The Gunpower Plot
By Kristine and Richard
Part Eighty One
As Jo drove towards Larkhall after her phone call with Helen, she couldn't believe she'd made such an error of judgment. She really had thought that she could persuade Helen to stand as a witness. But she was forced to admit that Helen's reasons for not appearing were faultless. Apart from what Shell Dockley could possibly tell them, Jo had a fairly complete picture of Fenner's dealings with women since Helen's arrival, but without Helen's testimony in front of a jury, all this information would mean nothing. The CPS wouldn't touch this case without Helen Stewart's back up and they'd have reservations about it even then. So, the only course of action left to Jo, was to suggest to Karen that she form a civil case against area management for not ever having Fenner thoroughly investigated when there was so much corroborating evidence to the fact that he was at the very least a corrupt prison officer. Jo would suggest to Karen that she pass on the case to George, one of the most successful and perhaps more importantly one of the most ruthless civil barristers she knew. George would dig and cajole and irritate as much as it took to get area management to admit their mistake. If a civil case were successful, this would provide the backing for a criminal case against Fenner himself without Helen Stewart having to give evidence.
Karen was sitting at her computer, wrestling with her never-ending battle between the needs of her wing and the available resources, and was surprised when her secretary informed her that a Jo Mills was at the gate to see her. Deciding to go and fetch Jo herself, Karen abandoned her budgets all too easily and walked down to the gate lodge. Ken was eyeing Jo up and down, clearly impressed at this attractive woman before him. As Karen let herself through the final gate, Ken was saying,
"You've probably prosecuted some of the women we've got in here."
"Jo," Karen said, preventing Jo from having to answer Ken's assumption. "This is a nice surprise."
"I hope you think so when you hear what I've got to tell you."
"I'll need your mobile phone before you go anywhere, Miss," Put in Ken. "New regulations, no one's allowed to take a mobile inside the prison."
"That won't be necessary, Ken," Replied Karen, "Mrs. Mills won't be having any contact with any inmates." As Jo followed Karen through the endless maze of dull corridors and locked gates, she briefly wondered how Karen could work somewhere so miserably decorated day after day.
Once they were seated in her office and Karen had asked her secretary to get them some coffee, she asked,
"So, to what do I owe the pleasure?"
"I'm not sure you'll think it such a pleasure, I've spoken to Helen Stewart." Karen had been in the process of lighting a cigarette, but held the lighter poised half way to her mouth as if time had stopped. Finally lighting the cigarette, she said,
"First, how did you find her?"
"I didn't," Replied Jo, feeling slightly uncomfortable at having involved Yvonne in this. "Yvonne tracked her down for me."
"That figures," Said Karen taking a drag. "Area management couldn't find hide nor hair of her. I'm guessing you asked Yvonne to find her because Yvonne has access to slightly dubious, slightly illegal means of finding people."
"Yes. I asked her not to tell you for the moment, because I didn't want to get your hopes up."
"Little chance of that," Said Karen drily. "There wasn't ever any hope of Helen agreeing to give evidence. I'm assuming she said no?"
"She did, though she was able to fill in a few gaps."
"So, why couldn't we find her?"
"She's changed her name. She now calls herself Helen Wade." The rapid succession of puzzlement, amazement and dawning realisation over Karen's face was almost comical.
"Wade as in Nikki Wade?"
"What makes you say that?" Karen rolled her eyes at Jo.
"Why is it that barristers always insist on answering questions with questions."
"I believe it comes with the territory. If you think I'm bad, try John. He always manages to make me tie myself in knots with my arguments. But yes, Wade as in Nikki Wade." Karen suddenly stared at Jo, her eyes growing wide in delayed shock.
"Not long after Helen left, Fenner told me that he'd found evidence of Nikki's having escaped to see Helen on the night he was stabbed. At the time, I didn't believe him. I assumed it was yet another of his lies."
"Well, it appears that this was the one time he was telling you the truth," Said Jo quietly.
"Are you serious?" Asked Karen, equally quietly.
"Perfectly. The only reason Helen told me this was because I don't have a vested interest in informing the powers that be that she aided and abetted an escaped criminal, and that Nikki Wade absconded."
"Well, quite. It'd be pretty fruitless doing anything of the kind. Jesus, it's amazing the things that can go on under your very nose."
"You never once had any idea?"
"I always knew there was something different about those two, but it never occurred to me they were lovers. I remember, not long after Helen came back, we had a death on the wing and the whole prison was on lock down. I was doing an ordinary check on the inmates, and I found Helen talking to Nikki in her cell. I couldn't explain the feeling I had, just that I'd walked in on something not meant for me. I wonder if that's why she came back in the first place."
"Possibly. There's something else that she was able to tell me about. Did Yvonne ever tell you about Fenner's having dealings with another inmate, Virginia O'Kane?"
"Yes, she did, a few days before giving me the biggest bruise I've ever had."
"Yes, she told me about that. How much notice did you take of this assertion at the time?"
"Considering that it was followed up by an escape attempt, not much. But I did go through Fenner's bank statements, which didn't yield anything. But I have no doubt that it's true. What did Helen know about that?"
"It was Helen who Yvonne took her original suspicions too. Helen caught Fenner coming out of one of O'Kane's brothels, and attempted to blackmail him in to resigning, which is when he went on the hunt for evidence against her."
"Christ," Said Karen in awe, "She's got more guts than me."
"If you want an honest opinion," Said Jo, "I think you're as brave as each other. In talking at length to both of you, I know that the legal profession lost two potentially brilliant barristers when you decided to work for the prison service. However, what you need to realise, is that no legal mind in the CPS is going to touch this case as it currently stands. I've talked to them at length, and as I've worked for them for years, they usually take my recommendation on face value. But they won't allow me to go ahead with a prosecution."
"Is that because of Helen's refusal to give evidence?" Karen didn't sound angry, just resigned.
"Partly, but there is still far too much circumstantial evidence. I would like to suggest an alternative course of action."
"What, have him finished off down some dark alley?" Jo grinned.
"I would prefer not to have to defend you on a charge of murder. The other option you have, is to form a civil case against area management for not ever having had Fenner investigated thoroughly. Whilst we might not have enough evidence to construct a criminal case, there is enough to force area management followed by the police, to investigate his goings on here properly. If a civil case were to produce a satisfactory result, this would provide the backing necessary for a future criminal case."
"Well, at least all avenues aren't closed."
"Not in the slightest. It's simply going to take longer, that's all. Now, as civil work is not my speciality, I would like to pass your case temporarily on to someone else. You remember that when we began work on this case, I asked you for permission to use another barrister as a sounding board? Well, I talked to George Channing. Civil work is her speciality, and whilst she might have made something of a shambles of the Merriman/Atkins case, I can say with total certainty that she won't do the same with this case. I will still be on the sidelines, ready to pick up the reins for the criminal prosecution, but George really does know what she's doing in prosecuting the establishment."
"Okay, if you think that's the only way Fenner's ever going to get what's coming to him."
"As the case stands, I can't do any more with it at the moment. We need the backing of a successful civil case against area management to get this anywhere near a courtroom."
"Have you asked George if she'll do it?"
"No, not yet, but she's seen just about everything there is to see on this case, and I'm fairly sure she won't say no. Incidentally, she was my source for all the information I managed to find on Fenner. Do you remember a Mrs. Warner, who investigated the escape of Shell Dockley and Denny Blood? Well, she was once one of George's clients and owed George a favour. She repaid her professional debt by giving George the area management files on as many of my witnesses as possible during the Merriman/Atkins trial."
"Jesus," Said Karen with a broad smile, "You barristers are more devious than I already thought you were."
"I think it's part of having to be always one step ahead of the opposition."
"How was Helen when you spoke to her?"
"Angry," Replied Jo succinctly. "Despite changing her name and doing a different job, she hasn't even begun to move on from what Fenner did to her."
"I know you thought it was worth it," Said Karen quietly, "but I really wouldn't have suggested contacting Helen. For me, the idea of standing up in court and giving evidence against him is a foregone conclusion, because I see him and have to talk to him every day of my working life. But for Helen, it's different. She's no longer used to having that kind of contact with him, and I suspect that simply being in the same room as him would frighten the living daylights out of her, and after the way I treated her, I haven't got any right to expect her to put herself through that."
"I know, and I know I should have discussed it with you first."
"Don't worry. Anything was probably worth a try with this one."
A while later as Karen was walking back downstairs with Jo, they were accosted by Fenner.
"Whose bright idea was it to put McKenzy on enhanced?" Was his abrupt enquiry.
"Mine," Said Karen, stopping in her tracks and turning to face him.
"Because I thought she deserved it, what other reason is there."
"But McKenzy's a nutter. Putting her up on enhanced is asking for trouble."
"First," Said Karen, pinning Fenner to the spot with her iron-like resolve, "She's behaved extremely well since the trial, and second, you know better than to question me on this. Go any further with this and you'll be joining Sylvia and Di in the queue to collect your P45 one day soon. Is that clear?"
"Crystal," Said Fenner icily, not willing to risk a scene in front of an onlooker. Then, he seemed to take note of exactly who was accompanying Karen. "Oh, hello," He said to Jo. "To what do we owe the pleasure?"
"I assure you, Mr. Fenner," Replied Jo, just as genially, "The pleasure in meeting you again certainly isn't mine." When they finally reached the carpark, Karen said,
"He's not used to being so thoroughly cut down to size."
"You looked like you were doing pretty well on your own," Commented Jo. Then, as she opened her car door, she said, "I'll talk to George, and let you know."
When Yvonne answered the phone a short time later, Karen simply said,
"Give me Helen and Nikki's number."
"Yvonne, for once in your life, please just do it."
"Are you cross with me?" Karen laughed.
"I should be, but no. It says something about the pathetic workings of the establishment that we searched and searched for Helen, but you managed to track her down in a couple of days. I'm assuming you found her through Nikki?"
"Yeah, she's still running the club she had before she got sent down. Has Jo been to see you then?"
"Yes. Helen won't be a witness, not that I blame her, but then I wouldn't have suggested contacting her in the first place."
"Do you really think talking to her is such a good idea?"
"Yes. If for no other reason than that I owe her an apology or three. So, can I have their number, please?"
"Fine," Said Yvonne with a smile, "But don't tell her where you got it, or Nikki'll kill me."
Part Eighty Two
Immediately after putting the phone down after her conversation with Yvonne, Karen reached inside her handbag for a cigarette. She knew she really ought to cut down her smoking but she resolved that she would delay that good resolution till the next day as she always promised she would one day. This was an emergency and so she could justify it this time.
As the first trail of cigarette smoke wafted away into the room, she could hear the Scottish lilt of Helen's voice telling her that 'You're too close to the situation, Karen. You can't see it' echoing and re-echoing round in her mind as if Helen were here in the same room with her. As she heard the voice in her head, it expressed a real understanding and kindness and patience . It was her own stupidity and blindness that drove Helen to give up on her. She banished that train of thought as this was an invitation to replay the same stuck record endlessly and to never move forward in her life.
She inhaled deeply and then reached for the phone. She pressed the numbers on her phone to call up Helen. She knew by gut instinct that if she gave herself too much time for reflection, she wouldn't be able to pluck up the courage to phone the one person she was most nervous of contacting.
"Hi it's Helen." That well remembered voice made Karen jump a bit.
"I bet you didn't expect to hear from me after all these months, Helen." Her own mellow tones took Helen by surprise. There was an edgy nervous humour in it that made Helen count to five before thinking of instinctively blasting off at Karen.
"Hmm, you've certainly got that one right." Helen's voice shifted to a very wary neutral tone of voice. "You wouldn't be thinking by any chance of getting me to change my mind at the last minute about appearing in court for you. You ought to know me better than that."
"This is absolutely the last reason why I'm phoning you, Helen," Karen said with total bluntness and sincerity. "I've got a lot of apologising to do to you and if I had a choice, I would sooner do it to your face. As I know you would need a lot of persuading to agree to see me because of the lousy way I've treated you in the past, the next best way is over the phone. For a start, I wanted to apologise for my barrister Jo Mills trying to get you to agree to be a witness without my knowledge when if I had been asked, I would have said that there was not a cat's chance in hell of you doing it."
Helen hesitated a while before answering. Karen was certainly being utterly frank about the matter and she had to respect that.
"I have to say that I was pretty angry in her phoning me up out of the blue like that and I assumed that you put her up to it. I did think that you had a hell of a nerve," Came Helen's response, her quick temper already audibly subsiding. "However," and Helen's tone of voice became softer, more reflective. "Your barrister stated her case very persuasively and is a highly intelligent woman . I had every reason to refuse to help you at all but she persuaded me to tell her as much as I know about my time at Larkhall and it wasn't so frightening once I got into it. Strangely enough, she has done me a favour in at least getting me to look back on that time with fresh eyes. I had blocked everything out of my mind but it was all still there, festering below the surface. It's strange but I work as a psychologist now and here's me, dealing with other problems and I couldn't deal with my own. I kept on having nightmares and Nikki was getting worried about me ."
"I really hope you don't blame her for jumping the gun in talking to you like that. She meant well " said Karen, eager to excuse not only herself but Jo Mills.
"That's not necessarily enough, Karen," interposed Helen gently. "When I first came to Larkhall, I was aflame with burning energy to transform Larkhall with a one woman crusade and look what happened, my anti drugs crusade was a total disaster for a start."
"Have you changed that much, Helen? I can imagine that your focus of your crusading has been changed to heal the mentally troubled," Karen joked nervously.
"Well, I do work ridiculously long hours," Helen admitted.
"You don't change, Helen.." Karen said with real warmth and affection in her voice.
"What I wanted to go on and say is that Jo Mills is one of the good ones. I've been in court before as Wing Governor and I could tell the sort of barrister a mile away who is only doing it for legal aid money. She's different. She cares."
"You sound like you're talking about someone else as well," Karen said softly.
At that point, Jo's words about Nikki and Helen drifted back into her mind as she still tried to get her head round what Jo had told her. There were a whole set of past images that she had had of Helen when reality had existed elsewhere. The conversation drifted away into a natural silence until Karen's thoughts found their voice.
"Jo told me about you and Nikki. Believe it or not, he told me exactly the same only he didn't put it as delicately. This has got to be the first time that he actually told me the truth and I didn't believe it."
"I bet he was angry. No one is more self righteous than the habitual liar on the only time that he is telling the truth. That's him all over. And see if you can guess who I was having nightmares about."
"Fenner," Karen said shortly.
" Hey, Karen, I have never heard you call him by that name before. It was always Jim Fenner," Helen asked in a note of friendly surprise.
"Times have changed, Helen. It all started from that night he raped me and I finally got myself a mind that I could call my own and not something that was taken over by that smooth lying poisonous voice and thinking his thoughts for me. Strangely enough, I heard the last words you ever said to warn me about Fenner going round and round in my head as I prepared to make a run for it. A lot has changed in my life since the last time you saw me, hopefully for the better."
"No going back to a man like him, eh Karen."
"Not till hell freezes over," Karen said emphatically. It was on the tip of her tongue to say 'no going back to men at all' but she was still struggling with the image of Helen as she knew her at the time she last saw her and trying to bring an image of both of them up to present. "I was at court as a witness to testify against a female prisoner called Snowball Merriman and Ritchie Atkins who, together, set a bomb off at Larkhall and Fenner was trying to blackmail me by threatening me into covering up for him about the way he'd let that cow wind him round her little finger."
"The evil bastard!" Exclaimed Helen with passion.
"Steady, Helen, if you carry on this way, you'll talk yourself into standing up in court for me like Joan of Arc against the defending council," Laughed Karen.
"Have I really got that sort of a reputation?" Wondered Helen aloud.
"Do I really have to answer that question?"
"So, talking about questions, what's this I hear about you and Yvonne, eh? You're a dark horse.." Helen's friendly mocking voice teased her.
"It takes one to know another, Helen," Came Karen's blunt rejoinder. "The PO's room was an endless source of gossip as to who was going to be the new man in your life after Sean. At one point, Di Barker was banging on forever about you and Dominic."
Helen laughed heartily at that one.
"I know that he had ideas that way. He was a nice boy but not my type. He was a good friend to me and good friends are hard to come by and you need to stick to them like glue."
"I know that one, Helen," Karen replied evenly, thinking of Cassie and Roisin and, who knows in time, Lauren. "but there's nothing like having your dream lover though, the sort that you read about in the magazines or some such thing as I remember in some old pop song of my youth."
"Hey, get Karen Betts coming over all romantic." Helen laughed down the phone at her. Karen's voice was layered over with irony and Helen could visualise the raised eyebrow that went with it. Despite it, she sensed that her feelings for Yvonne were very real. "I never thought that there was a romantic bone in your body."
