Haunted. Lethal. Unstoppable. Justice incarnate. The most daring and original hero in crime fiction in a scorching, action-packed adventure.
It’s the mean-streets of L.A. in the mid-1980s. When The Owl rescues a young punk-rock starlet from being kidnapped, he considered it just a minor good deed with a few dead bodies left scattered around. But he soon discovers that she’s the target of a gangland conspiracy that has half of the city’s underworld after her. Now the only thing between her and certain death is The Owl.
“Exhilarating! A pure action high unlike anything I’ve ever read before. The Owl is a cross between Batman and The Terminator…but he’s even more deadly and relentless,” Lee Goldberg, New York Times bestselling author of The Chase
“It starts off over the top and builds from there. There’s action aplenty. The Owl absorbs more punishment than any two or three or four people in other novels,” Bill Crider, author of Outrage at Blanco
About the Author
Bob Forward has at various times been a professional writer, artist, director, producer, and pyrotechnician. Sometimes all of them at once. Much of his work has been in Children's Television, where he quickly established a reputation for creative and entertaining mayhem. He has written novels, scripts, and comic books, story-edited, directed and produced on a number of animated series, and runs a pyrotechnic special effects business on the side. He greatly enjoys creating and developing intriguing new characters and concepts, developing them into dynamic and compelling relationships, and then blowing them up.
He tends to have noisy dreams.
Read an Excerpt
The Owl: Scarlet Serenade
By Bob Forward
Brash Books, LLCCopyright © 2014 Robert Forward
All rights reserved.
You could sort of tell it was going to be a bad week. It was Monday, and the air was hot and deathly still. A sort of sullen tension hung in the atmosphere, blanketing all of Hollywood with a feeling of dread anticipation.
The wind was coming.
You could feel it, all right. Like an impending bar fight, the Santa Ana wind never arrives without plenty of warning.
And like an impending bar fight, there wasn't a damn thing to be done about it. You just had to grit your teeth and ride it through.
I was walking up Highland, heading north, going no place in particular. Just moving. Always moving. To my right, a bum slept fitfully in the afternoon heat, curled up in the shade of an alley dumpster. The bum snorted and twitched in his sleep, unhappily pulling at his collar. Even in his sleep he felt the wind coming — and he didn't like it.
Stopping briefly, I tucked a five into the greasy pocket of the bum's coat. I knew how he felt. The Santa Ana gets its name from the Mexican satana, or devil wind. It's a blinding, irritating dust storm that you can't ignore and you can't get away from and it doesn't let up for days. It's hell on the homeless. And I should know.
Because I'm one myself.
The bum began to snore. I moved away, headed back up Highland. The snores behind me diminished with distance. I smiled wryly. Like the bum behind me, I, too, live on the streets.
But unlike him, I don't sleep. Ever. I've got a rare biological quirk called insomnolence, and it's been keeping me awake — and alive — for nine years now.
My name's Alexander L'Hiboux. The last name's French, meaning the Owl. It's my real name — a poetic coincidence, nothing more. Comes from an Iroquois grandfather, as does my bone structure and the fact that I don't have to shave.
My grandfather also left me one other thing. I wear it in the shoulder holster under my left arm.
Technically, I guess you could call me a private detective. But I have no legal standing as such, since I have no license and make no arrests. But I've never left a case unsolved — and there have been a lot of cases.
Enough to fill a cemetery.
It's not exactly a good life on the streets of Los Angeles — even though I'm better off than most. I do have an unreal amount of money. However, I don't have a home. Nor a car. And for very good reason. You see, a home can be watched; a car can be bombed — and a lot of people want me dead. I stay alive because I can never be found. I never stop moving — and when I'm on a case, I never stop hunting.
Because I am the Owl. And the Owl never sleeps.
I do get hungry, though. So, about 3:00 p.m. or thereabouts, I paused to munch a greaseburger at Anthony's grill on Sunset. The burger wasn't bad, but the junkies that hung around the outside tables were a decided annoyance. If you looked at them they asked you for money, and I didn't feel like conversation. So I looked out at the sidewalk instead. And my stomach suddenly got cold.
