New York City has often been called "The City That Never Sleeps". But even New York's most restless citizens sleep sometimes, if only for brief intervals, before the pace and nature of life in one of the world's largest cities jolts them awake again.
Such was the case with Lamont Cranston, who was awakened in the pre-dawn hours of a February morning by a soft but insistent light penetrating his eyelids that seemed to be emanating from nearby. He opened his eyes.
The fire opal in his ring was glowing, indicating Burbank had a message for The Shadow.
Lamont groaned, then looked at the clock on his bedside table. He let out another groan when he realized it was 5:30 in the morning and he'd not even been asleep three hours. Shrevnitz is going to want a raise for this one, he mentally muttered to himself before silently summoning his driver.
Moe Shrevnitz tossed in bed for a moment, hearing his name called persistently in the midst of a dream about being late for an appointment. Suddenly, he jolted awake and looked at his right hand.
The opal in his ring was glowing.
Moe looked at the clock by the bed. Good night, boss, he thought, didn't I just drop you off a few hours ago?
But there was no arguing with the ring. The Shadow demanded complete and unquestioning obedience from his agents, and immediate response when called to duty. And it wasn't as if Lamont Cranston didn't pay very handsomely for Moe's dedication--Lamont paid him more per week than most cabbies made in a month. But all of that was secondary to the real reason Moe couldn't ignore the ring--The Shadow had saved his life. That demanded respect. If Lamont Cranston wanted to be driven to China, Moe would take him there. He quietly slipped out of bed and went to the closet to find some clothes.
His wife Shirley turned over at the motion of the mattress. "What are you doing?" she muttered.
"Can't sleep," Moe replied softly. "Think I'll go for a drive."
Shirley grunted, then turned over again. "Be careful," she mumbled before drifting off to sleep.
Moe blew a kiss to his wife, then quickly dressed.
The sound of the iron security gates opening alerted Lamont to Moe's arrival. He whipped on his white neckscarf and black topcoat, pulled on his gloves, grabbed his hat, and walked out the front door.
Moe pulled up to the front walkway and hit a switch on the dashboard to pop open the rear door behind him.
Lamont climbed in. "The Sanctum," he ordered as he closed the door and slid across to the passenger side.
"You got it, boss," Moe replied, pulling away.
The iron security gates swung open as the cab passed over the pressure-sensitive plate in the driveway, and closed behind them as Moe pulled out onto the street and into traffic. Moe glanced in the rear view mirror and saw Lamont trying very hard to suppress a yawn. "Didn't we just do this a few hours ago?" Moe joked.
"I was just thinking that," Lamont replied.
"Yeah, I know. You're thinking way too loud for this early in the morning."
"I know." He sighed. "The worst part is that I already know what this message is going to be."
Moe frowned. "You don't think..."
"Yes, I do."
Moe looked horrified. "Please tell me you're just guessing."
Lamont looked out the window, his expression taut. "It's times like this I wish I were wrong more often."
Moe looked back at Lamont. He knew Lamont was almost never wrong about things like this, and if the message was what they both suspected, it made this all the more frustrating. "We can always hope," he offered.
Lamont shook his head. "I don't hope for anything except a swift end to all this."
The rest of the ride went by in silence.
The cab came to a stop just off Times Square, near a dark alley. "Want me to wait?" Moe asked, already knowing the answer but still feeling like he needed to ask anyway for his own peace of mind.
Lamont shook his head. "I'll send for you when I'm done."
"Be careful, boss."
Lamont nodded, then climbed out of the cab, set his hat on his head, and headed down the alley as Moe drove away.
Most sane men did not venture into a dark alley alone any time, much less at night or even in the pre-dawn hours. But then, most men did not have the ability to cloak themselves in darkness, to blend in with the shadows, to cloud marauders' minds to their presence. Nor did they have extrasensory perception heightened by years of training to alert them to danger. Nor did they have the skills to defend themselves with only their wits for weapons. And they definitely did not have the confidence in all of those abilities that Lamont Cranston had as he strode briskly down the alley, eyes constantly moving, senses on full alert.
A quick turn down a blind alley, and Lamont made his way toward a brick wall, flipping a hidden lever welded into the side of a fire escape stairplate as he did.
A doorway-sized portion of the side of the building retracted inward, and the metal footgrating folded into a mini set of stairs. Lamont took those stairs in stride, stepped into the entrance made by the retracting wall, gave one last glance to the alley behind him, then hit another switch just inside the entranceway.
The wall slid back into place as Lamont started down a dark, winding staircase. Iron walls began to retract around him to reveal a dimly-lit two-room underground study, with elegant furnishings and a small fireplace on one side and a massive library, a workbench, and a state-of-the-art communications console on the other. This was The Sanctum, Lamont's sanctuary from the world around him, his private chamber where he could study, focus, contemplate, research, and brood. It was also a safe haven where he could exchange messages with his agents without having to worry about disguising himself--thus, the communications console, his link to a sophisticated network of loyal men and women whose lives The Shadow had saved, whose lifetime obligation in return was to provide him any information or service he requested at any time. And one of them had left a message for him.
Lamont tossed his hat onto the workbench, pulled off his gloves and dropped them into it, then flipped several switches on the communications console and sat down in front of it.
A disc-shaped screen, the size of a 78 RPM phonograph, lit up and showed a grainy image of a tired-looking Burbank, the message coordinator for The Shadow's network of agents.
"Report," Lamont ordered.
"Agent in Midtown Precinct reports Dr. Douglas Friedrich was found dead approximately two hours ago in an alley off 52nd, near Madison," Burbank replied. "Cause of death was strangulation. Delay in reporting was due to difficulty in obtaining positive ID--identification was based on dental records. His hands had been chopped off."
Lamont was glad Burbank could not see his reaction, because it was taking everything he had to keep from putting his fist through something right then and there. "Any leads?"
"None reported. Shall I send a response?"
Lamont thought for a moment. "Tell him to keep me apprised of progress in the investigation. I'll be in touch." He paused and swallowed his emotions. "And pass the word to those who worked with Friedrich."
"Understood." The screen went blank.
Lamont leaned back in his chair and sighed hard. Friedrich was the fourth victim in two weeks, all of them strangled, all of them with their hands chopped off. But Friedrich's death hit close to home because he was also one of The Shadow's agents, a criminologist who'd provided many insights into tough cases in his nearly two years of loyal service, a mentor to both The Shadow and Lamont Cranston. Years ago, he'd taken a class from Friedrich in college; when Friedrich became an agent, Lamont made a point of seeking him out, and the two men had found an instant rapport as they worked together on cases--a rapport that carried over to a friendship away from the dangers of the night. When he'd heard Friedrich had disappeared two days ago--just like the other three before him--he desperately hoped his friend wasn't the next victim, and had spent the better part of the past two nights searching for him.
But all that searching was for naught, and now Lamont was angry--angry with himself for not being able to find his friend, and angry with whatever monster was doing this to people. For a brief, macabre second, Lamont actually pitied the next no-good who crossed The Shadow's path, because taking his anger out on the evil he sought to drive from the shadows into the light would be a good release. Then, he got hold of himself, took several deep breaths to calm his emotions and refocus his mind, and got up from his chair.
He crossed the room, reached into the bookshelf, and pulled out a rolled-up map of the city, then took his hat off the workbench and tossed it into his chair. He spread out the map over the now-empty bench and reached into the workbench drawer for a tray of artist's colored pencils, then selected the one that matched a dot on the map marked "Friedrich". Putting a dot at 52nd and Madison, and marking Friedrich's name next to it and the date, he studied the map.
Eight dots. Four colors. Four names--Jenkins, Weinberger, LaFlame, and now Friedrich. Four deaths in two weeks, each coming two days after the last known sighting of the man in question. And no connection between the men, no pattern to the selection, no pattern to the sites of abduction or eventual discovery, nothing. What am I missing? Lamont asked himself, frustrated that he had no answer.
The map held no answers, either. Lamont sighed, rolled it back up again, and put it away. He put the pencil back in the tray and slid the tray back into the drawer, then gathered up his hat and gloves and looked at his watch.
It was nearly 6:30. The world around was coming to life, and coming out of a dark alley into the early morning foot traffic would make him look a bit less conspicuous than he had earlier. He decided to go home. It was too early to visit with any agents, and his stomach was reminding him he hadn't eaten in several hours. Concentrating slightly, he sent for Moe as he began to ascend the steps to return to the real world.
The familiar car visible off the side driveway of the Cranston mansion as Moe pulled in through the security gates told Lamont he had a welcome visitor. Thanking the cabbie for his help yet again, Lamont exited the cab and headed inside the house.
"Miss Lane is here, sir," Russell informed him as he came in.
"I noticed," Lamont replied, handing his coat, scarf, hat, and gloves to his butler. "Thank you."
"Shall I prepare breakfast, sir?"
"Yes, please. For two."
Russell nodded, then headed for the kitchen.
Lamont crossed to the living room to find Margo rising from her seat on the couch. "Good morning," he greeted, exchanging a hug and a quick kiss with his lady love. "To what do I owe the pleasure?"
"Just thought you might want some company," Margo replied. "I heard about Dr. Friedrich."
"It's all over the radio already?"
She nodded. "Too late for the first edition of the papers, though. It'll probably be out later today."
"The press are worse than a flock of vultures." Lamont shook his head. "I'd been looking for him for two days. I apparently didn't look hard enough."
She took his hand. "You did all you could."
"I keep telling myself that. But it isn't helping."
"Don't blame yourself for this. You can't be everywhere. You can't stop everything."
"But I can try." He released her hand, then paced. "I can't, for the life of me, figure out what's going on. There's no pattern, no connection, no rhyme, no reason for any of this. It just doesn't make sense."
"They were all doctors, right?"
"PhDs, actually. Academics. But none of them worked together, or in the same field, or even in related fields. Jenkins worked at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Weinberger was a biologist at St. Johns, LaFlame was a chemistry professor at New York University, and Friedrich was a retired professor of criminology. No connections there."
"What do the police think?"
"They're just as lost. I've got my agents on alert, but unless the killer slips up and leaves something they can find, we may not be able to stop this."
"The perfect crime."
"There is no such thing as the perfect crime. Dr. Friedrich used to tell me that over and over again. Every killer slips up and leaves some evidence, some clue behind. Unfortunately, sometimes the clue is so small and so hard to find that people stop looking for it. I've got to keep looking, because it has to be there."
She came over to him and took his hand again. "Anything I can do?"
He pulled her close. "Keep your eyes open. They've gone after an agent now. And I don't want anything to happen to you."
She smiled. "Guess I'll need somebody to watch over me."
He couldn't help but smile back. Margo could absolutely melt his heart with just a glance. And there was nothing he would not do for her. He kissed the top of her head. "I'm so glad you're here."
"Me, too." She hugged him. "What's the plan for today?"
"I thought after breakfast, I'd get cleaned up, then go down to Police Headquarters and have a talk with Donovan Mulcahy--get his take on the investigation, find out what kind of progress they're making."
"As The Shadow?"
"No, as me. It'll be easier that way. And if someone wonders why I'm there, I can always say I'm looking for my uncle."
"Makes sense. What then?"
"Then, I intend to play it by ear. There's nothing else I can do until someone else disappears, unfortunately."
"Want me to drive?"
He looked at her sternly. "You are not going."
She pulled back and looked at him oddly. "Didn't we just agree that I needed to be watched over, because now whoever's doing this has gone after an agent?"
"I don't recall actually saying that."
"No, but you didn't disagree with me when I said it. That's tacit agreement."
"I don't want to hear it. We have a connection. You're worried about me, I'm worried about you. I personally cannot think of a safer place to be than with you."
Lamont groaned. "Be reasonable, Margo..."
"You always say that when you think I'll be in the way. I'm an agent, too, Lamont. I worked with Dr. Friedrich. I want to see whoever did this caught. And I am going with you."
Lamont sighed, torn between wanting her to stay somewhere safe and wanting her by his side. Finally, he gave in. "O.K. But the first sign of danger, I want you gone, some place where you'll be safe. Understood?"
"Understood." She turned the palm of his hand over and began tracing the lines on it.
Lamont looked puzzled. "What are you doing?"
"Dad had his palm read yesterday. He was trying to tell me what all it meant."
Lamont raised an eyebrow. "I didn't think your father believed in that sort of thing."
"I didn't think so, either. Whenever my mother or I would ask about deja vu or something else funny that happened, he'd say, 'I'm a scientist, dear. I don't believe in telepathy, or mind reading, or fortunetelling, or whatever you want to call it.' But somebody gave him a coupon for a free reading, and so he went. He said the woman was actually pretty accurate, and he was showing me on my hand which one was the life line, the love line, etc. I was trying to see if I could figure out what your lines have to say and see if we'd be in any 'danger' today."
Lamont looked mischievous. "Did I ever tell you I dated a palm reader once?"
Margo gave him a look that would melt steel. "Just once?"
He looked innocent. "Would I lie to you?"
She rolled her eyes. "You're incorrigible. I imagine she was your usual type--blonde, built, bubble-headed? Or was this a case of psychic minds finding each other across a crowded room?"
