Screams resounded deafeningly in the stone-walled room.
Stretched agonizingly on the rack, a young girl pleaded insanely with her torturers, her head bobbing wildly from side to side as the instrument of torment stretched out her body until the joints of shoulders and hips screeched their protest. Mantled in a sheen of sweat, the girl's body lay immovable upon the wooden bed of the rack. The torsion made it even difficult for her to breathe, and the sounds from her throat were raw and hoarse.
"Please . . let me go . . . loosen the ropes . . . I swear I know nothing, nothing at all . . . kill me, do anything but don't torture me any more . . ."
Above her the master stood and smiled down, fingering a long gold chain he wore about his throat. "You may as well give in, Mademoiselle," he said silkily. "We have only just begun: sooner or later you will be forced to tell us what we want to know."
"Please . . . I can tell you nothing, I know nothing, I swear it . . ."
The master beckoned to one of his burly assistants, and the man threw his weight, on the wheel of the rack. With an eerie creak it moved another quarter-inch, another half-inch, and the girl's screams grew worse. She was stretched to the absolute limit of human endurance, and still the man with the gold chain insisted:
"We have only just begun, Mademoiselle. Tell us what we want to know, now, and save yourself greater pain to come."
The girl's words were no more than hoarse gasps now. "I . . . know nothing. . . nothing. . . ."
The master shrugged. "Stubborn?" he said. "Very well, then we shall see." He made a motion and out of a dim corner of the room another assistant came, a squat man with oily skin and glittering eyes. This one waddled across the room and came back with long wooden slats, the head of each wrapped round with oil-soaked rags.
The girl on the rack could see his approach out of the corner of her eye. Under her breath she began a despairing prayer for death, for any release from the horrible torment she knew awaited her.
The master struck a flint and lit the oil-soaked rags. Flame leaped up from the head of each stick, and the squat man waddled forward holding stick in each hand.
"No!" the girl screamed. "Don't let him touch me! Not the fire, not the fire—"
The first brand caressed her helpless body. The girl, screaming wildly, slammed her head against the bed of the rack in a vain effort to knock herself unconscious. Her eyes were blind tools of torment.
The master saw her effort and quickly procured a padding which he put under her head. There was to be no escape; his victim was to suffer just long as possible—and then, if she had told nothing, he reawakened her suffer again, and again, as long as lived. From this room there was no escape—and in it hundreds of young victims had died screaming under the master's torments, their last sight on earth his pale, silky smile and his fingers playing with the glitter of gold round his neck.
Long minutes of torment ticked endlessly by. The girl shrieked madly, offering anything, promising wild acts if only the torment would cease . . . but the squat man went on with his instruments of agony.
And then, at last, he stepped away.
The girl, half-fainting, whispered with the remnants of her voice: "Please . . . no more . . I can't stand any more. . . ."
"Very well, then," the master said in a voice grown suddenly cold. "Give me the address."
"I—can't. . . ."
"Boris," the master said. "Once again."
The squat man, his torches ready, stepped forward. Before he touched the girl she shrieked out: "I'll tell! I'll tell! Don't let him near me!"
The master bent closer. In halting whispers the girl recited an address, an apartment.
He stood again, and smiled. "Very well," he said. "The money there will help to finance the cause of the Republic." He gestured to the squat man. "Boris, she is yours. And the others, of course. . .
The other assistants cackled with lusty glee. Boris, grinning widely, his eyes glittering behind the rolls of oily flesh, dropped his torches on the stone floor.
The master turned away, his fingers still busy with the chain. There was work to be done . . . money to be found, always more and more suspects in the cells for questioning.
The girl screamed once more as he shut the door behind him.
The time and place: Paris, 1789. The man: his real name may never be known. He called himself Colonel Duchamp, though research had shown that he could never have been entitled to a commission in any French army. It's been established that "Duchamp" was also "Frederic Gaulois," once wanted for a series of brutal and ugly murders around Marseilles and the waterfront area. "Gaulois" had been hired on as a dockworker, and police held him responsible for the deaths of three young girls in the district during the four months of his employment there.
The girls had been stripped, tied, and cut to pieces while still alive.
The police made a big thing of the hunt for "Gaulois," but by the time they began he was long gone. He'd changed his name (to what, we are not sure) and moved away from the district, getting a job in an entirely unrelated field.
And then the French Revolution erupted.
When it did, "Gaulois," who was by now calling himself "Colonel Duchamp," was in a good spot, living in Paris and close to several members of the first revolutionary committees. He mouthed hypocritical praise of the revolution and the rights of man, and as he saw the terrible treatment the aristocrats were getting during those first blood-soaked months he began to get an idea.
