Extract: The Innocent Wife by Amy Lloyd

the innocent wife by amy lloyd

The Innocent Wife is the gripping new psychological suspense novel by Amy Lloyd, a brilliant new voice in crime fiction.

Twenty years ago, Dennis Danson was arrested and imprisoned for the brutal murder of a young girl in Florida’s Red River County. Now he’s the subject of a true-crime documentary that’s whipping up a frenzy online to uncover the truth and free a man who has been wrongly convicted.

A thousand miles away in England, Samantha is obsessed with Dennis’s case. She exchanges letters with him, and is quickly won over by his apparent charm and kindness to her. Soon she has left her old life behind to marry him and campaign for his release.

But when the campaign is successful and Dennis is freed, Sam begins to discover new details that suggest he may not be quite so innocent after all. But how do you confront your husband when you don’t want to know the truth?

Read on for an extract from The Innocent Wife!

The Innocent Wife
by
Amy Lloyd

Prologue

The girl was found seventy-six hours after she was reported missing. The fingertips had been removed with cable-cutter pliers, a calculated attempt to hide DNA evidence, the flesh of her attacker gathering beneath the whites of her nails as they dragged over his skin. Her body had been moved shortly after death; wherever she was killed had been private enough for a prolonged and violent attack, followed by the mutilation of her corpse. Holly Michaels was dumped in the dark water of the bayou, in the northernmost part of Red River County, Florida, ten miles from her home.
        In the photos of the crime scene she was lying face down. This made it slightly easier to stomach the first time Sam studied them, alone, in the unlit living room of her terrace house in Bristol. At first the photos seemed indecent, not so much because of the gore, the blood matted into fine blond hair, but the sight of Holly naked from the waist down; Sam wanted to lay a blanket across her to protect her modesty.
        Over time she stopped flinching at the sight of her. The more she browsed the forums and saw it again and again, it became less about the body, the waxy pale skin and dark patches of blood, and more about the details around her. Now her eyes focused on the edges of the picture, the patch of ground circled with a red line. Sam squinted. It was a footprint. But, as the forum members discussed, there were no casts of footprints taken or discussed anywhere in the files surrounding the case. The questions started: was this footprint purposely omitted during the investigation? Overlooked? Or are we looking at evidence of some club-footed Red River police officer who potentially disturbed the crime scene? They debated late into the night, Sam unsure what to believe except for one thing: that whatever had happened, it left the real killer free.
        Her obsession started eighteen years after the first documentary.
        ‘Seriously, I know it’s not your type of thing but you’ll love it, it’s unbelievable, it’ll make you so angry,’ her boyfriend Mark had said, his face lit up by the glow of the monitor.
        Sam was sitting next to him in his bed, in the house he still shared with his parents. As the story unfolded on screen everything else started to fade away. At the heart of it the boy, too young for the suit he wore in court, blue eyes blinking confused at the camera, alone and afraid. It hurt her to look at him, beautiful in an ugly room, harsh light and severe edges, his own face so soft with sadness. Dennis Danson, barely eighteen years old, alone on Death Row.
        After the film ended she wanted more, she wanted answers.
        ‘I told you,’ Mark said, ‘I told you it would make you furious.’
        Soon Dennis occupied her waking thoughts and lingered on the edges of her dreams, always too far away to speak to, or hold, his fingers slipping from hers.
        So she joined online groups, a dedicated fandom that pored over every photograph, witness statement, court transcript, coroner report and alibi. They debated minute details until Sam felt exhausted but unable to stop, digging for a truth that could right all the wrongs that had led to this point.
        There were subgroups who passionately defended their theories. They suspected Holly’s stepfather, or the sex offenders who lived in trailer parks on the outskirts of town. They drew comparisons with other unsolved murders across America, which conjured an image of a transient evil, a trucker fuelled by dark fantasies, a man who lived by night and killed alone. Then there were the conspiracy theorists, those who thought the whole Red River police force were covering for a ring of local paedophiles who had some kind of hold on them.
        Sam believed it was simpler than that. A week before the murder a short man had been reported outside the middle school.
He’d been stopping the children as they walked past, asking them for the time. He said he’d lost his watch and asked if they would help him look for it, with the promise of a reward. A mother who was picking up her boys approached him, telling the police later that he had made her suspicious, that he had been acting cagey, his eyes darting as he spoke. He was unknown in the relatively small community and had fled the scene before the police arrived. The man’s presence had left the parents feeling uncomfortable and teachers patrolled the school gates each morning and afternoon as an added precaution. With very little to go on, the police filed the incident and put it to the back of their minds. No crime had been committed and the man didn’t return to the school. A week later, Holly was reported missing.
