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I straighten my mask as Harvey straightens his white suit. We climb the steps to the enormous oak doorway and enter the mansion, finding ourselves in a vast white marble ballroom flanked on both sides by a curving staircase. Harvey snags a shrimp off of an unsuspecting servant's tray and slurps it down before we enter the crowd. They are all dressed extravagantly, and every person is masked.
"God, Harv, what are we doing here?" I ask him anxiously.
"Not much for parties, Mark?" he asks in retort. "Just relax. We're here to do some reconnaissance. If these newcomers dad is so worried about are as rich as I suspect, they'll definitely be here."
"Damn it, Harvey," I say irritably, "everyone here is wearing a mask!"
"And so are you. Use it to your advantage."
I groan and follow him as he weaves through the crowd. I scan the occupants of the ballroom, uselessly searching for anonymous master criminals. I see nothing but masks. I feel like I'd see the same thing even if they were in public.
A short, round man bumps into Harvey gently. His head is bald save for the sides, where grey hairs stick straight out. He's wearing a black suit and dark blue tie, with a matching mask. He grins with yellow, nicotine-stained teeth at Harvey.
"Psst, Harv," he whispers, "it's me!" The short fat man lifts his mask just enough for Harvey to catch a glimpse of his face.
"Good evening, Mayor Crup. How did you recognize me?"
"You wore the same bloody mask last year, boy. You have to mix it up a bit if you're going to fool old Crup."
"Apparently so, sir. Looks like a great party, so far," Harvey replies with a fake grin.
"A raging success, of course," the mayor replies, oblivious to Harvey's feigned flattery. "All my parties are. Come, let me introduce you to some people."
The mayor grabs Harvey's hand and pulls him through the crowd to a secluded corner where two men and a woman are drinking and chatting from behind their masks. The first man is of average height and build, and wears a top hat, and a red and black suit. His mask is bright red and covers his whole face except for his eyes. The second man is pale-skinned and wears a tight-fitting white suit, with a white mask that covers his eyes and curls upward from them into his platinum-blonde hair, and downward as well, next to his protruding cheek-bones. The woman wore a seductive black dress with fishnet leggings. She had a long curving body, accentuated by her dress and dangerously high heels. Her mask was black, though it's details were lost behind her long, raven hair.
"Harvey, this is Sir Steven Skellion, from Britain," Mayor Crup motions to the man in white, "Mister Josef Moria ,from Spain, and the lovely Miss Cynthia Asi, from France. They are with a group that gathers talented individuals from all over the world to join, and then they pick a city, and for one year, they go to that city to donate to its charity's and help make it a better place. This year, they've picked Pulopolis! Isn't that lovely?"
"Quite lovely, indeed," Harvey replies as he kisses Ms. Asi's hand. "What was the name of your organization, again, madame?"
"The Champions of Charity," says Mr. Moria stiffly.
"Well, Pulopolis is glad to have such generous benefactors as yourselves. Now if you'll excuse me, I think I'm going to mingle. If I don't catch you again, you all have a nice evening."
We melt into the ocean of aristocrats, and quickly out of the sight of the mayor and his European friends. Harvey looks up at me knowingly.
"So what do you think of so-called 'Champions of Charity,' Mark?" he asks me slyly.
"I think that we fou--" before I can complete my sentence, an explosion shakes the room. The wall opposite the doors is blown to bits, and dust and smoke cloud the air instantly. People begin to scream and run towards the doors, but there are too many of them to make any sort of real progress. There's another explosion, and I'm positive I see blood spray. The debris finally settles, and standing in the gaping wound in the mansion is a man wearing a black trenchcoat and masquerade mask. He is standing confidently with a handgun in one hand and a grenade in the other. He has a sadistic grin on his face, and scans the faces of the crowd hungrily.
"I am," the man yells, "the Black Enigma!"