Shadow Boxer: A Billy Nichols Crime Novel

Overview

In his celebrated debut novel, The Distance, author Eddie Muller created a world of "gritty authenticity" (Booklist), plunging readers into the atmospheric and electrifying boxing culture of the 1940s, as seen through the eyes of morally complex and charismatic boxing columnist Billy Nichols.

Now, in Shadow Boxer, Billy is back on the beat for the San Francisco Inquirer. But his problems are hardly behind him. A man's in jail, accused of murder. But did he do it? By aiding a ...

See more details below
Available through our Marketplace sellers.
Other sellers (Hardcover)
  • All (28) from $1.99   
  • New (3) from $49.95   
  • Used (25) from $1.99   
Close
Sort by
Page 1 of 1
Showing 1 – 2 of 3
Note: Marketplace items are not eligible for any BN.com coupons and promotions
$49.95
Seller since 2006

Feedback rating:

(126)

Condition:

New — never opened or used in original packaging.

Like New — packaging may have been opened. A "Like New" item is suitable to give as a gift.

Very Good — may have minor signs of wear on packaging but item works perfectly and has no damage.

Good — item is in good condition but packaging may have signs of shelf wear/aging or torn packaging. All specific defects should be noted in the Comments section associated with each item.

Acceptable — item is in working order but may show signs of wear such as scratches or torn packaging. All specific defects should be noted in the Comments section associated with each item.

Used — An item that has been opened and may show signs of wear. All specific defects should be noted in the Comments section associated with each item.

Refurbished — A used item that has been renewed or updated and verified to be in proper working condition. Not necessarily completed by the original manufacturer.

New
Old Tappan, New Jersey, U.S.A. 2003 Hard Cover Pf New in New jacket 305a49h5p42d03

Ships from: MESQUITE, NV

Usually ships in 1-2 business days

  • Canadian
  • International
  • Standard, 48 States
  • Standard (AK, HI)
  • Express, 48 States
  • Express (AK, HI)
$50.00
Seller since 2014

Feedback rating:

(149)

Condition: New
Brand new.

Ships from: acton, MA

Usually ships in 1-2 business days

  • Standard, 48 States
  • Standard (AK, HI)
Page 1 of 1
Showing 1 – 2 of 3
Close
Sort by
Sending request ...

Overview

In his celebrated debut novel, The Distance, author Eddie Muller created a world of "gritty authenticity" (Booklist), plunging readers into the atmospheric and electrifying boxing culture of the 1940s, as seen through the eyes of morally complex and charismatic boxing columnist Billy Nichols.

Now, in Shadow Boxer, Billy is back on the beat for the San Francisco Inquirer. But his problems are hardly behind him. A man's in jail, accused of murder. But did he do it? By aiding a beguiling woman, Billy stumbles on evidence that could exonerate the defendant, who only months before was one of the town's top fight promoters. One big problem -- the victim was Billy's secret lover, and he has no desire to help set her killer free.

But once his reporter's instincts kick in, Billy can't let go of a twisting trail of suspense that stretches from Tenderloin fight clubs to Marina district mansions, from mountain retreats to the Hall of Justice. He squares off with an intriguing cast of characters: a bombastic novelties promoter, a former colleague turned muckraking lawyer, a society doyenne on the skids, a crooked booze distributor, a shifty deputy DA, an opera-crooning pugilist, a homespun abortionist, a crafty and celebrated defense attorney, a murderous stalker -- and the unfathomable Virginia Wagner, a leggy legal secretary with many more secrets than just the gun in her handbag.

Clues are unveiled, allegiances formed, friendships betrayed. Billy wonders if he's nothing more than a shadow boxer futilely sparring with phantoms. And if he discovers the truth about the murder and the shocking facts behind it, will his conscience force him to come forward -- or to bury the evidence?

In Shadow Boxer, Eddie Muller takes risks unusual in crime fiction, making clear that when it comes to pitch-perfect noir inflection and top-shelf suspense, nobody does it better.

Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
It's 1948 in San Francisco, and Billy Nichols, boxing columnist for the Inquirer, is once again in trouble up to his eyeglasses in this fast-paced, funny crime novel. Introduced in The Distance (2002), Billy is a compelling personality, a mild little guy whose livelihood brings him into everyday contact with the toughest of the tough in the world of pugilism, itself a magnet for desperate characters. Henpecked at home by his loving wife, Ida, he's a king to prizefighters, who hope for good mentions in his reports (though many have to settle for being the loser; e.g., the champ "boxed circles around his befuddled opponent, who didn't know whether to fish or wind a wristwatch"). Muller models his hero on his own father, who covered the fight scene for the Examiner for half a century. The action picks up immediately after the first book, where Billy managed to avoid a jam (advice to boxing writers: don't get involved in burying corpses in Golden Gate Park) and to ease Burney Sanders behind bars. But now Sanders is about to reveal there was more behind the murders than has come to light, and Billy may be implicated again. Virginia Wagner, briefly seen in the opening novel, returns driving a very fast car and packing a rod in her purse. Muller nails down every corner in this exciting romp, with some scenes that will appeal to hard-boiled fans and others for those who take delight in dizzy doings. (Jan. 14) FYI: Muller is also the author of The Art of Noir: Posters and Graphics from the Classic Film Noir Period (PW Review Annex). Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Imagine yourself sipping a large measure of Old Crow while lighting up an Old Gold, and you'll be primed for Muller's heavy-on-the-atmosphere continuation of the Billy Nichols saga he began in The Distance. This time, Billy-"Mr. Boxing" to the readers of his sports column in the 1948 San Francisco Inquirer-is drafted by a dark-eyed dame to help clear her husband of a murder rap. When a friend of Billy's is injured in a traffic accident involving a liquor company truck, Billy becomes the first-rate crime reporter he knows he is and vows to unravel the case. After another friend, Manny Gold, is ready to swear that he was a witness and that Billy's friend was at fault, the unraveling stretches from San Francisco's tenderloin to its most exclusive enclaves. No new ground is broken here, but that won't bother the rabid fans of the dismissive sneer and the baroque similes of noir at its best. They should be steered to Muller before they have too much catching up to do. For all larger public libraries.-Bob Lunn, Kansas City P.L., MO Copyright 2003 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Billy Nichols, last seen in Muller's brilliant debut (The Distance, 2002), thought the whole dismal business was done with. A woman he'd loved was dead, her murderer nailed, jailed, and awaiting trial, so what else was there? The San Francisco Inquirer boxing editor finds out in a return match he never planned or wanted. A "lush-lipped, one-time dreamboat" asks him, "You the guy they call Mr. Boxing?" and the next thing Billy knows he's paying a call at the county lockup, where his own evidence sent Burney Sanders, whose missus is a powerfully persuasive dreamboat, particularly to guys like Billy who are susceptible to dreamboats, however shopworn. It's a frame, her old man insists (uh-huh), but the odd thing is that soon enough it looks to Billy as if Burney might actually be right. Without a doubt there are some connected wheeler-dealers with reason to want bent and bothersome Burney out of the way. Just let it lay, Billy's smarter self tries to warn him. Billy tries. But when scared, worried, leggy, curvy Ginny Wagner, an authentic dreamboat if there ever was one, turns up with her telltale accordion file, Billy can't turn his back on it. Or on her. Steamy, noirish, and lovingly pitch-perfect in its treatment of the world of boxing, circa 1948-49. As for Billy, that ranking contender in the amoralist class, he continues to float like a butterfly, sting like a bee, and take his lumps like Rocky Graziano.
Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780743214445
  • Publisher: Scribner
  • Publication date: 1/7/2003
  • Series: Billy Nichols Series
  • Pages: 272
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

She craned her head out the passenger window and gave me the once-over. Dark-eyed dame, olive-skinned, lush-lipped: a one-time dreamboat steaming toward the shoals of middle age.

"You the guy they call Mr. Boxing?" she asked.

Female fight fans aren't as rare as you'd think. They grew up listening to title bouts on the radio with their fathers. It got in their blood. I stepped toward her car and turned on the guarded grin I reserved for curious strangers.

"That's me -- Billy Nichols. San Francisco Inquirer."

Long black lashes flapped once. Then her eyes darted somewhere behind me. I was shoved up against the machine. Before I could register a beef, the torpedo crammed me into the front seat, the broad sliding over behind the wheel. She went heavy on the gas and we shot away from the curb.

"What the hell is all this about?" I squawked, trying not to sound completely terrified. We slanted across Market onto Kearny, weaving in and out of midafternoon traffic.

"I'm taking you to jail," she said.

Okay, it was a gag. Dewey Thomas pulling another of his pranks. Renting a couple of shills to "kidnap" me, haul me to the Royal Athletic Club to preview talent in the 1948 Golden Gloves tournament. Dewey must have handpicked the ghee squeezed in at my right. Perfect casting. Swarthy like the woman, but skin pocked like a cantaloupe. Reminded me of somebody. . . a boxer, years back.

"What's the charge, Officer?" I snickered, playing along.

"Not taking my husband's letters seriously," the dame snapped."Never returning his phone calls. They only let him make one a day, you know. All things considered, wouldn't hurt you to show a little decency."

"I could say the same. Who the hell are you?" She bypassed the left that would have led to the Royal. Shit, we were headed toward County Jail.

"Florence Sanders. It's my goddamn husband they're trying to frame for murder. He's sent you fifty million letters and can't reach you. A note practically every day for a whole month, begging you to come see him. What's your problem? No time for your old pals?"

