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 Forty One

On the Tuesday morning, Yvonne was pleased to see Barbara making her way in to the public gallery to join them.

"Babs," She said as Barbara sat down between her and Cassie. "Good to see you."

"I'm sorry I couldn't make it yesterday," Said Barbara, "But when you only work part time anyway, they're not as sympathetic about anyone taking time off."

"Don't worry," Said Yvonne, "You didn't miss anything worth seeing. Trust me."

"Wasn't Ritchie on yesterday?" Asked Barbara.

"Precisely," Was Yvonne's curt reply. Karen appeared then and sat down on Yvonne's other side, noticing that Lauren was sitting as far away from her mother as possible.

"Barbara," She said with a smile, "How're you doing?"

"Hello, Miss Betts," Said Barbara, not quite sure how to address her former wing governor.

"Karen will do," Said Karen. "I like to forget about Larkhlal as much as possible when I'm not there."

"How did it go yesterday?" Asked Barbara. Yvonne and Karen exchanged a glance, neither of them wanting to further disturb the still bleeding wounds of Ritchie's evidence.

"Not brilliantly," Was Karen's evasive reply.

When Snowball was led in to the witness box, she was wearing a short, navy blue skirt, and the tightest white top imaginable.

"Jesus," Said Yvonne, "She looks the spitting image of Dockley." Karen could certainly see the resemblance.

"I swear by all mighty god, to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth." The slow American drawl made every eye from the jury fix on her.

"That'll be the day," Muttered Barbara. John's eyes flickered over Snowball from head to foot. For someone who'd been behind bars for over twelve months, this one looked immaculate. George moved forward to address her, looking to Jo as if she'd really rather be anywhere but here.

"Ms Pilkinton," George began. "Please would you tell the court about your first day in Her Majesty's Prison Larkhall?" Snowball's eyes swept the public gallery, paying particular attention to the faces of Karen and Yvonne.

"I was given a cell on G 3, on enhanced," She began, having returned to her natural northern tones. "I was payed a visit by Principle Officer Jim Fenner." Here she switched back to the Florida drall. "He commented on my name, said it was unusual. I told him that Snowball Merriman was my professional name. He also commented on the amount of books I had with me. He suggested that I might be interested in knowing that Larkhall ran the interlibrary loan scheme."

"So, it was definitely Principle Officer Fenner who told you about the interlibrary loan scheme?" Queried George.

"Most certainly," Snowball said, the insincerity dripping from every word for those who knew her. "We talked about my possible extradition back to the states. Mr. Fenner stood close to me and put his hands on me. He said that I'd do well to achieve a good report."

"In what way did Principle Officer Fenner, put his hands on you?" George lingered over her words. Slipping in to full acting mode, Snowball ran a hand over her left breast, allowing her thumb to graze her nipple. Yvonne and Karen muttered "Bleedin Hell" and "Jesus Christ" simultaneously. John heard them.

"Yes, I quite agree," He said. "You will confine yourself to verbal descriptions, Ms Pilkinton, and I don't want to see a repetition of such behaviour in this court. Do I make myself clear?"

"Oh, crystal clear, your honour," Said Snowball, locking her burning gaze with John's. George tried to take back the reins, but feeling more and more like this blonde tart was in control.

"So, Mr. Fenner made it clear to you that if you exchanged sexual favours with him, he would give you a good progress report."

"Oh, sure," Said Snowball. "He made that perfectly clear."

"Now," Went on George. "Could you tell the court about what Principle Officer Fenner said to you concerning yvonne Atkins?" Snowball now slid back in to the northern accent that portrayed her false innocence.

"He said he had her on a tight leash, and that if I had any trouble from her, he'd have her on the end of his spike!" She put so much venom in to these last words that Karen winced. "He wanted me to spy for him, find out what Atkins was up too."

"And did you spy on Yvonne Atkins as Mr. Fenner had asked?" continued George.

"Like anyone could get near her," Replied Snowball, slipping easily back in to Florida speak. "She's like me, she keeps her thoughts all locked away where no prying eye can find them." Yvonne was so incensed at being compared to such a piece of trash, that she made a move as if to rise to her feet.

"Don't," Said Karen, grabbing hold of Yvonne's arm. "You're playing right in to her hands if you kick off." Yvonne entangled her fingers with Karen's, greatful for her calm, reassuring presence.

"And why did Yvonne Atkins reveal your true identity to the other inmates?" Asked George.

"She didn't trust me," Said Snowball, The Wigan intonation returning. "She thought I was on Fenner's side."

"And were you?" Asked George.

"No way, Ma'am," Replied Snowball, all the authenticity evaporating with her return to her slow, seductive drall. "I let him think so, because it meant he was nicer to me, like giving me the job in the library, for example. My feeding him little snippets about what Yvonne Atkins was supposedly up to was my way of keeping him sweet. It always pays to have an officer on your side. But he's the worst creep I ever met."

"And with your career that's really saying something," Murmured Yvonne.

"Ms Pilkinton, what is your relationship with your co-defendent, Ritchie Atkins?" A slow, secretive smile came over Snowball's face.

"Me and Ritchie were made for each other," She Said, the northern accent making her sound like the innocent sweetheart she wanted to be. "We met in the States. He was charm personified, couldn't get enough of me."

"And did you keep in contact with him whilst you were in prison?"

"On and off. Chose to start seeing some screw though, didn't he." There was a mixture of hurt and pure venom in Snowball's tone.

"By some screw," Said George, "I assume you mean Karen Betts."

"Oh, yeah. Stole Ritchie right from under my nose, didn't she. Couldn't wait to get her hands on him. Evil slag!"

"Ms Pilkinton, you will moderate your language when in my court room. I will not warn you again. You can little afford to be charged with contempt of court on top of everything else." George glared at John, at the same time knowing he was right.

"Now," Said George, trying to retrieve some of the situation. "Will you tell the court exactly why you tried to escape?"

"No way was I staying around to be shipped back to a cell on death row. I was only in on a drugs charge. They'd have had me extradited at the first opportunity."

"And when you were apprehended by Karen Betts, what did she say to you?"

"I was disguised as one of the nuns visiting for the open day. She said, "Oh it's prayer time for you all right, Sister Snowball, and then she snapped on the handcuffs."

"Did you believe this to be a threat against your personal safety. After all, Karen Betts was aware by this time that her lover, Ritchie Atkins, was helping you." It was Karen's turn to be slightly restrained by Yvonne as she took a breath to denounce such a ridiculous claim.

"Well, I didn't exactly think I'd be her favourite person after that," Said Snowball smugly.

"Ms Pilkinton," Went on George, "Why did you choose to return to the wing after your spell in segregation. Was this not putting your personal safety in jeopardy?"

"No," Said Snowball with all the assurance of the Hollywood actress. "I had no reason to fear my fellow inmates," She said, the Florida intonation returning with full force. "Because I hadn't perpetrated the crime that had killed their friend. Why would I want to kill someone I'd never even known. Shaz Wiley had been, ghosted I believe is the term, out of Larkhall before I arrived." Remembering only too well the almost catatonic state Denny had been in for weeks after Shaz's death, Yvonne felt a surge of rage for this self-satisfied tart's lack of emotion.

"Now, let us discuss the event which took place six weeks after the fire. Why did you take Karen Betts hostage?"

"She was the reason my escape attempt failed. She'd been screwing my man. What more reason do you want other than I was jealous and wanted to pay her back."

"Are you submitting a defense of diminished responsibility for the charge of greavous bodily harm, Ms Channing?" Asked Deed incredulously.

"Not as such, My Lord," Said George evasively, but knowing she was really treading the thin line between what he would stand and what he wouldn't.

"How did you come to shoot your co-defendent?" Asked George.

"The stupid git just had to try and save Karen Betts' miserable life," Said Snowball, the stacato Wigan speech making her sound all the more venomous. "Ritchie was trying to get the gun off me. He told me I was going too far. I was only giving her what she deserved. Always the way with a bloke though, isn't it. No matter who they sleep with, no matter how pointless it is, they still have a soft spot for them. He thought he'd try and play the hero. I didn't mean to shoot him, it was an accident. If he hadn't tried to stop me blowing that bitch's brains out, he'd still be able to walk." The court was silent for a minute or two, trying to take in what she'd said. Snowball was doing her utmost to place the blame of Ritchie's disability on Karen. Karen spared a thought to wonder at Snowball's timing. Karen and Yvonne's relationship was still in its very early stages, and Karen couldn't think of a better way to knock it on the head than Yvonne ending up blaming her for what had happened to Ritchie. George's

"No further questions, My Lord," was what eventually broke the silence. John seemed to come out of his own moment of contemplation.

"Court is adjourned until two this afternoon," He simply said.

When they'd walked downstairs, Karen turned to Yvonne.

"Do you blame me?" She asked. Yvonne stared at her.

"What kind of a dozy question is that. No, of course I don't blame you. Merriman was out to shoot somebody that day, and it just so happened that at the last minute Ritchie found his conscience. That's nobody's fault, least of all yours." Yvonne put her arms round Karen, not really caring if anyone saw them. "Listen," She said, her lips close to Karen's ear. "Ritchie made his own bed, and now he's got to lie in it. The way me and his dad brought him up might have had something to do with that, but you certainly didn't."

"Thank you," Said Karen softly. When they broke apart, Yvonne could see a soft smile dawning on Barbara's face. As they moved towards the court canteen, though no-one really felt like eating, Barbara sidled up to walk next to Yvonne.

"Are you two?" She asked, not quite sure how to describe what was clearly going on between Yvonne and Karen. Yvonne smiled and Karen said, "Something like that."

"But you don't need to broadcast it to all and sundry," Said Yvonne, knowing Barbara well enough to trust her.

"Well," Said Barbara, her smile turning in to a grin, "At least this time I don't have to play postman."

"Yeah," Agreed Yvonne with a laugh. "I'd forgotten about that." Karen looked mystified. "Remind me to enlighten you some time," Said Yvonne, not wanting Karen to find out about Helen and Nikki right this minute. As Karen moved away to find a table, Barbara said,

"I'm pleased for you." Yvonne smiled.

"Thanks, Babs. I don't know where it's going, and it feels like everyone involved in this trial is trying to tare it up before it's hardly got started, but I think it's good for both of us. Jesus, can you imagine Nikki's face if she knew I'd gone off the straight and narrow?" Barbara laughed.

"She'd think it was her lucky day," Said Barbara, hoping that Karen's and Yvonne's relationship wouldn't stray in to the territory of being as fraught as Nikki's had with Helen. She didn't think she could go through the same level of stress and anxiety with yet another couple.

Part Forty Two

Jo shut herself away in a quiet ante room of the Old Bailey, one of those dusty ancient rooms that the ghost of Charles Dickens might have walked into and had found himself at home, the sort of institution that he was well used to satirising.

Instead, Jo's mind furiously ran over the mesh of testimony that was offered but was forced to the conclusion that the picture that she was painting that would secure the conviction had been roughly defaced by Snowball's graffitti. The one particular part of the picture needed to be mended by recalling the very person who raised a feeling of total repulsion in her, from the shiftiness of his personality and what she had heard of him from John. Added to that, George's disclosure that Fenner had had sexual relationships with a number of prisoners supposedly in his care rang loud warning bells. Malicious bitch though George is, she would hardly risk her professional reputation by making false or exaggerated claims in court. The most dangerous verbal weapon in court trials is the bare substantiated truth

On the other side, she was faced with Snowball's grotesquely artificial personality. The very sound of her voice was as if a school blackboard were scraped by a sharp object that set her teeth on edge. She was used to frustrated actresses whose desire to assume a false persona was coldly calculated to make you believe what they wanted to believe. But this was different. This woman holding the attention of the court in a very calculated way, George and John included, shifted erratically from one persona to another with no logical join, a psychological Frankenstein's monster where what was real and what was counterfeit were blurred.

Jo threw down the pencil and paced round the room to gain inspiration. To hell with it, who of the two do I least distrust, Jo asked herself and she concluded, Fenner by a small margin. Her mind was made up to go for it. There was no other way. In the last resort, she trusted, not to legal precedents, but her instinctive ability to conjure out of the court proceedings the situation that she wanted.

The court came to life again from its sleepy summer lunchtime siesta as the gathering crowd filled it up, from the now familiar faces in the gallery, to John Deed up on high and Jo and George in their respective positions.

"My lord, I wish to raise a point of law. In view of new testimony given this morning, I wish to recall a witness to the stand." Jo's clear determined voice came like a bolt from the blue to all concerned.

John Deed took one look at the expression on George's face, expressing her furious outrage. There had been an uneasy peace between George and Jo in the last few days but John well knew that this was about as stable as a peace agreement as between the warring factions in the Middle East. The guns and missiles had in no way been melted down nor had peace broken out and goodwill to all humanity.

"In view of the audience participation during this case, I think that we will discuss this behind closed doors in my chambers immediately."

"Your turn next, Karen to cause trouble." Yvonne grinned."Me and Cassie have been the bad girls so far."

Karen smiled back but wondered just exactly what prompted this unexpected event and trying to anticipate the next scene in the unfolding story.

"Ms Channing, Mrs Mills, I request that you adjourn to chambers so that I can hear this point of law and give a ruling on it. I insist that the jury remain behind and do not leave the court buildings while this urgent matter is being sorted out. You must be readily available to court ushers as I have every expectation that the court hearing will resume. The same applies for witnesses to be available and I would suggest that our guests in the gallery follow the same procedure though they are not bound by it." John Deed spoke out as confidently and firmly as he could, though inwardly apprehensive at being MC to two very combative women and a court trial that was held in the balance.

George had closed her mouth, and now grabbed her bundle of papers under her arm and took short rapid furious steps in the direction of the small anteroom to catch up with John Deed. Jo followed behind in a more leisurely fashion.

"I knew this ceasefire wouldn't last," groaned John Deed as he passed by Coope who was following the business with intense interest and had arrived at her own conclusion.

"Can you leave this door in one piece please, George." John Deed joked nervously to George as he opened the door politely to let her pass. The tightening of her lips reminded him that light hearted humour was never one of George's qualities, least of all now.

The chamber was like a much smaller version of the court room in feel but without the imposing throne and the witness stands. For a judge who exploited the trappings of power and the assertion of his physical superiority, the chamber might diminish the judge and place him in a dangerous sense of equality. Not so John Deed who could hold his own in any setting, either formal or casually dressed except for one small area of his life, and that was in arbitrating between his mistress and his ex wife.

"My lord, I wish to recall Mr James Fenner to the stand. " Jo explained to George's outrage. "The testimony offered earlier by Mr Fenner does, as you recall, differ radically from the most recent evidence offered by Ms Pilkinton. There were several matters raised in cross examination by Ms Pilkinton, which the prosecution had no reason to consider to raise in examination of Mr Fenner."

"And, I suppose you are arguing that Mr Fenner is Dr Barnardo to all the waifs and strays that come under his wing, Jo," George snorted loudly and contemptuously, rolling her eyes for maximum theatrical effect."You had your chance earlier. The request is utterly preposterous and ridiculous. I absolutely oppose it."

Jo thought for a moment. True, George. But you know bloody well that I was constrained in my cross examination of Mr Fenner and I may have held back unconsciously from probing his evidence as much as I might have done or else he would have turned and ran. I would much rather have had him as a hostile witness as you did, George. She couldn't say this as, objectively, it was no excuse.

"And Ms Pilkinton is Julie Andrews, George? Need I say more?" Jo said simply and very effectively.

Now it was George's turn to hesitate. Miss Innocent, 'butter wouldn't melt in her mouth' was simpering at the Deed in her sneakiest manner. A little voice at the bottom of her mind told her that there was something in what Jo was saying but she shouted down that voice. She would far sooner have her own awkward way and be wrong than be right and have to back down, particularly to Jo.

"I quite fail to see the argument for recalling Mr Fenner to the witness stand. Unless it is your habit of having your cake and eating it, Jo. But then again, John, poor dear is bound to take your point of view as always." George continued the hostilities with her usual mixture of bolshiness and maliciously poised innuendo.

The two women sat in chairs, pointedly distant from each other and never facing each other directly.

"Your arguments were never sexy enough, George." Jo countered with a rapid verbal thrust to hit this woman where it hurt most. There were people around, usually women whom it gave Jo the utmost pleasure in using her facility for words to hit the spot that hurt the most and make it as painful as possible. This squared with her sense of morals

because it was because those sort of people who had it coming to them.

She knew that John had an erratic taste in women but what in heaven made him attracted to this bitch whose very voice, appearance and every little mannerism smelled of sheer gluttony for money. Her latest acquisition was to be publicly flaunted but was never enough for her. And, to make it worse, John must have walked blindfold in a total trance, up the aisle to sign the marriage contract and deliver himself into her sexually and financially rapacious hands.

"Ladies, ladies," John exclaimed, eyebrows raised on his long suffering face and praying to some justice above. "Can you please keep to the point and not scratch each other's eyes out. All I ask is a little give and take."

"If I give, she takes. You ought to know that John. After all you were married to her once." Jo replied curtly.

"The brazen nerve of this woman. John, you must for once in your life be firm. But then again, firmness was never your strong point."

John shook his head in wonder at how George could utter such outrageous lies and be so wilfully selfish and yet summon up such a theatrical air of being wronged and misunderstood. He wondered sometimes how she behaved in private with Neil Houghton and how far she could wrap him round her little finger allowing for the fact that she would run up against a ruthless bastard from his brief experience of lover boy. No one who had eyes to see could deny that this political ruthlessness is a badge of office of this present Cabinet. If they had the chance those sort of people would have the judiciary today under its thumb as much as Joseph Stalin did in the 1930s. They don't actually shoot people these days, that's all.

John got up from his seat and walked away to summon up his thoughts and pray for the right words, the right formulation to satisfy the needs of justice, two very strong women and, oh yes, he. That short walk helped and, mercifully, both Jo and George had sat there glaring in each other's general direction but had said and done nothing. That rather surprised him.

He stood in between them and said,

"Come here, both of you," And when neither moved he said, "Come on, it's not that difficult." Jo and George, both wondering what he was up too, moved towards him. Finally, he laid a hand on each of their shoulders making them face each other.

"Why do you not both try and at least look at each other. Come on, you are able to do it. You can be nice to each other. You will be nice to each other." John spoke in a repetitive hypnotic way and keeping that physical contact through him. "Otherwise, "and John added with a light hearted laugh, "you would compel me to commit the most outrageous act of my life……..by locking you in a cell together for twenty four hours, with no other company but each other, only a space ten feet by ten, with bars on the door and the key turned. But of course, that would be going too far, wouldn't it?"

