by Crystal Jones
© 2013 - All rights reserved

A masked lady dressed in the period of the Restoration opened the Scottish castle door without a word and handed the guest a map, an election form, a small notepad and a pencil. The guest showed no surprise at not being spoken to, and replied to this making the secret sign of the Fraternity as his private helicopter flew away into the dark.
The guest, dressed as Frans Hals’ The Laughing Cavalier, was the Romanian art collector Julius Patrescu, an old friend of the Arranger, Lady Sylvia. He was surprised she had personally answered the door to him and that there were no servants at all in sight.
Now he put his reading glasses on, looked at the map and saw it was a plan of the ground floor of the castle.
“Mmm, the Cloakroom is here to the left, The Ballroom is on the right and behind it there’s a room labelled Buffet while the Exhibition and the Auction are held in the castle Library at the back of the Ballroom. Lady Sylvia seems to have things well organised as usual,”
he thought. He was also relieved that contrary to his expectations the castle was quite well heated.
In the large ballroom Verdi’s A Masked Ball was being played over a loudspeaker, intermingled with rock, metal, hip-hop and clips of ethnic songs from the countries of all the different guests.
There was also a lot of noise going on from people laughing, dancing and generally enjoying themselves.
“Hello, Sophie, nice to see you again. Is your father here too?” Julius Patrescu was a frequent visitor to Pierre Amsang’s antique shop, which was a front for his receiver business.
Sophie, who was coming out of the ballroom at that moment and had temporarily taken off her mask of a hideous witch, smiled, “Yes, he’s dressed as a wizard. And by the way, I’ve got good news for you: your Chinese dragon wall scroll has arrived!”
“Wonderful! I’ll be down in London next Friday to pick it up. Hope nobody steals it in the meantime,” he said laughingly.

It was, of course, Halloween. As Julius wandered into the Ballroom he could see lit-up artificial pumpkin heads, Jack-o’-lantern turnips and replicas of original Venetian masks.
Amongst fifty or so guests who had already arrived, Lorenzo De’ Medici, Nell Gwyn and Ophelia stood out for the beauty and perfection of their costumes. The Fraternity, made up of a great number of art lovers, had decided that year that everybody should dress up as someone in a famous painting. Ophelia was, of course, Myranda Ramires, the well-known antique books counterfeiter, and was now discussing business with Picasso's Dora Maar, who was Steely Sam aka Samantha Eldrij, a mechanical engineer and organiser of the spectacular Manhattan heist of 2009.
Charles l
had been jiving with Cleopatra and they were now discussing the selling of fake pictures to a South American dictator.
In reality it seemed that nearly everybody was recognisable even though they wore a mask. The exception was Alex, not surprisingly nicknamed Le Camoufleur, who was dressed and made up as a frightening Genghis Khan.
Julius spied an old accomplice of his, the Hawaiian Kalama Elliot, the geologist and advisor to bank robbers and others on how to get into banks and other well-guarded places via burrowing underground, and said hello to him.
“Hello Julius! Lovely to see you. I was just going to have something to eat – shall we go along to the Buffet Room together and have a little chat?”

Absolute privacy was the order of the day and this was why there were no waiters to serve the food in the Buffet Room.
The food had been prepared by the local villagers who worked at the castle whenever there was the occasion of an exhibition or trade fair. There were dishes which could be heated up by the guests in microwave ovens like jacket potatoes, trays of lasagne, shepherd’s pie and macaroni cheese. There were also cold cuts and a York Ham as well as an enormous salad decorated with chopped-up pieces of fresh pineapple and melon. A selection of natural fruit drinks and thermos flasks of hot coffee were also available.
As very serious business discussions were taking place there was absolutely no alcohol on the premises.
The stunning Cleopatra, in reality the black-eyed Anglo-Indian beauty and computer hacker Archita Ferguson, warmed herself up a large portion of shepherd’s pie while talking to 'Jewels' De Groot, the best diamond cutter in the business. “I suppose you’ll be bidding for the pink diamond, but it seems that nearly everybody else will be too!”
“I haven’t seen it yet so I can’t express an opinion on it. They say it’s extraordinarily large - last time there was such a large pink diamond at an auction, Ishmail Fahmu beat me to it unfortunately.”
“There’s no Ishmail Fahmu around this time. But I’ve heard Lady Sylvia fancies it herself!”
“Well, you know, sometimes business comes before personal friendship!”

