"You? On a jury?"
Lamont Cranston poured himself a cognac and his wife a glass of sherry, smiling wryly at the absurdity of his situation reflected in Margo's incredulous question. "You think you're surprised? You weren't the one sitting there when the judge informed me I'd been selected as the 12th man."
Margo Lane Cranston shook her head and laughed as she accepted the drink from him. "I'm sorry, Lamont, but that has to be the funniest thing I've ever heard. You, serving on a jury. I can hear you now in deliberation. 'But you have to find him guilty. I caught him in the act, for pity's sake.'" She tried in vain to stop the laughter, but it burst out again as she thought about the notion of the vigilante Shadow sitting in the jury box in a court of law. "How did you make it through the selection process? Don't they ask lots of questions to see if you're predisposed to certain opinions?"
"They do." Lamont swirled his cognac and sipped it, then settled into his overstuffed velvet armchair and sighed. "I thought I'd made it. They had 11 people, and I felt sure they'd get the 12th before they got to me. But one by one, everyone else in the room got disqualified--petty criminal records, stuff like that--until I was the only one left. I tried to protest that I was the police commissioner's nephew, but the prosecutor claimed that wasn't 'close enough to matter', and the defense attorney--who looks to be some fresh out of law school kid who probably took this case because he needed the money--was too tired to care any more. And that was that. I was told to report to the courthouse bright and early Monday morning."
"I can't believe you didn't hypnotize your way out of it."
Lamont looked stung. "Contrary to what you may think, I do not try to hypnotize my way out of every difficult situation..."
"Yes, you do."
"I do not." He sipped his cognac. "Just most of them."
"So why not this one?"
He shrugged. "Call it a strange sense of civic duty. After all, The Shadow does give the D.A.'s office a lot of work to do. It might give me a different perspective on the criminal justice system."
"But you have a rather unfair advantage. You probably know more about the case than even the D.A.'s office does."
"Not this time. I wasn't involved with this one."
He nodded. "It happened while we were on our honeymoon. I had Burbank dig up some information for me about it. State vs. Thomas Vanderwal, charged with murdering a policeman. Vanderwal was driving the taxi spotted in front of a bank moments before it was robbed, and the cops caught up to him a few blocks later and found the money and a gun stashed under the seat. Cop shot during the robbery--Officer John Carr, a kid less than a year out of the academy--died two days later, and the charge became murder. Should be open and shut."
"Except if it was, he'd have plead guilty already."
"Exactly. Vanderwal claims he was framed by two guys who got into his cab and asked him to take them to the bank. He says they forced him at gunpoint to drive them away, then jumped out of the cab after he crashed into a light post and disappeared into the crowd, and that he didn't know they'd left the money and the gun behind."
"That's a weak alibi."
"I have definitely heard better ones, that's for sure."
"But it sounds like the D.A.'s case is awfully circumstantial. Why aren't the police looking for anyone else?"
"I don't know that they're not. But there's no evidence that there is anybody else to look for. And he was found with the weapon and the money."
"So you're going in there with your mind made up that he's guilty."
Lamont looked across at her. "Are you playing Devil's Advocate with me?"
She took a sip of sherry and looked thoughtful. "Let's just say that I would like to see you take some of the skepticism of The Shadow into the courtroom as Lamont Cranston."
He nodded. "Point taken. You are a wise woman, Mrs. Cranston."
She smiled knowingly at him. "Just keep reminding yourself of that, Mr. Cranston."
They toasted each other across the room.
The very word made Lamont Cranston seethe. What had started out as a mildly interesting excursion into the legal side of the justice system was now turning into a significant hindrance of The Shadow's work. News coverage of high profile murder cases was always a problem for judges trying to avoid jury tampering, but there seemed no real reason for this case in particular to warrant locking away 12 New Yorkers for God-only-knew how many days in a second-rate hotel with guards watching the hallways to ensure nothing or no one got past them.
Lamont already had a headache from listening to opening arguments in the trial. The assistant D.A. would have made the top of Lamont's short list of the most incompetant attorneys in the business had Vanderwal's attorney not managed to lay claim to that distinction with his blundering opening defense of his client, the entire core of which seemed to be that Vanderwal said he didn't do it. The state's argument wasn't any better, consisting entirely of circumstantial evidence--Vanderwal's cab was seen parked in front of the bank, money and a gun were found under the front seat, etc. The Shadow could have probably put together a better case for either side in about half the time. Lamont got the definite impression that neither lawyer could argue their way out of a wet paper bag, and already he was in a foul mood. Then the judge used that horrible word that was the last thing he wanted to hear.
The entire jury was to be locked away until the case was settled, the judge said. No newspapers. No radio. No outside contact, except for one phone call to their families to let them know they wouldn't be coming home any time soon. Not even room service. Dinner, delivered by two ill-tempered police officers who looked like they'd rather be somewhere else as well, had been from a greasy spoon and didn't even include dessert. It was barely fit for a prison inmate, which was what Lamont felt more like with each passing minute.
For about three seconds, Lamont had entertained the notion of slipping past the guards and disappearing when they opened the door to deliver his meal. Then reality got the better of him as he realized that there would probably be room checks sometime tonight, and even he couldn't hold a hypnotic suggestion on a room that was miles away from where The Shadow would be prowling the night. So he paced the floor of the hotel room, occasionally stopping to look out the window at the depressing view of the other second-rate hotels and apartments in the area, wishing he had his freedom, or at least a cigar and a cognac.
A familiar voice reached his ears from down the hall. Exercising a fair amount of stealth and a bit of hypnotic mind clouding, Lamont opened the door to his room and looked out.
He saw Margo standing at the end of the hallway, looking exasperated with the officer who wasn't letting her go any further. Moe Shrevnitz, looking winded, stood just behind her. No doubt the cause of Moe's fatigue was the large steamer trunk at his feet. The other officer was nowhere to be seen--probably on either a food run or a smoke break, Lamont surmised from the way the guard occupied with Margo kept looking at his watch and glancing over her shoulder as if expecting someone back any second.
"Look, lady, these folks are a sequestered jury," the guard explained in an annoyed tone for what was probably not the first time. "That means nobody sees them."
"But I just want to see my husband," Margo replied, putting on her best airheaded blonde act. "Just for a second." Then out came the little girl pout. "I miss him. We're newlyweds."
It was all Lamont could do to keep from giving away his surveillance with The Shadow's laugh. As much as Margo hated being viewed as a flighty socialite, she could play the role with gusto when required.
But the guard was seemingly oblivious. "Sorry, lady."
