This is a story that occupies a special place in my heart: it was my first full on professional publication. The magazine was called Mythic Heroes: The Serialized Superhero Prose Alternative, and in a lot of ways it was the first attempt of the Superguy authors to try and make a (very) small amount of coin doing what they did. This included some of the better writers — Gary Olson had a serial in it, and so did Christopher Angelini. Ben Brown had a cool story about super powered couriers. And there were lots and lots of other stories that were pretty cool and I wish they’d had more of a chance.
I wrote for it, and I was an assistant editor. The editor in chief and publisher was Greg Fishbone, an intellectual property lawyer and cool person who put the money up for the magazine. I should digress and mention Greg has a book coming out in a couple of months, and you should all own a copy.
The magazine didn’t last long. While the concept was sound — comic book sized magazines with some black and white art but mostly devoted to prose stories, sold in comic book shops alongside the comics — it launched right at the big comic bust and never had much of a chance. Though some issues (not all of them, but some) are still available at second hand shops if you’re lucky.
I launched with two serials — one an actual serial called Daybreak in Dark City which I’ll get around to putting on here one of these weeks, and the other a series of collected short stories called The Home Front. These were the stories of the mystery men of the twenties and thirties, gathered together by President Roosevelt into one grand force of heroes who… traveled around the country putting on a show to convince people to buy war bonds. See, there were these actual superhumans who were taking the war to Hitler and the Pacific, or breaking up spy rings and the like. The guys and girls who were just putting on costumes and fighting crime? Not so much.
Is this my best writing? Not really. I’ve learned a few things since 1996. But for all intents and purposes, this is the first story I was ever paid for. It’s fitting, perhaps, that this was the story of the first of the mystery men in this setting. It’s called “My White Plume,” and if it’s not the best thing I’ve written, it’s also not the worst and I’m fond of it.
October the Thirty First,
Nineteen Hundred and Fifty Three
118 Wood Crescent Drive
North Albert Pines, New York
Her Grace, Lady Strathmore
My Very Dear Juliet,
I know how odd it must be to hear from me again after all of this time. After all, it is not as though our intimate period was advisable or even explainable. This is not to say I have had some blue-haired attack of conscience — I still reject the very concept of immorality, much less immorality bound within the expression of love. But the circumstances of our parting were far from happy. I suppose that makes my letter strange to your eyes.
But then, you and I are well acquainted with the strange.
I am writing to inform you of news which no other person knows. I have no intention of making this news public — I trust I have made enough of an impact in my somewhat grandiose career that the gist of what I am telling you will become known far and wide without my assistance.
Put simply, I am finished. Exuent, no bows.
I am quite serious, Juliet. I have seen the future of this age, and I believe it can find itself without me. I shall spend my declining years tending roses outside of my home, occasionally dueling an errant paperboy. We have moved through the excesses of the Twenties, the privations of the Thirties and the horrors of the Forties, and have a golden age spreading before us. Our enemies at home and abroad are weak, our two nations are strong. This is a world that no longer needs an old man dressed like Douglas Fairbanks causing trouble for the criminal element and constabulary alike.
I am tired, my Juliet. So very tired.
With age comes a certain uselessness, I am afraid. Particularly in my chosen profession. When the Fox can outrun the Hound, the Hound needs to be turned in and allowed to rest. The Foxes seem to get younger with every passing year.
And I find myself spending more and more time in yesterday. That’s age, isn’t it? The very definition of too old is when you live in the past and not the future. These days, the past is all that I have. All that I want. It started with illness, it ends with decrepitude.
Did I ever tell you of the illness that grew out of my laughable Military experience? I think not. It was some years before we met, in what they now call the First World War, but what we just called the Great War.
The War had been on for some time when I enlisted. It was Nineteen Eighteen, and I was seventeen years old. My esteemed father went with me to the recruiting station to swear — at my request — that I was eighteen years of age. I had finished with my secondary schooling, and I hungered to take the battle to Germany. I knew if I did not join up right then, my mother would pressure me into going to College and that would end any chance to serve.
Father understood. But then, he always understood me. We were two of a kind. Adrian Wainwright and son, Senior and Junior.
I will not go into detail of Boot Camp. You have no doubt read accounts that are more or less right. It was dirty, unfair, and well nigh impossible. But we were not training to march in parade — we were going to war. And it being so late, most of the others I was with were draftees, not volunteers. So the sergeants were dedicated to our training, which is to say sadistic.
