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Authors: Lee Falk

The Veiled Lady

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The Veiled Lady

by Lee Falk

(Phantom Novel 04
)

PROLOGUE

 

HOW IT ALL BEGAN

Over four hundred years ago, a large British merchant ship was attacked by Singh pirates off the re-mote shores of Bangalla. The captain of the trading vessel was a famous seafarer who, in his youth, had served as cabin boy to Christopher Columbus on his first voyage to discover the New World.

With the captain was his son, Kit, a strong young man who idolized his father and hoped to follow him as a seafarer. But the pirate attack was disastrous. In a furious battle, the entire crew of the merchant ship was killed and the ship sank in flames. The sole survivor' was young Kit who, as he fell off the burning ship, saw his father killed by a pirate. Kit was washed ashore, half-dead. Friendly pygmies found him and nursed him to health.

One day, walking on the beach, he found a dead pirate, dressed in his father's clothes. He realized this was the pirate who had killed his father. Grief-stricken, he waited until vultures had stripped the body clean. Then on the skull of his father's murderer, he swore an oath by firelight as the pygmies watched. "I swear to devote my life to the destruction of piracy, greed, cruelty, and injustice-and my sons and their sons shall follow me."

This was the Oath of the Skull that Kit and his descendants would live by. In time, the pygmies led him to their home in the Deep Woods in the center of the jungle, where he found a large cave with many rock-strewn chambers. The mouth of the cave, a natural formation formed by the water and wind of centuries, was curiously like a skull. This became his home, the Skull Cave. He soon adopted a mask and a strange costume. He found that the mystery and fear this inspired helped him in his endless battle against world-wide piracy. For he and his sons who followed became known as the nemesis of pirates everywhere: a mysterious man whose face no one ever saw, whose name no one knew, who worked alone.

As the years passed, he fought injustice wherever he found it. The first Phantom and the sons who followed found their wives in many places. One married a reigning queen, one a princess, one a beautiful red-haired barmaid. But whether queen or commoner, all followed their men back to the Deep Woods to live the strange but happy life of the wife of the Phantom. And of all the world, only she, wife of the Phantom and their children, could see his face.

Generation after generation was conceived and born, grew to manhood, and assumed the tasks of the father before him. Each wore the mask and costume. Folk of the jungle and the city and sea began to whisper that there was a man who could not die, a Phantom, a Ghost Who Walks. For they thought the Phantom was always the same man. A boy who saw the Phantom would see him again fifty years after; and he seemed the same. And he would tell his son and his grandson; and then his son and grandson would see the Phantom fifty years after that. And he would seem the same. So the legend grew. The Man Who Cannot Die. The Ghost Who Walks. The Phantom.

The Phantom did not discourage this belief in his immortality. Always working alone against tremendous--sometimes almost impossible-odds, he found that the awe and fear the legend inspired was a great help in his endless battle against evil. Only his friends, the pygmies, knew the truth. To 2

compensate for their tiny stature, the pygmies, mixed deadly poisons for use on their weapons in hunting or defending themselves. It was rare that they were forced to defend themselves. Their deadly poisons were known through the jungle, and they and their home, the Deep Woods, were dreaded and avoided. Another reason to stay away from the Deep Woods-it soon became known that this was a home of the Phantom--, and none wished to trespass.

Through the ages, the Phantoms created several more homes, or hideouts, in various parts of the world. Near the Deep Woods was the Isle of Eden, where the Phantom taught all animals to live in peace. In the southwest desert of the New World, the Phantoms created an eyrie on a high, steep mesa that was thought by the Indians to be haunted by evil spirits and became known as "Walker's Table"-for the Ghost Who Walks. In Europe, deep in the crumbling cellars of ancient castle ruins, the Phantom had another hideout from which to strike against evildoers.

But the Skull Cave in the quiet of the Deep Woods remained the true home of the Phantom. Here, in a rocky chamber, he kept his chronicles, the written records of all his adventures. Phantom after Phantom faithfully wrote their experiences in the large folio volumes. Another chamber contained the costumes of all the generations of Phantoms. Other chambers contained the vast treasures of the Phantom acquired over the centuries, used only in the endless battle against evil.

