The Moon Man: Preview

That same evening Hargood Postem watched from the window of his suite as his evening’s entertainment entered her fliver and drove away from his estate. Now, with the servants off, he was alone in the twenty-five room edifice. Or so he thought.

Hargood clipped the end off of a five dollar cigar. He lit the thing with a flaming sliver of wood pulled from the fireplace.

He stood quietly smoking as he tried to decide on the proper nightcap. With Prohibition just a painful memory, the world’s greatest libations legally awaited him. But, no, that could wait. Wait until after his nightly visit to the vault.

Down he went. Past the ground floor. Past the Wine Cellar in the basement. At the rear of a hardly used game room Postem opened a panel in the wall. He worked a combination of switches. Then he entered the area’s tiny bathroom. Only the bathroom had moved aside.

Now clad in thick concrete, the area had been the family’s first “dugout” home on newly settled land. Then the space served as a root cellar and tornado shelter. These days Hargood Postem kept his secret art collection there.

In the place of honor stood a painting any art lover would recognize. The beautiful nude figure on the canvas looked straight at him as soon as he turned on the shielded lights around the picture. He brought his empty glass up to salute her.

At that instant Hargood Postem’s world exploded in an incredible flash of light. Light reflected from every shiny surface in the vault left bright spots in front of his eyes. He heard muffled clicking off to one side of the room.

He whirled around as someone said from that same direction, “Watch the birdie, Hargood.” The light came again. This time full in the face. This time he realized that light came from the flash gun mounted on a Speed Graphic camera.

Behind the huge pulsing spot in the center of his vision he heard more movements. Then the voice returned, though strangely muffled now.

“Hargood! I had no idea you would try to match the painting’s costume. Not even a fig leaf. For shame.”

Hargood Postem’s retinas still held a few spots, but they were quickly fading. All except for a large shiny silver one straight in front of him. Suddenly he realized that this was not a spot, but a sphere. A silver sphere. Sitting atop a tall black cloak. Recognition hit him like a two by four rammed into his stomach.

“The Moon Man!” came his desperate whisper.

“That’s correct, Hargood,” came the muffled voice from inside the Argus glass globe. “You win a prize. Tonight’s prize is the chance to help those thrown into poverty by the Depression. And donate you will. I’m sure a large number of these items have dubious provenance, but I can’t be sure which ones. I do know about the lady here who matches your lack of costume. There’s a $25,000 finder’s fee for her. And no questions asked. That will help out a lot of people.”

Hargood nearly exploded with anger. “You wouldn’t dare. I’ll see you in prison if you so much as…” He ran out of breath, sputtering helplessly.

“If I’m in prison,” came the icy reply, “you live in the cell across from me. Even you couldn’t buy your way out of a Receiving Stolen Property conviction over something owned by a major public museum. Think about it.”

With that the black and silver figure pulled a traveling case from an unlit corner of the room. A moment later the painting fit snugly and safely inside. His rage boiling over, Hargood Postem took a step forward. To find himself staring down the huge barrel of an automatic pistol. He stopped so abruptly that his knee buckled. By the time he recovered both the painting and the Moon Man had vanished.

Half a mile down the road from the Postem estate sat a panel truck marked as belonging to a grocery store another five miles away. Someone standing by the truck might have heard movement in the woods just beyond the shoulder of the road. But only if they possessed exceptional hearing.

Now a man quietly walked out of the woods carrying a large flat rectangular case. Strapped to his back an almost cubical box did not slow the man down. His wide brimmed hat pulled low and his jacket collar pulled up, little could be seen of his face. Nothing, really. The man put the case carefully in the back of the truck. Half way through the process his head snapped up. He didn’t quite hear something unusual, more he felt it through his skin. A deep rhythmic almost throbbing seemed to come from both the sky and ground. The man paused, his hand on a hidden weapon. The sound eased, then disappeared as if it never existed.

The man looked around before finishing his chore. Soon the truck vanished going north. North, where an art recovery expert waited. In the morning the nearly bankrupt owner of the grocery would find an extra one hundred miles on the old truck’s odometer. And an extra three hundred dollars in his supposedly empty til.