If anything, the dour tune was pitched ever so slightly lower on that February night. A person with their attention span scattered all about the house – “… swept the living room, made the beds (fluffed the pillows), a homely fire lit, the Phillips 274A radio providing a non-intrusive presence in the background, and oh yes! Just enough time to wash those last few dishes before a nice, warm supper…” – might have remarked that the organist had inexplicably decided to lower the key from its biweekly usual. But, to a regular listener the change in sound was more noticeable, easier to subjectively interpret. On this night, the Wurlitzer theme seemed to encourage slow sadness, and mourning, rather than the prickling of oncoming thrills.
“Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men. The Shadow knows!”
(Cue to a voice sugar-coated with familiar and trustworthy smarm)
Your local Blue-Coal dealer presents ”The Shadow.” These half-hour dramatizations are designed to forcibly demonstrate to every American – old and young alike – that crime does not pay! …That is, of course, the usual mission of our programming. Tonight, however, we hope to warm your hearts and homes with an unusual treat. We present to you a short, friendly piece featuring familiar characters. Lamont Cranston and Margo Lane: The perfect antidote to this long winter (along with the perfect and dependable warmth of Blue-Coal! America’s finest anthracite!)
And now, today’s story…
“Revenge on the Ice”
The misty boroughs of psychic space seemed to encroach and consume everything. Places, memories, time … it was an impassible no-man’s land filled with deafening echoes. And yet, now and then, something managed to cross the void.
In this case it is a voice.
“Calling Margo Lane. Calling Margo Lane. Requesting assistance. Calling Margo Lane!” the voice harshly searched. There is straining, pulling, a pause, and then an exhausted sigh. There is an internal relinquishing of power, and then: “I’m sorry, Margo. Darling, I… I really… I apologize, Margo, but I have to go. Right now, I’m afraid. I’m so, so sorry.”
Glen Miller and some big band are playing, but Margo is certainly not “In the Mood.” Curled in an overstuffed armchair, she aims a kick at the rather expensive Belmont 746 she insisted on buying in London (Lamont always insisted that she have a radio, and her acquiescence numbly followed in the desperate days following his… disappearance). The gorgeous wood device falls to the floor with a satisfying crack. She smirks, but her lips soon fall into a frown. The chassis is broken, but apparently Glen Miller is stronger than her momentary rage. If she’s serious, if there’s a next time that she gets annoyed that a tromboned jazz ditty attempts to dictate her emotions (the nerve!), she’ll have to actually go in and start pulling out valves one by one. She thinks she still has that small screwdriver. In fact, did she ever take it out of her light winter coat…? The one she wore when going to visit Mrs. Brecker? She giggles a bit. It had been a last minute grab (a scramble through her meager, utilitarian tool box) before she’d left her flat, but what was she actually going to do to Danny Brecker with that cheap flathead if he had threatened her? She could just hear Lamont’s gentle upbraiding on her choice of self-defense…
Right. Her whole world was crashing down, wasn’t it? Lamont Cranston, playboy and man about Manhattan town, was dead. Four months dead, actually. He’d left a message for her while she slept, and when she woke from her dreams she’d started sobbing uncontrollably into her silk sheets; she realized he’d told her goodbye. The police found his body, so pristine and cold in eternal sleep, in the study of his hotel suite the very next day. She insisted on identifying him… on seeing him and, later, making sure everything was in order to bury him. On being there for him. That’s what she did for her friend.
“Oh, Lamont…,” Margo sighs.
Her grieving had morphed a constant state of misanthropy. She hated the world and bristled at the idea of stepping foot into it. What was the point? No more adventures. She would never again experience thrills or intrigue, or the fascinating confusion at the supernatural. She wouldn’t feel that extreme sense of luck at being his companion and confidant. No. Lamont Cranston was dead, and, for the visible future, Margo Lane was a pessimistic recluse.
There was a knock at the door.
“May I come in, “ Evelyn says in her soft, cautious voice.
