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He sat in his chair reading the track's news releases. "Trainer Harbourne Cressie reports no heat in Pincer Movement's front legs after breezing four furlongs on the track this morning.... No truth in rumor that Salad Bowl was running a temperature last evening, insists Veterinarian John Brewer on behalf of owner Mrs. L. (Loretta) Hicks." Marvelous, he thought sarcastically. Negative news was no news, Derby runners included.
He stayed in the pressroom all afternoon, drinking beer, discussing this, that and nothing with writers, photographers, publicists and radio newsmen, keeping an inattentive eye on the racing on the closed-circuit television, and occasionally going out on the balcony to look down on the anthill crowd far below. There was no need to struggle around down there as he used to, he thought. No need to try to see people, to interview them privately. Everything and everyone of interest came up to the pressroom sometime, ladling out info in spoon-fed dollops.
At the end of the day he accepted a ride back to town in a colleague's rental car (cab fare, $4.50), and in the evening, having laid a substantial bourbon foundation in his own room before setting out, he attended the annual dinner of the National Turf Writers Association. The throng in the big reception room was pleased enough to see him, and he moved among the writers, trainers, jockeys, breeders, owners and wives and girl friends like a fish in its home pond. Before dinner he-put away four doubles on the rocks, and through the food and the lengthy speeches kept up a steady intake. At 11:30 p.m., when he tried to leave the table, he could not control his legs.
It surprised him. Sitting down, he had not been aware of being drunk. His tongue still worked as well as most around him, and his thoughts seemed perfectly well organized. But his legs buckled when he put weight on them, and he returned to his seat with a thump. It was considerably later, when the huge room had almost emptied, that he managed to summon enough strength to stand up. Holding on to the backs of chairs and at intervals leaning against the wall, he weaved toward the door. He blundered on to the lobby, and from there, looking as if he were climbing imaginary steps, out into the night through the revolving doors.
The cool May air made things much worse. The earth seemed to be turning beneath his feet. He listed and, instead of moving forward toward the parked cars and waiting taxis, staggered head on into the wall flanking the entrance. The impact hurt him and confused him further. He put his hands fiat on the rough surface and laid his face on it, unable to work out where he was.
Marius Tollman and Piper Boles had not seen Fred Collyer leave ahead of them. They strolled together along the same route, making the ordinary social phrases and gestures of people who had just come together by chance at the end of an evening, and gave no impression that they had been eyeing each other across the room for hours, thinking almost exclusively about the conversation that lay ahead.
In a country with legalized bookmaking, Marius Tollman might have grown up a respectable law-abiding citizen. As it was, his natural aptitude and only talent had led him into a lifetime of quick footwork that would have done credit to Muhammad Ali. Through the simple expedient of lending money to future racing authorities while they were still young enough to be foolish, he remained unpersecuted by them once they reached status and power; and the one sort of winner crafty old Marius could spot better even than horses was the colt heading for the boardroom.
The two men went through the glass door and stopped just outside, with the light from the lobby shining full on them. Marius never drew people into corners, believing it looked too suspicious. "Did you get the boys to go along, then?" he asked, standing on his heels with his hands in his pockets and his paunch oozing over his belt. Piper Boles slowly lit a cigarette, glanced casually at the star-dotted sky and sucked comforting smoke into his lungs.
"Yeah," he said.
"So who's elected?"