The walk back from the pond was quiet, he was most likely in deep reverie. And no, we didn’t catch any fish. Rather pointless endeavour. As we got to the door he turned to me and said, “Mr. Ritter, there’s something I haven’t said to the police. I think it’s best now that you’re helping me, that I tell you.” There it was again, that feeling of uncertainty. Just as I thought I had deciphered another innocent from a liar. He invited me inside and I sat in that same seat as he paced the room again.
“You see Mr. Ritter, those boys that I mentioned back there that come to the lake time to time, I last went fishing on the day that my wife died. They saw me there, packing away my fishing things, minding my own business. One shouted, “Old man!” So I looked, I thought this would be better than to just ignore them, that would rile them up,” he began.
“How young were these boys?” I asked.
“I’m presuming under eighteen. They told me to buy them alcohol. I told them I’d do no such thing. So, I walked past them to make my way home when one pushed me, calling me all sorts. I tried to block them out, when I heard one shout, “We’ll kill you and your wife in your sleep, we know where you live,” they followed after me saying they’ll come to my house when I won’t expect it, they’ve seen me leave my front door,” he seemed out of breath now, probably from the anxiety of reliving the story.
“You do know that young delinquents like that come out with all sorts of threats when really they’re not even capable to do as much harm as a pinprick?”
“I couldn’t take the risk. I have a gun from when I used to hunt, just a little pistol. I kept it under my pillow that night-”
“Gerald!” I interrupted, “Do you realise how this is going to look to the police!”
“They don’t know that it was my gun!”
“But they know there was a gun, your wife was shot in the head! And now even more fingers are going to be pointing at you.” He slammed his hands against the windowsill.
“I didn’t shoot her for Christ’s sake! The gun is missing, I have no idea where it is, everything is black leading up to the shooting because I was sleep walking!” I looked at him expressionless. If he didn’t use the gun then who did? Had he been fooling me this whole time? I needed to take matters into my own hands, think by myself without Gerald stood before me adamant of his innocence.
“I have to go,” I declared, rising and straightening my suit. “I’ll contact you, Gerald.” He nodded in response, he and I both knew he had said enough for today.
During my thirty-three years of life I have challenged twenty-seven cases so far in my career, and when I received a phone call the next week to clarify whether I would be Gerald’s solicitor, I took a moment to reflect upon the odds. A case where there was- technically- no witnesses, no strong motives, no evidence as the weapon itself was missing, I had to defend a man who was the prime suspect with no proof of his innocence. Despite his word, I still wasn’t sure of it myself. Oh- and the murder weapon belonged to him. Unless a different gun was used.
Nevertheless, Andrew Ritter doesn’t give in that easily.
I mentioned to the detective about the young boys that threatened Gerald, however it turned out they all had an alibi for that night. Backed up by their parents, each of the boys was in bed- it was a school night. A Yorkshire Terrier had more bite than them boys by the sound of it. There had to be another link somewhere, a missing piece to the night that Gerald had blacked out during.
This link remained free from the chain until one night, when Gerald invited me over for dinner- to thank me for my efforts.
“Lovely casserole, not had a meal like this since living on my own, I usually order pizza or throw something in the microwave,” I explained.
“Well, it’s the least I could do,” he replied. I scraped the last pieces off my plate and leant back in the wooden chair happy-hearted with my full stomach.
“You know Gerald, a nice bottle of wine would wash this down nicely,” I suggested. A tense atmosphere fell before him.
“Oh no, no. Mr Ritter, no alcohol has been in this house ever. And never will be.” The mystery behind this intrigued me, nice guy Gerald Buchanan- once alcoholic. Perhaps this exaggerated traditional-feel was all a smokescreen, for how he used to be.
“Why so?” He dropped his cutlery onto the plate.
“Jose. It’s all in the past now, but when I first met her, she wasn’t exactly in a good way.”
“We all have our moments.”
“If a moment can be extended to three years,” he paused, “When we first met in London, she was an alcoholic. She was aggressive. Lost. Her parents threw her out so she was sharing a small flat with six other friends of hers, all their souls were just sort of, floating around as well.”
“When did she get better?”
“She told me that when she’s with me, she didn’t feel a need to drink. And she always used to mention her growing up in York, how it was her happy place. And when her parents moved to London she just felt exposed, and vulnerable,” he cleared his throat, “She went to meetings with other alcoholics while we were in London, and when I felt she was strong enough, I suggested that we moved to York. And so we did, I left my folks and fled for here; just me and Jose.”
“So was she completely clean after that?”
“Well, for the two years that we were in London she had ups and downs. When we came to York, it was more ups. The odd occasion she would succumb, but one time I threatened to leave, go back to London. And she never drank again.” He smiled softly.
At first I guess I accepted to help Gerald because deep down, I wanted him to be innocent. But now, the more he spoke about his wife- the more his innocence shone through. It saddened me that there wasn’t much to work with, in terms of evidence and other potential suspects. Defending him would be one of the most difficult experiences of my career, but I had to try.
As I made my way to the bathroom, this was the first time I had been upstairs in the house, I couldn’t resist the curious urge to see where it happened, see the bedroom where Josie had died that night. The door wasn’t properly shut, it was right at the top of the stairs so before pushing the door, I glanced back down. Clear. The door motioned open, the room was small, the double bed covered most of it. The window was to the left of the bed, so I presumed that would’ve been Gerald’s side as he went to the window first before, finding her. Josie’s side was, normal. Like nothing had happened. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t expect the bedding to still be blood soaked, but usually death can leave things tinted. But the duvet was pristine white, everything seemed in its perfect place. Simultaneously lifeless.
A creak of the chair from downstairs made me panic, I closed the door back how it was and hurried to the bathroom; if he asked I would’ve said that my belt was stuck or something. So, as I was stood, doing my business, I looked down to realise that my left lace was undone, and the lace had sunk in between the floorboards. The shoe was loose, so I took it off to keep the shoe in place and avoid losing the floorboard, the gap was too big to ignore. After washing my hands etc. I investigated. The floorboard was loose but I had a sixth sense that this was on purpose. After removing the piece like a jigsaw, I reached my hand down the gap. There was nothing, I kept swinging my arm, and was close to giving up. Until something cold brushed my hand. After around five to ten minutes- the belt excuse would be no longer sufficient at this point- I reached what happened to be a half full glass bottle- half full of wine. I reached for my phone and shone the torch down the gap, masses of empty glass bottles rested below the floorboards- Josie’s collection. When did she fall off the wagon? This bottle was the only one with wine remaining inside.
The faint shout of, “Everything alright up there Mr. Ritter?” startled me. Ironically, everything was fine up here, as for down there below the floorboards lay a whole other mystery. How could I tell him? It turns out Gerald, your wife wasn’t who she seemed. I couldn’t. I consider myself a blunt man, but this would’ve broke his heart. So I shoved the bottle back down, and slotted the floorboard back into place, retied my lace and exited. I told him that my Mother had rang me- he seemed to believe me. I thanked him for the meal and wished him goodnight, and left.
I had to unveil more of this real Josie. Even though Gerald doesn’t know why his wife was killed, I had a haunting feeling that Josie may have had it coming to her. I just had to piece together more of the jigsaw.