The Halfback by Night (PG-13)

With its familiar click-CHUNK the answering machine picked up the incoming call he’d chosen to ignore. After his outgoing mes­sage and accompanying beep came a voice – a very nice female voice, but unfamiliar. “Jim?” she cooed in such a pleasing way that he nearly rose to take up the phone, but he waited. “Jim Rockford? This is Shelly with the March of Dimes. As much as we appreciate your recent donation, we’re afraid the check you sent has bounced. The next time you’re feeling charitable may we suggest B’Nai Brith?”


Rockford “hmmph”ed and recrossed his long legs, tipping his boot heels up on the couch’s arm. He hooked his thumbs into the belt of his slacks and made to close his eyes. The dull orange light behind the shades, along with the crying of the gulls and the gentle lapping of waves past the walls of his trailer, conspired with the prescription Per­codan to lull him into a drowse. A nap, sure, that sounded like a fine idea. Just an hour or so. He had just begun to gently snore when a dream-shattering pounding began at the metal-framed door to his modest domicile.

“Rocky?” he called out groggily, though his brain cleared enough to realize this was unlikely. His dad had his own key, so who was this?

By the time he got to the door his skull was pounding again as it had been for the past week and a half. He opened the trailer’s door with one hand, the other pressing against the gauze patch above his left temple. On the other side of the threshold was the unexpected and not particularly welcome face of Angel Martin wearing the same half-smiling, half-twitchy expression that never bode well for his former cellmate and friend.

“Hey, Jimmy,” Angel started, trying and failing to sound casual.

“Angel.” Rockford rooted himself in the doorway in the super­stitious belief that he could ward off whatever trouble Angel was bringing him if he simply never let him in.

“Hey, you look better, man. Less banged-up anyway.”

Rockford offered one of his wryest grins, “Glad you think so. What besides my general well-being brings you out this way, Angel?” His friend barely had a chance to open his mouth before Rockford threw up a pausing hand, “Actually, let me just stop you there. I’m really, genuinely not interested.”

“Oh, hey – hey now, man,” Angel protested, “I’m just, you know, I came by to check in on you. Because we’re amigos and that’s what amigos do. And, okay, maybe I need a favor.”

“Uh-huh,” Rockford nodded, already starting to close his door. Angel stopped it with a hand, his voice taking on the pleading tone that was its signature.

“Now, just wait a minute, Jimmy!”

Rockford reopened the door, just like he always did, but he knew he’d regret it.

Angel relaxed again, loosening his shoulders and running a hand through his bushy dark mop of hair as he explained. “No scam here, no angle – we’re just talking a little nothing favor. And yes, I know the difference. All I need is a ride.”

Rockford’s eyebrows rose skeptically. “A ride?”

“I swear. Yeah, a ride.”

“What happened to your car?”

“It kind of got repo’d. I took the bus here.”

Rockford sighed, briefly looking skyward for deliverance, “Criminy, Angel.”

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