There were times Dr. David McAllister really hated teaching.
A psychology professor at Barnard College, David had been in the academic world for his entire adult life, first as a student, then as a teaching assistant while he worked on his graduate degrees, then as a professor himself. David loved working with the young women at Barnard, and they definitely loved working with him...and the fact that the 30-year-old Ph.D. was one of the best looking men on the all-woman campus didn't hurt. But Finals week at Barnard was always a pain. From students wanting to plead their case about their grades to the endless papers that needed to be read, David felt as if he never left his office. Just today, he was going through yesterday's Psychology 102 essays, but his mind wasn't in it. He was instead daydreaming about enjoying the beautiful late spring weather with his lady love, 20-year-old junior Lane Cranston. Even now, he could see her in his mind's eye, walking across campus, tipping her head back and smiling as the sun struck her face...
A knock at the door got his attention. David snapped back to reality. "Come in," he called.
The door opened, and an attractive blonde woman wearing entirely too much makeup and a too-tight pink cardigan sweater came into the office. "Excuse me, Dr. McAllister," she said in an oh-so-innocent voice.
David forced a smile. Yet another young student, trying to influence her grade by influencing him. Not unusual, but annoying. "Quite all right, Miss Corwin. What can I do for you?"
Colette Corwin crossed to his desk and sat in the chair in front of him, adjusting her skirt and sweater less than discreetly. "I know you're very busy, Dr. McAllister, but I was wondering if you'd had time to grade my final yet?"
David flipped through the blue books on one side of his desk, glancing at the names on the covers. "Yes, I did." He opened the front cover of one of them. "You didn't do as well as I'd hoped. I think, had you spent more time studying your notes and less time studying makeup tips, you might have done better. C-plus."
She pouted. "But I really need at least a B in this class to bring my grade point average up. My parents will kill me if I don't. They're threatening to pull me out of school if I don't get at least a B average this semester."
David looked unsympathetic. "Miss Corwin, I do not give pity grades. You got a C-plus on your final, which is half your grade. The other half of your grade is based on your quizzes and essays, and you have a C-minus average on them. I'm afraid that means you're coming out of my class with a C."
Colette slid forward in the chair, deliberately sticking her chest outward and letting her skirt ride up on her thighs. "But isn't there anything I can do for extra credit? I really need this grade."
David held his composure. Fashions in 1960 were changing rapidly, and the flared skirts and Peter Pan blouses of the '50s were giving way to straighter lines and tighter fitting clothes that Colette was taking full advantage of. "The time to ask about extra credit was before you took your final, Miss Corwin, not afterward. You're getting a C."
She leaned forward across the desk. "Not if my daddy finds out that you molested me in your office."
David tensed. "What are you talking about?"
She looked devious. "You know, there's no one here but us. I could tear my sweater and scream right now, and no one would ever believe that you didn't take advantage of me. It would be your word against mine. And my daddy is on the board of regents at Columbia. Once he finds out you tried to take advantage of me, getting fired may be the luckiest thing that happens to you."
David stood up. "I will not be blackmailed. Get out of my office."
She sauntered over to him. "Not before I make sure you're going to change my grade." She reached for his tie and pulled him close to her.
The sound of someone clearing her throat got both of their attentions. They looked up.
Standing in the doorway was Lane Cranston. She sized up the situation with just a glance and raised a curious eyebrow.
David looked nervous. "Lane, it's not what you think."
"I know it's not." Lane looked over at the woman who still had hold of David's tie. "Admiring the fabric?"
Colette gave a "drop dead" glare to Lane. "The professor and I are busy, little girl. Come back later."
Lane blue-green eyes smoldered with anger. "I'm not a little girl. And office hours are over." She fixed Colette with a dark gaze. Now, let go of Dr. McAllister's tie.
Colette didn't know why she felt compelled to release the tie, but she did.
Lane wasn't satisfied. Tell him you're sorry you interrupted his work.
Colette looked confused, then her thoughts seemed to shift. She smoothed out her skirt and straightened her appearance. "I'm sorry I bothered you, Dr. McAllister. I know you're very busy this time of year."
Lane still wasn't satisfied. Pick up your purse and walk out the door right now. And forget you ever came here in the first place.
Colette looked very uneasy. "I...I don't even know why I came here..." She grabbed her purse and hurried out of the office, breezing by Lane.
Lane gave a cold smile. There were times that her hypnotic projective telepathy was extremely useful, even when not cloaked in shadows and chasing criminals alongside her brother Monty. Using her powers in front of David was a risk--David didn't know about her shadowy life, nor did he even believe in the phenomenon of ESP--but it was a risk she'd had to take to protect him. Besides, she reminded herself, it wasn't like he'd actually notice anything unusual. He would find some way to explain it away in his own mind, and that would be the end of it.
David looked a bit nervous. "She was threatening to spread stories about me molesting her...I swear, Lane, I didn't touch her..."
"I know you didn't." She smiled warmly at her boyfriend. "Don't worry. She won't say a word to anyone."
"You sound very sure."
"She can't say anything. There's a witness now."
He nodded. "True. But if you hadn't come along..."
"...she still wouldn't have done anything. Trust me. The girl's all talk. I'm sure you understand the psychology involved in those kind of fantasy games."
"True enough." He smiled gently at her. "Still, though, to be rescued by the fair maiden instead of the other way around..."
"Oh, you love it. You know you do. You eat up attention from a woman."
He looked hurt. "That is a dreadful reputation..."
"...that you do your best to uphold."
He laughed. "You know me too well." He came over to her and closed the office door, then hugged her. "It's good to see you. I was just thinking about you."
"Before or after one of your students fondled your tie?"
"Before." He tweaked her nose. "And you are being naughty."
She looked innocent. "Me? I wasn't the one having my windsor knot adjusted."
He rolled his eyes. "I get the strangest impression that I am going to have to work my way out of your doghouse on this one. Take you to dinner tonight?"
She sighed. "I can't. I have to study for my economics and history finals. Lunch instead?"
He shook his head. "I've got papers to grade."
"We can eat here. Tommy's makes great subs, and they deliver."
David laughed. "You know, I can just see the social pages now. 'Barnard Professor Gives Cranston Heiress Cold Cuts'."
"As if you really care what the social scene thinks."
They both laughed, then kissed deeply, drinking each other in. It seemed as if they would never break, but they finally did. "You call, I'll buy?" David suggested.
"I'll buy," Lane offered.
David looked like a scolding parent. "I asked you to dinner. That means I buy."
He laughed, they kissed again, and then they each took a seat. Lane dialed David's phone and ordered two submarine sandwiches, and David returned to grading papers.
Lane hung up the phone. "Six-fifty."
David raised an eyebrow. "What's in those sandwiches--filet mignon?"
David shook his head. "I can remember when two bucks bought a sandwich, chips, drink, and delivery."
"They had delivery in the stone age?"
"Yes, but it was harder then. They hadn't invented the wheel yet."
Lane laughed heartily. Despite their age difference--and their social differences--David and Lane had found a deep bond that had kept them together for almost two years now. They had each brought something special to the relationship--David had brought sanity and stability to Lane's sometimes insane life, and Lane had brought gentleness and a younger perspective to David's dry academic world. But there was so much that stood between them. Professors did not date students; it was considered a conflict of interest, and Lane had been forced to take certain classes from other instructors simply so that she would not be in one of his classes and present the appearance of preferential treatment. David was a well-to-do professor who was compensated quite nicely salarywise at Barnard, but even that was nowhere near the social status of the Cranstons, and a socialite dating someone out of her social class was looked upon with disdain by some in New York society.
And then, there was Lane's other life...her life in the shadows.
Lane had made the decision at fifteen that she wanted to join her older brother, Monty, and follow in her father's footsteps...the decision to take on Lamont Cranston's mission of using her incredible telepathic gifts to drive evil from the shadows and into the light, where it could not survive. Lamont had tried in vain to talk his headstrong daughter out of it, but when it became clear that she was not going to bow to the pressure, he began training her on weekends and during the summer to use her projective powers and her mind clouding ability to fight evil...turning her into a shadow. Monty was The Shadow, of course; Lane had long since resigned herself to the reality that her brother could run rings around her psychically and was best suited to carry the title of the master of darkness into the '60s and beyond. But Lane was no slouch--she was well trained, receptively stronger than her brother, and a bit more even-tempered. That combination gave her a different perspective on The Shadow's mission, a perspective her ultra-projective brother often needed to keep him from losing focus and letting his strong will and harsh Cranston temper carry him out of control. The two of them made a good team, and Lane was getting more confident with every mission she undertook alongside her brother, who was now The Shadow full-time. But education was very important to Lamont; he insisted that Lane not take advantage of her extreme wealth and social position, but get a degree and be able to support herself and contribute in her own way to society. So now, Lane was finishing her junior year at Barnard College, the women's college at Columbia University, in New York City, majoring in psychology in an effort to better understand both her own unique mental gifts and the human mind in general. She was young, beautiful, and smart, and had what looked on the surface to be the perfect life.
But nobody outside her family realized just how complicated that life really was. And that shadowy life meant she had to protect her family's secrets in ways few other people ever have to protect a secret. Which meant that trusting others was not something she did easily. David was the most special thing in her life outside her family, the one person she'd ever been able to trust with her feelings. But she struggled with the notion of how to trust him with this. David didn't even believe in the concept of extrasensory perception, much less the idea that someone could use their minds to completely alter someone else's thought patterns and make themselves invisible to someone's eyes. The worst part was that David was a psychic--an unawakened receptive clairvoyant, able to see things and places far and near without even being there. But he completely dismissed his gifts as "coincidence" or "wishful thinking", even when the things they presented were unexplainable by any other means. So now, Lane was stuck on the question of how to explain all of this to David when he didn't even believe such things were possible. Monty had finally told his longtime girlfriend--and partially-awakened projector--Annie Mulroney just three days ago, and the admission had finally allowed him to feel comfortable enough to propose marriage. But Monty was a man. Lane was a woman, and women were just not supposed to be so forward. It was a situation Lane struggled with daily--she was strong enough to throw a man across a room with one hand, but was frightened at the very notion of telling her closest friend the secrets of her life...
"Something wrong, love?"
Lane looked at David, who was now eying her quizzically. "No. Just unwinding from the accounting final today. Trying to remember if I got all my equations balanced."
"Don't worry. You probably did. You always have everything under control."
She laughed. "I wish."
"Speaking of under control--what in the world happened to Annie? She was leaning on a crutch when she came in for her final this morning."
"Oh, she fell Sunday and turned her ankle. She's just about over it now." She smiled. "You know Monty proposed, right?"
"Did he really?" David smiled. "Good for him. I have never seen a couple more compatible."
"Really? Not even us?"
David laughed. "Well, of course we're that compatible. But I thought you already knew that."
"Yeah, I did." She smiled. "Call it a little insecurity."
He looked at her for a long moment. "Lane," he finally said, "you know I love you."
She nodded. "I do."
"But you want me to ask you to marry you."
"The thought had crossed my mind."
He sighed. "You are so young...and I am so old. What in the world do you want with an old man like me?"
"You're only 30. That's not old."
"It is when you're only 20."
"Does the age difference bother you that much? My parents are five years apart in age, and it doesn't seem to bother them."
"Your parents were also in their thirties when they met. The older you get, the less difference such things make." He sighed again. "There are so many guys who would just kill to have you. I'm thankful we have each other. But my family died so young..."
"...and you're afraid of leaving me behind, or me abandoning you if you get sick."
He shook his head. "Dumb, I know. I'm projecting my fears onto our relationship, instead of letting the relationship form its own life."
"Don't worry. It happens." She gave a wry smile. "Cranstons tend not to live long, either. So I may be the one who ends up leaving you behind."
"But that's just it. There's virtually no chance I'll outlive you. Even if your family doesn't 'live long', they still manage to make it into their fifties and early sixties. By that time, I'd be in my sixties and approaching 70, and I know I won't be around then." He shook his head. "I remember Mom just being completely lost when Dad died. I'm convinced she died six months later just so she wouldn't be lonely any more. I would never want you to go through that."
Now Lane looked offended. "You don't think I'm strong enough to survive on my own?"
"No, I don't think that at all. I think you're strong enough to survive almost anything. But I would never want you to be in a position to have to survive on your own."
"What if I want to be in that position? What if I don't care if I'm left alone years from now, as long as I'm not alone now? David, I love you. And I want to be with you. Why don't you want to be with me?" She grabbed her purse and books.
"Lane--wait!" David called.
Lane ignored him and headed for the office door.
As she opened it, the delivery man looked back at her. "Uh...delivery for McAllister?" he said, confused by the sudden opening of the door.
David got up from his chair, crossed to the door, and put a gentle hand on Lane's shoulder. "I saw him coming and didn't want you to run him over."
She shook her head. The disbelieving clairvoyant had seen another unexplainable vision and tossed it off as something it wasn't. She could almost hear him trying to justify mentally that he really had seen something through the frosted glass window in the office door, even though there was almost no light in the hallway to cast any shadows.
David handed the young man a $10 and took the delivery box. "Keep the change," he said as he closed the door in the delivery man's face. Then he put a reassuring hand on Lane's shoulder. "I want to be with you--especially right now. Can we have lunch together now and finish this discussion later?"
He kissed her cheek. She was so tall they were practically the same height, so all the comforting things men normally did to women--snuggle them against their sides, kiss their heads, press them against their chests--didn't work with Lane. But he liked her height--it gave them a sense of equality that was important to him. "Come on. Let's enjoy the break. I've got a final in an hour--and I think you do, too."
She laughed. "Criminal Psychology."
"Tough class. Hope you're ready."
She gave him a mysterious smile. "I've been studying hard lately."
The click of high heels on the stairs descending The Sanctum's winding staircase alerted Monty Cranston to the arrival of his sister. He gave a glance at his watch and frowned at the time. "You're late," he called.
Lane dropped her books on a side table and headed into The Sanctum's sitting room to join her brother. "Exam took a little longer than I thought it would," she replied. "And Aaron got caught in rush hour."