Both women heard John Deed at his most relaxed and jovial and yet both were frozen rigid by the same joint vision of their worst nightmare. George, especially, knew that having locked her in a cell twice, a third time was equally possible. John was especially dangerous when he was joking. The threat to Jo was an equal slap in the face and she took in the whole scene of the three of them and not her tunnel vision antagonism

to George. In a blinding flash, she could see how she was playing her part in pushing John into a corner.

"I have considered the merits of this case and you should not lose sight of the plight of the jury, twelve lay members of the public with no especial legal training." John continued."You must agree that this is the most tortuous case for us to get our heads around. Just imagine how it must be for the jury to decide. I can very easily imagine the jury being literally unable to decide on a verdict and for all the parties to the trial, the defendants, the witnesses, those in the gallery, we would be failing in our duty for the process of law to fail to get to the bottom of this very entangled affair."

George and Jo could not help but agree and, for once in her life, George was forced to make a concession.

"All right, John, if you insist." George spoke tightly."I'll agree to Mr Fenner's recall as a witness. But in return." And George's tone of voice shifted to the hard and uncompromising with the expected sting in the tale."I absolutely insist, Jo that you agree that Karen Betts be recalled as well."

"For what purpose, George." Jo retorted. "Surely you are able for once in your life to make a concession with..."

"I'll cut a deal with you, Jo" George replied, looking directly at Jo."You agree to Karen Betts being recalled and I'll agree to Fenner being recalled."

"Why Karen Betts, George? On what point of principle, that is if you know the meaning of the word." Jo's voice tailed off in volume just to aggravate George that little bit more. Jo did not especially look for arguments but it was her experience that a real no holds barred, fight dirty, argument happened every time with another combative woman like George especially.

"Because, Jo" George said slowly and loudly so as to think of a half way feasible reason."For the very same reason as you. Ms Pilkinton cast a very interesting light on Ms Betts and I want, in fact I demand to hear what she has to say for herself. And, you don't get one sided agreements out of me." George finished, revealing in the last verbal flourish her real motivations which her deliberate emphasis of 'very' showed how she was going to operate.

"I am right in supposing that if the testimony by Merriman, will run its course , it will not be finished by the end of the day, Jo ……..Then Karen Betts and Fenner will be recalled to the stand on Thursday morning. Once Mr Fenner's availability can be confirmed by the court, can you, Jo, make arrangements that Karen Betts can confirm her availability likewise. I must know that both arrangements have been confirmed, not later than first thing Thursday morning. Are you both in agreement on this."

Jo nodded mute assent. She had no choice but to agree to the deal.

"Then we have an agreement for recall of both witnesses. Then let's resume the trial without delay."

John shut the door nervously after himself to reassure the door that severe damage would not result in major surgery at the hands of a skilled craftsman from the fury of a female barrister with more physical strength than a casual observer would suspect. He wanted to get the participants into their places while the going was good and bind both women to the agreement so that neither of them could back out.

They trooped out of the chamber where the hands of the clock had ticked away the time to half past three. Good gracious, were we wrangling about the matter for so long? Ah well, in the long run, it will pay.

"I had hoped to deal with the point of law in fairly short order but it took longer to resolve than I had anticipated. It is too late for Ms Pilkinton to be cross examined and I propose to carry on with the hearing tomorrow. I thank you all for your patience. Court is adjourned."

Bodybag tut tutted in irritation. All this legal red tape and messing about. And I suppose that I'll be on escort duty to take that murdering criminal back on another day's outing instead of being locked up in a cell with Gideon's Bible since she's so religious. Much quicker and easier for the British taxpayer to kick her back to America and have done with it with the electric chair. The only good side of this is another day's expenses.

The rest of the court audience had that let down feeling, wondering what had happened and what was going to happen tomorrow. Karen, Yvonne, Cassie and Roisin filed up the staircase with Lauren trailing up the rear in pointed disapproval. Babs, following on the heels of the other four, smiled benevolently with Christian blessings on them all. They clattered their way down the staircase and into the milling throng downstairs.

Part Forty Three

As they walked down in to the foyer, they were approached by Jo.

"Karen, I need to talk to you," She said without any preamble.

"Do you want me to stay?" Asked Yvonne. Karen shook her head.

"I'll give you a ring later," Karen said softly, briefly touching her hand to Yvonne's cheek. The feeling of such chemistry, such completeness between these two slightly softened Jo's mood. Karen followed Jo as she walked back upstairs and down a couple of corridors until she opened a door on to a large, airy room with comfortable chairs and a couple of tables. Jo closed the door and gestured for Karen to sit down. She came straight to the point.

"I need to recall you as a witness."

"Why?" Asked Karen, getting a very bad feeling about this.

"I hadn't intended to recall you," Said Jo, "But as the law stands, both the prosecuting and defending barristers must agree if a witness is to be recalled. There were enough discrepancies in the evidence this morning that I applied to the Judge to recall James Fenner. The only way George would agree, is if you were also recalled."

"That's nice of her," Commented Karen dryly. "And you think she wants to haul me over the coals about Ritchie."

"I'd say that's a fair possibility," Said Jo, not liking what she had to do next. There was a knock at the door and Coope put her head round.

"The Judge asked me to see if you wanted coffee," She said. Karen shook her head, knowing that caffeine would only make her more on edge.

"No thank you," Said Jo, "But please could you find us an ashtray." Coope returned quickly with one and both Karen and Jo lit up.

"I need to know everything about your brief affair with Ritchie," Said Jo, biting the bullet. Then, at Karen's silence she said, "You can be pretty sure that everything you know about your encounters with Ritchie, George will know too, and she'll have no qualms about focussing on every irrelevant, salacious detail possible. She'll want to give the jury any reason not to trust your earlier evidence. I know how much you won't want to do this, but I need to know as much as you can tell me about Ritchie Atkins, mainly so that I can work out what George is likely to ask you and be ready to object to it."

"Forewarned is forearmed as they say," Was Karen's reply. She stood up and began pacing from one end of the room to the other, only returning to the table where Jo had put down her papers, to flick the ash from her cigarette. Jo simply sat and watched her, knowing that discussing the finer points of her private life wasn't something Karen would ever feel comfortable doing.

"It was on the fifth of May last year," Karen began. "Ritchie came to Larkhall to see Yvonne. When he was being searched, he made the usual crack about preferring the feminine touch. I said if I'd had a pound for every time I'd heard that old line, and he said what about the one with nice legs. Not the first time I'd heard that before, and it won't be the last. It sounds ridiculous I know, but he reminded me I was still attractive. When he was with Yvonne in the visiting room, he asked for a pen so she could write down his phone number. I'd never be able to prove it, but I know he purposefully said his number loud enough for me to hear."

"Why did you choose to follow it up?" Asked Jo, feeling like she was breaking in on a solo virtuoso performance. This was taking a lot of effort for Karen, and Jo didn't want to interrupt her in her stride.

"At the time," Said Karen, "A perfect stranger was what I wanted. Someone who didn't know anything about me, who knew nothing about my life, my career, about a lot of things," She finished lamely.

"Someone who knew nothing about what had happened with James Fenner," Suggested Jo. Karen recoiled as if from a slap, and Jo metaphorically bit her tongue.

"That's the irony of the whole thing," Said Karen bitterly. "I literally threw myself at Ritchie as a way of moving on from someone who'd been playing me for a fool since day one, and yet Ritchie ends up doing exactly the same." Karen lit another cigarette.

"Tell me about the text message you sent him?" Prompted Jo gently. Karen walked over to an open window and stood looking out on to the surroundings of the court.

"I don't really know why I chose a song lyric," She said, "After the crack he'd made about my legs, it just seemed to fit." Jo flicked back through her notes to where she'd written it down: not much legs can do but open or close, but those things are above us whores.

"Was the reference to legs the only reason this particular line seemed right?" Asked Jo, wondering if she was treading too far across the thin ice of Karen's feelings. But Karen was no fool. She could see the real question behind what Jo had actually asked.

"Fenner made me feel about as worthless as it's possible to feel," Said Karen quietly. "I think I felt like that was all I was good for. Ritchie was mostly about taking control again."

"What was his reply to the message you sent him?"

"It quite literally said, want a screw."

"That's to the point, I suppose," Said Jo.

"Oh, that's Ritchie all over," Said Karen sardonically. "He once said that my knowing exactly what I wanted turned him on, but he was just as bad." Karen laughed mirthlessly. "You heard what he said in court yesterday, I liked it as rough as he would give it. That hardly makes me look innocent in the eyes of the jury where the supposedly fake rape allegation is concerned, does it."

"Actually," Said Jo, "That's open for debate. All Ritchie is trying to do is to damage your reputation and threaten your credibility as a witness. But I wouldn't put it past George to focus on something like this."

"Did Ritchie say anything I need to know after I walked out?"

"Nothing important," Said Jo, not relishing the idea of telling Karen how Ritchie had described her.

"Really," Said Karen, "So why did Yvonne get a warning from the Judge?" Jo grinned.

"Not for anything Ritchie said about you. John isn't used to so much audience participation."

"Knowing Yvonne and Cassie as I do, there was bound to be more than usual."

"Tell me about the second time you saw Ritchie," Prompted Jo.

"He turned up at work with a rose, on the day I got back from holiday. He said he'd missed me. I told him I didn't want him turning up at work. One of the other officers had a hen party that night. I wasn't especially looking forward to it, and when Ritchie sent me a text saying come any time, it provided me with a good excuse for leaving. Defense will probably say that this made me look desperate. I remember the next morning he tried to make me late for work." Jo held up a hand to stop Karen in her tracks.

"Could this have been a way to try and discredit you with your boss?"

"I don't know. Jesus, I trusted every bloody word he said!"

"There wasn't any reason for you not to trust him," Said Jo quietly.

"He was the son of Charlie Atkins. At the time, I held the keys to his mother's cell, a woman who was doing time for conspiracy to murder. What more reason could there have been. I don't think I cared one way or the other. Any goodlooking stranger would have done, as long as they didn't know about Fenner."

"Going on that line of philosophy," Said Jo conversationally, "What makes you trust Yvonne Atkins?"

"I've spent the last year getting to know Yvonne. Oh, she's got the Atkins charm coming out of her ears, but that's the only thing that makes her one of them. By that I'm assuming you know about me and her?" Jo smiled.

"I'm not blind," She said matter-of-factly.

"What about the defense? And if so, will it be used to further blacken my professional integrity."

"Yes, George is aware of it," Said Jo, cursing herself for having drawn it to George's attention in the first place. "But I'll appeal to any better nature she still has. What did Ritchie say to try and make you late for work?"

"I told him that I did have superiors, all looking for an excuse and that I didn't want to hand them one. You know what men are like, they'll try anything to make you stay a bit longer."

"John can certainly be very persuasive on occasions," Said Jo, a soft smile lighting up her eyes.

"He suggested picking me up from work for a drink at lunchtime, and didn't seem to like the fact that I wanted to keep our relationship quiet. There was enough talk about my relationship with Fenner for me to want to be cautious."

"You were in a relationship with James Fenner?" Asked Jo in slight astonishment.

"I know," Said Karen, utterly disgusted with herself. "Hard to believe, isn't it."

"Okay, let's move on to the gun," Said Jo. "Why didn't you find it before it was discovered?"

"I was almost late for work that morning. We'd overslept. It frightened the hell out of me when Jim found it. I put it in my desk drawer because we were concentrating on finding Yvonne. I remember when I went to see her, once they'd got her in to segregation. Fenner was there as well. He asked her about the bomb, and she spelled out to us that it was Snowball. Then I asked her about the gun that her son had planted in my handbag. I think her words were, Snowball Merriman's his tart. She's the reason he came to visit me after all these years, to sting me for fifty grand for their get away plan. I thought I knew what shock was. After all, I'd been shown in no uncertain terms what Jim Fenner was capable of. Yvonne said that Ritchie had screwed us both, and she was right. He'd literally screwed the hell out of me and screwed her out of fifty grand and almost out of her release date." Jo remained totally still, though her whole brain seemed to wince at Karen's slightly blase description of her time with Ritchie.

"When did you next see Ritchie?" Asked Jo, already sure of the answer but wanting to be clear about it.

"On the day he was shot."

"And how would you describe, Snowball Merriman's demeanour?" Jo hesitated on the name Snowball, as she been used to referring to her as Ms Pilkinton. Karen suppressed a shudder.

"At first, she was totally calm, like she'd planned it down to the last detail." Jo made a quick note of this. "When we were in the car, she held the gun loosely in her left hand, all the time pointing it at me. She even kept it pointing my way when she phoned Ritchie. Give him his due, I don't think he was happy about her having brought me. It might be hard to believe, but I think he felt slightly guilty."

"There's something interesting about all this," Said Jo, "When you talk about Snowball, everything in your tone of voice, your expression, is still furious at what she put you through. You loathe every thought you have of her. But with Ritchie it's different. Even though he used your profession, your connection with his mother, and to some extent your vulnerability for his own ends, you're not angry with him. You don't even despise him for what he did to you. Any criticism on that score appears to be reserved for yourself, not the man who caused all those things to happen." Karen had returned to her chair, and now sat staring at Jo.

"Did you get a degree in psychology?" She asked, as a way to cover up how thrown she was by Jo's clear insight in to her feelings.

"Human psychology is something you learn as a barrister," Replied Jo, "Often the job involves taking advantage of it. It's not something I'm especially proud of, but if you can partially understand how the opposition's mind works, the more likely you are to be able to trip them up in cross examination."

"Whatever Ritchie might have done in the past," Said Karen, "He did save my life. He didn't have to do that. I'm not entirely sure why he did it, but I think he got in over his head where his feelings for me were concerned. Originally, I was only supposed to be a source of good sex and a way to get the gun in to Larkhall. But he liked what we had too much. He still carried on with it, even after I told Yvonne and she warned him off." Jo visibly winced. Karen smiled. "Yes, that little interview with Yvonne was not one of the nicest things I've ever had to do. I think her words were, I ought to claw your bloody eyes out." Briefly thinking that Karen had far more guts than she did, Jo asked,

"How was Snowball towards you just before Ritchie was shot?"

"She was enjoying it. She was high on the power she had over me. Giving me a black eye seemed to give her so much satisfaction. I vaguely remember Ritchie saying something about her having been in too many crap movies. She hated me for having slept with Ritchie, and if he hadn't stopped her, she'd definitely have killed me. It would have been her icing on the cake of freedom. But Ritchie struggled with her, trying to get the gun away from her. It went off because she wouldn't let go." Jo wrote this down.

"That's definitely something we'll focus on in court. I'm not quite sure what else yet, but the fact that she wouldn't let go of the gun achieved the direct result of Ritchie being shot, is something I need to spell out to the jury."

"You don't seriously expect her to get off, do you?"

"The odds are in our favour," Said Jo cautiously. "But juries never fail to amaze me."

"She has to go down for this," Said Karen determinedly.

"I'll do my best," Said Jo, knowing that if Tracy Pilkinton wasn't found guilty, the legal profession would not be living up to its job to preserve justice.

"Thank you for being so open with me," Said Jo. "I know it hasn't been easy. I was brought up in front of the professional conduct committee once, for having an affair with the Judge I was before. Some of the things they asked were about as personal as its possible to get." Karen looked at Jo with interest.

"I take it judges and barristers are not supposed to be other than professionally involved if they're taking part in the same trial," Karen asked.

"Not strictly, no. John has been forced to learn the art of discretion, not something he's usually famous for." Karen was grateful to Jo for having revealed something of her own private life. It made Karen realise that even a woman in Jo's position was not above being utterly humiliated.

As they walked down the wide stone stairs in to the foyer, Jo caught sight of George making her way outside.

"George," She called, "Have you got a minute?" George didn't need to turn and see who it was. She'd know that deep, slightly husky voice anywhere. She simply turned and waited for Karen and Jo to approach her.

"George, this is Karen Betts," Jo began. "And Karen, this is George Channing QC, or should I say the former Mrs. John Deed." This riled George. She'd worn the trousers in that household, not him.

"At least I managed to get a ring on his finger," Replied George in her usual acid tones.

"This is the woman who'll be attempting to derail you on Thursday," Jo said to Karen, who was looking on with some amusement.

"I'll look forward to it," Said Karen, looking George straight in the eye and letting her know in no uncertain terms that she wouldn't give her an easy ride. As Karen walked out of the front doors of the court, Jo and George stood and watched her.

"She won't fall at the first hurdle you know, George," Said Jo.

"Is that all you wanted to keep me from my cigarette for?" Asked George in utter disdain.

"No, not quite," Replied Jo, hating to have to ask what she knew she must. George turned and walked outside, briefly gesturing to Jo to follow. When they'd both lit up, George asked,

"So, to what do I owe the pleasure?" The reference to pleasure at Jo's company was so insincere that Jo smiled, well used to George's insults by now. Then she became serious.

"I need to ask you not to make any mention of the relationship between Karen Betts and Yvonne Atkins when she's on the stand on Thursday." George took a long, deep, contemplative drag.

"Is there any reason why I should agree to this ludicrous request?"

"Because it won't serve any real purpose, except to further blacken Karen Betts' professional integrity. Surely even you can see that."

"Ah, yes," Replied George, her clipped upper class drawl far more defined with the bite of sarcasm. "I'd forgotten that having been caught in the wrong bed yourself not so long ago, you'd be naturally sympathetic to others in your position."

"You won't forget about that till your dying day, George," Said Jo with scorn. "You enjoyed it too much." George was quiet for a moment, neither denying nor confirming this accusation.

"Are you still sleeping with John?" George asked quietly.

"Oh, and you think if I was I'd tell you," Said Jo in total disgust. "Only for you to set us up like you did the last time."

"Well, just be careful," Warned George, flicking her cigarette towards the middle of the carpark. "Neil still hasn't forgotten the utter humiliation of totally failing to discredit John."

"Is that a threat, George?" Asked Jo, really hoping all that wouldn't get dragged up again.

"No," Said George, "Against my better judgment, it's a friendly warning."

"Well, forgive me for not taking it at face value, won't you."

"Oh, I wouldn't expect any different," Said George, knowing she'd probably rubbed Jo's face in the mud once too often with that stunt with the photographs.

"So, do we have a deal over Karen Betts?" Asked Jo.

"Like I said, simply keeping her reputation intact isn't a good enough reason."

"Then how about the fact that John won't lose this bet if you put proof of the situation in his reach." Jo hadn't wanted to play this last card, but appealing to George's better nature hadn't worked. George's gaze followed a couple of pigeons flying over the parked cars.

"Fine," She said after a while. "But I'm only doing this because it's about time John was proved wrong." Jo smiled.

"I thought you'd see sense in the end," She said. As George walked off towards her car, she called back over her shoulder,

"You owe me for this." On hearing this, Jo was left wondering what owing a favour to Georgia Channing might involve.

