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 Twenty One

On the Wednesday morning, Karen joined the others in the public gallery.

"It'll make a change to watch Fenner being put through the mill," She remarked to Yvonne.

"Yeah, well, let's just hope he sticks to the truth," Replied Yvonne, remembering her threat to him of the day before. As they watched the elegant figure of Georgia Channing take her place at the defense bench instead of the smarmy-looking Brian Cantwell, Yvonne said, "Who the hell is she?"

"Oh, I forgot to tell you. When I was talking to the judge yesterday, his secretary mentioned that the other barrister had resigned. I suppose she must be his replacement."

"Yeah," Mused Yvonne. "Looks like Ritchie's going up in the world. There's no way that one'll take shit from anyone."

When Fenner stood on the stand and held the bible to intone the oath, Yvonne whispered to Karen,

"Only the devil would keep that one safe." At this, Karen briefly remembered Helen Stewart once having told her that Jim Fenner had the luck of the devil. How right she'd been. Jo moved forward and looked at Fenner with something akin to contempt.

"Principle Officer Fenner. Am I right in stating that whilst your wing governor was away on holiday, it was your responsibility to deal with any applications put forward by inmates?" George Channing raised her hand.

"My Lord," She began in the aristocratic tones which had so long ago lured Deed to her bed, "I fail to see the relevance of this." Oh, she's started, thought Jo with a level of resignation that spoke of previous experience.

"My Lord," Jo responded, "I am simply trying to establish how the defendant Snowball Merriman was able to obtain access to the prison library so soon after her entrance in to Larkhall."

"Please continue, Mrs. Mills," Came Deed's reply, totally ignoring George's interruption. Jo continued.

"Please could you answer the question, Mr. Fenner?"

"No, any decisions usually made by the wing governor were dealt with by the governing governor."

"Are you absolutely sure about that?" Asked Jo, moving to the prosecution bench to retrieve Yvonne's statement. "Because Mrs. Atkins said in her testimony that Snowball Merriman," Here she began to read from her notes, "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. Does this not suggest at the very least some involvement on your part, and at the most sole authority over this type of decision?"

"Yeah, Well, you don't want to believe Atkins. Would you believe one of Her Majesty's prison officers over a con?" Remembering what she'd learnt about this man the night before, Jo looked him straight in the eye.

"In this, as in many other circumstances, yes I would." Hearing the level of disgust and loathing in Jo's voice, Karen briefly wondered if the Judge had told Jo everything she'd said yesterday. Jo returned to the attack.

"So, I will ask you again, Principle Officer Fenner, did you or did you not give Snowball Merriman her enhanced status and promote her to a red band, and in so doing give her direct and almost sole access to the library, where she later constructed her bomb?"

"Yes," Said Fenner, clearly hating this woman who had showed him up for a fool.

"Now," Jo continued, "Would you tell the jury of the two pieces of information which were given to you by snowball Merriman?"

"When she'd been in Larkhall for about a fortnight, she told me there was going to be a break out."

"And did she suggest who was going to be making this break out?"

"She said it was Yvonne Atkins."

"And you automatically believed a woman who had only been an inmate of Larkhall prison for two weeks?"

"Atkins had made two previous escape attempts."

"That's as maybe," Conceded Jo. "And please would you enlighten us all as to how the defendant further led you to believe that Yvonne Atkins was planning an escape attempt."

"It was when she brought me the card from the bouquet of flowers." George held up her hand.

"What card is this?" Both John and Jo stared at Georgia Channing with utter astonishment.

"Ms Channing," Replied John. "this is part of the evidence, which as defense barrister I would have thought you would have been aware of."

"And you are well aware that I only came to this case yesterday," Replied George with little regard for the usual decorum required in the courtroom.

"Your fault you didn't ask for an adjournment," Put in Jo quietly.

"Quite," Agreed John hearing Jo's little aside.

"Might I continue questioning my witness?" Asked Jo. At the nod from John, she returned to Fenner.

"Please continue, Mr. Fenner."

"Merriman brought me the card from the bouquet Atkins had received from her son."

"And what were the words on this card?"

"If memory serves, at the top it said, I love you, Mum, and lower down it said, don't place your bets till the rod's in K's bag." Jo again retrieved the card from the evidence bench.

"Is this the card in question?"

"Yes." Before Jo could return it to the evidence bench, George moved forward and plucked it out of Jo's hand so she could take a look.

"The time for getting to grips with the evidence is during an adjournment, not the trial itself," Said Jo for all to hear.

"I don't need you to tell me how to do my job," Said George, her anger rising.

"Oh, I wouldn't dream of it, George," Said Jo, taking back the card.

"Ladies," Came Deed's slightly admonishing tone, "This is neither the time nor the place." Jo returned to her questioning.

"Mr. Fenner. What did Snowball Merriman say to you when she gave you the card?"

"She said, isn't rod another name for a gun? That means there's a gun hidden in Karen Betts' handbag to help Atkins escape." George got up again. John was really getting tired of this.

"My Lord, is there proof of this?" She asked.

"Surely you can find this out in cross-examination, Ms Channing. Please don't disturb this court again if your objection is so feeble." The hackles could almost be seen rising on George's neck.

"Finally, Mr. Fenner, could you tell the jury what Snowball Merriman's reaction was once she had been apprehended and put in segregation?"

"She asked if this was all we could do to her. Then, she put on that fake American accent and said, Well, if I'm not on death row, I'm on holiday." Jo allowed these words to sink in with the jury and finally said,

"No further questions."

George didn't give John a chance to ask her forward, she moved to stand in front of Fenner with the grace and stealth of a cat.

"Mr. Fenner, or should I say Principle Officer Fenner. Is it your usual routine to become very pally, as I believe Mrs. Atkins put it, with prisoners in your charge?" Fenner was furious.

"No, it isn't." George held up a file and waved it at Fenner.

"I think the jury ought to know that this isn't actually the case. Do the names Rachel Hicks, Michelle Dockley and Maxine Purvis mean anything to you?" Fenner didn't answer. "Would I be right in suggesting that you have had relationships with all three of these prisoners, two of whom are now dead by suicide?"

"Excuse me," Said Fenner in a mock-innocent voice, "But I'm not the one on trial here."

"No, but perhaps you should be," Replied George. "Might I remind you of your involvement with Maxine Purvis, in which she also manipulated you in to believing that Yvonne Atkins was guilty of murdering another inmate, Virginia O'kane. Does the similarity of that incident with this one not strike you as something to at the very least think about?"

"No!" Fenner's face was getting redder and redder. George began switching tack to really throw Fenner off.

"Mr. Fenner, when you searched Karen Betts' handbag, looking for the gun, why did you do this behind a closed office door, instead of getting the security staff involved from the beginning?" Jo had badly not wanted George to ask this, but George being George had done exactly the opposite to what anyone might have wished.

"I didn't want Karen Betts to take the wrap for it." In the public gallery, Yvonne was so incensed by this totally untrue reply that she couldn't help shouting,

"You lying bastard!" Karen put out a hand almost as if to restrain Yvonne, and found her hand being squeezed by Yvonne's, clearly in an attempt to rein in her anger. John couldn't help but smile.

"Mrs. Atkins, this is neither the grand stand at Ascot nor the floor of the stock exchange." Suitably mollified, Yvonne stayed quiet. Karen's and Yvonne's hands remained clasped, neither of them wanting to relinquish the moral support of the other.

"I find myself agreeing with Mrs. Atkins," Continued George. "After you very unwisely informed the defense yesterday of the allegation made towards you by Karen Betts, I have since discovered that this was not the first allegation of this kind to be made against you. It is for the jury to decide, on listening to this witness, a man who claims to be a hardworking prison officer, who has had numerous allegations of sexual assault against colleagues and relationships with inmates, if a single word that comes out of his mouth can be trusted. I would like to further direct the jury to a newspaper cutting, 6B in your bundle My Lord, in which Principle Officer Fenner and a number of his male colleagues were declared by a journalist to be on a porn fest weekend in Amsterdam. Ladies and Gentlemen of the jury, is this really the kind of man whose word can be trusted on issues such as friendliness with female inmates? I don't think so. No further questions, My Lord."

"Not that you've actually asked very many, Ms Channing, and I ought to remind you that it is normal practice for a barrister to ask questions, not to give a speech for the opposing witness. Do you wish to re-examine, Mrs. Mills?"

"I have just one question, My Lord. Mr. Fenner, what did snowball Merriman say to you when you questioned her decision not to remain in voluntary segregation?"

"She put on that phony accent again and said, the show must go on, Mr. Fenner."

"No Further questions, My Lord," Said Jo, finally feeling that although George had given Fenner a real run for his money, she had just about held on to him as a credible witness by the skin of her teeth. Deed intoned,

"Court will adjourn until after lunch, resuming at two o'clock."

In the public gallery, Karen and Yvonne untwined their hands, both feeling a little self-conscious at doing such a thing in the first place. The action had, however, not gone unnoticed by Cassie who filed it away as a useful piece of information to examine later. As they filed out of the court, Karen saw Jo and went over to speak to her.

"Well done," She said.

"I don't know that I achieved all that much," Replied Jo.

"You both gave Fenner a run for his money, and that's a plus any day," Said Karen, meaning it. Jo felt a twinge of real sorrow for what Fenner must have put Karen through.

"I think I ended up being hostile to my own witness," She said.

"With Fenner, that's never difficult."

"John told me," Said Jo, not needing to specify what she was talking about.

"I thought as much," Replied Karen.

"If you ever think of putting together a case against him, don't hesitate to call me."

"Thank you. Much as I hate the idea of the defense having any success in this case, whoever has replaced Brian Cantwell really riled him." Jo laughed.

"Oh, that's George's role in life, to play with men. She either dangles them from a fingernail or tramples on those that get in her way."

"You know her then?" Asked Karen in slight amusement.

"She's John's ex-wife, so yes, our paths do cross occasionally."

"I bet that's nice and cosy?" Commented Yvonne, coming up behind them and catching the end of the conversation.

"You could say that," Said Jo with a grimace. Then turning to Karen she added, "Remember what I said, I'd be only too pleased to help you nail that insult to humanity."

"I'll bare it in mind," Said Karen, wondering if one day she really could get as far as putting Fenner out of action for good.

Part Twenty Two

Neil Grayling woke up especially early on Wednesday morning as this was the day he was due to perform at the trial of that Atkins youth and the Merriman prisoner. He had always been fastidious at the best of times and when he was with Hannah, he wore out her patience when they used to go to town shopping for clothes. Hannah had been used to past boyfriends whose boredom was visible after ten minutes of her drifting round the likes of Harvey Nicholls . It was a novel experience, when she first dated Neil, that he delivered an unusually expert opinion of what clothes suited her, and not a pale reflection of her well defined ideas on power dressing. It was only later that her feelings of satisfaction of her spot of retail therapy habitually descended into dread at accompanying Neil in his choice of suits. To her, all suits looked the same apart from colour. Why he was so obsessed about the particular suit he chose was something she felt she would never understand, the endless minute calculations of the cut of the jacket, the way it hung on him, the line of the pockets, the match of the shirt?

"I've got to look the part, Hannah, as Governing Governor." he would always say.

She knew he was lying. The sheer obsessive narcissistic quality of the man was something there for its own sake, not some onerous duty that he reluctantly shouldered.

Later on, when the sexual contact with Neil gradually fizzled away to the solitary, unapproachable shape on the far side of the wide double bed, she wondered what situation she had got herself into.

Of course, when she came home deliberately early one afternoon, she quietly unlocked the door and tiptoed quietly up the fresh varnished teak open staircase and peeped round the door, it wasn't some woman that was wrapped up in his arms……..

It was long years of training for the law that developed Jo Mills's protective shell of professionalism. This enabled her to assess, with her expert eye, the strength of a witness's evidence like some structural engineer as to how far they will support the complex logical structures that the stresses and strains of cross-examination will place on them. Normally, she pushed to the back of her mind the idea of whether she liked or disliked the individuals.

"You can't shut out how you feel about people, Mum," her son Mark had said to her once in his down to earth way." Or you couldn't be as good a Mum as you are."

Jo Mills's face broke into a smile at that one showing her very real love for him even though it was a distant relationship with him at public school. Where other parents were tearing their hair out over problem teenagers, Mark was there with his unique way of cutting a swathe through the complexities of the matter.

"What would I do without you, Mark." Her normally curiously formal speaking voice let down the defences as much as her wide-open soulful smile.

"Well, you could always give me some money, Mum." Mark smiled in his most winning way.

So you think yourself the incisive fearless wielder of the power of the spoken word, do you, Jo thought to herself and she never saw that one coming. She slipped her hand inside her handbag and pulled out a couple of notes. This is what mums round the world are there for in the eyes of their teenage children.

The slim shape of the professional woman, the 'other Jo Mills' was dressed for the occasion in the sleekly cut black gown which never succeeded in detracting from her slim upright figure. She somehow looked younger than her years with her short curly blond hair which was slightly at odds with her formal, low pitched voice which carried through the vastness of the court room. On her head was perched the white wig, the ancient emblem of her ancient profession giving her the air of a schoolmistress, precisely the sort of visual impact that Neil Grayling took instant dislike to. Being gay didn't stop him from being a male chauvinist, no matter what liberal sounding buzzwords came insincerely from his mouth.

Up in the gallery, Cassie, Roisin, Karen Yvonne and Lauren occupied the front row, already feeling accustomed to the rhythm of the court. Lauren was doing a last minute adjustment to her makeup but to her total fury, her pocket mirror picked out the black coloured, black hearted shape of Fenner, several rows back. Her fingers fumbled to ram the little mirror back in to her bag but her out of control fingers yanked wildly at the zip and broke it.

"Hey, Lauren,"Yvonne called out."That's your best bag."

Lauren didn't answer. It was as if her fingers were pulling up an invisible zip on Fenner's coat, right up to the throat and to choke off his windpipe with a fevered strength that she never knew she possessed. Yvonne's words"I want him out of the picture for good," rang in her ears and repeated itself like a stuck record so that her mind missed out on half the proceedings.

"Mr Grayling," Jo opened the proceedings. "Can you describe your present job at Larkhall Prison, what it involves and how long you have been doing it."

Grayling gritted his teeth to hear himself pinned down so quickly in words of one syllable when he liked to keep things vague.

