It's no accident
that Jack Fleming began life as a reporter and wound up in
Chicago. Those points were my tribute to Jeff Rice, Carl
Much of Kolchak's
attitude was in tune with my own. I love that man. I
love how Darren McGavin played him.
Imagine how floored I
was to get an e-mail from Moonstone Books asking if I would like to
contribute a story to one of their major projects--a Kolchak
many words, when's it due, and I can do anything??
classic Kolchak, but set in modern-day Los Angeles!
Carl is in the 21st
century with computers and digital everything, but he still has the
Suit and the Hat and most importantly, the Attitude.
I got an idea right
away but it was incomplete and it took time for my sub-conscious to
work through to something useable. In the meanwhile I watched
both movies, re-read all the books and watched reruns on the SciFi
Channel to feed my Muse.
Writing a Kolchack story was
one of those Full Circle Things. It was like the gods saying
"Hey kid, have a prezzie, no strings, just have fun."
What emerged was
"The Why of the Matter" which went into:
THE NIGHT STALKER
All new stories featuring Carl Kolchak by the top writers in the
for all things Kolchak
of the Matter
new interest was a certain Harvey Wayne Pimco, a career criminal
connected with the mobs who had somehow convinced a parole board
that he would go forth and sin no more.
Toward that end he had accepted Jesus as his savior to the
point of acquiring a very impressive larger than life prison-tattoo
portrait of his favored messiah decorating the whole of Harvey’s
massive chest. His
mother, if he ever knew her name, might have been proud.
found Harvey in a dive in one of the least fashionable areas of L.A.
showing off the skin art to several awe-struck and slightly drunk
hookers. Perhaps he was
hoping to convert them, but it didn’t seem likely.
The art appreciation seminar came to an abrupt end the
instant Harvey spotted me.
“Kolchak! You son of
a bitch!” he roared.
Certain old friends have used that term as a form of fond greeting
to me, but my reporter’s sharp instinct told me his outburst was
outside that category. Maybe
I should have waited until he was too drunk to know me, but I had
deadlines to meet. Mr.
Pimco demonstrated he was in no mood to renew our acquaintanceship
by smashing the neck off his beer bottle and lunging over the table
at me, scattering screaming hookers to the four corners.
He’d consumed enough brewskis to throw off his aim, landing
on his face. As he
rolled amid the refuse of bottles and cigarette butts I snapped
several clear slice-of-life shots that would soon be e-mailed to his
parole officer, with a date and time stamp on each.
got the hell out of there.
through the door, jumped into my double-parked Mustang, and turned
the key, intent on zooming away into the night.
But alas, my otherwise faithful steed cranked, whirred, and
whined, but ultimately refused to catch and turn over.
illogic that sometimes seizes those who’ve grown too dependent on
technology I remained in place, trying the key, stamping on the gas
and talking, pleading, praying, cursing to my car to start for
Had I been
more sensible I’d have abandoned the machine and loped away on
foot, for even a lame tortoise could have outrun Harvey Wayne Pimco
in his cups.
Instead, I stuck it out while Harvey emerged from the dive, zeroed
in on me, and came trundling around to the driver’s side. The
motor ground to life, but too late.
Two massive vises clamped down hard in a death-grip on my
shoulders, and I was bodily lifted from my convertible.
The vises proved to be Harvey’s hands.
He shook me out like a housewife snapping a tablecloth on
laundry day, then spun me around.
what bad teeth you have, I thought, as he grinned down at me.
There was murder in his eye.
I was about to become a dead man.
He drew back
one killer fist, and I was absolutely certain that would be my last
view of earth before the angels carried me away. However, I was equally certain that there would be no beer in
heaven, and got my camera up in time to set the flash off in his
punch went wide, he dropped me, and I hammered my feet against the
pavement to gain distance, jeering at him to come after me.
The general plan was to circle wide with him in slow drunken
pursuit, then I’d beeline for my car and escape.
out in the wrong place with the wrong people weren’t the only
violations of parole that he’d committed.