"Don't tell Yvonne that though or she'll kill me and I'll never forgive you," Karen's very decided tones mock-scolded her.
"You can't tell me what to do, Karen Betts. Remember I used to be your boss."
"Don't I just know that," came the snappy reply with an exaggerated sigh.
"It's funny, Karen. I've been operating on the thoughts of the Karen Betts that I thought I knew "
"Yeah, with a lousy taste in men. If there was a crowd full of men, I used to pick out the one real bastard, at the very back of the room."
"Well times have changed for both you and me. If I've got it right, you've got a partner who'll be there for you and will tell you the blunt truth instead of a load of bullshit. I know, because I've got Nikki," Helen said on a more serious, affectionate note. "You do understand why I can't go with you to the barricades on this one. It's not just that times have changed but it's just too dangerous for me."
"I know Helen. I know that you'll be there in spirit with us all when we finally nail the bastard."
"I won't promise that we'll be thinking of you all the time as we have our own future but Nikki and I will be around somewhere out there."
"That's as much as I can ask of you both."
A/N: If possible, please listen to the following two pieces of music whilst reading this chapter. First, Chopin's Nocturn in D flat major: Op.27 no.2, followed by Chopin's Nocturne in E minor: Op.72 No.1.
Part Eighty Three
On the Tuesday evening, George was sitting at her piano, trying to mould her slightly unco-operative hands around one of Chopin's Nocturnes. Her father had always loved hearing her play the piano and so had bought her the baby grand as a wedding present. With the odd lapse here and there, George had kept up with her playing. She used it as a form of relaxation, a way to unwind her tensely knotted brain after a day of wrestling with the finer points of various judicial Acts and the Civil Procedure Rules. She occasionally found that if she knew a piece well enough, looking at the music would be more of a hindrance than a help, her hands would know it better than she did. In more recent times, it would be her way of calming down after an argument with Neil. He would storm out to his club, and she would retreat to her piano. In playing a fairly hefty piece of Beethoven or Brahms, she could let out all the frustration that a verbal fight with Neil never alleviated. In finding the verbal expression of her real feelings on occasions frightening, her playing would allow her to release the pent up hurt or anger. In the old days when she was married to John, they would have shouted at each other long enough to tie themselves in knots with their arguments, and follow it up with some of the best love making they'd ever had. But neither of those things had ever been accomplished with Neil. He thought of arguing as pointless, simply walking away from it because he couldn't deal with any kind of confrontation, just or otherwise. As for the other, he simply couldn't satisfy her. George almost craved that furious battle of wills followed by the intense release that a good orgasm provided. They almost went hand in hand for her, the fight and the fuck, the one almost being a precursor to the other. But then Neil had taken it one step too far. He'd used on her the one thing she could never throw back at him. He'd hit her. In a moment of blind fury, which she had to admit to herself she'd driven him to, he'd used his advantage of physical strength. At the time, the physical pain and humiliation had been uppermost in her mind. But on reflection, she knew it was the fact that he'd finally found a way to break down all her defenses that had irked her. John had never once done that to her. He'd only ever fought with her on an equal level. John had been everything she'd wanted, everything she could ever have wanted. Sure, the arrival of their daughter Charlie had without a doubt started the breakdown of their marriage, mainly because George hadn't been ready for a child. But then she doubted whether or not she'd ever have been ready for the full-time responsibility of another human being. It had terrified her to realise that this little person depended on her for everything. But even when she'd totally failed at being a decent mother to Charlie, John hadn't ever raised his hand to her.
On impulse, George turned to a piece she hadn't played for far too long. It began with a soft, slow build up, both her hands moving in drifting, languorous patterns. The beautiful, haunting modulations of D-flat major gradually took her hands through ever-increasing speed and crescendo. As George reached the peak of her playing, she was filled with the memory of exactly what had made this particular piece so special. She'd married John in November of 77, a few months after graduating from university. It'd been about a year later, not long after their first wedding anniversary, and they'd been lying entwined on the sofa in front of the open fire, listening to soft music and simply enjoying one another's company. John had expressed a wish to see her play the piano naked. Never one to pass up the opportunity of trying anything new, she'd complied. She could remember the way his eyes had followed the firelight as it played over her beautiful body, transforming her in to the incarnation of one of Botticelli's angels. Her hair had been long in those days, cascading down her back like a never-ending waterfall. From the gradual slope of her shoulders, to her small heavy breasts, to her extremely slender waist, his eyes had traced every inch of her. She had been looking at the music, but she could feel his eyes on her like branding irons. She'd also known that simply gazing at her wouldn't be enough for him for long. She'd been dimly aware of his drawing ever nearer, but had remained utterly absorbed in her playing as he'd gently caressed her shoulders. As his hands had begun to wander over her curves, she'd concentrated resolutely on not reacting to his touch, on playing the voluptuously resonant chords of Chopin's Nocturne in D flat major: Op.27 no.2. It was almost a test, to see how focussed she could stay, how well she could play these notes that, if she wasn't careful, could forever entangle her long, tapered fingers. As she'd reached the middle of the piece, some may even call it its climax, with the broken chord octave F-sharps marked forticimo, he'd slipped his hands under her slightly raised arms to tease the slightly darker skin that surrounded her nipples. She'd been unable to suppress a gasp as he did this, but she still kept on going, determined not to give in until the end. When she'd eventually achieved the last few lingering chords, he'd dropped light, feathery kisses over her shoulders and murmured,
"This thy stature is like to a palm tree, and thy breasts to clusters of grapes.
I said, I will go up to the palm tree, I will take hold of the boughs thereof: now also thy breasts shall be as clusters of the vine."
"Why are you quoting the songs of Solomon to me?" She'd asked, her voice deepened by extreme arousal. She'd been fairly noncommittal about his suggestion that seeing her play the piano wearing nothing whatsoever would be incredibly erotic, but now she had to agree that the torture of not being able to give in to his advances until the end of the piece had been fantastic.
"They could have been written about you," He replied, running his fingers through her hair and turning her face towards him.
"Trust you to know the only erotic part of the bible by heart," She said fondly as he began to kiss her. They'd ended up making love on the thick rug before the open fire, their bed upstairs seeming too far away to satisfy their immediate, desperate need for each other.
George smiled as this memory invaded her brain, and briefly wondered if she would ever feel that happy again. Those two years before she discovered she was pregnant had been thoroughly intoxicating. John and she could never get enough of each other, their passion hardly decreasing from the first time they'd sampled the delights of each other's bodies. It was such a shame that from that day on which she realised another human being was growing inside her, everything had changed. John had been overjoyed at the prospect of being a father, and he couldn't possibly have been more attentive or more wonderful to her. But his happiness at their creation had made her retreat in to herself. She couldn't voice her fears to him, so she kept them hidden, constantly eating away at her, only to increase a thousand fold once Charlie arrived.
As Jo drove towards George's house, she couldn't stop berating herself for having made such a spectacular mistake with Karen's case. She should have known that Helen Stewart wouldn't want to get involved. After all, Karen hadn't exactly shown Helen the greatest amount of support when she'd needed it, so why should Helen feel she had to return the favour. But Helen had been their one real hope, their one firm witness apart from Karen. But it wasn't to be. Whilst clearly feeling some sympathy for Karen, Helen wanted nothing whatsoever to do with any eventual trial. That was the point, Jo thought bleakly, without Helen's testimony, she doubted whether this would ever get anywhere near a courtroom. But perhaps the gravest of all her mistakes in the last week had been not to tell Karen that she was attempting to get Helen Stewart's support. In doing this, Jo had tested Karen's trust in her, something which she knew in retrospect should never have happened. The thought that really irked her was that George had very possibly been right. When they'd talked a week ago about this case, George had warned her not to get too emotionally involved, and Jo was honest enough to admit that this was precisely what she had done. As she pulled in to George's driveway, she wondered just why she'd come here. She locked the car and walked up the steps to the front door. She was about to press the doorbell, when she clearly heard the beautifully hypnotic sound of a piano being skillfully manipulated. Assuming that George was listening to a CD, Jo jabbed the doorbell once. She got the surprise of her life when the music immediately stopped, signifying that it must have been George doing the playing. When the door opened, Jo thought that George looked slightly wistful, as if she'd been dragged from the contemplation of a fond memory.
"Was that you playing the piano?" She asked, half regretting having interrupted her.
"Yes, it was," Replied George, standing aside to allow Jo to enter. As they walked in to the lounge, Jo caught sight of the open piano, with an open book on the stand, the page liberally dotted with felt tip where George had altered the fingering to compensate for her small hands. Jo walked over and looked at what George had been playing.
"Rather you than me," She said on noting the sincere difficulty of the piece.
"Yes," George agreed, "I do tend to tie my hands in knots playing that one. Would you like a drink?"
"Please. I've made a fairly hefty blunder with Karen Betts' case and need to drown my sorrows." After pouring Jo a scotch and herself a large martini, George sat on the sofa and Jo took the armchair she'd sat in last time she was here.
"What did you do that is so catastrophic?"
"I talked to Helen Stewart, without Karen's knowledge, and was told in no uncertain terms by both Helen and Karen once she found out, that Helen would never act as a witness and that it was pointless to ask her." Reserving any judgment until she was fully aware of the facts, George said,
"Why didn't you tell her you were talking to Helen?"
"I didn't want to get her hopes up. I knew I was clutching at straws, but I thought it was worth a try."
"If I was Helen Stewart," Observed George, "I probably wouldn't want to get involved either. You can't really blame her." Jo was outraged.
"But apart from Karen, Helen Stewart is the only reliable witness we might have had. If nothing else, surely it's her duty to help put Fenner behind bars."
"How ridiculous can you get," Said George scornfully, "It isn't her duty to do anything of the sort. The decision to drag up bits of what is clearly her past, had to be her choice. After all, that's what this case is all about, choice."
"It's pure vindictiveness that made Helen Stewart say no."
"Well, at least this time she had the opportunity to say no. Wouldn't you be vindictive if you were in her place? Admittedly I haven't spoken to the woman myself, but after reading everything I have on this case, Helen Stewart did her damnedest to warn Karen off Fenner. By the sounds of it, she couldn't possibly have done any more, and all Karen could do was to ignore and castigate her every word on him. Yet now that Karen has had a dose of the real Fenner, she wants Helen's support as if none of that had ever happened. If I was in Helen Stewart's place, a little act of revenge might be the only thing I'd have left."
"That's you all over, isn't it, George."
"Maybe it is, but I still say that neither you nor Karen had the right to expect that Helen Stewart would automatically want to become involved in this case."
"Karen didn't. I went to see her today, and she said that if it had been up to her, she would never have contacted Helen."
"That's something, I suppose."
"You think Karen Betts got everything she deserved, don't you," Jo said in a tone that could only be described as defeated.
"No, of course not," Said George furiously. "But you've got to admit that she isn't entirely blameless in what happened to her."
"How do you work that one out? She was raped, what more is there to it."
"I know she was raped," Said George quietly, "And I have every sympathy for her in that respect. But there were things she did, that in hindsight, might have led to her being in that situation. I am in no way condoning what Fenner did," She said as Jo took a breath to respond, "But you do not go to bed with someone who you don't intend to sleep with."
"Things aren't always that cut and dried."
"Oh, get a grip, Jo. No woman should ever do anything as thoroughly stupid, as to take her clothes off and get in to bed with a man she doesn't want to have sex with. You just don't do it! If, without Helen Stewart's evidence, you manage to get Fenner in to court and achieve a conviction, you would be bringing justice down on one of the most loathsome human beings I've ever encountered, but I cannot agree that Karen Betts was one hundred percent innocent in the crime that was perpetrated against her." Jo stared at her and then grinned broadly.
"You sound just like John," She said. Now it was George's turn to look affronted.
"Rubbish," She said, scorn dripping from each syllable. Then, looking back on what she'd said, she also smiled. "God, I really am going senile," She said, lighting a cigarette. After taking a long drag, she added, "I know you think I'm being unduly harsh about what happened to Karen, but she made the mistake of provoking Fenner more than she should of done. Pushing men a little too far is something me and her have in common. The only reason Neil gave me a black-eye was because I'd said one thing too many."
"What was it?"
"I can't remember, something about his sexual stamina. But it pushed him that little bit further than he otherwise would have gone."
"But that's no reason to do what he did."
"No, and Karen voluntarily going as far as she did with Fenner is no reason for him to force her to have sex with him. All I'm saying is that if either of us had given a thought to what we were doing, Neil wouldn't have hit me and Karen wouldn't have been raped." George refilled their drinks.
"How can you look at this so objectively?" Asked Jo, after lighting a cigarette of her own.
"It's simple, I'm not as close to the case as you are. When you came here last week, I could already see it. You've been far too emotionally involved from the start."
"I don't agree," Said Jo, knowing that George was right but loathed to say so.
"The only reason you ploughed ahead with attempting to get Helen Stewart on board, without your client's consent I might add, is because you wanted the conviction too much."
"I didn't tell Karen Betts in advance because I didn't want to get her hopes up," Responded Jo, now really riled.
"Precisely. Jo, if you are to remain slightly aloof and detached with a case, you absolutely can not get in to the habit of allowing concern for their feelings to cloud your professional judgment. You did exactly the same thing with the Diana Halsey case."
"That isn't relevant to this discussion," Put in Jo, knowing that for once, George had a stronger line up of evidence to call on.
"It's about as relevant as you can get," Countered back George. "Again, you wanted the result too badly."
"As a prosecutor that's my job."
"You got so close to her little boy. I remember the first afternoon of the pretrial hearing. You were playing noughts and crosses with him whilst I was arguing with John. All through that case, your underlying, desperate need was to achieve justice for him and his mother. When she died halfway through, you felt like you'd failed. I suspect you think you've failed Karen Betts."
"No. If anything has failed her, it's area management and the justice system, not you. You have a habit of putting yourself far too successfully in to the claimant's or defendant's shoes, and you only end up getting hurt." The phone rang. George had half a mind to leave it, but her curiosity wouldn't let her. Reaching for the cordless that lay on the coffee table, she said,
"Is Jo with you?" Asked John.
"Yes, she is. Why?"
"I just wondered."
"Please go away, John. I'm in the middle of giving Jo what I think she came looking for."
"A fight, something you're clearly incapable of giving her or I doubt she would have come looking to me for it." Switching the phone off before he could answer and putting it back on the table, George prepared to resume where she'd left off.
"Was it that obvious?" Asked Jo quietly, all the fight seeming to have gone out of her.
"I'm sorry," Said Jo, realising with a shock that this was probably the first time she'd said such a thing to George.
"Don't be," Was George's response. "A verbal tussle never did anyone any harm. When I was married to John, he discovered that the quickest way to shut me up was to ignore me. It was utterly infuriating. It took him a few years to learn that, though." Remembering the time she'd demanded to know why he was so maddeningly reasonable, Jo smiled. After a few moment's silence where they both took refuge in alcohol and nicotine, Jo asked,
"Would you play something for me?" At first, George simply stared at her, not knowing if she was really ready to reveal part of her soul to this woman.
"Okay," She said, stubbing out her cigarette and moving to the piano. It would not after all do for Georgia Channing to refuse a challenge.
As she perched on the piano stool and rested her feet on the brass pedals, she flipped through her book of Chopin until she found one that suited both her mood and the level of skill she was prepared to risk in front of Jo. She finally settled on Chopin's Nocturn in E minor: Op. 72 no.1. The piece began in the haunting key of E minor, the six-eight rhythm of the left hand wandering languorously up and down the bass clef. The two bars introduction were followed by a lilting melody consisting of either single notes or full-bodied suspension chords, leading the piece fairly quickly in to B minor. The music soon returned to its tonic key though often modulated back and forth to the dominant. Every crescendo and corresponding diminuendo was executed perfectly by George as her slight nervousness dissipated. Jo leant back in the armchair, her head resting against the upholstery, her legs stretched out in front of her and her eyes shut. Every one of Chopin's notes gradually unknotted her senses, allowing her brain to set itself free from all the recrimination. George's perfectly manicured hands took the music through a soft, sleepy section in E major, though this was only the calm before the storm. Once the piece returned to its former heading, the music took on the appearance of tinkling glass, each precisely picked out run of notes sounding like the shattering of a window pane or the seductively pattering raindrops in a rapidly approaching storm. Here, the piece moved again to B minor, crescendoing to the very height of the furure, the rain and hail depicted in the right hand and the rumbling thunder in the left. With her eyes closed, Jo could almost visualise each flash of lightening with the melody played as it was, partly in octaves, adding an extra depth to the force behind it. On reaching its peak, both the storm and the music gradually decreased, taking with them every last shred of tension present in both mind and body. It ended with a few simple E major chords in the right hand, together with the ever quietening rumble in the bass, as if the thunder had finally decided to move onwards.
