Belle of the Ball
Premiered 9/9/9 (9 September 2009)
The continuation of The Myth and Legend of D'PTah, an original novel by Dan Sewell Ward.
Belle of the Ball
Margarite Sophea (Sally) de Riordan-Baer... looked at herself in the mirror. Was she insane? Here she was dressed... or more accurately... undressed to the hilt. And now Miss Margarite (the name her mother loved to use) was about to go on stage and strut her stuff? Are you kidding? This was her 'costume' for the ball? Wearing nothing but... bravado and a few trinkets; her clothing only in the eyes of the beholders? She could hear the screams already, "The Queen has no clothes!'
Okay, admittedly, Sally was not... technically... naked. But at the same time, there was precious little concealment of all of her many and varied feminine adornments. There was the body suit to be sure, but one so cunningly form fitted so as to risk a strike and/or an embargo by any number of offended parties normally loath to admire the natural state of the female. The fact the body suit also provided for a spectacularly well hidden support of certain of her female appendages... was surely a justification for thinking the state of the art in such matters was truly to be admired, honored, and even... exalted. Maybe a Nobel Prize for such accomplishments. Perhaps in physics.
There was also the slight, flimsy, transparent-for-all-purposes-of-voyeurism cape covering her shoulders, occasionally kissing those portions of her body situated at the greater distances from her center, and with the entire ensemble adding about thirty decibels of Siren-quality sex appeal. But other than the pale rose petal shoes and a glittering diamond crown in her hair, there was not really anything on her body... at least in the sense of preventing close inspection of her transparent wiles for the entirety of the party. The Queen had indeed no clothes and damn if she wasn't one good looking, drop dead gorgeous babe!
Sally stifled the smile. Okay, she was looking good. She would (reluctantly) admit to that. But did she really want the attentions of men whose common characteristic was one of omnipotent power grabbing and doing anything they wanted to whomever they in a momentary whim might select? How in the world had the Regent talked her into wearing, or rather not wearing, this... display or whatever. And you can pretty well forget the motives of the Regency... when hell, it was Daniel, the typical man in lieu of the royal 'we'! Clearly Emily was gone, doing her thing – and even with her own invitation to attend, she was not available for Pete's brainchild – to throw a costume ball, a Grand Regency Ball, for all of the powers that be to attend. So the mantle – or the lack thereof – had fallen to Sally, the only member of the Inner Circle -- other than Joy who apparently had another even more covert mission -- with the essential physical characteristics to be the Queen... also known as the Belle of the Ball.
Still... it was a clever idea. There was in fact something about costume balls – particularly when you had the most important people on the planet dressed in all manner and variations of incognito, disguise, and fashionable facades. The powers that be would be finding themselves meeting under one roof with no clue as to just who had already arrived, who was only now making their grand entry, or who had sent regrets. Or at least tried to send regrets, inasmuch as there had been no RSVP on the invitations; only detailed instructions as to the manner of attendance and the selection of costumes. Still, no one really knew for certain who was who, as commoners mingled with royalty, mid level bureaucrats with CEOs (and even higher level power mongers), spies interacting with double agents, and villains with super heroes. It was likely to be quite confusing, but then again this was intentionally so. There would be lots of deceptions, and thus a potentially fun venue. But it would also be quite enlightening.
Knowing you were in the presence of the most powerful people to ever deign to assume the human form, and simultaneously not knowing precisely who was who... if your most hated enemy was the smiling eunuch (or so you hoped), or if the man whose back you so recently stabbed was loitering about with a drunken expression... and a sword in his hand... the whole effect was a fascinating practice in the art of sophistication. It was treating every clown or towering intellect with the same respect as you might show to the all knowing judge at your sentencing for the many crimes of your life. It was a mixing with true royalty, without a clue as to who was royalty and who was not. Permeating the party atmosphere was the knowledge that undoubtedly most of the truly powerful were in attendance. Heady, curious, and lots of sighs of apparent disbelief.
As for the program to identify the players and the non-players... not needed. Anyone dancing or cavorting at the ball was undoubtedly a non-player, or a recently defrocked player who had decided they could no longer compete in the big game. Everyone else would be gauging everyone else.
Surely, such thinking would be obvious, considering that the Grand Regency Costume Ball was being thrown, supposedly, as a means of obliquely acknowledging the long established pecking order. All the guests of the politically correct, incorrect, and far beyond such mundane matters crowd would be in attendance. And everyone would be talking out of the side of their mouths, with forked tongues, as well as withholding all wisps of real information... simply because of suspicion of virtually everyone else in the room. Still, there was always the possibility of loose lips, slips, and verbal trips.
The temptation to let it all hang out was covertly being encouraged by the dictated choice of costumes: that is to say, the guest was to arrive as their greatest mentor, hero, heroine, or simply most admired, idolized, and emulated individual from history, fictional or otherwise. Those with imaginations of the more creative sort tended toward the fictional super heroes and less complicated personalities, while the more traditional choices involved individuals who had actually lived as breathing and bleeding human beings. Of course, after the death of such 'real' personages, they all faded into fiction. Only the public relations and marketing – those sciences specializing in avoiding at all costs telling the whole truth (and all too often avoiding even the truth by wholesale fabrications and denials) – would be the determinants of who would live in infamy or who would reside in the warming hearts of the true believers. All biography is fiction based upon the reported, acknowledged, and/or admitted lives of supposedly real characters. How can a giant of art, science, or the humanities ever claim the glorious attributions when the vast majority of work in making their accomplishments real and known to the outside world were done by those with lesser budgets for personal Public Relations?
Clearly, anyone of substantial power would be unlikely to submit themselves to such a risk of attending such a mine field of party favors. By far the most effective means of security was for no one to even suspect your existence, much less send engraved invitations to dare one to show up for scrutiny. “I suppose one should feel honored to have been invited.” “Why? It's not like you're going to strut your stuff before anyone and have any body have a clue as to who's doing the strutting!”