        On the message boards they referred to him as the Short Man. The police interviewed the mothers again and a composite sketch of the Short Man was published in the paper and posted around the town. But the search turned up no suspects and no leads. Eventually the police dropped the line of investigation entirely and, seemingly under pressure to make an arrest, focused on other rumours.
        Still, the forums followed up the Short Man theory, comparing mugshots of recently arrested sex offenders to the police sketch. Sam read the threads obsessively and marvelled at the investigative skills of the fellow posters, the way their minds could identify the clues that the police had once missed and create stories that seemed so much like the truth that had been missing.
        There were other forums, about other cases, with other victims. There were other documentaries and podcasts and TV shows but Framing the Truth: The Murder of Holly Michaels, was the one that spoke to so many people, that grabbed them and wouldn’t let go. Sam read everything she could on the internet, signed petitions to get new evidence admitted in court (the footprint, a statement from a family member about the stepfather’s alibi) and found the message boards she now browsed obsessively. They were all driven by the desire for the truth, to free the man at the centre of the case, a victim of a gross miscarriage of justice.
        The fans connected with Dennis on a deep level. In part because, after his arrest, over the years they watched him change from a troubled eighteen-year-old boy to the man he became in prison. There was something almost holy about him, the way he looked in bright white overalls. Serene like a monk, his hands and feet bound together with I‑shaped chains as if in some kind of penance. Though he never accepted the sentence and consistently protested his innocence, he was calm. ‘I don’t want to think of it in terms of fighting,’ he said at the end of the documentary, ‘fighting exhausts you, fighting breaks you. I’m handling it. I’ll get there.’ When his image faded from the screen Sam felt a pull in her guts. Overwhelmed by helplessness, she felt the crush of all the unfairness in the world, and wept.
        Sam felt that the people on the message boards were the only ones who understood. They’d all experienced the same sense of impotence the first time they watched Framing the Truth, years ago, and welcomed her to the community. Some were sarcastic: ‘Uh, where have you been? Welcome to 1993.’ But overall she felt at home there, and contributed as herself, shared her thoughts and feelings not only about Dennis but about her personal life, on the General Discussion board. They were the people she turned to when Mark left, when she returned home to find the house stripped of his things, no note, only his toothbrush resting with her own, entwined like the necks of swans in the cup on the sink. The others on the message board soothed her, messaged her with their Skype details if she needed to talk, assured her she didn’t deserve it. They were all she had.
        Most of the group were American but there were British members who sometimes arranged meet-ups and events. Still, it was the Americans who drove the discussions and organised protests. Twice, Dennis had been given a date of execution and the members had gathered outside the Red River County courthouse and the Altoona Prison, protesting and talking with the media to raise awareness of the cause. They slept in tents, handed out information leaflets and collected signatures for petitions until another group formed across the street with signs that read ‘MURDERER’ and ‘WHERE ARE THE BODIES’. The groups shouted back and forth and barriers were placed on the kerb on each side of the street to separate them. Police officers stood in the middle staring straight ahead with neutral, indifferent expressions.
        When Dennis was granted a stay of execution the national media published photographs of the group crying and holding each other. Sam read through the blog posts and the threads about the protests and posted to the Brits in their private forum about how she would love to be able to do something that amazing but it was hard living so far away.
        ‘They didn’t really do anything,’ one member replied, ‘it’s just the way the system works. People are on Death Row for forty years and never get executed. So did they actually do anything to help? Debatable.’
        It seemed to Sam that the British members were less serious than the Americans, that for them it was a hobby. On one meet‑​up they’d all visited the London Dungeon, bloody waxworks posed in eternal agony with rusted medieval torture devices strapped to their necks, a chorus of screams played on a loop over the speakers. As the group shrieked and laughed she’d felt a disconnect, as if they were more interested in the morbidity of the case than the human elements. To them, she thought, Dennis wasn’t even a real person. It didn’t break their hearts as it broke hers. There was a British cynicism, a poisonous lack of emotional investment, that made Sam want to distance herself from them. She felt better surrounded by people who ached the way she did and needed to do something.
        The American members were the closest friends she’d had in years. She stayed awake to chat to them, her laptop perched on bent knees in her bed. A lot of them wrote to Dennis and scanned in the responses. Sam still felt an awkwardness about the familiarity with which they spoke to him. It took her months to write a letter and weeks more until she actually sent it.

