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Ballroom Blitz

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It’s late when we reach the hotel. Paris is as beguiling as I remember, and we’ve spent far too long wandering along the banks of the Seine, holding hands and investigating alleys and courtyards, lured by the scents and sounds and screams of the city. Dru loves the screams. She says they sound so much better in French. She’s a romantic, my Dru. A distant church clock chimes for 3am as I pick the lock on the back door to the hotel kitchens.

I turn around and she’s licking the last of some blood from her fingers, delicate as a cat. “Got a surprise for you, pet.”

She gives her thumb one last long lick and smiles at me, her eyes wide. “Surprise? A present? You’ve got me a present?”

“In a way. It’s a surprise.”

She claps her hands. “Will we have a party?”

“Just the two of us. But we can make it a party.”

I take her hand and we weave our way through the kitchens, sneaking past the baker kneading dough for the morning bread. A quick snack is tempting, but making bread in France is an art, and there’s enough of the poet left in me not to want to fuck with an artist. Out of the kitchens, we head along dark corridors filled with the detritus of hotel life - porter’s trolleys and laundry baskets and a floor polishing machine that looks like it has seen better days. We climb two flights of back stairs and emerge in a short corridor, facing a tall, narrow door. I pause and turn back towards Dru. She’s only one pace behind me.

“Going to close your eyes for me, dolly? Can’t have a surprise, unless you’re surprised, yeah?”

She nods, her face solemn. Her eyelids flutter shut.

“Good girl,” I whisper. “No peeking until I say.” I turn the door handle and push. The door swings inwards, silent on well-oiled hinges. I wrap my fingers around her delicate wrist. “Follow my lead, pet.” She follows, docile as a child as I walk into the darkness beyond and flick the switches embedded discreetly in the wall to the right of the door, bathing the room in light.

The ballroom is smaller than I remember, but it still sparkles like a jewel. The walls are the colour of heavy cream and the ceiling is an extravagant night sky of velvet blue and silver stars. Spherical crystal chandeliers hang like planets, suspended in a long row along the centre. I guide Dru forward, shutting the door at her back and slip my hands around her waist. “Still got your eyes closed, poppet?”

“I’m a good girl.”

“Yes, you are. And good girls get presents. You can open your eyes now.”

“Spike.” She breathes my name and if feels like a caress, but she slips out of my grasp, gliding forward, arms outstretched. She turns slowly, raising her hands above her head as if she can touch the painted sky. “I can see the stars,” she says. “I can hear them singing.”

“I bet you can, pet. So, do you like your present?”

She lowers her hands, graceful as a dancer and spins in a lazy circle. “It’s beautiful. Such beautiful memories. Do you remember?”

“I remember, dolly. That’s why I brought you.”

“All the pretty women, pretty maids, all in a row. Prettiest maid in her white dress dancing with her dashing beau. Pretty maid and handsome boy, how will their gardens grow. They create poetry in my head, even now. Do you remember how we danced with them - my William turned Spike, and daddy and grandmother? How we waltzed. How they thought it was scandalous and we laughed.”

“I remember. Don’t think they’d ever seen a waltz like that.”

“And the screams. She screamed so pretty, and her white veil made her a scarlet woman.” Dru lowers herself onto her knees and brushes her fingers over the polished dance floor. “They welcomed us in, and we made our own red carpet. So scrumptious.”

Digging around in the pocket of my jeans, I pull out a cigarette and stick it behind my ear for later. For now, I’m content to watch Dru paint pictures on the floor in long-forgotten blood. “Nothing like a wedding party when everyone’s had a few drinks for getting a free invitation to toast the happy couple.”

She looks up at me and smiles. “We’re a happy couple, aren’t we, Spike?”

“’Course we are, poppet. You’re my sweet princess and this prince wants to dance with his lady.” I sketch an exaggerated bow. “Would milady care to dance?”

She extends her hand, fluttering her eyelashes as she rises. “Can we waltz, sweet prince? Can we cause a scandal?”

“Whatever milady wishes.” I pull her gently towards me, one hand slipping around her waist, the other clasping her hand.

“We make our own music,” she whispers.

“That we do.” We start to move, a slow one-two-three, our bodies and feet in perfect harmony with the music in our heads from long ago. I close my eyes as we dance under the painted sky, the planets doing their own stately gavotte as the years roll back.