"Sorry, Florence. I've had a lot on my plate lately. Can't say your husband's a priority."

"Not a priority? A murder rap? What would be a priority, Mr. Big Shot?"

"Polishing the silverware. For my wife."

"Screw you! You think this is funny? First he won't quit ranting and raving it's your fault he's in this spot. Then he starts in on how you're the only one who can help him. I'm sick of listening to him. You don't want to go see him? Fuck it, I'll drag your ass over there -- if only to shut his yap. You're gonna go there and talk to Burney, is that clear? My cousin here will make sure you don't take a detour on your way in."

She smoked. Not right this moment, but every other chance she had. Tobacco permanently roughened the edges of her words. Fumes seeped from the fabric of her jacket. No doubt a nervous habit, seeing as her spouse was a killer.

I needed to talk to Florence Sanders's husband like I needed another hole in my head. True enough, it was my doing that Burney Sanders, only months ago the top fight promoter in San Francisco, was facing this murder rap. Not that I gave a damn. I'd like to see him rot in a prison cell, for life. Better yet, maybe the state would see its way clear to give him the gas.

I examined Florence's cousin, calculating how I'd ditch him once we reached Washington Street. The muscle decided he wanted a speaking part in this rolling farce."It's no big deal," he mumbled."You can talk to the man for ten minutes, can't you? What'll it hurt?"

"Pardon me, Buddy," Mrs. Sanders barked."Anybody ask to hear from you? I'm not paying for your commentary. So dummy up."

"Your name Silva, by any chance?" I asked my ugly, sullen seat mate.

He lit up, looked almost tickled.

"You remember me?"

"Bud Silva. Middleweight. Lotta fights in the early thirties. Then you dropped outta sight."

"Doing other things. I wasn't bad, though, huh? Tell her. Tell her 'bout the night I beat Lawless. Remember that fight?"

"Oh, sure. Unforgettable. To say the least."

"Hear that? He remembers my figh -- "

"Shut the hell up, I said! You're supposed to scare him, not ask for his goddamn autograph. Moron. Shoulda known."

"Hey, Florie," Silva spat."Why don't you watch that mouth, huh?"

We all simmered silently for a couple of blocks. I wondered how much Burney Sanders had confided to his struggle-and-strife about the blackmail racket he'd been running, and my connection to it.

I turned her way: "What'd Burney mean when he told you I was the only one who could help him?"

"Haven't got the slightest idea," she replied, with an overblown sigh. She wheeled onto Clay Street without checking street signs. She'd memorized the route."Little while ago, he wanted to kill you. Claimed you'd set him up. Swore he was gonna get even. Now everything's out the other side of his mouth -- you're his last hope, he keeps on saying."

"Any idea what he's talking about?"

"Listen -- my husband's been playing dirty pool long as I've known him. Think I'm blind? Does he let me in on it? Think I wanna be in on it? All I know is -- this time his tit's really in the wringer. He gets nailed for one this serious, I'll have to figure out how to fend for myself."

She swung the car up Dunbar Alley and braked abruptly at the rear entrance to County Jail No. 1.

"I can tell he has your unflagging support," I said.

"Everybody's rope's got an end. Outta the car."

"You're not coming?"

"I told him I'd get you here. You're here. I got better things to do."


"Thanks for finally coming," Sanders began.

"Definitely wasn't my idea."

He nodded toward the gate of the visitors' pen."Florence bring you?"

"She's got a persuasive manner."

"She waiting outside?"

"Beauty parlor appointment. What's the pitch? I still got a column to write today."

I expected the familiar hair-triggered hothead. Worse yet, with a murder rap hanging over him. But Burney didn't give off much heat, staring through the steel cage. Harsh light bouncing off bilious green institutional walls made his pasty skin even more sallow. City-issue dungarees flapped on his spindly frame. He'd dropped pounds he couldn't spare. Might starve before they could serve up the cyanide.

"If the guard starts getting nosy," Sanders warned in a whisper, "go right into fight talk, okay? They probably figure you're here about what happens to my action if I go up on this bullshit charge."

He drilled me with an urgent gaze. I owed the little prick less than nothing. All he got was a weak nod. Sanders flashed a look at a uniformed bull propping up the wall about twenty feet away, on his side of the wire. The guard's eyes locked on his prisoner and never strayed.

"Pretty rich, huh?" Sanders said, voice dropping as he leaned closer."That you're the one I gotta go to in this spot."

"How's that?"

"Listen -- this blackmail scheme I'm supposed to have cooked up? The pictures of you with Claire? Let's be realistic -- I'm not exactly innocent. But it's chickenshit compared to what's really going on. The blackmail dodge was a sideline. Tip of the iceberg. I'm just a mechanic for the real operators. You did them a big favor, shoving me front and center. Keeps them out of the picture."

