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 Eleven

Yvonne hardly ate a thing when her and Karen went to meet Cassie, Roisin and Lauren in the canteen. Fenner followed them but as soon as he saw who was there, he said,

"Jesus! Not the dyke duo out on a pardon?"

"Nice to see you too, Fenner," Was Cassie's equally uncivil reply. He simply glared at the five of them en masse and moved to go somewhere else. Only those not directly involved in the trial were able to eat. Both Karen's and Yvonne's nerves were strung as taut as possible. Yvonne because she kept going over and over the things the defence barrister might ask her, and Karen because she been forced to spend the last three hours in Fenner's company and would be doing the same this afternoon.

"Sod this," Said Yvonne after a while. "I'm going outside for a fag." Karen decided to join her and they stood leaning against the wall, feeling like errant adolescents sneaking out for a secret smoke behind the bike shed. Yvonne suddenly asked,

"How the hell did it all come to this?" Karen took a deep drag and asked,

"How do you mean?"

"I mean, did he do all this and help her to do everything she did because I was such a crap mother?"

"Yvonne, we've had this conversation before. We've both made huge mistakes as mothers, but that gives neither of our sons the excuse to do anything they've either done or might do in the future. I've got absolutely no idea what Ross might end up doing now he hasn't got college to keep him on the straight and narrow."

"I stood there and watched while Charlie threatened to nail him to the warehouse floor!" Said Yvonne, as if only just realising her part in that whole nightmare.

"Oh and what exactly were you supposed to do?" Asked Karen. "Because though you'll hate me for saying it, not even you could have been expected to disagree with Charlie Atkins and still be living to tell the tale."

"I really don't want to go in there this afternoon," Yvonne continued. "I don't want to have to look in to his eyes and see everything I've done wrong over the years." Karen ditched her cigarette and put her arms round Yvonne and gave her a tight squeeze.

"One day," She said her face very close to Yvonne's, "I'll tell you the story of one of the biggest mistakes I've ever made, a mistake that almost cost me my sanity." They stood there in companionable silence, simply taking strength from each other's proximity, until Jo Mills appeared. At first she didn't like to disturb them. They looked so right, so complete that the sight of them tugged at something deep inside her. But time was moving on and justice would wait for no man, or woman come to that.

"Yvonne," She said gently. "It's time to go in." Yvonne found herself not wanting to relinquish her hold on Karen, not wanting to leave this safe haven of brief tranquillity.

"You'll be fine," Karen said giving her a last squeeze. As Yvonne moved with Jo towards the inside of the court, Karen called out to Jo,

"Look after her." Jo turned and smiled.

"I'll do my best," She replied.

When Yvonne took the bible in her right hand and intoned the oath, she wondered just what she was doing here, about to testify against one of her own.

"Mrs. Atkins," Jo began. "Please would you tell the court about the two visits you received from your son, Ritchie Atkins, at the end of May and the beginning of June last year?" Yvonne took a deep breath.

"Some time in the middle of May, Ritchie sent me a letter, saying that he wanted to see me and asking me to send him a visiting order. This was quite a surprise, because I hadn't spoken to him for over four years."

"And why was that?" Asked Jo gently.

"He had a row with his dad."

"I doubt the godfather of the east London version of the Mafia would be in favour of just a simple row," Muttered Brian Cantwell from the defence bench. Jo was furious. She wasn't two minutes in to Yvonne's evidence and Cantwell had already started.

"My Lord," She said approaching the Judge's bench. "such a remark from the defence barrister is surely prejudicial." John was inclined to agree with Brian Cantwell, but he couldn't let his remark go unnoticed.

"I agree Mrs. Mills," He said calmly. "The jury will disregard Mr. Cantwell's remark, and you, Mr. Cantwell, will refrain from making such remarks." Jo returned to stand in front of Yvonne.

"How were things between you and your son when he visited you?"

"He wanted to make up for lost time. He said he'd missed me. He reminded me that I used to call him my little angel when he was a child."

"And when did he first ask you for money?"

"On his second visit. He pointed out that his sister was sitting pretty at home with decent cars in the drive standing idle. He said he needed some money to set up an upmarket taxi business."

"And you believed him?"

"At the time, I had no reason not to. He sounded so plausible." Yvonne refused to let herself look over at the two people who had so successfully conned her out of fifty grand, and worst of all, her pride and self-esteem. "So, I told him I'd fix it with his sister, Lauren, to release fifty grand from the business."

"And during this time, Tracy Pilkinton, known to you as Snowball Merriman, had entered Larkhall. What was your immediate impression of her?"

"She was a trashy American movie star who we later found out had a line in porn films. She was given a cell on enhanced, without any real reason, probably because the PO's thought of her as a minor celebrity. She got very pally with her personal officer, Jim Fenner. She hadn't been in five minutes when she got made up to a red band and given a job in the library."

"And when was it you received the bouquet of flowers from your son?"

"Not long before the open day." Jo walked to the evidence bench and picked up something in a clear, sealed evidence bag. Holding it up in front of Yvonne she said,

"And is this the card you received with the flowers?"

"Yes, but when I received it, only the words at the top were on it."

"Please could you be more specific?" Prompted Jo.

"Only the words, "I love you mum", were on the card when I got the flowers."

"And could you read the rest of the words on the card, for the benefit of the jury."

"don't place your bets till the rod's in K's bag."

"And these words definitely weren't on the card the last time you saw it?"

"No." Returning the card to the evidence bench, Jo returned to the attack.

"If you might cast your mind back to June the fifteenth of last year, could you describe to the jury, the substance of the phone call you exchanged with your son in the prison Chaplain's office."

"I was in there with one of the visitors, Ajit Kahn. The phone rang, and when Ajit Kahn answered it, it was Ritchie. He was asking for Snowball Merriman."

"Can I just make it clear to the jury that before this phone call, you had no knowledge whatsoever that your son was in any way acquainted with Snowball Merriman."

"None at all. I had no idea that he knew her. When he figured out it wasn't Snowball on the phone, he ended the call. I'd heard his voice only too clearly. I did 1471 to get the number, it was Ritchie's mobile number. When I rang it, he answered the phone with the word Snowball. He was expecting it to be her."

"And how did this make you feel?"

"Bleedin angry," Answered Yvonne without a second thought. "It all began to fit in to place. Ritchie hadn't contacted me because he wanted to put the past behind us, he just wanted to get his hands on fifty grand, which knowing my luck is probably paying for his defence." Even John winced at the thought of this. Brian Cantwell began to look a little uncomfortable.

"Did the phone call from your son make you wonder what Snowball was up to?" Asked Jo.

"I guessed she was probably trying to escape, to meet up with Ritchie and go abroad with my money. Oh he was clever," She said, finally making herself look over at the dock, where Snowball sat cuffed to Di Barker on one side, and Ritchie sat in his wheelchair, cuffed to a male officer with officers in between them. "But he wasn't quite clever enough," Yvonne finished, giving Ritchie the kind of stare that let him know she'd won.

"I have no more questions my Lord," Said Jo, dreading what was coming from Cantwell.

Cantwell moved forward with too much of a spring in his step for Jo's liking.

"Mrs. Atkins," He began. "Exactly why were you in the prison chaplain's office with Ajit Kahn?" For once, John found himself wholeheartedly agreeing with Brian Cantwell, though he didn't think Jo would see it that way.

"Is that really relevant?" Asked Yvonne, saying the words Jo was about to utter.

"I think you should allow me to decide that," Quipped Cantwell, and when Yvonne wasn't forthcoming, he said,

"Mrs. Atkins, I must ask you to answer my question. Why were you alone, in a deserted office with one of the visitors for the open day." Yvonne was swiftly trying to think of an excuse that sounded vaguely authentic, but her seemingly endless supply of smart comments had deserted her.

"You must answer the question," Put in John, who definitely wanted to know the answer to this one, if only to satisfy his curiosity. Knowing she couldn't avoid it, Yvonne turned to face the judge and locked eyes with him.

"We were shagging," She said, as if they were two friends out for a drink, not judge and witness facing each other across a crowded courtroom. It seemed that almost everyone was trying to avoid breaking the silence. Everyone that is, except Cassie. Her comment of

"Typical," sent most of the public gallery in to fits of half smothered laughter. Giving Yvonne a little wink, John simply answered,

"I see." Cantwell, feeling thoroughly as if his limelight had been unceremoniously stolen, returned to his cross-examination.

"And will Ajit Kahn confirm your story?"

"He'll be hard put not to," Said Yvonne giving Cantwell a little smirk.

"Now that we have that piece of scurrilous gossip cleared up," Continued Cantwell, "Are you absolutely sure it was your son who was attempting to contact Snowball Merriman?" Yvonne looked at him in disgust.

"Of course I'm sure it was Ritchie. I am his mother for god's sake. I'd know that voice anywhere, full of charm, just like his father's."

"I'm not so sure you would know your son's voice anywhere, as you put it," Went on Cantwell, silkily. "You were estranged from him for over four years, were you not."

"No mother forgets her son's voice, no matter how long they don't speak," replied Yvonne.

"And just why were you so quick and eager to hand over fifty thousand pounds, to a son you hadn't seen for such a long time. Was it not perhaps because you felt guilty? Guilty for the way you and your husband had treated him?" Cursing him to hell and back, yet knowing he was right, Yvonne said,

"Are you going in for a plea of diminished responsibility or what. The reason I chose to give him fifty grand, has absolutely nothing to do with why he chose to help that murdering cow!" At the hint of verbal support from the public gallery, John cleared his throat.

"Mrs. Atkins, might I remind you that you are in court." Cantwell moved in again, but this time for the slaughter.

"You can hardly call yourself a good role model, can you. A mother who allows her son to be threatened, with being nailed to the warehouse floor, among other things? No wonder you felt guilty, and well you might. Is it really any wonder that your son found it so easy to become ensnared in such a disastrous scheme for revenge?" Jo was about to move forward to launch in to her long list of objections, but Yvonne got there before her.

"How dare you," She said, all the anger and hurt clearly showing in her face. "Don't even think about laying the responsibility for Ritchie becoming involved with that evil tart at my door. He chose to do everything he's ever done, including screwing me out of fifty grand and trying to fit up Karen Betts for the bomb." Cantwell changed tack to try and fluster her.

"And how do we know that it wasn't you who wrote the extra words on that card?"

"Because I bleedin said so," Shouted Yvonne, losing any hint of decorum she might have had.

"And just how trust worthy is the word of an Atkins?" Cantwell said.

"You should know," Came back Yvonne. "After all, you're defending one." There was utter silence when she said this. As if going for damage limitation, Brian Cantwell moved back to the defence bench.

"No more questions, Mr. Cantwell?" Asked Deed calmly.

"No, My lord," Came Cantwell's subdued reply.

John concluded the afternoon's proceedings by saying,

"Court is adjourned till ten tomorrow morning."

Yvonne's anger had dissipated by the time she left the courtroom. Jo caught up with her outside.

"I'm sorry about that," Jo said.

"Not your fault," Replied Yvonne matter-of-factly. "It ain't your fault that Ritchie's barrister's a wanker of the highest order. He didn't sound like he was trying to defend Snowball all that much though."

"I think he might be going for damage limitation," Said Jo. "Let's face it, Ritchie is looking at a far shorter sentence, if he's convicted, and Ritchie also probably has the right contacts to make Brian Cantwell afraid of him if he doesn't get the right result."

"You're on the ball," Said Yvonne, which was probably the best complement Jo had ever had from someone like Yvonne Atkins. "You want to be careful of him, though," She went on. "don't forget I probably know most of the other witnesses better than you do. He'll make mincemeat of Grayling, not that he doesn't deserve it, but it might not do much for your case."

"I'll bare it in mind," Said Jo entirely grateful for a warning of this kind. Then catching sight of John, Jo excused herself from Yvonne and moved towards him with the speed and aim of a cat following its prey.

"How could you," Was her opening rejoinder. John looked at her slightly surprised.

"How could I what?" He said to her.

