His robe snagged on a jagged edge of metal. The cloth ripped, almost tore
off him, and for three awful seconds he was dangling five floors over the
alley, but then he reached upward and his fingers closed around the
The Fliptop Killer was already scrambling down the fire escape. The
woman—Mrs. Sargenza, bless her soul—was still screaming, and now
somebody else was hollering from another window and the Fliptop Killer
clambered down to the alley with the speed and power of a born
Cray pulled himself up, his legs kicking and his shoulder muscles standing
out in rigid relief. He collapsed onto his knees when he'd made it to the
landing's safety. He thought he might have to throw up enchiladas, and his
stomach heaved, but mercifully there was no explosion. Blood was in his
mouth, and his front teeth felt loose. He stood up, black motes buzzing
before his eyes. Looked over the edge, gripping hard to the railing.
The Fliptop Killer was gone, back to the shadows.
"Call the police," he said, but he didn't know if Mrs. Sargenza had heard
him, though she disappeared from her window and slammed it shut. He was
trembling down to his gnarly toes, and after another moment he climbed back
into the room where the corpse was.
Cray felt her wrist for a pulse. It seemed the sensible thing to do. But
there was no pulse, and Julie's eyes did not move. In the depths of the
wound he could see the white bone of her spine. How many times had the
killer slashed, and what was it inside him that gave him such a maniacal
strength? "Wake up," Cray said. He pulled at her arm. "Come on Julie. Wake
"Oh Jesus!" Mr. Myers from across the hall stood in the doorway. His hand
went to his mouth, and he made a retching sound and staggered back to his
apartment. Other people were peering in. Cray said, "Julie needs a doctor,"
though he knew she was dead and all a doctor could do was pull the bloodied
sheet over her face. He still had her hand, and he was stroking it. Her
fingers were closed around something; it worked loose and fell into Cray's
Cray looked at it. A red matchbook. The words "GRINDERSWITCH BAR" printed
on its side, and an address just off Hollywood and Vine, three blocks
He opened the red matchbook. Two matches were missing. One of them had been
used to light the Fliptop Killer's cigarette, out in the hallway. The
Fliptop Killer had been to the Grinderswitch, a place Cray had walked past
but never entered.
"Cops are on their way!" Mr. Gomez said, coming into the room. His wife
stood at the door, her face smeared with blue anti-aging cream. "What
happened here, Flint?"
Cray started to speak, but found no words. Others were entering the room,
and suddenly the place with its reek of blood and spent passions was too
tight for him; he had a feeling of suffocation, and a scream flailed behind
his teeth. He walked past Mr. Gomez, out the door, and into his own
apartment. And there he stood at the window, the brutal neon pulse flashing
in his face and a red matchbook clenched in his hand.
The police would come and ask their questions. An ambulance without a siren
would come and take Julie's corpse away, to a cold vault. Her picture would
be in the Times tomorrow, and the headline would identify her as the
Fliptop Killer's ninth victim. Her claim to fame, he thought, and he almost
I saw him, he realized. I saw the Fliptop. I had a hold of that bastard.
And there in his hand was the matchbook Julie had given him. The bartender
at the Grinderswitch might know the Fliptop. It was a vital clue, Cray
thought, and if he gave it up to the police it might be lost in shufflings
of paper, envelopes, and plastic bags that went into what they called their
evidence storage. The police didn't care about Julie Saufley, and they
hardly cared about the other street victims either. No, Julie was another
statistic—a "crazy," the cops would say. The Fliptop Killer loved to kill
Julie had given him a clue. Had, perhaps, fought to keep it with her dying
breath. And now what was he going to do with it?
He knew, without fully knowing. It was a thing of instincts, just as his
long-ago gymnastic training, track-and-field, and boxing championships were
things of instinct. Inner things that, once learned and believed in, could
never be fully lost.
He opened the closet door.
A musty, mothball smell rolled out. And there it was, on its wooden
hanger, amid the cheap shirts and trousers of an old dreamer.
It had once ben emerald green, but time had faded it to more of a dusky
olive. Bleach stains had mottled the flowing green cape, and Cray had
forgotten how that had happened. Still, he'd been a good caretaker: various
rips had been patched over, the only really noticeable mar a poorly stitched
tear across the left leg. The cowl, with its swept-back, crisply winglike
folds on either side of the head and its slits for the eyes, was in almost
perfect condition. The green boots were there on the floor, both badly
scuffed, and the green gloves were up on the shelf.
His Green Falcon costume had aged, just like its owner. The studio had let
him keep it after he had come out of the sanitorium in 1954. By then
serials were dying anyway, and of what use was a green suit with a long
cape and wings on the sides of its cowl? In the real world, there was no
room for Green Falcons.
He touched the material. It was lighter than it appeared, and it made a
secret—and dangerous—whispering noise. The Green Falcon had made
mincemeat out of a gallery of villains, roughnecks, and killers every
Saturday afternoon in the cathedrals of light and shadow across North
America. Why, then, could the Green Falcon not track down the Fliptop
Because the Green Falcon is dead, Cray told himself. Forget it. Close the
door. Step back. Leave it to the police.
