The Crimson Eagle, Part II

Jennifer spent the night mulling over the identity and motives of the mysterious Crimson Eagle. The ball was so dull after his dramatic exit! She danced with various young men, mostly the proper sons of European officials. They spent the night stepping on her feet and either bragging about their skills at tennis and diplomacy or barely able to stammer two sentences. Laurence Wayne and Balki Robinadous did make it to the ballroom, but Laurence left early, claiming fatigue and boredom. Jennifer couldn’t blame him. He spent most of the ball sitting at a table, chatting with various vapid aristocratic European females.

Balki and Marianne spent the night in each other’s arms. Balki refused to leave her, and Marianne would dance with no one else. The young Myposian hung over every word of her muddled but dramatic interpretation of the Crimson Eagle’s latest adventure. “I wish I could have been there!” he exclaimed. “I would have shown the Crimson Eagle who’s Tony Danza!”

Jennifer left the party at a quarter to midnight. Aunt Lydia and Uncle Robert had gone to bed, but Marianne and Harriett were still enjoying the festivities. She made her way across the Castle Markwright property, avoiding the guards King Samuel left to find the masked bandit. They didn’t bother her after asking her where she was going. The gate was still crowded with guards and coming-and-going partygoers. It took longer to get around, but she finally did so by promising the kid doing the valet carriage parking a dance at the next ball.

The tree was in a romantic glade, all blue and silver in the full moon. Jennifer shivered, despite the warm night, and settled down at the base of the huge gingko tree. She heard the tree above her rustle. That was odd. It was a windless night, with not even the softest breeze to disturb the fan-shaped gingko leaves, and most birds were asleep at this hour. She moved just in time for a black-and-red heap to fall on the moss under the tree. “You!” she gasped, jumping to her feet. “The Crimson Eagle!”

It was, indeed, the man who appeared on the chandelier at the party and on horseback that afternoon. He was again clad in the hood, blouse, and trousers. The red hood and shirt looked almost black in the moonlight. He wore heavy leather gloves and boots. “Golly,” she breathed as he rose to a sitting position, not knowing what to say. “What an entrance! Are you ok? Anything broken?”

“No, I was just startled, that’s all.” He took her soft hands in his gloved ones. “I only have a few moments. I wanted to see you again.”

“Why me?” Jennifer blurted. “You’ve only known me for a few hours, and after all, I’m the enemy. I’m rich. I’m the niece of the owner of the Daily Mypiot, which is controlled by King Samuel. I’m a foreigner. We have nothing in common.”

“We have more in common than you think,” C.E explained. “I wanted a date with you the moment I saw you, but that idiot Burnsetti and his men interrupted us. I didn’t get a chance to ask you until tonight.”

“How the heck did you end up on the chandelier?”

“I was on the second floor landing when I saw the King’s men coming at me. I climbed on the drapes and made it to the chandelier before I remembered I’m afraid of heights. I was scared to death when the lights finally came on!”

She leaned back on the tree. He moved over her, so close she could feel his breath and see his sparkling hazel eyes. There was something that preyed on her mind since she met him and his crew. Her conversation with Laurence brought it up again. “C.E, why are you doing this? Surely there’s another way of saving Mypos besides robbing innocent people.”

“I wish there was,” C.E said quietly. “King Samuel the slimeball has his iron fists over ever aspect of the island, down to the smallest pig spleen merchant. He treats his subjects like human sheep who need to be corralled, sheared, and shepherded.”

He took her in his arms. “Who are you?” Jennifer whispered. “I know you. Your eyes are familiar, but I can’t think of where I’ve seen them.”

C.E hesitated. “I can’t tell you,” he finally said. “No one knows but my most trusted men. The fewer people who know my identity, the better.” The sound of men’s voices and cracking branches approached them. “I have to go. I have a busy day of robbing the rich and giving to the poor scheduled for tomorrow.”

He held her closer, gazing passionately into her eyes. “Please believe me when I tell you I love you more than life itself.” He burst into “Myposian Love Call,” an old operetta waltz, to her. She knew the words and joined in, their heavenly voices making Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy sound like barking dogs.

