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Bill Cunningham: Cadavres Exquis Fascinax is really George Leicester, M.D., a young surgeon who saved the life of the mystic Nadir Kritchna while in the Philippines. Kritchna rewarded the young doctor through a mystic ritual, which expanded the doctor’s mind to nearly one hundred percent, giving him superhuman capabilities. Fascinax has dedicated his mystic abilities to stopping Numa Pergyll, Fascinax’s doppelganger in mental prowess. Pergyll has utilized his abilities to become the hidden puppet master behind all of the world’s crime and villainy. Aiding Fascinax in his quest to stop Pergyll is the young Detective Simon Scott of Scotland Yard, and Fascinax’s fiancée–the beautiful and adventuresome Françoise de la Cruz. London, 1928

It began, as with all things, in a storm. In the brick-faced townhouse, the butler opened the door to the evening to see the familiar dripping-wet figure standing in the entry. He quietly nodded his head, knowing of the shadow’s business. “I’ll get the Doctor presently, please come inside sir.” “Thank you. I wouldn’t come, but it is of the utmost importance,” said the figure. “Of course sir. I’m sure the master understands. If you would?” The butler motioned to the carpet for the figure to wipe his shoes. He thought that it was a much easier time when the master lived in the Philippines–hardly anyone wore shoes… The dark figure stepped into the townhouse, revealing the nervous features of Scotland Yard’s Detective Simon Scott. A broad shouldered and handsome man in his late twenties, Scott had recently risen in the ranks of the Yard, due in no small part to the personage he had come to visit. “And I’m telling you, George, that a woman likes to hear those things once in a while–at least in between your ‘adventures.’ ” The feminine voice boomed throughout the house. Scott had come at a bad time. And then, another voice, male this time, echoed throughout the foyer, “Tell the Detective I’ll receive him in my study, Carstairs”. Scott turned to see the object of his visit standing at the top of the stairs. A tall dark shadow of a man with the most piercing blue eyes Scott had ever seen. Crystals that glowed with an intensity of purpose no man had ever known before. Scott was always relieved that such eyes were on the side of the law. The butler gestured and Scott took off up the wood paneled stairs to the familiar second floor study. He had been here many times before. Too many times, thought the detective.

© 2005 by Bill Cunningham

323.662.2264


With each step, Scott thought of the groove he must have worn in the floor by now. Many of their adventures had begun with Scott paying a call on his host just as he was doing now. The Doctor had introduced himself to Scott’s superiors at the Yard saying he had an interest in any of the Unsolved Files at the “morgue.” The good Doctor, just returned from living in southeast Asia, and without ever leaving the file room, had opened up lines of questioning that broke many of the most baffling cases. Those that were still unsolved he attributed to a scoundrel he named as Numa Pergyll. It wasn’t until months later, when he intervened and saved the life of the Royal Family itself, that the Yard took the Doctor’s involvement and abilities seriously. The PM and the Home Office instructed Scotland Yard to give the Doctor their every assistance. Thus, Detective Simon Scott was assigned as liaison–a duty that never fell into boredom. Especially now, thought Scott. His host sat by the fireplace as Scott quietly closed the oak door of the study behind him. A small library and meditation center, the study fit the man staring at the ebb and flow of the fire before him. Scott knew better than to come right out with it. It was their game–he would deduce everything from Scott’s words, his gestures, body language, and something that Scott always found hard to believe–his aura. Over the many months of “investigations,” Scott came to realize that the man he regarded as an oddity, was indeed a “superman”–one of rare body and spirit who accomplished the impossible. George Leicester, M.D. aka Fascinax, was in tune with forces and energies (within his body and without) that science had yet to explain, but nonetheless existed. Scott had witnessed it with his own eyes in their “Case of the Terrible Templars”. Fascinax had been able to remain under the icy cold current of the Thames for over seven minutes, evading the guns of a secret sect that planned to steal a hidden treasure of the Crusades. “Fasc–,” he started, but caught himself. He almost broke their second rule–“Never call me by that silly name the tabloids have saddled me with. I’m simply glad they have given me a secret identity to hide behind. Imagine the talk…” “Excuse me, Doctor Leicester,” he began again, “I was wondering if we could speak?” “You most certainly may not”, came the irritated voice behind Scott. The lovely Françoise de la Cruz, Leicester’s fiancée, stood in a separate doorway of the study. Stunning in her tightly wrapped lavender gown, she walked over to her man and stood beside him as he rose to his feet. Scott, even with his limited human abilities could tell they had been arguing. “Good evening, Miss de la Cruz,” stammered the awestruck detective, “I wasn’t aware I was interrupting. That is a lovely gown.” She held out her hand and he kissed it, instantly satisfying her in some way that she had been missing. Scott couldn’t believe that she could be dissatisfied. Looking at the couple, and they were a couple– they were together in every sense of the word. They finished each other’s sentences and each knew exactly the location of the other at an event. They were of one mind, one heart, but often Scott wondered, in light of her tone, “whose mind and whose heart?”

