THE LAST TRUMP
By D.A. Madigan
Like a gigantic art deco tombstone, the Oedipus Arms glowered 46 stories into the brisk autumn night, its slablike silhouette neatly halving the full orange disk of the October moon. It was Samhain Eve in Manhattan, what the uninitiated would have called Hallowe'en, and within the Oedipus Arms' exclusive hallways and foyers, expensively costumed sons and daughters of the city's wealthiest families came and went in glittering, chattering streams from one elite party to the next, totting up the number of exclusive masquerade galas they gained admittance to in their heads the way previous generations might have notched kills on the pearly grips of a Colt revolver.
Yet the most exclusive gathering of all was above and beyond even these select swarms; relatively few indeed were admitted to the private elevator in the lobby that shot straight up to the swank 46th floor penthouse famously owned by Scarlett Flayme, the most scandalously debauched of all New York City socialites.
Behind his spangled scarlet domino mask, a figure whom many in those crowds would easily have recognized as Douglas MacKenzie, dissipated scion of the Manchester MacKenzies, approached the two plainclothes detectives warding the Oedipus Arms' private lift. He reflected cynically to himself that nearly any new money bourgousie could hire a passel of off duty uniform bulls to work the doors at their dos, but only Scarlett Flayme was so well connected that she could get members of New York City's famed detective squad to guard her portals... while they were still on duty, at that.
One of these crack coppers, Detective First Class Robert Keegan, raised a hairy eyebrow at him. "Your invitation, sir?" he asked, his voice soft, but not soft enough to fully mask his harsh Bronx accent.
The man he addressed simply held out his palm. Keegan played the beam from an ordinary looking flashlight over the proferred appendage, and nodded as the otherwise invisible triple 6 tattoo appeared in the ultraviolet ray. It was the only invitation anyone invited to Scarlett Flayme's Samhain ball would need, or, indeed, want to carry; like all the other invitees, the man masquerading as Douglas MacKenzie had left all his more conventional forms of identification safely at home tonight.
But that was nothing unusual for the true identity lurking tonight behind the facade of Douglas MacKenzie... the man whose real name was unknown to all but a handful of living people, but who had over the last decade become famous... or infamous... amongst criminals all over the globe as... The Trump!
Within the elevator's cage, another New York City detective played the part of operator, turning an expensive custom key as 'MacKenzie' stepped inside, activating the powerful lift, which smoothly shot up 46 stories in less than ten seconds. Nodding absently ('MacKenzie' would never have recognized any of the three dicks guarding Flayme's front entrance, although the entity actually behind the mask had carefully studied dossiers on all of them before setting out that night) to the former flatfoot, the latest initiate into Scarlett Flayme's notorious Satanic Society stepped off the elevator...
... and into the most exclusive occult gathering in the world!
From behind two masks, then, the eyes of the Trump coldly regarded the assembled illuminati of New York City and State as they laughed, drank, and danced, while awaiting the pleasure of their mistress and High Priestess, Scarlett Flayme.
No mere domino mask or jester's mufti could disguise the blocky build of New York City's police commissioner; the Trump noted him, and also noted that the dark cloaked man he stood in quiet but animated conversation with could only be New York State's senior Senator... no one else had quite such a leonine head of silver hair, or gestured quite so eloquently with the trademark cigar he held in the hand not grasping a faux scythe. Elsewhere, the Trump saw millionaire businessmen, influential military officers, and not a few notably glamorous celebrities, mingling with each other, chattering like magpies, secure behind the illusory barricades of their flimsy yet expensive costumes... secure not in the knowledge that they were not recognized, but that, indeed, they were, by their elite fellows at this gathering, despite the token disguises they wore.
Yet this was no mere costume party, and everyone here knew it. This was the Samhain Ball of Scarlett Flayme's Satanic Society. Every man and woman here had pledged their souls to Scarlett Flayme's infernal patron - and every man and woman here knew their lives and fortune hung on Scarlett Flayme's continued good graces.
And Scarlett Flayme, who frequently proclaimed herself both mistress to and daughter of the Devil himself at these gatherings, was well known to have no good graces at all. But she did throw an amazing party... and those who served her tended to prosper in their worldly affairs... as long as they did not earn her ire.
The Trump had spent eight months masquerading as Douglas MacKenzie, ever since the real MacKenzie had come to him in secret and begged his help. MacKenzie had accepted one of Flayme's more conventional social invitations and taken part in one of her 'outer circle' revels... exclusive gatherings notorious for their debauchery... only to discover, as so many others had before him, that everything he had done had been extensively and elaborately photographed and filmed by hidden cameras. Flayme had then begun pressuring MacKenzie to let her initiate him into the more arcane inner circles of her Satanic Society, doubtless hoping to make the dissipated yet influential MacKenzie and his prominent parents into eventual abject thralls... and MacKenzie was terrified for the consequences to his immortal soul should he do so... but almost as appalled at the thought of the damage his reputation would suffer should Flayme release the photos of his revels to any of his friends or family. Much less the newspapers.
So for the past eight months, MacKenzie had cooled his heels in the Trump's opulent Asian retreat, while the Trump had become MacKenzie. In that role, the enigmatic crimefighter had successfully been initiated through four more circles, and only last month, had received the third 6 to the invisible brand that marked him as a member of the Satanic Society. Now, here, he was to receive his final initiation, and become privy to the innermost secrets of the Society.
