DISCLAIMER: All the characters used within this story are the property of either Shed Productions or the BBC. We are using them solely to explore our creative abilities.
AUTHORS' NOTE: All forensic evidence has been created with the assistance of the American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology, the European Journal of Trauma and many of Patricia Cornwell's novels.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the authors.
A Question Of Guilt
By Kristine and Richard
When they all reconvened in the public gallery for the afternoon's session, George could feel her nerves beginning to hum, like the strings of a violin being tuned to expert precision, ready to take part in a work by Mahler or Wagner, any music that might at any moment pour a whole load of emotions down upon her. She inwardly cursed herself for thinking she could do this. Both John and Jo were far better at dealing with hurt and angry people than she was. They knew how to be sympathetic, how to offer comfort and more importantly, to recognise when neither was wanted. But that was tough, she thought resignedly. Neither John nor Jo are here and you are, so deal with it. Karen had noticed how tense George had become, but being able to attribute no reason to it, she put it to the back of her mind. But George wasn't the only one to feel a sense of nervous anticipation. After having given her opening speech, Jo was quietly collecting her thoughts, ready to defend her client to the death. Well, perhaps not quite that far, but that's how it felt. John also had not been able to relax over lunch. He had paced the length and breadth of his chambers, annoying Coope to distraction.
"Is something wrong, Judge?" She had finally been forced to ask.
"Have you ever felt like you've really betrayed a friend?" He asked.
"Why?" Coope asked without giving him an answer.
"Oh, no reason," He replied, not wanting to share all the details with her, feeling that even to his ears it sounded stupid. But when he walked in to court and sat down behind the Judge's bench, he offered up a silent prayer that the shock wouldn't be too great for Karen.
"Professor Ryan," Neumann Mason-Alan began. "Would you tell the court, exactly what you did and what your first impressions were when you received James Fenner's body?" As Sam Ryan began to speak, John reflected that someone as pretty as her really shouldn't be doing something quite so horrific for a job, and that her beautiful Irish lilt certainly didn't belong in a court room discussing what had killed one of the most loathsome men he'd ever encountered.
"It is part of normal procedure for a forensic pathologist to x-ray any corpse that comes in to his or her possession, before beginning the postmortem. This is to identify whether there are any foreign objects concealed within any internal organs, that an initial external examination might not reveal. This is usually done as a precaution to warn the pathologist of any sharp objects they may encounter. The initial x-ray I did on James Fenner showed a bullet to be lodged in his spine, approximately just under the naval."
"This will be shown later, My Lord," Put in Neumann Mason-Alan.
"I then collected any visible fibres and other debris from his clothes. This mostly consisted of soil particles from the ground where he was buried. Once I'd removed his clothes, I found the entrance wound of his gunshot injury. As I'd suspected by the position of the bullet in his spine, James Fenner was shot in the region of his navel. On further examination, I was able to ascertain that this wasn't a contact injury."
"How can you be certain of that?" Neumann Mason-Alan asked.
"There was no gun residue on the surrounding tissue, there was no muzzle mark on the skin, and if this type of bullet had been fired at such close range, it would have passed straight through the body, not lodged itself in his spine." At this point, Neumann Mason-Alan moved to stand in front of an overhead projector, which had yet again been forced to take a part in a trial inside the ancient structure of the Old Bailey. Picking up Fenner's x-ray film from the evidence bench, he switched the projector on, waited for it to warm up, and then placed the film under the light source so that it was projected on to the blank wall of the court. Karen hadn't wanted to look, but like everyone else in the gallery, Marilyn included, she found her gaze inexorably drawn to the intricate design of Fenner's skeleton. Clearly lodged in the lower half of his spine, was a tiny cylindrical bullet. Professor Ryan continued.
"The bullet is sitting at L5, or in the fifth lumbar bone, in the superior or upper bone of the Lumbar Sacral junction. From the moment he was shot, James Fenner would not have been able to feel anything below this point. He would have had absolutely no sensation in his lower body whatsoever. If he was standing when he was shot, which I suspect he was, he would have ended up in either a sitting or a lying position, thoroughly incapable of getting to his feet or of using his legs in any way. This would have seriously impaired Mr. Fenner when it came to defending himself from further assault." Neumann removed Fenner's x-ray film from the overhead projector, but left it switched on, showing that there were more pictures to come. He returned to the evidence bench and picked up something in a transparent bag. Holding it up to the light, he said,
"Members of the jury, sealed in this evidence bag, is the bone of James Fenner's spine which originally contained the bullet. During your eventual deliberations, I would like you to look closely at this piece of evidence, keeping in mind the small whole it contains. I would like you to think to yourselves what sort of impairment this injury would have caused Mr. Fenner, and to further consider how he would or would not have been able to defend himself with such an injury." When Neumann had announced to all and sundry what he had in his hand, there had been a quiet gasp from Marilyn. Karen looked over at her with sympathy, but not knowing what, if anything, she could say to her.
"Now, Professor Ryan," Neumann continued. "Would you describe James Fenner's gunshot injury."
"James Fenner had been shot at fairly close range, by a nine millimetre Remmington cartridge, the bullet passing through the abdominal tissue to lodge itself in the spine. This injury was not James Fenner's primary cause of death. If nothing else had been done to him, he would have eventually bled to death, though this could have taken anything up to a few hours."
"How can you be certain that this wasn't his cause of death?"
"On its journey through James Fenner's body, the bullet struck neither the iliac arteries, which supply the small intestine, nor any of the renal vessels, the veins and arteries leading to his kidneys."
"Why wasn't this the case?"
"Unless the person who shot Mr. Fenner had known exactly where to aim, they would not have been able to pinpoint any exact target."
"And why did the bullet become lodged in Mr. Fenner's spine, instead of passing straight through his body?"
"Two things could account for this. One being the distance the killer was standing from him when the gun was fired, and the second being the extensive amount of scar tissue present in the area of the wound. James Fenner had, I understand, been stabbed on a previous occasion, and it was the scar tissue both from this injury and the surgery performed to repair this wound that I believe slowed the bullet in its tracks. I couldn't possibly prove it," Sam continued carefully, knowing she was treading a very thin line. "But I believe it is possible that James Fenner's killer might have known fairly precise details of his previous injury." Jo rose to her feet with a look of fury on her face.
"My Lord, this is an unsupportable assertion and should be struck from the record."
"Mr. Mason-Alan," John said seriously. "I do hope you have evidence to back up this claim."
"I do, My Lord," Neumann replied smugly, picking up an envelope of photographs from the evidence bench. Moving back over to the projector, he removed two specific pictures from the packet.
"This picture, My Lord and members of the jury," Neumann began, with the weighty tone of someone about to deliver the Nobel prize, "Is a photograph taken from Mr. Fenner's medical records of the resulting scar from both the stabbing and the surgery to repair it." Karen looked in sheer horror at the picture of Fenner's torso, displayed to life-size proportions by the magnification of the projector on the wall of the court. It looked so real. The sight of such a familiar part of Fenner brought back a host of memories to her, but one in particular insisted on raising its ugly head. She could recall it like it was yesterday. It had been on Jim's first day back at work. He'd followed her round all day, persuading, cajoling, and finally succeeding in getting her to talk to him about their relationship. He'd eventually cornered her in her office. She saw herself, as if from a bird's eye view, taking off her jacket and dropping it to the floor, Jim taking off his tie and casting it aside, she unbuttoning his shirt... Feeling the bile suddenly rising in her throat, Karen knew she had to get out of there.
When Karen hurriedly rose from her seat and squeezed her way passed her, George took in the deathly pallor, the expression on Karen's face that could only be described as haunted. George sat for a moment, slightly stunned. Just why had a picture of Fenner's scar made Karen react like that?
"Is she all right?" Nikki asked her in a whisper.
"I'll go and see," George replied, remembering that this was why she was there in the first place. As she walked up the isle between the seats on either side, she was aware of Neumann Mason-Alan saying that the picture he was now showing was a photograph of Fenner's corpse, specifically his gunshot wound. Heartily grateful that she hadn't had to look at this, George walked out of court. When she came to the top of the stairs, she saw that Karen had already descended them and was striding purposefully across the foyer. Putting on a spurt, George ran down the stairs, jumped the last two steps, and briefly skidded on the tiled floor, landing in the waiting arms of Michael Nivin.
"Where are you off to in such a hurry?" He asked her, making sure she was standing securely on her feet before letting go of her.
"Sorry, Michael, can't stop. You didn't see a tall blonde woman heading off anywhere did you?"
"She looked like she was heading in the direction of the Ladies'. Why?"
"Because I'm supposed to be looking after her and I don't think I'm making a very good job of it."
"Forgive me for saying this, George, but you don't strike me as the looking after people type."
"Yes, thank you, Michael, I'm well aware of that. John asked me to do it." This wasn't strictly true but doing something for John would call for far less notice than doing a favour for Jo.
"Isn't he overseeing the Atkins trial?"
"Yes, and the victim's one time lover has just found out how he died. Michael, what am I supposed to do? You know me, I don't do sympathy."
"Then it sounds like it's time for you to start." Giving him a quick peck on the cheek, George left him and walked towards the ladies'.
Having thankfully had complete privacy in which to lose her entire stomach contents, Karen was splashing her face with cold water when George appeared.
"Are you all right?" George asked, mentally kicking herself for the inanity of the question.
"No, not really," Said Karen, praying that she wasn't about to throw up again. She could remember the feel of Fenner's very male skin on her fingers as she'd traced the length of his scar. But the memory that had caused such a violent reaction was of herself, the woman she looked at in the mirror every day, kissing that scar, actually putting her full, tasting lips against where Dockley had thrust her bottle.
"I need a cigarette," Karen said in to the silence.
"Well, I'm afraid that the new no smoking signs aren't just for show," Said George in disgust.
"Then out in the rain it is," Replied Karen, taking a quick glance out the window.
"I can do better than that," George said with sudden inspiration as she dug her car keys out of her handbag. "My car will always be friendly to addicts." As they walked out of the court building, through the pouring rain to George's car, Karen had time to put two and two together. It hadn't just been a coincidence that George had been there in the public gallery, George had been there to deal with a reaction like this one.
When they were seated in George's car with the heater running, Karen reached for her cigarettes and then realised that she'd left her handbag up in the public gallery. George held out her own and they both lit up.
"That was why you were here, wasn't it," Karen stated flatly.
"Yes, partly," George replied, not knowing any other way of dealing with this rather than to be honest.
"Who asked you to be there?" Karen asked, not quite knowing why this was important.
"Jo did. She came to see me on Saturday and," She searched for the right words, "Filled me in so to speak." Considering what had actually happened to Fenner, this hadn't been her best choice of vocabulary.
"But neither Jo nor John, because I'm assuming he knew about this, could possibly have known that seeing a life-size photo of Fenner's scar would affect me like that, which makes me further assume that there's a lot more that I would have learnt had I stayed." Briefly thinking that Karen had definitely been spending too much time with John, George also realised that Karen still didn't know the half of it and that she, George, would have to fill in the details.
"Seeing that picture made you remember something, didn't it," She said, for the moment avoiding answering Karen's question, which in itself was as good as an answer.
"You could say that," Said Karen with a shudder.
"What was it?" George gently probed.
"Trust me," Said Karen decisively. "You really don't want to know."
"Perhaps not," conceded George. "But there isn't much about you and Fenner that I don't already know. So try me."
"When he was stabbed, and during the investigation that followed, Helen discovered, possibly from Yvonne, that I was sleeping with Fenner. Probably because of this, and because of the slightly irrational way I dealt with his hostage situation, I told him I wanted to cool things for a while. But this was Fenner after all, and he doesn't take no for an answer. The day he came back to work, he kept trying to talk to me, and I kept avoiding him. But Fenner has this way of getting under your skin so that you end up going along with exactly what he wants." Karen suddenly seemed to realise that she was talking in the present tense instead of the past, as if Fenner was still alive. Giving herself a mental shake, she continued. "Most of the inmates and the rest of the officers were having a Pool competition. We went up to my office. We ended up screwing on the floor of my office. You know how it is," She said with a shrug. "The threat of discovery can turn even a nun in to a raging torrent of lust. What I remembered," She said very slowly. "Was kissing his scar." Taking in a deep, contemplative breath, George attempted to keep her face rigidly blank but failed spectacularly. "I did warn you that you wouldn't want to know," Said Karen dryly. "It was just one of those things," She went on, "One of those things you push to the back of your mind because there's absolutely no reason to remember it, and then some prosecuting barrister flashes up a picture without any warning, and there you are, a complete emotional wreck." She said these last two words with such self-loathing that George winced.
Back in court, Neumann Mason-Alan had finished illustrating the fact that Fenner had been shot in the area of the lower end of his scar, which meant that John was forced to allow the assertion that Fenner's killer might have known details of his stab wound.
"Professor Ryan," He continued. "Please would you explain to the court, the exact nature of James Fenner's primary cause of death?"
"When I excised Mr. Fenner's lungs, their insides were liberally speckled with soil. this told me that after he was shot, James Fenner was buried alive." There rose a murmur of voices from the public gallery. Nikki and Roisin exchanged looks, both having been told by Yvonne and Lauren respectively what had happened on that fateful day. Nikki found herself looking over at Fenner's ex-wife, who had tears running unheeded down her cheeks. "I can be one hundred percent certain of this," Sam Ryan continued, raising her voice slightly over the murmur of voices. "Because James Fenner's lungs could not possibly have contained any foreign substance unless it had been breathed in by him. As his oxygen supply decreased, his lungs would have worked increasingly harder to secure an adequate air supply. This in turn would have caused the collapse of the alveolar framework, the overlapping of the alveolar septa and resulting in very little if any oxygenated blood reaching the heart."
"Professor Ryan," Interjected the Judge. "Perhaps you would be good enough to explain this process in language that the jury can understand. I believe that you are the only person in this court so familiar with the medical terminology you are using so liberally."
"I was just about to ask the same, My Lord," Put in Neumann Mason-Alan, hating it when this particular judge intervened.
"If I might have leave to illustrate this, My Lord," Sam Ryan's voice crept over his senses. "It may make it easier for the jury to understand."
"Be my guest," He said with a smile. Walking over to the overhead projector, Sam picked up a blank sheet of acetate and a pen and began to draw a picture of a pair of lungs.
"The trachea, or the windpipe, begins at the throat, and goes down until it branches to left and right, forming the bronchus tubes," She said, drawing them in to place. "These two branches then form even smaller branches called the bronchioles, which in turn lead to the alveoli, or ducts and air sacs. In James Fenner's case, there was a considerable amount of soil on the lining of his trachea, his bronchus tubes and the bronchioles. This clearly illustrates a desperate attempt by the lungs to breathe in oxygenated air. When his air supply became greatly diminished, he began decompensating. His lungs would have begun to breathe quicker and quicker, with a rapidly decreasing supply of oxygen. A lack of oxygenated air, together with the presence of a foreign substance inside his lungs, would have caused the collapse of the alveoli, the ducts and air sacs, and an overlap of the alveolar septa or partitions between the air sacs." Sam had said all this in the tone of one giving a lecture, which John suspected she did on a regular basis. "Does that explain things more clearly, My Lord?" She asked.
"I am much obliged, Professor Ryan," John replied, giving her his most chivalrous smile.
"Professor Ryan," Neumann Mason-Alan said, clearly glad to regain the reins of his case. "The last detail that I would like you to explain to the court, is what you did just prior to the removal of James Fenner's lungs."
"Before I excised James Fenner's lungs, I was able to ascertain that his laryngeal nerve was still intact. If it had been damaged in any way, by either a blow to the throat or a stab wound, Mr. Fenner would have had considerable difficulty in shouting for help. The fact that the nerve that directly controlled his voice box was still in tact, means that he ought to have been able to shout for help at any time during his abduction."
"And can you make a suggestion as to why this did not take place?" Asked Neumann with all the stealth of a cat. But Jo hurriedly rose to her feet.
"My Lord, it is not Professor Ryan's area of expertise to make assumptions as to the victim's lack of verbal response."
"Not quite how I would have put it, Mrs. Mills," Said John mildly. "Though I do take your point. Mr. Mason-Alan, any speculation as to why James Fenner did or did not attempt to draw attention to his situation is not for Professor Ryan to comment on. That question will be struck from the record."
"But My Lord," Mason-Alan persisted. "Surely that suggests that he knew his killer and that he either didn't expect her to go through with her threat, or that he was far too scared to put up a fight."
"Fenner, scared?" muttered Nikki in the public gallery. "That'll be the day."
"Mr. Mason-Alan, that will do," John said firmly. "You have been in my court less than a day and already you are pushing my patience. I would caution you on pushing it further. Is that clear?"
"Crystal clear, My Lord," He said with a scowl. "No further questions."
George and Karen had smoked in companionable silence for a while after Karen had related the details of what had made her flee from court.
"Do you know what's really stupid about all this," Karen said after some thoughtful contemplation. "I've known the reasons behind what Lauren did pretty much ever since she killed him, but I've never actually followed it to its logical conclusion. Everything about this case, one way or another comes back to me."
"I don't think it's quite that simple," Replied George, thinking she could see where this was going.
"So Jo didn't give you all the details then?"
"Only what she thought I needed to know."
"Which you have yet to tell me," Answered Karen quietly.
"If you had stayed in court long enough," George said with an air of finality in her tone. "You would have heard that Lauren Atkins' bullet wasn't what killed him."
"So what did?"
"He was buried alive," Said George, feeling like she'd just removed the pin of a handgrenade but had neglected to throw it out of harm's reach.
"Jesus Christ," Said Karen meditatively. George simply waited. "And Yvonne couldn't tell me."
"To give Yvonne her due," Said George fairly. "I don't think she has told anyone exactly what her daughter did. Jo tried to get her to tell you, but she couldn't."
"How long has John known about this?"
"Only since the weekend."
"So that we're quits," Said Karen, attempting to get off the subject of Fenner's actual cause of death. "Lauren killed Fenner because the last letter Ritchie wrote to her, on the night he died, asked her to. It was Ritchie's way of making up for the way he'd used me to get Snowball's gun in to Larkhall."