He laughed. "She was actually one of the least psychic people I've ever encountered. But she did impressive parlor tricks. I met her at a New Year's Eve masquerade ball--she was dressed as a gypsy. Every man in the room thought she was utterly charming, especially when she traced the lines on their hands and told them that they would live long lives and be fabulously successful." He chuckled slightly at the memory. "She told me I was wealthy, successful, arrogant, and quick-tempered. In other words, she didn't come up with a thing about me that I didn't already know. She was fascinated with my life line, though." He held out his right hand and pointed to the line on his palm that snaked its way down to his wrist and started to wrap around his thumb. "Notice the split."
Margo looked at the line. "It does split. It's like there are two forks. How odd."
"It's not that unusual--I've actually met several people who have them. But she just raved over it. She acted like she'd never seen one. And she asked an interesting question. She asked me point blank if I'd faced a major life-changing crisis between five and ten years ago. I had, of course--The Tulku had taken Ying Ko prisoner five years before--but I certainly wasn't about to tell her that. So I gave her some story about a case of pneumonia where I'd nearly died, and it satisfied her curiosity."
"So maybe she did know something."
"Hardly, if she couldn't see through a lie like that one." He hugged her. "Besides, the only psychic I'm interested in is you."
"Flatterer." They moved to kiss.
The sound of footsteps in the doorway broke the moment, and they looked up to see Russell standing there, looking sheepish. "Sorry to disturb you, sir," he said, "but breakfast is served."
Lamont looked down at Margo. "Rain check?"
"I'll hold you to it," she vowed.
They walked off to breakfast arm-in-arm.
Lamont and Margo arrived at Police Headquarters later that morning to find an army of reporters outside and his uncle, Commissioner Wainwright Barth, trapped amidst them as they demanded answers about the latest victim of the "Hands-Off Murderer", as the press had dubbed the case.
"Look," Wainwright was telling them, "I can't tell you anything about this case, and you know that. It would jeopardize the investigation. Now, if you'll excuse me..."
"What about the fact that this is the fourth death in two weeks?" one reporter demanded.
"And that all the victims have had their hands chopped off?" another added.
"Doesn't the public have the right to be safe on the streets?" still another accused.
"They're really giving it to him," Margo whispered as the verbal sparring continued.
"Good," Lamont said, a bitterness to his tone. "He deserves it. He's not done a thing on this case."
"Lamont!" Margo scolded.
"Two weeks, four victims, and not one lead."
"As if The Shadow's done any better?"
The harshness in Lamont's voice made Margo draw back slightly. He seldom allowed his anger to show in front of her--but when it did, the darkness that took over was frightening.
He immediately regretted his loss of control. "I'm sorry," he said, softening noticeably.
She squeezed his hand. "It's O.K."
He shook his head, now angry with himself. "No, it's not. I shouldn't be taking my frustrations out on you."
"Easy," she urged. "Don't take them out on you, either. Save it for the bad guys."
He took a deep breath to compose himself, then squeezed her hand tightly. "I'd be lost without you."
"That's why you need me around," she teased.
"The Shadow could solve this case without half-trying!" one reporter shouted.
That got Lamont's attention. He looked toward the sound.
Wainwright had located him first. "Ah, Roy Kingsdale, radio's biggest troublemaker," the commissioner cracked. "And just how do you know so much about The Shadow?"
"I'm just telling you the word on the street," Kingsdale retorted. "Half the Underworld's scared to death of him, and the other half's out to get him before he gets them. He could probably solve this in nothing flat."
Lamont suppressed a smile. There was nothing more valuable than a good reputation.
"The Shadow--now, that's an idea," another reporter said.
"What about it, Commissioner?" one of them asked.
"Yeah, what about it?" still another shouted.
"What about it?" Wainwright replied, almost incredulous. "Have you people lost your minds? I'm telling you, this Shadow character is a figment of somebody's imagination."
"Yeah? Ask Duke Rollins--he'll sing about The Shadow to anybody who'll listen!" Kingsdale laughed.
"Pshaw," Wainwright scoffed. "Rollins confessed to that murder because somebody tougher than him roughed him up. This Shadow's probably nothing more than a criminal himself."
Lamont raised an amused eyebrow.
Margo recognized that look. "You're not...," she whispered.
"The temptation is strong," Lamont responded. "But the time isn't right...not yet, anyway." He gestured with his head toward the station. "Let's go before I change my mind."
As Wainwright continued to do battle with the angry press mob, Lamont and Margo headed inside.
"Need something, Mister?" the desk sergeant asked as Lamont and Margo approached.
"I need to speak to Officer Donovan Mulcahy," Lamont replied.
The sergeant pushed a paper and pen toward Lamont. "Take this over there and fill it out and someone will get back to you," he said in a bored tone, turning to pour himself another cup of coffee as a dismissal.
"Perhaps I didn't make myself clear." Lamont leaned across the desk and looked right at the sergeant.
The sergeant looked up--and was instantly transfixed by blue-green eyes that stared right through him.
I need to speak to Officer Donovan Mulcahy right now, The Shadow's voice told him.
The sergeant slowly moved to press the button on the intercom. "Officer Donovan Mulcahy," he said in a monotone, "report to the front desk immediately. Officer Mulcahy, report to the front desk immediately."
Lamont reached across the desk, picked up the coffee cup, drained it in two gulps, then set it back in front of the sergeant. "Thank you," he said pleasantly, then took Margo by the arm and headed for the waiting area.
The sergeant blinked, then rubbed his eyes as if he had a terrible headache. "Man, do I need coffee," he muttered, then reached for his coffee cup--and was absolutely stunned to find it empty. "What the...?"
"You are in rare form this morning," Margo scolded in a whisper.
"I don't have time for two-bit paper pushers," Lamont retorted. "The killer is probably choosing his next victim at this very moment. Besides, I only got three hours of sleep last night. I can use all the coffee I can get..."
"Can I help you?" a familiar voice called.
Lamont turned around to see Mulcahy standing at the counter. Quickly, he pulled off his gloves, discreetly held up his left hand, and gave Margo a quick glance.
She followed suit by removing her own gloves and holding up her own ring-adorned left hand.
Mulcahy nodded a response, then gestured with his head toward the other end of the counter, away from the still-befuddled desk sergeant.
Lamont stepped over to him. "The sun is shining."
"But the ice is slippery," Mulcahy answered, then looked to Margo.
"The sun is shining," Margo said, acknowledging her duty to identify herself.
"But the ice is slippery. What can I do for you?"
"We've been asked to get an update, if one is available," Lamont said.
Mulcahy opened the door to let them into the heart of the precinct. "Follow me."
Mulcahy led them to an interrogation room and closed the door behind them. "I've disabled all the listening devices," he told them. "We can talk. So, our friend wants an update?"
"Who?" Lamont reminded him.
"Right," Mulcahy said, catching himself. "Actually, the two of you are going to save me a trip. I was going to drop this off after that mob of reporters cleared out, but now that you're here..." He handed Lamont an envelope.
"The police report?"
Mulcahy nodded. "Not much in it, I'm afraid. But it might be helpful."
"Really?" Lamont slipped the envelope in his suit pocket, then looked at Mulcahy. Then perhaps you'd better tell me what's in it.
Mulcahy's eyes glazed over. "Dr. Friedrich was found about 3:15 a.m. in an alley adjacent to Jervis' Hattery, 52nd near Madison. Same M.O. as the rest."
I already know that. What else?
"We don't know much more. About the only thing that's different from the rest is that Friedrich had rope burns on his wrists. The others had their hands cut off so that we couldn't see if they'd been tied or not. Coroner's looking over the body right now trying to find anything else."
Any rope fragments found near the body?
"No. We combed the alley thoroughly about an hour ago."
How was he strangled?
"Same as the others--braided silk cord. Looked like somebody put a dotted line around his neck."
Lamont held up a silencing hand. I want a copy of the coroner's report.
"You'll have it," Mulcahy promised, almost robotically.
Any idea who might have done this?
Mulcahy shook his head. "Usually a killer like this can't resist bragging about it. But we've gotten no taunting letters, no phone calls, nothing. It's like it's the perfect crime."
There is no such thing as the perfect crime. All criminals slip up and leave clues. Even the smallest ones may be important. You must keep looking.
"We won't give up."
Good. Keep me informed. Lamont backed away, letting the spell break.
Mulcahy blinked, then pinched the bridge of his nose hard and winced.
"Are you all right?" Margo asked.
"Yeah," Mulcahy replied, not entirely convinced himself. "Guess this case is getting to me."
"It's getting to all of us," Lamont replied sympathetically.
Mulcahy looked at Lamont. "You didn't see Friedrich. He looked like he suffered horribly. The mark the cord they used left on his neck looked like somebody was marking a line for the guillotine."
Margo cringed. "How awful."
"You're telling me? This is the fourth one we've found this way, and I'm still not used to it." He shook his head again. "I can't believe it. I had just talked to him last week."
"I know," Lamont agreed. "I took a class from him in college. And I learned so much from him as an agent."
"He was very good at explaining things," Margo noted. "He could make the most complicated things simple."
For a moment, all three of them stood quietly. Then, Mulcahy looked at Margo. "Can I talk to you for a minute?" he said, gesturing toward the far corner of the room.
Margo and Lamont exchanged looks. "He knows about me," Margo told him.
Lamont sighed in mock exasperation. He already knew Mulcahy had deduced Margo was telepathic; it was, in a way, his own fault for putting her in a position where her secret would be exposed by sending her to work on a case with Mulcahy while he was down with the flu. Luckily for them both, Mulcahy wasn't exactly the quickest pick-up around, and had drawn the mistaken conclusion that the psychic messages she was receiving from her "sick friend" were from The Shadow and not Lamont Cranston, enabling the couple to protect his secret. "I suppose we couldn't keep it secret forever," he observed.
Mulcahy looked nervous. "I didn't realize it was supposed to be a secret...I'm sorry..."
"It's O.K.," Margo said. "He knows. Just don't go spreading it around to anyone else."
"Oh, of course not."
Another exchange of glances between Lamont and Margo, and then she stepped over to Mulcahy. "So...you wanted to say something to me?"
Mulcahy looked uncomfortable. "Well, not exactly. Can you...I mean...well, you know...?"
She looked around conspiratorially. "I think he's listening," she whispered, smiling slyly.
Lamont raised an amused eyebrow.
If Mulcahy noticed, he gave no indication. "Good," he said. "Then tell him this. Tell him to give that monster the works. I want him to pay."
Margo drew back sharply.
Lamont took her hand from behind.
Margo composed herself and nodded. "I think he got the message."
"Thanks." Mulcahy gestured with his head toward the door. "You two had better get out of here before somebody wonders whether we've run you in for this."
"I doubt that," Lamont replied. "Thanks, Mulcahy. And be careful."
"You too," Mulcahy responded. "Both of you. It's a dangerous world out there."
Lamont and Margo nodded, then left the room.
Wainwright Barth rubbed his eyes and downed yet another cup of coffee. It had already been a hellacious day. He'd been up since about 3:30, since Dr. Friedrich's body had been discovered, and the day hadn't stopped since. The Mayor had called just after dawn, demanding an explanation as to why the police weren't making any progress in these murders, and he'd spent almost two hours in the Mayor's office defending himself and his department. The press mob outside was the last straw. If he never heard another word about these murders other than somebody was captured, it would be too soon.
His intercom buzzed, and he reached over and tapped the button on the squawk box on his desk. "Yes, Marcie?" he said tiredly.
"Your nephew is here to see you," the secretary responded.
Wainwright looked puzzled. "Send him in," he finally said.
The door opened, and Lamont and Margo walked through. "Good morning, Uncle Wainwright," Lamont greeted pleasantly.
"What's good about it?" Wainwright groused, rising from his chair to greet them.
"At least you made it in through that mob out there," Margo remarked.
"What? Oh, that. Flock of vultures, they are. Acting like I'm not doing anything." He gestured to a pair of chairs for his guests to take a seat, then sat down at his desk. "What brings you two here this morning? That cabbie friend of yours finally get hauled in for his reckless driving?"
"Not yet," Lamont smiled, then turned serious. "Actually, we were down here trying to find out about Dr. Friedrich."
Margo looked at Lamont, surprised that he would admit their real purpose for being there. Usually Lamont had some smoothly believable cover story for everything he did for The Shadow's benefit, which he augmented with a strong hypnotic suggestion if anyone doubted it.
Wainwright frowned. "If you've listened to the radio, you know everything there is to know. And you already know I can't tell you any more than that." He paused. "Why do you ask?"
"He was a friend of mine."
"I didn't know you two were acquainted. He wasn't exactly the social type."
Lamont smiled wryly. "You keep telling me I need a hobby. And I was developing one. I took a class from Dr. Friedrich years ago in college, and ran into him again two years ago. We struck up a conversation, and he mentioned he needed a hand with his upcoming book about detective work, so I tried to help by reading drafts of his manuscript. I learned more from that than I had in his class. We had the most fascinating conversations over dessert and cognac."
Wainwright nodded. "I see. I'm sorry."
"So am I." He fought back anger once more.
