Vampire Games (Chapter Two)

Russell Baker was a boxer.

A damn good one, too, apparently. He was twenty-five, fought in the coveted welterweight division, had a record of 22-3, and was moving quickly up the rankings. There were whispers that he might fight Manny Pacquiao – or Floyd Mayweather, Jr. His management was presently negotiating a fight on HBO. He'd already fought around the world: Tokyo, Dubai, South Africa. He'd already beaten some of the top contenders in the world. Only the best remained. Only the champions remained. Russell Baker was on top of the boxing world and nothing could slow him down.

That was, until his last fight.

When he had killed a man in the ring.

Russell paused in his narrative, and I waited. He was a good-looking guy, clearly roped with muscle under his thin tee-shirt. His nose was wide and flat, which I suspected was perfect for boxing. A long, pointed nose probably got broken routinely. He was also small, perhaps just a few inches taller than me. Welterweights must be the little guys. If I had to guess, I would have said that he was exactly half the size of Kingsley.

After collecting himself, Russell continued. The fight had been last month, in Vegas. Russell had been working his way through the top ten fighters in his weight class. According to Russell, rankings were influenced by a boxer's win-loss record, the difficulty of one's opponents, and how convincing one's victories were. The ultimate goal was to challenge for a title.

Last month, he'd fought the #7 ranked contender. Russell himself had currently been ranked #8. The fight was aired live on ESPN. The crowd had been full of celebrities. Up through three rounds, it had been a routine-enough fight, with Russell feeling confident and strong.

That is, until the fourth round.

It had been a short, straight punch to the side of the face. A hard punch. One that, if landed squarely, would rock most opponents. And Russell had landed it squarely. His opponent's head snapped back nicely. Russell had moved in closer to land another punch, but his opponent, Caesar Marquez, was already on his way to the mat.

Russell had been confused. The punch had been solid, sure, but not a knockout punch. But there was Caesar Marquez, out cold, motionless. Russell had celebrated, but not for long, not when Caesar remained motionless and a crowd began swarming around his fallen opponent.

Russell stopped talking and looked away, tears in his eyes. He unconsciously rubbed his knuckles, which were, I noticed, puffy and scarred. An IM message box appeared on the computer screen before me. It was Fang.

You there, Moon Dance?

I leaned forward and tapped a few keys: I am, but working. Talk soon, okay?

The butler did it, Moon Dance. Always the butler.

I shook my head and closed the box. Admittedly, I was mildly surprised that the box appeared. Fang always seemed to know when I was working – and respected my time with my clients. I frowned at that as I turned my attention back to Russell.

"May I ask how your opponent died?" I asked, lowering my voice.

"That's a good question, Ms. Moon."

"Please call me Sam."

He nodded. "Officially, they called it brain damage. Unofficially, they found nothing."

"How do you know this?"

"The M.E. told me. He personally called me up and told me that he couldn't find anything other than some bleeding – enough to officially label it a brain hemorrhage, but not enough to cause death. At least, not in the opinion of the medical examiner."


"So, why are you here, Russ?" I asked, trying out a nickname to get him to spill more details.

He continued rubbing his knuckles. His foot, which was crossed over his knee, was jiggling and shaking. Now he rubbed the back of his neck. The bicep that bulged as he did so was…interesting.

"I don't know, Sam. I don't know why I'm here."

"Yes, you do," I said. "Why are you here, Russell?"

"Because I don't think I killed him."

"If you didn't kill him, then who – or what – did?"

"I don't know, Sam. I guess that's why I'm here. I want you to help me find out how he died."

I sat back and folded my hands over my flattish stomach. Flat enough for me, anyway. I sensed so many emotions coming from Russ that it was hard to get a handle on them. Sensing emotion and reading minds are two different things. I wasn't close enough to Russ to read his mind, but his emotions were fair game to anyone sensitive enough to understand them.

Mostly, I sensed guilt coming off him. Wave after wave of it. I sensed that Russell hadn't been able to move forward from this fight and had been unable to deal with what had happened last month.

He needed answers. Real answers. Not the suspicious whisperings of a medical examiner.

"And what if I discover that you really did kill him, Russell?" I asked.

"Then I can live with that, but I need to know," he said, wiping his eyes and looking away. "I need to know for sure."

"Knowing is good," I said.

"Knowing is everything," he said, and I didn't doubt it for a second.

I nodded. "I'll need names and contact info."

He said he would email me everything I needed. We next discussed my retainer fee and, once done, he handed over his credit card. I spent the next few minutes embarrassing myself until I finally figured out how to use my iPhone credit card swiper. If I could have turned red, I would have.

We next shook hands, and if he noticed my cold flesh, he didn't show it. Or was too polite to show it.

As he left my office, I couldn't help but notice the dark cloud that surrounded him. His aura.

Guilt, I knew, was eating him alive.

He needed answers.