© 2005 by Bill Cunningham

323.662.2264


They had been the talk of the social pages, attending many an event together– charities, opera, grand balls–the things that Scott was usually assigned to guard, not attend. Scott often looked at the headlines where the exploits of the supernatural superman “Fascinax” had solved some dire mystery, only to find the calm and unassuming Doctor Leicester’s name mentioned in the gossip column regarding he and his fiancée’s polite social graces. If they only knew that in addition to Leicester being the superhuman Fascinax, the lovely Françoise de la Cruz was a crack shot, could ride in the steeplechase, and was a pupil of martial arts taught by her lover and mentor. She was the perfect woman for Fascinax, the perfect man. Oops, there goes that name again, thought Scott. I swear, he knows every time I even think the word, as if he were reading my mind. Fascinax smiled. “Forgive my Françoise, Scott. She has spent all week finding the right dress for the gallery opening tonight. She is going to let nothing stand in the way of her social standing.” Scott was right. He did walk into the middle of a fight. He hesitated, but off Fascinax’s stare he plunged forth. “It is I who must be forgiven, Doctor. I know that invitations for tonight’s London Royal Gallery Showing are very hard to come by. My subordinates at the Yard have drawn the duty of guarding the artwork for the event.” Scott hoped that little bit of information would help calm the situation, but Françoise still fumed. “Thank you for that, Mr. Scott. George is hesitant to go out unless there is some lifethreatening peril. He would prefer to sit on the floor and meditate until another danger threatened mankind,” said the young woman. “You would think it would kill him to ‘rub elbows’ every now and then.” “I know you would want to hear this information immediately”, said the young detective, choosing his words carefully. “You know Françoise is privy to all of my affairs, Scott,” said the tall Doctor. His face furrowed into a statue of pure concentration. Scott hated that gaze. He always felt he was being dissected, probed by the man like an ant under a magnifying glass, which wasn’t far from the truth. Leicester’s sight, hearing, smell, touch, taste and that elusive sixth sense were all trained on the detective before him. Leicester’s senses continued their sweep over Scott’s person. His brain analyzing every bit of sensory input he received. He reached out with every sense he had. With uncanny accuracy he knew what Scott had for dinner, where he had been that day, and what sort of tea he preferred. Then he recognized it–No! Scott stumbled for the words as he looked at Françoise. Her eyes told him everything–you’re ruining our evening. Leicester held up his hand. He knew why Scott had come. And Scott was right–this was far more important. Françoise de la Cruz saw the grave urgency in Scott’s eyes, and then looked to her fiancé for answers. “Give me a moment. I shall meet you and your men downstairs in the car.” Scott nodded and gracefully exited the room. Leicester took a deep breath and exhaled. Françoise was puzzled. What could make her fiancé drop everything–an event

© 2005 by Bill Cunningham

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they had been planning for months–to go off with Scott? What terror did the London night hold for her love? But it wasn’t George Leicester, M.D., who answered that questioning gaze, it was Fascinax. “It’s not a ‘what,’ Françoise, it is a ‘who.’ I can smell him on Scott’s clothes. His presence is unmistakable.” He caught his breath. “Numa Pergyll is here in London. ” Before she could utter a sound, she knew her George was lost to her. Fascinax was once again entering the fray. Cold silence gripped the interior of the car as Fascinax and Scott sped toward their destination. As was their custom, Scott told Fascinax nothing of the “scene of the crime.” The Doctor often found that the police made the wrong assumptions, and he preferred to deal with the facts that his heightened senses revealed to him fantastic as they may be. Lightning flashed by the windows of the vehicle throwing it into white. Scott flinched and hung on. The lightning and driving rain didn’t distract Fascinax as he concentrated on Numa Pergyll. Such was his amazing mind that he could re-experience every encounter he had with his archenemy as if it were happening right then, even with such distractions as a storm. Numa Pergyll was a scientist, a philosopher, a writer, a supernaturalist, a genius–and a butcher. He had much villainy to answer for. Wherever Fascinax had found chaos in the world–war, poverty, disease and slavery–the unseen hand of Numa Pergyll was often pulling the strings. Fascinax had also uncovered several hidden “lieutenants”–politicians, generals and heads of business–awaiting a command from their master. It was not known how many were held sway by Numa’s mental powers. But where you find one rat, there are many to be had, thought Fascinax. It was only his superhuman abilities that had, thus far, held Pergyll in check. Trapping them both in a master’s class of world chess–with humanity as the pawns. But that struggle wasn’t without certain rewards as it was the diabolical machinations of Numa Pergyll that brought Fascinax and Françoise together in India. Pergyll had mesmerized her Spanish ambassador father into exporting rare artifacts from the Thugee–the Indian cult of assassins. Fascinax was barely able to stop Pergyll from resurrecting a pantheon of demons trapped within the stone statues. Françoise had seen him in action, and she knew at that instant she would be his, body and soul. And despite the many adventures across the globe, his mental cleansing retreats, and the occasional wagging tongue amongst society folk, she had been beside him–as a lover, a friend and, soon, a wife. Françoise was an exquisite specimen of humanity. I’ve done her a disservice by making her wait this long, by taking her for granted. She deserves someone who will be with her always. Fascinax vowed that his first order of business after this affair with Numa would be their wedding. And yet, how many times had he said that only to involve himself in some other case and postponing his life?