Margo took Lamont's hand and gave it a squeeze, then turned to Wainwright. "Did he have any family?"
Wainwright shook his head. "None that we can find. His wife's been dead for years. His son was killed in a botched robbery about a year ago."
Lamont remembered that. The Shadow had caught the killer, working closely with Friedrich to find the clues. Despite Friedrich's grief over his loss, his overwhelming professionalism and unending drive had made him a valuable asset to The Shadow's network; it was almost a certainty that they would not have caught the killer without Friedrich's help. It had been one of Lamont's best learning experiences. Once again, he forced emotions back down before they overcame his self-control.
A flash of light caught his eye. He looked at his left hand on the armrest and noticed the opal's bright glow. Calmly, he put his hand in his coat pocket, closed his eyes for a moment as he signaled for Moe, then looked over at his uncle and forced a smile. "It's been a rough day for all of us. Why don't we meet at the Honshou Kitchen at noon for lunch? You could probably use a break."
"I could, at that." He looked sternly at his nephew. "But don't you be late."
"I'll make sure he's on time," Margo promised.
Wainwright raised an eyebrow, then turned to Lamont. "Maybe she is good for you."
Lamont smiled. "I never had any doubt about that. See you at noon." He stood, helped Margo to her feet, then left Wainwright alone with his stressful day.
"Did I see what I thought I saw?" Margo said as they rapidly descended the stairs to the main floor.
Lamont nodded. "Burbank's timing occasionally leaves something to be desired. Moe should be outside by the time we walk out the door. I'll have him take you back to your car after he drops me off."
"I'll come with you..."
"No, I may have to go out again afterward. I'll pick you up for lunch."
Suddenly, Margo groaned. "I forgot," she sighed. "I promised Dad I'd have lunch with him today."
Lamont shook his head. Sometimes, they couldn't buy time to be together. "Rain check?"
She sighed. "I hope it rains soon."
Burbank sat before his console of pneumatic tube drop ports and sophisticated radio equipment and glanced at the clock on the wall. It had been nearly twenty minutes since he'd signaled for The Shadow, and still no answer. He knew The Shadow had received the signal, because the orange-red light on the signal button had gone out. He debated pushing the button again, then thought better of it and tried to wait patiently.
Glancing at the wall map, with its many push pins indicating the locations of local agents and designated drop zones, Burbank found himself wondering--not for the first time--which of those agents was his mysterious employer. It was rumored that The Shadow interacted with agents as an agent himself at times, but no one knew which one he was. And there was an unwritten code among agents that protecting another agent's identity was just as important as protecting the secrecy surrounding the man who united them. Burbank knew every agent's identity, and where they could all be reached, but little more than that about most of them. There were no written records, no legend to the map; all of Burbank's knowledge was in his head. He often wondered how The Shadow kept track of everything; he knew he himself found it confusing at times.
The crackle of static over the speakers indicated the communications channel was open. "Report," the voice said.
Burbank looked at the hastily-scribbled note in front of him. "Agent at New York University reports odd discovery in Dr. LaFlame's office," he read.
"Exact words," Burbank replied. "Agent was helping to clean out Dr. LaFlame's office and found several tracings of hand outlines with palmistry lines drawn across them."
Silence. Burbank could almost hear the man on the other end thinking. "Did he deliver the tracings?"
"No, sir. Agent requests guidance on disposition of the papers. Shall I send a response?"
"Yes. Tell him to gather those papers and protect them carefully. I'll send someone for them."
"Understood." He pressed a button on the console, then reached for a piece of cream-colored stationery and dipped a pen in an inkwell. He began writing on the paper, but the pen tip left no tracing behind. Then, he tapped a signet ring on an ink pad, stamped an invisible signet on the bottom of the note, then slipped the paper in an envelope. After tapping several buttons on the console's control panel, he gathered his coat and hat and headed out the door.
Moments later, Burbank came out the rear door to an old office building and walked toward the street, tugging his coat around him tightly to cut the winter wind. He extended an envelope in his hand out in front of him as he reached the street.
A bicycle messenger sped down the street toward him, reaching out to snatch the envelope like two runners exchanging a baton in a relay race.
Two blocks later, the bicyclist placed the envelope into the hand of a cabbie as he rolled down his window while parked at a red light.
The cab pulled through the red light, turned the corner at the next light, then stopped at the edge of an alley and popped open his rear passenger door.
As if on cue, Lamont Cranston emerged from the alley and climbed into the cab, closing the door behind him.
Moe handed the envelope to him. "Where to, boss?"
"New York University--Science Building," Lamont replied, slipping the envelope in his pocket.
The bell rang to signal the end of the ten a.m. class sessions in NYU's Science Building. "Remember," Dr. Roy Tam called to his class as they started to depart, "test Friday on chapter eight."
Lamont entered the lecture hall as the students filed out past him, finally working his way down to the podium, where Tam was erasing the blackboard. He waited until the last of the students had left, then pulled off his gloves and stepped over behind the Oriental professor. "Nice lecture, Dr. Tam," he greeted.
"Thank you," Tam replied, then turned around. Suddenly, he recognized the man before him--and the ring he wore on his left hand. "Er...beautiful day, isn't it?"
Lamont smiled tightly. Tam was still nervous about his role as an agent and had adopted the technique other agents used of trying to create a casual conversation where the code phrase would not be quite so obvious. The technique annoyed Lamont--to him, it was a time waster--but he was willing to play along if it would put Tam more at ease. "Yes, it is. The sun is shining."
"But the ice is slippery." A pause. "What do you need?"
Lamont produced an envelope from his pocket and handed it to Tam.
Tam opened the envelope and pulled out the slip of paper. The writing slowly became visible:
Tam--gather papers described in communique and protect carefully. Agent will retrieve.
The letter was "signed" by a stamped signet that resembled a miniature silhouette of a man in a slouch hat and cloak. Less than a minute later, the writing disappeared.
Tam turned to the Bunsen burner he had set up for the demonstration portion of his lecture and touched the tip of the note and envelope to the flame, then set them in a petri dish to burn away. "I take it you are the retriever?"
Tam stirred the ashes in the petri dish to cool them quickly, then dumped them into the trash can and gathered his books and papers. "Follow me."
The door to Dr. Edward LaFlame's office opened, and Tam gestured for Lamont to go inside. "My wife is an amateur palmist," he told Lamont. "It's the only reason I recognized what they were." He picked up several loose sheets of typing paper from the clutter on the desk.
Lamont took them and looked through them. They were palmistry charts, all right, but looked to be hand-drawn, probably by LaFlame himself. There were several notes like "coming opportunity" and "forks in the path of life" on many of the charts. "Was Dr. LaFlame interested in spirituality and mysticism?"
"No, that's what's so strange. He really didn't believe in anything like fortunetelling or mind reading. But he was really depressed right before he disappeared. I think it was because his anniversary was coming up, and it would be the first one without his wife."
"When did she die?"
"Not quite a year ago. He didn't handle it very well."
"I can understand that." Lamont looked through the papers again. "When did you find these?"
"Yesterday. I didn't know if they were significant or not, but after I heard on the radio this morning about another man found murdered the same way as Dr. LaFlame was, I thought...er...someone ought to know about them."
"You did the right thing," Lamont reassured. "I think 'someone' will be very interested in these. Do you have a bag or a large envelope?"
Tam retrieved a brown envelope from a drawer and handed it to Lamont. "Any word on any kind of progress in this case?"
Lamont slid the papers into the envelope and shook his head. "None that I've heard."
"The man they found this morning, Dr. Friedrich...he was another agent, right?"
Lamont looked puzzled. "How did you know that?"
"I thought I recognized the ring when I met him at a function a few weeks ago. But I remember an agent telling me once never to give another agent away in public."
Tam nodded. "I don't mind telling you, it makes me nervous--an agent being killed this way. And every professor on campus is on edge because all the victims so far have been academics. Were any of the others..."
"Not to my knowledge. But then, without seeing a ring, it's kind of hard to know."
Tam nodded. "I hope they catch this killer soon."
"So do I," Lamont agreed, then looked at his watch. 11:30...oh, boy, he realized. Uncle Wainwright is going to give me what-for if I don't get moving. He sent a quick message to Moe, then turned to Tam and offered his right hand. "Be careful."
"You, too," Tam urged, shaking his hand. "Until we meet again."
"Until we meet again."
As it turned out, Lamont and Wainwright arrived almost simultaneously at the restaurant. They greeted each other on the way in, then were seated at the best table in the house by a waiter who clearly recognized Lamont and was eager to give him anything he wished. Lamont spoke a few words in rapid-fire Mandarin, and the waiter departed, leaving them alone.
"What did you just say?" Wainwright asked. "Sounded like a bunch of gibberish to me."
"I asked him to give us a sampling of the house best," Lamont replied. "And some privacy."
"Good," Wainwright groused. "I could use some peace and quiet. Speaking of which...where's your other half?"
Lamont poured tea into two cups. "Having lunch with her father. She forgot she had a previous engagement."
"I'm surprised you let her out of your sight. Seems like the two of you are joined at the hip nowadays. New York Society's most attractive couple, they say."
Lamont sipped his tea and gave his uncle a glare. "You say that like you don't approve."
Wainwright chuckled. "It's not my place to approve..."
"You're right," Lamont cut in sharply. "It isn't."
Wainwright looked taken aback for a moment. "I'm merely saying I hope you know what you've gotten yourself into. That girl's strange. Oh, she's nice enough and all that, and she does seem to have you paying a little more attention to the clock. But she's just...well, strange. No one really knows anything about her past, about her family, and her father's got a reputation as a real nutcase."
Lamont took a deep breath, then looked at his uncle. "Uncle Wainwright, do you know how many empty-headed socialites there are in New York City?"
"I don't either. I dated so many of them that I lost count. Margo Lane is bright, witty, thoughtful, beautiful, and fascinating...a real breath of fresh air. She's everything I've ever wanted and more. And frankly, I don't care if you and the rest of the social elite approve or not."
Wainwright paused. "I just want you to be careful. You're my only living relative. Believe it or not, I actually care what happens to you. That's why I..."
"Act concerned. That's all."
The waiter bringing their food brought an end to the argument. Lamont gave the waiter another quick Mandarin phrase, and the waiter left again.
"I don't want to fight with you, Uncle," Lamont said simply. "It's been too rough a day to fight."
"Here's to that," Wainwright agreed, offering his tea cup in a toast before sipping again.
Lamont poured a bit of soy sauce in the bowl next to his plate, then opened one of the covered dishes on the table. "Mm-m," he said, picking up a pair of chopsticks. "I love dim sum." He picked up a dumpling, dipped it in the soy sauce, and downed it in two quick bites.
Wainwright looked at the selection, then at his chopsticks. He was about to call for the waiter when the waiter returned with a knife and fork. "Thank you," Wainwright said, somewhat puzzled.
"That was what I said to him when he brought the food," Lamont said in answer to the unspoken question.
"You know me too well." Wainwright served himself a bit of lemon chicken and rice.
"I try." Lamont twirled noodles from another dish around his chopsticks. "I thought this might be a welcome break. Those reporters were really hard on you this morning."
"You're telling me?" Wainwright scooped some stir-fried vegetables onto his plate. "The last straw was that crack about bringing in The Shadow."
Lamont smiled. He'd been waiting for this. "I thought you didn't believe The Shadow existed."
"Tell that to Angelo Briganti. He swears some voice came out of nowhere in his warehouse and taunted him until we arrived." He snorted derisively. "And this is what the press wants me to call on for help. What's he going to do--laugh and scare the killer into confessing?"
"If you believe the rumors, that's exactly what he does."
"That's because most people scare too easily. I'll tell you one thing--if he ever dared show his face around me, I'd give him what-for."
It was taking everything Lamont had to conceal his amusement. "What would you do--arrest him?"
"Of course. What he's doing is illegal. It's interfering with police business."
"I don't know. From what I hear, most people think he's doing the right thing."
"By taking the law into his own hands?"
"By making the darkness safer. That's important to people."
Wainright snorted derisively. "The press makes him out to be some sort of hero."
Lamont shrugged. "Western culture is fascinated by hero stories."
"The man isn't brave enough to show his face--that's heroic?"
"They say discretion is the better part of valor."
"From what Briganti said, he's not very discreet. He said he mocked him from the darkness."
"And you choose to believe a convicted criminal's account of the encounter?"
Wainwright looked at him suspiciously. "You sound like you know something."
Lamont smiled. "I listen to the radio, too, Uncle. I find the whole thing fascinating." He laughed slightly. "They say he's invisible. They say he could be standing next to you and you'd never know it. They say he sees all, knows all, terrorizes criminals, and heartens good citizens."
"Hogwash," Wainwright pronounced. "Pure, unadulterated hogwash. He's probably a frustrated criminal trying to make a name for himself."
"Might be interesting to actually meet him, though."
"I hope I do someday. I'd give him a piece of my mind."
Lamont took another dumpling to keep from saying any more. His evening schedule was now planned out.
"Dad," Margo said, "do you believe in fortunetelling?"
Dr. Reinhardt Lane looked up from his plate of spaghetti. "Of course not, dear," he said. "Why do you ask?"