Margo gave a subtle glance down the hall at the barely open doorway where she was fairly certain Lamont was standing, then turned up the charm. "Well, can you at least see that he gets his luggage? I'd hate for him to have to wear the same clothes for days on end."
The guard sighed. "O.K. But I gotta inspect it."
Margo made eye contact with the doorway again.
Lamont got the message and fixed his gaze on the guard.
The officer, feeling something strange on the back of his neck, looked behind him...and into the hypnotic eyes of The Shadow.
You don't need to inspect that. There's nothing in it for you to see. Turn back around.
The guard turned back around slowly, then looked disoriented for a minute.
Margo took full advantage. "O.K., you inspected it. Now can my husband have it?"
The guard shook his head to clear it, then finally acquiesced. "Yeah, yeah. What's his name again?"
"Cranston." Margo smiled. "Lamont Cranston."
Lamont gave a smile, then ducked back into his room to await the delivery.
The sound of the trunk scraping along the hallway alerted him to the presence of the guard outside his room. Lamont waited for the knock, then opened the door. "Yes?"
The officer put down the end of the trunk he'd been tugging to drag it along the floor, then put his hands on his thighs and took a couple of winded breaths. "I don't know what your wife packed, but here's your clothes, Cranston. Man, I feel sorry for that cabbie who dragged this thing inside. Your wife was really giving him the business."
Lamont smiled. Agents, sworn to secrecy about The Shadow and his network, could put on the most impressive acts to make sure none of them could be connected to each other. "No doubt." He reached down for the closest handle, then grimaced as he dragged it through the door. "Thanks."
Lamont nodded, then closed the door. The grimace vanished from his expression and he effortlessly pulled the trunk over to his bedside. It was heavier than a few changes of clothes would normally be, which told him there was something else in it. He opened the lid.
Nothing immediately obvious looked back, leading him to look at the trunk a little closer. He tapped the lid.
The sound was a dull thud, not a hollow knock, indicating Margo had stuffed something into the false lid. He found its seams and opened it up.
The Shadow's black clothes were neatly folded and packed away for him. He wasn't sure how much use they would be, but it was always nice to be prepared. He closed the false lid to conceal them again.
Found them yet? Margo's voice asked.
I certainly did. He took a second to locate the incoming psychic signal. How did you manage to get the room right below me?
I don't suppose you'd believe I used my feminine charms.
Well, I would, but I think you probably just got lucky. To get into a hotel room this fast means you had to have checked in before you knew where I was...and before you brought the trunk upstairs.
He heard her laugh slightly. If Tom Vanderwal had that kind of investigative skill on his defense team, you wouldn't be in this situation.
You're right about that. He closed the trunk and pushed it toward the opposite wall. Did you send my message to Burbank?
I did indeed. You know, it's a good thing the judge can't hear you thinking like I can, or you and I could be in real trouble for jury tampering.
I did more than my share of detention time for passing notes in school. Any response?
Yes. I do not know how he did it, but Burbank worked through God-only-knows what channels you've got set up and got photostatic copies of the D.A. office's notes.
Good. Please tell me the prosecution's case isn't really just "we found the gun and money in his cab"?
Well, it's not much more than that. A pause as she flipped through some pages. You'll probably hear all of this again tomorrow during the prosecution's presentation. Let's see...at 9:30 a.m. on the morning of June 18th, Officer Aaron Washington saw Tom Vanderwal's cab parked in a "No Parking Zone" outside the Second National Bank. Before Officer Washington could approach the cab, the bank alarm went off. He heard shots go off, and the cab drove away.
Did he see anyone get in the cab?
No, apparently not. He ducked behind a car when the shots went off, and when he looked up, the cab was departing.
So he didn't actually see anyone either in the cab or connected with the robbery. Interesting. If Vanderwal's attorney was smart, he could get Washington's statement thrown out as hearsay.
But that's a big "if".
Now it was Lamont's turn to laugh. So you weren't impressed, either.
No, I wasn't. Neither was anyone else in the gallery, judging from all the grumbling I heard on my way out. Of course, we're not the ones who have to be impressed.
Well, I can tell you right now at least one member of the jury is completely unimpressed with either side. Lamont began to pace the floor for what was probably the hundredth time that evening. What else?
Officers caught up to Vanderwal's cab about 10 minutes later when Vanderwal crashed into a lamppost. Vanderwal looked like he was reaching under the seat for something, but surrendered as soon as the police ordered him to. They found the gun and money under the passenger's seat, and that's the end of the story.
Lamont stopped for a moment. Under the passenger seat?
That's what it says.
Strange. He started pacing again. If Vanderwal did indeed hold up the bank and drive the cab away, why would he stuff the loot under the passenger seat? It would have taken valuable time for him to reach across and put it under the opposite seat. Logically, he should have put it under the driver's seat.
Maybe that was what he was doing when the police caught up to him--putting it under the other seat.
Or maybe he was trying to find out what someone else put there.
He could almost hear her smiling. So now you think he's telling the truth about the two men in his cab.
A little skepticism is a healthy thing. He picked up the ashtray from the nightstand and absently played catch with it as he continued to take laps around the room.
Lamont, sit down and relax.
Lamont raised an eyebrow. Are you clairvoyant now, my dear?
No. But you've got this caged animal undertone in your thoughts that is impossible to miss. A soothing ripple in her thoughts. Darling, relax. Have a cigar.
If I'd remembered to bring any, I would.
Check your trunk.
Lamont put the ashtray back on the nightstand, then opened his trunk once more and searched through the clothes, finally finding a cigar box in the bottom. He opened it and was gratified to see it almost fully packed, with a box of matches and a cigar cutter taking up the remaining space. You read my mind.
I'm good at that, you know. Besides, your thoughts are hard to miss.
Lamont laughed out loud, then cut the tip off one of the cigars and lit it and took a long, luxurious draw. Ah. That's better. I don't suppose there's a bottle of cognac hidden among my clothes as well?
Sorry. Couldn't find a flask.
Lamont shrugged. Ah, well. Can't have everything, I suppose. He reclined on the bed and took several puffs off the cigar, each one relaxing him a bit more. Back to business. What about other witnesses?
She flipped several pages. Basically, a half-dozen statements from bank tellers, all of whom saw pieces of the robbery but none of whom got a good look at the men.
"Men" is plural.
I know. That's part of what's confusing. Some report only one robber, some report seeing a second man standing back from the other one acting as lookout. Apparently the one man that most people saw was the one who ordered everyone to the floor.
Who was the shooter?
She studied the pages again. No one's real clear on that, either. Essentially, the cop--Officer Carr--happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. He came into the bank, saw what was happening, drew his gun, and was fired upon. But...
