21 Eden Road was a B& B of imposing Gothic design, situated on a quiet suburban road not far from the motorway. It was cheap, comfortable and very accessible to the many regulars that used it. However, few of them realised that on nights of a full moon they would never be able to make a reservation, as the house was always fully booked. Specific club members gathered then, under the watchful eyes of Mama Luna, a particular lady never seen at any other time. Sitting in a mahogany, fan backed chair that graced the large panelled hallway she welcomed her guests with a cheerful Caribbean greeting, while sipping a cocktail held in her wrinkled and be-ringed claw of a hand. It was impossible to give her an age, other than she was clearly very old.
Upon arrival, the special guests were allowed to enter by the usual custodians of the house, a couple who had arrived from the Dominican Republic almost fifty years previously and had gradually built up this business after their family and lodger friends had moved on. They were well known in the area, liked and respected by all, and largely kept themselves to themselves. Even their near neighbours knew little of them, and certainly nothing about their monthly club meetings. The Freemans were nothing if not discreet in their nocturnal activities.
The guests would emerge from their rooms dressed in long hooded cloaks and masks, which served to give them anonymity, although every month had different participants. Gathered in the spacious, candle lit dining room, the fifteen or so guests would take a seat in the horseshoe of chairs placed facing the central chair, now set behind a small table. This was the preserve of Mama Luna. Upon the table were two packs of cards, one white for truth and one black for dare. On invitation by a pseudonym, each guest would be called upon to choose, and then respond to the instruction written on the card. The chosen cards had an uncanny knack of knowing what question or what demand to make, of any given guest. It was a game manipulated and contrived by the enigmatic figure of the small boned woman, sitting in control of the meeting. All understood, that to refuse her or try to cheat the instructions meant an ignominious death.
It took courage to play the game here; the house always won.
“ Nightingale – truth or dare ?” asked Mama Luna, her gimlet eyes fixed on the portly figure enveloped in his cloak. The half mask on his face showed a beard and prominent hooked nose. After a slight pause, his strong voice chose Truth.
“ Tell us, how much money have you so far embezzled from your city council funds into your private bank account in Austria ?”
The man’s eyebrows arched in surprise, but bound to answer he hesitantly replied “ £300,000, so far”
Murmurs of appreciation surrounded him “Be careful – they begin to suspect” said Mama Luna with a raised finger and nod of head. As he sat down, another guest was called upon, and this time she chose Dare.
“ Housemartin – we dare you to subject your husband to an accident from which he will not recover!”
The woman blanched under her mask. She shook her head and whimpered a weak “Nooo, I cannot.”
“Of course you can – I see right into your heart. This is what you most desire – your freedom from the man you hate most. Do it, or it will be done to you ! You have until the new moon… I will know if you fail.” Mama Luna never raised her voice, just held the woman’s gaze.
Housemartin sat, her lips pursed in conflict until a quiet smile softened them, and she agreed.
Every person present chose to speak or do something, as demanded… The others bore witness to truths such as – when a child, one had accused a hated uncle of perversion, another had caused a divorce by photographing her employer with a lover and blackmailing her; another employed immigrant slave labour in his factory, and so on. The ‘dares’ included anonymously spreading rumours of a financial collapse within a rival firm, citing a Bishop in a gay liaison with photoshopped photos, and disclosing to the newspapers that a certain property investment scheme was actually financed by local drugs barons.
Each of the disclosures or dares was of direct benefit to the individual making the choice. How Mama Luna divined who knew or needed what, was never known but she was never wrong. Each guest had cause to be grateful for their invitation; none knew the criteria on which they had been chosen… They were all complicit through an unspoken trust and curiosity that had been spread and networked on rumours and their collective desire to personally succeed in life, at all costs.
Sure enough, the news soon reported that the Lord Chief Justice had taken a tumble on his marbled stairs, after drinking heavily one night. His distraught younger wife was quoted as saying that due to pressures of work, it had been an accident waiting to happen. He would be sadly missed by all… ( but her… ).