Not that it matters much, since two weeks before graduation I and fully three fourths of my platoon contracted Yellow Fever. Most of us died. I did not — but oh how I wished to.
An infirmary bunk is not happy place. And covered in sweat, with an itching just below the surface of my skin, I felt myself condemned to an eternal Hell of twitching, squirming, shaking. I was terrified. And I was ashamed… sick in bed while my country was at war.
And by the time the fog lifted from my head, by the time my arms began to regain a modicum of strength, November eleventh had come and gone. We had won. The Kaiser was in ruins, Germany was decimated.
And I, newly eighteen, was humiliated. I had lost my chance to serve.
You do not know what that means to a fellow’s pride. So many Americans killed, so many Americans injured, and so many proud men marching home as heroes, their spines straight, their stories bold. And me? I joined the army and lost fifteen pounds, crawling home to Mother a scarecrow.
It marked me, I think.
College came and went — a respectable degree in English, and then studies towards a Law Degree. But you remember that. It was 1923, and I was a twenty two year old second year the night I met Lady Juliet Smythe-Carstairs.
I close my eyes, Juliet, and I can see you standing there. Your dress was grey and very conservative, but daringly high in the hem — knees, I think. That was the closest you ever came to becoming a flapper, as I recall. You were a shiny eyed dreamer. So beautiful, I could never begin to describe it.
And I see I’ve dripped ink in my enthusiasm. Alas, my sweet Lady, your cavalier is somewhat smudged. Roderick — a boy who comes ’round on Thursdays and does for me around the house — insists that with all my correspondence I should invest in a typewriter. But I shan’t. I could never stand the things — all clattering and banging and metal and gears. Why not power it by steam and drive it to town? There is something elegant in the unbroken flow of the written word — hammered type makes it merely mundane.
It was October the eighteenth, the first time I met you. You were with your Father, as you often were, watching over him as he conducted his affairs. My Father was his solicitor — they were partners in a number of things.
I was clerking, as I recall, when you came into the room with Lord Smythe-Carstairs. You thought I was the office boy. I think you snubbed me, but who could tell? One look at you and you could have taken a shot at me and I would never have batted an eye.
And I am no doubt embarrassing you, all these years too late to protest my love and affections. Forgive me, Juliet. It is not to deny you the happiness you and his Grace the Right Honorable Lord Strathmore have found. Not that I can say I much care for his Lordship, but that is your affair, not mine. But I want you to understand who I was then, so that perhaps you can understand who I am now.
There were two dinners where our parents made pleasant conversation, and I was made the man who held your arm and danced with you. To be polite, of course. “Addie, do try to be charming,” Mother said. Try to be charming indeed — I adored both those dinners and your company. You endured mine with a smile, it’s true. I remember holding you in a waltz — it was a touch ribald, with more than a little jazz creeping into the music as it played, but you and I were young and in a way yearned to be free of our parents’ conventionality.
I remember at the end of the second dinner, dancing with you as our families watched. You were a blonde vision, as always. I felt weak with love. It was the twenty-ninth of October, and I was trying to decide whether I should steal a kiss.
“You seem tense, Addie,” you said to me, teasing. “Do I frighten you?”
“Not at all,” I protested. “Far from it!”
“Oh Addie,” you said, sighing. “Try not to ruin a perfectly nice dance with passion.”
“I apologize if I offend,” I said.
“That’s the problem, Addie. You never offend. You couldn’t offend. You haven’t got it in you to offend. You’re so perfectly straight, you can barely bend.”
“You wound me,” I said lightly, though inside I felt in a whirl.
“Well, someone should, Addie,” you replied, laughing, not realizing I was crushed by your words. I was hopelessly in love, and yet you found me quite the bore. I felt foolish — like an idiot child, tolerated because he had been trained not to knock over the china.
“Addie,” you said after a long, somewhat awkward moment, “you’re not going to be maudlin all night, are you? Not over me?”
“I had considered it,” I said, trying to make a joke.
“Oh don’t, Addie. Please. It will make me rather cross — and we can’t have that. It’s hardly your fault you’re so narrow. It’s just–”
“I don’t know… I want something more — I want a Gallant. A Swashbuckler! A Scarlet Pimpernel to sweep me off my feet and carry me away, deaf to my protests. I want something more than my dreary proper life. Not an American Lawyer with wealth and the Social Register.”