"Typical Ritchie Atkins logic," Said George in half amazement half resigned acceptance. "Slightly askew from everyone else's." Karen briefly smiled.
"You got to know him quite well in those ten days, didn't you."
"More than I realised at the time, yes."
"But you see now why I appear to be at the centre of all this."
"Darling, it won't do you any good to think about it like that," George said emphatically, barely noticing that she'd called Karen darling.
"If I hadn't slept with Ritchie, he'd very likely have still been alive and he wouldn't have asked Lauren to do something so reckless and stupid."
"Karen, listen to me," George said sternly though with a hint of sadness in her voice. "If Fenner hadn't forced himself on you in the first place, then you very likely wouldn't have gone looking for a bit of rough from Ritchie Atkins. One might even call what happened to Fenner poetic justice. Blaming yourself is pointless, trust me. I've done self-recrimination since before my daughter was born, and I can promise you it gets you absolutely bloody nowhere."
"Just answer me one thing," Karen said, having taken a moment to calm down slightly. "When I asked you earlier if this was why you were here, you said partly. What was the other reason you were here?" George had been caught completely off guard, and now she stared at Karen, not having the faintest idea how to explain why she would have been there whether Jo had asked her or not. But she eventually bit the bullet, knowing that to give Karen anything less than a completely honest answer wouldn't be fair.
"I, erm, I would have been here today in any case," She began slowly, "Because I knew without doubt that you would be here. As adolescent as it sounds, I couldn't quite resist the opportunity of seeing you again." The soft, incredibly pretty blush that rose to George's cheeks, left Karen in no uncertain terms precisely aware of George's motive.
"Wow," Karen couldn't help saying in gentle amazement. "I certainly didn't expect that as a reply."
"And I didn't expect I would actually be saying it," George said, looking slightly shell-shocked. "But for once in my life, honesty seemed to be the best policy." A little while later, they saw a crowd of people emerging through the front doors of the court, signifying that court had been adjourned for the day.
"I'd better go," Karen said, half regretfully, knowing that talking to George had done her a surprising amount of good. "Thank you for being here," She said, briefly touching George's hand. "And thank you for being honest with me, about a lot of things." As George watched Karen walk back towards the building, she felt like a weight had been lifted from her shoulders. For over a year she'd thought about Karen, wondering what it would be like to see her again, to talk to her again, and now here she was. She hadn't just seen Karen and talked to her, she'd actually dropped her barriers long enough to finally get off her chest what she'd been thinking about ever since Jo had told her she was taking on the Lauren Atkins case.
Nikki was the last in the line of the spectators in the gallery waiting to shuffle along the narrow space between the long bench and the balcony when her sharp eye spotted Karen's handbag. She grabbed it and queued up the flight of stairs to the door at the back.
"Thanks, Nikki, for keeping your eyes open."
"Is everyone up for a drink?" Nikki asked.
"I'm sorry, I've got someone to see but, another time I will," Came the polite reply.
As the crowd moved off, she looked over her shoulder and saw Karen striding off in a determined fashion towards the corridor that led to the judge's chambers.
"Same pub as before. This looks like being our regular," Yvonne directed them.
These words struck a chord with Nikki in indicating a long timespan ahead of them, which was something new to her. It was lucky that Trisha's previous experience of two years visiting Nikki at Larkhall had caused her to loathe Fenner and, for once, wasn't kicking up at having to run the club by herself.
"I must say, this is more enjoyable than making polite conversation at a vicarage tea party," Babs said enthusiastically.
At this time of day, the dark was closing down on London and the streetlights were starting to come alive just as the working London population were crowding their way into the overloaded claustrophobic tube stations. There was every reason for them to chill out quite apart from drinking the heady spirits of the "class of Larkhall" sorority reunion. Passers by scuttled on their straight line journeys to destinations homewards and saw nothing out of the corners of their eye other than a group of smartly dressed women heading someplace else.
Nikki and Yvonne commandeered a large table while Cassie, Roisin and Babs went to the long wooden bar to get in the first round.
"You've done this sort of thing before?" Nikki enquired.
"Yeah," Yvonne exhaled the words with the first drag of a much needed cigarette. "This was the best bit of when we were there for when that murdering tart, Snowball Merriman, helped by my son, blew up Larkhall library to spring her out of prison. She was in for trying to smuggle a truck load of Bolivian marching powder through customs."
"The library? Jesus, some of my happier hours were spent there. I remember reading about it in the papers. Snowball Merriman, is she for real with a name like that."
That shocked and angered her as she tried to imagine all that accumulated store of learning, even if some of it was second rate being wiped out in a single act of destruction. She had a real reverence for the written word. There, too, had been the art room where she and Helen had first declared their physical love for each other. That was holy ground to them, which no amount of physical rebuilding could properly restore.
"Believe you me, Nikki," Yvonne's face darkened. "She was no joke ..First my son in the dock and now my daughter."
Nikki impulsively put her arm round Yvonne's shoulders, as she knew how much her family meant to her, starting with her Charlie at one time. That sort of deep family bond was beyond her experience but not beyond her ability to sympathise with someone else's troubles.
"What do you think of George?" Nikki asked to get her mind off her troubles.
"It's really strange, as we've seen her before as I told you earlier. If she had asked to join us for a drink last time round, I would have spat in her eye and told her to go hang around her stuck up friends. She's really changed. Try and imagine Charlotte Middleton twenty years on, pushy, hard faced and doesn't give a shit about anyone who was 'beneath her'. She's become sort of nicer, more human and dead nervous of us. It really mattered to her that we were going to be friendly when once, she would never have given us the time of day. She's all right," Yvonne finished in her laconic way.
They stretched out in the comfortable pub chairs, able to ease the aches and pains of long hours sitting on hard benches and tired from close concentration from following the trial.
"Cheers, Cassie," as a glass of white wine was held out in front of them.
"Talking about George, I didn't know that they made female barristers like that. She's totally gorgeous. I could really fancy a woman like that."
"Cassie's always like that, Babs, if you remember," laughed Roisin who knew that Cassie, when not being the mum, had a reputation to maintain and was not backward in expressing her open admiration of the female form.
Babs felt a strange sensation coming back here. She had married Henry and had settled down in a quiet village on the outskirts of London, and immersed herself in the blissful peace of the countryside with ancient thatched cottages, little shops and the fifteenth century stone church with stained glassed windows. Part of it attracted her as this time around with Henry, she could live without that lurking fear of discovery, which had marred her otherwise blissful life with her late husband Peter. She had felt married to him but she knew Peter's vindictive and spiteful children by his first marriage would not see matters the same way. Her fears had become concrete in the way that they mercilessly delivered her into the hands of the police for what she knew God would forgive as an act of mercy. Now, all the ghosts of the past were laid and those utter hypocrites had sulked off into the sunset forever out of her life. Yet a corner of her mind had never forgotten the razor edged excitement of those companions of her strange times at Larkhall. Even when her fingers delicately pressed the ancient black and white keys of the church organ and the reflective sustained chords filled out the huge space above and around her and inside her soul, flickers of memories came back to bless her. She loved Henry's gently Christian beliefs, which gently reasoned him to ensure that she kept faith with those who were dear to her and trusted to her good sense. It let her have her holiday on her own without any hidden and misplaced possessiveness. He knew as he had been there also. At moments like those, she could sit back and happily listen to conversations, which were somewhat different from the polite conversation of vicarage tea parties.
"But she's straight," Yvonne said, the first time in her life that she used the word to draw distinctions.
"That's a load of bollocks," Nikki judged with a practised eye. "She doesn't know it yet but she'll wake up and find out different. Take it from me."
"But she used to be married to the judge. It ain't possible," Yvonne reasoned.
"So? You used to be married to Charlie, didn't you."
Yvonne shook her head in wonder. Living with Charlie seemed to be a very long time ago except that the bastard still haunted her through the way Ritchie and then Lauren lived their lives. Lauren was always the sensible one, the one who saw through Charlie earlier than she had, the one whom she was most hopeful of breaking with their past, until that night where that image of Lauren swinging her gun casually still haunted her dreams.
"How's the trial going so far?" Yvonne dared to ask. "It ain't easy sitting in a waiting room imagining what's going on. Cassie's great in trying to make me laugh though."
"It's early days, Yvonne but I would lay good money that the judge is one of the good ones even if he did have his eye on me as someone who was likely to cause trouble ."
" as if, Nikki," Yvonne managed a faint smile.
"Did he really have George banged up for contempt of court?" Nikki asked in half puzzled, half-admiring tones. "That's ten out of ten for style. I didn't think that judges did that sort of thing, not even the best of them."
"She's even gobbier than you, Nikki, if that is possible," Was Yvonne's very accurate comparison.
"This judge would have anyone banged up but only if they deserved it. Yvonne actually got cautioned by him and I wasn't far behind her. I suppose being out of the court will keep me out of trouble. Tell you what, Nikki, if you behave yourself, you might set a good example for me when I get to sit in the gallery."
That outrageously improbable line from Cassie was the other thing that pulled Yvonne out of her dark mood. She didn't say anything but her head turned sharply round to face her and just looked at her with that disbelieving smile at the corner of her lips.
"We'll have a couple of us to keep us in line, Karen and Helen from Wednesday when she gets time off. You know, two strong Wing Governors to keep the old lags in order."
"Are you sure that they won't be worse than the rest of us? You know, all those years of having to be the good girl might just make them go wild once they're let off the leash?" teased Cassie.
Nikki dug an elbow into Cassie's ribs to shut her up. The other woman was worse than she was and she had never thought that one was possible.
"So how's it gone so far apart from that?" Yvonne asked anxiously. It was obvious that she was deeply worried about Lauren now the time of the trial had come and the limbo period had ended. The fact that Lauren's future, her life was in the balance made her fret so that her mind had got one track that it would run. The others understood and respected that feeling.
"It's funny but last time I was, we were here, I wanted so much to see the judge send Ritchie down for a good long stretch together with that murdering tart Merriman. Now I want more than anything to see Lauren beat this rap but they are both my kids. It don't make sense."
"Of course we understand," Roisin's Irish lilt emphasised how heartfelt were her words. "We know our children are younger than yours but I get worried sometimes when they aren't around us as to what might be happening to them, especially when they were with Aiden and his precious mother."
"Michael can be a perfect spoiled brat at times," added Cassie while Roisin smiled at the way those words described Cassie as she used to be. "But even after a bloody big row, I can't stop loving him. Of course, when they become teenagers .." Cassie shuddered, remembering what a hormonal, gobby teenager she had been and wondering how she would manage on the receiving end of temper tantrums.
"I'm afraid the parent child bit is a bit beyond me," Nikki smiled gently. "When I was thirteen, fourteen, I was that terrible teenager, the despair of my parents but, then again when I was outed as a lesbian when I was sixteen and was kicked out of boarding school, it was a case of goodbye parents, hello big wide world. I didn't have a lot of choice about that one."
"I came out at twelve," Replied the very precocious Cassie very smugly.
"What a smart arse," Nikki joked back at her and the conversation flowed its way ever onwards.
The evening wore on surprisingly decorously considering. Despite appearances otherwise, all of them were going to get into a routine of not getting pissed and no late nights. They all knew that this was going to be a very gruelling experience, sitting up in the visitor's gallery emotionally hanging on the ups and downs of the trial. The sheer mental concentration was going to be bad enough without having to go up on the stand. By now, Yvonne had a lot of experience of this but this wasn't going to make it any easier this time around than it would for Cassie's one experience of being in the dock. Perhaps even if they had tried to get plastered, something within each of them would have found it impossible to fully let go.
"See you in the morning, Yvonne."" Love you." "Be strong." The ragged chorus of encouragement as they made their separate ways from outside the pub when the streets of London were wide open and dark and cold took them all back to the time in their lives when these words were sent like prayers out of their narrow prison windows high up and barred from the outside world, the night calls out into the air which practice carried them to their destination.
Tears came to Yvonne's eyes at the friends who were with her. It didn't occur to her to tell her she was being soft.
When Karen had parted from the others who were clearly set on finding the nearest pub, she walked back up the marble staircase, passed the door to the public gallery, and along the well-remembered route to John's chambers. It hadn't been unknown over the last year for either her to come here or him to visit her at Larkhall, both feeling very much at ease in each other's workspace. The rain was still pounding at the window panes and she caught glimpses of cars fighting to get out of the carpark. She was surprised to find herself thinking that this building and Larkhall really did have something in common. No matter how bad the weather, or how terrible the things might be that were discussed inside them, they were as sturdy and reliable as a rock. The people who worked in them might not be, but the buildings themselves could stand up to any storm. She glanced at herself briefly in a mirror just to make sure she still looked presentable and knocked on the door of John's chambers. His call of "Come in," sounded as reassuringly calm and confident as ever. When she pushed open the door, he was seated behind his desk, drinking a cup of tea and reading the paper.
"Have I come at a bad time?" Karen asked as she walked in to the room.
"No, not at all," He said, getting up and coming towards her. "I was waiting for you."
"Am I that predictable?" She asked, the smile not quite reaching her eyes.
"No," He said, closing the door behind her. "You nearly always manage to surprise me."
"But not today it seems," She said dully.
"Not by your visit, no," He said, pouring them both a scotch and sitting down next to her on the sofa. "I thought I might be seeing you before the end of the day. Though I had expected you to be cross with me." Karen took a grateful sip of her scotch.
"What would be the point?" She said. "It's not your fault you have to abide by rules of case confidentiality. The same goes for Jo. The irony is that the reason George was asked to be in the public gallery wasn't what made me walk out of court."
"Ah, now that did surprise me," He said. "I had no idea seeing a photograph of Michelle Dockley's handiwork would have made you react like that."
"No one could have known. There's no way even I would have known that would happen."
"So, why did that photograph make you leave the public gallery quicker than anyone I've ever seen?"
"I've explained that one already today," she said mildly. "And once in one day is quite enough."
"If I hadn't managed to blackmail the case away from Legover, I'd have been up there with you."
"That would have caused a stir," She said with a smile. "But the thought is appreciated. I really came to see you because I've been told that the way I feel about this case is pointless, and I know that from you I'll get an honest, unvarnished opinion." John laughed.
"Well, I hope I can be a little more tactful than that."
"That's the point," She said with a smile. "I don't want you to be. I know that if I am barking up the wrong tree, you'll tell me, and that if I'm absolutely right, you won't try to soften the blow."
"Okay, but please remember that there's only so much about this case I am allowed to discuss."
"Everything, about why Lauren did what she did, about why Ritchie asked her to do it, comes back to me." John got to his feet and began walking slowly round the room, his brows knitted in concentration. He took a tangerine from the bowl of fruit on Coope's desk, dropping the peel in the waste paper basket and giving a piece of the fruit to a drooling Mimi. Karen simply watched him, knowing that this was his way of buying himself some time to marshal his thoughts.
"I can see why you've arrived at that conclusion," He said eventually. "But I don't agree with it. Yes, Ritchie Atkins might have initially asked his sister to remove Fenner from the picture because of what Fenner did to you, and he might have done this as a way of making up for the way he'd used you, but that's really only part of it." Finishing the tangerine, he sat back down and put an arm round her. "It is not your fault that Lauren Atkins is up on a charge of murder," He said slowly and deliberately. "And it is not your fault that Yvonne might be about to watch her daughter receive a life sentence."
"You know me too well," Karen said, a little self-conscious at how clearly he could read her mind.
"Only after a lot of practice," He said gently. The smell of the orange reminded Karen that her stomach was now far too empty.
"Seeing as I can no longer smoke in here," She said with a slight glower. "Do you think Coope will mind if I steal one of her oranges?"
"I'm always doing it," John said with a smile. "So I doubt she'll notice." Karen ended up sharing half her tangerine with Mimi, the big brown eyes making her feel unutterably guilty.
"She'll have you wrapped round her little finger," John commented.
"Well, if she can succeed with you, I suppose she can with anyone."
"I do hope George was nice to you," John said with a slightly worried expression.
"Of course," Karen said in amusement. "She is perfectly capable of being tactful and sensitive when she wants to be, you know."
"Yes," He said dryly. "I still have to remind myself of that sometimes."
"We started talking about self-recrimination of all things, and she said something quite odd. She said that blaming myself was pointless and that she would know because it was something she'd done since before Charlie was born." John's eyes widened in surprise.
"That's progress," He said in complete astonishment. "George never talks about that except under duress. It's one of the forbidden topics of conversation that only ever gets discussed when absolutely necessary. Jo and I must at last be having some effect."
"What was she talking about?" John became serious.
"Get to know her a lot better, and she might just tell you," He replied, thinking that a friendship between George and Karen wouldn't do either of them any harm. They sat and talked for a while longer, John having an arm round her and Karen with her head on his shoulder. Perhaps because of their one night together all those months ago, they could be close like this, taking simple, friendly comfort from each other's presence. Karen made an effort not to talk any more about the case, knowing that John had to remain as impartial as possible. But after about half an hour of this, they were interrupted by a knock on the door. On John's instruction to enter, the extremely unwelcome forms of Sir Ian Rochester and Lawrence James were revealed in the doorway. John had made absolutely no effort to withdraw his arm from Karen, and Sir Ian's initial view was of John, sitting on his couch extremely close to a tall, blonde, very attractive woman who looked vaguely familiar.
"Ah, John," Sir Ian said rather curtly. "Do you have a moment?"
"Not right this minute, Ian, no," John said, knowing exactly what this was about.
"It's all right," Said Karen, detaching herself from John and giving him a kiss on the cheek. "I'd better go."
"I'll no doubt see you tomorrow," John said as they got to their feet.
"I expect so," Karen replied as she walked towards the door which Lawrence James held open for her. Giving John a smile, Karen left him to the far less pleasurable duty of being nice to the executive.
When she walked down in to the foyer, she could see Jo sitting on one of the padded benches in one of the alcoves, clearly waiting for her.
