Robert R. McCammon's "Night Calls the Green Falcon" (Part 05/10)

Night Calls the Green Falcon
by Robert R. McCammon

5
The Star and Question Mark

A shriek like the demons of hell singing Beastie Boys tunes came from the speakers. "Christ!" Dogmeat shouted, clapping his hands to his ears. He turned, and so did the other One-Eyed Skulls.

A figure stood over at the record's turntable near the stage, calmly scratching the tone arm back and forth across the platter. The Green Falcon pulled himself up to his feet and stood shaking the explosions out of his head. The figure let the tone arm skid across the record with a last fingernails-on-chalkboard skreel, and then the speakers were silent.

"Let him be." she said in a voice like velvet smoke.

The Green Falcon's eyes were clear now, and he could see her as well as the others did. She was tall—maybe six-two or possibly an inch above that—and her amazonian body was pressed into a tigerskin one-piece bathing suit. She wore black high heels, and her hair was dyed orange and cropped close to her head. She smiled a red-lipped smile, her teeth startlingly white against her ebony flesh.

"What'd you say, bitch?" Dogmeat challenged.

"Gracie!" the bartender said. "Keep out of it!"

She ignored him, her amber eyes fixed on Dogmeat. "Let him be," she repeated. "He hasn't done anything to you."

"Lord, Lord." Dogmeat shook his head with sarcastic wonder. "A talkin' female monkey! Hey, I ain't seen you dance yet! Hop up on that stage and shake that black ass!"

"Go play in someone else's sandbox," Gracie told him. "Kiddie time's over."

"Damned right it is." Dogmeat's cheeks burned red, and he took a menacing step towards her. "Get up on that stage! Move your butt!"

She didn't budge.

Dogmeat was almost upon her. The Green Falcon looked around, said, "Excuse me," and lifted an empty beer mug off a table in front of a pie-eyed drunk. Then he cocked his arm back, took aim, and called out, "Hey, Mr. Dogmeat!"

The biker's head swiveled toward him, eyes flashing with anger.

The Green Falcon threw the beer mug, as cleanly as if it were a shotput on an Indiana summer day. It sailed through the air, and Dogmeat lifted his hand to ward it off, but he was way too late. The mug hit him between the eyes, didn't shatter but made a satisfying clunking sound against his skull. He took two steps forward and one step back, his eyes rolled to show the bloodshot whites, and he fell like a chopped-down sequoia.

"Sonofabitch!" the brown-bearded one said, more in surprise than anything else. Then his face darkened like a storm cloud and he started toward the Green Falcon with two other bikers right behind him.

The Green Falcon stood his ground. There was no point in running; his old legs would not get him halfway to the door before the bikers pulled him down. No, he had to stand there and take whatever was coming. He let them get within ten feet, and then he said in a calm and steady voice, "Does your mother know where you are, son?"

Brown Beard stopped as if he'd run into an invisible wall. One of the others ran into him and bounced off. "Huh?"

"Your mother," the Green Falcon repeated. "Does she know where you are?"

"My...my mother? What's she got to do with this, man?"

"She gave birth to you and raised you, didn't she? Does she know where you are right now?" The Green Falcon waited, his heart hammering, but Brown Beard didn't answer. "How do you think your mother would feel if she could see you?"

"His mother wouldn't feel nothin'," another of them offered. "She's in a home for old sots up in Oxnard."

"You shut up!" Brown Beard said, turning on his companion. "She's not an old sot, man! She's just...like...a little sick. I'm gonna get her out of that place! You'll see!"

"Quit the jawin'!" a third biker said. "We gonna tear this green fruit apart or not?"

The Green Falcon stepped forward, and he didn't know what he was about to say, but lines from old scripts were whirling through his recollection like moths through klieg lights. "Any son who loves his mother," he said, "is a true American, and I'm proud to call him friend." He held his hand out toward Brown Beard.

The other man stared at it and blinked uncertainly. "Who...who the hell are you?"