And then, once he knew everything... then the Trump would smash this nest of foulness, darkness, depravity, and corruption once and for all!
The Trump had seen evil before, but never wickedness so precisely calculated as that perpetrated by Scarlett Flayme. She had made corruption into an exact science, seducing those she wished to subjugate into darkness and depravity in an almost formulaic manner that reminded the Trump of a factory assembly line. Yet beneath the undeniable horror of the acts he had been required to participate in, the Trump had found the initiation ceremonies to be almost banal… ritual feasts, petty crimes, forced participation in ritual sexual degeneracies, and, of course, he had had to write some significantly large checks to Scarlett Flayme's favorite charities, most of whom he was aware were little more than fronts for some of the seamier rackets on the eastern seaboard.
None of it had been particularly pleasant to him, but the various ceremonies had presented nothing his mastery of his own mental and physical processes had not allowed him to take in stride.
Yet the Trump could clearly discern how a more normal man, raised within Western conventions, would have felt inevitably corrupted and soiled by some of the excesses Flayme required... how the deviant acts could have, indeed, caused a normal soul to begin to curdle and wilt, to blacken and darken and wither. But not the Trump... not a man who had, at the age of 9, witnessed the grisly murder of his own parents by a Japanese crime lord and who had been spirited away to a secret monastery and raised by masters of the chi from that age onward.
Thanks to a lifetime of mental and spiritual discipline, he could divorce his emotions from his actions, when necessary; he could keep his essential nature uncorrupted by acts that would have damaged, or even damned, a lesser soul.
At the same time, the Trump was not arrogant. He was perfectly aware that any other man would have emerged from these experiences as a decadant, depraved, and devoted dedicant to Scarlett Flayme and her Satanic Society... or he would have destroyed himself from shame. The thought filled the Trump with rage. He now thought he understood the motivations behind several otherwise inexplicable high society suicides that had occurred over the past several years. They had been the ones with the strength to resist Flayme's spiritual corrosions... resist enough, at least, to take their own lives rather than lose their own souls. And it was not unlikely that some of them had not even been suicides, but murders... murders done by or at the behest of Scarlett Flayme, to protect her own sickening secrets.
And it was for those poor victims that the Trump, clear headed and cold eyed, stared out from behind the facade of Douglas MacKenzie at the assembled members of the Satanic Society's innermost circle. It was for those souls that the Satanic Society had carelessly demolished that the Trump would take action tonight.
It was for them that the Trump would destroy Scarlett Flayme once and for all...!
And so it was that no one in Scarlett Flayme's private ballroom suspected that a covert operative dedicated to their destruction moved among them…!
The gigantic manservant’s name was Utha. By the sort of coincidence the world seems rife with, Utha was one of the very few living men who would have recognized the Trump, had he seen the mystery man undisguised, for Utha had spent his formative years as a servant at the hidden Himalayan temple where the brothers of Devi Kun practiced their particularly ascetic offshoot of Zoroastrianism. Utha had been cast out in his late teens when the brothers became aware of the violent malevolence that seethed beneath his normally placid exterior, a psychic darkness that had become more and more difficult to conceal from them as he had grown closer to adulthood.
The Trump -- Donald Castlemere, as he had been known then -- had had frequent clashes with Utha, when both had been youths at the temple. Even before the Masters themselves had been able to discern the blackness at the center of Utha’s being, that accursed wispy blonde boy child had seemed to instinctively understand Utha’s nature. On more than one occasion, Utha had had to divert himself from tormenting some helpless victim, because Castlemere had ‘just happened’ upon the scene, no matter how far removed it might have been from the Temple itself. Utha had yearned to destroy the interloping child, but the masters had kept their new charge too closely guarded… as if he had been special, in some way. Had he turned up hurt, or dead, or even just disappeared, they would have sought for answers as to why. And Utha was not stupid enough to want that.
And there was another factor. Unlike many predators, Utha disdained easy prey. Even at the age of 10, the child who would grow to be the Trump had possessed a spirit consumed with fury, driven by a grim need for vengeance and justice. Utha had seen in that boy‘s fury a strength of spirit that may well have matched the burning rancor, the hatred for nearly all those weaker than him, that suffused Utha‘s own soul. He had yearned to try his strength against Castlemere’s. Above all else, he had wanted to extinguish that bright elemental light in the kid’s eyes, preferably beneath the heel of his own calloused foot.
Perhaps because of that, Utha still fantasized about meeting Castlemere in combat… somewhere on Utha’s turf, preferably, where he would have an advantage, where he could put his hands on the wretch’s slim body and smash him to the ground, breaking his bones, rending his flesh. Some place where neither would be able to employ guns, those cheating, filthy weapons weak men leaned on like crutches. The Trump was well known to disdain firearms… something for which Utha respected him. Real men broke each other with their own strength, their own bodies.
After being jettisoned from the Temple at the age of 15, Utha had wandered much of Asia , always able to find satisfyingly brutal work for low grade criminal gangs… until Scarlett Flayme had happened across him one day, as he was methodically snapping every bone in the hands and arms of an unfortunate gambler who had lost sums he could not pay to one of Utha's employers.
