The sun shone brightly on the roof of the world.
Explorers, poets, missionaries, and more had dubbed the ancient land of Tibet "the roof of the world" through the years, a reference to its extreme altitude--the entire country was on a plateau over 20,000 feet above sea level--and the towering Himalayan Mountains that surrounded its southern flanks. At that altitude, only the strongest, heartiest, most determined people could survive. Very little vegetation was able to grow at that altitude; most crops consisted of small trees, thick grasses, some grains...
...and opium poppies.
As part of the "golden triangle" region of opium production, Tibet's valleys were filled with huge fields of rich, rugged opium poppies, fields controlled by a few extremely wealthy opium lords. These men were often ruthless in their methods for obtaining and keeping the prime growing lands. Wars had been fought over opium fields. Whole villages had been enslaved to maintain them.
And on this summer day in 1926, one man was being dragged away for violating them.
A late-model Packard sedan, a rare sight in Tibet, was laboring up a mountain road through dusty, dry opium fields, past old women scraping seed pods and the overseers who kept a close eye on them, toward a gray, imposing palace that sat on a flat plateau of Mount Kailasa. The building had been a temple at one time, a place of peace and harmony. Now, however, it was a symbol of dark, ominous evil. For in this palace resided Tibet's fiercest opium lord...a man known only as Ying Ko, Butcher Of Lhasa.
Most everyone knew that was not his real name, of course. "Ying Ko" was the Chinese phrase for "shadow", surely just a disguise to shroud him in mystery. Beyond that much, though, most knew little or nothing about him. There were rumors that he was Western in origin--French, English, possibly American. Rumors that he had once been a great military hero in his homeland. Rumors that he had established most of the main smuggling routes, the main distribution channels for opium to Europe and North America. And rumors that no one who saw his face lived to tell the tale.
Such a chilling rumor was on Li Peng's mind as the car came to a stop outside the palace. A burly Tibetan had a knife to his throat and a gun at his side, keeping Li Peng subdued. The Chinese opium lord, a minor player who liked to think of himself as more substantial, had made the mistake of crossing Ying Ko by attacking and killing some of Ying Ko's soldiers as they had attempted to "appropriate" the edges of Li Peng's territory. Li Peng and his brothers had acted swiftly, sharply, thinking that Ying Ko would not dare expose himself to a potential loss by risking a war over such a small territory.
Ying Ko, however, had other ideas. In the night, he had sent trained soldiers to Li Peng's hidden fortress and abducted the Chinaman, brutally beating him before hauling him halfway across Tibet into the heart of Ying Ko's territory. Now, Li Peng was about to face Ying Ko himself. And he prayed he would live to tell the tale.
The driver of the car, another large Tibetan, got out and came around to the rear passenger door. He and his partner grabbed Li Peng, yanked him out of the car, and dragged him into the palace.
Li Peng struggled the whole way down the long corridor until the guards threw him through a pair of latticed French doors and into an elegantly appointed chamber. Li Peng nearly fell to the floor, then caught his footing, shook off the disorientation, and looked around.
One side of the room was filled with scantily-clad women, both Asian and European, in Western-style lingerie, lounging on large pillows under the watchful eye of an overseer. They smoked cigarettes, ate heartily, and looked with disdain on the dusty prisoner in their midst.
The other side of the room was filled with men. Some were drawing drags off a hookah. Some were polishing guns or sharpening knives. Some were Tibetan, some were clearly American. All of them also looked with disdain on the newcomer.
And at the head of the room, sitting behind a table on a throne atop a raised dais, with his back to the silkscreen window, was Ying Ko.
At least, Li Peng presumed that's who it was. It was impossible to actually see the man. The late afternoon sun streaming through the window silhouetted him in deep shadow. Only the glowing embers of a cigarette provided any indication that there was a man in that shadow at all. Smoke curled lazily out of the shadow and obscured him even more.
Li Peng was decidedly unnerved.
A small man with wire-rimmed glasses and a wisened Chinese face stepped out of the shadows. Tucked under one arm was a large ledger...presumably with the debt Li Peng would now be ordered to repay written in it.
Li Peng recognized the man immediately--a respected accountant from the valley who'd disappeared several years ago. "Wu!" he whispered.
Wu frowned like the scolding father he resembled. "You and your brothers murdered three of our men," he pronounced solemnly.
Li Peng was angry. He'd known Wu for years as an honest, trustworthy man; to think he'd be working for the likes of Ying Ko was frustrating. "He'd have done the same," he spat, gesturing derisively at Ying Ko. "Send three more and I'll kill them, too."
If Ying Ko noticed the change in Li Peng's demeanor, he gave it no attention. Instead, Li Peng saw long, claw-like fingernails--lacquered in purple enamel--pull a piece of roast beef off a platter and feed it to a large Chow under the table.
Li Peng frowned. To be treated with this kind of disdain was infuriating. "He already controls all of the prime fields and half of the Asian trade," he hissed to Wu. "May no one prosper but Ying Ko? My fields are tiny--nothing compared to his!"
Ying Ko gave the dog's head a lazy scratching. The dog licked his fingernails clean.
Li Peng began to feel the chill in the room. He was clearly making no headway with this man, who was clearly just indulging him. Maybe he could appeal to reason. "Well, I, Li Peng, am surely entitled to my little piece."
Wu just shook his head and gave Li Peng a smile of pity.
Li Peng felt his fear rising. Time to play his last card. "Ying Ko," he said, addressing the silhouette directly, "if you kill me, I promise you my brothers will come for you!"
At last, Li Peng had gotten Ying Ko's attention. But he would soon wish he hadn't.
"And I promise you...," a deep, raspy voice began, and then Ying Ko leaned forward into the light.
For a moment, Li Peng saw his face. It was definitely Western, not even thirty years of age, badly in need of a shave and framed by long, unkempt black hair that fell to the tops of broad shoulders. The face had probably been handsome at one point. Even under the puffiness and lines caused by years of decadent behavior, classic Irish high cheekbones and a strong chin were visible.
And then, suddenly, all Li Peng saw were his eyes. Blue-green, but filled with deep, dark power that seemed to emanate from them, swirling all around. That dark, angry gaze drilled right into Li Peng's eyes...and he felt every ounce of bravery being sucked out of him.
Ying Ko's expression was cold. "...I'll bury them beside you," he finished, then glanced at the guards behind the terrified Chinaman. "Kill him."
A guard nodded and reached for Li Peng.
Desperate, Li Peng swung a fist at the guard and decked him. He kicked the other guard to the ground and yanked the long knife out of his hand, then grabbed Wu as a human shield and put the knife to his throat.
Ying Ko was now on his feet, and guards were flanking him.
"Let me go," Li Peng said in a warning tone.
The guards raised their guns and aimed them at Li Peng as Ying Ko walked out from behind the table. Now, Li Peng got his first look at the rest of the man. Ying Ko was tall--six feet, maybe more--and solidly built. Though he was dressed in loose-fitting black silk lounging clothes, Li Peng could see that he had large hands, muscular wrists. The Chinese characters for "Ying Ko" were tattooed across the index and middle fingers of his left hand. He was taller than the two guards who stood ready to protect him and looked as if he needed no protection at all.
Li Peng backed away slowly, dragging the struggling Wu. "I only wish to leave," he continued, the desperation becoming apparent in his voice.
Ying Ko looked amused by this turn of events, as if admiring the cruelty of the man before him. But the guards kept their weapons trained on Li Peng.
Li Peng tightened his grip on Wu. "Your men are not marksmen enough to shoot around him," he told Ying Ko in a taunting tone.
Ying Ko raised his hands, as if conceding the point. "You're right," he said in a concessional tone. "You're right." He looked at Wu and smiled a gentle smile. "Wu, you are a wonderful friend...like a father to me."
Wu looked grateful for the unexpected compassion. "Thank you, Ying Ko," he whispered.
Ying Ko kept up the kind smile, then turned around to face his guards. Only then did the smile turn cruel. "Shoot through him," he said softly, just loud enough to be heard.
By the time Wu realized he had been condemned to death, it was too late to react. The bullets rang out from the guards' guns, tore through the ledger he clutched to his chest, then ripped through his body on the way to Li Peng behind him.
In mere seconds, it was over. Ying Ko picked up a brass wine goblet off the table, took a swig of its contents, then looked down at the two dead men who now lay at his feet. "Why would anyone trust a shadow?" he wisecracked.
Everyone in the room laughed heartily.
Ying Ko yawned. It had been a long day, and dealing with the annoying Li Peng had given him a headache. Alas, it didn't take much to give Ying Ko a headache, and he needed a release. He downed the last of the wine from his goblet, then snapped his fingers toward the overseer standing next to the women.
The overseer nodded, then nudged three of the women.
Ying Ko headed for his bedroom, the three women falling in step behind him.
Ying Ko was a man of extremes. Extreme wealth. Extreme intelligence. Extreme cruelty. Extreme violence. And extreme appetites for fine food, fine wine, fine drugs, and fine women--not necessarily in that order. Three women had barely satiated his appetite for sexual pleasure, but he still had an annoying headache, so he crushed an opium seed pod into a goblet of wine--his favorite sleeping draught--and downed the contents before lying down between the women and drifting off to sleep.
Waves, winds, and shadows all swirled around him. Ying Ko found himself in the midst of a vortex of energy that engulfed him, sweeping through his mind, leaving nothing untouched.
Suddenly, out of the darkness appeared a face...the face of a Tibetan boy, barely fifteen years of age. He had the shaved head of a Buddhist monk and brown eyes filled with the wisdom of the ages. And those eyes stared right at him.
Ying Ko tried to turn away, but the face kept appearing, no matter where he looked. Those eyes bore through him, filled with power...filled with strength...filled with judgment...
Ying Ko jolted awake, shaking with fear. He had never had a dream so vivid, never felt so completely surrounded by the dream realm. Even now, he could feel something in the air, as if someone were in the room...
A shadow drifted across the wall. Someone was in the room.
Ying Ko got out of bed, then slowly walked around the room to investigate. He was about to call for his guards when he saw something moving out of the corner of his eye. He turned toward the motion.
Two Tibetan mountain men were suddenly in the room, on either side of him.
The last thing Ying Ko remembered was a huge fist crashing into his jaw before he blacked out.
Thin, chilled mountain air and a constant bouncing motion slowly brought Ying Ko back to wakefulness. He opened his eyes and looked around.
He was on horseback, ascending a mountain road lined with prayer flags, with his hands tied behind his back and wearing what looked like a black goatskin thrown over his shoulders. The two Tibetans flanked him, also on horseback. One of them had hold of the reins of the horse Ying Ko was straddling.
Despite the throbbing headache he had, Ying Ko was impressed with the skill of his captors. Anyone who could get past his guards had to be a fairly good strategist. Ying Ko's palace was like a fortress, and he paid very well for the best soldiers money could buy to protect him from his many enemies. How had two mountain men gotten past armed guards? Had there been a gunfight that he hadn't heard? Or were they just that good?
The horses came to a stop. The two men got off their horses and pulled Ying Ko off with them.
Somehow, Ying Ko managed to keep his feet, even as the two men dragged him further up the road. "Where are you taking me?" he demanded.
"A tulku wishes to see you in his temple," one of them replied.
Ying Ko was surprised. "Tulku" was Tibetan for "living Buddha", a monk so holy and so powerful that he was the human incarnation of the nature of Buddha himself. Ying Ko knew every temple in this region, every priest, and there was no tulku in this part of Tibet...he was sure of it. But the very idea of a supreme lama actually wanting to see the most powerful drug lord in all of Tibet was laughable. "A holy man wants to see me?"
Neither man answered him as they pointed him toward the mountain.
Ying Ko looked around. Try as he might, he couldn't figure out where they were taking him. There was nothing around but a fog-shrouded summit and a decrepit mud hut with an old woman sitting in front of a dung fire, stirring a pot. "You call that a temple?" he said derisively.
"No," the man on his left said, then pointed to the fog. "There."
Ying Ko looked at the fog once more--and his eyes widened.
The fog swirled and shimmered, and then it blew away...revealing a huge red and gold Buddhist temple seemingly carved into the mountainside. Dominating the main entrance was a massive golden head of a cobra, its hood spread wide and its hypnotic gaze boring down over the valley.
Ying Ko forgot to breathe for a second. He would have sworn there was nothing there just seconds ago. "Where did that come from?" he whispered, awe in his voice.
The Tibetan on his left looked as if nothing unusual had happened. "The clouded mind sees nothing."
Further conversation was cut off by a push in the back, driving him toward that newly-emerged temple.
The two Tibetan mountain men untied Ying Ko's bonds and ripped the goatskin blanket off his back, then shoved him toward a pair of gigantic doors.
The doors opened seemingly by themselves. Ying Ko stumbled into the massive chamber that stood just beyond those doors and looked around.
There was gold everywhere. The altar. The statues. The floor. Yet Ying Ko saw none of it. He barely saw the monks and initiates on either side of the room, banging ceremonial drums as they formed an aisle that led straight to the altar. Instead, his gaze was fixed on the monk at the altar, behind a golden gauze curtain that seemed to float in the air.
Seated on the altar, looking serene and confident, was the boy Ying Ko had seen in his dreams.
Ying Ko tried to stand his ground, but felt something pulling him forward. Against his will, he walked into the room, striding ever forward toward the altar.
The drumming grew louder with each step, until it reached a noisy climax when he reached the foot of the altar.
Ceremonial bells rang. The monks and initiates shuffled out of the room...leaving Ying Ko alone with the monk on the altar.
Ying Ko looked around. The room was now completely empty except for the two of them. Yet he could swear there were whispers in the air, as if people were talking all around. He looked back at the altar.
The young man--presumably the tulku--had not moved. The curtain rippled in an eerie breeze, like a swirling golden wave.
Ying Ko tried not to show his confusion. He didn't like being in the dark. It was time to get some answers. "Who are you?"
The question had been asked in Tibetan. It was answered in English. I am your teacher.
The answer in Ying Ko's native tongue caught him off-guard. But at least now it would make the tough talk and threats easier to issue. He laughed slightly and dusted off the black silk pajama bottoms he had been wearing when he was abducted. "Do you have any idea who you've just kidnapped?"
Ying Ko felt his heart stop for a second. That name...no one in Tibet knew that name. No one. He looked up...and suddenly stood face-to-face with the supreme lama known as The Marpa Tulku.
Lamont Cranston, Marpa Tulku continued.
Ying Ko looked stunned. How did the boy get right next to him without him noticing he'd moved? Wasn't he just on the altar? And how did he know..."You know my real name?"
Marpa Tulku looked as calm as a flat, smooth lake. Yes, he said in a voice that seemed to come from everywhere and nowhere at the same time. He began to circle Ying Ko as he talked, holding his gaze with those power-filled brown eyes that seemed to bore right through the drug lord. I also know that, for as long as you can remember, you struggled against your own black heart...and always lost. You watched your spirit, your very face change as the beast inside you clawed its way out. He took a step back toward the altar. You're in great pain, aren't you?
Ying Ko was enraged. No one dared call him "Lamont Cranston" any more. No one alive knew him by that name. And Ying Ko was going to keep it that way. He lunged for the boy, ready to choke the life out of him...
...and Marpa Tulku disappeared just as Ying Ko reached him.
Ying Ko hit the floor hard, then shook his head and looked at the space where he'd landed. It wasn't just that the young man had vanished. It was as if he'd never even been there in the first place. Ying Ko's entire visual image of him had simply crumbled into pink and gold dust that was swept away by a swirling vortex of wind; not a trace of him was left in that spot. He looked around frantically for the monk.
Marpa Tulku was now standing off to one side, on the raised portion of the floor that led to the doors out of the room. His face now showed just a hint of serene confidence. You know what evil lurks in the hearts of men...because you have seen that evil in yourself. Every man pays a price for redemption. This is yours.
Ying Ko recovered his senses and realized that the young man was dangerous. His anger boiled. "I'm not looking for redemption," he snarled defiantly.
Marpa Tulku simply smiled. You have no choice. You will be redeemed...because I will teach you how to use your black shadow to fight evil.
Ying Ko looked around. There had to be a way out of this. And the sight of a brass tri-bladed dagger on a golden stand at the foot of the altar was his ticket to freedom. He grabbed the knife.
I wouldn't do that, Marpa Tulku warned.
Ying Ko felt his hand shake. Surely he wasn't that frightened. He looked at his hand.
The knife trembled, then began to spin like a top, whirling in his grasp.
Unnerved, Ying Ko released his grip.
The dagger whirled like an autogiro into the air, then stopped high above him.
Ying Ko stared. What the Hell...?
The dagger dove out of the sky like a bird of prey and drove itself into his left thigh.
Ying Ko shrieked in agony, dropped to the floor, and pulled as hard as he could on the knife. But no matter how hard he pulled, the knife drove itself in harder. He thought it wasn't going to stop until it drilled through his femur...
Suddenly, the knife yanked itself out, whirled into the air once more, and dove for his groin as he sat on the floor, helpless.
Ying Ko split his legs as wide as they would go.
The dagger barely missed him and drove itself blade-first into the solid gold floor.
Ying Ko grabbed the knife and yanked it out of the floor, then looked at it.
The hilt of the dagger had a face carved into it. A sleeping dragon, it appeared. Except that Ying Ko had apparently awakened the dragon, for the face on the hilt opened its eyes and snarled at him, then sank its teeth into his right hand.
Ying Ko cried out in pain once more and released his grip on the knife.
It once more spun into the air, then dove for his heart.
Ying Ko rolled out of the way, barely got to his feet, then tried to run as the knife began to circle him. It drove him toward the walls, slicing into the surface of a stone pillar just inches from his face.
Ying Ko backed into a pillar and tried to move around to the other side...just as the dagger dove for him one last time.
The blade stopped just an inch from his heart and hovered in front of him. For a second, neither dagger nor prisoner moved.
The knife turned its hilt toward him. The face on the blade roared and snarled.
The knife looked toward the sound. Ying Ko did the same.
Marpa Tulku was now standing beside the altar once more, looking stern, as if scolding a child. Only then did Ying Ko realize the young man was addressing the knife itself.
Phurba looked at Ying Ko once more and snarled angrily.
Phurba! Marpa Tulku repeated, a bit stronger this time, and held up his right hand.
Phurba looked petulant, then whirled through the air and landed hilt-first in Marpa Tulku's upraised right hand.
Ying Ko felt himself shaking with fear as the realization hit him that the boy who now held him prisoner was some sort of naljorpa, a sorceror...and was deadly serious about his intentions. "Am I in Hell?" he whispered.
Marpa Tulku once more looked confident, smiling a smile that hid more than it revealed. Not yet.
On December 5, 1933, the 21st amendment to The Constitution of the United States of America was formally ratified, repealing the 18th amendment and ending an era known simply as "Prohibition". It was now legal to buy, sell, manufacture, and consume alcoholic beverages in the U.S. again. Americans celebrated. Private collectors removed long-hidden stashes of expensive liquors from storage. Restaurant owners did the same, and bought massive quantities of alcohol from Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean while awaiting shipments from Europe. Police officers breathed a sigh of relief at the removal of a major burden of enforcing a nearly unenforceable law.
Criminals, however, were very upset by this turn of events. Organized crime had made major dollars on the illegal import, manufacture, and sale of alcoholic beverages. Now, that source of revenue was gone, and they had to find some way to replace it. And they had to find a way to keep the cops away from their own activities, now that the police had so much extra time to investigate other crimes.
Such was the case in New York City on a cold December night when mobster Duke Rollins and his men pulled their old Packard onto the bridge connecting Manhattan with the rest of the city. Rollins, a mid-level player in the speakeasy trade, had been dealing with an especially pesky cop on his tail when an unexpected complication arose. Rollins hated complications. And the best way to deal with a complication like this one was to simply get rid of it. He climbed out of the car and took a glance at the dark night sky, filled with breaking clouds from an earlier winter thunderstorm. What little light there was from the street lights glittered on the wet pavement. He blew on his hands to warm himself against the night chill, then walked over to the bridge railing. He looked out over the cold river below him.
The powerful Hudson River swirled under the bridge, dark and murky.
Duke turned back to the car. "Get him, Johnny."
The driver nodded, then came over to the passenger side of the car and opened the door for his partner. "Come on, Maxie."
Maxie climbed out of the car, and the two of them reached inside and pulled out the other occupant of the car.
Like the time seven years earlier when Ying Ko's thugs pulled a Chinese opium lord out of their car to face judgment, Duke Rollins' thugs pulled a Chinese man out of the back of their car, his feet encased in concrete. Unlike Li Peng, though, Dr. Roy Tam was completely innocent. He was just a man who'd been in the wrong place at the wrong time, passing by a darkened alley while a murder was being committed, and now he was going to pay with his life. "No," he cried. "Please, no...let me go, please..."
"Shut up," Maxie muttered.
"Is it dry?" Duke asked, pointing to the concrete with the matchstick that he forever seemed to be either holding or knawing on.
Johnny snapped open a switchblade and scratched at the concrete block. "Perfect, Duke."
Duke nodded. "Bring him to the rail."
Johnny and Maxie grabbed Tam by his arms and dragged him over to the bridge railing, the block of concrete clanking and scraping against the ground the whole way. "No," Tam begged. "Please, don't...I won't talk...I didn't see anything..."
Duke chuckled as Johnny and Maxie stood Tam up like a statue in front of him. "I wish I could trust you, sport," he cracked. "I really do. I guess you just picked the wrong alley to look down."
Tam was shaking, terrified. "I...I have a family..."
Duke scoffed. "They'll get over it."
Tam looked desperate. "I won't talk. I swear it..."
Duke raked the matchstick on Tam's cheek, leaving a scratch on the man's face and igniting the flame. Duke held the match right in Tam's face. "Oh, I know you won't." He blew out the match as a symbolic gesture. "Dump him."
Johnny groaned as he and Maxie reached down to lift Tam's cement shoes off the ground. "I hate heavy lifting."
Duke chuckled as Tam screamed in terror. Funny how the echoes on the bridge seemed lively tonight...it sounded just like someone was chuckling along with him.
Low laughter echoed through the night. Duke stopped chuckling and looked around.
The laughter got more pronounced. Both Johnny and Maxie let go of Tam, and his concrete-encased feet slammed against the pavement and jolted the Oriental man from head to toe. "What in Christ was that?" Johnny said, drawing his gun.
The laughter swelled, now taunting and mocking. It echoed off every pillar of the bridge, coming from everywhere, literally shaking the bones of the people hearing it as the three gangsters drew their guns and looked all around. Yet, save for Tam, there was no one around...nothing but the laughter.
Duke didn't like surprises. He'd already had one complication tonight. He didn't need another. "Who's there?" he demanded.
You murdered a policeman...Duke. Another taunting laugh punctuated the statement.
Now Duke was angry. How could there have been another witness? They'd been very careful...only the fact that Tam's hat had blown into the alley had cost them complete privacy. Duke didn't like messy situations. "Show yourself, fella," he warned, waving his gun.
The weed of crime bears bitter fruit, the deep, raspy voice mocked once more.
The men searched the night frantically for their tormentor. "I don't like this," Maxie said nervously. "This stinks! Let's get outta here!"
"Shut your hole!" Duke retorted.
Did you think you'd get away with it? the man's voice continued, ending the taunt with another throaty laugh.
Johnny looked nervous. "Come on, Duke!"
Duke looked for the voice. He'd heard rumors about an unseen presence that had disrupted criminal activities for years now, rumors of a cackling laugh that chilled men to the marrow, rumors of a dark, shadowy presence that came out of nowhere and killed at the drop of a hat. But never in his life did he think it really existed. It couldn't really exist...such things weren't possible...
Did you think I wouldn't know? the voice hissed in his ear, as if answering his frightened thoughts.
Duke fired his gun in the direction of the voice.
The laughter continued, as if the unseen man were amused at Duke's fearful demeanor.
Duke emptied his pistol as he fired in a circle, frantically trying to plug lead into this interloper.
More laughter...taunting, mocking, derisive laughter, echoing all around.
Duke threw his empty pistol aside, then reached into the Packard for a Tommy gun. He began firing indiscriminately, all around him, showering the bridge in lead.
Johnny and Maxie dove for cover. Roy Tam crouched and covered his head, trapped by the cement blocks that held him prisoner.
Duke was now a crazy man. Roaring with rage, he fired all over the bridge, through the pedestrian arches, over the side, finally shooting through the glass of the Packard just in case the man was sitting in the car itself.
The laughter stopped. Duke listened for a moment for any response at all, then looked triumphant. "Ha!" he declared defiantly.
Maxie looked unnerved by this insane outburst. "Duke," he said, hopeful that the mobster wouldn't start firing again at the sound of any voice, "I think you got him."
Duke smiled arrogantly. "You're damn right I..."
Then, he heard it. The faintest "click" of hard heels on pavement. Something was right behind him. He turned around.
Out of a swirling blackness, a right cross decked Duke, and both the gangster and his gun went sprawling across the pavement.
Johnny and Maxie looked confused. Duke had just fallen as if struck, but there was no one there. They moved to help Duke to his feet, then stopped as a swirling fog swept by them and seemed to push them backward.
You committed murder, Duke, the angry voice pronounced. And now, you're going to confess to it.
Duke tried to get to his feet, only to be hauled up by his lapels and flung across the hood of the car. You will go to the Eighth Precinct House on Second Avenue and surrender yourself to Sergeant Murphy, the voice commanded. And you will do it now.
Duke struggled to his feet. His nose was bloody and flattened, and his toupee had fallen off to reveal a shiny bald-plated scalp. "Like Hell I will!" he snarled.
Oh, you will, Duke. Because if you don't, I'll be there. A hard punch in the jaw punctuated the promise.
Maxie and Johnny hurried over to Duke, knocking over Roy Tam, who toppled to the sidewalk.
I'll be there, the voice continued. Around every corner...in every empty room...as inevitable as your guilty conscience.
Duke looked infuriated and frightened at the same time. He held his fists ready like a boxer. "You don't scare me, you son of a..."
A right cross to the jaw quickly indicated this was not the proper attitude. Mocking laughter echoed all around as punch after punch peppered the gangster, sending him sprawling toward the railing.
Johnny and Maxie held their guns aloft, but didn't dare fire. What would they be firing at, anyway? The only thing they could see were puffs of black, shadowy fog coiling and swirling around before they vanished into thin air. For the briefest of seconds, it would look vaguely like a black-cloaked man. But in the blink of an eye, that image would be gone, and there was nothing except Duke flailing about, reeling, getting bloodier and bloodier.
Duke hit the railing and started to slump to the ground. Suddenly, he felt himself being hoisted into the air by unseen hands. One of them grabbed his left ankle, and then the other hand released...
...and now, Duke was suspended upside down, hanging over the water, with only the unseen hand on his left ankle holding him aloft. "I confess!" he shouted, terrified. "I confess! Just get me down...oh, my God..."
The other unseen hand grabbed hold of his leg, swung him into the air, and hurled him through the windshield of the car. Duke slumped across the steering wheel, unconscious.
Johnny and Maxie looked terrified as a strange blackness stretched out toward them. A huge black shadow, looking almost like a fedora-wearing ghost, swirled up the side of one of the columns. Maxie looked around, then spotted the source. He tapped Johnny on the shoulder, and they both turned to face it.
Standing at the end of the bridge, near one of the street lights, was a man. At least six feet tall, massively built, clothed in a long black riding coat, black pants, black boots, black shirt...all in black save for a red scarf that concealed the lower half of his face. A broad-brimmed black fedora shaded part of the upper half of his face. But what could clearly be seen were a pair of blue-green eyes filled with dark power that seemed to radiate outward from them, boring through anything within eyesight...sucking every ounce of bravery out of the two thugs.
Johnny and Maxie took off running, not caring that their boss was asleep in their now-destroyed car.
The black-clad man reached up and straightened the black opera cloak that normally covered his shoulders, a cloak that had gotten rumpled and knocked askew during the struggle. Then, he turned to Tam.
Tam saw the man striding toward him purposefully, that black cloak sweeping behind him like some kind of spector. "No," he whispered. "No, please..."
The man stood before him now, with that hypnotic gaze trained on him.
Tam looked terrified. "No..."
The man crossed his arms and reached beneath the cloak--and both black-gloved hands emerged gripping chrome-plated .45 automatic pistols. He aimed them right at Tam.
Tam covered his face. "No!" he cried.
Shots rang out. Tam felt hard shocks peppering his feet. He screamed.
The man emptied his guns, their loud report ringing through the night. It took a lot of strength to hold a .45 steady, yet the man's hands barely moved.
The firing stopped. Tam realized suddenly that he wasn't dead. He looked up at the man.
The man held both guns aloft, as if to indicate that they were completely empty, then crossed his arms and put them back into their shoulder holsters.
Tam felt something strange at his feet. He looked down.
The concrete block that had held him prisoner was now shattered, crumbling away. The man had set him free. He slowly moved his legs.
The man extended his left hand to Tam. On his third finger was a massive silver ring with a bright red-orange stone in the center.
Tam heard a sound. He looked for it.
Pulling onto the bridge now was a Cord four-door sedan, a large luxury automobile, painted up as a cab. Its lights were off as it came to a stop. The rear door opened automatically.
The man shook his left hand slightly, as if insisting that Tam take it.
Tam took the man's hand and let him pull him to his feet.
The man guided Tam to the rear of the cab and indicated wordlessly that he needed to get in.
Tam did so.
The man got in next to him and closed the door. Drive, he ordered.
The cab's lights came on, and the driver pulled off the bridge.
Tam looked around the cab carefully. The meter was off, and the cab was dark. From the glow of the street lights, Tam could barely make out the print on the required license on the dashboard. The name on the license read "Moe Shrevnitz". The picture matched the driver, a rock of a man in his early 50s, white-haired, square-jawed, and possessing a middle-aged spread. Large, strong hands gripped the steering wheel as he expertly wove his way through traffic. He drove fast and wild, perfect for the pace of Manhattan life.
The other occupant of the cab--the man dressed all in black--sat next to Tam in the rear passenger seat in silence. Tam could barely even see him, even when passing under a bright street light. All he saw was that shadowy profile...and those eyes. They were staring at him from the side, as if waiting for him to say or do something.
