DISCLAIMER: All the characters used within this story are the property of either Shed Productions or the BBC. We are using them solely to explore our creative abilities.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the authors.

The Gunpower Plot
By Kristine and Richard

Part One

On Friday the 15th of august, Yvonne Atkins was sitting in the visiting room at Larkhall prison, thankfully by this time on the right side of the table, not on the same side as the inmates. Yvonne had been out of prison since Christmas, and never intended to return. The inmate she was visiting and whom she had visited religiously every fortnight since her release, was Denny Blood. Denny was always happy to see Yvonne, and Yvonne never failed to have a smile for her. But this week, Yvonne's attention wasn't given to her as good as adopted daughter in as undivided a fashion as it usually was. Denny grabbed hold of Yvonne's hand and shook it.

"Everything okay?" Yvonne looked up, startled. "You were somewhere else, man."

"I'm sorry," Yvonne said, totally mollified. "Coming back to this place and knowing that Snowball Merriman isn't so far away from here isn't so easy to deal with this week."

"She's up on trial next week, innit. They've been keeping her down the block for a fortnight now, and Al Friggin McKenzy's doped up to the eyeballs all day. Jesus, you'd think she was on trial, not Merriman." Yvonne looked slightly worried.

"Can you do something for me, Denny? You're still in the dorm with razorhead, aren't you."

"Yeah, I've had the pleasure of her company for more than a year now."

"Well, all next week, can you try and make sure she doesn't get her hands on any gear. The last thing we need is for her to be stoned in the witness box, and we don't need her doing cold turkey either."

"I'll do my best, but you know what it's like in here, drugs is one of the easiest things to hide."

"Just try for me. I need Alison McKenzy to be as sharp as her haircut."

"Yvonne," Denny continued slowly, "Snowball is gonna go down, isn't she? 'Cause if she doesn't, and she's put back on the wing, I swear I'll kill her." Yvonne reached forward and gripped Denny's shoulders.

"Listen to me, Denny. I know you're still hurting over Shaz, and a part of you probably always will, but getting yourself a life sentence isn't what Shaz would have wanted you to do." Denny's voice rose.

"And how the hell do you know that? You never even liked her!" Yvonne took a deep breath.

"Denny," She said quietly. "Shaz loved you. I might not have known her very well, but I sure as hell know she wouldn't have wanted you to get sent back here for years on end. We all want Snowball to get sent down for what she did to Shaz, all of us Denny. I think Shaz would want you to be strong for her now. I need you to promise me you're gonna be okay over the next fortnight, because by the time your next visiting comes round, we'll probably know one way or the other. Can you promise me that, Denny?" Tears were visibly falling down Denny's cheeks by this time.

"Yeah, okay," She said shakily. Yvonne handed her a tissue and then gave her a hug.

"I love you, man," Said Denny. This touched Yvonne enormously and to her slight shame it brought tears to her eyes.

"I love you too, Denny, and I'll be here to see you every fortnight till you get out. I promise." As the bell rang for the end of visiting, Yvonne gave Denny one last squeeze. As Denny was led away by Yvonne's old nemesis, Sylvia, Karen Betts gently approached her.

"Are you okay?" She said quietly. Yvonne tried to surreptitiously wipe her eyes.

"I sure as hell know that Denny isn't," She said as a way of avoiding the question. "Please could someone keep an eye on her this weekend, because until that bitch is made to pay for Shaz's death, Denny can't even try and move on."

"Yvonne, I'll do what I can, but she isn't the only one on the edge because of the trial being next week."

"I don't want her pulling any stunts with a rope or a razor and the state she was in today, nothing would surprise me."

"Spoken like a true mum," Said Karen. all Yvonne could say in response was,

"Denny means a lot to me."

Over a year ago, Yvonne would never have been so frank with any prison officer, but having made it her mission to visit Denny every fortnight since she'd been released, Yvonne and Karen had continued to develop their friendship from those first tentative days when Ritchie had been in hospital, and Karen's career had been threatened with privatisation. After Yvonne's visits to Denny, it was not uncommon for Karen and Yvonne to catch up over a drink in a nearby bar. they shared a love for good scotch and good cigarettes, which had only assisted in the gradual building of their friendship. When Karen had asked Di Barker to make sure someone kept an eye on Denny, Yvonne said,

"Are you busy tonight?"

"Actually," Said Karen, "I'd planned to wade my way through a load of applications seeing as I'm not going to be here for much of the next couple of weeks, so no, I'm not busy at all." Karen displayed the clear lack of dedication to her paperwork with a small grin.

"Would you like to come round for dinner?" Yvonne didn't know where this invitation had come from and seemingly neither did Karen. "If I'm honest," Said Yvonne, "Lauren's going out clubbing with Cassie and I could do with some intelligent company." Karen laughed.

"Now I know you're getting desperate. But yes, that'd be nice. It'll give me an opportunity to finally see this infamous place of yours."

"I won't ask what you've heard about my house," Said Yvonne smiling and rifling through her pockets. Not finding what she wanted she asked,

"Have you got a pen?" As Karen handed her a pen and a piece of paper, they suddenly stared at each other. This was exactly the routine Ritchie had gone through with Karen that first time he had visited Yvonne. He had asked Karen for a pen, to write down his mobile number, and here was another Atkins asking Karen for a pen to write down an address. Neither of them mentioned the feeling of Deja Vu, but it was something to be filed away, to be dealt with when its relevant time for examination arrived. As Yvonne walked out to her car, and Karen walked up to her office, Karen's thoughts drifted back to that day when everything for this trial had been set in motion. Where would her life have been, she thought, had they all not been preparing for Larkhall's most monumental trial since the Nikki Wade appeal. What would they all be doing, had snowball Merriman and Ritchie Atkins not been charged.

Part Two

Karen's gaze was riveted to the little white card with the floral swirl in the corner. This had accompanied the bouquet of flowers that Yvonne had tenderly cared for, her reassurance of Ritchie's love for her which looked so innocent in its purity of form but she knew now was a baited trap. "Don't place your Bets till the rod's in K's bag. Love you mum. Ritchie."

Her lips twisted in contempt at it. She studied the script carefully and looking closer, she took in the smooth regularity of writing of the last few words. "Love you mum, Ritchie."

This must have been written by the woman at Interflora as she took down Ritchie's words as he dictated the order and at least the woman at Interflora was genuine, as genuine as anyone doing her job as a profession to the best of her ability, as genuine as she is as Wing Governor in a women's prison. Or then again, knowing herself what a lazy arse Ritchie is, he probably asked the woman to write something 'dead nice, as a present for a mother' and it was probably her words, not his. Yet, Snowball must have inserted extra words on the card to fit her twisted schemes . It must have been from how Jim Fenner described the scene. Irony upon irony, that she trusts a devious misogynist rapist bastard over an even more devious scheming murdering cow.

She looked at it and, she had to hand it to Snowball, it was a very clever, pretty accurate copy of the original words, written by a woman who had all the time in the world to scheme and connive. The script was formed in a likeness of an average caring human being but somehow lacking the master touch as Snowball does. Still, it was good enough to fool an average person in a hurry, even good enough to fool Jim Fenner, of all people. And, the perfect Snowball touch, it appeared to give a guarded message that Ritchie was planning with Yvonne Atkins to arrange a breakout, what more natural for a loving son to do for his mother, when all the while, it was just another deception, just another act. Karen's lips tightened in anger as she carefully took the card to hand it to the police who were waiting to interview her.

At another disconnected point in time, Karen strode into the PO's room, which had its familiar workaday atmosphere, untidy files in the corner and Sylvia's 'Charles and Di' mug in its rightful place. She was grinning to herself when she brought in a copy of the Sun with Larkhall's middle pages spread how the unselfish PO's of Larkhall apprehended a dangerous and notorious woman murderer while on a 'fishing trip' to Amsterdam. A badly composed 'police picture' of Shell Dockley was positioned left of centre in all of its sinister unreality and the spokesman, Jim Fenner, reassured the readership that they were not on a 'porn fest.' The 'cracking down on crime' story wrote itself in the minds of the Sun readers but she knew better. On any other day than today, she would have cheerfully pinned it on the notice board to see the bastard squirm but not today. The paper was discreetly hidden away amongst the bunch of files she was holding.

Jim Fenner spotted the paper and gave her a sideways scowl, wondering what she was going to do with the paper.

