Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?
That is the question I have asked many a criminal. It poses a rather interesting series of answers. Various men believe in various gods, who decide what fate rests for each of us. There are even those who fear the type of person they may have become. The evil inside a man can grow…just as it has grown within me.
Some say that whatever is found in a man's heart is what God put there. Life is devoid of choice, and who are we to challenge the Almighty Authority?
I have traveled the world and delved into lost disciplines, exploring what kind of creature man truly is. Fate is something to be grasped, not taken for granted.
For me, the evil that lurks has made me a force that cowardly men have a right to fear. I have become the very essence of the night. Those who would do harm to others are not paranoid when they look over their shoulders…they are smart. They should be afraid.
The question remains: who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?
With my signature laughter, the answer is as it always has been. The superstitious and fearful members of the underworld whisper it to one another while they seek refuge. Hide as they might, I will find them. If Justice is blind then I am her guide. For that question that seemingly haunts evildoers, the answer can be just as terrifying.
The Shadow knows.
"The Hearts of Men"
New York City, 1938
"Lamont! Lamont Cranston!"
Swirling gowns moved about the ballroom as a dark-haired and distinguishing looking man pivoted about in response to the name being called. Even within the confines of the crowded hall, the man was able to balance his martini in one hand while waving with his other at the young lady who had beckoned him.
"Miss Friedens! How wonderful to see you tonight!" he replied. A few people glanced their way to see if there was some little bit of gossip to absorb but quickly turned away as to not attract attention to themselves.
"Lamont," she said, "we've bumped into each other at these gatherings quite enough over the years that I think you've earned the right to call me Eloise."
"True enough, true enough!" he responded with a broad smile as he leaned forward for the customary kiss on the cheek. "How have you been?"
"Daddy's stocks are up so things are quite well. But I'm much more curious to hear about your little adventures! Tell me, is it true you lived with savages in the Far East? Everyone is talking about it!"
"Are they now?" Lamont questioned. He lifted the martini to his lips but it was mostly for show. He very rarely took a drink at these functions as he found it easier to simply blend in naturally. "Heavens knows why. I didn't do anything very exciting over there. Some small investing here and there but the trip was mostly to relax."
"Well…perhaps not everyone is talking about it, but I certainly am curious to know more. Lamont Cranston, I believe you owed me a night out before you left rather abruptly two years ago."
"I'll have to make sure I have some time to--"
"Cranston! Where have you been, my boy?"
Both turned at the sudden entrance of a third party into their conversation. The booming voice was the signature of the city's illustrious mayor, which more than one person had claimed was the reason he kept getting reelected. Ever present, his assistant rode his heels as the mayor shot over to Lamont.
"Mayor LaGuardia! To think I almost didn't come out tonight. It's a pleasure, sir."
"Nonsense, boy, nonsense." The mayor shook Lamont's hand furiously, as if the polls closed in just a few hours and he desperately needed the votes. "You don't come out often enough! Why is that? Surely you wouldn't want to be away from a lady as lovely as this?"
"Mr. Mayor, you're too much!" Eloise implored, regardless of the fact she had taken a step closer to the mayor and matched his stare.
"Well, you know me," answered Lamont. "My night life has always been…diverse. Speaking of which, I really must get going. Nice seeing you again, Eloise. I promise you'll get that night out on the town from me before you know it."
With a few puzzled looks and several waves goodbye from around the room, Lamont excused himself to the coat room. Once retrieved, he quickly donned the apparel and stepped out into the brisk night air, the cold snapping at his throat.
No sooner had he stepped outside then twin headlights flicked on and a yellow taxicab lurched forward to stop just in front of him. Lamont, ignoring the cold, yanked open the back door and slipped inside the cab.
"Have fun, boss?" asked the driver.
"No, Moe." It was Lamont who had replied but his voice was different…almost like it belonged to another person entirely. It was deeper and more crisp. "The Shoeshine Club used to be a place I liked to frequent but tonight I had a different motive than mingling."