Part Forty Four

"I'll be at work today, Yvonne." Karen's familiar voice spoke into Yvonne's ear, as filtered through the mobile phone contact."I'll be keeping an eye on Larkhall and making sure everyone's behaving themselves."

Yvonne immediately felt a pang of disappointment which indicated to her well enough the way her feelings were heading. While sitting for hours on a none too comfortable bench, no better than a church pew, Yvonne had become accustomed to Karen at her side even the lowering cloud that Lauren represented counterbalanced the feeling of well being.

"You mean that Denny or Al might be kicking off," Yvonne asked with a similar slight levity of tone.

"I mean Sylvia, Yvonne.Too much time without me around gives her the wrong ideas. You be good with Merriman in the box. Don't want to have to bail you out of Farringdon Police Station." Karen finished on a semi serious note.

"I've got Cassie to keep me out of trouble. And Roisin and Lauren." Yvonne laughed. "Don't work too hard."

"Phone me up when the trial finishes and I'll meet you straight after." Karen's last words sounded by the faintest sounds of a kiss.

The ancient courtroom of the Old Bailey had not changed for centuries apart from the invention of the electric light. Nothing else had changed except another layer of paint on the walls. Today saw a new departure as Jo had, with the aid of the resourceful Coope, plugged in an overhead projector which threw a shaft of light upon the back wall.

"Giving a lecture today, Mrs Mills," John Deed enquired of Jo as he walked up to take his accustomed place. Jo carefully wrote 'Snowball' in neat letters in the middle of the screen which was thrown upon the wall in huge letters. It was an enormous illuminated blackboard for all to see.

"Yes, and I know who'll be teacher's pet," George riposted acidly to an unheeding Jo.

"Karen will be sorry she's missed the illuminations," Yvonne spoke out of the side of the mouth to a grinning Cassie.

"I'd love to draw a gallows round Snowball's nobbing neck." Cassie replied to Lauren who grinned in appreciation. Cassie could always be counted upon to lighten things.

Lauren seemed more friendly while Karen was away but a little standoffish to Yvonne. Even so, they were all keyed up in seeing a major drama unfold, of Snowball being finally placed in the dock after being the unwatchable presence in the sidelines that they tried to avoid as much as they could. John Deed resumed his seat with his usual outward imperturbability though secretly, he was very sharp and alert, ready for anything after yesterday's performance. In turn, George was a low key presence and Jo committed to memory the last few details and her hopes to chance fate and the scales of justice.

Di Barker escorted Snowball into the court and Snowball was immediately the focus of attention of all onlookers. She was dressed in her tight black jeans and the very same low cut purple top which exposed as much of her breasts as she could get away with. Her blond hair curled in waves past her shoulders and her brilliant false white smile bestowed an unfocussed acknowledgement to all sides of what she saw as her star status. How she narcissistically saw herself was how she truly saw herself as being.

"That murdering tart means to charm and smarm her way out of this one," cursed Yvonne.

"The evil bitch," agreed Lauren."She looks as if she's going to the Oscars." At least they had that anger and loathing towards Snowball to unite them.

"We'd have been the ones to drag Karen back, this time." Cassie said with a light laugh, to lighten the atmosphere."

Roisin prayed silently for those left behind in Larkhall and those since released and for the strength of mind for Jo to steer her way through this trial while Babs lips mouthed similar thoughts.

Jo Mills took her accustomed place, her mind whizzing with the sheer multiplicity of the whole conspiracy going round in her mind. She must not give way to confusion, she thought, or else the jury whom she had to convince would go blank faced with total confusion and the case would collapse. A quick peek up to John Deed saw his understanding smile of reassurance which steadied her nerves at the crucial moment. Once she got started, she would be all right, she reassured herself. She always was, up till now. Just pace yourself and don't rush it.

"In your testimony yesterday, Ms Pilkinton, you said distinctly that, I quote '. Mr Fenner "suggested that you might be interested in knowing that Larkhall ran the interlibrary loan scheme.' and that he behaved in a way that was not consistent with his responsibilities as a Prison Officer," Jo started in an easy relaxed way.

"The guy acted like a real creep, ma'am," Snowball's Florida drawl and her wide expansive smile tried to charm Jo. "Hey, he was staring down at me all the time that he was talking to me."

Privately, Jo could just imagine a sleazy shifty character like Fenner acting in the way that he did but had to make the best of a good argument but a bad witness.

"So, what sort of books did you have with you that made Mr Fenner think that you might be a possible librarian, Ms Pilkinton."

"I'd kinda got a couple of movie star books with me, ma'am," Snowball replied with that fixed smile and southern drawl."Books that would help me with my craft."

"I place before you, my lord, the exhibit of the list of items that Ms Pilkinton declared when she was first admitted to Larkhall Prison - Item 1A in your bundle, my lord - and it consists of 'English Drama 1588 - 1642, Films of Gloria Swanson, The Divine Garbo, The life of Joan Crawford, Pictorial History of the Silver Screen.' I also place the advert of Ms Pilkinton in her stage guise of 'Snowball Merriman', the name that she has habitually referred to throughout the course of the trial as a somewhat curious badge of pride- item.

"A girl can have her dreams. Joan Crawford started off doing skin flicks as Lucille LeSoeur in Hollywood. I promised miself that all the girls in my class in Wigan would be laughing on the other side of their faces when they saw me on the silver screen while they ate their popcorn watching me at the local Gaumont cinema." Snowball's veneer cracked and her harsh Northern tones expressed her pent up anger." Besides Snowball Merriman sounds sexier than Tracy Pilkinton." Snowball suddenly and disturbingly switched back to her smoother, sexier Floridaspeak, remembering her audience at all times.

"So you are telling me that it was Mr Fenner who suggested to you the idea that you could be library redband at Larkhall library in return for sexual favours, Ms Pilkinton." Jo Mills quietly interposed, her prosaic question getting in the way of Snowball's advert on her mental film credits that were ready to roll.

"Like the way he treated me like a whore." Snowball's harsh staccato Wigan voice cracked back."Half the women in prison end up that way because of some man in power who's treated women that way from when they were little."

"Ms Pilkinton," John Deed's voice recalled Snowball Merriman to order more firmly than usual. He felt very uncomfortable as if he were on trial for his own colourful sexual history. Womaniser though he admitted he was, he denied the implicit charge of being a sexual predator."You will confine your remarks to exactly what happened. While you may, or may not be making valid general observations, a court of law is hardly the time and place for it.

"Sorry, sir." Snowball's little girl voice, appealing for sympathy shifted roles yet again."I was forgetting meself."

"So the fact that your boyfriend Ritchie Atkins started work at Clapham North library May 3rd 2002, four days before you Snowball were admitted to Larkhall Prison on May 7th 2002 was purely coincidental." Jo Mills spoke in her softest, most dangerous tones. "And two days before your boyfriend Ritchie Atkins visited Yvonne Atkins in Larkhall on May 5th 2002 is likewise a coincidence. And the evidence given before in the trial is that the suggestion about the interlibrary scheme came from you and not Mr Fenner."

"As God is my witness," Snowball's rugged dependable Wigan accent rang out."Every word I speak is the truth." Already, Snowball hated this posh woman before her who refused to show any weakness. It was always women who were the dangerous ones, like her, like Betts, like Atkins.

"She doesn't follow the same God that I do," Babs uttered with a degree of hatred for this evil woman that, for once in her life, she felt unashamed of and no inhibitions of both thinking and saying what came to her most naturally.

"Steady, Babs." Yvonne joked."I don't want to have to go the local nick and have to stand bail for you. Besides, we'd be on our best behaviour for this judge."

"You, well behaved, and for the law with your record." Cassie joked.

"Yeah, for this judge. If I'd come across him years ago, I'd have stayed straight."

"So might I." Cassie retorted, a grin splitting her face from ear to ear.

"This will be put to the test in due course," Jo Mills replied ominously.

"I refer the court once again to exhibit 3LD, the computerised record of the interlibrary loans from a Clapham North Library to Larkhall Prison which was salvaged from the fire. If you observe, there are a profusion of requests made from the exact time that Mr Atkins started work for Clapham North library from only the one library. For whom were these books requested, Ms Pilkinton?"

"For me, ma'am. So that I could progress my art, surely." Snowball's brightly insincere voice changed roles again."Can't a girl advance her mind if she wants to."

"The records show that not one book was ever recorded as being sent back to Clapham North library from Larkhall prison"

"I hate giving books back, ma'am."

"Despite the fact that forensic evidence after the fire establishes in its findings of the remains of a hardback book containing traces of explosives , two Anthony Trollope volumes of accumulated works, item 1L in the bundle, my lord." Jo paused to let the words hang on the air. It was a cheap shot which she would normally not have resorted to but the back of her mind was finding that this whole contrived act was getting under her skin, only she had to focus in on the matter to hand.

"These two books were listed as being received in from Clapham North library, amazing coincidence, just five days before the fire and happen to be very large black leather bound books. I have brought along two identical volumes which I traced down for the court to look at," and Jo heaved two very large, ancient, leather bound volumes out of a large holdall which landed with a thud on the bench before her.

"Remember these, Ms Pilkinton. I think you might not be as avid a reader as you have made yourself out to be or else you would not have been so careless with them as to let them be incinerated."

John Deed wondered how a woman with such a slim frame would be able to manhandle such weighty volumes and he gestured to the stronger of the ushers to give her a hand.

"I am not bringing these volumes into court as evidence to be numbered but as facsimiles of the real books that were used as concealment for the bomb that blew the library apart."

And Jo Mills let the trap shut tight on her. She picked up her marker pen, drew in a line to the left, wrote 'Ritchie' in neat letters on the screen. She drew a similar line going upwards and to the left and wrote "Fenner." It was like drawing the spokes of a wheel with Snowball as the hub and Ritchie and Fenner being two points on the circumference of the wheel. The circle of conspiracy was being marked out for all to see. Cassie's idle remark about a childhood game called hangman wasn't that far out.

Snowball's face was rigid with shock seeing these two volumes look up at her accusingly. The last time she had seen their like was the moment when she was at her most hyper with the thought of £50,000 in her greedy hands and to hell with anyone who stood in her way. She had sliced with her razor blade rectangular shapes into the written thoughts of an author's experiences of long ago, carelessly scattering the remains so that a fount of knowledge would harbour a crude home made bomb. Not that she gave two thoughts to this. Like everything else, it was a means to an end. The shock to her was that she had broken the Eleventh Commandment, the only one she believed in, "Thou Shalt Not Be found Out."

"These matters are extremely complex for a jury to fathom and I ask your forbearance. On this OHP, I shall try and demonstrate the circle of conspiracy for you so that it will help you to concentrate on the fundamentals of the case."

"In the testimony that you gave the court yesterday, Ms Pilkinton," Jo continued, "You stated that it was Mr Fenner who asked you to spy for him, find out what Atkins was up too, that, to quote, "He said he had her on a tight leash, and that if I had any trouble from her, he'd have her on the end of his spike" Were those his very words, Ms Pilkinton."

"I guess so," Snowball replied warily in her Floridaspeak but becoming more confident. "They hated each other."

"Which might make him susceptible to a concocted tale designed to set him off on a wild goose chase when in testimony given earlier before and, I quote,

'When she'd been in Larkhall for about a fortnight, she told me there was going to be a break out', that it would be Yvonne Atkins and that you were believed even if you had been there for two weeks because Yvonne Atkins had made two previous escape attempts.' I put it to you, Ms Pilkinton that you floated this rumour to distract attention from your very real escape attempt because, again in your own words ' My feeding him little snippets about what Yvonne Atkins was supposedly up to was my way of keeping him sweet. It always pays to have an officer on your side.' Can you explain the curious use of the word, 'supposedly', Miss Pilkinton? It suggests a certain element of falsehood and deception, does it not?"

"It's all right with your fancy airs and your law degree, Miss High and Mighty. You don't know what it's like to claw your way up from the gutter where my mother brought me up. I didn't want to grow up the same way so I followed me dreams, to Hollywood or so I thought, till I got turned into a junkie and a whore. It was only meeting Ritchie," and here her face softened, like a lovestruck teenager, "that made me feel that some good could come out of it all. And finding God." Snowball spoke up in her best sincere gritty down to earth North County accent, ending superbly on a religious note as she automatically held her hands together, palms upward.

"We have heard much testimony, Ms Pilkinton, about how, as a lay preacher, you turned the doubting congregation around with your Parable of the Cigarette Lighter. Tell me more about it. "John Deed interposed. He had been unnaturally restrained in the course of the hearing but the urge to intervene and feel more part of the proceedings and not like some god on high had become unbearable.

Snowball was in her element as she grabbed at the chance to polish up her rather soiled image. The knowledge that her liberty was at stake added inner desperation. Can't let an actress see your stage nerves, she reasoned to herself.

"I came to the country where I was born because I could not stand the ungodly ways of Hollywood." She exclaimed, an evangelical light in her eyes. "I had seen the degradation women suffer at the hands of covetous men seeking their satisfaction from the innocent flesh of women who followed the same dream that I had. Like me, they had their dreams of stardom only to queue at the backdoor of a man who promised to make them rich and famous. They just had to show what they were worth on the Casting Couch. You know what that is. Under some man's sweaty body while he screws you and, when he'd had his fill, passes you to his friend who teases you with that same dream. Prick teasers, men like them call us. Yet what is more cruel than to offer a young girl the chance of being a star only to make her over into being a whore. The odd bit part here, the odd bit part there, and you have the rent to pay, bills to pay. And you wake up some day and you realise that you've got no further than if you had stayed at home and stuffed chicken in a chicken factory. At least you are being paid honest wages."

The tirade of rage poured out in a stream of words that shook the audience rigid as, behind the obvious con tricks of her earlier testimony. At last, the real Snowball appeared under her theatrical props.

"…………So that's why I became a Christian," Snowball smiled shyly, clutching a tiny pocket Bible. "And why I wanted so much to spread the faith when the rest of the girls were starting to doubt."

"Yes, Ms Pilkinton," Jo spoke softly, a part of even a sceptic like her being stealthily influenced against her will. "So when you had done Reverent Mills a favour, you asked him for a favour in return."

"The Reverend was very kind to me, ma'am." Snowball reverted back to Floridaspeak.

"In earlier testimony, his exact words of explanation were. '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." Is that a fair description of the reasons why you made use of the Reverend's phone?"

"It surely is, ma'am." Snowball beamed.

"Then, Miss Pilkinton, which hospital was your mother in. Where does she live." Jo asked at her most innocent.

Snowball stopped mid stride. That simple question had not occurred to her.

Jo reached for her felt tip and another line was drawn in vertically upwards and the word "Reverend" was inscribed. Jo smiled in satisfaction as the immense complexities of the case were reduced to a simple geometric structure.

"I don't know. I just got the phone number to phone up on. Last thing I'll do is to pester me mum about where she's living. With me locked up, how the 'ell could I go and see her. Might as well be in Greenland or Southend for all it mattered."

"We shall pass on to the phone calls you supposedly made to your poor ill mother," Jo added with growing confidence and placing the emphasis where it could do the most damage, "and I refer the court to exhibit 5D, the coat that the Reverend Mills positively identified that he donated to you to form the altar cloth for a backdrop for the Open Day, the occasion when the bomb went off. I ask the court to recall testimony from Mrs Mills where she positively identified the coat that she was wearing when she tried to escape.

"Mrs Mills," John intoned."I am aware that you have an extraordinarily long and complex case to present which seems likely to spread the entire length of the day but might this be a good point to adjourn the hearing for lunch. It will enable all parties, especially the jury, to follow the case when they have time to reflect. Court is adjourned." At a nod from Jo. With a click, she switched the light off which, for once would bring no respite for Snowball.

The court assembled in a breathless hush in the afternoon and Jo clicked on the overhead light and the names etched out in cross examination with the sharp defined lines leapt into light. The two black volumes spread their ancient weight of learning to the side of where Jo stood, luckier than their incinerated counterparts at Larkhall prison, Jo had not finished with them yet.

"Ms Pilkinton, you have testified that your boyfriend Mr Atkins…….couldn't get enough of me, that he kept in contact with you whilst you were in prison but it was

'On and off' that he 'chose to start seeing Miss Betts who stole Mr Atkins from under your nose."

"That's what happened. Men are like that," Snowball replied sulkily.

"But Mr Atkins was different you say. Yet we have heard testimony that it was Mr Atkins who made the running apart from the one phone call she made."

"He comes back to me." Snowball shrugged her shoulders.

"Yet we have evidence from a series of phone calls from Larkhall Prison phone records, - exhibit 12F in the bundle of papers, clearly establishing that the phone was used to ring Ritchie's mobile on several occasions. I put it to you that these calls were made far from calling your poor ill mother that, in fact were made to Mr Atkins, especially from testimony from Mr Ajit Khan and Mrs Atkins that a phone call was made immediately before the bomb explosion from and in the expectation that Mr Mills would be absent from the room. I put it to you that this is how the conspiracy was hatched in all its facets, including, I suspect the way that Miss Betts was ensnared to enable the gun to be smuggled into Larkhall prison, the same gun that you used to force her to drive you to meet your lover, Mr Atkins.

"Pardon me, ma'am. But that bitch stole my man as God is my word." ." Snowball replied brightly, that false perfect smile somehow back in place. Her reply had a peculiar reply that started in Floridaspeak and shifted abruptly into her Wigan accent.

Jo shook her head in wonder that this woman had this peculiar rubber quality that bounced back in the most unexpected fashion. Something in her did not function in the way a normal human being did, even those she had arraigned at the dock.

"We'll let the jury be the judge of that." Jo replied shortly, not wishing to get drawn into Snowball's fractured world.

"Let us turn to the matter of the bouquet of flowers that Mr Atkins had delivered to Yvonne Atkins, Ms Pilkinton." Jo started to say.

"'Scuse me, ma'am." Snowball jumped in."Did I have anything to do with what that sweet boy did for his mother?" Snowball's American drawl and suitably bemused expression attempted to put the same distance between her and the bouquet as her choice of words did for Yvonne.

"I am coming to that in due course, Ms Pilkinton. The court has heard testimony from Mr Atkins himself that the words on the card read "I love you, Mum." He directly qualified it by emphasizing with the words 'No more, no less.' Yet I direct the court to Exhibit P1 in the bundle of papers which I would like to be extracted since it is of particular significance."

At this point, John Deed looked at the index list at the front of the bundle felt through the weighty bundle of documents and found the plastic sheet. He carefully extracted the card and leaned forward to place it in Jo Mills hands.

