Summertime in New York brought out the best and worst aspects of life in one of the world's largest and busiest cities. Days got longer...nights shorter...activities busier...temperatures higher...crowds heavier...tempers shorter...crime rates higher.
So it was on a mid-July evening when Louie Goldstein left his deli in Manhattan that all of these elements came together. The streets were full of tourists, the sun just down in the west, the temperature hot and muggy even without the bright sunshine. Goldstein stopped and mopped his brow, then started to walk up the street to the subway station.
As he did, two men came up on either side of him. "Goin' somewhere, Louie?" one of them said.
"What do you want?" Louie said nervously.
"Relax, Louie. Just want to take you for a ride." With that, each man grabbed Louie under the arms and shoved him into a waiting limousine.
In the back was a man in a fine pin-striped suit, puffing away on a large cigar. Two bodyguards flanked him. Louie's eyes widened as he was shoved into the facing seat.
"Drive," the man in the pin-striped suit said.
The limousine pulled away from the curb and into traffic.
Pin-Striped puffed on his cigar and blew a cloud of smoke toward his passenger. "Louie, Louie, Louie," he said. "The boss is very disappointed in you."
"Look," Louie said, "business has been slow lately. Ever since The Shadow busted Castello's pawn shop, there hasn't been much merchandise passing through. Everybody's nervous that they'll be the next one."
"The Shadow." Pin-Striped spat the name as a profanity. "The boss is so tired of hearing about The Shadow."
"Tell the boss that no one is going to fence anything around this neighborhood for a while. Nobody messes with The Shadow. Word has that if you end up in jail, you're lucky 'cause it means he let you live."
"I'll tell the boss what I want to tell him. Unless, of course, you want me telling him that you're holding back on him."
Louie shook. "Look, I'm telling you, I'm not holding back. No one's coming through because The Shadow's got the heat turned up around here. Ask anyone around. Ask Georgie at the garage. He hasn't had a hot car in a week. Ask Stevie at the antique shop. He hasn't gotten one valuable piece since the last sweep."
"I'm not asking them. I'm asking you. You handle your business--we'll handle The Shadow."
The limo pulled up to a red light, the door opened, and Louie was shoved out onto the street. With all the tourists and traffic, no one noticed.
Louie got up, brushed himself off, and walked off toward the subway once more.
Something reached out of the shadows, snatched him by his collar, and flung him into an alley.
Louie got up again and looked around for his attacker. "Who's there?" he demanded.
He saw nothing. But he certainly heard it...mocking laughter, ringing off the walls, coming from everywhere and nowhere at the same time. Hello, Louie, a taunting voice called.
Louie looked nervous. "What do you want?" he shouted back defiantly.
Oh, come now, Louie. You didn't really think I wouldn't notice your ride with your friends, did you? Another laugh, low and sinister.
"They're not my friends." He brushed himself off and puffed out his chest, trying to look defiant.
That amused The Shadow, who laughed harder. You look a little hot under the collar, Louie. Who's turning up the heat on you?
"This is all your fault," Louie snapped. "If you hadn't run Sciapelli in last month, there wouldn't be any heat."
Ah, the new boss doesn't approve of me. A chuckle. He'll be joining Sciapelli soon enough.
"You don't even know who he is," Louie retorted. "And I'm getting tired of you or anybody else just grabbing me by the collar."
That earned Louie a shove backward into the garbage cans. I'll grab you by whatever I please whenever I please. Have you forgotten our little arrangement? A laugh. I see you haven't pawned the ring, at least.
Louie gave a glance to the large silver fire opal ring on his right hand. "O.K., so you saved my life a couple of months ago. Big deal. What if I don't want to be one of your agents?"
Good question. A low, menacing laugh. Perhaps you want it known that you were the one who provided the tip that got Sciapelli run in. Not to mention all the tips that have had the police sweeping in on fencing shops lately.
Louie looked nervous. "You wouldn't. You need me."
The cackling laugh that responded was almost deafening. You're cold cuts, Louie. I prefer filet mignon. If you don't think I'd throw you to the wolves for defying me, you're deceiving yourself. Besides that, you don't know who the new guy is, either. So I don't really need you anyway. But I'm certain the police would like to talk to you about all that liquor you're fencing out of the back of your deli.
"Now wait just a minute," Louie said. "You know I ain't done none of that in two months."
Do I? Or do I know that just yesterday, you fenced a truckload of rum for Pete The Weasel? A chuckle. And you haven't paid your boss his share of that yet, have you?
He shook. "How did you know?"
A laugh. The Shadow knows. Another hearty laugh.
Sirens approached the alley. Louie looked frightened.
His fear turned to terror as a black-clad man in a slouch hat and a flowing cloak materialized right in front of him. I don't appreciate it when an agent breaks the rules. It makes my life difficult. So, I return the favor.
"I...I...Shadow, please...no...," Louie begged, looking around frantically.
The Shadow grabbed his right hand and yanked the fire opal ring off his third finger. Then, he put his hand under Louie's chin and turned his face forward. Blue-green eyes filled with dark rage practically bored through him. You are going to walk out there right now and turn yourself in to Officer Mulcahy. You are going to tell him all about your little transaction with Pete The Weasel. And you are going to forget you and I ever met.
Completely transfixed, Louie turned and walked out of the alley.
The Shadow watched for a moment, then turned around and dissolved into the darkness.
Two blocks away, Moe Shrevnitz came out of another deli carrying a paper bag and a freshly-filled thermos. He opened his cab door, tossed the bag across the seat, and climbed in and closed the door.
Moe nearly jumped out of his skin and started to turn around to his passenger, then thought better of it. He had, after all, been given a direct order. He started the engine and pulled away from the curb, blending smoothly into the heavy evening traffic. "Sorry, boss," he said. "You got here sooner than I expected."
It took less time than I expected.
"You took care of it?"
A wisp of fog drifted over the front seat in reply. Mr. Goldstein will no longer be needing this.
Moe held out his right hand, and a fire opal ring dropped into it. Moe pocketed the ring. "Do I want to know how you dealt with it?"
I turned him over to Mulcahy and let the police deal with him.
Moe shook his head. "I don't know why you take a chance on some of these guys sometimes. Louie the Liquor Man was trouble from the word 'go', and you still saved his life. I'd have let Corazzi's goons give him that ear-to-ear grin instead of rescuing him."
Even scoundrels can reform. I remember a certain cabbie who had a few too many gambling debts...and the night all his markers got called in.
Moe grimaced. That was almost six years ago, and he could still remember it clearly...the mobsters who beat him up outside the secret casino, the sudden swoop of blackness that came through and cleaned house, the invisible presence that carried him to safety, the mysterious benefactor who paid his hospital bills, and the meeting in a dark alley, where a black-clad stranger gave him a silver ring and a lifelong obligation to do anything and everything he asked in return. It wasn't until almost a month later, after countless hours of shuttling him everywhere he wanted to go--and finding large bills on the rear passenger seat as payment--that The Shadow gave Moe the ultimate payment: His complete trust. "I suppose you're right," he replied. "And Louie did help bring down Sciapelli, so I guess he was useful."
But not useful enough.
"So you still don't know who the new guy is?"
No. But I will find out. A rustling of fabric preceded the pop of a spring-loaded latch and the rattle of an underseat drawer. The Cobalt Club.
"Yes, sir." Moe turned down a side street and gave a glance to the rear view mirror.
