Robert R. McCammon's "Night Calls the Green Falcon" (Part 06/10)

Night Calls the Green Falcon
by Robert R. McCammon

Handful of Straws

The kid spun the wheel to the left, and the cab's fender knocked sparks off a brick wall as it grazed past the window. Then he veered quickly to the right, clipped away two parking meters, and turned the cab off Hollywood onto El Centro Avenue. He floorboarded the gas pedal.

"Let's get outta here!" Gracie shouted as she grasped the door's handle, but the cab's speedometer needle was already nosing past forty. She decided she didn't care for a close acquaintance with asphalt, and anyway, the Green Falcon had her other hand and wasn't going to let her jump.

The motorcycle cop was following, the blue light spinning and the siren getting louder. The kid tapped the brakes and swerved in front of a gasoline truck, through an alley, and behind a row of buildings, then back onto El Centro and speeding southward. The motorcycle cop came out of the ally and got back on their tail, again closing the gap between them.

"What's your name?" the Green Falcon asked.

"Me? Ques," he answered. "Because of—"

"I can guess why. Ques, this is very important." The Green Falcon leaned forward, his fingers clamped over the seat in front of him. "I don't want the policeman to stop us. I'm—" Again, lines from the scripts danced through his mind. "I'm on a mission," he said. "I don't have time for the police. Do you understand?"

Ques nodded. "No," he said. "But if you want to give the cop a run, I'm your man." The speedometer's needle was almost to sixty, and Ques was weaving in and out of traffic like an Indy racer. "Hold on," he said.

Gracie screamed.

Ques suddenly veered to the left, almost grazing the fenders of cars just released from the red light at the intersection of El Centro and Fountain Avenue. Outraged horns hooted, but then the cab had cleared the intersection and was speeding away. Ques took a hard right onto Gordon Street, another left on Lexington, and then pulled into an alley behind a Taco Bell. He drew up close to a Dumpster and cut the headlights.

Gracie found her voice: "Where the hell did you learn to drive? The Demolition Derby?"

Ques got himself turned around in the seat so he could look at his passengers. He smiled, and the smile made him almost handsome. "Close. I was a third-unit stunt driver in `Beverly Hills Cop II.' This was a piece of cake."

"I'm getting out of here." Gracie reached for the door's handle. "You two never saw me before, okay?"

"Wait." The Green Falcon grasped her elbow. The motorcycle cop was just passing, going east on Lexington. The siren had been turned off and the blue light faded as he went on.

"Not in the clear yet," Ques said. "There'll be a lot of shellheads looking for us. We'd better sit here a while." He grinned at them. "Fun, huh?"

"Like screwing in a thornpatch." Gracie opened the door. "I'm gone."

"Please don't go," the Green Falcon said. "I need you."

"You need a good shrink is what you need. Man, I must've been crazy myself to get into this! You thinking you could track down the Fliptop!" She snorted. "Green Falcon, my ass!"

"I need you," he repeated firmly. "If you've got connections at the Palmetto, maybe you can find someone who's seen him."

"The Fliptop?" Ques asked, his interest perked again. "What about that sonofabitch?"

"I saw him tonight," the Green Falcon said. "He killed a friend of mine, and Gracie knows where he might be."

"I didn't say that, man. I said I knew where I'd seen a guy who looked like the guy who's been coming into the Grinderswitch. That's a big difference."

"Please stay. Help me. It's the only lead I've got."

Gracie looked away from him. The door was halfway open and she had one leg out. "Nobody cares about anybody else in this city," she said. "Why should I stick around and get my ass in jail...or worse?"

"I'll protect you," he answered.

She laughed. "Oh yeah! A guy in a green freaksuit's going to protect me! Wow, my mind feels so much better! Let me go." He hesitated, then did as she said. She sat on the seat's edge, about to get out. About to. But a second ticked past, and another, and still she sat there. "I live on Olympic Boulevard," she said. "Man, I am a long way from home."

"Green Falcon, huh?" Ques asked. "That what you call yourself?"

"Yes. That's..." A second or two of indecision. "That's who I am."

"You got information about the Fliptop, why don't you give it to the cops?"

"Because..." Why not indeed? he asked himself. "Because the Fliptop has killed nine times and he's going to kill again. Maybe tonight, even. The police aren't even close to finding him. We are."

"No, we're not!" Gracie objected. "Just because I saw a guy at a motel a few times doesn't mean he's the Fliptop! You've got a handful of straws, man!"

"Maybe I do. But it's worth going to the Palmetto to find out, isn't it?"

"You just don't want to go to the cops because you're afraid they'll pitch you in the nuthouse," Gracie said, and the way the Green Falcon settled back against the seat told her she'd hit the target. She was silent for a moment, watching him. "That's right isn't it?"

"Yes," he said, because he knew it was. "I ..." He hesitated, but they were listening and he decided to tell it as it had been, a long time ago. "I spent some time in a sanitarium. Not recently. Back in the early fifties. I had a nervous breakdown. It...wasn't a nice place."

