Quacking the Case of the Maltese Falcon

Iron Mark was pissed. The rental’s navigation screen was fritzed, there was no cell signal, and the shitty two-lane roads weren’t going where the map said they should.

Typical California bullshit.

On top of that, Iron Mark really needed to take a leak. The buffalo burger he’d ordered for lunch had been overcooked by an overly groomed millennial who only grudgingly left off combing beeswax into his beard to pull Iron Mark three pints of over-hopped microbrew. 

Now, the beer wanted out and the stupid two-lane cut through the redwoods had no shoulder. All of that was enough to put Iron Mark in a temper, even before factoring in the gray, drizzly weather and a belt of fog thicker than he’d ever seen.

Typical California bullshit, in other words.

Iron Mark dug the wad of Red Man from his cheek and tossed it out the window. The slipstream caught the soggy mass and blew the tobacco back against the piece of shit rice burner Hertz was charging him a hundred and thirty-nine bucks a day for, leaving a brown skid mark down the side.

The bullshit was hip-deep and rising. So deep, in fact, that he damn near missed the turn-out. As it was he made more of an entrance into the gravel lot than he would have wanted, cutting the wheel in time to avoid the antique-style gas pump and drifting to a stop more or less in a parking spot.

He stepped out of the POS Honda and stretched his back. Mistake — it stretched his bladder, too.

Redwoods the size of skyscrapers loomed over a ramshackle building stained reddish-brown to blend in with the tree trunks. Six or seven inches of redwood needles covered the roof, completely obscuring whatever shingles or tarpaper might be under there and no doubt providing habitat for thousands of critters.

A sign next to the rickety steps declared the building to be Elvis’s Bait Shack. No doubt that was more California bullshit. Weird thing was, other than the ten or so trees clustered around the building, the lot was covered in underbrush and scrub. Looked like about five acres of scrub.

Iron Mark didn’t see any bait. He saw shelves stocked with Dinty Moore Beef Stew, Jack Daniels Whiskey, and Little Debbie Oatmeal Pies. Maybe there was a refrigerator full of night crawlers in the back. 

The cash register was behind a counter by the door, and, also behind the counter, an old man with a curly gray pompadour slept slumped over in a chair.

Iron Mark climbed the creaking steps. The door opened with a squawk like a chicken laying an ostrich egg, and the man behind the counter snorted and woke up. Iron Mark recognized him instantly. “You’re not Elvis.”

“And you’re not wearing blue suede shoes. So what?”

“The sign and all.”

Conway Twitty shrugged. “You look old enough to know not to believe everything you read. I bought this little slice of heaven from Lisa Marie, and you wouldn’t believe how much it was gonna be for a sign that said Conway’s Bait Shack. So I left it.”

“Typical California bullshit,” Iron Mark said.

“You got that right.” Twitty reached under the counter and produced a fifth of Jack Daniel’s. He poured it into one of several rocks glasses waiting on the counter and sat back in his chair with a groan. “What do you need, son?”

“I could use the pisser more than anything.”

Twitty waved his glass toward the back of the shop. “Don’t worry about flushing, damn thing leaks so bad it’s on a constant flow.”

When Iron Mark returned to the counter — having seen nothing made by anyone other than Jack Daniels, Dinty Moore, or Little Debbie — Twitty saluted him with his glass and slugged back some whiskey. “Now that your back teeth aren’t floating, is there anything else I can do ya for?”

“I’d appreciate it if you told me where I am.”

Twitty ran a hand through his gray pompadour and grinned. “Turns out you’re standing on the Forest Moon of Endor.”

“Unless you take me out back and show me the pens where you’re breeding bears and chimpanzees, I’m gonna say you’re full of shit.”

Twitty looked at Iron Mark over the rims of his glasses. “Breeding bears and chimps. Now why would I do that? Assuming I could.”

Iron Mark waited a beat. “I heard that’s how they made the Ewoks.”

Twitty rocked back in his chair and rasped out a laugh. “That’s a good one.” He slapped his knee, like Iron Mark’s grandfather used to do. “This really is Endor, son. Or used to be. This plot is private land, not state. That’s why they could film here. After the movie was made, the lumber company clear cut it, then sold it.

“No shit?”

“None.” Twitty shoved an empty rocks glass to Iron Mark’s side of the counter and splashed some whiskey into it. Iron Mark raised the glass in thanks and they drank. When the cups were back on the counter, Twitty poured them both more whiskey.

Iron Mark took another pull. “Is that statue on the shelf behind you what I think it is?”

“That damned bird.” Twitty shook his head. “If you ever read the book, you know Sam Spade never found it. The guy was all over the place. Shooting people, slapping women, bullshitting the cops. Doing everything in a heated rush.” Conway sipped his whiskey. “People got to saying the whole thing was just a snipe hunt. You do know what a snipe is, don’t you, boy?”

“Yes sir, we had tons of ’em out back of the house when I was growing up.”

Twitty looked at the Iron Mark’s Green Bay Packers cap. “Wisconsin?”

“Northern Wisconsin. Red-rumped snipe country. Not real common, but bigger and meaner than your garden variety snipe. Pa paid Sis and me a nickel a head to plug the little bastards. If we didn’t keep ’em down, they’d run the liverwurst calves all night, and the calves wouldn’t fatten up.”

“Can’t have that.” Conway’s poker face didn’t crack, but Iron Mark detected a twinkle in his eye that hadn’t been there before. Outside the fog had turned to drizzle. Tobacco juice was running down the side of the rental Honda. 

Twitty went back to the falcon. “But then I got to thinking, maybe it was real. I started asking around, slow and easy, you know, and sure enough, I found it. Cleaned it up some when I got it back here.” He turned in his chair and raised his glass to the glittering falcon statue on the shelf behind him then turned back to Iron Mark. “You know why I found it when Sam Spade never could?”

“Why’s that?”

“When it comes to finding stuff, you want a man with a slow hand.”

Prompted by Iron Mark Eisenman (Forest Moon of Endor, Conway Twitty, The Maltese Falcon).

Leave a comment with a living thing, an inanimate object, and a location and I will write a story based on your prompt and tag you when I publish it.

Photo by John Moeses Bauan on Unsplash