Still, the temptation would always be there -- particularly when the costumes were of the no-expense-spared to conceal one's true identity variety. There would be the unconscious urge to believe one could get away with saying most anything. Being so cleverly concealed, they would feel immune to being held accountable to anything any utterances they might make, knowingly or willingly.
An added intrigue was that the audience of their pontifications were also unknown – which with a little thought might make one hesitate. Was the fellow dressed as Scaramouch actually a wired spy transmitting every word you uttered to a recording device? And what about the possibility that the definitive female dressed as Wonder Woman had more than a magic whip at her disposal – one ostensibly for both crime fighting and or kinky sex. But a real probability existed that any word spoken was recorded in all of its full glory inasmuch as there was roughly a two to one ratio of spy to guest.
Yet another intrigue was the music for the entry and reception hall. It was all Vangelis... a curious combination of: Hymne, Continuum, Conquest of Paradise, Cosmos, and of course, just to get things started, Alpha . It was music deep and profound, giving an underlying sense of the uncommon importance of the gathering. It was almost martial music for those too smart to ever personally indulge in physical acts of violence, but it nevertheless had the effect of getting one's subconscious into a marching cadence. The fact that there were also visuals to heighten the sensory input... was just icing on the cake.
One can go on and on, mixing humor, sarcasm, and inadvertent truth to all the things – the latter being the ore which was mined by the two-thirds planted spies.
The knock on the door grabbed her attention, but only slightly. Sally was still studying her figure in the mirror, looking for and analyzing every possible flaw, and wonderfully – with goddess-style intervention – finding nothing of which to be concerned. Then at the edge of the mirror she saw the most incongruous sight she might have ever imagined. There was a massive, bright intense blue figure, of notable height, complete with antenna, artificially squared jaw, and the body shape of Mr. Universe in his wildest fantasies. The figure was none other than “The Tick”, the comic book superhero known to have associated with such luminaries as the Moth, Die Fledermaus and Wonder Woman. Sally could for the moment allow her attention to stray from her delectable body and focus on this new apparition.
It spoke, in a voice with the depth and intensity of none other than Hormer Volkov. “Love your costume,” he said, all the while staying in character. “Where ever did you rent it?”
“It's a bargain basement item,” Sally replied with a smile. “Obviously, you don't do enough shopping. This outfit is found in all the fully stocked, adults-only shops.”
“If I thought I could find such a daughter of man with your brains...”
Sally smiled even more – the combination of her genuine affection and bodily appearance now making the case that any son of a god would have trouble ignoring. As she turned to appraise him even more, she asked, “Did they just paint you blue... and did you need just a slight bit of padding?”
“I've been Styrofoamed extensively and been wired for receiving as well as transmission. I've got more diodes and circuitry than a dozen computers. Think of me as a walking terminal. Even these silly antenna are functional.”
“So your hero is... The Tick?”
“That... and the fact that it lends itself to taking the idea of being wired to a whole new level.”
“Obviously, I am concealing far less.”
“Yes, I noticed. But most appropriate for your station. The singular piece of jewelry about your neck speaks volumes.”
Sally reached down to feel the diamond encrusted, golden horseshoe-shaped pendant adorning her bare skin – just centimeters above the nearly invisible line denoting her bare skin and her perfectly matched body suit. “Daniel... The Regency... gave it to me. For luck, he said. Problem is, aren't the ends of the shoes supposed to be pointing upwards... to keep the luck from running out.”
INSERT PHOTO OF GOLDEN HORSESHOE
“Not at all. A wrong interpretation. In its present configuration it stands for the Omega, the yoni in welcome of the lunar serpent, Kali's conclusion of the great cycle, even the ascending node of destiny – making you the official “one and yoni.” As for the luck of the horseshoe, it can now pour down upon you. The other way implies all of the baggage of past lives is retained, stored for that rainy day when there is nothing else to do.”
Sally sighed heavily. “That's comforting to know. I can use a little luck right now.”
“You will undoubtedly be spectacular... and be the recipient of much luck and attention... said attention including my own. Tonight, feel free to think of me as your best friend.”
“Thanks. That means a great deal to me." Sally took a deep breath. "Still... is anyone going to guess my choice of costumes... or the lack thereof. Will anyone realize that I'm someone else's choice of heroine? Will anyone even bother to wonder about me?”
“As to the latter, I can't imagine hundreds of good reasons. As to the former...” Hormer hesitated for the briefest of moments. "I would have to assume that you are dressed as the Queen of the Ball, specifically, Queen Marguerite de Valois of France. Early 17th Century I believe.”
Sally looked disappointed. “Someone told you.”
“Not really. You in fact bear a striking resemblance.” For a moment he hesitated. Then he smiled even more reassuringly, “Or perhaps you're also Margarita Coronae of the Corona Borealis. You do have the dazzling light of a bright and luminous constellation of stars."
Sally... after a short gasp... looked directly into the eyes of Hormer, the only portion of his being that could be expected to provide the slightest hint of his emotions. Encased in a bulging bright blue suit, there was no other portal to his soul, his mind, his body, or even his emotions. But before the eyes told her she was much appreciated, that there was not the slightest hint of chivalry in lieu of forthright honesty, he compounded her bewilderment. “Intelligence has informed us that a certain woman, best described by the term Black Widow, views herself as a Margarita... but you, Sally, are the genuine article – someone to act the part with style, flair, and enough charisma to make Bulgakov smile.”
Sally's blushing... over most of her exposed body... was mercifully concealed (for lack of a better word) by a second knock on the door and a voice announcing 'places'. The play and/or the game... was afoot!
Norman Malestrom had been one of the first to arrive. He had quickly noticed and decided that the bright blue man entering with the strikingly beautiful and royal woman was clearly her security. This revelation came right after having cursed under his breath about his having arrived too damn soon. Still, he would have the advantage of seeing the other arrivals, and being able to guess who was who.
Such details were important, in that anyone already there were likely security and spies, while the later attendees were more likely to be the foot dragging elites, trying to avoid any more of the party than could be avoided. But then the royal precession took precedence, and he sat in silent approval of the manner in which those of his peers should be treated on a routine and demeaning basis.
