Authors: Ed Gorman
Lanham â¢ Boulder â¢ New York â¢ Toronto â¢ Plymouth, UK
Published by M. Evans
An imprint of Rowman & Littlefield
4501 Forbes Boulevard, Suite 200, Lanham, Maryland 20706
10 Thornbury Road, Plymouth PL6 7PP, United Kingdom
Distributed by National Book Network
Copyright Â© 1989 by Edward Gorman
First paperback edition 2014
All rights reserved
. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote passages in a review.
British Library Cataloguing in Publication Information Available
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
The hardback edition of this book was previously cataloged by the Library of Congress as follows:
Blood game / Edward Gorman.
p. cm.â(An Evans novel of the West)
I. Title. II. Series.
PS3557.0759B57 1989 89-23267
ISBN: 978-1-59077-229-4 (pbk. : alk. paper)
ISBN: 978-1-59077-230-0 (electronic)
The paper used in this publication meets the minimum requirements of American National Standard for Information SciencesâPermanence of Paper for Printed Library Materials, ANSI/NISO Z39.48-1992.
Printed in the United States of America
For Barb and Al Collinsâthe Beauty and the Bestâthis homage to our friends Nolan and Quarry.
The boys were Mexican. They were about eighteen. Inside a rope ring each was stripped to the waist. Each wore snug brown leather gloves. They had ribs like hungry dogs'. The one boy had a decent left jab. The other boy had nothing at all. They had been sparring for half an hour in the sun. A dozen people stood in the small boxing camp in the alley of this midwestem town, and not one of them paid any attention to the two boys.
Guild sat on the edge of a rain barrel drinking lemonade and smoking a cigarette. A dog kept coming over with his wet black nose, and Guild kept petting him. In the sun Guild's hair was pure white, his eyes pure blue. The scar on his cleft chin had faded under his sunburn. He had spent the past three and a half weeks riding shotgun for one of the last stage lines in the Midwest. This was the summer of 1892, and as all the newspapers made note, the sun was merciless.
When one of the Mexican boys grunted and fell to the ground, Guild looked up and shook his head. He disliked boxing. He had once seen a redheaded kid go into convulsions, and ever since he'd had no stomach for the whole thing.
He would not have been here today if he wasn't, as usual, in need of money. The bounty-hunting business was going through one of its occasional lulls when the only criminals within five hundred miles seemed to be pimple-faced young clerks who had embezzled a few hundred dollars from mean employers. Having worked for his share of mean employers, Guild wished the pimple-faced young clerks well.
“You come with me?”
The man wore a three-piece worsted suit far too heavy for the ninety-degree temperature. He carried a white surrender handkerchief in his hand and kept dabbing at his angular, pale face with it. He had nervous brown eyes. He wore a big navy Colt strapped in a creaking holster around his middle. The gun looked all wrong on him, like a pink garter on a nun.
They went in the rear entrance of the Northern Hotel and up a narrow flight of stairs, their boots making sharp rapping sounds on the wood.
They came out on the second-floor landing. The sunlight through the hall window was blinding white. In the center of it a hefty gray cat who looked capable of both stealth and wisdom rolled on his back in the light. Guild watched the cat as they continued their way down the hall. He reminded Guild of a cat he'd had during his married days.
When they came to room 246, the young man knocked three times with one knuckle. It almost appeared to be a code.
“Who is it?”
“You're five goddamn minutes late.”
“When I say two o'clock, I mean two o'clock.”
“I don't mean two-oh-five.”
On the other side of the door, footsteps started coming toward them.
In a whisper, Stephen said, “That's my father. I'm sorry if that embarrassed you. He's just got one of those tempers is all.”
Guild watched how the young man's right hand had begun to twitch. Stephen's face looked as if somebody had hit him very hard. He dabbed at his face again with the white handkerchief.
The door opened. A tall, stout man in a white shirt and tailored gray trousers and shiny black riding boots stood there. He held a drink of copper-colored bourbon in one hand and a dollar cigar in the other. His face looked fleshy but handsome. The expression he wore suggested he found the world had never quite lived up to his standards. Guild saw why a son of this man would be given to twitching.
“Oh. I'm Stoddard. John T. Stoddard.”
He didn't offer to shake hands.
“You've heard of me?”
Guild nodded. “You're a boxing promoter.”
“That's right, and a goddamned good one.”
He said this with no irony. He said it, indeed, as a challenge.
