The Crimson Eagle
By Emma Redmer
Set between the 3rd and 4th seasons, shortly after “You’ve Got to Have Friends.”
Rated PG-13 (violence, sexual references, language)
Genre: Comedy/Drama/Adventure (Swashbuckler, Satire/Homage/Spoof)
Characters: Balki, Larry, Jennifer, Mary Anne, Harriette, Gorpley, Lydia, RJ Wainright, Mr. Burns, Mr. Twinkicetti
Synopsis: Balki recalls the tale of a young Myposian revolutionary and his mysterious cousin to a bed-ridden Larry.
Archive: If you wish to archive this story on your site, just e-mail me!
Disclaimer: Perfect Strangers is the property of Lorimar Productions and Warner Bros. Television. See the epilogue for more disclaimers.

“Why do I do these things?”

Larry Appleton lay in a bed in Chicago General Hospital. His leg was swathed in a heavy cast, and his right hand was bandaged. “I only wanted to change the light bulb in Jennifer’s room!”

“I told you to use a higher ladder,” his cousin Balki Bartokomos, who was visiting him, pointed out. “Instead, you fall down, break the bulb, knock the ladder over, and crack your leg in three places.”

Larry groaned. “And Jennifer saw the whole thing!” He looked like he was going to cry. “Why can’t I do anything right around her?”

Balki shook his head. “Cousin, don’t be so hard on yourself! Jennifer still likes you, even if you did break her ladder and her light bulb.” Larry moaned louder. “Let me tell you a story.”

Larry made a face. “Balki, I am not in the mood for ‘The Little Goat Herder Who Lied.’”

“No, Cousin,” Balki protested, “I make up the Goat Herder story. This story comes from Myposian history. It really happened.”

Larry sighed and settled back in the uncomfortable hospital bed. “Mypos is an independent kingdom, separate from the other countries in the Tri-Island Area. However, over one hundred years ago, the forces of Sceptos invaded Mypos. The greedy King of Sceptos, Samuel Gorpleous, wished to have all of the riches of the other two islands in addition to his own. He killed good King Ferdiand the Fifth and forced his wife Queen Carlotta and their small son into hiding. He taxed the poor people of Mypos until they could barely afford to feed their animals, much less their own families, and kept all the money for him and his right-hand man, Sherrif Burnsetti. Only the legend of the Crimson Eagle kept the villagers from throwing themselves into Lake Mypos.”

Larry snorted. “The Crimson Eagle,” his cousin explained, “is the most famous outlaw in all of Mypos. They say he rides a huge black stallion and comes galloping out of the night, when the full moon is right. He leaves the sign of the eagle on small pieces of paper sent to bad guys and on the backs of people’s shirts. He takes money from bad rich people and gives it to good poor people, and he makes sure justice is served with a smile and a sword.”

“Balki, have you been watching cable all day again? You don’t have to slap together the best parts of ‘Zorro’ and ‘Robin Hood’ for my benefit.”

Balki ignored his cousin and continued. “Twenty years after Sceptos took over the Tri-Island Area, three American ladies traveled across Mypos by carriage. They were going to visit Mrs. Lydia Markwright, who lived on the south side of Mypos in a nice summer home complete with pool and HBO. They were less than an hour from their destination when they were attacked, first by bandits, then by the Sheriff and his men…”

~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~

Mypos, June 1888

Miss Jennifer Lyons and Miss Marianne Spencer huddled together in the dusty carriage, which bounced along the only road in Mypos. Jennifer’s father was one of the wealthiest men in America, having made a fortune investing in a new invention to quickly can corn in their native Iowa. Marianne was a close, if ditzy, friend of Jennifer’s. Miss Harriett Winslow was a bit older than the girls, and a lot tougher. Jennifer didn’t doubt their friend could handle a whole slew of revolutionaries, bandits, and anything else that came her way. What she did doubt was her and Marianne’s ability to handle them as well.

Harriett read the local newspaper, the Daily Mypiot. “I can’t believe how the press in this country is treated,” she complained. “They aren’t allowed to print anything but how wonderful King Samuel is and how he is the best thing to happen to Mypos since the creation of pig snout with saffron. They don’t even have a satiric strip in the comics!”

Jennifer sighed and turned from the window, where she’d watched the scenery go by. “I didn’t know Mypos was a dictatorship. I thought it was an independent monarchy.”

Marianne frowned. “Mypos is ruled by butterflies?”

