The last three people I murdered each thanked me.
I used to like being thanked by those who had made their peace with it all. They seemed to get why my office is more like an office and less like a prison cell. Made me feel like I was performing a mercy when we talked. Not everyone thanked me, but the anomalous streak of late has made me sick just thinking about it.
A knock at the door. It normally startles me, but I suppose I’m beyond caring now. Some lingering sense of professional pride forces me to hide the bottle of whiskey I have been sipping at for breakfast, and when I key in the codes and open the door I try to breathe shallow to hide my vice. Two armed guards and the warden are standing behind the door, flanking a man gagged and bound to a wheelchair.
“Good morning, Doctor Crane,” the warden says firmly, offering me the briefest of shamed glances and a clip-board to sign. “Prisoner Dennis Newton shall now be transferred into your possession to carry out his sentence for the murder of three peace officers.”
He rattles off the case number and details but I’m too distracted to care. I can’t help but notice…Of course I notice…Even with the dull orange jumper and short cropped hair, this murderer could have easily been a mall-Santa in a kinder life. “Of course,” I mutter, unable to choose between laughter or screaming and settling on neither.
Newton looks me over with a strange, curious eye as I sign the papers to complete the transfer. “He’s a spitter,” warns the senior guard.
“It will be fine,” I promise. “Remove his gag when he is secure.”
The warden and I watch as the jailers wheel Newton into my office and meticulously transfer him one limb at a time from the wheel chair to the plush, brown recliner that occupies the centre of the room.
“Listen, Jack,” the warden says as the guards finish and leave. “If you’re worried about your contract-“
“I’m not,” I reply quickly.
Maybe he caught a sniff of whiskey on my breath. Maybe I caught the same on his. He pats me on the shoulder and leaves me to my work. I suddenly realize I never bothered to learn his first name.
The door closes behind me with a solid metal thunk and the illusion of sanity is whole again.
“So? What’s this?” Newton asks, looking around at the walls that resemble a study versus a gallows. Books. Plants. Artwork. A small fish tank that has long since lost its fish. “A waiting room?”
“No,” I say, sitting down behind my desk. “I’m Doctor Crane. I’ll be the one administering your lethal injection.”
The next thing out of his mouth is so alien to this room that it takes me a moment to categorize the sound. He laughs at me! Laughs long and hard, and despite my Father Christmas imaginings he sounds more like a truck than a jolly gift-giver.
I wait for him to stop, feeling more anger than I know I should. I chock it up to the whiskey. He finally clears his throat and looks me over. “Ahh, alright. Sorry, Doc.”
“Why the laughter?” I ask, trying to sound more curious than perturbed.
“You got that look about you,” Newton says, leaning forward a bit in his chair. “Same look on all the folk have on death row. I thought maybe you were the guy getting popped just before me, but I guess that’s not it, is it?” he considers me with calm, uncomfortable eyes, searching for a reason. “Cancer? You dying of something?”
The silence between us is long and necessary. My brain needs time to shift gears and generate the words I know I shouldn’t say out loud. “No.”
“I’ll be ending my life shortly after yours.” Each word is quiet and deliberate. The guards won’t interrupt us for another hour, but it still feels taboo to say aloud.
More importantly, though, I wonder what this killer’s reaction will be. A cheer? Maybe he’ll ask if I can go first and be not quite joking about it. He surprises me instead with:
No questions. No more words. I look to my desk, pondering what to do next. “Want a drink?”
“Shit,” he laughs, this time kindly. “Thought you’d never ask.”
The tension breaks in the room and I feel a strange camaraderie between us; like we’ve both let out a held breath. Even better is when I unstrap his left arm he makes no stupid move to attack or escape, and accepts the shot glass gratefully as I pour the liquor in. We don’t toast or salute, only tip back our drinks with a mutual grimace that has us both laughing like a pair of brothers who snuck into their dad’s booze stash.
“It’s good,” he says and we have another round. I drink from the bottle and he from the glass.
It happens again and again. Words are loosened and tempered and he tells me briefly of his life of crime. Robbed a liquor store. Shoot-out. He was a better shot than the cops. I can tell it bothers him still and maybe that’s why he hasn’t tried to loosen the other restraints. Maybe it’s the two armed guards waiting outside if he does.
“That’s all in my file, though,” he says, watching me prepare the syringe that will murder us both. “Why’d you figure you have to die?”
They only give me enough poison to stop one heart, but I’ve saved up a few squirts from the last three executions to make up the difference.
“I killed two innocent souls last month,” I explain. “A senator’s mistress, it seems, and his bastard kid still inside her as evidence. Late night. Paperwork was in order. I didn’t question why she was sedated like I should have.”
It was on the news. A lot of news. Dennis’ eyes show he knows all about it. “Was hopin’ that would stop the row for a while,” he chuckles, tilting back his next shot. “Maybe not too hard, but I was hopin’.”
“It might, in time,” I nod. “They’re reviewing the whole department. Lawyers are involved. It will probably be three years before I’m out of work, though, and I can’t keep doing this knowing what happened.”
“Why don’t you just quit?” he shrugs.
I respond with a laugh of my own. “Imagine the next poor bastard reading my resume? Hangman, five years’ experience. Ninety-nine percent accuracy rate.”
Newton smiles at that, but lets me finish.
“No,” I sigh, looking at the overloaded syringe. “If I quit they’ll have someone else in here before I can clean out my desk.” I feel a devious smirk on my lips growing past the fog of alcohol. “But if they find me dead? Public inquiry, media backlash. The whole system stops. Maybe for good.”
I pour another shot in his glass. “And you get to hide from killing that girl and her baby, huh?”
Hearing it said so plainly makes my blood go cold. “Fringe benefits,” I admit.
He tilts back his drink and I offer him the final dregs of the bottle. “That’s not right.”
I look him over and sigh. “Sorry, Dennis. That’s the way it has to be, and if I leave you alive they’ll just think you-“
“To hell with me!” Dennis shouts and I nearly drop the injection. “Some old geezer knocking up a kid didn’t shoot those cops.”
The outburst is enough to steel my resolve. Partially, anyway. “I’ve killed hundreds. Innocent or not. I can’t fight them with hands covered with that much blood.”
“Or…they’ll spin it like they always do to get what they want. Shop doesn’t close up, instead gets a new Doc. Maybe somebody who doesn’t treat a guy like me like a human being for his last hour on earth.”
“I don’t let everyone drink, you know-“
Dennis sighs. “But you’re doing good work here. To talk to people before they gotta go. Remember us when nobody else will. You know what they call you on death row?”
Curiosity gets the better of me and I lean in.
“Mercy,” he smiles and grabs my hand to pull the needle into his chest.
I try to pull away but he’s strong like a man who’s far less drunk than I believed him to be. He pushes in the plunger with his thumb and I watch it go to work as he takes in a long, surprised breath.
“I won’t thank you,” he promises as his smile fades, but somehow he looks like Santa Clause again. “But, if you keep going, I’ll forgive you. We all need some mercy.”
“I don’t want to be forgiven,” I sob.
But with his last breath he drafts me into the war. “Tough. Shit.” And he is gone.
=- Studio Shinnyo 2016. Khattam-Shud, EOF.Posted under Short Stories