The Halfback by Night (PG-13)

The quartet made the baggage check before it occurred to Rockford to inquire after Kolchak’s travel plans, “Carl, didn’t you say you were waiting on a plane to Chicago?”

“Uh, yes – yes, I was,” Kolchak responded, “They, however, didn’t wait for me.” Smiling sheepishly, “Final boarding call was about seven minutes ago.”


Kolchak leveled with the tall P.I., “If it’s all the same to you and Ms…?”

“Me?” Valerie picked up. “Martin. Valerie Martin.”

“If it’s alright with Ms. Martin here, I thought I might stay in town a little longer. A good story is the best medicine for a terminally bellicose managing editor.”

Valerie only too readily came back, “Whatever. I don’t care. I just want this whole thing laid to rest.”

For his part, Rockford took a moment longer, eyeing Kolchak like he was a sink full of filthy dishes and wondering if it was worth the effort. “Okay by me,” he finally said, handing Valerie’s bags off to Angel, “but everybody chips in for gas.”

Between LAX’s parking lot and the motel off the PCH that Kolchak said would suit him and his limited funds just fine, both Rockford and his new acquaintance in the seersucker suit plied Angel’s cousin for more information and background. Her story, coming out tear-clotted and pained, was that of a typical college romance that had entered a long-distance limbo as neither party had quite the resolution or the desire to finally sever ties permanently. Valerie had met Clay the previous fall at the start of their fourth year at UCLA. They had dated exclusively through his star senior season with the Bruins and subsequent drafting into the NFL. As Valerie told it, the pair had been deeply in love and had talked of marrying later in the year after the season had ended. But Valerie had to return to Brooklyn before graduation to look after an ailing aunt and Clay had to stay behind to start working with the Rams and that, sadly, was where things stood. There had been a few letters and phone calls, but they were always short and Clay was always running off somewhere. Until last Saturday when Valerie came back to her apartment from a week’s jaunt to the Catskills with her aunt to find a stack of newspapers and a tape full of calls on her answering machine saying the same terrible thing over and over again: That Stacker Shoemaker was slain in his own apartment along with four of his teammates by members of some Satanic cult called the “Dark Star Coven.” Valerie had fainted in the middle of her dining room amidst the linoleum tile and a scattering of mail.

“When I came to,” Valerie continued, her voice getting scratchy and raw, “I immediately grabbed up the phone and started calling whoever I could. Friends of ours from school, the guys on his team. I just wanted to know more, but they were no help. I called the police, but unless you’re a family member, they won’t tell you any­thing! His family….” She stopped, forcing down a big swallow and composing herself. “That’s the worst part of all. When I finally got numbers for the Shoemakers and I called and said, ‘This is Valerie Martin – Clay’s girlfriend,’ they said, ‘Who? We never heard him talk about a Valerie.’”

There was a sympathetic awkward pause cut short by Angel, “You know, kid, they probably just forgot and – and they were grieving.”

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