© 2005 by Bill Cunningham

323.662.2264


Damn Pergyll, thought Fascinax, you are forever between my Françoise and I. This time he would finally put an end to this bloody game of theirs. This time he and Françoise would have all of the time in the world for the things she had been waiting for– their wedding, children, peace. But deep down, Fascinax knew that there would be no peace as long as Numa Pergyll was lurking about. The villain had vowed as much in their last encounter: Paris, 1927 “Damn your soul Fascinax!” spat the outraged Numa Pergyll as Fascinax and Jules de Grandin stormed his secret laboratory. They freed the subjects strapped to the operating tables awaiting surgery. Cryptic plans and designs showed the future horror he had planned for their bodies–soldiers augmented with mechanisms and weaponry–living robotic zombies answerable to their mad general. Numa raised a spear and launched it across the room, allowing him time to disappear into a hidden passage. Fascinax’s unique brain “sped up” his senses so that the deadly poison-tipped spear seemed to glide slowly in the air. At the precise moment, his hand shot out and snatched the spear away before it impaled De Grandin. Fascinax dropped the spear and rushed to the dark entryway only to hear Numa’s footfalls echo this way and that, disguising the direction of his escape. Then, Numa’s voice echoed in Fascinax’s mind… Remember this Fascinax! You started this. When next we meet, I will rip away your very life, and leave you with a most exquisite corpse! De Grandin came up to thank him when he saw the blood drain out of Fascinax’s face. In his mind’s eye, Fascinax could see Numa’s glowing green eyes fill with hatred for him. This had become personal…

London, 1928 The car stopped in front of a rundown tenement in what would kindly be termed “the bohemian section” of London - Limehouse. Bobbies stood outside the apartment as the landlady sobbed to one of the detectives. These tenements allowed crime to walk hand in hand with refugees from war-torn Europe. Starving artists also made it their domain, painting quietly in the parks or sketching the seedy existence of their felonious neighbors. Opium dens, pubs, dancehalls and “Sporting Houses” also colored the landscape. Criminals and artists, thought Fascinax, what an appropriate combination for Numa Pergyll. Fascinax exited the car and attuned his senses accordingly. He increased his focus, heart rate and flooded his system with adrenaline, steeling himself for anything. Crowds were a problem for the superman–full of thoughts, smells and colors as they were–and he being a human divining rod for sensual activity. And this was most definitely a neighborhood where anything could happen, and often did.

