Author's notes: This is the last installment of the trilogy I began with "Seeds of Destiny". If you haven't read that story yet, please start with that story and continue with "Winds of God" before reading "Prodigal Son". That will make this story much more understandable, although I hope this story will be an enjoyable read even without reading the previous installments.
I don't usually put disclaimers on my stories, but maybe it's time to do so. The characters-- Green Hornet/Britt Reid, Kato, Lenore "Casey" Case, Frank Scanlon, Mike Axford, Gunnigan (or Dunnigan?), Linda Travis and Ed Lowrey, are all copyrighted characters originating with either the Green Hornet TV series or with the radio dramas of the 30's-early 50's. As such I have no claim to them, but feel honored for the privilege to be able to "play" with them. The other characters were created by myself.
This has been a journey of many, many years for me. I hope everyone will enjoy it as much as I have.
The Prodigal Son
The Man in Black
The Man in Black or L'homme Noir as he was called in France, watched the sleek limousine slide through the mansion's wrought iron gates. It was dark now and although it was spring, the air had a cold bite to it. It didn't matter much to him. Excitement warmed his blood. Beneath the black hood his thin lips curled into a smile. On the small video screen in his car he saw the limousine roll along the short drive up to the porte cochere. A uniformed doorman opened the car's door. Out stepped The Man in Black's target, Julius Archer, and his current mistress, Shannon de la Culebra. Next to come to the gate was The Man in Black's distraction.
An old AMC Gremlin came to a wheezing stop near the guard shack on the side opposite from the gate just as he had instructed. A young couple dressed in prom clothes stepped out of the car and began to argue loudly.
"You stupid idiot!" the short haired blonde girl shouted at the young man. "I told you not to buy that car!" she screamed.
"I told you I bought it as an investment!"the red-haired young man screamed back.
"Well, you should've bought an investment that ran!"
"It runs okay. I just need to make a few adjustments."
"I knew I should've gone to the dance with Jerry. He has a nice car," she complained.
"Nice car? He uses his parent's minivan."
"Yeah? Well at least it runs."
"C'mon, baby, give me a chance," the young man said as he struggled to open the bobtailed compact's long hood. "I'll get you to the dance on time."
"No you won't," the girl accused as she stormed toward the guard shack.
"Hey, buddy, can you lend me a phone?" she yelled as she banged on the shack's plexiglass window. "My Cell's dead."
"Go away," the guard told the girl, "You're on private property."
"No, I'm not. This sidewalk is public property. Don't you know anything? C'mon can't you just let me use your phone? My dorky date's car just died."
"I'm not a dork!" her date screamed from under the hood.
"Yes, you are! You're the biggest all time dork in the whole world!" the girl screamed.
"No, I'm not!" he screamed back.
"C'mon, buddy, give me a break. Will 'ya let me use your phone?" she demanded again as she banged on the window even harder than before.
"I told you to go away!" the guard yelled at her. "I'll call the cops if you don't stop banging on the glass."
She continued banging on the glass. "Call the god damn cops! Have them take my dorky boyfriend and his freakin' wreck away!"
"I told you I'm not a dork!" the boy screamed again. "And don't you call the Gremster that. You'll be sorry when I get it all fixed up."
"You're never going to fix that god damn wreck. The next place it's going to is the junkyard."
Staying within the shadows, The Man in Black slid near the guard shack.
"No, it ain't! I spent a lot of good money on it!" the boy protested.
"Good money?" the girl shot back. "You spent all of five hundred dollars for it."
"Yeah, well that was money I worked hard for."
"Yeah, at Burger King. Jeez, what a cheesy job. I knew I should've gone with Tommy. He asked me out just like Jerry did. He's got a good job at Blockbuster."
"Just to let you know," the boy shot back, "They're planning on making me assistant manager."
"Yeah? Well, Tommy can get me DVD'S at a discount. That's a hell of a lot better than a discount on a hamburger." She turned to bang on the guard shack's window.
"I told you kid, to stop banging on the window," the guard growled, grabbing the girl's arm.
The girl squealed. "Hey! You're hurting me!"
The Man in Black slipped into the guard shack. He found the controls for the gates and made a few adjustments to them.