"If you were planning to go and see John," Karen said as she sat down next to Jo. "You might want to give him time to get rid of the terrible twins from the LCD."
"They didn't hang about," commented Jo, thinking that Karen's description was perfect.
"And I'm sorry I walked out this afternoon," She said quietly.
"That's all right," Jo said gently. "I'm just sorry I couldn't put you in the picture beforehand."
"Jo, like I've just said to John, case or client confidentiality overrules what you might have preferred to do. If what did make me walk out of court hadn't, then what came later would have been a shock. But when George filled in the gaps, I don't think I had any element of surprise left in me. When I saw that picture of Fenner, I wouldn't have expected to remember what I did in a million years. But George's presence was appreciated so thank you for asking her to be there."
"Over the last year, I've tried and tried to get Yvonne to tell you what Lauren did."
"I know, but I also know why she couldn't. One of the worst things a parent may ever have to do is to admit what their child may be capable of."
"I just hated keeping something like that from you," Jo said, and Karen could see what a strain this had put Jo under. "Keeping to the rules of client confidentiality is one thing, but keeping something like that from someone I would like to think of as a close friend is quite another."
"Think of it this way," Said Karen gently, incredibly touched by what Jo had said. "You kept your client's confidence, and you made it possible for me to find out the details of Fenner's death in the gentlest way possible."
"That's the first time I've heard anyone describe George as gentle," Jo said with something approaching a smile. Karen grinned.
"Well, believe it or not, she was. But then I suppose anything less than how she was the last time I saw her could be classified as gentle."
"How do you feel?" Jo asked, remembering the last time she'd asked Karen this, on the day when she'd first heard of Karen's experience of Fenner's persistent torment of too many women.
"Part of me feels shocked and disturbed and guilty of all things, and the rest of me feels stupid for feeling like that. It isn't a nice thing having to admit that I once loved that pathetic excuse for a human being, but I did. I loved him, I lived with him, I even agreed to marry him. But it was him who ruined it, not me. I will never be able to say that he deserved everything he got, but I know that once all this is over, even if that takes years, my life will be easier without him."
Sir Ian prided himself in always knowing where his duty lay and he was able to sleep soundly with a clear conscience. Sir Ian could only remember one disagreeable occasion when that Houghton savage was arrogant enough to expect him to do some private business, which he had refused. Since then, the man had kept his distance from him, which meant that life could go back to normal.
It did not need to be spelled out in detail by the Lord Chancellor as they all agreed that the Atkins family were a notorious Eastend gangster family and resembled far too much the sort of dangerous characters that the more reprehensible soaps glamorised. The whole family needed watching, so their contacts in the CPS advised them and it was an opportunity of a lifetime when the daughter was arrested in very incriminating circumstances. The whole thing was an open and shut case and there should be no problem of securing a conviction. Sir Ian had got over his shock when it was dropped on him that Monty Everard had unaccountably been feeble enough to let deed take the case. Even that thorn in his side and generalised loose cannon, John deed, couldn't pull some peculiar looking rabbit out of a clown's hat and hand down some perverse sentence. After the first day, he felt more secure, even when Deed's paramour, Jo Mills, was up to her usual tricks.
Lawrence James was eager to tag along after Sir Ian and demonstrate his unfailing loyalty to the man on whom he depended on for patronage. His career was entirely dependent on what choices he made in being able to bask in the reflected glory of a rising star in the corridors of power. He studied his master's particular likes and dislikes very closely and he came to believe in them also. He walked alongside Sir Ian who was that important half a pace ahead of him.
"We ought to call by on the off chance and have a friendly chat with John. Who knows, it might eventually smooth good relations between us."
To their consternation, their first sight of John was him on his sofa with his arm round just the sort of glamorous blonde that he would associate with. He didn't even bat an eyelid when they came in and, as a result, their reaction was distinctly frosty.
"Why is it that whenever you come to visit me, I get the feeling that you have come to put pressure on me?"
Sir Ian realised that the conversation was getting off on the wrong foot and now was not the time to needlessly antagonise John.
"Come, come, John," Sir Ian said in a falsely hearty tone of voice as he tacked an ill fitting smile onto his face. "We merely thought we would pop round and see how you are going on generally. We like to keep a regular informal contact with our judges and Lawrence and I thought only the other day that we had been somewhat neglecting you."
Chance would be a fine thing, John thought.
"My Lord, we do not see enough of you these days," Lawrence James's earnest voice further confused John. He felt comfortable in a perverse way with them when they either threatened him or blustered at him, as at least he knew where he stood with them. On rare occasions when they attempted to be pleasant with him, he was sure that there must be a hidden agenda.
"Can I pour you a drink," he gestured to the drinks cabinet.
"A cup of tea if you don't mind," Sir Ian replied for both himself and Lawrence James.
They sat on the three-piece suite in frozen postures, making polite conversation in the manner of taking tea with the Queen.
"I trust the tea is to your liking."
"The tea is most excellent, my Lord," Lawrence James replied.
"I hope that your work at the LCD is not too onerous these days."
"As well as can be expected, John. The work of a government department never stays still and I seem to be buried in endless paperwork, proposed reorganisations and feasibility studies. The periodic little jaunt to chat to judges like yourself becomes a welcome break."
While we are having a tea party, I ought to make sure that the mad Hatter and the Dormouse aren't too late was the irreverent thought behind John's fixed smile before he tired of this pantomime.
"And the next thing you will ask me is about the Crown versus Atkins trial that I am hearing?" John sneaked in the next question he knew they were deliberating when to ask him.
"Well, since you're asking, we were going to mention it out of mild interest what your thoughts are on the trial," Sir Ian replied, very much overdoing the note of bland indifference.
"This case cuts deep, Ian. The evidence on the face of it is very strong but I am always reluctant to form conclusions too early in a trial. From what I can see, the matter of the defendant's state of mind may become crucial. There are two very competent psychiatrist's reports which do not mesh together which is unusual."
"Come, come, John," Sir Ian scoffed. "From what I have heard, the woman comes from a family which is as steeped in criminality as you and I are as steeped in the law."
"That is a highly dangerous argument of guilt by association. I was a guiding principle of the KGB in its selections of wretched outcasts from a tyrannical regime who were subsequently thrown into the Gulag."
"You must admit at the very least, John, that the facts of the case are extremely damning by themselves. I cannot conceive of any reasons why the defendant should not be convicted and punished in an exemplary fashion for so ghastly a crime. Burying a helpless man alive with a bullet in him, my God."
John's features froze in horror, partly in what Sir Ian was rather tactlessly rubbing in and partly as, yet again, the hated double act just couldn't leave it alone. He closed his eyes and breathed deeply for a little while to let his emotions settle and he could think clearly.
"It seems to me that you are operating strange standards here when I remember your attitude in advance of, and during the Atkins/Pilkinton trial. I remembered you saying how compromised the evidence was in relation to convicting Ritchie Atkins, the very brother of the defendant in the present trial. In this case, you are now saying that there is a cast iron case."
"The argument is specious, John, as the cases are totally different."
"And so are the attitudes of both you and your lord and masters," John cut back, getting as heated as Sir Ian was.
"You are being deliberately awkward. What possible obstacle is there in handing down a prison sentence to a woman who freely admitted that she brutally murdered the prison officer. It is, I repeat, an open and shut case."
"Just as open and shut, is it not, that James Brooklands in broad daylight ran down a woman and her two children. Monty Everard saw fit to give the wretch a community service order and you were right behind his actions. If the Atkins family had made regular donations to party funds, you would, no doubt, be asking me if I could be persuaded to a similar act of clemency that that wretched judge did."
"Your comparison is outrageous. There is no possible connection between some seedy East End villain and the founder of one of the country's most dynamic enterprises."
"Oh, isn't there? I have been doing my own research on the Atkins family. The father, Charlie Atkins ran a car firm as a front for criminal drug smuggling operations for which he was charged, along with demanding money with menaces. The case for the crown was two pronged, that a comprehensive investigation into Mr Atkins accounts revealed expenditure far in excess of his declared income coupled with a dispute as to whether or not a large consignment of class A drugs, seized at the Atkins home was supplied to Mr Atkins with his full knowledge. Rumour has it that he had bribed the jury to convict only on the third and lesser charge of handling stolen goods. In the case of the Brooklands trial, no crude handover of money immediately before the trial was necessary. He had been making large regular contributions to a political party, which were designed to secure for him favourable conditions for his trading than he would have otherwise obtained. The same process was achieved by a nod and a wink in high circles. I freely admit that Mr Atkins empire was founded upon the exploitation of human weakness and an inciter of half the street crime whereas I cannot see anything in Mr Brooklands' business empire that I could take the slightest exception to. Nevertheless, the circuitous means by which the two men go to, to pay for justice favourable to them which the ordinary honest citizen is unwilling and unable to resort to are not so distant from one another. Who knows, if the father of the Atkins family had cleaned up their enterprises and had lived, he too would be knighted?"
"By the way, John. Just who was that woman who was with you just now."
It had to come to this, sighed John. It was only a matter of time but an adolescent side of his personality could not resist tantalising them. If he had been asked nicely rather than in an aggressive fashion with the obvious intention of causing mischief, he would have told them straight out.
"Wouldn't you like to know?" he teased.
"I bet Jo Mills would just love to know," Sir Ian snarled in a nasty tone of voice. "Wait a minute, I've seen that woman before, she was in the gallery and was a witness in the Atkins/Merriman trial. Yes, I have the answer, she's Karen Betts."
All the time, Sir Ian had been making short jabbing movements with his forefinger as he probed to the bottom of the puzzle.
"I just knew you'd get there in the end, Ian. There will, of course be no problems as the PCC hearing duly pronounced that Jo Mills and I are friend and friend."
"Then there is nothing more to be said. We shall, of course, observe the trial very closely from the spectator's gallery to keep an eye on you."
Sir Ian had turned red with anger in the way that Deed had resurrected memories of one of the most almighty rows he had ever had with the LCD and the way that the damnable fellow had wrong footed him at the last. Lawrence James too, was angry to see thrown back in his face, the words he used to describe as 'circuitous means'. This referred to the way the 'offshore fund' had been apparently arranged for Deed's benefit to handle the proceeds of the printing firm belonging to Lady Rochester's aunt. Both of them remembered the way that the informal enquiry had blown up in their faces. Not content with that, he had brought up the way that Deed had lied his way out of trouble and had got away with it.
John sank back in his armchair to rest. If only he had been allowed to continue with the delightful company of Karen in place of the political commissars of the LCD, life would be so much more enjoyable.
Jo had virtually sleepwalked her way to her car and, after freshening herself up briefly, acted upon impulse and phoned up George and fixed up a quick visit.
"Jo. Come right in and join me for a drink." George's wide smiled greeted Jo as she opened the door wide to let her in.
"That sounds fine by me."
They sat in the luxury of George's lounge while they sat back companionably together.
"Jo, you look as if you have something on your mind. This isn't just a social call."
"Well, no," Jo admitted. "I noticed Karen leave the court in a hurry and that you followed her. I was wondering what you found out had happened to make Karen react that way."
George sipped the drink that she held in her left hand while she thought of a delicate way to drop the news on Jo. Finding none, she reverted to the way of telling a story that came naturally.
"If you remember, it was at the time that the blown up picture of the scar tissue on Fenner's body was shown on the wide screen. You know everything of her relationship with Fenner from about the time that their relationship had broken down. You've made the same mistake in pushing to the back of your mind that an intelligent attractive woman like Karen could have fallen for such a loathsome specimin of sub humanity as Fenner, the sort of human cockroach that you want to tread underfoot. You remember the Atkins/Merriman trial where you weren't much nicer to him than I was."
Jo grinned at George's concise and witty description.
"Karen explained to me that on Fenner's first day back at work after the stabbing, they ended up screwing in her office. Her words, not mine. She unbuttoned his shirt and saw the same criss cross of scars on his body that we saw on the wide screen and kissed them. It was a shock to her to have that moment brought back to her without any warning. She really thought that all her feelings were dead and buried ..Oh God what have I said," George suddenly blushed and added apologetically. "I keep making these faux pas."
"I blame myself for not having found this out before or I would have intervened," Jo's voice was stiff with self-reproach as her guilt-ridden imagination took command of her thoughts.
"There was no earthly reason for you to know, Jo. There are only so many questions you can ask when, after all, your main focus of attention is on Lauren Atkins. I would have done nothing different if I had been in your shoes," George reasoned generously. "I used to have this desire that everything in my life should never be less than perfect. I'll still try bloody hard and do my very best but I'll strive for the right reasons."
A few tears came into Jo's eyes in the way that George had been so sweet and generous in trying to shoulder some of the blame onto herself. She still felt bad about the matter but not in that dreadfully self-isolating fashion that could spiral into depression. The room fell silent apart from the gentle sound of the wind outside and Jo started to feel easier in her mind when she reasoned to herself that, at least she knew and the very start of the trial was a better time to find this out and especially not when she was crossing swords with Neumann Mason-Alan.
"What do you mean, you've done it before?" Jo smiled suddenly.
"I went for a lunchtime drink with the rest of them in the gallery. They were nice," George smiled reflectively. "They all drink and smoke like chimneys, except Barbara so I felt right at home. No smug, infuriating health freak to look disapprovingly at you, though, of course he doesn't actually say anything."
"That's John all over."
"Anyway, I started whinging on about that day that John forced me to spend a day at Larkhall before I realised that they had done months, if not years there. They were awfully nice about it. Terrible, wasn't it?" George finished in an embarrassed way.
"If that's the worst that can be said about you these days, you've nothing to worry about. I'm really grateful that you are around in the gallery to help out."
Jo looked at her watch and regretfully decided that time had run away with her just when she was enjoying herself.
"Look, George, I've got to go."
"Night, Jo, and make sure you get plenty of rest."
George shook her head as she shut her front door. She was starting to make a real habit about concern for other people, she said fondly to herself.
On the Tuesday morning, Karen walked in to court praying that she wasn't about to receive another flashback like yesterday. One night, interrupted constantly by various dreams of Fenner, was quite enough. She had walked upstairs, not really taking much notice of the people around her, but as she reached to open the gallery door, she found herself coming face to face with Marilyn.
"I thought I recognised you," Marilyn said, not hostile, not friendly.
"How are you?" Karen asked, thinking that she was developing an attack of George's verbal nervousness to ask such a loaded question without any prior thought.
"About as well as you are, I suppose," Marilyn said without rancour. "I had to come," She added.
"Yes," Said Karen understandably, "So did I." This seemed to be all that needed to be said for now, and they moved to take their seats at opposite ends of the front row. Karen was soon joined by Roisin and Barbara, followed closely by Nikki and lastly by George, sitting down between Karen and Nikki.
"So, I didn't frighten you off yesterday then?" Karen couldn't help asking with a small smile.
"Good God, no," George said ruefully. "Ghosts usually have a reason for reappearing. Besides," She said with a self-deprecating smile of her own. "I thought it might have been the other way round."
"Definitely not," Karen said quietly but firmly, her smile becoming suddenly warm and bright, as if a dark cloud had been momentarily blown away from the sun. "I haven't had a compliment like that in a long time." George grinned wickedly and lowered her voice so that only Karen could hear.
"Not since John I suppose," She said, her grin becoming broader at Karen's slight look of surprise.
"I'm not going to ask how you know about that," She said, watching in fascination as a blush stained George's cheeks. "On second thoughts, maybe I should ask him."
"No, don't," George said, the wind up working perfectly. This increased Karen's curiosity a thousand fold and she assured George that she wouldn't, but she couldn't help but wonder. George on the other hand was inwardly kicking herself for thinking she could get one over on Karen, seeing all too easily that where verbal acrobatics were concerned, Karen was just as good as she was at leading an unsuspecting opponent in to a trap, even if only in friendly humour.
When Professor Ryan returned to the stand, Jo moved in for the kill, but subtley, as one might lead a swimmer out of their depth, only to leave them floundering.
"Professor Ryan," She began, sounding genial enough. "Please could you explain to the court exactly how you could determine that the empty cartridge case, 1D in the artifacts My Lord," She added jerking her head in the direction of the bench, "could be matched specifically to the gun supposedly used to injure James Fenner?" Sam fixed Jo with her piercing gaze.
"When a person's fingerprint is taken, extremely high resolution photographs are taken of the ridge detail which is different in every person. If this person's fingerprints are discovered as part of a crime scene, the photographs of the two sets of prints, when significantly magnified, can be compared. If the pattern of the ridge detail of one set of prints matches the other, then you have found the source of the fingerprints. With this type of gun, the firing pin, which is the mechanism that ejects the bullet, leaves a very small scratch or indentation on the metal surface of the cartridge case. Under a microscope, this can be as clear as any type of engraved pattern. Even though all guns belonging to a particular type might be made to an exact specification, the firing pin will almost always leave a unique impression on any metal surface such as a cartridge case. After a gun has been in use for some years, such things as the mechanism connecting the trigger to the firing pin, or the actual position of the firing pin are almost always altered by simple wear and tear. This means that every gun using this type of bullet will leave a unique indentation on the surface of the cartridge case, as unique a mark as that left by a person's fingerprint."
"Professor Ryan, I am interested in your use of the words almost always. Are you not prepared to commit yourself to saying, that it is without doubt that this particular gun's firing pin could have caused the indentation you say is present on the cartridge case discovered at James Fenner's crime scene?"
"I have never had any reason to doubt the validity of the similarity of the indentations made by firing pins to the unique detail of fingerprints."
"Forgive me, but you are avoiding my question, Professor Ryan. Is it possible that an identical gun which has been kept in similar conditions and similar working order, could have been the gun used to shoot James Fenner?" Jo's voice had risen slightly, as her verbal stalking of her prey became more apparent. In the gallery, George watched in awe at Jo's mode of attack.
"Very occasionally," Sam said slowly, aware that she was probably digging the prosecution's grave in the process. "Identical twins can have the same ridge detail in their fingerprints. It is extremely rare, but occasionally possible. So I suppose it would be possible for two very similar guns, kept in similar conditions and similar working order to have firing pins that may leave the same indentation. I must however impress on the court that I believe that there is no doubt that this gun fired the bullet that injured James Fenner."