I took off my specs, polishing the lenses with the fat end of my tie.

"Pay attention," he snapped."I can't just lay it all out for you. I think this place is wired. They hear what I tell you, then they'll be up your ass -- and you'll be no help to me at all."

"Why the hell would I help you? Case you haven't gotten the signals, I'm rooting for you to take the pipe."

The old Burney would have tried socking me for such provocation. But if he was offended, he swallowed it.

"I got no right to expect anything from you," he said."I know that. It was a lousy play, setting you up like I did. You did what you had to, to get even. Maybe we're square. I fucked with you and you fucked me back twice as hard. But this is too much. I didn't kill Claire. I'm taking the rap for something I didn't do. The people behind this, they've got the fix. With me gone, they get away with everything."

"Am I supposed to understand what you're talking about?"

"Just listen. Three lawyers have dumped me, for no good reason. The DA had nothing -- you know that -- and any shyster worth his shit should have been itching to take this on. Then they cut this deal with Daws to finger me. So here I am -- like a leper -- with a snot-nosed public defender and no bail."

Larry Daws was a so-so light heavyweight Sanders employed for personal security and occasional acts of persuasion. I'd heard through the grapevine he was going to offer testimony that'd cinch Burney's conviction. Cops uncovered a neighbor who'd spotted Sanders and Daws leaving the house in which Claire Escalante was found dead. For Daws, it was an immunity trade. Anybody who took a good look would see something didn't jibe. Daws was a professional hitter. Sanders was a runt. It was ass-backward and carried plenty of stink.

"How the hell do I rate 'no bail'?" Sanders asked.

"You'd skip first chance you got."

"Drag my wife and kid around, playing fugitive? No chance."

I could have informed him Florence wouldn't shed a tear if he hanged himself in here. Long as he had life insurance. But I thought better of it. He was a father, after all. Never knew that. Not that I cared.

"Look at you," he sputtered."This is news? I been married six years. My boy's gonna be five next month." His mercury was rising. He edged too near the grate and the guard shouted for him to heel."Rate this is going, I'll be in San Quentin when my boy's blowing out his candles."

"I feel for you, Burney." I held thumb and index finger half an inch apart."About this much. You're a liar, a pimp, an extortionist, a killer. I don't give a shit what happens to you."

Why would I? I'd put the cops wise to him. Sanders had operated an extortion racket, using Claire Escalante as the bait, and he'd killed her after she'd turned over to me photographic proof that he was blackmailing people. People like Eddie Ryan, owner of Golden State racetrack, among others.

I was one of the "others."

"You sold the cops a story 'bout how I was shaking Ryan down," Sanders said."You really believe that's what this is about? It's way bigger than Ryan or you. People with serious pull in this town are mixed up in it. I was just a guy who didn't mind doing a little dirty work for his share. But once you go down that road, there's no going back. Everybody you meet, you're working an angle, trying to get 'em in your pocket."

"Why'd you set me up?"

"I'll tell you why. Somehow you and Claire and Hack were all mixed up in Gig Liardi's death. I didn't know exactly what was going on, but I could see that Mr. Above-It-All was neck-deep in shit. I saw a chance to nail you. When you're in with con artists, everybody's ripe for a touch. I was like a fighter, you know? Started to feel I could take down anybody. That I had to. That was the game. I started out doing it for them. When they tried to ace me out, that's when it all went south. Thought I was looking out for myself. Now look at me."

The guard shoved off from the wall and slow-stepped toward us.

"You can check things out without looking suspicious," Burney whispered."You're a newspaper guy. You know your way around. I get me a PI, they'll be on him like stink on shit."

The guard strolled behind Sanders, right hand fondling the billy club strapped to his hip.

"Saw in your column where Hack's quitting," Burney vamped."I guess it'd be pretty tough for him to stay around here, after they hung Gig's murder on his wife." He gave a glance that was supposed to penetrate me, down to the marrow. When I didn't flinch, he added: "That all seemed damn convenient, you ask me."

"Nobody asked you." I changed the subject."Let your wife be your legman, Burney. She seems formidable enough."

"I don't trust her."

I snorted."But you trust me. That's a good one."

The guard strolled out of earshot and Burney shifted gears."They got Daws turned against me. He's gonna say I beat Claire to death. That's not true and you know it."

"Sort of defeats the purpose of having him on the payroll."

"I didn't kill her, Bill." He played it sincere.

"Right -- you just used her like a whore in your shitty little blackmail scheme."

"So try me for that! There's a big fucking difference from where I'm sitting. I didn't kill her. Neither did Larry. But he's the one that hit her. I've said that all along. But they don't want to believe it -- they want me for it. They'll do anything to bury me."