Only a swirling blackness met his gaze, a strongly-projected clouding suggestion to divert probing eyes from the man changing clothes in the back seat.
Moe turned his eyes forward again. The Cobalt Club was about ten minutes drive from their location, and he knew quite well that his passenger would need almost all of that time to finish the transformation back to his everyday identity. "I dropped Margo off about an hour ago," he said.
Good. Hopefully, the ever-exciting conversationalist Commissioner Barth hasn't bored her to death. One drawer closed, another opened, followed by a hard sigh.
Moe shook his head. "Don't you get hot in all of that stuff?"
There are times I do wish I had a summer wardrobe. The sound of heavy cloth being shaken out punctuated the sentence.
"Especially today. It had to be a hundred degrees out."
And a hundred percent humidity. The drawer closed. Feels like a sauna out there.
"Ever think about taking the summer off?"
I'll take time off when the criminals do. The swirling blackness gave way to Lamont Cranston leaning forward into the light to finish tying his bow tie and check his appearance in the rear view mirror. Moe watched the reflection frown. "Ugh. I need a haircut."
"Doesn't look too bad to me," Moe offered.
Lamont shook his head. "I used to have hair halfway down my back, and never thought twice about it. Now, when it gets below the nape of my neck, it drives me crazy." He ran a silver comb through thick, unruly black hair and gradually shaped it into a sleek coiffure.
The Cobalt Club was just up the street, two traffic lights away. "You need a little more time?" Moe asked.
Lamont brushed off his Saville Row jacket, then gave himself a quick once-over. "I think I'm presentable."
The cab pulled up to the front of the club and stopped. "Have a pleasant evening, Mr. Cranston."
A valet opened the rear door, and Lamont placed his hat firmly on his head, then climbed out and walked briskly up the steps to the Cobalt Club.
Inside, Lamont handed his hat to the coat check girl and gave himself the once-over again in the nearby full-length mirror. He looked a bit wilted from the heat, but that was a fairly common condition in New York in mid-July. He straightened his jacket, made certain the silver cufflinks were securely in his sleeves, gave a quick glance to his silver fire opal ring, and headed down into the main dining room. He made eye contact with a waiter, then walked over to his usual table.
His lady love, Margo Lane, was already there, engaged in conversation with his uncle, Police Commissioner Wainwright Barth. "Sorry I'm late," Lamont greeted. "Traffic is terrible tonight."
"Too many tourists," grumbled Wainwright. "Of course, you probably love it. It gives you a brand new excuse to be an hour late for everything."
Lamont ignored the pointed barb and exchanged a quick kiss with Margo. "And how was your day?" he asked.
"Uneventful," she replied. "How did the meeting go?"
Lamont quickly placed the reference; tonight's reason for his delay and their separate arrival was a meeting with a potential business partner. "I don't believe I'll be doing business with him any more," he answered. "Too unscrupulous for my tastes."
"That's too bad. I know you had been looking forward to that opportunity."
"I know. I really hate to see an investment go south. But better to find out now than later."
"Another one of your screwball investment schemes?" Wainwright interjected. "Like that International Business something-or-other you invested in?"
"International Business Machines," Lamont replied. "I.B.M. for short."
Wainwright scoffed. "Trust me, Lamont, the business world will never be run by machines. That stock's going to be worthless."
"Call it a hunch."
The waiter arriving with a pair of martinis cut short the conversation. "Your usual, Mr. Cranston."
"Yes, thank you." Lamont dropped a tip onto the tray and took a sip of one of the martinis, enjoying the quick chill, then the smooth warmth as it slid down his throat, then turned to Margo. "Have you ordered yet?"
"We just did," Margo answered. "I thought you might like the filet mignon tonight."
He smiled. "You read my mind."
She smiled back. "Wonder how that happened?"
Wainwright rolled his eyes. "I don't know why you two even bother to invite me to join you," he said. "The way the two of you carry on sometimes...like a couple of school kids."
"Oh, come on, Uncle Wainwright," Lamont teased. "Surely you remember being young and in love."
"Less and less every day." He finished his scotch on the rocks.
A waiter delivered a note on a silver tray. "Excuse me, Commissioner Barth, but there was a phone call for you."
Wainwright took the message. "Thank you." He gave the note a glance and chuckled.
"Cops and robbers business amusing these days?" Lamont asked.
"Louie the Liquor Man just got hauled in for fronting a truckload of stolen booze," he said. "That whole neighborhood's gone to Hell in a handbasket since Arturo Sciapelli got busted."
Three plates of food arriving halted conversation momentarily. "Obviously somebody's still doing business, though," Lamont noted. "Who's running the operation these days?"
"A new guy." Wainwright cut into his chicken cordon bleu. "Nobody knows who yet, though." He snapped his fingers. "Another one," he said, pointing to his empty scotch glass as the waiter came over.
"Isn't that a little dangerous? A new mobster in town and no one knows who?"
"Don't worry, Lamont. I'll make certain to keep him out of Turtle Bay."
"Good idea. Keep them out of all the right neighborhoods." He sipped his martini to hide his contempt.
Wainwright didn't miss the edge in Lamont's voice. "You attend to your affairs...I'll attend to mine."
"Oh, of course, Uncle Wainwright. I have all the faith in the world in your men."
Now it was Margo's turn to cover a reaction with food. If Wainwright missed the sarcasm in that answer, he wasn't paying attention.
He didn't miss it. "You watch your tongue," Wainwright replied. "I don't appreciate disrespect."
Lamont took a deep breath, counted to ten in his head, then forced a smile. "I meant no disrespect, Uncle. I just know your men are a bit overworked right now."
"Another reason I hate summertime. It's hard to turn up the heat when it's already sweltering out."
"You'll find a way. You always do."
"You'd better believe it." He turned to the waiter, who brought him another drink. "Thank you." He took a sip. "Ah," he said. "Cold ice and fine scotch. There is nothing better."
Margo offered a toast. "Here's to staying cool when the heat is on," she said.
"Hear, hear," Lamont agreed.
The three of them clinked their glasses.
A dark-haired man in his early 40s sat in a leather swivel chair, sipping a glass of red wine and looking on at a nervous associate in a pin-striped suit standing across the desk from him. "Why did you let the police get their hands on Louie?" he asked in an Italian-accented voice.
Pin-Striped looked frustrated. "If we'd known he was going to turn, we'd have shut him up when we had the chance," he replied.
"Or at least shaken him out for our share of Pete The Weasel's rum." He sipped his wine. "I do not appreciate sloppiness."
"I'll have it taken care of."
"Good." He finished the glass of wine. "Then, perhaps, we can turn our attention to this Shadow everyone is so afraid of." He chuckled. "Men who carry the finest weapons money can buy afraid of their own shadows. So odd."
Pin-Striped frowned. "Look, I don't think you understand just what we're up against. This is not just some tough guy who thinks he owns the streets. This is The Shadow. Nobody's been able to lay a hand on him. Nobody's been able to track him down. Nobody's been able to stop him."
"Yes, yes, I have heard all this before. He comes out of nowhere and goes back there just as quickly. He swoops out of the night, single-handedly takes down armed men, and disappears again just as the police arrive. He is so fast and so clever that no one sees him before it's too late."
"He's invisible. That's why nobody sees him. Duke Rollins' men said he whipped Duke like a punching bag and nobody saw a thing except Duke's face getting bloodier and bloodier."