Margo cut another bite of her veal Parmesan. "Well, you did go to a fortuneteller yesterday. I didn't think you put any stock in that sort of thing."
"Well, normally I don't. And I probably wouldn't have gone if my lab assistant hadn't insisted that I go and given me that free coupon. It was fun, actually. I don't know how she knew some of the things she knew about me. She knew I was working on some kind of energy device--how she got that from my hands, I'll never know."
"Maybe she talked to your assistant first."
"Maybe. But she talked a lot about your mother--how happy we were together, how much I've missed her. I don't know how she knew about that--maybe I've still got a dent in my ring finger or something. It was just fascinating."
Margo sighed. "I just don't want to see you get taken by a flim-flam artist. There are a lot of them out there."
Reinhardt gave his daughter an odd look. "Strange words coming from someone who believes in mind reading."
"I don't know about that," she said, blushing. "I just think sometimes you can be so connected to someone you can pick up their thoughts. You and Mama were like that."
"We were. Well, she was." He looked sad. "You know Friday would have been our thirty-fifth anniversary."
"I know. I miss her, too." She changed the subject. "How's your latest project coming? What are you calling it--a portable generator?"
"Quite well, actually. I've almost got the prototype working. Of course, if you'd come down to the lab more often, you'd know. I almost never see you any more. You're so busy with your new boyfriend."
"I'm sorry, Dad. It's just...well, I've never found anyone quite like Lamont. He's really one of a kind."
"So I've heard."
Margo looked sternly at her father. "That almost sounded like disapproval."
"Well, not so much disapproval as concern. Some of the things I've heard about Lamont Cranston are less than complimentary. A real playboy, so I've heard. Rude and arrogant, too."
She looked confused. "I thought you liked him. You seem to get along nicely when we have dinner together."
"Well, yes, but he's probably on his best behavior during those times. I worry about you, dear. I worry about what will happen to you when I'm gone. It's a dangerous world out there, especially when you're alone."
"Dad, don't worry about me. I literally could not be safer with Lamont."
"I hope so. You're all I have left."
She took his hand. "And I'll always be there for you."
They held each other's hands for a long time, conveying volumes in a single touch.
Lunch had done him some good, Lamont decided as he reclined on the chaise lounge in The Sanctum later that afternoon. The Tulku was a firm believer in hard work, but also stressed occasional rest periods to refocus the mind and rebuild energy resources. It was the latter teaching that Lamont often neglected, driving himself past the dropping point frequently in his constant quest to prove that The Tulku's faith in him had not been misplaced. It often took something like the dead end he'd run into earlier to make him stop, take a step back, and walk away for a bit from the task at hand before returning to it later with renewed energy and a fresh outlook.
So, Lamont sipped the cup of tea he'd brewed and tried to make some sense of the new material he'd been given earlier that day. Mulcahy had been right; there was nothing in the police report on Friedrich that he hadn't already read in the other three cases, other than the rope marks on his wrists to indicate he'd been bound during his disappearance. But Tam's fortunate discovery was different. For a man who didn't believe in spirituality, as Tam described Dr. LaFlame, he'd certainly drawn some detailed palmistry charts. Lamont occasionally glanced toward the coffee table at the more formal charts he'd found in a reference manual, an old book on the study of palmistry, Tarot, and other "mystic arts", as the cover of the book proclaimed. LaFlame had done a decent job of putting what were most likely the lines on his own hand down on paper, and had notes all over the pages of what the lines meant--which correlated fairly closely with the information in the book.
The notes on "coming opportunity" and "forks in the path of life" intrigued him the most. He looked at the chart LaFlame had drawn of his hand on this page and noticed immediately the split in the so-called life line. Checking it carefully to make certain it wasn't just a stray mark from an errant penstroke, he looked in the book to find what the text said about split life lines.
"A split or fork in the life line indicates a fork in the path of life, a life-changing experience," he read aloud. His mind took note of the phraseology in the book--"fork in the path of life"--and how closely it matched LaFlame's own words. Then, he resumed reading. "One side of the split or fork is almost always longer than the other, indicating the quality of life depends on the path taken. A split relatively high in the life line indicates a past event which altered the course of a life forever. A split lower in the life line indicates a coming opportunity..." He stopped reading. "Coming opportunity?" He looked again at LaFlame's sketches.
The split in the life line came relatively low on LaFlame's hand, if the picture was drawn accurately. And one leg of the split was very short. Out of curiosity, he looked at his own right hand.
The split in his life line was relatively high on his hand, which made sense if one believed the text. But then he noticed something odd, something he'd never really paid much attention to before. The part of the split that broke off from the main line followed a narrow arc across a ½" long path, then twisted back over the main line and ended abruptly just on the other side of it. He looked back at the text again.
"If the paths of a split life line cross a second time," he read, "this indicates a second chance in life, a chance to correct the circumstances which caused the split in the first place. It is vital for continued health and well-being that the second chance be recognized for being just that, for the second split is almost always much more dramatic than the first, with the split line usually coming to an abrupt end shortly after the rejoining." He stopped reading and looked at his hand again. Maybe there was something to this nonsense after all. Then, he dismissed the thought and went back to studying LaFlame's charts.
A split in the life line. Notes about "coming opportunity" and "forks in the path of life". Other notes on other pages about "lost love" on the page with the love line and "wasted years" on the pages dealing with the head line and the fate line. Questions began sprouting like weeds as Lamont tried to make sense of it all. Had LaFlame had his palms read recently? For what purpose? And why the obsession over it? Was the coming anniversary without his wife a trigger? And was any of this connected to the other three cases? In what way? Friedrich didn't believe in this sort of thing, he knew, but what about the other two? Was the killer choosing his victims by their palmistry charts? Why?
Lamont put the charts down and rubbed his temples. He was starting to lose focus again. When he was this tired, it didn't take much to set his mind spinning, but it took a lot more effort to stop it. A glance at his watch told him it was nearly four in the afternoon. It was definitely time for a break, and most likely a nap. The Shadow would take up the subject of LaFlame's obsession with Wainwright later tonight.
He stacked the papers back up and slipped them into their envelope, then used the envelope to mark his place in the reference book. Then he finished his tea and sent for Moe.
Margo was waiting in the back seat of Moe's cab when Lamont emerged from the alley. He climbed into the cab and closed the door. "Home," he said tiredly.
"You got it," Moe said, pulling away from the curb.
Lamont turned to the beauty next to him. "This is a pleasant surprise," he said. "How was lunch?"
"Interesting," Margo replied. "I got a lecture on how lonely my poor father is now that I'm dating. He warned me to watch out for rude, arrogant playboys."
"I got a similar lecture from Uncle Wainwright, a warning about being careful of strange women."
She slid over next to him, ducking under his left arm.
Lamont hugged her close to him, gently covering her left hand with his, interlacing their fingers. "You do not know how good this feels," he said softly.
"Oh, yes, I do," she whispered back. "But your mind is really spinning. Rough afternoon?"
"New information about the third victim, LaFlame. Generated a lot more questions than it answered." He paused. "Am I projecting?"
"No more than usual. But there's lots of static in my head."
"Sorry. I'll try to think a little softer."
They both laughed. "What are we doing tonight?" she asked.
"I am going home and get a couple of hours of sleep. Then The Shadow has some business to attend to."
She sighed hard. "So much for a quiet evening together."
He recognized that tone. But there was nothing he could do about it. He kissed her head. "Rain check?"
"You are going to owe me a thunderstorm's worth by the time this case is over."
"My father always said I should save for a rainy day." He held her close, wanting to enjoy their time together, no matter how short it was.
Wainwright Barth dragged himself into his 5th Avenue apartment, absolutely dead on his feet. As badly as he wanted dinner, he had no energy to even open a can from the cupboard. All he wanted to do was sleep. He'd been up for almost eighteen hours, eighteen of the most stressful hours he'd been through in ages. He reached for the lights.
"Must have blown a fuse," he mumbled.
Afraid of the dark, Commissioner?
Wainwright nearly had a heart attack on the spot. "Who's there?"
A man's laugh answered him...soft at first, then louder, louder, louder, until the walls shook.
"Who are you?" Wainwright demanded.
I am a figment of your imagination. Another laugh, soft and sinister.
Wainwright looked unnerved. "I'm hearing things."
Yes, you are. You're hearing me. Another laugh, this one amused.
Now Wainwright looked puzzled. He slowly walked through his dark apartment, looking for the source of the voice.
You're wasting your time, Commissioner. You'll not find me, no matter how hard you look.
Wainwright was in the living room now, looking all around. "What makes you so sure?"
Because I do not want you to find me. Your mind has been clouded to my presence. I could be standing right next to you and you would never know it.
Wainwright spun around, reaching wildly into empty space.
Mocking laughter rang through the room. Missed me.
Wainwright looked frustrated now. "Come out and show your face."
I'm not hiding, Commissioner. I'm right out in the open. But you can't see me because I don't want you to. No matter how hard you look, you won't be able to see through the fog I've blown into your mind.
Wainwright kept looking around the room, trying to find some sign of the intruder. But his eyes registered nothing but darkness and shadows. This made absolutely no sense. He thought he was going insane. "Where are you?"
Where does it sound like I am?
Wainwright tried to listen. "Somewhere in this room."
Quite the detective, aren't you? Hearty laughter followed the comment.
"Oh, very funny. You're in..." He crossed the room. "...here!" He whipped open a closet door.
Hats, gloves, and other objects fell out of the closet to the floor. Loud, mocking laugher echoed through the room. You didn't win many games of hide and seek as a child, did you, Commissioner?
Wainwright looked thoroughly embarrassed. "You're in this room--where?"
I am everywhere and nowhere at the same time. I am in front of you, behind you, everywhere you look, coming from angles you will never anticipate. I am around every corner, in every room, as inevitable as a guilty conscience. The voice dropped to a whisper, and sounded like it was inside Wainwright's ears. I am The Shadow.
Wainwright absolutely shivered. He gritted his teeth and tried to maintain his composure. "What do you want?"
Wainwright looked confused. "What?"
An armistice. A cease-fire. A gentlemen's agreement. Whatever you choose to call it. I am not interested in battling both you and the evils of the night. I think we could work quite well together. After all, we both have the same aims.
"I am not interested in negotiating with a criminal."
A derisive laugh. So you think I'm a criminal.
"Well, aren't you? You interfere with police investigations, take the law into your own hands--that's illegal."
Bold words from a man who presides over a police force absolutely rife with corruption.
That stung. "I don't know what you're talking about."
You're not a very skillful liar, Commissioner. I've seen bribes exchange hands out in the open. I've seen corrupt cops look the other way when drugs are bought and sold in rough neighborhoods. I've seen evidence tampered with, witnesses ignored, unsolved crimes left that way because someone wanted them to remain unsolved. And I know you're worried about it because you've read the reports from your own investigators.
Wainwright bristled. "How do you know so much?"
A low, amused laugh. The Shadow knows. Another laugh, this one hearty.
Now Wainwright was angry. "What's so funny?"
You. The way you're trying to sound so brave, so tough, while you give me a piece of your mind. I find it amusing. Like most men I encounter, you are weak-minded, overconfident, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. You're afraid of me.
"I am not!"
The voice dropped to a whisper and seemed to hiss in his ear. Liar.
Wainwright jumped involuntarily.
More laughter. Admit it, Commissioner...you're afraid of me.
Wainwright finally sat down on the couch, shaking. "All right. I'm afraid. Are you happy? I admitted it. I'm afraid." He ran his hands through his hair, trying to get hold of himself.
Glasses on the sidebar rattled. Then, a wisp of black fog passed over the coffee table, and a freshly-poured shot of bourbon seemed to materialize out of it. Wainwright drew back.
It's not tainted, Commissioner. It's from your bar. A chuckle. Don't bother having the glass analyzed for fingerprints; you'll find none.
There's no magic or mystery to it. I poured you a drink. Of course, I didn't let you see the glass until I was ready for you to see it.
"You...you can do that?"
An amused chuckle. I think now you understand how I break criminals down. Fear is a powerful tool with which to manipulate the mind--and when people cannot trust their eyes, their fear level rises significantly. I gain no pleasure from making you cower. But if it gets you to listen to me, I will use whatever tactics are required to break down your resistance.
Wainwright downed the shot in one gulp, then leaned back against the sofa. "The end justifies the means."
There are those who believe that. I am not necessarily one of them.
"Then what do you believe?"
I believe you are a good man. I believe that you genuinely believe in the criminal justice system, despite its flaws. I believe that four murders in two weeks is very frustrating to you.
Wainwright looked outward toward the room. "What do you know about that?"
If you think you're going to be able to fabricate some evidence about me committing those murders, you're sadly mistaken. One of those men was a longtime associate...and a close friend. I want to see these murders solved as badly as anyone.
"Then help us do it the right way. If you know something, tell me!"
Did you know Dr. LaFlame was interested in palmistry?
The art of palm reading. Often called fortunetelling.
Wainwright shrugged. "No, I didn't. Should I have?"
