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.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: The social worker report is reproduced from the profile on Di Barker in the original Bad Girls book written by Jodi Reynolds and Jamie McCallum in 2001.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the authors.

A Question Of Guilt
By Kristine and Richard

Part Forty One

It was another day for John in the Crown versus Atkins trial, where everything seemed normal, apart from one indefinable thing that was wrong, as Neuman Mason-Alan prepared to question his next witness. Something seemed strangely different…

"Detective Inspector Sullivan, 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?"

DI Sullivan looked very smug and pleased with himself, to be up before Monty Everard who was well known to bend over in sympathy towards police witnesses.

"Lauren Atkins wasn't very pleased to see me. She took a while to open the door, possibly taking the time to check out my colleague, Detective Sergeant Greer, first and then me, before allowing us entry in to her house. She told me that she couldn't guarantee my safety with her Alsatian dog. 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."

"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…" Jo started to say, before being rudely cut off by the man who had been judge before her also at the PCC hearing. He was after payback, however much he dressed it up in legal phrases.

"Mrs. Mills, I feel that I am quite in order to hear evidence from the police as to the way she behaved. You will have the chance to cross-examine the witness later.

Proceed, Mr. Mason Alan."

"Not if I can help it or you will end up before me on a charge of contempt of court, DI Sullivan." John replied sternly. Stunned looks focussed in from all around him as his forceful words created a noticeable ripple of consternation. He looked around him but where were his red robes and wig?

"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 a thing. 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."

"A word here, DC Sullivan. You should take care not to use the word 'obviously' in court, as it is not in the language of a prosecution case." Monty Everard's tone was that of an indulgent parent, mildly and ineffectively administering a mild reproof to a spoilt brat of a son.

"I apologise, my lord," DI Sullivan answered in smarmy obsequious tones.

"Was there anything in the claimant's demeanour and the circumstances of the defendant's arrest, which gave you the slightest doubt that the claimant might be innocent of the brutal murder of James Fenner?"

"None in the least. I felt that I'd got the right person banged to rights."

"Detective Inspector Sullivan," Jo began, launching into the attack with the added venom of righteous fury unchained at last. "I want to come back to the matter of when the defendant let you in. Are you seriously suggesting that she used the presence of her dog to intimidate you? Did you not consider an alternative suggestion? That the defendant merely took the precaution of ensuring that a dog, though used to regular visitors, might react differently when a member of the police force calls at the defendant's house? It is the natural instinct of a dog to protect the home of his mistress."

"You evidently did not see the dog, dear," Sneered DI Sullivan. "The animal was a huge black Alsatian, with a nasty look in its eye and bared its teeth and growled…a hound it was, an enormous coal-black hound, but not such a hound as mortal eyes have ever seen. Fire burst from its mouth, its eyes glowed with a smouldering glare, and its muzzle and hackles and dewlap were outlined in flickering flame…"

Fear stared nakedly out of DI Sullivan's eyes and he shivered at the horror of that primeval scene.

"I shall produce in evidence a full psychiatric report carried out by Dr Waugh on the dog concerned whose name is Trigger. You will find it in your bundle of evidence as item 3L.

Trigger Atkins: psychiatric report

Name: Trigger Atkins.

Case Number: 240073.

Date: 15/01/04.

Attending Psychiatrist: Dr. Thomas Waugh.

The witness's adoptive mother and his appealing eyes asked me to give evidence on his behalf, when they called at my office, in the case of the Crown versus Atkins. Neumann Mason-Alan QC, to examine Trigger Atkins. In performing this duty, I was invited to pay particular attention to the antecedents of the dog as an indicating factor in the probability or otherwise, of the said dog in threatening DI Sullivan when he came to arrest the defendant on the 12th of January 2004. It casts a light on the reliability of the arresting officer DI Sullivan and finally, as an indication of the background of the Atkins family in the newly evolving cross discipline of human and animal psychology.

I have found that Trigger has a complex personality that has many layers. The underlying, primeval layer is, of course, the distant wolverine ancestry. This disposition is of the carnivorous hunter reliant on the cooperation of the pack for survival, with complex interrelationships of dominant and less dominant members. Strong loyalties bind the pack together and also a degree of affection between members of the pack. A perceived threat to individual members and to the pack as a whole will be met by such aggression by means of teeth and claws such as to drive off the assailant.

Centuries of human socialisation will have tamed the native savagery and transformed the species into the Man's Best Friend, which we know today. However, this degree of socialisation will have only a contingent and not a necessary effect on the canine behaviour patterns. In short, the way the dog is treated will partly shape its response patterns and in particular, research has shown the strong connection between an aggressive and snappy household and an aggressive and snappy dog and vice versa.

In Trigger's case, his adoptive father, Charlie Atkins, who named the dog, and trained him to behave aggressively on request, decisively shaped his upbringing as a puppy and as a whelp. There has always been a strong lurking need for affection which his adoptive mother and sister, Yvonne and Lauren Atkins respectively, provided.

This secondary characteristic became of decisive importance on the death of Charlie Atkins and completed the degree of socialisation needed for a member of the Alsatian sub species. They also brought out a strong, playful and humorous side to his personality, whereby unwelcome guests would be made to feel the appearance of aggression while Trigger was only doing it for a joke, taking advantage of the natural human fear of apparently aggressive dogs. Trigger confesses to me that he finds such a reaction intensely amusing. Otherwise, Trigger is a benevolent, kindly dog whose wolverine ancestry is confined to leading various members of his pack around his territory, the confines of his house and exercises an entirely benevolent form of pack leadership. The fact that humans feel that they are in charge and the master /mistress is an illusion that Trigger is happy to exploit.

This report does, of course, throw a strong light on the defendant's personality, who by studying Trigger's personality, is only driven to violence in extreme situations and whose decisive personality quirk is to appear tougher than she is, out of an ingrained family instinct.

"I am ruling this ridiculously timewasting and irrelevant idiocy out of order. A psychiatrist cannot purport to produce a psychiatric report on a dog, which will have no command of the Queen's English. In all my years on the bench, there is no legal precedent to take evidence elicited from a dog," Growled Monty Everard. "Just whose trial is this, anyway?"

"It should be mine and now is," Retorted John. "DI Sullivan, you have completely fabricated the evidence and, what is worse, you have stolen a passage in the writings of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's "Hound of the Baskervilles." I trust that the famous Sherlock Holmes story is not to be offered in evidence. Though, I don't know, the fictional work is more literary and more factual than the shaky evidence of this complete imbecile." John's force of personality grabbed hold of the court marginalising Monty Everard to a spluttering irrelevance. Everyone looked to him as always.

"Jesus Nikki! The judge is more trouble than the rest of us in the gallery put together," Yvonne said anxiously. She had got brinkmanship down to a fine art but this guy pushes things further than she does.

At that moment, a scratching sound could be heard on the exit door at the back of the gallery, at the top of the flight of stairs. It opened and the friendly looking Alsatian trotted down the steps, and leant his head on the balcony and draped his paws over the edge. His round eyes looked totally appealingly at the jury.

"Good boy," Karen said and patted his flank as he made small joyful barking sounds, very politely being on his best behaviour. Though the jury weren't at the angle to see a happily wagging tail, they could sense it.

"Hey Trigger, good boy Trigger." A member of the jury rashly called out before being silenced by a glare from Monty Everard. This anarchistic spirit was breaking out everywhere.

Jo smiled, spread her arms in a theatrical bow and continued questioning the increasingly rattled DI Sullivan who was definitely confused by the way the trial was going.

"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."

"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 rancour, "Why, what would you call it?"

"Mrs Mills," thundered Monty Everard. "While council enjoy the traditional freedoms to cross-examine witnesses, you will not be allowed to show any disrespect in my court for the police force who are only trying to do their job in the same way that you and I do. I rule this out of order as inadmissable evidence."

"Isn't that the name of a famous play performed in the West End. I went to see it with my second husband, Peter. That was one of the best plays I've ever seen," Babs' Middle England voice chipped in.

"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 fees, is one. Even the dog has criminal, violent tendencies. 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."

"This trial has gone far enough," Monty Everard attempted to thunder with the resonance of John Deed but not quite managing it. "It is patently clear that the defendant is guilty as charged and I direct that the jury retire at this point, to consider their verdict. I have heard quite enough to consider that this is an open and shut case. I expect you, members of the jury, to come back with your unanimous verdict of guilty, as otherwise, be sure that troublemakers will be remembered and your cards marked for life. I have to get away to a pressing engagement."

Right, that will do," John roared. "I shall issue a writ of habeas corpus, immediately…"

"…Ah, thanks, Coop," as she materialised out of nowhere with the necessary paperwork and promptly returned to her alternative reality of manning the fort in John's chambers………"

"Inspector, release that woman or I shall hold you in contempt of court instead and you, sir, will be 'banged to rights.' If you should ever have occasion to be before me again, I insist that you will undergo stringent psychological screening checks before you are ever allowed in the witness box. In the meantime, release the defendant."

The frozen grip of the Prison Officers was unleashed at the sounds of John's fury and an ecstatically grateful Lauren beat a rapid retreat out of the court and away.

"This behaviour is entirely outrageous, Deed," Monty Everard shouted, red in the face. "I shall resort to force to restore the rule of order."

"You personally? Don't make me laugh. I could knock you down as soon as look at you," John sneered contemptuously.

"I bet he's in a hurry to get his leg over some bitch," George muttered out of habit. "I told you so once."

"Did you really? I must have made my one and only error of judgement. Meanwhile, to the barricades. This reminds me of my sit in days when I was at university in the sixties," Enthused John, happy memories flooding back.

"What happens if they send out for the Old Bill, Karen? We're right on their bleeding doorstep."

"Well, we'll have a bit of time to play with. A couple of elderly ushers aren't going to argue with some of Larkhall's finest from both sides of the prison bars plus George if she loses her temper. I've heard that she's already broken down the door to John's chambers in an argument with John. I hate to think of what she'll do if she really gets worked up."

That sent cold shivers down Nikki's spine. She was used to being the fiery orator and

physically ejecting rowdy drunks from her club, not to mention getting physical with the likes of Dockley, Renee Williams and Maxi Purvis. However John Deed unchained, had a fearsome aura of uncontrolled fury, both physical and verbal which gained her awesome respect, but made her feel afraid for his total abandoned recklessness.

"George, I was going to ask you for a bit of legal. If we sort of surround the judge and use a bit of gentle persuasion on the Old Bill, can we get off with self defence?" Yvonne posed the question.

"An Englishmen's home is His Castle," John boomed, not having turned the volume down sufficiently from haranguing Sir Monty and the miserable apologies for barristers.

"Or as I was telling the Warwick Conference, about the need for greater individual freedoms against the creeping state bureaucracy, which would strangle us from birth."

"Jo's the criminal expert, Yvonne, but from what I understand, if we use 'reasonable force' we might get away with it," George answered at her most hesitant and unconvinced.

Roisin shrugged her shoulders. The best thing she thought was to go with the flow, but she felt apprehensive about what to explain to Michael and Niamh in case they landed on the front page of the tabloids and first item on News at Six.

"Hey, you guys, you're forgetting something," Chimed in Cassie. "Are you telling me that five, six of the gobbiest women can't talk their way out of this jam and get the pigs to go someplace else? We don't have to use violence. We just have to blag our way out of this one and sooner or later, the judge will wear himself out."

"Don't count on that," Karen and George muttered under their breath.

"I don't want to worry anyone but I can hear the sound of size ten boots clattering up the staircase. I fear that the police may try to remove us," Babs's quiet but carrying voice cut through the discussion.

"Let's get out of here," Yelled Yvonne.

Somehow the message from Sir Ian that he gabbled out on his rarely used mobile phone got distorted into the message received at New Scotland Yard and passed down to the nearest operations unit that a group of dangerous terrorists had invaded the Old Bailey for no very clear political purpose.

"Are they Islamic Militants?" the overtired Chief Inspector asked.

"They are some sort of militants, that's all."

"Oh hell, scramble the helicopter and call for back up to stand by. Send the unit down with riot shields. We may need the S.A.S as well but for God's sake, they'd better be careful with the explosives. The Old Bailey is a Grade 1 listed building, and if we damage it there will be hell to pay from the National Trust."

Yvonne, Nikki and Karen had manoeuvred John to the back of the crowd and penned him in against the wall of the foyer at the top of the stairs while Babs, Cassie and Roisin flanked George at the top of the staircase.

"Sorry Judge, this is time for women's talk to get us out of this hole. Let George handle the pigs," Yvonne's smiling yet firm voice overruled John's insistence that he would issue a writ of habeas corpus to maintain the fundamental right of free speech.

"I insist on being heard."

"Look here, Judge, no offence but have you ever won an argument with George in your life?"

"Well, no. I could never manage to pin her down," John admitted.

"Seeing that you are a judge who has quite a good way with words, then what chance has that plonker of a plod got against George. Stands to reason." Yvonne's smile and persuasive voice wormed their way through his defences.

"I'd put my money on George," Nikki reasoned. "In fact, if you are running a book on this, I'll stake five phone cards on it."


"This is a total misunderstanding." George's operatic tones thundered from the top of the stairs at the crowd of metropolitan police assembled. "This is a public gallery and, we, the general public, have a perfect right to listen."

"Sorry, ma'am, we have an obligation to investigate any threat to public order. We have a report that the Old Bailey has been occupied by terrorists."

"My God, do we look like terrorists?" came George's crushing reply. "I mean, my suit from Harvey Nicholls. Costs a fortune and the hang of the jacket can be a little bit disturbed by slipping in a few hand grenades or petrol bombs. Look at the rest of us. I am a practising barrister, we have a Prison Wing Governor, a High Court judge, a Vicar's wife and other perfectly respectable women."

The policeman hesitated. After all, he was the one on the ground and the instructions he was given were a bit vague.

"Look here, let's get to the bottom of this," Demanded George in her most peremptory fashion. "Exactly who made the complaint against us?"

"I don't know," The man was forced to admit.

"It must be that fearful cretin, Monty Everard, the judge in the courtroom behind us. He is an utter bullying tyrant and totally incompetent. I know, as I was appearing before him in a court case only last week."

"That's right, sarge. I got an urgent callout once as a traffic warden was being given a load of grief and a toffee nosed git of his name was effing and blinding and wouldn't act reasonable in taking the ticket. He thinks the law is meant for everyone except him. Threatened to report me to the Police Commissioner and get me sacked, he did."

"Is that true? Well, we're off lads, let him sort out his own problems, as I wouldn't touch this one, not even for double overtime rate."

The sergeant shouted in his stentorian voice the time honoured call of working class struggle everywhere, except that the police force were denied the right to take strike action in 1918.

"Everyone out, lads."

"I must admit, you police are extremely sensible and fantastic in an emergency," George drawled in her most enthusiastic tones. "Those wretched people who go round calling you a load of Nazis must want their heads examining."

They could feel a sudden chilly silence as if it was a bucket of water thrown in their faces.

"We've always had a great respect for the law," Gushed Nikki, appalled by George putting her foot in it and already feeling a pair of handcuffs round her wrists. "I watch The Bill and Crimewatch every time."

"Keep smiling and walking slowly," Yvonne muttered to the others as they slowly edged out. "They might change their minds and throw us in the nearby nick after all. You too, Judge," hissed Yvonne under her breath.

"But that would be terrible, Yvonne. I've only just started my latest Patricia Cornwell."

Cassie, Roisin, Babs, George and Yvonne looked at Karen as if she was crazy. Then they carried on smiling.

"But they can't do that," Protested John mildly.

"Can't they? Rule number one, Judge, is never cross the nobbing police unless you've got a bloody good alibi," Cassie's precise tones lectured him.


"We've always had a good word for the police, haven't we girls," Karen's tactful voice broke in, followed by a chorus of agreement from the others, including John as smiles returned to the faces of the policemen. They were a weird unpredictable group of men who could change moods in a flash. Now their benevolent side came to the surface, they were happy to hang around while the sergeant went to tell Monty Everard the bad news.

"You have behaved in an utterly reprehensible way in my court," Thundered Monty Everard as the back doors of the courtroom were thrust aside. "I demand satisfaction. I challenge you to a duel at dawn. Sir Ian, you'll be my second."

"Er, what do I have to do, my lord," spoke a very nervous Sir Ian in lowered tones.

"You don't have to do much, Ian," Sir Monty growled under his breath, "Just look after my weapon, hand it to me when I need it and be generally useful."

"That lets you out," Jo's sudden blinding white sarcastic smile. "Why change the habits of a lifetime?"

"Oh how so manfully very eighteenth century of you, Monty," George yawned theatrically with her most acid sarcasm.

"Don't you smite me across the face at this point with your leather gauntlet? Or doesn't your wife keep you properly supplied? Oh well, I accept your challenge so long as I

choose the weapons."

"John, don't be foolish," Hissed Jo.

"Just relax. I'm sure the Judge knows what he is doing," Yvonne spoke out of the corner of her mouth, a twinkle in her eye. She had seen a side of John's nature, which had peeked out in past trials before under the gravity of his robes, but this time in all its glorious anarchy.

Jo shook her head as she was not so sure but from her experience of Yvonne, wheels started turning in her mind.

"It will be pistols at dawn in the old fashioned way. I shall supply the weapons. And may the best man win," He intoned with a lurking smile on his face, which Karen picked up on.

"Are you sure you are not pulling our leg, John? The more you appear to be serious, the more that I suspect you of pulling some underhand, tasteless trick on us all," Sir Ian hissed at John with narrowed eyes.

"Come come, Ian, this is a serious matter. If I had suggested blunderbusses or tennis rackets, you might think that I was, in Joe Channing's immortal phrase, 'imbruting the bench'. In this case, I am merely intent on slaying a member of the bench at dawn, my accustomed hour for mayhem and murder."

