The Bukowski Agency - George & Rue - Excerpt
George & Rue

by George Elliott Clarke


IDEALLY, EACH HAMILTON will drop at least six feet, thus accelerating for a split second, so that the fall terminates with a brutal, hammering jerk from an elongated, thick knot, formed usually by seven turns of heavy hemp rope, which feels—in theory—like a baseball bat when it hits. The knot, striking each boy’s nape, should snap the head forward, causing—in theory—instant loss of thought through the mashing of the spinal cord against the spur of the bone on which the top most vertebra pivots when the head is turned. The head and the first vertebra, bent forward by the blow, should cause the top vertebra to break away from the second one and crush the spinal cord against the pivot. Pain is either impossible or ephemeral in this scenario, while death ensues pretty fast. To achieve this desired effect, Ellis plans to use three-quarter inch, 32-strand Boston hemp for the two ropes. He must make finicky calculations involving the rope’s thickness and length, the position of the noose’s knot, and the height and weight of the Hamiltons. It is crucial that he uses the right lengths of rope so that two body weights wilt two necks. He must practice with bags of flour to make sure that the scene will play as planned. If not, George or Rue may be half-decapitated by an overly long drop, or just wheeze, painfully strangling to death.

Ellis is argumentative, difficult, although a snazzy hangman, dressed suavely. He is dapper, sporting a jaunty bowler hat and a Scottish wool suit in winter and a Brazilian linen suit in summer, and appropriately white gloves, and professional in his high office that lays others low. When he’s “on the job,” Ellis secrets a pistol in the waistband of his pants. A true Tory, he mistrusts the slick modernism of the Marwood noose, that rope with a steel eye-bolt at one end through which the other is passed to form a loop. It is distressing news, for the Marwood is efficient, allowing the condemned to expire quickly from a ruptured spinal cord, not strangle in excruciating leisure. Sadly, Ellis prefers to weave a series of knots into his rope so that the doomed’s fall is broken by a broken neck. But, sometimes, the knotted rope, because stiff, slips, and the victim is garroted. Or worse. The rope could carve to the neckbone.

It had happened just that way in Dorchester a couple of years back: A woman’s head snapped from her body, and both dead things thudded into the room below. Blood whipped from the whirling head and the flapping body, spattering the walls and splashing liberally two cons who’d been waiting beneath the trap to stuff the fat body in the casket. The incident was protested in a quick, tawdry, local volume of doggerel, Gutted by the Gallows, that spewed rage and disgust at how the woman had died. Ellis sued the author for libel—and won. The writer should have known that execution—classical—is treated in Latin.



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