Tuesday May 2nd, 1:00pm. Mickey Patchek was a snitch, a dealer, a peddler of information. His clothes were as cheap as his reputation. So when he phoned me with some information to sell I was surprised that he wanted to meet me in the heart of Chicago’s chic-chic high fashion district. What started out as a mild surprise culminated in stark raving terror.
The address of the meet is that of Madame Trevi’s fashion design salon. Carl is out of his element as he scans the crowd for Mickey Patchek. Eventually he spots Patchek near a corner and calls out. Patchek glances his way but says nothing. Carl sits with other reporters and spectators as Madame Trevi begins the show. The first model is Madelaine.
Upstairs, Mickey Patchek photographs the contents of the design studio. He moves about the room capturing images of everything there. Behind him a mannequin seems to shift slightly. Perhaps Mickey’s heavy tread shook the platform on which it stands. Mickey moves to a table to photograph some drawings on it. The mannequin moves again noticeably. Soon several of the plastic women stealthily stalk the spy, moving with eerie stiffness but definite purpose. Mickey finishes at the table and begins to move away when a crashing blow knocks him to the floor. He scrambles to escape but the expressionless killers surround him.
Downstairs, Carl has tired of the fashion show and leaves just in time to catch Mickey’s last performance – a swan dive from an upper story window to the roof of a parked car. Mickey’s camera lands at Carl’s feet and he pockets the tiny instrument.
Returning inside, Carl looks for a way upstairs. He meets a model named Madelaine who shows him the way up. But the police are collecting evidence and they’re not going to let Carl up there until they’re done. In exchange for some publicity, aspiring star Madelaine offers to tell Carl more than he’ll find out up there. She tells Carl that she knew Mickey and that he was stealing next season’s designs from the studio. Carl is surprised to learn of a market for stolen fashion designs.
The police believe he was attempting to escape through the window and fell. Madelaine and Carl talk back and forth, each trying to play the other. Each wants something the other can offer. Carl’s greater experience at manipulation enables him to extract information from Madeline without offering much in return. She reveals that Mickey was dating one of the other models and soon enough Carl has the woman’s name. Madelaine seems desperate for publicity and thinks Carl can help her get it. She shares a number of tidbits about herself – prizes won in contests, including a 4H award for raising a prize goat.
This showing is Madelaine’s (and Madame Trevi’s) big opportunity. It includes a layout for the international edition of Vogue. But Madelaine was Madame Trevi’s second choice for model. Her first choice was Melody Sedgewick until she learned Sedgewick intended to leave in the middle of the show to do cosmetic commercials. That caused a terrible fight.
As Madeline and Carl converse they’re a man interrupts to tell Madelaine that top international model Ariel won’t work with her because they look too much alike. The layout features Ariel and that’s contractual, so Madelaine is out. Madelaine is heartbroken and the model Carl wants to see – the one Mickey Patchek was dating – isn’t around, so Carl ends the conversation and leaves. Seconds after he passes Ariel a cat leaps onto the couch and then onto Ariel’s face, scratching her badly. The other models watch in horror.
Later that night Carl hears from Murray Vernon, Mickey Patchek’s leading competitor. Murray offers the same information Patchek tried to peddle – information that would expose a labor extortion racket and send several garment union bosses to prison. Carl calls to arrange the pass but gunmen put Murray out of business for good before the swap can occur.
Carl returns to the INS office. Two toughs waylay him outside the door. They know Carl has “it” and they want “it.” Evidently Murray Vernon told them this shortly before he died. Over some tense haggling Carl manages a sixty hour deadline – the day after tomorrow night, he’d better have “it.” The last thing the thugs tell him is that he can run but he can’t hide.
Now Carl *has* to cover the story. He doesn’t even know what the leg breakers think he has. His only hope is to cover the story and learn what the thugs want before their deadline – emphasis on dead – arrives.
The hoods have spooked Carl’s usual sources and he hasn’t found a connection between Mickey Patchek and Murray Vernon. That leaves the film in Patchek’s camera as Carl’s only lead. Carl develops it and notices that the dressmaker’s mannequins move between shots. Apparently the police were wrong in concluding that Patchek died alone. Someone else must have been in the studio with him. It’s interesting but not helpful. Carl is out of leads and luck. His one chance might be Madelaine.
