Danielle didn’t promise him anything at first, and he didn’t ask.
Visiting a prison, talking through a reinforced window, isn’t the usual way men and women get to know one another. But there was an intensity to their talks that neither could have imagined. They only had minutes with each other, but those were the kind of minutes many couples never experience. There wasn’t music, or food, or a movie between them. There wasn’t physical contact, or shared passions. There was only death around the corner, death and the discoveries between them.
A week after they met, Danielle offered Clay her financial support. Her money, she said, would buy him the best lawyers, the best tacticians. If her wealth could buy him another day’s life, it was there for him.
There for the taking. Clay was usually good at that, but he wasn’t sure how to respond in this case. Now that everything was being offered, he felt off-balance. He had heard about things like this happening, but only in fairy tales. He felt like the frog being kissed by the princess. Clay had always enjoyed stealing from the rich because he thought it brought him closer to them, almost made him one of them. And now everything was being offered on a golden platter. She was his last wish come true.
“I couldn’t just take,” he said.
“It’s not taking,” she said. “It’s sharing.”
“Like we were married?”
“‘Til death do us part.”
“What would your friends say?”
“You know,” he said, then struggled for the words, “if we were to get married.”
“They’d say,” she said, “‘Married to a murderer.'”
Neither of them spoke. The words hung between them. Each felt a thrill. He, that this one in a million (no, make that one in fifty million, he thought) woman could be at his side, and she, at the audaciousness of his notion.
Married to a murderer. Each of them thought about that. Marriage suited their desires, though each wanted different things. He wanted respectability, and she wanted notoriety. Both perceived the other as being powerful, as belonging to worlds they had only imagined.
“Will you marry me?” he asked.
“Yes,” she said.
They didn’t wait. Time was not on their side. Their nuptials set off a media frenzy. Why would one of the richest and most desirable women in the world marry a murderer? Danielle didn’t offer answers, so the media tried to find their own. The life and times of Clay Potter were examined. If Danielle Deveron saw something good, and noble, and attractive in the man, then the reasoning was that there must be something there. Witnesses surfaced that remembered a different Clay Potter than was evidenced on his rap sheet. Even before his new team of lawyers went to work, the press began to call for a reexamination of his murder conviction.
“There is a God,” said Clay Potter. And he knew there was an angel – his wife.
While desperate motions were filed, man and wife continued in their jailhouse courtship.
“People whisper behind my back,” Danielle confessed. “Everyone is talking. And mostly what they say is, ‘Married to a murderer.'”
“They’re wrong,” said Clay, his voice rising, red suddenly appearing in his ashen face. “They’re wrong.”
He coughed long and hard, the coldness of his years of imprisonment, and the harshness of the lies directed at his wife, making him burn with anger. Danielle consoled him. He didn’t understand that she hadn’t been complaining. Quite the opposite. Being married to Clay set her apart, made her something novel. Others might have five carat diamond rings, and Learjets, but she had something they didn’t: she was married to a murderer.
They were quite the odd couple, but to all appearances Danielle and Clay savored their moments together. Despite all the tumult going on around them, despite the clamor for a new trial, neither of them expected that Clay would be alive for very long. In some ways they found a freedom in his execution date. “Carpe diem,” Danielle often said. Clay didn’t know the Latin meaning, but he did like the excited look on her face.
The reprieve call never came from the governor. But Clay’s lawyers found enough extenuating circumstances to allow for a retrial. Clay was ecstatic. He had been proclaiming his innocence from the day of his arrest, and now, at long last, people were beginning to believe him. Clay’s retrial was blessedly short. On further review of the so-called evidence, Clay was found innocent. In the arms of his beautiful wife, Clay left the courtroom. He told the media that he had never been happier, but he coughed all the while he made the pronouncement. It was clear to all that Clay was very sick, his body wasted from his long confinement. Many wondered whether his freedom had come too late.
His death was announced a week later, and the press treated it like a Greek tragedy. Center stage was the widow in black, poor little rich girl Danielle Deveron, but the public was not quick to rid itself of their early take on the story. Behind the widow’s back, Danielle still heard the whispers: “Married to a murderer.”
The words were all too familiar to Danielle. They had been Clay’s last words to her. He had made his pronouncement minutes after his last dose of medication. Clay had been obedient and adoring almost to the end. It was only when he took that final swallow of medication that he finally awakened. His face had undergone a remarkable transformation, beginning with a cherishing gaze, to a questioning glance, to a piercing stare, and then, at the end, a horrified look. He was staring at death, and something else, something that must have appeared even uglier to him.
From the first, they had both seen what they wanted to see, both seen what wasn’t there. For a time, each had thought the other perfect for their needs. Danielle had been married to a murderer, and her beloved was to die for his deeds. When it turned out Clay was innocent (just her luck, she thought), everything changed. This wasn’t a man Danielle had wanted to spend a life with, but a death with. She had married a guilty man. She had married a murderer. She wanted that distinction, wanted the whispers. But even more, she had wanted his death.
“Married,” Clay had gasped, trying to shout out his last words, trying to raise an alarm, “to a murderer!”
Then he died. Poisoned, but that was something only his widow would know.
Of their relationship the public would always judge, “Married to a murderer.”
They would never know, thought Danielle, how right they were.