Tam managed to find his handkerchief in his pocket and wiped the sweat from his brow and the blood off his cheek. "Thank you," he finally managed to say. His nervousness caused his voice to shake slightly. "Listen, you fellows are probably busy...you can just drop me off anywhere..."
You're Dr. Roy Tam...a professor in the Science Department at NYU, the man next to him finally said.
Tam looked over at him. Even now, seated in the cab, that voice seemed to swirl in from all around, coming from everywhere and nowhere at the same time. Tam couldn't be sure the man was even really speaking--everything below his rather prominent nose was concealed by the red scarf. His features were sharply angled, harsh, angry-looking, but almost looked like a caricature, like prosthetics or a mask. But even more puzzling was how the man knew so much. Mind reading wasn't scientifically possible, but neither was invisibility, and Tam had already seen that the man could do that. "Why...yes," he said in a confused tone.
I've saved your life, Roy Tam, the man pronounced firmly. It now belongs to me.
Now Tam really was confused. He'd come to this country 40 years ago as a child, son of a Chinese physician and his Japanese wife, and been raised in the mix of Oriental tradition that such a mixed heritage brought. He'd married a second generation Chinese-American woman and raised their son in the heart of Manhattan, surrounded by some of the greatest multicultural experiences available. So, Tam was familiar with the concept of a life debt, but didn't think anybody really practiced such a thing. "It...it does?" he questioned.
For a moment, conversation was cut off as Moe Shrevnitz shot through a yellow light and whipped around the corner. Tam wondered how the cabbie knew where he was going--he hadn't heard anyone call out a destination, and he certainly hadn't told them where to take him.
You'll become one of my agents, the deep, raspy voice told him. Like dozens of others all over the world.
Agents? Others? What in the world was going on here? Tam looked very nervous. "Could I...uh...ask my wife about this?"
As if to reinforce the point, the cab made a hard right turn and narrowly missed a collision with an oncoming car. Tam braced himself to keep from ricocheting across the seat into his fellow passenger.
Moe whistled, indicating that even he thought that was a close call. But Tam wasn't sure if the close call was from the car...or from the anger of the dark man who shared the cab with him.
The man next to Tam seemed completely unfazed by Moe's crazy antics behind the wheel. Mr. Shrevnitz here will instruct you in the ways in which I will contact you should I require your help.
Moe looked back over his right shoulder and tipped the brim of his cap by way of introduction, then returned his attention to the road.
When you hear one of my agents say, "The sun is shining," you will reply, "But the ice is slippery." This will identify you to each other. He looked over at Tam, those power-filled eyes staring right into Tam's own. Do you understand?
Tam nodded, realizing with fear that the man was completely serious. And it was clear he wanted Tam to verify that he understood what he'd just been told. "The...the sun is shining," he stammered.
Tam thought he detected a hint of a smile in the man's features. But the ice is slippery.
Tam was relieved. He'd clearly passed the test. But there were still a lot of things he didn't understand. And he needed an answer to one of them right away. "Tell me something," he said, trying to work up the courage to be firm. "How did you know what was happening to me? How did you know who I am?"
The man began to laugh again, as if amused by the question.
Moe Shrevnitz laughed along.
Both sets of laughter faded into a low chuckle, then the black-clad man looked over at him. Now Tam could truly see the confident smile in the man's expression. The Shadow knows.
Tam eyes widened. No, it couldn't be...he was just a rumor...he didn't really exist...
The Shadow laughed heartily, a ringing, maniacal, almost insane laugh that echoed off the walls of the city around them.
Moments later, the cab pulled to a stop at a curb. Tam realized with complete surprise that they were just up the block from his house. Without him saying a word, The Shadow had gotten his address and safely delivered him to his home. The Shadow knew. Tam shook the man's hand quickly. "Thank you," he said.
The Shadow gave a nod.
Tam got out of the cab and closed the cab door. Moe Shrevnitz was quickly beside him.
Tam looked stunned. "That's The Shadow," he said, awe in his voice. "I mean, that's The Shadow!"
Moe took his right hand and shook it firmly, clasping both hands around it for a moment. "Hey, you're a pretty smart guy," he said with a smile.
"I mean, I'd heard stories, news reports, but I thought it was all just talk," Tam continued, still amazed by what had just happened. "I didn't think he really existed!"
"He doesn't," Moe said firmly. "Get it?"
Tam realized that he was now privvy to a very large secret. He nodded slowly.
Moe released the handshake.
Tam looked at his right hand...and the large silver ring with a red-orange stone that was now perched on his right ring finger. It matched the ring The Shadow wore. He looked up at Moe.
"Don't ever take it off," Moe ordered, then turned to go.
Tam put a hand on his shoulder. "Wait a minute...who are you?"
Moe held up his right hand. The same ring was perched on his right ring finger. "I'm somebody who owes him his life," he replied. "Somebody just like you." He punctuated the statement by pointing a finger right into Tam's chest, then got back into his cab and pulled away.
Tam discreetly waved at the departing cab.
Moe waved back, and then the cab was swallowed up by the surrounding traffic.
Tam looked at his ring for a long moment. He'd been saved from certain death, and for that he was grateful. But now he was some sort of agent, apparently part of a secret army of ring-wearing soldiers all bound by a life debt to the mysterious vigilante known as The Shadow. And he had no idea what that entailed. But for right now, he had a bigger problem...how to conceal a massive piece of jewelry like this ring from his curious wife.
He walked toward his home, deep in thought.
Moe Shrevnitz raced down city streets toward midtown Manhattan. The man in the back seat was almost an hour late for an appointment, and the man he was meeting didn't like to be kept waiting. He glanced in the rear view mirror toward the back seat. "Boss--you O.K.?"
For a brief moment, the dark shadows in the back seat lifted, and the exhausted face of Lamont Cranston looked back at him. The rough-looking features were gone, replaced by classically handsome facial planes. Lamont was pale and sweaty, nearly worn out by the combination of the rough physical activity and the deep concentration he'd had to maintain to keep himself concealed during the fight with Duke and the ride with Tam. All he really wanted to do was go home and sleep. But he did have an important dinner engagement, and he needed to eat anyway. "The Cobalt Club," he said tiredly.
Moe nodded. Six years ago, he had been exactly where Roy Tam was--rescued from certain death by The Shadow, recruited as an agent, confused about his role in this crazy mission. Moe's role was transportation--anytime, anywhere, for any reason. His cab was The Shadow's mobile office...and Lamont Cranston's limousine. For Moe was one of a select few who knew The Shadow's true identity, and was a sworn protector of that secret. He saw The Shadow at his most vulnerable, often injured and exhausted from carrying out his mission, and wondered where the man got the strength to continue sometimes. It never ceased to amaze him that somehow, The Shadow could always draw on some hidden reserve of energy and get through even the most difficult of circumstances. Take tonight, for example. Moe knew that The Shadow wasn't really invisible, but he had the ability to make people think that he was through hypnotic suggestion. That suggestion could be maintained for almost an hour straight if The Shadow did nothing else during that time. Anything that involved physical exertion, though, took away from that concentration ability, and the rough fight with Duke had taken a lot out of him...and having to hold the illusion of those harsh facial features, a slightly less strenuous activity that kept Lamont Cranston's identity concealed when he wasn't in full mind clouding mode, while Tam was in the cab had drained away even more strength. Yet Moe knew that by the time they reached the Cobalt Club, the exhausted man in the back seat would be, if not yet fully recovered, at least able to interact socially with the people that a millionaire like Lamont Cranston had to mingle with on a daily basis. And that, in Moe's mind, was the real mystery behind The Shadow--how he could do it, and why he would even put himself through it. He glanced in the rear view mirror again.
Shadows were swirling through the back seat again, concealing the occupant completely.
Moe nodded slightly. Lamont was probably changing clothes and needed to make certain not even occupants of other vehicles noticed. They probably wouldn't speak again for the rest of the drive. Just as well. Moe was certain Lamont needed time to himself to gather his thoughts, to let go of the night's activities...to transform himself fully into Lamont Cranston, wealthy young man-about-town, again.
You're some kind of heavenly,
Got something that gets to me...
Gotta get you next to me
So I can figure out what this mystery's about...
You look into my eyes,
Steal my heart, read my mind,
Help me--I'm falling...
You cast your spell on me
And here I am surrendering my soul...
The ironic choice of music by tonight's jazz combo as Lamont Cranston entered the Cobalt Club made him smile slightly. He was now cleaned up, dressed to the nines in a fabulous Saville Row black tuxedo. Every hair was in place, every seam crisp, every piece of jewelry polished and bright...including the huge silver fire opal ring now sized back down to fit his ungloved left hand. He looked around the restaurant at the patrons--some dancing, some eating, most celebrating the end of Prohibition with legal cocktails. He gave a nod to a waiter, then crossed the room to his usual table to finally keep his evening dinner engagement.
Police Commissioner Wainwright Barth looked up from the remnants of his meal as Lamont approached the table. The boy was late...again, Wainwright mentally groused. Try as he might, Wainwright just couldn't seem to impress upon Lamont the need for timeliness and punctuality. The spoiled brat acted like the world moved at his pace, and no one else's. And it frustrated him that Lamont seemed to have almost no concern for the welfare of others, as if having a good time in life was all that was important to him.
Lamont gave a tight smile as he sat down at the table. At least Wainwright hadn't waited to eat. "Sorry I'm late, Uncle Wainwright," he said, "but there was a little...accident on the bridge."
Wainwright rolled his eyes. Yet another apology. Seemed like that was his nephew's standard greeting. "Well, I didn't think you'd want me to wait," Wainwright replied. "Incidentally, try the prime rib tonight. It's excellent."
Lamont wasn't interested in rare beef tonight, but gave a polite nod. He was pondering some kind of poultry dish when a waiter arrived with two martinis on a tray. "Your usual, Mr. Cranston," the waiter told him.
"Oh, yes," Lamont said, smiling. "Yes...thank you very much." He dropped a tip on the tray.
The waiter nodded, trying to conceal his eagerness. Lamont Cranston was the best tipper in the entire club, and waiters practically tripped over themselves to run to his beckon call. "Thank you, sir."
Wainwright waited until they were alone again, then looked at his nephew sternly. "You know, Lamont, I'm very upset with you."
Lamont picked up one of the martinis, took out the toothpick, and shook the liquid off the olive. Time for standard lecture number one, subtitled "Why Are You Always Late?" He tried to look hurt by his uncle's glare. In truth, it amused him to no end that Wainwright thought he could even begin to influence his behavior. "What is it this time?"
"What it it this time?" Wainwright scoffed. "What is it every time? You invite me to dinner and show up an hour late!"
Lamont forced himself not to smile. Right on cue. Wonder if he ever gets tired of saying the same things over and over again? He popped the olive into his mouth, no longer even listening to his uncle's complaints. Instead, he was intrigued by the energy in the room. There was someone new in here, someone who was attracting a lot of attention. He looked around.
"There's simply no excuse for it," Wainwright continued, exasperated.
Lamont heard Wainwright's voice stop and decided it was time for him to offer his usual lame excuse, just to speed this lecture along a little. "I'm sorry, Uncle Wainwright," he said, taking a sip of his martini as he continued to glance around. "I just got..."
And then, he saw her.
Blonde, blue-eyed, and simply beautiful, wearing a cream-colored satin dress that clung to her like a second skin and left just enough to the imagination. A white fox fur stole was draped about her shoulders to ward off the chill. She had rhinestone cuff bracelets on each wrist and a diamond cocktail ring to match on her right hand, while the left hand held a small satin clamshell clutch bag. Every man in the place was staring at her...and she was clearly amused by the attention.
"...caught up," Lamont heard himself finish, barely aware he was even in a conversation at this moment.
Wainwright scoffed again. "With what, for God's sake? You don't do anything. A man your age--it's unseemly. At least develop a hobby or something."
She looked his way. Their eyes met for the briefest of instances. Then, she looked away slyly, removed the fox fur from her shoulders, and took her seat at a table across the room.
Lamont now couldn't tear his eyes away. The dress was held up by fine satin straps and positive thinking. One panel, held in place by a large rhinestone art deco brooch, was draped over her right shoulder like a Greek toga and trailed behind her like a train. Her golden blonde hair was styled in finger waves and barely floated above her shoulders. Pearl drop and rhinestone earrings peeked out from the edges of her hair. Bright red lacquered fingernails flicked open her purse and removed a gold cigarette case, then extracted a cigarette and a silver holder. She put the cigarette case back, put the cigarette and holder together, and held it out as a waiter offered a light. She crossed her legs, leaned back in her chair slightly, then drew a drag off her cigarette and blew the smoke outward, the very picture of sophistication.
"Why am I talking to the back of your neck?" Wainwright complained.
Lamont didn't move. They'd made eye contact again, and this time held it for several seconds. Then, she returned to studying the menu.
"Lamont!" Wainwright snapped.
Lamont suddenly became aware he was staring. He turned back to his uncle. "I'm sorry--what were we talking about?"
Wainwright frowned. Ever since Lamont was a child, he'd been headstrong and immature. In Lamont, Wainwright saw the self-destructive anger of Theodore Cranston III, his father, and that chilled him to the marrow at times. Wainwright had watched the entire Cranston family destroyed--strokes, cancer, catatonia, madness--and had lost his wife Rose, Lamont's maternal aunt, to a sudden cruel aneurysm that exploded inside her head and killed her instantly. There was literally no one left in the Cranston family but Lamont. Indeed, except for Wainwright, who'd married into the family, there was no one left in the Lamont family, either. Lamont was the sole hope for survival of both family lines...and of the immense fortunes that the young man now controlled. And that carried with it a certain responsibility that he felt Lamont did not take seriously. "You know," he said, "I've never meddled in your affairs. Not even going back to the time after The War when you disappeared for seven years."
Lamont gave him a glare. This was forbidden territory, and Wainwright knew it. Lamont had gotten control of his trust fund in 1920 and literally dropped out of sight as far as his family was concerned, not surfacing again for seven years...after his rehabilitation by The Tulku. Lamont permitted no one to question him about that period of his life...not even his only surviving relative. His blue-green eyes smoldered with anger as he sipped his martini.
Just like that, any words Wainwright had wanted to say got choked off. All he could manage to get out was a simple platitude. "I never asked then...I'm not asking now. It's just..."
"Excuse me, Commissioner Barth," a waiter said, approaching with a message on a silver tray. "Phone call, for you."
Lamont tried not to look grateful for the interruption in conversation. He glanced over at the woman across the room again.
She was studying the wine list now. She felt his gaze fall on her and looked over at him.
This time it was Lamont who looked away. One of the disadvantages of this kind of power was that there were times when his gaze was indeed palpable. He reined himself in mentally, reminding himself to play it smooth and subtle, because she didn't look like the kind who was overly impressed with showiness.
Wainwright shook his head and grunted at the message he had received.
Lamont gave it a surreptitious glance. "What's the matter?" he said casually. "Cops and robbers business slowing down?"
"It's another report of that damn Shadow character," Wainwright muttered.
Lamont almost choked on his martini. Apparently, Duke Rollins had surrendered himself, just as The Shadow had ordered him to. Of course, that was because he was scared out of his wits, and an egotist like Duke needed to blame his downfall on someone, so he'd pinned it on the dark vigilante who'd beaten the tar out of him on the bridge. Not that Lamont wasn't used to this, but such a confession would probably lead to increased police pressure for the next few weeks, and that was the last thing Lamont needed. He swallowed the alcohol and set the glass down a little harder than he'd intended. "I thought you said he was just a rumor."
Wainwright looked infuriated. "I'm sick of this Shadow always meddling in police affairs." He looked right at Lamont. "This time tomorrow..." He crumpled the message for effect. "...I'm going to put a task force on him."
Lamont leaned back in his chair, out of the direct light of the table lamp. His eyes grew dark with hypnotic power as he fixed his gaze on his uncle. You're not going to appoint a task force, The Shadow's voice ordered.
Wainwright looked confused for a moment, then his thoughts shifted. "Oh, the Hell with it," he said. "I'm not going to appoint a task force." He seemed almost embarrassed to have said anything in the first place.
The Shadow wasn't satisfied. You're not going to pay any attention to these reports about The Shadow.
Wainwright shrugged. "Ignore them entirely."
There is no "Shadow".
Wainwright scoffed. "No, there is no 'Shadow'. If there were, I'd be Eleanor Roosevelt."
Success. Lamont dropped his hypnotic gaze and leaned forward in his chair once more.
Wainwright screwed up his face and pinched the bridge of his nose. He'd suddenly been struck with a disorienting headache and had completely lost track of the conversation. "I'm sorry," he apologized. "Where were we?"
Lamont picked up his martini and took a sip. "You were about to tell me who she is," he said, gesturing toward the blonde's table.
Wainwright looked over at the woman. "That's Margo Lane. Her father's a scientist with the War Department."
Lamont looked over at the table.
Margo looked up from the wine menu, took a sip of her water, and eyed him slyly.
To Hell with subtlety, Lamont decided. In seconds, he had her wine choice and dinner options. Now to put them to good use...
"What the Hell do you see in her?" Wainwright asked.
It was all Lamont could do not to let loose with The Shadow's derisive cackle. Instead, he chuckled. "Uncle Wainwright, are you sure you're not dead?" He snapped his fingers for a waiter.
"Not by a longshot," Wainwright muttered.
The waiter arrived. "Yes, sir?"
"A bottle of 1928 Mouton Rothschild, for the woman at that table," Lamont whispered, discreetly pointing Margo's way.
The waiter nodded and scurried away.
Lamont sipped his martini again. In just moments, they would be introduced. There were times being psychic was, indeed, useful.
"Stay away from her, Lamont," Wainwright warned. "She's strange. She hears voices...that's what they say."
Lamont looked intrigued. "Really?" Then, he smiled. This would at least be interesting.
Margo Lane was bored. Bored, and frustrated. Her father had once again stood her up for dinner, leaving her to spend another night at home. But the brand new dress had begged to be worn, so she'd decided to honor their Cobalt Club reservations and lied to the Maitre'D about her father simply being late so that he'd go ahead and seat her. But there was nothing more exciting here. The same boring music. The same boring social elite. The same boring rich bachelors trying to get her attention. The same boring menu, even. Not even a special of the day listed. The only thing interesting had been that handsome man who kept eyeing her, those intense blue-green eyes capturing her attention every time their gazes met. But in polite society, a woman did not express interest in a man, so she had to hope he'd get interested enough to come over to see her. She looked over at his table.
He was gone.
Margo sighed. Another opportunity lost. Ah, well. Resolving to next time act on her impulses and say to Hell with polite society, she took one last look at the wine list, then signaled for a wine steward.
The steward already had a bottle in his hands, apparently heading for another table. But he stopped anyway.
"Yes," Margo said, "I would like a glass of the..."
"...1928 Mouton Rothschild?" the steward asked, showing her the bottle in his hands.
Margo looked surprised. That was it exactly. "Why, yes."
The steward uncorked the bottle and poured her a glass. "From the gentleman."
The steward nodded across the table.
Margo looked up.
Standing at the table now was the dark-haired handsome man she'd flirted with, holding his martini glass and smiling a charming smile. "Lamont Cranston," he introduced in a voice like raw silk...rough-textured on the surface but strangely smooth underneath. "May I sit?"
Margo gestured at the other seat.
The steward left the bottle and departed.
Lamont sat down across from her.
Margo was intrigued. So this was Lamont Cranston, New York's most notorious playboy. He was definitely better looking in person than his pictures in the paper, she decided. Clearly Black Irish in ancestory, with only the French first name to betray any non-Gaelic heritage. Coal-black neatly coiffed and pomaded hair, classic Irish high cheekbones, a strong chin that was barely shaded by a five-o'clock shadow...and those eyes. No matter what she did, she couldn't stop looking at them. They were blue-green, ocean-colored, shining with intelligence...and something more, something she couldn't quite place. What struck her most of all was the contradiction they presented. The clothes, the grooming, the charming smile all screamed "idle rich". But those eyes weren't carefree and irresponsible. They looked as if they knew all, saw all...and had known and seen too much.
One thing was for certain...she was no longer bored. And she knew she didn't need to introduce herself. A man like Lamont Cranston had probably gotten her entire life story with just a few questions and a generous tip to the wait staff. She offered him a toast with her wine goblet.
He raised his martini glass and clinked it against hers.
They both sipped, then he looked thoughtful. "You know," he said, "it's the strangest thing. I have this sudden craving..." He looked as if he were trying to put words to his thoughts for a moment. "...for Peking Duck."
Margo's eyes widened. That had been exactly what she'd just been thinking--that she really wanted Chinese food, and just a split second ago had decided on Peking Duck. "How odd...I was just thinking the same thing."
He smiled, then offered his arm. "Care to join me?"
Moments later, they were seated at the best table in the Honshou Kitchen, in the heart of Chinatown. They'd brought the bottle of wine with them, and now Lamont was ordering from the menu in fluent Chinese as an eager waiter took notes. Margo recognized not one word of what Lamont had said, but apparently the waiter had, because he smiled at both of them, took their menus, and scurried away. "You speak Chinese," she noted, curiosity in her voice.
He gave a mock-modest smile as he sipped his wine. "Only Mandarin."
Aha. Lamont Cranston was not only charming and seductive, but also a falsely modest braggart. Margo gave him her best dumb blonde smile. "Well, aren't you full of surprises."
Lamont leaned back in his chair slightly and looked at her. She was on to him. He liked that. He'd had his fill of empty-headed socialites; they bored him to tears, although they were usually good for at least one night of pleasure. It was nice to be intellectually challenged for a change. And the fact that she was very beautiful didn't hurt. She was a lot more delicate than she'd looked at first--tiny, thin, almost frail, but nicely curved. And that dress...it accented every curve and line and accentuated her beauty. Simply incredible...
She looked pleased. "Why, thank you," she said with a smile, looking over her dress. "I just had it made at Adrian's."
Lamont looked at her oddly. "Why did you just tell me that?"
She laughed slightly. Was he fishing for a return compliment? She once more turned on the blonde charm. "Why, you just complimented me on my dress, silly." Then, she realized the puzzlement in his expression was real. "Didn't you?"
Lamont looked alarmed. His next words were chosen very carefully. "No, I didn't. But I was thinking it."
Margo looked amazed, then started laughing. "Oh, now that hasn't happened to me in a very long time!" She shook her head. "See, when I was a little girl, whenever I'd visit my cousin Harry, it was almost like I could hear what he was thinking...just pick the thoughts right out of the air, and I could never do that with anyone else..." Her voice trailed off as she realized Lamont was drawing back from the table. "Is something wrong?"
Lamont realized he was letting his fear show in his expression. He forced himself to calm down and smile. "Oh, no," he said with a chuckle. "Not at all." He took a sip of wine to conceal any further reaction.
Margo smiled back. But she knew she'd put a crimp in the evening. He probably thought she was crazy. Most people didn't believe her when she told that story. But she swore it was true. Good thing she hadn't told him that she could sometimes tell what people were thinking, even if she couldn't hear the actual words; he'd really think she was insane...
She suddenly felt very strange. It felt like something was tickling inside her brain, swirling like leaves in a breeze. There was a vague sound in her ears now, like static from a radio not quite tuned correctly. She winced and put a hand to her temple.
Lamont reached across and put a gentle hand on her other wrist. "What is it?"
She shook her head to clear it. "I have a sudden headache."
"Sorry to hear that. Do you get them often?"
She nodded. "But this one is different. It feels really strange...almost like..."
She looked up at him. "Yes. How did you know that?"
He frowned internally. He hadn't expected her to be quite so sensitive, but she'd felt his psychic probe through her thoughts. To an adept, direct projective telepathic probes felt like an intruding swirl of energy, sounded like static or airy whispers. He withdrew the projection and raised his own mental defenses. "Just a guess," he said. "Sometimes I'm really sensitive to the sound of static from a radio, even if it's not in the same room. It gives me a headache." He gave her a concerned look. "Are you all right?"
She looked at him for a long moment. The strange swirling sensation was gone now, replaced by a vague feeling of something pushing, holding her at arm's length. "I'm fine," she said, not quite certain of the truthfulness of that statement.
"Good." He gave a gentle smile and picked up the wine bottle. "More wine?"
She gave him a suspicious smile. "You tell me."
Moe's cab pulled to a stop in front of a row of narrow townhouses on East 42nd, at the lower end of Murray Hill. The brick houses were some of the oldest residences in New York City, home to doctors, lawyers, and bankers through the years, and were now home to professionals with young families. The one in the middle of the block with the dusty pink brick front and white trim was Margo Lane's. It had once been her family home, but her father had long ago moved out and now lived in an apartment near the Federal Building downtown. She accepted Lamont's hand as she climbed out of the taxi and walked up to the steps.
After the initial excitement, dinner had been relatively uneventful...lots of small talk, almost all of it purely superficial. In an odd sort of way, Margo felt as if she had been talking to an actor, someone playing a part, rather than the real Lamont Cranston. The charm was still there, but the subtle seduction he'd started the evening with was gone. It was as if he'd lost interest after her headache struck. And that hurt, because she definitely wanted to get to know him better.
Maybe she could still salvage the evening. She gave him her best charming smile. "I had a wonderful time."
He gave a tight, somewhat wry smile. "I can't recall an evening as...stimulating."
She sighed internally. He wasn't interested. Whatever had happened, she'd completely turned him off. She reconciled herself to the fact that this had been a one-time encounter, that now he was just being polite. As if wealthy young man-about-town Lamont Cranston would even be remotely interested in something more from a girl like me, she chided herself.
He extended his right hand to her. "Good night, Miss Lane."
She sighed once more mentally. Not even a goodnight kiss. She accepted his handshake. "Good night, Mr. Cranston."
He held her hand for a long moment. Their eyes met. For a brief instant, Margo saw...regret? Sorrow? Longing for more?
Then, he released her hand, climbed back into the cab, and it drove away.
Margo watched until the cab had disappeared into the night, then sighed and headed up the stairs.
Moe looked in the rear view mirror at his passenger. "I like her, boss. She's different from your usual dames."
Lamont looked lost in his emotions. "More than even she knows," he said, marvel in his voice.
"She has abilities she's completely unaware of."
Moe looked intrigued. "No kidding! You gonna see her again?"
Reality set in, and Lamont shook his head. "No. It's much too dangerous."
Moe gave him a chiding look. "Dangerous for who?"
Once more, a look of longing, regret, and sorrow crossed his face. "For me, Moe." He sighed hard. "For me."
Eleven blocks north of Margo Lane's townhouse, at the upper end of the prestigious Turtle Bay neighborhood, on the corner of East 53rd Street and Third Avenue, sat Cranston Manor, a beautiful limestone and brick estate house surrounded by cobblestone drives, a small but elegant flower garden, and a black wrought iron and stone fence with an ornate "C" on the main gates. Theodore Cranston, an Irish solicitor who'd come to America in the mid 1800s in search of better opportunities, had built the fifty-room mansion to celebrate his incredible business success, in anticipation of a large Catholic family growing up and living in it. But that had never come to pass--only son Theodore Cranston II had survived past his teens, and Theodore II hadn't had any better luck, with only sons Theodore III and Arthur surviving into adulthood. Arthur had died childless in his late thirties, leaving Theodore III sole control over the vast industrial and banking fortune built up through the generations. Hoping to break the family curse, Theodore III and gemstone heiress Barbara Lamont named their firstborn after her side of the family. But Barbara had miscarried three times after their son's birth, and finally doctors told them that it would be dangerous for her to try again. So, the fifty-room mansion was never full; even the cousins and in-laws never survived long past their mid-50s or early 60s. Now, other than servants, the mansion's only resident was the sole survivor of both family lines...Lamont Alexander Cranston.
For a while, the mansion had stood empty. Theodore III and Barbara were both killed in a car crash in late 1925. It was rumored that Theodore had dropped dead at the wheel and Barbara was unable to bring the car under control in time to keep it from veering into the path of the oncoming traffic, but no one could ever confirm that. For almost two years, the Cranston and Lamont estates sat in probate while a judge, unable to believe that no one had come forward to claim the vast wealth involved, ordered a massive search for any living blood relative.
But the only one alive would not prove easy to find. To escape his tyrannical family--and the ever-growing darker side of his personality--Lamont had eagerly enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1917 to fight in the war over in Europe. But instead of quelling his darkness, The Great War enhanced it. Lamont found he had an intense bloodlust, and had finally found a legal outlet for it. Lamont's reputation as a fearless soldier grew almost daily, and he was soon promoted through the ranks to Lieutenant, leading attack squadrons on daring late night raids of German positions with ruthless efficiency. But all wars eventually end, and by December 1918, Lamont found himself rattling around Europe, restless and empty, with a void that needed to be filled.
To fill it, Lamont went back to school, eventually graduating from The Sorbonne in 1920. With degree in hand, Lamont had fulfilled the last requirement for gaining control of his trust fund, and his father had reluctantly sent the money over to Paris...the last time he ever heard from his son, and the last trace of Lamont Cranston for seven years.
Lamont lived the life of filthy-rich American heir for the next year, partying like there was no tomorrow, going through women like used tissues, enjoying the fruits of European wine fields. But there was still something missing. He still felt a raging anger that would swirl up inside him with no warning. He still had the same outrageous headaches he'd had since his early teens, pain that made his head feel like it was going to explode and left him unable to function for hours or days. He still felt like he had nothing to connect to, nothing that could fill the emptiness inside him.
Then, he discovered opium.
Lamont had first tried opium to relieve his extreme headaches, and it worked like nothing ever had. The pain relief was phenomenal. But he quickly developed a tolerance to the drug, and had to graduate to stronger opiates...then increase the amount of those that he was taking...then again...then again....until, finally, Lamont realized that the amount of money he was spending would drain him dry in a matter of months. To reduce costs, he got involved with an American-born spy-turned-smuggler in Istanbul named Kent Allard who had excellent connections to the European networks and the sources in China and Tibet. Allard and Lamont looked enough alike to be brothers--same basic build, same Black Irish coloration, similar facial features--and the arrangement enabled Allard to have enough money to finance his operation and, at times, be in two places at once. But before long, strong-willed Lamont Cranston had insinuated himself so deeply into Kent Allard's network that he took it over--and Allard was assassinated by enemies to whom Lamont was no longer paying proper homage.
