Compliments of the Domino Lady

An Exclusive Excerpt of the All-New Novelette

featuring the Origin of the Domino Lady by


Aroused, The Domino Lady

from Vanguard Productions' Hardbound edition


Chapter 5


The Mad Hatter offered a daiquiri to Cleopatra, while just behind them, The Shadow tangoed with the Bride of Frankenstein. Like characters spawned from Prospero's nightmares, beautiful and grotesque, the phantasmagoria spilled from the ballroom across the terrazzo-tiled esplanade and into the lavish arboretum below. A cadence of chatter blanketed the evening and was intermittently punctuated by brays of hysterical laughter muffled in the angular, amethyst shapes hiding from the glow of the windows.

One of the year's foremost social events, the Saints and Sinners Ball was a prestigious benefit for underprivileged children organized by the Woman's University Advocates, with substantial support ranging from Hollywood moguls and movie stars to corporate czars and powerful politicians. It was hosted by Governor Foster Kendall, at whose mansion the grand masquerade played out with all the pomp and circumstance of a DeMille extravaganza.

Movie props, such as a saddle owned by Tom Mix, Bogart's cufflinks, and Jean Harlow's false eyelashes, were auctioned alongside jewelry and antiques donated by the rich and famous. Everyone who was someone on the West Coast attended, including a sultry woman of mystery whose elegant, platinum hair and provocative attire fanned the imaginations of every man she encountered. Her white gown, showing ample cleavage and slit to the hip, displayed her Venus de Milo figure as though it had been sprayed with latex. It concealed few mysteries, and was offset by a black satin domino mask that turned her into a phantom lady.

Ellen Patrick was that mystery woman.

Like most entries listed in the Social Register, she had received an invitation to the event. But her reason for attending was very different from most others. She had studied the files Nick Wheeler had given her and discovered that a number of the names mentioned would be present at the ball. Without revealing her presence, she might have the opportunity to discover something about them, something she could add to the dossier her father had compiled, something that might be an important piece of the puzzle.

"May I introduce you to the goddess Isis and her court," said the jackal-headed figure clad in a vivid blue robe with gold accouterments. "The Egyptian exhibit is about to open," he said, offering his arm and leading the way through the ballroom and into a hallway that led to an adjacent building.

"It’s always a pleasure to be greeted by Anubis, guardian of the dead," said the masked lady.

"I see you know your gods." Anubis revealed that the event had been one of the stops selected by the national tour committee in a series of exhibit sites across the continent. A Renaissance of Egyptology had swept the States and gave the charity ball additional appeal. "We’re very lucky to be chosen or maybe it was simply fate."

The masked lady smiled when she heard one of the items on display was the mummified remains of Tawi, the servant of Irukapah from the Fifth Dynasty. She smiled because she had worked on the dig, but did not mention it to her guide as he discussed its history and his own interest in ancient Egypt. He owned many rare artifacts which comprised one of the most important individually-owned collections in the country. "Don’t you think that those who built the pyramids have a great deal of knowledge to impart to us? I often look to the heavens at night for guidance."

"Interesting," the woman said. "I’m afraid they just put me in a romantic mood, but I doubt that I’m descended from any pharaohs or high priests. Perhaps you’re the reincarnation of Amenhotep." Then, she noticed the ring on the man’s right hand. "Or perhaps Irukaptah!"

They stopped for a moment. "You’ve noticed the ring," he said. "Yes, it has become quite famous recently, particularly in the press. They say it’s cursed, based on hieroglyphics carved onto the pharaoh’s sarcophagus something about ill befalling anyone violating the tomb and removing its treasures." He took it off and handed it to the masked woman because of her restrained fascination with it. "Of course, it’s just a replica."

Ellen held the object close as she inspected it, an exquisitely-carved lapis lazuli stone in the form of a scarab and mounted into a heavy gold setting. She had seen the authentic relic while she was in Egypt and recognized it again. This was no replica. How it got to America was a mystery only a series of corrupt international officials, antique importers, and customs inspectors could answer. That answer was one Anubis was not prepared to discuss.

"I recall reading about a string of accidents," the woman said, handing back the ring. "As an Egyptologist, aren’t you concerned there may just be something to the pharaoh’s warning? Some people would never consider defying the threat by wearing his symbol of power."

"Occult legend versus modern science is anyone sure where one ends and the other begins. I’m no psychic, but we’ve all heard too many accounts of phenomena to completely disbelieve the vibration of the unseen, the unknown, the unexplained. Off the record, I have felt an uncomfortable sense of anticipation recently, but who wouldn’t with all this happening?"

Taking an elevator to the third floor, they headed a train of masqueraders into the area’s central room, where the antiquities were handsomely displayed in a series of groupings. Anubis excused himself and mounted a small, raised platform, where he removed his headpiece and revealed himself as Governor Foster Kendall.

