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
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.
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
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
"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
"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,
"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
"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 fast...it 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
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
"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
"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
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