© 2005 by Bill Cunningham

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Fascinax brushed Scott’s shoulder. “Come, Scott, let’s see what Numa Pergyll has for us this time”. Scott instantly flinched. Fascinax at once knew the detective was leaving something out. Fascinax’s probing stare asked the question. “I’m sorry, Doctor”, Scott stumbled, “I wasn’t clear… There’s a body… But it is Numa Pergyll’s. He is dead.” The police parted as Scott and his companion burst through the mass of people. The Bobbies, even though they didn’t recognize the man with their superior, had heard enough rumors to know they were in the presence of someone of supreme authority. Scott followed as Fascinax stormed inside. Taking the dark stairs two at a time, Fascinax flew up the five flights as Scott wheezed right behind. Long shadows haunted the hallways and the air seemed to get colder around them. Fascinax concentrated harder, filtering out the varied distractions, and continued his quest. Cigars, cheap booze, a baby crying, a man and wife arguing–all things that had nothing to do with Numa and his exquisite taste. Later, Fascinax would have to tell Scott of all the goings-on in these rooms. He could sense gunpowder, dynamite, and illegal alcohol–what the Americans called “bathtub gin.” This isn’t you Numa, he thought. Numa Pergyll was a grand meticulous planner. He crafted. He was an artiste, especially in torture and death. It was his trademark, and a small indication of the depth of his evil. The surroundings Fascinax found himself in were not Numa’s territory–this, the lowest of the low. What is your purpose here? questioned the superman, his brain and physique aroused to the point of prickling his skin. He couldn’t even allow himself the luxury of referring to Numa in the past tense. Fascinax shoved the two puzzled Bobbies away from the door. Scott came up behind and waved them off. They were not to be disturbed. The Bobbies went away, shaking their heads and whispering to one another. A dead body in this neighbourhood had never before aroused this much attention from the Yard. Fascinax pushed open the door, which opened the rest of the way on its own. Then, the Doctor smelled it. Death. A tall form lay prostrate on the hard wood floor. Even after having seen the body already, Scott gave a sharp gasp, but kept his gaze on the Doctor. This is the moment of truth, thought the Detective. For Numa Pergyll, “Arch-Nemesis of Fascinax, The Master of Evil,” the hidden puppet master behind many of the world’s deepest, darkest ills, was dead, naked on floor. His body, an emaciated white canvas laced with dark blue veins. Skin drawn tight to the bone, as if dried like a beef jerky. This was a solemn, unassuming ending for one who lived his evil life like an opera. Scott expected something more dramatic. This corpse before them was simply pathetic.

© 2005 by Bill Cunningham

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Fascinax furrowed his brow, and Scott could have sworn the Doctor’s blue eyes were glowing with activity. Those same senses, that gaze which disturbed Scott, were now fully focused on the corpse before them. “Has anyone been in the room?” asked Fascinax as he walked around the body, taking in all the information his keenly tuned senses could provide. Simple plastered walls stained with water surrounded them. A few simple sticks of furniture made up the décor. In front of the body was an artist’s easel and implements, as if the corpse had been lain down as a sacrifice to the art. A wet canvas covered the painting on the easel. It appeared that Numa Pergyll finished painting, lay down and died. “Only the landlady who discovered the body and the two policemen you’ve seen,” replied the detective, checking his notes. “I came to you as soon as I realized who this was.” “And no one has touched the body, nor been in its proximity for a period longer than a minute?” continued the Doctor. He wasn’t asking a question, merely confirming what his senses already told him. He could smell the landlady’s cheap liquor and perfume. He also knew she had slept with the man two floors down. Something her husband, no doubt, would find interesting. Scott nodded, frightened at where his simple confirmation would lead. “Good. Then we can begin.” And Detective Scott broke out in a sweat… The car had come for her up promptly at 7:00 p.m. Big Ben’s tones had confirmed it. Françoise estimated that they would arrive at the gallery at 7:30. She would have to come up with another excuse for her fiancé by then. She could imagine it: sipping wine and discussing the art with someone like Man Ray or the rest of the surrealists, when someone in the crowd would whisper and point in her direction. Usually, it was that she and her fiancé were living together in the same townhouse before marriage. That was an easy scandal to handle by now. But tonight she had gone out on a limb and guaranteed her fiancé would accompany her to the gallery opening. Everyone in the art world would be there, and it had been Françoise’s chance to silence the clucking of the hens. Now, as many times before, she would be alone. And knowing that the main source of the world’s troubles, Numa Pergyll, was in London made her burden even heavier. George would not let her come with him of course, although he understood her need in the matter. The villain had killed her father right before her eyes. “And for that, good sir, I shall dance over your grave” “Excuse me, ma’am?” the driver inquired. “May I be of service?” The thick–bearded man looked in his rear-view at the stunning beauty in his transport. His accent indicated a European background, the Balkans maybe. His face indicated years of service as did the graying of his neatly trimmed beard.