As she and her single, albeit overpowering escort walked into the room and approached the royal dais, Sally saw several dozen people already awaiting her every bidding. “Well I should be safe,” she quietly confided to Hormer... aka Tick... aka big blue guy.
“Not so much security guards as data-collecting vehicles,” Hormer replied.
Then Sally slowed as she saw only one ornate throne – one possibly patterned after the French 17th, early 18th century, Le Roi Soleil original. But this modern version, if anything, had more gold and precious metals/stones/craftsmanship than the original inspiration. Louis would have been proud.
“I was told I would be sitting through this ordeal,” Sally murmured to her bright blue sidekick.
“But of course, Milady. The throne is yours. Exclusively so.”
“But where is... he?”
“Who knows? He is... incognito. He may arrive soon, be fashionably late, or just dissolve into the crowd. Dressed as his own hero, I suspect he will be moving about with great dexterity."
Sally smiled, thinking, 'Or a Tarzan swinging from the chandeliers.' Then it hit her: the throne was for her. And realizing it was hers, the golden, diamond studded throne took on the appearance of much more fun for Sally. She was the star – and of course with her exposed presence, she already had a good start. The murmurs, sharp intakes of breath, gasps, and near faintings as she stepped onto the dais made that clear. Quick to respond to apparently her every whim, someone dressed as a Civil War Confederate general, complete with outrageous handle bar mustache, dress sword, and a strikingly cavalier hat with purple and gold feathers, came down the dais to greet her with a magnificent bow and thereafter to ensure her safe passage up the five broad steps.
Everyone within twenty paces was in fact strikingly ready to snap to her slightest command, to react to the slightest raised eyebrow... except perhaps for the clown dressed as the court jester, whose lower body was splayed on the floor, his torso propped up against the royal chair... Sally's royal throne... and with the jester's red, green, and masked head resting peacefully on Sally's royal arm rest. He was apparently asleep, until the epitome of chivalry and gallantry in Confederate gray gave him a slight kick on the joker's left shin. The joker quickly went in short order from offended, to wide eyed at the sight of Sally, pandering, worshipful, and fawning over every detail -- including some clumsy attempts to arrange her cape in the most fashionable fashion, suitable for viewing. After which he dropped on his hindquarters to sit blissfully in a denial of reality. Such was the role of any court jester... to ignore court protocol and whisper reminders to royalty that they were indeed mortal. The trick in doing so was to be instinctive, using intuition over intelligence... charging along on the Fool's Journey.
Sally took her seat with apparent ease, as the Confederate general – there's probably a pun somewhere there in the near vicinity -- took his place to the right of her, on a lowered portion of the dais, but where he could nevertheless easily whisper in Sally's right ear – communicating directly to her left brain. The joker kept his place on her left, in case she needed emotional support, untoward humor, or simply to be reminded that she was... maybe not just mortal, but a good looking woman at that. Tick took up his place slightly behind and on her left as well. The color scheme of this little tableau was enough to make any Broadway set designer nauseous in extremis and threatened with nightmares for the run of the play. Money has ever implied good taste.
A new arrival, dressed as a black cat – ostensibly Mister Mistoffelees  – approached with an elaborate, purple and gold encrusted pillow, which with great care he (or she) gently inserted under her feet, carefully raising each royal foot with the delicacy of handling a very old, very valuable, and very, very fragile vase, one preserved from a far distant-in-time-and-space dynasty of incredible antiquity. His (or her) primary, overt function completed, the cat slipped away with all the stealth of the assumed personage. The stage had now been fully dressed.
Roughly two dozen figures in their variety of costumes were queued and awaiting this moment. Each having met the requirement of coming as their hero – real or fictional – they were now ready to pay their respects before enjoying the fruits and delights of the party. One by one they approached Sally, to bow or curtsy (a few to do both) – or to be unsure of which to do (whether by virtue of their costume or gender orientation). As they did so, the Civil War general to Sally's right – ultimately to be identified as Jubilation T. Cornpone  – whispered in her ear first the hero and then the name and title.
“First, your highness, by the luck of the draw, Five Star General of the Armies, John Joseph "Black Jack" Pershing, also known as Marine Commandant, General Perse Koenig.”
“Delighted and captivated, General,” Sally responded aloud -- smiling for the first moments of the evening genuinely and unabashedly -- and then quietly to her right, “Pete? Is that you?”
“At your disposal, Milady.”
Sally's smile was genuine. “I'll keep that in mind.” Pete shuddered, his smile waning slightly.
And so it went, as each formidable and dressed to the hilt (particularly in Pete's case) guest made his or her way to pay their respects. In each case, Sally responding with what was rapidly becoming a very tiresome line, of being delighted, captivated, enthralled, gratified, entertained, amused, entranced, fascinated, cheered, tickled, or a combination in special cases of two or three of said genteel greetings. Pete, meanwhile, was never missing a beat, identifying and confiding every approaching apparition, always reminding Sally that each and every guest was to be genuinely treated with the same welcome, lest they suspect they were somehow out of favor, and thereby become emotionally and spiritually destitute.
Sally was initially amazed by Pete's omniscience, and asked quietly, her smile turning to plaster and never wavering, “How is it possible you know who all of these people are?
“They all passed through security, Milady – we now have complete dossiers; including the personality analysis as to what their choice of hero tells us about their innermost thoughts.”
“Won't the more devious of our guests have thought about that?”
“Probably. But it keeps the psycho analysts busy and therefore happy. And the unconscious does have ways the conscious mind can never fathom. Any testimony has its value.”
“Was there going to be a testimony,” Tick suddenly asked? “I love testimonials.”
At a slight distance, someone in a 17th century Englishman costume, noticing the the first signs of life from the bright blue dude, asked his companion, “Who in the world is the big blue dude?”
“The Tick,” answered his female companion... more accurately identified as a Mandarin Queen.
“What... who... is the Tick? And how do you know stuff like that?”