"You just let Cantwell tare Yvonne Atkins to shreds. That wasn't on, John, and you know it."

"For a start," He said, his own anger beginning to rise. "It looked to me like she was doing perfectly well on her own, and second, you are completely out of order approaching me like this."

"Oh, when should I approach you, in bed?"

"There are worse places," He said with a little smile.

"this is no joke, John," She said, clearly still riled.

"Jo, listen. It hasn't damaged your evidence, and Yvonne Atkins needs no looking after from me. She's quite capable of fighting her own battles."

"That's hardly the point," Said Jo, beginning to calm down.

"She managed to ruffle Cantwell's feathers and question his judgement in acting for their defence in the process. That isn't going to make either him or his clients look good in the eyes of the jury. She did you a favour, Jo. Stop worrying."

Having heard most of Jo's side of this argument, as it had been given in a fairly loud voice, Yvonne grinned. So, the judge and the prosecuting barrister had more in common than their profession did they. She filed it away as a little fact to be used later if it should ever come in handy. Moving towards where Cassie, Roisin, Lauren and Karen were waiting for her, Yvonne almost stopped in her tracks when she saw Karen's face. She was extremely pale and looked like a scared rabbit about to flee at the slightest provocation. Lauren came forward to hug her.

"Mum, you did brilliantly. Really gave that barrister what for." Yvonne gave her daughter a quick squeeze and looked at Karen. Disentangling herself from Lauren, she moved towards her.

"Are you all right?" She asked Karen.

"No," Was Karen's only reply. "I need to get out of here. I just wanted to know how you got on."

"I had a bit of a fight with the defence barrister, and I think I made Jo Mills feel a bit superfluous, but yeah, not too bad. You look terrible, what's happened?"

"Nothing," Karen said quietly.

"And I'm a catholic priest," Replied Yvonne succinctly.

"Really," Said Karen, "I just need to get out of here and have a large drink." Seeing it would be pointless to press the issue, Yvonne simply said,

"Well, if you feel like a chat later, I'm in all evening."

"I might take you up on that," Said Karen, knowing without doubt that she had too. She had to tell Yvonne about everything now. Come hell or high water, Fenner had made that crystal clear.

Part Twelve

Karen had always thought she could handle any situation but, as she watched Yvonne head out to the courtroom to testify, she suddenly felt incredibly vulnerable as the one human being that she felt she could rely on was temporarily away from her side and she was going to be stuck in the same room with Jim bloody Fenner. If there was one thing she was sure of, he could be totally relied on to be utterly unreliable and totally dishonest. Yet he was as important in the trial as anyone and she felt she had to restrain herself from lashing out at his innuendoes and sour jibes. Fennner, selfish as he was, could not begin to comprehend Karen's ingrained sense of the larger picture.

"You and Atkins, eh. Would never have guessed it." Fenner leered at her."What's with you women governors at Larkhall that you go moist at the sight of a cold blooded criminal?"

Karen lit a cigarette without answering and took in puffs of nicotine deep down into her lungs. One day she'll cut the cigarettes down and go on a health kick but the time right now most certainly was not right.

"If you must know, Jim, I was giving Yvonne a bit of comfort before she goes up against the defence barrister. She's going to have a hard time of it what with facing her own son in the dock and testifying against him. If you've done your homework, you'll have figured that one out."

"So it was all innocent, like Stewart and Wade were." leered Fenner.

"You keep bringing up that old chestnut" sighed Karen wearily."Leave it out won't you. In any case you'll have a few tough questions to face when you get asked about the favours you did for Merriman, like Shell Dockley before her. Seems as if you need to watch your own back before stabbing other people in theirs."

Fenner's face turned red with anger especially as his favourite phrase was used against him. That dangerous glitter made his eyes burn and his mouth set tight and thin lipped. That, indeed was what worried him. He wanted to see that bitch Merriman go down for making a fool of him and Atkins for being that gangster's moll's son and for shagging Karen when by rights she was still his. It was all an unfortunate misunderstanding which had got out of control. The fact that she could even think of going to the police really got to him and hurt him. He also had that maddening feeling that the woman he was used to smooching up and keeping sweet was dangerously out of hand. She had wanted to see him behind bars for that unfortunate incident at his bedsit even though she didn't go ahead with it. No woman would ever get the better of him as far as he was concerned.

"Now listen to me, bitch." Fenner snarled though keeping his tones low."You better get into your head that in this trial we work as a team, me and you like it should be not you and Atkins. If we get our stories right we can nail the pair of them, Merriman and Ritchie Atkins, so tight that the nick they go to might as well as throw away the key." He hurled the words into Karen's face from inches away which brought back horrible memories of that other night months ago which she had done her best to forget. But there she was, trapped inside a bare interview room in an ancient court building where the world went on outside, even in open court. The silence that surrounded them might as well have taken them miles from any human contact instead of yards. Karen shrank back in horror from Fenner because he had touched a nerve that hit almost the only vulnerable spot that she had.

"You are going to go into court and you are going to testify that, as wing Governor you authorised Merriman's prison duty in the library. I told you that she had a collection of books in her room about movie stars and had a real interest in books. I was the personal officer, you were Wing Governor. We stand together on this one. This way that bastard isn't going to take us both to the cleaners."

"Us," Karen asked in total derision. More like you."

"Because if you don't play ball with me, a few things just might come out in court that you, Karen 'politically correct' Betts wouldn't like the defence barrister to hear." He gave an evil leer and the dimly lit room threw upward shading shadows on his face as if in some sinister horror film. He paused a bit to let Karen sweat and to wonder what he would say next. The naked exercise of power of Fenner over another vulnerable human being was something that he most enjoyed feeling.

"It all depends if those high and mighty people in their gowns and wigs believe you. If they don't believe you, you're nothing. Let's see, it might come out how generous you are with your favours to men, first me, then Waddle, then me again and then, wait a minute, to the very man who is sitting in the dock. Wouldn't look very good to the jury."

"I'm not on trial, you bastard. There's a perfectly good explanation for everything I did.

Not that a bastard like you would know it. You, Jim Fenner, who'll screw around with any woman with a short enough skirt." Karen fired back at him though the note of desperation in her tone was not lost on Fenner.

"And then there's the matter of the so called sexual assault on you. Not very convincing when you back down at the first sign that you'll have to swear an oath in court…….just like you're going to have to do right now."

The nightmare of the past few months was cruelly dragged back for her to relive in all it's horror, not to just remember. Karen closed her eyes to shut out the sight of Fenner's face.

Suddenly, there was a shuffling sound and banging doors, as Yvonne's testimony was complete. In a real fever of desperation, her mind grabbed at the vision of Yvonne's face and that she would be out of this psychologically bolted and barred room. She wanted her freedom desperately and she ran blindly for the exit and out into the cooler air of the spacious court building. She felt clammy with fear and wanted desperately to be amongst those who believed in her.

There stood Cassie well dressed in her blue trouser suit chatting to Roisin whose quick smile and physical closeness expressed all the love and light between the two of them. And Lauren, whom she had seen from time to time as a surly disrespectful visitor, cast her eyes questioningly on her with that look of concern that was so Yvonne.Her feelings were written all over her face but this time, the three women, two of whom she'd locked up for a living, were never so welcome.

"You'll think on what I've said, Karen." Fenner murmured. The relative light of the court transformed him into just another man in anonymous prison uniform who slunk for the exit. With a huge sigh of relief, Karen spotted Yvonne who was last in the steady stream of people funnelling out of the court chamber. She couldn't wait to get out of the court building.

In the melee of people in the high domed court foyer, Brian Cantwell pushed forwards in a self important way furious about being outsmarted. He was headed for his room in chambers where he could down a generous amount of the bottle of port and in his dreams, fantasise that he was still the red-hot barrister of his ambitions and dreams. Somehow, half drunk, things looked a lot better. It was accepted by his wife whose thoughts were occupied by the latest drama at the Women's Institute that his career demanded that he socialise with his colleagues in chambers till late hours and this was very convenient to her as the man could never keep up with the subtleties of who was whose best friend. He was always a year behind, poor thing. Men from her experience were like that and never understood the little pecking orders which her mind was attuned to. It gave her something to do in her day besides planning the latest Bring and Buy.

Part Thirteen

Lauren was watching Eastenders when the doorbell rang later that evening. As can happen so often in August, the rain had suddenly appeared, transforming what had been a pleasant sunny day in to a torrential downpour. On opening the front door, she was greeted by the sight of a thoroughly drenched Karen. Moving in to the hall, Karen shook her wet hair out of her face.

"You look like a drowned rat," Said Lauren beginning to laugh.

"Yes, you wouldn't think it'd been sunny this morning. Is Yvonne in?"

"Sure." Lauren led Karen towards a carpeted passage that led off the hall. "She's probably listening to some of that country crap she calls music, all guitars and South American drawl." Karen followed Lauren passed a couple of closed doors, to one at the end, which led in to what Yvonne liked to think of as her bit of personal space. In dimensions it was very similar to the lounge at the other end of the house where Lauren had been watching television. An enormous sofa full of cushions faced the large fireplace, with an equally cavernous armchair to one side. Karen also took in a stereo, which was currently playing something just as Lauren had described. There was a bookcase, which looked to be stocked with paperbacks ranging from trashy to crime, and a large desk in the corner where Yvonne was sitting, simultaneously sorting through bills and e-mails on a small computer.

"Mum," Lauren broke in to Yvonne's concentration. "Someone to see you." Yvonne looked up and on seeing Karen, said,

"Jesus, did you take a dip in the pool on the way here?" Karen smiled.

"It's throwing it down. Are you busy?"

"Nothing that can't wait," Said Yvonne closing down the computer. Lauren had disappeared back to Eastenders. Trigger, who had been sprawled in his favourite place under the window, ambled over to Karen and leaned his head against her thigh. "Bloody useless guard dog, he is," Said Yvonne grinning. "Didn't even hear the doorbell. He's getting lazy in his old age." Karen ran her hand over his head.

"How old is he?" She asked.

"Nearly twelve. He's doing well for an Alsatian." As well as being full of all Yvonne's favourite pastimes, this room was also liberally dotted with pictures of dogs. The one that had pride of place over the mantelpiece was an enlargement of a magnificent blue lurcher. Noticing Karen looking at this, Yvonne said,

"You shouldn't have favourites, but she was mine. Would you like a drink?" She asked, gesturing to the bottle of Scotch on top of a small sideboard.

"Please," Replied Karen. "I need some Dutch courage."

"Is this about what happened today?" Yvonne asked, pouring a generous amount in to each glass.

"In a way," Karen acquiesced. "There's something you need to know, about why I took up with Ritchie in the first place." Handing Karen her glass, Yvonne moved to one end of the sofa and Karen took the other.

"What exactly did Fenner say to you?" Asked Yvonne lighting a cigarette.

"He pointed out that I wouldn't want it coming out in court how much of a slag I am."

"But you're not," Said Yvonne without a second thought.

"That isn't quite what you said when you found out about me and Ritchie."

"Well, I don't doubt that you'd have felt pretty similar if you discovered Ross was shagging someone ten years older than him. Besides, that was before I found out what a bastard Ritchie is."

"Jim threatened that if I didn't cover up for him in court, try and remove any blame from him about Snowball getting undeserved access to the library and her interlibrary loans, he'd make the jury well aware of my liking for making fake allegations."

"Again," Said Yvonne, "You don't."

"That's not quite how Grayling and area see it, and it definitely isn't how the jury would see it."

"So, what allegation did you make against Fenner that area couldn't do anything about?"

"Yvonne, this isn't easy for me. Letting someone in isn't how I do things these days."

"That's obvious," Said Yvonne gently, realising that whatever was coming was something Karen would never have spoken about if she hadn't been forced to.

"I was raped," saying it like that had made it seem to Karen almost like she was talking about someone else. Saying, he raped me, would have been even more personal, which she knew was ridiculous.

"Jesus. I always knew Fenner was an evil bastard but that just proves he's rotten to the core. When did it happen?"