"The Judge is up to something, Yvonne," Nikki whispered to Yvonne.

"Yeah, this is a dead giveaway. Pity those pricks in wigs are so brain dead they can't see this one coming except begging their pardons, the female members of the profession, one of whom I can see is pissing herself laughing," Yvonne's perfected soundless sideways whisper out of the corner of her mouth.

Nikki nodded assent.

At the appointed hour at the back of the grand mansion resembling a setting out of 'Brideshead Revisited' was where the duel was to take place. It was a flat close cropped grass wide pathway, stretching for hundreds of yards between two high yew hedges and a little way from an ornamental fountain, which marked the cross roads of the thoroughfares. The dawning sunlight cast a strong light on the site of the duel. On the one hand, Sir Monty was backed by Sir Ian who nervously handled his weapon. Lawrence James was quietly chatting to Brian Cantwell and the Lord Chancellor. They were all properly dressed for the occasion, stiff and formal in their best suits, while Monty Everard was resplendent in his robes of office. On the other hand, John was similarly attired but behind him was the motley band of female supporters. George and Jo's smart suits contrasted with Yvonne's leathers, Nikki's jeans and T-shirt, Cassie and Roisin's casual look and Karen's trouser suit. Yvonne performed the honours as John's second, as it was agreed that she was more familiar with firearms than anyone else.

"Remember, Judge, keep your forearm straight and line the sights on him aiming about a foot up from his dick."

"Assuming he has one," George added contemptuously.

John nodded in acknowledgement. Yvonne's hints, crystal clear, in contrast to the bumbling advice given long ago at Eton. He smiled wickedly to himself as he had a surprise for all of them. He had up his sleeve the most superb practical joke of his chequered career.

The two men stood, stiffly back-to-back, and on the word of command from Karen, took ten paces away from each other. Upon the word of command, each of them spun round and fired.

Hearts leapt in their mouths, expecting one of the combatants to gradually collapse in a heap, a red stain spreading to mingle with the red of the ancient robes,and the ancient art of dueling to claim yet one more victim. Karen had her medical bag packed with all the necessaries for instant first aid should the loser still live.

Instead, a thin stream of whipped cream from John's gun flew through the air and landed right in Monty Everard's nether regions, a foot lower than he had planned, while Sir Monty narrowly missed an inoffensive pigeon, which had fluttered his way too close.

"Good shot, judge," Yvonne exclaimed.

"You damned blackguard," Monty Everard exclaimed, red faced as he rolled on the grass in a foetal position, thanks to the piercing, cold, concentrated Mr. Whippy substance, which had disabled him so effectively.

"You are a bounder, sir. You have broken the Queensbury Rules," Sir Ian spluttered.

"You've got the wrong sport, Ian. If you do your researches properly, the Marquis of Queensbury formalised the rules for the ancient art of boxing. In any case, I make up my own rules and you, Ian Rochester, are next and it's been a long time coming."

With a look of horror on his face, Sir Ian leapt sideways, knocking over Lawrence James in the process, Then a second and third shot hit them where they lay.

Nikki danced forwards, her eyes alight with mischief and stood in front of Sir Monty, still writhing on the ground in agony.

"That wig looks better on my head than yours, Monty whatever your name is. My idea of justice is far better than yours and I deserve to wear it."

With that, she picked the wig off the grass, perched it on her head as a bizarre fashion accessory and pirouetted her way back to the others.

"You pay the ultimate penalty for losing the duel, Monty," John said firmly as Karen Betts with her best menacing smile on her lips paced stealthily up to him, brandishing an outsized pair of scizzors which made Sir Monty feel apprehensive for a fresh assault on his nether regions. This was a fate worse than death, as he had a most important appointment with a woman called Julie, dressed in leather, who had conveniently arranged to bring along her own whips and handcuffs, back to his digs.

She laughed contemptuously in his face, leant over and ceremoniously snipped off his Old Etonian tie half way down from his still firmly anchored knot, which had stayed miraculously in place. A collective gasp of horror could be heard from Monty Everard's helpers at this most dastardly act of desecration.

"I am sentencing you, Montgomery Everard to the heaviest sentence that is within my power. To be laughed out of court as a total incompetent and money grabbing hypocrite," John Deed proclaimed in his most ringing tones, once more restored to his judge's throne and Monty Everard below him, and placed in the dock.

"And an arse licker," Nikki's powerful voice added from the jury's box.

George and Jo, both positioned out to the right and sharing the bench, nodded firmly in agreement. Sir Ian and Lawrence James on the other side were thumbing their way through the lawbooks in a last minute panic search for a plea of mitigation. Unfortunately, their practical grasp of law was extremely rusty; being mere administrators who imperiously ordered the practicing judiciary what establishment problem needed fixing.

"Is all the jury ready now to carry out the punishment, on the count of three, one, two, three."

A tremendous peal of mocking laughter rose up, like an eternal and heavenly choir echoing and re-echoing off the buildings. George's soprano glissando clearly audible above John's pronounced, emphatic thick chords. Yvonne's laughter ran free for the world to hear, while Nikki's wide smile and gleaming tones let loose a stream of celestial humour, rising close to George's top notes. Roisin's powerful Irish contralto weaved in and out of Cassie's irreverent tones.

"John, John." Jo's urgent tones broke in on him and pulled gently at him by the shoulder.

"Don't, Jo. I'm having such a good time," Came the tired reply.

Oh, so this is what it is all about, Jo smiled knowingly. After a passionate night together, John always had that little contented smile on his face first thing in the morning with the sure accompaniment of a tell tale erection.

"We've overslept. It's time for court for the Atkins trial in case you've forgotten."

"But I've just released her," John mumbled.

Perhaps it was the feel of Jo's hand on his bare shoulder that convinced him that he was not where he thought he was. A tiny sliver of sight between his heavy eyelids brought him back to the domesticity of Jo's bedroom and not the aftermath of the demonstration at the Old Bailey.

"John, just what were you dreaming about?"

"Well, you were in it…and so was George…and so was Karen…"

Jo opened her eyes wide. This was sounding like a totally decadent orgy that John was dreaming of.

"……….And Monty Everard. ……And Neumann Mason-Alan…."

"John, what on earth was that dream about?" Jo asked in total astonishment.

"Tell you later, remember, we're late for court," John finished, trying to work out just where the trial had left off the previous day.

Part Forty-Two

"The last thing I expected was to be up on the stand again," Di Barker raged. "I found those mucky photos for you and I've been on the stand once and said everything that needs saying. So why have you let that scheming woman twist you round her little finger?"

"Di, I've already explained to you that I need Mrs. Mills' consent for Miss Betts to be called to give evidence. She won't agree to that unless I agree to a favour in return. That's the way it goes."

"Can't you see what she's trying to do? She's going to spring a trap on me. I can tell that one a mile away. But you can't see that because you're a man and, anyway, nothing can disturb your nice cosy relationships with all the other barristers."

Neumann Mason-Alan visibly winced at this. He had the feeling that sharing chambers with Mrs. Mills was going to be a highly uncomfortable matter after this.

"What is the problem? So long as you have told me everything there is to know, however

Apparently insignificant, then this case will be delivered to us on a platter. The largest part of the defence case to apparently justify the actions of the defendant will fall by the wayside…."

"What do you mean justify? She's guilty. What that woman did was cold, calculating deliberate murder and she should go down for a long stretch. You promised me."

"This is what we have to prove. At this stage in the trial, getting Miss Betts on the stand could be crucial. We have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Now please, you have to be calm and patient."

Di Barker stalked away making her feelings plain to the whole wide world. If poor Jim's death was not avenged, then it was all down to this ineffective man.

The first shock that Di Barker had that day was when she took the stand, and looked up and saw Gina and Dominic on prison escort for

There was a knowing look on both their faces, even Dominic with his 'butter wouldn't melt in his mouth' expression, pretending innocence. Miss Betts must have planned that one specially and kept it secret from her best friend, Sylvia, who would have tipped her off. She looked up at the gallery and there were some of her worst nightmares in a line. There they were, Babs, who is too good to be true, Roisin and Cassie whom in some sentimental moment she'd suggested to be pardoned and next the mother of that murdering woman just as bad as Jim always said she was. Her blood started to boil over. It took her all her strength to look at the rest of them. There was Miss Stewart who blackened her name over that mix up over the drugs tests, and next to her, that stand-offish woman who she was personal officer for and some glamorous woman and doesn't she know it. Last of all and to one side, came that man who had wrecked her life, Neil Grayling, who was gloating at her. This isn't justice, this is calculated intimidation.

"Excuse me, my lord," Di interrupted the judge and turned on her sweetest smile.

"Is it strictly necessary for all those people to sit in the gallery. I thought trials like this were private."

John looked down at this woman and noticed the uncomfortable expression on that fatuous man on the opposite side of the bench from Jo Mills. Has he put her up to this foolhardy course of action as surely, he must have more about him than that? The expression on his face was convincingly blank and he was studying his papers. He turned his attention to this woman. Something about her manner did not quite ring true.

"Allow me to inform you that they are not private. Members of the public can come and go as they please, so 'necessity' does not come into the picture. They have the right to sit in the gallery, so long as they behave themselves accordingly. I can only have someone removed at my discretion if their behaviour warrants it. I would advise you anyway that it is for your counsel to make such representations."

"I don't want to be awkward but it's just that I feel intimidated."

"Have you proof that you have been intimidated, Miss Barker?"

"No, it's just that….."

"Then there is an end of the matter unless there is cause for me to change my mind. You may proceed, Mrs. Mills."

Jo turned to face Di Barker and a slight smile was fixed to her face. It was certainly not a pleasurable reaction to the woman's company, in fact quite the opposite.

"Miss Barker, I have asked that you are recalled to the stand as the course of the trial has raised questions since you gave evidence earlier on."

"I've been as open as I can possibly be. I thought that if you had anything to say or to ask me, you would have asked me at the time."

Damn that woman, Jo thought. She is a slippery customer.

"If you bear with me, all shall become clear. Were you ever given a written warning for mixing up the results of drugs tests that you supervised, of two prisoners under your charge?"

"I'm not sure. I've been in charge of many drugs tests in all the years that I've worked at Larkhall."

"I'll refresh your memory then. I am producing as evidence, Miss Stewart's written record of the interview dated August 13th 2001 which I presume would have been copied to you at the time."

"I have interviewed Miss Barker and drew to her attention the discrepancies between two of the tests of urine samples supervised by Miss Barker, and a check made later. This retest confirmed that Miss Charlotte Middleton and Miss Buki Lester showed positive for drugs, with negative results for Miss Crystal Gordon and Miss Sharon Wiley. I asked her for an explanation and Miss Barker could not provide one. She asked me if I was accusing her of deliberately switching the samples, in which case she would seek representation by the Prison Officer's Association. I denied making such an accusation, but asked her to explain how a strict step by step procedure could have broken down. She explained that she was under extreme pressure from domestic responsibilities of looking after her disabled mother. I advised her to be more careful in future and administered a written warning under the Staff Rules Paragraph 173 and terminated the interview."

H Stewart Acting Governing Governor Date August 13th 2001

"Is this an accurate record of the interview and of the related incident?"

"Yeah, well, it may have happened that way. Mistakes can happen, you know. It was a long time ago. A lot has happened since then and, anyway, I was under a lot of stress at the time."

"What I cannot understand is why you should have gone out of your way to deny that you had deliberately switched the samples. Perhaps you can explain this?"

"You weren't there, however smart you are at jumping to conclusions. It was the way that Miss Stewart looked at me. That doesn't go down on the official records."

In the gallery, a surge of violent anger pulsed through Helen at this blatant smear on her integrity.

"I swear I'll swing for her. I actually felt sorry for her at the time and guilty that I couldn't tell her how I felt."

Nikki reached out for Helen's hand as she clutched tightly onto the rail as if her hands were round Di Barker's throat. Even in looking at Helen's profile, she could feel every emotion behind that fixed glare that focussed down onto that fairly plain, ordinary curly haired woman.

"Helen, look at me, sweetheart. Jo Mills will finish her off for you, for all of us."

"I know but it's not the same as me doing it."

"That's how I felt when I threatened to bottle Fenner after he assaulted you, or frightened him with the thought that I might. You understand?"

Suddenly all the anger drained out of Helen and she turned to Nikki with a smile of understanding after all this time. She felt and understood it all now.

"Jo is doing superbly, Helen. I'm really proud of her," George spoke into Helen's ear.

"Is it true that you hated each other's guts once."

"Believe it or not, we did. But time passes, it changes people."

Nikki nodded in understanding at this calm embracing philosophy expressed with George's smiling incredulity. This matched Nikki's experience of life.

"Was your mother living at home at the time of the interview? It makes no mention that she lived elsewhere."

"As far as I remember, she was at home."

"How long after that interview was she taken into care?"

"I don't know, not long after."

"Both in court and in the record of this interview, you have stated that you looked after your disabled mother until she was taken into care. Exactly what led up to that change in care for your mother?"

"I don't understand."

"Let's arrive at the truth by a process of elimination. Either your own ability to look after your mother declined, or else your mother's health got worse or both."

"My mother had a bad fall."

"Can you describe the sequence of events after that until she went into a nursing home?"

"Mr. Fenner gave me a lift home one night, and we both found my mother lying on the floor. He called the ambulance and he took me down to the hospital. He talked to Social Services and fixed everything up for me. He was a tower of strength acting above and beyond the call of duty. That's Jim Fenner all over and I miss him."

"Weren't you involved in this. After all, she was your mother."

"I wasn't well enough to handle it."

"For the benefit of the court, I am submitting evidence from the Social Worker who is attached to St. Martin's General Hospital. I would draw the attention of the court to the date of the report, August 24th 2001 which is eleven days after the written warning." …

Social Worker's Report on Miss Diane Barker

Name: Di Barker

Aged: 32.

In service: 8 years

Grade: Prison Officer

Previous Occupation: Jobcentre Clerk

Personal background: Di is single and lives with her invalid widowed mother, Dorothy, in a terraced house in Tooting.

…….On the surface, Di is a jolly person who enjoys the cameraderie of her colleagues and genuinely feels for the inmates. Di likes to think that her sunny nature bathes G- Wing in a warm friendly glow. She wants everyone in the prison to be part of a happy family - with her wrapped in its bosom.

Her home life, however, provides an entirely different view. After years of dutiful self-sacrifice, looking after her mother, Di is desperate to find a man who will help her escape to a new and fulfilled life. She blames her mother for spoiling her chances, and her mother suffers for it.

The tedious drudgery of Di's life infects her whole outlook. The bright smile is a front for deep-rooted hysteria, which leaks out from time to time when things go wrong on the wing. Di has no social, sex or love life. Her home is her personal prison. Larkhall is her only place of freedom. The demands made on her by her dependent mother eat away at her, until she's verging on a serious nervous breakdown. All this, she keeps hidden from the world.

It's not just that Di pretends that things are all sweetness and light, she pretends to herself as well. She doesn't know that she's full of self-loathing. She sees her obsessions with men as adult, reciprocated relationships. She sees potential rivals for her affection as two-headed monsters. Her desperate need for love makes her a ruthless enemy if anyone gets in her way.

Despite her mental health problems, Di is a survivor. Her mind becomes calculating when she's cornered and she can speak up for herself if she doesn't go her own way. Di works hard at her job, she loves it and she's good at it. If she could only be free of her burdens, she might grow into a normal human being………..

"I put it to you, Miss Barker, that the date that your mother suffered a fall came remarkably soon after you were given a written warning at work and, in turn, when you stated that you were under extreme pressure. The close sequence of events seem very suggestive."

"It's a lie. I never beat up my own mother. I would never, never do that to my own mother. I had looked after her for years, sacrificing myself so that she could stay at home. Anyone else would have dumped her mother into the first place they could find. That social worker has twisted everything I said to her." Tears ran down her face as her outburst rang round the court.

Jo paused for a few moments, marvelling at the way that the words that came out of this devious woman's mouth had confirmed what Jo only suspected and couldn't prove. The night before, Jo had got worried when her feelings of boundless confidence when she had learned the truth about Di Barker had to be coldly analysed in terms of what she could prove in a court of law.

"Miss Barker, do the names of Josh Mitchell, Mark Waddle and Dominic McAllister mean anything to you?"

"Only as workmates of mine. What else would they mean?"

"Let me put it another way. Can you explain what involvement you had in the break up of Gina Rossi and Mark Waddle?"

"Mrs. Mills, can you explain where this line of questioning is leading to?"

"Only that Miss Barker in her earlier evidence has given glowing testimonials as to the character of James Fenner which, in turn, reflects on the motives of the defendant's actions. If, as I am seeking to demonstrate, Miss Barker has been less than frank in the evidence she has given, then her claim as to James Fenner's noble character is similarly shaky. I made the point earlier that, of all the Prison Officers at Larkhall, only James Fenner has been seriously assaulted. That would become of particular importance."

"Go for it, Jo," Yvonne said under her breath with glee. The way that Jo Mills liberally poured on the sarcasm about that bastard Fenner was revenge enough for her.

"That woman will burn in hell for her lies," Said Crystal.

"Well, Jo's serving her up on a platter nicely toasted right now," Grinned Cassie.

"On that basis, you may proceed, Mrs. Mills," Came John's dry response.

"Why should I have anything to do with it?" Di answered sulkily.

"In that case, by your leave, My Lord, I ask that I can question Gina Rossi on that very limited matter. She is in court right now, standing to the left of the defendant."

"I shall allow that if Miss Rossi is willing to give evidence."

"For obvious reasons, might she be permitted to give evidence from where she stands?"

"So long as she can be clearly heard by the court, I shall allow that."

