DISCLAIMER: Shed Productions made the original Bad Girl element of the characters, wrote the stories, and have full copyright to them. We are using these characters simply for non-profit, entertainment value. Likewise I am giving credits to G F Newman who wrote the Judge John Deed copyrighted characters and storylines via BBC Productions in this cross over fiction. There are other characters who are original creations.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: I wish to give credits to Norfolkpoodle and her barrister brother for her invaluable assistance in constructing the legal background. I would likewise give credits to the Bad Girl Annex Site for help with chronology from their 'Timelines' piece to William Shakespeare for the loan of his words.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

Cleanup Time – The Nikki Wade Retrial
By Richard


Scene Eighteen

Joe Channing didn't let the grass grow under his feet. He checked the court lists and the Partridge case was due to recommence on Tuesday afternoon. He made his way to John's chambers in the morning and tapped discreetly on the door.

John was greatly surprised to see Joe Channing come into view and that the expression on his face appeared benevolent. There was something oddly hesitant in his manner, which was strange, as he had never before hesitated in unloading his wrath on John for any number of reasons.

"Ah, Joe, take a seat," John invited cordially.

Joe blinked in puzzlement and hesitated. This room conveyed the feelings of more placid moments between them when John was still married to George. Young upstart though the other man had been, their shared passion for the law bound them together as much as it made for intense arguments. He definitely smiled and took a seat.

"Is this a social call or on business, Joe?"

"Well, actually, it is a bit of both. Supposedly, I'm on an errand to remonstrate with you to go easy on Alan Partridge if he is found guilty. You know, the sort of argument that 'the quality of mercy is not strain'd, it droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven.'……"

John pricked up his ears at this déjà vu moment and thought for a second that he was facing Sir Ian's errand boy but there was something peculiar in the intonation in his voice.

"…..and this is what I'm supposed to tell you."

"But perhaps you don't feel this way?"

"Definitely not. I hate being bounced into action by anyone but I've suddenly learned to definitely detest being made to do the government's dirty work. I intend to be my own man and do what is right and proper. That doesn't of course mean that I'll always agree with you."

"When did we ever agree on anything, Joe?" John asked, his words belied by that note of nostalgic affection in his voice.

"Just what do you think of Neil Haughton, John, both as a man and as a Home Secretary?" Joe counter questioned, fixing John's gaze with his own sharp expression. John sensed that this was at the root of all his thoughts.

"As a man, I despise him as someone who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing, someone who won't sink to any moral depth to further his own selfish ends. As a Home Secretary, he's a threat to all of us, as he wants to reduce us to mere ciphers of the Home Office's diktats. His ego threatens to lead the attack on civil liberties further than his predecessors."

"Hmm," Joe murmured, clearly impressed by John's rapid and concise analysis. "Everything you say is undoubtedly true but wouldn't it be also true to say that you are jealous of the man because George is with him?"

"There may be something in what you say, Joe," John replied slowly, as if the words were being dragged out of him against his will. This meeting had become a place of straight talk between the two of them and he felt honour bound to maintain his side of the unspoken bargain.

"George and I are incompatible but I love her as the mother of Charlie. I just think George has shown bad taste in taking up with him, even as a trophy partner."

"Ah, Charlie." Joe boomed, deftly steering the topic away from a delicate area." That is the one thing we have in common…and also our profession."

The pause that elapsed between then spoke loudly of the falling away of the shackles of old antagonisms and the creation of new bonds. This was as good as a handshake on an unspoken agreement.

"So you're joining the ranks of the rebels, Joe. It is a noble calling but it is certain that you'll have a rough ride of it," John observed.

"I may be a bit long in the tooth but I'm more than ready for the battle. I've rested long enough from it."

"This must be the first time in years that we've agreed on anything."

"We've always argued, John, but in the early days in a healthy combative fashion. Surely you remember?"

John remembered very vividly. In the first flush of his courtship of George, he had as a young buck clashed, antlers to antlers, with Joe's right wing traditional yet formidable intellect. Despite all the sound and fury, which caused George to raise her eyebrows in despair, he secretly enjoyed these moments. This was the first time that Joe had confirmed that he had felt the same. He knew now why Joe had been so furious and antagonistic when his marriage to George had broken up.

"For official ears, I will have tried and failed to intercede with you over the Partridge case. You will act, of course, as an independent judge as if any representations from me on behalf of those corrupt politicians would ever have carried any weight with you."

John laughed heartily, his blue eyes ablaze with joy. As someone who had been an outsider for many years, he had learned to be proud, independent and to keep his own counsel. He knew now that partners in his struggle would be very welcome, a struggle which was bound to intensify. His brethren were locked in their petty preoccupations and didn't see the bigger picture unless they came to open their eyes. He wondered what George would make of this new alliance, of her father learning to behave himself badly.

When John's entry to his throne on the very last trial session, the tension started to mount. Jo Mills took the stand, conscious that the press was now in the galleries, the jury was waiting and that most of all Zoë Carson and her mother were watching her. She needed to summarize everything that she had argued over the past few days and make her case stick. Most of all, she was aware that Donald Frobisher would have, in effect, the right of reply and she needed to second guess what she might say. She took a sip of water as her throat was dry. Holding onto the rail, she played her final card.

"You may hear arguments from the defence the discredited argument that Miss Carson, to put it crudely, was 'asking for it.' Well, to quote Mandy Rice Davies in the Profumo affair, 'he would say that, wouldn't he?" It doesn't take any great degree in learning that the matter is one of consent and that Miss Carson was doing no more than any averagely responsible young person does in going out on a Saturday night. The only distinguishing features were that she ended up, quite inadvertently, at the wrong place, at the wrong time, and, above all, met the wrong man. Any break in the chain of circumstances would have meant an entirely trauma free night out. I would urge you to consider Miss Carson's account of the extreme plausibility of the witness, someone out of a Jane Austin novel, and, by contrast, Mr. Partridge's words 'some some girls say no when really they mean yes." Lastly, I would refer the jury to consider the forensic evidence of the injuries sustained by Miss Carson and the torn clothing. That evidence alone argues that sexual assault took place and nothing else."

Donald Frobisher's approach attempted to be coolly dismissive of the emotion in Jo Mills's voice. Inwardly, he winced at the most damning evidence, which she most skillfully deployed. He had no certainty that the jury would believe him but, like a good actor, he played his part up until the final lines.

"Let me remind the jury to listen to the case calmly, dispassionately and not get carried away with any well meant identification with the plight of women who are brutally raped. The onus of proof is in the prosecution and the whole case amounts to one person's word against the other and who is to say that Mr. Partridge in the dock is any less reliable than Miss Carson? I urge you to consider that Mr. Partridge is unusual for an ordinary man of his age in being under the media spotlight because of the high media profile of his father. Surely, in the age we live in, if he had done anything untoward in the past, the paparazzi would have nosed out a similar event some years ago? The whole case comes down to one person's word against another, the word of the other party being a woman who by her own admission, had a neediness for fun and excitement in her life. You have heard evidence from Mr. Partridge that Miss Carson clearly consented to sexual intercourse with Mr. Partridge. I submit that she regretted it the day after and trumped up these charges against my client. Put this way, you, the jury, must find him innocent."

By contrast, John Deed's directions were simple and to the point. He studiously avoided looking in the direction of Sir Ian and Lawrence James who did their best to glower at John without making it too obvious. Likewise, he avoided looking too closely at the press. His performance wasn't designed for public display, only that he should conjure up the right words. Finally, he smiled down on the jury to deliver his final words of advice.

"In considering the fate of the man before you, do not consider that you have to deliver a quick verdict. Take your time in deliberating these matters until you are ready to come to a decision."

Claire was impressed by his thoughtfulness, as she had known other judges to quite happily attempt to bully or cajole the jury into delivering the verdict they expected of them. After John made his way back to his chambers to sit it out, the atmosphere of the court changed at once. The sound and fury of court proceedings had subsided as it were a mechanical clock that had run down. There was nothing to direct and no one to do the directing as everything awaited the jury who had passively listened to everything that had been said and done. They were temporarily becalmed in the Doldrums. It was the jury's turn now and who knew how long they would take to deliberate over the case? However, twenty minutes later, a court usher made his way back quite out of the blue and a sense of anticipation rippled round the court.

The moment of truth had arrived with a sense of electric tension as the court usher put the charge to the jury foreman who unhesitatingly uttered the clipped word 'guilty.' At that moment, Alan Partridge in the dock looked bewildered as if what he was hearing couldn't be real. Surely something could be fixed for him to get out of this unfortunate situation. Zoë Carson and her mother hugged each other in total elation while Sir Ian and Lawrence James glared daggers at John. This wasn't supposed to happen as at the very least Joe Channing's mission was supposed to have succeeded. John Deed composed his voice and feelings to give his final address without a sign of nervousness in his manner. This was his supreme moment.

"Mr. Partridge, the verdict you have been convicted of is of statutory rape. While I accept that you are previously of good character, what does concern me is the lack of remorse, which you have displayed, and your complete denial of reality. It seems to me that you have grown up in a bubble of celebrity and privilege, which has encouraged you to think that life is for the taking, without consequences. The offence that you have been found guilty of is one that allows for some variation in the appropriate punishment that I can hand down. I have taken into account the sentencing guidelines and I have decided that you should serve a term of seven years' imprisonment. This sentence is intended to set down a marker that there should be freedom of men and women to come and go within the limits set by the laws of the land and that in matters of sexual relations, no equals no and yes equals yes. It is within my power to achieve legal closure on the wrong that has been done to Miss Carson. What is beyond my powers is to achieve closure for her in any wider sense including emotional on that ill-fated night. I trust that she has those around her that will help her achieve this. Take Mr. Partridge down to the cells. Court is dismissed."

There was a flurry of motion as the prisoner was escorted away and the court started to empty. As Jo floated out as if wings were on her feet, Claire followed to congratulate Jo while Donald Frobisher slunk out, the only comfort being the sizeable barrister's fee he would collect. Sir Ian and Lawrence James slipped out quickly to report matters to the Lord Chancellor. Both the press and the jungle drums went immediately to work to report to the general public and the corridors of power, especially to an irate Neil Haughton.

It was a novelty for Helen and Nikki to extend their social life and knock on the front door of Claire and Peter's flat as the vague suggestion made before Christmas became translated to reality when space in four busy lives coincided. Helen knocked crisply on the front door and let them in. Once inside, both of them were temporarily frozen with nervousness. They had entered a play in which they were not sure of their parts.

"It's lovely to see you. You're both looking so well and so good together," Claire's soothing voice greeted them.

Instantly, the atmosphere warmed and Nikki stopped seeing Claire just as the professional who had worked first for her appeal and then the buyout of her share of the club. She was just another companionable woman who she would be getting to know on a more personal level.

"This is my husband Peter, definitely my other half who is stuck with me when I get home after a hard day's work."

"Any guy who's Claire's partner must have a lot going for him, from what I have seen of her. It was a big step for me to trust my destiny in someone else's hands after a lifetime of being independent," Nikki tactfully responded, stepping forward with a firm dependable handshake.

It instantly reassured the man who was secretly wondering how the evening would proceed with Claire's lesbian friends and where he would fit in to the picture. He knew that he could let the evening flow with intelligent, stimulating company. The graceful implied compliment to Helen also pleased her in gently edging the four of them together.

Helen and Nikki took the weight off their feet and sat on the settee on Claire's gentle invitation. She poured them a drink each and the chitchat started with effortless ease.

"So come on, you two. What sort of interesting tales have you for us from your experience in the dangerous world of law?" Helen questioned them.

"My life is fairly mundane, Helen. If you look in the Times, you'll see one of Claire's high profile cases which she can now talk about instead of muttering distractedly to herself at odd intervals as she has done these last weeks."

The newspaper was on the chair arm, which Nikki unfolded on her lap and Helen's.

"My God, British justice has taken a big turn for the better. The statement by the judge could easily come out of a feminist tract and that's a compliment. There will be a lot of women who will feel more comfortable with the workings of justice quite apart from our experience."

Helen stared at the article in wonder with parted lips. John's final words had a strong resonance with her for that evil chance that had placed her late at night in the PO's room when an enraged- not demented - Jim Fenner had sexually assaulted her. Her memory recalled a conversation she'd had with Claire about her upcoming case and put two and two together.

"Wasn't that the case you mentioned last time I saw you?"

"The same."

"Well, it was a wonder that the defence didn't twist everything around and that strings weren't pulled to let him off the hook. Powerful family friends means privileged treatment from my experience at Larkhall, Charlotte Myddleton for a start."

"We were lucky with the barrister we had, Jo Mills, who truly believed in the case. She really pulled all the stops out and didn't give an inch."

"Unusual for a guy," observed Nikki incautiously and unthinkingly.

"Jo as in Josephine, Nikki," Claire smilingly replied

"How come you, as a feminist, assume that the barrister would be male. That's letting the side down if you like," teased Helen gleefully.

"Well, anyone's entitled to a simple mistake. I didn't think there were other female barristers than Marian," came Nikki's wry slightly comic answer.

"The legal profession is gradually changing. I'm not the token woman in my firm as I used to be. The same applies for barristers. Progress is being made."

"Just imagine the legal profession being more enlightened than the prison service. I was definitely the token female wing governor at Larkhall," observed Helen darkly.

"You were, of course, the one and only Helen Stewart, darling," put in Nikki, discreetly brushing her hand with her fingertips.

"The other reason for the result was the choice of judge, John Deed. He is like no other judge that I've ever come across."

"Oh good, so men do serve a useful purpose," Peter added brightly and cheerfully.

"You might be surprised to hear me say this one, Peter, but as I've been a lesbian all my life, my experience of men has been strictly limited. I've found that there's good and bad, same as with anyone else. I take people as I find them. That being said, I've never come across in all my life such an anti male attitude amongst some supposedly married heterosexual women at the dump where I work. I don't want to put the dampeners on the party but you wouldn't believe the way they slag off their husbands left right and center. I declared just who I was when I started work and it's protected me in a weird way. They can't get a handle on me so I can remain sort of detached from them. That being said, I don't know just how long I can take their narrow mindedness. In fact, I've sent off a sheaf of job applications. The irony of it all is that the person I get on best is a guy called Tony. He's just a genuine nice guy."

"That's terrible, Nikki. There's a big world out there and there's a lot out there you don't understand. People ought to be at least try to accept what they can't get their heads around," Peter replied in a genuinely concerned fashion. It struck Helen just what soul mates he and Claire were as the words could so easily have come from her.

"There you are, Helen. A couple of sentences of pure insight in contrast to the constant verbal diarrhoea at work," Nikki replied with intense feeling. She put her hands to her head and really felt uncomfortable at darkening the world around her. A thought floated into her mind of the way out of this dark hole she was in danger of falling into.

"Tell me about this judge, Claire and lift my opinion in human nature."

"Well," said Claire." I'm not sure where to begin. So much has happened in this trial and it's not so much the major events but the little things."

"Begin at the beginning and carry on through to the end," came Helen's irrefutable advice. Nikki smiled at her fondly. It was so like Helen to be so logical about everything.

"Oh well, since you put it this way," began Claire and all her pent up thoughts, concentrated into the space contained by the courtroom, spilled out into words. Nikki and Helen were instantly caught up in this new world, as was Peter. Normally, the laconic Claire wasn't over talkative about her normal day-to-day job but what she said was a real eye opener. The soft low lights that bathed the four of them in this nice homely flat illuminated hope in the world for them all.


Scene Nineteen

In retrospect, it seemed that Helen and Nikki's lives were overtaken by a series of events or omens the meaning of which they were unaware of at the time but only became clear in retrospect. The first one came about totally inauspiciously on a normal Saturday.

On a cold and blustery day in February, Helen was driving their Red Peugeot through the busy London traffic as they had often done before. Rain spots spattered on the windscreen, which the wipers were hard put to sweep away. As Helen was squinting through the steamed up windscreen, Nikki slid her hand to the heating switch, which gently blew out warm air.

"Hey, I can see where I'm going now," Helen exclaimed with surprise.

"Now you're telling me. What about having someone in front of you with a red flag?" joked Nikki to which Helen grinned in reply.

"Bloody lorries," Helen swore as a juggernaut swept round the roundabout right in front of her car." Just because they're the biggest thing on the road doesn't mean they have to hog it."

Nikki sat back patiently in the passenger seat as Helen shot into the waiting space with great determination. Helen was now in the space that she wanted and some of the tension eased out of her body. Driving in London was certainly only for those strong of will and wasn't exactly a pleasure. However, there was no other way for them to be able to nab the second hand mahogany bookcase that Nikki's growing collection demanded. It was perched nicely in the rear passenger seat and would clear the growing stack of books on the living room floor.

Suddenly, the dirty grey clouds parted and brilliant winter sunshine and blue sky brightened the view. They weren't too far away from their flat and they were both dreaming of a nice hot mug of coffee. It was just when they approached a set of traffic lights when Helen noticed the light turn to amber. Cursing, she jabbed her foot on the brake pedal and the car stopped just in time, a foot past the white line.

Suddenly, there was a dull thud from the back of the car and the car jolted forward. Helen swore loudly. It could only mean one thing and wouldn't it be their luck to be involved in an accident on a fairly busy junction. Helen and Nikki shot out of their car and, sure enough, a green MG Sports car was right up against the rear of the car. In no time at all, a tailback started to build up and cars started tooting.

"There's been a bloody accident," yelled Helen with the full force of her lungs to all the world in general." You'll all have to steer round this mess till we sort it out."

A man sat in the car behind the green MG, red in the face and hooting his horn. Helen strode rapidly over to him and shouted through the narrow space he had incautiously left open. Her hair was dishevelled and the expression on her face would have stripped the insides of copper boilers.

"Don't you just sit there kicking up a noise, you idiot, do something useful."

Red- faced, the man promptly shut up and hastily tried to edge his car into the congested right hand land. The cars behind him soon got the message and order of a sort was restored. Nikki smiled slightly to herself, thinking to herself that an ex prison officer was useful in a public confrontation. Automatically, Helen made her way over to the other driver and somehow, it was only till she got close that both the driver and the car was familiar. Who else was the woman with long fair hair and driving a green MG sports car?

"I might have known it was you, Karen. You won't get me saying, how nice to meet you even if you had been stupid enough to run into the back of my car."

"Just a minute, Helen," protested Karen," you were right on the lights and slammed on the brakes. I hadn't got a chance to stop in time, not in this wet weather."

"You know well enough that it's the duty of every car driver to keep her distance from the car in front or are you trying to say I suddenly reversed back into you? You're on a hiding to nothing and you know it."

"We'll see what my insurance company says about this, not to mention the police and any independent witnesses."

"Just get real, Karen," Nikki cut in forcefully." You know you're on a loser no matter how many witnesses you drag off the streets. It's an open and shut case."

"What are you doing in Helen's car, Nikki?" Karen demanded with that automatic wing governor edge to her voice, an instinct that played her false.

"What the hell is it to do with you?" lashed back Nikki.

The counter-question was like a slap in the face to Karen. She wasn't Miss Betts in this world right now. What indeed, she asked herself. An inner voice told her that what Helen and Nikki were doing together meant nothing to her and vice versa, as they were both in different worlds. It was two and a half months since Karen had seen either woman.

"I'll check out the car while you get the details. At least you don't have to ask her for her name," Nikki offered helpfully.

She looked quickly at the car and fortunately, while there were some broken lights and dents, the damage was superficial. She glanced at Karen's car and judged that her radiator hadn't been damaged by the collision, not that she was greatly concerned for her welfare right now.

"Your address and the name and address of your insurance company, if you please, Karen," Helen demanded in cold formal tones with a force of personality which Karen recognized was Helen's natural style. In turn, Karen provided the details, appearing less sure and confident than either of the other women expected. Her initial fire and fury was spent leaving her in a more subdued mood. Both of them suddenly realized that the other woman had no claim on them or any power over them. When Nikki looked closer at Karen, she noticed that she wasn't wearing the familiar smart suits that were the feature she most remembered. She was puzzled to see that, underneath her unbuttoned winter coat, she was wearing the familiar black and white prison officer's uniform.

"You've been demoted, Karen. How come?" enquired Nikki.

"The new Governing Governor, Neil Grayling doesn't think that I'm a 'team player.'"

"And what about Jim Fenner?"

A definite air of embarrassment was visible on Karen's face as she hesitated and stumbled over the reply. While events had moved on while Helen and Nikki were away from Larkhall, Karen sensed what a shock the sudden telescoping of events would seem to them.

"As a matter of fact, he's the new wing governor on G wing."

The look of disgust was palpable on the faces of both women. They could hardly believe their ears. Their imaginations shrank from drawing a mental picture.

"You once had the chance to run G Wing with me but you blew it," Helen said shortly.

"I know that now. At least, I'm not with him any more."

"Look here, Karen, both Nikki and I have moved on. I feel sorry most for the prisoners under his very doubtful care but that's as far as it goes. You're just another woman in a long line that he's dumped on. In the fullness of time, I may feel sorry for you but don't count on it as I took a lot of crap and you were responsible for part of it, at least through sheer stupidity."

"You're basically OK, not like Fenner," added Nikki, not unkindly but firmly. "If you've got anything about you, you'll carry on where we left off and look after the women. You owe it to them big time."

At that moment, a passing police car drew up from the opposite direction and a youngish policeman made a swift witness report from all parties who gave the details in a crisp and efficient fashion. He noted that there wasn't anything that he was required to be involved with in any criminal fashion. Nikki looked on and it dawned on her that a visit by the police wasn't the precursor to being banged up in a police cell and questioned for hours. He was here to help the public and was amiable and business like enough. He politely suggested that, once insurance details were exchanged, they could move their cars out of the way if possible and ease the traffic congestion, as this was now his only concern. He reminded them all of Dominic in his manner.

"I'll write down my name, home address and my insurance company and get this mess sorted out. Your insurance company will carry the can for this one. I expect you to do what should be done, Karen," Helen concluded looking directly into her eyes.

Both women were aware that Helen had once been her boss. Behind the controlled anger, both women had a faint respect for the way Karen never attempted any feeble excuses or outright lies. In fact, she carried herself with enough shreds of dignity to see the incident through.