Monty raised an eyebrow. "When I'm with Aaron, he tends not to see red lights."
"Yeah, but I would rather not risk my life in a cab ride across town, thank you very much."
Monty gave her another glare.
"Don't look at me in that tone of voice," Lane snapped. "I am just as committed to this mission as you are. I also have some sense of when it's appropriate to throw caution to the wind."
Monty didn't like being contradicted. "If this had been an emergency..."
"...you'd have made that clear in your message. Instead, all you said was that you needed to talk to me about our plans for the evening. So, get off your high horse and share."
Monty bit back his anger and sighed. There were times he had to remind himself that this was not yet Lane's full-time job, that she did have other commitments and would have them until her graduation from college next year. And, he had to admit, this wasn't a time-critical piece of news he'd gotten, though it would impact both of their evening schedules. He handed her a piece of paper with two photographs on it. "Recognize these two gentlemen?"
Lane looked over the sheet. "Larry Bentz and Marty Davidson. Didn't Dad round them up two years ago after a con game?"
Monty nodded. "Apparently, they got time off for good behavior and are back in society again. Word has it they're pulling the same stunts as before..."
"...find a 'mentalist' willing to feed them info on rich clients, then rob the clients blind. Lovely. What have they done so far?"
Monty handed her another sheet of paper. "Mostly small stuff. A stockbroker named Andrew Baker had some valuable shares of a new public offering stolen...an art collector named Clyde DeWitt had a rare lithograph taken right off the wall of his apartment...an antique dealer named Evan Franken had a tintype he was appraising lifted from his office."
"And they all went to see a mentalist perform recently?"
"Every one of them. Robbed within 24 hours afterward."
"Who's their front man this time?"
"Our suspects have been spotted hanging around the Peacock Room at the Filmore Hotel. There's a mentalist named The Amazing Verbena playing there right now."
Lane looked over the top edge of the paper at him. "And you just happen to have tickets."
Monty flashed them like a magician producing a coin from his palm. "Center room seating, for two, eight o'clock."
She frowned. "I have two exams tomorrow."
"Then you'd better start studying now, because I need you tonight."
"I knew you were going to say that." She sighed. "You really can't handle this one solo?"
He shook his head. "In essence, I need to be in two places at once. Someone needs to watch Verbena while I trail Bentz and Davidson."
She looked frustrated. "If I flunk my exams, Dad'll have my head."
Monty looked thoughtful. "I could ask Dad to keep an eye on Verbena if it's really that big of a problem."
Lane shook her head. "No, we promised Mom we'd let him stay retired." She gave the photos of Bentz and Davidson a long look, then sighed. "I'd better get home and crack the books for a couple of hours, then."
Monty gave his sister a smile. Nice to see Lane understood where the real priorities were. "I'll pick you up at seven."
"I'll be ready." She handed him back the papers he'd given her, then gathered her books and headed up the stairs.
Monty watched her go. He felt badly that he needed her to give up study time, but The Shadow's mission always came first. Lane had sworn that she understood that commitment when she'd made it five years ago. Times like this tested whether or not she really had understood what she was getting herself into. For Monty, there had never been a question that he was going to pursue this path; the only real question was whether his father would ever think he was ready to pursue it. And now, after almost a year full-time as The Shadow, Monty had taken full ownership of the massive responsibilities that the role entailed...but only after a lot of struggling with self-doubt. Amazingly, though, those self-doubts had almost disappeared once he finally opened up to Annie about his dual life; he'd felt more confidence in himself and his abilities in the past week than he had in the past year. Maybe that was what was going on with Lane, he realized. Lane was a very bright student--straight A's, a quick study, never any trouble with her coursework--so when she worried about school, there was almost always some underlying problem with her relationship with David involved. He'd have to talk to her about it later.
For now, though, there was information to gather and plans to make. Monty turned back to the reports Burbank had sent over and resumed The Shadow's latest investigation.
Marcus Verbeen was not the kind of man who would normally have attracted any attention. A medium-build man with a nondescript face and horn-rimmed glasses sitting at the counter in a diner with a steaming cup of coffee was rather commonplace in New York City during a workday. What made Verbeen odd, though, was the way he was sitting at the counter--hunched over a pile of one-dollar bills, making minute notations on a tiny notepad, occasionally glancing about to make certain no one was looking at him.
"Got change for a five, mister?"
Verbeen almost jumped out of his skin before he recognized the man in the cheap suit who was now sitting at the counter next to him. "You scared the living daylights out of me, Bentz," he hissed.
"You know," Larry Bentz said, looking casual, "you really need to be a little more careful about this sort of thing. It wouldn't do to have someone find out that The Amazing Verbena really can't read the mind of someone looking at the serial number of the dollar bill in their pocket."
"Who would recognize me out of makeup?" Verbeen countered. "There is a reason I wear such a heavy disguise."
"Really? And I thought it was to escape detection from the bunco squads."
"No, that is your dilemma, Bentz."
"Oh. So you have a license to practice fortunetelling for money in New York City?"
"My act is pure entertainment. I never tell anyone to take my fortunetelling seriously."
"Wonder if the police draw such a fine line?"
"Why don't you just call them, then? I'm certain they'd be intrigued to hear what the con team of Bentz and Davidson are doing lately."
"Nothing...except waiting for you." Bentz signaled for a cup of coffee from the waitress. "What's on the agenda for tonight?"
Verbeen shrugged. "Should be the usual crowd of wealthy, bored society types looking for a bit of entertainment." He glanced at another page on his notepad. "Center room tickets went to a gemstone heiress named Abigail Hyland who likes champagne and diamonds and is not careful with either...a stockbroker named Darryl Brothers who is looking into a very sizeable injection of cash soon for a company about to go public...a banker named Leon Zaworski who is Brothers' guest...and Lamont Cranston's son Monty, whom I'm told is an amateur magician who's probably out to see a master at work."
Bentz picked up his cup of coffee and nodded a dismissal to the waitress. "So, who's the target?"
"Hyland, most likely. It depends on how much information I can get out of her from her question to The Amazing Verbena."
"You'll signal us what information is important?"
Bentz nodded. "Good. One thing puzzles me, though...how do you plant those small bills in the audience? I mean, do you just hand out ones to some clueless stooge ahead of time, or do you have a ringer?"
Verbeen smiled. "That, my friend, is my secret, and why I am a better con than you will ever dream of being." With that, he finished his coffee, left a quarter tip, and walked away.
Margo Lane Cranston looked up from her book as Monty breezed past the entrance to the parlor. "Staying for dinner?" she called.
Monty crossed back to the doorway. "Afraid not," he replied. "Lane and I are taking in a show tonight."
Margo gave an impish grin. "Annie and David will be jealous."
Monty shrugged. "They'll get over it."
Lane, nibbling on a chicken sandwich, came up to join her brother in the doorway. "Not the kind of show David would be interested in, anyway," she observed.
"Aha," Lamont Cranston said as he looked up from his newspaper. "The Amazing Verbena, by chance?"
Monty nodded. "He looks like the kind of guy Bentz and Davidson like to work with--shady reputation, rich clientele."
"I remember. Need any help?"
Margo gave her husband an annoyed glance.
Monty recognized the look right away. "I think we can handle it," he reassured.
Lamont nodded. "I know you can. Standing offer."
Monty smiled at his father. "I'll keep it in mind." He looked at Lane's plate. "That looks good." He reached for the remaining half of her sandwich.
Lane swatted his hand. "Get your own."
Monty laughed and headed off to the kitchen.
Lamont looked over at his daughter. "Did you finish studying for tomorrow's exams?"
"Good." He smiled. "You'll do fine. Don't worry."
"I'm not worried."
"Good. Because I'd hate to think an exam is why you look so sad."
Lane sighed. "I'd rather not talk about it."
"Did you have a fight with David?" Margo asked.
"I said I'd rather not talk about it."
Margo started to say something, but a glare from Lamont cut her off. She nodded, then gave a motherly smile to her daughter. "Let us know when you would like to talk about it."
Lane nodded her thanks. "I'd better go get changed for the evening."
Margo watched her daughter go. "Poor thing," she whispered.
She'll be fine, Lamont assured mentally.
Margo sighed. I'm not sure. I don't think she's cut out for the shadow life.
She's going through the same thing with David that Monty went through with Annie. When she decides to tell David the truth, things will be a lot clearer.
Margo shook her head. She's a woman. Things are different for women. And David is very skeptical. He may not be as accepting as Annie is.
Then she'll find out for certain whether their love is strong enough to withstand this.
Margo looked over at her husband. And if it isn't?
Then we will be loving, comforting parents and console her. But she's growing up. And we have to let her. And finding out what you really want in life--and accepting the consequences of that--is part of growing up.
Margo gave him a skeptical look. Listen to you. I'd have to tie you down to keep you away from anyone who would dare hurt your baby girl.
Lamont looked wistful. That's why I keep telling myself that she'll be fine. Otherwise, I'd be going mad trying to stop her from hurting like she is now.
Margo put her book down, then came over to Lamont and sat down in his lap. The ferocious Shadow is really just an old softie.
He gave her a hug. Don't tell anyone that. It'll ruin my reputation.
She tweaked his nose.
They laughed, then dissolved into a kiss.
Verbeen arrived at the Filmore Hotel just a few hours before his performance. He crossed to a young dark-haired woman who was setting up her cigarette counter for the evening. "What's good this evening?" he asked.
"The Dominican panatelas are particularly nice," she replied. "But they're a bit pricey. $6 each."
"The men in the center room will probably love them, then. Pack of Turkish."
The woman nodded, then pulled out a pack of cigarettes. "Two dollars."
He raised an eyebrow. "Nice price. I'll take two." He handed her four $1 bills.
She slyly took the bills and handed him two packs of cigarettes. "Thanks, Mister. I was a little low on change."
Verbeen nodded, then headed backstage.
The woman waited until no one was looking, then slipped the bills into a special slot behind her till. After all, they were a special prop that would be needed for tonight's act.
Monty escorted Lane, both now dressed to the nines for a night on the town, out the front door of Cranston Manor as Aaron Shrevnitz's cab pulled onto the circular drive and stopped in front of them. He held the cab door open for her, then climbed in on the other side. "Filmore Hotel," he instructed.
Aaron, second generation Shadow agent and Monty's personal driver, nodded. "Yes, sir."
As the cab pulled out of the driveway, Monty gave a glance to his sister. "You O.K.?"
Lane nodded. "Still sorting history dates in my head."
"You'll do fine. You always had your history down better than I did."
She rolled her eyes. "I wish. It's my worst subject. I can never keep which war was when straight. And it doesn't help that I have to try to remember a ton of economic theories on top of it. I'll be lucky if I don't say The Spanish-American War was caused by the Crash of '29 or something like that."
"Is David any good at history?"
Lane blew out a frustrated breath. "He'd probably tell me about how old he was instead of how old the wars were."
"Aha." Monty leaned back. "So that's what's been eating at you all day."
"I don't want to talk about it."
"Too bad. Because it's distracting you, and I can't have that. So, get it out in the open so you'll quit stewing on it."
Lane groaned. "He's just being impossible. He keeps coming up with all the reasons we can't be together and won't even think about the reasons we can. I think it's because he just passed his 30th birthday and he's feeling sorry for himself."
"Let me guess...'Lane, darling, I can't marry you because you're so young and I'm so old.'"
She swatted her brother. "Don't mock him."
"I'm not." He looked over at her. "Have you tried telling him that he won't necessarily outlive you?"
"Of course." She looked annoyed. "He just found a way to twist that around so I'd feel sorry for him again because he's 'so old'."
"Men. They're so stubborn."
Lane crossed her arms and snorted. "Well, they are."
Monty gave his sister a careful appraisal. "Have you thought about telling him the truth?"
She gave another derisive snort. "As if he would believe me."
"How do you know? Have you even tried?"
"Monty, he doesn't even believe in this kind of thing. If he can't even grasp the concept of psychic phenomena being real, what makes you think he'd believe I wasn't babbling like an idiot?"
"Yeah, because you pulled the whole Shadow bit on her--the life debt, the voice from the darkness, the works. I am not going to do that to David."
"Why not? It could work."
"It could also backfire. He could run screaming, and there goes our cover."
"You do have ways of making him forget at that point."
She sighed. "Unlike you, I would rather not have to resort to that as part of my everyday life. I want a chance at a normal life with The Shadow as background instead of living my life behind a hat and cloak."
Monty looked at her for a moment. "I think I was just insulted."
Lane groaned. "I didn't mean that the way it sounded. It's just...I'm not Lamont Cranston II. I'll never have the extent of your gifts, or anywhere near the control of them that you do. You were born to this mission. I'm having to grow into it."
"And you think that could mean growing away from David."
She nodded. "And I don't want that. But every time I move toward this future, I feel like I'm moving away from a future with him." She wiped away tears.
Monty gave her a hug and a kiss, then looked to the driver. "Aaron, drop me off and take Lane home."
Lane looked at him. "I thought you said you needed me tonight."
Monty shook his head. "I'll manage. You're in no shape to do this right now."
She looked offended. "Says you." She looked to Aaron. "Ignore him. I don't need to go home. I need to get out there and shake this off."
Monty gave her a stern look. "Don't say that if you don't mean it."
She gave him an equally stern glare. "I never say anything I don't mean. This is my mission, too. And I intend to fulfill it."
Aaron looked back at the kids. "So, what's it gonna be?"
"The Filmore," Lane said firmly. "And make it snappy."
Aaron smiled. "Yes, ma'am."
Monty took his sister's hand. "Thanks."
She gave his hand a squeeze. "You're welcome. Now, let's go catch us a couple of con men." She let go and fetched her compact from her purse to touch up her makeup. "Ugh. I'm a fright."
Lane swatted him with her purse, and both of them broke down laughing.