"You ask me a difficult question, madam, but, briefly, I am Governing Governor at Larkhall and I have been, so to speak, 'at the helm' for about eighteen months. I am in overall charge of all the prison wings at Larkhall and I take it upon myself to give direction and leadership in these difficult times." finished Grayling, visibly beginning to inflate himself in his own self-importance.

"Mr Grayling, can I ask you did you make the decision to make up Snowball Merriman to a redband and if you didn't, who made the decision?"

"It wasn't me," Grayling said shortly. "It was Jim Fenner."

"You are absolutely positive on this, Mr Grayling." Jo Mills asked to underline her point.

"Definitely so," came the reply.

"And, in amongst your various duties, who made the decision to organise the 'Open Day' the event when, tragically, the fire took place and Sharon Wiley was killed."

"It was me that made that decision," Grayling jumped in straightaway and, more hesitantly, carried on." That is, without the faintest idea that such a tragic set of circumstances could happen."

Jo's white smile had a superficial air of good humour while, in reality, she felt a growing contempt for this buck passer and double dealer from direct impressions alone.

"Mr Grayling, can you confirm that, some time before the fire, Miss Betts came to see you to advise you that she had started a relationship with the defendant, Ritchie Atkins, and that you sanctioned it. I repeat your own words to her. "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." This was a decision that you made, quite understandably not knowing the plot that the defendants were hatching at the time." Jo Mills spoke carefully and deliberately, watching Grayling flinch at the ghastly inappropriateness of the advice in retrospect and

working hard to prevent Grayling's real fear of 'losing face' in public taking control so that he would turn and run.

"Yes," Grayling half muttered, half hissed.

"At the time, knowing only what you knew then, what was the reasoning behind your judgement, Mr Grayling." Jo Mills asked him, continuing to massage his ego.

"I was informed that Ritchie Atkins had lived abroad as he wanted nothing to do with the family business," Grayling answered, breathing heavily but with more confidence. This decision had weighed heavily on his mind and his sole driving force was to publically justify himself in a court of law so that Area would not come to him if they wanted a scapegoat. This was the one reason he agreed to testify in court." As far as I was concerned, there was nothing on Ritchie Atkins record and, as I said at the time, a prison officer is entitled to a private life so long as it did not conflict with his job." Grayling finished on an increasingly loud confident note, glancing up at Sir Ian and Lawrence James who both nodded in approval.

"How much were you involved in the practical organisation of the Open Day, both before and during the course of the day. Mr Grayling?" Jo carried on, cynically noticing his periodic glances upward at the gallery.

"The practical day to day organisation………let me see," Grayling said reflectively, buying time to search his memory."Mr Fenner, my Principal Officer, did a very successful talk at the local Masonic Lodge to whip up interest in the 'adopt a prisoner' scheme which I thought up. Karen Betts, the Wing Governor, was responsible for security, practical arrangements, including a 'rap song' performed by three prisoners, and an exhibition laid on by the prisoners in the library." and here Grayling closed his eyes momentarily at the embarrassment of the 3 Julies' rap protest ruffling a few feathers." I did the announcements, the publicity bit and general 'public relations."

Cassie and Roisin both grinned at the memory of the blunt home truths they laid on the visitors about women in prison and the latest brainchild of some arse licker in Whitehall, locking up children with their mothers. Karen looked scornfully at this pathetic monument of combined ineffectiveness and self aggrandisement. Her keen ears picked up the reference to 'my Principal Officer' and 'the Wing Governor' which told her everything about Grayling.

"And where were you when the explosion happened, Mr Grayling." Jo Mills cut to the chase, fearing to inflict unnecessary sufferings on the jury with yet more commercials for Grayling.

"I had gone back to where the prisoners were in the library where the exhibition was held to escort them out to the gardens as the visitors were starting to move in that direction already, to come outside into the garden on the next part of the guided tour. I was about half way along the corridor when the bomb went off. I can't remember anything more after that." Grayling finished in a hesitant dazed fashion, being the first time he had been dragged back in his mind to the events of that terrible day.

"If I might come in here at this point, my lord," George's loud brittle voice barged in,"I can't see what earthly use this witness can possibly be in these proceedings. My taxes are being paid to subsidise this bumbling witness to waste valuable court time."

Jo Mills was hit by a violent cross current of feelings. On the one hand, George's description of Grayling was her feelings exactly but on the other hand, she wasn't going to let this brash, high class bitch push her around and take over the court. The fact that she had been once married to John Deed was nothing that her legally trained mind would, for one second, let interfere with her legal judgement.

"Ms Channing, your excellent memory would not have forgotten this morning's charade and I would again remind you that you would do well to realise that I decide what limits I allow a council in their cross examination, not you. Nevertheless I would ask you, Mrs Mills, to explain to the court the point to where your examination of the witness is leading."

Jo nodded in the direction of John Deed and totally ignored George Channing who was fuming under her breath at John Deed's clever ploy in exploiting her vanity to shut her up.

"If the exhibition was held in the library, can you state whether or not the library books and racks were still in the library and, if not, where they had been moved to?"

"I really wasn't involved in that as I was busy with other, higher matters." Grayling stammered slightly, glancing up at the lowering storm clouds of Sir Ian and Lawrence James piled high right at the back of the gallery."I cannot remember any library books where the exhibition was."

"So presumably they were in the nearest place to the library." Jo Mills almost sighed as she spoke, feeling like a determined dentist extracting a tooth from a patient, bent on backing away from her."Which would be the corridor."

"Yes," Grayling spoke, feeling torn between his own pride and the glares from his friends, literally 'on high.'

."Mr Grayling, you have explained to the court that, at the time that the bomb exploded, you were the only person in authority at Larkhall present at the scene. Can you describe for the benefit of the court the exact appearance of the corridor as far as you can do so? Take your time as I know that this is associated with painful memories." Jo finished in a gentler note than she had planned to.

"As far as I can remember, there were metal racks on either side of the corridor piled high with books."

"Would you say that they were in any discernable order?"

"I only glanced for a second but they didn't seem to be in any particular order. Of course, I'm not a librarian." Grayling smiled tightly.

"No, only a nobbing Prison Governor," Cassie muttered derisively under her breath, scornful of this bumbling fool who wouldn't last five minutes in the job she now did.

"The bastard," Karen fumed quietly. "He's trying to sabotage the trial. Even he isn't this useless. Take my word for it." Karen assured them seeing himself conduct himself worse in court than her newest Prison Officer. Lauren said nothing, her anger still at boiling point but an Atkins can bottle it up when it was needed

"My lord," George Channing's loud voice threatened to vibrate the overhead lights in the domed roof." Must the court endure this interminable and purposeless cross examination," she finished with an affected yawn.

"Ms Channing, you must learn that patience is a virtue which all of us acquire in time, some later than others."John Deed's voice rolled out smoothly with a very meaning look in George's direction. Concern for her fellow human beings is hardly a charge George Channing can be accused of, he nearly said.

"Let us get to the point, Mr Grayling. As an average human being although a layman in library matters, seeing that the Larkhall library would have to be reconstituted after the open day, would you say that from your observations, that would be an easy matter or an extremely difficult matter." Jo Mills spoke sharply and precisely, her manner calling Mr Grayling to order.

"A difficult matter," Mr Grayling had to admit.

George Channing was instantly up on her feet like a hound let off the leash. The stage was hers and she was sure she could wipe the floor with Miss Oxfam's witness.

"Mr Grayling," George Channing's loud commanding, stern, almost nannyinsh voice reminded Grayling why he hated dominant women."You have testified to the court that, while you are a glittering ornament decorating Larkhall Prison, practically, you are everywhere and at the same time nowhere at all. I ask you to explain to the court what practical use your evidence is at all. I can't see anything of any substance." George Channing finished with a mocking laugh.

"Objection, my Lord," Jo Mill's professionalism sprung to the fore." Whatever court my learned colleague has practiced in before, she should know not to badger the witnesses in this outrageous fashion."

"My thoughts exactly," John Deed's melodious voice concealed the feeling of horror and incredulity that the habitual verbal crossfire between his ex wife and his girlfriend was carried into his working life as a judge ruling between two opposing councils. "You know very well, George Channing, my ability to employ the ultimate sanction within my powers on a council who consistently steps over the line as to what is permitted in cross examination. I have used this sanction once before, or so you will have heard and I am very close to imposing this sanction right now."

George Channing reacted as if an ice cold bucketful of water was thrown in her face. She coloured and swallowed and briefly returned to her papers while she collected her wits.

"How the bleeding hell did the judge knock the stuffing out of that posh bitch?" Yvonne whispered out of the corner of her mouth to an equally curious Karen. Karen had had an insight into the very real human being that was John Deed without the judge's robes and was intrigued that a small amount of force of personality could shut up that irritating woman so quickly. Just what was the 'ultimate sanction' and why did that cow crumple up so easily?

Sir Ian Rochester and Lawrence James scowled impotently at John Deed as they knew full well that John Deed was perfectly capable of carrying out this threat. At the same time, they were beginning to wonder if they had done the right thing in agreeing to Georgia Channing taking the place of Brian Cantwell in so delicate a trial. Full marks for enthusiasm but five out of ten for judgement, Sir Ian reflected. He looked down at the solitary figure of Fenner a few rows down in the gallery and searched his memory. Was he the prison officer that Neil phoned him up about to ask him to help get him off the hook over some rape case? The man looks harmless enough.

"I beg your pardon, my lord." George Channing rather venomous apology fought its way out of her mouth. It was the nice fat barrister's fee and the vision of the luxury apartment in the Algarve which tipped the balance.

"Mr Grayling, may I ask you what happened to the revolver that was originally discovered at the time of the explosion and when it came to light at the time of Ritchie's accident?"

"Regrettably, I cannot answer the question," Grayling replied, looking distinctly shifty on the one occasion that the man was giving a straight answer.

"Cannot or will not." George's sharp tones cut in.

"I ought to explain that for several weeks, I was off work sick as I was badly injured in the explosion. When I came back to work, the police had already combed Larkhall prison from top to bottom but there was no trace of the gun. Where it was concealed, I really don't know."

"It doesn't say much for the standard of security at Larkhall that such a large solid object could remain hidden for all those weeks." George's little dig was in a more muted tone than even she was used to.

"What can I do," Grayling replied, spreading his hands." There's nothing more that I can say."

"My lord, I think that this line of investigation is going nowhere apart from straining the patience of the jury in a case complicated enough already." Jo Mills smoothly intervened, stealing one of George's favourite gambits much to her annoyance.

"I agree, Mrs Mills.Ms Channing, will you please continue with the remainder of your case."

George Channing went red in the face at the damned impertinence of that Mills woman and her spineless boyfriend who used to share the same name and bed, God help her.

"Mr Grayling," George's aristocratic languid deadly tones psychologically dangled Grayling from two sharp edged elongated painted fingernails, "aside from the long list of decisions you don't make, and practical qualities you don't possess, can you explain your treatment of the defendant, a high security prisoner from when she arrived in Larkhall. In particular can you explain why you saw fit to delegate the sentence plan to Mr Fenner, a mere Principal Officer to a prisoner who, but for the extradition hearing that would have seen the defendant sentenced to death by the electric chair in the state of Florida, This same officer is the same one whose reticence at claiming the credit for his enlightened sentence plan of librarian makes his evidence not altogether to be trusted any more than your judgement."

Grayling looked blankly in front of him at this demonic woman with the ability to twist words and actions in front of his very eyes, that two plus two equal five once she cast her spell.

"I beg your pardon." Grayling asked, his mouth in freeform talk disconnected from his shut down brain."I didn't quite follow what you were getting at."

"Mr Grayling," George switched to irritated bossy mode," In plain simple English, why did you allow a Principal Officer to decide Snowball Merriman's sentence plan."

"I allowed Mr Fenner to decide this as he was an experienced prison officer who, until recently, was promoted to wing Governor. He knew the job." Grayling finished, sheer panic driving all the contrived managementspeak out of his brain in his last words.

"My lord, again I would question the point of this line of examination. That a mistake or mistakes were made in the handling of the defendant, a very scheming female prisoner, is something the prosecution would not seek to deny. These merely gave the opportunity for her to carry out her plan. I find myself in the curious position of actually agreeing with my learned council in her description of the defendant." Jo interposed firmly with a final sarcastic twist ,much to George's seething bottled up anger.

"My thoughts precisely," John Deed replied smoothly, hemmed in by George's bumptious personality, rubbing salt into the wounds."Have you any more questions to put to the witness, Ms Channing?"

"No" George sulked pointedly omitting John Deed's usual title. She never grovelled to this impossible infuriating man while they were married so why should she start now?

"Court is adjourned till ten tomorrow." John Deed intoned.

Fenner, resplendent in his best suit, accidentally bumped into George after she had come out of the ladies, having touched up her makeup and removed her gown and revealed the very low cut dress that she wore. Fenner's eyes lit up. George exuded that sort of sexual aura that Fenner found a challenge and he was sure that he could smooth things over.

"Do you want to come out with me for a drink? I know a place that is very exclusive where we can smooth things over."

George was looking for someone on whom she could vent her spleen and this oily man with this cockney accent was leering at her at precisely the wrong time.

"You pathetic, slimy little man. Don't you know I only dine with Cabinet Ministers, not mere mortals and still less a subhuman like you."

And verbally cutting Fenner to shreds, she flounced off to the nearest taxi. Had Neil Houghton known, about the incident, he would be the one person to be grateful for Fenner's existence as he took the initial brunt of George's capricious and lethal temper.

Part Twenty Three

As Karen drove in through the gates of Larkhall, she found that she really didn't want to be there. She'd spent most of the last three days in Yvonne's company and she felt totally at home with her. But as for holding on to Yvonne's hand for as long as she had in court that morning, Karen really didn't know where that had come from. What had made her do it, and even more oddly what had made Yvonne do it. Karen had never been that touchy feely type, especially in public, but with Yvonne it felt almost natural. Like the other night when she'd made such a tit of herself. Karen loathed herself for revealing how weak and insecure she had the potential to be. She didn't do tears, not her. Well, not usually anyway. It was something neither Mark nor Ritchie nor any of her other brief liaisons had ever seen her do. The only one who'd really witnessed her undoing was Fenner, but then he'd been the cause of it. But she had to admit to herself that after totally letting go with Yvonne on Monday, she'd felt lighter, almost cleansed, as if her soul had been purged of some of the pain. As she strolled along the corridors to G wing, she wondered what brought her back here, day after day. Was it simply as a means to existing, or did she still have the burning need to change the system, in the same way Helen Stewart had. Locking up women for a living wasn't a satisfactory life for anyone, except maybe Jim Fenner. Then her thoughts drifted to what Jo Mills had said to her outside the court. Could she bring a case against Fenner after all this time? She didn't know if she really had the emotional energy she would need in abundance to go through with something like that. But if she succeeded, it would get him away from vulnerable women for good, or at least for ten years or so.

