Picture of the Devil and The Great Meliakoff
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The Great Meliakoff


the-great-meliakoff-posterSee The Great Meliakoff’s LAST EVER performance!

Anatoly Meliakoff was the greatest magician of his age. Crowds would flock from miles around to see him, trudge through mud and rain and snow to see him, and when a theatre booked him for a show word of his coming would race before him like fire until all the hotels were full and the whole town was ablaze with anticipation.

They queued around the block to buy tickets before the theatre even opened, huddled inside their coats beneath woollen hats and scarves, stamped their feet to drive out the cold as the lucky ones ran from the box office like lottery winners, holding aloft bright orange tickets, waving them at the gleeful crowd before hurrying off into the wind or the rain or the whirling snow.

He arrived out of nowhere. Just walked into Budapest one fierce summer noon, him and that dwarf of his, both of them dressed in bow tie and tails, dust on their shoes and sweat clouding their high, starched collars. He walked straight to the theatre and asked to be allowed to perform there that very evening, as though nothing could have seemed more natural.

Of course the owner, a greedy Sicilian called Giuseppe Palozzi, laughed at them and tried to turn them back out into the street, but Palozzi’s secretary still talks of how The Great Meliakoff closed the door to her boss’s office, of how she heard strange noises and saw coloured lights flash in the keyhole, of how after ten minutes the magician and the dwarf walked calmly out of the office and then Palozzi fell through the door behind them, sweating and wild-eyed and gasping for breath, and of how he ordered her to tear down the posters advertising that night’s show and replace them with bills for The Great Meliakoff’s first ever public appearance.

It was a dark, austere time in which joy was hard to come by, and The Great Meliakoff brought a flame of surprise and delight into this world. He turned chickens into eggs. He caused objects to levitate, to change colour, to burst into fire. He produced smoke from his mouth and wine from his shoes and he somehow managed to place a gold necklace into an elderly woman’s purse without ever going anywhere near her. Once he shipped a Bengal tiger all the way from India just to step into its cage and to emerge moments later holding a tiny kitten, right there on stage.

During his performances he was accompanied all the while by his dwarfish assistant, a small figure with scaly blue skin and a hideous grinning face whom he referred to as Azamat, his demon helper. Every time The Great Meliakoff performed a feat of conjuring the small figure would clap his hands and laugh, and then the magic would occur. The audiences loved it. A demon helper! Can you imagine? It was like nothing they’d ever seen before.

Of course, the more cynical members of the audience knew that what they were witnessing was all deception, that it wasn’t real magic, but they didn’t care. They were enthralled by the spectacle, dazzled by the showmanship, impressed by the seamless perfection of the lie.

It wasn’t real magic, of course, but as they asked themselves: what in the world is?

A Magical Spectacle the likes of which you have NEVER experienced before!

No-one knew why this would be his final show. No-one could fathom what had prompted him to draw the curtain on what had been an incandescent career. He was not an old man, after all; barely more than forty, and in apparent good health. Perhaps he wanted to get married, to settle down, to have a family? After performances he would invariably be found dining at the finest restaurants or taking brandy and cigars at the most exclusive clubs, always with a different woman on his arm; perhaps he had finally grown tired of this life?

There were rumours, of course. Petty minds and idle mouths are ever in need of novelty, and the mysterious coda to the career of The Great Meliakoff provided them with everything that they could have wished for.

“He’s dying of cancer,” they said, “All that magic is what’s caused it. It goes against God.”

“I heard he murdered someone back where he came from, and the police are onto him.”

“That’s not it. He’s in debt and he’s about to skip the country. Head west, jump on a steamer and flee to America. You mark my words.”

Who could say whether these theories were even partly accurate? The Great Meliakoff himself certainly never permitted even the most modest of glimpses behind his professional façade, even to the women with whom he spent so many nights, the consummate predators who would prowl outside his dressing room in scandalous dresses and dizzying heels, who would snare him and accompany him to the Mirbach Ballroom or the Danubia or the Hotel Rusovce, who would drink cocktails and laugh and dance and toss their hair, who would tumble into sterile, anaesthetising hotel bedrooms with him, drunk with wealth and fame, and who would emerge the next day into the disapproving light of morning, silent, ashamed and alone, no wiser than the city gossips to the truth of his life.

Who but The Great Meliakoff himself could know the truth?