29th January
Dear Dennis,

My name’s Samantha. I’m a 31‑year-​old schoolteacher from England and I know you’re innocent. It feels weird to write to you, I’ve never done this before, written a letter to someone I haven’t met. I know people must write to you all the time and say the same things, like, ‘Your story really moved me,’ and, ‘I can’t stop thinking about it,’ but your story really did move me and I really can’t stop thinking about it. There are so many people out here, Dennis, all working hard to prove you’re innocent. I wish I could help but I just don’t know what I can do. If there’s anything you need please tell me, even if it’s something small; I’ll do my best.
        It feels strange to know so much about you and you to know nothing about me, so I’ll tell you a bit just so we can even things up a little. I live alone; my grandmother died three years ago and left me her house, so my mother hates me even more than she already did (if that’s possible). Like you I’m a bit of a black sheep in my family. I hope that doesn’t sound bad, I mean people don’t understand us because we’re different to them, not because we actually did anything wrong. My grandmother always understood me, she was more like a mother to me, really, and I haven’t healed from losing her yet. Maybe this is why your story hit me so hard. I’m newly single (it wasn’t a good break‑up) and I hate my job. Some days I wake up early and I can’t even move, I just lie there wishing it could stay that inky-​light time of day forever. I’m probably saying too much but it feels good to actually be saying it to someone.
        I’ll understand if you don’t write back, you must have so many letters, but I just wanted you to know there are lots of us thinking about you. We’re all really excited about the new documentary: it sounds stupid to say but as soon as I heard about it I just felt this new sense of hope, almost a certainty that this time you could get your retrial. Are you excited? (Sorry if this is a stupid question.)
        I hope I hear from you, you always write such thoughtful letters to people (they post them online, people really love to know you’re doing well, in spite of everything) and I would love to write to you again, if you wanted me to.

        Yours sincerely,
        Samantha

        She didn’t mention it to anyone in case he never replied, and then didn’t post about it when he eventually did because she wasn’t sure if this letter just felt different because it was written for her, or if it really wasn’t like the letters he’d sent to everyone else.

4.14
Dear Samantha,

Sorry for the delay in writing you. You’re right, I get a lot of letters and it takes me some time to read through what is sent to me. But even though I have a lot of time I do not reply to them all. Something about your letter stood out to me. I’m sorry to hear you are lonely. I’m lonely too.
        Carrie tells me about the support online, it’s a great comfort to me. It’s difficult to understand sometimes. When I was in school we had one computer and we would type in the coordinates on a screen and it would make this robot move around the classroom. It was really slow. I think it was supposed to be a tortoise. One day we came back from recess and it was broken. The teacher didn’t even ask who it was. She just said my name straight away. I didn’t do it but everyone thought I did.
        There. That’s something you didn’t know about me. I haven’t written that to anybody. It is strange that people know so much about me. I think they know more about me than I do.
        Thank you for your offer but there’s nothing I need financially. Carrie – I keep mentioning her but I’m not sure you know who I’m talking about, she co-produced and directed the documentary and she remains a great friend – visits and arranges for my commissary. I’m fortunate to have her. A lot of inmates don’t have anybody. To answer your question, I am excited about the new series but I have had my hopes up before only to be disappointed. So I’m trying to remain level-​headed.
        I would love for you to write again. I like the way you write. It’s very sweet. I get some strange letters. I’m sure you can imagine. I’d like to know more about you, please write, if you want to. Please recommend me books. That is always helpful. You don’t need to send them, I will be able to get them.
        I hope to hear from you again soon, Samantha. Your letter brightened an otherwise dark day.

