Jacob was a bully of a boss. His self assurance, physical presence and choice of hired help made him the unquestionable top dog.
In private though, I soon realised that he had a softer side. Like anyone, he craved to connect with another soul and, as pathetic as it sounds, my responsiveness to him in the sack filled that need. I almost immediately became his prized pet, which still made him an arsehole, but I quickly worked out that if I kept him happy, I could seek out rewards, the first of these being allowed to see Josh.
And the whole set up, I soon learned, was an organised fight ring. The gambling that came with it earned Jacob a shit load of money. His regular punters who came to watch the fights were all high fliers, or those so addicted to the sport they were heavily in debt.
Although yet to make his premiere, Josh was the latest in Jacob's small pool of fighters. He 'owned' five others, who competed both with each other on occasion and, more often, with fighters from similar rings. Jacob had the setup, including the fighting pit Josh and I had seen when we first arrived, so most of the fights were held here, making Jacob a sort of godfather to the other houses of illegal fighters.
Jacob wasn't stupid by any means. He was a smart businessman, and I was relieved to hear him tell me that the old-school street fighting competitions left most fighters dead or too injured to fight again. When he'd first gotten involved in the racket almost 20 years ago, the turnover of fighters was astronomical. New fighters had to be sourced constantly, making it a more dangerous and dubious game. Any one of the new fighters could be under-aged or a setup by the police, brining the fuzz right to their doorstep.
In Jacob's more 'civilised' world, for want of a better description, he'd restricted the fighting to adults only and a rougher form of grappling; no weapons and no freakish muscle-bound kids. Kung fu style beatings were banned, and no boxing was allowed except for jabs to the body. In the heat of competition, it still looked like street fighting, but the fighters walked away battered and bruised but not bloodied and broken. They lived to fight another day. And another. And another.
Jacob's style of fighting didn't ease my mind about Josh though. Josh was a champion fighter, but I was sure all his opponents would be too. With this kind of setup, only the best would be thrown in the ring. There was big money at stake with the winner of each fight earning his House much more than the loser ever would.
In my mind's eye, I expected the worst as I was led down more windowless corridors and a deep stairwell to see Josh on the second day. After my performance that first time in bed, Jacob had decided I was worth keeping, at least for now. I was cuffed to a downpipe and slept on a makeshift mattress at the side of his bed like the dog I was. Even so, I got to sleep in the luxury of his room while Josh would be sleeping on the floor of a cold, dirty cell waiting to be thrown into the arena.
I found myself trembling yet again as we passed through a guarded security door into the basement. The room was brightly lit, and to my surprise, had a fresh lick of paint that made the sparse furnishings seem even brighter. We passed through the reception area and into a communal living room, complete with flat screen TV plugged into a DVD player (but no aerial), a CD player, lounge suite and ping pong table. I did a double-take at the latter, but had no time to question it before I was pulled through one of several doors into a small gymnasium where I finally laid eyes on Josh.
"Thank God!" he gasped, holding me tight. "Are you okay?"
I hugged him back equally as tight, overwhelmed at the relief of being in his arms and feeling him pressing into me. For one brief moment, I felt safe.
"I'm fine," I gasped back. "What about you? What have they done to you?!"
Josh pulled away to look me in the face.
"I'm fine," he assured me. "It's some kind of fighting ring they've got going here…"
"…they look after us. They have to if they want us to win. They keep us in peak condition. What about you? Are you okay?"
I knew he was probing by repeating the question, but I could see the worry in his face and dared not make him worry any more. I chose not to tell him about my new life as Jacob's dog.
"Everything's fine," I lied. "They're keeping me as collateral to make sure you behave. But they're looking after me."
What's this?" he asked, reaching for my dog collar. I jerked back.
"Nothing!" I said too quickly. Josh raised an eyebrow.
"It's wired," I said. "Don’t touch it. It's just a control thing to stop me from escaping. That's all."
He grabbed my wrist and lifted it to my face.
"And this?" he demanded.
"It's nothing," I repeated. I couldn't believe he'd see the abrasions from the handcuff last night. "I'm guarded in the daytime, and they handcuff me to a drainpipe at night. That's all. It's nothing, really. I'm okay."
Josh hesitated but seemed to accept my explanation.
"Apparently, we work out every day," Josh explained. "It's like a modern day gladiator school. Security's so tight though I haven't worked out how to escape. You have to hang tight. Remember what I've taught you and keep yourself safe. Don't try anything stupid."
"I'm fine," I assured him. Right now the sight of the other guys made me more concerned for him, knowing he could soon be facing them in the arena. They were all different shapes and sizes, but almost every one of them looked like they could take Josh down…