“I asked. I'm told he's a comic book figure, a super hero allegedly with a moth sidekick.”
“What B. S.! Obviously, he's security, probably with the finesse of a defensive tackle.”
“Looks pretty good to me.”
“If you go for that sort of... what in the world?” Looking down, the man saw the court jester checking the now exposed right leg of the Mandarin Queen – whom Sally had responded to with “Mon cousin; delighted.” The woman, staying in the unassailable character as befitting her assumed station, could only look down in amusement, knowing her legs were well worth the price of admission.
The man was less sanguine at the competition “Who's the joker?
“Obviously,” his companion replied, “an unemployed joker.” When he could only look bewildered, she added. “Clearly, he's nobody's fool.”
The man still didn't get it, but the Fool smiled, and rubbing his face against the exposed leg of the Eastern Queen, gave it a parting pat of approval and scampered away, never quite straightening up, and instead looking like a well dressed ape on a holiday excursion. Just as quickly, the joker was finding his way back to the dais, just in time for the arrival of Melissa Court, dressed as Elton John, and humming as often as not the tune to “Daniel” .
Despite her clever costume, with her oversized glasses really a sight to behold [sic]... Melissa the intrepid was not at all happy about this turn of events. She had not been told of Sally's royal status, or the rules of the game until after her arrival. Nor had anyone mentioned the mandatory security inspection of her person. All of which was followed by her having to step into the royal ballroom via an excessive number of broad stairs, and then find herself in the singularly wretched receiving line.
The real kicker was when Melissa had first had the horrific and sudden realization that she was going to be required to debase herself before the woman whose husband she had been gleefully and profitably screwing. Melissa's primary thoughts could be encapsulated in three questions rummaging about her mind, 'Were these fuckers kidding!? What kind of twisted mind came up with this little scenario? Must be Pete's shit. The Fates must be laughing their ass off, rolling in their celestial aisles. Jesus! What's this world coming to?
Then... 'Is that Barry Laurence the Lord High Legal Authority dressed as... what... who the fuck was he dressed as? And there he is dropping on one knee, head bowed, grinning from ear to ear. Obviously his legal training at obscuring the truth is coming in handy this evening. What was it that Chris Rock playing the part of a mosquito once said, “I've always been a blood sucking, plague infesting parasite; to be a lawyer all I needed was a brief case.”  Or something like that. And for Barry, being a man-eating shark with no dietary scruples would be perfect. Melissa frowned, until the realization hit her.
'Wait a minute! For Barry it's a joke! And what's to prevent me from doing the same? Sure. Why not? Just because you're screwing the Queen Bee's favorite consort; where's the problem? What's not to like... especially when she's probably doing the Regency. Hell, if Laurence can find advantage in all of this...
'Wait a minute! Why not turn the tables? Why not go along with the gag... and put little Miss Sally on the hot spot instead? Now that sounds delicious. We'll just do a quick pivot... pretend subservience, all the while laying the trap. Yeah! It's batter up baby! Here's de Queen of De Nile, disguised as Elton John.'
Melissa lowered her head – not entirely unlike a charging bull – and stepped gingerly forward. As she did so, not daring to meet Sally's eyes – which were in any case otherwise engaged for the briefest of moments. Then in the moment of the curtsy, Melissa could just hear Pete's sotto voice informing “Milady, may I present Miss Melissa Court, dressed as Elton John”. This was followed by a momentary and notably atypical silence, the effect of which was to totally unnerve the kneeling conspirator.
In the split second wherein Melissa had exited and immediately returned to the local space-time, all her plans had come crashing down, all the facades breached, the defenses decimated by the strangest of make believe sets. Everything had gone awry. Today, was VS day... time for Melissa to unconditionally surrender! But how? Even Japan had had a devil of a time in surrendering after Hiroshima. How was Melissa going to pull it off?
In a rush she would never fully understand, Melissa's head came up -- already with tears brimming and beginning a rapid journey down the contours of her make up. Not even noticing Sally's suddenly blossoming smile, Melissa suddenly pleaded with more passion and sincerity than she'd experienced since puberty, “Milady, please... forgive me for... for everything.”
Sally's smile froze in place, primarily in amazement, but almost immediately beginning to thaw. “But of course: I forgive you. Why should I not? I'm delighted to do so.”
Melissa felt roughly two tons of burden lifted off her shoulders and a sense of what it must feel like to levitate. Something really weird was rushing into her life. As a result, she would be lucky to stand, her suddenly lightweight body no longer needing – and therefore no longer having access to – bones and muscles, at least the kind that were intended to obey brain instructions and move said body at the brain's will. All Melissa could immediately do was to mumble several renditions of mumbled thank you's and bless you's, while the joker in the Fools' costume was ready to shove her aside for the next supplicant – the latter whom was actually stepping far out of character and helping Melissa to her feet. The Fates do have a sense of the ridiculous as it was Layton Kennedy helping Melissa to flee.
As Melissa managed a tear stained, smile of relief for Sally and turned away, she could hear Pete's sotto voice, laced with a genuine sense of amazement, “Milady... You are indeed the most generous and noble of Queens. Truly, royal blood will tell.”
That's when the impact of what had just transpired finally hit Sally. Her natural inclination toward jest and forgiveness at the drop of a hat (or a handkerchief) had momentarily obscured the true possibilities of what had just happened. Sally had strongly suspected her husband David had been finding women irresistible to his charms of both good looks and his new found, aphrodisiac-fueled power position within the Inner Circle. To assume he was screwing around was a foregone conclusion; even when Sally had been confined... even severely limited... to lusting in her heart for another man... well other men, to be perfectly honest; three at last count.
But now the cat, the pussy so to speak, had been let out of the bag. David had been doing the horizontal dance and athletic event with Melissa! How frigging obvious could it be? And Sally, in her momentary and fleeting impersonation of the all powerful Queen with the authority to condemn and exalt, had just let the bitch totally off the hook... and in apparent perpetuity! ‘What had been the advice so carefully conveyed to her before the ball? Don't become emotionally involved with anyone? Looks like I pretty well blew that one!' she thought. 'And yet...?’ Sally sighed, knowing with absolute finality that she as Queen Marguerite could not go back on her word. It isn't, and wasn't, done! Forgiveness is not a commodity one can later reclaim; nor can anyone else ever reverse such an act of nobility. The Fates were indeed laughing, rolling in the previously identified celestial aisles. Holy Cow! What was the world coming to?