Once Julius had finished his discussion with his old acquaintance, he went into the Exhibition Room and began discovering what each booth had to offer. This was a place where confidential business deals could be discussed. There was a booth where the latest discoveries in the field of biometrics surveillance and unorthodox nanotechnology were being explained. Another booth was dedicated to new mechanical escape techniques for museum thieves and yet another showed examples of 'ancient' illuminated manuscripts created with the celebrated Houdow method which cannot be detected, even with carbon dating. Quincas Morales, the international expert on passport and document forgery, was behind a table in a booth with Tulip De Vries, of the patented invisible step, which she used to get into art galleries throughout Europe. They seemed to be involved in a rather exciting discussion over details of a new promising enterprise.
Badger, considered the safe-cracking guru of the underworld, was dressed as a medieval knight and was enlightening a future client, Mona Lisa aka Amaryllis Wetherston, the Gibraltar-born abseiling expert, on the possibility of getting into a certain consulate to 'withdraw' key documents from the safe.

The Halloween masked ball was in reality a trade fair for the Fraternity over which presided Lady Sylvia, The Arranger. While in the Buffet Room, guests could see video clips of famous heists the Fraternity had undertaken. Perhaps the most entertaining was the Similong heist, in which a tower-hopper, who had trained as an acrobat in a circus, threw a cable which attached itself magnetically to a building on the opposite side of the road, secured it onto the building where she was standing and used it as a tight-rope. She was Gloria San Diegos, the Mexican winner of one of last year’s Excellence Awards.

After all discussions in the booths had finished, everybody met in the Ballroom for the long-awaited Fraternity Auction. Up for sale was a painting by Leonardo only recently discovered by a member of the Fraternity in an old Tuscan villa and not yet known to the general public, a pure pink diamond, reputed as having been the property of a French knight who had stolen it from a Turkish sultan whilst they were playing chess, and a two thousand year old scroll found in a cave in mainland China revealing that a strange shiny vehicle had landed there from the sky many centuries past. The ancient scroll, which had been smuggled into a Baltic country only a week before, was snapped up by the extremely wealthy American tycoon and scholar Roc Skilt and his identical twin Luc, camouflaged as the Kray brothers in Graham Young's painting.The auctioneer was Quincas Moreno, helped by April disguised as Ariel in the famous Millais masterpiece. As expected, the pink diamond was so sought-after that the bids went up and up until at the end 'Jewels' de Groot, the Dutch diamond cutter, managed to outbid all the others.

Now Lady Sylvia announced the beginning of the meeting. “First let me extend a warm welcome to all the members of the Fraternity. As you all know we, too, have our Excellence Awards. Let's start with a newly-introduced award, the Best Costume of the Evening sponsored by our good friend 'Jewels' de Groot. Our Myranda Ramires as Ophelia has received the most votes for her stunning handmade petalled robe.”
Everybody applauded warmly.
“And now for our more traditional awards. The Silver Award for the most original or amusing heist is awarded to April who led Ishmail Fahmu around and around preventing him from taking part in the auction of the Lucrezia Borgia casket.”
Everybody broke into laughter and cheered.
“The Gold Award for the most technologically successful heist goes to Badger for his Colombian cartel scam.”
Badger went over to Lady Sylvia and thanked his fellow members.
“And finally the Platinum Award for the best heist goes to Idris Huntingdon who managed to steal away an African bloody dictator’s entire diamond fortune.”
Everybody cheered and applauded heartily.

Now the time for the official speeches had arrived. Lady Sylvia reminded the Fraternity, “This is our annual meeting. I would like to read out the agenda of the day which is: first, the re-admission application of Steven 'Quickarm' Smith, who has consistently denied having used menacing behaviour to obtain information on the Bayswater case. Shall we take a vote on it?”
The votes were counted but Steven 'Quickarm' Smith would not be returning to the Fraternity this time.
Lady Sylvia continued, “We are responsible human beings and according to our statute there is absolutely no provision for violence in any form whatsoever.”
One of the Fraternity, nicknamed L’Arroganteur, dressed as Henry the Eighth, who really was a member of the English aristocracy, showed signs of disagreement.