"Come on, Helen, we'd better be going. We'd better clear the traffic and, anyway, we've got a bookcase to fill."

Helen looked sorrowfully at the broken lights and dents in the car. They spoiled the nice clean look of the car and knew that it spelt endless hassle with insurance companies, diagrams, details of what happened when. Most of all, it gave her an uneasy feeling of being entangled with Larkhall, even if it was through the filter of anonymous insurance companies. Karen looked anxiously at her own car, hoping that the radiator wasn't leaking. She ruefully concluded that her insurance premiums were going to take a hammering. More than that, she envied the two other women. They had got their future and freedom together and new jobs and here she was, she was stuck forever at Larkhall. Her only resolution was that she should nurse her stricken car home and honour her promises.

Both women were quiet as they made their way homewards without further incident. After Nikki slid the bookcase off the back seat proudly, Helen silently locked up the car.

"At least something positive has happened today. It will help your tidy minded self not to have my books cluttering up the place. I can't help the habit of reading I kept up in Larkhall. You helped me with that, remember darling."

Nikki felt obliged to be mildly cheerful as Helen was clearly depressed at having the accident. It was something they could both do without. She hauled it up the steps while Helen unlocked the front door and let them in.

It was only when Nikki was inside and set the bookcase down that she spotted at the three letters on the doormat. She eagerly snatched them up. Today might be the day when her future would be turned around. She feverishly ripped the first one open and read the contents intently. To Helen's shock, she saw the joy in Nikki's eyes and the smile on her face disappear only to be replaced by an expression of hurt rejection. She dropped the letter and envelope on the floor and ripped open the second letter. After doing the same with the second letter, she opened the third letter more slowly. Finally, her face went white with anger and her fists crumpled up the remaining letter. She breathed in and out heavily and paced round the hall. The other woman feared for what she knew. It must be really bad news.

"Three job refusals. Brilliant. I've had it up to here, Helen. Look at me, I'm thirty-five. I've worked and slaved all my life to finally help get that club off the ground and after years of hard slog when I finally saw the payoff, I could I could relax and live more comfortably. But oh no, I'm fated not to live life as easily as that. Some misogynist bastard of a policeman comes along, starts sniffing round the club with his twisted ideas of sex. He didn't have to be there, he didn't have to try to rape Trisha, he could have cleared off when I broke a bottle over his head- that's a pretty good hint, isn't it that he's not wanted - only in one mad moment I stuck a broken bottle in his neck. Then his lying police mates covered up for him, dumped on me and got me banged up for life and guess what, I'm stuck with another misogynist bastard to lock me up at nights. When, thanks to your hard work, Helen, I finally get released by the skin of my teeth after three years, I really try to make a new start, a new job, such as it is. I send off for job applications. I've been there, done that, worn the T shirt and get mealy mouthed letters of rejection for jobs that I know I could do with my eyes closed…………."

Nikki rushed forward and buried her head in Helen's shoulder. Everything about the jumbled torrent of words and her need for comfort shouted out that what had happened to Nikki wasn't fair. It tore through Helen's emotions and tears trickled down her eyes as she held Nikki in her arms and comforted her. She could feel the overflowing of all the accumulated hurt through her body. She waited for a long while before her anguish subsided before resolving to will her to fight back. After the accident earlier on, she was in a naturally uncompromising mood and disinclined to accept what fate handed out without a fight.

"Hold on a moment, Nikki, we can't let this set us back. We can't take this lying down, Nikki. We're going to do something about it."

"Such as what, Helen. Let's face it, I'm stuffed."

"Just remember when Claire told us about that rape trial she's been working on last time we saw her. Something tells me there's an answer there."

"Well, you've got more faith than I."

"If we don't start looking for an answer, we'll never find it. We've got nothing to lose."

"Except my pride."

Helen gave her a curious look and Nikki cottoned on fast. Somehow, they were rerunning the scene when Helen came to visit her in prison and first broached the idea of appealing against her sentence. If Helen hadn't pushed the matter, she would still be locked up, without hope for the future. She was a free woman holding down a job. It wasn't much but it enabled her to put her share into the household coffers. When she thought about it, what she had gave her enough dignity and at least she and Helen had no barriers between them. This was just another fight they would have to take on.

"I'm sorry Helen, these letters knocked all the fight out of me for a moment. I shouldn't have let it get to me like this."

"You're expecting out of life what any free person has a right to. You've every right to be angry. The thing is, it has to be channelled in the right direction. Don't forget, sweetheart, this is an insult to both of us and we'll fight this together as equals. I'm not doing it as wing governor and expecting you to lie back and do sod all," exclaimed Helen passionately.

"That suits me just fine," came Nikki's reply, a challenging smile playing on her lips. Helen's passion cut through the blind anger in her head and shaped it into controlled anger. She knew very well what a powerful driving force that was and she blessed Helen for reading her feelings so sensitively. She stopped feeling diminished by the rejections, leaned forward and kissed Helen deeply. They clung together, feeling the healing sensations run through them.

"Well, first thing I've got to do is to move the bookcase and set that up. I'll enjoy doing that."

"And I'd better get onto the insurance company. I'll want you to help me out with witness statements when I get the forms through," called out Helen from afar as Nikki was getting to work.

A sense of positivism cheered them up and brightened up the flat in no time. It was what they needed.


Scene Twenty

After sleeping on the events of the last twenty-four hours, Nikki surprised herself to consider approaching Claire Walker as a done deal, mentally speaking. She went to work as usual, blitzed her way through the work before her and politely asked her boss for the afternoon off. Once that was sorted out, she went into automatic function to get her way through the morning. With something to focus on, she could mentally displace the rest of the office back to the background. Just before Helen was due to pick her up, her mobile rang.

"I'm ready, Helen. I'll be out the door in a couple of minutes."

She was highly conscious of the buzz of interest in just what she was getting up to this afternoon. Well, let them guess, she vowed to herself at the studiously blank faces that surrounded her. The exception was Tony who smiled at her and that she should enjoy the afternoon off. With her best blank smile mask on her face, she picked up her handbag, stuffed with the sheaf of rejection letters and headed out the door.

"Come in. I'm so glad to see both of you again." Claire's soothing voice greeted them with an understated warmth that was all the more real for it.

The two women sat together in the upright chairs provided. They both took in the feel of Claire's office and liked it. The pictures on the wall softened the functional appearance of the room, as did her untidy profusion of law books and files. They were the tools of her trade.

Nikki rapidly and precisely outlined her situation, helped considerably by the fact that Claire came to the interview with her friendship and so much background knowledge.

"If I got it right, Nikki, you're asking if being turned down in your recent job applications is either down to discrimination or is it likelier that your manslaughter conviction on your record might be at the bottom of it, right?"

Nikki was taken aback by Claire's observations. She had never liked to think that she'd been found guilty of a lesser conviction. In her mind, being set free meant that she was innocent and that the years she had spent in Larkhall were simply a mistake. She didn't want to think where that line of thinking would take them as she sensed where it was heading.

"This opens up two lines of investigation for me. One is the not very profitable one of investigating with your prospective employers what led to them turning you down. The problem is that anti discrimination legislation simply doesn't cover this sort of situation and we'd be operating in the dark. We don't know how many applied for the jobs concerned and what led them to appoint the successful candidates. They may simply have had more direct and more recent experience than you. Assuming that you'd applied for a step up in your employment, it would be very hard to get to the specific reasons why you weren't chosen and to pin it down to discrimination. I'm sorry but I'm being strictly honest about the matter."

Nikki's face fell at the way that Claire gently let down their hopes. She couldn't fault the logic and her stoical instincts forced her to deal with the uncomfortable. Neither woman had really framed a specific strategy. They were both operating on an emotional drive to bust through the invisible barrier that was holding Nikki back.

"Then what does this leave us with?" put in Helen.

"That brings us back to the sentence of three years for manslaughter on your appeal.

What you don't know and what I've recently discovered is how much your case means in legal circles."

"Famous or infamous?"

"In the circles I mix in, definitely famous."

"So how much hope does that give us?" came Nikki's guarded question.

"The appeal was essentially run on the basis that you were acting out of provocation by DC Gossard. It follows on that the original trial judge, Judge Jackson failed to direct the jury to this defence and was backed up by the proven failure of the police to disclose material evidence about DC Gossard. The problem with that is that it implicitly admits your supposed guilt and seeks mitigation. A much stronger case could have been argued that you were 'acting to prevent a serious injury to another', i.e. your then girlfriend who was on the point of being raped. This could be supported by the very convincing hypothesis that, if a wife were threatened with rape by a stranger and the husband stepped in to rescue her, he would be applauded as a 'have a go hero.' Somehow, this was overlooked where the brutal stranger was a policeman and that the defender is of the same sex as the victim. Now that sounds like a case of institutional discrimination if you like."

Nikki felt as if she was in the middle of a centrifuge with the world spinning round her. Of course it was blindingly obvious. How could she have failed to have spotted that? How could trained legal minds have made that mistake? Suddenly, amidst surging feelings of manic exaltation that rose within her, feelings of horror swept over her that, once again, she was about to hammer helplessly on the doors of justice. She had been through this movie before and, here she was again, about to go through the same nightmare of surrendering her future to the lumbering machinery of justice. For a second, as she shied away from that nightmare, she reasoned to herself that she might accept her lot in life and struggle on with her job, what there was of it. She was free, she didn't have to put her through it all again.

Helen sat anxiously next to her, gently stroking her hand. She felt every emotion that Nikki felt. She was undecided herself and didn't want the one to urge Nikki to put them through that nightmare again. It recalled too many evenings writing and rewriting yet another draft in her attempts to petition the Home Office.

"OK, supposing for the sake of argument that we get this show on the road, Marian Chambers is the obvious candidate as a barrister," Nikki said flatly at last.

"I'm afraid that this isn't going to be possible. Just before Christmas, she's moved to serve in the European Courts of Justice."

"Oh, wonderful," sighed Nikki. That certainly put the final dampeners on her fast fading hopes. The whole thing became totally impossible now.

"But I can think of a red hot human rights lawyer, Jo Mills. You know, the barrister who I worked with in that rape case I told you about."

"I need to think about this," came Nikki's agitated reply. She got to her feet and started prowling round the office in a restless fashion.

"If Jo Mills secured a conviction against a young man for rape in a case which isn't the most brutal case that there has ever been, someone who I can assure you on the best authority the establishment wanted let off the hook, then surely it is possible for her to secure your total innocence when you were acting in defence of a similar rape taking place. Doesn't that seem possible? I've every confidence that the case can be run."

Claire looked closely into Nikki's eyes and her soft and clear voice articulated every syllable very clearly and distinctly. Nikki felt that she was being gently backed into a corner and then again, part of her was willing to go there. She knew also that she was as good as anyone at fighting her way out of a corner. After all, she'd been doing it all her life.

"Let me think over this one with Helen. One answer might be if we met Jo. It would help us finally decide. That OK, darling?"

Helen saw Nikki's rarely seen vulnerability call out to her. Her own role was clear enough.

"We need to chew this one overnight and come back to you. There's a lot that needs thinking over."

Claire let the two women go without securing a further appointment with her. She could see that they were dazed and needed time and space to emotionally catch up with everything. She watched them go, arms draped round each other. This was their natural gesture to hold on to each other.

The establishment existed in a bubble that was increasingly cut off from humanity. Inside this elite world, politicians, useful contacts of industry, hangers on, political minders, PR men all cozied up to each other. Obsequious journalists provided protective coloration to them all so that their public image could be projected for public consumption in whatever ways suited the establishment. Party political broadcasts and public utterances was the public arena. It was all a charade, they acknowledged but it set them all up for life. The public would not therefore know how petty and spiteful Neil Haughton was. Such a moment was exposed right now.

Some zealous underling who read the papers had done the right thing in referring a passport application to his superior. Fortunately, that superior did exactly the same and so on and so on. Right in his in tray sat the entirely innocuous renewal passport application by one Nicola Wade to Her Britannic Majesty's Secretary of State to request and require her to travel outsides the boundaries of the United Kingdom. Instantly, his revengeful mind flared up he decided that that woman who had made a laughing stock of both his predecessor and the prison system, had even dared to slag off the latter on TV should get her comeuppance. She had walked free from prison for the heinous crime of stabbing to death an experiences serving policeman. After all, the man was working full stretch in being at the sharp edge of crime every day in his life. He owed it to himself in giving as much encouragement to the upholders of law, or so the party political broadcast unreeled itself in his mind to justify his actions.

He wrote a note back to the underling to reject the passport application. After all, he wasn't going to sign it himself, not when there were underlings who could do it for him.

He chuckled to himself in pure malicious glee trying to picture what the trouble maker would think when she got the letter as the small portrait of the dark haired woman stared brazenly back at him. Life was difficult indeed with recalcitrant crime figures on the up and up and even more recalcitrant high court judges laughing in his face. His anger boiled up in him at troublemakers of all kinds.


Scene Twenty One

The next two days passed by in a blur of battling through work, being blasted by the wind and rain as soon as they set foot outside the house. They chewed over Claire's suggestion in a desultory fashion, none of their conversations making any sense. They were longing for the weekend as their special time of the week but that Saturday held a nasty trick of fate in store for them.

They had slept late into the morning, both being tired out, neither of them hearing the postman slipping letters into the letterbox. Helen was the first to finally get out of bed to see what the outside world had in store. It was only when she had made two mugs of steaming hot coffee that she noticed the untidy pile of letters on the doormat. She smiled wryly at the obvious junk mail, which had cottoned onto Nikki's new address. One brown official envelope caught her eye and she took it for Nikki to look at. As the other woman emerged sleepily with tousled hair into the light of day, a gleam came to her eyes. This was her reply to her passport application. It ought to be straightforward enough. Carelessly, she ripped open the envelope and took out the profusion of paper. Helen was alarmed to see Nikki shake her head and the natural light in her face was cruelly snuffed out.

"No no, it can't be," she said in dazed tones." Here, you take a look at the letter. I can't be doing with reading all the bollocks."

Helen picked up the letter. She felt as if she'd been through this one before. It was even the same bed when she had last read bad news for Nikki, so many months ago. The long and short of it was that, in the typical smarmy jargon, they had refused her application only they wrapped it up in platitudes and declaration of zero tolerance of discrimination.

"I'm afraid it's bad news, Nikki," Helen found herself saying." They've refused your passport application."

"Bastards, bastards all of them," Nikki mumbled, tears running helplessly down her face.

"I'm so sorry, sweetheart," Helen murmured to Nikki, sliding her arm round her shoulder as the crumpled up letter with a Home Office logo lay in the corner of their flat where Nikki had hurled it. Suddenly, Nikki tore herself away and leapt out of bed as sudden anger flared up in her. She wasn't going to take this lying down. She wanted to hit back at them somehow in ways that poured into her overheated mind.

"We need a fresh start and that is out of this country to San Francisco, Helen. We need to get the hell out of here and go somewhere where we'll be properly accepted."

"Fine but how do you suggest getting the means? Storm the Home Office and threaten the nearest person till someone gives you one. We need a proper strategy."

As soon as Helen uttered the words, she knew that the words, though well meant, were ill phrased. They had far too much of a management speak feel about them at a time when Nikki's senses had just been assaulted by the Home Office on top of the refusal for her job applications.

"Strategy, strategy," Nikki exclaimed." The bastards keep trying to hold me back one way or the other. I can't get out of this country and travel where the hell I like. I'm a British citizen, for God's sake and I'm entitled to travel. I'm stuck doing this lousy job I hate for the rest of my life. I'll never get anywhere in life."

It disturbed Helen to hear Nikki talk exclusively of herself. Up till then, everything that went on in their lives had been theirs. She was trying to accept how Nikki was taking it personally but it was hard work and drained her own mental resources. She could do without all this, she thought wearily.

"You've every right to feel angry. I feel bloody angry for you. You deserve better than this but we've got to fight this the right way."

"Fight, what do you mean fight?" Nikki lashed out in an argumentative fashion.

"All right, Nikki, how about going for that reappeal, wipe off that prison sentence.

At the same time, we take this letter to Claire and see what she makes of it."

"What's she going to know that we don't?"

"We won't know if we don't try," Helen said, her patience in her voice feeling strained.

"You've still got that almighty faith in the system, Helen. You're still that wing governor mentality that thinks that everything can be neatly administered and categorized."

"You're talking absolute crap. The only way we'll beat them is through the official channels. There is no other choice."

"For God's sake, Helen leave me alone. Let me sort this out my own way."

"But you won't deal with it," pursued Helen with relentless logic while the tension between the two of them was ratcheted up, step by step, until it was Nikki who finally snapped.

"Go to hell and stay out of my way for the rest of the day," shouted Nikki. Helen whirled on her feet and went out the door into the living room. Her body was trembling all over as the physical and mental tension that had been building up inside her finally overflowed.

The rest of the day passed in an atmosphere of gloom. Neither woman could face talking to the other and they remained at opposite ends of the flat. Neither of them felt like doing anything particularly energetic. The winter night closed in outside. Finally Nikki slipped into the living room and without saying anything switched on the TV. They shared a fairly inconsequential film until they both finally slipped into bed

All of a sudden, Helen found herself plunged into a world where she felt as unfamiliar as her surroundings. The fact that it was dark was not surprising, as she had passed through that time of the year when she set out in the dark and came home in the dark. She could relate to that experience. What she couldn't work out was why damp fog swirled round her so that she had to strain her eyes to see. Her breath turned to smoke in front of her. What she could sense of her surroundings gave her the impression that her personal space she was circumscribed either side of her by the way ahead receded into uncertainty. As her feet trod the hard tiles under her feet, a faint aftertaste of the hard clicking sound of her heels echoed and reechoed away into the distance. What worried her deep down was that she felt hideously alone. She tried to fight those feelings with her customary practical determination to deal with the situation, no matter how threateningly Gothic her surroundings felt.

She reflected on her feelings, trying to find a rational explanation for it. It wasn't as she and Nikki worked together. The working week including lunchtimes added up to forty odd hours a week out of the eighty odd waking hours. While she was working, she felt perfectly calm and secure and those around her in her job had fortunately put her in the slot of 'the exception to the rule which proves nothing', that happy rationalization for encountering the out of the ordinary, the attractive looking woman of idiosyncratic topics of conversation whom every guy on the block would love to date but who persisted in living with another woman. No, her life was running smoothly, except for Nikki's very real problems. It was only as she mulled things over that it was the strangeness of her surroundings that made Nikki's absence worrying.

She peered through the darkness and finally, the shape of a wall made a faint imprint on her senses as it slanted away into the murk. This was what she wanted, something that she could engage her senses with and figure out her bearings. As she drew closer, her leg bumped up against a solid object, about thigh height. Wincing with pain, Helen swore loudly into the echoing gloom and wondered why she hadn't she noticed it in the first place. As she crouched down and stretched out her hands to examine it, it looked like a rectangular flat object, elevated several feet off the ground, covered with a soft flat surface. A very pronounced rim ran round it with the exception of the corner where a small net hung down. As she concentrated her mind on it, the concept of it translated itself incongruously into a pool table. That discovery lightened her mind briefly as the object that had attacked her out of the gloom was really the most prosaic object she could think about.

She took her attention off it and looked closer at the wall. The appearance of it was different from her first impression, being closer to it than she had been when she first detected it. She could sense a series of doors of a slightly darker hue than the drab colourless look of the wall. There was something faintly familiar about it that she searched her memory for. As she thought, her deep-seated fears started to rise to the surface. Aside from the infernal fog, it had a disturbing resemblance to G Wing at Larkhall. That couldn't possibly be the case, Helen's powerful sense of reason asserted itself. She'd been at Larkhall, two, two and a half years and whoever heard of a prison that was as silent as the grave, no prisoners around, no prison officers, this overwhelming dark and fog that virtually blotted everything out. All that there was in the world was herself and a pool table.

She drifted along the 1s, past each cell door, and hazy memories of the past were almost as solidly real as the fog bound wing. She knew better than any stranger that each cell door tells a story. She followed the line of the barred gates and strolled towards what she knew was the corridor. Even in this highly unpromising setting, she knew where her feet were heading. Her eyesight could just about make out the poster on the wall "Drugs- don't be a victim." It was in exactly the same place as it ever was since she had last worked here, always supposing that she had ever left this place behind. Still, there was a ghostly silence that cannot have ever existed since the prison was built. The natural sounds of prisons were cell doors clanging, night calls, prison officers yelling out their orders. Finally, one sound came to her mind. It was the firm deliberate tread of footsteps, too heavy and slowly paced to be a woman's.

Distantly, she heard a voice from afar call out. It gave the impression of being hugely projected to carry through the distance from where it came. She knew that voice above all voices she'd ever known. The footsteps were sounding louder and nearer all the time.


"Nikki," she heard herself yell back. Panic was rising inside her, freezing her bones.

"For God's sake, Helen. Wake up."

What was Nikki telling her? Was she urging her to open her eyes so that the fog would disappear and she could see as clearly as Nikki could? That was always her point of view in all the months she'd pursued her and urged her to throw away the point of view that held her fast and just let herself go.

"Nikki, help me," she called out.

Looking desperately ahead, she came to the barred gate precisely as she expected, or remembered. She fumbled in her jacket pocket for the bunch of keys that she always carried as part of her very being. Feelings of desperation swept over her, as they weren't there where they were supposed to be. She was trapped. Her skin felt clammy and her clothes stuck awkwardly to her.

"You can't expect your girlfriend to help you, Stewart. She's locked up and there's no one else here but the two of us. You know what's going to happen," she heard an evil voice, in the lowest guttural pitch imaginable. It could only be one voice, one person. Spinning round, she looked into the face of Jim Fenner. It startled her that she could see him clearly. His face was white, ghostly looking while fog swirled all around. He was grinning all over her face. Slowly, he moved forward. She let out an almighty scream.

"Helen, for God's sake wake up."

All at once a blinding light was in her eyes. Slowly, she focused her eyes and she was conscious of lying flat on her back. Her nightie was twisted all around her. Her hair was dishevelled and she realized that she was lying on her back, a corner of a white duvet draped over her feet. Looking down into her eyes was Nikki, her face twisted with extreme concern for her. She was holding her hand and gently stroking her forehead. Helen had never seen such a radiant, wonderful sight for sore eyes in all her life. She was out of that dark pit that had engulfed her and back into the light. It felt such a long time since she'd been here.