Witness the Finale! See the GREATEST show on Earth!

On the night of his final performance The Great Meliakoff sat alone in his dressing room. All around him were feathers, glitter, sequinned costumes that spilled out from heavy trunks, blue and pink and purple. He sat at the dressing table and looked at himself in the mirror, and the naked bulbs buzzed quietly at him.

Picture him, in reflection: icy blue eyes, a neatly trimmed black moustache, thick black hair lacquered back and at the temples streaked with grey. Black jacket with shiny satin lapels. White dress shirt with silver studs. A neat black bow tie, sat like a beetle on his stiff collar. Square shoulders. Slender, sophisticated hands.

He did not practise any tricks, did not perform any exercises to warm up his fingers. He did not think forward to the performance. He did not run through his routine.

“It must end tonight,” Azamat had said.

“Why must it end?” he had replied.

“Tonight is as good a night as any.”

He thought for one final time about his life, about the decisions that he had made. About how it all began.

Anatoly Meliakoff had been just sixteen years old, living in a tiny village in the crumpled depths of an ancient country, when he had first met Azamat. For his birthday, after weeks of begging and pleading, Anatoly’s father had journeyed to the travelling market in Drobovce and bought him a deck of playing cards and a book of simple conjuring tricks. The book was second hand, bound in cracked red leather, but the cards were new, splashed with vivid effigies of a nobility long dead, and every day after school he took them to his room and devoted hours to learning the arcane deceit of legerdemain.

Anatoly Meliakoff dreamed of becoming the greatest magician in the world, dreamed of being able to do things that were entirely beyond either the ability or the comprehension of other men. In mere days he learned the basics of palming, stealing, ditching, loading and switching, and before long he could take a pocket watch from a man’s waistcoat, replace it with a flat white pebble from the river and then produce the watch from beneath the man’s hat, right before his very eyes.

He honed his craft, devoted hours to its study, and soon he was travelling at weekends to Drobovce to perform sleight-of-hand tricks at the market, and then he was travelling to Rašoy, and then to Cestejovice, and then even to distant Vlastravonín, and the purse of coins that he brought home each time grew heavier and heavier, and people began to talk of the magical boy from the village in the far hills.

Then one year, in winter, as drifts of snow piled against the house and ice cracked and clamoured at the windows, Anatoly’s sister Irina fell ill. She had always been a sickly child, pale and weak, but the fever that descended upon her came with a ferocity that neither she nor her family had experienced before. Her eyes sunk deep into their sockets, her skin turned grey and pallid, her gleaming blonde hair grew dull and clung slick and dark to her forehead. Every night Anatoly’s mother would boil up beef shins with vegetables to make broth and every night Anatoly would take the broth to his sister and sit with her as she sipped at it and sipped at it and then sank back onto the bed as though she were drowning.

And then, then what would Anatoly do? Then he would go to his room, sit cross-legged on his bed and practise his magic.

One day, as he was walking home from school through the strange dark forest that surrounded the village, ahead of him on the path Anatoly saw an odd figure sitting on a flat rock, sheltering from the snow beneath the thick boughs of a low, menacing fir tree. The figure was small, no bigger than a child, and he was wearing a black velveteen waistcoat and smart black trousers. At first Anatoly thought that the figure was wearing a mask and gloves, but he soon saw through the snow that the figure’s skin was in fact blue, and covered in scales. Anatoly tried to ignore him, as he knew only too well the stories of the goblins that lived deep in the forest, but as he came near the figure called out to him.

“Your sister is dead,” it said. The words were delivered bluntly and without compassion.

“She is ill,” said Anatoly, “She is not dead.”

“No, she is dead.”

Anatoly stopped and looked at the figure. Snow slid down around them from the low, slate-grey sky.

“How would you know something like that?” he asked.

“I know a lot of things. Word gets around, you know how it is.”

“Who are you, and why should I believe anything you say about my sister?”

“I am Azamat,” replied the figure, “And you don’t have to believe a thing I say.”

“Then I shan’t,” said Anatoly, and he started on down the path, “Good day.”

“What if I’m right, though?” Azamat called after him.

“What if you are?” Anatoly said, over his shoulder.

“What if I’m right, and she’s dead? What if I’m right, and she’s dead…and I can bring her back?”

Anatoly stopped walking.

“If this is some kind of trick,” he said, turning and advancing on Azamat.

“No trick, no trick.”