...but everyone was lying on the floor and no one actually saw the gun fired. Figures. The two robbers were masked, I suppose?
You suppose correctly.
He shook his head. This is some of the sloppiest police investigative work I've ever heard. Maybe someone needs to suggest to Commissioner Barth that he send his detectives back to the academy for a refresher course. Did they find any prints on the gun?
She looked through her notes. None. But he could have worn gloves.
Did they find gloves?
More paper shuffling. No.
It's June. People don't wear gloves if they don't have to in June.
But people who drive a car for a living sometimes do. Keeps their hands from getting calluses.
But then we're back to why they didn't find gloves on him if that were the case. Did they find any prints anywhere else?
Still more paper shuffling. Doesn't say. It does make some sense that they wouldn't dust a cab for prints--if he had a half-decent business, he probably had a dozen people a day or more in and out of there.
True. He frowned. But if I remember correctly, Vanderwal had no prior record. Robbing a bank and shooting a cop is an awfully big first step to make into the world of crime. What was his motive?
According to this, he was in some financial trouble.
Not unusual nowadays.
True, but he also had a very spotty employment history. He's been in New York for about two years. Started driving a cab about six months ago, the steadiest work he's had during that time. His boss says he'd missed a lot of days recently, claiming he had family medical problems.
Hm-m. Family medical problems can certainly put a man in a financial bind pretty quickly. Does it say which family member was ill?
A pause. No. It does list a wife, Kathy, and a three-year-old daughter, Emma.
Lamont thought for a moment. You were in the gallery this morning. Did you see anyone who looked like they were there strictly for Vanderwal?
Hard to say. I wasn't really paying attention for such things.
He spun the details through his mind to look for missing pieces. I need more information. I'll grant them that finding the money and murder weapon in the cab are pretty damning pieces of evidence, but without supporting details, the case is awfully flimsy. They have no real witnesses that actually place Vanderwal inside the bank either taking the money or firing the gun.
Maybe you could suggest to Vanderwal's lawyer that he bring such things up.
I intend to. But that just helps to clear Vanderwal of the actual robbery and murder. It doesn't actually find the real killers. Nor does it completely clear him of any involvement; he still could get convicted as an accessory, because the circumstances do place at least his cab at the scene itself. He frowned. Why doesn't Vanderwal have a better story than "I didn't do it, two other guys did"? Even a description of the two men would help.
The statement he gave to the police says he didn't get a good look at the two men.
Lamont pondered the details again. I don't believe him.
Why would he lie about something that significant?
I don't think he's lying. I just don't believe that he didn't get a good look at the men.
Confusion filled Margo's thoughts. I don't follow.
I think he did get a good look at the two men. But he won't give the details to the police, which means he's either covering for them or he doesn't remember enough to give details. Based on what you've told me, I doubt he's covering for them. But it's possible that he was so scared by the whole experience that he's blocked the details out of his memory.
Or maybe he hit his head when he ran into the lamppost.
Did they at least investigate whether he had a concussion?
She looked at her notes. Doesn't say.
Idiots. He pounded his fist on the bed. Dammit, I hate being trapped here. If I could get five minutes with him alone...
Leave that to me.
He laughed. What, are you going to spring me?
No. But I think I can get you the information you need.
I can work the agent channels, too. If there were others involved, some of them may be talking to other people...maybe even other agents. And there are other people who might know things. There are people he might talk to...like his wife, maybe. I'll start with her and work my way outward.
He hesitated. Don't attract attention to yourself.
Or to you.
He nodded to himself. It would definitely not do to have anyone be able to connect Lamont Cranston and The Shadow too closely. And if you get in over your head...
I won't get in over my head. I've learned a few things since we've been together. Trust me.
He sighed. I suppose I don't have a choice.
He groaned. All right. But be careful.
I will. Get some sleep, darling. I'll see you in court in the morning.
Where are you going?
I've got work to do. You didn't really think I was going to sit around in this dump all night, did you?
It would have been nice. He dropped the all-business facade. It's been good to talk to you. If I ever needed more proof that I'd go mad without you...
She gave a tug to his thoughts to seemingly wrap them around her for a moment. I know. But if I work fast, we'll be able to do more than talk soon enough.
He gave her a mental kiss, then let the connection drop, and the two powerful psyches departed company.
Kathy Vanderwal turned off her radio in frustration and broke down crying for what felt like the thousandth time that day. She wasn't sure she could take one more piece of bad news. Between the papers calling her husband a murderer and the newsmen calling for swift justice to be served and the landlord wanting to know when his next rent check was coming and the hospital wanting at least a down payment on their huge bill, Kathy was at her wits end. She had absolutely no idea what she was going to do when the next reporter knocked on her door, or when the eviction notice came, or when the bill collectors came to confiscate everything...
A knock on the door set her heart racing. She cautiously crossed the room and peered out through the peephole. "Who's there?"
An attractive blonde woman was standing outside the door. "Mrs. Vanderwal?"
"Yes. Who is it? What do you want?"
"Catholic Aid Society. We've received word you needed assistance..."
Oh, thank God. Kathy opened the door. "I'm sorry. I thought you might be with the press. Please, do come in."
"Thank you." Margo stepped inside and looked around at the rundown apartment with its worn old furniture and its faded drapes indicating the struggle to maintain some semblence of liveability amidst the poverty of the neighborhood. The despair that hung in the air was almost palpable.
Kathy took a moment to look the woman over. The social class of Catholic Aid workers was certainly higher than she expected when she asked her priest for help the other day. The woman who'd come through her door was clearly high society, dressed in fine designer clothes and expensive jewelry, and Kathy wondered what in the world she was doing on this side of town. "I'm sorry," Kathy continued, "but I didn't get your name..."
"Eleanor Lane." Margo hoped her late mother would forgive her appropriation of her name. "Nice to meet you." She offered a handshake. "I'm sorry if I caught you at a bad time..."
"No, that's quite all right. I'm sorry I seem distracted. I just got home from the hospital...please, sit down."
"Thank you." Margo took a seat on the sofa and felt its worn-out springs sag almost to the floor. "I understand your husband, Tom, is in jail?"
"Yes." Kathy looked away, ashamed.
"Do you mind if I asked what happened?"
Kathy fought back tears. "It's terrible. They said he robbed a bank and shot a policeman." She swallowed her emotions. "But Tom would never do such a thing. I know we needed money, but to rob a bank...Tom would never do that. He was always driving extra hours, working odd jobs, trying to find better work so we could pay for Emma..."
