The tall brunette smiled back at Clark. "Certainly, sir." Almost as an afterthought, she asked me if I wanted anything.
I lowered the stereo headset and looked in her direction with a half-dazed expression. "Peanuts, please. No salt."
Jocelyn smiled back, but I pretended not to notice. She continued up the aisle.
It was, overall, a blissfully uneventful flight. It was clear that Clark enjoyed role-playing, and he did it well. 'James Morris' interracted with everyone around him: passengers, crew, and (of course) me. I shared his enjoyment, observing, and interceding during the quiet times.
Our landing at Kennedy International Airport was smooth. As we walked up the ramp, I spotted Carrie and Dot. I nudged Clark.
"They haven't seen us yet. Do they know about the disguises?" I whispered.
"I don't believe so."
I grinned. "Good. Let's have a little fun. Follow my lead."
We casually maneuvered around the long way, coming up behind the ladies; they were still looking in the direction of where we had been.
"'Scuse us, ladies. We're lookin' for a couple o' guys," I said, removing my beat-up leather cowboy hat.
"Yeah. So are we," answered Carrie, absently. "Bug off."
"Maybe you've seen them," added Clark, beaming a mile-wide smile. "One of them is a tall fellow, bald, with a dynamite Malibu tan."
"Yeah. And the other guy's a straight shooter by the name o' Perry."
Carrie missed the clue, but Dot didn't. Her head turned and her eyes went wide. Her jaw went slack for an instant. Then her fist swung and made contact with my arm. "You snots!" she exclaimed softly.
Despite the sudden pain, I started laughing. Clark joined me a heartbeat later.
Carrie, now realizing what was going on, looked at Clark and said his name. He nodded. "What's with the . . . ?" she asked, implying our disguises.
"A precaution, and part of the plan."
Carrie nodded, then reached out her arm and put it around Clark's waist. He was momentarily taken off-guard, but then returned the hug. Dot did the same to me, asking, "So, how's the arm, smarty? Teach you not to pull a fast one on us."
I smiled, wincing for effect. "I'll live. You just can't take a joke."
Carrie's minivan made good time, and we were soon maneuvering through the streets of lower Manhattan.
"It's interesting that you should choose the Hotel Metro," commented Dot. "It has an excellent view of the Empire State Building."
"Planning some sightseeing?" added Carrie over her shoulder.
"As a matter of fact, yes," Clark answered.
Walking through the lobby of the Hotel Metro, I was amazed.
The walls were adorned with classic movie posters and photos of starlets from Hollywood's golden era. I stopped along the way to take a second look at a few of them, and made a mental note to get Clark's impressions of the sights. We identified ourselves at the front desk, took possession of a couple of keys, and headed upstairs.
As I thought, our bags had arrived, and were parked near the sofa.
"I thought about unpacking," apologized Carrie, "but I didn't know where you wanted things."
"You offering now?" I asked.
"Sure. Just tell us where you want it to go." she replied. Dot did a double-take and mouthed the word 'us'.
Clark and I took a quick tour and staked out our claims. While they unpacked, we changed out of our disguises.
"Who owns the rollerblades?" Carrie called.
"Me," replied Clark.
"Oh, really? So you blade?" she said with more than curious interest.
"A bit. Your dad got me interested in them, and they're mostly for exercise. Why?"
"Dad got me a pair two years ago. I blade in Central Park. Join me?"
"Sounds like fun. Thanks."
I came out, dressed in jeans and tee-shirt, and found the cell phone. I called Monk and let him know we were fine and settled in, then let him talk to Carrie and Dot a moment before ending the call. Clark came out and we all sat around the living room, relaxing. Somehow the conversation worked its way around to music, and Carrie invited Clark to visit a jazz club she frequented.
"Yes. I would like that," he replied, surprising me.
Dot looked over at me. "So what about you? I know a killer blues club over in the Village. You game?"
