Le Bal Masque
“A pierrot costume?”
“that’s what she said, Chief – she came round and saw a man in a clown outfit, white face and blackened eyes standing over her, and the room stripped bare.”
Chief Wickham sat back in his chair and stared at the officer sat opposite him. In his years of experience on the force, he had seen and heard of many things, but a man in fancy dress committing a robbery?
“Were there any others there?”
“Four, apparently, all dressed the same way.”
“All right, take it from the top – what did Joan say in her statement?”
At 10.30 am the previous day, Joan Bulwright of Bulwright Sales had gone to the house on Bleeker Street to meet a client. The house was on the market, but as the current owners were at work Joan had agreed to show the client around on her own. This was normal practice, as one of Joan’s colleagues would come to the house if she did not contact them within three hours of the scheduled time of completion.
She had just entered the house, and taken off her cream jacket when she had heard a knock on the door. Expecting that it was the client, she had quickly made her way to the front entrance and opened the door, only to be hit in the face by a spray of some sort of chemical. Analysis of blood samples after the event have revealed that she was hit by a fine mist formulation of a mild anaesthetic, which was quick acting – Joan felt woozy within seconds and quickly fell to the ground.
She wasn’t sure for how long she was out, but it must have been a couple of hours, for when she opened her eyes she could see the afternoon sun shining through the west-facing window. She tried to get up, but quickly discovered that whoever had attacked her had tied her up securely with rope. Her wrists were pinned together behind her back, and the rope was wrapped around her bare arms and her red top, digging into her bare flesh where it had been wound round under her arms. The attackers had taken off her shoes and tied her ankles together, then left her propped up against the side wall in an alcove in the main room.
That was when she saw the man come over and look at her. She was quite adamant about his dress – a black and white clown outfit with ruffed collar and cuffs, a white face with black makeup around the eyes and a white skull cap. Looking to the side, she saw the other men in similar dress, and tried to call out – which was when she realised they had gagged her as well. The room had been stripped bare, and on the wall Joan could see the safe door hanging open.
The man looked at her, then silently walked away with his companions and left her sitting there. Joan struggled to get free, until a colleague from her office finally appeared an hour or so later to see why she had not returned. The friend removed the white tape from Joan’s mouth, after which she called the police.
Chief Wickham glanced at the calendar on his desk to make sure it wasn’t April the First. “So you’re telling me a bunch of clowns managed to raid a house in broad daylight and not be spotted?”
“I’m afraid so, Chief ….” There was a knock on the door and the chief’s secretary walked in. “Sorry, Sir, but there’s another officer here to see you – apparently there’s been another attack.”
“That makes three,” Chief Wickham said with a sigh.
“Yeah – before you came in I heard that the wife of Councilman Bennett had been attacked and robbed at home by another man in costume.”
Andrea Bennett parked her car outside the house, stepped out and retrieved her groceries from the boot, before carrying them into the kitchen and placing them on the counter. Opening the fridge door, she placed the milk and dairy produce in the cold air, and then closed it again before letting out a yelp of fright.
Standing behind the door was a tall man dressed in dark clothing. An opera cape was over his shoulders, and his lower face was concealed by a dark scarf. A fedora was pulled low over his eyes, but the piercing blue held Angela in their gaze.
“Who knows what evil lurks in the heart of man?” the intruder said in a bass voice as he grabbed Angela by the arm. “Do as I say and you will not need to find out.”
He dragged Angela up to the master bedroom, and closed the door behind them. “Fear not, good lady, I only want your jewellery – you will remain unharmed if you do as you are told.”
Angela stood there in her white jumper and jeans, staring at this masked man. The stare turned to one of fear when he produced from somewhere in the folds of his cape a large roll of black tape.
“Are you going to tie me up?” She asked with a slight quaver in her voice, but the man just turned her round and pulled her wrists behind her back, quickly wrapping the tape around them to secure them together. She stood there as he wrapped the tape around her upper body, fixing her arms securely to her back and chest, before turning her round to face him. Her red hair was falling around her face as he tore strip after strip of tape off the roll and smoothed them over her lips and lower jaw.