They ended the number after a high C, panting and cheek-to-cheek. The growls of the Sheriff and his troops drew even closer, calling her name and applauding their musical number. “C.E, you’ve got to get out of here!” she gasped. “King Samuel threatened to torture you if he got his hands on you.”

“I’m not leaving without doing this.” C.E bent her over and gave her a deep, passionate kiss. He left her on the soft moss under the gingko tree. His diminutive, lithe body scrambled up the trunk and vanished amid the frilly, fan-like green leaves.

Jennifer was still recovering when Sheriff Burnsetti and several of his men crashed into the glade. “Ok, where is he, young lady?” Burnsetti barked. “Several reliable witnesses saw the Crimson Eagle sneaking around the gate, hiding in the gingko and olive trees.” He crossed his arms. “What are you doing out here at this time of night, anyway? You’re blushing.”

“Am I?” She grabbed her fan and waved it back and forth, though it didn’t make her feel any less warm. “I just came out here for a midnight stroll. I guess I strolled too hard.”

“We overheard part of your conversation and all of your duet when we were looking for you in the woods.” He glared at the group of men behind him. “We would have heard more if my troops didn’t sound like Paul Bunyan and his big blue ox tramping through the forest.”

“Oh, I was just talking to myself,” Jennifer assured him.

“We distinctly heard a man’s voice, Miss Lyons.”

“I’m a very good male impersonator,” Jennifer explained cheerfully. “I just lower my voice like this,” she said in the deepest voice she could manage. “The music came from my Sony walkman.”

The sheriff wasn’t convinced. “Boys, search the area,” he ordered. “Don’t rest until you find that masked mischief-maker.”

They searched almost every surface of the glade, from under rocks to in the trees, including the gingko Jennifer still rested under. No one noticed Jennifer stick her hand under her frilly pink skirts. “He’s not here, Sheriff,” one young man announced. “If he was in this area, he must have fled before we arrived.”

“Hell to damnation!” the sheriff cursed. He turned on Jennifer. “You and that masquerading miscreant won this round, Miss Lyons, but so help me, if I find the Crimson Eagle was here tonight and you were helping him carry out his plots, I’ll arrest him for theft and treason and you for obstructing justice!”

“I wasn’t doing anything of the sort,” she protested. “I was just out for fresh air.” He stormed off in anger, growling like a bear to his men. Jennifer pulled her hand out from under her skirts when the glade was clear and inspected her find. A gold pendant in the shape of an eagle about to capture its prey glittered under the soft moonlight. It was attached to a leather rope that was frayed on one end. It must have broke from around the Crimson Eagle’s neck when he fell out of the tree. She couldn’t let the sheriff find it. It would have been evidence of C.E’s visit with her.

She touched her lips and blushed again. The glow she felt after C.E kissed her was evidence enough.

~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~

The castle buzzed with news of the Crimson Eagle’s exploits the next morning. The servants were in awe of him, claiming that he was faster than a bullet, more powerful than a stampede of wild pigs, and able to leap tall castles in a single bound. They said he had magic that could turn him into anyone, young or old, fat or thin, tall or short. They had uncles and significant others who saw him create smoke by simply raising his hand and leave messages in places no normal person could have reached.

Jennifer wasn’t really paying attention to her breakfast, or to the lively conversation at the table. Lydia was still huffing over her lost jewels. Laurence and Robert argued over Myposian politics. Balki and Marianne stared deep into each other’s eyes, not saying a word and letting their scrambled eggs and fried mutton get cold. Harriett buried her nose behind The Daily Mypiot.

Jennifer sighed and pushed a slice of wild pig sausage around her plate. She couldn’t help thinking of her encounter with the Crimson Eagle. Just the memory of his kiss made her turn as red as Aunt Lydia’s hair. He was so dashing and, despite his being frightened of heights, brave.

“Hey,” Harriett finally said, “get a load of this!” She straightened the newspaper and set it on the table, between her and Jennifer. “The Crimson Eagle is on the front page of The Daily Mypiot!”

“Wow!” Marianne exclaimed. “I didn’t know he was small enough to fit in the paper!”