The cab shot forward into the busy traffic on Layden Avenue. Moe Shrevnitz, as the driver's license on the dash read, was one of the more colorful cabbies in the city. It was his goal to get his passenger wherever they needed to be before they knew they needed to be there.
"So where to now, boss?"
"City Hall," Lamont replied. "The mayor's assistant was at the club tonight so that means no one is in his office. I need to take a look at the permits recently given out to some of New York's more colorful residents. Certain properties near the harbor were sold recently and I need to find out what the owner's intentions are."
"Whatever you say, boss."
Moe shifted gears on the '35 Studebaker-turned-taxicab, vaulting the vehicle passed other cars. As he did, Lamont removed his overcoat, setting it beside himself on the backseat of the cab. With practiced swiftness, Lamont unbuttoned his blazer and yanked off his bowtie.
"Did you pick up my 45's?" asked the now even raspier voice of Lamont.
"You bet! Grabbed them earlier this afternoon from your man downtown. He said he drilled out the barrels and adjusted the triggers just how you wanted, boss. Check the secret compartment and you'll find them all polished up and ready to go."
As Lamont pulled off his tuxedo shirt, he reached down and flipped a switch under the passenger side seat. A rather large drawer clicked open at his feet, revealing twin 45 caliber pistols, which were indeed polished. Also inside the drawer were a heavy full-length coat, wide-brim hat, shirt, cape, and scarf. The coat, shirt, hat, and exterior side of the cape were solid black while the scarf and inside of the cape were a deep, blood red.
Lamont quickly donned the new clothing, shoving the pistols into a set of shoulder holsters that rested between the coat and cape. As he did, the shards of light cast by the passing street lamps swept across his face, illuminating it for brief moments. Just as his voice had become more hardened, so did his features. Lamont's eyes and nose were all that could be seen once his scarf was in place, and each of those now seemed more rigid and cold.
"Stop here, Moe," he ordered.
Moe did as he was told, bringing the cab to a quick stop at the head of an alley. The back door of the cab quietly opened but no one stepped out. Moe looked at his rearview mirror, expecting to see his employer, but instead saw only an empty seat.
"Go get 'em, boss."
"Hurry up, ya mooks!"
Freddy Gonzo felt comfortable issuing orders at his fellow wise guys. For someone like Freddy, power wasn't something you had all the time. He exercised whatever small amount of power he could, when he could. The other men may not have liked it much, but the Big Boss had put him in charge of this operation.
"We're moving as fast as we can, Freddy!" defended one of the men. The rest thought it best not to bother arguing and tried to continue their search. They had been given a specific job to do and none of them wanted to go back to the Big Boss empty-handed.
"Not fast enough! Now quit your yapping and pick up the pace!"
The mayor's office was a mess. Filing cabinets had been knocked over once their contents had been expelled around the room, papers littered the floor, and desk drawers had been rifled through as well. The four men in pinstriped suits had made it seem as if a hurricane had blasted through the room.
"We need to find those permits," Freddy yelled to the gang. "The Big Boss is gonna have our hides if we don't deliver before--"
"Before what, Freddy?"
Freddy jumped at the echoing voice. None of his men had said it, he was sure of that. A shiver ran up and down his spine as he looked left and right, trying to find the person who had spoken in such an eerie manner.
"Before someone gets hurt?" offered the voice. Whoever it was, he began to laugh. The laughter pierced through the shadows of the dimly lit office and slapped each crook in the face like a wet palm.
"Maybe we oughta get the hell out of here, eh Gonzo?" one of the men managed to blurt out.
"It's…it's just a trick is all! Unstrap your piece, all of ya!" Freddy Gonzo prayed the confidence he was trying to force into his voice was actually coming through. The truth was that Freddy was ready to pass out.
"Forget it!" another of the men hollered, this one wearing a grey fedora. "I ain't taking on no ghost!"
The man gripped his fedora to his head and made for the exit, jumping a turned over filing cabinet in the process. He made it to the hallway outside the office and just beyond Freddy's line of sight. A few seconds later, the man screamed, sending another chill up and down Freddy's spine.
