Earth to Monty.
Monty Cranston looked up from the city map he'd been studying for the past few minutes at the sound of his sister Lane's mental voice. It was a Friday afternoon in The Sanctum, and The Shadow was on the trail of a gang of jewel thieves striking several prominent estate auctions over the past four weeks. He frowned at his sister, analyzing some crime scene photos across The Sanctum in the lounging area. "Didn't The Tulku teach you not to interrupt someone's studies?" he returned.
"The only thing you're studying on that map is where you're going to take Annie Mulroney for dinner tonight," Lane returned. "Your eyes haven't moved from that spot in fifteen minutes."
Monty sighed. "Dad would have my head for being so easily distracted."
"No, he'd just smack you in the back with a broom for not paying attention. Come on, Monty, 'fess up. What's going on?"
Monty tapped his pencil against the map in frustration. Barely twenty-two, the reins of The Shadow's network were now firmly under his control, and had been for a year now. Lamont Cranston had retired after thirty-two years as the master of darkness and sentinel of shadows, and now his son donned the hat and cloak and laughed the mocking laugh that brought hardened killers to their knees. Part of his duties involved training Lane in the skills she would need to join him, and so they spent weekends and summer vacations together, alternating roles as brother and sister, teacher and pupil, and peers. And right now, he wasn't sure who was playing which role right now. For as much as they longed to be the dark warriors against the evils of the night that their father had been, they were still a couple of young adults in 1960, with all that entailed. And sometimes that entailed a lot. "What am I going to do?" he finally said aloud.
Lane set the stack of photos down. She knew exactly what Monty was talking about, but felt he needed to say the words out loud. Monty was definitely Lamont Cranston II, almost a carbon copy of his projective father, down to the loud thoughts and stubborn tenacity. Lane was more balanced, but not by much; over the past year, the balance she'd had with the strong dose she'd gotten of her namesake mother's receptiveness had shifted slowly but surely toward the projective side, to the point where it sometimes took a lot of work to open her mind to receive thoughts. But as loud as Monty was thinking now, there wasn't a need to strain. "About The Estate Gang?" she teased.
"Come on, Lane. Do I really have to spell it out?"
"Yes. The Tulku says to put words to your thoughts, and they will become less frightening."
He scowled. "Can't tell you just got back from the temple."
Lane smiled at her brother. "Come on, Monty. You've been brooding around like this for a couple of days now. What's wrong? You and Annie have a fight?"
"Not exactly." He leaned against the wall and sighed. "It all started when Clark and Kristin announced their engagement. Kristin's one of Annie's best friends--and that green in Annie's eyes wasn't her natural color. She did everything but hypnotize me into asking her to marry her. I swear, if I wasn't trained to deflect mental intrusions, I'd have been on my knees then and there."
"Would that necessarily have been a bad thing?"
He threw up his hands, then headed for the kitchenette and put the kettle on to boil. "I have been dating this woman for two years. I know everything there is to know about her. I love her madly. We're wildly compatible. We are absolutely perfect together, and yet I can't figure out where we're going in this relationship. She's starting to wonder if I'm just leading her on. And I'm not, but..." He groped for words, then finally said it. "But how am I supposed to tell her about this?"
Lane took the teacup her brother offered, then took a sip and looked thoughtful. "Well," she replied, "when you figure it out, let me know, because I've still got to figure out a way to tell David."
Monty sat down across from her. "A lot of help you are."
"Come on, Monty. We both knew this was part of the price we would have to pay for taking on this mission. Either you figure out a way to tell the one you love, or you don't love. Why do you think Dad waited so long to get married?"
"Yeah, but he didn't exactly tell Mom."
"True. But I don't think you want Annie showing up at your bedroom door with a single-shot pistol under hypnotic orders to kill The Shadow."
"No, that's not my idea of a dream date." He blew out a hard breath. "What am I going to do? I love Annie more than anything. But how can I tell her about this? 'Hey, Annie, you know all those nights when I dropped you off early and said I had homework, or some kind of family thing? I lied.' Yeah, that's going to go over really well."
"Oh, yeah? Put yourself in my situation. Try dating Dr. David McAllister, psychology professor and king of the skeptics. 'Hey, David, remember that lecture you gave about ESP being a pseudo-science and a lot of superstitious nonsense wrapped around ordinary intuition? Well, guess what--you were wrong.'" She leaned back on the chaise lounge. "How did we end up in this situation?"
"Because we're strong adepts. And we naturally draw other adepts to us."
She laughed. "Yeah, that's the real irony. King Skeptic is an unawakened clairvoyant, of all things."
"And stubborn red-headed Annie's a partially-awakened projector." A sigh. "So why is this so hard?"
"Because we're Cranstons. And we spend our lives under the protection of a hat and cloak."
"And use it to keep everybody at bay." He finished off his tea. "I am just not thinking clearly. Think I'll head out. You staying?"
She finished her tea. "Of course not. I'm as unfocused as you are right now. While you were daydreaming about Annie, I was thinking about my theatre outing with David tonight." She sighed. "Let's get out of here and come back to it when we're a little less distracted."
"Sounds good to me." He took their teacups and set them in the sink, then retrieve his hat and her purse.
They walked up the stairs together.
Anne Mulroney spent several minutes in front of her bedroom mirror trying to brush her unruly waist-length red hair into a neat coiffeur, then threw the brush aside. Monty would be here any minute, and she wasn't even close to being ready. And you just couldn't wear just anything to the Cobalt Club; the look had to be perfect. She remembered the one time she'd just worn "what you have on" at Monty's suggestion, and the stares from the other patrons was enough to tell her that was a major faux pas. Yet another reminder that I will never be part of his world, she sighed, finally finding a rubber band to pull her hair into a rolled bun. Daughter of a college professor, straight-A student at Barnard, but not good enough for the social elite. Maybe that's why he won't ask me to marry him. And I can't say that I blame him.
"Did you say something, love?" Kelly Mulroney called from the hallway.
Annie frowned. How does she always know? she mentally complained, then sprayed her hair and pushed stray strands into place. "No, Mum. Just thinking."
"Must have been some very strong thoughts," her mother said, entering the room. "What's wrong?"
"My hair," she moaned. "It's as wild as a banchee." She took a powder brush and began dusting her face. "And my face--no matter how much makeup I put on, I always look so plain. And then I can never get my dresses to fit just right--smooth, sleek, absolutely perfect. I'm a fright."
"You're beautiful, child." Kelly came over to the dresser, then gently took a handful of hairpins and secured the loose strands of hair so that they wouldn't show. "Do you not want to go out tonight?"
"No. I mean, yes. I mean...oh, what do I mean?" She tossed the makeup brush aside and fought back tears.
Kelly handed her a tissue. "Oh, sweetheart, don't cry. You'll make black streaks down your cheeks, and then you'll have to start all over again. Do you want me to tell Monty you're under the weather?"
"No." She dabbed at her eyes, then touched up her makeup again. "No, I have to go out tonight. I treated him just horribly the other day. He's not the kind of man who wants a woman telling him what to do, and I tried to force him to do something he didn't want to. And he'll probably end it with me..." She began to cry.
Kelly gave her another tissue. "Oh, sweetheart." She hugged her daughter. "He loves you so much. Whatever happened, you'll work it out. Mum knows." She patted her shoulder. "Now, let's get your makeup fixed and your dress on, and you'll be fine. Come on."
The doorbell rang. Kelly leaned out into the hall. "Gerry--get that, please!" she shouted to her husband.
"All right," Gerry Mulroney shouted back.
Annie heard her father greet Monty right below her. "He's here," she said, sounding anxious. "And I'm not ready..."
Kelly massaged her daughter's shoulders. "He'll wait," she soothed. "They always do."
Monty waited downstairs, trying not to let his nervousness show. He hoped Annie wouldn't be angry with him and refuse to go out. Bet Dad was never this nervous around women, he mentally complained. So why am I?
The click of thin heels on the stairs got his attention. He looked up.
Annie descended in a dazzling cream satin dress, her neck adorned with the pearl choker he'd given her for her birthday and her ears accented with elegant pearl drop earrings. She never failed to take his breath away, and today was no exception. "You look beautiful," he said aloud.
Annie smiled. He was always so charming, and tonight was no exception. Every hair in place, every button straight, every seam crisp. And those blue eyes were just irresistable. "Thank you," she replied.
He looked at the hall table, where an empty vase sat under a oak-framed mirror. "Looks like those roses I gave you the other day finally gave up the ghost."
She nodded. "Just this morning. They were beautiful while they lasted, though."
"Maybe these will last just as long." He placed a long floral box in her arms.
Annie looked surprised. She hadn't even noticed the box--how had he hidden it so well? Once again, he'd found a way to completely disarm her. She opened the box.
A dozen red and a dozen white roses greeted her gaze. "Oh, Monty!" she gasped. "They're beautiful!"
He smiled. "Almost as beautiful as you."
Their eyes met. Each saw the need for forgiveness in the other's gaze.
Kelly quietly stepped over to them. "Let me get these in some water," she said gently.
"Thanks, Mum," Annie replied.
Monty offered his arm. "Ready to go?"
"Let me get my wrap." She turned to the closet and pulled out a satin wrap, then took his arm and smiled.
Kelly watched as the young couple walked out of the house together.
Gerry came over to her. "Do you think he's right for her?" he asked his wife.
Kelly swatted her husband. "You sound just like my father," she teased. "He warned me about boys with their noses in books all the time."
Gerry smiled. "Did you listen to him?"
"Of course not. And I think it worked out."
Gerry held his wife from behind. "I just worry so much about her. She's never had luck with boys before."
"That's because you were always running them off." Kelly settled into his embrace.
"And I'll run him into the Hudson if he harms one hair on her head."
Kelly just smiled. Something told her this was going to work out. She couldn't put her finger on it. But she just knew it would.
