It was a murmur he’d heard at least ten thousand times before. The one minute and twenty seconds of silence after the pre-show music was simply too much provocation for some; the restlessness spreads with the passing of every second, it gnaws relentlessly on expectant minds, raising questions and heightening tension. After twenty seconds the curious ones will crane their necks, looking for signs from the galleries. Closer to a minute they begin to whisper to their neighbours, “Where is he? What could be taking so long?” It is just at this moment, just before doubts begin to take seed, when he saunters out onto the stage and stands for another twenty seconds in the low light like a shadow on the wall. And that is what he did.
Tonight was not a night like the others. He was performing in a true theatre, old and prestigious with an air of the early nineteenth century. It boasted floral gold trimmings, red velvet carpet and laquered redwood that propped up heavy facades, allowing the past to seep unencouraged out of the ceilings and walls. He’d even had the tickets printed on heavy paper and embossed with gold ink. This was the show of the new century, the one they would be debating for years to come. Tonight he would show them something new and it was going to be the best show of his life, if not the last.
Driven by the low hum of violas, artificial smoke rolled about his feet and turned crimson as the light show began. At this point he could feel the sense of relief in the crowd, the emptying of their scepticism and consciousnesses.
“Every one of you out there,” his voice boomed from the rear of the hall back to him “Every one of you has a story. This story is so amazing and ancient that you could fill a thousand pages if only you knew how to access it. But it is hidden. It is secret. But somehow you know that it lays deep inside of you. Tonight you and I are going to help tell that story.”
He snapped his fingers. Cue lights. Snapped them again. Cue music.
The unseen orchestra whirled the crowd to attention. Sebastion Köln raised his head and paced from one end of the stage to other, smiling and waving to the cheering audience like a game show host. Make them feel like everyone of them could win a prize. Make them happy and forget their problems just for a short while was the rule. But there was a serious side to the event that had to be acted out. He ensured that his smiles were not overdrawn and that his eyes remained grave as if he were reading the thoughts of every soul in the room. He had also gone four days without shaving to lend a mature force to his boyish profile; he usually he left it for five but he was in London and there was much to do that required a straight jaw and a smooth chin. The attire, also carefully chosen, a black striped suit, black turtle neck, no tie, was in no way striking and the plain gold band on his left ring finger had a dull shine. He bowed and waited for the music to die down. He felt a bead of sweat make its way from the middle of his back up to his neck. Music down, lights softened. Eyes open, rise and place hands together. The routine.
“Ladies and gentlemen. If you could see what I see. If you could all feel what I feel tonight, you would forget all your fears. You would say to yourselves, despite all the hurt, the hate and troubles of the world, the seemingly endless conflicts, the pain, you would say to yourselves, ladies and gentlemen, ‘things are going to be alright’. You see there’s no need to be afraid.”
Köln’s eyes scoured the rows of seats before him. He lifted his hands and pushed out from his breast. The violas ebbed into a drone.
“Now I want you all to concentrate. Concentrate on those you love. Those you have lost. Close your eyes if you have to. Reach out. Can you feel it? Can you feel it?” The house obeyed. Hands shot in the air. Heads rolled back and forth as if they were lost in an ancient trance.
“Someone from the other side has joined us. A woman. A young woman. She’s having trouble breathing. I want you all to concentrate. Please focus on the moment. Yes, I can feel her presence growing stronger. I’m getting a Raquel or Rebecca. Does the name Raquel or Rebecca mean anything to anyone?”
A few hands went up, but no hits. The names weren’t true baiters, but his cold days were long gone. He knew the target was out there, or at least in the building. If he was in the toilet, he could easily stall for ten minutes or so or simply move down the list and allow the link to resurface later.
“She’s trying to say something but her breath is short. She’s trying to say something. I think, yes, her accent, it sounds like a northern accent. I could be wrong ladies and gentleman, a linguist I am not.”
Köln brought his hands together as someone in one of the back rows raised his hand. There he was. After all this time.
“Sir, thank you. Please sir, stand up. I’m seeing her more clearly now. Rebecca not Raquel, that’s right isn’t it?”
The heads in the crowd turn to face the man, who nodded. He was not an unusual figure, of middle weight and height, his skin was slightly tanned and his black hair cropped short. His only discerning feature was that his right ear was nearly twice the size of his left. Köln had been waiting for this moment for five years; the clues had been laid across time like a trail of sawdust leading to the cutting blade, a battle of intellect between two great deceivers, in which each opponent tried to expose the frauds of the other.
“Rebecca, yes, she is here with us now. Ladies and gentlemen, Rebecca wants to say something to you, sir. She wants to ask you a question. But first I would like to ask you, is your name Jones? She is telling me that your name is indeed Jones.”
The man folded his arms and nodded. “Jones it is,” he said and the crowd whispered and nodded its approval. “What is the question? I have been waiting to hear it for so long, Mr Köln.”
Köln swept his feet along the stage as he paced back and forth. He brought his hand to his chin, stroked his goatee and looked at the anxious faces of each person in the front row. At the back of the room, members of the security regiment had already shuffled in and were now behind the pillars, waiting for the signal. Köln pointed at the man, filled his stomach with air and squeezed out with all the drama and strength he could summon: “Rebecca is asking you, ‘Why did you kill me, Jones? Oh why, did you kill me, Carnival Jones?’”