"Right, if Di hasn't told you already, the number one is back in the building today."

"Honeymoon over already." Di's mournful tones told their own story.

"I've just had the preliminary report of the police investigation into the bomb explosion in the library and I am happy to say," and here Karen felt the enormity of announcing the history to be written "that they consider that there is sufficient evidence for charges to be pressed. Snowball Merriman is to be charged with arson and manslaughter and Ritchie Atkins is to be charged as an accessory……. "

A round of cheers swept the room and cut short the speech Karen had carefully planned to hit the right note, not 'string up the bitch' and not going soft on her either. For the first time in her life, she saw Sylvia positively beaming at her and Fenner, for once, genuine in his praise for her and that the 'lads at the CPS weren't letting us down.' The glow of satisfaction Karen had felt when she first opened the report was relived in the very palpable feelings of solidarity amongst the PO's, between the unlikeliest of allies and Karen gave herself in to that feeling. After all, she was as steeped in its tradition as anyone even though she loathed the part of it that treated prisoners as animals

"Jim," Karen eventually said. "You can go down the block and tell Merriman that she can stay there for her own protection. You'll need to have some thoughts about the trial as both of us are bound to be called as witnesses, you as her personal officer and me as Wing Governor and the part we played in the fire and the run up to it. I'm sure I don't need to tell you but you'll need to be absolutely clear of everything in your mind."

"Right, Karen." Jim Fenner's face wore its usual impassive professional mask

Karen went on to announce that Buki Lester's burns are healing well but she was to be kept on the hospital wing for another week and announced the offer of listening therapy for those who survived the fire but Karen was aware that the news was only half heard. as the prison officers left the room, cheering.

Yvonne could remember that moment as she stood with Denny watching the packed PO's room and wondered as always what the screws were cooking up there. At that time Betts was 'one of them', she reflected in amusement now,

"What's the screws sounding so happy about, Denny?" Yvonne remembered asking.

"They're sending us to Alcatraz and they've won the lottery. Nothing else could make them so happy, man."

In the PO's room, Karen remained behind, her smile beginning to fade. Life's irony dictated that the man she most loathed and detested and who had raped her was destined to be in the same witness box as her, on the same side. Nailing Snowball and Ritchie wasn't going to be as easy as the PO's think.

Jim Fenner walked down the narrow stone steps to the bowels of the ancient building and strolled the few dark yards to the block. Wrenching the door open, he stared with loathing at Snowball.

"Good old British justice, eh. Get out of your strips. Looks like you'll be charged with setting off the bomb that's got your fingerprints written all over it, oh and murdering Shaz Wiley. The only appearance you'll make on stage is in the dock of the Old Bailey. Don't think there'll be any paparazzi after you though." At moments like these, Fenner got a kick out of laying it on with a trowel and seeing them squirm. PC conscious Betts and Stewart always disapproved but what's wrong with a little bit of private vengeance?

"You can sign an ap and you can stay on voluntary segregation till your trial date comes up." Fenner finished, deliberately playing his pauses before speaking to wind Snowball up.

"You mean, I have a choice of going back to the wing?" Snowball looked at Fenner with disbelieving eyes, trying to focus on his face in the gloom to figure out what game he was playing. He was like a so-called Hollywood agent, only with a British accent.

"Not if it was up to me." Fenner replied shortly.

Snowball studied the piece of paper. Never sign any contract blind, all the books about Hollywood told her. Then she casually ripped it up to Fenner's incredulous eyes. The cow really does want to die.

" The show must go on, Mr. Fenner." Snowball said with that sneer in her voice.

What is the silly cow after, Fenner thought. Atkins and Blood, for a kick off will tear her to pieces. Then he looked carefully in Snowball's defiant face and noticed the way that Snowball kept that lock of fair hair hanging down her cheekbone instead of pulled back to show off her face in all her vain self absorbed perfection. After all, that was what Hollywood actresses were like, she's read it in the magazines. Fenner leant forward and brushed that lock of hair back and saw the ugly marks left by Atkins' talons.

"What, phantom of the opera." He sneered to Snowball's discomfiture.

"I'm not scared once the girls have heard my side of the story."

"You must think that your tits are made of Teflon. Don't you know what they'll do to a murdering bitch who killed one of their own?" Fenner goaded her one last time before slamming the door shut on her.

Part Three

As Yvonne drove towards home, she wondered just what had possessed her to invite Karen round for dinner. This was Yvonne Atkins here, and Yvonne Atkins never did things on the spur of the moment. At least, not until now it seems. She pulled in to the Tesco car park and briefly wondered what on earth she could cook. She wandered aimlessly round the supermarket for a while, trying to dredge up some inspiration. Eventually, she picked up some vegetables for a salad, as well as some good-looking strawberries and a couple of very nice fillet steaks. One of the best things for Yvonne about being out of prison, besides the obvious comfort of her own large house with the added bonus of a swimming-pool, was being able to spend pretty much what she liked. There was no more Body bag telling her how many cigarettes she could have or that she couldn't have any for a fortnight because the prison was on lock down.

When she reached home, she put the food in the fridge, and as it was only five o'clock and Karen wasn't due till after seven, Yvonne went for a swim in her incredibly decadent outdoor pool. Charlie might have been one of the biggest bastards she'd ever known, but when it came to houses he'd certainly had style. It had been his idea to have the pool put in when Lauren and Ritchie had still been at school. As the sun beat down on her and she lay on her back, gently drifting from one end to the other, Yvonne felt like all the dirt from the prison was slowly being washed out of her soul. It didn't matter that Yvonne had spent nearly four years in that place, every time she went to visit Denny, she came away feeling filthy, as if the very air of the place could insinuate its way under her skin. After half an hour of luxuriating in the warm tranquility of her garden, she showered to get the chlorine out of her hair and renewed her make up. Yvonne had been and always would be a proud woman. Not even for someone who was becoming a close friend would she present a face devoid of cosmetic enhancement.

As Karen drove passed Sloan Square tube station and along Sloane street itself, she reflected that this was one part of London where she would never be able to shop. Only someone like Yvonne or Cassie could afford to frequent the many fashionable boutiques that came in to her line of vision. But as she drove further out of the city centre and towards the suburbs, she began to wonder just what the Atkins house would look like. It's a well known fact that you can tell a lot about a person by what they have on their coffee tables, but Karen knew that this evening's date for want of a better word would certainly be a learning experience. When she finally pulled up in front of the address Yvonne had scribbled down for her, she was stunned.

"So, this is how the other half lives," She thought as she made her way through the small group of very expensive cars on the wide expanse of driveway in front of the house. She recognised Yvonne's red Ferrari but she couldn't put an identity to any of the others. As she rang the doorbell, she had a burning curiosity to see the rest of the house and possibly a deeper level to see how it's occupant lived.

When Yvonne heard the doorbell, she put down the knife she'd been using to chop the salad, dried her hands on a tea towel and, wondering quite what she thought she was doing, went to answer the door. Yvonne's large black Alsatian, Trigger, had ran in to the hall and was stood staring at Karen through the glass, giving her an impression of enormous gaping jaws and huge pointed teeth. Yvonne only had to yell,

"Shut up!" once for it to calm down. When she let Karen in, she said, "Don't worry, he's all talk and no action these days like most blokes." Karen stepped in to the hall and after handing Yvonne a bottle of Chablis, she bent down to stroke the dog. Karen hadn't had a dog since her childhood, and to suddenly become acquainted with one was a bit like coming home.

"What's his name?" She asked Yvonne, letting the dog sniff her hand, almost as if to reassure him she wasn't any enemy.

"his name's Trigger," Grinned Yvonne, pleased to see Karen so at home with one of the fixtures of her household. "Charlie named him after his favourite hobby." As the full meaning of this hit Karen, she straightened up and stared at Yvonne. After a slightly stunned silence where Karen wondered if any other household animals would be named after the parts of a gun, both women laughed. It seemed to break the ice. Leading Karen through to the kitchen, Yvonne asked her what she would like to drink.

"I'd love a scotch if there's one going," Said Karen, knowing that whisky would feature prominently in any place Yvonne stayed for any length of time. When Yvonne had put the Chablis in the fridge and poured them both a scotch, she returned to preparing the salad.

"Can I do anything to help?" Asked Karen. Yvonne smiled.

