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Curtain Call

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Ben Hawkins enjoyed what he was doing.

After all the tension of this day and night, all the accumulated frustrations of his months with Carnivale, Ben Hawkins thoroughly enjoyed what he was doing.

Enjoyed screaming, "Take a good look, you sonofabitch!" Enjoyed tightening his grip around Lodz's neck. Enjoyed seeing the light go out in those terrified eyes.

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But as he sagged back against the wall, his euphoria was already fading.

Wh-what did I just do?

I killed a man. And I didn't have no real proof he'd killed Ruthie, just Management's say-so.

It looked like Lodz had been deceivin' me and everyone else about bein' blind. But that wouldn't prove he killed Ruthie...

Management observed smugly, "It appears we are of ilk nature after all."

Ben shuddered.

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He got to his feet and looked at the deep red curtain that concealed the master manipulator.

"I ain't sure I shoulda done that," he said slowly. "You - you didn't give me no real proof!"

Management was silent. If he had proof, he evidently wasn't going to put Ben's mind at ease by providing it.

Ben tried to suppress other thoughts that danced around the edges of his consciousness.

Even if I'd known for sure that Lodz killed Ruthie, would that give me the right to be judge, jury, and executioner?

If he was the killer, did I have the right to kill him because I was doin' it to bring Ruthie back?

When I killed him, was I actually thinkin' of that? All I can remember now is bein' furious and wantin' revenge...

Management laughed softly. "You seem distressed. Are you having second thoughts? It's a bit late in the day for that!"

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"You're evil," Ben whispered.

"Quite true," Management said lazily.

"You wanted me to kill someone. You didn't really care who it was. You just got some sick satisfaction out of seein' me kill!"

"True again," Management agreed. "Has your father told you what a bright boy you are?"

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Ben headed for the door. But Management's mocking laughter stopped him dead in his tracks.

"You disappoint me, Ben. Don't you want to know who goaded you to kill?"

Ben turned to face the curtain. It hadn't moved.

"Aren't you curious about the secret of this trailer?" The voice was insinuating now, tempting. "Don't you want to know who's prompted Samson in all his actions? Who's prompted Lodz in his? Neither of them had the courage to pull the curtain aside. I hoped you might.

"Come and take a look, Ben. What's stopping you? Are you that afraid of what you may see? Are you just another coward?"

Ben was there in one bound. He was in fact terrified. But he didn't let himself stop to think, just whipped the curtain aside.

And then he began to scream, and couldn't stop.

For behind the curtain was...

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A mirror.

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(The End)