A few blocks north of Cranston Manor, Anne Mulroney lay in the darkness of her bedroom, trying to concentrate on relieving the pain in her sprained ankle. Just three days ago, she'd learned she was something called a partially-awakened projective telepath, with mental energies that Monty claimed were potentially stronger than fully-awakened projector Lane Cranston's. To prove it, he'd helped her redirect those latent thought energies to calm the pain in her ankle and reduce the swelling through a technique known as a tumo summoning, then taught her to do it herself the next day to continue the healing process on her ankle. Annie was slowly getting the hang of the process--though it was hard to do, it did help ease the pain in her ankle to pour imaginary boiling water from a pot simmering inside her psyche over the swollen joint. A side benefit was that it also helped ease the extreme headaches that Monty had said were indications of her mental energies building toward a full psychic awakening. They'd be heading off to the mountains to see a Tibetan holy man named Marpa Tulku on Saturday, after exams were complete, supposedly so Annie could start her new summer job as a counselor at a camp for the underprivileged--but in reality so that she could experience her awakening in a setting where the loud thoughts from all the minds in New York City would not overwhelm her. The whole prospect made Annie very nervous, to the point where it was difficult to concentrate on her exams. But if she didn't relieve the pressure inside her mind, she wouldn't be able to make it through the exams, so she forced herself to lie quietly and focus on a slow, steady release of the pressure trickling down her spine, down her leg, toward her ankle.
"Annie?" Gerry Mulroney's voice called.
Rats. Annie opened her eyes, and the sudden stop of the energy manipulation made her head hurt. "Yes?"
"Telephone, for you. One of your professors--Dr. McAllister."
"Just a minute." She took one last deep breath to ease her headache, then got up from the bed, picked up one of her crutches, and headed into the hallway to answer the phone.
Gerry noticed her emerging from the dark bedroom. "I'm sorry, love. Were you asleep?"
She shook her head. "I've got a headache."
"Poor girl. Studying too hard?"
She gave a wry smile. "Lots of pressure right now."
Gerry nodded his understanding, then handed her the receiver. "Don't stay on the phone too long, now."
She nodded, waited for him to depart, then spoke into the receiver. "This is Annie Mulroney."
"Annie? It's David. How are you?"
"Tired of exams, but fine otherwise. Can I do something for you?"
A hesitation. "Lane wouldn't happen to be over there with you, would she?"
Annie frowned at the phone at the odd question. Normally when she and Lane studied together, they took advantage of the large volume of available resources in Cranston Manor's library, and she was quite certain David already knew that. "No, I believe she's home studying tonight."
"Well, that's what I thought, too, but when I called the house, her mother said she'd gone out. I was hoping she was with you."
Annie thought fast. Lane was probably with Monty, who'd told her he was on the trail of a con artist and wouldn't be around this evening. But of course she couldn't tell David that. "Oh, wait, I remember now. She was going to the library at Columbia to study for her economics final. I think she was meeting some of her classmates there."
"Oh. Well, sorry to have bothered you."
Annie suddenly got the impression David was going to go to the library to find Lane, and that wouldn't do at all. "No bother at all. Are you free right now?"
Another hesitation. "Yes, actually, I am."
"Would you like to go get a cup of coffee? I'm...well, I'm feeling a bit pressured right now by everything, and I'd like someone to talk to."
Yet another hesitation. "Shouldn't you be talking to your fiance about these sorts of things?"
"Unfortunately, he's part of the pressure."
"Aha. All right, I'll pick you up in about five minutes."
"I'll be waiting."
They both hung up. Annie rubbed her temples and sighed. It occurred to her that by saying "yes" to Monty's marriage proposal, she'd said "yes" to a lifetime of covering for him on occasions like this. Ah, well, she told herself. Might as well start practicing now.
She headed for her bedroom to freshen up a bit.
Monty turned toward the sound of the feminine voice to see a grey-eyed buxom woman posing behind the smoke stand just outside the entrance to the Peacock Room. The audience for The Amazing Verbena's show was beginning to file in, and Monty and Lane had been just about to join them. He eyed the tobacco selection casually. "Actually, yes, that would be quite nice. What do you recommend?"
The woman gestured over the counter. "The Dominican panatelas are very good tonight."
Monty raised an eyebrow. At 22, he was already a cigar aficionado, thanks to a lifetime of exposure to his father's tastes for the finer things in life. "That sounds perfect. One, please."
The woman pulled one out of its box. "Six dollars."
Monty drew back. "A bit pricey."
"But well worth it."
He thought about it for a moment. "You're right, of course." He opened his wallet. "Can you change a ten?"
Monty handed her the bill.
She opened her till, slipped the ten into its slot, then reached behind the till tray and fetched four ones. "Your change, sir," she said, handing him the paper and the cigar.
Monty gave an appreciative nod. "Thank you." He slipped the ones into his wallet, then offered Lane his arm once more, and they walked away.
Lane gave her brother a sidelong glance. That was odd.
Indeed. Monty handed the tickets to the usher at the door of the Peacock Room, who gestured for them to pass through.
Lane waited until they were seated, then looked to Monty again. Why did she reach into the back of the till for your change? I could have sworn I saw some ones on the right side of the till.
You did. I believe I was just unwittingly made part of The Amazing Verbena's act.
I'll bet that stack of ones is marked or somehow has been catalogued so that he can "read my mind" as I look at them at some point in the act.
You're kidding! So the girl is part of the act?
I'll bet nearly every person working the room is part of the act. Dad says that's normally the way these sham mentalists work. It's all part of manipulating reality.
Lane gave a sly look to her brother. Don't you normally carry a cigar or two in your pocket?
Monty opened his tuxedo jacket just enough to show off the leather pouch in the inside pocket. Of course. But she was so bold about getting my attention that I had to see what her angle was. He gave the panatela a sniff. Interesting. Not a bad cigar, actually, but it's got a very distinctive aroma.
Lane sniffed, then wrinkled her nose. Ugh. How can you stand those things?
My dear sister, you have no appreciation for the finer things in life. He gave a glance to the stage. Heads up. Verbena's standing just off-stage, by the curtains, checking out the audience.
Lane started to ask how he knew that, then realized there was no way to miss Verbena as her eyes focused on the edge of the curtains at stage left. He was dressed in a long, flowing wizard robe, with a satin turban accented with a bright red ruby-like stone perched on his head. His skin was dark and exotic looking, with a black mustache and goatee framing his mouth, and he was taking deep breaths and fluttering his fingers as if in a deep meditative trance. No doubt taking in the atmosphere of the room.
Monty glanced at the panatela. Or something else. On a hunch, he snipped the end off the cigar, then lit it and took a long drag. Now that's flavorful.
Lane scowled. My God, that's strong.
I believe it's meant to be. And if I'm not mistaken, that's why Verbena is taking such deep breaths. He took another drag and let the smoke drift out lazily in a slow exhale.
A moment later, Verbena gestured dramatically off-stage, and the lights in the room went down. A spotlight on the curtains illuminated him as he made a grand entrance through the center seam. Verbena bowed to the applause, taking it all in like the bold showman he was. "Thank you, ladies and gentlemen, thank you," he said in a thick, obviously fake eastern European accent. "For my first demonstration, I will need the help of a distinguished member of this fine audience." Then, he made a pretense of looking around the room. "You, sir," he said, pointing right at Monty.
Right on cue, Lane teased.
Monty pretended to look surprised and pointed to himself.
"Yes, you." Verbena crossed over to him, taking care not to let the spotlight fall off him as he walked. "Have we ever met before?"
Monty took another drag off the cigar and smiled. "No, I don't believe so."
"Then you have no vested interest in anything that might be said or done tonight."
"Good. Do not introduce yourself to me, Mr. Lamont Cranston II, for The Amazing Verbena already knows who you are."
Monty suppressed a smile as the audience oohed and aahed around him. As Lamont Cranston's son, he wasn't exactly the lowest profile person in Manhattan--especially since the announcement of his impending nuptials was just in the society pages this morning, complete with recent photo. Besides, the physical resemblence to his father was almost impossible to deny--anyone who'd ever seen a picture of Cranston pere in his twenties or thirties would be able to pick Cranston fils out of a lineup in about five seconds. It didn't exactly take psychic power to deduce his identity. "Very good."
Verbena eyed Monty for a moment. "Mr. Cranston, did you know it is possible to tell what is in a person's wallet just from the angle of their seating or the drape of their jacket?"
Monty kept his expression even. But he knew what Verbena was about to ask for. "Really? Fascinating. What do I have in mine?"
Verbena now wasn't sure he should go on. The young man he was addressing had the oddest blue-green eyes that were quite out of character with the casual, rich, bored youth the rest of his carriage portrayed...eyes filled with knowledge and cynicism far beyond his years. But he was smoking the cigar, which meant he had the crucial bills...and now that he'd started the trick, Verbena could hardly walk away from it. "Among other things, four one-dollar bills that you did not have when you arrived for the evening."
Monty extracted his wallet from an inside suit pocket and pulled out the four ones he'd gotten with the cigar. "You are quite right, sir. I did not have these when I arrived tonight. I got them as change at the tobacco counter."
More impressed sounds and scattered applause from the audience. Verbena drank it in like intoxicating wine, recovering his composure nicely. "To prove that we are not working together, sir, would you please scatter those dollar bills around the audience?" He gestured about. "Give one to the older gentleman at the table next to you, one to the lady in red, one to the man in the banker's suit, and one to the enchanting girl next to you...who is not your beautiful fiancee, Anne Mulroney, but rather your equally lovely sister, Lane Cranston."
Lane made an effort to pretend fascination as the audience applauded. But she, too, had strong Cranston features, was fairly prominent socially, and didn't look very much like Annie at all, as anyone who'd seen the photo in today's paper could attest. Nonetheless, she took one of her brother's dollar bills, then watched as he stood and handed them out to members of the audience. So, she said with a sidelong glance to him, how's he going to pull this trick off?
Just watch, Monty said as he sat back down next to her. I'll bet he doesn't identify a single bill with a single person--he's just going to fire off a list of serial numbers and the bearers will identify that they have that bill.
Verbena took a seat at a red cloth-covered round table that was now center stage, with a very large crystal ball in the center of it, and waved his fingers over the ball as if conjuring a spell. "I shall need complete silence from the audience. I ask that the four of you who have the dollar bills concentrate deeply on the serial numbers on the face of your bill. I will then read your thoughts as they come to me." He gazed deeply into the ball as he held his hands on either side of it. "E-2-4-6-1..."
Lane looked at her bill. "So far, so good," she said to Verbena. "Keep going."
Verbena kept rattling off numbers until finally, Lane nodded her approval. "Very good," she said, holding the bill aloft.
The audience applauded once more.
Monty pretended to be impressed as he took the bill back from his sister. Figured out how he does it yet?
Verbena called out another number, to the delight of the man in the banker's suit, as he gazed into the crystal ball and splayed his fingers dramatically around its shape. The crystal ball, she realized. He's got something underneath it with the list of serial numbers on it. That's why he has to hold his hands over it--to cut the glare of the lights.
Good observation. It probably also acts as a magnifying glass so he can see the numbers better. Monty accepted the bill back from the banker. Should I throw his timing off by obscuring his vision?
Lane gave him a scolding glare. That would be mean. Besides, we're here to observe...to see how or even if he's working with Bentz and Davidson.
Monty glanced around the room casually as Verbena droned on with more serial numbers, then raised an eyebrow. Speak of the devil. Check the right side wall near that "Exit" sign.
Lane glanced toward the right side of the room, where she could just barely make out two gentlemen, one tossing a coin, the other striking a pose as if checking his watch. How in the world did you see them? Good heavens, with the glare of the stage lights, it's almost impossible to see into that corner.
Not if you use projective sight. He took the bill back from the older gentleman, who looked excited to be part of the act.
That's not something I normally do, Lane mentally sighed.
Maybe you need to start, then. I periodically give a projective sweep in any dark room to see if there are any surprises lurking in the shadows.
Listen to you. You didn't even know how to do that trick a year ago.
I wish I'd learned it sooner. I can't tell you the number of times it's bailed me out of a tight spot since I started doing this full-time. I wish I could do it as naturally as Dad does--I still have to think about doing it.
Yeah, well, I realized long ago that there's a lot of things Dad can do naturally that neither one of us will ever learn to do quite as smoothly.
Monty sighed. If that ain't the truth.
"Hey, that's mine!" the woman in red called out, holding her bill aloft, as Verbena finished intoning his last serial number prediction.
The audience applauded, and Verbena stood and took a bow. "Thank you," he said, then turned to the woman. "Madame, I deliberately left your bill for last because I sense you have a question for The Amazing Verbena."
The young woman looked interested. "Why, yes, I did," she said. "I was wondering..."
Verbena gestured dramatically at her. "Do not reveal your question to me, Miss Abigail Hyland, because The Amazing Verbena knows all." He waited while the audience oohed over The Amazing Verbena once again getting the name of an audience member right, then crossed to her table and extended a hand to her. "Come forward, Miss Hyland, so that we might consult the crystal together."
Lane watched as the woman walked forward, seemingly enchanted. He must have a list of people who bought tickets, she mentally complained.
Or at least the center room tickets, Monty agreed, accepting the dollar back from Abigail as she passed their table.
Lane indicated the woman with her eyes. Tonight's victim?
Most likely. Now to see if Bentz and Davidson agree. He gave a surreptious gaze into the corner by the side exit.
Bentz, the man tossing the coin, was indeed still trying to look casual. But Davidson, his partner who kept checking his watch, looked more eager.
Oblivious to the intrigue going on around her, Abigail took a seat across from Verbena at the red cloth-covered table. She looked to be the typical fortuneteller's dupe, a woman with bright eyes, a giddy smile, and a eagerness that suggested a willingness to suspend disbelief rather easily.
Verbena seemed to recognize that look, and took full advantage of it. "I sense that you have a birthday coming up," he said to her. "About a month from now...sometime in July."
Abigail looked amazed. "Why, yes," she said brightly.
The audience murmured. Lane groaned inwardly. As if that wasn't obvious from her jewelry, she chided. She's wearing so many rubies that it wouldn't be hard to guess they were her birthstone.
Monty raised an eyebrow. That's where I've heard her name before. She's Gerald Hyland's daughter.
Lane looked at him. Should I know that name?