"I've had a nightmare," Helen heard herself say, weakly.

"I should say so. You've been twisting and turning for the last ten minutes and calling out in your sleep. I've been really worried for you."

"I dreamed that I was back in Larkhall and cornered by Fenner."

Nikki shuddered. Instinct told her that this was the ultimate nightmare and must have been triggered by her temper tantrum the day before. No question, this was her fault entirely.

"Helen, I'm really, really sorry I was such a cow to you yesterday. Everything I said the other day was a complete load of bollocks. When you were being your own sweet self, I pushed you away. What I said and did was totally unforgivable. All I am asking for is your forgiveness even though I don't deserve it. I really have been a complete shit and I just want to do anything to make it up to you."

Distressed apology was written all over Nikki's expressive features and in every tone of her melting voice. It was plain that she meant every syllable and a flood of emotion swept through Helen.

"Come here, sweetheart."

The other woman flung herself eagerly into Helen's arms and she tried to sooth away Helen's distress with every touch of her fingertip and every little kiss of comfort.

"This is going to be your special day, darling, as you bloody well deserve it. I shall completely pamper you and look after you. I mean it."

Nikki straightened and smoothed down the duvet and went off to the kitchen while Helen settled off back to lie in bed. Soothing sounds of domesticity came from the kitchen. Presently, Nikki returned with a tray with two archetypally Middle English 'nice hot cups of tea' and slices of toast and marmite. They settled back and ate and drank at their leisure. The sun gave his approval by smiling at them through the kitchen window and the part open door.

"If you don't mind me asking, exactly what did happen yesterday," Helen finally asked in as level a tone as she could manage.

"I just flipped. I'm trying to work out what in hell set me off as the way I behaved scares me……now I come to think of it, a lot of stress had been building up because of this job , the job refusals and finally this stupid passport business but there's something more that I can't work out. I know that the last thing was the straw that broke the camel's back. It's funny, I could never make any sense of that figure of speech when I was at school but as I've grown older, it makes sense. It was just the last straw. I promise you that I'll never, never put you through all that shit again," came Nikki prompt reply. She lit a cigarette and meditated thoughtfully as her mind searched for the truth.

"I've finally worked out what was freaking me out. I was thinking what if I lose and get sent back to Larkhall? What if they increase my sentence…." Nikki gagged for a second as she uttered that hateful word,"….and I don't get just five years or ten? I couldn't bear being separated from you. I couldn't stand it."

Nikki's large brown eyes looked sorrowfully and soulfully at Helen. Her fear of losing was very palpable.

"Nikki," came the slow clear comforting almost maternal tones. She closed her eyes, let the remnants of her jangles fears dissolve away and lay down next to Helen.

"I'm no legal expert but there's something telling me that you can't be punished twice for the same so called offence. I'd be happier with a qualified legal opinion on it."

"We'll do everything you suggested yesterday, Helen," Nikki said softly, turning round to face her."…… that is, if you're up for it. We'll make an appointment and see Claire and Jo Mills and check that out and ask them about the passport as well."

Slowly and casually, the resolution came together. Nikki realized that, after all, she was as good as anyone at fighting her way out of a corner. She'd been doing it all her life and this time around, she had as true a friend as she could ever hope to find to help her with the battle.

The rest of the day passed in a dreamy haze where Helen gratefully surrendered to Nikki's incredibly caring qualities, both in word and deed. She was as good as her word. In some strange way, they both felt set free from their cares. It struck Helen that she had never had a lover who cared for her in such a demonstrable way.

"You know what happens when couples kiss and make up," Nikki said in her softest, sultriest tone of voice, raising her eyebrow. A gentle smile played on her lips.

"I see that I'm really going to enjoy this," Helen answered, not to be outdone.

"It definitely will, if I have anything to do with it."

With that, Nikki looped her arms round Helen's neck and kissed her softly and slowly. Soon, their clothes were scattered like leaves upon the bedroom floor and their fingers were free to delicately explore each other's skin as they lay down on the bed together. Nikki's lips and tongue gently and lovingly caressed Helen's woman's neck while her fingers delicately touched Helen's round breasts. Their lovemaking had always been a delight both of the senses and emotions but, this time, Helen sensed that Nikki was making an extra special effort both to pleasure and reassure Helen. She shivered with delight as she felt those light and sure fingers trace a path down her belly while murmuring sweet endearments. She knew that Nikki never went in for the sort of pillow talk, which would be belied the next day. On the contrary, these were the moments of the truest expression of her feelings as that beautiful face hovered close above her. A cry escaped her lips as Nikki's fingers touched that precise spot and her hips moved rhythmically as those fingers stroked her so surely and led her to her climax.

It seemed that an age had passed when Helen's breathing settled down to normal and Nikki lay on her side when her senses were delighted by that teasing Scottish accent that held her in her sway since who knows when.

"It's your turn, Nikki. Fair's fair."

She could feel Helen's body move around on top of her and that she would be true to her word.

"It feels like the first time we slept together," Helen whispered as they lay in each other's arms, spent and exhausted.

"Minus me hammering on your front door to get in and wanting us to go on the run to San Francisco. Apart from that, this is definitely similar."

Helen laughed at Nikki's droll sense of humour. It was something that had attracted her

"You aren't going to have any nightmares tonight," she halfway asked, her voice tinged with soft concern for her. Her own worries had been laid to rest and it was only fair that Helen would get some peace. The other woman stretched out the full length of the bed, a big smile spreading across her face.

"You can take it from me that I'll sleep the sleep of the just and righteous tonight."

"Then that's good enough for us," the answer whispered into Helen's ear.


Scene Twenty Two

When the two women entered the office, Claire greeted them in her usual friendly fashion and indicated the tall, slim woman beside her. She wore a simple two-piece suit. Her intense blue eyes, friendly smile and firm handshake made her seem relaxed with herself along with an elegance and grace of manner, She made an immediately favourable visual impression on the two women. Claire sat at the head of the table and opened the debate in her quiet, incisive fashion.

"So we don't cover the same ground twice, Jo has already questioned me at length on everything that happened up to the appeal hearing that she didn't know already. I thought that it would be best for you to talk to Jo Mills, the barrister who would be representing you if you decide to go ahead with the reappeal. It's a good chance to discuss the case and for everyone to get to know each other in general."

"There's two quick questions I want to ask first," put in Nikki with all the precision and confidence in the world." We wanted to ask that, if we went ahead with the appeal and lost it, what is the worst that can happen to me? We were a bit worried that, instead of getting three years inside, I could end up with five or ten years and get shoved back into Larkhall? Helen thought that you couldn't be punished twice over but we weren't sure and wanted to check it out with you. The other matter is that I've been turned down in my passport application. Is there anything that can be done about it?"

"The first question is easily answered. Helen is absolutely right. The appeal hearing substituted the manslaughter conviction for murder. There's a basic legal principle at stake, which is known as 'double jeopardy.' You literally have nothing to lose. As for your passport application, I suspect that there has been skullduggery at work. Can you leave me to think on that one, as I need to do a bit of private investigation? Believe me, I won't forget about the matter."

Both women were convinced by Jo's definite manner and her sincerity. She came much more into sharp focus to them both. In their world, her skills were crucial to their lives.

"In which case, we're definitely up for this battle," Nikki replied promptly, exchanging glances with Helen. Claire and Jo were not to know of the troubles this unasked question had caused them.

"That's good, then," smiled Jo with great satisfaction. A broad smile spread across her face. She was already starting to relish the fight ahead of them.

"Claire has talked a lot about you. She says that you are a red hot human rights lawyer and that a reappeal is definitely worth going for."

"I followed your original appeal with great interest. I felt then that there were possibilities in your case which were unexplored at the time. Talking to Claire has only confirmed my feelings. So, in a way, I feel that your reappeal is one of those events, which was destined, to happen and that I would be around when it does. This is why this case would give me great satisfaction to take on. As for me, your description of me does me too much honour. I prosecute cases as well as defend them but, yes, thanks to my mentor who was my pupil master in law school, he has infected me with that very dangerous tendency of being outraged at injustice. He first taught me the basic forensic legal tools to put right that injustice. The rest of my working life is learning to get better at doing what I like best"

"Dangerous?" queried Nikki, intrigued. This woman felt incredibly attuned to how she and Helen felt. She played the right piano notes for her and spoke a language in common to her and Helen." That's an interesting word which sounds good to me."

"I'm glad to hear it. Too often, barristers act as hired guns to the vested interests they serve. My alternative doesn't make for a peaceful life but I can say that I sleep easy at nights."

"And who might this mentor be?" Helen asked out of curiosity though she was rapidly deducing the answer even as she spoke. This person who made such a mark on this barrister in her formative years surely couldn't have faded away.

"I'm talking of John Deed, a high court judge and resident thorn in the side of the establishment."

"Claire told us at length about a rape case that he tried. I couldn't believe that a judge could have such humanity and understanding. That blew me away."

"This was in spite of attempts by the establishment to lean on him to let Alan Partridge off with a slap on the wrist. They made the same fundamental mistake as they ever have done as they really don't understand how John thrives on resisting being leaned on."

"He sounds like a really dangerous trouble maker," came Nikki's grinning reply.

"That's the highest compliment that Nikki can pay," put in Helen by way of explanation.

"Oh, he is. I know from long experience," Jo laughed with the air of having intimately absorbed a shared history over the years. The three other women took in every nuance of Jo's voice and gesture and were at their most attentive.

"I had some thoughts about the trial," Helen said in considered tones." Won't there be a difficulty in having a second cut at the appeal. We'll be saying, in effect, I'm sorry, we didn't run the original appeal right, can we have a second go at it and face the argument that we had the chance to get it right last time so why should we have a second chance."

"That's a very good point, Helen." Jo replied, struck by perceptive shaft of logic," but the same applies to the judges at the Court of Appeal. Their function was to have considered the law applied at the original hearing. In correcting any errors in law, they were there to arrive at the conclusion the first hearing should have arrived at. They weren't there to rehear the original case from top to bottom and reexamine all the original witnesses. It was exceptional for Sally Anne Howe to be heard as a witness. The defence did right to press for that and the judges acted rightly in allowing her to be called. Their task in their deliberations was then to have considered all the possible arguments. Marian Chambers' case hinted at the case that could have been made but never followed it through. I can't guarentee that there won't be problems but we'll fight our way through them as they come up. I must warn you that this case is going to be a very high profile case, especially with our new Home Secretary, Neil 'hang them and flog them' Haughton."

"I take it you don't like the man," put in Nikki dryly.

"I despise the man and John is in serious danger one of these days of physically assaulting him."

Nikki whistled in astonishment. Judges weren't supposed to behave that way or so she had been accustomed to think.

"You're kidding."

"Believe me, I'm not," came Jo's answer which meant every syllable that it was phrased in.

Nikki sat back, open-mouthed. She had thought that she'd seen pretty well everything in life but this beat everything. She had thought that her emotional make up was pretty intense in her capacity for either love or hate. As she had come to know and love Helen, she had found another other person who was clearly in the same league. By contrast, other people seemed pale and anaemic. More and more, this judge came over as someone out of the ordinary and intriguingly untamed. She had heard from Claire how this judge had stormed so magnificently at the prosecution barrister for bullying the rape victim on the stand.

"What I have to do now is to have as much background as possible. That means your personal background. The only reason I'm asking this question is that there are strong possibilities that the opposition will play dirty tricks on us. There will be a lot at stake for the establishment in not wanting to lose face. I want to be absolutely sure that they can't find out anything they can use against us."

"Well, Helen and I are lovers," Nikki said with a touch of defiance after exchanging glances with each other.

"If I didn't know before, I would have most certainly have guessed it by now. That's good as it means that I'm dealing with two intelligent women who are passionately committed to your justice."

Both women smiled freely at Jo's perceptive and sympathetic description of them.

"It's not everyone thinks that way…."Nikki answered shakily," but I ought to explain that we got to know each other as prisoner and wing governor. Believe it or not, I was the archetypal hard case, pain in the arse prisoner and Helen had the insight and intelligence to see there was more to me than met the eye."

After Nikki's sparse, hesitant opening remarks, Helen slid her insights into Nikki's narrative while Jo listened intensely to a story of a nightmare existence that was totally beyond her previous experience. It was only softened by the obvious tenderness between the two women. The analytical side of her at the back of her head crosschecked what they were saying against what she took to be matters of fact. She only hoped that she would never have to go through such hardships.

"I must thank you both for your honesty and integrity. I've made a habit that where I hear of deeds that are beyond my experience and imagination, I trust my instincts and accept. I like to think that it has served me well."

"Don't worry, Jo. It has."

"So it comes down to this. You have an enemy at Larkhall who blackmailed you out of your job, Helen, with circumstantial evidence of how you had once, if you don't mind me putting it this way, harboured an escaped prisoner. I'm sure both of you know well enough that this could have potentially seen criminal proceedings taken against you. However, Nikki, you were only imprisoned following a prison sentence the subject of which we are seeking to have quashed. You, Helen, have a distinguished work record in a number of highly responsible prison officer jobs. The only exception is your clandestine relationship with Nikki, which, if it had come out at the time, could have seen you face disciplinary proceedings. The fact that, at a later date, you resigned from your job now makes retrospective disciplinary proceedings against you a complete non-starter. The only danger I can see is if the opposing barrister starts sniffing round Larkhall and makes contact with this man. What seems like the trickiest part of it is really a chicken and egg situation and is not as clear cut as it might seem."

Both Nikki and Helen marvelled at the way Jo threaded her way expertly through an area of her life that had spooked them, that seemed like an unnamable faint menace from the past, some sleeping beast that if not disturbed might not turn round and bite them.

"Is that everything that I need to have any concerns about?"

"There's nothing else, except an insurance claim against Helen's successor as wing governor for running into the back of our car," came Nikki's droll response.

Jo laughed heartily at the final revelation. The two women were endearing in their conscientiousness. If only all clients were like them.

"So how do you feel about the case?"

"A whole lot better for telling you," came Nikki's simple answer. During this time, Claire had sat there transfixed by the account and

"After hearing everything that's been said, do you have any reservations about going for it?"

"Definitely not," was Helen's emphatically expressed point of view.

"Having heard everything, what are your main reasons for taking on the case?"

"Because I believe in you, Nikki, and I believe in your case," Jo said simply. It was the best answer she could have made.

"What are our prospects of this being successful?" Nikki finally said at last.

"I'll be honest with you both. We can certainly succeed. On the other hand, despite my best efforts, we can fail."

"So where does that leave us?"

"If you think you're going to fail, believe me, you're going to fail. If you think differently, you have a chance. Putting my enthusiasm for the case to one side and thinking objectively, we should definitely go ahead with the case."

"That sounds like a proverb I learnt from my father who was a Methodist minister," observed Helen with interest.

"It has served me well through life," came Jo's reflective reply.

All three women could identify with that point of view. It spoke of a mixture of realism and faith. They had turned the case inside out and the questions and counter questions had brought everything out into the open. Jo was very satisfied, as she had got the feel of the case, something that was crucial to her. She was confident, as she had ever been at the start of her case. She had found over the years that her approach of interaction with her clients at an early stage had always served her well. Nikki and Helen had found that Jo's relaxed, non-intrusive approach had got them to place all their cards on the table and they felt that they had unburdened themselves. Claire's role in the forthcoming trial was taking shape and substance before her eyes as she sat back and listened.

A hush descended on the room as the four women looked forward to the future


Scene Twenty Three

Those who hold the reins of power in their grasping, avaricious hands are fortunate to have a well tamed media that project images of them in the way they like to be seen. In their way, they are part of show business. Ordinary people are a different species. They panic, run round like headless chickens, curse and blaspheme and act in the most counter productive ways possible. Behind closed doors, the reality is markedly different. Certainly, the suave if not outright smarmy Neil Haughton was not behaving the way he did in a party political broadcast when he heard the news that the Wade appeal had come back to haunt him.

"I can't believe it," he raged to the air while George was hard at work reading a particularly tricky compensation claim that was coming up in the civil court." I've just heard that this lesbian cop killer who was set free on a sheer technicality has the cheek to appeal. If I had my way, I would introduce a bill that restrict the rights of appeal in certain cases where public opinion feels that it endangers law and order. Far too many people feel already that there are too many crackpot judges who haven't learnt what the real world is. It's all very well to say that ancient liberties need protecting, we have to get used to the twenty first century. I get plenty of letters from the public on this subject, believe you me and I wouldn't say they're not right."

George rolled her eyes in despair. She knew that where Neil said 'public opinion' he really meant the Daily Mail or Sun leader writers and the letter writers are 'Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells.' She could see that he was working himself up and raising his blood pressure dangerously.

"Now calm down, darling. You know what the doctor said about the dangers of getting unduly stressed."

"I tell you somebody's head is going to roll for this. Some nonentity in some poky little office let this one slip through the net……unless, of course, your ex husband is at the back of this. Yes, I can imagine the pleasure he would get from setting this one up. He's always had it in for me."

"Don't you think you're getting somewhat OTT? Just relax, Neil you are really panicking," snapped George.

"Nonsense, George, I eat stress for breakfast. I'm just totally furious. This wretched appeal case belongs to my predecessor's time. Why should this be hung round my neck? I wasn't responsible for it in the first place."

At this point, Neil Haughton had suddenly remembered that he was the politician, supposedly in command of the situation. This assumption of identity brought out that finely tuned sense of demarcation and swift facility in shifting responsibility.

"Have it your way but don't keep going on about it. You've got to leave your worries behind you and get dressed for the party and I, for one, want to show off that dress you bought me."

"It did cost rather a lot," chuckled Neil Haughton, his attention adroitly distracted by George." You're right. We need to let our hair down and enjoy ourselves. After all, haven't we worked hard all our lives to get to where we are now?"

One Monday morning, John was at his desk studying some particularly abstruse case law when Coope approached him. He noticed that very faint conspiratorial smile on her lips.

"I've just been visiting the listings office, judge. There's a case being prepared which is one that you would be very interested in."

John's curiosity was easy to ignite and today was no exception. He laid his papers on one side. He mentally put the legal query to one side while Coope's news demanded his immediate attention.

"Tell me more, Coope."

"Can you remember the Nikki Wade appeal? The news is that she's reappealing the sentence."

John beamed all over his face and his eyes blazed with life. All at once, he was possessed of the overwhelming urge to possess that case immediately. He vividly remembered discussing the case at the time with Jo. He had never really heeded her advice to mentally let go of the case. Judging by the way that all the details sprang to mind, his thoughts had merely gone underground. He even remembered that it was that out and out reactionary Judge Jackson who had been the original trial judge shortly before being quietly pensioned off to expend his energy hunting foxes and shooting pheasants. He had been hugely grateful that capital punishment had been abolished decades ago as that man would have reached for the black cap with relish.

"That is splendid news. Of course the case should have judges who have a proper sense of justice and fair play."

Coope's lips curved into a faint knowing smile at the judge's obvious enthusiasm to muscle in on the case before she replied on a more serious note.

"She certainly has my sympathy. The policeman concerned was about to rape her girlfriend. A friend of mine who I was in the army with wasn't so lucky to have someone round to defend her. She never got over it. If this trial goes the way it should go, then a clean slate will tell men like him that they can't get away with ruining women's lives. Still I'm sure you'll give her justice if you get the chance."

John raised his eyebrows. He knew that Coope, while being basically conventional in her outlook, had strong views on rape but it was surprising that her sympathy wasn't bluntened by the killing of a policeman. It might have called for a mixed responsible.

"Coope, you are terrible," laughed John, knowing very well how he might have influenced her in her outlook over the years. She just smiled. She knew very well that a part of John's mind was angling on how to secure a post on the court of appeal. John went back to his work but couldn't settle down for quite some while despite his appearance of studious concentration.

As the days and weeks passed, so did the bitter coldness and darkness of January and February. The days gradually lengthened even if the wind cut through Nikki and Helen to the bone the second they left their flat. Somehow it didn't reach them any more than Nikki's job had driven her to despair. There was a new sense of steely self-discipline about her that enabled her to get through one day at work after another. In this way, the pressure on Helen had eased. Together, they were set to do battle with whatever faced them.

"Come on, Helen, it's just about bearable outside," Nikki suddenly called out one Saturday morning," let's have a walk on the park, say Regent's Park."

It was like her to suddenly come up with the spontaneous ideas. Helen jumped at the chance as the vision of greenery and open spaces came into her mind. It was the quickest and easiest way of getting to the countryside. They both put on their warmest clothes, as the bright spring day only looked warm from the inside of their flat.

Soon, they were bowling on through the built up traffic and finally parked their car within sight of the park. They walked rapidly past the line of privet hedges and found the entrance. Even though the trees were still bare and had yet to put on their finest greenery, the sight was glorious. They passed over a bridge and soon they were outside in the open air and the scattered handful of similar enthusiasts. In no time at all, they were dispersed in the vastness of the park that opened up around then. Helen slipped her arm round Nikki's waist and she leant her head against her shoulder. The rhythms of their gentle walking moulded together and they both sensed that feeling of freedom that was normally held in by the frenetic hours of work. It seemed that the intensity of their love meant that they had spent a lifetime together.

"It seems like we've known each other ages," murmured Helen and felt the pressure of Nikki's arm in return. This was life, as it should be lived.

"We have, sweetheart. You've known me for two and a half years when I first came to Larkhall."

"Come on," laughed Nikki,"we were a million miles part, you as the brand new suit and me as the archetypal hard case."

"Not so much that there wasn't something stirring in me though I didn't know it at the time," came Helen's soft, soulful tones.

Though the cold bright wind chilled Nikki's face, she was warmed up inside by Helen's declaration of sexual desire. In their avoidance of talk about Larkhall, she had never known this.

"You mean you fancied me from that far back, sweetheart."

"Looking back on it, I had all the reasons in the world to think that I was 'improving your chances to make something of yourself.' I know now that when I first gave you that copy of 'Sophies World' you looked pretty good to me from behind."

It was by chance that their feet had taken them to a small wooded area and a seat in the open glade so that they had come to the spot that their rising desire for each other. They turned to face each other and kissed deeply and longingly and gently caressed each other. All the time in the world passed them by and the sun smiled down on the two forms locked together. Time drifted lazily by and all the strife in the world could be forgotten.