The man in the chair lit a cigar and blew smoke into the room. "There is no such thing as an invisible man. So he has some way of making people think he's invisible. He does tend to strike in the darkness...and the darkness can play tricks on a man's eyes." He thought for a moment. "Perhaps we need to strike back just as hard. Deal with Louie, then organize a new shakedown of the neighborhood. Perhaps a little action will draw this Shadow out in the open--and bright lights can chase away even the darkest of shadows."
"Or make new ones," Pin-Striped warned.
"I will worry about that. This Shadow strikes me as the kind who cannot resist a challenge. And I intend to give him one."
Lamont and Margo bid farewell to Wainwright Barth and left the Cobalt Club together, climbing into Moe Shrevnitz's taxi. "Am I dropping you off at your house, or is that a waste of gasoline?" Lamont asked.
Margo smiled seductively. "My car is at your place...what do you think?"
Lamont turned his gaze to the rear view mirror. "Home, Shrevnitz."
Moe smiled. "Yes, sir."
As the cab pulled away from the curb, Margo slid over next to Lamont and ducked under his left arm. "You look tired," she observed.
He covered her left hand with his, interlacing their fingers, and held her close. "The heat tends to get to me this time of year."
"And misbehaved agents don't help matters."
"No. Neither do new crime bosses trying to look tough."
"So you still don't know who's in charge in Sciapelli's old territory?"
"Not yet. But I have other sources I can shake down. I've got agents on the lookout for clues all over the area."
"What did you do with Louie?"
He smiled wryly. "I let him live, if that's what you're worried about. I made him forget all about me before I turned him over to Mulcahy."
She snuggled against him. "I worry about one renegade agent breaking open the whole network. That's all it would take, you know."
"I know. That's why I deal with rulebreakers so harshly. The mission is too important to allow anyone or anything to interfere with it."
She looked up at him. "Just promise me you'll be careful."
He smiled. "Always."
They spent the rest of the trip in silence, holding each other and enjoying their quiet, safe place.
It was Margo who first noticed the soft glow coming from his left hand. "Lamont...your ring," she whispered.
Lamont awoke and eased his left arm out from underneath her. Sure enough, the fire opal in his ring was glowing. He gave a glance to the bedside clock. "Not even four in the morning," he sighed.
"What does Burbank want at this hour?"
"I think I know." He climbed out of bed and dressed rapidly.
"Need a ride?"
He shook his head. "Moe's on his way." He came over to the bed and bent to kiss her. "Go back to sleep."
She sighed. "As if I could without you here."
"You'll manage." Another kiss, and then he left the room.
She pulled the sheet around her and sighed. The mission always came first. It would have to. That was part of his life, the reason he'd been redeemed and transformed to begin with. But it didn't make her worry any less. Be careful, she thought.
Always, she heard him return.
She smiled at that. Then, she closed her eyes and curled up facing the empty side of the bed.
Moe Shrevnitz's cab came to a stop just off Times Square, near a dark alley. "Want me to wait?" Moe asked.
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 firmly on his head, and walked off down the alley as Moe drove away.
As quickly as Lamont reached the darkness of the alley, he vanished from sight. Normally, Lamont did not bother with clouding suggestions when heading to The Sanctum; few men would venture into a dark alley alone in the middle of the day, much less in the middle of the night. But with a new mobster in town anxious to make an impression, he took no chances as he made the turn down the blind alley and toward the fire escape stairs.
A doorway-sized portion of the side of the building at the end of the alley retracted inward, and the metal foot grating folded into a mini set of stairs. The sound of hard-soled shoes rapidly moving down those stairs was the only indication that anyone had even noticed the change in the exterior. The wall slid back into place as quickly as it had opened.
Lamont dropped the clouding suggestion as he 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. He tossed his hat on the workbench as he headed straight for the communications console and flipped several switches on its control panel, then 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 86th Precinct reports that the body of Louie Goldstein was found on the steps to his apartment building," Burbank said, reading from the note in his hand. "Goldstein was shot several times in gangland execution-style."
Lamont sighed. The only thing that really surprised him was that the method of execution hadn't been more discreet. He suspected someone was trying to send a message. "Any leads?"
"None reported. Shall I send a response?"
"Yes. Tell him the pace of activity is about to pick up in Sciapelli's old stomping grounds and to keep his eyes open. I'll be in touch."
"Understood." The screen went blank.
Lamont leaned back in his chair and stroked his chin thoughtfully. Whoever the new guy was, he obviously liked flexing his muscles. Louie the Liquor Man was one of Sciapelli's best front men, but was clearly too sloppy for the new boss' taste. Obviously, a message was being sent...most likely to the other merchants to avoid getting caught. But the viciousness of this murder meant something more...probably a warning to outsiders to stay far away from mob business. And no one told The Shadow when and where he could strike. So the new boss wants to challenge me, he mused. I like challenges.
He looked at his watch. Not quite 4:30 a.m. But The Shadow had a long day ahead of him. He concentrated slightly. Margo.
Margo stirred, then opened her eyes. The bedroom was empty, much to her surprise. She could have sworn he'd spoken to her...
He had spoken to her...but from afar. Lamont? Are you all right?
I'm fine. But The Shadow has business to attend to.
She sighed. That meant he wasn't coming back for a while. Do you need me?
I need you to rest. Go back to sleep and stay as long as you like. But I'll likely not be back for quite a while...late morning at the earliest.
Louie was executed last night.
Now she was sitting up, wide awake. Lamont, you don't think they know...
I doubt it. But I need to make certain. Go back to sleep, darling. It's only 4:30.
As if I can sleep after hearing this.
She could almost hear him smile. I didn't want you worrying when I didn't return right away.
So instead, I can worry about you going into mob territory this close to dawn.
I'll be fine. Hard to shoot what you can't see.
She sighed. There was so much more she wanted to say, but this kind of long-distance psychic conversation tired him out rapidly because her inability to project made him have to expend double the amount of energy he normally would, and that was the last thing he needed right now. Be careful.
The connection dropped. She sighed and got out of bed, dressing quietly. It was useless to try and go back to sleep here. As comfortable as his bed was, it was so empty without him in it. If she was going to lie awake worrying, it might as well be back in her own bedroom. It struck her as ironic that this was part of the reason they would most likely never marry--the endless nights of worrying about his safety would be almost too much to take. As if they weren't already hard enough on her now.
Giving one last look at the empty bed, she left the room and closed the door behind her.
Just after 5:30 a.m., as the sun was beginning to rise in New York City, the rear door to Louie Goldstein's Deli opened and closed by itself. Locked doors weren't an impediment to The Shadow--one of his agents had taught him how to jimmy a lock easily. If he could see the lock mechanism, it was even easier--a bit of telekinetic energy, and the lock flipped open by itself. This time, though, a lock pick proved just as effective as any psychic parlor trick, and Goldstein's Deli was now open for business.
The Shadow locked the door from the inside and took a walk through the deli, looking around carefully. A conversation with his agent at Goldstein's apartment indicated the place hadn't been ransacked, meaning most likely that the execution had been ordered as a message rather than a genuine shakedown. Still, he took no chances as he cast his clouding suggestion over the building so that anyone looking in would notice nothing.
His cloak caught the edge of a counter and got stuck. He turned around and gave it a firm tug.
The counter shook as the cloak came loose. Then, he noticed something odd.