“What are you saying?”

“It’s simply as I’ve told you. Your sister is dead, but I can bring her back. To life.”

“I’m sorry,” said Anatoly, “I simply can’t believe you,” and he carried on down the path.

“I’ll be here when you change your mind,” said Azamat, and he produced a small ivory pipe and began to tamp a foul-smelling tobacco down into the bowl with a gnarled blue thumb.

It was only when Anatoly arrived home, when he pushed open the door, when he looked into his father’s eyes and he saw the glistening tears on his mother’s cheek, that he knew that what Azamat had told him had been the truth. Without a word he threw down his satchel, ran out of the house and, as his mother clung to the door frame and cried out after him, tore out of the village.

Before long he reached the place where he had found Azamat, and the odd little fellow was exactly where he had left him, still sitting on the low, flat rock, smoking a pipe and belching pungent yellowish smoke that sloughed up and stained the night air like a bruise.

“Do you believe me now?” he said as Anatoly staggered to a halt before him, bent over and heaving for breath in the snow.

“Will you come with me?” Anatoly’s voice came in gasps, thick and laboured, “Will you bring her back?”

“Of course. You had only to ask.”

Azamat hopped casually off the rock and began to walk down the path towards Anatoly’s village. Anatoly joined him. Even standing Azamat reached no further than to Anatoly’s waist, and Anatoly noticed that although he appeared to be barefoot the cold did not seem to affect him.

“We must hurry,” said Anatoly, picking his feet up in the snow.

“There’s no rush,” said Azamat, “We have all the time in the world.”

“But my sister—”

“Your sister is dead, but she is not going to become any more dead. We have all the time we need. You must trust me.”

“Trust you? You’re a goblin, how can I trust you?”

“Don’t be absurd. Goblins don’t exist.”

“If you aren’t a goblin then what are you?”

Azamat paused for a moment. Pipe smoke curled up beside his grotesque blue ear.

“Better that you don’t know, I think.”

They walked on through the snow, Anatoly frowning and biting at his fingernails, Azamat strolling beside him and smoking his pipe quite nonchalantly, until eventually the merry lights of the village poked at them through the wintry gloom. At this point Anatoly could wait no longer, and he took Azamat by his scaly hand and pulled him through the village until they arrived at the door of his house.

“She is upstairs. Save her, I beg you.”

He reached up to open the door, but Azamat took hold of his arm and stopped him before he could turn the door handle.

“I will save her,” he said, “But on one condition.”

“What condition?”

“You must understand that what you’re asking me to do is very difficult. Very delicate.”

“You said you could bring her back.”

“I can, I can,” the little figure looked up at Anatoly, “But really, who ever does something for nothing? I’ll bring her back for you, but I want something in return. Quid pro quo, as they say.”

“What is it that you want?”

“It’s just an agreement.”

“An agreement, just to save my sister’s life?”

“You could think of it as a contract, if that would help.”

“Do I have a choice?” asked Anatoly.

“We can negotiate, of course. Some of the terms and conditions are quite flexible. You could make the whole thing quite beneficial, I think. Yes, I suspect that this could be the start of something wonderful for you.”

In the dressing room of the theatre the chaotic sounds of the audience were indistinct. In the glare of the bulbs that framed his mirror The Great Meliakoff smoothed his hair, flexed his fingers, cracked his knuckles. A door opened behind him and a small figure walked in.

“It’s time,” said Azamat. Nothing more.

He will AMAZE and ASTOUND you! He will SHOCK and DELIGHT you!

The audience could barely contain themselves. The owner had sold far more tickets than the theatre could hold, and the stalls were overflowing. People argued and shoved one another for custody of oversubscribed seats and boxes. Malignant queues formed in the lobby. People improvised seats on balconies, on stairways, in the aisles. The air smelt of warm velvet and resin and simmered with anticipation, and the audience was not yet settled when Azamat strode into the centre of the stage and was illuminated by a piercing cone of light.

“My lords, ladies and gentlemen,” he said, “I present to you…The Great Meliakoff.”

He clapped his hands and a great tongue of blue flame leaped up from the side of the stage, through which The Great Meliakoff stepped onto the stage. Immediately the audience burst into wild applause. The magician raised his hands and appealed for calm.

