I found this half finished on my hard drive so I thought I’d try and tie it up and post it. This is from the same proposes novella but from a different point of view. This is supposed to be an extract from the memoirs of a prison guard that have been stopped by the Home Office because of their candid nature. The inspiration for this was the book Her Majestys Pleasure by Robert Douglas. In his book Douglas speaks of his time in the condemned cell watching over Russell Pascoe who was the last man to be executed at Horfield for his part in the murder of a farmer. Douglas wasn’t present at the execution but did spend the night before with Harry Allen the then chief executioner mentiones in earlier extracts. He also claims to have witnessed Allen coming into the condemned cell and shaking Pascoe’s hand as Jimmy Newman is described as doing previously. Douglas’ book is the only source which mentions the hand shake. In this extract it is implied that the main character (who I’d intended to be called Steven Collier for the start but isn’t named in the other extracts) uses the hand shake too at this stage depsite his objections to it earlier on. This pices was written a while after the others and the back story is a bit different. Originally I’d intended for Collier’s father to be a guard and for Albert Pierrepoit to be his mentor but in this piece Collier has taken over form his father. I just couldn’t decide which back story was better to be honest. The procedure described at the end of the piece unbelievably has some basis in fact and a similar thing supposedly happened to Albert Pierrpoint’s father Harry in the 1920s. I’d highly recommend the Robert Douglas book to anyone interested in this subject matter but it a lot of it, particularly Douglas recalling the last night beofre Pascoe’s execution, is bleak reading.
The public executioner and his assistant arrived at 4 o clock the afternoon before. The last execution at Horfield had been three years previously , a year before I started the job, so I’d yet to meet the infamous Steven Collier. Collier was a stocky man in his early 30s, much younger than I’d expected, he was dressed in a black t shirt and jeans with short cropped dark hair. The assistant Lloyd was an old friend of Collier’s and they had driven up together from the small Wiltshire market town where Collier ran a pub. They weren’t what I was expecting at all. I always imagined the hangman as being a creepy old man in a suit but Collier and his pal just looked like two ordinary lads. This helped them get through the small but angry crowd of anti capital punishment protestors who’d already gathered outside the prison. They looked more like they’d come to fix the plumbing than to end a man’s life. When they walked into the Officer’s Mess they were warmly greeted by the other lads many of whom knew not only Steven Collier but also his father Jack who had retired in the mid 90s. The executioners didn’t bring much stuff with them. Just their change of clothes for the next morning , wash bags and a wallet of DVDs. The infamous “black box” containing the tools of their trade had been sent from Pentonville the day before along with the main beam for the execution chamber.
The prisoner they had come for, Shane Clark had been guarded round the clock in the condemned cell over the last six weeks by guards working in shifts. Because these guards would inevitably build a relationship of some kind with the condemned man, the rules dictate that the prisoner must be actually led to his execution by two guards who have had no previous contact with him and tomorrow that meant me and Frank Cooper. Frank had done this job at the last execution here. He couldn’t remember the name, he said, but it was a guy from Hartcliffe who smashed a man’s head in during a burglary. Frank said that even though it wasn’t very pleasant being in the chamber when it happened, that it had to be better than sitting playing Playstation with a man who was waiting to die .What’s more, he said, it was all done by five past 8 and you get the rest of the day off.
Shane Clark and his friend Guy Thorne had been sentenced to death for the murder of a postmaster in Devon. In court, neither man had admitted to firing the shot that blew the man’s head off so they were both found guilty of capital murder. During the trial it had emerged that Thorne had been knocking off Clark’s girlfriend and they had to be kept apart in the dock. The two were to be hanged at the same time in different prisons, Thorne at Exeter and Clark was with us. I heard Collier say that another executioner called Jimmy would be taking care of Thorne. Frank said that Collier had mentioned this Jimmy several times when he’d been at Horfield the last time and that Collier and some of the older guards seemed to view this Jimmy bloke as a bit of a joke. Clark still hadn’t confessed to shooting the postmaster and apparently neither had Thorne. At this point one could still have saved the other’s neck by owning up but such was the bad blood between the two men, this seemed highly unlikely. Georgie who’d been on condemned cell duty earlier that day had said that all Clark had done for the last six weeks was bang on about what he was going to do to Thorne when he was reprieved. It was Georgie’s last shift with Clark which was a relief to him as the Governor was now on his way with the chaplain to tell Clark that there would be no reprieve and that this was his last chance to say whether or not he’d pulled the trigger that day. As Collier and his mate looked at the pizza menu they’d been given we could hear the sounds of Shane Clark shouting and trashing the condemned cell. Hearing that rattled me and I began to wonder how the hell I’d cope the following morning if Clark blew his top when we came for him. The executioners scarcely batted an eyelid as they decided on a large Meat Feast. I suppose they must have become immune to hearing things like that by now.