The jars of hot peppers, pickled onions, etc., all showed signs of motion as objects floated in the brine...except for the large deli pickle jar. He opened the pickle jar lid.
It wasn't a pickle jar at all. The outside was very cleverly painted to look like one, though. He mentally gave his compliments to the artist as he looked inside at the hidden slush fund of cash--most likely from several sales of Pete the Weasel's booze.
A rattle at the same door he'd entered got his attention. He replaced the pickle jar lid and cautiously stepped away from the counter and into a dark corner, away from the sunlight that was beginning to filter in through the front windows, then looked to the rear door.
The door opened, and two goons came through it. The Shadow didn't recognize them. Most likely the new boss' underlings, he decided. Probably looking for that stash I found. This could be fun.
"Check everything," one of them said. "The boss wants that money Louie stole."
"We shoulda checked his place," the other said.
"Not even Louie was that stupid," the first retorted. "He'd hide it here until he could find a way to get it out without somebody seeing him." They began overturning boxes in the back, spilling vegetables and condiments all around.
Such a waste of good food.
Both men jumped and brandished guns. "Who said that?" one of them called.
The Shadow's chilling laugh answered, echoing off the walls and into their ears. Your boss probably doesn't appreciate sloppiness, either.
"Johnny, who's there?" the other asked.
"Shut up, J.J.!" Johnny replied.
Tell your boss that if he wants my attention, he's got it. But he'll wish he'd never asked for it. Another mocking laugh rang through the room.
Johnny moved cautiously through the storeroom. "Show yourself, fella," he said in a warning tone.
Johnny didn't see the blow coming. But he felt it as a right hook knocked him backwards. He swung wildly into empty space.
Two strong hands grabbed him from behind and hurled him through the air...and he crashed into J.J.
An amused laugh. Tell your boss The Shadow knows what he's up to. And it's only a matter of time before he joins Sciapelli in a striped suit. A chuckle. And I don't mean Brooks Brothers.
J.J.'s jaw dropped as the rear door opened by itself. Then, he felt Johnny being lifted off him--and saw him go flying out the door. Now, get out of here!
J.J. started to back away, but strong hands grabbed him by the collar and flung him out the door.
As the two hoodlums lay in the alley, the rear door slammed shut.
"He's gotta come out of there sometime," Johnny grumbled.
"Maybe," J.J. responded. "But I ain't gonna be here when he does." He got to his feet and ran out of the alley.
"That makes two of us." Johnny was hot on his trail.
As they left, The Shadow materialized outside by the door. So the new guy wants his cut of Louie's money, he mused. And I want to meet the new guy. Perhaps we can both get our wish. He gave a glance back at the door and concentrated slightly.
The locking mechanism rotated by itself and locked the door.
The Shadow smiled. Sometimes, psychic parlor tricks did come in handy. He concentrated again and sent for Moe just before vanishing once more.
"So let me get this straight," the new boss said, looking more than a bit annoyed at his hired help. "You arrive at Louie's, and someone you never see laughs at you and throws you out of the place?"
Johnny looked indignant and nervous at the same time. "Not just somebody," he corrected. "The Shadow. He was waiting for us. He knows what's going on here. He knows everything."
"And how do you know it was this Shadow?"
"He told us who he was," J.J. replied. "And he told us to tell you he was going to bring you down."
"I see. Did he use my name?"
Johnny and J.J. looked at each other. "Well...no," Johnny said.
"Then he has no idea who I am." The boss blew out a drag from his cigar. "Which means that two of my finest men were frightened by a tough guy who knew absolutely nothing."
"Then how'd he know we were going to Louie's?" J.J. challenged.
"He's obviously a well-connected tough guy. But merely a pretender in this neighborhood." He sighed and turned to Pin-Striped. "I should never send children to do a man's job. Go down to Louie's and find that money. And if you run across any shadows down there, ventilate them."
"Yes, sir." Pin-Striped turned around and left.
The boss looked at his two henchmen. "I trust this will not happen again?"
Both men shook their heads.
"Good." He dismissed them with a wave, then turned to his phonograph and put on Puccini.
The record was just coming to an end when a knock at the door indicated the boss had a visitor. "Yes?"
The door opened, and a hired hand looked in. "Simonetti on the phone for you. Says it's urgent."
The boss turned to his desk and picked up the elegant wood and enamel phone on the desk. "Yes?"
"Boss, you're not going to believe this," Simonetti began.
The boss frowned. He had a bad feeling about this. "Try me."
"Louie's deli is open for business again."
"That's what the sign out front says. It says 'Open for Business Under New Management'."
The boss frowned. "Clearly, this must be a partner of Louie's. How else to explain such a quick reopening? Did you know Louie was dealing with someone else?"
"No. But then, we didn't know he was fencing rum on the side for somebody else, either."
The boss sighed. "Then we will have to deal with his partner appropriately. Have a conversation with the gentleman and advise him on how we do business around here."
"Yes, sir." The phone went dead.
The boss hung up the receiver. There were days it didn't pay to get out of bed. He pressed a buzzer on his desk.
The same hired hand who'd alerted him to the phone call looked in. "Yes, sir?"
"Eggs Florentine for breakfast this morning. And coffee."
"Yes, sir." He left.
The boss changed the record on his phonograph. Maybe after breakfast, things would look a lot better.
Simonetti, the pin-striped suit-wearing number one man, hung up the phone and walked the two blocks back to Goldstein's Deli. The boss wasn't very happy with this turn of events, and Simonetti had already learned that one had to keep the boss happy at all costs. He'd have a conversation with this interloper, they'd make a deal for Louie's money, and things would be back to normal shortly.
The sign on the door still read "Open for Business Under New Management". He opened the door.
Behind the counter stood a man with salt-and-pepper hair, a brush mustache, and a pair of wire-rimmed glasses. He was setting out a tray of Danish and wiping down the counter. "Need something?" he asked in a thick Queens accent.
"Cheese Danish and a cup of joe," Simonetti replied.
The counter man nodded, then fetched the coffee. He put the Danish on a plate, then set it and the coffee on a small tray. "Thirty cents."
"Little pricy, ain't it?"
"Cleanup costs. Some hoodlums trashed my storeroom earlier." He waited expectantly for the money.
Simonetti nodded. He was willing to play along. He handed thirty cents to the man behind the counter, who rang it up on the register. "So, you're the new owner?" he asked.
"Until I figure out what to do with the place," the counter man returned. "It brings in the money, but it's a real pain to keep up with." He gestured toward the tables across the room. "Have a seat. Makes the food go down easier."
Simonetti took a seat. "You partners with Louie?"
The man nodded. "Louie was an idiot. But a useful one."
"Then you're just the person I need to talk to." He took a sip of coffee. "Louie owes me money."
"Not any more."
Simonetti raised an eyebrow. "You were his partner."
"His partner. Not his keeper. Whatever he owed outside of our arrangement was his business, not mine."
Simonetti nodded. The new guy was smarter than he looked. That was something he could respect. "It ain't quite that simple." Simonetti finished his coffee. "See, Louie did business for my boss. But he forgot to give us our last cut before his unfortunate accident."
"Is that what multiple gunshot wounds are called nowadays?"
Simonetti frowned. The new guy was a smart aleck, too. "Cut the smart stuff. Louie owes us for some rum he ran out the back. Know anything about it?"
