DISCLAIMER: Bad Girls and its characters are the property of Shed Productions. No infringement intended.
SEQUEL/SERIES: To Cleanup Time – The Nikki Wade Retrial
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

Sisters under the Skin
By Richard


Scene One

The bright spring weather cast sharp shadows on the stiff armed trees and the budding daffodils on that special April morning. It blew gentle breezes that didn't have that bitter chill of winter but carried that suggestion of life that was later to blossom. Just a few fluffy white clouds were carried along high overhead, slowly moving their way across the sky like slow moving galleons. The sun shone down on the world bestowing perfect equality of favours. It glanced in through the large side window of Helen's flat, through the trim lace curtains of the digs where John and Monty slept the alcohol fuelled sleep of the righteous and illuminated the modest modern semi detached house where Claire and Peter slept. It did not need to wake up the Julies in their narrow garret window in their cell in G Wing cell as the clang of the opening door woke them up already. It worked in vain to rouse the alcohol sodden Fenner, crashed out asleep in his cheap boarding house, having obliterated his consciousness at Wade putting one over him. Only little children had that innocent desire to explore outside and see what the bright new morning had to offer. Those who had laboured hard during the week sympathized in spirit but needed that time to recuperate, to let rest heal the system. Those who wished to opt out of the world missed the spirit that was offered to their disadvantage and no remission for good behaviour. It was highly fitting weather when life had renewed itself and could start out afresh.

By contrast, Nikki laboured in dark spaces, hidden from the world. The only light that was above her was a scanty row of very dim bulbs that seemed designed to show the futility of illumination. It was only just enough to show her where to place her feet. Presently, she could see a line of grim, contrasting rough painted vertical parallel bars block her way forward. Automatically, she felt inside her jeans pocket but it dismayed her to reach for her keys and they weren't there. There was something obviously wrong, wasn't there. Surely that wasn't just? Nikki sighed and told herself to be practical about things. The place was totally deserted with no one in sight. In a bored fashion, she leant against the wall and she eyes peered in both directions but there wasn't a sign of anyone around, especially as the more distant view receded into fuzzy obscurity. She shook the bars to test them but, as expected, they were solid. About the only thing working in this dump, she sniffed sardonically.

It's typical, she reasoned, when you actually want a screw, there's no one in sight. She resolved take matters in her own hands as she normally did and to walk back to where she had come from, wherever that was. At least the lights, such as they were, gave as much illumination traveling this way. She was out on her own but hadn't she been on her own all her life. At least she wasn't lonely, her nature being inclined that way.

As she strolled casually along, she saw the shape of a payphone that was clamped to the wall. She smiled at the sight of it and, as she drew closer to it, she automatically felt for her jeans back pocket for the usual phone card. She wasn't really sure just whom she was going to call but she needed contact with the outside world. She ruminated on just who would be trusted to provide the good sense that would be welcome to her. Helen was an obvious choice, her friend and lover but if she was engaged, she reflected that she was on good terms with Claire Walker, who wasn't just Helen's friend. If that didn't work, Jo's warm smile, unpretentious friendliness and solid knowledge of the territory that was foreign for ability to see through

She could even go to the top and phone John Deed. He belonged to the profession that she's once dismissed as 'pricks in wigs' but that was long ago. She had established communication with him and even that spark of intimate friendship. Surely one of them would give her the directions to get out of this hole. It was only when she picked up the phone when discovered that the numbers that should have shown up even in this lousy light weren't there. There was no dialing tone either.

"Bloody phone," Nikki swore shortly and carried on her way. The corridor seemed endless and the interminable gloom was starting to strain her eyes. On and on, her trainers took her ever onwards. The suspicion was starting to gather in her mind, which solidified as the view became clearer of a second set of bars ahead. As she got to them, she gave way to a flash of anger and shook the bars impotently. The reverberating sound of clanking metal echoed and reechoed down the corridor and into nothingness. It was only a few minutes later that the faint shouting could be heard, immeasurably far away.

She surprised herself in becoming almost unnaturally calm, as if this creepy gothic landscape could have no sway over her moods or her reasoning. She spotted a narrow side alley and decided to pursue this line of escape and see where it took her. She could see that the dim line of lights suddenly stopped dead after a while. Her heart started to sink as the way forward faded into darkness as she got to what must be the end. However, when she edged her feet forwards to what must be a dead end, she spotted a pinhole of bright light. This gave her some illusion that she should not lose hope but the almost total blackness made it more and more impossible. The possibility of freedom and her present state of helpless imprisonment put an unbearable strain on her. It was only out of sheer desperate inspiration that she fumbled inside her jeans pocket and fished out a cigarette lighter. It made her smile ironically that she had the lighter but no cigarettes. She struck at the flint and the glow from it was positive illumination to her light starved eyes. However, it was enough to show her what looked like a light switch and that at the end of the tunnel was an ordinary looking door fastened by a padlock through the hasp. What she did notice was what looked like a light switch right in the corner so it wouldn't be noticed. Sighing with faint hope, her left hand idly flicked the switch. Nothing else worked in this dump so why shouldn't this, she thought with cynical lack of faith. To her total surprise, illumination dawned over her head, nothing substantial by ordinary standards but riches from heaven by comparison. What delighted her even more was the fact that the door didn't look particularly sturdy and, best of all, a heavy sledgehammer was leaning against the corner. It invited her to lay her hands on it, which she did, and felt the weight of it.

"You can't go in there, Wade. This is government authorized property, only for the use of its employees," hailed that hated voice from Bodybag out of nowhere. The dim lighting outside the illuminated area of the lamp over her head was thrown into total blackness by contrast so that Bodybag's voice called to her from out of the void. Only the clomping sounds of her footsteps announced that she was getting closer.

"Oh, can't I, Bodybag? Just you wait and see."

She picked up the thick shaft of wood and the heavy weight on the end of it and swung it in a perfect arc. It hit the lock with a crash and the metal bent under the blow.

"You're damaging government property, Wade. You'll be down the block as soon as I catch up with you."

Nikki could swear that Frobisher and Fenner were also shouting at her. She laughed contemptuously. After all, they had no hold over her anymore.

"That's tough luck as I'm breaking my way out .You have no hold over me."

With that, she aimed a second blow right on the spot that she landed the first and the padlock flew off the hasp with a metallic clang. All the time, the hurrying footsteps grew louder as did the gasps of breath from the out of breath and frantic prison warder. Nikki put her shoulder to the door and with a grating sound it gradually gave way with comparative ease. At once, the blinding daylight streamed into Nikki's eyes and she put her hands to her eyes as she stumbled forward as her feet took her. It was only after a couple of minutes when she became aware of voices and felt hands pat her on the shoulders when her eyes came back into focus, whited out faces appeared as finally, she was starting to see again. She realized that Helen was hugging her closely while Claire, Jo, Trisha, Sally Anne, Nikki's father, John Deed, Monty Everard and Joseph Channing smiled on approvingly.

"Helen, I can't believe I'm finally out of here"

"Wild horses wouldn't have kept us apart, sweetheart," Helen whispered with fierce devotion. The strange thing was that her voice sounded strangely muffled.

"We got you out of an unjust sentence before, Nikki. This time, we felt helpless that we couldn't offer any practical help. The least we can do is to welcome you to the first day of your life, completely reborn."

John's words of kindness melted Nikki's heart and brought tears to her eyes even though his normally carrying voice didn't have the resonance that she remembered so well. Everyone smiled on her so approvingly.

"This feels so fantastic. I never knew I had so many friends. I can be anyone, go anywhere, do anything." she breathed.

"An Englishwoman's home is her castle," put in Nikki's father with approving smiles from Trisha and Sally Anne who were surprised at the depth of understanding shown by this die hard Conservative male.

"So what do I do now?" Nikki asked, rhetorically.

"As soon as you wake up, we're going to have a lie in today, sweetheart, and the weekend is ours to decide," Helen's voice sounded in her ear, much sharper and clearer than before.

Nikki opened her eyes at the contrast …….and……and……she blinked her eyes to stare upwards at the angles of the clean white ceiling and the lampshade hanging over her head. She gradually realized that she was lying flat on her back, her nightie twisted round her and a piled up quilt all around her. This wasn't the view she could remember. Helen's face hovered overhead with an expression of concern on her face, her hair hanging down. Nikki breathed a sigh of relief. At least what was before her eyes looked relatively normal.

"What..where the hell am I, Helen?"

"In our bed. Where you should you be on a sunny Saturday morning after the trial? Everything's just fine but it's a bit early as it's half past seven in the morning."

"So there's nothing to worry about?" mumbled Nikki weakly.

"Only that you've been having some sort of nightmare, twisting and turning about. I didn't want to wake you except that you started to call out to me so here I am."

"Hey it wasn't that bad. I was in this underground jail with Bodybag and Fenner after me so I smashed down the door and everyone was there to congratulate me, even my dad and all the judges. I'm safe now."

Helen's face was a picture. She could tell how real the dream had been for Nikki as she slurred out the words through the fog of sleep. She looked happy enough with a faint smile on her face having achieved victory in her dreams. Nikki was luckier than she had been in her choice of subconscious wide screen entertainment.

"You get all the luck, Nikki. Look what happened to be a few months back. I got cornered in Larkhall and Fenner was threatening to rape me."

"As if I could ever forget all the shit you ever took from him, darling," Nikki murmured, her voice dripping with sympathy and she reached upwards to brush Helen's cheek before continuing on a sharper note of concern." Hey, you are talking about that horrible dream aren't you?"

"As much as you are talking about yours," came Helen's straight faced reply. Nikki moved her head wearily from side to side. This conundrum ridden conversation could carry on for ever and she was tired.

"Hey, I'll come down and lie next to you, darling," sweetly urged that ever so softly spoken Scottish brogue that made Nikki feel weak at the knees. She crossed the short distance back to Nikki and her arms reached out for the taller woman. Gently, they drew each other close and planted little kisses on each other's lips, cheeks and necks. The gentle pressure of each other's arms told each other, in its quiet way, how profoundly they loved each other. The sunlight streamed through the gaps in the blinds and bathed them in a gentle glow. This was paradise.

"We can be anyone, go anywhere, do anything."

"That's what I said earlier on, Helen," put in Nikki which caused Helen's expressive face to reveal her astonishment. She could remember no such thing except Nikki mumbling in her sleep.

"In your dreams, sweetheart."

"Oh that explains everything," Nikki responded brightly.

Helen laughed softly at her very remarkable partner. Even in her dreams, she could beat the powers of darkness. This was their new morning.

Claire lay spread out on her double bed, dead to the world until late on Saturday morning. She had slept the sleep of the righteous and utterly exhausted. While the soft early morning daylight permeated the bedroom, Claire was sunk into a state of total dreamless oblivion. The driving sense of purpose that had propelled her these last few months had been disconnected. It was right that she should recharge her batteries in the most natural way possible.

This was what Peter thought when he woke up moderately early and looked round at his wife with gentle affection and tremendous pride. She was increasingly taking on high profile cases, which engaged her emotionally and practically. When she was totally engrossed in them, that continued into the evening but Peter was an amenable human being. For a start, all solicitors tended to let work intrude into evening time and this was par for the course. For another, he was unambitious and was content to handle the run of the mill cases and his wife's success did not make him feel threatened. It wasn't the case that he had made a big public declaration of being a 'new man.' It was more the case that it came natural to him. He recalled how last night, he'd come home from the normal conveyancing work to find her stretched out on the sofa, the lids on her eyes lowered. He kissed her on her cheek, passed her a small glass of sherry and she gently smiled and murmured at him. He'd virtually had to carry her up to bed and forget any ideas of staying up late because the next day needn't wake them up on time. The weekend was theirs to enjoy last night just as it was on this brand new morning.

When her eyelids blinked open, split second impressions of the high white bedroom comforted her and gave her that lazy contented feeling. She was given context in place and time by split second images of her sliding away back home leaving the others to head off to Trisha's club to carry on the party. She wasn't bothered then any more than she was now. She wasn't a particularly dedicated party creature, forever worrying in case she was missing out on the fun. Being desperately tired made that decision for her. As the others had chatted away earlier on, she had slipped in and out of a waking dreaming state not much different than now. The big advantage she had now was lying full length where she lay, rather than prop herself up in a hard wooden chair. She let those memories slide through her fingers. Now was not the time for purposeful self orienteering. The time would come later.

Scene Two

Jo Mills was even deader to the world than Claire was. Everything in her life had been so tightly focused in on the trial. It might be said that all roads lead to Rome but all trains of thought focussed in relentlessly on the task that must be accomplished. This trial wasn't just a legally intense and complicated matter where she had to outwit the opposition by second guessing his game plan. What was far more at stake was that the very 'rules of the game' could be changed like lightning due to behind the scenes political interference. It was like a three-dimensional game of chess. The only constant factor in these battles and her only hope was in John's strength and, as she found at very short notice, in that very remarkable and quick witted woman who was her client. Somehow, everything had come together that day, as it needed to. As she lay in bed, she couldn't believe that the trial was over. Logically, she could let her mind run free and take it easy but she knew from experience that it would take some time for her mind to stop racing and she could seize the time for some tranquillity in her life. She needed these spaces in her life to refresh herself for her next case.

The digs had that discreet refined atmosphere where meals were laid out for those with time to contemplate the day. A long table, set with a starched white tablecloth, gave scope for those members of the judiciary to socialize and make small talk.

On this Saturday morning, John made a late appearance at the digs, looking very pale and blinking at the sunlight, which hurt his eyes. He wavered before picking a quiet corner to sit and shortly after, Monty made an appearance. John's tired eyes took in the welcome fact that his wife, Vera, wasn't with him. The sight of her bright pink suit would have been hard for his eyes and her loud opinionated voice would have been quite too much for him, let alone her inane bigoted opinions.

"I'll never drink again, Monty." John murmured. "It really doesn't suit me."

"What you want," grinned Monty understandingly," is to avoid giving in to temptations and also suffering the kickback the next day."

"You're surely not a puritan killjoy in thinking that pain and penitence must follow pleasures," groaned John.

"Nonsense, I'm just being pragmatic about it," boomed Monty more heartily than John would have liked. "The chances are that you're not a regular drinker so that celebrating on Joe's lethally enjoyable malt whisky meant that you were on a bender. You have to train up on regular drinking so that you can enjoy a special celebration and not regret it the next day."

John grinned at Monty's honest explanation of the pleasure principle in contrast to the miserable mineral water morality of the current political clique in control. Certainly, he had heartily enjoyed last night. He recalled the feel of being amongst the circle of armchairs, gathered round and the comforting sensation that he didn't have to go anywhere. Joseph Channing was left to dispense regular top ups and he, Monty and Joseph felt like brothers in arms, having won a glorious victory. The large armchair in Joseph's chambers encompassed him and made him feel incredibly grounded and certain of his place in the world. Monty was right, of course, in saying that John wasn't a practiced drinker but he did enjoy getting fuzzy at the edges but at the same time, their conversation wasn't some meaningless drunken ramble. All of then had that delicious feeling of fulfillment about them, that they had truly done what they had been destined for. The only fly in the ointment was that his head didn't feel so good and he wished that he could get back to that heightened feeling of normality and purpose.

"You're right, Monty. It's just that I envy you right now."

"Try this Alka Seltzer and plenty of water." Monty kindly offered.

John reached eagerly for the tablets, the water gourd and a glass and barely let them fizz their power into the plain water before he drained the glass.

"Do you want to read the morning papers, John?"

"Will they make me feel any better?"

"Well, we've had the honour of being flayed alive in print along with Nikki Wade. We really are Public Enemy Number One,"grinned Monty. As much has his limited senses let him, John was glad that Monty was not the slightest bit worried by the prospect.

"By the way, I gather that you had a long conversation with her," he added with a conspiratorial smile.

"I had an extraordinarily intimate conversation with Nikki in full knowledge that she is homosexual and there isn't the slightest possibility that any intimacy would be anything more than strictly platonic. I mean it, Monty." John insisted quietly.

"For once, I've misjudged the situation, John. I have heard many stories of your brand of charm and how far it gets you with the fairer sex. I remember the French judge at that Conference who I was pursuing for three days only you turned up," Monty replied in even tones, without malice.

"She is an extraordinarily intelligent, gifted and above all, compassionate woman who will go far in life. I'll deeply treasure the memory of the conversation. I can tell you we did better than we knew in finally throwing off the shackles that have held her back," John observed slowly with a faraway look in his eyes.

Monty could tell that there was a wealth of meaning and feeling that John was hiding behind. He wanted to help him out as a friend yet hesitated in forcing a confidence. He was of the old school after all and was uncomfortable with naked emotions on display. He settled for a tentative approach and coughed nervously.

"I don't want to be intrusive but I'm interested in what happened. This stays strictly confidential."

"You mean Vera as well?"

"Especially from Vera. She has no sense of discretion whatsoever," pronounced Monty firmly in response to that sharp, inquisitive look.

"I was in a verbal scrap with Sir Ian, Lawrence James and George who were throwing the collective rattle out of the pram and blaming it all on me…"

"The damned cheek," interjected Monty, which elicited a smile in response.

"……when Nikki chimed in at just the right moment. She'd left her handbag in the witness box you know. The battle royal that took place was splendid and, together, we drove them headlong. After that, my curiosity was roused and I wanted to talk to her, to find out what she was like. Well, I certainly got more than I bargained for…..she has exactly the same sense of justice that I have. The similarity is extraordinary. You feel that there aren't any barriers and you can talk the same language. Above all, she asks good questions and you have no problems in just going with the flow."

Monty was fascinated to see the various moods flicker over John's face as he spoke in a meditative abstracted fashion. By some miracle, his headache must have receded to the edges of his consciousness or else he had remarkable self-control.

"That's only fair as the three of us certainly asked her a fair few questions," came Monty's slightly lighthearted response. That prompted a rush of words from the other man completely stripped of his normal suave self-control.

"There's more to that, she has that uncanny ability to look into my soul. She sees my strengths and weaknesses but I know that, for once in my life, I need have no fear of being seen for who and what I am. She's incredibly kind hearted. She even invited me to pop round if I ever wanted to."

"Nice idea, John but that might be a bit impractical," observed Monty slightly stiffly. In truth, he felt embarrassed though he couldn't say why.

A silence hung on the air on that bright spring morning. The sunbeams hurt John's eyes and so he didn't answer Monty. His eyes flitted every which way until they fastened on the newspaper that Monty had laid on the side.

"Well, well, what do we have here?" John suddenly exclaimed in loud hearty tones.

'Trial outrage- lesbian cop killer given a clean ticket."

"In an astounding display of judicial perverseness, Nikki Wade who killed a policeman in cold blood four years ago was given a clean slate. There may be a do gooding element that has crept its way into the judiciary but their ill thought out liberalism is not wanted by public opinion who want justice for the victims of crime, especially the grieving widow of the dead policeman. Public opinion has tolerated the eccentricities of judges of England parading around in their wigs and robes and their eccentric sense of justice but this verdict is surely asking for a bill in parliament to restrict their powers. Sources close to the Home Secretary complained that Ms Wade was judicially having her cake and eating it and should have been grateful for the act of mercy, which gave her freedom at the original appeal hearing. Judges should remember that this is the twenty first century and they cannot do as they please. ……………."

At that point, John threw the paper to one side derisively and turned to remark to Monty.

"This is the government's childish temper tantrum and all because it couldn't get its own way. In a few days time, the press will find another hate figure to tar and feather at the stake."