"The card I have in front of me has been in the possession of the police immediately after the explosion and, besides the floral motif, bears the words "Don't place your Bets till the rod's in K's bag. I love you, Mum. Ritchie." Is this the exact same card that you gave to Mr Fenner to alert him to a supposed conspiracy. Testimony has been given by Mr Fenner……."

"And you believe that creep?" sneered Snowball in her hard Wigan accent.

"You might be as well as to listen to the testimony before it is given, Ms Pilkinton." John Deed intervened. "That is usual in a court of law. Or haven't you read the script?"

"I'm sorry, sir." Snowball flashed her best seductive smile at John Deed who found it hard to remain wooden faced.

"Pray continue with your question, Mrs Mills." John Deed intoned, deliberately wrenching his gaze away from Snowball towards the healthy reassuring normality of Jo.

Mr Fenner testified that you asked him. 'Isn't rod another name for a gun? That means there's a gun hidden in Karen Betts' handbag to help Atkins escape.' The question I ask you, which Atkins, Ms Pilkinton?" Jo finished, the tone of her voice pitched with a hardness and dominance that placed her under scrutiny for all to see as if she were pinned under a microscope.

"There's nothing I wouldn't do with my man." Snowball replied, her act sustained even at this point.

"By which, I ask the court to conclude that there was a deliberate plan to place Yvonne Atkins in the frame of a third attempt at a prison escape by the snare of the bouquet of flowers which is most calculated to prey on a mother's natural susceptibilities. At the same time, there was a secondary objective in implicating Miss Betts as at least an unconscious accomplice at a moment when there was no reason to suppose that Mr Atkins and his mother had achieved a touching reconciliation after a painful estrangement. And there was, from Mrs Atkins point of view." Jo threw at Snowball.

Yvonne had watched Jo all this time…………

Jo carefully drew a line for all those in the court to see from 'Snowball' diagonally downwards and to the left and wrote 'Karen'. She drew a similar line vertically downward from the word "Snowball" and where the line stopped wrote "Karen." She turned around with a smile of satisfaction and let the illuminated vision focus the attention of the jury who had followed the exposition with total fascination.

Snowball's eyes swiveled around the courtroom, the downturn of her mouth on both sides expressing truly .She was like a hunted animal who was pinned in on nearly all sides by the hunters with the big exception that this hunt was morally justified.

"Let us turn to the last piece of the jigsaw, the part played unwittingly by Al McKenzy.

She testified that you asked her to steal Yvonne Atkins's radio because, I quote 'her radio alarm clock was disturbing Ms Pilkinton's beauty sleep. She asked me to steal it for her and bring it to you in the library. I refer the court to evidence given earlier in the proceedings that this corresponds to the remains of the radio alarm clock, exhibit 6A in the bundle of evidence. I put it to you, Ms Pilkinton, that the radio was used for a more deadlier purpose than broadcasting the latest hits on Radio 1, namely to be constructed as a timing detonator for the bomb, that it could be constructed in perfect security where, with your enhanced status as a red band, you had direct and almost sole access to the library. Let me ask you, Ms Pilkinton, what happened to the bomb detonator, sorry radio alarm clock, if you are going to find an alternative explanation for your actions."

"Course I need mi beauty sleep," Snowball counter attacked."Are you going to say, Miss High and Mighty, that I make bombs for a living? I know nothing about summat like that. Only reading mi lines."

Jo was momentarily thrown by this. At the back of her mind, she knew that this was a hidden weak spot in her case. Then again, who knows what Snowball had learned in her troubled life and just how far back her criminal past stretched and the breadth of it.

"I leave the jury to be the judge of this along with everything else you have sworn on the bible as a Christian. Now let us turn to your actions on the morning before the explosion. Al McKenzie also testified that the stalls for the open day had been set up in the art room, but at the last minute the prison officers made you move the library books into the corridor and that, I quote 'It scared the shit out of her.' you told her to 'quit bugging her, that Al McKenzy 'helped move all the books in to the corridor.' She described you as

'Really weird', that 'first you insisted that they had to be in alphabetical order, but when you asked her if S came after or before T, you just told me to put them anywhere.'

Can you explain your rather inconsistent behaviour, Ms Pilkinton before I do?"

"Don't know. Everyone was bugging me that day. You just get that way." Snowball replied with real venom in her eyes. Even she couldn't lie her way out of this.

"Then I will," Jo riposted with all the confidence in the world. Her breathing was audible to anyone near her, most unusual for someone as cool in court to her.'You searched out for the two volumes that were precious to you and not for their literary content. These volumes." And Jo brandished one of the volumes aloft with all her strength for all to see.

"I cannot definitely and conclusively prove that the duplicates of these volumes contained the bombs in question but I can show that these represent, in their context, the focus of all Ms Pilkinton's twisted schemes, the purpose for which she twisted so many people round her little finger- for her escape with her lover, Mr Atkins and £50,000 that she stole from Mrs Atkins."

And with a flourish, a final line was drawn from the word 'Snowball' in a straight line to the right finishing the word "Al" and a circle was drawn round all the names of the victims of the conspiracy, the circle of conspiracy. At that, Jo Mills sat down, drained and exhausted and the courtroom mentally sat round each other with Snowball stood, finally cornered and at bay. This time, she was the focus of attention and her deeds were written in illuminated script projected on the nearest to a screen that she would ever achieve in her life. This time, however, this level of fame wasn't welcome.

George had stood on the sidelines, uncharacteristically silent through this cross examination. The forensic skill of a barrister of long standing gave her the ability to argue a case from either side of the line with equal sense of conviction. This time, the long standing antagonism she had felt for Jo was overlain by the fact that jo spoke the absolute truth and a part of her entered Jo's world, despite herself. Her own case didn't stand up and she knew it. All she knew was what would Neil Houghton say when he heard of this. If she was a bad loser, the thought flashed on her for the first time in her life that he was a far worse loser than she was.

"Take your time, Mrs Mills." John Deed said in his measured tones though his heart had leaped in admiration at the unsurpassed heights that Jo had achieved, as momentous in his mind as the first explorer to climb the heights of Mount Everest.

"My lord, there is little left to demonstrate on the lesser charge of grievous bodily harm of Mr Atkins but I have one question to ask of you,Ms Pilkinton. Where did you get the gun with which you forced Miss Betts to drive you out of Larkhall?"

"Can't say."Snowball uttered tersely in her Wigan voice."It just turned up."

"Indeed," Jo smiled at this pathetic reply."So you have similarly nothing to say denying the forensic evidence listed in the bundle of papers….."

"All these papers," Snowball sneered."Do you get off at night in planning to do me down? All that work for just little old me?" Snowball finished, changing back to Floridaspeak but without the false charm.

"As I was about to say," Jo cut back into the verbal crossfire, from experience inside and outside court,.hardly raising her voice."The forensic evidence listed item 5B, identifying the bullet extracted from Mr Atkins body with the shot fired from your gun, or was it Mr Atkins's gun." She finished with hard precise pronunciation of the consonants. For just that second, a few genuine tears came to Snowball's eyes which she brushed away with an angry gesture.

"Hold it a moment, Mrs Mills." John Deed interposed, his sharp eyes having focussed on an area of skin right by Snowball's left eye which her hair had carefully trailed down over."Ms Pilkinton, I insist that you explain how and exactly when did you come by that injury."

"Fell down a flight of stairs at Larkhall. Steps are slippy. It's happened before." Snowball replied sulkily.

You bitch, Snowball. Yvonne mouthed to empty air. Your sneaking ways overheard from the one occasion that we were talking about the old days when we'd shoved Bodybag down a flight of steps. I'll tell Karen about that ,one of these days.

"I refer you to what is hopefully my final reference to the evidence listed, the medical report dated June 16th 2002 from Larkhall Prison , one day after the explosion which dressed what appears to be human scratch marks. I think that this flatly contradicts

.Ms Pilkinton's testimony that 'she had no reason to fear my fellow inmates.' I cannot speculate who, of the prison inmates inflicted these wounds," and here Jo's eyes flicked up to Yvonne and a faint smile passed her lips," But I think the court can safely conclude what the other prisoners really felt about Ms Pilkinton seeing that one of them died in the fire and six others were nearly killed. The prisoners privately identified her as the author of it, witness the failed escape attempt. The only possible conclusion that can be drawn from why Ms Pilkinton refused the offer of voluntary segregation intended for her safety was that it was the necessary precondition of her second attempt at escape.

"In connection with this, I offer the only words of truth Ms Pilkinton has uttered which was her testimony yesterday and, I quote. 'The stupid git just had to try and save Karen Betts' miserable life. Ritchie was trying to get the gun off me. He told me I was going too far. I was only giving her what she deserved. Always the way with a bloke though, isn't it. No matter who they sleep with, no matter how pointless it is, they still have a soft spot for them. He thought he'd try and play the hero. I didn't mean to shoot him, it was an accident. If he hadn't tried to stop me blowing that bitch's brains out, he'd still be able to walk.'"

Jo paused for a few minutes as she was feeling really emotionally drained, out of breath and her voice was starting to crack.

"My final question to you, Ms Pilkinton, is that I see that you were apprehended at Gatwick Airport with a consignment of a kilo of cocaine in your bags. Can you explain the following to me, how you were able to slip through Miami airport although your name was on the front page of the newspapers, yet you chose to go into a security hornets nest of Heathrow Airport of all places which would be certain to catch you. The events of September 11th 2001 would make that plain to anyone."

For once in her life, Snowball had nothing to say.

"In which case, the only conclusions that can be drawn are that, firstly, you planned to get caught, secondly that you could escape the electric chair in Florida and, thirdly, that you would end up in Larkhall Prison where you knew from Mr Atkins that his mother was in prison and that would come in very useful. Everything else flows from this."

"Does this conclude your case." John Deed intoned, restraining the urge to applaud the finest moment he had ever witnessed inside a court.

"Yes, my lord." Jo replied, very huskily, her voice hardly able to articulate by then.

A dead silence settled over the court as the OHP threw large illuminated script on the ancient walls of the Old Bailey making the extraordinary complexities somehow crystal clear for all to see . Jo was utterly exhausted but she knew that she would start to climb into the extraordinary mental high of the reaction post trial comedown. Perhaps this was the ultimate addiction of being a practicing barrister.

Yvonne, Lauren, Cassie, Roisin and Babs just sat there spellbound feeling justice coming alive so intensely before their eyes, flowing through their veins, justice so richly felt if delayed. George stood silent, for the first time lost in admiration at Jo's performance. She was professional enough that nothing in her past intense jealousy could deny. And Snowball felt a blind hatred of everything around her, of life itself, as Di led her back to where she knew now Larkhall was her destiny, not the silver screen.

Part Forty Five

Jo was dead on her feet. That day's cross examination had completely taken it out of her. She leaned against the wall outside the court and searched in her handbag for her faithful nicotine companions. Finding only an empty packet, she briefly thought she might cry with tiredness. George appeared through the doors and took note of Jo's fruitless searching.

"That's the only downside of smoking," George said, holding out her packet, "When you run out of them." Jo greatfully took one and lit up.

"Much as I hate to admit it," Continued George, "I was impressed at your performance today." This was a real complement from George, and Jo knew it'd taken a lot for her to say it.

"Thank you," She replied quietly. They watched as a green MG sports car pulled in to the carpark and came to a stop next to a red Farari. As Karen Betts got out and moved towards them, they both assumed the obvious that Karen had come to meet Yvonne. Karen walked up the steps and greeted Jo with,

"How did it go?" Jo took a long drag.

"I think fairly successful might describe it," Jo replied. There came a snort of laughter from George. She ditched her cigarette and opened one of the doors to go back in, but turned to face Karen.

"I would stay and tell you just how successful Jo was today," Said George, "But as we're crossing swords tomorrow, it would be slightly unethical of me." As George moved through the door, they were joined by the others. On seeing Jo, Cassie said,

"If I'm ever in court again, will you defend me?" Jo smiled.

"It'd be a pleasure."

"I could have done with you a few years ago," Said Yvonne, giving her a broad smile.

"I liked what you did with the OHP," Said Cassie, the only one of them really familiar with such things.

"Let's just say that was a last minute wave of inspiration."

"Got Snowball going though," Said Cassie, "And at least now the jury can see how she reeled everyone in." Me included, thought Karen.

As they all walked towards their cars, Karen said to Yvonne,

"Do you feel like coming home with me? Ever since Sylvia found out about what happened with Ritchie, she's been insufferable. She's supposed to be escorting Snowball tomorrow, but I've half a mind to ban her from court. I could really do with some company." Yvonne looked at her. The strain of having to watch Snowball Merriman defend herself had got to both of them.

"Yeah, okay," Said Yvonne, "It probably wouldn't do me and Lauren any harm to have some space from each other."

"Have you still not made up after what happened on Monday?"

"Oh, we're speaking," Replied Yvonne sardonically, "But only the bare necessities." Yvonne dug in her pocket and handed Lauren the car keys.

"I might be home later," She said, hoping Lauren wouldn't comment on it.

"Nice to see she hasn't lost her touch," Said Lauren acidly. Yvonne took a deep breath, about to say something in return, but then thought better of it.

"Don't do anything I wouldn't do," Called Cassie fondly, trying to take the sting out of Lauren's words. When she joined Roisin in their car, Cassie said, "There's going to be a lot of problems there, which is the last thing Yvonne and Karen need."

"Do you realise just how peculiar that sounds?" Said Roisin. "Saying Yvonne and Karen like that."

"I know," Said Cassie smiling. "They look good together, and Lauren hates the very idea of it."

"It's exactly the same as Michael and Niamh were with you,"

"But they're children," Said Cassie in disgust. "Lauren's twenty four for god's sake."

"It makes no difference," Said Roisin, clearly speaking from experience. "She still can't handle the fact that someone else is making her mother happy."

As Karen started the engine, with Yvonne sitting beside her, she switched on the CD player.

"I think music's the only thing that's going to work today," She said.

"I've got this," Said Yvonne with a smile as Heart's music filled the car. As it was still blazing with heat, Karen opened all the windows and the sunroof. The full-bodied voices of the two women began slowly to eat away at the tension surrounding Karen's soul. She could never remain wholly wound up when listening to their outpouring of everything from lust to anger. Just now, the slightly raucous edge to some of their songs was exactly what she needed. As they sat at interminable traffic lights, Karen cursed having to drive through London's rush hour. At least when she was at Larkhall, she could always work late so as to avoid this true embodiment of all life's irritations. As she again paused to allow a stream of cars to pass in front of her, a man looking no older than twenty-five, leered at them, clearly liking these two sensationally attractive women in what had to be a very expensive car. Karen gave him an incredibly rude hand gesture which made Yvonne grin. As the line of cars they were in moved forward, Karen flicked the CD to the angriest track on it. When Yvonne heard it, she smiled in recognition. As the words began, Yvonne joined Karen in pouring scorn on the male population as a whole.

"I'm so tired of these men trying to impress me with nothing." They were both equally surprised to hear the other's voice. They exchanged a grin in the driving mirror. It was noticeable how they both dropped an octave when the singer went too high. When they reached the end of the second chorus, Karen's face was flushed and Yvonne laughed.

"I feel better after that," Said Karen, feeling some of the tension go out of her.

"Yeah, me too," Said Yvonne, surprised that putting her voice to such an angry song had felt so therapeutic. When they reached Karen's flat, she ejected the CD and took it in with her. Yvonne had never seen Karen's place before, and she was pleasantly surprised. The wide, airy lounge had a balcony at one end and wide windows looking out on to the street at the other. Karen liked minimal furniture, a table and chairs near to the balcony doors and a sofa and chairs round the television. Yvonne spied a small computer in one corner, and a stereo in another. There was the door to the kitchen at one side, and opposite, a small passage that clearly led to bedroom and bathroom. Karen went round opening windows and doors, to let in the sun and the early evening breeze. She poured them both a large scotch on ice and sank gratefully in to the sofa and lit a cigarette. Yvonne walked round, examining her books and CD's and a couple of pictures of Ross.

"He's a good-looking kid," Yvonne observed.

"Oh, I know," Said Karen, "Looks as innocent as the day he was born. It's just a shame it only goes skin deep." Karen was watching her with a soft smile on her face.

"Sorry," Said Yvonne, "I'm a bit of a nosy cow when it comes to other people's houses."

"Be my guest," Said Karen, feeling that she could get used to Yvonne being in her space.

"I didn't know you were a fan of Patricia Cornwell," Said Yvonne looking at Karen's bookcase.

"Oh yes. Kay Scarpetta's a bit of a hero of mine. She deals with thoroughly irritating men, psychopaths and dead bodies on a regular basis, and still manages to look sensational."

"Sounds a bit like you," Said Yvonne with a smile. Karen laughed.

"I'm waiting for her new one to come out. It's due out in October, so I hope riotous inmates and strike-hungry officers can wait a week before kicking off."

"I wouldn't bet on it," Said Yvonne with a grin. Karen picked the remote control off the coffee table and flicked on the stereo, and smartly turned it off again when she heard the unmistakable sounds of Beautiful South.

"Leave it on," Said Yvonne. "I like them." Despite her better judgment, Karen did so.

"Are you hungry?" Asked Karen, moving towards the kitchen, wanting anything to take her mind off the words she was sure Yvonne would hear.

"Not hugely," Said Yvonne, still looking at Karen's CD's. Karen rummaged in the fridge, and as she really needed to go shopping, she decided on omelettes. Retrieving ham, cheese and mushrooms, together with a box of eggs, she began chopping. Yvonne came and stood in the kitchen doorway.

"Do you want me to do anything?"

"No thank you." Yvonne thought she could detect a return of the tension that Karen had exuded for the last couple of days. She walked out on to the balcony, wondering if Karen wasn't liking the invasion of her space as much as she'd made out, but this was ridiculous. Yvonne knew one thing for certain, if Karen ever had a problem with anything between them, she'd say so. Yvonne allowed the words of the man and woman of Beautiful South to wash over her. They were singing now about Greta Garbo.

"God help the actress who doesn't know the script." Yvonne frowned at the early evening sun. Snowball Merriman had known her script all right, to the letter. It was amazing how she'd switched personas all the way through her testimony, today and yesterday. First, the American porn movie star who'd had them all on a string, replaced alternately with the innocent, hard-done-by northern girl who'd been in over her head since the beginning.

When Yvonne walked back in to the lounge, she saw Karen putting cutlery and glasses on the table. As Karen was about to put down the second wineglass, Yvonne suddenly began to take notice of what the woman on the CD was now singing.

"Not much a door can do but open or close, but those things are above doors. Not much legs can do but open or close, but those things are above us whores." Karen's hand had been suspended in midair, but as soon as the song moved in to the chorus, she put the glass down and looked up at Yvonne.

"I see," Said Yvonne in realisation. "The light begins to dawn. You didn't want to put this CD on because you didn't want me to know where you got the line you used in that text message to Ritchie."

