The Tragic Comedy
A Shadow Short Story By Scarlet
(Note: This story uses the 1994 film's versions of Lamont Cranston and Margo Lane...S)
Lamont Cranston shifted his position on the overstuffed sofa in the lobby of the Milford Plaza Hotel and looked at his wristwatch for what had to have been the third time in ten minutes. "We are going to be late for dinner," he sighed.
"Look who's talking," Margo Lane teased, leaning over from the adjacent armchair and tapping him with her purse. "Mr. Hour-Late-For-Every-Occasion."
Lamont grimaced, guilty as charged. It was a Cranston family trait, magnified by his side duties as The Shadow. "At least I usually have an excuse."
"Really? Shadows on your sundial?"
He smiled in spite of himself. Sometimes, Margo was downright naughty. "Something like that." He glanced at his watch again.
"Stop that," she scolded. "She'll be here any minute."
"Probably making a grand entrance."
"Well, darling, she is an actress."
He nodded, then smiled mischievously. "Did I ever tell you I dated an actress once?"
She gave him a look that would melt steel. "Just once?"
He played innocent. "Would I lie to you?"
She rolled her eyes. "One of your many conquests, I take it? Probably blonde, built, and bubbleheaded?"
"As shallow as a puddle on the pavement after a spring rain."
"And just as oily?"
The ringing of the elevator bell attracted both of their attentions, and they turned toward the sound.
A dark-haired petite woman in a vibrant red evening gown crossed the lobby, followed closely by a hulking muscleman in a tight-fitting tuxedo.
"Bonnie?" Margo called, rising out of her chair.
The woman turned toward them. "Margo!" she squealed, hurrying over to her.
The two women embraced warmly in the lobby, giggling like a couple of schoolgirls. "It has been ages," Bonnie told Margo. "How are you?"
"Doing great," she replied. "I don't have to ask how you are--all I have to do is pick up the papers and read the theatrical news."
"Only believe about half of it." She looked over at Lamont, who had risen from the sofa to stand behind Margo. "And who is this handsome man?"
"Oh, I'm sorry," Margo laughed. "Lamont Cranston, this is Bonnie DeMarco."
"How do you do, Miss DeMarco?" Lamont said, extending his right hand.
"The Lamont Cranston?" Bonnie looked impressed as she offered her hand.
"I don't think there's another one," he smiled.
She shook his hand, then turned to Margo and mouthed the words "He's gorgeous". Then, she turned her gaze back to the man behind her. "Nicky, this is my friend Margo Lane and her...um...?"
"Companion," Margo said, filling in the question.
"Companion...that sounds so formal." She giggled. "Anyway, Nicky, this is Margo's companion, Lamont Cranston. Margo and I went to school together." She turned to Margo. "This is my fiance and bodyguard, Nick DiSanto."
Margo gasped. "Congratulations! When did this happen?"
"Just a few days ago." She beamed. "The last night of my last show before we headed up here, he gave me this." She flashed her left hand, its third finger adorned with an almost gaudy large diamond solitaire.
"It's beautiful," Margo smiled. "You get engaged and open on Broadway in the same week--how wonderful!"
"Let's not talk about that," Bonnie replied, rolling her eyes. "That's a mess by itself."
"And we can get into it over dinner," Lamont urged, gesturing toward the hotel doors. "We've got reservations at eight at the Cobalt Club."
Nick looked at his watch. "We'd better hurry, then."
"I knew I kept you around for some reason," Bonnie teased, then took Margo by the arm as they headed for the door. "Now, you tell me all about what you've been up to..."
Nick shook his head. "Women," he sighed. "Do they ever not have something to talk about?"
"I don't mind," Lamont replied. "It gives me the chance to pretend to be the strong, silent type." He gestured toward the door, and they headed outside.
Bonnie was every bit the flamboyant actress she dressed as, dominating the dinner conversation with stories of life on the road, theatrical gossip, and teenage mischief with Margo. "I will never forget the day you and I showed up in flapper dresses to school," Bonnie giggled. "I thought the headmaster's blood was going to boil."
Lamont smiled at Margo. "Why doesn't it surprise me that you would wear a flapper dress to school?"
"You are incorrigible," Margo returned haughtily. "I will have you know that I would never have done it had I not been dared."
"Who dared who?" Bonnie said indignantly. "Of course, your father just shrugged and said he didn't understand what all the fuss was."
"He hasn't changed," Margo smiled. "You haven't, either."
"You are too kind." Bonnie tried to look coy.
It took everything Lamont had not to laugh out loud. Shallow women with false modesty nearly drove him to distraction. Amazing how they were the kind I used to date almost exclusively, he found himself thinking. Margo has really changed my standards. "So, tell me about this play you're in...Life In The Big City, isn't it? What's it about?"
She sighed. "It's a comedy. But things haven't been very funny lately."
"So I've read," Margo said. "The papers said something about 'The Tragic Comedy'."
"There's been at least one accident in every city we've been in. Broken props, injured cast members...it's really getting ridiculous. And costing me a fortune."
"How so?" Lamont asked.
"I'm fronting the costs. The original financier backed out early on because he said show business was too risky an investment. I really believe in the script, though, so I borrowed against my trust fund to keep the show going. But every time we have something go wrong, it costs more to get it right again. I hired Nicky to protect us not long after all this started--and he does a great job of it. But weird accidents have still been happening. Sets break...lights fall onto the stage...my understudy even got food poisoning at the last stop and had to be hospitalized for a week."
"That's horrible," Margo said.
"And frustrating. Even with a bodyguard, I still don't feel completely safe." She snuggled against her boyfriend's shoulder. "Of course, he's also a thief. He stole my heart."
Nick rolled his eyes. "Come on, baby," he said. "Not in public."
She sat up straight again. "Men," she said exasperatedly to Margo. "Aren't they just impossible?"
"You're just now figuring this out?" Margo teased.
Lamont looked over at her. "I believe I've just been insulted," he mock-pouted.
"Poor baby," Margo giggled.
Bonnie joined her giggles, then dabbed her mouth with her napkin. "I need to freshen my makeup," she said. "Come on--let's give the men a chance to get to know each other."
Both gentlemen rose to their feet as both women picked up their purses and left the table.
Nick and Lamont took their seats at the table again. "Women," Nick sighed.
"She's certainly flamboyant," Lamont observed.
"Yeah, well, all this stage stuff is going to stop when we get married. No wife of mine is going to parade around on a stage every night."
Lamont raised an eyebrow. "Does she know this?"
"We've talked about it a little. She knows how I feel. I mean, a guy's got to feel like he's in charge--you know?"
Lamont shrugged. "I suppose. I've never worried about that sort of thing. Margo and I have an understanding--she doesn't stop me from doing what I want, and I don't stop her from doing what she wants."
"Yeah, well, your girl doesn't spend her nights running around town, putting on a show everywhere."
No, Lamont mused, that would be the way I spend my nights. "It's a living, I suppose."
"But she doesn't have to do that," Nick said firmly. "Between that trust fund and the money I make, she won't need to work."
"It's not always easy to be idle. Everyone needs something to do."
"Yeah, listen to Mr. Moneybags over there. What do you do all day?"
Lamont shrugged. "Anything I want. I keep myself busy."
"Must be nice."
"Sometimes." Lamont finished his martini, then snapped his fingers for a waiter. "Another one?" he asked Nick.
"You bet," Nick said, then downed the last of his drink.
Lamont turned to the waiter. "My usual, and a scotch and soda for Mr. DiSanto."
"Yes, sir," the waiter said, hurrying away.
Nick raised an eyebrow. "You've got them well-trained."
Lamont smiled. "I'm a great tipper."
"Must be nice to have that kind of power over people."
The smile became more mysterious. "You have no idea."
"So," Bonnie said, dabbing powder on her nose, "what do you think?"
"Of what?" Margo said, fluffing her hair.
"Of Nicky, silly."
"Oh." She decided this would not be a good time for honesty. "He's...very nice."
Bonnie looked over the top of her compact at Margo. "O.K., so he's not the brightest of bulbs in the marquee. But he's sweet. And he loves me."
"And that's all that's important." Margo fished through her purse for her lipstick.
"That is a beautiful ring," Bonnie said, tapping Margo's left hand. "I couldn't help staring at it. May I?"
"Sure." Margo held her hand out.
Bonnie looked at it closely. "That is so unusual. What kind of stone is that?"
"It's a fire opal. There's an Oriental legend that says the stronger the good within the person who wears it, the brighter the stone glows."
"Well, yours certainly glows." She looked mischievous. "Is there something you want to tell me?"
"What do you mean?"
"Oh, come on, Margo. It's on your left hand. And he wears the same ring on his left hand. Did you get married secretly and didn't invite me?"
"Oh, no, of course not."
"So it's an engagement ring?"
"No, no. It's...well, it's a secret."
Bonnie looked around stealthily. "Like a secret society?"
"What's it called?"
Margo looked at her. "If I told you that, it wouldn't be a secret, now, would it?"
"You're silly. So, how did you and Mr. High Society meet?"
She smiled at the memory. "He sent a bottle of wine to my table. Then, he invited me out for Peking Duck."
