The Halfback by Night (PG-13)

Kolchak nodded as he drank. “That’s the best protection, my friend. But it’s too late for me. It’s like I stumbled through a door that I can’t back out of and can’t close.” His voice started to drift, its tone distant and lost, “It’s like there’s something out there, something dark and hidden and conscious, that we spend our whole lives ignoring. But once you’ve looked it in the eye, you’ll see it everywhere. Once you recognize it, it recognizes you.”

Kolchak knocked back the shot of whiskey and smacked his lips, “Or something else liberally cribbed from Nietzsche.”

Rockford suppressed a shiver and was glad to hear the announce­ment for the boarding of Kolchak’s flight. He swung his long legs around and hopped off the stool with a grunt through gritted teeth. “That’s you.”

“So it is,” Kolchak agreed, slapping down a few dollars for his part of the tab and rising to his feet.

He stuck out a hand, his usual convivial grin having returned to his face. “Jim, it’s been a pleasure.”

Rockford smirked as he clasped the reporter’s hand, “I wouldn’t go that far, but it’s been swell knowing you.”

Kolchak tipped his hat as he turned to go, “Look me up next time you’re in Chi-town.”

“Wait a minute, Carl,” Rockford said, stopping Kolchak in his tracks. “I nearly forgot, I picked up a little something for you.” He fished in his jacket pocket ‘til he found the little folded paper bag and handed it over.

Kolchak, surprised, unfolded the bag that was printed with the logo of Hollywood Costumes & Toys. “Aw, you didn’t have to do that, Jim.”

His hand found the rectangular piece of board inside and removed it from the bag. It was a board-backed package bearing the legend in blood-dripping letters “Scary Dracula Teeth” and containing a set of children-sized plastic vampire fangs. Kolchak laughed and it came out like a blackbird’s “caw.”

“Happy Halloween, Carl,” Rockford said.

Click. The “Cassette Corder” was rolling again and Kolchak brought it close to his mouth, not wishing to distract or disturb his fellow passengers any further (he had already driven off two seat­mates during his dictation of the Catherine Rawlins affair).

While he spoke, his eyes roamed the cabin and the brilliant white cloudbanks outside his window. “The City of Angels, the Dream Factory, Tinseltown – all brilliant, sparkling titles for a city unlike any other. But is it truly that unique? This sprawling expanse, birthplace and burial ground of countless dreams, may only present its ‘good side’ to the camera but there, under its blinding sun, the shadows run just as deep as anywhere else. I have peeked into those shadows.

“As of this writing the Los Angeles Police Department is spinning tales as fanciful as any churned out of a screenwriter’s IBM Selectric. If you look hard enough you may even see actual facts sprinkled throughout. Two LAPD officers did lose their lives at the headquarters of the Dark Star Coven, that much is true. But you will hear about a standoff, perhaps, or possibly a mass suicide by the cult members, to explain the deaths of five men, three women and a 14-year-old boy. Drugs and the devil will assume the full blame. But one will never hear the name of Clayton Shoemaker mentioned in conjunction with the gruesome events of May 18th.

“Stacker will no doubt be quietly returned to his place among the other once-beautiful people of Forest Lawn, taking with him the last vestiges of the cancerous evil spread by Janos Skorzeny: a name this reporter hopes to never write again.”

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