"That's all very true, John but we may have bitten off more than we can chew."

"Well, we could always go on strike, Monty." John spoke half jokingly." That would show them."

"That will be the day," Monty laughed." Mind you, it would clog up the wheels of justice pretty effectively. Who would they get to take our place? Can you imagine Lawrence James with his shaky ideas of justice coming up before such unruly barristers as Jo Mills? He would be taken to pieces."

"Ah well, I don't suppose it will come to that," mused John as they toyed with this interesting abstraction, as if it were a debate over an abstruse point of law.

"I suppose we shall have to get used to Sir Ian scowling at us for the next three months and I don't suppose the next luncheon will go with a swing if we're there and Haughton

turns up. I suppose he'll forgive and forget, eventually. He can't hold a grudge that long, surely."

"Don't you believe it, Monty," John warned. "The man hoards grudges like others hoard precious silver. He is a power junkie and hates to be deprived of his fix."

"In which case, why on earth does George stay with him? I would have thought she would have better taste."

"Why indeed? I suppose he makes a good trophy partner. He's successful and it gets her into the sort of circles where she can show off her expensive taste in dresses," John answered in hesitant tones, for once not sounding convinced by his own reasoning.

"Yes, but what I can't imagine is them in bed together?"

John closed his eyes and shuddered at the prospect. The image that was conjured up was totally grotesque and one he did not want to dwell over. His hangover headache threatened to return with a vengeance.

"Let's not ruin our appetite by speculating on Houghton's sexual habits, if he has any. Let's enjoy this hearty breakfast and celebrate our famous victory."

Monty grinned at John's jest. He was hungry and ready to tuck in to his breakfast even if John still looked a little queasy.

Scene Three

Sally Ann Howe's dimly functioning eyes sensed that she was in a bedroom that was softly feminine but it wasn't her lonely room. She was vaguely aware that she was lying on her side and that her skin was unencumbered by any material. That wasn't usual for her but the thought surprisingly pleased her normally tidy minded nature. A wide smile spread across her face as her fingers traced a pattern on the smooth soft skin of another woman's back and her eyelids parted wide to look over the smooth shoulder and reveal the long blonde hair and delicately carved face of the woman next to her. She couldn't believe her good fortune that she should enjoy such an impossibly intimate moment. In her life, she had only mentally confided her dreams and desires to her pillow during too many lonely nights on her own and were dissolved away by the daylight and company the next day. She had always desired Trisha, if truth be known, from the first time that accident caused her to first set eyes on her.

Memories started to return to Sally of the night before. The music of the club had been in her ears as she had climbed up the staircase in Trisha's flat. All her fears and inhibitions had been banished and her senses of pleasure had been heightened as she had found herself in Trisha's very feminine looking bedroom. She had kissed Trisha passionately and deeply before drawing slightly apart, gazing in adoration at the other woman so close to her. An inviting smile had been spread across her face and her blue eyes had never left Sally's.

"I can't believe I'm here with you….darling," she had spoken slightly shakily as if the word of endearment to another woman didn't come easy on first try.

"You'll believe it, babes, when we're between the sheets. I want you so much, Sally."

Those practiced fingers had slipped Sally's suit jacket from off her shoulders who copied her and had followed every move she made. Sally's eyes had been wide open as that slim figure came into full view and slid over her as she lay back in that sweet smelling bed. This was unexpected heaven as the other woman had been so very gentle and tender in the way that her lips and fingers caressed her neck and shoulders and tasted her body. She had fallen in love with the texture of Trisha's smooth body next to her and her own fingers had slid along the other woman's back. This was heaven. This was like nothing she had ever encountered before. She had realized now that what had been holding them back was the clothes they'd both been wearing and wondered why she hadn't thought of that before. Her body had started to move rhythmically and she cried out ecstatically as her nipples were delicately caressed. She had known all along that Trisha must be expert in lovemaking as much as sexual confidence had exuded from her but she hadn't been prepared for such consideration. As Trisha's hand had slid down to her belly, she had known what was to come- indeed, she had fantasized this scene. This hadn't stopped her flinching slightly.

"Relax, babes." Trisha had murmured." I just want you to feel good about yourself again."

Sally had lain back and gently stroked Trisha's cheek and the tension had flowed out of her body. Trisha had smiled knowingly and had moved her hand lower down. A huge feeling of relief had run through Sally as this fair-haired vision hadn't being in the slightest way impatient but had slowly and gently caressed her. It had told her that the time was hers to choose. She had reached up, planted little kisses on the other woman's neck and had run her fingers through her long hair. She had been incredibly grateful and moisture had run from her for this generous lover of hers.

"Are you ready babes?"

"I want you inside me, darling. I know everything will be fine," she had whispered

Smiling, Trisha had gently slid her two fingers into the other woman and had gently pushed down on her. She had cried out in pleasure and astonishment that another human being could have given her that first feeling of sexual pleasure and it was hers. In no time at all, she had got into the rhythm that Trisha generated, her face hanging over her as surely and confidently, she had drawn Sally upwards to a hugely satisfying climax that had left her gasping and spent. They had lain down side by side, their arms wrapped around each other, drinking in the faint perfume from each other's bodies.

"You're amazing Trisha. Now I know what I've been missing out on for all these years. I love you," she had whispered in total adoration.

"You're not the first woman who's ever said that. When you think about it, making love to another woman is easier than you think," she had laughed invitingly.

Sally Anne had got the message. It had been her turn to give pleasure to Trisha. The prospect of that had entranced her as their bodies had adjusted so that she had looked down in the half-light at the woman she desired. Her long blond hair had streamed across the pillow and her soft lips had been slightly parted. A faint breath of wind had wafted through the window and breathed on her naked back. At this moment, she had all the confidence in the world as desire had driven her to kiss the blond haired woman full on and her tongue to express all her desires. She had known that her lover would cry out with desire, as she had tasted that slim, small-breasted woman who was everything she could want.

It was the morning and she had absolutely no regrets. What had happened in the past the night before was absolutely real and was no illusion that would fade away in the daylight. The bedroom was exactly the same as last night only it was daylight. All that was different was that she was sleepy, having made love half the night. Her love for another woman was right out in the open and her life was transformed. She only wished that Trisha would turn over and they could embrace each other. In the meantime, she planted a series of delicate kisses on that soft, smooth skin. It drew a murmur in reply.

"Give me a little while to wake up, babes. I never knew that you were going to be such an insatiable and hungry lover."

"Is that a good thing or a bad thing, darling?"

"Definitely good," murmured Trisha as she slithered over and, to Sally's delight, the soft breasts and nipples came into view." Let's have a cuddle and lie down for the moment."

They wrapped their arms round each other and Sally exulted in the feel of soft skin against skin and the sleepy way they gently kissed. Trisha's lips were as soft as she had remembered last night. Even while Trisha appeared to be drowsy, some instinct made her fingers draw a sleepy trail on Sally's collarbone and slide down to her breasts. Her body gently pressed itself against Sally's who wrapped one leg round Trisha's. The blue eyes the other side of the pillow slightly parted and a murmurous sound escaped her shapely lips as they pressed themselves against Sally's.

"Still not regretting last night, Sally? Some do, you know."

"I loved every minute of it, darling," Sally's soft voice answered with a thrilled ecstatic undertone to it.

"So I look good in the daylight?" Trisha answered, letting her arm drop to her side. Despite her lack of sleep, desires built up in Sally that she had never felt before that early in the morning. That sleek body looked as desirable in the morning as it had last night.

"Just you let me show you how much I want you," came that most certain answer, laden with all the desire in the world.

The surprised and gratified Trisha lay back, her arms outstretched and she stared upwards at the dark haired woman. Naked, she was every bit as desirable as she had always promised to be even when they were so called friends. Similarly, her tight constrained manner and her tight, two-piece suit had not deceived Trisha and this was proved to the hilt as these had all been thrown to one side in a careless pile. Now that she had loosened up, Trisha could see qualities in her that Sally never knew in herself until today. She was taller and bigger and her large breasts made her desirable. Her long curly hair hung loosely over her shoulders and made her look strangely virginal. It touched Trisha to witness the newfound dimension open up in Sally's life. All this was new to her while, by contrast, there had been many woman who had shared Trisha's bed. As a whole souled smile spread across Sally's face, these depressive thoughts were banished when she recalled those unexpected talents following last night's crash course in lesbian love making. Trisha's desires rise up in her as she knew above all else that the centre of Sally's desires lay between her own already parted thighs and that the dark haired woman would soon be tasting her juices.

Hours later, as Trisha's heartbeat settled down to normal, she reflected how delightfully and unexpectedly her life had changed for the better in the last few days. She had done her bit in finally laying to rest the mixture of trauma, separation and guilt that Nikki's imprisonment had haunted her with. Nikki had finally come back to her life in the curiously stable and angst free situation of friend helped by her very remarkable and astute girlfriend. Best of all, she had a new lover in her life. That thought caused feelings of tenderness to well up in Trisha and she drew the dark haired woman next to her bosom, cradling her in her arms.

"There's one question I was going to ask you, Trisha and that is, there is a future for us? This isn't just one night, …is it?"

Trisha's lips parted in a smile at this question, put so tremulously. She owed it to reassure this woman who was so clearly in love for the first time.

"Of course, babes. Love you always."

"Then everything's all right then," came the simple reply." I mean, this is so fantastic, so much better than anything I've ever experienced before."

"You mean with men?"

"Yeah," sighed Sally as her memory swept over collected memories, not wanting to linger more than necessary." Where I came from, there was never any idea there was anything else. My teens weren't very happy and when I got into the police force it got twenty times worse. Let's say we were expected to be easy meat, especially……"

"There there, babes. Let's forget about the past," that soothing voice soothed and caressed her as much as her touch from somewhere up above her. Sally snuggled up against that soft warm skin which felt very natural to her and she ran her fingers through the long blond hair. She calmed down and relaxed as all this felt very real to her. The past could fade away where it belonged, especially Gossard, her worst and most tenacious nightmare that had held her life back and had emotionally crippled her. She had that glimpse of the future with nothing holding her back.

"Yeah, you're right."

"Well, it's different. You've got me now," that clear speaking voice articulated with a note of optimism. She needed Sally to drive away those 'single girl blues' that depressed her from time to time, that no relationship in her life had ever lasted. Perhaps this time it will be different, she hoped. The sexual ecstasy of last night and this morning helped keep her spirits up in the precious interludes from the rigours of running her club.

Scene Four

George had got used to Neil Haughton's habits over the last few years and could just suffer his flashes of petulance, his domineering tendencies, his total self-absorption and the red Cabinet boxes that he obsessively worked his way through most evenings. She couldn't really complain about the last foible, as she tended to shut herself away with her cases. There were compensations of a pleasantly material nature, which her growing expensive wardrobe testified to. She was unashamed and honest about her appetites for the material pleasures of life. She had to admit that she enjoyed flaunting Neil Haughton to John and thereby teasing him mercilessly. John would never resist rising to the bait in verbally slashing her boyfriend's character to pieces in conversations with her. She knew how her contrary argumentative nature drove her to disagree with him even if she inwardly agreed with some of his conclusions. At moments like these, poor John overstated his case and hopelessly betrayed his jealousy.

Friday night was an especially dismal experience for her and hit a new low. She had made her way home after the trial in an especially thoughtful mood. Her spat with John was a perfectly normal occurrence in her life and she inwardly admitted to herself that they both found exchanging verbal bolts of lightning somehow pleasurable. She could never say that life was boring whenever John crossed her path. As she drove home, she couldn't help thinking also of her clash with the formidable Ms Wade. Her impressions of the case, such as she had been aware of it, was that the culprit was some loud publicity conscious crop haired lesbian out to cause trouble. She had come across a woman who had certainly given her a run for her money even if her brand of caring liberalism irritated her. She had to smile at the way she had made a fool out of poor Ian but, then again, he did walk headlong into the most obvious traps. She sneakily considered that the woman had style, helped from a background in some minor boarding school and she wasn't unattractive in her rather mannish fashion. In other words, Ms Wade was something in the same league as she was. What had given her most food for thought was her comments about the need for women to be protected from rapists. She couldn't help worrying about Charlie on the loose at Sussex University and John's foolish, rose tinted faith that everything would be all right.

As soon as she got home, she could feel solid waves of fury radiating outwards from the living room even before she opened the door.

"I am telling you, once and for all, I have absolutely no comment about the trial. None at all," he snapped and slammed the phone down.

"Careful, Neil. You'll have a stroke if you carry on that way."

"It's that wretched ex husband of yours, He is infecting the other judges with that bleeding heart liberalism that I thought had been stamped out decades ago along with union wreckers."

"You mean Mrs Thatcher?" George replied impulsively and then immediately regretted her gaffe. Before becoming a born again New Labour politician, Neil Haughton had originally made his pile in advertising and it would have been supremely tactless to say that Brand X and Brand Y were virtually identical. He set great store in branding even if the man in the street was unversed in subtle presentational distinctions. His move into politics was less of a radical change of direction than the casual observer might think. Neil glowered at her, his expression daring her to say that one more provocative word. More than ever before, John's attractions came to the fore as both of them would have no hesitation or inhibitions in launching into an all out battle of words. It was one thing in their lives together they both agreed on as well as on deciding Charlie's upbringing..

"Would you like a cup of tea, mineral water or something stronger," George offered in her best polite drawing room fashion.

"Just for once, a scotch and mineral water but not too strong mind you."

George smiled inwardly. What he really wanted was a stiff shot of spirits and a dash of water to dilute his sin with something health giving. It contrasted with Daddy's unabashed love of malt whisky. She duly poured out the drink he really wanted and sat back in her armchair.

"Did you have a hard day, darling?"

"You can say that again. That wretched Wade trial goes pear shaped and the press in on my back straight away. Far from being tough on crime and cleaning up the streets so that it is safe for law-abiding citizens, I look a perfect fool for apparently getting it wrong in the first place. It's so unfair as it was all my predecessor's fault. I mean, why should I take the blame for something I didn't decide in the first place? I'm due to address the Annual General Meeting of the Police Federation and this trial is bound to be brought up and used against me. Never mind, I'll have those recalcitrant judges under my heel yet and they'll sing my tune if it is the last thing I ever do."

The rest of the evening was a total washout. George did her best to distract the man but nothing worked. The worst of it was that periods of rage made the man impotent as he could think of nothing else but his damaged ego. Again, she couldn't help but think that John by contrast was totally reliable in this one area of their marriage, infuriating though he could be otherwise.

From waking up on early Saturday morning, Neil Haughton continued to be as tiresome as last night. George came to an instant decision. She would go and see Daddy.

"Have you the usual Cabinet papers to go through," she called out as he was up already and in the dining room.

"Even more than usual. I simply must get on top of them."

"So you don't mind if I go and visit Daddy?"

Neil Haughton glared at her but didn't exactly lodge an objection. He was conscious of the pile of work he had to get through and if the wretched press would leave him alone, he would be able to concentrate single-mindedly on his work.

'If you have to, George."

"I know that he has annoyed you but he is my father. I simply can't allow that trial to come between us."

"You know that your loyalties lie with me," he grumbled.

"What's done is done, Neil. I absolutely refuse to talk shop and I'll stop Daddy from doing the same."

With bad grace, he turned his head in her direction while she graciously lowered her cheek to him and she left the room quietly. She made the one phone call, adjusted her elaborately arranged makeup and lipstick and she was off in her shiny Convertible car. If she peeked within herself which was rare, she admitted that a lot of time she was either ratty, dissatisfied or else feeling as if she had to control her facial expression and her words to play a part which she hadn't written. For that reason, she was almost disappointed that Neil hadn't provoked an argument as that would have released something out of her pent up system. The rest of the time, she was playing a part except that her thoughts of the formidable Ms Wade challenged her normal thinking.

"I didn't expect to hear from you George but you are as always, very welcome," Joseph Channing greeted her in his palatial mansion and waved her through. His sharp mind noticed that her smile of greeting and manner was unclouded and as it normally was. Her knew his daughter's willful personality and, in being caught between a clash of loyalties between him and Haughton, he would expected to be on the receiving end of her anger.

Instead, George's roved round the living room with satisfaction that it was at it had always been. The room contained overstuffed old-fashioned armchairs, which she always remembered sinking into, not like this modern functional inferior rubbish that awaited the next fashion fad of 'Changing Rooms' to dispose of. Everything here was built to last and hadn't changed since she was a little girl. It was comfortable and reassuring.

"I'm surprised you are coming to see me after the events of the previous day."

"I'd rather not talk about it, Daddy," George said quietly, putting her hand to her head as if her head hurt.

"You don't look well, George."

"It's nothing that several hours spent in peace and quiet won't cure."

"I expect that you are totally furious with me as well as John and Monty." Joseph said guardedly with a slightly ingratiating smile on his lips.

"Not with you or even John. I caught up with him after the court hearing and gave him a piece of my mind and got all the anger out of my system."

"It's perhaps unfair that he was the sole recipient of your wrath," chuckled Joseph with a vivid mental image based on solid experience.

"Daddy, it's what he's there for. Haven't you understood that one by now?" George grinned with total aplomb." Besides, he's the only man I've known that has ever given me back as much as I've given him. It's very therapeutic. It kept our marriage going as long as it did, despite his infidelities."

"So how do you feel about it now?"

"I'm sick of having had my ear bent by Neil last night and this morning. This was the reason I came to see you today. Anyway, enough of it. I'm sorely in need of a drink."

As Joseph pottered around to carefully pour two measures, it struck Joseph how animated George became when John's name was mentioned and how quickly Houghton was dismissed. It suited his purposes. When her father returned, her sharp eye spotted her father's small measure and drew understandable conclusions.

"Daddy, I do believe that you are becoming abstemious in old age."

"Not so much that," admitted Joseph with a weak smile " but the after effects of a celebration last night with John and Monty."

'You mean a drinking session."

"Well, we did put away a lot of drink as well as enjoying good conversation. If you think that I'm not at my best, John must be totally hungover. He has splendid endurance in keeping up with Monty and I but he hasn't the practice," Joseph chuckled with an evil leer in response to George's bald reply.

"You know, what puzzles me is how you and Monty and John apparently have got on so well during this trial. For one, John has a hopelessly interfering nature that even Jo Mills objects to. For another, you and Monty are died in the wool Conservatives and John is, well, John."

"It's been a curious experience. For a start, John has been remarkably amenable and perceptive. Jo Mills presented her case excellently while Frobisher was pedestrian. Ms Wade acquitted herself splendidly under tough questioning from the three of us. I must admit that she is also a remarkable woman since she was given no prior warning that she would be called to the stand."

"I know. I crossed swords with her after the trial and I don't think I got the best of the encounter."

Joseph raised his eyebrows sharply at his daughter's behaviour. She was a notoriously bad loser yet she spoke in slow thoughtful tones without any trace of malice or resentment.

The Sunday morning passed off in total peace and tranquillity yet throughout this pleasant interlude, he was conscious that there was a lot that George was mulling over in her mind but she wasn't saying. She never referred to Haughton again whereas she chattered away affectionately about Charlie and occasionally spoke uninvited about John. There was a note of regret in her manner when she finally explained that she was having to set off for home and she didn't hurry herself in getting herself ready. He knew better than to intervene and that when she was ready to speak, he would hear soon enough.