Only if you follow gemstone transactions...which, if I'm not mistaken, is what The Amazing Verbena will observe next.
"Your father recently gave you a most remarkable gemstone," Verbena said aloud, as if on cue. "I believe it is called the Rangoon Ruby."
"Oh, yes," Abigail said, laughing. "It's a hideous stone, actually...so big, it looks fake."
"But it is quite real...and very valuable. And I sense you are worried about what to do with it."
Abigail now looked concerned. "Well, yes, actually, I am."
Sure she was, Lane wisecracked.
Sh-h, Monty replied, now interested in Verbena's observations.
Verbena closed his eyes and gestured over the crystal ball for a moment, building the tension in the room as he played the mysterious mentalist to the hilt. "In 32 months time, your ruby will increase 23 times in value," he said suddenly. "You will receive 14 offers to buy it. But none will be right. Only after all of the offers are exhausted will you find someone willing to give you its true value. You will know the offer is right because it will feel personal, safe, secure."
Abigail looked fascinated. "Amazing," she whispered.
What a crock, Lane groused mentally.
Crock nothing, Monty said firmly. He just gave away the combination to her personal safe. Look at the way Bentz and Davidson are reacting.
Lane looked into the corner of the room...and saw Davidson looking eager as Bentz lit a cigarette and shook his match out flamboyantly.
"Yes," Verbena said, his eyes rolled upward. "Yes...that is the information which you seek."
Lane's eyes widened. How did he get the combination?
I don't know. But he just confirmed it for his partners. He looked around for a moment. Make sure you trail Verbena after the show. I'm off to stop a jewel heist.
Always. He got up from his chair and blended with the darkness.
Lane watched him quietly look through Abigail's purse on the table unseen, reading her address off her driver's license, then slip away into the shadows. She looked off into the corner and saw Bentz and Davidson slipping away as well. She considered following after them, then reminded herself that Monty already had that angle covered. It was now a race to see who could get to Abigail's safe first...the con men, or The Shadow.
"So," David asked Annie as they sat sipping coffee in a corner booth of a small Manhattan coffee shop, "have you two set a date yet?"
"Not yet," Annie replied. "Probably June of next year. My father wants me to finish school first."
"Probably for the best."
"That's what my father said. He doesn't want me to give up my dream of teaching just to get married."
"So, are you?"
Annie looked confused. "Am I what?"
"Giving up your dream of teaching to get married."
She shrugged. "I don't know. Certainly I won't need to work."
"But do you want to?"
She looked thoughtful. "I don't know. I've never really considered it. I guess somewhere in the back of my mind, I wanted to be swept off my feet by a man who'd take care of me for the rest of my life."
"The Prince Charming fantasy."
Annie rolled her eyes. "I suppose that says something about my psychological makeup."
"Everything does. People say and do what they say and do because of their psychological makeup. It helps define self."
"Is there a reverse Prince Charming fantasy?"
David gave her a questioning look. "What do you mean?"
"I mean, is there an equivalent for the male psyche? A secret desire to not have to play the hero, to not have to be the caretaker, to be the one swept away and cared for by the woman?"
He gave it some consideration. "Well, there is the theory that all men marry their mothers and all women marry their fathers."
"Everyone's looking to be nurtured and cared for by their life mates."
"In a way, yes. Our relationship with our parents are the first relationships we have as humans. The success or failure of that relationship, particularly with the opposite gender parent, colors every relationship after that. If it was good, we want our future relationships to be just as good. If it was bad, we want the rest to be just the opposite."
"So, is Lane like your mother, or is she just the opposite?"
David laughed. "Polar opposites. My mother would never be as assertive as Lane. There are times I think the Cranstons wanted another boy and raised Lane accordingly."
Annie gave him a wry look. "Strength in a woman is a masculine trait?"
David shook his finger at her. "You're trying to get me in trouble. I didn't say that."
"No, but you implied it."
David looked thoughtful once more. "You're right. I did." He sighed. "Lane is, in many ways, what I wish I could be. Young and free, strong and sure. She knows what she wants out of life, and she goes after it." He looked away. "I just can't imagine why she wants me."
"Because you balance her."
David gave a hearty laugh. "Oh, yeah. Young and old, rich and poor, strong and weak. We balance perfectly."
"She doesn't see it that way. And neither do you, really. You're just feeling sorry for yourself right now. You're overwhelmed by the love you have for this woman, and don't feel at all worthy of it, so you make up excuses for why it can't possibly work. Your mother gave up a lot of her dreams to be with her husband, didn't she?"
He looked surprised. "How did you know?"
"Just the way you talk about people pursuing their dreams and goals. Your mother gave hers up to be with her husband, and it made her horribly unhappy...which is why you don't want Lane to give up anything to be with you. You'd rather not risk another unhappy home life."
He sipped his coffee. "You're very perceptive." He sighed. "My father was a dreamer. He would drop everything and change his entire life direction on a whim, just because he 'saw something in a dream'. He was constantly going into this business or that one because he saw 'the next big thing' in it. We spent a lot of time struggling because his 'visions' never amounted to much." He shrugged. "I guess that's why I got into psychology. I wanted to understand why a person would put his family through that. Along the way, I learned a lot of things about the human mind. And one of them is that people see what they want to see and think what they want to think...quite often contrary to the reality around them."
"So you don't believe that your father really saw visions and dreamed dreams?"
He laughed. "Of course not. My father was delusional. How my mother put up with it, I'll never know, but she never seemed to run out of patience with him, even when I'd hear her crying in her room and lamenting her lost youth when she thought no one was listening. And she knew when he'd failed again...she just always knew it. Of course, it wasn't hard to figure out. Eventually, he always did fail. But he'd pick right back up and try again, following some other cockamamie scheme, and she always stood right by him, ready to catch him when he'd fall."
"She sounds like a good wife."
"She was. And a good mother, too." He got quiet again.
Annie looked over at him. "Are you afraid you'll turn into your father?"
David sat still, lost in his emotions. "You know, my father was fine until he turned 30. Then, suddenly, he collapsed one day at work, and was never the same. From then on, he started talking about these crazy dreams of his...dreams that didn't make any sense, things he'd swear he'd seen happen. I suspect he had a stroke or some other cerebral episode, and it damaged the perception center in his brain, because he got lost in his own bizarre reality. But back then, we didn't understand the human mind like we do now. My mother just accepted him the way he was, and we began living a life of insanity."
"And you're afraid there's a timebomb inside your head, waiting to go off...just like your father."
He looked away. "My father was completely insane by the time he died ten years ago. I didn't find out until then that the rest of the men in his family were the same way...some kind of brain disorder in their twenties, and those who survived eventually went mad and took their family with them. By the time my father died, my mother had completely forgotten how to live a normal life. I'm convinced she died six months later just so she wouldn't have to go on living in a reality that had become foreign to her." He shook his head. "And I could never do that to Lane. She has so much to live for, so much promise in life...to put her through what I saw my mother go through would be unbelievably cruel."
Annie sipped her coffee, drinking in what she'd heard. "David, you think too much."
He looked at her. "Excuse me?"
"You think too much. Instead of analyzing why you can't be with Lane, why not just trust your feelings? You love Lane, she loves you. That's really all that matters. None of the rest of it makes a bit of difference in how you feel about one another." She looked him directly in the eye. "You're the one lost in your own bizarre reality if you can't see that you and Lane are absolutely perfect for one another. You need to open your mind to the possibility that not everything conforms to some theory you studied for your Ph.D., that love is wonderfully irrational and joyously insane." She scoffed. "How a professor of psychology can be so closed-minded is beyond me."
David looked taken aback. He'd never seen Annie this forceful. Her determination was almost palpable. "It's not that simple..."
"Oh, yes, it is. All you have to do is believe it. All you have to do is close your mouth and open your mind. Your heart will do the rest."
Now David looked unsure. "I don't know..."
"Yes, you do. Just trust your feelings. Trust them and follow them. They're not wrong."
David rubbed his temples. This whole thing was giving him a headache. Annie was right, of course--he loved Lane with every ounce of emotion in his soul. He wanted to give in to those emotions so badly, but he couldn't...the future was just so dark, so bleak...
The room seemed to get dark. An image of a swirling blackness flashed before his eyes. For a brief instant, Lane's face coalesced in the blackness, then it faded again...
Annie's voice jolted him back to reality. He looked at her. "What?"
She looked concerned. "Are you all right?"
He wasn't entirely sure, but he nodded. "Yeah." He looked hesitant. "Do you ever see Monty in your mind's eye when he's not around?"
Annie hesitated, then smiled. "Yes. Sometimes I can even hear his voice. I like to believe he's thinking about me as much as I'm thinking about him."
David laughed nervously. "The mind manipulating reality to create what it wants to see."
"Or connecting with another mind longing for connection."
Now he laughed derisively. "That sounds like an argument for psychic phenomena."
She shrugged. "Call it what you like. I just know that when I need him, he's there for me." She took his hand. "Lane wants to be there for you that same way. Give her the chance. Trust your feelings."
He smiled gently. How could he say no to a woman with that kind of determination? "I'll do that."
"Good." She looked at her watch. "Oh, my. I promised my father I'd be home by nine."
"Then I'd better get you home." He gave her hand a squeeze. "Thanks."
She smiled warmly. "You're welcome."
He helped her stand and handed her the crutch, then looked at her skeptically. "I thought this conversation was supposed to be about your troubles."
"Well," she said, putting on her best innocent look, "you wouldn't have come with me if I'd said it was going to be about yours, now, would you?"
"Touche." He gestured toward the door. "After you, Miss Mulroney."
"Thank you, Dr. McAllister."
They headed out into the night together.
The click of a door lock was the only sound that betrayed The Shadow's presence outside Abigail Hyland's apartment door. Lamont Cranston had taught his son all the tricks of The Shadow's trade, some of which included some less-than-law-abiding techniques. One of those was how to pick almost any lock in just a few seconds, a skill that proved useful when trying to investigate unoccupied buildings and rooms. Now, The Shadow was through the door, locking it back behind him, moving swiftly through the darkness in search of her safe. With any luck, Bentz and Davidson were working from the same disadvantage he was--having to find her address, not knowing anything about the layout of the building or the apartment--and he'd have a few minutes headstart on securing her jewels. He scanned the walls with his eyes and his mind, trying to find something out of place in the room, something that could be a concealed strongbox.
Nothing. The living room was empty of anything except tacky furniture and hideous artwork. He moved to the bedroom.
The moon coming through the large glass doors that led to her balcony cast an eerie glow into the room. The Shadow frowned--the light would give him away to an observer, but he didn't have a choice. He slipped into the room, leaving a trailing fedora-wearing shadow across the floor as he moved around.
Nothing. The pictures in here weren't concealing a wall safe, either. He frowned again and gave the room one more critical appraisal.
The deep pile carpeting by the bedside looked strangely compressed at the edge of the nightstand. He moved over to it and tapped the wooden cabinet with his knuckles.
The sound that returned was dull, not the rich hollow sound of a fine wood piece. There was something in there. He felt along the sides for a seam that didn't belong.
His fingers found a hidden latch. He activated it.
The front panel popped open, revealing a strongbox door with a combination dial on its face.
The Shadow knelt down and began fingering the combination Verbena had called out. 32 left...23 right...14 left...then right back to zero, the "none" part of the proclamation, since the word "zero" would have stood out way too much. Part of him wondered as he turned the dial how Verbena had managed to get the combination, since it wasn't an obvious one, and he seriously doubted Abigail would have just given it out of hand to a stooge getting information from the audience for a "reading" later. For that matter, he wondered why Abigail hadn't recognized her own safe combination in the numbers Verbena gave her. Maybe she was even more of a dupe than she appeared.
The lock clicked as the last tumbler dropped into place. The Shadow turned the handle on the strongbox face.
The door came open, revealing two shelves. Both shelves had black velvet boxes on them, the kind that normally store jewels. The Shadow drew them out and opened one.
Rich, expensive gemstones sparkled in the subdued light of the room...mostly rubies and diamonds, set in deco platinum mountings from the 20s and 30s. They looked almost like costume jewelry. He opened the other box.
A massive faceted red ruby shone against the black velvet like a blood-red moon in a clear night sky. It was, as Abigail said, so big it looked fake.
The Shadow drew a black velvet pouch out of his coat pocket and slipped the ruby and the other valuable jewelry inside it, then put the pouch back in his pocket. Technically, this was theft, but he'd make sure the police got the goods later. Right now, it was more important to remove them for safekeeping than it was to follow the exact letter of the law.
A faint scratching at the front door got his attention. He quickly put the boxes back in the safe, closed the door, spun the lock, closed the front panel, and slipped into a dark corner of the room.
The front door came open, and Bentz and Davidson came through it. "Good job, Marty," Bentz told his partner.
"Haven't found a lock yet I couldn't crack," Davidson replied.
Bentz closed the door behind them and relocked it. "Yeah, well, you won't have to crack this next one. Verbeen gave us the combo."
"Yeah, us and the rest of the world."
"You worry too much. Nobody who wasn't listening for it would even understand what all that nonsense meant."
Davidson looked around the room and frowned. "Too bad he didn't tell us where to find the thing."
"Yeah, well, there's only so many places it could be. Spread out."
Davidson shone a flashlight onto the walls, looking at the edges of the pictures. "Sheesh, what ugly paintings."
"Yeah, you'd think a rich dame could afford a better decorator." Bentz looked in the desk drawers with another flashlight. "Nothing. Anything over there?"
"Nothing but tacky artwork. Where could it be?"
"Try the bedroom."
"Good idea." The two men moved quietly into the bedroom.
The Shadow pulled deeper into the corner as they shone their lights through the room. He needed to slip by them and out the door, but he needed to first make sure they were actually going to rob the safe. That meant he needed to stay hidden in the shadows until they made their move...which it looked as if they were about to do, as Davidson knelt next to the nightstand.
"Found something?" Bentz asked.
"Yeah...the nightstand." Davidson pointed to the side as he shone the light on it. "See the recessed hinges?"