For the next fifteen minutes, he regaled the crowd with Egyptian lore, peppered with personal political plugs, and even mentioned the Curse of the Seven Scorpions, which was attached to the mummy case on display. Several people connected with the project had recently perished under very mysterious circumstances, including one of the financers, an x-ray specialist hired to examine the mummy, and the foreman of the original excavation. The commentary raised more than a few hackles as the throng threaded through the exhibit. The masked lady was among them and the governor made a point of addressing her privately.

"Thank you for accompanying me into the mysteries of the past. I couldn’t have asked for a more charming and lovely partner. You mentioned reincarnation who hasn’t felt like they’ve lived in another life or perhaps many others? Maybe those we’re drawn to in this existence are those we’ve lived in the distant past. Please call me sometime soon so we can discuss the Seven Scorpions without the curse."

The phantom lady smiled enigmatically and followed the others back to the ballroom area. Methodically, she had made her way through the conflux, spotting several faces from the photos in the file, including ward boss Hub Ronnell and LA city solicitor Wells Carlyn. Both men had ceased socializing and were engaged in private conversation. Carlyn, dressed as Mephisto, was doing most of the talking; Ronnell, who wore a pirate outfit, would nod occasionally, as if taking instructions from the other man.

They continued for about ten minutes, then Ronnell withdrew an envelope from inside his jacket, and handed it to Carlyn. There was nothing notable about the transfer, except the way Ronnell did it, glancing furtively around him, waiting until he was certain no one was looking, and pretending to be so casual he almost started whistling. That furtive moment made Ellen curious about the envelope. She began to develop a plan.

Ronnell was the taller of the two, burly, red faced, with a Cro-Magnon forehead. He was probably a heavy drinker. His hands were thick and, although not calloused, appeared rough and worn. He postured like a man who used his size to intimidate others and his face confirmed the observation. He was more a man of action than of contemplation. Physical, dangerous, unpredictable.

Carlyn was quite different. He had narrow shoulders and wide hips, which suggested he spent too much time behind a desk. He was pale and unexpressive, and his hands were delicate, his fingers thin. His eyes, however, told another story. They were the only thing about him that were alive, constantly scanning the area and focusing on anyone who entered a certain perimeter. Carlyn was used to processing information by the mile and depended on his intellect and cunning. He was a general; Ronnell was a soldier.

Ellen knew immediately who she wanted to engage.

As they were finishing their conversation, she drifted away from the knot of revelers she had positioned herself behind and stepped into a small alcove that housed a telephone stand. The mansion was sizable enough to warrant a system of house phones. Ellen picked up the receiver and was connected to a switchboard operator. She asked for the concierge, whom she assumed was brought in to manage the complex event, and probably did not know all the personnel who worked there.

"This is Miss Blassingame, Governor Kendall's secretary. The governor would like to see Mister Wells Carlyn in the East Wing Library in about ten minutes. Would you please page him and give him the governor's message?"

Ellen cradled the phone and began circulating again. She soon located the man in the devil suit and watched as he was accosted by one of the waiters, who pointed a series of directions in the air. Nonchalantly, Ellen followed at a respectable distance and saw Mephisto enter a side room a minute or two later. She waited a short, discreet, length of time, then entered the room and began the charade.

Without checking the library, she closed the door, and pulled up her dress in the back. "Damn!" she said sharply, gazing down at her legs. Then, she glanced up in shock and saw she was not alone. "Excuse me, I...I was just looking for a quiet place to..." She stopped speaking, dropped her dress, and gave Mephisto a chance to respond.

He was right on cue. "Is there something I can help you with?"

"No! Well, I don't know! No, what I mean is that I have a run in my stocking and I need to fix it. It's just that...that it's in a place that's difficult to get to."

The room was lit by several fixtures on the walls which added low-level illumination, but the most light came from a desk lamp. She walked over to it, turned her back to him, and lifted her dress again. With a single motion, she raised the hem of the near floor-length gown, until it was almost at waist level, revealing not only the ultra-beige tops of her stockings, but the expanse of naked flesh above them. A lace garter belt with two straps on each side was also visible, as were a pair of flesh-colored, semi-transparent panties. Mephisto could tell they were semi-transparent when she bent slightly forward.

"Can you see anything?" she asked innocently.

"Uhhb, plenty!" the devil said with some difficulty.

Ellen knew she could have him jumping through a flaming hoop if necessary, but she suggested something less arduous. "Then, maybe you could help me."

"I...I could? I mean I could! Well, I might be able to, that is..."

"Thanks so much. You're the answer to a maiden's prayer." Ellen felt like she were reading lines from a bad college play, but she was aware that Mephisto was completely in her control. "A little nail polish brushed over the run will keep it from going further. Think you could do that for me?" She produced a small bottle from a pocket inside the black satin cloak that hung from her shoulders and handed it to the stunned man.

