Absolution

A Shadow Short Story By Scarlet

Author's Note: The characterizations in this story are based on the 1994 movie The Shadow...S.

The chimes of the morning bells at St. Joseph Catholic Church echoed through the sanctuary as Father Mark Ryan entered for his morning prayers. He crossed himself and knelt at the railing, praying quietly for the strength to guide others through the hectic day-to-day life in New York City. An Irish immigrant, Father Ryan had arrived just six months ago as the new parish priest in one of the city's oldest churches, and often felt overwhelmed by the pace of life in one of the world's largest cities. St. Joseph's was on the northern edge of Turtle Bay, the home of both the elite social set and formerly wealthy families who struggled to hold onto their place in the upper class even as the losses of The Depression threatened to swallow them whole, and the problems presented by both settings took a great deal of balance and patience to handle; Father Ryan often found himself dealing with situations he'd never seen in his native land, and prayed for the patience to cope with both unfamiliar circumstances and common issues that plagued all mortal men.

His prayers finished, Ryan crossed himself once more and rose from his knees, then turned to the sanctuary behind him.

Slumped over in a pew was a man in a disheveled suit, looking as if he were in deep emotional distress.

Father Ryan sighed. He'd seen too many of these folks since his arrival--once wealthy, successful businessmen who'd lost everything in the stock market crash, whose assets were not reviving quickly enough, who suffered both a loss of money and a loss of status. He quietly walked over to the man and put a gentle hand on his shoulder.

The man toppled to the floor. Only then did Father Ryan see the deep stab wounds in the man's stomach. He shook, then ran out of the sanctuary.


Sirens racing by Turtle Bay's elegant mansions was a rare sound indeed, and the sounds from the street below filtered through the open windows of Lamont Cranston's bedroom. Lamont awoke and sat up in bed, looking curiously toward the window.

Margo Lane stirred at the motion of the mattress, and she opened her eyes and looked over at her lover, who was now climbing out of bed and sashing his robe. "What is it?" she asked.

"Sirens," he replied, heading for the windows.

"Here?" She got up and sashed her own dressing gown, then came over to the windows to join him.

"Down the street." He looked out the window, then reached into his wardrobe and flipped a hidden switch.

A decorative panel on the side swung open, revealing a slim compartment with a complete change of clothes for The Shadow and assorted accessories like ammunition clips hanging from hooks on the back wall of the compartment. He removed a pair of binoculars from its hook and looked out the window once more. "Looks like they're stopping at St. Joe's."

"Fire, maybe?"

He shook his head. "No fire trucks. Looks like an ambulance and police."

"Wonder what's going on?"

"Maybe I'd better find out."

She looked surprised. "You want to go into a church? Did Hell freeze over yesterday?"

He glared at her. "Very funny."

"Sorry. I just know you haven't seen the inside of a church in years."

He nodded. There were reasons for this, of course. Most of them had to do with a stretch of years where Lamont Cranston wore the disguise of the vile opium lord Ying Ko. But The Shadow's activities weren't exactly conducive to Christian fellowship and brotherhood. And even before all of that, he'd never been the most dutiful of Catholics; Lamont had to reach back into his childhood to remember the last time he'd even attended Mass.

She patted his shoulder. "Even churches have their share of shadows."

He gave her a light hug. "Get dressed. We're going for a walk."


It was early, but already the Indian Summer day was warm and sunny...and the neighborhood residents were out in force along with the police and an ambulance. Lamont and Margo arrived at St. Joseph's just as the ambulance pulled away and came upon a bevy of officers taking pictures of the scene, looking for clues, and keeping curious passers-by away. "What's going on?" Lamont asked one of the men in blue.

"Priest found a guy stabbed in a pew," the young officer replied. "Move along, please."

Lamont gave a tight smile and held up his left hand. "The sun is shining."

The officer gave him an odd look for a moment, then spotted the fire opal ring. A glance at Margo showed her discreetly displaying a similar ring. The officer held up his right hand and showed his own agent's ring. "But the ice is slippery," he responded. "What do you need?"

"Just gathering information," Lamont replied. "Anything would be helpful."

The officer nodded, then gestured with his head off toward the church itself.

The three of them stepped just inside the doorway. The officer glanced around once more, then turned back to Lamont. "That's the first time anybody's ever said those words to me," he commented. "I got this ring when I was just a kid--I was beginning to think he'd forgotten about me."

"Who?" Lamont replied in a reminding tone.

The young man nodded. "Right. Sorry." He extended his right hand. "Steve Koslowski."

"Lamont Cranston." They exchanged a handshake. "This is my fiancee, Margo Lane."

"How do you do?" Margo said, offering her hand.

He accepted it. "Pleasure, ma'am." He looked around once more. "O.K., here's what we know so far. Guy didn't have any I.D. on him. Father Ryan over there found him in the pew, slumped over. When he went to tap him on the shoulder, the guy hit the floor, already stabbed. Ryan's not being real cooperative--when we asked if the guy said anything, he said he couldn't tell us because of 'the privacy of the confessional'. We tried telling him that the guy was on the floor, not the confessional, but he wouldn't budge. And that's what we know so far. You want me to write that down?"

Lamont shook his head. "I've got a good memory. I'll make sure it gets relayed. But if you find out anything else, make sure you write it down and take it to a drop box. Even the smallest details can be important in a case like this."

"Gotcha." Koslowski looked around again. "Look, I know I shouldn't be doing this, but I think I can trust you two. Feel free to look around. If anybody gives you any trouble, I'll stand up for you."

"Thanks. You'd better get back to your post."

"Yeah. Let me know if you need anything."

"We will. Good luck, Koslowski. And be careful."

"You too." They exchanged handshakes once more, then walked away.

Margo looked at Lamont and tapped her temple to indicate she wanted a wordless conversation. What was that all about?

He smiled. First time he's been used as an agent. I rescued him from an arsonist when he was a teenager. It's the first time I've seen him in years. I'd wondered what had happened to him. A mental sigh. There are times I feel so old.

She gave his hand a squeeze. You're not old. You've just been doing this a long time.

Seven years this month. They headed into the sanctuary.

Margo reached for the bowl of holy water near the doorway, dipped her fingers into it, and crossed herself. She then noticed Lamont looking at her with a curious expression. Force of habit.

He raised an eyebrow. You never told me you were Catholic.

You never asked.

Touche. Another mental sigh. I am, too. But a horribly lapsed one.

I know. She smiled.

He gave her hand a squeeze as they walked a bit further into the sanctuary.

Father Ryan was standing off to one side, talking to several policemen. Several more were around the spot where the man had collapsed, taking blood samples and dusting for fingerprints. Lamont glanced around the sanctuary, looking slightly uncomfortable.

Margo gave a sympathetic smile. Guilty conscience, Mr. Cranston?

He shrugged it off. I'm actually struck by how much it resembles The Tulku's temple. Ornate stone walls...elegant tapestries...jeweled and gilded religious artifacts...intricate altar separated from the rest of the chamber, although I'm quite certain Father Ryan doesn't meditate while sitting cross-legged on his altar. He casually walked over to a side door in a dark corner and examined it, then pointed to a spot on the door frame. Bloodstain.

He came in through here?

Lamont nodded. Which means he was stabbed outside the church somewhere. He put his handkerchief on the door handle and pushed it open, then headed out to the alley beside the church.

Margo followed. Why would someone stabbed in the stomach come here?

Churches are normally houses of mercy. It may have been the most convenient port in the storm. Lamont looked around the alley. A trail of blood led toward the rear of the church. He followed it, turning the corner down another alley that led behind a row of shops.

Margo spotted a large bloodstain against the wall of a small store. Lamont...

I see it. He came over to the stained wall. Looks like this is where he was stabbed.

Robbery?

Could be. He was found with no I.D. It could have been stolen from him before he was stabbed. He counted rear doors from the corner. Let's go around front and check out which store this is.


The store with the bloody rear wall was Martin's Dry Cleaners, already open for business even at this hour of the morning. Lamont and Margo walked in and were greeted by the counter man. "Can I help you?" he asked.

"Maybe," Lamont replied. "Are you aware there's a huge bloodstain on your back wall?"

"What?"

"A man was found stabbed at St. Joe's, around the corner, and the blood trail leads right to your back wall."

"Oh, my God...no, I had no idea."

"Did all your employees report to work today?" Margo asked.

"Everybody's here who's supposed to be here, but I'm not the boss. Mr. Griffin is."

"Is he the 'Martin' in the store name?"

The counter man shook his head. "No, that's the owner, Fred Martin. He owns three cleaners in town. Mr. Griffin's the manager."

"Is Mr. Griffin here?" Lamont asked.

"Not yet. He usually doesn't get here until around nine."

"Why are you open so early?"

"Businessman's special. Mr. Martin figures the rich folks heading for important business meetings will want to have their suits pressed or something like that at this hour. We're always open before seven and close after six."

"So that the rich folks can pick up their pressed formal wear for a night on the town?" Margo asked.

"Something like that."

Lamont looked thoughtful. "Who gets here the earliest?" he asked.

"Dave."

"Is Dave here?"

"He's in the back."

"Could we talk to him?"

"You got a reason?"

"He might have seen who stabbed the man behind your store, or know who the man is."

The counter man looked suspicious. "I haven't seen a badge yet, pal. So, unless you're a cop, I don't think you ought to be asking so many questions about something you shouldn't be involved in..." His voice trailed off as his eyes glazed over.

Lamont's intense gaze drilled right through the counter man. I need to speak to Dave, The Shadow's voice told him. And I need to speak to him now.

The counter man turned to the rear of the store. "Dave!" he shouted.

No answer. "Is Dave back there?" he called again.