George sat watching Jo when her hands had stilled, thinking she looked wholly at peace.
"That was incredible," Said Jo softly, finally opening her eyes and looking at George across the room. Utterly unused to receiving any kind of praise from this woman, George simply shrugged. "I'm serious," insisted Jo. "It was wonderful."
"Thank you," Replied George, thoroughly unsettled by Jo's words. George had turned to face Jo, but still remained on her piano stool. After a moment's contemplation, Jo said,
"Will you take over Karen Betts' case?" George waited for some clarification. "There's absolutely no chance of getting Fenner in to court at the moment, at least I don't think there is. But she almost certainly has a civil case against area management for never having investigated Fenner properly. If a civil case were successful, that might provide more backing for a criminal trial." Mulling over the idea for a moment, George said,
"Of course. I'm not in court this week, so bring her to see me on Friday morning, and I'll see what I can come up with." Not long after this, Jo drove home, feeling that whilst she might have figuratively screwed up with Karen, she'd just made a lifetime's progress with George.
Part Eighty Four
Warning bells were ringing loudly in the back of Fenner's mind as he sat alone in the loud smoke filled social club. He stared down into the opaque froth on the top of his pint of beer that he held in his hand, full to the brim of his normal brew.
In the same way that jangling bells at Larkhall warned every prison officer to rush to an unseen danger in some cell, along some dark corridor, the same feeling that his own feeling of security was under threat caused him to sweat and his pulse to pound faster. His personality had that paranoid quality about him that, though scheming and manoeuvring came second nature to him, he felt insecure and affronted if anyone else did the like to him. That mysterious doppleganger was stalking his every move to take away his privileges, to block his chances of ever becoming a suit, of threatening to dig the dirt on him, of getting in the way of some of his little enterprises on the side which helped pay the bills, to threaten his very existence.
The more obviously dangerous enemies sneered openly at him and rejected everything that he was. They were obviously out to get him and he made no effort to smooch them up and get them to see things his way but at least everything was out in the open.The ones at their most subtle played mind games with him, being all sugary sympathetic and suggesting that he needs someone to look after him. That was the most dangerous of all as he isn't going to give up a shred of control over himself. Worst of all was their worried expression, suggesting that he needs therapy. He wasn't going to have some trick cyclist poking about with his mind, He liked his mind very much the way it is, even if he had got to use a lot more effort to keep going sometimes when he had a rough patch at work or at home. No one else was allowed to peer into his mind if he could help it, himself included. He was a man and men weren't brought up with all this feelings, all this 'I want is a hug, female rubbish and I'll look after you.'
Sometimes, these shadows plotted in secret. Other times, they were there in the flesh, all female, all far too cunning for his own good, all defiant, all laughing at him, trying to blackmail him, all trying to bring him down. So he had to get in there first and drive them out, to try to get into their minds and seize hold of the slightest weakness that they betrayed, and if need be to destroy them. Sometimes there was more than one enemy and it took ice cold nerve to try to weave around them the train of thought that would divide one from the other and split the opposition.
"Stay calm, stay calm." His blue and slow hypnotic eyes tried to control their very thoughts. Fleeting memories popped to the surface many years ago to that young girl who topped herself called Rachel. He jumped forward in time to when he was stuck on top of the roof talking to that other girl called Zandra who was holding that baby up in the air and finally a freeze frame image of that mad bitch Tessa Spall who was holding a hypodermic syringe to Betts's face .. Was it to him that he was talking to reassure himself?
A wave of molten anger poured over him like a lava flow , blotting out his memories. It was dangerous of him to think, thoughts were dangerous, untrustworthy and slippery. It wasn't easy being Jim Fenner, he could tell anyone who listened.
Right at the end of this stream of red hot fury came the memories of the way that that snooty barrister invaded his space, the prison which he was the rightful Wing Governor if it weren't that interfering Betts woman who was sitting in his chair. That was bad enough to put up with but at least Betts is one of the Prison Officers, not a nosy parker coming to snoop on him .
Hold it, just why is Betts so pally with a barrister? What are they playing at? Could it be anything to do with that court case when, after all, he put a bit of pressure on Betts to play ball and to stick together so that they don't get verbally sliced to pieces like that posh bitch of an opposing barrister did inside and outside court. Much thanks he got from the witches coven who were assembled. It was Atkins. She was the most dangerous of all that sodding sisterhood as she was actually capable of doing something really dangerous.
At that point, he reached for his pint and drained it in one gulp and he felt the ice cold liquid settle on his stomach and, as he enjoyed the taste of the brew that separated the men from the women, a feeling of reassuring warmth flowed round his veins. You're getting jumpy and overdoing it, sunshine, he told himself. Atkins is out of your life, she might as well be in another world. She's got that precious daughter to look after and she won't risk another spell banged up. She's smart, after all, knows all the risks.
The social club went softly out of focus as he let his thoughts wander about aimlessly. He had got them back under control again.
"Can I join you for a swift half before we go back?" Ken asked.
"Yeah, go on," Fenner laughed. "but I'm back on duty in ten minutes."
As he chatted away, assuming his Jack the Lad persona to Ken, a layer of his mind detached itself away to laugh at his worries and to tell himself that you think too much, son. He did make a mental note to pop in and ask Grayling if he knew of any barristers landing themselves on his doorstep. He knew that Grayling wouldn't like it any more than he does and for similar reasons.
"Come on, Ken. Chop chop. Let's get back on the job," He called out and reeled slightly as he opened the door of the club on the way out.
"Care to knock in future, Jim?" Grayling snapped pettishly at Fenner out of the corner of his mouth. His eyes were fixated on the laptop computer whose management internet sites held him fascinated to look into a cyberworld which could be administered and shaped to his whim. He felt that it only took a small step to translate all this into the real untidy world. He clicked out of the site and snapped shut the lid which concealed a part of his world and turned to face his one time favourite.
"I'm sorry, Neil for bursting in like this, but I wanted to let you know of something on the wing you might not be aware of," said Fenner, skilfully dangling a dainty morsel of information. He had rearranged his features into his inscrutable subordinate officer version which defied anyone to know what he was really thinking.
"Know what? What's been going on?"
"Only just that we have had a female barrister on the wing. I know we get the usual briefs but this was the barrister who got Atkins and Merriman sent down. I assumed she was seeing you for some reason but I thought I'd check to be on the safe side."
"This hasn't been cleared with me, Jim. If she isn't seeing me or you, who else could she be seeing?" Grayling glared back.
"Karen Betts, Neil. She was as thick as thieves with her. Are you going to ask her what she is up to?"
"Let me handle this my way." Grayling's response firmly blocked off any hints as to what he was going to do. He was eager to sponge up on the latest gossip but gave back little or nothing in return except the faintest suggestion that the informant would be in his good books. In reality, his mind was firmly made up.
"Ian, it's Neil Grayling." Grayling spoke in his beast hearty fashion as one member of the Old boy's network spoke to another. "I wondered if I might pick your brains on something you may be able to help me out on."
"Ask away," came Sir Ian's slightly hesitant voice down the phone. The conversation that he had had with Deed in his office jumped straight into his mind and he knew just what was coming up. This was going to be a tricky one.
"If you recall the Atkins Pilkinton trial at which I had the privilege of giving evidence," Grayling led off in his self important way, which made Sir Ian smile slightly at the memory of how inept he was, "then you will remember the female barrister who prosecuted them."
"Go on," Sir Ian said very guardedly.
"Then you will be as surprised as I was to discover that she turned up on my doorstep to see Karen Betts, one of my Wing Governors."
"On your doorstep ..you mean at your house and Karen Betts was there as well?" Sir Ian replied, deciding in a flash that a bit of assumed obtuseness would be a good opening ploy.
"At Larkhall Prison, Ian. I can tell you I was livid," Neil fumed, partly at Sir Ian who seemed to have turned positively senile. "Karen is a good Wing Governor but hardly my type to socialise with out of hours."
"I bet not," Sir Ian smirked, having heard the rumours about him and the vicar at his last prison. He had been tipped off by a friend in the Home Office that they were desperately looking to get him transferred out of his previous prison until the miraculous news broke that some acting Governing Governor had unexpectedly resigned at short notice.
"Anyway, I was wondering if anything might have come to your ears about the freelance actions of one of your barristers. I know that you get to hear of most things that go on."
With a great effort, Sir Ian resisted Grayling's blandishments including the insinuated challenge to his vanity at knowing everything and everyone.
"I'm afraid that you overestimate me, Neil, old boy. When the Roman Catholic Church determined the doctrine of Papal Infallibility in 1870, it hardly included me as a mere functionary of the Lord Chancellor's Department." Sir Ian's most patronising tones fought off the challenge. However, in his attempt at relaxed aristocratic whimsicality, Sir Ian was gravely disturbed to find himself approximating the tones and dialogue of his most hated enemy John Deed. The fact that he did it without trying or even intending to was the most worrying aspect of it.
"So you are saying that you know nothing of this matter, Ian?" Came the less than cordial answer.
"I'm afraid that my memory has drawn a complete blank on this, Neil. I wish I could help you out but I can't. Unless of course, I get to hear of anything in which case you have my word that you'll be the first to hear."
Grayling was not deceived by Sir Ian's ringing tones of apparent enthusiastic sincerity. It was too close to one of his favourite tricks to be convincing.
"Naturally I'm disappointed that you can't help out. but you have a large empire to rule and I can't expect you to know every little detail," Came the stiff response.
"Have you asked Karen Betts about the matter yourself, Neil?" Sir Ian asked softly, knowing very well the answer.
"Not yet. I thought I would get a bit of background first. I will though," And Grayling brought the conversation to an unusually abrupt end. He was in a bad mood. This was the first time that one of his contacts up on high had failed to give him the information he so greatly desired and that disturbed him.
She watched him from an inconspicuous car as he drove home and let himself in through the front door. The pattern of the man was mapped out in her very organised mind by now. She had focussed in on every pattern of his life and, for a rootless single man, Fenner was unusually amenable to having his life mapped out. After all, he was a long serving Prison Officer and such a life governed by bolts and bars, of shiftwork and security imposed a tidy pattern on his life. If she had had to tail a second hand car salesman haring all over the country, the job would have been impossible. But he ran his routine in a very systematic way from prison to home in a regular pattern. Fortunately, his shiftwork was on a pretty stable level. As Senior Officer, she was helped by the fact that he was the top of the pile in all of the prison officers who worked at Larkhall while the next step up, the Wing Governor grade was free of all those unsocial hours unless there was the very rare emergency. Some of the junior officers had the unpleasant night shifts which he had done in his time. All in all, his position was comfortable and settled and he could look forward to carrying on in his career and to get his superannuation and the lump sum on retirement.
He liked to keep himself to himself in his own community, she was glad to see. He did not have neighbours forever landing themselves on his doorstep and when he went out, it was on his terms like everything else in his highly self centred lifestyle.
It was the one late night that he came home which seemed especially promising to her when the outside of his street was dark and all the curtains were tight drawn as every household did to shut out the night, any unwanted strangers and to sit in front of the TV watching the endless soaps that whiled away the time of far too many in these escapist times. But on reflection, she thought that a sunday afternoon might after all be better. Let's face it, she would need to be able to see to carry out her task. A neighbourhood which had no nosy neighbours was ideal for her purpose
A/N: Any legislation referred to herein, can be found at either the HMSO's or the LCD's websites.
Part Eighty Five
After talking to George on Tuesday, Jo had phoned Karen and suggested they meet outside George's office on the Friday morning at eleven. Jo briefly rolled her eyes at the directions she'd been given. Trust George to have an office right in the heart of Knightsbridge, the very centre of expensive shopping territory. Jo felt a twinge of reluctance to hand over Karen's case to someone else, but knew that George was best suited to haul area management over the coals. When she drove to George's office on the Friday morning, with a collection of files on the passenger seat, Jo just hoped that George would live up to expectation. She sat in her car for five minutes, waiting for Karen to arrive. When the green MG sports car drew up beside her, Jo got out.
"How are you?" Jo asked.
"Ready for round two," Karen greeted her. "do you think she'll give me as good a going over as she did in court?" Jo smiled.
"I'd say that's highly likely, but after what I saw in court, I suspect you can give as good as you get. George will be on your side, don't forget. She just might not always show it, that's all. I'll hand over the case files and then make myself scarce. George is far more likely to be nicer to you if I'm not there." Karen relieved Jo of a couple of the files.
"You really manage to antagonise each other, don't you."
"Force of habit more than anything else. Me and George have got under each other's skin for years, ever since I put the final nail in the coffin of her marriage," Jo said bitterly.
"You sound like you regret it," Said Karen gently, as they walked across the carpark.
"I didn't used too, but she's changed. I'm just not used to getting on with her in even the slightest sense."
"Talking of meeting people half way," Said Karen conversationally, "I spoke to Helen after you left on Tuesday."
"I thought you might. How did it go?"
"A bit awkward, but I had to do it, if for nothing else than that I owed her a year's worth of apologies."
"You are in no way responsible for what happened to her," Said Jo emphatically.
"Perhaps not," Conceded Karen, "But if I hadn't been quite so blind, she might have been able to talk to me."
When George's secretary led them upstairs, Karen was impressed at the extremely plush surroundings. Taking note of her appraisal, Jo said,
"Now I know why George does civil work." When they were shown in to George's office, Jo decided that she really was in the wrong branch of the legal system. It was a large, spacious room, tastefully decorated in soft pastels, clearly meant to put any client at their ease. The large windows gave it a light, airy feel, in contrast with the floor to ceiling book shelves that filled most of the available wall space. Spying the Munnings above the desk, Jo briefly wondered if it belonged to George or the firm. The mahogany desk was enormous, and held a computer plus numerous scattered law books, a half full ashtray and piles of postits and phone messages in varying sizes. George rose from an equally large, leather swivel chair in front of the desk and came forward to meet them.
"Hello," She said, holding out a hand to Karen, both of them remembering the last time they'd met, when George had told Karen a couple of home truths about Ritchie.
"Nice place you have here," Said Karen drily. "I'm clearly in the wrong job."
"Well, the deciding factor in my choice of career was without doubt my access to immediate retail therapy," George replied with a smile. Jo wasn't used to seeing George so genial, and privately thought it suited her more than the brash, abrasive outer shell she usually displayed. Relieving them of the case files, George asked her secretary to bring them some coffee. Glancing briefly through the Fenner file which she'd seen before, she laid it aside.
"There's at least one significant new entry in there that you need to see," Said Jo from where she and Karen were seated across from George. Flipping through all the previously viewed reports and accounts of various acts of indiscretion, George came to Yvonne's and Helen's accounts of the O'Kane debacle. She ran her eyes over each in turn and then replaced them in the folder.
"Yvonne is also in the process of hunting for any photographs her daughter might have taken of Fenner's involvement with O'Kane's brothels," Added Jo.
"An extremely enterprising woman, your girlfriend," Said George smiling at Karen, clearly impressed.
"Yes, so I'm finding out," Replied Karen drily.
"It was also Yvonne who managed to track down Helen Stewart," Put in Jo.
"After the entire staff of area management failed to find even the merest hint of her," Said Karen scornfully.
"I don't know, Mrs. Mills," George tutted in mock disapproval. "Using nefarious means to hunt down possible witnesses, that's almost a hanging offense." Taking note of the glint of amusement in her eye, Jo replied,
"It's no more shocking than your calling in a favour from an ex-client in area management to get hold of any dirt on as many of my witnesses as possible." George grinned.
"Touché. Now, what else have you brought to clutter up my office?"
"That's a copy of Michelle Dockley's entire prison file," Said Karen, pointing to one of the folders. "I made a copy of it when she was transferred to Ashmore. She knows more about Fenner than the rest of us put together. It won't make very pleasant reading."
"Just what I needed to brighten up my evening," Commented George. Gesturing to another folder, Karen said,
"I also took the liberty of making a copy of Maxi Purvis's file. It's over a year since she died, but area management still haven't asked for it. It will show Fenner's initial leniency with her, even going so far as to suggest putting her and her sidekick up on enhanced when she hadn't been there long enough or done anything significant to deserve such a privilege. That was shortly followed by the discovery that she was one of Virginia O'Kane's killers. It's clutching at straws, but it's always possible that O'Kane's other killer, Alison McKenzy might be able to tell us something useful about Fenner's involvement with Purvis."
