WHEN IT FINALLY CAME to him the decision was simple. The last death would be random, a convergence of time and circumstance. The last killing, the fifth killing, would be someone that Cliff had not yet met, a result of an occurrence that had not yet happened. At its core, The Terminal List was all about revenge, about setting wrongs right and about forcing people to understand the potential ramifications of their actions, their rudeness their arrogance and their lack of concern for their fellow man. Cliff was sick and tired of a world of selfishness. He was tired of people's lack of concern with anyone they did not see in the mirror. Cliff could not change the world, he was not trying. He could alter the path of a few lives, in fact he could and he would end some lives, which on some small scale would make this world a better place. Some people had hurt others enough. There was time to stop some future wrong, perhaps just enough time.
Cliff had spent weeks passing judgment on dozens of people who had wronged him over the years. Most had lived, four had died, and none was ever told that they were on trial. Some would say it was trial of a madman, but Cliff would disagree. Cliff was a complex man, a dispassionate man; but not a madman. A madman would kill for pleasure, without restrictions or limitations. A madman would kill indiscriminately, without a trial, even if the trial was of the homemade variety. Cliff had spent weeks finalizing The Terminal List. Judge, jury, and executer, he was one in the same.
Cliff killed only under the terms and conditions allowed by The Terminal List. Over the years, The Terminal List had become one of Cliff's best friends. It was a security blanket that provided his checks and balances for living. Cliff knew that he would die someday, it was preordained like taxes. The final Terminal List was the "Bronzed List" of the five people who would accompany him on his final death journey. It contained the five people who had most wronged him or wronged society. It was the five people he deemed without conscience who would repeat grievances as long as it was convenient or as long they could get away with it. The purpose of The Terminal List was not to change society; society would not change. The Terminal List was a vehicle to stop the offenders in Cliff's life.
Cliff had often mused about the hidden potential power of The Terminal List. Two and a half million people died in the United States each year with the vast majority having some form of advanced warning: diseases of death or simple old age. Each one has a choice, either die with a whimper or die having exacted terminal revenge on an enemy. Being diagnosed as terminal is akin to a "get out of jail free" card, a formal reprieve from society's boundaries, and an amnesty from society's ability to punish. Once one is diagnosed as terminal, laws no longer really apply. Nothing changes one's destiny. Nothing alters one's death sentence. Should terminal patients choose the path of life's revenge, and the evening up of old scores, it goes to figure that the world would become a better place. Those killed would be the ones who hurt others, whose offenses were bronzed on somebody's Terminal List, a formal proclamation that these offenders were of more value dead than alive. Those remaining would be the nice people, the ones who respected the lives, dreams, and boundaries of their fellow man. The world would be a nicer, gentler place.
The Terminal List was unique to Cliff, it went no further. The Terminal List had already directly resulted in four people dead, but there was still one to go. Indirectly, The Terminal List had caused the death of a few others, but not as a direct result of Cliff's hand. It was collateral damage in military speak, but these casualties were not part of The Terminal List. They were never a part of The Terminal List. Cliff might be a psychopath, but he was a sane one.
One death to go, this was Cliff's final mission. Number five had to count; there would be no number six. Cliff had no regrets about the first four. They had been given a fair trial, even if it was only in his mind and he was comfortable with the decisions. Four people were dead, be it revenge or murder, it was all in the eye of the beholder, and it was in the past. Number five would be different. Number five would die for an act that had not yet been committed, or an act not discovered. It might be for a personal affront against Cliff or he could choose to respond to a grievance against society. There were no rules, only limits and the limit was five. There would be no retribution, and there would be no punishment for completing the list. Cliff's final execution could result from any action. That was a thought that excited Cliff. The Terminal List had previously been a rather static list of people whose death had been sealed through Cliff's illness. It had come down to the simple questions of how, when and where. But Number five turned the list to a dynamic process, it was now a hunt. A new Terminal List must be analyzed and completed for the last kill, the criteria established, the merits evaluated and the time and place calculated. Start to finish, the process must be completed inside of two months, because in two months Cliff would be dead.
Cliff had invented a free pass to kill the most deserving person he could find. This was a responsibility not to be taken lightly; it was a responsibility not to squander. Cliff had about two months to find his last victim. By then his cancer would run its course and he would join those he had taken. He had killed four people already, four people who deserved to die. Four people whose false sense of self-entitlement got them killed, and there would be a fifth.