For just a brief second, Sally watched Melissa walk away, glancing only once back in her direction with an expression of profound gratitude and respect. Then Sally turned to Pete, who was looking at her with sudden concern. Sally's mouth was open, her breathing audible and intense. Pete's dilemma was what to do with a woman who had suddenly seen the light? He fell back on a simple, sheepish grin and shrugged his shoulders. Water under the bridge, baby. And hey, next on our agenda... “May I present Monsieur Layton Kennedy as... Jack the Ripper?”
Whoever had done the invitation list had had both the humor and the intelligence sources to ensure the invitees included someone who was officially listed as deceased -- following an alleged heart attack, which had in turn followed multiple indictments of every form of fraud, misrepresentation, theft, and fiduciary duty violations currently recognized by the Securities and Exchange Commission as going just a bit too far in the routine fleecing of shareholders by CEOs. A degree of theft by the corporate aristocracy was assumed as a matter of course and perfectly justifiable; that's why one does what one does in order to become a member of the club. But when the excrement really hits the fan, the authorities figure for purposes of PR that they might as well download every weapon in the arsenal against one or two sacrificial lambs – the ones who had acted just a bit too blatantly in their criminality. Besides, it's not like the guy had no resources upon which to fall back. He had remedy, if not recourse. You can't steal billions and not have a little getaway money stashed away somewhere. Right?
Layton Kennedy was not quite so philosophical; he was in fact dismayed and miserable. He had received his invitation, one delivered by special courier to his island castle, the island sufficiently unknown so as to not even be listed on the Guide to Navigational Hazards. It was a blow to the gut and a hammer shot to his midsection, as the implications shifted into an immediate recognition of his newly and definitively found state. The unfortunate possibilities were now raging in his head. Geez! There wasn't even the pretense, the plausible deniability of his life, lifestyle, and/or secret castle being common knowledge among those who could so easily bring him to a form of justice prescribed, and at their whim or with their careful attention to detail. What were his defenses now? The only one he could think of was to brazen through it all... never missing a step... and always keeping a cynical smile.
His choice of costume, Jack the Ripper, spoke volumes on the subject. Hadn't Jack gotten away with it as well? They never found him, did they? Only now, the modern day culprit had been identified, was kneeling before the best looking justice he could have imagined, and was now waiting for the ax, guillotine, Sword of Damocles, or other sharp instrument – or just a traditional Indian style Elephant stomp -- to transform the fiction of his death into reality. Hey, wait! Maybe he could ask for forgiveness! Why not expose himself and Jack the Ripper to final justice, and be spared for such a service? He could ask for forgiveness, as well. Bless the lady in Elton John costume before him!
But Layton was just a bit too late – which constituted a serious problem, particularly in a universe that placed such a high priority on timing.
Sally was already laughing, chuckling out a standard “delighted” -- in truth, rather precisely her feelings even if denoting a certain lack of respect for the man at her feet. Whereupon she then dismissed the newly created derelict, with the assistance of the jester clown to give another kick and move the party along. Layton, for once, had just enough presence to avoid the green and red stocking foot, and was up and moving away from the dais with all the speed a criminal might exhibit who was attempting the vacate the area and simultaneously not attract attention.
An 18th century man with frills, bright colors, a fake sword, and a feather hat immediately met Layton, calling him out, so to speak. “So much for the brilliance of your escape plan,” Norman said, a cynical smile framed by an outfit apparently intended to be Cyrano de Bergerac, the great swordsman with the massively long nose. As Layton looked up, he could only ask, with an amazing combination of bewilderment and discernment, “Pinocchio?”
Norman dismissed the implication that lying had been the cause, rather than prosthetic make up of his enormous nasal protuberance, and kept up his own selected banter. “How's it feel to put your neck in the stocks, and then walk away?”
“How did it feel to you?” Layton was just a bit incensed at Norman's attitude, but with just enough presence of mind to avoid showing his deeper feelings.
“Avoided it,” Norman boasted.
“Can you do that?” Layton was genuinely incredulous.
“I can do anything I want,” Norman replied, looking intently at the defrocked underling.
Layton was just shaken enough to spar a bit with Norman. "I take it that Abbie the Black did not want to attend."
"Or else," Norman laughed, "she couldn't find a costume with eight legs." Layton actually got the joke, and snickered. Then, glancing around the room, Norman laughed as he spotted a man with an elaborate pirate costume doing his homage before Queen Marguerite. “Is that Richard Villa?”
Layton glanced in the direction of Norman's gaze, and with a moment's thought, said, “Looks like Johnny Depp to me.”
Norman's contempt for Layton's analysis was quick and dirty. “Obviously, Villa has dressed as if he were Johnny Depp playing the role of... whatever the name of the Pirate King in that movie.” For a moment neither said anything, as Norman considered the possibilities and Layton vainly attempted to recover from his near-death “off with his head” scenario, his hand gingerly feeling his neck for any hint of scar tissue. Norman suddenly chuckled. “Quite clever, actually. Coming as one's hero means Villa can claim either to be a pirate, which he is in spades, or merely a great fan of a well known actor. Depends on who asks. A double meaning. Brilliant, if I do say so myself.”
Richard Villa might have been pleased to know he had scored with Norman, or that alternatively he had continued to play the part expected with no one the wiser of his true motives. It didn't make a lot of difference to Richard. Sometimes, it seemed as if it never did. Richard was always on a cruise in a manner of speaking, aboard one of several of his gun-running, pirated vessels, or just cruising through life in general. On the other hand, the man Villa was now approaching... that was different.
