“I grabbed the heavy frying pan and bashed him as hard as I could. All the sausages scattered over the floor. Poor Graham slipped on a sausage, fell sideways, crashed to the ground and cracked his skull open on the kitchen tiles. He was so unlucky.”
So saying, Wendy burst into tears, sobbing hysterically.
Becoming a prison visitor had seemed like a good way of doing my bit to help society after I’d retired from my hectic business life. At the time I was pretty low, for my wife had just left me for her young, handsome fitness instructor, and now I had a lot of time to spare and to reflect on my many failures in life. Certainly I’d made a lot of money, but what was the point of it? I had no children, no wife, more cash than I knew what to do with, and nothing to do but twiddle my thumbs. I needed a shake-up.
And as soon as I met the beautiful Wendy Grunchpaw I got the shake-up of a lifetime. My pointless, useless, life changed forever. And it had really been a shocking revelation, for previously I had never thought that in this apparently civilised country, such a terrible miscarriage of justice was possible.
“You mean you’re locked up for murdering your husband, and it was all a terrible mistake?” I asked poor Wendy.
She nodded, sniffing back tears. “You see, John, I knew that Graham was away on business that night and I was scared to death, thinking I was all alone in that great big house. I’ve always had this pathological terror of burglars. So I heard a noise in the kitchen and crept down to investigate. And once I was in the room I could just make out this huge man coming towards me in the dark. All I could see was a vague menacing shape, but I was certain he was carrying a knife. I was terrified. So of course, I had no option but to lash out to protect myself. If only he’d said something, but he just walked towards me, so I simply panicked and bashed him with the pan. Anyone would have done the same. I really thought he was going to stab me to death, but the stupid jury didn’t believe me. It was the women on the jury – women always judge other women harshly, especially if they’re as attractive as me. They’re jealous.”
“That’s terrible,” I sympathised, feeling tearful myself.
“And my solicitor was utterly hopeless,” she went on, “but how was I to pay for a proper legal defence? My only option was to accept the legal aid idiot. Honestly, the injustice of it! The prosecution said that I made it all up, and that I murdered Graham for his money, and invented the story about the burglar. And because they found me guilty there’s a law that states that if you’ve murdered someone, you can’t benefit from their estate. The irony is that if Graham had known what was going to happen, he would have paid anything to clear my name. I was once gloriously happy. Yet now I’ve lost my husband, my money and even my good name.” She dissolved into tears again.
“You poor, sweet, innocent girl. And now you’ve been sentenced to twenty years in jail.”
“Yes, but I’ll never give up hope.” She sniffed, and I longed to wipe the tears from her adorable nose. “I want to appeal. And to appeal I need to pay a lawyer. And I haven’t got any money.”
“Oh my goodness, Wendy, that is absolutely terrible. Is there anything I can do to help you?”
“Well, as it happens, John, there is something. I really don’t like to ask, but. . .”
This was my third visit to beautiful Wendy, and by now I had fallen hopelessly in love with her. I could think of nothing but finding a way to set her free and in my subsequent visits we chatted for hours about ‘our’ project – to find a lawyer who might try to look for grounds to appeal against the jury’s verdict. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy, for there’d been a lot of publicity about her case – Grasping Gorgeous Grunchpaw Killer had been one of the brutal headline in the newspapers when the verdict was announced, and public opinion had always been divided as to her guilt. Of course, anyone who’d got to know her as I had, would have known that she was a poor misunderstood soul, at the mercy of terrible circumstances.
So first of all, I went to see Mr Carruthers, the lawyer who’d let her down so badly in the trial.
“Um, er, well, Mr Greenhorn, it was a very difficult case,” Carruthers said, chewing his pendulous lower lip and looking like a frightened rabbit with diarrhoea. “As I told Mrs Grunchpaw, there is very limited scope for an appeal. The evidence or the legal process has to be flawed in some way, or else new information has to come to light. And, to be completely candid with you, I don’t think there’s much prospect of an appeal being possible. Of course another lawyer might well disagree.”
“Humph!” I told him, looking around the gloomy solicitors’ office, and reflecting what a down-at-heel law practice Carruthers and partners was: dark green walls and a stained grubby carpet, bum-numbing chairs and a smell of stale furniture polish. And the eponymous dead-eyed Carruthers, staring dolefully, all gloom and doom and defeatism. Wendy was right, the man was a hopeless pillock, a legal lamebrain.
“By the way, Mr Greenhorn, if you d-don’t mind,” he went on hesitantly, his voice wary, spawning the beginnings of a stutter. “May I ask y-you – er – h-how well to do you know Mrs Grunchpaw?”
“Well enough to know that she’s in terrible trouble. That she’s being punished for a crime she didn’t commit.”
“Ah. Um. Er. Yes.” He stared at me intently. “But d-did you know that when she married Mr Grunchpaw she was already a widow?”
“I did hear something about it, yes, some tittle-tattle gossip the papers dredged up.”
“It was a little more than that. In point of fact she was married to Bernard Puddlegate, an elderly multi-millionaire stockbroker. On their honeymoon at the Ritz in Paris, he fell downstairs in the middle of the night. The hotel porter found him in the morning with a broken neck. Poor fellow.”
“Yes. Poor Wendy, too. She’s had such terrible luck in her in life.”
“Quite so. And unhappily for her, the day before his accident, poor Mr Puddlegate lost his entire fortune due to a stock-market crash – if he’d died just a few days earlier she would have been a very rich woman.”
“Instead of which, poor little Wendy is on her uppers. Why on earth couldn’t the jurors see that she was totally innocent, and that she thought she was defending herself from a savage burglar?”
“Well, as I say, it was all most unfortunate.”
Then, after gloombucket Carruthers left the scene, it was as if a miracle happened, even though it was a long-drawn-out miracle. I managed to find another lawyer, Mr Bentcrust, who charged me a fortune, but did agree to study the case carefully, and finally did manage to find a new angle on which he was able to submit an appeal. It was a long wait for the court to reply, but eventually the appeal was granted and we got a retrial.
And guess what? A year later, justice was finally done! Wendy was freed on appeal, and was even able to take the police to court for wrongful imprisonment, and she’s likely to get some hefty compensation. Not only that, but since Wendy was found innocent of murder, Mr Grunchpaw’s original will held sway, and she inherited his millions, much to the chagrin of his adult son and daughter, who now had to refund their inheritance, much of which they’d already spent, the greedy fools.
I’m delighted to say that even though I really don’t deserve it, I’m the new man in Wendy’s life. After the trial I asked her to marry me and she agreed. She’s told me that she’d love me even if I was poor, and that the fact I’m in the Sunday Times Rich List is neither here nor there. And since she is already a very rich woman in her own right it’s obviously true!
Everything is fantastic, and the world really is going to be our oyster. We’ve set a date for the wedding, and it’s only a few weeks away, and I can’t wait.
Interestingly enough, she’s had a particularly clever idea for the honeymoon, and she’s gone ahead and fixed it all up herself. Something she has always wanted to do: to go to a wildlife Big-Game reserve in Africa, you know one of those ‘action’ safaris, where you get up close and personal with man-eating lions and tigers.
I really am the luckiest man alive. . . .
(image courtesy of Nicola Giodamo, from Pixabay)