"Yes. She came down with polio a month ago. We almost lost her." Now she was unable to hold back the tears. "She's in the hospital, in an iron lung. She looks so sick. I feel so helpless. And Tom felt so worthless." She paused as she tried to collect her emotions. "The doctors say she's young, and the young ones have the best chance of recovery. But treatments cost money...money we don't have..." She broke down sobbing.
Margo put a gentle hand on Kathy's shoulder. "Mrs. Vanderwal, I know this is hard. But I have to know. Would your husband have turned to crime in any form to try and get the money?"
"No!" Kathy looked horrified that someone connected with the church would even ask the question. "No, Tom would never even think of doing that! He's a cab driver; he knows firsthand what it's like to be robbed. He would never do that to anyone else!"
"Has your husband told you anything about what happened, anything that might help his case?"
"No. He won't talk to me." She looked desperate. "I went to see him, and he sent me away. He told me to leave him there to rot in jail, that I'd be better off without him. He doesn't even want me to come to court to watch the trial. So I spent the morning with Emma, so that I wouldn't have to even think about it." She started to cry again. "Emma wanted to know where Daddy was. And I couldn't tell her..."
Margo gently stroked the woman's shoulder and opened her receptive telepathy to listen for any deceit in the woman's thoughts.
There was none. Only anguish, confusion, and anger over it all came through. Margo was satisfied that she wasn't being lied to, but frustrated that Kathy had no answers for her many questions. "Mrs. Vanderwal...I believe you. And I believe your husband loves you and doesn't want you to suffer. Men can be so stubborn sometimes. But don't lose hope. There are people who can help you...and your husband." She reached into her purse and pulled out a thick stack of bills. "Here." She pressed it into Kathy's hands. "This is for you and for Emma."
Kathy looked at the wad of cash, surprised at its size.
The paper band holding the stack together read "$1000".
Now she was in shock. "Oh, my God..."
"There's more if you need it. But this should be a good start."
She looked up at Margo. "The Catholic Aid Society couldn't have sent this. Who are you?"
Margo smiled gently. "Someone who believes your husband is innocent." She patted Kathy on the shoulder. "I'll be in touch." She got up from the couch and headed for the door.
Kathy got up to follow her. "Then there is hope?"
"There is. I promise. Take care, Mrs. Vanderwal."
Kathy was still stunned. But for the first time in a long while, she wasn't completely lost in despair. "Thank you. Thank you so much."
"When will I hear from you again?"
"What should I do in the meantime?"
Margo looked as reassuring as she could. "Pray." Then she left.
Kathy stared at the door, then fell to her knees and crossed herself. "Our Father, who art in Heaven..."
Margo was gratified to see Moe Shrevnitz's cab come around the corner and pull up to the curb. It had been a long five minutes standing outside the Vanderwal's brownstone, and there were times Margo would have given her right arm for an ounce of Lamont's psychic signaling power. She waited for Moe to pop open the door, then climbed into the back seat.
"Sorry you had to wait," Moe said. "Got sidetracked. Where to?"
"Not sure," Margo replied. "Start driving. I'll think along the way."
Moe pulled away from the curb and headed back for midtown Manhattan. "So, was the missus any help?"
"Not as much as I'd have liked. She did confirm that they were in financial trouble. But apparently he hasn't told her any more than he's told the police."
"Any new leads?"
"None." She blew out a hard, frustrated breath.
Moe gave the rear view mirror a wry smile. "Not as easy as it looks, huh?"
Margo threw up her hands. "How does he do this? I swear, I think he could not only find a needle in a haystack, he could find a needle in a hay field. I have nothing to go on and nowhere to start looking."
"Maybe this will help." He handed a cream-colored envelope over the seat.
She took the envelope. "What is this?"
"The reason I was late. Got signaled by an agent as I was making the block." He eyed the backseat. "Hold it down below the windows so that nobody will see you reading it."
Margo did so. "You'd think I'd know the rules by now."
"It's easy to forget. Even I have to be reminded every so often what not to do. What's it say?"
"It's from a short order cook who saw Vanderwal's cab outside a diner the morning of the robbery. Says that about 9 A.M., Vanderwal picked up two diner regulars who'd been in there having breakfast."
"Guy say who they were?"
"No, just that they were regulars. But it lends credence to Vanderwal's story of two guys who got into his cab and forced him to drive them away."
"But the cops say he was waiting around outside the bank. Doesn't sound like he was forced to me."
She thought for a minute. "But they could easily have made up some legitimate-sounding story about needing to go to the bank to cash a check or take out some money. Then he'd have willingly taken them there and not realized that they were going to use him as a getaway car until it was too late."
He nodded. "That makes sense. So where do you want to go from here?"
"I don't know." She pounded her fist against the door. "What I really want to do is go talk to Vanderwal."
"What you want to do? Pick his brain?"
Margo wasn't sure what that phrasing was supposed to mean. "I can, you know."
"Yeah, I know. That's actually why I said it. Five minutes alone with him and you'd have your answers."
"Maybe. I don't know, though. His wife says he won't even see her. And if he won't even see his wife, there's no way he'll want to talk to me."
"What if I was to park outside the jail? Couldn't you do it from there?"
"It doesn't work that way. Lamont can get away with that sort of thing because he can throw a blanket hypnotic suggestion over a whole area and every mind gets covered. Not me. It would be like trying to listen to a conversation while standing in the middle of Times Square on New Year's Eve--impossible to pick out one voice, one thought pattern, especially one I've never heard before. I wouldn't even know what I was listening for. And besides, I don't want just random thoughts, I want specific answers to specific questions."
Moe gave a derisive snort. "No way he's going to say anything that might sound like a confession."
Something suddenly occurred to Margo. "That's it!"
He looked at the rear view mirror again. "What?"
"I know how to get him to talk to me now!" She reached into her purse and pulled out a cream-colored note card and began scribbling a furious missive. "Get me to a drop box. This is going to take some real coordination...and a lot of luck."
Moe shrugged, still not understanding but figuring it would all be clear soon enough, and sped his cab toward the nearest drop point on The Shadow's network.
Tom Vanderwal sat on the edge of his cot in the darkness of his jail cell, twisting and knotting his sheet nervously, hoping against hope that this whole experience was just some horrible nightmare from which he prayed he would awaken at any moment. His lawyer's visit earlier tonight had only depressed him further; Vanderwal had repeated his story once more of the two passengers who'd forced him to be their getaway driver, but he got the distinct feeling the attorney didn't believe him. Of course, it didn't help his case that he couldn't remember any details about either of the men, anything they'd said, anything at all except the sight of that gun pointed right at him and the shove the gunman gave him right before they'd forced him to drive into the lamppost. He knew what the cops thought of him; he could see it on every face, hear it in their mutters of "cop killer" every time they came past. He knew Kathy had to be ashamed to be married to him; she was probably hearing "cop killer's wife" from everyone she saw, everyone in the hospital, everyone everywhere. And Emma...how could she even hope to get the treatment she needed when everyone knew her daddy was a cop killer? Didn't matter if he actually was guilty; everyone just knew that he was, and treated him as if he was. He wasn't sure he could take any more...
