Robert R. McCammon's "Night Calls the Green Falcon" (Part 08/10)

Night Calls the Green Falcon
by Robert R. McCammon

8
Yours Truly

The Hispanic man lit his cigarette with the flame, then put the pistol-shaped lighter back into his pocket. "What kinda party you dressed up for?"

The Green Falcon didn't answer. His nerves were still jangling, and he wasn't sure he could speak, even if he tried.

"You lookin' for a score or not?" the man persisted.

"I'm...looking for the Watchman," he managed to say.

"Oh. Yeah, I should've figured you were. Didn't know the old creep had any friends."

Somebody called out, "Paco! Get your ass over here, NOW!"

The man sneered. "When I'm ready!" and then he sauntered toward the group of others who stood around the Mercedes.

The Green Falcon went through the door and into the darkness.

He stood on a narrow staircase, tried to find a light switch, but could not. Two steps down and his right hand found a light bulb overhead, with a dangling cord. He pulled it, and the light bulb illuminated with a bright yellow glow. The concrete stairs extended beyond the light's range, the walls made of cracked grey cinder block. The Green Falcon went down, into a place that smelled as damp and musty as a long-closed crypt. Halfway down the steps, he halted.

There had been a sound of movement over on the right. "Anyone there?" he asked. No answer, and now the sound had ceased. Rats, he decided. Big ones. He came to the bottom of the stairs, darkness surrounding him. Again he felt for a light switch, again with no reward. The smell was putrid: wet and decaying paper, he thought. He took a few steps forward, reaching out to both sides; his right arm brushed what felt like a stack of magazines or newspapers. And then the fingers of his left hand found a wall and a light switch, and when he flicked it, a couple of naked bulbs came on.

He looked around the Watchman's domain.

The basement—a huge, cavernous chamber—might have put the periodicals department of the L.A. Public Library to shame. Neat stacks of books, newspapers, and magazines were piled against the walls and made corridors across the basement, their turns and windings as intricate as a carefully constructed maze. The Green Falcon had never seen anything like it before, there had to be thousands—no, hundreds of thousands—of items down here. Maps of Los Angeles, Hollywood, Santa Monica, Beverly Hills, and other municipalities were mounted on the walls, tinged with green mold but otherwise unmarred. Here stood a stack of telephone books six feet tall, there were multiple stacks of old Hollywood Reporters. The place was an immense repository of information, and the Green Falcon was stunned because he'd never expected anything like this. A bank of battered filing cabinets stood against one wall, more newspapers stacked on top of them. There had to be thirty years of accumulated magazines and papers just in this part of the basement alone, and the chamber stretched the length of the motel. He couldn't restrain his curiosity; he went to one of the filing cabinets, which had precise little alphabet letters identifying their contents, and opened a drawer. Inside were hundreds of notebook pages covered with what appeared to be license plate numbers and the make and color of the cars that carried them, all written with an elegant, almost calligraphic handwriting. Another drawer held lists of items found in various trashcans at scores of locations and dates. A third drawer bulged with pages that seemed to record the routes of pedestrians through the city streets, how long to the second they stayed in this or that store or restaurant, and so forth.

And it dawned on the Green Falcon that this was exactly what the watchman did: he watched, recorded, filed away, all to the service of some bizarre inner logic, and he'd been doing it for years.

Something moved, back beyond the room in which the Green Falcon stood. There was a quick rustling sound of papers being disturbed...then silence. The Green Falcon wound his way through the maze, found another light switch that illuminated two more bulbs at the rear of the basement. Still more periodicals, maps, and filing cabinets stood in that area of the basement as well, but there was a cot too, and a desk with a blue blotter.

And a man in a long, dirty olive coat, huddled up with his back wedged into a corner, and his Peter Lorre eyes looked as if they were about to pop from their sockets.

"Hello," the Green Falcon said quietly. The man, gray-bearded and almost emaciated, trembled and hugged his knees. The Green Falcon walked closer and stopped, because the Watchman was shaking so hard he might have a heart attack. "I've come to talk to you."

The Watchman's mouth opened in his sallow face, gave a soft gasp, then closed again.

"I'm looking for someone you might help me find." The Green Falcon described the man. "I think he might be the Fliptop Killer, and I understand a man fitting that description used to come around here. He might have been friends with a girl named Dolly Winslow. Do you know the man I'm talking about?"

Still no response. The Watchman looked as if he were about to jump out of his skin.

"Don't be afraid. I'm the Green Falcon, and I wish you no harm."

The Watchman was so terrified there were tears in his eyes. The Green Falcon started to speak again, but he realized the futility of it. The Watchman was a human packrat, and Amazin' Grace had been right: there was nothing to be gained here.

He took off his mask and threw it aside in disgust. What had made him think he could track down the Fliptop? he asked himself. A red matchbook from a dead girl's hand? A glimpse of the killers face, and an ill-founded yearning for a counterfeit past? It was ridiculous! He was standing in a motel's dank basement with a drug deal going on over his head, and he'd better get out of here as fast as he could before he got his throat cut. "I'm sorry to have bothered you," he told the Watchman, and he started walking towards the stairs. He heard the Watchman gasp and crawl across the floor, and he looked back to see the man rummaging with frantic speed inside an old mildewed cardboard box.

This is no place for me, the Green Falcon realized. In fact, there was no place at all left for the Green Falcon, but Cray Flint's mop was waiting at the Burger King.

He kept going to the stairs, burdened with age.