Harriett shook her head, almost knocking her black hair out of the simple green bonnet. “No, baby. Mypos is ruled by kings and queens and princes, like England, only without Diana and Charles.” She tossed the paper on the seat beside her. “And without the ability to speak out against their ruler. If anyone says anything bad about King Samuel, they get sent to his dungeons. From what I heard, that’s a fate worse than death.”

“Even worse than being out of your favorite eye shadow right before a hot date?” Marianne asked in shock.

“Much worse,” Harriett replied. “According to the script, the dungeons are something out of a Universal horror film, with chains and monsters and creaking doors and scary sound effects and imaginative torture devices.”

The older African-American woman frowned. “Girls, we gotta be careful,” she warned. “This country is on the verge of something big. A lot of people are still angry over Sceptos taking over the Tri-Island Area. They want to restore the Myposian royal family to power.”

The carriage stopped suddenly, throwing all three women to the floor. Jennifer pulled away from the pile of petticoats and tangled arms and legs and peered out the door. A group of lean, mean men on lean, even meaner horses surrounded the vehicle. The group sported black trousers pushed into stout leather boots and black shirts with red sashes. They had hoods over their heads and bandanas over their mouths. Some had swords by their sides. Other carried rifles or short knives. Two aimed rifles at the horrified carriage driver. “Um, Harriett,” Jennifer said, her voice rising in horror, “I think we’re being robbed.”

Harriett untangled herself from Marianne and stepped out of the carriage. “Let me handle this, girls.” She crossed her arms and stood nose-to-nose to the closest bandit. “Is there something you boys want, or are you playing cowboys and Indians?”

Jennifer gasped when she saw the largest horse gallop up to the carriage. It was a gorgeous animal, a majestic black stallion. The rider wore a flowing red shirt instead of a black one, with a finely engraved scabbard strapped to his waist. A full red hood covered his entire face but his intense hazel eyes. There were holes for the nose and mouth, but she couldn’t tell any details from the carriage. “All right, guys, break it up. You know our rules about robbing ladies.” His voice was gruff but gentle, with a thick Myposian accent.

The men rolled their eyes and muttered about not being allowed to have any fun. “Can’t we at least strip-search them, C.E?” one short, stout man asked. “I haven’t seen a good naked female since I sold my copies of ‘Playeboye’ to make ends meet.”

“C.E” shook his head. “I forbid you from touching them in any way that makes them uncomfortable. The clothes stay on.”

Jennifer and Marianne climbed out of the carriage. Jennifer heard “C.E” draw his breath. “Oh, my lord, she’s gorgeous!” he whispered hoarsely.

She ignored his opinion of their looks. “Mr. C.E,” she began, “take our money and be off. We’re going to visit my Aunt Lydia, and she’ll worry if we’re late.”

“Why don’t we let them go?” the tall man whom Harriett confronted insisted. “They are just nice ladies going to see relatives.”

The sound of hooves attracted C.E’s attention. Jennifer could see men in purple and gold uniforms in the distance. C.E rode to Jennifer and lifted her hand to his lips, giving it an ardent kiss. “I regret that I am unable to spend more time with such a brave and attractive young woman, but my men and I have places to be and people to rob.” She didn’t realize until he already galloped off that her silk drawstring purse was gone.

The taller young man tried to do the same thing to Marianne, but ended up clumsily mashing his lips against her arm. Marianne giggled. She grabbed him, bent him over, and gave him the most passionate kiss she knew. “Wow!” the young man exclaimed. “That really put fire under my burner!”

The short, stout man climbed onto a fat little horse. “Turnip, are you coming with us, or are you going make love to Marilyn Monroe all day?”

“Turnip” took Marianne and Harriett’s purses, climbed onto a thin, black stallion, and hurried after the others. He left just in time. The riders in purple thundered up to the three surprised women. A worried-looking older man with heavy jowls and tired eyes led them. He was resplendent in a deep purple uniform. A gold sash crossed the shiny buttons on his coat.

“You’re Sheriff Burnsetti,” Harriet stated. “I saw your lint portrait in the paper.”

The sheriff attempted a smile. “I hope they caught my best side.” He grew serious. “Ladies, my men and I are following the masked rogue known as the Crimson Eagle. He’s been working these parts, stealing money from rich travelers and giving it to the poor. The ignorant peasants of this island consider him a legend. We consider him a dangerous nuisance.”