"Son of a gun." Bentz ran his gloved hands on the side away from the hinges. "Got it," he said as he popped open the latch.
The front panel swung open. Davidson immediately dialed the combination. "32...23...14...0. Let's see if this works." He pulled down on the door handle.
The door swung open. "Jackpot," Bentz whispered. "Hand me those boxes."
Davidson did so.
Bentz opened one--and went slack-jawed as nothing but black velvet looked back at him. Quickly, he opened the other one--and it was just as empty. "Hey...we've been had!"
At that moment, a sinister chuckle spread through the room. Surprise, The Shadow taunted.
Both men whipped around and drew their guns. "The Shadow," Bentz realized in a horrified whisper.
The Shadow laughed again. Hello, Bentz. Hello, Davidson. Up to your old tricks again, I see. Too bad you didn't find what you were looking for this time.
Davidson's flashlight played through the room, trying to find the unseen presence mocking them. "I don't like this," he said nervously.
"Shut up and find him," Bentz ordered, his beam joining Davidson's.
A black-cloaked shadow darted away from one of the light circles on the wall. Bentz turned and fired in the direction of the motion.
The curtains by the window fluttered. Davidson fired at them, shattering the glass patio door to the balcony.
Bottles on the dresser rattled. Both men fired toward the sound.
A silver dresser tray suddenly flew through the air and smacked Davidson in the head.
"Marty!" Bentz said, turning to his partner.
The bedcovers tossed themselves onto Bentz from behind. He struggled underneath them.
Pounding at the door got everyone's attention. "Police!" a voice shouted from the hallway. "Open up!"
The Shadow frowned internally. No doubt there had been some hidden alarm he'd disturbed when he'd entered--there wasn't enough time for the police to have gotten there based on just Bentz and Davidson's break-in. He was certain he hadn't seen an alarm switch panel anywhere, but you never knew with these modern security systems where the controls were hiding. He looked around for an escape route.
At that moment, the police broke in the apartment door and quickly moved into the living room, flipping on the lights and spreading out in full force.
The Shadow drew back into the bedroom. No time to waste--they'd soon be in there, and then he'd really be sunk. He slipped onto the balcony through the broken glass door.
As the police swarmed into the bedroom, no one noticed the swirl of black fabric that climbed atop the patio railing and leapt onto the adjacent balcony, nor the patio door of that adjacent apartment that slid open to allow that blackness to slide through it and disappear into the night.
Marcus Verbeen stopped wiping away the spirit gum left over after removing The Amazing Verbena's heavy facial hair and looked into the mirror on his dressing room table. He could have sworn he saw a flicker of light and movement in the shadows out of the corner of his eye. He studied the view of the room from the reflection before him.
Nothing. The room was completely still.
Verbeen shook his head. His nerves were getting to him again. He returned to cleaning his face.
In the corner, Lane Cranston let out a very long, slow sigh of relief. She thought she'd been careful as she'd slipped into the room, but a lamp on a side table had been an unexpected obstacle, and she'd had to dart away from it quickly. Unlike her brother, Lane had not had time to change clothes after the show into an all-black ensemble...and the shiny satin in her evening dress had caught a hint of the light's glare as she moved past it, which in turn had caught Verbena's eye. Even mind clouding tricks couldn't undo the effects of physics, and Lane had held perfectly still for several long seconds until she was certain Verbena's attention was no longer on anything but removing his stage makeup. Then, she gave a glance to her watch.
It had barely been an hour since she and Monty had parted company. Verbena's show had been strangely punchless after the initial burst of excitement with Abigail Hyland. It was as if the entire show had been geared around the single moment of revelation about the young heiress' ruby; Verbena had done a couple of other parlor tricks, some useless astrology readings, and then ended the show almost before it had really gotten started. Lane had heard grumblings from some of the audience, but wasn't particularly interested in them. Abigail had apparently gone home quite happy, for she'd eagerly bounded out of the Peacock Room, leaving Lane all alone to pursue Verbena and find out what he'd do next now that he'd given away the key to obtaining a very expensive gemstone.
Verbeen finished cleaning himself up and donned his glasses once more.
Lane was stunned at the transformation--she'd never have recognized the rather plain man before her as The Amazing Verbena if she hadn't seen it for herself. It was a good thing she hadn't waited by the stage door as had been her plan; the man before her now would have walked right past her, and she'd have let him because he didn't look a thing like the man she'd seen on stage.
Verbeen disrobed quickly, changing from the flowing wizard's robes into a more conventional man's suit. He stuffed the robes and turban into a satchel, then grabbed the satchel and headed quickly out into the hallway.
Lane slipped out behind him just as he closed the dressing room door.
Verbeen looked rattled as he stood just outside the dressing room. He would have sworn someone was right beside him...he could literally feel an unseen gaze falling upon him. He gave a nervous look around him.
Nothing. The hallway was completely empty.
Unnerved, he locked the door and hurried away.
Lane slipped down the hallway after him, keeping her distance to avoid giving herself away.
Verbeen headed out the stage door at a rapid clip.
Verbeen hailed a cab as he approached the street, then hurriedly climbed into it and slammed the door.
Lane stamped her foot angrily as the cab sped away just ahead of her rapid stride toward the curb. Dammit. Not fast enough. She swirled into visibility and waved for a cab, trying to keep Verbeen's taxi in sight.
Instead, a long black limousine pulled up to the curb. Its rear passenger window rolled down, and a familiar face looked up at her. Get in, Lamont Cranston ordered.
Lane got over her moment of surprise and opened the rear door, practically bounding into the limousine as Lamont moved across from her to the facing rear seat, then slammed the door and rolled up the automatic window. There's a cab about a block and a half ahead, she projected to Vincent Kerine, Lamont's driver, as he pulled away from the curb. Quality Cabs. Partial plate G2E.
The limousine swerved smoothly between traffic lanes with an ease unexpected from such a large car, if one didn't know that the driver was a former auto racing star and loyal Shadow agent. "Got him," Vincent reassured.
Good. Don't lose him. She looked at her father. What are you doing here?
Lamont shrugged. Thought you might need a hand. I was going to come inside and catch the end of the show, but it looks like it let out early. Where's your brother?
Following Bentz and Davidson. She gave him a suspicious look. Does Mom know you're here?
He shrugged again. I told her I needed some air.
Lane frowned. She is going to be so mad at you...
He waved dismissively. She'll get over it. She always does.
Lane shook her head, then reached across the adjacent seat to pop a hidden latch.
The seat back moved slightly, as if a spring hook holding it in place had been disengaged.
Lane lowered the seat back down to reveal a hidden compartment. Just like in Aaron's taxi, both Cranston children had a second wardrobe concealed in secret underseat drawers and behind-the-seat compartments in Lamont's limousine. The compartments had been built as a contingency, in case The Shadow's regular transportation wasn't available. And Lane was particularly grateful for their presence right now, as well as the limousine's dark tinted windows. I should have worn black tonight, she sighed, tossing her high heels into the compartment.
I was wondering why you didn't, Lamont noted.
It just didn't occur to me. And I knew I was going to have to lurk in the shadows tonight, too. That was just dumb. Verbena almost saw me when my bright shiny blue dress caught the light. She pulled off her pearl earrings, pearl necklace, and pearl bracelet, then dropped them into her purse and tossed that into the compartment as well.
Lamont chuckled slightly. Now you know why most of my wardrobe is shades of grey.
I'll have to start limiting my color swatches to accessories and jewelry, I guess. She turned her back to her father. Unzip me, would you?
Lamont lowered the zipper on his daughter's dress.
Thanks. Lane doffed the dress, folded it roughly, then pitched it into the compartment.
Lamont averted his gaze.
Lane pulled on a black turtleneck sweater. Oh, Daddy. It's not as if you've never seen me undressed before.
Not since you were a child. He shook his head. Call me old-fashioned, I suppose. It used to be considered polite for a man to look away when a woman is changing clothes.
Lane climbed into a pair of black slacks. I need to get faster at this.
This is one area where being male has its advantages. Trousers are a standard part of our wardrobe.
Lane slipped on a pair of heavier shoes. That needs to change. Tight skirts and high heels are a real pain.
Maybe you'll start a fashion trend.
I doubt it. She pulled on the black riding coat and slung the red scarf around her neck, then tugged on a black shoulder holster and snapped it into place. After all, no one's supposed to see me in this. She found her black leather gloves inside her fedora and put them on, making sure to replace The Shadow's silver fire opal on her left ring finger.
Or recognize you, anyway.
True. Lane latched the black opera cloak around her neck, then brushed her short hair straight back and set the black fedora atop her head.
Lamont gave his daughter a long appraisal. It hadn't been so long ago that she was Daddy's little girl in lacy pinafores and patent leather shoes. Now, in stark black with a slash of red covering her face, she looked as hard and dangerous as her brother...an avenging angel of the night. It was a sign of how much she'd grown in the past year that she was out on her own on a mission...neither Lamont nor Monty had given her much free reign until recently because neither felt she was quite confident enough in her own skills to be on her own.
The part of Lane's face visible above the scarf showed a smile. I'll be fine, she reassured, then slapped fresh clips into a pair of silver-plated .45 automatic pistols and holstered them. I was trained by the best.
Lamont nodded. I know. Forgive a little fatherly concern.
Vincent pulled over to the curb and extinguished his headlights. "He's getting out," he announced.
Lane looked ahead to see Verbeen paying the cabbie for his ride, then getting out and walking toward a rundown hotel. I see him, she acknowledged, waiting until Verbeen was facing away before opening the rear door.
Be careful, Lamont instructed as she prepared to climb out of the car.
She gave him a confident smile. Always. With that, she exited the limo and disappeared into the night.
Lamont watched her go, silently trying to convince himself not to worry about his baby girl.
"Should I make the block and come back here, Mr. Cranston?" Vincent prompted.
Lamont snapped back to reality, then shook his head. No. We'll just attract attention in this part of town. She'll be fine.
"I'm sure she will, sir."
Lamont nodded and moved back into the rear passenger's seat. Home, Vincent.
Lamont gave one last look at the building as the limousine pulled away, silently wishing his daughter all the luck in the world...and having a premonition that she would need it before the night was over.
Marcus Verbeen could not shake the feeling that he was being followed. From that strange shadow in his dressing room, to that eerie sensation of someone slipping past him as he prepared to leave the building, to that black limousine up the street that looked strangely out of place on this side of town, Verbeen felt as if a noose were tightening around him. All this mentalist stuff was a bunch of nonsense, a way of manipulating reality to further his own ends...but there were times this evening that Verbeen would swear there was some dark shadow hovering around him, waiting to strike.
A knock at the door made him jump about ten feet in the air. He found his gun in his suitcase, then crossed to the door nervously and whipped it open, leveling the gun chest-high at whoever was out there.
Nothing looked back at him.
This was getting too creepy for words, Verbeen decided. Somebody or something was definitely watching him. He closed the door quickly and ran to the phone, dialing an extension nervously.
The phone seemed to ring forever, then someone finally answered it. "Hello?" a woman's voice said on the other end of the extension.
"Midnight," he barked into the phone.
"Tonight?" the woman's voice replied.
"All right, I'll be there." She hung up.
He slammed the phone down, then hurried over to his bed, where he'd tossed aside his satchel. He pulled out the turban, carefully folded it into a tight parcel, then stuffed it deep underneath some clothes in his suitcase. The wizard's robes were much less carefully folded and tossed atop the rest of the clothes before Verbeen closed the lid.
Another knock at the door made his heart skip a beat. Once more, he drew his gun, then crossed over to the door. "Who's there?" he demanded.
Nothing answered him.
He once more put his hand on the door, took a deep breath, then whipped the door open.
Nothing. The hallway was empty.
Verbeen didn't like this one bit. Someone was playing games with him. And he didn't have time for games. He stepped out into the hallway and looked around.
Nothing. Not even a hint of movement anywhere. Not that he would have noticed much in the dimly-lit hallway anyway.
Verbeen frowned, then headed back into his room. Then, he frowned deeper as he looked at his bed.
The lid to the suitcase was open slightly.
Verbeen cautiously looked at the case. He would have sworn he'd closed the lid a minute ago. He closed it and reached for the latch.
The thickness of the clothes popped the lid open before he could latch it.
Verbeen sighed and shook his head. Careless packing was the spook startling him. He rearranged the items on top of the suitcase, then slammed the lid down.
This time, it stayed shut as he secured the latches.
Verbeen dropped onto the bed and rubbed his temples, then pulled out one of the packs of Turkish cigarettes he'd bought, drew out one of the cigarettes from it, and lit it, letting the long drag slide outward from his lips as he tried to calm down. This night would not be over soon enough for his tastes.
Lamont slipped up the stairs of Cranston Manor as quietly as he could. The mansion had been dark when he'd returned from his limousine ride, and the only light in the house indicated that Margo was up in their bedroom, probably either reading or watching TV. He already knew she'd figured out where he'd gone, and was unhappy with him--the sound of her angry thoughts practically echoed off the walls. Putting off conversation about this wouldn't do any good, so he skipped his evening cognac and cigar and steeled himself for an argument as he opened the bedroom door.
Sure enough, Margo was sitting up in bed, reading. She barely looked up from her book as he entered the room. "You promised," she said coldly.
"I know." He doffed his suit jacket and tossed it onto the clothes valet.
She set the book down. "That's it? That's all you have to say?"
He looked over at her. "What do you want me to say, Margo?"
"'I'm sorry' would be a nice start."
"Sorrow implies regret." He turned away and loosened his tie, then tossed it over the valet.
Now Margo looked offended. "And you don't regret what you did?"
"No.'' He looked back at his wife. "Monty was worried about her state of mind. I was worried about her state of mind. You were worried about her state of mind."
"And so you broke your promise to me solely to make sure your daughter was in the proper 'state of mind'."
Lamont looked away again as he unbuttoned his shirt. "Life in the shadows is dangerous. A lack of focus can get you killed. Was I supposed to just leave her alone when her head clearly wasn't in it tonight?"
"So I suppose she was just a wreck when you found her...crying, weeping, begging for help..."