As she let herself in to the officers' room, she was greeted by the familiar site of Di, Sylvia and the new one Selina, drinking tea and generally taking it easy. With the inmates still on afternoon lock up, this was nothing new. Di looked up in surprise,

"Karen, we didn't expect to see you this week. How's everything going?"

"Not too bad," Replied Karen. "I thought I'd come and see how you were all getting on without me."

"No problems so far," Added Sylvia, clearly implying that they didn't need Karen as much as she liked to think they did.

"Who's in court tomorrow?" Asked Karen. Di glanced over at the duty roster.

"Selina's escorting Snowball and I'm escorting Al McKenzy."

"It's a poor lookout when the courts start relying on the evidence of the likes of Alison McKenzy," Said Sylvia.

"Yes, well, thankfully you're not in charge of the fate of criminals," Threw back Karen, "Or prisons would be even more overcrowded than they already are."

"They gave you a rough ride yesterday," Commented Di, whose turn it had been to escort Snowball.

"They certainly did," Said Karen dryly.

"Mind you," Continued Sylvia. "Atkins definitely gave that barrister what for on Monday. You missed a treat there, Di."

"So, anything happened I should know about?" Asked Karen, not wanting to stay there any longer than necessary.

"No, not really," replied Sylvia. "They're all quite fired up because of the trial. Half want Merriman to get off, and the rest are threatening to do her in if she's put back in here."

"Well, she's on segregation for the whole of the trial, but if she is found guilty, we might have to think about transferring her."

"What do you mean if she's found guilty?" Asked Sylvia, astounded. "That bomb had her name all over it."

"That's for the jury to decide, Sylvia."

"British justice," muttered Sylvia, "Most cons don't know the meaning of the word." As Karen left them to it a while later, she reflected that if nothing else was certain, Sylvia's unchanging attitude towards inmates would always be so.

On reaching her slightly cluttered office, Karen remembered Yvonne asking her to tell Denny to give her a ring some time this evening. Karen knew she could do better than that. She rang down to the wing and asked Di to bring Denny up to see her. It was nearly six-thirty, so Denny would be in the middle of association, and possibly not all that impressed at being summoned to see the governor. When Di showed Denny in, there was a slightly belligerent yet half worried look on Denny's face.

"What've I done, Miss?" Was her immediate enquiry. After Di had left, Karen said,

"Nothing, at least nothing that I know about. Yvonne would like to speak to you, and I thought it might do the two of you some good if you could talk uninterrupted."

"During association?" Said Denny in utter scorn, "You've gotta be joking. The queue for the phone's about a mile long."

"Which is why you can call her from here," Said Karen patiently. "Do you think twenty minutes will do you?"

"Really!" Asked Denny, a broad smile transforming her face in to that of the unsuspecting child being given exactly what he or she wanted for Christmas.

"Yes, really, but no forming escape plans or arranging for anything to be smuggled in, because I won't be far away." Karen picked up the phone and dialed Yvonne's number. On hearing the voice she was coming to know so well, she said,

"There's someone here who can't wait to talk to you." Handing the phone to Denny, Karen first went to make herself a coffee, returning to her computer to move her way through the prison's slightly higher-tech workings. The allocating of proposed transfers, the moving around of the jigsaw pieces that represented inmates, moving some on to enhanced to provide more basic and standard cell places for new convicted or remand prisoners, all part of her daily chores. Karen was aware of Denny's voice, she could hardly be otherwise with the girl sitting on the opposite side of the desk, but from long practice Karen had learnt to tune out the actual words. Lighting two cigarettes, she handed one to Denny and pushed the ashtray between them.

"Denny," Came Yvonne's voice, clearly with a smile. "How're you doing?"

"Okay. I take it you want to know about Al." She said this with one eye on Karen, who was sat at the computer, half with her back to Denny.

"Yeah, is she still high as a kite?"

"Not since I flushed her stash, no. She weren't too happy about it though."

"Does she know it was you?"

"come on, man, I'm not that stupid. I think she thinks Buki knicked it."

"Has she done cold turkey yet, because the last thing we need is for her to be coming down in the witness box."

"She'll be fine by tomorrow. How's it going anyway?"

"You'd have liked watching Fenner get some of his just desserts," Grinned Yvonne.

"Wicked!" Denny giggled. "did they make mincemeat of him?"

"Yeah, just a bit. Denny, listen. Tell Al for me that if she comes good in court tomorrow, I'll owe her one."

"Okay. Will you bring Lauren with you next visiting?"

"Yeah, I should think so."

"It's just, you're my mum now, innit, which means she's my sister. It'd be nice to get to know her a bit before I come out of prison."

"That's a lovely thing to say, Denny." Karen let them talk uninterrupted for another quarter of an hour. When she'd retrieved the phone from Denny, and asked her to go back to the wing, she said,

"I thought you might appreciate a decent chat."

"Yeah, thanks. You didn't have to let her do that."

"My pleasure. Oh, and you'll be interested to know that you gave Sylvia some entertainment with your performance on Monday."

"Jesus, I bet she's loving all this, isn't she?"

"Probably a little too much."

"So, the prosecution is half way through, and we've got Al the razor head on tomorrow. I don't think we've seen the half of it."

"No, me neither. We're all going to know about it when the defense kicks off."

"How're you doing, really?" At this, Karen experienced the sudden urge to cry, but did her utmost to suppress it.

"I'm just about holding up, and this doesn't hit home with me anywhere near as much as it will with you."

"Yes it does, just in a different way."

"This might sound stupid," Said Karen, taking the bull by the horns. "But I don't think I'd be getting through this without you."

"That's the nicest thing anyone's said to me in a long time," Yvonne found herself admitting. "And at the risk of having my daughter tell me what a soppy cow I am, I'll say the feeling's mutual."

As Karen worked her way through the rest of her outstanding mail, a feeling of deep depression began to creep over her. The rain running down the panes of her office window wasn't helping. august weather could be more unpredictable than a wing full of hormonal women. At around nine, she switched off the computer, collected her things together and went out to her car. Driving through the still pouring rain, she decided that the only thing to do when she felt like this was to have a long soak in a hot bath, with a bottle of wine and some soft music. Purchasing an already chilled bottle of Frascati on the way home, all that remained for her to do was to put on her favourite CD and fill the bath with foamy, scented water. As she slowly worked her way down the bottle, and allowed the music and the water to ripple over her, she could gradually feel the tension flowing out of her muscles. She realised that her life was drifting these days. Ever since Ritchie, and really she supposed it was ever since Fenner, she'd only been existing, not really living. She drifted in and out of Larkhall, performing her tasks to the best of her ability, but her heart wasn't in it anymore, she knew that. But if anyone were to ask her what her heart was in, she wouldn't have any kind of an answer. Probably the only thing she continued to understand with the deepest clarity was her own body, but at times even that would deny her access to the feelings she'd been used to for so many years. She ran her hands over her well-defined figure. She knew she was still an attractive woman, and at not quite forty, she physically had a lot to offer anyone. She was only too aware that her still firm breasts grabbed the attention of men and women alike when displayed in the well-cut blouses she usually wore. She was inexorably proud of these two finest assets of her creation, with their ripe nipples just begging to be fondled and teased. As she touched herself so familiarly, she thought it was almost a pity that no other person was here to watch her little show. As one hand moved below the level of the water, and she spread her legs to accommodate it, she briefly wondered if there would ever be another one to share in her pleasure, and who that person might be. she had never felt anything akin to shame or disgust at her self-gratification, because she reasoned that the clitoris and Graffenburg's pinnacle of ecstasy could only ever have been created with the pursuit of pleasure in mind. They served no other useful, practical purpose. Her pulse quickened as she delicately coaxed her clitoris in to joining her in her body's all too basic of needs to occasionally feel that slowly increasing rhythm in the dance of erotic necessity. As she slipped three long, tapered fingers inside herself, she encountered her body's liquid-fire response to her well-skilled and by now long-practiced hand. Her hand molding itself to her body's increasing fever to reach the point where the soul is open wide and all revealing, she soared over the peak of her sexual Everest, closing her eyes to preserve her, till this point, unknown fantasy. At her point of completion, it wasn't the face of any man that appeared behind her eyes, it was the by now well-recorded face of Yvonne.

When she later got out of the bath, dried off, and crawled under her duvet, she wondered if this was what her life had come to, the lusting after a woman who couldn't possibly be straighter. Was this what happened to you when you were acutely aware of James Fenner's presence in every bed you would ever again share with a man. That was why nothing had really worked with Mark afterwards. Fenner was always there, somehow between them in what should have been their own private haven. At the time, Karen liked to think that she'd managed to exorcise Fenner's influence when she'd so pathetically fallen in to Ritchie's trap of seduction and charm. But in her heart of hearts, she knew this wasn't true. What had all that with Ritchie been about, but for her to try and convince herself that neither Fenner nor what he had done, mattered to her. She'd allowed Ritchie to fuck her as forcefully as he wanted, because the more intense the physical act, the less she hoped Jim's face would continue to intrude on her sexual dealings with men. Maybe if Ritchie hadn't tried to fuck with her mind and her career as well as her body, she might have succeeded in this endeavor. But as she drifted towards a sleep tormented half by dreams of pleasure and fear, she wondered if she would ever find that erotic equilibrium with anyone, which she had for so long taken entirely for granted.

Part Twenty Four

In contrast to the cool still darkness of the Old Bailey, an atmosphere to which Cassie and Roisin were becoming accustomed, a strong chill wind was whipping down the streets as dark storm clouds like some invading army, were starting to blot out the blue sunlight from earlier on. If it weren't for the trial, Cassie and Roisin would have packed suitcases and taken Michael and Niamh to the seaside, complete with buckets and spades, like they had done last Easter break.

"Get me, Miss Out Lesbian single woman doing the family holiday routine," Cassie had first thought laughing to herself as she had patiently permitted the laughing children to shovel fresh damp sand to cover up Cassie's legs and 'bury her' and build sandcastles on the 'burial mound.' In a previous lifetime, a year ago, Miss Narcissism would have shouted at any noisy kid getting in the way of her all over sun tan but Roisin coming into her life had changed all that. She still remembered the feel of her bare feet on the promenade, and the sun on her back as Niamh had reached out to hold Cassie's shapely hand in her tiny fingers. She could remember a feeling of carefree innocent tenderness as the wind whipped her tousled hair and looking sideways at Roisin brilliantly smiling back at her. At Niamh's age, she had been a spoilt sulky brat who complained when the slightest grain of sand got between her toes and loudly insisted her parents dust off her feet and put her shoes back on. Now she had revisited the childhood that she had never had and had felt free with not a care in the world.

"You're Mrs Connor's friend?" the polite elderly woman at the next breakfast table asked her and Cassie smiled equally politely and said 'yes.' They talked about the weather like traditional British holiday makers always did. Again, this restraint was new to Cassie who, from her early teens, had liked to shock and outrage that very conventional middle class respectability that she was now dabbling with.

At nighttime, when the children were in bed, it was a different story but the hotel was blissfully ignorant of the nights of blissful lovemaking when Cassie could savour the texture and feel of Roisin's body and eventually lie there exhausted in a tangle of sheets, her body wrapped round Roisin, feeling totally and blissfully satisfied with her lover.

This August was different as the hoped for second holiday had had to be cancelled when the news of the trial came up. Roisin had originally approached Aiden to look after the children but Aiden had acted like a spoilt brat and had turned Roisin down flat.

"If you think that I'm going to put myself out while you live in sin with 'that woman' (as Aiden continued to refer to Cassie) and if you want me to look after the children for you then you're mistaken. I don't care what reason it's for. Both me and my mother think that we would be aiding and abetting a sinful relationship and I stand fast to the principles that I was born into. Until the Pope himself blesses this, I won't even hear of it. You took the children away from me and now you're going to have to lie in your unclean sinful bed."

"But Aiden, you're their father." Roisin pleaded to Aiden's unhearing immovable pigheaded back.

Eventually Roisin had lost her temper and stalked out of the house for the very last time, driving off in a cloud of angry exhaust smoke. She realised that if Aiden was going to cut himself off from the sort of contact with his children that might have humanised him, she would have to try her mother instead. She had only tried Aiden first to give him one last chance and because he was younger and fitter than her mother. She had thought that paying child support wasn't enough until she realised that that was as far as he would ever commit himself to. Aiden had had his last chance, as the children were happier now with her and Cassie than they had been with Aiden.

"I'm getting older, Roisin love," her mother's lilting voice doubtfully replied and children's ways are not really mine any more but if it will help you and Cassie, I'll do it. But Michael and Niamh will have to be on their best behaviour." her mother Mary ended firmly.

"Oh God bless you, mother." Roisin's brilliant grateful smile and arms flung round her mother's neck and thanked her profusely. It struck her even though initially her mother had reservations about her relationship with Cassie, she had agreed to meet Cassie and had been won over. She was from a generation up from both her and Aiden and, on the face of it, most likely to be totally disapproving.

"What my neighbours think about you and Cassie is my problem, not yours, and it isn't one anyway," she had said to Roisin. Roisin was her daughter and family came first, her mother reasoned.

"You do understand, children," Cassie had explained to the two disappointed faces who had been pestering them both for where they were going on holiday. Cassie had discovered an ability that she never knew she had in delivering that sort of bad news and treating them like grown ups "Your mother and I were nearly burnt in the fire at Larkhall

if she hadn't got the guts to get us to push the Governor on a trolley out of the fire. That's how we got out early and we want to help our friends."

"But Gran's house is boring," Michael had complained. "She's always getting us up early and getting us to do 'jobs round the house' because it is 'good for us.' And saying grace at mealtimes."