“If you want to chase a Myposian Robin Hood, that’s none of our business,” Harriett insisted. “The Misses Spencer and Lyons and I are on our way to Castle Markwright to visit Miss Lyons’ aunt.”

“We could have sworn we saw a group of men threatening you with weapons,” Sheriff Burnsetti insisted.

Marianne opened her mouth, but Jennifer elbowed her. “They were our escorts,” Harriett explained quickly. “They were only going this far, then heading back to the mainland. We hired them in Greece when we heard about the state the country’s in.” The carriage driver snorted but said nothing.

It was obvious that neither the sheriff nor his men believed a word of this, but they had no way to prove otherwise. “My men and I will bring you ladies the rest of the way to Castle Markwright,” Sheriff Burnsetti told them. “The Markwrights are among the wealthiest and most influential people in Mypos. Markwright is the owner of The Daily Mypiot and member of the King’s Council.”

The sheriff helped the three women back into the carriage. He then climbed in with them, in the empty seat next to Harriett. Jennifer thought this was the perfect time to gather more information about this “C.E” who thought so highly of her. “You mentioned a Crimson Eagle,” Jennifer began. “Who is he? He sounds very mysterious and romantic.”

The sheriff scowled. “Oh, he’s a mystery all right, but about as romantic as a dead eel in a Myposian fisherman’s net. No one knows who he is. He’s usually seen in a red hood, but is known to take on other disguises. My men have tried to catch him for two years, with no luck. Every time we think we have him, he somehow slips out of our grasp. He has numerable trouble-saving gadgets and a small but loyal group of men who ride with him.”

“He sounds like Batman,” Marianne exclaimed.

“Yeah,” Burnsetti grumbled, “and I’m the one who looks like a joker. My job is on the line. King Samuel wants the Crimson Eagle alive or dead, preferably dead. That no-good do-gooder gives the peasants money and supplies and encourages them to revolt. They’re too scared and poor to do it themselves.”

A shadow fell across the carriage as it hopped and skipped along the rough path to Castle Markwright, silencing the four travelers. Jennifer never saw such a big “summer house” before. It looked like something out of a travelogue on Western Europe, with high towers, huge stained glass windows, tennis and basketball courts, lush gardens, and a multiplex movie theater. The gate alone was the size of the entire town of Des Moines, the largest community in Iowa.

Marianne leaned out and waved to the people standing at the front drawbridge. Aunt Lydia was fashionably dressed in a ruffled floral gown, a parasol shading her pale skin and red hair. The other people standing with her sported black dresses and suits and starched white aprons. Lydia hurried to greet the carriage. “Girls, Harriett, thank goodness you’re here! I hope your journey was comfortable. The roads are infested with thieves and bandits and traveling sheep collar salesmen these days!”

Jennifer and Marianne exchanged looks but said nothing. Harriett coughed. “Oh, it was a great trip, Lydia, but have you considered paving the road? We bounced so much, I’m surprised we can still sit down.”

Lydia sighed, shaking her head sadly. “The road is terrible, I know, but King Samuel says there isn’t the money to pay for its repair. This island is horrendously impoverished.”

“So we heard,” Harriett said dryly. “Although you’d never know it from the shack you’re living in.”

“Oh, it’s just a modest little place we’re renting for the summer season,” Lydia admitted. “Our winter home in New York is much bigger.”

Harriett rolled her eyes. “What’s it called, Connecticut?”

Lydia ignored her and took the younger women’s arms. “Why don’t you girls come in the castle and get settled in your rooms?” She nodded at the anxious group of people. “My butler Donald will attend to your bags.” She grinned. “Besides, there are people I want you to meet.”

The small redhead led the others inside. Jennifer and Marianne marveled at the thick Persian rugs, the gorgeous Chinese silk tapestries, the severe Russian-made furniture, the French crystal chandeliers, and the collections of American videos and mystery novels on the shelves. The money from selling five of those movies would feed a Myposian family for a year, Jennifer thought. The money from the chandeliers would send their kids to college.

Lydia babbled while the girls and Harriett gawked. “It’s so nice to have visitors! My husband is often out on business trips these days, and I get so lonely when he’s gone. The son and distant cousin of one of his head editors are living with us, but the boys are out often, too. I miss having people around to gossip and sew and watch Oprah with.”