Aaron Shrevnitz pulled his cab--a stylish Town Car--up to the Cobalt Club. "Here you are, sir," he said.
Monty handed Aaron a $20. "Keep the change," he said.
Aaron nodded his thanks. The son of Lamont Cranston's longtime driver and confidante Moe Shrevnitz, Aaron had taken over his father's mission when Moe could no longer continue, and was now Monty and Lane's transportation in their duties as The Shadow. That meant he was on the Cranston payroll, paid quite well for his exclusive service. But when Monty needed a cover, a ride with a friend or date, Aaron made quite a nice bit of tip money when Monty "paid" for his cab ride. "Have a good evening, sir," he replied with a smile.
The valet opened the cab door, and Monty stepped out, offered Annie a hand, and they walked into the Cobalt Club together.
The fashionable dance club and restaurant had changed little since it opened in the early 1900s; only the fashions had changed. The social elite of New York still dined and danced, still in a place where you could see and be seen and identify who was with who and why at just a glance. And Monty Cranston had the smooth charm of his father down pat as the headwaiter led the two of them to a central table away from the band.
Monty slid Annie's chair under her, then sat across from her. Before they'd even had a chance to settle in, the wine steward arrived with a bottle of the house white wine and two glasses. Monty gave him a nod, and the steward poured them each a glass, then left.
"You called ahead," Annie noted.
Monty shook his head. "They just know me very well."
"They must. We've not been here two minutes and already we're enjoying a glass of wine. Not that I'm complaining, mind you." She sipped the wine and smiled.
He just looked at her for a long moment. She was absolutely beautiful, and so innocent. How could he tell her? How could he not tell her? Once again, he was in a quandary about what to do with their relationship.
She noticed his hesitation. "Monty...what's wrong?"
He smiled. "I was just thinking about how much I love you."
She blushed. Then, she looked uncertain as well.
"Something wrong?" he asked.
She took a deep breath, then finally blurted it out. "Monty, I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. I was just incorrigible the other day...I did everything but order you to get on your knees and propose..."
"Sh-h." He gently took her hand. "In case you haven't figured it out yet, I like headstrong women who know what they want."
She blushed again. "I'm certainly that," she agreed.
He held her hand tightly. "Annie, listen to me. We're both young. You're still in school. We're just not ready yet to take that big a step. When we are, we'll both know it."
She nodded. "You're right, of course. We're just not ready yet." She gave his hand a pat, then leaned back and picked up the menu. "Now, what shall we eat?"
He reached for the menu and forced his emotions back down. He wondered if she realized she'd just been manipulated into agreeing with him. There were times he suspected he'd inherited more than just his father's extreme projective telepathy...he'd inherited his dark, sometimes cruel nature as well.
"I think the lamb chops would be delicious," Annie interrupted him.
He shook his head. His eyes had been drifting around the page, but the moment she'd opened her mouth, they'd snapped straight to the lamb chops she wanted. And as much as he realized she was doing this unconsciously, he wondered if she knew how easily she could bend a man's will to her own. Trained properly, she'd be a potent force. Untrained, her own mental strength would drive her mad eventually. He sighed. Yet another thing he'd have to get around to telling her...
"Telling me what?" she asked.
He shook his head again. She'd overheard his loud thoughts. "That it is simply uncanny how you always find the most appetizing item on the menu," he said aloud, then snapped his fingers for a waiter. "The lamb chops, for two," he said when the waiter arrived.
"Yes, sir," the waiter said, scurrying away.
A low murmur went up among the patrons, and Monty felt telepathic energy rippling through the room. He looked up.
Lamont and Margo Cranston were now entering the restaurant, smiling and nodding at all they passed.
Annie looked over at the elder Cranstons and sighed wistfully. Now there was elegance, she decided. Even at 62, Lamont Cranston looked as debonair and handsome as ever. And Margo Lane Cranston was the definition of society matron--sleek, stylish, sophisticated. Not a hair out of place, makeup and jewelry perfect, nails lacquered and manicured, dress superbly tailored. Why can't I look like that? she mentally sighed.
Father and son exchanged a nod as Lamont and Margo headed for their table. Margo gave Annie a warm smile.
Annie smiled back. Somehow, Margo always knew when she wasn't feeling very secure about herself. Away from the social whirl, Annie felt completely at ease around the Cranstons--Lane was like a sister, Lamont was as charming as her own father, and Margo was like a sweet aunt who regaled Annie with stories of Monty as a child--much to Monty's chagrin. But in this setting, the Cranstons were royalty--and she was just a lowly commoner.
Monty watched Annie's gaze. "I remember the first time I saw Mom in that dress," he said with a smile. "She saw it at a fashion show in Paris on one of their vacations. Dad noticed how much her eyes lit when she saw it, and he ordered one made for her. She put it on to wear to a USO fundraiser, and I said, 'Ooh, Mama--you're so pretty!'" He laughed. "I was just a kid--10, I think."
"Mum once wore this beautiful pink dress," Annie observed. "Not a Paris original, of course, but a very nice pink satin gown. I remember thinking that she was the most beautiful woman in the whole world, and I wanted to look just like that when I grew up."
Monty took her hand. "Well, with all due respect to your mother...you look even better."
Annie gave him a mock glare. "That charming tongue of yours is going to get you in trouble someday, Monty Cranston. You'll give some poor girl a swelled head."
Monty looked suitably chastised. "Oh, my. I'll have to be careful. I'd certainly hate to do that."
"Don't worry. I'll let you know if you ever do."
They looked at each other once more, then giggled.
It was well after midnight when Monty finally arrived back at Cranston Manor. There was a lot of work to be done on this Estate Gang case, and it certainly wasn't getting done with him at home. But he was mentally drained and completely unfocused. He needed to rest, to get his mind calm, to get his feelings sorted out. He thanked Aaron for the ride, then let himself inside the 50-room mansion.
The house was dark and very quiet. But his father's psychic energies were just ringing through the house, a sure sign that Lamont was deep in meditation somewhere. Everything all right, Dad? he mentally called.
Just fine, Lamont returned. Come join me.
Monty didn't even have to ask where Lamont was. On cooler evenings, he'd be in the living room, reclined in his overstuffed velvet armchair with a snifter of cognac and facing a roaring fire, letting the rhythm of the flames hypnotize and relax his mind. On warm evenings like this one, though, Lamont was almost certainly out on the veranda, enjoying a cigar and meditating by starlight. He poured himself a cognac and came out to join his father.
Lamont blew out a long puff of his cigar and looked over at Monty as the younger man came out and took a seat on the other chaise lounge. You know, Lamont said, I'm not certain which is the case. Does the cigar make the cognac taste smoother, or does the cognac make the cigar taste richer?
I think it's a bit of both, Monty answered, swirling his cognac and taking a sip.
Lamont extended a cigar to his son.
Monty took it and nodded his thanks, then lit the cigar and leaned back on the lounge, looking skyward. I didn't realize I needed this, he mentally sighed.
You've had more on your mind than the latest crime wave, Lamont responded. Want to talk about it?
Monty shrugged. Ridiculous, really. I'm acting like some lovesick puppy, not the "master of darkness" who strikes terror into the heart of criminals everywhere.
Love can do that to a man. Another long drag. This is about Annie, right?
Monty nodded. She wants me to propose.
You say that like it would be a bad thing.
I know, and I certainly don't mean it that way. He took another sip of cognac. But things are much more complicated than they are for Clark and Kristin.
They got engaged?
Yeah. That's what started this whole mess. He sighed. We were always doing things together, the four of us. But when Kristin showed off that little diamond and bounced around, Annie really got upset. You should have heard how loud her jealousy was.
Good thing you're trained to resist intruding thoughts. Lamont finished his own cognac and offered a wry smile to his son.
Yeah, that was my reaction, too.
And now you feel like you're using her, like you know you should go forward with this relationship but just can't allow yourself to.
Now it was Monty's turn to smile wryly. Thought you weren't a mindreader.
I don't need to read your mind...just my own memories. He turned to his son. We've had this discussion before. We had it the night you realized Annie was a partially-awakened projector.
Yeah, but a lot's changed since then.
Has it? About the only thing that's different is that you are The Shadow now--the last time we had this talk, you were still in training. Have the real issues changed?
Monty winced internally. Lamont Cranston could cut right through his tough defenses and expose the raw core faster than anyone, even Marpa Tulku. Yes, they have. Back then, we were just starting out...we could have walked away and suffered nothing more than hurt feelings. Now...
...now you're madly in love with the girl, and want to marry her. But you can't ask her to marry you when you can't figure out how you're going to tell her about your shadow self.
Monty downed the last of his cognac in a hard dash and let the burn pass through for a moment before collecting his thoughts. You make it sound so simple.
It is that simple. The heart of the problem is the same as it was two years ago--if you want this relationship to go forward, you need to find a way to tell her about your mission.
Monty laughed derisively. Oh, yeah, that's simple.
I never said telling her was simple. I said the issue was simple.
Now The Shadow's laugh cackled back. Listen to you. You never dealt with this.
Who says I didn't?
You did. You and Mom both said she figured it out on her own--you didn't have to tell her anything.
I didn't have to tell her I was The Shadow. But there were a lot of things I did have to tell her that took a lot of courage and soul-searching for me to say. Try telling the woman you love that the most horrible, despicable, disgusting acts she could imagine were everyday events for you in your past. You'll think telling her about a night-time vigilante is a piece of cake.
Immediately, Monty regretted his disrespect and bowed his head in shame. There are times I forget what you went through.
Lamont gave a wistful smile to his son. I'm glad you can. I've never been able to.
Monty blew out a hard puff from his cigar and looked out at the stars for a long moment. What am I going to do? he finally asked.
Do you love her?
Monty looked at his father in utter disbelief. What kind of a question is that?
The only one that really matters. Do you love her?
Monty laughed. Of course I do. I'd do anything for her.