Villa, with his bags already packed, one foot already in the stirrup, and confirmed tickets for a luxury cabin on an ocean going pirate ship... was about to take on a new tactic. It was time for some alternative employment. His resume was already succinctly stated: "Pirate, gun-runner, experienced in end-run ventures, appropriately ruthless with romantic tendencies, seeking alliances whenever the world is in extremis. Will relocate... on a moment's notice." And with such unique qualifications, he sauntered (as per his assumed job description) up to the man dressed as Louis XIV.
Admiral Arthur Z. Sudra was, in fact, not dressed as Zorro based on the rumors involving the Admiral's middle name, the latter a factoid which had the highest known security classification on record. He instead was dressed as the aforementioned Louis XIV, and thereby was indulging in playing the costume ball game as much as possible. And now for adding amusement, there was the dashing pirate approaching him, bold as life and with a devilish grin. The David and Goliath combo of security guards on either side of Sudra quickly tensed as if ready to repel boarders, but Sudra recalled his briefing on who's who at the party, and had to resist smiling too broadly. He stepped forward and extended his hand to meet the pirate's hand. “Good evening, Sir,” Sudra began. “You're looking quite... swashbuckling.”
“Thank you, Messire. Am I correct in assuming that I have the honor to address his most royal majesty, known to history as Louis the Fourteenth?” When Sudra only smiled and tilted his head in a royal acknowledgment, Villa asked. “I believe you once claimed 'L'État, c'est moi', 'I am the State', and thereby took upon yourself the mantle of being the state itself. A noble and current goal, no doubt.”
“It is of course a costume ball,” Sudra demurred – not quite saying he was going for it, relishing his long-held, albeit impractical fantasy. “But as I recall, Louis on his death bed, said, 'Je m'en vais, mais l'État demeurera toujours'; I am going away, but the State will always remain'.”
Villa smiled. They were really getting into the act. Always an entertaining sport. “Perhaps as Le Grand Monarque you may recall your tried and true royal strategy of relying upon... private buccaneers to move forward the centralization of the affairs of state – unofficial arrangements, secret and disarming, but nevertheless cooperative efforts that were highly successful.”
Sudra smiled for a moment, furiously thinking, calculating. “At sea,” he said, reverting to the politically correct style (and/or game) of speaking in code, “All things are possible.”
“But of course... It is in-deed a very Big Ocean, in which anything might happen.”
“But if one were to go... (in a lower voice) to the.. (then back to full volume) straits...” the Admiral acknowledged, letting the last word hang in the air.
“Prudence would suggest that when at sea, but near the land, one should avoid the really big rock, and instead, as soon as possible, head for open ocean.”
“Always a good idea during the arrival of winter, with the seas becoming unruly.” Sudra smiled. This game was fun, he thought. Interesting. Indeed, there were unexpected and fascinating possibilities. Whereupon he added, “Unless of course, one has other ways to avoid the unruly waves.”
“Decidedly,” Villa quickly replied, and then with a flamboyant bow, “With your permission, I will withdraw for the moment, hoping to have the great honor of being in your presence again, my liege.” With that, he turned as if to see what other engagements he could add to his dance card.
Admiral Sudra watched the departing figure, wondering if they had just agreed to meet off Gibraltar on the Winter Solstice, with Sudra arriving by submarine, rendezvousing with Villa's pirate ship, and then both of them heading into the Atlantic where they could meet and talk very, very privately about Villa joining Sudra as a hired mercenary. Hmmmm... Why not? Stranger things – particularly of late – had happened. For a moment, Sudra smiled only as a sovereign without equal could, his left hand fingering a small piece of previously expended lead in one of his many, highly decorated pockets. Apparently, it was time for supplicants seeking a boon to approach him. Perhaps they could read the Admiral's destiny in the stars... or in just the lay of the land.
Right on cue, Sudra caught a glimpse of Koenig eying him from a safe distance. Could it be possible that even Koenig might enter Sudra's realm? As Sudra watched the general, he realized that the man was almost carefully keeping his distance... but yet doing a lot of glances in the direction of the admiral. That would make sense, Sudra thought. Koenig would never commit such a blunder as to approach the Admiral in public, unless it was for trivial, cosmetic reasons. Of course, the fact that Koenig was avoiding him suggested that any approach would not be for said trivial reasons.
And... Sudra suddenly realized... one does not join or collaborate with someone who is not responsible for the venue. Never undertake on a future enemy's home turf what might constitute a conspiracy. Never let anyone even surmise the possibility.
Such speculations were suddenly interrupted when Melissa/Elton John approached the Admiral, smiling broadly and with a now practiced curtsy. Art could only smile in return. What next, he thought? Will General Mick come running up with new ideas?
In Melissa's mind, she had already debased herself in front of Sally. Taking on a mere four-star admiral would be child's play. And Melissa was never one to do anything half way... any more than pretending to be semi-virgin. There was, after all, the children. And the profound relief from the Sally encounter. Melissa was ready for any and all of the next steps. It was time to fly a whole new set of colors... and Melissa really liked the Admiral's color scheme.
“Messire,” Melissa began, with only the slightest hint of incongruity considering her costume. As she used every wile she'd ever imagined, the Admiral was slightly distracted, trying to remember the distinction between “Messire” and “Monsieur”. He'd have to look it up later. It was probably important.
'Talk about crappy timing,' Pete thought. Within the space of a half dozen supplicants between Melissa and the new arrival... each showing their respect to Sally... David arrived... as none other than David the Giant Killer. It was admittedly a chance for David to show off his well developed body. Unfortunately there were two other Davids (all three having been relieved of their slingshots at the door), and the other two Davids were both better built, muscled, and toned such that David could only make 'show' in the rankings.
But that was immaterial in that neither of the other two had followed a bit too closely behind the woman he had been screwing – the latter whom had been forgiven in a momentary weakness by a Queen who was now far more wary and on her guard. Really bad timing for her hubby David. One could even imagine the first instance of such bad timing... when Dumuzi met Inanna upon her return from the Netherworld. Having fun while one's wife has been making the journey to underworld and back, is not always conducive to long term marital bliss. David had definitely found himself with a return engagement with a suddenly rejuvenated and battle hardened Goliath. In this case, David was without a slingshot or even sufficient wit to know that his fate was likely to be far worse than Dumuzi's.
