The object of my disaffection weighs about 300 pounds on her good days. This isn’t one of them. Her hair is stark blond, offsetting her single visible tooth and rows of jagged metal facial piercings.
She is passably revolting in most every way, yet it is her laugh, soul-splitting and echoing from the deepest recesses of her gut, that causes me to abandon all of the rules and morals of society to contemplate her death. And on this train, I’m not the only one with such thoughts…
For those who haven’t read or seen Agatha Christie’s signature mystery Murder on the Orient Express, starring the dapper Belgian detective Hercule Poirot, watch out – I’m about to say whodunit … they all done it. All the suspects on the train conspired together to kill one Monsieur Ratchett.
Unlike the victim on Poirot’s train, our devil chuckler makes it safely to her stop, the fittingly named Bridge of Orchy. As our train passes onwards, however, I wonder what it would be like to collectively plan someone’s death, especially if you and everyone else knew they deserved it.
It’s a funny thing, justice, when it holds lives in the balance, particularly in America where we draw such a confusing line between murder and mayhem, justice and order. When you have an institutionalized death penalty in a democracy, you put populism and majority rule to the greatest test, essentially saying to the accused that the more people who think you did wrong, the harsher your punishment. After all, a majority keeps the death penalty on the table, a unanimous jury paves the way for the maximum penalty and many judges (though notably, not federal ones) are retained in this country by majority vote.
So where is the sliding scale of death and justice? How many people does it take to deem a crime worthy of death, to validate the maximum human punishment? What if we 30-odd passengers on this train held our own referendum, declared ourselves sovereign and voted to codify the termination of whomsoever-laughs-in-a-manner-most-foul (see subparagraph 37C of the charter of the Democratic Republic of Neither Here Nor There)?
“All in favor?” say we.
Let me be plain. I’m not necessarily against the death penalty. I personally know that it would deter me from committing a heinous crime.
What I am against is the inordinate hypocrisy in our country as we feint unbridled shock at students who shoot up their schools, mothers who drown their babies, gang members who kill for a pair of new sneakers on the street. “Killing” and “execution” and “murder” are very convenient synonyms for the same act, variations on a theme that we have categorically refused to disentangle. We have here, as with so many things, a serious case of situational ethics fueled by the unstoppable will of the many over the few.
I alight from the train at a lump of a town called Crianlarich and enter my hostel room, immediately overcome by the stench of wet underwear, dirty socks and rank body crevices. Drastic measures will be needed.
My two roommates, hikers passing along the Great Western Way, smile amicably. I raise my hand.
“All in favor?”
My vote fails, 2-1. They live, and I fall into a fitful sleep, dreaming that I’m stuck in a sweaty shoe, running from a blindfolded woman with two very heavy scales.