"Well, after our heated little exchange in court, there's no way she'll talk to me in a hurry," replied George. "But you might make some headway with her." Jo gestured to the last folder in the pile.
"That's the response I got from the CPS, plus their recommendations which they would want to see fulfilled before considering taking this forward."
"In other words, probably nothing we don't know already," Said George, her antipathy for the prosecuting establishment all too evident.
"I think that's my cue to leave you to it," Said Jo getting to her feet, for once wholeheartedly agreeing with George's dislike of those in suits who decided on the credibility and likely success or failure of a case. As she picked up her handbag, Jo caught sight of a magnificent bouquet of roses displayed to perfection in a cut glass vase on a small table under the window.
"Are they from anyone I know?" She asked, gesturing to the flowers.
"Calm down," Said George rolling her eyes. "They're not from John. They're just one of Neil's tokens of guilt. It won't do him any good though." Jo visibly relaxed. George turned to Karen. "I won't be long," She said, following Jo out of the door. As they walked downstairs, Jo said,
"You didn't need to escort me to my car, George."
"No, but I think Karen needs a moment to read the transcript of her conversation with you. I know I would if I was in her position." George was right. As soon as the two women had left, Karen picked up the thickest file from the desk and leafed through it until she came across the transcript of her conversation with Jo almost two weeks before. It is an understandable desire for those who have been severely wronged, to want to see another's interpretations of their account of such an event, and Karen was no exception. She was surprised at the level of detail contained in this document, and inwardly shrank from the noting of her crying, her ultimate lack of control. When George returned to her office, she wasn't at all surprised to see Karen reading the transcript. George simply stood and watched her for a moment, until, observing that Karen had completed her perusal, plucked it unceremoniously from her hand and replaced it in the file.
"I'm sorry," Said Karen, having the grace to blush slightly.
"It's perfectly natural to want to see how someone else has interpreted your account of something like this. But if there's anything I write on you and this case that you want to see, just ask. I won't bite." Karen smiled.
"So, where do we go from here?" She asked. George began rifling through the initial folder, the one containing all of Fenner's supposed misdemeanours.
"We need to sort out what is and what isn't hearsay evidence."
"Unfortunately, I think too much of it is," Replied Karen regretfully.
"Ah, well, with a civil case, that's not too much of a problem. If this were already going to court through the criminal or common law channels, then hearsay evidence would pose some difficulty."
"I thought all hearsay evidence was routinely dismissed at the word go."
"No. According to the Civil Evidence Act, evidence shall not be excluded on the ground that it is hearsay. However, where Rachel Hicks is concerned, we don't have any evidence, hearsay or otherwise, that he actually slept with her."
"The only other person apart from Shell Dockley who seems to know of the existence of a relationship between Fenner and Hicks is Daniella Blood, one of the other inmates. Jo spoke to her last week, and Denny certainly knows more than Fenner would like her too."
"What sort of prison record does she have?"
"Not brilliant, but far better than it used to be."
"Which means the defence would immediately discredit her as a viable witness. A written statement from her might be better."
"I'll see what I can do. She's another one who you won't get near because of Merriman."
"I can see that case is going to haunt me for ever more," Said George bitterly.
"It only will if you let it," Said Karen quietly. George stared at her for a moment, briefly wondering just where this woman's level of understanding came from. It was almost on the tip of her tongue to tell Karen exactly what ramifications the Merriman case had had on her life, but the nerve to do so just wasn't there. Turning back to the open case file, George extracted the report on Maxi Purvis's suicide, and drew forward the dead girl's prison file.
"There is documented evidence here of Fenner's leniency with Maxine Purvis," George continued. "It says here that he recommended her for a raise in prison regime. I'd have thought that should have come from the Wing Governor."
"That would have been when I was temporarily demoted," Replied Karen. George lifted her gaze from the file and stared at Karen.
"What on earth for?"
"I'd never prove it, but I suspect I was replaced by Fenner, because I was a woman." Then, on seeing George's raised eyebrow, she said, "Grayling has a preference for the boys, and found that Fenner somewhat suited his tastes." George's eyes widened in astonishment.
"How could anyone possibly find that odious cretin attractive?" Then, realising that Karen must once have found said cretin attractive enough to consider marrying him, she said, "Oh god, I'm sorry. Tact isn't something I possess in vast quantities." Karen gave her a broad smile.
"It's okay. I think I must have had a personality bypass to not see what he was really like." George returned to the file.
"The knickers that were left in your in-tray, I'm assuming they belonged to Maxine Purvis?"
"Yes, though he wouldn't admit it."
"That's no surprise. Would you say he was a compulsive liar?"
"Yes. He's got this way of convincing himself that he hasn't done any of the things he's accused of doing." Briefly thinking that this sounded vaguely like Neil, George said,
"I need to examine the recently updated Sexual Offences Act. That's one piece of legislation I'm not up to speed on because it's not something that usually applies to civil cases." George led Karen out of her office and up to the fifth floor, which was designated in its entirety to the firm's law library. Shelves from floor to ceiling ran as far round the enormous room as possible, allowing for tall, wide windows here and there to let in the daylight. As well as copies of every piece of legislation available in printed form, there were ranks of leather-bound law books and endless reams of academic journals and law reviews. George moved to the shelves that held the copies of this year's parliament approved legislation. On finding that the S's, being towards the end of the alphabet, were on the higher shelves, George rolled her eyes and stretched. Observing that George was totally unable to reach what she was looking for, Karen displayed the advantage of her extra height and took down the thick wad of paper that was the Sexual Offences Act of 2003.
"Thank you," George said, taking it from her. "I loathe being small, but there isn't much I can do about it." Privately thinking that George looked enchanting as she was, Karen followed her to a nearby table. On opening this thick, barely read tome, George was confronted by a straightforward definition of rape.
(1) A person (A) commits an offence if-
(a) he intentionally penetrates the vagina, anus or mouth of another person (B) with his penis,
(b) B does not consent to the penetration, and
(c) A does not reasonably believe that B consents."
George looked up.
"I'm assuming that what Fenner did to you was purely vaginal?" She asked quietly, swiveling what she was reading round so that Karen could see what she was getting at. Inwardly, Karen recoiled from the brutal description of Fenner's act, but outwardly remained calm.
"Oh, yeah," She replied. "He never was one for much out of the ordinary." In spite of their talking quietly, Karen was relieved that they were alone in this cavernous volt of judicial history.
"I know I've read both what you said to Jo, and your statement to the police," Continued George, "But you did definitely make it clear to him that you didn't want what he was doing?"
"Yes," Said Karen firmly. "He couldn't have been in any doubt." Observing a couple of her colleagues appearing, George stood up.
"Let's take this back downstairs," She said, retrieving a copy of the Protection From Harassment Act on her way.
When they re-entered her office, Karen took the chair she'd sat in before, and abandoning the impersonality of her desk, George took one nearby.
"One thing that the defence will do their damnedest to establish," She said carefully, "Is why you let things go as far as you did, and why you didn't report it immediately. The defence won't only do that if he ever gets brought to trial, they will also try it with this case, because yours is the strongest evidence for having Fenner thoroughly investigated by area management. It's not me personally who is questioning what you did, but I would be failing in my duty if I didn't warn you of the defence's likely line of attack."
"I know," Said Karen, regretting for the millionth time her actions on that fateful evening. "All I can say in my own defence, is that I had lived with him for some time, and I never thought he would go that far if I said no. He might be a compulsive liar, but the one thing he's always stayed resolute about is that he loves me. Ridiculous I know, but there you are. I sincerely never thought he could or would do that to me. It never even entered my head that he was guilty of what Helen had accused him of. I suppose I thought I knew him." George walked over to her desk and returned with the ashtray and her cigarettes. As she lit one, she said,
"It's funny, but we are two extremely intelligent women, but who at the same time, manage to provoke our men in to doing things we never would have previously thought them capable of, just on that one occasion, we pushed them farther than they'd ever been pushed before. Yet if either of us had ever given the slightest thought to the consequences of our actions, we could have avoided the eventual outcome."
"You're saying we, like you know what I'm talking about," Said Karen quietly, fixing George with her penetrating gaze.
"Different context and different crime, but yes, though it's fair to say that you got a far worse deal than I did. If the barrister that area management employ has one ounce of ruthlessness about them, that is without doubt what they'll throw at you. But what you have got to keep in mind if you're not going to lose your nerve, is that you are doing the right thing, and that there is absolutely no excuse for what Fenner has done to you, or to Helen or to anybody else. I know I might seem a little brash and brutal sometimes, but it wouldn't do you any good for me to treat you with kid gloves, because the defence most certainly won't."
"Actually," Said Karen, lighting a cigarette of her own, "It's quite refreshing, and as for losing my nerve, or losing it in general, I might have done that once," She said, her eyes straying to the file that held the transcript of her conversation with Jo, "I'm not about to do it again."
"Losing it, as you put it, isn't anything to be ashamed of," Said George gently, knowing exactly what Karen was referring to. "As Jo said to me a few weeks ago, believe it or not, we all do it, and the secret is not to be afraid of it." Then, at Karen's look of incredulity, she said, "I know, I didn't take much notice of it either." Karen grinned. "Yes," Said George cynically, "The thought of me and Jo having a civil conversation that doesn't involve a case is a little odd to say the least."
"In spite of the sheer antagonism between you two, Jo wouldn't have recommended you without good reason."
"Well, let's hope I can live up to expectation. I will go through the rest of the Sexual Offences Act and the Protection From Harassment Act, to see if there are any other grounds to force area management to start doing their job, but there is one thing that I think you ought to do without delay. Michelle Dockley is currently incarcerated in Ashmore secure psychiatric hospital. If you can, I think you should try to see her. She holds a lot of the loose ends to this case, and if nothing else, she could fill in a few gaps."
"They won't let me see her without a court order, I'm not a relative."
"Then your best bet would be to ask John to issue one. He won't do it for me, but he will for you. He doesn't give out the kind of complement that he did to you in court, without good reason. I'm sure if you ask him nicely, he'll issue a court order to give you access to Dockley."
"But can he do that without an official application?"
"In a civil case, yes. In section 3.3 subsection 4 of the Civil Procedure Rules, it categorically states that the court may make an order of its own initiative, without hearing the parties or giving them an opportunity to make representations, which means that we need not apply for one, and that area management need not know of its existence. It also means that we don't need to wait until they are apprised of the emerging case against them before finding out what Dockley may be able to tell us."
"When would be the best time to approach him?"
"I'm before him in court on Monday, which would be as good a time as any, the sooner the better. You could try during the lunchtime adjournment." When Karen left a short time later, she felt for the first time since deciding to begin proceedings, that they really were in with a chance.
Part Eighty Six
"And how did you get on in one of Her Majesty's Prisons, Jo? Did you find it the sort of institution that the more reactionary members of the judiciary think are too lenient on prisoners?" John started off the conversation.
Jo Mills had been unusually quiet when she came to visit him in chambers. She took a long look at the volumes of reference books that lined a wall of John's chambers. Till her visit to Larkhall, she viewed them only as an accumulated source of learning to be deployed for the purposes of him, as the ultimate repository of knowledge. Some of the more ancient leather bound volumes belonged to the Victorian era having been thumbed and fingered by generations of judges past in search of precedent and case law. Once a particular prominent court case had decided someone's future ,it cast its long shadow through the generations unless the passing of a law stopped it in its tracks and relegated it to history. To Jo, the whole legal process operated like some enormous cat's cradle of interlocking threads woven round innumerable fingers and thumbs yet which conformed to an overall structure, amorphous though it appeared to be. It was a common trait of the judiciary to delight in these structured abstractions as much as a sculptor had for the feel for marble and clay in his hand.
All this appeared to be the structure for the ever changing script outlines for such as her, or George or any other practising barrister to appear on the courtroom stage. The walk on parts were the ever changing cast who appeared in the dock, centre stage, to be found guilty or innocent as the case may be or the witnesses speaking for or against the accused. And like an actor, she had finely honed her array of oratorical techniques to shape the outcome of the play. The difference was that they all shaped the writing and the final outcome of the play.
True, both she and John had more than an interest purely in the techniques of their profession. Ever since she witnessed John help out her own father, many years ago when he was a practising barrister, both had a burning wish to shape their skills in the cause of justice, the righting of wrongs and that the morally guilty should be brought to book. Both their sense of justice had been sharpened, not blunted by the passing of the years when the culture of political expediency had pervaded society more and more. Both defied the hackneyed saying that at twenty, you are an ardent Socialist and at fifty a right wing Conservative. John Deed bucked this trend as he did so much in this corrupt society and Jo followed suit in her feminine intuitive fashion. She was not some mere John Deed acolyte.
What she had never thought of was what happened to the countless women who had been found guilty by the judicial process.
"Like someone had stepped over my grave," Jo shivered. "I've heard many stories of crimes committed by clients that I've prosecuted or occasionally defended. I thought that when I had helped secure a guilty verdict, the accused is spirited away to disappear for so many years to a place called prison. I never thought that the prisoners would have to exist, jammed on top of each other, day in day out. It's a whole different world that's so hard to explain," She finished, struggling to find words to express her thoughts.
"In what way, Jo?" John asked softly.He was alert in a second. It was not like Jo to talk this way. At times, he thought ruefully of some of their more confrontational moments that her facility with words was too good.
"It's a whole different world that swallows you up while you are there. I wonder now just how much it had marked even Yvonne Atkins. I remember looking round the gallery at the Atkins Pilkinton trial and it seemed unreal that any of them had done time." Jo shook her head.
"Start from the beginning. I'm interested and I hope that I can help you."
Jo took a sip from the sherry glass and placed it carefully on one side.
"You go in past the security gate and your personal possessions are searched from top to bottom, they have to as they have to treat all visitors the same. I walked into this stone courtyard where nobody is allowed outside and went through two sets of barred gates and into this huge echoing space that is hemmed in with metal walkways and more bars and bolts.The world is shut in behind you. Right up in the ceiling are a line of curved windows, like in a shopping mall but nothing like you've ever seen before .At the best of times, Karen must have to have eyes in the back of her head without someone like Fenner who systematically abused the trust not only of the prisoners in his charge but of a Wing Governor who was trying to do some good with the system that they were stuck with, like Karen, like Helen and like we are trying to do with the legal system in our way. It all connects if you look hard enough," Jo said slowly and reflectively.
John had the strong feeling that she was speaking to make sense as much as to herself as to him. He nodded at her but said nothing in order to let her continue uninterrupted.
"I'm struggling to get my head round this. There's a culture of bullying there where the weakest go to the wall. Rachel Hicks did because of being bullied by two other prisoners and being let down by Fenner who used her for what he wanted and let her down when she got into trouble. Yet Shell Dockley was beaten up once by Fenner in her turn before ending up at Ashmore. The more you start asking questions, the more questions you find that need asking." Jo's halting speech, feeling her way, finally petered out.
"What do you want me to do, Jo? You know that I have all the sympathy in the world but that isn't enough," John's gentle voice broke in on her thoughts.
"A civil case against prison service area management for negligence," came Jo's very precise, clearly articulated reply. "There are a series of files festering in their vaults that should have been followed up and, if linked together, would have given cause for a comprehensive enquiry. What do they have Human Resource departments for? Item one, the report into the assault on Shell Dockley where two witnesses senior to Fenner gave evidence that blows Fenner's version of the incident right out of the water. Added to that is the very suspicious retraction by Shell Dockley at a later date which was taken at face value by the Governing Governor and, by implication area. In turn, Shell Dockley's evidence casts light on the relationship between him and Rachel Hicks and, item two, the never resolved enquiry into her suicide. Item three is the escape of Shell Dockley and two other prisoners and the Area investigation who laid the blame on the Governing Governor as formally responsible for the overall running of the prison at a time when a TV film crew had access to the prison. Specific questions as to who did what at the time were never followed up
Item four, while it won't be on any official files, there are allegations that Fenner- the name keeps cropping up, doesn't it- was involved in managing a chain of brothels for the benefit of the owner who was an inmate of Larkhall and receiving a share of the earnings. Item five is the report into the suicide of Maxi Purvis and Fenner's suspiciously lenient treatment in terms of her privileges who had been later found out to be one of the murderers of the brothel owner. Oh yes, and we have Grayling's handling of when Fenner raped Karen. It would be interesting to know if area were aware of the matter and what role they played."
"There is the makings of a case in just the way that you indicate, Jo."
"George has agreed to take this case on. It's more her field. Besides, she has the greater ability to worm out the extra information that would bolster up the case."
"A month or so ago, you would have said that she was just the sort of ruthless and scheming woman with the ability to handle this kind of work and, if the fee wasn't big enough to afford to clear out half the contents of Harrods, she wouldn't dream of taking it on," John smiled as he recalled some of George's more sensational outbursts right up to midway through the Atkins Pilkinton case.