His screams were cut short by two muffled cracks! and then there was silence. A moment later, the man's grey fedora rolled back into the room, coming to a stop at Freddy's left foot.
The mysterious voice started laughing again, even louder than before.
"I know, Freddy. I know about what you did to that little girl. I know who you're working for. I know what you're willing to do to get what you want. None of you can keep anything from me, especially you, Freddy Gonzo."
Each of the men in the office were shaking. Freddy was the first to open fire, shooting randomly around the room. The two other men quickly followed suit, shooting hot lead into the walls and ceiling. The voice's laughter only roared louder, matching the volume of the gunfire.
"Who the hell are you?" screamed Freddy. "You don't know nothing! Ya hear me? Nothing! You don't know--"
"The Shadow knows, Freddy!"
"The Shadow?" asked one of the goons, his own voice beginning to screech with terror. "Maybe…m-m-maybe we ought to bail, Freddy! I've heard things about that Shadow guy. They say he can't be killed! They say he'll pull ya into the dark and you ain't coming back!"
The laughter continued to roar on, bouncing off the thin walls of the office. For a split-second, Freddy thought he saw something move in one of the corners. Were his eyes playing tricks on him?
"That's a load of bull," Freddy said. "Ain't no such thing as this Shadow guy."
"Well, then, who the hell is laughing? Huh? You answer that--"
"Shut up!" hollered Freddy. "Lemme think for a second!"
"How long did it take for the girl to die, Freddy? After you left her there in the alley, bleeding, how long did it take? One hour? Two? Does the Big Boss know you killed his god-daugther?"
The remaining two gangsters looked at Freddy, questions covering their expressions. Freddy started to noticeably shake as the deep voice laughed yet again.
"Shut up! I…I don't know what you're talking about! Don't listen to him, boys! He's just trying to confuse us!"
"What should we do, Mikey?" asked one of the men who had turned to face the other. "I don't know what we should--"
A gloved hand reached out from behind the man, yanking him back into the part of the office that was completely dark. The man yelled in surprise, and even managed to fire off a round from his handgun, but the sounds of the struggle quickly ended with two more swift, muffled cracks!
"Lewis?" Mikey asked, swiveling his gun to point into the darkness. "Lewis? Say something!"
The laughter abruptly stopped, leaving the room in eerie silence. Freddy squinted to try and make out what was happening on the far side of the room where Lewis had disappeared. Mikey stepped forward, gun raised. It was hard to describe…Freddy had never seen anything like it. If he lived through tonight he honestly wasn't sure that he would be able to explain just what had happened.
It looked like black smoke, but it wasn't quite smoke. More like…wisps of darkness. A fist momentarily appeared in front of Mikey, punching him right in the chin. As soon as the fist had connected, it evaporated away into the wisps again. Mikey stumbled back, shocked. Before he could regain his composure, another fist suddenly appeared, this time hitting Mikey with a left-hook that would have made a professional boxer blush. Once again, as soon as the fist followed through on the punch, it evaporated away again.
Mikey fell back into the desk, rolling over onto the floor. He was knocked out cold from the strange assault.
"Jesus!" Freddy screamed. "Who the hell are you? How did you do that?"
Some invisible thing smacked the gun out of his hand, startling him. Freddy took in a quick breath as he was lifted a couple inches off of the floor by the lapels of his pinstripe suit. His eyes opened wide with disbelief as a tall man dressed all in black materialized from the wisps of shadow right in front him, revealing how he was held up in the air.
"You're going to deliver a message for me, Freddy," the man said. His voice was no longer reverberating off of the office walls, but it was still raspy and frightening just the same. "You are going to tell Big Boss that the Shadow knows what he's up to. Then you're going to leave town for a long, long time. If I ever see you again you're going to end up just like that little girl did."
Sweat ran down Freddy's face, glistening in the dim light of the office. He tried to murmur a response, but his throat had closed up from sheer terror. He could scarcely breathe now, let alone offer a retort to the man's comments.