Frank introduced me to Collier and told him I’d be on the job in the morning. Collier had the strongest handshake I’ve ever felt and he spoke with a soft yet thick West Country accent. It was an eerie feeling shaking hands with a man who was rumoured to have executed nearly 100 men. His father’s grand total was said to be at least four times that. Collier asked me if I’d assisted before and I said that I hadn’t.
“You’ll be alright matey” he smiled reassuringly “I know this Clark bloke’s having a big fucking hissy fit now but he’ll have lost all his fight by the morning and he’ll just want it over with. The quack will give him something to make him sleep tonight and that’ll still be in his system when we take him. All you have to do mate is hold him up. Just put your arm through his arm and walk with him into the chamber and stop when I say. Then when he drops you just put your arm down and let him fall. It’s just in case he faints or something but I doubt that’ll happen. This bloke’s a hard case or at least wants people to think he’s one so he won’t let on if he’s bricking it”
He may have sounded callous and indifferent but his casualness actually made me feel a lot better. He seemed so in control of things.
“One thing though mate” he added “Whatever you do, make sure you’re stood on the plank of wood that’s over the trap, and hold onto the rope. Not the rope I’m going to be using but the one with the big monkey fist knot at the end. Cos if you fall down that hole it’s a nasty drop.”
“Even without a rope round your neck” Lloyd joked
Collier briefly glared at him but then smiled again
“It’ll be fine. It’ll be over quick too. Me and this guy are the quickest fuckers on the list” by this he must have meant the Home Office list of “persons qualified to carry out executions”. “I’m talking seconds not minutes. He won’t know what hit him right Lloydy?”
On paper it looks like Collier was boasting but it came off more like he was trying to put me at ease than impress me.
“Right let’s go and have a look then” said Collier .We walked with him to the Condemned Cell door. Collier leant down to look through the spy hole and sucked his teeth like a builder looking at someone’s poor quality DIY efforts.
“There’s nothing of this fucker Lloyd” he whispered to his assistant. “I’ve seen more meat on a bloody supermodel. He’s gonna need seven foot”
“Do you need to shake hands?” asked Lloyd
“Fuck that” replied Collier. “Did you hear him a minute ago kicking off? He’s too highly strung for that. If he clocks who we are we’ll never get any fucking kip tonight. Seven’ll be plenty. “
“I fucking hate the long drops Steve. I don’t like the noise”
“Everyone hates them. You only hear it for a second though and it’s better to overdo it than underdo it matey. “
I asked Frank what they were doing
“They’re looking at him to see how much drop he’ll need. How long the rope has to be. The bigger the bloke the shorter they drop him. If they give him too much it’ll pull his head off. Too little and he strangles. Clark’s a skinny little smackhead so he’ll need to drop a long way. The doctor will give them the exact height and weight but they need to look at his neck too”
“When’s his visit” Collier asked Frank
“His mum and his girlfriend are coming at 6”
“Okay while he’s doing that me and Lloyd’ll set the drop. He can’t be anywhere near us when we do it though cos I’m going to test the trap door. It was three years ago since I was here last and I don’t want it sticking tomorrow. If he’s over in the visitors bit he won’t hear”
At about 7 o clock the pizzas came and Collier and Lloyd changed into t shirts and track bottoms. They spent several minutes arguing about what they wanted to watch on the DVD player. Lloyd was trying to convince Collier to give the new season of Family Guy a go but the senior man was insistent on watching King of the Hill which Lloyd declared to be boring. Collier countered by saying that Family Guy got on his nerves and that he found King of the Hill relaxing. While they argued Frank turned on the rolling news which was all about Clark and Cooper. Kay Burley was outside Exeter prison as a black car entered through the front gates. The crowd were pelting the car with eggs and other projectiles and a young lad with dreadlocks had jumped on the bonnet. Collier and Lloyd were in fits of laughter at this.
