The Halfback by Night (PG-13)

The verbal walk-through he’d received over the phone from a nice woman in the cemetery’s office had been quite good, though finding their way through the grid of headstones in the pale blue moonlight was a different matter for Rockford and associate. It took them nearly ten minutes to wend their way to the right spot, but soon they found themselves at a three foot tall slab of marble that declared under their flashlight beams:


CLAYTON “STACKER” SHOEMAKER

1951 ~ 1974

He plays for God’s team now.”


Kolchak dryly commented on the adornment atop the headstone – a cement football. “Nice touch.”

“Yeah,” Rockford agreed as he removed his sport coat and began rolling up his sleeves. Kolchak followed suit and passed Rockford one of the shovels.

Kolchak removed the first earth, finding it soft and easily managed, no doubt due to the newness of the grave. He stopped before going back for his second shovelful when he noticed Rockford paused and frowning at the patch of ground under his feet. “What is it, Jim?”

Rockford shook his head, “Nothing. I just realized this is the second grave I’ve plundered in a month.”

Kolchak’s eyebrows shot up. “Oh?”

“Yeah. Only last time,” he continued, finally digging in with one foot jamming the shovel into the ground, “I ended up with a bullet creasing my skull.”

Kolchak, as ever, was piqued. As they continued to dig, Rockford spun a tale of a statuesque mobster’s girl, a faked death, and a coffin full of tax-free money. The story of the bandage gracing Rockford’s temple. When Rockford got to that point of the story he reached up to touch the bandage but found it had fallen off, likely due to the sweat that bathed his forehead. As the wound was nearly completely healed, Rockford wouldn’t worry about it. Besides, the pale pink scar made for a better illustration of his recent mis­adventures. Kolchak just shook his head; it was a good story, and unlike so many of Kolchak’s own, one that people would believe.

Two and a half hours later, time completely undisturbed by any security drive-bys, Rockford’s shovel glanced off something solid and hard. The two men, now filthy and drenched in sweat, shared a look. They scraped the last few inches of dirt away from the surface of the casket and carved out enough of a trench on either side to clear the latches of the lid. Rockford pulled a bandana from his back pocket and raised it to his nose and mouth in anticipation and noticed, pointedly, that Kolchak made no such preparations. Kolchak leaned forward to examine the seals on the lid’s top quarter and showed Rockford by flashlight that the latches had been snapped. When Kolchak pulled upwards on the lid section, it came open easily and practically detached from the rest of the box, the still shiny metal of its pins wrenched by some mysterious force. And inside the casket was nothing but an empty bed of shimmering white satin and air only slightly laced with the stink of dead flesh. Rockford absorbed all this but couldn’t keep his eyes from the underside of the casket’s lid which bore the track marks of fingernails raked through the satin and knuckles imprinted into the steel. But no blood. Rockford shivered lightly and told himself it was a response to the wind chilling him through his damp shirt. The sudden pop of a flashbulb startled him.

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