"Don't see him," someone answered.

"Haven't seen him in a while," another voice replied.

The counter man turned back to Lamont and Margo. "Sorry, mister," he said. "He's not here right now."

How convenient, Margo mentally complained.

Lamont discreetly nodded. "If you see him," he said, "have him contact Officer Koslowski of the Midtown precinct. They're quite interested in talking to him."

"Will do, mister."

Lamont nodded his thanks, then offered his arm to Margo, and the two of them left together.

"Off to work, darling?" she asked.

"Looks like it," he answered as Moe pulled up to the curb in front of them.

She shook her head and tapped her temple. You are simply amazing. I did not even hear you calling for him.

He gave a mischievous grin as he opened the rear passenger door. Which one of us is the receptor, darling?

She scowled at him, then climbed in.

"Where to, boss?" Moe asked as Lamont climbed in and closed the door.

Lamont gave a sigh and suppressed a yawn. "Home, then The Sanctum. It's going to be a busy day."


Halfway down The Sanctum's winding staircase, the fire opal in Lamont's ring began flashing. He sighed, then concentrated to send a signal back to extinguish the light on Burbank's console. Not even 8:00 a.m., and already his ring was flashing--it was going to be one of those days. He tossed his hat on the workbench as he reached the bottom of the staircase and headed for the communications console. Flipping a couple of switches, he took a seat in his leather swivel chair and faced the disc-shaped screen.

A shield on the screen opened to reveal Burbank, looking entirely too awake for this hour of the morning. Lamont had never been a morning person, and The Shadow's nocturnal activities had only accentuated his dislike of early daylight hours. "Report," he ordered.

"Agent in Midtown precinct reports additional information on stabbing at St. Joseph's Catholic Church earlier this morning," Burbank stated.

"Yes, I spoke to him on the scene," Lamont replied in answer to Burbank's unspoken question. "Did he find the blood trail at the back of the church?"

Lamont could have sworn that was a look of surprise on the normally unflappable Burbank's face. After over six years of working together, Lamont thought few things The Shadow knew would have surprised his loyal assistant any more. "Yes, sir. Trail of blood from a side entrance to the church leads to the back of Martin's Cleaners, East 52nd near Third Avenue. Workers inside the cleaners apparently had heard about the bloodstain but seem to know nothing of the incident itself."

"Any word on the stabbing victim?"

"Under guard at Belleview, undergoing surgery as we speak. Confirmed positive I.D. as Fred Martin, owner of the cleaners in question and two other shops in town."

Now that was news. Lamont raised an eyebrow. "Motive?"

"None reported. Shall I send a response?"

"Tell him to keep me informed. I want to know the minute Martin's well enough to talk. I'll be in touch."

"Understood." The screen went blank.

Lamont flipped off the power, then leaned back in his chair and looked thoughtful. Like most places in New York City, the Turtle Bay neighborhood was undergoing a change in complexion due to the financial crunch of The Great Depression; Lamont was one of the few old-guard residents who hadn't at least entertained the notion of selling out to a developer to escape the high costs of maintaining a fifty-room mansion in Manhattan. Of course, Lamont reminded himself, when you were a savvy enough investor to double your net worth in a year by picking up and then reselling some prime distressed real estate, funding and investing in quick-growth businesses, and putting a few investment dollars into recovering areas of the economy, you could afford to pay a full-time staff of 12 to keep up the house and grounds--and 80 million allowed you to make your share of mistakes if your hunches didn't pan out. But many of his neighbors weren't in the same shape--and developers were swarming around the area like vultures. And with many of those developers came organized crime to do the actual work. Martin's Cleaners had been a part of the neighborhood for as long as he could remember--but was Martin under pressure from less scrupulous owners in the area? Had he gotten involved with them and ended up over his head? Or was this just a simple robbery of a rich businessman in a back alley? Why would Martin go to St. Joseph's, a block-long walk, after being stabbed? Was it merely a safe port in a storm, or was something else going on? Why was Father Ryan refusing to talk to police? Was he merely protecting the sanctity of the confessional, or covering up valuable information?

The questions kept spinning through his mind. Lamont rubbed his temples, trying to slow down the whirling thoughts and get them better organized. A glance at his watch told him it was nearly 8:00, and the rumbling in his belly reminded him he hadn't eaten in almost 12 hours. He reached across the desk and flicked a switch to reactivate the communications console. "Burbank," he said into the microphone.

The screen shield reopened, and Burbank's face once more appeared. "Yes, sir?"

"I need some information. Pass a message to the appropriate agents to find out as much as they can about businessman Fred Martin and Father Mark Ryan of St. Joseph's. There's some kind of connection I'm missing, and I need more clues."

"Understood." The screen went blank once more.

Lamont turned off the console, then sent for Moe. He badly needed breakfast and coffee to freshen his mind and stop the growling in his stomach. Company for breakfast might be pleasant, too. He closed his eyes and concentrated slightly. Margo.

After a moment, a faint tickling sensation touched the edge of his listening thoughts. He opened his receptive center a bit more to pick out Margo's mental voice trying to call back to him. Are you all right?

Fine, but hungry. Where are you?

In the shower.

Ah. So sorry to disturb you, madam.

Didn't The Tulku teach you to knock first?

I never had to. He could hear me thinking a mile away. What are you doing for breakfast?

I already grabbed a bite to eat. Thought you might be a while.

I see.

You want me to tell Russell to have breakfast ready for you when you get home?

He raised an eyebrow. Are you in my shower?

No, but there's this wonderful invention called a telephone. You know, the thing that us non-projectors have to use to call people?

He chuckled mentally. Touche. Yes, that would be nice. I should be home in about 20 minutes.

Good. I'll come join you for coffee.

Now he was smiling. That would be even nicer, my dear. See you in a bit. He dropped the link, then retrieved his hat from the workbench and headed up the stairs.


Moe pulled up to the curb just as Lamont emerged from the alley. The rear passenger door popped open, and Lamont climbed in virtually in-stride. "Home, Shrevnitz," he said, closing the rear door.

"You got it," Moe said, pulling away from the curb. "What's the word?"

"Our stabbing victim is Fred Martin, owner of Martin's Cleaners."

"No kidding? Think somebody jumped him for cash?"

"Possible, but that raises more questions than it answers. Why was he in the back alley, not the front of his store? Why wander all the way to St. Joe's? He passed any number of houses along the way, and Martin's been in the neighborhood for years; if he'd stopped at a house, somebody would have helped him. It doesn't make sense."

"And I guess Father Ryan's still not talking?"

"Not as of the last update. Which is another thing that doesn't make sense."

"I don't know why it shouldn't. Priests, rabbis, pastors--all of them have a reputation for being tight-lipped."

"But why not give the police valuable information? Even if Martin just told Ryan what horses he was playing in today's daily double, it might be important."

"How would you feel if someone wanted me to tell them what you'd said in confidence? I mean, suppose your uncle put the heat on me to find out why you were always late for everything? Would you want me to just spill it because it might be useful?"

Lamont glared at the rear view mirror. "You wouldn't."

"Darn right I wouldn't. I promised you I'd never tell anyone. And Martin probably made Father Ryan promise he'd never tell anyone. And I don't care if you can make people tell you their deepest secrets, you have to respect that promise. I take my promise seriously. I guarantee Ryan does, too. Now whether Martin is using that to hide something is another issue, but you of all people have no business getting mad at a priest for keeping a promise."

Lamont leaned back in the seat and sighed. "Moe," he finally said, "you weren't a Buddhist monk in a previous lifetime, were you?"

Moe gave him an odd look. "What?"

"Never mind. There are just moments when you sound so much like my old master it's eerie."

Moe tried not to smile. In the six years he'd known Lamont Cranston, their relationship had taken on various, ever-shifting aspects. At times, they had an employer-employee relationship. At times, they were peers. At times, each took turns playing the role of confidante and sounding board. And right now, they were father and son. Lamont had once mentioned in passing that his father, had he lived, would be about Moe's age...and Moe was quite certain that aspect of their friendship did not escape the perceptive telepath in his rear seat. "Just reminding you of that great power, great responsibility thing."

Lamont nodded respectfully. "So noted, Mr. Shrevnitz."

The rest of the ride went by in silence.


Russell opened the door to the manse as Lamont climbed out of the cab. "Good morning, sir," the butler greeted.

"Good morning, Russell," Lamont replied as he came inside and handed his hat to him.

"Your breakfast is ready, sir. And this arrived for you a few minutes ago." He handed Lamont a cream-colored envelope.

Lamont frowned. He already knew what the note said before he opened it. Sometimes Burbank was too efficient for his own good. "Thank you," he said calmly.

Russell nodded, then headed off to the cloak room.

Lamont pulled out the slip of paper from the envelope, and writing gradually became visible:

Cranston--obtain any information available about Father Mark Ryan, St. Joseph's Catholic Church, East 53rd near Third Avenue. Report soonest.

Lamont gave a sigh. There were times he needed to be a bit more specific with Burbank; he'd expected this note to be relayed to relatively new agent Ann Garrison, a secretary with the Archdiocese of New York. But Burbank had sent it instead to the agent in closest proximity to the point of interest--Lamont Cranston--and Lamont knew he couldn't discipline his loyal man for thinking along those lines. Besides, there were times it was beneficial to bypass the middleman.

He crossed to the living room, tossed the note and envelope into the fireplace, struck a match and ignited them, then headed to the dining room for breakfast as they burned away.