Jennifer rolled her eyes. She’d corrected her friend’s odd mistakes for years. “She means he has an article or advertisement in the newspaper.”

“Oh, riiiiight!”

Laurence took the paper from Harriet and read the article. “’King Samuel Gorpleous of Mypos is unjust, unfair, and unkind. He charges taxes on everything from the tiniest lamb to the largest pasture, leaving nothing for the people but the clothes on their backs and the horns on their goats. These taxes pay for his parties, his fine wardrobe and carriages, and his three color TVs. He uses unfathomable tortures on anyone who stands in his way. We say it’s time for the peasants of Mypos to stand up to this unbearable tyrant and take control of the island that is rightfully theirs. They should have a ruler who will treat them fairly and who won’t call them idiot Mypiots behind their backs. My men and I will continue rob prominent citizens like we did last night (without the chandelier incident) and aiding the unfortunate Myposian natives until the island is returned to its rightful rulers.’”

Laurence scanned the article. “The byline is ‘The Crimson Eagle,’ and there’s some very unflattering lint paintings of King Samuel stealing mutton from two cowering Mypiots.”

Balki leaned over his cousin’s shoulder. “Those lint paintings are very nice work,” he said. “You can almost smell the fear on the faces of the Mypiots, and taste their desire for the mutton. The King is done very well, too. The sneer is just right.”

Robert Markwright looked like he would burst. “Who let this trash in my newspaper? I wouldn’t publish something written by the Crimson Eagle if he paid me a million dollars!” He slammed his fist on the table. “When I find out who at The Daily Mypiot published this article, heads will roll!”

Balki’s hand went to his neck. “Does that include mine, Mr. Markwright? I’m quite attached to my head!”

Robert’s face softened. He wasn’t fond of the Crimson Eagle, but he was genuinely fond of the two young men he hired as a favor to Laurence’s father Walter. “No, Balki, your head and Laurence’s are fine. What I mean is, when I find out who allowed this article and lint painting in my newspaper, they’re fired.” Balki gulped and Laurence blanched. Jennifer wondered why Robert’s declaration would affect them like that. Their jobs were safe. They lacked the courage and desire to revolt against King Samuel.

“Well,” Laurence said, recovering quickly, “he must be someone with access to the paper, someone who knows The Daily Mypiot and its publishing schedule. It was probably put in at the last minute, when everyone was too busy laying the edition to rest to notice one little article.”

“You and Balki were at the office last night,” Robert insisted. “Did either of you see anything out of the ordinary?”

“I didn’t really pay attention,” Laurence said offhandedly. “I was finishing my article, and Balki was working on his lint painting of Miss Mypos 1888.”

“You don’t know how hard it was to mix just the right shade for her mustache,” Balki explained. “It’s a blondish-brown color, kind of in between the two, and I…ow!” Balki suddenly stopped talking and rubbed the sore spot in his ribs where Laurence elbowed him hard.

Laurence smiled and craftily changed the subject. “How would you ladies like to take a trip into Pignika, the capital city of Mypos, with me? I’m going there to cover the street fair and thumb-wrestling tournament. You’re all invited.”

“Oh, I’d love to go see the thumb wrestling tournament with you, Cousin!” Balki exclaimed. “I may even enter. I happen to be a world-class champion thumb wrestler.” Laurence glared at him. “Um, never mind,” Balki said quickly. “I have to finish some lint paintings for the newspaper, and that’s far more important than thumb wrestling. That’s all I’m doing, just lint painting all day.”

Jennifer exchanged curious looks with Harriett. Balki was protesting far too much for someone who was merely working on paintings. He seemed genuinely excited about the possibility of going to the fair. “Well, if you say so, baby,” Harriett said with a shrug.

“I wish you could come, Balki!” Marianne exclaimed. “It won’t be as much fun without you.”

Balki gently took her hand. “I’ll think of you the entire time I work on my paintings, my little object of lint art.” Marianne blushed.

Everyone but Robert Markwright and Balki piled into a carriage after breakfast was finished. Robert had to meet King Samuel at Pignika Castle, and Balki said he was going to barricade himself in Laurence’s private study near the pool and “let the creative Juicy Juice flow.”

