Magpie

‘As you can see the conditions were hard for those unlucky enough to be serving their time on the prison hulks’

The tour guide stepped back to allow the visitors to see the display

‘The convicts were known as ‘Magpies’ because of their striped uniforms and were put to work in the stinking mud of the river pile-driving, laying foundations for new buildings and dredging’

The display depicted a life size figure driving piles into the mud. A dead dog lay beside him and the ankles had a large chain attached to them

‘Of course you could be sentenced to such harsh conditions for as little as stealing a loaf of bread. Just imagine having your name replaced with a number and looking forward to a funeral in the oozing mud of the river’  

James Struthers thought that this sounded like a fantastic idea. If the prisons are overcrowded moor boats back on the Thames and let the bastards work to pay for their crimes. Spending some hours in the mud would give them time to reflect on what they had done instead of this nanny state approach that some many politically correct politicians kept spouting

The rest of the group moved on ahead and he stood back to stare at the display of the Magpie in the case. He wondered how the scum who sat around in the town square drinking, swearing and fighting all day would react to being locked up in a boat and getting some work to their idle, criminal backs. As far as he was concerned it did not matter how small the offence, if you were guilty of the crime you should be made to pay the price. That would be an incentive, a deterrent to stop the re offenders or those contemplating an easy life of thieving

He decided to call it a day with the tour as the guides lefty politics were beginning to irk him. Making for the exit James noticed a postcard of the Magpie prisoner and thought it would like nice on his desk at work

‘Hello anyone here so I can pay for this please?’

His question remained unanswered

‘Any chance of some service around here?’

He rummaged through his pockets looking for some change which he intended to leave on the counter but could not find any. Putting the postcard in his jacket pocket he walked out intending to pay for it next time he was passing

Looking over the balcony of his Thameside apartment with a glass of single malt in one hand and the postcard in the other, he wondered just how many Magpies were left in the mud over the years. Had anyone ever found the bodies or the bones? Were they ever reburied?

He looked down on the mud below him at low tide; it was funny how they never mentioned the dumped shopping trolleys in the brochure when he bought the place. Just the fact that it was an up and coming area, ripe for investment and on the cusp of the best transport links in London

He went back in for a refill and heard the sound again. He had heard it earlier in the evening; a muffled sound like a chain clinking together. He had heard similar sounds before but only when the tide was in and moving the moorings. Now it had gone out there was nothing that could have been moving

Looking over his balcony for the source, James Struthers never saw who it was that pushed him over the railings. He crashed onto the foreshore below, fracturing his skull on rocks, knocking him unconscious. He was found the next day waist deep in the mud after the morning tide had receded. The police concluded that he had either leaned over too far and fell to his death with alcohol being a factor or had been pushed by a person or persons unknown. They had found no other fingerprints in his apartment and there were no signs of a struggle. There had been no evidence of another person being present at the time of his death

There was however the scrawled word written in mud on the wall of the living room which no one could explain which lead to the Coroner passing an open verdict

The word was ‘Guilty’  

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