"`Dear davy,"' the voice rang out. "`I am sorry I can't come to Center City this summer, but I'm working on a new mystery..."'

The Green Falcon stopped.

"`...and I'm very busy. I just wanted you to know that I appreciate your letter, and I like to hear from my fans very much. Enclosed is something that I want you to have, and I hope you'll wear it with pride. Remember to respect your elders, put up your toys, and do right..."'

He turned, his heart pounding.

"`Yours truly, the Green Falcon."' And the Watchman looked up, smiling, from the yellowed, many-times-folded letter in his hands. "You signed it," he said "Right here. Remember?" He held it up. Then he scrambled to the box again, rummaged, and came up with an old wallet covered in multicolored Indian beads. He flipped it open and showed what was pinned inside. "I kept it all this time. See?"

The plastic button said THE GREEN FALCONEERS. "I see." Cray's voice cracked.

"I did right," Davy said. "I always did right."

"Yes," the Green Falcon nodded. "I know you did."

"We moved from Center City." Davy stood up; he was at least six inches taller than the Green Falcon. "My Dad got a new job, when I was twelve. That was..." He hesitated, trying to think. "A long time ago," he decided. A frown slowly settled on his deeply lined face. "What happened to you?"

"I got old," the Green Falcon said.

"Yes, sir. Me too." His frown started to slip away, then took hold again. "Am I still a Falconeer?"

"Oh, yes. That's a forever thing."

"I thought it was," Davy said, and his smile came back.

"You've got a nice collection down here." The Green Falcon walked amid the stacks. "I guess gathering all this takes a lot of time."

"I don't mind. It's my job."

"Your job?"

"Sure. Everybody's got a job. Mine is watching things, and writing them down. Keeping them, too."

"Have you actually read all these papers and magazines?"

"Yes, sir. Well...most of them," he amended. "And I remember what I read, too. I've got...like...a Kodak in my brain."

Did he mean a photographic memory? the Green Falcon wondered. If so, he might recall the man Gracie remembered? "Davy," he said in his heroic voice, "I've come to you because I need your help. I'm trying to find the Fliptop Killer. Have you heard of him?"

Davy nodded without hesitation.

"Can you think of a man like the one I described? A man who was a friend of—"

"Dolly Winslow," Davy finished for him. "Yes, sir. I remember him. I never liked him, either. He laughed at people when he didn't think they were looking."

So far, so good. The Green Falcon felt sweat on the back of his neck. "I want you to concentrate very hard, like a good Falconeer. Did you ever hear the man's name?"

Davy rubbed his mouth with the back of his hand, and his eyes took on a steely glint. He walked to a filing cabinet, bent down, and opened the bottom drawer. Looked through dozens of envelopes. And then he pulled one of them out, and he brought it to the Green Falcon. On it Davy had written: 23. "Dolly's room," he said. "He cleaned his wallet out in her trashcan one night."

The Green Falcon went to the desk and spilled the envelope's contents out on the blotter. There was a torn-open Trojan wrapper, two dried-up sticks of Doublemint gum, a few cash-register receipts, a ticket stub to a Lakers game, and...

"His name's Rod Bowers. It's on the library card," Davy said. "His address too."

The library card had been torn into quarters, but Davy had taped it back together again. And there were the name and address: Rodney E. Bowers, 1416D Jericho Street, Santa Monica.

"That was over a year ago, though. He might not be there now," Davy said.

"The Green Falcon's hands were shaking. Davy had taped together another piece of paper: a receipt that had been torn into many fragments. On that receipt was the name of a business: The House Of Blades. On December 20th, 1986, Rodney Bowers had bought himself a Christmas present of a John Wayne Commemorative Hunting Knife.

"Did I do right?" Davy asked, peering over the Green Falcon's shoulder.

"You sure did, son." He grasped the younger man's arm. "You're..." He said the first thing that came to mind: "The number-one Falconeer. I have to go now. I've got a job to do." He started striding, his pace quick, toward the stairs.

"Green Falcon, sir?" Davy called, and he paused. "I'll be here if you ever need my help again."

"I'll remember," the Green Falcon answered, and he climbed the stairs with the taped-together library card and the House Of Blades receipt gripped in his hand.

He went through the door into the parking lot—and instantly heard someone shouting in Spanish. Somebody else was hollering from the second floor, and there were other angry voices. The man named Paco was standing next to the Mercedes, and suddenly he drew a pistol—not a cigarette lighter this time, but a .45 automatic. He shouted out a curse and began firing into the Mercedes, glass from the windshield exploding into the air. At the same time, two men got out of another car, flung themselves flat onto the pavement, and started spraying Paco with gunfire. Paco's body danced and writhed, the .45 going off into the air.

"Kill 'em!" somebody yelled from the second floor. Machine-gun fire erupted, and bullets ricocheted off the concrete in a zigzagging line past the Green Falcon.

Oh, my God! Cray thought. And he realized he'd come out of the basement into the middle of a drug deal gone bad.

The two men on the pavement kept firing. Now figures were sprinting across the parking lot, shooting at the men on the second floor. Machine-gun bullets cut one of them down, and he fell in a twitching heap. The Green Falcon backed up, hit the wall, and stayed there—and then a man in a dark suit turned toward him, a smoking Uzi machine-gun in his hand, his face sparkling with the sweat of terror. He lifted the weapon to spray a burst at the Green Falcon.


Go to Chapter 9: Hell Or High Water


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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