And for the next four years, Lamont Cranston ceased to exist.
Lamont, a natural mimic who could change his look and his accent as fast as some people changed clothes, adopted several aliases, including Allard's, but the most common one he used was "Ying Ko"--Chinese for "shadow". It was Ying Ko who arrived in Tibet in 1922 on Kent Allard's passport, intending to consolidate some of his holdings. But as most of the opium lords rebuffed him for being an outsider, Ying Ko's darker impulses took over, and he hired an army of mercinaries to enforce his wishes. With that, Ying Ko's reign of terror began, a reign that only ended when Marpa Tulku intervened in 1926 to rescue Lamont Cranston from the clutches of Ying Ko...and transform him into a living weapon that later became known as The Shadow.
The Shadow. At times, the name seemed ironic. Ying Ko had done enough evil and committed enough crime for three lifetimes; The Shadow would have to do good for the rest of Lamont Cranston's lifetime to atone for those crimes. That was the price for redemption that Marpa Tulku gave him. Lamont could still hear the words ringing through his mind, for they drove his actions every single day: For the rest of your life, you must use what I will teach you to drive evil out of the shadows and into the light, where it cannot survive.
Lamont Cranston had been Marpa Tulku's prisoner for three weeks...and his student for ten months. Three weeks after his arrival, Ying Ko finally surrendered to Marpa Tulku, finally quit fighting the lessons, finally allowed himself to be broken completely...
...and became even stronger than ever.
The moment he surrendered, a psychic awakening caused Lamont's mind to explode with power, expanding his consciousness, sweeping away impurities--even the tattoos on his left hand--and giving him a new lease on life. When he came out of the catatonia that the awakening caused almost a week later, he learned he was something called a projective telepath, a psychic with mental energies that naturally flowed outward to surround other thoughts instead of pulling inward and bringing other thoughts in with them. Projective telepaths were rare, but Lamont wasn't even a typical projective telepath...he was the strongest projector Marpa Tulku had ever seen, stronger than any he'd ever trained before, with a reservoir of projective energy so deep and broad that it contained more power than many adepts who had trained entire lifetimes could ever hope to develop. Lamont was also naturally sensitive to thought patterns associated with fear; every adept had some thought pattern or emotion that they could manipulate without any assistance, and Lamont could detect and amplify fear in another person...a skill he'd used inadvertantly as Ying Ko on many occasions. Marpa Tulku explained that those incredibly strong psychic energies were the source of his intense headaches, the source of the voices that seemed to fill his head at the most inopportune moments and fuel his paranoia, the source of Ying Ko's overwhelmingly strong will that could completely drain resistance from his enemies. And it had taken ten months to reshape those energies, redirect them, turn Ying Ko into Lamont Cranston...and Lamont Cranston into The Shadow.
The amount of projective telepathic power Lamont possessed allowed him to do some incredible things, things that seemed superhuman, magical. Things like speaking without a voice...shifting and manipulating people's thoughts, making them see, hear, do, and think anything Lamont wanted them to see, hear, do, and think...probing other minds with waves of energy to read their thoughts and gauge their strength..."seeing" in near-darkness almost as clear as day, using projective waves to trace the outlines of objects so that his eyes could better use the available light to fill in the details...leveraging physical strength with telekinesis to create the illusion of superhuman strength...redirecting blood flow and warmth to wounded areas for faster healing and quicker rejuvenation...
...and vanishing into thin air, leaving only a shadow behind, a technique Marpa Tulku had called "mind clouding". Of course, The Shadow didn't really disappear; true physical invisibility was impossible. Instead, a widely-projected hypnotic suggestion would blanket anyone who came near with the notion that there was no man standing there, no one moving around them, so that the most anyone saw was a swirling, shifting energy pattern as he changed positions and their mind redrew the area around him to conform to the suggestion. But The Shadow was physically still there, and was subject to the physical limitations that posed...including leaving a shadow when the light struck him. That was why Lamont preferred to strike at night; there were fewer opportunities to leave shadows, and the black clothes he wore blended his shifting energy patterns into the darkness around him.
Twenty-nine-year old Lamont had just barely mastered the basics of mind clouding when Marpa Tulku informed him that his training was complete, and that he needed to return to his homeland to begin his mission...and had even notified the attorney for the Cranston and Lamont estates that the only survivor of either family was alive and well and had been studying in a monastery in Tibet for the past year. That was six years ago, and ever since, Lamont--now wealthy beyond his wildest dreams, wealthier than even Ying Ko could ever hope to be--had been pushing his psychic powers to their limits on a regular basis. He'd become incredibly skilled through sheer repetition and endless practice; now, there was virtually nothing Lamont could not manage to learn as long as he could figure out a way to wrap his projective telepathic energies around a situation. The Shadow now had an army of agents at his disposal to help him drive evil from the shadows and into the light--doctors, lawyers, policemen, many more from all walks of life, each with a mission of purpose and honor. All wore the same kind of ring Lamont wore, a large silver ring with a red-orange fire opal in its center, to identify themselves as extensions of the man whose mission bound them together. Lamont's ring was from Marpa Tulku, a traditional gift from The Tulku to his finest student. It was an honor Lamont often felt unworthy of having...for in many ways, he was still the same barbaric warlord who'd allowed his dark heart to rule him for years.
Marpa Tulku had told Lamont that he would never be completely free of that darkness that still dwelled within him; he would simply have to learn to live with it, use to motivate himself, use it to push himself even farther...use it as a weapon against the evil around him. Not that Lamont ever stopped trying to prove him wrong, to keep his darker impulses at bay. But make no mistake--Lamont Cranston was still a man of extremes, though they were subdued beneath the mantle of respectibility that a $40 million fortune and an old elite family name gave him. He was still extremely wealthy, extremely intelligent, extremely cruel at times, extremely violent at others, and still possessing an extreme appetite for fine food, fine wine, fine drugs--though now the drugs of choice were alcohol and cigars, not opium and cigarettes--and fine women, not necessarily in that order. Lamont had run through his share of lovers, but all of them were very short relationships...a day or two, maybe a week, but none more than that. He could never allow himself to get seriously involved with a woman, and especially not someone like Margo Lane...for fear that, if he relaxed his guard for even one moment, the darkness would surface again and swallow both of them whole. And a powerful receptive adept like Margo Lane would see right through his surface veneer, into that darkness...and possibly be consumed by it.
So, Lamont had come home to Cranston Manor alone, as usual. He started a fire in the parlor fireplace, poured himself a snifter of cognac, and dropped into an overstuffed velvet armchair to relax. The crackling flames and rich cognac combined to soothe the kinks out of Lamont's overworked psyche, and he soon drifted off to sleep, clutching a tapestry pillow to his stomach as a kind of security blanket.
But psychic minds dream vividly, and Lamont's was no exception. His eyes darted back and forth under his eyelids as his internal barriers released pent-up mental energies, swirling them outward from him, bringing back psychic impressions in strange echoing patterns...
The parlor was dark except for the light from the fireplace. Images of the dancing flames began to take on lifelike forms.
Suddenly, a huge fireball erupted from the fireplace and shot out toward him, stopping just inches from his face. Cackling, wicked laughter mingled with the roar of the fire, and the flames formed themselves into the face of an Oriental warlord.
The remaining contents of the snifter in Lamont's right hand burst into flames as the fire reached ever closer, ready to consume him...
Lamont jolted awake and sat up suddenly, shaking with fear. He looked at his right hand.
The snifter had shattered, and scorch marks tinged the edges of the stem he still held between his fingers.
Lamont gasped. His psyche still vibrated with the vividness of that dream. Only once before had he felt anything like what had just engulfed his mind...when Marpa Tulku had first come to him in his dreams. But that face wasn't Marpa Tulku's. It was the face of pure evil. And that evil possessed raw psychic energy unlike anything Lamont had felt in years.
"Someone's coming," he realized.
Dr. Isaac Humboldt hated midnight phone calls. One would think being the curator of the Museum of Natural History would be a nine-to-five job, but nights like this were becoming all too common. Part of the problem was that idiot Max Berger, who was the director of Receiving. Berger got the job because he was the nephew of one of the board members, not because he knew anything about antiquities. And, since most shipments arrived at the end of the day instead of the beginning, Berger was constantly calling Humboldt after hours, asking him this or that question and wanting him to make this or that decision about how to catalog new arrivals. But Berger had been particularly insistant about the shipment the museum had just gotten, and so now Humboldt was walking down the halls of the museum toward the shipping bay, checking his pocket watch and muttering about the lateness of the hour.
When he reached the receiving center, he frowned noticably. There were several mummy displays standing up, waiting to be catalogued and put out for viewing. And in the midst of the room stood a huge wooden crate, half open, its straw packing material strewn across the floor, and Berger and loading dock guard Pete Nelson looking at it blankly. "What is it, Berger?" he grumbled.
"Well, that's just it, sir," Berger said nervously, aware Humboldt had been losing patience with him over the last few weeks. "I'd have labeled it a mummy case, coming from Tibet like it did..."
Humboldt rolled his eyes. "No, mummy cases are from Egypt."
Berger felt Humboldt's disdain surrounding him. "Uh...exactly. So then I realized it was probably some sort of sarcophagus or something."
Humboldt looked over the crate, and the part of the coffin-like object that he could see inside. It was clearly metallic, but badly covered in dust and packing straw. "No, Tibetan sarcophagi are made of stone." He looked over at Berger. "Where is the driver who dropped this off?"
Berger looked to Nelson for confirmation.
Nelson just shrugged.
"Gone," Berger reported.
Humboldt groaned. They'd clearly gotten someone else's shipment, and now he'd probably be facing theft charges for appropriating some other museum's antiquity. "Well, it's obviously not ours. Contact our shipping agent, and..." Then, the glimmer of light on the surface of the coffin got his attention, and he looked at it closer. "My God, this is beautiful!" He came over to the crate and gave it another examination.
The surface was elegantly carved, a large dragon on its face and swirling scales on its surface. Interlocking claws formed hinged latches along a seam down the center of the upper surface. Humboldt tapped the side with his knuckles, and listened to a bell-like metallic ring. "That is solid silver!" he realized. "Nelson--help me get the rest of the crate open."
Nelson picked up the crowbar, then pried off the remaining wooden panels. Berger pulled them aside, and he and Nelson tossed packing straw into a pile.
Humboldt picked up a desk lamp and dragged it over to the crate, then looked the coffin over more carefully. Now he could see its depth, its massive size, its elegant etchings of dragons and fire...and the plate on one side with writing on it. He dusted off the plate with his handkerchief, then put the lamp next to it.
"What does it say?" Berger asked, leaning over his shoulder.
"It's Latin," Humboldt said, dusting the plate again. "Kha Khan...The Great Ruler...The Power Of God On Earth...The Seal Of The Emperor Of Mankind." His eyes widened in shock. "My God...Temujin! This is the silver coffin of Temujin!"
Berger looked confused. "Temujin? Who's Temujin?"
Humboldt's face was filled with awe. "The man who very nearly conquered the world eight centuries ago."
Now Berger was even more confused. "Then how come I never heard of him?"
Humboldt started to answer honestly, then thought better of it. Instead, he looked at the coffin again, full of wonder...and a bit of fear. "Temujin was the birth name of Genghis Khan."
Even Berger knew that name. He stared at the coffin, feeling himself shaking with nervousness.
Humboldt felt a strange chill pass through him as he looked at the coffin. Temujin's silver crypt had disappeared centuries ago; no one had been able to find it since. For it to just show up on the museum's loading dock like this..."Whose name was on the shipping order?"
"It...it didn't say," Berger told him. "Label just had country of origin."
Humboldt handed Berger the desk lamp. There was something very odd about this shipment, something unnerving. "Let me make a telephone call."
Berger passed the lamp to Nelson. "Let me...er...help you."
Humboldt started to object, but realized that he didn't want to be down there any more than Berger did. "Nelson," he said, turning to the guard, "whatever you do...don't open it."
"No, sir," Nelson promised.
Humboldt and Berger departed quickly.
Nelson put the desk lamp back on the desk, then looked at the coffin. It was eerie. The face on it seemed to be staring right at him, its intense eyes glaring angrily. He whistled nervously as he returned to the paperwork on his desk, finally settling on a new showtune that was becoming the signature song of Manhattan. "Come on along and listen to the lullaby..."
Creaking and scraping echoed through the room.
Nelson stopped singing and looked around.
Nothing. The loading dock was completely quiet.
Nelson returned to his paperwork. "...of..."
More creaking and scraping.
Nelson stopped singing and looked around again.
The loading dock was quiet once more. But Nelson was sure he'd heard something. He kept an eye on the coffin for a moment. "...Broadway," he finished.
One of the latches snapped open with a clang.
Nelson looked suspicious. He'd been told not to open the coffin. But he could swear that hinge had just opened itself. He drew his gun and came over to the coffin, looking for rats, snakes, or anything else that could explain the creaking and scraping he'd heard.
Nothing. Just the silver coffin with one latch now standing wide open. Nelson reached up to close it.
It snapped shut by itself, then two below it popped open.
Nelson looked frightened. He reached to close the other two hinges.
They closed on their own, then more popped open.
By now, the latches were snapping and popping like fireworks, opening and closing like gnashing jaws of ravenous beasts. Nelson drew back from the coffin, too frightened to shout for help.
The coffin opened, splitting down the middle of its cover, dust and steam shooting out of it like a sweeping fog.
Nelson stopped backing up when he ran into his own desk. He stared at the coffin.
Standing inside the red silk-lined coffin was what appeared to be a mummy, dressed in regal Mongolian battle garb--blue silk, gold-plated armor, brass helmet. His face was covered in an enameled death mask, with an angry expression fixed on it.
Suddenly, the mummy reached his right hand up and pulled the death mask off his face. A Mongolian man in his early 30's, bearded and battle-scarred, gasped for breath, looking totally drained and grateful for fresh oxygen.
Nelson looked stunned. There was someone alive in there...someone who looked very dangerous. He aimed his gun at the stowaway. "Uh..."
The man in the crypt looked at him, as if annoyed that there was anyone there with him.
Nelson felt himself shaking. Those eyes...they were brown, angry, intense. And they were staring right through him. All his confidence was gone. "We're closed," was all he could think to say.
The Mongolian looked regal. "Join me...or die," he pronounced in heavily-accented English.
Nelson kept his gun trained on the man before him, but looked confused. "What?"
The Mongolian took a step toward him. "Join me...or die."
Nelson couldn't even remember how to aim a gun. He could barely remember what to do in case of an intruder. "This...this is private property."
The Mongolian looked disgusted. Nothing was worse than a soldier who couldn't stand his ground. "Your mind is weak," he observed, coming ever closer.
Nelson backed away. "Stay where you are," he warned, but there was no confidence in his voice.
The Mongolian stared at him, eyes filled with dark power now. Fall to your knees.
Against his will, Nelson felt himself kneeling.
The Mongolian mimed holding a gun, pointing a finger at his head. Put your gun to your temple.
Nelson couldn't believe he was aiming his gun to his head, but he was powerless to stop himself.
The Mongolian smirked with arrogance. His first conquest in this new world. Sacrifice yourself to me.
Nelson cocked the pistol. "Yes, my Khan," he whispered, then pulled the trigger.
Humboldt and Berger heard the shot as they were heading back to the dock. None of the shippers they had managed to reach by phone had dropped the crate off; no one would even admit to picking up anything from Tibet from any entry port. The two men looked at one another in horror at the sound, then took off running for the receiving area.
They raced by the mummy displays and were greeted by the sight of Nelson, his head blown wide open by the bullet, and the empty coffin. "Oh, I can't believe it!" Berger said. "We were only gone for a moment!" They knelt beside the body to check for any sign of life from the guard.
Humboldt detected motion out of the corner of his eye. He looked up.
Nothing but the mummies stared back at him.
Humboldt frowned. He would have sworn there was a Mongolian mummy standing there just a moment ago. But now, there was nothing. Nothing but an empty coffin and a dying guard...and dark shadows all around.
Dark shadows also filled the offices and laboratories of the Federal Building in downtown Manhattan, where only the most dedicated of scientists were working at this hour. And one of them wished he was working alone, instead of listening to his whining partner bragging about his latest scientific achievement. "You're not listening to me, are you?" Farley Claymore complained to the older man who was polishing and examining several platinum plugs. "I'm through with the beryllium sphere. I'm just running some underwater tests for the Navy to check the pressure seals."
Dr. Reinhardt Lane looked annoyed. Farley never stopped talking, never stopped bragging about how much further along he was in their experiments. Of course he was further along, Reinhardt groused mentally. He had the easy part--the shell. Reinhardt examined one of the plugs under a large magnifying glass for defects. "Farley," he said, trying to keep an even tone, "for the last time, we are doing energy research. I'm not interested in any military applications of this project."
"Oh, yeah? Then why did you let the War Department pay the bills?"
"Because you talked me into it." He snatched another plug away from Farley, who was leaving fingerprints on the sensitive contacts. "I just wanted enough money to finish."
Farley shook his head. Reinhardt could be such a stick-in-the-mud at times. Farley Claymore envisioned himself as a modern Tesla, dazzling the world with newfangled scientific discoveries...and charging admission for viewing them. But his research into enhancement shells was worthless without something to put in them, and Reinhardt Lane's self-sustaining generator could be his ticket to grand riches...if only Reinhardt would cooperate. "Dr. Lane, you don't think big. If you'd just listen to me, the world would be our oyster."
Reinhardt polished the plug Farley had been holding, cleaning the skin oils off of it before sliding it back into a cobalt sphere that looked like a bowling ball with pins stuck into it all the way around. "Oysters, eh?" He scoffed. "I get a rash from oysters."
Farley groaned. There were times he wanted to just snatch that ball out of its supports and run away with it to the patent office, leave that absent-minded pain-in-the-rear behind. Just one problem, though--the generator didn't work yet. And, until it did, he had to continue to put up with the old man. He grunted his disgust, then left the lab, saluting the soldiers who stood guard at the door.
The elevator bell rang. Farley looked toward it.
Margo Lane, still in that dazzling cream-colored dress, came off the elevator and headed for Reinhardt's lab.
Farley's eyes lit. This was the one advantage to working with that old coot--his daughter. "Oh, Margo," he greeted in an unctuous voice.
Margo rolled her eyes. This was the one thing she hated about visiting her father at work--having to deal with Farley Claymore. Especially after her encounter with Lamont Cranston tonight, Margo's patience with men was stretched to its limits. She kept walking forward, hoping he'd give up as she moved past him.
No such luck. Farley cut her off, his eyes fondling her from top to bottom. "What a beautiful dress..." His gaze fell upon her cleavage. "...and such a clever neckline."
Margo put on her best charming smile even as her eyes screamed "drop dead". "Excuse me, Mr. Claymore," she said coolly, "I'd like to see my father." She started forward again.
Farley wasn't taking "get lost" for an answer. He stepped in front of her again. "Why don't you come by my lab? I can show you my beryllium sphere."
Margo couldn't believe he was being so persistent. "I'm not interested in your sphere, Mr. Claymore." She walked away once more.
He admired the view from behind for a moment. The deep plunge in the front was nothing compared to the plunge in the back. It went almost all the way to her waist, revealing porcelain-perfect skin, leaving her tantalizingly bare. He moved in front of her once more. "Margo," he said in a scolding tone, "you don't return my calls any more."
Margo had about had it with seduction attempts tonight. And Farley was so inept at it that it was annoying. Time to squash this little bug. She put on her best innocent look. "Now, that's not true. I never did return your calls."
Farley looked interested. She wasn't ignoring him, which was a good sign. "I know. I can't imagine why."
She put a finger under his chin and turned his face so that she could look him right in the eye. "Because...I don't like you." With that, she pushed him aside and walked determinedly toward her father's lab.
Farley watched her go. She was playing hard to get. And he was nothing if not persistent. "What a fascinating woman," he said, then left for the night.
Margo closed the door to the lab, then threw up her hands. "Dad, I don't know how you can work with that man," she said exasperatedly.
Reinhardt looked up from his generator. "Margo!" he greeted warmly. "What a pleasant surprise!"
She came over and exchanged a hug and kiss. "Hi, Dad."
He reached for a plate near his work area, with a practically untouched sandwich and a bright red apple on it. "Say, have you had your dinner?"
Margo smiled gently. Her father often got so caught up in his work that he completely lost track of time. "Yes, Dad. It's 2 a.m."
"Oh." He put the plate aside and reached for his coffee cup.
Margo frowned as she looked her father over. Not only did Reinhardt Lane often lose track of time, he had completely lost the ability to dress himself properly. The brown tweed suit with hints of green would have looked just fine, were it not for that maroon-red shirt he was wearing with it. "Dad...where did you get that shirt?"
Reinhardt looked at it. The disapproving tone in Margo's voice was enough to tell him that she didn't like the shirt, but for the life of him, he couldn't figure out why. "I thought you said I looked good in green."
Margo sighed. Her mother Eleanor had picked out her husband's clothes for years, and it wasn't until after she died that Margo learned why--Reinhardt was color-blind, especially to red and green. Margo had been trying to teach him to distinguish the difference between those two colors through shading, but he just wasn't getting it. "No, Dad," she said, pointing to his coffee cup and plate. "This is green." She pinched the shirt. "That's red."
He looked at the cup, then the shirt. "Red, green...well, to me, it's just a clean shirt."
Margo shook her head. Eleanor had been so patient with Reinhardt through the years; it had crushed her father when she died suddenly of complications from the flu. Eleanor was the only person who really understood either Reinhardt or Margo; she was endlessly tolerant, anticipatory of their needs, always knowing how they felt and what they needed her to say. Fifteen years later, father and daughter were still trying to recover from the hole her death had left in their lives. But they both needed each other to work through that process. And times like this were important to both of them. She picked up the apple off his plate and wandered around the lab. "Dad," she finally said, "do you believe in telepathy?"
Reinhardt picked up another plug and began polishing it. "What do you mean?"
Margo began twisting the stem on the apple. "I mean, do you believe it can exist between two people?"
"You mean mind reading? Well, of course not, dear. I'm a scientist."
She sat down in the leather armchair in the office portion of her father's lab and draped her legs over one of the arms of the chair. "Strange," she said. "I've always thought that there was this..." She searched for the right words as she looked up at the shadows dancing across the ceiling cast by the work lights on Reinhardt's workbench wrapping around the esoteric chemistry and electrical equipment in the lab. "...indescribable connection out there, just waiting for me. And then suddenly, tonight, there it was."
"Well, that's nice, dear." He pushed the plug into the sphere and cleaned the connection wires before hooking them back up again. "What was it?"
"It was a man." She looked sad. "And I know I'll never see him again."
Reinhardt looked over at his daughter. He'd never heard such sorrow in her voice. Normally Margo was very indifferent about men; whether she dumped them or they dumped her, the relationships never lasted very long, and it never seemed to matter to her whether they did or not. So to hear her talk like this was different. "But why?"
She sighed hard. "I just know. It was like I could sense what he was feeling. And now, I'm completely and utterly depressed."
Reinhardt shrugged and went back to work. He never was good at dealing with this sort of thing. "Well, that's nice, dear."
Margo gave her father a glare. Now she understood why her mother always looked at him as if he'd lost his mind. There were times that she was certain he had, indeed.
The cabbie looked at the street corner across from where he'd come to a stop, at the empty lot with weeds overgrowing and garbage swirling in the wind inside a heavy chain-link fence. "Are you sure this is the right address, Mac?" he said to the passenger in the back seat.
The Mongolian warlord looked at the cabbie, disdain in his expression. "Yes."
The cabbie shrugged. A fare was a fare, but this one had been really weird, even for New York City. First of all, he'd picked the guy up in front of the Museum of Natural History at two in the morning. Then, there was that get-up the guy was wearing--like something out of a bad movie about the "Yellow Peril". And now, stopping at an abandoned lot in the middle of a section of town that was practically dead at night...too bizarre for words. But, as long as he got paid, he wasn't particular about his customers. "O.K...that'll be $4.50." He picked up a log book and began noting the time and address where he was stopped.
The Mongolian looked alarmed. "What are you doing?"
The cabbie looked in the rear view mirror at the man behind him. Wasn't it obvious? "Writing down the drop-off point."
Anger flared in the Mongolian's dark brown eyes. "You are making a record of my destination?"
The cabbie rolled his eyes. He hated out-of-town fares. "Taxi commission's rules."
The Mongolian frowned. This would never do. He looked around for a solution to this annoying problem.
The sound of a truck's engine caught his attention. He looked toward it.
Up the block, a gas station attendant was directing a fuel truck to back up slowly toward the station for its late night delivery.
Perfect. The Mongolian climbed out of the cab and walked next to the driver's door.
The cabbie felt something palpable fall across the back of his neck...like fingers closing tightly around him. He looked up at the Mongolian next to him, unnerved.
Brown eyes filled with power stared back. You need fuel.
The cabbie felt his gaze shift toward the dashboard...toward the gauge that indicated a perfectly full gas tank. "Jeez, I need gas," he grumbled, then looked up and noticed the bright, shiny gas station gleaming in the night. He'd better hurry, though--it looked like the attendant was ready to close up shop. He gave a smile and a salute to his helpful fare. "Thanks, buddy."
The Mongolian simply nodded, a confident smirk on his face.
The cabbie threw his cab into gear, then raced down the street toward the gas station.
The attendant heard the squealing of tires, then looked up the block at the cab speeding toward his station. "Hey, buddy!" he shouted, waving his arms frantically. "Slow down! Stop!"
The cabbie saw the attendant gesturing for him to hurry up, and stepped on the gas harder. "This must be my lucky..."
The cab smashed into the fuel truck head on, and both exploded into a gigantic fireball.
The Mongolian felt the rushing hot air caused by the expanding fireball sweep around him. He smiled broadly. Ah, chaos. Such a wonderful feeling. With that, he laughed, an arrogant, ringing cackle that echoed off the walls of the canyonesque New York City streets.
People raced toward the burning gas station, shouting for police and firemen, never noticing the Mongolian crossing toward the empty lot...then vanishing into the night.
The next morning, the police were still sorting through the mess at the Museum of Natural History when Wainwright Barth arrived to get an update on the situation. The Mayor didn't want any bad publicity surrounding one of the city's prime tourist attractions this close to Christmas, when a substantial population of out-of-town visitors would be walking the streets, and he'd ordered Wainwright to look after the situation personally. So now, Wainwright was walking into the midst of the crime scene, looking around for one of his inspectors. "Who's in charge here?" he asked one of the uniformed officers who was heading out the door.
The uniformed officer gave a tight smile. He was in a hurry, but when the police commissioner asked a question, one didn't refuse an answer. "Inspector Cardona, sir. Over there." He pointed off in the distance.
Wainwright nodded, then headed Cardona's way.
The uniformed officer waited until Wainwright was gone, then took one last walk around the crime scene to make sure he hadn't missed anything. It would never do to give an incomplete report. It would only hinder the investigation. Satisfied, he headed out of the museum.
Traffic on the streets outside the museum was beginning to pick up as rush hour was now in full swing. The officer crossed through practically stopped cars, then made his way down several streets, finally crossing to a small office building. He reached into his pocket for a key, then stuck it into the keyhole and turned it, careful not to knock his silver fire opal ring against the brass door handle.
The building was dark. Good. That meant no one would notice him as he moved quietly down the hallway, up the stairs to the second floor, then over to the door at the end of the hall marked "B. Jonas". He reached into his pocket and pulled out a simple cream-colored envelope, then opened the mail slot and slid it in.
For the briefest instant, he heard a loud suction noise. Then, it was gone.
Satisfied, the officer hurried away from the office.
The cream-colored envelope also hurried away from the office, but by a different means. A glass and metal pneumatic cylinder was now flying through a long network of pressurized air pipes, over rooftops, through apartment buildings, around corners that rattled as it passed through, from one side of the city to the other, finally dropping ten stories into a receiving slot...
...where a fire-opal-adorned right hand retrieved it eagerly.
The hand belonged to Luther Burbank, an accountant who'd gotten his fire opal ring five years ago, who now ran a sophisticated network of pneumatic tubes and drop points around New York City...a network that rivaled the finest communication channels of the day. Burbank sat in the midst of several tentacle-like receiving trays all within easy reach, behind a large mahogany desk with a massive radio console perched on it. A map on the wall was covered in push pins, but no legend as to what they meant. File cabinets, books, and charts were everywhere, a wealth of information designed to augment one man's mission to fight evil.
Burbank opened the cylinder, pulled out the cream-colored envelope, and read the note inside. He frowned slightly. His boss definitely needed to know about this.
He reached across the desk for a brass electrical switch with a red-orange jewel-like lens over a small light bulb, and pressed the switch. The light on its surface lit up brightly, glowing like a setting sun.
Lamont Cranston stood before the full-length mirror in his bedroom and tightened the knot on a gold-and-grey-striped tie that complimented the impeccably tailored grey-on-grey plaid Brooks Brothers suit he wore. Between thoughts of Margo Lane and that fiery vision that had haunted his dreams, Lamont hadn't slept well, and normally wouldn't even be up at this hour of the morning. But one of the few things that Lamont Cranston the social fixture did all day was attend board meetings of various charitable institutions, and one of them had the audacity to schedule one for 9 a.m. So, Lamont was somewhat reluctantly up and about, preparing himself for a day's "work" as New York's richest man not named Rockefeller...
The stone in his fire opal ring began to shimmer, then to glow brightly.
Lamont looked at the ring for a moment. Fire opals were incredibly sensitive to life energies, and Lamont's had a tendency to swirl its colors as his mind released swirling psychic energy during even the simplest of thought patterns at times. He quieted his mind to see if the glowing stopped.
The ring continued to blink and shine.
Immediately, fatigue vanished from Lamont's mind and features. The switch on Burbank's desk was connected to a tiny radio transmitter, which sent out a frequency designed to vibrate the stone just enough to cause it to light up as a signal that there was a message waiting for The Shadow. The board meeting would just have to go on without him. Real work awaited.