"This is an outside theatre doing Shakespeare this summer," Nikki declared excitedly as they strolled onwards and quite by chance they came across the boarded up open-air theatre. Lights were dancing in her brown eyes "We must come here when it's summer."

"It isn't so far off," Helen replied dreamily. "The seasons can't be stopped."

The conversation drifted away in a companionable silence. It was in this mood of dreamy content that Nikki could at last talk about the last appeal. The time felt right.

"There's so much difference between this time and last. I remember when we were going through it last time around, Helen. I was locked up in a cell and we had to pretend like we were just friends. There was of course the little dramas as me inadvertently setting off a prison riot and busting out of Larkhall to make up with you, dressed in a nurse's uniform and a seriously bad fashion style blonde wig. Looking back on it all, it was that wig that scared me the most," Nikki observed drolly.

Helen burst out laughing at Nikki's humour. This day more than any other, they found more to laugh and love about in life. This was what Nikki was saying in not so many words. It was a pretty good way of bolstering their defences. Whatever they had to face in the future, they were secure in themselves.

"Look back at where we've come from, sweetheart. Can you remember the way back?"

It was Nikki's turn to laugh. There was this tenaciously organized streak in Helen that would not concede to absent-mindedness. She thought she could remember just where they had picked their way out into such open spaces. She hugged Helen with all the affection in the world.

At last, there came the time when the cold finally drove them to retrace their steps to head back to the warmth of their flat. The day had taken them out of themselves and they felt so much the better for it. They certainly needed this golden moment when they got back to the grind of daily living. In this period of working and waiting, they kept in touch with Claire and her calming influence worked further wonders on them, both in further meetings and in socializing with her and Peter. Still more reassuring was that they would meet up with Jo Mills in whom they had placed their not easily won trust.


Scene Twenty Four

By contrast with the quiet positivism elsewhere, Sir Ian and Lawrence James sat in stony silence in the ancient fortress of the Lord Chancellor's Department. Sir Ian's ears were still ringing from the repetitive ear bending that both Neil Haughton and the Lord Chancellor had given him. They weren't interested in his problems, they just demanded that he achieved a favourable result . As the man in the hot seat, he was unusually jumpy and snappish as he talked to Lawrence James.

"How on earth did this troublemaking lesbian have the cheek to reappeal her sentence? How and why did she get to do it?" Sir Ian demanded. The other man was stuck for answers and wasn't sure whether or not the question was rhetorical.

"I'm afraid I don't know," came the halting, lame reply.

"You would have thought that the wretched woman would be only too glad to get her freedom. She ought to be keeping her nose clean, keeping herself out of trouble. So what or who is behind it? Is there some gay rights group behind the scenes that's out to cause us trouble?"

"I'm not exactly sure. This came as a complete bolt from out of the blue. The only thing we know is that Jo Mills is taking the case on."

"I might have known that she'd be at the back of it. Now I definitely get the feeling that there's some conspiracy going on."

The two men brooded darkly. It was a pity that libertarian groups and like-minded individuals of all political complexions couldn't have witnessed this scene. It would have greatly heartened them to see how paranoid the Establishment are about mysterious groups and individuals somewhere out there in some suburban street. What scared them was what their sheer lack of knowledge of what they might be up against. Being used to conspiring secretly, they imagine that opposing forces do the same. Their authoritarianism grew like an addiction, measured by their increasing tendency to amass knowledge and secrets to itself and start moving towards a twenty-four seven surveillance culture. These tendencies were a demonstration of their collective insecurity, not of their power.

"You don't mind me asking but what was the reasoning behind the terms of the original appeal judgment?"

"We wanted to appear magnanimous without letting that woman totally off the hook. Once their infernal solicitor had dug up damaging information that would make the CPS and the police look vindictive in the initial trial hearing, we had to go for a damage limitation strategy," admitted Sir Ian tersely. He hated to admit that his sophisticated strategy had run off its track.

"The whole thing is an awkward embarrassment. There are a number of controversial cases that are coming up for hearing right now. We could do without this case that we had thought was done and dusted months ago," volunteered Lawrence James, somewhat unwisely.

"All right, all right. I suppose it doesn't do any good in flapping like wet hens about it. We'd better come up with a strategy to handle this delicate situation," came the very irritated reply.

" If this goes wrong, every extremist pressure group will climb on the bandwagon. We need to be sure that this appeal goes nowhere."

"Since Huntley is excluded from hearing the fresh appeal, we need this trial in a safe pair of hands. Who do you recommend?" demanded Sir Ian snappishly.

"Joseph Channing is the obvious candidate. He is no bleeding heart liberal who will let sentiment get in the way of a favourable outcome," pronounced Lawrence James confidently, trying to retrace his diplomatic blunder.

"I was a bit disappointed with him over the Partridge case. I was sure that his intervention with Deed would secure us a lenient sentence for the young man."

Sir Ian spoke in puzzled and mournful tones. He had known Joseph Channing for years and expected better of him.

"Weren't you rather optimistic in hoping he would bring Deed round. As his ex father in law whose only daughter was involved in a messy divorce from Deed, the man would be hardly susceptible to an approach from him. Joseph Channing has always had hard words for Deed over the years. Anyway, for this trial,we need someone with a sharp mind and plenty of natural authority. We have the ideal candidate in Joseph Channing," Lawrence James persisted with the tone of voice of a second hand car salesman sensing the deal to be within his grasp.

"That seems sound to me," Sir Ian said, his spirits brightening."…and who do you suggest as wingers?"

"Monty Everard comes to mind. His principles are unwavering and won't be pushed around in court. Besides they get on well together and make a natural team. I have checked with them and they are both available for the expected time slot."

"Hmm, and what about the third member?" came Sir Ian's cautious reply. He couldn't think of an obvious candidate.

"There we have a problem. I cannot find anyone who has either the time or the ability for a very sensitive trial. There is a certain nervousness amongst the brethren in picking up what may be a poisoned chalice."

"So where does this leave us? I would rather this case doesn't hang around too long as there is already pressure on me for definite arrangements."

"I have one idea which may be a little risky but that may pay off…." Lawrence James said in a hesitant fashion. Sir Ian looked sharply at him

"And what might this bright idea be?"

"What about Deed? He is available and, much though I hate to admit it, he has the ability and isn't afraid of controversial cased…."

"That's because he causes controversy," snapped Sir Ian petulantly." He would find controversy in a traffic violation."

"….but the advantage is that the trial is in Joseph Channing's hands with Monty Everard's worthy assistant. Joseph can keep him under his wing, powerless as a very new and inexperienced winger. It will also keep him out of trouble in cases on his own. There are a couple of tricky cases in the offing."

Sir Ian pondered the dilemma very thoughtfully. When he weighed the balance of risks, he thought that there was something in the other man's subtle plan. Deed had risen fast up the judicial ladder and even his priggish values might take second place to this tempting morsel, with the implicit promise of a seat on the Appellate Bench in the long run.

"I think you have the ideal solution, Lawrence. I'll have a word to the Lord Chancellor that we have a sound strategy in place. I'll tell you what he thinks of it and, most likely, we'll set the wheels in motion."

Of course, he hadn't promised his subordinate who would get the credit for the plan but his position of responsibility required the odd perk.

In the meantime, Donald Frobisher had been doing some thinking. He wanted to know a bit more background on this Nikki Wade, what she was doing right now. He picked up the phone and spoke to his solicitor for him to do the running around. That wasn't his job, he reasoned. He did the theatrics in court and check up the case law. Solicitors were there to do the legwork on his instructions. This was how things went in his life. .

The phone rang in the wing governor's office at G Wing, Larkhall. Seated behind the desk wasn't the blue suited figure of Jim Fenner or the plump figure of Sylvia Hollamby.

It was Karen Betts, dressed again in her favourite black suit who picked up the phone.

"Karen Betts here. How can I help you?"

"I wanted to talk to you for some information that would help our enquiries?" drawled a Scottish voice who reminded her, in its presumptive tone, of the hated D I Sullivan who had carried out a heavy handed investigation into the suspicious death of Renee Williams.

Wrong person, wrong timing, she thought, breaking the pencil that she was holding between her slim fingers. Instead of being pushy, this man was trying in his crude way, to charm her.

Life had not treated her kindly after Helen had left Larkhall behind her. First, she had been raped by Jim Fenner, the man she thought she'd known, whom she'd defended against Helen Stewart's accusations and then she was let down by her boss, Neil Grayling, who'd talked her out of pressing criminal charges. She'd just come back from the holiday she was supposed to have shared with Mark Waddle who'd transferred to another prison up north after she'd split up with him. She'd been greeted by Ritchie Atkins with a rose on her first day back, declaring his undying love for her. It seemed that the 'bad boy image' and their monumental shag hid a softer side to the man. He at least seemed sincere although, just to cover her back, she was going to see Neil Grayling and fill him in on the details later on today. Just when she was on the point of leaving for her holiday, she had picked up a letter from her insurance company giving her the bad news of the claim made against her. Running into the back of Helen's car was the result of one of those stupid moments of inattention, one she could do without and which she would pay heavily for. She'd driven round with a crumpled front end on her pride and joy and had only just picked it up from the garage before going to work. Against these specific events lay an emotional backdrop of gloom, which suffused her thoughts, that everyone in whom she'd placed any trust in had let her down and she'd turned against those whom she ought to have known better to trust. Ritchie had come into her life at just the right time but that didn't stop her from being in her edgiest mood imaginable, especially as she was due to go through face the embarrassment in telling a certainly angry Yvonne about her affair with Yvonne's son. More than ever, she vowed to play things by the book.

"Who are you?" she asked sharply.

"I am Mr. Woolley of Robinson and Fletcher. Solicitors. I would be very grateful if you could help me out with some enquiries."

"Why do you think I'm going to be in a position to help you?"

"Come on, you're wing governor, you're most likely to know what's going down here."

"I might be the wrong wing governor for all you know. Can you please come to the point?"

"I have a direct interest in the welfare of one of your ex prisoners, Nikki Wade. She was released after an appeal that made all the news. You do remember her, don't you?"

"Yeah, I remember her," Karen said guardedly.

"I was wondering if you'd heard from her since her release. There's a distant relation who's left her a legacy and I'm trying to trace her whereabouts. I was wondering if you might be able to help us out."

"Unfortunately, we don't possess the information. The way that prisons are these days, we are hard put to look after the ones in our care, let alone ex-convicts."

"That's unfortunate. She will miss out on a lot of money if we can't trace her. You won't have seen her out and about at all and got to know what she's doing with her life by any chance?"

Instantly, alarm bells rang in Karen's mind. This man was overdoing the casual enquiry line by a mile or more. This was what he was really after, not some act of benevolence. Her mind drifted back to the car accident. Helen had been bloody angry with her but no more than she deserved. Nikki had acted in a mature controlled fashion and her words rang in her ear even as this solicitor tried to cajole her.

'If you've got anything about you, you'll carry on where we left off and look after the women. You owe it to them big time.'

She might have related this story to the man and let him draw whatever conclusions he cared to choose. However, she was determined to honour her debt even if neither Nikki nor Helen would know of it. It was the act that mattered.

"I'm sorry that I can't help you that way either. I agree that it would be a shame for her to miss out on a legacy but I'm sure there are ways round this. You could place an advert in the paper, for instance," Karen replied smoothly. It was on the tip of her tongue to suggest he put s the request in writing but you could never tell who would open the letter.

"Well, thanks for your time. Maybe I'll take you up on your suggestion," he said smoothly. Inwardly, he was cursing this awkward bitch and not looking forward to letting Donald Frobisher know the bad news. He wasn't looking forward to the prospect as that man could be bloody rude in his stuck up, superior lordly fashion. Ah well, he sighed to himself, the firm would get a fat fee for the work he was doing.

Nikki and Helen were blissfully ignorant of all this. If only the phone call had come some weeks earlier, either Sylvia Hollamby or Jim Fenner would have picked up the call. Their world would have been so much different.


Scene Twenty Five

Monty Everard was a curious member of the judiciary. His manner was something of an English bulldog and could so be easily pictured as wearing the traditional red coats, jodhpurs and boots of the fox hunting fraternity. He was solid in appearance, manner and politics who could be touchy, prickly and obstinate in his views. However beneath this conservative exterior, there was a side of him that he had only half suspected. He didn't like being pushed around by anyone and could quite easily take offence at political correctness as much as at an arrogant political elite who considered him as a mere functionary. Above all else, he loathed being taken for a ride and could make a very bad enemy. He had been fooled by Neil Haughton's smooth assurances that he had no intention of restricting the powers of the judiciary. He had believed it because he wanted to believe it. He did not want to face the thought that the traditional freedoms of Old England were gradually being whittled away, bit-by-bit. Nevertheless, he was a man who took his own council, watched and waited. The train of thought was beginning to penetrate his senses and made him feel more and more uncomfortable. What began to perturb him was the easy assumption by Sir Ian that he was a 'safe pair of hands.' It wasn't a great stretch of the imagination to think that, more and more, he was being taken for granted.

He began to take a close interest in the judicial guidelines from the Home Office that were taking up more and more space in his in tray. It never used to be like this, he began to be in the habit of saying. He found that snatches of Deed's utterances over the last few years began to echo back in his waking memory, which he had heard at the time and dismissed as just his typical left wing crankish conspiracy theories. Little by little, he started to become less certain in his rejection of that point of view.

"Whatever happened to the separation of powers between the executive and judiciary?"

he heard himself saying. As a rule, he and other judges held court over the barristers, witnesses and juries as before and nothing seemed to change except that he became more and more conscious of looking over his shoulder. He and other judges worked alone and their only sense of the collective were the cases that came to general attention amongst the brethren. Opinions cast about this or that trial were the mechanism by which each judge became centred, aware of his place in the grand scheme of trials. While all judges tended to be prima donnas as a result of their position in the grand scheme of things, they also needed to belong to a wider calling. The term, "brethren" summed up this feeling of community, even if it had had to come up to date and become partly sororial. That being said, it did not stop the petty quarrels and differences between then, Deed being at the centre of these differences because of his outsider status. Despite his immaculate manners, the tag 'baker's son', a description of his humble beginnings, had stuck to him in his early days. Afterwards, he gained a reputation of intellectual brilliance and political recklessness, which attracted mixed feelings of envy, exasperation and scorn. These feelings had been shared by Monty except for a growing undertow of suspicion that the man may be right all along.

This explains why, when Joseph Channing phoned him and told him the news about the forthcoming appeal hearing, he went along with the suggestion that they had a get together in his chambers after the afternoon session. He was willing to give it a go, keep an open mind and see which way it went. He made his way to Joseph Channing's chambers a fraction before John and, there they were, like three new boys on the first day of term, immediately sizing each other up, Monty being particularly watchful.

"Before we get down to business, I wondered if we could have a preliminary drink. I suggest my malt whisky."

There was a murmur of agreement. Joseph Channing's choice of refreshments was well known to be of the highest quality. He produced shining glasses and poured out equal measures.

"I suppose you are wondering why the need to get together in the first place when we are all kept busy enough," ventured Joseph.

"It seems a very practical idea since the three of us might have differing approaches to conducting trials. We need to work together harmoniously. I have the least experience of the three of us of this level of justice."

Monty couldn't help but be impressed by John's unassuming tones. He was making a visible effort to be tactful and constructive, qualities not normally associated with him.

"There might be an argument to consider that 'it will be all right on the night.' I am acting as 'devil's advocate,'" he responded, just to test the water.

"As flattering as the thought is, it might not be the wisest course of action. We are, after all, hardy individualists, accustomed to work alone in the judge's throne and, before that, as barristers, where we have learnt to develop the art of performance. I'm not disparaging our profession, merely describing it. Our experience of working collectively is not great, at least mine isn't, and we have each grown accustomed to developing our own ideas. For this reason, Joseph's suggestion of a preliminary get together seems very sensible."

Joseph Channing beamed at John. From first impressions, the man's idea of teamwork sounded very splendid.

"My thought entirely. Well, this has the makings of a pleasant social occasion as well as necessary business."

Monty nodded assent and sipped the fine whisky very appreciatively. A mellow feeling was beginning to spread through him and it was not just the whisky.

"You have a reputation amongst barristers of taking over the line of cross examination on either side of the house. Are you sure that you won't give way to temptation, John?" Joseph asked with an amused gleam in his eye.

"I would not class resisting temptations as a virtue that I am overburdened with. In this case, it is more the case that there are occasions when my desire for the truth, in asking the critical question that isn't asked outruns my respect for due procedure. While some barristers are only concerned about appearing before me because they do a slipshod job, I must admit that I do irritate Jo Mills from time to time."

"How do you know, John?"

"Because she has asked me on more than one occasion to leave the questioning to her. The opposing barrister invariably agrees with her."

Monty chuckled. It showed John in a more appealing, whimsical light than he had imagined the man. He relaxed back on the sofa and was content that the dialogue lazily ambled its way along.

"I think it would be wrong at this stage in speculating on what arguments might come up though I'm sure we have our own thoughts on the case…..."

"Agreed," pronounced John

"……but I take it that we examine the case totally impartially without fear or favour. If we arrive at a verdict that threatens to embarrass the government, that is their problem, not ours."

The three of them felt all the more determined and resolute in talking this way. They buoyed each other up.

"I have one suggestion that might help," John offered helpfully.

"Let's hear it," Joseph insisted.

"However, if any one of us is unhappy with the way the case is being handled, we should agree to adjourn and sort out any differences behind closed doors rather than in the full glare of public, if not press attention. This is only a precaution."

"A very sound idea, John," Joseph pronounced to mutual satisfaction.

"Are there any other developments which we ought to be watchful for?" Monty asked.

"My experience is of controversial cases. I have found that Ian and his sidekick, Lawrence James, regularly favour me with their presence to report back to their masters and are very generous with their unasked for advice in my chambers. I feel that this case is politically sensitive and we should prepare ourselves for the possibility of being leaned on."

"Good Lord, I've never had that experience but, yes, I see what you mean."

"We are, I take it, not faint- hearted so as to be deflected in following our principles in case they are inconvenient to a weasel like Haughton."

"Damn second hand car salesman type," grumbled Monty." He had the cheek to come up to me in his oily fashion and congratulate me on being amenable to the wishes of the Home Office. He actually assumed I'd take it as a compliment."

"That sounds typical of the man," agreed John.

"Needless to say, that has started me seriously rethinking my position. Ian has kept harping on about me being a 'safe pair of hands," Monty sneered." You're fortunate, John, in being regarded as highly unsafe."

"Nonsense," boomed Joseph." John has worked hard at it over the years. I'm willing to pick up a few tips from him. By the way, did either of you drive down here," Joseph Channing asked with a conspiratorial leer.

"I came by taxi," John grinned.

"So did I. Your hospitality is legendary," chuckled Monty.

"So that means that none of us have to worry greatly about how much of this malt whisky and I won't have to drink it on my own," Joseph laughed gleefully.

The three of them laughed heartily and settled down to a pleasant evening drinking and socializing. Their behaviour was that of three naughty public schoolboys sneaking off for illicit pleasures and mentally thumbing their noses at the humourless, priggish prefects enforcing petty discipline.

The bitter winds of winter gave way to March squalls and sudden showers and, most of all lighter days and nights. It was fortunate that Nikki had spent time in prison on gardening duties or she would never have noticed the passing of the seasons. In this time of the year as the first shoots were starting to push their shoots to the surface, she felt a sense of life's renewal. The days were passing and the time was ticking ever onwards for the trial to take place. Both women had experience enough not to get preoccupied about the trial when there was nothing they could do about it. They were just driving home after a normal day's work.

"I've been thinking, Helen. I ought to warn my parents that there's a trial in the offing. It would be a bit rude just to let them read or hear about it in the press now that we've mended our fences."

"I'd agree with that one, Nikki. I just regret that I've got a father that's several hundred miles away in physical distance and a million miles emotionally," Helen said in disconsolate tones.

"How come?"

"He's a Presbyterian minister who was widowed when I was little. For all his good works in the community, he's never turned his attention to the one 'good cause' that was right under his nose, me. He's never appreciated anything positive I've done in my life, pursuing a career in the civil service, getting engaged…"Helen replied with heartfelt bitterness. Nikki has noticed that Helen had never talked about her family. This hadn't been unusual in her own experience, as she hadn't done so till recently.

"Jesus, Helen, that sounds a total downer. By any conventional standards, you've always done the right thing with your life."

"You're making the mistake of thinking logically, Nikki," Helen replied in a more even tone of voice. That isn't the way that a Presbyterian minister thinks and feels. Try to picture a middle aged man who's twisted up inside with religious guilt who views simple pleasures with suspicion. Above all else, he can never express his feelings simply and honestly. That's something that I learned from you, which he hasn't a bloody clue about. Anyway, I don't want to talk about him."

Nikki shrugged her shoulders and let it go. It was clear that Helen was carrying the same sort of burden. By contrast, she had emotionally let her parents go a long time ago and, by some mysterious process, they had come back together. It was plain to her that Helen had never really made that emotional break.

When they got home, Helen picked up the morning post. Laying aside the usual junk mail, she focused in on a square shaped letter whose wring stirred ancient memories. She ripped it open and stared at it for a long time. The expression on her face was understandably unfathomable as Helen had great problems in getting to grips with her own feelings. Her childhood upbringing in distant Scotland reached out of the depths of her psyche to try and claim her even as much as she intellectually rejected it.

"Here, you take a look at it," Helen said tonelessly, dropping it on the side.

My dear Helen

Today is a busy time of the year as I have to prepare myself for the round of service round Easter time but I thought it my duty to keep in touch with you, if only from afar.

Life in the further reaches of Scotland away from the busy metropolis has carried on much as it has ever done with only a few minor changes in the rhythm of life. The appeal fund to restore the church tower to its former glory is proceeding well. As you will remember, the upkeep of a country church is an onerous burden but one which I will continue to shoulder. The church has stood these many centuries and will continue to do so. I will have need at some check the slates on the vicarage roof but otherwise it continues to withstand the forces of nature.