"No thanks, it's fine. I got salad, fillet steaks and strawberries, is that okay?"

"Wonderful," Sighed Karen in anticipation. "I haven't had anyone cook for me after a hard week's work for a long time." Yvonne placed the prepared salad and the washed strawberries in the fridge and picked up her glass.

"I bet your curiosity's on overdrive," She said, leading Karen out to the garden.

"Just a little," Admitted Karen ruefully. "It isn't every day I get to see the house that I've been speculating about for nearly a year." She tactfully left out the fact that Yvonne's having very obvious criminally earned money behind her would clearly be a factor in this speculation.

"Charlie bought this place when Ritchie was seven and Lauren was three. I think he was planning for more kids to fill up the space. The house itself was quite small then but we just kept adding to it." Leading Karen across the terrace and toward the steps that went down to the pool, she said, "He put this in when Ritchie was in his teens." when Karen saw the oval pool with steps at one end, and a mosaic of two entwined dolphins on the bottom, she just stared.

"I never knew people had outdoor pools this close to central London." Yvonne realised that this was Karen's way of trying to cover up her shock and awe of seeing just what the Atkins money had been spent on over the years. Trigger had followed them outside and now made his way round to the other side of the pool where began a long stretch of lawn which eventually ended in trees and a high stone wall. He lay down in the shade of one of the trees and lazily thumped his tail. They sat down under a green tasselled umbrella and Karen, for the first time that day began to relax. They both lit up cigarettes and Yvonne said,

"Charlie might have been a wanker of the highest order, but when it came to building, he did have style." Karen grinned.

"And I know that with most men like Charlie Atkins, most of the decorating will have been left to his wife. You should be very proud of this place." Yvonne smiled widely.

"Cheers. Here's to the end of what's probably been a horrendous week for you."

"I won't disagree with that," Said Karen taking a long drink of her scotch. "when I left them this afternoon, Di and Sylvia were arguing over who wasn't going to take Merriman to court next week."

"Can't Fenner do any of it?" Asked Yvonne.

"No, not while he's appearing as a prosecution witness he can't."

"So they both want the joys of accompanying a psychopath to the dock?" Yvonne was slightly astounded.

"I think Di Barker gets off on the notoriety of it all, and Sylvia just wants a day out. Supervising one worthless con has to be easier than supervising fifty. At least that's how she sees it."

"Typical Body bag," Yvonne laughed. Karen grinned.

"Do you know something, people have called her that ever since I've been at Larkhall."

"I might be wrong," Replied Yvonne, "But I think it was Zandra who came up with that one."

"I shouldn't say it," Said Karen, clearly having no qualms about it at all, "But it suits her."

After a while, they went in and Yvonne briefly grilled the two excellent-looking steaks. Putting the two plates and the bowl of salad on a tray with some cutlery, Yvonne stood in front of the large wine rack which took up a good proportion of one kitchen wall. Eventually selecting a bottle of Chateau Neuve de Pape and putting it on the tray with two glasses, she carried it outside and they ate under the evening sun. Karen having taken notice of the stock of equally good reds and whites in the wine rack said,

"Who's the wine buff around here then?" Yvonne smiled.

"A fascination with good wine was probably the one saving grace my father ever had," She said, swallowing a mouthful of medium-rare steak. "It's something I guess I inherited from him. Charlie used to act to his mates like he knew one from the other, but he always used to get me to pick them out beforehand." Karen laughed.

"So you didn't take part in any brewing in Larkhall?" She hadn't known whether or not Larkhall and Yvonne's time there would be a safe subject, but the full bodied red in her glass had given her courage.

"Good god, no," Said Yvonne in disgust. "That stuff the Costa Cons made was vile. If I wanted any alcohol in there I made sure it came in already bottled." As the evening progressed, Karen gradually found it easier and easier to relax on Yvonne's territory. Yvonne didn't flaunt her wealth, it was simply something that was part of her and that she accepted as being part of her. Yvonne lived a rich, sometimes decadent life simply because she could, not because she desperately needed it. Yvonne knew herself well enough to know that possessions didn't make a person what they were, but what that person did with their possessions. Karen began to see Yvonne's surroundings as just part of the way Yvonne had lived for a long, long time. They hadn't prevented Yvonne from suffering one of the worst fates any human being can suffer, to be locked up behind bars for a number of years. Under her expensive clothes and behind the appearance of her house, her pool and the wine she liked to serve, Yvonne was still a normal woman, capable of being hurt by the same things as Karen, and just as vulnerable to the whims of a man she had once loved. They passed a relaxing evening, finding it easier to talk the more wine they consumed, until Yvonne found herself wondering why she'd never asked Karen over before. When Karen eventually left, full of steak and strawberries, and a little too much wine to drive, she felt content. Yes, the trial was starting on Monday, but tonight had been wonderful. Tonight had been for both of them, the calm before the storm.

Part Four

"Your round or mine, Lauren" Cassie asked, and the very attractive dark haired woman made her way to the bar in the spacious pub they had taken themselves to.

Cassie smiled nostalgically to herself that this was the place that had been the start of many of her affairs in the past. Besides, she felt comfortable here.

Lauren was very gratified at the good service at this pub. Cassie had chosen well. No sooner had she got to the front of the queue than the barmaid smiled in a very friendly way and had served her with a couple of glasses of white wine. She could think of some places where she was propping up the bar for ages trying to get served, trying to catch the barmaid's eye and tut-tutting under her breath that the silly cow was almost deliberately ignoring her and serving some guy who thought he was God's gift to women who had jumped the queue. This barmaid was dead friendly and had a chat while Lauren paid for their drinks.

It was a typical hot summer's day and the pub doors were left open and the large overhead brass fan on the ceiling was gently rotating, wafting a tiny flavour of cool air to the table where Cassie and Lauren sat.

"Is it girls night out here, Cassie? Only a couple of guys here and they aren't exactly my type. Julian Clarry never exactly turns me on."

"You could say that, Lauren." Cassie smiled to herself. She wondered to herself how a woman like Lauren as street smart as you could get, who had knocked around a lot, who had the Atkins brains hadn't worked out the obvious. Still, Cassie thought to herself, she was a respectably partnered woman with kids and, really, she chose the pub with the nicest feel about it where she felt comfortable to have a quiet chat with a mate. All the other pubs on a night like this would be packed out solid and you needed to be able to lip-read to have any chance of a natter and ignore the drunks.

"So where's Roisin then, Cassie."

Cassie sighed. Since Roisin divorced Aiden, she had thought divorce means,' good riddance', 'you're history' but with two children, it wasn't that easy. They had spent more time with solicitors than she thought possible and all the endless haggling about access and maintenance seemed to be designed to line the pockets of knobbing men in expensive suits speaking in patronising accents. These sort of guys reminded her of the wankers she had to deal with when she started work in the bank. Roisin had gone up to see Aiden to ask him to look after the children while they attended the trial. It would crop up in school holiday time, something she was starting to be accustomed to as part of her life cycle.

"She's gone to visit that waste of space and persuade him to look after the kids while the trial's on. Jesus and I thought I had trouble in handling clients when I worked at the bank. Roisin has the patience of a saint in trying to get Aiden to agree to anything. I'd end up ramming this bottle" and here Cassie gestured to the small bottle on the table" right down his knobbing mouth."

Lauren smiled in appreciation at Cassie. She hadn't got many mates and when Cassie first came round to visit Mum on her release, she had got chatting to her and hit it off right away. It made her blink the casual way she talked about her partner and that that partner was a married woman. Hiring hit men who pretended to do pizza deliveries, growing up hearing Charlie's drug deals going down and strange thuggish enforcers coming round all hours having a drink with Charlie, yes, that was part of her life but where she grew up, everyone was 'straight.

"Hi Cassie." An attractive woman with long dark hair floated by, smiling at Cassie. "Thought you'd hidden yourself away."

"Yeah, well, I've got company." muttered Cassie. "Private company, if you know what I mean" glaring daggers at the tart whom she'd once had a fling with once and regretted it.

"I can take a hint, Cassie. Enjoy yourself." The woman smiled and floated off elsewhere.

"Someone I used to go out with." Cassie said. "She's bad news. No friend of mine either."