"Hey buddy!" the young man yelled at the guard as he poked his head out from under the car's hood. "Don't you dare hurt my girlfriend."
"I'm telling you kids one last time to get away from here," the guard yelled at the boy.
Struggling to free her arm, the girl began to batter the guard about the face and chest with her other hand. "Let me go, you freakin' bastard!" she screamed.
The guard vainly struggled to catch the flailing hand while trying to keep a hold on the other arm. Screaming at siren pitch, the girl began to kick at his shins. He looked up to see the young man storming toward him. The young man was a lot wider across the shoulders than he had originally thought and had exchanged his tuxedo coat for a varsity football jacket.
"Get your freakin' hands off my girl!" the young man roared. He shoved the guard, sending him tumbling for balance.
The Man in Black slipped past the guard shack to the gates. He pressed a button and the gate swung open on well-oiled hinges.
The guard angrily charged the young man who fell back under his assault.
"Hey! Don't you hurt my boyfriend!" the girl screamed at the guard as she started back to hitting him.
He struggled to catch the girl's flailing hands.
"Hey, I told you not to touch my girl!" the young man growled, charging for the guard again.
The Man in Black pressed the gates gently closed. He touched another button. The Gremlin's engine compartment exploded into flames and smoke. A lot of smoke. He smiled. By the time the smoke cleared the guard would be alone with only the battered vehicle in sight. The car would be towed away and as he had promised the young man it would reappear fully restored to its former, if somewhat oddly designed, glory. The girl too would be richly rewarded. A shopping spree at Nieman Marcus and a visit to their day spa had been her chosen reward.
Staying well within the shadows, The Man in Black slipped among the bushes lining the driveway. He carefully timed his movement, moving in sympathy with the light wind that had appeared with the setting of the sun. He did not move too fast or too slow, making sure that his movements had a broken rhythm. The house was well-guarded with many closed circuit cameras and alarms scattered throughout. But if he was careful, his furtive journey would not be noticed.
He didn't like making his move so early in the evening, but it was the only way to ensure that there would be a minimum of alarms activated. Careful study through the various spy-cams he had secreted on his many social visits to the mansion had taught him the normal rhythms of the household. Once Archer and his mistress had retired to his rooms the servants would start securing the doors and windows. First would be the ground floor, then the second. Last would be the servants quarters. Then the head butler would turn on all the alarms except for those connected with Archer's rooms.
Archer was a restless sleeper who preferred wide-open windows in the coldest of weather. Too, he and the De la Culebra woman often entertained themselves sexually well into the night and oftentimes well into the morning. Only if he felt the need or if his chief of security insisted, would the billionaire secure and alarm egress into his rooms. The Man in Black was counting on the fact that Archer had just recently fired his head of security. Security would be lax for a while until someone new stepped in and tightened up things.
His only problem would be the dogs who were released to roam the grounds after the household was secured. He had something in mind that should take care of them readily.
He moved to the rear of the mansion to the back door leading into the kitchen. He placed into his ear a tiny earphone bud and listened. From the bug he had planted in the kitchen a few days ago, the Man in Black heard the chef ring Archer's quarters. The chef asked about whether the master would be needing something before the kitchen was shut down for the night. An order was made for several cans of aerosol whip cream and strawberries.
The chef gathered the requested ingredients, and sent the upstairs butler to Archer with them. The Man in Black crouched close to the shadows along the wall as the kitchen boy gathered up the final bag of garbage, set it into a trash can next to the door and then closed the door with a click. Next came another click as the door was locked and the knob twisted to make sure it was secure. The Man in Black watched the lights turn off, then waited several minutes to make sure no one would return. He pressed the tiny buttons on the flexible control panel on his wrist. Each button represented a bug in a different part of the house. He listened carefully as each part of the ground floor became progressively silent. Now, he thought after counting to 60 after the last footsteps up the stairs.
He quickly unlocked the back door and slipped silently through. The kitchen was immaculate with the brushed stainless steel counters gleaming in the dim light from the hallway beyond. Shiny brass and aluminum pots hung from a rack over a food preparation counter. Crouching low, The Man in Black crept through the kitchen to the hallway beyond.
