Vampire Games (Chapter Three)

When Russell had gone, I brought up Google and researched the hell out of him.

In particular, I found the fight in question. The fight with Caesar Marquez had been a big deal, apparently. Both fighters were considered front runners to eventually contend for the welterweight title. Both fighters were roughly the same age. Same height. Same records. Same everything.

Except, now one was dead.

And the other was living with punishing, crushing guilt. I knew this. I had felt it from Russell, coming off him in wave after wave.

The crushing guilt was the least of my concerns. The black halo that completely surrounded his body was a different matter. A very serious matter.

Perhaps it was not so serious to others, but to me, I knew the implications. Russell needed help. He also needed protection. And, considering the vast amount of guilt he was dealing with…perhaps he needed protection from himself.

No, he hadn't appeared suicidal, but I was also no expert in psychological issues. And since I wasn't close enough to him to read his thoughts, all I had to go on were my gut impressions.

And my gut told me that he had a very heavy heart.

Baker vs. Marquez hadn't been a big pay-per-view event, but HBO had hyped it up pretty good. All in all, the fight had lasted four rounds. Up through three rounds, two judges had scored the fight in favor of Russell, but one had it in favor of Caesar. Pretty even.

That is, until "the punch."

I wanted to see the punch for myself. It turned out that YouTube had some pretty grisly videos on their website. In fact, there were easily a half dozen such boxing death videos. I first watched Russell's fight, then forced myself to watch the other five, too, for comparison.

Most of the videos showed two guys hammering each other in the ring. Generally, one guy was doing a lot of hammering, and one guy was doing a lot of receiving. At least that was the trend. In five of the six fights, one opponent was clearly dominating the other opponent.

But not in Russell's fight.

Their fight, at least to my untrained eye – and the truth was, I was perhaps more trained than most – their fight seemed fairly even, as the judge's scorecards had indicated.

Both fighters were trading punches. Both fighters were backing away. Both fighters were circling. Russell jabbed. Marquez blocked. Marquez circled, Russell followed. Both had quick feet. Quick hands. No obvious blood. No one staggered like in the other five video clips. No one was obviously getting their brains beaten in.

And there it was.

The punch.

It was a short, straight punch, designed to be used when two opponents were close-in to each other. Not a lot of back swing. Just power the fist at about shoulder height and use your weight to drive the punch home. Jacky had taught it to me years ago, and it was a common punch to use when practicing with the heavy bag. Myself, I had probably delivered thousands of such punches. They weren't generally considered knockout punches, although, if delivered with enough force, could certainly stun an opponent.

Except Marquez didn't look stunned.

He looked dead.

Prior to the punch, they had both been fighting an inside game, heads ducked, juking, bobbing and weaving, each looking for an opening. Russell saw his and struck, cobra-fast.

Marquez's head snapped back.

HBO had been right there to capture the next image fairly close up. Marquez's eyes rolled up. I saw the whites of them clearly. His hands dropped to his sides.

Russell had been about to deliver another blow when he clearly saw that something wasn't right with his opponent.

As Marquez's hands went limp, so did his knees and legs, and now he was falling forward, landing hard on his chest and face, where he proceeded to lay, unmoving.

I saw that Russell's first instinct was to help him – and I admired him for that – but then his trainer bull-rushed him and lifted him up off his feet. And as his trainer ran him wildly around the ring, I saw Russell trying to look back to his fallen foe.

The longer Caesar Marquez lay unmoving, the more chaotic the ring became. People swarmed and buzzed around him. Russell fought to get close to him. A stretcher appeared through the crowd and soon Caesar was being threaded through the ropes, through the crowd, and down a side aisle into what I assumed were the locker rooms.

I stopped the video and studied the crowded ring. Dozens of faces. Some confused, some concerned, many excited. Men, mostly, but a few women.

I replayed the video again and again. Watching his trainers, watching the crowd, looking for anything that gave any indication that someone might have known what was about to go down.

But nothing stood out.

Nothing at all.