"I'm the Green Falcon. Defender of the underdog. Righter of wrongs and champion of justice." That's not me talking, he realized. It's from Night Calls The Green Falcon, Chapter Five. But he realized also that his voice sounded different, in a strange way. It was not the voice of an old man anymore. It was a sturdy, rugged voice, with a bass undertone as strong as a fist. It was a hero's voice, and it demanded respect.

No one laughed.

And the biker with the brown beard slid his hand into the Green Falcon's, and the Green Falcon gripped it hard and said, "Walk tall and think tall, son."

At least for a few seconds, he had them. They were in a thrall of wonder, just like the little children who'd come to see him during the public-relations tour in the summer of 1951, when he'd shaken their hands and told them to respect their elders, put up their toys, and do right: the simple secret of success. Those children had wanted to believe in him, so badly; and now in this biker's eyes there was that same glimmer—faint and faraway, yes—but as clear as a candle in the darkness. This was a little boy standing here, trapped in a grown-up skin. The Green Falcon nodded recognition and when he relaxed his grip, the biker didn't want to let go.

"I'm looking for a man who I think is the Fliptop Killer," the Green Falcon told them. He described the blonde man who'd escaped from the window of Julie Saufley's apartment. "Have any of you seen a man who fits that description?"

Brown Beard shook his head. None of the others offered information either. Dogmeat moaned, starting to come around. "Where is he?" Dogmeat mumbled. "I'll rip his head off."

"Hey, this joint's about as much fun as a mortician's convention," one of the bikers said. "Women are ugly as hell too. Let's hit the road."

"Yeah," another agreed. "Ain't nothing happening around here." He bent down to help haul Dogmeat up. Their leader was still dazed, his eyes roaming in circles. The bikers guided Dogmeat towards the door, but the brown-bearded one hesitated.

"I've heard of you before," he said. "Somewhere. Haven't I?"

"Yes," the Green Falcon answered. "I think you probably have."

The man nodded. Pitched his voice lower, so the others couldn't hear: "I used to have a big stack of Batman comics. Read 'em all the time. I used to think he was real, and I wanted to grow up just like him. Crazy, huh?"

"Not so crazy," the Green Falcon said.

The other man smiled slightly, a wistful smile. "I hope you find who you're lookin' for. Good luck." He started after his friends, and the Green Falcon said, "Do right."

And then they were gone, the sounds of their motorcycles roaring away. The Green Falcon glanced again at the bartender, still hoping for some information, but the man's face remained a blank.

"You want a beer, Greenie?" someone asked, and the Green Falcon turned to face the tall, black go-go dancer.

"No, thank you. I've got to go." To where, he didn't know, but the Grinderswitch was a dead end.

He had taken two steps towards the door when Gracie said, "I've seen him. The guy you're after." The Green Falcon abruptly stopped. "I know that face," Gracie went on. "He was in here maybe two, three hours ago."

"Do you know his name?"

"No, but I know where he lives."

His heart kicked. "Where?"

"Well...he might live there or he might not," she amended. She came closer to him, and he figured she was in her late twenties, but it was hard to tell with all the makeup. "A motel on the strip. The Palmetto. See...I used to...uh...work there. I was an escort." She flashed a quick warning glance at the bartender, as if she dared him to crack wise. Then back to the Green Falcon again. "I used to see this guy hanging out around there. He comes in here maybe two or three times a week. Asked me out one time, but I wouldn't go."

"Why not?"

She shrugged. "Too white. Amazin' Grace doesn't have to go out with just anybody. I choose my own friends."

"But you remember seeing him at the Palmetto?"

"Yeah. Or at least somebody who fits that description. I'm not saying it's the same guy. Lots of creeps on the strip, and those hot-springs motels lure most of them one time or another." She licked her lower lip; the shine of excitement was in her eyes. "You really think he's the Fliptop?"

"I do. Thank you for telling me, miss." He started toward the door, but again her husky voice stopped him.