"A while before all of this started, not long after Crystal's baby was born."

"What happened?" Karen looked ready to run.

"You don't need to know specifics, Yvonne."

"Maybe not, but you've clearly never talked about it."

"When did you become so wise?" Asked Karen, making a feeble attempt at changing the subject.

"It's something that place does to you," Yvonne replied. "You learn a lot about human nature, enough to know that if something as emotionally crippling as being raped is kept inside an never allowed to come out, it eats away at you till you go mad."

"The one and only time I went through every detail of that night was an utter disaster."

"I'm assuming that's when you told the police about it."

"Yes, but as I didn't have any evidence, they refused to take it further."

"Why not start from the beginning?" Asked Yvonne, sensing that Karen was avoiding this on purpose.

"Perhaps because that's the hardest part." Yvonne got up and refilled their glasses. Karen looked like a deer caught in the headlights.

"Do you remember that day when he stormed off the wing after you made that quip about him and Grayling?"

"Vaguely," Said Yvonne, "But there were so many days like that."

"I tracked him down to the B and B where he was staying, and I went to see him. I've never seen him so depressed. He kept pouring me drinks." Karen stopped, as if prevented by some impenetrable force. Yvonne reached out to take her hand, but there was such an aura of "keep off" resonating from Karen that she withdrew. Karen was staring in to the eyes of the lurcher in the painting. It seemed to provide her with an anchor, something to prevent her from looking in to Yvonne's face to see the scorn that she was sure must be there. She was a mixture of desperation to maintain the barriers she had so irrevocably erected after that night, and a craving to let go of the cords that were holding her senses so tort that they would surely snap. What Yvonne could feel in watching this woman whom she had come to look on as one of the dearest, closest friends she'd ever had, was the pain, anger and fear that were coming off Karen in waves. All Yvonne could do was watch. She had no place breaking in to Karen's torment. Allowing the walls to crumble, or building them even higher was Karen's choice, nobody else's. Eventually, Karen's far too brittle shell began to crack, not unlike an egg that has been left too long to boil.

"I was so stupid," She said, with a strangled softness that only threatened a further loss of the reins.

"Why?" Yvonne tentatively asked, almost feeling like she was breaking in on a personal viewing of the mind's uncremated remains.

"I got in to bed with him," Karen replied, the tears beginning to slide almost regretfully down her face. "I actually got in to bloody bed with him. Do you have any idea how much I loathe myself for doing that?"

"Tell me," Encouraged Yvonne gently.

"If I hadn't done what I did, he wouldn't have assumed I was offering what I wasn't." Yvonne suddenly noticed an odd thing about Karen, crying made hardly any difference to her voice. Even though Karen's body was clearly fighting against the constriction of too many unshed tears, her voice had hardly altered, except to display the pain and self-loathing she so clearly felt. Also sensing that something to hold on too might not go amiss, Yvonne moved slowly forward, gently putting her arms around Karen. She gave Karen plenty of time to back away, but the presence of Yvonne's gentle arms and unthreatening body seemed to give Karen the permission she needed to bare her entire soul. Karen made very little sound as she cried. Her body simply shook in Yvonne's soothing embrace.

"Sweetheart, listen to me," Yvonne cajoled. "What Fenner did to you wasn't your fault. So what if you ended up in bed with him. That doesn't give him the right to do what he did. You said no, and no means no. You just have to start believing that."

"When you have no-one to publicly blame, it all becomes a bit internalised," Said a muffled voice from the region of Yvonne's shoulder. Karen couldn't believe she was doing this. She hadn't been this close to a woman since her mother was alive, and probably not even then if she was honest with herself. She'd known Yvonne as more than an inmate for about a year now, but never had they touched on anything so deep and soul destroying. Though if having your son do what Ritchie had done to Yvonne wasn't bad for the heart, Karen didn't know what was.

"I'm sorry," Karen said softly. Yvonne raised Karen's face to meet hers, and looking at her with the famous Atkins stare, she said,

"Let's get one thing straight, you have absolutely nothing to be sorry for. Do I make myself clear?" Karen gave her a watery smile.

"It might take a bit of working on," she said, looking Yvonne straight in the eye for the first time that evening.

"Trust me," Said Yvonne, "I intend to. You've got to start believing in the good things in life again."

"And there we come back to one of the things in life that isn't good right now," Said Karen, leaning her head against Yvonne.

"You mean Ritchie," It was a rhetorical question.

"We've never really talked about men, have we?"

"Apart from how useless most of them are, no," Said Yvonne matter-of-factly. "But then as you've been single since Ritchie, and I've been single since I got out, sex has never arisen as a general topic of conversation. Why?"

"After Fenner," Karen began hesitantly, "That side of mine and Mark's relationship was a total disaster. Sleeping with someone who knows how weak and pathetic you are capable of being isn't good." Yvonne gently rubbed Karen's arm as if to give her strength. "Mark couldn't get passed the fact that I had willingly gone to see Fenner and got even remotely close to him. I think part of him despised me for that. The rest of him was all to aware that I probably wasn't enjoying anything we did."

"And you insisted on sleeping with Mark to try and prove that what Fenner had done didn't matter."

"Something like that. So, when Ritchie came along, I thought it was my one chance to put Mark, Fenner and the entire nightmare behind me. Ritchie didn't know anything about me. He didn't know what Fenner had done and he didn't have any idea what I was like normally, which meant he didn't know if I faked it or not." Yvonne gave Karen a little squeeze as if to demonstrate the pain she was feeling on Karen's behalf.

"And did this amazing piece of philosophy work?"

"Not so you'd notice," Karen replied. "It just made me feel more cheap than I already did."

"Karen, you are not cheap, nor a slag, nor anything else you've attributed to yourself tonight." Yvonne had said this so vehemently that she hadn't realised that tears were beginning to run down her own face. She was only alerted to their presence when Karen lifted a hand and wiped away a tear with her finger.

"Yvonne, please don't cry."

"You are a very attractive, very talented woman with an enormous amount to offer anyone. You are worth far more than my useless shit of a son." They sat in companionable silence, with the gentle tones of Alison Krauss coming from the stereo, and the room only lit by candles. Yvonne always preferred the softer, more seductive lighting of candles to the glare of an electric source, even if it did have a dimmer switch. Once the tears had gone, neither of them felt inclined to let go of the other. They seemed to derive some strength from each other's proximity, which was certainly a new experience for both of them.

"What are you going to do?" Asked Yvonne, eventually breaking the silence. Karen lifted her head from its place on Yvonne's shoulder and looked at her quizzically. "In court tomorrow," clarified Yvonne, "After what Fenner threatened this afternoon."

"I don't know," Said Karen. "And I probably won't know till I'm on the stand."

When Yvonne eventually let Karen out of the front door later that night, the rain had stopped and drops of water glistened on trees and flowers. Yvonne stood on the front door step and hugged Karen tightly to her.

"You stay safe," She said, "Promise me."

"I will if you will," Said Karen hugging her back. As she walked to her car, it dawned on Karen that Yvonne had used the words she would have used on a fellow inmate when she was in Larkhall. As she drove slowly towards home, she decided that this more than anything was what had cemented her friendship with Yvonne so irrevocably, perhaps even more so than how Yvonne had reacted to everything she had learnt that evening. Karen expected to feel awkward at how long they had stayed so close together, but she didn't. It was simply a mark of how much better they now knew each other, a sign that they really were equals.

Part Fourteen

John Deed made his stately way from the court building to the chambers, musing on the day's court proceedings to date. He was aware that he had given way to that compulsive curiosity for little details that added to his outrageous reputation when he had pursued the question of Yvonne's motives for being closeted with Mr Ajit Khan. It was the mantra of 'sticking to the point' which had been chanted in educated Oxford accents from when he was first called to the bar that provoked that rebellious spirit within him to break out from time to time. He had been long trained in following the geometric patters of the law and admiring the austere sculpturework but put a social convention up before him and his taste veered sharply towards the surrealists.

The only problem was that Jo Mills didn't see things the same way. He knew well that Jo's recent outburst of anger at him was merely the opening shot in a long cannonade if she had the time, space and privacy to let fly. Despite all this, he felt that, perhaps he had gone too far and that he had some making up to do on this occasion.

Mrs Atkins took his fancy as being quite an attractive woman who gave a pretty good account of herself to that buffoon Cantwell and she had a definite twinkle in her eye and was very quick to tune in on male admiration. He feared that he may find that feeling not being reciprocated by her after letting Cantwell go on the attack without restraining him as he knew he could have done. The woman's nerve and steel sharp mind impressed him as her verbal swordthrust "After all, you're defending one" went through Cantwell's guard like lightning like a masterstroke. Cantwell, getting overconfident, had, for that fraction of a second, left that opening. From today's showing already, this trial was proving to be interesting and complex.

John Deed parked his car outside the red bricked mews cottage but from time immemorial, was accustomed to take the rough side cinder path at the right hand side of the line of cottages, and turn first right into her garden at the back which shared the common access path to that row of cottages. Jo Mills had seen him coming and was waiting for him like an avenging angel, having predicted with faultless accuracy to within ten minutes as to when John Deed would arrive in his car. He had changed into his more modest garments of black trousers and open necked white shirt and braces, which was an affectation of his youth. This time, Jo was not her usual welcoming self as she shot out of the back door with a large empty wineglass in her hand.

"You will be doubtless aware that I have been visited by Ian Rochester and Lawrence James and been subjected to the usual third degree." John Deed spoke in his emotionless tone just before Jo Mills could carry on where she had left off.

"And…." Jo started.

"They appealed to me most unethically to take up the unfortunate case of the American photographer whom Tracy Pilkinton stabbed to death. Have you heard of any rumours of Ian having any far-flung relations in Florida whose death I was instructed to avenge and any money he might inherit? Ian Rochester on a mission of mercy and appealing to my better nature does have the effect of making my stomach rather queasy."

"Am I supposed to sympathise with you after what you let that Cantwell animal inflict on my witness or act as nurse for your ailments or both?" Jo Mills stormed at him.

"Was I asking you to?" John Deed asked Jo Mills very rhetorically and unfairly as he knew very well that he had exactly that effect on her. "I always had a bit of a weakness for women in uniforms of all descriptions. I merely wanted to mention that the Guardians of the Nations Ethics have not failed to overlook the chance to favour me with their good advice."

"That is not the point," Jo raged, wondering how she could let this impossible man run rings round her while she was more than capable of setting steel toothed logical man traps for male barristers and waiting for them to blunder on and for the jaws of the trap to snap shut on their ankles. But it was because John Deed is John Deed and because of their long standing on off affair, she realised ruefully in a slightly calmer frame of mind.

"Why did you let Cantwell go in to the attack on my witness without one whisper from you. I demand an explanation." Jo eventually said when she had remembered her train of thought and with her left hand, flicking a curl of fair hair that had become dishevelled and hung down in front of her eye.

"You did tell me, my dear, of my failings in assuming the role of judge, council for the defence and council for the prosecution all in one. I took heed of your advice but I may have overcompensated in my concern for you." John Deed replied sheepishly." But if you feel that I went too far, then………."

Jo let out a wordless sound of total frustration and exasperation. The man was impossible.

"I know you, John Deed. First you habitually cramp my style in court, totally and utterly and then, for once, you go to the totally opposite extreme just to drive me mad." Jo reached for her bag and fumbled feverishly round for a cigarette, clicked the lighter several times which refused to spark and threw both items down on the grass."let me tell you, John Deed if ever you……….." she started to say, wagging her right forefinger at him to ram home the point she was making.

…………."I shall be forced to, forced to…….." Jo repeated her sentence an hour later.

"What, my dear." A naked John Deed asked an equally naked and more dishevelled Jo Mills in the warmth and comfort of Jo's bed after they had made love and Jo rediscovered the reasons that brought her back to this impossible man. Nothing he had said or done tonight had changed her professional judgement, she supposed to herself.