"Hey--don't do it."
Vanderwal looked up at the sound of the voice to see a jail guard outside his cell.
The guard gestured toward the sheet in Vanderwal's hands. "Don't do it, pal. It's not worth it."
Vanderwal at first didn't know what the guard was talking about. Then he looked at his hands.
The sheet he was holding had been twisted into a hangman's noose.
The color drained from Vanderwal's face. The worst part of it all was not that he'd been subconsciously thinking about suicide. The worst part was that he was having trouble coming up with a reason why it was a bad idea.
The guard looked stern. "You're not doing that on my watch. Put it down."
Vanderwal tossed the sheet aside in frustration.
"That's better." A pause, as if the guard didn't know quite what to do next. "You want to talk about it?"
Vanderwal laughed bitterly. "You want me to talk. Like every other cop."
The guard shrugged. "They say confession is good for the soul."
"But I've got nothing to confess!" Vanderwal snapped. "I'm innocent! Why doesn't anybody believe me?"
"Maybe if you had a better story than 'I got kidnapped at gunpoint', they would."
"But it's what happened!" Vanderwal picked up his sheet again and ran his fingers through his hair, looking desperate.
"Put it down," the guard warned.
Vanderwal finally dropped the sheet to the floor.
The guard pulled out his handcuffs. "Get up."
Vanderwal looked confused. "What?"
"Get up. Off the cot. Come on."
Vanderwal stood up.
The guard tapped the bars with his club. "Back against the bars, hands behind your back."
Vanderwal did so, still looking confused. "You guys only make me do this when you want to move me. Where am I going this time of night?"
"To talk to somebody." The guard snapped the cuffs on Vanderwal's wrists, then unlocked the cell door. "Come on."
Vanderwal came out of the cell, scoffing in mock bravado. "I don't want to talk to anybody."
"Too bad. Anybody who twists their sheet into a noose has a problem they need to talk to somebody about. And I know just the guy for you to talk to." The guard gave him a shove forward. "Start walking."
Vanderwal walked forward, past taunting inmates who'd overheard the conversation and were giving him various suggestions on how to "do himself", out of the holding area and down a dark, mostly deserted hall.
The guard grabbed his cuffs to stop him. "Hold up."
Vanderwal didn't even have time to look behind him when the guard shoved him into an interrogation room and ordered him to sit down. He managed to keep from falling as he took a slow, cautious seat in the chair in front of him.
The guard looked across the room. "He's all yours, Padre. Knock on the door when you're done."
Father Mark Ryan nodded his thanks and gave a gentle dismissive gesture with a fire-opal-adorned right hand. "Thank you, officer."
Officer Bob Chauncy exchanged a knowing glance with his fellow Shadow agent as he flashed his ring in response, then stepped out of the room and closed the door.
Vanderwal heard the thud of the heavy door and looked at the pair across the table from him, the father all in black with the white collar insert practically gleaming in the room's harsh single-lightbulb illumination and the sister swathed head-to-toe in the traditional Catholic nun's garb. "A priest and a nun. Wow. I must be important to somebody."
Father Ryan gave a calming smile. "Your wife certainly thinks you are, Mr. Vanderwal. I'm Father Ryan. This is Sister Margaret. We're here to help you."
"Help me?" Vanderwal gave a derisive snort. "That's a good one. Nobody can help me. I'm a cop killer, don't you know? At least, that's what everybody thinks."
"But everybody's wrong."
Vanderwal was almost taken in by the straightforward statement, spoken in a soothing Irish lilt. But he kept his defenses up. This could still be a setup to get him to confess to something he didn't do. "Yeah, everybody's wrong. So why are you the only one who believes it?"
Father Ryan looked the man before him over carefully and let his instinctive telepathic sense of emotional pain divination take over. It wasn't a gift he had control over, but it was nonetheless one of his gifts, part of what made him want to be a priest in these troubling times. "Because no one can see the pain you're in. You won't let them. You're confused about what happened, wondering 'Why me?'. You're ashamed of being so weak that you let yourself get in this situation. You know it's irrational to think that, but you do anyway. And because you're in pain but don't understand why, you push everyone away...even those who want to help you the most."
Vanderwal knew the priest was right. His tough exterior softened and he looked frightened. "What am I going to do, Father?" He stamped his foot and swayed back and forth, as if battling with his emotions. "I didn't know what was going on, I swear it! I'm innocent!" He tried to hold back the fear and anger. "Why doesn't anybody believe me?"
"Because you haven't given them enough reason to believe you."
"And that's why we're here," the nun added.
Vanderwal laughed bitterly once more. "Confession is good for the soul, right?"
"It is," Father Ryan reassured. "But confession isn't just about deeds. It's about thoughts as well. It's about what's in a man's heart. We know you didn't do it. But you need to confess who did."
"But I don't remember!" Vanderwal protested.
"No, I think you do," the nun replied. "I think you just don't remember what you should remember."
He laughed again. "You're talking in circles."
"I know it sounds like it. But you can get so frightened by a memory that you try to forget it, to the point where you can't remember it even when you know you have to. And that's what we think has happened to you." She leaned forward to look him in the eye. "You need to try to forget how afraid you are. You need to remember what happened that day. Think about every detail. Anything at all. Any sight. Any sound. Any smell. Anything. It's the only way anyone will be able to help you. Please, Mr. Vanderwal, think."
Vanderwal looked at the nun's imploring gaze. He could practically feel her trying to pull memories out of him. And he so desperately wanted to remember. He tried to think.
A surge of desperate thoughts rushed into Margo Lane Cranston's mind. She quickly reached out to catch them, to surround them in a cushion of psychic energy and let them land softly in her psyche so she could make some sense of them. But they were coming so fast...
Two men. Not clear on the faces. Heavy Brooklyn accent from one of them--was that red hair sticking out from under his fedora? A scar on the other guy's cheek? Don't remember...don't look at my fares too closely...
They want to go to the Second National Bank to cash a check...hey, a fare's a fare...
O.K., at the bank One guy says to wait out here because he didn't have enough money to pay the fare. Needed the money so bad...thought I might as well wait; can't hurt...time to read the paper...why didn't I just drive away? This wouldn't have happened if I'd just said "forget it"...