"Professor Ryan, I would ask you to keep your testimony to facts and facts alone," Jo said seriously. "The jury need to make their decision with regard to factual evidence not with the help of the beliefs of someone who simply thinks she is right." John wasn't sure which was causing him the most astonishment, the fact that Jo was instructing the witness and making him feel superfluous in his own court, or that she was openly insulting the Professor's knowledge and experience in the same way George often did. George for her part was staring at Jo with a mixture of open admiration and slight concern. There was only so much of this kind of behaviour that John would take, she should know.
"Precisely where are you going with this, Mrs. Mills?" John asked in an effort to regain control.
"If you allow me to continue, My Lord, you'll find out," Jo said without a pause, which brought a roll of the eyes from George, who could see that Jo had something pretty monumental up her sleeve.
"Professor Ryan," She said, returning to the attack. "You have stated in your report, 3C in your bundle, My Lord, that James Fenner was suffering from mild coronary artery disease. Can you explain to the court exactly why you assume that it wasn't this that killed him?" A snort of derision came from Neumann Mason-Alan.
"James Fenner had a degree of thickening of his coronary arteries, no doubt as a result of years of smoking, drinking and unhealthy living."
"Not much hope for us then," Said Nikki quietly which made George smile.
"Whilst this condition would without doubt have deteriorated if left untreated, eventually resulting in a heart attack," Sam continued, "It was definitely not his primary cause of death, this was as a result of the inhalation or aspiration of soil particles during the process of his being buried alive as I explained yesterday." Not for the first time since she'd heard this specific detail Karen found herself feeling an almost physical pain for what Yvonne must have gone through when she'd found out exactly what her daughter had done.
"To return to the issue of the gun," Jo continued, doing her best to jerk Sam around. "You have also stated in your report that you didn't think the bullet that shot James Fenner was intended to cause maximum damage. Please could you explain this assertion?"
"James Fenner was shot in the abdomen with a Remmington nine millimetre bullet. If the killer's intention had been to kill him, either he would have been shot in a more direct, far more certain place such as the head or the chest. Or, a different type of bullet would have been used, a Smith and Wesson Black Tallon, for example."
"Professor, can you explain to the court the difference between the bullet that was used and a Black Tallon?" John asked. Mentally clenching her fist, Jo said,
"My Lord, might I be allowed to continue questioning the witness, as I was about to ask the same question." Feeling a distinct battle of wills coming on, John said,
"I apologize Mrs. Mills."
"The bullet that I retrieved from James Fenner's spine," Sam answered, feeling that there wasn't just one fight going on in this court but two. "Is a very small, cylindrical point that simply pierces anything it encounters that isn't bullet proof. The Smith and Wesson Black Tallon looks, on initial examination very similar to this, but when it makes contact with any soft surface such as human tissue, it opens outwards in to six or eight very fine needle-sharp points, making it eventually look something like a large spider. This can cause irreparable damage, as it can pierce several veins or arteries in one go if shot at the correct target. It is extremely rare for someone to survive a shooting by a Black Tallon."
"Professor Ryan, when you were on the stand yesterday, you made what can only be called an undoubtedly wild unsupportable assertion that James Fenner's killer possibly had prior knowledge of the exact details and dimensions of his previous stabbing injury. Please would you now qualify this remark?" Sam had known this would come back to haunt her.
"James Fenner's gunshot wound was found in the region of the lower end of his thoraco-abdominal scar. The fact that the extensive scar tissue clearly slowed the bullet in its tracks enough to mean that it lodged itself in his spine, and therefore made it impossible for him to defend himself, led me to believe that this had been the intended goal of causing him such an injury."
"Professor, might I remind you that you cannot prove this assertion in any way. That is unless you have particulars to further qualify this assumption that are not included in your forensic report."
"No, I do not have any further proof," Sam said for all the court to hear.
"Then, My Lord, I must insist that this previous assertion be immediately struck from the record."
"On what basis, Mrs. Mills?"
"My Lord, this is a criminal trial, not an instance where the Civil Procedure Rules regarding hearsay have any place whatsoever. Hearsay is all Professor Ryan's assertion consists of."
"I do not need reminding where I am, thank you, Mrs. Mills," Said John firmly, and George began to think that Jo might just be in danger of pushing her luck.
"My Lord, if Professor Ryan's remark is left in place, the jury may draw the inference that Lauren Atkins' intention was to make James Fenner suffer as much as possible prior to his death. If Professor Ryan has no proof to substantiate her claim, then the jury may draw this inference under false pretences." John sat for a moment, his brows knitted in deep thought. He was forced to admit that Jo was absolutely right, but there was something different about her delivery today. She was going in all guns blazing, but with none of her usual caution or respect due to either the witness or, indeed, to him.
"You do have a point, Mrs. Mills," He eventually conceded. "This previous assertion of Professor Ryan's shall be struck from the record and must be omitted by the jury during their eventual deliberations. However, Mrs. Mills, take this as a warning to treat both the witnesses and the court with a little more of your usual courtesy." Jo only just restrained herself from glaring at him.
"Professor Ryan," Jo said, ignoring John and focussing on the witness. "There is just one last point on which I would like your considered expert opinion." There was a hint of pure stealth in her usually mild-mannered tone which would have raised George's hackles had she been opposite. "You have noted in your report that the gun supposedly used to shoot James Fenner contained," Here Jo picked up a copy of Sam's report and quoted "Some identifying details of its own. Just above the trigger, were the letters CJA." Putting the report back down on the defence bench, she returned to her own words. "Now, it has been assumed by the police that this gun contains the initials of the defendant's father, initials that stand for Charlie James Atkins. Can the authenticity of this claim be proved?"
"If I might draw your attention to the object with which this gun was found," Sam answered, "Which was the spade that was used to bury James Fenner, the spade which contained not only his fingerprints but also the fingerprints of the defendant. Therefore, I would assume that this gun did once belong to the defendant's father."
"Mrs. Mills," John intoned, "I can see exactly where you are heading, and I must point out to you that it is a pretty fruitless line of enquiry. Your client has never denied using this particular gun to shoot James Fenner, so I would warn you not to waste the court's time in attempting to prove or disprove its actual ownership." There was a long, sonorous silence.
"No further questions, My Lord," Jo added, every syllable a freezing icicle of anger.
As the clerk of the court called "all rise", George said to Karen,
"What the hell has got in to her?"
"I don't know," Said Karen thoughtfully. "That looked more like an image of when I last saw you in full cross-examination mode than Jo."
"It's going to cause trouble in paradise before long, that's for sure." When they, along with Nikki, Barbara and Roisin, went downstairs, George detached herself from the group and went to meet Jo as she emerged through the door reserved for personnel such as barristers and clerks. When Jo appeared, she said,
"Not here," After seeing the look on George's face. When they walked outside where it was thankfully not raining, George said,
"I don't need to tell you that you were extremely lucky to get away with that. Had that been me instead of you in there, I'd have been banged up in a cell quicker than your client."
"Why is he so bloody infuriating?" Asked Jo, feeling a childish urge to stamp her foot, though she just about managed to refrain. George grinned.
"You've only just noticed?" She said. "Jo, in spite of John being at his most bloody minded, you're doing brilliantly. You just need to calm down slightly, or he really will think you're me in disguise." Just then, the rest of them, complete with Yvonne and Cassie appeared through the doors.
"Help me persuade Jo that she needs a large drink," George said to Karen.
"Absolutely no question," Karen said firmly. "After that performance you deserve one."
"How's it going?" Yvonne asked.
"That was the most ruthlessly powerful bit of defending I think any of us have ever seen," Replied Nikki.
"Thank you," Jo said, after which Yvonne introduced Nikki to Jo.
"I would love a large glass of wine," Jo said regretfully, "But not if you want me as much on the ball this afternoon." Yvonne could see the fraught, tense brain that wouldn't allow Jo to take a break.
"Listen," Yvonne said gently but firmly. "One drink and half an hour's break won't do you any harm, and I definitely have a vested interest in making sure that you're calm and relaxed before you get back in the ring." Touched that they were all so concerned about her, Jo gave Yvonne a warm smile and agreed to accompany them, on the one condition that she could really only be away for half an hour, to give her plenty of time to get her head round what was coming that afternoon.
An immediate ripple ran round the gallery of spectators as Dr. Waugh took the stand. He was a popular figure at Larkhall as a doctor who would actually listen to what he zealously called the patients who were there to be treated. All the prisoners had been heartily glad to see the back of Dr. No No who contemptuously brushed aside what he saw as cons who were bodies cluttering up his waiting room.
"What is Dr Waugh doing? Does he really want to help throw that poor girl to the sharks?"
"He should be thoroughly ashamed of himself, Roisin. I did think better of him," Was Babs disgusted verdict.
"We don't know the full story," Karen half turned and leaned over to speak quietly in Babs' ear. "It's more than likely that being the Senior Medical Officer, the CPS would be quick off the mark to snap him up as an expert witness once Lauren arrived in Larkhall. He may have no choice but to testify."
Nikki was silent with shock and white faced as the very well known, tousle haired man, casually dressed, holding an untidy sheaf of papers took his place confidently in the witness box for Neumann Mason-Alan to weave his testimony in to the main body of the trial.
"Dr. Waugh, for the benefit of the court, will you state your present occupation, how long you have worked in your present employment and how you came to be involved in giving evidence."
"I am the Senior Medical Officer at Larkhall Prison where I have practised for the last year. When Miss Atkins was admitted to Larkhall, she came under my care as a routine matter and I was requested to provide a detailed psychiatric report in connection with the alleged crime in question at the request of the CPS."
"What is the range of your duties?"
"Well, in a closed environment like Larkhall I have experience of treating the normal physical ailments but from time to time, the matters I come up against are psychological problems."
"Do you have any special expertise in the medical field? Can you describe your previous employment and anything in it which enabled you to develop any expertise?"
"Well, my basic training and experience is that of a General Practitioner. More recently, I went on to specialise in psychiatric consultancy work before a chance reference by a colleague known to me, Dr. Margaret Richards caused me to deal with one specific case at Larkhall. Shortly afterwards, I took up permanent employment when the previous incumbent left his job."
Dr. Waugh exuded an air of total confidence and it was plain to see that he was no newcomer to public speaking.
"If I might turn to the bundle of evidence, I would direct the court to Exhibit 3A which I ask you, Dr. Waugh, to confirm is your report."
"It is indeed, sir.""
The report ran as follows:
Lauren Atkins: psychiatric report
Name: Lauren Atkins.
Case Number: 240073.
Attending Psychiatrist: Dr. Thomas Waugh.
I was asked, by request of the court via council for the prosecution in the case of the crown versus Atkins, Neumann Mason-Alan QC, to examine Miss Lauren Atkins. In performing this statutory duty, I was invited to pay particular attention to Lauren Atkins' state of mind when discussing and/or alluding to the death of her victim, Mr. James Fenner, a former principle officer of Her Majesty's Prison Larkhall. In compiling the results of my examination of Miss Lauren Atkins, I will endeavour to focus on three specific points of speculation. These will be as follows: her thoughts and reasoning as to her actions on and prior to the fifth of October 2003; her distinct and possibly severe lack of closure with regards to the death of her brother, Ritchie Atkins, on the 29th of August 2003; and finally, her general demeanour with regards to a serious breech of the law, such as the one with which she is charged.
To begin with, I have talked at length to Miss Lauren Atkins, on the subject of the undoubtedly premeditated and brutal attack on Principle Officer James Fenner. There can never be any doubt whatsoever, that Lauren Atkins did perpetrate this crime. Indeed, Miss Atkins has herself on a number of occasions, admitted her direct involvement with James Fenner's demise, both to myself and to her fellow inmates. It may even be fair to suggest that Miss Atkins has not only openly admitted her sole involvement with James Fenner's death, but that she has been known to brag about this event, and has undoubtedly been held in high regard by her fellow inmates for her participation in the death of one of their officers. Lauren Atkins has shown little if any remorse for her actions, even though they resulted in a man's death. James Fenner was after all, someone she barely knew. Her only known encounters with Principle Officer Fenner were on the few occasions when she visited her mother, Yvonne Atkins, when Mrs. Atkins was herself an inmate of Larkhall prison. I fail to see any direct causal link between Lauren Atkins and James Fenner, which could possibly have led to her killing him in such a brutal and inhumane fashion. Quite why she felt it necessary to put James Fenner through the severe torture of paralysing him by a bullet through the spine, and then to bury him alive, I couldn't possibly begin to estimate. When asked why she deemed it acceptable to carry out the necessary stalking, abducting and eventual killing of James Fenner, Lauren Atkins simply replied that it was something that needed to be done. Lauren Atkins does not, in my professional opinion, feel a single ounce of guilt for what she has done, except for the worry and concern she has caused both her mother and her close friends by putting them through such an ordeal. Also in my opinion, Lauren Atkins has a definite, extremely secure reason for having killed James Fenner, one, which she has chosen not to share with either myself, or the prison officers who have charge of her. It would have undoubtedly taken an enormous amount of planning and forethought to carry out this crime, faculties, which I believe would not be entirely, present in a person of unsound mind.
With regards to the death of her brother, Ritchie Atkins, who killed himself by drug overdose on the 29th of August 2003, after receiving a custodial sentence, it has become clear to me, during the course of my dealings with Lauren Atkins, that she has not begun to deal with her feelings concerning her brother's death, and that she has not been able to achieve any form of closure regarding this tragic event. For example, whenever Miss Atkins is encouraged or prompted to talk about her brother's death, she will either exhibit a level of anger which, if not handled correctly has the potential to become violent, and extreme bouts of grief and depression. Lauren Atkins will not, in any instance, discuss the circumstances of her brother's death voluntarily. I would severely discourage anyone from attempting to question her on this subject within a formal, legal setting such as a courtroom.
Finally, if I am to make any assessment as to Lauren Atkins' attitude with regards to the issue of breaking the law, I must inevitably refer to the matter of her being an Atkins. This, as any member of the jury will gather, means that for the whole of her life, she has been exposed to the circumstances surrounding serious law breaking, and that she has almost certainly been brought up with the ethos governing the principles of organised crime. However, putting these facts aside, as it would be somewhat unfair to place Lauren Atkins merely by assumption and association in to the category of those who break the law on a regular basis, it can be ascertained by way of a simple conversation with Miss Atkins, that crime, in particular drug dealing and other forms of organised crime, are clearly a way of life she has known for many a year. Lauren Atkins may claim that she has left this life behind, but I feel that all one needs to ask her, is where did she obtain the firearm with which she injured James Fenner, in order to realise that she does not live as far from this life of crime as she thinks she does.
In conclusion, I have examined Miss Lauren Atkins, in accordance with the court's request. I have attempted to categorise my findings in to three areas: that of her thoughts and feelings on the subject of James Fenner's murder; her hitherto unresolved grief at her brother's untimely suicide; and her general attitude with regards to a serious breech of the law. I was further invited to assess whether or not the event of her brother's death may have affected her state of mind severely enough to make her innocent of James Fenner's murder by virtue of diminished responsibility. I cannot by any means endorse this possibility. Whilst there can be no doubt that the event of her brother's suicide has greatly affected her, I do not feel that this alone gives Miss Lauren Atkins sufficient excuse for stalking, abducting and killing someone she barely knew. This course of action would have required a degree of mental capacity, which a person of unsound mind would almost certainly not be capable of maintaining over a prolonged period such as the time it would have taken to achieve such an end. In my professional opinion, Lauren Atkins is simply seeking a loophole with which to bypass the law, and to avoid the custodial sentence, which, if she is found guilty, would be the mandatory punishment bestowed on her.
"What the hell has that guy been saying about Lauren?" Nikki asked in irritated tones. She had been on the outside quite long enough, being used to demanding and getting as of right everything that her sense of justice and forceful personality felt that she was entitled to. "We could do with a copy of the bundle of papers and follow what's going on down there."
George laughed. She herself was starting to chafe at being without the familiar set of papers and felt as naked as if she were at a social gathering without makeup.
"For the first time in my life, I'm sitting in a courtroom and relying entirely on Jo Mills to bat for us. I somehow don't think that I can prize a spare set of papers from the judge for our personal use. We'll have to wait and hear what happens."
"In your report, you lay particular emphasis on the enormous amount of planning that went into the perpetration of this brutal crime. In your clinical experience, is there any possibility that someone who could be described as not responsible for her actions could commit such a crime?"
"Absolutely not. Where the means of carrying out the crime are planned over a sustained period of time with such precision, then such a personality is, within its own terms, what could be loosely described as 'highly together.' An indication of focussed thinking is the way she said that 'it was a necessary course of action.' The words clearly describe a large element of forethought."
"You would agree, Dr. Waugh, that the defendant's history has been of a cold blooded violent and dangerous criminal." Neumann Mason-Alan's normally deep, ponderous tones, started to take the first steps to climb to an eventual theatrical crescendo when a totally furious Jo Mills jumped up.
"Objection, my Lord. My learned friend has exceeded his usual style of leading the witness to the extent of putting words into the mouth of the witness."
"I allow the objection. Mr. Mason-Alan, you really have not progressed in all the time you have been here before me, in fact quite the opposite. I direct that your last words be struck from the record."
John's voice was so pitched as to slice through the barrister in tones of icy contempt and total authority, which John projected with all his force of personality to bring the barrister to order.
"Jesus, I wouldn't have liked to be up for adjudication before a screw like him when I was at Larkhall and I'd done something wrong," Nikki's hushed words were underlined heavily by deep respect.
"You should try rowing with him, Nikki," George grinned. "I did for years when I was married to him."
"Your very first words to me, Nikki, when you were down the block and I foolishly entered the cell were 'well, as long as you piss off when I ask you, frankly I couldn't give a toss," Karen said dryly, raising an eyebrow at Nikki who was pretending to be Miss Innocent.
"I'd just had a row with Helen, what did you expect?" Nikki grinned back sheepishly.
