Prison was pretty bad, but one thing Stu liked was that he got to take classes if he wanted, and boy was he ever glad he’d signed up for this one. The teacher hadn’t even started talking and already he was having a tough time getting focused. Man, what a knockout, he was thinking, as he tried to pay attention to what she was saying,

“Hi, guys,” she smiled, looking out at them from behind the lectern and adjusting her black frame hipster glasses. “Welcome to Introduction to Chemistry. My name is Sheridan, but you can call me Sherrie.” She took off her glasses and used the bottom of her peach-colored cardigan sweater to clean them after tucking her shoulder-length auburn hair behind each ear.

A couple of the guys in the class of seven snickered, and Stu knew exactly what they were thinking. Same thing as him. I’ll call you anything you want me to, gorgeous, if you’ll just let me sleep with you. Prisoners all had active imaginations, and this group was no different.

As the lecture progressed, he became more and more enamored with her, especially when she began talking about arsenic poisoning.

“How many of you have heard of chemical arsenic?” she asked. “Show of hands.”

No one responded, although Stu should have. He’d used arsenic to kill his, as he would always call her, bitch of a wife, five years back. But he didn’t want to make a big deal out of it. Besides, the way Stu figured, if Sherrie knew what he’d done, it might lower her impression of him, and he couldn’t have that, not with his imagination currently working overtime.

Sheridan went on to tell the class about how arsenic was discovered by a man in Greece and had been around since around the birth of Christ. “In the olden days, it was used in green dye, and, because of its toxicity, was used to control populations of vermin like rats and mice.” Stu felt the guys perk up at the topic. She looked back at the men. “Around the turn of the century in the 1900’s, all you had to do was go to your local druggist and buy it. Easy! But like all good things, people started abusing it and poisoning people they wanted to get rid of.”

Stu and the rest of the guys were all paying rapt attention now.

“It’s been suggested that Napoleon Bonaparte died of arsenic poisoning,” she continued.

Stu smirked. Not many people know that about Napoleon, but he did. In fact, he considered himself kind of a student of arsenic, since he’d killed his wife with it and all.

Stu roused himself and sat up straight. It was time to show off. He raised his hand, “How about that explorer?”

Surprised at the question, Sheridan looked with interest at the short, lean inmate with a shaved head and dark goatee. She took off her glasses and cleaned them, giving him the eyeball the entire time. Stu smirked some more, thinking, she’s impressed. I’m sure of it.

Sheridan put her glasses on and said, “You mean Charles Francis Hall. Born 1821, died 1892?”

So, she knew of him. The guys laughed and a few clapped. Stu grinned. He liked this game.

“Yeah, that’s the one,” he said. “I read he died on during his third trip to the Arctic on the Polaris Expedition.”

“That’s correct,” Sherrie answered, then paused before asking, “You really do know your stuff. What’s your name, if I may ask?”

He smiled, a nice fantasy playing out in his mind. Now we’re getting somewhere. “My name’s Stuart Skeffington, but you can call me Stu.”

The guys laughed some more and gave off a bunch of catcalls.

Sheridan raised her hands indicating a plea for quiet, and the room quickly obliged her. “Getting back to explorer Hall, you are correct, Stu,” she said, mimicking Ed McMahon on the Johnny Carson Show, much to the delight of everyone. “His crew said he died after he drank a cup of coffee. His body was exhumed in 1968 and large amounts of arsenic were found during the autopsy. The speculation was someone on the crew did him in, but of course, everyone was dead by then and nothing was ever proven.”

“Yeah, that’s what I’d heard, too,” Stu said, although he hadn’t. He just liked talking to her.

Sheridan asked, “Did you hear about the horse Phar Lap and how he died suspiciously in 1932?”

“No,” Stu responded and frowned. He didn’t like losing his edge with her, like she knew more than he did.

“Phar Lap was a famous race horse from Australia who captured the hearts of the world during the Great Depression. He died under mysterious circumstances in California in his paddock at the race track. During an autopsy it showed…” She looked at him and smiled. “Got a guess what was in his blood, Stu?”

“Arsenic?” He answered, Ah, back in the game again. He grinned when the other guys cheered for him. This was fun. He liked that she was paying attention to him, like she was flirting.

