I was waiting for him when he entered the motel room.
“Well, well, Jim, nice of you to drop by.” His grin didn’t drop. It never did. “To what do I owe this pleasure?”
“I’m here to ask you to stop.”
“Just stop. It’s gone too far. You used to be interesting. You used to play by the rules.”
“What rules are those?” he asked.
“You know the rules. Pick a gimmick. Commit some larger-than-life shenanigans. Screw around. But don’t just kill people. You do that, and you’re in my territory.”
“People will get hurt.”
“I get that. I accept that. But if all you’re doing is hurting people, you aren’t a joke anymore. You’re a dangerous maniac, a mad dog that needs to be put down.”
“Oh, come now. You must admit it’s fun.”
“No, it’s not. Eddie and his riddles. Those are fun. Pamela and her plants. Dangerous, but at least she stands for something. Oswald has his umbrellas, and they’re ridiculous, but at least he’s trying. What are you doing?”
“I’m anarchy personified,” he said.
“That’s a load of shit, and you know it. Anarchy is just an excuse to do whatever the hell you want whenever you want to do it. There’s no logic, insane or otherwise, to what you do. Not anymore.”
“But that’s the game.” He sat by the bed. There was a gun under the pillow. He didn’t think I knew. That flower on his lapel, a couple of years ago it would’ve squirted acid or laughing gas or something interesting.
Now all he did was shoot people.
“Games have rules. You can’t just blow up hospitals for shits and giggles. Or murder schoolchildren because you think it says something.”
“So they tell me, Jim, but I’m here to test that theory. I’m here to peel away the—”
“Knock it off. This is just us talking. He isn’t here. You don’t need to perform.”
“The truth then? The truth is that I really don’t give a damn about your city and its rules. I’m here to hurt people because it gets me off. Is that what you wanted to hear?”
“I don’t know. Is it?”
A shadow crept up behind him and wrapped a wire around his pale neck. His eyes bulged, and everything he pretended to be disappeared. His gimmick, his persona, his feigned madness, his ludicrous smile, all faded away the second he realized what was happening. I got up and left the motel room as Bruce strangled the life out of him.
It was better than he deserved. Still, I couldn’t help but feel bad. Maybe he had been right. There were no rules. Not that I believed that. There was right. There was wrong. In between, there was a lot of gray area to work with.
I lit a cigarette. I’d quit smoking last week. I’d quit smoking a lot.
“It’s done,” said Bruce quietly from behind me.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “Some souls aren’t worth saving. Are you going to be all right with this?”
“No, but one of us had to do it. It might as well be the vigilante.”
I turned around. He was gone. Just like always.
I shut the motel room door, pulled my coat tighter to keep away the chill air, and walked into the night.