Gunshots? What's going on? Oh, my God, they've got guns! And masks! They robbed the bank! Oh, my God...
No, don't get in my cab!
Oh, my God, Scarface's got his gun in my face. Kathy...Emma...oh, God...
Drive, he says. O.K., I'm driving. Just don't shoot...
Geez, the cops are right on my tail. I want to stop, but Scarface keeps pushing his gun into the side of my head...
Oh, great, now he's turned the mirror so I can't see behind me. Why am I not stopping? Why am I not fighting back? What kind of coward am I? Kathy...Emma...oh, God...
Traffic ahead. We're trapped. I'm dead. I know it. Kathy...Emma...oh, God...
Geez! What are you doing? We're going to crash!
Ow! My head! What the Hell happened?
Oh, God...we hit a lamppost. And they're gone. Jesus...am I dreaming? I'm dreaming. I have to be. No, this isn't a dream. This is a nightmare...hey, what's that under the seat?
No, officer, don't shoot! Don't shoot! I didn't do anything...ow, my head...hey, what's going on? I'm getting out, you don't have to pull me out...no, I didn't put that there! Ow, my head...oh, God, no, I didn't do it, I swear! Oh, God, no...
Vanderwal suddenly banged his head on the table.
Father Ryan grabbed him quickly. "Easy, son. Don't. Don't hurt yourself. You're worth more than that."
Vanderwal broke down crying in the priest's arms. "I'm so confused! I can't remember anything clearly! Oh, God, why can't I remember?"
"Sh-h." Father Ryan offered his reluctant confessor the aid and comfort that only a priest could, then looked over at his companion. "Sister Margaret...are you all right?"
It took a long moment for Margo to absorb the sudden burst of anger and fear into her psyche, but she managed to regain a measure of her composure. "I'm fine." She didn't look so fine, but she tried to gather herself for the sake of maintaining the cover. "I don't think we need to put Mr. Vanderwal through any more suffering tonight."
Father Ryan nodded his understanding and gave Vanderwal a last soothing hug, then walked over and knocked on the heavy door.
Officer Chauncy came in. "You O.K., Padre?"
Father Ryan nodded. "I think we're done in here." He offered Margo a hand, then turned to Vanderwal. "Stay strong. Your life is worth it, my son."
Vanderwal nodded, still not certain if he believed the priest's encouraging words.
Chauncy grabbed him by the arm and pulled him to his feet, then all of them left the room.
Are you sure about this?
Margo accepted the glass of water Father Ryan handed to her as she pulled off the nun's veil and coif and shook out her hair, then collapsed on the dilapidated hotel's dilapidated bed, exhausted to the point of barely being able to think hard enough to convey her findings to Lamont. Absolutely. He didn't do this. He's completely innocent. Wrong place at the wrong time.
Father Ryan looked at Margo's furrowed brow, as if she were thinking intently. He was privileged to know the Cranstons' great secret, their psychic gifts and incredible connection, but it still seemed unbelievable. "Are you...talking to him?"
Margo nodded. "It's tough, though. I'm having a hard time concentrating."
"After what happened tonight, I'd say so."
Margo gave a gesture to quiet him. "Father, please..." Then she concentrated again on projecting her thoughts outward. I'm sorry, Lamont. What did you say?
What I said was, are you all right? You sound really strained.
I'm fine. It's just that this is a lot harder for me than it is for you. And my head's still buzzing. Lamont, he is so scared. He's so afraid of those memories, blaming himself for what happened.
I know he is. But it's vitally important that we get what we can out of them, or he's going to spend the rest of his life in jail at the very least. Back to the two men. Did they say anything to each other that he remembers?
I'm trying to think. It was a lot of information to take in all at once. It was mostly general conversation on the ride to the bank. One called the other "Red".
What about after the robbery? Does he remember them saying anything to him, or each other?
Nothing other than "Drive" and "Can't you make this thing go any faster?" She thought harder. One of them did say, "Shut up, Bolt".
"Shut up, Bolt"? Margo, see their faces again for me.
She rubbed her temples. He didn't get a good look at them. This is all I saw.
A pause. Wait a minute. I know those two. The guy with the red hair is Red Finch. The guy with the scar on his cheek is Lenny "Lightning Bolt" Bolton.
You know them?
I ran them in a few years ago after a couple of bank robberies. Must have gotten time off for good behavior. He thought for a moment. Now it makes sense. Red and Bolt, small time hoods, mostly petty stuff, knocked off a pair of banks four years ago. If I remember right, they used cabs for getaways last time, too. There was some question last time if the cabbies knew them or not. Nothing was ever proven. He changed his mental focus. Father, did it seem like he was telling the truth to you?
Ryan put a hand to his temple. "Oh, my..." He looked amazed. "It's like he's standing in this room!" Then, he chuckled nervously. "Maybe he is."
No, Father, I'm not in the room. I'm right above you. He chuckled, the laugh sounding almost menacing. Could cause quite a scandal if someone found out you were in a sleazy hotel room with an unveiled nun.
Ryan looked amused at his unexpected predicament. "And a married nun, at that."
Margo smiled at the priest, then turned serious. "Don't talk so loudly. People might hear you. Just think your answers as hard as you can. He can hear you think."
More things that seemed too incredible to believe. Ryan shook his head. He'd been a Shadow agent for almost a year now, but this was his first real mission, a real chance to make a difference in making sure justice was truly served. "Sorry. This is all so new." He looked up at the ceiling and concentrated. Is this loud enough?
For now. Another chuckle. Remind me to give you lessons on basic projective conversation sometime. Now, do you believe he's telling the truth?
Absolutely. I can tell when a man's lying. His pain is so obvious, so loud, so completely consuming. He didn't do this. There's no way that he could have. He'd never even think of such a thing. But he's losing hope fast.
Lamont, Margo interjected, he was contemplating suicide when we arrived.
Guilty men do sometimes do that when they're cornered.
He's a Catholic, Ryan thought as hard as he could. Suicide is a mortal sin. He'd go straight to Hell. No innocent man wants that unless they feel like they're already there.
Good point. Lamont spun the possiblities through his mind once more. If only we had some piece of evidence, some way of proving this story is true and not just some guilty man's desperate excuse. A discarded mask, gunpowder residue...
Margo suddenly brightened. Or a fingerprint?
Lamont reached into Margo's mind and sifted through the impressions again. Yes. A fingerprint. That's it! That's the forgotten memory--the clue that will save him!
Father Ryan looked confused. I don't follow.
Now he heard the mocking laugh of The Shadow in Lamont's thoughts. It was almost perfect. They didn't leave anything behind except the gun and the money. Or so they thought.