I slowly shook my head. "Thanks, but I'll pass. I think I'll stick around here and turn in early." I saw a look of disappointment on her face. "What do you say about taking me around New York for some sightseeing tomorrow?"
She smiled and nodded. "You're on. Eight a.m., sharp. Be ready to ride."
"Ride?" I muttered to myself.
Within the hour, I was alone. After I closed the door behind the departing trio, I took a deep breath and released it. "Thanks, Lord," I prayed. I took my backpack to the table, set up the notebook and cellular modem, and sent off a quick E-mail to Jack. Then, armed with a notepad I had been scribbling on over the last few days, I swung into the Internet and did a little surfing for information, talking to God as I did.
When I next looked up, an hour and a half had passed. Not uncommon; time flies when you're having fun.
I logged off, backed out, shut down, and packed it away, then headed to bed. I dozed lightly, stirred from sleep when Clark came into the room, humming a tune to a jazz beat. Then, like a protective parent knowing his kids were home and safe, I smiled and went back to sleep.
Friday, the 20th.
In anticipation of Dot Brooks' visit, I was up before 7:00 a.m., spending a little quiet time with God. Clark rose around 7:30 and we talked about his previous night on the town. He had enjoyed himself immensely, and talked about how wonderful it felt to actually be able to relax.
"You know, Perry, women have always been attracted to me," he admitted. "And I to them. But I couldn't let them become a part of my life. There was always the fear that my enemies would use them to get to me." He paused and a strange grin appeared on his face. "You know, I can't begin to count how many times all of us had been knocked out and captured. It was just a part of our lives. Part of the life we had chosen." His face suddenly lit up with revelation. "There was also the adventure, the action, the excitement. That was also a big part of it. I guess you'd say we were hooked on the rush."
Just then there came a knock at the door. I glanced at the clock and announced, "Dot's here."
She was dressed in a leather Harley Davidson jacket and khaki jeans. "Hi, guys!" she greeted as she walked in. She lobbed a motorcycle helmet to me as she held another. "Ready?" she asked.
"I hope breakfast is on this tour."
She cracked a grin. "I know the perfect place. You'll love it."
I looked at Clark. "See you later. Have fun," I told him, then added, "I'll keep you covered."
He looked back and nodded. "Thanks."
I headed out the door. Dot turned to Clark and announced, "Oh, yeah: Mom wanted me to tell you she'll be here at nine."
Dot's motorcycle was waiting at streetside. "Have you ridden before?" she asked as she donned her helmet.
"I little, but it's been awhile," I admitted.
She mounted the bike, started it, then dismounted and helped me in getting aboard and placing my feet in the right place. Then she slid on in front of me and instructed, "Hang on, and lean as I do." I put my arms loosely around her middle.
"I said hang on! Tighter!" she said over the growl of the bike.
I tightened my arms a little. She shrugged. "Oh, well, don't say I didn't warn you."
The motorcycle suddenly jerked forward, and my arms reflexively assumed a death grip around her middle. I heard her gasp. She called back a little weakly: "At least allow me to breathe, please!" I loosened up my hold a little and felt her relax in turn.
After a couple of minutes I got used to the feel of her, and relaxed and enjoyed the ride.
Clark stood at the window. In the distance loomed the Empire State Building. Smiling, he remembered an earlier time . . .
"Hey! Gimme back my book, ya shyster!"
The dapper lawyer looked over the pulp magazine and wrinkled his nose in disgust. "One of our own exploits? You surprise me. I would have expected your inclinations in the literary arts to be limited to Captain Marvel, or that Superman fellow. But I could not imagine actually purchasing one of our own adventures, you miscreant ape!"
The simian Monk made a lunge for the book. Ham sidestepped him with a grin, and flung the magazine sideways, where it landed in the middle of the table where Long Tom, Renny, and Johnny had been playing a game of cards. The pasteboards flew and they all jumped to their feet.
Johnny picked up the book and flipped through the pages. "I am absolutely disarrayed at the impertinence our illustrious pseudo-biographer has in portraying us with such alacrocity. 'Fantastic Island' indeed."