        Best,
        Dennis

She read it again. He’d told her something he’d never told anyone before. It felt like having a piece of him. She took the letter with her everywhere. Each time she felt lonely she read it again. As the letters continued she felt lonely less and less. It was like falling in love, she thought, more like falling in love than she’d ever felt before. There was no pretending to be too busy to reply, or struggling to appear aloof, or agonising over the number of kisses at the end of a text message. It felt natural, right.

9th October
Dear Dennis,

Now I feel excited every time I hear the letter box or get home to see an envelope on the doormat. Is that pathetic?? I just love reading your letters so much. I know you’re just being nice, though. That photo of me is not great but it was the most recent one I could find that wasn’t completely awful. Lots of people love taking photos of themselves (they’re called ‘selfies’, ugh) but I just absolutely hate it. I didn’t used to. It’s not that I thought I was beautiful or anything but my ex definitely made me paranoid about photos. There were things I didn’t even know to hate about myself until he pointed them out.
        I’m doing it again, moaning! I’ll stop. They’ve delayed filming again? You must be so frustrated. I want them to get on with it. The sooner the better. I know you’re cautious but I don’t have to be, I can just fully believe for the both of us.
        The nights are drawing in here. This is when it used to be hardest, being alone, but now I don’t feel so lonely any more, knowing you’re there, waiting for your letters. It’s so good to have someone I can be honest with. When I’m teaching I have to fake this strength all the time or the kids just go feral, it’s exhausting. I don’t really get along with the other teachers. They’re all married with kids, they look at me like there’s something wrong with me because I’m not like them. I couldn’t tell them about writing to you, they wouldn’t understand that either. I saw one of them reading that book about your case the other day –
When the River Runs Red, by Eileen Turner, and I almost said to them, ‘I know Dennis Danson! We write to each other like every week!’ but I knew it would end up being gossip. Besides, there’s something nice about people not knowing.

        Love,
        Samantha

10.25
Samantha,

Your ex sounds like an idiot. You are beautiful. If I were your boyfriend I wouldn’t be stupid enough to let you go. I’ve put your picture on the wall. You have such a beautiful smile, when I look at you I can’t help smiling back.
        I’ve read
When the River Runs Red. Eileen still writes me. It was weird to read about myself like that. I haven’t seen Framing the Truth but from what Carrie tells me it’s comprehensive, whereas Eileen’s book is more sensational. Sometimes I didn’t recognise myself. It made me sound weird.
        Yes, it’s frustrating about the new series, but Carrie tells me it’s for the best. There are legal hurdles to jump before filming starts and I’ve had meetings with my new lawyers that give me some hope that a retrial will take place in the next twelve months. Everything moves so slowly. Each day here is like a week. I didn’t get my outside recreation today because of rain and my head is hurting again. I’ve read your letters many times and when I read them I am less lonely, as if you are here.
        I admit I’m starting to like you as more than a friend, Samantha. I can’t help it. I look forward to your letters, too. Every week I search for yours in the bundle that is delivered to me and when I find it my heart beats faster. I’m almost sure I shouldn’t tell you this. I worry that I’m only going to be a burden to you, Samantha. That the commitment of writing to me each week is too much. That our friendship makes you more solitary or secretive. But I’m too selfish to stop. You make everything more bearable. I can’t promise you anything. You deserve better. I’m worried you will figure this out soon and forget me.

