“The prisoner has declined the offices of a priest,” said the warder, leading Doctor Hoo along the tiled corridors of the condemned men’s wing. “Often, they find it a comfort. To put themselves straight before they pop off to meet their maker. Like having a friend putting in a good word for you before you meet the boss, I suppose.”
Doctor Hoo grunted. Of course, Deacus wouldn’t want anything to do with priests, being such an unholy creature himself. Some might say ‘abomination’ but not Doctor Hoo; when all was said and done, Deacus was not only his most successful experiment, he was also the closest thing he had to a friend.
The warder unlocked the heavy, studded door and ushered Doctor Hoo inside, as though it was a box at the opera and not the gloomy accommodation of the damned before execution. Doctor Hoo shooed the guards away, assuring them that the prisoner would not harm him – and vice versa. The warder muttered something about it being highly irregular but backed away under the doctor’s firm stare.
Deacus was sitting at a small table. Hands of playing cards lay in haphazard fans, abandoned when the door was opened.
“Now, then, what’s all this about?” Doctor Hoo glanced around the room. It was dank and airless. One might think the inmates would be glad to leave it come the dawn.
“I’m sorry, Doc,” Deacus sank his head into his hands. Well, the head was his but the hands had been happened across somewhere along the line. “I just don’t know what came over me. I couldn’t stop myself.” He stared at his hands, those stranger’s hands. “I found my hands closing around the blighter’s throat and squeezing tighter and tighter until his eyes was popping out and he went sort of blue and floppy. I panicked. I was still tidying up when the coppers come and catched me. I had no defence. What could I say? I’d done it, right enough. But it wasn’t me what actually done it, if you get my meaning. It was like my hands, my arms, had a life of their own, like they was working on somebody else’s behalf, doing somebody else’s bidding.”
Doctor Hoo took all of this in.
“Well?” Deacus looked up at him with his hopeful blue eyes. “What can you do?”
“Little,” said Doctor Hoo. “It will be dawn in a few hours. You will be taken from this place to a place of execution where you shall be hanged from the neck until you are dead.”
Deacus grunted bitterly. “I’ve heard that somewhere before. But ain’t there nothing you can do to help me? Have a word with the big knobs what runs this gaff, slip them a few quid?”
“I’m sorry; no.”
Deacus thumped the table, scattering the cards. “But it’s partly your fault, Doc! Putting my head on a strangler’s body.”
Doctor Hoo sighed. The lad was right, of course. But there had been no time for background checks. It had been a matter of utmost urgency; the only priority the saving of the boy’s life.
Doctor Hoo moved to the door and knocked with his cane. While the guard outside turned the key, he looked back at the boy, at his imploring, hopeful face and sent him a tight little smile.
As the door was closed behind him, Deacus heard the doctor declare, in a voice loud enough for him to hear, that he would attend the execution himself, provide the death certificate, and claim the body for medical science. The warder agreed.
“Suit yourself, Doctor. The lad’s got no friends or relatives to speak of. He’s got nobody.”
Deacus stretched out on the bunk and put his hands behind his head. “Not true, me old China,” he laughed. “I’ve got Doctor Hoo. Which means I’ll soon be getting a new body. One where the neck ain’t stretched.”
You can read the first Doctor Hoo story here.