Soon he was just a door away from the mansion's grand foyer, one of the most hazardous parts of his plan. The huge chandelier had been shut off but several smaller sconces lit the large space. There were shadows aplenty but there was still too much exposed space for him to cross without worrying about being detected. He would have preferred the servants' access ways as there were more places to hide, but this early in the night the servants were constantly moving through them on their evening duties.
The thin rubber soles of his slippers made no sound on the highly polished Italian tile as he carefully ventured into room. Halfway across he heard the sound of a slamming door, and the quick rapping of hard soled footsteps down the marble stairs.
The upstairs butler was muttering to himself in Portugese, but the Man in Black knew enough of the language to know he was cursing all the saints and making up new ones as he went along. Apparently the master wanted the flavored whip cream, not the vanilla, and yes, of course, more strawberries. He passed the Man in Black without noticing him. There was too much on his mind including new ways to curse the chef. Too much to notice that the ornate gilded table set in the center of the foyer had grown an extra shadow.
As soon as the butler disappeared through the hallway leading to the kitchen, The Man in Black hurried the rest of the way across to the public areas of the mansion. Few visitors ever saw the upper floors where Archer's rooms were, nor did they often see the working parts of the household such as the kitchen.
Archer preferred to conduct much of his business entertainment at home where he could control matters far better than at a hotel or convention hall. The public areas included several guest rooms, dining rooms, both the grand dining room with a table long enough to seat fifty people and the more intimate room that could only seat fifteen. Here too, were rooms for business meetings and a ballroom that much like those found in convention centers could be sized according to an event's attendance.
Beyond these rooms were rooms devoted to entertainment, a huge bowling alley, a theater that could be used for film or live productions, and a pool that could be opened to the outside in good weather. The Man in Black passed these all by without the merest glance. Over the months that he had stayed in this dreary city he had studied the possibilities of each, but found them all wanting just as he had dismissed the upper floor.
Last was the art gallery. Too obvious, he had decided at first, but now it was his last resort. He still did not think it was a good candidate. Archer had shown him around it on his first visit to the mansion. At that time The Man in Black had managed to install one of his spy-cams unseen. It had revealed that for all the rarity of the precious sculptures and paintings that filled its walls and covered its floor space, Archer rarely went there except to show off his possessions to his guests. The Man in Black thought that logically Archer should come many times to relish the sight of the something he had stolen right under everyone's noses.
The Man in Black had managed to convince Archer that he was a great admirer of the arts, so whenever he came to one of Archer's parties, the art gallery was always part of his visit. Behind his black hood, the Man in Black smiled. The billionaire had felt so confident of his security that he had even gotten to the point of allowing him to view the gallery unsupervised. Now with the touch of a few buttons The Man in Black's several countermeasure devices came into play. He was able to enter the gallery as easily as he would be his own apartment.
He moved silently among Archer's treasures. It would be so tempting to forget his goal and pick up one or two of the lovely things that glittered within the glass cases he passed. A heavy necklace of huge emeralds and diamonds especially caught his eye. It was a crude thing, the emeralds and diamonds were roughly cut, but not due to carelessness, but because it was very old, made when the faceting of gems was still in its infancy. It would be worth a great deal as an artifact or broken down and the gems recut in a more modern style. As separate gems it would be near to impossible to trace. His hands itched. It was so very tempting. He sighed. A French prison was not the place in which he wanted to spend the rest of his life. Which is where he would go if he did not stick to the plan.
He moved on carefully, passing each precious thing with a regretful sigh. Time was passing quickly. He had to force himself to the job at hand. Reaching the far wall, he began to slowly search it for signs of a hidden door, something that might lead to a secret room or a safe. He took out a device from a slender tool bag that hung from his belt. The device would be able to tell him whether the wall before him was solid or had a space behind it. Finally he found something, but he was careful not to be too excited about it. It was logical that a room like this would contain a safe. It did not necessarily contain what he was looking for.
Running his hand gently across the wall's smooth wall, he found a slight irregularity and pressed it. A section of the wall slid open with a soft whoosh. Inside was a dimly lighted room. The Man in Black was keenly tempted to pull out the night vision goggles in his tool kit, but restrained from doing so. If the lights should suddenly come on he could be blinded for too long. Perhaps fatally so. He was not called a cat burglar for nothing. His vision was unusually sharp in dim light. Not there was much to see in this room. There were no pictures hanging from the walls, no glass cases set in them either. Nothing.