He concentrated just slightly to send a signal back to deactivate the switch on Burbank's desk, then sent another stone-seeking frequency through the city. He needed transportation, and he needed it now. Hopefully, by the time he got downstairs and sipped a cup of coffee, it would be there.
Moe Shrevnitz loved to scare tourists.
New York cabbies had a reputation as the world's worst drivers, and Moe did everything within his power to uphold that reputation. In the back seat of his cab this morning was a middle-aged couple he'd picked up at the train station, clearly from out of town, here to do their Christmas shopping in The Big Apple. When he wasn't fulfilling The Shadow's mission, Moe was just another New York cabbie, and enjoyed giving tourists unique memories to take back home again. So, the couple was hanging on for dear life as Moe ripped around corners, gestured wildly at sights, told outlandish stories of life in the big city...
A flashing from his right hand got his attention. He looked down.
The fire opal in his ring was glowing brightly. The Shadow needed transportation.
Moe slammed on the brakes, and the cab screeched to a halt next to a curb. He turned to the couple in his back seat. "Out!"
The man in the back seat had turned pale. His wife looked greenish. "Gladly," the man said, taking his wife's hand and hurrying out of the cab.
Moe didn't even bother to collect a fare. Lamont Cranston paid him more per week than most cabbies made in a month for his exclusive services, but that wasn't the point. The Shadow had saved Moe's life, and now it was his. No matter what hour of the day or night, the moment that fire opal glowed, Moe was expected to respond. And he never needed to wonder where to go--the same strange signal that lit his ring also wrote some kind of subconscious suggestion into his thoughts, guiding his hands as he steered the wheel and sped down city streets.
Moments later, he was turning onto East 53rd, approaching Cranston Manor. He pulled into the short driveway and reached into his pocket for a key to the brass door that hid the entrance gate controls out of reach of passers-by.
The wrought iron gate swung open before Moe could insert the key into the lock, indicating Lamont was waiting downstairs for him.
Moe quickly pulled through the gates and onto the circular drive.
As he reached the front door of the mansion, Lamont Cranston met him at the end of the walkway. He got into the cab quickly. "To The Sanctum," he ordered, sliding across the seat to the rear passenger's side.
"You got it, boss." Moe pulled forward slowly.
The cab's wheels rolled over a pressure-sensitive plate in the driveway, and the exit gate swung open for him automatically. Moe smoothly pulled out into city traffic and sped downtown.
Times Square was one of the busiest sections of Manhattan, a major tourist attraction and crossroads for businessmen of all kinds. Right at the edge of the theatre district, it was an ideal location for restaurants, shops, street entertainers...and pickpockets. The steady stream of people that ran through the area was ideal for criminals, especially the dark alleys on its edges that no sane person dared venture down, even during broad daylight.
It was into this sea of humanity that Moe Shrevnitz deposited Lamont Cranston, who climbed out of the cab, put on his hat, and nonchalantly blended into the passing businessmen and bustling tourists. No one even gave the man in the black wool full-length coat, white neck scarf, and black Homburg hat a second glance as he made his way past pickpockets and con artists, turning off the main street and down one of those dark alleys.
Lamont kept moving, eyes darting back and forth, as he turned down another blind alley and headed for a brick wall. Along the way, he reached up to the stairs of a nearby fire escape and grabbed one of the side supports, sliding a hidden lever upward.
A door-sized portion of the wall before him retracted inward, and the metal footgrating folded down into a small set of steps. Lamont took those steps in stride, stepped through the doorway, then looked behind him.
Nothing. No one had followed him.
Satisfied, Lamont hit another switch just inside the door and started down a flight of steps. A large gear mechanism slid the wall back into place, locking the world out and Lamont in.
The stairs were dark for a moment, then a timing mechanism kicked in and other gears pulled iron doors upward, revealing subdued lighting and an elegantly furnished underground study. This was The Sanctum, The Shadow's office, a place of solitude far away from the life of Lamont Cranston. The rooms were decorated in dark woods, strong leather, huge bookcases filled with reference volumes from nearly every field of knowledge, a workbench with small tools...and a radio console in the corner, at a magnificent mahogany executive wraparound desk.
It was over to that desk that Lamont headed, doffing his gloves and dropping them into his hat, then tossing his hat aside to the workbench before sitting down in his chair and flipping switches on the radio console.
A small screen about the size of a 78 RPM record lit up, and a shield opened to reveal the face of Burbank. The transmission equipment was courtesy of another agent, an engineer from General Electric who swore that this new "picture over radio" technology would revolutionize communications. It definitely had helped The Shadow's communications; Burbank could now show him things other agents had sent without having to send them across the pneumatic network. But it was strictly one-way; The Shadow could see Burbank, but Burbank could not see him...which was the way Lamont liked it. "Report," he ordered into the broadcaster's microphone on his desk.
"Agent in 86th Precinct reports possible murder investigation in progress at Museum of Natural History," Burbank stated.
Lamont raised an eyebrow. "Murder?"
Burbank nodded. "Agent advises inquiry."
"Understood." Lamont flipped off the switch to the screen, then leaned back in his chair and looked thoughtful. Simple murder investigations normally didn't warrant urgent messages to The Shadow, so there had to be something more going on here than met the eye. He'd have to head over to the site himself and take a look around...
A strange ripple reached his thoughts, and a shadow drifted into the corner of his eye. He looked toward the movement.
Standing on the stairs was a Mongolian man, long black hair reaching to the tops of his shoulders, a thick beard adding menace to the face. He was dressed in an elegant fur-trimmed blue and gold silk coat, with a matching underdress. He looked like a ruler, and had the arrogant expression to match...the same arrogant expression Lamont had seen in his dreams.
Lamont frowned. How in the world did someone get down here without him realizing it? He was certain he hadn't been followed. He got up from his chair and approached the stairs carefully.
The man looked at him for a moment. "I saw you as taller," he said in heavily accented English.
Lamont now looked suspicious. He could feel the psychic energy now from the man, reflecting the probing waves Lamont was sending out to try and feel out his visitor. And that made him curious--and uneasy. "Who are you?"
The man nodded toward him. "Shiwan Khan...last descendent of Genghis Khan."
Lamont raised an eyebrow and looked up the stairs, trying to figure out how Khan had slipped inside. Now he could feel the man's psychic energy pulling against his strong mental barriers. He turned up the pressure to reflect the intrusion away.
Khan smirked. He'd already gotten enough from Lamont's loud thoughts to know that he was still unnerved by the strength of the vision he'd had last night--a vision Khan had induced deliberately. "You are, of course, deeply honored," he continued.
Lamont wasn't honored, he was annoyed. Normally he was far more careful than this. He kept studying the stairs, trying to figure out how in the world Khan had slipped in behind him without him noticing.
Khan couldn't stop smirking. He'd gotten under Lamont's skin. How rewarding. "Do not feel obligated to introduce yourself," he continued. "I know who you are." He gestured derisively over Lamont's polished appearance. "Not this temporary version of yourself. I know who you really are...Ying Ko."
That got Lamont's attention. He looked right at Khan, quickly concealing the alarm in his expression.
Khan bowed his head slightly, almost deferentially. "I am a great admirer."
Lamont put on a false relaxed smile. "I don't know what you're talking about."
Khan scoffed. "Please. It is no more difficult for me to invade your mind than it was this room." He came down the stairs, looking around at Ying Ko's underground palace. Not the regal appointings he'd have expected for a ruler of men, but very nice. He noticed the dark leather furniture off to one side, near a gas fireplace. "May I sit?"
Lamont noticed Khan didn't wait for him to say "yes" before dropping into the wingback armchair. Lamont came over to join him, doffing his coat and draping it over the chaise lounge. This was, at least, interesting, but he had no idea how the Mongolian had learned so much. Clearly, he was psychic--receptive, Lamont noticed from the man's natural energy patterns, but with strong projective tendencies--but there was almost no one in the world who knew the full story of Ying Ko, who could connect it so clearly with Lamont Cranston. And only Moe knew where The Sanctum was, and even he didn't know its exact location, so the only way Khan could have gotten that info was to follow Lamont. And the fact that Khan had somehow managed not only to follow him, but to slip in behind him, unseen, was still troubling. He studied the man before him carefully, uncertain of how to proceed.
Khan noticed Lamont's prying eyes, and the rippling waves of projective energy that kept trying to find a weakness in Khan's psychic defenses, find out how he'd learned so much. It might be worthwhile to play the next card in the deck so that they could get down to business. "You are hurting my feelings, Ying Ko," he chided. "I should think you would enjoy meeting another with the unique ability to cloud men's minds."
That phrase--"cloud men's minds"--solved the mystery instantly. It was the phrase used during training in The Temple Of The Cobras to describe hypnotic projective telepathy. Lamont's eyes widened in amazement. "You were a student of The Tulku?"
"Yes," Khan said with a smile. "He spoke of you constantly." A cynical chuckle. "But I'm afraid he wasn't able to turn me quite as easily."
Lamont kept his expression even. Khan's admission explained a number of things--how he had learned the connection between Ying Ko and Lamont Cranston, how he was able to deflect away Lamont's prying thoughts, even how he'd managed to follow Lamont undetected. Lamont was such a strong projective telepath that his receptive side often failed to notice that his defenses had been penetrated until it was too late, so his mind was very easily clouded once someone managed to find a way in. Lamont found it interesting that apparently Marpa Tulku had not been satisfied with converting Tibet's fiercest drug lord; he'd gone after the Mongolian equivalent as well...and had, apparently, failed to control the man's darker tendencies. What he was feeling from Khan was pure, unadulterated evil...none of the gentle goodness that was the hallmark of Marpa Tulku's training.
Khan noticed Lamont studying him. Good. Reality was beginning to sink in. Now to get him to relax a bit. "Say," he said in a genteel tone, "would you happen to have some American bourbon? I have developed a bit of a taste for it. I will be happy to pay, of course..."
Lamont smiled slightly. Alcohol might be a good way to get Khan to loosen his tongue...and his psychic defenses. "No, no--quite all right," he said in his best gracious host tone, then headed over to his sidebar, found two glasses, and unstopped the bourbon bottle. "Say--you wouldn't happen to have paid a visit to the Museum of Natural History last night..." He poured the drinks and put on a mock curious smile. "...would you?"
Khan stood and accepted the offered drink. Now he and Lamont were eye-to-eye--or, rather, eye to chin, as Lamont easily had six or seven inches of height and probably 50 pounds of pure muscle on him. But size wasn't everything, Khan had learned through the years. He'd been able to intimidate men with just his temper and ferocity, even before learning that he had mental powers that could enable him to rule the world. He just smiled at the American before him. "A wonderful collection of Tibetan tapestries." He held his glass aloft for a toast.
Aha. Khan had been there last night. No doubt when The Shadow went to investigate, he'd find some kind of strange packing crate of unknown origin, and the unfortunate museum employee who'd opened it was probably the murder victim. Lamont clinked his glass hard against Khan's and glared down at him.
Khan smiled again. Just as he'd suspected, Lamont was trying to use his superior size and physical strength to intimidate Khan. It had worked in Tibet, where Ying Ko was significantly larger than the average peasant...and had a reputation even larger. But it wasn't going to work against a Mongolian warlord. Khan took a swig of the bourbon.
Lamont did the same.
Khan shook his head. "Oh, Ying Ko...grown men still shiver at the mention of your name. You are, I have to confess, my idol." For a moment, he looked less like a rival and more like an ardent admirer. "Your raid on the Village of Barga? I studied it."
A memory flashed into the forefront of Lamont's mind against his wishes. It was of a fierce battle, Tibetan mercinaries rampaging through the home village of one of the last remaining opium lords to rival Ying Ko for strength and territory. Ying Ko's army had made swift work of Shao Lin's guards, and Ying Ko himself had sliced his sword through Shao Lin's neck and held his head aloft as some kind of trophy...
Khan smiled proudly. "How nice...you remember it."
Lamont forced the memory back down. "It rings a bell."
"It should. It was a masterstroke." He set the glass down on a shelf and began pacing The Sanctum, talking wildly with his hands as he remembered the stories he'd heard of the raid. "Swift, vicious, cruel. Pure genius."
"Uh-huh." Lamont really didn't want to talk about this any more. Surely Khan hadn't come here to exchange war stories. He took one last swig of the bourbon and set his glass aside. "So...what brings you to The Big Apple?"
Now all the admiration in Khan's features was gone, and he was back to full-blown regal monarch mode. "My destiny." He looked over at Lamont, who was approaching, and began to circle around one of the support pillars to keep himself opposite the curious psychic. "Genghis Khan conquered half the world in his lifetime. I intend to finish the job."
Lamont kept moving around the pillar. "And just how do you intend to do that?"
Khan smiled slyly. "If I told you, it wouldn't be a secret. I travelled to this country in Genghis Khan's holy silver coffin, to absorb his power. In three days time, my Mongol warriors will rise up and reclaim the lost kingdom of Sianking. And all the world will hear my thunder!" He stopped pacing and looked at Lamont for a long moment. "That is a lovely tie, by the way. May I ask where you acquired it?"
Lamont looked down at his tie. He'd forgotten what he was even wearing today. He looked curiously at Khan. "Brooks Brothers," he replied cautiously.
Khan looked interested. "Is that Midtown?"
"43rd and Madison," Lamont replied, then realized the complete absurdity of the question. He was exchanging fashion tips with an insane warlord, of all things. "You," he said, pointing right at the Mongolian, "are a barbarian."
Khan took the accusation as a compliment. "Thank you. We both are." He approached Lamont, who was still eyeing him with a great deal of curiosity. "I know that inside you beats a heart of darkness. You dip into it everytime you put on that hat and cloak." He grabbed Lamont's lapel and made him look right at him. "Join me."
Lamont turned away quickly, but Khan was right in his face once more. "Together, we will pit armies against each other like a chess game," Khan continued. "We will take our fill of pain and wash our hands in blood."
Lamont started once more to turn away, but Khan stepped into his path and began backing him toward the wall. "You are Ying Ko, Butcher Of Lhasa," Khan hissed, trying to appeal to Lamont's basest nature. "You, and only you, deserve to be by my side." He could see the darkness in the other man's eyes now, and tried to seize it. "Your mouth waters at the thought of real power. I am offering you the chance to take it. Be my partner, Ying Ko."
Lamont felt the wall stop his motion. He looked Khan in the eye for a moment. It was clear now that Khan wanted Lamont's extreme projective power, needed it to fulfill his plan...but was willing to destroy Lamont if he couldn't have it. And Lamont wasn't about to offer it. "That's not my name any more," he stated firmly.
Khan backed off angrily. "But it is, nevertheless, who you are!" He reached into his pocket.
Lamont stomped his heel on a hidden switch in the floor, and a panel on the wall dropped open to form a pocket-like bin beside his left hand. He reached into the now-opened bin and pulled out a chrome .45 pistol, aiming it right for Khan.
Khan flung something at Lamont.
Despite himself, Lamont couldn't take his eyes off the metallic object whirling toward him. He put his right hand up to grab it, closing his hand around it when it struck him. He opened his hand and looked at the object.
It was a silver Chinese coin. Lamont looked toward where he'd last seen Khan.
The Sanctum was now empty. For the bourbon, he heard Khan's voice say. We will meet again.
Lamont kicked himself mentally. He'd allowed himself to become distracted, and Khan was able to once more cloud his mind. It would do no good to rush up the stairs--he could hear the turning gears of the doorway mechanism, and knew that by the time he got to street level, Khan would be long gone. He looked at the coin once more.
It seemed to be shimmering, and felt strangely warm to the touch.
He frowned. It had to be some sort of clue, but what did it mean? Was Khan's plot to steal great antiquities? Would it involve a ransom? Did the coin itself mean anything? And what did it all have to do with the lost kingdom of Sianking?
The gears turned once more, and Lamont heard the grating of the bricks as they slid back into place. Lamont smacked another switch on the wall to reset the timing mechanism so that the iron doors wouldn't seal him in, so that the system would work when he left for the day. But it looked like that wouldn't be for quite a while...it looked as if he was going to be spending a lot of time here in research today.
A blue-and-gold Oriental tiled floor was the perfect accent to the throne room of a would-be world ruler. Shiwan Khan bowed deeply in prayer, then rose slowly and looked around the room at the Mongolian soldiers who surrounded him. "The day of the Mongol warrior is close at hand," he told his men. "We will soon rise up to conquer our enemies...reclaim the lost kingdom of Sianking...and fulfill our destiny!"
A unison shout of triumph went up from the warriors, who twirled their swords high overhead, performing an intricate war dance.
Khan roared with confidence. No one would be able to stop them...not even Ying Ko.
The sun rose over New York City the next morning as usual. All across the city, people greeted the day with the same mixed emotions they always did, performed the same rituals they always performed...and listened to the same radio broadcasts they always heard.
"Good Morning, Mr. and Mrs. America," the NBC radio newscaster intoned over the radio in Dr. Roy Tam's kitchen. "Newsflash--Manhattan reels from another report of the elusive Shadow. Unconfirmed reports from the New York Police Department say that gangster Duke Rollins, arrested two nights ago on charges of murdering a police officer, claims to have been frightened into confessing by The Shadow, whom it is said Rollins encountered on the Manhattan Bridge. Now, all of New York is wondering what to make of this mysterious man who calls himself The Shadow..."
Jessie Tam shook her head at her husband's rapt interest in the radio's report as he sat at the breakfast table. Jessie had been in America long enough to know that you couldn't believe anything you heard on the radio or read in the papers, and this obsession with The Shadow was yet another example of that. "You know," she said as she poured him another cup of coffee, "I think they made up The Shadow just to get people to listen to the radio more. What do you think, Roy?"
Tam didn't react for a moment. He was too busy listening to the story, wondering if his name had come up at all in Rollins' statements. The story hit all too close to home for Tam's taste...
"Roy?" Jessie said, looking concerned.
Tam looked over at his wife, nervously fingering the fire opal ring on his right hand. "Uh...I..."
The chime of the doorbell provided a well-timed interruption. "I'll get it," Tam offered, getting up before she could react.
Jessie watched her husband go to the door. Ever since that night he'd been out late, he'd been acting strangely. She was wondering if maybe he'd gotten assaulted or something and was just ashamed to tell her. Oriental men could be so silly sometimes...afraid to show weakness or fear. She'd have to find a way to get him to relax later.
The doorbell sounded again just as Tam reached the front door. He opened it and looked out.
Standing on the porch was Lamont Cranston, clad in a long black coat, with his hat pulled down to shade his face. Shadows covered him almost completely. "The sun is shining," he said.
Tam felt himself shake. It hadn't even been 36 hours since he'd been made an agent, and now he was receiving his first assignment. "B-but the ice is slippery," he stammered back quietly.
Lamont smiled. Nice to see that Tam had retained that bit of information. It saved him having to carve it into his memories telepathically.
Tam couldn't believe it. He was actually using those words, actually part of The Shadow's mission. And he'd finally met someone else who was in the same situation. "You're an agent of The Shadow!" he said excitedly.
Lamont kept his expression even. He'd have to reinforce the rules with Tam after all. "Who?"
Tam reined in his excitement. This was, after all, supposed to be a secret. "Oh...yeah. Gotcha." He winked at Lamont.
Lamont smiled once more. Tam was a smart man, well-known for his research into metallurgy. The Shadow had been watching him for weeks now, hoping for an opportunity to recruit him for the mission. Not every agent was a rescue project, even though most were either rescued directly or connected with someone who was. Duke Rollins' abduction of Tam was simply a helpful happenstance that enabled the process to be sped along.
Tam looked around to make sure his wife hadn't come up behind them, then looked back at the man on the porch. "Well...what do you need?"
"I need a metal analysis..." Lamont held up the coin, displaying it as if he were a prestidigitator showing something he was about to make disappear. "...of this."
Tam looked intrigued. "Let me get my coat."
Hours later, in one of the laboratories at NYU, Roy Tam was still performing experiments on the coin. He had run it through any number of tests to examine its chemical and electrical properties, and wasn't any closer to knowing what it was than he'd been when they started. He could tell what it wasn't...just not what it was. "I just can't figure it out," Tam said aloud. "I've done just about everything possible to this coin short of destroying it, and I still can't tell what it's made of. It's not silver or gold or copper like most ancient coins, but it's not any other alloy I've ever seen."
Lamont frowned. He too had done a ton of research on the coin, through crime reports of stolen treasures and books from both The Sanctum's library and his personal collection, and hadn't been able to find anything more about it than the obvious--its ancient Chinese markings, its possible coinage value. Agents all over the city had been dispatched to seek out others like it, but none of them had come back with any useful information, either. Tam was his last hope. "Are you sure you've looked at all the possibilities?" he said, concentrating his gaze into Tam's eyes. Remember, the coin is Chinese. Think back to your deepest knowledge of Oriental tradition.
Tam looked lost for a moment, then his mind focused on a piece of almost-lost knowledge. "Well, there is one more test I can do, though I'm sure that's not it." He blended several chemicals together in a flask, stirred them carefully, then put the coin in a petri dish and poured the clear liquid over it.
The liquid sputtered and spattered as it touched the coin, and the petri dish shattered.
Tam drew back for a moment, wonder in his eyes. "Bronzium!" he finally declared aloud. "The metal is bronzium!" He found a pair of forceps and picked the coin up, looking it over in amazement. "I didn't think it really existed...but by God, here it is!" He turned to Lamont. "Where did you get this?"
Lamont scoured his memories for any information about bronzium, but was coming up blank. "I was told it came from Sianking," he finally said aloud.
Tam nodded. "If you believe the legends, it had to come from Sianking." He put it under a microscope and examined it closely. Bronzium was the Holy Grail of metals, and he'd never even seen a sample on display, much less in person. "The ancient Chinese believe this is the stuff the very universe is formed out of."
Now Lamont had a reference point. The Tibetans called it something different, but it was the same story--the body of the gods, the foundation of the world. Men who possessed the stuff could conceivably wield great power, the very power of the gods themselves...Oh, my God, Lamont realized as Khan's plan began to come into focus. "Could bronzium be used to make some sort of weapon?"
Tam looked up from his microscope. "Theoretically...yes."
The question had been asked a little sharper than Lamont intended, but a quick hypnotic suggestion moved Tam's thoughts away from any curiosity about the matter. The professor headed over to his workbench and the pile of books strewn across it, and flipped through one of them. Bronzium was known to exist because of the rather large gap between two known elements in the Periodic Table indicating there had to be some unique molecular combination that spanned the two elements, so much of the probable properties of bronzium could be extrapolated by comparing properties of the two surrounding elements. But since bronzium had never been found "in the wild", all the knowledge that existed was pure speculation and extrapolation. "Well," he said, examining some equations, "it's molecularly unstable. Radioactive, in fact, although probably very mild in its radiation emissions, because neither of the two elements around it are very potent radioactively. It's subject to constant expansion and contraction of the molecular bonds--constant electrical tension is about all that holds it together. But if those bonds were ever breached..."
"By an explosion?"
Tam shook his head. "Wouldn't do it. It may be molecularly unstable, but it's not physically brittle. Just breaking it into pieces wouldn't breach the bonds--look at the fact that it's been made into a coin." He thought about it for a moment. "But if the power of the electrical tension was turned in on itself in an implosive fashion, then the molecules would fly apart, and then you'd get your explosion."
The very thought alarmed Lamont. "How big?"
Even Tam was chilled by the idea. He did some math based on the electrical potential of the two elements on either side of it, and realized he was coming up with some horrifying numbers. "No man can say."
Lamont thought quickly. How much of this did Khan know? More importantly, how much bronzium did he have? Did he already have the means to accomplish this feat? As far as Lamont knew, implosive accelerators were strictly theoretical, though he knew a German physicist named Albert Einstein was already working on equations that would eventually make such things possible.
Tam was still reading, still calculating, still chilled by his deductions. "The reaction would quickly spread to all levels of the element's atomic construction. Fashioned into a bomb, the results would be catastrophic." He looked over at Lamont. "I guess you'd call it an implosive-explosive-sub-molecular destruction device."
Lamont had a better name for it, though even thinking it made his hair stand on end. "Or an atomic bomb."
Tam looked impressed. "Hey...that's catchy." He thought about it some more. "The reaction would have to be enclosed in some kind of enhancement shell to keep the energy focused on the molecular bonds so that they'll collapse. A beryllium sphere would be best--no other metal would enhance the reaction quite as well." Then, he dismissed the entire wild line of thinking he'd just spun forth. "Of course, all this is impossible, pure speculation..."
Lamont knew that it wasn't. Another agent, a munitions expert, had mentioned once that this was the next major advancement in weapons technology, just over the horizon, and all the experts had to do was figure out how to actually split the atom in such a way that the energy that resulted could be harnessed effectively to get the maximum destructive power. What he needed to know, though, was if it were at least remotely possible today. He looked right at Tam. Speculate. Go beyond what is possible.
Tam's eyes went blank for a second, then his mind began to race wildly, running as many calculations as he could balance in his head at one time. "Unless..." A picture formed in his mind. "...some genius figures out how to make it work." He hurried to the chalkboard, erased several equations, then began to sketch his speculations. "The bronzium goes inside the generator--a sphere, with tiny electrical charges evenly distributed over the surface, surrounded by an enhancement shell to reflect the inevitable energy loss back on itself." He stopped, then pulled back and looked at his picture for a moment. "Something like this."
Lamont examined it carefully. The sphere in the center was covered in electrical contact points, and Tam had drawn the energy waves radiating inward. But some were radiating outward, hitting the enhancement shell, and bouncing back in. His eyes widened as he realized that the combination of constant bombardment from the generator and reflective energy from the shell would eventually put enough pressure on the bronzium molecules to collapse them--which would release all that energy in a massive blast. And all the world will hear my thunder, Khan had said.
Tam looked puzzled by the device he'd just drawn. How in the world had he come up with that? "But...such a device doesn't exist," he said quietly.
Unfortunately for Roy Tam--and for the rest of the world--he was quite wrong.
It had all started rather innocuously the night before. As usual, Reinhardt Lane was working late in his lab, examining the electrical contact points on his cobalt blue sphere, tightening the plugs, puzzling through his equations to figure out where he'd made the elusive mistake that kept his implosive generator from functioning properly. He could get the charges built up properly, but the reaction wasn't self-sustaining; the energy dissipated too quickly to be of any value. He didn't want to have to resort to using radioactive materials inside the sphere; the whole idea of this implosive generator was to get better results out of traditional fuels, to allow the power of the elements themselves to generate clean, inexpensive energy and solve the growing pollution problem of furnaces, fireplaces, and power plants that spewed black, choking smoke into the air. And he certainly didn't want to have to use Farley's beryllium sphere as the sole means of keeping the reaction going; if the only way he could keep it going was through an enhancement shell, it would be almost impossible to get any kind of channeled voltage out of it without compromising the function of the sphere. He sighed and rubbed the back of his neck. Maybe Margo was right when she said he was working too hard. But he felt like he was so close to finding the missing piece to the puzzle...
Like Lamont Cranston, Shiwan Khan had a sanctum as well. Unlike Lamont's, though, Khan's was a place of spiritual refuge, not intellectual study. A Tibetan tapestry illustrating the god of travellers hung on the wall, and a large incense pot sat in front of it. A prayer mat lay on the floor, where one could kneel and meditate. And Khan was now kneeling in meditation before the tapestry, opening his receptive mind, seeking an American scientist to help him unlock the power of the ancient elements of his ancestory.
Thoughts swirled around him, filled with the decadent desires of a modern-day Rome or Shanghai.
Khan frowned and filtered them out, listening now for specific thoughts associated with alchemists, sorcerors, and other experimentors.
More thoughts surrounded him, filled with wildly impossible theories, scientific equations he didn't understand, experiments he knew were useless...
...and then, thought patterns of a man in deep concentration, trying to figure out why his atom-splitting device wasn't quite working right.
In an instant, Khan had his name. Reinhardt Lane.
Reinhardt tossed the notebook he'd been examining aside and once more tightened the wires attached to his spherical generator. He was beginning to lose focus. He could almost hear the hissing and humming of the equipment in the lab taunting him, laughing at him...
Reinhardt stopped working for a moment. Had someone called his name? He sat silent, listening carefully.
There it was again. Reinhardt looked around.
Only shadows from his equipment greeted his gaze.
Reinhardt shook his head. He needed air. Turning around, he walked toward the doors to the balcony and stepped out into the chilly December night.
Being the revered physicist that Reinhardt Lane was had its advantages. To go along with his huge research grant, he had easily the best lab in the entire Federal Building; it took up nearly a third of the twenty-third floor, had room for a ton of equipment plus books and a small conference area, and even had a balcony running the width of the building and overlooking the city below. If Reinhardt weren't so wrapped up in his work, he might actually enjoy the view; the lights on the surrounding buildings were almost hypnotic in their twinking beauty, and even that obnoxious neon billboard for Llama cigarettes on the roof of the building next door had its own strange attraction.
Smoke curled lazily from the cigarette on the billboard, held by a generic WASP man and surrounded by the slogan "I'd Climb A Mountain For A Llama". That smoke was enticing--enticing enough to make Reinhardt fish his own pack of cigarettes out of his pocket, pull one out, and light it...
Reinhardt looked up at the billboard.
The WASPish face had transformed into an angry-looking Asian man with long black hair, full beard, and harsh brown eyes. And those eyes were staring right through him. Reinhardt Lane, Khan's voice called from the billboard.
Reinhardt's eyes went completely blank. "Yes, my Khan," he whispered.
That was the previous night. On this night, Lamont Cranston was again getting a lecture from Wainwright Barth on punctuality as they shared dinner at the Cobalt Club. "You know what puzzles me, Lamont?" Wainwright groused. "How a man who has absolutely nothing to do all day can be late for every single engagement!"
Lamont fought the urge to laugh in Wainwright's face. He'd had every intention of being on time tonight, but had gotten so caught up in working with Roy Tam that only a phone call from Tam's wife asking if he were coming home for dinner alerted Lamont to the lateness of the hour. But he didn't want to just cancel dinner with his uncle; he needed to find out if there were any reports of increased activity at ports of entry into New York, especially any with a Chinese connection. "Practice, Uncle Wainwright," he said with a devil-may-care smile. "Lots and lots of practice."