"Burney, you sound like every loser facing hard time -- they did it, not me. Fuck you. Along with this mysterious them you keep bringing up."

"Listen -- I can't say outright who's involved. But, Bill, c'mon -- you don't have to be a genius to put it together."

He waved at the dingy, depressing surroundings. A few fellow hard-luck cases hunched nearby, spinning pathetic spiels before sinking back into the sewers of our justice system. This criminal corral was the bailiwick of District Attorney Edmund G."Pat" Brown, the only city official powerful enough to scare off lawyers and broker testimony.

"It makes no sense, Burney. Why would the DA have it in for you?"

His eyes fixed on me, gleaming."That's what I need to find out."

Whatever amusement value there was in this cryptic nonsense, it evaporated. I was angry, more than anything. Not just because Sanders was a shitheel. He was a time-wasting, annoying, unprofessional shitheel. Here was a guy with a real deadline, who couldn't -- or wouldn't -- place the crucial facts up in his lead.

"You want the truth, pal? Claire's dead. To hell with details. She left three little motherless kids. Somebody's gonna pay for that. You're the one."

"That ain't justice."

"She's dead. You're breathing. That ain't justice."

"Okay, call Jake Ehrlich. Phone's right outside. You two are big buddies -- tell him to take my case. He'll see it's a frame-job right off the bat."

I laughed out loud. I was supposed to use up chits with the city's top criminal lawyer to help Burney Sanders, a lowlife grifter who conspired to blackmail me and then killed the woman I loved?

"You're dreaming, Burney."

"Think so? Couple things break different, it could be you in here trying to save your ass. See, that's why I went to you for help. You know the truth. You were mixed up with Claire. Managed to pull yourself out of the picture when she died. Gave a tidy story to the cops. But like I said -- it's the tip of the iceberg. All I'm asking is a chance to fight this rap. I didn't kill her. It was an accident. We go to trial and they bring in phony testimony, manufacture evidence -- I'll start spewing names like the goddamn phone book. Everybody that's messed up in it -- including you. What'll I have to lose? Do me this favor. Help me flush out the real chiselers, then I could forget to mention in court how you were banging the wife of our local heavyweight hero."

I'd hidden all traces of my connection to the deaths of Claire Escalante and Gig Liardi, manager of her husband, heavyweight Hack Escalante. There was little chance I'd be held to account for anything. But if I've learned one lesson as a newsman, it's that you don't need facts to destroy somebody. Should my name get bandied about in court, attached to such popular pastimes as blackmail, extortion, adultery, and murder, Mr. Boxing's reputation as the cleanest guy in a dirty racket would be shot to hell. Once that was gone, it was a fast fall from top of the heap to the unemployment line.

"I can't buy into any of this," I said, ignoring Burney's implied threat."You haven't told me a damn thing that explains whatever it is 'these people' are getting away with. I wouldn't know where to start -- if I wanted to."

"Check out last Tuesday's obituaries -- an associate of mine's in there. Dexter Threllkyl. We did some things together. Remember the gal who used to work for me -- the one whose name you're not going to mention in here? Remember her? You should -- she musta helped Claire swipe those photos of the two of you from my office. Only that's not all she got. She's got what they're after. Find her. Find her and lots of things will make sense -- 'pecifically about Threllkyl."

The guard poked his club in Burney's back."Time's up," he announced.

Sanders was trying to arrange his features into a convincingly pathetic expression as the bull prodded him back into the jail's bowels. I looked at my watch. Burney'd only gotten half of his allotted twenty minutes.

Copyright © 2003 by Eddie Muller

Read More Show Less

Table of Contents

Read More Show Less

First Chapter

Chapter 1

She craned her head out the passenger window and gave me the once-over. Dark-eyed dame, olive-skinned, lush-lipped: a one-time dreamboat steaming toward the shoals of middle age.

"You the guy they call Mr. Boxing?" she asked.

Female fight fans aren't as rare as you'd think. They grew up listening to title bouts on the radio with their fathers. It got in their blood. I stepped toward her car and turned on the guarded grin I reserved for curious strangers.

"That's me -- Billy Nichols. San Francisco Inquirer."

Long black lashes flapped once. Then her eyes darted somewhere behind me. I was shoved up against the machine. Before I could register a beef, the torpedo crammed me into the front seat, the broad sliding over behind the wheel. She went heavy on the gas and we shot away from the curb.

"What the hell is all this about?" I squawked, trying not to sound completely terrified. We slanted across Market onto Kearny, weaving in and out of midafternoon traffic.

"I'm taking you to jail," she said.

Okay, it was a gag. Dewey Thomas pulling another of his pranks. Renting a couple of shills to "kidnap" me, haul me to the Royal Athletic Club to preview talent in the 1948 Golden Gloves tournament. Dewey must have handpicked the ghee squeezed in at my right. Perfect casting. Swarthy like the woman, but skin pocked like a cantaloupe. Reminded me of somebody...a boxer, years back.