"You can't always get what you want, Michael." Niamh rebuked the younger boy. "Even if Gran is sometimes old fashioned."

And Cassie, temperamentally all for the voice of rebellion, found herself to her horror echoing the sort of grown up phrases that Niamh had said and remembered she had always despised in her own mother and swore that she would never say when she got older.

"Gran is very kind to look after you both. It's the only way we are sure you are looked after and loved." Roisin's gentle voice finished the matter. At least the children were won round and not just given their marching orders as Aiden used to do.

There were compensations however as Cassie had topped up her suntan just nicely at Yvonne's luxurious house. She could take very much to lying on poolside recliners as a living, sipping a pina colada from Yvonne's very extensive bar, chatting to Lauren and have a break from children. Even from her experience of the high life, Yvonne's place was one to wallow in shameless luxury and was a holiday in itself. It was a pity that, with neighbours like they had, that sunbathing topless in the back garden at home was a no no as one of the inevitable compromises she recognised she was forced to make. The only thing she was careful of for the future was never to go out on a pub crawl with Lauren as she knew that Lauren could drink her under the table. She remembered waking up in Lauren's bed with a very painful hangover that split her skull the next day the last time she did that. Lauren was very kind to keep everyone away from her room and give her a chance of sleeping it all off.

In the past, Cassie was the ultimate 'life is a non stop party' woman. That had changed as she had with responsibility. However, in the rare moments when that responsibility had been taken off her shoulders, that same zest for life was still there, all the more precious as the time to indulge that side of her was strictly limited these days.

"You know, Roisin, I can still remember lying in a drunken stupor in Lauren's bed, I was thinking we were still sharing a cell at Larkhall and Karen Betts was shouting for lights out." Cassie was explaining as Roisin expertly diced the carrots and onions for a spaghetti bolognese. "Couldn't we have a takeaway pizza?" Cassie whined pathetically ."I'm hungry."

"What, and have you go on and on the next day about getting fat, Cassie Tyler."Roisin laughed."I'd get more Catholic guilt from you than a whole churchful of confessions about 'if only I hadn't eaten that pizza and my clothes don't fit.' You with your skinny body as well. If you want to show off at Yvonne's swimming pool, you'll have to not give in to sin and human weakness" Roisin said playfully.

"That reminds me of Karen Betts," Cassie said, smirking. "Sin and human weakness."

"And just what do you mean by that remark, Cassie Tyler. I know that you couldn't take your eyes off her." Roisin said a little warily.

"That is me just admiring the female body as always" Cassie smiled smugly and disarmingly."It's just that I think that there is a little something going on between her and Yvonne, with all that hand holding in court."

"I can't believe that, Cassie."Roisin answered disbelievingly."Karen Betts was stopping Yvonne from saying something she would later regret.in any case, Karen Betts is just a….just a ……."

"Normal straight woman,"Cassie teasingly helped her to finish the sentence. "You used to be one yourself , Roisin. I must admit when we started working together you kept up a pretty good act for a long time…….right up till the first time we made love." Cassie finished with a wicked smile.

Roisin shook her head, trying to get her head round this one. She could still remember Yvonne's incredulous look when, long ago in Larkhall, she told Yvonne that Cassie fancied her.

"This affects me, how?" Yvonne had said with total incomprehension. Yvonne Atkins has a reputation of not only being straight but flaunting it as well. As for Karen Betts, her personal life was a closed book. All she knew of her was that she had a son, that she used to live with Fenner and, in court, it came out that she had a relationship with Ritchie Atkins. Surely the woman was straight, for God's sake. They were just being friendly.

"You mark my words, Roisin Connor, Karen Betts and Yvonne Atkins will be shagging before long….even if they don't know it. All the signs are there."

Fenner glugged a stiff shot of whisky straight from the bottle that he bought from the takeaway. He needed that to get over the day's events. It had been an up and a down day.

He wasn't sure who he hated most, Merriman for making such a total fool out of him, Atkins for being Atkins and threatening him, that barrister bitch for taking the piss out of him and, far worse, in throwing his well meaning offer in his face as if he intended to rape her, for God's sake. Still he'd seen that shitstabber Grayling squirm and look a total tit and that was worth something. He did feel a bit uncomfortable to see that Atkins daughter glare at him so much, can't think why as he'd done nothing to harm her. Still, his fun was over, it was back to work covering for Betts who's still swanning around at the Old Bailey while the rest of the lads are slaving away.

It's back to normal tomorrow as his contact with the trial is going to be second hand from what he hears from Di Barking and Sylvia who'll see all the fun. Atkins and Merriman will be banged up for life if good Old British Justice takes its course. He'll look forward to laughing at Merriman every day of her jail sentence, whimpering over lover boy in his wheelchair far away from her. Some male nick will have the Godmother and that vicious daughter of hers causing all sorts of trouble on visiting day and not Larkhall.

Anyway, looks like his lovelife is looking up what with that new Prison Officer Selina. He could do with a regular bird he can shag on the inside when it suits him. She's a good listener and seems to be taking in his chat up line and, as someone new to the job, she needs an old hand to guide her and enable her to feel her feet. He'll help her sort out with her problems in dealing with that dyke bitch Yates and help bring her to heel.

All in all, Fenner figured out that he'd been taking too many chances recently and that he'd been gambling with danger too much. All he wants is a quiet life, to finally get his suit and let things lick over nice and easy. Life in a women's nick can be a nice comfy routine like it used to be for years . Let the psycho bitches like Dockley and Atkins piss off elsewhere and allow him to enjoy the good life.

John Deed reeled back to his chambers and fumbled his way round the little bureau in the corner. He ripped two Paracetamol and Codeine tablets out of the packet and gulped them down with a double measure of sherry, popped a Schubert cassette on and slumped into a recliner. All this was done with a desperate need for the combined 'calm down' remedies that he knew of in one concentrated dose. That was enough to tell him that he was set to preside over an exhausting trial. Normally after a day in the court, he was content to employ just one of these measures, certainly not all of them in one go. It took fairly soon for the thumping headache to gradually fade away and his posture, lying far back and staring at the dim light helped him to struggle upwards towards the light like a diver, deep down in the dark waters. It was that impossible infuriating woman George and her continual interruptions that caused it all. Why in heaven had the Fates chosen to play a malicious practical joke on him and steer her into his professional life? Hadn't she got some lucrative commercial case to engage her lust for money than this case? In the end, the soothing strains of the Schubert piece calmed his nerves, the solo violin, dancing its way across the musical scales like a fly performing aerobatics over a sunlit river bank in the brilliant sunlight. John Deed's breathing became slow and even and serene. Just how he would be at the end of the week, he could not even begin to imagine.

Part Twenty Five

When Karen arrived at court the next morning, half of her really didn't want to see Yvonne. Karen couldn't believe she'd thought of Yvonne in the way she had. She must be going more mad than she'd first supposed if lusting after one of the straightest women she knew was now one of her pastimes. She wasn't at all sure how she really felt about Yvonne, she just knew that she'd found the thought of her appealing last night. After all, a one moment fantasy didn't mean that she'd feel the same in the cold light of day, now did it. But when she walked in to the front row of the public gallery and sat down in the space next to Yvonne, all thoughts of her forgetting about the previous night's revelations went straight out the window.

"You okay?" Asked Yvonne, looking at the shadows under Karen's eyes.

"I didn't sleep particularly well," Said Karen, thinking that this was the lamest excuse she'd ever heard. Yvonne seemed to sense that Karen wasn't being entirely straight with her, and scrutinized her face.

"I hope McKenzy's managed to stay off the crack," Karen said, trying to change the subject.

"Denny said she'd managed to get rid of it, so she should be fine," Replied Yvonne.

When Al was led in to the witness box, she looked over at Snowball and gave her a death glare Yvonne herself would have been proud of. She put her hand on the bible and said,

"I swear by all mighty god to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth." First time in her life, thought Yvonne. But she could see that Al was alert, bright-eyed and of all things angry. Jo moved forward.

"Miss McKenzy. Please would you tell the court about your first contact with the defendant, Snowball Merriman."

"It wasn't long after she'd arrived. I asked her where the hell she got a name like Snowball, and she said it was better than Tracy."

"And how did she behave towards you?"

"She was nice." Here, Al looked over at Snowball. "She took me for a complete tit. She thought she could sweeten me up by getting drugs sent in."

"Did she ever disclose her source to you?"

"No way. She just said she had a good supplier on the outside."

"How good an actress did she appear to you?" George stood up and approached the judge's bench.

"My Lord, my witness's skill as an actress is hardly relevant."

"My Lord," Put in Jo, "I argue that it is extremely relevant. Half the prosecution's case is built on the fact that Tracy Pilkinton is so adept at playing a role, that she was able to fit any character she needed to be in order to ascertain her goal."

"Very eloquently put Mrs. Mills. I will allow it, so please sit down, Ms Channing." Remembering her failure with Fenner of yesterday, George bit back a retort. Jo moved back to stand in front of Al.

"May I ask you again, how successful an actress did you perceive the defendant to be?"

"When she first came to Larkhall, she had this really sexy American accent. That's probably how she reeled us all in, Jim Fenner included."

"I think Denny's been doing a little coaching behind the scenes," muttered Yvonne, vowing to put some money in to Al's personal spends for this.

"But when we found out she'd only starred in porn movies," continued Al, "She gave us this sob story about how crap her childhood was, as if she was the only one that had happened too."

"Now, please could you tell the court about the incident with the radio alarm clock."

"Snowball said that Atkins' radio was disturbing her beauty sleep. She asked me to steal it for her."

"Can you remember her exact words?"

"I think she said, can you just go fetch it to me in the library."

"Did you have any idea at the time why she wanted you to bring it to her in the library?"

"I just thought it was because that's where she was at the time. Seems I was wrong."

"My Lord, I have submitted the remains of the radio alarm clock which were found at the scene of the explosion." Jo walked to the evidence bench and picked up something in a sealed evidence bag. "6A my Lord." Then Jo returned to Al. "Would you tell the court exactly what took place on the day of the explosion?"

"We'd set up all the stalls for the open day in the art room. But someone wrote some graffiti on the wall, so the officers made us move the stalls in to the library."

"What was Snowball Merriman's reaction to this?"

"It scared the shit out of her." With any other witness, John would have reminded them where they were and asked them to moderate their language, but with Alison McKenzy, he could see that this was simply the way she spoke, and no official setting would ever change that. "She told me to quit bugging her," Continued Al. "I helped her move all the books in to the corridor. She was really weird. First she insisted that they had to be in alphabetical order, but when I asked her if S came after or before T, she just told me to put them anywhere."

"My Lord," Jo announced, "I will be submitting the remains of two books that were recovered from the scene, both baring traces of plastic explosives and both funnily enough by Anthony Trollope. I would like to suggest that Snowball Merriman's negative response to anyone going near to the books beginning with t, was because she didn't want the presence of the explosives to be discovered. I have no further questions, My Lord."

George moved forward with the kind of gleam in her eye that nowadays made Jo worry.

"Miss McKenzy," George began, as if loathing the fact that she had to address a con so formally. "Are you a drug user?"

"Aye, sometimes," Said Al.

"And are you currently suffering from the effects of using drugs?"


"Please forgive me if I don't believe you," Said George scathingly.

"You can believe what you like," Said Al beginning to get riled. "I was piss tested clean this morning."

"Go girl," muttered Cassie in the public gallery. George looked slightly ill at ease with the turn of the conversation. Jo looked over at John and could see a little twinkle in his eye. George walked over to the evidence bench and picked up the bag containing the remains of the radio.

"Is this the remains of the radio you stole from Yvonne Atkins' cell?" She asked Al.

"Aye," Said Al, knowing how much she'd managed to wind this woman up.

"But are you absolutely certain that it was this radio?" persisted George.

"How can I be?" Threw back Al, "It was burned to shit."

"Quite," Replied George. "So, this might not be the radio you stole for Snowball Merriman at all."

"It must be," Persisted Al, "I stole the radio for her and took it to her in the library. Then, a radio turns up as part of the bomb that she made. It stands to reason it's that radio." Yvonne briefly thought that this was the most articulate she'd ever seen the razor head.

"Are you sure you had no prior knowledge of the explosion?" asked George, trying to goad Al in to slipping up. "Are you absolutely certain that you didn't help my client in any way? She was fascinating to you, wasn't she? You couldn't do enough for her when she first arrived in Larkhall."

"How fucking thick are you?" shouted Al, really furious now. "I was nearly burned to death in that evil shit's little firework display. Do you really think I'd have helped her make the bomb, and stayed around to get blasted by it."

"My Lord," said George clearly affronted, "Are you not going to caution this witness as to her behaviour in this court?"

"Do you have any further questions, Ms Channing?" Asked Deed.

"No, My Lord. But...."

"Court is adjourned till after lunch," called Deed, rising and sweeping out of the door behind the judge's bench. Al stood, almost stunned by the fact that the judge hadn't cautioned her. She knew she'd gone a bit overboard with that barrister, but she hated barristers. They refused to talk her language, and couldn't bring themselves to treat her like an ordinary witness. She looked up to the gallery, where she could see Yvonne Atkins, Cassie Tyler and Roisin Connor. Yvonne grinned at her and gave her the thumbs up. Denny had promised her the night before that Yvonne would come good if she played her part in court. Al hoped for Denny's sake this was true.

"I think we owe it to Al to go and raise a glass to her somewhere," Said Yvonne. "Only she would say something like that to a QC and get away with it." As they moved out in to the sunshine, Karen began to feel more relaxed. Al McKenzy had done well for them this morning, and Karen thought it would be well worth a move up on to enhanced for her. When they went inside a nearby pub, Karen realised that she couldn't simply banish the feelings she clearly had for Yvonne. She might have to hide them, keeping them away from any unsuspecting eyes, but some day she would have to bring them out and examine them. Yvonne had clearly made a promise to Al, to persuade her to do them proud in court, and Yvonne wasn't one to go back on her promises. Was this what she admired? Karen wasn't sure. She thought it was a combination of her commitment to people, her compassion for those worse off than herself, and by no means least, her ability to make Karen laugh.

Part Twenty Six

"Last round, everybody," Karen called out to the others."We've got twenty minutes before the start of court."