The revolution, he pointed out to his friends on the committee, needed money to finance not only its French operations but its contacts with foreign nations. But many of the active committee members and the fighters were poor: there seemed no money to be had.
The money, Duchamp pointed out, was in the hands of the aristocrats. And the aristocrats were putting it in hiding and safekeeping for some dim future after the revolution had run its course.
"I," Duchamp boasted, "can find that money for you."
The friends, of course, wanted to know how.
"The aristocrats will tell me," Duchamp explained smoothly. "All I ask of you is a free hand."
The friends demurred, but Duchamp insisted that all he wanted was a chance to help in the great fight for human liberties . . . and, at last, he won his point. He was given, as a badge of office, a gold chain, and he placed it round his own neck and didn't take it off again until the day he died.
The gold chain was all the permission he had ever needed. Now there would be no danger, no difficulty with the police. Now he could do exactly as he wanted to do—and be praised for it.
Now he could torture and kill. . .
Duchamp's special chamber, in the cellar of an old courts building in Paris, rapidly became notorious. He worked out a single system: male prisoners were sent to the other side of the city to be questioned by workmen there. The females were reserved for Duchamp himself.
He worked out several special torments of his own there, and the screams that echoed in the walls went on by day and night. He revived the heated iron chair of the Inquisition, in which a woman would be placed and strapped tightly. Then a fire would be lit under the chair, and as the metal grew hot the woman's flesh would begin to smoke, and sear, and burn.
Sometimes, while the victim howled in the chair, Duchamp amused himself by placing barbs carefully over the front of her tortured body, adding to her pain.
And of course there were other torments, the whip, the rack, heated irons and flaming torches.
Duchamp usually got exactly what he wanted from his female victims. In the throes of horrifying pain, they stammered out addresses, locations, combinations . . . the money poured in.
The committee was happy.
And so was Duchamp: now he had his chance to work through a dizzying variety of torments with an endless parade of young and frightened women.
Sometimes, if a girl confessed too quickly, Duchamp would pretend she had still more money hidden away—and simply continued the torture until he was satisfied. It's estimated that nearly three hundred women died under his hands in less than two years.
He collected a group of assistants around him, brutal men with the same interests as his own, men who were happy only when causing incredible pain to their victims. The name of Duchamp became a whispered word, a terror in the streets.
Here are a few items taken at random from his list of "cases":
Maria Strongin, 24: Maria's family had hidden a pile of jewelry and plates. The father was taken to the secondary prison. Maria was taken by Duchamp and subjected to a brutal lashing all over her nude body. When this brought no admissions from the fainting girl, Duchamp had her sprayed with a strong acid. By the time she had confessed, she had been driven totally insane by pain.
Danielle Duroc, 18: This time Duchamp had Danielle's mother tied to a post, to watch while her daughter was tortured. Danielle, before the eyes of her mother, was stripped and placed on the rack. After the winches had been tightened Duchamp gave orders for the girl to be flayed alive! Screaming under the bloody agony, Danielle pleaded with her mother to give Duchamp whatever he asked for—but in this case there was no money to be found. Danielle died under torture, and Duchamp turned his attention to the mother, who was beaten to death with metal whips.
Corinne Allassee, 22: It wasn't often that Duchamp (as in the Duroc case) had to report failure. Corinne had a hoard of francs hidden away, and it took Duchamp only ten minutes to discover where they were. He gave instructions for the girl's fingernails to be pulled out by the roots—and she screamed out the address before the second nail had been touched. Duchamp was hardly satisfied with that, though —Corinne lived through another two days of agony, a screaming carnival that included virtually everything in Duchamp's torture collection. By the time she died her body was totally unrecognizable.
Three hundred women, dying in agony under the hands of this incredible monster. . .
Duchamp had everything he had ever wanted. No one will ever know why he so hated women: his real name, gone forever, is the only clue anyone could have to his childhood and to the events that formed him. But the hatred blazed through the period of the French Revolution like a searing flame, leaving behind a record of horrors perhaps unmatched in history.
Like the story of Suzanne Reger . . . Duchamp's final case.
The Reger family was rich, and had been well thought of. Though perhaps "aristocratic," they had always been on the side of the poorer classes, and no one had a word to say against them.
But "aristocrat" was, suddenly, word enough—and the fact that the family undoubtedly had money hidden away somewhere put them in the hands of Duchamp and his henchmen.
Fernand Reger, Suzanne's father, had heard of the brutal terrors of Duchamp, and he had tried to get his family out of the country before the monster's hand descended upon them. He'd actually managed to get a passport under a false name for himself, his wife and his only daughter, and they were literally en route to the ship when Duchamp's men located them and rounded them, ordering them back Paris.