"Yeah, that's pretty typical. A girl I was in a show with said he pulled almost the same stunt on her. 'It was like he read my mind,' she gushed."
"He does have this ability to get people to do anything he wants. And he's very smooth with it."
"But he kept you around. Why?"
She smiled. "We just clicked. It's like we have some sort of bond that keeps us together."
"For how long now?"
Bonnie looked at Margo oddly. "And you haven't chewed him up and spit him out the way you always do?"
"I don't do that any more."
"So you think this is the real thing."
"But he hasn't proposed yet?"
"No." She went back to searching for her lipstick.
Bonnie shook her head. "I don't believe this. You managed to land the richest man in New York not named Rockefeller and keep him in your clutches for six months, and you haven't gotten him to put a ring on your finger?"
Margo found her lipstick in her purse and opened it up. "Nope." Well, not in the way you think, anyway.
Margo frowned. "We're just not in any kind of hurry, that's all."
"Honey, with what I've heard about Lamont Cranston's reputation, you'd better be in a hurry before he gets bored, finds some society bimbo, and dumps you like yesterday's garbage."
She blotted her lips. "He'd never do that."
"How do you know? Men are like that, you know. If you don't get them to make a commitment, they're gone so fast you won't even see their shadow."
She shook her head. "You don't know him."
"Yeah? Well, how well do you know him?"
Margo smiled mischievously. "I can read his mind."
"Yeah, but all women can do that. Men aren't that hard to read."
They both practically fell over themselves giggling.
Moe pulled his cab to a stop in front of Margo's townhouse several hours later. The rest of the evening had been uneventful...maybe too uneventful. Margo had been unusually quiet during dinner, forcing a smile occasionally, looking preoccupied. That mood had continued in the cab ride, and the darkness from a woman so full of light and life troubled Lamont as he got out of the cab and offered his hand to Margo.
She stepped out of the cab. "Do you have to be somewhere tonight?" she asked.
He hesitated. It was a late spring night, and the crime rate tended to rise as the temperature did, which made this prime time for The Shadow to prowl the streets. But the signals he was picking up from her told him he'd better not say yes. "Not really," he replied.
"Want to come inside?"
Something told him this was another question that required a careful answer. "Sure." He closed the rear door to the cab and looked right at Moe.
Moe nodded, then drove away.
Lamont offered his arm, and Margo took it as they ascended the stairs to her townhouse. She unlocked the door, then let him open it for her.
Once they got inside, he helped her off with her jacket, then walked with her to the living room. "Is something wrong?" he asked.
"I just wanted to talk," she said, forcing a smile. She sat down on the sofa and gestured to the seat next to her.
He joined her. "I think I know you pretty well," he said. "You don't have that 'I just want to talk' look on your face. Now, what's wrong?"
She sighed. There were times it wasn't fun being psychic. She could almost hear his frustration and knew it was taking everything he had not to read her mind and get it over with. "Lamont, have you ever thought about the future?"
He sighed. There were times it wasn't fun being psychic. He'd felt this conversation coming for a while now, ever since she and Bonnie had disappeared to the powder room, and it had taken everything he had not to read her mind and find out why. "I don't have to ask what brought that question on."
"That obvious, is it?"
He nodded. "That's not your real question, though. The first one like that someone asks never is. What do you really want to say, Margo?"
She shrugged, looking frustrated. "I don't know."
"I think you do."
"Then why don't you tell me?"
He refused to rise to the bait. "Because then they're not your words."
"O.K." She got up and paced the room. "We've been together for a while now. To all outward appearances, we look like the perfect couple. But Bonnie got me thinking: If we're so perfect, why haven't we taken the next step? What's stopping us?"
He looked thoughtful. "I don't suppose it occurred to you that there are some...unique circumstances involved."
She almost laughed. "We're alone, Lamont. You can use his name."
A darkness passed over his eyes. "You say that like he's another person."
"And you don't? You always talk like he's another person. And he is, you know. He's like another person in this relationship. He hangs between us like...well, like a shadow. You're always quick to remind me how dangerous your nighttime escapades are, how dark and dangerous that part of you is."
He started to say something, then stopped himself. She was angry, and it would serve no purpose to needle her. He sat back to listen, no matter how deeply her words cut.
If she'd noticed his internal argument with himself, she didn't show it as she kept pacing the floor. "You're so afraid of me getting hurt that you use that hat and cloak to keep your distance. You like coming up behind me when you've got my mind clouded, flipping my hair or touching my arm or something like that to scare me and make me want to keep my distance from that part of you. But at the same time, you try to push me to learn what you know, never once asking if I want to learn it if it's really that dangerous. And that makes me wonder--do you know what you want out of life? Or are you just making it up as you go?"
"You're jealous, aren't you?"
She whirled toward him. "Don't change the subject!"
"I'm not. You're jealous of Bonnie--she's got her big, hulking muscleman standing behind her, protecting her, and you want that from me."
"That's ridiculous, and you did change the subject. I'm talking about us."
"So am I." He crossed the room to stand in front of her. "In case you've forgotten, I would do anything for you. I would crawl out of a sick bed for you. I would take on a madman for you. I would fight to the death for you. I would die for you."
"You faked dying for me."
He looked at her for a long moment. "Do you want to sharpen that blade a little more before you twist it in?"
She sighed. "I did not mean to say that..."
"Don't lie. You wanted to hurt me."
Margo threw up her hands. "Oh, you're right. Of course you're right. I bow in deference to the all-seeing, all-knowing Master of Darkness, who laughs at all of this like it's some sort of game."
Lamont looked angry. "Don't take that tone with me."
Margo scoffed. "What are you going to do about it, Lamont? Hypnotize me to make me forget the past six months? Or maybe you'll stage your own death again and run off to Tibet, where you and Marpa Tulku can laugh about how you completely fooled an entire city with a psychic parlor trick."
"That's what this is about, isn't it? You're still upset that I didn't trust you with the truth about Miklos Marocal, that I let you think I was dead for almost 24 hours."
"And why shouldn't I be? You didn't watch you die on the sidewalk. You didn't feel part of you just tear away. You didn't suddenly realize that you were going to spend the rest of your life alone, never having the chance to get married, raise a family, or grow old with the one you loved..." She turned away, fighting back tears.
Her anger about this was unexpected. He thought they'd put all of this behind them, that they'd settled this. He put a comforting hand on her shoulder. "I am so sorry..."
"I don't want to hear that!" she sobbed, pushing his hand away. "I want to hear that you're never going to leave me like that again!"
He took her by the shoulders and turned her toward him. "Margo...do you want me to propose? Do you want me to ask you to marry me? Is that what you want?"
She shook her head. "Not like this," she whispered. "Not this way."
She began crying again. "I don't know!"
He put his arms around her and pulled her close.
This time, she offered no resistance as she wept on his shoulder.
He gently stroked her hair, feeling his own emotions welling up, trying to figure out what to say to make the hurting stop. This whole discussion hadn't exactly come out of nowhere; she'd been alternately possessive and distant for weeks now. He had been meaning to talk to her about this, but had been so busy with the latest crime wave that it kept getting pushed down in priority of things he needed to do...until the depth of her pain broadsided him tonight. He'd had no idea how deep her emotions about possibly losing him ran, and he seldom allowed himself to reach this deeply into the depth of his own feelings toward her. Now, he had no idea what to do, what to say. "I love you," he whispered, hoping it was at least a start.
"I love you, too."
A tear flowed down his cheek, defying his efforts to stop it. "Then why are we both crying?"
"Because we're both scared...scared of something coming between us..."
"...scared of how deeply we love each other..."
"...scared of what would happen if we lost each other." She tightened her grip on him.
He kissed the top of her head, then suddenly tensed as a flash of light caught the corner of his eye.
The opal in his ring was glowing. The Shadow was needed. "Burbank, your timing is terrible," he groaned.
She pulled back and looked at his left hand. "The Shadow comes between us again," she said, almost laughing.
He sighed hard. Then, something occurred to him. "Not this time," he said.
She looked at him oddly. "You're not going to ignore it?"
"No. But I've never taken you into The Sanctum. Get changed into something black--we're going out."
Moe stopped the cab in front of a darkened alley off Times Square. "Want me to wait?" he asked, thinking he already knew the answer but uncertain whether the rules were the same when the conditions were not.
Lamont shook his head. "I'll send for you when I'm done."
Lamont nodded, then got out of the cab and offered a hand to Margo.
She looked around. "Where are we going?"
He put a finger to her lips. From this point on, no talking. Stay close to me and stay alert.
He closed the cab door, then took her hand and started down the alley at a rapid clip.
Where is this place? she asked mentally.
Under a building I own. Walk quickly, and keep your eyes open. I've been followed before. He took a quick turn down a side alley, then headed for a set of metal fire escape stairs. Do you see anyone?
She shook her head.
Good. He flipped a hidden lever on the side of the stairs.
She gasped as the side of the building retracted and the metal footing grate folded into a mini set of steps.
He gestured with his head toward the opening. Down the stairs. Move.
She did, with him right behind, flipping the switch to close the outer doors. Keep going down. Be careful--the staircase winds pretty tightly.
She could hear gears turning as the door closed, plunging the stairwell into complete blackness. It's so dark...
There'll be light soon.
