The Halfback by Night (PG-13)

Kolchak sat back in his seat, tilting his hat to the top of his fore­head, “Yeah – yeaaah, that’s right. Good.”

Diverting his gaze from the road long enough to pin Kolchak in an unfriendly stare, Rockford stated edgily, “Now then, this is where you ‘fill in the blanks’ while I try very hard not to toss you out of here at 80 miles per hour.”

Kolchak looked offended, “Jim! I said I would and I will!”

Rockford now squinted in concentration, “That scene back there didn’t surprise you in the least. You knew exactly what we would find out there from the get-go, didn’t you?”

“I had a good idea, yeah,” Kolchak admitted.

“Uh-huh. So where the hell is Clay Shoemaker?

Kolchak looked dumbfounded, “That I don’t know. But we need to find out, and soon.”

Rockford slid his eyes sideways, simmering, and Kolchak picked up, “But I do know some things about our missing dead man, facts that probably aren’t gracing the police reports you read.”

“Such as?”

“Well, for instance, Stacker wasn’t exactly the squeaky-clean, All-American football hero his press – and his girlfriend – make him out to be. He liked women,” Kolchak stated with the proper inflec­tion, “he liked them a lot. And he knew a lot of them.”

Rockford frowned, “I know that. I did some asking around yesterday – his teammates, his college buddies. I’m not surprised no one outside his inner circle ever heard of Valerie, it seems he was stringing her along from a distance. She was a fallback while he played the field.”

“Right, well,” Kolchak nodded, “then maybe you also found out that Clay occasionally liked to hire ladies for companionship. A boy has his appetites and Stacker’s ran towards thin girls with long dark hair.”

“I noticed that too,” Rockford said, “looking at the yearbook pictures of girls he had been dating. They all looked like Valerie.”

“Here’s a name you didn’t come across: Catherine Rawlins,” Kolchak said, his voice dropping to a lower register as if he were worried about being overheard. “Slender beauty, gorgeous figure, and straight black hair hanging down her back. She was a high-priced call girl in Vegas before she-” he paused, rethought, “before she came to L.A. Catherine Rawlins was Stacker Shoemaker’s last date.”

Rockford tried to follow, “Do you mean he saw her the night he died?”

“Yes,” said Kolchak, “and he got a lot more than he paid for.”

Kolchak paused before taking the plunge. “Thursday night, at approximately 10:45 p.m., following a lead from Catherine’s ‘manager,’ I entered Shoemaker’s apartment – door wide open – to find Clay dead on the floor and four men, not a one under 225 pounds, being tossed around the room by our Ms. Rawlins.”

What?” Rockford’s expression would’ve made Kolchak laugh on any other day. “Are you telling me-?”

“There were no black-robed cultists in sight, Jim. Just one petite hooker with pronounced canines and what one might assume to be the physical disadvantage of being three years dead.”

The Firebird swerved violently for a second as Rockford involun­tarily jerked the wheel. Without further comment or exclamation, Rockford slowed the car to a stop on the freeway’s shoulder and hit the hazards. When he turned back to Kolchak, the expression on his face was one of wary attention, a prompt to con­tinue. So Kolchak did.

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