I’m going to tell you this story from a third-person perspective. Third being a significant ordinal number. Gerald Buchanan’s wife, Josie Buchanan was killed on March the 3rd 2001. The murder was committed on the night that Gerald slept walked for the third time. And I was the third person to encounter the killer.
I was his lawyer, I remember first hearing about the case. I’d recently won a case defending a man accused of rape, the most innocent man I had ever come across. Framed, just because the woman, his neighbour, was sick of him speaking to her children when they came back from school; offering them chocolate. William Withers, he was called- Billy.He had mild features of Down Syndrome, not very evident in his facial features but more in the child that he was at heart. After this case I thought that I could distinguish the liars from the innocents. I always pinned Gerald Buchanan as a liar.
When I heard that the case entailed a 48-year-old man who, during the early hours of the morning, turned his lamp on to find his wife lay next to him with her brains blew out, with no recollection of how this happened, one word sprung to mind- bullshit. The case reeked of it.
Nevertheless, I met with Gerald in his home, he offered me a big sum of money if I were to help him- before he even told me his side of the story. The house appeared mundane, a cottage feel to it, some would consider it cute. He had beads of sweat on his forehead before we were seated, not half as much he passed onto my palm from shaking his hand.
“Cup of tea Mr. Ritter?” he proposed.
“One sugar, please.” He scarpered to the kitchen as I sat myself down, taking this opportunity to observe the room. I counted only two pictures of Gerald and his wife, I presumed it was just the two of them, there were no pictures of children. Above the fireplace hung an immense fish, he was clearly proud to have this on display. It took me by surprise that this fish was larger than the box television in the corner. Gerald returned with the drinks, laid out placemats and rested the mugs.
“I must say, you appear to be a traditional man Mr. Buchanan. With the old-style television and, that fish,” I sipped my tea, bit too much sugar. He laughed, rather exaggeratedly, I couldn’t decide whether it was from being nervous or polite.
“Oh yes, that carp was the first fish I caught down here. More a man of the outdoors than being cooped up watching the telly, just doesn’t interest me.”
“Then, may I ask, why have you got a television?” His smile dropped slightly, and he avoided my eyes.
“Jose. She wasn’t as outdoor enthusiastic as me. So while I went out, for a fish or just a wander, she would stay in and watch the telly.”
I watched him, he still continued to avert eye contact. There was something about Gerald, he didn’t seem like the type of guy to put a bullet through his wife’s brain in the comfort of their own home. But I couldn’t help but ponder whether this all could all have been an illusion he was creating? Despite his milk bottle glasses, his perfectly ironed and buttoned-to-the-top shirt, this guy could have skeletons in his wardrobe, the odd previous lover hidden beneath the floor boards. You never know, do you? Except, going off the outline of what happened that night, at this point I was certain that I had all the answers.
“So, Mr. Buchanan-“
“Oh please, call me Gerald,” he interjected, “Before we continue further.”
“Gerald, I’ve read the case file, but I want you to tell me what happened that night, March the 3rd, in this house.” He shuffled in his seat, interlocking his fingers, resting his elbows on his knees.
“Didn’t the case file tell you enough?” He gave me an unsure look.
“I want to hear it, from the horse’s mouth shall we say.” Preparing to reminisce that night, he cleared his throat.
“The thing is, Mr. Ritter, I don’t know what happened-“
“How can you not know what happened? You were there that night weren’t you?”
“Then tell me what happened.” He was taken back by how forward I was being, he looked vulnerable. I had no patience, as far as I was concerned I was given a case that was self-explanatory as to who the killer was.
“Me and Jose went to bed-“
“What time?” I pushed, he paused.
“I’m not sure, around 10, that’s our usual time- that was.”
“And then what?”
“I woke up around 4, got out of the bed, looked around. I was going lightheaded. Everything looked grainy, “Jose,” I said, she didn’t reply. I turned around, “Jose,” then everything came back into focus. All at once. My unrecognisable, darling Jose. Lay there in her own blood.” He put his head in his hands. “I didn’t know what to do, everything was black, then I woke up and-“ he stopped for a minute, “the worst thing I could’ve imagined to happen, happened.” Silence enveloped the room as I observed him, his head shot up, I knew he sensed the uncertainty in my eyes “Mr. Ritter, I didn’t do it.”
“Well, time will tell-“
“But I’m telling you,” he snapped, “I’m telling you I didn’t kill my wife she was my childhood sweetheart, the only woman I’ve loved. I didn’t, I couldn’t.”
“Gerald you woke up and she was dead. You have no information to give to the police because, “everything was black.’” All fingers point to you, you do understand?” I explained, he rapidly stood.
“Of course I understand, it’s all that’s been running through my mind!” He wiped his face with his hands and began pacing the room.
“Please, help me. I’ll pay you double, I need a lawyer and heard you’re a damn good one, one that I need.”
“I just can’t get to grips with how you don’t how what happ-“
“I was sleep walking, alright!” His back was turned to me. “That night, I slept walked. For the third time in my life.”