A broad smile spread across Gina's face. She usually found court was pretty boring, feeling like a spare part watching a lot of highly paid barristers waffle on. This one was different but being told at short notice that she was going to be a part of the proceedings felt like a jolt of electricity. It dawned on her that she could settle a few old scores and that turned the shock into adrenaline fuelled pleasure.

"Miss Rossi, can you describe your relation with Mr. Waddle, and how Miss Barker became involved in it."

"I was going through a bad patch with my fella, Mark Waddle. One night when I was at aerobics, Di Barker wormed her way up to Mark when he'd had a skinful, and they ended up shagging in the gents toilet of the social club, only I didn't know that. Next day, she made out to Mark that I was getting off with Josh Mitchell, and he goes off on one. That's the way she works, she'd play me off against Mark and then come over to me like Julie bloody Andrews, like she was my friend."

"Why do you think she wanted to do that?"

"I stuck up for Josh once when he said that Di Barker made out that he fancied her, and she'd had a hot date with him. The truth was that she'd been throwing herself at him and he didn't want to know. He'd got Crystal Gordan but that didn't matter to her. So yeah, it was revenge and being obsessed with Mark."

"The Lord is my witness that Miss Barker tried to split me and Josh Mitchell up just like Miss Rossi says. I'm Crystal Gordon."

The rest of the gallery froze in shock as Crystal's preacher voice outpowered even Gina's carrying voice. They mentally flinched, waiting for the heavens to fall in on them.

"Miss Gordon, while I accept that a Divine Providence may sit in judgement in all eternity, I as a lesser mortal sit in judgement for the duration of this trial. I think that the conduct of the trial can now revert to more conventional lines. I ask Mrs. Mills to continue uninterrupted with her examination of the witness. Miss Rossi, you may metaphorically stand down."

"I think there must be a bleeding God," Yvonne muttered out of the side of her mouth.

"Everything comes to he who waits," Crystal declaimed.

"Yeah, great stuff but you and Babs are the only signed up members of the God squad. Anyone else would have been banged up by the judge for what you did."

"Me most of all," laughed George.

"He wouldn't, you're one of them barristers."

"You don't know George," Yvonne winked. "Never mind, if anything actually happened to you, we'd put in a good word."

"Oh, thank you," George drawled ironically. Her easy smile showed that she thrived on this light hearted banter.

"Miss Barker, what was the price you paid for James Fenner keeping quiet about the circumstances of how your mother came to be taken into care?"

"I don't know what you mean," Stammered the increasingly confused witness.

"Oh come now. You and James Fenner are two of a kind, both deceitful, both able to present a plausible front to the world whilst the truth is elsewhere. Everything the Social Worker said has been proved to the hilt. I quote. 'She sees potential rivals for her affection as two-headed monsters. Her desperate need for love makes her a ruthless enemy if anyone gets in her way.' So therefore, isn't Karen Betts and anyone associated with her seen by you as a ruthless enemy? It is interesting what a little detective work has uncovered and who knows what more skeletons are lying in the closet. It does explain, for example, why you came forward to give evidence on his behalf, so that your involvement in the secretive life of James Fenner does not come to light. Pity the truth has to be dragged out of you."

"No, no, it didn't happen that way," Di Barker collapsed in hysterics as Jo Mills' stern tones beat down on her to the wonder and astonishment of the gallery. Roisin glanced sideways and she saw Grayling's profile, for once revealing unambiguously, his triumph at seeing that woman who he bitterly regretted having entered his life. Somehow everything that he heard about Di made things that much clearer, so he could come to terms with his own past.

"Have you any questions, Mr. Mason-Alan?"

"No, my lord."

Di Barker shot him a look of pure hatred. She knew that he had treated her as expendable in return for the last card he planned to play when Karen came to take the stand. All his concentration was on her, that hated rival who Fenner had loved. The attention ought to have been on her, so that she could convince the jury of her truth. She felt robbed and she didn't even have Sylvia to commiserate with when she got back to Larkhall. All she had to show for the morning's work was an expenses claim.

"Court is adjourned."

With tears running down her face, she shuffled out of the court unregarded. Gina grinned at her when she passed while the gallery started to empty.

George made her way ahead of the others down the staircase and intercepted Jo in the foyer.

"Well done, Jo. I never saw anything better in my life in the way you handled the case.

"I couldn't have done it without your help, George."

Replied Jo.

"Who knows, we might make a good team one day."

Part Forty-Three

After the lunchtime adjournment, Karen took her place in the witness box, feeling inwardly nervous of what was to come, but outwardly exuding nothing but calm detachment. She had been surprised to see that Neil had been in the gallery, and she found herself hoping against hope that seeing Di being thoroughly humiliated would be enough for him. But there he was, sure enough, sitting up there on the front row, on the other side of the aisle to the others, with only the width of the steps separating him from George. Karen could see them all from where she was: George, Nikki, Helen, Yvonne, Cassie, Roisin and Barbara, and she didn't want any one of them to witness her undoing. But most of all, she didn't want George to see those pictures, to see what a complete and utter slut she must have been to do the things she'd done for Fenner, and in front of a camera of all things. But never mind George, what was John going to think of her after this.

But her musings were cut short, however, when John, with a swish of his robes, appeared through the door behind the judge's bench. Neumann Mason-Alan was so eager to begin his tirade, that he was back on his feet again before everyone else had time to sit down. John held up a hand.

"Mr. Mason-Alan," John said in sonorous tones. "Whilst such a level of enthusiasm would usually be a credit to you, the gleam in your eye leads me to believe that on this occasion, your motivations may be somewhat different. Please remember the warning I gave you yesterday." Neumann didn't let this deter him in the slightest.

"Ms Betts," He began, mentally stalking her in the manner of a particularly vicious, though slightly inept tomcat moving in for the kill. "Precisely why did you initiate an affair with Ritchie Atkins?"

"Do you know something," Karen replied conversationally. "On both occasions that I have been called to give evidence in this court, it's that old chestnut that has been uppermost in the minds of the opposition. It's getting a bit old hat now, don't you think?" Jo laughed before she could stop herself, and John struggled to hide a smile.

"However dated you feel the question may be, Ms Betts," John said trying to keep a straight face. "You must give the court an answer."

"I initiated an affair with Ritchie Atkins," Karen said, spacing her words carefully. "Because I found him attractive. What other reason could there be?"

"And you did not think it wise to steer clear of the son of someone whom you were locking up at the time?"

"Not in the least. I was led to believe that Ritchie Atkins had absolutely nothing to do with the family business, a fact which I found to my cost to be fictitious."

"Roughly how long did this affair last?"

"A matter of a few weeks."

"And it is on the basis of this squalid little affair, lasting no more than, a few weeks, that James Fenner, a principal officer in one of Her Majesty's prisons, is brutally murdered?"

"Oh," Karen drawled almost seductively. "There was nothing squalid about an affair with Ritchie Atkins. That's the point, he was as believable as the bible on which I swore the oath."

"During this trial," Mason-Alan continued. "We have heard of two men's love for you, that of Ritchie Atkins, and that of James Fenner. We have also heard how both of these men in some way did you harm. Please could you tell the court what it is about you that first makes a man love you, and yet then makes said man hurt you?"

"I'd have thought," Karen said coolly. "That such a question might more usefully be put to someone I've slept with, not to me."

"Well now, is there anyone in this court whom you have slept with?"

"Cut it out!" John snapped before Karen could answer.

"I do apologise, My Lord," Neumann replied, insincerity dripping from every syllable. But his clear intention to insult Karen at every possible opportunity had well and truly set the scene for the rest of the afternoon.

"Ms Betts," Neumann continued blithely. "Please could you tell the court, what Yvonne Atkins' reaction was on hearing that you were having an affair with her son, who was, let us not forget, ten years your junior?"

"If I remember rightly," Karen said slowly and deliberately. "Her words were, I ought to scratch your bloody eyes out." There rose a titter from the gallery, and a muttered exclamation of "Typical," From Nikki.

"And yet little more than a year later, you decided to pursue an affair with another Atkins. Only this time, it was with Yvonne Atkins who, by your own admission, threatened to scratch your bloody eyes out."

"People change," Was Karen's unequivocal reply.

"Do people change so very much in such a very short time?"

"A year's quite a while in love and war," Karen commented dryly. Again, the murmur of nervous laughter rose from the gallery.

"Wouldn't it be more accurate to suggest," Neumann continued stonily. "That you insinuated yourself in to Yvonne Atkins' bed, because you knew that she still had the means of removing James Fenner from your life?"

"You devious little worm!" George said none too quietly.

"This man, whom everyone believes raped you, was, until he was killed, haunting your every waking, or should I say working moment."

"And how do you know he still isn't?" Karen asked derisively. This seemed to throw Neumann for a moment.

"So," Neumann said, ignoring her last remark and desperately trying to regain the reins. "Was Yvonne Atkins' criminal potential the reason why you began an affair with her? After all, if anyone could remove James Fenner, it was her."

"I began an affair with Yvonne Atkins," Karen replied, looking down her nose at him in disgust. "Because on getting to know her after she was released from prison, I discovered the warm, funny, incredibly sexy personality that Yvonne often keeps away from prying eyes. On the surface, Yvonne can appear brash, tough and without a remotely gentle bone in her body. But take away that layer, and you'll find the strong, loving woman who has given her life to her children, and who, even now, would do anything she possibly could for them." There was a short silence after Karen had said this, and George looked along the row to see that Yvonne had tears in her eyes.

"Was Yvonne Atkins the first affair you'd had with a woman?"

"Yes," Karen replied, now getting tired of the questions this pathetic little man was throwing at her.

"And is Yvonne Atkins the only woman you've had an affair with?"

"I'd have thought that was my business, not the court's," Karen said tartly.

"Where are you going with this, Mr. Mason-Alan?" John asked, sounding just a little bored.

"My Lord, I am simply trying to establish whether the removal of James Fenner was Ms Betts' intended goal in becoming sexually involved with the mother of his killer."

"And I believe that your argument to that effect has been shot clean out of the water," John said decisively. "So please move on to something else, because I am getting tired of such pointless questions."

"Very well, My Lord," Neumman replied, and the gleam of entrapment became perceptively deeper. "Ms Betts, Ritchie Atkins most pressing motivation for asking his sister to kill James Fenner, appears to be because he was aware of your having been raped by James Fenner. Now, as I understand it, you didn't actually ever tell Ritchie Atkins as much, now did you?"

"Mr. Mason-Alan, I have warned you before about leading the witness," John said disgustedly.

"I apologise, My Lord, I will rephrase the question. Ms Betts, did you ever actually say to Ritchie Atkins, that James Fenner had raped you?"

"No," Karen replied, knowing exactly what was coming. Why, when Fenner had been the perpetrator of the crime, was she always the one having to justify her actions?

"So, the main reason behind the brutal killing of James Fenner was built on nothing more than supposition, was it not?"

"Did you not hear what I said only three minutes ago?" John asked scathingly. "Do not lead the witness. You know better."

"What I am trying to ascertain," Neumann persisted. "Is whether or not there is any actual proof that this crime, supposedly committed by James Fenner, ever took place. I believe the jury may find it interesting that after reporting this crime to the police, you then retracted your statement, just days before the CPS were to inform you that they weren't taking up the case. What I shall endeavour to prove," He continued, now really getting in to his stride. "Is that this crime had never taken place, and that on the contrary, your relationship with James Fenner, your sexual relationship that is, was one of immense enjoyment to you both, including I might add, a certain amount of sexual experimentation." Here it comes, Karen thought in resigned acceptance. Fishing something that looked suspiciously like a packet of photographs out of his briefcase, Neumann walked over to the overhead projector and switched it on.

"My Lord," Jo said, hurriedly getting to her feet.

"Yes, Mrs. Mills, I know what you're about to say," John replied, waving his hand to her to sit down. "I do hope this is both relevant and necessary, Mr. Mason-Alan, or you will have a lot of explaining to do."

"I believe it is the witness who will be providing the explanations, My Lord," Neumann replied jovially. The first picture that was projected on to the blank wall of the court, was of a very suntanned Karen, lying on a sun lounger, completely naked. An indecipherable murmur rose from the gallery, because none of them had been expecting anything like this.

"Ms Betts, do you recognise this?" Neumann asked, the glee prematurely lighting up his face.

"Well, seeing as it's what I have the pleasure of looking at in the mirror every day," Karen said scathingly. "Yes, I most certainly do recognise it." The hearty laugh at Neumann's expense that came from the front row of the gallery, made Karen briefly smile.

"And how about this one?" Neumann asked, ignoring the laughter and putting a second photograph under the light. This one, showed Karen lying on what looked like a hotel bed, leaning up on her elbow in the direction of the camera, a soft, sultry smile on her face, leaving the viewer in no doubt of what was to come.

"I would be very interested to know where you got those pictures," Karen replied, bypassing his question altogether. "Because as far as I was aware, they were last in Jim Fenner's possession, and as he is now dead, I believe they belong to me, seeing as I am the person featured in them."

"Mr. Mason-Alan," John intervened. "Precisely what are you trying to achieve by all this?"

"My Lord, I am simply enlightening the jury as to the fact that Karen Betts is no rape victim..." Before he could continue, there was a flurry of outrage from the gallery. "...And that if such a crime did not take place," Neumann raised his voice above everyone else's. "Then the main factor which forms the backbone of the defence can no longer be called an extenuating circumstance. Look at this for example," He ploughed on, ignoring any effort from John to silence him, and putting yet another picture under the light. Karen's face burned in mortification when she saw which one it was. She recognised the place as the balcony of the hotel room they'd had on holiday. She was naked yet again, but this time leaning up against the rail that ran round the top of the balcony wall. But it wasn't the surroundings that were catching everyone's attention. Modesty hadn't been allowed a look in on this one. It was plain to see that Karen had been sunbathing naked, and that she liked to be as hairless and smooth-skinned as possible when with a lover. The long, well-defined fingers of her left hand were playing over her left breast, and her right hand was resting casually on her hip, leaving the viewers in no doubt as to what would be in future pictures. As Karen stood and stared at the picture of herself, feeling her face flaming with colour, she heard a mixture of responses from the gallery. George's, "Good god," Yvonne's, "Bloody Hell," And Nikki's "Jesus Christ," Were just some of the reactions to her shame. But Neumann still wouldn't let up.

"I would ask you, Ms Betts," He continued, now feeling that he had the backing of his audience. "Does this look to you like a woman who would refuse any kind of sexual intimacy from a man who was once her lover?" Karen knew she couldn't speak. No way could she stand there and face this man out. Taking the only refuge left open to her, she turned about, stepped down from the witness box, and stalked purposefully out of court.

After a moment's appalled silence, Cassie quickly rose to her feet and squeezed her way along the row, clearly with the intention of following Karen. When Cassie moved passed her, George attempted to go with her, but Cassie said very quietly,

"Leave this to me. Anything resembling a lover is the last thing she'll want to see right now." George knew it had been meant kindly, but it didn't prevent her from feeling totally useless. John, on the other hand, simply stared at Mason-Alan, giving his level of anger and loathing a few brief moments to mature.

"Hand me those pictures," He said, the quiet, almost deliberately spaced words belying the anger about to erupt.

"But my Lord," Neumann tried to protest, but he was cut short.

"Do it!" John roared, in a voice that nailed every other person to the spot. After removing the picture of Karen from under the light source, Neumann put all the pictures back in their envelope, and walking up to the bench, handed them to John. "Never," John continued once he'd received the pictures. "Have I witnessed such a blatant disregard for dignity and human decency. Did it not occur to you that Karen Betts is actually a human being, with possible feelings of shame and embarrassment just like the rest of us?"

"My Lord, I was simply trying to..."

"Don't interrupt!" John bellowed, far angrier than anyone, Jo and George included, had ever seen him. "I warned you yesterday, didn't I. I warned you not to intimidate any witness under any circumstance. You have completely and unreservedly ignored every word I have ever said to you regarding your treatment of witnesses. What will it take, for you to learn that you cannot treat a witness, especially one whom you specifically asked to be called, in the manner of a dumb animal that can be bent and manipulated to suit your purpose? Are you even aware, that by introducing that ludicrously cheap and degrading evidence, that you have contravened the Criminal Procedures and Investigations Act?"

"My Lord, I..."

"In section 3 subsection 1, it categorically states that the prosecutor must disclose to the accused any prosecution material which has not previously been disclosed to the accused, and which in the prosecutor's opinion might undermine the case for the prosecution against the accused. As a regularly used puppet of the prosecuting establishment, you ought to know this Act inside out and be in the habit of using it to the letter. As I understand it, you have not, on any prior occasion enlightened the defence as to the existence of these pictures. Therefore, I am declaring any inference drawn from them as null and void. This will include all the evidence you have ruthlessly drawn from Karen Betts during this afternoon's session. This is because, and only because of the way you have persistently undermined my authority in this court, and such an exhibition of defiance and plain ignorance of procedure and common decency, I will not have. I will be informing the Professional Conduct Committee of your behaviour this afternoon, and you can be sure that you have not heard the end of this. Now get out of my sight."

When Cassie reached the foyer, she saw the front doors of the court building swinging shut, and ran hell for leather to push them open. Karen was striding purposefully towards her car. Cassie called out to her. Karen turned, and waited until Cassie caught up with her.

"Where are you going?" She asked, catching her breath.

"Anywhere away from here," Karen answered curtly, wanting nothing more than to be left alone.

"I just wanted to make sure you were all right," Cassie said quietly, not wanting to aggravate Karen's clearly volatile state.

"I know," Karen replied, calming down ever so slightly. "And it's very sweet of you, but I just need some space. I'm not sure if I can look anyone in the face right now."