It was moments like this that Lauren found strange. Cassie was a mate like she had had mates before and her sexuality faded into the background nearly all the time. Cassie had a similar very direct quality, less 'in your face' than she used to be once. Lauren realised that Cassie was simply insecure when she first met her, wanting her approval as Yvonne's daughter, very much anxious not to blow it that she overcompensated. It didn't take long for Cassie to relax. In turn, Lauren learned to drop her guard with her. There weren't many straight ahead people around in her life that didn't lie, manipulate, tell all sort of tall stories to impress the Charlie's of this world. Cassie was a refreshing change. If Lauren was talking a load of crap, Cassie would tell her that but never in a way that would hurt, just out of friendly concern for her.

"How well did you know my mum in Larkhall?" asked Lauren. Since Mum had come home she had been quiet about her experiences. Sure, Lauren heard all the funny stories like the time Body bag went in and frisked the one genuine solicitor out of the pretend 'briefs' that she had fixed up and Lauren laughed along with them. She had seen brief glimpses of it in the times she'd visited Larkhall and the sight of Mum in the orange bib was imprinted on her mind. The letters she'd sent out were obviously written to hide how down she felt sometimes.

"Well," smiled Cassie, "In one of my madder moments, I fancied Yvonne and thought I could get off with her. Sorry Lauren" Cassie added hastily.

"It's all right, Cassie. Mum is over sixteen. She can do what she likes as long as she doesn't get hooked on some bastard. One is enough." Lauren's lips tightened, thinking of Charlie and that scrubber with bleach blond hair the last time she saw him.

"Rest assured. Your mum is totally straight. If I couldn't pull her, then……….."

After thinking she'd put her foot in it again, well done Cassie, she loosened up and gently reminisced about Yvonne and the memories that, for all her own brashness and apparent toughness, Yvonne was the real thing. Yvonne was the one whose authority like invisible

strings kept things together. She never forgot the scorn in Yvonne's eyes when she had been stupid enough to run a betting operation on a fight between Maxi and Shaz. There was no malice in it and the next day or so, Yvonne was back to her old self. There was no moody sulking but if anyone really crossed the line, there was no crawling back.

"You're a lot like Yvonne, Lauren. She was always talking about you and she thinks the world of you……like I do." And Cassie, for the first time in her life blushed. For the first time in her knobbing life she's been with another woman, and what sounded like a 'chat up' line wasn't. It was a simple statement of respect for a woman she knew with stone cold certainty was wiser than herself and her daughter who had that same strength beyond her years.

The evening wended its way along in its delightful way and they ordered in the drinks at regular intervals. The sounds of the bar got louder Lauren could put the booze away and Cassie felt compelled to keep up with her which was a big mistake.

"Can't take the pace, eh, Cassie. If you can't stand the heat then stay out of the kitchen." Lauren's mocking smile wobbled before Cassie's eyes, as she thought, oh no, not another drink.

"I'm absolutely pissed, Lauren." moaned Cassie. I'll never drink again after this night. Just as well the kids are away, seeing a drunken mum come reeling in."

Lauren smiled to herself to hear Cassie, that very modern and 'out gay' woman, sound so exactly like every other mother she had seen, hyper anxious not to disgrace herself 'in front of the children' while to Cassie, the world seemed to be seen through a distorting mirror that kept moving and wouldn't settle down.

When the landlady called out for last orders, Cassie lurched to her feet and Lauren caught her before she fell. Holding her tightly round the shoulder, Lauren steered the smaller woman towards the exit while the couple cuddling in the corner saw them go in a sentimental haze that another couple seemed happy and set up for the night.

The barmaid sighed to herself. You win some, you lose some. Anyway she was knackered.

In the back seat of the black cab, Cassie was slumped in a corner while Lauren called out to the driver, the other side of the glass grille. She would have to somehow navigate Cassie into the spare bedroom, she thought, as the street lights set against the dark whizzed by and it lurched all the way to Yvonne's house.

Once managing a three handed trick in fumbling for her keys, nudging the heavy front door open and gripping Cassie tightly so she didn't slump down on the ground, Lauren needed all her strength to heave Cassie step by step, up the wide green carpeted staircase. Her own room was nearest, she was knackered so, to hell with it, she manoeuvred Cassie through the door. Suddenly she tripped over an object and they both went flying through the air, crash onto her large, comfortable double bed nearby.

Shit, Lauren, I will have woken the dead.

"What the bloody hell are you doing, Lauren?" I've known you bring strange fellas back from a night on the town but this is bloody new for you." Yvonne's throaty, irritated tones, fresh from suddenly disturbed sleep tones reverberated round the room. Lauren could see her eyes squinting at her as she tried to adjust to the sudden bright light and to make sense of what appeared to be in front of her eyes. She didn't think Lauren was that type or so she had thought. Lauren blushed a pretty shade of pink with was another new thing for her. Atkins don't do blushing.

A half-conscious Cassie, crashed out helplessly on Lauren's bed, sleepily grinned in amusement and seemed to lie there for ages with a nice warm secure feeling inside of her. Above her head with her lover next to her in the same cell, the electric light seemed to stare down at her and describe elegant circles over her head making her dizzy to look at it .Then a well known, authoritative voice seemed to cut through her alcohol haze.

"Jesus Christ, where the hell's the night shift gone? And what's this drunken orgy going on here? Lights out everyone."

Oh shit, that means we're up for adjudication with Betts tomorrow and we're going to lose our nobbing privileges. I'm really really sorry, Roisin babes, she slurred drunkenly, it's all my fault as she wondered why the nobbing screws didn't put the light out like they said they would. She wanted to sleep more than anything else right then.

Part Five

On the Saturday morning, Jo Mills QC was sat in her garden, going through the mountain of evidence for the upcoming trial. She had prosecuted many murderers in her time, but she didn't think she'd encountered anyone with quite so much audacity as Tracy Pilkinton, or Snowball Merriman, as everyone seemed to think of her. Jo knew that the next two weeks were going to be extremely hard work. But there was one good thing on the horizon, John would be presiding over this trial. She didn't know how he'd managed to swing this trial, because it was full of possible bombshells and outed cover ups by the prison service. Although Jo knew that at least three of her witnesses would be senior members of prison staff, she was also aware that they would be at all costs trying to eliminate any blame on their part for Merriman having been able to smuggle in explosives and construct a bomb. Looking down her list of witnesses, Jo reflected that it would be an interesting trial if nothing else. Three of her witnesses were prison staff, two were ex-cons and one a current inmate. They alone would provide the central attraction of the circus ring of the Old Bailey. The defendants would end up being a mere side show compared to this lot. She also thought it more than likely that John would be asking as many questions of the witnesses as possible. He wasn't the kind of man to pass up an opportunity of questioning the wife of the late Charlie Atkins, for example, and seeing that one of the defendants was the gangster's moll's son, Jo grinned. There would be no end of fireworks with this trial. Jo had met and talked to all of her witnesses, no silk would ever think of doing otherwise, and she knew that perhaps the most credible and honest of her witnesses was Yvonne Atkins herself. Despite having been the wife and probably the backbone of the east London mob, she was open, honest and certainly wasn't backward in speaking her mind. Jo grinned as she thought of a possible verbal tussle between John Deed and Yvonne Atkins. That one would almost be worth videoing, even if that would have been breaking court rules. When the person stood watching her said,

"What are you smiling about?" She looked up slightly startled. Mr. Justice Deed, or John to his nearest and dearest was standing by the side gate to her garden watching her. Opening the gate he walked over to her and sat down next to her on the garden bench. Leaning over to kiss his cheek, she said,

"Where did you spring from?"

"I was at a loose end, so thought I'd see how busy you are." Jo gestured at the pile of papers on the garden table.

"You're at a loose end? I don't know how with this trial coming up on Monday. You should have more reading than I do."

"I was rather hoping you'd make me a coffee," John said with a smile. Placing her legal dictionary on top of the paper to stop the breeze dispersing her entire case over the garden, Jo moved towards the kitchen and her favorite choice of caffeine. As she stood at the sink filling the kettle, John asked,

"So, what were you grinning about?"

"Oh, just the thought of you tangling with one of my witnesses, Yvonne Atkins." John laughed.

"Yes, I've a feeling that might be an experience for all concerned."

"Well, as long as you don't manage to do Cantwell's job for him and pull her evidence to shreds, she's the best witness I've got."

"The most reliable witness you have is the wife of a gangster?"

