The bearded man comes into the lobby. I’ve been sitting here for about an hour, pretending to read some inane magazine about family fun. I look at him out of the corner of my eye. He is about a head shorter than me and forty pounds lighter, which is another way of saying that he’s a pretty big guy. He walks with a swagger as fake as the seven different IDs in my pocket.
I’m watching him walk up to the front desk. He and the woman at the front desk are talking. I don’t need to listen to the conversation. I know what it’s about. He’s asking for Trudy, his girlfriend. The woman behind the desk is chewing him out, saying that the maids aren’t allowed to visit during working hours. He spins a tale about being worried about her, that she hasn’t called him back. She’s telling him to leave before she calls security.
I stand up, following him out of the front entrance. He’s opening the door to a car. I liberate a bicycle from the bike rack, the cheap lock breaking as I kick it, once, twice. It’s close enough to rush hour that I could pass him if I wanted too. I don’t want to. I’m pedaling leisurely, following at a respectful distance. Not that this guy deserves any respect. There’s only one thing he deserves, and I’m going to give it to him.
I watch as he parks in front of a house. It’s a nice house, compared to the ones on either side of it. I get off the bike, head for the house. The door surrenders meekly to the same kick that defeated the lock. The knife is in my hand. The man has his back to me, having just put down his keys and wallet on a table there for that very purpose. There’s a mirror on the wall in front of him. He’s looking at me in it. I’m looking at me too.
More specifically, I’m looking at my eyes. The windows to the soul. In them, I see a calm veneer, like the deep ocean. Under the thin layer of a false sense of security, a leviathan stirs. It breaks the surface of the sea of me. My knife breaks the surface of his skin. As his heart envelops the cold steel, he slumps to the ground. I release the knife as he falls, letting it fall with him.
Silence. We were both silent for the whole exchange. We both knew why I was here. There was no need for discussion. My silence, an accusation. His, a confession. Justice had been served.
The police won’t see it that way, of course. They believe that only they can administer true justice. They’re wrong. They don’t understand anything. They can’t solve the mysteries that are child’s play for me. They couldn’t solve the mysteries that were child’s play for me and my brother. The Mystery of the Missing Oboe, The Case of Caveman’s Cavern, The Puzzle of Pumpernickel’s Mask. The police couldn’t solve any of them. We could solve them, and did solve them. Me and my brother. I am suddenly aware of how vile the bearded man’s crime really was. The murder of a loved one. How could you hurt anyone you loved? I think about my brother, how I could never hurt him. Rage. Unimaginable rage at his unimaginable crime. I see nothing but red.
I find myself in front of the house. A house. I can’t be sure it’s the house I was just in. The smoke and my memory both dark and hazy, obscuring the details of the house.
The house is burning. Why? Perhaps this was Billy Richard’s final fire, his last act and his eternal pyre. But you can’t start fires from beyond the grave, of this much I am certain. But who set the fire then? I didn’t do this. Or did I?
I’m in my hotel room. I don’t remember coming here, but I must have because, well, here I am.