“Tonight is my final act,” he announced, and a deferential hush descended upon the audience, and those members of the audience closest to him might have noticed that as he said these words his hands were trembling. Then Azamat clapped his hands, there was a blinding white flash, and all that remained of The Great Meliakoff was a crumpled pile of clothes where he had been standing on the stage. Then the magician strode onto the stage from the wings, smiling and waving, and the crowd erupted into joyous applause.

The Great Meliakoff ran through his routine, but an unusually perceptive observer might have suggested that the act was, for once, simply that: an act. A charade. His smile was false, his jokes and quips nothing but facsimiles. The joy that had characterised previous performances was absent. The audience could not know this, however; for them this performance was as astounding and stupefying and genuine as anything they could ever have imagined.

After an hour the audience was breathless, exhausted, physically and mentally overwhelmed by the impossible feats that they had witnessed, and many were relieved when The Great Meliakoff walked solemnly to the front of the stage and bowed low.

“Ladies and gentlemen, we have reached the end of the show, and indeed, the end of my career. For the last time, goodbye and—”

“Not yet,” whispered Azamat urgently, tugging at the tails of his jacket, “The finale. Remember? You must do the finale.”

“I can’t,” whispered the magician.

“You must. You must do it.”

For just a moment The Great Meliakoff seemed to sag down into himself, then he thrust forward his chest and flashed the audience a smile.

“I must be losing my memory in my old age,” he announced, to laughter from the audience, “Azamat has reminded me that I’d almost forgotten the grand finale,” a cheer from the crowd, “So now, without further ado, I will end the show with my greatest ever feat. A spectacle of pure magic that has never been seen before, nor ever will again.”

The audience seemed to surge forward in their seats as a single entity. Azamat hopped from foot to foot, leering horribly.

“Is there a doctor in the house?” asked The Great Meliakoff. The house lights were raised, a hand went up at the rear of the hall and the magician requested calmly that the short, balding man join him on the stage. As the doctor picked his way through the congested aisles, as the audience watched his progress anxiously, jealously, The Great Meliakoff made a second request.

“I now require a volunteer,” he announced. There was a rush of noise, a tumult of motion, and a hundred hands were immediately thrust upwards.
“The volunteer must be extraordinarily brave, however,” he went on, “For my finale is no ordinary trick. It is no mere rabbit produced from a hat, no mere levitating woman, no mere discourse with the spirits. No; for my final act I will kill a member of this audience and then bring him or her back from the dead.”

Suddenly the hands that had been raised were retracted, and an anxious hush fell upon the audience. People held their hands firmly in their laps and glanced at one another only cautiously, fearful that any movement might cause the great magician to pluck them from the crowd.

“No-one?” said The Great Meliakoff, “Is there no-one who will volunteer? Well, in that case—”

But then, amongst the dark sea of faces: an arm, a hand. Pale, almost luminescent in the gloom. Unmistakable.

“There! There!” said Azamat, pointing his grotesque blue finger into the auditorium, and for just a moment The Great Meliakoff’s professional façade seemed to slip: the smile flickered, a spark of fear glimmered in his eyes. He raised his arm slowly, laboriously, as though it were not his own, and pointed towards the hand. A beautiful young woman with long blonde hair and a low-cut black dress stood up and smiled enigmatically at the magician. He beckoned her forward, and she glided towards him as though impelled by a curse. When she arrived on stage he gathered her up in a powerful embrace, clasped her head to his chest and whispered urgently into her ear: “I can’t do it. Not to you.”

“Anatoly, if you do this you will be remembered forever,” she whispered back, “You must do it.”

“I can’t put you through it again.”

“Trust in yourself. You did it then, you can do it now. I was your first trick; it is fate that I should be your last.”

The Great Meliakoff released the woman from his embrace and held her lightly by the hand as he stared deep into her eyes for some moments. He turned to face the audience.

“Ladies and gentlemen, I have been caught by the most wonderful surprise,” he said, “This is my sister. This is Irina Meliakoff.”

As the audience applauded he led her to the side of the stage, near the wings, and Azamat gave her a red rose and then conjured up a ring of small green flames that licked up around her from the scuffed wooden boards.

“Please stay perfectly still,” said The Great Meliakoff, and then he positioned himself at the opposite side of the stage with the doctor. He raised his arms, a signal that the audience interpreted correctly, and a deathly hush fell upon the theatre. The Great Meliakoff took one step towards Irina, looked once at the audience, then slowly, slowly, turned and looked her in the eye. He held her gaze for what seemed like forever. The audience looked on spellbound, and at that moment he seemed to be in control of time itself. Untouchable, immortal.