Thus, twenty generations of Phantoms lived, fought, and died--usually violently-as they fulfilled their oath. Jungle folk, sea folk and city folk believed him the same man, the Man Who Cannot Die.

Only the pygmies knew that always a day would come when their great friend would die. Then, alone, a strong young son would carry his father to the burial crypt of his ancestors, where all Phantoms rested. As the pygmies waited outside, the young man would emerge from the cave, wearing the mask, the costume, and the skull ring of the Phantom; his carefree, happy days as the Phantom's son were over. And the pygmies would chant their age-old chant, "The Phantom is dead.

Long live the Phantom."

This story of is an adventure of the Phantom of our time-the twenty-first generation of his line. He has inherited the traditions and responsibilities created by four centuries of Phantom ancestors. One ancestor created the Jungle Patrol. Thus, today, our Phantom is the mysterious and un-known commander of this elite corps. In the jungle, he is known and loved as the keeper of the peace. On his right hand is the Skull Ring that leaves his mark-the Sign of the Skull-known and feared by evildoers everywhere. On his left hand-closer to the heart-is his "good mark" ring. Once given, the mark grants the lucky bearer protection by the Phantom, and it is equally known and respected. And to good people and criminals alike, in the jungle, on the seven seas, and in the cities of the world, he is the Phantom, the Ghost Who Walks, the Man Who Cannot Die.

Lee Falk

New York 1972

-----------------------

CHAPTER ONE

 

They saw her first when they were several thousand feet in the air.

The pilot of the Bangalla Airways jet introduced them. "On our left, ladies and gentlemen, one of the world's largest volcanoes," he announced over the intercom. "She's known around here as ."

Most of the jet passengers obligingly looked. They were nearly to their destination of Mawitaan, the

3

capital city of Bangalla, and a little less awed by the natural wonders of the dark continent than they had been when their flight began a few hours ago. They were preoccupied now with the imminent landing, with thinking about gathering their luggage once they were on the ground, and with getting to their hotels.

Two passengers, though, seemed more than casually interested in the great mist-shrouded volcano.

One was a lovely blonde girl in her late twenties. She was tall, suntanned, dressed in a simple denim skirt and a checked blouse. A notebook, with a pocked black-leather cover, lay open on her lap.

"Well, Karl, there she is," the girl said to her companion with a pleased smile.

"Just as aloof and mysterious as advertised," said the young man in the seat beside her. He was over six feet in height, wide-shouldered, with a sun-and-wind-weathered face. His light hair and short, cropped beard were bleached by much outdoor life.

"The volcano is called ," continued the pilot, "because of the perpetual clouds at her summit. That misty veil is said to be caused by rising columns of hot air. She's supposed to be inactive, but one never knows."

The slender blonde girl jotted something in her open notebook.

The pilot added, "The sides of the volcano are so steep no one has ever been able to climb down No one has ever seen the bottom."

The blonde girl squeezed the arm of her companion. "Until now," she said in a quiet voice.

Outside the port-city airport, the afternoon glared hot and dry. The sky was a hot blue color; the distant hills flickered in a warm haze. Inside, however, there was a pleasant chill.

In the reception room, a plump weary-looking Chinese of about thirty-five sat slouched in a brittle blue-plastic chair. He was listening and watching, a small sad smile on his face.

As he sat slumped in the air-conditioned room, he rolled himself, slowly and patiently, thick homemade cigarettes. When the flight was announced, the Chinese straightened somewhat in his chair. He lit the latest of his hand-rolled cigarettes with a wooden match, his tired smile broadening.

His name was Tinn. Right now, there were two things he was predominantly interested in. One was the misty volcano called . The other was the lovely tanned blonde whose jet was landing outside in the bright, glaring afternoon.

Below, and to the right, the waters of Mawitaan Bay glowed deep blue in the sunlight. The taxicab climbed slowly through the humid streets.

The pretty blonde girl slapped her notebook shut, leaned back, and expelled a breath upward out of her mouth. "I really think I must be suffering from jet shock or whatever they call it," she said, smiling across at her bearded companion. "I mean I still don't quite believe we're here, that this is Mawitaan." She tilted one hand toward the open window of the slowly climbing cab.

