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Jo'Burg Days: The Pile Of Fur Coats

Be extra careful who you target when you seek revenge at a masked ball. Barbara Durlacher tells a disturbing tale.

Whirling, swirling, the music pulsated. Now and again, as the crowds parted she caught sight of the fourteenth century courtier. Splendidly robed in a Court dress of gold satin with an extravagant tulle-decorated turban swathed with huge ropes of pearls, there he was, completing another set of the minuet with his partner. He twirled and bowed, raised his partner’s hand high, then minced daintily forward on his silver-buckled extravagantly high-heeled shoes. Reaching the end of the row of dancers, the couple turned, faced the back of the room and slowly walked to the rear as the next couple took the centre spot.

Bemused by the splendour around her she stood watching her former lover gyrating and performing amongst the other figures and, despite their glamour and exotic costumes, ensuring he was the focus of attention to the exclusion of everyone else.

“Just like Andrezj to carry on like that,” she fumed, “Must always be the centre of attraction. Anything to grab the spotlight. Always the performer. Such an extrovert and yet the most buttoned-up, reserved man I’d ever met.”

Then, the crowds closed on the dancers, and she lost sight of him, as she was swirled away in a python conga-line up the beautiful double-curve stairway, along the echoing passages and down through the kitchens to empty-out on the gravel driveway at the front.

Close to her, a group of mysterious figures robed in russet and cerise, with huge stiffened columbine-heads and blank white faces swirled dervish-like on the lawn. Gravely, gathering momentum, they turned in increasingly faster circles, and as they whirled, their long full skirts rose, revealing shapely calves, knees, then thighs and finally bare buttocks, until with their skirts at waist-level, it was clear that the women were completely nude beneath their disguise.

“Crikey! Hope they don’t expect me to walk around like that as well,” she thought. “If they do, I refuse to take off my underwear to be one of the crowd. I’m not going to imitate them no matter how long they turn round in circles. Goodness knows what they think is going to happen, but whatever it is, I don’t want it to happen to me as well.”

Gradually the crowd drifted indoors and settled to rest. Lolling on sofas and divans, cuddling on the floor in the candlelit dusk, the effect was exotic and strange. A tumbled heap of hibiscus blossoms and roses interspersed by corsairs and brigands, magicians and wizards. The music played slower and drifting from room to room she searched each corner for the fourteenth century gold-clad courtier, certain she would see him soon – probably in the lap of a glamorous seducer, but more likely doing the seducing himself.

Then she glimpsed a silver-buckled shoe beneath a pile of fur-coats. “I knew it!” she breathed, “couldn’t resist a sexual encounter even in a roomful of people! Though he knew I’d be here and was bound to see him. He didn’t care; never considered my feelings – not from the first day we met. Well, this is definitely the end. I will not stand being humiliated by anybody, and certainly not a lover, no matter how charming he is when it suits him. Andrezj has such an opinion of himself. He’s so sure that nobody will criticise the reckless way he behaves. Well, I’m not putting up with it any longer. It won’t be long before he realises his behaviour is really unacceptable.”

She turned to leave the room. Then, someone pawing through the heap of coats let out a shriek. “Oh my God! Look at that!...” and the blood, seeping from the hole drilled in the mask slowly dripped to the floor, as the golden, pearl-decorated turban toppled sideways.

Darting forward, she pulled the bird-beaked mask off the face, biting her lips to keep back a scream at the sight that met her eyes. Congealing blood smothered the features of the shattered head. It was impossible to be sure, but despite the horrific damage, she knew she’d targeted the wrong man. The corpse in front of her was not Andrezj.

Letting the mask slip quietly to the floor, she moved unnoticed away from the crowd around the body. Leaving the room she peeled off her gloves and wriggled out of the black and white Harlequin ruffles, mask and close-fitting cap. Drawing on her housemaid’s grey cotton dress, white apron and cap, she picked up a tray of champagne. Slipping expertly among the stunned onlookers she offered the sparkling wine, making sure her progress was noticed by those still sober enough to remember it.

Leaving the room, she lifted a tray of empties and shouldering aside the swing doors, entered the service area on her way to the waitresses changing room. Emerging a short time later dressed in a black dress, severe tweed coat and beret, she was unrecognisable from the costumed figure she’d been earlier.

Leaving the masked ball through the back gate, she was never seen again.

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