Offended, he passed it to Renny. "Don't knock it, Johnny. It makes a good yarn, especially after survivin' that volcano nightmare."
"Hello, boys," came the voice from the door. They turned as one, to see the beautiful Pat Savage. "What's up?"
"This is, Pat," replied Renny, tossing her the book farther beyond the reach of its owner. She looked at the cover, then flipped through it, stopping a couple of times. Then she broke up laughing. "Why didn't he tell it like it happened?" she said. "I was practically running around butt-naked!"
"You can't print them things," commented Long Tom, cleaning up the mess from the disturbed card game. "It's dirty."
Pat opened her mouth to respond. But before the words could come forth, Monk ambushed her and snatched the book from her hands. He rolled it up and, self-satisfied, ambled over to the couch. He flopped down noisily, unrolled the pulp magazine and continued his reading. She looked over at him, smiled, then dropped the matter.
With slow, deliberate strides, Ham approached the couch. Monk looked up once from his book and released a low growl, accompanied by bearing his sharp teeth. The dapper lawyer simply smiled in return and drew the sword from his always-present cane. A moment later the tip of the sword curled around the front of the magazine tauntingly.
"Should I or shouldn't I?" he considered aloud.
"You do and you won't see tomorrow, ya clothes horse!" growled Monk from behind the pulp.
"Looking who's calling who 'horse' -- 'Sea Biscuit'!" he quipped in return.
"Doc! Will you tell this . . . ," he stammered, at a loss for words, " . . . to leave me alone?"
KNOCK! KNOCK! KNOCK!
The rapping was soft, but enough to snap Clark out of his flashback. Through the door, he asked who it was.
"It's Carrie," came the reply.
He unlocked the door and let her in. She wore a leather bomber jacket over a sweatshirt promoting a local sports team, and bluejeans. She greeted him with a hug. He noticed her doing that a lot; he also found himself not resisting it, either.
"Anywhere you want to go in particular?" she asked.
He smiled and looked over his shoulder out the window. "As a matter of fact, there is." He pointed near the top of the skyscraper. "I would like to start there."
Dot had been correct. Breakfast had been wonderful.
And now we rode the Staten Island Ferry. Dot had tried talking me into checking out the view from the top of the Statue of Liberty, but I admitted my reluctance to climb the 345 steps. Her response was teasing: "Wuss," she grinned.
Now, as we stood at the railing, looking over on the Manhattan skyline, Dot reflected on her life in the Big Apple. "It wasn't easy growing up here, especially with Dad gone and Mom trying to get her act together. Granddad tried to get me to move back to Oklahoma, but I just couldn't desert Mom. She needed me, and I needed her." She paused to swipe at a seagull that had landed on the rail nearby. "Mom always spent time with me. We even got our black belts in Karate at the same time," she announced with a grin. "I'm proud of Mom for gettin' past Dad's death, then turning it around to head Serenity Center. She put things behind her and used the experience to help others." She looked out toward the skyline, then turned back to me and changed the subject. "So what about you? Portland's boy, born and raised?"
I shook my head slowly. "No. My parents lived up in Seattle, and that's where I was born. When I was old enough, I moved to Portland to work for an electronics firm in Clackamas County. Now I'm between jobs."
"Your folks still in Seattle?"
"Mom is. Dad's gone."
Dot must have sensed the change of tone when I mentioned Dad. "Sorry."
"It's okay," I dismissed.
"This is the place?" asked Carrie, reluctantly.
Clark nodded his head slowly, unable to speak. They moved toward the seawall, walking across the grass, and stopped at the walkway overlooking the Hudson River. Clark looked around as if searching for anything familiar. Carrie suddenly remembered something: "One of Mayor Koch's beautification projects. They took a lot of old waterfront buildings and had them torn down and replaced with parks like this one."