After that, Utha had served Scarlett Flayme body and soul, and if the amount of blood he had gleefully shed prior to entering her service could have been measured in gallons, then the vast quantities he had joyously caused to flow for her since could only be described in terms of rivers, or even seas.
In his heart of hearts, Utha still held out hope that one day he might have his long desired confrontation with Donald Castlemere. Utha was well aware of the activities of a self styled mystery man named the Trump - a master of disguise whose seemingly superhuman feats of infiltration could only be the result of long training in the arts of the Devi Kun. Utha was certain that the Trump could only be Castlemere… it could be no coincidence that the Trump’s first known target had been the Japanese gang lord who had murdered Castlemere’s parents so long before. The Trump had infiltrated that crime lord’s network, ripped it apart from within, and sent the crime lord himself plummeting to his death from the observation deck of a Russian freight dirigible circling high above Shanghai. It had been that adventure that had made the mysterious crime fighter famous throughout the world, that had caused newspapermen on every continent to avidly echo his lurid catchphrase - ‘Any card can be -- The Trump!’
And that had let Utha know that the opportunity to avenge himself on Castlemere might well yet come…
Now the vast Mongolian giant stood stolidly in a corner of Scarlett Flayme’s most private chamber, eyes rigidly averted as his mistress writhed, naked and wanton, on her decadently luxurious daybed. He had seen Scarlett Flayme nude many times, had seen her coupled with hundreds of different men and women and no few beasts of the field, had frequently held her unwilling victims still for her ministrations, had often operated camera equipment to record various depravities and even wielded whips, straps, hot irons, and other implements of torture, or simply held them for his mistress to utilize… but he never watched when she rutted like this, seemingly alone, yet not touching herself, apparently embracing and being embraced by some ethereal lover no human eye could clearly discern.
The woman… if such she still was… shrieked in exultation, shuddered climactically several times, and then went still, only the harsh panting of her labored breath making it apparent that she yet lived.
Moments later, she arose from the daybed, clad only in a thin sheen of perspiration and the dark, evil glamour of wanton sexuality that hung about her voluptuously shaped body at all times. It was an aura that in another woman might have made her seem accessible, even submissive, but that somehow, radiating from Scarlett Flayme like the superheated corona of a black sun, pulsated with sheer raw power and an unrelenting will to malevolently dominate all around her.
She snapped her fingers imperatively and Utha obediently brought her an emerald green silk wrap embroidered with shimmering red serpents suggestive of dancing flames. “We have an infiltrator,” she said, in that quiet, husky voice that she could pitch expertly to reach only the ears of a single nearby confidante, or raise to overwhelm the idle chatter of a thousand event attendees in a crowded auditorium.
Utha’s normally expressionless face barely twitched, yet Scarlett read him as easily as she did nearly any other living human male… something of an accomplishment, as Utha’s craggy Mongolian features beneath his shaved and always gleaming yellow scalp had won him thousands of dollars over the years in high stakes games of illicit poker. “Hmmmm,” the temptress incarnate went on, waving one hand casually as she struck a match with the other and lit a slender cigarette, “I would have thought you would be surprised by that… and yet… you seem… hopeful?” She smiled. “Do not get your hopes up, my vast one. Whoever he is, my pet detectives will end his menace with a well placed bullet.”
Utha lowered his head slightly. “As… you say… Mistress,” his voice grated, like slate stones rumbling across each other. “How… do you know… we have… a spy here?”
Scarlett laughed. “Oh, Utha. You have seen so much, and yet you still doubt the powers my father has granted me.” She drew on her cigarette again, eyes thoughtful. “I am certain. While I was transported outside my flesh, I clearly caught a glimmer of a powerful psyche indeed, for just a moment, in the ballroom below. It vanished before I could focus on the particular envelope of flesh that encased it… yet what I saw was a mind like a steel blade.” She let the cigarette smoke trickle out through her beautifully formed nostrils, her evil smile combining with the streams of tobacco vapor to momentarily give her a nearly demonic visage.
“Nothing at all like the rest of the cattle down there,” she mused, her blood red tongue tip rolling lasciviously across her full lips. “Some real opposition… he must be new. I‘d have sensed him before this if he‘d been in the Inner Circle for any amount of time.”
Utha scowled. She said he doubted her, but in fact, he knew, it was she who doubted him. She thought he was merely some great stupid oaf, all muscles and no brain.
His grating voice muttered, "I know... who it is."
The Mistress of Midnight arched a perfectly proportioned eyebrow at him. "Pray tell, O Vast One," she encouraged.
"It's... the Trump," Utha growled, each syllable emerging with ponderous weight, as if carved from stone and then dropped down a well. "Has to... be. He's the... only one who... could get this close to us."
"The Trump," Flayme mused, tapping her shapely lips with one beautifully manicured index finger. "Hmmm... I haven't heard much about him. Just rumors, really... Dolph Franzetta was whining about some mysterious master of disguise who wrecked his kiddie slave rackets last year... what was that ridiculous motto he told me? Oh, yes... 'Any card can be... The Trump!" Scarlett gave a low, seductive chuckle. "Sounds like something from a radio melodrama."
"Not... master of disguise," Utha said. "Initiate... of the Devi Kun. Can look... like anyone... controls the muscles and nerves of his own body... controls his aura, too. Make you think... you see... someone... he's not."
