The Seventeen Executions of Signore Don Vashta
by Peter M Ball
Of the sixteen recorded executions featuring Signore Don Vashta as the subject, I have been present for three, and I have read detailed and verified accounts of two more. In addition, I am known as a man who has an interest in such things, and thus I am a man to whom all rumors eventually find their way. Among our fraternity, if we can truly be called such, this makes me something of an expert, and I do not take this duty lightly.
As many of you know, I inherited this particular interest from one Roland K., who lived in the Americas and served, at one time, as my mentor. It is with respect to the fidelity and accuracy of Roland's service that I leave this note to explain my most recent actions.
Roland K. once sent a letter from his station in the Americas. In it, he detailed the events that led to his resignation, and the dismissal from our ledgers that followed not long after.
"It is a terrible thing to hang a man," Roland's letter said, "and I find I no longer have the stomach for it, particularly in the manner that is utilized in these parts. There is no art to death here, no science as precise as the hangman's drop. There are no scaffolds to serve as the staging for the death, nor even the grotesque parody offered by a rope looped over a convenient branch. Instead they affix the noose to the top of a great pole and raise the subject to it, hoisting him into position using a sling affixed beneath the arms.
"The subject's own weight is enough to begin the process, although it is slower than we have come to prefer in the west. When the locals wish to hasten the subject's death, a second noose is placed over the feet and several strong men pull down, hastening the asphyxiation that inevitably results in death. This is, despite the barbarism involved, the more humane method of execution given the limitations of their methodology.
"They did no such thing when Signore Vashta came to the noose.
"It's not the act that disables me so, but the anticipation of it. There is so much waiting, Beal, so much pageantry. Signore Vashta's crimes were minor, and he stood, resolute, while the theatre of death played out. It's a terrible thing we do, Beal, a terrible, terrible thing. Those minutes he stood on the platform, adorned with noose and a black sack to obscure his features. Minutes spent listening, waiting, while the sling is placed around him.
"It is the sound of it that haunts me, my friend. The gurgle and croak of a man left to die. For days I believe I have seen the dead man dallying about town, seated in cafes or breaking his fast at the local hotel. I tell myself that it cannot be, that the dead, of necessity, stay dead, and yet Signore Don Vashta's shade persists, an ever-present reminder of the things I have witnessed.
"I fear I can no longer perform my duties. My reason becomes suspect, and our work must remain above reproach if we are to be trusted."
It is a matter of public record that Roland K. tendered his resignation two weeks after the mailing of this letter, and there are many who impugn his reputation when they speculate on his reasons for doing so.
I share these details with you today because his letter brings to light many things that I, too, have noticed in my years following Signore Vashta and his many executions.
It is true, as Roland notes, that it is not natural to kill a man, even one who cannot die such as Signore Don Vashta. It is true, as he notes, that a measure of pageantry is necessary. The pageantry creates the distance one needs to go through with the act, serves as the barrier between the executioner and despair.
We are protected by reason and the understanding of our role, both of which were threatened when Don Vashta returned from the grave.
My own meeting with Signore Vashta took place here in the antipodes, when he was first incarcerated in the dismal Melbourne Jail, awaiting his inevitable demise at the hands of Her Majesty's firing squad.
It was, at the time, two days before his scheduled execution.
It should be noted that the firing squad was not the preferred method of execution in Melbourne at the time--any study of our records will show the locals shared a predilection for the noose--but even then Don Vashta's abilities were known to the local correctional.
And so an expert was called for, and so it became my duty to advise them on the correct procedures for elimination.
Don Vashta knew my role immediately, from the moment I entered his cell, and he rose from the Spartan cot to greet me like an old friend, kissing me upon each cheek before clasping me to his chest. "Sir," he said, whispering so that I alone could hear him, "whatever you do tomorrow, do your duty. I must demand that you kill me, for I fear I am a villain and cannot be trusted to continue walking this earth."
I told him, as we all do, that it is not our place to punish the accused. We act from a place of reason, doing as duty demands. We leave it to others to measure blame and guilt.
Don Vashta seemed to grasp this, and released me from his grip. "Do not fear, sir," he said. "I welcome any man who can finally end my time here on earth. When your men shoot--" he paused to thump his chest with a fist "--aim here, aim true, I beg you."