The Halfback by Night (PG-13)

Kolchak looked up and smirked, “Uh, in a way. But I’m mainly interested to see if Stacker Shoemaker’s murder is an isolated occurrence or if there might have been any similar deaths under circum­stances just as mysterious.”

Rockford took his seat and lifted his Coke, “Let’s hope not. I can’t afford to take on any more pro bono work.”

Kolchak perked up at this, “You know, I’ve always been kind of jealous of those in your profession.”

“The glamorous world of snooping?”

“Inelegantly put, but yes,” said Kolchak, “On the face of it, it’s pretty similar to what I do. A lot of legwork, developing contacts, picking up the little clues that get dropped intentionally or not.”

“Well, yeah, I guess there are similarities,” Rockford replied, “Now, I can’t speak for the paper biz, but the best part of my line of work is in tying it all together, fitting all the seemingly unrelated pieces, finding the connections until it all makes sense. That’s when I sleep easy: when I’ve got the stories straight, when the world makes sense…as much as it ever does, I mean.”

Kolchak nodded, “See, what I envy is that while we of the press just present information, you investigators act on it. I suppose we’re both part of the ‘machinery of Justice’ as it were but you actually get to solve the problem, get to wrap things up in a pretty bow. That’s something I- Let’s just say that I’ve found myself – once or twice – more involved in a story than I should have been, and I have to admit it’s a nice feeling when you have a direct, positive effect on the outcome.”

“Sure, that can make the busted jaws and severed brake lines almost worth it.”

Undeterred by Rockford’s sarcasm, Kolchak continued, “I hope you don’t mind my asking, but what kind of a living do you make?”

Rockford smirked, “Thinking of trading sideways, Carl?”

“Curiosity, that’s all,” Kolchak replied.

“Well, curiosity helps. Up to a point. And no, I don’t mind you asking,” Rockford said, distracted momentarily by the arrival of their lunches, his meatloaf sandwich plate being slid in front of him by a sour-faced waitress. He resumed, “I don’t happen to have my W2 on me right now, but I do alright. My rate is 200 a day plus ex­penses.”

“Say, that sounds pretty good,” Kolchak responded through a mouthful of the BLT he’d ordered.

“Yeah, it does,” Rockford agreed, “but keep in mind I’m not the only P.I. in town. There are some very dry spells. This, however, is not one of them.”

Kolchak tipped his coffee cup as a salute, “Well, here’s to that. May Man’s inexhaustible passion for larceny, duplicity, infidelity and barbarism keep our coffers full from here to the clarion call of Judgment Day.”

Rockford didn’t return the salute. “You really that cynical, Carl?”

“You got me, Jim,” Kolchak said with a smirk, spreading his hands in a surrender gesture, “I’m giving Man too much credit.”

“How so?”

“Well, I’ve seen a lot of evidence to suggest that when it comes to the doing of evil, Man has some outside help.”

Rockford opened his mouth to reply, but thought better of it and stuck a cottage fry in it instead.

By the time they’d finished off lunch and were debating chasing it with a piece of pie, Angel and Valerie had arrived and joined them in the booth. They shuffled seats, Kolchak joining Rockford on one side of the booth so both could face Valerie, who seemed little better than the day before. Rockford noticed that the cuticles of all ten of her fingers were scabbed and raw from nervous chewing.

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