The Gunpower Plot
By Kristine and Richard
One Hundred And Thirty One
On the Friday morning, exactly one week since she'd collapsed in court, George drove in to the car park of the Old Bailey, switched off the engine and stared up at the old majestic building. So much of her life had been centered around this building. John had prosecuted and defended many cases here in the early days of their marriage. This was where George had first seen John together with Jo, which had inevitably led to the final breakdown of the few years they'd spent with each other. Then, eventually, John had been appointed Judge here, and George had been forced to defend some very dubious cases with him overseeing her performance. Jo and George had exchanged some of their most bitter words within the walls of this old Elizabethan pile, many of them cutting far deeper than any murderer's blade or bullet. Yet, George was forced to admit, this building had probably also forced herself and Jo to start seeing each other in a very different light. They'd once again been thrust in to each other's personal space through the Merriman/Atkins trial. George thought it was odd that she now always thought of that star from too many cheap blue movies with more faces than Big Ben as Snowball Merriman, and never as Tracy Pilkinton, when Merriman had been her stage name not her real name. But maybe that was the point. That woman had put on so many different acts in her time, that it was perhaps only right and proper to think of her in the guise of actress, and therefore always think of her with the stage name she had chosen. God, both her and John and her and Jo had gone through a couple of truly monumental rows during that trial. George faintly blushed when she thought of the damage she'd done to the door of John's chambers. Was that really her, really Georgia Channing? The old one maybe, but not the one she was now. George didn't think she'd have the strength or the inclination to do anything of the kind any more. But perhaps that was because she was still working very much under par. She still had the urge to go to sleep and not wake up for a month, if ever, and she was still barely eating, though this was admittedly much better than the previous week. George thought right back, to try and work out exactly what had initially got her and Jo talking. Then, she hit on it, the day she'd questioned Ritchie Atkins, and afterwards, Jo had directed George's attention to Karen and Yvonne kissing. That seemed so long ago now. then, Jo had persuaded her to go easy on Karen Betts by informing her of the bet she was having with John. George couldn't help grinning when she thought of John's all too predictable reaction to being presented with the evidence of his loss. But underneath this lightheartedness, had been lurking Neil's ever-increasing anger at her failure to really defend either Merriman or Atkins. The fact that all the evidence was against them hadn't bothered him in the slightest. He'd merely put it down to her incompetence as a criminal barrister. Then had come that awful fight, a week or so after the pair she'd done her damnedest for had committed suicide. She winced every time she thought of Neil's fist striking her face. John had been so good to her that night, when she'd lain in his arms and cried away her shame. The following morning, when Jo had been so understanding, that had totally thrown George more than she cared to admit. She'd shouted at Jo, taken out her anger at Neil on the one woman she'd always envied, and Jo had just stood there and let her do it, knowing just how much she'd needed too. From then on, she and Jo had tentatively begun widening the goalposts, allowing their heartfelt sympathy for Karen Betts and what she'd gone through at the hands of Fenner to unite them under the same umbrella of fighting for justice. George fondly remembered the night Jo had clearly come looking to her for a fight. Jo had been angry, almost furious with herself for failing to get Helen Stewart on board, and she'd known that George would give as good as she got. Then, Christ knows why, George had ended up by playing to Jo, something she never normally did in front of one of her most immovable rivals. After this, they'd begun spending more time with each other, it not being unheard of for Jo to casually drop in, like the time George had been on her way to getting seriously drunk. George had been hurting so much that particular night, the guilt at her betrayal of Jo's olive branch sitting heavy on her heart. The odd thing was, that George had felt momentarily safe in Jo's embrace, briefly as though someone actually cared about what she was feeling. Then had come that awful row with Karen. George knew she'd used Karen as an outlet, as a way to release some of her inner turmoil, but that had given her no excuse to go in for the kill the way she had. But it was when she'd sent that e-mail to Karen that she'd known something had changed in her forever. Never, not even if it was absolutely imperative, did Georgia Channing QC ever apologise for anything. Mistakes and serious steps over the mark were there to be made, endured and forgotten. But there she'd been, apologising for having accused Karen of something she certainly hadn't done, and for clearly intruding on her personal space. But what on earth had possessed her to warn Karen off John like that. Let's face it, Karen was a grown woman, well able to make her own mistakes in that line of things. But George had somehow felt it necessary to try and prevent Karen from being hurt yet one more time. George didn't at this time bring out her feelings on this matter and examine them in the way she knew that one day she must, because they were all so new, so confusing, so mixed up with her professional respect for the wing governor who'd successfully persuaded George to think again before she was rude to John in her line of duty. She shivered slightly, as if someone were walking over her grave, when she briefly allowed her thoughts to stand for a moment on the feeling of being clasped in Karen's strong, yet oh so female arms, and being whisked out of the reach of Alison McKenzie's fists. But shaking her head at herself, she got out of the car, and walked towards the steps, where she stood and lit a cigarette. Was it only a week since she'd made such a spectacle of herself by fainting in court? The rest of that day and the two following it had been so long. Her endless talk with Jo, followed by the one with John, and then her shorter one with Jo on the Sunday, had made it seem like a lifetime. Jo had called her a couple of times this week, just to see how she was doing. George wasn't used to this, having anything remotely resembling a normal, female friend who cared about how she was. The legal business was generally made up of either men who wanted to stamp on you to stop you from bettering them, or equally strong women, like herself she was forced to admit, who did exactly the same only far more ruthlessly. There wasn't the room for many friendships to be made, the internal and external politics sharpening up everyone's edges like a metaphorical steel. They hadn't talked for long when Jo had phoned, mainly because George was slightly ashamed of her outburst on Sunday, and because she simply wanted time alone to begin putting her mind and her body back together. But here she was, ready to start another trial. She just hoped she could appear as professional as she usually did.
As she stood there, smoking and mentally preparing herself for the day ahead, John arrived and walked up the steps to join her.
"Hello," She said carefully, not having spoken to him since he'd left the previous Saturday.
"How are you?" He asked, equally carefully. George thought for a moment.
"I'm surviving," She said, knowing that anything more would have been a lie. "What about you?"
"I've had better days," He said, referring to the last time he'd seen her.
"I'm sorry," George found herself saying and this was yet another new occurrence for her.
"Don't be," Said John gently. "It had to happen some time. Are you eating?" George flinched under his unwavering scrutiny.
"Just," She finally admitted. "It'll sort itself out in time."
"Well, just make sure it does," He said firmly. "I'm sorry I didn't phone you, especially after I said I would."
"That's all right," She replied, knowing they were both skirting over the real issues that existed between them, in favour of the more immediate, more trivial concerns. "Actually," She said, flicking away her cigarette end. "I'm sort of glad you didn't. I've been pretty low this week, and I wouldn't have wanted anyone to see me like that, but especially not you."
"Don't," She interrupted him, desperate to prevent him from being in any way nice to her.
"I was just going to tell you not to retreat," He finished.