“I see,” I said, my mood quite ruined. You protested, but we did not dance again that night. I thought we would never dance again. And, with hindsight, I think perhaps you were as unhappy as I, though at the time I didn’t see it.
Boring. Of course I was boring. I had lost my chance to be more than a starched shirt and a hard worker. I had nothing but books and papers. Nothing to mark me, to give me distinction. I thought all this and more as I went home with my parents, to see them on their way before returning to the dormitory.
Father hung behind, telling Ellis to drive us on. “Are you well,” he asked me.
I told him my troubles, and he laughed. “Adrian,” he said to me, “you mustn’t let a salvo be a death blow. She must be interested, or she wouldn’t tell you why she wasn’t interested. You follow?”
“Not at all.”
“Well, I’m not surprised. Listen, your mother told me the same thing, when we were both younger than you and your Young Lady are.”
My eyebrows shot up. “But you seem so happy,” I said.
“We are — let’s just say I learned to be exciting. Listen, Adrian — you and Juliet are both going to be at Elton Barkley’s Masquerade on Halloween. If she wants a bravo — be a bravo. Show her you can be exciting.”
I smiled. “All right,” I said.
The sabre was easy enough to get — it was my Grandfather’s Civil War sabre. He was in the Navy, commanding a frigate, as I recall. I got hold of that, and added tight blue pants tucked into those ridiculous pirate boots, an open white shirt, and the somewhat floppy hat with the white plume on my head. And of course, the red kerchief about my eyes to hide my identity until midnight — especially from you. I was quite certain I was going to look the idiot, but what man in love doesn’t play the fool? And better you had a chance to be charmed by your bravo before learning it was boring old Addie.
I boned up on the role — a task made easier by my literary background and the fact that I read extremely quickly. I read that Scarlet Pimpernel you loved — no offense, my darling, but it bored me to tears. In the years since, I’ve read so many other Romances — Dumas, and his Three Musketeers, Twenty Years Later, and so on and so on. Tremendously better, in my opinion. Everything a Gallant should be. But I hadn’t the chance to read those books before that Halloween night.
I had just enough time to read The Scarlet Pimpernel… *and *Cyrano de Bergerac.
I was utterly enchanted. I identified, you see, with Cyrano. Cast off from love despite his noble heart, forced to stand and watch as others reaped the rewards, and an utter hero. I soaked up every line, letting my Legal texts fall to the wayside. And to this day I can remember that last, wondrous line in Cyrano’s life. “Take from me my honor, my dignity, my money and my life — I shall still, forever, have my white plume!”
His white plume. The symbol of his command… the symbol of his honor — his very panache… he would never surrender it, not to save himself, not in any man’s name. It was enthralling, to a boy trying to be a man. So though I looked the part of D’Artagnan, in my heart I hoped to present Cyrano.
Of course, you remember that night. And I remember you. Dressed in a ball gown from King Arthur’s time, you transformed from Lady Juliet into the shining Princess of the May. As I entered the hall, I saw you instantly. I nodded to you, and your eye was caught, and you smiled. I started up Barkley spiralling stairs, to the upper balcony… the better to intrigue you….
And then, of course, the ruffians attacked.
Attacked is the wrong word. They just stormed in, knocked over a table, and held weapons on everyone in the open ballroom. The entire roomful — Barkley, in his stage magician’s outfit, the revellers, clowns and so forth, myself… and you.
And there were five of them, in cheap suits and cheap hats. They carried Thompson Submachineguns and looked smug. If you think about it, it was a perfect tableaux.
“Barkley!” one of them called. “Our Boss, he don’t like what your paper been printing! We think you better rethink your editorials!”
“You thugs!” Barkley shouted back. “You tell Boss Tollifer–”
“Who says we’re from Mister Tollifer?” the lead crook asked, a too-innocent look on his face. “Boys — round ’em up!”
With guns pointing at the guests, there wasn’t much to be done — and no one foolish enough to try doing it. Well, no one until one of those hoods grabbed you by the neck, that is. He hauled you into the middle of the room, terror on your face. A dreamer about to be awakened to harsh reality. The breath caught in my throat as he pushed you. I felt enraged, and utterly useless, halfway up a staircase because I was trying to be coy.