"I think that moment of recklessness is going to haunt me for ever," Said Karen darkly.

"I've never pulled with a song lyric before," Said Yvonne, "It's certainly different." As they ate their way through Karen's light, fluffy creation with some salad and chilled white wine, Yvonne wondered how she could make Karen forget about all that Ritchie had said in court on Monday. Karen seemed to be sinking further and further in to depression. She didn't eat more than half of her meal, and was extremely quiet as they washed up. As Yvonne scrubbed at the omelette pan and Karen leaned passed her to put the plates back in the cupboard, Yvonne said quietly,

"Talk to me?" Karen closed the cupboard door and said,

"There's nothing to talk about." Yvonne simply gave her a look that clearly said bollocks. Yvonne put the pan in the drainer and let the water out of the sink. Taking the teatowel from Karen to dry her hands, she simply waited.

"I feel so cheap, and pathetic and, degraded," Said Karen, in a tone of such self-loathing that Yvonne turned Karen to face her. There was a look of such anguish on her face that it made Yvonne instantly want to hold her and take all the pain away.

"Do you really think I'd take a blind bit of notice of Ritchie's idea of recrimination?" Said Yvonne.

"You'd be hard put not too," Replied Karen.

"Do you think I'd still be here if anything he'd said had made the slightest bit of difference to how I feel about you?" Asked Yvonne. Karen evaded the question.

"I wouldn't mind," she said, "But everything he said about me was true."

"So?" Said Yvonne. "It doesn't mean you're the only one who's ever thrown themselves at a bloke. We've all done it at one time or another. Jesus, at least you've never paid for it from the likes of Ajit Kahn and numerous others because you were inside and couldn't get any."

"So, it doesn't put you off me?" Asked Karen, praying it wouldn't.

"No, of course not," Said Yvonne with a smile. She moved forward and put her arms round Karen. "Listen, I'm still here because you're stunning, you're funny, you've got the most erotic voice I ever heard, and because I think I'm falling in love with you." Then, at Karen's slightly wide-eyed expression she said, "But don't tell anyone I said that, or they'll think Yvonne Atkins has gone soft in her old age." Karen smiled. As their lips met, Karen wondered why they'd taken so long to do this. She half wished she'd done something about her burgeoning feelings for Yvonne sooner.

"What would really relax you?" Asked Yvonne softly. Karen found herself leaning against the worktop with Yvonne nibbling at her lower lip.

"A long soak in a bubble bath with you might just be the answer," She finally said, in that sultry, sexy tone that made Yvonne's senses tingle in anticipation.

"Sounds like a good idea," Replied Yvonne, taking Karen's hand and leading her out of the kitchen.

As they lay in the warm, scented water, with the soft sounds of Maggie Riley coming from the lounge, Karen could slowly feel the tension ebbing away. Yvonne was gently easing the stress out of Karen's muscles as Karen lay in her arms.

"So," Karen said as she reached out for her glass of wine. "Sylvia was right when she told me she thought all your solicitors weren't genuine." Yvonne grinned.

"Yeah, it was just her bad luck she picked on the real lawyer instead of the fake one."

"But why do it if there was so much risk?" Yvonne thought about this for a minute. "Apart from the obvious," Put in Karen.

"I think I was bored," Said Yvonne finally. "That's what really drives most cons mad. Not just the total lack of privacy or complete non-existence of control over your own life, but the endless hours to do sod all but think."

"So how did you occupy your time?" Asked Karen, at the same time knowing she probably wouldn't get all the answers.

"Well," Said Yvonne with a little grin. "As governor of G wing, there really are some things you shouldn't know."

"At least tell me about that phone sex thing you had going?" Yvonne looked highly affronted.

"How do you know that was me?" Karen laughed at the look of mock mortification on Yvonne's face.

"Because no way could the Julies have set it up on their own. It would have taken a brain like yours."

"We called ourselves Babes Behind Bars." Karen almost choked on another swig of wine. "Oh, yeah," Said Yvonne, thoroughly enjoying Karen's moment of enlightenment. "Babs advertised us on the net."

"Jesus," Said Karen, "I swear they don't get up to half as much now you're not there."

"The trick is knowing just how far you can go," Said Yvonne looking serious again. "I suppose that was a thing born of practice." She sounded almost melancholic, as if she really did regret a lot of her former life.

"Like you said the other day," Said Karen, trying to put Yvonne at her ease once more, "There isn't much I don't know about you. I have no doubts that there is the odd big thing that I'm not aware of, but right now, I don't need to know them. Probably the most important thing I know about you is that you don't do anything without a good reason." Yvonne was touched by the trust Karen clearly had in her. She just hoped she could live up to it. Karen lifted her head from where it had been resting on Yvonne's shoulder and kissed her. Yvonne could feel the faintest hint of pure arousal igniting deep inside her. She tentatively allowed a finger to trace the curve of Karen's left breast. Karen's reaction was evident in the sudden pinnacle of her nipple.

"You're so beautiful," Murmured Yvonne.

"That's the wine talking," Replied Karen, her voice husky with arousal. Then Karen did something that made Yvonne hold her breath in awe of what she was seeing. Karen was gently caressing her own breast, in a manner so wickedly sinful that Yvonne immediately thought it should be made illegal.

"This is what I was doing, last Wednesday as it happens, that really got me thinking in that way about you."

"Are you serious?" Asked Yvonne, quite unable to take her eyes away from Karen's wandering hand.

"This, and other things you can work out for yourself," Karen added.

"Jesus," Said Yvonne. "Do you have any idea how sexy that is?"

"Maybe I'm trying to find out what turns you on," Said Karen, locking eyes with Yvonne.

"Oh really," Commented Yvonne. "You're pretty successful so far." Karen had previously made no attempt to allow her hands to wander at will over Yvonne's warm, supple body, because on Sunday Yvonne had said that she currently didn't want Karen to touch her in that way. Yvonne was more grateful than she knew how to express at Karen's respect of her caution in this matter. But those slight nerves appeared to have dissipated. She took Karen's hand and led it to her breast. Karen's eyes held the question of are you sure, and Yvonne simply nodded. Ever since she'd seen the glorious picture that was Yvonne's body on Sunday morning, Karen had been wanting to traverse its curves, to find out what delights this body might hold for her. As she gently did to Yvonne what she'd moments earlier been doing to herself, Karen was excited by the whole newness of what she was touching. The thing to really hit home with Yvonne was the way Karen's touch was so gentle yet so sexually charged. No man had ever treated her body with such care, such delicacy.

"Let's go to bed," Murmured Yvonne after a while, thinking that she just might want whatever else Karen had to offer.

They got out of the bath and dried off, all the time either kissing or touching. As they moved in to Karen's bedroom, Yvonne turned them to face the full-length mirror.

"Get an eyeful of that," She said with a smirk. Karen gazed at their reflection.

"You're just too stunning for your own good," Said Karen. When they lay in her large bed, their hands were everywhere. If was as if Karen's sole intention was to commit every rib, every pleasure point, every inch of Yvonne's body to memory. She kissed her way down Yvonne's neck, nibbling at the point where a strong pulse came up to meet her, almost as if Karen were putting her claim, her mark on this beautiful woman. Karen kissed a lingering trail down to Yvonne's right nipple, where she introduced her to the delights of someone who, from her numerous exploits with men, knew how to keep her teeth well out of harm's way. The significance of this didn't go entirely unnoticed by Yvonne.

"I'm not going to ask where you learnt to be so good at that," She said , and Karen could tell by her voice that she was certainly doing something right. But when she traced the curve of Yvonne's hip and mapped gentle circles on her thigh, Yvonne's whole body seemed to retreat. There was barely any physical sign of this, but somehow Karen just knew she'd done something wrong. Karen moved almost completely away from her, just lying next to Yvonne with her right arm cradling her as it had been doing all along.

"Jesus," Said Yvonne in surprise. "You're very perceptive."

"I believe they call it female intuition," Said Karen. Yvonne stayed quiet.

"I'm sorry," Yvonne said miserably.

"Don't be," Said Karen gently. "Maybe you're not as ready for this as you thought you were."

"I feel like a defective bloke," Said Yvonne, clearly furious with herself. "In here," She said, tapping the side of her head, "I really want this. I think my body's just not used to the feminine touch."

"Would you like a massage?" Asked Karen, "It might relax you." A broad smile crept over Yvonne's face.

"I haven't had one of those in years," She said, thinking this would probably do the trick. Karen got out of bed and walked over to her dressing table, returning with a bottle of massage oil.

"Turn over," She said, knowing she was going to enjoy doing this for Yvonne. When Karen opened the bottle and poured some of the oil on to her hand, the seductive, sexy aroma of sandalwood permeated the air. As she leaned over to place the bottle on the bedside cabinet, Yvonne could feel the softness of Karen's breasts briefly making contact with her skin. Karen began to knead the muscles at the base of Yvonne's neck, gradually smoothing the oil out to her shoulders. Yvonne writhed luxuriously as Karen encountered the occasional knots of tense muscle.

"You're a genius at this," Said Yvonne, thinking this had been Karen's best idea this evening.

"Tell me what you like," Said Karen, reaching again for the bottle of massage oil. "If you thought I would do absolutely anything for you, what would it be?" Yvonne laughed.

"Now you're asking," She said, trying to give herself time to formulate an answer.

"It can't be that bad," Said Karen with a grin. As she moved down to the middle of Yvonne's back, she occasionally allowed her hands to drift round to caress the underside of Yvonne's breasts.

"You might not want to do this," Said Yvonne, now that Karen's hands were slowly loosening the muscles at the base of her spine.

"I'll try most things once," Said Karen with a smile.

"Would you try oral?" Asked Yvonne, not sure of the response she would get. Karen thought all her dreams had come true at once.

"I certainly would," She said, her hands progressing to the backs of Yvonne's thighs. By this time, Yvonne was so relaxed that she felt as if all her bones had simultaneously dissolved. She felt like her insides and her outer skin had become one glorious, bubbling cauldron of desire.

When Karen put the top back on the bottle, and Yvonne turned over, they simply gazed at each other. Karen thought that Yvonne really did look good enough to eat. When Karen began kissing her, she realised immediately by the passion Yvonne was putting in to that kiss that she was certainly far more turned on than before. Using the oil that was left on her hand, Karen gently massaged Yvonne's right breast, running her thumb over and around the nipple until Yvonne's breathing began to increase. Heartily wishing there was a way she could simultaneously continue kissing Yvonne, and put her earlier wish in to practice, Karen kissed her way down Yvonne's torso, giving attention to every rib she passed. When she reached the level where hip meets thigh, she had to swap hands in order to continue giving Yvonne's nipples maximum attention. This was something Yvonne clearly liked, and Karen didn't want to stop doing it. She kissed a trail along Yvonne's thigh, at first avoiding her main goal, but returning to it along the other thigh. Karen found to her delight that Yvonne was totally shaved. She traced a forefinger over the silky, soft skin under which Yvonne's clit was currently hiding. Knowing her right hand would definitely be better at this, Karen again swapped hands on Yvonne's cleavage. At the first gentle caress of Karen's finger on her clit, Yvonne groaned in pure ecstasy, abandoning herself over to whatever Karen would do to her. Karen continued gently stroking Yvonne's clit while she kissed her way along her hip bone, eventually replacing her finger with her tongue. Yvonne thought she was in heaven. Like most women, it had been her experience that the vast majority of men won't even contemplate giving a woman what they so readily expected for themselves. Yet here was Karen, experiencing her first time of making love to a woman, and eagerly trying something so new without a care in the world, except for how good she was making it for Yvonne. If Yvonne had earlier only thought she was in love with Karen, she now knew this to be a certainty. Charlie had been good, Yvonne would never deny that, but no-one, except maybe Ajit Kahn and the others she'd paid, had ever cared so entirely about her pleasure. As Karen ran her tongue over and around Yvonne's clit, she decided this was something she could certainly do on a regular basis. She knew she had a lot to learn about what really made Yvonne tick, but she knew it was going to be fun finding out. As her tongue swirled around Yvonne's entrance, Karen was pleasantly surprised. It seemed that the taste of a woman far outweighed what any man could ever come up with. She thought that she could easily never get enough of Yvonne's subtle flavour, but with men she'd usually tried to let them only go so far. She returned her tongue to Yvonne's clit and gently inched two fingers inside her. Yvonne seemed to melt at her touch. Karen gently explored Yvonne's internal walls, looking for Graffenberg's greatest discovery. She knew when she'd found it because Yvonne gasped. Karen teased this spot over and over again, until Yvonne's breath was coming in short, sharp gasps. Realising there was room for it, Karen slipped in a third finger and half withdrew and returned her hand, making sure to graze Yvonne's G spot every time. This, combined with her tongue still moving back and forth over her clit, served to push Yvonne up to the top of her sexual wave. Yvonne's whole body tensed as she hovered on the peak, teeth clamped down on her lip to prevent any sound from escaping. Then, as her orgasm finally came crashing down on her, Yvonne thought she might drown in the flood of feelings that were being turned on like lights on a Christmas tree. Her internal muscles had almost crushed Karen's fingers, and long after Karen had removed her hand, her muscles twitched as if looking for the source of all their dreams.

Yvonne lay, utterly satiated and watched as Karen moved back to lie down beside her. Karen just gazed at her, a soft smile lighting her eyes and turning up the corners of her mouth.

"Wow!" Said Karen, grinning widely. "It must have been good to make you lost for words." Yvonne laughed with that self-satisfied smile that only accompanies the afterglow.

"Do you have any idea how fantastic that was?" She asked Karen, her voice slightly deeper than normal.

"Judging by the way you all but crushed my hand," Said Karen, flexing her fingers, "I'm fairly sure you enjoyed it." She said this with such a straight face that Yvonne couldn't help laughing.

"Talk about the bleedin understatement of the century, you were amazing," She finished softly.

"Good," Said Karen, leaning forward to kiss her. Yvonne could taste a faint hint of herself on Karen's lips and thought that if Karen tasted anything like this, she wouldn't mind giving that a go some day soon.

"You've got a hell of a squeeze," Said Karen with a grin.

"Yeah," Said Yvonne with a little laugh. "Sorry, I forgot to tell you that one." They lay, holding each other in contented silence, until Yvonne shivered, the heat of her orgasm having worn off. Karen pulled the sheet back over them.

"I take it you're staying?" Said Karen, noticing it was getting on for eleven thirty.

"Aside from the fact I've got no reason not to," Said Yvonne, "I don't think I've got the energy to move." Karen laughed huskily.

"It's nice to know I can wear you out," She said with a smile. As Karen watched Yvonne slowly fall asleep, and listened to the occasional car pass in the street, she knew without doubt that this is where she wanted to be, what she wanted her life to be. She'd never dreamt that she would come to feel so much for this woman who, only just before the fire last year, had torn a strip off her for sleeping with her son. But here they were, sleeping in the same bed, after some of the most incredible sex Karen had ever been part of, and gradually beginning something that Karen hoped would give them both the security they so badly needed.

Part Forty Six

Snowball was led back through the gates of Larkhall by a coldly silent Di barker whose wall of cold hatred even she could feel. Her eyes travelled not an inch away from the route her eyes had marked out for herself to her cell, neither looking to left or right.

"Did it go all right in court, man," Denny's cheeky voice piped up with much more of an edge of total loathing behind it."I mean, did they hang you out to dry."

"Aye, Merriman." Al's broad Scottish voice echoed the general feeling."Hanging's too good for you."

"You bitches." Was all that Snowball replied. She wanted to be alone with her own thoughts.

It had galled her that, day after day, she had watched from the sidelines while witness after witness were out to bring her down, first Ritchie's goddam mother, then that evil slag Betts, then that slimy creep Fenner, and then, and then…….that spineless mother's boy Ritchie. She loved him, more than anything else in her own troubled life yet he meekly caved in to that bitch of a barrister. She had watched him that day and saw how weak he was despite all his tough talk about being an Atkins. But then again, she had always known how to wrap him round her little finger. The truth was that she wore the trousers in their relationship.

And all the time they were getting all the attention and not her. She was just this blond haired woman who might as well be doing a walk on part instead of being centre stage where she belonged. She had always wanted attention ever since she could remember and, being a blond American babe, that gave her that attention. It didn't even matter if they hated her, at least she wasn't overlooked. She would make sure that everyone would remember her name like the repeat of that 'Fame' series sang. She wished she was there instead of in this prison dump, languishing behind bars. That kinda thing never happened to Greta Garbo. She, Snowball Merriman, did not 'vant to be alone', no siree.

In a different setting, George Channing elegantly sipped a glass of dry white wine while Neil Houghton had his back turned to her, sat in an armchair and reading the Daily Telegraph. A tall lampstand casting its limited glow on him and him alone gave him all the illumination that he needed. In a domestic setting, he did not have the juvenile fantasies that his leader Tony Blair had of being a failed rock star, dressing down in jeans and open neck shirt and getting his Fender Stratocaster guitar out of its case and playing some abominable row for the neighbours. No, Neil Houghton was a more serious minded man altogether, believing that any distraction in his private life, detracted from his single minded purpose of being in the driving seat of the most professional Labour Party cabinet there had ever been. He was proud of himself, being in that rarefied, most exclusive club of all time partaking of that most addictive drug of all time, that of the appetite for power. Not that he would himself have thought of it in these terms as that required a capacity for insight into the workings of his own mind that he would sooner leave quietly undisturbed. He merely took it for granted that his way of thinking was what motivated mankind, responsiveness to the rewards of peer approval, of being in the right place at the right time, the knowledge that Gordon and Tony smiled on his ability to deliver good news every time. He knew what that approval was worth as he saw also their looks of disdain at the less adept of his colleagues when they failed to deliver their agenda mapped out for them. The name of the game, as a cabinet minister, was that there was no failure. You only had one chance at the most before you sensed that the political fixers would whisper in Tony's ear and next thing you knew was that there was a Cabinet reshuffle and it was back to the anonymity of the back bench, worse that you were labelled a 'has been' and that was not what he had entered politics for.

That wasn't the entirety of his daily business. There came the time when he had to take himself to his local Party Constituency activists and mouth platitudes to keep them happy, to allay their irrational fears like a father would do to his child. That was what he was there for. Worse still were the two monthly MPs surgeries when he had to take himself to some ageing Victorian draughty social club in some bare room and hear the whinges of some local busybody with too much time on his hands who had some frustrated celebrity fix, even if in opposition. They would take some crumpled paperwork out of their inside pockets and ask, half demanding, half-servile, that he himself would personally ensure that such and such little thing could be put right. He did the verbal equivalent of patronisingly pat them on the head and mouth some vague promise while, all the time, scribble some notes and hand it to the lowest underling in his department and dismiss it from his mind. He would then take his car and drive a hundred miles home and shower all the grubby filth of meeting these bodies off of himself. Of course, whoever heard of an MP actually living in the Constituency that he served. You got placed as MP according to your status. Some new one would be MP on the make got to stand for Epsom. A Cabinet Minister of his importance got the dead safe seat of a Manchester constituency with the added bonus that the airport nearby could jet you to Heathrow in half the time it took by ministerial car or, heaven preserve him, some rattletrap train, even if it was first class.