It seems that in the last days of Dr. LaFlame's life, he had developed an obsession with the palmistry of his own hands. One of his colleagues said that this was abnormal for him. I was wondering if you knew otherwise.
Wainwright shook his head. "No, I don't. Want to tell me where you got this piece of information?"
I have ways of learning almost anything I want to know...including reading your mind, Commissioner, so don't think you'll be able to lie to me or conceal something, because I'll know it. What about the others? Was there any sign of abnormal behavior before their abductions?
Wainwright thought for a moment. "No, not really. But there was one odd thing. At least one of their friends or colleagues said that they were depressed or upset about something not long before they disappeared."
Interesting. By chance, were all the men widowers?
"Come to think of it, yes. They'd all lost their wives at one time or another. Two of them had also lost children not all that long ago. Jenkins lost his wife to cancer five years ago. Weinberger's son was killed in a car accident two years ago. LaFlame lost his wife less than a year ago. And Friedrich lost his son in a robbery a year ago."
Were any of them approaching anniversaries, birthdays, or some other meaningful date for their loved ones?
"I don't know."
It might be worth checking into.
It might explain why a rational scientist like LaFlame would seek out a palmist to tell him his future--and obsess on whatever reading he was given. People do not just do things out of the blue. Something drives them. Finding out what is often the first step in solving a crime.
Wainwright sat quietly. "What do you want me to do?"
Do some checking. Try to correlate the disappearances with the proximity of meaningful dates. Talk to their friends again and find out if the other three might have sought out a spiritualist or some other mentalist for assistance during a time of crisis. It could be the connection you need.
Wainwright nodded. "I'll get someone on it in the morning." He paused. "I should arrest you for breaking and entering."
Don't you remember, Commissioner? You forgot to lock your door when you left this morning.
Wainwright looked as if the memory had just popped into his head. "Oh, I hate it when I do that," he groaned. "And it's not the first time, either."
Bad habit, Commissioner. You never know who might just walk in on you. A laugh. I've enjoyed our conversation. Perhaps we can talk again another time. A long pause. Oh, one more thing--catch.
Something whistled through the air. Wainwright put his hands in front of his face defensively, felt something bounce off them, and closed his hand around it quickly. Then, he looked in his hand.
It held the master fuse.
He heard hearty laughter and the door opening. Good night, Commissioner. And pleasant dreams.
By the time Wainwright got to the door, it was already closed. And he knew opening it to look out in the hall would be useless. He stared at the fuse for a long moment, not completely convinced the whole thing hadn't been a dream. He took the fuse to the kitchen and inserted it into its slot.
Selected lights throughout the apartment came on.
Wainwright shook his head. This was all a dream. It had to be. At least, it had better be. He walked around and turned out all the lights, then headed to the bedroom to lie down.
The bedside table lamp was on. On his pillow rested the notepad and pen that he normally kept on his bedside table. On the notepad, handwritten in measured, exacting script, were six words:
No, Commissioner. It wasn't a dream.
Wainwright pitched face-first onto the bed, fainting dead away.
Lamont shucked his black topcoat and dropped his gloves inside his hat, then left all of it on a chair just inside the living room. He could smell a fresh fire going in the fireplace, and longed to just sit in front of it with a cognac and let his mind drain. Then, he noticed that someone else was already relaxing by the fire, lying on his sofa sound asleep. He knelt by the sofa and kissed Margo on the cheek.
She stretched, then opened her eyes. "You're back," she said sleepily.
"And what a pleasant sight to return to," he replied. "What are you doing here?"
She gestured toward the window. "It's raining."
"So it is." He smiled. "Here to redeem a rain check?"
"That would be nice."
"Fix you a drink?"
"Done." He crossed the room to the sidebar. "Have you had dinner?"
She stretched again and sat up. "Yes. Dad was very surprised when I brought sandwiches to the lab."
"It's probably the most he's seen you in weeks." He returned to the sofa and took a seat next to her, handing her a glass of sherry.
"He said the same thing. It was good to visit with him for a while." She sipped her sherry. "How did your evening go?"
Lamont swirled his cognac in the snifter and took a sip. "I believe my uncle has a newfound appreciation for The Shadow."
She looked at him. "You didn't..."
"Oh, yes, I did." He took another sip. "I could not resist the challenge."
"You're mad! What if he'd recognized you?"
"He didn't. I made certain of that. But I actually did have business to discuss."
"I wanted him to follow up on some evidence I uncovered this afternoon."
"What was it?"
"It seems Dr. LaFlame--the third victim--had developed an obsession about palm reading, which his colleagues found unusual because he normally didn't subscribe to such beliefs. One of my agents found a stack of palmistry charts in his office. Uncle Wainwright agreed to check with friends and family of the others to see if something similar can be found in the other cases. It's the first thing resembling a break I've gotten in this case."
She shook her head. "I hope you know what you're doing."
"I'm tired of fighting a battle on two fronts. I wanted to arrange an armistice with the police."
"I'll bet that went over well with your uncle."
He shrugged. "We agreed to disagree. Future talks look hopeful."
She sighed, then leaned against him.
He put his arm around her and pulled her close. "You're worried about me," he observed.
"I just don't want anything to happen to you. I love you."
"I love you, too." He kissed her head.
For a long moment, they sat quietly, just enjoying each other's presence.
"Static in your head again?" he said suddenly.
"A little," she confessed, then looked at him oddly. "How did you know?"
"I normally let my mind go when I relax by the fire. It didn't occur to me that it might bother you until I felt you tense a little bit. I'm sorry."
"It's all right. You can't help it." She shook her head, as if still finding it incredible how tightly their minds were coupled. "Must be hard to keep such a powerful mind under control all the time."
"That's why I just let go sometimes. But I do need to be more careful around you, so I don't bother your powerful mind."
She laughed. "I think you need another word, darling. My mind is definitely not powerful."
He looked at her. "You think so?"
"I know so. You can do almost anything. All I can do is hear you think."
He smiled. "Now you're being coy."
"And you're being silly. I can't even control which of your thoughts I pick up. I'm probably as unimpressive to you as that palm reader you dated."
Surprise spread across his face. "You really believe that. I thought you were being modest. But you really believe that."
She sat up and looked at him. "And you don't," she realized.
"No, I don't." He took her hands. "Every time I touch your mind, I'm astonished by the strength that pushes back. You've got abilities you're completely unaware of."
Now she looked stunned. "You...you're not serious? Me?"
"Absolutely. Let me prove it to you."
He stroked her cheek. "Look into my eyes and trust me."
She looked into his eyes. "I trust you," she whispered.
He held her gaze, letting his mind reach out to the edges of her thoughts. He could feel the resistance of her mind as her strong psyche tried to protect itself. He began to mentally push against the resistance, increasing the frequency and strength of the relaxing hypnotic suggestion he was projecting, trying not to push too hard to avoid the headache effect that his forceful hypnotic suggestions usually caused.
The resistance began to break down, and he pushed through it. Can you hear me?
"Yes," she whispered.
Don't talk. Think. Try to reach out to my mind.
She focused for a moment, finally finding her mental voice. Better?
Much better. Now, relax. Relax and let your mind go. I won't let you get hurt.
She looked at him oddly. I don't know what you mean.
You're fighting me. You're not aware you're doing it, but you're fighting me.
I'm sorry...I'm not trying to fight...
Don't be sorry. I know you're not trying to fight back. But it's natural. Every psychic puts up walls, subconscious mental blocks to protect themselves from unwanted intrusions. I'm not going to hurt you, Margo. And I'm not going to let anything else hurt you, either. Trust me. Let down your guard. Relax. Let your mind go.
She looked frightened. I can't...
Yes, you can. Don't be afraid. I've got the same natural barriers that you have, that all psychics have, but I've learned to open them up and focus through them. Relax and let those barriers drop. I'm here. You're safe. Trust me. He stroked her hair and slipped an arm around her, holding her protectively.
She began to relax in his embrace, and the resistance broke down further. He could feel something touching the edges of his mind, pulling against his own barriers. That's it, Margo. That's it. Just let yourself go.
She looked into his eyes, incredulity in her expression. Lamont...I can feel you thinking. I don't mean I can hear you; I can feel your mind as it reaches into mine. I can feel all this energy just radiating out of you...oh, my God...
Just relax. I've got you. You won't get hurt. Let your mind drift. Feel what's around you.
Indistinct voices began to chatter in her mind, like a light breeze whispering through trees. What am I hearing?
The servants. You're just beginning to sense what's beyond the two of us. You're doing fine. Just let yourself drift along.
The whispers increased in volume, and became more insistent. An occasional word became audible. She winced. They're getting louder...I can hear words...Lamont...
He gently stroked her back to reassure her. I've got you, Margo. Ease off a bit. Focus on me. That will quiet the noise.
He felt her resistance stiffen a bit, but around him instead of against him. Good girl. That's it.
She looked astonished as the voices quieted, until his was the only one that remained. I can't be doing this on my own...
You are, Margo. I haven't done a thing except reach inside and help you relax. Now astonishment was spreading across his face. If you could only feel what I'm reading...you've got psychic energy you've never touched, abilities you've never used. My God, it's incredible.
That can't be true. It can't even be close to what I feel coming from you. You're exaggerating.
No, I'm not. I know you can't believe it, because I didn't believe it when The Tulku told me the same thing years ago. But it's true. I can do what I do because my mind is awakened, because The Tulku showed me how to tap my energies, focus and strengthen my natural abilities, put them together to do other things. You have the same potential.
She wished she knew how to laugh mentally. Now I know you're exaggerating. I could never do what you do...
You don't think so? We're carrying on a conversation and haven't voiced a word in ten minutes.
She looked surprised. You're right. We're talking by thinking. But we've done that before, and I don't feel like I'm doing anything at all...
That's because I'm the one doing the projecting, then listening for your response. Your mind hasn't awakened yet, and so you haven't been able to learn thought projection. But you're capable of it. If you can open your mind like you did just then, you can learn to project your thoughts. I'm a natural sender; projection comes as easily to me...
...as picking out your thoughts does to me.
Exactly. I had to develop my receptive side. You'll need to develop your projective side. But that will come with practice. I can help you. Let me, Margo. Let me help you develop your gifts.
She looked at him, eyes shining. I would be honored.
The chiming of the mantle clock disrupted their conversation. Both of them flinched, both of them rubbed their temples as their minds pulled apart abruptly. "Are you all right?" Lamont asked.
"I think so," she whispered, astonished at what had just happened. "You?"
He nodded, then reached out and caressed her face.
She did the same.
For a long time, they both just stared at each other, hands gently touching each other's right temple. The realization began to sink in that their relationship had taken a major step forward. Their minds had reached out to each other in a way they had not done before, and blended for an all-too-brief moment. Nothing would ever be the same again.
He broke the gaze first, looking up at the clock. "It's late," he observed. "You'd better be getting home."
She smiled slyly at him. "If you think I'm leaving after what we just went through together, then you need to work on your mind reading skills."
He smiled and pulled her close.
They kissed deeply, fully, passionately, letting the world around them just drift away.
Margo opened her eyes at the sound of his voice. She looked around the guest bedroom for a moment, then realized that he was inside her mind, not in the room. She tried to focus enough to find her mental voice. Lamont?
Sh-h. Don't wake up too much. I'm going out. Go back to sleep, and stay as long as you like.
What time is it?
Not quite six in the morning. I didn't want you searching the house, wondering where I'd gone.
Can you wait? I'll go with you...
No. Moe is driving up now. I'll call you later.
She felt the connection break, and for a long moment just lay still in bed. The mission would always come first. It would have to. She understood the lifetime obligation he had to The Tulku, the obligation to drive evil out of the shadows and into the light. But it didn't make her worry any less.
She heard a car's engine rev, and the iron security gates clang shut. Sighing, she got out of bed. Maybe breakfast with her father would help ease her mind. It certainly couldn't hurt.
Lamont descended the winding staircase into The Sanctum and found himself dreading whatever news Burbank had for him this morning. He knew that they were running out of time to stop the killer before he chose his next victim, and he hoped this message wasn't news of an abduction. He didn't even bother removing his hat and gloves before flicking on the switches across the face of the console and dropping into his chair.
Burbank appeared on the screen before him. "Report," Lamont ordered, pulling off his gloves and dropping them into his hat, then tossing it blindly behind him to the workbench.
"Agent in Midtown Precinct reports focus of police investigation has changed," Burbank said. "Orders from Commissioner Barth's office are to focus on erratic behavior of victims in last days before disappearance, including any visits to so-called fortunetellers or spiritualists."
Lamont smiled. He had gotten through to his uncle, and the stubborn old coot hadn't dismissed it as a bad dream. This was welcome news. "Is the coroner's report on Dr. Friedrich in yet?"
"Agent indicates it is due later this morning. Shall I send a response?"
"Yes. I want an immediate update on any information found, no matter how small. We're running out of time. The killer is probably choosing his next victim at this moment."
"Understood." The screen went dark.
Lamont leaned back in his chair and thought for a long moment. The police were now going to cover new territory, ground they hadn't covered in the investigation to this point. He desperately hoped they weren't starting too late, but he had a bad feeling that they were.