“Lady Sylvia says that you have to plan so cleverly that no violence is ever necessary, but according to me that depends on the circumstances. Sometimes you have to show that you are forceful and determined. Others are not going to be so gentle!”
Lady Sylvia replied, “Our motto is Excellence Above All and using weapons has got nothing to do with excellence! This concept is vital for the Fraternity and if someone is not in agreement they should leave the Fraternity!”
L'Arroganteur, who thought it was his birthright to be head of the Fraternity but was really nothing more than an envious high-level confidence trickster, shook his head and looked discontented.
Lady Sylvia went on, “At this annual meeting, may I ask, as a personal favour, and considering this year has been so successful for all of us, for a generous contribution to The Children’s Hospital? You may be aware that the hospital treats also non-British children and one of our members has a son who was operated on there successfully. The hospital needs funds for a completely new ward specialising in plastic surgery.”
L’Arroganteur requested permission to speak and his words proved to be rather disturbing. “My dear Fellow Members, I won’t deny Lady Sylvia's past merits, she founded the Fraternity and made it thrive. But now, in these modern times, she has became much too soft, completely out of step with the harsh reality of today's world which demands that we break out of ingrained habits. If Lady Sylvia's strategy should fail, as it already has on certain occasions, she wouldn't know how to cope any more as she never has a plan B. Let me remind you of an obvious fact: it’s impossible to think of succeeding in our world without there being occasional violence. It seems to me that now she thinks only of helping The Children’s Hospital and has lost her focus on our core business. Consequently she’s no longer fit to be the leader of our Fraternity. So, I would like to put myself up for election and, as per our Statute, I demand a vote on it!”
Surprisingly L'Arroganteur seemed to find consensus from a small group of new members. “There is some truth in what he says,” one remarked.
Another suggested, “Yes, yes. Let’s vote on it. L’Arroganteur is right!”
Alex, Le Camoufleur, didn't seem to like the way things were going and started protesting and shouting at L’Arroganteur, “You don’t know what you’re talking about. This year we have doubled our profits, everybody knows that! New scientific methods have been used to increase our success rate as a direct result of these annual meetings which were proposed by Lady Sylvia six years’ ago. Now, L'Arroganteur thinks we are going to have more success if violence is used, something which is not supported by any evidence!”
The American Abe Howel intervened, “I, for one, am strongly opposed to violence but, anyway, we are supposed to be an egalitarian Fraternity, so let’s have a vote on it!”
“Ungrateful lot!” replied Alex angrily. “After everything Lady Sylvia has done for all of you, and you dare to side with L’Arroganteur. I’m very disappointed in you! This is all a complete farce and I refuse to take part in it. I’m off!” Alex strode off indignantly.

Lady Sylvia's old friend, Julius, frowned and seemed concerned. The Arranger looked surprised and a little hurt but continued, “Please, ladies and gentlemen! May I remind you that our statute explicity forbids the use of violence. However, if you are dissatisfied with the way I am conducting the Fraternity voting on the matter is the only way of doing things civilly! Now, please write down Yes if you wish to replace me and No if you want me to continue.”

While the votes were being cast, mini-discussions were taking place in the Ballroom and there was a lot of tension in the atmosphere.
Lady Sylvia asked April to get her a glass of water. Just as April left the Ballroom a terrible noise was heard of shattering glass.
“Oh no!” April exclaimed hurrying back into the Ballroom. “The antique mirror in the hallway has fallen down and is smashed to pieces!” she gasped.
The members of the Fraternity began to look unsettled and Sophie muttered, “That really is spooky!” To make matters worse, just as she was saying this, the ominous sound of the grandfather clock chiming midnight was heard and all the lights went out.
What’s happening?” shouted L’Arroganteur. “Is someone trying to be funny?”
“Please keep calm everybody – I’ll go and light the candles,” said Lady Sylvia who managed to move about with the light of her now turned-on mobile.”
Soon four candles were lit and people were just starting to relax again when suddenly all the candles went out in what seemed to be a gust of wind.
Some guests jumped up nervously and one of them exclaimed, “This is too much!”
Lady Sylvia intervened, “Don't worry, it's just a coincidence. We only need to light the candles again.”
All of a sudden there was a noise of police sirens and cars arriving. Very bright lights were shone onto the ballroom window and a voice came over a megaphone saying, “I’m Inspector McCallen and we have surrounded the castle. Please stay exactly where you are – all of you!”
“There’s a fleet of police cars outside with uniformed police standing around waiting!” said Sophie peering through the curtains at the window.
L’Arroganteur tried to hide his face by turning his back to the window. “I knew it – I knew something would happen with Lady Sylvia in charge! That's what I meant about her not having any plan B. Damn!”
Now a loud knocking on the door was heard and a voice said, “Open the door, now! I'll give you five minutes and then we are coming in!”
As candles were being lit once again, L’Arroganteur began to panic,
“We’re trapped. It’s all over. We’re finished for good!”
Lady Sylvia took over and whispered to everybody, “Don’t worry, I’ll put it right. Pierre – give me a minute, then open the castle door!”
Lady Sylvia went to the Buffet Room and lifted up the carpet under the table. There was a trapdoor underneath and when she pulled it open, a large space was revealed. “Pierre, help me put all the auction valuables in here…” she said. Then after replacing the carpet over the trapdoor she went back into the Ballroom.