"What's the charge, Officer?" I snickered, playing along.

"Not taking my husband's letters seriously," the dame snapped. "Never returning his phone calls. They only let him make one a day, you know. All things considered, wouldn't hurt you toshow a little decency."

"I could say the same. Who the hell are you?" She bypassed the left that would have led to the Royal. Shit, we were headed toward County Jail.

"Florence Sanders. It's my goddamn husband they're trying to frame for murder. He's sent you fifty million letters and can't reach you. A note practically every day for a whole month, begging you to come see him. What's your problem? No time for your old pals?"

"Sorry, Florence. I've had a lot on my plate lately. Can't say your husband's a priority."

"Not a priority? A murder rap? What would be a priority, Mr. Big Shot?"

"Polishing the silverware. For my wife."

"Screw you! You think this is funny? First he won't quit ranting and raving it's your fault he's in this spot. Then he starts in on how you're the only one who can help him. I'm sick of listening to him. You don't want to go see him? Fuck it, I'll drag your ass over there -- if only to shut his yap. You're gonna go there and talk to Burney, is that clear? My cousin here will make sure you don't take a detour on your way in."

She smoked. Not right this moment, but every other chance she had. Tobacco permanently roughened the edges of her words. Fumes seeped from the fabric of her jacket. No doubt a nervous habit, seeing as her spouse was a killer.

I needed to talk to Florence Sanders's husband like I needed another hole in my head. True enough, it was my doing that Burney Sanders, only months ago the top fight promoter in San Francisco, was facing this murder rap. Not that I gave a damn. I'd like to see him rot in a prison cell, for life. Better yet, maybe the state would see its way clear to give him the gas.

I examined Florence's cousin, calculating how I'd ditch him once we reached Washington Street. The muscle decided he wanted a speaking part in this rolling farce. "It's no big deal," he mumbled. "You can talk to the man for ten minutes, can't you? What'll it hurt?"

"Pardon me, Buddy," Mrs. Sanders barked. "Anybody ask to hear from you? I'm not paying for your commentary. So dummy up."

"Your name Silva, by any chance?" I asked my ugly, sullen seat mate.

He lit up, looked almost tickled.

"You remember me?"

"Bud Silva. Middleweight. Lotta fights in the early thirties. Then you dropped outta sight."

"Doing other things. I wasn't bad, though, huh? Tell her. Tell her 'bout the night I beat Lawless. Remember that fight?"

"Oh, sure. Unforgettable. To say the least."

"Hear that? He remembers my figh -- "

"Shut the hell up, I said! You're supposed to scare him, not ask for his goddamn autograph. Moron. Shoulda known."

"Hey, Florie," Silva spat. "Why don't you watch that mouth, huh?"

We all simmered silently for a couple of blocks. I wondered how much Burney Sanders had confided to his struggle-and-strife about the blackmail racket he'd been running, and my connection to it.

I turned her way: "What'd Burney mean when he told you I was the only one who could help him?"

"Haven't got the slightest idea," she replied, with an overblown sigh. She wheeled onto Clay Street without checking street signs. She'd memorized the route. "Little while ago, he wanted to kill you. Claimed you'd set him up. Swore he was gonna get even. Now everything's out the other side of his mouth -- you're his last hope, he keeps on saying."

"Any idea what he's talking about?"

"Listen -- my husband's been playing dirty pool long as I've known him. Think I'm blind? Does he let me in on it? Think I wanna be in on it? All I know is -- this time his tit's really in the wringer. He gets nailed for one this serious, I'll have to figure out how to fend for myself."

She swung the car up Dunbar Alley and braked abruptly at the rear entrance to County Jail No. 1.

"I can tell he has your unflagging support," I said.

"Everybody's rope's got an end. Outta the car."

"You're not coming?"

"I told him I'd get you here. You're here. I got better things to do."


"Thanks for finally coming," Sanders began.

"Definitely wasn't my idea."

He nodded toward the gate of the visitors' pen. "Florence bring you?"

"She's got a persuasive manner."

"She waiting outside?"

"Beauty parlor appointment. What's the pitch? I still got a column to write today."

I expected the familiar hair-triggered hothead. Worse yet, with a murder rap hanging over him. But Burney didn't give off much heat, staring through the steel cage. Harsh light bouncing off bilious green institutional walls made his pasty skin even more sallow. City-issue dungarees flapped on his spindly frame. He'd dropped pounds he couldn't spare. Might starve before they could serve up the cyanide.

"If the guard starts getting nosy," Sanders warned in a whisper, "go right into fight talk, okay? They probably figure you're here about what happens to my action if I go up on this bullshit charge."