I glanced back to check his progress—he was building up
some speed after all—and to my dismay saw Harvey had also acquired
a sizable revolver. (So much for the five-day waiting period.) He
pointed it right at me.
myself to always be a moving target, but this time it might not
work. The bastard was
too damned close.
Then I hit
something. Ran right
into it. Wham.
Full stop and fall. The
breath went out of me, and the next thing I knew Harvey had the
muzzle of his gun up my nose. He
was puffing hard, small eyes blazing, a very happy maniac.
was a stone killer.
And I knew
I was dead.
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about a week after saying YES!! I got another invitation to
trib a non-fiction piece to another collection:
Another 100 Best Books
ed. Kim Newman.
I was to write
about a favorite book for it.
first choice was The Night Stalker by Jeff Rice.
ain't finished with me yet. They asked me back to write
something for their NEXT collection.
I was hyped
for it--an idea instantly presented itself and I launched into the
Then I got the
sad news about Darren McGavin leaving us.
That left me
bummed and mourning for a good long time, and I had a bit of an old
fashioned Irish wake for him and all that he gave to us, and to me
But writing is
therapy, and I was thinking long and hard about his portrayal of
Kolchak at a psychics' convention when writing:
temperature was delightfully chill, attracting ice tea-swilling
patrons in scattered groups: all women, all wearing name cards with
the convention’s rainbow logo printed on it.
Most of the attendees were into the kind of oddball
comfortable clothes favored by artsy crowds and clanked with no
doubt personally meaningful jewelry.
Absorbed in their own affairs, none took any particular
notice of me, the lone man in the room except for the bartender.
kid who drew my pint draft of high-end brew didn’t look old enough
to be legally serving the stuff, but he was polite, if distracted.
As soon as he delivered a beautifully frosted glass of sweet
life blood and had my room number on the check he went back to
fiddling with a television remote.
Except for subdued conversations at the tables the place was
quiet, since the sound was down on the mega-set up on the far wall.
Good thing, too; the picture was little more than static.
connection?” I asked
after downing my first cheerful dose of brew.
checked it. It’s
hooked up right and there’s new batteries in the remote.
The thing’s got a fault; we have to put in new ones every
other day. Never can
get a picture to hold for long, either, but the boss says to have
the set on all the time.”
your employer pay the bill this month?”
asked a woman two seats down from me.
She had a strong throaty voice with an English accent.
Focused on getting a drink, I’d not noticed her right away
and should have, as they don’t make legs like that any more.
Hers were as long as they come, sheathed in what I would
guess were real silk stockings, and I do mean stockings.
She was in a cream colored business suit that never hung from
any department store rack, and its skirt was just tight enough on
one thigh to show the shape of a garter belt clip through the pale
a second I wondered if she was a high-priced pro, but the skirt
wasn’t short enough and her purse wasn’t nearly big enough.
Ladies of the night the world over favored bags the size of a
soldier’s duffle. Hers
was some tiny thing that might hold a credit card and maybe a
ma’am, paid every month.” The
kid behind the bar must have been gay, as he seemed oblivious to
this gorgeous vision blessing his establishment.
was more than pleased to take up the slack, but figured her to be
well out of my league. She
looked at me, a good-natured smile lending a snowflake twinkle to
her very blue eyes, and I damn-near swallowed my tongue.
She said, hello, I was sure of that since her lips moved, but
the TV abruptly howled to life with a clear picture and over the top
sound. A crowd of
soccer fans roared about something.
Their enthusiasm blasted from the speakers scattered around
the room, rattling the booze bottles on their glass shelves and
stopping all talk. The
kid hastily hit the remote’s mute button, grinned, and apologized.
“Hello,” she repeated. “Do
you always duck like that?”
To my annoyance the unexpected noise had sent me halfway under the
bar. Pure reflex. “Oh, yes, all the time.
I was once trampled by a herd of rabid figure skaters and it
left scars on my psyche.”