"I suspected as much, but I never believed it could be so complete," Clark said with a deep sadness in his voice. "First the Empire State Building: the 86th floor shows not the slightest indication of anything that I put there. And now, the Hidalgo Trading Company, replaced by a park," he repeated. He took a deep breath and released it in a tired sigh. "I hoped that there would be something of mine that survived the years. But nothing's left. It's been completely obliterated. As if I never existed."
They sat on a nearby bench.
"Is there anywhere else you want to go?" asked Carrie.
He stared out at the river. "At first, a few places. But now, I don't think so. Maybe later." He shrugged.
"Clark, why don't we get something to eat." She looked at her watch. "Look, it's almost two. I don't know about you, but I'm hungry." She stood up and offered him her hand.
"Yeah, sure," he answered absently, and took the hand.
As they walked to her car, she suggested, "Have you ever tried Eggplant Parmesan? I know a swell little place. A little overpriced, but second to none."
Greenwich Village has always had a reputation for being a Mecca for oddballs of all sorts. It was inevitable that we would end there. As we ate lunch, we watched the people who passed by our window. We had a good view, and my attention was turned more toward them than toward Dot. My heart longed for a return to street ministry. I tried carrying on a conversation, but continued to be distracted.
"What'cha thinkin'?" Dot suddenly asked.
I answered honestly. "I wish I could help them all," I admitted, my voice filled with compassion.
"Is that how you met Clark?"
Distractedly, I replied without thinking. "Sort of. Clark came into the mission where I was preaching." Then my eyes went wide as I realized what I had just said. I had tried to keep my Christianity low-key, but suddenly all the cards were now on the table. I looked into her face for a negative reaction, but found none. "In case you haven't guessed, I'm a Christian."
She nodded. "Yeah, so I gathered."
I looked into her brown eyes. "What about you?"
"Am I a Christian? No," she answered candidly, without hesitation nor boasting. It was simply a statement of fact. "Do I believe there's a God? Yes. Look, I don't knock you for what you're into . . . as long as you're not pushy." With that, she defined the ground rules between us.
I nodded. "Fair. I won't push. I don't need to." I asked if she wanted to hear more about how Clark and I met. She said yes. Then I recounted in general details how Clark came into the mission, how he looked, and his conversion. Silently praying, I waited to see her reaction.
"Very cool." She paused, thinking. "I've also seen a change in Granddad. Your handiwork?" she asked with a grin.
I shook my head. "Clark's." I paused. "Dot, I've got a question for you. The changes you see in your granddad -- has it been good or bad?"
She thought a moment. "Good. He used to be so tied up in knots because of the things in his past, things we all wished he could just get rid of. And it looks like he did. He seems to be more at peace now, free." She smiled sincerely. "I like it. Thanks."
I smiled back. "No need for thanks," I casually replied.
It was 7:30. As we stood outside the aged building, I read the name on the sign next to the door. "The Cobalt Club?"
Clark smiled. "Yes."
Our attire had since gone from casual to formal, and I kept reminding myself of the verse 'I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.' Nevertheless, I still felt funny wearing the suit.
We approached the matre'd and Clark introduced himself. "Silas Poteet. Guests of Douglas Martin."
"Certainly, sir," he acknowledged. "Just one moment."
I was admiring the lobby of this very swank establishment. Oddly enough, Clark appeared to be right at home. Before I could ask him if he'd been here before, a man walked by who caught Clark's attention. "Cranston?" he exclaimed.
The gentleman turned. His slicked-back hair was jet black and he had an unusual hook nose. "Yes?" he answered in a very cultured voice. "Do I know you?"
"Lamont Cranston?" Clark said cautiously.
The man broke into a wide grin. "No, my dear fellow! Derek Cranston. My grandfather's name was Lamont, however. Did you know him?"
"I knew . . . of . . . him," sidestepped Clark, not wanting to give away his actual age. "I heard he was a fine man. Is he still alive?"
Derek slowly shook his head. "Sorry to say, no. Lost his life several years ago -- in Southern France, I believe."