“Be good, now,” he said as he unfastened her jeans and allowed them to drop on the floor, leaving her standing there in her white knickers. Although Angela began to fear what was about to happen, those fears subsided as he pushed her back onto her bed and started to wrap the tape around her ankles and legs, securing them together in several places so that she looked like a black and brown roll.
“Forgive me, my dear, but I must prevent you seeing what I do before I leave for the Danse Macabre,” was all he said before he blindfolded Angela with the tape. She could hear him searching the room, laughing to himself, before the door closed and she lay there.
“The Councilman found her two hours ago – he’d just got off the phone to me when you came in. Someone somewhere is having a laugh at oru expense, but I can’t put my finger on why.”
“Danse Macabre – isn’t that part of a Mardi Gras celebration?”
“Yeah – but that was last week. So why mention it today?
“Great,” the chief said as he pressed on the intercom, “send in the next person.”
The door opened and Detective Brian Poole walked in. “Chief – I hear you’ve had a couple of interesting calls?”
“Very funny, Poole – what do you have for us?”
“Well, I got called out to a robbery in the Heights – and when Greta told me about what happened to Mrs Bennett, I thought you needed to hear about it.”
“You have got to be kidding me!”
Tanya stared at the masked woman that had suddenly appeared in her living room. Only the fact that a Beretta was pointing at her stopped her from laughing at the costume this person was wearing – dressed as Little Bo Peep, complete with shepherdess crook and toy lamb, she looked as if she was on her way to a costume party. The white eye mask only added to the effect, as the eyes peeped out from under the curly wig.
“Unless you want to see what this pistol can do, then assume I’m not kidding and take your blouse off now.”
Seeing this intruder actually meant business, Tanya stood up and unbuttoned her black silk blouse, handing it to the woman who took it and threw it behind her. Motioning with her gun for Tanya to turn round, she watched as the young brown haired woman turned with her back to the shepherdess. Placing the gun down, she took a pair of handcuffs out of the tote bag she had around her waist and secured Tanya’s wrists together.
“Kneel down,” Bo Peep ordered, and with some difficulty Tanya knelt in front of her couch, her crimson and black skirt riding up to reveal the tops of her black stockings. Placing the crook to one side as well, the intrude produced a coil of white rope and began to pass it around Tanya’s chest, above and below her black bra clad breasts, before pulling it tightly and wrapping the ends around the ropes behind her back.
Taking her ankles, the woman secured them together and then kissed Tanya on the top of the head. “Stay there,” she said as she pulled the phone out of the wall, and left Tanya alone in the living room. Before leaving, she had turned the radio on and the volume up to drown out any noise Tanya might make, and picked up the pistol “in case you try to escape” as she put it.
A half hour passed before the costumed robber re-appeared, with a sack containing the valuables she had found and a roll of duct tape. She quickly gagged Tanya with several strips, then said “I must go to the ball,” as she walked out of the house. Tanya eventually managed to get her cell phone from a bag, and called for help.
“What the hell is this today – freak night in this town? Three robberies where the intruders have dressed up in silly costumes….”
“I beg your pardon?”
Detective Poole rubbed the bald patch on his head. “Four – we got a report in of a break-in at Mary Quaint’s house.”
Ashley looked up at the masked intruder, as he passed the rope around her legs as her knees were pulled towards her chin. She had only opened the door fifteen minutes earlier; to be confronted by a man dressed entirely in black, only his piercing blue eyes showing through the hole in his full head mask.
“I am Fantomas,” he had said as he pushed the maid to the floor, before quickly tying her wrists together with rope, followed by her ankles and feet, the rope wrapped around the three inch heels of her shoes. He had then put the woman over his shoulder, and carried her into a bedroom, where he had continued to bind her body with rope around her neck and legs, then her back and legs so that she was forced to stay in a sitting position.
A blue bandana was then pulled into her mouth and tied tightly at the base of her neck, before the intruder stood back and looked at the maid in an admiring way.
“I have my partner for the ball,” he said as he picked Angela up and carried her in his arms out of the room, “Let’s see how my friend is doing.”
While this had been happening, the fashion designer Mary Quaint had been working in her studio, oblivious to the problems her maid was facing. She was dressed in a pale blue jacket and a short skirt that was a slightly darker shade, a black lace bustier and black stocking with patent leather shoes. So engrossed was she in her work she didn’t hear the intruder until it was too late, and she caught a glimpse of him in the mirror before he grabbed and hand gagged her.