Yvonne, Lauren, Cassie and Roisin naturally accepted Karen's easy authority, as she was the organised one. With a few too many drinks inside her, Roisin tended to cuddle up close to Cassie, no matter what the company while, in turn, Cassie became the life and soul of the party with a very defective internal clock. Lauren and Yvonne had been preoccupied in dissecting the faults of the piss artists who propped up the bar and had let that conversation carry them away. Karen could engage in a couple of conversations at the same time but her instinct of time never let her down.

She and Yvonne had been reminiscing about what could almost be called the 'good old days' at Larkhall as time and alcohol had blurred the hard edges leaving the funnier moments in sharp focus.

"So you're the one who planned the Larkhall Tabernackle Choir, Yvonne?" Karen laughed."Helen Stewart bent my ear about that one when I first came to Larkhall telling me that you were someone that needed watching. And she was right."

Yvonne warmed to Karen's free and easy laugh at that golden moment and the look in her eye.

It might as well be a Christmas social with the POs, Karen thought, except that she was in much more enjoyable company. At these socials, with the heavy preponderance of men, inevitably the conversation turned towards football. Karen had developed the art to a nicety in making minimal contributions to such conversations to not reveal her total ignorance of the game and had persuaded herself that what she was doing was worthwhile to grease the wheels of the engine of sociability that kept the Prison Officers united. It was her job.

This was a much different situation here that she actively sparkled and thrived in the pleasure of a lively five-way conversation. She was in a conversation of equals with each woman lending her coloration to the warm glow of the collective company.

"OK Karen, since you're in charge," Yvonne called out, raising her glass in the air. "As you're buying, then it's a vodka and lemonade."

"Same for me, Karen." A slightly drunken Cassie temporarily detached herself from Roisin's arm round her. "Come on, I'll give you a hand."

Karen smiled, conscious that the grey downward slide on her own into the depression and loneliness of the night before was banished into the unwanted past by present good company all around her. As she delicately perched two glasses between her fingers with a practiced hold, Yvonne's smile caught her eye and she knew that she shared that feeling of contentment. Cassie carried the two drinks back to the table where her knees bumped up against Roisin's and they curled themselves round each other again. Lauren rather pointedly looked the other way as, being on the outside of Larkhall, all this was new to her except from that night she drank Cassie under the table at some gay bar or other and had to carry a legless woman home. However, she'd done that before many a time on a 'girl's night out' so what else was new?

"Ain't they sweet, Karen?" Yvonne asked with a twinkle in her eye. She was referring to Cassie and Roisin who were now oblivious to everything.

Karen nodded and smiled at this point as the vision of Yvonne last night came back into her mind.And it wasn't the background pub noises and any forced conviviality that made the lunchtime very special for her.

"Come on, lets get moving, everyone." Karen smiled.

The sounds of their heels clattered along the stone flagged foyer, and they smiled at Jo Mills in passing as she prepared for an apparently uneventful afternoon, cross examining a minor witness. They took the left hand turn, up the ancient mahogany flight of stairs, past a couple of spare rooms and waited for the theatrics to begin.

"Mr Ajit Khan, can you describe your present occupation."She addressed the very tall man with smooth manners. Despite his name, his accent blended in amongst the Middle England tones of his clientele and his complexion was only a shade darker than the average salesman in the area was. His smooth cut suit was as suave as his manners.

"I work self employed installing household home security. This involves installing an electrical alarm system which is supplied to me and fitting anti burglar devises to doors and windows to make sure that everything in the house is made secure. You can't be too careful with all the break ins these days. My company is Homesafe Alarms. I pride myself in being the the best in my line. The work is very lucrative. I work door to door."

"And how did you come to be present at the Larkhall Prison open day." Jo Mills asked.

"I happened to be invited to the Masonic meeting that one of His Majesty's Prison Larkhall's Prison Officers addressed, a Mr James Fenner. He persuaded me to sign up for the 'Adopt a Prisoner' scheme. I thought that while I had been working to make the houses of England safe from burglars, anything that my small efforts could deliver would be worthwhile."

"The randy bastard," Yvonne whispered under her breath to Karen." The bored housewife gets a lot of 'after sales service' from fellas like him." She knew that his cross-examination was going to feature her shag with him. She looked intently at the smooth man in the witness stand and the past image of Yvonne Atkins that his presence reflected. At that time she had schemed for the rare chance to temporarily satiate her permanently unsatisfied sexual lust. This was a permanent memory of life behind bars at Larkhall. The Yvonne Atkins of the present was a bit out of sync with the replay of these memories, especially in recent days. Karen nodded without comment, as if in understanding of the accepted social commonplace.

"I understand that you were present at the open day. Were you present throughout the proceedings right up to the explosion?" Jo Mills asked.

"No I was not"

"And at about what time did you leave the exhibition, Mr Khan, and where did you go to?"

"I can't remember the exact time but about an hour before the explosion. I heard a rap song that three of the ladies performed at the exhibition and, shortly afterwards, Yvonne Atkins invited me to a side room to be somewhere more private. I followed her and the room looked like a chapel with this crucifix on the table. We ended up shagging."

"Mr Khan, can you explain this after having been only briefly acquainted with Mrs Atkins" Jo Mills asked, knowing full well that if she didn't ask the question, George Channing certainly would. George was eyeing the man up with a curious expression on her face of apparent disgust which did not quite ring true. John Deed concentrated his stare at George, hoping that telepathy would convey to her a red warning light that she had reached the limits of his tolerance. Unfortunately, telepathy had never worked in their marriage so why should it suddenly start working in their professional life?

"Yvonne Atkins is a very attractive woman. How could I resist such a woman?" Came the appeal with outstretched hands in John Deed's direction to which he nodded."What else can I say?"

"And were you interrupted while this was taking place and what was the nature of this interruption." Jo Mills asked, wanting to skip to the essentials.

"The phone on the table rang. I wanted to ignore it but Mrs Atkins insisted that I answer the phone. She told me to pretend to be the reverend and to fob the caller off."

"And what did the caller say. Be exact in your answer."

"I can remember distinctly a male voice saying 'Sorry to bother you. Is Snowball Merriman there?'"

"And what happened next"

"I repeated the name 'Snowball Merriman' to Mrs Atkins and then she grabbed the phone off me and cut the caller off. Mrs Atkins insisted that I get out of the room and mingle with the rest of the visitors while she stayed in the room on her own. I went out of Larkhall with the rest of the guests. That was the last that I saw of her that day."

George moved into position with the curious combination of understated sexual allure and as much implicit power dressing as the formalities of her trade as a barrister permitted.

"Mr Khan" her aristocratic tones climbed and dived down the scales patronising the man as much as she could."Do you normally make a habit of seducing women that you are offering your services to?"

"Like I say, I run a very lucrative business. I can afford to live in some luxury." Mr Khan's smooth voice locked horns with George's.

"I'll bet. Let me put it this way. What sort of clientele do you visit in their homes."

"Well, you know, the rich lonely housewives in the suburbs. They're concerned about the security of their homes. They have to be well off to afford my services." Ajit Khan came back at George, unabashed and smug.

"And in the extras that you charge for, does the after sales service include the granting of sexual favours in return for a fifteen per cent markup on the bill."

"Quite often," Mr Khan's smug smile extended itself a second time round his face. "There are plenty of sex starved women who can't get it off their husbands. Only my charges come at twenty five per cent if you're interested at any time." Mr Khan's smile verged on a leer in George's direction.

"We are talking about your sleasy livelihood,Mr Khan, not myself." George snapped bitchily at him.

Jo Mills hid her smile behind her hand. The superbitch is letting it all show for all to see. The last two words are a real giveaway of the relationship between her and her Cabinet Minister. At least Mr Khan is an honest male tart and doesn't hide under false colours

"And does your lavish lifestyle support just yourself or is there anyone that your very lucrative enterprise is supporting." George asked maliciously, fully expecting this man to be the type to have a wife and children and to be screwing around on the side.

"My sister," Mr Khan said shortly and simply."Our father chucked her out when she got pregnant and I am keeping her. I am Asian enough to remember that in my culture, that members of the family support each other, something that your culture has forgotten." His accent became less smooth and silky and a trace of the terse chopped Indian accent emerged from underneath his Anglicised veneer.

."So, Mr Khan, when you sneaked away with Mrs Atkins, would it be true to say that you are doing no more than you normally do with the many women who pass through your hands. I put it to you that your word cannot be depended on any more an anyone in your profession who makes a career of telling women what they want to hear." George let the more vicious side of her have full sway.

"Except that I never took any money from Mrs Atkins. She was far better than the overweight housewives who come my way. Mrs Atkins is hot stuff, let me tell you. I don't have to pretend to her."

"My lord." Jo Mill's cool voice broke in on the confrontation."This cross examination is turning into an interrogation as to Mr Khan's sexual morals and I fail to see the relevance of such questioning."

"Quite," John Deed intervened. He had wanted to give George a generous length of rope to thoroughly hang herself and was acutely conscious of the prospect of being harangued at length at the next social function."I must direct you, Ms Channing, to ensure that your examination of the witness sticks to the point. This is after all not the Victorian age."

"My lord, I must protest at the continual interference in the legitimate processes of my cross examination of witnesses in this trial. The man is nothing more than a male gigolo and his 'company' is a mere front for his sleazier activities. It's totally obvious. One look at him and you can tell the type." snapped George Channing in her best carrying voice.

"You surely cannot claim to possess any hard evidence or expertise to back up your last assertion. Ms Channing?" John Deed's droll tones cut through the silence. He knew he ought to restrain himself but always gave way to temptation, the story of his life. "Otherwise, I must indicate to the jury, my preference for direct evidence from Mr Khan over your mere speculation."

The five women at the front of the gallery erupted into laughter at this point causing George's face to redden in anger and lose all self restraint.

"A fine one you are for lecturing me about morals, John Deed. Ever since I have first known you and married you once, there have been an endless disreputable array of blond tarts trooping in and out of your bed. God knows what I have had to put up with over the years. You are a disgrace to the judiciary of the country both in your personal and professional life and as for your latest piece of skirt who is……….."

John Deed stood up from the judge's chair and finally exploded.

"Silence, Ms Channing. You have gone too far and have reduced the dignity of the court

proceedings to a common street brawl. I hold you in contempt of court and I sentence you to be confined in a cell immediately until as such time as you have purged your contempt to my complete and total satisfaction. Perhaps by this extreme action you will be finally persuaded to keep yourself in check as all my persuasions throughout the progress of this trial have been in vain. I hereby adjourn the court proceedings . I insist that all parties to the court proceedings remain behind until I am able to decide whether or not this court session can resume in the time remaining to us. Anyone who flouts my authority on this point will be subpoenaed. Can Ms Channing be escorted down to the cell by the ushers or do I have to call on the nearest constabulary to enforce this order… Perhaps a night in the local remand prison would make her more contrite."

John Deed's voice thundered like an Olympic God down from on high and reverberated round the huge court chamber, setting off a slight secondary high pitched reverberation from the overhead lights. All were dumbstruck by the erupting volcano of verbal fury that erupted and poured down over the court like molten lava. His final parting shot in a malevolent grumble was the final more muted last aftershock

"John, you can't do this," George Channing called out, incredulous as two ushers moved forward and secured their hold on each arm.

"Can't I? I just have."John Deed replied with grim purpose.

"I ask for the forbearance of those in the public gallery who are not compelled to remain behind to also respect the dignity of the court, and myself, by refraining from uttering a word at least within the court chamber. There is a quiet room available for your use until this court session is decided." John Deed's melodious tones rolled up to them like honey. All the five sharp eyed women immediately spotted the slight smile on John Deed's lips and the very noticeable twinkle in his eye.

"Come on, you guys. Better do like the judge said." Karen said quietly though all of them were bottling up an irrepressible urge to fall about laughing. They started to stumble up the staircase, seeing a convenient room leading off the corridor.

"About frigging time," Lauren replied."I've been gasping for a cigarette, I'll pop across to the nearest newsagent and get a couple of packets to share. Right, yeah?" and Lauren legged it up the flight of steps in record time ahead of the others.

"Daddy, I'm in a cell, again." George's brusque voice from her mobile resounded in the earpiece of the old fashioned phone of her father as he was dozing off in his armchair with an empty glass of port on a side table.

"What, again," rumbled the actorish voice. " I assume that it is Deed who has done this. You will have no option. You will have to grovel unashamedly this time."

"But Daddy," wailed the disconsolate voice."The cell is so beastly squalid and cold."

"The sooner you grovel, the sooner you are out. You can't afford to throw aside your fee with your expensive tastes." The rumbling voice hit George's weak spot and he put the phone down.

"She was always argumentative as a child and she's got no better. Wonder where she gets it from, I don't know, this modern generation. We weren't like that at their age ……….." The voice rumbled away into a monologue which gradually wound down by itself like a clockwork toy.

"Well well well, this is becoming a regular rendezvous for reprobate barristers and corrupt officials of the Lord Chancellor's Department" John Deed's amused tones broke in on George's thoughts.

"You have done this to totally humiliate me. I shall never ever forgive your boorishness." George exploded, her pent up fury making her miss the sense of John Deed's remark.

"What did you mean by regular rendez-vouz? You mean you make a habit of this reprehensible sense of humour."

"This is no joke, George, as you may find out to your cost." John Deed's firm tones and a determined look in his eye sent a chill down George's spine. Anyone but this impossible man wouldn't stick this one out but John Deed had always been unpredictable.

"I want you to abjectly and unreservedly and humbly apologise . And mean it."
"I'll see you in hell first." George flared up at him.

"I'll see you, Georgia Channing through the prison bars at visiting time in the next week or so if you don't watch your step." John Deed insisted relentlessly.

"Oh God you are an impossible man." George blustered.

"Yes, that is what first attracted you to me. Don't you remember." John Deed teased."Come on, repeat after me, Lawrence James was able to say it so why not you?"

George spluttered with a mixture of rage and incredulity, trying to imagine that pompous man Lawrence James apologising for anything.

"I….I….unreservedly…unreservedly….. and…and…. humbly…… humbly….." the litany was dragged out of George's mouth bit by bit like a very painful dental extraction.

"There you are, it wasn't that painful, dear." John Deed smiled with that infuriating charm that maddened George more than anything. Accustomed as she was to dangling men from a fingernail or trampling on them, she found it acutely painful to being similarly suspended so painfully from John Deed's mischievous fingers. She brushed the dust off her elegant gown and made her way to the accustomed daylight of the court and gestured politely to the usher so that court could go back into session.

