or Where Do They All Come from?

Illustrated by Jeff Fraker

California, just before the American Civil War.

Don Andrés Brasa sat at his desk and wondered if he was doing the right thing. Justice had left the valley where his family had lived since the first mission days. The court, under an outsider judge, ruled by who put the most money in his pocket. The Sheriff and some of his deputies took bribes almost openly. The other deputies looked the other way in fear for their lives.

But worst of all honest people, mostly of Spanish blood, lost their homes, their land, everything, by legal trickery. Anyone who stood up to them suffered greatly or disappeared.

Pleas to Sacramento went unanswered. The ladronies, thieves the honest Americanos in the valley called them, knew people in the capitol who could make their requests seem false or exaggerated.

Don Andrés' soon to be son-in-law Renaldo wanted to fight the ladronies openly. The Don only just managed to hold the outraged vaquero in check. He promised a plan. Now he must carry out the necessary steps.

He placed a ruler below an ornate crest on a piece of thick paper. He used the ruler as a guide moving it for each new line. What he wrote disappeared as it dried. The letter began, "Diego, my old friend..."

========================

New York City, late 1939

Office of the Publisher of the New York Clarion

The following section written by "Robert Wallace."
========================

Eddie Collins grabbed the door handle-burst inside the huge private office whose French windows looked high over the Manhattan night.

At his rude entry, two men jerked up startled, surprised heads.

Frank Havens, elderly, rugged-faced owner of the Clarion and a string of other equally powerful papers throughout the nation, rose rose to his feet from the big desk where he had been sitting, proof-sheets bearing gruesome murder news before him.

Richard Curtis Van Loan, wealthy young idler and man-about-town, who was here at Mr. Havens friend and guest, lifted his bored, world-wearied gray eyes in questioning annoyance. Seated in a comfortable chair, Van Loan was puffing idly at a cigarette, his legs crossed.

Then before anyone could speak, the bored Richard Curtis Van Loan suddenly leaped from his chair. His gray eyes lost their ennui, became sharp slits. It was he who saw the oozing, crimson trickle doming from beneath Collins' coat and dripping soundlessly to the soft carpet.

Collins' body swayed giddily as Van Loan leaped forward. The latter's strong arms reached out, caught the young cartoonist even as the youth went limp, collapsing.

"This man's been shot!" Van Loan said, his customary drawl sharp now.

Heavens' momentary annoyance turned to quick alarm. The publisher grabbed an interoffice phone, called a downstairs secretary, ordering that a doctor be summoned. The he went over to where Van Loan had carried the riddled youth to a lounge and placed him on it.

"Collins!" he cried, all concern now. "What happened? Who--?"

The eyes of Eddie Collins, already going dull, flickered. His lips moved. A soughing rattle made the words which came from his throat difficult to hear.

"Envelope--" he gasped. "Envelope! Gangsters --probably still down in the areaway cellar looking for me. Freight elevator -- they got it from me – but they aren't sure --"

"Got what Collins? What do you mean?" Havens spoke with fierce bafflement. "How could you -- a comic strip man-- be mixed up with thugs, with shooting!"

"Envelope tells," Collins repeated. "Big case, Mr. Havens. I was doing it for a feature -- when the murder story broke. Bringing it for the Phantom --now."

Even in his agony, he pronounced the name with reverent awe.

Havens stiffened. The publisher's eyes flashed to his worldly young friend, Richard Curtis Van Loan. And he got a fresh shock of surprise.

For Van Loan had suddenly gone into a whirl of swift action. he had peeled off his dress coat. In his hands was a flat leather kit, which was snapped open to reveal a mirror and an array of tubes and jars.

Again Collin's gasping voice interrupted. "Case for Phantom! God, if only you could -- get his now, Mr. Havens." He sobbed. "Envelope -- thugs got it--"

Havens administered to the riddled man as best he could while Van Loan worked away on his queer little kit.

When the publisher toward Van Loan, his jaw gaped.

Van, standing close, eyes darting from the man on the lounge to his own mirror, was still dabbing his face with a special charcoal. In seconds his handsome, world-wearily features had almost completely vanished! In their place had grown another visage -- the face of Eddie Collins.