The snow is still lying on the hills in places and the weather blows cold. I manage to continue to visit those of my parishioners who are troubled in spirit. It is my duty to do so. You will, of course, remember Mrs McDonald who lives at the bottom of the lane.

Life in the big city may have its superficial comforts and pleasures but there is something reassuring about the Spartan life in the Scottish hillsides where I was brought up many years ago.

I hope and pray that one day you will finally settle down as, you will find in time, none of us are getting any younger. I trust that your work in the prison service will prosper though I have never quite understood just why you chose that career path in the first place.

With love

Your father

"Not very personal, it it?" Nikki commented dryly.

"Yeah, that's what I thought. Come on, you'd better phone your dad. After all, you'll be more in the firing line from the press, just like you said."

Nikki's father came over one Saturday after rather a curt conversation on the phone. He was not happy that his daughter was going to drag his family onto the front pages of the press once again. He suggested coming over to talk the matter over.

"So your face is about to be spread across the nation's newspapers once again, Nikki. Quite frankly, I'm not happy about that. What's the point of going back to court after you've got your freedom? That doesn't seem a very wise decision to my way of thinking," Nikki's father pronounced in stern disapproving tones. This immediately wound Nikki up who was on the point of flying off the handle. Somehow, she veered away from reenacting her battles with him when she was in her teens. Instead, she gained access to a fluent reasoning mode of thinking.

"Listen dad, the last thing I am or ever will be is a headline junkie. I'd spent thirty odd years of my life just getting along quietly and making something of a success of my life. The last thing I ever wanted or needed is some policeman with very twisted ideas about my then partner. When I got my freedom that seemed enough at the time. The problem is that in leaving my club days behind for the benefit of my relationship, I'm forever condemned to a second rate job. Just imagine that you were transferred to the army and found yourself a sergeant major instead of a naval captain. Just how would that make you feel?"

"Hmmn, you have got a point there."

"And on top of this, some idiot has blocked my passport application. My barrister feels that there may be a hidden agenda, that I'm being punished to somehow to pay me back for daring to win my case on appeal."

"That sounds like a crank conspiracy theory," Nikki's father retorted in dismissive tones.

"You're talking about a barrister, dad, a very level headed woman whose job is to be absolutely objective about my case. Think about it."

"Whatever the reason for your passport being turned down, I do feel that you've been treated very shabbily. After all, an Englishman has the inalienable right to travel the world, wherever he might go."


"Generically speaking, Nicola. You must realize that the English language has an unfortunate lack of distinction between mankind and the sub species, men. Don't confuse the two," Nikki's father came back strongly with a smug expression on his face, knowing very well that this was one up to him in his lifelong battle with his daughter for the last word on the subject. Helen looked on in amusement and wished that she could have the same affectionately free and easy relationship with her family that Nikki had with hers.

"All right, dad, I'll concede that one."

"So what help do you want from me, Nicola? That's what it's all about."

Nikki was temporarily flummoxed by that question. She was still used to thinking in terms of parental disapproval.

"Just your approval and understanding. I don't suppose you'll be up for chaining yourself to the railings outside the court of appeal."

Her father chuckled at Nikki's droll humour but the look in his eye took in the serious element of her remarks.

"What would my friends in the Navy club make of me being on the front page as well as you……?"

Nikki smiled at the prospect of her oh so respectable father committing such an act and noted that he hadn't precluded active support. She didn't know how to feel if he did come to lend his support. She noticed the broad grin, which spread across Helen's face and was glad for her.

"…..well, I'm not one hundred per cent convinced of everything you say, just why you have to throw yourself on the tender mercy of the court but if it means that you get what you deserve out of life, far be it for me to stand in your way. Yes, you have my approval. I am grateful that you've done me the courtesy in telling me in advance. I appreciate that. One last question, do you have confidence in your barrister?"

"Absolutely, dad. She strongly believes in me and knows everything there is to know about me."

"Well, that's settled then. I take it that Helen will be keeping you company at the trial. All I can wish you is good fortune."

Nikki shook his hand. It was a novelty for her to get parental approval in advance


Scene Twenty Six

Helen worked like a slave to get everything clear to take the Friday off. Since her revelation, she had been pigeon holed as a mysteriously unclassifiable woman, in not looking what her work colleagues thought a lesbian should look like. She had stabilized her situation at work as she had gained a reputation of being firm but fair. Some of her colleagues took the revolutionary step in not bothering what she did in her private life but were content to accept her as she was. Other more narrow minded individuals pronounced their opinions behind her back but turned on the glacial smiles when they senses her sharp eye on them. Helen wasn't fooled by them but, as she thought to herself when she was feeling down in the dumps, at least she hadn't got Jim Fenner and Sylvia Hollamby to contend with. She didn't need to make great play of her authority over them but exercised it quietly.

"I'm having the Friday off," she quietly declared." Unless there is anything urgent that cannot wait, let everything else stack up on Monday. That's why I've cleared everything up in advance. If there is anything urgent, you know who to go to."

There was a murmur of assent as she had confidence in her deputy to hold the fort while she was away. She had gained enough experience by the school of hard knocks not to think that the world would collapse in her absence. Smiling at the framed photo of Nikki on her desk, she phoned her up on her mobile to arrange to meet her outside her place of work.

In turn, it was an ordinary day at work for Nikki's work colleagues except that politely asked for the day off work for no particular reason.

"What's the big secret, Nikki?" one of the more infuriatingly inquisitive women asked.

"No particular reason," Nikki said in the flattest, most inconsequential tone she could summon up." I've been here since last December and didn't get much time off round Christmas. I just fancy the day off. As it happens, my girlfriend feels the same."

"So what romantic rendezvous are you taking her?" asked another equal nuisance. Nikki shrugged her shoulder but declined to answer. They'll soon find out.

"Why do you keep pestering Nikki? It's her own business," Tony chimed in to a look of visible gratitude from Nikki and a flash of irritation running round the faces of her inquisitors. She shrugged her shoulders, declining to make an overt reply and coolly and calmly attacked the pile of work she had on her desk. Some need for completion wanted to leave everything tidy. Next Monday was infinity of time away, beyond the huge event in her life that threatened to swallow up every emotion. As she left the office and was out onto the streets of London, she was away from the stultifying reassurance of her daily routines. This boring sense of normality had its attractions, she reflected wistfully, but she looked square in the eye this almighty task that lay ahead of her. It was what the last few months of her life had built up to, even when she hadn't been aware of what lay ahead of her. On the face of it, she was likely to be a passive pawn in the middle of an almighty legal battle but old habits dies not at all. It was so like her to mentally prepare herself for the task in hand. Tomorrow would be no different.

Claire was checking over the Nikki Wade file to be sure she was ready for the trial the next day when Jim Patterson put his head round the corner.

"You know, of course, that your crusading days will be over after Friday, Claire," he announced to her in a tone of voice that was supposed to be humorous." The ordinary bread and butter cases are starting to pile up and you have to play fair by all our clients, especially the ones that bring in the ready money."

What he really meant was that his nose was being put out of joint, Claire cynically concluded. The Zoë Carson case had succeeded despite the odds stacked against it and

there was a considerable amount of jealousy of her recent successes.

"The positive side is that it will enhance the firm's reputation and more work will come our way. Still, as you say, we should be fair minded."

"I suppose if all goes well, we'll all look forward to seeing you on the six o clock news not to say the press."

"You're being a bit optimistic, Peter. Nikki and Jo Mills will be in the spotlight. I'll be hovering somewhere in the background. As for the papers, you'll be more likely to see Geri Halliwell's latest revelations on the front page. She's more photogenic and far more famous than me."

Claire Walker's relentless modesty was beginning to get under Jim Patterson's skin. It was only too true that business was on the up and up and it wasn't due to his overt commercial nous as it should have been. That woman was getting too big for her boots but there was nothing he could say in response. He nodded his head and went back to her office. Claire sighed and her thoughts returned to her preparations for the trial.

John was feeling replete after an afternoon of sexual bliss with Francesca Rochester. As with his professional life, the sense that he was skating on thin ice did not scare him in the slightest. It was that he had spent a lifetime knowing just how far to push his luck. The disapproving look that Coope directed at him and her pronouncement that 'It was not for her to say," about his choice of appointments may have made Coop feel that she had at least tried but had achieved nothing in deflecting him from his purpose.

"From what Ian is telling me, you have been especially bad recently. I keep telling him that complaining about you will be bad for his blood pressure."

Francesca's low seductive tones of voice only made a pretense at appearing to be innocent. Her charms were as much in her voice as in her body. John's gaze lingered pleasurably and unashamedly on Francesca Rochester's long slim legs and the short black sleeveless dress that hung in that deliberately dishevelled way on her. With the greatest of reluctance, he slowly zipped it up her back as she shook her sleek shoulder length brown hair clear. He himself wore a pair of smart black trousers and a shirt that he left unbuttoned. Fate had been kind to him in comparison with his contemporaries, as the process of ageing had only made him more distinguished looking but had not detracted from either his physical or mental faculties.

"You haven't told him about our guilty secret?"

"Of course not, John. That would provoke a complete and total scandal."

John grinned at the prospect of Sir Ian feebly trying to play the part of the outraged husband. He didn't have the passion for it.

"That would just add to my long list of past scandals."

John was not referring to his wayward private life but the way he obstinately clung to his values while other judges kept their heads down. He started to button up his shirt in a leisurely fashion. As time passed, Francesca glanced sideways at the bedroom clock and started to get worried. She really didn't want to get caught out and her words were sheer bravado. She had a convenient relationship with the very prim and proper Sir Ian whose salary certainly supported her in the lifestyle that she liked. It was more convenient to indulge her dalliances and have her cake and eat it.

"You have to be going now, John, or else Sir Ian will catch us out. You might be forced to fight him with pistols at dawn."

He gave her one final lingering kiss before moving back and slipping on his jacket.

"Till the next time, Francesca."

She smiled wanly and, as John was on the point of slipping out of the flat, fluttered her fingers at him. That afternoon of sex had set her up nicely to be the attractive ornament to her husband's circle of friends. As John slipped into his car, his thoughts started to move forward to the trial that he would help oversee and his resolution to see justice being done.

Meanwhile Sir Ian happened to bump into Donald Frobisher, as was his habit.

"What do you think the prospects are in the Wade case tomorrow?"

"The plain facts was that the policeman was viciously stabbed with a bottle in his neck. Huntley made that perfectly plain and gracefully conceded manslaughter. No court in England could possibly overturn a manslaughter conviction."

"And have your sources of information dug up anything that might incriminate Wade?"

"No such luck, Sir Ian. My solicitor spoke to some minor jobsworth at the prison she was in and drew a blank. She's been leading a very quiet life and done nothing to draw attention. We even made enquiries at the club where the murder took place and the woman we spoke to was most obstructive. She said that even if she knew anything about Wade, she wouldn't tell my solicitor anything. She adamantly refused to cooperate whatsoever. She finally threatened to have him removed from the premises."

"Is your solicitor a man? It might have been a better idea to have sent a woman," Sir Ian suggested in cutting tones.

"He's never let me down before. He can charm the birds off the trees," Donald Frobisher blustered.

"Except where women are homosexual," cut in Sir Ian in slightly acid tones. His nerves are starting to get the better of him. As the other man made no response, Sir Ian made an effort to make the most of the situation and tried to exude as much positive enthusiasm as he could conjure up.

"Still, is everything else ready for the big day tomorrow? We're relying on you."

"I'll do my damnedness to flatten that Mills woman. It's time she had her comeuppance."

"And Wade as well," murmured Sir Ian, reflecting a primitive version of justice without being aware of it.

When they got home, both women felt that their attempt to establish a normal kind of life was derailed. Everything hung on what was going to happen the following day. Nothing existed beyond it. In that way, their sense of time had mysteriously changed. The clock in the hallway ticked louder than normal. All the normal soothing sounds in the flat seemed to jangle their nerves. Idle conversations petered out for no clear reasons.

"Come on, Nikki. Let's get to bed. We'll be better off relaxing there. There's the usual rubbish and I don't suppose you want to watch some cop show."

Nikki laughed at the thought. It was easy enough for her to figure out why the average macho male cop had no appeal for her. Something in the tenderness of the look in Helen's eyes told her that she didn't have just sex in mind.

The two women slipped into their nighties and lay down in their bed while the tail end of the sunshine cast a glow on the curtains. The room was dark Nikki's face was turned appealingly towards Helen. Her right arm was looped round Nikki's shoulder while her left hand stroked her hair. There was an incredibly protective tender look in her eyes.

"We've come so far in the last few months together, Helen. We've only to fight the good fight tomorrow…."

"Don't tell me now what we could get if we get lucky. That's one habit of a prisoner that dies hard," Nikki said evenly.

"In which case, look at what we have already, a life together. We've come a long way since you've got your freedom."

Nikki drew in a deep breath, reached for a cigarette from the bedside table. She lay on her back and took a few puffs. Helen knew instinctively to keep silent while the troubled expression on the other woman's face indicated that she was struggling to articulate her thoughts. Helen gently stroked her forehead and smoothed her hair.

"I know what really worries me deep down. I'm scared that I'm pushing my luck. I was so incredibly glad to get my freedom. I don't want to rock the boat."

"Nikki, the boat damn well needs rocking. You have graduated in the University of Troublemaking and we have thrown in our lot with a number of other graduates. Take Claire Walker for a start who never doubted your case right from the very start and strongly believes in us. Take Jo Mills who has heard everything about us that there is to know and is equally convinced. She will be going to bat for us and even as we speak, is surely preparing to go into battle. If what Jo says is true about John Deed is true, he is yet another troublemaker. Even your family is on your side, for God's sake. We have right on our side and good allies. How can we lose?"

Nikki laughed softly and shook her head in wonder. She realized that she had quite unwittingly sunk inwardly into her own fears as the evening had worn on. At the end of the day, the trial would take place.

"I think I'll be able to settle down for the night. I just want you to hold me."

"That's the least I can do, sweetheart. I'll be around for you," whispered Helen into her ear.

Nikki checked that the alarm clock was set to wake them up on time and snuggled down for the night, feeling Helen's skin next to hers, reassured by that tangible physical presence.

The burden of the trial ahead lay heavy on Jo the night before the trial as it always did. As she sat tapping away screeds of notes on her laptop, she couldn't help remembering talking to Nikki and Helen before the trial date. She gave them the good news that John Deed would be one of the appeal court judges. She had seen the happy faces of the other two women whose spirits were buoyed up by the good news. The expression on their faces was poignantly trusting in her powers.

"At least your previous appeal court hearing means that you'll have an idea of what's in store for you."

"The last time I was there, I was standing in the dock between two prison officers. I hated the guts of one of them and slagged him off in my speech to the press. I must do better this time around with Helen around to keep me company," joked Nikki shakily, revealing her jangling nerves to her acute ears.

"It will be better, Nikki because we'll make it so. Our case is strong,"

Now in the gathering gloom, she tapped away on her computer as she readjusted her thoughts to fine-tune her case. The morning awaited them all.


Scene Twenty Seven

In retrospect, Nikki could never remember the process by which she finally arrived at the Court of Appeal. Such an emotional moment meant that segments of what she experienced that day disappeared down into a memory black hole while the rest were engraved on her soul for life. At the time she started the day, she felt her way along like a tightrope walker, one step at a time. Throughout the day, Helen's tangible presence was all around her.

Some instinct prompted her to wake at six thirty and her mind switched on straightaway to the day in hand. She was thankful that Helen's recent calming influence had made her feel firm and controlled enough in her manner as she had been first time around. She was fast asleep beside her, her face peaceful in its slumbers. Nikki gazed down tenderly at her and slid gently out of bed. This was a new experience as Helen was always the early bird. She selected her outfit with quiet deliberation and set about her makeup very carefully, conscious that every little thing would help her. She felt as balanced and as alert as she needed to be, as far as she could tell. The morning sun lent encouragement to her by gently bathing that corner of the bedroom with light.

"Hi Nikki. You're up with the lark."

"I didn't want to disturb you, not after last night."

"Nonsense, Nikki. I'll make you your usual cup of coffee."

"Tea please, Helen. I don't want to get too wired on the stuff."

Helen made no answer but disappeared unobtrusively to the kitchen while Nikki reached for her early morning cigarette.

All she could remember of the car journey was Helen's soft but firm voice, chatting inconsequentially to her while she lay back quietly in the passenger seat. Her one consoling thought when she arrived at that grey, stylish looking Court of Appeal was that, this time, she wasn't treated as a prisoner but came in through the front entrance as a normal citizen. She knew that she would be well advised to cling to that thought.

As they plunged headlong into the hurly burly of the foyer, their heels clicking on the black and white tiled floor, they were momentarily disorientated by the confusion of sound and vision. Thankfully, Jo and Claire waved in their direction and they threaded their way through the crowd. Everything so far was going according to plan, the two women reasoned.

"It's great to see you here at last, Nikki," Jo greeted her with a reassuringly warm smile. "You'll probably know, Helen, that you'll be sitting in the visitor's gallery. I assume of course that you'll be here for the day."

"Wild horses wouldn't keep me away."

"Will it be the same as last time? You'll have first crack at it, the other guy says his piece and the judges think things over and decide?" Nikki asked slightly nervously.

Helen climbed up the staircase to the back of the court and through the narrow doorway. Below her were rows of benches staggered down to the rail, providing a bird's eye view of the court. Right at the back sat two men, dressed in smart suits. They looked very snooty and superior and she took an instant dislike to them. Looking at the front row, she spotted two women, one of whom wore long blond hair and looked familiar.

"Hi Trisha. Fancy seeing you here," she said in lowered tones, as if in church.

Trisha noted the slight expression of wariness behind the broad welcoming smile and hastened to explain herself.

"I wouldn't be here if I hadn't been hassled by some supercilious solicitor who came round asking all sorts of questions about Nik. I made some discreet enquiries, found out about the trial and thought I'd come out of friendship and support, nothing more. Nik knew in advance that I'd be here and she's cool about it."

Helen smiled more freely this time. She could tell that Trisha's concern was perfectly genuine and it would be nice to have company for what could be a long day. She became conscious of the other dark haired woman with her, neatly dressed in a light blue suit.

"I take it you've brought a friend with you."

"You may have heard of her before. Sally Anne Howe. She's come for the same reason as me."

"Sally Anne Howe,' breathed Helen." You are a legend. We're all incredibly grateful to you for the last appeal. I heard all about you from my friend Claire Walker. She's down there, representing us again."

By the light on Trisha's face, she guessed that there was possibly more than friendship at work between the two women but Helen, being new to lesbian etiquette, wasn't sure and made no comment.

"Keep it in the family," observed Trisha, hinting of that growing sense of sisterhood amongst them. "I think the trial's just about to start." She had picked up on the sudden flurry of movement amongst the court ushers and that sense of concentration of effort.

Nikki could remember the usher indicating her forward and she walked forward into the grandeur of the courtroom, which momentarily dazed her. Then she remembered that she was a free citizen, doing a job like other people. She held her head up high as she had done all her life, even as a prisoner. Putting her best foot forward, she took her place as the cast for the theatre of justice gradually assembled. There was Jo, sitting calm and relaxed and Claire behind her. Right up in the gallery sat Helen together with Trisha and Sally Anne Howe. A lump formed in her throat that there were women around who cared for her in their different ways. That emotion boosted her spirits with no sense of ambiguity. It was a good sign.

The thump on the floorboards announced the arrival of the three judges in their ceremonial robes in their thrones up on high. Nikki shot a glance at the three men. She picked out the most handsome of the three of them. While his expression was appropriately formal, his blue eyes caught the light. That must be John Deed, she thought.

The elderly man spoke briefly in actorish tones and gestured to Jo Mills, below them who was wound up like a coiled spring, not with nerves but with mental energy. With all the confidence in the world, she raised herself to her feet, the fingertips of her right hand touching the rail, her posture relaxed and confident. Four women's gaze were transfixed by her presence. This was one of these moments that the axis of history balanced on, just before it moved decisively in its destined direction.

"The facts of this reappeal relate to an incident nearly five years previously when my client, Nicola Wade went to her club to pick up her partner just as anyone has done for their partners. She was confronted by the appalling sight of a policeman on the point of raping her partner. This moment is central to the case, which I shall outline for you.

I don't want to dwell overlong on the original hearing, as it is difficult to see not what was wrong about the progress of the trial but what they ever got right. First of all, the prosecution stacked up hearsay character evidence for the deceased, DC Gossard to argue that such a decent hard working policeman would never sexually assault a woman, certainly not that shining paragon of professional dedication virtue. This had the effect of marginalizing the direct evidence of Trisha Williams, the only person called to give evidence of what happened that night. Secondly, using the witness statement of my client, it was argued that even on its own terms, the killing that was supposed to have taken place in extremely hot blood was supposedly committed in cold blood. The expression 'cold blooded killer' is surely a curious choice of words. The implication is surely that by client Nicola Wade attacked DC Gossard without provocation and studiously ignores the fact that her partner was being raped. Thirdly, no questions were asked and no answers were given as to what, professionally speaking, a policeman was doing visiting a lesbian club. In short, the whole case was riddled through with contradictions. I really wonder how a court of law could ever been so badly handled from beginning to end and how come it was so badly directed."

The four women's hearts thrilled at the uncompromising way in which Jo Mills launched a real two fisted assault on the original trial. It pitilessly dissected the shortcomings of the original trial with such confident incandescent passion. Behind his tight-lipped expression, Donald Frobisher's anger rose within him as he sensed that he was in for a tough battle. On the back row of the visitor's gallery, Sir Ian and Lawrence James scowled at this rabble-rousing talk.

"That's Judge Jackson for you," whispered John Deed behind his hand to Joseph Channing who nodded in assent. John allowed himself a small smile at Jo's fighting talk. He was as thrilled as the four women at being at the center of this case but, of course, couldn't express his feelings publicly.

''The appellant Nicola Wade originally appealed against her conviction for murder on three grounds, one, that the defence of provocation was never put to the original jury.
two, that His Honour Judge Jackson failed to direct the original jury to that defense and three that at the original trial there was a clear failure by the police to disclose material evidence. What was central to the appeal was the complete overthrow of the credibility of the policeman, both as an individual and as a representative of the police force. It was accepted as a proven fact that Gossard had a history of violence toward women, that the police knew this and had covered it up. Most damning was the internal enquiry into

the rape of a one-time colleague, Sally Anne Howe where DC Gossard firstly disclaimed any knowledge of her and then changed his story to say that sex was consensual.