The road to Pignika was bumpy and dusty. Marianne and Lydia monopolized the conversation, twittering about fashion and hairstyles and the men they thought were really hunky. Jennifer was lost in her own thoughts. She fingered the eagle, which was now on a gold chain around her neck and safely hidden under her blouse. She hadn’t told anyone about her encounter with the Crimson Eagle, even Marianne, who wasn’t great at keeping secrets. Harriett looked puzzled, like she was trying to put two and two together and coming up with twelve. Laurence was edgy and nervous.

Jennifer sighed and turned to the window. The beautiful scenery gave way to crude huts made of mud and sticks, with thatch roofs and large, uncovered windows. Scrawny children in scanty clothing played with toys made of sticks and cloth scraps next to a fountain in the square where sheep drank and woman gathered water. The women were stooped over, and all looked twice their real ages. Even the wool on the sheep appeared less thick and white. The goats that nosed through trash in the streets were nothing more than fur and bones. The dogs lay in front of the houses, too tired to even howl. A few men sat in a small café, sipping sour pomegranate cider and listening to old rock ballads on a scratchy record.

“This is awful,” Jennifer gasped. “They’re half-starved, even the children and animals. They don’t have the energy to tend to their sheep, much less revolt.”

Lydia wrinkled her nose. “Haven’t these people ever heard of showers and bathing their livestock? They smell like they live in a dumpster.”

Laurence smiled ironically. “I don’t think they can bathe unless they’re caught in a rainstorm, Lydia. These people have no money, no plumbing or clean water, no wool to sell at market or make clothing for themselves and their families, and hardly any hope. They aren’t allowed a say in the King’s council, and most of them can’t read or write. All of the best pasture for grazing sheep and livestock is owned by King Samuel and his court, and if you cross the wire, you’re thrown in the dungeons for the rest of your life. Three poor slobs were sent to jail a few days ago for allowing their sheep to graze on the royal pasture.”

“Someone ought to do something about it!” Marianne declared. “These sheep shouldn’t have to go hungry and look like old carriage seat covers.”

“The humans are even worse,” Jennifer added.

“There isn’t anything anyone can do,” Laurence insisted. “Remove King Samuel, and someone equally corrupt will take his place.”

“That’s not always true, baby,” Harriet said gently. “Not all politicians are corrupt. Just most of them.”

Lydia had her handkerchief over her nose. She leaned out the carriage door. “Driver,” she insisted, “could you pick up speed and get us out of here before we all upchuck our breakfasts from the stench?” She returned to her seat next to Harriett, her face a pronounced shade of green.

The huts gradually became larger and larger, with wooden roofs instead of thatch, and finally gave way to great, fancy stone homes that looked like miniature versions of Castle Markwright. The people in this part of Pignika were beautifully dressed in fine suits and elaborate, pale summer gowns. Parasols dotted the crowds that surrounded the stands and vendors. Some of the peasants from the other side of Pignika sold their wares and brought their sheep through to market, but they obviously weren’t very welcome, and many of the daintier society swells avoided their tables.

The carriage driver stopped at a square where many carts and carriages, some nicer than others, were parked. He opened the door and helped the ladies and Laurence onto the cobblestone sidewalk. People trotted by, parasols bobbing and canes tapping, chatting about the gorgeous day and the fine wool and jams and meats and videos for sale. The king’s men and Sheriff Burnsetti rode around the square on horseback, patrolling the streets and breaking up fights between vendors and customers. Here, the fountain smelled fresh and sweet, and was surrounded by beautiful olive trees and a lush park.

Jennifer took hold of Marianne, who already wandered over to a seedy-looking persimmon jam salesman, and pulled her over to a series of carts selling pretty carved animals. Aunt Lydia and Harriett chatted to a group of women whom Jennifer recognized as friends of Aunt Lydia’s from the night before. Harriett looked bored stiff. Marianne wanted to buy everything in the carts, but Jennifer got her to settle on a cute pair of carved sheep. Jennifer chose an eagle poised to take flight. Its wings were painted bright red.

“It is Crimson Eagle, miss,” the vendor explained in broken English. “He is hero of every true Myposian native. The fancy people like him, too. They all want to know who he is.”

