Robert R. McCammon's "Night Calls the Green Falcon" (Part 09/10)

Night Calls the Green Falcon
by Robert R. McCammon

Hell Or High Water

A black-and-white streak shot across the parking lot, and the pit bull hit the gunman like a miniature locomotive. The man screamed and went down, the Uzi firing an arc of tracers in the sky. And Lester ran past, stopped almost in front of the Green Falcon, fired a shotgun blast at another man, and then skidded on his belly behind the protection of a car.

The Green Falcon ran towards the street—and was almost struck by a cab that whipped into the lot with a shriek of burning rubber.

Ques hit the brake, and Gracie shouted, "Come on, fool!" as she threw the door open. The Green Falcon heard a bullet hiss past his head, and then he grasped the door and hung on as Ques reversed out of the lot and sped away on Hollywood.

Gracie pulled the Green Falcon in, and they got the door closed, but Ques still kept a leaden foot on the accelerator. "Slow down!" she told him. "We don't want the cops stopping us!" He didn't respond, and she slapped him on the question mark. "SLOW DOWN!"

Ques did, but only by a little. "They had guns," he said shakily. "Real guns!"

"What'd you expect drug dealers to carry? Slingshots?" She looked at the Green Falcon. "You in one piece?" He nodded, his eyes huge behind the mask. "We were circling the block, waiting for you to come out. We figured you'd never get out of this neighbourhood alive. We were almost right, huh?"

"Yes," he croaked.

"Welcome to the big city. You find the Watchman?"

"I did." He drew a couple of deep breaths, could still smell the gunsmoke. "And something else too." He gave the library card to Ques. "That's where we're going. I think it's the Fliptop Killer's name and address."

"Not that again!" Gracie protested. "Man, we're taking you home!"

"No. We're going to Santa Monica. You don't have to get out of the cab if you don't want to—in fact, I'd rather you didn't. But I'm going to find the Fliptop, with you or without you."

"It'll be without me, all right," she answered, but the way he'd said that let her know he was through talking about it. The man had a mission, and he was going to do it come hell or high water. She settled back into her seat, muttering, and Ques turned toward the Santa Monica freeway.

The address was near the beach, so close they could smell the sea. The building was dark-bricked, one of those old art-deco places that probably used to be a hotel when Santa Monica was young. Ques pulled the cab to a halt in front of it and cut the engine.

"I want you both to stay here," the Green Falcon said. "I'm going in alone." He started to get out, but Gracie caught his arm.

"Hey, listen. If the Fliptop's really in there, this is the time to call the cops. No joke."

"I don't know that he's in there. It's an old library card; he might have moved. But if he's there, I've got to see his face for myself. Then we can call the police."

"She's right," Ques told him. "Listen, it's crazy to go in there. You don't have a gun or anything."

"The Green Falcon," he said adamantly, "never carries a gun."

"Yeah, and the Green Falcon's only got one life, fool!" Gracie didn't release her grip. "Playtime's over. I mean it. This isn't some old serial. This is real life. You know what reality is?"

"Yes, I do." He turned the full wattage of his gaze on her. "The reality is that...I think I'd rather die as the Green Falcon than live as an old man with a screwed-up bladder and a book of memories. I want to walk tall, just once more. Is that so terrible?"

"It's nuts," she answered. "And you're nuts."

"So I am. I'm going." He pulled loose from her and got out of the cab. He was scared, but not as much as he thought he'd be. It wasn't as bad as indigestion, really. And then he went up the front steps into the building, and he checked the row of mailboxes in the alcove.

The one for apartment D had BOWERS on it.

Apartments A, B, and C were on the first floor. He climbed the stairs, aided by a red-shaded light fixture on the wall, and stood before apartment D's door.

He started to knock. Stopped his hand, the fist clenched. A thrill of fear coursed through him. He stood there facing the door, and he didn't know if he could do it or not. He wasn't the Green Falcon; there was no such entity, not really. It was all a fiction. But Julie's death was not a fiction, and neither was what he'd been through tonight to reach this door. The sane thing was to back off, go down those stairs, get to a phone, and call the police. Of course it was.

He heard a car's horn blare a quick tattoo. The cab, he thought. Ques, urging him to come back?

He knocked at the door and waited. His heart had lodged in his throat. He tensed for a voice, or the sudden opening of the door.

The stairs creaked.

He heard the cab's horn again. This time Ques was leaning on it, and suddenly the Green Falcon knew why.

He turned, in awful slow motion, and saw the shadow looming on the wall.