"I know," She said, "But I think I need to for a while. I'm still reeling from just about everything that was said between us last weekend, and I can't quite handle being around you or in fact anyone at the moment." Then, looking him in the face, and taking the plunge in to what felt like her last confession, she said, "I need you too much, John, and because of that, I don't trust myself not to take advantage of too many old scars being reopened. And, though I don't think I'm going to get it," She said ruefully, watching Jo park her car and walk towards them, "I need some space." John stood stunned for a moment, taking in the full meaning of what she'd just said to him. George, in her typically euphemistic way, had just told him she still loved him, and that she needed space from him in order to prevent herself from repeating what had set her on her most recent downward spiral in the first place. So as not to push George in any way, John lifted a hand in acknowledgement to Jo, and walked inside.
"How are you?" Jo asked when she reached George.
"Heartily sick of being asked exactly that," George replied, a hint of her former self creeping back in to her tone. Jo smiled, for once taking no offence at George's rebuke.
"Forgive me," She said dryly, "Polite enquiry rescinded." George gave a small laugh.
"I'm sorry," She said, "That sounded awful, didn't it."
"Yes, but I know what you mean," Said Jo, looking for her own nicotine fix. "Actually," She said, taking a grateful drag. "There's something I need to ask you, though it ought to wait until we've got the time to really thrash it out."
"Sounds ominous," Said George, who couldn't for the life of her imagine what was coming.
"No, it's not," Said Jo with a smile. "I think you might like the idea." Agreeing that Jo would come over that evening, partly to celebrate George's return to work, they walked inside the building where their paths had originally become so entwined.
One Hundred And Thirty Two
The shrill sound of the phone cracked the listless silence, which had hung on the air in the Atkins household.
"I'll get it," Yvonne's weary tones were unheard by Lauren whose glazed eyes were bored out of her brains from watching daytime television. However, as a way of escaping uncomfortable thoughts, it had its doubtful uses and made her wonder why all the brain dead idiots in the world watched it in the first place.
Looking out of the corner of her eye, her curiosity was roused to see her mother grinning from ear to ear for the first time in ages and that sparkle come back to her eyes.
"Yeah, Denny. I'll do the delivery myself personally, no problem. It won't be express pizza, though."
"You what?" Yvonne could hear Denny's bemused tones and could picture her eyebrows raise in incomprehension.
"Just a little private joke between me and Lauren who's earwigging, seeing that Dale bloody Winton is being such a twat."
"You mean "
"On daytime television. Oh yeah, and David bleeding Beckham came round with Posh and the kids for a photoshoot for OK magazine," Yvonne's gentle and affectionate mockery made Denny smile at herself in a way that would not have been possible before Yvonne came into her life.
"Be sure to get a diversion laid on and I'll deliver," Yvonne's reassuring tones and her good word that she had never gone back on, transformed Denny into the excitable happy go lucky kid that she had learnt that she was safe to be.
The cold blue sky and the bitter wind cut through Yvonne's black leather jacket as she nonchalantly waited outside the high grey walls of Larkhall. These ramparts were topped by the ugly coiled barbed wire, carefully designed to deter the desperate from escaping. She had looked up at it more times than she cared to count when she was in the exercise yard enjoying the brief sliver of time to herself. Now she had all the time in the world, no fences, no one else's timetable to conform to. Her smile of satisfaction faded as her thoughts struggled to be expressed in words and memories that, somewhere in the grey pile of antiquity and injustice, was the woman who slipped her way too easily into her dreams and was out of reach.
Right on cue to rescue her came the ragged shouting from the other side of the walls.
"Give it back to me, you bitch," Denny's authentically menacing voice rang out.
"Now then, now then, Blood. You'll find yourself in serious trouble unless you stop it at once," Bodybag's harassed voice could be heard clearly the other side of the wall
and fell short of that hectoring note of authority, which she always aspired to.
"This is like a bleeding comedy show with the picture turned off," Smiled Yvonne to herself, as the mixture of voices appeared to speak from out of the inexpressive solid grey mass in front of her.
"You're not getting it off me, Blood. You're talking a load of pish," Al's thick Glaswegian accent was just about distinguishable. Most prisoners who had met Al had often dearly wished that her voice could be subtitled.
"Hey, Ju," Julie J's voice chimed in with that very endearingly mock innocent tone. "Al's deliberately taking what belongs to Denny. Can't have that, can we."
"If you want it, Blood, you're going to have to catch me and I'll fight ye for it," Al's defiant tones faded, as her voice seemed to move from straight-ahead to Yvonne's right.
"Good work, Julies," Yvonne thought as she could visualise the diversion being laid ready for Yvonne to play her part.
This is no time for bleeding Memory Lane, she thought to herself as her arm swung back and the object described a perfect parabola, well clear of the barbed wire which might have snagged it, up over to the highest point and dropping down out of sight behind the wall.
"All right, break it up," Karen's well-modulated voice was pitched up with perfect ease over the hubbub, which stopped as if the switch had been thrown.
"You should know how to behave yourself better, Denny," Di's petulant tones nagged away ineffectively.
"It's all right, miss. Everything's cool," Denny's voice called out loudly. "Me and Al have got everything sorted now."
"That's my girl," Yvonne muttered under her breath. "Just loud enough for me to hear." Despite all the shit that had happened, this little pantomime brought back to her all the enterprises which she had been at the heart of and how important it made her feel that she was Top Dog of Larkhall, not just for her own ego but for the way she was able to create some meaning in her life in dispensing Atkins justice, both soft and hard in the world around her. At moments like these she had felt more alive than she had ever done. Now, there was sadness to go with the happiness that she had gained with her freedom. The problem in her bleeding life was what to do with it.
"That's good then," Karen looked very closely at the crowd of prisoners. There was something about the situation that didn't seem quite right. From her experience, a grudge argument that appeared to have taken place didn't shut up as promptly as it did this time. There was no sustained glaring between Denny and Al who mysteriously had shut up and were on normal terms. "You have five minutes to the end of association and if there is any more trouble, you will all be up before me on Rule 43," She finished sternly.
Out of the corner of her eye, she took in Di Barker and Bodybag, both flushed, breathless
and floundering. Jesus, why does she have to spend her time nannying these two inneffective women. Now Fenner is gone, all the stuffing seemed to have leaked out of the pair of them.
"I'm going back to my office now. Will you both ensure that proper order is maintained on my wing? I shall be around if you need me," Karen's stern voice softened at the end to try and be helpful. She had to confess that she had great difficulty in preventing a note of sarcasm from creeping into her voice.
