Author's Note: Last year I collected "Death Note" in the manga volumes. I've never seen any of the anime episodes or live-action movies. I get the impression from my online reading that if I had, I might have become accustomed to hearing the first Kira's real name pronounced as "Yagami Raito." But I didn't. When reading the manga, I was repeatedly hit over the head with the idea that his name was "Light Yagami," so that's how I think of him and that's how I write about him.

Also, being in a mildly experimental mood, I'm going to be cutting back and forth between the protagonist's general state of mind on the one hand, and his specific actions and short-term intentions on the other hand. The "specific actions and intentions" portions will be entirely in parentheses.

The protagonist is a character of my own creation, and I figure this is happening during the middle of the long period when Kira was sitting on top of the world (in his own estimation), after the death of L and before he ever heard of Near. Probably means in the year 2007 (according to dates given in the manga.)

Gaming the System

Call him Thomas Ardwell. It was not the name his mother gave him, but it was the name on the photo ID and other documents which he had recently used to fly to Sarasota, Florida. At other times he could produce driver's licenses, social security cards, credit cards, and even passports to prove his name was Brad Spinelli, or Vincent Connors, or Henri Belmaine, or Kurt Schultz, but those names are not important to our story.

(Ardwell listened from the bedroom as Charles Ledbetter let himself into his own condo, locked the front door behind him, and turned on the oven in the kitchen. When the footsteps came up the stairs, Ardwell stepped out of the doorway and shot the man through the heart with a suppressed nine-millimeter Glock.)

Ardwell was a freelance assassin, and his annual income had doubled since the beginning of the Kira phenomenon. It could just as easily have tripled, but whereas Ardwell used to snap up almost every contract which was offered, nowadays he was turning down at least one in three, so as not to run himself too ragged. What was the point in making hundreds of thousands of dollars a year if you didn't reserve enough free time to enjoy squandering some of it?

In short, Kira was the best thing that had ever happened to Ardwell!

(Ardwell pulled a plastic baggie out of his pocket, opened it, and shook it vigorously over Ledbetter's body to make a few loose hairs, previously removed from Hank Morgan's comb, fall out onto the body. The police might or might not notice and identify them as coming from another man . . . but if they did notice, Ardwell hoped they'd find enough skin attached at the roots to permit DNA testing. Juries loved DNA matches. It made them feel so virtuously sure of themselves when they voted "guilty.")

"Made men" in the Mafia families—as well as their functional equivalents in many other flavors of organized crime—were increasingly reluctant to do "hits" if they thought some nosy parker who knew who all the local wiseguys were would notice their presence in a certain neighborhood—or at least their lack of a good alibi—and then would loudly accuse them of the hit on one of the many Kira-themed websites in the Internet. But obviously the killings still had to be performed, so Mafia leaders (and their functional equivalents) were stepping outside of their own hierarchies more and more to hire freelancers whom the rest of the world had never seen or heard of. It had become abundantly clear over the last few years that Kira's magic couldn't find you unless he already knew your birth name, and your face, and had reason to think you were "fair game" for punishment. Deny him at least one of those things, and he'd never touch you.

Likewise, many people who just wanted one little murder committed were now less likely to take the risk of doing it themselves. Instead they would scrape up the thousands of dollars necessary to persuade a faceless professional to do the dirty work while the client himself was undeniably somewhere else entirely, in front of several witnesses.

(Yesterday afternoon Ardwell had stolen the Glock from a box in a closet in the home of Ledbetter's romantic rival, Hank Morgan. Ardwell doubted Morgan had noticed this, because Ardwell had thoughtfully left behind another weapon of the same model. Morgan might glance in the box today, but unless he actually scrutinized the serial number—and how often did a man bother to do that?—he would never notice anything had changed in his closet.)

Ardwell sometimes preferred to throw the police (and Kira) a bone by leaving behind the makings of a decent case against some known enemy of the target. Besides, deliberately varying his modus operandi from one job to the next made it that much less likely that some computer geek at FBI headquarters would spot suspicious patterns in several reported cases of "accidental death" or "suicide" or whatever. If that ever happened, someone might actually start a proper manhunt for an unknown killer who operated all over the map. Ardwell knew his best defense was in his complete failure to even appear on Uncle Sam's radar screen in the first place.

(An hour from now, Ardwell would enter Hank's home while the man was keeping an evening dinner date, and then he'd switch the guns right back. He figured the police wouldn't even have found the body at that point. So the murder weapon would be waiting for them when they did come looking. Hank might have heard of the Ledbetter murder by then, but since he would know he had nothing to do with it, he wasn't likely to feel the desperate need to dispose of the gun before the cops came knocking on the door.)

Whoever this Kira really was, he was downright lazy about target acquisition. He didn't find the sinners in the first place; he merely took it on faith that the cops, the courts, the media, and anonymous tipsters on the Internet would correctly identify the hardcases and then bring them to Kira's attention.