She could hear more gears turning, then suddenly the darkness changed into subdued light as iron walls retracted to reveal what looked like an elegantly-furnished underground study. Lamont...it's beautiful!
Keep moving down the stairs--I have work to do.
She hurried down the stairs. He moved by her as quickly as possible, heading for the communications console in the corner.
She looked astonished. She'd never seen anything like it before, not even in her father's labs. What is that?
A gift from an agent. He flipped several switches, then dropped into the chair and faced the small screen. Step back and keep quiet. Not a sound--I mean it.
She moved back a few steps.
The screen flickered to life, and Burbank's face appeared.
Now she knew she'd never seen anything like this before. Can he see you?
Lamont shook his head. But he can hear everything I say. "Report," he ordered aloud.
"Agent in theatre district reports disturbance at the Walters Theatre," Burbank said. "Side door broken open. Possible robbery or vandalism."
Margo put a hand over her mouth to keep from gasping. Lamont...that's where Bonnie's play is opening!
He nodded. "Isn't that the theatre where Life In The Big City is scheduled to open Friday?" he asked aloud.
"Yes, sir," Burbank responded. "Shall I send a response?"
"Yes. Tell the agent to get a detailed description of what was damaged and how it was damaged. I need a complete report as soon as possible."
"Understood." The screen went blank.
Lamont flipped off the power to the console, then leaned to the side in his chair, stroking his chin thoughtfully.
He looked toward her. "I'm sorry," he said. "You can move now."
"And talk, apparently," she said, smiling wryly.
"As long as the microphones are off, yes."
"Does Burbank know..."
He shook his head. "Which is why you had to be quiet. No sense in being able to tie Margo Lane and The Shadow together too closely." He gestured to the chaise lounge, across the room.
She crossed the room and sat down on the lounge. "Wasn't that what we were arguing about earlier?"
"Don't remind me." He got up and came across to join her. "Fix you a drink?"
"I think I need one." She looked around. "I don't know--I never pictured this place so..."
"That's one word, yes."
He poured himself a shot of bourbon and her a glass of sherry. "The Tulku stressed that every man needs a place away from the rest of his life, a sanctum where he can contemplate, meditate, gather strength. So I spend a lot of time here thinking, researching, exchanging messages. It's a safe haven, and far enough away from Lamont Cranston's life that it would be hard for people to tie The Shadow to me. But I've had my fill of spartan conditions, thank you very much."
"Too many years with The Tulku?"
He frowned. "I could have spent a lifetime with The Tulku and it would not have been enough to learn everything." He crossed the room to hand her the drink.
She reached out and took the glass. "I can tell you decorated it," she said, trying to lighten his mood.
It worked. He actually smiled slightly. "Oh?"
"It's very masculine. Dark wood panelling...leather furniture..." She glanced over at the statue across the room. "...and strange artwork."
He almost laughed. "It's a Buddhist statue. Reminds me from whence I came." He leaned against the wall and downed the bourbon in a quick gulp.
She was astonished how hard he threw back the drink. "That can't be good for contemplation."
"It's not." He closed his eyes for a moment, letting the heat from the burn of the alcohol pass through him. "But it's about the only vice I allow myself any more."
She took a sip of the sherry, feeling it slide down her throat, letting it relax her. The last thing she wanted was to restart the argument. "So, what do you think?"
He looked toward her. "About...?"
"The message you just got."
"Somebody's obviously trying to shut down the play. The only question is why."
"Well, Bonnie borrowed against her trust fund for it. Maybe someone's trying to make her lose everything."
"Makes sense, but if that's the case, why not do something to have closed it down sooner? From what she said, this has been happening for months."
"Maybe by doing it slowly, whoever's doing it is hoping to leave her so drained she won't be able to recover."
"The problem with that idea is that it's too easy. I think there's something else going on here."
"I don't know." He thought for a moment. "Did you notice how Bonnie didn't want to talk about the play?"
She nodded. "Now that you mention it, she did keep changing the subject."
"If I were opening on Broadway in three days, I'd want the world to know."
"Yes, but this isn't her first time. She's been here before."
"But she's an actress. By their very nature, they're publicity-hungry. And she's not exactly the shy, retiring type."
"Do you think she has something to do with it?"
"It's possible. But even that angle doesn't make sense; it's her money that's involved in making the thing work in the first place."
"Maybe it's that gorilla Nicky."
He smiled. "So you weren't impressed."
She took a sip of her drink and gave him a sly look. "I prefer my strongmen a bit more sophisticated."
"Nice to hear it." He laughed slightly. "If brains were dynamite, Nicky couldn't blow his nose."
"What did you do--take him apart while you were alone with him?"
Lamont shook his head. "I don't conduct a battle of wits with an unarmed man. Besides, I didn't need to. He has trouble keeping his mouth shut. He's got a real attitude about keeping women in their place. But at the same time, he's not afraid of using Bonnie's money to live on."
"So that leaves him out."
"I never leave anybody out. I know all too well the evil that lurks in the hearts of men."
The stone in his ring flashed. He set the glass down on the sideboard next to the bottles of liquor and headed back over to the communications console. Flipping the switches quickly, he dropped into the chair and faced the screen.
The screen flickered to life again, and Burbank's tired face appeared before him.
"Report," Lamont ordered.
"Your message has been delivered," Burbank answered. "Agent promises an update tomorrow morning."
"Good. Keep me posted." He flicked off the power to the console, then turned the swivel chair to face Margo. "I'd better get you home."
She didn't like the way he said that. "You're going out," she realized.
He shook his head. "I don't think I could concentrate. You've given me a lot to think about tonight."
She came over to stand behind his chair and gently put her hands on his shoulders. "You're angry."
He nodded. "But not with you...with me."
"Not me? Not even a little?"
He took her left hand off his shoulder and kissed it. "It's hard to be angry with someone who's right."
She knelt beside his chair. "I don't know that I'm right," she told him. "I haven't been through what you've been through...seen what you've seen...I don't know what evil lurks in the hearts of men."
He frowned. "Don't do this. Don't sell yourself short just to stop this."
She laughed, then shook her head. "I'm trying to apologize to you, for pity's sake--will you let me?"
"You're not the one who needs to apologize. You're right; I don't always know what I'm doing, or where I'm going in life." He looked away, angry with himself again.
"Don't you hide from me."
Her harsh tone made him look back toward her. "What?"
"You know what I mean. Don't use your 'dark side' as a way to hide from me. Every time you open up, every time I think we've made progress, you pull yourself back again, trying to 'protect' me from that darkness inside you. I am not afraid of you. Don't you be afraid of me."
The darkness faded from his eyes, and she saw the emotions he was fighting. He stroked her cheek. "Why are we doing this to each other?" he whispered.
"Because we're both scared. We're scared of how close we are..."
"...and how well we know each other."
"Too well." She sighed. "We are so connected."
"And that is not always a good thing."
"No, it isn't. I think we skipped over a lot of the things people do when they're getting to know one another...because we didn't think we needed to go through it."
He nodded. "We moved too fast."
"Maybe. I don't know."
"Well," he said, "I know that you are tired. And I am, too. Let's sleep on this. Maybe in the morning, things will look a little clearer."
"They couldn't look much worse."
He kissed her hand again, then stood and helped her to her feet. "Come on. By the time we get upstairs, Moe should be just around the corner."
She shook her head. "How do you do that? I did not even detect that you'd sent for him."
He smoothed her hair and smiled. "Your mind's a little scattered right now."
She brushed a stray strand of hair off his forehead. "So's yours."
"Then maybe we both need to get some rest." He pulled her close for a quick kiss, then they ascended the staircase and disappeared into the shadows of the night.
The phone ringing by her bedside awakened Margo from a rough, restless sleep. She noted that the windup alarm said it was almost nine, then grabbed the receiver. "Hello?"
"The sun is shining," Lamont's voice said.
She immediately snapped awake. He never gave the code to her unless there was the possibility of someone overhearing their conversations. "But the ice is slippery," she replied. "What's up?"
"Your ride will be there in five minutes. We've got a theatre date this morning. The first reports are in."
"From inside the theatre?"
"Not over the phone."
From the way he was couching his words and the sounds coming over the phone, he was obviously on a payphone, probably near the theatre. "Try to stay out of the bright light," she encouraged. "I'll be right there."
"I'll be watching from the shadows." He hung up.
She held the receiver for a moment, then hung up as well. At least they were speaking this morning. That, she hoped, was the start of a better day for both of them.
The stage of the Walters Theatre was a busy place Wednesday morning. The mess from the previous evening's vandalism--slashed backdrops, broken props, torn costumes--covered the stage. A team of police left the scene after photographing everything and interviewing everybody on hand. Now came the task of picking up the pieces and starting over again...something the cast and crew of Life In The Big City were getting all too familiar with doing.
"O.K., people," director Adam Chandler called to the assembled cast and crew, "let's get this mess cleaned up. We've got a dress rehearsal to get ready for."
Moans and groans answered him. "With our luck," actor Ken Barrette called back, "the roof will cave in during rehearsal."
"At least we'll bring down the house," Lucy Cooke, one of the costumers, replied.
"Don't even think that," stagehand Steve Foster added. "I've rebuilt so many sets, I think my hammer could do it by itself."