Part Twenty Seven

The four of them moved in to one of the small witness rooms off the public gallery, whilst Lauren went to find somewhere that sold cigarettes.

"That barrister certainly got her knickers in a twist," Said Yvonne.

"That's what happens when you appear in front of your ex-husband, I suppose," replied Karen.

"She's his ex?" Asked Cassie in astonishment.

"Oh, yeah," Said Yvonne, "And the one prosecuting's his girlfriend."

"Jesus, that's asking for trouble," commented Roisin.

"I think she took this case on purpose," surmised Yvonne. "It gives her an opportunity to annoy the hell out of both of them."

"I've never seen a Judge put a QC in a cell, though," said Cassie.

"I can't wait to see her purge her contempt," Replied Yvonne with an evil grin on her face.

"So, the judge and what's her name, Jo Mills, they're together are they?" asked Roisin.

"So it seems" put in Karen.

"They suit each other," mused Yvonne.

"Never mind those two," Said Cassie a little too gleefully for Yvonne's liking. "What about you and this Ajit Khan?"

"What about him?" asked Yvonne innocently.

"What about him?" queried Roisin in disgust. "You're a sly old tart, Yvonne Atkins." Yvonne grinned.

"Let's just say that the opportunity presented itself," She said with a gleam in her eye.

"Was he worth it?" asked Roisin.

"Yeah," said Yvonne contemplatively. "Not bad."

"Give me a woman any day," put in Cassie. "What about you, Karen?" All eyes turned on Karen who at first didn't know where to look.

"Having never partaken of such a thing I couldn't possibly comment," she said, a soft, innocent look on her face that clearly told Cassie Karen had at least considered it.

"I wouldn't look at a man again now for anything," stated Roisin, her love for Cassie showing like the beam of a lighthouse. Yvonne stood up and walked over to look out of the window. Just occasionally, Yvonne could feel the closeness coming off Cassie and Roisin in waves and it hurt her. Whilst she was inside, she'd thought that the lack of someone to hold at night was terrible. But once at home in her enormous double bed, the lack of another person to take away the nightmares went soul deep. She had been lost in her thoughts, but she felt a presence next to her. Yvonne turned to face her.

"Aren't they sweet?" said Karen softly gesturing at Cassie and Roisin, unabashedly cuddling.

"After everything I saw them go through inside, it's good they got it back," said Yvonne, a wistful expression on her face.

"So, you're hot stuff are you, Yvonne Atkins?" asked Karen, the wickedest grin on her face Yvonne had ever seen. Yvonne laughed.

"Apparently so, yeah." She knew Karen had sensed her momentary lapse in to unwelcome thoughts, and was trying to cheer her up. Yvonne's eyes locked with Karen's and they almost felt as though they could see in to the other's soul.

"Maybe you should follow their example," said Karen, her words caressing Yvonne's mind like honey.

"As a former nurse, that would be your prescription, would it?" Yvonne asked, clearly playing with Karen.

"Maybe," was all Karen could say. Yvonne's eyes seemed to go on for ever and if Karen had gazed in to them for the whole of her life it wouldn't be long enough. They were never ending whirlpools of emotion. Karen could, in that one moment, see everything in Yvonne's eyes. Pain, loneliness, laughter, and even the faintest hint of lust. When Cassie briefly looked over at Karen and Yvonne, she silently gestured at Roisin. But Cassie only had a moment to observe the innocent stargazers when there was a brief tap at the door, which was followed by the entrance of this week's proverbial gatecrasher.

Jo stood in the doorway and followed Cassie's contemplative gaze. A slow, soft smile appeared on her face when she realised what she was seeing. Karen Betts and Yvonne Atkins were stood by the open window gazing in to each other's eyes, as if they were the only two in the entire world. She'd known she'd been right about those two when she'd seen them standing close together outside court the other day. I'm making a habit of this, she thought.

"It's time to go back in to court," she said, hardly liking to break in on Karen and Yvonne's mutual appreciation of each other. Yvonne looked startled, as though she'd been caught doing something she shouldn't be. As Karen followed Jo out of the room, Cassie commented,

"You look as guilty as sin. Anything you'd like to confess?" Yvonne stared at her.

"No," she said, but there was a look on her face, a look of almost horrified realisation.

"Yvonne, are you all right?" asked Roisin, thinking that now was possibly not the time for Cassie's usual lack of tact.

"Yeah, I'm fine," murmured Yvonne. "Go on in, I won't be a minute." Sensing Yvonne needed a moment to herself, Roisin dragged Cassie out the door, and meeting Lauren in the corridor, escorted them both back to the gallery.

Yvonne turned back to the window. What the hell had just happened to her? The way she and Karen had looked at each other was so, so intimate, so revealing. She'd felt like Karen could see her every part, all the physical and emotional aspects that went to make up Yvonne Atkins. In that moment when they'd looked deep in to each other's soul, Yvonne realised it'd felt like they were one being, in a similar way to how she felt when any man was buried deep inside her. But Karen hadn't even been touching her. There had been an electricity between them that Yvonne had never felt with anyone before. It was as if lightning had short-circuited her brain. She'd felt an enormous empathy with Karen, a feeling that they were equal, both striving to maintain their own little worlds which were being drawn closer and closer together. Why was this happening to her now? Was it because she hadn't had a bloke in more than a year, ever since Ajit Khan to be exact? Yvonne shook herself. There was no point in thinking like this. She either had to find herself a bloke, and fast, or accept what appeared to be the inevitable. Damn Cassie and her all-knowing smirk. Yvonne knew that she couldn't fight this thing, whatever it was. The pull towards Karen had been so strong it was like a magnet. She would simply have to wait and see what if anything happened, but the thought of the unknown scared her incredibly. It seemed Yvonne Atkins did do scared, at least with some things.

As George was led in to court by the custody officer, Jo approached her.

"Would you like legal representation, George?"

"Not from you," was George's curt reply.

"Well, do this again and you might need it," warned Jo, never more serious.

"I don't need advice from John's latest piece of flesh," Said George, her voice quiet but clearly still enraged.

"You might not want my advice," continued Jo, "But I'd take it if I were you."

Slipping back in to the gallery, Yvonne was just in time to see the Judge make his way through the door behind the Judge's bench.

"Ms Channing," Deed's voice resonated round the court. "I hope you have come to purge your contempt?"

"Yes, My Lord," came George's clearly sorrowful reply. She was stood in front of the Judge's bench, John looking down on her. "I humbly and unreservedly apologise for my unwarranted behaviour in your presence this afternoon. It was uncalled for, and I beseech you to allow me to continue in my duty of representing my clients." The look of disgust on Jo's face made Karen silently laugh.

"No beseeching is necessary, Ms Channing. But this is the second time I have held you in contempt, and I would caution you on pushing me thus far a third time. Do I make myself clear?"

"Yes, My Lord."

"Then, please, continue. Do you have any further questions for Mr. Khan?" George looked thoroughly flustered and out of sorts.

"No, My Lord," she said feeling as stupid as she looked. John addressed the court.

"Ladies and gentlemen, I thank you for bearing with me in the slight complication of this afternoon's proceedings. Court will be adjourned until ten tomorrow morning."

As the court filed out, Jo observed an evil smile beginning to grow on George's face. Catching up with her, she said,

"If you're thinking of unleashing that temper of yours now that you're not in court, believe me today isn't the day for it." George whirled round and the fury in her eyes made Jo stop.

"When will you keep your Oxfam-clad self out of my business. I am sick to death of finding you there at every turn."

"George, I'll have this out with you with pleasure, but not here and not now. This is neither the time nor the place. Go home, have a large drink, and cool off. John threatened you with a night in prison, and we both know he isn't above doing it. Would you like to spend a night with this morning's witness for company?" Then at George's horrified look she said, "No, I didn't think so. Why did you take this case if my presence makes you so angry?"

"Neil wants them to get off. Someone's leaning on him."

"Who?" then George seemed to remember who she was talking to.

"I shouldn't even be having this conversation with you." As she walked off, her hair flying, Jo wondered just what George had got herself involved with. Doing favours for cabinet ministers, especially if you were sleeping with one was never a good idea. This one would come back to haunt George, Jo just wondered when.

Part Twenty Eight

As soon as the court chamber was cleared, John Deed scuttled over to his chambers, his sanctuary from all the outside pressures of the world. All through his chequered career, the only certainty and convention in his life was that no unwelcome visitor could or would harangue him about one of his many alleged misdeeds, public or private.

Lying back in his reclining chair, he smiled wickedly to himself that the one day, Sir Ian Rochester and Lawrence James, his faithful and loyal family retainers, had been absent from the gallery. For once, they had missed out on one of his most spectacular and outrageous theatrical performances. He was touched by the way that they put their concerns for him above their own business and he was tempted to phone them up at home and keep them abreast of the latest news. Or perhaps not, he thought to himself, why cause them unnecessary suffering? After all, he had feelings for his human beings, even them.

His smile faded when he thought back to George's adolescent temper tantrum at the end of the court session. He was outraged that that infernal woman had the affrontery to drag their personal life into the majesty and dignity of court proceedings and was just on the point of publicly naming Jo Mills as his mistress. Worse still, she was making a direct attack on his integrity. At that point he'd snapped. In a flash of instinct, he'd decided to shut her up for once and all and make her behave herself rather than suffer George's outrageous behaviour in silence. At moments like this, Brian Cantwell, reactionary and racist though he was, had a few redeeming qualities.

Of course, Jo Mills's soft and gentle tap at his door was not an intrusion any more for him than it was for her in the way that he turned up at her tasteful mews cottage. His reflections of his many pleasures with Jo which a knock at the door heralded mutated into his half awake ears detecting the here and now knock at the door which must be her.

"You don't normally keep me waiting, John." Jo smirked at him after he had kissed her on the cheek."Going off me?"

"You're never more welcome than right now, Jo," sighed John gesturing her towards a chair. "Want a drink." he indicated his well-stocked drinks cabinet.

"Well, if I wanted a knight in shining armour to defend me against the fearsome female dragon, Georgia, as she breathes fire and destruction at me, then you would make a good St George. Got the figure, too." Jo's slightly mocking tones were belied by an underlying layer of tenderness in her voice.

"Yes well, Jo, I needed to shut her up once and for all." John Deed sighed wearily as he reached towards the rapidly emptying packet of Paracetamol and Codeine tablets.

Jo shook her head incredulously at the man. She still remembered the feelings of admiration which first struck her when she became John Deed's pupil. The man was a young Olympus and stood head and shoulders over the stuffy crabbed old barristers that made the Bar an insufferable gentleman's club when she first started in her career. Yet why oh why does John have the ridiculous blind illusion that he could tame that female incarnation of fire and brimstone with a tongue that could cut like a knife. Why should he succeed now when he had totally failed for years? There was this one frailty about him that made him so touching and appealing.

"Just as you say, John." Jo said tactfully. Then after a pause she asked the one question that had intrigued her that afternoon "Incidentally, what did you say to George in the cell?"

" I made her say that 'I unreservedly and humbly apologise for my disgraceful, scandalous and personally abusive behaviour and I promise never again to disrupt the good running order of the court.' That will keep her within limits for the forseeable future. You saw how she was after the court hearing resumed," John Deed said in a satisfied tone.

Jo turned her head away in complete despair. Surely John should see that all he had done was to light the very short fuse that would ignite the mixture of petrol and gelignite that was in George's nature. The only question was when the explosion would happen. Jo started to feel uncomfortable, feeling that John Deed's cosy chambers weren't quite as safe as it appeared.

"Have you noticed, John how close Karen Betts and Yvonne Atkins are getting?" Jo asked, reaching out for a lighter topic of conversation.

"Well, they do seem to get on well with each other." John replied.

"That is not what I meant, John. I would say that there is definitely romance in the air ………..between the two of them." Jo's final words spelled it out in black and white to John.

"You've mentioned that before. That's logically impossible. Only this afternoon, Ajit Khan said that Yvonne Atkins is 'hot stuff', or so I recall. I also had a talk with Karen Betts in private on a strict professional basis to find out the background of her rape allegation against James Fenner.. She came over as a very attractive woman to me and I suspect that she felt the same about me. What you suggest is as impossible as the prospect of you and George working amicably on a case together." John Deed finished smugly, laughing to himself at the total surrealistic absurdity of George and Jo ever agreeing on anything.

Nineteen times out of twenty, John Deed would have been infuriatingly and smugly right, as Jo knew from their on off relationship. But this was the twentieth time.

"I'll tell you, John. I'll make a bet with you on this. For once, I know I'm right and you're wrong."

"I'd only be taking money out of your pocket, Jo."John Deed replied in a very lordly self assured tone that fired up Jo all the more to prove herself right and John wrong for once in their lives.

"Who's talking about money? I'll bet you that if you're right, I'll cook you a three course meal of your choice, and, if by any chance that I win, you cook me a three course meal of my choice." Jo suggested in a misleadingly subdued tone, keeping a perfectly straight face.

"Done." John Deed's voice full of certainty. He certainly admired Jo for the qualities that she had in her of justice, seeking after the truth and for her incisive legal mind. But there were times that she overstepped the mark and forgot that the Old Master had the ultimate wisdom. The very idea of two very attractive women being attracted to each other was a patent absurdity, he smiled to himself.

Jo read the expression on John Deed's face as clear as pages in a nursery story. Well she who laughs last, laughs longest. They fell back into a companionable silence and an atmosphere of peace and serenity descended on the cosy room. They had that level of intimacy where they could both be comfortably silent and not need to talk.

"Talking about Karen Betts," John Deed said presently." I felt genuinely sorry for her with her past experiences at the hands of that oily man, James Fenner." John Deed skirted round the description as he found it hard to describe it and conscious of Jo's reaction. More than that, he noted the incredible effort it had taken her to publically defend James Fenner at the end of the cross examination by George. "Forget my own feelings about the matter, which you know. I know that Karen Betts has been deeply wronged and there is unfinished business there. I promised Karen that I would ensure that this type of cover up never happens again. I've thought over this one and I want to do better than this. If the chance ever came, I would urge you to represent her in court and see James Fenner brought to book."