Now she was lying face down on the floor, her wrists securely bound behind her back and rope around her upper body, emphasising her large breasts where her jacket had come undone as a result of her struggling. The intruder was binding her ankles together with more thick rope – a strange man, in a long dark coat, blue shirt and trousers, wearing a black felt hat and his upper face covered in a mask. He knotted off the rope around her ankles, then passed a further length around her legs below her knees and pulled it tightly.
“What the hell are you doing?” She called over her shoulder. “Preparing for the Bal de Masque,” he had replied as he took a cloth sample that had been lying on the desk, pinched Mary’s nose and stuffed it into her mouth when she opened it. Several wide strips of micro foam tape followed over her lower jaw, silencing her completely so that only a muffled grunt was heard as she was placed in a hog tie.
The door opened and Fantomas brought Angela in, sitting her next to her boss as they tried to call out to each other. The two intruders waved at the bound and gagged women as they locked the office door behind them.
“I took the call before I came in to see you – her husband found the two women ten minutes ago.”
“Brian, what the hell is going on here? Has every burglar in the place decided that this is the night to go out in costume and rob people?”
“Chief, I have as much of an idea of what is happening as you have. Who do we know about so far?”
The officer at the desk had been making notes.
“The owner of Bulwright sales….. The wife of Councilman Bennett…. Tanya Redmond, the news announcer…. Mary Quaint and her maid…..”
“No real connection between them, is there? Apart from being leading women in the area.”
Detective Poole shook his head. Standing up, he went to the door and looked out of the office. “Say – do you have any idea where Greta went?”
Chief Wickham stood up and came to the outer office. Greta, his secretary had been working late before she went out on a date, but her desk was empty.
“Maybe she went to get a coffee,” he said as she walked out of the outer door and down the corridor. Walking into the coffee area, he stood in mute surprise at the sight that greeted him.
She had shown Detective Poole into the chief’s office, and decided that would be a good moment to go and get a cup of coffee. Greta walked down the corridor, her heels clinking on the floor and the squeak from her leather trousers echoing from the empty rooms, until she turned into the canteen area and closed the door behind her.
She had no idea who it was that grabbed her at that moment – all she knew was the hand clamped over her nose and mouth, and then nothing as she fainted. When she came to, she had been sat in a chair and her arms pulled behind the chair back. Her wrists had been bound together behind her back, and then the rope passed around her waist and her legs just below her crotch, preventing her from moving. In front of her was – well, a monk, or someone in a monk’s ropes, tying her booted feet together with a long length of rope. He turned round and looked at the girl, but the cowl was so deep she was unable to see any of his face.
Taking the rope, he passed it under the round table that her legs were resting on, and then tied her legs together below her knees with the remaining lengths. Walking behind Greta, he had pulled from within his ropes a black scarf, which he had proceeded to use to gag her before tying more rope around her chest and the chair back.
“Tell the Police Chief that the Danse Macabre is coming to town,” he had said as he put his hand back over her mouth and pulled her head back. He then took her purse, and left the secretary to try and call for help.
“I’m sorry I can’t tell you more, Chief,” Greta said as she nursed the coffee cup in her hands, “It’s almost as if someone was trying to send you a message.”
Chief Wickham sat opposite his secretary. “Don’t worry, Greta – we’ll get the guy who did this. You can go home now.”
The young girl put down the cup and picked up her jacket, putting it over her dark jumper before leaving the room. Wickham looked over at Poole.
“Read that list out to me again?”
“Bulwright, Bennett, Redman, Quaint, and now your secretary. It still doesn’t make any sense to me.”
Wickham sat back in his chair, deep in thought. His thoughts were interrupted by a knock on the door.
“Yes,” he shouted impatiently as the duty sergeant came in.
“Chief, if I told you that Batman and Robin had just committed a robbery, what would you say?”
“It would just make my day complete – Why?”
“Well, Batman and Robin just committed a robbery.”
Betty was not having a great time. When the doorbell had rang, she opened it to two men dressed as Batman and Robin – the sixties television series version – asking if she could direct them to the masked ball.