Pete did not even bother with the sotto voice introduction, as David approached and dropped his head in partial obedience. Clearly, David's attitude would not do; not do at all! Accordingly, Pete's voice carried all of the righteous indignation of an inquisitional church leader in a Jewish delicatessen. “You will kneel before the Queen,” he said in a low voice, without fanfare – but with just the underlying hint of any disobedience resulting in severe consequences. David hesitated, glanced at Pete, and then noticed The Tick readying himself to squash a pesky uninvited ant at their picnic. Discretion being the better part of valor -- and an ounce of abject cowardice sometimes resulting in a slightly increased measure of longevity -- David went down on his knees.
Sally let an extra three seconds pass, before saying quietly, “You are dismissed.”
David could feel the earth quavering under his feet. What in the world was going on? Clearly he would want to take the first available opportunity... hell, opportunities, whatever it takes... to be granted a boon from his royal lady... but in private. Not here. “Thank you... Milady,” he was able to croak out as he got to his feet, albeit a bit too shakily for appearance's sake. He backed away, did a second, very low bow, and then turned, trying to catch Sally's eyes with a profound look of pleading and confidence. Alas, Sally was already smiling and looking at the next comer.
David walked away, suspecting this was not going to be the lark of a party he had imagined. It can at least be said that he was not overly worried. He was in fact, still pretty much clueless – guilty only in spirit for a time. But it was a time no longer respected by the events of this ball – the ball being just outside the normal space-time continuum – as such balls tend to be.
Pete might have been distracted, if not obliquely amused, by David's plight, but his own Waterloo was already looming on the horizon. After several lesser players, Charlotte Joy Weaver presented herself. Any remnants of David's lingering drama, irony... or just plain weirdness had just been mercifully interrupted by a whole new fashion of ulterior agendas. Charlotte Joy, whom Sally had come to know only slightly – based primarily upon her zeal, enthusiasm, spirit, and apparent ability to accomplish miracles just prior to their becoming requests -- had arrived dressed in gossamer veils. One would have to assume under the circumstances that there were seven such veils – apparently the minimum number required to pass the censors, but simultaneously suggesting ecstasy to be an inadequate word for what might lay ahead for the soon-to-be luckiest man in the world. Even Blue Tick was moved – roughly 5.5 on the Richter Scale – as if suddenly needing to transmit the word to launch the thousand ships now that the face... and considerably more... had just been sighted. Joy's nakedness was blatant (in true priestess style), but opaquely concealed among the flowing wisps of a material known only to those conversant with mystical chemistry. She was stunning, bewildering to the males present, and threatening to every female on the planet. Even Merlin could be forgiven for being unable to resist such temptation.
But it was Pete who was clearly the most shaken... he was struck mute, began gasping in short breaths and displaying the fact that no part of his body was eager to see if it was still functioning properly -- there being more important matters on which to focus. To add to Pete's particular befuddlement, Joy was asking a boon of Sally, that she be allowed a dance with the gallant and chivalrous General Cornpone. The very mention of “boon” had momentarily stymied Sally, but she quickly decided that the shamanic Pete should be up to the task of dallying a brief spell in Charlotte Joy's obvious web. Sally had never encountered anything concrete about Joy that would bode ill, and in fact from Sally's viewpoint, Joy's only hidden agenda was a particular attraction to Pete. And if anyone could melt the shamanic iceberg, Joy in her costume would have the best chance. Besides, this might be an important test for the woman's loyalties. It also had the advantage of Sally getting to observe Pete in a realm wholly divorced from his norm. That could be fun to watch, she mused. Sally had quickly assented to expressly giving Joy free reign over Pete.
Once alone with Tick/Hormer, Sally added, “The master has apparently met his fate. So be it.”
Tick's comment was, “An attractive costume. Sufficient to attract... oh... a couple of million suitors.”
Sally laughed. “And in a world record time, I dare say." Then she shrugged her shoulders. "Poor Pete.” When Tick looked at her for what was apparently a nonsensical remark, she added, “He'll never be the same again.”
The Tick agreed. “Perhaps he will be better, possibly a transformation sorely needed.”
Pete was then led off to his fate, his mouth open and his conscious mental proclivities in a state of total collapse. As the couple walked away, Tick commented, “Ah yes, how the mighty have fallen.”
The guest line continued unabated. There was the slight advantage of novelty to keep Sally's attention upon her arduous duty to treat every guest with royal civility. The costumes did indeed display considerable variety – other than the fact there were three David the Giant Killers, four poor impersonations of Elvis, and probably eight or so Wonder Women. Thankfully, none of the latter found themselves obligated or motivated to see whose whip was the most magical.
Some of the costumes were a bit too blatant in terms of the arrogance of their selectors. There were, for example, four equestrians dressed as the Four Horsemen, moving in an almost military phalanx – obviously the pharmaceutical lobby (assuming one were to practice any manner of fun conjecture). It was a party, after all! Loosen up! Let the imagination roam; play with it!
There was also a rather heavy set person, ostensibly a Catholic Cardinal of some repute who was attempting to impersonate an ancient Jewish disciple speaking Aramaic (and with pretentions toward being a rock)... but who, not surprisingly, was failing miserably at it. Despite the many opportunities to demonstrate his supreme faith, the religious artifact simply refused to countenance or consider the dare to walk across the central fountain, or for that matter to even get near it. He did not want to again be embarrassed. In the end, the man might have been well advised to have come as a mime.
Senator Layde had showed up as Abraham Lincoln – a pathetically obvious attempt at one would hope at wry humor. The fact that most people who saw him were secretly (or blatantly) amused did nothing for Layde's peace of mind. Things were starting to get out of hand; it might well be time to concentrate on the essentials, i.e., find a way to survive... and of course to survive in style. Had there been any reservations in the Senator's sudden resolve, they were pretty well dissipated by his aide's reaction to him.