"Especially George?" Cassie cut to the chase. Karen kept her expression blank. "If it makes you feel better," Cassie continued. "She wanted to see how you were too."

"I'm amazed those bloody pictures haven't frightened her off," Karen said bitterly.

"I barely know George," Cassie replied confidently. "But you can see a mile off that she's made of tougher stuff than that. She isn't going to be frightened off just because you posed for the camera."

"I hope you're right," Karen said, not entirely believing her. Then a thought struck her. "Oh, no," She groaned in realisation. "Grayling was up there with you. That's all I need."

"You leave him to me," Cassie said, determination clear in her voice. "Listen," She added, giving Karen an impulsive hug. "Wherever you're going, just take care." As Karen spun the wheel and roared out of the car park, Cassie stood and watched her, wondering just how much intrusion one person could take.

When Cassie returned inside, she found the others descending the marble stairs, and saw Jo and the prosecuting arse-hole emerging from the door reserved for barristers. Once out of the courtroom itself, Jo turned to Neumann and hissed,

"You really are a spineless little cretin, aren't you." Neumann halted in his tracks, for a moment surprised by the venom in Jo's voice.

"Only doing my job, Jo, you know how these things are."

"Oh! Oh, do I," Jo replied in disgust, her voice rising with indignation. "Well, let me tell you that never in a million years would I stoop as low as you did today. You just haven't got a remotely sensitive bone in your body, have you. You're a worthless, pathetic individual who has to get his kicks from humiliating women who are far stronger than you will ever be."

"Jo!" George interrupted, touching her arm to get her attention. "Come on," She said a little more gently. "It's really not worth it. He'll get his comeuppance when the PCC start digging their claws in."

"I hope they take you well and truly off the road," Jo said over her shoulder as she allowed George to lead her away. But he hadn't finished.

"What's a hearing with the PCC like, Jo? I'd almost forgotten you'd had one yourself." This was just too much for Jo, swiftly turning round, she was about to deliver either a verbal or possibly even a physical rejoinder to this very accurate jibe. But George, seeing something akin to the Atkins wrath in Jo's eyes, grabbed her hand and virtually dragged her away.

"Jo, he's simply not worth getting into trouble over, not a pathetic little time server like him."

"Oh, and this is the voice of reason speaking?" Jo flared, her blocked fury being displaced on George.

"Jo, you know what you have to do," George explained patiently. Inwardly she winced

as she saw a reflection of herself in the way Jo reacted. "Your quickest way to take your revenge on him is to defeat him in open court. How it will go is anyone's guess but, thanks to you, we've made most of the running. We've seen those fearfully obsequious friends of my utterly despicable ex, sitting behind us and looking as if they are going to their own funeral."

Jo's rage started to dissipate as she realised what was getting to her. Every time she came to a long trial, she started out enthusiastically, thinking that sheer will power could slog her way through any obstacle. If it meant spending day after day in court, evenings poring over the evidence, continually rethinking her trial strategy as she went along, she never noticed how this was driving her down. Always at the same energy and emotional low water mark, she was apt to flare up, usually at the point shortly before she came to deliver her closing speech. That last attempt to tip the balance of the trial always had the secondary effect of pulling her together and refocussing her own sense of conviction in the justice of her case. Once she finished the trial, she physically and emotionally crashed out over the weekend, tired but with that triumphant feeling that obliterated the memory of the mid trial slump.

"You're right, George. I'm sorry."

"I understand. In any case, I've always believed that revenge is the dish that is best eaten cold. I'm very good at that as you should remember."

"I'll see you, George. I need to go home and rest."

Jo suddenly felt exhausted when she stopped fighting that need for rest. She smiled at George's little joke, gathered her very full brief case, heading off to the exit.

"Hey, that's Grayling over there. I promised Karen that I'd have a word or two to say to him."

"I'll join you and help keep you out of trouble," George offered generously, seeing the determined look in Cassie's eye. In turn, the other woman grinned broadly at George's unintentional joke but said nothing.

"We'll see you at the pub and get the drinks in for you both," called out Yvonne.

The two women made a line to intercept Grayling before he had a chance to slink off. His smile of greeting when they had homed in was insincere even by his standards.

"Ah, Miss Tyler. I hope you and your partner are making your mark in life outside Larkhall."

"I hope you have properly recovered from that terrible injury you had at the time of the fire, Mr. Grayling."

Fifteen all and her turn to serve, smiled George as she noticed the way Grayling's mouth was pursed up tight.

"We wanted to have a quiet word with you, Mr. Grayling, about the totally scandalous way that the prosecution barrister exhibited those photographs in an open court, with the risk of them falling into the hands of some sleazy Fleet Street hack."

"I can't see what that has to do with me, Ms Channing, though it is interesting what you learn about your staff."

"You might be less casual about it if naked pictures of you were exhibited in court for everyone to see. In any case, you ought to start wondering how those photos came to light, who had most to do with Mr. Fenner."

"I see your point," Grayling said cautiously. He hadn't thought that the photographs were anything to worry about. The idea of it happening to him made him suddenly think of all sorts of jeering comments being made behind his back. That made it a different matter altogether. He started wondering who would be petty and malicious enough to slip the photos to the prosecuting barrister and he came up with a short list of one.

"So one thing I suggest that you do is to stamp very hard on anyone exercising their squalid little imagination, like Di Barker for example. You're the Governing Governor, aren't you?"

"Yeah, like that spiteful old witch, Bodybag, mouthing off like she always does. She's another stirrer."

The insolent way that Cassie spoke made George grin to herself. Grayling couldn't work out for the life of him who this troublemaker was talking about except that it had to be one of his prison officers.

"Just who do you mean by Bodybag?"

"Sylvia Hollamby, of course. All the girls have called her that name for years. I'm surprised you of all people didn't know that one. After all, you're the Governing Governor."

"Let's get to the point. No one, I repeat no one at Larkhall gets to hear about those photos, and anything remotely connected to them, and the prison officers who were at court today should be quietly advised to keep their mouths shut."

"I didn't know that Miss Betts meant so much to you," Grayling muttered in a meaningful way. It had come to his ears that a female barrister of her name was on hand when Buki Lester cut herself so tragically. It was irregular for her to be on the premises but if it meant that his name and Larkhall's wasn't bandied about in the corridors of power at Area, he was content to let matters be. That story makes sense when put together with the way that she is being so persistent about something that isn't her business. Being a gay man had long since taught him that people aren't as they seemed. Miss Tyler sticking her oar in is easier to explain as she's a natural troublemaker anyway.

"Never you mind just why we're taking an interest in the matter. If anyone talks out of turn, there'll be hell to pay from me, and you know what that means."

George's words spoken in her most precise, iciest tones worried Grayling as to the possible consequences of his actions. He paled at the vague but very real threat from this dominant forceful woman who had once given him a roasting in court.

"If you see Miss Betts before I do, can you pass it on to her that I shall see to this request." All the time he spoke, his eyes were flitting sideways to the right of George. When he finished speaking, he shot off like a rocket.

"Are you sure that it is all right for me to come and join you?" George asked Cassie in an uncharacteristically shy fashion. They were walking side by side as they made their way from the court towards the pub.

"Of course it's fine, George. You're one of us. Besides, there's a large dry Martini waiting to be drunk by you."

A warm smile spread across George's face at the kindness and unquestioning sense of acceptance in Cassie's voice. It was only now that George worked out where this social insecurity came from as it was totally unlike her reputation for carrying off social affairs so splendidly. She remembered when she first started at boarding school, everyone had grouped themselves into cliques and she vividly remembered her first awkward steps to be accepted by the other girls. She never forgot the feelings of rejection when she was spurned by the more vicious, petty girls in her form who liked shutting people out. When puberty came and, with it, her attractiveness to the opposite sex, she became the life and soul of the party. It came to her, not the other way around and she could forget the past. Now after all the years of handling every largely male dominated social occasion, it was as if she had come round full circle. This time around, her reasons for wanting to be accepted were a much more mature need to be accepted by a group of like-minded people with whom she felt she belonged.

"Just thought I'd say, George, before we go into the pub, that I know that you and Karen are together……."

"Am I causing any problems?" George asked anxiously.

"There's no problem for me. Karen is really gorgeous and you've sure got good taste. I just thought you ought to know that not everyone knows, especially Yvonne."

The others had occupied a large table in the corner of the room, enough for the seven of them to gather round comfortably. They were greeted by a row of smiles and there were two empty chairs saved for them.

"Did you get to talk to Karen?"

"Yeah but not too much. She wasn't in a talking mood and she wants to be left on her own for a while."

"I can understand Karen walking out of the court. Bastard."

"Are you sure she will be all right? Ought one of us to phone her and see how she's going on?" Babs anxious voice followed Nikki's sympathetic anger.

"Leave it for later. Give her some time on her own and then we'll phone."

"What about Grayling? He'd love to spread malicious gossip around Larkhall. You can tell that sort."

The image of Grayling's profile sprang into Babs memory as she had sat nearest to him during the trial that morning. The expression on his face had been suspiciously blank.

"George and I caught up with him. He won't squeal, not after George and I gently persuaded him to keep his mouth shut if he knew what was good for him."

"Oh, and how gentle was gentle, you mean like the Kray brothers?"

A wide smile spread across Yvonne's face as she contemplated how that formidable double act would have operated on Grayling.

"As if I would? George is a respectable barrister so I couldn't let her down."

They all laughed out loud at the way Cassie played to the gallery with her unconvincing air of innocence.

"I had to drag Jo away from that barrister of theirs. She came very close to striking him,"

Volunteered George. She had kept deliberately quiet when all the discussion centred on Karen for fear that she would betray her real feelings for her. It was a new experience to be able to sit back and quietly listen to what others were saying. She didn't have to be the centre of attention.

"I didn't think that barristers did that sort of thing."

Helen's mouth was wide open in astonishment at the prospect of that apparently very respectable and, by definition, law abiding profession going to such extremes.

"It was a close thing. I know Jo of old. She has very strong feelings for what is right and what is wrong. He offended every sense of decency that she possesses. When she does lose her temper, which is not as often as me……" and George smiled at this point. "…..that person had better take to the hills."

"What a total slimebag that bastard was in raking up those photos of Karen. That was a calculated stroke as ever I've seen for a long long time…"

"…..ever since you were in Larkhall," Finished Yvonne. "Memory fades, you know, of just how bad things can get."

"I've never thought about it before but Karen must have a far easier time of it now with Fenner no longer around. Bodybag's a nasty piece of work but she's stupid."

"You're forgetting Di Barker. She's off the wing for now but I imagine she'll be coming back some time. She's down but not out and can still cause trouble especially when she isn't known for what she's really like."

"You sound as if you couldn't wait to get back to that dump and sort it out, Nikki."

"What, the pie and chips special, lockups at night and no Helen to keep me warm at nights. That will be the day, Yvonne. There were good times there but I can remember the bad also."

Nikki smiled at Yvonne's joke but finished on a reflective note as she became aware of her ambiguous nature of her feelings for Larkhall that she had hidden from herself for years.

"I think we could do without talking about Di Barker and her crocodile tear routine. The less said about her the better."

They all fell into the sort of contemplative silence where no one has to speak. The quiet sounds of the pub and the comfortable chairs, so much more relaxing than the stiff benches, was soothing and restful.

"Those photos of Karen were rather tasty, you have to admit, oh sorry Babs, I forgot."

"You can't take her anywhere. Just how do you manage her with your kids around."

"She's quite a different person, Yvonne, believe me."

"Oh really?"

Helen's mind had suddenly become troubled, the thought of them all laughing and joking together at the pub and that, in the past, Karen had been part of the crowd. She was painfully conscious that they had given Karen quite long enough for even the most dedicated recluse.

"Look here, I think we've left it long enough. If it's OK with the rest of you, I'll talk to Karen on the mobile. I'll pop outside where it's quieter."

"I'll join you," volunteered George.

Part Forty Four

At first, Karen drove with no particular direction in mind. She just knew that she needed to get away from anyone who knew her, anyone who might have seen those pictures. She drove pretty aimlessly for a while, the rain pattering on the windscreen like a thousand tiny fingers, all knocking for her to let them in. Why could she never be allowed to leave Fenner and what he'd done to her behind? She kept asking herself this as she drove. When she was mulling over a possible answer to this question, the idea occurred to her. If there was one consistency throughout everything to do with Fenner, it was that she hadn't had any control over any of it. That was one thing she was determined to change. Turning off at the next roundabout, Karen drove towards a house she hadn't seen in nearly three years. When she reached it, she simply parked outside and switched off the engine. She was thankful to see that its current occupants were probably at work, no cars sitting in the driveway. Karen stayed where she was, just contemplating the house through the still falling rain. She had moved here with Ross when he was fourteen. She'd just been made a senior officer, and could just about afford the mortgage. She had many happy memories of this house, of Ross, of Steve, and of Fenner. Had that bastard prosecutor shown the entire packet of photographs, they would all have been treated to a few that had been shot in this house, a few of the later ones. Ross had made the transition from child to man in this house, and she'd been so proud to see the son she'd fought tooth and nail for over the years, finally leaving home to go to college. Everything had seemed to be going right until Fenner had come back on the scene. But from then on, her world had been turned topsy turvy. It hadn't been anything truly enormous to start with, really just the clash between Jim and Helen, and she, Karen, had taken Jim's side. Then, Virginia had been drowned and Karen had found Maxi's knickers in her in tray. She'd stood in the living-room of this house, going through Jim's bank statements. She'd afterwards felt guilty for not trusting him. God, what a fool she'd been, she thought contemptuously. All the time, all the bloody time they'd lived together in this house, shared her bed and eaten at the same table. All the time they'd done all those things, he'd been playing her for the fool she'd been since day one, just as Helen had said. She'd had to move out of this house after the rape, because it was just too close to home to be haunted constantly by memories of the times they'd had here. She'd even bought a new bed when she'd moved to the flat, because never again could she have slept in the bed she'd once shared with Jim. Mark hadn't questioned either of these changes, either realising that she needed to do it, or simply knowing that his opinion was neither wanted nor required. Poor Mark, Karen thought as she switched on the engine and drove away. Poor Mark for having been caught up in her anger and disgust for Fenner, because that's what he had been. Mark couldn't do a thing right for her in those few weeks after he'd looked at her as though she was a whore, and that hadn't been his fault. If it had been anyone's, it'd been hers, not his. But she couldn't tell him this at the time. All she'd known was that she didn't want him anywhere near her. She'd slept with him that one last time, in a fruitless attempt to prove she could still enjoy it. Maybe if she had, she might have tried to mend things with Mark, but she hadn't, and he'd known she hadn't. There was no going back after that.

The second time Karen drew her car to a stop, she was looking at an altogether far more dismal house than the one she had just left. In one of the seedier parts of Shepherd's Bush, it stood in the middle of a row of other anonymous looking houses. There was the overgrown hedge, as much a part of the scenery of her nightmare as the house itself had been. She'd pushed Fenner in to that hedge when he'd followed her, when he'd tried to stop her from leaving. Then she'd roared away from there like a bat out of hell, feeling like she was flying for her life. Karen made herself look at that house, forced her unwilling eyes to take in the dingy facade of the B and B where Fenner had retreated after being kicked out by Grayling. From where she was sitting, she could clearly see the front door, and remembered how she'd left it swinging as she'd dashed to her car. But if she raised her eyes to look above the front door, she could see the window of the room where it had happened, behind whose curtains the bed might still be. That bed where he'd held her down, ignored every one of her protests and forced his way inside her.

Everything from the last ten days finally catching up with her, she let the tears flow. It wasn't wrong to cry, not when there was no one to see her do it. She'd cried in front of Jo after reading Fenner's forensic report, but part of her wished she hadn't. If she didn't do this now, she wouldn't be able to keep up the vague pretence of her usual strong persona with anyone. She wanted no one to see her like this, not one single person of all those she knew. This was the start of her finally beginning to let go of Fenner. Karen wasn't stupid, she knew it would take far more than this, but at least she'd taken that initial step towards closure. The last time she'd been outside this house, had been on the day after Ritchie died, when she'd had a flashback in the car with Yvonne. That had been because she hadn't expected to be confronted by the set of her most deeply wounding drama. But this time, she was here because she had chosen to be. That was a one-fingered salute to Fenner for a start. Never again would she come back to this place, but she had needed to see it for one last time.

It was during this moment of contemplation, that Karen's mobile rang. Digging it out of her handbag and trying to stem her tears, she saw it was Helen's number and answered, knowing that Helen would be worried about her if she didn't.

"Helen," Karen said in greeting.

"Karen," Came Helen's concerned voice. "Where the hell are you?"

"You'd think I was completely mad if I told you," Karen said with a watery smile.

"Well, as long as it's not at the top of a metaphorical cliff, it doesn't matter where you are." Standing next to Helen, George looked aghast when she heard this.

"No," Karen said with a nervous laugh. "Fenner might have made me do some bloody crazy stuff in his time, but he'll never make me do that." Helen gave George a reassuring smile, having forgotten that everyone else was used to her calling a spade a spade way of talking.

"Well, I'm glad to hear it," She said sincerely. "We all just wondered how you were."

"Right this minute, I feel just about as bad as I've ever done in my life, but I'll get over it. Who's with you?"

"I'm stood outside with George. She's smoking, I'm talking to you and the others are inside."

"I don't know what I'd do without you all," Karen said, wholly unable to stop crying now she'd started.

"You'd probably have a very quiet life," Helen said fondly. "Did you want to talk to anyone else?"

"No, but thank you for checking up on me. I just need some space, that's all."

"Sweetheart," Helen said gently. "If space is what you want after today, then you'll get it."

When she'd said goodbye to Karen and switched the phone off, George asked,

"Is she all right?"

