Jason began weaving in his lane a little. If he had an accident now, Emily would have to drive away and pretend that the evening had ended where they met, back at the bowling alley. Maybe he would get himself killed? If she’d thought that was likely, she would have doubled the dose of rohypnol in his beer. The idea was briefly amusing but she had only thought to grind up a single-milligram tablet anyway. Besides, with Jason’s luck, he would have wiped out a family of five and somehow inexplicably survived.

Brake lights on steadily now. He slowed down to 40mph, then 30, like he’d begun to look for something. And there it was, a break in the ranch fencing just wide enough for one vehicle to pass. Jason turned right through the gap, his truck jerking abruptly left to right over broken ground. The entrance was beset on either side by tall yellow and brown grass mostly concealing it. Emily could see that it was actually a small, concrete, single-lane bridge encasing a wide-mouthed corrugated-steel drain pipe. Before following him over, she stopped the car and began considering evidence and exit strategy. The drive was hard packed dirt and gravel; nothing soft enough to hold a tire impression. The way that Jason was headed, it led out to a gravel lot adjacent to a large multi-purpose barn.

For a moment, Emily wondered if it would be necessary to prevent Jason from escaping. Maybe she should leave her car wedged in the opening of the one-lane bridge? Just then she observed him have two near misses; one with a pump handle atop a well, and then another with the barn itself. He came to a stop hard enough to drag rubber on gravel and then sat there, conspicuously not smoking his cigarette. He was definitely flying the friendly skies.

Emily pulled up to his rear bumper, pulled on a pair of nitrile exam gloves, and popped the trunk. Show Me a Sign by Kontakt had just begun playing through the car from her iPod. With one leg out of the door, she let the song play for a few seconds before shutting down her engine. If she was going to receive a sign, that was surely it.

Next to Jason’s truck there was a wide-open bay in the barn. The kind with a giant garage door. This was clearly a shop judging from the band-saw, drill press, and work bench with parts everywhere. In the middle of the floor, lying on its side, was a slightly rusted 55 gallon drum. No doubt the drum that Alex spoke of. This was the spot.

With some pawing around on the inside of the doorjamb, Emily easily found a light switch. On came a single bare bulb hanging from the ceiling. Now to move Jason. She opened the driver’s-side door and there he sat with an inch-and-a-half ash hanging on the end of his cigarette. He hadn’t even put the truck in park yet. So she put it in park, shut it off, and relieved Jason of his smoke. She wrapped his left arm around her neck and started tugging him out. He was surprisingly cooperative with his feet, setting them down on the ground one at a time. Then there was a split second of alarm when he suddenly contracted his arm into a near headlock and used his right hand for a grope at Emily’s breast. Having satisfied the impulse, he relaxed again and she led him awkwardly over to the barrel and set him down and against it.

Emily went over to her trunk and withdrew the brown paper bag with the gun inside and a small polishing cloth. She laid the cloth out on Jason’s lap and proceeded to fieldstrip the gun, placing the pieces in his lap. With the slide and the receiver separated, she put the pieces into his hands one at a time and closed his fingers around them so to leave fingerprints in lots of internal places, especially remembering the body of the magazine. Then she put the gun back together.

It was important to be ready to leave as soon as the shot was fired. She put the cloth in the bag and the bag back in the trunk. She then started the car and left it running so there wouldn’t be any unexpected difficulty getting it going. Show Me a Sign resumed beneath the sound of the engine.

Emily stood still for a long moment to survey the scene and make sure she hadn’t forgotten anything. Unconsciously she racked one into the chamber. Even the bullet casings would have his partial prints on them. There would be plenty of alcohol and a little rohypnol in his system; but they would be chalked up to recreation.

Satisfied that it was time, she came around to kneel behind him and began practicing poses. It seemed she would need to hold his head up by the hair and, to maximize gun-shot residue on his hand and forearm, she found she could glove-puppet the arm by trapping his right index finger in between her index- and middle-fingers. She need only squeeze with the tip of her index finger. Hopefully the caliber would be small enough to trap the bullet inside his skull. It was a .380, significantly larger than a .22, but she couldn’t guess.

Moments like these change a person. There are things in life that you can’t undo. Powerful things. But Emily was completely clear about her motive for being here. This was not retribution, not vigilante justice. It wasn’t even about justice. This was about mercy; mercy for every future victim and for Jason himself. That’s why there would be no waiting for him to come around. No torturing him, no terrorizing, or making him feel afraid. He should go out just like this, without as much as a whisper.

If not, then the only predictable future for Jason was one of endless harm done to others. It would be fifty years of rapacious, predatory behavior. He would be an abusive husband and father. He might continue raping women when the instinct overcame him. In short, he was completely devoid of Kant’s categorical imperative. No instinct to choose the good, and no ability to keep choosing it. People like this don’t stop unless something stops them. There was such a thing as a person who simply needed killing.

All those people spared. In this respect, everything was really very simple. She took the slack out of the trigger and began squeezing. This could change her, it could change her whole life, but her mind was made up.


And a low peal as the bullet struck a steel girder.

So much for trapping it inside his skull. Instead it had exited through his upper left forehead throwing up a finer than fine red mist. Before Emily had fully processed what had happened, she actually inhaled some of it and tasted that sweet copper in the back of her throat.

It really was a defining moment. Not because it changed her, but because it didn’t. She felt exactly the same. Like a baby bird, astonished by its ability to fly for the first time, with no practice. The bird marvels, “Wow. I can do that? I can do that.” It doesn’t change the nature of the bird, but it changes the nature of the bird’s world. It has an entirely new reality on this basis. Being able to pull the trigger on someone revealed itself as a part of Emily’s substance, and it gave rise to a new reality. Hung up on the moment, she thought to herself, “I’m only 19.”

She laid the gun down carefully, walked over to the doorjamb, and hit the big green button beneath the light switch to lower the garage door. Back to the trunk she peeled off her gloves and put them in the brown paper bag, closed the trunk, and got in. As she fastened her seat belt, a thought flitted through her mind, “Will I ever find someone who could look at this and understand me?” She shoved the thought into the back of her mind along with the reminder of her tender age and gently drove back to the pavement of the highway.

After a half-hour drive home it was 2:00am. Her dad would be up in 4 hours and she customarily beat him to the shower. Quickly she stole up to her room to retrieve her bathrobe, then back down to the living room fireplace. Everything had to go. In went her blouse, skirt, socks, flats, and of course the brown paper bag with the gloves inside. She squirted everything with just a dash of charcoal starter from the kitchen pantry and tended the little fire until all was ash. She had been careful not to wear anything synthetic.

Finally came a long shower to freshen up and get rid of any residual cordite smell. She turned the water up as hot as she could stand it and brusquely put her head in the stream to trigger that gush of endogenous morphine. The joy of being alive in the now was spectacular.

Emily retreated to her bedroom, passed her hand over the light switch to turn it off, and moved quietly into the most treasured part of any 24 hours; meditating on her bed after a shower. There was something divine about the warmth of your robe and bed comforting your body; and the contrast of your head lying in the cool pool of your semi-wet hair.