The warm breeze of an Indian Summer morning nearly swept Lamont's hat off his head as walked up the block to St. Joseph's. Margo had offered to come with him, but he'd instead sent her to talk to Ann Garrison to get a different perspective on Father Mark Ryan. The Tulku had often scolded Lamont that he had a tendency to try to push his darkness away instead of facing it head-on as he needed to, and he could almost hear his old master reminding him that one should never turn away from a challenge, but instead face it and use it to gain strength and discipline. So, he walked ever closer toward the imposing old church, reminding himself of his mission as very old memories tried to intrude on his thoughts.

"Lamont, don't dawdle."

Lamont stopped walking for a moment at the sound of his mother's voice in his head. It seemed like Barbara Cranston said that every Sunday as they walked the short blocks to church. Even then, he'd hated the journey.

"I'm not dawdling. I'm conserving energy."

And that was verse one of his litany of excuses. He was very good at coming up with new ones, but they never seemed to make a difference.

"Don't talk back to your mother, Lamont."

That was his father talking. Theodore Cranston was hard, cold, and dictatorial. His word was law, and no one dared disagree. No one, that is, except his headstrong, stubborn son.

"I'm not talking back. I'm explaining."

That one never washed, either. That one usually earned him a glare from his father.

"Young man, you are going to have to learn some discipline."

And now his father was reciting verse one of "Lamont Cranston's Shortcomings". This was a song Lamont knew by heart. Heaven knows his father sang it often enough.

"Honestly, Lamont, you would think you were being dragged here in chains. It's important to acknowledge the blessings God has given this family. Would you rather be living in the streets like those children across the river?"

Ah, yes, a fine chorus of "God Bless The Cranston Money", with its richly textured lyrics about how much better they were than those poor street urchins they'd see on their way to a summer retreat in the Catskills.

"But can't we acknowledge the blessings at home? I hate sitting in church. Father Montgomery drones on and on and on..."

At which point his mother would swat him with her purse, and not playfully like Margo did it. No, this was used the way a two-by-four was used on a mule--to get his attention.

"Don't talk back to your father. You know better."

This was his mother's feeble attempt to stop the inevitable argument that was about to ensue. Even as a boy, no one told Lamont Cranston what he could and could not do.

"You always take his side! Why doesn't anyone ever listen to me?"

Lamont could still remember turning around, running toward home, feeling the anger turning in his mind...and the iron grip of his father on his arm, whipping him around.

"Now listen to me, young man. I will not have you running down the street like some wild animal. You are a Cranston, and you will act like one."

There were times Lamont wished he could stop himself from firing off the retort that came next.

"You mean drink, smoke, and swear all week and then act all pious on Sunday?"

He could still feel the sting of the slap on his cheek. And the absolute rage in his father's eyes was terrifying.

"You irresponsible spoiled brat..."

"Theodore!"

His mother's intervention was usually all that saved him from a whipping right then and there. His father would straighten up, dust off his suit, then grab him hard by the arm and practically drag him down the street, muttering dire threats about what would happen after church the entire way...

"Are you all right, sir?"

Lamont shook off the memory and looked around. He hadn't realized he'd started walking again, and he'd nearly run over Father Ryan as the priest was sweeping the front steps of the church. "Fine," he replied. "Sorry--I wasn't paying attention to where I was going."

The priest looked calm, smiling a gentle smile. "Churches bring back a lot of memories for a lot of people," he noted. "Not all of them are pleasant."

Lamont raised an eyebrow. Ryan was either very perceptive, or he'd seen this kind of thing a lot. Either way, he decided to tread carefully. "I thought I'd take a walk down and see if everything was all right after all the commotion this morning," he responded. "I live just up the street."

"I see. And you are...?"

"Lamont Cranston."

"Father Mark Ryan." The men exchanged a handshake. "Nice to meet you." He looked at Lamont for a long moment. "You look very familiar."

Lamont gave a chuckle. "Only if you read the society pages."

"No, can't say that I do. But I have seen you before." Another pause. "You were here earlier this morning."

Lamont gave another chuckle, this one a bit nervous. Ryan was very perceptive. Something would have to be done about that. "I'm afraid you've mistaken me for someone else."

"No, I don't think so..."

Lamont locked gazes with the priest. You've mistaken me for someone else.

Father Ryan's eyes glazed over for a second, then he blinked. "I'm sorry," he said, giving a nervous chuckle of his own. "I've mistaken you for someone else. There were so many policemen and detectives here earlier, it's a wonder I'm not mistaking the sisters in the school for one of them."

"Quite all right," Lamont replied.

Another strong breeze blew debris back onto the stairs and nearly swept away Lamont's hat once more. "Why don't we go inside?" Father Ryan offered. "I'm certainly willing to let The Good Lord sweep the stairs, but I doubt you're willing to let Him wear your hat."

"It probably wouldn't fit Him anyway," Lamont agreed, and the two men headed inside the church.

As they stepped through the doorway into the sanctuary, Lamont dipped his fingers in the holy water font and crossed himself almost before he'd realized he'd done so. What in the world...? he mentally queried. I haven't done that in years. A psychic chuckle. Guilty conscience, indeed.

"Been a while since you've been in a church, Mr. Cranston?"

Lamont nearly jumped out of his skin at Ryan's question. Good night, he thought, is it that obvious? Lamont was normally a master at adapting to strange situations, but Ryan had him on his toes. "I suppose it has," he responded, trying to keep his voice calm.

"Don't worry. I don't pass judgment. I let The Good Lord do that. I just relay His instructions." Another gentle smile. "Did you grow up around here?"

Lamont nodded. "I attended this church as a boy. Father Montgomery was the priest back then."

"Then it has been a while. Father Montgomery passed away twenty years ago."

Lamont gave a wry smile. "That's what I get for travelling the world instead of walking down the block." He reminded himself to stay focused on the mission. "When did you come here?"

"Six months ago." A chuckle. "My first time away from Ireland. Turtle Bay is a long, long way from Killarney. They don't teach you about how to deal with Big Apples in Seminary."

For the first time, Lamont noticed how young Ryan was. He was at least ten years younger than Lamont, and probably closer to fifteen; he couldn't possibly be any older than twenty-one or twenty-two...

"Twenty-three."

Lamont looked startled again. "I'm sorry?"

"I noticed you trying to guess my age. I'm twenty-three." A shrug. "I get that a lot, too."

This was too eerie to be just a coincidence. Lamont bounced a light projective wave off the psyche of the man in front of him.

Raw, untrained receptive telepathic energy bounced back to him. And Ryan was wincing and placing a hand to his temple as the projective wave rippled his own psychic energies.

"Are you all right?" Lamont asked.

"Bit of a headache this morning," Father Ryan replied. "It's been a long day already."

Lamont nodded and began a slow, drifting release of projective energy to keep Ryan's perceptive mind away from his innermost secrets. "I would imagine so," he said. "It's not every morning you find a man stabbed in a pew."

Father Ryan shook his head to clear it. He could just barely hear a light undercurrent of static, like a radio not quite tuned correctly. But that wave of pain he'd felt a moment ago was gone. "No, indeed."

"Was it somebody from the neighborhood?"

"I'm not that familiar with all the families in the neighborhood. But I didn't recognize him."

"Not at all?"

"No." Father Ryan gave Lamont a curious look. "Why do you ask?"

"Just trying to find out who it was. Stabbings aren't an everyday occurrence in this part of town."

"I see. Well, you might have better luck asking one of the policemen who were here earlier. His wallet was stolen, and he didn't tell me his name."

"Did he say anything at all?"

Father Ryan gave an indulgent smile. "I'm sorry, Mr. Cranston, but I can't tell you that. That would be violating the sanctity of the confessional, and I can't do that. You understand, I'm sure."

Lamont frowned mentally. He could hypnotize Ryan into telling him, but the nagging feeling that it would be forcing Ryan to break a priestly vow told him he'd better not do so. And probing Ryan's thoughts would ripple his psychic energies and cause another headache. This might be a matter for The Shadow tonight. "Of course. Well, maybe it'll be on the radio later today. Thanks for your time, Father."

"Not at all." Father Ryan walked with him out to the front steps. "Come back any time. Sunday would be nice."

Lamont was about to reply when a black sedan pulled close to the church and slowed down. The rear window rolled down, and the barrel of a Tommy gun poked out of it.

"Get back!" Lamont ordered, practically throwing Ryan back inside and to the floor, then joining him.

Shots rang out, tearing through the door and shattering the stained glass windows on either side of it.

Lamont waited until he could hear tires squealing away, then looked at the priest. "Are you all right?"

Father Ryan nodded, looking a bit shaky. "Thanks to you," he said softly, then sighed at the condition of the front entrance. "The windows...the doors...who would shoot at a church?"

"Someone who thinks the priest knows something he shouldn't." Lamont opened his wallet and pulled out a stack of bills, then placed them in Ryan's hand. "My donation to your building fund. Call the police and tell them what's happened...and you might consider telling them everything you know about the stabbing earlier." With that, he ran out of the church.

By the time he reached the street, the sedan was long gone. Frustratedly, he sent for Moe. The Shadow had a lot of work to do, and there was a new urgency to getting it done.


Burbank's usual bad timing with signalling The Shadow with incoming information seemed to be improving--for the second time that morning, Lamont's ring lit up as he descended into The Sanctum. He sent back a psychic signal to extinguish the light, then tossed his hat onto the workbench and sat down before the communications console, flipping switches as he did. "Report," he ordered as the screen lit up and Burbank's face appeared.

"Agent in Turtle Bay reports shooting at St. Joseph's Catholic Church approximately a half-hour ago," Burbank answered. "Unidentified late-model black sedan pulled up to the church and opened fire with a machine gun as agent and Father Mark Ryan were standing outside. Agent and priest were unharmed."

Lamont was pleased. Burbank read that back almost exactly as Lamont had written it. There were times it was good to check that information wasn't getting lost in the translation. "Any new information on Father Ryan?"

