The Shadow and other characters in this story are property of Conde Nast Publications. No money is being made from this story, no infringement is intended.
Even in 1950, there were some shadows.
One of them was cast by the Empire State Building as the man and woman looked up in the general direction of the top five floors. They were, of course, difficult if not impossible to see from the street angle.
"Think you'll ever meet him again, Lamont?" said the woman.
The man, who wore a brown fedora, looked up for a few more moments before replying.
"I would hope not, Margo. His methods are so different from mine. We only worked together those few times. I think we both knew that if the contact was prolonged..."
"He'd have to try to bring you in," Margo finished.
Lamont nodded, briefly. "And that I could never allow."
The woman, a brunette beauty in a lavender dress that scarcely touched the top of her knees, tugged at his arm. "Isn't it about time we had a talk about something else?"
He looked at her and proceeded in the direction she was taking him. Their car was in sight, only a block down the street, and the rush of people paid them no more mind than any of the other obscure millions of New York civilians that wore down the pavement that morning. "Well, what?" he asked. "Haven't we been talking all morning long? And most of the night before that?"
"Not about this," said Margo. She was marching him briskly to the town car, the sort which dated back to the early Thirties but which was kept as updated under the hood as his men could manage. And then some.
"I'll tell you. Inside," she said. The chauffeur was standing by the door, even though his face had New York Cabbie writ large upon it. Moe smiled and threw open the back door for them. Margo practically shoved Lamont inside. Then she got in and slammed the door shut. Lamont noted her sigh and the set of her jaw, and the fact that she was not looking at him.
"Well?" he said.
"Well, Lamont," she said, looking straight ahead, "I'm pregnant."
To his credit, his jaw didn't drop as far as she thought it would.
"Yes, I'm sure, and yes, we did take precautions as we always do, and no, I don't intend to do anything about it except have it." She turned a scornful look upon him. "Is that all right with you, Boss?"
She saw a glint of something hard in his eye and wondered how far she dared push it. But even with him, it had to be gotten through.
"How long have you known, Margot?" said Lamont, softly.
She arranged her dress over her knees as much as she could manage. "Probably for the last three weeks. But I've only been certain for the last five days. I told you I was going for a checkup, Lamont. I just didn't tell you why."
Lamont Cranston nodded, as sagely as he could manage.
"Of course, we can arrange for you to spend your confinement upstate," he began. "There's any number of doctors I can engage. The facilities will be more than adequate. I'll see to it, and we--"
"Stop it." She lay a gloved hand on his arm, firmly. "Lamont. I want us to be married."
"Married." The word was barely a whisper on his lips.
"Yes. Is that such a foreign concept to you? You've heard of the custom, I'm sure, in your long studies in the Orient."
"I don't care to joke about the Masters, Margo."
"I don't care to joke about this, Lamont." Her eyes were blazing. "This isn't a hypnotic illusion you can waft away with a snap of your fingers. It's not some fool with a fancy name you can put in front of your .45's. I'm going to have a baby, Lamont. It's going to be our baby. It will bear your name."
"Margot," he said, earnestly. "We have much work to do. So much still remains ahead of us."
"Not as much as there used to be," she said. "We're getting older, Lamont. Even with what the, the Masters gave you, and you gave to me. There's others to do what we did."
"No one could do what I did. Not even Savage."
"It's been twenty years and more, Lamont," said Margo, clutching his forearm as hard as she could. "You have to get off the treadmill somewhere. I'm giving you the place to step off."
"Did you do this deliberately?" There was no mistaking it. In him now, she saw the trace of his other-self, the shadow of its hardness. "Answer me, Margo."
"Oh, Lamont." She released his arm, shook her head. "Do you really think I'd trap you, like some, I don't know, some heroine from a cheap romance novel? It just happened, Lamont. It did. Do you doubt me? Do you think I'm lying to you?"
He shook his head no, and his mouth twitched once at the corner. "No. Not you, never. But...Margo...my God. I'm not ready to be a father, a...husband..."
