Reuben's Club challenge
The old man muttered something as he tossed restlessly in his sleep. Something about poor Victor and a stampeding rhinoceros. He wasn’t usually a poor sleeper, but something in the air was troubling him this night. A strange heaviness hung from the shadows that draped the room in a velvet darkness.
Then a stirring in the shadows, and the silhouette of a man detached itself from the darkest corner of the room and seemed to coalesce out of the very air, hand-held crossbow cocked and aimed straight at the old man’s heart. His finger tightened on the trigger, and the silent figure could feel the tension of the drawstring taken up by the pressure of the spring in the trigger. So simple to gently squeeze with just the right pressure to send the quarrel in its flight, deadly and true, just like so many other times in his long history.
The shadowy figure shook his head slowly, and gently eased his finger off the trigger. He took the bolt out of the crossbow, and laid it on the pillow next to the still restless form of the old man. Hastily scribbling a note, he tucked this under the crossbow bolt, and melted back into the shadows, becoming just another flicker in the darkness of the night.
Sir Richard Brandon woke early next morning, as was his usual custom. Normally he would rise to his morning constitutional walk around the grounds, but the sight of a crossbow bolt and scrawled note on his pillow made him reconsider, as he read: “Breakfast at the club. Be there.”
Chuckling to himself at the success of his ruse, and (inwardly, lest anyone else notice) sighing with relief that he had judged The Shadow’s character correctly, Richard decided his walk should be to the club today, to break his fast there. Upon arrival, he settled into an armchair in a quiet drawing room, and awaited his breakfast rendezvous.
He recognised the figure who came to join him simply as The Shadow, a character of the night who had, on quite a number of occoasions, done the odd job for the Kerberos Club and was being considered for full membership. Upon exchanging greetings, The Shadow cut straight to the reason for their meeting.
“Who would want you dead, Sir Richard? An anonymous source has put a rather large bounty on your head.” He went on to explain that a mystery patron had taken out a contract on Richards life. Given Richard’s standing in the KC, and having a great deal of respect for the club, The Shadow had decided that rather than fulfilling the contract, he would help the club track down the nemesis who would strike at one of its members. Richard explained he had no idea who was behind it, but that he had received death threats, and showed The Shadow one such letter.
Two weeks later, his investigations had led The Shadow to his current position, dressed in worn but serviceable street clothes, laying prone on the flat roof of a 3 storey warehouse, eyes fixed on the figure in the room of the inn across the alleyway. It was early evening, and The Shadow’s target was preparing to head down to the common room for dinner. The Shadow slowly climbed over the edge of the roof, and spiderlike, began to climb silently down the wall to the alley below. upon reaching the cobblestones, he detached himself from the shadows, and walked around to the front door of the inn.
Hearty laughter and music greeted him as he walked through the door, and settled into a corner booth where he could watch both the front door and his target. He ordered a tankard of ale and a plate of roast fowl, with potatoes, carrots and gravy. He ate mechanically, his eyes constantly scanning the room by reflex, his gaze never resting upon, but never fully leaving his target.
When his target finished, and returned upstairs, The Shadow allowed a couple of minutes, then, dropping a few coins on the table to cover his meal, he made his way up the old wooden staircase. The careful observer may have noticed that this was the first time in 30-something years the old staircase did not creak underfoot.
Making his way to his target’s room, The Shadow put his ear against the door. Hearing the muted shuffling of the patron inside, he flattened himself against the wall, and melted into the shadows, slowly peeling himself off the other side of the wall, inside the room.
Removing a cosh from inside his vest, The Shadow slid silently up behind his victim, laying him out cold with one well placed blow to the back of the head. Forcing a foul smelling concoction down his target’s throat to keep him out for a few hours, The Shadow then settled down to await full dark.
As night’s dark veil deepened towards midnight, the sound of a carriage in the alleyway below signaled the arrival of The Shadow’s previously arranged transport. The Shadow opened the small window, checking outside to make sure there was nobody else loitering in the alleyway. Hoisting the still unconscious form over his shoulder, he proceeded to walk casually down the outside of the wall, to the waiting carriage below.
“Greetin’s m’lord,” welcomed the driver, " Sir Richard says we is to take you direct to the manor, if’n that be all good wit’ u, sir?"
“Yes, of course, my good man, but do give me a hand to get this chap on board first, won’t you?”
And with the assistance of the driver, The Shadow loaded his burden onto the floor of the carriage before taking a seat himself, as the driver led the carriage out of the alleyway and into the street, headed for the stately home of Sir Richard Brandon.
Upon arriving at the Brandon estate, servants led The Shadow and carried his drugged guest into the drawing room, where Sir Richard and his young niece, Natalie, were waiting. a low moan from the slowly awakening form drew Richard’s attention.
“Why, I know that man! That’s Charles Montford, I met him on a trip to India, where I picked up that carved totem. You know the one Natalie, on the upstairs landing. Ahh, now that was a trip, as I recall it -”
“Ah, Uncle, I do hate to interrupt, but it is late, and you requested a small task of me?” Natalie’s well timed interruption prevented Richard from launching into one of his famously long-winded recounts of former glories.
So, using the combined talents of probing questions and Natalie’s mental powers, they were able to draw out the tale of Charles Montford, who had been cursed after looting a sacred shrine in India, and was driven insane by the need to recover stolen artifacts, including the totem on Richards upstairs landing. Knowing that Richard would never just hand it over, Charles had planned to dispose of Richard, then retrieve the totem for himself.
After securing Charles for delivery to the Special Investigations branch on the following morning, Richard took The shadow aside. “I may have a small confession to make” he began. "The letter that led you to Charles was real, but the contract on my life was not. I actually took out the contract on myself. The Kerberos Club has used your services quite a number of times, and being a member of quite some years myself, I knew of you and your reputation quite well. I also believe myself to be a fine judge of character, so thought my little ruse to be fairly safe. When I received the death threats, and suspected intruders had been in the estate, I knew I had to do something, both for my sake and Natalie’s.
So I approached the club, and they told me how I might anonymously retain your services. Given your familiarity with the club, and your reputation as a man of honor, I felt you would not in fact take a life so easily and without justification, and I am quite glad I was right. But I did need to inspire you to track down my real assailant before he became so bold as to act on his threats. So I am deeply grateful for your help, and sincerely regret the ruse I used to motivate you. In order to thank you, and in part repay the debt I feel I owe, I will be sponsoring you for full membership, as I have heard of your interest in joining the club."
The Shadow was quiet for a moment, and Richard began to feel he may have overstepped, when The Shadow replied: “Well played, Sir Brandon. I respect your commitment to protecting Miss Natalie, and I thank you for the trust you placed in my own character. I would be honored to accept your nomination. But if we are to be seeing more of each other, as is likely the case, you should address me as my very few friends do, and introduce me to the Club,” (and with this he bowed to Richard) “as Reuben”, and as he stood back up, The shadow wore another face, one that Richard recognised as Reuben Marshall.