“That's what I've heard,” Guild said, as John T. Stoddard obviously expected him to say. When he was between good jobs like this, he did not mind on occasion eating a one-pound bag of shit. It was the two-pound bags that gave him problems.
Guild sat in a chair the color of dirty greenbacks. The room was heavily trimmed in mahogany. Deep maroon carpeting and white flocked drapes gave the place the feel of an expensive lawyer's office. John T. Stoddard sat in the center of a vast leather couch. He spread his arms out wide on either side of him. He gave the air of a potentate granting an interview with peasants.
“Did Stephen tell you about the job?”
“Good. He usually gets things wrong.”
The cruelty of the remark caused Guild to look up at Stephen Stoddard. He stood to the right of the couch like a servant awaiting his next command. He refused to meet Guild's eyes, but Guild could see the faint pulsing twitch of his right arm.
“He does all right,” Guild said to John T. Stoddard.
“I didn't bring you up here to talk about my son.”
“Do you know who Victor Sovich is?”
“Are you being smart?”
“I don't like people being smart.”
“I said âmaybe' because the name is familiar but I'm not sure who he is exactly.” Now Guild felt like the young man. He wondered if his right arm, too, would begin to twitch.
“He's a boxer.”
“Just about the best boxer in the United States.”
“You could show a little more goddamn enthusiasm.”
“I guess I should tell you.”
“Tell me what?”
“I don't much care for boxing.”
“And just why not?”
“I don't like to see people do that to each other. You should only do it when you have to.”
“I asked the sheriff here who would be good for this job, and he said there was a bounty hunter in town. I didn't expect a bounty hunter to be a nelly.”
Guild flushed. A two-pound bag of fecal matter had just been pushed his way. He pushed it right back.
Guild stood up and said, “I want you to know something, Mr. Stoddard. In your small circle of friends and admirers, you're probably a very big deal. But you're nothing to me or most of the world. Do you understand that?”
Guild wanted to smash the man's face.
“It's just the way he is, Mr. Guild,” Stephen Stoddard said. “He almost can't help it.”
“Well, somebody better teach him to help it.”
“I'm sorry I made that remark, Guild,” John T. Stoddard said. “A lot of decent people are opposed to boxing. I probably would be myself if I didn't make so goddamn much money from it.”
Stephen Stoddard gestured to his father. “You see, Mr. Guild. He isn't so bad.”
“Right,” Guild said. “He's a sugar baby.”
“Please sit down, Mr. Guild. Please. My father really needs your help.”
Guild looked at the young man and wondered why he acted so nice to a man who took every opportunity to berate and humiliate him.
Probably because he was curious, Leo Guild sat down.
John T. Stoddard gave Guild a cigar, and then Stephen Stoddard got them lemonade, and then John T. Stoddard started talking.
The thing was, John T. Stoddard said, white people liked to see colored people get the hell kicked out of them. This was in general. While John T. Stoddard personally had nothing against colored people and had in fact supported the Union in the war, as a boxing promoter he would be foolish not to give the boxing public what it was looking for.
He used three examples. A year ago in San Francisco a kid named John L. Sullivan had fought a black man named Peter Jackson. The fight had gone sixty-one rounds. The crowd loved it. A month earlier a black man who was considered “the colored champion” had packed an arena when he'd fought Jake Kilrain. He'd lost to Kilrain. Then there was the business in Texas when a white man named O'Toole fought a mulatto named Waylou. The fight, according to one newspaper account John T. Stoddard read, had gone seventy-two rounds and ended only when Waylou's right eye popped out of its socket. Waylou stuffed it back in, but the referee, bowing to the outspoken demands of some Lutheran ladies who'd come to monitor the fight, called the fight over.
“My problem has been,” John T. Stoddard said, “finding the right colored man to fight Victor.”
“And you've come up with a colored man?”
“Indeed I have, Mr. Guild. Or better yet, you call me John and I'll call you Leo.”
John T. Stoddard smiled as if he'd just ceded the Louisiana Territory to Guild.
“If you've got the colored man, and the public wants to see a black man and a white man fight, I guess I don't understand what you need me for.” Guild tried to call him “John,” but it didn't work. He couldn't get the word to leave his mouth.
“The problem,” John T. Stoddard said, “is Victor.”
“He's mad at me.”
The way he said it, as if they were playmates in a spat, almost made Guild smile.
“Why is he mad at you?”