Wainwright rolled his eyes. One of these days, Lamont's complete and utter disregard for others was going to get him in serious trouble. Of course, he'd come by his selfishness honestly; both Theodore and Barbara were so self-centered and self-focused that it was a wonder they even noticed anything that didn't directly concern them...even their own child. He looked around for a moment, then gestured wildly at a waiter. "Waiter, could you get me some more chives, please?"
The waiter nodded and headed off for the kitchen.
Out of the corner of his eye, Wainwright noticed a dark figure coming toward him. He looked up. "Oh, God, it's that Lane woman again," he groaned, turning away.
Lamont jumped slightly, then looked where his uncle was now averting his gaze.
Margo Lane, dressed in a dark green bugle-beaded dress and a brown mink stole, was making a beeline toward their table. And she looked very angry.
Lamont was torn. Part of him wanted to encounter her again, maybe try to get to know her a little better and find out her level of psychic expertise. The other part wanted her to leave right now before either of them did something they regretted. But he didn't even bother putting out a telepathic "no trespassing" sign, because she clearly wasn't coming over to see him.
"She's been calling my office all day," Wainwright muttered. "She just wouldn't stop, even after I told my secretary I didn't want to speak to her again..."
By now, Margo was at the table, arms akimbo, glaring down at the police commissioner. She hadn't even looked Lamont's way, which was quite a relief to Lamont.
Wainwright put on a false polite smile. "Ah, Miss Lane, what an unexpected surprise..."
"O.K., Commissioner, you can drop the act," Margo snapped back. "What have you done about my father?"
Wainwright blew out a hard breath. "Miss Lane, I've already explained this...just because your father is behaving strangely is not a reason for the police to take action. We really can't do anything unless..."
"Unless what? He blows himself up?"
Wainwright was desperate to get the angry woman's attention away from him. He looked across the table at Lamont. "Uh, Margo Lane...my nephew, Lamont Cranston."
Margo turned her gaze toward Lamont. She was furious with Wainwright, but found enough venom in her still-hurt feelings to throw Lamont's way. "Yes," she said coldly, "we've met."
Lamont let the barbs hit him. He deserved them. But she was clearly distressed and frightened, and he was curious as to why. He stood up and gallantly removed the stole from her shoulders. "Would you care to sit down?" he offered, putting just a bit of insistent suggestion behind the words.
She felt her anger fade, and now the worry was coming to the surface. Feeling weak, she sat down in the chair Lamont was holding for her. "Look," she said, addressing Wainwright again, "I just want to see him. But last night, the War Department said he's suddenly decided to accept no visitors...not even his own daughter."
Now Lamont understood. Margo had mentioned in their dinner conversation two nights ago that she was an only child, and that her mother had died when she was a teen. Her father was really all she had in life. To be suddenly spurned by him had to be frightening to her.
Wainwright didn't have all this context, though, so he tried to think of the most obvious excuse for the change in behavior. "Well, Miss Lane, he is working for the War Department. Perhaps he's doing classified experiments."
Margo shook her head. "No, his experiments are harmless...energy research...some kind of implosive device."
The very word shook Lamont to the core. He looked horrified as he realized that Reinhardt Lane was doing exactly the work Khan needed for his ultimate weapon. He hoped to God he was wrong, that it was some kind of twisted coincidence...
"I spoke to him on the phone just a few minutes ago," Margo continued, "but he was distant, babbling. He spoke to me in Chinese."
Wainwright choked on his scotch.
Lamont felt his blood run cold. Oh, God, it's not a coincidence.
Wainwright coughed, then looked for a glass of water on the table. "Waiter..."
Margo slammed her fist into the table in front of him. "My father doesn't even speak Chinese!" she shouted angrily, nearly crying.
Wainwright accepted the goblet of water from the attentive waiter, then turned a sympathetic smile to Margo. "All right, Miss Lane, all right. I'll send an officer over in the morning. He'll check on your father, find out what's going on, and then everything will be fine. You'll see."
Margo nodded her thanks, trying to force back the tears that rimmed her eyes, and turned Lamont's way. "Mr. Cranston, what's your opinion..."
There was no one in Lamont's seat. He was gone. Margo looked around frantically.
She caught just a glimpse of him--or his shadow?--rounding the corner and heading out of the dining room. "Excuse me," she told Wainwright, then grabbed her stole and her purse and ran for the door.
Wainwright shrugged. Young love, he mentally complained. Feh.
Lamont gave a quick tip to the hat check girl who was handing him his coat, hat, gloves, and scarf, then slung the scarf around his neck, pulled his coat on, and headed for the door. There was no time to waste--Reinhardt was probably already in Khan's psychic clutches, but there might still be time to rescue him from the Mongolian's physical clutches...
Margo called his name from behind. He ignored her and hurried outside.
"Lamont!" Margo called again, racing to keep up with him. Surely he'd heard her the first time. But it was as if he'd turned into a different person once more, one who just didn't have time for her, no matter how nice he'd been just moments earlier. She pulled on her stole and went outside after him.
He was standing at the edge of the carpet runner, looking down the street at a taxi that was approaching. She grabbed his arm. "Wait a minute, Lamont," she said, "I wanted to ask you about my father..."
He turned to face her.
Margo gasped. The blase, bored playboy was gone. Now there was nothing casual about Lamont Cranston, nothing carefree at all. There was only dark anger in those eyes, a sense of urgency in his carriage, a tightly-coiled strength in his muscles that looked ready to explode at any moment. And something more...a strange kind of energy that seemed to be eminating from him, pushing her and everyone else away.
"I have to go," he said in a rough voice, then turned toward the taxi that had now stopped at the curb and opened its rear door for him.
"Ying Ko!" Margo suddenly shouted.
Lamont froze in his tracks.
Margo looked confused. Why had she just said that? It sounded like some kind of Chinese name. But Margo didn't speak Chinese any more than her father did. "Who's Ying Ko?" she asked aloud.
Lamont slowly closed the cab door, then turned around and purposefully strode back over to her. The fury in his expression was palpable. Margo started to draw away.
He grabbed her by the arm and turned her to face him. Margo literally felt his gaze drill right through hers.
You will forget about me, The Shadow's voice ordered.
Margo shook her head. That sensation of static was back, and it was loud. But that didn't make his words make any more sense. "Why would I want to do that?"
His gaze fell harder on her. You will give me no further thought.
That static was even louder now, and she had a splitting headache. And she wasn't in the mood to deal with incoherent ramblings. "Are you drunk? Look, Mr. Cranston, I don't know what kind of woman you're used to dealing with, but..."
Lamont started to blast into her mind and break her resistance, then stopped himself. My God, he realized in horror, what am I doing? I could have killed her... Quickly, he shoved her away and jumped into the cab.
"Hey!" Margo shouted, but it was too late. The cab was already merging into traffic.
The valet came over to her. "Miss? Are you all right?"
Margo felt stinging tears streaming down her cheeks. "I'd like my car, please," she managed to choke out.
"Yes, ma'am." The valet sent a boy for Margo's car.
Margo looked off in the distance. Now she was truly alone...her father had rejected her, and the man she felt was her soulmate had openly spurned her. God, she hated life right now.
Lamont barely managed to get control of himself in the cab. He had nearly destroyed Margo Lane's psyche in a raging anger over her latent telepathy, something she couldn't even control, and that extraordinarily cruel impulse frightened him. But he couldn't just let her keep the knowledge she had; it was far too dangerous. He would have to deal with her eventually, but it could wait. Right now, her father's life was at stake. "The Federal Building," he ordered.
Moe nodded. "You got it, boss."
A strange chill passed through the cab. Moe involuntarily looked at the rear view mirror...and watched a man turn into a shadow.
Lamont Cranston was taking deep breaths now, calming his emotions, focusing his powers. Swirling black shadows shifted around him, and his facial features turned sharper, harsher, angrier, as the clouding suggestion began to take hold. Lamont would fade from view, then return with the scarf pulled over his face, then the black cloak wrapped about his shoulders...and finally, the black fedora pulled down to shade his face completed the transformation.
Moe shivered. That whole effect was enough to scare the living daylights out of him. He could only imagine what it did to criminals. And whoever The Shadow was after tonight was about to find out personally.
The Marine guard standing sentry outside Reinhardt Lane's lab, on the left side of the doorway, looked over at his partner and grimaced. They were about to come off duty in an hour, and now they needed to decide where to get a quick dinner afterward. "Yuck," he replied.
The guard on the right side of the door looked frustrated. There weren't many places open around here after hours, and they had exactly 30 minutes from the time they stepped down to report back to the barracks. "Well, I'm not going to eat another burger."
"I'm not asking you to eat another burger."
The elevator bell rang. Both men came to sharp attention.
The door opened, but the car was empty.
The guards relaxed. Probably someone going up had pushed one floor too many. Not uncommon in these towering Manhattan skyscrapers. "Chinese?" Right-side suggested.
"How about a burger?" Left-side replied.
Right-side gave an annoyed look to his partner. This was the single most boring assignment he'd ever been on. All they did was stand guard outside a doddering old scientist's door. And he had the misfortune to be partnered with a smart-aleck who did little to help pass the time...
A whizzing sound filled the air, and an arrow pierced his chest right beneath the breast bone. Right-side clutched at the arrow, then dropped to the ground.
Left-side looked up just in time to see a similar arrow drive itself into his chest. He too grabbed at it before falling over, dead.
A bald Mongol warrior in full battle garb, standing in a side corridor, smiled. Though none of Shiwan Khan's soldiers possessed his gift of blending into the shadows, all of them understood distraction tactics and sneak attacks. Reinhardt Lane had told Khan that the guards at the door not only weren't terribly attentive, but were easily distracted, so Khan sent right-hand man Huong Shu and several of his best warriors to attack the stronghold. Now, with the guards dispatched, they could move quickly out of the stairwell and into Reinhardt's office...and return with their treasure. He clicked his tongue and summoned his men.
Half a dozen crosssbow-wielding Mongol warriors slipped into Reinhardt's office, looking around cautiously. Huong Shu barked orders in Chinese.
Reinhardt slowly, almost mechanically, unplugged the wires from his generator. He'd been working tirelessly on it for over 24 hours now, without food or sleep, and it was now ready to fulfill its designed function. He placed a stack of rolled blueprints on the table, then fetched a padded strongbox from a cabinet, lifted the device off its supports, and lowered it into the padded case. Latching the box, he handed it to Huong Shu.
Mocking laughter rang through the room. Everyone looked around frantically.
Huong Shu barked another order at Reinhardt, who took the padded box back from him, and then turned to his men and ordered them to find the intruder.
The Mongol warriors spanned out through the lab while Huong Shu stood guard over Reinhardt.
One soldier wandered onto the balcony...strangely dark and shadowy tonight. He could hear the throaty laugh echoing off the building, but couldn't for the life of him figure out where it was coming from. He leaned over the railing and glanced around the corner.
A black-gloved hand reached down from a decorative cornice, grabbed the point on the warrior's battle helmet, and pulled upward so hard that he pulled the Mongol off the ground.
The Mongol reached both hands up, locked them around the wrist he could not see, and flung himself forward.
Both men landed on the balcony. A swirling black fog turned into a rolling cloaked black-clad man, who was quickly up on his feet and turned to face the Mongol.
The Mongol drew his sword and raced for his opponent.
The Shadow ducked aside, then grabbed the other man as he ran past him and tried to leverage him off the balcony.
But the Mongol was well-trained, and quickly reversed the advantage. They both teetered on the railing for a moment, then tumbled off together, plummetting toward the street.
Desperately, The Shadow twisted himself so that the Mongol's weight was off him. He tried to contort his body and grab the edge of his cloak to create a parachute and slow his descent...
A sudden crashing halt stunned The Shadow for a moment. He recovered his senses and looked around.
Both he and the Mongol had crash-landed atop one of the many decorative stone eagle's heads that jutted out from the facade of the building, just two floors below where they'd started. The Shadow was merely shaken. The Mongol he'd landed on wasn't quite so lucky; it was fairly obvious he'd broken his neck or back in the impact and would be dead in moments. Somehow, though, that only seemed fair. The Shadow offered a wry smirk. Next time, you get to be on top.
The Mongol let out a death rasp.
The Shadow looked upward. The fall had cost him precious time; Khan's soldiers were probably on their way out of there. He looked at the decorative cornices on the side of the building and realized that they were probably his only ladder back to the balcony. Too bad he hadn't thought to bring climbing gear, like the suction cup devices and anchor ropes he often employed for feats like this, but he'd climbed worse mountains before. He'd just have to keep the warriors busy for a little longer.
A cackling laugh echoed through the night as The Shadow began his ascent.
The distracting laugh worked--the remaining warriors were now scouring the lab as Reinhardt stood as still as a statue, almost catatonic. One of the warriors had sworn The Shadow had gone over the edge of the balcony just moments ago, but if that were the case, how could he still be laughing? He had to be around there somewhere...
A right hook from nowhere decked Huong Shu and sent him sprawling across a workbench.
Two men looked up--and got dual punches in the face, crashing them into lab equipment.
Another unnerved soldier drew his sword and looked around frantically, only to feel two hands grab him from behind and throw him through the air. He landed atop a live generator and died instantly.
Huong Shu shook his head to clear it. Khan had told him to beware of this--that there was a man called Ying Ko who claimed this city as his territory. Ying Ko, Khan had said, could attack from the darkness, and they wouldn't see him until he was right on top of them, but bright lights would expose him. He fumbled around Reinhardt's now-upended workbench and looked for some kind of light-casting device.
The sound of fist connecting against face became audible. Huong Shu searched harder, finally finding a flashlight in a cabinet. He flicked it on and scanned the room.
One of his men was reeling repeatedly, as if being struck by something, but by the time Huong Shu got the beam over to the man, he was usually several feet from where the punch had been thrown. But there was a strange coiling motion to the darkness around his man, as if something making a twisting motion was periodically blocking his view. Suspicious, he cast a light upon it.
A shadow of a man in a broad-brimmed fedora and a swirling opera cloak, recoiling from a punch, suddenly loomed large, spanning Reinhardt Lane's gigantic wall chart of the periodic table.
Dammit, The Shadow swore mentally. He was trapped; there was nowhere to run that the beam wouldn't be able to follow him now. And as the men in the room realized where he was, they were becoming resistant to his mind clouding suggestion...
Huong Shu barked out a command in Chinese.
The Shadow heard the cranking sound of a crossbow being armed. He looked up, searching for the man.
The arrow missed its target--his chest--and grazed his right shoulder instead, anchoring his cloak and riding coat to the wall. He reached over with his left hand to pull it out.
Another arrow missed his now-turned-inward left shoulder but got his cloak, nailing down the other side.
A shrill scream, like the sound of high-pressure steam coming through a pinhole in a pipe, tore through the room. Everyone grabbed their ears and fell to the floor in pain. Huong Shu put his fingers in his ears and looked around for the source of the sound...
...and suddenly saw a man literally grow outward from a shadow on the wall.
Pain searing through The Shadow's body was enough to break his concentration, and he'd managed to get one last ear-piercing burst of mentally-generated sound out before the vortex of projective psychic energy he'd created to throw his hypnotic suggestion through the room simply collapsed and dissipated. Lamont Cranston barely had enough power in reserve to recast the suggestion to keep his features concealed as he struggled to break free of the arrows that pinned him to the wall like a butterfly on a mounting board.
Huong Shu shouted in triumph and ordered his men to arm their weapons once more. Their quarry was trapped now, unable to fight back...
...with his mind, that is. But The Shadow still had conventional weaponry at his disposal. His hands dove beneath his cloak and came out holding chrome-plated equalizers, snapping off several shots and killing two of the soldiers instantly.
Huong Shu had been through enough battles to understand the benefits of strategic retreat. He ordered one of his men to grab Reinhardt as he made his way to the padded strongbox--the whole reason they'd come in the first place.
The Shadow reholstered his guns and tore his cloak off the wall on the left, then put his left hand under his right shoulder and literally tugged at it until it came free. But by the time he'd gotten loose, Huong Shu had the box and the blueprints and one of his men had an armed crossbow at Reinhardt's temple and was dragging him out the door. Running on sheer adrenaline now, The Shadow made his way through the wreckage of the lab and toward the escaping Mongols.
The lone remaining warrior in the lab broadsided him and knocked him onto the balcony.
The Shadow wrestled his way out from under the Mongol and threw a left hook into his jaw.
The Mongol staggered, then dove for The Shadow.
The Shadow ducked, then caught the Mongol by his legs and flipped him into the air.
The Mongol grabbed The Shadow's injured right arm, and the two of them fell against the railing. The Mongol's weight carried him over.
Just as he was about to be leveraged over with his opponent, The Shadow dug the fingers of his left hand into the underside of the railing and held on for dear life. Now, only his strength and that tenuous grip kept both of them from falling twenty-three stories straight down, with no eagle's head to break their fall this time. He fought past the pain that was clouding his own mind and glared angrily at the warrior. Where is Khan? he demanded.
The Mongol's mind was a clouded mess, but The Shadow was not the one generating the hypnotic suggestion. "I will not tell you," he said, remembering the orders that had been drilled into his head before being sent off on this mission. He let go of The Shadow's arm and surrendered himself to the inevitable.
The Shadow felt the Mongol relax and desperately clutched at the other man's fingers, barely able to maintain a grip. What are you doing? He tried to break through the suicide order Khan had clearly written into the man's subconscious, but was too psychically fatigued. Hold on or you'll die!
"Yes," the Mongol whispered, "to serve my Khan." He relaxed his hand and spread his fingers.
The Shadow's weakened right arm could no longer hold on. The Mongol literally slipped through his grasp...just like Reinhardt Lane and his implosive generator.
One did not spend six years working as a telepathic master's right hand without gaining some appreciation for the power of the human mind...and some curiosity as to whether such power existed in others. So, Moe had been reading books for months with such titles as How To Develop Your Own Psychic Powers and Awaken The Telepath Within You. One of the exercises in the book he was reading tonight as he waited outside the Federal Building for The Shadow's return suggested opening the mind to any and all sensations, letting them flow freely, seeing which ones left an impression. He let his mind go blank for a moment. "I sense someone's coming," he marvelled, feeling something fast approaching...
...just before something landed with a splat on the sidewalk behind him.
Moe whipped around, but saw nothing else in the area. He cautiously walked over to the side of the building.
What was left of the Mongol warrior was just a heap of squashed humanity and twisted armor. He cringed, then hurried back to the safety of his cab.
No sooner had he closed the door than a shadowy presence in the back seat caught his eye. Drive, The Shadow ordered.
Moe started to ask The Shadow if he was all right, but one look at the pained expression on Lamont's face told him that he wasn't. But the mental impressions he was getting from the telepath in the back was that he wanted to go home. And even in his weakened state, Lamont's will was still too powerful to contradict.
The Cord pulled away from the curb and headed for Turtle Bay.
Margo had driven around for over an hour, nowhere in particular, and not in any hurry to return home. Lamont's abrupt rejection still stung, harder than she thought it ever could. And her father's strange behavior still had her unnerved. She wasn't at all sure she wanted to be at home, but couldn't think of anywhere else to go. So, she finally pulled her maroon LaSalle into the alley behind her townhouse, parked her car in the small drive each house was allotted, and headed inside.
The phone was already ringing as she unlocked the door. She ran toward it, pulled off an earring, and raised the receiver to her ear. "Hello?"
"Margo," her father's voice replied in a soothing tone.
Margo was so thankful to hear that voice that she nearly jumped for joy. "Dad! Dad, where are you?"
Reinhardt was actually in Khan's throne room. But the Mongolian telepath, holding the candlestick telephone for him, glared at him and directed his words to send Margo to an entirely different place. "I need you, darling...down at the lab," Reinhardt told his daughter.
Hesitation on the other end of the line, as if Margo didn't like the sound of her father's voice. "Dad? Are you all right?"
Reinhardt's thoughts shifted once more, this time with a sense of urgency in his tone. "Hurry."
Khan hung up the phone and smiled. Huong Shu had told him that Ying Ko had disrupted their capture of Reinhardt, and killed most of his best soldiers. Khan didn't like showings of strength by a rival warlord who dared think himself superior. He would soon show Ying Ko how vulnerable he really was.
The first sign Margo saw that there was any trouble at the Federal Building was the bloody remains of a guard of some kind on the sidewalk outside the front door. Margo raced inside the building, jumped in the elevator, and cursed its slowness as it ascended to the 23rd floor.
The elevator doors opened to the sight of two Marine guards lying dead outside the door to her father's lab. The door itself was standing ajar.
"No," she whispered, then walked quickly toward the lab. "Dad..."
The scene got worse as she approached. Now, she could see the arcing of lights inside the lab and the cracks in the frosted glass window in his door, and smell the pungent aroma of burning flesh and human blood. "Dad!" she shouted, hurrying into the lab. Then, she gasped in horror.
The lab was destroyed. Equipment lay smashed, electrical wires sparked, chemicals were spattered everywhere, two arrows--both with torn black fabric scraps on their tips, one surrounded by a bloodstain--were embedded in the wall, and dead bodies were strewn across the floor. Reinhardt Lane was nowhere to be seen.
"Oh, my God--Dad!" She ran out onto the balcony, looking frantic.
A chilling December breeze whipped around her. She cringed, then noticed something funny...that billboard for Llama cigarettes. It was obnoxious as Hell, but tonight, she just couldn't take her eyes off it. She crossed the balcony, continuing to stare at it.
The breeze surrounded her again, filling her ears with the sound of a whispered voice. Margo Lane.
Margo felt strangely dizzy, disoriented, and then everything around her went blank.
Khan pushed Margo's mink stole off her shoulders and looked her over as she stood motionless in his throne room, hypnotized into submission. She'd driven here under his control, completely unaware of anything going on around her. Khan had found her resistant to hypnotic telepathy, but he'd been able to leverage just enough of her panic to disrupt her psychic defenses and put her under his spell. So this is the woman Ying Ko finds attractive, he mused. The woman he cannot forget. The woman he thinks is such a danger. I will show him how much of a danger she really is. Then, he will be forced to deal with her...and with me. He gestured to Huong Shu.
Huong Shu handed an elegantly carved wooden box to Reinhardt Lane, who opened it for Khan.
Khan extracted a single-shot Chinese pistol from the box and loaded one lead bullet into it. One shot would be all that was needed. He put the pistol in Margo's right hand and closed her fingers around its grip. I have a mission for you, my dear, he imprinted into her psyche.
In a year of fighting in The Great War, a year as a drug smuggler, four years as a Tibetan warlord, a year with Marpa Tulku, and six years as The Shadow, Lamont Cranston had been injured in just about every way a person could be injured. He'd been shot, stabbed, gassed, strangled, clubbed, poisoned, and beaten eight ways to Sunday. But this was the first time he'd ever had an arrow run through him. The sharp tip of the arrowhead had cut a nice groove into his right upper arm, barely missing slicing his bicep, adding to the misery of the usual assortment of bruises, bumps, and scrapes after a night of tangling with shadowy evil. But among the things Marpa Tulku had taught him was how to redirect his vast reservoir of projective energy through a technique known as tumo summoning to stimulate blood flow to injured areas, which mustered the body's defenses and accelerated natural healing mechanisms. When Lamont allowed himself to perform a full-blown tumo, he could heal even the worst injuries in hours. But full-blown tumos required a lot of mental energy and deep concentration, two things that were in very short supply right now, so Lamont contented himself with an abbreviated tumo to seal the gash and kill the pain as he bandaged his shoulder and cleaned his minor wounds upstairs in his bedroom. God, Cranston, you're a mess, he chided himself as he caught a glimpse of his battle-scarred torso in the full-length mirror across from his armchair. He really needed a good stiff drink right about now, but that would interfere too much in his thought processes, so the only alcohol on the nightstand next to him was the rubbing alcohol he'd poured into the washbasin to sanitize the injuries and ward off infection.
The sting of the alcohol-soaked gauze on his shoulder was nothing, though, compared to the sting of defeat he'd experienced tonight. Khan now had Reinhardt Lane under his complete control, and had access to his generator. Lamont was now sure Khan had enough bronzium for a bomb; why else would he need Reinhardt's device? Worse, though, was what to do about Margo Lane. She'd overheard "Ying Ko" from his thoughts, and was far stronger telepathically than he'd realized as she'd managed to resist even his moderately-strong hypnotic suggestions. He'd have to find a way to wipe himself out of her memories without hurting her, and soon, before they encountered each other again and she overheard far worse...
A lingering, deliberate "creak" on the master stairs reached his ears. He stopped cleaning his wounds and listened carefully.
The footsteps continued up the main staircase and stepped onto the upstairs carpet, heading for his room.
Lamont frowned. The staff did not use the main stairs after dark, so the person in the hallway was clearly someone who had managed to penetrate the mansion's physical defenses. Lamont reminded himself to give a stern lecture in the morning to his majordomo Russell on reinforcing house security rules with the staff, then reached out with his mind, letting telepathic waves ripple outward to determine who exactly was approaching...and nearly falling out of his chair at the response.
Margo Lane strode slowly down the long carpet runner to the door at the end of the hall. The Chinese pistol was still in her right hand, but her arm hung loosely at her side. No need to aim it yet. She wasn't in range.
Light from underneath a closed door signaled the end of stalking. Her prey lay just ahead. She put a hand on the elegant pewter door handle and pushed downward.
The door opened. She could see him now, seated in a chair, facing her. A perfect target. She raised her right arm, aimed the pistol at his heart, and squeezed the trigger.
The bullet hit him dead center in the chest...and his image spiderwebbed.
Lamont watched the mirror across from him shatter, and for a moment counted his blessings. Then, he was puzzled as he watched her walk into the room, gun still pointed right at what she had to know now was not really him.
Margo stopped just inside the room, transfixed by the splintered image.
Lamont crossed the room to her. She didn't even acknowledge the motion.
He took the gun away from her and tossed it aside. She still held her right arm straight out, her hand gripping nothing and her index finger curled around a trigger of air.
He pushed her arm down. She now stood like a statue, completely frozen.
He waved a hand in front of her face. She didn't even blink.
Lamont closed the door to the bedroom and sent out a broadcast psychic suggestion to his staff that no one in the house had heard anything unusual, then bounced a wave off Margo's psyche.
Absolutely nothing came back. It was as if her mind had gone blank now that the one thing she had come here to do was done.
Lamont frowned. Only one man in New York City other than himself had the power to put someone in a trance that deep. But why? Surely she wasn't meant to kill him; Khan would have given her better weapons and a backup plan if that were the case. Just how had Khan done this so easily when Lamont couldn't do it earlier tonight? Surely she wasn't in on this whole plan, but was she cooperating with Khan to save her father? And did she have any idea exactly whose house she was in?
Whatever the case, the only person who might have any answers was still under an intense hypnotic spell. Lamont looked her in the eyes and focused his powers on penetrating that thick fog that was engulfing her mind. Margo Lane.
She jumped as if startled, then looked completely disoriented. "What...where am I?"
Just as he suspected--she didn't remember anything. But those subconscious orders were in her mind somewhere, and he was going to get to the bottom of this come Hell or high water. "You're in my home."
Margo suddenly realized who she was talking to. Why in the world had she come here? This was the last place she wanted to be, with as angry and hurt as she was at him. "Your home? How did I get here?"
Lamont wasn't in the mood to answer her questions. He wanted answers to his first. "Who sent you?" he demanded sharply.
"I..." Her thoughts were scattered. What was going on? How had she gotten here? And why had she come? She turned to the door and struggled to open it, trying to leave the room quickly, wanting to escape this place, hoping against hope that this was just a nightmare and she'd wake up any second now...
Lamont slammed the door shut before she could get out. "Who sent you?" he roared, right on top of her, refusing to let her move.
"I don't know!" she roared back, anger and distress in her voice, and pushed him away. "I don't know! All I remember is this voice in my head, over and over, telling me that I had to kill The Shadow..."
...and at that moment, suddenly, it all made sense to her.
Margo stared at Lamont, wonder in her eyes. My God, that explains everything, she realized. Of course he'd known so much about her when they'd first met--The Shadow knows. Of course he hadn't wanted to get deeply involved with her--The Shadow wouldn't have time for a real relationship. Of course he'd left hurriedly when he'd heard about her father's strange behavior--The Shadow was needed. And of course he'd been angry when she'd shouted out "Ying Ko" at the curb--she got the distinct impression that "Ying Ko" meant "shadow" in Chinese...
Lamont's eyes widened. Now he knew why Khan had sent her--to show him how vulnerable he truly was. Because his identity was concealed, because his powers were used in secret, anyone who could penetrate that veil of secrecy was a threat to him. Khan had already done it in The Sanctum...and Margo Lane had penetrated it earlier that evening. He suddenly felt naked, and not just because he was barely wearing anything but a sleeveless undershirt and a pair of trousers. "I want you to leave right now," he ordered, backing off from her.
My God, this is incredible. It can't be true...can it? She found herself smiling an awestruck smile. "I had to kill The Shadow...and I came here," she said, voicing her thought process aloud to force herself to believe it.
Lamont turned away from her and grabbed his shirt off the clothes valet. "I said I want you to leave right now!"
Margo took a step closer to him. "And there was only you."
Lamont pulled on his shirt and buttoned it, turning further away from her. She was too close now...something was liable to happen if she kept this up...no one posed this kind of threat to him and lived. "Get out," he growled.
Margo stepped closer. She was almost certain that the man who'd rejected her on the curb outside the Cobalt Club was The Shadow, not Lamont Cranston...but she needed him to look at her to confirm it. She put a tentative hand on his shoulder. "Let me see into your eyes."
` He whipped around to face her.
She gasped. Those eyes...my God, those eyes...
Lamont drilled an angry power-filled gaze through her. You want to see into my eyes?
She backed off. Roaring static was inside her head now, twisting around, as he stared at her. "I think I know something..."
He was smiling now, an almost insane smile of cruelty, as he came closer. Well, go on. Look at them.
