The Halfback by Night (PG-13)

Becker looked up, “A hunch?”


“You got it,” Becker said, already moving for his phone, “Now, do you mind if I attend to some of the actual crime that’s been patiently waiting its turn since you got here?”

Rockford just laughed as he left the office.

A plate of gnawed-on shrimp tails sat between them on the rough wooden table. Though bleary-eyed, Kolchak was feeling good with a full stomach. They had received the royal treatment when the owner of this small but bustling seafood shack in Santa Monica spotted Rockford coming through the door. The proprietor had ushered them to a table and joked around with Rockford for a minute before rushing off to the kitchen to “whip you up a feast.” And he had. Rockford’s only explanation of all this was that he’d done some work for the guy once. Kolchak wondered what that must’ve been but didn’t ask.

Rockford also had a question he’d wanted to put to Kolchak since he’d picked him up but had likewise refrained: What’s in the bag? Since they’d last seen each other that morning, luggage-less Kolchak had acquired a cheap gym bag (drugstore tags still dangling from the handles), yet still carried his camera and tape recorder slung off his shoulder. Rockford had dim speculations of such a ridiculous and unnerving nature that he shoved them aside and decided to pay them no attention. He glanced at his watch. It was already 5:30 p.m.; the day lost to the fruitless tracking down of Valerie Martin’s friends and acquaintances to see if they’d seen or heard from her. When Rockford had finally come for Kolchak, he found the reporter ready and anxious.

“Time to check in?” Kolchak asked. “Let’s pray they’ve got some leads.”

“Amen to that,” Rockford replied, “Be right back.”

He rose and made for the bar, calling out to the owner, “Hey, Ronnie, mind if I use the phone? It’s local.”

Ever-grateful Ronnie plunked his phone down on the bar top. “For you, Jimmy, anything.”

Kolchak smirked. He was definitely in the wrong line of work.

“Yeah, Jim, I got some new info,” Becker was saying over the line, “but first I got a question for you.”

Rockford played along, “Okay, Dennis, sure. What’s up?”

“Since when are you Boris Karloff all of a sudden?”


“Oh, okay, I see how this works now,” Becker continued, his sarcasm growing more hostile the longer he talked, “this is where you give me some alibi for last night – this is where you tell me it must’ve been some other bronze colored Firebird peeling out from Forest Lawn Cemetery-”

“Now, wait a minute, Dennis,” Rockford started to protest, but Becker wasn’t finished just yet.

“You left your big Band-Aid behind!”

Rockford sighed, knowing there was nowhere to go but straight ahead. “Okay, Dennis, yes, I was there. But this ties in-”

“Where the hell is Stacker Shoemaker?!” Becker bellowed.

“That’s the 64 thousand dollar question,” Rockford admitted. “The grave was empty when we got there.”

“We? Who’ve you roped into your new criminal career, Jim?”

“An interested party.”

“You know who’s interested, Jim? I am – Very interested! And it’s only a matter of time before Jack Mateo gets interested, since it’s his case you’re stepping all over, and from there it’s just a hop and a skip before the DA’s office gets interested in a bad way!”

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