Quickly, he got up and retrieved his city map. Maybe The Shadow could save them a few steps by narrowing the search. His agent at the phone company might be able to provide names and addresses of spiritualists and mentalists in areas surrounding the disappearance and discovery points. He pulled a pencil and geometric compass out of the workbench drawer and began calculating proximity circles from the points on the map.
Margo parked her maroon LaSalle on the street outside her father's apartment building and stretched tiredly. The shower and change of clothes she'd picked up at her house had done her a world of good, because she hadn't slept well at Lamont's house last night. It wasn't that the bed was uncomfortable or the room was cold or anything like that--Lamont always made certain that room was ready for her, and the bed was covered with the finest linens and the warmest blankets and comforters money could buy--but her mind had been so overstimulated by their psychic interaction that she'd had trouble calming it enough to sleep. Still, she wouldn't have traded the experience for anything. The prospect of learning more, exploring the powers he said he could feel inside her mind, both excited and terrified her. It was times like this she wished she could talk to her father about things like this, but she knew she couldn't...not without betraying Lamont's secrets. Besides, he'd never understand, or tell her that sort of thing didn't exist, no matter how intense the feeling had been as their minds blended...
Get hold of yourself, Margo, she told herself. You're letting your mind run away again. She took several deep breaths, then climbed out of the car and headed into the building.
She pressed the buzzer next to his apartment number on the intercom panel outside the front door and waited.
Margo looked at her watch. It's only 6:30. Surely he's not already at the lab. She buzzed him again.
She fished through her purse for her keys, then found the ones to her father's apartment and unlocked the outer door. Something told her this wasn't right, that he should be answering the door. She needed to get inside fast.
She hurried to the elevator and pressed the "up" button. The elevator seemed to take an eternity to reach her, but finally it did, and she got into the car and pressed "5".
The doors closed, and the elevator ascended to the 5th floor, stopping gradually and opening the doors onto the long hallway.
Margo stepped off the elevator and headed down to apartment 523. He's probably still asleep, she told herself. He keeps such odd hours. Nothing to worry about. She stopped in front of the door and knocked.
As she did, the door drifted open.
Oh, no... She carefully walked into the room.
The apartment was a mess. Objects were knocked over and chairs tossed aside, clearly indicating a struggle.
No, no, no... She rushed to the bedroom. "Dad?" she called.
Nothing. No sign of him anywhere.
"Oh, my God...," she whispered. Then, she panicked. "Oh, God...help! Somebody, help!"
Lamont winced as he worked on his map. Something was tickling at the edges of his mind, something insistent. He put the compass down and tried to open his mind fully, repeating The Tulku's mantra for opening his receptive center: Focus on the sensations you feel. Filter out what you don't want. Amplify what you do.
The tickling became an indistinct whispering.
Focus. Filter. Amplify.
The whispering grew louder, but not more distinct. It had the higher tones of a woman's voice.
Focus. Filter. Amplify.
Now the sound was no longer a whisper, but a distant scream. And the tones were definitely feminine--and familiar. Margo? he mentally called.
The screams amplified again as his mind focused more sharply, becoming screams of sheer terror. He concentrated his telepathic energies and projected them as hard as he could back toward the thoughts coming to him. Margo!
Margo stopped screaming for a moment. Had she just heard what she thought she'd heard? Lamont? Lamont, can you hear me?
Yes, but just barely. What's wrong? Are you all right?
Gone? What do you mean, gone?
His apartment's a mess--looks like a struggle. He's not here...oh, God, somebody's taken him...
Margo, stay calm. Where are you now?
In his apartment. The door was partially open when I got here--looks like someone broke in...
Go next door and call the police. Stay in a safe place until they get there. I'm on my way.
You don't think...
For his sake and yours, I hope not. Stay calm, go next door, and call the police. I'll be there shortly.
I will. Now go!
She gathered her composure, then ran out of the apartment and banged on the neighbor's door.
Lamont let the connection drop, then pinched the bridge of his nose and tried to stem the headache that was threatening to engulf his brain. Because he was such a strong projective telepath, his receptive side required far more concentration to use than his projective side, and trying to keep focused on Margo's mental voice had taken a lot out of him, especially since he had to listen for her side of the conversation instead of waiting for her to project back to him. It would get easier as she got stronger, but that didn't do much for the headache he now had. But he had no time for recovery. He had to immediately refocus, because the clock was now ticking, and he had no idea how much time they had left.
He could not believe he'd overlooked the obvious signs that Dr. Lane would be the next victim--the visit to the fortuneteller, the loneliness that he'd expressed to Margo, the depression that his daughter no longer seemed to have time for him. He wouldn't be at all surprised to find out that some significant date concerning Margo's mother was upcoming. And now that he thought about it, Friedrich had also mentioned being a bit out of sorts because his son's birthday had come and gone just recently. Every criminal leaves some clue, he chided himself. And I completely overlooked a major one because it seemed so small.
But there was no sense in punishing himself. The Tulku frowned heavily on self-pity. He could almost hear his old master reminding him that one could not change the roads one had already traveled, but one could change the destination by traveling on different roads. Quickly, he opened the drawer and picked out a colored pencil, then looked at the map again. Finding the approximate location of Reinhardt Lane's apartment, he marked a dot and wrote "Lane" next to it. Then, he noticed something.
The five dots of disappearance formed a pentagon, with reasonably equal sides.
On a hunch, Lamont found the location of the Federal Building, where Margo's father spent most of his time, and placed a different color dot there, then drew back and looked at the map again.
It was very nearly in the center of the pentagon. It could be a coincidence...or the break he needed. Concentrating, he sent for Moe, putting as much urgency into the command as he could muster.
By the time Lamont got to the apartment building, the police were all over the place. It took some fast talking--and a couple of well-placed hypnotic commands--to get past the officers at the front door. He eschewed the elevator for the staircase, taking the steps two at a time to the fifth floor, then ran down the hall to 523.
Margo looked up as he reached the doorway and practically flew into his arms, shaking with fear.
He held her tightly, gently stroking her back to soothe her. I am so sorry, Margo, he projected to her. It should have occurred to me...the signs were there, and I just didn't see them.
She looked up at him. He's the next one, isn't he?
His expression hardened. Not if I can help it. I swear to you I won't rest until I find him.
"Lamont?" Wainwright's voice called.
Lamont looked up, spotting his uncle coming out of the bedroom. "Uncle Wainwright," he acknowledged.
"What are you doing here?" Wainwright asked.
"My love needed me," he said, taking Margo's hand. "Any idea what's happened?"
"Hard to say. He could have walked in on a robbery."
"You know that's not what happened," Margo snapped.
"Miss Lane, we don't know what happened here. No one does."
Lamont's expression tightened, and he glared at his uncle. Have you forgotten our conversation so soon, Commissioner Barth?
Wainwright's eyes glazed over suddenly, as if he was no longer aware of his surroundings.
Margo tried not to react. The ease with which Lamont could take complete control of another person's mind was chilling. To think that she had anything close to that level of power was absolutely frightening.
Time is running out, Commissioner, The Shadow's voice projected. Ask her about her father. Ask about odd or erratic behavior. You have less than forty-eight hours to find him before the Hands-Off Murderer claims another victim.
Wainwright blinked, then rubbed his eyes and winced.
"Are you all right?" Margo asked, concerned.
"I think so," Wainwright replied. "I need some coffee." He shook off the headache. "I'm sorry...I know I asked if you'd noticed any odd or erratic behavior from your father over the past few days, but I don't remember your answer."
Margo breathed a sigh of relief and gave Lamont's hand a grateful squeeze. "The only thing that could be considered odd was that he went to a fortuneteller two days ago and had his palms read."
Wainwright looked as if something finally clicked. "Are you certain about this?"
"Positive. He always said he didn't believe in things like that because he was a scientist, which is why it stuck out in my mind."
"Was he depressed or upset about something, like an upcoming birthday or anniversary?"
"Yes...his 35th anniversary would have been tomorrow."
"Your father's a widower?"
Wainwright looked alarmed. "Did he say which fortuneteller he went to see?"
She shook her head. "But he kept saying 'she'. So it was a woman."
He sighed frustratedly. "There must be a thousand fortunetellers in this city."
Lamont looked thoughtful. "But how many within a few miles of here?" he asked. "Think about it--if this really is significant, whoever he saw would have to be nearby. Dr. Lane practically lives in his lab, and when he isn't there, he's here. He wouldn't go out of his way to see a fortuneteller; he'd go to someone in familiar territory."
"Now there's a thought," Wainwright observed. "Miss Lane, do you have a recent photo of your father?"
She looked around, then found a familiar-looking broken frame on the floor. She picked it up. "This is the most recent one," she said, indicating a photo of father and daughter. "It was taken two years ago."
"Thanks." He looked over his shoulder. "Jackson?"
An officer looked up from dusting for fingerprints. "Yes, Commissioner?" he replied.
He handed Jackson the picture. "Get a map and calculate a three-to-five mile radius around this place. Show Dr. Lane's picture to every fortuneteller, mystic, medium, soothsayer, spiritualist, and little old lady who reads tea leaves in that circle. I want every available man on this. We're running out of time."
"Yes, sir." He hurried out of the room.
Wainwright turned to Margo. "Miss Lane, don't worry. We'll find your father. Go home. We'll call when we have news."
"Thank you, Commissioner."
He looked around. "Wainwright," he whispered.
She smiled. "Margo," she returned in kind.
Wainwright gave his nephew a wink, then patted Margo reassuringly on the shoulder and walked away.
She looked up at Lamont. "I don't think your uncle thinks I'm quite so strange any more," she observed.
"Good," he replied. "Maybe when we find your father, he'll find me less rude and arrogant. Do you have another copy of that picture?"
"Yes--at home, by my bed."
"Good. The police are on the right track--but there's too much ground to cover and not enough time to cover it. Go home and get that picture, and any others you can find--I'll send Moe to pick you up."
"Where are you going?"
"I've got some messages to get out. We've got to find a way to narrow the search."
The finest and most sophisticated communications technology available in 1934 could not compare with the speed at which messages passed along The Shadow's network of agents. With one call to Burbank, a chain reaction was set into motion, one which would send men and women all over the city out to gather information and route it back to one man faster than anyone would have believed possible. Now that network was focused on finding names and addresses of palmists and other fortunetellers around Reinhardt Lane's home and laboratory, and the answers were coming back to Burbank almost faster than he could keep up. Less than an hour after the first message was issued, Burbank had a three-page list of names and addresses to pass back to The Shadow.
Moments later, Burbank was above ground, braving the cold rain to cross the street to a nearby coffee shop, exchanging the envelope with a waitress for a bear claw, and heading back to his underground office.
The waitress headed over to a corner booth, where a customer sat reading a newspaper. "Anything else, mister?" she asked.
"No, thank you," the man replied without looking up from the paper. "The sun is shining."
"But the ice is slippery." She handed him a folded napkin.
He took it and handed her a dollar. "Keep the change."
The waitress looked surprised. "Thanks, good lookin'." Then, she walked away.
The man and his newspaper dissolved from view. An indistinct shadow from the diffuse lighting in the cafe moved by itself across the floor, past an entering patron, and out the door into the dark, rainy morning.
Down the street about a block and a half, in front of a long-closed business, a waiting cab's door opened and closed by itself.
Margo turned to the empty seat. "Any word?" she asked.
Lamont shimmered into coherency, then pulled the envelope out of his suit pocket. "According to Burbank," he said as he glanced at the sheets, "there are eighteen known palmists, fortunetellers, and other assorted mediums in the immediate vicinity of your father's apartment and lab. But of those eighteen, three of them are the most likely choices because they are within reasonable walking distance from the lab." He looked at Moe. "The Federal Building."
"You got it, boss," Moe said, pulling away from the curb.
"Why the lab?" Margo asked.
"That's where your father spends most of his time. Most people don't like to stray far from comfortable surroundings. How many pictures did you find?"
"The one recent one, and two more that aren't that old."
"Good. We can split up and each take a location." He took her hand. "We're going to find him."
"I know," she replied. Then, she slid over next to him.
He pulled her close. "I'm all wet," he teased.
"I don't care. Just hold me."
He wrapped his arms around her, holding her close, trying to keep her fears at bay.
"What now, boss?" Moe asked as they pulled up to the Federal Building.
Lamont turned to Margo. "Pictures?" he asked.
She handed two of the photos to him.
He made notes on two slips of paper and handed Moe and Margo each a slip, then gave Moe one of the photos. "Each of you go to one of these places, show the picture, and ask a couple of general questions--whether anyone there has seen Dr. Lane, whether someone was unusually interested in other people's readings, etc. Take a look around, see if there's anything odd or out of place. Also, ask if they've seen anyone with an agent's ring. Remember, we're not just trying to find Dr. Lane, we're also trying to establish whether Dr. Friedrich and the others were there as well. We've got to make the connection--otherwise the police won't be able to make multiple murder charges stick. We'll meet back here in a half-hour and compare notes." He looked sternly at both of them. "But no heroics. First sign of trouble, I want you out of there. Understand?"
"Gotcha," Moe replied.
"Understood," Margo agreed. "Be careful."