She blinked once, then smiled again.
In the right way: warm yet with that snowflake twinkle
indicating I’d connected. Score
one for Mrs. Kolchak’s likely lad.
put my hand out. “Carl
Kolchak, I’m covering the Rainbow Spirit convention for The
Hollywood Dispatch.” No,
it doesn’t have the same authority as saying The New York Times,
but then what does?
“You’re a journalist?”
“There are a few like my editor who are still debating that
“I thought everything was on the telly these days. Or the Internet.”
“Mere newcomers to a long and honorable trade.”
God, I loved her accent, among other things. Her hair was nearly the same cream color as the suit, perhaps
just a little lighter in tone as it lay on her shoulders.
Superficially she had the look of some sort of ice princess,
but the expression in her eyes was…something.
Friendly was too informal, inviting too
That was it. I’d known one other person with that as an integral part of
their manner: a priest. Funny
to be thinking of the old boy while in the company of…of…
She introduced herself. “Philipa
was past the point in life where I could get away with a courtly
bow, but the way she said her name made me want to give it a try. It was so veddy, veddy English.
We shook hands—or rather tried.
You know how you get a kind of voltage off people?
Some of them, like film stars and musicians, have an energy
you can feel as a physical thing.
I felt it now, only more so.
There was a decided spark, painful and sharp, that snapped
like miniature lightning when our flesh touched.
“Ow!” I yanked back
like a wimp.
Her own arm twitching, she echoed me, then laughed. “Static shock. I’m
terribly sorry. It must
be bone dry in here.”
flexed my stinging hand. “Quite
a charge. Shall we try
Philipa was game. What
a gal. Her hand was
soft and cool this time around, and she didn’t break away all that
fast. Any more eye
contact and I’d fall in love.
“That’s better,” I
said. She looked
remarkably like a certain lady police lieutenant I knew from
Chicago, but with different hair.
My guess was Philipa would prefer Ms. to Miss,
and if I could trust her unsullied ring finger Mrs. was not
an issue. She could
have a boyfriend, but here in a bar with the safe anonymity of a
chance meeting he also might not be an issue.
“You’re here for the convention?”
I’m in the States on other business and thought I’d have
My reporter’s instinct went on alert.
She was lying. We’d
been speaking for less than a minute; I had no logical reason for
it, so why did my internal alarm go off?
Usually it kept quiet until the weekend was over and I
regained consciousness on the hotel room floor, hung over but happy.
“What business are you in?”
There’s an event at the Apparel Mart just across the road,
but it will be running for a week. I can nip away for a few hours to have my fortune told.”
“You believe in that stuff?”
“I don’t know. I’ve
not seen enough to form an opinion.
Just got curious about the psychics.”
Another lie. Why would
she bother? Of course,
in casual encounters people lie all the time, it’s part of the
game, but so far as I could tell we hadn’t begun playing yet.
Maybe it was my work. If
she was well-known in her profession (I knew zip about the fashion
industry) she wouldn’t want her name linked to the fringe types
who would soon be roaming the hotel’s exhibition hall.
Fine with me. I was
more interested in her legs than her personal beliefs.
Her glass was empty. My
“Allow me to have your libation refreshed,”
Another smile. She liked
my corn. This day was
just getting better and better.
bought her a chocolate martini—a new one on me—and chatted her
The bar got another wave of customers, and the noise level
I was going to suggest we move to a table when everything
changed. It was sheer
luck that I was looking in the right direction and saw what
happened. Two women
with rainbow badges, middle-aged, plump and pleasant of face, had
come into the room, both chattering a mile a minute.
One of them suddenly staggered two steps, then dropped in her
tracks as though shot.
Her friend’s voice, high and shrill, cut the air.
It was just that fast and for a few moments no one moved.
It occurred to me that Sheila had been overcome by the Texas
heat and simply fainted, but…there was something more serious
going on, the way she’d fallen, strings cut…
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Copyright 2010, P.N. Elrod