It was not a semblance that could stand close inspection under bright light, being more of an impressionistic sort of job, the likeness cleverly created by a few lines, by shading. Nor did Van Loan take precious time adding to it.

"Give me Collins' coat, Frank -- quickly! It ought to be enough!"

Van Loan pulled on the coat and assumed a stoop. Though he was tall, he seemed by his posture to look even more like the riddled cartoonist.

So swiftly had he made the transformation that now, before the dying Collins saw what had happened, his own "double" was darting out of the office in a swift blur of motion which concealed both the incongruity of his dress, and his makeshift disguise.

========================

The preceding 674 words copied from "Fangs of Murder" in the January 1938 issue of The Phantom Detective.

========================

An hour and a half later Frank Havens sat in the small apartment hidden behind his office. He re-lit his cigar for the fourth time in the last ten minutes, then tossed it into the ash tray. He couldn't taste it anyway. The talented young cartoonist's body left some time ago for the morgue. As soon as Van Loan left the floor he's called the police. No surprise that Inspector Gregg appeared to do the initial interview. The senior detective often worked with the Phantom. Gregg used very guarded language on his visit while others were around. When they were alone and off the record, he asked if the Phantom was involved.

"Completely off the record, Inspector, the Phantom is on the case. It seems hard to believe that the Phantom has worked hand in glove with the police for over ten years now. Bet you didn't know he's not the only one. Nick Carter, the first one, worked with the department just about the same way more than fifty years ago."

Gregg nodded he'd heard the oldest retired police veterans speak of Nick Carter. Like Carter and Clark Savage, the Phantom earned the respect of the police he dealt with.

Havens looked at his watch. No word yet from Van Loan. None expected really, for some time. He rose and walked to a locked cabinet on the wall. Inside an unmarked array of buttons and switches awaited his touch. He picked up a telephone headset and pushed two buttons. It had cost him a pile of money, but now he was secretly connected to the phone company's most modern automatic switching system in the city. He dialed. He counted the tiny sounds in the receiver as each switch and relay worked its magic. One final click, then briefly silence. A different clicking started. Havens counted to five. The clicking stopped, replaced by the scratching of the stylus on the wax cylinder of of the Dict-A-Phone.

"This is your benefactor. We need to meet," said Havens. "I'll be in the midtown Automat at five thirty in the morning and at one in the afternoon. Be there."

======================

California, in the middle of the nineteenth century

Don Andrés wrote, "On our voyage to España we were barely young men, even if we thought differently. Now we are almost old men. Ignacio, our strong guardian and shepherd in those days is known to all now as Old Ignacio.

"When we returned to California two years after you, we heard many stories about the changes in the Pueblo de Los Angeles. Others told us of how scholarly a Caballero you were. Ignacio and I spoke of this only one time, and never again.

"Now life in our beautiful valley has changed. I hope you will find time to advise myself and one other the ways you have used to deal with such changes. A close look at young Miguel's drawings will show you how our village appears today."

======================

Clarion Building, the last week of 1939

Frank Havens sat at his desk looking over proofs of lead section for tonight's Clarion. Jacket off, sleeves rolled up, and tie tucked into his shirt he poured over the copy. Havens still liked to get his hands dirty in his chosen business. Dirty literally when you handled fresh proofs with damp ink. He'd marked a few things and made a note or two. Nothing that couldn't go out as set, he decided.

If he found time tomorrow he'd talk with Peterson, the Editor, about one reporter whose prose was not quite tight enough. He looked up at the hands of the twenty-four hour clock as the phone rang. Peterson, right on time. He'd paid a bundle to have the special wiring circuits put in that synchronized all the clocks in the building. "Put it to bed," he told the Editor. "Anything new, strange, or different, comes in on any Mystery Man I want a carbon on my desk as soon as it leaves the typewriter. They're sprouting like weeds these days. Call my usual numbers if your gut says something's breaking."

Havens glanced at the clock again. One minute past deadline. Anyone who arrived to see him from the time the proofs came in until now without a warrant, or a halo, would be cooling their heels in the waiting room. His intercom buzzed.

Inez Finnigan served as his secretary and gate keeper. She could keep anything this side of a battering ram out of his office. She'd learned Irish stubbornness from her husband, the steward of the Clarion's Pressmen's union. Her Vega blood never let her back down. The inflection in her voice told him all was serene. "Mr. Quinn from the District Attorney's office is here, Mr. Havens."