© 2005 by Bill Cunningham

323.662.2264


“No, thank you, driver. I am just thinking out loud” “I’m sorry that the Doctor couldn’t accompany you tonight,” offered the driver, seeing her slight frustration. “I know that the gallery will be disappointed as well. It’s not often they send a car.” “The Doctor was called away on important business. Another matter of life and death, I’m afraid.” Upon saying the words, Françoise instantly knew that her lover’s work was far more important than a few missed events. The responsibilities of Fascinax were many and the rewards few. Mainly that the public was never to know her man’s true identity. To most, he was a handsome successful doctor who had inherited some sort of wealth and social standing–a playboy. She imagined that some of the society gossips pitied her, thinking Françoise was one in a long line of conquests for the man. Only her, a few members of Scotland Yard’s upper echelons and, of course, Detective Scott knew the truth. Her man was the only being capable of dealing with certain terrors of the world. It was a responsibility he didn’t take lightly, as she began to understand when he first told her of his life. It was the burden she willingly undertook when she looked into Fascinax’s eyes. She smiled at that thought. Calling him Fascinax, while irritating to him, was a more accurate description of her true love. He was more Fascinax than he was simple George Leicester, M.D. For once, the tabloid papers had gotten it right–he was a superman. But did her superman have no room in his life for joy? For her? Scott’s revolver shook in his hand as he trained it on Fascinax. “Don’t be a fool Scott,” uttered Fascinax, “Can’t you see I’m trying to uncover what’s really going on here?” “Please, raise your hands, Doctor. I understand your feelings. I even agree that this… man… is, was, a threat, but I can’t condone what you’re about to do. It is against the laws of God and Man. Have some respect for the dead.” Fascinax stared at the detective. His eyes bored through the man’s down to his soul. He read him like a book, and that made Scott sweat even more. He tightened his grip on the pistol. “Well, if I, an upstanding citizen, am breaking boundaries, then imagine what a devil like Numa Pergyll is doing.” Scott hesitated as he looked in the man’s piercing blue orbs. He makes sense, thought the detective. I may not entirely like this man but… He relaxed his grip slightly, and that was all Fascinax needed. He shot his arm out, grabbing Scott by the throat with blinding speed. Nimble yet powerful fingers found the appropriate nerve clusters laced around Scott’s neck and squeezed. He followed it with a quick manipulation of the blood vessels to the brain, and

© 2005 by Bill Cunningham

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Scott spasmed. What’s happening to me? he thought (for he couldn’t utter a sound). Then the feeling left his arms and legs. Scott’s pistol dropped to the floor. Fascinax gently lay the detective down next to his pistol. He checked the man’s pulse and pupils. He would be fine. Immobilized for a short time with no permanent damage. “I’m sorry Scott,” he apologized. Fascinax began. He stripped his shirt, removed his shoes and stripped his pants and undergarments. He stretched his body this way and that, focusing all of his being onto the task at hand. He pressured specific nerve endings in his body and cranium sensitizing it to his surroundings. Spinal flexing opened pathways throughout his body releasing his Qi energy. In his mind, he recited endless arcane formulae designed to focus his thoughts as the Qi energy heightened his awareness even further. As his body became a finely tuned instrument, Fascinax felt even the slightest shift in the air. Temperatures became part of the rainbow of the spectrum as his eyes shifted and became more sensitive. His core temperature rose and sweat broke out as his body worked to cool his brain and brainstem as it went into overdrive, processing all of the input it was receiving. The buds on his tongue isolated and identified the particles it tasted in the air, including the decaying body that was smeared with feces and urine. He knew what Numa’s last meal was. He knew that there was blood mixed with paint underneath his fingernails. He just knew. You, my dear Doctor, are damned, Detective Scott thought in his paralyzed state. His mind struggled to force some limb to move–any limb. Even to twitch his nose would be a feat. Nothing. Fascinax turned and stared into Scott’s paralyzed eye. Had he “heard” the detective’s thoughts? “What you believe, and what is, are two different matters, Scott,” he said. “I do not require your belief in me, or my methods. What I am about to do, I do because I have to. You will be my witness on this adventure.” And what a terrible task it was. The whole of Fascinax thought of Françoise at that moment. His right lobe was disturbed that he associated his love with his enemy. Then his left lobe realized it was because the language center had used the word “adventure.” When Fascinax had proposed to Francoise, he had used her that very same word… India, 1926 “Will you go on an adventure with me?”