"Was the wife of a gangster, he's dead now. You might remember how he was blown to bits on the steps of the Bailey about two years ago."

"Oh yes," Said John, clearly remembering something. "And they never found the person who did it, did they?"

"No, and I'd appreciate it if that little can of worms wasn't opened this week."

"So, you think she had something to do with it after all?"

"I don't know," Said Jo truthfully. "I've spoken to her a couple of times, we've gone over her evidence for this trial and she seems honest enough, for someone who hired a hit man, that is. Besides, she was still in prison when that happened. If I was being asked to put my money on anyone for the murder of Charlie Atkins, I'd be betting on the daughter, Lauren. But that case was closed long ago, and far be it from me to try and reopen it."

"And especially not before you've convicted the son," He said quietly.

"Don't even think about it, John," Jo said, a frown marring the unobtrusive beauty of her face.

"Okay," He said, "Point taken. this trial's going to be interesting if nothing else."

"Have you come here to gen up on my witnesses as usual?" She said, clearly having seen this routine from him before.

"Who better to give me an insight?" He asked.

"As long as I have a cast iron promise from you that you won't jeopardize them in court."

"Come on, Jo, you know me better than that. I no longer make promises that I can't swear to keep."

"Do you know something?" She said, slightly rising to the bate. "I'm beginning to think the LCD's right."

"God forbid," He said. "If Sir Ian Rochester and his sidekick Lawrence James are ever right about anything, it's a sad day for the rest of us."

"I just mean their little argument about barristers appearing in front of people they have a history with, like you and me for instance. You do this every time there's an interesting trial with me acting for the prosecution, though you've even done it with the defense on a couple of occasions."

"done what?" He said, still trying to goad her. Jo cast a long suffering glance at the fresh Brazilian coffee she was taking out of the freezer.

"This! Asking me to give you the lowdown on my witnesses. The really sad thing is that I always capitulate to your request." John grinned.

"what, a little like the old days, just a different request?" Jo lifted the packet of coffee, as if to throw it at him, then as if realising the value of Brazilian coffee, simply laughed.

"I'm too good to you," She said, filling the caffetiere.

When they were again sat outside, Jo began going through her line up.

"First there's Karen Betts, the wing governor from Larkhall. She's complicated because she started an affair with Ritchie Atkins, just before Merriman came to Larkhall. He managed to use his affiliation with her to bring suspicion on her and to plant the gun in her handbag."

"Really nice guy, our Mr. Ritchie Atkins," Mused John. Jo continued.

"Then there's Yvonne Atkins, and you know enough about her to be going on with. Following her there's a prison officer James Fenner, and I don't like him one little bit. Apart from Lawrence James, he's the slimiest, creepiest man I've ever had the misfortune to meet. Then there's the prison governor, Neil Grayling, and he's definitely got something to hide. I'm not sure what yet, but he could probably challenge Ritchie Atkins for a stake in the oily snake of the century awards. After him, there's a current inmate of Larkhall, Alison McKenzy, an ex-inmate, Barbara Hunt, and one of the visitors who was there for the open day when the explosion took place."

"Sounds like you've got it all wrapped up to me," Said John, clearly impressed with her array of witnesses.

"I'll keep the jury entertained, that's for sure," replied Jo cynically. "but this isn't wrapped up by any means, John. I haven't even started and I know that this ride is going to be one of the rockiest yet. You've got to have guts to do all the things those two have done, and Merriman's guts certainly haven't run out up to now. She's come this far, and she isn't going to give up anytime in the near future."

Part Six

Sir Ian Rochester looked out of the window of his spacious Whitehall office wondering why fate had such a nasty sense of irony and playing jokes at his expense. His role in life was in smoothing out awkward areas in the relationship between the administration of the Lord Chancellor's Department and the proud, bewigged judges whom from time immemorial were free to run their courts the way they saw fit. It took certain bonhomie in being able to tactfully remind the odd judge who got the bit between his teeth and sound off in ways that caused political embarrassment. OK to say these things in the Carlton Club when it was known no one would talk, after all, they all went to Oxford together didn't they? With his combined gifts of ever so gentle threat, a velvet glove worn over an iron hand, and his alternative guise of upmarket used car dealer, he had been effortlessly carried up the promotion ladder. Until, one unkind joke was perpetrated on him, John Deed, who some fool appointed as a circuit judge and became a constant thorn in his side. First time Deed greeted him, he smiled at him but with that look of mockery in his eyes and said something about sitting down over a glass of port and reminiscing about our schooldays, 'the happiest days in our lives.' The fellow went to Oxford too, but the obstinate fellow was a renegade and didn't play the game.

Another very bad joke was the court case of the Crown versus Pilkinton / Atkins.

When he'd heard this one originally, this was an open and shut case that he was sure would never come his way. This common English tart had gone to Hollywood and gone native. She was picked up by the police in Florida where she lived after murdering a photographer. The report said she stabbed him 17 times after getting into an argument. She's sneaked out in disguise right under the noses of the local gun toting American police and caught the next flight home to England. She'd tried to walk through customs in England carrying a large volume of cocaine, enough to put her well into the league of drug smuggling. What caused his blood pressure to rise was that she'd walked through American customs and she had got clean away with it. The officious clods in the police force clapped her into the nearest secure prison which had a space, a place called Larkhall till she could get tried for drug smuggling.

Now our American cousins, with all their gun laws and tough talk now started bleating to us that they wanted the bloody woman tried in Florida for the murder over there. As far as he was concerned, it was quite simple. Their crime was bigger than ours, the woman who called herself Snowball Merriman wants to be an American so she might as well

face justice over there and get her out of our hair.

He thought it such a cut and dried case that the extradition hearing was farmed out to the first judge that took an interest in it. After all the sentence that that Pilkinton woman now serving for smuggling is nothing compared to the murder charge she faces back in Florida…nor the death sentence that almost certainly comes with it. The whole matter went out of his mind while he had other things to do until a copy of the court judgement popped up in his in tray which he casually opened.

Application by the Federal State of Florida, USA for Tracy Pilkinton to be extradited to Florida to be charged for the offence of first degree murder.

At Holborn Crown Court hearing on October 18th 2002, the application for extradition was rejected until the expiry of the custodial sentence in the United Kingdom for smuggling a Class 'A' drug with the intent to supply.

It was held that

  1. The sentence of Tracy Pilkinton on August 7th 2002 was rightfully determined on the charge of unlawfully smuggling in a kilo of cocaine with the intent to supply.
  2. That Tracy Pilkinton should serve the term of imprisonment at Her Majesties Prison for seven years following the sentence
  3. That, on the expiry of this sentence, a fresh application to extradite Tracy Pilkinton should be submitted by the Federal State of Florida before a freshly constituted court to determine whether or not Miss Pilkinton is to be brought before the Federal Court of Florida for the charge of murder of Wayne Kramer, a photographer of the state of Florida.

Sir Ian skipped through the statement of facts of the double crime until his eye stopped at the relevant paragraphs.

11……………It did not help the case of the Federal State of Florida that the application for extradition was not made contemporaneously, in contravention of international law of which the Plaintiff should have been made well aware. However this is a relative side issue to the matter upon which I must decide……..

12……….The question at the heart of the matter is that Tracy Pilkinton is charged with capital murder in the state of Florida and has been convicted of intent to supply Class A drugs in England. Both events, or alleged events, took place within a matter of hours on the same day in question. The question I have to consider is whether or not both unrelated charges which had they been pursued simultaneously at the same court hearing would have had the result of concurrent or consecutive sentences if Tracy Pilkinton were found guilty on both counts. The judgement by Lord Denning which I find most persuasive is that the sentences would have been consecutive on the grounds that the sentence for the lesser charge would have been otherwise "overlapped" by the sentence for the greater charge. The fact is that, in actual point of fact, the second charge was never put at the court hearing which determined the first charge, is all the more persuasive. I am mindful that the judicial sentence for the charge of murder in Florida can attract the death penalty by electrocution but this matter, for the reasons I have set out in this judgement, is a matter of degree rather than that of principle.