John's eye flickered up at the gallery as even their quiet voices could just be heard in the dead silence while Mr. Neumann Mason-Alan licked his lips and shuffled his papers to collect his thoughts. When he led off again, the occasional higher registers could be heard like a badly blown trumpet.
"My apologies, my lord. Dr. Waugh, I shall rephrase the question. Can you describe the defendant's general attitude to the law and also any influences that her family upbringing may have had on her."
" may have had? That is an insinuation if you like. Oh well, Jo, let that one go if you must," echoed George's scornful critical voice, slightly loudly and ending on a tolerant note.
"The defendant's family upbringing has played a very decisive part in her attitude to the law. Put briefly, she has been brought up to believe that to achieve your ends through criminal means is absolutely no bar to acting in a particular manner. She refers to such matters in a completely matter of fact manner as if it were the most natural way of behaving. Even from a cursory examination, it is deeply embedded in her character."
"One moment," John interrupted, his impatience and his insatiable curiosity outrunning the slow moving way the court proceedings trundled along. "You say in your report that 'Lauren Atkins may claim that she has left this life behind, but I feel that all one needs to ask her, is where did she obtain the firearm with which she injured James Fenner, in order to realise that she does not live as far from this life of crime as she thinks she does.' Did she or didn't she make such a claim?"
John's sharply pointed question flustered Dr. Waugh in the delivery of his words which, up till then, was smooth and persuasive.
"Er, I admit that I cannot recall those words from the defendant. I was making an observation to anticipate a line of argument which the defendant may make in court."
"In other words, it was not a matter of fact and I direct that those words be disregarded."
A flicker of annoyance passed over Jo's face as she saw that John was up to his old tricks.
"Might I be allowed to carry on with examining the witness?" came the long-suffering voice from the other end of the long bench.
John's head turned fractionally to face him and blinked as if taken by surprise.
"Yes, carry on."
"Can you clarify for the court the defendant's manner when the matter of her dead brother Ritchie was brought up?"
John winced at the indelicate way the question was phrased but let it go.
"I talked to the defendant at some length as she is fairly articulate and forthcoming but never once did she refer to her late brother. I did broach the subject in a tactful enough manner and an extraordinary change took place in her manner. It was as if I had triggered off a time bomb. Her manner was vitriolic and contemptuous to the extreme indicating a callous denial of him as a human being let alone a brother with whom she had grown up. She expressed an intense wish to write him out of her life as if he had never existed. I found her reaction very disturbing."
"You mean, you found yourself feeling threatened by her? You felt that if you said just one wrong word and she might physically attack you? Such a reaction would be quite understandable from your description of the woman who you describe as 'having been known to brag about this event, and has undoubtedly been held in high regard by her fellow inmates for her participation in the death of one of their officers,'" jumped in Mr. Neumann Mason-Alan eagerly.
"My lord, I object most emphatically against the prejudicial remarks by my learned friend. Another leading question is immediately followed by hearsay evidence attributed to the defendant in a conversation with an unnamed prisoner. This precludes the ability of the court to test its reliability or otherwise," Jo ended on a heavy sarcastic note sliding up and down the scales in a manner that George noted very approvingly.
John was inwardly vexed at the way that Jo Mills encroached on his position as judge, stealing some of his best lines, but that was as nothing compared to the towering rage that was building up inside him.
"I cannot say that in all good conscience that I felt in anyway threatened. I must be allowed to explain myself in my own words," protested Dr. Waugh. He was beginning to be irritated by the way this barrister was trying to twist his words and constrained at this framework of conversation for idiots. Left to himself, he felt that a short, simple address by him would cover all the points that he thought worth making. However, he wasn't going to get that chance. John's pent up fury broke loose like a dam at the moment that the steep wall caved in.
"Mr. Mason-Alan, you are putting me in the position that, in the words of Mr Justice Roskill that I shall have to assume a more inquisitorial role in order to secure a fair verdict if your utterly shambolic conduct of your case continues. I have advised the gallery that I would not tolerate audience participation as their conduct in a past trial proved to be somewhat lively. Instead, I find their conduct exemplary .." and at this point, all the women assumed a misleadingly virginal look of innocence at being so flattered" whereas you are in danger of being subject to the most extreme penalty that I could impose on an errant barrister. Now, are there any more questions that you care to ask the witness and pray let it be short, sharp and relevant or do I take over?"
"I have no more questions, My Lord," He sank back onto his bench and felt like sinking through the floor.
"Dr. Waugh, I can understand why you would wish to address the court in your own terms but a simple address, though no doubt, very fluent would not serve the course of justice as the defence council would be deprived of the opportunity of asking questions and probing to the heart of the matter. I trust you understand," John's sonorous voice smoothed over the emotional backwash of colliding emotions.
Jo Mills was already up on her feet with an agility that spoke of someone chained up for long, being suddenly set free. Her opening remarks were greeted by a sharp glance from John in her direction.
"That is just the point I was going to make. There are questions that I have to ask you of your report partly in terms of questions you have left unanswered and certain inconsistencies that must be explored."
Dr. Waugh nodded anxiously, feeling that his accustomed authority was about to slide out of his hands. He was acutely aware that the work that he had slaved over was going to come under searching critical scrutiny which his life's experience had not prepared him for.
"Can you explain why you found the defendant both aggressive and subject to extreme bouts of grief and depression as your report does not explain why she should react that way?"
"I can only refer you to the sentence immediately before then when I have stated that the defendant has not begun to deal with her feelings over her brother's death and has not begun to achieve any closure on the event."
"In other words, the contradictory feelings exhibited by the defendant may be a surface reaction to something deeper. Can you explain what that might be?"
"Sadly, I am unable to offer any further enlightenment as it was as much as I was able to achieve to discuss these matters with her as far as we did."
"If such a personality behaved in what I would regrettably call a dysfunctional manner, would this not have been a pattern of her personality in the events leading up to and including the death of Mr. Fenner and is this not inconsistent with your view that she behaved in a calm, controlled fashion in allegedly planning this event."
"I suppose it could be the case."
"It has been claimed that the defendant has a violent personality. Do you agree with this, Dr. Waugh?"
"It is possible that a combination of factors ranging from her family upbringing and her own personality would produce such a tendency. As she has never denied taking the life of Mr. Fenner, then I have to conclude that she is certainly capable of violence."
"I offer in evidence item 3K in the bundle of evidence, the defendant's prison record for the past year. As you can see, her record is exemplary which would suggest at the least, the defendant is capable of a considerable level of self-restraint. Is not this a reasonable conclusion to arrive at from your year's experience as an SMO in Larkhall."
"I admit that there may be some truth in what you say."
"I offer in evidence item 1D, the empty Remmington cartridge case that was found at the scene of where the body of James Fenner was found. If the prosecution is able to prove that the cartridge case is from a gun used by the defendant, do you not agree that this utterly contradicts the point of view urged on you that the defendant has a calculating criminal mind. As you quite rightly observed 'Where the means of carrying out the crime are planned over a sustained period of time with such precision, then such a personality is, within its own terms, what could be loosely described as 'highly together.' If the defendant is as calculated a killer and has been steeped in criminal behaviour for most of her life as you suggest, why would she make such an elementary and fatal mistake as to leave evidence behind?
"She could have made a mistake in the heat of the moment. Your amateur psychology is simply polarising personality types into stock characters," Stammered Dr. Waugh becoming very anxious as this woman was steamrollering her way over the report.
"I put it to you that your report is flawed as you have been regretfully unable to resolve the contradictions in its content. You are saying either that the defendant has a calculating criminal mind as a result of which she planned the taking of Mr. Fenner's life in a like manner or else that there were instabilities and mental conflicts in the mind of the defendant which makes such a smooth correlation far less likely. Of the two possibilities, which possibility do you now think is the more likely?"
Jo's smooth restrained questioning technique uncoiled itself as she probed and exposed the weaknesses in Dr. Waugh's report that he had only just now realised were there.
"Again, I would back my clinical experience that the 'either' 'or' alternatives that you are posing are over simplistic," Dr. Waugh's precise earnest tones recovered something of their assurance but the way his eyes shifted about betrayed how trapped he felt.
"So it could be a bit of both or a bit of everything like a casserole with no defining flavour," Jo's voice took on a dangerous sarcastic edge. "Which means that the defendant could have any personality you care to name with no connection with any predisposition to criminal behaviour, does it not?"
Dr. Waugh was silent. His mind refused to form words and his tongue was unable to speak.
"Let us move on. When you refer to the defendant as being held in high regard for taking the life of Mr, Fenner, did this not suggest to you that the deceased man was perhaps not held in high regard. In fact is it not possible that he was totally loathed and despised by the inmates."
Dr. Waugh's mouth hung slightly open and his mind froze. He could not get out of his mind the vision of that sneering, evil face and the jibes he had made that his then beloved had been 'screwing Wade for months' and that she had left as it had finally threatened to 'come out, so to speak.' The fact that he knew instinctively that the man was telling the truth did not get away from his feelings of outrage that this evil man had deliberately told him to make trouble between him and Helen. In fact, the two streams of anger converged in one churning turbulence of rising anger that made him hit that man right on the nose with all the force of his anger. The last image he had was of the bastard, slumped on the floor, blood trickling down from his nose and the evil smile parted his lips as he said, "Struck a chord, doctor?"
Dr. Waugh mopped his brow as the horrible memories came back to him and that tearing feeling of loss ran through him again when he knew in that split second that his life was not going to be with that beautiful charismatic woman who had come along to rescue him from his loneliness, not after the way he had been betrayed before.
"It is possible. Now I come to think of it, it is very possible that the inmates felt about Mr. Fenner in the way you indicate. I should have provided for that possibility."
Mr. Neumann Mason-Alan's heart sunk as his key witness in which he had placed such hopes, was letting him down hand over fist.
"In the brief period of time that you were acquainted, exactly what impression did you form of Mr. Fenner?" John's languid voice cut in with the lightning quick thrust of the duellist.
"Damn the man," Jo muttered under her breath. "That's exactly the question I was going to ask."
"Someone I knew described him at the time as a misogynist bastard. I would not say that that is an entirely inaccurate description of the man," Dr. Waugh suddenly spoke boldly, the links on the chains on his mind at last being broken apart by the repeated verbal blows on the anvil.
"I would finally like to ask you how many times you interviewed the defendant to compile the report," Jo asked gently.
"Only once," Dr. Waugh said shortly.
"Is that usual in your experience? Was there any reason why you chose to base your report on just the one examination?"
"I'll be absolutely frank. My preference and past experience is of not less than two sessions, possibly three but I was ordered to limit it to one as the CPS were pressing for an early trial and I was assured that they had every confidence in my work and they had every confidence in me. I agreed not without misgivings."
"In other words, to put it in slang, they gave you a load of flannel," John's hard tones echoed round the court chamber and he fixed a penetrating gaze on Sir Ian and Lawrence James, sitting up in the top row of the gallery.
"You do know, Dr. Waugh, that the defendant is someone who does not lightly place her trust in people and may be reluctant to confide in you on the basis of just the one session. That may explain why your report, though carried out with all the best intentions, only tells half the story."
"I..I.. I leave that for the court to decide," Stammered Dr Waugh for the first time in his life. He couldn't wait to get out of the witness box.
"I have no more questions for the doctor," Finished Jo. Her mouth was dry and she felt drained after preparing to take on in cross-examination someone whom she regarded as a professional in his field as much as she was in hers. She had feared that she would have a rougher ride than she did and it was only his honesty that held him back. She could not in conscience give way to petty malicious glee and get a kick out of grinding the psychiatrist down into the dust.
"Do you wish to re-examine the witness, Mr. Mason Alan?" At the emphatic shake of his head to Dr. Waugh's relief, John intoned the formula to declare close of play.
"Court is adjourned."
The women at the front of the gallery filed out with mixed emotions. They took comfort that Jo Mills had done so well in the exchanges so far but the clinical depiction of Lauren's chaotic and troubled state of mind collided violently with their memories of that period as they had lived through what Lauren was like. The exception was Babs but then again, the contrast between her blissful life and being plunged back into the darkness of Larkhall was hard on her spirit.
Nikki was the last to walk down the flight of steps when she spotted Dr. Waugh. She would have thought that he would have made a rapid exit but the uncertain and wavering path that he trod betrayed the stress that he had been under. He was the last person that Nikki wanted to meet as old memories died not at all. Competing with her sudden uprush of anger was a burning curiosity to find out why he had acted as he did.
"Dr. Waugh, did you really believe the report that you wrote?"
His eyes focussed sightlessly until automatic thinking shaped the words that came wearily out of his mouth.
"Well, I did when I wrote it but not when I was being cross-examined by the defence barrister."
"You really hated Fenner, didn't you," Nikki asked quietly, her anger switched off in a second and real respect in her eyes. He had passed her test.
"Yeah, just as much as the rest of you did. If you'll excuse me, I want to head off for home and get drunk. You're with Helen, aren't you."
It was more of a flat statement than a question that Dr. Waugh finished up with.
"Yeah, I am."
"Tell Helen from me, no hard feelings. Everything that happens, happens for a reason even if you don't know it at the time."
He smiled briefly and made his way out of the court, and was gone.
Nikki let all feelings drain out of her body in her tiredness. She saw that the others had gone on ahead and chased after them.
It was only in John's chambers that he could let loose his pent up fury at Neumann Mason-Alan. Fortunately, his rapid pacing back and forth in his chambers in a peculiar diagonal pattern took some of the anger out of his system. Regrettably for the waste paper basket, he took a kick at it and sent it flying.
"Judge," protested Coope, "only Mrs. Channing gets you in this sort of a state.
"I know," groaned John. "I thought that I only had that fatuous idiot Mason-Alan to deal with. This is going to be such fun," John sighed, casting his eyes to the heavens and reaching for the mug of tea Coope had placed on his desk. "could you ask Mrs. Mills to join me?" He asked after taking a mouthful. Neumann Mason-Alan he could deal with in court, but Jo was a different matter altogether.
After listening to Thomas being questioned, Karen reached a conclusion, one that she had been mulling over since lunchtime. George had left soon after court was adjourned, saying that she had some work to catch up on after having been in court for two days. But Karen waited until she saw Jo emerge from court. She knew that what she was about to ask of Jo would almost certainly be refused, but Karen knew it was something she just had to ask. If she was going to finally lay her memories of Fenner to rest, this process had to begin with her knowing as much about his death as possible.
"Jo, have you got a minute?" Karen asked, walking up to her.
"Yes, of course," Jo replied, "What can I do for you?"
"I need to ask a favour," Karen said slowly. "Something which I'm fairly sure you're going to say no to." They moved to sit down in one of the alcoves where solicitors usually talked to their clients.
"Ask away," Jo invited.
"Please can I see Fenner's forensic report?"
"Karen, you know I can't let you do that," Jo replied slowly but firmly.
"And you know that I wouldn't have asked if it wasn't something I thought I needed to do."
"There are two considerations here," Jo said, "One being that I would be breaking the rules of client confidentiality, which I am not about to do unless I think it is absolutely necessary, and the second is that I don't know how good an idea it would be for you to read something like that."
"I feel like it's the only way I can finally begin to get him out of my life." Jo looked thoughtful. They were then approached by Coope.
"Mrs. Mills, the Judge would like to see you in chambers."
"I wondered when I'd be summoned for my slap on the wrist," Jo said, getting to her feet. "If you wait here," She said to Karen, "I'll try to have an answer for you by the time I come down."
When Coope had shown Jo into John's chambers, she departed after having been tactfully asked by John to leave them to it.
"Sit down," John said when Coope had left, but Jo remained standing.
"John, you summoned me here to give me a verbal slap on the wrist. So please just get on with it."
"Okay," He said slowly, seeing that Jo was going to be as belligerent as George still often was. "Is there a satisfactory reason for the way you behaved in court this morning?"
"I was having a bad day and you made it worse. Will that do?"
"No, because treating both the opposition's witnesses and the court with total disdain just isn't like you, and I will not be made to feel superfluous, or backed in to a corner in my own court."
"That's what this is really about, isn't it," She said with utter certainty. "You don't like the fact that you were wrong to allow the Professor's ridiculous and utterly unfounded assertion to stand yesterday, and even more so because I proved you wrong. You don't like it when someone else has the upper hand for a while, do you." John simply stared at her. Where had she gone, where was the Jo Mills he knew and loved?
"Might I remind you that it is not anyone's place but mine to have the upper hand in my court," He said quietly, though with the threat of anger just below the surface. "Don't make me put you in a cell, Jo, because any more antics like this morning, and I will."
"Fine," She said icily. "Warning received and understood."
"Good," He said, walking slowly towards her. "Now that the official meeting's over, you can tell me what on earth's got in to you today." He stood in front of her but she made no move to touch him.
"John, I'm really not in the mood for this," She said wearily.
"Well then," He said, the words attempting to smooth her ruffled feathers. "Can I see you tonight? You never know, it might just make you relax."
"No, John, you can't," She said, backing a little away from him.
"Because I am finally beginning to see just why barristers are not supposed to sleep with the Judges they are before. You always do this, John; you always pull rank on me if I'm ever showing signs of making things even slightly difficult for you. But it's never an equal fight. You always have to have the upper hand in this relationship, in court and out of it. Ever since the day I first slept with you, you've used your seniority, whether that be pupil-master or judge, to keep me exactly where you want me. Even through all those years when I refused to get back in to your bed, you kept insinuating yourself in to my professional life because you knew I still loved you. If either one of us were in a different profession, you wouldn't be able to do this to me, at least not quite as much."
"And do I do this with George?" He asked when he could finally get a word in.
"Before you started sleeping with her again, yes you did. But then I doubt that even you could ever have the sexual upper hand with George, and before you say a word, that wasn't an insult to George but a realistic view of myself. I would just like, for once in my life, to feel your equal."
"Jo," He tried to interrupt but she hadn't finished yet.
"Do you know what's really quite odd about this situation? I never thought I'd be saying this, but even George treats me like an equal these days, so why can't you?"