Just then a gentleman came to take us to Douglas Martin's table. We shook hands with Derek Cranston and said our goodbyes. Within moments of the door closing behind him, our ears caught a laugh, ominous and low, floating on the wind. We both froze in mid-step and Clark looked back. Then his face took on a strange grin.
"Clark. What was that . . . ?" I asked.
"I don't know," he answered, then whispered under his breath, "but I think the Shadow does."
He didn't think I heard him, but I did. And I made a mental note to check it out later.
As we entered the private dining room, an elderly gentleman stood from his place at the table. He was about my height, but slightly bent over with age. His hair was white and balding on the top, and he had the most incredible muttonchop sideburns that stretched at least four inches below his jawline. He extended a wrinkled hand to Clark.
"Mister . . . Poteet," he greeted with a wry smile.
"Mr. Martin," replied Clark, returning the handshake.
"And you must be Mr. Liston," he greeted.
"Call me Perry, please."
"I hope your stay has been well, gentlemen. I'll signal our waiter to come and take our orders."
After the waiter left, Martin reached into a briefcase in the chair next to him, removed a vinyl document packet, and handed it to Clark. "I think you'll be pleased with these, gentlemen. I also took the liberty of creating a second set of identification. Call it a personal gift. You never know when you might need them. I hope the names I chose meet with your approval."
"I'm sure it will," commented Clark with admiration, passing them across to me. As I scanned them, I was amazed at how real they looked. I returned them to the packet and set them offside.
"Sir," addressed Martin respectfully. "I cannot contain myself any longer. I must know: how did you survive all these years?"
We smiled, then Clark gave a thumbnail narrative of the events before and after his hibernation.
Martin looked on with intense curiosity. "What do you know of the location of your hibernation, or who may have perpetrated this deed?"
"Very little. We suspect that I may have been on a federal refuge or game preserve. Since my freedom came before it was intended, it is assumed that I was supposed to stay 'under wraps' for quite a long time. Very few places could stay untouched over multiple decades, with the exception of an island or wilderness. And I was not on an island."
Martin had produced a notepad and pen, and was jotting down key phrases and words. "Yes, that would make sense. Have you come up with anything?"
I answered this time. "I have some friends who have been looking into it through newspaper records, but have found nothing."
"Let me see if I can help," offered Martin. "I spent a few years working within the 'Intelligence Community', and I still have some friends I can trust."
"Of course!" exclaimed Clark, raising an eyebrow. "That would explain your eagerness over the phone, and the ease to the complexities of our little 'deception.'"
He smiled and shrugged. "The everyday tasks of a law firm can become tedious, and helping you also helped me. Besides, how many times does one get to help Doc Savage?" He paused. "I'll do a little checking on the sly and see what I can turn up."
Over dinner, Clark and Martin talked about Clark's former holdings, and the major changes that had occurred following the Senate investigation. "Mr. Brooks knew he couldn't salvage the Empire State Building or the Trading Company, so he focused much of his effort into the 'package' that we held onto for those many years. To him the rest meant nothing."
That made sense. The two significant properties were important, but the seemingly unlimited Hidalgo Connection was beyond all comparison.
Their conversation then shifted to reminiscing about Ham Brooks. Eventually things came around to his last days. "His consumption of alcohol had slowly increased from casual to chronic, and we didn't recognize the significance of it until it was too late. His marriage to Miss Dorothy was a glorious moment during those times, but it was quickly smothered under the tension. Actually, several of us felt that his marriage was not one of love but of reaction to Mr. Mayfair's marriage to Miss Lea. Sadly, it may have been the same comparing Master Donald's birth to Miss Carrie's birth. We had hopes that these would spark some hope in him to end his drinking, but it didn't. In a way, the disappointments only increased it. And when Mr. Mayfair and his family moved from New York City to Oklahoma, he lost touch with the last link to his past.
"The disbarment was the final blow. We had discussed the possibility of it, yet it was still a shock when it actually happened. After that, he spent long periods in seclusion at home."