        Love,
        Dennis

13th January
Dennis,

Don’t talk like that. Ever. I love you. You’re all I want. It doesn’t matter to me that we’re far apart right now. I’m happy. But I’ve been thinking and I want to visit, if you’ll have me. I still have a lot of the money my grandmother left me and there’s not much keeping me here. I was saving the money for something special and I can’t think of anything that would mean more to me. It’s time for me to stop wasting my whole life wishing for things and actually do them.
        I know you’ll say no but I don’t accept that. I know what’s best for me. I’ve made up my mind. I could leave as early as next month. Just say the word.

        All my love,
        Your Samantha

1.24
Samantha,

The idea of seeing you here has lit me up, too. I can’t stop moving. Pacing. In the yard I ran circles and the ground threw dust up my legs. The guards laughed and they all said you must be something special. No one ever sees me like this.
        I hope you don’t mind but I gave Carrie your name and address. She will be filming in and around Red River starting in April and I would like it if you could meet. At least I know she can look after you, even if I can’t.
        Of course I will love you when I see you. I worry you won’t love me. I’ve changed. Gone slack. But I’m working on it, for you. I’m older. I think people forget this. Some men still write to the eighteen-​year-​old I was. Love letters. I’m sure you can imagine. And I don’t want you to be shocked when you see me in chains. They make us wear them when we leave our cells. They say it’s for safety but, well, it’s humiliating.
        I won’t give you the word. Come when you’re ready. Come when Carrie is here. But come. I need you, too. I love you.

        All my love, always,
        Your Dennis

Subject: Dennis!!

Sam!

This is Carrie, Dennis’s friend. He gave me your address but I figured it was easier to track you down online. Nice nudes! I’m just kidding, I didn’t find anything weird. Anyway, Dennis talks about you A LOT. I’m kind of sick of hearing about you! Nah, honestly, I haven’t seen him like this in years. With you and the new series he’s like a new man right now.

He tells me you’re coming out here to visit and he wants ME to be your guide! I’d be super honored to entertain you while you’re around. I’ll be filming most days but I thought you could come along, if you’re into it. We’ll be going around Red River shooting some interviews, following some leads we have, witnesses, that kind of thing. Heard you’re a big fan of the doc (thanks!) so maybe you’d like to get involved.

Let me know. Any friend of Dennis is a friend of mine. If you need any advice on where to stay/eat/avoid like the fucking plague then I’m your guy.

See ya soon!

Carrie

She booked the flights before she could change her mind. When she left, no one even seemed to notice she was gone.