The man continued to clean behind the counter. "What if I do?"
Simonetti stood up. "Then that means you owe us." He pulled back his jacket and reached for his pistol.
In a flash, the counter man had his own gun drawn, a coal black .45, and had a bead on Simonetti's chest. "Don't pull out your dance card if you don't wanna dance," he warned.
Simonetti looked impressed. The new guy understood what was going on. But he clearly had no idea who he was dealing with. "Just makin' conversation," Simonetti said, backing off.
The man smiled wickedly. "Good. When you tell your boss about this conversation, make sure you tell him this." All pleasantness disappeared from the man's features. "Leo Coleman doesn't appreciate goons ransacking his storeroom. And I only do business with the top guys. Now, get outta here."
Simonetti backed off even further. The look in Coleman's eyes was like nothing he'd ever seen. There was a dark rage behind the glasses that told him Coleman meant business. He decided the boss ought to know about this.
Coleman smiled as Simonetti left without even a glance back. "Thank you for your patronage," he said in an amused tone, then poured himself a cup of coffee, came out from behind the counter, picked up Simonetti's Danish, and enjoyed a quiet breakfast.
"He did what?" the boss bellowed.
"Pulled out a gun the size of Long Island and told me to tell you he didn't appreciate his storeroom being ransacked," Simonetti replied.
"I see." The boss sipped his coffee. "All right, clearly Mr. Coleman needs an attitude adjustment. I will stop by later to talk to him. If he still will not be reasonable, we will take care of him then." He turned to Simonetti. "Keep an eye on him, though. I want to know anyone he deals with."
"Yes, sir." Simonetti walked out the door.
Margo stretched tiredly and climbed out of bed. Only nine o'clock, and already it was too hot to sleep any longer. She slipped on a lightweight lounging dress and headed downstairs to make breakfast.
As she headed for the front door to get the morning paper, she noticed a cream-colored envelope had been pushed through the mail slot. Her heart skipped a beat. This was the stationery Burbank used to pass notes from The Shadow to his agents, and the horrifying thought occurred to her that she'd slept right through a call to arms. She rushed over and picked up the note, opening it quickly.
It wasn't from Burbank. The note, written in neat and precise script, read:
Chasing down leads. Will not be back for rest of day. DO NOT attempt to locate me--situation is dangerous. Will be in touch. ILYVVM.
"ILYVVM" was their shorthand for "I love you very, very much", meant to reassure her after the terse words warning her to stay away. She sighed. He was clearly worried about this case--he'd been on the trail of the new guy for a couple of weeks now, frustrated that he couldn't seem to get any closer than arm's length to the inner circle. Now she wondered just what he'd gotten himself into--or what kind of lead he was chasing down. And she didn't dare call out to him, not if he was in the midst of a hunt--the strain of opening his receptive side to hear her and leaving himself vulnerable was a risk she didn't dare force him to take.
Maybe Moe would know where she could find him. She picked up her purse and found the dispatch number, then dialed. "Good morning," she said when someone answered. "I need a ride, and I'd like to request a specific cabbie. Can you dispatch Moe Shrevnitz to the following address..."
Two mob goons watched the front of Goldstein's Deli from a parked car across the street. So far, it had been the most boring assignment either of them had ever been sent on. About the only thing one could say about Leo Coleman was that he apparently treated the customers well, because all of them left with smiles on their faces. They watched through binoculars as he cleaned the counter again, then made a couple of sandwiches and headed into the back with them. "Wonder what he's going to do with those?" one asked.
"Probably feed the bums--who knows?" the other replied. He glanced at the newspaper in his lap. "Who do you like in the fight this weekend?"
His partner glanced at the sports page. "They're both bums. Bet neither of them could take a fall if they tried."
A clattering noise sounded on the roof of their car. Both of them jumped. "What the Hell was that?" the passenger side hood asked.
"Find out," the driver side hood replied.
Passenger got out of the car cautiously, then looked around. He stared at the roof of the car, a puzzled look on his face.
"What is it?" Driver asked.
Passenger got back into the car, holding a deli takeout box in his hands. He opened the box.
Inside were two sandwiches, two bottles of soda, and a note. Driver unfolded the note and read it:
You look a little hungry out there. Today's special is turkey and Swiss on rye with spiced mustard. Enjoy.
Both men looked into the deli.
Coleman had returned from the back room and was raising a coffee cup in salute to the pair.
"Gotta hand it to the guy," Passenger observed. "He's got chutzpah."
"Not when the boss gets finished with him," Driver replied.
They both looked in the box once more, then shrugged and indulged in the sandwiches.
"I'm telling you, Margo, I really don't know where he is," Moe said as the cab pulled away from the curb. "I know you think he's ordered me not to tell you, but that's not it at all. I haven't seen him since I dropped him off at The Sanctum earlier."
"He told me he was leaving The Sanctum this morning at about 4:30, and that The Shadow had business to attend to," she replied. "You're telling me you didn't take him somewhere?"
"I took him to Louie's apartment, then to Goldstein's Deli, then picked him up again. He wanted to go back to The Sanctum, so I took him there. If he's not still in The Sanctum, I have no clue where he is."
"Hm-m." On a hunch, she reached down and popped the latch on the driver's side underseat drawer.
The clothes he'd been wearing this morning were still in it. She popped the other drawer to confirm The Shadow's dark clothing and heavy pistols were gone. "He was still in uniform when you dropped him off the second time," she observed, closing both drawers.
"Yeah, I noticed he didn't change clothes. I thought that was a little odd. Normally he doesn't stay in those clothes any longer than he has to, especially in weather like this."
Margo leaned back in the seat. "Where did you say you dropped him off this morning?"
"The Sanctum, Louie's apartment, Goldstein's Deli, and The Sanctum again. And that's the last time I saw him."
"I think I know where he is. Goldstein's Deli, Moe."
Moe gave her a disapproving look. "If he is there, he's not going to want you there."
"I won't give him away. Goldstein's."
Moe sighed. The boss was not going to be happy. But he knew Margo wouldn't stop hounding him until he took her where she wanted to go, and the boss would be even less happy if he let her get into trouble without somebody to back her up. He turned down a side street and headed for Goldstein's.
Slightly less than a half-hour later, Moe arrived in front of Goldstein's. "I don't believe it," he said.
"What?" she asked, then noticed the same sign he did. "Interesting. Wonder if he knows about this?"
"You're the mind reader. You tell me. Is he here?"
She concentrated, trying to sense the energy waves of a clouding suggestion. "I can't tell. I want to say yes, but I can't feel the clouding fog."
Moe noticed the man inside giving them a suspicious glance. "Maybe we should check out the new guy."
Margo followed his gaze. "Good idea," she observed. "He's certainly giving us the evil eye."
Moe got out of the cab, then opened Margo's door and helped her out. They went into the deli together.
"Whatcha need?" Coleman asked.
"Where's Louie?" Moe asked in reply.
"Called in sick. Get you something?"
Margo was looking curiously at Coleman, as if trying to figure out where she'd seen him before.
Coleman caught her gaze and gave her a slight smile.
Moe noticed Coleman giving Margo the once-over. "She's taken," he said protectively.
"I noticed," Coleman replied. "Nice rock."
Margo smiled back. "So's yours."
For the first time, Moe noticed the fire opal on Coleman's left hand. "The sun is shining," he said suspiciously.
But the ice is slippery.