A man stood there, looking at me. A man, not very tall, in a work shirt and jeans. His hair and eyes were black, and his face was as dark and hard as hammered bronze. He looked at me, then across the street, toward Hollywood High. My eyes flicked to follow his gaze.
There was a blue Ford idling against the curb in the no-parking zone in front of the school. Unusual. I glanced back at the dark man.
He was gone. My stomach knotted further. Alcatraz was an enigma in my life, and not a pleasant one. Seeing him was a portent of incipient disaster, like the first hints of the brewing wind. I looked back at the car.
Three men were in it, hazy and indistinct in the wavering shimmers of heat rising from Sunset Boulevard. The sight made me feel hotter. I had already unzipped the sleeves from my jacket, but discarding the jacket itself might have excited comment.
Besides, the longer I gazed at the quietly rumbling car across the street, the stronger was my feeling that I would need the jacket — and very soon.
If I'd had any sense, I would've left right then. But I'd been short on sense for nine years now, and a well-developed nose for trouble has yet to keep me out of any. There was trouble in the air; an olfactory ozone-scented beacon of brewing disaster.
With a fatalistic grin, I checked my watch. 2:52.
I stood, stepping over a notably odorous and possibly dead gentleman lying in the shade of the Anthony's roof awning and entered the establishment next door. This billed itself as The Wine Cellar and catered to those whose discriminating palates preferred their wines with screw-off caps. The proprietor was a heavy-set Oriental who spoke only Spanish. Typical of the neighborhood.
After failed attempts in English, Japanese, Chinese, and Korean, I finally got a reaction by swearing in frustrated Mexican slang and we were able to do business.
"Got any of those CO bottle openers?" I asked.
He studied me carefully from behind a haze of cigarette smoke. "No, señor," he shrugged. "Don' sell them chingazos no more. Too dangerous."
"So I heard." I accidentally dropped a five on the counter and looked away, idly. "It's too bad, though ... I'm a collector."
"I'll see." He didn't move, but when I had turned around, the five had vanished and a long white box had taken its place on the counter. Magic. The fat man shrugged again and blew more smoke.
"Forty dollar, ese."
Robbery at half the price. I paid without a murmur and picked up the oblong box. It was the general shape of a cheap coffin — an accidental bit of foreshadowing on the part of the manufacturer.
"Gracias" I picked up the green cylinder that came with it and left the store.
The Pocket Rocket. A bad idea gone worse in the hands of the undesirable element. I dropped the CO2 cartridge inside the hollow handle and screwed the cap back on. As I cocked the spring-loaded puncture mechanism, I remembered the short-lived legal life of such devices.
The "Li'l Corker." That was what the manufacturer called it. An effortless corkscrew. It had sounded good — in theory. What it amounted to was a hollow icepick with a compressed gas cartridge inside. You shoved the icepick needle through a wine bottle's cork and filled the bottle with compressed gas, causing the cork to leap from the bottle with a bit of a bang. In practice, however, a number of flawed wine bottles had exploded like small bombs — but that was a minor problem. The major problem had been the almost simultaneous discovery of the device's extremely effective use as a weapon. Shoved almost anywhere into a human being, the quickly nicknamed "Pocket Rocket" instantly induced a massive pulmonary embolism that would drop a man as effectively as a magnum and as quietly as a knife.
A nasty weapon, with a vile history. It would do nicely. I dropped it in my pocket and headed up the street.
3:03. Two men emerged from the car and walked a short distance away from it. They were looking across the street, toward Anthony's and the liquor store. One was blond and sleek, the other darker, with a small moustache. Both were well-built, and conservatively, even tastefully, dressed. The blond one carried a manila envelope full of papers. He shook the envelope at the liquor store and said something inaudible. I leaned back against the dusty brick wall of a recording studio and pulled my baseball cap down low over my shades.
