Suicide Squad [MultiFormat]
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eBook by Richard Curtis
eBook Category: Mystery/Crime
eBook Description: Dave Bolt doesn't know what the Racers' star quarterback has to do with the game no gambler would touch, but it smells like a mighty fishy fix. When Jimmy Quinn doesn't show for a meeting and has disappeared, Bolt suspects more than a thrown game. Quinn's books show a few shady deals, but nothing too suspicious. Now Bolt has a dead gambler on his hands, and what he wants to know is--is Quinn next on the list or a cold-blooded killer? No one ever said the sports business was a cup of tea and Dave Bolt takes his coffee strong, bitter and black.
eBook Publisher: E-Reads, Published: 2004
Fictionwise Release Date: July 2004
4 Reader Ratings:
Trust your agent and God, in that order.
That is Dave Bolt's First Law, and it ought to be engraved on the heart of every professional athlete seeking representation. Sure, we players' agents are fallible, but our judgment in money matters is infinitely superior to that of most athletes, believe me.
Jimmy Quinn didn't believe me, and he paid through the nose.
Jimmy was quarterback of the Indianapolis Racers, then in its second year as a National Football League expansion club. My handsome, rusty-haired, freckle-faced client, a former Ohio State star, had led his team into a place of contention in the Central Division and they were clinging to first place late in the season. He wasn't a spectacular quarterback, but he had poise and maturity far beyond his twenty-three years. His specialty was not making mistakes, a skill I'll trade for any three others you can name. He'd been intercepted four times the whole season. He knew how to throw the ball away, eat it, or take a rushing lineman's best shot while getting off a last-moment pass. If he stayed healthy, he was surely destined to become a biggie.
His call came in as I was downing the tail end of a pastrami-rye-light -- mustard-hold-the-coleslaw -- and a Coke in my office on a Monday afternoon in the third week of November. The Racers were scheduled to go against the Detroit Lions in Indianapolis on Monday Night Football that evening, with the revived second-place Lions bidding for a tie in the standings with the Racers. It was a game I wouldn't have missed for anything, and I'd been looking forward all day to settling down in front of a twenty-one-inch screen with some close friends that evening. The last thing I'd have predicted is that I'd be sitting in Racer Stadium watching it live, but that's what happened.
Jimmy's call took the form of a screen play. A friendly, open "Hi, Dave. How's things?"
"Hey, Jimmy! Things are just dandy. You up for the game?"
"Higher 'n a satellite. How'd you like to come out here and see us ream the Lions tonight? I can put you in the best seats in the house."
It was tempting, but I said, "Much as I'd love to, I've got some pressing appointments early tomorrow morning. I'm afraid I'll have to be a no-show. But I'll be watching--"
"Dave?" His voice had dropped in timbre from happy-go-lucky to grave, and here's where he delivered his screen pass. "Dave, I... I really need to see you."
"What's the matter, buddy?"
"Why don't you hit me with it over the phone?"
"I really can't."
"Can you give me a hint?"
"Mmm... no. No, I really can't."
"I wouldn't trouble you this way if it wasn't serious. I'll pay your air fare."
"Shit, I don't care about that." I drummed my fingers on the desk and opened my appointment calendar. I was booked solid tomorrow morning -- a breakfast with Alvin Dark, a midmorning meeting with Red Auerbach, and lunch with some people from Wilson Sporting Goods to discuss endorsements by some of my clients. Engagements not to be broken lightly. I said as much to Jimmy. As I had a critical and absolutely unbreakable meeting this afternoon, I wouldn't be able to get away until late, so I couldn't see Jimmy before the game. Meaning we'd have to get together afterwards, meaning I couldn't catch a flight back to New York till the following day. "Now, is it that serious, Jimmy?"
"Uh... yes," he said, his voice cracking with nervousness.
"Okay, where do you want to get together?"
"There's a restaurant, Barber's, everyone knows where it is. I'll meet you there a little after midnight."
"Unless there's an overtime," I sighed.
"There's not going to be an overtime," he said confidently.