"Send him in, please," replied Havens This might get interesting, he thought. Quickly he wadded up a piece of personal stationary and put it on the floor where Quinn would surely step on it. Presently something lightly tapped the door a couple of times. The handle turned. The door opened slowly. Tony Quinn, Special Assistant District Attorney, walked into the room. His foot came down on the wad of paper. He hesitated for a split second, then continued. He looked straight ahead through smoked glasses. The tip of his white cane probed about eighteen inches in front of his toes.

Havens spoke up, "I haven't changed any of the furniture since you were last here."

"Thank you, Mr. Havens," said Quinn quietly. He took one more step then turned forty-five degrees. Another step and his cane found the arm chair he normally used while visiting. He sat down and turned his head in Havens direction.

"Is this an official visit," asked Havens?

"Partly," replied Quinn. The hint of a smile flickered across his face. "I have been instructed to ask you if you have any news of the Phantom that you work with."

Havens' eyebrows went up about an inch. "That I work with? What do you mean?"

Tony Quinn did smile this time. "I'll cover that in a moment. Officially: have you had any additional contact with the man known as the Phantom who carries a diamond studded domino mask shaped badge?"

"Officially, I have not. I do not expect to anytime soon." Havens' tone changed to one of lively curiosity, "Now why in the world did you need to be that specific about the Phantom?"

"Because, old friend, more than one Phantom lurks in our streets. Reminds me of the Abbott and Costello routine. The Phantom's on first. The Phantom's on second. The Phantom's on third, and at shortstop. If there weren't so many dead bodies, it really would be funny."

"Tony, now that official business is done and the door has closed itself, talk! You definitely have my attention."

"Sure, Frank. Let's call your friend the Phantom Detective to keep things straight. Now I expect you have heard of the man known as "Bob Phantom?"

"Of course I have. Must be some kind of stage magician. Appears and disappears in a puff of smoke. He's broken up a few very nasty things, the way I've heard it."

Quinn paused. He looked up, as if stretching his neck before continuing. "That he has Frank. However, if absolutely nothing else, he can be charged with a large number of illegal entries. Never breaking and entry, mind you. In the last few weeks the DA's office learned of the Phantom Bullet. This is off the record. We don't have many details yet. Apparently he shoots crooks with disappearing bullets."

"I've heard those stories, Tony," said Havens, "but I never heard a name attached to them. Some new Mystery Man?"

"So It seems. But last night was the corker. Did you hear about the car that smashed into Modells' Outdoor Store last night? I thought you would have. What the police did not put out was that the LaSalle that cracked up had been involved in a rolling gun battle that started at the Algonquin. Not the usual gunfight, either. Not car to car, or car to sidewalk. Several credible witnesses gave statements that a muscular man in tights, hood and mask, somehow held onto the car and exchanged fire with the occupants. Some said the outfit looked purple, others called it a pinkish-red. No joking. Three people told us he had on striped trunks, no less.

"Well after the smashup he got away. He left some hired muscle in need of varying amounts of medical treatment. We found a distinguished looking man shot dead. Papers said he'd arrived on the morning boat from England. Somehow Commissioner Ralph Weston managed to talk Simon Templar into taking a look. He identified the dead man as Sebastian Moran, crook to the upper crust. One of the "Ungodly", he said. Of course that's not official, yet.

"Right before that car crashed it almost sideswiped a bus going from the Public Health facility to the docks. Seems a ship out of Bengalia, (I think that's how you say it.) came in with a couple of the crew sick. Public Health ran everybody but an anchor watch downtown for for tests. With the holidays and all they cooled their heels for hours. They finally got started back long after dark. After the near miss the driver pulled over to get himself back together. One of the officers on the scene came over to check on them. He got an earful. Most of the crew are Negroes from that same region of Africa. Every one of them identified the man in tights as 'The Phantom.' They also called him, and I'm quoting, 'The Ghost Who Walks.'"

Havens rolled his eyes. "Yet another Phantom?"

"Oh, it gets better. The uniform talking to them, fellow name of Burland, showed more curiosity than most. A lot of young cops would have written that talk off as superstition. He questioned the Captain and the First Mate. They've lived and sailed most of their lives from those waters. They told Burland that everybody who sails the Indian Ocean knows about the Phantom. He has been a Holy Terror to pirates, hijackers, and smugglers in that region for nearly four hundred years."