Altoona

One

The prison was a vast, grey concrete monstrosity, surrounded by a razor-wire-topped chain-link fence. On the way in Sam passed a plaque embedded in a large stone that read ‘Department of Corrections, Altoona Prison’. Then under a Disneyesque archway there was a sign, with big, plastic capital letters, ‘ALTOONA PRISON’. The few palm trees scattered around the edges of the compound made it look even more surreal, like a film set.
        The hot moist air smothered her skin and steamed up her sunglasses as she threw open the door of her rental SUV and vomited on to the gravel. It was like drowning every time she left the crisp air-conditioned interior of her car and her hair stuck to her skin, curling around her neck like tentacles.
        There wasn’t much in her. She hadn’t eaten since she flew in from Heathrow the day before, apart from a granola bar she bought from the motel vending machine in the middle of a sleepless night when her stomach clenched and gnawed. What came up now were stringy bits of stomach bile and coffee. She had mints, which rattled in the travel tin as she held them. She checked the mirror again. She thought, Maybe I’m one of those people who think they’re ugly but really they’re beautiful and they can’t see it. She flipped the visor back up and said to herself, Body dysmorphia. You wish. Then shook her head quickly to get rid of the negativity.
        She parked the car and walked towards the guarded entrance. She paused, thought about turning back. Over the past twenty-four hours she’d changed her mind a million times. None of it had seemed real until she’d walked into the wall of heat outside the airport doors. This was a mistake, she told herself, an expensive and terrible mistake. Their letters had been a kind of shared madness, just two people wishing so hard for something better that they manufactured it themselves.
        Inside she handed over her visitor’s pass and identification, watched her handbag roll through an X‑​ray machine as she walked alongside it through a metal detector. They were briefly reunited on the other side before a man took it away and gave her a numbered ticket in return, as if she were checking her coat at the theatre. One female guard patted her down; another stuck a numbered sticker to her chest. People gently pushed her in the right directions, saying no more than one or two words, until she arrived in a long mint-green room, stiflingly hot, a small rattling fan in a corner. There were green plastic chairs bolted to the floor; Sam sat in the first available one. In front of her was a thick plastic window with holes around the level of her lips, a small shelf like a desk, and privacy screens to each side. None of the visitors – almost exclusively female – spoke or looked at one another. Sam peered through the plastic window; the opposite side of the room was empty, apart from one guard standing against the back wall staring at his shoes.
        There was a door on the far right with a light above it, framed in a cage. For a second she wondered why and then it hit her, the reality of the place she was in, the violence. Men so dangerous they had to cage the lights, screw down the chairs, bulletproof the glass.
        When a buzzer sounded the light came on, red, and the guard’s head snapped up; he caught Sam’s eye and she smiled; he did not smile back. A memory, when she was a teenager, at a Take That concert. She’d leaned towards her friend and they’d clutched hands; We’re breathing the same air as Robbie! The air fizzed with Dennis’s presence, somewhere out of sight.
        Inmates shuffled in, their ankles and wrists in the cuffs Dennis had described in his letter. Fingers crept over Sam’s spine; her stomach felt as though it was floating away from her. She thought about running, looking back at the heavy metal door through which she’d come in: locked. She realised she was trapped, that the only way out of this was to get through it. It’d be over soon, she reassured herself as the men filed in.
        And then there he was. Different from the others, softer somehow. He’d put on weight, she noted, which made her feel better for a second before he turned his head and she saw his profile, all contours and cheekbones. He was wearing a pair of fake-gold framed glasses, the lenses tinted brown so she couldn’t make out his eyes with the way light reflected from them. When he saw her, he smiled and she waved in a way she regretted, loose-wristed and undignified.
        She tucked her hands between her knees. His ankles were chained and he took only small steps, like ones taken in the dark. At the window he stopped, shrugged.
        ‘Humiliating,’ he said.
        ‘Sorry?’
        ‘For what?’
        ‘I didn’t hear what you said,’ Sam said, pushing her hair away from her face.
        ‘I said this is humiliating,’ he repeated, sitting, the chains clanking against the table in front of him. ‘Chains, like a junkyard dog.’
        ‘Oh. No, don’t. I can’t believe this is actually…’
        ‘I know.’
        They sat, quiet.
        ‘Weird, isn’t it?’ Sam tried.
        ‘What?’
        ‘This.’
        ‘Yeah.’
        She looked at him and it was as if he were a stranger. Sam felt cold and exposed, wanted to turn and leave. But the sensation passed, leaving her head ringing as if she’d been slapped. He smiled; she covered her mouth as she smiled back and cleared her throat.
        ‘I’m sorry, I don’t date much,’ he said.
        Sam laughed appreciatively. ‘Actually, me neither.’
        ‘When did you land?’
        ‘Yesterday,’ she said, thinking of the first mouthful of Florida air as she left the airport, the moment it all became too real.
        ‘Good flight?’
        ‘It was OK. They feed you all the time, to stop you getting bored.’
        ‘Like here.’
        It was gone. All the warmth of the letters. Sam blamed herself.
        ‘When are you meeting Carrie?’ he asked.
        ‘Tomorrow,’ Sam said, thinking of how insistent Carrie had been that she join the crew while they filmed the new series. She didn’t want to feel she was in the way but when Carrie had probed and asked her how else she would spend her free time here, Sam hadn’t been able to answer.
        ‘You’ll love her.’
        Sam felt a twist of jealousy and knew it was all still there, that she still loved him. ‘She seems so great.’ She pulled her lips into a smile that didn’t reveal her teeth, which were too small, or her gums, too big.
        ‘She really is. You know, I don’t really get many visitors. Carrie tries, but she lives so far away and…’ Dennis let the unfinished sentence hang between them and they sat in silence for a moment before Sam felt words tumbling out of her mouth.
        ‘It’s my fault, I’m shy and my mind has gone completely blank and I don’t know what to talk about because everything seems so insignificant, you know? I just feel like a complete idiot. It’s so hot in here and I’m jetlagged and it’s not you, it’s all me, I’m sorry.’
        Dennis looked at her, face slack, surprised. ‘You’re not an idiot,’ he said. ‘And, you know. I love you, you know.’
        It was as if something broke inside her.
        ‘I love you. Too.’
        ‘You have something,’ he said, pointing to his right cheek, ‘there.’ She pulled a strand of hair away from her face and relaxed.
        ‘Thank you.’
        It got a little easier then. He spoke excitedly of the extra visits he’d received lately, of new lawyers with bespoke suits and tailored strategies. Of the new series, A Boy from Red River, and Netflix, which he understood only abstractly. Of new director Jackson Anderson, fresh off the back of a trilogy of blockbusters, who spoke with complete certainty of Dennis’s release, as if it was an inevitability. He told her about Carrie, how he knew she wanted the best for the film but how he could tell, after all these years, that she hated playing second fiddle to a man. She’d always been the one in charge, no question. Dennis laughed.
        ‘She’s pissed but also she knows Jackson can take this further than before. It’s a money thing, she knows that. She’ll still be doing most of the legwork.’
        Jackson had brought an increased level of publicity to the new series. Celebrities tweeted their support, their fans downloading the first film, interest snowballing. Suddenly the message boards had been overrun by new names. Angelina Jolie wore a T‑​shirt with Dennis’s mugshot on it, and underneath: #FreeDennisDanson. He was trending on Twitter. He wouldn’t have known any of it but for the influx of new letters, more than he’d ever received, too many to read.
        ‘I’m starting to think this is it,’ he said to Sam, ‘this could be it.’
        ‘Me too,’ she said. ‘The whole world knows now. Everyone is on your side.’ She wondered: How could one judge fight off the whole world? There’d have to be a new trial.
        There was a buzz; the people around her leaned in to say goodbyes. Some pushed their lips against the dirty window, breathed to their loved one on the other side. Guards turned their heads.
        ‘I have to go,’ he said.
        ‘I know.’
        ‘Next week?’
        ‘Of course. Den, I love you.’
        ‘I love you too, Samantha.’

