The pedestrian traffic choking Fifth Avenue seemed even more hectic and bustling than usual to the tall young man who navigated his way through the hoard of people who seemed hyper aware of their surroundings and oblivious of them at the same time. But that was New Yorkers for you. It was a strange set of survival skills the denizens of that great metropolis developed. One that the young man appreciated and found both fascinating and amusing. It had only been two years since he had been making his way in a world both alien and familiar to him. He found it frightening and exhilarating.
His height and build were both exceptional. Standing at an easy six feet four, his impressive musculature drew more than an average share of admiring looks from women and a few men as well. It didn’t hurt that he was also easy on the eye, with his high cheekbones and sparkling copper eyes under severe eyebrows. His dark skin seemed almost to glow with vitality and energy.
He dressed simply in well-worn jeans, battered sneakers and a plain extra large beige T-shirt. It was a little nippy that particular early spring morning but he didn’t seem to notice or care. He’d suffered far worse during his training to the point where he could sleep naked in the snow overnight with no discomfort.
He stopped in front of a building he’d come to know well over the past week. A wonderful example of Eighteenth century European domestic architecture, it was set back from the avenue proper by an elevated garden. It occupied the entire block, surrounded by a concrete wall twelve feet high on three sides with an ornate steel fence facing
Avenue designed and constructed by the famous
Israeli sculptor Abayev.
As he had done for the past week the young black man walked up to the front door. There was no name or plaque on the door identifying the building but such was not needed and hadn’t been since the establishment of this edifice back in the 1930’s. This was the
New York chapter of the world famous and
eminently prestigious Baltimore Gun Club.
And the young black man had come here every day for a week to see one of
its more famous members.
He rang the bell and no more than two seconds later it was opened by a footman who admitted him into the reception hall. As always, the footman allowed him to sit while Chamberlain Frick was summoned.
Chamberlain Frick arrived not more than a minute later. He supervised the activities of the staff and reigned over the building as if he were a feudal lord. As such, it was his purview to formally verify the business of visitors and personally escort them within.
Chamberlain Frick shook hands with the young man. “I must say that you are a most persistent young man. As well as punctual. You’ve been right on time at on the nose every morning.”
“I don’t mean to be a bother, sir.”
“You’re not bothering me, young man. But as I’ve told you every day for a week now, there is simply no way to anticipate when your party will be here. For as long as I’ve known him he’s rarely come through that door like the other members. No one sees him come. He’s simply here. No one sees him go. He’s simply gone.”
The young man’s copper eyes gleamed with excitement. “Would you check to see if he’s here?”
“I’ll ask the kitchen to send you round coffee or tea if you’d like.”
It had become their ritual. The young man would sit in the reception hall all day long. He only left at time for lunch and returned. Frick would provide him with tea or water and newspapers to read. At , the young man would leave, only to return the next day. Frick personally checked three or four times a day to see if the member the young man wanted to see had arrived and the staff had their orders that if they were to see that member they were to inform Frick immediately.
Chamberlain Frick moved through the large rooms of the first floor. It was his custom to make sweeps of the entire building at random moments just to keep the staff on their toes as well as to give whatever members were present that personal touch that was such a part of Frick’s efficiency. But it wasn’t just that. The Baltimore Gun Club had such an important and distinguished place in American history and indeed, many events that had changed the course of history had their beginnings with the famous and infamous members of The Baltimore Gun Club that Frick felt an almost fanatical devotion to preserve the dignity and prestige of the club.
The interior of the club was one of calm and serenity. Art and sculpture and period furniture lent an air of pure elegance. The long gallery leading to the library was lined on both sides with huge portraits of Baltimore Gun Club members both past and present. Many were men and women whose names had long ago become legend in all corners of the world.
Frick walked into the library. One of the finest collections in the country, all four walls was nothing but books from floor to ceiling. Huge pictures windows allowed the strengthening morning sun to illuminate the huge room. Frick noted that the library appeared to be empty with no surprise. This early in the morning it usually was. It was after lunch that the room would be occupied and after dinner it would be positively packed with members having quiet discussion accompanied with fine cigars and even finer brandy.
Frick turned to leave and heard a slight motion from a huge high backed leather armchair placed near enough to a huge picture window that the occupant could look out onto
Fifth Avenue. Frick quickly walked over, thinking that this
was one of the ten club members who resided in the club itself. Once he rounded the chair and looked at the
man who sat in the chair, his leathery, wrinkled face brightened into a genuine
smile of welcome. “I should have known
it was you, sir.” As indeed he should
have. The only reason the man in the
chair had made a sound was because he wished to be heard.
“A pleasure as always to see you, Frick. How have you been?”
“The back acts up from time to time, sir. But nothing more than a nuisance. And yourself?”
