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From Eroica With Love #1

A Thousand Kisses


We are briefly introduced to the protagonists of the piece: three teenagers who share a telepathic bond and have certain unusual powers. It seems that five years previously the three of them had gotten lost in the Peruvian wilderness, where they met a mysterious old man who bestowed the powers on them. To wit:

Caesar Gabriel, age 18, now a professor at London University. Intellectually brilliant, speaks 20 languages, holds 15 doctorate degrees. Particularly learned in the field of art, he can instantly spot forgeries and identify art pieces. Slender, with long, straight blond hair. Very girlish-looking; virginal, shy, and clueless about anything outside his studies.

Sugar Plum, age 16, an art student. Has extraordinarily keen senses, plus a limited precognitive ability. Petite, short blonde hair, large eyes. Rather cutesy in appearance and behavior, and bears a distinct resemblance to our future acquaintance, Agent G. Sugar Plum is, however, a girl.

Leopard Solid, age 19, a stuntman. Has superhuman physical abilities -- reflexes, coordination, speed. Tall, slim, collar-length dark hair. Pretty, but definitely a guy. Bold and decidedly cocky.

[Click here to see scanned pages from this scene.]

As the story opens, Sugar Plum is visiting the National Gallery in London. She admires the Cupid in an erotic painting by Bronzino. Suddenly her super-sharp hearing catches the sound of a metallic tinkling. She turns to see a spectacular blond vision who reminds her of the Cupid, "followed by a bunch of gorgeous men as though he were a monarch". The sound she heard had come from the chain bracelets he is wearing. The newcomer also admires the Bronzino painting, commenting on its eroticism and teasing Sugar Plum about it, to her blushing confusion. He then leaves with his entourage, one of whom addresses him as "my lord".

[Click here to see scanned pages from this scene.]

Sugar Plum realizes that Leopard has been calling her, telepathically. He's waiting for her outside the museum. She joins him and asks about a small bandage on his face; it seems there was "a little mistake in falling off a motorbike going 200 kph." His super-gifts enabled him to avoid serious injury.

Caesar also joins them, strolling up with his nose in a book and completely oblivious of the attention and comments he's attracting from a crowd of admirers, male and female. He tells the others that he's been invited to a party on Christmas Eve being given by Madame Devlin, a famous art collector, who will be showing her recent purchase: a Christ painting by Vermeer. Caesar invites the others to go with him to the party.

Next scene: at the party, Madame Devlin's mansion. The three arrive; Leopard -- who has a voracious appetite -- heads directly for the buffet, Caesar discusses art, surrounded by fawning admirers, and Sugar looks on. Suddenly, Caesar becomes very upset, telling Sugar that he feels like someone is staring at him. ("Have you just noticed?" says Sugar, whose sweet disposition contains an occasional drop of acid.)

They look around and discover that the stare is coming from "the nobleman of the golden curls" whom Sugar met in the museum. He greets her politely but is obviously more interested in Caesar, to whom he introduces himself: Dorian Red Gloria, Earl of Gloria. Sugar's psychic powers kick in, and she senses an impending threat to Caesar. She warns him telepathically, gets him away from Dorian and tries to convince him to leave. Meanwhile, Dorian's retinue (which includes Mr James) remind him that it is almost midnight.

We switch back to the National Gallery, at midnight. Two bored guards are drinking coffee and complaining about having to work on Christmas Eve. Suddenly, a group of women appears at the window, calling "Merry Christmas, you guys! Wanna party with us?" One of the guards promptly lets them in, over the protests of the other one. The "women" -- actually men -- knock them out with anesthetic gas, which they also release through the ventilation system to get rid of any other guards. Wearing gas masks, they disable the alarms and quickly and efficiently strip one room in the museum of its contents, touching nothing else. Among the stolen art objects is the Bronzino painting we saw earlier. The narrative informs us that similar raids are taking place simultaneously at the Louvre and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The thieves leave behind a card with a rose and the words "Thank you. Eroica" inscribed on it.

Back at the party: Madame Devlin is about to display Vermeer's Christ to her guests. She has paid £300,000 for the painting. When it is revealed, Sugar Plum is awed, as are Dorian's attendants. Caesar, however, examines the painting closely and immediately pronounces it to be a forgery by Van Meegeren, not an authentic Vermeer. Dorian also examines it, and concurs with Caesar. Madame Devlin faints. Dorian and Caesar agree that the painting has its own artistic value, and that they both like it. (The young Christ in the painting, by the way, strongly resembles Caesar, a likeness Dorian remarks on.) Their conversation is interrupted by Sugar, who is having premonitions that Dorian is up to no good, and Mr James, who is passionately jealous of Dorian's interest in Caesar. The teenagers decide to leave.