Since the cops, the courts, the media, and the Internet tipsters only operated at the same level of efficiency as they had in the Pre-Kira era, survival strategy for a professional murderer was as childishly simple as ever: Don't get caught! The fundamental problem had changed not at all; only the stakes had, what with the near-certainty of receiving the "death penalty" if you were idiotic enough to be detected as the perpetrator in the first place!

(During his previous visits to Morgan's home, Ardwell had seriously considered stealing some small object which would presumably have the owner's fingerprints all over it, and then leaving it on the floor in Ledbetter's bedroom, as if Hank Morgan had carelessly dropped it at the scene of the crime. But he had finally decided that might be too much; might even make a prosecutor wonder if someone was leading him down the garden path. Ardwell had regretfully decided it was better not to lay it on too thick! DNA testing and ballistics testing would just have to be enough. Maybe he'd plant fingerprints at the scene on his next job, and skip the DNA part.)

(Nodding to himself at that plan, Ardwell let himself out, locking the door with the appropriate skeleton key. Next stop, Morgan's place.)

Ardwell had been making a living this way for three years before anyone ever heard of Kira, and he had never even been picked up for questioning. Why should he be? His victims were people who had never met him before. The police could investigate a dead man's background from now until doomsday and Ardwell's name (any of his names) would never come up. Sometimes they could do better at identifying a person who was likely to have spent money to arrange for a certain man's death, but such speculation would never stand up in court, and even if a client were somehow coerced into spilling his guts, that still wouldn't lead the cops—or any other concerned parties—all the way to Ardwell. His clients never knew his real name or home address any more than the targets did.

(Entering Morgan's home and making the necessary exchange went off without a hitch. Ardwell locked up again as he left.)

When you got right down to it, all that had really changed was that Kira was now cleansing the gene pool of murderers and other violent criminals who were clumsy enough to get caught . . . instead of their just spending years at a time in prison. But that was just another way of saying that the hardcases who were smarter than average were sitting pretty . . . and more frequently, these days, the smart ones took the trouble to make a hit look like accident or suicide or even "natural causes" so that a sudden death would probably never even grab Kira's attention. Many clients paid double for a guarantee that you'd do it that way, wary of the possibility that Kira might get suspicious of them otherwise, and wipe them out anyway as a "matter of principle" even if there was no solid evidence to stand up in court.

(Ardwell drove his rental car back to the airport, turned in the keys at the company's desk, and then settled down to wait until his flight to Denver started boarding.)

"Survival of the fittest" was the proper paradigm here. The dumb thugs, the psychos who weren't security-minded, the inept and the untrained and the unlucky . . . all those types were being weeded out. Ardwell figured that sooner or later, Kira would have created a society in which virtually all premeditated murders either went unsolved or were never spotted as murders in the first place, because smart and determined killers had simply adapted to superficial changes in the environment. When that day came, Kira would probably convince himself that there were virtually no murders taking place at all, except for random killings in the heat of the moment by fools who let their emotions overrule their common sense. Presumably, Kira would feel very proud of himself at having finally "changed human nature."

Meanwhile, Ardwell would still be raking it in!

Hank Morgan was arrested two days later. Armed with a search warrant for his home, the police found the gun in his closet. It had recently been cleaned, but ballistics tests confirmed it was the murder weapon. Incredibly enough, Morgan claimed he had not fired that gun, nor even touched it, since a trip to the firing range a week earlier, and had no idea how this could have happened. Windows and exterior doors were examined carefully for any sign of forced entry; none was found. DNA testing proved a loose hair found on the body's shirt came from Morgan's own head. The District Attorney chose to seek an indictment.

Whether or not Morgan could have convinced a jury that he had been framed—or at least that there was a reasonable doubt involved, as to whether or not he had been—will never be known, because a week after Hank Morgan was arrested on suspicion of murder, he died of a sudden heart attack. The autopsy found no trace of any diseases, injuries, toxic substances, or congenital defects to account for his sudden cardiac arrest, so the death was attributed (both officially and on Internet forums) to Kira, who presumably had stuck a pin through the heart of a Hank Morgan voodoo doll . . . or whatever it was that Kira did to work his miracles.

Sitting in Japan, Light Yagami saw the case as just one more example of how brilliantly successful he was in changing the face of the modern world. With the help of the hard-working Sarasota cops who had done the legwork, and then the scientists who had done the lab work, followed by the vigilance of the unknown Kira sympathizer (possibly one of those same cops or scientists) who had made sure that copies of Morgan's mug shots ended up on certain websites, justice had been served once again! And much faster and more decisively than that old nonsense of undergoing a "trial by jury" and then "paying your debt to society" by vegetating behind prison bars.

Author's Note: As you may have guessed, I always thought Light Yagami was extremely deluded in his theory that killing off a bunch of criminals would somehow coerce the rest of the human race into being much better citizens in the future. My basic attitude is that "gaming the system" is what humans naturally do. Granted, most humans aren't murderers, but in the cases of those who already have a cold-blooded attitude towards murder, or even a deep affection for it, just threatening to kill them isn't going to change their behavior more than superficially.