The Halfback by Night (PG-13)

Sitting Angel down at the small dining table, Rockford squeezed his eyes shut and dropped his chin, “Just make the coffee, okay?”

While Rocky clanked and banged about the kitchenette, Rockford and Kolchak joined Angel around the table. “Angel,” Rockford started gently, “start from the beginning and tell us what happened.”

Angel took a deep breath. “Valerie’s been staying at my pad since she got here. When she’s not crying, she’s baking stuff. She’s been baking a lot. I don’t know, maybe it calms her down, all I know is I got muffins for days. So last night, I mean just a few hours ago – like 10 or 10:30 – the phone rings. When the phone rings at my place I’m usually right on it ‘cause I’ve always got … associates … looking to wheel and deal.” For Kolchak’s benefit, Angel stressed, “All com­pletely legit business, understand.”

Kolchak nodded reassuringly but Rockford prompted, “So you got a call – ?”

“Yeah, only I didn’t and it wasn’t for me anyway,” Angel picked up, “Val was closer so she grabbed the phone. Once she listened for a second she kinda gasped and went all white in the face. Her hand started shaking. There wasn’t much of a conversation, I heard her say, ‘Yes’ a couple of times and then she hung up but missed the rest of the phone so the handle part just fell on the floor and started beeping. She had me freaked out so I’m asking her, ‘What was it?’ you know? ‘Are you okay?’ And she said, ‘That was Clay again.’ I swear, man, that’s what she said. But she wouldn’t say anything else other than she needed to lie down. She was still shaking. I was worried for her so I told her to get to bed and that I would give you a call which I did but I got your machine.”

“She never told you what he said?” Kolchak asked.

“That’s what I said, man, she was too shook up to talk about it. So she went off to the bedroom and I sat on the couch watching TV. I started nodding off myself ‘til midnight – around there – when I hear this engine. A sports car with one of those racing engines – loud – and that wakes me up along with the light from its headlights coming through the blinds as the thing pulls up in front. And I’m thinkin’ ‘What’s this about?’ And so I get up to peek out the window and what do I see but Valerie outside running for the car and hopping in and driving off. She snuck out my bedroom window, Jimmy, no note or anything.”

Rockford looked concerned, but he kept his usual level head, “But you didn’t see her coerced or forced into the car. She’s a girl in her 20s, she’s got college friends around who haven’t seen her in a while, she could be at a party for all you know. It’s only been, what, four hours or so now? I wouldn’t call out the bloodhounds just yet.”

Angel’s eyes, his whole body language suggested urgency, “No, but, Jimmy, it was him driving the car! It was Stacker Shoemaker, I’m sure of it!”

The coffee was awful which made Kolchak feel like he was back in the INS newsroom. This was oddly comforting as he sat back and listened in to Rockford going thoroughly through the points of Angel’s story: the make and model of the car (a silver Porsche – “one of the new ones” as far as Angel could tell), license plate number (“there was two 8s and an X and a B, I think”), what direction the car went (south), etc. The sun would be rising soon. To Rockford this meant getting his buddy Sgt. Becker’s day off to a busy start. But to Kolchak the coming dawn represented a reprieve, thirteen hours or so of daylight in which to do the terrible work he knew must be done. Either way, both men knew they wouldn’t be getting to sleep anytime soon.

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