Cliff Marsland had been a gangster in days past and was widely regarded to be such now. The thing about it was, nobody knew of any jobs he’d pulled in twenty years. Some regarded the big man with suspicion, but not too many called him on it. He’d mash your face into the bar where you were sitting if you did it in a tavern, or into the nearest brick wall if you did it on the street.
He’d buy you drinks, he’d listen to your stories, he’d give you advice, maybe, and then he’d leave. God knew where he went after he left. Some men guarded their talk when he was around. Others bragged to him. If he was a stoolie, nobody could find any evidence of it. No evidence was good enough for five men who just suspected him of being a snitch one night. They took him out and braced him. Within the hour, Marsland was back in his old haunts. Nobody ever saw the five men again.
So Cliff Marsland was drinking his favorite brew at Blackie’s that night, his head slightly below the level of cigarette smoke that miasma’d around the room, when Harry Vincent burst through the swinging doors. He was dressed too well for the place, and the sideways glances he got indicated such. He didn’t seem to care.
“Cliff Marsland,” he said. “I’m looking for Cliff Marsland. Is he here? Has he been here?”
“Over here, swell,” said Marsland, turning his head. “Who wants to know?”
“Me,” said Harry. He started making his way to the bar. “Gotta talk to you, Marsland.”
The barkeep looked nastily at Vincent. “You want to talk, be decent enough to buy something, pal,” he said.
“Scotch on the rocks,” said Harry. He seated himself beside Cliff and said, “Got a job. A job for us all.”
“Who’s the jobber?” asked Cliff, playing his part. He liked Harry well enough, but he liked to make him squirm.
“No names,” Harry replied, as the barkeep plunked a drink in front of him. “You ought to know better.”
“I know better ‘n to take on work ‘thout I know what I’m gettin’ into,” Cliff said, laconically. The two of them were drawing more attention. He didn’t know if that was bad or good, and really didn’t care.
“Got a cab waiting, Cliff,” said Vincent. “Come with me, or don’t. Now.”
“After I finish this,” said Cliff, and upended the stein.
A mustachioed gent in a pin-stripe suit materialized beside Marsland. He was looking at Harry as he said, “This guy givin’ you trouble, Cliff?”
“Nah,” said Cliff, wiping his mouth. “I’m givin’ trouble to you.” He smashed the guy across the face with the stein.
By the time the guy had fallen on his kiester, a party of four from several areas of the bar were on their feet and headed towards Cliff and Harry. Vincent had time to say, “Why in hell did you do that?”
“‘Cause I got a reputation to uphold,” said Cliff, matter-of-factly, and got off his stool to grab one guy who held a sap, lift him overhead, and toss him into two others. Harry, for his part, ducked a punch before he could manage to fully get off the stool, and repaid his attacker with a blow to the gut. The guy spewed rum over the bar and part of Harry’s coat.
Within seconds, Blackie’s was host to one of the better bar brawls of the year. Bottles, chairs, fists, and feet were employed with precision and force. Guys from one end of the room pounded guys from the other end, then switched up and administered the same to those from their own end. The main objective was to be the last guy up, but to get out before Blackie lowered the boom on you for messing up his place.
Harry and Cliff were holding their own, trying to punch their way to the door. Cliff had grabbed a wooden chair and was swinging it in an arc in front of him as he moved forward, bashing barflies too slow, too drunk, or too dumb to get out of his way. Harry Vincent defended Cliff’s rear and moved in his wake. He crumpled a couple of dollars into a ball on the way and threw it behind the bar for his undrunk drink.
But they didn’t quite get to the door.
Pin-stripe, his face bleeding a bit where Cliff had hit him with the stein, had pulled a .38 from his coat and didn’t look happy at all. He was standing just inside the batwinged doors. His gun was trained in Harry’s and Cliff’s direction, and the two of them stood still.
“Don’t move,” said the guy. “Any way but down.” His knuckle whitened on the trigger.
A pair of black-gloved hands came from the darkness behind. One grabbed the gun, forcing its bullets upward into the ceiling. The other tightened about Pin-stripe’s throat. The man’s face showed surprise and not a little terror. He tried to angle his head back to see who was grabbing him.
It didn’t work until he was falling down, an instant away from unconsciousness.
The eyes he saw made him swear off drinking and Blackie’s forever.
The men inside barely saw what had occurred. They saw a pair of gloves come in, squeeze, and put Pin-stripe down for the count inside of three seconds. Then he was gone.