It would be nice to be wrong.
3:05. Across the street, the school bells rang for the day's release and about a billion kids vomited forth from every pore of the dusty pink building. A mass of stylish sophistication and acne, the students reflected the area — products of a fashion-conscious environment and concentrated advertising campaigns.
One in particular caught my eye. A small, pretty female, maybe sixteen, with a searing topknot of flame-colored hair tied in odd places with gold lace ribbon.
Nothing unusual in that, of course. What had attracted my attention were two things. One: she was walking alone. And two: the pair of suits I had been observing had abandoned all pretense of being legitimate real-estate speculators. They were moving on her with serious purpose.
Sighing, I dropped a hand into my jacket pocket and brought out the gleaming steel needle of the gas-powered corkscrew. And even as I began running, I felt it: the first hot breaths of a desert wind whistling down the Boulevard.
I don't know. Maybe I just like trouble.
Across the street, the roar of an engine mixed with the startled shriek of a redheaded adolescent. I stepped off the sidewalk, moving fast. The blue Ford tore away from the curb in a hard left across the congested traffic of Sunset, toward Lamont. The girl's legs still dangled from the doorway, kicking in the air as startled horns blared. The blond man was still outside, shoving for the door at a dead sprint. He made it. So did I.
The car hit me head-on. My breath burst from my body with an instantaneous hufffff! as I sprawled across the hood. Slamming the windshield with my left shoulder, I brought my right fist down in a hard, vicious arc. Six inches of stainless steel needle punched through hood and air filter like so much tinfoil. I heard a sharp, popping hisss! as the car swerved, rolling me over the roof and dropping me to the hot, dirty asphalt of Lamont. I hit with a slam I didn't feel and was up again and moving fast even as twelve grams of ice-cold CO2 blasted through the needle into the Ford's carburetor.
The engine died without a sputter. Behind me, people were only starting to react to the situation, shouting and blowing their horns. I ignored them. Ahead of me, the Ford was coasting to a halt, the starter grinding ineffectually ...
The last suit in was the first one out when I got there. Halfway out. That's when my shoulder caught him and slammed him back into the car doorway. Rebounding, I grabbed the door and threw it shut with my body weight behind it. Blondie's head was in the way. He dropped to the ground, bleeding copiously from the ears.
One down. I vaulted the trunk and met Moustache coming out the other side. My heels hit his gut hard enough to jar my fillings. He folded, retching, and I brought my elbow down on the base of his skull, just where it connects with the spine. Limbs twitching spasmodically, he thudded to the tarmac as I whirled. Somewhere, in the back of my mind, I was aware of the girl screaming. It made a weird, undulating resonance with the wind and the horns; a howling song of panic and heat.
The driver was out, his hand emerging from the inside of his suitcoat. Light shone dully from the Parkerized finish of his silenced .22 automatic. Even as he shot me in the chest, I felt a great sense of relief. A silenced .22 was a torpedo's weapon. The nagging fear that I'd been interfering with some law operation was stilled.
Now I could get rough.
His first shot was a staggering hammerblow to the chest. So was his second. He didn't get a third. A hot wind howled around the corner and blew open my bulletproof battle jacket, exposing for an instant the twin shoulder holsters that housed my own armament. And in that instant, my right hand yanked out cold blue iron.
Baroom! Baroom! Barroom! The Peacemaker roared in .45 basso profundo as my left palm slammed the hammer. The driver's body went three feet backward without touching the ground and hit asphalt in a heap. What was left of his head landed a good deal further on, as the last vestiges of crimson spray blew away on the dry and dusty wind. The Santa Ana tasted blood — and it howled.
In all, less than fifteen seconds had passed. Only now were people starting to cross the snarled traffic, shouting and gesticulating. Annoyances. Reaching inside the Ford, I got a firm grip and yanked. A squirming, redheaded mass emerged in my fist. I threw it away and thumbed the hammer.
Boom! The gas tank went up in a searing flame. Sufficient distraction. I turned and went away from there.