"if George was the same as she was a month ago," Jo grinned, "She would have had that door down for good. " She pointed at the nice shiny new brass hinges on the door which was a permanent memento of life in the cloistered chambers of England's ancient and respectable order of the judiciary.
The moonlight shone through the bedroom window and cast a gentle light on the strongly marked lines that drew Yvonne's face. Her hair, normally so spiky as her personality yet every hair in its place was dishevelled as Karen's long shapely fingers rested gently on the smooth skin of Yvonne's shoulder and her other arm was trapped underneath her yet held onto her. She looked at peace in sleep and there was much more of a feeling of peace since that fateful night when Karen had asked Mark Waddle home to spend the night with her to round off the sharp edges of their fragile relationship. This time, there wasn't that sense of strain. She felt no compulsion to leave her bed and smoke a lonely cigarette in the cold frozen air of her kitchen. That was the last thing she felt like doing as even her restless nicotine craving was at rest. Gently, her lips lightly caressed Yvonne's face.
"Whatsamatter, Karen, you've let me go to sleep when that's the last thing I wanted to do?" her sleepy mumble roused her to wake and her mouth hungrily sought out Karen's.
She's as insatiable as I am and I thought that was impossible, a stray thought crossed Karen's mind as their bodies moulded together naturally with all the heat and passion that came so naturally to them now and mixed sensations overtook her of the taste of Yvonne's skin and the moonlight tinted darkness. It seemed a long time since they were together and the feelings of restraint that they ought to act properly in front of Lauren had taken a little while to dissolve away into the pure physical satisfaction that they both knew now that they needed.
"How did you get let out of Fort Knox, Yvonne?" came the throaty, out of breath voice as they both lay on their backs, sweaty but feeling complete.
"I've had to prove myself bleeding super mum to Lauren just to reassure her," Came the joking reply. "Seriously though, once I've proved to her that having a new partner wasn't going to be a threat to her, then she's gone back to going out clubbing. Mums are boring to watch telly with. She stayed over at Cassie and Roisin's and that changed her but I don't know how or why."
"Don't ask questions, darling. You might not want to know the answer," Came Karen's low laugh and her full kiss on the lips.
Yvonne smiled in the reflection of feeling totally free with the cool air next to her skin and the bedclothes all askew, half off the bed.
"Ross is off somewhere in the great unknown.It was different when he was growing up. Half the time, I was on my own rushing round making sure he was off for school before I set off for the morning shift for work and feeling guilty as hell because I was a working mum and he was with childminders in the school holidays. The other half, he was having to get used to another boyfriend of mine. I missed not seeing more of him than I did and it hurt worse when he first set off for uni," Karen sighed. "but it's up to him to make his own way in life if being a student isn't for him."
"Kids, eh?" came the reflective reply. "but you come to the point when you have to have a life for yourself. Anyway, why are we talking about kids?" her bemused tones asked herself as much as Karen.
"Search me," came the reply.
"Haven't we got better things to be doing?" smiled Yvonne as she moved towards Karen. Part of the sweetness of their lovemaking came from how they had to make the most of their chances and claim their lives for their own. The demands of motherhood were a hard habit for both of them to break, so they realised, even at a moment like this.
Part Eighty Seven
On the Monday morning, three days after Karen's meeting with George, John found himself walking through the foyer of the Old Bailey, on his way to buy a newspaper, when he caught sight of George pushing her way through the main doors, a collection of files under her arm. Today was the beginning of a pretrial hearing with her as the defence and Neumann Mason-Alan as prosecutor, someone who George and John for that matter had always despised. He had a reputation for leading the witnesses at every opportunity and of introducing the flimsiest of evidence. As George strode towards John, one of the files slipped from under her arm, scattering its contents far and wide. Taking one look at her face, John was briefly reminded of the time when a three-year-old Charlie had spilt Ribena all over George's favourite cream suit jacket. Instead of cursing the file and its contents to high heaven, she simply stood, closed her eyes for a moment, and took in a slow, deep breath. As she began to pick up the far flung papers, John went to her assistance. Knowing from passed experiences that it was better to let her calm down in her own time, he didn't say a word.
"Thank you," She said, when all the stray documents had been reassembled. "I swear this is the last straw."
"Why?" He asked tentatively, feeling that the rant was about to emerge.
"First, I overslept. Then, the stupid car wouldn't start, and you know what it's like trying to find a cab at this time of the morning. So, I had to get the tube, where I had to stand pressed up against a disgusting old man who kept leering at me." John grinned.
"I'm not surprised," He said, reaching forward to do up the top two buttons of her blouse. "I bet he thought it was his lucky day." George looked down, at his all too familiar hand, hiding away the stunning exhibition of her utterly enchanting breasts encased in cream lace.
"Oh, no," She groaned. "Trust you to be the one to see that."
"You should learn to get up in the morning, then you wouldn't have this problem," He said, clearly flirting with her.
"Perhaps the only advantage of living with either you or Neil," George replied scathingly, "Is that you are both insufferably cheerful first thing in the morning, so you force me to get up out of pure irritation." John grimaced.
"I don't want to have anything in common with that loathsome individual."
"Who's prosecuting today?" Asked George, changing the topic of conversation. "Because whoever it is had better be ready for my wrath."
"Well, just remember that court is not the place to work off your anger. Neumann Mason-Alan is prosecuting, so I'm sure you'll give him a bumpy ride."
"You're quite bloody right I will. He's the most pathetic barrister I think I've ever been up against."
A while later when the three of them were going over the evidence in order for John to decide what was admissible and what wasn't, George could feel the slow, inexorable rise of her temper. It hadn't entirely subsided since her fraught journey to work, but this jumped up, pathetic upstart of a man was really beginning to get on her nerves. He usually did criminal work, and was persisting in his quest to get most of her evidence discounted on the grounds that it was hearsay.
"My Lord," George intoned, her anger becoming palpable. "As I have stated in this very court many times before, there are grounds within the rules and legislation of civil procedure, that do allow for the submission and use of what some may class as hearsay evidence."
"I am well aware of that, Ms Channing, but the interpretation of civil procedure may only be taken so far."
"My Lord, such an assertion is utterly preposterous. If my learned friend here were not so used to the rules governing criminal evidence and procedure, and had taken the time to make himself even slightly aware of the relevant statutes governing civil procedure, he would not now be objecting to the evidence I am seeking to submit." Neuman Mason-Alan gritted his teeth but remained silent in the face of such a wild card as his current adversary. He was aware of the past between Georgia Channing and John Deed, and couldn't for the life of him see what they must once have had in common.
"Ms Channing, I am finding in favour of the prosecution."
"But My Lord..."
"You know better than to interrupt me, Ms Channing. I am finding in favour of the prosecution, because I would cast serious doubt as to the actual, genuine existence of the ludicrously flimsy evidence you are seeking to submit."
"My Lord, surely this is precisely the nature of hearsay evidence."
"That's debatable and you know it."
"I would argue that it is, My Lord. Therefore, I must insist that the evidence in favour of my client be included without further delay."
"You have no power to make such an demand, as well you know. I have ruled on this, Ms Channing, and that is the end of the matter."
"But my Lord, this means that my client has almost no evidence with which to defend himself."
"Quite, which should mean that this is an open and shut case. A couple of days should see it through."
"Surely such a remark is an indication of your partiality in favour of the claimant, My Lord. One might ask if you should be hearing this case." John had heard quite enough.
"Ms Channing, I have put up with your thoroughly contemptuous behaviour all morning. It will not continue."
"I am simply trying to defend my client in order to achieve a measure of justice, My Lord."
"No you're not. You have persistently sought to undermine my authority and I will not put up with it a moment longer. I find you in clear, unequivocal contempt of this court, and you will be removed to a cell until you can learn to behave in a respectful manner towards me and to purge your contempt to my satisfaction. Will the dock officer please remove Ms Channing to a cell. Court is adjourned." George couldn't believe he'd done this to her again. As the dock officer took hold of her arm, she shook him off and stalked ahead of him, not willing to be subservient to such a mere mortal. But when he closed the by now familiar door behind her, she slumped on to the generic plastic chair, and felt utterly miserable. This was the third time she'd done this in front of John, and he would be well within his rights to formally punish her for it. He was able to wind her up so easily, and she hated him for it. But then, it wasn't really him she hated for her own lack of self-control, it was herself, she who couldn't even keep a lid on her temper. She felt thoroughly dejected, as empty and deflated as a burst balloon. She'd been here often enough before, to know that being galvanized in to almost reckless action one minute and returning to sheer misery the next, was never a good sign.
As Karen drove in to the carpark of the Old Bailey, she felt slightly odd at coming here without the company of Yvonne, Cassie and Roisin. They had presented a united front throughout the Merriman/Atkins trial, and it felt a little daunting to wander amongst the legal personnel on her own. She pushed open the heavy front doors and walked in to the foyer. Not knowing who to approach or where to start looking for the Judge, she approached a man who looked to her as if he came here on a regular basis.
"Excuse me," She said to Neuman Mason-Alan who was sitting reading a newspaper. "Has court adjourned for lunch?"
"Yes," Said this barrister, taking in Karen's very attractive form. "The Judge was forced to adjourn after having defence council removed for being in contempt of court." He seemed to enjoy passing on this piece of information. Briefly smiling at the memory of George doing this during the trial, Karen said,
"Would you know where I might find the Judge?"
"I'd assume he'd be in his chambers." Following the route she'd taken after her long day of questioning and cross-examination, Karen climbed the stairs and traversed the long corridor and hoped that the Judge would see her. As John wasn't with anyone, Coope showed Karen straight in. John was also immersed in a newspaper, but looked up as Coope appeared.
"Karen Betts to see you, Judge." Putting the paper aside, John stood up and moved forward to greet her.
"This is a pleasant surprise," He said, giving her a broad smile.
"I don't want to disturb you," Said Karen, not altogether sure if she should have come here.
"You're not. Would you like to join me for lunch?"
"Thank you, that would be nice." Asking Coope to bring them some sandwiches, John gestured Karen to a chair.
"How's life behind Her Majesty's bars?" He asked, pouring her some coffee.
"Not enough funding, too many inmates, the same as ever. How about you?"
"I'm not sure which is worse," Said John contemplatively. "The criminals who appear before me, or barristers who insist on breaking the rules."
"When I asked someone downstairs if court was still in session, he told me that you'd had another run in with George."
"Let me guess, tall, dark-haired, and with the reputation of leading witnesses as if they were wearing a bridle." Karen laughed.
"Sounds about right."
"He's acting for the prosecution, but he absolutely shouldn't be talking about that. I loathe people who insist on gossipping to all and sundry about things that really don't concern them."
"So, how do you reward such displays of verbal carelessness?" Asked Karen, her slightly flirtatious tone matching his. John fixed his gaze on her.
"I have the gossips' tongues cut out."
"I don't doubt it," Replied Karen, grinning at him from under her eyelashes.
"Do you remember my having George removed to a cell during the Merriman/Atkins trial?"
"How could I forget. Up until then, I'd thought a Judge couldn't do that to a barrister."
"She pulled another stunt like that this morning. It's her third time, and I can't go on letting her get away with it."
"What's the alternative?"
"If I sentenced George to a night in the local remand prison, Larkhall for example, it would ruin her both as a barrister and as a person."
"I might have only spent an hour or so with her," Said Karen guardedly, "but I think a night in that place would do her far more harm than good." John scrutinized Karen, seeing in her a level of understanding that he'd only previously guessed at.
"Hmm," He said, "Not something I want to do unless its absolutely necessary. The only other course of action left open to me is a fine, but even if I gave her the maximum, it's only as much as she'd spend on a dress." Coope brought in some lunch for them, and as they ate, an idea began to slowly take shape in Karen's mind. They left the subject of George and her errant behaviour alone for a while, and talked of inconsequential things until, after lighting a cigarette, Karen put forward her suggestion.
"A conviction for anything wouldn't exactly do a QC's reputation any good. So, why not let her off this time, but actually get her to take a serious look at the consequences of being punished for it."
"Go on," John replied, thinking that any new idea on this one was certainly worth hearing.
"Give her a warning, tell her that this is the last time you are prepared to be lenient. But as a condition of her only receiving a warning, get her to spend a day shadowing me. I'll take her through it, show her the parts of a prison that most barristers never see, and explain to her exactly what would happen to her if you did impose a night in custody. Trust me, a few hours in Larkhall, even knowing that she can walk away at the end of it, might just do the trick. Like you said, this is her third time, and perhaps she keeps offending because she isn't really aware of the consequences of her actions." John was amazed. Not even if he'd spent all day mulling over the matter would he have thought of this.
"You're a genius," He said. "and if it's a condition of my leniency, not even George can argue with it."
"Have you ever thought about why she does it?"
"Other than that she has an extremely low boiling point, and that she can't accept not being given her own way, no."
"I had two weeks to observe the way you, Jo and George interact with each other."
"Not something I'd recommend to anyone," Said John drily which made Karen smile.
"George hates being proved wrong by you. At first, I thought it was Jo's presence that was winding her up, but it wasn't. It was being before you that was getting to her. George hates it whenever you are there to witness her failure. She needs to constantly prove herself professionally, in order to show herself and you that she doesn't still need your approval. Does that make sense?"
"Yes, it does," He said, a little surprised. "You didn't tell me you had a qualification in psychology as well as a clear leaning towards adversarial skill."
"I suspect I'm not the only one who uses observation of human interaction as a nice little sideline. As a judge, you have to do it as a matter of course, and as a wing governor, it's how I keep things on an even keel." John smiled.
"I could write a paper on that," He said, refilling their coffee cups. "And I didn't ask why you came to see me today, though I have to tell you that the interruption was most welcome."
"How much has Jo told you about the Fenner case?"
"She did tell me that at present, there isn't enough evidence to proceed to a criminal trial, and that she'd passed you over to George, with a view to forming a civil case against area management for not having done their job with regards to James Fenner."
"George thinks it would be a good idea if I could talk to one of Fenner's victims, who is currently languishing in Ashmore special psychiatric hospital. Michelle Dockley holds many of the loose ends of this case. One might almost say that she has more info on Fenner than the rest of us put together. The problem is that I can't see Dockley under normal circumstances, because of where she is, and because I'm not a relative. George suggested that I should ask you if you would issue a court order, giving me permission to talk to Dockley."
"George didn't mention this when I saw her this morning." Karen grinned.
"She told me on Friday that you wouldn't do this for her, but that you might for me." John laughed.
"George knows perfectly well that I'd do anything for her, if only she'd learn to ask nicely."
"I wouldn't tell her that if I were you," Said Karen with a broad smile. "You might end up regretting it."
"Of course I'll issue the court order," Said John, becoming serious again. "As I assume this needs to be done without delay, I'll do it at the end of this afternoon's session, and get Coope to fax it to you."
"Thank you. If nothing else, Dockley will be able to fill in a few gaps."
George was sitting exactly where she had since she'd been locked in this hell hole, just staring blindly at the dull, gray wall in front of her. She didn't have the energy to be angry, and what purpose would it serve. John would let her out of here, and only when he was good and ready. When she heard the key turn in the lock, she steadfastly kept her gaze away from whoever it was who'd come to see her. Putting the custody officer's keys that he'd been loaned in his pocket, John closed the door behind him and simply looked at her. George was doing her utmost to keep her face blank, but he hadn't missed the brief look of sheer misery when he'd glanced through the spy hole before opening the door. When she didn't say a word to him, he realised that something was very different from the other two times they'd been here. He thought she looked tired, pale, and as if she really didn't care what happened to her.
"Do you have an explanation for what happened this morning?" He asked quietly.
"No," Was her unequivocal reply.
"And are you going to purge your contempt?"
"I apologize unreservedly. Will that do?"
"You can't keep doing this, George."
"Fine," She said bitterly. "Send me to prison for a night. You know you're itching to do it."
"I'd have thought that the fact of my talking to you here instead of in court, shows that giving you a custodial is the last thing I want to do. There is, however, an interesting pattern emerging here. On the three occasions you've done this, you've had either a witness or some evidence slipping out of your grasp. I used to think it was Jo's presence that wound you up," He said, unconsciously echoing Karen's words of a while before. "but it isn't, as can be seen by today."
"Spare me the psychology," Said George, her scorn covering up her fear that he would get to the truth.
"But I think it's me you have the problem with."
"John, please, just give me whatever punishment you're planning on giving me and let's leave it at that."