He leaned over his cart. “Do’n let this get around, but I heard the Crimson Eagle is a shifti-twisti, a shape-shifting creature who can change its form at will. He could be here right now, among us.”

His voice dropped to a whisper. “He knows where justice for the people of Mypos must be served, and who is in the most need. It is said he may try to free the poor people who are impressed in City Hall because they allowed their sheep and goats to wander onto King Samuel’s land.”

“Gee,” Marianne breathed, “I hope we get to see the Crimson Eagle again. He made the party so exciting!”

“Me too, Marianne,” Jennifer sighed, fingering the eagle again. “Me, too.”

Marianne grinned. “You still want the Crimson Eagle to sweep you off your feet, don’t you?”

“What makes you think that?”

“If you get any redder, someone will mistake you for an eagle carving.”

As the two young women crossed the fountain park, Jennifer heard a strange poof across the street. A moment later, thick smoke billowed out of the windows of Pignika City Hall, the largest building in the square. Someone yelled “Fire! Fire in City Hall!” Several men rushed to the scene with buckets of water, and an old-fashioned, horse-drawn fire truck trotted to the building. People rushed to and fro, tripping over each other, upturning carts and stalls.

“Come on!” Jennifer exclaimed, dragging Marianne across the park. “I want to see what’s going on!”

“Can’t we watch nude male mud wrestling or something fun instead?” Marianne asked. “Fire does terrible things to my hair.”

The girls found Lydia and Harriett huddled behind an overturned sheep liver and onion sandwich cart. “Thank god!” Lydia threw her arms around Jennifer. “I’m so glad you girls are safe! I can’t believe City Hall is burning down! Isn’t it horrible?”

“Aunt Lydia,” Jennifer explained, “City Hall isn’t burning down. There’s no heat or flames.”

Lydia gasped. “Who would want to make City Hall appear to be on fire?”

“I can take a wild guess,” Jennifer grumbled.

“Me too!” Marianne added. “This looks like something MacGyver does! I’ll bet he could rig smoke!”

Harriet rolled her eyes. “I think she means the Crimson Eagle’s at work again, baby.”

“Oh, right!”

King Samuel arrived on a large, proud golden stallion. He reined the horse in and rushed into the fray. “What the hell is going on? Why is there a ton of smoke, but no destruction?” He ducked a pail of water thrown in the wrong direction. “And why does this resemble a scene out of a Laurel and Hardy short?”

“Your highness, I’m very, very sorry. I…we…I mean, there was a fire, or at least smoke, and my men and I…”

“...Were incompetent fools as usual,” the king of Mypos snapped. “There’s no heat and nothing’s burning. If this is a conflagration, I’m Captain Hook.”

By this point, the inept bucket brigade had cleared out, and the smoke was starting to drift upwards. There was one last, shattering shriek, and all was silent except for the king commanding his men to search the area for the people who caused the smoke in City Hall. The four women hurried past broken carts and stalls that were doused accidentally by the firemen. The wool the carts once sold smelled like wet dog. Soggy mutton and mint jelly pastries made the ground slippery.

“King Samuel!” Lydia exclaimed as they joined the monarch. “How could this have happened?”

An arrow that shot into the trunk of a tree answered Lydia’s question. It barely missed King Samuel and Lydia. Jennifer saw a note attached to the arrow, but the king took it before she could read it. “I knew it!” King Samuel exclaimed angrily after he opened the paper. “This has his signature written all over it.”

Marianne took the paper from the king. “Gee, all I see is a picture of an eagle with red wings.”

“The Crimson Eagle is here!” King Samuel growled. “This is the second time in less than 24 hours he’s humiliated me!”

“King Samuel!” All eyes turned to the roof of City Hall. Jennifer gasped. A tall, slender figure, dressed in a red blouse, black trousers, and soft leather boots and gloves leaned on one of the turrets. A red hood obscured his face. The smoke drifted behind him, giving him a strange, almost ethereal appearance despite his dark clothing. “How the heck are you doing?”

“You know damn well how I’m doing!” King Samuel shook his fist at the bandit reclining on top of City Hall. “I take taxes from my citizens, and you take them back. You make me look very bad, you know.”