"No, she's not," Helen said worriedly. "But from the sounds of it and from what I know of Karen, she'll want to hide somewhere, get it out of her system, and come back tougher and more emotionally closed off than she was before. One thing you're going to have to learn and accept about Karen," She continued, feeling that this was as good a time as any for saying this to George. "Is that since Fenner totally reeled her in and broke her trust, she doesn't allow anyone to get very close to her. She's kept too many feelings locked away for far too long, and unless she's forced to by something unexpected cropping up, she never lets them out."

"I'm not a stranger to hiding how I really feel about a lot of things," George said with a rueful shrug.

"Then you might have more luck than most in persuading her to open up," Helen said gently. "I think she sees expressing her feelings as a type of vulnerability, as a way for someone to hurt her all over again."

"But I wouldn't," George insisted.

"I don't know you well enough to agree or disagree with you," Helen said matter-of-factly. "All I'm saying is, don't."

"Warning received and understood," George replied quietly. "Though I didn't expect it to come from you."

"After what happened with Fenner, you mean? Well, I had Nikki to help me lay Fenner to rest, to hold me through the nightmares, and to stop me from feeling guilty for leaving Karen to it. But Karen had no one. By all accounts she pushed Mark away, and you know what happened with Ritchie. Yvonne would have been good for her in time, but that got shot in the foot before it had barely got going."

"And she even slept with John after finishing with Yvonne as a sort of cure."

"I know. She told me about that soon after it happened, and at the time I think it was something she needed to do. But that's the point, she pushed Mark away because he was too close to her. She tried Ritchie because he didn't even know about Fenner, and yet he worked it out anyway. With the Judge, I think she just wanted something normal."

"And which category do I fall into?"

"Do you really want me to have a stab?"

"If I've learnt anything in the last ten days," George said with a smile. "It's that I'll get nothing but an honest, unvarnished opinion from each and every one of you. So yes, I'd be interested to know."

"You're very pretty," Helen said with a smile. "And you're someone she can spar with, and for Karen, I'm guessing that will always be a plus. From what I remember of Mark, he really wasn't strong enough for her. But you are. You don't take shit from anyone, and she likes that. You've also got absolutely nothing to do with her job, and after all the problems I had with Nikki, I know how important that is, and because of both this trial and the one where you defended Ritchie, plus the work you and Jo were doing for her, there isn't anything you don't know about what happened with Fenner, which means that she doesn't have to explain any of that. It also won't have gone unnoticed that none of that has frightened you off. I could go on, but I think you'd quite like your head to fit through the car door some time today."

After Helen had hung up, Karen sat staring at the phone. She couldn't have faced talking to George. Karen Betts, Wing Governor Betts, who dealt with a lot of volatile prison inmates every day of her working life, didn't quite have the guts to talk to the woman she was getting close too, and all because said woman had seen a few dodgy pictures of her. She really was cracking up if she was being as pathetic as this. Drying her eyes, and reapplying her make up, she put the car in gear and drove away, looking back at the scene of her undoing for the very last time.

John was sprawled full length in an armchair in the dimly lit chambers, not being in a frame of mind to move anywhere for a long time. The last time he had been so incandescent with anger was the Brooklands trial. Instinct told him that he couldn't safely drive his car through the busy streets of London but that he needed to be removed from the world, somewhere he could calm down. While he lay, looking upwards at the faint pattern on the ceiling, that clearly wasn't happening as his anger burned through him like a white hot flame. The court was utterly quiet with no sign of human life and time passed slowly. Eventually, his mind wrenched itself away, as if by protective instinct, to someone, something more congenial and Karen floated into his mind. He admired her presence of mind to take herself out of court and not blindly accepting that the full majesty of the court had to be obeyed, come what may. The fact that it was his court that she had walked out of mattered not a jot to him. If he were in her shoes, he would have done exactly the same. He made a mental note that the least he could do was to tell the court that her examination as a witness was concluded. His sense of honour owed her this much and a lot more besides.

He was just beginning to slide down peacefully into the frame of mind so that he could deal with matters around him until the sharp clicking sound down the long corridor awakened a horrid suspicion of what may be in store for him. They wouldn't dare have the nerve and insensitivity to disturb him after a day like this.

"Ah, John, we thought that we would pop by your chambers on the off chance."

Sir Ian tried his best to sound nonchalant as if seeing John was the purest accident.

"Our business took us in this direction," Added his faithful sidekick.

Oh no, this is all I need, groaned John to himself. I can't exactly bounce the pair of them out of my chambers by the scruffs of their necks, much though I would dearly love to do so.

"Take a seat if you must," He gestured unenthusiastically.

"It has been most productive of our time to follow this trial closely rather than let it come to us by the normal channels."

"I was only saying to Sir Ian the other day that we don't get out of our offices enough and that we should adopt a more 'hands on' approach," Lawrence James added.

"I am gratified that you are devoting so much time to my cases when there are other judges whom you could visit."

John's smile was stretched tightly across his face but not in easy mirth and in a mood of intimacy. The hardness in his voice had none of his usual courtesy and affability. Already, he could feel his anger welling up inside him. By what right did they think they could intrude on him? One's company, two's a crowd let alone three.

"Ah, but we are concerned for your welfare and that the judgement on a delicate and complex case will be sound."

"Proceed," He was fed up of the flowery false sentiment and wanted to cut to the chase.

"You will have no doubt as to the veracity of thew evidence given by the last witness, Ms Betts."

"You're right. I don't."

"The woman was clearly as guilty as sin of fabricating her evidence against James Fenner. Her lack of modesty shows the sort of woman she is. There can be no doubt as men of the world that the woman could not possibly have been raped."

"Ian, you are clearly talking the language of 'disgusted of Tonbridge Wells.' What two consenting adults do in the privacy of their home is their private business."

"You miss the point, John, it is about credibility."

"It is about arriving at the truth. Neil Houghton, for instance, appears perfectly credible being interviewed by David Frost as he has been trained in techniques of appearing before the media and feigning sincerity. From my past acquaintance with the man, I know him to be untruthful and his word not to be relied upon."

Both sir Ian and Lawrence James were so locked up in their desperation to put pressure on John at their last opportunity that they failed to notice John's dry clipped emphasis on the consonants as the first stage in his gradual ascent to the explosion of anger to come.

"My Lord, my wife would never allow herself to behave in such a manner. The postures were brazenly immodest, and what is worse is that she consented to a photographic record to be kept. It tells me that she is a loose woman who deceived Mr. Fenner as to her intentions when she called round to visit him. To say she was raped is surely crying wolf."

It was Lawrence James's loud hateful tones that caused the dam to finally burst.

"I really don't know whose behaviour is more morally corrupt, that pathetic apology of a man who obviously gets a kick out of humiliating women……"

"Your words come straight out of some cheap romantic fiction, John……"

"Silence, the pair of you. As I was saying, I consider two sycophants like yourselves whose only thoughts are how to satisfy the whims of your lords and masters, be fair means or foul. You two, I fancy, come off worst. Having heard that spineless wretch and what I had to say about them, you could have maintained a decent silence and let justice be done. But no, you choose to immerse yourself totally in the filth and slime which pervades this society, further than you have ever done before. Your mere presence in coming to see me condones that man's foul actions or you would have spoken about this matter at the very first instance. Before you ask the next, very predictable action, Miss Betts will not be recalled to the stand and I shall explain to the court exactly why, first thing. You have the audacity to slander a very courageous woman who stands head and shoulders over any of you, and your cronies. Your sickeningly prim and puritan attempt at 'morality' disgusts me to the bottom of my soul, when I see the way you have sold your souls to climb the greasy ladder of success. You, Sir Ian and you, Mr. James, have shamelessly prostituted yourselves for years, And finally, I shall make it my life's mission to ensure that that puppet of yours is arraigned before the PCC and is suitably dealt with."

Sir Ian blanched before the tirade of anger which poured over him especially as John's forefinger stabbed his indictment of them in their direction. He waited a few seconds until he conceived the reason why John was apparently so defensive of her. If Laurence James could have turned white, he would have done and he kept out of the slanging match.

"Don't think we don't know why you are being so absurdly quixotic. You must be having a cheap affair with Ms Betts."

For one second, Sir Ian regretted his actions as he saw murder in John's eyes. With an enormous effort of will, he firmly suppressed what impulse came into his mind and was abnormally calm and quiet.

"I thought it was Mrs. Mills whom you thought I was having an affair with."

"We can't keep up with your outlandish lifestyle," snarled Sir Ian.

"What's the matter? Are you jealous? Is that what your morality is based upon? Do those photographs give you an inkling of what I might enjoy with Ms Betts?" John enquired teasingly.

"We're getting away from the point," Sir Ian eventually said after a coughing fit. "We came to be assured that you not hold back in your summing up and when you come to deliver your verdict."

"You can be assured that I shall treat the defendant justly as I always have done. Now get out, you are making the place untidy."

After the two luckless men made their exit, John sighed. He needed peace of mind desperately right then.

Part Forty-Five

When Karen drew up in the car park of the Old Bailey, it was almost five o'clock and most of the cars had gone. Fervently hoping that none of their little clan was still there, Karen walked in through the heavy front doors. There were a few people in the foyer, but none that she knew. After having blatantly held the court in contempt by walking out, Karen was feeling extremely self-conscious and just prayed that she wouldn't see anyone she recognised. As she climbed the familiar marble stairs, it struck her that this building was becoming almost as well known to her as Larkhall was. She walked along the seemingly endless, silent corridor, all the time hoping that John wasn't about to be cross with her.

After bawling out Neumann Mason-Alan, John had retreated to his chambers, to hopefully, simmer down slightly with the cup of tea provided by the ever thoughtful Coope. But that wasn't to be. His anger had been further tested by the arrival of those two imbecilic dolts from the LCD, Sir Ian Rochester and Lawrence James, and when Sir Ian had attempted to question his authority, John had again let his anger fly. But they'd all gone home now, even Coope, after first saying that she was worried about him. He'd dropped the packet of pictures in the top drawer of his desk, and once all and sundry had stopped knocking on his door demanding answers, he'd taken them out again and examined them. After all, he did want to know exactly what he had in his possession. They were all incredible, as he'd first suspected. But he was relieved that Mason-Alan hadn't got as far as revealing some of the later ones, because they were clearly of Karen in the pursuit of her own pleasure. She had been touching herself in a manner so wickedly sinful, that he had been forced to exert an enormous amount of willpower, not to become aroused by them. He could remember the feel of her body as though it was yesterday, its different textures and tastes all rolling into one height of passion that he would never forget. He'd thrown the pictures back into the top drawer of his desk before he could be tempted into making a copy of them.

A good while later, when he'd calmed down, both from the anger and from the near sexual arousal, there came a knock on his door. Thinking it must be Jo or George, or someone else on a mission to irritate him, he bade the person to enter. When Karen appeared looking almost shy, he rose hurriedly from his chair and walked towards her.

"Hello," He said as she came in and closed the door. "I was worried about you."

"I thought you'd be cross with me," Karen said a little sheepishly.

"For turning your back on that mouthpiece of the justice system? Not in the slightest. Are you all right?"

"No, not really, but I will be. I just came back to apologise for walking out of your court."

"Well, there's no need," He said gently but firmly. "Would you like a drink?"

"No thank you. I feel unstable enough already. What happened after I left?"

"Ah," John said, half in triumph, half in embarrassment. "Suffice it to say I lost my temper with Neumann Mason-Alan, and I don't think the way I roared at him will be forgotten in a hurry."

"Oh, John," Karen said in a mixture of amusement and concern. "I do hope you haven't got yourself into trouble on my account."

"It'll blow over," He said nonchalantly. "But he had it coming."

"What happened to the pictures?"

"I confiscated them." He reached in to his desk drawer and retrieved them.

"Had a good look, did you?" Karen couldn't help demanding as he handed them to her.

"Only briefly," He said mildly, knowing that she would probably feel highly sensitive to the contents of that envelope.

"I'm sorry," Karen said, knowing he wouldn't have meant her any harm. "Everything's finally catching up with me, that's all."

"Would discussing it help?" He asked gently. Karen shuddered.

"Thank you for the offer, but no. Talking is the last thing I want to do today." Walking over to where the paper shredder stood in the corner, Karen began systematically removing each photograph from the envelope, taking a brief, last look at it, and then feeding it into the shredder's waiting jaws. John watched her as she did this, seeing in an instant that this was part of the grieving process, the removing Fenner once and for all from her life, and the inevitable moving on that she must do. Karen couldn't help but grin at a couple of them. God, what a treat the court would have had if they'd seen some of the later ones. She was saying goodbye to a tiny portion of her past, but everyone had to start somewhere. When she reached the last photograph, she also made fast work of shredding the negatives. After dropping the empty envelope in the bin, she turned to John and said,

"Any copies lying around I should know about?"

"Well, I did consider making a copy of them, but I didn't think Jo would be too amused." He said all this with such a straight face that Karen gave him a small smile.

"I doubt she'd have been all that surprised," Karen said dryly. "But I'm glad you didn't."

"I took some pictures like that of George once," He said, trying to put her at her ease.

"Well, just be careful they don't ever fall into the wrong hands," Karen said with a small smile.

"Where did you go when you left court this afternoon?"

"I did something I should have done a long time ago. Strange as it seems, I think the re-emergence of those pictures gave me the push I needed. I paid a visit to the house where I lived with Fenner, and to the house where he raped me." Even now, even after all that had happened, she still loathed and detested the word rape, and hated every time she had to say it.

"Was that wise?" John asked carefully.

"Yes, it was. The last time I saw that B and B where Fenner had been staying, it was very unexpected, and just seeing it made me have the one and only waking flashback I've ever had of that night. I probably scared the life out of Yvonne because I was behind the wheel at the time. Quite how she managed to get me to pull over is anyone's guess."

"So you thought you'd visit it on your own terms?"

"Yes. It was something I needed to do. Like those pictures, I needed to consign it to the past. Whether I've achieved what I wanted to achieve, I suppose I'll find out in due course."

"What did you want to achieve?"

"I'm sick and tired of dreaming about everything to do with him. Not just what he did to me, but things he did to other people, things I did and said when I was living with him." John pondered this for a moment.

"You probably won't ever entirely get away from that."

"I know, but I had to do something." John walked over to her, suddenly catching a glimpse of the vulnerable Karen, the Karen who hadn't quite been able to regain her outer composure. Slowly putting his arms round her, he could feel her tense, taut body, eventually begin to relax in his hold.

"I was extremely proud of you today," He said, his face in her hair, breathing in the familiar scent of her perfume mixed with cigarette smoke.

"I thought you were going to charge me with contempt of court," Karen said with a small smile.

"You hadn't actually been issued with a formal summons, so I couldn't."

"I wish I'd seen your explosion," She said fondly, an embrace from this man always making her feel safe.

"I've heard it was a sight to behold. But when you were still there, giving him more hell than either Jo or George ever would have done, I kept thinking that, no matter how wonderful you are at your present job, I wished with all my heart that you'd trained as a barrister."

"Please don't be nice to me," She said, unable to suppress the tears that rose to her eyes.

"It's what I thought," He said quietly. "And it's what I'll go on thinking, every time I see an imbecile like that on the bench."

"I wish Fenner had come under your cosh, just once," She said in to his shoulder.

"I know," He said, gently running his fingers through her hair, feeling the shudder that ran through her body as she tried to regain control.

"I'm sorry," She said, loathing herself for falling apart like this. "I should go."

"Sh," He said, as she moved to disengage herself from him. "It's really quite all right to do this."

"No," She said more firmly, as she finally freed herself. "I am this close to cracking up completely," She continued, holding her thumb and finger about an inch apart. "And I don't want you to see that." Making purposefully for the door, she wrenched it open and almost fled from the room. He didn't attempt to follow her, realising that this would only make things worse. If Karen didn't want him to witness her undoing, then he wouldn't force his company on her. But that didn't prevent him from being incredibly worried about her. Karen was a live wire at the moment, liable to spark in any direction at the least provocation. As he slowly walked round his chambers, he breathed in a deep sigh of concern. His musings were cut short when, with the action of breathing in through his nose, he caught the waft of Karen's perfume tinged with cigarette smoke that had not entirely departed with her. That reminded him of something, but what. Standing perfectly still to allow his thoughts to sort themselves out, he opened his eyes wide when the pieces finally fitted together. That smell, that wonderfully familiar, and at times erotic mixture of Karen's perfume and cigarette smoke, that was what had struck him when he'd entered George's house a week last Wednesday, the night he'd caught her fantasising in the shower. When he'd let himself into the hall, that was the aroma he'd detected. As it further occurred to him what this must mean, he stared at the place where Karen had been standing. Karen had been in George's house that evening, Karen had left only perhaps half an hour before he'd arrived. Karen, therefore, was the person, no woman, whom George had bottled out of sleeping with. Karen, was George's new lover.

A little after eight that evening, Jo was sitting at her home computer, hammering out the bones of her closing speech, to be performed on the Friday morning. She'd been so angry with Neumann for pulling such a despicable stunt, but in provoking John so far, he had provided her with an answer to a question that had been nagging at her for some time. There was no doubt in her mind that John wouldn't have put up with that kind of behaviour from anyone, but it was the fact that Karen was the victim of Neumann's barrage which had really pushed John over the edge. John hadn't just been professionally defending Karen, but personally standing up for her as well. When had it happened, she wondered. When had he slept with her, because only that kind of intimacy would have made John act the way he had? Whenever it had been, it was definitely quite a long time ago. The friendship that existed between John and Karen was incredibly strong, perhaps even stronger than hers had been with John in the early days and possibly because they had got the inevitable sexual attraction out of the way at the beginning. But Jo couldn't help wondering just what Karen's now being George's lover would do to that friendship. When John was made aware of that fact, he would almost certainly require a good deal more love and affection than he usually got from her. A slow, sleepy smile crossed Jo's face as she remembered what had taken place between them the evening before. She could never get quite enough of making love with John, a fact that she realised would probably one day be her undoing. She'd said to him on the Tuesday that she wanted to become more sexually precocious, though that was really the wrong word. But it was all well and good saying a thing, she had to somehow start actually putting it in to practice.

