As he stands the Ringmaster reviews the past week in his mind. He considers each detail carefully to be sure he followed every protocol accurately. There must be no question of his methods. A flawless presentation of the Auction results in a perfect decision by the Owners. And he was flawless, indeed, every Auction over which he presided resulted in a unanimous decision. Procedure produces perfection.
Eight stand around an ancient table, now, having made the Decision. The Ringmaster pulls out the gold watch in his pocket. 23:30. They are predictable. The last 3 Auctions ended at this exact time. The system is perfect. The Owners are exacting as they should be. Without emotion, he crosses the distance to the Finalist. He stands for a moment looking at her. “It is done.” He murmurs and grasps the painting gently removing it from it’s perch. He carries it to the back of the room and slips it through a slot cut into the stone wall. It disappears. He turns and walks back to the 8. “You are dismissed.” He says with a bow. A set of doors at the front of the room open. In silence, the 8 Owners leave the hall.
The Ringmaster oversees the clearing, gathering and incinerating their papers, computers and printers. The heavy curtains come down. The rugs and chandeliers removed until nothing but a hollow cavern remains. In the hopes that another Auction would not occur for many years, the Ringmaster retires to his isolated home. He’d accomplished another successful Auction. A satisfying way to end his career. He would never know of the aftermath. He would never hear the death toll. He would never know how the analysis of the 8 came to pass. How specific their measurements. How definite their expectations. How absolute their power.
As he sits comfortably in the wing back chair, the glow of the fire dancing around the room, steam curling up from his cup of tea, the red-haired woman in repose gazes out from the canvas. Another piece of art in his collection. Another symbol of a system sustained by the 8 Owners. He looks at the painting. Notices the detail, the folds of the dress, the barren grayness of the room in which she sits. He wonders who she is as he stares at her glowing face. Her eyes full of understanding seem to whisper, “I know the truth.”