"None reported. Shall I send a response?"

"No, I'll investigate directly. Keep me informed."

"There is additional information on Fred Martin, the stabbing victim, from agent in garment district. Apparently Martin backed out of a deal to sell his cleaning businesses just two days ago."

"Interesting. Who was the buyer?"

"Bertram Davidson."

"Of Davidson-Garibaldi Properties?"

"Yes. The deal would have included Martin's three dry cleaners and his share of Biellmann's Tailoring in the garment district. The deal was all set when Martin suddenly developed cold feet and backed out of the deal."

"Any reason?"

"None given. Shall I send a response?"

"Yes. Tell him I need any and all details on the transaction he can find. This could be tied into the stabbing, and the shooting at St. Joe's. Two innocent people were almost killed earlier today--we need to get to the bottom of this before anyone else gets hurt."

"Understood." The screen went blank.

Lamont sighed, then got up from his chair, walked over to one of The Sanctum's many towering bookcases, and pulled out his city map. He tossed his hat into his chair, then spread the map over the workbench and began to study the area around the stabbing. Pulling a tray of colored pencils out of a desk drawer, he selected one and placed a dot at the approximate location of St. Joe's, then selected another color and placed three more dots where Martin's three cleaning shops were located. A red pencil traced the path from Martin's Cleaners on East 52nd near Third Avenue to St. Joseph's, a block or so and a couple of twisty turns away. Then, he studied the map.

The whole thing still didn't make any sense. If the broken-down deal with Davidson was involved in this whole scenario, what was the last straw? Why stab Martin? Why was he in the back alley at six in the morning, not the front of his store? And what did Father Ryan have to do with all of it? Having now walked the route and traced it on a map, Lamont was more convinced than ever that Martin didn't just wander to St. Joseph's; he went there with a purpose. And apparently whoever sent the goons to blast out the front of the church believed the same thing; he had a very strong suspicion that the shooting had been ordered as a hit on Ryan and they'd only high-tailed it out of there because there was a good chance they'd probably hit their target in the spray. Martin could probably tell them what was going on, but there was a good chance he'd never wake up after surgery, and there was no time to stand around waiting.

Lamont put the pencils away, then rolled up the city map. He needed more information. Lunch with Uncle Wainwright might be a good way to collect some. He gathered his hat off his chair and sent for Moe.


"Excuse me, Miss Lane?"

Margo looked up from the stack of material she was reading in the Archdiocese file room about Father Mark Ryan and the history of St. Joseph's. "Yes?" she asked, then noticed the alarmed expression on Ann Garrison's face. "What is it?"

"Father Ryan just called from St. Joseph's. He said the front doors and windows of the church were shot out about a half-hour ago."

Margo covered her mouth with her hand. "Oh, my God," she whispered.

"Everyone's apparently all right, but the church is a mess. I thought he might...um...I mean, I thought it might be important information to add to your list."

Margo nodded, trying to stay composed. "It's definitely important. Thank you, Miss Garrison."

Ann nodded, then walked away.

Margo tried to calm herself. If he's hurt, he'll call for help, she reminded herself, even as she began saying his name over and over again in her mind, trying to get louder each time, trying to ripple his psychic energies enough to get him to call back to her.

Margo? What's wrong? Are you all right?

She breathed a mental sigh of relief. I'm fine--but are you?

Ah, you must have heard. Relax, Margo. St. Joe's looks like a war zone, but everyone's safe.

What happened?

Car full of goons pulled up to the curb and ventilated the doors with a Tommy gun. Apparently somebody thinks Ryan knows something he shouldn't. What have you found out?

I've got three pages of notes, but I know this really tires you out. What's your schedule look like for the rest of the day?

I'm on my way to the bank, then to Police Headquarters to strongly suggest Uncle Wainwright should have lunch with his favorite nephew, and then I should be free. Meet me at home about two, and we'll compare notes.

Will do. Be careful.

Always. The connection dropped.

Margo sighed, then returned to reading the files. Hopefully, they would be able to reach the bottom of this before whoever wanted Ryan dead could strike again.


Police Commissioner Wainwright Barth fancied himself a gourmand, an aficionado of fine wines, fine food, and fine art. And indulging in them was one of his favorite pastimes...one that his nephew used as an entree to obtaining much-needed information. "I suppose you want to know what I'm doing about that stabbing this morning at St. Joseph's," Wainwright said as he cut into a bite of veal parmesan. "Everyone else does."

"Well, you can't expect sirens to go screaming down East 53rd at 6:30 in the morning and not have someone raising a fuss about it," Lamont noted, twirling linguini around his fork. "And to have the victim be one of the neighborhood regulars is even more disturbing."

"The whole thing's a mess," Wainwright grumbled. "What Martin was doing out that early in the morning is beyond me."

"His cleaners is open before seven."

"Yeah, but that's why you hire a manager, so you don't have to be the one opening it then. Martin is a certifiable loon. To think he was going to go into business with that slimy Bert Davidson."

The contempt in his uncle's voice intrigued Lamont. "What do you have against Bert Davidson? Granted, developers aren't always pillars of the community, but he's got one of the better reputations among them."

Wainwright scoffed. "You've been paying more attention to the society pages than the business pages. Davidson's been involved in some really questionable deals lately. One of the worst was his partnership with Mario Garibaldi, who's rumored to have mob ties in Boston."

Lamont suppressed a smile as he sipped his chianti. It was always so much easier when he didn't have to resort to hypnotism to get his uncle to talk. "Half of New York's rumored to have mob ties with somebody."

"Don't I know it. But Garibaldi's actually been hauled in a couple of times. Always walked, though. Probably paid off a judge or something."

"You think Garibaldi or his pals ordered a hit on Martin for backing out of the deal with Davidson?"

Another scoff. "Ridiculous. Mob hits aren't stabbings in back alleys; they're out in the open so that they send a message."

Lamont suppressed another smile. Nice to see his uncle could still apply criminology logic to a crime when pressed. "Simple robbery, then?"

"Not-so-simple robbery. Martin's wallet was gone, but they left his watch, ruby cufflinks, and diamond pinky ring. Tell me what kind of criminal is that stupid."

"Maybe they didn't like Martin's taste in jewelry."

Wainwright gave his nephew a sidelong glance. "I think that was supposed to be sarcasm."

Score another one for Uncle Wainwright. "All right, if it wasn't a mob hit and wasn't a robbery, then why was he stabbed?"

An indulgent chuckle and smile. "That, Lamont, is why we have detectives."

Lamont's expression tightened. He'd gotten as far as he could with casual conversation, and there was no time to sit back and take his uncle's condescending attitude. "Do you think Father Ryan has anything to do with it?"

"Who?"

"The priest at St. Joseph's. That's who found Martin, after all."

"Why would he have anything to do with it?"

"If I remember correctly, Martin's Cleaners isn't exactly a straight shot behind St. Joe's, and there's a phone booth a short walk away from the front entrance. But Martin went to St. Joe's instead. Why?"

"Probably wandered there looking for help."

Lamont shook his head. "There have to be at least half a dozen houses between Martin's Cleaners and St. Joe's, even wandering through the back alleys. Martin's a neighborhood regular; somebody would have helped him. But he instead went into St. Joe's and sat down in a pew. Why?"

"Maybe he forgot to go to Confession this week. Maybe he thought he was dying and wanted Last Rites. Maybe he just got lost. What difference does it make?"

It took everything Lamont had not to slam his fist on the table. Wainwright Barth could be absolutely brilliant at times, and incredibly dense at others. He took a deep breath and bit back his anger hard, then looked at the man across from him. "Uncle Wainwright, I helped Doug Friedrich edit his book on criminology just before he died. He once said that no one does something just for the sake of doing it; some motive, some need, some desire, something drives them. So, what drove Fred Martin--bleeding to death from a stab wound--to walk over a block, past houses and regular customers, to a Catholic church? Tell me how that makes any sense."

Wainwright looked a bit taken aback at Lamont's determined zeal. "I think you're reading too much into this," he said. "Remember, some people consider churches safe havens."

Lamont frowned at the remark clearly meant as a reminder that he wasn't the most dutiful of Catholics. "I don't think you're reading enough into it," he retorted. "St. Joe's wasn't exactly safe when a car full of goons opened fire on it earlier."

"How do you know about that?"

Oops. Lamont forgot the police were just on their way by the church when he left for The Sanctum; there wouldn't have been time for it to make the press. He thought fast. "I live just up the street, remember? I heard the shots and went down to find out what was going on. Father Ryan told me what happened."

That seemed to satisfy Wainwright, who nodded. "Maybe they read too much into it, too. In any event, don't worry. I've got my best men on it. We'll find whoever did this."

Lamont managed to silence his mental voice before The Shadow's contemptuous laugh escaped from it. "They'd better, or there will really be Hell to pay. I doubt The Good Lord looks kindly on people opening fire on His House."

"Yeah, well, there's a saying in the NYPD: In God We Trust. All others, we investigate."

Despite himself, Lamont chuckled softly. At least the police were taking this seriously, even if they weren't on the right track. It looked as if The Shadow would have to keep digging. He'd start with a brainstorming session with Margo after lunch.


"So, what did your uncle have to say?" Margo asked as she and Lamont reclined on the couch and shared tea and cookies in his living room later that afternoon.

"That his men were on top of things, and I was reading too much into Martin wandering a block through back alleys into a church." He sipped his tea. "He did say, however, that the deal Martin backed out of just two days ago was with a developer whose partner has mob ties."

"Mob hit, maybe?"

Lamont shook his head. "Mob hits are done out in the open, where they can send a message, not in a back alley at six a.m. And a mob enforcer would have made sure he finished the job."