This is where George came in. she was the perfect consort, with all the aristocratic graces you could wish for which, in these days of New Labour, wasn't going to interfere with his political allegiance. He could square that with his beliefs in the same way that he could square anything he could put his mind to.

George could be counted upon to help smooth the way at social occasions with her perfect style and was a positive asset to the relationship as people are judged, not only themselves, but by the woman on his arm. He felt totally confident that he could handle an intimate night out with Tony and Cherie. She does things so well. The only problem is that Deed irritant that she got hitched to in a moment of madness but then again, everyone has his moment of youthful indiscretion, like the CND march that he went on once. Thank heavens no paparazzi were around then to take photographs of a numberless, nameless member of the Labour party as it was then.

He did have the sense to never tie himself with the Unions. In his youth, they were the untrammelled wreckers of society, out on strike at the drop of the hat, ready to pose for the press and shout their ranting hyperbole at anyone within earshot. Thank god, Margaret Thatcher cut them down to size and soften them up for when we took over.

But now there are the least likely obstructionists around to cause trouble, the radical judiciary. Instead of sleeping their way through the political process and letting the executive gently guide them, a number of them have been infected with that malcontent spirit which in New Labour had been stamped out. Envy of the rich, an irresponsible desire to pull down the wealth creators is what burns their every thought, none more so than this Deed fellow. To make it worse, he is a renegade member of the upper classes. The very way Deed raised his eyebrows, the intonation of his speaking voice, the way he holds a cup and saucer speaks to him of an in-born comfortable privileged life which he seems hellbent in disrupting.

He brooded on the latest thing George is involved with, that fire at some prison. Some nameless criminal had died and some Americanised tart had been responsible who had also stabbed a photographer in Florida. Well, if the woman wants to make herself as an American, let our transatlantic friends have the privilege of putting her up on trial. Besides, their crime was the graver of the two even if the tart did come from Wigan in the first place. It caused a real stink in the press when it came out that some antiquated Victorian prison had let the woman construct a home made bomb, set off an explosion in the confusion of which, she nearly walks out through the front gate on an open day. If this is their idea of running a prison, places like them need a good shake up, wake their ideas up.

Neil Houghton put his paper down and George's voice spoke out of the increasing darkness outside the glow from the standard lamp.

"Neil darling, I thought it best to tell you that the court is likely to find the two defendants in the Larkhall Prison fire guilty of arson, and the death of a prisoner. I can see that they will be found guilty. There isn't much of a case to defend. I can see it coming a mile away." George spoke from out of the blue. She had been mulling over how best to give Neil the bad news before opting for the blunt truth.

"Is it that Deed character's doing?" Neil Houghton said in his coldest, most unpleasant tones. "You were sent in there to win this one for us, for the Government. How will I explain this one to the cabinet? Tony will hold me to blame and, up till now, I've always delivered, even if I have to bang a few heads together and threaten a few civil servants with compulsory transfers to Swansea DVLC and break a few careers. Lean on people enough and you get results. That's how we all work."

"It isn't as easy as that, Neil." George spoke more patiently than was her habit. "I'm a professional barrister, not a Minister able to click his fingers at civil servants to do his bidding."

"With your ex on the bench, I would have thought it would be perfectly easy to get that woman out of the government's hair and on a one way trip to the electric chair in Florida. Instead, I suppose the British taxpayer will have to stump up for her upkeep in a British prison."

"This is exactly why it is difficult, Neil. Do you honestly suppose that John would do me a favour for old time's sake? He'd be more likely to do the opposite to spite us." George was never known for her patience or her diplomacy and a strong urge was taking charge of her to tell this man who didn't comprehend anything outside his narrow world.

"I don't agree with you, George. I don't agree with you at all." Neil shook his head not wanting this sort of unwelcome news. In his Department, he had brought in a Human Resource psychologist who had looked at the way the Department was run and had hit upon the notion that if you changed the ways of expressing ideas, more favourable outcomes would result. At work, nobody came to him with a problem, that smacked of negativity. His underlings raised issues which could be resolved, action plans formulated and the right man would take the issue forward and report back to him. So why was he putting up with this obstreperous woman who kept arguing back at him and disagreeing with him. Than goodness, the civil servants who worked for him never saw him at home with the sort of domestic arguments, which were becoming more frequent, these days.

"The judiciary are independent of the executive or haven't you heard that one, Neil." George said coldly.

"Why, George. We appoint these people." Neil Houghton spoke in that manner that infuriated any person capable of human decency. However, because of the culture of nepotism, servility and a language that shackled free thought and free speech, he had no one around to act as a 'morals control', let alone a 'reality control.' That was the real problem with Government these days.

"It's like the bad old days of the unions which I thought we'd seen the back of with the likes of Deed around. God knows why you ever married him." sneered Neil Houghton.

His animosity towards the unions had been one consistent feature of his political life. It came down the basic fear that they represented an out of control, anarchical threat to the natural order which he was accustomed to of a political party exercising control over the political process for the people's best. That fear of anarchy took concrete and vivid form in the waves of discontent that exploded out of nowhere and wrecked the chance of an electable Labour Government. Characters like Deed were merely trade union rabble rousers, speaking in public school accents and wearing judge's robes. The lack of deference to their political betters was exactly the same.

"Look here, Neil." George said summoning up the last reserves of her patience. "I'm doing my best for the defendants to be found not guilty but I can't work miracles. If they are found guilty, don't you ever say that no one warned you." George ignored Neil Houghton's crack about John. She never passed up the chance to get embroiled in a heated argument with John when she met him but it was another matter for Neil to make insulting remarks. Quite why that was, she could never explain.

Part Forty Seven

On the Thursday morning, Karen dropped Yvonne off at her house first, and then went on to the court where she'd agreed to meet Jo to go through the evidence they would focus on. Pulling in to the still quite empty car park, she could see Jo stood on the steps smoking. Joining Jo and digging for her own cigarettes, Karen greeted her with,

"Have you recovered from yesterday?" Jo blew a smoke ring towards a passing pigeon.

"Yes, I think so. I'll need to be on the ball this morning, because George will have every conceivable knife just waiting to stick in someone's back, me included."

"Things must get quite awkward with her being John's ex," Karen observed. Jo laughed.

"Life is certainly never dull," She replied. Then, seeing the look of half dread and half resignation on Karen's face, Jo followed her gaze to see Jim Fenner emerge from his car. Jo was all too aware of Fenner's systematic examination of both her and Karen as he approached the steps.

"No Atkins with you this morning acting as body guard?" He said as a form of greeting to Karen.

"If she'd known I was likely to be accosted by you, I'm sure she would have been," Replied Karen, knowing when it was simply safer to play Fenner at his own game. Fenner's eyes wandered over Karen's immaculate form in disgust.

"You really have gone the same way as Helen Stewart, haven't you."

"Fenner, I didn't ask for your presence here this morning, so I would really appreciate it if for once in your life you'd leave me alone." Seeming to realise they had an audience, Fenner turned to Jo.

"At least you think I'm useful for something," He said, giving Jo his most winning yet sleazy smile.

"As a witness you may be, Mr. Fenner," Said Jo conversationally. "What you're like as a human being, I couldn't possibly comment." Knowing he'd been publicly snubbed, Fenner walked in through the doors of the court without a backward glance. Karen grinned.

"He's not used to being cut down to size," She said. Jo replied by asking,

"Who's Helen Stewart?"

"She's someone else who had a run in with Fenner."

"A similar run in to you?"

"Something along those lines," Said Karen regretfully. "I don't know how, but he managed to force her out of the service."

"It sounds like it's about time he was forced to leave the prison service," Observed Jo.

"I have thought about your offer," Said Karen, following Jo's train of thought.


"If I thought it had any chance of success, I'd tell all to a jury tomorrow. But it's my word against his, no more, no less."

"Convictions have been achieved on such evidence."

"This trial has raked up enough of my private life for the time being."

"Karen, I'm not trying to pressure you," Said Jo gently.

"I know. But I also know that eventually it's what I've got to do. For one thing, I owe it to Helen to put him behind bars." Wondering just what this last statement had meant, Jo glanced at her watch.

"It's time," She said, her mind not entirely leaving the subject of the gradually emerging case against James Fenner.

When Fenner stood for the second time in a week in the witness box, Yvonne's hackles rose. So much had happened between her and Karen in the last week which seemed to have made her instinct to protect ever stronger. Yvonne had been forcefully reminded of how wonderful last night had been, when she sat down next to Cassie in the public gallery. Cassie took one look at her, draped an arm casually round her shoulders and said softly,

"You look like you had a good night last night." Cursing herself for doing it, Yvonne couldn't help blushing.

"You could say that," She replied.

"I'm happy for you," Said Cassie. Yvonne took her hand and briefly squeezed it.

"That means a lot." Then she looked down at Fenner. "Looks as cool as a cucumber that one, doesn't he."

"He might do now," Observed Cassie. "But he won't know what's hit him once those two get their teeth in," She said, gesturing to where Jo and George were stood by the prosecution and defence benches. The overhead projector was still in its place from yesterday, and Cassie thought Jo and George looked like they were getting ready for a dual. But then, she reflected, that's what the trial had been from the beginning. Two opposing councils fighting for their cause and being overseen by the judge from his throne on high.

"Mr. Fenner," Jo began. "I have recalled you to the stand, because the jury has been presented with a number of discrepancies which they need you to clear up for them. In evidence given by Tracy Pilkinton, better known to you as Snowball Merriman, it was asserted to the court that on your introductory visit to her cell, you informed her that Her Majesty's prison Larkhall was a participant in the interlibrary loan scheme with neighboring libraries, Clapham North for example. Do you confirm or deny this?"

"That's a load of rubbish, Love," Fenner said, giving Jo his most innocent smile.

"Mr. Fenner," Intoned Deed. "You will address both prosecution and defense councils respectfully at all times. This may be either by Miss, Ma'am or by their names, Mrs. Mills and Ms Channing. Do I make myself clear?"

"Yes sir," Replied Fenner, giving John the minimal deference due to him.

"As you appear to be denying this assertion, Mr. Fenner," Continued Jo. "Could you tell the court exactly what was said in connection with Larkhall's use of the interlibrary loan scheme?"

"She was using that phony American twang, and she said, I believe you have the interlibrary loan scheme here. I told her she'd done her research."

"Do you think she had? done her research, that is." George rose hastily to her feet.

"Objection, My Lord, the witness cannot possibly be aware of such a thing."

"Strong as your point is, Ms Channing, Mrs. Mills has asked the witness whether he thinks this was the case, not whether it actually was. Please continue Mrs. Mills, but please make your questions clearer."

"Please answer the question, Mr. Fenner," Jo prompted.

"I think," Said Fenner, putting emphasis on his words, "That Snowball Merriman must have done her research beforehand, or she couldn't possibly have been aware of a detail that is pretty irrelevant when you consider everything else an inmate has to get to grips with on entering prison for the first time." Good point, thought Jo, thinking that even Fenner had the odd redeeming feature.

"so, to make it perfectly clear to the jury, it was definitely the defendent you see before you who introduced the subject of the interlibrary loan scheme."


"Now, Mr. Fenner, this is not the only assertion that was made about you which requires some clarification. Snowball Merriman also stated that during this primary visit from you, you touched her in an intimate fashion not expected of the conduct of one of Her Majesty's prison officers."

"You what?" Asked Fenner, and Jo suspected this was how he'd greeted every similar accusation in the past.

"Did you run your hand over her breast?" Asked Jo succinctly, realising that niceties were wasted on someone like Fenner.

"No, I didn't," He replied, sounding indignant.

"Did you not also promise her an easier life if she would have sex with you?"

"You've got me all wrong," Said Fenner, unwittingly saying the very words he'd said to Karen so many times.

"Really," Replied Jo sarcastically. "I think that is for the jury to decide. Now, please would you tell the court about how you came in to the knowledge of the affair between Karen Betts and Ritchie Atkins? I want you to think very carefully before you answer this, and make sure that what you say is the exact truth." Jo laid a certain amount of emphasis on her last three words. Dutifully, Fenner spent a moment or two mulling over what he was about to say.

"I was approached by my governor, Neil Grayling," Fenner began. "He told me Karen Betts had a younger man, but I didn't really think anything of it. She was free and single, her private life was her own business. Then, when I was asking Merriman if she'd heard any more about Atkins escape plan, she said she'd heard that a prison officer might be giving Atkins a helping hand."

"And did you believe her?"

"Bent officers are part of the territory, it happens. Merriman then told me that Karen was having an affair with Ritchie Atkins. She didn't put it as nicely as that, but that was the gist of it."

"Again, did you believe her?"

"No, not at first. He's got to be ten years younger than her for a start. But then she said that Karen had been seen talking to Ritchie Atkins outside the prison. I confronted her about it and she didn't deny it."

"Thank you, Mr. Fenner."

As George rose to her feet, Fenner remembered the humiliating way she'd repelled his invitation a week ago. It seemed bitches in suits were always his problem. Helen Stewart, Karen Betts, Jo Mills and George Channing, they were all bitches in suits and all out to get him.

"Mr. Fenner," George's cultured tones dripped ice.

"I only have one question to put to you, what happened to the gun after you removed it from Karen Betts handbag and she placed it in her desk drawer?" Fenner's senses were suddenly on red alert, and he could feel the rigid posture of suddenly attentive watchers. Jo had been about to take a sip of water, but replaced her glass on the prosecution table in the immediate realisation that George had really hit on something here. The time between the gun having been discovered in Karen's handbag and when it was forcefully rammed in to her back had never been explained or accounted for.

"You must answer the question, Mr. Fenner," Prompted Deed, thinking that George was finally showing what she was made of.

"I don't know," Fenner replied.

"Oh, that's funny," Said George in mock wonderment, "Because by my reckoning, only you and Karen Betts were aware of the gun's location inside her desk. Is that not correct?"

"Yes, but..."

"Yes," Said George firmly, interrupting Fenner in mid protest. "So, whilst I am fairly sure that it wasn't Karen Betts who concealed the gun which enabled a prisoner to take her hostage, I am forced to conclude that you were far more aware of the gun's whereabouts than you would like the court to believe."

"You're putting two and two together and getting fifteen," Shouted Fenner.

"I doubt it, considering that I achieved a grade A Maths A-level," Countered George.

"How do you barristers do it?" Asked Fenner. "You pick any random unexplained idea and work it in to a complete fairy tale."

"I assure you I didn't consult the brothers Grim," Replied George, knowing that further antagonism might just make Fenner spill the truth. Jo laughed and John smiled.

"Actually, Mr. Fenner," Said John, "ms Channing does have a point. What explanation do you give for the apparent disappearance of the gun?" Fenner turned to face the Judge's bench.

"I can't offer one, Sir," He replied.

"Really? For a start, who was responsible for the searching of the prison, was it the police or prison staff?"

"Prison officers, My Lord," Said Fenner, finally remembering John's proper title.

"And was the search carried out in a professional manner?"

"I assume so. Let's face it, none of us wanted to end up on the wrong end of a pistol. There's any amount of nutters in that place who'd have used it."

"quite. In that case, one would assume that every effort would have been made to find the gun."

"Sir, perhaps you are not up to date on prison procedure. These are women, and forgive me for being blunt, but female prisoners have more hiding places than their male counterparts." Remembering the numerous times they'd been searched in line with prison procedure, Yvonne, Barbara, Cassie and Roisin felt an inexplicable urge to sink through the floor.

"You're not seriously telling me," Said John incredulously. "That an inmate would internally conceal a gun? I wouldn't have thought it was possible."

"You'd be surprised, Sir," Said Fenner, almost getting in to his stride. John gestured to the clerk and asked him to pass the gun from the evidence bench. Jo and George exchanged a grimace as they followed John's train of thought. Keeping the gun in it's transparent evidence bag, John picked it up and held it between his two hands. His gaze flickered between the gun in his hands, and the two well-constructed figures of Jo and George. Realising that he was attempting to work out if the internal concealment of a gun was possible, George commented,

"I've heard of penis extensions, but that's just ridiculous." The laughter that came from the women in the public gallery caused John to look up from his musing and so achieve George's wish of halting his sizing up of her and JO. Jo gave George a conspiratorial wink. Perhaps the only people who were experiencing a certain level of discomfort, were Fenner, who had been publicly humiliated, and Sir Ian Rochester and Lawrence James who were sitting in the public gallery, a couple of rows behind Yvonne and co. Returning the gun to the clerk of the court, John asked,

"Do you have any further questions, Ms Channing?"

"Yes, My Lord," Replied George moving forward. She walked to the overhead projector and switched it on. Giving it a minute or two to warm up, the court were again treated to the display of Jo's circle of conspiracy, or as some might have put it, the satirical wheel of fortune.

"Mr. Fenner," George began. "Would you look at this. Do you see your name at the end of the line pointing to ten o'clock?"


"You were not in court yesterday, so I will explain its significance to you. Mrs. Mills was good enough to illustrate to the court the supposed web of conspiracy which enabled my client to carry out her plan. You can see that Snowball Merriman's name is in the center, surrounded by the names of the people whom she is accused of using to perpetrate her crimes. Yours is one of them. Why do you think that is?"

"Because she managed to reel me in like the other poor bastards."

"Quite," Replied George.

"Mr. Fenner, you must moderate your language whilst in this court room." George picked up Jo's pen of the day before. She extended Fenner's line out of the edge of the circle and drew a little tail, transforming the circle in to an upside down Q.

"You see, Mr. Fenner," Said George conversationally. "I would suggest that your involvement in the supposed guilt of my client began before she entered Larkhall, long before you'd even heard of her in fact." On the end of the tail, George wrote the word corruption. "Mr. Fenner, you have told the court that corrupt officers are part of the territory. Are you one of these corrupt officers?"


"I beg to differ," Replied George. "As a result of your clear dislike of Yvonne Atkins, who was once a prisoner in your care, you have systematically looked for any excuse to punish her or have her investigated, by underhand methods I might add. You were duped by the late Maxine Purvis in to believing that Yvonne Atkins killed Virginia O'kane. You were also persuaded in to believing that Yvonne Atkins was planning an escape attempt and that Karen Betts was supposedly helping her. That doesn't sound much like a straight down the line prison officer, now does it, Mr. Fenner."