“I make you look bad?” The Crimson Eagle snorted. “I make you look bad? No, Samuel Gorpleous, you make yourself look bad. I only take what belongs to citizens of Mypos and give it to them.”

King Samuel turned to his men. “Boys, get in there and get that back-talking bandit!” He returned his attention to the still-gray building. “You forget, bandit, I’m the king of Mypos, and what I say, goes! I can make whatever the hell taxes I want! This land and everything and everyone on it are mine!”

“You are not the king,” the Crimson Eagle insisted. “You bounced off the real king. His wife and son hid from your men, and you thought you killed them, too, when you burned their hut.”

“That’s not true,” Samuel insisted. “I’ve never killed anyone, and you have no proof I did!”

“Yes, you have! You murdered King Ferdinand. You take all the crops and good land for yourself and everyone who has money, and take money away from people who don’t have any. You put people who you think are bad in jail. When others say how rotten you are, you have them killed or hurt.”

He raised his sword to the sky and shouted a lengthy, passionate speech in Myposian. The Mypiot peasant merchants in the crowd, angry over their ruined wares, and their unfairly imprisoned fellow Mypiots, shouted back in kind. “I will never rest until the true king of Mypos is recycled to the throne, and the people of Mypos have a sheep in every farm and a pig snout on every plate.”

King Samuel laughed. “Well, don’t rest too hard, Crimson Eagle, because my boys are on their way. I’ll see you in my dungeon yet, and when that happens, I’ll throw a party!”

“Oh, I’d love to go to a party!” the Crimson Eagle exclaimed. “Can I bring the pig snout and olive spice cake with pimento frosting?”

Marianne screamed, pointing to the roof behind the Crimson Eagle. “C.E, look out!”

Several men came up behind the outlaw, their swords raised, but C.E was way ahead of them. He skewered a few extras before leaping off the roof and falling safely onto one of the horses attached to the fire truck. Two men wearing black blouses, black hoods, and red sashes detached the horse from the cart. The outlaw galloped across the square, slowing long enough to scoop a swooning Marianne into his arms. Jennifer raced after the horse, shouting her friend’s name. Lydia shrieked and fainted.

Harriet caught up with Jennifer at the entrance to the square. “It’s no good, baby. They’re gone. You can’t outrun a horse.” She pulled her back to the square. “Come on. We’ve got to get Lydia out of here, before someone mistakes her for a bad guy or a good guy or a park bench.”

It was easy to tell the Crimson Eagle’s men from the Sheriff’s troops. The hoods all wore hoods and leather gloves that concealed their identities. They were also twice the swordsmen that the troops were, skewering purple uniforms and trees and Myposian lamb shiskabob from one of the few intact carts. The native Mypiots, who couldn’t read or write but packed one hell of a punch, aided them. King Samuel shouted orders while hiding behind the sandwich cart Lydia and Harriett abandoned.

Jennifer and Harriet managed to help Lydia to her feet as a black cart pulled by a gorgeous red mustang careened around the corner of the square. It stopped before the three women. “Need a lift?” the driver asked. He was dressed like the Crimson Eagle’s crew, in a black hood and black blouse with a red sash around his waist. Several ragged, frightened Myposian peasants huddled in the back.

“I don’t know,” Jennifer said, looking disdainfully at the rickety black cart. “That thing is a piece of junk.”

“Black Beauty is not junk!” the driver protested. “She may not look like much, but she’s got it where it counts. I made a lot of special modifications myself, and Chewbacca is the best mustang in Mypos.” As they spoke, two swordsmen nearly knocked the women over. They politely tipped their hats to the ladies and went on dueling.

Harriet pushed the half-conscious Lydia into the cart and climbed after her. “I normally wouldn’t accept rides from strangers, but we could really get damaged if we stay here much longer.”

The driver held his hand out to Jennifer. “You can trust me, miss,” he told her gently. “I’d never hurt you.”