She kept backing away as the noise got louder. "...something I knew before..."
He grabbed her arm. Look at them!
She could not stop voicing the incredible reality aloud, even as her mental voice was being drowned out by his psychic signals. "...something strange about you..."
He was backing her toward the door. But I've got to warn you...
Now it was all making sense, even through the increasingly painful noise in her head. "...all that static in my head whenever you were near..."
He was right on top of her now. ...you won't like what you see!
Her back hit the door, and she stopped. She looked him in the eye, determined to say it before her nerve completely left her. "You're The Shadow!"
He looked absolutely enraged, about to explode, and the pain in her head became intense. Margo braced herself for some kind of physical or psychic blow...
...and suddenly, the noise and pain stopped. Margo looked up.
Lamont had backed off a step, and the darkness faded from his eyes. Now there was nothing in that gaze but...fear? Vulnerability? Shame?
Whatever it was, Margo was determined to strike while the opportunity was there. "My father's disappeared," she said, tears in her voice. "You're the only one who can find him."
Lamont was horrified at his behavior. He'd nearly killed her. He'd been about to literally rip her psyche apart when something clicked and forced him to stop. It was just like when he'd nearly killed his cousin at 13 for silently taunting him about cheating on a test...taunts the budding telepath had inadvertantly heard. But he thought after a year with Marpa Tulku and six years in forced servitude to doing good that he had a better handle on that fiery temper of his than this...would he never be in full control of this darkness within him? He had to get out of here now, find some kind of outlet for this rage, before he did something he'd regret. And hunting Khan might not be a bad way to do that. "Just be gone when I get back," he hissed, then grabbed his suit jacket, vest, and tie, and started out the door.
She put a hand on the door just as he was getting ready to open it. "How do you know I won't tell anyone who you really are?" she challenged.
He glared at her, scouring her psyche for the likelihood that she'd unmask him if he didn't find her father...
...and found something unexpected. Concern? Compassion? For him? After what he'd just done?
Their eyes met. All of that and more was in Margo's gaze now.
Lamont couldn't believe it. Where he'd expected to issue a threat, he was now issuing a statement of trust. I know. Then, he left the room.
Margo knew enough not to follow.
Lamont paced his foyer as he finished dressing and waited for Moe to arrive. Clearly Khan was now waging not just a physical battle, but a psychic one as well. It had been a very long time since Lamont had been pushed this hard by another adept, and he wasn't entirely sure he was up to the challenge. For some reason, the strong confidence he normally had in his abilities was weak, eroded. Probably the ease with which the untrained receptive Margo Lane had gotten past his defenses had something to do with that. But for now, Khan was staying one step ahead of Lamont, and he needed to do something about it.
The clanking of the iron gates indicated Moe had arrived. Lamont pulled on his coat and headed outside. "To The Sanctum," he ordered, climbing in the cab.
Moe nodded and pulled out of the gates.
Across the street, away from the streetlamps and deep in the shadows, a Mongol warrior leaned forward in the back seat of a cab and gestured for the driver to follow the fast-moving Cord.
Traffic in Times Square was extremely heavy for this time of night, so Moe dropped Lamont off a bit further up the block than normal. Lamont got out of the cab and strolled down the street, stopping briefly to adjust the fit of his Homburg...and to look in the side mirror of the car next to him.
A Mongol warrior in full battle dress was walking toward him, keeping a careful distance.
Lamont frowned inwardly. Yet another message from Khan, another indication of his vulnerability, daring him to show his skills when he wasn't cloaked in shadow. The man was clearly meant to engage Lamont in combat, but was probably also meant to be sacrificed should Lamont react to him. Moe had suspected that they'd picked up a tail, moreso when the other cab followed them through a long, roundabout route to Times Square, and now it was Lamont's job to shake him if he continued to follow. He bypassed the alley to The Sanctum and picked up the pace, turning onto a side street.
The Mongol followed.
Lamont's longer legs had the decided advantage in a walking sprint, and he was around the corner again and into a darkened alley before the Mongol could catch up.
The Mongol ran down to the last place he'd seen Lamont...and saw nothing. He frowned. His master would be very upset by this. Hoping he'd just guessed the wrong alley, he hurried further up the block.
A swirling blackness settled back into the form of Lamont Cranston as he stepped out of the alley and watched the man walk on. Deciding to see what else Khan had in store, he followed the warrior at a discreet distance.
The Cord followed slowly, about a half-block behind.
Both men kept walking, eventually arriving in Chinatown. There was a street festival going on, with sparklers, fireworks, dancing dragons, and revelers wandering about. Lamont was barely able to keep the Mongol in sight as he made his way through the crowd.
The Mongol ducked into a doorway marked "Sun Yet Kitchen".
Lamont followed, ascending a set of stairs to a beaded curtain-covered doorway at the top. He parted the curtains carefully and looked inside.
The restaurant was empty, except for a single well-dressed patron having dinner...one who looked extremely familiar. Lamont cautiously entered the room.
Mopping up the remnants of his meal with a piece of bread was a bearded man with short blue-black pomaded hair, dressed in a finely-tailored blue-black suit, looking strangely like a barbarian stuffed into Sunday clothes.
It took Lamont a second to realize that the man before him was Shiwan Khan...and that they were wearing identical Brooks Brothers suits. The only difference was that Khan had on the gold-and-grey striped tie Lamont had worn the day before, while Lamont's was a maroon and navy patterned one. "Nice tie," he commented dryly.
Khan smirked and wiped his hands and mouth on a napkin. Right on time. Marpa Tulku always said that you could never resist a challenge. "Thank you," he said mock-politely, gesturing at the chair across from him. "Sit down."
Lamont doffed his hat and coat, then tossed the coat to the table behind him and sat down. "By the say," he said casually, pulling his gloves off and dropping them into his hat, "you sent Margo Lane to kill me."
Khan chuckled. "Kill you? Ying Ko, if I wanted you dead, I would have your liver on a pole by now. No, I sent the girl to be killed. Tell me, how did you do it?"
Lamont tossed the hat to the table behind him. Just as he'd suspected, it had all been a test. And he wasn't sure whether he'd passed or failed. She got the reaction Khan had wanted, but not the outcome. "She's alive."
Khan raised an eyebrow. Ying Ko had actually developed a compassionate streak. How unfortunate. "Then she is a danger to you. She now knows exactly who you are. How much longer can you let her live? How long before your pure instincts take over?"
Lamont smirked. Now he'd gotten under Khan's skin. Time to take advantage of it. "I'm on to your plan, Khan. But you don't have the beryllium sphere, and without it, you can't complete the bomb." He looked smug. "Besides...you know I'm going to stop you."
Khan chuckled. Ah, good, Ying Ko's legendary arrogance was showing...a set of thought patterns Khan was very good at manipulating. "You Americans are so arrogant. You think your decadent country is the new cradle of civilization."
Lamont's temper flared. Six years back in this country defending the streets of New York had given Lamont a new appreciation for his homeland. "Hey--that's the good old U-S-of-A you're talking about, pal," he cracked in his best tough New Yorker accent.
Khan laughed heartily. "I am talking about ruling the world!"
Lamont shook his head. Khan was clearly delusional. Dangerous, but delusional. "Let me give you a name," he finally said, reaching into his suitcoat for a small notebook and pen. "Leonard Levinsky. Brilliant psychiatrist." He started to jot his number down. "You'll talk, he'll listen..."
"You are boring me!" Khan jabbed a dagger downward toward Lamont's right hand on the table.
At the last second, Lamont spread his fingers wide, and the dagger landed harmlessly between them. Then, he saw something that chilled him.
The dagger had a tri-bladed shaft...and an all-too-familiar sleeping dragon face on its hilt. The face opened its eyes and snarled angrily at him.
Lamont tried to conceal his reaction. "Oh, that knife," he said, trying to act casual.
Too late. Khan had already seen right through the facade. "Recognize it?" he asked rhetorically. "I took it from The Tulku."
Lamont couldn't help it...he looked up at Khan, his eyes reflecting a horrible thought. Marpa Tulku would never have willingly given up Phurba; it was sent by the gods as his sworn protector and would do anything to protect the one who mastered it...
Khan smirked again. Ying Ko was slowly realizing the truth...that Khan was more powerful than even the man he'd called "master". "No, no, I misspoke. I took it out of The Tulku...after I ran it through his heart."
Lamont felt as if Khan had plunged Phurba into his own heart. The Marpa Tulku...the kindest man he'd ever known...the man who'd saved him from himself...the only person who'd ever given a damn if he lived or died...no, he couldn't be dead. White-hot rage burned inside him as he looked at Khan.
Ah, good, Ying Ko's legendary temper was returning. Now to push him over the edge. "When are you going to learn?" he taunted. "When are you going to listen to your true instincts?"
"Instincts?" Lamont hissed between clenched teeth. "I'll show you my instincts!" He grabbed Phurba by the hilt and raised it high above his head, intending to drive it into Khan's heart, if the bastard had one...
Phurba roared and began twisting and contorting in Lamont's grip, infuriated that someone other than its master was attempting to use it. And it already had a healthy dislike for this former student anyway, this bad man who had malice in his heart toward even this new master and needed to be taught a lesson. Its teeth snapped and gnashed as it struggled in Lamont's grasp.
Lamont tried to drive the knife downward, but it felt as if his wrist were about to be torn off. Finally, he slammed it blade-first into the table and let go, then fell into his chair weakly, grasping his hand and grimacing in pain.
Khan smiled triumphantly. He'd manipulated Ying Ko's overconfidence and made him injure himself. Marpa Tulku had always spoken of Ying Ko as such a superior student. How nice that the dead monk had been proven so wrong. "Never did master the Phurba," he chided. "You still expect it to respond to brute force." He held out his right hand.
Phurba slid across the table into it, hilt-first.
Any further thoughts Lamont had of attacking Khan were stilled by the cold steel of a single-shot Chinese pistol against his temple. The Mongol he'd been following was now next to him, gun cocked and ready to fire.
Khan gave the warrior a glare, and the guard backed off and came over to protect his master. "My Mongol warriors are not very bright...but they are very loyal." He sighed. "Face the truth, Ying Ko. There is no light without shadow...and you and I are that shadow. I would sooner destroy a Rembrandt than kill you. But you are not leaving me any choice in the matter."
Lamont wasn't listening. He was instead looking over Khan's shoulder at the not-very-bright warrior, sending a beam of projective energy between the man's eyes.
The warrior winced. He suddenly had a piercing headache--almost like a dagger driving through the middle of his forehead.
"One more time," Khan pronounced, annoyed that Lamont would not look at him. "Will you join me?"
Lamont barely raised his concentration...and the pressure doubled.
The warrior pinched the bridge of his nose, clearly in agony.
"You cannot stop me," Khan warned. "You cannot defeat me. Your mind is an open book to me."
Lamont laughed derisively. "Then learn how to read." He held up his right hand.
The pained warrior tossed his pistol into it and stumbled away.
Khan pushed the table over, knocking Lamont's chair backwards and spilling him to the floor. "Weakling!" he shouted to his guard, stabbing Phurba into his belly, then yanked the dagger out and grabbed the man's other pistol.
Lamont recovered his balance, got to his knees, and aimed his gun right for Khan's heart.
Khan aimed right for the center of Lamont's forehead.
Two trigger fingers fired two pistols simultaneously.
Two bullets flew across the restaurant and smashed headlong into one another, fusing into a single lump of lead.
Khan's eyes widened. He couldn't do that again if he tried.
Lamont's eyes widened. He couldn't do that again if he tried.
Khan shouted a Mongolian battle cry and sent a telekinetic blast through the room.
Lamont was knocked backward. The windows in the restaurant blew outward.
Khan leapt out the now-shattered window overlooking the street.
Lamont got to his feet and sent for Moe, grabbing his coat and hat and racing down the stairs.
For a brief instant, Moe thought Lamont had found himself another driver. A man in a familiar dark Brooks Brothers suit had leapt out the window, executed a perfect mid-air somersault before landing on his feet, and jumped into the sidecar of a waiting motorcycle that sped away just as Moe pulled up to the curb outside of the Sun Yet Kitchen. But a second later, the real Lamont emerged from the restaurant, and Moe hit a switch on the dashboard to pop open the rear door for his passenger.
Lamont jumped into the cab and slammed the door. "Tail 'em, Moe," he ordered.
Moe smiled. This was the part of the mission he liked best--the part where his unique skills were put to good use. He hit the gas, and the cab squealed away from the curb.
The Cord was like a speedboat on wheels--a huge V-8 engine, sleek aerodynamic lines, racing suspension and steering. It could outrun anything on the road. But the motorcycle had a tighter turning radius, and was able to get around corners faster. Moe fought to keep it in sight as they tore down city streets, dodging traffic, running signals.
The motorcycle turned onto Second Avenue. Moe turned onto the street a moment later, then suddenly realized the motorcycle was nowhere to be seen. "Boss, he's disappeared!"
"What?" Lamont looked all around, then something strange caught his eye. "Stop the car!"
Moe screeched to a halt at the corner of Second and Houston Street.
Lamont got out of the cab. Whatever he'd seen, it was gone now. But he was certain he'd seen something here-- the splash of a street puddle where none should have been, the swirling of trash in a wind pattern not indicative of the shape of the buildings around here...
A whispering hiss got his attention. He looked all around...and spotted an empty lot, right where he thought he'd seen that odd splash and crazy wind pattern. He crossed the street and walked over to the chain link fence.
Trash blew across the lot. Weeds grew all around. It was just another demolished building site, like so many others in New York City nowadays thanks to the economic collapse of The Great Depression. There was nothing there.
Or was there? Lamont couldn't shake the feeling that Khan was nearby, watching, laughing. This lot was concealing something. There were times he hated the fact that he was so unbalanced psychically; his receptive strength was barely a quarter of his massive projective power, and he had to really work hard to open it up and use it properly...harder than his exhausted mind could work right now.
Moe came up behind him, looking confused. Lamont said and did some crazy things sometimes, but even he wouldn't mistake an abandoned construction site in a rundown part of town for anything of value...would he? "It's just an empty lot, boss," he told his employer quietly.
Lamont wasn't so sure, but he couldn't decipher the mystery. His head hurt, his shoulder ached, he was just heartsick over the news of Marpa Tulku's murder, and he'd lost Khan's trail. What a rotten night.
He turned away from the fence and wandered back to the cab.
Lamont could smell the aroma of logs on a fire mingling with the heady scent of Margo's perfume as he arrived inside the mansion. He sighed inwardly, reminding himself that he couldn't really have expected her to leave after their encounter in his bedroom earlier. He headed into the parlor, doffed his coat and hat, and tossed them aside onto a settee.
Margo was asleep on the sofa in front of the fireplace. In the dancing light from the flames, she looked so delicate, so vulnerable...so beautiful. Lamont massaged his aching shoulder and mentally debated whether to wake her or leave her there and deal with her in the morning.
Margo stirred, then opened her eyes.
For a moment, they both looked at each other, uncertain of what to say.
From the look in his eyes, Margo could tell he hadn't found her father and was clearly angry with himself for failing. But Margo trusted him to keep looking. Now she needed to get him to understand that. "I can't help that I know what I know about you," she finally said. "And I can't forget it, either."
Lamont looked away. He could make her forget. And yet, he couldn't. How could he destroy something so beautiful? How could he send away the one person in the six years he'd been away from The Temple who could even come close to understanding him? But this was insane; he had no time for friends or lovers like this, and even if he did, there was no way it could work...no way she would ever stay with him if she knew the truth...no way he could stop his darkness from hurting her...
Margo got up off the sofa and walked the two steps it took her to stand right in front of him, so close that if they leaned their heads forward, their lips would meet. This was a man of incredible power, incredible strength, incredible reputation both as ultra-rich Lamont Cranston and ultra-vigilante The Shadow. Why was he scared? Hadn't she shown him by staying behind that she wasn't going to hurt him, wasn't going to expose him? Was there something more--that darkness that she'd seen in his eyes? Was that what he was afraid of--losing his temper with her again? If she hadn't been scared away before, why did he think she'd be scared away now?
Lamont resigned himself to the fact that she wasn't leaving. But he needed to put some distance between them right now, before either of them gave in to some inappropriate impulse. The irony of such a notorious playboy wanting to distance himself from a beautiful woman who was practically surrendering herself didn't escape him. "It's late," he said quietly, looking at her once more, then gestured up the stairs with his head. "Sleep anywhere you like--there are guest rooms. But in the morning, you should go."
Margo looked at him compassionately. "I'm not afraid of you."
He caressed her cheek with his left hand.
Margo thought she was going to melt. His strong hands were incredibly gentle, and she could feel the need in his touch. She nuzzled her cheek against his palm, showing her trust.
Lamont wanted nothing more right now than to sweep her off her feet and carry her upstairs, spending the rest of the night caressing that beautiful body, kissing those rich red lips, making mad, passionate love to her, finally letting himself go physically and emotionally. But he couldn't. He couldn't allow himself to feel those emotions, and he couldn't let the strength of those emotions hurt her. He looked at her, sorrow in his expression. "But I am."
And with that, he walked away, leaving Margo alone with her aching desires.
Despite his fatigue, Lamont couldn't sleep. He was lying in bed, still in his shirt and trousers, with thoughts of Margo Lane repeating over and over again in his head like a phonograph needle stuck in a deep groove. The intellectual part of his mind was aware that he had a strong, if raw and untrained, receptor in the house now, drawing upon his deep projective reservoir, keeping them in touch mentally even though they were at opposite ends of the mansion. The more primitive part of his mind didn't care what the explanation was; all he wanted was for everything to quiet down and let him sleep, because he was beyond exhausted...
He looked around in the night. Was that her calling to him?
It was her. He sat up slowly.
She needed him. He got out of bed and left the bedroom, following her siren call.
He found her in the bedroom Aunt Rose and Uncle Wainwright had once used, an elegant corner room with massive cherry-finished wood pieces, dusty rose bed linens, burgundy-colored carpeting, and burgundy-and-lace panel curtains. She was sound asleep, blonde hair falling softly across her face, covers tossed aside, clad in only a clingy cream-colored full-length slip. The slip's slit was exposing her right leg, which was curled up seductively, and her breasts were about to slip out of their lacy coverings. She looked tantalizingly beautiful, almost daring him to come lie beside her...
Lamont ran a hand through his hair. My God, what was he thinking? He couldn't do this. Why had he even come down here? He had to get out of here. What kind of monster was he that he would even consider doing this? He thought for sure he had long since left that kind of debauchery behind, but now it felt as if he were just pretending, wearing some sort of mask of respectability...
A spot on his right cheek itched. Lamont rubbed at the spot.
A patch of skin came off in his hand. Lamont turned to the dresser and looked in the mirror.
There was now a dime-sized hole in his right cheek. But it wasn't bloody. Instead, there was something darker underneath. Lamont picked at the hole.
More skin came off in his hands. Now Lamont could slip a couple of fingers into the hole. He could feel more flesh underneath, but it was rougher textured, with a heavier beard. He pulled harder at the skin around his fingers.
The skin stretched like rubber, pulling away from his face. It felt just like a mask. He tore at it harder.
The rest of his face ripped away. Lamont looked in the mirror.
Shiwan Khan's face looked back at him.
He turned to the bed and leered at Margo.
Margo sat up and screamed.
Mercifully, the nightmare had the decency to let Lamont go before he actually did anything. He jolted awake and sat up in bed, gasping for breath, drenched in a cold sweat, shaking with fear. It took a second for him to realize that he was still in his own room, that he hadn't done something horrible to Margo, that the face attached to his body was Lamont Cranston's, not Shiwan Khan's. But the emotions the nightmare had generated were strong, and Lamont's skin crawled with revulsion over his behavior.
"Oh, God," he whispered before finally collapsing back onto the pillows and letting exhaustion carry him away.
Margo Lane awakened from a rather restless sleep and for a moment was disoriented by her surroundings. Then, she remembered where she was--Cranston Manor, one of the upstairs bedrooms, at the opposite end of the house from Lamont. She'd wanted to put some distance between them, allow him a cooling-off period, but couldn't shake the feeling that he was everywhere in this house, as close by as a shadow on a wall...
Movement caught her eye. She turned over in bed.
Lamont, in a sharply-tailored blue pin-striped Brooks Brothers suit, was leaning against one of the bedposts. "Good morning," he greeted with a smile.
Margo marveled at his stealth. How long had he been there? "Good morning," she returned, then stretched. "Oh, God, I dreamed."
Lamont watched her arch her back and extend her limbs like a cat, completely comfortable in her body--and with her sexuality. It was a rare thing in a respectible woman nowadays, and he was intrigued. "Really?" He sat down on the corner of the bed. "So did I. What did you dream?"
Margo smiled. He wasn't turning her away. This was a good thing. "I dreamed I was lying naked on a beach in the South Seas." She closed her eyes, remembering the sensations of the dream. "The waves were washing up on my toes...the sun was beating down, hot and cold at the same time...oh, it was wonderful." She opened her eyes to see the interested expression on his face. Maybe there was a man underneath that shadow. "So, what did you dream?"
His expression turned wry. "I dreamed I tore all the skin off my face and was somebody else underneath."
So much for seduction. Margo gave him ten points for honesty, but deducted a hundred more for destroying the mood. "You have problems."
He shrugged. "I'm aware of that." He suddenly got up and turned away, as if embarrassed for being so close to a barely-dressed woman. "I'll wait outside while you get dressed."
"Oh, that's all right," Margo said, desperate to keep him here and seize those hints of humanity that kept surfacing. "You can stay." She climbed out of bed.
He averted his eyes.
She found it fascinating. Lamont Cranston, notorious playboy, had a modest streak? How much of the womanizing behavior had merely been an act, a role he'd played to distract from any attention that might be paid to behavior more suited to his alter ego? Was the real Lamont Cranston somewhere in between the extreme ne'er-do-well of his public persona and the dark and angry Shadow? She needed to find out. She picked up her clothes from the night before and frowned at them. "Oh," she said in an exaggerated tone, "these are all rumpled."
"Oh," Lamont said, almost shyly, "there might be some things you can wear in here." He crossed the room, still averting his eyes, and opened an elegant cherry-finished wardrobe with burgundy-and-lace front panels. "Ah, yes." He pulled out a contemporary black satin and chiffon day dress. "These belonged to...um...my aunt Rose."
Margo looked at the dress. It had a modern haute couture label. The wardrobe was full of other dresses, similarly styled, from similar contemporary designers. No doubt they were meant to be given away as tokens of Lamont Cranston the womanizer's appreciation for a night of pleasure. Somehow, that didn't bother her as much as she'd thought it might.
"Fashionable gal, that Rose," Lamont said, aware that he'd been nailed.
Margo smiled wryly. "Kept her figure, too," she said, noticing the slender waist and curve-hugging cut of the dress. Nonetheless, she accepted the offering and ducked behind an Oriental dressing screen to change clothes.
Lamont now knew that he really shouldn't be in there. "Well," he said, heading for the door, "I hate to run, but I've got a..."
"...taxi waiting downstairs?"
He stopped in his tracks and turned toward her. "Excuse me?"
She peered out from behind the screen. "That was what you were about to say, wasn't it?"
"Yes," he said, annoyed with himself for once again thinking way too loudly for the amount of psychic power that now surrounded him. Marpa Tulku had told him many times that he thought very loudly, even for a telepath, but once he left The Temple, Lamont had never had to worry about anyone hearing his thoughts unless he wanted them to...until now.
"Huh!" She laughed. It would have been a logical guess, but she had literally heard the words in her head before he spoke them aloud. Either he was a really loud thinker, or she was a lot more sensitive to thoughts than she'd ever been before. "This is getting easier the more I'm around you. You're like reading a book."
She was the second person who'd said that to him in twelve hours. Lamont wasn't interested in his thought patterns being as easy to read as a dime novel. He groaned inwardly, wondering how he was going to get through this without going mad.
"Well, thank you very much, Lamont, but I'm not going to need that taxi," she continued, ducking back behind the screen.
"Well, yes, but I've got an appointment..."
She doffed her slip and tossed it over the screen. "Oh, good. I'll go with you."
Now this was getting ridiculous. "No...see, last night we agreed..."
"No, we didn't."
He frowned. "Do you mind if I get one tiny little sentence out here? Thank you very much." He took a deep breath and focused his resolve. "Last night, we agreed that you would leave in the morning."
"No, you agreed I would leave. I agreed to no such thing." She peered out from behind the screen again. "We need each other..."
"No, we don't," he interrupted.
"We have a connection..."
"No, we don't."
"Then how do you explain that I can hear your thoughts?"
"My thoughts are hard to miss."
"And why is that?"
"Psychically, I'm very well-endowed."
He'd said that without a trace of modesty. Margo was impressed. She gave him her best seductive smile. "I'll bet you are." Then, she ducked back behind the screen. "O.K., Lamont," she said, pulling on the dress, "you don't need me, but I need you to help me find my father." She zipped the dress, then came out from hiding and struck a vampish pose. "And I am coming with you."
Lamont's eyes drank her in. Damn, she looked good in that dress. How could he refuse a woman who looked like that? If nothing else, she'd provide better scenery in the cab than Moe. "O.K."
The Empire State Building, worldwide symbol of the skyline of New York City, had been envisioned as a massive office building allowing the richest to overlook the city like gods of the sky. But the economic downturn of The Great Depression had caused it to stand empty for months after completion. Desperate to make back their costs, the developers hit upon a new idea: Use it as a pure tourist attraction, charging admission to ride the elevator to the balcony at the top, making money on souvenirs and pay-per-view telescopes that looked out over the city. The result was wildly successful; the Empire State Building was now New York's most popular tourist gathering point. Just today, sailors from ships in port were mingling with out-of-town Christmas shoppers and curious college students atop the crow's nest. But they weren't the only ones admiring the city's skyline from above.
"From there..." Reinhardt Lane robotically pointed to one side of Manhattan Island. "...to there." He indicated the other side. "That is just the blast radius. The destruction will be..." He tried to grasp the numbers, and even in his hypnotized super-calculating state, he couldn't wrap his mind around the figure he was seeing. "...incalcuable."
Shiwan Khan, dressed in one of Genghis Khan's finest robes and fur hats, smiled. Just what he'd hoped to hear. Khan was born and bred in the mountains, and even New York's tallest point wasn't high enough for him. But he loved the view of the area he would soon destroy. "Good." He patted his servant on the shoulder, then walked around the balcony, breathing in the thin air and enjoying the winter chill. "What a wonderful day."
Snickers and giggles reached Khan's ears. He looked around.
A group of sailors on leave were pointing at him, amused by his feminine-looking attire. "Nice dress, toots," one of them said, then blew Khan a kiss as he and his buddies wandered past.
Khan seethed. No one spoke to the Emperor of Mankind that way. He fixed a dark gaze on the taunting sailor.
The sailor stopped in his tracks and turned to face Khan.
Khan pointed to the railing of the balcony.
The sailor walked toward it, not understanding why he felt compelled to do so.
Khan mimed climbing the railing.
The sailor did so, confused.
Khan wiggled his fingers downward like a pair of legs, stepping them over an imaginary railing.
The sailor, horrified by his behavior, stepped right over the railing and onto the very narrow ledge on the other side of it.
"Hey, Tommy!" one of his buddies called out. "What the Hell are you doing?"
"I don't know!" Tommy called back, clinging to the railing. "Somebody get me down from here!"
Khan smiled cruelly. He really liked New York. Too bad it wouldn't be around for much longer. "Come on along and listen to...," he sang softly.
"Get me down!" Tommy cried, as his friends were climbing up onto the railing to grab hold of him.
"...the lullaby of..." Khan waved dismissively.
Tommy threw himself off the ledge, screaming in horror.
Khan listened to him scream all the way down, loving the sound as it echoed through the canyons of skyscrapers. "...Broadway."
"It's all falling into place for me now, Margo," Lamont said as he and Margo walked the short blocks from her house, where they'd dropped her car off, toward Times Square, completely oblivious to the screams of yet another suicide from the balcony of the Empire State Building. They'd decided to skip Moe's taxi and take advantage of her available transportation to get them downtown. Lamont wasn't ready to take her into The Sanctum, but he had a lot of things she could do while he worked in his office. "Shiwan Khan has your father's generator and enough bronzium to make it work, but he needs a beryllium sphere to complete the bomb. I wonder where he intends to get one?"
Margo looked thoughtful. "Beryllium sphere?" she said aloud. She was sure she'd heard that term before. Suddenly, she remembered where. "Beryllium sphere! Farley Claymore!"
Lamont stopped in the middle of the cross-street. "What?"
"Farley Claymore. My father's assistant. He was working on a beryllium sphere--I'm sure of it."
"At your father's lab?"
"No, no, he had his own facility." She scoured her memory, trying to force herself to see that creep's face inside her head. "Maritech Labs, down on the waterfront."
A car screeched to a halt, barely missing them. "Get out of the road, you idiot!" the driver shouted. "What'd'ya think this is, Central Park?"
Lamont took Margo's arm and stepped across the street. "Good," he smiled, already formulating a plan. "Very good. Say--I want you to do something else for me."
Margo looked eager. He was accepting her as part of his world...trusting her. This was probably a first for him. She didn't want to press her luck, but couldn't wait for her next assignment. "What is it?"
"I was trailing Khan last night when I lost him at the corner of Second and Houston. There's something really strange about that corner. There's an empty lot there now, but I want you to find out what used to be there."
"Second and Houston. Got it." She looked at him. "But what about Farley Claymore?"
Lamont smiled coldly. "Farley Claymore's about to receive a visit..." His voice turned deep, and his eyes turned dark. ...from The Shadow.
Farley Claymore was, quite simply, an idiot.
Farley was a munitions "expert", if one could call him that, who'd bungled his way along through the years, working for various scientists with Department of War contracts, generally making a nuisance of himself. But Farley did make outstanding enhancement shells. And he was on the verge of something big with Reinhardt Lane's implosive generator. But first, he had to tie up a loose end down at Maritech Labs, so he entered the large spherical pressure-testing chamber and sealed the door, anxious to get everything taken care of...