Harry looked at Cliff. “I think we better go,” he said.
“Let’s,” agreed Cliff.
The two of them stepped over Pin-stripe’s fallen form and were out the doors a few seconds before Blackie could recover enough to start yelling, “Hey! Hey, come back here!”
The guy waiting for them in the cab looked patient, reading a Racing Form. They got in and were gone. This kind of stuff happened enough, in his tour of duty.
The only unusual thing was the Boss making an appearance like that.
This thing had to be important stuff, for sure.
The journey in the cab ended at the Cobalt Club. Harry and Cliff, who were hardly typical of the clientele there, were about to be turned away when Lamont Cranston appeared at the door. “They’re with me,” he said, and the doorman looked as though he wished it was his night off.
Cranston smiled at the two of them and made small talk as he hustled them into a back room which he rented for times such as these. The enemy might know about this; in fact, he probably did. But if he wished to strike, the Shadow dared him.
“The Master will speak with you in a moment,” said Cranston.
“We’ll be waiting,” said Cliff. Both of them were pretty certain that Cranston was one of the Boss’s identities. But he had so many guises he could assume that none of them was certain who the Shadow really was, and sometimes they suspected he had forgotten it also.
The tall man left the room. Harry stretched himself after the door closed. “This ever get to you?”
“All the time,” said Cliff. “But it’s better’n what I used to have.”
“I suppose,” said Harry. “But I’m not as young as I was when I started this thing.”
“Hey. You see any of these wrinkles here goin’ away?” Cliff pointed to the side of his right eye. “We been doin’ this for almost twenty years. I age a lot worse than the Boss.”
“Me, too,” said Harry. “Still, I owe him. I owe him a lot.”
The room darkened. Neither man flinched, but both of them became more aware.
“That is gratifying to know, Harry Vincent,” said the voice of the Shadow.
Harry shook an Old Gold from a packet, stuck it in his mouth, and lit up. It helped. Even after twenty years, the Boss still gave him the willies. He wondered if this time would be the time that the ember of his cigarette would pick out the Shadow’s features. But he knew that the Shadow was not seen when the Shadow did not wish to be.
“Margo Lane has been captured by Shiwan Khan,” he continued. “She must be returned quickly, and without harm. The enemy has also struck at Dr. Roy Tam. His arrogance presupposes a trap. It will be your job to detect and spring the trap, and mine to turn it back on the trapper.
“At present, we know nothing of Khan’s ulterior motives. But it is unthinkable that he would only be motivated by revenge against us. We must learn what his plans are, and thwart them. And this time, it must be once and for all. After this, either Shiwan Khan will never rise to plot again...or such will be the fate of the Shadow.”
It was a long moment before Harry dared to say, “Margo.”
“Yes,” said the voice from the darkness. “Fortunately, Miss Lane does not appear to have been spirited out of the city by plane, train, or ship. Our contacts have made certain of that. She could, conceivably, have been taken away by car, but most likely Khan remains within the city. It will be our duty to ferret him out.”
“In Chinatown?”, asked Cliff.
“A possibility, and one which must be checked,” the Shadow answered. “Harry, you and Cliff will go with Dr. Tam. He has a few leads which must be checked.”
“He still wants to go out, even after what’s happened to his family?” Harry was incredulous.
The Shadow turned his full attention upon his agent. In the light of his cigarette, Harry could see two deadly eyes before him. “He wants to go out because of what has happened to his family. Any more questions?”
Harry Vincent knew the Boss well enough to know that when the Shadow asked that, questions were exactly what he didn’t want. “No,” he said. “Not right now.”
“Good. The two of you, be off. Be careful. Be aware...the Shadow will be with you when you most need him. This audience is ended.”
With that, the lights came up. Harry and Cliff blinked, their eyes adjusting. But they were able to tell that there was no one in the room save themselves. It did not seem humanly possible for a man to have left the room as quickly as that, without even the sound of a door shutting.
But there were men, and then there was the Shadow.
“Come on,” Harry said. “Let’s get the hell out of here.”
Commissioner Weston had been in office too many years for some folks’ liking, but even they had to admit to his efficiency. That was why, despite the griping of opponents about his staying in office longer than Roosevelt, he retained his post.
Through most of those years, he had known the man who was sitting before him today. Lamont Cranston looked more worried than he ever had before, in Weston’s estimation, and he had good reason to be.