Moe nearly jumped out of his skin.
Coleman gave a mischievous smile. Knew you didn't recognize me.
"I did," Margo replied. "But it took me a minute. That's very good. Mind clouding?"
Coleman shook his head. "Makeup," he replied in Lamont's voice. Then, he gave a glance to the door.
The deadbolt lock snapped into place, sealing the restaurant shut.
Margo raised an eyebrow. "Nice parlor trick," she teased.
"It worked," Lamont replied.
Moe shook his head. "I'd have never known it was you if you hadn't said something."
"That's the idea. What are you two doing here? Are you aware of how much danger you're in?" He glanced out the window. "The car across the street has two of the new guy's men in it. They've been watching me all day."
Moe gave a surreptitious glance. "Doesn't look like they're too interested right now."
"That's because they had turkey and herbal sleeping powder sandwiches for brunch." He checked his watch. "And that should only last a few more minutes."
"We were worried about you," Margo said.
"I can take care of myself." He frowned. "They'll hunt you down to find out your connection to me. You need to get out of here."
She looked frustrated. "So we're supposed to leave you to get shot up by the new guy's goons when they decide to take back what's theirs."
"They've already been here once. I already got my first warning from Simonetti."
"What?" Her expression changed from angry to concerned. "Are you all right?"
"I'm fine." He pulled back the apron to reveal the .45 at his waist. "There's something to be said for superior firepower. I didn't even have to pull the trigger."
"Boss, this is serious. They're going to kill you," Moe stated.
"I don't think so. They want what I've got--Louie's slush fund from his backdoor gigs. And it's so well hidden that they won't do anything to me until they find out where I'm hiding it. They made their first bid, and I countered." A confident smirk. "I'm holding out for the big guy."
"Lamont, this is not a game," Margo warned.
"I don't play games," Lamont replied firmly. "The new guy's in way over his head. And I intend to drown him." He once more glanced at the goons still napping across the street. "I do need you two to do something for me, though."
"Joe Simonetti moved awfully fast from Sciapelli's number two man to the new guy's number one. Do a little background checking on Simonetti and find out who he was connected to before Sciapelli. Contact Inspector Cardona in the 26th--he should be able to help you. Have him run the results back here. Tell him one of my agents will be working the counter."
"Find out about Simonetti--got it," she replied.
Another glance out the window. "That sleeping draught should just about be done working," Lamont observed. "You two need to get out of here now." He looked to the door once more, and the front lock unfastened.
"You be careful," Moe cautioned.
"Always," Lamont replied. He gave a wink to Margo.
She sighed. I love you...
...very, very much.
Moe took her by the arm, and they left the deli together.
The rest of the morning went by relatively uneventfully; the highlight was a delivery of fresh vegetables and meats by a driver who looked as surprised as every other mob figure to see Louie had a replacement...and who was persuaded by a hypnotic glare not to ask too many questions. Goldstein's did a brisk business at lunchtime, with a crowd of regulars and curiosity-seekers who'd heard about Louie's execution the night before. The thugs across the street had trouble keeping up with the comings and goings, and were given cups of coffee since they looked so tired...coffee laced with more herbal sleeping draught, that is.
The thugs across the street had just settled down for their afternoon nap when Inspector Joseph Cardona arrived to find Coleman sweeping the floor after lunch. "If you're lookin' for Louie," Coleman said, "he's on permanent vacation."
"Good. One less rat to worry about." Cardona looked around to make sure there was no one else present, then stood at the counter and rolled the fingers of his right hand on the surface, the glistening red fire opal reflecting light as he did. "The sun is shining."
"But the ice is slippery." Coleman made one last pass near the entrance with the broom, discreetly locking the door before heading back to the counter. "Whatcha need?"
Cardona glanced out the window. "You know you're being watched, right?"
Coleman followed Cardona's gaze. "They're not the best watchdogs in the world."
"I noticed." He looked around again, then reached into his pocket and pulled out a cream-colored envelope. "I was told to leave this with you."
Coleman took the envelope. "Thanks." He pocketed it, then drilled an intense gaze through Cardona. Tell me what you found out.
Cardona's eyes glazed over. "Giovanni Simonetti used to be a minor thug in several Philadelphia mobs," he replied. "The last one before he came north was the Salvatori family."
Dominco Salvatori. Didn't he get sent to prison not long ago?
Who was the number-one man there?
I see. What became of Francesca after Salvatori's arrest?
"I don't know."
Find out and bring your answer back here.
"Yes, sir." Cardona suddenly winced and rubbed his temples.
"You O.K.?" Coleman asked.
"Yeah," Cardona replied, not entirely sure himself.
Coleman got him a glass of water. "Here. You look a little out of it."
Cardona gulped it down. "Thanks." He wiped his brow. "Listen, I've gotta run. You make sure that gets dropped off."
"Don't worry," Coleman replied, walking Cardona to the door. "I know my orders." He unlocked the door.
"Good." Cardona glanced at the thugs sleeping in the nearby sedan. "You want some discreet surveillance?"
Coleman shook his head. "I think I've already got some."
Cardona nodded his understanding. "Be careful."
Cardona left quickly, as if on a mission.
Afternoon faded into early evening, and the two thugs found nothing more interesting to watch than Leo Coleman preparing some soup and cleaning up behind the counter. The huge lunchtime crowd had faded to a trickle of passing curiosity seekers, some of whom were regular customers of the neighborhood and some of whom were rival mob members anxious to see how the new guy handled an interloper.
They would soon get their wish.
A long black limousine pulled up outside the deli, and a crowd of people got out of it--the boss, Simonetti, and two gun-toting thugs. And all of them headed inside the deli.
Behind the counter, Coleman calmly continued to tidy up. "Welcome to Goldstein's," he said. "Today's special is turkey and Swiss on rye with spiced mustard. And I made the minestrone fresh this morning. Get you anything?"
The two thugs headed behind the counter.
"The health inspector doesn't like customers behind the counter," Coleman continued.
One of them grabbed him by the arm. "Shaddup," he snapped.
The other started to punch him in the stomach--then stopped his motion as Coleman fixed a dark gaze on him. Instead, he grabbed his other arm. "Come on," he barked.
The first seemed surprised by his partner's mercy, but they dragged Coleman out and flung him into a chair.
"Get his gun," Simonetti ordered.
One held Coleman's shoulders tightly while the other found the .45 under his apron and pulled it out of the waistband of his slacks.
"That's a family heirloom," Coleman warned. "I want that back."
The two henchmen moved to either side of him, using the counter behind them to fence him in.
The boss took the seat opposite him. "Leo Coleman, I presume," he said in a light Italian accent.
"Who wants to know?" Coleman answered defiantly.
The boss chuckled. "You are not in a position to ask questions."
Coleman bit back a smile. He didn't need to ask questions if he didn't want to. He reached out his mind just enough to pick up the name of his inquisitor. Then, he looked smug. "So you're the new guy."
"Only to the neighborhood. Just like you." He snapped his fingers, and Simonetti handed him a cigar and was lighting a match.
"No smoking in my deli," Coleman snapped.
Simonetti shook out the match, then looked stunned, as if he hadn't intended to do so.
The boss shot his number-one a nasty glare, then turned his attention back to Coleman. "I wasn't aware this was your deli," he returned.
Coleman shrugged. "It brings in the money. Of course, I could be persuaded to sell it for the right price."