She had to admit that the tone in Larkhall had changed for the better. The dominant personalities amongst the prisoners maintained a rough and ready justice amongst their own and pretty well kept things running. It was a huge relief, and she ought not to speak or think ill of the dead, but Larkhall without the psychotic self centred manipulative presence of Snowball Merriman had lost that edginess and that she was happier in her mind that there wasn't some conspiracy afoot to cause mayhem. Added to this was the absence of Fenner's glowering brooding presence in the PO's room. Life nowadays at Larkhall was so much more transparent and honest and made her more relaxed. When she looked at matters straight, the man had been the source and focus of corruption in Larkhall for decades, always concealing his darker crimes, subtly working on the susceptibilities of the prisoners and prison officers alike and doing it in a totally underhand fashion. She should know, she thought ruefully, as she had been a victim of that twisted personality whom she had once foolishly loved and may have loved her for all she knew. She would never know, as his voice could not reach her from beyond the grave. That was mainly a blessing but there was a tinge of regret.
She grabbed at the files in her in tray and, while she was scanning the first of them to check progress reports, she ought to push for her staffing needs to be sorted out.
It was time she got onto Area Personnel to pull their finger out and get them the replacement Principal Officer. She had asked them to make enquiries about Gina Rossi and Dominic McAllister and, after vague promises, she hadn't heard anything more from them. She needed a good Principal Officer to pull the prisoners into shape.
"I'm sure I heard a car driving away after that incident outside," Karen said to herself and the light dawned in her mind as she could see the hand of Yvonne Atkins at work. A wealth of mixed emotions flooded back into her mind of the woman who had been the organising brains of all the dubiously legal and outright illegal activities amongst the prisoners. She held her biro mid air as she thought her eyes glazed over and the sharp workaday edges and lines in the portrait of her room dissolved into soft focus.
Yvonne Atkins was the first woman she had ever loved, she mouthed to herself and she was not ashamed of that love not could she ever be. It was not as if she was trying to reform Yvonne, to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear as that hateful phrase straight out of the spirit of Pygmalion would have it. No, she loved Yvonne for the woman she was and while she was free and out of Larkhall, they were as free to love each other as much as they permitted themselves to be. Gradually, bit by bit the defences had come down between them and their love was as precious and as sweetly unfamiliar as falling in love was for the first time when she was in her teens. The taste of the irony was as bitter in her mouth as the realisation that, for all Yvonne's criminal background, she was twenty times more honest to her than the smooth-talking bastards she had let come into her bed. It's just that they handled their lives to just fall the right side of the wobbly and crooked line that marked out the world of the legal. No matter what had gone wrong between her and Yvonne, she would never stand for any righteous citizen to criticise Yvonne's memory, both in Larkhall and outside. Sylvia had enough sense in her head not to misread the look in her eye not to fall for that one.
Denny's eyes were alight with mischief when she unwrapped the tightly wrapped parcel that she had popped into the large pocket of her green combat trousers.
"You're going to shoot your way out of Larkhall?" Al questioned Denny as the sinister shape of the revolver took vague shape from underneath the wrappings.
"You're mad, Al," Denny joked. "And screw up my chance of getting out of Larkhall? I'm keeping my nose clean now and I'm going to get out of here the right way. With my reputation, no bitch will mess with me so I don't have to get into trouble."
The realistic shape resembled a German Luger revealed its secret when Denny squeezed the plastic shape and filled it full of water. Al watched with total fascination and missed the mischievous glint in Denny's eye by a mile and her smothered cry as a jet of water hit her in the eye.
"Hey, don't wreck the pistol, man. We're going to have fun with this. What's today, Al?" Denny asked excitedly, visibly jumping for joy in anticipation.
"How the frig do I know. It's Eastenders tonight," Al said, her slow mind trying to work out what was special about just another boring day in Larkhall.
"It's Halloween Night .."
"So you're planning to go off on a broomstick, Denny?"
"It's 'trick or treat,' Al. And this is the trick. Get it?"
A slow dawning look of realisation spread over Al's face as she could see the prospect of some fun. She meekly let Denny take possession of the water pistol in the same way that she had deferred to a woman who was sharper, more decisive and who knew what they wanted. Once she was Maxi Purvis's cropped haired 'heavy' who intimidated, kicked or punched whoever got in their way or whoever looked too closely at her, who made her feel uncomfortable and seemed to be taking the piss out of her. Now, she followed meekly after the other kind hearted and understanding woman with whom she could feel relaxed and better about herself.
Karen was idly watching the prisoners chat happily amongst themselves and could feel the lightness of atmosphere and take in the good-natured banter between them. While her defences weren't entirely down, it did remind her of how on edge she had been once and how she had never questioned how unnatural it was to work that way. Her thought went out in gratitude and sympathy to Helen who had slaved so hard to try and turn Larkhall round so that prisoners are treated decently and that she was at last receiving the payoff.
Denny had dressed up in a black sleeveless T-shirt, and trousers and looked around her for Bodybag. She above all deserved to be 'trick or treated' and she desperately hoped that Bodybag would choose the trick. It would be worth a hundred cigarettes to see her pompous face splatted with water.
"This is for you, baby. I wish you were around to see it, man," She muttered under her breath and the smile on her face disappeared as she could swear that she could see Shaz's wide grin of approval of what she was about to do. No matter what happened to her in future, she knew that she would never lose her love for Shaz, for that lighthearted carefree spirit and her spiky blond hair.
Only Karen Betts was on duty of all the screws that she knew. She had a mental debate in her mind as she could remember the kindness and gentleness that she had shown when she escorted her on a golden hot summer's day to Yvonne's fabulous palace of delights. She looked at the expression on Karen's face and finally concluded that Karen was a real sport and would take it the right way.
"Trick or treat, miss?" Denny called out in that very mischievous fashion.
Instinctively, her past experience of Ross as a boy jumped into her mind as she heard a similar high pitched boyish voice many years ago. It was in that golden period when he was young and affectionate, when he clung to her as a rock before some twisted adolescent impulse drove him away. In that split second, she ducked, as a jet of water would otherwise have landed right in the middle of her face. Unfortunately, Grayling was walking right up to her from behind and received the jet of water right in his face.
There was a moment of shocked hush before first the 2 Julies burst out laughing and then laughter exploded round the wing.
"I am not going to have this prison turned into a pantomime farce. You, Miss Betts will take appropriate disciplinary action and ensure that this Wing is in proper order "
"Hold it, Neil, I would rather have G Wing acting like a load of fourth form schoolgirls so long as they are having a bit of harmless fun rather than fighting each other and especially if there isn't some cold blooded psychopath planning to blow up G wing. It is Halloween. My son Ross tried it on all the time only I learned to duck quickly."
The way that Karen jumped in firmly on a decisive note and ended up on a confiding, humourous note, which caught the imagination of the women who saw Karen Betts the human being rather than the Wing Governor. She faced the prisoners rather than Neil as the sight of his overbearing dignity punctured by water dripping off his shirt collar would only set her off. She knew only too well that when she saw the funny side of something, the whole world knew about it.
"You're cool, Miss," Denny's very real admiration of the cool and sophisticated woman was expressed in her own style.
"Well, everybody carry on with what you were doing," Karen smiled, the relaxation obvious in her body language. There was a twinkle in her eye and Denny was very quick to notice that Karen had not asked her to promise not to do any more 'trick or treating.' As with Yvonne, it was impossible for Denny in her attachment to both women not to make a promise that she knew that she would not keep.