Scarlett Flayme considered this for a moment. "A master of the teachings of the Devi Kun," she murmured quietly to herself. "Yes... that could be the sort of mind I sensed tonight."
Utha looked at her urgently. "He... can appear... to be... anyone," the colossal bodyguard repeated. "Like... you said: Any card can be... the Trump!"
Flayme threw back her head and laughed in delight. “Some real opposition at last! Well, whoever he is, won't he be shocked when I lead the benediction tonight!”
Utha inclined his massive head at that. Indeed, whoever it was, assuming they were receiving their final initiation into the innermost circle of the Satanic Society tonight, would find their next stage of enlightenment extremely… surprising.
And if it was the mysterious Trump, enlightened initiate of the inner mysteries, meddler, do gooder, self styled hero... well... the shock of tonight's revelations might well be fatal. At the very least, it should make the infiltrator much easier to detect... and destroy.
The woman clad in green and red narrowed her eyes, then, an introspective expression crossing her flawless, vulpine features. “Still, it would be wise to take some precautions,” she said. “The psyche I glimpsed was very powerful… and while I am my father’s favorite daughter, he would be just as pleased to have me serve him in Hell as here on Earth.” Whether this was true or not, Utha could not say; his mistress frequently claimed intimate familiarity with the Christian devil Lucifer, whom Utha still thought of, for the most part, as Ahriman, and whether this was a calculated charade meant to impress and inspire terror in others, or something she truly believed in… or even the actual truth… only she seemed to know. Still, he had been as thoroughly indoctrinated as any in the precepts of the Satanic Society; one of the most basic was that the flesh is only so much rotting meat, and while Satan would help a faithful servant up the ladder to wealth, fame and power, His Infernal Majesty would never intervene to prevent a mortal from dying an untimely death, and being thus precipitated into the Pit for all eternity.
Friends of the devil could count on his help to increase their earthly stature, but it was entirely up to them to stay one step ahead of the Reaper. Scarlett Flayme always covered her bets. For the next three minutes, she dictated instructions to Utha. Then, as she prepared herself for the midnight benediction, Utha stepped through a curtained off alcove into her private communications room, and passed the Mistress of Midnight's latest orders along to her other minions.
The detectives on duty in the building’s lobby got the word through their earphones that they were to report to the upper penthouse, locking the private elevator behind them upon their departure from the lobby. There Utha and two other servants handed out additional weaponry besides the City issue firearm each detective carried -- a grenade each, from the Satanic Society's well provisioned armory, along with clips of armor piercing bullets and special nose plugs that would come in very handy, should Scarlett Flayme decide to flood her penthouse suite with knockout gas through the air conditioning vents.
Along with the equipment came specific orders as to where each city cop was to station himself on the penthouse floor, what they were to keep their eyes open for… and how they should respond, if they were to spot anything out of the ordinary. The instructions were meticulous and left nothing to chance; if any of the former flatfeet were to see anything they did not comprehend, they were to riddle it with bullets first and ask questions later.
If shooting it full of holes didn't slow it down, well, that was what the grenades were for.
Then, seemingly prepared for anything, Scarlett Flayme caused a quiet gonging tone to be broadcast through the penthouse’s expensive built in wall speakers… a signal that the Society members should all gather in the central ball room.
Then, her robe loosely belted around her magnificent body, Scarlett Flayme strode out onto the stage in front of her fearfully adoring audience.
Behind her, Utha schemed his own schemes…
"Our reading tonight is from the Satanic Book of Lilith," Scarlett Flayme purred, her voice sultry and seductive as it carried her words out across the masses of rapt, upturned masks within her private ballroom. It was midnight, and the final initiation into the Satanic Society's innermost circle had begun. The electric lights were extinguished; each initiate held a long black candle before them in both hands, steeled by past tortures against the pain of the hot wax constantly streaming over their fingers.
"Lilith was our father Adam's first wife, and his favorite," Scarlett went on, opening the massive black, leatherbound volume on the dark wooden pedastel in front of her. Four black wax candles burned around the book, two on either side of it; the flickering shadows cast by the hundreds of guttering flames in the room gave her eyes a hellish glare. "She was a creation of the Lord Satan, made from a mixture of the fertile earth Adonai had created Adam from, and sperm Adam had spilled after masturbating. She taught Adam the joys of sex, sex not for the sake of procreation, which the world had no need of at that time, but purely for the hedonistic thrill of fleshly pleasure." Scarlett leaned forward, her breasts perfect orbs of carnal compulsion, pushing the folds of her emerald green robe aside, her rouged nipples brazen in the reddish glare of the massed candleflame.
"Lilith was unapologetically, aggressively wanton," Scarlett went on, running her tongue slowly, sensuously around the red, ripe circle of her lips, "feeling neither fear of nor shame for her own sensual appetites, and she and Adam enjoyed each other's bodies enormously, in every conceivable way."
Scarlett's perfect brows came together then, in a frown: "When Adonai looked down and saw Adam enjoying himself with a creature he had not brought into being, he sent angelic lackeys to harry Lilith from the garden, and created his own companion for Adam, the much more demure, timid Eve, whom he raised up from Adam's flesh. Eve had little or no sex drive and Adam found coupling with her brought him little pleasure; he much preferred masturbation, while fantasizing about his lost Lilith."