As he left she blinked away tears, feeling a burst of pleasure from his voice, and the pain of seeing him go. She pulled her dress straight. As she allowed the row of people to filter past her so she could join the back of the exit line, a woman behind her spoke, close enough to her ear that she felt breath tickle her neck. ‘You like child killers, huh?’
        ‘I’m sorry?’ Sam turned, smiling, sure she’d misheard.
        ‘Got a thing for guys who kill little girls. I saw who you were talking to.’
        The woman had curly red hair that looked crispy with hairspray and a T‑​shirt that hung off one shoulder exposing her bra strap. Sam looked around for the guard but the guards at either end of the room were occupied.
        ‘I got family from Red River and they all know what he did, they know who he is, they know more than some movie can tell you.’ The woman spoke so softly no one paid them any attention at all.
        ‘I’m not arguing with you, OK? I just want to leave.’ There was a shake to Sam’s voice that she couldn’t control.
        ‘He tell you where the bodies are? That’s all we want to know. Let those girls rest in peace, let the families rest.’
        They were the only two in the room now.
        ‘Do you get off on it? Is that it?’
        ‘Let’s go, time’s up.’ The officer placed a hand on the small of Sam’s back and pushed her gently.
        ‘Bitch,’ the woman said finally. The guard moved his hand away from Sam and took hold of the woman’s wrist, a smirk on his face as he walked them both out.

Buy The Innocent Wife by Amy Lloyd
The Innocent Wife by Amy Lloyd

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