"And you don't think it was a robbery?"

"No, but his wallet was lifted to make it look that way. But they left his watch and some expensive jewelry." He picked up a cookie off an elegant bone china plate and held it for a moment, gesturing with it as he talked. "I'm more convinced than ever that there's some connection with the church, and maybe with Father Ryan. The whole idea that he took that path to the church, sat down in a pew--it only makes sense if he went there with a purpose. But what?"

Margo pinched the cookie out of his hand and took a bite of it. "Well," she said, "I didn't find a connection between Martin and Ryan, but Ryan's got a very interesting past for a priest."

Lamont took the cookie back and finished it off. "In what way?"

Margo picked up another cookie, took a bite, then looked at her notes. "Only child of Ian and Mary Ryan, born on St. Patrick's Day, 1911. His father was a policeman, his mother was a seamstress. It seems young Master Ryan was a regular hooligan. By the time he was thirteen, he'd been run in half a dozen times for various bits of larceny--breaking windows, swiping stuff from the market, lifting a trinket or two from the local shops, etc. His parents sent him off to a Catholic boarding school in 1924, sort of a last resort for the incorrigibles. It was there that he claims he was struck down in class one morning by a burning pain in his head that literally knocked him out of his chair--and then he heard God calling him by name, chastising him for his sins, ordering him down on his knees to beg for forgiveness lest he be swallowed into Hell. At that moment, according to the testimonial notes in his files, he says he surrendered his life to God and knew he'd heard the call to be a priest..." She stopped as she realized Lamont was looking off in the distance. "What?"

"An awakening," he whispered softly. "He had an awakening and didn't realize it."

Margo gave Lamont an odd look. She knew what he was talking about--"awakening" was The Tulku's term for when a psychic's mental energies overflowed their protective walls for the first time and revealed the true extent of their strength and power. "But I thought awakenings were violent and painful, and left you unconscious for hours or days. This doesn't read anything like that."

"It probably wasn't a full awakening. Same thing happened to me when I was thirteen. I heard my cousin accuse me of cheating on a test at school that day...except he hadn't said a word. I'd had the worst headache all afternoon, and his taunting was the last straw. I wrestled him to the ground and nearly killed him." He shivered slightly at the memory. "The Tulku told me I'd probably had a partial awakening--just enough energy had spilled over the walls to unlock some of my powers. Some telepaths are like that. Some awaken fully the first time their energies spill over. Some, like me, have a series of partial awakenings that go on for years before they finally fully awaken. Some never awaken at all--they just have all this raw power in their mind that occasionally flares up and gives them a taste of what they could have if they had any control over it." He shook his head. "Both of my parents were probably unawakened projectors, or at least everything The Tulku could gather about them from my memories told him they probably were. From the way you've described your mother--the way she always seemed to know what you and your father were thinking, but didn't have that same sensitivity toward others--she was probably an unawakened or a partially-awakened receptor. And if what you've read in the files is true--and what I detected this morning when I spoke with him tells me it is--Ryan is a partially-awakened receptor."

"So the voice he heard telling him to get on his knees..."

"...was probably the priest in his classroom, fed up with his antics." Lamont shook his head. "Amazing. Psychic phenomena viewed as a calling from God."

"Well, he thinks it was. It says in his files that he feels the greatest gift he's received in his life is the ability to divine the true depths of pain and despair in others and help them receive absolution from sins they cannot bring themselves to even speak of."

"Pain. He senses pain." Lamont nodded knowingly. "The Tulku said every adept has some thought pattern they can detect without any training or guidance, that their energies are naturally sensitive to. His was weakness. Mine is fear. Ryan's must be pain."

"What is mine?"

Lamont turned to Margo. "What?"

"Every adept has one, you said. What is mine?"

Lamont looked almost embarrased. "Lust."

Margo laughed. "What?"

"You once told me you just instinctively knew when a guy was putting the moves on you, even if he was being very smooth about it. What was the very first thing you heard me thinking?"

She nodded as the realization hit her. "What an incredible dress. It accents every curve and line."

He smiled. "Lust."

She shook her head. "Pretty useless thing to sense."

"Not necessarily. People lust after things other than a beautiful woman. You'd make a very good investigator, because you could tell who would want something badly enough to do something about it."

She sighed. "If I ever awaken, that is."

Lamont looked away quickly, trying not to let his thoughts betray his feelings.

Too late. She was now looking at him, fear in her eyes. "I am going to awaken, aren't I?"

He nodded.

"And soon."

It wasn't a question. He hesitated, then nodded a confirmation.

"When?"

"I don't know," he whispered. "I was never good at telling exactly when someone was about to awaken. The Tulku could tell when someone was within a day or so because he could feel their subconscious barriers weakening. I don't have that gift."

"But it's coming."

He nodded.

She drew away. "And it's going to hurt."

He nodded again. "Worse than the worst pain you've ever experienced." He took her by the shoulders and looked her in the eye. "And I wish to God I could keep it from hurting you. I have been through that pain, and I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy...much less the love of my life. I would give anything if I could protect you and take that pain away. But I can't...because it's necessary if your mind is to reach its full potential, and I cannot take that away from you. Margo, you have powers you cannot imagine, strength I've never seen in a woman, receptive telepathic gifts that I could never hope to have in my wildest dreams. And all of them are locked away behind your subconscious barriers, mental walls that protect them and keep them safe as they grow. But those walls are having a hard time keeping pace with your recent growth...and they're eventually going to give way. And I will be there for you when they do. For however long it takes, no matter what happens, I will be there for you. I swear it."

She was shaking now. "Hold me."

He took her in his arms and pulled her close, rocking her gently, projecting a relaxing hypnotic suggestion into her frightened mind. "I love you so much."

"I love you, too."

For a very long time, they stayed that way, holding each other tightly, feeling the love each had for the other, letting that love wrap itself around the fears to keep them at bay.

A glint of red-orange light caught Lamont's eye. He glanced at his left hand.

The fire opal in his ring was glowing.

Lamont groaned. "No, Burbank...not now."

They released the embrace. Margo gave a resigned smile. "Duty calls."

He nodded, closed his eyes for a brief moment, then looked right at her. "But it doesn't have to keep us apart. Gather up your notes. Moe's on his way."


Though it was only her second trip to The Sanctum, Margo felt like an old pro at it. The complete darkness as the outer doors closed still unnerved her, but less so than it had the last time, and the subdued light that appeared as the iron walls retracted was strangely soothing. This was Lamont's private sanctuary, the one spot in all of New York where he could let both sides of his personality show freely without fear of exposure, and the fact that he had willingly brought her here spoke volumes about how deeply they had become a part of each other.

When she reached the bottom of the staircase, she quickly moved aside, and Lamont breezed past her. Time to get down to business, and Lamont had a gut feeling this wasn't going to be good news. He flipped the power switches on the communications console and sat down in his chair. "Report," he ordered as the screen came to life in front of him.

"Agent at Belleview reports stabbing victim Fred Martin never woke up following surgery," Burbank replied. "He died of complications from his wounds approximately 30 minutes ago."

Lamont balled up a fist, then clamped the other hand over it, trying to push his anger back down. "Are there any leads at all?"

"No new reports on that, sir. Shall I send a response?"

"No, I'll follow up directly. Keep me informed."

"Understood." The screen went blank.

For a moment, Lamont sat quietly. Then, he pounded his fist atop the desk so hard it echoed through the room.

"Easy," Margo cautioned.

Lamont nodded and took a deep breath, trying to bring calm and focus to his mind. "Now we've got a murder case on our hands."

"And we're no closer to finding out who did it than we were at 6:30 this morning."

"And Father Ryan is the only one who can possibly tell us anything, and he's not talking." Lamont tossed his hat behind him to the workbench. "I need some tea. Join me?"

"You've got tea down here, too?"

"I've got a lot of things down here." He headed for a darkened closet-like space off the lounging area and turned on a small gas burner, then filled a kettle with water and placed it on to boil.

Margo noticed he didn't turn the light on. "How do you see in there?"

"I use projective echoes to draw a mental picture of the area. My eyes make better use of the available light when they only have to add the details." He shrugged. "A gift I discovered during The War. I always thought I just had really good night vision. Now I know better."

She shook her head. Some of the things Lamont could do with his mind were simply amazing. "Now that's a useful skill."

"Especially when you spend your nights lurking in the shadows." He held a tea canister under her nose.

She took a whiff. "Mm-m. What is that?"

"Chinese black tea with rose petals. Picked it up in Chinatown last week. Delicious. Want to try it?"

"Please."

He scooped some into a tea infuser, then placed the infuser in a china teapot and poured the simmering water into it.

"Mm-m," she sighed as the steam brought the aroma out of the pot. "It smells even better brewing. I would never have thought of rose petals in tea. You have the most interesting tastes."

He set the teapot and two cups on a table in the lounging area. "The Tulku loved tea. He always had a cauldron of something brewing over the fireplace in his chamber. When he had a sick or injured student, he'd bring them to his chamber, put them in his own bed, and spend hours and days taking care of them, feeding them, giving them soothing cups of whatever tea he happened to make that day." A smile at the memory. "The only tea I never developed a taste for was butter tea. I just didn't like the oiliness of it. It was his favorite tea, though. But if I was in there, he'd brew something else." He opened the pot and dipped the infuser up and down a few times, then poured tea for the both of them.

She sat in the leather armchair and smiled up at him. "He must have loved you a lot."

He sat across from her on the chaise lounge. "He had depths of kindness and generosity within him that I will never understand, let alone ever possess." A chuckle. "Of course, whenever I would say that, he would scold me and tell me I was being too hard on myself. No matter what I'd said or done, no matter how disrespectful or stubborn I'd been that day, he could always look through the darkness, past the man I was, to find the man I could be." He looked at his teacup, trying to keep his bubbling emotions down.