As if conjured up by her thoughts, the doorbell rang. At this time on a Thursday evening, it could only be John. When she opened the door and saw him standing there, she could see immediately that something was wrong.

"What's happened?" She said as he came into the hall.

"I've just had my eyes opened," He said, his tone made up of slight bewilderment, a lot of hurt and a little anger. "Well, I say just, it was more like three hours ago, and I've been mulling it over ever since."

"John, stop talking in riddles and tell me what's happened," Jo cajoled, walking in to the kitchen and pouring them both a glass of wine. John followed her and stood in the doorway.

"Well, I don't need to tell you, do I," He said almost sulkily. "Because you already know, don't you."

"What do I already know?" Jo asked, handing him the glass of wine and walking in to the sitting room, and getting a horrible feeling that she knew exactly what was coming.

"George and Karen is what you already know," John retorted, pacing round the room as Jo sat on the sofa. "Why, Jo, why couldn't you tell me?"

"How did you find out?" Jo asked quietly.

"When I went to see George last week, I knew I could smell a different perfume in the house. But I didn't think any more of it at the time, because other considerations got in the way."

"Clearly," Jo said dryly, receiving a stony glare from John.

"Then, Karen came back to court to see me later this afternoon, to apologise for walking out. After she'd gone, it dawned on me where I'd smelt that mixture of perfume and cigarette smoke before, in George's house, on the night she'd said she'd been out with a new lover who, funnily enough, she'd bottled out of sleeping with. Not something I think George has ever done in her life."

"Typical," Jo said with a wry smile.

"What is?" John asked, taking a sip of his wine.

"Trust you to find something like that out, just by the aroma of a woman's perfume."

"This isn't funny, Jo. Why, why could neither of them tell me, or you for that matter?"

"Have you stopped to think for one moment why I didn't tell you?" Jo asked carefully.

"I haven't got a clue," He said, clearly having not thought about it at all.

"I didn't tell you, John, because George asked me not too. She wanted to tell you in her own time, when she was ready to tell you, and not before."

"So why did she tell you then?"

"She didn't, and wouldn't have done if I hadn't found them kissing."

"Did you really?" John said with a little smirk.

"Yes," Jo said firmly. "And I've never seen George look as uncomfortable as she did then. Probably for the first time since I've known her, she really didn't know what to say. That's why you've got to accept that she will only tell you when she is good and ready. George is still trying to get used to the idea." John walked over to the computer, and began reading what was on the screen. After altering a word here and there, he said,

"Why are you so calm about it?"

"Because I've got no reason not to be," She said gently, seeing that this had thrown him more than he liked to admit. "It, surprised me," She hovered over the word surprised, "That George was kissing a woman, not that the woman was Karen." Once he'd moved away from the computer, Jo walked over and removed his alterations, perhaps preferring what he had put, but not willing to let him see it.

"That doesn't make an ounce of sense, Jo," John said, watching her with a slight smile.

"Yes, it does," She replied, sitting down again and taking a swig of her wine. "Didn't you once ask yourself why George has stayed for this much of the trial? She would have been there even without my asking her to be on the first day."

"I still don't see why you didn't tell me," He said petulantly. Jo looked slightly exasperated with him.

"This relationship isn't just about you, you know, John." The slight edge to her tone brought him up short and he just stared at her. "Oh, it might have been at first," Jo continued. "But not any more."

"Why, are you going to tell me you're sleeping with George as well?"

"No, I'm not," Jo said, trying to hide a smile. "Last time I checked, women weren't my cup of tea. What I meant about this relationship not revolving entirely around you, is that you're not the only one whose feelings have to be considered. By extension of the fact that we both sleep with you, yes, George and I have grown closer. It's not something I envisaged happening, but this whole set up has been a learning curve for both of us. It seemed far more important to allow George to deal with this in her own time, than to satisfy your curiosity." John looked very uncomfortable.

"I don't think I thought that your loyalty to me would ever be tested."

"Loyalty is something that does occasionally have to be earned, John."

"That was said very ominously," He observed.

"Well, you're not the only one who's had a question answered today," Jo said, her slightly clipped tone making him wary. "How long ago did you sleep with Karen?"

"What?" He asked, taken completely off guard.

"When did you sleep with Karen? Was it a few weeks ago, a few months ago, or even further back than that, because after this afternoon's performance, you're surely not going to tell me you never have."

"It was a little while before we embarked on this three-way thing," John admitted.

"It can't have been that long before because you didn't know her."

"It was the week before George fainted in court, a few days after we put her through the third degree."

"So, George really was right about that," Jo said in amazement. "She knew right from the start that you had something like that in mind."

"Jo," John said wearily. "It was a very long time ago, and it's never happened since, I promise. But yes, you're right, what happened today probably did get to me more because of that."

"I know," Jo said quietly. "And I'm sorry. I just hate finding out things like that when I'm not expecting them. With you, it's often a case of wondering just who's name is going to crop up next."

"I have remained completely and utterly faithful to this relationship," He said, sitting down beside her. "And nothing, absolutely nothing would make me go back on that."

"I do hope so, John." As they moved together, arms going round each other and mouths seeking out familiar territory, Jo just prayed that he really meant what he'd said.

"Am I so frightening that she didn't feel able to tell me?" He asked after a while.

"Just try asking yourself two things, John," Jo said in slight annoyance. "How long did it take you to tell George about me, and how long did it take you to tell me about what had happened with your therapist." John stared at her, realising in an instant that she was absolutely right. He hated it when Jo was right, especially over something like this.

"Okay, point taken," He said grudgingly.

"That isn't what's really bothering you about all this, is it," She said quietly, laying her head back on his shoulder. "Would I be right in thinking that this has made you feel just a little insecure?"

"I loathe that word," He said by way of an answer. After a short silence, he added, "I don't want to lose her." Jo had suspected something like this.

"As far as I'm aware," She said to reassure him. "You're not about to lose anyone. As far as you're concerned, George isn't going anywhere. The only difference is that she will be dividing her time between the two of you, very much as you do now," She finished firmly to make the point.

"This is going to get complicated," He said ruefully.

"I thought that about you, me and George, but it wasn't too bad. You'll just have to learn the art of communication, as George and I have had to."

"Am I being stupid?" He asked, knowing he was, but hoping she wouldn't think so.

"Only slightly," Jo said with a smile. "You'll get used to it because there's no other way forward. If you want George to remain a part of your life, then you'll have to accept Karen as part of the package. For quite a long time, George and I did have some difficulty accepting each other as part of you, so maybe now you'll understand how that felt."

"I owe you and George a hell of a lot, don't I," He said in dawning comprehension.

"Don't think of it like that," Jo said gently. "Just try and accept that George is spreading her wings in a direction that you didn't expect her to. It doesn't mean she's going away from you, it doesn't mean that either of us will ever go away from you."

"I don't deserve you," He said between kisses.

"No, you don't," Jo said with a soft smile, taking his hand and pulling him up from the couch. When he raised an eyebrow at her, she said, "I'd quite like you to finish what you started in chambers yesterday." Grinning to himself, John said,

"And your wish, is as always, my command," Entirely ignoring the fact that they had finished what they'd started last night. After all, who was he to complain?

When they reached her bedroom, John decided that something was different about tonight. Jo was actively taking the lead, reaching to undo his belt and the buttons of his shirt before he could get his hands on her. But, if Jo wanted to be in control, he wasn't about to stop her. When they were at last under her soft, feather duvet, her hands were all over him, teasing erogenous zones he'd forgotten he had, all the time keeping her full, pliable lips dancing with his.

"There's something different about you tonight," John murmured as her hand crept downwards.

"Not really," Jo replied. "I'm just following some advice I was given a few days ago."

"By whom?" John asked suspiciously, now thoroughly intrigued.

"That's absolutely none of your business," Jo said with a cheeky little smile. As she began kissing her way down his torso, he realised what her intended goal must be.

"I thought you didn't like doing that," He said, not wanting her to do this unless she was absolutely sure it was what she wanted.

"And the last time I tried it was a very long time ago, and not with you," She replied, eventually resting her cheek on his hip, taking in the sight of his clearly aroused length right before her eyes. She placed delicate, butterfly kisses all the way from the base to the tip, taking in the smooth, firm, heavy texture of this perhaps most active of John's organs, which she had only previously explored with her hands. When she gently took him into her hand, and guided the head between her parted lips, he sucked in a breath through his teeth, making her wonder if she'd hurt him in some way. As her mouth was otherwise occupied, Jo simply raised an eyebrow at him.

"That feels incredible," He said, thinking that her enthusiasm definitely made up for her inexperience. John had never tried to persuade Jo to do this for him, accepting without question her dislike for it. She'd made her dislike of it plain when he'd begun sleeping with her all those years ago. He could remember the very sweet way in which she'd assumed that if she wouldn't do that for him, he wouldn't want to do the same for her. But having always loved performing that particular speciality for most women, John would never have not done so just because Jo didn't like doing the same for him. Never taking more than the head into her mouth, Jo moved her hand luxuriously along his length, occasionally flicking out her tongue to tease the underside. She wasn't naive enough to think she was very good at it, but everyone had to start somewhere. It wasn't Jo's level of expertise at this little delicacy that was inflaming John's passion, but the fact that she was doing it because she wanted him to think she was becoming his equal. This thought made John feel extremely humble, telling him in no uncertain terms that she loved him and that it was about time he appreciated that fact. She continued with her ministrations for a while, until he gently detached her from him, and persuaded her back to lie beside him. It took an enormous amount of willpower not to immediately take what she was clearly offering him. He refused to be one of those men who made love to a woman without even considering her pleasure.

"What brought that on?" He asked with a smile as he turned his attention to her beautiful body, gently massaging her breasts and bringing her nipples to a diamond-tipped hardness. She smiled secretively.

"I wanted to," She said simply, not able to explain that it was something she felt she needed to do, to bring her a little closer to George's and perhaps even Karen's level of sexual experience. As he slipped a hand between her legs, she really began to relax. What was it George had said to her on Monday? That half John's pleasure was in how much enjoyment he could give.

"Who knows," She said lightly, as John inched two fingers inside her. "I might take you all the way like that one of these days." John had been kissing his way across her chest from one nipple to the other, but he moved back up to look her in the eye.

"Don't be too eager for that," He said gently, admiring her courage, but not wanting her to do anything she wasn't entirely comfortable with.

"Does George do it?" Jo couldn't help asking, though she thought she already knew the answer. Withdrawing his hand, John put his arms round her.

"Is that why you did this?" He asked gently, feeling terrible that Jo needed to compare herself to George like that.

"Hey, don't stop," She said, taking his hand and leading it back to its former occupation which made him smile. "I'll answer your question if you answer mine," She said mischievously.

"Yes, she does, occasionally, and though she likes doing it because she says it makes her feel slightly bad, she can't stand the taste, and always has a glass of something to knock back afterwards." Jo smiled broadly, and then remember her side of the bargain.

"Whether or not either George or others have done that for you wasn't entirely why I did it, but it probably had something to do with it."

"Jo, I love you," He said firmly, kissing her long and hard as his hand increased in speed. "And I love you for exactly who you are now, so don't ever think you have to change just for me." A little while later when he slid inside her, she clung to him, just for an instant revealing her fear that his insecurity over George and Karen might push him back into his old ways. She couldn't bear having to go back to that level of uncertainty again. Being able to feel secure that John was definitely sleeping with her and George and no one else, had allowed her to relax, so that for once in her life she could feel really settled. The way she saw it, the more she could do to prevent John from taking up his old pursuits the better it would be for all concerned.

Part Forty Six

"The judge asked me to give you a message that you should wait outside the back door of the court, and that you will be unable to go to the visitors' gallery until the judge has made his opening statement," Explained the kind faced court usher, who was draped in a simple black cloak of office. "If all goes according to plan, I'll tell you if you can go into the gallery."

"See you later, hopefully," Karen called out to the others as they were making their way up the staircase. She was tense with anticipation. The chances were very high that she would not have to go on the stand again, and this was a formality, but she wasn't going to bank on it, even on a stone cold certainty.

"For the benefit of the court, and particularly for the jury, I am giving a formal direction arising out of the events of late yesterday afternoon. Ordinarily, Miss Betts, like any other witness, would be compelled to return to the witness box until I had given leave for her to stand down. Due to the extraordinary circumstances of how her cross-examination was conducted, I am directing that she will not be required to take the stand for the duration of this hearing. She is welcome to sit in the visitors' gallery as a spectator, free to come and go as she pleases. If she were to decline that option, - or indeed to never voluntarily set foot in a court of law anywhere in the United Kingdom, - I would perfectly understand and respect that choice. I am now directing that Mr. Mason-Alan proceed to his closing statement."

John's voice was low pitched and perfectly controlled in its delivery. The words hung in the air deliberately, while he paused, giving a chance for any objection to be raised. Neumann however, pretended to be having a last minute look through his well-thumbed paperwork, and John nodded to the clerk who was waiting in the wings. She slipped out the back and Karen, with a grateful smile, walked light-footedly up the stairs and took her place in the spare seat next to Nikki. She had just enough time to get settled when Neumann started his address.

"Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, you will have heard an extraordinary volume of testimony and evidence, which can be reduced to its essentials. There has been no real disagreement that the defendant, Lauren Atkins, did take the life of one James Fenner. Witnesses for the defence, and even my learned friend, though they have avoided mentioning the unpalatable fact as far as possible, have been unable to dress up their words to avoid making repeated statements to that effect.

The question you have to ask yourself is why? I would urge you to consider that the direct interaction between the defendant and the deceased has been limited by the necessarily infrequent occasions that the defendant actually had meaningful contact with Mr. Fenner. The most contact the defendant had with the deceased was second hand, via her mother Mrs. Atkins, whose acquaintance with the deceased for her entire three year spell in Larkhall, was one of mutual loathing. It must, therefore, have indirectly influenced the attitude of the defendant upon Mrs. Atkins' release from prison to the same house where the defendant lived.

The extraordinary planning that went into the taking of James Fenner's life must be seen in this context. The evidence is overwhelming that this was no casual killing. The run up to this event took place when the defendant was a busy woman, running the family business. It appears that the defendant was somehow, encouraged to kill the demonised version of the deceased. It is not the case of the prosecution that Miss Atkins deliberately set out to take the life of the deceased. It is readily conceded that the defendant's brother did encourage the defendant to act in this way. However this same brother was the one who the defendant actively wished to see behind bars, for the betrayal of the close-knit family, yet the defence would have you believe that the defendant forgave her brother. I am asking the jury to question, why would the defendant be compelled to take the advice of her late brother and father, where evidence has been given that they were hardly model citizens, to be revered and looked up to? In fact, evidence has been given that the opposite was the case. Every person has free will. It cannot be otherwise, as this is the foundation of the whole of criminal law. Evidence has been given as to the character of the defendant since the killing, yet this hardly precludes the defendant of a propensity for violence. On the contrary, it is the submission of the crown that the defendant, and not members of her family, either directly, or indirectly, was responsible for the taking of James Fenner's life, and as a result, the charge of murder is laid against the defendant."

Neumann promptly sat down, having played his final card. He was making the best of a bad deal, and now he was done. He could pick up his fee and would soon be out of the courtroom. He did not bother looking up at Sir Ian and Laurence James, who had sat like threatening statues throughout the trial. What was to happen afterwards, he did not care to think.

"What the bloody hell do twelve men and women really think of my Lauren? They look like the sort of people who don't know any more about villains than what they watch on the Bill," Yvonne muttered, her face as rigid as a carved statue.

"You can't carry all the shit that's ever happened to you on your back for the rest of your life, Yvonne."

"It ain't always as easy as you think."

Yvonne's mournful tones answered Nikki's heartfelt sympathy. If only Nikki were right, she'd be the first to hang out all the party balloons and send out invitations. All this deep stuff aside, she'd got the jury to think about, and what the hell would happen to Lauren? This was getting too bloody close to when she'd know the result. What that wanker of a barrister said scared the shit out of her.

Part Forty Seven

When Jo rose to her feet, she looked cool, confident and thoroughly at ease, a million miles away from the angry woman near to striking her colleague of the day before. Her lovemaking with John the previous evening had meant that she'd had a very good night's sleep, held safe and content in his arms. This was usually a sure-fire way of putting her into the perfect mood for professional success.