“Old Jimmy never fucking learns does he Steve?”
“I know! He’s been on the list over thirty five fucking years and he still hasn’t learned to go in the back way the big hairy bell end. He ought to get that car fitted with hippy bars or something to keep them off. “
“Would you fuck Kay Burley Steve?”
“She’d love it wouldn’t she? She’s always like a bitch on heat when she’s covering executions on the telly. But no,I wouldn’t fuck her with Jimmy’s cock. Horrible Tory bitch”
“I can’t believe you vote Labour Steve. You’d be out of a job if they ever got in”
“Would I fuck. They’d never get rid of us. Joe Public would never stand for it. All these wankers outside protesting bang on about the workers and they’ve got no fucking idea what the working classes want.”
“And what do the working classes want Mr fucking Engels?”
“Dead nonces, dead crackheads”
“And your missus of course. Nation’s sweetheart”
Collier was married to a well known pop singer and national sex symbol. The contrast between her sunshiney television demeanour and the callousness of the man sat on the chair opposite me was quite disturbing.
“Busy at the moment Steve?” asked Frank
“Strangeways next week and then that’s it for now.”
“Is that the vigilante?” asked Frank with a chuckle
He was referring to a case that had been all over the papers for weeks. Four men in Oldham had discovered form a list printed in the News of the World that a convicted paedophile was living on their estate. After a night’s heavy drinking they decided to take the law into their own hands and forced their way into the house named in the list. They dragged the man who lived there out of his home and hung from a lamppost with a tow rope. Arrested for murder, the men were sure that no jury would convict them for lynching a child molester. Unfortunately for them however, the sex offender in question had moved house some months previously and they’d in fact drunkenly executed a former soldier who had been decorated for gallantry in the first Gulf War. Three of the men were sentenced to life imprisonment and the ringleader sentenced to death.
“Yep. Silly fucker” replied Collier
“You’re going to show him how it’s done then Steve?” said Frank
“Matter of professional pride matey” said Lloyd “The prick was trying to do our job for us. Unamused weren’t we Steve?”
“ I just hate those sort of pricks” sneered Collier “Reading the News of the World ought to be a hanging offence in itself”
I wondered if Collier’s distaste for the paper was anything to do with the shots of his wife getting out of a car at a film premier and showing her underwear a few weeks previously.
“As Lloyd says it’s also the sheer bare arsed cheek” he continued “I’ve worked my arse off for years learning this craft. It’s a science. It can’t be done with a skinful by some bunch of neckless arseholes who’ve seen Death Wish too many times. I know what all those demonstrators think of me but I’ve never strangled a man to death in my life. What they did to that squaddie is one of the worst ways you could die. I take every possible precaution to make sure no one dies like that cos you wouldn’t wish it on your worst enemy. Even if they’d got the nonce they were going for I’d feel the same way. “
The door burst open and the governor stood wide eyed in the doorway.
“I’ve just had the governor of Exeter on the phone” he said breathlessly “Thorne just confessed to his lawyer that he did the shooting”
Collier jumped to his feet
“No disrespect sir but is this a fucking wind up?”
“I’m afraid not Collier. “
“Why? Why now? This isn’t a fucking film. Why would he suddenly say now?”
“I don’t know Collier but you know as well as I do that Clark won’t have to go now”
“So what happens now?” asked Lloyd “I mean we’re here aren’t we. This hasn’t happened to me before”
“Me neither” said Collier “Not this late. Not when I’m already at the nick”
“So what happens now?” said Lloyd “we get paid off yeah?”
