Three Deadly Shadows
Teel James Glenn
Copyright 2015 by Teel James Glenn, all rights reserved. No portion of this novel may be duplicated, transmitted, or stored in any form without the express written permission of the author.
To Robert Spotted Pony who annoyed me into the present of the twenty first century, and to Giulie who came out of my past to take me into the future...
So many helped me get this far, my Texas Muse, Janis, Dave Burton, gone on ahead to fill the none alcoholic mead horn for me in Valhalla and Charlotte and Denise who helped Jon come to life in the first place.
What you hold in your hands is something unique in the world of ‘pulp writing’—a second-generation protagonist as hero! But how it came to be is a tale in it its own right.
We are all a product of where we come from, as much in literary life as in the ‘real’ world.
I make no secret that my roots in one come from the hardscrabble streets of Brooklyn and the other from the pulp revival of the early 1960s.
I was a sickly child who found strength in the Bantam reprints of the Doc Savage books, Tarzan and John Carter novels and the mighty-thewed tales of Conan the Cimmerian by Robert E. Howard. And in those purpled prose and stalwart heroes the kernel of the stories I would write were planted.
Skip a number of years and I had become a martial artist, stuntman and swordmaster by virtue of ignoring the fact that I’ve been twice told by doctors I would ‘never walk again.’ And the drive to be that man came from the discipline I saw in the life of the Man of Bronze and the determination to triumph of John Carter and Conan.
I also learned more about the origins of those reprinted heroes and their pulp paper brethren. I became involved in the new pulp fandom with great magazines like Echoes, deepening my understanding and connection to those long ago days.
When I began to move toward a professional writing career it was only logical that my work reflected my pulp roots. My fantasy work had echoes of Barsoom and Hyborea and my adventure writing echoes of Hammett and Dent but none of it was set ‘back then.’
I made up my mind then to visit that time through characters that lived then. I felt an original pulp hero was needed, but not one who was a ghost of someone else, no pastiche of Bronze or a Shadow’s shadow. I sought to create a character that could have graced the newsstand in the golden decade of the ‘30s and would have fit in as ‘just one of the guys.’
I searched for a bit to find the elements of the pulp greats that appealed to me the strongest: Doc Savage’s self-discipline, logical mind, secret gold hoard (Mayan) and companions, the Avenger’s ashen skin, his distinctly non-racist world view (he has an African American couple as assistants and treats them as valued team members) and personal stake in fighting crime (his wife and child were killed by gangsters in the incident that cause his unusual physical condition), the Shadow’s mysterious eastern connections and hidden gold hoard (Aztec), the Green Lama’s gentle humor and spirituality (he was the only bona-fide Buddhist Lama in all of pulp action), the Green Ghost’s use of stage magic and illusion to foil the badguys and put it all into a pot to stew.
What bubbled to the surface was Anton Chadeaux PhD who the world would come to know as… Dr. Shadows!
A number of Dr. Shadows stories showed up in magazines and podcasts and the books from BooksforaBuck, Shadows of New York and Manchurian Shadows came out to good reviews. In fact, I started writing other period characters like The Skullmask and the reporter adventures of Maxie and Moxie also from BFAB.
Thing is, I have this friend, Robert Lee who kept nudging me to write more contemporary stories. And he is an insistent fellow as well as being one of my big supporters so… I thought about it.
I confess I am not much of a fan of the 21st century. Something about eroding values and all that—I mean, serial killers as the main character in a series? Really not appealing to me.
Also, I really wasn’t done with the good Dr. S. As with most of my characters I knew where he came from and where he was going (yes—I know when most of my creations die from the moment I first pen them). He would not be spry enough to be a viable ‘modern’ character but—and a big but—I knew who he married (in 1955) and when a son was born to him.
That was it- the son of Dr. Shadows!
All at once I knew what I wanted to do to bring my brand of excitement to the modern story structure.
In many ways, Jon Shadows is the archetype of a 21st century hero—he is half Scots/French and half Japanese/Korean, or as he calls it “An all-purpose ethnic’ (not my phrase, btw—but from an actor friend who was cast as everything from Chinese to Japanese, Mexican and Puerto Rican. He is actually Burmese). As such he was truly multi-cultural in his approach to the world and not just a champion against racism but a victim of it.
What would it be like to be born the son of a famous adventurer? What burdens of legacy would that pile on you?
The very thought took me back to Doc Savage himself—raised by his father to be a paragon of justice. He was different from all around him by his carriage and the narrow focus of his life.
What would a ‘real world’ analog to that be?
