Like a Fox in a Henhouse.

On the evening of the party, Taro, Sooty and Bingo convened momentarily in a small side alley a few streets away from the manor.

"So, do you know what to do Taro?" asked Bingo for the hundredth time.

"Of course I do! Get in, steal purses, get out." Taro replied curtly, he was getting fed up of being asked that question. Why was Bingo so worried? He wasn't a child, he knew how to think.

"The door's opening! Get ready to go!" came Sooty's voice from the end of the alley.

True enough, the great carved doors were being pulled aside to let in various members of the aristocracy, all dressed in fine clothes and wearing extravagant masks. Taro smiled evilly, they'd be like sitting ducks. Pulling on his mask, he slipped discreetly out of the alley and joined the crowd. They were all chattering excitedly as they filed in through the doors, talking about the lengths the District Lord had gone to to organise the event and the supposed extravagance of the food. Eventually, when all the guests had been hustled up a huge flight of stairs, across a landing and into the massive ballroom, Taro began to look for potential targets.

Several guests had brought their purses with them and a few had tied the to sashes or belts on their costumes, others held expensively decorated bags and still more had placed them in their pockets. Taro allowed himself a small smile, how could people be so stupid? Pulling a discreet little knife from his belt - which he'd cunningly disguised as part of the costume- he set about cutting loose the available purses. Due to the massive number of guests, no-one noticed the dark, plainly dressed figure slipping surreptitiously among them. As the evening progressed, more and more purses fell victim to Taro's knife. After five hours, his hidden pockets were heavy with stolen money. Taro smiled, far too easy.

He readied himself to leave, but he felt someone tug his arm. He turned to see a girl standing there, dressed in a bright red dress with orange and gold embroidery. She wore a bird mask that covered the top half of her face, but revealed her large brown eyes. Her curly brown hair was styled fashionably in a towering plume abover her head, revealing her milk-white skin and slender neck. She smiled at Taro and asked shyly:

"Excuse me sir, but would you join me for the last dance? I've seen you here and couldn't help noticing your lack of a partner, would you mind? I'm Clarissa by the way, Clarissa Laroue, my father's the District Lord."

Taro looked around desperately for an escape route, he was in trouble now. If the girl caught on to him then he was doomed, but if he refused then he would seem suspicious. The District Lord's daugher! He'd only just cut her father's purse, what if he saw him! But he couldn't run, he was trapped.

Reluctantly he accepted Clarissa's invitation and slunk after her onto the wide space in the centre of the room. Eventually the music started, a slow and romantic sounding waltz with painfully slow steps, and he and Clarissa began to dance. As they drifted slowly around the floor, Taro began to feel exceedingly uncomfortable. Why was the stupid girl staring at him like that, like some love-struck calf? She was clinging remarkably tight as well, and Taro prayed that she wouldn't feel the outline of the stolen purses. He tried to pry away from her slightly, but she just hung on tighter, pushing her face closer to his. As soon as the dance ended, Taro tried to dash for the door, but Clarissa held onto his hand and wouldn't let go.

"Won't you stay? I know my mother would love to meet you."

Maybe not if she knew I'd probably pinched her purse, Taro thought bitterly. "Honestly my good lady I must be going, my friends will be wondering where I am."

"But I've only just met you, won't you please stay a little longer? I feel like I have such a connection with you. When we danced..." Clarissa's voice tailed off as she looked pleadingly at Taro. But he would have none of it and, pulling his hand sharply from her grip, he raced towards the door and made to bolt down the staircase. But Clarissa was only a few steps behind him and at the top step she seized his hand again. Taro twisted and tried to break free, but only succeeded in losing his balance and almost falling on top of another guest. The guest shoved him away roughly and Taro found himself in Clarissa's arms again.

"Please my good lady, would you let go of me. I really must be going, if you would just-"

But Clarissa merely pulled him aside and pushed her face closer to his, "I knew you were special from the moment I met you. Oh, please won't you stay, I feel like you take a part of me with you if you leave! Oh there's my father now, oh won't you at least meet him?"

Panic rose in Taro's throat, this was a disaster. If the District Lord saw him he was doomed. He was a wanted man after all and if he was forced to remove the mask he was as good as dead. He'd be swinging from the gallows by dawn if he didn't get away. Desperately he wrenched himself away from Clarissa and made a mad dash for the stairs, her pleading cries ringing after him. Pushing past the other guests he bolted out of the open door and disappeared into the night.

That had been close, way too close.

The End

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