Melissa, who had recently been released on probation from a destiny not altogether desirable, and had lightened up considerably after some pleasant words and promises of future meetings with Le Roi Soleil, had by the time of encountering Abe, begun laughing and holding her side in merriment at the sight and the irony of Layde as Abe Lincoln. She then without any other acknowledgment to what was transparently becoming her former boss, managed to wander off, grabbing for support at the first strong, male arm to present itself. As it turned out, the male arm was attached to General Morton, dressed as Chief Seattle. The General had been the man who had abruptly met the "alien in the rose garden", as if were a walk in the park. Accordingly, how much more shocking could if be to suddenly find himself attached to a drop dead gorgeous Melissa dressed as Elton John? As expected, the General kept his cool... while Melissa, unexpectedly, began to lose hers.
Once the many guests had begun to get into the swing of the party – the décor in adjacent rooms having included the hanging vines of the tropical forest motif, and a dozen or so tongue loosening traps of various designs -- they had begun to find all manner of amusement in the intentionally decadent offerings, as well as engaging in the speculations of who was who, and what on earth they were doing here. Inevitably, however, the topic of conversations drifted in the direction of where -- now that you mention it -- was the Regency? What costume had he chosen? There had been no grand entrance, no suddenly whispered conversations, no knowing looks exchanged upon the arrival on just one more guest, not even a fanfare of sound and fury signifying... something. Unless...
There was one fellow identified as the King of the Vagabonds, the one with the gold neck collar and attached gold chain, who had somehow managed to elude spending any time at the Queen's feet. Now that fellow could be a possibility. He wore the chains with notable confidence, his attire had the notoriety of obviously no-expense-spared, and he seemed totally unconstrained by his illusionary bonds. If you looked carefully, you might notice how some of the many guests, with similar surmises, had almost bowed in his presence, with one enterprising courtesan of the court eagerly exchanging her string of pearls for safe passage from the notorious brigand of Neal Stephenson fame. Also, please notice the Vagabond King's quick wit in using his amazingly realistic looking sword in accepting the bribe of pearls, walking off with yet more loot, and then continuing to wander about without any escort, any pretense at conversation. Who else could get away with it? How else would a king in all but name act but as a king – one of noted brilliance in survivability, the epitome of Quicksilver in moving inexorably and simultaneously staying just ahead of the pack of wolves that he inevitably attracted.
And if the increasingly well heeled Vagabond King was not the Regency, who else could it be? What other possible costume could he have chosen? What would the psycho analysts say about any other choice? Besides, too many other costumes and their guests had already been identified.
But enough of such mental distractions. There were in lieu thereof the many attractions: ecstatic dancing and/or waltzing on both the marble floors and in the fountains for the less inhibited (and more inebriated), wild animals at hopefully the beck and call of their trainers putting on shows in multi-ring circuses, sparkling wines flowing by the barrel, performers with astounding agility and physical prowess swinging, leaping, flying, and in general defying... oh, there's Sir Isaac now (or just possibly General MacIntosh... but who is that with him? A Hollywood starlet? Or better yet a Mandarin Queen in all but name?).
As for the party, whatever might appeal to any of the varied interests of the crowd was on hand. Being king was good; being a member of the aristocracy was the next best thing. Meanwhile, the party was really beginning to rock, even as the tapes rolled, collecting data from a hundred different data collectors.
With the receiving line reaching the point of most author's book signing nightmares, The Blue Tick took the initiative and announced in a commanding voice, “Those who have not attended the Queen, with whom the Queen has not been delighted, enchanted, or charmed, have been accordingly condemned to an early and exceedingly painful death. In the colloquial, 'Off with their heads.' Just thought you'd like to know. Enjoy the rest of your evening.”
There was a degree of laughing and kidding, with a notable minority of those whose smiles were suddenly artificial. With the exception of a half dozen or so who had been specifically exempted beforehand from acknowledging the supremacy of the Goddess Queen – their responsibilities and duties preventing such distractions – there were perhaps forty who were on the inside of the cave looking out, seeing only the shadows of true reality. Their's would be a night of restless and/or little sleep. No accounting for such paranoia – other than the possible fact that in recent times slights had become sufficient for more than one person to lose their freedom of expression and liberty. Perhaps the guy with the Louis XIV costume was taking his mentor's part just a bit too seriously.
Following the announcement, Sally, with The Tick at her side, began to make the rounds, once again smiling, making eye contact, and in all respects acknowledging everyone's part in attending her little soirée. After a complete tour of the multi room festivities and the completion of her hostess duties, the two stepped through well guarded doors, down a long hall and ultimately into the privacy of a well fortified enclave, where Sally asked in a quiet small voice, “Can I collapse on the floor now?”
The Tick, always the gentleman, smiled. “Allow me, Milady.” With that, he whisked her into his arms and carried her further into a very private, secure and well protected room, where he proceeded to set her on a royally decorated bed. On cue, two young women entered and began to provide comfort foods, foot and body massages with perfumed oils, and soft words. Hormer begin to sing... albeit under his breath, “The party's over.”
In another room, far removed and laced with an atmosphere of roses and a half dozen exotic, erotic scents, Pete was alone with Joy. His conversation since leaving Sally had consisted of one complete sentence (but of no consequence), a dozen works randomly uttered, and a fair number of verbal sounds not quite qualifying as words. He was now being led out of the wilderness to which he had so long retreated. His avian friends might have been jealous, but being pragmatic, they had no quarrel with Joy and her motives. It was the way of the world.
Epiphanies can be pleasant. This was the supreme example of such. And in the true tradition, Pete would never again be quite the same, for good or for ill.
 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PFx3a7KfN0c, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8aFuvuMpXrU&feature=related, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5zbQnKvwaBg&feature=related, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xOf4SktPDak&feature=related, and of course, just to get things started, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rT5zCHn0tsg&feature=related.
 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wYU14bfY_y4 (reprise)
 From Jerry Seinfeld's Bee Movie
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