And there he was: the young blonde, dark-eyed man who'd slashed Julie's throat. Coming up the staircase, step by step, not yet having seen the Green Falcon. But he would, at any second, and each step brought them closer.

The Green Falcon didn't move. The killer's weight made the risers moan, and he was smiling slightly—perhaps, the Green Falcon though, musing over the feel of the blade piercing Julie's flesh.

And then the Fliptop Killer looked up, saw the Green Falcon at the top of the stairs, and stopped.

They stared at each other, standing not quite an arm's length apart. The killer's dark eyes were startled, and in them the Green Falcon saw a glint of fear.

"I've found you," the Green Falcon said.

The Fliptop Killer reached to his back, his hand a blur. It returned with the bright steel of the hunting knife, taken from a sheath that must fit down at his waistband. He moved fast, like an animal, and the Green Falcon saw the blade rising to strike him in the throat or chest.

"IT'S HIM!" Gracie shouted as she burst into the alcove and to the foot of the steps.

The killer looked around at her—and it was the Green Falcon's turn to move fast. He grasped the man's wrist and struck him hard in the jaw with his right fist, and he felt one of his knuckles break, but the killer toppled backward down the stairs.

The man caught the railing before he'd tumbled to the bottom, and he still had hold of the knife. A thread of blood spilled from his split lower lip, his eyes dazed from a bang of his skull against a riser. The Green Falcon was coming down the steps after him, and the Fliptop Killer struggled up and backed away.

"WATCH OUT!" the Green Falcon yelled as Gracie tried to grab the man's knife. The killer swung at her, but she jumped back and the blade narrowly missed her face. But she had courage, and she wasn't about to give up; she darted in again, clutching his arm to keep the knife from another slash. The Green Falcon tensed to leap at the man, but suddenly the killer struck Gracie in the face with his left fist and she staggered back against the wall. Just that fast, the man fled towards the front door.

The Green Falcon stopped at Gracie's side. Her nose was bleeding and she looked about to pass out. She said, "Get the bastard," and the Green Falcon took off in pursuit.

Out front, the Fliptop Killer ran to the parked cab. Ques tried to fight him off, but a slash of the blade across Ques' shoulder sprayed blood across the inside of the windshield; the Fliptop Killer looked up saw the man in the green suit and cape coming after him. He hauled Ques out of the cab and leapt behind the wheel.

As the cab's tired laid down streaks of rubber, the Green Falcon grasped the edge of the open window on the passenger side and just had an instant to lock his fingers, broken knuckle and all, before the cab shot forward. Then he was off his feet, his body streamlined to the cab's side, and the vehicle was roaring north along serpentine Jericho Street at fifty miles an hour.

The Green Falcon hung on. The killer jerked the wheel back and forth, slammed into a row of garbage cans, and kept going. He made a screeching left turn at a red light that swung the Green Falcon's body out from the cab's side and all but tore his shoulders from his sockets, but still the Green Falcon hung on. And now the Fliptop Killer leaned over, one hand gripping the wheel, and jabbed at the Green Falcon's fingers with the knife. Slashed two of them, but the Green Falcon's right hand darted in and clamped around the wrist. The cab veered out of its lane, in front of a panel truck whose fender almost clipped the Green Falcon's legs. The killer thrashed wildly, trying to get his knife hand free, but the Green Falcon smashed his wrist against the window's frame and the fingers spasmed open; the knife fell down between the seat and the door.

Beachfront buildings and houses flashed by on either side. The cab tore through a barricade that said WARNING—NO VEHICLES BEYOND THIS POINT.

The Green Falcon tried to push himself through the window. A fist hit his chin and made alarm bells go off in his brain. And then the Fliptop Killer gripped the wheel with both hands, because the cab was speeding up a narrow wooden ramp. The Green Falcon had the taste of blood in his mouth, and now he could hear a strange thing: the excited shouts of children, the voices of ghosts on the wind. His fingers were weakening, his grip about to fail; the voices overlapped and intermingled, said, "Hold on, Green Falcon, hold on..."

And then before his strength collapsed, he lunged through the window and grappled with the Fliptop Killer as the cab rocketed up onto a pier and early-morning fishermen leapt for their lives.

Fingers gouged for the Green Falcon's eyes, could not get through the mask's slits. The Green Falcon hit him in the face with a quick boxer's left and right, and the killer let go of the wheel to clench both sinewy hands around the Green Falcon's throat.

The cab reached the end of the pier, crashed through the wooden railing, and plummeted into the Pacific Ocean twenty feet below.

Go to Chapter 10: Nightmare Netherworld

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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