The ones they brought him were always clean enough, which he appreciated. Small courtesies; that was an improvement. They’d used to come reeking of fear and sweat and whatever grime had collected on them, piss, blood, mold, rat droppings, whatever. He’d have to scrub and scrub at his tongue to get the taste out.

In the streets they crossed to avoid him, snatched arms, bags and children out of his way. In the heart of the city he walked in a bubble all his own, cynosure of every jaded eye. Sometimes he savored it; sometimes he loathed it.

He smoked too much. Dead cells don’t turn cancerous; why should he not? He got no joy of it: his lungs, so much empty leather, merely pulled the smoke in and pushed it out again. Whatever strange pleasure they took from it, he took only the shape of the smoke, coiling up against the street lights. Theater.

He was confessor as well as executor. Trusted, as only he could be; without rules, he made his own. No one who came to him came clean, despite their scrubbings, but many came innocent of what had set their meeting. He spoke to them, spoke to the blood beating frantic and helpless in the skin of their necks, and offered them forgiveness.

Whatever they were, he was worse.