"O.K., that's enough bellyaching," producer Stan Montgomery said. "Get down to work."
A chorus of chit-chat started up as everyone pitched in on the cleanup effort.
It was into this organized chaos that Lamont and Margo stepped. Fortunately, the police officer stationed at the door as a watchman was a Shadow agent, and an exchange of code phrases--and Lamont's insistance that they had a message to convey to an agent inside--was all it took to get past him. Now the real investigative work could begin.
"Hey!" Chandler called out as they made their way toward the stage. "This is a closed stage."
Bonnie looked out toward the audience. "Margo?" she called.
"Are you all right?" Margo called back.
"Fine." She turned to Chandler. "It's O.K.--they're friends." She then turned her attention toward them once more. "Come on up--but watch your step. It's a mess up here."
Margo and Lamont walked up the stage side steps, and looked around. "You're not kidding," Margo commented. "Somebody really did a number on this place."
"When did this happen?" Lamont asked.
"Nobody knows," Bonnie replied. "Stan--Montgomery, the producer--got a call last night about 10:30 from someone coming out of another theatre in the district telling him that it looked like the place had been broken into. A couple of the stagehands got down here not too long after that and found all this. That's when they called me." She sighed. "Yet another 'strange occurrance'. I don't know how many more of these I can take."
Lamont and Margo looked at each other. That timetable just about coincided with Burbank's message. "So nobody was here at the time?" Lamont asked.
"Not to my knowledge."
"Well, of course I can't be sure. I wasn't here. We were having dinner last night, remember?"
"Was anything missing?" Margo asked.
"We don't know," Bonnie said. "We're still going through everything." She looked at them oddly. "You two aren't with the police, are you?"
"No," Margo reassured. "We're just worried. It was all over the news, and with everything you said last night..."
Nick came up behind Bonnie. "Everything all right, baby?" he asked.
"Everything's fine, Nicky," she reassured. "Margo and her boyfriend were just checking up on me to make sure I was all right."
"Not to worry," he said, putting a hand on her shoulder. "I'm not going to let anything happen to my little lady."
"Good to hear it," Lamont said, trying to keep the sarcasm out of his voice.
"Bonnie?" Chandler called.
"Coming," she called back, then turned to Lamont and Margo. "Thanks for coming down. You will be at the dress rehearsal tonight, right?"
"Wouldn't miss it," Margo replied. "See you later."
Bonnie gave her a quick hug, then headed back to join the rest of the cast.
Nick gave the two outsiders one last look, then followed behind her.
Lamont looked around at the damage, trying to keep his expression even. Notice anything suspicious about all that? he asked silently.
Yeah, Margo responded mentally. She was awfully quick with that alibi.
You're learning. What else?
She looked thoughtful. Nicky was awfully quick to come to her rescue.
And looked very protective. Not exactly the reaction you'd think he'd have to people who bought him dinner last night.
Why did she ask if we were with the police?
I think we may have asked too many questions for her taste.
What was the story from your agent this morning?
It was the police report, from the officer outside. Simple case of vandalism.
But you don't believe it.
No. And neither did he. Which is why we're here.
She frowned. I've been around you too long. I'm seeing suspicious things everywhere.
He smiled wryly. Paranoia is not always a bad thing.
Just then, a stagehand carrying paint, brushes, and dropcloths bumped into Lamont. "Oops!" he said. "I'm sorry, sir--are you all right?"
Lamont looked himself over to make sure none of the paint had spilled, then nodded. "I'm fine."
"Sorry about that," the young man said, sounding embarrassed. "It's these stage lights. They're so bright, it almost looks like the sun is shining."
Lamont immediately tensed. He took a quick look around, then stepped closer to the young man. "But the ice is slippery," he whispered.
The young man smiled slightly and nodded a greeting, then gestured with his eyes offstage.
"Let me give you a hand with all that," Lamont said, taking a can of paint and some brushes from the man's arms.
"I appreciate that, sir."
Keep an eye on things for me, Lamont told Margo. I'll be right back.
She nodded. "Be careful with that," she said aloud.
He smiled at her, then turned to follow his agent.
Offstage, the agent set his painting stuff down and turned to Lamont. "Sorry about that," he said in a low voice. "I saw your ring and knew you could help me, but I couldn't think of any other way to get your attention."
"It's all right," Lamont answered, adding his load to the pile. "We all do what we have to. What do you need?"
"I have information to pass along," he said, pulling an envelope out of his pocket, "but I can't get away right now, and the message said it was urgent. You know the drill, right?"
Lamont nodded. "I'll make sure it gets delivered." He took the envelope and slipped it in his inside suit pocket.
"Thanks." He sighed. "I wish there was a way to...well, you know, bypass the chain. There are some really strange things going on around here."
"I know what you mean. But I have a feeling someone may be getting in touch with you soon."
"I hope so." He looked around. "Well, better get this paint to where it's really supposed to go before somebody gets suspicious." He began gathering equipment again.
Lamont stacked dropcloths in the young man's arms. "Be careful."
"You, too." With that, he walked away.
Just then, Nick came over to Lamont. "You doing stagehand work now?" he said sarcastically.
"Young man needed a hand," Lamont replied. "You proba-bly saw the way he bumped into me. Better I help carry the paint than wear it."
"Yeah, well, the director doesn't like strangers backstage. Too much funny stuff going on around here."
Lamont nodded. "Just leaving."
"Good." Nick walked away.
Lamont frowned. There were far too many people milling about for him to just disappear. He headed back out for the stage.
Problem? Margo asked, noticing his serious expression as he returned.
I need to disappear, he replied, looking around.
We can leave.
Yes, but with the way the police have this place sealed off, it's going to be hard to get back in again, except through the front door--and those bright lights overhead will give me away because I'll have to cross the stage. What I really need is a distraction.
Just then, a bank of lights dropped from overhead, barely missing several cast and crew. Bonnie screamed.
"My God!" Montgomery swore. "Somebody could have gotten killed!"
Nick hurried over to Bonnie. "Baby! You O.K.?"
"Oh, Nicky!" She threw her arms around him and cried.
Margo gasped, then looked at Lamont. You didn't...
Of course not, he chided, looking around at the sudden buzz of activity. But it certainly is fortuitous timing. Go see if everything's all right. I'll be in the shadows.
She nodded and ran over to Bonnie. "Oh, my God! Are you all right?" she called out as she reached her friend.
"Did you see that?" Bonnie asked, looking shaky.
"Yeah," a crew member said. "Man, that was close!"
"Everybody all right?" Chandler called.
A chorus of "yeah" and "I think so" answered him.
In all the confusion, no one noticed Lamont slipping off stage right, vanishing as he reached the darkness.
The stagehand with the paint started to rush over to join his friends, then stopped as he felt something tugging on his overalls from behind. He turned around.
He shrugged and turned back to the commotion.
Wayne Collins, a voice echoed in his ears.
Now that was a voice he hadn't expected to hear. But he was certainly glad he had. "Where are you?" he hissed.
Watching...in the shadows.
He nodded. "Meet me back there," he said, gesturing with his head toward a dark corner.
"I can't take this!" Bonnie screamed, distraught. "You can't tell me that was an accident!"
"Bonnie, take it easy," Margo urged.
"It was probably loose from last night," Foster added. "I think we're all pretty lucky."
"It wasn't you it nearly fell on!" Bonnie shrieked. Then, she got up and ran to her dressing room.
"Wait, baby!" Nick called, hurrying after her.
The slam of the dressing room door echoed through the theatre. "There she goes again," Barrette sighed.
Lucy shook her head. "Probably won't come out for hours."
"And we open in just two days."
Montgomery threw his arms in the air. "Lovely. Just lovely. Maybe this whole theatre should be condemned."
"Somebody sure wants this play stopped," Margo agreed.
"Well, they may just get their wish," Chandler sighed. "O.K., people, let's get this cleaned up. I want people up in that rigging right now, checking everything!"
"Better call the insurance company," Montgomery groaned. "They may cancel our policy after this one."
"Great," Barrette sighed. "That means we won't be able to open."
"We won't be able to open at all if we don't get this mess cleaned up," Chandler snapped. "Back to work, folks."
Margo glanced back at the darkness of the offstage area behind her. She hoped The Shadow was making progress. She had a feeling what was really on the verge of opening was a tragedy.
You have something to tell me?
Wayne Collins looked around for a moment to make certain no one was watching. "How did you know?"
The Shadow knows. He laughed softly.
Collins looked around again. "There's another agent around somewhere...I gave him a note for you..."
Yes, I know--Mr. Cranston. He was just as surprised to find me here as you are. A rustling of paper sounded, as if The Shadow was opening an envelope. Interesting. Backdrops slashed with a knife, props and set pieces smashed with a sledgehammer, and several damaged costumes. Any idea who might have done this?
He shook his head. "But that's not the really strange stuff."
"The first few times, I didn't notice it. But one of the first people to arrive, sometimes even before the police, is an insurance adjuster."
Fascinating. Who's insuring the production?
"Somebody from Davidson and Jacoby. They do a lot of work with the theatre."
I'm familiar with them. But I wasn't aware they had offices outside New York City.