Would you give up your life to save hers?
Absolutely. In a heartbeat.
Do you think she'd do the same?
Now Monty looked confused. What's that supposed to mean?
Lamont looked at his son sternly. To tell Anne Mulroney that you are The Shadow means trusting her beyond question, beyond hesitation. The success of the mission--and your own safety, and the safety of your family--depends upon your identity remaining in shadow. Telling her the truth means acknowledging that you are both dependent upon keeping that secret, understanding that just possessing that knowledge could get someone killed. If anyone ever found out she knew who The Shadow was, they could use her to get to you...to us. Would she willingly give up her life to protect that secret, to protect you? A pause, to let that sink in. Do you love her enough to trust her that much?
Monty just stared at his father for a long moment. The idea of that level of trust being a condition for his continued relationship with Annie had never even occurred to him. But, he realized, maybe it should have. I don't know, his mind whispered.
Then I suggest you think about that. Think about it long and hard. Because until you know the answer to that question, you have no business even entertaining the notion of telling her, much less marrying her. That kind of trust is crucial to a marriage, too. Lamont finished his cigar, then got up from his seat on the lounger. I'm going to bed. See you in the morning.
Monty sat quietly, unable to look up at his father. Good night, he finally said.
Lamont gave Monty's shoulder a reassuring pat, then left.
Monty sighed hard. There were times he hated this mission, hated the secrecy, hated the differences that separated the Cranstons from the rest of the world. And then he would remember that he made this choice, that he chose to take on this mission and fight the evil in the shadows when his father could no longer continue. He chose this separation. But there were had to be a way to reconcile the separate worlds. There had to be.
At least, he hoped there was.
Get up, sleepyhead.
Monty groaned at the sound of his sister's voice in his head, and groaned even louder when he saw her standing by his bedside. Go away, he returned, rolling over in bed and pulling the covers over himself.
Lane reached over and pulled the covers off. Uh-uh. Breakfast is ready. Mom says you have to come down.
Monty pulled a pillow over his head. It's Saturday, for God's sake. And I didn't get in until after midnight.
So? Lane pulled the pillow off his head.
Monty took it back from her and swung it at her, just missing as she anticipated his move and jumped out of the way. You are disgustingly cheerful this morning.
That's because I didn't spend half the night meditating on the porch. She gave him the Cranston glare. Don't make me drag you downstairs.
This time, Monty threw the pillow at her. You and what army?
She caught it, then threw it back. You know I can. Don't push your luck.
Monty nodded. She could, too. Lane was tall for a woman--nearly six feet--and had more physical strength than was apparent at first. She could lift double her own weight and had been known to toss a criminal or two around. Part of harnessing the immense power they both possessed was learning to use body and mind in synchronization, and the result was physical strength and coordination that seemed almost superhuman. And Monty was not in the mood to wrestle his sister this morning. I'll be right down.
That's the spirit. She smiled, then turned and headed out of the room.
Monty groaned once more. He'd have to find a way to harness his sister's enthusiasm. A day of research and study at The Sanctum ought to do it. But that could wait until after breakfast, and his stomach was reminding him that he was hungry.
He sashed his robe and headed downstairs.
Cranston Manor had a massive dining room, with a table that sat a banquet full of people easily. But seldom did the family actually eat in that room unless they had company. For normal meals, they ate in the solarium, enjoying the morning sunshine and the evening shadows. Such was the case this morning, as Pierre was serving eggs Benedict and French toast to the family when Monty came down to join them.
"Good morning," Margo greeted.
"Good morning, Mom," Monty replied, giving his mother a kiss on the head.
"Monty," Lamont acknowledged.
"Dad," Monty replied in the same fashion. It never ceased to amaze him how differently his parents communicated. Margo was an audible communicator, a "speaker" in The Tulku's parlance, due to her strong receptive nature. Margo could project--quite well, in fact--but her mind naturally pulled inward so hard that she preferred to listen and then speak out loud unless the situation called for other kinds of communication. Lamont, on the other hand, was a projector extraordinaire who'd only gotten stronger with age, who preferred thought projection to speech and had ever since he'd mastered the feat thirty-three years ago because it was actually easier for him to think his words outward than say them. In many ways, Lamont and Margo were perfectly suited to one another--yin and yang, the strong projector and equally strong receiver whose minds blended so easily it was at times difficult to pick out their individual thoughts when they were especially close. But in terms of communication, they'd compromised; thought projection for private conversations and to protect mission secrets, audible speech every other time--except on Sundays, when from the end of Mass to sunset, audible speech was prohibited as part of both spiritual discipline and telepathic exercise. Monty wasn't sure which he preferred yet, though he admitted to himself that telepathic conversation was a lot easier than talking most of the time. He gave a glance to the huge bouquet of roses on the table. "Bet I can guess where those came from," he said with a smile to his sister.
"Aren't they gorgeous?" Lane replied. "I love all the different colors, too. So bright and cheery."
"So, how was the theatre last night?" Margo asked.
"Wonderful. Have you been to see Death Of A Salesman yet?"
Margo turned to Lamont. "Two weeks ago, right?"
Lamont nodded. "Good play. Very interesting story."
"David must have spent a half-hour analyzing it afterward," Lane noted. "It's really kind of hard to feel sorry for anyone in that play."
"That's the idea. Not everything is black and white. There are shades of grey everywhere you look."
"Everyone makes choices in life," Margo observed. "And everyone has to live with those choices. Some are easier to live with than others."
"Sounds like I'll have to take Annie," Monty said as he nodded his thanks to Pierre for pouring the coffee.
"Where did you two go last night?" Margo asked.
"There was a reception at Columbia for Clark's dad--he's just finishing his 20th year. We went by to say hello and see some friends."
"Has Kristin come down to earth yet?" Lane teased.
"Not yet. She regaled us with dress-buying stories." Monty grimaced. "I thought Annie was going to kick her if she told one more tale about flouncy petticoats."
Lane giggled. "See what you have to look forward to, Dad?"
Lamont sighed. "I'll give you a million dollars to elope."
"Lamont...," Margo warned.
"Oh, all right...two million. But that's my final offer."
Margo tossed her napkin across the table as both kids laughed.
An orange flash got Monty's attention, and he glanced at his ring--which was now glowing softly. "Busy day ahead," he said with a sigh.
Lane noticed. "Need me?" she asked.
"Probably." He downed the rest of his coffee, sent a signal back to extinguish the light, then sent for Aaron. "Sorry to eat and run, Mom."
"Be careful," Margo told her son.
"Always." He kissed the top of her head, nodded to his father, and left, Lane right behind him.
Margo looked over at Lamont. Will I ever stop worrying about him?
Lamont gently took her hand. Of course not. You never stopped worrying about me.
She sighed. I keep telling myself that he'll be fine. He was trained by the best.
Lamont smiled. You're right. The Tulku did a great job with him.
Margo smacked his hand. You're incorrigible.
He took her hand again and kissed it. I thought that was why you married me.
She smiled, then came over and embraced him from behind, settling into the warmth of their love.
Aaron Shrevnitz's cab stopped at the edge of Times Square. "Want me to wait?" he asked.
Monty shook his head. "I'll send for you when we're done."
Aaron sighed. He'd been doing this now for almost twenty years--first for Lamont when his father Moe could go on no longer, and now for Monty and Lane. But it still worried him to let them walk down that alley alone--even though both of them could take care of themselves better than anyone else could. "Be careful, kids."
Monty nodded, then exited the cab and offered Lane a hand.
She stepped out, and the two of them headed off down the alley.
Monty had been making this walk since he was 15, since his father had first taken him on a Shadow mission. The walk had not changed in all that time--a brisk pace, eyes constantly moving, senses on alert. Lane was right with him, one step behind to back him up and protect him should anything happen. Not that Monty couldn't defend himself. But, he had to admit to himself, having someone watching his back did make him feel a bit more secure.
He hit a switch on the side of a fire escape stairwell, and a portion of the wall just beyond them slid back to reveal a one-person-wide doorway.
Lane took the steps in stride. Monty followed, gave a quick glance behind him to make certain they weren't being followed, then hit another switch to close the door.
Both Cranstons descended a winding staircase into darkness until about halfway down, when subdued lighting began to appear as the iron walls retracted to reveal the underground office known as The Sanctum. In nearly 30 years, the place had not changed--it was still a retreat from the world above, a room of solitude for study and planning. With both of them down there, it was starting to get a bit crowded, but it was still their sanctum.
Monty headed for the communications center, one of the few things about The Sanctum that had been updated since the 1930s. Today, the console had a teletype for quick exchange of messages, a color TV screen, a police scanner to catch reports of crimes in progress, and a rotating frequency generator to secure the communications between The Sanctum and its message coordinator. Monty flipped several switches and sat back in his father's swivel chair. "Report," he ordered.
The shield on the screen lifted and Burbank's face appeared. Of course, not the Burbank his father had worked with--this was a librarian named Harriet Burbank, unrelated to the original except for her efficiency. Harriet had been severely beaten and left to die ten years ago--but The Shadow had found her and taken her to a hospital. There, doctors told her that she was paralyzed from the waist down and would be confined to a wheelchair for the rest of her life. Harriet was ready to give up on life until The Shadow visited her in her room and told her that he had a mission for her. She would be taken care of for the rest of her life, and would never want for anything. She would have her own apartment, with caretakers to handle her meals, laundry, shopping, etc. And she would have a job--acting as message coordinator for The Shadow. Ever since, Harriet had worked tirelessly as the network for incoming traffic and outgoing messages. Shadow agents in the restaurant above her acted as her caretakers and her messengers, and agents in the laundry above her took care of all her cleaning needs. It was as efficient a setup as anyone could ever want--and Harriet ran it all in smart, organized fashion. "Agent in 86th precinct reports some of the items from the estate robbery last week were recovered this morning," she told Monty. "Complete list coming across now."
