Millard went to the grange that first warm Saturday of spring with murder on his mind. Calvin, a fellow ranch hand, had kissed Millard’s girl, and he was going to hell. Disguise was the key. Tingling in ecstasy as he rummaged his mother’s steamer, Millard imagined the blood splattering on her striped cotton pajama pants. Her swim cap, which lent her elegance that his father’s meager salary denied them all, would make a nice kufi. Beetle-shaped silver earrings – where did these come from? No matter. A bracelet on his wrist, and two over his taut biceps; perfect. From the wooden peg he’d tapped ever so gently into the wall above his sister’s sweet-smelling dresser, he stole the golden mask that had won her flitting favor with the mayor’s son. The silk sash he plundered from the textile museum two towns over, and which his girl had refused, felt lush against his torso. The vest ripped from his father’s closet smelled of failure. From the shed, he took a length of chain, making sure not to get any gold paint on the odd pieces of metal hanging from the links. The piece de resistance: a whimsical horsehair mustache.
Skimming the edges of town, Millard boiled with anticipation. His enemy’s manner with the ladies was as smooth as his ruddy cheeks. The last dance he performed would find him not with a pretty paramour, however, but alone, whirling and twirling as the blood spilled from the cross-shaped wound above his adulterous heart. From the grove of pine trees behind the grange, Millard could see the building was filled with revelers, so happy in the innocence of the moment. Quiet as a ghost, he snuck up to the back door. The smooth pattern and earthy smell of the clapboards warmed his demon soul. In a flash, he was in the kitchen, closer to the ruckus and revelry, his fist tight around a stainless steel knife. The band was raucous, loud enough to cover Calvin’s screams. Millard’s outlandish outfit would sow confusion. The dim lighting offered an easy getaway.
Like a diva taking the temperature of the room, Millard peeked through the window on the swinging kitchen door. In a near corner he spied the young schoolteacher, Miss Hartley, laughing through her nose at the minister’s dim wit. Behind them, under the Stars & Stripes stood his boss, Mister Peavey. “He’d never know me in this get-up,” Millard snickered. A conga line passed close to the door, arms flailing and legs sprawling to the crazy Caribbean beat. He recognized no one. A female pirate. A cowboy. A devil. A witch. A harlequin. “What the deuce? What is going on here?” The calendar pages flipped backward in his mind. He saw himself writing “Masq Ball” on Saturday, March 30. He intended to ask Dolores until he saw that scoundrel plant a kiss on her outstretched hand. Then he marked the last Saturday of March as “Murder Day” on his mental calendar. But where was the Cad? Which of the ladies in disguise was his favorite flower? He could hardly go ripping masks off the celebrants. Join them, he told himself. This will be fun. Murder can always wait.