Tony is clearly concerned for Carl’s safety. Carl plans to talk to Madelaine; Tony advises him to stick with Murray Vernon. But he’s sure Carl won’t because he thinks Carl is suicidal. Carl exits down the stairs with Tony yelling after him.
Melody Sedgewick is exhausted from juggling her career and her many offers. She steps into the shower to soak her tensions away. And at first it works. Then the door snaps shut and the water turns to scalding steam. The knobs spin uselessly and the door won’t open. But at least her tensions and worries are gone…
Carl cannot find Madelaine and his sources are still making themselves scarce. Miss Emily comes through, reporting Melody’s death. Carl returns to the Trevi studios and for the first time talks directly with Madame Trevi. He pretends that INS wants a “man in the street” look at haute couture. She tells him that there might be “some” value in knowing a competitor’s designs but as they don’t produce for the masses, that value would be limited – they’re not the Detroit auto industry. Carl maneuvers around to individual models. Trevi immediately realizes he’s there about Melody. She claims Melody was planning to stay on and when Carl bites she snaps back, accusing him of vague and absurd suspicions. Nor does she have any idea why Mickey Patchek would have jumped from the top floor of her salon. Carl has once again worn out his welcome; he leaves.
Carl stops at Melody’s apartment. Even his press credentials can’t get him in. Down the hall he rings the manager’s bell. The manager has talked to police and to reporters and doesn’t want to talk to anyone else until Carl mentions liability. Melody died in his building and that might leave him liable. That breaks his resistance and he shows Carl how the showers are all temperature regulated and cannot get hot enough to injure, much less to kill.
After dark Carl returns to the Trevi studios where he finds Madelaine modeling new designs. She’s there at Trevi’s request trying on some of the wardrobe so she can take Melody’s place the next day. Carl thinks that’s callous. He also notices that Madelaine seems to be afraid. He tries to persuade Madelaine to tell him what’s going on. He needs to know for his story and to get the bent nose types off his back. But Madelaine tells him, “She won’t let you find out. She has power.” Madelaine tells Carl that Madame Trevi is a witch! A genuine, broomstick riding witch! Carl is skeptical and sardonically tells Madelaine to take care of herself, then leaves.
Outside, a suspicious car guns its engine and nearly runs Carl down. He evades it by climbing atop his own car. It screeches to a halt; there is no driver. From a window on a high floor nearby Madame Trevi watches with a curious expression on her face.
Carl learns that even in the rational age of today people still believe in witches and witchcraft. At a lecture the speaker is non-committal but reveals that a witch cannot be drowned. This is the only absolute test. The lecturer also reveals that a witch can be stripped of her powers if publicly accused. Carl buys the man’s book and walks to a large board where the names of practitioners are displayed. Before he can copy any of them a woman approaches. She tells him the book is largely trash but points out a particular coven that she claims saved her marriage. Even her husband, a “stiff necked Freudian psychiatrist” is a converted believer.
Carl copies the address and drives there after dark. Inside he parts with a nominal contribution and a robed witch then leads him to the meeting room where the coven has gathered. Several robed figures circle a table or altar; occult symbols and paraphernalia are arrayed about the room. The witches prepare for a sacrifice, but one of their number, Griselda, warns that their lord will not come because someone in the room is under the spell of a black witch. The leader tells Carl he must leave and that the coven has no power over black witches and fears them as much as anyone else does. Carl objects; his questions have not been answered. Griselda says she can help and scratches a note in mirror writing. The note reads “Oak chest. Mojo bag. Brass bell. Copper thread.” Carl learns these items are the black witch’s power source and he must destroy them to destroy her. Griselda writes more but then moans as a thin knife begins to dart about the room. The black witch is here! Carl must leave at once! Carl scurries out (stopping to reclaim his nominal contribution) as the witches struggle to fend off the attack. The rest of the note tells Carl where to find the oak chest – a closet behind the witch’s desk.
Inside, the coven is…laughing?!? The leader is stripping off his beard and moustache, and Griselda removes her hood. She’s the woman who sent Carl to this coven after she met him at the lecture earlier! And then a white robed figure removes her hood – it’s Madelaine!