“Of course,” Margo answers with as much apathy as she could muster. She knows Evelyn means well, but she has no wish to encourage kindness and sympathy from others at this point.
Evelyn sits down awkwardly, and fidgets around in her seat with deliberation – with decision that audibly crunches the taffeta portion of her long skirt. Margo watches, smoothing her dressing gown and fixing the cuffs of her pajamas. She waits.
Finally, “You have to stop doing this, Margo. No, I really mean it this time. You will stop this nonsense.”
Margo’s raised eyebrow doesn’t actually make a sound, but the listener can imagine the skepticism.
“I think I’ve been a very good friend, Margo. I adore you, and you know I do. So… please hear me out,” Evelyn exhales purposely. “I’ve been patient and caring, and even empathetic, really. I’ve given you space and thrown you small parties. I’ve made you tea, brought you wine, chocolates, books, and even a small, pre-decorated Christmas tree! With a partridge and pears! And what do I get for it?!”
Evelyn is almost yelling now, and Margo’s eyebrow travels further north.
“You know what I get?! Nothing!! No, wait, that’s not true. I’ve got the bitter shell that remains of my dear friend, Miss Margo Lane. Perhaps you remember her?,” Evelyn pointedly asks, with a small touch of rhetorical snippetry.
Margo looks at her friend, and feels something snap. For the moment, all she feels is emptiness. ‘Well, back to square one,’ she supposes. ‘I’ve lost everything and I’ve been horrible to a person that’s dear to me. Well done, me.’
Evelyn watches her, and, in doing so, deflates a bit. “I do love you, Margo. Quite a lot actually. I just miss you being the vibrant, brilliant Margo Lane.”
Margo raises an eyebrow again. She is slightly offended at the idea that she is no longer either of those things.
“I know how much Lamont meant to you, Margo… or, at least I think I do. And I won’t say that you should forget him or that he would have wanted you to show the stiff upper lip, because… well, I met him a couple times, and you would have followed either of those comments up with a sharp retort. I don’t really feel like being on the other end of that retort. That’s not my place, and I’d much rather take you out to do something special. You know… just Margo and Evelyn having a grand ol’ time out on the town.”
Margo smiles despite herself, and relents. What can she say? Evelyn has rather impressed her. “What do you have in mind, Evelyn, to get me out of this bogmarsh of bitterness?”
Evelyn returns the smile with only slight hesitation and insecurity. “Well, I know that you and… Lamont used to take your little adventures, and I know you miss them (‘even if I don’t know anything about them,’ Evelyn tells herself with a small amount of envy). So I was thinking something with dash and dare-do. I was honestly thinking The World’s Fair…”
Margo can’t swallow the small giggle.
“Yes, I know. Hush, Margo Lane. The fair doesn’t open until late April. So, in lieu of things that don’t exist yet… how do you feel about a small lunch at the Randolph followed by a bit of ice skating near Belvedere Castle?”
Margo holds back her guffaw of shock and… yes! It was joy! Her joy at such a random and preposterous outing. She wants to ask what color of mittens she should bring? Cotton candy pink, perhaps? Or maybe ridiculously royal purple with blue polka dots (yes, she does have a pair).
But, instead, all she says is: “I think that’s a brilliant idea.”
Ice skating in Central Park. The yuletide feel of chilly comfort still hangs in the air, admittedly a bit stale now, making one expect the smell of holly and turkey drippings. Margo finds herself wanting to lick a candy cane as she makes her way around the frozen lake.
Scritch-swish. Her ice skates never sink into the pre-hollowed furroughs of the ice as she dodges and weaves around the various couples, individuals, and families on the rink. She smiles. Evelyn was right: This was an excellent idea! Well, for Margo at least… the concept of the small lunch and then ice skating really was brilliant. She’s smiled upwards of ten times already! Evelyn, however, found that her lunch had not gone down in the most perfect of ways; by the time the ice skates had been pulled on, laced up, and hooked firmly, Evelyn’s face was a mix of green, yellow, and every color that most contrasted with the snowy landscape surrounding them.