A shrug of shoulders that still were fairly brawny despite the advanced age of the man in the chair. “Mostly consulting work. It takes up a fair amount of my time.”
“It’s been far too long since you’ve visited us, sir.”
“I’ve been meaning to come here for some time now. My decision was accelerated by the word I’ve been hearing of this young man who’s been asking for me.”
Frick nodded. “He’s been here for seven days in a row, sir. He sits in the reception hall all day long, hoping that you will show.”
“Hostile?” The man asked with a smile. He was teasing. Frick wouldn’t have been the Chamberlain of the
branch of The Baltimore Gun Club if he wasn’t able to spot an enemy five
seconds after clapping eyes upon him.
“Hardly, sir. But he is a most serious and if I dare say…troubled young man. Life weighs heavily on him. There is no smile in his eyes. And there is something else as well. But I think that will be obvious when you see him.”
The man gestured. “Bring him to me, then. He obviously needs to see me very badly. Let’s find out why. And would you see that some tea is sent round to me?”
“But of course, sir.”
Frick left the library, briefly stopping to give instructions to the footman whose post was just outside the library doors. Then Frick quickly walked back to where he left the young black man who got to his feet anxiously as Frick approached.
“You are indeed a child of fortune, young sir. The member you seek is here. He has consented to see you.”
The young man gestured at his attire. “I hope I’m okay dressed like this…I don’t have a lot of clothes.”
Frick smiled slightly. “I think we can overlook the dress code this once. And I’ll show you the reason why. Come with me.”
Frick and the young man walked down the long gallery until stopping at one of the portraits. It depicted a woman in her twenties. Such was the skill of the artist that the youth, the strength, the vitality of the woman reached out from the paint and canvas and struck the eye with much the same effect as this woman had once had in life. A classical beauty with high cheekbones not unlike those of the young man who gazed upon the portrait with reverence. Straight hair black as oil fell to her graceful shoulders. An eye patch covered her right eye.
“Your mother, I believe,” Frick said quietly. “Right from the first day you came here I saw the resemblance.”
The young man turned to the Chamberlain. “Why is her picture here?”
“Your mother was an honored member of The Baltimore Gun Club, young sir. Why else do you think I allowed you to sit inside the club everyday? It is a courtesy I extended to you in honor of your mother’s membership.”
“Does that mean I’m a member as well?”
“Membership in The Baltimore Gun Club is not hereditary, young sir. It must be earned. If you are truly interested in becoming a member, please let me know and I myself would be most pleased to sponsor you.”
“You knew my mother?”
“I did indeed, young sir. She was both a lady and a warrior in every sense of both those words.”
The young man reached out a trembling hand to stroke the portrait’s cheek. “She’s dead.”
“My condolences and sincere regrets. I have long thought she was. Otherwise she would have returned to the club at some time. I will make arraignments for the Gunnery Sacrament. It is a special ritual performed by surviving members when a member of The Baltimore Gun Club dies. I will naturally accord you privileged dispensation to attend the ritual.”
The young man smiled. It was an odd smile. Frick got the impression that the young man spent long hours in front of the mirror practicing how to smile. It was as if he were unsure of how big to make the smile, how many teeth to show or if he should show any teeth at all.
“Young sir? Please come with me.”
The young man followed Frick into the library. The footman had not only brought the man in the armchair his tea but another chair, a twin to the one the man sat in. Frick motioned for him to sit down and the young man did so, letting his amazed copper eyes freely examine the man sitting across from him.
He could have been anywhere between seventy and eighty with pure silver hair that looked cotton soft cut so close that the young man could see his scalp. His skin was dark. Not as dark as the young man’s. No, this man’s skin was like the texture of aged wood, as if he were drying out like leather left in the strong southwestern sun. The scars on his hands, chest, face all bespoke of a life of wild adventure and battles too numerous to count.
On any other man the three day stubble covering his cheeks and chin would have seemed like an affected fashion accessory but not on him. He dressed simply in a plain white cotton crew neck shirt with baggy linen trousers. Instead of shoes he wore black slippers greatly resembling Japanese uwabaki. His only condescension to popular fashion was the crisp looking, unfussy graphite Daniel Meade designer sport coat.
The silver-haired man sized up the younger man, not saying anything.
Finally, the young man spoke in a hesitant voice. “You’re Jim Anthony. They called you the Super Detective back in the 30’s and 40’s.”
“It was the newspapers who hung that label on me. Even the ones I owned.” He grinned wryly.
The young man continued. “You hunted criminals. Technological terrorists-“
“-we called them mad scientists back then-“
“-monsters, killers, gangsters, spies, lunatics-“
Jim Anthony held up a dark, scarred hand, palm outwards. “I know who I am, boy. And I know what I did. The question is who are you and what do you want?”
“My name, sir, is Dillon. I want you to teach me how to hunt men and how to stay alive while doing so.”