A "whoosh", followed by a "clink", announced the arrival of the police report in a pneumatic tube next to the desk. Monty picked up the tube and handed it to Lane, who opened it. "Any leads?" he asked.
"None reported. Shall I send a response?"
"No. But keep me posted. It should be interesting to see what's missing this time."
"Understood." The screen went blank.
Lane leafed through the report. "Whoever's doing this has strange tastes," she noted. "Look at this--a diamond choker, a ruby ring, an opal pin, a pearl bracelet. And that's just the top of the first page. All of it worth an absolute fortune, and all of it left behind."
"That is odd," Monty agreed, leafing through a file cabinet for the folder containing other police reports on the Estate Gang case. "Let's see what was originally reported missing." He found the report and laid it on the workbench next to the newly received one.
Lane was already taking notes. "Smoky topaz earrings...white topaz bracelet...citrine ring..."
Monty frowned. "All the citrine and topaz items. Not a one of them was recovered."
"But that makes no sense. Citrine and topaz are about the least likely items to fetch a price on the black market. They're almost as common as gravel."
"Slight exaggeration, but I get the point. Kind of like last week's recovery, where only the amethysts were missing. Amethysts may be pretty, but they're not exactly the rarest of stones."
"What is going on here? They were keeping expensive stuff at first, but their latest thefts have tossed some really valuable things aside. There's nothing that make sense about this case. From the thefts to the disposal of the gems, nothing adds up."
"Except that whoever's the brains behind this is a professional. The thieves had scoped out the venues ahead of time. They don't strike at random. They have a plan...though I'll be damned if I can figure out what it is."
Lane sighed. "Let's go over the map again."
Monty gave her a mock glare. "Don't you have finals next week?"
"It's Saturday. And Monday's a holiday. I've got plenty of time to study."
Monty rolled his eyes. "You are worse than I ever dreamed of being."
"Yeah, as if you never spent 'study time' necking with Annie."
Monty raised an eyebrow. "I will have you know I was completing a careful study of anatomy."
"Something like that." He looked thoughtful. "All right. You want something to do? See what you can find out about our four victimized estates so far. Anything at all--dates of death, source of fortune, you name it, I want it. Our agent at the Times ought to be helpful. There has got to be a pattern here, but I'm not seeing it."
Lane made some notes. "Will do. What are you going to do?"
"Think I'll go see our agent in the jewelry district. Maybe he can tell us why someone would want the rocks they've kept so far. Let's meet for dinner and go over our notes."
Lane nodded. "Be careful."
Monty smiled. "Always. You, too."
They exchanged a hand squeeze, then Lane departed.
Annie reclined on her bed, reading her psychology textbook and going over her notes for her final on Tuesday. As usual, though, her mind kept drifting to Monty and their future, particularly when she reached the section on personality types and relationships. What kind of future do we have together? she asked herself. We're clearly from different worlds, raised by parents from different generations--my parents are so much younger than his, they could almost be their children. Maybe we're not meant to be together. She frowned at the textbook. "Or maybe I've been studying too long," she said aloud, then tossed the book aside and rubbed her temples. She had the worst headache, and it had been with her off and on for a couple of days now. And studying wasn't helping. I need some food, she decided, then got up off the bed and headed downstairs for a sandwich.
Gerry was already raiding the refrigerator for a bit of leftover meatloaf and some sandwich fixings. "Hello, love," he smiled to his daughter. "How's studying going?"
"Boring and overwhelming at the same time," she replied. "What's to eat?"
"Soup in the cupboard, or meatloaf in the icebox. Depends on whether you want to cook or not."
"No, thank you." Annie fetched two plates from the cupboard and pulled a loaf of bread out of the breadbox. "What time is it?"
Gerry looked at his pocket watch, then groaned. "Stopped again," he sighed, winding it a bit, then listening to see if it would start ticking on its own.
"Daddy, you should really get a new watch," she teased. "That old thing's about to fall apart."
"I know. But it was your great-grandfather's, and I really hate to give it up. You can't even find watches like this any more--even the ones in the finest stores aren't made this well." He wound it some more, finally nodding as it started to tick again. "I suppose the only place you could find one would be an estate sale, if you got lucky."
Annie looked thoughtful as she put two meatloaf sandwiches together, then smiled. "Well, you do have a birthday coming up soon. Maybe someone will get you a new one if you're a good boy."
Gerry frowned. "Don't go wasting your money on me, Annie. You've got to save up for school next year. Have you started looking for a summer job yet?"
"Not yet. But I will, right after finals."
"Better get cracking on it soon. My job allows you to go to school for free, but books cost money. And that doesn't count lab fees, or meals at school, or..."
"I know, Daddy. I'll take care of it."
"Good." He took his sandwich and left the kitchen.
Annie sighed. They had this discussion every summer. She wished she could have the summer off, like all her friends did, but that just wasn't possible. If she wanted to attend Barnard, she had to pay whatever her father's benefits didn't cover. And forget summer school--she could finish a semester earlier if she could take classes over the summer, but the benefits didn't cover that. So, instead of learning things or vacationing in the mountains or whatever, she would be working at a laundry or a restaurant or a department store all summer long.
But that didn't mean she couldn't put aside a little money for a birthday gift for her father. After all, if it weren't for his hard work, she couldn't afford to go to school at all. She found the classified section of the paper and looked up estate sales.
Monty arrived back at Cranston Manor just as frustrated as ever. This case was going nowhere, and the jeweler agent he needed to talk to was off at a family funeral. He'd searched the bookshelves at The Sanctum, but there weren't any books on gemstones or gemology anywhere. But there might be some in the Cranston library--after all, the Lamont family made their fortune in gemstones.
So now he was looking through the massive library, trying to find anything that might help him crack this case. Four generations of Cranstons had lived in this house, and all four of them had probably had a hand in stocking the shelves. Monty couldn't seem to find the book he wanted, though he'd found books on almost anything else he could ever want to know about...
"It's over by the door."
Monty turned around at the sound of the voice to see his mother standing in the doorway. "What?" he asked.
Margo smiled. "The book on gemstones you're looking for. There's probably a dozen in here, but the best one is on the third shelf over by the door."
Monty shook his head as he crossed the room to the bookcase in question. The way his mother could read people without them even knowing it floored him at times. There were times he'd give his right arm for an ounce of her receptive powers. "Should have asked you in the first place."
She came into the room. "You could have asked your father. He's downstairs in the gym."
"I know." Monty pulled the book off the shelf. "Aha. Gemstones And Gemology: A Guide For Investors And Collectors. Thanks, Mom." He started to leave.
She grabbed his sleeve. "Not so fast, young man."
Monty looked at his mother. "Something wrong?"
"I was about to ask you that."
He shook his head. "I'm just busy right now."
She smiled gently. "You can't lie any better than he can. Your loud thoughts give you away." She gestured to the large armchair. "Sit down, Monty, and tell Mama what's wrong."
Monty sighed, then sat down in the chair. "I have to remind myself that I chose this life."
Margo sat across from him. "Are you regretting that you did?"
"No." A pause. "Not exactly." He looked at his hands. "It's not so much a regret as a recognition of my own limitations. I know what I want in life. I want to serve The Tulku the way Dad always did, by using my gifts to stop evil in its tracks. I want to give something back to the world for all it's given me." He sighed. "But I also want some semblance of a normal life, and I can't have both. It's just not possible."
"Are you thinking of giving up?"
"No. I can't. It's my mission now."
"Does your idea of a 'normal life' include Annie?"
He looked torn, fighting back tears. "I'd like it to," he finally whispered. "But it can't. Dad's right--if I can't trust her with my life, I've got no business even thinking about any kind of future with her."
"Do you believe that?"
"Do I have a choice? I'd never thought of it in those terms until Dad mentioned it last night. But maybe I should have. Maybe then I wouldn't be trying to convince myself that I could live without her..." His voice trailed off as he turned away and bit back his emotions.
Margo came over to him and knelt before him, taking his hands gently. "Let it out, Monty. Let it out."
He broke down crying, bitter tears flowing down his cheeks. "Why, Mom? Why does it have to be this way? I love her so much..."
"I know." She embraced him, stroking his back lovingly. "Which is why I don't think you should be so hasty with your decision."
He looked at her. "What?"
"I don't think you should be so quick to decide you need to give up this relationship. Because you don't need to. You can have it both ways...if you tell her the truth." She looked at him with motherly love and authority. "But that's the key. You have to be honest. You have to be honest with her...and with yourself."
He looked torn. "How did you handle it? How did you handle it when Dad told you about...all of it?"
She cringed slightly at the memory. "I was horrified. I could not even imagine your father being that cruel. But you should have seen the look in his eyes. He was so vulnerable. He had bared his soul to me and was completely defenseless. I could have walked away and it would have destroyed him. But it would have destroyed me, too." She squeezed his hand. "I think we both knew we were fated to spend the rest of our lives together. It was just a question of trusting each other enough to stop fighting fate. And that took a while. But we've been together for almost 27 years, and married for almost 25. And I have never regretted a moment of it."
Monty nodded, forcing his emotions back down again. "Thanks, Mom."
"You're welcome. Now, dry those tears. You've got work to do. There's a gang of jewel thieves out there wreaking havoc on estate sales, and it's your job to catch them. For who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?"
He smiled confidently. I do.
"That's my boy." She patted his hand, then left him alone.
Monty pulled his handkerchief out of his suit pocket, dabbed at his eyes, then opened the book. Hopefully, the book held the answers that would allow him to gain some control over this part of his life. Maybe then he could tackle the rest of it.
Monty was still studying the book hours later, making notes on a pad, when he felt the ripple of his father's telepathy approaching. He looked up.
Lamont stood in the doorway, still dressed in exercise clothes, looking tired but invigorated. Any luck?