"They don't. But after the first couple of incidents, a representative started travelling with us because they got tired of sending someone out every time. And ever since, Peter Bowland--their adjuster--always comes right out, does a quick assessment, and gives Miss DeMarco and Mr. Montgomery the bad news. You'd think they'd be more worried about somebody getting hurt during one of these vandalism raids than whether or not this was covered under their policy."
Never underestimate what some people will do for money. Did Mr. Bowland come out this morning?
"No, he was sick, or so I heard. Probably sent one of his buddies instead. Anyway, this guy seemed a lot more interested in things than Bowland. I think his name was Barry Breen."
That may be useful later. Anything else?
"Yeah. Have you ever heard of this play before?"
Admittedly, no. Should I have?
"Probably not. It's brand new. But here's the strange part. The writer, Bob Marcus? He doesn't exist."
Writing under a pseudonym is hardly a novel concept, Mr. Collins.
"Yeah, I know. But I did some research. The play is registered at the Writers' Guild to Nicholas DiSanto. Now, I don't know if you've had the pleasure of encountering Nicky or not..."
...but he's not exactly the brightest bulb in the marquee.
"That's an understatement. If brains were dynamite, Nicky couldn't blow his nose."
"Thanks. I just thought of it. Just kind of popped into my head, you know? Anyway, can you see that guy writing a play that's heading for Broadway?"
Not really. But then, I've not read the play. Can you get me a copy of the script?
That's not such a good idea. Look toward the front of the stage. See the woman in the red and white dress?
He looked over at the crowd still talking near the edge of the stage. "Yeah."
She's also an agent. Exchange the code and give it to her. She'll make certain it gets to me.
Good. Keep me informed.
He nodded, then slipped away.
Margo stood near the front of the stage, looking around nervously. The crew had called down that so far they hadn't found anything else that might drop from the rafters, but she made certain she stayed as far away from overhead things as possible. She glanced at her watch and noticed Lamont had been gone for over fifteen minutes. She hoped he was all right.
"Excuse me, miss?" a voice called.
She turned to see the young stagehand in painter's overalls Lamont had spoken with coming toward her. "Yes?"
"You seem to be a friend of Miss DeMarco's. I thought you might like a first look at the play she's going to be in." He handed her a script. "You can read it while the sun is shining."
She looked slightly alarmed. "But the ice is slippery," she whispered in reply.
He smiled. "You know what to do with that, right?"
She smiled back. "I'll see it gets in the right hands."
"Thanks. Where's your friend?"
"I don't know. He looked around like he'd heard something, then walked away. I haven't seen him since."
Collins nodded, understanding. "When he gets back, tell him I said thanks for his help, too."
Collins winked at her and walked away.
Something moving on the other side of the stage caught the corner of her eye. She turned toward it.
A shadow, not attached to anything, slipped down the side steps and off the stage. Meet me in the lobby, she heard his voice say.
She snuck down the stairs and headed out of the theatre.
As she reached the lobby, she noticed a swirling, shadowy fog suddenly clear to reveal Lamont. That was brazen, she scolded.
Too many people backstage and in the rafters to risk appearing out of nowhere. Did you get the script?
She held it up.
Good. Moe should be outside any second now.
Where are we going?
To see an insurance agent. He opened the exterior door for her, and they both headed outside.
Moe pulled up to the curb and popped open the cab's rear door.
Lamont helped Margo in, then slid in next to her. "Davidson and Jacoby," he ordered.
"The insurance firm?" Moe asked.
"You got it." He pulled away, darting back into traffic seamlessly. "What's up?"
"There was another accident this morning while we were there."
"No kidding? What happened?"
"Light rigging fell from the rafters and nearly took out half the cast."
Moe whistled. "You two all right?"
Lamont rubbed his eyes. "Fine."
"You've got a headache," Margo observed.
"Just tired," he said. "Psychic stress."
Margo frowned and kicked herself mentally. If she'd just kept her mouth shut, this wouldn't even be an issue. "What did your agent want?"
He reached into his suit pocket and pulled out the note he'd been given, then handed it to Margo. "Damage ranged from mild to severe--from torn costumes and slashed backdrops to demolished props and set pieces. But that's not what's really bothering him."
"He says there have been some very strange things happening, and he doesn't mean the accidents. He says Davidson and Jacoby send out a representative every time something happens, even before the police get there. In fact, there have been so many incidents the company sent someone to travel with them--an adjuster named Peter Bowland. This morning, though, Bowland didn't show up, so someone named Barry Breen took his place and apparently asked a lot more questions than Bowland usually does. That's who we're going to see."
Moe looked back at them. "You think there's been insurance fraud?"
"Could be. But the question is, why? Who's involved?"
"Why did you want a copy of the script?" Margo asked.
"That was the other odd thing. The script is written by someone with the pseudonym of Bob Marcus."
"A pseudonym? For who?"
"Well, if you believe the Writers' Guild, Nick DiSanto."
Margo rolled her eyes. "Oh, please."
"Precisely what he told me, which is why I wanted to see the script. There may be some clues as to the real writer's identity and why he would hide behind a gorilla." He rubbed his eyes again.
She put her hand on his arm. "Are you O.K.?"
He nodded. The Tulku had once told him that telepaths fell into two categories: Projective and receptive. Lamont, The Tulku had said, was a projective telepath--the strongest he'd ever encountered. Projective telepaths made great mind clouders because they already had the innate ability to project their thoughts, and merely needed to be taught how to focus those thoughts and use the techniques of hypnotic projection along with it. They did not, however, make good mind readers, because the receptive parts of their minds were not as well developed and required more concentration to focus--which was why Lamont often turned his hypnotic telepathy on people to make them talk, rather than just probe their thoughts and read their minds. Margo, on the other hand, was a receptive telepath--able to intercept thoughts, especially his. But she was not a very focused one, and had not received any training on how to project her thoughts. For them to communicate telepathically, Lamont had to carry both sides of the conversation, projecting his thoughts into her mind and then focusing his receptive center to pick up her answer. That required a lot more concentration than he normally liked to expend when not working as The Shadow, and between the stress of the night before and the efforts of this morning, it was not something he felt prepared to do for a while. Fatigue and stress were putting a great deal of strain on the protective walls around his psyche, and the vast store of projective energy that he normally had in his mind was causing a massive headache as a result. He really needed to go somewhere so he could vent the energy buildup in his mind and let the walls rebuild themselves, but that wasn't feasible right now, plus there was a chance that The Shadow would need every bit of that psychic power later. So, he had to try and calm his mind and get his energies back in balance again so he could function effectively. "Just talk to me--the less I have to focus right now, the better. My head feels like it's about to split open."
She sighed. "Rough night last night, huh?"
He nodded. "For some reason, I didn't sleep very well."
"Me, either." She leaned against the driver's side corner of the rear seat. "I had a lot to think about last night."
He adopted a similar pose on his side. "Me, too."
Moe grunted. "What, you two have a fight last night or something?"
Lamont gave Moe a none-of-your-business look in the rear view mirror.
"So you did have a fight," the cabbie said, smiling wisely.
"Moe...," Lamont said tiredly.
Moe couldn't resist a chuckle. "Shoe's on the other foot, huh? I get to talk, and you have to listen, because you're too tired to fight back."
"Now this is fun," Margo said, smiling.
"I wouldn't talk, missy. Sometimes, you're worse than he is."
She looked at Moe. "Excuse me?"
"You know what I mean. He uses the darkness. You use your female charms, playing a game where you get to choose between being the strong independent type who doesn't want anyone telling her what to do and the oh-so-sensitive and oh-so-fragile little lady who needs her man to protect her and keep her safe, and nobody knows from one minute to the next which one you're going to be. You're both experts at emotional manipulation. What did you do--finally turn on each other?"
"I don't think I like where this conversation is going," Margo said, annoyed.
"O.K., so maybe it's none of my business. But you two, fighting? Come on. You two were made for each other. You're bound together, and not just because of this." He held up his right hand, with its fire opal ring perched on his third finger. "I mean, you've got something most people would kill for. You understand each other. You don't even have to talk--you're just connected."
Margo found herself looking at her ring. He'd slipped it on her hand after destroying Shiwan Khan, and it was only later that she found out what it meant...that he'd saved her life. It wasn't until much later, however, that she'd learned how: He'd saved her life by not killing her the night she was sent to shoot him as Khan had intended, by not giving in to his darker side, by not being the barbarian Khan wanted him to be again. If that wasn't enough proof of how strongly he felt about her...
She turned toward him, then searched for his gaze.
He looked toward her, and their eyes met.
Each saw the pain, the sorrow, the need for forgiveness reflected in the other's eyes.
She slid across the seat, ducking under his left arm, and leaned against him.
He gently covered her left hand with his and interlaced their fingers.
Moe gave them one last glance, then smiled and returned his attention to the drive.
For the rest of the ride, they stayed in that safe place, eyes closed, gentle smiles of bliss on their faces.
Davidson and Jacoby was an old firm, one of the oldest in New York, one that had specialized over the years in insuring the many publishers, advertisers, nightclubs, and theatres in the city. Their offices were just off Wall Street, in a older building between investment giants and powerful banks. It only seemed appropriate; in New York, information and entertainment were power brokers, and insuring those institutions was vital.