Gods, I loved you, Juliet.
“That’s a pretty necklace,” he snapped, ripping your pearls off hard enough to draw blood and tossing it to a confederate. I saw that blood… saw the look of pain and fear on your face, and for the tiniest of seconds, your eyes met mine.
And something snapped in me. Something I couldn’t begin to describe. It was more than fear — more than rage. It was like a chick cracking the shell for the first time.
To be truthful, it was the moment in my life when I was at my stupidest.
Not thinking for a second of what I was doing, I leapt onto the banister in a crouch, and threw myself forward. I managed, through the fortune Fate provides to idiots, to land on the ruffian and not land on you, my darling. The impact was enough that I felt his bones shift below me. There were a few scattered screams and cries of joys as I rolled off him. His friends came after me, bringing their firearms to bear, but I was a madman — charging them instead of retreating. A submachinegun is of little use close in, and a mobster doesn’t expect resistance when he’s holding one. They didn’t fire.
They were tough, there is no doubt. You didn’t become an enforcer in Organized Crime without being tough. But for the first time in my life, I was at the advantage — I was younger than all of them, and I was well trained in hand to hand combat by my army taskmasters. He had taught us well — and I was as young as anyone who had gotten that training. An elbow to the ear took one down behind me. A punch to the sternum took down another. A third swung the butt of his Thompson, slamming my side while the fourth — the one with your necklace — ran.
I grappled with that third one, causing him to drop the machine gun. As we spun around the room, gripping each other’s arms, I remember briefly wishing I had a weapon.
You will recall that I did remember the sabre, just after the hood hurled me off of himself. What you didn’t realize then is I remembered the sabre because I got tangled in the sheath. Still, whatever reason, right? He leapt at me just as I drew and thrust — using the thing like a bayonet, that being what I was trained with.
When pierced with steel, the human body goes into shock almost immediately. I struck in the abdomen — a nasty, but not fatal wound, if medical attention were brought to bear. There was a gasp as he fell and I took to my feet. I could hear the last of them starting a car outside. I should probably have let him go, but he was the one with your necklace. So I ran to the window — it being closer — and smashed through, landing on my feet by chance and not cutting myself in the bargain. I could see the roadster pulling out, and I threw myself onto it, hanging onto the running board. I was still clutching my sabre so I swung it around into the windscreen, smashing it in and showing the malcontent with shards. He swerved and road up onto the curb — I dropping off into a roll that got my white shirt dirty and wet.
Retrieving my fallen blade I ran to the car, but he was unconscious with blood on his forehead from his steering column. I retrieved your necklace and ran for the house.
I burst through the front doors. There was another gasp, and people fell back away as I strode into the room. Now understand — I was going to go to you, take you in my arms, and tell you everything. Tell you your boring lawyer had fought off five gangsters to protect you and return your necklace. Reap the rewards, as it were. And I could see adoration in your eyes as I approached, and I knew you would be mine.
But Cyrano juxtaposed himself in the way, at the very last moment.
You are familiar with the play, I trust? Cyrano, in the very beginning, closes down a play because an actor offends his aesthetic sense. He tosses away months of salary to recompense the actors in a grand gesture. He duels and composes poetry all at once to defend his actions, and then, after offered rewards and accolades, takes but one grape and a kiss of the hand of a lovely girl.
That was panache! That was a gesture — one that was remembered and lauded throughout Paris to the point that the murder of a nobleman was excused by the King, who was far more impressed than angry. that was the difference between yielding himself… and keeping his white plume.
So I stopped eight feet from you, stared you in the eyes, nodded slightly, said “your Servant, My Lady,” and tossed you the necklace with a flick of the wrist, the smallest of smiles on my face.
And in your eyes, I could see it had been the right choice.
I could hear police sirens — and it hit me that the scandal of striking down five of Boss Tollifer’s cohorts could prove both financially and physically dangerous for my Father. So I bid you all good night and leapt out the window again. And your voice — your sweet sweet voice — followed me as I jumped. “Good Night, my Gallant Swashbuckler,” you cried.
No greater feeling have I ever had, sweet Juliet. That was purest panache.
It was intoxicating. No one knew who I was, no one could finger my father or I, but a society legend had been born. And as I made my way back to the Dormitory, I knew I wanted to continue.