What if an adventurer and his former-spy/ninja wife raised their son in this, our world? What skills would he have? What prejudices would he face? What resentments would he have, after all, what child wants to be what his parents want?
These are the questions that linger in the background of the Jon Shadows crime cases. He is a character who owes as much to Hammett as Dent in both the type of stories and the tone of the adventures.
He is not quite a haunted hero, but not the jaunty devil-may-care adventurer his father was. He has faced some of his own personal demons (a bout with alcoholism, a divorce and years of self self-doubt) and is finding his way, coming to understand what compelled his father to fight the ‘good fight.’
I’m not done with Jon yet (or his mom for that matter—she is still as feisty as when she tried to kill Dr. Shadows on their first date before WWII). And I hope you will enjoy meeting him and come calling for more...
Teel James Glenn Weehawken NJ, 6/22/15
Luckless O’Leary seemed to try to earn his nickname new every day. Mostly he did it by hanging around the two-dollar windows at the Fair Grounds Racetrack. In fact, he spent most of his life in the mid-city area of New Orleans, never venturing far from the track. He seldom even went the ten minutes or so over to the French Quarter for any reason—but then he seldom had the money to buy anything over there, anyway.
In that respect he was not so different from his fellow track touts who were habitué of the betting world. He even patched the hole in his right shoe by stuffing it with an out of date racing form.
What distinguished Luckless from the herd of hapless gamblers was that he never seemed to mind the consistent losing streak. It was as if the playing was the game for him, not actually the winning.
He’d haunted the stands and windows of the racetrack since he’d hurt his back in a riding accident when he was a minor jockey. That was back when the track, then called Jefferson Downs was located off of Veterans Boulevard near the Kenner city line. He was hurt when Hurricane Betsy destroyed the track in 1965.
Some days he ached worse than unusual from his old injuries but he still made his way to the track to check the boards in person; no racing forms alone for him, none of that online stuff; he liked to see the horses in the flesh, the good old fashioned way. Those achy days were the days he needed a drink more than usual. Still, the O’Leary took it all in stride and with a smile and everybody seemed to genuinely like the little man.
He was almost a mascot for many of the workers and betters at the track, so much so that many didn’t begrudge him a dollar or two to buy a beer or a bite. He survived and made enough to play the ponies by doing odd jobs for almost everyone at one time or another. He washed car windshields or fetched sandwiches from the snack bar for the touts. And he did it all with good cheer and a self-depreciating grin.
It was only when he shuffled to his little one room in a run-down boarding house on Serantine Street off St. Bernard Avenue that he let his true face show. That was when his forty years showed in full on his features, his eyes no longer shining but dull with internal pain.
That was when all the longshots and the short bets and the sure things that didn’t work out showed, his face a betting sheet that showed a negative balance.
In his little, shabby room were the few mementos of that earlier life: an old cap from the colors he had worn when he won his first race, a curling photo of his now dead parents and a broken riding crop that he had carried in the race that had crippled him. Then there were the tattered old books, all of them about racing and the history of the sport of kings. His sport!
When he stood in the center of the room that was barely large enough for his bed and a dresser where the entirety of his life was contained, he let his mask of congenial survival slip. That was when his shoulders stooped and his back ached and he felt the older injuries from his early days, the easy days when he had ridden two year olds on racetracks around the south. And sometimes he even won races on them. But that was a lifetime ago.
That was the daily life for Luckless O’Leary until about a week before Mardi Gras. That night the usual afternoon rain had been a cold one and left a thick fog to cling to the ground and crawl through the streets like a living thing.
He was staggering more than limping when he stumbled into an alley near Dupre and Castiglione Streets, partway back to his apartment. It was a little side trip with his only intent on relieving himself. He just couldn’t hold it any more.
When he was done he sat on an old crate to catch his breath, thinking with a little laugh, “at least tonight my luck is running ahead of the pack! I didn’t mess myself.” That was when he heard something that changed everything.
The something originated from two men further up the alley who had stopped to light a cigarette. They were at the edge of the alley discussing plans for the coming week. He was unobserved as he listened, not believing what he heard for a full two minutes while the men were clear and detailed about their plans.
Luckless held still and did his best to make no noise but what he heard so startled him that at one point he moved.
“What was that?” one of the men asked. His voice was not a southern one and was harsh even in the muffling fog.
Luckless held his breath and tried to slip further back into the alley along a slimy wall but his ankle betrayed him by choosing that moment to give out. He stumbled, gasped and they heard it.
“There,” the second man said. “Someone is over there; he heard us!”
“Get him!” the first hissed.
Luckless started to run then, an odd shambling gait, as fast as his bad leg, ill health and the drink would allow. It was not very fast at all.