© 2005 by Bill Cunningham

323.662.2264


He looked in her eyes, the crystal blue that matched his own, glowing with their own fire. Françoise came up to him, put his hand on her cheek and felt the warmth there. Then she placed his hand on her breast and he felt the warmth there. He and Françoise made love that night–their bodies and minds intertwining. He lay her on top of his body, matching her heartbeat, her breathing, and her very thoughts. By the time she was ready for his body to be inside her, he already was. Fascinax felt her first few orgasms. He felt for both. They were one, and, in that moment, the whole being named Fascinax knew everything about her–her memory, her energy, her soul. And from that pure moment… Nothing would ever come between them. London, 1928 After that night, he never again attempted such a taxing feat. Until now… Fascinax’ naked form lay down on top the body before him. Scott turned his head away. He could not even contemplate confessing to his Vicar what sort of necromancy he was witnessing. Fascinax relaxed, molding his body to his nemesis. His skin, the largest organ of the body, touched Numa’s, matched, and became Numa’s. His breath was Numa’s. His eyes were Numa’s. With each heartbeat, Fascinax sank further into the darkness that was Numa Pergyll. Slower… Slower… Until he reached that point of calm, of focus, where he was Numa. He was the dead thing underneath him-cold and unmoving. He fell into the darkness that was death, and embraced its cold love. He felt everything the body “felt”; the splinters in the floor, the cold of the air, and the intense pain in the back of his head. Fascinax lay over Numa, seeing Scott with his dark, blue eyes. He lay immobile as Scott maintaining contact with Numa’s skin. Matching the electro-conductivity of his aura to Numa’s. Seeking his energy to learn its secrets. But Numa’s aura wasn’t there! This was wrong. Fascinax’s lobes each independently processed that even the dead still retained some residual energy of their inhabitant’s “soul.” This thing Fascinax was linked to, was a husk, a shell–a darkness that was soaking up every ounce of his energy. Fascinax felt as if he were swimming in black syrup. No, not swimming, drowning! Fascinax went numb as he sank deeper. Feeling his lungs not breathing. Feeling his heart not beating. Feeling the searing pain in his skull. Nervous spasms wracked his

© 2005 by Bill Cunningham

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body as his mind reeled with images and pain… lots of pain… he had to get back to his own body! Françoise accepted another glass of champagne from the waiter as she wandered through the huge glass enclosed gallery. So far, she had been spared the direct confrontation of the social hens, but noticed several stares and whispers. Oh well, they simply won’t receive an invitation to the wedding, she thought. She did notice that her gown had the desired effect on the male population in the gallery. Too bad there wasn’t a real man among them, she thought. At least not one who could hold a candle to her George. He burned too brightly for them. Oh, I have been such a fool. He is Fascinax, a superman among men. I have pressured him to be something he is not–ordinary. And that is why I love him so …for no ordinary love would ever satisfy me. She vowed to stay for a respectable amount of time then hurry home. She would get some roses and scatter them around. Find the right bottle in the cellar. Yes, it would be the right apology for her foolishness. No more pressure. No more “hints.” She loved him and that was enough. Nothing would ever come between them. “Excuse me, madam.” Françoise held onto her drink as she turned to see who had tapped her–only to see her driver. He was dressed anew in a formal uniform with a wonderful smile across his features. “Oh, I wasn’t aware you were still here,” said the startled Françoise. “Yes, madam. I was told to conduct you to the VIP area of the gallery. That is where the special exhibition tonight is being held.” The driver gestured toward a set of grand curtains set off by a velvet rope. “Only honored guests such as yourself will be allowed to see the exhibit. The artiste was quite specific.” Oh how grand, thought Françoise. At least, I will be able to slip out from there and proceed home. She followed the driver’s arm toward the curtains and slipped behind them. The placard to the side announced the show as Exquisite Corpse by Guy L’Lampern, Artiste. Fascinax choked out the words, “Again… har-der.” Scott hit him again. Nothing. Fascinax still wasn’t breathing. The Doctor choked out the last of his air, “Hit me you spineless…!” Whack! Scott increased the force of his blow. On a lesser man, it would have broken his jaw, but Fascinax wasn’t responding! Scott reared back and hit Fascinax again! And again! And again, building his rage, as killing blows rained down on the Doctor. Scott didn’t know how much more of this he could take, much less Fascinax. Whack! Suddenly, Fascinax’s hand shot up at supernatural speed and halted Scott’s fist in mid-air. Steel-like sinews gripped the detective’s and sent burning agony through his muscles. “That will be quite enough, Detective Scott. I am back.”