"Perhaps this isn't the time or place, but we will get to the bottom of this," He said, fixing her with the type of stare that left her in no doubt that they would one day revisit her reasons for losing control in his court. "On this occasion, and on this occasion only, you are being given a warning. Do this again, and I really will lock you up. However, as a condition to your warning, you will spend the whole of Thursday shadowing Karen Betts. She came to see me on your advice, to ask for the court order which I will issue this afternoon. We talked about you," Here George couldn't help blushing. "And Karen came up with the perfect solution. On Thursday, she will, as she put it, show you the parts of Larkhall that barristers don't normally see, and explain to you what would happen if you did have to spend a night in custody. I'm not entirely convinced it'll work, but Karen seems to think that a few hours behind bars, and becoming thoroughly acquainted with the possible consequences of your actions, might just persuade you not to do it again. Is that clear?"
"Crystal," Replied George icily, cursing Karen for her ingenious suggestion.
"You will report to Karen Betts at ten on Thursday morning. How long she decides to keep you, is entirely up to her."
"You're really enjoying this, aren't you."
"It's certainly different, but where you're contempt is concerned, all ideas are gratefully received." George didn't reply, but just looked at the wall across from her. "Come here," John said softly, and after a moment's hesitation, George rose and stood before him, feeling like a naughty schoolgirl. When he gently put his arms round her, she thought that if anyone was nice to her today, she would begin crying and never be able to stop. He could feel how tense she was, and ran a hand slowly up and down her back, trying to make her relax. Eventually, she returned his hug, and stood with her cheek pressed against his firm chest.
"What's got in to you?" He asked softly.
"No one," She said miserably, "I think that's the point." A small smile lifted the corners of his mouth.
"We all have to put up with that from time to time." She lifted her face to look up in to his.
"You don't," She said scornfully, "You just go out and pick up a new bit of skirt." "Anyway, I thought you had Jo on tap these days." Knowing that this was only partially responsible for her current mood, he ignored the jibe. They simply stood there for a while, in that cold, impersonal cell, arms round each other with her leaning her face against him. She took an immeasurable amount of comfort from this, and he spent the time worrying about her. George was gradually slipping back in to the type of unpredictable behaviour he hadn't seen in her since they were married. Lifting his left arm from round her, he glanced at his watch.
"We've got to go back to court," He said, gently disentangling himself from her. George lifted a hand to cover a yawn.
"I could do with going to sleep, not back in to the firing line," She said, all the morning's energy clearly gone. John took her by the shoulders and scrutinized her.
"You're looking thinner," He said.
"Yes, thank you, I can look in a mirror," Was her scathing response. He raised his hands in mock surrender.
"Hey, calm down, it was only an observation." As he let them both out of the cell, he said, "So, you will go to Larkhall on Thursday?"
"I thought it was an order, not a request."
"If it'll help you to behave in future, then yes, it is an order. As for the other court order, Coope will fax it to Karen later this afternoon and I think she'll go to see Michelle Dockley tomorrow."
"Well, let's hope she has more success than any of us have so far."
Part Eighty Eight
Karen was applying the final touches of her makeup and was looking intently into her bedroom mirror. She looked back at her reflected image which was confident enough to face the unknown. She saw it suddenly turn confidently to the absent Meg Richard standing next to her and making that fatal prediction.
"I can see Shell going exactly the same way as Tessa Spall did "
Those words hung in the air of her very stylish bedroom as she answered herself.
"But it shouldn't have happened. Last time I saw Shell, she had just had her baby and she had the one thing in her life that she would ever love and would keep her stable. In her way, she loved her two daughters who she let go for adoption by Social Services rather than grow up to be abused in the same way that she had been. She was more settled than before she escaped. "
She brushed her long thick fair hair hard in anger as she recalled seeing Fenner climb up the metal flights of staircases and enter the abandoned cell, possessions scattered and caught sight of Fenner's back.
"I'm, er, collecting Dockley's stuff. She's shipping out," Fenner said with that very rare and highly suspicious hesitation in his voice.
"Where to?" she had asked in total shock, trying to take in what on earth had happened since Shell Dockley had so proudly given birth to her son. That feeling was so strong that it was all over G wing in such a short time.
"It's an emergency admission. To a secure psychiatric hospital.Excuse me," And he brushed past her while she remained open mouthed with shock.
She had never accepted for one moment the concocted story from that shifty pair of liars, Colin Hedges and Fenner that Shell had been caught at the point of holding a pillow over the baby's head. However Grayling chose to believe them. One look at his face told her that it was very expedient for Shell to be off his hands so that it would be someone else's problem and his reputation would be secure. She had had to resign herself, in the end, to being unable to get past the barrier placed in her path by Grayling even though her suspicions niggled away at the back of her mind. That is, till the chance unfolding of her own court case steered this matter into Karen's hands..
Very well, she would sidestep Grayling and the Court Order placed in her hands by John Deed would be her ace in the pack that she would play to help settle two injustices in one fell swoop.
She looked at the close typed blue document with grim satisfaction, typed out in the formal legal language of its kind and the scrolled heading which was duly dated and signed in John Deed's bold decisive script. This conveyed power over any official of her grade that she may have to argue with. She slipped it into a large brown envelope and into the separate front compartment of her briefcase. This was her ace in her pack if a straight professional approach received the brush off which she suspected that it would.
She clattered down the flight of steps to her car in her underground car park and the automatic barriers clanked their way open to let her steer her car to the open road. At Larkhall, her absence was unnoticed as her diary contained the brief note that she was "working from home on accounts." The entry was very nearly true as it was Fenner's account that she was working on to settle for good and her definition of home was rather elastic. She knew only too well that Fenner would be delighted to temporarily lord it over the wing with Karen elsewhere and phoning up Karen was not in his scheme of things.
She was happy as she always was with that feeling of freedom away from her usual routine of driving to Larkhall every day. Sometimes she felt as if the car drove her to work as she slid into automatic pilot and she woke up to see the familiar grey walls and the wooden gates inviting her in. This time she was out on the open road with her foot pressed down on the accelerator and her car cutting a direct route on a fairly quiet motorway and turning off along the narrow country lane to the Psychiatric Hospital at Ashmore. Her car twisted and turned its way until she saw the entry to her right and the ultra modern red brick pile ahead.
Immediately, her mind which had idled its way with the steady rhythm of her car came very much to the present.She was resolved to be at her most persuasive first and only to brandish her court order if it was absolutely necessary. There was something about carrying a court order signed by a High Court judge that almost made her feel nervous. She felt as if she were carrying a high velocity gun in her briefcase with the power to blow away the most dangerous criminal and the sheer power of that weapon scared her as to what it was capable of. This really wasn't the Karen Betts of old who relied on her power of the spoken word and at most, sheer force of personality to get what she wanted. However the other side of her was grateful for so mighty an equaliser as she was heading blind into an unknown organisation. She suspected that her past life as a nurse would be of limited value as times had changed since she worked in a hospital and you didn't have to work with bolts and bars.
"You've come to visit Shell Dockley, have you? We don't get many visitors here, not from your place." The receptionist eyed her suspiciously, focussing on her Wing Governor's badge and her credentials to prove exactly who she was. "You'd better stay in the waiting room. This is a secure hospital, after all."
Every organisation has the dragon receptionist to keep off unwelcome intruders, the doctor's surgery, Sylvia at Larkhall, the hospital out patient's clinic, you name it, every place has got one. She smiled pleasantly, putting herself in the mind of the receptionist as was her habit as someone who had knowledge as to how organisations work. While she waited, she helped herself to a tattered copy of 'Woman's Own' which was preferable to 'Reader's Digest', the other old favourite of waiting rooms as she whiled away the time.
"Miss Betts, can you come this way. The Chief Executive wants to see you in person about your visit."
Karen strolled casually alongside the woman in her officious uniform. The familiar long antiseptic bare white corridors and the tiled floor felt familiar under her feet. Soon they came to a door with stout plate glass mesh windows. The nurse spoke into a wall intercom to identify herself and presently, the door swung gently open released electronically on a catch by the prison officer in the security booth behind the break proof glass screen. His colleague came to escort her along the next corridor and then turn sharp right. Karen found the prison officer aloof and giving off none of the easy chattiness that she was used to. The whole place was very modern but cold and controlled by invisible locks on doors and not the slam shut loud clunk from the bolt and crash of metal against the wood frames of Larkhall. This was an alien landscape which made even the crumbling ruin of Larkhall friendly because of it's antiquity.
The sharp edged rectangular door was opened and Karen took in the state of the art office furniture and power dressing woman behind the desk which made both her office and herself feel down at heel in comparison. She crushed that instinct to feel inferior reminding herself that she had come up from the ranks to her present position of authority as she introduced herself in pleasant tones and explained her purpose.
"By what authority do you consider you have a right to interview one of our patients, Miss Betts?" came the supercilious tones, hardly even looking at her. "We have strict rules here."
"I quite understand, but Shell Dockley was once an inmate in the wing of the prison of which I am Wing Governor. A delicate matter has come up of which she is able to give first hand evidence."
"Shouldn't you have given me prior notice of such a visit? My time is precious in the running of a psychiatric prison which I can ill afford in dealing with uninvited guests?"
Jesus Christ, this woman is on a real power trip, Karen thought. If she had my job where anything and everything comes up at short notice, she wouldn't last the week. Never mind, keep smiling at the cow.
"This has come up at short notice as I, too, have a prison wing to run. As someone on the same level of authority and similar responsibilities as myself, I hoped you would understand." Karen smiled broadly, totally ignoring the way this woman looked down her nose at her.
"Well, you thought wrong, Miss Betts.I shall immediately send for a prison officer so that you can be escorted off the premises forthwith," And she reached over for the phone.
"Not so fast," Karen replied with a decided edge in her voice so that she was no longer the well mannered supplicant. "I had hoped for this to be agreed the easy way but you leave me no alternative," And Karen reached forward into her briefcase for the envelope. "I had said that this is a delicate matter. I am not obliged to explain to a perfect stranger the purpose of this visit but I hold here a Court Order signed by a High Court judge empowering me to see Shell Dockley whether you like it or not. You have no choice in the matter."
For the first time, the woman saw Karen Betts who was subtly changed. There was a steely tone in her voice which she had not come across before. As someone whose fussy bullying had held sway in such a closed in institution, she did not know how to deal with someone who unmasked a greater power than her own. Her job was to ensure everything appeared to run well and that the glossy yearly prospectus suitably blinded with science her remote seniors in Whitehall. The power of the law was some alien force with the ability to drag into the dock any luckless individual who broke the eleventh commandment "Thou shalt not be found out." The spectre of the Public Enquiry that the judiciary would ruthlessly probe her empire was the one distant nightmare which she resolved she would never have to face. This woman sprang out of nowhere armed with this document with the very legal power that could frighten her.
"Of course, we seem to have got off to a misunderstanding .." she stammered.
Haven't we just, Karen contemptuously thought.
" I shall make the necessary arrangements for you to see the person concerned ."
One inmate is just like another to her, Karen's thought chorussed.
" ..Do you want me to sent in an orderly with a cup of tea later?"
"Thank you. I would appreciate that," smiled Karen even though her facial muscles were starting to ache.
As the Chief Executive made the necessary arrangements over the phone, it crossed her mind to double check with the governor of Larkhall Prison about this dangerous woman. To do that she wanted her out of the way as soon as possible.
"Miss Taylor," she said to the young nurse, spotting her namebadge just in time. "will you escort Miss Betts here to see Shell Dockley."
The nurse opened her mouth in puzzlement at this most unexpected order but thought better of it than to question it. That was the way the hospital was run.
Karen smiled nicely one last time and followed the very young, very serious woman along the corridor. Jesus, was I that young once, as she looked at the universal nurses uniform that she had once worn.
Presently, they arrived at the wing that Shell Dockley was on and once again passed through the invisible barriers. One or two of the patients came into view, looking much like any other patient or inmate of her past and present except for the way they avoided her eye. There was something removed about them. The whole look of the place was more like a typical hospital if it weren't for the ubiquitous sealed up doors. The nurse opened one of them and a familiar face came into full view.
"Miss Betts!" exclaimed Shell. "I can't believe it's you after all this time. Thought you'd given up on me, miss," She finished on a more subdued reproachful note.
Karen took in Shell's appearance with one glance. She was wearing a grey track suit, much like the one she had worn at Larkhall in her more subdued moments. There was no hint of jewellery or heavy makeup and her long wavy blond hair was less brassy than it was. So far, so good. It was the secondary impression that unsettled her. In the past, she felt that there was a scheming intelligence at work however much a tentative trust had built up between the two of them. She had cried on her shoulder when her feelings
normally dammed up by the wall of hard exterior, broke through. She had told her how guilty she felt that she had exposed her children to the dangers of the same sexual abuse from her mother that she had suffered from because she had dared not face it. Looking at her now, there was something not quite right about her. Her blue eyes, sometimes limpid pseudo sincere, sometimes burning with hatred were vacant. You could always tell by the eyes, Karen's nursing instinct and her self education in psychology told her.
"It's good to see you, Shell." Karen's warm voice expressed the very real feelings. The barrier erected by her stabbing of Fenner had crumbled away without her noticing it allowing her to revert to the way she was. But could Shell do the same? Did she need to do so?
"You mean it, miss? You're not just saying it to make me feel better?" Shell asked guilelessly. Once she had said that to Helen who cynically dismissed it as the typical deceitful Shell ploy. This time, she meant it.
"I mean every word that I say. I should have come to visit you before and helped you out long before now." Karen's regretful tones were infused with startling candour. "But there's another reason why I've come to see you. I want you to help me. That is if you are willing to."
Shell sat there dumbstruck, temporarily lost for words which, again was not like the old Shell whose verbal fluency never let her down nor her judgement as to how much truth she would mix in with clever lies.
"You mean it, miss? How do you want me to help?"
Karen reached inside her handbag for a packet of cigarettes, flipped open the packet and handed one to Shell and, while they both lit up, she gathered her thoughts.
"You remember Jim Fenner, do you Shell?" she asked, to gauge just how much recall she had of the past. Beneath the fogged up exterior, a vague flash of anger registered and the corners of her mouth were dragged down.
"Yeah, I remember him all right. He was the bastard who landed me in here and what took my baby off me.He's the one that you were shagging, weren't you. You needn't have wasted your time. No one really knows what Fenner's like except me."
It was that anger, even if it was filtered through the mental fog of all the tranquillisers that she had been prescribed, that brought up the remnants of the old Shell personality but even the bitterness was overlain by a feeling of impotence. It was ironical to consider all the drugs that Shell had taken or dealt while she was at Larkhall but these were drugs designed to keep her in a state of foggy acquiescence.
"There's something I have to tell you, Shell," Karen urged her desperately, having taken the plunge in telling her everything . "Months ago, Fenner raped me. I have come to see you to ask you, to beg you to tell me what you know of Fenner so that I can settle with him for all of us."
"You beat Fenner?" Shell's face was twisted with scorn. "You ought to have let me finish him off when I had the chance. Remember the night when I stabbed him with a broken bottle."
"Shell, you know that I cannot officially condone what you did that night. There has to be another way, the legal way. You know more about him than I do. That is why I am asking you for help."
Suddenly, Shell's combative desire to fight evaporated. Might as well let Miss Betts do it her way. She was too tired to fight for very long. Ashmore had made her that way.
"All right, Miss Betts. You ask the questions and I'll tell you the truth. I might as well," she laughed cynically. "I'm locked up here and I'll never get out. and don't you make any big promises about getting me out."
"Can you tell me what happened between you, Rachel Hicks and Fenner.It's all right," as Shell shrank back with fear. "Denny Blood has told me a lot of what went on already and you won't come to any harm if you tell me your version."
"There's not much to tell that you don't know already," Shell said sulkily. "Fenner got greedy and started screwing that Hicks cow soon after Stewart came to Larkhall as wing governor. He made all sorts of promises to me that he'd get her transferred out ."
"Wait a moment, Shell. How did you find out about Rachel Hicks?" interrupted Karen.
"Wade told me," Shell said shortly to Karen's incredulity, knowing the hostile relationship between the two women. "I was winding her up about her love life and she let that one slip out. Anyway, I beat Hicks up one day when I went into her cell and she had her lipstick on, ready for a 'hot date' so she ended up in the hospital wing. In the end I blackmailed her by threatening that something bad would happen to her daughter if she didn't do as I wanted, like get her mother to smuggle drugs in. In the end, she topped herself. Simple as that, miss."
Something of the old psychotic Shell came back into life, the sheer inappropriate flatness of emotional response to horrifying events that would have made anyone else sound and feel guilty and embarrassed by what they had done. It was as if the deeds didn't belong to her.