She walked over to him and put a gentle hand on his shoulder. "He was the first person who'd ever forgiven you for what you'd done...even though you couldn't forgive yourself."

He nodded, then forced himself to look up at her. "And, until I met you, the only one."

"This case is really getting to you, isn't it? The whole idea of having to deal with a priest, having to face those things you can't forgive yourself for--it's really turning you inside out. I can feel it."

He looked at his tea again. "I live every day of my life with the knowledge that I committed unspeakable crimes against humanity. I committed them. Not Ying Ko...Lamont Cranston." A sip of tea to calm his emotions. "The Tulku told me I would never be able to rid myself of that darkness--that I had to learn to live with it, acknowledge its existence, use it drive me onward as a reminder of the price of failure. And, for the most part, that's what I do. But just when I get comfortable with myself, thinking I've got everything under control, something comes out of the blue and kicks me in the teeth...and all those old feelings of revulsion and horror come right back up to the surface, and I start battling with my dark side all over again." He took another sip of tea, trying to keep the emotions under control.

She took a seat on the edge of the lounge, and he slid over slightly to give her some more room. "Maybe you should talk to a priest about this."

A derisive laugh. "Oh, of course. 'Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned. It's been over twenty years since my last confession. In that time, I've waged war, plundered villages, raped women for pleasure, single-handedly established most of the major opium trade routes from Tibet, and murdered anyone who got in my way. Oh, and I also have this incredible power to control men's minds and make them say, do, and think anything I want them to. And did I mention I now spend my nights prowling the streets, using that power to dispense vigilante justice, acting as judge, jury, and executioner to men who in many ways aren't much different from me?' Wonder how many Hail Marys it'll take to get me out of that mess?"

Margo sat silent for a moment. "That's the first time you've ever said all of that out loud to me," she finally replied. "I've seen it in your dreams and heard you think it any number of times...but you've never said it out loud before."

His eyes widened. "Say that again."

"That's the first time you've ever said those things out loud to me."

"No, no, the rest of it."

"About hearing you think it?"

"That's it! That's it!" He looked amazed. "Why didn't I think of it sooner?"

Now she was confused. "What?"

"No wonder Ryan won't tell the police what Martin said. He didn't say anything!"

"Ryan heard him thinking it," she said, suddenly right with him. "Do you think he knows?"

"I'm almost certain he does, but he may be trying to convince himself otherwise. Regardless, he heard the last words of a dying man, and now he's the only one who can help us find why Martin was stabbed in the first place."

"And whoever stabbed Martin has probably figured that out, too."

"Exactly. Which means The Shadow needs to get to him first." He closed his eyes for a brief moment, then took her hand. "And to think I once said we didn't need each other."

She leaned in close. "I knew you didn't mean it."

They kissed deeply and dramatically. Then, both finished their tea, gathered their belongings, and headed up the stairs to the street level.


Father Ryan left the solitude of the confessional and quietly entered the sanctuary, kneeling and crossing himself as he did. It had been an absolutely quiet evening thus far; the shooting earlier in the day had deterred any would-be confessors from coming to receive absolution, and the lack of parishioners coming to Confession didn't surprise him at all. But he believed unquestioningly in the doctrine that one must confess his sins before God and man to receive forgiveness...and he had an obligation to act as the man while the sinner confessed to God. So, he'd sat quietly for over two hours in the confessional booth, waiting patiently for someone to come, praying for the strength to carry on in light of all that had happened today and for protection for himself and his parishioners, and was prepared to do the same at the kneeling rail before turning in for the night.

Father Mark Ryan.

The echoing voice startled the priest, who whirled around. "Who's there?"

Only an empty sanctuary greeted his gaze.

Father Ryan crossed himself again and said a quick prayer for strength. "Is someone here?"

Yes.

Now Father Ryan was completely unnerved. "Where are you?"

In the shadows. A low chuckle.

Father Ryan shook. He'd heard rumors, read unsubstantiated reports, but never in his wildest dreams did he think he'd actually meet..."The Shadow?"

Very good, Father.

This was too much. Father Ryan sat down in a pew, trying to keep his fear and nerves at bay. Everything he'd heard about The Shadow told him he didn't want to be on the man's bad side. "Why are you here?" he said softly. "What have I done?"

Calm down, Father. I'm here to protect you.

The priest looked intrigued now. "The Good Lord works in mysterious ways," he whispered softly. "When I prayed for His protection, I hardly expected Him to send you."

A chuckle. Most men view me as a demon from Hell, not an angel from God.

Father Ryan shrugged. "Demons are merely fallen angels."

Interesting perspective. But that's not why I'm here. Your life is in danger because you have information that is vital to a murder investigation.

Father Ryan's eyes widened. "He didn't survive."

No. And neither will you unless you cooperate. You heard Fred Martin's last words. I need to know what they were.

Father Ryan sighed. "He didn't say anything to me."

No, he didn't say anything to you...at least, not with his voice.

Father Ryan crossed himself and whispered a "Hail Mary" under his breath. "You are an angel from God," he finally said. "You know of my gift..."

I know of your gift because I have a similar gift, not because of divine knowledge or origin. The reason you cannot see me is that I am clouding your mind, projecting a hypnotic suggestion into your thoughts so that your mind will not process my visual image.

A glimmer of recognition shone in the priest's eyes. "You have the ability to influence people's thoughts," he realized. "The ability to make them not see you even if you are standing right in front of them. The ability to make them think anything you wish them to think, remember anything you wish them to remember...and forget anything you wish them to forget." A knowing smile. "And the ability to convince me that I had mistaken you for someone else earlier today, even when I never forget a face."

A pause. You are a very perceptive man, Father Ryan.

Father Ryan took a deep breath. "I need to see you."

I believe somewhere in The Bible it talks about blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.

"There is no one here but Our Father and me. And neither of us will ever tell anyone." Another deep breath. "Come out of hiding, Mr. Cranston. I need your help. And I sense you need mine."

A long pause. Then, a swirl of black fog settled into the shape of The Shadow. His facial features shifted noticeably...and Lamont Cranston pulled down the red scarf covering the lower half of his face.

For a long moment, both men stood quietly, examining each other. "I believe this has something to do with all that turmoil I sensed when we met earlier," Father Ryan offered helpfully.

Lamont nodded. "Father..."

He held up a silencing hand. "You don't have to say anything. Your pain is very open...and very loud." He smiled compassionately. "Priests are not shining paragons of perfection, Mr. Cranston. We too have our shadow sides--the sides we keep hidden from the world. But I acknowledge my sinful nature and ask Our Father to give me the strength to fight it...and He does. Priests are not perfect. We are merely forgiven."

"I know about your past, Father. I've read your story. Trust me, mine makes yours look saintly." He started to pace, then stopped himself and forced himself to stand before the priest. "But what if you've done things you can never forgive yourself for...things you can't even bring yourself to speak of? What then?"

A wistful smile. "This gift I have--the gift of sensing and exposing even the most deeply hidden pain--is a double-edged sword. It exposes me to the darkest, most horrifying, most frightening evils within the human heart. But it also helps me to be a more compassionate envoy for Our Lord, for I can see the depths of grief and sorrow that penitent men possess when they desire absolution but feel themselves completely unworthy of it...men like you."

Lamont looked torn. Every second that passed was a second lost in the hunt for Fred Martin's killer. But it was also a second more dealing with pain, sorrow, turmoil, and grief that he was growing ever more tired of dealing with.

"Forgiveness is waiting for you, Mr. Cranston," Father Ryan said. "But you must first ask for it."

Lamont swept his hat off his head and fell to his knees before the priest, bowing his head. "Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned," he whispered, nearly weeping.

Father Ryan put a comforting hand on his shoulder. The Lord does work in mysterious ways, he decided. He knew I needed to be here to hear Confession tonight, even when I was certain no one would come. "Yes, my child."

"It has been over twenty years since my last confession. In that time, I've broken every one of The Ten Commandments on multiple occasions, in multiple ways, and felt absolutely no remorse for doing so for much of that time. Eight years ago, a Tibetan priest saved me from myself and trained me to use my psychic gifts to fight the evils of the world...and for the past seven years, I've been attempting to make amends for my past by stalking the nights as a vigilante, dispensing judgment and justice to evil men in ways that are often as violent and dark as anything I did in my past. And I am completely unworthy of the goodness and mercy others have shown to me in their attempts to bring me out of the depths of darkness."

The priest nodded. The pain and sorrow within Lamont's heart were palpable. "You feel remorse for your past."

"Yes."

"And you have confessed your sins before God and man."

"Yes."

"Then you shall receive God's mercy. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, I absolve you of your sins, Lamont Cranston. Now, you must do penance."

Lamont chuckled wryly. "There aren't enough years left in my lifetime to do all the penance I'll need to do."

"How long will it take you to say twenty Hail Marys and three Our Fathers?"

Lamont looked up. "That's it? That's all?"

Father Ryan smiled. "The spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola last a month. I could assign those to you if you think you've not done enough. But I think twenty Hail Marys for twenty years of skipping Confession and three Our Fathers for committing enough sin to last three lifetimes is sufficient. The Lord has no need to punish you any further. You've punished yourself enough." He took Lamont by the chin and met his gaze firmly. "Our Lord gives His forgiveness freely to those who believe and ask for it in that belief. For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoseover believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life."

"I believe...help my unbelief."

Father Ryan smiled indulgently. "You quote scripture well for such a lapsed Catholic."