Fortunately, only one good citizen had the presence of mind to get in the way. I left him clutching a broken nose and pelted away down Morrow. Behind me were shouts, confusion, and running feet.
One of the pairs of running feet were coming after me.
I ducked into an alley beside a car wash and skidded to a halt, bringing my right fist across my chest. As the feet approached the corner, I started my swing.
The hard, bony corner of my elbow missed the crimson top-knot by a half-inch and crunched into the brown brick of the building. I expressed myself in Spanish again.
The girl shook my arm, frantically.
"Please!" Her voice was melodious, not that it mattered at the moment. She shook my arm again. "Please, mister! Can you get me out of here, get me home?"
This is what comes of getting involved. The Owl is no white knight. I gave the girl a sour look as the whine of distant sirens began approaching.
"Getting out of here is just what I had in mind," I grumbled. "If you can keep up, come on."
She gave it a good try. Fortunately for her, the mid-'80s fashion in women's footwear was a type of colorful sneaker. She'd never have kept the pace in heels.
We beat it down back alleys in a southeasterly direction until we hit Fountain, where I flagged a passing independent cab. He had no radio, so I figured we'd be safe for the moment.
"Sixth and Main, downtown," I said, choosing a direction at random. I wasn't picky, so long as it was far away. The driver, a stolid Iranian type, nodded in wooden wordlessness. He pulled the cab in a smooth U-turn and headed east on Fountain.
The wind blew dust and red dirt against the glass with a soft, spattering noise. I looked away, at the sudden and unwanted companion I had so unfortunately acquired. She was still gulping in hysteria and gasping for breath, half-collapsed against the cheap vinyl seat. Obviously, she was in no condition for questioning, but the Owl is a less than kind person. It ruffles my feathers a tad when I have to shoot people without knowing why.
"What's your name, girl?"
"Huff." A slim brown hand with two gold bracelets at the wrist pushed a crimson tuft out of the jade-green eyes. The tan didn't sync with the hair color. Redheads don't tan that well. No doubt a dye job.
"Scarlet," she panted. "Scarlet Serenade."
I'd had another question ready, but this made me forget what I was going to say. "You're kidding."
She was already flushed from running in the heat, but my response turned her a little pinker.
"Well, actually, it's Sarah Scarlotti, but I'm gonna change it." She sat up, suddenly, looking out the window of the cab. "Where are you taking me? I want to go home."
"Take it easy." The driver was looking at me in the rearview. Probably thought I was a white slaver. I gestured at him. "Give the man an address. I just wanted to get us moving."
"5707 Carol, North Hollywood." I looked at the driver and nodded. The silent one shrugged and turned left at the next intersection. The freeway was only a block or two ahead.
She was quiet as we mounted the ramp to the northbound 101 and merged with traffic. Her tan was growing paler, and the small hands were beginning to shake. Shock was setting in. When she began to gulp a little, I judged it was time to get her talking again. Last thing I needed was her blowing lunch all over me. Detracts from the heroic image.
"Who were those guys?" I wished the questions could be more specific, but the cabbie was listening. The girl shook her head, dully.
"I don't know." A lie, but not malicious. She was just trying not to think. The gulps started again, indicating a lack of success along those lines. She shuddered at a sudden recollection. "Who are you? A cop?"
I sighed. I was in deeper than I liked already. No point in getting any further involved. "No. You don't want to know."
"I can believe that," she muttered. Looking out the window, she drew away from me a little.
Through the chinks in the rattletrap cab, the gusting wind chuckled to itself, as though it knew a secret joke. We completed the rest of the journey in silence.
On my instructions, the cab let me off around the corner and a block from the girl's home. There was a decent possibility that the cops at the earlier fracas had established her identity by now. In which case, they might send a squad car around to her address. I have an allergy to cops which is best handled by distance.
Excerpted from The Owl: Scarlet Serenade by Bob Forward. Copyright © 2014 Robert Forward. Excerpted by permission of Brash Books, LLC.
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