The Halfback by Night (PG-13)

Shoemaker crossed the span between them with one cobra-fast bound but found a large metal cross before his face being brandished by Kolchak who was doing his best to look confident and deadly though the sweat was prickling his scalp under the straw hat and his knees were trembling under his seersucker slacks. The undead football hero jerked backward involuntarily, shielding his eyes and roaring.

AAAOOOOOOWW! Jesus, man!” Shoemaker spat, backing away from Kolchak, “What’d you have to pull that for? Uncool, man!”

“Sorry, Stacker. You oughtta know the importance of a good defense.” Kolchak’s words were pointedly cocky, but his face was still a wide-eyed mask of alertness and nerves.

He noticed that the vampire was backing for the doorway and, with capable aim, tossed a small disk of hard bread to the floor just at the room’s threshold. Shoemaker’s foot jerked back from the Eucharist wafer as if it radiated the heat of the sun. He cursed at the top of his voice. Hitting the “record” button on the tape recorder hung from his shoulder, Kolchak allowed himself a small grin, “Where’re you going, hot shot? I was hoping you might answer some questions for our readers….”

“Screw you, Poindexter!” Shoemaker retorted, aiming a finger at Kolchak who snapped a quick picture one-handed. “You don’t get to mess this up for me!”

“Mess what up, Clay? Death?”

“Aw, man, you don’t know,” Shoemaker said, “I thought pro football was great, you know? The dough, the chicks. But this – this!” He shifted his gaze to Valerie who stared back with terrified eyes, “Look at this bod, baby, look at this face! I’m gonna look like this forever!

Like a quick-draw artist of the Old West, Kolchak pulled his left hand from the gym bag and aimed a 75-cent water gun at the broad handsome face that Stacker Shoemaker was so proud of. He squeezed the trigger and a stream of tap water he’d had a Hispanic sidewalk evangelist bless earlier that afternoon hit the vampire’s face with the sound of bacon grease on a super-heated skillet. The shriek that escaped Shoemaker’s blistered mouth was inhuman.

Shoemaker whirled and drove his shoulder into Kolchak’s chest as if he were a 300-pound tackle. Kolchak fell hard against the edge of the altar upon which poor, manacled Valerie was powerless to do anything but scream soundlessly from her wounded throat. Kolchak blinked at the pain, trying but failing to draw breath into his lungs, while Shoemaker strode across the floor – careful to sidestep the cross and water gun that had fallen from Kolchak’s hands in flight.

Kolchak wheezed and attempted to get to his feet but Shoemaker was closer, growling, frothing at the mouth like a rabid beast. The undead athlete clutched Kolchak’s throat and leaned in. Shoemaker’s mouth opened and Kolchak was assaulted by a gust of coppery, fetid breath….

No one was more surprised that Rockford wasn’t dead than the man himself. There were hands on his shoulders gently shaking him, and his eyes rolled making uncertain attempts at opening. Each time they did a gong of pain was struck in his skull and Rockford groaned.

“Jim,” somebody was saying somewhere. “C’mon, Jim, we’ve gotta go.”

He forced his eyes open again and caught a glimpse of two smudged silhouettes hovering over him. People? Ghosts? Rockford worked himself up to one elbow and stretched the muscles in his face, trying to warm himself up to full awareness. The gong kept striking.

“Come on, Jim,” one of the shapes was saying and Rockford saw the blur resolve itself into more detail. He recognized the hat. “Do you think you can stand?”

“Kolchak?” Rockford finally said and instantly regretted it, his own voice reverberating painfully through his head. But something of Kolchak’s urgency was seeping through the fog and Rockford held out an arm that the reporter grabbed and hoisted his tall frame to a more erect, if still unstable, posture.

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