Russell Baker and I were at a Starbucks in Fullerton.
It was the same Starbucks where I'd met the very creepy Robert Mason, one-time soap opera star, one-time owner of the Fullerton Playhouse, who was now a full-time resident of a jail cell.
My time here with Russell Baker was decidedly more pleasant.
The young boxer was wearing a loose tank top and shorts. He had just finished working out with Jacky. Jacky wasn't his official trainer, but, like many young boxers, they sought his help and considered it an honor to work with the legendary Irishman.
More importantly, Russell looked good in a tank top. I suspected he would look good in just about anything. Of course, being in shape and looking good was expected from a professional boxer. Still, professional or not, sitting across from me was a very breathtaking man. Even for someone who doesn't need much breath.
I said, "I spoke with Dr. Sculler in Las Vegas."
"The medical examiner," said Russell, sounding very un-boxer-like. He had a quick mind. I only hoped it wouldn't be beaten out of him by the end of his career.
"Right," I said. "The official cause of death is epidural hematoma."
"I know," he said. "I've read the report. A dozen or so times."
Russell was sipping from a bottle of water. Who goes to a Starbucks and orders a bottle of water? Then again, I looked down at my own bottle of water. Well, boxers in training and vampires, apparently. I wondered if we just might be the first two people in the history of Starbucks to only order two bottles of water.
Big picture, Sam.
I continued, "I'll admit it. I thought I was going to come back here and tell you that you don't have a case."
He glanced up at me, blinking. He cocked his head a little. "You thought? What does that mean?"
"It means that it's Dr. Sculler's unofficial opinion that you could not have caused the kind of brain damage he saw in the autopsy."
Russell sat up. I knew that this was the kind of news he was praying for. "I..." he paused, gathering his thoughts. "I don't understand."
"Officially, based on probable evidence, Caesar was killed in the ring. After all, he collapsed in front of the world."
I went on, "But Dr. Sculler didn't see enough evidence, based on what he saw of the fight, to warrant the scope of damage he saw in Caesar's brain tissue."
"Then why had he reported that it had?"
"Caesar was a boxer. He died of a brain hemorrhage. It's a slam-dunk case for everyone involved. The evidence is obvious. Unless - "
"Unless you look deeper," he finished.
Interesting. That was exactly how I was going to finish the sentence. I wondered again if I was somehow opening myself up to other people. How I was doing that, I didn't know, but I made a mental note to learn to stop it. At any rate, Russell seemed oblivious to the fact that he might have gotten a sneak peek into my thoughts. Into the mind of a vampire. Maybe his oblivion was a good thing.
"Right," I said. "Dr. Sculler also let it be known that he was by no means an expert in boxing-related brain trauma and could not, therefore, give me a true expert's opinion."
"So, a non-expert declared that Caesar's death was boxing related?"
"That's about the extent of it."
"Man, that shit ain't right." He turned away, swearing under his breath. He looked back at me. "I didn't kill him, Sam. Caesar and I were amateurs together. We practiced a few times, sparred together in the early days. That guy could take a punch. That last fight...we were only feeling each other out. I landed maybe one solid punch. One. And even that wasn't my best shot. Caesar could take dozens of those, maybe more."
And that was the crux. How much could one man take before his brain finally gave? How much was too much before a guy collapsed in the ring, dead?
"There's one other thing worth pointing out," I said. "The doctor does not dispute that Caesar suffered an injury that could cause death."
"Just that he didn't think I caused it in the ring."
"Right," I said.
"So, if I didn't hit him hard enough to kill him..."
"Then someone else did."