True to his word, Jimmy arranged for me to have the best seats in the newly completed stadium. Located in the second tier on the fifty-yard line, they obviously had been designated by the architect to be the focal point of the bitter winter wind that swept off the prairie and funneled through the open west end of the stadium. Even my forethought in bringing two sweaters, a mouton overcoat, a heavy wool scarf, a knit woolen hat, and a pint flask of Wild Turkey availed little to ward off the vicious chill of the Indiana night. They say that in cold weather a man's scrotum stretches tight in order to bring his balls closer to his warm body. Well, five minutes into the first quarter mine was stretched tighter than the skins on Buddy Rich's drums as my balls sought refuge somewhere in the region of my pancreas.
I will say, though, that the game did some to take my mind off the cold. Both the Lions and the Racers wanted to win something awful, and they came out popping. Greg Landry, the Lion's QB and for my money one of the best in the NFL, was never sharper, marching his reconstituted team -- there'd been a purge of veterans after their last catastrophic season -- up-field from their own twenty-eight-yard line deep into Racer territory on the strength of a purely passing offense which caught the Racers off balance. Not a single ground play did Landry essay until, with third down and five to go on the Racers' eighteen, he called a draw that caught the Racers' middle linebacker, Gene Harvey, on a blitz. The play went for thirteen yards, then Landry, after two fruitless attempts to crack the Racers' line with off-tackle plays, bootlegged the ball into the end zone without a finger being laid on him.
But Jimmy Quinn brought the Racers right back with a ninety-yard march, and, almost as a way of thumbing his nose at Greg Landry, Jimmy picked up most of it in the air. It was mostly nickle-and-dime, slant-ins, square-outs, and buttonhooks for four or five yards at a time, a bruising end-sweep to pick up the first down, then back to aerials. A honey of a screen, with Quinn permitting himself to be chased fifteen yards before unloading to his halfback Enos Jespersen, went for sixteen yards, then Jimmy uncorked a nifty bullet to his tight end Jerry Scorese threading the needle of the Lion's zone defense on a deep slant. The safety brought him down on the five, and on the next play Jesperson barged through a gantlet of Lion defenders to tumble into the end zone.
"And it looks like we have a game!" Frank Gifford was blaring on a portable television set sitting in the lap of a fan in front of me.
"Indisputably, Giff," affirmed the voice of Guess Who.
"Of course, if I'd been playing on that defensive line," deadpanned former Detroit rushing great Alex Karras, "Jesperson would've got in a lot faster."
"If you're fishing for a compliment," Cosell retorted, "you'll find me taking the bait with alacrity, Alex Karras. If you'd been on that line, I guarantee Jespersen would have been stopped dead in his tracks."
"Shucks, Howard, you're only saying that because I outweigh you by seventy-five pounds," Karras came back.
The rest of the quarter settled into a defensive duel with two exchanges of punts, then Greg Landry found his second wind and took his team seventy yards for a touchdown, forty-five of them on the wings of a perfectly thrown deep sideline pass to a wing-footed rookie wide receiver named Phil Becker. Jimmy Quinn shifted to a ground game after finding a weak spot in the Lions' rushing end, but finished a long drive that started on his own six with three gorgeous completions to wide end, tight end, and halfback respectively. And just before the half ended, the Racers advanced far enough into Lion territory to pick up a field goal. Going into the locker room, the Racers held a three-point edge, 17 -- 14.
It took a major effort of will to motivate my muscles to propel me out of my seat. I knew how those Arctic explorers felt when they were tempted to lie down in the midst of a blizzard and lapse into that sweet icy sleep from which there is no awakening. But I managed to pull myself into something of an erect posture and forge my way to a concession stand. I'm not crazy about hot chocolate, but at that point I'd have gladly consumed a quart of pure arsenic as long as it was hot.
I dropped in on Gifford, Cosell, and Karras in the broadcasting booth, pressed flesh, and exchanged pleasantries. Frank was kind enough to arrange for me to sit in an enclosed press box with some ABC station executives who'd also fled from the cold front, and I spent the second half in shirtsleeves complaining about the intolerable heat. But at least my game leg (the ankle injury that forced my premature retirement from the Dallas Cowboys acts up in cold, damp weather) thawed out and the prospect of confinement to a wheelchair was postponed for a few years.
