Leopold straightened his shoulders and raised his chin. In utter silence, he pulled the string that tied his cape and released the knot. With a soft whoosh of fabric, the cape slid from his shoulders and pooled on the stage floor at his feet. Deftly, he opened the buttons of his coat, and keeping the audience under his cool gaze, he whipped it so quickly off his arms and shoulders, that a woman in the front row gasped.
With two delicate fingers, he raised his hat, as if doffing it for a lady. He showed the white satin of the interior to the audience and, never moving his gaze from the far seats, dropped it softly onto his coat and cape.
In only his shirtsleeves and waistcoat, he carefully removed each glove in turn, first the left, then the right, leaving them on the pile of clothing. He took another breath before rolling up the sleeve of his left arm. When it was folded back to his elbow he finally flicked his glance to his white forearm. Like a bracelet, the dark tattoo encircling his wrist shown starkly against his pale skin. Its intricate design wove in and out of itself almost in the form of a Celtic knot but was nothing so whimsical. For the Eye of Providence etched on the inside of his wrist, right at the pulse point, took any possible quaintness away from the black design. The eye stared back at him with intricate detail as if it were capable of blinking at any moment. He had wanted the mark once, begged for it. Now he hated the sight of it.
Holding his marked wrist forward toward the audience, he pulled a small item from the pocket in his waistcoat with his free hand. He held it with two fingers, the other three digits poised above it. It was second nature, this expression of his fingers, always proving to the punters that nothing was in his hands, all the while hiding whatever he wished in the palm of it.
But this time, there was nothing but the small object, that when he pushed a button with his forefinger, snapped a blade out of the handle. The sound was so sudden and so loud in the complete silence that a woman or two…and even a few men…let out a protracted shriek.
Light gleamed off the blade. It was sharp. Had to be. He stood, positioning his legs apart, fist at the end of a naked arm stretched out so taut the blue veins beneath his skin pulsed. The knife poised. He dreaded the moment.
With a flash he struck.
There was just a slash at first on the delicate skin. A gash of torn flesh. But then the blood welled, filling the slash, until there was so much of it the red spilled out over his wrist, marking its own trail in crimson, like a bracelet. And then the drip, drip onto the stage floor.
He could feel the audience tense, feel their inheld breaths. So quiet, he could hear each droplet as it splashed to the plank floor at his feet.
He stared at his life’s blood pooling and took a final deep breath.
“Ani metzaveh alaycha, lachshof et atzmechah!” he cried.
A pause, as if the very Earth hesitated, waiting.
The puddle of his blood shifted. Rippled. A crease of light, then a blinding flash exploded from the floor. The audience screamed. Leopold could do nothing about it. He had to hold his arm forth, fist closed tight. The arm trembled but he held it steady, even as blood continued to drip, drip from it.
The light blasted over him, flinging back his hair. He looked into the blinding abyss, saw the shapes move and contort in shadows beneath the light that slowly dimmed. And as it receded, a figure formed and rose out of the blood. Its head hung low. The shoulders seemed to rise first as a great hulking shape, and then the head lifted. Horns resembling those of some great African beast, twisted and towered above his head. His skin was textured like a lizard’s and was as dark red as Leopold’s blood. His muscled body stood taller than the magician, with thick thighs and wide shoulders. And he was nude but seemed not to care about this state as he surveyed the crowd with disdain. “Who has summoned me?” he bellowed, voice like a black cloud before a thunderburst.
Women had not stopped screaming and now that the smoke had cleared he saw many of them scrambling for the exits. No! They mustn’t leave before the complete performance.
“I have summoned you!” he declared above the noise of screams and running feet. “And I alone control you.”
The rumbling of panicked citizens died off, as some lingered by the exits, thrown in confusion by the spectacle before them. Was it only a show? Was it something else, something horrific? Female faces turned away, but just as many eyed the naked daemon with fascination.
“I command you,” Leopold said, turning toward the demonic apparition, “to conjure doves. Doves of peace to calm the crowd.”
The daemon lifted his hands and out of them appeared from nowhere white, spotless doves that flew into the audience.
But that only seemed to set off a new chorus of screams and they ducked and flung their hands over their heads, shooing the fluttering doves away as if they were vermin. No one stayed in their seats.
“Wait!” Leopold called to the audience. He stood at the footlights, watching helplessly as his entire audience ran over themselves to escape. Men trampled men and women fell to their knees, weeping. Brave souls helped them up, tugging them away from the apparition on the stage. Even the orchestra had ducked out through their trapdoor, leaving a disarray of fallen sheet music and tipped music stands.
It wasn’t long before no one remained. Even the stagehands had fled in terror at this unexpected flourish from their disagreeable master.
The doves circled the empty seats, leaving their white droppings on the dark velvet.
Leopold waved his hand at them. “Enough!”
They vanished without so much as a whisper.
“Tough luck, old man,” said the daemon in a perfectly modulated West End baritone.