Hopefully, Margo thinks, Evelyn had a safe trip uptown and is now safely under her down duvet with a hot toddy at her side table. Hopefully, Margo whimsies, Evelyn didn’t mind being sent away. Really, it had been a really good day and a good idea. Margo was still enjoying it, at least. She’d always enjoyed ice skating.
Her arm collides with a black-wool wrapped bulk, and she is spinning around without warning. Skating is instinct for her and she quickly stops her progression towards a possible concussion, but then she looks up.
There is a sharp, feminine gasp. Then, a low and positively masculine chuckle. A small tinny of utterances follow, filled with denial, relief, laughter… and finally, anger.
“Now, Margo… there’s no need for alarm,” Lamont intones gently. “I’m quite all right. In fact, I’m in the prime of health!”
“Well,” Margo grits out from a clenched jaw, “we’ll see about that.”
Her hand is somewhere between an open palm and a closed fist when it connects with his sternum, and sounding for all the world like a game of baseball where a pop-fly lands into a leather mitt. Now there’s a hushed stilling of movement while the imaginary crowd waits for the umpire’s verdict. Has the point been made? Has the game been won?
This thrilling installment of “The Shadow” will return momentarily. But first: An important message from your local Blue-Coal dealer. Folks, we know that this winter has been a tough one, and we also know that the changeable weather in March and April will be anything but easy. Before you can see the wonders and technologies brought to by the New York World’s Fair of 1939, be kind to yourself and insist on Blue-Coal from your local heat provider! Blue-Coal! America’s finest anthracite! And now, we return to our story.
Margo stares. Her mouth is probably open, her tongue is possibly going to freeze up in an uncomfortable manner, but she doesn’t care. She’s happy. No, wait… she’s furious.
And Lamont seems to realize this. He’s shocked at where he sits – on the ice. He’s collapsed right where she put him with that… punch? Yes, we’ll call that a punch. Margo, his petite and delightful friend with the most adorable bob of brown hair, punched him. Alright. His brain will restart in a few moments, he thinks.
But she can’t wait. She defiantly digs the point of her skate blade into the ice.
“Lamont, dearest…,” Her voice is filled with sarcastic honey. “Four months, Lamont. Four. Months. Four months.”
“I think, Margo, that I understand how much time has passed…”
“Really, Lamont! Have you?! I was under the impression that you were giving me, your dear companion in secrets and lies, a knowing smile. Like nothing ever happened. Nothing… such as, for instance… oh, let me think of an example… your death. Your body, pale and lifeless, in your study, on the Persian rug that I gave you (yes! Me!). You, dead to the world. Me, with my life disintegrated and my best friend to bury…,” She pauses, and a look of confusion blossoms as she looks down into his eyes.
“How on earth… you were embalmed! Yes to all of that being six-feet-under nonsense, but well and properly pickled!”
“Margo, I assure you that I am fine. A simple trick of perception. The mortician thought he embalmed me, and I just used that trick that I used before of putting myself into a very deep trance. You’ve seen it before! Remember Voltan? The exact same tactic to tackle a very similar sort of man.”
“The exact same method of making me believe, along with the rest of the world, that you were dead.”
“Precisely, Margo… Oh, uh… yes. I did apologize you know.”
“I said I was sorry.”
“Oh, you did, Lamont? When exactly was that?”
“I… For you, I don’t know when you heard it. For me, I tried reaching you right before I put myself into the trance. A drop of brandy to help my courage (it’s not half-frightening to go into one of those trances, you know) and a touch of Charles Lamb read… I think it must have been close to one in the morning.”
“I should kick you.”
She sighs patiently.
“I should cleave your thick skull with my ice skate, you idiot. I was asleep… where most people, I might note, are at one in the morning. I dreamt that you said goodbye.”
The glance he gives her might have remorse in it, but it might not. She’s still angry. She’s also beginning to feel that joy again. It’s quite confusing, but not heavy. She ponders… and thinks to herself that life doesn’t hurt so much as it did this morning. He’s alive! She’ll have to buy a new radio…
So much for her personal and professional career as a lazy misanthrope. Lamont Cranston, man about town, pushes back his hat and interrupts her thoughts gently.