Jo slipped out of bed to find her black leather handbag which she had dropped, smashing her best makeup powder in the hurry to make their way to bed. She sighed. This wasn't the first time this had happened. The blank expression on John Deed's face did not deceive for one minute, Jo's not very brain taxing deduction that if John Deed had a preference, he could decide which sort of appearance he preferred Jo to make before him, right now or earlier today.

"We can't keep meeting like this, John." Jo murmured, tracing a line along his left eyebrow.

"You mean the spies are out. Ian Rochester will be poised up a flight of ladders with binoculars and long distance camera. Yes…….I can see him as a peeping Tom. You heard the other day what I told you of Rochester minor at the dear old school that he bores us about."

Jo let out a laugh today, the first laugh she had had that day, found her lighter and cigarettes which she had retrieved from the garden and with mock modesty, made her way back to bed.

"You will look after yourself in court in future. Damn it, you know what I mean, John." Jo replied with a muted touch of exasperation and real concern for the man. A little bit of her reacted the same way when, as a bright and observant child, she got to act as mother to her own father whose health she worried about at his coughing bout as he went out to work and the tiredness in his eyes.

"I shall behave myself impeccably," John replied in crisp staccato tones appearing to emphasize the last word. In reality, she worried about the man more as he got a perverse thrill in flaunting his unorthodoxies before the increasingly Politically Correct and conformist Lord Chancellor's Department.

Accordingly, she ran her fingers around his shoulder blades and gave way to the illicit thrill which had always added spice to their lovemaking as John moved over her.

"At least Yvonne Atkins has someone to help her, Karen Betts." Mumbled Jo into John Deed's shoulder many hours later in the dim light. " Although in fact from seeing Karen Betts comfort her, I couldn't help wondering if it was more to it than a Wing Governor giving professional support to a prisoner before going onto the stand."

"Rubbish," John Deed sleepily replied. "That's for the TV dramas."

Like the normal professional relationship between Circuit Judge and Barrister, Jo smiled knowingly to herself.

Part Fifteen

Yvonne arrived at the court earlier than necessary on Tuesday morning, having told Lauren there was something she wanted to do first, and to meet her there. She made her way to the witness room, praying that no-one would be there but him. Last night, Yvonne had shed tears over what Karen had suffered at the hands of Jim Bastard Fenner, but this morning Yvonne had woken in a boiling rage and with the resolve to make sure he never did anything of the kind again. Yvonne had no intention of doing Fenner any direct harm. For a start, she didn't think Karen would thank her for trying to fight a battle that wasn't her own, and second, not even for Karen was Yvonne prepared to consider another stretch inside. But Yvonne hadn't cornered the market in threats for nothing. She moved with the stealth of a cat down the corridor to the room where they'd all been incarcerated yesterday. With an excuse already formed on her lips, she silently pushed open the door.

When Fenner turned and saw Yvonne standing in the doorway, he said,

"What're you doing here, Atkins?" Yvonne didn't reply immediately. She slowly moved towards him, stalking him like a lioness ready to defend her mate. Seeing her menacing glare attempting to nail him to the spot, he stepped back from her. Yvonne kept advancing until she had him backed up against the wall. Standing as close to him as her revulsion would allow, she fixed him with the stare that had brought so many men to their knees. Noticing the beads of sweat on his forehead, Yvonne asked in a tone that was both gentle and threatening,

"Are you scared, Fenner?" When he didn't answer, she added,

"Because you sure as hell should be after what I learned about you last night."

"Been crying rape, has she?" Yvonne caught him with a Karate chop to the throat, that had it been as hard as she would have liked, would have crushed his windpipe. But her wish wasn't to get herself a life sentence, merely to shut him up so she could talk uninterrupted.

"Now, you listen to me, Fenner. I'm going to talk, and you're going to stand there like a good little boy and listen. I'm not going to ask you why you did what you did to Karen, because the obvious answer is that you've never been able to keep your dick in your trousers. You haven't learnt to realise when it just isn't wanted, have you Fenner. First, Dockley, then Rachel Hicks, then Helen Stewart, and now Karen."

"Why, think you'll have better success with her, do you?" He croaked. Yvonne simply gave him a withering look, not giving his retort the time of day.

"My problem is," Said Yvonne, almost conversationally. "How do I make sure you don't ever do that to her again. How do I make you realise once and for all that forcing that excuse for a dick inside another woman, and Karen in particular, isn't the way to go."

"Why are you champion of her cause all of a sudden, Atkins?" Yvonne had had enough of being civil by this time. Grabbing hold of his tie, she forced the knot up as far as it would go, gradually cutting off his air supply.

"Just get this in to your thick skull, Fenner. You lay one more finger on Karen Betts, and you'll be finding out what's on the bottom of the Thames. Do I make myself clear?" Watching for the brief nod of his head, Yvonne let go of Fenner and watched him sink to the floor as he got his breath back. Strolling nonchalantly to the door, she turned and as a parting shot, said over her shoulder,

"It's as easy as clicking my fingers, Fenner. I could have you wiped off the face of the Earth in a matter of seconds. Don't you forget that."

"You really think you're all powerful, don't you, Atkins."

"Fenner. Unless you want to find out just how powerful I am these days, you'll go in to that court and tell the truth like a good little boy, because lies always catch up with us in the end, don't they."

"You want to ask Karen Betts about telling the truth."

"I mean it, Fenner. Keep your hands off Karen, and tell the jury the truth about your little dealings with Merriman, and I'll leave you alone. You even think of double-crossing me, and it'll be one of the last thoughts you'll have."

When Karen walked in to the foyer of the Old Bailey a little while later, she saw Yvonne, sitting reading the morning's copy of The Guardian.

"Anything interesting in there?" She asked, sitting down. Yvonne looked over the top of the paper at her and grinned.

"Only how I pissed off the defense barrister yesterday." She handed the paper over to Karen. Emblazoned on the front page was the headline, Former Gangster's Moll Tangles With Defense QC. This was followed by a fairly accurate account of exactly how far Yvonne had gone in questioning the judgment of the defense council, Brian Cantwell. Karen laughed huskily.

"Shame I didn't see that," She said, handing back the paper.

"Had any more thoughts about this morning?" Asked Yvonne, returning them to the issue of Fenner's ultimatum of yesterday.

"There isn't anything else I can do, is there," Said Karen. "I've got to tell the truth about his involvement with Merriman's sudden rise in status. Perjury is something I can certainly do without."

"We'll all be there in the gallery, you know, and you don't know that Fenner would follow through with his threat."

"Oh, he might, if he thought it was worth his while."

"Well," Said Yvonne, keeping the hint of certainty from her voice, "He might realise which side his bread's buttered before it's too late."

When Karen stood on the stand, and was asked to swear on the bible, she looked briefly up in to the public gallery where sat the four supporting figures of Yvonne, Lauren, Cassie and Roisin. Taking note of the hint of wariness in Karen's expression, Jo moved forward to begin her questioning.

"Ms Betts. I would like you to begin, by describing to the court, your brief liaison with the defendant, Ritchie Atkins." Karen took a deep breath and began.

"I first met Ritchie Atkins, when he came to visit his mother, in May of last year. I observed him across the visiting room and you could say my response to his attractiveness was immediate."

"And you saw no problem in pursuing a relationship with Ritchie Atkins?"

"Not at all. Just because his mother had been convicted of a criminal offence, didn't mean that Ritchie himself was of a similar persuasion." In the public gallery, Yvonne winced, though she knew this was the best way for Karen to explain it.

"And did you do the sensible thing of informing your superiors of your relationship with Ritchie Atkins?"

"Yes, at the first convenient opportunity."

"And what was the reaction of your boss, Neil Grayling?"

"He said, if you want me to slap your wrists for fancying a younger man, I won't do it. If you want me to tell you not to see an Atkins, I can't do it."

"Those were his exact words?"

"Yes. He made it clear that I wasn't jeopardising my professional integrity by having an affair with the son of one of the women I locked up."

"And you saw Ritchie Atkins on how many occasions?"

"Two. Once before I went on holiday, and once, the night before the fire."

"And did you inform his mother of your relationship?"


"And what, would you say was her reaction?"

"She wasn't exactly enthusiastic about it." Yvonne frowned to herself, remembering all the things she'd said to Karen on that day.

"And when did you first become aware of the existence of the gun?"

"It was discovered to be in my handbag on the day of the fire."

"Who found it?"

"Principle officer Jim Fenner."

"And why did he think to look in your handbag?" Here it comes, thought Karen, knowing that Fenner would crucify her for this.

"Jim Fenner had built up something of an alliance with one of the defendants, Snowball Merriman. he had made her up to a redband while I was on holiday." Jo held up a hand.

"Could you please explain to the jury exactly what being made up to a redband means?"

"A redband, or a trusted prisoner, is an inmate who is trusted in areas of the prison not usually inhabited by inmates. They are routinely given the jobs with the highest pay which they see as a privilege."

"And is it usual for a prisoner, who has only been an inmate for less than a week, to be given such privileges?"

"No, not at all."

"Would you have sanctioned this rise in status for Snowball Merriman had you not been away on holiday at the time?"

"Certainly not."

"So, what extra privileges were sanctioned by principle officer Fenner?"

"She was automatically given her own cell on enhanced and she was given the job of the library redband. This gave her almost sole access to the library and its contents. As part of this privilege, she was also given access to the interlibrary loan scheme, enabling her to have books sent in from outside sources."

"And all this took place within her first week of residence at HMP Larkhall."

"Yes." Brian Cantwell rose and moved forward to address the judge.

"My lord, might I remind the prosecution that principle officer Fenner is neither on trial nor in court to confirm or deny these allegations?" Before John could reply, Jo asserted herself.

"My Lord, I am simply attempting to make the jury aware of the cunning and sheer acting ability of the Defendant."

"Please keep to the matter in hand, Mrs. Mills." Jo returned to Karen.

"Ms Betts, please will you describe to the court, what Snowball Merriman did, in return for her status as an enhanced prisoner?"

"She informed principle officer Fenner, that a break-out was to take place, and that Yvonne Atkins and Ritchie Atkins had conspired to plant the gun in my handbag, in order to bring suspicion on me."

"What happened when Jim Fenner told you of this?"

"He grabbed my handbag and rummaged through it till he found the gun." Jo moved to the evidence bench and retrieved a sealed evidence bag. Returning to stand in front of Karen, she asked,

"Is this the gun that was found in your handbag, and which was later used to force you to drive Snowball Merriman to meet her co-defendant?" Karen recoiled from the sight of the gun, as if from a slap. Her reaction to seeing the gun again didn't go unnoticed by either Jo or John.

"Yes," Said Karen, attempting to get her voice under control. "that's the gun."

"And because I know the defense will ask you this," Said Jo, giving Cantwell a little smirk, "Are you absolutely sure that it was this gun that was used on both occasions?"

"I'm as certain as I can be," Replied Karen, admiring Jo's tactics. "But then I'm not exactly au fait with the size and make of guns, but the circumstances in which I saw this one give me reason to believe that I wouldn't be likely to forget it." Well put, thought Jo. This one would have made a good barrister instead of working for the crumbling empire that represented the prison service.

"You seem a trifle wary of the gun, Ms Betts."

"Wouldn't you be if you'd had that thing rammed in to your back and been forced to drive that woman to meet her accomplice?" Karen said this with such vehemence that everyone, including the jury, were left in no doubt as to how scared Karen had been.

"And now, would you tell the court about when the defendant, snowball Merriman, took you hostage, and forced you to drive her to a rendezvous with the other defendant, Ritchie Atkins."

"All the inmates had been out for exercise. They'd all just come in from the yard, and I was walking back towards my office. I was accosted by Snowball Merriman. She pushed the barrel of the gun in to my back. She said, I've found the missing gun, Miss. I'm a civilian worker, and you're giving me a lift to the station. This was her ploy for getting passed the gatelodge."

"It was this gun?"

"Yes! For the last bloody time, it was this gun!"

"Mrs. Mills, you've gone far enough with this line of questioning," John's voice reverberated around the court.

"My Lord, I am simply trying to avoid Ms Betts being put through a similar barrage by the defense council."