Fernand fought bitterly against the five who surrounded them—but it was no use. He himself died in the battle and was left on the roadside. His wife Doris and Suzanne, his seventeen-year-old daughter, were taken back by the grinning crew.
Doris Reger had been hurt in the fight, too, and she died halfway to Paris. The five men left her body lying just off the road, a prey to vultures and wild beasts, and continued on with Suzanne alone.
After all, they figured, Suzanne should know where the money was hidden—and Duchamp, in any case, would be disappointed if they came back with no one.
Suzanne had been a virgin at the start of the trip. By the end of it she was delirious and raving, and she was very experienced indeed.
It took the band two days to reach Paris—and deliver Suzanne into a dungeon that would make her almost long for the comparatively simple torments of Duchamp's henchmen.
Now she was in the hands of the master himself!
He gave her a few days to recover and to restore her strength. Each day he came and talked to her, telling her that his men had exceeded their orders and would be punished for the "terrible things" they had done to her, telling her that his own reputation had been grossly exaggerated and that he had been maligned by propaganda. He treated her with the tenderness and respect of a true gentleman—and Suzanne began to wonder if, after all, everything she had heard could have been wrong.
On the fourth day in prison (and Duchamp made her prison stay almost comfortable) he came into her cell and invited her to his "office." "I think we ought to have a little talk," he said.
Suzanne nodded and obeyed. They went down a long hall, found a door and pushed it open.
Duchamp's "office" was displayed before her eyes: the torture chamber itself! Two squat and hairy men, dressed only in loincloths, waited for her with Satanic grins. She spun around and tried to flee—but Duchamp caught her and tossed her inside. The two men there grabbed her arms.
Struggling vainly, she was naked before two minutes had passed. Duchamp considered the girl, standing helplessly, her face tearstained. "I do not want to hurt you, my dear," he said. "I merely want to know where your family's wealth has been hidden."
"I—I don't know," Suzanne said. "I was never told. . . ."
"Don't lie to me!" The words were snapped out coldly. Duchamp motioned to the men holding Suzanne Reger. "The stretcher," he ordered.
Suzanne's wrists and ankles were tied to long cords that ran the full length of the room and were attached to pulleys. She was forced to stand with her arms spread, her feet wide apart, in the very center of the stone-walled torture chamber.
"One last chance," Duchamp murmured.
"I tell you I don't know—" Suzanne began, and then she screamed.
The assistants stood at the pulleys, tightening the ropes. Her feet were pulled apart, off the ground, her arms pulled straight out. Gradually, her entire body was being pulled apart.
Her shrieks grew in volume as the assistants continued remorselessly to pull at the ropes. When Duchamp finally stopped his men Suzanne's eyes were blank and wide, her mouth pulled open in one long never-ending scream!
Then, while she remained in that position of absolute agony, Duchamp began with his whips.
After her third faint, she was taken back to her cell and left there. Duchamp estimated that it would take her two days before she would be able to stand another session in the torture chamber, and so he left her alone to concentrate on other arrivals.
But Suzanne somehow managed to retain her sanity. Alone in her cell she planned carefully and waited, while she recovered, for Duchamp to arrive.
When next Duchamp came for her she did not cringe from him or show fear. Instead she looked at him with almost adoring eyes. "I will tell you anything, anything," she said. "You have mastered me, I am yours, everything I know, everything I have is yours."
"The address, then," Duchamp said.
Suzanne gave him a false address, since she had no idea of the true one. "But do not leave at once," she murmured. "Stay with me . . . stay with me. . ."
Even broken as it was, her body was an invitation, and her voice carried every ounce of seduction she could manage. Duchamp hesitated—and then shut the cell door and moved toward her.
They found him the next morning, quite dead, with Suzanne crouched above him. He had been strangled by the gold chain he always wore.
Suzanne was tried—and, in that trial, the whole story of Duchamp's monstrous crimes came out before the public. The trial records were sealed and marked for safekeeping in secret, and Suzanne was freed.
Duchamp's body was buried with public honors, as befit a hero of the Revolution.
But the men who buried him knew the truth—and sickened at the thought of what was inside the coffin they carried. Duchamp, the unknown who grasped the handle of power, was still capable of some effect on others: he was still capable of making them disgusted, sick, revolted by the terrible parade of his crimes.
The undertaker could not remove the gold chain of office, so tightly had Suzanne wound it around his neck; it was buried in the flesh.
The gold chain went with him to the grave to mark him forever as one of the most terrible monsters the world has ever known.