14………..I am mindful of the difficulties I have placed before the Court in the Federal State of Florida in appearing to place an embargo on proceedings against Tracy Pilkington for the charge which there is every expectation that should be pursued. This judgement should not be misconstrued as a legal precedent or test case that a British Citizen can escape the consequences of charges made by another country for crimes which that citizen has committed in that country. It is a matter of international law that the weight and value of evidence should not be diminished by the passage of time in this particular type of case and that so long as the evidence is suitably compiled, including witness statements, then justice for the second charge will be done and be seen to be done, albeit the execution of the justice will be deferred.

Judge Michael Niven October 18th 2002

"Bad news, Sir Ian." Lawrence James broke into his thoughts which, judging by the scowl on his face, was hardly an intuitive leap of the imagination. Sir Ian could have sworn that the light reflecting off his grey shiny suit alerted him to Lawrence James presence fractionally before his loud voice did.

"The worst, Lawrence." Sir Ian's weak angry tones replied."Of all the cases which ought never to have ended up this way, it's that Americanised woman Tracy Pilkinton that Niven was weak-minded enough not to have thrown over to the Americans to deal with and save this Department a lot of trouble. Now the British Taxpayer has to foot the bill, and all the time and trouble also."

"You mean us." Lawrence James cut to the chase or Sir Ian would have waffled on all day.

"That's what I mean, obviously," Sir Ian squinted wondering why Lawrence James hadn't learnt the knack for smoothing out rough edges.

"It isn't too late is it, depending on which judge gets it. He might think it was unsafe to proceed with the trial of fresh charges that, obviously, Niven was unaware of."

"God hopes so, anyway."

"So long as Deed doesn't play God. That would be very unfortunate. Very unfortunate indeed." Sir Ian savoured the last words slowly though exactly unfortunate for whom, Sir Ian in his oblique way never made clear.

Part Seven

On the morning of Monday the 18th of august, Karen was running round the house like a headless chicken. Keys, make up, purse, cigarettes, none of them was in its proper place this morning. The first blouse she put on, she spilt coffee over, and the second was missing a button. Finally settling on a two piece in light blue, she gathered up what remained of her resolve and left the house. Driving through the center of London on a Monday morning was never fun, but the traffic seemed to be extraordinarily slow today. Everyone seemed to be heading in the direction of the old Bailey, but that must have been her imagination. Then, switching on the radio she discovered just why it was proving so difficult to get to the court this morning. The newsreader on Capital Radio was saying,

"and this week sees the beginning of the trial of the infamous Snowball Merriman and her accomplice Ritchie atkins, son of the late Charlie Atkins, leader of the east London mob for many years. Snowball Merriman is accused of causing the explosion that took place at Larkhall prison in south London in June last year." Karen turned off in disgust.

When she eventually reached the car park of the Old Bailey, she pulled in to a space reserved for witnesses. Within a couple of minutes, Yvonne's red Farari cruised up beside her. As Karen got out of her car, she remembered something she'd meant to say to Yvonne before they went inside the court. Whilst Yvonne was touching up her lipstick, Karen opened the passenger door and slid in next to her.

"Looking forward to the circus?" Said Yvonne dryly, looking at herself in the driving mirror.

"About as much as you are," Replied Karen. "I need to ask you something before we go inside. Are you carrying anything, anything you shouldn't be?" Yvonne gave her a cursory glance and then returned to her face.

"No," She said noncommittally.

"Because they have a trend in courts these days to run a scanner over you looking for anything metal." The words were perfectly innocuous when taken at face value, but they had a marked effect on Yvonne. Her exclamation of "Shit!" appeared to be the word of the day. Dropping the lipstick in her handbag, she leaned down to remove something that was clearly strapped to her ankle, under the leg of her trousers.

"I did wonder," Said Karen dryly. When Karen saw the tiny pistol that so snugly fitted in to the palm of Yvonne's hand, she just stared. Yvonne, sliding out the car stereo felt behind it for the one really safe place her car possessed. Having hidden the gun, she replaced the radio. Karen watched with the kind of fascination onlookers have for horrific road accidents.

"Are you completely bloody stupid?" She asked quietly. Yvonne looked at her.

"No," She said matter-of-factly, "I'd just like to make it through this trial alive, that's all." Karen seemed to relocate the voice that always signified her as a wing governor.

"If they'd found that on you, you'd have been back in Larkhall quicker than the Julies on a bad day. Is that what you want?" Yvonne wasn't in the mood for this first thing on a Monday morning.

"No," She said carefully, trying to keep her anger at Karen's naivety under control. "But do you have any idea just how many contacts those two still have?" It went unsaid that she was referring to Ritchie and Snowball.

"They've both been in segregation for months," Karen persisted. This was too much for Yvonne.

"When will you take off that suit long enough to realise that being down the block means piss all when it comes to getting hold of people on the outside. There's any number of people who would finish me off for Ritchie, most of them used to be business acquaintances of me and Charlie. Karen, even though I've given up all the stuff Charlie was involved in, there are still people out there who have a loaded interest in getting rid of me, and all Ritchie would provide is the excuse."

"I had no idea," Karen said quietly. Yvonne began to calm down.

"That's because I've tried to keep that part of my life under wraps from you. Not because you used to lock me up for a living, but because with you I usually manage to forget all the things I used to be." Karen simply stared at her, slightly stunned by what Yvonne had just said. "So," Yvonne continued, now back to her normal self, "Now that we've both come down off our high horses, shall we go in, because I think we're being spied on by the king of all bastards." Turning to follow the direction of Yvonne's gesturing hand, Karen saw Jim Fenner, standing next to the open door of his Audi, staring at her and Yvonne with such an incredulous look on his face that it made Karen laugh.

"He looks like he's just been offered a quickie from Body bag," Said Yvonne with a grin. Karen didn't know whether to laugh or feel ill at the mental image that brought to mind. As they got out of the car, Karen asked,

"Did you hear the radio on the way here?" Yvonne's expression was rueful.

"Yeah. So much for an impartial jury." As Fenner walked towards them, he said,

"Getting our stories straight already, are we?"

"We've got nothing to hide, Fenner," was Yvonne's terse reply.

"We'll see, Atkins, we'll see," He said, the look of blissful glee on his face almost unnerving to both of them.

"You're going to be the one explaining how he was taken in by a porn movie actress," Continued Yvonne. "Promise you a personal performance if you kept quiet, did she?"

"Shut it, Atkins," Was his only response. "Just because you're on the right side of the bars doesn't mean you always will be." The threat was clear.

"Am I going to be refereeing between you two all day?" Asked Karen.

"Not if you know where your loyalties lie," Said Fenner silkily.

"Good job for Karen they're not with you," Remarked Yvonne. As Fenner took a breath for his next retort, Karen let them have it.

"cut it out, right now, the both of you," She said. "this is neither the time nor the place, and I am not spending hours on end listening to the pair of you sniping at each other. None of us want to be here, but unfortunately we're stuck with each other for the foreseeable." Walking off towards the court building, she left Yvonne and Fenner watching her, slightly feeling like a pair of schoolchildren having been put in their place. "Could wield a whip, that one." Remarked Fenner.

"I wouldn't know," replied Yvonne.

Once inside the Old Bailey, the three of them were shown to one of the many witness rooms. It was a while before the trial was due to start, and Lauren had elected to be picked up by Cassie and roisin on their way there. They were soon joined by Jo Mills. She'd obviously spoken to all her witnesses before this, but this was the first time she'd seen any of them interact with each other.

"Yvonne, you're on first," She said. "That'll probably be this afternoon. They'll have the opening speeches this morning and then break for lunch. I don't expect to call either you Karen or you Jim until tomorrow, but these things aren't set in stone."

"What about the others?" Asked Fenner.

"The other five witnesses haven't been called till later in the week." Jo pulled a piece of paper from one of her numerous notebooks.

"Neil Grayling, Alison McKenzy, Barbara Hunt, Henry Mills and Ajit Kahn." At the last name Yvonne said,

"You what?" Jo looked slightly surprised.

"do you have a problem with this witness?" Yvonne brought her expression back under control.

"No, of course not," She said, clearly trying to convince herself more than anybody else.

"When I spoke to him," Jo went on, "He said that he answer the Chaplin's phone to Ritchie Atkins asking for Snowball Merriman. But then you know this because this is part of your evidence as well."

"Sure," Said Yvonne. "I just didn't expect them to contact him, that's all."

"It was him who contacted the police after the explosion, and we need his evidence to make yours believable." Karen was staring at Yvonne, wondering just what Yvonne was afraid of. Soon after this, Jo left them and Karen volunteered to get some coffee. As soon as she'd left the room, Fenner started in on Yvonne.

