I often found myself sat in my apartment coming up with all kinds of conspiracy theories. Just something to work with, if I were to defend this man, I had to find a form of defence. If Josie was an alcoholic, for such a long period of time, then perhaps she killed herself? For about half an hour, I paced the lounge in my housecoat and slippers becoming somewhat excited (would that be the correct adjective?) about this assumption. More ambitious than excited, perhaps. It seemed practical, until it dawned on me that she couldn’t have hidden the weapon if she was dead.

Then Gerald called me, even if he had hardly anything to say, he would call me at least once to see how I was and other small talk of that kind. I told about how I had been trying to come up with other potential explanations for his wife’s death, and that to be brutally honest- he’s going to need a miracle.

“Mr. Ritter, we are currently living on a planet that’s orbiting a ball of fire next to a moon that’s capable of moving the sea. Are you telling me you’re not a believer of miracles?”

I admired the man’s optimism. An abstract noun that everyone lacked nowadays. It was even beginning to fade within myself.

After that evening at Gerald’s I developed a habit of peeking in the odd cupboard when he wasn’t looking. Snooping for more clues. Who would have thought that there would’ve actually turned out to be skeletons in the closet, but ones that didn’t belong to Gerald.

I was at his house one evening, explaining all the court procedures etc. He appeared calmer than he had been in the past, like he had accepted what had happened, and he had to go through with this.

“I just wish I could give more,” he began, “When I tell the court that I sleepwalked, using that as my alibi. They have to understand that I wasn’t even in a complete state of consciousness. They will take that into consideration- won’t they?”

I remained silent- but the silence spoke for itself.

“Fine,” he quietly spoke, “Well one thing that doesn’t abide by the court’s beliefs is my conscience, my conscience is clear. At least you and I know that.” He smiled at me, in which I returned.

“Excuse me,” I said, making my way to the bathroom. When I reached the top of the stairs I noticed that the bedroom door was wide open this time. And I froze, observing Josie’s side of the bed. Perhaps she had more secret hideaways of alcohol in here. Empty wine bottles stuffed in her knee-high boots, maybe her perfume bottles were filled with vodka instead. The masses of assumptions smothered my curious mind, and before I knew it I was on the floor, her side of the bed, routing for something under there. I wasn’t even sure what I was looking for, I already discovered that she never stopped being an alcoholic so finding another bottle of wine wouldn’t create another hypothesis. I just wanted to find something.

“And what exactly do you think you are doing Mr. Ritter?” I paused. This looked bad. This was bad. Not much, just looking for more proof that your wife wasn’t who she claimed to be. I looked up at Gerald, stood there with a frown on his face; arms crossed. The poor guy didn’t look intimidating even from down there.

I scurried from the floor and straightened my suit, attempting to claim back my dignity.

“I think I’d best be leaving,” was all that I could think to say. I attempted to get past him but his hand rested on my chest to pause me in my tracks. He was waiting for an explanation. “Alright, it was exactly how it looked, I was snooping. But look under your bathroom floorboards and then you’ll know why.” With that, I made my way past and fled down the stairs, I didn’t want to be there while he discovered the painful truth about his wife, his Jose.

“Is that some sort of wise-talk? Look under my bathroom floorboards, it that a metaphor or something?” He shouted down the stairs as I exited the front door.
When I got home that night I received a call at around3:00am.

“Alright Mr. Ritter, I don’t want to talk about it too much, or what it means. I know what it means,” he sounded so dismayed, his enthusiasm for life sounded faded during the call- so monotone. “But this does open a can of worms, spreading to different possibilities for her death. I want you to come over tomorrow, whatever time I’m not going anywhere, there’s something I want to discuss with you,” he paused, then finished the call with, “Goodnight.”

I left it to go to answer machine, I was still awake so heard it at real-time. I couldn’t sleep due to contemplating everything- literally everything. What had happened that day, how she may have died etc. and I also wasn’t ready to speak to Gerald from regret of him catching me out like that, it was so complicated. I’m glad that he found out on his own, I should have told him but I couldn’t bring myself to, just hearing him drained on the phone was difficult enough.

So the next day I went round in the morning, I had minimum sleep and was exceedingly intrigued to hear what he had to say. I feared that it would be awkward, besides, I had Gerald’s interest at heart. Luckily, I felt that he understood this, when I knocked on the door he greeted me and offered me a cup of tea like nothing had happened. I declined, too eager to know what he wanted to say. When he stepped to the side I noticed pieces of wood from the staircase scattered on the floor. I started to walk towards the chaos but Gerald asked me to stop.

“Before you see, I want to explain,” he declared, his voice still quite hoarse. I nodded, gesturing for him to continue. “The second time that I sleep walked, was three months ago. That night I ended up coming down the stairs-“

“Do you remember? Did it come back to you?” I interjected, if there was a chance that it came back to him, then maybe the same could have happened this time.

“No, I know from when I woke up. So I made my way down the stairs, and I was beginning to come back round, I get very faint when I begin to come back, and my vision was quite grainy. But I was pulling at a piece of wood at that staircase right there, and it started to move, like it was supposed to. Like that floorboard in the bathroom. Then when I fully came back round she startled me, she was shouting me name for me to stop, she had grip on my shoulders- a tight grip,” he paused, “I was so scared, confused.”

“What happened then?”

“I forgot about it. She startled me that much I pushed her and she hit her head, took her to the hospital and she had five stitches. Tried not to look back since. I felt vile, making that happen to her.”

“So last night, you remembered?”

“Yeah, well I never forgot. I just didn’t think it mattered. But after that floorboard, I knew. I rushed down those stairs, and the wood wouldn’t come out like it started to last time. I was so worked up, it took me hours to find the floorboard in the bathroom, so I just-“ he paused, held up his bruised knuckles. “Go take a look.”

I made my way over again, slowly. The trepidation of what was in there made me nervous. I ducked to avoid receiving splinters in my head, it was such a mess. Under those stairs, was a little room, tiny. Only a table- with flowers, roses, in a vase- and, a phone? A note was attached to the flowers,

“Josie,
When you whisper in my ear, this flower is the colour of your lips.
It’s the colour of my skin when you touch me,
It’s the colour of the wine that we drank that night.
It’s the colour of you, my rose.
Pierre.”

So she was off the wagon and having an affair. I turned to the phone.

“Listen to the message,” Gerald mumbled, he was stood, arms crossed, just before the staircase. I obeyed and pressed play on the phone.

“Hey Josie, just letting you know I had a good time today as per, and was wondering if you could slip away tomorrow as well? I have that bottle of your favourite wine if that helps lure you, took it from work. Besides, I think it’s time we sorted out how to make it official. So meet me at the bar tomorrow, my shift ends at seven. See you then sweet.” I looked at Gerald, he was staring at the floor.

“I’m sorry,” was all that I could suffice saying.

“Well, what can you do,” he replied, not shifting his stare.

“Do you think this guy could have killed her?”

“I don’t know the guy. He could have, or we could be pointing the finger at him just to get it away from me,” he walked away.

 

Angling for Justice © Copyright Kelsey Cromwell.

 

  

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