The Pretenders’ Ball — Episode 4

By Hy Conrad

For three years running, the rebels had struck during the Grand Duchy’s annual costume ball. Yet even after two assassinations and a disastrous fire, the prime minister felt obligated not to cancel.

The event was held at the old venue, the ducal palace, and, in honor of the past tragedies, the theme was black, with every costume required to have at least an accent of black.

The guests arrived and submitted themselves to the usual, useless search. The Arabian sheik gave up his scimitar and the peasant relinquished his pitchfork at the door. Dracula was allowed to keep his pointy teeth, while the Gypsy got to carry her tambourine—as long as she didn’t play it.

The prime minister (Egyptian pharaoh) put on a brave front, but he knew it was just a matter of time. At a few minutes past midnight he strolled into the blue room. The first thing he noticed was a drapery tie missing from one of the curtains. He was about to ring for a servant when he stumbled over the body of a black chess king, also known as General Fortescu, stabbed with a sword taken from the royal coat of arms above the fireplace.

There was something in the general’s hand. The prime minister tried to remove it, but it was clutched tight—a piece of black fabric two inches wide and about 18 inches long, stained red with the general’s blood.

The assassination took no one by surprise, and they all lined up for their usual post-crime inspection. “No one seems to be missing any parts of their costume,” said the sheik (Colonel Asbek) as he scratched the blue band around his Arabian headgear.

“Well, that swatch must have come from somewhere,” said the Gypsy (royal hairdresser), adjusting the black sash around her ample midriff.

Everyone was looking to the prime minister to solve this crime, just like the others. But it was the peasant (new chief of police) who quickly pointed out the assassin.



As he was being stabbed, the general reached out to his killer, grabbing part of his assailant’s costume and tearing it off. After the murder, the killer couldn’t take back his black costume piece. It was stained with blood. So he improvised, replacing it with a drapery tie from the curtains in the blue room.

The chief of police saw that the only costumed guest wearing a piece of blue fabric was the Arabian sheik.