A POP SHORT STORY BY KARL WENCLAS
Fake Face had a sterling reputation in the aging east coast city of Killtown. Though he was a corrupt gangleader who extorted money, cheated the public through government frauds, paid kickbacks and bribe money, and ruthlessly destroyed enemies, everyone loved him.
Politicians praised him. Businessmen lined up to cut deals. He was in continual demand at charity events-- in fact, he ran several charities of his own used as money laundering fronts for his criminal activities. The local bigs-- the socialite gentry-- competed to sit on the boards of Fake Face organizations.
Why Fake Face was so popular in the city would be puzzling were you not from there; not a participant in its unique brand of insanity.
There were two reasons he was liked.
First, it fit accepted ways of doing things. Beneath the thin trappings of democracy, the local populace understood that the ruling principle of the city was power. Power first. Power only. Fake Face had power. The public instinctively got in line.
The second reason was the face itself. So smiling, kind, and innocent, it could not be other than real.
The face was a psychological trick. It took advantage of an unwillingness to believe the true nature of human beings. "WE are innocent," the believers proclaimed, though in reality they were the most venal of people.
That the face was a slick exaggeration added to the effect. Its very boldness and lack of transparency made it believed. "Look at me!" the face shouted. "I am who you want me to be. Accept me. Love me!"
While Fake Face money and power accumulated. Never mind! One could present to the citizenry mountains of documented evidence about Fake Face crimes (and those of his gang) but this couldn't sway the psychology. The fans were willfully blind.
The river, at night: Fake Face's yellow silk gloves became covered in blood as he pummeled a dissenter. Henchmen held down the man. To Fake Face the man was particularly reprehensible. The lowly character put out a cheap scandal sheet promoting stories counter to the "all-is-well" propaganda of the town's official newspaper.
The moon hid behind clouds during the beating.
The man's face made a thick pulpy sound as Fake Face hit him again and again in the one-sided fight.
"You can destroy my face, to look like your real one," the man spat out between blood-covered lips. "But inside, I'm right. I've told the reality."
"You'll tell it ELSEWHERE," Fake Face screamed in an hysterical voice as he kicked the man in the side. "ELSEWHERE!!!"
His men restrained him. Fake Face already was laughing. He looked at his smeared gloves.
"I've dyed them!" he announced in wonder. "Isn't that amazing?"
"Uh, what now, boss?" one of the henchmen stupidly said.
"You take a break ," Fake Face said, for the moment satiated. "Run run be wonderful be amazing be innocent as a wonderful dog as you run away. Scatter from me. But be ready and waiting when I need you. For now, I'm going partying!"
A fan awaited, Mrs. Thunderbrook, a superwealthy matron married to one of the town's official pillars, 90 year-old Smedley Thunderbrook, who'd made his fortune through manipulations of finance.
Middle-aged Kristina was a healthy blonde with large shoulders. Evenings, while hubby napped, Kristina went out.
Fake Face picked her up at her in-town mansion in his bright yellow-colored limo.
"Where to?" Kristina breathlessly asked like a child skipping school as she plopped onto the seat beside him.
Kristina Thunderbrook was covered in silver fox fur, violet lipstick, and diamond jewels.
"A party at the Downtown Club tonight, my lovely," the ever-smiling Face told her. "We are going to swing, going to shake, going to dance dance to the music to the pulse the beat of the city MY city our city high above the crowd in the clouds dance dance we'll dance to the music all night."
"I love it!" she exclaimed as the limo rocketed forward through red lights down the sparkling avenue.
The gleaming vehicle cut through the mass of hectic poor city neighborhoods like an aristocrat's carriage.
The nightclub atop the second tallest structure in town pounded with throbbing colors and loud music. Huge doormen in burgundy suits stepped back at the arrival of the power couple. Though their business was muscle, their eyes disclosed fear at recognition of the gangleader. Those who didn't know him were happy to see him.
The endless bar was silver and blue.
"Chief," a dark-haired man in a black-and-white checkered suit said to Fake Face with exaggerated deference.
This was Jake Pol, who'd once been the Face's Number Two until he became too ambitious and was utterly broken-- no one knew how. When he resurfaced six months later his ambition had gone. Fake Face kept him around as a joke. Jake reciprocated by behaving like a subservient clown. He managed this club, which Fake Face owned.
"Jake!" Mrs. Thunderbrook shouted with naked insincerity.
