Vampire Games

Chapter Twenty-six


She and Caesar had been at a charity event six weeks ago, exactly two weeks before his death.
Caesar was always doing charity work for the Latino community, and this event had been no different. Well, except for one small occurrence, an occurrence that Allison didn't think was small at all. It was an occurrence, in fact, that she was quite certain had been very big indeed.
So big that it killed Caesar.
Or so she felt.
It had been a charity fight. A professional boxer against a martial artist. And he was not just any martial artist: the current, reigning karate champion. The match had gone well enough for the first few rounds. Lots of posing and light punches. Lots of ducking and juking and sliding and laughing. Good times. The crowd was loving it. And why wouldn't they? Two pros at the top of their respective worlds, were matching techniques, wits, and punches.
Until it happened.
The Punch, as Allison thinks of it.
One moment the two fighters were exchanging cushy punches. The karate champion was even doing a few kicks that Caesar easily avoided. After all, this was a charity event. The punches and kicks weren't meant to land. And if they did, there wasn't much force behind them.
Allison had been on the phone, talking to a friend, when the fight suddenly took a very strange turn.
"He punched him, and hard," said Allison now, lighting up another cigarette and sitting back on the couch.
"Who punched whom?" I asked, fairly certain I was using correct English. I was a vampire momma, after all. Not a grammarian. If that was even a word.
"The karate champion," said Allison, exhaling. "One moment they were exchanging light punches - most of which were glancing off each others' shoulders - and the next..." She paused, looked at me. "And the next, this guy, this asshole, punches Caesar hard. I mean, really fucking hard. Caesar wasn't expecting it. It was a charity event, for crissakes. The first few rounds were light and easy. In fact, it was only a three-round charity match. There was only like twenty or so seconds left in the third round. It was almost over."
I perked up. "And this happened two weeks before his death?"
"What happened to Caesar after the punch?"
"It laid him out. Remember, the karate champion was using his bare fists. Caesar had gloves on. The fight was just for laughs. A joke. Nothing serious. Just two guys lending their names to a charity event."
I nodded, thinking, mind racing. There was something here. I could feel it. Whether or not this something was my enhanced psychic abilities kicking in or my detective instincts, I didn't know. Sometimes it's impossible to know. Logic suggested that the punch had occurred far too early - two weeks, in fact - for it to have any ill effects on Caesar's health.
And just felt right.
"How was Caesar after the fight?" I asked.
"Woozy. The punch really rang his bell. Remember, the guy was like a five-time karate champion. The dude knows how to throw a punch. But there's more."
I waited. I considered lighting up another cigarette myself, but didn't want to smell too much like smoke around the kids. Tammy has a sensitive nose, and there was a good chance she was allergic to the smell of cigarettes.
I can't buy a break, I thought.
When Allison had gathered her thoughts, she said, "I haven't told anyone this, mind you."
"I understand," I said.
"I mean, no one would believe me."
I nodded encouragingly, waited.
"You're the first person who I think I can trust with this information...and perhaps the first person who wouldn't laugh me off immediately. Maybe you are a godsend."
I wondered what God thought of that, but said, "Well, drinking someone's blood has that effect." I didn't mention that she also knew my super-secret identity, which bonded us further. Or condemned her.
She took in some air and plunged forward, "Caesar was never the same after that punch."
"What do you mean?"
"He was different. Not entirely...there. He seemed to have suffered a concussion, of some sort, but the doctors who checked him out said he wasn't showing typical concussion symptoms - nausea, blurred vision, vomiting, stuff like that."
"So what was wrong?"
Allison thought about that, pursuing her lips. "Well, everything, actually. He rarely talked. Rarely slept. I would often find him sitting in the dark alone. He spoke in a monotone. He rarely laughed, and when he did, it seemed forced. My last memories of him are not good ones. My last memories of him - namely the two weeks leading up to his fight in Vegas - were filled with constant worry and concern."
"The doctors couldn't pinpoint anything?"
"The doctor didn't think anything was wrong."
"And you think the punch had something to do with his death?" I asked.
Allison held my gaze. I suddenly felt as if I'd known her for a long time. As if this wasn't our first meeting. I shook off the feeling.
She said, "I know the punch had something to with his death, Sam." She got up and moved over to her sliding glass window and looked down at the street below. "I just know it. And he should never have fought Russell Baker."
"What do you mean?"
"He wasn't ready for the fight. He was still out of it. I mean, Jesus, he was sleeping before the fight. Sleeping. He never sleeps before a fight. He was usually bouncing off the walls."
Her words triggered a memory. "Romero told me he had to calm Caesar down before the fight."
"Usually. Romero was always good at getting Caesar to focus, to channel his energy, so to speak."
"But not this last fight?"
"No. Caesar was already calm. So calm that he was sleeping."
I nodded and thought about all of this, and kept thinking about it all the way home.