The boss raised an eyebrow. Simonetti had been right--Coleman had confidence to spare. Too bad he had the arrogance to match it. "You do understand that you are in no position to negotiate or demand anything."
"That's one man's opinion."
The boss smiled a sinister smile. "The only one that matters."
Coleman chuckled. "That may be the way they do business in Philly, but this is New York. We play by different rules here."
The boss tried not to look taken aback. "So you are a well-informed interloper."
"If you mean that I know you're Nicholas Francesca and you used to be the number one man in the Salvatore mob, then I guess I am well-informed." Coleman smiled confidently. "You're big into taking advantage of power vacuums, aren't you?"
Francesca leaned back in his chair, pondering his next words cautiously. Obviously, Coleman was either much more powerful in the New York underworld than his investigation had revealed...or a cop. Either way, he was clearly someone who needed to be handled carefully. "As are you." He toyed with the unlit cigar. "I did some checking. No one in the area has heard of Leo Coleman. You do not exist. Which means you are probably someone else. And I intend to find out who."
Now it was Coleman who leaned back in his chair. But the look on his face was one of confidence, not caution. "Maybe I just do a better job of keeping secrets." He turned serious. "Let's talk. You want your cut from Louie's rum deals. I want you to stay out of my business. I think a suitable exchange can be negotiated."
"I do not negotiate anything. You clearly have property that belongs to me. That is stealing. And I punish thieves severely."
Coleman laughed. "There's an old Chinese saying--never try to stare down a hypnotist. You're in over your head, Francesca. You think you're in control. But I'm the one with all the cards. I'm the one with all the information. I'm the one with all the money. And I'm the one who dictates all the terms." All pleasantness disappeared from his features. "You get your traditional sixty percent cut and agree to stay out of my business. I agree not to call the cops. I think that's a fair arrangement."
Francesca looked annoyed. This interloper clearly did not understand the severity of the situation. In fact, he seemed to be staring off into space, his eyes focusing on some point other than Francesca himself. "I very much dislike like it when business partners will not look me in the eye."
Coleman gave only a momentary glance to the man across the table from him. "You don't want me to look you in the eye."
Francesca was so annoyed by Coleman's attitude that he failed to notice one of his henchman pinching the bridge of his nose and wincing in pain, as if something was drilling right between his eyes. "I have had about all of this disrespect I am going to take."
Coleman smiled wickedly. "That makes two of us." He cut his eyes toward the front door.
The deadbolt snapped into place.
All heads turned toward the sound...all, that is, except the henchman with the headache, who was now practically doubled over in pain.
Coleman held up his right hand.
The pained henchman tossed Coleman's .45 right into it.
Quickly, Coleman got to his feet, then hopped over the counter and headed for the storeroom.
Shots rang out and bullets flew through the room. The two thugs ran toward the rear of the deli.
The storeroom door closed and a lock snapped into place.
"Shoot through it," Simonetti ordered.
One of the thugs blasted a hole in the door, then reached in and unlocked the doorknob.
Both men entered the room, guns drawn and looked around.
Only boxes and racks of kitchen utensils met their gaze.
"Where'd he go?" one of them asked.
"He's disappeared!" the other replied. "Boss, he's disappeared!"
Margo Lane fixed herself yet another glass of ice water and leaned against the kitchen counter, letting the overhead fan swirl a breeze over her. The heat of the afternoon was still gripping the house, even though the sun was beginning to set. She'd not received any messages or warnings from Lamont all afternoon, and desperately hoped no news was good news. The early evening shadows that were beginning to dim the room gave her some hope--darkness was The Shadow's ally.
Margo...I need you.
The sound of his voice in her head made her jump--and the words he'd projected made her hair stand on end. She wondered if she dared answer back--if he really were in trouble, it would be better not to waste his energy having to listen for her response...
Margo, listen to me. Time is short. Moe is on his way to pick you up. You must go immediately to Inspector Cardona at the 26th Precinct and tell him the new guy will be ready for him to pick up shortly. Hurry!
She felt the connection drop. Despite the confidence of his mental tone, the message he'd given her could only mean that he was engaged in battle with the mob boss and his henchmen, and that meant trouble.
A horn sounded outside. She turned to look out the kitchen window.
Moe's taxi had stopped at the curb.
She ran out into the hallway, grabbed her purse off the telephone table, and hurried out the door.
Moe popped open the rear door, and she jumped into the cab. "26th Precinct station--as fast as you can," she ordered.
"You got it," he responded, throwing the cab into gear and rocketing away from the curb.
She fanned herself with her purse nervously. At times like this, she wished she had Lamont's projective powers. She longed to send a message back to him, to let him know help was on the way, to beg him to be careful...to tell him she loved him.
"Disappeared?" Simonetti called back. "What do you mean, disappeared?"
"He ain't back here!" one of the thugs called. "There's nobody here!"
"Check the alley," Francesca ordered.
The overhead lights went out suddenly, leaving only the setting sun to cast odd shadows in the room. "What's going on?" Simonetti called out.
"Somebody killed the lights!" one of the thugs replied.
"The power's gone out!" the other thug realized.
"Get it back on!" Simonetti ordered.
"I don't like this...this is what Johnny and J.J. said happened to them this mornin'," one of the thugs warned.
"Unlock the front door," Francesca ordered.
I wouldn't, a voice echoed through the room.
Everyone looked around. "What was that?" Simonetti asked.
The ringing laugh of The Shadow answered, taunting them from all angles.
"What the...," Francesca began.
"The Shadow," Simonetti finished, awed and frightened simultaneously.
Very good, the taunting voice returned, then laughed again sinisterly.
Francesca looked around. He was now genuinely curious about the mysterious voice. "Where are you?"
All around you. Everywhere around you. An amused chuckle. But you're wasting your time staring at the walls. You'll not find me, no matter how hard you look.
"Keep looking around," Simonetti whispered. "They say he leaves a shadow on the wall if the light's right."
Ah, but that's the key, isn't it, Simonetti? The Shadow's voice returned. You presume the light is right. Another sinister chuckle, then a clamor in the back as boxes toppled over.
"What was that?" Simonetti asked.
Francesca turned his attention to the back of the deli. "Where is Coleman?" he called to his men.
"There's nobody back here!" one of the thugs replied.
"I'm telling you, he's disappeared! Right, Sonny?"
"Sonny?" the thug called again.
Another clatter filled the room. "Carlo, what's going on back there?" Simonetti shouted.
The Shadow's laugh echoed through the room. Come see for yourself, he taunted. Unless you're afraid of a shadow. A cackling, wicked laugh.
Francesca snapped his fingers and gestured toward the back of the deli.
Simonetti swallowed hard, then drew his gun and headed into the dark storeroom.
Slowly and carefully, he moved through the windowless back room. He could see boxes overturned in the shadowy darkness, but no sign of anyone anywhere. He moved further into the room, feeling along walls.
A metal door met his touch. He felt for the handle, then pulled the door open.
It was a full-room refrigerator. He looked inside.
Two shadowy figures lay on the floor. He moved toward them.
The door slammed shut behind him. He whirled around.
You should thank me, Simonetti, The Shadow's voice taunted. Most people would kill for an air-conditioned room on a day like this. A wicked laugh. Too bad you have to share it with the hired help.
"Show your face, Shadow," Simonetti ordered.
An amused chuckle. I would if I were in there...which I'm not. A loud, taunting cackle.