Havens felt the words leave his lips unbidden, "The Walkers!"

"What did you say, Frank," asked Quinn.

"Come on back to the apartment, Tony. I'll fix us a drink."

"Sure, why not? I won't be driving."

======================

Almost Old California

Miguel followed Old Ignacio into Don Andrés's study. He had only been in the room once before. His benefactor's hair held much more gray than just a few years ago, but his energy seemed little changed. He smiled less since the Americano newcomers began making all the legal trouble in the valley.

"Welcome, my friends. Miguel, how many drawings did you have time to finish?"

"Only four, Don Andrés," said Miguel, taking the sheets of paper out of the box he carried. "Those in the Pueblo do not even see me as I sit and draw anymore. I have put at least one of the trouble makers in each picture."

"Four will be enough. Sit down and take this pen and carefully draw a line around each one of them. The ink pot holds lemon juice. The line will vanish. When they are dry we will mix them with your other drawings. My old friend will especially like the one of Renaldo and my daughter on their horses. Here is my letter to put on top of the pictures."

Miguel looked at the letter. It began: "My Dear Old Friend, Ignacio, the traveling companion of our youth, has carved a few more of nature's creatures to gather around the feet of your statue of San Francisco. Young Miguel, of my household, hones his talent by drawing the people he can make stand still and by sketching the people of our Pueblo. This will give you some idea of what you might see if you visit..."

Don Andrés continued, "My real letter is on this blank page. He will recognize the Crest of our School and know to make the writing appear. We will wrap the letter around this carving of a fox."

======================

Just Before New Years, 1940

Frank Havens Apartment in the Clarion Building

Frank Havens opened the hidden door to the apartment. "What'll it be, Tony? A highball?"

"Sounds good, Frank," replied the Special Assistant District Attorney as he rose from his chair. "I officially declare myself off duty."

Havens spoke about the ingredients he used as he fixed two medium sized highballs. He did this more to guide the man with the white cane, than to praise the stock he used. After Quinn came through the door Havens pushed one of several buttons that closed and locked the soundproof door to the apartment. His actions hidden by his body, he slipped the cork out of a bottle. Turning he flicked it straight at Tony Quinn.

When the cork bounced of his left shoulder Quinn stopped. He waived his cane further out than usual and felt the air with his other hand. "What was that, Frank? What hit me?"

Havens smiled, "Tony, you have my word that we are alone in this apartment."

Tony Quinn's body suddenly lost all of its stiffness. He twisted his neck and took two drum major's steps. As he took off the dark glasses he asked, "What's with all the testing Frank? Is there going to be a pail of water above the door when I leave your office?"

"I just wanted to see how well you're carrying off the deception. You were blind long enough to learn the behaviors. I decided to find out how well you did with your sight back for, what is it? Over eighteen months now."

"A bit over eighteen," smiled Quinn. "Greatest day of my life. The day I realized I'd see normally again."

"And the Black Bat's handled several major cases in the last fifteen months. Do you feel that you are in the business for the long haul?"

"If my luck continues to hold, Frank. I think I've got a few more years in me. I've had some narrow scrapes. But as the Black Bat I feel I can do more good than if I became the U.S. Attorney General. Say, before I forget, I wanted to get your opinion on why we have so many big time gangsters and so-called super crooks in America today."

"Don't get me started, Tony! I'll lecture you half the night. The short form is this. A bunch of well meaning reformers inflicted Prohibition on us. That began just as we finished putting hundreds of thousands of young men through the horrors of the Great War. The experience made countless veterans strong and determined men. Some good. Some bad. And others just determined to look out for themselves after 'saving' civilization.

"The general public hated Prohibition. They felt that their rights were taken away. If they wanted a glass of beer, or some wine with dinner, by God they would get it. That meant that anyone with gumption and some organization skills could get rich by making the man in the street happy. During the so called Roaring Twenties we came closer than I hope we ever do again to giving the whole country over to criminals.

