The Halfback by Night (PG-13)

When he’d first “woken up” and clawed his way out of the ground, he’d been confused, scared, but more than that, he’d been so hungry. He’d gone home, past the police tape across his door, and that’s where he’d called her from. But the realization soon dawned that too many people would recognize him if he stayed there, so he left. Restless, he’d made his first kill that night – a bald guy in a nice suit outside of a restaurant Clay used to love. He took the man’s car.

Clay had read the papers and watched the news and saw how a group of devil worshippers were taking the credit for his murder as well as others. So Clay had decided to pay “the flakes” a little visit to see if they would like to see their handiwork up close.

“They were total phonies,” Clay had said to Valerie, “They peed themselves when I showed up at the door.”

He’d asked Valerie if she’d missed him as much as he’d missed her. And then he strapped her to the altar and raped her several times. He’d bitten her and lapped at the blood flowing from her neck. She thought he was going to kill her like he had all the others but he kept whispering to her that he would make sure they would be together forever.

By the end of her tale, Valerie’s voice was a dry whisper, “But he didn’t understand – I couldn’t make him understand – I wanted him to kill me…” Her eyes had dimmed and were now frozen, staring ahead but focusing on nothing. She now just kept repeating softly, “Why didn’t he kill me? Why didn’t he kill me? Why didn’t he kill me…?”

Rockford met Kolchak’s gaze in the rear-view mirror, both men radiating the same sympathetic regret. Rockford heard Kolchak shut off his tape recorder.

The hospital Rockford had guided Kolchak to was one where the detective had a couple of friends; good doctors who would help Jim with confidential treatment kept off the books no matter how severe or how suspicious. They saw to Valerie who was on the verge of shock and in need of an immediate transfusion and they looked after Rockford’s wounds old and new: three bruised ribs and a new concussion to go with his still tender gunshot wound of three weeks ago. Rockford thanked them for the diagnosis but declined their firm “suggestion” of an overnight stay. Within the hour Rocky arrived with Angel in tow and an edited version of the night’s events was then spun. Rockford warned Valerie’s cousin that once she was awake she might go on about “vampires” but that was just the kid­napping trauma talking. Upon securing Kolchak a ride back to his motel from Rocky (“What am I, a taxi service?” his father had quipped), Rockford drove himself home.

Exhausted and beaten, he slept hard, but not as soundly as he wished. His dreams were of teeth.

The bartender set two beers in front of them, eyeing Rockford oddly for the strange way he was sitting on the stool, rigidly straight and wincing with every move.

Kolchak took a long draw from his glass knowing this would be the first of a few. He would need plenty of lubrication to deal with his upcoming flight and, more to the point, Anthony Vincenzo’s ire which would be waiting for him when he disembarked at O’Hare.

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