He drilled me with an urgent gaze. I owed the little prick less than nothing. All he got was a weak nod. Sanders flashed a look at a uniformed bull propping up the wall about twenty feet away, on his side of the wire. The guard's eyes locked on his prisoner and never strayed.

"Pretty rich, huh?" Sanders said, voice dropping as he leaned closer. "That you're the one I gotta go to in this spot."

"How's that?"

"Listen -- this blackmail scheme I'm supposed to have cooked up? The pictures of you with Claire? Let's be realistic -- I'm not exactly innocent. But it's chickenshit compared to what's really going on. The blackmail dodge was a sideline. Tip of the iceberg. I'm just a mechanic for the real operators. You did them a big favor, shoving me front and center. Keeps them out of the picture."

I took off my specs, polishing the lenses with the fat end of my tie.

"Pay attention," he snapped. "I can't just lay it all out for you. I think this place is wired. They hear what I tell you, then they'll be up your ass -- and you'll be no help to me at all."

"Why the hell would I help you? Case you haven't gotten the signals, I'm rooting for you to take the pipe."

The old Burney would have tried socking me for such provocation. But if he was offended, he swallowed it.

"I got no right to expect anything from you," he said. "I know that. It was a lousy play, setting you up like I did. You did what you had to, to get even. Maybe we're square. I fucked with you and you fucked me back twice as hard. But this is too much. I didn't kill Claire. I'm taking the rap for something I didn't do. The people behind this, they've got the fix. With me gone, they get away with everything."

"Am I supposed to understand what you're talking about?"

"Just listen. Three lawyers have dumped me, for no good reason. The DA had nothing -- you know that -- and any shyster worth his shit should have been itching to take this on. Then they cut this deal with Daws to finger me. So here I am -- like a leper -- with a snot-nosed public defender and no bail."

Larry Daws was a so-so light heavyweight Sanders employed for personal security and occasional acts of persuasion. I'd heard through the grapevine he was going to offer testimony that'd cinch Burney's conviction. Cops uncovered a neighbor who'd spotted Sanders and Daws leaving the house in which Claire Escalante was found dead. For Daws, it was an immunity trade. Anybody who took a good look would see something didn't jibe. Daws was a professional hitter. Sanders was a runt. It was ass-backward and carried plenty of stink.

"How the hell do I rate 'no bail'?" Sanders asked.

"You'd skip first chance you got."

"Drag my wife and kid around, playing fugitive? No chance."

I could have informed him Florence wouldn't shed a tear if he hanged himself in here. Long as he had life insurance. But I thought better of it. He was a father, after all. Never knew that. Not that I cared.

"Look at you," he sputtered. "This is news? I been married six years. My boy's gonna be five next month." His mercury was rising. He edged too near the grate and the guard shouted for him to heel. "Rate this is going, I'll be in San Quentin when my boy's blowing out his candles."

"I feel for you, Burney." I held thumb and index finger half an inch apart. "About this much. You're a liar, a pimp, an extortionist, a killer. I don't give a shit what happens to you."

Why would I? I'd put the cops wise to him. Sanders had operated an extortion racket, using Claire Escalante as the bait, and he'd killed her after she'd turned over to me photographic proof that he was blackmailing people. People like Eddie Ryan, owner of Golden State racetrack, among others.

I was one of the "others."

"You sold the cops a story 'bout how I was shaking Ryan down," Sanders said. "You really believe that's what this is about? It's way bigger than Ryan or you. People with serious pull in this town are mixed up in it. I was just a guy who didn't mind doing a little dirty work for his share. But once you go down that road, there's no going back. Everybody you meet, you're working an angle, trying to get 'em in your pocket."

"Why'd you set me up?"

"I'll tell you why. Somehow you and Claire and Hack were all mixed up in Gig Liardi's death. I didn't know exactly what was going on, but I could see that Mr. Above-It-All was neck-deep in shit. I saw a chance to nail you. When you're in with con artists, everybody's ripe for a touch. I was like a fighter, you know? Started to feel I could take down anybody. That I had to. That was the game. I started out doing it for them. When they tried to ace me out, that's when it all went south. Thought I was looking out for myself. Now look at me."

The guard shoved off from the wall and slow-stepped toward us.

"You can check things out without looking suspicious," Burney whispered. "You're a newspaper guy. You know your way around. I get me a PI, they'll be on him like stink on shit."

The guard strolled behind Sanders, right hand fondling the billy club strapped to his hip.

"Saw in your column where Hack's quitting," Burney vamped. "I guess it'd be pretty tough for him to stay around here, after they hung Gig's murder on his wife." He gave a glance that was supposed to penetrate me, down to the marrow. When I didn't flinch, he added: "That all seemed damn convenient, you ask me."