"I understand your plan of attack, Mrs. Mills, but your witness is clearly distressed and I insist that you not pursue this particular line of questioning any longer. Do I make myself clear?"

"Crystal, My Lord. Ms Betts, what happened after you were accosted by the defendant, Snowball Merriman."

"She forced me to tell the gate lodge that I was with one of the teachers from the education department. She made me walk to my car. When we got in the car, she grabbed my mobile and rang the other defendant, Ritchie Atkins."

"My Lord, I have submitted the mobile phone records to show that this call took place, 3C in your bundle. Ms Betts, what did she say to Ritchie Atkins?"

"She said, I got your old shag to give me a lift." Yvonne winced when she heard this.

"And then what happened?" Asked Jo.

"We arrived at her Rendezvous with Ritchie, and she forced me out of the car. She had the gun aimed at me all the time. She seemed to be on a high, getting a real kick out of having that much power over me. It excited her to be the one in control. She raised the gun to shoot me, and Ritchie got in her way. Much as I might loathe all the things he's done, he did save my life."

"So, you actually saw Snowball Merriman shoot Ritchie Atkins?"

"Yes. She shot him because he got in her way. If he hadn't, I'd probably be dead."

"Thank you, Ms Betts, that will be all." Taking note of Karen's drained expression, and knowing she still had far worse to come, Deed announced,

"Court is adjourned until two this afternoon."

In the public gallery, Yvonne sat, slightly stunned. for a start, she'd never heard in quite so much depth, exactly what had happened that day. But second, Karen had totally avoided telling the court about Yvonne having clearly requested some sort of ambush for Ritchie and Snowball. She hadn't mentioned anything about Yvonne's involvement in that disaster. When Karen appeared, Yvonne walked over to her and said,

"Why did you do it?" Karen looked at her slightly nonplussed.

"Do what?"

"Why didn't you tell the court about the three of you being shot at by my lot?"

"What, and make things more complicated than they already are? Yvonne, I know why you arranged that little surprise, and if they knew about your involvement, no-one could guarantee they wouldn't put you back in Larkhall."

"I owe you one," Said Yvonne, amazed at the change that had been wrought in Karen in the time Yvonne had known her.

"No, you don't," Said Karen gently. "Seeing as I'm the reason why your son is confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life, it's the least I could do. Okay?"

"Yeah, thanks," Was all Yvonne could say. Then Cassie seemed to appear out of nowhere.

"You look like you could do with a large drink," She said to Karen.

"That's the best idea you've ever had," Replied Karen, the need for a drink and a cigarette seeming to turn her in to an instant junky. "I think I need refueling before that defense barrister sticks the knife in."

Part Sixteen

Fenner seethed with secret rage and hatred for that Atkins bitch and that Betts cow. They're expecting him to jump when they say jump like any other dominant castrating bitch he'd met before. She clicks their fingers with those elegantly elongated painted nails, he is expected to be all meek and mild to take orders. Now that Atkins is out of Larkhall, she's twice as bad as when he could at least have the satisfaction of turning the key to the cell door and giving her the orders of the day.

He saw the way they gathered together in the domed foyer of the court all cosy cosy, the glare that that Tyler dyke stabbed in his direction and the look of disapproval on Connor's face as if he were something dug up somewhere. No welcome from them, even though he's trying to do the same as them.

If Fenner's old schoolmistress could see him now, one sharp eye would have told her that James Fenner was playing that "well, if I'm not invited to play their game, then I won't let them play mine either." Always got some grudge against some other boy and she often popped out to the back of the bike sheds to find him twisting another boy's arm behind his back while he yelled in pain and was getting obvious pleasure out of it. Till she had him after school writing out one hundred times. "I shall not bully other children" Forced against his will, the eight year old Fenner slouched at his desk, the only one there while that gimlet eye was unblinkingly watching every move. He learned to hide his rage behind an outward show of acquiescence, one lesson from school that he never forgot.

"Just popping out for a packet of fags." Fenner's midpitched voice carried across the courtroom in a muffled way while the group of women thought they heard a voice of some kind, turned round but by that time he was away.

Out in the fresh air of the street, Fenner swiftly spied a run down tobacconist and bought the cigarettes of his choice. His real purpose was to double back and look out the defence solicitor that he'd seen briefly earlier on. An evil smile creased his face, as he was sure that he had an interesting tale to tell.

Karen put on a brave face as she took the stand in the afternoon and did her best to steady her nerves. She held onto the dock rail firmly and looked the defence solicitor in the eye as he took his place. Jo Mills was out of Karen's vision but, behind her professional mask, there was more than a hint of real concern, from one human being to another. She had not grown up as John Deed's pupil and on and off lover for nothing.

"Miss Betts, "Brian Cantwell's harsh voice opened the attack,"You have given evidence this morning, have you not, that one of the defendants, Snowball Merriman, had been given a series of privileges within a week of her admission to your care, such as being given her own cell, and being appointed as librarian for the prison library service."

"Yes, Sir, this is so."

"And you also testified that all this took place in the week when you were on holiday.

"Yes, Sir, this was the case."
"And you testified that you would not have sanctioned the granting of these privileges if you had been present at the time when Snowball Merriman was admitted to prison."

"Yes," Karen said evenly. She knew what was coming and thank God this man signalled his moves in advance.

"So, if you thought that the privileges were unreasonable in any way, why did you not simply remove these privileges on your return as Mr Fenner's senior officer?"

"Because………….I am guided to a certain extent by the opinion of the Personal Officer in all matters. I interviewed Snowball Merriman as part of her induction and I found that my initial impression of her was mixed. She came over as someone who was very much different from the run of the mill prisoner but with a strong interest in old Hollywood movie stars and her own book collection in her belongings. She passed herself off as an American actress although her file showed her as Tracy Pilkinton from Wigan. The fact that she passed herself off with a false identity is not so surprising in this star struck age."

"You were asked a straight explanation of your decision, or non decision, Miss Betts." Brian Cantwell snarled."Can you come to the point?"

"I was doing just that," Karen replied fighting to keep an even strain."Snowball Merriman had hardly started to serve her sentence at Larkhall. The appointment as library 'redband' was, at the very least, premature, in my opinion with no time for her progress to be assessed for her suitability. I am not in the habit of reversing the decisions of junior officers made in my absence unless I had absolute and clear evidence as to the unsuitability. I had no such evidence prior to the explosion. Just shows you that experienced officers of many years standing like Mr Fenner and myself are not immune from being deceived. As I know to my cost."

Cassie and Roisin sat, in the front row of the spectator's gallery, open mouthed holding their hands willing strength in their thoughts to Karen as the battle unfolded. And this was the woman she had badmouthed as a jobsworth in a suit when she was desperate to see Roisin after she had been discharged from the Muppet Wing.

Brian Cantwell paced round in a small circle letting a hush fall on the court adding tension to the proceedings before resuming his stance.

"Do I understand it that you set great store by your professional integrity." He asked slowly, dragging out every syllable.

"Always and at all times," Karen rushed in eagerly, wishing to set her stamp on the proceedings. Too eagerly, thought Jo Mills who had a sudden chill feeling run down her spine.

"So when you made an allegation of rape against another prosecution witness to the trial, this was an instance of your high standards." replied Brian Cantwell softly yet clearly in the hush. "The rape allegation which you were so apparently certain of yet you withdrew of your own free will supposedly because you did not want your son Ross dragged into the proceedings.I understand that the alternative, of the Home office pressing charges never materialised. Perhaps you can explain this to the court, Miss Betts."

Karen went white when, in a hideous moment of blinding clarity, she realised that she had been sucker punched into dropping her guard in a matter that found her at her weakest. She clutched onto the rail and she felt weak and her skin felt clammy. She dropped her eyes for a second unable to look the triumphant barrister in the eye who, in this split second, seemed to be prosecuting her for the rape.

"You must answer the question put to you, Miss Betts," came John Deed's low melodious voice.

In that instant, the nightmare vice of steel that had locked its way round Karen's thoughts and paralysed them snapped and, in a moment of clarity, the words formed themselves directly from her thoughts without the conscious connection with her voice.

"I did, indeed, go to the police to press a charge of rape against Jim Fenner. I was advised by Mr Grayling at the time when I first pressed the charges that Area management were unable to press charges while the police prosecution was going ahead. In the end, I had personal reasons at the time in not going ahead with the charge."

"My Lord, the witness is verging on contempt of court in her persistent evasion of a perfectly simple question. If she was so sure in the rightness of her case, then surely she would have sought recompense by the legal channels which as a Wing governor in a prison, she must surely be aware of. If she has been found out of crying 'rape' and not following the matter through, then it surely means that not much credence can be placed on her testimony in the matter of the charges before the defendants."

John Deed saw red at this. The barefaced cheek that Brian Cantwell employed in appealing to him on a matter of law when he was guilty of transgressing the limits that barristers are allowed to go in the examination of a witness. The words 'cry rape' stuck like an arrow into his mind. Beating Jo Mills to it by a hairbreath and Cassie and Roisin who were likewise roused to anger, John Deed let rip. The fact that John Deed jumped in before Yvonne's total fury and lightning thoughts, was unprecedented.

"Mr Cantwell, I direct that this line of questioning that you have introduced be struck from the record. I shall not allow you to pursue the matter further. You have practised at the Bar long enough to be aware of the limits as to how a highly sensitive matter like the matter you have introduced should be pursued. "

Brian Cantwell opened his mouth to protest but it remained open and no words passed his lips when he saw John Deed's fury being directed upon him. In the meantime, Karen took deep breaths, in and out repeatedly out of sheer instinct in this snatched moment when the heat was off her. Sulkily, Brian Cantwell returned to his usual stand to consult his papers.

"Miss Betts," Brian Cantwell said. "Let us turn to the events involving Snowball Merriman's

escape from prison when you drove the accused to the place during the course of which Richard Atkins was inadvertently shot and the possession of the gun. When were you aware that such a weapon existed."

"I first became aware of the gun when Jim Fenner grabbed my handbag, turned it upside down on my desk and it fell out. When I came back to my office afterwards it had disappeared."

"And when were you next aware of the gun."

"When Snowball Merriman stuck the gun into my back." Karen replied with a tired and slightly irritated sigh.

"And you claim that you had no foreknowledge of it before each event."

"Yes," came the reply.

"So how do you explain the remark you made to the accused. 'You only got the gun because of me, I'm not going to risk anyone else's neck.' Surely that implies some foreknowledge of the gun which, after all is a heavy and bulky item."

"Mr Fenner showed me the card 'Don't place your Bets till the rod's in K's bag.' Before he turned out my bag. He explained that I was being set up to smuggle in a gun without my knowledge and his explanation was convincing….."

"What," Mr Cantwell raised his voice with the air of finding a sudden unexpected revelation."the man you accused of rape?"

"Mr Fenner is a professional in the Prison service of many years standing." Karen's tired and fuzzy voice yet articulated the still sharp logic which carried her through."Despite one incident, I have found him to be a professional officer and, in a situation like this, the job matters more than personal feelings. A thorough investigation from top to bottom found no trace of the gun and when it reappeared pushed into my back by Snowball, I felt morally responsible for the gun turning up in this way even though I was not formally responsible for it. Especially as that morning I was with Ritchie Atkins.That's the way I am and I don't change," Karen summoned up a faint ghost of a smile for the first time that day. A small victory but it mattered so much at that point in time."

"Do you have any further questions of the witness? "John Deed asked quietly.

"No further questions" Brian Cantwell replied and Jo Mills indicated that she had no questions to ask, at least inside court.

"Court is closed for the day."

While Karen tottered out of the court, behind the scenes, Fenner's face split into an evil smile wondering how much he got his revenge on that bitch who nearly dragged him into court on a trumped up charge of rape.

Part Seventeen

When Karen came out of court for the second time that day, she felt like she just wanted to crawl away somewhere and hide. She couldn't believe the defense had brought up the rape allegation. So, Fenner had kept his word. All she wanted to do was to go home and talk to no-one. When she saw Yvonne waiting for her, Karen could see the dangerous glint of barely hidden rage in Yvonne's eyes.