Scene Five

When Nikki got up on Monday morning, feelings of anti climax and depression started to creep in and peaked as soon as she entered the door at work. What was she doing here, she asked herself. It was all too much after all she had gone through leading up to the trial.

Before the big day, she had fought down her fears as the trial grew ever closer for her to venture forth to do battle to clear her name. When she got into the witness box, she had felt strangely elevated as she had been at the centre of a historical pageant illustrated in bright, bold colours. It wasn't every day she had successively told her side of her story to three very astute judges, engaged in a verbal dustup with John Deed's enemies, enjoyed a bitter-sweet intimate conversation with him and celebrated her triumph with those who were dear to her. The dreamy and blissful weekend with Helen had lasted an eternity and, here she was, back at work again. Everything ought to be spectacular after such a triumph but the normal washed out beige colours, impersonal office furniture and same old people greeted her. She felt temporarily diminished and washed out and just wanted to be allowed simply to slip into her space and bury herself behind the computer screen but of course, that wasn't to be her fate.

"You know, I'm sure I saw her on the television last Friday but then again, I can't be sure. I flicked over to Neighbours so I wasn't really looking."

"I know what it's like. You see someone when you're out shopping and think, hang on a minute, I've seen that person before."

"Don't know what you're on about. I was watching Eastenders."

This inane conversation rambled on for a few minutes, arousing Nikki's feelings of cold contempt straight away. She decided to cut to the chase and get it over with.

"You're talking about me, aren't you? Why don't you spit it out and ask me straight?"

The long pause betrayed the other women's slavery to custom of not wanting to get involved in an embarrassing confrontation. It wasn't even as if a voice prohibited them from acting but more as if each of them had a defective fuse that prevented them ever making that connection.

"So are you that woman who was on the news last Friday?" a voice finally asked her after a lot of hastily exchanged looks. This was only because the longer time went on, the absence of an answer to Nikki's blunt question kept them on the spot and got more painful by the minute.

"What do you mean?" asked Nikki blandly.

"You know, the woman who stabbed that policeman."

"And what if I was?" came Nikki's icy calm reply and raised eyebrows. Her cool demeanor froze out the neighbourhood gossips who were stuck for figuring out their next move. The only person who was close to this strange apparition was Tony and he was no earthly use in getting the gossip and dishing it. Why he should be a friend with a lesbian was anyone's guess but then again, he was standoffish and strange.

"Didn't you think to tell us about your past? I mean, we've treated you perfectly normally without us knowing that you had something to hide."

"Did I need to tell you anything that goes on outside these walls and if so why?" Nikki asked with raised eyebrows.

She smiled to herself afterwards, as she suspected that this facility to frame sharp questions to bat back awkward questions came from her acquaintance with the legal profession. It sounded something like Jo Mills might come out with.

"You never know. You might lose your temper."

Nikki sighed, and turned to face the row of suspicious eyes. She did her best to address them in reasonable tones.

"Just get this straight between us once and for all. I've come here to do a job and earn a living. I've been here for the past four or five months. I've been pretty cool, calm and collected and haven't trodden on anyone's toes. I've been the diplomatic one, both with customers and with the rest of you. Is there really any reason why this shouldn't continue? Does whatever the tabloids and the television come out with alter the way I behave? The judges told me that my record is as clean as theirs is. You have to take my word for that as, after all I was there."

Despite Nikki's calm words, she knew that feelings of rage were boiling up within herself and they etched her voice with jagged edges. She knew very well that it wasn't good for her to react that way however much she clearly intimidated all the neighbourhood sneaks all around her. Her capacity for anger really worried her after that dreadful day years ago which had put her behind bars. Intellectually she reasoned to herself that feeling anger wasn't a crime but only the violent expression of it could be. Emotionally, she wasn't so sure and she could only square that circle by controlling her tendency to speak first and think later. This was where Helen's presence had been so invaluable over time in showing her that there were other ways of handling a situation.

"That sounds fine by me, Nikki." A fresh voice hailed from the back of the assembled crowd. "I saw what you had to say and you were brilliant. You really told them straight."

A brilliant smile spread across Nikki's face and her eyes glowed brilliantly. Trust Tony to be a real friend and help her out. It immediately dissolved away those blocked feelings and made her feel at the top of the world.

"Thank you, Tony. This is the first intelligent remark today. It's great to hear it."

"So how did you swing it with the judges?" came the final grumpy question after a stony silence.

"How do you mean? Are you talking about bribery and corruption on my pittance of a wage, my pulling power with three middle aged male heterosexual judges or maybe, just maybe, they recognized the justice of my case. If the bastard who tried to rape my girlfriend hadn't been taken out, he would have stood in the dock, not me," Nikki retorted, her smooth tones rolling over the critics with incisive logic and an undertow of cutting sarcasm. At once, she felt better about herself in handling the situation and finally squashing these narrow minded morons.

"So what did happen?" came a question without an ounce of sympathy or understanding.

"That's for me to know and for you to work out. If you don't mind, I just want to get in here and back to my job. You managed to cope without me for just one day? Yeah?"

Nikki promptly clicked on her computer monitor and checked out the day's accumulation of e-mails. Handling something fairly mundane and easy enabled her to drop back into normal operating mode. She felt mentally closed off from her surroundings in the dead stillness of the office. It was only till break time that Nikki finally got to talk to Tony.

"Tony, can I have a private word with you," Nikki said in a low tone of voice. She had turned matters over in her mind and could see the writing on the wall. He nodded back at her and led the way out of the room.

"We'd better borrow the cleaner's room. We can't exactly go into the toilets and talk," Tony volunteered.

That made Nikki laugh out loud. The guy was as much of a friend to her than any of the women she had known through the clubs. They threaded their way to this very cramped room, which was stacked with bottles of cleaning fluids and mops and buckets. The room was a dump with a small table in it with only room to stand. However, Nikki drew a breath of relief.

"I get the idea that you're very close to walking out of your job, Nikki," Tony volunteered.

"How did you guess?" marvelled Nikki.

"It's obvious. You've been getting more and more uptight in the last few months and I could tell that you were in serious danger of losing it today."

"Are you sure you weren't a lesbian in an earlier life." Nikki asked, a smile curving her lips. "I mean, there are always possibilities in reincarnation."

"You mean, how did I come to spot something that's very obvious?" counter queried the man with a wry smile on his face at the back handed compliment.

"You really have the knack of figuring out how I'm feeling."

"It's obvious that you don't really fit in around here though you've tried your hardest."

"So are you stopping me from walking out on that lot?"

"Not till you've got somewhere else to go. I know little of your partner but by the look of the picture of her, she looks as if she has a strong personality. I'd guess she's not the sort of person who would let you give way to a mad impulse."

"You're right enough there," came Nikki's slightly awestruck reply at his sharp perception. This was a quality that she was used to only from women.

"Is this what being part of the straight world is about? If it weren't for Helen keeping regular nine to five hours, I would never have bothered."

"You're just unlucky to be among the more backward part of it."

"So why do you stick around here? How long have you worked here for?" Nikki asked with great intensity. She had never had the time to talk properly to the man. She needed some answers urgently to get some perspective in her life. She couldn't and wouldn't do anything until she could unlock this conundrum.

"I've been here since I left school, Nikki. I've never had any real ambition and I've been here far too long to think in risking my security to move elsewhere. I suppose I'm part of the furniture. I live at home so it's no great hardship."

"There's a big wide world out there, Tony. I was expelled from my boarding school due to 'lesbian activities.' I worked every bar and club you name till me and my partner got our own club together and everything was fine….till Gossard, that bastard policeman came around one night. Because I took him out to stop him raping my partner, I ended up doing three years in Larkhall. I would have been stuck there for life if it hadn't been for my first appeal."

"Still, I suppose you got free board, TV and meals….." Tony said casually. The warm, intimate temperature of the room suddenly changed and dropped to one of frozen anger.

"What I can't work out, Tony," Nikki spoke at last in a steely tone of voice as her face darkened," is how come an intelligent guy like you talks a load of shit like this."

There was an embarrassed silence. To Tony, Nikki was just another working woman who was highly capable so that he couldn't get his head round the idea that she had once been a prisoner. Prisons were a million miles away from his rather constrained family life, something that you read about on the news.

"I'm sorry, Nikki," he said at last." I've never met anyone who's been in prison before. I only know what I read in the papers. If you don't mind me saying, you don't look like the sort of person who's ever been in prison."

Nikki sighed patiently at the awkward yet honest answer of the man before her. She laid her hand awkwardly and briefly on the arm of his jacket.

I could write a whole book about what I went through in prison but, you take it from me, even as we speak, there's a man just like Gossard, who's got power over vulnerable prisoners and doesn't he just know it. You wouldn't believe half the stories I could tell, drugs, suicides, you name it, I've seen it. If Helen hadn't have pushed my appeal through the Home Office, I'd still be in prison till God known when."

Tony's eyes widened at the intensity of the mental picture that Nikki conjured up. He turned red in the face in embarrassment, which temporarily choked his capacity for words until human decency struggled to the surface amongst all his confusion and finally framed his thoughts.

"I'm sorry. I take that back. It was a stupid remark but what's important now is what you do with your life for the future."

Nikki gave him a quick forgiving smile as she calmed down and paused for reflection.

"I don't know, Tony. I know I'm not staying around here forever. Now I have a clean record, I'm going to look out for other jobs. I'll stick it out till I find somewhere better……." came Nikki's dreamy, abstracted reply as she was thinking aloud. Then her eyes focused in on Tony and she realized that she'd only partly achieved her initial quest before her attention had been diverted.

"……anyway, we were talking about you. How in hell have you stuck it out in this dump for all these years? I mean you don't get medals for bravery for staying here, you know."

"I just stay in the background and observe silently what goes on around…until you came here and I had this unaccountable desire to stick my oar in and interfere."

"You watch it, Tony. Just remember, I'm spoken for," warned Nikki in joking tones.

"Don't get me wrong, Nikki. One mistake is enough. You're just a good friend. I'll miss you when you're gone."

Nikki was touched by the man's loneliness. It seemed to be a common feature of London life. A city should supposedly bring all the lonely people together and all the social facilities for people of all kinds of persuasion to get together. Instead, there was something about the modern, revved up pace of city life, cars roaring their way to urgent destinations, single people with their 'own space' that drove people apart. Walking along the streets, you were as likely to come across someone with a different language and different culture.

"I'll still here for now, Tony. I've got to dig my escape tunnel yet. That won't necessarily be that easy."

"You'll make it, Nikki. I've got faith in you."

Nikki was touched by the generosity of spirit of the man. She didn't know what to do or say but realized that, if she were successful, she would leave him behind like other friends like Yvonne and the two Julies. She was about to say something when her worst enemy knocked officiously at the door. Both of them jumped and realized that they had an unwelcome visitor.

"I thought I'd find out where you two had sneaked off to. There's work that needs doing. You can't expect us to cover for you both."

"At least you know that the two of us hadn't been kissing and cuddling somewhere. It's against my principles, you know, out and proud lesbian found alone with a straight guy. Now, that would exercise your vivid imagination if you had one," replied Nikki impishly, grinning from ear to ear and the words jumping out of her mouth from nowhere. Tony laughed at Nikki's outright cheek and the way she set out to confuse the stupid woman. They felt like two naughty schoolchildren. He wished he could be more like her.

Nikki strolled lazily back along the corridor, on her way back to work while the other woman stomped on ahead. She felt somehow that she'd been in this movie before but she couldn't work out where.

Scene Six

As soon as Helen came to pick up Nikki out of work, her eyes sharply observed her partner's manner. All last weekend, they had simply luxuriated in the delicious feel in finally free. They hadn't realized it at the time but all the setbacks that Nikki had suffered had weighed on them both heavily and Helen had keenly felt it for her. Ever since Helen had had become as intimate with Nikki as prison regulations allowed, Helen had that strong image of Nikki as a free spirit, free to fly and soar, for her mind to be unfettered, both in her mind and in their relationship, for her to realize else above all else that there should be no restraints put on her, save for her own perceptions of what was right and moral. What obstacles had been between them was Helen's own inability to pass through that glass barrier so that she could live the way her own heart desired. Helen had bitten down the her growing perception over the last weeks that Nikki hadn't been so free that they had first thought since they started living together. Thanks to their contact with Claire and Jo, it became clear that the establishment had vengefully sought to clip Nikki's wings, that the job applications would be turned down and finally, that her passport application should be denied. That moment tore at Helen's heart as she came to realize that not all the bolts and bars belong to prisons.

Despite all their luxuriating in their triumph, Helen knew that Nikki had to return to the same old job and that some of those she worked with would inevitably share the views of the hostile reporters and the dreadful tabloid headlines, which embodied those unthinking reactionary attitudes, which she had loathed with all her heart and her passions. To her intense relief, Nikki trotted out the door and her manner was resolutely normal.

"So how did your first day go, sweetheart?" Helen said with deliberate sense of warm positivity. She kissed and hugged her briefly and as her lips rested against Nikki's ear, she spotted the studiously blank looks of disapproval from the obvious narrow-minded critics. By contrast, a fresh faced man with that ageless look about him grinned and waved at them both.

"Pretty weird but there's nothing I can't deal with," Nikki said shortly. "Come on, let's head for home."

"Isn't that your friend, Tony?" Helen observed as she put the car into second gear and Nikki waved at the man who was headed for the nearest underground station.

"That's him and he's been fantastic." Nikki said warmly as a smile spread across her face." If it hadn't been for him, I might have seriously walked after taking a lot of shit from the obvious culprits."

Helen's senses jangled at the deliberately flat, deadpan tone of voice with which Nikki spoke with just that flicker of a forced laugh. She knew that Nikki was deliberately understating the situation. She wanted to squeeze her hand in sympathy but that wasn't compatible with tricky gear changes and steering in London rush hour traffic.

"……It's just as well I wasn't born in mediaeval times, Helen. I'm sure I'd have been burnt long ago as a witch with plenty of their kind to build the bonfire and set it alight……."

"In what way, being a lesbian, an outspoken trouble maker, a free thinker or just simply existing?"

Nikki's laugh became more real. Helen had put her finger on her nature with sure precision.

"Good question, Helen. I guess all of them in no particular order."

"In a way, it's a backhanded compliment for them to think that way of you. Just think if Fenner had ever thought that I was soft and easy going, I would have known for certain that I was seriously going wrong ….."

Helen instantly noticed a flicker of doubt in Nikki's eyes. She realized that she was sounding glib and superficial, as if the situation could be so neatly packaged up and everything would be fine. She hastened to leap onwards and reach Nikki's need for emotional healing.

"……… That's not all of it. I know only too well that it doesn't make it any easier in dealing with the pain of it all. What it does do is to make it a little bit easier to stop them getting to you. You know I've been there….."

"You're the only one I know who has the right to tell me that."

"So come on, let's think positive. For a start, what's this Tony like?"

"He's a good guy. It's strange that he's shy and diffident or at least thinks of himself that way but he's been inside there to seriously think of getting out. He's a little like Dominic, except that it takes him a lot to get roused."

Nikki's observation temporarily petered out as she could see how engrossed Helen was with her driving. The smaller woman knew very well that Nikki couldn't wait to unburden herself until they got home. The most important thing was that her lover's state of mind was on the level. Helen smiled reassuringly and patted her shapely fingers and propelled their way homewards.

Once inside, Nikki reached out for Helen and slid her arms round Helen's waist. The smaller woman could feel the neediness emanating towards her and their mouths sought each other's out eagerly and passionately. Their coats were cast carelessly on the ground at their feet. The feel of each other's hands running along each other's backs was both reassuring and seeking comfort as they pressed against each other. They planted little kisses on each other's skin and breathed in each other's perfumes.

"I know you don't want to go to bed with me, at least not yet," Helen volunteered with perfect confidence.

"I want to lie down with you and talk. As for the rest, darling, I can be easily persuaded," came Nikki's reply, neatly mixing the serious and the seductive.

They moved straight towards their bedroom where they lay down and faced each other. Nikki's head lay between Helen's breasts and she delicately rested her hands along the smaller woman's flank while being gently caressed. Even though they were both fully dressed, they felt as intimate as if nothing separated themselves from each other than their skins. Helen forbore from saying anything and waited for Nikki to gather her thoughts. It was the way things had always felt between them now that they shared a history together.

"Darling, it will be no surprise that I want to change my job."

"I expected that. You've been incredibly strong to stick them out as long as you have done together with the trial."

"I don't want those buggers to drive me out of my job. I'll go when I choose it. I'm going to get back to filling in application forms and take whatever rejections I get. No matter how long it takes, mentally, I'm out of there now. What keeps me hanging in there is the paycheck and Tony's friendship."

"If I didn't know you better, Nikki, I might be starting to get jealous."

That quirky remark made the taller woman laugh out loud. God knows, she could do with some lighthearted humour in her life. They had been compelled to be oh so very serious, determined and very focussed over the past months. She knew beyond doubt that it was necessary, as important as everything she had strived for in her life, whether it was the club she had helped set up or her university degree. Now she came to think of it, everything they had done to make progress in their lives since she had got her freedom had been deliberate and purposeful, even down to initiating Helen into the realities of living with another woman. She might have thought in what way was blissfully enjoying nights of sexual experiences with this passionate woman was in any way like work but it was purposeful but it was something to strive for. She suddenly realized that, at some point in time, Helen had truly arrived at what her heart had told her she had wanted to be and her bridges were gloriously and thankfully burnt.

"Helen, I really thought that I'd experienced everything life had thrown at me but this takes the biscuit. You know darling, I have ways of showing what my sexuality is like," Nikki replied with a smooth, silky insinuation in her tone of voice that started to describe very pleasurable pictures in the other woman's imagination.

"And what might they be, babes?" Helen breathed back in her best sultry tones, while her fingers deliberately started to unbutton Nikki's shirt and caress her bare skin.

"You definitely have the almighty cheek in casting aspersions on my sexuality. I am a one hundred per cent lover of women and you in particular, Ms Stewart. You will find out the truth from me."

It wasn't so much her words but the way Nikki moved around on top of Helen and slid her out of her businesslike suit jacket and started to unbutton Helen's shirt. Helen's nipples stiffened and her own desires swelled up inside her but her conscientious nature made one last stab for responsibility.

"Nikki, much though I love to be ravished by you, we were going to talk about your future."

"Later, babes," Nikki replied sexily." You know how it is, pleasure first and plenty of it, mine and yours, and business later. We will do both. Trust me."

'Oh yes. I want the truth, lots of it," sighed Helen, eagerly surrendering, as her clothes suddenly seemed far too constricting. Nikki stared down lustfully at her partner, her skirt having slid up, exposing the glorious sight of her right thigh and her white lacy bra in clear view inadequately concealing her shapely breasts. Desires surged up inside her as Helen slid her own shirt off her back and a flurry of the rest of their clothes was soon scattered around on the floor. Nikki looked down open mouthed at the perfection of smaller woman's shapely curves and the invitation on her lips and eyes and she moved her down to taste all of the perfumes that Helen needily offered her. Everything was simple and complete in Nikki's mind. This was what mouths and lips and fingers were made for and Helen proved herself as adept as any female lover she had ever known in triumphantly bringing her to orgasm.

"You once promised me a good time when you got out or was it me?" Helen dreamily mumbled against Nikki's nipple. The taste of Nikki's juices in her mouth reminded her of the soft feel of Nikki's body locked against her and the rhythms of her ecstasy pulsing through her and the abandoned verbal expression of her desires.