"How much did Fenner know of all this."
"The bastard knew everything." Shell's bitter laugh punctuated the remark. "Don't you know him better than that? He was there just after I done Hicks over. After she killed herself, he came into my cell and told me to keep quiet about everything and it would all blow over."
Karen's face tightened as, at last, she was gaining a real backstage view of the man as she had never seen before, the man whom she had lived with and had even accepted his proposal in marriage.
"I lived with him for a while," Karen confessed with real embarrassment. "He even proposed marriage to me once. That was before I started finding out about him."
"You poor cow," Shell looked at her with scorn.
"Didn't you get conned by him the same way that I did?" Karen interposed. "I wonder if you had ever told what you knew about Fenner, he would have been sacked."
"He was too useful to me," Shell shook her head at the thought which challenged her belief in her own street smartness, one quality which she had believed in. "I got sex off Fenner. He covered up for all the bad things I ever did.That's the way he's ever worked at Larkhall"
"So tell me about the time he beat you up," Karen's composed voice concealed the feeling of shock and horror which put his relationship with Maxi Purvis into sharp focus.
"Which time?" Shell challenged to Karen's horror. "You mean the time he rammed my face into the cell wall or the second time he kicked and punched me and you came into my cell just after he run off."
"Start with the first time," Karen asked softly."
"I can't remember why he done that," and a vagueness of expression crept back across Shell's face to Karen's concern. This is not like the Shell I once knew.
"Anyway I started sending letters to his wife telling her the poor cow what he was doing with me, making it look as if someone else was writing them."
"Who did he think was writing them?" Karen asked.
"Nikki Wade of course," Shell said with a self satisfied smile.
Typical Fenner, Karen thought with contempt. He lets his unreasoning hatred take him over, first for Nikki when Shell was to blame and next for Yvonne when Snowball was feeding him a load of crap. She was watching these events unfold as if they took place before her eyes up on a TV screen, including herself as she then was when she first came totally fresh to Larkhall, so sure of herself, so confident and yet knowing nothing.
"Anyway, Fenner catches on to me and finds the mobile phone what I was phoning his wife on and ..you know the rest, miss. You and Stewart saw what he done to me."
"So why did you retract your statement later on?" Karen asked softly.
"I convinced meself that I loved him," Shell admitted with embarrassment. So did I, Karen thought with real sympathy. "I found a note in my cell from his wife telling me that I had broken up their relationship and I was the one that Fenner really loved. So I made up some sort of a story and Fenner came back. Stupid, wasn't I," Shell finished, and looked appealingly at Karen not to laugh at her.
"I nearly got married to Fenner. How could I laugh at you? So who wrote the note?"
"Fenner got the letter off me and told me that he'd told his wife what to write. It was all a con, miss. And I believed it. And that's the time I started going kind of funny, prancing around, dressed up like Britney Spears in that therapy class."
Karen shuddered as the morning's memory leapt back to her of her talking to Meg Richards and the horrifying vision of Shell standing at the top of the staircase on the 3s with a make belief noose held round her neck and screaming. "Come on Mr Fenner. Why don't you string me up like Rachel Hicks. It's what you want, innit?" In a twisted kind of way, it all made sense. It made far more sense than Fenner's protestations to her that what he did to her 'was never rape.' She got to her feet and had a short walk round the cell and asked herself just who was mad, Shell or Fenner?
"You all right, miss?" Shell asked with genuine concern for her. Normally it was the other way round.
"Thank you, Shell. I'm all right. Really." Karen smiled with real affection for this strange, difficult and sometime dangerous woman. They had one strong unbreakable bond in common which had been their undoing, Fenner.
"I hope you don't mind telling me what you know about your escape from Larkhall."
"Fenner fixed it," Shell said promptly. "I had been winding him up after the stabbing and he wanted me out of Larkhall. You must know what he was like then. He suggested it, he got a spare key cut for the back door to the chapel and for the van so I could escape. He left me money and told me where to find the keys. It was his idea that I make up that diary so Stewart would get the blame "
'I can't help feeling that I'm being set up ..'echoed Helen's voice in Karen's mind to the memory of her scorn and derision at Helen's paranoia. Helen was on the right track about that one as well and she was wrong yet again. And who was standing next to them while the two of them argued, knowing everything and saying nothing?
" it was dead easy. Everything would've went right if only that dozy driver hadn't got in the way and the van broke down after I bumped his car "
Just then, there was a knock on the cell door. Karen shushed at Shell to keep quiet as if they were locked up together in the cell and the prison warder was coming to spy on them. However, it was the orderly with the tea trolley. Karen got up and fetched two mugs of tea off the trolley and offered one to Shell. She smiled freely and openly as this was the first time in her life that a screw had fetched her a drink in her life, the same screw who was the one person who treated her with genuine kindness.
"I'll tell you, miss, about the night that I stabbed him if you want," Shell offered, eager to please the one woman from a better time in her past than she was enjoying now. Somehow, she felt nostalgic about her days at Larkhall where she sensed that she was more free, less doped up than she was now. At least the drugs she took then were her own choice.
"I wasn't going to ask you, Shell but tell me what happened."
"I was serving drinks with Atkins and the Julies at Bodybag's party, remember. We slipped an 'E' into Bodybag's drink and were laughing at her as she was doing the hokey cokey," Shell explained, her voice and manner becoming sharper and clearer as the memories came flooding back and grinning at the memory. Karen's answering thought was that that's another one I didn't know about.
"Everything changed when Atkins told me that you were shagging Fenner. I could tell by the way that you two were next to each other," Shell went on, glaring into the mid distance, away from Karen. "Right near the end, I got one of the empties, took it into a quiet room and smashed the bottle. It was as easy as anything in the dark when Fenner escorted us back to our cells. Fenner came sneaking round later on and it was obvious what he was after. 'You're a whore, Dockley,' he told me once and he liked whores and that's a fact, that's what he wanted what he couldn't get off his wife."
Karen felt sick at this point. She dared not tell Shell that she was distinctly hostile to Fenner that night and was giving him the brush off. How could she tell Shell that that night, she had got it all wrong. This was not the Jim Fenner that she had known when she lived with him but this was Fenner, the man who had raped her, who did not know the meaning of the words that she had said that night, over and over, that she didn't want it. Why should he know any different from the women who had never said no to him in the past, the women whom he had had power over, especially when he had got his boundaries confused? If she had married Fenner, he would have cheated on her the same way he had done with Marilyn.
"He thought I was going down on him when I rammed the broken bottle into him for everything he had done bad to me in the past. I wanted to see him die slowly and to beg for mercy and to confess in writing what he had done. I would have done it if it weren't for you and Stewart poking your noses in. You shouldn't have done that, miss. He didn't deserve to live and you know it."
Karen was silent. Everything Shell had said convicted herself of deeds that were not only illegal but bad. Yet she understood why she had acted, better than she had known before.
"One last thing I was going to ask you, Shell, is how on earth did you end up here?" Karen asked gently. She jumped to the conclusion, clear as day, that Fenner had gone to Shell once he realised that he wasn't getting any sex off her. This was the one vital fact not in Helen's report into the stabbing that immediately made sense of everything.
Shell dissolved into floods of tears on Karen's shoulder. All the talk of all her misfortunes brought everything back to her and she felt all the pain despite all the drugs. She stayed there while Karen shush shushed into her ear and patted her shoulder. This was the sort of mothering Shell ought to have had years ago. She blew her nose loudly into a tissue and resolved to tell the last bad thing that had happened to her since she'd started taking the pills that numbed her and stopped her feeling anything at all. At least that worked for all normal patients.
"Fenner fixed it like he fixes everything. Soon as I came back to Larkhall, I was doing hand jobs for the screws and he was getting a rake off. I was saving up for my little boy, Ronan or whatever they've called him now. One of the worst was Colin Hedges." Shell scowled as she fell silent. "I was in my cell tucking little Ronan in when he came round, unzipping his flies. I screamed at him not to do that in front of a little boy but he wouldn't listen " and the last three words whirled their way out of Karen's past which she had said that to the sympathetic policewoman, the night she had taken the fateful decision to go round to Fenner's B and B.
" the baby was screaming while Hedges was trying to drag me off my baby, as if he needed protection from me. Next thing I know is that Fenner comes through the door and fixes up these lies about me harming my baby and I get dragged away to this place. I know that I have done bad things in my time but I would never have harmed my baby. You must believe me."
Karen was speechless as the horror and enormity of what had happened to her at Fenner's hands was taking its time to sink in. What made it worse was that for so much of the story, Karen was either totally unaware or at best suspicious.
"Of course I believe you but you should never have put your trust in Fenner but come to either me or Helen Stewart."
"Neither should you, miss," Shell said simply.
What could she say to that as both women fell silent, both mulling over all the bad memories of the past.
"I left a big wad of notes in my cell that I had saved up for my baby. Do you know what happened to it?"
The flash of anger on Karen's face as she realised now what Fenner was up to in Shell's cell said everything.
"He took it all, didn't he." Shell said while Karen nodded, her anger now swelling in her that, yet again, Fenner had been up to no good under her very nose.
"How much cash did he walk away with?" Asked Karen, an idea forming in her head.
"About two hundred quid. The bastard. I could have got Ronan some decent clothes with that money." Then, after a short silence, "You're really going to do something about Fenner?" Shell asked, the question half rhetorical, wanting to be convinced.
"I know just how dangerous Fenner is, and I'm going after him for what he's done to me, to you and to others. I'll promise you this one."
"You have got to get me out of this place, miss. I shouldn't be here and I'm sorry for some of the things I done," Shell's voice and eyes pleaded with Karen.
What could she say? Strangely enough, she believed Shell's remorse as Helen might have done if she had seen her at this moment. It was not her practice to promise something she couldn't deliver and, without the Court order, she would not have got this far. She was sure of nothing else than that she was going to have her hands full in bringing Fenner down.
"If I ever can, I will, Shell. But it won't be easy."
"So there's hope, yeah?" Shell asked.
"That's the best I can do, Shell," Karen replied, feeling inadequate that she could not move mountains.
The smile that Shell gave her just before she turned her back somehow upset her that she would be out while Shell was stuck there for the foreseeable future. There were no promises of happy endings, not in shell's case where her whole life was anything but.
At least she had made her peace with the past in the same way that she had done with Helen and, who knows, but the ghosts might be laid to rest.
Part Eighty Nine
On the Tuesday evening, George was lying in her bath, with her feet propped up on the end, her nail varnish drying. She'd removed every conceivable hair from her beautiful body, and was giving the conditioner in her hair time to work its magic. For ten minutes, therefore, she had time to really think about what she was doing, and what she hopefully would be doing by the end of this evening. She hadn't arrived at this decision lightly. Persuading John to make love to her after all these years wasn't going to be an easy task. but not for nothing had she taken up law, persuasion was a major player in her art after all. She just prayed that he wouldn't for once in his life play hard to get. She needed what he could give her, more than she liked to admit. Ever since that final, awful fight with Neil, she'd made herself numb, cut herself off completely from the feelings that even now she could feel closing in on her. As she reached for her glass of red wine, she was also forced to admit that her old habbit was making itself known to her again. George hadn't felt this unstable for a long time. She was drifting, wholly uninterested in her own life expectancy, and utterly devoid of enthusiasm for anything and everything. Climbing out of the bath a while later, she wasn't all that surprised to see that the bottle she'd started earlier was empty. She knew that she shouldn't really drive after drinking so much, but this was one time that Georgia Channing QC was going to take a risk or two.
John was sitting in his lodgings, listening to the rain pounding the windows and the autumn wind howl down the chimney. A fire crackled in the hearth, transforming the room in to a cosy, inviting place he had no desire to leave. He had various law books spread out around his chair and was doing some in-depth reading for a ruling he had in the morning. He took a sip of the whisky that was near to hand, and reflected that there was certainly something to be said for a quiet life on occasions. He was immersed in the trial transcript from a complex case from 1998 , when there was a knock on his door. Bidding the caller to enter, he put the book down, making sure to mark his place.
"Mrs. Channing, My Lord," Said the man who had been surprised to see Deed's ex at this time of night. John stood up as George came in and they exchanged their usual peck on the cheek. A few spots of rain were clinging to her hair, and her coat was damp as she draped it over one of the chairs surrounding his dining table.
"To what do I owe the pleasure, George?" John asked as she took the armchair opposite his. George seemed surprisingly quiet this evening, but he was enchanted to see her in the little black, very low-cut dress she'd worn for Legover's last party.
"I wondered if you were at a loose end," She said, the half truth evident in her voice. John gestured to the books scattered over the floor.
"As you can see, no I'm not. Why?"
"I felt like some company," Replied George, her confidence in her handling of the situation slipping further every moment but not willing to back out now. John's eyes ran experimentally over her entire form, from her expertly made up face, over the red-painted lips, and down over the curves which were currently displayed to perfection.
"Dressed as you are," He said conversationally, "I'll make an assumption as to what sort of company, though I must admit to being slightly mystified as to why you should come looking to me for that after all these years." This was her biggest stumbling block, the one area of her strategy she hadn't been able to fully work out in advance.
"Does there need to be a reason?" She asked.
"Well, unless it's a good one," He said, "The answer's no. "My life is complicated enough without adding to it." George was surprised, but didn't let it show.
"Oh, don't give me that," She said, slightly scornfully, "When did Mr. Justice Deed ever say no to a decent screw." Examining her face more critically, he caught sight of the slight squint in her eyes, the only visible sign that she'd consumed a large amount of alcohol.
"Have you been drinking?" He asked.
"Because you only ever talk like that when you're drunk."
"Like you said, it's been a long time and I needed some Dutch courage." Slightly questioning his sanity, John said,
"come here," And when she approached his chair, he pulled her gently down to perch on his knee. Then, with his arms round her, he said,
"Now, you tell me what this is all about and maybe, just maybe I will consider your request."
"We're not in court, John."
"That was always one of your fantasies, wasn't it?" George blushed scarlet.
"No, not for a long time!"
"Funny, because I don't believe you." Realising she was being goaded, George attempted to beat him at his own game.
"At least I wasn't the one who actually suggested putting that in to practice." He laughed at the memory.
"Touché. Now, tell me why you came here tonight." George's gaze swiveled away from him and focused on the fire. The flames danced over the apple logs giving the whole room a rich, rosy glow.
"I've forgotten how to feel," She said after a moment's contemplation.
"Ah," Was his only response. "And you think making love is the answer?"
"Anything's worth a try," She said, her mask of indifference slightly slipping to reveal the desperate soul underneath, attempting to cling on to what it knew best.
"Oh, George," He said softly, his arms tightening round her.
"Don't feel sorry for me," She said, knowing that if he was any nicer to her she just might crack altogether. "Just don't do it." Feeling the full force of her need to return to surer ground, yet knowing that doing this might make the situation worse, he said,
"This isn't a good idea, George." Falling back on the last piece of evidence no court could deny, she laid a hand provocatively over the growing bulge in his trousers.
"I don't think your body agrees with you," She said, a smirk playing across those full, red lips that just begged to be kissed. John had been trying to ignore the effect George's close proximity was having on him, but the feel of her in his arms and the erotic aroma of Georgio, she'd never worn any other perfume, was too much for his self-control to stand. Picking up her hand from where it lay so familiarly, he said,
"Who am I to deny the wishes of a lady."
"My thoughts entirely," Said George, leaning down to kiss him. At the first touch of lips, a spark was lit deep inside him. There wasn't anything he didn't know about the body of this beautiful woman, no secret she could hide from him. As he encountered one of her breasts, which fit so perfectly in to the palm of his hand, he still had a small, nagging doubt about what they were doing.
"Are you absolutely sure you want this?" He asked between kisses. In answer, she tugged the chignion from her hair so that it cascaded over her shoulders, the way he'd always preferred it. At this affirmation of what they were agreeing to, they stood up as one and moved towards the stairs, hands and mouths still wandering at will. John tugged at the zip at the back of her dress, and when George stepped out of it, he threw it over the nearest dining chair. As he looked her up and down in the firelight, he was gratified to see a simple black lace bra and the tiniest pair of black panties he thought he'd ever had the pleasure to meet.
"Now I know why you took that dispute over lingerie case," Said George, noting his appraisal of her.
"As the defending barrister," He said silkily. "You really ought to have taken part in the display." As they moved up the stairs, her hand moved to unbuckle his belt. When they reached the top, he unsnapped her bra and casually flung it over the post at the top of the stairs.
When they lay in his large bed, their hands and mouths were everywhere, reacquainting themselves with each other's bodies. There was a furious quality about what they were doing. There would be no lingering, seductive courting of the senses, but a rapid spiral of passion ignited still further by every touch. They were almost brutal in their ferocious battle to make the other succumb first.