Bodybag sighed as she was on her rounds after having forsaken the comforts of the PO's room and being served her mug of tea by a new prisoner from whom she had made her exacting demands for milk and sugar. Laying down her petty idea of the law was one of the pleasures of the job. It was ten minutes to lockup. Looking down a corridor, she saw her least favourite, that cheeky Blood woman approaching.
"Trick or treat, miss?" Denny called.
That inflamed her anger straightaway. This was a new fangled American habit like Father's Day and music played by those prancing black men on television that her daughter Connie used to insist on.
"You're not getting any treats from me, Blood. You ought to know better."
Instantly, a jet of cold water hit her in the face and blinded her.
"What the flaming hell are you doing Blood? You're on Rule 43 and down the block for carrying an offensive weapon and being disrespectful to your betters," She spluttered, dabbing water from her face and feeling it soaking into her uniform. She hated water being splashed into her face and she was going to put her foot down.
"Oh come on, Sylvia," Karen's amused tones broke in on her, much to her intense annoyance. "You should have seen that one coming. I did when Denny aimed at me earlier on and she got Mr Grayling instead."
"If you are wanting to transform this place into Butlins Holiday Camp then I must protest. Are you trying to be 'prisoner's friend' like Miss Stewart? At the very least, I insist that you confiscate that weapon, ma'am, and see that Denny Blood is banged up in solitary so quickly that her feet don't touch the ground."
"I would be very happy to follow Helen Stewart's example. Her leaving the Prison Service was a sad loss. There are times when I wonder what to do in a situation and I ask myself how would Helen have approached it. I know that you didn't see eye to eye with her but, right now," and here, her voice shifted from the gentle and reflective through hard and determined and ending on a note of icy contempt., "I'm in charge and I'll go right on being in charge and I'll do things my way. There's noone to stop me, not you on your own, Sylvia, and you are on your own, aren't you."
Bodybag shivered inside as the deadly truth of Karen's remarks hit home. She lowered her eyes. For Karen, this was payback time and she could now afford to spell out exactly how matters stood. Fenner's death had cast a shadow over her life and others so she was quite entitled to see the positive side of it. Denny was full of delight and jubilation at her last very unexpected treat.
"Besides, didn't you do that sort of thing when you were young, Sylvia? I was pretty good with a water pistol when I was a kid. It takes me back. However Denny, perhaps you had better let me have the water pistol and be ready for lockup as normal."
"Cool, miss," Denny grinned broadly and scampered down the corridors.
When Karen was back in her office, she examined the close imitation of the Luger pistol carefully and placed it in pride of place in the office. Her grin to herself was whole souled and felt from the bottom of her soul at this innocent piece of plastic which couldn't harm anyone.
One Hundred And Thirty Three
Jo arrived at George's soon after eight that evening, John dropping her off on his way to some judge's convention that mere QC's weren't permitted to attend. He said he'd pick her up later so that she could drink. A tennis match was going on in Jo's head, of whether she should float her suggestion with George, or whether she shouldn't. But before this decision was made, Jo knew that she had to have answers to a few questions. The possible answers she might receive were almost more frightening than how George might react to what she had to say. They sat and talked for a while, listening to some fairly hypnotic music that couldn't fail to relax even the most tense of souls. It was odd, George thought wryly, how two women who now knew so much about each other, could talk for almost an hour about nothing remotely important, always avoiding the issues that had so recently occupied both their minds. At one point, Jo looked at George with a little twinkle in her eye and said,
"That's the longest I've ever seen you make a drink last." George found that she couldn't quite meet Jo's eyes.
"I haven't got round to eating yet today and too much alcohol on an empty stomach is never a good idea." Jo rolled her eyes.
"Then do it," She said gently but firmly. She didn't take her unwavering gaze away from George until she finally shrugged, stood up and moved towards the kitchen. Looking back over her shoulder, George asked,
"Are you hungry?" Not wanting to be the only one eating.
"I ate before I came out," Replied Jo, wondering how long George would have put this off if Jo hadn't brought it up. George returned in a few minutes with a plate of cheese and crackers. Jo made absolutely no comment on what George was eating, knowing that as long as she was, drawing attention to it wasn't necessary.
"So," Said George, taking a mouthful of cheese, "Tell me why you've been looking so pensive ever since you got here." Thinking that she'd actually hidden it quite well, Jo's eyes widened. "You're not the only one who has the capacity to be vaguely observant on occasions, you know," George said dryly. Jo took a swig of her whisky to give her courage.
"It's about John," She said, putting the glass back on the table. George just waited. "But before I tell you about the possible solution to some of our problems, yours, mine and his, I need answers to a couple of questions."
"Go on," Said George, thoroughly intrigued but still on her guard.
"I need to know how you feel about John." George recoiled as if she'd been slapped. Putting the plate of cheese down on the coffee table, because she suddenly didn't feel like eating it, George lit a cigarette.
"Why is it so imperative for you to know?" She asked guardedly.
"Because I need to know what level of threat your feelings for John might pose." George looked relieved.
"Well, you can stop worrying," She said. "I might still love John," She added, now knowing that she could be totally open with Jo. "But he will never feel the same about me again. I've hurt him too much." Jo looked unconvinced. "Oh, he might say he does," Went on George, "He might even think he does, but he couldn't. What happened with Charlie hurt him more than he will ever admit to anyone. How could he, how could anyone, love me after I'd put them through something like that. Jo, even if John thinks he does still have anything but negative feelings for me, it won't get him anywhere. We've both hurt each other too much to even consider living together or having any kind of a relationship again. You can feel utterly safe on that score, I promise."
"I thought you didn't do promises," Said Jo, a small smile turning up the corners of her mouth. But George remained very serious.
"That's one promise I know I can keep," She replied. "Jo, I'm not going through this again. Though it feels odd to say it, I value our friendship far more than I do a quick fix from John, and I never thought I'd even come close to saying something like that." Jo stared at her, utterly speechless. Never would she have expected to hear something like this from George. Yes, Jo had known that they were getting closer, they were becoming friends of a sort. You don't exchange the type of deeply held confidences that they had and not become friends, but it still stunned her to hear George say it. She was incredibly touched by such a level of sentiment coming from someone whom she'd thought of for years as not having a remotely soft bone in her body.
"Well," Said Jo, trying to steady her voice, "Keeping that in mind, there's something else I need to ask you." George had observed Jo's slight shock at what she'd said, and knew that in barely commenting on it she was trying to bring the conversation back on to safer ground. George simply raised an eyebrow. "George, this is quite difficult," Jo added, looking more uncomfortable by the minute.
"I'm listening," George replied, wondering what on earth was coming.