But the guy in the front--Bolt--couldn't see the cops closing in behind them and watch Vanderwal at the same time, Margo remembered.
So he reached up for the mirror...
...but it was stuck. And he couldn't get a good grip on it because his gloves were bulky...
...so he had to take one of them off. The confidence from Lamont's thoughts was almost palpable. And left behind the one clue that seals his doom.
A print on the mirror, Ryan realized. But how do we find it?
Where is the cab now? Margo wondered.
It's probably been impounded by the police. Which means you need to go talk to my uncle now.
What do I tell him?
I don't care. Think of something. Take Father Ryan with you if you think it will help. Maybe if you frame it in terms of some kind of confessional, he'll believe you. But you've got to make him believe you. Vanderwal's life is at stake.
Margo heard movement above them, anxious footsteps, the sound of the steamer trunk sliding across the worn rug, and something like the false lid from the trunk being tossed aside. What are you going to do?
Track down Red and Bolt. They're not the brightest of bulbs in the marquee. Probably still frequenting their old haunts. And I know just how to haunt them.
She looked frustrated. If you get caught leaving your room...
It's two in the morning. They've already done room checks. The guards are probably asleep. Or they soon will be. She could almost hear him smiling coldly. Besides, no one catches The Shadow.
She shook her finger at the ceiling. You be careful.
Always. Now, go!
She grabbed Ryan's hand. "Come on, Father."
She stopped in her tracks. Yes, Lamont?
Get changed first. I'm not sure my uncle will understand why his nephew's wife is dressed in a nun's habit with a priest in tow.
She couldn't help it as she laughed out loud. All right. You get changed, too.
Already done. The level of psychic power coming from him increased significantly. Go.
She thought one last silent wish of love and luck toward her favorite vigilante, then hurriedly left, Ryan hot on her heels.
"So, you ever think we should've kept some of that money?"
Red Finch looked over at Lenny Bolton as they sat in a dark corner of the same bar they were in every night, smoking the same cheap cigarettes, drinking the same cheap booze cocktails. "We might've been able to if you hadn't gotten so trigger-happy."
"Shut up. How was I supposed to know a cop was gonna come up behind us like that?"
"Well, gee, that's part of your job, isn't it? You're the lookout guy."
"But you couldn't have picked a busier bank, could you? The place was packed. Somebody had to keep 'em on the floor."
"Yeah, yeah." He swigged the scotch and water and smacked it back on the bar. "If we get lucky, that stupid cabbie'll go down this time instead of us."
"He'll go down. We didn't leave a clue."
You think so?
Bolt choked on his martini. "What the..."
"The Shadow," Red whispered, then began looking around. "Where the Hell is he?"
Wouldn't you like to know? A sinister, low chuckle. You'd be better off looking for the clue you left behind in Tom Vanderwal's cab.
"Clue?" Bolt looked nervous. "We didn't leave no clues."
Really? That's not the way Vanderwal remembers it.
Red scoffed. "Vanderwal doesn't remember anything. That's why he's in the slammer and we're not."
Too bad, really. But he won't be there for long...once the police find the prints you left behind.
Now Bolt was more confident. "It's a cab. They won't know our prints from anybody else's. And besides, we wore gloves."
All the time?
Red looked over at Bolt. "You took your gloves off in the front seat."
"No, I didn't." The answer was sharp, nervous.
The Shadow didn't miss the change in reaction as he chuckled once more. Are you sure about that? Are you sure you didn't take them off to try to get a better grip on the rear view mirror?
"No. No, I didn't. I know I didn't."
No need for a passenger to adjust the driver's mirror, you know. If the police find that print... He let the sentence trail off with a laugh that began to drift away, getting both louder and softer at the same time.
Bolt shook. "No...no, they won't find it. Come on, Red." He practically jumped out of his seat.
"Where you going?" Red said, getting up to join him.
"We gotta find that cab and get rid of that print."
"Are you crazy? It's down in the police impound lot--that thing's crawling with cops!"
"I don't care! If they find that print, we're as good as dead! Now come on!"
The two men left the bar, The Shadow's mocking laugh still ringing in their ears.
"Do you know what time it is?"
The tone in Police Commissioner Wainwright Barth's voice told Margo all she needed to know about the uphill battle she faced as she found herself wishing not for the first time that evening for even the slightest bit of her husband's hypnotic telepathy. "Yes, I know what time it is. It's 2:30 in the morning. But that doesn't change why we're here. You have to send someone to dust for prints in Tom Vanderwal's cab. He's innocent. He didn't rob that bank, and he didn't kill anybody."
Wainwright grumbled and rubbed his eyes, still trying to wake up and wondering what in the world he was even doing awake at this hour. He collapsed onto the sofa, too tired to stand up and listen to insane ravings in his own living room. "What the Hell are you talking about?" He gave the priest a glance. "Sorry, Father." He then looked over at Margo again. "Have you been talking to Lamont? If you have, I'll have the both of you thrown in jail for jury tampering..."
"No, you won't, and you know it. And no, I haven't been talking to Lamont." She cringed slightly for lying in front of a priest, but if her persuasion was successful, she had a feeling she'd be forgiven. "I have been talking to Mrs. Vanderwal, though. And Father Ryan's been talking to Vanderwal himself. We're convinced he's telling the truth."
"Don't tell me you actually believe that cockamamie story."
"I do," Father Ryan interjected. "A man may lie to the police, but not to a priest. He's telling the truth. And no one believes him. He's desperate. He tried to commit suicide. That's why they called me."
Margo reminded herself to tease the priest about his own twisting of the truth the next time she went to Confessional, then turned serious. "And that's why Father Ryan called me, because he knew I was the only way to get to someone who could help."
"I haven't said I'd help you," Wainwright retorted. "Why should I? Police saw him outside the bank. They found the gun and the money in his cab. It was the same gun he shot John Carr with."
"But no one actually saw him in the bank. No one actually saw him do the shooting."
"So? Vanderwal says that two other guys did it and commandeered his cab at gunpoint. Why are you more willing to believe sheer circumstance than you are the far more logical testimony of the prime suspect?"
"There's no evidence of these two other men. No one saw them."
"Did you dust the cab for prints?"
"Of course not. It's a taxicab, for God's sake." Another cringe toward the priest. "For pity's sake. There are prints all over the thing from everyday passengers."
"But how many on the rear view mirror?" Ryan challenged.
Wainwright looked confused. "What?"
"Mr. Vanderwal told me that the one thing he could remember clearly was that the man in the front seat reached up for the rear view mirror to adjust it so that he could see the cops pursuing them. And he took off his glove to do it."