“Correct again,” she smiled. “By the way, Stu,” she said after the laugher had died down, “I have in my notes that you have a special aptitude for arsenic. Isn’t that correct?”

Oh, oh. Dangerous ground. But what the heck; what’d he have to lose? Stu shifted in his chair and looked her right in the eye, almost challenging her to disagree, “Yeah, you might say that.”

“Do you want to share it with the group? Or with me?”

Did she just bat her eyes and flirt with me? he wondered. He was positive she did. “Sure,” he said. “The guys know, but I’ll tell you.” He paused for dramatic effect.

Someone yelled, “No!” But Stu ignored him.

She smiled and played along. “Go ahead, Stu. Tell me.”

This was fun. He grinned, and dropped what he figured was a bombshell, “I used arsenic to kill my wife.”

The room erupted as the guys freaked out. In the heat of the moment, with all the imagined flirting and posturing, Stu had forgotten a cardinal rule among inmates: never admit your crime. Never. Ever. Hell, he’d been sentenced to 33 years. Early parole would be a godsend. Admitting his crime would squash that. All the classroom sessions were taped.

Sheridan took it well, though. “You want to tell me about it?”
In for a penny, out for a pound, thought Stu, “Sure.”

He proudly explained how he’d found a small glass jar full of white powdered arsenic in a small town in Nebraska when he’d been visiting his brother. “Yeah, it was in a crummy antique store in this Podunk bump-in-the-road where Cecil was living. I bought it just for the hell of it. Cost like two bucks.” Stu grinned at her. “Turned out that it was useful.”

“What happened?” Sheridan stepped away from the lectern and moved closer to him. “Tell me.”

Stu made himself quite staring at her emerald green eyes and said, “A few years later, I met the woman who became my wife. We got married, but it didn’t work out. She was cheating on me. I was cheating on her. It was not a good situation. One night, I was a little high, and I watched a movie about how an old lady killed off her gentlemen friends with arsenic. It gave me the idea. A week later, I mixed my stuff in with her coffee and bingo.” Stu snapped his fingers for effect. “Done deal.”

The rest of the guys in the room groaned. What an idiot was the general consensus.

“Yet, here you are,” Sheridan commented.

Stu turned red. “Yeah, here I am.”

“Marsh Test?”

“Yeah, the cops used the Marsh Test. I guess it detects arsenic pretty easily. Been around for a long time.”

“Developed by English chemist James Marsh in 1836, I believe.”


Stu hung his head. The room had gone quiet. Sheridan took off her glasses, cleaned them, and put them back on, all the while looking at Stu. Finally, she smiled and broke the silence by saying, “Well, that was quite interesting. Thank you, Stu.” Then she turned to the rest of the guys, “In fact, I have to say that this is the most fun I’ve ever had with a class.”

Stu smiled and raised his head. The most fun. Ever?

Sheridan looked at Stu and winked at him. He was pretty sure she did, anyway. Maybe there was still a chance she’d stay behind and they could get to know each other better.

But no.

“However,” she said, making it a point of looking at her watch, “I’ve got to go.”

She put some papers in her briefcase while the guys, especially Stu, gave her a round of applause. Then she took out her phone and made a call. A guard appeared right away. She twiddled her fingers goodbye, and Stu was pretty sure she’d made it a point of winking at him once more on her way out. Then she was gone, escorted away by the guard.

A minute later, another guard took Stu and the other guys back to their cells. Wow, Stu was thinking the entire time, I’ll take a class from her anytime.

Later, after dinner and just before lights out, Stu lay on his bed thinking about Sherrie. It’d been great fun to show off in front of the group how much he knew about arsenic, especially in front of her. The fact that he’d admitted his crime in front of everyone was kind of a big deal, though, and could affect his chance at early parole. But it’d been worth it.

He closed his eyes and saw Sherrie’s pretty face with her black frame glasses, auburn hair, emerald green eyes, and peach sweater, and he just knew that she was right now at this very moment thinking about him. He grinned. And why wouldn’t she? He’d impressed her with his knowledge of arsenic. He knew he had. In fact, even though it might have hurt his chances at early parole, it’d been worth every minute of it. Yeah, just to have her wink at him again, he’d definitely do it all over again. He was sure of it.