L’Arroganteur was panicking visibly, “This is the end of all our beautiful plans – I’ll be the first to be chucked into prison as a knight of the realm.” he exclaimed. “Well, have you got a plan B now, Lady Sylvia?” he asked defiantly.
Lady Sylvia ignored the question and pressed a knob in the wooden panelling along the wall, which had the effect of letting a panel slide open to reveal a priest's hole.
“I'm afraid it hasn't got an escape route and there’s only room for one of us.”
L’Arroganteur didn't think twice about it and rushed into the priest's hole like a scared rabbit. Lady Sylvia then pressed the knob again and the panel slid quietly back.
Just as the five minutes were about to elapse, Lady Sylvia signalled to Pierre to go and open the front door. “Monsieur L’Inspecteur, please come in,” said Pierre Amsang pleasantly to the irate policeman who was holding a torch in his hand which gave off a strong light. “Excuse us for the delay, Inspector,” he continued. “Lady Sylvia will be with us in an instant.”
“About time too! I was just going to give the order for the door to be broken down,” replied Inspector McCallen, a rather burly, round-faced man who was accompanied by his sergeant, a plump middle-aged policewoman.
Just then the lights came back on and Lady Sylvia appeared at the end of the corridor and walked towards Inspector McCallen. “We’ve had a tip-off that some very strange things are going on here. Er…” seeing Lady Sylvia the policeman became a little less aggressive. “I’m Inspector McCallen – and this is Sergeant Flowers - would you be Lady Sylvia?” said the policeman in broad Glaswegian English.
Lady Sylvia looked not in the least perturbed. “Yes, what seems to be the matter, Inspector. Can I help?”
The Inspector looked at her darkly and started throwing his weight around, “Sergeant, search the other rooms on the ground floor while I question these people here!”

Now the Inspector stalked into the Ballroom, followed closely by Lady Sylvia. The Fraternity stared at him but tried not to look too alarmed.
“Will everybody take off their masks immediately, please!” said the inspector gruffly.
“We are all enjoying a Masked Ball on the night of Halloween as you can see for yourself,” explained Lady Sylvia sweetly.
Inspector McCallen looked round the Ballroom suspiciously, then seeing nothing untoward he decided to inspect the other rooms on the ground floor. He went through to the Buffet Room and glared at all the dishes of food as if he were a hygiene official.
Next he found his way into the Exhibition Room and stared at the booths as though they were places of iniquity, gambling dens or worse.
“What are those booths for, Madam?” Inspector McCallen asked Lady Sylvia.
“Well, trade fairs are held here, you know – it’s very expensive to run a castle and every little helps!”
Still unconvinced the policeman continued, “What about upstairs?”
“We aren’t really using the rooms upstairs as we’re here just for the night – I don’t live here.” Lady Sylvia said charmingly.
The policeman sent his sidekick, Sergeant Flowers, up the ancient staircase to inspect the premises. She came down after a few minutes struggling with spiders’ webs sticking to her uniform.
“Mm… can’t see anything out of the ordinary.”
At this point, feeling there might have been a terrible mixup, Inspector McCallen strove to explain his presence there, but only succeeded in getting himself into deeper waters.
“We were informed anonimously that strange sacrifices were going on – and other things!”
“Well, it’s Halloween – maybe someone has had too much to drink!” Lady Sylvia suggested. “Won’t you have something with us to welcome in Halloween – there’s hot food and sandwiches – I’m afraid there’s no alcohol as we’re all abstemious!” explained the lady of the house.
Inspector McCallen seemed incredulous that teetotallers existed in this modern day and age, but refrained from further comment.
“Well – thank you – er… if you’ve got a fruit drink… but I won’t be keeping you from enjoying Halloween any longer – we ought to be off now – and maybe I owe you an apology…” said the policeman clearly embarassed.
“Don’t worry about anything, Inspector. You must do your job, I quite understand. I’m quite sure that everyone here is very glad you’re around to protect us!” said Lady Sylvia innocently.
Inspector McCallen, wanting to seem nonchalant and appear at ease, stepped back to lean against the wall just exactly where the knob was, which activated the priest's hole. But Pierre's daughter, Sophie, saw the danger in time, took a step forward and pressed her own drink into the inspector’s hand. “Do have this,” she said. “It’s real fruit juice and it’s got ginger in it so it’ll warm you up before you go out into the cold! Sergeant Flowers, shall I get you one too?”
By now Inspector McCallen had warmed to Lady Sylvia’s natural charm and seemed to be a bit ashamed he had created such a lot of fuss. Having finished his fruit juice he said, “Now we really must be going!”