© 2005 by Bill Cunningham

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“Thank goodness,” said the detective, nursing his hand, “and thank goodness, I was able to overcome your paralysis. I do however, take offense at your commentary.” “But I am alive because of it. I do apologize, Scott, a side-effect of being linked to that thing,” uttered the now-breathing Fascinax. It was a statement of fact, said with such finality that Scott was confused. “Numa Pergyll is gone.” Fascinax could see the puzzlement on Detective Scott’s face. “Numa is dead to be sure, but there’s no residual energy in his body. This is a shell. Numa’s mind is… elsewhere. It was taken out of his body.” Scott couldn’t believe what he was hearing, even though he had no doubts that Fascinax was telling the truth. The Doctor was too far exhausted to have undergone anything other than the most hellish of experiences. “Transferred? But where could someone transfer a mind? There must be a clue around here somewhere.” Scott began canvassing the room. Fascinax hung his head in exhaustion. Using his body to its full capacity took everything from him. But he had to recover, and quickly. If Numa had developed the ability to transfer his energy, then he could be unstoppable. He turned and saw Scott padding over to the painting, ripping the canvas off the work. There, in oil paint, was a surrealistic nightmare self-portrait of Numa, screaming in agony. No, it wasn’t agony. It was rage. “Scott, don’t look!” but Fascinax knew it was already too late. Numa had him. Scott’s blood ran cold. He “felt” like he was drowning, and couldn’t find any air. Yet, there he was, standing in that artist’s loft. He had taken a look at the painting–its colors and textures and design. Odd, geometric, hardly realistic and yet, compelling. Compelling–that was an apt description. There was something compelling about it; something that drew him in. And when the words suddenly came out of his mouth, he knew he could do nothing to stop them. He could only listen and know he was doomed. Fascinax crouched on the floor as the body that was once Detective Scott, but was now in Numa Pergyll’s thrall, held the pistol up to its head. “Greetings, mighty Fascinax! How does it feel to have a pistol drawn to your head, knowing that your greatest enemy has declared checkmate?” Fascinax instantly surmised that the painting had been for him, and not Scott. It had been “instructed” to mesmerize him and give him a message from Numa Pergyll. “It must be quite daunting to realize that you have somehow lost. I imagine your superior brain is wondering how I did it. The truth is if you hadn’t destroyed my complex

© 2005 by Bill Cunningham

323.662.2264


in Paris, I wouldn’t have explored my psyche to the extent I needed to cure myself. You have but yourself to blame for your loss tonight.” A wicked laugh escaped Scott’s lips as his eyes began to bleed. Cure himself? Fascinax concentrated on every word, fighting back his own rage. “Though you will never get to see it, I have had a cancerous tumor in my skull. A tumor, which doctors around the world have said was inoperable. A tumor, I later discovered, that endowed me with all of my superior intellect and mental ability. It is a conduit for all areas of my brain, allowing them to work in complete concert. I determined to defeat this irony one way or another. Radical surgery was one option, but that would have left me “normal”, and I, and my organization, are anything but normal. Therefore, after the Paris debacle, I turned inward and unleashed my creativity.” Fascinax tried to increase his adrenaline flow and force his lungs to process more oxygen into his bloodstream. He tried to focus on the gun. If he could just get that pistol away… Scott gyrated as he fought, with every ounce of his being, the demon inside his skull. Pulling the strings and watching him dance. Blood streamed down his cheeks and was matched by rivulets from his ears. “I would say goodbye now, Fascinax, but I have your funeral to attend. I told you I would leave you with an exquisite corpse–your own.” Fascinax moved as Scott’s hand tightened on the trigger, but the bullet tore through Scott’s skull and streamed grey matter across the white plaster walls before Fascinax could reach him. The detective hit the floor, and Fascinax could already hear the Bobbies rushing upstairs. He grabbed the painting and tore it to pieces. And then, he saw the signature at the bottom of the canvas. “Who is the artist?” asked Françoise of her escort as they walked past the curtains. “One moment, madam, as I must turn up the lights,” replied the servant. As the soft glow of the gas lamps rose, Françoise saw the menagerie of artwork before her. A multitude of paintings placed randomly about the room. In the center was a circle, supposedly where one stood to see the panoply of work. Françoise gazed at the variety of color around her as she moved into the circle. Then, just as she reached the nexus of the exhibit, she could see them all. Each painting was a little story of its own, but all a part of the greater tale to be told. She was immediately entranced, drawn in by the textures and the color. The surrealists were not usually her artistic ideal, but these paintings… “Oh, this is quite lovely,” she gasped as her eyes darted this way and that. “It’s a tale isn’t it? Like the newspaper strips?”

