As human beings, we sometimes - probably at least once in our lives - ask ourselves, in all seriousness, if we have what it takes to kill someone in cold blood. I'm not talking about killing a completely innocent person, but rather someone who we feel deserves it (whatever our definition of that might be), a killing in revenge or retribution or "moral outrage", rather than undisputed self-defense or just random mayhem.
Maybe the question comes in the form of the old "if you could travel back in time would you kill Hitler" mind-game, or maybe you see something horrible on the news and ask yourself if you'd pull the trigger on some serial rapist or mass murderer. If you're a bloody-minded person maybe you think about this more often than you'd like to admit. If you're a writer, especially a crime fiction author, you know you think about this a little too often...but hey, it's all in the name of crafting a good story, right?
This is the sort of question writer Mark Allen tackles in his short story, "The Killing Question". Private detective Jack Reece is offered one million dollars to track down the man who raped and brutalized a five year-old girl...and another four million dollars to kill the man once Reece finds him. At first Reece rejects the offer out of hand, but once he takes the million dollars to track down this loathsome scumbag, his mind begins to ponder if he has what it takes to pull the trigger and earn that extra money.
Although the story is relatively short, Allen writes a visceral, brutal tale about the seediest of underbellies, about the lowest scum of the earth and whether an honorable person could ever bring themselves to ending the lives of such terrible people. Allen's story is graphic and definitely not for the faint of heart or the queasy of stomach, but then again, that's probably how it should be. If vigilante violence were easy or pretty, the world would be an even bloodier place than it already is.