Now Scarlett gave her full attention to the illuminated page in front of her, and pitching her voice to a sonorous rhythm, began to read aloud: "And so it came to be that Adam went forth from the Garden while Eve did sleep, and to the east of Eden he did come upon Lilith, and the two did know each other again as they had before, and afterward, Lilith did whisper to Adam, 'Do you this, my love, but kill the interloper Eve, and we shall be together again, and for always'. "
"And Adam had no love for Eve, and he was wont to do this thing, yet he was also afraid, for Eve had been given him as his helpmeet by Adonai, and Adam greatly feared the wrath of Adonai, and so he stayed his hand. And so it came to be that in a matter of days, Eve brought forth into the Earth a new thing, and that new thing was a child of Adam and Eve, and they named this child Asmael, as it was the first such child to come onto the created Earth."
"And yet Lilith was greatly enraged and filled with jealousy, and when next Adam came to her he found her most wroth, and she said to him that he must slay Asmael to show that he still had great love for Lilith. And so Adam returned to the Garden and pressing his hand to his infant son's face he did stop up his breath, and Asmael did perish."
"And then to shew his great love did Adam take the dead child to Lilith, and she did cook Asmael's flesh over a fire, and did devour pieces of Asmael's cooked flesh, and did offer pieces to Adam, and he did consume them, and this was the first flesh consumed by any man or woman on the created Earth, and Adam found it good. And so Adam became a hunter as well as a gardener, and he slew many of the beasts of the garden and the field, and did cook their flesh and eat it, and found it good. And he gave of the cooked flesh to Eve and she also found it good."
"And when the Adonai did discover that Adam had become an eater of flesh, and had made Eve into one too, then did Adonai grow wroth, and cast Adam and Eve out from the Garden, and remove from them their immortality, and condemn them to finite lives of toil and pain and death."
Scarlett Flayme glanced up at this, her eyes dancing with wicked glee, then lowered her gaze again, and continued: "And so it came to pass that Eve bore for Adam many sons and daughters, and the getting of them brought neither she nor he any pleasure, and the birth of them was a matter of pain and blood and tears, and these sons and daughters grew straight and true and were brought up in the ways of Adonai, which are to believe that all sex is only between a man and a woman, and only for purposes of getting children, and must have no joy or pleasure to it, as the flesh is weak and corrupt, and due to Adam's sin, humans were condemned by Adonai to lives of pain and toil."
"Yet the Lord Satan pitied these poor humans and He sent his daughter Lilith to the sons and daughters of Adam and Eve, and Lilith taught them of the joys and pleasures of the flesh, and so it was that one day Adam's sons Cain and Abel and Lilith were enjoying each other in a carnal way, and the two brothers did fall to fighting over Lilith's favor, and Cain did seize on a stone and slay his brother Abel with it, and then Lilith said "Come, I will shew unto you a new pleasure I shewed to your father Adam", and she did cook the flesh of Abel, and she and Cain did eat of it, and find it good."
"And so it was that Cain learned the joy of murder and the pleasure of eating human flesh, and unto his own sons and daughters by Lilith did he and Lilith teach these joys as well, and so it was that the children of Cain and Lilith did go among the children of Adam and Eve's other children, and they did seduce them, and they did murder them, and they did eat of their flesh."
In the back of the room, the Trump stared up, his face expressionless behind his domino mask, yet his soul seething in horror and disgust at these blasphemies. And he could not help but remember the greasy, fatty taste of the cooked flesh served at the ritual feasts which he had participated in. He had wondered at the time what sort of meat was being set before him, and then put the matter aside as a trivial one, next to the more important goal of infiltrating the Society... but now, he suspected that he had been tricked... and trapped...
"So, here is your final initiation test, brothers and sisters in the service of Satan," Scarlett Flayme declaimed from the podium, her voice vibrant with dark triumph. "Prior to this you have stolen for the Society, you have debased and degraded yourself for the Society, you have entered into corrupt pleasures of the flesh... and now you know you have consumed the most forbidden fruit of all, that which was the true apple that Adam was tempted with, the cooked flesh of his murdered infant son... as is right and meet, for the children of Cain and Lilith did prosper, and we are all their descendents, the line of the Cro Magnon, which wiped from the Earth forever the more gentle Neanderthal, children of Adam and Eve's other children." Her eyes flashed again in the gloom. "We are all predators, and these bodies are but spoiling meat, and now, as your last test, each of you final initiates will go out from this place into the city, and find us some meat... still living, and unsuspecting, and bring it back here, that we may feast." Scarlett Flayme once more licked her lips, this time not lasciviously at all. "I myself much prefer children below the age of adolescence." She smiled cruelly. "Now go, and hunt, that we may eat!"
And in the back of the room, behind the bland eyes of Douglas MacKenzie, the Trump, master of his own body, felt, for the first time since the Devi Kun final rite of passage, sick to his stomach... and sick in his soul...
Uncontrollable spasms of horror wrenched through the Trump’s powerful physical frame. His stomach roiled, his very innermost being recoiling in revulsion from the knowledge of what he had eaten. Human flesh… human meat… tissues taken from one of the Satanic Society’s many murder victims, no doubt… not since he had deliberately taken poison as a test of his own control over his metabolism as a final rite of passage had the Trump felt so intensely, violently sick.