Lamont gave a wry smile. "I've read The Bible on numerous occasions. Fascinating book. Contains stories of murder, intrigue, divine wrath, eternal judgment...and a happy ending that doesn't read that way at times."

"Well, something clearly stuck with you. Now, you can let go of the anger, the pain, the self-hatred that has held you prisoner for so long, and use that energy toward making this world a better place."

Lamont shook his head. "I can't give up my mission..."

"And I would never ask you to. And neither would He. Everyone has a calling in life, Mr. Cranston. This..." He gestured over his black clothing and white collar. "...is mine. This..." He took the edge of Lamont's cloak. "...is yours." A smile. "I counsel policemen all the time. 'Father, I shot a man fleeing the scene of a crime. Father, I beat a suspect resisting arrest. Father, I killed a man in self-defense.' When I talk to them, I remind them that their mission in life is to protect others from the evil that men do, that they have been given a great blessing, a gift of strength, a sense of justice and devotion to duty that is rare in this world. God does not condemn a man for carrying out his mission. He condemns a man for not acknowledging the gifts he has been given and not understanding the obligations he has to use those gifts to help others."

Lamont nodded. "And right now, my obligation is to find Fred Martin's killer." He rose. "And I need your help. Why did Fred Martin come here after he was stabbed?"

"I'm not at all certain. But it wasn't the first time."

"He'd been here before?"

Father Ryan nodded. "But only once. He didn't give me his name then, either. I came in for noontime prayers and found him at the kneeling rail. He was in deep distress. Pain and indecision were just pouring out of him. I came over to him and offered a comforting hand on his shoulder, and he broke down weeping. He told me he'd found out something terrible about a man he was doing business with, but needed the money badly to keep himself on his feet. He wanted to know if it was a sin to do business with a criminal."

"What did you tell him?"

"That Our Lord Jesus Christ consorted with sinners and tax collectors, but he never became one of them. He looked at me for a long moment, then stood up, thanked me for my 'words of wisdom', and left."

"When was that?"

"Monday."

"Three days ago," Lamont realized.

"Yes."

"Martin backed out of a business deal with Bert Davidson of Davidson-Garibaldi Properties two days ago...and it may have cost him his life. So something he found out about one of those two men may have been the trigger for all that pain and indecision you felt." He paced. "And I'm almost certain that information would have been the last thing on his mind before his death. Father, I must know what you heard."

"I know." Father Ryan sighed hard. "But I cannot tell you that. When I found him in the pew, I ran to call the police, then came back in to minister to him. I feared he would die before the police arrived, so I asked him if he had any last things he wished to confess. And that was when I heard it. So you see, Mr. Cranston, I cannot possibly tell you. The sanctity of the confessional is paramount. I could no more tell you what he confessed than I could tell a stranger off the street what you confessed. Please, Mr. Cranston, you must understand."

Lamont forced back his anger and began to pace. Ryan was right, of course. But there had to be some way to find out what Martin had said, what would make someone stab him for it, what would make gangsters shoot out the front of a church because they believed he had said it...

"Mr. Cranston, are you a mind-reader?"

The question caught Lamont off-guard. He turned around. "What?"

"You said a Tibetan priest trained you to use your psychic gifts. I know you can influence thoughts...can you read them as well?"

"If I have to."

"So if I were to be thinking about Mr. Martin's pained thoughts, and you were to overhear them..."

Lamont came over to the priest. "Look into my eyes."

Father Ryan did so...and something strong and powerful swept into his mind. "Saints preserve us," he whispered.

The wave of psychic energy swirled through Father Ryan's thoughts like a raging windstorm or rushing river. No part of his mind was left untouched; he could not have concealed anything if he had tried.

The swirling sensation swept out of his mind, and the priest looked awed at the demonstration of power. "What an incredible gift," he whispered. "You have truly been blessed."

Lamont frowned. What he'd read didn't make any sense at all--it was just the same five-digit number, repeated constantly in a dying mental whisper. "That's it?" he finally said. "That's all he told you?"

"He kept thinking it over and over again," Father Ryan replied. "Even as I administered Last Rites, he kept thinking it. I've been pondering it all day. It doesn't make any sense. It's too short to be a phone number...it can't be a birthday or an anniversary, because the last two digits are more than 34...could it be a driver's license number, or a permit number, or..."

"...the ticket number for an item at the cleaners!" Lamont finally said as something clicked. "Of course! Martin's got something stashed away, some information, some secret, and he hid it in some cleaning! And he was going to retrieve it when he was stabbed, probably by the people who didn't want him to have that information." He took Ryan's right hand and shook it firmly. "Father, thank you. You've been most helpful. I need you to call the police and send them to Martin's Cleaners, then go somewhere safe. My house is just east of here--large mansion up the street a few blocks, big 'C' on the iron gates. Buzz the intercom on the pillar at the gate and tell whoever answers I sent you." He started to go.

"Wait."

Lamont turned back around. "Yes?"

"I'm coming with you."

Lamont shook his head. "Too dangerous. I'll have an agent come pick you up if you don't feel comfortable walking alone..."

"I think you misunderstood, Mr. Cranston. That wasn't a request. I am coming with you."

"Don't be ridiculous."

"If I recall correctly, you said you came here to protect me. And you can hardly do that when you are at the cleaners and I am walking to your home alone or waiting here for someone to show up--including a possible killer."

Lamont frowned. "If you come with me, I can't guarantee your safety..."

"And I'm not asking you to. I feel responsible for not telling anyone sooner--it might have saved the front of this church from being damaged. I need to make amends." He pulled the white insert out of his collar. "Besides, I'm not unfamiliar with sneaking around in the shadows. You don't get sent to a school for the incorrigibles at thirteen for being saintly."

Lamont hesitated. "You won't be able to see me."

"But you should be able to guide me even if I can't see you. And if I recall correctly, it's not that far a walk to Martin's from here."

Lamont sighed. "I don't have time to argue." He pulled the scarf back over his face and tightened it securely, and his features shifted into a more menacing profile. He set his hat firmly on his head, then with a swirl of his black cloak he vanished.

Father Ryan just looked awed for a moment as a black shadow, unattached to anything, swept across the floor toward the side door. Even knowing the secret, even understanding that he was being hypnotized, he was overwhelmed by the sheer power of what he had just seen, what he could feel in the air. An avenging angel of the night, he mused. Amazing.

Are you coming, Father, or not?

Father Ryan snapped out of his reverie, then crossed himself and said a quick prayer. "Right behind you."


Somehow, Father Ryan had kept up with The Shadow in the trek through the back alleys. He couldn't see The Shadow at all--he could barely see his own hand in front of his face, it was so dark outside--but he'd felt something guiding him along. Whether it was an angel of The Lord leading him or a hypnotic telepath wordlessly telling him where to go, something was directing his steps. Soon, he was at the back of the cleaners. "Where are you?" he whispered.

Right beside you. A swirl of black fabric was suddenly to his right, standing before the door.

The priest nearly jumped out of his skin. "I would never have known. How do you do that?"

Lots and lots of practice. The Shadow reached inside his coat pocket and produced a small black leather wallet-like case. He opened it up and pulled out a lock pick, then slipped it into the lock and began to manipulate the tumblers.

"Bit of larceny as a child?" Father Ryan teased softly.

No, breaking and entering was the one thing I didn't do in my darkest years. But I have agents who did. And I try to acquire useful skills from wherever I can. He continued to work the tumblers in the lock until the last one fell into place and the pick slid all the way through the lock. He then turned the knob and pulled the door open.

The cleaners was dark, and completely deserted. Father Ryan started to reach for the light switch.

The Shadow's gloved hand grabbed his hand firmly and stopped his reach. Not exactly discreet, Father.

"Sorry," Father Ryan whispered back. "I've gotten used to walking in the light."

How well do you see in the dark?

"I'm no cat, if that's what you're asking."

I thought not. He reached into his pocket once more, then pulled out a metallic cylinder about the length of a fountain pen and just a bit thicker. He unscrewed the top of the cylinder, then pulled out of his pocket a tiny vial of a crystalline substance, sprinkled some into the device, then put the vial back into his pocket and looked around for a moment. Stay here.

Father Ryan heard a rustle of heavy fabric moving away, then the sound of a trickle of water coming out of a faucet. The water stopped, and the rustle approached once more. Then, a point of light appeared out of nowhere. This should help.

Father Ryan suddenly felt something being pressed into his hands, and he noticed he was now holding the metallic cylinder...and the point of light was coming from its end. "What in the world...?"

One of my agents is an inventor. This is his prototype for a flashlight that never needs batteries. Salt and water create an electrolytic reaction with a metallic strip in the tube, and it generates light. It won't last long, though, so make good use of it. Help me find that number.

Father Ryan moved over to the racks of clothes hanging up, claim checks pinned to them. "You keep talking about your agents," he whispered. "There are more like you out there?"

Not exactly. I have helpers all over this city, all around the world, men and women whose lives I've saved over the years. In the Buddhist tradition, when someone saves your life, it now belongs to them, and they can ask you to do anything...and you are obligated to do it.

"Just as you are obligated to that Tibetan priest who saved you."

Very perceptive. A pause. Any luck?

"No, but I think I'm in the right area. The numbers I'm seeing are close to the one Mr. Martin gave me."

Then I'll come join you. A rustle of fabric, then Father Ryan saw a dark, shapeless figure next to him.

"You could scare a man half to death," Father Ryan scolded.

I've been trained to. He fingered the claim check on a nearby suit, giving it a momentary glance before moving to the next suit.

"Do you need me to share my light?"

No. I cast out my telepathic energies around me to give me an idea of the general outline of my surroundings, to draw a picture of the objects around me. That way, my eyes can make better use of the available light to see the details. I can see almost as clearly in near-darkness as I can in full light. A pause. But thanks for the offer.