Then, in the blink of an eye, the man faded back into nothingness, dropping Freddy on the floor. The laughter started again but quickly faded away into the night. Minutes passed with Freddy just sitting on the floor, unsure of what to do next. The sweat was beginning to bead around Freddy's temples – he was still terrified beyond his control. What was he going to tell Big Boss? Should he continue to search for the permits? Had the crazy guy in black really left?
The questions continued to swirl through Freddy's head but there was one thing he was absolutely sure of: he needed to get out of there. He would figure out what to tell the Big Boss later…right now he needed a drink. Maybe he could figure out how to explain this to his employer after a few belts…
Freddy jumped up and scrambled for the door, leaving his gun behind. The brisk night air stabbed at his lungs and the smell of the street cleaner's ammonia enraged his nostrils but he paid them no attention. He had to get away from whatever that…man was.
Two blocks away he finally made up his mind about what to do. Running right passed the closest speakeasy he ducked down an alley to take the straightest root to the Big Boss' hideout. As much as he wanted to toss back a few rounds of whiskey he wanted to not be bothered by that creep again. That guy knew what was going on in his head somehow and Freddy Gonzo didn't want to give him any reason to come after him again. He would follow the instructions to the letter, ending with him leaving town. Permantly. That meant delivering the message to Big Boss first.
The Shadow waited on the rooftop of City Hall, keeping the side exit of the building in his field of vision. His cape billowed behind him in the soft breeze, the crimson lining reflecting bits of moonlight. Tonight had proved eventful even though he hadn't found the permits he had originally gone to the office for. By pure luck he had entered the building while the gangsters were rifling through it. He had suspected the connection between Big Boss and the mayor and was hoping to find proof of it in the permits. Apparently, Big Boss had realized the same thing and was trying to destroy that evidence.
The side door opened, catching the Shadow's attention from the sound of hinges desperately crying out for lubrication. Freddy Gonzo stumbled out into the alley, making an immediate break for the street. He looked disoriented but that was to be expected. In the few months that the Shadow had made himself known to the underworld more than one criminal had that look plastered on their face. It made the Shadow smile slightly underneath his blood red scarf.
His teacher in the Far East had given him the ability to cloud the minds of men, allowing him to instill fear all that much easier into his prey. He could enter their minds and see what evil lurked within them. For Freddy Gonzo, the Shadow barely had to scratch the surface of his psyche to discover which buttons to push.
As the moonlight dissipated behind a passing cloud, the Shadow vanished into the darkness. Another benefit of his studies, the Shadow had seemingly become exactly like his namesake. None could see him unless he willed it. Even if Freddy looked directly up at him from the street he wouldn't be able to see the Shadow following closely. Even better than finding the documentation in the mayor's office, the Shadow would be led directly to the Big Boss himself.
The night was young and the Shadow had much work left to do.
So…why the Shadow? There are tons of other characters out there that I could spend my time on, so why this particular one?
I saw "The Phantom" movie, starring Billy Zane, when it debuted in theaters years ago and hated it. Well…maybe 'hate' is too strong a word. I didn't like it very much. Recently, however, I found myself renting that film and watching it again, just to try and remember why I didn't enjoy it.
I was shocked. While the movie was by no means worthy of an award it was still a fun and enjoyable movie. I couldn't believe I hadn't liked it when I was younger. Bad taste on my part, I suppose. Hindsight is 20/20 after all.
Anyway, it got me thinking about pulp heroes in general. What other pulp heroes were out there? Where were they now? Moon Man, Green Hornet…all interesting but not nearly as cool as the Shadow. I remember loving old tapes of the radio show and the film based on the character, starring Alec Baldwin. Here was the coolest pulp hero ever – and he was virtually forgotten in comics. Say it ain't so!
I've done my research and I'm trying to deliver this new series in the old pulp style, even using specific font to try and get the visual perception right. Hopefully, I'm doing the character justice.