“I meant what I said. I am truly sorry, dearest.”
“I… I know, Lamont. It’s been a long four months.”
“I am truly sorry, dearest Margo. I thought you… well, I was foolish. I was scared that I would give the game away by outright telling you, in this plane or another, what I planned and… well… I didn’t want to put you in danger.”
She smiles softly, knowingly. “That’s not the reason.”
He smiles back. “No. Of course not. You know me better than that.”
“You wanted to follow this particular game, this mystery, to the end?”
“And?” she asks. Her voice is truly curious now, and what has happened for a third of a year is slowly melting away.
“It’s done. I figured it out. I defused a rather large bomb and set fire to some extremely apocalyptic blueprints.”
“Well, as long as you’ve had a good day.”
“I really am sorry, Margo. After last time… I should have told you, or found some better way to hint to you.”
“Well, you are an idiot, Lamont.”
“We covered that.” He pauses, and gives her a look filled with honesty. “Are you sufficiently done grieving for now that I can be allowed to pull myself off the ice? I assure you that I am quite thoroughly chilled to the bone.”
He adores her smirk, the one that she’s giving him now. He loves how it makes her eyes sparkle and dance. It makes him want to find trouble, another gallant quest, another dark villain for them to vanquish. Usually he’s Holmes – dark, mysterious, condescending – but today he thinks that, perhaps, being Watson – clever and steadfast and every now and then completely in the right – is the better way to go. He smiles at his faithful Watson, the person who found evidence that he’d toppled over Reichenbach Falls to his demise. Yet, here she is: scathed and yet completely willing to continue adventuring… he thinks? Perhaps? Maybe he shouldn’t be smiling. Maybe he should be groveling and thanking her, and telling her, with absolute honesty, that he’ll never ever pull that stunt again.
This time, she’s the one to break the reverie by pulling on his arms.
“C’mon, Lamont. Up you come.”
After he’s standing, she chokes him with a hug. He believes he’s never been in such a sweet-smelling vice grip (not even that time in Nepal, which is saying something). He uses his gloves hand to gently wipe away her tears.
Margo snuffles and gathers herself together.
“Right! Alright… Lamont, tomorrow we will go and start getting things sorted…”
He raises his eyebrows in question, and she looks back like he is (as aforementioned) a complete idiot.
“We need to get you not dead, Lamont.”
“That’s right, ‘oh.’ But that’s tomorrow. Today, ice skating. And then, you will buy me a rather large hot chocolate. With whip cream and, yes, I think, fresh grated nutmeg.”
“Is that so, Miss Lane?,” he grins.
“Oh don’t make such a fuss. I’ll buy you one right back. Then I’ll give you the Christmas stocking I made just for you. Coal doesn’t spoil, you know.”
He makes a face like he’s been injured, and she laughs. A mirthful, bellyful laugh.
“Quite right. Merry Christmas, Margo… belated as it were. Now, my Watson, where shall we go to get that chocolate?”
The look she gives him is mischievous and vengeful. She pulls his face down to her eyelevel (did he know that’s he had gloves with blue polka dots? He doesn’t remember them…) and smirks.
“Ice skating, Lamont. I did say ice skating. I was enjoying it before you so wonderfully almost cracked my head open… can’t you do anything by halves?... and now I will enjoy you skating with me.”
“But Margo,” he protests in a spluttering manner. She giggles but does not give way.
“Margo, I don’t know how to skate.”
“Oh, I know, Lamont. What was that they said… that they whoever ‘they’ is…? That revenge is a dish best served cold? Well, Lamont, we have two or so more months of winter...”
Is it possible for a Wurlitzer’s pipes to sound happy? Oh, yes. Indeed it is.
This concludes tonight’s program. Happy Christmas to one and to all from Blue-Coal! America’s finest anthracite!