Out Heroding Herod
All the movers were there: Rudolf Lloyd, Gertrude D’arcy, Maisy Williams and Carter Goodman . The Ball had been paid for and organised by Colonel Bo Pankiewicz – a big-time producer. Colonel Bo had written on the invitations that the Ball was to celebrate all that was AMERICAN.
Pankiewicz’s family had fled Poland in 1938, just for the young Bo (real name unknown) to join the Free Polish Army in ’39. Bo was not a colonel, but it was an affectation that he liked. After the war he’d come here, working on sets and stuff, you know? He’d got himself into a couple of pictures – westerns, after being spotted by one of the directors in these parts. But from acting, he went into cinematography, because he couldn’t act and his accent seemed out of place in the wild west.
Pankiewicz had an ‘eye’. He was soon directing his own pictures – and making a helluva lot of money. From this he financed his own production company – Prince Prospero Productions. PPP made that picture about a medieval prince who feasted while plague ravished the land outside his palace – a ‘sort of’ hit in ’49. He’d gotten invited to a load of parties and stuff in his early career and gained a name as a man who liked earthly pleasures, even if he hardly drank himself. I was told he developed his taste after the poverty of his origins, and that on the invites he instructed guests to be willing to indulge themselves. His attitude was as corpulent as his deviancy.
“Boys,” he told his followers, “we don’t want no comoonists here.”
“No, sir, ” they nodded harmoniously.
“For I tell you,” continued the Colonel, “they spread like a Red Death across the globe.”
The Ball’s doors had been locked to outsiders. Pankiewicz had gathered all around him – all those who he believed had not caught the disease. It was a protected world they lived in – sanitised and cleansed by their own fire.
The Ball room had been cleared in the centre, to make room for dancing. The highly polished floor had been constructed from a mosaic of different coloured marbles to form an image of a Portcullis on which the guests danced. To the north, east and west were large dining rooms where the guests ate and drank. The bars held wines and spirits from places not known to Pankiewicz or many of his guests and banks of tables held the food for the evening’s buffet. Each table had been covered with a black silk cloth so that the food underneath was not visible. Just the rhythm of its richness could be seen.
To the north the lights were a soft yellow. All ornaments and fittings were of gold and anyone who sat in this room found themselves vested with a brilliant nimbus that shone through their hair and the delicate fabrics they wore. To the west the lights were green and the tapestries on the walls showed scenes of trees and forests and animals running through them. Anyone sitting here was pleased to smell pine as they, doused in this light, moved as graceful as the animals depicted on the walls. To the east the light was red. The richness of this colour flushed the cheeks of anyone sitting here and gave this wing a passion and fidelity that attracted more of the guests than the other two wings combined. To the south was the doorway – a great, oak-panelled, double doorway that opened inwards to swallow anyone who entered in the suction of air. The whole layout was not unlike that of a cross.
Be sure the guests were grotesque. On Pankiewicz’s orders they had dressed to their fancy and once the masquerade had begun, the carnival took hold. Dames dressed as gentlemen and gentlemen dressed as shoe-shine boys with no heed given to who was whose superior in the office. In the carnival atmosphere each was disguised by a disfigured mask with horns and tusks sprouting from the mouth or pig’s ears standing erect at the sides. All this to create a feeling of anonymity to help encourage their passions. Only the richest materials were seen, stitched with other gaudy fabrics to create a devil’s motley. The spectacle was an arabesque of taste and body. Ladies caressed with each other as gentlemen watched in aroused fascination. A dwarf, attired as a bell-boy, carried a plate of creams and fancies which he left by the naked body of a woman as another guest (I know not which gender) arranged them over her body before lying atop her with the cream lubricating their bodies.
In the green room two men had taken the form of a centaur and both, with erect phalluses, harshly made intercourse to two others, whilst above them another dwarf broke open ripe tomatoes, melons and other fruits into the mouth of the human part of this chimera. In the northern room a woman in a golden, silk dress that shimmered like the lights of New York hoisted her hemline above the waist before urinating into the mouth of a man, on his knees, chained to an ebony pillar. In the red room the warm light had caused all occupants to undress, their bodies perspiring from the heat. So sultry was the temperature that, instead of rushing from one passion to another, those who entertained here made do with writhing slowly on the floor, and each other, like a nest of serpents. While at all times anonymous couples could be found in silent booths fumbling with each other’s bodies with neither name nor gender known until the last when all seemed not to matter and they continued unabated with their lusts.
Pankiewicz stood by the archway leading into the east wing. This man, not yet forty, leant against a large ebony Grandfather clock that struck dully on each hour. Dressed in his white military uniform, he was surrounded by his secretaries and aides and engulfed in the red light.
“I want to do a big picture,” he stated.
“Yes, sir. A BIG picture,” they chimed.
“A western. Yes, a western,” he said, remembering his earlier career.
“A western. Oh yes, sir. A western. Great idea. Buffaloes…”
“Nah, I don’t want buffalo. Buffalo are dead. I want cows. Cows are more…sympathetique.”
“Er…cows. Yes, sir.”
The clock struck 11.00.
“Dammit, that’s some chime,” said the Colonel.
“Some chime. Yes, sir.”
“Who’s that lady over there?”
“There,” said Pankiewicz, pointing. “The broad in orange taffeta.”
“Oh, that lady. Well, sir, that’s Margaret DuMuis. She’s French.”
“I want her in my next picture. Who’s that guy standing next to her?”
That guy was me. Only I was slightly younger then. I hadn’t been invited directly – I knew someone who was going to be there. For my costume I wore a bright red tuxedo with a scarlet shirt and bow. I never knew who Pankiewicz was and so paid him little notice when I walked by.
“Boy,” said Pankiewicz to me, “do you have an invite?”
“No, I haven’t,” I said.
“Then you don’t belong here.”
“And how does one go about not belonging?”
“What the…is that supposed to be clever? Is that socialism?”
The clock struck midnight.
“Are you dressed as a comoonist?” asked Pankiewicz.
“No,” I said, “I am Death.”
“Same meat, different gravy. Boy, how dare you come to my Ball as a goddam Red!” As he said this he clicked his fingers in the air and all the dwarves drew curved daggers from under their jackets.
When he stopped speaking they all moved forward and so I took another step nearer to Pankiewicz. Colonel Bo stepped back, away from me and into the red room. I followed, but the dwarves refused to follow me into the red room. They all seemed possessed of an unspoken awe or fear, even Pankiewicz’s minders parting way for me so that I came within a few inches of their grasp – they had all fallen to a single, collective impulse to not seize me, and to shrink away. Pankiewicz, now doused by the red light, grew enraged at his own cowardice and that of the revellers. So, half in an attempt to rally his followers, and half in an attempt to bolster his own fear, he stood his ground and raised his fists to exaggerate his anger like one of his cheap movie posters. Running at me, Pankiewicz fell, sobbing at my feet – his fear overcoming his bravado. Looking into my face, he drew one last gasp and died. At once the revellers and dwarves charged me and as they reached the threshold of the red room I took off my mask to reveal the face of Time.
It was then that they all knew that Death refuses those who seek him too early, because Death itself will claim them in his own time. Slowly, but inevitably, each room fell to darkness, and the hands on the clock stopped turning.