They found themselves in one of the smaller, less ornate parlors. Two young men sat at a small table, playing chess. The shorter of the two reclined in large, plush blue armchair, while his taller companion perched on a heavy oak footstool. Both were too involved with their game to notice the women’s arrival. Lydia cleared her throat. “Balki, Laurence, this is my niece Jennifer, her friend Marianne, and their chaperone and my good friend Harriett Winslow.”

Laurence smiled tightly and picked up a wooden cane. “My father works with your uncle,” he explained “He got Balki and me jobs as a lint artist and a reporter for The Daily Mypiot.” Jennifer thought he was stiffly handsome in a well-tailored suit, starched collar, and fine gold cufflinks. His chestnut-colored curls were brushed and slicked back as much as possible.

His friend was a decided study in contrasts. He was tall and thin, while Laurence was short and plump-faced. He wore a Myposian-style vest and a blouse with full, loose sleeves. His friendly grin was genuine. “Hello! It is so nice to meet relatives of Miss Lydia’s!” He grabbed Jennifer and hugged her. “Welcome to Castle Markwright! I am Balki Robinadous, and this is my cousin, Laurence Wayne.”

Jennifer wondered why Laurence hadn’t risen to greet them as well, and it wasn’t until Balki went to his cousin’s side that she realized why. “Oh, Jennifer,” Marianne exclaimed as the young man leaned heavily on his distant relative, “he can’t walk. He’s cribbled.”

“That’s crippled,” snapped Laurence, “and so what? That doesn’t mean anything.”

“You don’t have to be nasty about it,” Jennifer shot back. “It’s not our fault you take five minutes just to stand up.”

“I don’t have to stay here and accept this abuse,” Laurence snarled. “Come on, Balki. Let’s go down to the village.”

Balki, who’d been gazing wistfully at Marianne, frowned. “Why, Cousin? We just got back.”

“We have important business at the Goat’s Horn Saloon, remember?” Laurence insisted, glaring at his cousin.

Balki finally caught his meaning. “Oh, um, yeah, we do.” The two men took their leave, Laurence limping the whole way.

Lydia sighed sadly again. “Poor, poor Laurence. He was in a terrible carriage accident several years ago in Chicago, and it destroyed his leg and his spirit. He was an up-and-coming reporter at my husband’s Chicago newspaper, but his disability ended his career. The only newspaper who would hire him and Balki after the accident was The Daily Mypiot.”

“His disability doesn’t give him the right to be rude!” Jennifer grumbled.

“I like Balki,” Marianne stated cheerfully. “I think he’s sweet, and he gives great hugs!”

“Balki’s a dear,” Lydia confessed. “He’s the kindest person alive, and so helpful to his cousin. He and Laurence have been close friends for years.” She led the two young women to the second floor. The four padded across soft, pastel carpeting. “This is my wing,” she explained. “The boys have their own rooms on the first floor, but they’re almost never in them. The boys have a private study and sitting rooms in a separate building near the pool where they spend most of their time.”

Lydia pointed at one door. “Jennifer, there’s your room. I put Marianne next door, so you two can chat and gossip. Harriett, you’re down the hall.” She nodded at one of the maids who carried their baggage. “If you need anything, just call Nikki or Lauretta, the upstairs maids. I’m holding a small feast in honor of your arrival. It’s nothing fancy, just a few hundred friends and a roast boar for dinner.”

Jennifer left the others and stepped into the room Lydia indicated. There was room for a game between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Chicago Bears, with plenty of space left to sell pig gut sausage with mustard. The furniture was heavy and finely carved. Her linen, drapes, and canopy were of the finest satin and lace. The mirror on the large dresser reflected her dirty, travel-stained face. She sighed and headed for the nearest bath.

~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~

Jennifer just finished buttoning her pink lace gown and was combing her wet hair when Marianne burst into her room. “I can’t wait for tonight! I love parties, and I want to see Balki again.” She turned in a circle, showing Jennifer her white, puff-sleeved silk dress. “Do you like it? I had it made right before we left, so this is my first time wearing it.” She smiled. “I just talked to Lydia. She said Balki and Laurence are back from the village, and she got them to go to dinner. They usually order room service.”

“I wish they’d order it tonight,” Jennifer complained as she brushed her long, dark gold hair. “Laurence is a jerk. I don’t want to encounter him again”

Marianne giggled. “You’re hoping the Crimson Eagle will make another appearance and sweep you off your feet!”

Jennifer frowned and returned to the mirror. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” She twisted her hair into elaborate buns on either side of her head. “Besides, we don’t know if that was the Crimson Eagle we ran into this afternoon. It could have been an ordinary bandit.”