Jake Pol bowed.
"This way," Fake Face said, putting his yellow-gloved hand on Kristina's waist and guiding her toward the central, most prominent, the highest place at the bar, which of course was reserved for him. His strained voice revealed distaste at his one-time assistant.
Their coats were magically taken off them. Fake Face admired the mature woman's turquoise dress, and the sparkle of diamonds hanging from her lobes. She was the type of woman he could never have dated in his early youth. Now he saw her insecurity and saw her stupidity, saw her as he saw any object. He gloried in the shining fact of her.
Kristina Thunderbrook was a symbol of the city's power, which he wanted to grab and hold and tarnish and corrupt all at once.
How old was Kristina, he wondered? Fifty? He could look it up. Fifteen years older than him but she kept up on the dance floor, like the tigress she was.
"Slow down," the Face whispered in her ear as they moved.
He touched his gloved finger at and into various vulnerable parts on her body, causing pain. She reveled in it.
Lights . . . drinks . . . music.
When she went to the ladies room he sang softly to himself, "Old money! Old money money money!"
He knew she'd been snorting cocaine or more to be this charged.
They moved to a private room to get away from the crush of the growing crowd. The room-- plush leather sofas, floor, ceiling, tables, walls-- was entirely in burgundy color.
She kissed Fake Face frantically like a hungry beast while he sat back like an Imperial Roman. For a time she kneeled. Fake Face sipped from a blue martini through a straw in an opening in his facade. He saved more intense lovemaking for his condo.
The limo: speeding through the night, its warmth shielding its occupants from the cutting world.
Now they sat in his suite in the tallest structure in town; high above the city they owned. Floor-to-ceiling windows. The two humans frolicked in an opulently furnished room. Obscenely opulent: splashy artwork, sculpture, rugs, of the highest quality, from every corner of the globe. Daubs, splotches, layers: color and more color. A profusion of color.
"Love me love me love me love me," Kristina said as she crawled on top of him on a thick white sofa in a room that was very warm.
Her dress was off; her gym'd physique muscled. In contrast Fake Face in loose black slacks and burgundy turtleneck appeared relaxed and vulnerable.
"Why are you such a genius?" Kristina asked. "Tell me confidentially. What's your secret? What lies behind the mystery, the glamor of you?"
"Nothing," he answered.
"You're so modest!" she laughed. "Your humility is what makes you attractive. You're so great yet at the same time you're humble."
"It's really nothing," he asserted.
"Bosh! I want to know you, I want to know all about you. You you you!" she exclaimed in something close to drug-or-love induced delirium.
The delirium of the total fan.
Music in the room welled, broke, crescendoed while subtle light behind the many objects created a fantasyland. Lamps became bears. African sculpture became soldiers. Amorphous paintings of exploding blue and red became a battleground.
"I want to know," she cooed.
"There are some things you shouldn't know," he told her.
"But you see," she replied. "I want to know."
"You're in a strange mood," Fake Face said, to change the subject.
"MOOD?!" she pouted. "That maybe I'm just a little bit just maybe in love?"
Her eyes teared a bit as she gazed at him and stroked the back of his head. This donor-- this powerful charitable rich woman-- was in a mood of sympathy, which for all her causes in her boring and empty life had become her dominant mood. She floated above the world, above the poor, in her isolated capsule, and yet she wanted to help them all.
She was so sympathetic! She'd made sympathy her life. The sympathy never changed her station. It was part of her superiority. Now she felt sympathy for him! For the beloved crime boss.
"Can I see it?" she begged. "Pretty pretty pretty please!"
No sound came from him, though something expressive was in his eyes. The face itself innocently smiled.
With no resistance from him, she put her fingers under the bottom part of the mask and slowly lifted. It came off with surprising ease. She placed the mask to the side. She saw--
"NO!" she screamed. "No-oooooooooooo!"
Her screaming could be heard through the entire tall tower, piercing the floors and walls. It was heard outside the building. Frantically the woman toppled lamps and tables knocking aside paintings in her mad hurry to get out of the suite. What she saw-- no time for her fur coat. She went fleeing down the hallway. No time for the elevator. Down stairs flight after flight her heart pounding head throbbing from too much reality the reality she'd been protected from her entire life, all the while screaming a mad scream as hard as she could-- "NO-OOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!"-- as she escaped the building and fled into the night.