"You mean you promised me nights of sexual delights. I thought you once said you weren't into women," laughed Nikki sleepily, still gently pushing against Helen, their limbs intertwined.

"Ah well, I didn't know what I really wanted then. I needed a little encouragement, babes," came the answer with false innocence, gently licking the bare skin on offer.

"That is the understatement of the century," laughed Nikki," but it does mean that I have the best lover I've ever had, not just the woman I'm most in love with. You understand the difference," Nikki urged, sliding her slim fingers gradually down Helen's stomach.

"More than I could ever say in words," came the slight gasp in her throat, as the husky voice continued," but perhaps you could remind me." Nikki could feel the lurch in Helen's stomach and the thrilling sensation of where those fingers were heading for. Nikki's mixed feelings of accomplishment, desire and love rose to a climax as her fingers slid in and pressed hard against the center of Helen's sexuality. It was at moments like these that Nikki was overjoyed at how much of an unashamed sensualist Helen had become, or maybe always was if she had but known it.

"It was all Tony's fault," sleepily murmured Helen much later.

"I'll forgive him and you."

"And now for business. You promised," came the more businesslike tones.

"Must we get dressed," moaned Nikki regretfully.

'Why should we? This isn't a business meeting. We just have to talk of the future. We can be as naked as we like, so as long as you don't try to seduce me. At least not yet." came the playful reply.

'Oh good." came the relieved reply.

"Well, come on, then."

Nikki felt replete and very much like a lover and less like a business planner. Nevertheless, her recently developed business head let her put her lusts on the back burner and she forced herself to concentrate, even lying next to Helen. This woman temporarily became her respected co planner, the owner of a sharp and astute mind. Background thoughts peeped out to remind her that this solid reliable support made her even more of a perfect lover.

"Yeah, well. I think I can stick in there at work. I laid it on the line who I was, how I should be treated and I think they got the idea that I won't take any shit and I'll do the job to the best of my ability. I think a mixture of force and firmness will do the trick. There are a lot of them but I can face them down. None of them have any bottle."

"What about behind my back?"

"I think I can fix it that I'll watch Tony's back and he'll look after mine. I think that will hold the situation."
"Does he know that you're moving on? He might feel differently if he's going to be left on his own."

"Who knows? People change the habits of a lifetime, just like you," grinned Nikki."I'm lucky. He's a good straight friend. He knows I'm not secretly dumping on him."

"So that's fixed then. Just what help do you want from me?"

"Hmmm," Nikki said thoughtfully before feeling her way in a slow and intuitive fashion before slowing down to her conclusion." I suppose I could do with your patience and any advice you can think of …….and most of all, honest advice. I don't know also if I need to brush up my interview technique. I've been doing the interviewing for years without all this human resources crap. At Chix, I was the 'human resource.' Everything there was a bit more rough and ready. It was my rules and Trisha's that counted. My only experience in the world I want to get into, or something like it, is this job and either it was a sheer fluke or they were desperate for anyone off the streets……. I think that's about it…apart from watching out for anything I miss. This is definitely an area of life that you are one up over me."

"I don't think there's anything you missed, Nikki."

Helen's warm comforting tones wrapped themselves round Nikki's senses. She felt better with every idea explored, everything out in the open. All the stiffness in her bones was eased away and she stretched herself luxuriously against Helen.

"I'll get onto the passport application and we'll see Jo Mills about the covering letter. We'll bust that one wide open especially from what John Deed told me. After we get that, darling, we ought to seriously think about a holiday together," Nikki pronounced in definite businesslike tones.

"Oh yes," breathed Helen," there are other beds that we can christen with our presence."

"Now where did you ever get such a one track mind from?" Nikki questioned softly, a smile of satisfaction spreading across her face and her own desires suddenly breaking through to the surface.

"Well, if you lie back, sweetheart, then just let me show you," came that sultry Scottish brogue that promised such delights as did those slim fingers which expertly stroked her neck and shoulders. Nikki was bedazzled by that glorious full-breasted figure with soft lips, straight determined nose and large eyes who hovered over her and promised her such certainty of a lifetime of delight.

"Then you can convince me…all night long," whispered Nikki as she lay back and waited for her lover to take her into her possession.

Scene Seven

"Do you mean, you really want me to move in ….and live with you," Sally stammered, hardly being able to believe her ears. The next second, her imagination was ignited and a picture of seventh heaven irradiated her senses. This was such a contrast with months of living alone, her nerves in shreds, no job and no love. She was coming home. Out of nowhere, comes rescue for the damsel in distress at the hands of this dashing white knight. As the prison gate opened and freedom beckoned, confusion suddenly set it. Was she really worthy of this paradise?

"……….I mean, I've never lived with a woman before."

"There's always a first time for everything, babes." Trisha said with unsettling confidence as she laid her hands on Sally's shoulders. "Sometimes, you'll never know something until you try it. I mean, did you anticipate a month back that you would be sleeping with another woman and that, as lovers go, you are really special?"

"You're really being ever so kind to me but I'm not so sure. I mean I haven't known you that long, Trisha ……."

"This is the start of the new millennium, babes," Trisha urged, not for the first time to past lovers over the last couple of years, " I mean, this isn't the land of Jane Austin, of eligible spinsters, chaperones, two year long engagements, betrothals, etc etc. It's really so much simpler these days between women. There are two simple questions, babes. Question one, do I want to share our lives together full time; question two, do you want to share our lives together full time. From my experience and my feelings tell me, my answer is yes. So perhaps you tell me what you feel?"

Trisha's manner mixed the seductive and the dominating in one confusing mixture and Sally felt contradictory urges of intense desire and frameless fear. She wanted to be held forever in Trisha's arms and was scared at what she was letting herself in for. She feared that this would change her life forever and there was no going back but she couldn't say for the life of her what made 'going back' something she might want. Her head was whirling.

"What I don't get is your reaction, Sally. I'm not sure if you're simply being modest in underestimating your obvious charms, that you're inhibited or are you simply getting cold feet?"

A more sympathetic tone underlay Trisha's words as she uttered these words. Her desires had run away with her and she realized that she ought to be more patient. As a mid thirties lesbian who had been 'out' since her schooldays and had long since left home to live in the big city, her lovers since Nikki had been woman equally as experienced as her. Not everyone was like that as she was belatedly discovering. Sally Anne remained silent.

"What I don't understand is how come you had the courage to take the stand at Nikki's first appeal and face up to that evil barrister and yet you find this so frightening. I saw you face up to a real ordeal with no trouble yet a life of pleasure is a problem to you."

Sally blushed and nodded dumbly several times. She was totally unable to put the kaleidoscope of feelings into words. In reality, it suited her if somehow the choice was taken away from her, and she arrived in the situation of living with Trisha without a conscious effort of hers. Once she was there, perhaps her fears would go away which is what part of her really wanted. The blond haired woman frowned briefly at Trisha's apparent lack of enthusiasm for the idea. Nikki's enthusiastic and decisive reaction in similar circumstances all those years ago floated back into her memory. She sighed wearily, feeling that this wasn't what she had expected when she had proposed to her. A peevish instinct at the back of her mind was beginning to feel that she was carrying this relationship like a ball and chain but warmer and more charitable thought challenged this perception. She reasoned to herself that Sally Anne certainly wasn't Nikki and that when her dark haired partner had moved in, she'd feel more confident and relaxed. She thought that she should give her time and make allowances.

Once the decision was made, Trisha was impressed by the energy with which Sally Anne

prepared for the move. When she came round on Sunday morning, lots of cardboard boxes and wooden crates filled up the front room and the furniture that was hers was placed ready to be moved. Sally Anne looked slightly red faced and out of breath and dressed in her most practical outfit of loose fitting jeans, trainers and casual top, far away from her normal outfit of smart suits. She smiled bashfully as Trisha knocked quietly at the door to her flat and put her head round the corner.

"Everything's under control, Trisha or I think it is. I'm sorry at the state of me."

"No pressure, babes. You're hardly like to get packed in high heels and a tight dress. I've dressed down a bit to help you move."

Sally Anne couldn't help thinking that, even while Trisha was wearing casual clothes, she still looked stylish. The dark haired woman just felt flustered and out of breath. She looked around uneasily, her fairly logical plans having flown out the window.

"You tell me what wants moving first and I'll help carry it," Trisha said gently.

"Ah, yes. The big packing cases first. I'll warn you. They're heavy."

Trisha gritted her teeth as the full weight of her side pressed heavily on her hands. Sally Anne was clearly stronger than she looked. Nevertheless, Trisha gamely staggered along to the van while the dark haired woman expertly slid the case into a recess of the van, making the best use of the spare space. The rest of the morning carried on this way and, now Sally Anne was active and doing something, she became positively single minded. It's that training in the police force that must be responsible, concluded Trisha, starting to feel unpleasantly sweaty and her hands rough. Sally Anne looked happy and content as she gradually filled up every bit of spare space and as her former flat was left bare and empty.

"No regrets, babes?" Trisha asked softly.

"Not now the show is on the road. I find it hard to deal with changes in my life and it was just all an upheaval. I just want to leave my past behind. I have too many unhappy memories of this flat. I want to move onwards and upwards."

Trisha felt the smile on her facial muscles, which she knew was emotionally real. It was that it was masked by the tiredness in her bones, muscles and her hands. Whatever regular exercise she took at the gym somehow missed these muscles, which had just been worked to death.

"Are you ready to go, Trisha? I've got to check the flat, shut up behind me and post the keys through the letter box."

"Were you a girl guide when you were a kid?" Trisha asked in weary tones, a stray untidy strand of hair flicking irritatingly in front of her eyes. Only such a background and a spell on outward-bound course would explain Sally Anne's unexpected aptitude.

"Of course, Trisha. Becoming a policewoman was logical for me what with everything else I'd done."

"….including working as a steeplejack, babes."

"Not quite that far," laughed Sally-Anne.

Everything was ready and presently, Trisha sat behind the wheel, ready for the off. She wasn't looking backwards at the flat but was full of unnatural energy. She put the van into gear, manoeuvring with confidence the big white square sided slab of a vehicle drove it capably enough that bright Sunday afternoon. Trisha knew that she would be enthusiastically organizing where everything went when they got there but charitably considered that such confidence was precisely what she had been urging the dark haired woman to have in the first place to move in with her. She had only got what she had asked for.

When they arrived at Trisha's spacious flat, Sally Anne was surprisingly resourceful in squeezing her belongings into every unregarded, obscure recess that Trisha had walked past every day. It was only when the dark-haired woman walked up to Trisha's dressing table that she blushed slightly. This intimate representation of a shared relationship wasn't some children's 'make belief' game of 'let's play houses'. This was for real.

"So here we are at last," Trisha said brightly, spreading her hands. She summoned up the warmest, most reassuring smile she could manage to reassure those flickering eyes.

The dark haired woman swayed on her feet and suddenly rushed into Trisha's soft, welcoming arms. The gentle touch of her fingers running through her hair and the subtle perfume emanating from her reminded her that this was what she really wanted. After all, she thought, as both women shed their clothes like leaves, this part of living together was what she had been getting used to ever since the night of Nikki Wade's reappeal. It was just the case of becoming as neatly settled in as the furniture was.

Sally had remembered with fond nostalgia, the first previous occasion when they had first danced and kissed on the dance floor at Chix and at that time, the club was a romantic backdrop in which other couples silently performed the communal siren dance. Everything had melted into a dim background in which only Helen and Nikki stood out as their friends, beckoning them onwards. The first night Sally Anne came down to the club to help out Trisha showed a completely different slant on things. It was now that she saw Trisha interact with a number of women in a way that showed a familiarity of a shared background. Her manner could even have been taken to be flirtatious in an enigmatic kind of way depending on your point of view. The problem was that Sally simply didn't know what her point of view should be and what was reality. It was all very confusing to her. Trisha introduced her to a bewilderingly large number of women, all very confident of themselves and possessing that sheen of attraction. They glided in and out of their appointed spaces and Sally felt flat footed and gauche. The only woman who stood out in her mind was Trisha's assistant, Gill, who had some indefinable quality that troubled Sally in a way that she couldn't put her finger on. She tried to do her best to socialize but she didn't feel normal even if the other women did. It made her wonder just what Trisha saw in Sally in comparison with how more desirable these women were in comparison with her.

Scene Eight

Give my love to Jo, babes," Helen called out cheerily as she was ready to head out the door after a quick hug and kiss on her cheek. "Gotta go."

"That's what you always used to say when we were both at Larkhall," said Nikki jokingly.

"Aah, but you didn't have me to sleep with you at nighttimes and keep you satisfied, sexually, emotionally and any other way I can think of. I didn't talk this way either, did I?" retorted Helen, a big grin on her face, her eyes glowing, and her hair floating in the wind.

"Ah, but you felt it, darling. I could feel the vibes coming off you even before you knew what they were," came Nikki's gently teasing tones.

"Well, obviously so," came the answer with total aplomb as she moved forward to Nikki and gave her an extra special final kiss. That was her answer. With that, Helen moved towards the door and a back draught of wind and the closing door marked her exit.

Nikki chose the spare time to catch up with her reading in the snatched moments of solitude. She wouldn't have it any other way as she had once spent far too much time in her lonely cell with far too much time to think. At that time, her books were friends that she could rely on. After a while, she smiled with satisfaction as she gently laid the paperback book of poems down and closely examined the opened letter on the mantelpiece, which contained her shiny new purple passport. It had recently slipped through the letterbox, accompanied by the usual government advice leaflets but without the fanfare of trumpets, which could have been her due. As far as she could recall from previous years, nothing was in any way different from the last time she had been granted a passport and from the looks of it, she appeared to be just another customer. The small portraiture inside the passport managed to capture her cool confrontation of the outside world. This time around, she knew that Jo Mills' covering letter would have speedily directed her application through the system and the ordinary minor functionary, someone doing the same level job as she did, would process the application. As far as that functionary was concerned, her record was clean white, immaculate. She opened the first page and the declaration of her right to cross boundaries and territories caught her eye. Even in the age of mass production, the calligraphy still managed to stand out to her eye in its stylishness.

Her Britannic Majesty's Secretary of State requests and requires …. to allow the bearer to pass freely without let or hindrance and to afford the bearer such assistance and protection as may be necessary……..

These rolling phrases from a bygone era still managed to convey some sense of poetry as opposed to the modern drabness of bureaucratic language. Despite being a modern woman, this pointed to just why Nikki had read so readily the dusty, forgotten Victorian novels in the Larkhall Prison library. The phrase 'passing freely without let or hindrance' reverberated powerfully through her imagination. Wasn't her life at Larkhall a sustained struggle against arbitrary and unfair hindrance? Even when she had won her freedom, she had still been bound by invisible restraints that limited her to the second rate job she had endured stoically. That would now change, she vowed as a letter for a job interview with the Howard League for Penal Reform had landed on the doormat.

It was not in Nikki's nature to casually accept help kindly made help without acknowledgement. This occasion gave her a reason to look up that kind-hearted wielder of justice, Jo Mills and thank her personally. A mere letter wouldn't do, as it wouldn't convey the depth of gratitude that she felt towards her now that her life was opening up.

Nikki strolled slowly down the street, heading in the direction of the nearest bus stop. She raised her coat collar high on this overcast and drizzling spring day. Despite the yards of headlines expended at the time of her trials, she had sunk back to being an average middle thirties woman making her way round London. She made her way to the top flight of the bus and was content to look downwards at the streets and at people passing by through the smeared, steamed up windows. It crossed the back of her mind that her preference for the elevated perspective contrasted appealingly to looking upwards at the rectangle of sky outside her prison cell. The thought blew past her like an idle breath of wind that left her in peace. At the appointed place, she clattered down the metal staircase and off onto the hard pavements of upmarket, professional London. The neat, unobtrusive office down a side street guided Nikki's feet to the friendly receptionist who recognized who she was.

"Just give her a couple of minutes and she'll be ready for you," she announced, replacing the phone and gesturing to the thoughtfully comfortable chair into which Nikki gratefully sank. In a few minutes, she was courteously ushered into Jo's office and Nikki smiled affectionately at it. A large old fashioned polished oak desk was flanked by a book case, overloaded with law books and just about accommodated the files and an armchair for the client. As Nikki took her place, Jo moved the file she was working on and greeted her with a friendly smile. The look was all very unpretentious and functional and Nikki felt quite at home in it immediately. She recalled that when she had discussed her forthcoming trial in depth, it was at Claire's office.

"I'm sorry, Jo, if you are very busy……"

"It's no problem, Nikki," she interrupted her in her friendly way." I've been working too hard on my latest case and I need a break. I can't think of a better way than socialising with you unless there's a business reason as well."

"This is just a personal call. I just wanted to pass by and thank you for everything, for sorting out my passport and cleaning up my record. You've done so much for me."

'It goes with the territory," Jo said automatically in an unassuming tone of voice before

consciously rejigging her words to fit her feelings moiré closely. "At least with my territory. I think you know what I mean."

"It's as much a load off Helen's mind as mine. Everything that happens to one of us happens to the other and before we met you, we were getting stressed out."

"You and Helen must be very close."

"We are," answered Nikki, a faraway look in her eyes." We've been through so much together. It's a million miles away from being attracted to a woman on a dance floor and inviting her to my place for a cup of coffee."

Nikki's wholehearted words moved Jo immensely without triggering jealousy in the slightest way. The way that Nikki described same sex courtship had a curious sense of foreignness, as if she were studying a culture just that bit removed from her own. Nikki was clearly lucky in her experience of love. By contrast, the only love of Jo's life wasn't her late husband but John Deed but too many barriers stood in the way of being reunited back to where they were, many years ago. Those boundaries helped her feel curiously safe. It was clear that, by contrast, Nikki craved physical and emotional closeness. Nevertheless, they felt like sisters under the skin.

"Where are you and Helen thinking of going on holiday?"

"Do you know, I really don't know," answered Nikki with a slightly comic puzzled expression on her face." I've always wanted to go to San Francisco but Helen fancies Paris in the spring. She is of course a total romantic," she added with deep affection.

"Well, I hope the US Government don't get called upon to act as long stop in blocking your visa application, the British government having failed as wicket keeper," joked Jo but Nikki did not smile at that remark.

"We've time to work that out and in the meantime, I've got an interview with the Howard League for Penal Reform this afternoon. Of course, it's only an interview but hopefully a way out of my present job."

"That's excellent news, Nikki." Jo beamed at her in genuine pleasure at her in a way that warmed Nikki's responsiveness to honesty." I'm absolutely sure you'll be uniquely qualified for the job."

"I've got to get through that door. Just one more barrier to break through," came Nikki's slightly bleak observation.

"And you'll make it. Haven't you been doing that all your life, Nikki? I can tell a fellow warrior a mile away."

"You mean sometimes you get scared too, Jo? I can't believe it." Nikki said, comically misunderstanding Jo's meaning and revealing her nervousness. Jo laughed freely and kindly at Nikki's misunderstanding as it revealed a very human slightly fallible side of her.

"You got me wrong. I mean a fighter like you and Helen and John."

"How's John doing these days?" came her animated reply after enlightenment dawned." I keep reading the papers, expecting to see him on the front pages."

"Hardly that, Nikki. He has been known to do interviews with the Times when he has been fighting a particular battle with the establishment and has to go public. There are rumblings afoot that the government is intending to severely restrict the powers of judges. There have been press leaks of this, which of course are always officially denied. You know the score of what that means. John is quite obviously Public Enemy Number One but what has puzzled the government is what to make of Monty and Joseph, the other two judges. These are dangerous times."