The third quarter was a distinct disappointment after the exciting first two. Both teams played sluggishly, and I suspect they'd gotten too comfortable in their warm locker rooms. The Lions nudged a field goal over the crossbars from thirty yards out to tie the score, but the period was played entirely between the twenty-five-yard markers and I actually dozed off for a minute, only to find nothing had transpired during my nap. Undoubtedly the respective coaches laid some sharp words on their boys between quarters, because when play resumed we were plunged back into the brand of football we'd witnessed in the first half. A Racer interception on Landry woke up the offense and fans alike, and Jimmy Quinn came on strong with as pretty a march as you're likely to see, weaving ground and air games into a tapestry of rare loveliness. Racers 24, Lions 17. The Lions didn't come back on their own set of downs, but after an exchange of punts Landry electrified his teammates with a run on a busted play that netted him twenty-five yards, and instead of running out of bounds as a prudent quarterback ought to do when a safety is coming up with blood in his eye, Landry lowered his shoulder and bowled the startled player over, reminding me of Joe Kapp in his heyday. Landry then assembled a drive that took the Lions in on six plays. Tie game again.
Then the Lion defense sagged when its capstone, middle linebacker Herb Ryder, got his bell rung and wobbled off the field wondering what year it was. Jimmy Quinn exploited it immediately with a series of slants aimed at befuddling Ryder's rookie replacement. Four plays later, Quinn took the ball in on a sneak, and when the Lions fumbled the kickoff, Quinn shattered the game open like a piñata with a perfectly thrown post pattern to his tight end, and that was the ball game.
I traipsed out of the stadium, clinging to the crowd to extract a little extra warmth against the frigid blasts that awaited us outside. Luckily, there was a long line of taxis scooping up fares as fast as customers could jump in. As Jimmy had predicted, the driver knew where Barber's was and drove me to a modern, spacious restaurant on the ground floor of a newly erected skyscraper in midtown about six minutes from the stadium. I waited at the bar for half an hour nursing a Galliano on the rocks, a rare departure from my customary bourbon, but I'd had enough of my customary bourbon for one night and the sweet liqueur soothed my stomach and prepared it for the sumptuous dinner ahead. But after forty-five minutes I began to get a little impatient and a lot hungry, and after an hour I began to get worried.
I had no phone number for the Racers' locker room, even assuming Jimmy was still there, so on the off chance he might have gone home for some inexplicable reason, I called there. A female voice answered, sonorous and well modulated, like an executive secretary's. This would be Jimmy's wife Carol, whom I'd never met.
There was a pause, which I interpreted as confusion.
"Is Jimmy there?" I asked.
"Why, no. Isn't he with you? He said he was meeting you after the game."
"He hasn't arrived yet."
"He didn't call you, or anything?"
"Does he usually loiter around the locker room after a game?"
"Not for an hour. Not when he has an appointment. Look, I have the private number for the locker room. Give me the number you're calling from, and I'll call you right back."
I read the number off the phone, hung up, and waited. A trickle of adrenaline accelerated my heartbeat, but I'd been around ballplayers too long to get genuinely concerned.
Genuine concern came a minute later when Carol called back and said Jimmy had left the stadium forty-five minutes ago. And the adrenaline valves really opened when Carol said, "I was afraid something like this was going to happen."
"What does that mean?"
"I'm not sure," she said, voice now trembling with anxiety. "But he's been nervous, uptight, all week. Something's been bothering him, and I don't mean worry about the game. In fact, Jimmy doesn't worry about games. This was something else, and something important."
"Do you have a clue what it might be?"
"No. Oh, of course..."
She censored the thought and I said, "Of course what? It might be a woman?"
"It wouldn't be the first time," she said resignedly.
"Mrs. Quinn, can you come down here now?"
"No, there's no one to watch the kids. But maybe you can come over here. We're only fifteen minutes away from where you are."