"You too," Lamont said. "Both of you."
With that, all three of them exited the cab, opened umbrellas, and went separate ways in the pouring rain.
Moe walked into a small shop whose door read "Madame White--Medium" and looked around, clearly uncomfortable. The odd scents, the bizarre Far East statuary and wall hangings, the strange music--Moe wondered how he was supposed to notice anything out of the ordinary when the whole place bordered on the surreal.
A matronly woman of Indian descent carrying a large black cat came out of a back room. "Good morning," she greeted.
Moe tipped his cap. "Um...morning, ma'am."
"May I help you?"
"I...I don't know."
She smiled gently. "Is this your first time with a medium?"
He swallowed. "Yeah. That obvious?"
She nodded. "But not unusual. Is there something on your mind, something you would like to talk about?"
"Um...yeah." He held up the picture of Dr. Lane. "Have you seen this man?"
She studied the picture for a long moment. "He looks familiar," she admitted. "Does he live nearby?"
"He works up the street."
She nodded. "I have seen him walking by."
"Has he ever stopped in here?"
She shook her head.
"Are you sure? Maybe one of your employees..."
She smiled. "I have no employees. Just Rajah."
She stroked the cat, who meowed on cue.
"Ah. Rajah." He reached out and rubbed the cat's head, and the cat purred.
"He likes you," the woman observed.
"I'm flattered." He held out his right hand. "Ever see anybody with one of these?"
She looked at the ring carefully. "I have never seen anything like that before. Is that a fire opal?"
She looked surprised. "A stone of great power. Some believe you can see a person's life energies with one."
"No kidding? Pretty interesting."
She examined his hand. "You have very strong hands. They show strength of character."
Moe pulled his hand back. This was getting too weird. He only needed one person in his life who could read him like a book, thank you very much. "So you've never seen anyone with a ring like this?"
"No, I have not. Should I have?"
"Probably not." He showed her the picture again. "And you've seen him, but not recently?"
"No. Is something wrong?"
Moe nodded. "He's missing. His daughter's anxious to find him. Can you call the police if you see him?"
"Of course. Is there anything else?"
"Um...maybe later." He left the shop as fast as his feet would take him.
Lamont ascended to an upstairs shop, to a room marked "Readings By Ruby". He could already smell the incense coming from underneath the door, but felt not an ounce of psychic energy as he reached out his receptive side to check for possible danger. There was almost nothing more dangerous for a psychic with a secret than another psychic who might pick up on wavelengths normally held private. Satisfied he was safe, he opened the door.
The jingling of chimes above the door brought a dark-haired Eurasian beauty out to the shop area. "Good morning," she greeted.
"Good morning," he returned. "You are Ruby?"
"Yes. May I help you?"
"I hope so." He pulled the photo of Reinhardt Lane out of his suit pocket. "I'm looking for this man."
She took the photo. "Well, I specialize in finding lost loved ones." She examined the photo, then Lamont. "There is a bit of a resemblance--mother's side, perhaps?"
Lamont tried not to grimace. Charlatan spiritualists drove him to distraction. "He's not my loved one."
"Ah. But he is a loved one to someone close to you."
Now he was annoyed. "Don't try to impress me." He took the picture back, then placed it on the counter directly in front of her. "Look at this picture carefully. Have you seen this man?"
She shook her head.
"Yes. Friend of yours? Looks like a professor."
"Do us both a favor and stop trying on things for size. I'm not interested in a reading."
"You know the words of the trade," she observed. "You a magician or something?"
"Or something." He took off his left glove and flashed the ring. "Ever have a customer wearing one of these?"
Her eyes widened. "That is incredible. May I?"
He extended his hand toward her.
She took his hand and gently fingered the ring. "A fire opal," she observed. "You almost never see one this large. And the way the colors dance...it's almost hypnotic...I've never seen one do that. Where did you get it?"
"A gift from a friend. Ever seen anyone else with one?"
She shook her head. "Never. I would remember that." She looked at his fingers. "You have incredible hands. Strong, powerful hands. You used to work with them...but not any more."
He took his hand back. "I'm not interested in a palm reading, either."
"Too bad. You might learn something."
"I doubt it." He pulled his glove back on, then tucked the picture into his suit pocket and headed for the door. "Have a good day, Ruby."
She gave him her best flirtatious look. "Maybe you and I could do some tricks together, magician."
He turned toward her and gave her a long glare. I think I'd rather make you forget I was here.
Her eyes glazed over.
Lamont smiled and quietly closed the door behind him.
Margo walked into a crowded store whose door read "The Raven's Loft" and looked around. It looked more like a knick-knack shop than a fortuneteller's den. There were stones, books, candles, statues, and other assorted art objects everywhere. New York was an eclectic place, to be sure, but this had to be the strangest shop she'd ever seen. She shook out her umbrella, then pulled off her wet gloves and pulled the slip of paper out of her pocket to make certain she hadn't misread the address.
"May I help you, Miss?"
Margo turned around at the sound of the voice to see a raven-haired woman standing at the counter. From the accent and the olive complexion, Margo guessed the woman was either an Eastern European gypsy or doing a good impersonation of one. "I hope so," she said, coming over to the counter.
"You look troubled, my child," the woman said. "Come, tell Vanya about it."
Margo pulled the photo of her and her father out of her purse. "I'm looking for my father. Have you seen him?"
Vanya took a long look. "He looks familiar." She pointed to the picture. "Is this you?"
"Very pretty." She thought for a moment. "Now I remember him. He did come in here a few days ago. He was looking for some books about telepathy."
"Yes. You know, mind reading?"
Margo looked skeptical. "My father doesn't believe in telepathy."
"Well, for someone who does not believe in something, he asked a lot of questions about it. He said he thought his wife may have been slightly telepathic; she always knew what he was thinking, even before he said it. We talked for a bit. He asked for a reading, and I gave him one."
"A palm reading?"
"Yes. He was very troubled. He said he missed you. He said you did not have time for him any more, and he was lonely. He misses your mother a great deal, you know."
"Have you seen him since then?"
Vanya looked as if she was trying to remember. "No. Too bad, too. He sounded quite troubled. His reading indicated much turmoil and loneliness."
"Did anyone come in asking about other people's readings?"
"Other than you? No."
"I am quite sure."
"Does anyone else work here?"
"Just my brother Gregor. He helps with the stock."
"Would he know if anyone had come in asking questions?"
"I hardly think so. He never comes out with the customers."
"I see." Margo looked around. Something wasn't right, but she couldn't put her finger on it. Then, something caught her eye. "What are those?" she asked, pointing to a set of white platters on the shelf behind the woman.
"Oh--teaching plates." She pulled one out. "For those interested in learning palmistry. These are imprints of customers' hands. This one is from a chemist. You can see the lines clearly. It helps people who want to learn more but do not do well with books."
Margo looked at the plate. A chemist? Oh, no...
Suddenly, she saw something in the glass showcase they were leaning across and gasped.
Vanya followed her gaze. "Oh, you see it, too! Have you ever seen anything so beautiful?" She reached into the showcase and pulled out a large silver ring with Tibetan etchings on the side and a huge red stone mounted in it. "It's a fire opal--very rare. There is an Oriental legend that says that the stronger the good within the person who wears it, the brighter the fire in the stone. I had never seen anything like it before..." Her voice trailed off.
Margo suddenly realized her left hand was exposed. She started to put it in her pocket.
Vanya grabbed her hand before she could. "Where did you get this?" she said harshly. "Where?"
"You took that from Dr. Friedrich," Margo whispered.
"He no longer needed it," Vanya replied. "He is no longer lonely."
"Those hand prints...that one is from Dr. LaFlame!"
"He is no longer lonely, either."
Margo looked horrified. "You've got my father!"
"I do. He is so lonely...it is so sad. A man with such marvelous hands. They tell such a wonderful story. I hate to see people in such turmoil. It is so easy to make them happy...let them join their loved ones who left them behind..."
Margo tried to stay calm. "Those plaster casts on the wall--they're all from the four men who've disappeared the past two weeks," she realized. "You cut the hands off so no one would find traces of plaster--so no one could trace them back to you."
"You are much too bright for your own good." She grabbed Margo's wrist harshly and pulled on the fingers of her left hand. "Tell me where you got this."
"You're hurting me..."
"Tell me where you got it!"
"It was a gift..."
"That is what Dr. Friedrich said. I did not believe it then, and I do not believe it now. These stones are too rare, and too valuable in mystical lore. And now I have seen two of them in less than a week. Where did you get it?"
Margo steeled her courage. "I'll never tell."
"Then you will die." She yanked the ring off Margo's finger, nearly breaking her finger in the process.
The pain was so intense, Margo thought she was going to black out as she shrieked.
Lamont had just reached the cab when something like a woman's scream sounded in his mind. Margo? he called back. Margo, what's wrong?
The scream got louder. Lamont tried to focus, to project back toward the source of the thoughts he was receiving. Margo--where are you?
He could hear sobs mixed with the screams now. Lamont, help me!
He looked around for a moment, then concentrated hard. Shrevnitz, I need you now!
"I'm coming, I'm coming!" Moe called.
Lamont looked up to see the cabbie stepping up his pace to a run down the block toward him. "What's the hurry?" Moe asked.
"Margo's been hurt. She's in trouble."
"Oh, my God..." Moe unlocked his door and popped open the rear door for Lamont. "Where to?"
"The Raven's Loft," Lamont ordered, climbing in and slamming the door hard. "Back side." He reached down and popped the hidden latch on the underseat drawer which held his tools of the trade.
"You got it, boss." Moe started the engine and raced off.
A chill passed through the car. Moe shivered. He didn't dare look in the rear view mirror at his passenger, but he didn't need to. The darkness in Lamont's eyes and the hard edge in his voice told Moe all he needed to know about what was happening behind him. Whoever had hurt Margo had just unleashed something they were going to live to regret--if The Shadow let them.
Vanya threw Margo to the floor of the storeroom, and she landed in a heap next to her father, who was bound hand and foot and was lying listlessly on the floor, battered and bruised. "You wanted to see your father," she said. "Well, there he is. Gregor!"
Gregor looked up from the boxes he was unpacking. "What are you doing?" he asked, incredulous. "What is that girl doing here?"
"She had the same ring Friedrich had."
"What? She had a fire opal?"
"Yes. And she will not tell me where she got it."
"Dad!" Margo cried, then looked up at Vanya. "What have you done to him?"
"A little bit of opium, a little bit of valerian...he is much calmer. It helps ease the loneliness."
Margo grabbed her father with her good hand. "Dad! Dad! Wake up!"
He opened his eyes. "Margo?" he said groggily. "What are you doing here?"
"Oh, Dad..." She hugged him. "I'm so sorry...I feel like I'm responsible for this..."
"Sh-h, baby," he urged. "I'm all right. I'm just so tired..."
"Enough," Gregor said, pulling Margo away and binding her hands roughly.
"Ow!" Margo screamed as he twisted her wrists.
"Shut up!" He slapped her to silence her.
She tried to gather her senses, and looked up at Vanya. This was insane. The woman was going to kill her and her father, and put her ring in a case to be sold as some kind of trinket to someone who would never understand what it meant, never understand the sacrifices made by the man who gave it to her. She felt like part of her had been stripped away, the tangible symbol of her bond with Lamont now in the hands of a monster. "My ring...," she said, trying to hold back the tears. "Please, give me my ring...I promised the man who gave it to me I'd never take it off..."
"It is so important to you," Vanya said, kneeling down next to her. "Dr. Friedrich begged me to give him his ring back, too, even though he was drugged out of his mind. Why is it so important? What does it mean?"
"I...I..." Margo tried to stall for time, desperately hoping Lamont had heard her cry for help. Her left wrist and fingers hurt so badly that she could barely think straight. "Let him go and I'll tell you."
"I make no deals. Far be it for me to alter fate."
She turned Reinhardt Lane's right hand over, showing his life line with a dramatic fork in it. "He is so lonely. And he is tired of being lonely. He made the choice to come here--now, it is time for his fate to be fulfilled."
"No...please, no...let him go."
"Margo, no," Reinhardt whispered. "I'm old...I've lived my life already..."
"No, Dad." She looked at him, sobbing. "I already got my second chance at life. I don't want someone to take away yours."
"How brave," Vanya said. "And how foolish." She turned Margo's hands over roughly.
Margo shrieked again in pain.
"And such ordinary lines," Vanya continued. "I would normally tell a little thing like you that you were going to meet a tall, dark, mysterious stranger..."
Who comes out of the shadows to sweep her away from vermin like you.
Margo practically burst out crying with joy. She had never been so happy to hear something in her whole life.
Vanya and Gregor both looked around frantically. "What was that?" Vanya demanded.
A mocking laugh answered, echoing from every corner of the storeroom.
"Vanya--what is that?" Gregor asked.
"Hush up!" Vanya snapped back.
Release the Lanes immediately, The Shadow's angry voice demanded.
Vanya looked out into the storeroom, noticing Gregor looking at something. "The Shadow," she realized. "You are The Shadow. Amazing."
You'll not find me quite so amazing when I'm finished with you. Now, step away from them.