"I've already explained all that," Said Fenner, really rattled by this time.

"Your total prejudice of Yvonne Atkins achieved the direct result of allowing my client access to parts of the prison which as a first time inmate she wouldn't usually have been able to get near. You were so desperate for any information that might give you prior knowledge of any plans Yvonne Atkins might have had, that you totally disregarded every sign that something a little out of the ordinary was going on under your very nose." George had reached the stage of realising that she didn't have a hope in hell of getting either Merriman or Atkins acquitted, but she refused to go down without a fight. After a short silence, she said, "No further questions, My Lord."

When Karen again stood on the stand, Jo gave her an encouraging smile.

"Ms Betts, please could you tell the court about Ms Pilkinton's behaviour just prior to her shooting her co-defendent, Ritchie Atkins?"

"I think she was high on adrenalin. She'd clearly been biding her time to exact revenge on me for sleeping with Ritchie. I think she was almost acting one of the roles she'd played in a film at one time. Ritchie was struggling with her because he didn't want her to shoot me. Whether that was out of any residual feeling he had for me or out of a simple dislike of being caught with a dead body on his hands, I don't know. But he definitely thought she was going too far."

"What did he do?"

"He tried getting the gun away from her. She wanted to kill me, but hurting me was just as much fun to her. Giving me a black eye seemed to give her some sort of temporary satisfaction."

"Did she at any time show signs of giving up her weapon?"

"No. She absolutely refused to let go of it. If she'd let him have the gun, he wouldn't have been shot."

"To make this clear for the jury, are you saying that the shooting of Ritchie Atkins was as a direct result of Ms Pilkinton's sheer determination to hold on to the gun?"

"Yes, without a doubt."

"Thank you. The only other thing I wish you to describe to the court, is Ritchie Atkins behaviour towards you after you had returned from two weeks holiday."

"On my first day back at work, he turned up with a rose."

"He came to the prison?"

"yes, he appeared as I was getting out of my car. I'd previously made it perfectly clear that for me, business and pleasure definitely didn't mix. I was quite short with him when he said he'd missed me. I agreed to maybe meet him that evening. He said he'd call me."

"And did he?"

"He sent me a text message saying come any time."

"And did you do as he'd suggested?" Glancing over to the dock, Karen was utterly thankful to see that it wasn't Di Barker sat with Snowball, but the new officer Selina. At least now she wouldn't have to explain to Di why she'd used her son as an excuse not to stay at the hen party.

"Yes, I did."

"And was he pleased to see you?"

"He was surprised, but pleased. Again, I'm not sure now whether the surprise was genuine or not."

"And how was he towards you the next morning?"

"He didn't want me to leave. He tried every trick in the book to make me stay in bed." In the gallery, Yvonne took a breath to say something, but Cassie took her hand and gave it a squeeze. She knew how hard this must be for Yvonne, hearing about the time Karen had spent with Ritchie.

"Just keep remembering who she's with now," murmured Cassie in Yvonne's ear.

"I pointed out to him that I had superiors," Went on Karen, "He didn't think my being late for work mattered. He was also showing signs of not wanting to keep to the level of discretion I wanted. Again, he didn't think it mattered if my colleagues knew I was sleeping with the son of an inmate."

"Do you think he was trying to bring some level of discredit on you with your employer and colleagues?" George stood up.

"Objection, My Lord, the witness cannot possibly know the intentions of the defendent on this matter."

"I'd think by now that I'd have a fairly good idea, wouldn't you?" Countered back Karen.

"I am assuming you're not psychic," Responded George.

"After the way he reeled me in like an adolescent virgin, I'd say it was perfectly obvious what he was up too." Jo was prouder of Karen than she'd ever been of any witness before. She was standing up to George as well as Jo herself usually did. But John had heard quite enough.

"Shut up, both of you," He said, his voice resonating round the court. "Ms Channing, sit down. ms Betts, I will not have witnesses engaging in a verbal brawl with an opposing barrister. Though, I feel it my duty to add that I think you're in the wrong job and that if you should ever decide to join the legal profession, I would be delighted to see you appear before me." Realising she had just been complemented, Karen smiled sheepishly at him. Jo repeated her question.

"It has occurred to me as a possibility," replied Karen. "His turning up at work, trying to persuade me to be late, and then wanting to virtually go public about it do indicate that he wanted to cast doubt on my professional integrity. He was in effect laying the ground for what was to come. I don't know why he initially picked on me. After all, he couldn't possibly have known that I would be on duty for visiting that day and Snowball Merriman wasn't even in the prison. But he soon discovered that I fitted his purpose." This was said with such bitterness that George winced. Then the court went completely silent except for one voice.

"I picked on you because I could tell you were up for a good time," Came the seductive, slightly sleazy tones of Ritchie Atkins. "And you enjoyed every minute of it, didn't you." He said this whilst looking Karen straight in the eye. "You're making out I was the bad one here. but if wanting me to hold you down and fuck the living daylights out of you ain't just a little bit bad, then I don't know what is." Yvonne made a move to rise to her feet and was forcibly held in her seat by Cassie and Barbara who kept their arms tightly round her to stop her from doing something stupid.

"Get him out of here!" Roared John. Karen stood stock still, her hands clenching the rail of the witness box. She felt like she was stood there without a stitch on. Every person in this court, including the most precious woman in her life, could finally see the loathsome, depraved individual she felt she was. Once Ritchie Atkins had been removed, John turned to George.

"any questions, Ms Channing?" George looked at Karen with a contemplative gaze, various pieces of a slowly forming jigsaw falling in to place in her mind.

"No, My Lord," She said, not taking her eyes off Karen until the final piece had slid in to its slot. As the clerk of the court called out, "All rise," George reached behind her for a file buried somewhere deep on the defence bench. She watched Karen walk from the court, and then gestured to Jo who was gathering her papers together. She waved the folder at her. Jo came over to her.

"What's up, George," She said, "It's a bit late for bargaining."

"It's not this case I'm thinking about," Said George opening the file. "When Karen Betts was first on the stand, that imbecile Cantwell brought out a supposed fake rape allegation she'd made against James Fenner."

"I know, your point is?"

"My point is," Said George patiently. "I think someone needs to re-open the case."

"There was nothing fake about that allegation," Said Jo.

"I know," Replied George. "The question is, why wasn't it pursued?"

"A simple matter of a prison governor with too many friends in high places," Said Jo. "But how do you know?"

"Jo, just where have you been living for the last few years?" Asked George in disgust. "The reason why Karen Betts went looking for hard and rough from Ritchie Atkins was, I suspect, because she needed to punish herself for not being strong enough to stop Fenner from doing what he did to her." Jo stared at her, the pieces also slotting in to place.

"Are you an amateur psychologist now, George?" She asked, as a way of covering up her slight amazement.

"We all are to a certain extent," Said George Matter-of-factly. "You know that. I don't usually do criminal work, but I think someone ought to try and persuade her to go ahead with a charge."

"She's already considering an offer I made her last week," Said Jo.

"Well, let's hope she takes you up on it."

"Can I borrow whatever files you've got on Fenner?" Asked Jo.

"Not yet, I don't know what you might pull out of the bag," Said George. "You can have them with pleasure once this shambollic trial's over." Feeling they'd reached an uneasy truce, yet knowing that a real cease fire would take much more co-operation than this, George and Jo left the court room knowing that somehow, a line had been crossed.

Part Forty Eight

"The Lord Chancellor wishes to see the both of you," the smartly dressed ambitious aide to the head of their Department informed them. They were sharply interrupted when they were chatting and strolling casually along one of the many corridors which stretched far into the distance of the ancient heart of the judiciary.

Sir Ian gulped as the casual intonation held the flavour of years gone by in a prelude to an unwelcome and painful interview in the Headmaster's office where choice invective and a stout cane was painfully ready and waiting. From their own observations in the gallery of the Crown Versus Atkins Pilkinton trial, the case was going very badly for the Lord Chancellor. In other words, the prospects were that these two unwanted and unwelcome criminals were going to end up in Her Majesty's Prison for a long stretch. How much easier would it be if that Pilkinton tart could be sent back to Florida and that she, at least, would be someone else's problem.

Nervously, they opened the stout mahogany door and sat in the low seats across the way from the huge desk, overstuffed with papers and the grey indefinite figure that addressed them from the gloom.

"I need to know what's happening in the Atkins Pilkinton trial. I've written memos to you on it but, quite frankly, I've not had any clear replies. So I thought if we had a chat together I'd get a proper explanation without your usual waffle. So how's the trial going, eh."

"Well, err, the trial is rapidly approaching its conclusion or so I hear." Sir Ian stammered, giving the utterly false impression that his source of information was several stages removed from him.

They wanted to keep quiet the livelier moments of the trial, like the recent morning session where the dignity of the court had been disrupted by female bawdy humour. It was not what his public school upbringing and cloistered life in what was once an all male preserve had accustomed him to. Sir Ian's sister and mother never behaved in the same way as these women.

"What conclusion, guilty or innocent." The voice snapped.

"It's too early to say yet. You know that nothing is cut and dried where a British jury is concerned." Sir Ian replied. Lawrence James as his junior, figured that his best course of non action was to edge his chair discretely backwards and pretend to be invisible. This would avoid him being drawn into the argument.

"So what about this Deed character that's running the trial. How the devil did you ever let him get his hands on this case. And that Jo Mills, another trouble maker. And George Channing, sound enough barrister in her way and her bed mate is Neil Houghton. I've popped into his office, from time to time to give him a bit of advice to pass on to George Channing to use in the trial. The man's fairly young and keen and will have to earn his keep. Despite all this, from what I hear the verdict will be guilty without a doubt. Have you both completely lost the plot "

"You can't interfere with the independence of the judiciary." Sir Ian stammered, stealing one of John Deed's favourite lines.

"Let's put it this way. Would you both like a level transfer career move to, say, the Immigration Department?" the steely threatening tones hung in the air." If I can put a bit of pressure on Neil Houghton, then when it comes to you two………….."

The pair of them froze in horror at the thought. That department was the notorious civil service grave yard of all the dispossessed and unwelcome. It meant poring over dubious process figures of asylum applications offered up by sycophantic underlings desperate to please. In reality , this could not camouflage the real intractable logjam of work which would not go away no matter what new initiatives and restructuring was carried out. Occasionally an interfering busybody of an MP caused his pet interest in one local constituent application to vault the enormous distance from his place in the queue right to the front .Once that political hot potato was dealt with, the queuing system trudged on in the same mood of hopeless apathy as that of bygone Iron Curtain era Russian bread queues. Outside the beleaguered gates, the lunatic Right wing press pilloried the Department on the one hand as lackadaisical and the trouble makers on the left slated the Department on the other as heartless and bureaucratic. In contrast, their present lifestyle was that of comfortable bonhomie, hobnobbing with Old Etonian judges. Even John Deed isn't such a bad fellow , Sir Ian reflected, perhaps we've misjudged him.

They slunk out, with their tails between their legs, fired with a desperate last ditch resolution to persuade, cajole and bully John Deed into doing what is assuredly the Greater Good for us all.

The Lord Chancellor sat back in his chair with a sigh of relief, hoping against hope that his little pep talk would put a bit of backbone into Sir Ian and Lawrence James. He had been made to feel highly uncomfortable , coming out of the Cabinet Room just in front of Neil Houghton , being pinned into a corner by the man with the sharp pointed steel teeth of the Cheshire cat smile and stone cold blue eyes. Both Neil Houghton and him immediately ingratiated themselves to him as he talked at the two of them, briefly in passing. It was only right, therefore, or so the Lord Chancellor rationalised to himself that he should pass on his uncomfortable feelings down the line and bully his underlings, like Sir Ian and Lawrence James.

These powerful people only had to click their fingers for others to do their bidding and live in their own insulated little world, one for whom life is arranged to suit their needs. They are an alien species in the same country as the human population who live by standards of basic decency and sympathetic feelings. But the likes of Karen, Yvonne, Cassie, Roisin, Babs and Denny are at the bottom end of the heap, relatively speaking where nothing ever comes easily and has to be fought for but it is all the more precious if their dreams come true. As for John Deed, he could have joined the aliens but made a conscious life commitment not to do so and that's what they never understood about him.

"A fine help you were with the Lord Chancellor," a very rattled Sir Ian snapped to his assistant Lawrence James who had been unusually quiet.

"I'm sorry, Sir Ian," Lawrence James's reply was more of a croak."Do you really think we are doing the right thing in seeing Deed after this morning's regrettable performance?"

This wasn't Lawrence James best moment in explaining to Sir Ian his concerns . He was at his most comfortable when he was at his most officious, picking up minor errors in procedures committed by some junior clerk working under him. He was all the more jealous of his position as a black man who had climbed to such dizzying heights of power. A major characteristic of him was an almost Victorian sense of propriety which Deed's anarchistic sense of humour constantly affronted as it was disrespectful of his sense of position and an almost bygone era of 'good form.' Lawrence James found particularly offensive that a renegade white public school man with an upper class drawl like Deed should brazenly attack such values.

For this reason, bawdy female humour was his Achilles heel and, to make it worse, he had never encountered this before. If some kindly friend had played him TV excerpts of Jo Brand's choicer moments, he would have been better prepared and the shocked virgin routine really didn't help his overdeveloped sense of his own dignity. His one defensive shield was that the colour of his skin, the cause of so much racial discrimination of so many of his culture, enabled him to blush without anyone noticing it.

"You heard what the Lord Chancellor said. Do you really fancy moving your belongings to the Immigration Department ,that squalid 1960's concrete and glass monstrosity. Think about it." snapped Sir Ian, getting out of breath in his hyperdriven seven league walk down the corridors of power, to grab the first taxi and to propel themselves in the direction of John Deed.

John Deed was mulling over the most recent trial episode and the extraordinary revelations when the habitual knock on the door told him that a space in time of Buddhist contemplation was not to be his lot in life.

"Don't worry, Ian. The door's perfectly safe. It will keep out a horde of marauding Visigoths this time." John heartily reassured Sir Ian and Lawrence James. He had noticed the way that Sir Ian closed the door ever so delicately for fear of offending it.

Sir Ian and Lawrence James sat back recovering their breath after accepting John Deed's wordless invitation to take a seat. They looked as if they had done a ten mile hike, thought John, and that is not typical of them.

Sir Ian gratefully accepted a bone china cup of tea and decided not to lead off straight away with the matter that was most pressing.

"Well, just to be absolutely sure, John, please don't offend that ex wife of yours, there's a good fellow." Sir Ian, replied slightly patronisingly. "Or is it going to be a window next?"

"My wife knows a good builder locally who could do all the repairs you might want, Sir John." Lawrence James added in helpful tones."I could give you his phone number. Very reasonable price."

John Deed's eyebrows were raised in sheer puzzlement. He was psyched up in a second to whatever threats and blandishments that came natural to them but here they are, in an almighty hurry and all they do is talk about building repairs. Was the caretaker of the chambers suddenly going to come in next, in his overalls and hold forth about abstruse points of law? His world was starting to go a bit askew.

"The real reason why we called, John," Sir Ian resumed more abruptly." is because of this damned trial. The burden of proof is on the Crown and the case has become compromised with some witnesses for the crown being the type that I would not buy a second hand car from."

"We are thinking, My Lord, of your best interests." Lawrence James added without a discernable trace of irony.

Now I get it, John Deed thought, they're trying the classic nasty guy, nice guy routine. Nice try but it won't work.

"Which witnesses do you mean, Ian?" John Deed asked promptly. He's trying his usual mix of truth and lies.

"I prefer not to name names. That would be improper. Besides, you are placing far too great a burden in asking them to pick their way through what is an infernally complicated matter. There is no clear straightforward picture of what may, or may not, have happened."

"I don't know, Ian. I was most impressed by Jo's use of the OHP. I am intending to make that the subject of a talk that I have agreed to do and encourage its use.We are always being asked to move with the times, Ian and this is my concession."

"OHP?" the puzzled chorus delay echoed.

"Over Head Projector,Ian." John Deed replied speaking unnaturally slowly and clearly, enunciating every syllable."Much more practical than a lot of barristers waffling on. Cuts to the core of the matter."

"The next thing you'll inflict us with is disco lights next to make the court more modern since you clearly see yourself as a trendy judge." Sir Ian replied sarcastically.

"Good heavens, no, Ian. That would be to confuse thought, rather than clarify it as the OHP, in the right hands, has the potential to do. In the same way, a Stradivarius played by a master of the instrument will move human feelings to pinnacles of spirituality. In the hands of an ignoramus, it produces nothing but a hideous discord."

"Very poetic," sneered Sir Ian, not knowing the hidden joke that John Deed was playing on him. "So I suppose the trial is going the way to suit both you and your girlfriend." Sir Ian's reply was abrupt and aggressive. John could sense that the man was sweating. This isn't Ian trying to be strong and dominant this time but a man being leaned on.

"My concern is, as always, that justice is being served, Ian. You know me of old." John Deed replied softly and gently.

"And, I suppose that this morning's unseemly display with the gun was likely to add to the dignity of the legal system." Sir Ian cut back icily.

"Oh, that," John Deed smiled broadly and then chuckled outright. "The debate was one of the more illuminating I have been involved with from the bench."Tell me, as men of good judgement , between you and me, do you really think it would be possible for women to conceal a gun internally as Mr Fenner suggested."

"It is not for me to say, my lord." Laurence James's verbal three steps back left Sir Ian exposed.

"Is this some tasteless game you are playing with us, Deed." Sir Ian angrily retorted.

"The only point I would make in return is that one of the main witnesses for the prosecution stood in front of the dock, utterly compromised by her loose morals. Who knows what she was really prepared to get up to for the sake of one of the accused in the dock if the truth were known. From all appearances, she has gone from one man to another and someone with a compromised private life means that the performance of her public duties should be seriously questioned. All it takes is enough of a close investigation over her time at Larkhall and before. Mark my words on this. The Home Office is not my department but if I were an official in the Home Office charged with personnel matters, I know one change I would make to the management of Larkhall."

John Deed saw red as the chivalrous side of him leapt to the fore. He would not stand by and allow a woman whom he held in high regard to be slandered by two cheap politicians of easy virtue.

"How dare you make such wild accusations against a woman who knew full well what questions she was going to face in this trial but has done her public duty in testifying when she could have held back if she wanted to. I think you ought to take yourself back to where you came from."

"Touched a sensitive nerve, did it. I mean about morals." Sir Ian rashly hit back.

"If you came before me on the bench, Ian. I would impose the heaviest damages for slander. If you said it in the street, I'd knock your block off." John Deed replied in a quieter tone but with a dangerous look in his eye. The second option seemed very real in that atmosphere of electric tension..