"Came repeal a few years back and a lot of crooks lost their jobs, like so many honest people did in the Depression. That put huge numbers of bad guys on the street. That meant that the lunatic fringe, who are always with us, could hire the cheap labor needed to carry out their wild plans. In addition, some very powerful people decided to get more powerful. Make the country run their way. That happens some in any society. Then we've also got the political fruitcakes. The Fascists and the Communists. Some parts of socialism even sound good to me, of all people. Won't work, because even the Dictators can't change human nature. Hell, even the Pilgrims experimented with socialism. They almost starved because of it. End of lecture, Tony. Can I top you off?"

"No, I'd better stay at one. Could be action tonight after all. Wait a minute, Frank. I've side tracked us. When I told you about the latest Phantom you blurted out 'the Walkers.' wasn't it? What gives?"

Havens sighed. He never liked giving this information to someone new. But Tony Quinn was already in the game. "Tony, I'll bet you thought I was crazy when I showed up on your doorstep with proof you were the Black Bat. Crazy because I wanted to help you instead of putting you on the Clarion's front page. I'll bet you believed my work with the Phantom.. err.. Detective caused that. Just keep nodding until I get something wrong.

"They call Simon Templar 'The Robin Hood of modern crime.' But Robin Hood was not the first Mystery Man by at least fifteen hundred years! Don't spill your drink man, there's a lot more. Near as I can tell, from the time of the first civilizations tyrants and bullies arose. Soon thereafter mysterious avengers and justice seekers emerged to counter them. We'll go into details another time.

"Among people of European decent there are several families who fill the Mystery Man role time and again. I can't give you real names in most cases but you know a member of one family and possibly another. The Hoods pop up every generation or two. So does the family I'll call the Rangers. And of course that hack McCulley somehow found out and exposed the de la Vega family. Bet you didn't know that my secretary is a Vega.

"Also bet you didn't know that there was more than one 'Masked Rider of the Plains.' There were at least five. And that's not counting three Vega descendants who used the family's famous but now copyrighted name. They even wrote Dime Novels about Deadwood Dick in the eighties and nineties. My grandfather fed them the basic information. The writers and the publisher never suspected that the real Deadwood Dick happened to be a former slave turned cowboy."

That revelation caught Quinn as he swallowed. When he finished coughing he said, "That's a good one, Frank. But the Walkers?"

"Okay. Out in the southwest is an unclimbable mesa named Walker's Table. The Indians and the old timer whites keep away from it. There's supposed to be a ghost or demon with a mask that lives there. Some of Ben Franklin's disputed writings talk of a Mr. Walker who destroyed bad guys in Paris and that they met again in Philadelphia. If I dug through my private files I could find a bunch of stories about a Mr. Walker who stood up for justice at various places in our country and the western hemisphere in general. The stories span well over two hundred years. I figure the Walkers to have the longest history in the business. I need to meet this Phantom, or Ghost Who Walks, Tony. Promise me, if the Black Bat runs into him you'll give him a message. Give him my private number. Tell him Mr. Walker will be welcomed, very privately at the Clarion."

Quinn finished his highball and rose. "I'll do what I can, Frank." he said as he retrieved his cane and assumed his pose as a blind man. "I'd like to meet Mr. Walker, myself."

Havens escorted him to a cab.

======================

California -some time after our last visit

Miguel felt trapped and very alone on his own land. Don Andrés had arranged for him to buy this orchard and start out on his own. Now some Americanos told him the sale was no good. He should leave now before he got put in jail for being on his own land. Everyone knew that the new Magistrate in the Pueblo ruled for those who paid the most. If he did not leave, these men, the leader, and a man with a scared, evil, face in front of him, and the four others behind, would beat him senseless and bring him to the Magistrate with many lies. He would not be the first.

The group's leader stepped forward. His every word dripped with insult.

"Come on muchacho, don't make us hurt you. You comprende, boy? We'll..."

Miguel heard a slight whistling sound in the twilight. The Americano's words stopped in his throat as a rope with weights on the ends wrapped itself around his neck. The impact knocked him flat.

From out of the trees came a voice like a thunderbolt. "Señores, leave now, or face the wrath of Argus, the Avenger!"

All turned toward the voice. From the opposite direction rushed a horse and rider. As he passed the lone figure with scared face, his booted foot sent the man sprawling. He leaped from the horse and landed before the other four intruders. One of them gasped, "The Blue Eagle!"