Well, Betty had no idea what they were talking about, but when Batman pushed her back into the room and produced several skeins of rope while Robin closed the door behind them, she realised that she was being robbed.
Now she was on the floor, looking up at the Caped Crusaders as they rifled the contents of her safe. The top buttons on her pinstripe blouse had come undone as a result of her struggles to get out of the ropes, exposing her black bra, but the rope had remained secured. She had been trussed like a sausage – her wrists and elbows bound tightly together behind her back, and rope around her ankles, thighs, calves, waist, and lower and upper chest. A white scarf had been stuffed into her mouth, and white tape secured all over her jaw to keep it in place. Finally, she had been placed in a hog tie, with her wrists secured to her ankles with a short length of rope.
She watched helplessly as their valuables were placed into the utility belts of both their costumes, and the two men walked out of the front door. Rolling around on the floor, she tried desperately to find some way to get out of the ropes before they got too far away.
“A passing patrolman saw the open door, went in and found Mrs Bennett lying on the floor….”
Detective Poole sat up. “Mrs Bennett? Elisabeth Bennett, the sister in law of Angela Bennett?”
“Yeah – why, has something else happened?”
Chief Wickham sat bolt upright, and then picked up the phone and dialled a number. The three sat there as the ringing tone was heard at the other end…..
Officer Smith just wanted the phone to stop ringing, but that was not likely to happen as long as she could not reach it. Sat as she was in the corner of the large couch, it was difficult enough for her to get up without the added restriction of the duct tape around her ankles, thighs and calves.
She twisted round and looked over her shoulder to see how her attempts to release her wrists were going, but so far there was no give in the tight tape wrappings that held them together, as well as her arms to her side. She creamed out in frustration as the masked man closed the room door behind him, the layers of tap effectively muffling any legible sounds she may be making, and wondered what had happened to her partner.
Officer Jones was in no position to help either – she had been secured by the intruder before he had entered the building. She stood in the garage, screaming in frustration as she twisted round in the ropes that secured her to the ceiling. The man had pulled her wrists behind her back and tied them together with rope that was in the garage, and then tied her arms to her side with rope in a way that emphasised her breasts under the uniform top.
The thick white cloth that had been pulled twice around and into her mouth was an effective muzzle for her cries as well – she had no way to warn her partner or the other person in the house what was happening……
“I don’t get it, Chief – you’ve figured out what’s going on?”
Detective Poole stared at his boss as he sat there with his heads in his hands. Looking up, Brian saw for the first time a new look in Wickham’s face – one of fear.
“Five years ago there was a big masked ball for the Police Benevolent fund – before you came to our force. Well, that ball was attacked by a gang reporting to someone called The Baron – I’m sure you’ve heard of him.”
Poole nodded. The Baron, and his wife The Baroness, were known master criminals with a huge influence. Poole had heard about a recent attack in a nearby town where several partners of local dignitaries were held hostage while a massive robbery was carried out.
“I’ve heard of him- but what does that have to do with today?”
“Guess who the members of the organising committee were.”
Poole suddenly sat up.
“The women who have been attacked today – but Greta?”
“She manned the front desk that night. This isn’t about a robbery – this is about revenge. The Baron wants to remind us who he is and what he can do.
“The Danse Macabre – it’s about remembering the past and revenge. He’s attacking the key people from that night.”
“So, who else was on the committee?”
Poole watched as Wickham stared at him, and the dawning realisation of who the last member of the party was hit him like a force ten gale…..
“Good evening, Mrs Wickham.”
The wife of the police chief raised her hands in surprise as the white cloth was pulled tightly over her mouth. Looking up, she saw the masked man in the fedora and overcoat standing behind her chair, holding the ends of the cloth in his hands.
There was a white mask over his face, but she recognised the voice – one she had not heard since that night five years previously.
“I promised you I would visit you again,” The Baron said as he tied the two ends of the cloth behind her head, “and I always keep my promises. Your guards are already secured – I think it’s time you were treated the same way as they were.
“My companions have already visited your friends – my wife particularly enjoyed visiting Mrs Redmond – but you mustn’t feel left out. Come, my dear – it is time for the dance to begin…..”