Protecting the sensitive information of those institutions was also vital, which was why the secretary was giving Lamont and Margo such a hard time about getting in to see Barry Breen. "Look, unless you have an appointment, I cannot let you go in," she told them for what felt like the thousandth time. "Mr. Breen is a very busy man."
Lamont rubbed his eyes for a moment, then sighed. Time to pull out the heavy artillery, sooner than he would have liked. "Perhaps I didn't make myself clear," he said, focusing his gaze on the woman.
The secretary couldn't help herself as she looked right into Lamont's intense blue-green eyes, unable to turn away.
I need to see Mr. Breen right now, The Shadow's voice told her. And I have an appointment.
The secretary robotically moved to press a button on the intercom. "Mr. Breen, your one-o'clock appointment is here," she said, almost in a monotone.
You will see to it that we are not disturbed.
Lamont broke the gaze. "Thank you," he said with a smile.
The secretary blinked, then rubbed her eyes. "Go on," she said, pinching the bridge of her nose as if she suddenly had a terrible headache.
"Subtle," Margo scolded in a whisper as they headed for the office door.
"It worked," Lamont reminded her in the same tone.
They entered Barry Breen's office, a medium-sized functional office with a window view of the alley out back of the building, where the early afternoon sun was filtering through open Venetian blinds. The insurance adjuster rose from his seat to greet them. "I didn't realize I had a one-o'clock appointment," he said. "It's not on my calendar."
"Secretaries get distracted easily," Lamont noted. "She probably just forgot to mention it."
"We had to remind her that we did have an appointment," Margo added.
"I see. I didn't get your names..."
"Lamont Cranston," Lamont said, extending his right hand. "And this is Miss Margo Lane."
"Barry Breen." Handshakes were exchanged all around. "Please, sit. What can I do for you?"
The pair took seats opposite the desk, slightly blinded by the light across from their gaze. "I understand you were out at the Walters Theatre this morning, investigating the vandalism there last night," Lamont began.
Breen regarded them oddly. "Policy claims are kept confidential," he told them.
"I realize that. But I happen to be a part-owner of the Walters, and if someone's broken into my theatre, I'm certainly interested in knowing what kind of damage they did."
Breen made eye contact with Lamont for a long moment, looking as if he were listening to a voice no one else could hear. "I see," he finally said. "That certainly does make a difference." He looked through the stack of papers on his desk, finally finding a folder and pulling it out. "Well, Mr. Cranston, you're in luck. It appears the only things damaged were items belonging to the production itself...wait, no, they called just a little bit ago to say that a light rigging had fallen from the rafters. They said it wasn't their rigging; it was owned by the theatre. So, you've lost a light rack."
Something finally clicked. "That's all? No other damage to the theatre? Not even to any of the exterior doors?"
Breen looked at the folder again, flipping through several sheets of paper and a stack of photos. "No. None."
Margo saw where Lamont's logic was going. "Somebody used a key," she realized.
Breen looked as if a lightbulb went off in his head at the same time it did in Margo's. "I was wondering why I thought this was so odd, but I couldn't quite put my finger on it. You're right--there was no sign of a break-in. Of course, it's possible a door was left unlocked--they were setting up in there earlier in the day, or so I was told. You do know this production's been the subject of quite a few incidents, right?"
Lamont nodded. "Do you have any of the other reports available?"
"I didn't do those investigations," Breen said. "So I don't have those reports. They're probably down in the records room. But all that is confidential..."
His voice trailed off as his eyes met Lamont's strong, firm gaze. I think you need to examine those reports further, The Shadow's voice told him.
"I...I think I need to take another look at those reports," Breen said, as if someone or something had just completely shifted his thoughts.
"We'll wait here," Lamont replied, smiling.
Breen left the office, still not entirely certain he was in control of his own mind.
Margo turned to him. "Why'd you send him away?"
He held a finger to her lips. No talking. Someone may be listening.
She looked worried. Don't put yourself through this.
I have to. If I'm right, we don't have much time left. I have a very bad feeling something is going to happen at dress rehearsal tonight, with a crowd in attendance. He smiled wryly. Besides, the projection relieves some of my stress.
But listening for me doesn't.
He shrugged. It's not quite as hard when you're right next to me. Now, come give me a hand. We've got to find evidence that there's insurance fraud going on here.
She looked curious. I didn't know you owned part of the Walters.
I don't. But Breen believes I do.
She gave him a scolding glare. That was naughty.
It worked, though. He's looking for the reports as we speak. He looked around, then surreptitiously got up from his chair and headed over to the opposite side of Breen's desk.
She joined him. What are we looking for?
He finally found it. The report on last night's incident. I want to find out whose signature is on the policy.
Wouldn't it be Bonnie's? It is, after all, her money funding the production.
You'd think so. But I've got a funny feeling there's more here than meets the eye. He handed her the folder. You check half, I'll check half.
She took the folder from him, and its contents spilled on the floor. Rats. She bent over to pick up the papers.
Let me give you a hand. He bent down to join her.
As he did, a shot came through the window and buzzed right through where he'd been standing.
Get down! he ordered, pushing her to the floor and throwing himself atop her.
For a moment, neither of them moved. Lamont--are you all right?
He carefully moved off of her, then nodded. You?
Stay down and make your way toward the door. I'll join you in a minute. With that, he faded away.
Margo slowly backed out from behind the desk, then started toward the door. Suddenly, she gasped.
Clearly visible on the wall, sliced through by gaps in the light caused by the horizontal slats of the Venetian blinds, was a man's shadow, as if someone were standing right at the window. Lamont...the sunlight...
The shadow on the wall twisted slightly, as if he were looking back at it. She could almost hear him frown. Can't be helped. Then, it twisted forward again as he returned to looking out the window.
Do you see anybody?
No. Whoever it was, they're long gone. Hopefully, they didn't see anything unusual either.
She watched as The Shadow's shadow moved across the wall toward her, then vanished as its owner moved out of the light. He shimmered back to coherency right next to her, then helped her to her feet.
Breen came back in the room, carrying a stack of files. "It took a bit, but I found the other reports..." His voice trailed off at the unnerved expressions on their faces, and then he noticed the shattered window behind his desk. "What happened here?"
"Someone shot right through your window," Lamont stated firmly. "And just missed me."
"My God! Was anybody hurt?"
They both shook their heads. "I've got a funny feeling it wasn't meant for us," Margo observed.
"I think you're right," Lamont agreed.
Breen looked confused. "Wait a minute--you think somebody was shooting at me?"
Lamont nodded. "I stood up after you left and had my back to the window. Bright sun's giving me a headache." He rubbed his temples for emphasis.
"So," Lamont continued, holding up his jacket sleeve next to Breen's, "one black suit looks like another from the back. I don't think they were shooting at me. I think they were shooting at the person who would normally have his back to the window."
"Maybe to keep you from spending too much time examining the report from this morning," Margo noted.
"To keep you from doing some research and discovering that the rest of the reports also have no evidence of forced entry," Lamont added.
Breen looked startled now. "How'd you know that's what I found?"
Lamont smiled wryly. "I just know. It follows logically."
"Who's the signatory on the policy?" Margo asked.
Breen looked through one of the folders. "Bob Marcus."
"Wait a minute," Margo said. "Bob Marcus is the pen name of Nick DiSanto."
Lamont frowned. "Insurance fraud. But that's not the least of it." He turned to Breen. "Call the police. Tell them what's happened."
"What am I going to tell them?" Breen said, confused. "I wasn't even in here."
Lamont's eyes took on a dark, ominous glare. You're going to call the police. You're going to tell them someone shot at you as you were sitting at your desk. It so startled you that you dropped the report from this morning's incident all over the floor. And you are going to forget we were ever here.
Breen's eyes glazed over. "I should call the police," he said.
Lamont gestured out the door with his head, and he and Margo moved out of the office.
As they left, they passed the secretary's desk. "Thanks for your help," Lamont told her. "Oh, one more thing..." He looked right at her, focusing his gaze on her. Mr. Breen had no one-o'clock appointment.
The secretary looked dazed. Quickly, Lamont and Margo left before the spell wore off.
Moe looked up from reading the script Margo had left on the seat as his regular passengers raced out of the building. Hitting a switch on the dashboard, he popped the rear door open for them.
Margo dove across the seat practically in stride, and Lamont jumped in next to her. "The Sanctum," he ordered.
"You got it," Moe replied, throwing the taxi into gear and diving into traffic. "What'd you find out?"
"Well, aside from somebody taking a shot at me, we found out that there was no forced entry into the theatre."
"Or any of the theatres along the way," Margo continued.
Moe glanced in the rear view mirror. "Somebody shot you? You O.K.?"
"Shot at me," Lamont corrected. "And yes, I'm fine. I don't think it was intended for either of us."
Moe gave him an uncertain look but dared go no further with it. "So you think this was an inside job."
"I'm positive it was. The only question is, who's the ringleader?"
"And just who is Bob Marcus?" Margo added.
"I thought you said he was Nick DiSanto," Moe replied.
"The signatory on the insurance policy is Bob Marcus," Lamont said.
"A pen name is a signatory? Is that legal?"
"No. Which means either the signatory produced false identification, or the insurance company's in on this."