Now Argus, for surely it was him, flipped his cape behind him. He held a sword in one hand, and a whip in the other. Swiftly Argus cracked the large whip into the middle of the four. They leapt apart. His blade swept at the two on the right. They ducked to avoid being scalped. Argus swiftly stepped forward. His right foot caught one man's lowered jaw with a crack. A split second later the hilt of his sword slammed into the top of the other's head. He whirled to meet the charge of the other two. A loop of the Blue Eagle's whip settled around the neck of one. The figure with wide billowing sleeves and pant legs lunged back and to the side. The man in the loop stopped short. The sword hissed thru the air. The fourth man's belt parted and he sprawled into a somersault. Suddenly the man in the winged hat dropped the whip and pulled a pistol from the brace of three in his belt and quickly fired.

Miguel turned and saw the upraised knife fall from the hand of the scared man. Blood welled from his shoulder.

======================

Midtown Automat 5:30AM Thursday December 28,1939

Dressed warmly, and somewhat roughly, Havens pushed thorough the door of the Automat. He surveyed the tables and their occupants. He effected a slouching walk as he headed for the multitude of little windowed doors hiding various food items.

Havens regularly bought mixed change and old bills from several of his employees. Some of them thought it strange behavior for a very wealthy man. The more savvy staffers understood that a shush fund of unmarked and unremarkable money served to pay sources when necessary. It might also save someone like the Phantom vital time on a case.

Havens pulled out a fat battered leather change purse and squeezed it open. He fed coins into the slots. Soon his tray held scrambled eggs, sausage, a cup with a tea bag and a slice of elderberry pie that he happened to like. He put the change purse away as he filled the tea cup from the hot water spigot.

He settled at a table in a quiet corner. He carefully placed his hat so that anyone could see the small green and yellow feather sticking out of the hat band. He opened a copy of the Sentinel and folded it back the editorial. He tried to read and watch the crowd at the same time.

Even so he only had a second's warning before a figure in a long dark coat and wide brimmed hat sat down across from him. In the band of the slouch hat sat a purple feather. The shaded mouth of the newcomer smiled a bit. "Don't we look a sight?" he chuckled softly. "Everybody'll think we're bird watchers."

"Hollister," began Havens, a little irritated, "we're here on serious business."

"Easy. Easy, my friend," Sherman Hollister replied. "I take my work, all of it, very seriously. I don't take myself seriously. The strange and sometimes silly things around me can't all be harbingers of doom and gloom, either. Keeps the ulcers away."

"Very well, point taken," said Havens. "You've done very well for yourself sorting out the real issues in town from the muck. You've used the information you've been given to seriously rock the official boat when necessary. Now I need your help in an investigation. I had other plans, but they blew up in my face..."

"A dead body in one's office changes a lot. Doesn't it, Mr. Havens?"

Frank Havens sat speechless for a moment. Then he smiled. "Well, I guess I might have expected that. But how?"

"It wasn't easy. Because of the information you supplied I figured you were probably press. The rags in this town that I feed stories to have some good journalists, but no editorial soul. No civic prestige on the line either. If its legal and it sells papers they pretty much do it. With me, as the Unknown Reporter, fronting you can light the Fires Of The Just under the problems and not lose your good relations with the powers that be. Course the impeccable New York Times would not do such a thing. Charles Foster Kane's sheets would keep the information in house so as not to risk loosing a single sale that way. Same of some others, and radio, too. That basically left you and Jim Anthony's Daily Star with the money, the sources, and the drive to clean out the problems.

"Tracing you wasn't easy, but with some special equipment I back tracked your secret phone line to the Clarion building. I watched you come in. You were the right size and shape. You didn't change your posture until you were inside. Your voice confirmed your identity, but that face is really good. I couldn't have picked you out of a police lineup as Frank Havens."

Havens snorted, "You don't work with a magician for ten years and not learn a trick or two. As you've probably guessed the Phantom is currently after the thugs who killed Collins, and their boss. After that mess in Miami and the Everglades I wanted him to rest until New Year's Eve." (See "Money Mad Murders" in the November 1939 issue of The Phantom Detective.)

"So what's cooking on the thirty-first?"