"Nobody asked you." I changed the subject. "Let your wife be your legman, Burney. She seems formidable enough."

"I don't trust her."

I snorted. "But you trust me. That's a good one."

The guard strolled out of earshot and Burney shifted gears. "They got Daws turned against me. He's gonna say I beat Claire to death. That's not true and you know it."

"Sort of defeats the purpose of having him on the payroll."

"I didn't kill her, Bill." He played it sincere.

"Right -- you just used her like a whore in your shitty little blackmail scheme."

"So try me for that! There's a big fucking difference from where I'm sitting. I didn't kill her. Neither did Larry. But he's the one that hit her. I've said that all along. But they don't want to believe it -- they want me for it. They'll do anything to bury me."

"Burney, you sound like every loser facing hard time -- they did it, not me. Fuck you. Along with this mysterious them you keep bringing up."

"Listen -- I can't say outright who's involved. But, Bill, c'mon -- you don't have to be a genius to put it together."

He waved at the dingy, depressing surroundings. A few fellow hard-luck cases hunched nearby, spinning pathetic spiels before sinking back into the sewers of our justice system. This criminal corral was the bailiwick of District Attorney Edmund G. "Pat" Brown, the only city official powerful enough to scare off lawyers and broker testimony.

"It makes no sense, Burney. Why would the DA have it in for you?"

His eyes fixed on me, gleaming. "That's what I need to find out."

Whatever amusement value there was in this cryptic nonsense, it evaporated. I was angry, more than anything. Not just because Sanders was a shitheel. He was a time-wasting, annoying, unprofessional shitheel. Here was a guy with a real deadline, who couldn't -- or wouldn't -- place the crucial facts up in his lead.

"You want the truth, pal? Claire's dead. To hell with details. She left three little motherless kids. Somebody's gonna pay for that. You're the one."

"That ain't justice."

"She's dead. You're breathing. That ain't justice."

"Okay, call Jake Ehrlich. Phone's right outside. You two are big buddies -- tell him to take my case. He'll see it's a frame-job right off the bat."

I laughed out loud. I was supposed to use up chits with the city's top criminal lawyer to help Burney Sanders, a lowlife grifter who conspired to blackmail me and then killed the woman I loved?

"You're dreaming, Burney."

"Think so? Couple things break different, it could be you in here trying to save your ass. See, that's why I went to you for help. You know the truth. You were mixed up with Claire. Managed to pull yourself out of the picture when she died. Gave a tidy story to the cops. But like I said -- it's the tip of the iceberg. All I'm asking is a chance to fight this rap. I didn't kill her. It was an accident. We go to trial and they bring in phony testimony, manufacture evidence -- I'll start spewing names like the goddamn phone book. Everybody that's messed up in it -- including you. What'll I have to lose? Do me this favor. Help me flush out the real chiselers, then I could forget to mention in court how you were banging the wife of our local heavyweight hero."

I'd hidden all traces of my connection to the deaths of Claire Escalante and Gig Liardi, manager of her husband, heavyweight Hack Escalante. There was little chance I'd be held to account for anything. But if I've learned one lesson as a newsman, it's that you don't need facts to destroy somebody. Should my name get bandied about in court, attached to such popular pastimes as blackmail, extortion, adultery, and murder, Mr. Boxing's reputation as the cleanest guy in a dirty racket would be shot to hell. Once that was gone, it was a fast fall from top of the heap to the unemployment line.

"I can't buy into any of this," I said, ignoring Burney's implied threat. "You haven't told me a damn thing that explains whatever it is 'these people' are getting away with. I wouldn't know where to start -- if I wanted to."

"Check out last Tuesday's obituaries -- an associate of mine's in there. Dexter Threllkyl. We did some things together. Remember the gal who used to work for me -- the one whose name you're not going to mention in here? Remember her? You should -- she musta helped Claire swipe those photos of the two of you from my office. Only that's not all she got. She's got what they're after. Find her. Find her and lots of things will make sense -- 'pecifically about Threllkyl."

The guard poked his club in Burney's back. "Time's up," he announced.

Sanders was trying to arrange his features into a convincingly pathetic expression as the bull prodded him back into the jail's bowels. I looked at my watch. Burney'd only gotten half of his allotted twenty minutes.

Copyright © 2003 by Eddie Muller

Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Be the first to write a review
( 0 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(0)

4 Star

(0)

3 Star

(0)

2 Star

(0)

1 Star

(0)

Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Noble.com Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & Noble.com that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & Noble.com does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at BN.com or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation

Reminder:

  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & Noble.com and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Noble.com Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & Noble.com reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & Noble.com also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on BN.com. It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

 
Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously

    If you find inappropriate content, please report it to Barnes & Noble
    Why is this product inappropriate?
    Comments (optional)