Only the darkness and the fog gave him any chance to outdistance the two pursuers. He stumbled and staggered through the maze of rubbish in the alley, his breath ragged and his heart beating like the hooves of charging horses.
The two men followed, cursing violently.
Then he heard a sound that chilled his blood; the click of a gun being cocked.
And this is, more or less, when I came into the story…
“Are you sure you know where you are going, Flora?” I asked the girl driving. I was not enjoying my first night in New Orleans nearly as much as I thought I would. I’d barnstormed my way in from the west coast that afternoon, calling ahead before I made the last leg, and my charming chauffeur had promised to meet me at the airport in the Ninth Ward, east of the city itself.
My flight into Louis Armstrong International Airport had been a hairy landing for my little Beechcraft 55 twin prop job, as the fog was swelling up when I winged in. Still, with the lady driver waiting for me it was worth the trip.
“I know this ward better than you know the Bronx, hotshot,” my driver said with a relaxed southern drawl. “I won’t get you lost like you did on that trip to the Botanical Gardens.”
My guide and hostess was a gorgeous chanteuse I had met in New York the year before when she was singing at a Jazz club up in Harlem.
Flora Temple was the definition of African-American beauty with long elegant limbs, proud high cheekbones and skin the color of sweet caramel. She wore her relaxed hair in a pixie style and smiled easily. It was her smile that drew me to her first, then the intelligence and charm that was behind it. We had kept occasional company in New York and I showed her the city as only a native could, except for getting us lost in the Bronx once; just once!
I had even taken her over to Union City, New Jersey to introduce her to my mom one afternoon, where the two of them had conspired against me. Eventually she had to come home to the Big Easy for a regular singing gig at a place called Club Voodoo but we had kept in close contact when I wasn’t off on a job that precluded it. Neither one of us was talking commitment, as such: to be frank, I was a bit gunshy about that with my own history and ‘issues’, and she had her career, but we were an easy, comfortable fit so we were just letting nature take its course.
I caught sight of myself in the rear view mirror; my pale skin and prematurely silver hair couldn’t have been a more startling contrast to Flora’s dark beauty; . Like my father who also had usually pale skin I wore my usual gray turtleneck and still had a gray leather vest on against the unexpected chill of the Big Easy night. I often wore gray having discovered, like my dad, that any color in my attire made me look like death warmed over.
I smiled at myself when light from a passing streetlamp flashed across my features. I was used to looking at my mug, of course, but my ‘all-purpose ethnic’ look, a result of genes from my unusual Scots-Norman father and my Korean-Japanese mother was also such a contrast to Flora’s ethnically precise beauty that I marveled again, just a little.
I was a ‘what the heck are you’ combination that stumped rednecks. Since women seemed to find it fascinating, I had no real complaints. Along with my unspecificity came the smirk I often wore, the whole image I affected was of a great, swashbuckling figure, larger than life and ready for action. With Flora it worked and, so far, again, I had no complaints.
The security job I had out in ‘Frisco ended a full week earlier than expected, which meant I could make it for Flora’s big TV debut later in the week—something we’d both thought I would miss. She had agreed to be my local guide in the Big Easy for my virgin visit to the town for all of Mardi Gras week.
After she picked me up she drove me into the French Quarter for a late night dinner and drinks and was now heading over to my hotel, but the last thing I expected was London-quality pea soup fog.
“It happens sometimes,” she said with that slight, sweet drawl that made me just a little crazy, “when the temperature drops too quickly around this time of year. We usually have a rain shower every afternoon when the temperature drops, but if it is this cold, we get fog.”
“Well it does give the place an air of mystery.” I said. “Perfect backdrop for a woman of mystery.”
“Oh, who is calling the kettle now, Mister Jon Shadows.” She laughed. “You don’t need any misty night to add mystery to your lifestyle if the magazines are to be believed; soldier, adventurer, and vague hints of secret doings afterward. No, you bring your own mystery with you.”
Now it was my turn to laugh, We had spent a lot of time together in New York, but she was good at keeping things in the moment and never really talked about herself. Too much of my life was an open book, at least after some articles on a case I was working on when I’d met Flora.
“What is there to tell about me?” she said, her eyes working hard to see through the dense fog as she drove down the narrow street. “I’m just a poor Bayou Sauvage girl raised by my Auntie Arnoux. That squandered my education by becoming a saloon singer.”
“Hardly a saloon singer,” I said. “You were singing in the best clubs in New York. I could swear she blushed, but in the dull light I wasn’t sure. “Not bad for a ‘little Bayou Sauvage girl’ from the Ninth Ward.”