"When you slept with John, recently I mean, I know he said something to you about me, something that I might not want to know. What was it?" George held her cigarette suspended in mid air, staring at Jo because she could all too easily remember John's words of that night. He'd said, "Jo's not quite as adventurous as you." Just before the ash fell from the end of her cigarette, she reached forward and stubbed it out in the ashtray. "What was it, George?" Jo persisted. "Did he tell you how uninteresting in bed I am?"
"No, of course not," Said George, with a little too much vehemence. Jo rolled her eyes.
"George, you're an even more transparent liar than my youngest son," She said, knowing that whatever it was, she needed to know. Now it was George's turn to look uncomfortable.
"I think his words were, Jo's not quite as adventurous as you. Why, do you think that's why he strays?"
"I'd say it was pretty obvious, wouldn't you?" Jo replied, the hurt at John's words clearly showing in her face.
"Jo, that's got absolutely nothing to do with it," Said George with total certainty.
"Hasn't it?" Asked Jo in disgust.
"No, not in the slightest. Jo, just because I'll try almost anything at least once, does not, I repeat not make you uninteresting in bed. If anything, it makes me a whore. John really isn't that fickle. You might think he is sometimes, and you'd probably have every reason too, but John doesn't work like that." George stood up and moved to perch on the arm of Jo's chair. Taking one of Jo's hands that had been folded in her lap, she could feel the chill from its contact with the ice-filled whisky glass. "John loves you, Jo, more than he's ever loved anyone."
"So why is it so difficult for him to be even remotely faithful?" Jo asked, her tone half-angry, half-pleading.
"I don't know," Said George wearily. "I think he needs at least the pretence of an affair, or a fling, or an occasional away fixture to remind himself why he loves the one woman he's supposed to be with. You know as well as I do that it mostly stems from feeling very insecure. I think part of him is so convinced that whoever he's with will one day leave him, that he has to make the pretence of not needing them so much. After Charlie, he thought I didn't love him, so he played away to feel appreciated again."
"But I do love him," Jo said emphatically. "I wouldn't put up with him the way I do if I didn't."
"I know," Said George, gently chafing away the coldness from Jo's hand. "And John knows that too, but because he didn't have a fallback when his mother died, and therefore left him, I think he feels that he has to have some way of coping if ever you were to leave him. I don't know that for certain, I'm just taking a shot in the dark."
"Which makes what I have to suggest, all the more reasonable," Said Jo, turning her head slightly to look in to George's face. "Will you help me keep him on the straight and narrow?" George looked nonplussed.
"I don't understand," She said. "After all, I was the one who failed to keep him on the straight and narrow in the first place."
"George, I think he needs both of us," Said Jo carefully. George let go of Jo's hand as if it had burnt her. She stood up and began pacing back and forth between the piano and the sofa.
"Jo," She said firmly. "I can't let you do that."
"Why?" Asked Jo, "It's the obvious solution to a problem. We both love John, you've said it yourself, and I don't think he'll ever feel secure enough to settle with just one woman. George, one woman, especially not a fairly conventional woman, will ever be enough for John."
"Well, it's about bloody time it was," George replied furiously. "Jo, I can't do this. The guilt I've felt at sleeping with him twice has almost succeeded in finishing me off altogether. Wonderful as it might be to be what amounts to John's mistress, I just couldn't do it."
"But there wouldn't be any question of guilt involved in this," Persisted Jo, determined to persuade George to agree. George eventually sat down on the sofa and lit another cigarette.
"Is this really what you want?" Asked George, still unable to believe that Jo was serious about this.
"I wouldn't have suggested it if it wasn't," Jo replied. "George, it's the only way I can think of, of making him stay with me long term. If I just let things go on as they are, he will hurt me once too often, and I don't want that to happen."
"Are you planning to go official about your relationship with him?"
"No way," Said Jo, briefly rolling her eyes. "That only ever introduces unnecessary tensions and expectations. George, I'm asking you to do this for me, because I know that you won't ever take him back full time. If I didn't know who he was sleeping with, I'd always be afraid that one day, he might find someone who could give him more than I do. There would always be the possibility that he would one day leave me for someone else. As you said, that isn't going to happen with you." George sat and smoked in silence, contemplating everything Jo had said. Eventually, she stubbed out her cigarette and refilled her glass with Martini. Picking it up, she reached forward to clink it with Jo's.
"Crazy as this situation is," She said with a rueful smile, "I think you have yourself a deal." As their glasses touched, Jo smiled broadly.
"Thank you," She said, "You're not the only one who's going to have reservations about this."
"I think I'll leave telling him about this to you," Said George far too innocently, knowing of old how much John hated to be outmanoeuvred.
A couple of hours later, when they'd consumed enough alcohol to relax both of them, and George had eaten the rest of her plate of cheese, they heard a familiar car draw up outside and a key turn in the front door.
"I'd forgotten he still had Neil's key," George said with a smile at John's devious nature. When he appeared in the lounge, they both smiled at him.
"How were the judges?" Asked Jo, and he couldn't help but notice the distinct air of relaxed connivance between these two favourite women of his.
"I wish I'd been here instead," He said. "If I ever end up as thoroughly irritating and dull as the rest of them, do let me know."
"Oh, I don't think there's much chance of that, do you, Jo?" George asked, giving Jo a conspiratorial wink. Jo grinned.
"No, I don't think so somehow."
"I'm not even going to ask what you two have been discussing in my absence," He replied, getting the very discomforting feeling that they'd been talking about him.
"Oh, you'll find out soon enough," Said George, trying to wind him up even further. John held out the door key he'd let himself in with.
"Do you want this back?" He asked, holding it out to George.
"I think you'd better keep it for now," She said, wondering just how he would take Jo's suggestion. A little while later when George watched them drive away in John's car, she stood on the doorstep, looking out at the dark, now November night. She was forced to admit that Jo's idea had been an ingenious one. But could they really carry it off? She didn't know. Only time would tell. A few days ago, Georgia Channing hadn't wanted more time, she hadn't wanted any time at all on this earth. But now she felt that maybe, just maybe she might have a life worth fighting for.
One Hundred And Thirty Four
"The LCd must have been slipping when they let you take on the Rogers case. What they wanted from their point of view was a nice compliant judge who knows full well that sending down a football hero would not please his lords and masters. And what do they get but you," Jo's amused tones set the seal on the scene of cosy intimacy of an evening at her house in the same way as they had shared so many evenings.
The expression on John's face was a combination of a naughty schoolboy, revelling in his badness and the idealistic man whose steady unflinching gaze was fixed on life's far horizons rather than on the short sighted perspectives of self interest.
"I am willing to be persuaded to the contrary by facts as the trial unfolds," John calmly pontificated, not altogether convincingly. "But the essence of the case is of a common lout, his sense of self importance inflated by his publicist and by a fawning press, who has come to think that he is exempt from normal moral restraints and, above all, from justice. He finds himself in a bar surrounded by a pack of his accomplices and hangers on and, in an unprovoked assault, leaves an innocent man who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time so seriously injured that he is unable to continue his normal more humble occupation."