"Which means that there should be a set of identifiable prints on the rear view mirror that don't belong to Tom Vanderwal," Margo added. "Passengers don't need to adjust rear view mirrors. But a bank robber holding a driver at gunpoint in the front seat would. You need to get someone to dust that cab tonight."
"Why tonight?" Wainwright snapped. "Why not tomorrow morning? What is so crucial about this that it has to be done tonight?"
Margo hesitated. She understood why this was so crucial--if The Shadow had found Red and Bolt, there was a good chance he'd baited them into breaking into the police impound lot, where they were sitting ducks for alert officers...but if the police weren't looking for them, they could easily slip past the guards and remove the only piece of evidence that would acquit Tom Vanderwal. But how to convince Wainwright without revealing her connection to The Shadow...
"Because I'm not certain I was able to convince him not to take his own life," Father Ryan asserted.
Margo breathed a sigh of relief. "That's right," she said quickly, trying to capitalize on the opening he'd given her. "You have to do this tonight because Vanderwal may not be alive tomorrow. Do you want to stand in front of the press and explain why a completely innocent man committed suicide in jail before you finally decided to search for the evidence that would free him from this nightmare?"
Wainwright ran his hand through his hair and groaned. "Margo..."
Margo could hear his thoughts teetering on the edge of agreeing with her and put on her best doe-eyed pleading look. "Uncle Wainwright...please."
That was all it took. "Oh, all right." He picked up the phone and dialed. "This is Barth. Get me the impound yard." He looked over at the pair and scowled. "You'd better be right about this."
Margo gave Ryan a knowing look, then smiled at Wainwright. "We are."
Wainwright had his doubts, but turned his attention back to the phone. "Oswald? This is Commissioner Barth. I need you to find that cab of Vanderwal's..."
"I swear, Bolt, you are an idiot."
"Shut up, Red," Bolt snapped. "Who knew the cops impounded so many cabs?"
Red scowled as he looked inside what felt like the hundredth cab that night. "No, this ain't it. No picture of his kid."
"They could have taken that out, you know. Are you sure you can't remember the tag?"
"No. Can you?"
"I'm trying." He raised an eyebrow. "Over there. Look."
Red saw a cab across the lot barely visible under the dim lights. "Yeah, that looks like it. Check it out."
"It would have to be up against a light pole." They stole through the shadows and glanced inside the windows. "Jackpot. Look."
Red saw it. "What a cute kid. Too bad her daddy's gonna get the chair." He jimmied open the cab door.
"Hold it right there!"
Red and Bolt looked up--and saw a wall of police heading toward them. "Jeez, it's a setup!" Bolt snapped.
Red pulled out his gun and opened fire.
A hail of bullets responded.
Red dropped to the ground. Bolt dove for cover and fired back, then tried to make his way toward the exit.
"Get 'em!" one of the officers called. "He's getting away!"
Bolt picked his way through cars. Almost there...just a little farther to go...good night, there were a lot of cars in this lot...
Shots from in front of him clipped him in the shoulder and dropped him to the ground. He got to his knees and looked up.
The menacing glare of The Shadow met his gaze.
Bolt couldn't move. Those intense blue-green eyes were drilling right through him and his brain felt like it was on fire...
"Freeze!" a voice ordered from behind.
Bolt turned around and aimed his gun, but for some reason couldn't pull the trigger.
The officer nailed him right in the chest.
Bolt was thrown backward.
Officer Steve Koslowski held up his fire opal ring and made eye contact with The Shadow.
The Shadow gave him a nod of acknowledgement, then gestured with his eyes toward Bolt.
Koslowski got the message and came over to the fallen hood, training his revolver right on the center of the man's forehead. "Don't move," he ordered.
"I..." Bolt was dying, but pounding guilt in his head was driving him to try to speak. "I...I shot that cop. I robbed that bank...my prints are in that cab...that guy Vanderwal is innocent..."
As Bolt continued his deathbed confession, The Shadow vanished into the night.
The assistant D.A. looked just as uncomfortable standing before the jury this morning as he had yesterday morning, this time because he knew his case, such as it was, had completely fallen apart. "Your Honor," he said, his tone annoyed, "in light of the confession of Leonard Bolton last evening that completely clears Thomas Vanderwal of any involvement in the robbery of the Second National Bank and the murder of Officer John Carr--and in light of the fact that both Bolton, the admitted shooter, and the man he said was his partner, Redmond Finch, died as a result of injuries sustained during a shootout with police last evening--the state formally drops all charges against Thomas Vanderwal."
Eleven members of the jury looked surprised. The twelfth pretended to do the same.
The judge read the paperwork the clerk handed to him, documenting the state's formal dismissal of its case, then looked up at Vanderwal's attorney. "I take it your client has been advised of the state's decision to dismiss charges against him, Mr. Waverly?"
Waverly stood up, looking quite relieved that he wouldn't have to argue a virtually inarguable case. "Uh, yes, Your Honor, we received our notice this morning."
"Very well." The judge affixed his signature to the document. "So ordered. The jury is thanked for its service and dismissed. Mr. Vanderwal, you are now free to go. I know nothing can ever compensate for the loss of freedom and reputation that you have suffered, but you should take great comfort in the knowledge that justice was indeed served...which is all any of us in this life can ever hope for. Court is adjourned."
Tom Vanderwal barely waited for the bang of the gavel to throw his arms around his wife Kathy, sitting behind him in the gallery. For a long moment, they held each other, exchanging tearful apologies and expressions of love.
Across the courtroom, another couple was making each other's acquaintance again after a brief separation. "Good to see you again," Margo commented as she slipped her arm around Lamont's waist.
"And you," Lamont agreed, giving her a quick kiss. "I missed you."
"Missed you, too." She looked over at the Vanderwals. "But not quite as much as they missed each other."
"You're right about that."
The Vanderwals broke their embrace when Kathy made eye contact with Margo. Her husband joined her gaze. Each looked as if they were trying to place the familiar face.
Margo looked nervous. "They recognize me," she whispered.
Lamont looked across at the couple for a moment, then gave a low-pitched, almost sinister chuckle. Not any more.
The Vanderwals looked confused for a moment, then shook their heads as if dismissing odd thoughts and returned their attentions to each other.
Margo smiled up at her husband. "Thanks."
"You're welcome. Now, what shall we do the rest of the day?"
"Well, it's early yet. We could go shopping, we could get brunch somewhere, we could take in a matinee..."
"Or we could go home so that I can get some sleep."
She looked mischievous. "If we go home, you won't be getting any sleep."
"Nothing wrong with that."
They kissed once more, then followed the rest of the gallery out of the courtroom.