As soon as the two representatives of the local police force finally left and the police cars outside were driven away everybody breathed a huge sigh of relief.
Lady Sylvia took charge once again and freed L’Arroganteur from the priest’s hole. “Shall we resume the voting?” she asked casually, looking around at the guests.
"I for one, certainly wouldn’t vote for L’Arroganteur after the poor show he made of it.” This was Mustafa Hussain, the Algerian counterfeit expert speaking. L'Arroganteur's group of supporters conferred together briefly, then one spoke out, “Lady Sylvia stays as far as we are concerned!”
This was followed up with a general consensus amongst the other members of the Fraternity and the matter was settled.


Lady Sylvia, Alex, April, Pierre Amsang and Sophie were going to stay the night at the castle and said their goodbyes to the other members of the Fraternity with the exception of Julius who was waiting for his helicopter to arrive. The Arranger's friends were now sitting down to a hot drink in the Buffet Room.
“Oh, what a Halloween it's been!” said Lady Sylvia breathing a sigh of relief.
Pierre warmly congratulated his colleagues. “Everything went off like clockwork. Alex's disguise as Inspector McCallen was perfect and our slender April too was unrecognisable as the plump middle-aged Sergeant Flowers. Bravo everybody!”
“Yes, for now everything went well,” agreed Lady Sylvia, “but we still have to keep an eye open for L'Arroganteur - although I don't expect he'll be putting himself up for election next time! By the way Sophie, I liked your ad libbing when the mirror broke, 'It's really spooky'.”
“And Alex,” interrupted Pierre, “it was so realistic the way you pretended to be angry and stormed out - so that you could come back later as Inspector McCallen!” The six friends all laughed together.

April asked how Lady Sylvia had found out about L'Arroganteur. “It was Julius, fortunately, who discovered the plot,” replied the Arranger. “He was having lunch in a pub near the Albert Jones Auction Hall when he overheard L'Arroganteur saying in a stage whisper “I'm going to topple 'That Lady' at Halloween,” to one of the new members of the Fraternity. When he told me this, I set my network in motion and soon discovered that he really was plotting to take over the leadership of the Fraternity. That's when I had to come up with a plan. Julius, I think you deserve an explanation as to what happened next. Alex, would you like to continue?”
“Well, you know,” replied Alex, “it wasn't easy. The castle needed a lot of work to be transformed into a sort of stage for the sting that we were planning, but we didn't want to employ local people for obvious reasons. Luckily, I was able to find a Romanian crew of carpenters, builders, plumbers and electricians who came up with me a month ago. We all stayed at the small hotel in the village and, of course, had our meals together and a good laugh too! The first thing we did was the rewiring: we moved the fusebox from the cellar into a cupboard under the stairs so that its access was easier for Sophie and Pierre to be able to switch all the lights on and off without being noticed. We mended the trapdoor and installed an electrical device to open the priest's hole instead of the old mechanical one. I told the crew it was for a Halloween event with plenty of conjuring tricks and surprises. Also, we set up the PA system and the laser projectors in the garden so that we could have the lights shining right onto the Ballroom window and the recordings of the police sirens.”
Julius asked, “But how did you manage to operate the PA system and the projectors during the sting?”
Alex smiled, “Well, I didn't. It was the two electricians from the Rumanian crew who came up two days ago to switch everything on at the right moment from outside the castle. One of them is an expert in setting up sound equipment. In his spare time he works as a roadie for a local band. Of course, the trickiest bit was my rushing off pretending to be angry and camouflaging myself as Inspector McCallen.”
“I must admit I nearly laughed when L'Arroganteur scurried into the priest's hole!” said Lady Sylvia. “He looked so silly! And I'm so glad that you, Julius, found out about his plot. I abominate violence and will do everything in my power to rescue the Fraternity from this appalling danger!”

The next day at about ten o'clock Alex was already packing away his fake broken antique mirror, doctored trick candles which went out automatically after thirty seconds, artificial spiders' webs and the two police costumes used in the sting.
As Alex was about to drive away, Lady Sylvia smiled, “Well Alex, L'Arroganteur was wrong after all. I did have a plan B!”


Finished on 10th February 2013