Lawrence James tugged at His Master's sleeve indicating that they should go before John Deed's proven public aptitude for fisticuffs were to be repeated.

"The trial will go on to its conclusion, and justice shall decide. Nothing now will stop this."

Sir Ian and Lawrence James delicately made their way out of the danger zone while the going was good. The sheer physical need for self preservation overrode everything, including what the lord Chancellor would say. Once they had sidled out of the door, they shut it hastily and beat a rapid retreat.

Part Forty Nine

Karen barely ate a thing at lunchtime and as soon as possible, excused herself and went outside. She'd hardly exchanged a word with Yvonne, mainly because Yvonne could see that Karen didn't want to talk. She sat down on one of the benches that overlooked the fountain in front of the court. The sun was still hot, but Karen could feel a tension in the air, a rising of pressure that heralded a storm. Karen felt numb, empty, as if her soul had been laid bare for all to see. She hadn't been able to look at Yvonne, she didn't want to see the scorn that must be in her eyes. Last night had been so wonderful, Karen had never known anything better. But now that ritchie had spelled out to anyone who cared to listen just how worthless and pathetic she was, Karen doubted that yvonne would want anything more to do with her. George walked out of the front doors of the court. She saw Karen sat by herself, looking as if her world was about to end. George wasn't usually the sympathetic type, other people's feelings weren't something she often made time for. But the sheer desolation in Karen's face seemed to draw George towards her. Karen wasn't aware of George sitting down on the other end of the bench and lighting a cigarette.

"You do realise that you're giving Ritchie exactly what he wanted by dwelling on what he said, don't you," Said George after a while. Karen looked up, startled.

"How long have you been sat there?" She asked.

"Only as long as it's taken me to smoke this," Said George, holding up her cigarette which was almost down to her fingertips. Looking in to George's face, Karen didn't see anything that resembled scorn, only kindness, which she suspected was a rare occurrance in this woman's eyes.

"It feels like he's been set on ruining my life from the beginning," Said Karen miserably.

"If it makes you feel any better," Said George, "He did have feelings for you at the start. He wasn't always as calculating as you might think."

"What makes you so sure?" Asked Karen.

"I've talked to him on and off throughout the trial. The pair of them are as guilty as sin, and there's nothing more I can do for either of them now. But most of what happened to you came from her."

"Why are you telling me this?"

"Because I think you need to hear it. If you ask me, ritchie Atkins has always been weak, always needed someone much stronger to keep him on track. He'd never have kept up the charade with you and used you the way he did if it hadn't been for Snowball nagging him every step of the way. With her behind him, you could never have prevented him from taking advantage of you."

"Why did you take up this case?" Asked Karen, really wanting an answer to this. George took a final drag of her cigarette and flicked the end in to the fountain.

"Sleeping with the secretary of state for trade, occasionally means that cases which are considered to be political dynamite are pushed my way. It was deemed politically expedient to get Merriman off and ship her back to Florida and the electric chair, but I'm fairly sure that this time I won't be able to deliver."

"I think I'd prefer my job any day," Said Karen. "At least prisoners are expected to make use of underhand methods to obtain their goals."

"I'm getting used to the fact that politicians regularly do the same," Said George. "And as I'm defence council and you're a prosecution witness, I shouldn't even be talking to you."

"So why are you?" Asked Karen.

"If John thinks you'd make a good barrister, and coming from him that's high praise indeed, you deserve to be put in to the picture." Karen was slowly getting the impression that George needed to make some reparation, some form of apology for taking on this loathesome pair of individuals who were unquestionably guilty. Standing up and picking up her handbag, George made to leave Karen to her thoughts, but she couldn't go without a final word.

"If Yvonne Atkins has got any sense, she'll take the meaning behind her son's words with a pinch of salt." As Karen watched George walk towards the court building, she called,

"Thank you," And received a backward smile in return.

When they all filed in to the public gallery, Karen sat a couple of seats away from the others, receiving a look from Yvonne that clearly said don't push me away. They watched Jo and George move in to place, in their accustomed positions of as far away from each other as possible. As they rose to watch the stately figure of John enter from the door behind the judge's bench, it hit Karen that this trial was almost over. In a matter of twenty four hours, they might just know what the future held for Ritchie and his tart.

"Ladies and gentlemen of the jury," Began Jo. "Over the last two weeks, you've heard from eight witnesses for the crown, who have described their impressions of, their experiences with, and their feelings towards the defendents you see before you. I would like to take this opportunity to remind you of the evidence you have had placed before you, and which you will use to aid you in making your decision as to the defendents' guilt or innocence. First of all, you were treated to the appearance of Yvonne Atkins, Ritchie Atkins' mother. You heard her describe how her son had initiated contact with her after four years separation. Yvonne Atkins elaborated by telling you of the two visits she received from her son, whilst she was serving a sentence in Larkhall prison. Yvonne Atkins not only told you of how her son conned her out of fifty thousand pounds, but of how she unwittingly intercepted a phonecall from him which was meant for his co-defendent, Snowball Merriman. I have submitted the records of ritchie Atkins mobile, which prove that this phone call took place. You then heard from Karen Betts, a wing governor from HMP Larkhall. She has appeared before this court twice within this trial. She has described her brief liaison with Ritchie Atkins, which should ensure you that she bares no blame for the way in which she was used by the defendent. Ritchie Atkins, used the cover of his sexual relationship with Karen Betts, to smuggle the gun which you see before you, in to her handbag. This gun was then transported, without Karen Betts' knowledge, inside one of Her Majesty's prisons. You have heard from James Fenner how this gun was discovered, and, how it disappeared. Ritchie Atkins managed to bring a certain level of scorn and discredit on Karen Betts from her colleagues. He was able to keep in touch with his co-defendent, by way of the phone in Reverend Mills' office, which Ms Pilkinton used on a regular basis. Ritchie Atkins took a job at Clapham North library, to enable him to conceal first drugs, then explosives within copies of Shakespeare and Anthony Trollope, which were then delivered by way of the interlibrary loan scheme to Larkhall prison. By way of her principle officer, James Fenner, Ms Pilkinton was given undeserved access to the prison library, which provided her with ample opportunity for the construction and concealment of the bomb, which, on June the 15th 2002, was entirely responsible for the death of one inmate, Sharon Wiley. You have heard from both the Reverend Henry Mills and his wife Barbara, how Ms Pilkinton insinuated her way in to Reverend Mills' favour, and of how she pilfered an altar cloth in order to construct a disguise for her attempted escape. You have heard from Alison McKenzy, also an inmate of Larkhall prison, who described how she was at first taken in by Ms Pilkinton, who took advantage of this vulnerable girl's addiction to drugs. Alison McKenzy told you of being asked by Ms Pilkinton to first steal a radio alarm clock from Yvonne Atkins' Cell, and then to assist her in moving the books, which we now know to have contained the explosives, out of the library on the morning of the open day. You have heard from Ajit Khan, who was in Reverend Mills' office with Yvonne Atkins when Ritchie Atkins made his phone call, asking to speak to Snowball Merriman. there is no doubt whatsoever, that Ms Pilkinton, better known to many of the witnesses as Snowball Merrriman, did conspire to commit arsen, and is therefore guilty of the manslaughter of the inmate Sharon Wiley. There is also no doubt, not even a reasonable doubt, that her co-defendent, Ritchie Atkins, also conspired to commit arsen by sending the explosives to Larkhall prison. He was also without doubt in unlawful possession of the firearm that he smuggled in to Karen Betts' handbag. but now we come to the charge, faced by Ms Pilkinton, of greavous bodily harm. You have heard, during both Karen Betts' appearances on the stand, of how she was taken hostage by Tracy Pilkinton, who forced her at gun point to drive to a rendez-vous with Ritchie Atkins. Karen Betts described how exultant Tracy Pilkinton appeared. She said, she was high on adrenalin. Tracy Pilkinton had a lust for power, a need to control the one woman who had continually been the thorn in her side. Not only had Karen Betts left Ms Pilkinton in segregation for over a month, she had foiled her escape attempt. But most of all, Karen Betts had made the all too human error of sleeping with Ms Pilkinton's lover, and had, until the day of the fire, been pursuing a sexual relationship with him. It was at the point of no return that Ritchie Atkins chose to commit the one noble and righteous act of his life. In choosing to save the life of his one time lover, Karen Betts, Ritchie Atkins made it possible for his co-defendent to shoot him in the back, causing him to lose all power in his legs. He fought with Tracy Pilkinton, but she refused to relinquish the gun. Not for anyone was this woman prepared to forego the exhilaration that killing Karen Betts would have given her. Tracy Pilkinton is guilty of greavous bodily harm, purely and solely because she refused to give up her weapon. Her desire to kill the woman she considered her rival, had the direct result of injuring Ritchie Atkins. Ladies and Gentlemen of the jury, I implore you to listen to what I have said and to take in to account all the evidence and testimony you have heard in this court. ritchie Atkins and Tracy Pilkinton are without any doubt, guilty of the crimes with which they are charged."

Part Fifty

After parting company with Karen, George headed to the ladies' and stared at her face in the mirror in a way that she never had before. Something in her stopped her from rushing instinctively into arranging her face and appearance ready for the afternoon's performance in the way that she normally did but, instead, she studied thoughtfully the face that stared back at her in equal measure. After a touch of eye shadow, powder and lipstick, and adjustment of her favourite powerdressing suit she would normally pick up her papers and click into action the way she normally did. This time, she hesitated, and what did she see? Naturally, the aristocratic, perfectly poised expression on her face for the woman who always handled things perfectly. So why now, did she feel tired and not wanting to rush out towards what duty demanded of her, and that handsome fee that she normally felt was something she could easily reach out and grasp, just like everything else that came her way, just like a Cabinet Minister who, from her privileged background, was what she was expected to want. Only this time, something didn't quite fit. In fact nothing quite fitted in her life right now.

"I'm counting on you, George, to deliver on this one. You know what's at stake here." Neil had said to her talking through his newspaper.

"Oh, am I one of your Under Secretaries that you give your orders to, darling." George retorted, her voice edged with sarcasm, as the court papers on her lap slithered in front of her."I've told you what I'm up against."

Neil Houghton never answered back which infuriated George more. At least John would have given her the satisfaction of a no holds barred emotional stand up row and battled it out with her. Instead, she got moody sulking from the other side of the paper. The man was cold.

The lipstickholder between her fingers remained suspended in space just as she was by this unaccustomed introspective mood. She'd had enough of this case, especially after crossing swords with and meeting Karen as a human being. As she could not switch on her dispassionate forensic skills with words and her facility with the law and really convince herself, how could she convince others? What did she really want to do with her life, another of their parties where she would be the perfect hostess? For who and for what was she performing?

The attractive face before George's eyes dissolved into an out of focus nothingness which told her nothing and explained nothing. That gave her a moment of nameless fear that the hardness of her personality had protected herself against.

Presently, the mentally ticking clock in her head brought her world back into focus and she applied the last contoured lipstick. She was ready to do her duty not out of conviction but to uphold her self respect as a barrister, no more.

Unknown to her, Jo Mills had been an unseen shape in the doorway, temporarily frozen in position by a George that neither she nor George had seen before. Out of respect, she stayed silent and slipped off to another place where she could fix her own makeup. Something told Jo that she had been privy to a backstage glimpse of George behind the theatrical curtains that only the world knew and saw.

Karen, Yvonne, Babs, Cassie, Lauren and Roisin filed into position in their accustomed places in the gallery. It seemed to all of them that the dry texture of the air would be forever trapped in the pores of their skin and that day after day sitting on the hard benches would necessitate a week's stay in a health club, being totally pampered. An alternative of the rest of the summer lazing by Yvonne's poolside, seemed an equally lotus eating alternative. Sipping a glass of chilled white wine while the fierce sun circle through its orbit through the intense blue summer sky was a very attractive way of living which Babs had not been initiated into. It was the sheer mental and emotional focus of day after day which was the most draining, never letting them ease up from the up and down progress of the trial that took it out of them most. Karen most of all felt under pressure and she stared straight ahead into the courtroom, avoiding Yvonne's eye. Cassie, Roisin and Babs looked on in concern as it was all for one between them right now.

"Ladies and gentlemen of the jury." George began with a touch of unaccustomed nervousness, not looking up to begin with."The task of the defence starts from refuting the charge that Miss Pilkinton, assisted by Mr Atkins, conspired to commit arson and thereby cause the death of Sharon Wiley. One key point I would like to draw out from testimony given is that assistance that has taken place in the trial has come from a variety of quarters. There has been ample evidence that Mr Fenner," and here George's sarcastic tongue curled her way round the name," has a reputation of being very helpful indeed to female prisoners who are his favourites in his charge and that he has a record of sexual relationships with them. The two go together in the same way as does is violent antipathy to Mrs Atkins.. He has assuredly had his own motives in offering Ms Pilkinton the job in the library and Ms Pilkinton clearly did not extort that privilege from Mr Fenner under duress. It was more the skimpiness of Ms Pilkinton's dress which was the deciding factor which any reasonable member of the jury seeing Mr Fenner's performance and my client's appearance must conclude. Miss Betts was simply faced with a fait accompli which she felt compelled to accept. Mr Fenner was notoriously evasive as to who made the decision to grant her the job. So much of what was said and done around Ms Pilkinton took place behind the closed door of a prison cell and the one other person present was this same Mr Fenner, the shakiest witness of all the eight witnesses put forward by the prosecution. Yet at the same time, he had more direct and prolonged contact with Ms Pilkinton than did any other witness "

The gallery watched George's performance with mixed feelings. It was a curious fortune that placed that bastard Fenner in the same camp of prosecution witnesses to help ensure the conviction of that bitch Merriman. They could see in the sidelines in the dock masquerading at her most innocent, especially for the jury. Yvonne asked herself which of the two of them were more evil and psychopathic, Fenner, the serial abuser of woman, rapist, liar,the maggot of corruption in the very fabric of Larkhall or Merriman, the cold hearted bitch with a heart of stone who made her attempt to escape not caring if flames were burning through the library ,threatening the lives of brave women who were shut up like rats in a trap. The irony was that Fenner had to be believed for once in their lives but Karen and Yvonne's rage at his behaviour at the start of the trial was not forgotten.

"Of the other witnesses," George carried on," Mr Grayling can be exonerated of the charge of assisting the accused as he seems to have done nothing and said nothing in the running of Larkhall and so his evidence can be discounted."

Sir Ian and Lawrence James scowled to see one of their useful contacts in the outside world being lambasted by Deed's ex-wife while Karen grinned tentatively at George's gibe at Grayling's expense but she felt apprehensive for the moment when George's scathing rhetoric may be trained in her direction.

"Miss McKenzy gave rather muddled testimony as to how, in her inexpert opinion, the library display was being set out, the morning before the explosion, not to say a certain amount of choice invective. The rest of her evidence is based on the rather shaky link between a radio that belonged to Mrs Atkins and the mere fragments found in the devastated area of the explosion.

"Likewise, Mrs Atkins, who had made two failed escape attempts herself, assisted with £50,000 delivered to Mr Atkins and the motives for this, you, the jury must decide.

Miss Betts, admirable though she may be as a possible future barrister in this court, has played a somewhat ambiguous role in the affair. The jury will have to decide by what process of magic the gun , suddenly appeared in her handbag, then magically disappeared an hour or so later and then suddenly appeared in Ms Pilkinton's hand on the day that Mr Atkins was shot, if indeed it was the same gun. It is only her evidence and the that of Mr Fenner that the gun existed in the first place at that point in time. The question as to whether Mr Atkins was attracted to Miss Betts or was it the other way round, also place Miss Betts along with the gun, as someone who assisted the events of the trial to take place, whether knowingly or unknowingly."

The gallery watched George's final performance with a fascinated attention. At the start, she verbally skewered Fenner's whole credibility with an expansive relish and tried to engage the key players with eye contact. When she turned her attention to the rest of the witnesses, her eyes periodically turned to the floor and her delivery was flatter, more formal as if she were performing out of duty, not pleasure. Karen watched George's eyes drop at the very point where her past relationship with Fenner was waiting to be emphasised only a curious smile played on George's lips and for the first time, she looked Karen directly in the eye, and passed on to her finale.

"Lastly, I must emphasise that it is not part of the duties of the defence to establish who set off the bomb in Larkhall that, unhappily, killed a female prisoner and nearly burnt to death several more." At this point, George paused, not for dramatic emphasis but, that George, for the first time reflected on this fact for herself. "The responsibility of the defence is to establish that there is simply insufficient evidence that Ms Pilkinton ,with or without Mr Atkins assistance, did so. There is no evidence from information that might have been obtained about Ms Pilkinton that she possessed such knowledge. If there were such evidence, it would have been produced. I must emphasise that absolutely no evidence has been produced that a sophisticated time delay bomb, could have been constructed in secret with the limited facilities of Larkhall.You may be sure that, however negligent the authorities were at Larkhall in locating a bulky object such as a gun, they cannot conceivably had run bomb making classes for the inmates."

At this point,George returned to her best theatrically sarcastic style that drew a grin from Jo Mills and a slight smile from John Deed.

"On this basis, the matter of guilt of Ms Pilkinton of conspiring to commit arson with or without Mr Atkins assistance cannot be shown by the burden of proof, beyond all reasonable doubt. By extension, the charge of manslaughter of Sharon Wiley in the fire also falls by the wayside. The final charge of Ms Pilkinton of committing grievous bodily harm I urge on you to have been merely the result of an accident as, if nothing else, you have to accept the evidence of all witnesses, defence or prosecution, that Ms Pilkinton truly loved Mr Atkins. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, neither of my clients are guilty as charged."

George was conscious of a strong taste of bile in her mouth which she thought was some stomach reaction. She drank from the glass of water at her side to get rid of the taste and sat down. There was no bouquet of flowers for this performance but for the first time in her life, something stirred in her that what she ought to do or say might be different to what she actually did and said.

John Deed, of course, had battled with this conundrum for many years and Jo Mills was his pupil in this respect. He noticed that, rather than accept the plaudits of the crows, in her victory of playing a winning hand, she sat down immediately. No fuss no nonsense, this was a totally un George approach, utterly different from the fireworks of the first week. Despite all his sympathies, John felt respect and some admiration for George for the first time for ages in the way she played what was clearly a losing hand with unusual restraint. Paradoxically, she was at her most convincing when she appeared to try the least.

"I must thank both councils for the prosecution and for the defence for the professionalism with which they have focussed on the key points in the case. Court is adjourned."

George hurried out of the court. She was out of here. Karen felt the same. Despite the delicacy of the way that George had treated her, Karen was her own worst critic and she felt guilty as she had charged herself.

Part 51

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