Ross Reed came home to find Diana was gone, and so were her sister and parents. There was a cold Totino’s pizza on the counter, mostly eaten. The post-it note beside it said, “Had to go out. We’ll be back before late. Feel free to use the computer.”
Ross went up to the second story and into the master bedroom, from which he could see the town hall. Most of the cars were gathered there in the parking lot like bodies in graves, and the windows were lit up yellow like construction paper cut-outs. If there was smoke in the sky – and there must have been – it was impossible to see against the night. He understood why he had not been invited, and was glad not to be there.
* * *
A week passed. There was another meeting.
It was easy and simple for Floyd to agree that John Taylor would have to be killed. It was needless to talk about why. John, who had seen the necessity of Mr. Reed’s death, but expressed neutrality as a personal matter, was also neutral concerning his own life, and thus allowed to attend the meeting. The most rousing speech was made by Ross Reed, who was himself scheduled to be murdered within the week by Mr. Taylor, though officially he did not know this. Without pointing to the character flaws of him on trial, or his sins, or even his name, Reed alluded to them all, and in so doing summoned such a feeling of loathing and pity in Floyd that none could deny the necessity of what they would do later, while John was asleep.
“What is it to kill another human being,” said Ross, “if not to destroy yourself?” He paced the center of the hall. He was not wearing his leather jacket, only his best Iron Maiden T, which rode up on his gut with each wild motion of his arms. “What is it to own the weapon, but to plan the act? How is planning another person’s destruction unlike undertaking it yourself?” He turned now to look at his mother. “In short,” he spat, “what’s the difference?”
He repeated himself: “What’s the difference?”
At their next meeting they would talk of Fat Steve, who might come or might not, and would not change or challenge the outcome. Theirs was a reasonable community, and careful, and when something needed doing they did not shy from the task. It was agreed that they would not go too far, that most of them could go on living – but given their perfection of the method with Hal Reed, and the goodness of the outcome, it was certain that they would do with other miscreants and slugs as they had done with him, and that Floyd would be better off for it. The important thing was that they were scrupulous, discerning, and the process democratic.