She grabbed his lapels before she knew she'd done it. "Well, who the hell is, Lamont? Do you think I'm ready to be a mother? I never took any courses in it. I was too busy learning how to do other things. Like how to disguise myself, or shoot guns, or do judo. Do you think you're the first man this has happened to, Lamont?"
"No, of course not."
"Or that I'm the first woman?"
Lamont rubbed the back of his neck and shot a glance through the window separating them from Shrevvy. He wondered how much the driver had heard, but trusted him not to spill what he did. Anyway, the speaking tube wasn't open yet. "You're not giving me much of a choice, Margo."
"How much of a choice do you think I've got, Lamont?"
"Even less," he admitted. "It would be so much simpler if you'd just agree to have the child and let me find an adoption agency."
"No," she said. "This is your child, Lamont. Mine, too. I'll raise him with you or without you. But I want to raise him with you. Do you know why?"
"I would imagine," he said, "because you love me."
She nodded, and her expression softened more than it had since she had entered the car. "And what about you?"
"If you're asking if I love you, I should think that's beyond question." He glanced at her briefly, then looked away.
"You have to say it, Lamont," she said.
"All right. I love you. Does that make you happy?"
"Not if you say it as though you're on the gallows."
"I know, darling," said Margo. She reached out for his hand, and was gratified that at least he didn't pull away. "I know this is hard on you, as well. To a degree."
"Oh, yes," he said with no little sarcasm.
"Well, you don't have anything growing in you. I do."
:"Damnation, Margo, what do you want me to say? As you've said, it's been over twenty years. Would I have stayed with you, or you with me, if we didn't feel something for each other?"
"Yes," she said. "Twenty years. Twenty years we've spent all over the world, chasing this man or that, risking our necks for so many times I can't even count them, Lamont. Getting shot at. Fighting. Killing, sometimes."
"Killing, a lot of times," he said. "But only those who deserved the killing."
"I couldn't disagree with that, Lamont. But I'm glad I didn't have to pull the trigger. Not too many times, anyway."
"I couldn't have chosen a better woman to be an agent," he said.
"How romantic," she said, with a sarcasm that dwarfed his.
His eyes branded her as he turned his gaze on her. "You knew what kind of a man I was when we became involved, Margo. You, more than anyone else in the organization, knew."
"I know, Lamont," she said. "Have to admit that's part of the reason why I loved you."
He looked a bit more at ease.
"There's just one thing, Lamont."
"Should I ask?"
"I'd feel better if you did."
"All right, then," he said, determinedly. "What is that ‘just one thing'? Tell me?"
She placed her hands on her knees. "I'm not sure the other you feels the same way about me."
"What do you mean? We're one and the same, he and I. Just two different guises, two different roles."
She shook her head and swallowed, hard. "No. You have no idea how different he is from you. When you put on the ring, the hat, the cloak...that's when I have someone else to deal with. That's when he possesses you."
"He's no more than what he has to be."
"But he isn't you," she said. "Most of the time, I don't know what he is."
Lamont looked at his hands. "Do you know. Sometimes, I don't know, either."
Margo studied his face, gently. "That's as close as our conversation's gotten, today. I think that's a good sign."
"I think so." Her hand stole around his. "Almost makes me think you're coming around."
"To what?" His hand was almost passive in hers. "To diapering babies, to helping a pimply-faced teenager with algebra homework, to having one of my cars totalled in a drag race on a country avenue? To having my money spent and my time taken up by something I hadn't even figured into my life's sum? And, Margo, where would he be in such an equation?"
"Well, isn't that more for you to answer than for me?"
"Margo, we have an organization."
"You have one."
"It doesn't matter. It's more than him, more than the two of us. They depend on me, and on him. The decent people of this city, of this country, depend on us as well."
"Oh, Lamont," she said, softly. "Such an excuse. ‘The world needs me.' The world can always find somebody else. But I can't find another father for my child."
"Not this one, anyway."