© 2005 by Bill Cunningham

323.662.2264


“Oh no, madam”, murmured the driver, “this is something far greater than that. My master says it speaks to you. He is a new artiste of the surrealists. I am pleased to present the life’s work of Mr. Guy L’lampern!” And then, Françoise watched as the walls themselves began to move around her. She could see it now, each wall was held by a car rolling on a track around the room. As the paintings moved she stood in rapt attention. “Oh, I see. This is like a kinescope! This will be fun!” As the walls picked up speed… Fascinax struggled against his manacles as Bobbies tore plaster away from the wall revealing more bodies. Some could barely keep their dinner down as they looked at the bloated, pustuled skins of the victims. Each one was tortured without mercy, and in specific ways. Some were bludgeoned with something dull. Others looked as if they had specific organs removed. And yet others were killed in ways too horrid to contemplate. Fascinax was dressed in his clothes, which he had managed to drag on before the officers broke the door in. He had to get out of here! “Please! If you will call the Home Office, they will explain!” he cried. “Home Office! No, we’re going straight to the Yard, we are,” replied the slougheyed officer. Fascinax knew they had already made up their minds about him. He couldn’t afford to waste any more time. He concentrated on his hands, compressed the muscles and tendons and slipped off the manacles. He launched one of the officers away with all his remaining energy and raced for the window. He crashed through the cheap glass and flew into the night. As he fell toward the ground, he tightened his muscles just so, reached out for the gas lamppost and swung around to the street. He raced down the cobblestones and disappeared into the night as whistles broke the silence. Françoise eyes grew heavy as the whirling paintings indeed formed a kinescope in front of her. This image and that flowed together forming pictures in her mind: Pictures she couldn’t turn away from. Pictures that spoke to her. Pictures of evil. And as the images floated about, coming off their canvases, they became part of her. Each picture one spec in a huge collage. A collage of pain and suffering; of genius and madness; pleasure and perversion. Françoise felt the story these paintings were telling. Experienced the images that assaulted her mind, infiltrating her very being and nesting within the electrochemical bonds of her memory. Tears flowed out of her eyes as she tried to turn away, but couldn’t. In her mind, she pictured herself doing the very things that the pictures depicted–rape, torture, murder, death, destruction, manipulation.

© 2005 by Bill Cunningham

323.662.2264


She saw her father, no, not her father, but someone she recognized as a father beating her repeatedly. She felt the headaches in the back of her skull. She heard the words of the physicians as they told her that it was an inoperable brain tumor. She heard that it would only get worse, and indeed they were right. She saw the lifetime of potions and addictions to subvert the pain. She saw the quacks and the treatments and the explorations of the mind and the body brought to her by the ever-faithful Franz Krypfer, her servant. And then she saw the first time she had sex (for it could never be called ‘making love’), when she raped the head of a crime family in front of his wife for refusing to obey her wishes. She beat the man with a baton. Then she raped the wife with it. In the last moments of their lives, she wallowed in their blood, painting her naked body with the slick fluids. She was sixteen. And after that moment of revengeful horror, she saw her only relief from the slicing pain in her skull being the infliction of that pain on others. Thus began an unending darkness of pain and misery that haunted her thoughts. No, not her thoughts, not quite yet… Because slowly, methodically, as her mind was being raped by the images, she knew that her George, her Fascinax would somehow avenge her. Nothing would ever come between them. And as her eyes shed their last soulful tear, she blinked; and those orbs of crystal blue turned green. Francoise de la Cruz, daughter of Ricardo and Lita, lover of Fascinax was gone. He rounded the corner, and Fascinax saw the blaze of orange engulfing the building. The fire brigade was already there hosing down the structure. Dozens of patrons watched as the gallery was consumed by the inferno. Fascinax ran through the crowd, trying to find Françoise, disregarding the fact that the sensory barrage about him assaulted his mind. He shouted her name, but none could hear over the roar of the flames. He pushed aside the crowd and began a frenzied search, tearing further toward the flames. Faces blurred together. It was if he were blind. Colors/scents/sounds/tastes/emotions washed over him. Like daggers of steel, they ripped him asunder. It was too much. And the superman the tabloids had dubbed “Fascinax” fell to his knees and cried. Far down the street, Numa Pergyll watched through the curtains of her limousine. Her green eyes felt the pain and suffering of the young Doctor who tore through the crowd behind her, and it was the sweetest honey she had ever tasted. “Franz?”

© 2005 by Bill Cunningham

323.662.2264


“Yes, Master–forgive me, Mistress?” the driver offered, unfamiliar with the tones, if not the manner, in which he was addressed. “We shall call a meeting of all my lieutenants. We shall meet in Germany. There is much work to do there, and I want them all to know that there is a new head of the organization.” Numa smiled for the first time in a long time as Franz Krypfer drove them out into the London darkness.

Epilogue: Germany, 1934 Adolph Hitler began a Top Secret program to selectively breed a pure Aryan superman– Der Ubermensch. Heading the project for the Fuhrer was a mysterious, unidentified green-eyed woman. The project was abandoned after the debacle of Aryan athletes losing to black runner Jesse Owens in the 1936 Olympic Games. The green-eyed woman has never resurfaced.

© 2005 by Bill Cunningham

323.662.2264


Exquisite Corpse