She gave me directions and, after leaving word with the maître d' where I was going to be in case Jimmy finally turned up, I hailed a taxi and directed him to a suburb named Beechwood and a street named Alvin Court. The third house on the left was a small ranch house which looked like the first house on the left, the second house on the left the fourth house on the left, the first house on the right, ad suburbum. It was just right for the income bracket of a second-year quarterback, but if Jimmy carried his team to the playoffs, he'd be looking for larger quarters in the spring. His contract came up for renewal, and visions of many digits danced in my head, or had until today. They'd been replaced by some chilling fantasies, and as I pushed the bell it was all I could do to force a knot of fear back down my gullet. Up to now I'd been hoping against hope that Jimmy had blown some minor problem out of proportion, a hundred-dollar overdraft at his bank or something. But I knew it was not to be. You just had to be standing there in the middle of a dark Indianapolis suburb at one-thirty in the morning, when all good little quarterbacks are snug in bed with their wives and lights out, to know it was not to be.
It is all but federal law that dashing young quarterbacks must have beautiful wives, but I must say I wasn't prepared for the beauty that greeted me at the door. Between her mention of kids, and the lateness of the hour when even movie starlets tend to look a little frumpy, I'd expected a woman somewhat on the heavy side in a flannel robe, bunny rabbit slippers, and curlers. Rarely have expectations been so gratifyingly disappointed. Carol Quinn was tall, lithe, soft, and beautiful. She had long brunette hair brushed to a high gloss, framing a face that was faintly Eurasian in bone structure, wide almond eyes, a slightly snubbed nose, generous lips. Her complexion was a beige tint highlighted by a kind of sunrise pink and so smooth it looked as though it had been finished with a jeweler's cloth.
She wore a sand-colored chiffon negligee over a flowing nightgown that invited stares but rewarded them only with the almost imperceptible button outlines of her nipples on small, high breasts, still a bounteous reward considering what I'd imagined I'd find standing on the other side of the door.
Her mouth was drawn down with worry but she managed a warm smile as she reached out to press my hand, a hand so cold it sent a shiver through her. I realized I was standing stupidly in the doorway, and I stepped inside, shuddering.
I removed my coat, scarf, and hat and draped them over a little chair in the hallway, and Carol led me into the living room. Her chiffon swished as she moved, and she left a trail of fragrance that elicited naughty fantasies from my brain. The living room was boxy and simply furnished, but Carol apparently had a nice decorator's touch. The inexpensive colonial furniture, rust-colored carpet, and bright print draperies were sensitively mixed and matched. Despite so many opportunities for vulgarity, Carol had created a warm and comfortable home.
"You look like you could use a drink," she said, gliding to a bar-cart in a corner of the room.
"As a matter of fact, I've used enough drink for one evening, thank you. But if you wouldn't mind putting up some coffee, don't trouble yourself, instant will do just fine..."
"Certainly, but if you don't mind..." She poured herself a stiffish glass of vodka over a single ice cube. "I haven't had quite enough to drink, myself. Not that I'm a drinker..."
"I think you can be excused, considering the circumstances."
She demolished half the glass in one swig without wincing, making me wonder how valid was her protest that she wasn't a drinker. "Will you have a bite to eat, too?" she asked, flowing toward a swinging door that obviously led to the kitchen.
"If it's not too much trouble. I'm kind of... well, famished is what I'm kind of." I started for the kitchen, but she waved me off.
"You sit right there. I'll be back in one minute."
I was too jumpy to sit, so I paced the room while Carol tinkered in the kitchen, looking at a little collection of seashells, then at a shelf of books, divided into industrial engineering texts belonging to Jimmy, bestsellers and Book-of-the-Month Club selections for Carol. I halted in front of an antique mirror and grimaced at my own face. Even at the best of times I grimace at my face, or at least at my poor old nose, a collection of bone-shards no longer than a match head, compliments of high school, college, military, and professional football players and one jealous husband. I keep resolving to have my nose fixed now that I don't play football any more, but I really can't spare the time, and besides, in the back of my head is the suspicion that I haven't met the last of the jealous husbands.