Her platinum-blonde friend rolled her eyes. “Oh, please. Who else would run around in a red hood and black horse, stealing money from carriages and romancing fair maidens?” She grinned. “C.E really likes you. I saw the way he looked at you when he kissed your hand.”

“You sure didn’t have a problem kissing the tall bandit!” Jennifer pointed out. “I’m surprised his eyes didn’t end up in the back of his head.”

“I wanted to show him the proper way to kiss a girl! He obviously didn’t know how.”

A knock at the door interrupted the girls’ conversation. “Are you ladies decent?” Harriett asked, looking uncomfortable in a blue brocade gown. “I’m so hungry, I could eat an entire Myposian pig-and-goat-insides dinner.”

Marianne quickly slipped into a pair of white satin slippers, while Jennifer finished her hair and grabbed her fan. “We’re ready, Harriett.”

Harriett led them to a ballroom the size of Texas filled with tons of people in ball gowns and evening costumes even more elaborate than the girls’. She raised her eyebrows. “This is Lydia’s idea of a small feast? Why didn’t she just invite the entire island? They’d fit in here. You could land airplanes in this ballroom!”

Lydia hurried up to them as well as she could in a purple and black ruffled satin ball gown. A tall, aristocratic man was on her arm. “Oh, hello, ladies! Isn’t this a magnificent party?”

Jennifer leaned over and hugged the man. “Uncle Robert, how are you? When did you get back?”

Robert Markwright smiled. “This afternoon, just in time for the ball but not, alas, in time for your arrival. How was your trip? I hope you didn’t encounter any unpleasantness. The roads are full of thieves and bandits who make traveling in these parts a living nightmare.”

Jennifer spoke before Marianne could. “Oh no, Uncle Robert, we had a wonderful trip. Mypos is such a lovely island. The scenery is gorgeous.”

Robert nodded. “I’m glad to hear that. The bandits are getting more and more clever, particularly the Crimson Eagle. He seems to be the ring leader.”

“We saw him!” Marianne blurted. “We saw the Crimson Eagle.”

Harriett glared at her. Jennifer smacked her over the head with her pink lace fan. “Marianne, exnay on the Crimson Eagle-cay!” she muttered to her friend.

Lydia gasped. Robert looked worried. “You’ve seen him? Where? He’s an elusive creature. He evaded Sheriff Burnsetti’s men more times than we can keep track of.”

Marianne blushed. “We, um, saw his lint portrait on a wanted poster attached to a tree along the road.”

Robert Markwright shook his head. “What you saw is the approximation of what he looks like. No one knows his exact description. He’s a master of disguise. He can appear tall or short, fat or thin, old or young. He rides like the wind and, when not in costume, covers his face with a red hood.”

“Where are Mr. Wayne and Mr. Robinadous?” Jennifer asked, changing the subject. “We met them earlier in the front parlor.”

“They’re going to be a little late,” Lydia explained. “They had to finish an article at the paper.”

That was when the lights suddenly went off. The ballroom plunged into total darkness. “What happened?” Lydia wailed. “Robert, what’s going on? Why is it so dark in here? I’m afraid of the dark! Someone do something!”

Robert dislodged his hysterical wife from his now-bruised arm. “Calm down, Lydia. Harriett, stay with Lydia. I’m going to find out the cause of the disruption. It’s probably just a bad wick on one of the gas lamps in the chandelier. If one of them goes out, all of them do.” Jennifer heard his footsteps walk away, then more coming from the other direction.

“Mrs. Markwright, you can’t see me, but I’m King Samuel, the head of this measly sinkhole,” said a nasal, bored voice. “I’ve wanted to meet you and your husband for ages, and it seems like I may not get to see you after all.”

“Hey!” Marianne exclaimed. “Someone is stroking my rear behind!”

“Is that your rear, Blondie?” King Samuel leered. “I thought it was Lydia’s.”

“Sam,” Lydia scolded, “control your hormones! I’m married in this fanfic!”

Jennifer felt a hand on her, too, but it wasn’t stroking her rear. Light fingers deftly removed her pearl necklace and earrings. She felt someone’s soft, sweet-smelling breath on her throat. “You’re the most intelligent and beautiful woman I’ve ever seen,” the voice whispered, “and I fell in love with you at first sight.” He kissed her gently on the neck. “Meet me at midnight by the gingko tree down the road from Castle Markwright.” He reluctantly left her and went to King Samuel. She thought she saw a taller person leaning over a rapturous Marianne, who sighed as he removed her diamond pendant and rings.