"I can't believe he did that," Said Yvonne coming over to her. "He must have squealed to that wanker of a defense barrister."

"Oh, I've no doubt," Said Karen. "All I want to do, is to go home, drink too much, smoke too much and do nothing."

"Sounds like a good plan," Said Yvonne approvingly. They were then approached by Deed's secretary, Mrs. Cooper.

"Karen Betts?" She said, looking between the two women. "The Judge would like to see you in chambers."

Why?" Asked Karen.

"I don't know," Replied Coope. "He just asked me to find you and bring you to see him."

"do you want me to wait?" Asked Yvonne.

"No, it's okay. I don't think I'm going to be very good company this evening."

Karen followed Coope to Deed's chambers. She wondered if his request to see her had anything to do with what Cantwell had questioned her about in court. She knew baristers had a penchant for stooping sometimes as low as the criminals they represented, but she'd never before had cause to fear it. When Coope showed her in, Karen was pleasantly surprised to find Deed reading the paper and drinking tea. When he saw her he stood up and held out his hand.

"ms Betts, good of you to spare me some time." Briefly shaking his proffered hand, Karen replied,

"Please, Sir John, Karen will do. I seem to have spent the entire day being called Ms Betts."

"Then you must call me John. Would you like tea or Scotch?"

"After this afternoon," Said Karen ruefully. "A Scotch would be wonderful." Turning to Coope, he said,

"And could you try and find an ashtray." When John placed a large glass of a fine single molt in front of her, Karen said,

"I'm asuming this is about what happened in court this afternoon."

"Yes. I am clearly in the dark about too much that the defense certainly isn't, which is a situation I'd like to rectify."

"Though I shouldn't say it," Replied Karen. "Keeping people in the dark is how Atkins and Merriman do things."

"So I'm beginning to find out." Coope reappeared with the ashtray and Karen greatfully lit a cigarette.

"So, what is it you want to know?" She asked after taking a deep drag.

"I'd like to know why the allegation you made towards James Fenner wasn't taken further either by the police or by area management. After seeing you give evidence today, I have no doubt that you would only make such an allegation if such a thing had actually taken place." Slightly astounded by his clear belief in her, Karen vowed to give him all the information she could.

"I initially reported it to the police, a day or so after it happened. The policewoman I spoke to at the time said she thought there was only a fifty percent chance that the CPS would take it up. Obviously, I had to inform my boss, Neil Grayling."

"He's one of the witnesses for the prosecution, isn't he?"

"Yes. He's also one of the most spineless men I think I've ever met."

"You'll find that's a word often used to describe those who are high up in the prison service and the Lord Chancellor's department alike."

"I suspect your job is even more about politics than mine is," Said Karen, really beginning to like this man. John laughed.

"Politics and justice aren't the same thing any more. Would I be right in suggesting that it was this spineless individual who persuaded you to drop the charges against James Fenner?"

"How did you guess?" Asked Karen, surprised.

"He sounds just like someone I know from the LCD, that's all."

"He told me that he'd talked to a friend of his in the CPS, who had said off the record, that they weren't going to take up the case." John looked like he'd finally found the knot that had prevented the thread of justice from running smoothly.

"Did Neil Grayling give this friend a name?"

"Yes, I believe he called him Michael Hendry." Deed moved to the door to the outer office and said,

"Coope, could you try and find out if there's someone at the CPS called Michael Hendry?"

"The CPS is a big place, Judge," She replied.

"I don't care how long it takes you," He said, acting like a hound who refused to give up the scent. "I need to know if this person really exists, and if he does, I want to talk to him." When he returned and sat opposite Karen, she asked,

"Are you really serious about trying to find him?"

"At the very least," John replied, "He's got some explaining to do for discussing such a sensitive case with anyone other than those involved, and at the outside, he might be able to shed some light on this."

"The police did say that there was only a fifty percent chance of the CPS taking up the case, mainly because of the lack of physical evidence."

"What evidence did you actually have?"

"Other than my account of the incident, there was an allegation of sexual assault made towards Fenner by another female governor from Larkhall, plus an entire file on his misconduct with various female inmates."

"I've known the CPS take up cases for far less, which gives me reason to believe this was hushed up."

"I'd say that's a certainty, not a possibility," Said Karen, as one with more information to impart.

"I sense there's more?" Deed asked, wondering just where this was going.

"I didn't know this at the time, but I have a feeling that it was to Neil Grayling's advantage if he could persuade me to drop the charges against James Fenner. I believe he used it as something to hold over Fenner."

"This gets even worse than the goings on at the LCD, and that's saying something." Coope knocked and poked her head round the door.

"There's no-one at the CPS called Michael Hendry, Judge."

"Well, he might have left."

"I did a search on their personnel records for the last five years. Nobody with that name whatsoever."

"Thanks, Coope, and I won't ask how you managed to get access to the personnel records of the CPS."

"Best not too, Judge." When Coope had gone, Karen said,

"Wish I had a secretary like her." Deed smiled.

"yes, there isn't much Coope can't do. So, let me get this absolutely clear. You report a rape to the police, they try to put together a case and send it to the CPS. You quite rightly inform your boss, as he might have a conflict of interest. He then tells you that he has spoken to a friend in the CPS, one Michael Hendry who we now know doesn't exist, who supposedly tells him that the police and the CPS are not going to go ahead with the charge. So as not to look completely foolish, you sensibly drop the charge first, and James Fenner is off the hook, which you're telling me was the clear intention of your boss, who ought to know better."

"Something like that," Agreed Karen.

"What I want to know is," Continued John, "Who was it that Neil Grayling did speak too. It must have been someone high up or he wouldn't have been so assured of the fact that the case wouldn't be taken any further."

"Neil's always had friends in high places," Remarked Karen dryly. Coope again put her head round the door.

"Sir Ian Rochester and Lawrence James to see you, Judge."

"Tough," Was his curt response. "I'm busy."

"I have the feeling Sir Ian will insist, Judge."

"Why, what have I done this time?"

"I couldn't begin to suggest, Judge. But the rumour is, Brian Cantwell has resigned as defense barrister."

"Well, thank god for small murcies," Said John.

"That all depends who they get in his place," Added Karen.

"There couldn't possibly be anyone worse than that excuse for a human being. Thank you for being so honest with me, Karen. Do I have your permission to look in to this matter?" Karen was greatful to him for asking, as she knew he could have done so without her say so.

"Of course, Judge." As she moved towards the door, he briefly touched her shoulder.

"Such an injustice should not go unpunished," He said gently. "I will do all I can to see that at the very least, this type of cover up never happens again." The sincerity in his voice brought brief tears to her eyes. As she walked through the outer office, she saw the figures of Sir Ian Rochester and the snake-like Lawrence James. Not envying the Judge his upcoming interview one bit, she walked through the foyer and out in to the bright sun of a late August afternoon. There was air conditioning inside the old court building, and the heat hit Karen at the same time as the realisation that Neil had lied to her all those months ago. He'd given her the name and number of his supposed friend in the CPS, knowing that she had no reason not to trust his word. Feeling the anger rise in her like bile, she tugged out her mobile. When Yvonne answered, Karen said,

"Do you know a really good cure for blistering rage?"

"Yes," Said Yvonne without a second thought, "Ten swift laps of this pool, best antidote I've ever known. Why?"

"I'll tell you why later. Can I come and borrow your pool?"

"Sure. Shall I put a Scotch on ice?"

"Yes please, an extremely large one. If the defense barrister doesn't take the opportunity to make mincemeat of Grayling tomorrow, I certainly will be."

Part Eighteen

John Deed's mood was lightened by the presence of Karen Betts who impressed him with his strength of character, as it had been a trying day. Although John Deed's mindset was inextricably linked to his active appreciation, long cultivated, of female charms, he was equally receptive to the more platonic side of human characteristics of principle, honesty, trustworthiness and strength of character. The sensualist and the philosopher were always in a state of uneasy coexistence within John Deed's psyche. Karen Betts impressed him on both counts and, seeing her in his chambers brought her into sharp focus, and her extraordinary story was one he believed implicitly. He had always had a passionate ability to identify with the victim of injustice but this was more than that. She might easily stand inside his shoes in his dealings with the Sir Ian's and Lawrence James of this world and he, likewise with this Neil Grayling. It was moments like this that gave him the positive strength to carry on in his self imposed quest when at times he was flagging and he was only clinging on by his fingertips with grim duty to sustain him. His reflective mood was suitably christened by a glass of sherry which he sipped out of the cut glass goblet in its honour.

A loud rat-tat of the door shattered this mood abruptly. Oh God, his minders, Sir Ian and Lawrence James were there. In the seconds left before his chambers were to be invaded by the Political Conformity hit squad, his mind flashbacked to school when the English teacher read that interminable Coleridge poem,"Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner". While he had always deeply sympathised with the plight of the narrator, forever destined to sail the Seven Seas with a dead albatross fastened round his neck as symbol of his sins, the tragedy of the poem was never so poignant as now. But why should he be singled out for their favours, why couldn't they bother Niven or Cantwell or someone who actually welcomed their unwanted advice?

The door opened silently and reluctantly as if in sympathy with John Deed and, there they stood in the doorway, cluttering up his pleasant and civilised surroundings.

"I suppose, Ian, that you are going to head a public protest for justice for the deceased American photographer who was killed by the defendant? You need to be careful if you intend to chain yourself to the railings outside Number Ten of carrying a spare set of keys with which to unlock yourself. It gets very cold and dark at night round there or so I understand." John Deed opened the hostilities, remembering the last topic of conversation which he knew very well Sir Ian would have forgotten.

As predicted, a vacant puzzled expression passed over Sir Ian's eyes.

"Don't know what you are talking about, Deed. Is this some sort of a prank?" He hissed the last few words as he squinted at him, trying to overpower John Deed by his force of personality. Unfortunately, his bullying style, while quite adequate to intimidate an underling in his Department, desperate to further his career, was about as effective against John Deed as a chocolate fireguard.

"Don't you remember, Ian, your passionate speech impressing on me the 'feelings of the family of the murdered photographer' I was much moved by your fine words and almost persuaded of the strength of your arguments. Almost but not quite. A public protest is the next logical step, Ian, is it not."John Deed replied in his most maddeningly teasing way.

"That would be going a little bit too far, Deed." Sir Ian replied stiffly, the twitch of his face being the surefire giveaway to John Deed how much of a liar Sir Ian is. This is why Sir Ian loathes me so much, John Deed reflected as he could always see through him.

"I do not think that the Department would approve of top civil servants lowering their standards and their sense of dignity by following in the footsteps of every common rabble rouser on the streets. "Lawrence James's harsh humourless voice appeared to struggle its way up through his larynx.

Putting discreet pressure on circuit judges to bend the rules to save their skin is quite within their standards, John Deed's thoughts could be read in every nuance of the not so thinly veiled contempt in his eyes.

"To come to the point, Deed." Sir Ian hastily moved the debate onwards. "We feel very unhappy with the performance that the witness, Miss Betts, displayed today. You are prejudicing the basic standards of the British legal system in allowing the witness to evade direct questions on a matter that we felt, provided the acid test on her credulity as a witness."

"There is of course well established legal precedents that the victim of a rape seeking justice in the courts should not be under trial though, of course, questioning in a suitable form of words is permitted to test the credibility of the witness. The accusation of 'crying rape' goes far beyond what I am prepared to permit in a court of law."

"Nice to see the way you uphold these 'politically correct' ideas." Sir Ian said with a sneer, especially on the phrase 'politically correct' as if he were spitting an unwelcome fly that had appeared in his cordon bleu soup served up at the Dorchester Hotel.

"I have stood for ideas and ideals since my youth that predated political correctness." John Deed dryly and crushingly retorted. "And I would be interested to know precisely how Brian Cantwell happened to come across matters concerning Miss Betts that conversation with the defendants, Snowball Merriman and Ritchie Atkins would be unlikely to be aware of from my understanding of the chronology of the case. Wouldn't you be similarly interested, Ian?" John Deed finished quietly with raised eyebrows and his sharp eyesight looking straight into Sir Ian's wavering eyes.

