Sergio Pontus took his job as hangman seriously though he preferred ‘final dispatcher’ as his sobriquet. His own knot, known as the ‘Sergio Slip’ earned plaudits for being easy to make, comfortable to wear with minimal abrasions and quick to remove. He prided himself on his traps, which endured a squeak-free, anti-clanking end.
His children bought him, for the tenth anniversary of his first drop, a nylon-hemp rope with gold thread detailing. He could often be found, during those last tense moments, as hopes of final appeals expired, explaining how the inclusion of the hemp gave a satisfying snap to a hanging while the nylon avoided any unsavoury tickling for the tardy whose necks were more robust than the average.
If the delays stretched from the mere unkind towards the unconscionable he would add that, on sunny days the golden sinews gave the scene a sparkle redolent of Ely cathedral.
For those deemed special, whose residence in cell 42 – an ironic allusion to The Meaning of Life, the Universe and Everything – Sergio offered his extras. Favourites included ‘The Final Countdown’ where the prisoner chose a number to represent the exact minute of their drop, and Hangman’s hangman where Sergio always started with ‘pardon’ in one of a variety of obscure dialects, certain that his guests would be sure not to get one. How they laughed.
When, finally the death penalty was abolished, Sergio dismantled the gallows and took them home to his Surbiton semi. He grew sweat peas up his rope and turned the wooden base into novelty decking with the trap giving access to a small dark pond that was home to a carp called Preston. The gallows became a rose arbour and the hood a cover for forcing his early rhubarb. He was content.
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