Farley leaped almost ten feet in the air as he heard the voice ringing through the chamber. "Who's there?" he shouted back nervously.
A sinister chuckle answered him. Where is the beryllium sphere, Claymore?
Farley looked very nervous as he backed toward a set of levers near the far wall of the chamber. "Sphere?"
The Shadow groaned. Khan had clearly gotten to Farley, too. Claymore, you idiot! You're being manipulated. Your mind is being controlled by hypnosis.
Farley looked confused as he backed into the levers, unable to move any further. "My mind? Controlled?"
The Shadow had no time for simpering idiots. The fate of New York--and possibly the world--was at stake. Where is the beryllium sphere, Claymore?
"It's too late...I already put it on a truck!" He stuck something resembling a pipe handle into one of the levers behind him and pushed down on it with all his weight.
Water began pouring from pipes in the ceiling.
Farley's reaction caught The Shadow off-guard. Was this Khan's manipulation? Take me to it--now!
Farley shoved the pipe into another slot and pushed the other lever downward.
More water poured into the chamber.
Farley yanked the pipe out of the levers and drew his gun.
The Shadow laughed mockingly. Who are you going to shoot with that, Claymore?
Farley scanned the room, noting the rising water...and a pair of deep hollows resembling holes left by legs. He smiled wickedly and leveled his gun to about chest height of a man standing in those hollows.
Dammit! The Shadow swore mentally. It was Hell fighting someone who knew your every trick almost better than you did. He took off running for higher ground.
Farley saw the hollows moving and emptied his gun toward them.
Six shots rang out. Five bullets pierced the wall of the chamber, leaving a gap between shots two and four.
Blood dripped onto the surface of the water.
Farley laughed gleefully. Khan had told him The Shadow was way too overconfident about his mind clouding abilities, and that simple physics would always defeat him. "Nobody controls my mind, Shadow!" he shouted to the room. "There's a new world order coming--and I'm going to be a king!" He made his way to the pressure door. "Do you hear me? A king!" He opened the pressure door and hurried outside, sealing the door shut behind him.
Inside, The Shadow heard the door crank turn and the locking bolts slide into place, then the clank of an extra lock being applied. As soon as he knew Farley was gone, he dropped the clouding suggestion...and Lamont Cranston slumped to the floor of an ever-filling watery trap, bleeding, cold, and sick to his stomach from the pain.
The water reached his wounded left shoulder. Its brine caused the pain to shoot through his body.
Lamont staggered to his feet and was stunned to find the water level was already to his knees and rising fast. His clothes were saturated, heavy, dragging him down, causing even more pain in his injured shoulder. Having already lost his fedora in the water, he now had to shed the other stuff before it drowned him. He managed to get his gloves off, nearly dropped his ring before slipping it back on his left hand, then unfastened the cloak and let it fall away. The wet scarf was next, then the shoulder holster, then the riding coat. He tried to kick his boots off, but they were too tight, so he resigned himself to making do.
Once he was able to move again, he made his way through thigh-high water to the door. His left arm was nearly useless, and his right shoulder still ached from the arrow wound last night, but he had to push past the pain and try to get the door open. He turned the crank with all his might.
He heard a faint clank, and realized that the wheel was striking the extra lock Farley had put on the outside. He groaned, then tried to turn it again.
Another clank. Nothing. It wasn't budging. Lamont scanned the room, then spotted the water control levers. Taking a deep breath, he dove into the water and swam across to them, then grabbed them and pulled upward with all his might.
Nothing. They weren't budging, either. Lamont realized that the piece of pipe Farley had used was probably the only way to get enough torque to rotate them because of the pressure behind them. He leaned against the wall, exhausted, and struggled to think.
The water was now up to his chin. He had to get out of here. At this rate, he'd drown in minutes...if he didn't bleed to death first. And there was no one who knew where he was, no one who would hear a cry for help and understand what it meant...
Wait a minute. There was someone. But could she possibly hear him? Did he have enough strength left to call her? Only one way to find out.
Lamont concentrated, focusing as much urgency as he could into the words. Margo...Margo, I need you...
Margo Lane couldn't understand how the Hall of Records could possibly be so disorganized. She'd gone to the corner of Second and Houston, seen the empty lot for herself, and had come here to research the building that used to be there. But there were no recent records for that property. None at all. And no one could remember what they'd done with them.
So now she was down in the archives, digging through old boxes, looking at blueprints of a building that had been proposed for that corner, reading the building permits, tracing the records as best she could from the pieces, leaning forward for yet another book that might have some of the missing information...
Suddenly, something slammed into her brain like a freight train and knocked her backwards. She collapsed into her chair and screamed.
The clerk helping her came over to her. "Miss? Miss? Are you all right?"
Margo wasn't sure. She put a hand to her temple and looked amazed. It was like nothing she'd ever felt before--it felt almost like a rush of strong wind, except it wasn't nearly as gentle and was a lot louder, and strangely sounded just like Lamont's voice...
Suddenly, her brain processed his words. Margo, I need you...
"Oh, my God," she whispered, then leapt to her feet, grabbed her purse, and raced out of the room.
Lamont was rapidly running out of room in the chamber as he floated far above the floor on the continually rising water. The air pocket was less than three feet tall now, and becoming deoxygenated fast. He kept trying to take deep breaths, but the air was tasting stale, and his lungs were screaming for oxygen.
Two feet. Lamont pounded on the hatch above his head, but it wasn't giving way, either.
One foot. Barely enough room to keep his nose above water.
And then, mere inches.
Margo's maroon LaSalle tore through town. She could barely hear him still calling to her, but the suggestion he'd pounded into her brain was enough to guide her toward him. What kind of trouble could The Shadow have gotten into where he couldn't get himself out of it? The very thought chilled Margo to the bone. But his tone suggested he was desperate, and he was growing weaker by the minute.
Margo honked her horn at midday traffic, weaving through stalled cars, frantically hoping she wasn't too late.
The air gap at the top of the room was barely two inches in height. But for some reason, it wouldn't completely close over.
Lamont was no longer even aware of the pain in his shoulder, no longer even aware of the weight of his clothes. All he wanted was oxygen, and he wanted it now. His eyes scanned the walls quickly.
Five streams of bubbles were coming up from the wall across the chamber from him.
Bubbles, Lamont realized. Bubbles mean air. He swam toward them.
The bubble streams were coming through holes in the wall caused by Farley's gun. Air coming in meant water was going out, which was why the room wasn't completely filling. It wasn't enough to drain the room, but it might be enough to allow Lamont to hang in there for a few more minutes. He stuck a finger through one of the holes.
Cold December air tickled his finger on the other side.
Lamont drew his finger out again, quickly put his lips against the hole, blew outward hard to expel the stale air from his lungs, then sucked in a fresh breath.
It was only a small amount of air, but nothing had ever tasted so good. He drew several grateful breaths, letting the oxygen clear his mind and refocus his thoughts. He knew he could not keep this up forever--he'd eventually tire and collapse--so he had to think of something else, some way of getting that door open. If he could just see that extra lock, he might be able to manipulate it with his mind, but it was just out of visual range through the window.
He drew one more breath, then swam back to the door. Maybe there was enough pressure in the room now to allow him to dislodge the lock. He turned the crank handle again.
Nothing. The door didn't move.
Lamont groaned inwardly again. He was dead unless help arrived soon. He could only hope Margo had heard...and understood.
Margo screeched to a stop outside Maritech Labs and, for a brief moment, wondered if she'd gotten her psychic signals crossed. There was no one there--no cars, no delivery trucks, nothing. But she could see water through the window in the pressure chamber door, and wondered if an experiment was in progress.
Then she saw the streams of water coming out of the side of the pressure chamber, and realized that there was something more going on than met the eye. She got out of her car and approached the pressure chamber cautiously.
There was a pipe wedged into the wheel-shaped door latch, as if someone had locked someone else inside. She looked through the window.
Lamont suddenly floated into her view.
She gasped. He looked pained, distorted, as if he were on the verge of drowning.
Open the door, she heard his mind whisper as he pantomimed the action. It's locked from the outside...
Margo tugged at the pipe, finally dislodging it. She tossed it aside and tried to turn the wheel.
From the inside, Lamont saw the wheel rotate a half turn and stick. He grabbed it, braced his feet against the stairs, and threw every last bit of strength he had into turning it the rest of the way.
A thousand gallons of water did the rest, and the door flew open.
Margo tried desperately to hang onto the pipe railing on the metal stairs, but the force of the water coming at her was just too much. She was flung across the parking lot on a tidal wave.
Lamont was right behind her, washed out by the contents of the watery would-be grave.
Margo recovered her senses and looked around frantically for Lamont, finally spotting him lying face down on the concrete in a half-inch-deep puddle of water. She hurried over to him, rolling him onto his back and patting his cheeks to startle him into taking a breath.
He gave a cough, then gasped for air.
Margo let out a sigh of relief. She elevated his head so that he could breathe better.
His eyes seemed to clear, and he looked at her for a moment, not entirely sure he could believe what he was seeing.
She brushed the wet hair out of his face. "You called?" she deadpanned.
He smiled. "You heard," he managed to croak out between gasps.
Margo felt his trust of her rise tenfold.
"We are victorious!" Khan shouted triumphantly, practically beaming as Farley Claymore's beryllium sphere was wheeled across the floor of his throne room. Guards pushed the cart toward their master, and Farley kept rubbing it with a cloth to polish it like a big silver apple. "The destruction of Ying Ko is complete, and the whole world will soon hear our thunder...thanks to the only American with genius enough to join me of his own free will!"
Farley smiled broadly. He'd go down in history as the man who conquered The Shadow...and one of the world's great rulers.
Khan came over to Farley and hugged him. His smile was cold. "Someone who saw himself a 'king' in my kingdom."
Farley chuckled nervously. "'King'? Did I say 'king'?"
Khan grabbed the back of his neck. "Yes, you did."
Farley tried to think of a way out of this. "Probably not the best choice of words," he mumbled nervously.
Khan grabbed his face in a jawbreaker grip and turned it to face him. "No, it wasn't."
"Because I was thinking prince, tops..."
Khan squeezed Farley's neck harder.
"Not even...duke? Earl?"
Khan glared at Farley.
"Your choice, of course. Your choice."
Khan wanted so badly to kill the simpering idiot. But until the bomb was assembled, he needed both scientists. Once they were able to successfully assemble the pieces, then he'd get rid of them. But for right now, patience was needed. He flung Farley aside like a rag doll. "Get Dr. Lane and assemble the bomb!" he ordered.
Farley got to his feet and ran to go find Reinhardt. The faster he got away from this lunatic when he was in this kind of mood, the better. He welcomed the chance to work on something else...and order Reinhardt around for a change.
Khan looked eager. Soon, the most fearsome weapon ever conceived would be reality. And with it, no one would be able to stop him. "In the name of the new Kha Khan--the power of God on Earth!" he shouted.
The guards raised their swords and shouted in triumph.
Margo heard Lamont's moans halfway down the hall and quickened her pace toward his bedroom. Fortunately, Farley was a bad shot, and Lamont's heavy clothes had done their job of slowing the bullet down to lessen the damage; the bullet had passed almost completely through his left shoulder without breaking a single bone or severing a single major vessel or nerve. But it was just under the skin on the other side, and Lamont had ordered her to remove it so that it would not move and cause worse damage elsewhere. Margo had received nurse's aide training in college, but was definitely not qualified as a surgeon, and had balked, suggesting they call a doctor. But Lamont had refused, reminding her that doctors had to report all gunshot wounds to the police by law, and that there was no way even The Shadow would have been able to extricate him from that mess. So Margo had given him a shot of whiskey to dull the pain, cut out the bullet with equipment from what amounted to a hospital ward's cabinet in one of his closets, cleaned the area thoroughly, dressed the wound tightly, and given him a dose of sulfa drugs to fight off the infection that was beginning to take hold from the dirty water that had gotten into the wound before her arrival. Modesty had gone right out the window; she'd stripped him of his wet clothing and put him right into bed, covering him with as many warm blankets as she could find and changing the saturated dressing on his right shoulder--an arrow wound from his rescue attempt at the Federal Building the night before, he'd said. But his fever was still going up, and she'd gone off to get out of her own wet clothes and fetch a bowl of water to cool his brow. Now she was dressed in his silk robe and on her way back with a large glass basin of cold water and a washcloth when she heard his delirious whimpers. "Lamont?" she called out, coming into the room.
Lamont was shivering under the blankets, mumbling incoherently. He looked as if he were having a nightmare, but his eyes were wide open.
Margo came closer. Those eyes...my God, those eyes...
Suddenly, raw power radiated out of them and shot through the room. Margo felt something driving into her brain, wrapping around her, sweeping her away...
She was standing in a dark chamber with an angry maw of a fireplace belching black smoke and flames into the room. The chamber looked Oriental in its decor, but even with the fire, there was no warmth in this room. Everything was harsh, stark, black, evil. She saw something moving off in the shadows and looked toward it.
Lamont's face looked back at her. But this wasn't the Lamont Cranston she knew. This was a wild man, with stringy black hair, debauched features, long purple nails, an Oriental ruler's robe...and demonic eyes.
He rose up off his throne. "You're not supposed to be here," he said, then pointed to the fireplace.
A tongue of flame shot out of the fireplace and drew a circle on the floor around her.
Margo felt the flames rising up, engulfing her...and strangely protecting her. She looked through the fire.
Wars raged all around her. Wars in a distant land...China, maybe? Villages being pillaged and burned. People being slaughtered. Blood everywhere.
And leading the rampage, roaring with triumph, was Lamont, dressed in full battle armor.
Margo watched in horror as he sliced one man's head off, stabbed another, wiped the blood from his face greedily...
Margo felt herself suddenly shoved backwards, and fell into a chair. She recovered her senses and looked around again.
She was back in Lamont's bedroom, sitting in the chair by his bedside. He was blinking, gasping for breath, as if he too had just emerged from that horrible nightmare.
Margo had somehow managed to hang onto the bowl of water and not spill it all over herself. She moved to sit on the edge of the bed, then dipped the washcloth into the water and wiped his brow. "Sh-h," she urged, trying to calm herself and him.
He looked her way, still disoriented.
"You were dreaming," she said in answer to his unspoken question.
It took Lamont a second to remember what he'd been dreaming...and then another second to realize how she'd known that. He put a hand on her arm to stop her from turning away from him. "You saw," he whispered weakly.
She nodded, ashamed that she'd eavesdropped on this. No wonder he'd been so scared. He hadn't wanted her to see that part of his life. But she had. And now they both had to deal with that knowledge.
Lamont was completely sickened by what he knew she'd seen. "Do you have any idea what it's like to have done things you can never forgive yourself for?" he asked rhetorically.
Margo saw the complete vulnerability in his eyes. She had seen into his very soul, and seen the darkness he hid there. But she could also see that the beast she'd seen leading those slaughters wasn't who he was now. Even in that dark nightmare, he'd moved to protect her, casting that circle of fire around her. She took his hand. "Lamont...whoever you were, whatever you did...it's all in the past."
He looked sad. "Not for me, Margo. Never for me."
Margo kept holding his hand. She refused to believe him. He was not going to drive her away. Everyone had things in their past they weren't proud of. God knows she had used and abused enough men in her lifetime to deserve to spend the rest of her life alone. But no amount of any man's dark past was going to separate her from the one good thing that had happened to her in a very long time. She gently caressed his right shoulder.
His index finger stroked her wrist lovingly.
She smiled. He was finally understanding that he was stuck with her. And somehow, she was pretty certain he didn't mind this situation.
The newspaper boys the next morning cried the blaring headline out to passing patrons on the streets: "Extra! Extra! Read all about it! Madman threatens to blow the city sky-high!"
Other disbelieving citizens listened to the voice of the newsman on the radio: "Authorities are still wondering what to make of the ransom demand received last night by a mysterious man who claims to have a bomb powerful enough to destroy the entire city of New York. Is he serious? Is he bluffing? Either way, surely the work of a madman."
Margo Lane had found the paper on Lamont Cranston's bed early that morning. She'd awakened to find herself alone in the bedroom. As near as she could tell, she'd fallen asleep in the chair, and Lamont had thoughtfully covered her with one of his blankets sometime during the night. Still dressed in his robe, she picked up the paper and read it as she left the room, heading downstairs. "Good morning, Russell," she greeted the majordomo as he headed up the stairs with a tray.
Russell watched her pass him, realized that the person Mr. Cranston had sent him upstairs to tend to was already up and about, then turned around and headed back downstairs to serve coffee to the two of them.
Margo found Lamont in the parlor, apparently showered and dressed, looking out the window, deep in thought. "Have you read this?" she called.
He nodded. "That's why I left it for you."
She looked at the article again. "It says that he's demanded millions of dollars in ransom--cash, gold, jewels, even works of art--or he'll blow up the city at midnight tonight. Is he serious? Can he really do this?"
"Of course. He's got your father's generator, Claymore's sphere, and enough bronzium to make it all work. Find Khan and we'll find that bomb." He massaged his sore shoulder and turned toward her. "What did you find out about that lot?"
"Not much, I'm afraid. Up until a few years ago, it was the site of the old Hotel Monolith."
"The Monolith?" Lamont crossed toward Russell and accepted the cup of coffee the butler was pouring for him. "I vaguely remember that."
"Seems that's about the only way anybody remembers it. The records at City Hall are a real mess when it comes to that place." Margo picked up the coffee cup off Lamont's saucer and began pacing, sipping it as she talked. "It was built ten years ago but never finished. The developer went bankrupt putting the finishing touches on the place and committed suicide. It sat empty for a long time because no one knew what to do with it. The last official record is of its sale six years ago to a Far Eastern buyer."
Lamont didn't even raise an eyebrow at Margo's appropriation of his coffee cup. After what they went through last night, sharing the same cup was nothing. "When was it torn down?"
"The records don't say."
Now that made Lamont raise an eyebrow. "What?"
"That's what I meant when I said the records were a mess. I made some calls while I was there, but got nowhere." She came back over to him. "Everyone seems to know that it was torn down...but no one can remember when, or by whom."
Lamont took back the coffee cup. His eyes widened as a thought suddenly occurred to him. "Or if."
Minutes later, Moe dropped both of them off at the corner of Second and Houston. Lamont got out of the cab, offered a hand to Margo, then stood in the middle of the street and just stared across at the vacant lot. "I can't believe he did it," he said, his voice filled with marvel.
"Did what?" Margo asked.
Lamont wasn't listening...at least, not to her. He was instead opening his mind, trying to find mental impressions that didn't seem to belong. Marpa Tulku had taught him that mind clouding was a projective skill, but breaking through it required both receptive skill to hear the suggestion and projective power to override it. There was something here; now, he had to force his receptive side to find it.
A strange whispering hiss filled his head. He focused on it, filtered out the remaining impressions, and amplified that thought wave in his head.
The hiss got louder.
"Lamont?" Margo insisted, putting a gentle hand on his arm.
Focus, he told himself, trying to reduce the content in his mind to that one particular psychic wavelength that was now hissing and swirling through his head. Filter. Amplify.
The hissing became a whispering voice, still indistinct.
Focus. Filter. Amplify.
The whispering became more distinct. The phrase this is nothing but an overgrown, empty lot with trash blowing over it became clear.
Lamont wrapped projective telepathic energy around that whispering voice and shoved it out of his head.
The air around him began to shimmer and swirl, and suddenly, everything came into focus. "My God!" he practically shouted.
Where there had been nothing but an overgrown, empty lot with trash blowing over it, there now stood a magnificent twelve-story hotel. Art deco metal lettering on the front blared its name, "Hotel Monolith". Long, sleek lines of marble and granite towered skyward, brass and steel gleamed in the sunlight, and a round crows-nest-style penthouse topped it like a crown. The whole thing was a magnificent example of 1920s architectural styling looming over the street below...completely unseen.
Unseen, that is, except by one powerful, clever adept. "It's beautiful," Lamont whispered.
Margo looked confused. He had to be seeing something she couldn't--probably with his mind--but what in the world was he talking about? "What is? Lamont?"
Lamont grabbed a passer-by and pointed him right at the corner. "Hey, buddy," he said, "that building right there--what's the name of that building?"
The man looked totally confused. There wasn't a building there. He shook off Lamont's hands from his shoulders. "Lunatic!" he said as he hurried away.
Lamont laughed heartily. "Shiwan Khan has hypnotized the whole city!" He looked around at oblivious pedestrians, drivers, and bicyclists. "They don't see it! Nobody sees it!" Then, he looked back at the lot, his eyes darkening with anger. But I see it.
Margo was concerned. Lamont had that look in his eyes again...that dark, raging anger that she'd seen days earlier. But there was something else there now...absolute power, and absolute confidence in that power. She put a gentle hand on his shoulder.
He turned toward her. "You and Shrevnitz will receive your instructions. I want you to follow them exactly." Then, he hurried away.
"Wait--Lamont!" She started after him, then got the distinct impression that she shouldn't follow. There were places only a shadow could go...and this was one of them.
Burbank cupped his hands to his headset and listened intently to the Morse code coming over the wires from The Sanctum. Only The Shadow's most important messages were sent this way, messages that absolutely could not be overheard by anyone. For that reason, Burbank didn't even take notes on the message, memorizing it instead, so that there would be no record of the conversation even occurring. There was a chance that Burbank was under surveillance, The Shadow had said, so there was a lot of coordination that needed to take place to escape detection, and two agents--one of them brand new, apparently--needed to be dispatched to a rendezvous point to await further instructions.
With the conversation finished, Burbank put down the headset and wrote two notes on cream-colored slips of paper. The ink was a special kind of "invisible" ink, used in espionage, which would become visible for a few seconds when exposed to air and body heat, then disappear again. He stamped The Shadow's mark on the bottom of each message, then slipped them into a pair of cream-colored envelopes. He tapped two buttons on his radio console, then picked up the two envelopes, grabbed his hat, coat, and umbrella, and set off on one of his rare excursions above ground.
A sudden winter thunderstorm had caught most of the city off-guard; pedestrians were scrambling for cover, creating makeshift umbrellas out of newspapers and briefcases, hurriedly hailing taxis and buses. Into this mess walked the calm, cool, collected Luther Burbank, holding an umbrella over his head and a newspaper tucked under one arm. He stepped out into the center of the street, then reached into the newspaper and removed a cream-colored envelope. He extended it in front of him.
A passing bicycle messenger took it from him and sped away.
He removed the other envelope from the protective newspaper and held it behind him.
Another bicycle messenger snatched it out of his hands like a relay racer.
Burbank smiled. The envelopes also had invisible ink on them, and the messengers would be able to see the destination for a brief moment before it disappeared. He never worried, though; that delivery service had never failed to make a delivery yet. It didn't hurt that they were all agents, saved years ago from a bomb that had threatened to destroy their headquarters, and now were completely indebted to the black-cloaked man they all served without question.
As the rain continued to fall, Burbank headed back for his underground office.
Moe Shrevnitz perused The Racing Form on one of his rare nights off as a blazing fire in the fireplace warded off the damp winter chill. He'd spent a good part of the afternoon with Margo, getting to know the newest agent and the woman who'd so enchanted the boss that he was willing to share his deepest secrets with her. But he'd been warned that he'd receive instructions later, and the last thing he needed was for those instructions to arrive at the house when he wasn't there to intercept them, so he'd come home early and told his curious wife Shirley that he'd had a really good tipper for a fare today and was taking a well-deserved night off. The hardest part about being an agent through the years had been keeping all this from Shirley, a determined snoop who never seemed to be completely satisfied with the answers Moe gave her for his odd working hours. More than once, he'd had to ask Lamont to use his persuasive powers to refocus her attention away from some particularly troublesome assignment when she hadn't believed he wasn't sneaking around with another woman or worse.
The doorbell rang, and a message practically flew through the mailslot.
Moe put down the paper. This had to be it. He got up and headed for the front door, then picked the envelope up off the floor and opened it hurriedly.
Shirley, reading a book in the living room, looked up. "What is it, Moe? One of those things from the bowling league again?"
The page shimmered, and then writing became visible:
Shrevnitz--rendezvous with agent Lane at corner of Second Avenue and Houston Street. Enter when possible.
The note was "signed" with a miniature insignia of a man in a slouch hat and cloak. Seconds later, the page became blank again. "Yep," he replied.
Barely a minute after the delivery of her message, Margo pulled on her coat, grabbed her umbrella, and ran out the back door. Her note said almost exactly the same thing Moe's did, except the names were reversed. Her note, too, faded into oblivion just seconds after reading it, and now she too had to spring into immediate action. She said a silent prayer as she started her car that when they found Khan, they would not just find the bomb...they would also find her father.
Her father was indeed with Shiwan Khan...and quite occupied with the final steps to turn his peaceful invention into a horribly destructive bomb. Reinhardt robotically threaded thin wires through the tips of the platinum plugs on his implosive generator, connecting them with a power source inside Farley's beryllium sphere. The power source was connected to a timing mechanism which Farley had fashioned from a design he once stole from a scientist who'd been stupid enough to hire him. Together with the bronzium coins which now stuffed the inside of the implosive ball, they made the ideal mass-destruction weapon...which Farley was all-too-glad to gloat about. "Betcha wish you'd been nicer to me, huh?" he said, like a victorious bully lording his status over a smaller child. "Betcha didn't know I was friends with a conqueror, huh? Betcha never thought I'd be the one telling you what to do..."
"Be quiet," Khan ordered, exasperated. He just wanted to throttle Farley, but the more he watched the two scientists work, the more he realized he'd never have the patience to do all of this more than once. So, he needed to keep one of them. And, whether he liked it or not, at least he didn't have to hypnotize Farley to keep his loyalty. He turned to Reinhardt. "Set the timer for two hours."
Reinhardt connected five wires under the hood of the bomb--one for each of the hour, minute, and second digits needed--then flipped a switch inside the sphere, lowered the hood, and screwed the front panel into place.
Five vacuum tubes lit up and briefly displayed five digits that read "2:00:00" across their lighted filaments. Then, the digits began to tick away...1:59:59...1:59:58...1:59:57...
Khan's men hoisted the bomb into the air on a pulley system. Reinhardt had estimated that an open-air detonation would produce the maximum destruction force, so it was important to get it off the ground. They anchored the pulley ropes to the walls of the chamber, then bowed to their master.
Khan turned to Farley. "You are certain you can duplicate this bomb's design anytime I wish?"
Farley scoffed. "Piece of cake."
Khan wasn't sure he believed the idiot, but Farley had shown he was a very good mimic. And he did have all of Reinhardt's blueprints. "Then that makes Dr. Lane obsolete." He turned to his men. "Take him to a room...where he will die at the hands of his own invention."
Two guards grabbed Reinhardt on either side by the arms and dragged him from the room. Farley could have sworn the doddering old fool had actually said "Yes, my Khan" as he was being led away like a lamb to slaughter.
Khan smiled. Soon, all the world would hear his thunder. The return of the lost kingdom of Sianking was less than two hours away.
Farley looked nervous. "Listen," he said, trying not to anger the tempermental monarch again, "I know you probably have this all figured out, but...shouldn't we be getting out of here?"
Khan looked annoyed with the question. "There is an airplane arriving shortly to take us all to safety. We leave in one hour." And with that, he headed away to make last minute preparations, confident no one was left to stop him.
As afternoon turned to evening and the rain continued to pour down, The Shadow stealthily moved through the alleys and sidestreets toward Khan's tower. He'd spent the entire afternoon in The Sanctum, engaged in deep meditation, healing as much of his body as he could and focusing his psyche. He'd finally realized that Khan was naturally sensitive to the thought patterns surrounding arrogance, and had used that sensitivity to disrupt Lamont's normally deep confidence in his telepathic abilities, so much of the meditation session had been focused on simply reminding himself to stay calm, to know and understand his limitations, to be realistically confident in both what he could do and who he was inside. He would need every ounce of telepathic energy in his mental reservoir and every psychic trick in his arsenal, because Khan was waging full-scale war...and this was the final battle.
He reached an alley on Second Avenue just off Houston Street. He cast a blanket mind clouding suggestion to blend himself with the night, then stepped out of the alley and looked toward the supposedly empty corner.
To passers-by, the corner still looked empty. But to The Shadow, it was a fenced-in fortress, guarded by two Mongol warriors inside the fence line protecting the front doors. He surreptitously slipped across the street and scaled the fence.
By the time the guards saw splashing from feet running across the waterlogged pavement on their side of the fence, it was too late. Two punches decked them both, and now The Shadow was past the first line of defense.
As lightning flashed through the night and illuminated the lobby of the Hotel Monolith in an eerie aura, glimpses of a shadow on the walls appeared and disappeared as The Shadow combed the lobby, using his projective sight ability to probe the darkness, searching everywhere for Khan's Mongol guards. Surprisingly--or maybe not so--there weren't any. Khan had put guards at the door to protect the perimeter, but left the lower floors completely empty. He'd been so confident in his own mind clouding powers that he never dreamed someone would penetrate his own defenses.
At the top of the stairs to the second floor, The Shadow swirled into visibility and looked over the lobby once more. He couldn't believe it. Not a soul in sight. And Khan was completely unaware his perimeter had been penetrated, because not a single hostile thought pattern was coming his way. He might just be able to get off the opening salvo in this last battle.
The Shadow laughed heartily, then swirled into the darkness again.
Meditating on his throne, Khan heard the mocking laughter and went rigid. "Ying Ko?" he said in disbelief.
Farley, checking the sphere for any possible defects, jumped like a frog and looked around like his head was on a swivel. "The Shadow?" he said, horrified that he'd failed in his mission to kill Khan's great rival...a mistake for which Khan would surely make him pay. "Where?"
Khan looked disgusted. "Not here, you idiot. In the building."
Farley looked sheepish. "Can you tell if he's...uh...mad at me? We had a...bit of a misunderstanding yesterday morning..."
Khan was livid. This weakling had failed him for the last time. He was going to get rid of Ying Ko if it was the last thing he did. And if that meant he sacrificed a pain in his rear in the process, so much the better. He picked up a Tommy gun and tossed it to Farley. "Find him and kill him!"
Horrified, Farley realized that Khan was literally sending him on a suicide mission. "Kill him? Me?"