Monty looked at the notepad. Well, I've discovered amethyst and citrine grow side-by-side in nature. I've discovered that there are dozens of colors of pearls, with black being the most prized. And I've discovered that topaz naturally comes either clear or smoky, and all other colors are chemically induced. Other than that, I've spun my wheels. How was your workout?
Illuminating. I get my best thinking done lifting weights. A gentle smile. I came up here to say I'm sorry.
Monty looked confused. For what?
For treating you like a child. For scolding you when I should have been listening to you. For forgetting that you've got the weight of the world on your shoulders at times. A hard sigh. For being an ass.
You're not an ass. You're just strong-willed.
Too strong-willed for my own good. He crossed the room and put a reassuring hand on Monty's shoulder. I am so proud of you. You work so hard, you fight so hard...and you never give up. How you can keep your focus when most kids your age are still trying to figure out what they want to do with their lives is beyond me.
Monty gave his dad's hand a squeeze. I had a great teacher.
Lamont smiled wryly. You're right. The Tulku is excellent at teaching focus.
Monty gave his dad a glare. He didn't teach me a thing I hadn't already learned from the best. Don't sell yourself short. I'd give my right arm to be half as good at this as you were.
Lamont gave his son a smile of paternal pride. Why would you want to go backwards? You're already long past that milestone.
Then why don't I feel like it right now? He tossed the pad aside in frustration.
Because you've hit a wall. One definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result every time. Keep running into the problem with the state of mind you're in right now, and you'll drive yourself mad. Walk away for a bit and come back to this later.
I can't. He rubbed his eyes tiredly. Tomorrow's Sunday. Our thieves always strike on Sundays. I'm running out of time.
Lamont nodded, gave his son's shoulder a reassuring pat, then started to leave.
Maybe a fresh set of eyes would help, Monty called to him.
Lamont turned to his son and gave him a gentle smile. He knew how much it had taken Monty to ask for help--Cranston fils had inherited Cranston pere's stubborn tenacity and deep pride. Well, mine aren't exactly fresh. But they do work. He retrieved the pad from the floor and crossed back to Monty's chair. Catch me up on what you've found so far.
Monty smiled. There were times he hated the old adage "like father, like son". But there were also times he wouldn't have it any other way.
Lane arrived back at Cranston Manor later in the afternoon. Monty? she called.
In the library, he called back.
She headed for the library, then looked surprised as she saw father and son deeply engrossed in a stack of notepads and books. This must be serious. You called in the heavy artillary.
Never hurts to have another pair of eyes. Monty gestured for his sister to come in.
Lane headed over and tossed her notes onto the stack. Good, because my eyes are about shot.
Monty smiled mischievously. Reading microfilm all day will do that to you.
At least you had microfilm, Lamont observed. In my day, almost everything was still on paper. You'd walk out of there with your eyes burning from all the dust and your nose clogged from all the mildew.
I didn't know they had paper in prehistoric days, Lane teased.
Of course we did. But we had to pulp our own trees for it. Lamont took the pile of notes Lane had brought and took a quick glance. Not much here.
I know. I must have read and re-read those records a hundred times. There's not one thing to tie these together. Not one. Lane threw her hands in the air. I feel like I'm missing something obvious.
Lamont looked through the notes again, then raised an eyebrow. Monty, give me that list of what's gone missing out of each estate sale.
Monty handed it over to his father. Found something?
I think so. He glanced from the sheet Monty handed him to Lane's notes and back again. Pearls and alexandrite the first week...opals, tourmaline, and emeralds the second week...amethysts the third week...topaz and citrine last week. What do they all have in common?
Monty looked confused, then was right with him. Birthstones.
Exactly. The first estate sale was from Peter VanDerVleet, who was born in June--pearls, the primary birthstone, and alexandrite, the alternate. The second estate sale was from Bruce and Anna Muldaur, who were born in October and May respectively--opals and tourmaline for October, emeralds for May. The third estate sale was from Edward Parson, born in February--amethysts. And the last estate sale was from Teresa Hunley, born in November--topaz and citrine.
But why that order? Lane asked. If I were stealing birthstones, I'd start with January.
January is garnet, Monty noted, looking at his notes. A semi-precious stone. Not exactly going to fetch a huge value on the black market. But the pearls at least are valuable.
But then we're back to the question of why this order, Lamont said. June to May makes sense--pearls to emeralds--but then they move to amethysts, a stone almost as common as gravel. And then to topaz and citrine, not exactly the most valuable gemstones out there. Why not sapphires, or rubies, or diamonds, which is April's birthstone?
Are they using age, perhaps? Monty suggested.
Lane shook her head. No. No order there at all. The ages range wildly--old to middle-age to very old to Dad's age.
Nice to know I don't fit the "very old" category, Lamont smiled. So age is out. What about dates of death?
Or dates of birth? Monty suggested. Numerical order of the days? Any pattern there?
Lane shook her head. Might as well check their astrological charts while we're at it.
Lamont's eyes lit. Wait a minute... He looked around the room, then spotted a book on a top shelf and concentrated slightly.
It trembled, then slid out of its slot on the shelf and floated down into his hands.
Monty raised an eyebrow. Show-off.
Lamont wasn't listening. He was instead whipping through pages, trying to find a particular star chart in this old book of constellations and astrology. Got it. Take a look.
Monty and Lane came over to their father and looked at the chart in the book, showing the phases of the moon and the mapping of astrological signs and planets with its motion. Look at that, Lane realized. Gemini is mostly in June--pearls and alexandrite. Libra is an October sign--opals and tourmalines.
Taurus is May--emeralds, Monty continued. Then Aquarius in February, and Scorpio in November. Full moon to new moon.
And we just passed the new moon Wednesday, Lamont realized. Next is Leo--primarily an August sign.
Monty checked his gemstone book. Peridot. The August birthstone is peridot. Now all we have to do is find an estate sale where the prime estate holder was born in August.
Lane dug through the papers she'd brought back. I picked up a list of estate sales that are being held this weekend from the Times, she noted, scanning the list. Hello...
Lamont looked at where Lane was pointing. Bret Harvey, Lamont observed. Born August 15, 1899. I knew him--he was definitely a Leo. Is he the only one?
Monty flipped through the paper and found the estate sales in the classified section. Doubt it, he said. But he's probably our target. Take a look at this ad.
Lane looked at the paper. Pearls, peridot, and pocket watches, she said, reading the tag line on the ad.
Sounds like we've got a winner, Lamont agreed.
I think The Shadow should keep an eye on Mr. Harvey's estate sale tomorrow, Monty stated. Lane, I'll need you to stay in The Sanctum and keep an ear on the police scanner in case we're wrong about this. But I think we're on the right track.
Lamont smiled and gave his son's shoulder a reassuring pat. Told you you'd get it.
Monty looked humble. Thanks to you.
Lamont shook his head. You didn't need me. You two would have figured it out on your own eventually.
Monty gave his father a wise smile. But only a fool would pass up any chance to learn from the best.
Lane kissed her father's cheek. And our father didn't raise any fools.
Lamont gave his two children a proud smile, then left them to finish their planning.
Margo stood in the hallway. Everything all right in there? she asked.
Lamont embraced his wife. We have the most remarkable children, he told her.
You're just now figuring that out? she teased.
Every so often I need a reminder that I was not a complete failure as a parent. He kissed her head.
She hugged him tightly, and they walked off together.
Estate sales were usually so dry and so boring. Collectors and speculators usually milled through the auction house, looking to find an elusive bargain, mostly finding a lot of old stuff that wasn't worth much. But the jewelry buyers at Bret Harvey's estate sale were chatting anxiously with each other about the rash of thefts at estate sales, joking nervously that they hoped the auction and sales activity would be over soon so they could get away before everything was stolen out from under them.
Annie made her way through the collectors to the jewelry display. Bret Harvey was apparently quite the connoisseur of pocket watches; there seem to be no end to them. Silver, gold, white gold, platinum, some with jewels, some with elegant engravings--Annie had never seen so many pocket watches in one place in her life. And some of them were worth a fortune. Annie tried not to cringe as she craned her neck to look into the display case and see the price tags. She hadn't expected them to cost this much. Maybe this wasn't such a good idea, she decided.
"Excuse me?" the gentleman behind the display case said.
Annie looked up. "Oh, nothing," she said. "Just trying to find a birthday present for my father."
"And you weren't expecting things to be quite so pricy?"
She blushed. "That obvious, is it?"
"Don't worry. You're not the first to cringe. Most people just do so a bit more subtly." He looked in the case for a moment. "I noticed you looking at this one," he said, pulling out a gold watch with a green stone set in the cover.
"Yes," she smiled. "It's so unusual. What is that?"
"A peridot. Mr. Harvey was born in August. It was his birthstone. This is a Chinese peridot--they're a richer green than most peridots you see. They're often called 'poor man's emeralds'."
"Well, my father's not exactly poor...but emeralds are a bit out of our price range." She looked at the watch. "It's beautiful." She turned the tag over and cringed. "Almost beautiful enough to make me think about paying that."
The man nodded. "Well, Mr. Harvey left the state of New York a lot of debt to be paid. We have to make sure they get their fair share, don't we?"
"Oh, I agree." She flashed him a charming smile. "But surely there's enough here that the state could make its money if I paid half that for this lovely watch."
The man looked stern. "I'm sorry, miss, but no negotiations allowed."
"That's not true. I've never been to an estate sale where there weren't negotiations."
Now the man looked suspicious. "And just how many estate sales have you been to?"
"Enough to know that you're trying to cheat me." She leaned close. "Half plus ten. And that's my final offer."
The man wanted to counter, but found he couldn't think of a reason why. He marked the price tag in half plus ten dollars, then wrote up a sales ticket. "Would you like a box for that?" he said, not without a touch of bitterness.
She smiled sweetly. "No, thank you." She handed him his money, then took the watch and placed it in her purse. "It's been a pleasure."