Suddenly he reached inside his jacket and produced a gun, an ugly black pistol, pointed it straight at Irina’s heart and, almost before the crowd could draw breath, pulled the trigger.

There was a deafening blast, a puff of smoke that bloomed silver against the dark curtains that hung at the back of the stage, and Irina fell back into Azamat’s eager embrace. Several women screamed. The doctor started forward then halted, uncertain of how to proceed. He looked back at The Great Meliakoff, and the magician nodded at him. The doctor rushed to Irina’s side, threw off his jacket, began to roll up his sleeves, but by the time he had knelt down beside her and pressed his hands to her bloodied chest it was already clear that his skills could do nothing for her.
The doctor stayed beside her for a moment, his head bowed, then he slowly got to his feet. Azamat scampered over to him and handed him a soft white towel, and the doctor wiped his hands.

“She’s dead,” the doctor said quietly, his face a confliction of fear, confusion and accusation. His hands left furious red streaks on the towel.

On hearing his words an uneasy murmur rumbled through the audience. They’d thought that the magician had been joking or playing with words when he’d announced his finale, but the woman was truly dead; and how could a death possibly form part of a magician’s act? The Great Meliakoff slipped the pistol back into its concealed holster and walked to the front of the stage.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” he said, “I promised you a feat of magic that has never been seen before. Doctor! You have examined her?”

“You saw me do it.”

“And in your professional opinion, you are satisfied that she is dead?”

“Sir, this is abhorrent. I refuse to—”

“Doctor, please, if you would answer the question.”

“Yes. She is dead.”

“She is dead, ladies and gentlemen. Passed over. Crossed to the other side. Taken her place in the spiritual realm. Completed her final journey. Did I say final? No—it need not be final. The journey need not be one way, and here, tonight, I intend to prove it. I will bring this woman, my sister, back to you. I will bring this woman back from the dead.”

The gasp that came from the audience at this announcement was so powerful, so emphatic, that it seemed almost to take on a life of its own, pulsating and expanding and swirling up into the darkness above the stage. Some members of the audience began to tremble, some to feel unnaturally cold, some to shiver uncontrollably; it was as though the entire theatre had been caught in the grip of some ancient near-Eastern curse. By the time The Great Meliakoff had taken up his position beside the body of his sister the audience had become a part of the performance.

The Great Meliakoff bent over Irina’s body, closed his eyes and spread his arms wide. He held this position for some thirty seconds, aware of the rising tensions in the audience and exploiting it, harnessing it, entirely without shame. Suddenly he stood up straight and brought his hands together, sending up a clap so loud and so sharp that several women gave out cries of alarm. The Great Meliakoff smiled, leaned down over his sister and offered her his hand.

She did not move.

The Great Meliakoff waited for a moment, perhaps for a moment too long, then he stood up straight once more. He licked his lips and swallowed, then he bent over her again, closed his eyes, spread his arms out wide. Azamat had taken up a position alongside the doctor, and the two of them looked on with curiosity and amazement and horror.

Once more The Great Meliakoff held his pose, but this time whatever spell of anticipation he had woven before was absent, and murmurs escaped from the crowd and whirled about the auditorium. Once more he stood up straight and brought his hands together, and once more the clap reverberated about the theatre, and once more he leaned down over his sister and offered her his hand.

Once more she did not move.

By now the audience had become restless, and an air of malevolence simmered in the theatre. The Great Meliakoff whirled around and turned on Azamat.

“What are you doing?” he cried, “Why are you just standing there? For God’s sake, why don’t you do something?”

“You’re the magician, not me,” said Azamat, “You bring her back.”

“You know damn well I can’t! Bring her back! Bring her back like you did before!”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Of course you do! Bring her back!”

“Really, I don’t—”

“We had an agreement! We had a deal!”

Azamat turned to the doctor, shrugged and shook his head sadly.

“I’m sorry,” he said, “But I really haven’t the faintest idea what he’s talking about.”

The air crackled with hostility. Anatoly Meliakoff’s brow glistened with sweat, and strands of his lacquered hair had worked their way loose. The spotlights seemed to have intensified, magnifying the light and pouring it onto him in a great incandescent torrent. The doctor stepped towards the magician and raised his hands in a gesture of conciliation.