Jennifer allowed him to pull her onto the passenger’s seat. As she did, the driver let out a piercing whistle. The remaining black-garbed duelists took a few more thrusts and climbed into the back of the cart with Lydia, Harriett, and the Myposians. The driver flicked the reins, and Chewbacca pulled Black Beauty and its human cargo out of Pignika at breakneck speed.

They raced through the streets of Pignika. Jennifer ducked, hearing the sounds of gunfire. “We’re being followed by Sheriff Burnsetti and his men, and they have guns! Big guns!”

“I’ll take care of that.” He opened a compartment on the driver’s seat and discovered a lever hidden amid the chewing gum, fast food napkins, packets of ketchup, half-melted candy bars, and back issues of Scientific American. Sheriff Burnsetti’s cart got so close, Jennifer could smell the sheriff’s aftershave.

When Burnsetti tried to slam into Black Beauty, the driver pulled the lever, revealing iron spikes on the wheels of the cart. The spikes made shredded carrot and goat spleen soup out of Burnsetti’s tires. Burnsetti got out of the cart to inspect the damage, fuming and shaking his fist at the rapidly retreating onyx-colored vehicle. The driver pulled another lever, spilling oil on the road and causing several of the Sheriff’s remaining men to lose control and a cart carrying pigs to upend. The pigs squealed and took off in all directions, effectively blocking the rest of the government troops.

Lydia made her way through the crowd in the back of the cart, avoiding two men asking her is she wanted to play a round of poker. “Young man,” she gasped, “where did you get your license? You almost got us killed! I demand you take me, my friend, and my niece home this instant, and bring Miss Spencer back unharmed and in on piece!”

“I will,” the driver explained, “as soon as we deliver these people to their homes and the money from last night to the Myposian peasants.”

Jennifer sighed as Lydia returned to Harriett and a hot poker game between several of the Crimson Eagle’s men. She gazed into the man’s eyes. They were a beautiful, twinkling hazel. They were also very familiar. She saw those eyes somewhere recently.

She fingered the eagle pendant. “You’re the Crimson Eagle, aren’t you?”

“No, I’m not,” the driver insisted. “You saw the Crimson Eagle in Pignika. I’m just the cart driver.”

“What you are is a liar,” Jennifer snapped, “and a very bad one. Did you really think I wouldn’t figure it out? The man who appeared on the roof of the City Hall is taller, has a much different voice, and speaks Myposian better than he does English. You may have a Myposian accent, but your English is impeccable.”

“So what?”

“So, he can’t be the Crimson Eagle. I met the Crimson Eagle last night.” She placed her hand on his as he slowed Chewbacca to a trot. “The Crimson Eagle kissed me.” She leaned over him and kissed him on what she could see of his lips. He responded, pulling her closer to him. She put her arms around him. “You’re definitely the Crimson Eagle. I’d know those lips anywhere.”

Jennifer heard a noisy sigh and a series of woof whistles as they embraced. She and the driver finally noticed the entire cart, including a grinning Lydia and Harriett, the leering troops, and the gawking Mypiots. The driver gave them a look that would freeze Lake Mypos at ten paces. “Don’t you people have better things to do than interrupt the big romantic scene?” Everyone in the cart but Harriett and Lydia took the hint and went back to playing poker and discussing the buying and selling of livestock. The two women watched the younger pair at a distance.

“Ok,” the driver said huskily, “I can’t put one over on you, or at least, not this one. I am the Crimson Eagle. The man you saw today is my second-in-command, but I come up with the plans and drive Black Beauty.”

“Was the smoke that obscured your rescue of the Myposian prisoners one of your plans?”

He grinned slyly. “It was one of my best plans. Machines planted in certain parts of Pignika City Hall caused the smoke. My men were the Mack Sennett Keystone firemen. They dumped water on everything but City Hall to create confusion.”

“It worked.” She smiled. “You did a very brave thing today, rescuing us and those prisoners.” She leaned quietly against him. “C.E?”


“Why are you doing this?”

He shrugged. “The Mypiots are good, simple people, and they deserve better than what Gorpleous is giving them. Besides,” he added, his voice bitter and sad, “I have my own reasons.” He refused to elaborate on those reasons, and Jennifer didn’t ask. The haunted look in his hazel eyes was all the answer she needed.