The tall person added “I’m sorry, Miss Lydia,” in a soft voice as he moved to her aunt and swiftly took the older woman’s jewelry.

“What was that?” Lydia asked in horror. Jennifer could barely make out her aunt’s hand going to her neck. “My good diamond and amethyst necklace is gone, and the earrings, too!”

Harriet frowned. “I told you not to wear that thing tonight!” She felt her wrist. “My silver bracelet is missing. Damn, that’s the only decent piece of jewelry I own!”

Even in the dark, Jennifer could see King Samuel turn an unbecoming shade of scarlet. “That rascal did it again! My crown is gone!” He felt the top of his head, but it was bare. “This isn’t the first time he played games with me, but it will be the last!” He turned to several men who stood by him. “Boys, the Crimson Eagle is in this ballroom, and I want him and his men stopped! Find some flashlights or something! I don’t care if it’s historically correct, just as long as you get your hands on that petty thief and drag him to me on his knees! I want to personally send him to the torture chamber!”

Marianne nudged her friend. “I hope they don’t find them!” she breathed. “The Crimson Eagle may not be doing something legal, but he is doing something brave. He must be really smart to be able to steal the crown off King Samuel’s head!”

The lights returned as suddenly as they vanished. Jennifer blinked her eyes a few moments to get used to the brightness. Only Marianne stood next to her. Lydia clutched Harriett, and King Samuel continued to hold his bare head. “Look!” Marianne exclaimed. “There’s someone on the chandelier!”

Marianne was right. She could see a figure hanging onto the chandelier for dear life. It was the same man who led the robbery that afternoon. She was sure of it. He wore the same red hood, red blouse, and black trousers. “It’s him!” King Samuel shouted. “It’s the Crimson Eagle!” He motioned to his men, but they were gone. “Catch him, you idiots!”

“Get him off there!” Lydia added. “He’ll ruin the chandelier! Do you know how much those things cost?”

“You can chase me from here to Pignika Palace, King Samuel Gorpleous,” the Crimson Eagle taunted, “but you’ll never catch me!” He made his way to the other side of the crystal lamp and started to swing. King Samuel shrieked to his men to get on the topmost floor of the ballroom and try to stop the bandit, but he was already halfway across. Jennifer held her breath as he swung as close as he could to the other side and jumped onto the landing. He barely managed to catch the banister before he plummeted into the stunned crowds below. He dueled with several of the king’s men before finally escaping out an open window.

King Samuel went after his men. Jennifer and Marianne followed, Jennifer hoping to keep him indoors long enough to allow the valiant bandits to escape. “Search the area! Comb every inch of the grounds, and use one of those big fine-tooth combs with the long handles! Brush the damn grounds if you have to, but bring me the Crimson Eagle and his groupies!”

Jennifer and Marianne got between him and the door. “Why don’t you stay here, your majesty?” Jennifer insisted. “The party’s only beginning! They set out the buffet with pig snout and bean dip.”

King Samuel made a face. “I don’t want to eat pig snout! I hate that stuff! I don’t know how my idiot subjects can stand it.”

The band struck up the latest tune, “the Myposian Shepherd’s Waltz,” and Marianne grabbed King Samuel before he could object. “Why don’t we dance?” she asked. “This is my all-time favorite song!”

Jennifer heard the King protest “But it’s only been out a few weeks!” as Marianne whirled him onto the dance floor. She made her way around the throngs of people, all gossiping about the latest daring escapade of the Crimson Eagle and his possible identity. She heard every suggestion from an American mercenary to an unusually educated Myposian youth. He did speak with a Myposian accent, but it could have been false.

Jennifer hurried past the crowds and out the side door to the gardens. The king’s men still searched for the escaped criminal and his band of brigands. One blocked her way as she headed down the path to the pool. “What are you doing out here, young lady?”

She fanned herself and fluttered her eyelashes. “Oh, I’m just going for a walk. It’s very hot in there.”

He nodded. “You be careful, miss. The Crimson Eagle could still be out there. No telling what he’ll do to a young, pretty girl like you.”

“I’ll be careful,” she assured him. She finally got away and took off down the path. She noticed that the Crimson Eagle went out the window closest to the gardens and pool. He could still be there, although if she were him, she would have changed into a disguise or left altogether by now.