“So the last time you saw Miss Lane was when she ran away from you, Lamont?”
Cranston leaned both hands on the walking cane he held before him, as he sat. “Exactly, Commissioner. Approximately 4:25 last afternoon.”
Weston nodded. “Pretty observant of you. Most people wouldn’t be able to pin it down closer than half an hour. Why do you think she was kidnapped?”
“I don’t know. I have enemies, but I don’t know which of them might have done it.”
“Any jealous business rivals? Anybody you might have angered, recently, in any way?”
“No. None recently.”
“Why did she run away from you, Lamont?”
Cranston looked up. “Margo announced that she was pregnant. We had trouble coming to grips with what we would do. So she ran away. I was hoping for her to return within the day.”
The commissioner looked at him evenly. “I see,” he said.
“What does that mean, Commissioner?”
“Are you sure this was a kidnapping, Lamont?”
“What would you call it, Commissioner, when someone leaves word with a friend that he has your lady?”
“Well, she might have left you and gone off with somebody else,” said Weston. “Much as I hate to say it, this might be a scheme. She and another party might be planning to bilk you for ransom money. Out of spite.”
“That is not the case,” said Cranston. “That is not possible.” The man looked at Weston with a note of terrible rage. The commissioner was convinced that, if somebody wasn’t telling the truth, it wasn’t Cranston.
“Okay, Lamont, calm down. I just wanted to bring it up as a point. It’s happened to better men than you or I, and nobody believes it can happen until it does.”
“There was nobody else,” said Cranston. “I am sure of that.”
“Did they say why they wanted her?”
“Did they say what you were supposed to do?”
“Then it doesn’t make any sense.”
“It does,” said Cranston, “if somebody wants to lure me into a trap.”
“I thought you said you hadn’t made anyone angry.”
“Not recently,” admitted Cranston.
Weston sighed and rubbed his temples. “Lamont, this is going nowhere fast.”
“Are you being straightforward with me? If you know something that’s relevant to this case, and you don’t come out with it, withholding evidence is the least of your worries. It might keep us from finding Miss Lane.”
“I can assure you, Commissioner, that nothing occupies me more than finding Miss Lane right now. She’s bearing my child.”
“Correction, Lamont. She’s bearing her child, until and unless you and she are married. Wouldn’t you say?”
Cranston kept silent.
“So you claim that Dr. Roy Tam’s house was invaded by a couple of Asiatics last night, and that they left word Miss Lane was kidnapped.”
“That is correct.”
“We’ve got corroborating evidence from the Tams on this. The place was broken into, the wife and kids were held captive, and they were let go and the perpetrators left shortly after Dr. Tam arrived and they gave him their message.”
“Right, so far.”
“And you claim not to know who might be behind this.”
“That’s my claim, Commissioner.”
Weston paced up and down his office for a moment or two. “Lamont, I don’t have to tell you that Chinatown is one of the toughest places for my men to work. No matter how hard we try, I doubt we’ve been able to fully eradicate the influence of the Tongs down there. Call them the Triad or whatever you want, it’s like trying to ferret out the Mafia. You might get some of the soldiers, but you won’t get the one in command, except once in a very long while. And as for the Tongs, I doubt we’ve gotten any of them.”
“You may have gotten more than you know,” said Lamont.
“I doubt it,” admitted Weston. “Miss Lane gets kidnapped just after she says she’s pregnant. Somebody breaks into Dr. Tam’s house to deliver a ransom announcement, which isn’t a ransom announcement. It damned well sounds like somebody’s after you, rather than Margo.”
“It does, doesn’t it?”
“And your association with Dr. Tam is what, Lamont?”
“We’ve been friends for some time,” said Cranston. “They know us and we know them.”
“Did Dr. Tam treat Margo in any capacity that you know of?”
“I have to ask this. Was Margo involved in any way with narcotics?”
“If she had, it might help make sense of this thing. There’s still enough hop joints down there to supply eight counties all by themselves. Lamont, will you let me do something?”
“What’s that, commissioner?”
“Will you let me have some of my men tail you?”
“And why not?”
“Because I don’t want them to.”
Weston stood in front of Cranston and gave him a stern look. “Which sounds as suspicious as hell to me.”
“I can’t help that.”
“If you really were playing straight with me, Lamont, you’d let some of my men be there in case you were threatened, or in case you were contacted in person by the kidnappers.”
“I can’t help that.”
“You can, damn it. And you’re acting like you don’t want Miss Lane to be found.”