The scene had a surreal quality: a library that held the wisdom of the world and two fantastic figures: one with a horned helmet and clad in a blood-red jacket and tights; the other, perhaps the most beautiful woman in the world, eyes seductively peering through a black mask around which a halo of platinum hair cascaded to her shoulders. An angel of mystery and the devil in the flesh.

"Get on your knees," she commanded.


"Your knees! You need to get right up to it. Get on your knees!"

Although her face and upper torso were somewhat concealed in shadow, the desk lamp threw a bright spotlight on the back of her legs, shapely stems encased in sheer, shimmering silk, except for the naked, velvet skin above. It had a powerful, hypnotic effect on Beelzebub as he sank to the floor, his Satanic gaze just inches from purgatory. At this distance, he could smell her perfume.

As if in response, she went up slightly on the toes of her white, stiletto-heeled pumps and bent over a bit more. Rather than answering his unspoken wish, however, Ellen was engaged in another activity she had leaned over the desk and picked up a letter opener.

"Don't make a sound or I'll slit your throat," she said, pressing the sharp point into the devil's neck. The Prince of Darkness went limp. His eyes bulged uncharacteristically from his Mephistophelian head. His tongue was as thick as a chunk of Hades bologna.

"Remove your jacket and empty your pockets," she said moving behind him and keeping pressure on the letter opener. Carlyn did not know what was pressing against his jugular, except that it was pointy and hard. He was shuddering like a temblor from hell. "Now, close your eyes."

Ellen reached between the devil's legs, pulled his tail through with a sharp tug that snapped his eyes open, and discouraged the last devilish impulse he might have. The tail was black, which gave Carlyn a Mickey Mouselike quality, especially in this position. At its end was an arrowhead-shaped tuft padded with cotton. Ellen stuffed it in his mouth, to which he replied with a diabolic "Mmugguf!"

She responded by taking a newspaper section off the desk and wrapping it around his head, keeping it in place with a strip of stamps she licked. Then, she picked up an ornate wooden box of cigars and placed it into his hands behind him. She had nothing to tie them with, but felt he was so disoriented, that he'd hold onto the box like he was handcuffed to it. "If you drop this box before I tell you, I'll slash your throat from ear to ear. Understand?"


Ellen had made the right decision about the men. Ronnell would have fought her, regardless of whether she had a knife, a letter opener, or a pistol. Carlyn was the opposite. Not only wouldn't he resist, he'd be lucky not to have a coronary occlusion.

"Now, I want you to walk on your knees until you're inside the closet in front of you. Behave and you won't be hurt. You'll be there for a few minutes. After you hear me knock twice, count to a thousand, then you can come out. Your money will be gone, but you'll be fine. Tell the police that a masked woman had you on your knees and took your cash and you'll be the laughing stock of California by tomorrow night. Not a word."

Carlyn hobbled into the closet. "If I hear that paper on your head rustling, I'll lock the closet door and after someone finds you, you'll be known as Mister Jackass for the rest of your life."

Ellen closed the door, knowing that Carlyn was probably expecting the governor to show up at any moment. He'd figure some of it out later, but even if he did make a complaint, tracing the call back to Ellen was impossible. All Carlyn could recognize were her legs! The mask and platinum wig were part of a disguise he could never penetrate. The masquerade ball would be his nightmare forever especially if he knew what she had planned for him.

Working rapidly, she took his keys to the desk. There were several candelabras in the room. She removed four candles from one of them and sliced off an inch or so from the bottom of each, then replaced them in their holders to appear as though they were untouched. She lit one candle and held a wax chunk in the flame for a few seconds. When it was soft, she pressed one of the keys into it, creating a perfect impression of the notches. When the wax hardened, she removed the key. The process was repeated until all eight keys were captured in wax, using both sides of the candle pieces. Ellen put the keys on the floor where Carlyn had dropped them. He'd never know.

Next, she went through his wallet and copied by hand all personal information she found there, including phone numbers and bits of code. She removed the cash, seven hundred dollars, thinking the invitation to the ball had cost her five hundred. Finally, she looked at the envelope Ronnell had passed along. It was the title deed for a tract of land in the San Fernando Valley and made out to a corporate name. She copied that data, too, and tucked the envelope neatly back into his jacket pocket. The wallet went back on the floor. Everything had taken less than five minutes.

She rapped on the closet door twice and left the room. By the time Carlyn reached two hundred, Ellen was driving off the property.

• New Steranko cover painting
• All 6 original pulp stories with original illustrations
• All-new Steranko 2-pg spread art for each story
• Entire book design by Steranko

• New Steranko cover painting
• All 6 original pulp stories with original illustrations
• All-new Steranko 2-pg spread art for each story
• Entire book design by Steranko

• New Steranko cover painting
• All 6 original pulp stories with original illustrations
• All-new Steranko 2-pg spread art for each story
• Entire book design by Steranko

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