"You would hurt a woman?" Vanya twisted Margo's left hand.
Get your hands off her!
"You feel something for her," Vanya taunted. "You'll not touch me as long as I stay near her."
Don't press your luck. I don't have to touch you to break you.
"I am not an easy person to hypnotize," Vanya responded. "That is what you do, is it not? You cast a strong hypnotic suggestion that you are not in the room, so that only your voice remains...and your shadow."
Margo looked around, trying to follow Vanya's gaze. Suddenly, she realized what Vanya was talking about.
A vague shadow of a tall man in a slouch hat and cloak was barely visible in the dim light of the room. And Gregor was moving toward its base, an axe raised over his head.
"Shadow--behind you!" Margo screamed.
The vague shadow on the floor suddenly whisked away as its owner dove for cover.
The axe smashed through a box near where he'd been standing just a second before.
"Be quiet!" Vanya shouted, smacking Margo across the face.
Gregor turned toward where the shadow on the floor had gone--and got kicked in the stomach for his troubles, then punched in the jaw.
"Gregor--over there!" Vanya shouted, pointing at the moving shadow.
I'm tired of being followed. A shot from a .45 rang out and shattered the overhead light, plunging the room into darkness.
"The lights!" Gregor called out.
What's wrong, Gregor--afraid of the dark? The Shadow's chilling laugh filled the air.
"He is still in here!" Vanya shouted. "Find a flashlight!"
Gregor tried to feel his way to the tool chest--and was knocked to the floor again by an elbow to the head.
"Gregor!" Vanya called.
In answer to her cries, The Shadow flung Gregor across the room and into the wall.
Vanya untied the braided belt from her waist and wrapped parts of its length around her hands to get a better grip. "I will take care of you first," she hissed to Margo, then wrapped the cord around her neck and began to choke her.
Margo's mind shrieked as she choked and gasped for air.
Something backhanded Vanya hard across the face, and she fell backwards against the boxes behind her. But the grip she had on the braided cord dragged Margo down as well.
Vanya felt something strong grab her wrists. Let go of the rope--now!
Vanya's hands shook, and she unclenched her grip on the cord. She felt her wrists being pulled together and held by one gloved hand as the other unwound the rest of the cord from her hands.
Margo fell away and gasped for breath, coughing and clawing at the rope to loosen it from her neck.
The Shadow materialized right in front of Vanya, absolute rage in his eyes. I've not met anyone yet I couldn't hypnotize, he hissed. And you're not going to be the first.
Vanya shook with fear.
A low, sinister laugh. You're afraid of me. That's good. You'd better be. He leaned in close to her, his eyes dark and menacing. Because I can completely destroy you with a single thought.
Vanya stopped shaking. Then, she sat motionless, catatonic, completely under his spell.
That's it. I have you now. You'll do anything I say. You'll tell me anything I wish. And you'll sit here until the police arrive, and you'll tell them anything they wish, as well.
The rings, he heard a weak thought from Margo say. She took my ring and has Dr. Friedrich's ring...
The rings, The Shadow ordered. Give me the rings.
Vanya slowly reached into her pocket and pulled out both fire opal rings.
The Shadow snatched them out of her hand. Good. Now, go to sleep. The police will be here any minute, and you'll want to be well-rested when you tell them how you murdered four innocent men and kidnapped another, and assaulted an innocent woman in the process. Sleep.
Vanya closed her eyes and fell limp against the boxes.
The Shadow turned his attention to Margo and unwrapped the loose cord from her neck. Are you all right?
She nodded, then cried out as he took her left hand to undo the bonds.
You're hurt, he observed, untying the rope around her wrists and gently caressing fingers that were already showing bruises. What did she do to you?
"It's probably just a sprain," Margo said in a raspy, hoarse voice. "She twisted my arm and almost broke my fingers trying to pull my ring off because it was just like Dr. Friedrich's. I'm all right. But she drugged Dad."
Did she say what she used?
"Opium and some other drug...starts with a 'v'..."
It's an herbal relaxant. It should wear off harmlessly. But he's going to be sick for a while from the opium, depending on how much they gave him. He turned his attention to Reinhardt, examining his wounds. He's probably got a concussion, too. He untied the bonds on Reinhardt's wrists and ankles. Dr. Lane, wake up, he commanded.
Reinhardt opened his eyes, then looked at the odd man in black who was ministering to him. "I'm dreaming," he whispered.
No, you're not. But you've been drugged. You're both going to require medical attention. The police and an ambulance should be here shortly.
Reinhardt looked astonished. The voice sounded like it was coming from all around and inside his head at the same time. If he hadn't felt the man's gloved hands on his own skin, he'd have thought him a nightmarish demon of some sort. "I don't know who you are...but you saved my life."
That's right, Dr. Lane. I've saved your life. It now belongs to me.
Reinhardt now looked perplexed. "What?"
"I'll explain later, Dad," Margo promised.
The Shadow handed Margo the larger of the two rings. You know what to do with this.
She nodded, then slipped it on her father's right ring finger. "Don't take that off," she told him. "Don't ever take it off. I'll tell you why later."
Reinhardt looked at her. "This looks like yours..."
"It is. But we'll talk later. Rest now."
He nodded, leaning against the boxes listlessly.
She looked to The Shadow. Can you hear me?
Yes. And now, your father can't hear either of us.
You've still got my ring...
Only until the doctor finishes checking you over. I don't want your hand to get so swollen that it cuts off your circulation. He took her hand and caressed it gently.
I feel so funny without it. When she took it off, I felt like she was trying to tear you away from me...
Sh-h. He stroked the line on her neck that the braided cord made. Are you sure you're all right?
She nodded. You don't know how much I want to kiss you right now.
Oh, yes, I do. He glanced over at Reinhardt, then mentally sighed. Rain check?
She smiled. I hope it pours for a week.
The sound of sirens approaching got their attention. He took her right hand and clasped both his hands around it. I'll see you later. Then, he released her hand and vanished.
She listened for the sound of his footsteps until they faded away, then turned to her father and took his hand.
Reinhardt opened his eyes and looked at his daughter, love and sorrow in his expression.
"Rest, Dad," she urged. "We're safe now."
He gave her hand a squeeze, then passed out as the police came in.
Despite Margo's insistence that she was fine, the emergency room doctor wanted her kept overnight because of the swelling on her neck and the depth of the marks from the choking cord. So, with her hand and wrist in a cast and a shot of codeine to ease the pain, Margo fretfully drifted in and out of consciousness the rest of the afternoon.
She emerged from one opiate-induced nap to feel someone fluffing the pillow her hand was resting on. "Thank you," she whispered hoarsely.
She forced her eyes open.
Lamont smiled down at her.
"If I weren't so sleepy," she said, "I'd throw myself into your arms."
He took a seat by her bedside. "Sounds like a plan for later," he said softly. "How are you feeling?"
Her eyes started to close again, and she forced them open once more. "So tired."
"That's the codeine. You'll be groggy for a while."
"How long have you been here?"
"About ten minutes. I was here earlier, but you were asleep. So, I stepped out to get some decor for the room. It's so plain."
She looked at him oddly, then noticed the massive bouquet in a beautiful crystal vase on her bedside table and gasped. "Lamont, they're beautiful! Red and white roses...they're my favorites. You remembered."
He smiled. "I think every man should know his lady's favorite flowers, candy, and perfume. Besides, I've always liked the combination of red and white roses together in a bouquet."
"They were my mother's favorite, too. My father used to give her a dozen red and a dozen white roses every year for their anniversary. He still does." She looked sad. "Every year, he takes them to her grave and spends a few hours talking to her. He'll miss it this year."
"Probably only by a day or so. I just looked in on him. He's resting comfortably. He should be fine."
"Thank goodness." She looked at Lamont. "He still hasn't been briefed."
"You can take care of that tomorrow. Right now, you both need to rest. Which reminds me..." He reached into his pocket and produced a fire opal ring. "I believe this is yours."
She looked at her cast regretfully. "They've covered up my fingers."
"So they have." He took her right hand and gently slipped the ring onto the third finger. "I guess that means you'll have to wear it here for a few days."
She looked at the ring for a long time. "So, how many lives do I owe you now?"
He stroked her cheek. "I don't keep track. All that matters is that you're safe. That's what's important to me."
She sighed. "I'm surprised you don't think I'm more trouble than I'm worth sometimes."
He smiled. "I figure that I will always know how dangerous the situation is by how quickly you get into trouble."
She swatted him with her good hand. "You're incorrigible."
"And you're irresistible." He kissed her injured fingers gently. "Sleep well, my love. I'll see you in the morning."
She closed her eyes and drifted off to sleep again as he left.
Tapping at the door to Reinhardt Lane's hospital room the next morning interrupted a pleasant father-daughter conversation. "What now?" Reinhardt groaned. "I don't want another nurse, or test, or hospital meal..."
Margo patted her father with her unbandaged right hand. "Come in," she called.
The door opened, and Lamont peered around it. "Is this a private conversation, or can anyone join in?" he asked.
"Silly." She came over as he came in the room, and they exchanged a quick kiss. "We were just catching up on things."
"Don't let me interrupt. I'll wait outside for you."
"No, no. Stay." She slipped her right arm around his waist.
He held her tightly, then turned to Reinhardt. "How are you feeling today, Dr. Lane?"
"I'd be better if they'd let me out of this place," he muttered.
"In other words, he's fine," Margo smiled.
"Glad to hear it," Lamont laughed, then turned to Margo. "I understand they're letting you out today."
"Yes. But they won't take this cast off." She shifted the position of the sling on her neck again, wincing as it irritated the still-sensitive welts the braided cord had left. "It's not broken, but the doctor said he wants me to keep it immobile until the swelling goes down. I feel like an invalid."
He smiled. "I guess that means I'll have to take care of you."
"You owe me a monsoon's worth of rain checks," she scolded. "Think I'll cash a couple in."
"I'd settle for some peace and quiet," Reinhardt sighed. "Or at least an hour where the police aren't in and out of here every few minutes."
"That should settle down shortly," Lamont said. "From what I understand, the police are almost done with their investigation."
"Did they get Dad's lab assistant?" Margo asked.
He nodded. "And, according to the radio, several other accomplices, all of them students of Vanya. Apparently the victims were chosen because an initial reading by one of the accomplices indicated possible vulnerability to further exploitation. At least one of them is claiming that they didn't know the exploitation would include murder."
Margo shivered as she looked at her father. "Dad, you were so lucky."
"I know," Reinhardt agreed. "If that man hadn't come out of nowhere..." Then, he looked at Lamont for a long moment, an odd expression on his face.
Lamont looked back. "Something wrong, Dr. Lane?"
He looked at his own right hand, then at Lamont's hands. "Your left hand..."
Lamont looked down at the ring to make certain it wasn't glowing. "Sh-h," he cautioned, then held up his hand to display the ring.
"Oh...right. I forgot. It's a secret." He looked at the two of them. "So...both of you..."
"Yes, Dad," Margo said. "Both of us."
"I see." He sighed. "I don't know what good I'll be..."
"You'd be surprised," Lamont said. "I'm glad to see you're feeling better."
"I wish they'd let me out of here," he grumbled, looking frustrated. "I have to get flowers for Eleanor...I always got flowers for our anniversary..."
"Oh, I took care of that for you." He turned to Margo. "One dozen red roses and one dozen white roses, right?"
"You remembered," Margo smiled. "That's right. They were Mama's favorites."
"Mine, too." He turned back to Reinhardt. "Anyway, Dr. Lane, I had them delivered this morning. Was there anything else you needed?"
Reinhardt looked amazed. "I...I don't know what to say. I'll pay you for them, of course..."
Lamont shook his head. "I don't want anything for them. Just the sight of the two of you together is all the payment I need." He turned to Margo. "Take you to lunch once you get out of here?"
"If I can find something to dress up a sling," she sighed.
"You'll manage. I'll be outside while they finish discharging you." They kissed gently, and then he turned to go. "Good-bye, Dr. Lane."
Reinhardt nodded. "Thank you for everything."
Lamont smiled, then left.
Margo turned to her father. "Now, see?" she teased. "He isn't so bad."
"Well, dear, I never said he was," Reinhardt noted. "I just told you what I'd heard."
"You're impossible." She sat down with him. "Why didn't you tell me you were interested in telepathy?"
He looked at her. "How did you know that?"
"Vanya said you'd asked a lot of questions about it. Why didn't you tell me?"
He frowned. "I thought you'd think I was silly. After all, I'd always said I didn't believe in that sort of thing. But I kept thinking about your mother, and how she seemed to know everything...I guess maybe I was just being silly."
"I don't think you're silly. I think you're wonderful. And I think you and Mama had something very special. When you're connected to another person like you and Mama were...it's just the most wonderful feeling. There's no magic, no mystery...just love."
He took her hand. "You're so much like your mother." He fought back emotions. "I miss her. It's been years since she left us, but I still miss her so..."
"I know. I miss her, too." She kissed his hand. "Maybe when you get out of here, we can go see her together."
"I'd like that."
Father and daughter held hands for a very long time, drawing strength from each other.