The Halfback by Night (PG-13)

“Not exactly a rout,” Kolchak’s next-stool neighbor drawled, then hailed the bartender, “Could I get a Budweiser?”

Kolchak’s eyebrows lifted and he tilted his open hand, “A win’s a win, right?”

The dark-haired stranger with the head wound and open-collared shirt conceded with a nod as he collected his tall, frosted beer glass, “So it’s been said.”

They drank for a moment’s silence which was finally broken by Kolchak’s nod to airport etiquette.

“Where are you headed?”

His new acquaintance wiped at the beer foam on his upper lip, shaking his head in the process. “Nowhere. My friend’s here to pick up his cousin and I’m just the chauffeur.”

“Make sure he tips you,” Kolchak dryly delivered which made the other guy snort.

“Yeah, knowing the friend, I’d say that’s less than likely.”

Kolchak debated broaching the next topic for a decent handful of seconds before giving in to temptation. He pointed his glass at the stranger’s bandage. “That looks like an interesting tale. Do you mind if I ask…?”

The stranger lifted a hand to the gauze as if he’d forgotten it was there. “Oh, that. A love tap from a live round. Occupational hazard.”

He didn’t even realize he’d done it, but Kolchak had now rotated his stool so he was now directly facing his neighbor. “Are you a police officer?”

The guy slightly gagged on the sip of beer he was taking. “Uh, no. No, can’t say as I have that distinction. I’m more your run-of-the-mill snoop on retainer.”

“A P.I., huh?” Kolchak grinned, “Nice to meet someone even less respected and beloved than those in my own humble profession.”

“And what might that be?”

“Carl Kolchak, esteemed and ink-stained member of the noble Fourth Estate at your service.”

The stranger sitting beside Kolchak smirked, “Wait a minute. Are you saying reporters rank higher in the public estimation than somebody in my line of work? I’d say that’s six of one, half-dozen the other, my friend.” He held out a big, tanned hand, “Jim Rockford.”

Kolchak shook Rockford’s hand, “Nice to meet you, Jim.”

A few minutes of small talk later, Angel returned with a young woman in tow. Early 20s probably, and very pretty. She, like Angel, was dark-haired and vaguely ethnic looking. She also seemed noticeably preoccupied and looked like she had just had a good cry in the bathroom. Angel introduced her as Valerie, his cousin from Brooklyn. Rockford made the token introduction of Kolchak, whose name made no impression on Angel but did cause Valerie to perk up slightly.

“You got a relative works for the NYPD?” she asked in the thick patois of her homeland, “Bald guy? Detective, I think.”

Kolchak replied in the negative while Angel joined in worriedly, “Hey, kiddo? Why do you know anything about New York cops?”

“It’s not what you think, Ev. This guy, he was just on the news – some big bust.”

This rang a bell for Kolchak. “Oh, yeah, I do know who you’re talking about. He’s kind of a celeb cop in the Big Apple – pops up on the AP wires from time to time. But his name is ‘Kojak’ which is Greek, I believe, whereas we Kolchaks hail from the wilds of Romania – by way of County Cork, that is.” He lifted his tacky straw porkpie hat to display his tousled, flyaway brown hair, “Besides, as you can clearly see, full as the day of my humble birth.”

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