"You're welcome." Father Ryan examined the tag on a heavy wool coat. "Mr. Cr...er, Shadow--I think I've found it."

The Shadow moved over to Father Ryan and examined the tag. Well, well. A chuckle. Looks as if Mr. Martin's coat needs cleaning. It's probably got some dirt in it somewhere. He began to fondle the lining, trying to find a loose thread or re-patched panel.

"It's hanging rather oddly at the bottom," Ryan noticed, kneeling down. He shone his flashlight's beam on the hem. "And this lining's been sewn to the coat with a different color thread." He pulled out a penknife and slit a few of the threads at the bottom.

The corner of an envelope peeked out. Ryan slit some more threads, and the envelope tumbled the rest of the way out.

Good work, Father. What made you look down there?

A wry smile. "Mum was a seamstress. I learned to sew blind-stitched hems from watching her. I used to sew lifted wallets into the lining of my coat all the time so that if someone searched my pockets, they wouldn't find anything."

A chuckle. My master used to tell me that sometimes remembering the past wasn't a bad thing. He took the envelope and opened it.

Father Ryan shown the fading point of light on the paper The Shadow had pulled out. "Saints preserve us," he whispered. "Tom McCormick...Jim Dellinger...Ricardo Dimitri...some of the businessmen from this neighborhood."

And all of them mob connected in some way. He examined the paper a bit further. And I'd bet every one of them sold out to Davidson-Garibaldi Properties just recently. He handed Ryan the note. You'll need to take that to the police. Take the coat, too. That way you can tell them that Martin didn't say anything to you...he just gave you his dry cleaning ticket.

Father Ryan handed the small flashlight back to The Shadow, then reached to take the coat off the rack.

The lights snapped on suddenly. "I'll take that," a threatening voice called out from behind.

Father Ryan whipped around--and saw two armed men standing in the doorway. Behind them stood a taller, better-dressed man.

"Told you it was here, Bert," one of the men said to the well-dressed man behind them.

"Good job, Dave," Bertram Davidson replied. "Thanks so much, Father, for finding that letter. When I told Fred Martin he could check my references, I didn't think he'd do a wholesale investigation of all my connections."

Ryan looked around. The Shadow was nowhere to be seen. And he was caught among the clothes, with nowhere to run. "You killed Mr. Martin," he realized. "You killed him over this."

Bert shook his head and tsk-tsked. "And here I thought priests always saw the good side of men," he cracked. "No, Father, I didn't kill him. I don't do that sort of thing. I make sure other people take care of my loose ends. No, that was Tony's handiwork. Good thing Dave here noticed Martin took special care of a lot of the clothing here yesterday, pressing it and hanging it himself. Martin hasn't done any real work in years, so Dave figured he had to be hiding something here."

"Always nice to have a guy on the inside," Dave agreed. "We were just going to get all that clothing and look through it, but when Martin showed up, Tony got a little panicked." He gave the other gunman a mock frown. "Tony's a little jumpy sometimes. He has a tendency to kill first and ask questions later. That's when we realized we didn't have any of the ticket numbers, and Martin sure wasn't going to be able to give them to us. But he obviously gave them to somebody."

Father Ryan felt himself shaking. He began praying softly, hoping that his protector was nearby.

"Hand it over, Father," Tony said, coming ever closer.

Suddenly, the lights went out again. And mocking, taunting laughter echoed from all corners.

Father Ryan crossed himself quickly. Thank you, Lord, his mind whispered.

"Jeez--it's The Shadow!" Tony cried out.

"There's no such thing!" Dave retorted.

Oh, really? Another laugh rang through the shop.

The gunmen were pointing their guns everywhere. "Find him," Bert ordered, looking very nervous. "And kill the priest."

Tony aimed his gun and fired.

Ryan dove out of the way.

A right hook cracked into Tony's jaw and sent him sprawling. How dare you shoot at a man of God! The Shadow's angry voice boomed.

"Bad move, Shadow," Dave said, aiming his gun right where Tony had been standing.

Something grabbed his ankle and pulled hard. Dave lost his balance and hit the floor, dropping his gun. He started to get up.

"Oh, no, you don't!" Father Ryan dove atop him.

The two men wrestled for a moment, exchanging punches and choke holds. Finally, Father Ryan snapped the man's head back with a left hook and knocked him out once more.

Bert grabbed Dave's gun and aimed it right for the priest. "Say nighty-night, Father."

Father Ryan looked up as Bert cocked the pistol.

Suddenly, Bert lurched forward as an unseen elbow cracked him in the back of the head.

Father Ryan reached out and grabbed Bert's leg, and the developer tripped and fell to the floor.

Unseen hands lifted Bert off the floor, then flung him toward the front of the store.

Bert crashed into the counter. He grabbed his back, shook his head, then swung wildly at nothing.

Harsh, angry laughter taunted him as he did. You've drawn enough desperate men into your underworld web, Bertram Davidson. And now, you're going to pay for it. The weed of crime bears bitter fruit.

"You son of a..."

A right hook crashed into him before he could finish. Such language. And in front of a priest, yet. A derisive laugh. Perhaps you need a reminder of the law.

Bert swung at air again.

The Shadow decked him. Thou shalt not steal.

Bert got to his feet, only to be decked again. Thou shalt not kill.

Bert tried to back away, only to be grabbed by the collar and lifted off his feet by an invisible presence. And those who sow iniquity...

Bert kicked his feet in the air. "Put me down!" he begged in a frightened voice.

The Shadow flung him through the plate glass storefront window to the sidewalk outside. ...shall reap iniquity. Mocking laughter rang through the night...and mingled with the sounds of sirens as they pulled around the corner and headed for the front of the store.

The Shadow took the coat from Father Ryan, slipped the note and envelope into the torn hem of the coat so that a corner of it was visible, then laid all of it on the counter. Then, he took Father Ryan's hand and headed for the back of the store.

By the time the police came in to clean up the mess, The Shadow was long gone.


Not quite twenty-four hours later, Father Mark Ryan sat quietly in the confessional, praying the Rosary to pass the time, when he heard someone come into the booth next to him. He put the Rosary down, said one last prayer, then waited for his parishioner to begin.

The words of a "Hail Mary" being whispered were just barely audible. "Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned," a quiet voice said.

Father Ryan nodded. "Yes, my child."

"Last night, I threw a man through a plate glass window."

Ryan smiled in spite of himself. "As I recall, he deserved it." He looked toward the mesh separating confessor from priest.

Lamont Cranston's mischievous expression looked back. "Good evening, Father."

"Good evening, Mr. Cranston."

"You'll be pleased to know Bertram Davidson sang like a choirboy last night to police. He confessed to his involvement in Fred Martin's murder and agreed to testify against Mario Garibaldi. The mob infiltration of Turtle Bay has been stemmed...for now."

"Thanks to you."

"And to you. Without your gift, Fred Martin's secret would have died with him."

"And without your gift, it would have died with me as well. I owe you my life, Mr. Cranston."

Lamont nodded. "That's right, Father Ryan. I've saved your life."

"And, in the Buddhist tradition, that means it now belongs to you."

Lamont shook his head. "Considering the peace of mind you gave me yesterday, I would say I'm the one in your debt, not the other way around. Besides, you've already given your life over to God. And I think The Bible says something about one cannot serve both God and man."

"But one can serve God by serving man."

A chuckle. "You'd think by now I'd have learned not to try to outthink a holy man."

"Every man has a mission in life. Mine is to serve others in the way I was taught in Seminary. Yours is to serve others in the way you were taught in Tibet. And I would be honored to help you in that mission. It is the least I can do."

"Is there a slot to pass things between the walls of this booth?"

A small door opened under the mesh in reply.

"Put your right hand through it."

Father Ryan slid his right hand through the door.

He felt Lamont take hold of his fingers, and then something heavy being placed on the third finger. Then, his fingers were released, and he drew his hand back slowly.

A large silver ring with a cabochon-cut red-orange fire opal set in it was now on his right ring finger. He stared at it for a long moment, then looked back at Lamont.

Lamont held up his left hand, its third finger dominated by a similar ring. "Don't ever take it off. When you hear one of my agents say, 'The sun is shining,' you will respond, 'But the ice is slippery.' This will identify you to each other. Do you understand?"

Father Ryan nodded. "The sun is shining..."

"...but the ice is slippery." A firm glare. "You have an additional obligation. You now know my secret. And you must protect that knowledge at any cost. The fate of the mission depends on my identity remaining in shadow."

"I'll never tell anyone."

"I know." A smile. "Now, about that broken window..."

Father Ryan nodded. "Ah, yes. Three Hail Marys and one Our Father. And pay for the window."

"Yes, Father." He started to go, then stopped. "Oh, by the way...I'm engaged to be married."

"Congratulations. The young lady with you yesterday morning, by chance?"

"Yes."

"Does she know about...?"

"Oh, yes." A smile. "I can't hide anything from her. She's more perceptive than you are."

"Good. Secrecy in a marriage weakens its foundation." A smile. "Make an appointment with my secretary. You'll need to come in for counseling, and of course you'll need to reserve the church for that special day. But we can discuss all of this later. Now, I have more confessions to hear. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, I absolve you of your sins, my child. Go, and sin no more."

"Or make certain I at least confess it when I do?"

Father Ryan smiled placidly. "That is implied. God bless you, Lamont Cranston."

"God bless you, Father Ryan." The door to the other booth opened and closed again.

Father Ryan sat quietly until he was certain Lamont was gone. Then, he crossed himself and offered a prayer of thanksgiving to God for saving his life...and a prayer of intercession for the continued safety of the man He'd sent to save it.

THE END