She let his hand drop. "I'd hoped, Lamont. I'd hoped you wouldn't be this way about it. But I suppose I knew that you couldn't be any other way."
Lamont grabbed her upper arm, firmly. "Margo, you're not giving me enough time. You've sprung this thing upon me wihtout warning, and you expect me to come to a decision that will, well, affect the rest of my entire life. In a way...in a very important way...it's a choice that will have more impact than what yours entails."
"Oh. Of course," said Margo. "I don't have anything that can compare to fighting masterminds with stupid names like the Fifth Napoleon or Mox or Gray Fist or Yellow Jaundice. I'm only going to carry around a child for nine months in my body. That's not like shooting people."
"Damn it, what do you want me to say?"
After a long pause, she said, "If you don't know, then I suppose there's nothing you can say. Goodbye, Lamont."
Margo threw open the door. He grabbed for her arm, but she pulled away. "Margo, wait," he commanded.
She didn't look at him as she got out of the car and trotted down the street.
He was half in, half out of the car. Shrevvy looked concerned, but wasn't saying anything. She was already lost in the crowd. He thought of following her, even thought of using the ring, though there wasn't nearly enough darkness to be found to use all of his equipment. For a long time he stood there, one hand on the door, one foot on the curb, drawing looks from passersby.
Lamont heard Shrevvy's voice. "Mr. Cranston? D'ya think we oughtta try an' find her?"
He favored Moe Shrevnitz with a look. "No. No, Shrevvy, it's not..." He straightened his jacket. "Margo, Miss Lane has made her decision. Take me...take me home."
"Okay, boss," said Shrevvy. "If you'll get back inside, maybe?"
Cranston stepped back in the car and shut the door. He tumbled back against the seat and didn't focus on anything as Shrevvy moved the car into traffic. Where would Margo go? To whom would she turn? When would she see the light of reason and return?
And he thought of how true and focused his other self was, how he could probably find an answer to these questions in a very short time, or could disregard them as being of little imporance in his war against crime and evil.
He also thought of how hard it might be to see the light of reason, or any other sort of light, in the shadow.
It was a new age, to be sure. A new era of superhard steel alloys and television sets and United Nations debates and pocketsized paperback books and hydrogen bombs and an Iron Curtain that divided one side of Europe from the other, and didn't look like it was going to be lifted anytime quickly.
Everything was shifting. He knew the Russians, knew them for what they were, as well as any man of the West possibly could. He had not expected the alliance to last even as long as it did. And after the Axis was destroyed, he of all men knew that Russia would be the new enemy. But there was little he could do about it. Even with the powers he possessed.
Not more than a year ago, China had fallen to another brand of the same ideology. He had known its chief when the man was still operating out of caves in the hillsides. To be sure, operating in that land would be difficult now, if not impossible.
He also wondered how it would affect the one who was possibly his greatest enemy. Several foes had faced him more than once, but none so many times as that one. The only other living heir of the Masters, the one who had mastered some skills he had not, just as he had learned much that the Chinese one did not know.
So far, his knowledge had proven superior. But only to a degree, and only just enough to bring him victory by a slim margin. It sounded like a storybook cliche, but when one was facing guns and bombs and other instruments of death and torture, that slim margin became tangible, perceptible, a raft of salvation. Safeguarding his own life was hard enough, in the face of his foe. Keeping the lives of his agents safe in such a threat was, at times, more than he could manage.
Was Margo right? Was it, indeed, time to hang up his great slouch hat and cloak, and leave the battling of evil to younger, fresher men?
Nursing a sherry and looking out the window of his penthouse room, Lamont Cranston already knew the answer.
Not so long as there were still men such as Shiwan Khan.
Dr. Roy Tam dwelt less in the shadows now than he had in earlier years. The man to whom he owed so much rarely called upon him for services these days. That was fine by Dr. Tam, as he had a wife, two children, and a respectable Chinatown practice to attend. He aged less well than his master and his master's lover, and that was agreeable to Dr. Tam, since such things were unnatural and not meant for many men on this side of the veil.