Nikki opened her mouth wide. She clearly remembered the almighty row that she and John had fought with that female barrister and those two civil servants. The row was quite as spectacular as anything she'd seen at Larkhall, only in educated language.

"Well, I wish I could do more than cheer from the sidelines. Of course, if he ever wants some backup in an argument, I don't mind helping him out."

"I'm quite sure he would appreciate that. He has often spoken of you with fond respect and he sees you as a particularly kind hearted woman."

"I'm flattered," answered Nikki politely.

"You are in a unique position where John is concerned. Normally, he is incapable of being attracted to a woman without wanting to sleep with them. His gift of charm for the opposite sex is a mixed blessing for him and for those around him with the scrapes he gets into. In your case, he knows that there is not the slightest possibility of that happening for obvious reasons. The result is that he can safely admire and respect you. He has his problems in sustaining long-term relationships with women but I tell you that he has no problems with platonic friendships. Right now, he is under pressure and he needs all the help he can get."

"You're in love with him, Jo."

"More fool me," Jo answered Nikki's soft words, shakily." He was my pupil master at law school and I owe him his high-minded ideals and everything I've come to believe in. He is also a womanizer and that put paid to our relationship years ago. I could never be safe being too close to him whereas you will never have that problem."

"John is for real and he has the courage of his convictions and for that reason, I admire the guy. The problem is that his circle of work is in the legal system and mine isn't. We only entered the same world when I needed justice and we're bound to go our separate ways. I did once tell him that if he ever wanted to call in on Helen and I, he'd be welcome."

"John won't forget that so don't you be so sure of what the future holds," answered Jo with all the certainty of the world. Her blue eyes were almost luminous as she was more of a soothsayer than anything else, or so Nikki intuitively felt.

"As a highly practical and successful barrister, I still believe that those whose lives are bound up with each other will end bound up, even in this world which scatters people to the four corners of the world. Relationships can come and go but friendships will endure. You will, of course, include me amongst your friends, Nikki?"

Nikki nodded eagerly, her emotions of joy rising to the surface. She felt incredibly centred and realized that she needed reminding from time to time of fundamental wisdoms of the world. It was as if she had been transported out of time, out of her everyday cares. All she was doing was taking the morning off work to repay a kindness and then going on to her interview. Instead, she had received a curious sense of spiritual enlightenment.

Scene Nine

The rap on Jo Mills's front door seemed familiar to her and, as she opened the door, a wind swept Mark appeared with a rucksack on his back.

"This is a surprise, Mark." Jo observed to her younger son. "But you're very welcome."

"Sorry, mum. I meant to phone but, hey, I'm a carefree student and what with one thing or another, it slipped my mind."

Jo grinned and shut the door behind him as Mark walked ahead to the living room. Domestic moments like these were a welcome antidote to the day after day hard slog of her job. Today was one of those rare days where she had felt inspired after her interesting conversation with Nikki and now she was scheduled for a pleasant evening with her son.

"I haven't called at a bad time, mum," Mark said politely, a welcome move forward from brattish adolescence.

"No problems, Mark. I'm on my own and between trials so your company is welcome unless you've got friends to go out and see."

"I fancy staying in tonight, mum." Mark announced. This meant home cooking as well, Jo deduced, but it enabled her to catch up with who he was and spend some quality time with him.

Half an hour later, she was stretched out on the settee with a cup of tea at her side when Mark started rooting through some of her DVD's for something to watch when he came across one that sparked his interest.

"Hey, cool, you've got the 'Old Grey Whistle Test' DVD, mum." He exclaimed excitedly.

"I know because you bought it for me last Christmas." Jo replied dryly. She had dutifully played the first few tracks when she had bought it but had lost interest as the music seemed very flat. Mark had bought it as he had vaguely thought that this was music that she might like but he had been off the mark by a mile.

"Did I? Let's listen to it, anyway" Mark urged in a friendly fashion after an initial vagueness at the lack of memory recall.

Sighing patiently, Jo gave up as Mark commandeered the remote control and flipped the buttons. As the options appeared on the screen and mark made an utterly random choice and throbbing bass sounds set to a choppy drum rhythm. A very mannered lead singer playing twelve-string guitar declaimed the following lyrics in a very idiosyncratic fashion and three other musicians slid into view.

"I can't seem to face up to the facts
I'm tense and nervous and I
Can't relax
I can't sleep 'cause my bed's on fire
Don't touch me I'm a real live wire

Psycho Killer
Qu'est Que C'est
Fa fa fa fa fa fa fa fa fa far better
Run run run run run run run away…."

Mark's eyes opened wide as a figure came into view well to the back of the stage. A slim woman came into view with neatly cropped blond hair and a serious expression on her face. She held the neck of her bass guitar high and worked intently, pumping out those prominent baselines, which drove the song along.

"Hey mum, that's you on stage. Look there." Mark exclaimed with astonishment.

"Don't be ridiculous, Mark."

"Seriously, mum. You take a look."

And there before her eyes, a younger version of herself appeared before her eyes and really seemed to perform the way she might have done. It wasn't her on stage, of course. She had never played in a group, much less in a TV recording studio. It wasn't her………but it might have been, she reflected as a host of long buried memories started to break loose from where they had been firmly interred for years.

"Are you sure you haven't got some hidden secrets, mum? After all, you were in the sixties or something like it. You couldn't remember it, hey, but you might try." Mark argued with a line of paradoxical reasoning, which came out of nowhere. He clicked the pause button on the DVD remote control and by coincidence froze in mid motion, the figure of the woman whose eyes looked straight into Jo's.

"That was before my time, Mark. I hate to disappoint you but my schooldays were boringly normal and I was considered an unremitting swot, always buried in my books."Jo retorted with a mixture of defiance and amusement, looking away from the TV screen.

"You can't have worked all the time. Weren't you in your school orchestra?" Mark asked, the curiosity in the tone of his voice tailing off into a tinge of regret that he had missed

"Yes, I was," Jo pronounced proudly at the memory. "I used to be shy and retiring when I was younger. I never pushed myself forward, except in class. I ended up in the school orchestra because my music teacher pushed me. I suppose she saw something in me…"

"Go on." Mark said with growing interest. Tonight was very unusual for both of them as Mark, like Tom before him, had drifted away as adolescence took him away to his own interests and circle of friends and university merely completed the process. In a curious fashion, Jo had come round full circle in discovering herself, much as life had opened up her choices as she entered her late teens.

"I had always worked hard at my studies and that gave me some confidence." Jo repeated before continuing in a more reflective tone of voice." I was expected to do well by my parents. My parents didn't really talk too much but I grew up with the expectation that I would always do the right thing in life, to succeed in life but on the right terms. It was in the social scene where I had problems and uncertainties."

Mark blinked at the complexities of the seesawing emotions that he read on his mother's face.

"So playing in the school orchestra was doing something that was the right thing….." began Mark.

"Not exactly," came Jo's hasty reply." It's the creativity, the expressiveness of it all, the feeling of belonging with others to something greater than yourself. It's one thing to sit back and appreciate music, to analyse it, to separate the interplay between various instruments. It's quite another thing to be part of it. Mind you, it takes years of dedication, and constant practice. It's hard work to begin with but I got to really enjoy it."

Jo spoke in a much more animated fashion than her normally more constrained fashion allowed to. Her eyes were aglow with passion and enthusiasm.

"Why did you end up with the cello? Was it your choice?" Mark pursued quietly.

"That's a good question." Jo reflected at length." I think I did get to choose it. I liked the idea of those low, sonorous bass notes. I wasn't show off enough to choose the violin like John plays. I could stay in the background and still be important."

"Like the bass guitar in a rock band. They can just stand back looking cool. You could have been Tina Weymouth." Mark added.

"Who's Tina Weymouth?" Jo asked blankly.

Mark turned to the TV screen which was black except for the DVD logo which was describing a series of diagonal manoeuvres and bouncing off the rectangle it was imprisoned within. He clicked the button and, sure enough the woman looked exactly like her.

"Over there, mum."

Jo nodded and she had to admit to herself that she could have been Tina Weymouth. She and this other woman were alternative projections of who she could have been.

"In your day, rock was cool, none of that boring dance music that every moron listens to. There was so much more individuality."

"Not everyone was wearing bin liners and safety pins you know, Mark?" Jo said in amused tones." Some of us had to make a living."

"So were they, mum, and they had a ball while they were doing it. So what secret dreams and ambitions did you have when you were young? There must have been some, even you."

Mark's eyes were fixed on her intently to probe her depths and eventually it happened. The long buried memories started to give up their secrets, kept down for so long that Jo had forgotten all about them.

"I remember being in the sixth form. The very strict grammar school that I attended considered that by then, we could be safely entrusted with some privileges either on the time honoured basis that either that we were naturally entrusted to be prefects and monitors. Alternatively, there was some shrewd perception that if we were not offered reform, we might seek out revolution in all its forms of various intoxicating substances, indiscriminate sexual promiscuity or the sort of verbal outrage that nimble minded articulate teenage girls could invent. Because of this, our sixth form common room and teaching rooms were in a separate block away from the rest of the school."

"So you were a good girl while all the others rebelled."

"Strange though it may seem since I have joined in with John in battling the forces of the establishment, I was a good girl." Jo recalled to her own amusement and Mark's incredulity. Her mother's street credibility had gone down with a bump but after all, she was his mother.

"I have always made long lasting friendships ….or enemies with little crossover between the two. I have never gone in for indifference." Jo pursued, the line of thought being very uncertain before her manner became more animated.

"When I first started school, I immediately attached myself to my best friend, Mel. She was everything that I wasn't, lively , outgoing, lots of fun and full of mad ideas while I sort of trailed after her. She was even opposite in appearance, with short dark hair. I was serious and dedicated to my work while she was incredibly bright but had a devil may care attitude. She could get through her exams with an intensive bout of last minute cramming. God knows what she saw in me."

Jo paused and sipped at the half full cup of cold tea at her side and continued.

"She used to go out on Saturday nights and rehearse with her group in the local pub while I stayed in and did my homework. It was a real struggle as she was always asking me to come along and watch her perform. For ages, the nearest I ever got to that was going to her parents and looking at that gleaming cherry red Gibson electric guitar of hers and the amplifier that was her pride and joy. Of course, I pretended I wasn't interested but her stories and that guitar exerted a strange fascination of something utterly alien to me but tempting at the same time……………"

All the contradictory emotions were written all over Jo's face as the emotions were relived, not remembered and were all the more vivid for that. Mark said nothing but sat patiently. He was not sure if he should silently be there for her mother or exactly how much she was conscious of him.

"So finally, I was persuaded to go down to the pub to meet her. I told my parents that I was going round to Mel's to do our homework together and sleep over at her house. I remember that feeling of sneaking out in an entirely different direction. I took the bus to the pub which was a right dive and I slunk round the corner to the back room…I was very young at the time, or so I felt….."

Mark nodded. He could feel it.

"I walked into some kind of argument." Jo continued with a shaky laugh." There was Mel, all got up in leathers and a huge drum kit at the back and several large amplifiers and leads snaking everywhere. Mel was having an argument with the bass player."

'If you're going to be a stupid bitch, we don't need you. My best friend Jo is here and she'll play better than you can, any day.'

"'Who, me?' I remember asking her. I wasn't prepared for this. I thought I was just going to watch the others perform.

'There's four strings and, OK, so it's a different shape and it's amplified. Go on, have a go.' She said with an inviting grin as she pressed this shiny lump of plastic into my hands and this patterned strap round my neck. I remember this feeling of total confusion in me, that I didn't want to let Mel down but what I was doing was somehow wrong. I felt as if I had been dragged into an alien world. Right behind me, I could feel this thumping sound from the drum kit. The whole sound seemed to take me over and I could see this huge smile on Mel's face. I had really been there for her at last. Somehow, I found myself making these shapes on the fretboard, pressing down on the four very thick strings while Mel sang and made this amazing racket on her guitar. Somehow, I could make some sounds on the instrument that the others must have liked as we kept playing. We were off and away and I was transported to some place that I had never been before. It wasn't me who was doing what I was doing but it was me as well. I could forget my cares and leave them at home. I remember that night so well. It felt as if the night would never end and nothing existed outside that room."

Mark could see that rapt school girlish expression on his mother of all people. She was like some other person. It really was true that still waters run deep.

"We were tired out when we came to a finish. It was far later than I thought. I was shown how to take the gear apart and pack the gear into the back of the van. I piled into the back of the van with Mel while the van was driven away. She was so happy that night, I'll never forget the sight of her. We were dropped off at her house, which was totally dark. Mel let us upstairs to her bedroom where we settled down supposedly to sleep but we were too excited. I remember feeling that we had some secret that only the two of us in the world knew about. I finally dropped off to sleep lying next to her."

"I went back to school on Monday. Saturday night was as if I had been dreaming. I was back to responsibilities, my schoolwork, the school orchestra, everything that was pressing me to be back to the woman I had been. I didn't know who I was. I met Mel during the lunchtime break and she was starry eyed, telling me about the gig they had next week and how great it would be. I was in a total panic. I could see what was in front of me would pull me from the straight and narrow of what and who I was supposed to be. Now I look back at it, I felt it attract me, deep down but I couldn't admit it to myself far less to Mel. I stammered out some feeble words and I can remember that look of hurt and betrayal in her and she ran off somewhere else. I felt deeply ashamed as if I had let her down, betrayed her but I was helpless to do anything about it. I stood there and did nothing. I let her go out of my life. and we were never such good friends after that. In fact she avoided me as if I were somehow unclean. We left school and went our separate ways. I've never seen her since then."

"What did you do …………..?"Mark started to say. It wasn't impossible that Jo's schoolfriend had been secretly in love with her mother and perhaps it was striving to be returned, despite herself but he remained silent. Now was not the time to say it.

"I went to the off licence, bought a half bottle of whisky and got drunk on my own for the first time in my life." Jo replied, in a cold bitter tone of voice." It was something I needed to do to forget everything. The only way I could come out of that bad time in my life and somehow make amends was to vow to myself that I would make no more compromises and betrayals. I went into law, met my husband and John and was faithful to myself in my own way. I haven't done so badly, have I, Mark?"

The pleading look in Jo's teary eyes melted Mark.

"I'm sorry I pushed you about the DVD. It really isn't worth all the trouble that I've caused." Mark said apologetically.

"You're wrong there, Mark. It was worth doing. It needed to come out and many times better than trying to bury it." Jo answered firmly and decisively, trying not to look at the drinks cabinet. Now she thought about it, her conversation with Nikki earlier on drifted unaccountably into her mind. It was strange how memories, long dormant, could be unaccountably unlocked by random events. "You play the rest of the DVD. I want to watch myself on the TV screen. I have to agree that I might have been her if I had let myself."

For the first time for what seemed ages, the tension flowed out of her body and she could look at the images without fear anymore. She couldn't have been a rock chick but she could have been Tina Weymouth. She knew that for sure now but it was all too late. It wouldn't do her any good to have too many regrets about what she could have done differently in her life. She hadn't done that badly, she reasoned with an attempt at reassuring herself.

Scene Ten

Neil Haughton's mouth was set in a cold thin line. He had considered for some months that one of the greatest threats to the government's vision wasn't the obvious target of the trade unions, much though some of his fellow ministers pretended to cosy up to their leaders for old times sake. As a one time advertising man, he had been attracted to the party by its clean and ruthless image of efficiency so that he had no lingering sentimentalities. He had come to consider that the judges posed as great a threat as anyone. It was true that he had never warmed to them, viewing them as snobbish, pedantic and obstructionist. They could never see that their specialist skills should be more attuned to the government's vision but acted as if they were a policy-making unit of their own. Most of all, his enmity was directed at Deed who was gaining influence amongst the other judges. The man was a Bolshevik dressed up in judges robes and it was obvious to him that the man posed a threat, both personal and political. For a start, he got on better with George than was customary for an ex husband and for another, he seemed bent in seeking to bring down the government and himself personally. There was that unsettling mocking glint in his eyes every time they met while George's smile of greeting to him was too free and too open. He was uneasy lest his partner was too attracted to Deed because of his unredeemed badness. He knew enough of women to be worried that they had these illogical unaccountable impulses. Surely his hard working virtue and dedication ought to be recognized.

His disastrous address to the Annual General Meeting of the Police Federation had clinched his decision. The best that could be said was that the execution took place behind closed doors with no newshounds or TV crews on hand to record it. As he had feared, that wretched Wade appeal was brought up with some hard questioning about how she was allowed to just walk through the justice system and bamboozle three gullible judges while his barrister was about as effective in a fire as a chocolate fireguard. They forcibly represented to him that she shouldn't have been allowed to get let out of prison after murdering one of their own first time around. To add insult to injury, she was allowed a clean slate, which should not have happened. All the representatives reported that their members were up in arms about the decision and had expected better of him. What was the use of their members exposing themselves to danger, day in day out, while they were allowed to escape justice, left right and center? The worst part of the questioning that he entirely agreed with their sentiments and couldn't really say that in so many words in case word got out to his colleagues. He was put in the insufferable position of appearing weak kneed and ineffectual and that he was being blamed personally. This was the entirely opposite image he had wanted to put over when he first took on this job. For once in his life, he heartily wished he'd taken the quietly worded advice to drink a quick Scotch before he went up on the platform as his nerves were reduced to shreds.

"Had a good day, darling?" George greeted her partner, offering her cheek to be kissed with a false smile on her face.

"Today has been as dismal as addressing the Police Federation AG M. I was hauled over the coals for being soft on the judiciary and they are right. Therefore, I shall be introducing a bill to severely curtail the powers of the judges. A government think tank has been working on the problem for months and has come up with the answers. All that is needed is to reinforce and extend the current sentencing guidelines, to instruct judges on the proper interpretation of the Human Rights Act and make provisions for parliamentary overview of cases where there are 'public opinion sensitivities at stake.' After all, we pass new laws every day. Who better than parliament to take some control of the reins?"

George was aghast. Every instinct of warning jangled in her head. Neil was beaming fatuously as he hadn't got a care in the world. Her whole world was tilting dangerously on its axis and a tape kept rerunning through her mind of John's venomous denunciation of that 'power mad' politician which she had publicly scorned. Now, most alarming of all, it appeared that that infuriating ex husband of hers might be right all along. Unusually for, there was a time lag between thought and word. When she did speak, her words rushed out like a torrent.

"Are you absolutely mad, Neil? Just what in heaven do you think you'll achieve with this bill?" George stormed at Neil. He thought she would understand his position and sympathise with him. He couldn't have got it more wrong.

"The complete subjection of those judges to the government's vision. They are just a load of highly paid irresponsible trouble makers," he said testily.

"Do you really think that they will just roll over and accept the rule of that high and mighty Neil Haughton? They are tougher than that, I warn you," came George's steely reply. She was conscious that Daddy had come to loathe and despise the man and knew how tough he could be. After all, it was obvious to her just what genes had been passed on to her.

"They brought it on themselves," was Haughton's sanctimonious reply." I have been willing at any time to reach an accommodation with them if both sides are reasonable. That dratted Wade appeal was the final straw. I tell you that that judgment was a deliberate insult and an open challenge to the government's policy on being 'tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime.'

"I've met her, in case you didn't know,"George countered in ominous tones." I have to admit that the woman is intelligent and I am not altogether sure that she doesn't have something of a case now I come to think about it. I wouldn't underrate her."