“That’s a preposterous claim, Commissioner.”
“Is it?” Weston shoved his face near Cranston’s. “You have a pregnant woman kidnapped with whom you’ve been keeping company for about twenty years. You probably have information you’re not divulging. This whole thing stinks of organized crime. And yet you haven’t cooperated with me beyond the barest minimum.”
“I’m sorry, Commissioner.”
“Not sorry enough. If Miss Lane turns up dead, how sorry do you think you’ll have to be?”
“She won’t,” said Lamont.
“How do you know? Especially if you’re withholding information?”
“She will not,” said Lamont.
Weston turned away. “All right, Cranston. If that’s all you’re willing to give me now, I can’t do anything more than put out an APB, circulate her picture, and get the boys in the Chinatown squad working on it.”
“Thank you, Commissioner.”
“Don’t thank me,” he said. “Unless I get more to work on than I’ve got, we’ll probably never see her again.”
Cranston silently got up and left. After he was gone, Weston hit the intercom.
“Yes, sir?” asked the secretary.
“Get me Joe Cardona,” he said.
In a minute the detective was speaking to him. “What’s up, Commissioner?”
“Lamont Cranston is leaving the building,” said Weston. “I think he knows a lot more in the Lane case than he’s telling me. I want you to put a couple of men on him, and not have him know.”
“Will do, sir,” said Cardona.
Weston flipped off the intercom and sat back in his swivel chair. Lamont Cranston, Margo Lane, and he had been friends ever since the Thirties. Why the hell was he acting that way? Especially where Miss Lane was concerned? Didn’t he have any feelings, for the love of Heaven, or, more specifically, for the love of Margo?
How could you know a man for almost twenty years, and still end up knowing so little about him?
Margo Lane awoke to the chill of her cell.
There was little in the way of furnishings. Just a cot chained to the wall with a small, inefficient mattress on it, a blanket, a shielded electric light in the ceiling, and a toilet which was in full view of the barred window in the door. She took it all in at a glance and fought down what nervousness she had. Margo had been kidnapped, threatened, even assaulted before. She was not a hysterical movie heroine. She was tough, when she had to be.
She had a feeling she’d need to be at her toughest now.
Margo pushed her face to the bars. Little to be seen out there, just a hall painted gunmetal-grey without even guards in sight. The hall turned a bend in either direction about forty feet from the door. The floor was tiled. There was a cell to the left of her, but only a blank wall before her.
“Hello?” she called. “Can anybody hear me? Hello?”
Within ten seconds, a guard appeared at the end of the hall, holding a box in one hand and a small earthen jug in the other. Margo was not surprised to see he was Asian. The four who had taken her down and drugged her were Orientals, as well. Make that three; she’d racked up one of them during the fight.
The man came to her cell door and held the box and jug where she could get to them. He kept his fingers well away from hers. Staring daggers at him, Margo took the objects from him. The box had to be turned sideways to get it through the bars. When she had it through, she popped open the lid and found a hot meal inside. Rice, vegetables, probably chicken and beef inside. It might be drugged, but she was past giving a care. The jug contained water, which was what she expected.
“I don’t suppose you could tell me anything of what this is about?”
The man stood against the opposite wall, folded his arms, and waited.
Unperturbed, Margo went to her cot, sat down, and began to eat. The only utensils within were chopsticks. Evidently her captor had a high enough opinion of her not to expect her to try and stab herself with them. She’d learned how to eat with the sticks long ago, and soon had the meal finished.
She took a long drink of water from the jug, which tasted flat but not bad.
At that point, she sensed another presence. Carefully, she set the jug and box on her cot and sidled up to the door. From the left, she peered through it, cautiously.
“There is no need to fear, Miss Lane,” came a familiar voice. “You will come to no harm.”
Margo clutched the two chopsticks in her hand fiercely, as she would a knife.
“You,” she said to Shiwan Khan.
“Your humble servant.” The Golden Master made a slight bow.
“If you were that, I’d order you to kill yourself,” she snapped.
“That would be unproductive,” said Shiwan Khan, and paused. “And also unnecessary.”
“Unnecessary?” parroted Margo. “What in hell do you mean by that?”
The mastermind in the hat, flowing golden robe, and slippers stepped closer to the cell door and paused three feet away from it. Then he spoke again.
“I am dying, Miss Lane,” he said. “I wish the West to die with me. But before that, I will see the death of the Shadow.”