"You risk not only having the establishment ranged against you but popular opinion who will call for your blood, on both the front page of the tabloids and in the sports sections," Jo urged caution, knowing full well how wasted her advice was.
"'The people who have conquered the world now have two interests - bread and circuses.' So wrote Juvenal, a great writer of the games that took place on the circus Maximus which consumed the misplaced dreams of the Roman mob which the Caesars used cynically to keep them in line. That quotation echoed down the generations, through the Dark ages and to the present day while the names of the charioteers, so famous in their time, are forgotten." The rolling tones in John's voice conveyed the scorn and the passion in him and, after all these years, his durable and unbreakable idealism.
"Your public school education has taken interesting forms, John," Jo's amused tones nevertheless respected his strong feelings.
John nodded his agreement rather than spoke as he recalled the other strand of unorthodoxy in his thinking, his research through the more arid stretches of the Bible until he came across the relative oasis of the Songs of Solomon.
"On the top of the Old Bailey stands the statue of the scales of justice which should be evenly balanced, not weighted towards the famous and the politically powerful. If the Attorney General were at least honest, he would have that symbol recast in a form more appropriate for his corrupt thinking."
Jo shook her head in admiration, dragged back for fear of what trouble he could finally land himself in. She knew that, in this mode of conversation, John meant every word that he said in his uncompromising tones which did not hesitate. There was no other man whom she knew who would not carry on to the bitter end and this was a large part of her attraction for him.
"If David Beckham were in the dock and found guilty of a similar offence, you would send him down as you did in the Armatige case, wouldn't you," Jo articulated the words to describe a scenario that she barely dared to think that even John was capable of.
"Of course, Jo. What else is British justice there for?" John proclaimed with total certainty and assurance.
"In that case, John, it wouldn't be too much trouble to ask you to dispense your sort of justice nearer home. I'm talking about me, you and George. It doesn't begin and end in court, you know."
A sudden chilly silence froze over the warm feelings of gentle intimacy. It hung in the air
While Jo waited for the words from John which were a long time in coming while the expression on his face turned blank and remote.
"Is this what you've been leading up to, Jo? And just how far is George in on this plot?"
John's low voice heavily accentuating the consonents expressed powerful emotions of suppressed anger.
"John, there's such an obvious contradiction running right through you and you either don't acknowledge it or even see it. Place you in front of a moral dilemma where nineteen other men would compromise their moral values in a matter of injustice, you do the opposite and fight to put right that injustice regardless of taking on powerful people in high places. In contrast to that extraordinary hard, courageous decision, if you have the choice of whether or not to chase after other women, you take the easy way out every time, for example you end up sleeping with your therapist of all people. And when you do come clean about her, when you could have shown some shame and embarrassment and explain why you acted that way, you came over as so glib and matter of fact, which was really hurtful. You could have spoken up but you didn't. Aren't I someone whom you should battle to treat justly, John? This has been a long time in coming," rounded out Jo in her most powerful summing up with all the passion in her nature. "Talking to George gave me the final push to just come out and say it."
"I promise I'll stop looking at other women, Jo. I'll change. We'll get married if that is what you want," John's dry tones spoke with an utter lack of conviction.
"This concerns George as well," Jo replied equally quietly, suppressing a reaction to vent her annoyance in an inarticulate sound of frustration.
John looked sharply at Jo through half closed lids which subconsciously aided his desire not to be too closely watched.
"Oh, and might I ask you how you work that one out?"
Jo took a deep breath now that she was rounding into the matter that she had rehearsed to herself and John's possible reactions and got to the point.
"I know you, John, only too well. I don't believe that you can change overnight just like that. I need you to explain to me just exactly why you slept with George, not once but twice, the same woman whom you have fought with like cat and dog for years. As I say, you take the easy way out when you're not in court unless you can convince me otherwise."
John was silent for two of the longest minutes in his life as he gathered his thoughts together for what looked like an unpleasant scene just when he least expected it.
"I don't know what you want me to say, Jo," He led off in a hesitant fashion.
"How about the truth?" Came Jo's immediate angry response before she softened her approach in a more sorrowful tone. "I have to know why you slept with George and how you feel about her."
"I love her as Charlie's mother," he eventually replied, taking a seat as he found standing up in front of Jo uncomfortable as he did not know where to put himself. "I know that we can never live together. Too much water has gone under the bridge."
"But can you and George live apart," Jo pursued, not bothering to confront the meaningless metaphor of John's last sentence. "And, if you can't, is that why you slept with her?"
It was Jo's crystal clear, wide-open blue eyes, which gave John's studied, mannered demeanour and half closed eyes no respite. It was as if a searchlight was trained into his eyes yet this was only the same woman whom he was accustomed to viewing from on high, day in day out in court.
"All right," John admitted with a touch of impatience, "George came round one night and she practically threw herself at me."
"And being John, you couldn't resist. Come on, admit it."
John got up from his armchair, turned his back on Jo and took slow, deliberate paces round the far corner of the room before talking in Jo's direction.
"All right, my powers of resistance to an attractive woman like George are not all that they might be. Does that satisfy you?"
"So, you are still in love with her," Jo answered softly to which John made a barely perceptible nod of his head.
"And when you saw her again, that was the reason? Not just sex, like all the other women you have had one night stands with. If you sleep with the same woman more than once, it must mean something."
The expression on John's face was a barely perceptible assent.
"Good. We're getting somewhere, John. You're doing fine," Jo's much softer voice stroked John's emotional wounds which, for the first time in his life, were exposed to the surface.
"You're more deadly than my therapist, Jo," John managed a weak smile and a shaky laugh.
"That's because I know you better, John, and I'm not too close to you so that I become part of the problem and not part of the solution. I am fighting you for your soul as in Don Giovanni. Remember the way that he ruthlessly dismissed Donna Elvira all the way through the opera while he pursues Donna Anna and, at the end, the statue of the Commendatore comes to life, burns down the castle and condemns Giovanni to hell. Among the ruins of the castle, those who are left plan their futures and recite the last chorus, the moral "Such is the fate of a wrong doer." With your record of fighting the LCD, I would rather Sir Ian Rochester and Lawrence James are cast down into the depths of hell rather than you."
"I am grateful for your sense of justice, Jo. When you become a judge, wrongdoers who come before you will be grateful for your sense of justice even though it may leave severe emotional lacerations behind," John's sense of irony was tempered by the feelings of his nerve endings ruthlessly exposed.
"I have talked to George and you need to know that George still loves you but she thinks that you could never possibly love her, because of how she feels as a bad mother who is unworthy of love."
"I never reproached her," John protested.
"I know you wouldn't and I do not have to question you about that as it is so like you," Jo's voice softened into tenderness, "but you have to know how George would feel about herself. She would feel that you were trying to be kind to her and that would make her feel worse than ever. Have you considered that George sought you out at a point in her life when her self esteem was at rock bottom and she wanted to go to bed with you to make herself feel loved?"