"Hey, hold on! The Palmetto's about ten to twelve blocks east. You got a car?"

"No."

"Neither do I, but there's a cabstand down the street. I'm clocking out. Right, Tony?"

"You're the star," the bartender said with a wave of his hand.

"You want some company, Greenie? I mean..." She narrowed her eyes. "You're not a crazy yourself are you?" Gracie laughed at her own question. "Hell, sure you are! You've got to be. But I'm heading that way, and I'll show you the place if you want. For free."

"Why would you want to help me?" he asked.

Gracie looked wounded. "I've got civic pride, that's why! Hell, just because I strut my butt in this joint five nights a week doesn't mean I'm not a humanitarian!"

The Green Falcon considered that, and nodded. Amazin' Grace was obviously intelligent, and she probably enjoyed the idea of a hunt. He figured he could use all the help he could get. "All right. I'll wait while you get dressed."

She frowned. "I am dressed, fool! Let's go!"

They left the Grinderswitch and started walking east along the boulevard. Gracie had a stride that threatened to leave him behind, and his green suit drew just as many double-takes as her lean ebony body in its tigerskin wrapping. The cabstand was just ahead, and a cab was there, engine running. A kid in jeans and a black leather jacket leaned against the hood; he was rail-thin, his head shaved bald except for a tuft of hair in the shape of a question mark on his scalp.

"You've got a fare, kid," Gracie said as she slid her mile-long legs in. "Move it!"

The kid said, "I'm waiting for—"

"Your wait's over," Gracie interrupted. "Come on, we don't have all night."

The kid shrugged, his eyes vacant and disinterested, and got behind the wheel. As soon as the Green Falcon was in, the kid shot away from the curb with a shriek of burning rubber and entered the flow of the westbound traffic.

"We want to go to the Palmetto Motel," Gracie said. "You know where that is?"

"Sure."

"Well, you're going the wrong way. And start your meter, unless we're going to ride for free."

"Oh, yeah." The meter arm came down, and the mechanism started ticking. "You want to go east, huh?" he asked. And without warning he spun the wheel violently, throwing the Green Falcon and Gracie up against the cab's side, and the vehicle careened in a tight U-turn that narrowly missed a collision with a BMW. Horns blared and tires screeched, but the kid swerved into the eastbound lane as if he owned Hollywood Boulevard. And the Green Falcon saw a motorcycle cop turn on his blue light and start after them, at the same time as a stout Hispanic man ran out of a Chock Full O' Nuts coffee shop yelling and gesturing frantically..

"Must be a caffeine fit," Gracie commented. She heard the siren's shrill note and glanced back. "Smart move, kid. You just got a blue-tailed fly on your ass."

The kid laughed, sort of. The Green Falcon's gut tightened; he'd already seen the little photograph on the dashboard that identified the cab driver. It was a stout Hispanic face.

"Guy asked me to watch his cab while he ran in to pick up some coffee," the kid said with a shrug. "Gave me a buck, too." He looked in the rearview mirror. The motorcycle cop was waving him over. "What do you want me to do, folks?"

The Green Falcon had decided, just that fast. The police might be looking for him since he left the apartment building, and if they saw him like this they wouldn't understand. They'd think he was just a crazy old man out for a joyride through fantasy, and they'd take the Green Falcon away from him.

And if anyone could find the Fliptop Killer and bring him to justice, the Green Falcon could.

He said, "Lose him."

The kid looked back, and now his eyes were wild and thrilled. He grinned. "Roger wilco," he said, and pressed his foot to the accelerator.

The cab's engine roared, the vehicle surged forward with a power that pressed the Green Falcon and Gracie into their seats, and the kid whipped around a Mercedes and then up onto the curb, where people screamed and leapt aside. The cab, its exhaust pipe spitting fire, rocketed toward the plate-glass window of a lingerie store.

Gracie gave a stunned little cry, gripped the Green Falcon's hand with knuckle-cracking force, and the Green falcon braced for impact.


Go to Chapter 6: Handful of Straws


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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