The bride, hanging in Angelus’ arms, her head lolling and her veil crimson as he whirls her around the room, singing an Irish drinking song and looking like the devil himself. The groom, sprawling in the corner, his throat a bloody gash. Dru playing with the hair of a flower girl, whispering sweet nothings in a dead girl’s ear. Darla sitting, stately as any mother of the bride, picking apart the bridal bouquet and scattering petals at Angelus’ feet as he passes in another manic circuit of the ballroom. And me, tearing through the bridesmaids, one after another, drinking them down like champagne, their blood fizzing on my tongue as the screams turn to moans, turn to whimpers, from the dying at my feet.

“Excusez-moi; madame, monsieur.” The past spools forward to the present and I open my eyes, as we slowly circle to a standstill. There’s a bloke in a grey suit and a starched collar standing by the main doorway. He’s got a lovely expression on his face that’s half way between obsequious and outraged. It’ll be interesting to see which way he falls.

“Sorry mate, I don’t speak French.”

He bobs his head. “Of course, sir.” I love high class hotels. You never have to bother your arse to learn the language – they make all the effort for you. “I do not mean to intrude,” he continues, “but no one is supposed to be in here.”

I kiss the back of Dru’s hand, pull the cigarette from behind my ear and light up with a flick from my zippo. I take a long drag. “No need to get your knickers in a twist, mate. We were just reminiscing about a wedding we were at here, a few years back. Lovely do, it was. My good lady wanted a walk down memory lane.”

“I see, sir.” Obsequious wins every time. Can’t be too careful with potential guests, especially if he wants a tip. “I hope you had an enjoyable time, sir, but I must insist that you leave now. I’m not sure how you got in here without passing the front desk and I could get into trouble.”

“Wouldn’t want that, now.” I glance at Dru. “Wouldn’t want to get the gentleman into trouble with the boss, would we, pet?”

She smiles and skips over to stand in front of the newcomer. “Will you dance with me?”

He blushes, and I can smell all that lovely blood from here. From the look on her face, so can Dru. “That’s very kind of you, madame,” he says. “But it wouldn’t be proper.”

Dru turns her back on him and stamps her foot. “He won’t dance with me.”

“Quite right, pet. Wouldn’t be proper to dance with the help. No offence, mate.”

“None taken, sir. I appreciate your understanding. Now, if I can escort you out. We have a large wedding this evening and will need to start getting the ballroom ready very soon.”

I take another puff and blow out a smoke ring, making Dru giggle. “A wedding? Well isn’t that neat. We’ll get out of your hair and let you do your job.”

The hotel bloke gives a quaint little bow. “Thank you, sir, madame. If you would like to come this way. He turns his back and Dru mimes creeping up behind him, her fingers crooked into mock claws. I chuckle and grab her hand, tucking it into the crook of my elbow as we walk arm in arm behind him out of the ballroom and down the grand staircase to reception.

He snaps his fingers and a sleepy bellboy jumps to his feet and opens the front door. I toss a coin to the boy, then fish in my pocket and pull out a couple of notes and hand them to our escort. “Appreciate your understanding. Got a lovely walk down memory lane in there, me and my lady. I’ll make sure to tell my acquaintances how good the service is here.”

Our bloke pockets the cash and bows again. “A pleasure to be of service, sir. I hope we will welcome you back soon.”

“Count on it, mate.” Pinching the end of my fag, I put the butt in my pocket. “Right then, pet. Let’s leave the gentleman to his day. Got some work facing him to get the ballroom all right and tight for the wedding party.”

Dru smiles and brushes an errant strand of hair back with her hand. There’s dried blood under her fingernails from our earlier play. “Time to go home, my William.”

She dances ahead of me out of the door, so I nod once more to the hotel staff and follow her, our footsteps echoing in the quiet of the pre-dawn. Catching up, I grab her hand and kiss it.

“Why wouldn’t you let me play?” she asks. “He would have made a tasty nightcap to round off our meal.”

“Just a bit of delayed gratification, poppet. If you ate him he couldn’t do his job and maybe all the arrangements for tonight’s celebration would get put on hold. Couldn’t disappoint the bride and groom like that, could we?”

She nods gravely, her eyes bright in the moonlight. “You are a bad, bad man.”

“You say the nicest things, pet. So now, what do think. Fancy crashing a wedding tonight?”

She laughs and pulls away from me, running down the street, her hair streaming out behind her like a flag as she heads for the steps down to the Seine. I shake my head and follow at a more leisurely pace, contemplating where I can get a tux before tonight. Wouldn’t do to go to a wedding without the right clothes. Got to make an effort for the happy couple.

Got to give them a night we’ll remember.