"Ladies and gentlemen of the jury," She began, in that strong, fairly self-assured tone that had promised Yvonne she would do all she could, over a year ago. "The defendant before you, has been charged with murder. This, by definition, means that she has been charged with possessing the intent to fatally wound James Fenner, and that she carried out this intention. You would not be criticised for having approached this case with a certain amount of expectation that it would be an open and shut matter. Did Lauren Atkins kill James Fenner, and if she did, did she intend to do so. This, ladies and gentlemen, is exactly how the prosecution did approach this case. My learned friend has gone out of his way to persuade you into believing that Lauren Atkins is a cold blooded killer, and that whilst committing this act, she was in full command of her mental faculties. I, however, have attempted to give you an entirely different view, a view of the Lauren Atkins who has been put under extreme pressure throughout her childhood, to commit crime and to see the committing of serious crime as a normal part of her daily life. I have also done my utmost, to illustrate to you via my witnesses, that Lauren Atkins, could not in fact possibly have been entirely mentally or emotionally stable, during the weeks that led up to James Fenner's death. You have heard from a psychiatrist, the defendant's mother, two of the defendant's closest friends, and let us not forget from the defendant herself. During your deliberations, you will again be given the opportunity to examine the documented evidence of the letters received by Yvonne Atkins and Lauren Atkins, after the suicide of Ritchie Atkins. As part of the evidence given by my client and by her psychiatrist, it has been explained to you that the contents of the letter written to her by her brother, following so soon after her brother's sentence and subsequent suicide, put Lauren Atkins under extreme emotional strain. Lauren Atkins was being pulled in two different directions, to continue to go straight by her mother, and to commit one last, brutal act by the dying wish of her brother. The testimony given by Dr. Margaret Richards, made it abundantly clear to the court, that Lauren Atkins was not in her right mind during this time. Ladies and gentlemen, Lauren Atkins was being compelled from beyond the grave to commit this crime, not simply being asked to do it by someone with whom she might at least have been able to discuss it. Try for a moment, to put yourself in my client's position. You have been raised, alongside your older brother, in a manner befitting the higher echelons of the mafia. Your family means everything to you, your father's rigid family values contributing to both the moral code by which you must live, and to the bread and butter that adorns your table. Part of you longs to live up to your father's expectations, and yet part of you cannot condone the way he treats your mother, forcing her by threats and physical punishment, to adhere to his unbending philosophy that the law is there to be manipulated. Then comes the first crisis. Your brother has attempted to go his own way, to compete with the father who has taught him everything he knows. Your brother is cast aside, made to stay well out of your father's reach, and to make his own way in the world. By extension, you then take on the status and inherent expectations of the son your father no longer has. This further intensifies the desire you have to please your father, because you don't want to be faced with the type of threat which has been part of your mother's life for years. However, you don't really find out what you are made of, until you are obliged to continue your father's work when he is taken into custody, as your mother is also behind bars at this time. When your father comes to trial, he is killed, shot on the steps of this very court. by whom, you have no idea, because your father had any number of enemies who could have taken the opportunity to get rid of one of their greatest rivals. Eventually, your mother is released from prison, though by this time, your brother is back on the scene and is himself being detained at Her Majesty's pleasure. You sit up there, in the front row of the visitors' gallery throughout your brother's trial, all the time feeling torn in two. You are there because you are supporting your mother, and because you know that for justice to be done, your brother must be found guilty and sent back to prison, possibly for a considerable stretch. But the rest of you, the human, family-oriented sibling part of you, desperately wants your brother to be free, to be back home, and to be the brother he used to be. But things do not go quite according to plan. Your brother is found guilty, and is sentenced to ten years, and on returning to his cell after receiving his sentence, your brother takes an overdose of barbiturates. You are devastated, and quite rightly so. Whatever his faults, he was still your brother, still your mother's first born child, and once your father's pride and joy. When your mother returns home from identifying your brother's body, she hands you a letter, a letter written by your brother on the eve of his suicide. This letter would have looked fairly innocuous from the outside, written on prison issue notepaper and in an envelope containing the address of one of Her Majesty's prisons. But its contents were to set you on a course of action that would eventually put you in the dock. Try and picture Lauren Atkins as she reads this letter. You have seen this letter and heard it read aloud, so you know what it contains. Ask yourselves, how would you feel, if you were presented with the dying wish of one of your loved ones. Lauren Atkins comes from such a close knit family, that immediately dismissing her brother's wish, purely on the grounds that to fulfill it would constitute performing an illegal act, was not an option. Should she betray her brother's memory by not doing what he asked, or should she risk her own freedom and sanity by following his instructions. Ladies and gentlemen, you have heard an unending array of reasons as to why my client did what she did, and I beseech you to think long and hard before passing your verdict. This is not an open and shut case, and requires maximum attention from each and every one of you. You may feel, that you have served your purpose by sitting through this trial, but your work is just about to begin. Lauren Atkins' life, freedom and emotional welfare, depend on the verdict you will give her. It only remains for me to entreat you to find her not guilty of the crime with which she is charged."

Jo had looked intently at every single member of the jury as she said this, fixing them with her hypnotic gaze, playing on every theatrical ability she possessed. When she reached the end of her closing statement, there was a long, echoing silence.

"I will commence my summing up this afternoon," John's voice intoned. "Court is adjourned." As everyone filed out, it occurred to all of them that there was nothing more any of them could do. It was up to the jury now. Up to twelve ordinary men and women to decide Lauren's fate.

Part Forty-Eight

That feeling of life turning over a leaf which ran round the court was one, which Jo was slowest of all to catch up with. Her footsteps out of the court were hesitant, uncertain. Day in, day out, she had been driven to shut herself away at lunchtime and, at the end of the day, take herself back home to pore through the trial documents, to run through her memories of the day to pick out any vital clues to build into her trial strategy as it evolved. That Thursday when John unexpectedly landed himself on her doorstep was the only break in her almost monastic existence. That compulsive driving force within her that drove her relentlessly onwards was suddenly disconnected from her and this left her stranded. Waves of tiredness broke over her and she could not for the life of her work out what she should do next.

"Do you want to come for a drink, Jo?" Yvonne enquired in an unusually diffident tone of voice, so unlike her. "That is, if you want to."

"I don't know, there must be something I ought to be doing but I don't know what," came a vague reply a million miles away from that familiar sharp precision of tone.

"You look knackered, Jo. You deserve a proper break."

Christ, she's as bad as I am, or Helen used to be, Karen thought sympathetically. She's another potential workaholic whom I can give the sort of sensible advice to that I can't ever follow myself.

"'Too much work and too little play makes Jill a dull girl.' That's what my mum always told me. Of course, she got more than she bargained for when I became a teenager."

Cassie's wide grin drew a general laugh from the others while Jo smiled openly for the first time for ages. The gates of freedom were half-open and the view of the other side looked vague, indistinct but definitely promising.

"We really would like you to come for a drink with us, Jo. After all, you've done all the

hard work."

It was the voice of the tall, elegant woman with short-cropped hair that decided her. The gates swung wide-open and golden sunlight of the dawn illuminated the scenery. It looked and felt good.

"All right, I'm persuaded."

They threaded their way through the crowded foyer and out into the cold, bracing air of a sunny winter's day. The wind blew Jo's hair back and the sun dazzled her eyes, blowing the cobwebs out of her mind. Cassie was out front next to Yvonne, being the thirstiest for a drink. Tall as she was, Jo was outpaced by them and was content to follow wherever the others led her. It made a nice change to just go with the flow and follow the crowd.

Soon, they were glad to come into the warmth and comfort of the pub from the wind blasted streets and sitting comfortable.

"I feel like I'm taking time off school," Jo confided to Roisin.

"It's best to make the most of it. Cassie and I have a few hours before we've got to pick up the children from school. Until then, I've learnt from Cassie to enjoy yourself while you can."

It was automatic habit that prompted Jo and Roisin to exchange details of their children like any mother would. This experience was a rarity in her normal daily work. It was decades since the first female barristers and solicitors had appeared in the 'old boys clubs' of chambers. Even now, women were in the minority and the typical conversation at chambers reflected that.

"I've got two sons, Mark and Tom. One's at university and the other is ready to spread his wings. The most I see of him is a pile of dirty washing, his music on loud and when it stops, the blast of air and an open front door, tells me that he's shot out somewhere for the day."

"I get the opposite," laughed Roisin. "As soon as we get home, it's 'mum' for me and 'Cassie' for Cassie depending on whom Michael and Niamh want. I must say that it's so much easier than when I lived with my ex-husband. He couldn't boil an egg much less than deal with the hundred and one things that you get called on to do as a parent. That slice of time when the children go to bed can be sheer bedlam. You'll know that, won't you."

"I remember."

That faraway look in Jo's eyes told Roisin of a whole wealth of memories, buried deep and that only a slight prompt would make them come to life.

"I used to get dragged in to the local park and kick a football with them. I wasn't that much good though."

"That doesn't matter. You were there for them."

Roisin's brilliant smile only made Jo feel more uncomfortable.

"It doesn't seem like that sometimes. When they were small, I had a rough patch when my husband was dying and I started an affair with John. It wasn't anything cheap, though. I was in love with John and I still am."

Jo's hasty defensive interjection was followed by a dreamy reflection on the present.

"When I was younger, somehow my sons appeared to sail through everything even though I wasn't coping properly. Looking back on it, I wonder how I managed to keep everything together. It was only when they got to that difficult age when I started having blazing rows with them. They changed overnight into moody hyper-sensitive teenagers. A hard day at court seem easier to handle than hormonal teenagers and, only now, I'm back where I started in figuring out what I want out of life. I feel that somehow whatever I didn't deal with as a young single woman all those years ago, I'm destined to deal with now."

"You shouldn't worry, Jo." That comforting Irish brogue wrapped itself round her senses. "I've done time for helping Cassie take money from the firm we both worked for, and was suddenly snatched away from the children I loved. I was helpless to stop my ex husband filling their heads with all sorts of hurtful things about Cassie, that I was taking drugs, which I was when I was in prison. You can't rewrite the past, Jo. You have got to use whatever instincts you have to mend what you may have done wrong. If you do that, they'll forgive you."

"Michael is twelve and Niamh is nine," Roisin added conversationally.

"You wouldn't think that I could be a responsible parent from what you've seen of me in court, Jo," Cassie teased.

"Oh, I think I could. Anyone who is a good mother can spot another one a mile away."

The other mothers sitting round the table picked up immediately on Jo's warm smile and the obvious sincerity and knowledge that only comes from personal experience. The brief silence that followed wasn't one of those embarrassing silences when everyone had run out of something to say and there had to be the need for some kind of spoken word, no matter how trivial or inconsequential. Nothing needed to be said amongst such strong-minded women.

Karen broke in on their conversation with a determined smile on her face and in her tone of voice.

"What are you drinking next, Jo? I remember the last time you came here that you were fidgeting all the time, guilty as hell that we'd lured you away. This time, you're not sneaking away back to some non existent work that you are nearly sure is waiting on your desk. I have a wing to run but Gina Rossi will take care of everything till I get back. I'm sure your junior will be able to do likewise. That's what they call delegation."

"Is she always like this?" Jo asked Helen, amazed with her force of personality.

"Only some of the time, but then again she can be worse. I used to be her boss once."

Helen's exaggerated stage whisper made Karen grin. Helen's years at Larkhall had not helped making her very carrying Scottish brogue the worst whisperer in the world.

"Did John get it right, that you are the Nikki Wade whose court of appeal hearing was all the talk of the legal profession?" Jo asked suddenly.

"Is there more than one of me?" quipped Nikki.

"Hardly. I don't think Larkhall would have coped with two of you."

Jo could hear Karen's voice behind her as she was bringing a trayful of drinks and couldn't resist the lighthearted remark, which was accompanied with a raised eyebrow.

"In that case, you couldn't have managed with two of me either. Bodybag would definitely have died of heart failure. What do they get up to these days? I'm sure it can't be anything like that………"

"….Babes behind Bars scam," Finished Karen dryly. "That just had to be the all time record."

"Babes behind Bars? What on earth is that?"

"Oh nothing much," Deadpanned Yvonne. "I got the idea that some of the girls could get a nice little earner paid directly to add to their personal spends. Personal spends is the name for the weekly pocket money you get in goods from the prison shop. Babes behind Bars was the name for a telephone sex line operation that I set up."

"You can't be serious?" grinned Jo.

"It was dead easy. Babs here was our computer expert who stuck an advert on the net…."

"Babs did indeed. Getting past the password was easy," Babs looked over the top of her spectacles and smiled in fond memory. "I was quite proud of that. It was an intellectual challenge when I had run through most of the books in the Larkhall library and wanted something to occupy my mind."

"Anyway, I got Crystal's Josh to sneak the mobiles into Larkhall in his lunchbox, state of the art stuff they were. They looked like a set of headphones and no one noticed a thing till one of the Julies messed it up."

"What happened?"

Jo asked questions periodically and, for a moment, she wondered if her ears and memory wasn't playing tricks. She looked again at Yvonne and realised that Yvonne was as honest as they came, more so than some people she could think of. Everything here wasn't smudged in various shaded of muddy grey but was in sharp contrasting black and white. It made her feel comfortable. A stray thought crossed her mind that George will have experienced this for herself and would definitely be the better for this highly nurturing, female company. All of them periodically glanced sideways to check anyone out on the fringes of the conversation wasn't left out and ensured that everyone was looked after.

"Julie Johnson got one of the punters to come and visit her, as she had some stupid romantic idea about him. She was broody and she gave him a hand job under the table, but dropped the yoghurt carton. She was a bloody fool as the punter blabbed and it led the trail straight back to her mobile. We had to dump the rest of the mobiles and fast. Denny stashed them in a cistern in the ladies."

"So that's where they went. I had G Wing turned upside down to find them and never found a trace of them," Karen exclaimed. This was one of those little puzzles that periodically nagged at her and even at the time she sensed that Yvonne had something to do with it.

"You could have asked me. I would have told you," Yvonne answered pertly, a slight smirk on her face.

"At the time?"

"Ah well, that was different. We were different then."

Karen's mind drifted back in time to the days when her time was cut out wondering what else this very mischievous woman would get up to next, audibly sighing when Sylvia was banging on about the "gangster's moll", accompanying her to Yvonne's cell when she carried a drooping bunch of dried out, wilted flowers to Yvonne and hearing her crudely and pathetically explaining what had happened to them. She had instantly disapproved of the petty and malicious way she had behaved. Yes, even then it was bloody Sylvia. That was the only thing in her life, which hadn't changed.

"I remember those mobiles," Nikki chimed in out of nowhere.

"You, Nikki?" Helen asked, her eyes wide open and eyebrows raised. She thought she knew everything about Nikki but this was something she'd never told her about. Nikki Wade, telephone sex line operator? This wasn't her style.

"I only saw the others at it."

"Why did you do it?" Jo asked out of curiosity.

"I was bored. One of the biggest problems in prison is boredom. Your brain stagnates if you let it. Karen will agree that prison spends aren't exactly generous. If you've got someone on the outside who will take things in, you are fine but women like Denny and the Julies haven't got anyone. It helped them out. Apart from that, it was a laugh. You need all the lighter moments in prison that you can get. Any one of us will tell you that."

"I thought you were Wing Governor and in charge of G Wing."

"Don't you start, Jo. At least you've only got John and some prat of a barrister to deal with."

All the others laughed outright with Karen's mortification. It was a good cover for their collective unspoken wish to avoid any mention of the trial and keep everything light. Inwardly, everyone felt a moment's unease as Karen had inadvertently dragged matters back to the present and away from the warm safety of nostalgic reminiscences about the lighter side of prison life.

"And what did you get up to at Larkhall, Nikki?"

"Oh, not much. I can remember stashing some home made hootch in the potting shed."

"You never told me that one, Nikki. Tell us about it," Helen grinned.

Nikki was about to remind everyone that it was just before Monica's son Spencer died when she remembered how scarred Helen was by that experience to this day and stopped herself in time.

"I think it was just before your time, Yvonne, but the Julies had this totally mad plan to brew up some jungle juice and as there wasn't anywhere safe to hide it, they came to muggins here…….."

"……..Behind your hard exterior, you were always as soft as grease…"

Nikki smiled and nodded in agreement at Yvonne's very affectionate and very accurate description and continued.

"….and I came up with the idea of camouflaging it in the compost heap outside so that it would generate heat. Better than their daft idea of taking turns to hug it. Anyway, Dockley heard about it and grassed us up to Fenner."

"That's typical Dockley for you. How the hell did you get out of that one?"

"Dockley couldn't have known exactly where it was as Fenner and a sidekick came lumbering up and tore the shed apart. They never even took one glance at the plastic bag which was bubbling at the top. I really enjoyed myself taking the piss out of him."

"What did the booze taste like, Nikki?"

"I never had any of it. I wasn't in the mood for a party. Dockley was going to be there at the piss up so I gave it a miss. From the drunken sounds I heard from my cell, it was pretty good stuff."

A vague ghost memory drifted across Helen's mind of that dreadful day when she had done her best to be sympathetic.

"If I had been there, Nikki, you would have been."

Nikki smiled brightly at Yvonne. She was a good mate of hers and Yvonne being there would have made that difference. Besides, Dockley might not have come along to the party if they were both there.

At that point, Jo stood up to fetch the next round of drinks when Cassie nearly dropped them in it. She was never known for her sense of discretion and the alcohol had loosened her tongue.

"I've got a good story to tell," Cassie said brightly. She was about to enlarge on it when Yvonne caught her eye and discreetly elbowed her in the ribs.

"You and me are going elsewhere to talk," She hissed into Cassie's ear and gestured to the toilet.

"Same again, Jo for both of us," Yvonne smiled.

Jo shrugged her shoulders and headed off to the bar. It was a private matter and experience had taught her not to ask too many questions.

"Are you mad? You were about to tell everyone about that scam we pulled on Bodybag's computer."

"Yeah, I was going to as it happens."

"Jo Mills is a bleeding barrister. Sometimes people get sent down after what she does in court. Karen Betts? She's Wing Governor of the very prison we scammed. It happened a few years back but that doesn't matter."

"Are you going back to the 'screws against cons' thinking? I thought you'd moved on from there."

"I ain't going to dump on either of them so that they know something that they'd sooner not want to know about. That way, they might make it official. What they don't know about, they won't grieve over and they know it. It was enough for them to know what my Lauren did to Fenner. I lost Karen over that. I could have lost my freedom."

Yvonne's blazing anger squashed Cassie's defiance.

"Oh shit, I nearly landed us all in it."

"Oh shit indeed. Let's get back and join the gang."