"Oh, boy." He shook his head. "By the way, have you actually read this script?"
"It's actually not bad. Maybe Nicky's smarter than you guys give him credit for. It's about two girls growing up in the Jersey suburbs, and a weekend when they manage to duck out on their parents and pass themselves off as society girls in Manhattan..."
"Wait a minute," Margo said. "Two Jersey girls passing themselves off as debutantes in Manhattan?"
"Yeah. There are actually some good jokes in there--I knew some Jersey girls just like them..."
"I don't believe it. That sounds exactly like a story Bonnie wrote in high school."
Lamont looked over at her. "Are you sure?"
"Positive. She called it 'Weekend In Manhattan'. She got an A for it in English class."
"That's it!" Lamont shouted, suddenly smiling. "My God, that's it! That was the piece I was missing!"
Margo looked at him oddly at first, then suddenly gasped as she reached the same conclusion. "Oh, my God..."
"Moe, stop the car!"
Moe pulled up to the curb and stopped, looking puzzled. They were a long way from The Sanctum.
Lamont opened the back door, helped Margo out, then opened the front passenger door. "Get in."
At first, she didn't realize what he meant. Then, she realized he wanted her to move to the front passenger seat. She obliged.
He closed her door, then leapt into the back seat and slammed the rear door. "The Walters Theatre," he ordered, his voice hard and firm.
Moe knew that tone. "You got it, boss." He hit the gas, and the cab rocketed down the street.
Margo heard something pop, as if a spring-loaded latch had been thrown, and a light fog began to filter its way through her thoughts. She started to glance in the rear view mirror.
"Don't look," Moe said simply. "Trust me. You don't want to look."
She ignored him and looked into the mirror.
It was still early in the afternoon, but the swirling blackness in the back seat looked like something out of the depths of the night. She could feel the fog he'd blown into her mind getting darker and heavier as the non-presence suggestion was projected in ever-widening circles. Unnerved, she looked forward again.
The crack of his cloak being snapped out sounded like close-striking lightning on a hot summer night. Margo jumped involuntarily.
The latch snapped again, and she heard the sound of magazines being slapped into pistols. The fog in her head seemed to clear slightly. She finally risked another glance.
Lamont Cranston was gone. The Shadow had taken his place, and the hardness of his features almost matched the coldness of his eyes. Almost.
Margo forced herself to look in the mirror. "If you think you're going to be able to escape from me when we get there...," she began.
I wouldn't dream of it. I have a job for you, my dear.
Their eyes met. She thought she detected the barest hint of a smile in the portion of his face she could see.
Bonnie DeMarco carefully examined the ropes and sandbags backstage at the Walters, giving a tug to several of them. Then, she smiled. Things were ready for tonight.
"Waiting for something to fall on you from above, Bonnie?"
Bonnie whirled to see Margo behind her. "Margo!" she said, then forced a smile. "You...you startled me."
"I'll bet I did."
"How did you get in?"
"Probably the same way you did--through that door you left unlocked back there." She pointed to a side door.
Bonnie actually looked nervous. "You'd think I'd be more careful--especially with everything that's happened."
"Uh-huh. Especially since there wasn't a policeman at that door. What'd you do--send him away?"
"He's probably on one of those breaks cops take all the time. I'll have to speak to Stan about that."
"Good idea. What are you doing here, anyway?"
"Just checking out the repairs. That light rig almost falling on me was a little too close for comfort."
"I'll bet it was." Margo walked around her friend. "I'm looking forward to seeing your play tonight."
"Thanks. I'm a little nervous, to tell you the truth."
"Oh, I don't doubt it. Wouldn't want there to be an accident tonight, would we?"
"Of course not."
"After all, it's not often you get to see a playwright try to deliberately sabotage her Broadway debut."
Bonnie looked coy. "This isn't my debut, Margo. You know that."
"It is as a writer."
Now Bonnie really looked nervous. "What do you mean?"
"Don't play dumb. I read the script." She held up a copy of the script. "It's just like a story you wrote in senior English. You were so proud of that story. You said someday you were going to get a movie made out of it." She shook her head. "Too bad the out-of-town reviews were so bad."
"I don't know what you're talking about."
"Come on, Bonnie. I read the papers. I keep up with the theatre scene. The advances on this show have been lukewarm, to say the least. The only reason it's kept going is that bad publicity is better than no publicity...and the insurance money that you and Nicky are socking away."
"Wait a minute," Bonnie said. "You are accusing me of sabotaging my own show just to collect insurance money? That's insane. Remember, I almost got killed in one of those accidents."
"I noticed that. How convenient that it happened on a day when people were actually starting to question why there were so many accidents happening." She smiled. "By the way, whoever fired that shot at Barry Breen missed. And by now, the police are learning all about the fact that there was no forced entry in any of the vandalism incidents along the way. I imagine they're looking for Peter Bowland right about now, too."
Bonnie's eyes turned cold. "They'll never find him."
"Because we left him behind at our last stop."
"Wanted too big a cut, huh?"
Bonnie took a step toward her. "Turn around and walk out right now before you get in real trouble."
Margo stood her ground. "Why'd you do it, Bonnie? Were you so desperate for money that you'd risk your own professional reputation to get it?"
"Money." Bonnie scoffed. "You think money was all that mattered? I'd been trying to get that play produced for years. And no one would give me the time of day, because women don't write plays."
"So you put a fake name on it--a slight Americanization of your own name. And registered it in Nicky's name."
"And the critics hated it. And instead of giving me a chance to rework it, our financier pulled out." She shook her head. "Nicky and I talked a lot. He was tired of being a mob enforcer for chump change, and I was tired of always reading somebody else's lines and being someone else's character. Then I read one of those pulp novels about a Broadway producer who sabotaged his own production to get the insurance money...and that's where the idea came from."
"So he does the dirty work, and you keep the publicity machine moving. And between the box office and the insurance money, you make a fortune."
"Something like that."
"How's the story end?"
"The detective figures it out and fights to the death with the producer on the catwalks." She clicked her fingers.
Nick stepped out of the shadows, fingering his pistol menacingly. For the first time, Margo was nervous.
"I intend to rewrite the ending, though." She smiled cruelly. "I like happy endings, don't you?"
"So you were the one who shot at Breen," Margo realized, looking at Nick's gun.
"I don't like nosy outsiders," Nick growled.
"Now, now, Nicky," Bonnie chided. "Margo isn't an outsider--she's my friend. And she came to check on me to make sure I was all right after this morning. Shame there was another accident backstage...and she was too close to the falling debris." She laughed.
Suddenly, they were both drowned out by a maniacal laugh that shook the rafters. That hardly sounds like a happy ending to me, The Shadow's voice mocked.
Nick and Bonnie looked around nervously. "What was that?" Nick hissed.
Margo looked innocent. "I didn't hear anything."
Another laugh. Happy endings are for fairy tales. Real life is seldom so neat and clean. Yet another laugh, this time low and sinister.
Nick looked around, pointing his gun in the rafters. "Come out of there!" he shouted.
You're pointing the wrong direction. He laughed again.
Bonnie gestured with her head toward Margo. "Get her," she ordered.
Nick started to reach for Margo.
A black swirl swept itself around her, and she vanished.
"What the...?" Nick said, dumbfounded.
"The Shadow," Bonnie realized. "My God, I didn't think he existed." She reached out for the space where Margo had been...and found it empty.
Down the side steps, in the shadows near the orchestra pit, Margo Lane suddenly reappeared out of the midst of a black swirl that stood her upright before resolving into solidity next to her. Are you all right? he asked.
Margo looked around for a moment. Whenever he clouded her, it was like being placed in an isolation booth, and it took a second for her to reorient herself to her surroundings. Suddenly, she realized he was standing next to her, and put a concerned hand on his shoulder. I should be asking you that, she mentally told him. I know how much that takes out of you.
I'm fine. It was a lie, and they both knew it, but there was no time for him to be otherwise. Go out front and tell my agent to call for backup. I'll handle the rest.
They clasped hands, then she ran up the aisle.
The Shadow watched her for a moment, then turned his attention back to the stage. Smiling wickedly, he started up the stairs and vanished.
"Where'd they go?" Nick said nervously. "I don't like this."
"Shut up, Nicky," Bonnie ordered. "They can't have just disappeared--they have to be around here somewhere." She whipped back the curtain and looked across the stage.
Looking for me? The laughter began again, mocking them from all around.
She and Nick began looking around again. "Find him," she ordered. "I'll look for her. We can't let either of them get out of here."
Out on the street, the officer standing by the front door was stunned to see Margo running out the front door. He could have sworn no one had gotten past him. "How did you get in there?" he demanded.
"No time to explain," she told him, holding up her left hand so he could see her ring. "The sun is shining."
"But the ice is slippery," he answered, suddenly remembering her from earlier. "What's going on?"
"The vandals are back. He's dealing with them, but he'll need help. Call for backup."
"Will do." The officer ran off for the nearest callbox.
Margo waited until she was certain he was occupied, then hurried back inside.
Nick moved from the backstage area to the darkness of the rear of the stage. Set pieces were everywhere, creating odd angles and strange shadows.
He stepped through one of the mock doorways onto the main set, then stopped and slowly turned around. He could have sworn something was right behind him, but he couldn't see a thing...just an unending blackness...