"I didn't know you met her," Neil Haughton said furiously,"You should have told me. I didn't think that you were in the habit of meeting dangerous criminals when I as Home Office minister could have guaranteed you protection."

"I could handle the situation quite well enough on my own, darling." George sprung back with a form of address that rang hollow." As it happened, Neil, Ian, Lawrence James and I were having a first class row with John over the case. We didn't notice her until she stepped in."

"You mean she had the nerve to argue with two highly important officials in the LCD and you, my partner and such an inspiration to the legal profession.

George rolled her eyes in exasperation at the transparent falsity of the man. It was if she had been delivered a bouquet of plastic flowers. All her hidden reservations about the man started to flood out of her subconscious. The question started to hammer repeatedly at her mind, what on earth was she doing here with this stranger? Why had she never asked herself this question till now?

"I must admit to being secretly impressed with her." She retorted with a deliberate smirk on her face." She made a fool out of Ian though it's quite easy to make a fool out of the man. He really is so pompous and narrow minded."

"But she's a murderer"

"I think she was only trying to protect her partner. I can identify to some extent with that point of view as I do worry about Charlie being on the loose at Sussex University. As Nikki Wade told me, women need to be protected from animals like the man who tried to rape her partner."

George's casual reference to that notorious criminal shocked Neil Haughton and made his blood turn cold. His partner should not have socialized with her. They belonged to completely separate worlds and his sense of security was seriously threatened.

"So that means every woman who walks the streets has the right to take the law into his hands?"

"Her," corrected George automatically." I'm not saying that, Neil. Don't be idiotic. All I mean to say that, even in this marvelous wonderful super police state that you run, there are occasions where taking the law into your own hands is, well, understandable. I'm perfectly sure that is anyone was endangering Charlie's life then, if there wasn't any policeman nearby, I wouldn't hang back from doing something to protect Charlie."

"But this woman was only in danger of being raped or so the bleeding heart section of the media, such as it is, claims to be the case."

George's lips tightened at this instance of crass insensitivity. Unknown to him, he was pressing the right buttons with unerring skill that were calculated to drive her into the camp of the enemy. God, it was remarkable that even Daddy was persuaded to acquit the very personable Ms Wade. In her mind, she had unobtrusively dropped the word 'compel' to describe how Daddy had joined the ranks of the rebels. John's silver tongue might lure any number of attractive women into his bed but it could not possibly make her dogmatic, died in the wool conservative father become a born again "new age" trendy liberal law lord. Concluding that the logic of the situation had made her father appear lenient only meant that these were strange times indeed, something that this pathetic man was totally unaware of. Inadvertently, this man was insulting Daddy and immediately, the bit was between her teeth as she charged ahead without hindrance. She put her hands on her hips and her blue eyes flashed sparks at him.

"Neil, you are being unbelievably obtuse tonight. Do you really think that Daddy wouldn't have done as he did without good reason?"

"Your infernal ex husband can talk the hind leg off a donkey," snapped Neil Haughton coldly, his blue eyes glaring.

"Not to Daddy and Monty," George countered him firmly. "You really have to face the possibility that the judgment may have been legally correct."

Neil; Haughton couldn't believe what he was hearing. Things on the home front were getting as out of control as at work. Finally, he exploded in anger in an attempt to reassert control.

"I must be hearing things. I have been given to understand that the Wade case was rock solid. Monty and your father were supposed to hold the line on this one and keep Deed within bounds. So what happens but a complete and utter fiasco? Say what you like, someone is to blame. Just what am I supposed to say to the Prime Minister? This will do my standing no good at all. I'm part of a government that does not believe in antiquated ideas of 'playing the game' but in results. That's the only thing that matters in this world. If you get results, you get power and all the material things in life which both of us deserve if we work at it."

The scales fell from George's eyes. At last this petty, mean minded man revealed himself in his true colours. Despite his attempt at bravado, this man was scared for his own skin. Worse than that, he was utterly cold, even in an argument. Memories rushed back of John's display of anger, as eloquent as it was warm hearted and she felt queer feelings of affection for them.

"This is all about you. I'm just convenient decoration for your so-called glittering career, to show off at parties. That is all there will be between us, a business partnership."

"We make a good team," Neil Haughton replied with false heartiness." Everyone in government says that about us."

George's hand was steady as she reached for a cigarette and lit up. Her feelings were of cold contempt. She exhaled a cloud of smoke, which was intended to irritate him, and it did.

"Well, Neil, this is one partnership that I'm dissolving. It has outlasted its usefulness even if there was one. We have absolutely nothing in common. You are utterly soulless and everything that John ever said about you is the complete truth. I am leaving you tonight."

As Neil stood there agape, George felt curiously detached, as if she had proposed a business deal. The man stood flat footed, helpless without his army of lackeys that normally surrounded him. Left on his own, he was utterly ineffective in a crisis. There was none of the rage and the tears that had accompanied her separation from John all those years ago. It said something about her attitude to the two men.

"You can't walk out on me. I'm a cabinet minister," he said at last.

"Just watch me go, darling. In any case I'd have more fun with a church minister than you."

And with that parting shot, George swept past him and headed upstairs to pack her bags.

"Daddy, I'm back," peremptorily announced George to her very astounded father who stood with mouth agape." I've just left Neil. I've brought a suitcase of my possessions to last me overnight and a delivery firm will arrange the rest of it to go back where it came from."

Joseph Channing wore a half smile on his face as he balanced the joy of his beloved daughter leaving that weasel of a politician against memories of the mixed blessings of his intelligent and capricious daughter living at home. In metaphorical terms of meteorology, sunny periods and sudden showers alternated with swift succession. In recent years he had got to wish for a quiet life but that was becoming a wistful dream. His work life featured John's turbulence and now at home his daughter George would treat him to a dose of the same. As this mental kaleidoscope assaulted his senses, Joseph finally found his voice to make quite certain of the situation.

"When you say left Neil, my darling, do you mean left as in separated from?"

"Of course I mean separated. Isn't it what you've always wanted? You've never thought much of him."

"Of course, of course. But can you explain why you have stayed with him all this time? You went out of your way to get engaged to Haughton though this was the longest engagement on record."

George's smile in return was one of pure unashamed wickedness.

"I only did it to tease John mercilessly and make him incredibly jealous. The ploy succeeded brilliantly. It's good for him. Why ever else would you think I stayed with that pathetic man?"

"So why did you change your mind?" persisted Joseph.

"Well, you know, just because. Surely you know that the prerogative of a woman is to change her mind without reason or explanation."

At that point, George smiled again, turned on her elegant high heel and made her way to the staircase leading to her bedroom.

Scene Eleven

As part of their process to reshape their lives after the court hearing, Nikki and Helen started going to Trisha's club as a regular feature of their lives. On Saturday night, they got dressed up and took a taxi down to Chix, Helen in a close fitting dress that shaped all the best features of her curvaceous body and Nikki in loose fitting light coloured trousers and a smart top. They moved through the entrance and when they encountered the dim lights and shifting colours, the presence of the other women gave off the friendliest vibrations. At last their skins could breath properly and they looked good to themselves and each other. At present, it was early and the club wasn't that full and Trisha and Sally emerged out of the amorphous crowd scene and greeted them with smiles. In the background, bodies swayed and undulated to the soothing music.

"It's good to see you both. I'm glad you've not forgotten about us."

"After that night, Trisha, that isn't possible. We would have come earlier if we hadn't been so tired."

"Well, it's my club. I ought at least treat everyone to the first round of drinks," Trisha offered hospitably." Gill, can you do me a favour and serve my guests?"

The woman who stepped forward, Trisha's assistant stepped forward and the shifting light played indistinctly on her. This added to the quality about her, which didn't give off any particular feelings of warmth to Helen who was conscious of such matters. She was of average build and her blond hair was just below shoulder length and was parted to one side. Her eyes appeared shaded and guarded and her smile was automatic. Helen corrected herself, thinking herself uncharitable, that it took all sorts to make a world and she was encountering one specialized segment. Just how typical was Nikki of anything that walked under the sun for example? She took the order of Nikki's glass of wine, Helen's vodka and lemon and Trisha's gin and tonic and stopped and stared briefly at Sally Anne's awkward response.

"Mineral water if you please," she said bashfully." Alcohol doesn't suit me. It goes straight to my head."

"That's the point of it, Sally Anne," Helen said, gaiety in every line of her broad smile." So long as you have your beloved to help you get home and into bed, then you can safely let your hair down."

"Each one to their favourite drink, Helen," Nikki chipped in, her tone soft yet deliberately pitched over the music." That was my motto in my bar days. Let Sally have what she wants."

Sally shot the dark haired woman a grateful look while Gill stood, wooden faced and slid off into the darkness to pour the drinks. Nikki watched her contemplatively as she went. Old habits of appraising new staff came temporarily to the surface.

"She's OK, Nik. She takes a bit of getting used to. Mind you, she's smart enough. I've been showing her the books and she has a definite leaning that way."

Presently, she arrived back with a trayful of drinks and when the last glass was served, Trisha leaned over and whispered into Gill's ear.

"When the place gets more crowded, I'll join you. Nikki's my best friend and one time lover and Helen, well she's my friend also. This is special."

"No problem, Trisha. I'll look after things till you're ready to come over."

Nikki and Helen were surprised by the flat Northern accent that issued from her well-shaped lips but Helen was quick to remind Nikki that the north end of the country didn't start with Hatfield. She herself had traveled down those many miles from the distant vicarage in Scotland.

"So, Helen, what's it like in the great wide world outside Chix? In my club, I only meet with women and I take it for granted that everyone is at the very least bi curious. I don't suppose it's the same as working in an office."

"You can say that again," responded Helen with deep feeling." It's OK being at work, more or less, but I feel that I'm only half a person at work. You talk to the average person at work and, yes they know you're a lesbian and, no they wouldn't dream of overtly discriminating against me. That's all well and good but I'm still a curiosity. I see them looking at me and typecasting me as 'an average lesbian' and being compared with how the press say I'm supposed to feel and think and dress and behave."

"Well, it's a step up from being called a 'lezzie bitch' as Dockley used to call me. You've started out with a promotion. Me, I had to start from the very bottom of the shit heap, " Nikki observed humourously, the club lights catching her eyes.

"You're kidding?" Trisha asked incredulously. She had not had chance to hear half the tales Nikki had to say beyond restricted excerpts of the first two years of her original sentence.

"That's only what you'd expect from her. Mind you, it didn't stop her from having Denny as her bit on the side. She couldn't even be honest about her sexuality."

"Is it really a good idea to talk about that dump?" Helen exclaimed, her face twisted as if hurting acutely from a sudden twinge of toothache.

"Look who's talking?" laughed Nikki in easy tones that made even Sally Anne relax a bit. While in this circle of friends, she felt safe. Outside it and she knew she would be tongue tied." You were once in charge of the dump."

"Only temporarily Nikki and this leads me back to my original point," she argued with incisive logic." Let's change the subject. Talking about Larkhall Prison is one definite party-pooper."

"OK Helen,"conceded a slightly grinning Nikki as memories of a very dominant Helen came back to her." Anyway, coming back to what you said earlier on, you're absolutely right about what it means to be a gay woman in a straight world." Nikki said with her typical kindly adroitness. She had observed that this was part of the journey she and Trisha had travelled years ago and that Helen was coming up against just one more aspect of the reality of her new existence.

"Your friends could talk about it all night long but still you still have to find out for yourself," Trisha joined in sympathetically, memories of her past flooding back. Automatically, their heads leaned towards each other. She took to Helen's eager willingness to orientate herself on the journey ahead and remembered her kindness on the day of Nikki's retrial.

"I don't talk about it at work," Sally Anne said nervously," I'm still finding my feet so I don't want to rush things."

"What's the big deal?" questioned Trisha, her eyebrows raised in displeasure.

"It depends on the place you work for, Trisha," reasoned Nikki patiently with a dash of forcefulness. "You're perhaps forgetting what it's like to work in the straight world."

"I'm trying to say that the longer you leave it, it doesn't get any easier," warned Trisha to which a flash of annoyance showed on Nikki's face while Helen raised her eyebrows, questioningly. A scared expression swept over Sally Anne's expression, as she was incapable of hiding her emotions.

"Everyone's got their own ways of handling things, Trisha. What's got into you tonight?" Nikki responded with a sharper edge.

"Can we talk somewhere private, Nik?" Trisha asked in a lowered voice. Without hesitation, the dark haired woman nodded agreement, stood up and let Trisha lead the way to a back room.

"Don't worry, Sally," Helen said in her most soothing tones to Sally Anne who looked distinctly uneasy and started fiddling with her fingers. "I don't know what's going on between you and Trisha but I'm absolutely sure that Nikki is batting for you."

Nikki wasted no time in cutting to the chase as soon as the door was shut. She stood upright with folded arms, feet slightly apart and let fly at Trisha who knew what was coming up.

"Why the hell are you giving Sally Anne such a hard time, Trisha? It isn't going to work to push her to come out at work. All you're doing is pushing her into a corner and getting her more scared."

"More scared? You've just put your finger on the problem."

"So what is the problem, Trisha? I thought this was about a woman who's only just faced the fact to herself that she's a lesbian and now you want her to proclaim it to the entire world. Helen is as strong minded a woman as I've ever known and she found it incredibly hard to come to terms with the fact that, yes, men don't really do it for her but I do. The fact that she was locking me up for a living, yes that matters, but it was only half the story. It's obvious that Sally has her burden to bear and is it any wonder? Being raped by Gossard might be a pretty good guess."

Trisha sighed at Nikki's well meant passionate diatribe. She didn't take any offence at it as it wasn't personal and, yes, Nikki was Nikki. She took her time before answering.

"My advantage over you is living with Sally. Yes, she's very sweet and I love her to bits but she's well, so nervy and unpredictable. It's really hard work and I get impatient."

"That doesn't make sense, Trish. How come she was willing to go up on the witness stand on my first appeal and face having her private life being raked over by that bastard barrister? She had a lot of nerve to do that and I'm totally in her debt for that one. Without her, I might not have got my freedom in the first place. Don't forget, she was at the second appeal even if she were in the spectator's gallery."

"I really can't make sense of it either, Nik," Trisha frankly admitted in response to Nikki's quieter, more reasoning tones. "Sometimes she's up, sometimes she's down for no accountable reason."

"So there's something going on her that you haven't spotted or you don't understand. Admit it, Trisha, it happens to all of us. The problem is that neither of us have any direct experience of being raped by a man. You came close to it with Gossard and I saw how Helen reacted after being sexually assaulted by that bastard Fenner but I was never as close to her as I wanted to be. The prison bars kept getting in the way," Nikki continued, pressing her case as if she'd taken a leaf out of Helen's book of logical analysis. She paused for breath as an idea floated into her mind.

"Have you thought doing some research on just what the effects rape has on women? There must be something or someone out there who could clue you onto that one?"

Trisha thought about this one and nodded her head definitely. She had to admit that she had tried to deal with the problem on her own and failed. A conversation floated back into her mind of years ago when she had visited Nikki in prison. She could hear herself saying the very words. '……………Charles knows a fantastic guy in Harley Street who treated me for withdrawal from smoking…….it saves using all those patches…. " It wasn't the answer but a possible first place to start looking.

"I think you've found the answer, Nik. I'm sorry, I should have thought of that rather than taking it out on Sally," Trisha said gently and honestly.

"What are friends for but to help each other out, Trisha? That's what I'm here for. You would do the same for me if the situation were the other way round. Our friendship is for the long run as far as I'm concerned."

Trisha grinned widely and kissed Nikki lightly on the cheek. She felt the warm glow of friendship. How glad she was that the four of them had made friends. It was one positive outcome of the appeal.

"Sally, I'm really sorry. I've been a complete bitch and I want to make it up to you. I was wondering if you care to dance with me?"

The mixture of graceful apology flowing into her most alluring tone of voice together with Helen's reassuring presence made Sally stand up eagerly and melt into Trisha's arms as the first chords of a romantic ballad graced the air. Helen grinned and reached out for Nikki's outstretched hand, eager to join the throng. The four of them melted into the welcoming crowd, as intimate a place for all of them and providing a welcoming sight for strangers coming through the door. Lights flickered and a hundred loves and dreams floated on the sensuous music that was a collective welcome from the cold outside.

Scene Twelve

Claire Walker felt that the technicolour colour film that she'd been living had been suddenly switched off and a drab black and white version took its place. She might have expected it from the strong hint from Jim Patterson that 'her crusading days would be over after Friday' but she was so caught up in the drama of the trial. After the brief meeting had been called on Monday morning and a distinctly tepid round of applause greeted her success, the full force of these sentiments did their best to dampen her spirits.

"You know Claire that your Nikki Wade case has really put our firm on the map and we're all grateful to you but you must remember that we work as a team. There's no place here for individual glory seeking and after such a high profile case, you must expect to pick up the more run of the mill cases. I'll give credit where it's due but you must let other members of the firm have their chance of fame," Jim Patterson said, smiling with everything but his eyes as he delivered the mixed verbal bouquet of roses and brambles.

Cynically, Claire's inner ear unscrambled the meaning to read it like this.

"You know, we really didn't expect your case to turn out that way. The result was a sheer fluke. You've put the noses out of joint of the older colleagues and we don't care for a young upstart like you. You'll be pushed back to doing the dull mundane cases and let the old guard have the chance to preen themselves again. The pecking order must be restored."

"Till the next time, Jim. You never know what's round the corner," she sweetly smiled, not letting any of them get the impression that they had got at her. "Talent will win out, Jim " was what she was really getting at. Their frozen smiles told her that they hadn't mistaken her meaning.

Sure enough, the normal overfull in tray of conveyancing cases and minor litigation awaited her. Her secretary was ever so sweet as normal and tended to mother her.

"Honestly, Claire, I can't do anything about the backlog of work. I've done as much as I can but they'll still need your approval."

Claire looked affectionately at her secretary and realized that she had one certain ally whose support was unconditional, not because she was her secretary but that Claire was naturally considerate and thoughtful. Her gaze then travelled onwards to the files before her. At least, she thought, that if she was doing mundane work, it was organized mundane work. She had no choice but the thought at the back of her head remained, that somehow she wasn't destined for a quiet

She reflected resentfully on Jim bloody Patterson. It was obvious that he was of the old school who resented. First of all, she was young. For another, she didn't subscribe to his self centred cynicism and his controlling attitudes and for a third, she was a woman. It had taken her some time to draw this conclusion but she had carefully excluded every other possibility and it was in line with his secretive, oblique personality. Above all else, a career woman was a threat to his sense of security.

"So how are things going in your line of work?" Helen asked her lightly enough though her eyes noted the generous measure of vodka and lemonade that Claire poured for herself. The low lights of the living room cast a gentle glow of the small intimate group of people. It was the weekend and the time they could relax.

"Oh, it's back to the real world for me. I ought to have expected it."

"So what's unreal about finally proving that I was not only morally but legally innocent in taking out Gossard? After all, this is the sort of trial the law is supposed to be about? Every idea I picked up when I was growing up was about the even handed scales of justice. I mean, forget about me, it was the situation that couldn't be more important. It means that another woman in the same situation won't have to go through what I did."

"There's something traditional about you, Nikki." Peter observed in response to the dark haired woman's passionate declaration.

"That's a new one on me, Peter."

