Robert R. McCammon's "Night Calls the Green Falcon" (Part 04/10)

Night Calls the Green Falcon
by Robert R. McCammon

One-Eyed Skulls

He swallowed thickly. Walk tall and think tall, he told himself. If he did not go in, the very name of the Green Falcon would be forever tainted. Pain he could take; shame he could not.

He grasped the door's handle, and he entered the Grinderswitch.

The six motorcycle owners, husky bearded men wearing black jackets that identified them as members of the ONE-EYED SKULLS gang, looked up from their beers. One of them laughed, and the man sitting in the center gave a low whistle.

The Green Falcon paid them no attention. Bass-heavy music pounded from ceiling-mounted speakers, and on a small upraised stage a thin blonde girl wearing a G-string gyrated to the beat with all the fervor of a zombie. A few other patrons watched the girl, and other topless girls in G-strings wandered around with trays of beers and cheerless smiles. The Green Falcon went to the bar, where a flabby man with many chins had halted in his pouring of a new set of brews. The bartender stared at him, round-eyed, as the Green Falcon slid onto a stool.

"I'm looking for a man," Cray said.

"Wrong joint, Greenie," the bartender answered. "Try the Brass Screw, over on Selma."

"No, I don't mean that." He flushed red under his mask. Trying to talk over this hellacious noise was like screaming into a hurricane. "I'm looking for a man who might have been in here tonight."

"I serve beer and liquor, not lonely-hearts-club news. Take a hike."

Cray glanced to his left. There was a mug on the bar full of GRINDERSWITCH matchbooks. "The man I'm looking for is blonde, maybe in his early or mid-twenties. He's got pale skin and his eyes are very dark—either brown or black. Have you seen anybody who—"

"What the hell are you doing walking around in a friggin' green suit?" the bartender asked. "It's not St. Patrick's Day. Did you jump out of the nuthouse wagon?"

"No. Please, try to think. Have you seen the man I just described?"

"Yeah. A hundred of them. Now I said move it, and I'm not going to say it again."

"He took one of those matchbooks," Cray persisted. "He might have been sitting on one of these stools not long ago. Are you sure you—"

A hand grasped his shoulder and swung him around. Three of the bikers had crowded in close, and the other three watched from a distance. A couple of Go-Go dancers rubbernecked at him, giggling. The bass throbbing was a physical presence, making the glasses shake on the shelves behind the bar. A broad, brown-bearded face with cruel blue eyes peered into Cray's mask; the biker wore a bandanna wrapped around his skull and a necklace from which rusty razor blades dangled. "God Almighty, Dogmeat. There's somebody inside it!"

The biker called Dogmeat, the one who'd whistled as Cray had entered, stepped forward. He was a burly, grey-bearded hulk with eyes like shotgun barrels and a face like a pissed-off pit bull. He thunked Cray on the skull with a thick forefinger. "Hey, man! You got some screws loose or what?"

Cray smelled stale beer and dirty armpits. "I'm all right," he said with just a little quaver in his voice.

"I say you ain't," Dogmeat told him. "What's wrong with you, coming into a respectable joint dressed up like a Halloween fruitcake?"

"Guy was just on his way out," the bartender said. "Let him go." The bikers glared at him, and he smiled weakly and added, "Okay?"

"No, Not okay," Dogmeat answered. He thunked Cray's skull again, harder. "I asked you a question. Let's hear you speak, man."

"I'm...looking for someone," Cray said. "A young man. Blonde, about twenty or twenty-five. Wearing a T-shirt and blue jeans. He's got fair skin and dark eyes. I think he might have been in here not too long ago."

"What're you after this guy for? He steal your spaceship?" The others laughed, but Dogmeat's face remained serious. Another thunk of Cray's skull. "Come on, that was a joke. You're supposed to laugh."

"Please," Cray said. "Don't do that anymore."

"Do what? This?" Dogmeat thunked him on the point of his chin.

"Yes. Please don't do that anymore."

"Oh. Okay." Dogmeat smiled. "How about if I do this?" And he flung his half full mug of beer into Cray's face. The liquid blinded Cray for a few seconds, then washed out of his mask and down his neck. The other One-Eyed Skulls howled with laughter and clapped Dogmeat on the back.

"I think I'd better be going." Cray started to get up, but Dogmeat's hand clamped to his shoulder and forced him down with ridiculous ease.

"Who are you supposed to be, man?" Dogmeat asked, feigning real interest. "Like...a big bad superhero or somethin'?"

"I'm nobo—" He stopped himself. They were watching and listening, smiling with gap-toothed smiles. And then Cray straightened up his shoulders, and it came out of him by instinct. "I'm the Green Falcon," he said.

There was a moment of stunned silence, except for that thunderous music. Then they laughed again and the laughter swelled. But Dogmeat didn't laugh; his eyes narrowed, and when the laughter had faded he said, "Okay, Mr. Green Falcon, sir. How about takin' that mask off's see your secret identity." Cray didn't respond. Dogmeat leaned closer. "I said, Mr. Green Falcon, sir, that I want you to take your mask off. Do it. Now."

Cray was trembling. He clenched his fists in his lap. "I'm sorry. I can't do that."

Dogmeat smiled a savage smile. "If you won't, I will. Hand it over."

Cray shook his head. No matter what happened now, the die was cast. "No. I won't."

"Well," Dogmeat said softly, "I'm really sorry to hear that." And he grasped the front of Cray's tunic, lifted him bodily off the stool, twisted and threw him across a table eight feet away. Cray went over the table, crashed into a couple of chairs, and sprawled to the floor. Stars and rockets fired in his brain. He got up on his knees, aware that Dogmeat was advancing toward him. Dogmeat's booted foot drew back, the kick aimed at the Green Falcon's face.

Go to Chapter 5: The Star and Question Mark

Copyright © 1988 by Robert R. McCammon. All rights reserved. This story first appeared in the anthology Silver Scream, edited by David J. Schow and published by Dark Harvest in 1988. Reprinted with permission of the author.
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