“Mr Meliakoff—” said the doctor.

“I can do it,” said the magician, “I can bring her back to life.”

“Mr Meliakoff, that woman is dead. Bringing her back to life would not be a magic trick, it would be a miracle.”

“I can do it. Believe me. I can bring her back.”

He bent over his sister once more, closed his eyes and spread his arms, but by now the crowd had turned on him, were in no mood to tolerate this horror, and they roared and bellowed and hurled coins that rattled and skidded across the stage.

“Monster!” they shouted, “Murderer!”

The doctor came up behind the magician, took hold of his shoulders and tried to guide him away from the body, but he twisted his shoulders powerfully and shook him off.

“I can do it!” he cried, again and again.

The doctor grabbed hold of Anatoly’s arm and tried to yank him away, but again the magician resisted. A man leaped up from the audience, clambered onto the stage and took hold of the magician’s other arm, and the doctor and the man pulled him away from the body of his sister. Anatoly Meliakoff kicked and struggled, spat curses and protests, but between the two men they dragged him to the side of the stage and held him until he fell silent.

“You don’t understand,” he said quietly, shaking his head, “I can save her. I can bring her back.”

“No you can’t,” said the doctor, “She’s gone.”

Anatoly Meliakoff looked at the doctor. His eyes closed, his arms fell limp at his sides. Silently, tremulously, he began to cry.

The crowd fell silent once more, their humanity allowing him this moment, and they watched like mourners as he wept, as he shook with grief, until his tears subsided and he opened his eyes once more.

“Will you release me? Let me go?” he asked. The doctor and the man looked at one another, but they did not relax their grip on him. “It’s all right, the show’s over, I’m not going to do anything,” he said, “I just want to say goodbye. To her.”

Slowly and deliberately the doctor released Anatoly Meliakoff’s arm and, on seeing this, his other captor did the same. Anatoly Meliakoff walked slowly across the stage towards his sister, his footsteps the only sound in that silent auditorium. When he reached her body he knelt down and embraced her, stroked her golden hair and kissed her smooth cheeks, lifted her up and held her lifeless head against his chest, and when he finally let her go the spotlights glittered in the fresh tears on his cheeks.

At the rear of the auditorium a number of policemen had appeared, blunt, taciturn men with thick moustaches and brows as heavy as their uniforms, and when Anatoly Meliakoff looked out over the audience and saw them waiting at the exits he understood that his fate was already written.

He turned and looked at Azamat, who had concealed himself in the wings. The little blue demon shook his head, smiled melancholically at him and whispered: “The show’s over, Anatoly.” Then he clapped his hands once, so softly as to be almost inaudible, and at the back of the stage a long black banner slowly unfurled. On it was a single word, white on black, painted in heavily ornate script: ‘FIN’.

When Anatoly Meliakoff saw this he got to his feet, though he did so slowly, hauling himself upright as though his body suddenly weighed vastly more than it had. He turned to the audience and bowed, low and graceful, and then, before they had a chance to react, he reached into his jacket and pulled the pistol from its secret holster. It glittered darkly in the searing glare of the spotlight, and when the audience saw it in his hand they gasped, grabbed each other, held their breaths, for they could see that the humanity had been driven from his eyes.

Anatoly Meliakoff held up the pistol and examined it. It felt heavy in his hand. As he watched the light play on its dark, cruel barrel he was only dimly aware of a commotion coming from the back of the auditorium, only dimly aware that gluts of policemen were tumbling towards the stage, and as he pressed the pistol’s cold barrel against his temple he did not hear the shouts and screams of the audience that tore through the auditorium like evil spirits.

The pistol felt heavy in his hand. He did not look at Azamat, who was still smiling melancholically at him from the wings, still shaking his head. He did not look at the doctor, who stood rooted to the spot by fear and fascination. He did not see the first of the policemen reach the stage, did not hear him shouting. He did not hear the audience. He looked at his sister, still tiny and fragile even in death. He looked at his sister and he felt guilt and sadness and envy.

The pistol felt heavy in his hand. The trigger was cold and fragile against the soft belly of his forefinger. The air in the auditorium was hot and still. The banner that hung down behind him said ‘FIN’, white on black, in heavily ornate script.

Final EVER performance! Limited availability! The Great Meliakoff will NEVER be seen again!

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