“So if you slept walked, then it could have been you-“
“I wouldn’t!” He was shouting now, “I had no reason to kill Jose! I’m not capable of such a crime even when I’m conscious.” His voice was beginning to break, “Look, I’m just a guy who’s always asked for a quiet life: I go fishing, I’m into my books, I’m getting old. You think I would throw it all away by killing my wife? She’s the only person I had.”
“You not got any family or anything?”
“Not around here, my family are all in London. I moved to York because Jose was here.” I wasn’t sure whether I was just starting to feel sorry for the guy, or whether this was what he wanted. Nothing of the case made sense from what he was saying; and discreetly this was making me curious. “Please, help me face the court Mr. Ritter.” I hated it when people pleaded to me, it comes often with the job. But you also learn with the job not to plead, pleading just puts the power in somebody else’s hands. Whenever I spoke to the judge I wouldn’t plead for them to listen to me, I’d tell them to listen to me.
“I need to think about it,” was all that I could say to him. He nodded.
That’s when I decided to call it a day, there was something intriguing about this case, so intriguing that I found myself contemplating the events before I went to bed that night. Even a week later, I was on a date discussing it. There was a slim blonde sat before me, plump red lips and alluring eyes, yet all that I could think about was how it didn’t make sense and how I didn’t know whether to trust Gerald.
Then it occurred to me, that now, I had to get to the bottom of this case. I’m no detective, but if there was a chance that Gerald was innocent, then I had to do something.
So I phoned him and asked if I could come over again, in which he said no problem. I never mentioned a time, and when I reached the house he was walking down the street with his fishing gear, “Gerald!” I shouted. I got his attention and he turned around, beaming.
“Mr. Ritter, was just going for a fish. Care to join?” He appeared so enthused despite the claustrophobia from the fishing rod over his shoulder whilst carrying immense boxes in each hand. I’m more a man of the great indoors, sitting on the couch with a beer- champagne depending on the week I’ve had- housecoat on. The very thought of fishing, sitting there for hours, made me want to decapitate myself. Perhaps he could’ve used my head as bait if he ran out of worms. I’d have preferred that.
“Sure,” I replied, with the most forced smile imaginable. I thought, if I didn’t go then I would have been waiting longer to find out more. Besides, it wasn’t going to be myself physically fishing, I thought. I intended for that to be left to Gerald.
He set everything up, luckily there was a bench before the pond he took me to- didn’t have to sit on the grass in my new suit.
“Why don’t you have first dip?” He offered, holding the rod out to me.
“First dip?” I questioned. I was ridiculously out of my element.
“Yeah, you know, call it beginners luck! You might catch something.” Only thing I was likely of catching was a some kind of infection from the filthy water. I accepted the rod, and he sat relaxed on the bench glancing around.
“Looking for something?” I asked. His facial expression changed, became slightly less relaxed.
“Eh, well Mr. Ritter, sometimes these kids come along and shout the odds. Typical kids. Not going to lie though they put me off coming here sometimes.” Before I could reply he said, “I often came here to think.”
“Think about what?” I remained sat, fishing rod in both hands, in my suit. I was relieved that this place was practically empty.
“Jose.” His stare was fixed at the water.
“I must ask, why is it you never had children?” He turned to me, his grey eyebrows furrowed.
“Why is it you ask that Mr. Ritter?
“You say you loved your wife, I noticed in your home there’s only pictures of the both of you. No children. I just wondered why that was.”
“We discussed children, around… fifteen years ago now. I really wanted a child with the woman that I love- just like any man would,” he declared.
“So why didn’t it work out that way?” I continued, my grip loosened of the fishing rod.
“She made me see that I was getting too ahead of myself. If something were to happen to the both of us, it would be just the child on their own- that’s what she told me. Sure, my folks are in London, but the child wouldn’t know London. Here, me and Jose would’ve been all they knew. I couldn’t bare the think of it ever coming to that.” I looked at him, he did seem like the fatherly-type. Taking them fishing, if he had a daughter making sure the young fools treated her right. Then I reached a realisation.
“But now, it’s just you,” I stated, rather insensitively. It was one of those things you’re supposed to just think to yourself. Gerald smiled sympathetically.
“I still speak to her every now and again. I realise how much I truly miss her when something happens- good or bad, even pointless- like if I’m wearing odd socks. I’d never notice, it’s something she would always point out,” he laughs, “She’s the only person in the world that I’d want to tell, and she isn’t here anymore.” His laughter soon developed to gentle tears, he wasn’t sobbing, the tears seemed to just escape. The more time I spent with him, the more I saw his love for his wife. His innocence.
“I’ll be your solicitor for the case, Gerald.” I decided to cut to the chase. He was lost for words, a glint of hope was in his eyes that I could tell had been missing since the death of his wife. He patted me on the back, I knew how much it meant to him.
Angling for Justice © Copyright Kelsey Cromwell.