The glaring street was thick with life. European and American styles of dress mixed with the native fashions of Bangalla to form a patchwork of colors. The most modern and up-to-date businesses rubbed shoulders with the most ancient; slick, leather briefcases were as frequent as straw baskets; men talked anxiously of stocks and bonds while others sold fresh fruit on the street corners.

"Maybe you feel," said the young man with the weather-bleached beard, "we should still be back 4

home pulling strings and filling out forms."

The girl said, "This little pilgrimage to did seem to involve us in a lot more red tape than usual."

"Probably because money isn't as easy these days as it was for our other excursions."

The girl ceased smiling, pressing her lips tightly together. Finally, she said, "But, darn it, Karl, this is the most important thing I've ever done. That's what I tried to explain to those fuddy-duddies back in Boston."

Karl laughed. "Relax. You convinced them well enough and we're here,"

The girl smiled once again. "Yes, we are. And I've got a feeling."

"Feeling about what?"

"I've got a feeling we're going to find even more than we expect," she said. "Yes, much more."

The Scarlet Cockatoo Café stood on a narrow street near the Mawitaan harbor. The smell of the sea was strong here, mixed with the scent of cargoes from all over the world-spices, foodstuffs, produce, machinery.

Dark women hi loose, full-length dresses of bright yellow and red moved along the twisting street, some with huge wicker baskets balanced on their heads.

Tinn, the plump weary Chinese, came ambling along the hot sidewalk, puffing on a fat brown cigarette. His wrinkled suit was a faded blue and he looked almost colorless as he walked among the women in their brilliant stripes and flower patterns.

Tinn pushed the thick oaken door of the Scarlet Cockatoo open. A shadowy coolness surrounded him once he was across the threshold. There were only a few customers; the hum of the big overhead fans was louder than any of the conversations.

The tired-looking Chinese stopped at the long black bar long enough to stub out his cigarette in a shell ashtray. The five caged birds hanging up behind the bar hopped and cawed.

Beyond the beaded archway stretched a gray corridor. Tinn trotted to the corridor's end and tapped three times on another heavy oak door. "It's me."

"Come in, come in," said a thin raspy voice. "I could smell that tobacco of yours a block away, Tinn.

When are you going to give up smoking?"

Tinn smiled sadly at the soft-looking fat man seated on a wicker sofa at the far end of the large, cool office. "It helps pass the time," he explained. "I have to sit and wait a good deal, Mr. Barber."

Barber was forty-one years old, a loose, sprawling man in black clothes. His skin was pale white and he had a fuzzy circle of beard surrounding his small mouth. "Well, it's your health you're jeopardizing."

"I hear extra weight isn't so good for the health, either." Tinn slumped into a canvas butterfly chair, smiling wearily.

5

Barber's left eye narrowed. He watched the Chinese for several seconds before asking, "All right, what about those two?"

"They arrived half an hour ago by Bangalla Airways jet," replied Tinn. "Just as we were informed."

Barber steepled his soft plump fingers together, resting his notched chin on them. A faint wheeze commenced in his vast chest. "They really plan to do this thing?"

"Oh, yes," replied the Chinese. "I managed to stand quite near while they retrieved their suitcases and equipment. It was all the girl could talk about."

"Going down into ," said Barber, his little blue eyes half-closing, "right to the very bottom. It takes considerable nerve."

"Certain worthwhile objectives," observed Thin, "give people nerve."

"Money," said Barber. "The possibility of turning up a good deal of money-that's what makes everything go around." His little eyes closed completely as he sighed. "Are they staying at the Mawitaan Plaza Hotel?"

"Yes, that's what they told the taxi driver."

Barber's large pale head bobbed several times. "Good, good," he said, a louder wheeze escaping from his little mouth. "Now I have to set certain other operations in motion." He made a dismissing gesture with one fat hand.

"And me?"

"Get back to watching them," ordered Barber.

"Okay." Turn smiled sadly and stood up. His right hand sank into his coat pocket, closing around his tobacco pouch.

CHAPTER TWO

 

BOOK: The Veiled Lady
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