12 Mar

It was 1957 and Howard “Thrasher” Smith was the village headmaster, and what follows is a step-by-step dramatisation of his murder. I like dramatisations, don’t you?
Mr Smith’s nickname was well earned and back in the era when the following events took place there was a great deal of corporal punishment in schools and the persistence of capital punishment in society as a whole. Things were going to change, but not yet. Not in time for Mr Smith.
The Reverend Pugh had every reason to dislike the headmaster. His own son had come under the tender ministrations of “Thrasher” and been thrashed for accidentally causing a blot on his exercise book and the good Reverend was of the opinion that accidental blots can’t really be blamed on small boys who try hard to master the vagaries of school-issue dip-in pens.
The first thing the Reverend Pugh did was pray long and hard and he was still praying when two things happened at once. Firstly, his son’s bruises faded to a series of murky brown lines that looked uglier than they felt to the boy and secondly Gwendoline Owens passed away at the grand old age of eighty-seven. And it was that second event that ate away at the contents of the Reverend Pugh’s mind.
“Why should a dear old soul like Miss Owens have to die when monsters like the Smith creature still walk the Earth administering pain and anguish to those too small or weak to defend themselves?” he asked himself, and it was, he supposed, God who replied in quite succinct and unambiguous thoughts.
“You could use the dear departed as a trigger,” said God. “I like triggers, don’t you?”
There was nothing, to the Reverend Pugh’s mind, less ambiguous than that, and being an order from above it had to be obeyed.
So he wandered into the Chapel of Rest with a hypodermic syringe (unused and empty) and inserted it into the bare flesh of the cold Mrs Smith where nobody could miss it before calling on the local constable and asking what the mark it left might be (without mentioning his syringe or giving a clue as to what he’d done with it).
“Could it be that the dear lady was poisoned with one of those undetectable toxins that Agatha Christie mentions in her thrillers?” he asked the constable. Agatha Christie was quite popular back then, and she still is, spookily enough, and her favourite murders seem to involve undetectable poisons.
“They did a test … I think,” opined the constable
And when there was no satisfactory explanation for the mark on Miss Owen’s exposed arm he put into operation the second part of his plan.
“Mr Smith might know,” he suggested, “he being an educated man and a headmaster, with books in his home.”
“I can’t abide the man,” rumbled the village constable, P.C. Blither. “Would you mind coming with me?”
Of course he wouldn’t! It was, after all, in his God-given plan and if not invited he most certainly would have asked. Also in his deity’s plan was the small handbook detailing toxins and poisons that he’d had since his own schooldays with one page seriously marked by his spending the fifteen minutes of last night’s “The Archers” (everyday story of country folk) folding and refolding and dribbling on it. That one page was headed “Undetectable Poisons” and although the little book was certainly out of date, the Reverend Pugh thought the local constabulary might take its contents as gospel.
So the two went round to the Headmaster’s house (where he was beating his wife for some domestic misdemeanour) and as the constable made enquiries about poisons and what the educated man might know of them the Reverend Pugh slid his own little book together with his cunningly concealed hypodermic syringe amongst some papers on the Headmaster’s desk when nobody was looking. Then, as the Headmaster had denied all knowledge of the subject of poisons, undetectable or otherwise, he pretended to discover the book where he’d secreted it.
“What have we here?” he asked in his best vicar’s pulpit voice, booming nicely and contriving an echo where no echo ought to be.
“That’s not mine!” snapped Mr Smith, reaching for his bamboo cane.
“It’s on your desk,” preached the Reverend Pugh, still booming and echoing.
“I don’t know where it came from!” barked Mr Smith, suddenly twitching dangerously. “Someone must have left it there, some mischievous little twerp in need of a sound thrashing!”
The Reverend Pugh shook his head disbelievingly and the constable took the little book, and they left the house, shaking their heads, with the constable, in his slow and thorough way, starting to ponder…
Policemen can be thorough but they can also be influenced by personal experiences, and P.C. Blither had personal experiences. He was local and had been chastised by the Headmaster in his school-days. In fact, he’d been chastised several times and still felt he ought to have the scars to prove it. So he detested Mr Smith as much as anyone else detested him, and inserted, quite unconsciously, some of that detestation into the reports that he wrote.
And to sum it up, “Thrasher” Smith found himself being arrested and cautioned and eventually tried for murder. The evidence was irrefutable. He had a book detailing various undetectable poisons and a syringe from which any one of them could be administered, and both items were on his own desk and discovered by the two most honest men in the village they being the policeman and the vicar.
At his trial the judge placed a black cap on his wigged head and looked sombre.
“You will be taken from this place to a place of execution, where you will be hanged from your neck until you are dead,” he intoned.
And that’s what happened a few weeks later.
There was a great deal of celebrating in the village and the vicar was carried shoulder-high by a party of schoolboys and became quite famous for nine or so days whilst Constable Blither became Sergeant Blither.
And in his prayers, on his own and privately, the Reverend Pugh apologised to his God for arranging the prosecution of the Headmaster.
“I know it was technically murder by one of your servants, but he was a bad man, my Lord,” he prayed, “and the world is better off without him. Maybe he’ll meet his match in the Hereafter.”
And he swore, for the remainder of his days, that a spooky, ethereal voice whispered “in hell” as he muttered his own “Amen”.
© Peter Rogerson 12.03.16


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