A stray tear came to Jo's eyes which she brushed away. She knew that when John Deed talked this way, his feelings were entirely platonic and this was the John Deed, the utterly reliable and consistent champion of justice whom she'd first admired from afar many years ago.

Suddenly a loud booming crash reverberated through the cloistered chambers. The ancient sturdy door had flown back on its hinges as if a mighty force had propelled it. It crashed back against the wall, the impact jerking two medium sized pictures from off the hooks with the tinkling of breaking glass.

"John, I have to tell you that you are impossible." George Channing's voice peremptorily announced itself at operatic volume.

"Don't you normally knock first before you smash the door off its hinges, George."John Deed retorted in his dry unnaturally quiet tones. "And are you telling me anything I don't know already?"

"You know what I mean," George's outburst was accentuated by her stabbing forefinger in his direction. "I told Daddy about your latest little charade and he was positively incandescent with rage at you. Your latest pathetic attempt to defend your latest girlfriend's reputation will gain you even more enemies than you have already. Don't you care that this will find its way back to Charlie's college and expose her to ridicule."

"Now see here, you total hypocrite." John Deed flared up at the way George unscrupulously made use of Charlie. "A fine example of humanity you are for selling your wares to the highest bidder, in this case that Cabinet Minister boyfriend who you leech off. At least Ajit Khan is honest about himself which is more than you are. Why, you are not fit to stand even ankle high to Jo who has more sense of…….."

"Don't I get a word in here?" Jo Mills asked politely only for her words to be squashed underfoot by George's next incendiary remark.

"At least he is able to get out there and strive to further his career and treat a woman how she should be treated."

"Oh yes, you were never satisfied by last week's designer outfit, George. I must hand it to you, you were the woman who single handedly got the first designer shops off the ground decades ago with your personal wanton extravagance."

"Rubbish," George snorted in contempt."It was only in my attempt to be a fitting consort to you at the social affairs to further your career."

"A likely story, George. I must admit that your brazen nerve in telling outright lies is only excelled by your bombastic arrogance. It is as well that Charlie is coming under my influence in recent years and I am putting right your years of being the hopeless mother that you are."

George uttered the sort of sound that the Eastern Express made when thundering through Peterborough Station at full throttle, and desperate to make up time.

"I thought you had purged your contempt in court, George."

"I may have publically purged my contempt but privately, I hold you in complete loathing and contempt personally." George stormed.

"Just so that we know where we are….. inside and outside court." John retorted meaningfully.

"Don't break that plate in your hand, George." John Deed spoke sharply as George made a grab for the nearest object on the sideboard . "It is a valuable ornament and was given to us as a wedding present."

Wrong move, John, Jo thought from the sidelines but salvation came for the innocent and harmless crockery just in time. She had stood on the sidelines and noticed that she, the ostensible object of their row, had been sidelined and almost totally forgotten. She had given up trying to get in on this ding dong fight which to her clearly was one involving the two of them only. She drew out a cigarette which she lit, calmly blowing smoke into the air, reclining in the armchair. What has that brazen hussy got to be so nonchalant about, George thought furiously, she ought to treat this seriously. Why on earth is Jo sitting back, John Deed's irritation matched George's, while I'm defending her honour, she ought to treat this seriously.

"I say, Deed." Niven spoke from the still wide open door."Your row can be heard all the way down the corridor. You are rather public. What's going on, old man?"

John Deed straightened his rather dishevelled clothing and adjusted his face.

"Oh, it's all right, Michael, just a normal frank exchange of views between ex-husband and ex-wife." Similarly, only George's red face which even she could not control, betrayed the signs of the recent row, though the smile on her face was rather artificial and forced.

That's a good one, John, Jo smiled to herself.

"Frank exchange of views, eh." Niven muttered to himself. "That's what the Japanese claimed when they bombed Pearl Harbour."

Michael Niven could feel the bad vibrations between John Deed and George bounce off each other from their opposing corners but he had discharged his duty and supposed wrongly that the two of them would act like responsible grownups as befits their status.

"I'm glad things have cooled down now a bit Bad form these unseemly wrangles." Was his parting remark and he wandered off.

The clock ticked from one to ten while Niven's footsteps receded down the corridor for hostilities to resume.

"You despicable man." George hissed.

"You contemptible woman." John Deed shot back.

"Children, children, you heard what Michael Niven said," Jo Mills chimed in before the name calling started to get out of proportion."We've got a trial on our hands, remember." Both John Deed and George felt as if a bucket of cold water was thrown over them. They both blinked and looked round the chamber, both of them for the first time taking in their surroundings.

George brusquely grabbed at Jo Mills cigarette packet and helped herself to a much needed hit of nicotine. Her lighter wavered around at the end of the cigarette and she inhaled deeply, for once in her life saying nothing. John Deed said nothing as, like George, they were both on unfamiliar ground outside their set piece two way arguments which they knew off by heart.

"Why did you not caution that McKenzy woman about her behaviour in court when I asked you to?" George asked John Deed.

John was unsettled partly because this was the most reasonable that George had been in decades and partly as a bit of him was inclined to think that she was right. His pride forbade him to come out and admit this.

"If it helps, George, I complained to John when he let your predecessor go too far in his cross examination of Yvonne Atkins. Perhaps you ought to make this quits, George."

Jo could see that George had understood the full force of her arguments but carried on, puffing on her cigarette.

"Both of you say sorry to each other." Jo Mills in parental mode with that determined edge to her voice.

"Sorry," John Deed said huffily.

"Sorry," George replied sniffily.

"And perhaps you ought to take my advice, George," Jo Mills persisted."Go home, have a large drink, and cool off like I advised you to." Jo smiled to herself. I bet this is the first time these two have apologised to each other in their lives.

"I don't need you to tell me what to do." George said grumpily but she turned her heel and stalked out of the door. She tried to shut the door behind her but there was a gap of about three inches between the door and the recess where the hinges, twisted out of shape by the ferocity of George's entry refused to let the door shut tight.

"You'd better get the workmen to fix that door." Jo suggested. "And I'm going home, " Jo yawned."I'm tired. You'd better get some rest, John, you're tired. And after tonight, you won't need those painkillers."

John Deed's feelings were a mixture of vexation at Jo playing mother and the realisation that without her taking charge, the situation would have spiralled out of control. They all needed a working relationship to see justice properly done. John was done in. He needed an early night.

Part Twenty Nine

On Friday morning, It was Yvonne's turn to feel apprehensive about going to court. She'd barely slept the night before, going over and over what that adrenalin rush between her and Karen really meant. She'd sat up in bed most of the night, smoking and brutally examining her feelings for Karen. Yvonne vaguely thought it had been the hardest night of her life. Possibly the only one to rival it was her first in Larkhall. She'd barely spoken that evening, and on her way to bed, Lauren had put her arms round her and told her she loved her. Yvonne couldn't remember the last time Lauren had done that. She was utterly shell-shocked by what had happened that afternoon. Yvonne Atkins didn't do things like falling for other women, it just didn't happen. The impact of their harmless flirting had been enormous. She'd felt it like a gunshot to the chest. But why had she been flirting with Karen anyway? This was the million dollar question.

Yvonne could acknowledge to herself that Karen was extremely attractive. She could also say that Karen was very good company. But deeper than this, Yvonne was all too aware of a bond, a connection, something that pulled them ever closer together. When she'd gazed right in to Karen's soul, Yvonne had felt complete. She knew that, and as much as she wanted to, she couldn't possibly deny it. Was she so desperate for a shag or a cuddle that finding another woman sexually attractive had become her best bet? But Yvonne realised that it wasn't the whole idea of fancying, loving, or sleeping with another woman that had provoked this reaction from her, it was the fact that it was all so new. Sure, she had been screwed about by two many men, including Charlie, but men was what she knew, what she ultimately understood. They were safe because she knew what to expect from them. She knew how to please them and minimise the possibility of being hurt by them. But the idea of doing all this with a woman frightened her. but what had she really achieved by keeping to the proverbial straight and narrow. She had a daughter whom she was usually proud of, but this seemed to be her only success. Her son had taken her for a complete fool, and was probably about to serve a long prison sentence. She didn't attempt to go in to whose fault that really was, because she was low enough already. Her husband, who she'd loved and been faithful to for thirty years, had cast her aside like a used condom as soon as she'd been sent to Larkhall, and taken up with Renee Williams, before being killed on the steps of the court after nobbling the jury. Then there was herself. Not only had she utterly failed with her marriage and her children, she had managed to get herself four years in prison, and on release, end up a lonely, frustrated, middle-aged woman. Not a startling array of achievements for forty-eight years of living, she thought. So, why not try something new, why not take a risk. She knew this was the logical thing for her to do, to try life with a woman when all her men had treated her so ruthlessly, but everything is easier said than done. Yvonne was frightened by the sheer intensity of the feelings that look between her and Karen had induced. It'd been a mixture of lust, completeness and a need to protect all in one. She'd never before found a woman sexually attractive, but was this simply because she'd never either allowed herself to or even thought of the possibility. Was it going to take something entirely new to fill the gap that Charlie's desertion and subsequent death had created. Yvonne needed someone permanent in her life, she needed someone who would be there to hold her at night and to understand every bit of her personality. This had never entirely happened with Charlie, but at the time, Yvonne had learned to accept what she had. But maybe now was the time to try and seek the type of fulfillment she craved, and if it could only be found in a woman, then this was the path she might have to take.

When Yvonne sat down next to Cassie in the public gallery, Cassie's greeting of the day was,

"God, you look terrible. Are you okay?"

"Don't," Said Yvonne, so tired that she feared she might cry, even though she'd thought she'd cried all her tears the night before. Cassie took her hand, gave it a squeeze and said no more. A brief smile touched Yvonne's lips as Barbara took the stand.

"I swear by all mighty god to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth," Rang out Barbara's cultured tones.

"She ought to impress the jury," muttered Cassie. Jo moved to stand in front of Barbara.

"Mrs. Mills, please would you tell the court of your initial impression of the defendant, Snowball Merriman."

"When she first arrived, we all thought she was an American film star. She gave the impression of someone who'd been around, lived life to the full and taken every hard knock in her stride. Her persona was that of someone who would stop at nothing to get what she wanted, including getting very friendly with her personal officer, Jim Fenner. If you ask me, this always has been and always will be the real Snowball Merriman. The American accent might have been fake, but the rest of that persona wasn't." George raised a hand.

"My Lord, is this witness an expert in human psychology?" Barbara also needed no protection from John.

"No," She said looking George in the eye. "But spending time in a prison does give one some insight in to human nature." Yvonne grinned.

"How did your impression of her change once the truth about her film career came to light?" Asked Jo.

"I fell in to the trap of thinking her brave for standing up for herself and telling anyone who would listen how she'd got in to doing the things she had." Barbara again directed her gaze at George. "We all have the capacity to be taken in and made a fool of."

"When did you begin to have doubts about Snowball Merriman's integrity?" Continued Jo.

"She began to spend a lot of time around Henry, Reverend Mills. I caught her using his phone, clearly talking to a boyfriend, and not her mother as she'd told Henry. I thought she was taking Henry for a fool."

"I have submitted the phone records of the prison for this time, My Lord, which do show that calls were made from Reverend Mills' office to Ritchie Atkins' mobile phone."

"She made the pretence of getting very involved with the preparations for the open day. She borrowed an altar cloth from Henry, which she said would be used for one of the displays." Jo moved to the evidence bench and held up a wide expanse of material.

"Is this the altar cloth in question? This is 5D in your bundle, My Lord."

"Yes, that's the one," Replied Barbara. "I heard that's what she was wearing when she tried to escape."

"Mrs. Mills," Continued Jo. "Where exactly were you at the point of the explosion?"

"I was in the library, with seven other inmates and the prison governor, Neil Grayling. I suffer from claustrophobia, and being confined in such a small space with the flames growing ever closer terrified me. I sustained a head injury during the explosion which made me totally deaf for some time after the fire."

"I have submitted Mrs. Mils' medical report to confirm this, My Lord, 5G in your bundle."

"At what point did your hearing return?" Asked Jo.

"It was about five weeks after the fire. I could hear muffled sounds of people talking, of Snooker balls clashing, and the occasional slam of a door."

"And who was the first person you informed of your being able to hear again?"

"Yvonne Atkins. She had her suspicions that Snowball was again making contact with her son, and she asked me to keep acting as if I couldn't hear, so that I would be able to get close enough to listen to Snowball's phone conversations. In doing this, I learnt that Snowball was planning another escape attempt."

"do you remember exactly what her words were?"

"She said, "Our baby's tucked up nice and safe, all ready for the weekend. Your mum thinks you've dumped me, Ritchie" I'm assuming the baby she was talking about was the gun."

"you actually heard her say the name, Ritchie?" Asked Jo, wanting to make this absolutely clear.

"Yes," Replied Barbara with utter certainty. "She definitely called him Ritchie."

George moved forward with a gleam in her eye.

"Mrs., Mills," She said, glancing at a piece of paper as if to make sure she had Barbara's name right. "Do you see yourself as a credible witness?"

"Yes?" Said Barbara, fairly sure she knew what was coming.

"Well," Said George, with the air of someone with the ignition to the atom bomb at her fingertips. "I'm not sure that the jury will see you as such when they learn just what sort of a person you really are. Isn't it true that you were once guilty of bigamy?"

"If you are asking whether I was found guilty of bigamy in a court of law," Threw back Barbara, "Then the answer is no."

"Whether or not you were found guilty of this crime by a jury is neither here nor there, Mrs. Mills..."

"Actually, Ms Channing," Butted in John, "Surely that fact is the all important question in this situation."

"My Lord," Replied George. "There is no doubt that Barbara Mills, formerly Barbara Hunt, was fictitiously married to Peter Hunt, whilst she was still married to Arthur roper."

"Barbara Mills is not on trial, Ms Channing, and I would thank you to remember it."

"My Lord," Persisted George. "I am simply trying to establish that the witness is neither credible nor trustworthy."

"I know exactly what you're trying to do, Ms Channing, but I can't agree with the way you are doing it."

"Mrs. Mills, how can you prove that my clients were having a phone conversation during the time you were supposed to be still deaf?"

"As I was the only witness to one side of the conversation, I can only tell you what I heard," Conceded Barbara.