John found himself increasingly unable to deal with the conversation. He was used to Jo's bitter reproaches at his having strayed but was not used to the idea that Jo was trying to propel him into George's bed and taking her side so much. This wasn't what he was accustomed to in his relationships, both casual and as permanent as relationships ever were.
"I don't understand you, Jo," He confessed.
"That must be the first time in your life that you have ever said these words. In our relationship, in and out of court, you are accustomed to being the teacher."
"All right, Jo. Can I make you a drink?"
"A cup of coffee only but don't think that you are using that to escape me," Jo admonished sternly.
"The thought would never cross my mind," John's little boyish, innocent voice replied.
"That's because now you know you wouldn't ever get away with it," Jo laughed.
A more companionable silence fell upon the room while John pottered round in the kitchen while Jo sank back in relief and exhaustion. Going five rounds with John demanded every resource in her body as sheer physical endurance and a mental flexibility second to none. Only till recently had Jo emerged as just about equal to John.
"Can I ask you one last question, John?" Jo said while she stirred the coffee with an ornate silver teaspoon. "Did you ever say to George that I was not as adventurous in bed as she was?" Jo admonished John. "I have heard George's version of the conversation and I had to drag it out of her only as she wanted to spare my feelings."
For the first time in his life, John was flooded with a very rare feeling of total embarrassment and he could swear that he was blushing. For decades, the suit of armour of his public school upbringing had served him magnificently in ever confronting those feelings of awkwardness that plagued him when he was first transplanted from his provincial background to that training ground of the elite and studied the languid manners of the sixth form prefects who affected such lordly assurance. It was only this moment that let the real John Deed emerge from beneath his artificial self-creation.
Jo could see how profoundly uncomfortable he felt and how he was embarrassed, not in being caught out in the way he denounced his more gutless immoral brethren but for having belittled Jo. John's profound loyalty towards Jo was brought to the surface, a feeling so deep rooted in him that it was so hard for him to look at it and confront himself.
"I'm really sorry, Jo. I didn't mean it to come out that way. You deserve better from me," John's voice was choked with emotion.
"Don't worry, John," Jo said tenderly in a way that made him feel worse about himself. "George said that that wasn't anything to feel guilty about and that in fact she sometimes feels that she goes too far the other way, and feels like a whore."
"I wish she wouldn't talk like that," He said as an aside.
"I'm not sure if she said it because that's how she really feels, or if she was simply trying to make me feel better," Replied Jo. "But I feel sorry for George and that is why I'm coming to the last thing that I want to talk to you about. And then both of us can be at peace."
"And what might that be, Jo? I've learned to become very worried when you say words like that."
Jo paused for a minute and grinned, partly because of the effect on john that she had and partly out of a touch of nerves in terms of precisely how to approach what seemed like climbing the last spur to the white topped peak of Mount Everest. The end was in sight but she needed that last spurt of energy.
"John, I told you earlier on that I don't believe you when you say that you will stay faithful to just one woman, myself .."
"You underrate me, Jo," John declared in ringing tones which Jo dismissed in her own mind as worth far less than the more subdued, heartfelt confessions which she had wrung out of him. "If I put my mind to it in the same way that I pursue injustice, I can change and my better half can lead me and show me the error of my ways."
"You will last one week, perhaps two at the outside, before that compulsion to steal away and seduce the first available woman takes over. You have an addiction where sex is concerned and it is time that you faced that reality. I have been trying in various ways to tell you about this side of you and never once have you acknowledged this."
John maintained a stolid silence where the anger and hurt pride in him fought silently with the words like jewels as if they were written in his soul. Despite himself, he was forced to listen.
"The only way that I will be able to continue with a long term relationship is only if you are allowed to stray within certain limits. Otherwise, I know that you will hurt me one time too many by your womanising and that will be the end of the two of us. If you are honest with yourself, as much as you are in court, you must know in your heart that this is true, You must know that a fairly conventional woman like myself is not enough for you and never will be. Don't come out with your usual argument that I am your ideal woman as you know that it isn't true."
"So what are you suggesting?" John asked warily. His state of confusion was such that he could not for the life of him see what direction Jo was aiming at.
"That comes back to George. She loves you but knows that she will never live with you. George and I have agreed," Jo said with perfect aplomb as if they were agreeing how the aborted court case should be handled between the two of them. "That your urge to stray will be limited to George and no one else," Jo finished in a very emphatic, decided tone.
"George has agreed to this?" John's incredulous voice rose dramatically to an unheard of pitch. He was utterly incapable of layering over this bolt out of the blue with any pretense of being unflappable.
"Yes. And what's wrong with it. It was my idea in the first place. But I must make it utterly clear that George and I will keep tabs on the situation and there is no possibility that you will not be found out if you renege on this agreement."
"Do I have to sign this with my blood?" John's mistimed flippancy drew a lightning reaction from Jo.
"Your word will and must be enough. Remember the way you talked once about Roe Colmore and what your word means to you. It must mean the same out of court, too."
"Why did you come up with this one, Jo?" John asked, totally honestly and frankly, all pretenses and artifices laid bare.
"Because George is someone who I know and who I can deal with," Jo said simply. "I know where I am with her."
"Why do you bother with someone as unreliable as me?" John asked, looking into the eyes of this immensely strong and compassionate woman. All the time that he had known her, he had felt that no matter how bright and intelligent she was, he was the master. Now, he wondered how much his learning and erudition really amounted to.
Jo went over to him and gently slid her arms round his bowed shoulders while his face brushed against her body in a gesture of simple human affection.
"Because the judge side of you is a very fine human being, the best man whom I have ever known in my life. You need to give the rest of you a chance and let it catch up with you," Her gentle tones soothed and caressed his divided soul. As he drew her down on to his lap, he said,
"Are you sure this is what you really want?"
"If it means I can begin to trust you after all these years, then yes, it is." As he began kissing her, he knew this was where he wanted to be.
"And George really did agree to this?" He murmured with a smile in his voice.
"Oh, she took some persuading," Jo said lightly. "But I think she needs you in her life as much as I do. I know you, John Deed, and I know that you feel far more for her than you're willing to admit too, but you need to convince her of that."
"What have I done to deserve you?" He said in to her hair.
"Sometimes I wonder," She said with a smile. "But as long as you keep to the deal, you've got me for as long as you want me."
One Hundred And Thirty Five
On Saturday the first of November, Yvonne was again sat in the visiting room, across the table from Denny. This is where their story had begun, two and a half months before. So much had happened for both of them during this time. Yvonne had got together and broken up with Karen, watched her son be convicted and sentence to time in custody, and dealt with the ramifications of his suicide. This was to say nothing of the consequences of Fenner's death, which she was sure would creep up on them at some point in the not so distant future. For Denny, the time had been no less dramatic. Denny had finally been able to see some justice done for Shaz. She'd watched as that bitch, Merriman, had been banged up after being sent down for over twenty years, an utterly indefinable time to Denny. But then the feeling of satisfaction had been torn away from her when Merriman had killed herself. Denny had seen this as Snowball's way of ducking out of what was coming to her. But then Denny had talked to Karen. She could remember that day when Karen had found her beating the crap out of a punch bag, calling it every hateful name under the sun. Karen had listened to her, and then made a deal with her. As a result of this, Denny was keeping her nose clean, doing some education classes and trying to stay good so that she could get out as early as possible.