The man frowned as the Irish lass in the green swing dress walked away. If there was one thing he hated, it was losing a negotiation. But, he admitted, he had to admire her haggling skills.
Just then, four men who had been milling among the shoppers pulled kerchiefs over the lower halves of their faces and pulled large weapons out from underneath trenchcoats. "Nobody move!" one of them shouted. "This is a holdup! Everybody, hit the floor!"
People dropped to the floor all around.
"Face down!" another ordered, priming his shotgun to make his point.
People lay face down, not daring to look up.
The men spread out and began to empty the jewelry cases. "Get everything," the one who seemed to be the ringleader ordered. "Don't miss a thing."
A low chuckle spread through the room...then swelled into laughter that rang off the walls. All four men looked around anxiously. "What was that?"
The laughter grew louder. You're getting predictable, The Shadow taunted with a voice that seemed to come from all around. As predictable as the phases of the moon. A loud, mocking laugh punctuated the statement.
"Find him," the ringleader ordered. "Find him and kill him."
You make it sound so easy. Another laugh, low and menacing.
Three gunmen spread out. The ringleader kept gathering jewels.
That's it. Keep collecting your bounty. Wouldn't want the police to catch you empty handed. Yet another laugh, soft and sinister.
The ringleader looked grim. "Find him!" he shouted angrily to the air. "And the rest of you--stay down!"
The desperation in his voice was drowned out by The Shadow's harsh, ringing laugh.
Two of the gunmen looked around the antiques display. Dark mahogany hutches and heavy cedar chests cast awkward shadows around the room. "I don't like this," one whispered.
"Keep looking," the other replied. "He's got to be around here somewhere." He looked behind a heavy hutch.
A swirling black fog swept past him, knocking him to the floor as if he'd been struck by a right cross.
"Danny--you O.K.?" his counterpart called.
Another thud, then the thug saw Danny fly across the room and land in a crumpled heap. The thug aimed his gun at the spot where Danny had fallen.
An elbow cracked into his head from behind, and he fell to the floor, dazed. He started to get up.
A heavy boot kicked him in the head and into unconsciousness.
The Shadow chuckled. Sometimes, this was just too easy. He headed off to find the third man.
The third gunman was amid the tapestries and rugs. He would carefully peek around panels of rugs and long drapes, looking for something, anything out of the ordinary.
One panel of fabric rippled. The gunman pointed at the panel and fired.
Shooting the breeze, eh? The Shadow laughed mockingly.
The gunman fired again at the fabric panels...then again...then almost continuously, emptying his gun into the rugs and tapestries.
So intent on firing at the walls was he that he failed to notice the heavy rug rising off the floor behind him...until it was on top of him, knocking him to the floor.
Before he could get up off the floor, The Shadow rolled the gunman up in the rug. Called on the carpet again, I see, he commented to the struggling bundle, then headed off to find the ringleader.
The ringleader scooped the pocket watches out of the case, the last of the bounty he had to gather, then frowned. "There was a gold watch with a Chinese peridot in this case," he growled to the salesman. "Where is it?"
The man trembled. "I sold it," he said softly.
"To who?" The ringleader put the rifle into his face.
The man looked around frantically, then pointed across the room. "Her," he said. "The lady in the green dress."
The ringleader kicked the salesman to the floor, then turned to the woman in the green. "You," he said. "Red. Hand it over."
Annie looked up and saw the man coming toward her. "No," she whispered, backing away.
"Give it to me," he warned, reaching for her purse.
She smacked him across the face with it, knocking his kerchief loose. It fell off and exposed his face.
"Bad move, lady," he warned.
She jabbed her high-heeled shoe into his foot to immobilize him, then got to her feet and fled.
The ringleader recovered his senses, then fired at the fleeing woman...and missed.
Annie raced for the service exit, hoping to lose him in the corridors. She rounded a corner and headed for a set of doors that would lead to the storage area in the back.
Her heel caught on an extension cord, and her shoe broke. She toppled to the floor and cried out.
The ringleader was soon right on top of her. He snatched the purse out of her hand, then primed his shotgun and put it to her chest. "Can't leave any witnesses," he said menacingly. "Say your prayers."
Annie closed her eyes and began whispering the "Hail Mary", hoping the end would be quick and merciful.
A shot rang out. Annie cringed--and then realized the shot didn't hit her. She opened her eyes.
The ringleader was stumbling away, clutching his shoulder. He raised his rifle and tried once more to fire it.
A second shot got his hand, and the man dropped his gun.
Annie looked up.
Standing right over her was a man in black, with a red scarf barely hiding a menacing profile of a face glaring in fury at the gunman.
The Shadow looked down at Annie. The dark power in his eyes was almost palpable.
Annie fainted dead away.
The Shadow walked over to the gunman, retrieved Annie's purse, gave the man a kick in the head for good measure, then scooped Annie up off the floor and left just as the sound of sirens began to filter through the air.
Cool, damp air surrounded Annie Mulroney as she slowly regained consciousness. She opened her eyes.
She was lying on a leather chaise lounge in a dark chamber. A cool, damp cloth had been placed on her forehead and an ice bag had been secured around her ankle with a cloth wrap. A pillow underneath her ankle elevated it slightly. She looked around.
You're awake, The Shadow commented.
She nearly jumped out of her skin. "Who's there?" she whispered.
Calm down, Miss Mulroney. You're perfectly safe.
Now she looked nervous. "How did you know my name?"
The Shadow knows. A soft laugh echoed all around.
She kept searching for some sign of a person behind the dark voice. "Where am I?" she asked. "Where have you taken me? When my boyfriend finds out I've been kidnapped..."
The Shadow chuckled. Kidnapped? Hardly. You're in my Sanctum. You've been through quite an ordeal. You sprained your ankle fleeing the gunman and passed out from the pain. I brought you here to treat your injuries. You've been asleep for several hours now.
Suddenly, it all came back to her--the gunmen, the robbery, the shots...and the man in black who had come out of nowhere to save her from certain death. "You saved my life," she realized.
That's right, Anne Mulroney. I've saved your life. It now belongs to me.
She looked suspicious. "And just what is that supposed to me?" she demanded.
In the Oriental tradition, when a person saves someone's life, that someone is indebted to them forever. They must do anything they are asked...anytime, anywhere. There are hundreds of people all over the world who are indebted to me in this way. They are my agents...my eyes, my ears, my hands, my voice. They all do their part to drive evil from the shadows and into the light, where it cannot survive. And you, Anne Mulroney, will now join them.
She looked nervous as she realized The Shadow was serious. "What am I supposed to tell my family?"
Nothing. You will go about your daily life as if none of this ever happened. But when you are called to duty, you must immediately respond. You will tell no one of your status. You will tell no one of this place. And you will keep all that is told to you in strictest confidence.
"How will I know when I'm to be 'called to duty'?"
When you hear one of my agents say, "The sun is shining," you will respond, "But the ice is slippery." This will identify you to each other. You will then do anything you are asked to do, just as they will do anything they are asked to do. Do you understand?
Good. Because you are about to be given your first mission. Your first mission is to protect my most precious secret. It is a secret that some men would kill to learn. It is a secret that some men have died keeping. It is a secret that must be kept in absolute silence. I must know that you will tell absolutely no one what you will learn here today. Do I have your word of honor?
She steeled her courage as she realized her very life might well depend on her answer. "May God strike me dead if I ever betray you."
I sincerely hope He will never have to. With that, Monty Cranston stepped out of the shadows.
Annie gasped as the realization suddenly hit her. "Oh, my God..."
Monty looked sheepish as he sat on the chaise lounge facing her. "I think I owe you an explanation."
Now she looked angry. "I would say so. How dare you..."
He put a finger to her lips. "Annie...if you'll get that Irish temper under control, I'll tell you the whole story. Everything. With nothing left out. And after you've heard it, then you can read me the riot act...because I probably deserve it for keeping things from you for so long."
She leaned back and folded her arms. "This had better be good," she warned.
He smiled wryly. "Well, I don't know about good...but it'll certainly be interesting."
"You mean to tell me you've been doing this since you were fifteen?" Annie asked, incredulous.
Monty poured the two of them some more tea and offered a plate of cookies. "Well, not this. But yes, I was clouding minds at fifteen. My father would bring me here on weekends and during the summer to train me. He wanted to make sure this was really what I wanted to do. I think he was partially hoping I'd be scared off by all the hard work. Instead, I was invigorated. I loved the challenge. For the first time since my awakening, I understood why I had these powers. I couldn't wait to get started. So, Dad would gradually let me have more time with him on missions...then let me do some things on my own...until finally, a little less than a year ago, he retired and left me in charge of the family business."
"So, all those nights when you said you had 'family things' to do..."
"...I did. But I wasn't talking about dinners and parties, that's for sure."
She shook her head. Her anger about his deception had long since passed into complete disbelief. This wasn't possible. Nobody could do things like this. But clearly, Monty could. "And Lane is the same way?"
"Pretty much. Lane's not as naturally projective as I am. But she can do this. She's in training to work alongside me. She was here earlier--she was the one who called the police and sent them to the auction house."
"You mean you didn't just think to get the police there?" she teased.
"No, I thought to call Lane. Lane picked up the phone and called the police."
Now Annie's jaw dropped. "You're serious. You can really call across town with just your mind?"
Annie looked around the room. The voice seemed to come from every corner, and yet sounded like it was right inside her ear. "How..."
He smiled. "My father taught me that trick. He used to call Mom that way. I can echo my mental voice off walls that are almost a half-mile away if I want to, and send pure thought energy even farther. My father's teacher, The Marpa Tulku, could carry a mental whisper on the wind all the way across Tibet. Long distance thought projection isn't the easiest of tricks to learn, but with enough practice, any adept trained in projection can do it."
"So, that laughter...that voice that seems to come from everywhere...that hard, angry look..."