Carl returns to Madame Trevi’s office. He picks the lock on her closet and removes several brass bells to reveal a small oak chest containing a strange collection of artifacts. There are scrolls with curious symbols written on them, bags, buttons and bits of vegetation. Carl pours it all into the trash can and chases it with a lit match; the items are soon ablaze. Madame Trevi arrives too late to save the contents of her chest. Now that Carl has stripped her of her power he wants to know about Mickey Patchek. She reveals that he was trying to steal her designs all right. When Carl accuses her of using witchcraft to stop Patchek she finally understands. Madelaine has made Carl think Madame Trevi is the witch! Trevi is finding it hard to breathe but manages to tell Carl that he’s been tricked. He just destroyed the things that kept the Madelaine under control. Now Madelaine can kill them both!
Madame Trevi may be the first to die if Carl can’t get her some help. She can barely breathe; a laryngeal constriction threatens her. In layman’s terms, she’s choking to death. The doctors cannot stop it nor explain why the usual remedies don’t work.
Returning to INS the next morning Carl discovers the thugs visited during the night. They’re not pleased with his lack of progress. The office is a mess, Vincenzo’s favorite hat is ruined, and filthy graffiti covers one wall. Tony orders Carl to stay away from the fashion world and concentrate on learning what Mickey Patchek and Murray Vernon knew that so interests the criminals. Carl thinks it’s all interconnected. He spent the night assembling a mojo bag to ward off the power of a black witch. That bag and the sound of broken glass are the only things that can stop her. Tony is incredulous. With lives at stake Carl has gone off on another of his bizarre tangents!
After Tony leaves Emily pipes up with a phone message: Dr. Gravinites from City General wants Carl to come right to the hospital. Carl stops to grab the last item for his bag – a coil of copper wire from the ruined teletype machine.
At the hospital Carl learns that the doctor summoned him because Madame Trevi has been trying to contact him. She wants him to find a rag doll in her office and cut the threads from around it. She knows he’ll believe her. The doctor tells Carl it would surprise him if Madame Trevi lasted the night; if Carl is going to help her, it will have to be quickly.
Carl goes to the Trevi Salon. Inside he skulks to the office, periodically ringing the brass bell from his mojo bag. Crossing the studio, he notices what Mickey failed to until it was too late: the mannequins are moving. In tiny fits and starts they close on him. Uncovering a dressing table, he forces the drawer and finds a black and white doll with threads wrapped around its throat. He sets down his mojo bag, grabs a nearby pair of scissors and severs the thread. At the hospital Trevi experiences immediate relief. But Carl has become too distracted by the doll. Before he can reclaim his mojo bag, a mannequin knocks it away and throws him to the floor. He looks up to see the smiling face of Madelaine.
Madame Trevi and Madelaine originally had a deal but Trevi turned against Madelaine. Madelaine offers to make Carl important. To demonstrate her power she tells Carl where to find Murray Vernon’s evidence: cancelled checks proving garment union extortion may be found in a shoebox at Murray Vernon’s mother’s rest home. Carl asks her where she plans to go from here and learns she wants it all: a career in films, a rich husband... everything. He asks for a little time to consider whether to throw in with her but she sees through the stall. Moving quickly, Carl grabs a chair and shatters the dressing table mirror. The sound is intensely painful to the witch. Carl continues to shatter mirrors, keeping the witch in pain and off balance. She knows she has the upper hand. The sound of breaking glass is painful but does not actually injure her. And there are no witnesses so Carl can’t denounce her. The mannequins resume their relentless advance, cornering Carl and beating him. He manages to reclaim his mojo bag and in that instant the mannequins are again just plastic and cloth. Terrified of the bag, Madelaine backs away. Carl seizes her and forces her head into a vat of blue dye but she does not drown. Enraged beyond reason and unable to rely on her magic, Madelaine grabs a pair of scissors and begins chasing Carl through the salon.
Carl staggers outside and Madelaine follows. Noticing there are people on the street, Carl accuses her of witchcraft. Madelaine collapses in a heap. Her power is broken and her sanity gone.
Madelaine was uncannily correct about the shoebox full of checks. Miss Emily found them as predicted and we’re about to break a large story about extortion in the garment industry. Madelaine was incorrect, however, about her own glorious future. A conviction for murder could never be lodged against her but along with her black powers went her mind. I’m told that she’s to be consigned to the women’s ward of Grassland State Mental Hospital. The doctors there give her little hope of ever recovering her sanity. They can’t understand what caused such massive trauma. They say that the form of medieval pox which she contracted has not been seen in our world for over five hundred years. It will leave permanent scars. Ah, Madelaine, poor Madelaine. She won’t even be pretty anymore. Isn’t that a pity… Share this article with your friends