"Do you feel like we've been here before?" Asked Yvonne with a smile.
"Yeah," Said Denny, leaving her thoughts of Shaz behind in order to return to the present. "It's like when you came to visit me before the trial. I said I was going to kill Snowball, didn't I, if she didn't get sent down. But then the stupid bitch went and did it herself."
"Yeah, well, I'm glad you didn't do anything like that," Said Yvonne firmly, thinking that two daughters on trial for murder would just be a bit too much.
"How's Lauren?" Asked Denny, trying to change the subject.
"She's okay," Said Yvonne.
"Only, it'd be nice to see her," Said Denny, really wanting a chance to get to know the woman who was as good as a sister to her.
"Lauren doesn't want to come near this place for a while," Said Yvonne evasively.
"Why, what's she done?" Asked Denny succinctly which made Yvonne stare at her in shock. "Oh, come on, man," Said Denny in disgust. "I ain't that stupid. An Atkins has to have done something pretty bad to be afraid of coming near this place. Hey," She said, with a wicked grin on her face, "She didn't finish Fenner off, did she?" Yvonne's stunned silence seemed to say it all.
"No shit," Said Denny in awe. "Tell her I'm proud of her, man."
"Keep your bleedin voice down," Said Yvonne vehemently. "Doing what Lauren did ain't ever anything to be proud of. Do you understand that, Denny? Never should you be proud of doing something like that. Sometimes, things like that are necessary, the only possible solution to a problem. But that doesn't ever mean that it's something to be proud of."
"Yeah, yeah, okay, man, I get it."
"Well, just make sure you do."
"Have the pigs been sniffing around?"
"No, not yet, but I think they will. Denny, I'm scared," Said Yvonne, finally revealing the real extent of her worry for Lauren.
"Hey," Said Denny, putting a hand over Yvonne's. "I thought you didn't do scared." Yvonne gave her a watery smile.
"This time, I do," She said ruefully. "Denny, I don't want Lauren to end up in here. I don't want her going through everything I did."
"Now you listen," Said Denny firmly, for once taking the role of the maternal figure instead of Yvonne. "If the police catch up with Lauren, and if they put her in here, I'll look after her, innit. Ain't no one gonna mess with an Atkins, and especially not if she's with me."
"You're a good kid, Denny," Said Yvonne fondly. "I just hope it doesn't come to that," She finished, but knowing with her Atkins sixth sense that one day it would. When their half an hour was nearly up, they were approached by Karen.
"Oy, Miss," Said Denny with a wide grin. "You better be taking good care of my water pistol, innit."
"It's safe and sound in my office, Denny," Replied Karen with a smile.
"That wasn't meant for confiscating," Said Yvonne reprovingly.
"Oh, so you know about it, do you," Said Karen, her smile broadening. "And would I be right in suggesting that it was you who made the delivery in the first place?"
"I don't know what you're talking about, Miss," Said Yvonne an innocently sweet smile on her face. "Anyway," Said Yvonne, changing the subject, "What're you doing here on a Saturday?"
"I knew you were coming in to see Denny, and I wondered if we could go for a drink afterwards." Yvonne looked at Karen contemplatively. She'd been hurt to her core when Karen had ended their tentative relationship, but after a fortnight of thinking about it, she couldn't possibly fault Karen's reasoning. She knew that Karen couldn't reconcile herself with being involved with anything as illegal as murder, and as both Nikki and Cassie had spelled out to her, this was Karen's prerogative.
"Yeah, sure," She said lightly, giving Karen a swift, appraising look. Agreeing to meet up after visiting time, Karen left them to it.
"It's a real shame about you two," Said Denny when Karen had left.
"It might sort itself out in time," Said Yvonne. "All ain't lost, not by a long way."
After Denny had been taken back to the wing, Yvonne walked out to her car, to find Karen waiting for her. In silence, they walked to a bar not very far from the prison.
"I think this is where we began," Said Karen, putting two glasses of scotch down on the table.
"Yeah," Said Yvonne with a rueful smile. "Nearly eighteen months ago. Something happened to me that day," She said, referring to the time Karen had taken her for a drink after visiting Ritchie in hospital. "Suddenly, that barrier that usually came between us as con and screw, was gone. You were just another woman, just another mum whose son was giving her grief."
"I know," Said Karen, her tone tinged with regret. "That's what you were for me, too. The only difference is that I found myself attracted to you. You made me laugh, and you put me at my ease. I felt normal for the first time in far too long. So," She said, lighting them both a cigarette, "How did we end up here?"
"Because we both took the plunge," Said Yvonne, taking Karen's hand in hers and gently running a thumb over her knuckles. "Because we convinced each other that being more than just friends was a good idea. We both needed something new, something that didn't mean getting involved with yet another bastard bloke."
"And it was," Said Karen vehemently. "Yvonne, no matter what happens, I will never regret those few weeks we had together. You are and always will be incredibly precious to me."
"And that's what you are to me," Said Yvonne, her eyes brimming with tears. "But I can't make you happy. I love you so much," She said, the tears now cascading down her cheeks, "And I know I shouldn't say it, but I do. I just wish I'd said it, just bleedin once." Karen felt like a knife was being jabbed again and again in between her ribs, ripping out feelings with every twist of the blade. She moved round the table and sat next to Yvonne, putting her arms round her.
"Now you listen to me," Said Karen, her own voice unsteady with the onset of tears. "You're not the only one who regrets not saying that. I thought it was ridiculous to feel so much for someone in such a short space of time. It was like being fourteen again. I did love you, I do love you, and a part of me will always love you. But you know why I can't be with you."
"Yeah," Said Yvonne, taking comfort from the feeling of being in Karen's arms again. "I know and I do understand. Just, please, don't totally abandon us as a possibility some time in the future. Don't try and forget me as hard as you're trying to forget Fenner."
"Hey," Said Karen, kissing Yvonne's cheek, "I wouldn't ever forget you, I wouldn't even try. I'll always be here for you, whatever happens, you know that. I'm not going anywhere, Yvonne, not for a long time. As for the future, who knows what might happen." As they sat there a while longer, Karen couldn't help thinking that they were two totally different people from the two mothers of dissolute, utterly narcissistic sons, who had sat in a pub searching for so many answers. They'd loved, they'd cried, they'd laughed and they'd shouted. But here they were, emerging from the other side, still friends, still there for each other, and ready to take on whatever was thrown at them, whether that be good or bad. Even if the worst should happen, and Yvonne's daughter be charged and tried with Fenner's murder, they knew that as friends, they would survive, strong for each other, ready to deal with whatever loomed over the horizon.
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