Dorian's men suggest a change of plans, saying it's not worth the trouble to steal the counterfeit painting. Dorian responds: "I decide whether it's worth it or not. If I like it, that's what it's worth."

The next day, Caesar, Sugar, and Leopard are watching a TV news broadcast about the art thefts at the three museums. The announcer says that the National Gallery has just received a very detailed, itemized ransom note demanding a huge sum for the return of the art objects. It is signed, "From Eroica with love." Sugar notices that the Bronzino painting -- her favorite -- is not listed on the note. Caesar suggests that the thief plans to keep it.

On a small plane, Dorian and James indicate that the counterfeit painting has been liberated from Madame Devlin. James still isn't happy about it, but Dorian says, "My goal is to obtain art and beauty. The money I gain in exchange for paintings is only an extra."

Back at Madame Devlin's mansion: Madame is having hysterics, Scotland Yard has been called in, and Caesar and his friends are summoned. The thief has once again left the "Eroica" calling card. The teenagers meet Interpol agent Tarao Bannai, who regards them as the chief suspects because of Caesar's interest in art and his having admired the forged painting. Tarao Bannai, depicted as a short, stocky Asian man, is an extremely bizarre character. A strange, cartoonish caricature in loud clothes and a flurry of nonsensical hyperactivity, he makes James at his weirdest look realistic by comparison. He demands that the three confess, and tells Caesar he's under arrest.

Just then, Tarao Bannai receives a phone call. Sugar, with her super-senses, can hear the caller and relays the conversation telepathically to the other two. The call is made in an electronically disguised voice, and hence is not recognizable. It demands £200,000. Sugar also hears, in the background, a faint sound which strikes her as familiar, but she can't place it. Tarao grudgingly releases the three, but says he still suspects them of being involved.

Back home, the three try to ignore Tarao (who keeps popping up at the window in strange disguises). Caesar analyzes the list of stolen art objects and deduces from the thief's tastes that the next target will be the Tate Gallery. He also theorizes that "Eroica" is a very intelligent young man, 22 or 23 years old, and probably good-looking. The three decide to track him down. Caesar can figure out where Eroica is likely to strike, but not when. Sugar's precognition is limited to events involving the three of them, but she feels that they -- and especially Caesar -- will be in danger in ten days, at midnight.

Ten days later, at the Tate Gallery: Dorian is supervising this job in person. His men approach the gallery, but spot three figures at the gate. These turn out to be Caesar, Sugar, and Leopard, who are making their way toward the gallery. They are recognized by Dorian's men. Dorian cancels the raid, and observes the three (especially Caesar), unseen by them.

The three are surprised by Tarao Bannai, who has been following them and is now more than ever convinced that they are the art thieves. They make a run for it, taking a brief detour into another Aoike manga (Sons of Eve, whose characters are somewhat bewildered by the intrusion.)

Caesar gets separated from the others in their flight. Tarao, looking for him, sees a couple in a dark alley, apparently locked in an embrace; he is embarrassed and moves on. We see that the couple consists of Caesar and Dorian, who has grabbed him and concealed him from Tarao. Once Tarao is gone, Dorian makes advances to Caesar, who registers virginal anxiety bordering on hysteria. Sugar Plum, who with Leopard is looking for Caesar, tries to communicate with him telepathically but can only pick up gibberish and a strong feeling of danger.

Dorian is just explaining that "My philosophy of life is to get what I want under any circumstances," and has made it clear that what he wants is Caesar, when Sugar and Leopard come running up. Caesar faints. Dorian hands him over to his friends and leaves, but as he does, the bracelets on his wrist jingle and Sugar recognizes the sound as the one she heard during the phone call from Eroica. She tells the others. Caesar realizes that he will be Eroica's next target.

In the car, Dorian repeats his determination to add Caesar to his collection, much to James' distress.

At home, Caesar is in bed with a fever, brought on by shock. (Caesar does not have a robust constitution.) Sugar has an idea about how to trap Eroica. She and Leopard visit Caesar, and she politely asks him to "take off your jammies and stand over there." Caesar has hysterics. Sugar explains that they want him to model for a sculpture. Caesar has more hysterics, but is persuaded to pose if he can keep his clothes on. The other two procure a large block of stone and set to work.