"Jo," He finally succeeded in stopping her in her rant. "If anyone has the upper hand in this relationship, it's you and George. It was you who first had the idea of tying me down to only the two of you. That's you, Jo, not anyone else."
"Then perhaps you should ask yourself why," She said furiously, after which she turned, flung open the door and slammed it behind her.
When Jo descended the stairs in to the foyer, Karen looked up to see that she had tears running freely down her cheeks. Getting up, she went over to her.
"Are you all right?"
"He makes me so angry!" Jo said in a mixture of tears and fury. "Do you know what," She added decisively. "I can't possibly make a worse mess of things than I already have today, so if seeing Fenner's forensic report is something you feel you need to do, then that's fine by me."
"Jo," Karen said cautiously. "Don't just say yes to this because you know it would make him cross."
"Every decision in my life doesn't have to revolve around John," Jo said, searching in her handbag for a tissue.
"I know," Replied Karen gently. "But I don't want you to regret it."
"If breaking client confidentiality in the name of closure is the worst thing I ever do, then I think I can live with it. But you'll have to come back with me to my office if you really want to see it. Firstly, because I don't want the fingerprints of any unauthorized person anywhere near the documentation for this case because I've had enough run ins with the professional conduct committee to last me a life time, and secondly, because I am not breaking my professional code of practice in the immediate vicinity of even one court officer." She had found a tissue by this time and wiped her eyes.
"Thank you," Karen said, wondering if she would be thinking that after going through with her wish.
As she followed Jo's tail-lights through the rain and the rush hour traffic, Karen couldn't help but feel a sense of fear-laden anticipation. Finding out the exact details of Fenner's death, and not just those necessary for the court case, was perhaps the most personal way she could ever have invaded his space. But might this just be why she was doing it? To have the last laugh, the last word? Finally, after too many tortured dreams and endless phases of self-doubt and self-recrimination, she would have won, and he would have lost. When she drew up beside Jo's car, she could see that Jo had taken the opportunity whilst sitting in too many traffic jams to repair the ravages to her face. Following Jo up the carpeted stairs to her office, Karen was forced to remember the first time she had come here, and knew that the sense of nervousness wasn't very different from that occasion. Jo's office was warm, the shelves crammed with books and box files, the cluttered desk and the case files piled in one of the visitors' chairs making the room look and feel lived in. Jo immediately moved to her desk and switched on the computer, waiting for the screen to light up and eventually typing in her password. Karen watched as she moved the mouse familiarly through her electronic workspace, opening folders, scrolling down file names and finally clicking on a Word document, which began to appear in tiny pixels on the screen.
"Would you like a cup of tea?" She said to Karen, gesturing for her to take the swivel chair in front of the desk.
"Yes please," Karen replied as she sat down, knowing that this was Jo's way of saying, what I don't see you read can't possibly hurt me. When Jo quietly left the room and closed the door, Karen began to read.
"Name: James Fenner.
Date of Discovery: 12/10/03.
Approximate date of death: 05/10/03.
Primary cause of Death: inhalation of soil in to the lungs resulting in suffocation.
Manner of Death: homicide.
Attending forensic Pathologist: Professor Sam Ryan.
Attached to this report are photographs of every stage of the procedure, toxicology reports containing James Fenner's blood alcohol results plus any other substances found in his system, x-ray films, histology slides and a report on the bullet retrieved from his body.
When Mr. Fenner's body was first presented to me, his initial x-ray showed a bullet to be lodged in his spine, just above the navel. I did not think that this injury would have been immediately life threatening, unless it had struck the iliac artery, and I was proved right on closer examination. Once Mr. Fenner had been unclothed, I could determine that this gunshot wound was not a contact injury, meaning that the shot was fired from some distance away. This was ascertained by the lack of gunshot residue on the surrounding skin, the lack of a muzzle mark on the skin, and the fact that the bullet had slowed down enough by the time it reached the body to lodge itself in the spine, rather than passing straight through. I would estimate that this bullet was not intended to cause maximum damage but only to incapacitate the victim. I make this assertion as if maximum injury were the intended outcome, either Mr. Fenner would have been shot in an alternative place, or a bullet such as the Smith and Wesson black tallon would have been used. The gunshot injury was proved not to be the cause of death on examination of the mouth and internal organs. There were particles of soil, matched to that found in the area where James Fenner's body was discovered, clinging to the insides of his mouth and throat. This initially indicated that he might have been suffocated.
In order to conduct the internal examination, I performed a sterno-pubic incision on James Fenner. This looks exactly like a letter Y. It begins at each clavicle or collarbone, the two branches of the Y meeting at the sternum or breastbone, then descending to just above the genitals, making a slight detour around the naval, or in Mr. Fenner's case, around his abdominal gunshot wound.
On opening the chest cavity, I first excised the heart. This was done by transection of the aorta, the vena cava, the pulmonary artery and pulmonary vein. James Fenner had mild coronary artery disease, which was possibly the result of a lifestyle consisting mainly of smoking, drinking and a protracted period of unhealthy living. The heart did show signs of severe strain, almost certainly caused at or before the time of death due to blood loss and a lack of oxygenated blood.
Before proceeding to an in-depth examination of the lungs, I was able to verify that the laryngeal nerve was in tact, meaning that James Fenner would certainly have been able to shout for help and to plead with his killer any time up until he began to feel the effects of a lack of oxygen. The fact that he didn't succeed in attracting any attention to his predicament could suggest one of two things: either there was nobody in the vicinity who would have heard his cry for help, or that he knew his killer and assumed that he or she wouldn't go through with their suggested course of action.
I then progressed to James Fenner's lungs, excising them as far up the trachea as possible to attempt to keep it in tact. There were many soil particles clinging to the interior of the trachea, the bronchioles and the superior alveoli or air sacs. This confirmed my diagnosis that James Fenner had died by suffocation, as a result of inhaling earth particles. For such a quantity of soil to be present in Mr. Fenner's lungs, it would have been necessary for him to have been submerged in a growing mound of earth. Once his brain began reacting to a severe lack of oxygen, he would have quickly become unconscious, but this would not have prevented his lungs from trying to breathe involuntarily. This can be illustrated by histological examination of the alveolar tissue. When the lungs are continuously trying to maintain a satisfactory oxygen level in a rapidly decreasing air supply, they will therefore breathe faster and faster to cope with the lack of oxygenated air. This causes the collapse of the alveolar framework, (both of ducts and air sacs), resulting in the overlap of the alveolar and eventually the pulmonary septa. This in turn resulted in the decrease of the space needed for the exchange between oxygenated and de-oxygenated air. This rapid change in pulmonary architecture would have meant that only de-oxygenated blood was reaching the heart through the pulmonary vein. Whether the severe pulmonary obstruction or the lack of oxygenated blood to reach the heart was the first thing to kill him, we can never be certain. Either way, once James Fenner was submerged in earth, almost certainly poured on to his face from above, he would have died within minutes.
I then moved my examination to Mr. Fenner's gunshot wound. In doing so, I discovered a substantial amount of scar tissue from a previous injury, possibly from a stabbing or a major abdominal operation. The bullet had penetrated Mr. Fenner's body at the lower end of his abdominal scar, the extensive internal scar tissue almost certainly slowing the bullet down. The bullet was lodged in the spine at L5, in the superior bone of the lumbar sacral junction. Mr. Fenner would not have been able to feel any sensation below this point, which would have meant that he was unable to stand or walk, or move his lower body in any way. If, as I suspect, he was standing where he was eventually buried when he was shot, he would have been totally unable to drag himself out of the firing line. If Mr. Fenner had not been buried alive, then he would have eventually died from blood loss, though this could have taken anything up to a few hours, due to the fact that his wound did not hit any major veins or arteries. Except with the use of his arms, Mr. Fenner would have had no chance whatsoever of defending himself against his killer.
Judging by the fact that James Fenner's fingerprints were present on the spade that was recovered, I would estimate that he was forced at gunpoint to dig his own grave, then to stand in the grave whilst he was shot. He then had to watch as earth was gradually heaped over his face. It must be made clear at this point that whoever killed James Fenner buried him extremely skillfully, and that he would not have been found for a considerable amount of time had it not been for the ingenuity of a very inquisitive Labrador. In considering this crime, going by the location, method and initial success in concealing Mr. Fenner's body, it would not be beyond the call of duty for me to suggest that Mr. Fenner did know the identity of his killer. Something, some reason made him do exactly what he was told on that journey to Epping Forest.
Note on the firearm
Mr. James Fenner was shot with a nine millimetre Remington cartridge, discharged from a Sig Sauer nine millimetre pistol. In the solving of homicide cases, this gun and this type of bullet are always useful, in that the cartridge case is always discharged along with the bullet, and in Mr. Fenner's case, his killer forgot to remove it from the scene. The firing pin of this type of pistol always leaves a very small scratch on the side of the cartridge case which, when compared with a suspect gun, can be matched with the same unique preciseness as a fingerprint. After a wide and detailed search, the gun was found together with the spade that was used to bury James Fenner. The firing pin of the Sig Sauer pistol was matched with the groove on the side of the cartridge case, stating without doubt that it was this gun that was used. Interestingly, whilst the spade still contained particles of soil, plus the fingerprints of Mr. Fenner and his killer, the gun had been expertly cleaned. The internal workings had been freshly lubricated with gun oil, and the external surfaces scrubbed with Hops9 solvent. This had clearly been done by someone who knows about guns and who is used to maintaining their own weapons on a regular basis. The gun also contained some identifying details of its own. Engraved just above the trigger, were the letters CJA. It must also be noted that the five remaining bullets had been removed from the gun before it was disposed of. To all intents and purposes, this gun, were it to be found in the hands of a licensed owner, would not appear to have been recently used. This was without doubt an attempt to mislead police officers and to conceal the perpetration of James Fenner's murder..."
Karen continued reading, but all the essentials had been spelt out to her in the stark, all too vivid words of someone who had simply been doing their job. She was ashamed to feel tears on her face, to see in her reflection from the monitor that her eyes held only pain, only grief for the Fenner who had once said he loved her. It was funny, but that had been the one thing he'd ever said to her that inwardly she'd never doubted. He had believed that he hadn't raped her, that he could never do something like that to her. Even in his twisted, screwed up fashion he had loved her. But if she was grieving for the Fenner she had once loved, then where did that put her when it came to Yvonne, and what Yvonne's daughter had so ruthlessly done to him. She didn't know. All the feelings she had, plus all the feelings she knew she ought to have, were so mixed up in her head that she didn't know where one set of thoughts ended and the next began.
Jo had taken a good deal longer than necessary to make two mugs of tea, knowing that Karen would need some space to do this. Jo still wasn't convinced that it was a good thing, but maybe Karen needed to be allowed to make a decision for herself for once where Fenner was concerned. But as she gently pushed open her office door, she could feel Karen's pain and confusion as if it was almost tangible. Putting the mugs down on the coffee table and softly closing the door, Jo walked over to the desk. Seeing that Karen couldn't possibly still see the screen through her tears, Jo switched the monitor off, removing the practical horrors of Fenner's death and returning it to a friendly, impersonal blank. Putting her arms gently round her, Jo held Karen to her, gently rubbing the slightly trembling shoulders, Karen's head softly nestled against Jo's body. After a while, Karen looked up.
"I had to do it," She said, desperately wanting Jo to understand.
"I know," Jo said softly, remembering what George had told her of Karen's flashback the day before, and realising that this had been Karen's attempt to take control of her memories of Fenner, to begin to exorcise them before they took over her psyche.
"I'm not supposed to feel like this," Karen said, eventually detaching herself from Jo and reaching for the box of tissues on the desk. "I'm supposed to be relieved that he's no longer here, that he can never again do to me or anyone else the kind of thing he got away with for years. I'm supposed to be able to consign all my memories of Fenner to somewhere where they can't come back to haunt me, like the memory of the person I was when I lived with him." Jo simply stood and waited. "I was a complete cow when I loved and lived with Fenner," Karen added bitterly.
"So was George before you got to know her," Jo found herself saying. "People change." They moved over to the two chairs under the window, between which was the coffee table that contained their mugs of tea and an ashtray. "Karen, one thing you must not do," Jo said as she lit a cigarette and handed it to Karen, after which she lit one for herself. "Is to blame yourself for anything you are feeling."
"It's not quite that simple though, is it."
"No, it's not, and I think this is only the beginning. Ever since that first day when I came to see Lauren, and she told me what she'd done to Fenner, I thought something like this might happen. It became blindingly obvious to me that you knew nothing of the real circumstances of his death, and even though I tried to persuade Yvonne to tell you, we reached the trial and you still didn't know. That's why I made sure there was someone in the public gallery who I could trust to deal with any emotional reaction you might have to hearing the details of how your once lover, because that's what he was, had died. Even now it feels odd to be able to say that I trust George, but with something like this, I do. But in the end, it wasn't the details of his death that caused you to relive something you thought you'd forgotten."
"Did she tell you what did make me walk out of court?"
"Yes. Have you thought about why it was that particular incident that you remembered?"
"I didn't think about much else on Monday night, and I think it was because that was the start of Fenner wielding his influence over me. From that time until Virginia O'Kane was killed, I accepted every word he said as being gospel. I wouldn't listen to anyone who tried to vilify him. I remember the day after he assaulted Helen, she was trying to find out whether or not I was living with him. If I'd opened my eyes and ears for more than a second, I'd have picked up on the fact that for some reason, she was concerned for me. I loathe the person I was in those days, probably more than Fenner himself."
"As I said, people do change, no one more so than George. Before the Merriman/Atkins trial, we didn't used to be able to be in the same room for as long as five minutes without verbally scratching each other's eyes out. It was easier for her to blame me for breaking up her marriage than to look at why John had gone looking elsewhere in the first place. But that trial did something to both of us. I got a bit too emotionally involved, partly because of her presence on the opposite bench and partly because of everything I learnt about you. George on the other hand was shown in no uncertain terms the lengths her then partner would go to in order to avoid bad publicity."
"But how did you get from just about managing to be civil to each other, to entering in to this three-way relationship you have with John?"
"George was going through a pretty rough time, and went looking for comfort in the arms of John, knowing that he never says no to a beautiful woman. She got the shock of her life, however, when she found herself feeling guilty for doing it, not because of John, but because of me." Karen's eyes widened. "She realised that she suddenly didn't want to lose the tentative friendship we were gradually building. But the thing that brought me and George close enough to thinking of each other in that way, was your case against Fenner. We'd suddenly found some common ground, something we both felt so strongly about that it allowed us to put aside all our monumental rows of the last seventeen years."
"Well," Karen said slowly. "I'm glad it achieved something good."
"What I'm trying to say to you is, nearly everything happens for a reason, including the re-emergence of things about yourself and about Fenner that you'd rather forget. All your brain is doing is telling you that it's time to bring everything out, re-examine it and finally put it to rest."
"That sounds like something Meg would come out with," Karen said, referring to her psychiatrist friend Meg Richards, who she had suggested to Jo as an expert witness for Lauren's case.
"We have talked at length about you," Jo admitted with a small smile. "You are bound to grieve for Fenner, even though you don't think you should. Just, try not to be afraid of it. The longer you put it off, the harder it will be to do when you eventually find yourself forced in to doing it. You're not unlike John when it comes to something like this. You don't deal with things as and when they occur, because you neither have the time nor the inclination to deal with them. But when they do eventually rear their ugly heads, the emotional reaction to it is far more devastating."
"What did he say to upset you earlier?" Karen asked, feeling that it was about time the conversation moved away from herself and focussed on someone else.
"Don't even get me started," Jo said, some of the earlier anger returning.
"Jo, I think that's what close friendship is supposed to be about," Karen said gently.
"He's always had the upper hand where I'm concerned," Jo said, seeing that Karen's offer of a listening ear was as well-meant as her own had been. "Every time I do something he doesn't like, whether it's in court or out of it, he pulls the old thing of his seniority on me, and because he is professionally superior to me, I always give in. John sees no problem in sleeping with a barrister who is before him, because he knows that professionally speaking, neither he nor I will take advantage of the situation. But he will quite happily use his professional position to get what he wants personally. He's probably told you this, but when I met him, he was my tutor and he saw no problem with having an affair with one of his students. In the relationship he has with me, he's always played the role of the tutor or the judge, always having the upper hand. Just for once, it would be nice to feel his equal."
"Is he like this with George?"
"It's different with George." Jo lit herself another cigarette, using the action to give her some much needed thinking time, though not enabling her to come up with any other way of saying what she wanted to say. "When it comes to bed," Jo said, looking slightly away from Karen and a slight blush touching her cheeks. "George has been and always will be his equal. In that respect, I am nothing like George. She has the same level of sexual skill and experience that he has. That's why restricting him to straying with George and only George has worked. She never stopped loving him, nor he her, but they both know that they could never again live together. So, he gets the security and commitment that he's always wanted from me, and the appearance of having a mistress with George, getting from her a kind of sex life he probably won't ever get from me. John needs to feel that he's got somewhere to run if one woman lets him down, so that if either of us ever did, he'd have the other. I can feel secure that he isn't going to go back to George, and that he will also not go away from me completely with a total stranger. Much as it might have been a novel idea to start with, it does work, more than any idea I've ever had concerning John. I would just occasionally like to feel his equal rather than always feeling both professionally and sexually inferior to him."
"It sounds to me like he needs reminding of what his priorities are," Karen said, thinking that John really didn't know he was born.
"Yes, he probably does," Sighed Jo, "I would just like him to realise that without my having to tell him. Is that too much to ask?"
"For some men," Said Karen ruefully, "Yes it is. If I thought you'd consider it," Karen continued with a little smirk, "I'd suggest you had an affair with a woman, because that would definitely make him see that he had to start working at this relationship as much as you and George clearly do." Jo laughed.
"That'd be the biggest shock of his life," She said, just trying to picture John's face.
"Just tell him how you feel," Karen said, turning serious again. "Tell him why you feel inferior. If he's always the initiator, which knowing John I suspect he is, surprise him, show him that you're just as capable as he is at being in control. You never know, he might actually like someone else having the upper hand for a change."