The only thing in the room was a large upholstered easy chair. Its back was toward him, but he could see what looked like the top of a head showing just above the high back. Intrigued, The Man in Black walked over to the chair, and turned it around. Suddenly bright lights came on all around him as a grotesquely painted mechanical clown in the chair began to vibrate with insane giggles. The air was filled with manic laughter. Although he was nearly blinded, The Man in Black saw the door starting to close shut.
He leapt through the door, sweeping up the light extension rod he had left in the doorway. The laughter was trapped in the room as the door closed, but now the air was filled with wailing sirens. The Man in Black cursed his luck. All this work for nothing. There was only one way out; the one he had planned for.
Near the gallery were the stairs to Archer's rooms on the second floor. He raced up them, taking two and three at a time. All the doors were closed at the top of the stairs, except for one that was slightly ajar. The Man in Black burst through it.
For a moment he froze in shock. It was a vision he would not soon forget. The De la Culebra woman was lying on the bed wearing nothing but a bikini made up of pink whip cream and strawberries, not bad, but it was Archer's appearance that made The Man in Black's stomach turn upside down. The billionaire was totally nude except for a covering of pale green whipping cream over his privates. Incongruously, the question as to whether it was kiwi or lime flavored ran through his head. Perhaps someday he be able to forget the sight of Archer's bony hipped haunches and the way the vertebrae stair-stepped up the his thin back.
"Madame, Monsieur, pardon moi. Please return to what you are doing," he said with a slight bow before launching himself through the open French doors. He flew over the small balcony, catching the outstretched limb on a big oak tree and spun over the limb to land on the soft lawn in an impact absorbing roll.
All around him were screaming alarms as the night sky was filled with dancing beams from flashlights as guards charged onto the grounds looking for the intruder. Above the shouts of the men he could hear the dogs barking. The Man in Black pushed another button on his wristlet as he ran for the rear gate, the same one the guards were coming through. Two viciously growling dogs appeared out of the bushes ahead of him. It was too late to pull out the pepper spray.
Barely above the growling he could hear a thin buzzing. The small gas powered planes he had planted in trees near the walls outside the grounds were finally making their appearance. Bright flashes of light and clouds of pepper gas filled the air as the planes dropped their payloads over the pursuing guards. The dogs started milling about in confusion as the dog whistles attached to the planes' wings began to blow. Gunfire erupted as the guards fired on the planes.
That only made things worse as the flash bombs and packets of pepper spray exploded when the planes were hit. Police cars with their wailing sirens and flashing light bars added to the pandemonium. Instead of running The Man in Black found a comfortable spot under the cover of blooming bushes to wait out the confusion he had created.
After an hour or two, things began to calm down as the guards collected whining dogs, and shattered airplanes. The police pulled out their notepads and began questioning everyone in sight. The rear gates were still open. It was time to go. The Man in Black pulled off his hood, folded it into his satchel and casually walked past empty police cars parked on the gravel roadbed.
The Man in Black moodily watched the sunrise from his apartment window. A glass of good French wine, none of that California stuff for him, thank you, was in his hand. He caught the sun's rays in the ruby-red wine, studying it morosely. It was impossible. He had looked everywhere and it was nowhere to be found. Perhaps the information was wrong. Archer was not the one. He refused to believe that. His sources were usually infallible. However there was always a first time.
The idea of spending another season in this city was unthinkable. He was already missing a Parisian spring for this nonsense. At this point he would be willing to risk a lifetime sentence in La Sante prison just for a weekend romp on the Riviera. Hell, he thought, a lifetime buried in the belly of the Bastille would be better than spending a summer in this depressing city.
He pulled himself unsteadily from the chair and walked over to the table. On it were reams of paper and blueprints. He had studied the blueprints so much that his dreams were filled with blue and white lines that went everywhere and nowhere. Maudire, he cursed as he swept the papers off the desk. It was hopeless.
Falling to land on his bare foot was an ivory envelope. It was an invitation to a Charity Ball at Archer's mansion. He was ready to tear it into tiny bits when a thought appeared in his mind. It was worth one last chance. Who knows this might be a sign. He would go. He already had in mind who he would invite to the ball.