The Halfback by Night (PG-13)

He began by describing for Rockford a series of slayings that occurred in Las Vegas three years before. Six women at final count, but possibly many more. Each of these murders displaying the same m.o.: mutilation of the neck and complete blood loss. At the time, Kolchak had been just doing his job, covering the crime beat, when he became more and more convinced that something unbelievable was behind these deaths. He had been present for the aftermath of a hospital blood bank robbery perpetrated by a tall, dark man with blazing eyes – a man Kolchak witnessed being shot multiple times at point-blank range without slowing him down. The police later identified their prime suspect as a European national named Janos Skorzeny – a fugitive from Interpol and a man that, if his birth records were to be believed, was performing these feats at a spry 72 years of age. Kolchak had taken it upon himself to urge the Las Vegas sheriff’s department and city police to treat the suspect as if he were exactly what he appeared to be. Though openly derided and threatened by the city officials, Kolchak learned later that Las Vegas cops had, in those last few days of the manhunt, been issued crucifixes, holy water and stakes. In the end, it had still fallen on Kolchak and his one good friend in the FBI, Bernie Fain, to track Skorzeny to his dilapidated wreck of a rented home one night just before dawn. The confron­tation had been horrifying, the work to be done gruesome, but by the time the sun had risen and the police had arrived on the scene, Janos Skorzeny was a threat no longer. For his efforts and heroism, Kolchak received a one-way ticket out of town with the threat of incarceration (or worse) should he ever attempt to return to Sin City or if he tried to spread the true story of the events of that terrible year.

“This is all completely verifiable,” Kolchak informed Rockford, “Police records, autopsy reports, newspaper accounts – including a few under my own byline. You’ll find everything I just relayed – except the most important part of the story. You’ll never come across the slightest mention of the word ‘vampire.’

Kolchak watched Rockford’s face, to see how the concepts were being digested, but the detective just stared back with one elbow propped on the steering wheel, his deadpan expression intermittently lit by the headlights of cars roaring past.

Catherine Rawlins, Kolchak continued, had been the one victim of Skorzeny’s that had never been found and, apparently, the only one infected with his curse. Kolchak hadn’t known any of this, of course, until an acquaintance had let slip about a string of sus­picious murders that had been occurring along the road from Vegas to L.A. The possibility that these were somehow related to the Skorzeny case is what brought Kolchak westward. Rawlins had killed several people – men and women (including her own sister) – before laying into Stacker Shoemaker and the Godzilla Gang. Again Kolchak’s attempts to work with the police, to try to guide them towards a highly improbable solution to a particularly nasty string of homicides, ran aground of the 20th century rationalism of men like Lt. Jack Mateo and the LAPD. And again it was Kolchak who bore the burden of hunting and destroying a foul and terrible thing. In doing so, he had set alight the 20 foot white cross that had stood as a local landmark on a Burbank hillside not far from the grounds of Forest Lawn since the 1920s – pinning Rawlins beneath its righteous light.

The cops had booked Kolchak for the murder of Catherine Rawlins until the M.E. reported that the body of the woman identified as the victim showed signs of advanced decomposition. In short, she had been dead long before Kolchak had killed her.

Rockford stared on as Kolchak kept elaborating, inwardly marveling at the spectrum of madness in the world. He’d seen myriad shades of lunacy in his day, just as many outside the slammer as in, and each had been crazy in his own special way. Take this guy for instance, smarts, a way with words, good storyteller, acerbic wit, likable and seemingly sane. And then you listen to the fantasies he’s laying out in journalistic detail, and you look at the utter conviction writ across his slightly comical face, and you just have to wonder how many more certifiable nutcases walk amongst us each and every day, going to work, heading home, tucking their kids in at night.

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