The first time he saw the electric chair up close, Collins was struck by how beautiful it was. The rich patination of the oak, the barley twists carved into the legs, the oxblood leather backsplat. It was a telegenic chair, much grander than the utilitarian devices you found in American prisons in the Deep South. He had seen it many times on television but he'd never really looked at it.
From a door at the back, two white-coated technicians emerged. Between them, walking calmly, wearing a suit and tie, was the Right Honourable Dennis Akimbe MP. The technicians sat Akimbe in the chair and got to work cinching the straps across his chest. As they were working, Akimbe looked up at Collins and at Baxenby next to him and licked his lips.
Baxenby smiled. 'Looks damn comfortable in there, Akimbe,' he said.
Collins watched him. 'Should we talk about the plane crash?' he said.
Akimbe didn't respond. He was sweating heavily. Even his wrists were wet. They towelled him down and he sweated it all back.
All the sweat made Collins thirsty. He looked around but there was no water. He wondered if water was allowed near the electricity. In six weeks’ time, when he himself was under the straps of the beautiful chair, Gethin Collins would not be thinking of water. He would be reflecting on the choices he had made and how a moment of bravery had marked him for ruination more than decades of cowardice ever had.
Today, in perhaps an expression of that cowardice, Collins watched them affix electrodes to Dennis Akimbe's right hand and right toe and then one of the technicians ushered he and Baxenby into an adjoining room where there was tea, coffee, water, biscuits and a large screen showing the area they had just left. Dennis Akimbe in his chair faced two broadcast cameras beyond which were several rows of theatre seats separated from the chair by a thick red curtain. Above all this was a battery of studio lights.
As he watched, the theatre doors were flung open and the seats began to fill up. Collins studied the audience. He didn't know what to make of them or their motives and said as much to Baxenby, who shrugged.
'Halfwits,' he said. 'That's the only explanation. Unfortunately, we need them on our side.'
'Halfwits?' said Collins. 'We need halfwits on our side?'
'Of course. The next six weeks will be a war, Collins. When you're going to war, you want the halfwits on your side.'
Tom Baxenby sighed. 'Because there's so fucking many of them,' he said.