I enlisted my father, of course. He had seen the story in the newspapers — with Barkley’s paper leading the way, of course. He was the one who suggested a rapier in place of that naval sabre. I was more accustomed to thrusting weapons anyhow, and my Grandfather’s weapon was meant to be ceremonial. He and I together managed to procure the special rapier I ended up using.
You see, I recognized that I could be killed, and I wanted to get every advantage I possibly could. But the essence of the Swashbuckler was to make it all seem effortless. And I certainly didn’t want to stab all of my opponents — of all the places I wanted to finish my career, the electric chair was not one of them.
So we managed to have my famous golden rapier fabricated. It was rigged with a special battery system that delivered a powerful shock when I depressed a hidden stud. I trained hard as a fencer as well, I had to be absolutely certain I could use the weapon I carried.
I kept my ear to the street — using my position in society and at University to advantage. I let ‘Adrian Wainwright, Junior’ hear things, and build a case.
I wanted to find some form of evidence I could use against Reginald Tollifer, the so called ‘Boss’ of Knight City. I knew I would have to start off small. I did that, by tracking a few of Tollifer’s enforcers and bringing them down. I had added my cloak to my ensemble, so the look on the faces of my quarry as I swept from the Fire Escape into them was priceless. I stuck quickly, keeping a light patter as I did so, and made enough noise to attract the police.
The golden rapier worked beautifully. One ruffian later described the sword as ‘hitting like a sledgehammer.’ During the Second World War, one report had it hitting like a shell from a sixteen inch gun. I personally think it’s mostly the surprise that strikes so hard, as the charge isn’t all that potent.
At any rate, there were three malefactors striking at an old man when I swept upon them, and then there were three bodies on the ground. And I? I was already leaving, my heart pounding with the rush of the moment.
“Who are you?” the aged shopkeeper asked.
“The Gallant Swashbuckler!” I cried back, and off I went.
I never told you that story, my sweet Lady. I never told you that was to be my name. The name you gave me. When I read the Knight City Chronicle the next day, with the Headline “MYSTERIOUS GOLDEN SWASHBUCKLER SAVES INNOCENT,” I was caught between chagrin and bemusement. The old man remembered it wrong, and once the public had the name ‘Golden Swashbuckler’ in their heads, that was that.
It hardly mattered — from there, my life expanded into the most glorious adventure. Those first three years were spent nibbling away at Tollifer, until he came down with an incredible crash. It was wonderful — not bound by the rules the police were, I could force Tollifer to overplay his own hand and thereby gain the evidence the police needed.
And when it happened, Tollifer was a broken man. I didn’t play by the rules, you see. His world was one of rules — the mob had their rules, the police had theirs, and they both fulfilled every expectation. I came in without rules, and it shattered him. I was there when the switch was thrown, and I swear to you, Juliet, he looked relieved. And when Tollifer fell, no one ever quite replaced him.
From there, my adventures turned to the bizarre. The strangest cast of misanthropes ever known paraded through Knight City, stumbling across my path. I would get a call from Captain Barnard — a contact who trusted me enough not to arrest me. Or perhaps you would stumble into a situation that was somewhat shady, and mention it to your unendurably dull swain — though you never seemed to try to leave me behind. Or else my Father would learn something in his office. Or something like that. Regardless of how I got involved, I would find myself opposing Mesmer the Magnificent, or the Claw. And there was Dark Shade, Midnight Molly — the twisted rejects that preyed on society, only to be opposed by society’s champion. They appeared and I knocked them down.
It was like we were drawn to each other — these folks never appeared in New York City or Boston — but Knight City was another matter. They appeared in Knight City, and they appeared in California’s Waterside City, where my associate the Sleuth worked.
Eventually, the Twenties ended on as dark a note as they had been bright in the beginning. When the Thirties came, and the Depression with them, I finally told you everything, and we discussed marriage. You were so accepting, sweet Juliet… accepting, but uneasy. I remember that so well.
A decade had passed since that dance where a little girl had talked of dreams, and the woman you had grown into wanted something solid — something real. You wanted that Lawyer who would never offend. Well, I was a Lawyer all right, but I was famous for my zeal in defending the innocent. Adrian Wainwright had enemies the same way as the Golden Swashbuckler did. I had become the model of your dreams… but in the sadness of the Depression, you wanted the reality you had once scorned.