"Still like the fight, I see," Said John, his voice deeper with lust.
"Don't you remember?" Drawled George. "The fight was always a kind of foreplay. The bigger the fight, the better the post-fight screw."
"And didn't you get enough of either from Lover Boy?"
"Only a perfunctory interest on both counts."
"So that's why you became so vindictive when he appeared on the scene," Said John, lightly nibbling at one of her nipples. "A serious case of sexual frustration."
"Oh, and you think you could have been the perfect cure, do you?"
"Weighing up all the evidence," Said John conversationally, his hand inching downwards, "that being that you came here tonight virtually begging me to make love to you, and that you are now in my bed, I'd say that there couldn't possibly be any reasonable doubt." As if to support his assertion, he slipped two fingers inside her and grazed her nipple with his teeth, the way she'd often liked it when in one of her sporadic moods of half anger half moroseness. But George soon realised that she was far too tense to really enjoy this. But after all her bravado and persuasion, she wasn't going to back out now. She would just have to hope her old trick would work on John. It had often worked on Neil, because Neil wouldn't know how to excite a woman even if he'd sat through a cabinet meeting on the subject. But would John fall for it, she didn't know.
Even after she'd persuaded him between her legs and encouraged him deep inside her, she still fought him all the way. It was the only way she could disguise her body's clear lack of response to everything she used to enjoy so much from him. Never before had George had to fake it with John, but this time it was a must. She couldn't let him see what a complete wreck she was these days.
"Stop fighting me," He said as he moved inside her. In answer to this, she wrapped her arms and legs round him, as if to keep her from sliding beneath the dull, gray waters of despair. He could feel an alien energy in her, a desperate calling for some kind of fulfillment, maybe even a return to normality.
Afterwards, as they lay slightly apart, George felt deflated. She was utterly ashamed of herself, first for coming here and propositioning John so blatantly, and second for not enjoying what he'd given her. Hoping he would do the same so as to spare her from having to talk, she turned on her side with her back to him and pulled the duvet over her.
"Tell me why you faked it." His words came out of the darkness and hit her like a slap in the face. She became utterly still.
"I didn't," She replied, but knowing she'd hesitated far too long.
"that may have worked on Lover Boy, but I have far too good a memory of your body's reactions for it to work on me."
"People change, John," Said George quietly, still with her back to him.
"Why not turn over and tell me that with conviction." He was goading her in to talking to him, and afterwards she cursed herself for falling for it.
"Why do you always make me feel so small?" She said, turning over to face him, the anger and mortification clear in both her voice and face.
"I don't do it intentionally," he replied, trying to plicate her.
"Sometimes I just hate not being able to hide anything from you."
"George, talk to me. What was tonight really about?"
"When Neil gave me the biggest shock of my life, cutting myself off from anything I felt was the only way to deal with it. Anger and hurt weren't things I needed or even wanted to acknowledge. That bloody trial really did something to me. I've defended some pretty dubious people in my time, but they were by far the worst." George yawned, suddenly feeling tired and vulnerable. John put his arms round her, seeming to sense her need for a post-coital cuddle, not something she had received from Neil for far too long.
"Sometimes I think that's why he took up with me in the first place," Said George, drowsiness both from the sex and the alcohol she'd consumed earlier creeping in to her voice. "Every time an awkward case came up that the government wanted fixed, he volunteered my services. When Brian Cantwell backed out after only two days, Neil was asked if I would perform. It only took one look at the evidence to know they were as guilty as hell."
"So why keep doing it?"
"It was work, and for all his faults he was company of sorts."
"You really didn't expect him to turn violent, did you."
"No, it totally threw me."
"So, you thought that figuratively running away was the best solution." George laughed softly.
"So says the man whose best defence has always been to walk away."
"Sometimes it's preferable to unwanted complications."
"Oh, like having to stay around long enough to form something resembling a relationship."
"Hey, we're supposed to be talking about you here, not me."
"Once you've run away from something, it's hard to go back."
"Start talking in the first person and we might get somewhere." George sat up in total irritation, for the moment forgetting that she wasn't wearing anything, so giving John a perfect display of her assets.
"Do I have to spell it out for you?" She said in disgust. "When Neil took away every shred of pride and self-esteem I had, it was the easiest thing in the world to stop feeling, to cut myself off from every frightening hurtful thing. You know me better than anyone, and you know that feelings of any kind aren't something I do in vast quantities. Only it never quite works like that does it, because it's impossible to turn off something that persists in eating away at you night and day. I feel so flat, I've got absolutely no mental energy and I've forgotten what it's like to feel good about something." Finally running out of steam, George lay back down.
"I thought as much," John said, knowing that his close proximity to her small but heavy breasts, which had jiggled slightly during her tirade would forever be one of his fondest memories. "But I wanted you to say it."
"I can't stand the way you always do this. You manage to see straight through me, I can't hide one little thing from you."
"It's not my fault you wear your heart on your sleeve, George."
"Don't you get it," Said George, the old bitterness returning to her voice. "I'm drifting quite enough as it is at the moment, and your doing this therapy routine on me makes me feel like I've lost control even more." John put his arms round her, gently running a hand up and down her back in an attempt to calm her down.
"I didn't realise this had got to you so much," John said gently.
"I didn't want you too," Said George miserably, her head laid on his chest. John ran his fingers through her hair. Deciding that George was showing all the signs of clinical depression, but knowing that it was more than his life was worth to voice the thought, he simply held her as she gradually fell asleep.
Waking in the early morning, George lay mulling over everything she'd said last night. She loathed herself for having revealed so much of the situation to John. She knew she was close to cracking up altogether, and she thought he could probably see it too. She watched Mimi, who had crept upstairs probably once the fire had gone out, and who was now sleeping soundly on the end of the bed. Allowing her senses to slowly re-enter the land of the living, George's eyes leisurely wandered round the room. When her gaze reached the table on her side of the bed, she became fully alert. Standing there, staring back at her with what, in her half awake state George perceived as disgust and mockery, was a beautifully framed picture of Jo. George reached out a hand and picked up the photograph, bringing it closer to her ever widening eyes. It was clearly of a much younger Jo. Her hair was longer, half way down her back, and she was sat under the shade of an enormous oak tree. George couldn't work out where it had been taken, but it really was beautiful. Even to George's critical eyes, Jo looked stunning. A wave of guilt swept over George as she stared at this photo of the woman John had always loved. She hadn't once thought of Jo last night, and she doubted John had either. Jo had been really good to her recently, really tried to bury the hatchet, especially after what had happened with Neil. How could she have done this to someone who, after all these years of mutual sniping, was actually ready to forget their differences at a time when George had needed someone to listen. George would never admit it to anyone, but ever since she'd known of Jo's existence, she'd always half envied her. Firstly, Jo had been the woman whom John clearly loved over any other, including her. Secondly, Jo had almost always been calm and collected, which always showed George up for being the one who could never control her tongue. But the one thing that had always eaten away at George, was the fact that Jo had always been the perfect mother. Even though Jo had lost her husband to cancer when her two children were very young, she'd coped, and not just by keeping things on an even keel. Jo had brought up her two children not only single handed but successfully. Whereas she, George, the one who wouldn't actually have had to work for a living if she hadn't wanted too, hadn't even managed to look after her daughter full time. If she was honest with herself, John had always been a far better parent than she ever had. Leaving the photograph on top of the duvet, George slipped silently out of bed, hushing a softly stirring Mimi, and put on her clothes.
"George?" Mumbled John. Ignoring him, George swiftly put on her bra and went downstairs to find her dress and shoes. Half way down the stairs, George turned round to look up at him as he got out of bed to follow her.
"Where are you going?" He asked in the midst of a yawn. Instead of directly answering him, George asked,
"Did you even once think about Jo last night?" Looking slightly mystified, John said,
"No, but neither did you."
"I know," Said George, and the solemn edge of guilt was there for anyone to hear. George turned and walked the rest of the way downstairs and plucked her dress off the back of the chair where John had draped it in the midst of last night's heated passion. Pulling on yesterday's pair of discarded trousers, he followed her.
"What made you think about Jo of all people?" John asked when he appeared in the lounge. George located her shoes and shoved her feet in to them.
"I didn't realise till this morning that we had an audience in the form of her picture."
"Guilt isn't usually one of your vices, George."
"Well, maybe it's about time it was." George picked up her coat and walked out of the door without a backwards glance. Wondering just who this woman was who was suddenly feeling guilty for doing something wrong to someone else after all these years, John walked to the window and watched her move out from under the porch and towards her car. As she roared away and John went upstairs to take a shower, he wondered just what was happening to George. She was incredibly mixed up and he really didn't know the best way to help her. He just prayed that she wasn't about to do what she'd done after Charlie was born.
On the Wednesday afternoon, Karen had done her usual rounds of the wing, and was in her office attempting to assemble September's rate of admissions for the monthly assessment of the rise or hopeful decrease in prison population. It was the first of October, and the yard girls were spending their time sweeping up the fallen leaves of the onset of autumn. But her mind just wasn't on the job today. Ever since she'd left Ashmore yesterday, her thoughts had been with Shell. Little Ronan was the one and only thing that Shell had ever shown a sign of really caring about, and he'd been snatched from her just to keep Fenner and Hedges in a job. Her anger came within degrees of boiling over every time she came in to contact with either of them. She'd kept out of Fenner's way today purely so that she wouldn't subject him to her wrath and so give the game away about where she'd really been yesterday. But she couldn't go on doing that much longer. He was the principal officer on her wing, and deal with him she must. But she would have something to distract her tomorrow. It had been a flash of sheer inspiration that had made her suggest imposing an order of visitation to Larkhall on George, rather than the career-wrecking course of action that John would otherwise have been forced to consider. She briefly grinned to herself when she thought of what reaction George must have had to such news. When Karen had visited George last week, her overall impression was that although George was clearly going through some sort of crisis in her personal life, her professional persona was one of total security. George knew her job and felt utterly in control in her plush, expensive surroundings. But faced with spending a few hours unofficially at Her Majesty's pleasure, she knew that George wouldn't be looking forward to it to say the least. For once, it would be Karen in control, operating on her own territory and George's safety more than anything would be in Karen's hands.
Knowing that with so many conflicting thoughts whizzing round and round in her head that she wouldn't get any more work done that afternoon, Karen switched off her computer and telling her secretary to contact her only if absolutely necessary, she walked out to her car. She hadn't seen Yvonne since the weekend, and thought that a decent hug might just sort her out. She drove the now very familiar route to Yvonne's house, only to see her locking the front door and walking towards the Jag when she turned in to Yvonne's driveway. Yvonne turned and smiled as Karen got out of her car.
"This is a nice surprise," She said, moving towards Karen and kissing her. "To what do I owe the pleasure?"
"Are you on your way out?"
"Yeah, Cassie and Roisin have got to work late, so I said I'd pick Michael and Niamh up from school. Come with me if you like." As Karen locked her car and joined Yvonne in the Jag, she said,
"I wasn't achieving anything useful, and you are far too stunning an incentive for me to skive." Yvonne laughed.
"Don't let Grayling hear you say that."
"He'll have enough to slap my wrist about when he finds out I went to see Dockley yesterday."
"Yeah, but if you'd told him, Fenner would already have a barrister at his disposal, probably paid for by area management." Karen was briefly reminded of the little argument she'd had with Yvonne on the subject of both Jo's and George's fees. One of the things that had almost persuaded Karen against going ahead with her case, was the fact that barrister's fees just weren't something she could afford on even a wing governor's wage. She might have scraped Jo's together, but George being a civil lawyer naturally charged a lot more which would have financially crippled Karen without a second's thought. It took Yvonne a substantial amount of persuasion to get Karen to accept that where this case was concerned, what Karen couldn't afford, Yvonne certainly could. Yvonne pointed out that before her time in Larkhall, she'd have happily illiminated someone like Fenner at the drop of a hat, so why not try it the legal way for a change. After all, hitmen and top barristers did charge similar fees these days. This comparison had made Karen smile, and she had finally accepted Yvonne's help on this.
"I paid some money in to Shell's personal spends today," Karen said after a while.
"I didn't know they had personal spends in a place like Ashmore."
"Oh yeah, for cigarettes and phone cards and everything else the way prison does."
"I guess Dockley doesn't get much help that way."
"That wasn't why I did it. You remember I told you about Fenner's little prostitution racket when I rang you last night? Well, when she was transferred to Ashmore, Fenner cleared out all her possessions but pocketed about two hundred pounds that she'd been saving for her baby. He did it under my very nose and even then, even after everything else, I didn't question the shifty look he had on his face." Yvonne took a hand off the wheel and took hold of one of Karen's.
"You are not responsible for Fenner's light, little fingers."
"I know, but if I'd questioned what he was up too more at the time, maybe Shell wouldn't still be where she is now."
"There's a little self-destructive pattern emerging here," Said Yvonne, slowing at a red light. "Ever since you decided to go ahead with taking Fenner to the cleaners, you seem to have made it your mission to put right every single one of his mistakes, when in actual fact, that is purely and solely for him to do, not you."
"Maybe I'm just trying to put right my part in them."
"I know that, but I think you're seriously overestimating your guilt in Fenner's crimes. He did those things Karen, him, not you. Please will you start believing that."
"Nothing like the odd home truth to brighten up the day," Said Karen drily, but knowing Yvonne was right.
"You wouldn't want me to be any different would you."
"No, not in the slightest. That's one thing that you and George Channing have got in common. You're both determined not to beat around the bush with me, and I like it."
"You've got that fiery little wild card coming to Larkhall tomorrow, haven't you."
"Yeah, I wonder what she'll make of life behind bars, however unofficial and temporary that may be."
"Just keep her out of Al's way. You don't want another death on that wing." Realising Yvonne was being utterly serious, Karen said,
"I'll make it clear to Fenner tomorrow morning to keep McKenzy out of the way. I don't think she'd take too kindly to seeing Snowball's barrister on her territory."
They pulled in to the school carpark and got out to stand with all the other waiting adults.
"It feels odd doing this again," Observed Karen.
"I do it quite often when neither Cassie nor Roisin can," replied Yvonne. There came a surge of children ranging from age five to eleven, all crowding out of the front doors. A seven-year-old girl detached herself from the group and ran towards them.
"Auntie Yvonne," She called, clearly pleased to see her mother's substitute. Niamh ran straight in to Yvonne's outstretched arms and hugged her. Yvonne seemed to take great pleasure in holding the small body to her for a moment.
"Where's Michael?" Asked Yvonne.
"He's just getting his football boots," Said Niamh. A few minutes later they saw Roisin's ten-year-old son strolling nonchalantly towards them, a blue duffel bag clutched in his hand.
"Hi Yvonne," He said, coming up to them.
"He says it's not cool to call you auntie anymore," Said Niamh confidentially. Yvonne laughed and Karen grinned.
"He can call me what he likes, as long as it's polite," Said Yvonne, leading them towards the car. Michael's eyes lit up when he saw the Jag.
"I'm going to have one of these when I grow up," He told Karen.
"Yes, so am I," Replied Karen, giving Michael a conspiratorial wink. Niamh suddenly turned to face Karen, as if remembering something.
"Didn't you used to look after my mummy and Cassie when they were in prison?" She asked, with all the abruptness of any child who didn't entirely grasp the need for tact and diplomacy.
"Yes, I did," Said Karen, not sure how this would be taken. But Niamh simply turned back to Yvonne and walked with her to the car. It had clearly only been a point of enquiry, nothing for the little girl to worry herself about. When they were in the car and driving back to Yvonne's, Michael dug a book out of his bag and began to read.
"He's reading Harry Potter," Filled in Niamh.
"Didn't the fifth one of those come out earlier this year?" Said Karen.
"Yeah," Said Michael scornfully, "But mum's only just let me start reading the first one. she says I can't read either the fourth or the fifth till I'm at least fourteen. That's ages away!" Karen and Yvonne exchanged a smile at the thought that they would happily return to the age when fourteen was a milestone far in to the future.
"Lauren's going out with Cassie and Roisin on Saturday night and I've got the wonderful pleasure of Michael and Niamh for company. Do you fancy helping me babysit?" Karen smiled.
"I don't see why not."
"Are you good at reading stories?" Asked Niamh.
"I haven't read a story for a long time," Replied Karen, "But I could give it a try."
"Mummy and Cassie are good at the voices, but Yvonne's better." Karen laughed.
"I'll have to see what I can do," She said, thinking that if the rest of her life was as simple as keeping Roisin's children happy for a few hours, she could live in blissful ignorance for ever.
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