The rattle of plates on a tray underlined that thought.
I raked my hair with my fingernails, kinky ochre hair that betrays a liaison between an ancestor and a slave girl, which makes me certifiably lynchable in the South, though the hair is the only hint that I'm not of pure Anglo stock; the hair, I should say, and an ineffable compassion for people of the black race.
One last check-out in the mirror, because I felt this inexplicable urge to be as attractive as possible when Carol Quinn came back through the kitchen door. Not bad, not bad, but only hot food and coffee would drain the purple out of my cheeks from the bitterly cold night.
She swept back into the room trailing clouds of glory and bearing a tray laden with meat loaf, a pitcher of gravy, and a mug of coffee steaming tantalizingly. "The meat loaf is cold," she apologized, "but the gravy is warm and the coffee is like lava."
"You're very kind," I said, plunging into the repast while Carol refilled her vodka glass and sipped from it, watching me eat with a kind of Jewish Mother pleasure. I ate fast, not just because I was hungry, but also because I wanted to talk. I finished, suppressed a belch, sipped some coffee, and leaned forward in my chair. "Mrs. Quinn--"
"Carol, please." Her dark eyes kindled slightly with the invitation to familiarity.
"Carol. You said that Jimmy was nervous, upset, all week long. You don't know why, what it might be?"
She shook her head, her tresses swirling from shoulder to shoulder in slow motion, like someone in a shampoo commercial. 'Did Jimmy have money problems?" I asked.
"Just the usual, making-ends-meet problems. Actually, come to think of it, he told me not too long ago that we were in good shape. Some kind of investment he'd made had panned out, and we have a cushion."
"Did he tell you what that investment was?"
She pulled her legs up under her on the couch opposite me and smoothed her negligee down with graceful hands. "No."
"Now, don't be mad at me, but -- did Jimmy ever associate with anyone suspicious? You know, gambler types?"
"I seriously doubt it. He's very... um... moral about things like that. In fact, he once bawled out a teammate of his for talking too much to a stranger at a bar. No, I can't believe Jimmy would get mixed up in anything like gambling."
Though I broke off that line of questioning, I reserved judgment on Carol's reply. A ballplayer could very well be up to his ears in gambling and his wife wouldn't have a scintilla of suspicion. For the next question I moderated my voice; it dealt with a subject as delicate as Flemish lace. "You said something about other women. Do you mind... uh... elaborating?"
She sighed and lubricated her throat with vodka for the difficult conversation ahead. "There've been other girls, what can I say?"
"Looking at you, I know what I'd say."
She looked at me with appreciation tinged with something volatile and dangerous, as if her need for flattery approached desperation. Her ego had been badly bruised, and she clutched at my compliment like a floating spar in a shipwreck. "You wouldn't say it if you'd seen me pregnant, which I was for eighteen out of the first twenty-two months of our marriage."
"I understand," I said, flashing back to the time when Nancy, now my ex-wife, was pregnant with Jody. For a man with normal sexual appetites, pregnancy is almost as difficult as it is for his wife. Jimmy wouldn't be the first man to have sought relief outside his marriage during that trying period.
"But you're not pregnant now," I said, taking advantage of a natural opportunity to study Carol's soft body directly. She certainly wasn't pregnant; except perhaps with a needy sexuality that unnerved me.
"Bite your tongue!" she laughed. "No, I'm not. But Jimmy's tasted the apple. And God knows he has enough girls to choose from. He needs a fullback to run interference for him when he comes out of the locker room."
"All I meant was, now that you're back in good shape -- in lovely, lovely shape..." It was madness to flirt with her this way, but the normal mechanism of restraint seemed to have broken down and the words just rolled out of my throat unchecked.
She ran a hand through her hair seductively, and God knows where things would have gone from there had not the phone rung. "There's our boy now," I said with a breeziness I didn't really feel.
"I don't think so," she said, rising in a fluid motion and crossing the room to the telephone on a table beside a rocking chair in the corner. "When I called the locker room, I spoke to Hobie Gilmore. He said he'd call. He wanted to speak to you."