A fist connected with his face, throwing him backward.
As he got to his feet, another punch knocked him down again. Then, unseen hands picked him up and flung him through the curtains to the front of the stage. Nick looked up.
The curtains parted by themselves. Nick aimed his gun right at the seam in the curtains.
A single shot from a .45 knocked the pistol right out of his hand.
Suddenly, the main bank of lights snapped on, bathing the stage in brilliant brightness. Lights from various angles created a variety of shadows of a tall man in a slouch hat and long cloak against the curtains.
Now Nick had a target. He got to his feet, found his pistol, and aimed for the center shadow.
At the last second, it dove out of the way. The shot tore right through the curtain.
Nick felt something kick him hard from behind and drive him to the ground once more. He reached for the empty space where the shadows converged. His hand made contact with a man's leg, and he pulled hard.
The Shadow crashed against the stage. A dark fog seemed to vanish, leaving him visible...and vulnerable.
Nick got to his feet, then kicked The Shadow in the ribs.
The Shadow rolled away, trying to suppress any verbal expression of the pain.
Another bank of lights went on, and this one nearly blinded him. Another kick sent him rolling across the stage.
Though unable to see and in serious pain, The Shadow knew he had to fight back or he was dead. Closing his eyes, he visualized the last place he'd seen Nick and tried to extrapolate where he'd be now. He shot a hand out...and grabbed Nick's leg.
Nick was stunned as this time he was the one who hit the deck.
The Shadow got to his feet, then picked up Nick and threw him across the stage with all his might.
Nick landed in a crumpled heap near the edge of the stage.
The Shadow walked over to Nick and nudged him with his foot.
Nick didn't move.
The Shadow took a minute to catch his breath, then started toward the backstage area, trying to find Bonnie.
From offstage, Bonnie saw Nick land in a heap, and The Shadow crossing toward her. She hurried over to the ropes she'd been testing earlier and sliced right through a well-hidden weakened area of the rope with a long hunting knife.
"Shadow, look out!"
The urgency in Margo's tone told him there was no time to waste. He dove to his left...and a sandbag crashed to the stage floor right where he'd been standing.
Bonnie whirled around at the sound of Margo's voice--and was smacked across the face with a script. "Don't you dare hurt him!" Margo shouted angrily.
Bonnie stumbled wildly toward the curtains, then managed to regain her footing and ran back toward Margo. "You've ruined everything!" she shrieked.
Margo ducked behind a costume case.
Bonnie sliced through another rope.
Margo dove out of the way just in time as another sandbag fell from the rafters and smashed against the floor.
Enraged, Bonnie practically threw herself at Margo.
Margo rolled out of the way.
Bonnie stumbled into the wall.
Margo got to her feet, grabbed a vase from a nearby prop table, and smashed it against Bonnie's back.
Dazed, Bonnie turned around and jabbed at Margo wildly with the knife.
Margo jumped back, then stumbled and fell to the stage.
Bonnie loomed over her with the knife.
Margo reached out and grabbed at a pile of sand from the broken sandbag, then threw it at Bonnie's face.
Bonnie stumbled, blinded.
Margo hooked her foot around Bonnie's leg and tripped her.
Bonnie toppled to the floor.
Margo got to her feet and tried to run away.
Bonnie wildly clutched at the air and managed to grab Margo's ankle.
Margo landed hard on the stage and cried out.
Bonnie crawled over to her and raised her knife, then drove it downward.
An unseen hand grabbed her wrist just as she did, stopping it in mid-swing. A dark fog swirled around her and settled into The Shadow's menacing form. Drop it, he ordered, his voice filled with anger.
Bonnie's grip trembled, and she released the knife.
He snatched it out of the air and flung it away, then drilled an intense hypnotic gaze right through her. Get up.
Bonnie got to her feet, looking uncertain and unsteady.
Walk out on that stage and sit down next to your partner--now!
Completely under his control now, she walked out to center stage in a daze.
Commissioner Wainwright Barth and a collection of officers came into the theatre just in time to watch in amazement as Bonnie DeMarco seemed to be surrendering to them willingly. "What the...," Wainwright began.
Commissioner Barth, The Shadow's voice echoed through the auditorium. Meet Bonnie DeMarco and Nick DiSanto, the vandals behind 'The Tragic Comedy'.
"It's that damn Shadow," Wainwright hissed. "Find him."
Wainwright's men spread out through the theatre.
A mocking laugh seemed to come from all corners. I can assure you, Commissioner, that you're wasting your time. You might be better served to ask Miss DeMarco and Mr. DiSanto about the shooting at Davidson and Jacoby this afternoon...about the missing Peter Bowland...about the lengths they were willing to go to in order to ensure they received some payoff from this ill-fated theatrical venture. Oh, and do be careful, Commissioner...there are booby-trapped set pieces and loose items in the rafters all around.
Wainwright gestured toward Bonnie and Nick. "Talk to them," he ordered two of his men.
"Commissioner!" one of the officers shouted.
Wainwright hurried onto the stage, then headed backstage.
One of his officers had found Margo lying on the floor, curled up in pain.
"Margo?" Wainwright said, coming over to her. "What are you doing here?"
"She's crazy," Margo said, trying to sit up, gasping and wincing in pain as she did. "She tried to kill me. I came by because I was worried about her--she's an old friend of mine--and look what she did! I just asked if it was too much of a coincidence that all these things were happening to her play, and she tried to kill me! You see those sandbags--she cut them loose to fall on me! I fell down and hurt my back trying to get out of the way!"
"We'll take care of her," Wainwright reassured. "Do you need a doctor?"
She shook her head. "I'll be O.K.," she said. "I just need to sit here for a minute."
He looked around, then leaned in close. "You didn't see The Shadow, did you?"
She looked at him oddly. "Come to think of it...I did see that door over there open and close by itself." She pointed at the backstage door.
Wainwright frowned. "He's gotten away!" he shouted to his men. "Get out into that alley and find him!"
The rest of the officers backstage hurried out the door.
"Are you sure you're all right?" Wainwright asked, turning back to her.
She nodded, still looking pale and injured.
Wainwright patted her on the shoulder, then went back out to the front of the stage.
As soon as he was gone, the pained look left her face. How'd I do?
An award-winning performance, my dear. He rested a hand on her shoulder from behind.
For once, she didn't flinch away from his touch. Instead, she reached up and stroked the invisible hand on her shoulder. Then, she nuzzled her cheek against it.
She felt his arm slip around her waist, and snuggled into the warmth of his embrace. To all the world, it looked like she was sitting on the floor and rocking herself back and forth.
We need to get out of here, he observed.
He gave her one last squeeze, then she felt him move out from behind her and take her hands from the front.
Holding tight, she let him pull her to her feet. Stay close to me, she urged. That way, our shadows will merge.
I'll be right behind you.
Slowly, calmly, and quietly, Margo made her way off-stage.
No one noticed that the woman in the red-and-white dress cast a long shadow of a man in a slouch hat and cloak.
For once, New York society's most notable couple, Lamont Cranston and Margo Lane, weren't out on the town as part of the nighttime social scene, dining in the Cobalt Club or taking in a show or just walking the streets. No, for once, they were enjoying some much-needed quiet time on the veranda of Lamont's mansion, his arms wrapped around her as they reclined on a chaise lounge together, sipping champagne, enjoying the cool night air, and taking in the clear night sky. "It's so beautiful," Margo noted, looking up at the twinkling stars.
He nodded. "Meditating by watching the stars at night is one of my favorite ways to relax. The view from my room in The Tulku's temple was phenomenal--the sky was so clear, the air so crisp, and the stars so bright. I used to spend many nights just letting my mind drain as I looked out the window."
"It sounds lovely."
"It was." He kissed the top of her head. "Almost as lovely as you."
"Flatterer." She snuggled against him.
"How are you feeling?"
"Little stiff, little sore. You?"
"Nothing that won't heal." He hugged her. "What you did was very brave."
"I'd do it again...and again...and again. I keep forgetting how much I owe you."
He shook his head. "You don't owe me anything."
She held up her left hand. "Remember this? I owe you my life. I'm ashamed of how often I forget that."
He kissed her again. "Margo..."
"No, let me say this and get it out of my system. You saved my life...not just once, but so many times I've lost count. And the only thing you've ever asked in return is my understanding. I can't believe I let jealousy over some silly rock on a friend's hand get to me. We have something so much stronger than that. We're a part of each other. I don't need a ring to tell me that. The one I've already got should be enough reminder."
He smiled and hugged her tightly. "More champagne?"
She drained the last remnants from her flute. "Please."
He handed her his glass, then fished the bottle out of an elegant silver pedestal ice bucket. He poured for both of them and put the bottle back in its bucket, then took his glass from her. "To us."
Their glasses clinked, and they sipped. Then, he set his glass down and held her tightly. "Know this for certain," he said softly. "I will never leave you. I can't. You're a part of me. And I never want to lose that."
She looked up at him. "You won't. Now, stop talking and kiss me."
He smiled almost wickedly. I don't have to stop talking to kiss you.
She couldn't help but smile back. "You're incorrigible."
And you're irresistable.
They dissolved into a deep, passionate, loving kiss.