"I don't know," replied Havens. "That's the problem. My people, not just the Clarion staff, have picked up a couple of tidbits that pointed to something big happening at the Mayor's bash. Most of the people you rail against will probably be there. Including the fellow who did the procurement for those overly expensive zoo animals. I don't know what may happen, but no underworld interlopers allowed. Every pickpocket, second story man, and car thief in town seems to have been warned to stay far away from the party. I want you there, ready for anything."

Hollister leaned back in his chair. "I'd planed to put in an appearance, invited or not. When the crooked and incompetent bureaucrats party it will be my pleasure to be there."

======================

Miguel, now an artist of some note, stood before his easel. With the end of his brush he scratched above his ear where the gray in his hair was most notable. He felt cramped in this stone room beneath the Hacienda de Brasa. He had vowed to preserve the secrets of the family that raised him on canvas. He spent much time here while the rich people of the region waited for portraits to be finished. He again asked for many blessings on those that invented the photograph.

The figure on the canvas neared completion. To begin on the background Miguel tried to remember the exact colors of the sunset that day so many years ago. As he mixed colors on his palette he remembered Don Andrés' revelation to him.

===================================

Some years earlier:

One day Don Andrés sent for him from his orchard. They met behind the closed door of the Don's study. "Miguel, Old Ignacio tells me that a newspaper reporter from the east wants to meet you. He will ask you to tell him about, and draw Argus, The Avenger, for the newspapers and perhaps for those 'Dime Novel' storybooks. Draw anything else for him, but please, as a favor to me, pretend you know nothing of Argus except that he once saved you."

Miguel opened his mouth to speak, but Don Andrés raised a hand. Miguel saw a familiar look. His mentor came to a new decision. "No, that is not fair, my young friend. I must show you the reason I ask."

With that Don Andrés rose. He walked to the corner of the room and put both feet on one small floor stone. On the wall next to the stone he pulled on the holder of the oil lamp. Miguel heard something click behind him.

=================================

Miguel put down his brush and palette. He stretched until his hands touched the rock ceiling. As he worked the stiffness out of his hand he remembered what he experienced the first time he went below the hacienda.

=================================

Some years earlier:

Miguel sat in a boat in eerie darkness. Only a couple of whale oil lamps held the blackness at bay. Behind him machinery hissed and churned. Beside him the horses shifted their feet restlessly. At the bow of the boat Old Ignacio put down the bulls-eye lantern and began to take off his white clothes. Miguel could not tell what he now put on, but he disappeared completely. Only as he opened the shutter of the lantern to check the shore of rock could Miguel tell where he stood.

A hand fell on Miguel's shoulder. In the dim light of the fire grating Miguel recognized Jordan Kane, the black skinned Mountain Man. The huge man could move more quietly than a shadow when he wished. "Almost there, amigo," he whispered as the boat approached a rocky ledge.

Old Ignacio stepped ashore and tied a rope to a boulder. Jordan threw a loop over another big rock and pulled the boat in. Miguel heard nothing, but the Indian swung the lantern around as a figure stepped out of the blackness. Though the beam never rose above waist high, enough light reflected off the stone walls to show the wings on the tall man's hat.

"Señor, we are ready," said Old Ignacio.

==================================

Almost finished placing the trees of his orchard on the canvas, Miguel stepped back. A work to be proud of even if few now living ever saw it. I lived this, he thought. Some time in the future, maybe a century from now, many people will see how I was rescued.

He set down his medium sized brush. He picked up his tiny detail one. Loading up a tiny bit of a bright orange paint he added some texture to the pistol's muzzle flash.

Satisfied, he retuned to work on the trees. Almost done, he told himself. One day all will know the courage of Argus, the Blue Eagle.

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Writer's Note: The scenes from 1939 are slightly revised from the Role Playing Game at the PR Publications site in the early part of this century. I played MLJ Comics' Bob Phantom. Writers other than myself brought the newspaper Phantom and the Phantom Bullet into play and created the rolling gunfight that I briefly recapped. Several of the Old California scenes are from "The Mysterious Hacienda or The Return of the Eagle." The story appeared in Double Danger Tales published by Fading Shadows. ( www.geocities.com/fadingshwdows1 ) That 23,000 word piece is part of my series "The Journey of Freedom's Spirit & Samuel." Argus is a secondary character in that story.

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