Sir Ian was suddenly seized with a repeated coughing bout so badly that Coope, hearing what was going on, rushed forward with a glass of water which Sir Ian accepted gratefully.

"As you know, old boy, we always allow the judicial processes to proceed their own way. All this was news to me, Deed." Sir Ian finished on a strangulated tone, the aftermath of the cough still ripping into his throat.

"Quite, " John Deed replied with all the disbelief in the world evident in just one word.

"But on this one occasion, we can only repeat our advice most strongly that the case is fundamentally unsound. The whole case appears to us to be shaky and it seems bound to proceed from bad to worse." Sir Ian repeated at the end of his tether.

"But you, Deed, as always will carry on with the trial with all your stiff necked obstinate pride." Lawrence James chorussed his Master's disapproval." Without any respect for the views of the Lord Chancellor's Department."

John Deed smiled broadly for the first time during the course of the interview. A vision of the cell door clanging shut, locking the outraged Lawrence James in a cell after John Deed had him jailed briefly for contempt of court. He still fondly reminisced on the quivering sound of Lawrence James 'unreservedly apologising' to that teasing provoking man with all the majesty of the law at the pack of him and the keys of the cell at his command. He had to admit to himself that he gained impish amusement at some of his more outrageous moments and that was one of his better ones. Behind the red robes and gravity of his manner, he was an unquenchable prankster and fearless wielder of the sharp pointed needle to puncture overblown pride and pomposity. And this man had the nerve to talk to him of 'stiff necked pride.'

"What's so funny, Deed?" Sir Ian asked in a nasty tone.

"Oh nothing, nothing." And in truth how could he explain his thoughts to two people who shared the same legal system but inhabited different planets in their outlooks on life. And he's been at school with one of them.

"Well, since you've said that you let the judiciary to proceed in its own way, and I have a reputation for doing just that, then I shall carry on as usual. But I thank you for your continued interest in my welfare. I am totally unable to express the depth of my feelings were you two to desert me and favour another judge with your opinions."

Perhaps it was the deadpan expression in John Deed's voice and facial expression with no outward show of the cutting irony of his words that caused the suppressed anger in Sir Ian and Lawrence James to finally boil over.

"This trial has not been a very lucky one for you so far, Deed. You would do well to be careful in case there are any other unfortunate incidents in the trial that would compromise your reputation, Deed." Sir Ian snapped and with his sidekick in tow made for the door.

"Oh yes, for your information, Deed." Sir Ian added with pure malice in his eyes." I had a very interesting conversation with a certain Neil Grayling, the Governing Governor of Larkhall. He told me a very interesting story about one Karen Betts who was pursuing a rape allegation against a colleague of hers. Both of us agreed that it would not be in the best interest of the Prison Service if this sort of dirty linen were exposed for all the press and public to see. There's too much muckraking around these days. Not like in the old days."

A loud crash behind them was Sir Ian taking his anger out on the door. Behind it, John Deed stood , as if a frozen statue, trying to deal with this parting shot. He was unable to even start to collect his thoughts into any logical order.

Down the windblown streets, fallen leafs of thoughts, spoken and unspoken whirled and fluttered and there are those freethinking people whose sharp eyes and sense of touch drew these leaves into their orbit. These thoughts were there already waiting for somebody to be around to collect. One such insight blew past Sir Ian as he left the chambers, that Sir Ian hated John Deed only because he saw through him, saw the mixture of self deceit, pomposity, base ambition and that lack of selflessness. Why should Sir Ian bother with such thoughts because he had, in his fashion, always fitted in at public school and then in his sure and certain elevation up the career ladder. John Deed had always been a rank outsider yet Sir Ian would never know that that outsider status gave John Deed his freedom, to breathe comfortably within himself and be his mildly outrageous self. Sir Ian and Lawrence James were collected in their limousine back to the

sterile artificiality and luxury of the imposing Georgian magnificence of the Lord Chancellor's Department where they felt most at home.

At night-time, Fenner lay in an untroubled sleep, as his conscience was clear. Of course, the nightime shot of whisky helped. Into his unconscious swam closer one of the faces whom he most hated and feared. It was the mocking, hard-edged stare of Yvonne Atkins under her fringe of hair and her hawk like expression. The bitch knew, he woke up with a start. The bitch always knew and could see through him. He was not that stupid that he couldn't see that one.

Part Nineteen

When Karen arrived at Yvonne's, complete with bikini, her anger had worked itself up in to a fury Yvonne hadn't seen since she'd tried to get over the wall after the O'kane fiasco.

"What the hell's eaten you?" Asked Yvonne, opening the door to her.

"Bloody Neil Grayling!"

"Why, what's he done?" Then, on seeing just how wound up Karen was, she gestured up the stairs and said,

"Swim first and talk later. You'll find a towel in the airing cupboard." When Karen appeared in the garden a few minutes later, she found Yvonne and Roisin sunbathing, Cassie languishing in the pool and Lauren stood in the middle of the lawn giving Trigger a brush. Karen was wearing a simple black bikini which accentuated her cleavage to perfection. Cassie who had been laughing at something Lauren had said, almost lost her footing when she saw Karen, who threw a large blue towel on to one of the sun loungers and moved towards the edge of the pool. Cassie just stared at her, mouth agape. Yvonne took one look at Cassie and laughed.

"Cassie, put your tongue back in," She said, quite unable to take the grin off her face. Cassie came back to her senses and said,

"So that's what you've been hiding under all those suits." Under normal circumstances, Karen had legs to die for, but clad in only a brief black bikini, her legs seemed to go on for ever and Cassie privately thought that she could get lost in a cleavage like that. The coolness of the water seemed to soothe Karen's crackling nerves. She moved swiftly through the water, working off her anger. When her rage began to subside, she simply allowed herself to drift from one end of the pool to the other. Roisin was flicking through a magazine, whilst Yvonne sorted through the day's post. Karen was listening with half an ear to Cassie and Lauren's conversation, but she was mainly giving her brain a chance to relax. As she lay on her back, gently moving her arms to keep herself afloat, she could gradually feel the hurt and anger at Neil's deception draining out of her. She could get used to the surroundings of Yvonne's house, she realised, and that in itself was a mark of how much she'd changed over the last year. When had her metamorphosis begun, she wasn't sure. Was it when Fenner had raped her, or was it even further back, when she'd found his porn mag and Maxi's knickers, she didn't know. She'd been with no man since Ritchie, and that was over a year ago now. Yes, she knew that she was currently emotionally raw, both from the effects of the trial and her total undoing with Yvonne the night before. But in spite of all this, Karen thought she might for the first time in her life, be on the verge of being happy with what she had. Yes, she missed having someone to hold her at night, she missed that feeling of completeness that only waking up with someone could bring, but this was an emptiness she was learning to accept. She also thought that maybe the lack of sexual company didn't matter to her so much because she'd found such a good friend in Yvonne. Female friends weren't something she'd ever gone in for in a big way as a rule, but with Yvonne it was different. After Ritchie had been shot, her and Yvonne seemed to gravitate towards each other, both seeking the same level of reassurance with the knowledge that they were both terrible mothers. When she'd taken Yvonne for that drink, after visiting Ritchie, that had felt like the most normal thing Karen had done in a long time. Ever since Yvonne had been released, they'd kept up their friendship, even though Karen had fully expected Yvonne to totally forget her existence.

When she finally dragged herself out of the all too addictive water, Karen briefly dried herself off with a towel and spralled on one of the sunloungers. Taking a swig of the Scotch Yvonne had poured for her, she reflected that she couldn't possibly be in better surroundings. The sun beat down on her body, and she felt for the most part content.

"So, what was all that about in court this afternoon?" Asked Yvonne.

"Fenner clearly took the opportunity of telling the defense barrister all about the supposed fake allegation."

"So, what's Grayling got to do with this?"

"When I went to the police about Fenner last year, I naturally had to tell Neil about it. With two of his staff at opposite ends of a possible court case, he would have had a conflict of interest. So, a little while after this, he called me in to his office, saying that he'd spoken to someone in the CPS who had told him that they weren't going to take up the case. He managed to persuade me that it was in my best interest to drop the charge before the police did." Yvonne was looking very interested by this time.

"Is that what the judge wanted to see you about?" Yvonne asked.

"Yes, he wanted to know why the case hadn't been pursued. It turns out that Neil Grayling didn't speak to anyone in the CPS at all. The person he told me he had spoken to doesn't even exist."

"You what?"

"Yeah, I know. The judge is going to look in to it and find out exactly who Grayling did speak too. He had to have talked to someone to know that the case wasn't going to be taken up."

"The conniving little wanker," Was Yvonne's summing up of the situation.


"And I'll give you one guess why Grayling wanted you to drop the case against Fenner," Yvonne continued. "He wanted something to hold over Fenner so that Fenner would have to owe him one."

"Takes one to know one, Mum," Said Lauren affectionately. Yvonne playfully swatted at her with the mastercard bill that was lying on the table. Cassie, having heard part of the conversation, got out of the pool and walked towards them dripping water over Roisin's slowly tanning body as she passed.

"What's Fenner done now?" She asked. The sudden silence that greeted her question was deafening. "What've I said?" Asked Cassie, feeling like she'd walked in on a conversation not meant for her ears.

"Cass, I don't think you were meant to ask," Roisin pointed out quietly. Cassie blushed slightly.

"Sorry," She said, "Me and my big mouth." Karen broke the silence by asking,

"Can I borrow your shower?"

"Sure, said Yvonne. There's numerous bathrooms upstairs so take your pick." When Karen had gone upstairs, Yvonne said,

"It isn't my story to tell, Cassie."

"Yeah, I gathered that," Replied Cassie. "I'm sorry."

"It's okay," Said Yvonne quietly.

"Was it something he did to her?" Asked Roisin.

"That's obvious," Replied Cassie.

"This is Fenner we're talking about," put in lauren. "Mum, going on what the defense tried to ask her about in court, I'm assuming he raped her."

"Lauren, it isn't up to me to tell you this."

"He did, didn't he?" Persisted Cassie.

"Yes, he did. Now can we drop it?"

"God, poor Karen," murmured Roisin.

"Which is precisely why this doesn't get talked about," Said Yvonne, her voice growing firm. "Is that clear?" It needed none of them to verrify that it was.

When Karen reappeared some time later, Cassie privately thought that she looked almost overdressed.

"Are you okay?" Asked Yvonne quietly, thinking that Cassie's untimely question had possibly undone all the good work of the relaxing swim.

"I will be," Replied Karen. "I've got to check up on how Di and Sylvia are coping in my absence, so I'd better be off."

"I can think of better ways to finish off a bad day," Said Yvonne.

"The joys of being a wing governor I'm afraid. I'll see you tomorrow." When Karen had left, Yvonne went in to her kitchen and began chopping vegetables for a bolognaise.

"Are you two staying for tea?" She asked Cassie and Roisin.

"If you're cooking," Replied Cassie, "Definitely."

"Bloody cheek, Cassie Tyler," said Roisin in mock affrontedness. Then, turning to Yvonne she said, "This one lived out of the microwave or restaurants before she met me."

"Yeah, I bet she did."

"Can I do anything?" Asked Roisin.

"You can come and keep me company while lazy arse over there tops up her tan," Yvonne said, gesturing to Cassie who was undoing her bikini top with the clear intent of sunbathing topless.

"You don't mind?" she asked Yvonne over her shoulder.

"No," Said Yvonne, taking note of Lauren's brief appraising glance in Cassie's direction. "why do you think this garden is as enclosed as possible."

Once away from the prying ears of her nearest and dearest, Roisin asked,

"What happened with Karen and Fenner's really getting to you, isn't it?" Yvonne loathed the sound of Karen's and Fenner's names spoken together like that, but she tried not to show it.