Nonetheless, there were still precautions that were taken. As he parked his green Studebaker a half block from his dwelling, Tam was cautious to note the flag on his mailbox. If nothing had gone wrong, his wife inevitably raised the flag on it before she got home. If something bad was in the wind, or the man in the shadows had called, it was left down. Even if she was out, she made sure to raise the flag before she had gone.
It was down now.
Tam didn't like guns, but he liked to have one available. It had, unfortunately, become a necessity. He took a .38 from where he had it clipped under the seat of his car and left on the street side of the car, going around the back, headed down the alleyway of his home. He thought of calling the police, but wanted to have something more substantial to report than that his mailbox flag was down.
As stealthily as he dared, Dr. Tam managed to get over his back fence, curse himself for not providing enough cover with the well-arranged garden and its multiple pools in back, and make it to a back window. He chanced a look inside, from the bottom up. Only an empty room in his study. The window was locked. He'd have to loosen the screen from the bottom, break the glass, and hope he wasn't making as big a fool of himself as he suspected.
But he had seen many things working for the master of the shadows. He knew there was much danger in the most mundane of settings, even in an empty room.
Tam unlatched the bottom of the screen, checked for scratches that would have signified someone entering by this way, and was satisfied they had not. He brought back his gun in preparation of tapping it against the window glass.
Hands appeared to yank open the window.
Hands appeared to grab him by the gun hand and the other arm and to yank him inside the house.
Before he could react, a karate blow to his wrist disarmed him and another hand was placed over his mouth to stifle his cry. Two Asiatic men of great strength and ruthlessness had him, and his feet were barely touching the floor as they held him.
With the efficiency their master demanded, the two men hustled Roy Tam through the house and into the spacious den, where he saw a tableau that both terrified him and reassured him. The terror came from seeing his captor, more of his men, and his wife and children gagged and bound to chairs.
The reassurance came from the perception that they didn't seem to be harmed, just scared out of their wits.
The master of the interlopers was known to Roy Tam. He had faced him before, several times, at the behest of his own master. It became obvious why Dr. Tam had been chosen as a target.
The Golden Master, sitting in one of Dr. Tam's favorite chairs, looked unhurried. He was dressed in a golden robe and slippers and looked comfortably in control of the situation, which he was. He tented the fingertips of his long-nailed hands.
"Good evening, Dr. Tam," he said. "I wish you to give a message to Ying Ko."
Burbank had sent a signal that lit a light in a certain place in Lamont Cranston's home. From a special phone with a dedicated line, Cranston spoke a single word in a voice not his own: "Report."
Burbank gave his report. After he was finished, Cranston paused only an instant before giving a command.
"Harry Vincent, Cliff Marsland, and our core squad are to meet with me within an hour at Point 5B. We will discuss the matter further there. Tell them who is involved, and tell them not to repeat it. That is all."
Cranston hung up the phone. Then he went to another one, called the faithful Shrevvy, and said, "We're going out tonight." That was all he needed to say.
Then he opened a well-hidden door within the room, and shut it behind him. It led to a passageway wherein were stored many essential things. Including a large slouch hat, a black cloak, a red muffler, a pair of .45 automatics, and other things he had found useful in his business.
He never should have let Margo out of his sight. True, she was not a prisoner, but he had made many enemies in his time, and not all of them were dead.
Now she had fallen into the hands of one of his foes. Or at least he claimed she had. Whether true or false, he had violated the home of Dr. Tam, and hurled a challenge at the one he called Ying Ko.
The challenge would be answered, as they both knew it would be.
Despite the situation, despite the peril to Margo and his agents, and, admittedly, to himself, the man in the darkness did a curious thing.
He laughed softly at first, then built to a mocking crescendo, a laugh that signalled no mirth at all. A laugh that might have been heard if one could have placed a hidden microphone in the bowels of Hell.
Shiwan Khan would have what he desired, and more than that.
And the Shadow would have the blood of Shiwan Khan.