Yvonne smiled encouragingly at Cassie who looked very crestfallen as she realised what she had nearly done.

"Don't worry, you daft sod. We all make mistakes sometimes. I married Charlie for instance. Cost me half of my bleeding life."

"You were inside much longer than Roash and I. Tell us some more stories, Nikki."

Nikki hesitated. She found it easy to recount the more humorous side to life in prison to those who she felt comfortable with, but some instinct inhibited her from blowing her own trumpet.

"Well, don't expect me to tell any stirring stories about rescuing damsels in distress. I did start a couple of demonstrations, one of which turned into a riot, thanks to Maxi Purvis and her sidekicks," Nikki started nervously. "I was standing up for a point of principle."

"That reminds me of John. In his younger days when he was a student, he was once involved in a sit in at his university," Broke in Jo.

"So the judge has been a bad boy in his time. I might have known. You tell us more about it."

The more she considered the judge, the more Yvonne reckoned that he was a man totally outside her experience and was way different from the bastards she had known.

"But I'm interrupting, Nikki," Jo apologised. "You carry on with your story first."

Nikki sighed inwardly. It made her out to be some kind of hero when all she thought was that she'd only acted in a way that she thought right.

Half an hour later, Jo smiled in a dazed kind of way and sipped her drink as she was called upon to start her story. This afternoon was certainly an eye opener on all sides. It wasn't the alcohol that made her feel different as she was clear headed enough. She made a mental note of one thing as she launched into the story. In future, she would never open a carton of yoghurt and think of such an inconsequential item of food in quite the same way and likewise, when she put on a set of headphones to listen to some music.

Part Forty-Nine

When they took their places after the lunchtime adjournment, it only remained for John to sum up the case for the jury, and to direct them to begin their duties. An air of tension had seeped into every person in the courtroom. Both barristers had done their best, and in Jo's case more than their best, and all the witnesses had given their evidence. It was now up to twelve ordinary, average citizens to assimilate all the facts, and to decide whether or not Lauren was guilty or not guilty.

"Members of the jury," John began once everyone was seated. "Mrs. Mills put it very eloquently, when she said that your task is about to begin. You have sat through a fortnight of opening speeches, evidence provided by various witnesses, and finally the closing speeches, earlier today. It now falls to you, to wade through everything that has been placed before you, in order to make your decision as to whether the defendant, Miss Lauren Atkins, is guilty or not guilty. You will have access to all documentary evidence, all physical evidence and all photographic evidence. As it would be entirely inappropriate to expect you to remember every word you have heard during this trial, you will also have access to the trial transcript, which will contain every word that has been said in this court, whilst the court has been in session. I ask you to take your time over the decision that lies before you, because the defendant's freedom depends on your verdict. I do not expect you to arrive at a decision today, though if you do, I'm sure that all concerned will appreciate it. I will be available if at any time you require any guidance or advice during the progress of your deliberations. Above all, you must be totally, and utterly certain, when you do eventually return with your verdict. As a result of the enormous press attention that this case has attracted, I will not at this stage even consider accepting a less than unanimous verdict. It only remains for me to say, that I wish you luck, because you will not find this decision an easy one."

When the clerk called out "All rise," and John swept out of the door behind the Judge's bench, the women on the front row of the gallery began making their way downstairs. They were silent, all far too aware that not one single one of them could do any more for Lauren. As if of one mind, they all trailed immediately outside, the need for nicotine fixes common to all except Barbara. Every one of them bar Karen and Helen, had once been at the mercy of a jury such as this, having to wait those interminable hours for their fate to be decided, the motto of all juries being, to free or not to free. They weren't surprised when Jo joined them, her addiction having brought her outside the same as the others.

"I know it's a pretty pointless question," Yvonne said to her. "But have you got any idea how long they'll take?" Jo looked at her sympathetically.

"I couldn't possibly say," She replied. "Every jury is different. But I think John was right. It's pretty unlikely that they'll come back with a verdict today."

"Well, what's one more weekend of not knowing?" Said Yvonne, the bitter, flippant words cutting through them all. "I'm sorry," Yvonne added, realising how her words must have sounded. "I know you've done all you could, and don't think I'm not incredibly grateful. I just can't handle waiting for twelve complete strangers to decide to set my Lauren free or not."

"I know," Jo said gently. "But we're nearly there, and if you want my honest opinion, the longer they take, the better. It'll mean they're considering everything, not just making a snap decision as many juries do." As Yvonne ditched her cigarette, Coope popped her head through one of the doors.

"Mrs. Mills," She said. "The judge would like to see you in chambers."

"You in trouble again?" Asked Cassie with a grin.

"I don't think so," Jo replied, playing along with her. "But with this particular judge, you never know." When she'd gone inside, Yvonne turned to Karen.

"Can we go somewhere to talk?" She asked.

"Yes, of course," Karen replied, seeing something in Yvonne's eye that told her this was serious.

When they were seated at a table in a corner of the cafeteria, Karen having bought them both a coffee, Yvonne said,

"Tell me about George." Karen's face was a picture. She'd had no idea in the world that Yvonne had figured out why George had been in court this week. Karen looked very uncomfortable, immediately confirming Yvonne's suspicion. Yvonne gently touched her hand.

"Don't look like that," She said quietly. "This is me you're talking to," She added with a soft smile.

"I didn't mean this to happen, not now anyway," Karen said slowly.

"Oh, I know that," Yvonne said, a hint of sarcasm in her tone. "Just like we didn't mean us to happen in the middle of Ritchie's trial."

"Yvonne, I'm sorry," Karen said, feeling immense regret that she'd been forced to hurt Yvonne yet again.

"Are you?" Yvonne asked without hesitation, perhaps taking some of her frustration of waiting out on Karen.

"Yes," Karen insisted. "The last thing I would ever have wanted, is to hurt you, you know that."

"Only, that's how it always is, isn't it," Yvonne replied, not taking any time to analyse her thoughts before they came out of her mouth. Karen winced.

"That's to the point, I suppose," She said dryly.

"I didn't mean it like that," Yvonne said in contrition.

"Well, I probably wouldn't blame you if you had," Karen said regretfully. "I will never forgive myself for having finished things with you just when you really needed me. At the time, the reasons I had might have been good enough for me, but I do know how much it hurt you. I also know, that whilst I might have to some extent moved on, you haven't, which is why this is bound to hurt you, make you angry with me, and possibly make you regret ever having had anything to do with me. But I haven't moved on quite as much as you probably think I have. I will never, ever forget those few weeks I had with you, Yvonne. You were the first woman I slept with, and that will always be incredibly special to me."

"I ain't angry with you," Yvonne said, touched to her core by what Karen had said. "Yes, I might be initially hurt, and I might think she's the luckiest cow on the planet, but that's mainly because I haven't had time to get used to the idea. I think part of me has always thought that somehow, one day, you'd come back to me. But I don't, under any circumstance want you to feel guilty about it. If you think you can be happy with her, then that's all that matters. I know you never wanted to hurt me, and I know why you had to end it with me, perhaps more than you think I do."

"Yvonne, I really am sorry," Karen said, brief tears rising to her eyes.

"Hey, sweetheart, don't cry," Yvonne said, gently taking hold of Karen's hand.

"I know that no matter what happens, I'm not going to lose you as a friend, and that's what's really important. You've stuck by me all these months, and you'll never know how much I appreciate that."

"I wouldn't have done anything else," Karen protested.

"I know you wouldn't," Yvonne answered gently. "So please, no more feeling guilty." Karen really didn't know what to say. She'd ideally wanted Yvonne to have chance to get over the verdict, whatever that might be, before dropping this new bombshell on her. But Yvonne had been her usual intuitive self.

"How did you find out?" Karen asked after a moment's silence.

"There had to be a reason why she was here for most of the trial," Yvonne replied instantly. "And you should see the way she sometimes looks at you when she thinks you're not looking." Karen couldn't help smiling. "She's pretty bloody gorgeous, I'll give you that," Yvonne continued almost conversationally. "And I guess with her, you won't ever wind up perverting the course of justice again." She added this last remark with a level of seriousness that reminded them both exactly where they were, and why they were there.

"Yvonne," Karen said carefully, giving her hand a squeeze. "Whatever happens, I will still be here, you know. Just because of what may or may not be happening with George, doesn't mean that I wont still be here for you, if you should ever need me." Yvonne gave her a small, soft smile.

"I know," She said. "And the closer it gets, the more I'm convinced that Lauren is going down for life."

"No one can predict what the jury will do," Karen replied. "The only thing we can all do is to let them do their job, and to wait and see."

Part Fifty

When Karen and Yvonne rejoined the group, the wind suddenly blew chill as Yvonne sensed the imminent parting of the ways. It was not just because the week was coming to an end, but the trial also. She had always been social and outgoing and even in the days before Larkhall, even Charlie's dickhead friends gave him some sense of satisfaction in just being there. Larkhall introduced her to en entirely new circle of female friends and those dearest to her were around her, day by day. That both Helen and Karen had once locked her up for a living wasn't real to her anymore.

"Anyone want to come back to my place. I like a good party, girls."

It took a lot that second to prop up that feeling of self-confidence with that broad smile stretched across her face but it worked at least for others.

"I'd love to but I have got to work at the club tonight. For the last day or so, I've had that sneaking feeling at the back of me that if I'm away for too long, Trisha will get ideas. She'll think that she can just take over and run the place the way she wants to and not me.

It isn't easy at the best of times."

With a look of real regret, Nikki kissed Yvonne on the cheek and gave her a quick hug until her face suddenly brightened.

"What about you, Helen?"

"I'm up for it. There's a first time for everything."

Babs and Karen graciously declined and Yvonne's face fell.

"Why doesn't everyone come back to my place. It means us more time and the kids don't see enough of you."

Cassie's remark touched Yvonne and gave her flagging spirits the boost they needed while Helen smiled her agreement at the change in plan. She felt fresh and alert and the day hadn't finished for her.

"OK you guys, you follow our car while we pick up the kids," Cassie yelled out before ostentatiously revving up the car and zooming off.

Helen and Yvonne stepped through the great divide into the warm cosy domesticity from the cold air outside and flopped into the welcoming armchairs. At the same time, the noisy innocence of the two little beings who burst in on them made Helen feel strangely distanced to begin with. That didn't matter as they homed in on Auntie Yvonne whose red Ferrari they had immediately spotted when they came out of school. Her big smile and welcoming arms greeted them and entertained them with the latest jokes which none of their schoolfriends had heard. She was, of course, a grown up but she wasn't like those starchy strangers they came across from time to time who held themselves stiff and upright and talked a foreign language, they didn't understand. They glanced carefully at the lady and, as she had a nice smile, they thought they would give her a chance. Besides, she was a friend of Mum and Cassie.

Cassie and Roisin took themselves into the kitchen to knock up a dinner, pleasantly surprised that that ministering to the needs of their children had been taken off their hands.

"Did you used to be a prisoner with mum and Cassie?" Michael asked after Helen had introduced herself. There was no trace of the Helen that had once asked Nikki to call her 'ma'am' when she was made Acting Governing Governor. This woman knew that she had nothing to offer but herself.

"She was on the other side, Michael, but she's apologised enough times for being very bossy and locking us up at nights that we've forgiven her. She lives with an old friend of mine called Nikki Wade."

"Like Mum and Cassie are?" Niamh piped up.

"That's good then," Michael responded.

Helen blinked with astonishment that in two seconds flat these children had more wisdom in their accepting eyes than decades of living by Sylvia's curled lip of disapproval and that bastard Fenner's evil sneer. That moment of revelation washed over her.

"We sure are," Helen said with a flourish.

"Have you got any children?"

"Sorry, Niamh, Nikki and I haven't got round to that."

Helen blushed slightly, not being used to the directness of children after her hours of work sifting through the labyrinthine defences and distortions of her patients. She was the one who was used to asking questions and not being asked. The week or so of Larkhall honesty had only got her used so far to conversation with children. Real feelings of affection spread through her and the thought that this was Cassie and Roisin's upbringing, bearing fruit.

Yvonne smiled and sat back as Helen started a conversation, initially uncertain as she felt her way but the important thing was that they liked Helen. It was curious to remember that forceful and decisive woman, dressed in a two piece blue suit, being so shy and bashful.

"Do you play draughts?" Helen asked after the conversation started to run dry.

"But only two can play?"

"Nonsense. Why don't you both make up a team, take it in turns to play and that way you'll be sure to beat me."

Helen's challenging grin surprised herself and the way she had pulled the idea out of her hat. Yvonne gave Helen full marks for resourcefulness.

"It'll do you good to play together instead of arguing," Sang out Cassie from the other side of the wall to the kitchen.

Helen picked up the round, patterned counters and a strange feeling ran through her fingers as it brought back many memories to her mind and the long buried game techniques. Michael and Niamh's combative instincts were roused and they knew that they felt comfortable to play with this lady. She was nice and that was what mattered.

Helen let the children move their first piece and the battle for mastery of the board commenced.

"Can I take that go again. I didn't mean it. It was Michael putting me off. Please, Helen, please."

A real feeling of tenderness and affection ran through Helen. This innocent joy in playing with these adorable children was all the more as this was totally outside her past experience. She generously let them take the move again so that Helen did not leapfrog her piece across three of theirs and take them. Yvonne grinned in memory of the stern way that Helen used to enforce rules and regulations at Larkhall.

The evening felt complete as they settled down to dinner round the table, Michael and Niamh crowing to all and sundry that they had beaten Helen six games to five. It really brought the sort of family feeling to Helen that she had never known since her mother was alive. It made more sense to her as a felt experience of what mothers at Larkhall lost when they became separated from their children. She was glad that she had done right by them even if she had never felt what they had felt.

"Come on, kids. Time for bed," Called Cassie while Yvonne topped up Helen's glass and they lay back in piece and contentment.

"Will you come round another time, Helen. We like you." Niamh's tired childlike voice called out to her as she grabbed her favourite fluffy toy to hug.

"I can't say when but I promise I'll come again soon. I'll try to bring Nikki as well."

The children spun their bedtime with a series of 'night nights' to Yvonne and Helen and Helen and Yvonne.

There was a warm smile on Yvonne's face and they exchanged smalltalk with Helen while Cassie and Roisin were upstairs. Instinct told her to keep it light and avoid anything heavy. Take life a bit at a time over this weekend and she might get lucky at the other end unscarred.

"Helen's getting broody," joked Cassie to Roisin as they walked downstairs after settling two happy but tired children to bed. They had watched Helen's transformation in total fascination.

"What were you going to tell us at lunchtime, Cassie, before Yvonne frog-marched you out of the way?"

"Subtlety ain't my strong point as you know, Helen, if someone's about to plonk their big foot in it as Cassie was. She was about to spill the beans on something which Jo and Karen wouldn't want to know about. Cassie will explain."

"I worked out how to scam the computer programme that worked out our weekly spends."

Roisin smiled at the deceptively casual way that Cassie spoke while Helen wondered if she was hearing things right. Even Larkhall couldn't let that sort of thing happen. Mind you, when she looked back on her time at Larkhall, it refused to drag itself into the modern age. 'We've always done it this way,' was Sylvia's favourite obstructive tactic that used to drive her to distraction.

"I had to audit the accounts before they had computers and grind my way through all the bloody figurework."

"All totally fiddled, I'm sure. I can see her getting a real kick out of straining her brain adding up ten and ten and take away four if she didn't like the look of your face. I've often wondered how much we got robbed," interjected Yvonne sarcastically.

"Surely that sort of thing couldn't have happened?" questioned Helen. "Are you telling me that some of them wouldn't have cooked the books?"

"All your figures would only be as good as what some bent screw put down on the books, if you don't mind me putting it that way."

Helen nodded. Now she came to think of it, it might have happened that way. She remembered Nikki's sarcastic description of the 'personal incentive scheme which meant if that screw liked your face.' What Cassie and Yvonne were suggesting was only a small logical step forward. She remembered with fury the hours she had spent at home trying to get the books to balance.

"Anyway how in hell did they ever get computers at Larkhall?"

"That was Grayling's doing. From what Karen told me once, it was Grayling's bright idea and he soft-soaped Bodybag into it. It was her pet personal project."

Helen's face was twisted in total shock and incredulity.

"He must have taken leave of his senses."

"But it made it so much easier for us."

"Ah. I can see what's coming."

"You don't mind us talking about something ever so slightly not quite legal to Miss Helen Stewart of all people."

"That was a long time ago. I'm Helen Wade now, don't forget. It happened after my time any, anyway, I don't owe the Prison Service any loyalty except to those I've got to make friends with."

"It could never have happened if Bodybag knew one end of a computer from another even down to how you switch it on," Cassie said scornfully. "Anyway, Babs unpacked the computer and set it up so that someone like Miss Barker and Bodybag could work it if they followed the idiot sheets that she wrote out for them. It was easy for Babs to reprogramme it and switch the plusses and minuses as it adjusted the weekly spends that were available from week to week."

"So the more you spent, the more you had left to spend on from the prison shop. It would only take a few weeks and you would really clean up. Didn't anyone notice how fast the stock was disappearing?"

Two broad smiles answered Helen who shook her head.

"Anyway, enough talking about Larkhall. I really meant it when I said that I'd come again and bring Nikki. Your kids are adorable."

"They're not usually as angelic as tonight. It isn't that easy bringing up children."

Helen's soulful smile remained on her face for the rest of the evening as they sipped their drinks and chatted. Tonight was a new experience to her and it helped to soothe away the cares of the week. It brought back the memories of that day in the art room at Larkhall when she had first dared to think what a life with Nikki might be like and told Nikki that she wanted kids one day. Of course, it might be just a romantic dream when both women were working at opposite sides of the day and their time spent together was far less than they wanted.

Part 51

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