"In this context, would it be improper for your lordships to ask serious questions of the initial police questioning of my client, Nicola Wade? There is no mention as to whether or not a duty solicitor was present who would suitably have advised my client. The main plank of the prosecution rested on the statement that my client made saying she was 'glad the bastard is dead.' There is evidence that it was made after hours of questioning. It is possible that after this series of traumatic events and she just lost it."

The three judges pricked up their ears at these questions. This was the weakest part of Jo Mills's case in terms of hard fact but the questions certainly roused their curiosity.

"I submit that the defence of provocation was imperfectly formulated and, regrettably, the court of appeal overlooked the more inclusive defence of 'acting to prevent a serious injury to another.' Established case law provides that acting in defence of another to prevent actual bodily harm is a legitimate defence and that the threat was real and immediate. Your lordships will surely be aware of cases before you that, in many instances rape also involve other physical injury sometimes of a very serious or fatal nature. The degree of force available to the defender therefore depends on the seriousness of the assault on another. This case law argues that the test of reasonableness is not wholly an objective one . There is an inescapable element of stress and the provocation caused to the defender. It is in this context that the original plea of provocation properly sits, as part of this whole picture. That person is not expected to sit down and think logically about things before acting in situations like discovering a rape. It is acknowledged that he or she will react under stress and fear and may well react violently. I would submit that the law fits like a glove the situation that my client, Nicola Wade was placed in without any warning.

Finally I would argue that had there been a man reacting to protect his wife, the man would have been hailed by the tabloids as a 'have a go hero.' the two of them would have been much more likely to have been believed. It is arguable that if that man had been injured however slightly in the fray he could well have been up for a commendation or medal for bravery. For all these reasons, I urge your honours to consider all these arguments and that you formally quash the conviction for manslaughter."

The court as a whole sit, rapt with attention to Jo's compelling words. Tears edged Nikki's eyes as she witnessed the power of Jo Mills' oratory and the total humanity and understanding behind these words. What worried her was what the opposition would make of it. She was right in the middle of this courtroom drama as it swirled tempestuously round her.


Scene Twenty Eight

By contrast, Donald Frobisher rose to his feet in an unaccustomed hurry to refute Jo Mills' arguments before the appeal court judges could be swayed by such spurious sophistries. His preferred style was languid self-assurance. Sir Ian and Lawrence James couldn't wait for their man to pull out all the stops and blow away all this spurious bleeding heart liberal stuff. By contrast, the three women in the gallery clutched nervously at the rail running round the balcony.

"My Lords, I would urge caution in considering the central line of argument. My learned colleague is turning this hearing into a one sided trial, in absentia, of DC Gossard for alleged rape when he is unable to give evidence for himself. The proper course for an appeal is to consider the death of DC Gossard. The facts are indisputable and haven't been disputed that he was unlawfully killed at the hands of the woman you see before you, Nicola Wade in 'a most vicious manner' as even the original court of appeal put it.

I submit that this is more productive than pursuing the 'might have beens' or 'could have beens' as my learned colleague has sought to do. Indeed, the counsel at the original court of appeal hearing hinted at the actual guilt of the appellant in stating that she 'reacted, perhaps over reacted.' I would direct your lordships to the contemporaneous statement made by Ms Nicola Wade at the time of the killing. It shows that there were no ifs or buts about the matter and the wanton disregard for the due process of law. Instead of Ms Wade being regarded as a 'have a go hero', I would suggest that she acted as a one woman vigilante, and one that was acting entirely outside the due process of law. There is no place in a civilized society justice for judge, jury and executioner to roam the lands at large.

In item 3 in the bundle of evidence, Ms Wade said as follows. 'I stuck what was left of the broken bottle in his neck. He fell to his knees; he was trying to hold the blood in with his hands. I could tell straightaway he didn't have a chance. There was a hell of a lot of blood. I didn't regret a single drop of it. He tried asking me to help him, stupid bastard. I phoned the police then. While we waited, I told him why I stabbed him. He knew anyway; course he did, but I told him anyway. He tried to rape Trisha, and you lot were never going to do anything about it, were you? He was one of yours, a copper, and I'm glad the bastard's dead." These words were said in the full knowledge of Ms Wade in the presence of the two examining policemen. No one is seriously suggesting that somehow words were put in her mouth."

Trisha turned white with anger as this pompous man who was trying to rubbish everything that she and Nikki had gone through.

"I can't sit still any longer. I want to tell the bloody court what really went on."

"Sit down Trisha," Helen said in a low key but forceful fashion as Trisha made to stand up." You won't be doing any good to disrupt the court proceedings." Although Helen pulled at Trisha's sleeve, she understood and felt her rage.

"The appeal reduces itself to utter absurdity in arguing that there are absolutely no consequences that should be visited upon the wanton killing of a policeman with that most vicious of instruments, a broken bottle. We operate under the public eye, in the spotlight of public opinion. It would create the most dangerous precedent imaginable.

I freely admit that I have my own certain reservations about the original judgment, not least that for some reason, Ms Wade was never called upon to give evidence. Perhaps it might be that she had something to hide and that she had boxed herself sufficiently into a corner not to risk her coming under closer scrutiny. The original appeal court exercised a degree of understandable mercy but, to quote a famous phrase, 'here we stand and we should move no further.'

The final question I want to ask is why on earth a policeman, a heterosexual male should be in the slightest way sexually interested in a lesbian, a woman who he might reasonably

For all we know, the supposed victim might have been wearing dungarees and boots and be utterly unattractive to a normal male."

Donald Frobisher lounged back against the rail, a smug expression on his face as he rounded into his conclusion. Up in the gallery, Trisha gesticulated to herself, keeping quiet under Helen's watchful eye. John Deed saw what was going on, whispered briefly to Joseph Channing who nodded agreement.

"I can see that you want to attract the attention of the court to some vital point. Could you tell us your name and what point you are trying to make," John called out.

"Go for it Trisha," hissed Helen forcefully. Her decisive nature knew as it knew nothing else that this was their golden opportunity.

"I am Trisha Williams. I used to run the club with Nikki Wade. As you can see, it's obvious why DC Gossard got totally the wrong idea about me."

"Could you please stand up for the benefit of the court?"

Trisha Williams, you are amazing, Nikki thought, her body shivering in sudden relief after that dreadful verbal assault on her.

This is weird, thought Trisha. I've never in my life posed to be looked over by three men, let alone judges. I'm not entering a straight beauty contest for all the tea in China. She saw Nikki's eyes shining up at her and Sally Anne Howe's expression, urging her to carry on. She stood up, feeling a total fool but reconciled herself to the necessity of it. After all, Nikki, Helen and Sally Anne were all for it.

"You can sit down. I must thank you for your help," John said graciously." Please continue, Mr. Frobisher."

"I repeat my earlier point that a three year sentence for manslaughter, operating retrospectively is a right and proper one. I urge your lordships to reject this appeal," Donald Frobisher concluded curtly, somewhat red faced and spotting out of the corner of his eye Jo Mills and Claire Walker grinning at him.

There was a pause in the proceedings while the three judges conferred with each other. Both sides had fired their broadsides and this was the part of the proceedings where Jo Mills was not sure what was going to happen next. The three judges might make a statement that they would retire behind the scenes and emerge to announce their verdict or alternatively, adjourn to deliberate on their own and deliver a written judgment. Jo didn't even want to consider the possibility of Nikki's life going on hold for days, maybe weeks and that possibility had given her the occasional sleepless night. She thought that there was a definite third possibility and that was that Nikki would be called as a witness for questioning. She knew John of old and it was perfectly in line with John's insatiable desire for both knowledge and justice. She discounted the fact that he was a junior partner of the tribunal, as she knew above all how persuasive John was. All two trials had taken place effectively in Nikki's absence except for that ill-advised statement. She had never broached this possibility to her and made a judgment that this very strong woman would have the presence of mind to rise to the occasion if it came to it. All this would be very likely to be put to the test.

"We are of the unanimous conclusion there has been one key witness whose evidence has never been put before any court of law. We are fortunate to have that witness before us, I mean Nicola Wade," Joseph Channing pronounced.

It was as if a current of high voltage of electricity ran through Nikki. The next second, it felt as if the words were unreal, as if she had dreamed them. The next moment, a small bible was offered to her left hand while a white card was offered to her right. Her nerveless fingers just about grasped them without dropping them.

"You mean me," stammered Nikki. She looked beseechingly upwards at the three judges who towered above her, tall though she was.

"You are the one person whose testimony has never been heard. It doesn't seem right to me that your life is dissected and analysed without input from you. Regrettably, Trisha Williams is excluded from being called as a witness as notice has not been served to transform her from a visitor to a witness. You are not in that situation. I must emphasize that we aren't here to prosecute. We just have that impulse to get at the truth." John Deed explained softly.

Nikki was on the point of hyperventilating when she heard those words that were such a fundamental part of her nature and called out to her very soul. The man's blue eyes seemed to sparkle and his smile reassured her. She looked over to Jo and Claire whose gaze implored her to take courage, then to Helen's loving presence and Trisha's and Sally Anne's friendship. All at once, her nerves steadied, her mind became calm, analytical, the way she reacted in any crisis. She grasped the book and card more firmly and uttered the required words as her warming up routine for taking the stage.


Scene Twenty Nine

The judges lost no time into getting into the swing of things as Nikki found out very soon.

"Ms Wade, I am reminding you that we intend to ask you a series of questions as to your background as far as it relates to the events of the night in question. We want you to take us through the events of that night. If you find some of the questions painful, please feel free to ask at any time for a break. Is that clear?" Joseph Channing explained in not unfriendly tones.

"Yes, my lords," she murmured, somehow dredging the appropriate mode of address from who knows where.

"For a start, can you explain for the benefit of the court exactly what was your profession at the time of the night in question?" Joseph Channing led off crisply.

"Trisha Williams and I jointly owned and ran Chix club, a nightclub specifically for lesbians to meet and socialize but otherwise it operates just like any club."

"How did you start up the club?"

"I had worked in clubs and bars most of my life and knew the trade from the bottom up. Trisha had worked in a bank and knew business. When we got together as a normal couple, we conceived the plan to set up a club. We both scrimped and saved, set it up with the help of a bank loan and had been running the club successfully for a number of years."

"What was your function in the running of the club and what was Ms Williams'?"Monty Everard asked. Secretly, he was impressed by this account of hard work and enterprise. It appealed to his natural conservatism.

"I hired and fired barwomen, ordered stock and generally kept order. We both got involved in organizing party nights. Trisha's speciality was in bookkeeping and accounts."

"Are you and Trisha still partners?" John asked quietly.

"It would be easy to say that we are but we're not. Trisha and I split up two years into my sentence. To put it in her words 'how could we have a relationship if we just stopped living?' She was dead right. When I got out and settled down with my new partner, she bought out my interest in the club and I'm doing a not so wonderful nine to five job to fit in with my new partner."

Tears came into Trisha's eyes. This was typical Nik.

"Prior to the night in question, had you encountered DC Gossard and if so, what were your impressions of him?" Joseph Channing enquired in businesslike tones.

"For some unknown reason, the police came round regularly to inspect the club. Most of them were all right but I have to admit I took an instant dislike to DC Gossard."

"What was that dislike based upon?"

Nikki had got nicely into her stride and her answers were coming out smoothly and fluently as the questions were clarifying her thoughts. She thought carefully about this question and the irresistible thought came into her mind that Fenner and Gossard were the same people. However, her sense of self-discipline asserted itself. How could such impressionistic statements, however true, be real or mean anything to these judges? Seen from outside, Larkhall seemed like a lunatic asylum. Eventually judicious words formed themselves in her now rapid and alert mind.

"I freely admit that my experience of men is limited but I like to think that I'm fair minded. In my life, I've come across some regular guys who are, well, friends, including a present workmate of mine. All I can say is that he was arrogant and pushy by any standard and there was something creepy about him. It felt that he had some ulterior reason for being around."

Helen was impressed by Nikki's adroit way of fighting her way out of a corner. She noted with satisfaction that no further questions were asked about her attitude to men.

"Had you been in any way antagonistic towards him before the night in question?" Monty enquired.

"Definitely not. For a start, it wasn't worth the hassle, as word would have got round to the other policemen that came round who were all right. They would have all turned against us. We just wanted a quiet life and we didn't want our licence threatened either."

"Can you explain to us, Ms Wade, exactly why there should be such a regular police presence to your club as has been described?" John asked in his quietest, most innocent tones.

Nikki's face was a picture. Her mouth opened but no word emerged. With all the time she had had to think and brood, that question had never crossed her mind. Her mind was furiously working until ideas clicked into place.

"You've really got me on this one. I've never before asked myself that question. You might wonder why that's so. All I can say is that when Trisha and I started off the club, we considered that the formation of a lesbian club as something underground, although legal by all the laws of the land. We felt that we were always subject to the society size version of the sort of family disapproval that all of us grew up with."

A double light bulb had illuminated his mind, firstly the highly significant fact that Nikki Wade was no conspiracy theorist and secondly, her very clear explanation of the context she operated in. He was definitely enjoying this trial and savoured the double satisfaction in reaching out for the answers and having the chance of achieving justice, the purest and most disinterested love of his life.

"Did any policewomen call round?"

"Now you come to mention it, absolutely none. That's another good question that I can't find an answer for. In retrospect, it would have been both sensible and obvious."

"Was there any cause for the police to take professional notice of your club, public drunken behaviour or drug taking for instance?" put in Joseph Channing. He relaxed comfortably in his throne, highly impressed how his questions, Monty's and John's were meshing perfectly together.

"Not by comparison with any straight club. The women who came to my club were only too glad to find a place where their sexuality would be accepted. They had hardly anywhere else to go. There was the very occasional rowdy young kid that got pushy and I acted as bouncer to remove them myself. That was really foolish of them as there really weren't then many lesbian clubs around."

"Did you use ever physical force and how much, both in your job and in your private life?" Monty asked.

"I've only used physical force to frog march trouble makers out of the club. Verbally, I can be pretty forceful and quick with words. That's what my nearest and dearest have said, sometimes in reproach. In my private life, I could get jealous of my partners and get argumentative but never violent. I hope I'm getting better as I'm maturing and getting older."

For the first time, there was a faint smile on Nikki's lips. John could see the touches of self-deprecating sense of humour and liked it very much indeed.

"Let's turn to the night in question. I understand that you went to the club to take your partner home. Did you have any reason to think there was anything untoward before you entered the door?"

"None whatsoever or she wouldn't have been left on her own. We were open six nights a week. We couldn't both be there night after night or we'd have burned ourselves out."

"So what happened when you got there?" John enquired after Monty's turn.

"I could hear Trisha calling out for help. I rushed into the bar and I could see DC Gossard and Trisha. He had her pressed up against the bar and his hands were all over her. He was saying 'Come on, rug muncher, and have the real thing for a change.'"

"What do you mean,' rug muncher'?" Joseph Channing was old fashioned and couldn't understand modern slang. An expression of incomprehension spread across his face.

Nikki coloured. She was stuck for words to put it politely for the purposes of the court.

"It is a little indelicate to explain. It is a rather crude and insulting reference to a form of lesbian lovemaking, an expression that no woman that I have ever known has ever used."

"So it was deliberately insulting and demeaning?" John Deed put in, noting Nikki's natural politeness.

"Exactly so, yeah. You have got it right," Nikki nodded eagerly at his ready understanding.

"So what happened next?"

"As far as I can remember, I shouted out 'What in hell are you doing with my girlfriend' and he sneered back 'What does it look like?' I told her to get off her and he ignored me. It was then that I reached for a bottle and smashed it over his head. He just laughed at me. It was then that I stuck the broken bottle in his neck…."

Nikki was shaking inside with a total kaleidoscope of emotion as she relived that moment. She came close to breaking down at this point and the women in the gallery really felt for her. All three judges were instantly sorry for her while Sally Anne Howe impulsively reached out to hold Trisha's hand, as she was visibly upset, both for herself and the others.

"Do you want to take a break in the questions? I can see that you are obviously distressed," John said in his gentlest tones. Nikki smiled up at him intensely grateful for such consideration. Helen sighed with a huge feeling of relief. She was very worried for her and wished so much that she could fold her in her arms. She waited for her breathing and emotions to come back under control before nodding that she was ready to continue.

"Ms Wade, can you clarify just why you went to the defence of your partner with a broken bottle?" Monty Everard asked, his question sounding harsh by contrast.

"Because I was in a club, much like any pub or wine bar that you might go to. I assure you that there is literally nothing to hand besides bottles. A bottle on its own is a pretty flimsy weapon .If I'd been in a kitchen of a restaurant, I might have picked up a rolling pin, hit him on the head and knocked him unconscious and that would be an end of the matter, except for possibly pressing charges against Gossard for attempted rape."

Nikki answered, in a tone of strained patience.

"In asking the next question, I would remind you that you are under oath. I want you to think very carefully about it before you answer. If you had such a hypothetical rolling pin in your hand, would you have hit him with enough force to knock him out or would you have struck him hard enough to kill him?" Joseph Channing asked with as much of a kindly tone of voice as his bluff personality could conjure up.

Nikki's face went white as her fate was suspended on the answer she must give. Her tongue wet her dry lips and she swallowed before speaking in a firm and deliberate tone of voice.

"This is a very hard question to answer but my main concern was for Trisha's safety, not to extract vengeance. I just wanted him out of the place with the minimum fuss and get us home after a late night."

"What reason have we to believe you on this point?" probed Monty just to test the water.

"I know I can't prove a single word of what I'm saying. Only Trisha was there to back me up. All I can say is that I give you my word on this."

Nikki's dignified response drew an audible response of approval round the court except for Sir Ian and Lawrence James who maintained a stony silence. In the pause as they mentally summed up the progress to date, the women in the gallery were delighted at the way that Nikki kept up the answers even in the worst of circumstances while Jo and Claire sat back in admiration. They had underestimated her resourcefulness but were highly conscious that awkward questions lay ahead.

"Why did you stick the broken bottle in his neck?"

"Out of sheer rage and frustration. Nothing else I had tried had worked. I just saw red. There was no one else around and everything was out of my control. I really don't do things like that as a rule."

"So what happened next?"

"We were both totally shocked. He fell to his knees and kept asking us for help. We didn't know what the hell to do. The first aid kit wasn't up to major operations. I'm used to putting a plaster on a cut finger but what do you do with major stab wounds in a neck? We were just frozen until some instinct told me to phone 999 for the police. We waited for them to come. As soon as they came, I was led away in handcuffs and bundled in the back of a police car with Trisha and forbidden to speak to each other. We were shut up in different cells and left to stew. It seemed like ages till I got out of that poky cell and was interrogated by two policemen doing the nice guy, nasty guy routine."

"Wait a moment, did you ask for legal representation and what was the response?" John interposed.

"I asked for it and was repeatedly refused with a few choice words of abuse."

"About your sexuality?"

"Exactly so."

" So what happened next?"

"I was taken back to the cell, reexamined again and again. The same questions were asked over and over again.

"Did you say anything about the attempted rape?" John continued, as both Monty and Joseph Channing let him carry on the questions for a bit.

"I did but they shouted at me, saying that they didn't believe a word I said. I know from talking to Trisha that the same happened to her."

"One final question, Nicolas Wade. Can you account for the difference between your version of events and what you said in the police statement? Can the usher help Ms Wade with the bundle of evidence? Please take your time with your reply," Joseph Channing stepped in. He had let go Nikki's straying into giving second hand evidence on the other woman's state of mind. This was the final make or break on the case.

Nikki blinked and the movie that had been running in her mind's eye came to a stop. Somehow, her eyes focussed on the scrawling writing written by the policeman and her own even signature. With one last dying effort of will, her very tired mind somehow conjured up the words she needed.

"I've been reliving the experiences as we've been talking and I can see that the statement has described the external facts superficially correctly except that, no I didn't tell him why I stabbed him. For a start, it was bloody obvious and for another, I wasn't in the frame of mind to say much at all. I was emotionally devastated and I'm sure Trisha felt the same. I think that I transferred the rage that built up within me at the police who didn't believe a word I said and were putting me through the third degree, perhaps because they were mates of DC Gossard……"

Oh, fantastic, Nikki, breathed Jo to herself in total jubilation, you ought to have been a barrister, you have that presence of mind and unshakeable will and you're looping the final argument back to my submission. Donald Frobisher thought gloomily that the final nails were driven home in the coffin where his case was dead and buried.

"….it was as if I'd dropped headlong into some police conspiracy and all I'd wanted to do that night was to pick up my partner from work."

John echoed Jo's mental applause at the final words. If she did but know it, he could tell so many stories about government conspiracies.

The silence died away. Nikki felt that she'd been in the witness stand for hours. Her legs were aching and her mouth was dry with the talking. The duration of the questions was a faint echo of the police interrogation all those years ago but this time, there was so kindness and understanding. It helped erase the deep-seated feeling of injustice that was still buried in her from long ago. Tears edged her eyes. She tried to wipe them away with a tissue.

"The time is two o clock and the session has lasted beyond the traditional one o clock lunchtime for which we crave your indulgence. I know that this has borne heaviest on the court recorder. However, it has seemed to us that the line of questioning has served the case admirably and will shorten the proceedings. If you all stay within the vicinity of the court buildings, we will call you back in an hour's time. It is highly likely that we shall arrive with an outcome," Joseph Channing pronounced firmly and confidently.

"Thank you, Nikki Wade," John said softly. He wished he could have said more than that.

The usher helped Nikki walk on legs of jelly out of the stand and out of the back door. She collapsed into Helen's arms. Trisha and Sally Anne Howe stood by, a mixture of concern and total admiration on their faces. She had vindicated them all.


Scene Thirty

Charlie Deed was entering the next phase in her 'hard up student' period when she'd spent her way through the next chunk of her student loan. Being practically minded, she phoned her father up to meet up in town. Of course, her father would pay the bill. That was understood by both parties. She picked up her mobile and pressed the button and announced her purpose.