"Yeah, a bit," She conceded. "I feel so useless. It happened over a year ago and she hasn't even begun to deal with it, and I haven't got a clue how to help her."

"When did she tell you about it?"

"Last night. I've known her as a friend since before I got out, and she couldn't tell me any of this until it was absolutely necessary. Does that make me a shit friend or what."

"Good god, Yvonne, give yourself a break will you. Telling anyone about such a painful thing is something we only ever do when we have too. It isn't something anyone usually does by choice."

"It totally did her in talking about it."

"That's hardly a surprise."

"But what the hell am I supposed to do? I've never seen Karen like that, not ever. She's always been the strong one, the together one, the one out of both of us who could deal with whatever life threw at her." Roisin smiled.

"Yvonne, will you listen to yourself for a minute. You've just given a perfect description of not just Karen, but you as well. You're both incredibly similar, you know."

"Yeah, right, one a screw, the other an ex-con, really similar."

"Yvonne, for once in your life, listen to me. You and Karen are probably two of the strongest women I've ever met. Much as I love Cassie, strong as steel is something she'll never be, no matter how much she makes out she is. But just because someone appears to be in total control of everything they do, doesn't mean they can't have weak points. We all have areas of our lives where we are incredibly vulnerable. Clearly what happened with Fenner is Karen's."

"I just don't know how I can get her through this."

"You can't," Said Roisin softly. "It's something only she can do. All you can do is to be there for her when she wants you, and not to crowd her when she doesn't. The fact that she opened up to you at all is a good sign. It proves she trusts you."

"Apart from some nameless copper, I'm the first person she's ever given details too."

"There you are, then. In the beginning, Cassie was there for me, as a friend, and I couldn't have done without her. Just do the same for Karen."

"Did this happen to you?" Asked Yvonne.

"Yeah," Replied Roisin. "Aiden occasionally took the Roman Catholic tradition of a husband's rights to the letter."

"I'm sorry," Said Yvonne, thinking that far too many men had a lot to answer for.

"That's how I know that Karen probably has mixed feelings about telling anyone about what happened to her. She'll feel like it was her fault, and she'll feel ashamed. The best thing you can do is to keep letting her know that she didn't deserve it and that you're there for her." Roisin moved forward and gave Yvonne a hug. "Just don't forget that as her friend, you might have to offload occasionally too."

"I hope you're not leading my mum astray," Came Lauren's voice from the doorway.

"I don't think your mother needs leading astray," Said Roisin going out in to the garden to see how Cassie's tan was doing.

"You all right?" Asked Lauren.

"Yeah," Replied Yvonne, a little shell-shocked from her conversation with Roisin. "There's something you should know. I made a threat to Fenner this morning that after his performance today I'm going to have to follow up on."

"so, that's why you went to court early?"

"Something like that. I told him that if he either laid another finger on Karen, or if he kept his promise to discredit Karen's evidence, I'd have him nailed."

"Shit, Mum!"

"I know, I know. But what was I supposed to do, sit back and do nothing?"

"No, I guess not. But I take it you don't want to end up back inside?"

"no, and if I've got anything to do with it you're not going there either."

"Okay, leave it with me and I'll see what we can do about that evil bastard."

"If he's a good little boy and tells the truth in court tomorrow, then maybe I'll think about leaving him alone. But if he doesn't keep to the deal, I want him out of the picture for good."

Part Twenty

It was that night when Brian Cantwell had been drinking the fourth night time whisky alone that he finally decided to throw in the towel on the Atkins Merriman case. His favourite place to work at home was seated at his carved oak table in the dining room which was a room far removed from the general thoroughfare in his mock Georgian home in Esher. The papers were strewn on his desk in front of him and all his past jottings in the days when he was confident of his case looked up at him in disbelief. Then he felt confident that his verbal powers could persuade twelve good men and women of England in the English jury of his client's innocence. Now his notes which spoke back to him ceased to inspire him with any confidence. The ornate clock on the wall rang out nine o clock and counted down the hours till he knew in advance that he must quit.

The first doubts started to insinuate themselves into his self belief on the first day in Mrs Atkins's testimony. He instinctively believed what she said that the fifty thousand pounds that his client Ritchie Atkins had scammed off her was paying for his defence. It was the tones of bitterness and betrayal that were ripped out of the very hard faced woman on the stand as if under torture. Normally she was the last sort of person he would believe being the sort of distasteful godmother Eastend character out of a third rate gangster film. Brian Cantwell was a cynic about human feelings and had grown an armour plated shell around himself that convinced himself that nearly all tear jerking performances from the dock were designed to get the client off the hook for crimes that the criminals had actually committed. He had seen people walk off Scot free from crimes where he himself had engineered their freedom. He didn't mind that as his job was simply a forensic exercise of which side of the case he stood and, as a prosecuting council, he might as easily be a defence council and could put himself in the hands of that other barrister.So long as the clients paid handsomely, that was one thing that mattered, the other being his frustrated ambition to become a Circuit Judge. They all came from the same club, after all, except………..naïve campaigning crusaders like Jo Mills, still wet behind the ears and that insufferable prig, Deed who was old enough to know better but didn't and occupied that throne on high which he deserved to sit in by rights. The thought of that made him take a deep swallow from his whisky goblet.

The memory of the Prison Officer as he approached him came to mind. When he had introduced himself with a firm handshake and friendly manner, the thought struck him as to what was this man's game? He was James Fenner, witness for the prosecution that, by rights, ought to steer clear of him as if he had leprosy. He could hardly believe his ears especially as the man was up on the stand the next day. He was on the other side, dammit. He shouldn't really complain and later, remembered with a feeling of pleasure that, for whatever reason, the man was feeding him with a nice juicy titbit which he knew well enough to exploit to the hilt.

He was on a roll when he cross examined Miss Betts today and he savoured the exact moment when he let her know for public knowledge the one matter which , by the expression on her face, ought to have broken her credibility. He was that close to the case going his way if it weren't for that damned accursed fellow, Deed at his most priggish. It was as if he had had a cold bucket of water thrown over him at the moment that he was approaching a climax, which, these days with his wife the way she was, was becoming a distant memory.

When all the anger was driven out of him by a sufficient amount of alcohol, his mind was made up. Today was one of Jo Mill's chief witnesses' experience of treading on an unexpected banana skin and falling headlong. Tomorrow, it might be his turn for one of his, who can tell? The whole thing was becoming too damned unpredictable and better someone else picked up the poisoned chalice and that he seek some nice 'no blame' case in an insurance fraud trial, some sound, cut and dried business case.

In any case, an unaccustomed twinge of conscience came to his mind, the thought that Mrs Atkins was paying for her guilty son's defence. That was a bad sign. When he first saw the clients, Ritchie Atkins had made himself out to be a young man with easy if indefinite ways of making a lot of money which quite frankly grated on him from his generation's ingrained values of working for his money. He carried himself with the air of someone who had had it too easy. Now he knew the truth and he had had enough.

"This is too much," John Deed stormed and raved. "The further this case goes on, the more it is riddled and interwoven with corruption as only a …as a …British Government could get."

The last words were dragged from John Deed's mind as a sudden revelation as to how things had gone to the dogs, another inevitable old-fashioned phrase. Only it wasn't some onward march of 'trendy lefties' dismantling the world of Empire but a new corrupt spirit of political expediency that forced itself more and more on his mind. Only a few years ago, he would have invoked the words of a 'banana republic' as his exemplar of a society totally rotted from within. By implication, Great Britain still stood as an example of justice and the rule of law. He could no longer sustain that belief and that was what cut him to the core. He could only sustain the standards which he passionately believed in.

"The British Constitution is unique in its separation of the executive, the legislature and the judiciary, "his old teacher, Mr Charlton had spoken many years ago. He could still picture the enthusiastic charismatic teacher, slightly grey haired who swept the brighter more idealistic pupils, himself included, along the magic carpet ride of his ideals. He hadn't seen his old teacher for so many years and didn't even know if he was still alive. In his mind he and his boundless enthusiasm was still very much alive. That was another age, John Deed thought ruefully and he is one of the few witnesses to the beliefs in England that once was, or had never been or which must be if there was any prospect of a better world. It was this guiding light that had illuminated the complicated path in life he had trod. It was sickeningly, horrifyingly obvious that all three branches of government were all tightly and corruptly knit together. My God, that in such disconnected events, the crime by James Fenner against Karen Betts, not brought to book and the attempts to derail this trial, Sir Ian Lawrence was implicated up to his neck in a swamp of corruption.

Jo Mills knew from experience when to speak when John Deed had calmed down and laid her hand gently on his brow. He had stared blindly into the distance at some vision that only he could see. She wasn't even sure that he was aware that she was in the room. It was finally that touch of human feeling which brought him to himself.

"I think you ought to know, Jo, that Neil Grayling had spoken to Sir Ian when he dissuaded your client Karen Betts from pressing rape charges against a fellow witness, James Fenner. Neil Grayling deliberately lied to Karen Betts when he said that he'd talked to a friend of his in the CPS, called Michael Hendry, who had said off the record, that they weren't going to take up the case. I have since established to my satisfaction that no such person has ever worked for the CPS. Only I have now been informed by Ian Rochester himself that, in reality, Neil Grayling spoke to that very same weasly corrupt man who, between them, concocted the whole cover up. And I am being repeatedly pressurized by them to collude with them in another cover up. By God they won't get away with this one, not while I have one breath in my body."

Jo Mills turned white with shock at the deadly game being played out against them and the widening dimension of cover up. She felt a wave of real concern for John Deed to see how much of an effort that ingrained habits of the law just barely controlled him to recount in terse logical order what had happened and the way at the end that the lid on the emotional pressure cooker threatened to blow off and reveal the complex, deeply emotional man that she totally knew him to be. About how she felt about what John was saying, she couldn't even begin to guess. She would have to catch up with her own feelings later on.

"Can I stay the night with you, Jo." He spoke almost in a little boy voice, so unlike his normal manner of the self assured older sometimes lover that she knew him to be.

"Of course, John." Her sometimes stern voice at the bar gave way to the tenderness she always felt for him no matter how exasperating and contrary she knew him to be. For one night, this was not the pupil and master relationship at work even though the next day this would inevitably reassert itself when John Deed had returned to normal.

Suddenly the phone rang and John Deed leant over out of bed to pick it up. Jo lay on her side; her hand resting on John's shoulder in a moment of tenderness after an evening of lovemaking which was partly to comfort each other.

"Deed, here." He announced in flat tones.

"John darling," George Channing's voice made John Deed jump. It was if he were out for a stroll in the Essex countryside and a red London bus suddenly turned the corner, a combination of the sudden shock and the sheer incongruity. Her normally very elegant and bossy tones had an undercurrent of the seductive. "I thought I'd be the first to tell you that you are about to have me come back into your life."

John Deed at this point became very nervous and unsettled. Was the woman proposing remarriage after the bitter fighting cat and dog union that limped its way with relief into the divorce courts? After all, look what had happened to Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton in their remarriage many years ago.

"I mean, darling, welcome to the new defence barrister in the Crown versus Merriman and Atkins case. It will be like old times."

When John Deed brought the conversation to as rapid a close as politely as he could do so, he reflected that, for once George was right. But those old times were nothing to get nostalgic about, certainly not on a case as slippery as this and which was subject to political interference almost as a routine. And added to the diabolical brew was a new defence barrister with, via her bed, a hot line to a Government Minister, one Neil Houghton.

Jo Mills looked at John Deed with an anxious and protective gaze.

"Just when you thought that life was incapable of bowling you another googly at you, it suddenly does." John smiled shaking his head. The matter was fast becoming some kind of grotesque farce which provoked a twisted reaction to laugh at, rather than metaphorically to fall on his sword. "We now know for certain that Cantwell has resigned and who will be his successor. Let that wait to the morning, Jo. We have better things to do."

Who other than John Deed could she share sex with discussing legal cases, Jo shook her head in disbelief as he came to her? The whole thing was mad. But in that case, why was she sharing John Deed's bed if she or him were entirely sane.

Part 21

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