He pulled off his shirt and sighed as he dropped it on the chair. "No. She was fine. She didn't need my help."
"Which is what Monty tried to tell you when they left for the evening."
Lamont nodded. "He said, 'Dad, she's fine. Don't worry.'" He turned to Margo. "But she's still my baby. I can't help but worry."
"Neither can I. But I don't lie about it."
Lamont gave her a curious look. "What do you mean?"
"You lied to me about going out for some air rather than say, 'Margo, I'm worried about Lane. I want to make sure she's all right.' I'm not mad at you for going out. I'm mad at you for not being honest with me, for not thinking for even one second that I would have understood your concern and even urged you to go because it would have eased both our fears. And that hurts."
He looked stung, then nodded. "I'm sorry. I lied to you. And that I do regret." He knelt by the bedside. "Can you forgive an overprotective old fool for not wanting to worry you any more than you already were?"
She gently stroked his cheek. "Only if you promise not to lie to me any more about the real reasons you're going out for air."
He kissed her hand. "I promise."
"Good. Now, come to bed."
He finished disrobing, then climbed into bed next to her.
They silently snuggled into each other's arms and allowed their powerfully psychic minds to blend into an all-encompassing whole, letting the love they had for each other carry them away.
David drove around town for a while after dropping Annie off, not entirely certain why he felt so restless and out of sorts. He needed to talk to Lane, but got the strangest impression she wasn't at home. Certainly she had a reason to be out this late if she were studying for two finals, but Lane wasn't one for spending hours at Columbia's library studying when she could be at home amidst the reference books in Cranston Manor's library. He found himself wondering as he waited at a stoplight if maybe she had found herself another boyfriend, but even that didn't make sense; she wasn't the type of girl who'd use people like that. The whole thing was giving him a massive headache, and he couldn't even think straight...
Images flashed on the windshield in front of him. A dive of a hotel...a suitcase slamming shut...dark, swirling shadows...a brief glimpse of Lane's face...
The honking of carhorns got his attention. He jumped, then looked straight ahead.
The light had changed to green.
Unnerved, David pulled through the light.
The images of the night were beginning to run together, and the bright oncoming headlights made his head hurt. He rubbed his eyes and tried to focus on the road.
An image of a luxury car painted up as a cab appeared before him. He caught a brief glimpse of Lane in the back seat as it drove away.
A moment later, he realized he'd turned off the main road and was doubling back on his path. But why? He shook his head to clear it and looked straight ahead.
The cab he'd seen was gone, as if it had never been there.
David pulled up to a curb and stopped. Oh, God, he said, rubbing his temples, it's started...I'm seeing things...I'm going mad, just like my father...oh, God...
Times Square appeared in his mind's eye, and again Lane's face, obscured by shadow, flashed into his vision.
As if controlled by something outside himself, David pulled back out into traffic. He had no idea where he was going, but he needed to talk to Lane...and he needed to talk to her now.
The sound of footsteps descending into The Sanctum was music to Monty's ears. "About time," he called.
"Sorry," Lane called back. "I had to come a long way down. I followed Verbena all the way to the upper east side, to a dive called The Madison Arms."
"Find anything interesting?"
Still dressed in Shadow garb, she came down to join him at the workbench. "There is something really weird going on here," she told her similarly-clad brother. "Get this--The Amazing Verbena is really a everyday shmoe named Marcus Verbeen. Looks like a schoolteacher. And he's getting ready to blow this town."
"What makes you so sure?"
"He packed his bags and called someone up in a big hurry. I didn't catch who he'd called, but he just said 'midnight' twice, really angrily."
"Sounds like he's meeting someone. Any idea where?"
"At his hotel, it sounds like. She said 'I'll be there' and hung up. What'd you find?"
Monty held up a bright red stone.
Lane drew back. "Is that what I think it is?"
"Certainly looks like it. But it's not. Take a closer look." He handed her the stone and a jeweler's loupe.
Lane looked at the crystal through the magnifier. "It's glass."
"Very nice glass, but glass nonetheless."
"Where did you get this?"
"From Abigail Hyland's safe." He took it back from her and tossed it into a pile of jewelry across the table. "It's all fake. Every piece of it."
Lane looked curious. "Why would she put fakes in a safe?"
"I suspect they weren't fakes to start with."
"Did Bentz and Davidson get there first?"
He shook his head. "They tried to rob the thing right in front of me. I got there before they did. But obviously, somebody got there before me." He frowned. "But who?"
Lane raised an eyebrow. "Verbeen, perhaps?" She produced a white bundle from her pocket.
"What is that?"
"Something Verbeen really wanted to protect, because he stuffed it deep inside his suitcase where he thought no one would find it." She unwrapped the bundle...and revealed the huge red stone in The Amazing Verbena's turban.
Monty slipped the jewel out of the thin gauze pocket that held it in place against the cloth and looked at it through the loupe, then blew out a long whistle. "Now that's an impressive rock. And here I thought it was just a nice looking fake."
"Well, she did say the thing was hideous, so big it looked fake."
Monty's eyes widened. "Wait a minute..."
Lane reached the same conclusion he did. "He didn't rob the safe. She gave it to him."
He looked energized. "No wonder he knew the combination so well. They were in cohoots."
She was right with him. "And they were going to frame Bentz and Davidson for the robbery..."
"...and escape with the loot, and no one would be the wiser."
"The thing's so big, it looks fake..."
"...but cut into smaller stones, it'd be easier to sell, and worth a fortune."
Lane looked impressed. "That is one clever plan."
"I'll say. Set a couple of known con men up with robberies of some lesser-value things to lure them in, then frame them for jewel theft, hide a priceless ruby in plain sight, scam the insurance for the value of the 'missing' jewels, and fence the rest of the stones later and live off the profits. Had The Shadow not been in two places at once, it might have worked." He looked at the huge red ruby. "We need to get this to the police."
Monty's ring blinked. He sent back a mental signal to extinguish the light on Burbank's console, then headed for The Sanctum's communications console and flicked a switch. "Report," he ordered.
Network communications coordinator Harriet Burbank's face appeared on the round screen. "Per your earlier message, agent in 36th precinct reports that the call on the Hyland robbery did not come from an alarm system."
Monty looked surprised. "Did not come from an alarm system?"
"Exact words. Call came from an anonymous tip, called in at approximately 8:55 p.m."
Monty turned to Lane. What time did the show end?
Lane looked confused. Right about that time. But who would have placed the call?
Monty turned his attention back to the screen. "Male or female caller?"
Harriet glanced at the note. "Agent's report doesn't say. Shall I send a response?"
"Yes. Find out if the caller was a man or a woman...and if the call came from somewhere near the Filmore Arms. I need that information now."
"Understood." The screen went blank.
Lane looked over at her brother. "I am absolutely certain Verbeen didn't make any phone calls after the show."
"What about Abigail?"
The realization hit Lane like a brick wall. "Now that you mention it, she did scurry out of there pretty quickly."
"No doubt to alert the police to a robbery in progress. And had I not been there, they'd have been caught red-handed stealing the fakes."
Lane picked up one of the costume jewelry pieces off the workbench. "Wait a minute...wasn't she wearing the real one of this tonight?"
Monty picked up her train of thought. "She was wearing the real versions of all of these. But why?"
"Probably so she wouldn't have to hide them somewhere else in the interim...and Verbeen wouldn't be caught with them if the police became suspicious."
Monty flicked on the communications console again. "Burbank," he said tersely.
Harriet's face appeared on the screen once more. "Yes, sir?"
"Cancel the last message. New information has rendered it moot. Notify agent in 36th to send police to the Madison Arms on East 85th Street, room 314. Also instruct him to have someone tail Abigail Hyland."
"Understood." The screen went blank once more.
Lane looked at the clock on The Sanctum's wall. "We've got to get back to Verbeen's hotel, and fast. She'll be there to escape with him any time now."
Monty pocketed the ruby, then grabbed his fedora off the workbench. "Let's go."
The two Shadows rushed up the stairs toward street level together.
David found himself caught up in a traffic jam as he approached Times Square. Many of the Broadway shows were letting out, and now there were taxis everywhere, pedestrians walking to and fro, and more traffic than all but the heaviest rush hours. Once again, he asked himself why he'd come, and where he was going. What was going on in his head? Why was he so dead set on finding Lane tonight? Why did he keep seeing her everywhere he turned? He wanted--no, needed--to talk to her about their future, but it could surely wait until the morning, couldn't it?
A honking car horn got his attention. He looked up.
A town car, painted as a taxi, swerved around him and made its way through the crowd.
David's eyes widened. That was the taxi he'd seen across town a few minutes ago. He blinked and shook his head to make sure he wasn't seeing things.
He could just make out the top of that cab a block or so ahead, stopped near a dark alley. Then, as if he were peering through a telescope, he could clearly see the cab's rear door, and two black blurs swirling around it.
Another car horn beeped, startling him. He blinked, then looked ahead once more.
The cab was back at its normal distance from him now, and pulling back out into the street.
David looked unnerved. There was something about that cab that was very odd. Ordinarily, he'd call seeing a very distinctive taxi in two places in this rather large city pure coincidence. But not tonight. Tonight, nothing was as it seemed. And he had to find out why.
He cautiously made his way around the cars and headed off in pursuit of the cab.
Knocking at the door of his hotel room startled Marcus Verbeen, who was looking out the window. After the incident earlier with answering the door and finding no one out there, he wasn't in the mood for playing games. He moved slowly toward the door, gun drawn and cocked. "Who's there?" he demanded.
"You know who it is," an annoyed feminine voice answered back. "Now, open the door."
Verbeen opened the door to see Abigail Hyland standing out in the hall, a small suitcase in her hands. "Get in here," he barked.
She moved quickly into the room as he practically closed the door on her. "What's eating you?"
"Why are you here so early?"
"The cops are everywhere around my place. I made the excuse of not wanting to spend the night there after the robbery, packed a bag, and got out."
"You weren't followed?" He looked out the window nervously, checking the fire escape, trying to see something in the endless blackness of the night that surrounded them.
Abigail looked perturbed at his attitude. "No, of course not. What is wrong with you, Marcus? I've never seen you act like this."
He looked back at her. "Someone is watching me."
He nodded, then looked back out the window. "There have been too many strange things happening for that not to be the case. I thought I saw someone in my dressing room. Then, I thought I felt someone brush past me when I left the hotel. Then, I saw a black limousine that didn't belong in this neighborhood right outside the hotel. Then, there were two sets of knocks on my door, and no one there either time. Someone is watching me." He turned to her. "Are you sure your father knows nothing about this?"
She scoffed. "That old coot? He's oblivious. Has no idea his pretty baubles were 'stolen' for the insurance."
"Then who is watching me?"
"I don't know, Marcus. Maybe a ticked-off customer?"
"Impossible. I made sure not to make any enemies on this go-round."
"Maybe it's from another incarnation of 'The Amazing Verbena'? After all, you've fleeced rich stiffs before."
"That's enough. Did you bring the jewels?"
She tapped her suitcase. "All except one. And you've still got that one?"
A low, sinister chuckle echoed through the room. Are you sure about that, Marcus Verbeen?
Verbeen and Abigail both jumped at the sound of the voice that seem to come from everywhere and nowhere at the same time. "Who's there?" Verbeen demanded, waving his gun.
Oh, come now. A fine mentalist like The Amazing Verbena doesn't recognize the voice of The Shadow? Mocking laughter punctuated the statement.
Abigail looked frightened. "The Shadow," she whispered. "Oh, my God...Marcus, it's The Shadow!"
"Hush!" Verbeen snapped. "Find him. He has to be around here somewhere."
You look very nice this evening, Miss Hyland, The Shadow continued. But so plain. Where are your beautiful jewels? They certainly weren't in your safe tonight when Bentz and Davidson went to rob it.
Abigail's eyes widened. "He knows," she fretted.
"Shut up and keep looking!" Verbeen snapped, checking the bathroom.
Abigail looked under the bed.
Why don't you use your mental powers to find me, Verbeen? A sarcastic chuckle. Or perhaps you're powerless without your robes and turban.
Verbeen straightened up stiffly. "Oh, my God..." He turned to the bed and threw open the lid to the suitcase, then began pawing through the clothes.
Lose something? The Shadow laughed heartily.
"What's he talking about?" Abigail demanded.
"The ruby," Verbeen realized. "It's gone."
More low, threatening laughter. You know, you should never turn your back on your valuables. You never know who might be lurking in the shadows.
Suddenly, Verbeen felt that palpable gaze fall on him again. "Let's get out of here." He ran for the window.
A right cross smashed into his jaw just as he started to climb onto the fire escape, sending him sprawling back into the room.
"Marcus!" Abigail shouted.
Verbeen started to get to his feet, only to feel two strong hands grab him by his shirt, haul him into the air, and throw him across the room.
Abigail swung her suitcase right through the path where Verbeen had been standing--and clocked something solid.
A swirl of blackness stumbled forward, coalescing into the form of The Shadow.
Abigail cold-cocked him in the head with the suitcase from behind.
The Shadow toppled to the floor.
Abigail grabbed Verbeen's shoulders and shook him. "Come on!" she shouted. "Let's get out of here!"
Verbeen got to his feet and stumbled out of the room with Abigail. They hurried down the side stairs and raced into the lobby.
The desk clerk looked up from his newspaper. "Something wrong, mister?" he asked.
Verbeen leveled his gun at the clerk and shot him in cold blood.
The clerk fell over, dead.
Verbeen grabbed Abigail's hand and started to run toward the door...and another driving blow from another swirl of blackness connected with Verbeen's jaw and sent him sprawling once more.
Abigail drew back from the unseen force, then spotted Verbeen's gun lying on the floor. She grabbed it and leveled it right at the vague shadow she could see on the wall in front of her.
All eyes turned toward the hotel doorway...where David McAllister was now standing, unsure of why he was there but alarmed at the sight of two bodies lying around and a woman aiming a gun at something.
Abigail recovered her senses and turned her aim on the would-be eyewitness.
David felt something slam into his chest and throw him to the ground as the report of a gunshot rang through the night.