"Charlie, what brings you to these parts?" John asked affably enough though with a distracted edge to his tone of voice. The two other judges were waiting for him. Though she couldn't pick a worse time to phone him, John knew that, in all fairness, he couldn't expect her to keep track of what he did at work. In his private life, both of them knew that her interest in his movements would be actively unwelcome.

"Is there a problem, dad?"

"I'm just set to consider, along with your granddad and Monty, the verdict on a very tricky case. I've got the usual apparatchiks glaring at us and, most likely, the press outside."

"That isn't new," Charlie announced with the candour of youth on her side." Do you want to make it another time?"

"No, I want to meet you and, besides a meal which I'll enjoy and no doubt pay for……"

"….it is in the contract, you know," bantered Charlie.

"…we can have a chat about how you're going on at university."

John could almost hear the disconsolate droop of his daughter's shoulders as he slipped in that one. Ah well, beggars can't be choosers, she reasoned.

"Shall I come up to your chambers?"

"Make it the court room as I'm by no means certain exactly where I'll be but the chances are that I'll have finished by the time you get here."

The cheek of it, Charlie exclaimed, knowing that he was probably right in his assessment of her scatty and disorganized nature. She agreed to it and hung up.

Seeing that John was finished, Joseph led the way back to his chambers, which had that atmosphere of old fashioned grandeur about it. There was a smile on his lips as he graciously gestured to Monty and John to take a seat. He led off the discussion without any hesitation.

"The first matter we should determine is, of course, which version of the events of that night should we accept? On the one hand, we have Ms Wade's verbal evidence today and on the other, her statement to the police. This lies at the heart of the case."

"I have absolutely no doubts upon the matter. Ms Wade's verbal evidence was transparently honest and she stood up well to some hard questioning. As for the actions of the police, there is definitely a collection of rotten apples in the barrel. There is an absolutely clear picture of low level harassment of the club, DC Gossard's actions which clearly make him a danger to any woman who crosses his path, example being Ms Howe who was raped by him and Ms Williams who he clearly attempted to rape. There has been systematic collusion by Gossard's actions to exact their revenge in the initial questioning and in covering up for him. The picture is as clear as clear as can be, that the statement is not worth the paper it was written on." pronounced Monty much to John's amazement as the harder questions had come from him.

"My sentiments exactly," rumbled Joseph Channing with great emphasis." As for Jackson's conduct of the first trial, well words fail me."

"You have taken the words from right out of my mouth," John said in a soft, unassuming tone of voice.

"Coming onto this appeal hearing itself, I am normally hesitant to opt for the extremes of leniency. I am mindful that suck a judgment could easily be misquoted in future cases. There might be the situation where two people indulge in a minor spat, one person reaches for the nearest blunt instrument to hand and batters the other person to date. However, when I consider Jo Mills' arguments in depth, I find them pretty compelling and I cannot see the join between the facts as she sets out and Ms Wade's testimony," Joseph Channing continued and two heads nodded as one.

"I really liked Ms Wade's notion of the hypothetical rolling pin," John chipped in." That made the whole case crystal clear."

"And you liked the look of her," guffawed Monty to John's smiling denial.

"Well, that's settled. We squash the manslaughter conviction and wipe the slate clean."

It was less of a question than a statement.

"After all, Ms Wade was subjected to a rigorous cross-examination and came up trumps. What the likes of Sir Ian and Houghton make of it is not our concern."

"You know that Houghton really will be after our blood and try to restrict our powers," John put in." He has been planning this since it was leaked to the press some months ago."

"Then we shall resist," proclaimed Joseph Channing with zest and vigour, becoming visibly younger and cutting neatly through past dissension on the matter." Such opposition that has been mounted has been by John acting on his own. He cannot be allowed to shoulder this burden on his own. We must join in and recruit like minded judges to our cause."

"You know, of course, that the three of us are probably not fated to sit together in future. It would be a pity as I have thoroughly enjoyed this experience," Monty said slightly sorrowfully in a way that captured the spirit of the occasion.

"But it does not stop us having something of a celebration drink tonight while we watch the news."

"Let's go forward and deliver justice," Joseph Channing urged, his face brightening," and afterwards, come round to my chambers tonight at eight. The drinks are on me."

Nikki had spent the lunchtime in a spare anteroom of the Court of Appeal. Jo Mills, Claire, Helen, Trisha and Sally Anne Howe kept her company. After they walked with her back to the court, she raised her spirits high and took her place in the witness stand. The court filled up at the appointed time and Nikki looked up at the three judges, trying to gauge the expressions on their faces. Contrasting with the keen level of anticipation, two stony faced men sat at the top of the gallery expecting the worst while Donald Frobisher and his solicitor had given up their case as lost.

"Nicola Wade, we have come to a unanimous and certain conclusion that the 3 year manslaughter charge that was imposed on you by Judge Huntley at the Court of Appeal on November 24th 2000 should be completely set aside and that nothing should replace it. To make it absolutely clear, we mean that your record is now as absolutely clean as mine or my fellow appeal judges. Judge Huntley has said that the case was 'difficult and worrying' but we are of the conclusion that the case was extremely simple and only became complicated by the cloud of obfuscation created by the initial police investigation and clouded the decision of the original court of appeal. We thank you for your helpful contribution to the court proceedings and conclude that you are a victim of injustice.

It is beyond our powers to take away the years you have spent in prison but what we can do is to wipe the slate clean. Nicola Wade, you are free to go."

Nikki's mind went blank. She couldn't take it all in to begin with for several moments. As it started to dawn on her, she couldn't believe her luck. She felt very strongly that she had lived this scene before except that neither Di Barker nor Fenner were there. This was the big difference. The front of the gallery cheered and clapped and cheered enthusiastically, Helen's carrying tones clearly taking the lead. The judges smiled indulgently at such spontaneously informal expression of feelings. They almost felt like taking a bow as if at the conclusion of a grand theatrical performance.

"Thank you, thank you, for listening to me,"Nikki said in a low voice, looking up at the kindly expressions which now spread across the faces of the three robed figures. She couldn't believe her good luck. She turned on her heel and stumbled out of the courtroom, reaching out for fresh air and comfort.

Sir Ian and Lawrence James couldn't believe their bad luck. They shot out the back door, clattered down the staircase and raced to a quiet spot. Lawrence James took out his mobile, pressed the buttons and let Sir Ian phone through the bad news. From then on, it raced along the communication networks like wildfire where Neil Haughton picked up the phone, turned purple with fury, shouted inarticulately down the phone, threatened all and sundry and resolved that, come the BBC News, ITV News and Uncle Tom Cobley and all that 'a spokesman from the Home Office was not available for comment.' The government did not believe in confessing abject failure, as in intimate talks with some chat show host on prime time television. The establishment always fumed and sulked in private. What Neil Haughton did do was to pick up the phone and speak to George about the matter.

Helen led the way down the staircase to meet Nikki on the way out. She flung her arms round the other woman who was tearfully overcome by emotions of joy, incredulity and huge gratitude. A fleeting thought crossed her mind that she wished to thank them personally but wouldn't get the chance. Fleeting thoughts of regret were briefly visible on Trisha's face. Last time around, she had hugged Nikki and made all their plans for the future. She looked sideways to Sally Anne Howe who accompanied her and more generous feelings took charge. They had promised to remain friends so friends they would be at an emotional moment like this.

The four women looked around them and were dazed by the hurly burly in the foyer. Claire Walker greeted them, radiant with success.

"Even more success this time, Nikki."

The two women hugged each other. This was a definite replay of the last appeal.

"Let's catch up with Jo."

"Isn't she with that other barrister guy?" asked Nikki.

"Yes, and they're not exactly the best of friends."

They edged closer to hear what was going on.

As soon as Jo Mills saw Donald Frobisher's scowling face, she knew immediately that there would be no generous praise from one member of the brethren to another. This was warfare.

"I suppose you think you're the blue eyed girl around here," he sneered.

"And just what is that supposed to mean?" Jo counter questioned sharply.

"In each case, the common factor is John Deed. That says it all, doesn't it."

"The trouble with you is that, with decent judges, the truth will out. First of all the Partridge case and now Nikki Wade's reappeal. Thirty love to me."

The man glared as Jo's cutting remarks hit home. There was frustrated anger in his eyes.

"You'll get your comeuppance, sooner or later, Mrs Mills."

"Not at your hands, especially when you act as the establishment's paid hack barrister. Just go and have a run round the park."

After seeing the back of her enemy, she smiled broadly at the crowd of women paying obvious interest in the verbal scrap.

"Well, that's par for the course for Donald Frobisher."

"It has a very familiar feel to me when I was wing governor at Larkhall prison," Helen said with feeling in her voice.

Jo's mind jumped onwards to the next reel of the movie. She had seen the two men race out of the back of the court and suspected that some shenanigans would take place as this case had certainly kicked over an ants nest, politically speaking. She knew how fickle the press could be and they would be bound to crowd round outside..

Jo Mills had seen the two men race out of the back of the court and suspected that some shenanigans would take place as this case had certainly kicked over an ants nest, politically speaking. She knew how fickle the press could be and they would be bound to crowd round outside. She hurried out of the back of the court to intercept her.

"Nikki, just wait a moment before you go outside," Jo called out in urgent tones.

"Why, what's the problem?"

"Just this, Nikki. Just what points are you going to say?"

"Whatever comes into my mind. I find that works best for me."

"Just don't think that they'll welcome you as the conquering heroine this time," warned Jo." I've got this a gut feeling that they'll give you a hard time of it. Trust me."

"Better to be safe than sorry," chimed in Helen.

That pulled the other woman up short. She was going to let her emotions overrun with gratitude and say it like it was. Her thoughts raced at top speed to condense down the essence of the trial, opened the front door and blinked at the sunlight and an array of pressmen crowding round her. This was her first instinct that history wasn't going to repeat itself.

Nikki saw the unsmiling faces in front of her and her guard was up straightaway. They wasted no time in launching their attack.

"Ms Wade, don't you think that you'd been treated well enough last time you were in court?"

"Let's deal about the facts. We're talking about a policeman who's trusted to stop crime who deliberately set out to rape my then girlfriend. He didn't have to be there, he could have been out there solving real crimes. All I wanted to do was to pick her up from work like any couple would, straight or gay. I came into the room when he was on the point of raping her. He ignored me telling to get off her, ignored the bottle I broke over his head. I took the only action I knew to stop a crime from taking place. I was acting in the same way as the sort of 'have a go hero' that you people praise when a man and wife are involved. Three learned judges have considered that I had acted in defence of another and that my record should be wiped clean. They did the right thing."

"That's sounds all very fine but won't it send out all the wrong signals to society?"

After Nikki's first concentrated blast of logic at them, she had hit her stride right now and somehow regained that sharp clarity of thinking that she needed. These guys were animals in comparison with the judges who could only think in terms of press headlines, not seeing the reality that lay elsewhere. She calmly pushed back at the steamroller that would have otherwise have ridden clean over the top of her, and all on prime time television.

Jo, Claire, Helen Trisha and Sally Anne flanked her on either side and kept up the smiles for the TV cameras. In reality, they were jubilant at the fight Nikki was keeping up. In particular, Helen was mentally applauding her every inch of the way. In the depths of the offices of the Lord Chancellor's Department, the video machine recorded the interview for when Sir Ian and Lawrence James finally got back to the office. They weren't looking forward to telling their masters the bad news as it looked like a PR disaster for the government. Somehow, they had lost their grip on the situation.

Finally, the last question was asked, the last flashbulb died out and the press started to file away. They really weren't sure just what their respective editorial angles would make of all this. It didn't do much for traditional law and order values. Outside the Court of Appeal, Nikki drew a huge breath of relief and all the other women praised her for her steadfastness. She automatically had a craving for a cigarette but she felt there was something strangely missing. A sudden thought crossed her mind and she put her hand over her mouth.

"Oh my god, I've left my handbag somewhere. I must have left it in the witness stand."

A burst of affectionate laughter greeted this most apologetic announcement. Helen put her arm round her shoulders. A slight attack of absent-mindedness was perfectly understandable after the gruelling onslaught she had endured.

"Tell you what, Nikki. There's a Starbucks round the corner that I went with Sally Anne after the last appeal. The place is friendly enough. We'll go over there. You go left and it's left again and fifty yards down on the right hand of the street," Claire suggested.

"I could do with something alcoholic," muttered Trisha under her breath. "Still I suppose it will have to do.


Scene Thirty One

Nikki's sole intention was to slip into the courtroom, find someone to explain her purpose, grab the bag and run. As it happened, she walked into a verbal tornado and, for once, she was incidental to the proceedings.

"You have caused the government intense political embarrassment but I suppose that is what you have conspired at all along."

"You must know that this judgment will have grave consequences," chimed in Lawrence James after his boss had impotently sneered his loathing of John.

"Neil is frightfully upset by the news. He will be pilloried in the House of Commons as a weak kneed minister. It is so unfair as he has dedicated his career to resisting the rising tide of crime on the streets. It is so unfair," added George in her aristocratic drawl to the general uproar.

"One at a time" John protested, putting up his hands in front of his face. "You Ian and you Lawrence are PR men. You both know how to sell refrigerators to Eskimoes. That's what you're both good at. What the gutter press has to say is not my concern."

His casual remarks set off a positive volcano of abuse. George got in first, wagging her finger at John as she stormed in anger at him.

"You know, John, you can be maddeningly blasé. You don't care what damage you do to others. That's typical of you. You think that you are the only one capable of dispensing justice. Well, let me tell you that your so called talents are considerably overrated."

Nikki stood fascinated at the scene in front of her. John Deed was not wearing his judicial robes of office but wearing an open necked white shirt and it struck her that the distance between the natural man and his position was not that great. Right from when she first took notice of Helen, Nikki had observed the same interesting interrelationship in Helen. It also intrigued and amused her to see this private insight into the world of the powerful, one that you didn't read in the papers.

"Let me assure you, you will pay for this," yelled Sir Ian furiously.

Nikki was delighted to see John laugh in the faces of the three antagonists with a healthy openness of spirit.

"Lets get a few facts straight. Joseph, Monty and Joseph were in full agreement with the verdict. There was a sense of splendid teamwork amongst us and I would be only too happy to work with them again."

"If it lies with me, you will never get that chance ever again," Sir Ian retorted in icy tones.

"Somehow, you must have got round Daddy," George observed sulkily. She was clearly nettled at the uncomfortable truth that John boldly laid bare.

"Oh, so that is it. When those in high places conspire and connive their way for their own selfish ends, that is the 'due process of government,' acting for the 'higher good.' You really don't like it when others outside your corrupt circle have different ideas. You really hate independence of thought and want to stamp it out. As for you, George, I'm disgusted at the way that you'll sell yourself for money and will do the bidding of Lover Boy, that prize specimen of arrogant ignorance and the biggest threat to civil liberties that I've ever known."

Nikki's emotions soared to hear John's ringing denunciation and the intensity of his beliefs that chimed in with hers. Jo Mills was perfectly correct in her character analysis of him.

"I wish in hell that that troublemaking lesbian was still stuck in prison. We could all sleep easier in bed," George retorted scornfully.

"Hey, don't I get a look in here," Nikki called out." In case you didn't know, I am that 'troublemaking lesbian' who's only come to collect her handbag."

The four of the turned round like marionettes and stared at Nikki. They were totally bemused at her intervention, except John who grinned openly .

"I apologise for my bad manners in not acknowledging you earlier, Nikki. This is my ex-wife, George Channing, who shares the bed of the present Home Secretary, Neil Haughton. On my right is Sir Ian Rochester, Permanent Secretary in the Lord Chancellor. Beside him is his minion and chief bag carrier, Lawrence James."

Nikki walked forward and offered to shake hands with the other three who pointedly refused to acknowledge her. She only smiled at their petulance, which amused John. This confrontation promised to be interesting.

"You said that you'd sleep comfortably if I were in prison. Do you really know what goes on in prison? You're only the girlfriend of the Home Secretary. Why should you know what goes on in prisons?"

"Of course I don't know directly," George replied in her best patronising tones." If women like you didn't go round committing crimes, life would be much easier for all of us."

"If I had had a rolling pin to hand, I would have only knocked DC Gossard unconscious and if the police had done their job properly, then it would have been Gossard who would have done time. Women need to be protected from animals like him."

George's mouth opened in shock at Nikki's unexpectedly quiet and deadly tone of voice and that well-aimed thrust. Unknown to Nikki, George couldn't help but think of her daughter Charlie and her concealed worries about her carefree daughter. She coloured and shut up.

"It's all your fault that all this trouble has happened," Sir Ian rounded on Nikki. She took fire at one and let him have it with both barrels.

"Me? All I ever did was to go and pick up my girlfriend from work and all this shit happens to me. It's not my fault, the court said so today. After all, you've both been here, you should know."

"Come on, George. It's not worth prolonging this unseemly row. Let's go and meet Neil."

With an attempt at dignity, the two men slunk off, George walking a few paces behind them. The atmosphere immediately lightened and Nikki felt relaxed, even in this courtroom.

A number of miles away, out of the city center, behind the grey stone walls of Larkhall prison, the prisoners were watching TV as a period of mild distraction. Sunshine or grey skies meant little to them except when they got out into the exercise yard. It was the same as any other day. The only difference between weekends and weekends was that Karen Betts wasn't at work unless something exceptional came up. Otherwise, they were all shut away inside the same drab painted walls.

"Hey, ain't it Eastenders on the telly tonight," Tina asked in her

"That pile of shite,"Denny retorted contemptuously."Ain't things bad enough that you want to watch more of it."

"I'll watch it like, 'cos I feel dead sad for some of the women as they've got it worse than what I have,"

At that moment, the news flashed up on the screen and the women argued amongst themselves without any real enthusiasm. Yvonne wasn't bothered one way or the other so that there was no real direction in the arguing. Fenner stood by contemptuously until his face suddenly turned crimson red and Bodybag opened and closed her mouth, unable to get the words out.

"Hey, girls, shut up, the lot of you, it's Nikki back on the news," Yvonne called out in her penetrating yell which stopped the arguments stone dead. Sure enough, the familiar face was set centre stage and eventually her words could be heard.

"….was grateful for the original hearing setting me free but the 3 year sentence hasn't done proper justice. What's more important is that any woman, gay or straight, facing a policeman who is a rapist, won't be defenceless where the law is concerned."

"Is that wanting to have your cake and eating it?"

"In life, surely both go together. In my case, the judges accepted that the danger was immediate."

"But won't this lead to lynch law? Women waving knives around because they're feeling oppressed."

"So you're not questioning that women get raped but and that anyone who defends them gets a life sentence as I did? How just is that? I think you'd better get your values straight."

The camera panned backwards a bit and the full crowd could be seen. Julie Johnson's sharp eyes noticed another familiar figure next to her and, on the other side, two other women who looked equally pleased.

"Hey, that's Miss Stewart next to her. Ah, bless her," Julie Johnson called out.

"Yeah, that's her. She looks dead happy and all."

"That's enough," yelled Fenner, purple with rage." It's the end of association time."

"You need to get some glasses, Mr. Fenner, you're getting old" Yvonne taunted him," or is it to do with the fact that Nikki has well and truly stuffed that raping bastard of a copper who must be turning in his grave. Reminds me like someone else I know. Hello, Miss Stewart."

It was too much for the pair of them as Yvonne waved at the screen at her old wing governor. Fenner couldn't believe that his arch enemies had come back to haunt him. He grabbed Bodybag's arm and whirled them both away from the sound of the TV. A hail of cheers and catcalls accompanied them as they fled the scene. Karen Betts leaned against the prison walls, smirked slightly and pretended to notice what had been going on. It was nice to see both Nikki and Helen doing so well. To jeers from the audience, the scene faded as the voice over cut from that topic to the latest on some air headed celebrity. It didn't matter as the prisoners had drunk of that precious spoonful of liberty.

"Well, Nikki, the forces of reaction have come a complete cropper," John said to Nikki with great satisfaction.

"I was starting to enjoy the argument," Nikki replied impishly.

"I was going to come to your assistance but it seems that my client has done the job very effectively," broke in an amused female tone of voice from behind her while John laughed heartily. It was Jo Mills of course. With her was a slim, fresh faced, casually dressed woman with a curly mop of hair.

"Hi dad. We heard the argument a mile away. Is it the usual?"

"The only difference is that I have had the very able assistance of Nikki Wade, who I, Joseph and Monty have been honoured to hear her appeal in a landmark case. This has also finally given her the justice she deserves. Nikki, this is my daughter Charlie who is down from university and who has come to sting me for a meal."

Nikki instantly felt the sense of closeness between father and daughter. She could feel the glow between them.

"I've just remembered, Jo. I hope you don't mind me asking but what about my passport application? I thought I'd mention it while I remembered it."

"You fill in a fresh application form and send it to me. I'll write a covering letter. I think that, after the events of today, you'll find that they won't dare to refuse you. Forget all the bluff and bluster that I overheard. Both battles were fought today and won today."

"You are receiving excellent legal advice, Nikki," John said gravely, with twinkling eyes.

"I hope you haven't forgotten about our dinner date," persisted Charlie.

"You wouldn't mind if I have a private chat with you, Nikki. I get the feeling that both of us would find it productive."

"Yeah, judge," Nikki said, a slight smile on her lips. Somehow she knew that this promised to be an interesting experience that wouldn't come her way every day. "I can't be too long as I've got my girlfriend waiting for me and my friends at the local Starbucks."

"So long as you don't forget the time, dad," replied Charlie with a warning look in her eye.

"I'll take Charlie off your hands for a while. We'll be in the pub round the corner. Don't be late as I need to get away and take it easy at home. I'm tired," put in Jo Mills, the peacemaker.

"You have my word on it," John said earnestly, faced with the repeated female nagging. While John's choice of female companion was curious, the air of relaxation that flowed between them felt mellow.

"If I don't get to see you later, I'm more grateful than I can put into words what you've done for me today," Nikki said, her voice shaking with emotion.

"It was both a pleasure and an honour," Jo said, firmly shaking her hand. She smiled with both her lips and her blue eyes.

"Do you mind if we sit here and talk down here. There's plenty of space, plenty of seats."

"That sound fine, John. I wanted to ask you a number of questions. For a start, how did you become the rebel that you obviously are? I've never before thought of judges as rebels?" Nikki said lightly in her best interview manner.

