The Halfback by Night (PG-13)

Rockford was seeing Kolchak off for his 2:30 flight and they had mutually decided to cap things off with a quick drink at the very airport bar where they’d been introduced. The conversation on the drive to LAX had been sparse. There were terrible, unbelievable facts hanging in the air between them, facts that one man didn’t want to accept and the other man bore like a ball and chain. Rockford had reported that his friend Sgt. Becker would keep Valerie Martin’s name out of the investigation into the Dark Star Coven massacre, which should be easy enough as there was never an official case opened for her disappearance. Becker also had an update that verified Valerie’s story but left Rockford’s sergeant friend further bewildered: the call placed to Valerie’s Brooklyn number on Monday night was from Clay Shoemaker’s home phone, the same Westwood apartment that had been empty since his death three days previous. As for Valerie, Angel would look after her while she recovered in the hospital and then see her safely home to Brooklyn where he hoped time, friends, family and years of therapy would help to scab over wounds of this experience.

Rockford also told Kolchak to breathe easy about his own in­volvement, the Coven murder case was taken out of Lt. Mateo’s hands earlier that morning and passed along to another LAPD homi­cide detective, a Lt. Columbo.

“Is he good?” Kolchak had asked.

Very good,” Rockford replied, “and thorough. He’ll defi­nitely place me at the scene, but I should be able to wriggle my way out of any criminal charges. I was there looking into the death and disappearance of Stacker Shoemaker, I got there after the deeds were done, I saw dead cops and decided not to hang around. Doesn’t paint me in such a noble light, but it’ll still keep me out of jail.”

“I wonder how they’ll clean this one up for mass consump­tion,” Kolchak mused, but Rockford had no answer.

His beer nearly drained, Rockford rolled the glass between his palms for a moment, distracted, searching for a way, any way, to avoid broaching the only topic they now had in common.

“Get this,” Rockford started, squinting hard either from his bruises or the difficulty of the subject matter, “For me, this stuff never happened. I told Valerie she needs to follow the same tack with this. She was in shock, she was traumatized, she has no idea what she did or didn’t see and hear. Me, I got shot in the head a little while ago. See, we have good excuses. Easy outs.” He knew he shouldn’t as he still had to drive home, but Rockford found himself ordering another beer. Kolchak waited patiently for Rockford to receive it and take his first sip before continuing.

“But you,” he said, pointing the beer glass at Kolchak, “what are you going to do with all of this? Who – ? How are you going to put a story on the wire saying-” He looked around cautiously and lowered his voice, “-saying that a top draft pick of the LA Rams ended up killing multiple people as a – you know?”

Kolchak sighed and drooped noticeably. “I don’t. You forget that I’ve been around this particular block a couple of times before. I’ll write the story twice; one version for the Vincenzos and Mateos of the world, for Mr. And Mrs. John Q. Public and their 2.5 children, and then I’ll write one version that’s the truth. Who knows if anyone will ever see that one? Or, if they did happen upon it, who would believe it?”

Rockford’s eyebrows lifted, “I sure as hell don’t and I was there.” The P.I. looked dazed, slowly shaking his head, “Like I said before, I like seeing how all the pieces fit. I need to know how it all comes together or I don’t sleep easy. You and all of this…kind of thing could be very bad for my shuteye.”

“You’d be surprised to know how much of ‘this kind of thing’ is going on out there,” Kolchak said. “I found out not long ago that the FBI actually had a task force that was specifically set up to look into the weird cases that popped up from time to time. My cousin Artie was part of it back in the ‘50s. But good luck digging anything up on that.”

A second beer and a whiskey chaser arrived for Kolchak. Rockford was staring at the bar, shaking his head. “I can’t imagine-” he started. Stopped. Started again, “And I don’t want to.”

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