“Do we fuck” said Collier grimly “Paid by the neck aren’t we. We don’t get any money if there’s a reprieve you know that Lloyd”
“Yeah but we’ve set the drop” Lloyd protested
“You’ll obviously get your full expenses” said the governor “But I’m afraid we can’t pay you your full fee for executing Clark if he’s been reprieved. I’m very sorry gentleman but as Mr Collier says this is quite unprecedented.”
“So do we just go?” said Lloyd
“Nope” said Collier “First we have to tell him he’s been reprieved”
Lloyd looked utterly incredulous as if Collier had lost his mind
“Yeah. We have to go with the governor. That’s what’s in the Home Office rulebook. “
“I’m afraid Mr Collier is right” said the governor
“Ok” said Collier “Has the quack given him anything yet?”
The governor shook his head
“Then in that case Frank, you and your mate had better come with us in case he kicks off”
“Why would he?” said Frank “We’re telling him that he’s getting reprieved why would he kick off”
“Cos we were going to kill him” said Lloyd
“Shit, Shit Shit!” Collier started muttering to himself
“You’ll be alright Steve” said Frank “There’ll be us four plus the two that are already in there with him”
“It’s not that” said Collier “It’s the thought of Jimmy fucking Newman getting paid and me getting fucked off”
Eventually Collier composed himself and he and Lloyd changed into their suits. As we headed towards the condemned cell my stomach was in knots. I was glad the execution wasn’t going ahead but I was still very nervous thinking of what was about to happen. How would Clark react to the shock of the reprieve? Would he guess who Collier was? And if so would he take a swing at the man who had come to the prison with the intention of leaving him dangling from a rope? When we reached the door of the CC there was a brief hesitation before Collier nodded to the governor who in turn motioned to Frank to open the door. As the door opened, Clark jumped to his feet dropping the Playstation controller to the floor. His eyes were wide with fear at the sight of the governor and two men in suits.
“Fuck’s going on?” he shouted “You said it was in the morning! You lying bunch of cunts!”
“Calm down Clark” said the governor softly before repeating himself louder as Clark started ranting and raving
“You’ve been repreieved mate” Collier said . Clark looked puzzled. “It means you’ve been let off. We’re not doing it now. They’ve changed their mind”
“Who the fuck are you?” said Clark pointing at Collier “You’re the fucking hangman aren’t you”
“My name’s Steve. And I prefer executioner but yeah, I was going to do it. Nothing personal mate.”
I thought this condescending attitude would make Clark lose it but he stopped shouting and just began breathing quickly and heavily
“Fetch the doctor” the governor said to Frank
“Your mate coughed” Collier continued “He said it was him who fired the shot.”
“Thorney?” said Clark disbelievingly
“Yep. The same guy I heard you screaming about how you were going to rip the bollocks off of earlier” smiled Collier “Bet you don’t think he’s such an arsehole now mate? He’s just saved your fucking life”
Clark collapsed back into his chair “Aww fucking hell” he groaned “Thorney” . As he began to sob bitterly and repeat his friend’s name over and over I was even gladder that he’d been reprieved. If he reacted like this to being let off then I dreaded to think of what it would have been like taking him to the gallows. Then Frank came back with the doctor
“What the hell are you doing here Collier?” snapped the doctor as he produced and began to fill up a syringe
“Home office regulations” said Collier as the doctor rolled up Clark’s sleeve “It says in the rules I have to be here. Do you think I wanted to do this? Yeah you probably do you pious…”
“You two can go now. Take the rest of the night off” the governor said to me and Frank. I didn’t need telling twice and we hurried back to the mess.
“So where does Clark go now?” I asked Frank “Back on the wing?”
“The hospital more like” said Frank opening one of the beers. “He’s had a bad shock hasn’t he? Not just all that fucking palaver but spending weeks in the CC waiting to die. We’ve got wreaths downstairs that his family sent here for fuck’s sake. I’ve never seen anyone come so close. Never. And even when they get let off a couple of weeks before they end up in the looney bin more often than not. It’s the stress I suppose. Mind he’ll have to do at least 15 now. 15 years banged up. I’d sooner be fucking topped son. I really would. “