"My father taught me all of that. And it's all done with my mind. Which is why it's fairly easy to convince people that The Shadow is just a figment of their imagination...because he is. Not of their imagination...but of mine."
She looked stunned. "Why didn't you tell me about this sooner? I would have understood..."
"I know that now. But for the longest time, I wasn't sure. You see, it wasn't just trusting you with this secret. It was trusting you with my life. If anyone found out who The Shadow was, it could cost me my life...and my family their lives. My father told me to ask myself if I loved you enough to trust you with my life. If I couldn't answer that question 'yes', I had no business telling you. I've spent the last day and a half asking myself that question. Then, I realized I already knew the answer." He took her teacup and set it aside, then held her hands and looked her in the eye. "Annie Mulroney, I love you with everything I have and everything I am. I would willingly give up my life for you. And I trust you enough to let you into my world, to place my safety in your hands. And I am sorry for ever doubting that you were worthy of such trust."
She looked as if she were about to cry. "How could I ever have doubted such love?" she whispered.
They embraced tightly, luxuriating in their love for each other. Then, slowly, they released their hold. Monty offered her his handkerchief. "Better dry those tears," he said. "You'll ruin your makeup."
She laughed and dabbed at her eyes. "You sound just like my mum," she teased, then suddenly looked horrified. "Mum," she realized. "What time is it?"
Monty checked his watch. "Almost midnight."
"Oh, good Lord...my parents are going to have my head for this. They're probably worried sick..." She started to get up, then shrieked as her injured ankle touched the floor.
Monty propped her ankle back up. "You're not going anywhere. You need to keep that elevated. You've really damaged your ankle--walking on it while it's in this condition will only cause more damage."
"What am I going to do? They'll ground me, they'll forbid me to see you again..."
"No, they won't. We'll explain that you've been in the emergency room for hours and we just forgot to call them. They'll understand...I'll make sure of that."
"But I can't stay here all night. How am I going to get out of here if I can't stand up?"
"Once the swelling goes down, I'll carry you up the stairs and take you home. But you need to rest for a while."
"Can I at least call my parents? Monty, I'm telling you, if I don't get home soon, grounding may be the kindest thing they do to me."
Monty stroked her cheek lovingly. "Annie...if you're that worried about this, there is something I can do. But I'll need your help."
Annie couldn't help but laugh. "After everything you've told me you can do...you need my help?"
"Yes." He took the ice pack off her ankle. "I can hypnotize you so that your pain subsides--and once the pain subsides, the swelling will start to go down. But I need your help. I need you to relax and focus your attention wherever I tell you to focus it, because if you're not focused on relieving the pain, you'll actually end up fighting me and counteracting my suggestions. Do you understand?"
"Good." He kissed her forehead. "Lean back."
He gently placed both hands on either side of her face and applied subtle pressure to her temples. "Look at me and relax."
She looked into his blue-green eyes, instantly absorbed by his hypnotic gaze.
He swept into her mind easily. Can you hear me?
"Yes," she whispered, amazed.
Easy. Try not to talk. Just think. I can read your mind very easily right now. He tried to suppress his marvel at how much projective energy he could see building up behind her psychic barriers. She was so close to an awakening it was almost frightening. Blending their minds like this would either ease the stress on those barriers...or topple them completely. All right. I want you to imagine there's a pot of water boiling in your mind right now. Feel the warmth of the steam, the bubbling of the water. Feel the heat filling your mind completely.
She began breathing deeply, anxiously, as if she were outside on an oppressively hot New York summer day. The heat really was filling her head. It was the most unbelievable sensation she'd ever felt. Monty...I really feel it!
I know. Don't let your mind drift. Just relax. Let the warmth build up. He was amazed at how quickly she was picking this up. Now, pour out that water very slowly. Pour it down your spine. Let it run to your right ankle.
She felt heat running down her back, then trickle down her leg to her right ankle. A sharp pain suddenly engulfed her. "Ow!" she screamed.
Easy, Annie, easy. He increased the strength of the relaxing hypnotic suggestion he was projecting into her mind. That water's hot. But heat is good for injured limbs. Now, let's bring that pot back up to a boil again.
She nodded. Whatever Monty was doing, it felt good. She felt as if she were wrapped in the warmest quilts and snuggled into the thickest feather bed.
Sleepy, Annie? He smiled. Don't let your mind drift. Get that pot boiling again.
The rolling heat filled her mind once more.
Good. Now, let it trickle down your back, all the way to your right ankle. Remember, a hot bath stings at first. But it feels really good once you get adjusted to it. Pour out that water really slowly.
She felt the heat run down her back again and braced for the pain in her ankle. And she wasn't disappointed, as a surge of pain protested the intrusion of energy. But she gritted her teeth and waited for the adjustment that Monty promised her was coming.
Suddenly, the ankle began to tingle, and the pain began to subside. It's working, she realized.
Good girl. Just relax. You're doing fine. Let that water collect around your ankle. Feel the heat swirling around it.
She could feel the warmth pooling around her ankle, and the pain was easing. It was like soaking in an epsom salt bath, without all the mess. It feels so good...so relaxing. Oh, this is amazing.
He smiled. She looked totally at ease, and he could feel her pain subsiding as he watched her mind generating its own healing energies. Tumo summonings never ceased to amaze him, and the fact that this was a complete novice doing this made it even more so. How's that ankle feeling now?
Good. That means your body's trying to heal it for you. No more pain?
She looked amazed. None. How are you doing this?
I'm not. You are.
Now she looked astonished. What?
I'm merely suggesting to your mind what you should be doing. You're the one generating the heat. You're the one controlling its flow. And you're the one healing your ankle. Take a look.
She slowly sat up and looked down.
The swelling in her ankle had subsided considerably. "Holy Mother of God...Monty, how?"
Monty smiled. "This is the other thing I've been trying to work up the courage to tell you." He took her hands. "Annie, you have the same powers I do. The exact same powers. You are a projective telepath, with more strength than I've ever seen in a woman. You're stronger than Lane, for God's sake. And you're on the verge of a psychic awakening that will cause your mind to explode if you're not given proper care by someone experienced in training adepts like us. That exercise you just did is called a tumo summoning, and it's helped to drain your mind of some of the energy that's been building up. But it won't last long--your mind will soon start rebuilding itself, refilling your psychic reservoir."
She looked at him, frightened. "Monty...all those headaches I've had where I felt like my head was going to burst..."
"They were caused by this. But don't worry--I know someone who can help you. The man who taught my father is in America now. His temple is on Slide Mountain in the Catskills. We can take you out to see him, and he can help you tame those energies and focus them."
Now she looked overwhelmed. "You're not serious. I've got finals next week..."
"I think it can wait until you finish those. But not much longer."
"But...but I have to work in the summer. I can't afford to stay in school if I don't. How long will this take?"
He sighed. "Hard to tell sometimes. My training took almost two years, but it was off and on, piecemeal. My father's training took just under a year, full time."
She kept shaking her head. "I don't have that kind of time--I won't be able to go to school next year if I don't work this summer."
He nodded. "Well, there's only one thing for it, then. We'll have to get married."
She looked as if someone had just knocked the wind out of her. Did he just say what she thought he'd said? "Monty Cranston, is saying a series of shocking things part of your family's courtship ritual?"
He looked thoughtful. "Well, it worked for my dad. After all, it's not every man who finds the woman of his dreams standing in his bedroom doorway with a single-shot Chinese pistol aimed at his heart." He waved dismissively. "But that's another story." He reached into his pocket and took her left hand. "Annie, I am completely serious. When my father told me to ask myself if I trusted you with my life, he also told me that until I could answer 'yes' to that question, I couldn't even think about asking you to marry me, because any long-lasting relationship depends on that level of trust. It took me almost a day and a half to realize that I already did know the answer to that question...and that made everything else fall into place." He slipped a heavy silver ring onto her left ring finger.
She stared at it for a moment, somewhat confused. It wasn't a diamond engagement ring. But it matched the ring he wore on his left ring finger almost exactly. "What is this?"
"This ring is the symbol of your life debt to The Shadow. All agents wear one." He held up his left hand. "My father presented me with my ring after my first assignment with him. My mother and sister also wear one. All of us owe our lives to him. He, in turn, owes his life to The Marpa Tulku, the Tibetan monk who saved his life 34 years ago, the teacher who gave him the original ring. Never take it off. It will remind you of your mission...and the secret you have sworn to keep."
She nodded. "I understand. I promise I'll tell no one."
"I know." He then took her right hand. "Now, this, on the other hand..." He slipped a dainty gold ring onto her right ring finger.
She looked at it...and her jaw dropped. "Oh, Monty!"
He smiled. It was just the reaction he'd hoped for. "Too small?"
She stared at the massive round diamond that glistened in the subdued light of the room. "If it were any larger, it'd pull my finger right off!"
"Wouldn't want that to happen, would we?" He held her right hand and got down on one knee. "Annie, I love you with all my heart, all my soul, and all my strength. And I want to spend the rest of my life finding new ways to tell you that every morning, noon, and night. Anne Elizabeth Mulroney, will you marry me?"
She beamed. "If this is a dream, I hope I never wake up. Yes."
They embraced, rocking in each other's arms, each crying giddy tears.
Gerry Mulroney paced the floor of his living room, looking at his pocket watch, winding it nervously as he looked at the mantle clock. It was after midnight, and Annie still wasn't home. She'd been gone for hours, ever since she'd left after lunch to go to the library. A phone call to the Cranstons hadn't been helpful; the butler had indicated that the entire family was out for the afternoon and wouldn't be back until after dinner, and another conversation a few minutes ago with Lamont Cranston confirmed that Monty was indeed out for the evening and probably wouldn't be home for hours. When I get my hands on that Cranston boy..., he thought.
"Someone's coming," Kelly said anxiously, looking out the window.