And the physical sensations were nothing compared to the psychic, emotional uproar that burned and twisted like corrosive acid within the Trump’s soul, searing at him like hot irons. He had been foolishly, stupidly proud of his own enlightenment, his own self discipline… had arrogantly, even smugly congratulated himself on how easily he held himself aloof from the degradations that would have corrupted any lesser mortal. He had been complacent in his own enlightenment, cocky in his belief that his advanced upbringing had rendered him immune to foolish social taboos.
But now, Scarlett Flayme had humbled him… degraded him… corrupted him. More than that, she had ruined him… spoiled him irrevocably, damaged him, stained him in a way beyond all hope of redemption.
I didn’t know! he told himself desperately, pointlessly, futilely. It didn’t matter. Ignorance was no excuse. He had eaten. He was soiled. He had fought evil for a decade, crushing it resolutely in his hands, breaking it before his will. He had never been touched by its darkness, had always stayed apart and above, always known that the violences of his chosen path were necessary, were justified, that pacifism only helped the predatory.
But now the darkness had entered into him. Now, the very core of his being was tainted… rotten.
The knowledge ripped through him in waves, devastating psychic temblors that shook him to his foundations. And with them came the near overwhelming compulsion… to give up. To give in. To surrender to the darkness within him.
Decent society would no longer have him. Only outlaws and outcasts… only the vile and the damned would accept him now. His life could have no meaning… unless Scarlett Flayme gave it to him. He could lose himself in her shadow, wallow in the darkness and blood, the decadence and corruption, of her way of life…
And at that thought, his head came up, and a glint like forged steel came into his gaze.
The thought was as clear as a clarion in his mind, ringing out like cannon fire. For one instant, his eyes met those of the she-devil behind the podium. For a single timeless moment, their gazes locked, burning into each other, and the thought flew like a thrown weapon from his mind to hers.
Perhaps he was irredeemably soiled. Perhaps no decent person would ever want to have anything to do with him again. But that did not make his life meaningless.
He had come here to do something, and now, he was more determined than ever to accomplish his goal.
Scarlett Flayme and her Satanic Society might well have destroyed him on a fundamental level, might well have dealt him a mortal psychic blow from which he would never recover.
But he would take them with him to Hell…!
On the dias, Scarlett Flayme’s golden-red eyes scanned the milling, moaning, groaning, gasping crowd beneath her intently and relentlessly. Her keen, almost inhumanly powerful mind firmly wedded to her magnificent physical carcass once again, she found her psychic abilities unfortunately blunted by her fleshly trappings… but her gross physical perceptions were nonetheless finely honed. Somewhere in the midst of her assembled followers, a powerful enemy lurked. Her eyes flicked from face to face, from masked visage to masked visage, seeking, searching… hunting.
It always hit the new initiates hard, this final revelation. The taboo against eating human meat went deep in every so called civilized society. Dozens of those below her were retching and vomiting, deeply sickened by the knowledge she had just imparted to them. Dozens more were barely keeping their gorges down, queasy and revolted. Somewhere among them… somewhere…
And then she felt it, ringing in her mind, cutting like the crack of a whip through the smoky, shadowed air, freighted as it was with the smells of sweat, horror, and puke… a mental cry of defiance, as sharp as a scimitar, as hard and unbreakable as titanium --
And she found herself staring into eyes like trapdoors into Hell itself, and almost staggered back from the sheer virulent hatred in that gaze, hatred that hit her like a psychic fist.
Scarlett Flayme bit her lip, tasting blood in her mouth, and leaned forward to focus on the man she now knew for a bitter foe. The man…
Gone. The crowd swirled aimlessly, hopelessly. No one down there dared to meet her gaze. They were sheep… revolted, sickened, stupid sheep. Whoever he had been, he had slammed his shields closed again, and taken cover in the milling mob.
But he was there. She knew it.
And he would be coming for her. She knew that, too.
Her lips curved in exultation. Good… good, then. For he was a man, of that she was sure. And she had never met a mortal man she could not bend to her will.
He already belonged to her, whether he knew it or not. But she suspected he was beginning to realize it on his own…
She laughed, a rich, contralto sound utterly devoid of humanity, as she turned to make her way back to her private suite.
At the end of the hallway, a key turned in a lock. Utha looked up expectantly. This corridor led to the innermost sections of Scarlett Flayme’s expansive suite, her most private sanctum. The guards had keys, yes, but none of them would dare to come here without good reason. As a general rule, initiative was not rewarded in the Satanic Society. In fact, most often, it was cruelly and fatally punished, as an object lesson…
Utha had positioned himself here, knowing that that it was the vital point through which the Trump would have to pass, to reach Scarlett Flayme. He had directed the rest of the security forces to other, more distant points, knowing full well that Castlemere would easily bypass them.
The door swung wide, and Detective First Class Robert Keegan stepped through. His eyes met Utha’s across the thirty feet or so separating them, down the length of the lushly appointed hallway.
And Utha knew, instantly, that the cop before him was an imposter!
Utha had been cast out of the order of the Devi Kun long before he could complete his studies of the inner mysteries. Yet he would never have been chosen in the first place had he not had the basic psychic capacities necessary to begin training… the ability to exert conscious control over his most basic physical functions… the ability to travel on the astral plane… and the ability to see auras.