Denny's eyes had blinked open automatically in term for the early morning call. It was a habit of hers from when she was in a foster home and then in a children's home. You didn't know what bastard screw would come through the door when you were half asleep. It all went back to when she was a kid and she really thought that the man coming through the door was just being friendly, like you do when you are a kid. Even now, when everything from her tattoos, the way she dressed and acted was her version of visually displaying herself 'dyke' and 'not to be touched by a man' was her version of self protection. She just didn't take chances, as it wasn't safe to.
Lauren was different because she was as bad as waking up in the morning as her mother had been and the reason was easy to understand. Her hardness threatened any screw who remotely crossed the line with a towering stormcloud of rage in a single look. Besides, she was an Atkins. Stories of her mother's time in Larkhall were embroidered into legend and passed down to new inmates and rumours as to who really killed Charlie still haunted the dark corridors and single cells of the vast honeycomb warren that was Larkhall. Lauren simply had to step into the shoes that were waiting for her. Even today, she was only a shade earlier and Denny finally saw her off with a couple of the screws and life at Larkhall went on much the same, with all the petty day to day routines.
Hours later, she was playing a game of pool to kill time and to keep her thoughts occupied though, in reality, they had walked out of the gates with Lauren. As her ball clipped the other ball she was aiming at, a chorus rose up behind her announcing Lauren's return. The slim black woman dragged herself wearily into the canteen area and stopped, not knowing which way to go.
"Hey, Lauren, how did it go, man?"
Lauren's mouth twisted sideways into a grimace and she didn't answer.
"I'll get you some tea," Denny offered graciously as the other woman's body dropped into a chair as if invisible strings holding her up had been suddenly slashed through. She was numb to any emotion and reached for a much overdue cigarette and lit up.
"It's weird sitting in the dock and hearing everyone talking about you. It's as if I was lying out flat on a slab and everyone's was pointing at me and you can't move, you can't speak. The brief who's prosecuting me is a total dickbrain, talking about me as if I'm this psycho bitch that gets a kick out of killing and torturing people. I'm not like that, am I?"
Lauren looked pleadingly at Denny.
"You're talking about Shell Dockley, man," Denny's firm voice broke into Lauren's meandering streams of consciousness fuzzy edged voice. "She was an ex who could twist me round her little finger and make me do all the shit evil things for her. I know the difference. You just took out one evil bastard screw and no one's been upset since he's gone, except Bodybag and Di Barker, sad cows. It's just a drag that it's illegal."
Denny's simple words of common sense started to blow away Lauren's dark clouds of self-accusation as her eyes focussed on Denny for the first time. Denny knew the signs, they all came back like that from court.
"Just remember, Lauren, I've shared a cell with you all these months and if there was anything bad going down with you, I'd know by now. The worst thing I can say is that you're dead moody first thing in the morning, same as your mum but that ain't no crime."
Lauren laughed freely at the utterly absurd bathos in Denny's words. She could be funny without even intending it, and knew much more than she ever thought of life around her. She was much better for her than Ritchie had ever been.
"Jo Mills is doing her best for me, but she only makes me sound as if I'm a right head case instead of a cold evil killer. I know it's for the best, but "
"Do you really want to get banged up here for life as that's what you'll get if your brief doesn't say something smart to get you off the hook?"
The expression on Denny's face pleaded with the other woman as much as her words for her to get a grip on herself.
"I know, Denny, but .."
"But it doesn't matter shit except for how much she can swing it with the jury. Don't be a twat, just for me. So how well did she do?"
"Pretty good so far. She chewed up the other brief and she tied up Dr. Waugh in knots except that .."
"He ended up sort of agreeing with someone who called Fenner a misogynist bastard. Those were the words I think."
"He's on the other side, ain't he? That's weird, man."
Denny's face looked blank with incomprehension as what Lauren said didn't click or make any sense.
"So what about the judge?"
"It seemed different last time. I was in the gallery cheering him on to nail that useless brother of mine and that evil tart Merriman for what they did wrong "
"So what? Did you rob your mum, help smuggle in a ton of explosives and let my bird Shaz get burnt to death? Could you have ever done anything as evil as that? A bastard like Fenner deserved to die. Anyway, that judge is the best, trust me."
Denny started dancing about like an excitable little kid. It suddenly dawned on her that if Dr. Waugh had changed sides, it sounded like good news for Lauren.
"How the hell do you know him? Next thing you're going to say is that the Queen makes a nice cup of tea 'cos you've been let out for the day to go to Buckingham Palace."
"He came round here one day, didn't I tell you? Miss Betts left me with him to chat to for a bit. I told him about Shaz, even showed him the picture the Costas did of her. He was dead interested and a really nice bloke."
Lauren let herself be led off back to her cell and lie down. She needed to crash out on her bunk.
Nikki sat as still as a statue, perched upright as Jewel's opening lazily strummed, slack stringed guitar chords and smouldering keyboards hit that sombre, rock bottom register in her soul. Sometimes she needed to be alone and this was music to be alone with. It was at that point where reflective silence and a shadowed introversion took her to the point where she was oblivious of her surroundings. She didn't get the chance much these days to be this way with the loud raucous music of the club and the snatched time with Helen on opposite shifts.
"Barcelona, where the winds all blew
And the churches don't have windows but the graveyards do
Me and my shadow are wrestling again
Look out stranger, there's a dark cloud moving in
But if you could hear the voice in my heart it would tell you
I'm afraid I am alone."
In her mind, she rode the trail with Jewel as that voice arched high up into the summer air in an impossible flight of words. It had hypnotised her from the very first time she heard it. That CD was the first she had bought when she got out of Larkhall and was let loose in HMV with more than her weekly spends in her pocket.
"Won't somebody please hold me, release me "Let me fly, let me fly
Show me the meaning of mercy
Let me loose
Fly, let me fly, let me fly."
Those words could have been sung to her in the depths of that narrow hard bunk separated from her beloved and craving for that mercy from the world just that once. It wasn't much to ask for.
I won't be held down, I won't be held back
I will lead with my faith."
"Let me fly, let me fly
Yes, that was what she had done all her life from when she left home and made her place in a world of her own since the world she was born into had rejected her. Without that faith, she was nothing. When that song came to an end, she clicked the 'replay' button on her remote control for that song to travel through her once again. The music always made her feel good about herself in a strange way. Once is never enough for a song that tells your life.
"Hi Nikki. You've got a lot on your mind when you play that song."
That sudden flashing smile of Nikki's that lightened her face and pulled her out of the strange depths of her thoughts back to the here and now. She waved goodbye to that old friend of hers, that special place in her mind, but she knew she would come back there some time in the future. It was a good friend to her and had been with her all her life.
"Kind of. I ran into a guy who brought back memories, as well as some old friends, the old lags from Larkhall."
"There is a difference?"
"I'm not really sure. It was your ex, Dr. Waugh."
Helen was curiously relieved after her quick 'once over' glance at Nikki. Her first words were a hair fine trigger to her question. Nikki's emotions were always written plainly on her face and, instead of a dark scowl, she was softly reflective. It was Helen who reacted fiercely to his name crossing their threshold.
"How good did he feel about selling out his professional integrity that he was always talking about?"
"Pretty shit," Came Nikki's even reply to Helen's contemptuous accusation. "He wasn't given an easy ride by Jo Mills as you might expect. I got the impression that he genuinely didn't see the weaknesses in his report till he was on the stand. The really weird thing was that he ended up quoting a certain someone who described Fenner as a misogynist bastard. He ended up hanging the bastard out to dry. Pretty strange for a prosecution witness."
Helen had the strange sensation of standing in a huge echo gallery with her voice talking back to her. She must have spent years shouting her protests about Fenner to an unhearing world, which sponged it up and reduced her to nothingness. She had fought that battle long and hard, which she had lost and had walked away from. Now her words had been preserved in some time bubble and were framed in Thomas's self-assured educated accent and reverberated round the Old Bailey, on whose dome that ultimate symbol of justice, the balanced scales had tilted her way. It was true that Thomas knew what Fenner was like from what she had told him but after splitting up with him, he was out of her life forever for good or ill.
"He said another thing, Helen. He said about you that there were no hard feelings. What did he mean by that?"
Helen took a breath and paused on the brink as, in her mind, she was sitting opposite Thomas in their favourite restaurant, telling herself and him that 'I'm with you now.'
Whatever was she doing there while she's got Nikki now.
"I never told you about how Thomas and I split up. Fenner had been blabbing his mouth about the two of us and he confronted me. He didn't beat about the bush ."
"Rather like me," Nikki couldn't help adding as clear memories of the man, untroubled by present entanglements, slipped through her mind.
"He said that everytime we were getting close, it was as if he was hitting a brick wall "
"That was me."
"He said that he had been betrayed before because the woman he was with wasn't honest but I couldn't even be honest with myself ."
"That sounds like me talking at my most tactless."
"And it was Thomas who, curiously enough, convinced me where my real feelings lay and that was with you, Nikki."
After her previous deliberate lightness of tone, Nikki's mouth suddenly opened slightly with shock as the full implications sunk in. Her slim delicate fingers only partly concealed her feelings. So that evil bastard Fenner's parting gift to them had, in his twisted way, helped Helen and her to finally get back together. Only a few seconds, a sense of savage glee came to the rescue that of the evil things that he had done in his life, this rebounded to her advantage and Helen's. She hoped that wherever he was, his spirit could rot in hell and be tortured forever by the thought of their happiness.
That light in Helen's large expressive eyes and her neatly cut bobbed hair swung as she turned her head and slipped her arms round Nikki's shoulders and their lips met in a deep kiss.
"Welcome home," She whispered into Nikki's neck, minutes later.
"You and me both, darling."
On the Wednesday morning, they were joined in the gallery by Helen. Karen privately thought that after two days, they needed some new blood, someone new to infiltrate their little gathering. Helen had met Roisin some time ago through the fact that Yvonne and Nikki were friends, and she'd obviously known Barbara also through Nikki, but it was time for Helen to meet George, and Karen found herself wondering what Nikki might have told Helen about the new addition to the Atkins support group. It seemed to matter to Karen what all her friends thought of George, which was stupid. George was perfectly capable of standing up for herself, but it didn't stop Karen feeling slightly protective.
"George," Nikki said when they all met in the foyer. "This is Helen, Helen Wade," She added, a smile of pure pride lighting up her face for a moment, showing George that whilst these two women might not be technically married, the fact that Helen had changed her name to Nikki's meant as much to both of them.
"Though you might know me better as Helen Stewart," Helen added in her lilting Scottish burgh which appeared gentle though with a hidden strength not far underneath.
"Oh, yes," George said, holding out her hand to shake Helen's, and remembering the way Helen had fitted in to the jigsaw of Fenner's crimes.
"Nikki tells me you spent a day unofficially at Her Majesty's pleasure some time ago," Helen put in, trying both to make some sort of conversation and to put George, who clearly felt like the new girl of the class, at her ease.
"I can see that I'm never going to live that down," George said ruefully.
"What the bloody hell's she doing here?" Helen asked catching a sight of Di Barker walking off towards the room reserved for the prosecution's witnesses.
"Whether she's doing it because I brought in Gina as principle officer instead of giving Di a promotion, or whether she's doing it to get some sort of twisted revenge on me for being alive instead of where Fenner is now, I couldn't tell you. But she's giving evidence for the prosecution."
"Oh, there'll be a reason for it," Said Helen knowingly. They began walking up the wide marble stairs, Nikki, Roisin and Barbara in front, with Helen, George and Karen bringing up the rear.
"Dominic nearly put in for an instant transfer when he found out he'd be working with her again."
"How's he getting on?" Asked Helen, and George felt comfortable listening to the two women who had once had their profession in common and who could clearly never tire of discussing it.
"Oh, he's fine," Said Karen with a smile. "That year or so in Greece really did something to him, took away his shyness. He even threatened the Julies with segregation last week." Helen laughed.
"I was going to come yesterday," Helen said, lowering her voice so that only George and Karen could hear her. "But I didn't think I could stand the tension of Nikki and Thomas in the same place."
"Well, you'll be pleased to know that she was very civil to him," Karen said equally quietly.
"Thank god for that," Said Helen in sheer relief. "How did he get on?"
"I shouldn't say it, as he's appearing for the other side," Replied Karen, "But he was pretty good."
"His report didn't do him or the prosecution any favours though," Put in George.
"Why?" Helen asked, clearly still interested in what he got up to.
"He made a couple of very broad statements which Jo managed to pull to pieces and which forced him to get off the fence, fortunately landing on our side not theirs," Explained George. "Who's on this morning?"
"The police officer who arrested Lauren," Replied Karen. "You'll remember him, Helen, the bloke who tried to pin Renee Williams' death on Shaz Wiley."
"Not that shifty-looking bastard?" Helen asked in disgust. Then turning to George, she explained. "This lovely little representative of the Metropolitan police kept the entire prison on lock down for nearly a fortnight, over nothing more than a bloody nut allergy."
"The very same," confirmed Karen.
"Sounds as though he hasn't changed," Said George dryly. "Getting an Atkins convicted would no doubt result in his rise to chief."
"You're learning," Said Nikki approvingly, having heard the tail end of the conversation as they moved in to the front bench of the gallery, their number now making a total of six for John to keep his beady eye on throughout the proceedings.
"Detective Inspector Sullivan," Neumann Mason-Alan began once he'd got the policeman on the stand. "Please could you tell the court about the day you arrested Lauren Atkins? What you did when you called on her? What she said to you?" Sullivan tried and failed to look professional.
"Lauren Atkins wasn't very pleased to see me," He replied, shooting a sneer over at the dock. "She took a while to open the door, possibly taking the time to check me and my colleague, Detective Sergeant Greer, out first." John felt it necessary to intervene.
"Inspector, would you not consider this a wise move for a woman on her own, about to open her front door to two strangers?" Sullivan looked scornful.
"This is an Atkins we're talking about My Lord. Before allowing me entry in to her house, she told me that she couldn't guarantee my safety with her Alsatian dog." Karen couldn't help emitting a small, quiet giggle, which brought a wide grin from Nikki who had also met Trigger and knew just how soft he was. "Lauren Atkins took my presence as an immediate threat, and used the threat of her dog's teeth to attempt to keep me and my colleague from questioning her."
"Oh, honestly," Said Barbara in a stage whisper, which brought a raised eyebrow from George.
"The Atkins dog is softer than that whippet of John's," Karen almost silently told her.
"How did Lauren Atkins react to your questioning?" Asked Neumann Mason-Alan.
"She was rude, belligerent and utterly refused to co-operate."
"My Lord," Said Jo, rising to her feet. "This is a prejudicial statement against my client's character which cannot be proved. My client maintains that she did co-operate with the police when they visited her home, and that she made no attempt to resist their arrest."
"Be careful to stick to the facts, Inspector," John warned.
"My Lord," Sullivan insisted, "Might I remind you who we are talking about here?"
"Not if you don't want to end up before me on a charge of contempt of court, no," John replied sternly.
"My Lord, if I might be allowed to continue with the witness?" Mason-Alan tried to regain the reins.
"By all means," John said blithely. "But you might choose to impress on your witness that he would do well to show some respect for his surroundings."
"Detective Inspector Sullivan," Mason-Alan returned to his questioning. "Did Lauren Atkins show any inclination to be co-operative once you returned with her to the police station?"
"Not in the least," Sullivan replied, seeing in the prosecuting barrister a man after his own heart. "She refused to tell us anything. Not one, single detail. Even when we offered her the advice of the duty solicitor, she refused to say a word."
"What about when you presented her with the evidence of the gun, the spade and the empty cartridge case? Did this not provoke any reaction from her?"
"No, not anything. Miss, Lauren, Atkins," Sullivan said, slowly spacing out the words, "Has obviously been well coached in how to deal with a visit from the law. I have had occasion to question her mother, Yvonne Atkins, and neither woman has ever given the police the time of day."
"Well, if this is the way you discuss them in court," John intervened, "then I'm hardly surprised." Seeing that this witness would be nothing more to him than a lost cause, Neumann Mason-Alan sat down, leaving the way open for Jo who quickly moved in for the kill.
"Detective Inspector Sullivan," Jo began, not giving him a moment to take a breath. "When you asked Lauren Atkins if she had ever heard of James Fenner, what did she say to you?"
"She put on this fake, innocent expression that was supposed to fool me, and said, oh, wasn't he the prison officer who was murdered last October. Then she made the connection that he used to work on the wing where her mother had been incarcerated."
"And does that response strike you as unco-operative?"
"No, it strikes me as a pathetic attempt to fool me. One I might add that didn't work."
"Now, whilst I will not waste the court's time," She quoted John's words of yesterday, "By attempting to prove that my client co-operated with you during her initial interview, she did agree to give you a full, fact-filled statement at a later date, 3L in your bundle, My Lord."
"You call that little fabrication a full, fact-filled statement, do you?" Sullivan asked in amusement.
"Of course," Said Jo without ranker, "Why, what would you call it?"
"What I would call Lauren Atkins' police statement couldn't possibly be repeated in present company," Sullivan drawled with nothing but malice in his tone.
"With that in mind," Jo continued, sounding amiable to only those who didn't know her. "Wouldn't it be fair to suggest that your attitude to my client was prejudiced from the start, and that your sole reason for taking on this case was because you had failed to pin another death on Yvonne Atkins? A death that I should point out for the court to be the result of a fatally allergic reaction to nuts?"
"Listen dear," Sullivan said, openly snarling at Jo who remained thoroughly unmoved. "Your client," Sullivan almost spat out the word, "Is the last in a long line of criminals. Her father was one, her brother was one, and her mother, who I suspect is paying your fee, is one. To give Lauren Atkins her due, it would have been a miracle if she hadn't ended up becoming involved in violent crime."
"Inspector, Yvonne Atkins was convicted of conspiracy to commit murder, not murder itself. Does that not suggest to you that if an Atkins were thinking of committing a murder, they would far rather pay someone else to do it for them? That is, if I am willing to go along with the assumption that my client is guilty, which of course I am not."
