|The steam train thunders through the dark, away from Bradford, its smoke horizontal, and discernible whiffs of gray coming through the window; down which rivulets of rain stream. One quite unremarkable man busies himself reading the headlines on a newspaper held open by a woman sitting opposite. Were he the kind of man to concern himself with headlines he'd be unable to carry out his calling to duty. The rail carriage, smelling of Bryl-cream and other overpowering decoctions of old perfumes, mingling with the vestige of stale tobacco ash, clatters on toward London. Albert, bored with looking at the day's headlines, begins to play the mind game of wondering who his fellow passengers are and why they might have joined him at this ungodly hour of the morning. All of whom, he assumes, are traveling with a purpose in mind. Take the man across the aisle. Albert likes the look of this man's fine brogues. He appears very serious, perhaps a doctor on his way to perform a difficult surgery. The steam train thrashes on through the coming dawn through Peterborough with Albert rocking side to side in his seat, rubbing shoulders with strangers, and humming to the sound of the clickety-clack of mighty steel wheels heating the rails. The woman opposite rasps her newspaper, seemingly irritated by his musicality, offering him a discourteous glance over the edge of her paper.
Darkness is subsiding fast; heavy, ponderous clouds hang low over unattractive suburbs and rain continues to fall in stair-rods, the rivulets of rain on the window now the focus of Albert’s attention, betting which will be first to cross the window. Albert checks his watch, the train is making good time after leaving Bradford on time and he fully expects to arrive in Euston at 7.16 A.M. It's now seven exactly. One man, a large, florid faced man, never having removed his raincoat, has strangely colorless eyes. He could be a detective, Albert concludes upon hearing the man’s continual mutterings, undecipherable, yet just enough to make Albert feel a little uneasy. The train is slowing.
Stepping down from the carriage his nose and throat are immediately filled with the smell of burnt coal, and his ears filled with the sound of hissing of steam before he is absorbed into a mass of people, jostled along amid a wave of peevish impatience. It occurs to Albert that, every time he’s summoned to make this trip, more and more people are doing the same. A rotund, red-faced man wearing a peeked cap over a red and black uniform looks uninterested, even annoyed as he snatches at tickets being thrust his way. The huge station precinct is already a hive of activity. Albert, freeing himself from the crowd, finds a bench, the one under the station clock, and sets briefcase down, opening the brass latches with a key. It's force of habit, routine really. He takes out the yellow cloth, a brush and a tin of black cherry blossom, being very precise about his shoes and their cleanliness. He again checks his watch, he’s in good time. The Cherry Blossom has a lovely smell; he puts the tinned polish to his nose before closing the lid and putting it back into his briefcase, first wrapped tightly in the yellow cloth. With his shoes cleaned of scuff marks; he has time to satisfy his hunger, and makes his way to a vendor working a coal grill, tempted there by the aroma of sausages cooking. With this need satisfied Albert makes his way out of the great station hall and enters onto the wintry streets of London. It is 7.40 A.M. It is his habit to arrive at his destination at 8.00 A.M.
The rain is turning to sleet, people are moving cautiously, leaning forward, hats held fast with gloved hands, scarves covering misting mouths while stray dogs shelter under barrows yet to be filled with produce. It's 7.45 A.M. as he buys a morning paper from a ruddy-cheeked, cloth-capped paper-boy. He neatly folds the newspaper, pushing it under his arm and signals a cab. The cheeky paper-boy offers a cheerfully voiced opinion. ‘You’ll regret this one’, the boy calls out. Albert has heard them all; every one.
The driver honks his horn and pulls away from the curbside. Albert opens his briefcase, and removes a small flask containing several shots of whisky. The sensation of taste on his tongue teases the need for more, but he resists. It is something he’s always done. Call it tradition. First he did it out of respect for his father, but it has long become just a morning ritual before work, always just before eight, time to clear of his breath by nine. The warmth slides into his belly. Albert screws the lid back on and places it, reverently, back into the briefcase.
As the cab comes to a halt, crowds cheer, some jeer, others are simply cajoled, then persuaded by police batons to move away. Albert gives the driver sixpence fare, and is thanked with a touch of his cap, before he steps out with his briefcase in hand, and standing for a moment beneath the gate, straightening his coat, looking up at the notice. ‘H.M.P. Wandsworth'
At 8.45 A.M. The cell door is opened. Albert stands behind a burly, smartly uniformed guard.
“Good morning, my name is Albert.” The prisoner is lying on his bed, staring blankly at the ceiling, his breakfast untouched.
“I’m Derek,” the young man responds, not giving eye contact, clearly nervous and quiet.
The guard, not unkindly, asks Derek to stand, which he does without hesitation. Albert places the pinioning-loop upon his wrists and makes it tight.
Quietly, but reassuringly, Albert whispers Derek to follow.
“Just follow me, lad, everything will be alright.” He instructs in a calm tone, looking compassionately upon the lad's teenage years.
It is 8.58 A.M.
As his train rattles back toward Bradford, snow is falling heavily. Albert is once again absorbed in the game of wondering what people are thinking until disturbed by the clattering sound of a train passing in the opposite direction, stirring him from these thoughts. He opens his briefcase, removing the chrome and leather bound whisky flask, and drinks the remnants.
Lying flat among the shoe cleaning materials, next to a calf leather strap, is a white cotton hood, some government papers, and fifteen newly minted guinea pieces. Albert returns the whisky flask to its place and snaps the clasps shut, wondering, furtively, how business is back at his shop in Bradford.
Nearly 46 years after he was hanged for murder, Derek Bentley had his conviction quashed at the Court of Appeal. Albert Pierrepoint, the hangman, died in 1992, never having commented on the injustice.
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