Simonetti suddenly realized what was going on. He raced for the door and threw himself against it.
The pin in the lock outside the door clanked as he did.
Keep your cool, Simonetti. A laugh. You'll be out of there soon enough. I'm just putting you on ice until the police arrive.
"No!" Simonetti shouted, banging on the door.
Only a hearty laugh answered him.
Out on the street, the two watchdogs noticed the action in the deli. "They left the boss all alone," Passenger said.
"That ain't good," Driver agreed. "Let's go."
Both men started to open their car doors.
Plainclothes policemen surrounded them, guns drawn. "Stay where you are!" Inspector Cardona ordered.
"Jeez--it's a setup!" Passenger shouted.
"You're a smart guy," Cardona observed with a smile. "Your boss and his cronies are about to find that out, too. But let's just keep it between us. I'd hate to spoil the surprise." He turned to his men. "Get 'em outta there."
Francesca glanced out the front window--and immediately noticed the car that was supposed to be holding his watchdogs was empty. He started for the front door.
Something grabbed him by the suit collar and threw him against the deli counter.
Francesca shook his head to clear it, then looked up.
A shadow of a man in a hat and cloak swept across the floor and vanished behind the counter.
Francesca reached into his suit jacket for his gun.
A single shot from a .45 rang out. Francesca felt the heat of the bullet whiz by him and strike the counter next to him. "Sloppy, Mr. Shadow--or should I say, Mr. Coleman?" Francesca said.
Better men than you have tried to discover my real identity, The Shadow returned.
"Ah, but none of them ever had such an obvious clue. Leo Coleman disappears--and The Shadow laughs from the darkness. I have you now. I know who you really are."
As if I would ever let you tell anyone that. A sinister snicker. My next shot is aimed right at your heart.
Francesca looked over to the counter. "Then that means you are right...there!" He drew his gun in a flash and fired at a spot on the wall behind the counter.
The shot struck the wall hard. The Shadow laughed. Missed me.
Francesca was on his feet and heading behind the counter now. "You tricked yourself, Shadow," he said. "You need to stay in the shadows so I cannot see you. That means there are only a few places in this room you can be."
Too many for you to fire at, though.
Francesca thought for a moment, then picked up a stainless steel tray and angled it toward the late afternoon sun.
A glint of light reflected off the tray and cast reflected light toward the shadows.
Clever, The Shadow admitted.
Francesca looked for signs of movement as he kept subtly changing the angle of the tray to trace a path through the shadows with the reflected light.
The jars on the counter near him rattled slightly. Francesca fired toward the far end of the counter.
Wrong direction. With that, an elbow clocked him from behind.
Francesca pitched forward.
A huge jar of pickled peppers crashed into him from behind and knocked him the rest of the way to the ground.
Francesca tried to move, and a jar of pickled eggs landed on his back, knocking him back down again.
Francesca groaned and once more tried to move.
Something slammed into his head from behind. It felt like a steel spike driving into his skull. The pain was so intense, he thought he was going to black out...
A third jar landed on the floor right in front of him, shattering and spilling its contents.
The pain disappeared, and Francesca looked up. Then, he looked stunned at what lay on the floor before him--not more brine and pickled vegetables, but a huge stash of cold, hard cash. He reached for the money.
The front and back doors of the deli burst open almost simultaneously. "Freeze!" Cardona ordered.
Immediately, uniformed and plainclothes officers filled the deli. Cardona came over to the prone Francesca. "So you're the new guy," he said. "Caught with your hand in the cookie jar--or the pickle jar, in this case." He bent over to pick up some of the money. "Ah, raiding Louie the Liquor Man's slush fund. Wonder how many years this'll get you?"
"I want to make a deal," Francesca said. "I know who The Shadow is."
"Sure you do." He turned to his men. "Check the back--and get the lights on in here."
An officer picked Francesca up off the floor and handcuffed him.
"Listen to me," Francesca demanded. "I'm telling you, The Shadow is..." Then, he looked puzzled.
Cardona raised an eyebrow. "Go on," he said.
Francesca suddenly looked as if his mind were completely blank. "I...I..."
"...can't remember?" Cardona finished helpfully.
Francesca looked stunned. He could have sworn that information was in his brain just moments ago. "I know who he is!" he asserted.
"Yeah? Well, you'll have plenty of time to try and remember while you're in the city lockup." He turned to the men surrounding Francesca. "Get him outta here."
In all the confusion, no one noticed an unattached shadow whisking over the floor toward the back room. Neither did they notice a small bundle of clothing tucked in a corner vanish suddenly as that shadow drifted over it before floating out the rear door.
Four blocks away, Moe Shrevnitz's taxi sat next to the edge of a dark alley, its front seat occupied by The Shadow's two most trusted agents.
The rear passenger door opened and closed suddenly. Drive.
Moe pulled away from the curb. "You O.K.?" he asked.
A bit wilted from the heat, but otherwise fine. You got my message, I see.
"Cardona cleaning up the mess back there?" Margo asked.
Quite a mess indeed. But I think that area of town will be quiet for a while. The underseat drawer rattled.
"So you nailed the new guy," Moe observed.
And his number-one. I even threw in a quartet of henchmen. And Commissioner Barth gets bragging rights for his officers nailing one of the country's most wanted underworld figures. He sighed hard, as if exhausted.
"Could you possibly have picked a hotter afternoon to do this?" she teased.
Not if I'd tried. Fabric rustled for a bit, then one drawer closed and the other opened. Strange...I could have sworn I left a suit...
"...under the seat?" Margo discreetly waved his tie so that the rear view mirror could pick it up.
Ahem. The underseat drawer snapped shut to punctuate the annoyed projection.
Margo looked innocent. "Something wrong, Lamont? You do have other clothes back there...those clothes you had on at the deli today, then there's always that nice all-black outfit with matching cloak and red scarf..."
Not funny, Margo. Hand them back here.
She smirked triumphantly. "On one condition."
A sigh. Name it.
"We spend a quiet evening together. Just the two of us, no friends, no relatives, no boring conversationalists...and no interruptions."
Good idea. I know a nice deli a few blocks from here...
She turned around and threw his clothes at the passenger side of the back seat. "You are incorrigible."
An invisible hand gently stroked her cheek. And you are irresistible.
She smiled and nuzzled his hand.
Moe pulled up to a curb and stopped suddenly. "All right, I've had it," he said, climbing out of the cab.
Margo looked puzzled.
Moe opened the front passenger door. "Get back there with him," he ordered. "If you two are going to carry on like this, it might as well be out of my sight line."
Margo got out of the cab. "You're a doll," she said, kissing his cheek.
"Yeah, yeah." He walked around to the other side of the cab and opened the rear driver's side door.
She climbed in.
By the time Moe closed her door, Lamont was visible again and nearly dressed. "Do you mind getting off my jacket?" he said, looking at the suitcoat on the seat.
"What if I do?" she asked with a seductive smile.
He gave her a mock-stern glare. "Then I might have to use my persuasive powers on you."
She turned to face him and smiled broadly. "Give it your best shot."
Lamont looked into the rear view mirror. "Home, Shrevnitz."
"Yes, sir." Moe gave one last glance to the couple leaning in to kiss in his rear view mirror, then merged into early evening traffic to blend with the crowds and traffic of one of the world's largest and busiest cities...a city that was just a little safer tonight.