The Pretenders’ Ball

By Hy Conrad

The secret police warned the prime minister to cancel the Pretenders’ Ball. But the costume ball was a 200-year-old tradition in the small Grand Duchy. Despite threats from the rebels, the annual celebration had to take place as scheduled.

The prime minister made a handful of concessions to security. The peg-legged pirate had his sword confiscated, and the Turkish sultan gave up his curved, bulky dagger. But the baseball player was allowed to keep his bat, and the chukka sticks were not taken from the masked Ninja. No one was expecting an attack by a blunt instrument.

But that’s exactly what happened. On one of the palace’s two dozen balconies, the 80-year-old grand duke was cornered by an assassin and bludgeoned to death. When the chief of police discovered the body, the old duke, dressed as a peasant, was draped over a ledge, his royal blood dripping into the dark chasm below.

“Quick,” the chief said to the nearest costumed reveler. “Close the doors. Alert the guards.”

The pirate, in reality a provincial mayor, immediately ran to obey, taking the steps two at a time down to the main ballroom.

“We have to find the murder weapon,” the chief’s assistant said a few minutes later as he lined up all the shocked and grief-stricken guests.

The baseball player, the prime minister’s political rival, said he might have left his bat upstairs. An aide went in search and found it in a spittoon just outside the men’s bathroom.

The masked Ninja, they were surprised to discover, was the prime minister’s own niece, one of the duchy’s only feminists. Her chukka sticks, which had originally been on her belt, were now in a deep side pocket of her black robes. “They got in the way when I danced,” she explained.

“Take everything,” the chief barked. “The American Embassy will do chemical tests for us. We’ll find the cowardly assassin.”

“We don’t need tests,” whispered the prime minister, speaking for the first time since the murder. “I know who killed the duke and what the weapon was.”


When the pirate arrived, he was wearing a fake peg leg, with his real leg tucked up under his pantaloons. Shortly after the murder, however, he was standing on two good legs, as evidenced by his ability to run and take the steps two at a time.

The prime minister noticed the change and was clever enough to piece it together. The provincial mayor, a rebel sympathizer, had used the wooden leg to bludgeon the old duke to death. He then threw the crucial piece of evidence over the balcony into the chasm.