But he didn't close the door, nor did he step back. because he knew, deep
at his center, that the Green Falcon was not dead. Only sleeping, and
yearning to awaken.
He was losing his mind. He knew that clearly enough, as if somebody had
thrown ice water in his face and slapped him too. But he reached into the
closet, and he brought the costume out.
The siren of a police car was approaching. Cray Flint began to pull the
costume over his pajamas. His body had thinned, not thickened, with age;
the green tights were loose, and though his legs were knotty with muscles,
they looked skinny and ill-nourished. His shoulders and chest still filled
out the tunic portion of the costume, though, but his thin, wiry arms had
lost the bulky muscularity of their youth. He got the costume zipped up,
worked his feet into the scuffed boots, then put on the cape and laced it
in place. The dust of a thousand moth wings shimmered gold against the
green. He lifted the gloves off the shelf but discovered the moths had
enjoyed an orgy in them and they were riddled with holes. The gloves would
have to stay behind. His heart was beating very hard now. He took the cowl
off its hanger. The police car's siren was nearing the building. Cray ran
his fingers over the cowl, which still gleemed with a little iridescence,
as it had in the old days.
I shouldn't do this, he told himself. I'm going crazy again, and I'm
nothing but an Indiana boy who used to be an actor...
He slipped the cowl over his head and drew the drawstring tight. And now he
saw the world through cautious slits, the air coming to his nostrils
through small holes and smelling of mothballs and...yes, and something
else. Something indefinable: the brassy oder of a young man's sweat, the
sultry heat of daredevilry, maybe the blood of a split lip incurred in a
fight scene with an overeager stunt man. Those aromas and more. His stomach
tightened under the green skin. "Walk tall and think tall," he remembered a
director telling him. His shoulders pulled back. How many times had he
donned this costume and gone into battle against hoodlums, thugs, and
murderers? How many times had he stared Death in the face through these
slits, and walked tall into the maelstrom?
I'm Creighton Flint, he thought. And then he looked at the faded poster
that promised a world of thrills and saw STARRING CREIGHTON FLINT, "THE
The one and only.
The police car's siren stopped.
It was time to go if he was going.
The Green Falcon held the matchbook up before his eye slits. The
Grinderswitch was a short walk away. If the Fliptop Killer had been there
tonight, someone might remember.
He knew he was one stride away from the loony bin, and if he went through
that door dressed like this there was no turning back. But if the Green
Falcon couldn't track down the Fliptop, nobody could.
It was worth a try wasn't it?
He took a deep breath, and then the one stride followed. He walked out into
the hallway, and the residents gathered around Julie Saufley's saw him and
every one of them recoiled as if they'd just seen a man from Mars. He
didn't hesitate; he went past them to the elevator. The little numerals
above the door were on the upward march. The policemen were coming up, he
realized. It would not be wise to let them see the Green Falcon.
"Hey!" Mr. Gomez shouted. "Hey, who the hell are you?"
"He must be nuts!" Mrs. LaPresta said, and her
husband—in a rare moment—agreed.
But Cray was already heading towards the door marked STAIRS. The cape
pinched his neck, and the mask was stuffy; he didn't remember the costume
being so uncomfortable. But he pulled open the door and started quickly
down the stairway, the matchbook clenched in his hand and the smell of
Julie's blood up his nostrils.
He was puffing by the time he reached the ground floor. But he crossed
the cramped little lobby, went out the revolving door and onto
Hollywood Boulevard, where the lights and the noise reminded him of a
three-ring circus. But he knew full well that shadows lay at the
fringes of those lights, and in those shadows it was dangerous to
tread. He started walking west, toward Vine street. A couple of kids
zipped past him on skateboards, and one of them gave a fierce tug at
his cape that almost strangled him. Horns were honking as cars passed,
and ladies of the night waved and jiggled their wares from the street
corner. A punk with his hair in long red spikes peered into Cray's
eyeholes and sneered, "Are you for real, man?" The Green Falcon kept
going, a man with a mission. A black prostitute jabbed her colleague
in the ribs, and both of them hooted and made obscene noises as he
passed. Here came a group of Hare Krishnas, banging tambourines and
chanting, and even their blank eyes widened as they saw him coming.
But the Green Falcon, dodging drunks and leather clad hustlers, left
them all in the flap of his cape.
And then there was the Grinderswitch Bar, jammed between a porno theater
and a wig shop. Its blinking neon sign was bright scarlet, and out in
front of the place were six big Harley-Davidson motorcycles. Cray paused,
fear fluttering around in the pit of his stomach. The Grinderswitch was a
place of shadows; he could tell that right off. There was a meanness even in
the neon's buzz. Go home, he told himself. Forget this. Just go home
Do what? Vegetate? Sit in a lousy chair, look at clippings, and reflect on
how lucky you are to have a job sweeping the floor at a Burger King?
No. He was wearing the armour of the Green Falcon now, and why should he
fear? But still he paused. To go into that place would be like walking into
a lion's den after rolling around in fresh meat. Who was Julie Saufley,
anyway? His friend, yes, but she was dead now, and what did it matter? Go
home. Put the costume back on its hanger and forget it. He looked at the
door, and knew that beyond it the monsters waited. Go home. Just go home.