The sculpture is completed, and Sugar and Leopard sneak it out in the dead of night and bury it near Westminster Abbey, where it is promptly discovered. It is a statue of an angel, modeled on Caesar. The discovery is covered in the newspapers, where the statue is described as "from the late Renaissance", much to Caesar's disgust.

In his own home, Dorian muses on the statue which resembles Caesar. Not fooled for a minute, he describes it as a "silly trick" and orders his men to tell the Abbey that they will take the statue at midnight in three days. He plans to capture both it and Caesar.

The three find out that Eroica has contacted the Abbey, and conceal themselves inside on the crucial night. The Abbey is surrounded by a heavy police guard (and Tarao Bannai). Shortly before midnight, the police receive an alarm that the British Museum has just been raided by Eroica, and all the law enforcement types go dashing off to the museum.

Sugar and Leopard hear the commotion and go to see what is happening outside, leaving Caesar alone with the statue. But only for a moment -- Dorian appears, makes a few suggestive remarks (Caesar has hysterics again), and knocks him out with the anesthetic gas. While Sugar and Leopard bang on the door outside (it's locked), Dorian and his gang remove Caesar and the statue, taking off in a helicopter. Watching it fly off, Sugar remarks that she put a signal device on the statue so they can follow. They do, by car. Dorian notices, but says that they can't catch up anyway. He tells the unconscious Caesar, "you're finally going to join my collection in my castle..."

Next scene: at Dorian's castle, an imposing edifice on a small, rocky island. We see Leopard swimming toward the island, with Sugar clinging to his back. She tries to communicate with Caesar, telling him that they are coming to rescue him. Caesar, in the castle, is just regaining consciousness. When he wakes up, Dorian approaches him with highly salacious intentions. Caesar sends Sugar a frantic telepathic call for help, followed by more hysterical gibberish. Dorian's men, watching a security monitor, see that that Leopard and Sugar have arrived at the castle. James goes to warn Dorian, but pauses outside the door upon hearing sounds of a violent struggle going on within.

Dorian and Caesar are now both looking rather battered and disheveled. Dorian is annoyed that Caesar is fighting to retain his virtue, and tells him "You're the luckiest man in the world to have me for your first time." James, hearing a pause in the ruckus, pops his head in to tell Dorian about Leopard and Sugar, and asks him what to do. Dorian responds, quite matter-of-factly, "Kill them."

Caesar shrieks, cries, and frantically begs Dorian to spare their lives, promising to do anything he wants in return. Dorian accepts his promise and tells James not to kill them after all. James, irate because Dorian gives in to Caesar's tears but ignores his, stomps away muttering to himself that he's going to kill them anyway.

Caesar having agreed to cooperate, Dorian settles down with him on the sofa and starts kissing him, while reciting Catullus. Caesar, overcome by rapture, terror, or both, faints dead away on the third kiss. Sugar senses this, and she and Leopard hurry their search. Dorian decides to let Caesar return with his friends, apparently not keen on making love to someone who passes out at the very idea. He tells his men to get ready to leave the island.

[Click here to see scanned pages from this scene.]

James and several of Dorian's followers, armed with guns, find Leopard and Sugar hiding in a room of the castle. Leopard, assisted by Sugar's telepathic warnings, fights off several of the men, but James grabs Sugar and holds a gun to her head, telling Leopard to surrender.

Just then, Dorian walks in. James is proud of his accomplishment, but Dorian reprimands him sternly for disobeying an order and gives him a huge accounting job as punishment. Dorian tells Leopard and Sugar that he is returning Caesar to them, and that they may have all the art pieces in the castle as well. He gathers his men and leaves, telling the teens, "From Eroica with love, good luck!" Sugar senses that something large is moving below the island, and we see a submarine emerging from a tunnel in the rock.

Dorian, in the submarine, makes light of losing the island and the art objects, saying that there are millions of islands in the world and if he wants the art pieces back he'll just steal them once more. He has taken with him the angel statue of Caesar, and says that Caesar is his obsession and they will meet again.

Leopard and Sugar visit the National Gallery and see the Bronzino painting back on display. Suddenly, Sugar hears the tinkle of gold chains and whirls around in alarm. However, it's only Caesar, wearing Dorian's bracelets on his wrist. He says he comes to look at the painting every day: "For this Cupid reminds me of...him..."


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