Gerry joined her just in time to see the rear door of a familiar-looking town car cab open. Monty stepped out, then held a set of crutches and offered a hand to Annie. "My God...what did he do to her?"
Kelly glared at him. "Gerald Andrew Mulroney!" she scolded. "Your daughter has probably been in the emergency room or something all day, and you're jumping to conclusions. You ought to be ashamed of yourself."
They watched as Monty lifted Annie gently into his arms and carried her and her crutches up the steps to the Mulroneys' front door. Gerry ran over to the door and flung it open. "Where have you been?" he demanded.
Annie smiled timidly. "Hello, Daddy," she said. "I'm sorry we didn't call...it's been an eventful day..."
Kelly pulled her husband back from the door. "Monty, bring her in and put her on the couch," she said calmly.
"He's not coming in here," Gerry snapped.
"Gerry," Kelly warned, "she can't walk in here on her own."
Gerry stepped aside reluctantly.
Monty carried Annie in and put her on the sofa, helping prop her leg up with a pair of pillows. "Lean back," he urged. "Doctor said you needed to keep that elevated."
"That's enough," Gerry said, grabbing Monty roughly by the shoulder.
It took everything Monty had not to whirl around and blast a hypnotic projection into the man's mind. He reminded himself to stay calm because they still had to explain what had happened...and secure their future together.
"Daddy, don't," Annie urged, sensing Monty's growing anger. "He's not done anything. He's been taking care of me."
"What happened, child?" Kelly said, kneeling next to her daughter.
Annie looked timid, unsure of where to begin.
Monty smiled at her, sending a silent message of love and comfort.
Annie relaxed. "It's foolish, really. I went out to buy Daddy a birthday present...a pocket watch like the ones they used to make. I went to an estate sale...and ran into Monty. We were shopping together when four men tried to rob the auction hall."
Kelly gasped. "I saw that on the news," she said. "You were there?"
Annie nodded. "They tried to take away the watch I'd bought for Daddy. I tried to run, but my shoe broke and I fell. That's when I sprained my ankle."
Gerry turned to Monty. "And just where were you during all this?"
"He saved my life," Annie snapped. "He jumped the robber from behind and knocked him out." She looked at Monty, eyes shining with love. "He's the bravest man I've ever met. Without regard for his own life, he threw himself at that hooligan and saved me."
Gerry looked skeptical. "Is that true?"
Monty gave a modest smile. "Annie overstates what happened a bit. But yes, I did jump the man from behind. And yes, he did hit the floor and pass out. I helped her to her feet, and that's when we realized she'd sprained her ankle. I carried her out of the hall once the police arrived and took her straight to the closest hospital. We were at the emergency room for hours. You know how emergency rooms are--it takes four hours to get a band-aid put on a scratch. I'm sorry we didn't call--both of us kind of lost track of time."
Gerry looked taken aback. He had no idea Monty was that kind of man of action--he'd always thought of him as some would-be playboy and social fop. "Thank you," he said quietly. "Thank you for taking care of my daughter."
Monty smiled at Annie. "Well, I can't say it was an unselfish move on my part. I wanted to make sure she would be around for a long time--so we could spend the rest of our lives together."
For the first time, Kelly noticed the rock on her daughter's right hand. "Oh, good heavens...," she whispered.
Monty turned his attention to Gerry. "Dr. Mulroney, I know you've been skeptical of me, but I love Annie more than life itself. And I would consider it an honor if you would allow me to ask for your daughter's hand in marriage."
Gerry looked at Annie and gave her a paternal smile. "Well, child?" he asked. "Do you want to spend the rest of your life with this impetuous, brash young man?"
Annie beamed. "Yes, Daddy. Yes."
Gerry sighed, then turned to Monty. "Far be it for me to stand in the way of true love." He extended his right hand. "Welcome to the family, Monty."
Monty accepted the handshake. "Thank you, Dr. Mulroney." Then, he took a seat on the couch and took Annie's hand.
Kelly looked at the ring on Annie's left hand. "What an interesting ring," she said. "I've never seen anything quite like that. What is it?"
Annie looked at Monty, unsure of what to say.
Monty didn't even bat an eye. As a Cranston, Monty was used to answering questions about his eye-catching opal ring. "It's a Tibetan luck ring," he replied. "Family tradition."
"It's beautiful." Kelly took her daughter's other hand. "And what an engagement ring! This must have cost a fortune."
Monty smiled. "It's priceless. It's also my great-grandmother's. Another family tradition."
"A wedding," Gerry said, shaking his head, then looked down at Annie. "I hope you don't intend on dropping out of school to do this. You're just a year away from graduating, and I don't want you to give up your dream of teaching just to get married."
"Oh, no, Daddy, of course not," Annie reassured. "We've already talked about this. We're going to wait until next year."
"Good. Might give me a little time to save up some money."
"Oh, speaking of that..." Annie opened her purse and fished out the watch, then handed it to him. "Happy birthday, Daddy. I didn't let them take it."
Gerry looked astonished. "Just like my grandfather's," he whispered. "Child, you spent your school money on me...you shouldn't have."
"Why not?" She smiled at her father. "Without your help, I couldn't even go to school."
"And you won't be able to next year if you keep spending money like this." He sighed.
"Oh, I don't know about that," Monty said. "Shall we tell them about your summer job?"
Annie looked a bit confused, then was right with him. "I don't know," she said hesitantly. "Do you think we should? I haven't even gone out there yet..."
"Don't worry. I have an in with the boss." He gave her hand a squeeze. "Dr. Mulroney, my father owns a resort in Frost Valley, out in the Catskills. Every summer, the resort hosts a camp for underprivileged children, and they always need counselors and leaders. They pay very well--better than most summer jobs--and the counselors get free room and board at the inn. I think it's a perfect fit for Annie. It would give her some experience plus the money she'll need next year for school."
Gerry looked skeptical again. "We don't take charity in this household..."
"Good, because this isn't charity. It's a bonafide job offer. And she can start as soon as finals are over. There's a lot of setup work that needs to be done before the kids arrive."
Kelly looked at Annie. "Child, are you ready to go that far away? You've never been that far away from home before..."
"I know." She held her mother's hand tightly. "But Monty's right. It's something that could awaken my mind to new possibilities. It's an opportunity I can't afford to pass up, in more ways than one."
Gerry looked sad. His baby was growing up right before his eyes. He'd never seen her so sure of herself, of her own decisions. He turned to Monty. "I don't know what to say...except thank you."
"You're more than welcome," Monty returned, realizing how much it had taken Gerry to say that.
Kelly gave Annie's other hand a squeeze. "Well, this has been an eventful day," she declared. "But I think we'd best all be getting to bed. Monty, do you want us to call your parents? I'm quite certain they're worried sick about you..."
Monty shook his head. "Thanks, Mrs. Mulroney, but no. I've got a taxi waiting outside, and the meter's probably half of my trust fund by now." He gave Annie's hand a kiss. "I'll call you in the morning."
She looked up and smiled broadly. "You'd better."
Monty winked, then gave Kelly's hand a gallant kiss as well, shook Gerry's hand, then left.
Annie watched out the window as the cab drove away. Good night, love, she thought.
Good night, darling, he returned.
She almost laughed, then caught herself. You can hear me?
If I try. You may get tired of hearing me, though.
"Did you say something, love?" Kelly asked.
Annie smiled. "Nothing, Mum. Just thinking."
"Must have been some loud thoughts."
Annie almost laughed again. "Not yet."
Monty returned to Cranston Manor, exhausted but exhilarated. His agent in the 86th had told him the Estate Gang jewel thieves were spilling details of other rings on the East coast, hopefully bringing an end to several unsolved robberies. But that was the least of the things filling his head right now. He hadn't felt this charged by anything since his first night out as The Shadow. He wanted to shout to the world how happy he was right now...
Careful, Monty. You're practically shouting now.
Monty smiled at the sound of his father's voice. I know, I know. I think really loudly, even for a telepath. But not for a Cranston. He headed for the sidebar and poured himself a glass of cognac, then joined his father on the patio.
Lamont offered him a cigar. Nice collar this afternoon.
Thanks. Monty lit it, then leaned back on the chaise lounge and took a long drag. Good God, what a day.
I take it you delivered Annie home safely to her parents?
Monty nodded. I thought her father was going to start the first Irish-American war before we could explain everything to him.
So you gave her the ring?
Monty smiled. Both of them.
Lamont extended his right hand. Congratulations. May you be as happy in your marriage as I am in mine.
Monty accepted the handshake. Thanks. He luxuriated in the mellow cigar for a moment, then shook his head. Did I just trade one set of worries for another?
Lamont laughed. Probably. But I will say this...finally allowing someone into my world who I could share everything with was the second most liberating feeling I've ever had.
What was the first?
Awakening from four years of Hell as Ying Ko.
Monty nodded. Now that's one experience I hope I never have.
Monty gave his father a sly look. That question you gave me the other night...you knew I already knew the answer to it.
Lamont nodded. Part of being a parent is forcing your children to think for themselves. Of course, there are times I could be a bit more subtle about it.
Subtlety is not the strongest of Cranston traits.
That got a ringing laugh from Lamont. You're right about that. He took another puff off his cigar. So, when are we taking her to The Temple?
After finals are over. A sigh. I hope she can hold out that long. She's so close to her awakening it's scary.
You may have to help her relieve pressure for a few days until she can get up there. What cover story did you give her family?
Monty chuckled. That you're hiring her on for Camp Getaway.
Lamont raised an eyebrow. Clever. And how much of your trust fund did you commit to giving her this summer to replace what she would have earned?
I thought $500 would be fair.
You do realize that's three months of full-time pay at minimum wage before taxes, right? Her father may ask questions.
Don't worry. I'm very persuasive.
Lamont laughed again. Of that, I have no doubt.
Monty smiled. That's because I learned it from the best.
Father and son saluted each other with a toast.