"You used to be somebody, for real?" Ques inquired.

"The Green Falcon. I starred in serials." The kid's face showed no recognition. "They used to show them on Saturday afternoons," Cray went on. "Chapter by chapter. Well, I guess both of you are too young to remember." He clasped his hands together in his lap, his back bowed. "Yes, I used to be somebody. For real."

"So how come you went off your rocker?" Gracie asked. "If you were a star and all, I mean?"

He sighed softly. "When I was a young man I thought the whole world was one big Indiana. That's where I'm from. Some talent scouts came through my town one day, and someone told them about me. Big athlete, they said. Won all the medals you can think of. Outstanding young American and all that." His mouth twitched into a bitter smile. "Corny, but I guess it was true. Heck, the world was pretty corny back then. But it wasn't such a bad place. Anyway, I came to Hollywood and I started to do the serials. I had a little talent. But I saw things..." He shook his head. "Things they didn't even know about in Indiana. It seemed as if I was on another world, and I was never going to find my way back home. And everything happened so just got away from me, I guess. I was a star—whatever that means—and I was working hard and making money, but...Cray Boomershine was dying. I could feel him dying, a little bit more every day. And I wanted to bring him back, but he was just an Indiana kid and I was a Hollywood star. The Green Falcon, I mean. Me. Cray Flint. Does that make any sense to you?"

"Not a bit," Gracie said. "Hell, everyone wants to be a star! What was wrong with you?"

His fingers twined together, and the old knuckles worked. "They wanted me to do a public-relations tour. I said I would. So they sent me all across the country...dressed up like this. And the children came out to see me, and they touched my cape and they asked for my autograph and they said they wanted to grow up just like me. Those faces...they gave off such an innocent light." He was silent, thinking, and he drew a deep breath and continued because he could not turn back. "It was in Watertown, South Dakota. April 26, 1951. I went onstage at the Watertown Palace Theater, right after they showed the tenth and final chapter of `Night Calls The Green Falcon.' That place was packed with kids, and all of them were laughing and happy." He closed his eyes, his hands gripped tightly together. "There was a fire. It started in a storeroom in the basement." He smelled acrid smoke, felt the heat of the flames on his face. "It spread so fast. And some of the kids...some of them even thought it was part of the show. Oh God...Oh, my God...the walls were on fire and the children were being crushed as they tried to get out...and I heard them screaming! `Green Falcon! Green Falcon!"' His eyes opened, and stared without seeing. "But the Green falcon couldn't save them, and fourteen children died in that fire. He couldn't save them. Couldn't." He looked at Ques, then to Gracie, then back again, and his eyes were wet and sunken into the mask's slits. "When I came out of the sanitarium, the studio let me keep the costume. For a job well done, they said. But there weren't going to be any more Green Falcon serials. Anyway, everyone was watching television, and that was that."

Neither Ques nor Gracies spoke for a moment. Then Gracie said, "We're going to take you home. Where do you live?"

"Please." He put his hand over hers. "I can find the Fliptop Killer. I know I can."

"You can't. Give it up."

"What would it hurt?" Ques asked her. "Just to drive up to that motel, I mean. Maybe he's right." He held up his hand before she could object. "Maybe. We could drive there and you could ask around, and then we'll take him home. How about it?"

"It's crazy," she said. "And I'm crazy." But then she pulled her leg back in and shut the door. "Let's try it."

The Palmetto was a broken-down stucco dump between Normandie and Mariposa, on the cheap end of Hollywood Boulevard. Ques pulled the cab into the trash-strewn parking lot, and he spoke his first impression: "Place is a crack gallery, folks." He saw shadowy faces peering through the blinds of second-floor windows, and blue fire-light played across a wall. "Bullet holes in a door over there." He motioned toward it. "From here on we watch our asses." He stopped the cab next to a door marked "office" and cut the engine.

"It's sure enough gone to hell since I worked here," Gracie said. "Nothing like addicts to junk a place up." Not far away stood the hulk of a a car that looked as if it had been recently set afire. "Well, let's see what we can see." She got out, and so did the Green Falcon. Ques stayed behind the wheel, and when Gracie motioned him to come on, he said, nervously, "I'll give you moral support."

"Thanks, jerkoff. Hey, hold on!" she said, because the Green Falcon was already striding toward the office door. He grasped the knob, turned it, and the door opened with a jingle of little bells. He stepped into a room where lights from the boulevard cut through slanted blinds, and the air was thick with the mingled odors of marijuana, a dirty carpet and...what else was it?

Spoiled meat, he realized.

And that was when something stood up from a corner and bared its teeth.

The Green Falcon stopped. His eyes looking at a stocky black-and-white pit bull, its eyes bright with the prospect of violence.

"Oh shit," Gracie whispered.

Soundlessly the pit bull leapt at the Green Falcon, its jaws open for a bone-crushing bite.

Go to Chapter 7: The Watchman

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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