But you loved me, and I you, and we were together and stayed that way. We broke all the rules, you and I, surrendering ourselves to each other. But I was not willing to surrender the Golden Swashbuckler. He was too much a part of me. The best part of me, sweet Lady, even today.
And he was needed far too much of the times we lived in. Before, he had been an adventure for the people — another manifestation of the excitement of the Twenties. But in time of poverty and hopelessness, he became something more. The Golden Swashbuckler represented one willing to stand up for the downtrodden. Someone who cared about everyone, and would as happily defend a bindlestiff as a well-to-do man. The people loved him — they needed him. They needed that symbol. The police still wanted to arrest him, but no citizen would let that happen. And the criminals kept coming out to fight, too. New and worse ones, as well as the old crowd — Mesmer always seemed to escape, like so many others didn’t.
But the blade never stopped, and neither did I. The people knew that and clung to me — clung to my standard. Clung to the belief that they could have our spirit, they could have our wealth, but we would never, ever surrender our Panache! We held our white plume against the night, and let it light our way.
Even today, I feel so passionate for it, I could cry, my lovely.
But by 1938, with the war raging in your beloved Britain, you needed something more than an adventurer. You railed at me — you wanted love and comfort and someone to hold you. And I? I could see the winds of war blowing here, and I knew I had to be a part of it. It seemed so much larger than the love of two people.
And so you flew away. To England. And ultimately to your husband, who was that boring man you needed then.
And I? I convinced myself the passions of a twenty-two year old boy had nothing to do with a thirty- seven year old man, and pretended I had not torn my soul in two.
And then it came. December 7, 1941. I stood my ground, demanding a chance to fight abroad. I railed at officers and enlistment recruiters… but they all refused me. Now I was too old. Too young to fight in one war, too old to fight in the next. It was unfair — almost a joke. But the Golden Swashbuckler wasn’t too old, and so I turned my efforts to fighting the Nazi threat here at home. The Sleuth did the same… and with us stood our children — the brightly colored Mystery Men of the Forties. Minuteman and Patriot Pete, Nightstick, the Judge, Solitaire and Diamond, Stiletto and Claymore, Six Gun Sam and the All American Lad — a veritable parade of men and women, boys and girls. Costumed warriors fighting what war they could. And their undisputed king was Spycracker, who fought with the spirit of youth tempered by the wisdom of maturity.
And overseas? My God… Exemplar, The Quick, Phalanx and Windrider — gods walking among men. Beings of power the likes of which we’d never seen. It gave us hope — if the Quick could stand against a platoon, I could stand against some fifth columnists by God!
It was 1944 when our fight truly changed, though. President Roosevelt offered us amnesty, as you’ll recall. Offered the Mystery Men a chance to come to Washington and be recognized. And we were. I can remember that meeting so well — twelve of us crowded into a room. I noticed they gave me a wide berth. The Sleuth also. Nightstick told me later that meeting the Golden Swashbuckler was far more daunting than meeting the President.
President Roosevelt outlined a tour of duty for his so-called Liberty Brigade — a collection of the Mystery Men who would encourage War Bond sales, scrap drive duties — and morale. He said we represented something to the common man. We represented the idea that one man could rise up and fight back against Nazi Oppression — that one man could carry the banner of Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness into Germany and beyond.
We signed up, of course. I would have signed twice, if they had let me.
The tour was in many ways wonderful. We were comrades, occasionally being sent on missions by the War Office to protect American interests. Oddly enough, our cities remained safe — any time the Nazis or just my old antagonists came out to attack, they attacked where the Liberty Brigade already was. But that didn’t happen too often. Mostly we had a preset stage show. Nightstick, Solitaire, Diamond, the Judge and Six Gun Sam would do a stunt show, the Sleuth, Spycracker and I would all give speeches, we would all rally the war fever, and then we would meet the crowd. The children had another show, as I recall. There were always armed gendarmes surrounding us, which was hilariously funny to me — the times there was trouble, the mystery men invariably reacted before our guards did.
And there was the odd feeling of companionship. The children had peers for once. The adults had people they could relax and talk shop with. It was a grand time, really. It made a lonely business much nicer.
Really, I felt best about being the Golden Swashbuckler than I had since you had left my side, Juliet. Since I pushed you away. Though seeing them… seeing some of them pair off… well, I felt your loss more acutely. Especially after receiving news of your marriage.