"Getting very pally with our Miss Betts aren't you, Atkins?"

"Someone's got to keep an eye on you," Replied Yvonne.

"What's that supposed to mean?" He asked.

"Well," Said Yvonne getting out her cigarettes. "Locked up in a place like that with you all day? Isn't safe for any woman if you ask me."

"Now you listen to me, Atkins," Said Fenner, clearly riled. "Just you stay away from her. She doesn't need your bad influence."

"I think Karen is perfectly capable of deciding who is and isn't a bad influence on her, not that I think anyone could be if they tried." Fenner was about to continue his side of the argument when Karen appeared carrying three cups of machine coffee. At the silence that greeted her, she figured they'd been talking about her. When they'd all lit up cigarettes, they sat in a slightly uneasy silence.

"I can't possibly keep this up for long," Thought Karen, whilst Yvonne was itching to begin another verbal tussle with Fenner, but kerbing her tongue for Karen's sake. In utter frustration Yvonne left, returning five minutes later with a selection of newspapers.

"I got this especially for you," She said, handing Fenner a copy of The Sun, and dumping the others on the table between her and Karen. "It seems the canteen in here sells it to get all the ancient male barristers fired up for their appearance on stage." Digging out a copy of The Times from the pile, she found the crossword and settled in for something slightly more brain taxing than continuously taking the piss out of Fenner. Even that could get boring after a while. Filling in the answer for three across, she briefly wondered whether the judge in this trial read The Times or The Sun before a case.

Part Eight

John Deed had a rare moment of peace and tranquillity in the morning while Coope passed back and forth. As someone who was unruffled, quiet and organised, she was a necessary part of his existence and was the one clerk who had got used to his habits that drove to distraction some of her predecessors. He stretched back in his chair and opened up the Times from which the useless and unwanted supplements fell out onto the floor. Bending carefully over, he extracted the thin "Sports Supplement" for the educated readers of Hampstead Heath who had the unaccountable desire to 'move with the times' and join the national obsession with footballers and the mysterious and utterly uninteresting differences between the various teams.

"Do I really want to read yet another article about David Beckham?" He sighed, recalling more unpleasant times from his old school when he had pushed at the limits of ducking out of compulsory rugby which was a sport that he loathed and detested. Fencing was the sport which attracted him, the precisely poised, cool nerve articulation of the practiced hand and bodily positioning and the rapidly calculating brain. It was a private sport practiced alone with your best friend who had a similar understanding and appreciation of an ancient skill. As skilled practitioners it rooted them in an unbroken chain back into the Middle Ages in the same way as his calling to the Bar anchored him in England's ancient liberties. Both gave him standards to uphold, much needed in this slipshod modern world. In the same way, he felt that a virtuoso concert violinist occupied the same assured reach back for that strength in tradition. Being steeped in these values, he remained bemused that the fifth raters like Sir Ian Rochester could ever hope to bend him to their will.

While his shapeless musings flitted their way through space and time in the rare moments when he had that luxury, Coope announced that he had two visitors who wanted to see him urgently. A combination of the peremptory knock and Coope's expression told him to expect trouble. John Deed glanced at the headlines for the forthcoming trial of Tracy Pilkinton and Ritchie Atkins and, with no stretch of the imagination, concluded that this may have something to do with the visitors so he carefully folded the paper in two so that the front page was invisible to even the likes of Sherlock Holmes, let alone these two authority figures, as blind as they were arrogant.

John Deed sighed as the besuited forms of Sir Ian Rochester and his overzealous sidekick Lawrence James sat down before he was going to politely offer them to take a seat, as is their habit.

"John, old man" Sir Ian spoke with false heartiness. "We thought we would just drop by while we are in the area and have an informal chat." The fixed smile on Sir Ian's face did not deceive John Deed who noticed the hard glitter in his eye.

"Oh yes." John Deed said in a languid tone. "Pray continue with what you've rushed away from holding the Lord Chancellor's hand and are burning to tell me."

"I suppose you've read all about it in the papers, John old man," Sir Ian continued, grasping for an easy point of entry to his ready made schpiel.

"About what, Sir Ian." John Deed summoned up a convincing appearance of being in total ignorance of Sir Ian's tortuous hinting. Teasing the pair of them gave him mild amusement." I'm a busy man these days so you will have to enlighten me."

Sir Ian's smile became more of a grimace and he reached automatically for a pencil in his inside jacket pocket which he fiddled with and promptly broke in two.

"You know exactly what I'm talking about, Deed. It's on the front page of the Times. Don't you read it, dammit? "Sir Ian's false heartiness reverted to his normal feelings of enmity that was twice as strong as his force of personality. "It's this infernal Tracy Pilkinton trial…….."

John Deed affected an annoyingly leisurely perusal in depth of the article though, in truth, he had combed through it very carefully in relation to the trial documents. In the silence, Sir Ian was shuffling his feet while Lawrence James grew more stony faced.

"We have important business with the Minister shortly. We did not come to be treated with your usual lack of respect." Lawrence James said, breaking the stony silence.

"So what scintillating words of wisdom have you to offer me." John Deed said, laying the papers down knowing full well what they were after.

"Only this, old man." Sir Ian desperately reverted to smarming his way through Deed's priggish obstinacy."It's just that we, in the Lord Chancellor's Department feel that Niven's judgement in the extradition hearing was fundamentally unsound. It did not go down well with the Minister mark my words." Sir Ian's behaviour bordering on the manic."The minister felt that, well reasoned though Niven's judgement was in its way…"

"…..I thought it was well reasoned in every way……" murmured John Deed.

"………it did not take full regard of the feelings of the family of the murdered photographer in Florida. After all, you stand for human justice as, don't we all." Here Sir Ian almost looked as if he was girding up his loins to stand up for the weak."So why not, old chap, and press for this wrong headed judgement to be overturned……….."

They're afraid of political embarrassment, that's all it is, John Deed's inner ear spoke clearly above Sir Ian's blandishments as he carried on in this vein for quite the most repetitious fifteen minutes he had ever endured. At least when he threatened and blustered, the man was out in the open.

"My mind is made up, Ian and well you know, nothing you have said can sway it."John Deed finished in his quiet tones which cut through Sir Ian's noisy outpourings.

Sir Ian glared like a goldfish who had found that banging up against the invisible glass sides of the bowl wasn't going to work. He backed off and tried another angle.

"Another thing, the minister wanted to impress on us, Deed." Sir Ian said ponderously,"Is that the circuit judges have brought on themselves a somewhat elitist and antiquated outlook. In this modern age you should be prepared, shall I say, to bend to the winds of modern times….………Like that Sports supplement which I am sure you have thrown away as part of your exhibitionist way of proclaiming that you are living in a backwater while the rest of the human beings move on elsewhere…… "

"………..Yes , yes, Ian. You will recall our Biology teacher a long time ago who said that the activities of the poor lemmings in simultaneously hurling themselves off a cliff was one not to be admired or emulated. Her words were ones that I remember well. Nice legs as well, I remember," at which point John Deed smiled wickedly.

"As it happens, I am intending to buy a football shirt for my leisure times and show that I have moved up with the times even though a stuffy stick in the mud like you will remain in isolation…."

"Never were any use at rugby at school were you, Ian." murmured John Deed just loud enough to be heard. "You always seemed to develop a mysterious limp just before games. At least I refused to indulge in a barbaric game out of principle………."

Sir Ian finally went red in the face and grasped Lawrence James's silk suit irretrievably creasing the right shoulder pad and hustled him out of the room before Deed revealed more of the weasly sneak of a schoolboy that he had been. He hustled Lawrence James out of the door with more strength and force than his general build suggested he possessed and the door slammed bang shut behind them.

"Didn't they want to stop for a glass of sherry?" Coope asked innocently.

"I'm afraid that they had to dash off to queue up for David Beckham's autograph." John Deed said with a straight face so even Coope wasn't sure if this was a case of the judge's whimsical sense of humour.

John Deed had other matters on his mind as he assumed the rich red robes and wig of his profession. It was not that he was a snob about these matters, just that he had the same sense of ritual and performance as a Shakespearean actor did at the Globe. It would have cheapened the occasion to have dressed otherwise and in this, John Deed was steeped in tradition which he trusted more than this modern age however liberal his political inclinations were.

