Robert R. McCammon's "Night Calls the Green Falcon" (Part 07/10)

Night Calls the Green Falcon
by Robert R. McCammon

The Watchman

The Green Falcon stepped back, colliding with Gracie. The pit bull's body came flying towards him, reached the end of its chain, and its teeth clacked together where a vital member of the Green Falcon's anatomy had been a second before. Then the dog was yanked back to the wall, but it immediately regained its balance and lunged again. The Green Falcon stood in front of Gracie, picked up a chair to ward the beast off, but again the chain stopped the pit bull short of contact. As the animal thrashed against its collar, a figure rose up from behind the counter and pulled back the trigger on a double-barreled shotgun.

"Put it down," the man told the Green Falcon. He motioned with the shotgun. "Do it or I swear to god I'll blow your head off." The man's voice was high and nervous, and the Green Falcon slowly put the chair down. The pit bull was battling with its chain, trying to slide its head out of the collar. "Ain't nobody gonna rob me again," the man behind the counter vowed. Sweat glistened on his gaunt face. "You punks gonna learn some respect, you hear me?"

"Lester?" Gracie said. The man's frightened eyes ticked towards her. "Lester Dent? It's me." She took a careful step forward, where the light could show him who she was. "Sabra Jones." The Green Falcon stared at her. She said, "You remember me, don't you, Lester?"

"Sabra? That really you?" The man blinked, reached into a drawer, and brought out a pair of round-lensed spectacles. He put them on and the tension in his face immediately eased. "Sabra! Well, why didn't you say so?" He uncocked the shotgun and said, "DOWN, Bucky!" to the pit bull. The animal stopped its thrashing, but it still regarded the Green Falcon with hungry eyes.

"This is a friend of mine, Lester. The Green Falcon." She said it with all seriousness.

"Hi." Lester lowered the shotgun and leaned it behind the counter. "Sorry I'm a little jumpy. Things have changed around here since you left. Lot of freaks in the neighbourhood, and you can't be too careful."

"I guess not." Gracie glanced at a couple of bullet holes in the wall. Flies were buzzing around the scraps of hamburger in Bucky's feed bowl. "Used to be a decent joint. How come you're still hanging around here?"

Lester shrugged. He was a small man, weighed maybe a hundred and thirty pounds, and he wore a Captain America T-shirt. "I crave excitement. What can I say?" He looked her up and down with true appreciation. "Life's being pretty good to you, huh?"

"I can't complain. Much. Lester, my friend and I are looking for somebody who used to hang around here." She described the man. "I remember he used to like Dolly Winslow. Do you know the guy I mean?"

"I think I do, but I'm not sure. I've seen a lot of them."

"Yeah, I know, but this is important. Do you have any idea what the guy's name might have been, or have you seen him around here lately?"

"No, I haven't seen him for a while, but I know what his name was." He grinned, gapped-tooth. "John Smith. That's what all their names were." He glanced at the Green Falcon. "Can you breath inside that thing?"

"The man we're looking for is the Fliptop Killer," the Green Falcon said, and Lester's grin cracked. "Do you know where we can find Dolly Winslow?"

"She went to Vegas," Gracie told him. "Changed her name, the last I heard. No telling where she is now."

"You're looking for the Fliptop Killer?" Lester asked. "You a cop or somethin'?"

"No. I've got...a personal interest."

Lester drummed his fingers on the scarred countertop and thought for a moment. "The Fliptop, huh? Guy's a mean one. I wouldn't want to cross his path, no sir."

"Anybody still around who used to hang out here?" Gracie asked. "Like Jellyroll? Or that weird guy who played the flute?"

"That weird guy who played the flute just signed a million-dollar contract at Capitol Records," Lester said. "We should all be so weird. Jellyroll's living uptown somewhere. Pearly's got a boutique on the Strip, makin' money hand over fist. Bobby just drifted away." He shook his head. "We had us a regular club here, didn't we?"

"So everybody's cleared out?"

"Well...not everybody. There's me, and the Watchman."

"The Watchman?" The Green Falcon came forward, and the pit bull glowered at him but didn't attack. "Who's that?"

"Crazy old guy, lives down in the basement," Lester said. "Been here since the place was new. You won't get anything out of him, though."

"Why not?"

"The Watchman doesn't speak. Never has, as far as I know. He goes out and walks, day and night, but he won't tell you where he's been. You remember him, don't you, Sabra?"

"Yeah. Dolly told me she saw him walking over on the beach at Santa Monica one day, and Bobby saw him in downtown L.A. All he does is walk."

"Can he speak?" the Green Falcon asked.

"No telling," Lester said. "Whenever I've tried talkin' to him, he just sits like a wall."

"So why do you call him the Watchman?"

"You know the way, Sabra" Lester motioned toward the door. "Why don't you show him?"

"You don't want to see the Watchman," she said. "Forget it. He's out of his mind. Like me for getting into this. See you around, Lester." She started out, and Lester said, "Don't be such a stranger."

Outside, Gracie continued walking to the cab. The Green Falcon caught up with her. "I'd like to see the Watchman. What would it hurt?"

"It would waste my time and yours. Besides, he's probably not even here. Like I said, he walks all the time." She reached the cab, where Ques was waiting nervously behind the wheel.

"Let's go," Ques said. "Cars have been going in and out. Looks like a major deal's about to go down."

"Hold it." The Green Falcon placed his hand against the door before she could open it. "If the Watchman's been here so long, he might know something about the man we're looking for. It's worth asking, isn't it?"

"No. He doesn't speak to anybody. Nobody knows where he came from, or who he is, and he likes it that way." She glanced around, saw several figures standing in a second-floor doorway. Others were walking across the lot toward a black Mercedes. "I don't like the smell around here. The faster we get out, the better."

The Green Falcon stepped back and let her get into the cab. But he didn't go around to the other door. "I'm going to talk to the Watchman," he said. "How do I get to the basement?"

She paused, her eyelids at half-mast. "You're a stubborn fool, aren't you? There's the way down." She pointed at a door near the office. "You go through there, you're on your own."

"We shouldn't leave him here," Ques said. "We ought to stay—"

"Shut up, cueball. Lots of bad dudes around here, and I'm not getting shot for anybody." She smiled grimly. "Not even the Green Falcon. Good luck."

"Thanks for your help. I hope you—"

"Can it," she interrupted. "Move out, Ques."

He said, "Sorry," to the Green Falcon, put the cab into reverse, and backed out of the lot. Turned left across the boulevard and headed west.

And the Green Falcon stood alone.

He waited, hoping they'd come back. They didn't. Finally he turned and walked to the door that led to the Palmetto Motel's basement, and he reached for the knob.

But somebody came out of another room before he could open the door, and the Green Falcon saw the flash of metal.

"Hey, amigo," the man said, and flame shot from the barrel of the small pistol he'd just drawn.

Go to Chapter 8: Yours Truly

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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