"Now you're just playing with words, about all you defence barristers are good for."
"Right, that will do," John almost roared. "Inspector, if you should ever have occasion to be before me again, I do hope you will conduct yourself with a lot more decorum, now get out." When Sullivan had retreated in high dudgeon, John adjourned the proceedings until after lunch.
When they reached the foyer, George turned to Karen and said,
"I'm afraid I can't be here this afternoon. I've got a couple of appointments I can't get out of."
"You don't have to be here," Karen said quietly.
"Yes, I do," George said decisively. "Quitting this case now would feel like missing the rest of the story. Besides," She said, lowering her voice to a seductive lull that hovered invitingly over Karen's senses. "Spending all my days in your company is allowing me to make up for lost time." Karen smiled that soft, soul-deep smile that a not so subtle piece of flirtation always provoked in her.
"Then will you allow me to buy you dinner tonight?" Karen found herself asking without any prior thought. George grinned broadly but still kept her voice fairly quiet.
"Do you know," She said with the wickedest little smirk. "That could almost have been said by John."
"I was saying things like that long before I met him," Karen said with a laugh.
"Oh, I'm sure you were," Drawled George with utter certainty. "And yes, dinner would be lovely." Agreeing to pick her up at seven thirty that evening, Karen watched as George walked confidently off towards her car.
"You know, I think Nikki's right about you," An amused Scottish lilt said beside her.
"Really," Karen said dryly but with a wide smile. Then, turning serious she said, "But please, I'd rather no one else knew about this for now, especially Yvonne. I have no idea where it's going, or even if it'll go anywhere, and now isn't the time to give Yvonne another piece of news she certainly isn't going to like."
"You're secret is safe with me, or should I say us," Said Helen, privately thinking that if the look on George's face was anything to go by, then whatever it was certainly would be going somewhere, and that this might be the best thing for Karen, someone who wasn't even slightly connected to Larkhall or her job. Let's face it, Helen thought to herself, she knew all about the problems of mixing business with pleasure. A bit of pleasure that couldn't be described as even remotely associated with business was definitely what Karen needed.
Sitting in their places in the Gods, Sir Ian and Lawrence James were already starting to feel 'saddle sore' from prolonged sitting in the back row of the gallery and to wish that they were back in the comparative luxury of their offices at the LCD. This was their most abiding memory of the Atkins/Pilkinton trial and now they were going through the same painful process but at least this time around, the case must surely go in favour of the Crown. Even Deed couldn't be that perverse, could he?
They were mildly surprised to see a striking looking black woman with long plaited hair and colourful, flowing robes walk down the aisle from the top of the gallery. Surprise turned into total bemusement when she took her place in the hecklers section of the gallery along the front row and started chatting to the well-dressed white middle class women. What on earth could she have in common with them?
"The Lord will protect Lauren ..and a good barrister," They overheard her say in her decided Caribbean accent.
"Don't worry, Crystal," the tall slim, short haired woman next to her answered in her educated accent. "She's got the best that there is going."
The trial started promptly at two as everyone shuffled into their appointed places and the background chatter to fizzle out as John resumed the trial.
On the witness stand, Di Barker took the Bible in her hand rather nervously. She had accompanied prisoners before on guard duty while she stood to the side of them. She had felt secure that questions would not be asked of her and that she watched the cross-examinations from a certain emotional detachment and distance. It was quite another matter to be in the witness stand. She knew what needed saying and how people reacted to her. Her brown curly hair framed her face, mask-like in its plain innocence and helped by her believable solid down to earth northern accent. However, she was determined to tell her version of the truth and her eyes flitted round the court somehow avoiding looking upwards too much.
"Miss Barker, can you explain to the court what James Fenner was like, both professionally and personally."
Neumann Mason-Alan was determined to let Miss Goody Two Shoes paint a glowing portrait of James Fenner and, judging from her conversations in advance, the man seemed to be a pillar of the Prison Service. It didn't matter greatly how much he personally believed so long as a convincing story could be told to win over the jury.
"Jim Fenner was one of the finest prison officers that I've ever worked with," Di spoke in rugged, emotional tones with that especially convincing 'soul's awakening' look in her faraway eyes and an open smile. "He was the longest serving officer on G Wing and what he didn't know about looking after prisoners isn't worth knowing. He was always there to lend a helping hand to the new PO who's dead nervous and wondering if she's going to be able to cope."
Selena stood to one side of Lauren on prisoner duty with a polite blank expression on her face. Inwardly she cringed at Di Barker, wondering how she could come out with all this self deluded rubbish. Helen and Karen both glared openly, knowing full well that his help was bought at the price of a stealthy and insidious corruption that oozed from him.
"He had years of jailcraft behind him." The automatically uttered words from her memory bank, carefully placed there by the dead man with his grip on the living. "He was someone that you trusted, who you looked up to if there was a crisis. He made you believe in yourself when he was around. It sounds daft but I still miss him after all these months. The chair where he used to sit still in the prison officer's room looks as if he should be there."
Karen and Helen both felt this murderous rage well up inside them, choking them from being able to shout it out in words. It was just as well as only the worst obscenities could possibly exorcise their feelings, The voice of Fenner spoke through this woman who sounded drugged or hypnotised as if someone had taken over her mind. Nikki, next to them, could see that their hands locked onto the rail as if they were round Fenner's throat. Karen was the angrier of the two as something in Di's manner reminded her of someone she knew only too well.
"Hey, you two, take it easy," Nikki's quiet voice cut in. curiously, she was calmer than the other two, only because she had never worked with Fenner. To her, the absurdity of the evidence distanced itself from her emotionally. "Sit tight and see what happens when Jo Mills gets to rip that stupid bitch apart."
It was only in her last few words that her own suppressed anger leaked through but focussed on the future.
"Was there anything that James Fenner did that was outstanding, that really stood out?"
"Yeah, come to think of it, there was. I remember that there was a bit of a mix up and a dangerous prisoner got to hold the Wing Governor, Karen Betts, hostage. Tessa Spall held a syringe of her HIV blood to Karen's face. In fact she's in the gallery up there, first row at the end."
For the first time, Di Barker glanced up at Karen with a faint self-satisfied smile on her face. In a sickening moment those hated words of Fenner came back to her, spoken with that slow pace and his hypnotic stare. 'We've saved each other's lives. That's got to mean something.' Yes, he had acted in a thoroughly professional manner, you couldn't fault him, but there was always payback and the worst of it was that she never, never knew she was paying with the first tiny installment on her soul. True, she was redeemed but despite the man, not because of him.
"Can you tell the court exactly what happened?" Neumann Mason-Alan asked in his unctuous tones.
"He told us all what to do while he tried to calm Tessa down. When that didn't work and she tried to make a run for it taking Karen with her, he got hold of a firehose single-handed. The second that Tessa Spall came out of the building and was in the open, he let her have it with the hose. Turned down a medal, he did."
"Did he really do that, Karen? I wasn't at Larkhall then," Helen whispered.
"Yeah, he really did. The devil looks after his own."
Karen venomously borrowed the words that Helen had spoken to her clean out of her unconscious. At the time she heard them she had disregarded them as of no particular significance and had forgotten them.
"How did James Fenner get on with the prisoners in his care?"
"Generally fine. Of course, every prison has its share of trouble makers .."
" So anyone not in his 'fan club' is a trouble maker, is she. Of course, manipulating Babs here against me to think that I was a sex crazed lesbian ready to leap on Babs come lockup doesn't count. Of course, Di Barker knows best, doesn't she."
"She'll burn in hell. The Lord hears her bear false witness and he remembers. She will be cast down into hell for her sins," Crystal's somewhat louder voice followed Nikki's more softly spoken sarcasm. The problem was that Crystal was so used to preaching hellfire and damnation in a loud voice that sotto voce preaching was a contradiction in terms.
Despite all their best efforts to keep quiet, the mutterings from the gallery smouldered away with greater intensity so as to cause a background grumbling sound to echo off the hard walls of the courtroom noticeable to John. Crystal's words could be heard loud and clear and were the last straw. Horrified glances were exchanged amongst the rest of the women. They wished they had tipped her off about John Deed.
"I appreciate that visitors in the gallery have their opinions and are trying to be reasonably quiet. However the religious zeal of the last visitor, though suitable for 'Songs of Praise' on a Sunday is not suitable in a court of law. I see that she is new to the gallery and perhaps some of her friends will quietly inform her what I am prepared to do if I consider that anyone is acting in contempt of court, whatever form that contempt takes."
"He means it, Crystal," Karen hissed at the other woman. "He'll have you down the block, no messing. He's as tough as anyone, including me."
Helen was transfixed by the sheer force of personality that radiated from the man and respected the sheer effortless grip he had of the proceedings. She wished she had known him when she was a young, naïve Wing Governor and she could have borrowed a few lines off him. In turn, Nikki was equally impressed and couldn't help noticing his stylish command of the English language. Before she had been granted real justice from her two appeal court decisions, she had dismissed judges as arrogant pricks, sitting up in their thrones in their antique robes and blind to justice or reason. This guy was different.
"Did James Fenner have any problems with prisoners in his care?" Neuman Mason-Alan asked Di of this paragon of virtue.
"Well, in a prison with women locked up for years, it's only natural for some women to get familiar with male prison officers. But Jim, always had their best interests at heart and the women were comfortable with him and knew not to take advantage of him. That sort of thing does go on, you know."
"And where were we, Karen, when Fenner was running g Wing, single handed?"
"Oh, don't ask, after all, we're only Wing Governors," Karen's elaborate irony answered Helen's sheer hatred.
"So if anything kicked off, it was all our own fault," Was Nikki's icy verdict.
"Sure, and if a mother had problems in sleeping at night being separated from their kids, he'll help us out," Roisin's angry Irish accent rounded out the chorus of suppressed anger.
"Miss Barker, what was your acquaintance with the defendant?"
"Oh, I've seen her lots of times over the years from when she first started visiting her mum, Yvonne Atkins, in Larkhall and I was on prisoner duty. I used to see her sometimes, hanging round outside the gates as well."
"Was that before or after the days when she visited her mother?"
"I'm not sure but there might have been a few times when I saw her outside and I didn't see later," Di's questioning voice cleverly insinuated all sort of possibilities for the jury to believe in the same way that a tempting morsel floating on the water would cause a curious minded fish to swallow the well baited hook. Unfortunately, she was in the wrong place to play these games.
"Miss Barker, you are a prison officer in the prison service and you ought to know better not to favour us with your speculations but to offer precise hard evidence. The court is not to be trifled with. I am asking you, yes or no, did you or did you not see the defendant on any other days apart from occasions when she visited her mother?" John's diamond hard tones and stony stare were suddenly turned in Di Barker's direction like a searchlight.
Di's mouth was suddenly set in a tight, hard line and pulled slightly down at the corners. Her eyes glittered as anger flared up in her at the man who snatched out of her hands the prize which her carefully contrived words were reeling in. A coldly calculating side sensed that her act was slipping. She switched off her anger as if she was flicking a light switch and she manufactured the couple of teardrops to run discreetly down her cheeks.
"I'm sorry, judge, I'm still very upset about Jim and the slightest cross word sets me off this way. This trial brings back memories that I want to forget."
She doesn't ring true, thought Jo. Something's wrong.
"Do you want a short break and a glass of water?"
"No, no. I'd best carry on for Jim's sake," Di's reply timed the pause for maximum effect.
"Can you tell the court specifically what you heard both the defendant and Yvonne Atkins say about James Fenner?"
Di searched her mind thoughtfully for her memories and a slight smile spread across her face when a memory came back to her.
"Well, there's one thing I can remember as clear as if I heard it the other day. It was when Jim Fenner was on duty when they were both there and Yvonne Atkins said
'Dockley should've sliced your dick off while she had the chance, Sir.' She really meant it."
"Can you repeat what you said for the benefit of the court," Neumann Mason-Alan's smooth voice asked to make the most of this gem.
"She said, 'Dockley should've sliced your dick off while she had the chance, Sir.'"
"No further questions."
Jo Mills couldn't wait to wade into the attack and the woman had foolishly reached out for a two edged dagger which could cut both ways.
"Miss Barker, how long have you worked at Larkhall prison and, specifically, on G Wing?"
"I've been ten years in the service and four years on G Wing after a transfer from H Wing."
"Would it be true to say that you know pretty well what goes on in G Wing?"
"Well, when you've been around a long time, you get to hear what goes on if you're doing your job."
She preened herself and thought that she was getting her points over nicely so that the jury would believe her.
"So therefore, Miss Barker, you will know exactly what incident that Yvonne Atkins was alluding to? Can you explain it for the benefit of the court."
"Well, I'm not sure. It was some time ago. A lot goes on in a women's prison," She said in confusion as Jo had gently slid the knife in.
"Come on, you have claimed perfect recall of a mere scrap of conversation. You are prevaricating. Was it not true that the allusion was to the incident when Mr. Fenner was stabbed, which item 2D in the bundle of evidence refers to."
Jo's very expressive voice was laden with scorn at this pitiful attempt to dodge the issue. She wasn't having any of this.
"Well, it's very complicated. There was a woman called Michelle Dockley whose personal officer was Jim Fenner. She was one of those women who wasn't the sort of woman she appeared to be on the surface. She was never any trouble to begin with and was 'top dog' on the wing."
"An expression that prisoners use to mean the woman who is in charge of the others. They got on well enough to begin with but they eventually had a falling out."
"What caused that and in what way did that lead to the stabbing?"
"I'm not sure. It may have been at a time when she had some sort of mental breakdown and had to be kept in solitary confinement once. She seemed to get better later on and, as a reward, she was allowed to help out with the most reliable trustworthy girls to serve drinks at a wedding anniversary for one of our long serving prison officers. Anyway, Jim was helping lock them up after the party last thing and Shell Dockley must have sneaked a broken bottle and stabbed him while they were both in her cell. It took us totally by surprise how much she really hated him. It was a terrible evening which I'll remember as long as I live .Anyway, that's what Yvonne Atkins was talking about. I hope I've made everything clear."
"So it all happened quite out of the blue?"
Di ought to have taken warning from the blinding white smile on Jo's face which was a precursor to a lightning fast verbal rapier thrust that verbally pinned the opponent to the back of the witness stand.
"Yeah, that's the way it happened."
"How many other prison officers have been attacked in the time you have been on G Wing?"
"Well, I can't think off hand," Di's dazed voice feebly answered.
"Come on, as a long standing prison officer, are you really going to say that your memory is that selective, both of what you would have seen or what you would have heard about?"
Di swallowed and gazed blankly round, the courtroom going out of focus as her mind froze over in horror. For once in her life when her back was against the wall, her native survival instincts to battle her way out of a tight corner refused to function. The words that came were forced out of her mouth in a mumble. The front row of the gallery was one long grin from end to end while Sir Ian and Lawrence James's stony silence matched the increasingly stony feel of the bench.
"None, as it happens."
"For the benefit of the court, can you speak a little louder." The steel hard tones cut through her mental fog.
"So the only person who has ever been attacked in all that time was the one man who you describe as the outstanding officer on the wing, the friend of all the prisoners," Jo's sarcastic tones piled on the pressure.
"It was just bad luck," Di shouted back angrily. "It could have happened to anyone."
"Except that it never happened to you or anyone else except James Fenner," Came Jo's lightning retort. "Your evidence appears flimsy to say the least from beginning to end."
I hope the bastard is somewhere looking down on her and seeing his reputation publicly cut to pieces. That thought, phrased differently, ran through the front row of the gallery as Fenner's reputation was put up on trial and found guilty in his absence.
"I had a lot on my mind round then. I used to live with my disabled mum till I had to put her in care as she got too much for me. I was under a lot of stress at the time. The stabbing was not long after all that carry on. Jim Fenner helped me out to cope with my problems and whatever way you try to smear his reputation, I'll always stand up for him as he can't stand up for himself."
A fresh thin trickle of tears ran down the lines of her face and her body hunched up. Jo felt a little uncomfortable despite her suspicions. She hadn't got the Brian Cantwell blood lust fox hunting mentality that would tear in regardless for the kill. She allowed her to have a period of grace.
"Are you able to continue to give evidence, Miss Barker?" John called from somewhere well above her as an usher passed her a glass of water at which point Di nodded.
"Let us turn to the defendant, Miss Barker. Did you directly hear her utter any threatening or aggressive words to the deceased?"
Di looked vaguely round and her mouth opened slightly. Her mind was sluggish and for the life of her, it failed to conjure up any memory. She was too scared to fabricate any stories till she grabbed blindly at a passing train of thought.
"No but she was bragging about killing Jim Fenner when she came to Larkhall as a prisoner. She made a joke about it to all the other women."
"But you said earlier that, apart from a few troublemakers, he was popular with the prisoners. If what you say is true, then surely the defendant would have kept very quiet about what she had done."
The front row of the public gallery had the greatest difficulty in bottling down their emotions but this time from a totally opposite direction. Left to themselves, they would have broken into uproarious cheering.
"Miss Barker, I think I need not detain you any longer as there is nothing in your testimony that can possibly inspire any confidence in your status as a witness."
Mr. Neumann Mason-Alan had sat as still as a carved ebony statue as Jo mills systematically picked apart the evidence of what he had thought of as his expert witness from Larkhall. She had seemed so eager and convincing when he had questioned her before the trial and thought she would be a natural in giving evidence. After all, she had been in court before in her professional capacity.
"Do you wish to reexamine the witness, Mr. Mason-Alan?" He shook his head mutely to John's request. He would have to hope for better fortune later, especially as he could sense the two dark suited officials from the Lord Chancellor's Department sitting like threatening statues in the back of the gallery.
Di Barker tottered out of the witness stand. She had had years of pulling the strings on people and was all the more traumatised by the way that that hated woman blew apart her carefully constructed story and left her hideously exposed. It was other women who were the most dangerous, after all. She would hate her all the more as she nursed her grudge against her but would never be able to do anything about it. That was what made her more angry than anything.
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