Utha’s mastery of these arts was rudimentary at best… but the aura that burned like fire around the semblance of Detective Keegan was definitely not that of any former city flatfoot. Utha had spoken with the real Keegan several times over the past few years. His aura was a ferocious thing, for a mundane mortal… but it was also grey, and worn, and corrupt, and undisciplined, subject to quick, violent rages, blunted by years of vice.
But the aura Utha now saw was that of some devil spirit, some great winged tiger out of legend.
The aura of the man that the boy Donald Castlemere would inevitably have grown into.
The aura of… The Trump!
Unshielded, unaltered by any attempt at psychic disguise. The Trump was relying only on his mastery of his own nerves and micro muscles, the uncanny ability to reshape his own face and to some extent, his own body to closely mimick the physical features of another.
Doubtless, even the Trump could not control the sick rage he must feel at the night’s revelations. It shone from every pore… a grim determination to destroy everyone and everything that had brought him to such a corrupted, darkened state.
Another man, confronted with such blazing power, such righteous rage, might have screamed and fled.
Utha merely bared his teeth in an eager smile, curled his powerful fingers in anticipation… and with a bellow of joy, charged.
At long last, he would take the hated interloper’s neck between his vast, hard hands and snap it like a twig. At long last, he would feel his childhood enemy’s bones break beneath his own pummeling, club like fists. At long last, he would smash the light of fury from those pale blue eyes with his feet. At long last, the blood of the Trump would spatter Utha like a baptism.
The Trump had no chance to draw Detective Keegan’s service automatic… and no inclination to do so. In the ten years he had fought crime all over the world, he had never owned a firearm, rarely carried one, never fired one at another human. He had killed men, when they deserved it, or when he had to do so in self defense, but he reviled most weapons because it was their nature to make killing easier.
The Trump was willing to kill if he had to… but never casually. It should never be easy. It should always be hard work.
Upon knocking Detective Keegan unconscious and taking his clothing, the Trump had also taken Keegan’s weapons… his .45 automatic, and the grenade he had in one pocket. It was no holds barred between him and Flayme tonight, and if the Trump had to shoot her, he would. But the gun was still in Keegan’s shoulder holster, and the Trump had no desire to even attempt to draw it against this thug. If the Trump could not handle such a creature without resorting to such weapons, then he did not deserve to defeat Flayme tonight…
And then Utha’s mountainous bulk was upon him, and the Trump’s thoughts vanished in a haze of combat.
Utha’s charge was designed to smash the Trump backwards into the hall, and then the wall, behind him, to knock the breath out of him, to drive him limply to the ground, where Utha’s powerful hands could choke the life out of him while beating his head to a pulp against the beautifully carpeted floorboards. It had always been a winning tactic for Utha in the past; no man he had ever fought had managed to keep his wits about him when faced with such screaming, hurtling, unrelenting ferocity. On four separate occasions, Utha had used such a charge to overcome opponents who had been pointing loaded guns at him from a distance of ten feet or more; twice his charge had so rattled the enemy that their point blank shots had missed, while the two remaining times, Utha had not even felt the bullets bite into his flesh, so lost in berserker rage had he been.
The Trump did not even try to dodge Utha’s charge, he simply timed the man mountain’s rush and then fell back before it, rolling onto his back with an agility Utha would have found astounding, had Utha the time to do so. Utha’s grasping fingers found only air; he perceived a brief, bewildering series of events -- hands like steel traps closing on the front of his shirt, legs like iron pistons ramming patent leather soles into his hips… and then he found himself flying through the air, somersaulting as he did, his heels whipping up over his head in utter defiance of gravity, the enemy’s emotionless face only inches away…
And then, a stunning impact, a twisting, wrenching inner snapping sensation…
The Trump regained his feet, wincing. The rolling throw had worked perfectly, as it nearly always did against a charging foe, but even a man with perfect balance could not help but suffer bruises and muscle strains when employing such a move against an enemy as massive and moving as fast as the gigantic Mongolian had been.
A few minutes’ deep meditation would have been enough to restore his strained tissues to perfect order. But the giant’s furious bellow must have been audible on the street below, and then the crash of his colossal body against the far partition had been like a minor earthquake in the hallway; the expensive paneling over the concrete wall had been smashed to splinters and shards, and the snapping of the hulking guard’s neck had sounded like a heavy branch breaking. Already, the Trump could hear shouts coming from the direction of the elevators. Flayme’s other armed guards would now be heading this way at a dead run… and even the Trump could not hope to survive a barrage of bullets.
Yet the Trump could not shake the notion that there was something familiar about the fallen giant’s visage. Even canted at an angle as it was by the broken neck beneath it, still, it struck a chord in his memory. Something… someone, long ago…
Had he had the time, the Trump could have used his absolute control over his own body to transform himself into a passable imitation of the fallen giant. Skin color was simply a matter of controlling one’s own melanin; for added height and seeming mass, one flexed and expanded the muscles and sinews. Such a transformation would have strained even his powers to their utmost, and even there, the physical resemblance would be far from exact. But by manipulating his aura, he could take on a convincing semblance of Utha… although he would not be able to maintain such a demanding impersonation longer than a few minutes at most.