He made his way with his measured tread out onto his own stage, the judge's throne upon which he sat on high, overseeing the characters in a play that would determine the fate of two individuals in what promised to be a complicated case. He looked down on the severely robed figures of the chief protagonists, the slim shape of Jo Mills in more formal attire than when he had last seen her and the portly shape of Brian Cantwell. There was this moment of silent anticipation in the court before John Deed's sonorous tones let the play commence.

Part Nine

Once the jury had been sworn in and the charges read out to the defendents, Jo rose from the prosecution bench and turned to face the jury.

"Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I will present before you a catalogue of evidence against the defendents which will prove their involvement in the explosion and hostage incident which took place at Larkhall prison last year. I will prove to you beyond all reasonable doubt that Ritchie Atkins and Tracy Pilkinton, also known as Snowball Merriman, conspired to commit the act of arsen, which resulted in the death of one inmate, sharon Wiley. I will also prove to you that the defendent Ritchie Atkins planted a gun on a wing governor of Larkhall prison, a miss Karen Betts, and that the defendent Tracy Pilkinton used this gun to take Karen Betts hostage in order to achieve her escape from custody, and that on escape she further used this firearm to cause the act of greavous bodily harm to her co-defendent, ritchie Atkins. Ladies and gentlemen, this case is an extremely complex one, and you will be asked to take in an enormous amount of facts and to decide, on your analysis of these facts, whether the defendents before you are guilty or not guilty. to take at first glannce the defendent Tracy Pilkinton. She was first brought in to Larkhall prison on a drugs charge. It can be anyone's personal opinion whether or not this crime was committed in order to obtain a place at Larkhall. On entering the prison, this woman befriended one of the prison officers, one James Fenner, and used her influence on him in order to procure herself a job in the prison library, and to enable herself to be given the privilege of receiving interlibrary loans from an outside source. Evidence will be presented to you which will show that the books which were received as part of her interlibrary loans, contained, in their spines no less, a quantity of plastic explosives. Tracy Pilkinton had continuous and on occasions solitary access to the prison library, enabling her to create and plant the bomb which has been proved to be the direct cause of the fire which took place at Larkhall prison in June 2002. As a result of this fire, one inmate, Sharon Wiley, was killed. It will be your task to decide whether or not this death makes Tracy Pilkinton guilty of the charge of man slaughter. Following this explosion, Tracy Pilkinton was kept in segregation, during which time she somehow obtained the posession of the firearm. An investigation took place at Larkhall prison, though it has never been established how the gun was returned to her. On her release from segregation, Tracy pilkinton was overheard making a phone call, quite obviously contacting her co-defendent, Ritchie Atkins. Subsequent to this phone call, Tracy Pilkinton took the wing governor, Miss Karen Betts, hostage. At gun point, she forced Karen Betts to leave the prison, and to drive to a rendez-vous with Ritchie Atkins. During the subsequent struggle, Tracy Pilkinton shot Ritchie Atkins, causing him to lose all power in his legs. To summarise the charges against the other defendent, Ritchie Atkins, it simply remains to say that it will be proved beyond all reasonable doubt that it was he who planted the explosives inside the spines of the books which were sent to Larkhall prison as a part of the interlibrary loan scheme. Evidence will also be brought before you to show that it was Ritchie Atkins who had unlawful posession of the firearm which he then planted in the handbag of the wing governor Miss Karen Betts. It will also be proved to you during the course of this trial, that the defendent, Ritchie Atkins, persistently and continuously aided and abetted Tracy Pilkinton in her various endeavours to escape custody from Larkhall prison. Ladies and gentelemen, throughout this trial, you will be introduced to a man and a woman who have maintained a total disregard for not only the damage they have caused, but for the death of Sharon Wiley. I will bring before you eight witnesses, one of them the governor of Larkhall prison and one of them the prison chaplin, who will testify to the unequivocal guilt of the two defendents before you. You will hear from three women who were fellow inmates of Tracy Pilkinton, women who were either taken in by this woman, or who had their own suspicions and who could not give voice to their concerns. You will discover just how clever this woman is and that her vocation as an actress put her in very good stead for the guise of innocent bystander. I ask you, ladies and gentlemen, to listen to the evidence I will place before you, and to find the defendents guilty of the crimes with which they are charged."

As Jo moved back to the prosecution bench, in the public gallery, Cassie turned to Roisin and said,

"Jesus, we should have employed her for our defence."

"I just hope she can keep it up," Said Roisin. "Someone's got to make her," She gestured at where Snowball was handcuffed to two police officers in the dock, "pay for Shaz's death. That's what matters now, not what happened to us and to everyone else, just Shaz's death. She snuffed out that young life, and she has to be made to pay."

Part Ten

Brian Cantwell could remember that the one thing that persuaded him, as a well paid top silk, to take on the defence of Tracy Pilkinton and Ritchie Atkins, was the evidence of the £50 grand that would cover his fees. Otherwise, they made an initially unprepossessing pair of dubious characters with more surface charm than substance. The whole business, as described to him, was a confused tangle that it would take an exceptionally astute barrister to convince the average jury of 12 people plucked from their ordinary lives to make head or tail of the business far less convict . On the whole he thought he'd take this one on. Of the two witnesses, Ritchie Atkins came over to him as a lightweight male gigolo type and would have to be well coached in his lines. He then carefully considered Tracy Pilkinton as a credible witness and that gave him more hope. The woman was a natural actress and totally convinced of her lines and this would hold up well in court. She was his ace in the pack, his highest card to play. He had noticed, of course, Tracy Pilkinton's exceptionally short dress which was obviously low cut at the front though that, in no way, influenced his professional judgement, nor the seductive tones of her American accent.

Brian Cantwell listened to Jo's opening statement with outward languid unconcern but with keen interest.

"Gentlemen..and ladies …of the jury," he commenced in lower key than his usual booming voice, always stumbling over the introduction in these deplorably PC conscious times." You have indeed before you a most complicated set of circumstances to unravel in your minds. In defence of the accused, Miss Tracy Pilkinton and Ritchie Atkins, I do not need to prove that some other person, or persons in combination, conspired to execute the act of arson that led to the unfortunate death of one Sharon Wiley." Here Brian Cantwell's voice dropped to the respectful tones of not wishing ill of the dead, however anonymous that person was." The case of the defence is that the accused did not perform the acts. I shall call no other witnesses than the accused for the very good reason that the witnesses called for the prosecution comprise the characters that had the most interactions with the accused. I shall, however, seek to establish that the witnesses comprise a somewhat ill assorted collection of people, all with different private agendas and with something to hide and their sheer numbers need not altogether add to the strength of the case for the prosecution. I shall also be demonstrating that one of the accused, Tracy Pilkinton, in the short period of time between admission to Larkhall and the explosion in question was entrusted with the highest level of prisoner privileges in comparison with other prisoners on the wing and will seek to establish the basis of the authority for these privileges especially as the witnesses for the prosecution includes the entire chain of command in G wing that is responsible for Tracy Pilkinton's sentence plan It will be part of the defence to rigorously test the so called evidence put forward by my learned friend and to winnow out what is hearsay or conjectural evidence and to demonstrate that what is left does not amount to a case proven beyond all reasonable doubt against the accused, Tracy Pilkinton. Turning to the other defendant, Ritchie Atkins, I shall seek to show that his contact with Larkhall prison was purely minimal as an occasional visitor to his mother, Yvonne Atkins, curiously speaking one of the witnesses for the prosecution and that he could not possibly be implicated in the arson and unfortunate death of Shaz Wiley. Otherwise, my defence of the accused will arise as evidence is given by the witnesses for the prosecution."

Jo Mills was a shade surprised by Brian Cantwell's comparative lack of bombast until she reflected on the fact that he had carefully omitted references to the weaker side of his case, the forced abduction of Karen Betts at gunpoint and the shooting of Ritchie Atkins. A defence of this charge could very easily show in open court that the bullet was really intended for Karen Betts. This was akin to jolting a precariously perched frying pan full of hot fat into the burning fire, She made a careful note of this point for later on.

"………..and Snowball Nobbing Merriman really is a saint. It's just that I need glasses so I can see the halo round her neck." Cassie swore contemptuously under her breath.

Part 11

Return to Bad Girls Fiction

Return to Main Page