it is,” said I. “Slade deliberately come and started trouble with me, knowin’ I wouldn’t get a square deal here, him bein’ the favorite and–”
“No,” said the dip, “I don’t think so. He just fell for that Spanish frail. Had they been any malice aforethought, word would have circulated among the wealthy sports of the town. As it is, the fellow that owns the joint is throwin’ the party free of charge. He didn’t have time to work it up. Figure it out–he ain’t losing nothin’. Here’s two tough sailors wanting to fight a grudge fight–willin’ to fight for nothin’. It costs him nothin’ to stage the riot. It’s a great boost for his club, and he’ll win plenty on bets.”
The confidence with which the dip said that last gave me cold shivers…