When the war ended, most of them retired. A few hung on for a while, but the late forties were not much of a time for mystery men. The legends of the Second World War were the ones who took the battle to Hitler. The ones who could lift tanks. And they weren’t really needed any more. The spy rings were gone, the saboteurs didn’t have a cause.
And I found people were moving away from me, as well. Children adored me — as they adored the Lone Ranger, or the Shadow, or the Green Hornet, or any other Saturday Morning Serial or weekend radio program. My father was gone. My mother never knew my other career. My courtroom days had passed and I spent most of my time overseeing the Junior Partners and staffers. Even my opponents stopped crossing my path so often. For the first time in my life, I had to go looking for them.
In 1949, the Sleuth retired, flying out to Knight City to see me and talk about it. I had stayed in pretty close contact with most of the Liberty Brigade — they were, after all, my associates. I showed him my then new home in North Albert Pines, where I lived quietly by myself. He told me he was tired, and he thought his day had passed, as everyone does.
But I still haunted the streets of Knight City. I still fought the good fight. And if it got harder, well, adversity fired the soul. It was still a glorious adventure.
It was last week when I could see the call of age as well. Almost fifty three years old, and still dressing up in a costume. Truly it didn’t bother me, though I felt more like a guardian than a predator. And then it happened.
I came across some contacts who seemed dazed, acting strangely. Some modicum of investigation showed a face from the past was behind it.
Yes, my lovely Lady Strathmore. Mesmer the Magnificent had returned.
I took to the case, my soul on fire. I felt right. I felt as though I could ring up my father and solicit his advice… or walk into my old rooms in the city and you would be there. I felt twenty-five again. I tracked him through his confederates. I led him a merry chase. I dogged his every step, and in the end I burst into his chambers like a grey lion closing for the kill.
He sat behind a table, with a bottle of white bordeaux and two glasses. He raised one to me. “Golden Swashbuckler,” he said to me.
“I know not now what your game is–” I started, blade rising high.
“Oh my dear enemy, this time there is no game at all,” he replied. “Take your wine and sit. We have never sat and talked, you and I. Not really.”
I watched him… and realized he was serious. Tentatively, I sat, ever mindful of his Hypnotic eye. But he never tried it.
“You know,” he said, “I’m not wanted for anything, right now. I served my time and am free.”
“I do know that,” I said.
“Your illicit contacts on the force?” he asked.
“Actually, I walked in the front door. I’ve had license for some time. Since ‘44.”
He chuckled. “It doesn’t seem right, somehow.”
I thought about that. “You know,” I said, “it doesn’t.”
We sat for a long time.
“Thank you,” he said, finally.
“For what?” I asked.
“For making the chase so damned interesting,” he replied. “At first, I thirsted for wealth and power. But then — then I realized it was the joust. The fight. The conflict.
“I’m too old for it now, Swashbuckler. But I wanted one last go around — to see how long I could hold you at bay, before you slipped the noose around me and took me in again.”
He saluted me with his wine. “This ends it,” he said. “I have committed no crime. And if I had, you would have won. Thank you for a delightful career.”
We drank. After a time, I asked what he would do.
“What any war-dog does when he’s retired. I’m going to rest, Swashbuckler. Sleep.” We chatted a time, and relived some of the more memorable moments. He asked about you, and seemed sad that I didn’t know. Finally, we shook hands and I took me home, and stared at the clock for a long time. And knew then what the Sleuth had known before.
And so, tonight, on the thirtieth anniversary of the night you looked so beautiful in your gown… thirty years almost to the minute after I saw that look in your eyes as I tossed you your pearls, I do pen this note, and say goodnight. Thirty years is a long time in one business. Perhaps I shall find a new career now.
Enclosed you will find my uniform, cloak, boots, whip and rapier. They were always yours in spirit.
In closing, allow me to say that I have always loved you, and shall do so until the end of my days. You were my Roxanne to the end, sweet Lady Juliet. And I shall always be grateful to you for this glorious life.
And Juliet — I sleep, I rest, and I grow old. I watch as my strong arm, my keen eye, and my taut muscles give way to age. I find myself passing into that dark twilight. But Sweet Lady Juliet, there is one thing not in this package to you.
Age can take me. They all can take me. They can have my wealth, my breath, my sight and my life. But no matter what happens… I still — forever — have my white plume.
Your willing servant,
Adrian Wainwright, Jr., Esq