She shot me a look and was about to fire a comment at me when I saw a figure suddenly dart out in front of the car.
“Lookout!” I yelled.
Flora hit the brakes and spun the steering wheel but the tires locked so that the car skidded on the slick cobblestones. She couldn’t stop in time and there was a dull thud as the right front fender hit the figure.
“Oh my god!” Flora yelled. She froze at the wheel, staring ahead, the shock of hitting someone making it impossible for her to move.
I didn’t have that shock-paralysis problem—my ‘lifestyle’ had conditioned me to expect the unexpected—so I was out of the passenger door almost before the car came to a stop.
The guy that Flora’d hit was a skinny little fellow in a worn corduroy jacket. He was lying on his side partway on a curb almost at the base of a streetlamp. I ran to his side and knelt by him.
“Easy fellow,” I said. I could see his brown jacket was stained with what had to be blood: an awful lot of blood.
“I didn’t see him.” Flora’s voice shook with near panic as she came over to my side and stared down at him. “He just ran out of nowhere.”
The little man moved his head when he heard her. He looked directly at her with what might have been recognition and a little smile flicked across his lips. “Bobtail nag,” he whispered.
“It’s okay, buddy,” I said, “We’ll get a doctor for you.”
He focused his eyes on me and I could see that the light in them was dimming. I had seen that look too many times before not to know he was dying.
“Home stretch,” he murmured. “Desperadoes’ trove.”
“Poor soul is delirious.” I looked up at Flora to see that she was on the edge of tears.
“What can I do?” she said. “I didn’t see you,” she said. “I’m so sorry.”
The dying man’s smile was surprisingly gentle and he looked at her with no rancor. “No worry, lady singer. Come closer,” he whispered.
She crouched and leaned in as he raised his head up with great effort to kiss her on the cheek and breathed something to her.
Then the little man seemed to deflate as his head fell back to the curb with a dull thud.
“What did he—” I began to ask just as two figures charged out of the thick fog and things got interesting!
The two men were just smudged shapes in the thick fog but they were intent on no good. One of them slamming into me to take me to the ground in a jumble. The second goon shoved Flora aside to get at me.
I went completely into combat mode then, rolling with the one that had tackled me so he was between me and the second one. I wrestled with the guy on me while keeping a weather eye on the other one. Good thing too ‘cause he pulled a pistol.
I expected him to let loose in my direction but instead he fired one deliberate point-blank shot into the head of the poor car-hit victim on the ground.
Flora screamed with the full power of her trained singer’s lungs.
“That takes care of Luckless.” The gunman called to the guy on me. “Hold him still, Mushy, I can’t get a clear shot at him. Then we do the girl.”
‘Mushy’ was a big guy and packed with muscle, but I’m no squirt at six four and I didn’t want to be plugged. I found strength to keep him between me and the shooter despite his struggles. Meanwhile I tried to get at the holster sewn onto the inside of my vest where I still had my good old-fashioned forty-five semi-auto. That gun and vest had saved my life a half-dozen times in the last couple of years and I sure hoped they would again.
Flora kept up screaming and the shooter turned his attention for a second to focus on her.
“Shut up, lady!” he yelled.
Over the shoulder of the thug I was dancing with I saw the gunman raise his arm to point it at my songbird. That gesture that put Flora in direct danger gave me adrenaline rush I needed to heave Mushy up off me. I got my right foot up and booted him all the way to airborne while I pulled my gun and snapped off a shot at the gunman.
I missed, of course, with Mushy jostling me, but the explosion of the forty-five caliber was enough to put the fear of Shadows into both of the murderous goons. The gunman yelped and took off like a scared rabbit.
Mushy made a failed grab at my gun arm but I rolled away from his grab and aimed across my belly to snap off a second shot.
The bullet clipped his loose shirt but didn’t bite any meat. It scared the hell out of him, however. He cried out a curse as he scrambled off only half a heartbeat behind his buddy. He was gone before the echo of my shot had died.
Flora stopped screaming as if a switch had been thrown and she ran to my side.
I knew better than to chase after the gunmen Instead I went to the fallen guy, even though I knew he’d be gone.
He was, a clean bullet hole through his left temple.
Flora sobbed gently against my chest and I held her close. I kept my forty-five cocked.
“We better get out of here and call the cops,” I said. “Those goons might get some Dutch courage and come back.
“They shot him like an animal!” she said in shock.
“They were just finishing the job,” I said as I glanced down at the body and could clearly see what I had not before; there were at least two more bullet holes in the poor guy’s back. “He was a tough little cuss; you hitting him was the least of his problems. If his name really was Luckless then his luck had already run out for good before we showed up.”
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