It took a second for David to realize that he hadn't been shot, that he'd instead been tackled by someone or something. He shook his head to clear it, then looked at himself.
A figure in stark black, with a blood-red cloth over its mouth, was resting atop him, looking at him with blue-green eyes filled with strength and power unlike anything he'd ever seen before.
David's eyes widened. Those eyes...those were Lane's eyes. He'd spent hours staring into them, but he'd never seen them look so dark, so dangerous...
Sleep, a low voice echoed in his ears.
David felt the world slipping away from him, and then his eyes closed.
Abigail realized she'd missed her target and took off running for the door.
Lane-Shadow reached out and grabbed Abigail's ankle.
Abigail fell face first to the ground. She started to get to her feet again.
Lane-Shadow grabbed her by her long hair and yanked hard.
Abigail screamed and grabbed at the black-gloved hand now tight in her hair, trying to loosen the iron grip.
Lane-Shadow smacked her across the face, then elbowed her in the back of the head as she fell to the floor.
Abigail struggled for a moment more, then passed out.
Lane-Shadow started to deliver one more blow for good measure, then felt a strong hand on her shoulder. Easy, her brother's voice urged. She's out. Good job.
Lane-Shadow took one more breath to calm herself down, then nodded.
The Shadow reached into his own coat pocket to extract the Rangoon Ruby from it, then walked over to the prone form of Abigail Hyland and slipped it into the unconscious heiress' purse. There. Returned to its rightful owner. He chuckled sinisterly.
The sound of approaching sirens got both of their attentions. Lane-Shadow rolled off David's prone form, and The Shadow scooped him up in his arms.
By the time the police reached the lobby, the three of them were long gone.
The softness of warm blankets and feather pillows surrounded David McAllister as he ascended back to consciousness. He opened his eyes and looked around.
He was back in his own apartment, under the covers in his own bed, still dressed in the clothes he'd had on earlier, unsure of how he'd gotten there but feeling oddly clear-headed for the first time in quite a while. He fumbled for the nightstand and flipped on the bedside lamp.
The alarm clock by his bed read 12:30.
David shook his head and blew out a hard breath. Had it all been a dream? It had to have been--how else to explain the strange things he'd seen and felt tonight? "I hate finals week," he muttered, reaching up to loosen his tie and change into bed clothes.
The phone on his bedside table rang.
David looked oddly at it. Who could it be at this hour? He picked up the receiver cautiously. "Hello?"
"Hi. Did I wake you?"
David had never been so relieved to hear a voice in his whole life. "Lane!" he practically shouted into the receiver. "Oh, thank God! Are you all right?"
"I'm fine. Is something wrong?"
David laughed slightly. "Of course you're fine," he chided himself. "Why wouldn't you be?"
"I woke you, didn't I? I'm sorry. Mom said you called earlier."
It took David a second to remember that. "Uh...yeah. Where have you been?"
"I'm sorry. I was studying with Nora and Amy at the library, and then we went out for coffee and pie after we finished, and I just lost track of the time. You were probably worried sick about me. I got a pretty good tongue-lashing from Dad for being out so late..."
The word "coffee" triggered something in David's mind, something he felt compelled to say. "Lane, I'm sorry."
She stopped talking for a moment. "Sorry? Sorry for what?"
"For treating you like a child. For not giving you the respect and credit you deserve. For being an idiot."
Another pause in the conversation. "Are you O.K.?"
He ran a hand through his hair. "No, I'm not. I'm an idiot. I almost threw away the best thing that ever happened to me because I was feeling sorry for myself and manipulating reality to fit my own warped self-image." He blew out a hard breath. "I am completely, totally, madly in love with you. I haven't been able to think of anything else but you the entire night. I've literally seen you everywhere, even in my dreams. And if this is insanity, I hope I'm never normal again. Lane Alicia Cranston, will you marry me?"
He heard a gasp, then a long pause. "Oh, my God..." Her voice was filled with tears. "Yes. Yes. Yes."
David suddenly felt very nervous. "Uh...maybe I should come over there and do this the right way?"
She laughed. "I think it can wait until tomorrow."
"Are you sure?"
"I promise I'm not going to change my mind between now and then. Why don't you come over for dinner?"
"Good idea. Hopefully your father won't toss me out on my ear when I ask for his baby girl's hand in marriage."
"He'd have to go through me first."
David laughed. "Oh, don't even say that. I had the strangest dream..."
"Tell me about it tomorrow at dinner. It's late, and I've got a final at eight-blessed-a.m."
He smiled. "You're right. Get some sleep. I love you."
"I love you, too." She kissed the receiver.
He kissed back, then they hung up.
Lane put the receiver down on the phone on her bedside table, then sat perfectly still for a moment. David had dismissed it all as a dream--just like she'd hoped he would when she took him back to his apartment and put him in his own bed. She had been going to simply make him an agent, then explain the whole thing some other time. But that had all changed when he bared his soul to her over the phone line. Now, it was her turn.
Movement in the doorway to her bedroom got her attention. She looked up.
Lamont leaned against the doorframe, eyeing her with fatherly concern.
She smiled at him...then tears began to fall down her cheeks.
He came into the room and sat down on the bed next to her, then put a gentle hand on her shoulders.
She threw her arms around him and sobbed.
Lamont rocked his daughter lovingly, letting her release her pent-up emotions in the safety of Daddy's arms.
David pulled into the driveway at Cranston Manor, parked on the side drive, then took a deep breath and released it slowly. He wasn't sure why he felt so nervous, but he was nonetheless. All day long, he'd been envisioning this evening, trying to quell irrational fears that Lane would change her mind once she'd had a night to sleep on his words. He'd barely been able to think about anything else, to the point where he sent a teaching assistant to monitor one of his exams because he wasn't sure he'd be able to stay focused on the students taking their most important test of the year. But he had been able to think clearly enough to find his mother's engagement ring amid the valuables in his safe deposit box. Taking one more deep breath to calm himself, he got out of the car and walked up to the front door.
The butler answered the doorbell and led him to the parlor, where Lamont was standing by the fireplace. "David," Lamont greeted warmly, extending his right hand.
David smiled and accepted Lamont's handshake. "Good evening, Mr. Cranston."
"Lamont, please. After all, I'd hate for my future son-in-law to think he needed to be so formal."
David hoped his relief at Lamont's easy acceptance wasn't visible. "So she hasn't changed her mind?"
Lamont let out a hearty laugh. "If you're waiting for my daughter to change her mind, you'll be waiting a very long time. Once she makes up her mind about something, that's it. There's no turning back." He gestured to the sofa. "Sit down. Relax. Fix you a drink?"
"Scotch, if you've got it."
"Straight up or on the rocks?"
"Thanks." David sat down. "Where's Lane?"
"Getting ready. I think she's as nervous as you are." Lamont poured two glasses of scotch from the sidebar, then handed one to David.
David nodded his thanks, took a sip, then set it on the end table next to him and took a whiff of the air. "Dinner smells good. What is it?"
"Chicken cordon bleu, green beans almondine, and creme brulee for dessert, if you're still hungry afterward."
Lamont smiled at the young man sitting rather stiffly on the sofa. "Relax, David. I promise she's not going to back out on you."
David laughed slightly. "Is it that obvious what's on my mind?"
"Only to someone who knows what to look for."
David shook his head. "I don't know why I'm so nervous."
"Because this is the most significant night of your life so far, perhaps?" Lamont sipped his drink and leaned against the mantle.
"If that ain't the truth." He turned to retrieve his drink from the side table...and stopped suddenly.
The spot where he could have sworn he set the glass was empty. He began looking around for it.
If Lamont noticed, he gave no indication of it. "You know, I never actually proposed to Margo. We were having a conversation, she said something about our children, I said something about us getting married first, and only then did we realize we'd decided to spend the rest of our lives together. I wonder what that says about us?"
David couldn't for the life of him figure out where he'd set his glass--every table around him was empty. "It...uh...says that you were comfortable in your togetherness and in your identity as a couple," he said, looking very confused.
"True. I guess we've always known we were meant to be together. The moment we met, we felt this strange connection that never seemed to let go. Did you know Lane was the one when you met?"
"I...I think I did. But I guess I tried to convince myself she wasn't for a while." David found himself scanning tables across the room, even though he knew there was no way he'd put his glass anywhere other than right next to his right hand on the end table next to the sofa. But that spot was still empty, and the glass wasn't anywhere in sight.
Lamont laughed slightly. "I did the same. I tried to deny I was madly in love with Margo, but I just couldn't get her out of my mind. She was everywhere. My thoughts...my dreams...my bedroom, of all places. But that's another story for another time." He nodded toward the coffee table. "If you're looking for your scotch, I think it's right there."
David looked where Lamont's eyes were pointing, and saw his glass sitting right in front of him. Funny...he could have sworn he hadn't set it there, and even if he had, he knew it hadn't been there a moment ago. He reached for the glass.
His fingers went right through it, and it dissolved into so much dust and swept away.
David drew back.
Lamont raised an eyebrow. "Something wrong?"
It took a moment for David to remember that Lane had once told him Lamont was an accomplished amateur magician. "Nice trick," he commented dryly. "How'd you do it?"
Lamont looked sly. "You tell me."
"Well..." David looked around carefully. "Normally, it's done with mirrors. But I don't see any around the table, so I'm curious. How did you project the image onto the table?"
"I didn't." His gaze shifted to a corner of the coffee table.
David suddenly saw another glass of scotch sitting right where Lamont was looking. "Another fake, I suspect." He reached for it...and wasn't surprised when his fingers went right through it. "That's very clever. I'd be very interested to know how you did it."
"It's an illusion."
"I understand that. But illusions such as this require projectors and mirrors to make them work."
"You still think the glass was projected onto the table."
"Of course. Where else would it be projected?"
"Your mind, perhaps?"
David laughed. "No, illusion involves tricking the eyes, not the mind."
"Or using the mind to trick the eyes." Lamont glanced at the side table.
Out of the corner of his eye, David suddenly saw another glass...this time in the spot where he knew he'd originally set it. He cautiously reached for it.
His fingers impacted the glass, and he drew back again. "All right...how did you do that?"
"You tell me."
David once more reached for the glass, then closed his fingers around it in an effort to convince himself it was indeed real. "You were somehow able to trick me into looking away while someone slipped in and took the glass away, then kept me distracted with the false images while someone put it back. But how? I didn't notice any classic magician's distraction tactics the first time, like a puff of smoke or flash of light, or even a dramatic gesture to focus my attention on your hands instead of the rest of the room."
"You're presuming the glass actually moved. What if it was still there, but you just couldn't see it?"
David shook his head. "It had to have moved."
"Because invisibility is impossible."
"I never said it was invisible. I said you couldn't see it. There's a difference."
"Now you're talking about the difference between perception and reality. Magicians use sleight-of-hand, mirrors, projectors, and distraction to manipulate reality, so that what you perceive is different from what is real. But it's all a trick, easily explained by physics and skepticism." He took a swig of the scotch and set the glass down on the side table again, making sure not to take his eyes off it this time.
Lamont looked amused. "So I used a trick to make you not see the glass."
David looked around the glass. "Now that I don't know. A mirror, perhaps, or a small film projector..."
David laughed heartily and looked at the man by the fireplace. "No offense, Lamont, but I'm a trained psychologist. I know all about hypnosis. And there is no way you could have hypnotized me without me knowing it."
"Are you sure about that?"
As if on cue, the glass vanished.
David jumped. "What the...?"
"There are more ways of manipulating reality than you have ever studied in your years in academia. And one
of them is through hypnotic telepathic projection...direct manipulation of a person's thoughts in ways that all but the most
gifted of adept minds will never detect." Lamont gestured at the table. "You can't see the glass right now, but I assure
you it's still there. Pick it up."
David hesitated, then cautiously reached for the side table.
His fingers brushed against the glass.
He drew back from the sensation, then cautiously reached for it again.
It was still there, still palpable to his touch but invisible to his eyes. He carefully closed his fingers around it and picked it up.
The space his hand was closed around shimmered and swirled, as if something wasn't quite in focus, and then his vision cleared to see the glass again. "How..."
"Hypnotic telepathic projection."
David shook his head. "No. Mental telepathy doesn't exist. It is scientifically impossible."
"At least as far as you know." Lamont chuckled. "Some sufficiently motivated scientist may yet one day prove otherwise. But right now, most men of science don't even suspect such things are possible...that the power of the mind can be used in this way."
David shook his head again and laughed nervously. "All right, if you're trying to rattle me, you're doing a good job. But this bit about telepathy, the power of the mind--that's going too far. Someone who doesn't know you're only kidding might think you're crazy..."
Just like they thought your father was?
David jumped. That voice...it wasn't a spoken voice. Lamont's lips hadn't moved. But his words rang through his head, just like that voice he'd heard in his dreams last night...
That voice wasn't in your dreams. It was in your mind, just like mine is now.
David felt himself shaking. If that voice was real, then everything else that had happened last night was real..."No. That's impossible."
No, David, it's not.
David jumped again. That voice wasn't Lamont's...it was Lane's. He looked all around.
A multi-colored swirl settled on the sofa beside him and solidified into the form of Lane Cranston.
David nearly leapt off the couch.
Lane put her hand on his shoulder to steady him...and herself. What my father's telling you is real, her mental voice said nervously. He's a projective telepath...a psychic with the power to put his thoughts into other people's minds. So am I.
David looked completely confused. "What...where did you just come from? How did you do that?"
I've been here the whole time. You just couldn't see me. She gestured with her head toward a corner of the room. I was in the shadows.
David's eyes widened. He'd heard the rumors and stories since he was a child, but there was no way it was real..."Wait a minute...The Shadow?"
She laughed The Shadow's ringing laugh. Oh, no. That's not me. That's him. She glanced over his shoulder.
David turned around--and saw Monty standing just behind the sofa. This time, he did jump out of his seat. "What is going on here?"
Sit down, David, Monty urged.
David shook his head. "This is crazy. I've got to get out of here..."
Sit! Lane snapped.