"I have long been regarded as an outsider in legal circles, partly because of my origin as a 'baker's boy' and partly as I do not accept that the rich and powerful are outside the law. I have been content to seek strength within myself and carry on fighting. I think that you understand this very well, Nikki."

There was an intensity of empathy in Nikki's eyes and on her expressive face. She knew, She understood. This man was speaking as if every word was written on her soul.

"By a curious process which I don't fully understand, those who opposed me once have come to understand me. It is a strange feeling for a loner to discover that he, or she, is no longer alone."

"A feeling that makes you feel whole if you let it. It takes away all the feelings of pain and hurt. You have to give into your feelings and don't block them out." Nikki said with great intensity.

"You're theoretically right but I have trouble in handling feelings when I have to wrestle with fine points of law. I have to deal with."

"Of course you have feelings, John. I can see them in you a mile away. It's what makes you human."

John smiled at Nikki's words. They reminded him of what Jo had told him on occasions. He was moved by her intensity of feelings and admired the way that her feelings drove that considerable intellect but feared that he could not be like her. He wished that he could.

"Jo Mills has often said those very words to me. The problem is that I can't make them feel real to me."

"Then what is it, John, that makes you feel intensely?"

"I don't know," John said unsteadily. "The feeling that I have of uniting that precision of law with the feeling of doing good in the world, of doing the right thing.

"You sound rather like Helen," Nikki said with all the affection in the world. It made him feel both gratified and uncomfortable.

"I'm sure that you have done so much good in the world. I suspect that you are also a womanizer. For once in my life, I can't judge you or criticize you. It's just the way you are. It's a shame that you can't feel as much as you should."

"What makes me feel sad is that I come across good people in the world, those I really admire but I have to move on to the next case. I can't make human connections properly."

Nikki's large heart went out to him as he tried to speak in a detached way but his voice broke under the weight of emotion. She wished that she could mend that join in his personality and make him whole but she knew that it was beyond her powers.

"Whatever happens in this world, just think of us and know how fondly we feel for you, what you're doing and you give us that bit of hope. That is more priceless than you know. Of course, if you do find the time to call in, you'll always be welcome."

The softness and gentleness with which Nikki let those words slide across his consciousness in almost a tone of maternal comforting almost made him break down.

"You'd better catch up with your friends, Nikki, especially Helen. From what I've heard, she is very special."

"She is," murmured Nikki dreamily.

"You're fortunate."

"You're sure you'll be all right, John," asked Nikki, her voice laden with concern for him. She didn't doubt the sincerity of the sentiment in the clipped tone in his reply.

"Quite sure, Nikki" John replied, a tight smile fastened to his face which did not deceive her." I'm going out with my daughter for a meal and later, I have a celebration due with my two other judges with a bottle of malt whisky. That will see me through the night."

The confident tone in John's voice didn't fool Nikki. There was an obvious gap in his life.

"Well, you make sure you look after yourself," Nikki said before slowly turning away. There was still a faint smile on John's lips. Her final words felt inadequate but there was nothing more she could do, Nikki reasoned to herself and, yes her true love was waiting for her.


Scene Thirty Two

"I've never been so embarrassed in all my life," Trisha was saying. "The thought of standing up in front of three middle aged straight men to look me over."

From Helen and Sally Anne's patient manner, Nikki suspected that this was not the first time that Trisha had said these words. This sounds like a stuck record repeating the same track over and over again.

"Hey, don't knock it Trisha, it did the trick."

"This is what we keep saying," put in Helen.

"Look here, Trish. That bastard of a barrister was making out that you are some kind of butch dyke and therefore, Gossard could not have tried to rape you. The chance dropped into our hands to counter that one by showing that even an evil misogynist rapist straight guy might find a femme attractive, even if he is a total jerk and completely misreading the signs. What better way could there be for you to stand up and show the judges what you're like?"

"You mean they'll know how a pervert feels," shot back Trisha, slightly angry at Nikki's ill-advised final words. Helen realized that Trisha was as sensitive as Nikki in hearing the absolute worst night of her life being raked over.

"Please, Trisha, don't go off on one. Those guys are decent, right. They believed me when others didn't. They went out on a limb on that one. What they do have in common with Gossard is that they are straight guys. We needed that connection. Without that we'd have been struggling."

"They're probably dried up inside, haven't got it up for years," sniffed Trisha.

"Then what was it that you are getting so hot and bothered about," jumped in Nikki with irrefutable logic.

"That still doesn't do anything to make me feel less embarrassed," sulked Trisha.

Nikki had had enough. A wave of absolute tiredness broke over her. She could hardly keep her lids open as the combination of the very bright and early start and the rigours of the morning caught up with her.

"You'll excuse me, Trisha but I'm tired. You might be best to go someplace else with your girlfriend somewhere and leave Helen and I in peace."

"Actually, I'm just Trisha's friend," broke in Sally-Ann rather nervously.

"Hey now, don't get worried. We just naturally assumed," intervened Helen, the peacemaker.

"I suppose you're terrifically experienced. All this is new to me."

"Hey now, Sally Anne. Before I fell for Nikki, I'd got myself engaged- to a man. Nikki is my first and only love. I've had boyfriends before him. I know very well that it isn't easy to unlearn everything you ever learnt about relationships and learn how to love a woman. It's a life changing experience. Your head goes in really strange places, believe me."

"What say that you let Helen talk with you for a bit, Sally. I've been up since the crack of dawn and I've been in the hot seat all morning, not to mention explaining myself at length to three very sharp judges. I really want to just chill out on my own for a bit and I suggest that you do the same, Trisha. I can see that this trial has brought out unpleasant memories that you would sooner forget about. You need your own space and work it out of your system. This will help all of us," Nikki broke in, her voice sounding tired but persuasive. She heard the edginess in Sally Anne's voice and who better than Helen to talk to her in a quiet corner of the cafe?

"That's a great idea. Come on, Sally Ann, you need someone to talk things over, somebody who's been through it. I'm not here to sell you anything but just to help you straighten your head if I can. Believe you me, you're lucky to get that outside input. I never got it when I really could have done with it. It would have saved a lot of pain."

Sally Ann Howe acceded to the suggestion. There was something comforting and reassuring about Helen. In the meantime, Nikki lay back in her chair. A wave of tiredness washed over her and she wished that she could settle off to sleep. The vague sounds of conversation made for peaceful background sounds but she couldn't quite drift off. She remained suspended for ages in that strange zone between sleep and awakeness and lost track of time. It was annoying but she realized after a while that fighting it wouldn't work. This was the best that she could do and resigned herself to this fate. Everything felt dreamy around her. At least she could let herself go, after being in a constant state of razor sharp awareness while the situation shifted unpredictably around her. Above all, she was with people that she was comfortable with. She smiled at the thought and her eyelids parted slightly. Appearing from out of her scrambled visual perceptions, Helen's face was suspended above her. Making an effort to wake up, she realized that it was Helen. Sally Anne and Trisha

"You look so peaceful," she murmured.

"I've tried nodding off but that hasn't worked."

"What about a strong cup of coffee?"

Nikki nodded instant agreement. It might do the trick. It was then that a stream of worries came flooding into her mind and had to be articulated. Perhaps it was that period of imperfect rest that had given her perspective after all these months of rushing around.

"I've been thinking, darling. Everything that's been going on has been about me, my problems and I've been the one shooting my mouth off as per usual, in court, to the press. It's all been about me."

"So someone has had to front this appeal," Helen answered in her usual incisive fashion. "Last time, it was me getting Claire involved with your appeal, dealing with the correspondence, pushing for the appeal, while the trial was fought over your head by Marian. This time you've been much more involved. It's what you can do best. If it ever makes you feel any better, if I have any big problems, I know that you'll be in there pitching in for me. I know how bossy, dominant and organized I can be. I don't have to prove it. I know also that we're equals in every respect and that's what makes life so good."

A wide smile spread across Nikki's face as she marveled that the crystal-clear way that Helen expressed everything. She reached her arms upwards out for Helen and drew her down to a gentle embrace. Trisha looked down fondly at the two women, admiring Helen's compassionate, unselfish intelligence. She had got it right that time that Helen had first come into her club in search of Nikki. The two women were made for each other.

"If it helps, Sally Anne and I will get in four coffees. Right?"

When she returned with the tray of coffee, Trisha coughed nervously, something strange for a self possessed woman. It had the effect of drawing everyone's attention to her.

"Guys, I just want to apologise for being so ratty earlier on. I was being a complete selfish bitch and I'm asking everyone to forgive me, especially you, Sally Anne."

Everyone chorussed their forgiveness and understanding, knowing what Trisha had been going through. Sally Anne looked wistfully at Trisha thinking how pretty she was at moments like this.

"I thought I'd say it in actions but I know that words are called for. I'll serve. I'll be mother."

The other three women let Trisha do what she felt she needed to and the mood relaxed. The afternoon meandered along in a state of pure contentment and companionship. It was a perfect afternoon. With all these various distractions, time had crawled on by the time the four of them were ready to move elsewhere. Helen's mobile rang and to her intense astonishment, it was the long neglected number on her mobile that responded. Other than that, cards at Christmas and birthdays marked the most formal expression of their kinship with her father.

"I've just been watching the news and I wanted to check and see if that was indeed you standing next to that notorious lesbian who took the life of a policemen, an upholder of law and order. I remember reading the original account of it in the Daily Mail."

"It was, of course, a pleasant and welcome surprise to hear about us," Helen shot back with only half concealed sarcasm. Her anger was instantly aroused by her father's tone of cold disapproval.

"I couldn't believe that I've just seen you on the television," he said weakly.

"That's perfectly reasonable as Nikki and I are living together," Helen cut back, in full fighting form. Nikki watched, open mouthed at Helen's startling ability to announce the truth in ringing tones.

"So what happened to your fiancée, Sean I think that's his name?"

"He became history, a long long time ago. He hadn't known of the existence of Thomas Waugh. You've always wanted me to settle down and so I have, with Nikki Wade."

There was an audible gasp on the other end of the phone. He had not really bargained for this and the weak reply was the best answer that he could make.

"What will my congregation think?"

"Tell them that her father's a high ranking Naval officer."

Nikki grinned openly at Helen's adroit use of social conventions against her father. It was typical of her fighting spirit and ingenious mind.

"But she's a convicted criminal."

"Well, she's got herself unconvicted by the laws of the land. Her record is as clean as mine or yours."

"Legally but morally. She's still committed a sin and has placed herself beyond the Lord's mercy."

"Come on," Helen shouted down the phone to her father," the bloody English law is more forgiving of Nikki than you are but then again, who are you to criticize me? Only that miserable Puritanism which can't take any pleasure in life."

Helen was glad that the phone went dead after that final outburst. She would rather that he cut off the call. That spelled his retreat and gave her the moral high ground. She was oblivious that her carrying voice resounded round the café and the other three women were equally relaxed about it. After all, there was a time and place for everything.

"That was my father in case no one figured it," Helen announced laconically. Trisha expressed her real sympathy as parental disapproval ran through the histories of the majority of the women who had ever come to her club.

"Now that matter is done and dusted, let's get going to your club, Trisha. It feels the best place to be," Helen spoke briskly with the air of someone who had disposed of a nuisance interruption, shortly and sharply. Everyone fell in behind her natural sense of authority.


Scene Thirty Three

Helen drove the four of them to the club, helped by odd directions from Nikki and Trisha. Sally Anne relaxed in the rear seat and just let things flow around her. As Trisha opened the door of the club, Sally Anne stared all around her in bemused wonderment.

"Hey, this looks just like an ordinary club," she exclaimed.

"That's what I thought when I first came here. I'd built up this image in my mind of this weird, scary place of what a lesbian club should look like," Helen put in.

It was quiet at this time of the day with just a few women sitting round tables, drinking and chatting next to an empty dancefloor.

"So what shall we do to celebrate? Shall we have music, lights, dancing and action?" Trisha suggested. She was still conscious how she'd acted like a spoilt kid earlier on and she wanted to make good her apology by getting the party going. It was something she was good at.

"I'm up for a party so long as we're not treading on the toes of your regulars"

"I'll fix it all up, Nik," Trisha volunteered and nipped away to make the arrangements and slipped off her formal dark jacket. Soon the sweet pop sounds of Texas sent its good time vibrations round the club and the lights pulsed in time.

Helen's face broke into a broad smile of pleasure and took Nikki by the hand. A thrill of pleasure coursed through her. It was the first time that she'd danced with Nikki. It was no great surprise to discover that the way she moved said everything about her, bold and unafraid to hold back rhythmically. Helen's eyes were riveted to her and both felt the tensions of the day ease as others joined them on the dance floor.

"You look as if you're having the time of your life."

"It feels like everyone's seeing us as we really are and they're all saying 'yes' to us. That has got to be a first, for me at least," Helen shouted back excitedly over the music.

Nikki had felt all this, years before at the very first gay club she'd been to but could see this afresh through Helen's eyes. This wasn't any ordinary dance but a celebration of everything they'd both struggled through for months so this really was new to her. It felt that way. She noticed how Helen, in her quiet way, had kept her level right from the run up to the trial and through it's duration. Helen had as much right to let her hair down as she had.

"That's all any of us want in life. Let's face it, we haven't exactly had people queuing up to throw bouquets at us."

As time went on and they were all driven along by the communal spirit, Helen noticed Trisha and Sally Anne from out of the corner of her eye. They looked strained and weren't talking much. She was highly conscious that they were in the shadows, away from the bright lights of the party. As she edged Nikki in the direction of the two-seated statues, she got the chance to shout out to them in her carrying voice.

"Hey, come and join the party. We're all having a great time."

She gestured to them to join in and Nikki picked up on what Helen was aiming at. She intervened with her welcoming smile, just like she used to do in her club days.

It broke the tight wound spring of inhibition that had held Sally Anne back. Smiling broadly, Trisha took her by the hand to lead her onto the dance floor.

"I've never danced with another woman in my life," Sally Anne confessed nervously.

"If it makes you feel any more comfortable, neither had I till tonight," came Helen's cheery reply.

Sally Anne brightened up considerably, reassured by Helen's unashamed confession. She let herself be lost in the rhythm of the music. Trisha flashed a thankful smile at Helen and shouted out to her.

"Thanks, Helen, you're a star."

"Anything for a friend," came the simple reply. Trisha considered this remark with pleased interest while Nikki smiled at Helen's thoughtfulness. Sally Anne had really wanted to let herself go but had been held back by her inhibitions and lack of self- confidence. It needed that external helping hand to tip the balance.

"I'm really glad that Trisha and Sally Anne are hitting it off. It's not right that they should be held apart and be miserable," came Nikki's clear words cutting through the disco music.

"Nikki, you're such a romantic…….and that's another thing I love about you."

A shadow had briefly crossed Nikki's face at Helen's first laughing words but blew away when Helen finished her sentence. Helen blew a kiss at her to emphasize the point. To Nikki, this moment highlighted just how much Helen had changed since the old days. She was no more afraid to love any more that Nikki was.

"I could never be anything else, even after bad times in the past. I just needed to meet the right woman, that's all."

Even at that moment, the skewed memory came back to her of her former self, enquiring as if out of disinterested interest about Nikki's sexuality and getting a typical Nikki honest answer. Well, Helen thought, she'd come a long way since then and this might explain why she was co compassionate for the way that Sally Anne was battling with her doubts and fears. They seemed very comprehensible to Helen.

"So this is what life's all about." Nikki nodded at this simple statement of fact, so hard to attain.

They danced away all the tension of the morning's gruelling trial. It was what they all really needed when they thought about it. It seemed like hours later when the time came when all four of them became physically tired out and took a break by mutual consent.

"I'm sorry if I've been the original party pooper. I've not been out since god knows how long."

"If you don't mind me asking you, might it have something to do with that bastard Gossard?"

Sally Anne put her hand to her mouth. Of course, she'd ridden the switchback of those emotional ups and downs till they'd smoothed out which finally allowed her to go back to work in a job outside the police force. She could cope with her job all right but she'd concealed from herself the more subtle damage that he'd done to her. Going out and going to work meant only a start to regaining her self-esteem, something, which she now realized, she'd been short of. She'd responded to Trisha's friendly overtures when by chance they first met but she hadn't seen them as something that could really relate to her. At heart, she didn't really see what Trisha saw in her and that was her own personal demon laying in wait for her.

"It gets to me, the way I can't get things together to do what my heart of heart really wants me to," Sally Anne confessed in a moment of clarity.

"Four months back, you took the stand in the Court of appeal and told those judges and barristers just what Gossard had done. I'd be still doing time if it wasn't for you," Nikki urged, patiently.

"Babes, both Helen and Nikki won't ever forget what you did that day," Trisha added starting to gently brush fallen strands of long dark hair behind her ear." I just want to make you feel good about yourself if you'll let me."

Trisha's gentle feminine touch and soft voice finally melted her defences as much as Nikki's straight words had done, her voice breaking slightly with emotion. Maybe, this is a way to her future and her feet won't stumble, she thought as Trisha's fingers caressed her locks and her own fingers touched Trisha's other hand. She's held her hand in court before but she had supposed that this was out of an automatic instinct of fear. This time, it felt different. Suddenly, the delicate trailing piano notes of the ultimate sympathy and love song trailed through the air and the pure voice touched the souls of the women with its love and sympathy.

"This is our song, Nikki. Come on, we have to do this one." Helen called out, a meaning side-glance at Trisha, who picked up on the opportunity straightaway.

"Please, will you dance with me, please join the rest of us." The combination of Trisha's appealing blue eyes, the long blond hair as it caught the flickering lights and the gentle expression on her face, gave Sally final resolution. It was now or never, he realized as

the voice called out to her with Trisha's words, the ones that she'd said all along."

"….like a bridge over troubled water

I will lay me down….

….I'll comfort you

I'll take your part…."

Nikki and Helen had been standing by and had the foresight not to join the couples on the floor. Sally got to her feet and somewhat stiffly, took hold of Trisha and started to move slowly round the dance floor. Except from the impulsive way she had hugged Trisha when Nikki's freedom was first announced all those months ago, this was the first time she'd moved up close to Trisha. The music, the sense of being together with the others and Trisha's fluid movements gradually dissolved this last inhibition and they gradually melted into each other. Nikki and Helen were immediately as one, Helen singing the chorus of the song into Nikki's entranced ear. This was a lesbian heaven, its saints displaying a reverence for the female form while the flow of multicoloured lights washed over them. Trisha's slim fingers traced a delicate pattern on Sally Anne's back and shoulders. That perfumed desirability percolated through all her senses and beckoned her forward. Everything made perfect sense right now.

Helen and Nikki were wrapped up in each other's arms and were kissing gently. Out of the corners of their eyes, they both caught flashes of Trisha and Sally Anne. They smiled, thinking that if their own courtship hadn't taken place from such weird circumstances, this is where and how they would have fallen in love. They imagined an alternative reality, which was symbolized by Trisha and Sally Anne who danced next to them in the here and now. They had each other now anyway so in a way it didn't matter any more. It crossed Helen's mind that they might make love when they got home to celebrate or not if they were both too tired. If not, there was the certainty of another day.

Feelings of desire started to mount in Sally Anne as she closed her eyes in total bliss. The gentle kisses that she felt on her cheeks and neck felt totally natural. She opened her eyes and to no surprise, Trisha looked closely into her eyes, silently inviting her in to a new world. With no hesitation they pressed their lips together and Sally Anne slid her tongue deep into Trisha's mouth, feeling that certain response in return. This was total ecstasy and feelings of desire and pride rose in her as they pressed against each other and she felt her nipples harden. She knew that what she felt for Trisha was love and for real and that this was only the start of the night. Everything in her life had led up to this moment. As the song finally led up to its grand orchestral climax, it spoke of Trisha's gentle and powerful love for her. She remembered all those late nights fantasizing of tender lovemaking with Trisha and the comedown of the realities of her inhibitions when she met Trisha. She was at last ready, no doubts at all.

When the sounds from the music faded, the main lights were turned up and all the women blinked at seeing what was around them and turned to each other knowingly. Sally Anne slipped her arm round Trisha's waist. Nikki and Helen tenderly kissed, turned to the other two women and smiled their blessing on them both.

"It's really strange but part of me wants to carry on the dance forever and be with you guys and the other half wants to go home with Helen," Nikki said at last.

"We will meet each other again sometime, Nik?" Trisha questioned hesitantly.

"Why not make this our local? That way we can stay friends." Helen suggested brightly.

Everyone visibly cheered up at the thought.

"What about you, Sally Anne?"

"Well, really, I want to go home with Trisha. I think I've found what I need in my life," the other woman said, slightly blushing." I do want to meet you both again. You've been so good to me."

"It's only what you deserve," Helen said softly.

"In which case, babes, I'll definitely take you back to my place, that is if you have no other ideas. I've got to lock up first if you want to give me a hand." Trisha said her most inviting tones, a smile spreading across her face.

"You do that, Sally Anne," Nikki said warmly." Take it from me, Trisha is a very gentle woman."

"So till next time?"

The women all warmly hugged each other and paired off, Trisha's arm round the other woman's shoulders. Helen and Nikki headed off to the exit and looked fondly back at the other two women. As they went out the door, the chill of the night air night air hit them. They walked on down the darkened streets until they found their car.

"You mean that about coming back here?" Nikki enquired in a deliberately casual tone of voice as she fastened her seatbelt.

"We can make this our local, sweetheart. We'll keep in touch with Claire and Peter, right as they're friends but we can also come over here. I'm not going to plunge into the quote lesbian scene unquote. It's a place where we can socialize and feel comfortable with ourselves. We can do what we want, be whom we want to be."

"That sounds fantastic, darling," murmured Nikki sleepily. Helen started the car up and headed for their flat. The soothing sounds and rhythm of their car and the passing street lights felt relaxing as Helen drove them onwards. She felt serene, as if a burden was lifted off their shoulders. It was only when she happened to glance sideways that Helen saw that Nikki was leaning against the window, her lashes resting on her cheeks. She looked totally at peace with herself. A wave of love and affection spread through her body. This was as much a moment of paradise as Helen had ever known since she fell in love with her. They were on their way home.

The End

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