Martin's voice lowered a couple of octaves, and his eyes glazed over with sadness. "I was the one who discovered his body. I received an envelope in the mail containing a house key and the letter. I arrived with the police, but it was too late. He was in the study, surrounded by his law books and memorabilia -- and the bottles." He paused, the image vivid in his mind. "There was no question of what had happened. It was all very premeditated: his family had been sent out of town, and the letter to me had ensured that they would not be the ones to discover his body."
Clark's expression was intense. I saw sadness and grief. Martin looked him in the eyes. "He was not the same person you knew. The alcohol had changed him, and the stress of the events had destroyed his hope. There was very little for him to hold onto, and he finally let go."
Clark was quiet, and the expression of sadness and grief had been wiped away like the cleaning of a blackboard. But I knew it was still there, under the surface.
And I knew what I needed to do. But not now. Later.
We had returned to our hotel room. On the surface things appeared to be peaceful and quiet, but there were hidden undercurrents and riptides. The remainder of the evening with Douglas Martin had gone well, but the revelations of Ham Brooks' final days had struck Clark like fiery arrows.
I coughed. "Clark?" I said softly.
His head angled over from some papers he was reading. "Yes?"
I took a deep breath. "I've got to repent to you."
The papers lowered into his lap and his expression turned to confusion. "What for?"
"When I first told you of Ham's suicide, I saw the pain that you were feeling, but I screwed up. I pressed you to move on. I never gave you a chance to express your grief at his death." I paused. "When I was fourteen, my father committed suicide . . . he overdosed on sleeping pills. I almost went crazy. But I couldn't let it get to me. All of a sudden I was the man of the house, and had to take care of Mom. I had more important things to do than mourn, so I thought. So I put my feelings behind me. I mourned, but all too briefly." We were face to face now. "I tried doing to you what I had done for me, and that was wrong. You need to deal with this your own way, at your own speed. I'm so sorry."
Clark looked down into his lap, then back at me. "Thank you, Perry." He paused, putting the papers to one side. "My time of mourning over my own father's death was also too short. He had been murdered. I had to catch my father's killers . . . and punish them." His voice lowered, as if he was afraid of admitting his thoughts. "And then there was the matter of Hidalgo, his legacy to me. My inheritance. I was so glad when my . . . " His voice faltered a bit. " . . . friends were there to help me." He paused again, then recalled, "Ham went out on a limb to secure the land in Hidalgo, not knowing how important it was. He endangered his life for me. They all did."
He leaned back a little in his chair. "I feel responsible for Ham's death. I know I didn't pour the booze down his throat, or pull the trigger on his gun. But it was because of the Crime College -- my Crime College." He stood now and walked about the room. "My intentions were good: justice. When a criminal is executed for his crimes, there can be no restitution. The circle is broken. But I found a way of rehabilitating the criminal, putting them back into society to return something TO society. Restitution was achieved by service. My motives were good, and my results were more or less successful. In the long run, countless people were helped, and only God knows how many lives were never taken. There were exceptions, but they were few and far between." He stopped walking; his arms dropped to his sides in resignation. "But it was outside of the law I swore to uphold."
He looked at me. "Ham Brooks was my friend. He was not without his weaknesses, but he took hit after hit for what I stood for. He and Monk stood by me when I was no longer there. He stayed strong. And now Dot continues his lineage, and Hidalgo is once again my inheritance." He smiled at me. "Correction: our inheritance. The way Ham's life ended was a waste, but his life was not wasted. I cannot judge him for what he did. But I know that he was a good and close friend, and I will always regret never saying goodbye." His voice trailed off.
He walked over to the window. In the distance, the top of the Empire State Building was clearly illuminated. "I need to go for a walk," he announced with determination. "I'll be back in a little while. Don't wait up for me."
"You'll be all right?" It was a statement as well as a question.
He nodded, reaching for his jacket. "Yes."
The door closed. I walked into the bedroom, closed the door, then knelt at the side of my bed and started interceding for my friend.