David felt his thoughts shift suddenly, and he sat back down next to Lane. Then, as quickly as the sensation of unquestioning obedience had come, it was gone. He stared at Lane. "Why did I just do that?"
I hypnotized you into sitting down, Lane told him. Just like I hypnotized you into falling asleep last night.
David drew back. "That was you I saw last night."
She nodded. I was dressed a little different, but yes, that was me who tackled you in the hotel lobby.
"Oh, my God..." He rubbed his temples, looking completely disoriented. "If all of that was real...then what about all those things I kept seeing?" He looked over at her. "I saw you everywhere I looked last night...lots of dark shadows, but always your face. Was that you putting all that in my mind?"
Not exactly. Now Lane had no idea where to go from here. She looked to her father and brother.
"A little confusing, isn't it?"
David turned at the sound of the first spoken words he'd heard in quite a while to see Margo Lane Cranston walking into the room. "When it first started happening to me, I was completely bewildered, too," she told him. "I really thought Lamont and I just had this indescribable connection to each other. I had no idea that I was a telepath, too."
Now David knew the entire Cranston family had completely lost touch with reality. He'd have sworn this was all a gigantic put-on if every face in the room wasn't wearing a serious expression. "Now wait a minute...you're saying I'm telepathic?"
Margo sat down in a chair and turned to him, smiling gently and soothingly. "No, not at all. You're not telepathic. You're clairvoyant."
David looked aghast. "What?"
You have the ability to see things from afar as they're happening, Monty interjected. Things that you otherwise could not see by any conventional means. It's an incredible gift, one I wish I had. It would certainly make The Shadow's job much easier.
This was getting to be too much. "Now, hold on. You're telling me that out of the blue, I can suddenly see things on my own private television screen?"
Not out of the blue, Lane replied. You've always been able to. Think about it for a minute. You've always been able to anticipate people or things coming around a corner...tell who's about to knock on your door...know when not to step off a curb in front of traffic...everything that you've always sworn was just luck or coincidence was actually a clairvoyant vision. That's why you kept seeing me last night. You felt as if you absolutely needed to talk to me, needed to know where I was...and your latent clairvoyance found me for you.
David looked bewildered. "But I don't understand...if I've always been able to do this, why didn't I know it?"
You did. But you've always denied it and tried to come up with some other explanation for it, because you were afraid if you let yourself see things, you'd go crazy just like your father.
He felt himself shake. "You mean he wasn't crazy? He really was seeing things?"
Sometimes what your mind sees can make you crazy if you deal with it in the wrong way, Lamont said. A lot of adepts don't know they're adepts...and so all the things that are happening in their head eventually drive them mad. It happened to my father...to my entire family... He looked away for a moment. ...and to me. I had so much pressure inside my head that I took my anger and my pain out on others, in ways that I am deeply ashamed of now. Left unchecked, I'd have gone mad or dropped dead long before now, just like the rest of my family. He looked back at David. But I broke the cycle...thanks to a teacher who helped me understand my gifts. He taught me how to focus my mind and use it to help others instead of harming them.
Stories from his childhood filled David's head suddenly, news on the radio of a mysterious avenger who righted wrongs, who appeared and disappeared without warning, who struck terror into the hearts of lawbreakers and gave hope to everyone else. A vigilante known as..."The Shadow," he said in an awed voice. "You were The Shadow."
"I remember wondering as a kid if those stories were true...if he really existed, if he could really appear out of nowhere like they always said he did. Oh, my God..." David turned to Margo. "And you're telepathic, too, but not the same way."
Margo nodded. "I'm a more traditional telepath...the receptive kind. I read minds. I can project, but I usually don't because it's not the way my mind works naturally. Lamont and I are kind of like two sides of the same coin, or opposite sides of a scale. But I would never have known that had I not met Lamont...and had he not helped me understand all the strange things that were going on inside my head."
David looked at Monty, then at Lane. "And so both of you..."
...are projective telepaths like Dad, Monty said. Lane got a lot more of Mom's receptive nature than I did, but we're both projectors.
Lane nodded. Both of us. I used to be a lot more balanced psychically than I am now. The older I've gotten, the stronger I've gotten projectively.
David was trying to understand. He stared at Lane for a moment. "So you're The Shadow now..."
No, that's Monty, Lane corrected. But I'm in training to do it.
As incredible as the entire story was, he was amazed to find he was actually starting to believe it. How could he deny it? After all, he'd actually witnessed this strange mental acuity in action. "But it was you who threw me to the ground last night."
Lane took a deep breath and nodded. Yes, David. I saved your life. It now belongs to me.
Now the story had gotten off-track again. "What?"
Lane held up her left hand. You once asked me why I wear this ring.
David nodded. "You told me it was some sort of Tibetan luck ring. But obviously, it's not."
No. It's the symbol of a high Tibetan holy man named The Marpa Tulku. He was the teacher who saved Dad's life...who helped him harness his powers...who turned him into The Shadow. She took a deep breath to calm her nerves, then looked him in the eye. This ring is the symbol of the life debt my father has to The Marpa Tulku. In turn, The Shadow passes on that life debt to those he rescues from the evil that lurks in the hearts of men. They become agents of The Shadow--his eyes, his ears, his voice in the world around us. There are literally hundreds of agents all over the world...and among them are four powerful telepaths named Cranston. She gestured at her mother and brother. All of us are alive today because of my father. Monty and I are both very proud to follow in our father's footsteps, to continue his mission of driving evil from the shadows and into the light, where it cannot survive. And as Shadows, we too pass along Marpa Tulku's life debt to those we save...like you. She took his left hand, then slipped a heavy silver fire opal ring onto his ring finger. Never take it off. It will identify you to others as one of us.
David just stared at the ring for a long moment. Everything was happening so fast...yet it was actually making some bizarre sort of sense in his head. "So...what do we do now?"
Lane blushed. Well...if I haven't completely scared you away yet, I believe you did come here to ask me something.
It felt like so long ago that David had actually arrived this evening that he'd almost forgotten why he'd come in the first place. "I did, didn't I?" He fumbled through his pockets, finally finding a small velvet box. "Well, this ring doesn't have nearly the dramatic story of the one you just gave me. But I think it's pretty neat." He opened the box to reveal the small diamond ring inside it. "This was my mother's. It was something my father worked very hard for--saved his wages for months to buy it back in 1928. It's really a tiny thing. But to her, it was priceless. And it meant the world to her. I hope it will mean something to you, too." He took Lane's left hand, then realized there was already a ring on her left ring finger. "Uh..."
Lane quickly extended her right hand to him.
David got the message and slipped the ring onto her third finger, then got down on one knee. "It's true I owe you my life. But last night I finally got it through this thick head of mine that without you, my life wouldn't be worth living, anyway. And if I'm going to see you in my head like that all the time, I'd like to know it's because you're coming home to me when your work is done. Will you marry me?"
Lane looked as if she were about to cry. "Yes," she whispered.
He laughed. "Good to hear your voice again. Uh...I mean, I know I was hearing your voice, but..."
"I know what you meant." She clutched his hand tightly.
David put his arms around her, and the two of them held each other lovingly, laughing and crying at the same time.
Margo came over and embraced her husband, who also looked to be fighting back tears. "Just an old softie," she teased.
Lamont kissed the top of Margo's head. "You're right about that."
Lane and David finally broke their embrace long enough to accept congratulations from the rest of the family. Handshakes, hugs, and happy words were exchanged all around. David laughed slightly. "Finally, everyone's talking again," he observed.
"We have a rule in this household," Lane told him. "We speak out loud unless the situation requires otherwise. Projection is reserved for private conversations and mission discussions."
"It was a compromise," Margo added. "Left to his own devices, Lamont would never speak out loud. I, on the other hand, have to work to converse telepathically."
"Which is why we have a day of silence on Sundays," Monty added. "No one's allowed to speak with their physical voices until after sundown. First one to break the silence has to take everybody else out to dinner. It forces all of us to work on our projection skills and lets Dad have a day where he doesn't have to work so hard to reign in his mental voice."
David shook his head. "That is just amazing. I only have one question...how do I learn to control the stuff in my head the way you all have obviously learned to control yours?"
Lane looked at her family. "Uh...well..."
Sit down, David, Lamont said firmly.
David sat. "Guess this must be another private conversation."
Sort of. Lamont smiled. One of the reasons you had to be told this tonight is that you came dangerously close to being completely unable to control your mind last night.
David laughed nervously. "If that ain't the truth. I felt like I was going mad. No matter where I looked, I kept seeing things that weren't there...those clairvoyant images of my mind trying to find Lane."
Lamont nodded. Last night, you had what my teacher calls a partial psychic awakening--that is, part of your mental energies spilled over the barriers that all psychic minds unconsciously build to protect themselves. The spillover of energy unlocked some of your latent psychic powers in such a way that you will experience them, but have no control over them. It happens a lot to unawakened adepts, usually when they're under some sort of mental stress. I went through three partial awakenings before I finally fully awakened, and every one of them left me with strange things going on in my head that I didn't understand and couldn't control at all. The good news is that partial awakenings relieve stress on the psychic barriers and allow them to go on protecting you for a little longer. The bad news is that eventually, those barriers are going to fall, and you will lose complete control of your psychic powers when that happens.
That's what probably happened to your father, Lane told him. He kept having partial awakenings that exposed more and more of his clairvoyance, but without any control over it. Finally, when he did fully awaken, his mind couldn't handle it, and that's when he had the stroke that killed him.
The good news, Monty added, is that with proper guidance and care, a full awakening brings life, not death. Dad guided all three of us through our awakenings...I don't know if we'd have survived without that kind of help.
David looked uneasy. "So, I'll need to stay here until I 'awaken'?"
Lamont shook his head. No. Trust me, the last place you want to awaken is Manhattan. Even for someone as unreceptive as me, it's unbearably loud psychically when you have no defenses. Monty awakened here, and we very nearly lost him because of it. He looked chilled by the memory, then steadied himself. My children give me a great deal of credit that I don't completely deserve. Their own strength allowed them to survive their awakenings--I was just there to make sure that nothing or no one hurt them while they came through it. But my teacher, The Marpa Tulku, who is much better at this than I could ever dream of being, is now in America. His monastery is on Slide Mountain in the Catskills. His whole reason for existence is to guide adepts like you through their awakenings and teach them to control their psychic gifts. He would be glad to work with you and help you come to terms with all of this.
David's face now bore signs of uncertainty. "When do I need to leave?"
As soon as possible.
"How long will I be gone?"
Hard to say. My awakening lasted five days, but I'm atypical. Margo's lasted a day and a half, Monty and Lane's took three each. But it's not just getting through the awakening. Your mind will need to heal afterward, and then it takes weeks, months, and sometimes years to learn to control the newly-revealed powers and use them to their maximum ability.
David gulped. "Did you say...years?"
Lamont gave a reassuring smile. I doubt it will take you that long. But it will probably take several months for you to be able to resume a normal life afterward.
David's eyes widened. "But...what about my job? Barnard's not going to look kindly on me just disappearing for several months...I'll lose my tenure, at the very least."
You did say you were thinking about applying for a sabbatical, Lane reminded him. This would be the ideal time.
"Yes, but I needed to have applied months ago if I want the next year off. There is no way I could get one approved in time for what you're talking about..."
Oh, yes, there is. Lamont smiled. The Shadow has agents in several key positions at Barnard and Columbia, including the Board of Regents. If The Shadow said it was necessary for an agent to be granted sabbatical for an assignment, you'd have your approval inside of 24 hours. Guaranteed.
David looked stunned. "You're serious."
Go see Charles Aquilina tomorrow morning. Tell him, "The sun is shining." He will answer, "But the ice is slippery." When he does, give him your sabbatical paperwork and tell him you need it approved before the end of the day for a critical assignment. If you have any problems, tell Monty. He'll take care of it.
Monty chuckled sinisterly. I'll make sure he doesn't forget his obligations. He owes me a very large favor, because I saved him from a very large explosion not all that long ago.
David was speechless. Just a few hours ago, he'd have thought this entire conversation was completely insane. Now, his whole world view had been turned upside down. Anything seemed possible now...and nothing seemed impossible. "I...I don't know what to say."
Lamont smiled wryly. You could start with "thank you" and work your way up from there.
David laughed nervously. "'Thank you' feels incredibly inadequate. But I'll start there." He turned to Lane. "Will you wait for me to come through all of this?"
Lane gave him a mock-scolding glare. After all we've been through tonight, do you think I'd even consider walking away?
David clutched her hands tightly. "I love you so much."
Lane beamed. "I love you, too."
They looked into each other's eyes, as if each was the only other person in the room.
Monty looked at his parents. "Think I'll see if dinner's almost ready."
"Good idea," Lane said, never taking her eyes off David.
Monty winked at his sister, then left the room.
Margo nudged her husband slightly. "Shall we let the kids have some privacy?"
Lamont sighed. "If you insist." He offered his wife his arm, and the two of them left the parlor together.
Lane watched them go, then turned back to David and smiled. "Finally, we're alone."
David laughed. "How can you be sure in this place?"
"Oh, don't worry. I can tell what's lurking in the shadows. Trust me, there is no one in here but us."
"Good. Then I can finally do this." He pulled her into his arms and planted a deep, rich kiss on her lips.
They broke for air, and Lane smiled blissfully. "I have been waiting all day for you to do that."
"Sorry. I was a little busy worrying about whether you were going to back out on me after you'd had time to sleep on it."
"Never. They'd have to lock me up and throw away the key to keep me away from you."
"Even when I've gone out of my mind in a Tibetan monastery up in the mountains?"
"Don't worry. All of us went out of our minds years ago. You'll fit right in with the family."
"I'll say. About an hour ago, I'd have said you were all completely mad."
"Well, I am mad...mad about you, that is."
David shook his head. "What's say we stop talking and start kissing?"
Lane looked wicked. I don't have to stop talking to start kissing.
He laughed. "You have got to teach me to do that."
Later. There are more important things to do first. She put her hand on the back of his head and pulled him close.
They dissolved into a luscious, passionate kiss that conveyed more than words could ever hope to.