Khan waved angrily at Huong Shu and the remaining soldiers. "All of you!"
Huong Shu nodded, gathered his men and a flashlight, and left the room.
Farley looked hopeful. Maybe Khan would come to his senses if he groveled appropriately. "Couldn't I just stay here with you?" he laughed nervously.
Khan pointed to the exit. "Go!"
Reluctantly, Farley followed Huong Shu out of the throne room.
Minutes later, Farley, Huong Shu, and two Mongol warriors were striding down the hallway of the third floor. A magnificent ballroom was on this floor, and a huge floor-to-ceiling frosted glass mural adorned the balcony overlooking the lobby. The flashing lightning coming in through the hotel's front windows cast eerie shadows everywhere, even as Huong Shu's flashlight scanned the area looking for shadows that didn't belong...
A taunting laugh ran in perfect harmony with the rolling thunder, and everyone stood rigid, looking around.
Farley grabbed the flashlight from Huong Shu. "You go that way," he ordered, pointing off toward a corridor.
Huong Shu didn't like the fact that Farley now had their only light source, but the man had a gun, and Huong Shu wasn't about to argue. He clicked his tongue, and the warriors followed him into the darkness.
They saw a swirling blackness just ahead of them, ducking into a storage room. Huong Shu ordered his men to draw their weapons and follow carefully.
No sooner had they stepped inside the storage room then they were ambushed. And it was no contest. Without light to see him, The Shadow made quick work of all three men, snapping their necks with a quick twist from behind and tossing them aside like rag dolls.
The Shadow looked at the mess on the floor for a moment. He really hated this sort of thing, but it was kill or be killed at this point, and he had no desire to go through a repeat of the arrow incident at Reinhardt's lab. Now to deal with Farley.
Farley jimmied the lock on the ballroom door and slipped inside, cautiously looking around for any sign of anyone watching. Surely The Shadow wouldn't think to look for him in here...and, maybe, neither would Khan. Maybe if he stayed here long enough, Khan would think he was dead, and he could escape before the bomb went off...
The doors slammed shut behind him. Farley whipped around, shining the light on the doors.
Nothing but a spotlight greeted his gaze.
Did you think you wouldn't see me again, Claymore? The Shadow's voice taunted from every corner.
Farley played the beam through the room, frantically looking for the source of that mocking laugh.
A fedora-wearing shadow suddenly stood in his beam. I'm right here! The Shadow told him, holding his arms up in a surrending motion.
Farley fired the Tommy gun.
The Shadow's shadow whisked away. Farley tried to follow it, only to see it waving from another corner as his light landed on it. All around you...
Farley fired again, and once more the shadow on the wall flittered away like a butterfly.
Farley found it again, showing its guns. Everywhere around you...
Farley fired. No, The Shadow couldn't be everywhere...he'd have to shoot everywhere...yes, shoot everywhere...
The Tommy gun emptied as Farley spun like a top, spiraling the light all around, shooting indiscriminately, laughing insanely. Even as he dropped the flashlight and the gun clicked out of bullets, he kept squeezing the trigger, trying to silence his tormentor.
Finally, the room got completely quiet. Farley looked around.
Nothing. Not a soul moved in the darkened room. Not a sound echoed through the still air.
Farley scoffed. "Coward!" he taunted. "Yellow! Chicken! Sissy!" He dropped the gun. "Come out and fight like a man!"
And at that moment, the darkness engulfed him.
Farley felt a suffocating vortex of black shadows swirling all around him, choking the life out of him, draining away every ounce of bravery left in his body. He fell to his knees...
...and a black-gloved hand grabbed him by his lapels and yanked him up off the floor.
The Shadow held Farley high overhead. Blue-green eyes practically glowing with dark power cut right through him, leaving him unable to do anything but babble incoherently.
A sneer appeared in the part of The Shadow's face Farley could see. Claymore, he pronounced disdainfully, you disgust me.
All Farley could do was shrug and drool helplessly.
The Shadow flung him aside. Now get out of my sight!
Farley got to his feet and took off running out of the ballroom, searching for an escape route, any escape route...
How odd. Farley would have sworn that the plate glass just outside the ballroom was a frosted art deco mural. But now, a neon sign with bright red letters spelling "EXIT" was gleaming right above it. There's your exit, Claymore.
Farley was so happy to see the word, he ran full speed toward it, laughing gleefully.
As he smashed through the mural and fell three stories to crash through a glass coffee table in the lobby, The Shadow laughed in maniacal triumph. All the henchmen were gone. Now, all that was left was Shiwan Khan.
He swirled into the darkness and headed off to battle once more.
Oblivious to the war going on right in front of them, Moe Shrevnitz and Margo Lane huddled under umbrellas, standing by Moe's cab as the rain continued to pour down, staring at the corner of Second and Houston and watching the puddles rise. The sheer absurdity of standing in front of an empty lot in a raging thunderstorm hadn't escaped either one of them. But if The Shadow told them to do it, they'd have to do it until they caught their deaths of pneumonia. There had to be a reason for standing here, one that would become clear eventually. The Shadow was never wrong.
Moe looked over at Margo. "Know what I love about this job?" he deadpanned. "The excitement."
Margo nodded her agreement.
The Shadow climbed steadily up the stairs toward the crow's nest penthouse. He'd stopped only momentarily on each of the other levels to make sure there were no more surprises, but the only other mind he'd detected in the building was Reinhardt Lane's hypnotically numbed one. He'd come back for Reinhardt later. Right now, he'd only be in the way. For just ahead, beyond the massive oak inlay doors that led to what was probably intended to be a rooftop restaurant or ballroom, was Shiwan Khan.
The Shadow swirled into visibility, then flung the doors open.
Khan was seated on his throne on a raised dais. He looked as if he'd been waiting for him. The bomb hung about seven feet in the air in the middle of the room. A blue-and-gold tiled sunken floor formed a circle between the rivals.
The Shadow stepped cautiously toward his archenemy. There was something strangely disorienting about this room...the brightly-colored floor tiles were bothering his eyes, as if they weren't quite laid out flat and were thus reflecting the light oddly. He forced himself to look dead ahead at Khan.
Khan smiled and raised his hands in a concessionary manner. "Ah, Ying Ko," he said, his tone mock-friendly. "I surrender."
The Shadow drew his guns. You're finished, Khan, he snapped angrily.
Khan just smiled as he pressed a button on the arm of his throne.
Too late, The Shadow realized why the tiles didn't look like they'd been laid flat...the room was on an angle. More specifically, the round dance floor was apparently on a cantilever mechanism that was now angling even sharper and starting to rotate. He was thrown off his feet, and his guns went flying.
Khan laughed uproariously as the gigantic lazy susan spun and angled in ever-changing patterns, keeping The Shadow from getting his bearings and rolling him across the floor like a loose BB.
The Shadow grabbed an edge of one of the riser stairs that led off the dance floor and held on for dear life. He had to get his feet under him somehow, get off this crazy funhouse ride, get to Khan...
But Khan had other ideas. He looked to the gold and jeweled box off to the side of his throne.
The sleeping dragon face on Phurba's hilt opened its eyes as the knife raised up off its supports.
Khan pointed at The Shadow.
The Shadow tried to duck aside, but Phurba impaled him through the left shoulder, right through the gunshot wound from the night before. The pain was excruciating. He grabbed the hilt with both hands and fought with the angry dagger desperately...
Phurba! Khan ordered, gesturing wildly toward the other side of the room.
Phurba yanked itself out of The Shadow's shoulder and flung itself toward the wall before The Shadow realized what was happening. He barely got his right shoulder turned in time to avoid slamming into the wall face-first. As it was, he nearly dislocated his shoulder in the impact.
Khan laughed heartily and pointed toward the other wall. Phurba!
The Shadow barely realized his right hand still had a grip on Phurba when it dragged him through the air to the other wall, slamming him back-first this time into a pillar. Then, the dagger drove itself toward his face.
The Shadow recovered his senses enough to grab his right wrist and force his arm backward. Pushing Phurba was no good, but maybe directing the hostile force elsewhere would keep the knife at bay long enough for him to figure out a way out of this mess. He dared not move or turn away--Phurba was just a half-inch now from his left eye and coming closer even as he pushed frantically...
Khan waved dismissively.
Phurba again changed directions and started to drag The Shadow across the room. But this time, The Shadow let go, and both enchanted blade and exhausted psychic crashed to the dance floor, lying still.
Khan looked disgusted. This was the all-powerful Ying Ko, the Butcher of Lhasa? He'd become corrupted by too many years of soft life in the West--he now lay like a child on the floor, gasping for breath, unable to move on his own. "Your powers are fading," he taunted. "Your mind is too weak. You are losing your concentration."
The Shadow's powers were indeed fading. What was left of the projective hypnotic vortex he'd created to protect himself collapsed as exhaustion took over his thought patterns. Now, Lamont Cranston lay face down on the floor, barely able to keep from passing out as pain seared through his body and fatigue engulfed his mind. He forced himself to raise himself up on his forearms and look around, trying desperately to assess the situation.
Across the floor from him, Phurba's dragon-claw arms uncrossed from their resting place on its hilt and used its forearms as leverage to raise its head up.
Lamont was intrigued. He'd never seen Phurba behave this way. The knife wasn't capable of exhaustion or even fatigue. Was Phurba mimicking him? Cautiously, he wiped blood from the corner of his mouth with the back of his right hand.
Phurba imitated the motion perfectly.
Of course, Lamont realized. My powers aren't the only ones that are fading. Khan's are stretched too thin, trying to keep the hotel concealed from the pair of eyes that I've had outside watching it all night. He hasn't been able to relax that suggestion in hours, and he still has to keep Dr. Lane under control, hold my mind at bay, and control Phurba. It's too much, even for him, and Phurba's responding to the strongest projector in the room...
Khan realized his attention was slipping and glared at Phurba.
The dagger sprang from the floor and attacked Lamont once more, diving for his throat.
Lamont rolled onto his back and grabbed Phurba before it could reach him, holding it above his neck, desperately trying to keep it from slitting his jugular.
Khan got up off his throne and stood on the edge of the dance floor, gloating over his fiercest rival. "Look at you," he said, his tone full of distaste. "You cannot even control yourself. How can you even hope to control Phurba?"
How indeed? Lamont could feel the sharp tip of the blade slicing a razor-thin line across his neck, even as he tried to hold it back. But he'd never been able to control Phurba, not even after months of training from Marpa Tulku. Phurba was just too complicated a task to master--it required a completely balanced adept, one with enough receptive force to blend with the creature's primitive mind and enough projective power to assert one's will over it. Lamont was way too projectively lopsided...
...but not at this moment. At this moment, his projective reservoir was nearly drained. But his nearly drained projective reservoir was still stronger than almost every other adept's filled one. For the first time in his life, he might be balanced enough to at least try. He closed his eyes and began forcing his receptive mind to open as wide as it could.
Phurba looked at him oddly, as if puzzled by the strange pull he felt coming from a man he viewed as his enemy, whose mind normally attacked instead of beckoned.
Lamont could feel something primitive tickling at the edges of his psychic defenses. He forced his mental barriers to open wider. The act left him almost completely vulnerable, but he didn't have a choice.
Khan could feel the change in the direction of Lamont's psychic energies. "What are you doing?"
Suddenly, something latched onto Lamont's mind. Something childlike yet ancient, loyal yet feral. Lamont slowly and carefully released his grasp on the dagger.
Phurba felt the welcoming pull of an open receptive mind and the firm grasp of a projective master engulf it as the once-hostile hands released it. It hovered in the air just above his neck. What is your wish, master?
Khan's eyes widened. "Stop!" he ordered, desperately trying to take control of the blade again.
Fear. Khan was afraid. Lamont seized that fear and felt his confidence rise tenfold. He opened his eyes and looked at the knife. Shiwan Khan has defiled you and murdered your true master, The Marpa Tulku. He turned a piercing gaze to Khan. Kill him.
Phurba impaled itself into Khan's stomach.
Khan shrieked and grabbed frantically at Phurba as pain disrupted his thoughts...and his every illusion fell away.
The rain had finally stopped. Margo Lane and Moe Shrevnitz lowered their umbrellas, shook them out, and were about to toss them into his cab for safekeeping when Margo saw something out of the corner of her eye. She looked toward the lot they'd been watching...and gasped in shock at what was now there.
Moe heard the sound and followed her gaze...and couldn't believe his eyes. "My God!" he shouted.
"That's what he saw!" Margo realized. "Oh, my God...Moe, we've got to get in there now!"
Moe popped open the trunk, retrieved a crowbar from a hidden drawer, and ran toward the fence, Margo hot on his heels.
The harder Khan pulled on Phurba, the harder Lamont ordered the dagger to drive into his belly. He smiled coldly at the dying Mongol. Revenge had never tasted so sweet.
Two floors down, Reinhardt Lane felt as if he'd just come out of the longest nap he'd ever taken. But this wasn't his lab...and it wasn't his bedroom. He put on his glasses and looked around, desperate for some point of reference in this unfamiliar place. "Where am I?" he cried, completely confused.
Lamont had finally pushed Phurba too hard. The delicate balance between receptive and projective in his mind had shifted too far to the projective side again, and Phurba fell out of his control.
Khan shouted an angry Mongolian battle cry, letting out one last telekinetic blast as he leveraged what little mental strength he had left to yank the blade out of his belly.
The windows in the room shattered. Lamont was momentarily pushed backward.
Khan staggered out of the room.
Lamont got to his feet, retrieved his guns, and ran after him. Margo, he mentally called. You must find your father and get to the twelfth floor penthouse as fast as you can. Khan's bomb is hanging from the ceiling up here, and there is only an hour left before it explodes. I'm going after Khan.
Khan dove behind the curtains leading to his meditation chamber.
The Shadow's cloak and scarf, both knocked askew during the fight with Phurba, kept tangling around Lamont's legs as he ran, so he unlatched the cloak and unwrapped the scarf from his neck and tossed both aside as he chased after his archenemy. He whipped open the curtains.
Only Genghis Khan's holy silver crypt, standing upright like a displayed mummy case, greeted his gaze.
Lamont pried the edges of the crypt open.
Nothing but red jacquard-patterned silk looked back at him.
Lamont pounded his fist on the back wall in frustration. There had to be a hidden passage here--Khan didn't have enough mental energy left for a mind clouding trick. He stood in the center of the bottom panel and looked around.
A golden satin pullcord dangled from overhead to his right. He gave it a tug.
The floor opened underneath him.
Lamont fell onto a steel laundry chute and tumbled down God-only-knew how many stories before he finally landed unceremoniously on the huge pile of fabric remnants and leftover carpet scraps that the developers had thrown down the chute during the construction. But ten months with Marpa Tulku had given him sharp reflexes and quick reactions, and he sprang his feet, guns drawn, looking for Khan.
He spotted him running into the storage area, past stacked chairs and unhung chandeliers. "Khan!" he shouted, then fired.
The shot just missed, shattering several chandelier prisms into flying crystal dust.
Furiously, Lamont took off after his prey. The hunt was on. And once more, it was kill or be killed.
Margo and Moe hurried up the side stairs as fast as they could. Both of them were exhausted, and Margo's feet were killing her, but there were no working elevators in the place, and Lamont's message about the bomb on the twelfth floor told them that there was no time to waste. Margo was calling to her father on every floor, but so far there was no response. But he thankfully wasn't among the dead bodies they kept encountering, much to their relief.
As they started to step onto the stairs to take them to the tenth floor, they encountered a familiar-looking man wandering down the stairs, looking totally lost. "Dad!" Margo shouted.
Reinhardt looked up. "Margo!" he called, relieved to finally see something he recognized in this deserted tower.
Margo threw her arms around him. "Oh, Dad," she practically sobbed.
Reinhardt looked disturbed and disoriented as he held onto his daughter. "Where am I? What happened?"
"Well, there's this guy, and..." Margo decided that now was not a good time for an explanation. "I'll tell you later." She turned to Moe. "Moe, go call the police."
"Gotcha," Moe replied, hurrying back down the stairs.
"Dad, come with me." Margo took her father's hand and led him up the stairs.
Lamont moved deeper into the storage area...past the dining room tables and chairs...past the unhung chandeliers...past mattresses, box springs, bed frames, and dressers...past paintings and statues...
Khan suddenly appeared in his view. Lamont fired right at the Mongolian and hit him square in the chest.
Unfortunately, like Margo's pistol had two nights ago, Lamont's gunshot simply shattered a bedroom mirror that was sitting in storage. Khan disintegrated into so many shards of glass.
Dammit, he mentally swore. Khan didn't have enough strength to mind cloud, so he'd chosen an alternate method of creating illusion. Now Lamont would have to head deeper into the mirrors to find which images were real and which ones weren't...before Khan did the same.
"Oh, my God," Margo said as she and Reinhardt came into the twelfth-floor ballroom.
The place was a mess. The floor sat at a crazy angle. Blood was everywhere. Scattered around the room were a black fedora, black opera cloak, and red wool scarf, which Margo made a mental note to retrieve later. And hanging above the floor was a massive beryllium sphere with a timer indicating 58 minutes left in its countdown. They carefully stepped forward onto the round floor, which felt shaky under their feet.
"Oh, this is magnificent!" Reinhardt marvelled, admiring the sphere hanging overhead. "What quality workmanship! Who did this?"
Margo looked at him oddly. "You did."
Reinhardt raised an eyebrow. "I did?"
Margo sighed. Yet another thing she'd have to explain later. "Well, don't just stand there--deactivate it!"
Reinhardt looked back at the bomb. He didn't even remember building the thing--how could he possibly know how to deactivate it? He patted his pockets, looking for a screwdriver.
He found an entire set of electrical assembly tools--screwdriver, wire cutter, forceps, even a spool of wire and rubber connectors. "How in the world...?"
"Dad!" Margo snapped, trying to focus him.
Reinhardt turned his attention to the sphere once more. He found four screws and loosened the panel right below the vacuum tube display.
A small sheet of metal fell away, revealing a wiring breadboard.
Reinhardt looked completely confused. He'd never seen anything like it before, and it certainly wasn't anything he would have built. Probably something Farley stole, he decided. "Let's try cutting this and see what happens." He snipped a wire.
The digits on the display spun wildly.
"Oh, dear," Reinhardt said, realizing that wire probably wasn't a good choice.
"Oh, my God!" Margo shouted. "Dad, the timer...hurry..."
Reinhardt stripped the covering off the two cut ends of the wire and twisted them back together.
The digits stopped at "0:02:00".
"Two minutes left!" Margo gasped.
Reinhardt frowned. Old age was Hell--memory was never reliable, and some other things he couldn't think of immediately were also pretty bad. He looked at the board again. "Maybe it's this one..." He snipped another wire.
The breadboard sparked wildly. Reinhardt jumped backward.
The motion shook the bomb loose from its cabling, and it fell to the floor and rolled across the turntable and out the door, knocking the rotating motion all askew and Margo and Reinhardt off their feet.
Margo and Reinhardt scrambled off the platform and struggled to get to their feet. "After it!" Margo shouted, already heading for the door.
Reinhardt was right behind her.
They watched the bomb vanish from sight down a flight of stairs. They took off after it.
As they reached the next landing, they saw it rolling toward the center staircase. They anticipated its motion and headed down the stairs to the next level.
When they got there, though, there was nothing to be seen. They walked around carefully, looking for the bomb, curious as to where it could possibly have gone...
The sound of something thudding against the walls above them told them they'd guessed wrong about the center staircase. "Oh, dear God, it's upstairs," Reinhardt realized as he and Margo tore for the side stairs...
...just as the sphere came rolling down toward them.
Reinhardt dove aside, and Margo fell backward as the bomb rolled past them, ricocheted off the wall, and headed for the elevator cage doors.
"Oh, no!" Margo cried, certain they would lose it.
Fortunately, they didn't. The cage doors collapsed against the backside of the shaft, providing a shelf for the bomb. Margo and Reinhardt raced over to it...and stopped dead in their tracks as they realized they were looking ten stories straight down.
Reinhardt swallowed hard. There was only one way to get to the bomb--go out onto the shelf with it. He crawled across the cage door.
Margo crawled next to him, trying to help him stay balanced. "Careful, Dad," she cautioned.
The cage doors flexed as they were meant to do when inordinate pressure was applied to them. Margo screamed and grabbed hold of Reinhardt. Reinhardt grabbed hold of the bomb.
Fortunately, no one fell. But now the shelf was a trough, and the only thing holding them in place was the latch on the cage.
Reinhardt and Margo both pulled themselves over the top of the bomb. "Fifteen seconds!" Margo whispered.
Reinhardt looked over the breadboard. What little bearings he had over the thing were gone now that they were looking over it upside down.
Ten seconds. "Which wire?" Margo said, trying to focus his attention.
Nine seconds. "I...I don't know!" Reinhardt moaned, frustrated. "I just don't remember!"
Seven seconds. "Pick one!" she demanded.
Six seconds. "Oh, what the Hell," he shrugged. "It's usually green." He moved to cut a thick red wire.
Four seconds. "No!" Margo shouted in horror. "Green!" She grabbed the nearest green wire and yanked as hard as she could.
Margo got her wire out a split second before Reinhardt cut his--and the timer froze at "0:00:02".
Neither father nor daughter moved for a moment. Then, when they were both sure it wasn't going to explode, Margo held up her wire in her father's face. "This is green," she said, her voice shaky, then pointed to the wire he'd cut. "That's red."
Reinhardt also looked very shaky. "I'll try to remember that," he promised.
Unaware of the drama going on above him, Lamont was in the midst of a hunt for Khan. He'd dared not waste any more shots on mirrors because he hadn't brought spare ammo clips, so he and Khan would dart out for a moment, spot one another, and dart back, each trying to both move ever closer to and keep away from the other. It was like an intricate ballet, with visual patterns emerging like a kaleidoscope...and both men were getting frustrated. Khan had recovered just enough projective energy to taunt Lamont periodically about his hunting skills, and Lamont was growing tired of the taunts...tired of the illusions...tired of the hunt...tired of the mirrors...
Khan noticed the intense glare Lamont was focusing on one of the mirrors. What are you doing?
Lamont didn't answer. He kept staring at the mirror.
It trembled...then vibrated...then bullseyed, like a projectile had been thrown into it.
Khan's eyes widened. No, surely he couldn't really be trying to destroy the whole room. Not even Khan had that kind of power except in short bursts. Not even Marpa Tulku could do that...
Another mirror shattered. Then another. Then another.
The room shook as Lamont drew upon every ounce of projective power he could summon from inside him, building the energy to incredible levels. This was not The Shadow subduing a criminal, or Ying Ko silencing a rival opium lord. This was Lamont Cranston, the strongest projective telepath to ever train at The Temple Of The Cobras, flexing his mental muscles. And nothing was going to stand in his way...especially not a hundred sheets of silvered glass.
More mirrors cracked under the strain. Khan tried to dodge the knife-like ribbons of glass in the air.
Lamont sent the pressure inside his psyche flying outward in an explosive burst.
Huge mirrors shattered into shards of glass as the wave shot across the room. A maelstrom of flying debris cut Khan practically to shreds as it was forced away from Lamont by telekinetic energy unlike anything Khan had ever felt in his life.
The wave stopped. Khan was bleeding badly, but recovered his senses enough to see Lamont standing directly across from him. Surely he doesn't have anything left, Khan thought, raising Phurba to throw it at his rival.
But he was wrong. Marpa Tulku had taught Lamont quite well how to use controlled releases, even when bursts were called for, to hold energy back in reserve. And he had just enough left to deal with Khan. His eyes scanned the floor, then found a phurba-like blade of glass at his feet.
The blade rose up off the floor at his mental command.
Lamont's gaze shot toward Khan.
The blade flew through the air and embedded itself into the Mongol's forehead, just above his left eye.
Khan screamed, then collapsed to the ground.
Lamont fell to his knees, utterly exhausted. It had been literally years since he'd been pushed that hard, years since he'd had to drain himself so completely, years since he'd felt this degree of relief from a victory. Marpa Tulku might not have been proud of his tactics. But Lamont had a feeling that his master would have been pleased with the results. It had taken everything he had inside him, but Lamont had not let his darkness overcome him. Instead, he'd used it as a weapon against his own dark shadow...Shiwan Khan. He looked toward the man he'd vanquished.
Khan was jerking spasmodically, and his psyche was going haywire. His thoughts were completely incoherent.
Ah, good, Lamont thought with a smile. It worked. He crawled over to Khan and looked down at him, smiling broadly...then chuckling...then laughing heartily as his mental voice rang through the night.
Police sirens drowned out the sound of The Shadow's laugh as black-and-whites screamed to what had once been a deserted corner, shining car lights and portable spotlights on the structure to illuminate it. Alarmed citizens had gathered around, completely confused as to how a hotel had sprung up out of literally nowhere. Photographers snapped pictures. Reporters swarmed through the site, trying to interview anyone and anything standing anywhere close to the building...including Margo Lane, who was brushing them off and leading her father through the mob to her car.
A police staff car pulled up to the scene, and out of the back stepped Wainwright Barth. The police commissioner looked upward at the huge building that now loomed large in the night. "Where the Hell did that come from?" he asked.
No one had an answer as chaos built to incredible levels around him.
Wainwright shook his head and took a swig from the silver flask he had in his pocket. "Get somebody up there and find out what's going on," he ordered a nearby officer.
"Yes, sir," the officer replied, grabbing a team of men and hurrying away.
Margo watched the officers rush inside the building and realized in horror that she'd forgotten to go back for The Shadow's things. She couldn't let the police find them...she'd have to somehow get back inside...
Already got them, a voice sounded in her ear.
She jumped, then looked around.
Don't turn around. Remember, I'm not really here.
She forced herself to stand firm. But she just wanted to find him and hold him as tight as she could, never let him go...
Later. I've got work to do first. Take your father home. He's had a rough few days.
She nodded discreetly, wondering where he was.
The honk of a horn got her attention. She looked toward it.
Moe Shrevnitz's cab was pulling away from the curb, and the cabbie gave her a wave.
Margo smiled and waved back...both at the driver and the unseen passenger in his back seat.
Reinhardt looked confused. "Who was that, dear?"
She smiled mysteriously. "Nobody, Dad. Nobody at all."
The first thought that entered Shiwan Khan's mind upon his return to consciousness was how much his head hurt. The second was how tight the bedcovers were...it felt like he couldn't move his arms at all. He opened his eyes and looked around.
He was in a tiny room, with no windows save the porthole-sized one on the door. It looked almost like a dungeon or prison cell, except that the walls were white and covered with a strange type of quilt. The bed was the same shade of white as the walls...and so was the strange blanket that covered him...
Wait a minute. This wasn't a blanket. It was some sort of restraining device. Khan's arms were crossed in front of him and fastened behind him, and he could feel leather straps rubbing against his skin. "What the...?" he began.
The door to the room opened, and a white-coated doctor came inside with a medicine tray and fresh bandages.
"You!" Khan demanded. "You!"
The doctor looked at his patient oddly.
"Yes," Khan said, focusing his gaze. "Sit down."
The doctor sat on the edge of the bed.
Khan looked at him intently. "Look into my eyes."
The doctor met his patient's dark gaze.
"Release me at once."
The doctor burst out laughing. "Oh, no, Mr. Khan, we won't have any of that sort of behavior today." He put a hand on Khan's head and turned it to the side. "Let's have a look at those stitches, shall we?"
"Stitches?" In the reflection off the doctor's glasses, Khan got his first look at himself since passing out at the Monolith--and saw a huge portion of his hair had been shaved away, and a large circle of stitches covered an incision over his left eye. "What have you done?"
"Saved your life, that's what." The doctor looked at the incision, which was healing nicely with no infection. "Of course, we had to cut away a small part of your frontal lobe to do it. But don't worry, it's a part no one ever uses."
Khan looked confused. Frontal lobe? Why did that sound so familiar? Then, for the first time, he realized his mental reservoir was empty. He had absolutely no telepathic energy left. He looked up at the doctor, horrified.
The doctor got up from the bed and headed for the door, then turned back to his patient. "Unless, of course, you believe in telepathy." He gave Khan a broad smile, then left the room.
Khan's eyes widened. Marpa Tulku had said the front of the brain was the focal point for psychic power...without it, he had nothing. "Wait!" he shouted insanely. "I am Shiwan Khan! The last descendent of Genghis Khan!"
The door slammed in his face.
Dr. Leonard Levinsky adjusted the silver fire opal ring on his left hand as he signed Khan's chart, then left the ward as Khan's cries blended with other inmates claiming to be Theodore Roosevelt, Babe Ruth, and Henry VIII.
Ever since the first man and the first woman discovered that pressing their lips together was pleasurable, the kiss had become the means by which two people expressed how they felt about one another. Some kisses were short, meant to exchange a quick "hello" or "goodbye". Some kisses were long, saying "stay" or "I'll miss you". Some were light, indicating the need for only fleeting contact. Others were lingering, demonstrating a need that only the other person could fill.
And then there was the kiss Lamont Cranston planted on Margo Lane in the middle of Times Square on a cold December night in 1933, a kiss filled with deep emotions neither could fully articulate. It had been almost a week since the battle with Khan, a week of getting to know one another, learning to trust each other, allowing each to see the other's strengths and vulnerabilities as no one else ever had before. Margo had indeed finally found that indescribable connection that had been out there for her all those years. And Lamont was slowly finding that he could indeed learn to live with that darkness inside him...as long as he had the light of his life by his side.
But for tonight, they would have to part. A message was waiting in The Sanctum. The Shadow was needed. He gave her hand a squeeze. "I'll see you around," he said, then turned to go.
She gave a sly glance to the silver fire opal ring that now adorned her left hand. She was one of his agents now, bound to him forever by a life debt. But she knew he was, in a strange way, bound to her as well. "Hey," she called. "How will you know where to find me?"
He stopped in his tracks and chuckled. She knew the answer to that. They both did. But he had to say it anyway, because she was just so damn cute. He turned to her and smiled broadly. "I'll know."
She stood and watched as he walked away, finally disappearing into the darkness.
The night was filled with shadows. Somehow, she found that comforting.