Gilmore was head coach of the Racers, a highly respected and popular man around the league and a hometown Hoosier favorite, as he'd starred for Indiana University and later coached them before becoming an assistant coach with the Houston Oilers. He'd then been tapped for the head coach slot when the NFL awarded a franchise to a syndicate of Indianapolis investors. His popularity was always a puzzle to me; he was a dour, testy man who hated the press, scorned public relations, and disdained anything that did not bear directly on improving his team. But he'd fired the rookie club up from the first minute he took command, sparking them to a winning record the first year and now a place of contention the second, and the press accepted his abuse good-naturedly -- as long as the Racers won.
Carol picked up the phone and answered it breathlessly, obviously cherishing the slim hope that it was Jimmy. Her shoulders drooped when the caller identified himself, and she held the phone out to me.
"Hello, Hobie. Any word on Jimmy?" I said.
"No. You?" His voice was a nasal baritone, and he spoke in grunts.
"No. Do you have any ideas?"
"I didn't until half time."
"What happened at half time?"
"You know somebody named Barry Posner?"
"Sounds familiar, but I can't place it exactly."
"He's a member of the Commissioner's security staff."
I snapped my fingers. "Right." The Commissioner retains a number of men whose sole duty is to investigate rumors of suspicious activities among pro football players, especially those related to gambling. The nicest thing I've heard football players call them is police, but they're a grim necessity and will always be until the Second Coming when mankind is redeemed and made incorruptible.
"Posner collared me outside the locker room," Gilmore said. "He told me tonight's game had been taken off the boards early this afternoon."
"Whoo boy," I groaned. "Taken off the boards" is gambling parlance for calling off all bets. Bookies will stop taking betting action on a game if they have any reason to believe there's something fishy about it. The NFL security boys like this Barry Posner keep their fingers firmly on the pulses of bookies, betting operations, and the people who make up the odds, in order to detect precisely such a flutter.
So much for Carol's confidence that Jimmy couldn't possibly be involved in gambling.
But, of course, this was jumping to conclusions. On the other hand, the connection between Gilmore's news and Jimmy's disappearance was too ominously logical to dismiss lightly.
"Did Posner have any notion as to why?" I asked.
"Yes. He said someone dumped a ton of money on the game, taking Detroit on the point spread."
"What was the spread? Four?"
"Five. We were favored by five."
"Who was it who put the money down, did Posner know?"
"No, he's checking into it now. Whoever it was tried to screen his bet by going through half a dozen front men around the country, but rumors started flying, and you know how fast rumors fly through the gambling network."
"Faster than a joke," I said. I thought about it for a moment, fishing for an intelligent question hovering just out of reach. Then it came to me. "Did Posner say exactly when the game was taken off the boards?"
"I told you, he said early this afternoon."
"He wasn't more specific than that?"
"Just curious," I fibbed.
Gilmore didn't buy it. "You know something."
"No, honest," I protested.
"Why did you fly out here today? Not just to freeze your ass off watching a football game."
"I have other business out here," I replied casually, seeing no reason to draw Gilmore into the matter at this stage.
"Why don't I believe you?" Gilmore said.
"Oh, ye of little faith! Do me a favor: call me if you learn anything more."
"Where will you be?"
That was a good question. Jimmy had said he'd book an accommodation for me, but he didn't say where. I put my hand over the mouthpiece. "Did Jimmy say what hotel he was putting me up in?" I asked Carol.
She looked at me, first levelly, then meaningfully. "It's too late for you to go hunting up a hotel. You can stay here."
I uncupped the mouthpiece, gulping. "Uh, I'm not sure yet. I'll call you tomorrow morning."
"Posner's going to want to speak to you. And we'll have to prepare a story for the press."
I put the phone on the receiver and looked at Carol. She was draped on the couch, her dark hair shimmering in the quiet light, her negligee flowing in gentle swirls along the contours of her body. "I don't want to put you to any trouble," I said politely.
"It's no trouble," she said softly. "It's no trouble at all."
Copyright © 1975 by Richard Curtis