But it would take long minutes of meditation; the Trump barely had seconds. This was the endgame now, and Flayme would be warned of his imminent arrival.
Dismissing Utha and his haunting familiarity from his mind, the Trump raced down the hallway towards the door he knew would lead into Scarlett Flayme’s locked quarters, drawing the stolen .45 automatic as he did so. He would have to hope that the semblance of Detective Keegan would fool Flayme longer than it had her guard. All he needed was a second or so to aim and pull the trigger --
Inside, Scarlett Flayme snarled in hatred and rage. Relaxed in a seductive sprawl on her luxurious daybed, she had been fully prepared to pit own powers of enticement against the will of whoever might come through the door. She had instructed Utha to admit whoever might come to her innermost chamber without incident. She had been supremely confident in her own abilities…
And then, Utha had bellowed in rage, and gone rushing down the hall, and in a flash of sudden psychic insight, Scarlett Flayme’s inner eye had opened, and she had seen the man mountain’s abrupt and utter defeat. The sudden reversal, the way the man had whirled beneath the giant’s charge, lithe and agile as a panther, the power with which he had sent Utha’s bewildered body smashing into the wall, breaking Utha’s neck, sending his soul screaming into the depths of hell.
And she had seen, with the inner eyes of her blackened, shriveled soul, the ferocious spirit of the being that was coming for her.
That was not a man to be trifled with in any way.
Snapping her physical eyes open again, Scarlett had reached for the loaded machine gun she had previously placed on the floor beside her daybed, between it and the wall.
A girl should always have a back up plan…
Outside, the Trump tore down the hall, gun in hand. Ten feet from the door, he flung himself forward, rolling on his shoulders like a rubber ball, lashing out with both feet against the beautifully carved mahogany door, slamming the soles of his borrowed shoes like trip hammers against the wood just below the ornate brass knob. The door tore off its hinges, pin wheeling forward into the room, crashing against an inner wall. The Trump rolled again, coming to his feet, lunging low, gun in his hand, eyes seeking a target --
A blast of machine gun fire ripped out of the room‘s inner shadows, as Scarlett Flayme shrieked in defiance…
“Get out of the way, you idiot!“ Detective Lieutenant Bradford Wong snarled, as Detective Sergeant Julius Brackney fumbled to turn a key in the lock leading to the innermost section of Scarlett Flayme’s sprawling penthouse. Not waiting for Brackney to obey, Wong shoved the black detective aside with his left hand while firing his .32 point blank into the lock with his right.
Kicking the door open, Wong led half a dozen members of New York City’s detective squad at a charge down the hall, towards an open doorway from which streamers of smoke could be seen issuing.
Only seconds before there had been a hellish cacophony from this direction -- shouts of rage, huge resounding crashes, the roar of machine gun fire, shrieks and screams, an iron bellow that could only be a grenade.
But now, there was only silence… and plumes of smoke and dust.
Wong burst into the room, fanning his gun around. “New York City police!” he bawled. “If anyone’s in here, show yourself! Hands over your head!”
The room was a wreck; a blackened, smoking crater in its floorboards showing where the grenade must have gone off. Through the hole, an opulent lounging suite on the floor below could be dimly seen. On the other side of it, a scorched daybed had been blown over onto its side. From behind its bulk, a figure rose slowly, majestically, hands at its sides.
“Detective,” came the sultry, purring voice of Scarlett Flayme, as the red haired woman drew her emerald silk robe tightly across her breasts. “How nice of you to finally arrive.”
Hours later, the red haired temptress finally closed the door leading into her innermost chambers with an inward sigh of relief.
It had been a dreadful mess, and much still remained to be cleaned up. Despite the fact that the detectives chosen to provide security had been amongst the most corrupt on the city force, Wong had tried to be stubborn, attempting to insist that the blasted, burned remains the self proclaimed Daughter of the Devil had identified as her attacker should be turned over to the City Medical Examiner for autopsy. He had doubtless thought he was impressing her with his diligence in trying to ferret out any conspiracy that might be moving against her. She had finally had to borrow his weapon and shove the barrel in his mouth to get through to him that there would be no autopsy; she had private designs on the remains, and she would brook no arguments from her minions. Then he had finally left, taking the other detectives with him.
And now, at long last, she could relax… if only for a few hours.
The body would have to be disposed of in some way that would not lead to any kind of examination. Shattered though it had been by the close range grenade blast, still, if you looked hard enough, you could doubtless still tell it was female. And that might cause questions… which could lead to suspicions… suspicions that the High Priestess of the Satanic Society wanted to avoid at all costs.
It would be hard, maintaining a female form for however long it would take to completely destroy the Satanic Society from within. Hard… but not impossible. The behavior… the wanton wickedness, the depravity, the delight in cruelty for cruelty’s sake… that would be much, much harder to emulate convincingly, in the long run.
But it would help, knowing that he was already beyond redemption. And it was ironic, that that final damning should turn out to be perhaps the key weapon in his campaign to destroy all of Scarlett Flayme’s evil works.
And it would help more, knowing that in the end, he would wipe this vile Society from existence, he would trace every inch of its influence, he would utterly destroy every member, he would eradicate it totally from existence.
It would be his life’s work, now.
From behind the reddish orange eyes of Scarlett Flame, the Trump peered out, and smiled grimly.
There was much to be done.