29 CARL KOLCHAK
The Night Stalker, 1972, USA, Director John Llewellyn Moxey
Will I ever forget Carl Kochak? Absolutely no way, I can tell you. I was close to the man, always close. Some of the local cops in Vegas didn’t approve of pressmen poking their noses into police investigations but they had their heads in the sand. Most of these news guys had learnt their trade in Los Angeles, and out there they have a tradition of reporters digging into criminal cases to try and solve them. The newsboys do it to sell papers. Not everyone is the same but I liked working in Las Vegas, the whole time. I never gambled which is how it should be if you work for the FBI in Vegas. Should be doesn’t mean it is. My only weakness was that the first chance I got I used to meet people at the side of pools in the big hotels. I would sit there in the sun, have a beer, watch the eye candy and collect what information was around. What those waitresses wore those days. You wouldn’t get away with it today, not even in Vegas.
I was fifty when Janus Skorzeny arrived in town. I should have been past thinking about the waitresses in short skirts but when I told those ladies I was an FBI agent it did no harm. Once in a while an odd young thing would get friendly, enough for my smiles to be worth it. Sometimes I told them I knew Elvis. I stayed in the FBI right until the end. I had three reasons, Dave Bannion, the pension and where I worked. Dave was a couple of years ahead of me but he had been around the block, had some important scalps both in LA and here in Vegas, and I thought of him as an old timer. Dave showed me the ropes. After that and a few smiles from the poolside bikini babes I was convinced the FBI and Vegas was the life for me.
Carl Kolchak was not an ex-Los Angeles man like most of us. He started out in New York but, because he had a habit of falling out with people about how his stories should read, he’d been obliged to chase jobs around the country. Kolchak thought Vegas was small time which was another reason he had more time for his own opinions than those inside the heads of the local enforcement officers. I didn’t mind that. At least he listened to me. I liked the way Kolchak had to go around butting his head against everything and everyone. I’m not that kind of guy or that kind of FBI man but Kolchak had a sense of humour, and the guys who have to barge in are not only useful they make life interesting. Kolchak had that fast way of talking they have up there in New York. If Dave Bannion ever had a sense of humour, it passed me by but in an odd way Kolchak reminded me of Dave. They believed in themselves and in what they were doing. Not enough people, especially these days, have a sense of right and wrong.
The local cops patronised Kolchak. They’d let him talk and then walk out the room as if he hadn’t been there. It hurt the guy. Kolchak wasn’t as tough as he pretended. But after the Skorzeny business they took Kolchak seriously, too seriously perhaps, considering the way they treated him, although something had to be done. You can’t leave dead guys around with stakes sticking out their chests even if they’ve been walking around as if they’re vampires. Looking back I think we all got carried away. Jason Skorzeny was a tough guy and more than a match for the local cops. One-handed he threw a guy out of a hospital window. The stuff about it being one-handed is true. Kolchak claimed that the cops shot Skorzeny in the chest and it had no effect. I don’t believe it. Most of those LA beat cops couldn’t hit a barn door. Kolchak was seeing the story he wanted to write. He got carried away but then we all did.
No doubt Janus Skorzeny believed he was a vampire. He bit the necks of his victims, drained their blood, stole bottles of the stuff from the hospital and even had a woman hostage tied up in his home so he could drain a few drops for his nightly nightcap. Kolchak had this kooky girlfriend, Gail something. She was a bit younger than Carl but he was a newsman. He knew how to make her laugh and had stories to tell. Gail had lived in a hippy commune before coming to Vegas, and I reckoned she still smoked pot. Gail was convinced that Skorzeny was a bona fide vampire. Gail had all these weird books. I don’t think Kolchak was partial to the special weed but he did listen to her. More important, Kolchak was always chasing the story of a lifetime, you know, something to nail his ticket back to the Big Apple. I wasn’t sure Gail was the right girl for Kolchak but what happened, the way the Vegas cops hounded her out of town so that they could do the same to Kolchak, well, that was tough. Dave Bannion was never number one when it came to the rights of suspects and so on but even Dave thought that what they did to Gail was out of line.
But if the cops were out of line, and I didn’t like the way I was told by the Department to look the other way when it happened, then Kolchak also crossed the line. You don’t put a stake through the heart of anyone, even if he has killed four women and has got a fifth tied to a bed with a transfusion unit strapped to her neck. The deal offered to Kolchak was simple. They wouldn’t prosecute him for killing Skorzeny but he had to keep stumb and leave Vegas. They forgave him but just this once. I felt sorry for Carl but the Vegas cops kind of had a point. Kolchak had not only killed Skorzeny but driven a stake through the heart of the dead man. They were right to not prosecute but also right to worry about being held up to ridicule for stepping aside. Not everyone wanted Kolchak to walk away free. I had to remind people of the four women Skorzeny had murdered and the poor dame that Skorzeny had pinned to the bed. If we hadn’t found Shelley Forbes in his house, it would have been much different for Kolchak. Without Forbes, the woman he rescued, Kolchak would have been charged with murder.
In a way the worst thing the Vegas cops did was give Kolchak a break. It convinced him that Skorzeny really was a vampire and the story was being buried for that reason. No one wanted the story to come out, that’s true, but not because they believed Skorzeny was an immortal vampire. Vegas is a tourist spot. It was difficult enough back then keeping the wise guys in the background. That was my main job. I didn’t need to worry about chasing vampires. What the cops were afraid of was not a plague of vampires but tourists staying away, period.
I will never blame Kolchak for putting the stake through the heart of Skorzeny. The guy had given us the runaround. If he hadn’t been distracted by the sunlight coming through the window, we’d never have got him down on the floor. I understand Kolchak getting carried away because for a couple of days so was yours truly. That was why I watched Kolchak hammer in the stake and said nothing. The problem was that Kolchak stayed carried away. If anything, he got worse. I had this FBI file that claimed Skorzeny had been born in 1899. Kolchak said it proved Skorzeny was a vampire even though later I found out that the file was a joke played by one of the guys back in the office.
Kolchak was like that, though. Once he had an idea in his head he wouldn’t let it go. I said to him, if Skorzeny was a genuine vampire, why weren’t his victims walking around Vegas sinking their teeth into the necks of the tourists? The women were cremated, said Kolchak. He slapped his knee as he said it. He was right but before they became crisp cinders the ladies had plenty of time to walk free out of the mortuary. Well, they didn’t.
Kolchak has survived is what I know. He even linked up with Tony Vincenzo, his newspaper boss in Vegas. They moved to Seattle, the one in Washington, and then Chicago. After a while Carl had a reputation and they put him on any story that had spooky legs. He never saw Gail again, which I knew hurt him. He used a lot of his money putting adverts in the papers but she never responded. Maybe she went back to some commune. I felt sorry for Carl. They should have put him on organised crime. He could have made a difference. Either that or have wasted years like me fighting a crooked system. You know, you have a lovely smile. How old are you? You look younger.
Howard Jackson has had ten books published by Red Rattle Books including novels, short stories, travel books and collections of film criticism. His latest travel book No Tall Heels To Tango is now available here.