"The Secret Recipe"
|Armand Bathory’s strange obsession drives his quest for eternal youth. Ever since his distant ancestor, the Countess Elizabeth, spawned the family business while her husband was off making a name for himself in the Long War, indulging human vanity has surged through the veins of their progeny. Like Peter Pan, Armand refuses to accept the prospect of growing old.
Estheticienne extraordinaire, he has ushered the family tradition into the twenty-first century through the portals of his cosmetics empire, Ambrosia Clinique. In the manner of the Greek goddess Hebe, he caters to the deities of pop culture, from movie queens to the wives of presidents to teeny-bopper heartthrobs. He often hosts intimate soirees to entertain people influential in the public domain as well as those concealed within the financial labyrinth embraced by Wall Street’s far-reaching tentacles. Gifting customized notions, he helps them maintain the vibrant images that are vital to their success. They return the favor through robust endorsements of his products.
From the penthouse suite atop the thirty-story high-rise that houses his corporate headquarters at the corner of Bathory Boulevard and Nadasdy Drive in Santa Monica, California, Armand reigns over a conglomerate of research laboratories, manufacturing plants, and a vast promotional network that spans the globe. Blue skies dominate the panoramic view seen through the expansive windows of his office on a sunny day in May, but the mood inside is full of gloom. Armand is discussing a performance report with one of his division managers. “This is the second consecutive quarter you have failed to meet your quota, Arthur. What do you have to say for yourself?”
Arthur squirms in his chairs as he responds, “W-well, Sir, with the economy the way it is, people are opting for the cheaper brands instead of the top-tier products we offer. I’m sure they’ll return in droves when their confidence in the market returns.”
Armand’s slight frame tightens in his navy-blue Armani suit as he pounds his fist on the desk. “Nonsense! Our clients rely on a vibrant appearance, and it was your responsibility to see that they remember how critical their image is to their future.” His dark eyes glower beneath the jet black textured razor-cut page boy coiffure with bangs to hide his high forehead as he speaks to his assistant seated in the corner of the office and orders, “Richard, call security and have Mr. Simonetti searched for any proprietary materials. We don’t want him taking any company secrets with him when he leaves. Then have him escorted from the premises.”
After the defrocked subordinate is removed, Richard approaches Armand’s desk and offers, “That was brilliant, Mr. B, the way you picked through his embellished figures to get the true picture.”
“Thank you, Richard. It’s good to know someone around here appreciates the value of our mission. I didn’t get to be the king of cosmetics by tolerating sloth. Set up interviews with some candidates for his replacement. Then call Dr. Goodface for an appointment. It’s time for another touch up.”
Armand always avails himself of Dr. Karamesh B. Goodface's wizardry whenever he feels the need to turn back the hands of time. The good doctor is renowned for his discreet surgical talents. His magic fingers can remove those inevitable wrinkles that come from dealing with incompetent minions. He also applies the occasional tummy tuck or Brazilian butt lift as required to keep that all-important visage of youthful vitality.
After a session with Dr. Goodface, the cosmetics magnate retires to his private sanctuary on a secluded twelve-hundred acre ranch along the Big Sur coastline, which he has named Xanadu, where he can watch the rejuvenating spirit of nature unfold as he recuperates from the latest restorative episode. Perched upon a spectacular outcrop overlooking the turquoise waters of the Pacific Ocean, the castle known as Aladdin’s Chateau provides the privacy needed to heal from the surgical blemishes without embarrassment while keeping in touch with his enormous empire through the wonders of wireless communications devices. It also serves a number of other purposes.
On the ground floor, a grand ballroom along with adjoining reception chambers and lounges is the venue for those intimate gatherings with a tight circle of elite clientele. The most popular entertainers of the period are brought in to regale those special guests. Delectable hors d’oeuvres prepared specifically for each event include crunchy tea cakes, herbal brownies, plump morsels of exotic meats, and healthful red potions of blended vitamins, vegetable juices and other secret ingredients. Dressed in a chocolate brown turtle-neck sweater that brings out the warmth in his eyes, Armand works the room with the flair of a politician, glad handing every habitue and exchanging witty repartees while distributing singular soaps, moisturizers and toners custom-made with an infusion of vanilla, spicy orange, lavender, jasmine, or other essences to evoke a sense of Shangri-La in each patron.
To sustain the aura of enduring youth, the king of cosmetics surrounds himself with the effervescent spirit of the younger set. The Xanadu compound contains a number of attractions to keep his young visitors amused. A petting zoo with a wide range of exotic creatures, from llamas to peacocks to a pygmy goat, augments the natural company of wild rabbits and deer who regularly graze on the hillsides. He has also constructed an amusement park with a variety of popular rides, including a Ferris wheel and a carousel accompanied by the enchanting strains of an antique calliope. Finally, a water park sprawls through the natural surroundings of cedar groves and gardens filled with roses, jasmine and lavender. The second floor of Aladdin’s Chateau has been transformed into a dormitory to accommodate his young guests. This custom of hosting all those children without any apparent supervision raises some eyebrows in the surrounding community, but no evidence of any wrongdoing can ever be found.