"I don't mean that you're a closet conservative, Nikki. It's just that you take the professions of society a few decades back totally seriously, that you see very well where it falls down in reality and especially in recent years. That's why you can become the most relentless critic and rebel of what you see around her that's wrong. From what I've heard of your time at Larkhall, that was why you were most critical."

A slow smile spread across Nikki's face as she savoured the full flavour of Peter's astute remark. No wonder Claire married him, she thought to herself affectionately.

"Flattering and highly insightful though you undoubtedly are, Peter, we're missing something. It looks as if you've got a lot on your mind, Claire."

"Oh, It's nothing much," Claire protested feebly.

Come on, spit it out. It must be work related. I can't imagine either of you having problems on the home front, " urged Nikki gently to Peter's intense relief. He had tried to intervene in his gentlemanly fashion and had failed.

"I suppose I don't have any choice," sighed Claire, the decision having been taken out of her hands."You're persistent enough, Nikki and I know Helen of old who's bound to get on my case."

"Don't speak because you have to, Claire. Do it because you want to. Remember that a problem shared is a problem halved. An outsider can help if you're too close to the situation."

"All right," Claire said more decisively, her last reservations fading away thanks to Helen's kindness." It all centers on Jim bloody Patterson, the senior solicitor in the practice. In his eyes, I've got away with two high profile cases that he thought hadn't got a cat's chance in hell of succeeding. Your second appeal is the last straw and he's determined to keep me down to run of the mill stuff. My future is slow death by boredom."

Claire was always very quiet and restrained in her manner and the way she let rip her emotions came over as raw naked emotion. The hearts of the three other people in the room went out to her.

"Jesus, Claire…….." said Nikki softly, her voice tailing away in disbelief. "I can't believe you're going through so much shit."

"What a minute, Claire. Just how good a solicitor are you? I remember dealing with you in Nikki's two appeals and in finding Sally Anne in the first place. Would any other solicitor have done a good job as you did, especially this Jim Patterson?" intervened Helen.

"I did my job to the best of my ability. It was only what I expected of myself."

"Have you had any complaints about your work, especially Marian and Jo?" pursued Helen, hearing that selfsame dedication to the job in hand. She recognized that same fatal strain of self-deprecation.

"Well, no."

"Jo strikes me as someone who doesn't suffer fools gladly. What about this guy? How do his clients think of him?"

"There aren't any complaints."

"As far as you know," added Helen with deadly logic." My experience is that those that are the most dishonest cover up the most. This is where their talents lie, in polishing up the nice shiny images of themselves for those gullible enough to enquire. The reality of the situation is that you are intelligent, committed and hard working. You're likely to be a threat to him, because you're young and female but much more because you're smarter than you and he knows it. He'd sooner cut off his right arm rather than admit it, that's for sure."

"You're talking about Fenner as well, sweetheart."

"Yeah, I am. Birds of a feather," Helen retorted to Nikki's insight, her green eyes smouldering with anger.

"You just have to believe in yourself, Claire," urged Peter." You know very high-class barristers who know what you can do and want your services. They can't block you for ever or they'll lose custom. No firm can afford to cut off their arm to spite their face."

Claire's tense skin and tight expression loosened up to these entreaties. Suddenly, she could look down at them as if from a bird's eye point of view. They were all right. A smile spread across her face and her tense posture relaxed as she lay back in her armchair.

"You're all right. I've just let things get on top of her," she said to the three anxious, concerned friends of hers, one of whom she was married to, looked anxiously at her. Suddenly, she was gradually eased out of her own private pit of depression and lack of self esteem and felt whole and part of the human race again. The three-worried expression came into sharper focus. She vowed to stick them out and to fight her corner.

John was at the dining table at the digs reading the Independent when the butler caught his eye.

"A Mrs Channing to see you, my lord."

"Show her in," he said eagerly. His attentive ears had picked up rumours that, at last George had split from that dreadful home secretary and a free and unattached George offered personal advantages of the most delightful kind. Sure enough, she entered, a smile on her face, wearing her favourite off the knee dress that showed off her figure to the best advantage.

"I know very well, John, that your eyes are feasting on me. Doubtless, are just itching to find out about the rumours concerning me."

"Of what?" came that oh so innocent voice and look in his baby blue eyes.

"Of me dumping Neil. That is perfectly true." said George flatly.

'Oh good. I can't believe my ears. It was the best decision you could ever have made in your life."

"Not that it means that I intend to drift back into your bed and share you with Francesca Rochester and God knows how many other women."

"Not counting Jo Mills."

"Oh, did I hear you mention Little Miss Oxfam?" drawled George archly, her most derisive insult being an insulting reference to Jo Mills' shopping habits and, as she saw it, her self righteousness. "I might change my mind in that case."

"I would be only too happy to commiserate with you and offer you every sympathy," John said silkily in his most enticing tones.

"In the comfort of your bed. You'll have to do better than that."

"Well, Lover Boy can't have been the most satisfying company, George. That alone would give you every reason to look elsewhere to where you would be more appreciated."

"Hmmn, I know very well what your form of appreciation is like. There are advantages…..and disadvantages…." teased George." I would sooner look around and take stock of my life and not jump into the first thing that catches my mind. It means, of course, that I cease to be the government's legal Miss Fixit and see what cases that I want to take on."

"And still pursue the money pot, George. I know what you're like."

"Not as much as you think you do," challenged George with a self-satisfied smile on her face." One effect of living with a New Labour politician and being a glamorous accessory there to make polite small talk at parties. Being surrounded by self obsessed, self seeking men and women provides excellent aversion therapy."

"Not that you didn't enjoy the glamorous dresses which I must say show you off so splendidly," joked John.

"Be serious John for once in your life. I am respected in my field as a talented barrister. When I'm in court, that is how I'm seen. Outside it, I've seen as high-class crumpet without an original idea of my own, whose talent is to soothe ruffled feathers. You know me, John, and you must see that there's more to me than that."

George's words were like a glass of cold water thrown in his face. He had expected to play up to her self image of being materially obsessed and narcissistic. Instead, she let that alone and her reply was said totally without artifice. He could tell that the woman that he thought he'd known so well was acting outside her usual character.

"We've quarreled in the past but I love you as the mother of Charlie. We have that bond in common and always will."

"John darling, as flattering as your words are, I'm not talking about myself as Charlie's mother, Daddy's daughter or as your would be temporary lover. I'm talking about me, who I am in my own right. I want to get an idea of who and where I want to be. Though I have tastes for the most outrageous fashion accessories, that's not all I want to be. Is it so wrong to think in these terms? Do you have to drag it out of me though, I hate to admit it, some, I repeat, only some of your ideas weren't all that nonsensical?"

John stared open mouthed at George as the penny finally dropped. Both of then had lived their lives according to accepted rules of their relationship, whether in hardship or in conflict. For the first time ever, George was changing the rules and he'd been unaccountably slow to respond. True, she wasn't going sleep with him that night but a new intimacy was opening up before him. The possibilities were endless.

Scene Thirteen

Trisha was curious to find that Sally Anne was habitually the first of them to get up in the morning, even at the weekend. She could understand why the dark haired woman had to get up early in the week as she had to be up early for her job while Trisha had has a late night working at the club and she tended to lie in. Every day, her half asleep mind could hear Sally clattering round the flat in a fidgety way and then there would be a pause before she shot out for her day at work. It was the weekends that puzzled her.

"Hey, babes," she would moan when a very nervous Sally Anne would slip out of bed. "It's Saturday morning, hey. No need to get up when it's everybody's weekends including mine."

"I'm ever so sorry," she would reply nervously," I'll just nip to the bathroom. I'll be back in a second."

Trisha would turn over in bed and hang in a state of limbo, being nearly asleep but not quite. She longed to slip back into sweet oblivion but Sally Anne's movements would stop her doing that. Finally, she would emerge and slip back into bed. Sally would cuddle up affectionately next to Trisha and remarkably quickly, she would settle down to sleep. In turn, Trisha would run her fingers over Sally Anne's nightie and through her long dark, slightly curly hair and would forgive her. When they finally awoke, the dark haired girl would be much more calm and relaxed than she had been. Trisha would just work round the up and downs of Sally Anne's moods and forgive her.

She had made her investigations as she had promised Nikki, first with Charles and through his friend in Harley Street and she had been clued in on the after effects of rape. It told her quite a lot that she hadn't realized and especially, how long lasting the effects were and she got the main message that she should be patient.

One day, Sally Anne was out and Trisha suddenly decided to have a tidy up in the bathroom. She would be the first to admit that she was a bit scatty with all her various lotions, oils and shower gels and left it in a stare of disarray. Quite honestly, if a baby purple elephant had lurked in the corner, she would never have noticed. This day was one where she thought she ought to take a periodic grip on that neglected, taken for granted corner of the house and really focus on chucking out redundant, nearly empty jars. When she entered the room, she was taken aback as she suddenly realized that everything looked different. When she focussed her sight properly, she realized that all the jars were arranged into neat little groups but when she studied them properly, she realized that the near empty containers hadn't been weeded. Trisha stared open mouthed. She didn't get it.

There was something about the arrangement that defied her natural inclination to tidy them away properly and junk the empties. She sat down on the toilet seat, as there was something about the situation that didn't make any sense.

What was a long forgotten part of the bathroom was the medicine store. Ever since Trisha had stopped smoking several years ago, her smoker's cough had gone out the window and had been perfectly healthy. She rooted through the long neglected stock and one out of date cough medicine bottle was wedged on top of headache pills. She started to have a sort out and see what of the medicines she could chuck. She fiddled right at the back of the recess and fished out a small plastic container that she didn't recognize. Her eyes focussed on the printout label and were totally nonplussed to see Sally Anne Howe's name and the printout of 10mg Diazepam.

"Jesus," exclaimed Trisha as wheels revolved round in her mind. Everything started falling into place, including Trisha's up and down moods and her insistence on being up in the morning. She stared at the bottle for a long time trying to piece everything together in her own mind. The conviction grew in her that they should talk about the one area of Sally's life that Trisha had delicately steered away from.

The first thing Trisha did was to lay hold of a medical dictionary and study exactly what she was up against. The phrases, "sweatiness, jitteriness, things moving, sensitivity to touch and panic attacks may be experienced as withdrawal symptoms in low therapeutic dose long term users of diazepam when discontinuing their diazepam medication." Everything now added up and it was pretty obvious just why she should have been taking tranquillizers in the first place. It meant that the growing feeling that she'd had in carrying their relationship like a ball and chain was displaced by the fact that there was a more tangible problem to deal with. The first thing she did was to pick up her phone and call the club which was just starting up.

"Gill," she called into the mouthpiece," can you look after everything for a couple of hours as I've got personal stuff to sort out. When I'm clear from that, I'll ring you."

"I'll do it but it's a busy night. I could do with some help later," came the surly reply. "Besides, you've got some cheques to sort out."

How on earth did she know that, Trisha thought to herself. She knows a lot about my business but I can't shout at her if she's covering for me.

"I'll be as quick as I can. You know how it goes," she replied in a conciliatory tone of voice, wondering if she was overdoing it. After all, Gill was her employee and the business was hers.

Sally came in from work barely ten minutes later to face a solemn faced Trisha holding in the air, that inconspicuous bottle of tablets. Instantly, her face turned white with shock and her feet froze to the spot. She hesitated a full minute before words came out in a hesitant, jerky delivery.

"I can explain this, Trisha. I was holding the tablets for a friend."

"Please, Sally. We need to talk. You've obviously got your problems and I want to help you."

Her soothing words and her left arm draped round the dark haired woman's shoulders did their best to soothe her down. To her thinking, her body felt very tense. Trisha couldn't help but notice that her eyes kept flicking to what Trisha's other hand was holding. She began to realise that the fact of someone else holding her tablets was making her nervy, even if that hand belonged to her lover.

"Do you want your tablets back, Sally?"

"Yes, if you please," the tight voice responded diffidently.

'Lets's chill out on the sofa and we'd better talk. If we're going to share our lives, we need to share anything important."

Sally nodded dumbly and the words started trickling out.

"I wanted to talk to you, Nik as I've got problems." Trisha urged a few days later at Helen and Nikki's flat. The blond haired woman was normally very smartly groomed, every hair in place and also very cool, calm and collected. By contrast, both women picked up on Trisha's distracted manner and extreme worry in her eyes.

"Do you want me to go elsewhere, Trisha?" Helen offered solicitously.

"No, yes…no, Helen," Trisha said, hovering indecisively, her words coming in fits and starts before they finally came out in a rush. "Come to think of it, yes, both of you may be able to help. I can't help thinking that the time both of you spent at Larkhall might get me to the bottom of the problem…………I don't know what both of you know about drugs."

"Not as much as you think, Trisha. I used to grow cannabis plants in the prison garden…."

"I didn't know that, Nikki," Helen interjected, an expression of mixed surprise and amusement on her face. To think of it, Nikki once declared that she wasn't into drugs and I believed her. She's a dark horse.

"I only grew it as my bit of rebellion and to chill out. You wrote to me once to keep my nose clean so I mulched the lot. Honest."

"OK, never mind that. My experience has been ordering drugs tests, which is at one remove. I've been offered a joint once but that made me cough my guts up……but what drugs are you talking about."

"Tranquillizers, 10 milligram diazepam tablets to be precise," announced Trisha in a flat, clinical tone of voice.

"I've seen some of the other women strung out on the stuff and obviously heard of the drugs black market at Larkhall but it wasn't my scene, something that messed with the heads of other woman…..but who do you mean, Trisha?" Nikki replied, her even tones of past experience, switching sharply into questioning suspicions. The options were sharply narrowed down in her mind.

"It's Sally Anne," deduced Helen. "Trisha, I'm really sorry for you."

The way her flat, unsurprised tones of voice quickly melted into real heartfelt sympathy

really got to Trisha. Now I can see why Nik really fell for Helen, Trisha thought, feelings of generosity welling up inside her.

"You're right, there is a problem," came her unsteady evasive reply," I talked to Sally at length and I now know that the after effects of being raped started off her problems, then being unemployed added to them and the real problem is that she's really struggling to function on the prescription. I don't know what to do."

"Is she taking more tablets than she should be?" questioned Nikki. Memories of vague background conversations floated back from the recesses of her mind of other prisoners who were forever complaining about how ill they were and how they needed the drugs what Dockley dealt so capriciously. Tranquillizers sounded more respectable than mainlined heroin but still……

"Not as far as I know," Trisha said uneasily. The tenor of the conversation worried her and she fell into a reflective silence.

Helen had gazed thoughtfully into the middle distance while Nikki and Trisha talked and the thought crossed her mind that she was blindly groping for. She finally broke the long pause.

"Did Sally Anne suffer from any nervous problems before she was raped?"

"Not as far as I know. I get the idea that she was a serious hard working policewoman who was content with her life.

"So you are definite that being raped by Gossard and being forced out of her job brought on all her present misfortunes. The tranquillizer problem essentially stems from then."

"Yeah, that's a fair conclusion," Trisha observed. She could see that Helen was clearly taking the conversation somewhere and she was fascinated to see what this clever woman was up to, whatever it was.

"At one time, Trisha, you'd though of Sally undergoing therapy with this Harley Street friend of yours when you thought Sally's problem was the after effects of being raped.

Could he treat Sally Anne for both sets of problems?"

"I don't see why not," breathed Trisha slowly as wheels revolved round in her mind.

"Then again, she might think about demanding reinstatement coupled with suing the Met for compensation if they won't play ball. Money doesn't solve everything but it might help eventually bring closure on the whole sorry episode. Both together would empower her rather than being having been kicked around while she's down. Legal action is pretty good therapy if you've got anyone around to give her all the backing she needs. What do you think, Trisha?"

The blond haired woman stared open mouthed at Helen's thoughtful judgment as if she were some magician pulling the proverbial set of bunnies out of the top hat from nowhere.

"Helen, you're a marvel," she exclaimed and gave her a big hug while Nikki looked on proudly as if to say, this is my wonder woman at work. The whole room felt lit up in brilliant colours, "I'll talk to Sally Anne and persuade her and if that doesn't work, you and Nik are only too welcome to try."

"That's what we're here for, babes, and in any other way. You'd do the same for us."

Trisha nodded her head emphatically. If she had to, she would move the world for her very loyal friends.

Jo was puzzled when she next encountered George in court. Thankfully, the judge was not John which guaranteed trouble from the word go but Monty Everard. His style of conducting a trial was along the lines of sturdy common sense and he was in the fortunate position of not having favoured either of them in personal relationships. Jo knew that George would be otherwise suspicious and uptight, forever suspecting favouritism in Jo's direction. Even then, George could and often was bombastic and would capriciously throw in spurious arguments and objections out of mischievousness. She would never forget that Jo had been directly responsible for the breakup of her marriage and refused to recognize that John's chronic infidelity had whittled away at their marriage to the point that John's involvement with Jo had been the final blow.

She was dealing with a case where the local authority was being sued for damages in failing to properly advise a woman who had fostered a boy who had shown alarming tendencies to violence. It was certain to be a controversial case and Jo's emotive tendencies were bound to clash with George's natural tendencies to side with organizations and against the individual. To her great surprise, George's manner was subdued by her standards and she approached her case in a thoroughly businesslike fashion and stuck to the business in hand. Why, she was beginning to think that George was becoming positively thoughtful and amenable.

The trial ended up as one of those table tennis matches where both sides batted the arguments back and forth and, while Jo established that the parent had a basic case, George built up a raft of mitigating circumstances in a quite fair and transparent fashion.

Right at the end, Monty delivered his judgment in favour of Jo's client but the compensation imposed on the council weren't too swingeing. There was a murmur of general assent at the end and a prompt declaration by the council representative that

"Good trial, Jo. I enjoyed it," she declared in the locker room.

"I must admit that was pleasantly surprised by the way the trial went. It's not that the judgment went in favour of my client but more that it was so easy going. Are you turning over a new leaf?"

"Not entirely, Jo. If I have a stronger case in future, I'll give you more of a run for your money. I just believed that the council had been slipshod and negligent without being actually criminal. It was a fair outcome, one that I was prepared for."

"That means you are turning over a new leaf," smiled Jo.

"Believe what you want to believe," answered George in her best enigmatic fashion. I'm afraid that you won't be seeing me for a few days as I shall be socializing with the highly talented Kay Scarpetta, chief medical examiner of the State of Virginia."

"Business or pleasure?" enquired Jo automatically, her eyes opened wide with amazement. She had heard that George had dumped Neil Haughton but by this account, was flying off in a completely different direction altogether.

"Both," answered George with total aplomb."The business side involves consulting her on a criminal case I have in the offing."

"Criminal law, eh? She has an international reputation and also an excellent line in Italian cuisine. It sounds like you're having a complete makeover."

"What you really mean by that remark, Jo, is that I am having a complete change of company from those fearful second hand car salesmen types who are my ex's political cronies. They bore me rigid and it is about time I cultivate some friends who are my choice. Even John, infuriating though he might be at times, has his advantages."

The wheels revolved faster in Jo's mind. George was being unbelievably frank and open with her. The inevitable thoughts that framed themselves in her mind begged to be articulated.

"So I'm not your worst enemy in the world, George?"

"Not in the least or why else would I be talking to you like this?"

With that startlingly direct response delivered, George strolled nonchalantly away towards the exit.

