A collaboration between Phoenix Fiery & Keeper
Strictly invite only. That’s what I was told. Apparently, I should be feeling privileged as precious few people knew about the ball and only a very select few received invitations. This was the kind of affair reserved for the most decorated pillars of the community; the barristers, business magnates and politicians of this world. My presence was to be more indebted to blind fortune than anything else as I’m about as regular as Joe gets. It turned out that it is who you know that determines what you know around these parts as I earned this exclusive opportunity through a loose affiliation with the town mayor. I hardly knew him if I’m honest but had been serving him Cointreau for the past five years now and, during that time, he opened up to me more than he had his own long-suffering wife. I knew that it had become a marriage of inconvenience to him as it was on account of her that he started these bi-daily visits in the first place. I’d heard the term comfort of strangers before now and that was exactly what he received from our regular one-way tête-à-têtes; somebody more prepared to listen than facilitate the sound of their own voice every time he pauses for breath. I had become his one true confidant.
I’m fairly sure that he was fully aware that I suffered no sleep loss over his candid confessions and that just made him trust me all the more. I’ve never been one for gossip and keep myself largely to myself; thus making me a valuable asset as his multiple indiscretions would likely land him in hot water should that data fall into the wrong hands. That’s the beauty of being a bartender; you get to play sponge. Shift after shift I listen to other folk’s woes and they never particularly bother me. What I learn at work is wrung out before I chime the last bell; then it ceases being of importance as, my life’s uneventful enough as it is, without being constantly reminded that every other bugger is having all the fun. When Major Wilson Bettis approached me to ask me along to his own exclusive soirée; I was tempted to flat decline but sheer fascination got the better of me as he informed it was to be held at an undisclosed location and that my identity would never be compromised. Sounded suspiciously like a swinger’s party to me and a connected guy like Bettis would likely circulate around women half his age when having a night off from the old ball-and-chain.
If they were half his years then that would place them squarely in my ballpark. It was sixteen months since I last participated in mutual sex, other than the long-running sensual saga of me and my right hand which has punctuated any slump perpetually. You would think that, being a bartender, I would be beating the ladies off with a stick but this couldn’t be farther from the truth. While there is no signage denoting this to be a men only bar, the name alone guarantees that 99.9% of its patronage be male. The Alpha Den. You can understand why I found his offer of clandestine hedonism appealing. Damn right I wasn’t about to pass this up and I listened intently to every vague detail he shared with me, as opposed to nodding at regular intervals as is ordinarily the case with Wilson. Friday night at 1.15am on the cusp; picked up in a stretch limo from directly outside my one-bedroom apartment, then a silk headscarf secured around my face to ensure no intel on whereabouts. On arrival, I would be required to don my Venetian mask behind a blackened screen, before being ushered inside to join the congregation. It all sounded delightfully surreptitious and I figured my first move upon entry would be to drop my keys in a bowl by the door and go circulate. He’d often remarked that one day he would get me laid so I guessed it was simply my time to collect on those dividends.
Allow me to throw a wrench in the works of my parable right now and pose you a question. Would there be any circumstances whereby you would regard me as being capable of murder? I know it’s a bit out of left-field just putting that out there unannounced but it’s important I know your rejoinder before I commence any further with my tale. You don’t need to tell me your thoughts; I shall discern the answer from your eyes alone. Good, I can see that the results are unanimous. Fret not; your secret is nothing if not safe with me. Thank you for humoring me; I’d be lying flagrantly if I said that it hadn’t been playing on my mind. I’m the one guy people tell their indiscretions; this alone ensures that nobody gives a rat’s ass about any menial folly in my sorry life. But I require a level of trust be ascertained before telling you the events of Friday 13th February, 2015. Should you not wish to bear a burden, then you may want to cease reading any further as this night’s events will be my constant chaperone through to my ultimate passing and are about to become yours also. Excuse me momentarily, I believe the lady doth protest waiting.
Waiting in line for my morning cup of coffee, I felt a gentle embrace of my upper right arm, and an envelope was ushered into my hand quickly. The messenger spoke no words, turned and quickly ventured back to the black automobile awaiting him. Curiosity instantly began eating away at my mind. What could be enclosed in this elegant package, tied in a silky deep violet ribbon? I hastened outside without so much as placing my order. Upon reading the enclosed card, more wonderment ensued. Why, moreover, who would present me with an invite to an exclusive, invitation only ball? Being mild acquaintances, although far from friends with many here in the upper echelon of the community, I surely would never have expected that. As a forensic analyst I receive first-hand knowledge on more than anyones fair share of cases and secrets as they cross my desk, of which some of the details remain in my guarded custody, crossing with me even unto my passage from this earth. On occasion I have been known to be a fill in date for a few well to do bankers, certainly nothing serious and absolutely non sexual relations of course. That has been without so much as a kiss for the better part of twenty months, a strictly non sexual existence except for a few, select self-inflicted, toy induced encounters.
Where had this invite come from? I had heard some chatter about a ball. Never crossed my mind that I would get an exclusive invite. Although flattered, I must admit that as thrilled as I was at receiving this request, the feeling of hesitation was overwhelming. Game playing and illusions have always been an area of intrigue for me and I accepted willingly. Never mind that the date of said event was Friday the 13th February, 2015. At 1:00am precisely, a black limo pulled up outside my one story apartment, sent to gather me. A black sheath was placed over my eyes, keeping this shrouded in mystery. On arrival at my destination, a large ornate building, I assumed it as a residence, as there was not one sign to give telltale hint of its location. I was then handed a beautifully ornate mask that I donned willingly enough and escorted through huge intricately carved doors. Once inside I was advised by a man in a white mask, swathed in a flowing black cape that said mask was to remain in place.
I must admit that upon entering a chill ran up my spine, that of the unknowing. How intense was this setting that lay before me and what laid in wait beyond this magnificent entrance? Before we proceed, I ask you to ponder, would I be brazen enough to put my reputation at stake? Could I be willing participant to the horror that I was in part to solve? I need no answer as I see you are intrigued as your eyes say as much. Should you care to take this journey with me, I must be adamant in ensuring your silence of said events. Good to know that you are a keeper of secrets also, as you will need to be.
Keeper of the Crimson Quill