Which was how he heard the laughter.
We arrived outside the music room and stepping inside I saw Sky, Jag and Lyla stood beside a jet-black grand piano, placed at the edge of a square of varnished floor.‘Here, put these on,’ Lyla said, throwing a pair of super-high, shocking-red heels at me and, fearing impalement from the stilettos, I let them fall to the ground. I glanced at them and then back at my flat shoes. I caught Lyla’s glare, however, and decided it would be best to do as she said. I slipped them on, the thin straps digging into my skin. Straightening up, I glanced at the ground, noting that it was a lot further down than usual.
Sky sat at the piano and Fabian grabbed my hand, pulling me onto the dance floor. I teetered on the spot, grabbing him for balance. I blushed wildly and an apologetic look formed on my face.‘Violet, have you done any dancing before, other than this grounding?’ Sky called from the piano, where he sat playing scales up and down the piano, not paying the slightest bit of attention to his hands but never missing a note.‘Grinding,’ Kaspar, Fabian and I corrected in unison.
‘Well, whatever it is called, it is merely a filthy excuse to procreate in public. Young people these days … He trailed off, his voice full of disgust. A stifled snigger escaped my mouth and I saw Fabian’s lips twitch. ‘I will take that as a no, you have not danced before. Well, Violet, listen carefully. I am an impatient teacher. I will not wait for you to fall over.’ I sobered up, smile wiped from my face. ‘We will start with the box step for a waltz. Now, stop slouching and imagine there is a box on the floor. You are starting at the bottom left-hand corner. On beat one, step forward to the top left-hand corner … yes, like that,’ he said as I took a step forward. ‘On beat two, step to the top right corner with your right foot and on beat three the left foot follows.’ I did as he instructed. ‘And yes, bring them together! Good! Now, step back with your right foot and take your left foot back to your original position, the right foot following, and thus, you have completed your box. Good, now, try again …’Over and over I did this, Sky barking orders as the others watched from the sidelines, occasionally correcting a step. After a while, he told me to start rising and falling and whirling, which left my feet in a tangle but once ‘Box, remember the box!’ had been shouted at me a few times, they seemed to find their way and I was sweeping across the floor without any trouble.
He stopped all of a sudden. ‘I think you are ready to try it with a partner, don’t you? Fabian, if you will.’
I froze. This was the bit I was scared about. Fabian stepped forward, taking my right hand in his left. He placed my other hand just below his shoulder and his hand snaked around my waist, resting just above my hip. I tensed up as soon as he touched me, afraid of the contact.Claude staggered, tripped, then clumsily regained his balance and straightened himself up. His narrow eyes darted towards the stake and then back to the man stood in front of him. His lips curled back into a smile.
‘Tell me, Kaspar, how is your mother?’Out of nowhere, the pale man’s hand snatched forward, seizing Claude’s throat. Horrified, I watched as his eyes bulged and his feet left the floor, the colour draining from his face. He coughed and spluttered, his feet writhing in midair. His hands grappled with Kaspar’s wrists, but he soon began to give up as slowly, agonizingly slowly, he turned purple.
Without warning, the pale man let go. Claude crumpled to the ground, gasping for breath, feverishly rubbing his neck. I breathed a sigh of relief, but the man collapsed on the ground didn’t. His whimpers became pleas and his face seemed to show some sort of recognition as he stared up at the maddened face of Kaspar. He shuffled back, squirming and grabbing the hem of a coat one of his men was wearing. The man did not move.Kaspar’s chest was heaving and a deranged, sick expression was twisted onto his face. He lowered his hand, clenching it into a tight fist.