Deep in the bowels of the Chateau lies another critical element of Armand’s enterprise: a secret laboratory where all those custom-made notions, lotions, and potions are concocted. For this operation, he selects an exclusive group of people from his corporate staff, particularly qualified ranch guests, or specific recruitment programs to assist him. The work is demanding, and Armand’s standards are high, so many of his assistants find themselves unable to endure the rigorous regimen required. The rapid turnover in personnel inspires some rumormongers to whisper behind their hands. Whenever the authorities come by to investigate the latest rumor, Armand complains that the malcontents couldn’t cope with the conditions and left without so much as a “Thank you” in gratitude for his compassionate attempts to provide employment for the needy. When they search the laboratory and find it in a state of antiseptic cleanliness to match that of a hospital operation room, with the pervading fragrance of lavender tinged only slightly by the pungent odor of bleach, they conclude there is no need to pursue the issue further.
After a particularly successful party, where the refreshments were praised enthusiastically with comments such as “Heavenly!” and “Blissful!” and the lotions put an extra level of glow upon the cheeks of all the patrons, Armand finds himself once more in need of laboratory assistants. On a recruiting excursion, he stops for a young hitchhiker. The boy’s skin has the bright pink tone of a Scandinavian complexion too long in the desert sun, and the cowlick in his tousled sandy-blond hair gives the impression of a fruit stem--a ruddy apple ripe for the picking. He depresses the button to lower the passenger side window and asks, “Where you headed, lad?”
The boy eagerly responds, “L. A.”
“I’m going that way myself, but I need to stop for a break at the diner up ahead. You’re welcome to join me for a meal, if you’d like.”
The boy’s blue eyes twinkle like a light display on Christmas morning. “That would be great! Thanks.”
In between bites on a thick steak, Armand manages to elicit the boy’s name and then asks, “Well, Emile, what plans do you have in the metropolis of Los Angeles?”
“Nothin’ special. I just got tired of hangin’ ’round that dead end town and wanted to go somewhere I have a better chance to get ahead.”
“This seems to be our lucky day. I happen to have an employment opportunity available with unique benefits. Would you be interested?”
“Wow! I sure would. When do I start?”
“As soon as we finish our dessert. Do you want key lime or apple pie?”
Back at Aladdin’s Chateau, Armand escorts Emile to the lab crew’s exclusive quarters in the basement and retrieves a set of manuals from a safe hidden under one of the lab counters in preparation for their first training session. After a brief tour of the facilities, Emile settles into a cozy lounge chair in the rec room to study the procedure manuals describing the soap-making process. He soon dozes off. Meanwhile, Armand busies himself with preparations for his next batch of cosmetic creations. Presently nature calls, and he retreats to the lavatory to relieve himself. Emile wakes from his slumber and, finding himself alone, seeks to satisfy his curiosity about the forbidden fruit hidden in that safe, which stands open after Armand’s sudden departure.
The contents cause him dire concern. Shaken to the core, he returns to his lounge chair and feigns sleep while contemplating a means of escape.
After Armand retires to his private quarters on the top floor of the chateau, Emile slips out and scrambles through the fields alongside the long lane to the main highway so he won’t be detected.
The next day, the authorities arrive in force with a search warrant and seize the hideous contents of that hidden safe. Most notable among the incriminating evidence is a ledger documenting the secret ingredients for those custom-made favors, the gruesome methods used in the production process, and the specific characteristics leading to the success of each masterpiece. The following excerpt provides sufficient reason for prosecution by itself, but it is only one of hundreds:
“April 16: Pretty Peggy Pritchard, a chubby cherub full of vim and vigor, squealed like a piglet when I hung her by the ankles and cut her throat. Drained her dry. Then trimmed the fat for boiling in the soap vat, and sliced the muscle tissue into shish kebab chops which were highly praised at our party. The bucket of blood was split into portions for giving the soap a wholesome color, enhancing the vitality of the vegetable juice and vitamin blend, and baking those delectable tea cakes everyone loves so much. Her bones were ground into a powder which was added to the biscuits and soap cakes, providing a unique texture. Ms. Pritchard has made a significant contribution to our mission of rejuvenation in the ongoing quest for eternal youth.”
With such a preponderance of evidence, the prosecutor has no problem terminating the dastardly career of Armand Bathory. Thanks to his immunity from the death penalty in California, he now sits in the California State Prison at Corcoran and shares his warped visions of the universe with Charlie Manson.