"So we only have your word that you were asked to keep an ear on Snowball Merriman's movements."

"I'm sure that if you recall Yvonne Atkins," Barbara hit back, "She will confirm having asked me to do this."

"I'm sure that won't be necessary," Replied George hurriedly, clearly not wanting to tangle with the woman who had all but reduced Brian Cantwell to tears.

"I have no further questions, My Lord."

"Court is adjourned until after lunch," Called out Deed.

In the foyer, Yvonne went to meet Barbara.

"Well done," She said, hugging her. "You did brilliantly."

"Well, she got under my skin," Replied Barbara, clearly talking about George.

"You gonna be up in the gallery with us from now on?" Asked Yvonne, feeling that a new face would do them all good.

"Of course. How's Denny getting on?"

"She's okay, just wound up because of the trial. It brings it all back to her."

"Do you think she'd like a letter from me?" Asked Barbara.

"Of course she would," Replied Yvonne with a smile.

"And how are you?" Barbara asked, looking shrudely at the shadows under Yvonne's eyes.

"I'm okay," Said Yvonne quickly.

"And I've got a clean record," Quipped Barbara. "You look like you could do with a chat."

"Yeah, maybe. There's just things going on that I don't understand right now, that's all."

"Well, you know where I am," Said Barbara, fondly thinking of the many times she'd listened to Nikki declaiming love and all its complex eccentricities, and wondered briefly if this was why Yvonne was looking so drained.

Part Thirty

By black cab taxi, by private car or the much trodden uneven steps up from the nearest Underground station, all roads mentally and physically converged on the imposing archway entrance of the Old Bailey court. These trails focus in from all points of the compass to this one fixed point like the spokes of a wheel does to the hub.

Cassie always walked boldly arm in arm with Roisin, the first there after the lunchbreak, her sharp blue eyes on the lookout of three increasingly familiar friends of theirs and, sure enough Yvonne, Lauren, Karen Babs and Henry's faces had been spotted in the foyer of, the Old Bailey. It was now Henry's turn to testify in court while the others testified with their presence, by being there to see the trial through to the end. All of them knew that they took the place of those at Larkhall who were locked up behind bars and could only follow the proceedings from second hand throwaway remarks from some of the screws.

Denny as much as any of them was on tenterhooks. Her present was put on hold while justice was being fought out on the battlegrounds of carved stone and ancient mahogany, the weight of the lawbooks, and the weapons of war, the power of the spoken word.

In the break, John Deed had sellotaped a hopeful notice to his front door in chambers "Under Repair" and had strung the door handle to a discreet nail he had gingerly hammered into the door frame to shut the door as tight as he could make it and keep up appearances. He banished this from his mind and took himself to where he felt most comfortable, his judge's throne where he watched Jo prepare to call the most unusual witness ever seen in the witness box, the Rev Henry Mills, with his apologetic manner and white clerical collar.

"Reverend Mills," Jo Mills asked." Can you describe to the court the circumstances in which the defendant, Snowball Merriman, came to your notice while you were prison chaplain at Larkhall."

"Yes indeed." And Henry cleared his throat nervously. "I first met her when she introduced herself to me and asked about the Sunday morning weekly services that I run. My congregation is small, considering the size of Larkhall Prison so anyone who feels that she has a soul to be saved and actively wishes to join in, is especially welcome. Snowball Merriman stood out from any ordinary new member of the congregation, as she was very unusual and striking in her appearance. She made an immediate impact. She was an American, or so I was led to believe, and had that nationality's enthusiasm and drive…….and she was very attractive."

"He's got a lousy taste in women." Cassie snorted contemptuously. "I would never have touched her even if she was sitting up and begging for it and even if I hadn't had a shag for a year."

Roisin similarly itemised her list of Snowball's moral and physical shortcomings, all the more intriguing for Yvonne hearing a respectable mother talk that way.

"Was there any single event that made her stand out from the rest of the congregation and, if so, can you describe it." pursued Jo.

"Yes, I can remember it as if it were yesterday. One of the staunchest and most fervent members of the flock, Crystal Gordon, had sadly lost her faith and started up an "Anti Bible Class" group. I went to the group to try and reason with her and the others but I couldn't get a word in edgeways. I was in a quandary as to what to do. Then Snowball Merriman came to see me of her accord to explain that she could help me out with this problem."

"Can I stop you there Reverend Mills." Jo interposed." Can you remember if Snowball Merriman was actually at that meeting?

"I'm not sure. She may have been."

"And how did she help you out."

" Snowball Merriman conducted the next Sunday service ….."

"What?" George called out in total incredulity."You mean that you as a member of the cloth allowed a common criminal to take a service. Might as well let them take the keys to the cells and let them run the prison."

"You will have the opportunity to make these points, Ms Channing, when your turn comes to cross-examine the witness. The witness may, in any case, have a rational explanation for an apparently unorthodox course of action," John Deed cut in on George, quietly and firmly, being intrigued as to what the answer might be.

Yvonne and Karen grinned knowingly at each other. George Channing was evidently a paid up member of the "Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells" brigade. If she knew how close she had come to the truth at Larkhall, then her outpourings would easily upstage the most rabid 'hang them and flog them' platform speaker at the Conservative Party Conference, even Margaret Thatcher herself.

"It does seem rather unorthodox," Henry continued, clearly flustered." But I thought that I might succeed if one of the prisoners spoke to the congregation about her own experiences. Time was of the essence, especially as Crystal Gordon's influence seemed in danger of causing the limited congregation to fall by the wayside. I am not used to spurning any help offered if the intention is sincere. You will find a reference to it in the Bible in……"
"Quite," Jo Mills interposed. The Reverend Mills had temporarily forgotten which pulpit he stood in out of sheer nervousness. "Your explanation was very clear. And what happened at the service."

"She was a revelation." Henry explained enthusiastically. "She retold how she had gone out to Hollywood and had turned to drugs and had become, errm, a loose woman."

"Pray be precise in your wording, Reverend Mills." John Deed's voice smoothly inserted itself into the cross examination to save Henry's embarrassment. "The language may be uncommon for a man of the cloth but it will assist the deliberations of the court to have the words quoted verbatim."

He smiled down kindly and reassuringly on the man.

"As far as I can recall, Snowball had said that she had been a 'junkie and a whore'," Henry swallowed at this point "but she explained that she had had a spiritual revelation and prayed to the Lord for forgiveness. She said that she felt so ashamed as she had let the Devil use her body for his evil work and wanted to let him into her life. And she invited the congregation to go down on their knees to pray and ask for the Lord's forgiveness And she asked first Al McKenzy, then the rest of the congregation to hold their lighted cigarette lighter in the air and blow them out and to relight them as an illustration of God's forgiveness."

"Can I stop you at this point, Reverend Mills. Can you demonstrate this to the court so that they can picture this in the light of Snowball's later crimes?" Jo Mills asked Henry pleasantly. The only point of difference is that you should hold the cigarette lighter as Snowball Merriman would otherwise have done and imagine that we are your congregation. Imagine your lesson for today is the Parable of the Cigarette Lighter.""

"You mean, me?" Henry asked rather bashfully.

"My lord," George chimed in."I object to this. I do not see why this trial should be degraded to the level of the local amateur theatrical society?"

"My lord, the main thrust of the case for the prosecution is that the defendant, Snowball Merriman, is a consummate actress with an ability to fool and deceive those around her to achieve her end. An enactment of this scene will demonstrate exactly the way she did not stoop even to exploit religious susceptibilities for her own ends and is obviously material to the trial."

"Your objection is overruled, Ms Channing. You may proceed, Mrs Mills but obviously within reasonable limits."

"Henry'll go through with this one. After all these years of standing in the pulpit, there's more confidence in him than there appears to be." Babs nodded confidently.

Henry accepted Jo Mill's gold cigarette lighter and looked thoughtfully at his feet for a bit. He glanced sideways at Snowball's angry glare and remembered the beguiling smiles of before. Wrong move, Babs thought, that glare will finally make Henry go for it.

Henry searched back into his memory and latched onto one of the most repellent principal figures of the theological college he had attended. A playoff of him against that deceitful woman, Snowball Merriman, gave him the mental frame of reference he desperately needed to lock into.

"Show me a flame" And Henry flicked a flame from Jo's gold lighter and held it aloft, arms and eyes pointing skywards.

"Now blow it out." Henry spoke shortly to himself and blew the flame out."

"That's what we've all done to God, just because some voice told us to do. But it doesn't matter how many times we've blown him away, we can still light up again, if we want to, yeah. Anyone else want to light up again with God?" Henry's tone lifted up the scale in an exaggerated slow paced, amazed theatrical delivery in a voice alien to his nature as he held the lighter flame aloft.

'Let's all sing Hymn 37, Snowball Merriman said ……………and how bitterly do I ever regret listening to that voice," Henry's real angry voice dropped down to his normal modest delivery as he first quoted Snowball and then the real man spoke for himself, ,cutting through all the high flown, cloudy fake religiosity.

"Thank you very much, Reverend, for making that event so very real both for the court and for myself." Jo said very softly to Henry who looked all round him as he resumed his position in the witness stand. Jo Mills turned and stared at that brassy haired woman with a contempt that glanced off her.

"When and in what circumstances did the defendant, Snowball Merriman, ask to borrow your room?" Jo resumed.

"It was very soon after the service, that Snowball Merriman came to me to ask me for a favour. Her mother had been taken ill. She explained that her mother was the only member of the family in her life as her father had cruelly abandoned her mother when she was very young, had beaten and abused her mother. She had always been close to her and that she had tried to get through on the phone but the hospital kept passing her from one person to another …….."

"Not at any hospital I've worked at, you lying cow," Karen's incensed voice muttered in Yvonne's ear. She had worked in public institutions all her life and was ready to accept any reasonable criticism but any malicious or ignorant name calling of hard worked dedicated overworked staff roused her anger almost in the same way that Sylvia reacted. "The women on a hospital switchboard have a bloody difficult job to do."

"Really breaks your heart to hear her sob story, Karen."Yvonne sneered in reply."Brings tears to your eyes, doesn't it."

Both of them were starting to wonder just how much self control they would have next week when that tart watching from the sidelines came to take the stand.

"………….so I offered her my room to phone from. She was very reluctant to take up my offer……"

"I'll bet," Babs snorted, easily able to visualise Snowball's tear jerking performance.

"………but I persuaded her in the end and she thanked me from the bottom of her heart and her fetching smile quite touched me."

"How many times did you let Snowball Merriman have access to your room, Reverent Mills."

"Two or three times as far as I can remember." Henry replied………..

George Channing's approach to her cross examination started out more muted than normal. There was something about a man of the cloth that made her usual tactics of sarcastic verbal thrusts seem indecent, even to her own ears and so, unusually, she was forced to rely on understated logic.

"I have a number of questions to ask of you, Reverend Mills. You must be aware that, when you took up a post as the resident Vicar of Larkhall Prison, you became part of the prison establishment, were you not, and as much responsible for the security of the prison as anyone."

"I am aware that I have a secular responsibility to the Prison authorities."

"So were you not guilty of a lapse of judgement when you granted the defendant rather unusual privileges. And cannot the court conclude though, admirable though your knowledge might be on religious matters, your grasp of more secular matters might be a little shaky. I trust that you do not take offence if I put it this way?" George's bright white smile was but a white painted steel trap.

"It did seem unusual but Snowball Merriman is a very persuasive woman. This all happened early in my stay at Larkhall and I may have been somewhat naïve. The elderly congregation at Chipping Norton, my last parish were of a different composition as you might appreciate." Henry added rather shortly.

For a vicar, he is hitting back at that cow barrister better than I would have thought, Yvonne grinned. Then again, he's been with Babs who's tougher than she looks and she's

probably influenced him over the last few months.

"Precisely what were the motives for your unusual generosity and favours that you bestowed on a very attractive woman and I quote your words whose "fetching smile quite touched you." George Channing's aristocratic tones reverted to her normal bitchiness as she felt out the Reverend Mill's weaknesses.

"If, by that question, you are insinuating that there was any impropriety between myself and Miss Merriman, then, madam, you are very much mistaken." Henry's tones hardened up into offended middle class respectability."I resent your attitude very much."

"Ms Channing "John Deed intervened, "I think that you will recall that the witness has given a very frank and free explanation of his actions. I would caution you from badgering the witness."

"I withdraw the question, "George snapped. She moved back to her accustomed place to pretend to consult her notes while the court and gallery alike wondered what fresh stratagem she would employ. In reality, she was buying time and waiting till her temper had cooled down.

"I understand that you are now married to the previous witness Barbara Mills, Barbara Hunt as she then was at Larkhall. Can you tell the court when your association with Barbara Mills started and in particular, was it before or after her release from Larkhall, reverend?"

George's bright smile and final words held no respect for Henry, rather she intended to let him trip himself up with his own feelings of guilt.

"I have no hesitation in saying that I first became romantically involved with my dear wife Barbara when she was at Larkhall. And nothing in my experience since then has caused my confidence in her to waver as there are no secrets between us….……."

"Let's have a little less of the Mills and Boon dialogue," George struck back, rattled at Henry's forceful rejoinders to her questions. "I put it to you that the value of your evidence is diminished in the same way that your position as the Vicar of Larkhall Prison is diminished. I ask you, was this the act of a responsible clergyman to take up with a bigamist who was convicted of manslaughter."

Henry paused a moment, very wisely, to answer the question to himself so that he could answer in court.

"I may have a problem in facing the archbishop on the matter but I will have no hesitation in facing my Maker when the time comes. That is, to me, what matters most."

The short and simple declaration of religious faith caused a spontaneous burst of clapping from the gallery at the way Henry, the archetypal self effacing man finally came out on top in the cross examination by the barrister who, on the face of it, looked certain to eat him up for breakfast.

John Deed silenced the applause by a gracious hand gesture.

"No more questions, my lord." George Channing muttered sulkily.

"Court is adjourned." intoned John Deed which released everyone out into the outside world.

Karen made her way out into the foyer , caught up with Yvonne and touched her arm to gain her attention.

"Yvonne, we need to talk"

Yvonne turned round to look into Karen's eyes. A sixth sense told her that this was one moment in her life where the right choice had to be made despite her doubts and fears.

"I guess so," she said casually and they threaded their way through the crowds and made their way to the nearest pub.

Part 31

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