Vampire Games (Chapter Five)

It was after hours and I was sitting in Jacky's office.

Jacky, if possible, looked even smaller than usual as he sat behind a dented metal desk. He was drinking an orange Gatorade which, I think, was the classic Gatorade. Of course, if I drank Gatorade now, I would heave it up in a glorious orange fountain.

Jacky, of course, didn't need to know that, and since I only spent a few hours a week with the guy – and most of that was spent with him yelling at me to keep my hands up – I hadn't yet developed a telepathic rapport with him.

Which was just as well. I seriously suspected that the old man had suffered some brain damage himself. He'd been a champion back in the day. And in Jacky's case, "back in the day" meant the early fifties in Ireland.

Jacky had spent the past few decades here in Fullerton. At one point his gym had been a happening place for up-and-coming boxers, with Jacky himself training a handful of champions. That is, until downtown Fullerton had become so trendy that Jacky – perhaps a better businessman than I'd given him credit for – had decided to turn his gym into a women's self-defense studio.

Then again, if I was a spunky old man, I'd rather train cute women, too.

Anyway, when Jacky finished off the Gatorade, he wiped the back of his hand across his mouth, dropped the empty bottle into a nearby wastebasket and sat back.

"What did you think of the kid?" he asked, speaking in an Irish accent so thick that you would think he was only now making his way through Ellis Island.

"I think the kid is deeply troubled," I said. "And I don't blame him."

Jacky nodded. He seemed uncomfortable in his office. He seemed less himself, somehow. Out there, in the gym, he was larger than life, even though he was only a few inches taller than me. In here, at day's end, he looked like a shell of himself. He looked tired. Old. But not weak. Never weak. Even in quiet repose, the man looked like he wanted to punch something.

"Russ isn't the first lad to kill somebody in the ring, and he won't be the last. And usually it plays with a fighter's head, so much so that they ain't ever much the same again."

"He feels guilt," I said.

"They all do. Except it's part of the risk we take. Each kid knows that his next fight might be his last."

"Then why did you send him to me?"

Jacky didn't answer immediately. Through his closed door, I could hear someone sweeping and whistling. A door slammed somewhere, and I heard two women giggling down a hallway that I knew led to the female locker rooms.

"It's part of the risk, yes, but something about this one doesn't smell right."

I waited. I wanted to hear it from Jacky, someone who had seen tens of thousands of punches thrown in his lifetime. Jacky rubbed his knuckles as he formulated his thoughts. I wondered how difficult it was for Jacky to formulate his thoughts. How much brain damage had the old Irishman suffered?

There had to be some. His aura, which was mostly light blue and ironically serene, appeared bright red around his head. The bright red, I knew, was the body fighting something, perhaps a disease. Or dealing with an injury.

The Irishman rubbed his face and seemed to have lost his train of thought. The reddish aura around his head flared briefly.

I said gently, "You were saying something about this fight not smelling right."

"Was I now?"

"Yes."

"Which fight?"

"Baker vs. Marquez."

He nodded and rubbed the back of his neck and gritted his teeth. "It's hell getting old, Sam."

"So I'm told."

"And this noggin of mine just ain't right sometimes."

"Mine either."

He nodded, but I wasn't sure he'd heard me. He said, "Routine fight. No one beating up no one. Judges had Baker up a few rounds, but the truth is, they were only just beginning to feel each other out. No one had taken control yet. It was even as hell."

"Were you there?" I asked.

"At the fight? Hell, no. The wife doesn't let me anywhere near Vegas these days. She's afraid I'll spend our retirement – and then I'll never get to leave this damn gym."

"You love this damn gym," I said.

He winked at me, and I saw that there were tears in his eyes. Where the tears came from and why, I didn't exactly know. "More than anything," he said.

"You watched the fight on TV?"

"Which fight?"

"Baker vs. Marquez."

"Yes, of course. Russ is a local boy. He trains here sometimes. I showed him my best moves, and he never forgot his roots. Got to love a kid like that."

"Yes."

"Damn shame what happened. He ain't no killer. They were just boxing. Trading jabs, the occasional straight shot or hook. Nothing landed yet. Nothing really. No reason a kid should be dead."

Jacky fell silent and absently wiped the tears from his eyes. His knuckles were crisscrossed with scar tissue. I imagined Jacky raising hell in the streets of Dublin.

"So, what are you saying, Jacky?"

"I'm saying, in one fell swoop, two top contenders have disappeared. One's dead, and the other might as well be dead. There's something to that, Sam, something worth looking into."

I nodded, thinking about that, as Jacky sat back and closed his eyes and rubbed the scar tissue along his knuckles.