Character Assassination

Larry was certain that this was the end. He’d tried his best to protest his innocence, but to no avail and now he was sentenced to hang for a crime he didn’t commit. Now, surrounded by all the officials Larry entered the execution chamber. Just then the phone rang.

Much as I resent being interrupted whilst writing, I clicked on save and answered the call with a non-committal “Hello”

“What on earth do you think you are doing?” A male voice, perhaps thirties with a sinister undertone – almost a growl. I knew exactly who it was.

“I am about to execute you” I said

“I know and I must say that I am surprised and disappointed. Had you ever considered that I might be innocent?”

I was astounded at his cheek. “Are you saying that you didn’t do it?”

“I am just a character. It is you that does the writing. I didn’t do it – you did.” he insisted “Of course, I understand that because I am innocent you will have to rewrite a few paragraphs – but surely that is worth it? Think about the mitigating circumstances”

I sighed “Changing the whole plot is hardly just the work of a few paragraphs, besides, what possible mitigation could there be? You were caught literally red-handed, covered in her blood. In the boot of your car was a blood-spattered axe covered in your DNA as well as hers. The pathologist tells us that she died between one and three and there is CCTV coverage of you entering the premises at 12:45 and leaving again at 1:30. Add to that the recording of her 999 call when she says that you are attacking her and your goose is pretty well cooked.”

“Yes, but apart from all that…” there was a brief silence at the other end of the line while he considered his options. “You have to contemplate motive. It could have been a crime of passion.”

“You are named as the sole beneficiary in her will. There is further CCTV footage of you withdrawing money using her bank card after you killed her. How passionate is that?”

“A man has to eat” He was starting to sound disgruntled. “Did it ever cross your mind that she attacked me and I was just defending myself?”

“She was seventy years old with a broken hip and unable to move. What did she do? Throw a pillow at you?”

“She was vicious, a mean-spirited old woman. She had a tongue on her like a whip and she used it on me every day. I was provoked. Mental cruelty it was.”

“However cruel she was – it hardly merited having her head smashed in with a fire axe did it.”

His tone changed – wheedling now. “Just think of the possibilities” he said “Let’s suppose I had a double and it was him that committed the murders. I would survive and we could go on to great things – you writing and me starring in adventure after adventure. That would make your agent happy wouldn’t it?”

“Murders” I picked him up “You said murders with an s”

“A slip of the tongue. I am very stressed being about to be hung.”

“It is very relevant though isn’t it – after all, you are known as Lounge Lizard Larry amongst the criminal fraternity. Your modus operandi is to befriend old ladies, smooth your way into their last will and testament then wait for them to die. I am sure if we looked closely at some of your departed lady friends we would find compelling evidence to suggest that they were pushed off the twig rather than just falling.”

Defensive now “Coincidence. Mere coincidences, all of them. Can I help it if I have a way with the older ladies? Anyway, what about my human rights? ”

“This is the nineteen fifties – human rights haven’t been invented yet”

“I really think you are missing a trick here. If I survive this could be a TV blockbuster, a feature film, a West End play, a musical – the possibilities are endless.”

I had had enough of this “I wouldn’t mind but you are not even the leading man in the story.”

There was a chilling silence at the other end of the line.

“Remember this is part of the PC Pettigrew series in which…”

“In which a country copper turns out to be Sherlock fucking Holmes” he interrupted “and goes around solving mysteries that his bosses can’t. I bet they hate him with a vengeance.”

I could feel Pettigrew bristling with righteous anger. “On the contrary. He is always being commended for his efficiency”

“That is just a formal way of saying that they hate his guts. Has he ever been promoted? No. That speaks volumes. I wouldn’t mind but he isn’t even any good. In my experience he couldn’t find his arse with both hands.”

“He caught you.”

“Yes – but as you have already pointed out – there was a trail of evidence a mile long. It was almost as if I wanted to be caught. It was a cry for help really.”

“Or it was you being your usual arrogant self on the basis that the police would be too thick to piece it all together.”

“That is very unkind. I wasn’t feeling myself – out of kilter really”

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. “So you think that the balance of your mind was disturbed? You were mad?”

“As a hatter.”

“You made a pretty poor show of convincing the jury of that.”

He sounded humbled “I know”

“Shouting that they were a collection of little men and suburban housewives didn’t do much for your case. Even if they had been prepared to give you a chance – no one likes being called suburban.”

“So are you going to give me a chance?”

I weighed up the options. The novel was very nearly finished. After the execution there would only be some minor tidying up to do. On the other hand, if I commuted the sentence, he would be free to populate more novels with his skulduggery but I would have to rewrite large parts of the book. I returned to the keyboard, wavering. There was an element of truth in some of what he said. Novels with villains as protagonists could be very popular.

“There is another thing” said Pettigrew. “I always get my man – so we can’t have him getting away with murder can we.”

The trapdoor opened precipitating Lounge Lizard Larry to his fate.

“Time for a pot of tea I would say” said Pettigrew.