She didn’t know why she was so attracted to this man. She admired his daring, zeal, and courage, even as she deplored his methods of aiding the penniless native Mypiots. There had to be other ways of helping them besides stealing from innocent (if wealthy) people. He confessed to have fallen in love with her at first sight. She wasn’t sure if she could say the same. She didn’t even know who he really was!

She was making her way through a garden of fragrant roses and iris. The irises were closed for the night, but the roses were very much alive, and so large they were almost bent over. She could see the blue waters of the pool from where they were, and the roof of a smaller, less ornate building. Her mind was so consumed by the new surroundings and the mysterious Crimson Eagle, she didn’t hear his voice at first.

“Dig-da for your thoughts, Miss Lyons?”

Jennifer stopped and turned to a small white wicker table in one corner. Laurence Wayne reclined in a matching wicker chair. He fingered a glass of heavy purple liquid. There was a bottle and a second, empty glass. He was dressed in a black-and-red tuxedo, the ever-present cane by his side. “Balki was going to join me for a glass of Myposian burgundy, but he’s more interested in seeing if your friend wants to dance.” He offered her the empty glass. “We can make up for the incident this afternoon, if you’re interested.”

She shook her head. “Thank you, but I really must be going.”

He smiled. “What’s the rush? Got a hot date with some local hunk?”

She blushed. His words were a little too close to the truth. “No, I don’t. I just wanted some fresh air.”

“So did I, Miss Lyons,” Laurence added. “The ride home from the office was beastly hot and very bumpy.” He was sweating heavily. His jacket and tie were slightly askew, as if he just threw them on. “I didn’t want to attend the party, but Lydia insisted. I’m afraid she’s something of a matchmaker, and Balki’s worse.”

She sighed and settled on the other chair. She doubted she would find the Crimson Eagle now. There was nothing to do but wait for midnight. “You two should have been here earlier. You missed all the excitement. The Crimson Eagle and his men made a dramatic appearance at the ball. They stole everyone’s jewelry and money, including King Samuel’s and mine, and swung off the chandelier to safety. The king’s men are still searching for him.”

Laurence chuckled. “I know, Miss Lyons. Balki and I heard about the Crimson Eagle’s latest foolish escapade from the servants when we arrived at the castle.”

“Foolish!” Jennifer exclaimed. “It may be crazy and illegal, but it’s for a good cause.”

“What good will it be to the Myposians or anyone if he gets caught?” Laurence countered.

She raised her chin defiantly. “The Crimson Eagle is doing a very noble, if criminal, thing.”

“Jennifer, Jennifer, Jennifer.” Laurence shook his head. “I doubt the Crimson Eagle is any more noble than I am. He’s probably just a very creative bandit who’s out for his own gain. He doesn’t care about the Mypiots any more than their king does.”

“How would you know what the Crimson Eagle’s like?” Jennifer asked.

“We have much in common,” the small man said nonchalantly. “We’re both looking out for number one while quietly profiting off of this middle-of-nowhere island’s miserable inhabitants. Neither of us cares about anyone but ourselves and a few friends.”

“Is Balki one of those friends?”

“Yes,” Laurence admitted quietly. “Balki’s the sweetest man alive, and the most naïve. He’s my dearest friend and closest relative, and I want no harm to ever come to him.”

“I sort of feel the same way about Marianne,” Jennifer added. “We’ve been friends since we were eight. She’s like my sister. She’s naïve, too, and I’m very protective of her.” She sighed. “I really should be going. Aunt Lydia and Uncle Robert will worry if I’m gone too long.”

“I’ll walk you back to the party,” Laurence offered. “If you don’t mind being seen with a cripple.”

“I don’t mind, but I’d rather go alone,” Jennifer explained. “There’s something I have to ask Marianne.”

She could tell he was disappointed, but he tried to look like it didn’t matter. “Well, if you insist.” He nodded at her. “I’ll see you at the party.”

“Yes,” she said quickly, “at the party.” She hurried off. Had she looked over her shoulder just then, she would have seen a look of passionate, desperate longing in Laurence’s face. He almost went after her, but finally thought better of it. He set the glass down and limped in the direction of the small building.e looked over her shoulder just then, she would have seen a look of passionate, desperate longing in Laurence’s face. He almost went after her, but finally thought better of it. He set the glass down and limped in the direction of the small building.