Scene Fourteen

It had been a big ordeal for Sally Anne to finally confess to Trisha that she had a tranquillizer habit. Her low self-esteem would never have let her describe that as courage. She had been hyper conscious of criticism and her habit had made her highly secretive, trying to pretend to everyone else that all her problems were just her nerves. After all, it was very believable given her bad experiences. What tortured her was that she would lose natural sympathy in admitting to having a drug habit. At heart, she was too ruthlessly honest with herself to take shelter in the thought that diazepam was a 'respectable housewives' drug and nothing like the sort of squalid street drug like heroin. The problem was that such honesty only served to attack her sense of self esteem, to blame herself for everything that had happened to her, that it was her fault that she lived a lie and that she was bound to drag down any would be partner. While she lived on her own, she was tortured with feelings of isolation, lack of self worth, especially when she was unemployed.

It was nothing short of a miracle that somehow, Trisha has spotted her and come into her life and had seen something in her to love in whose existence she had severe self-doubts. This cool, sophisticated blonde unlocked a rush of feelings of admiration, which had turned into desire on closer acquaintance. The brutal sequence of events had forced her outside the normal concept of normality so that developing feelings of desire for another woman was the least of her problems. It was a lifeline thrown out to someone emotionally adrift on the waves of misfortune, abandonment and unemployment.

Trisha was the way out from her cold, miserable emotional prison and started to make her feel alive again after the living nightmares of being brutally raped by Gossard and the emotional aftershocks. The night of Nikki's successful reappeal was a landmark of her life where everything surrounding her in the club was warmly encouraging and coaxing her to be bold and to give in to her desires.

Theoretically, living with Trisha ought to have been the start of 'all ending happily ever after' but she soon came to realize that life wasn't as easy as all that. It meant that she had to hide her bottle of tablets in the neglected corners of Trisha's flat where Trisha didn't go herself and to invent spurious reasons for getting up early which sounded so false to her ears. It built up her state of nervous tension that her prescription was supposed to alleviate and this spiral was finally halted when Trisha confronted her, holding the bottle of tablets with sad reproach in her eyes. Only when Trisha reacted more kindly than she dared fear did Sally-Anne collapse against her, her face resting next to the blond woman's bosom, somewhere she wanted to lie for ages while slim fingers ran forgivingly through her long dark hair.

"Babes, you did absolutely the right thing in telling me what was going on. I can't understand everything that's happened to you but I know enough to understand what that bastard Gossard did to you. After all, I was very close to becoming another of his victims."

"You really think that way, darling?" Sally Anne stammered incredulously. She couldn't put into words her gratitude and love for this incredibly understanding woman.

"Just think about what you've been through, having your workmates turn against you and forcing you out of your job….well, you're only human. One thing I do know is that you need professional help. Only you can kick this thing but that doesn't mean you can't ask for help."

The frightened look in her eyes warned Trisha that Sally was ready to bolt and run, in spirit if not physically. Her reactions were very finely balanced, ready at any moment. She had to phrase her words carefully and take great care of her intonations. Her blue eyes locked contact with the other woman and Trisha's hands rested on her shoulders.

"I'm your lover so it means that your problems are mine, babes. It means that I have to find out what they are and that means doing my research. It tells me that you can't overdo the kind of high class counselling to give you the support to get you to edge away from the pills. What you need to do isn't easy as even someone like me, average to high intelligence, my experience of the world can be a well meaning amateur dealing with things I don't fully understand…..here me out, I can do so much for you as your lover but not as your therapist. For that you need a proper trained professional and one who is above else sympathetic and gay friendly. I've used the 'old girl's network, nothing better and I've come up with the ideal guy. He is your answer. Trust me."

Sally Anne took several deep breaths in and out, letting her tensions be exhaled. She drank in the strength and sympathy emanating as perfume from her beautiful lover who was also her best friend, something reminiscent of what she'd experienced in her youth. The decision framed itself in her mind as if events had already taken place. She would trust to her fate that lay before her.

She sank gratefully into the arms of her lover, the truest person in the world she'd known. A stray thought crossed her mind that if there was one thing in the world she was certain of, it was her sexuality.

Nikki's fortunes too were changing for the better. She had applied for a job at the Howard league for Penal Reform and gratified smiles greeted her as soon as she stepped into the interview room on that fated day of Thursday May 18th 2001. Her detailed recounting of all that she'd seen around her during her time spent at Larkhall and her two appeals, so far from being a hindrance, served as shining exhibits on her CV. As the interview had progressed, her current office work dovetailed in nicely as a practical training ground for the basics of her job and her experience as a club owner had showed that she had the necessary get up and go. She had been smiling inside and her sense of self-appreciation was glowing. She had emerged from the quaintly old fashioned office and had walked along the pavement as if she was floating on air.

"Watch where you're going. Oh Wade, I might have known," a well remembered voice and the impact of something solid broke into her dreams.

"Well, if it isn't Bodybag," Nikki quickly interjected.

"Mrs Hollamby to you, Wade," Bodybag replied very pompously, foolishly reverting back in time where there was no cause to do so.

"Excuse me, we're both on the outside now. Free citizens. The rules have changed. So I don't mind you calling me Nikki if I get to call you Sylvia," the taller woman silkily replied, grinning all over her face.

"Over my dead body," the older woman blustered, appalled by the very idea.

"The day may come, you know," sang out Nikki cheekily and the other woman promptly beat a hasty retreat. Nikki stood awhile, hands on her hips seeing a former enemy scuttling away from her and that spectacle added an extra bit of pleasure to the day.

As a result, Nikki was feeling generally up beat as she entered her office for the very last day before moving on. As she entered the room, she knew that she would have no regrets at seeing the back of nearly all her work colleagues and the feeling was mutual. She ran her eyes round the bleached out colour scheme and those destined to slave there forever. The one exception was Tony and she felt a momentary pang of conscience that she was deserting him. Second thoughts prompted herself to consider that she had made no bones to him of her desire to move on while he had frankly admitted how scared he was to do the same. She smiled briefly at the others who mouthed the normal meaningless platitudes and set to work to clear up the remainder of her work in her in tray. She didn't think to consider taking the others for a farewell lunchtime drink and only Tony suggested adjourning to the local Starbucks. There they had a long heart to heart conversation where they still pretended to each other that this was just a normal lunchtime. Both of them reached eagerly for that pretense.

"We say farewell to one of our new members of staff, Nikki Wade, who has made her mark in the time she has been with us…………………."

Nikki's smile was starched on her face, bright and empty for the occasion while inside, she grinned with vengeful satisfaction at her boss who had disliked her most of all. There had been no love lost between them and she gained mischievous satisfaction from the words she was uttering that choked her to say. She let her mind drift with the wind while the stream of syllables drifted on and on.

……………………..so we decided to club together for a present which I hope you will appreciate."

Nikki pulled herself back to switched on consciousness and politely accepted the small parcel that was offered to her. Murmuring polite appreciation, she unwrapped the present, a standard wooden clock appeared before her. Curiously, it was the one thing for the living room neither Helen nor Nikki had thought to get.

"Thanks very much, all of you. I thought that you got the clock when you retire after 40 years but I've got a few more years to do before that happens. I was grateful to get this

You may be sure that I appreciate all of you as much as you appreciate me and if there's anything I have ever asked and that is to be taken for who I am, no pretenses. Not much more than I can really say but I know that nobody's indispensable, certainly not me and I am sure that my successor will slot in here just nicely. Can't think of anything more to say than thanks, everyone."

A smattering of applause greeted Nikki's studiedly ambiguous speech and she murmured polite nothings as she gathered all her belongings into a polythene bag. It brought back strong memories of a previous leaving but this time, it was the average accumulation of bits and pieces that any office worker accumulates. It all confirmed her curious experience of normality. She was left in the transitionary state of mind in a part of her clinging to this job and vague anticipations of the future. Finally, Tony stood before her.

"I'll certainly miss you, Nikki and certainly all our conversations. Still, I know you have to move on."

The poor guy really means to ask me what will he do now that I'm no longer here, thought Nikki. I think that he's a little in love with me.

"I won't deny that my new job is a big step up and what I really to do. There are some I won't be sorry to leave but you've been a great friend to me and kept me sane. What more could I ask for?"

Unexpectedly, Tony gave her a quick hug and it startled her. It immediately struck her that he was reaching out to her in friendship and he soon let her go. She could tell that this wasn't a common form of expression for him as he was slightly flushed with embarrassment.

"You're expressing yourself as you feel, Tony and there's nothing wrong with that. You look after yourself Tony and just remember that you have choices in life. I'd like to say that we'll bump into each other some time into the future but I can't promise that."

Both of them knew that the anonymity of London life worked against such vague possibilities. A tear or two was flicked away by his fingers as her gentle honesty touched him.

"I'll read about you in the papers and for the right reasons."

Nikki smiled and reached forward to shake him firmly by the hand.

"You're a good guy, Tony. I wish there were more like you around," she replied impulsively and nervously studied her watch. Time had drifted by and she knew that she must leave now as her mobile rang precisely on time to announce her lift.

"I'd better go as Helen's picking me up now. All the best."

With that, she headed towards her future with mixed feelings.

Sally Anne had been fixed up for her first meeting in Harley Street in short order and the imposing Georgian buildings had curiously set her at her ease but still more the therapist. She had taken instantly to the quiet grey haired, almost fatherly man who had set her at her ease and had got her to open up, no mean feat. She had had lurking fears of someone invading and intruding into her mind but this man had achieved the opposite in getting her to work through her fears and had started an inch-by-inch process in getting her to reintegrate herself. His unsurprised reaction to her early hesitant admission that she had a female lover started to perk her up. This was an unexpected bonus.

"I've known of Trisha Williams for years through my friend Charles though I have never met her," he had said." He always thought her as a particularly levelheaded woman. If you have a partner who is patient and supporting, then that is a considerable help. The greatest problems posed to me are single people who are too shy or too self regarding to form relationships."

The words started tumbling out in a torrent. Yes, she had admitted that she had obtained an extra supply of diazepam which she had used on occasion to give her that extra courage to confront particularly trying situations, when she had taken the stand at Nikki's first appeal and yes, she had done the same when she had apparently acted so splendidly in moving her belongings to Trisha's house with such confidence.

"So you feel that the courage that others see in facing particularly difficult situations isn't really yours?" he had quietly

Sally nodded, blushing a delicate shade of pink. He had put his finger on her greatest insecurity of all.

"That's why I've stuck to my prescription soon after I moved in only it's making it difficult for me to function."

"So you're equating how relaxed you are with your dose of diazepam tablets and there aren't any other options?"

"I haven't thought of anything else that would work for me."

He then suggested a range of calming techniques, which she'd never thought of before including calm down music, and, as she practiced them with Trisha's generous support, it reduced that edginess and she began to find herself better able to function.

"You need to take a step to empower yourself without taking the burden of the world on your shoulders, Sally," he had suggested." You need to take some positive step that will do that for you," he had suggested.

The more Trisha thought of Helen's brainwave idea, the more she liked it. Memories of Nikki's trials were etched forever on her mind and lent colour to the plan. The original trial had left her feeling enraged and bitter. Her evidence had been so casually dismissed out of hand while Gossard's colleagues had lied so convincingly and powerfully on his behalf in their character testimony. First Marian and then Jo had rent this tissue of lies apart and Sally Anne had spoken up so bravely on Nikki's behalf. Helen's inescapable conclusion was that Sally Anne had unfinished business. Trisha had good reason to relish suing the hide off the Metropolitan Police but she was painfully aware that this decision was Sally's and not hers. It held her back in a state of indecision and, unusually for her, she let day-by-day go past, just waiting for the right moment. In the meantime, she watched Sally's moods like a hawk and tuned into whatever she let drop

As the weeks went by and May gave way to June, London's greenery started to blossom in the corners that it had tenaciously found roots and Sally started to become less tense and edgy. She rather liked Sally's choice of relaxation music as it played through their flat as it helped her chill out. There finally came the Sunday evening when they lay in bed at night and Sally started chattering as they lay in bed.

"This is heaven," Sally murmured blissfully, half to herself while sidelights threw soothing faint illumination of the dark corners of the room.

"You sound so much better in yourself, babes."

"I do feel better. That therapy has done wonders for me. I felt that I was slowly cracking up and it became harder to make your love for me feel real. I'd been gradually reducing my intake of tranquillizers with nothing else to back it up. He did make it clear that I'd done better than I felt I deserved in doing that. I'll warn you, Trisha that I've got a long way to go till I'm in the clear."

"And all the shit you took from Gossard and the other cops on top of that," added Trisha.

"Yeah, the brotherhood." Mused Sally Anne resentfully. "I should have known that they would never accept me from the first day I set foot in the place. I was naïve, you might say. Still am in patches."

"They wouldn't have acted on their own without a nod and a wink from above. They had the statement you made which was covered up."

"….I suppose so…..yes it must have been……but I suppose I'll never find out…." Murmured Sally Anne sleepily.

"Do you think that you've found closure on the whole wretched episode? What does closure actually mean?" persisted Trisha, teetering on the point of decision.

"I've come to think that I've been bottling up feelings of impotent rage that I ended up turning in on myself. That's the real reason for my nerves. I'm still casting around for a way to emotionally get past that experience. I might think intellectually speaking that I should stop defining myself as a victim but I can't make it feel real."

"When you were driven out of the police force, you had no one to help you, to share your feelings and stick up for you."

"The first person I ever talked to was Claire Walker who tracked me down, God knows how. I had a long conversation with Clare right after Nikki's first appeal. It started to do me good but then again, I was unemployed then and Claire had a busy life to lead. Meeting you was the best thing that ever happened to me…..yes, I was a threat to their existence, to their lily-white reputations. They wanted me out of their way."

It moved Trisha to hear Sally open up so, and to see her naked feelings switch from confessing love for her to getting some of that anger out where it belonged. Go for it, girl, she thought.

"So you could come back to haunt them if you chose to by suing them for damages. You could also seek reinstatement but you might not feel comfortable about that."

Sally's stomach churned over at the sound of the words and feelings of tension and panic raced through her system like some evil fast acting potion. Her head turned away from Trisha and her eyes flickered round the room as the enormity of the idea hit her. Her mood switched rapidly to anger at setting one foot inside the door of that place and a kaleidoscope of emotions ran through Sally's overheated mind.

"I never thought of that one. I need to think about it…..I'm not sure I'm strong enough to cope with all the stress……"

"Babes, if you can't get mad at them, you should get even with them and wipe out what they did to you. That sounds like the best therapy there is from what you've been saying all this time. Make them feel some of the pain in return and make them afraid of you. "Trisha urged softly." You've got Claire Walker who would be only too happy to help. You've got Nikki and Helen who would back you all the way and you've seen the miracle Jo Mills did for Nikki.

Her arm stroked Sally's face and she pressed her body against her. She drew the dark haired woman down to her breasts and held her close. She could feel the tension in her body start to ease as she realised, yes, there were no more lonely nights for her. It started to seem not that impossible as she thought about it. She wasn't the same woman as she was when she was driven out of the police force and she had so much support. Neither woman said any more that night but holding each other was answer enough for now.

Scene Fifteen

The balloon suddenly went up as soon as the print was dry on the draft bill to limit the power of judges. The monstrous whooshing sound and an enormous expenditure of emotional energy possessed those concerned and pulled in a surprisingly large number of liberty loving people of all shades and descriptions.

The first rumblings of the explosion to come came when Sir Ian approached Joseph Channing down a long corridor. The older man's pulse started racing overtime, especially recalling that at one time, they were on friendly terms.

"Houghton cannot be serious about this bill, Ian. It's damnably un English and brings this country far closer to a dictatorship than I ever thought possible."

"He is an elected MP and a cabinet minister, Joseph," came the other man's attempt at languid unhurried tones."Let's face it. It gives him a certain credibility of accountability."

"Poppycock," exploded Joseph in disgust, his anger racing away with him."A craven assembly of minor political functionaries had this reptile imposed on him as if a parcel was delivered. The seat chosen was one so that even a halfwit couldn't have failed to be elected. Once he gets there, he does a Cook's tour of various ministries without really knowing what on earth he's doing. I would wager a bottle of my finest malt whisky that this is his idea and a perfectly loathsome one at that."

"I must warn you, Joseph, that you are making yourself extremely unpopular with your outbursts. I am advising you confidentially for old times' sake but you really musty be careful."

"I am inclined to become even more reckless than before and damn the consequences."

Sir Ian glared at Joseph Channing. He was getting worse and worse every day. His rejection of helpful advice was the last straw. He turned away and walked rapidly away from him. Joseph Channing's mind was a turmoil. What had been long feared was about to come to pass. After his anger had subsided, he headed for his chambers and sat awhile deep in thought. At one time, he might have directly remonstrated with the Attorney General and the Home Secretary but he instantly ruled them out as a sheer waste of time.

Without any great surprise, he reached for the phone and called the most reliable, more determined of the brethren and relayed the same message. The plan to canvas support for their rebellion were underway.

A couple of days later, the four of them sat in the splendour of Joseph Channing's mansion as a council of war. Their initial feelings of powerful outrage had settled down a little but only as far as to propel them to plan the unthinkable.

"So we come to the moment of decision. Just how many of the brethren will actually go on strike." Joseph concluded. That word had a strange taste in his mouth, of some illicit pleasure."We have all made our individual approaches and we need to know what we can actually deliver. From my soundings, the signs are promising. How have you fared, Monty?"

"Those whom I spoke to were most vociferous in their support. For years they've felt pushed around by this government. They are fed up being given restrictive guideline and generally told what to do. They don't like the feeling of perpetually looking over their shoulder before they pass judgment. Most of all, they loathe and detest Haughton as a squalid little jumped up know nothing advertising tycoon. They have absolutely no respect for him, as he is a mediocrity. This has been a long time coming and this wretched bill is the final straw. All they've needed is someone or something to spark them into action. They'll be with us, even the usual fence sitters except for, of course, Huntley but I never expected any better of him."

John and Morag Hughes, a comparatively young female judge, chorused their agreement. This was a revelation. They all smiled freely at the news, which was better than they had dared hope. It only took one shove at the delicately poised boulder and it would roll its course. It gave them a strange feeling of power, tempered with responsibility. In what direction would it roll? This was uncharted territory to them all, or nearly all of them and made them nervous.

"So how do we organize this strike?" Morag enquired." We don't just stay at home and watch it on TV surely? There must be more to it than that. Unfortunately, your lectures at Warwick University to me and the others didn't include this on the syllabus."

John grinned at Morag's droll remark on her past experiences of him lecturing in law. He had thought at the time that he had been quite subversive enough, but this deficiency now became obvious. He could sense the direction the conversation was turning and felt relaxed about it.

"John, you're the expert. I remember how you used to hold forth about your sit ins and protests at university."

"I remember the way you said that it made your blood boil and that it was damned un English of me," smirked John playfully at Joseph.

"That was then but this is now. I'm quite entitled to change my mind. This is England's heritage that we are talking about, after all. Remember Oliver Cromwell. He gave that Charles the First fellow short shrift when he got too big for his boots. Soon cut him down to size. We need your experience."

John laughed heartily at Joseph's gleeful enthusiasm in his unintentional pun and he ransacked his distant memories.He could remember that extraordinary event as a vivid patch of interconnected pleasurable sensations. He recalled equally vividly the crowd of marching charging people down to the city centre , as equally sleeping with that gorgeous woman with the long blond hair in the large communal sleeping area . He remembered standing next to the leader of the sit in, when the university files were broken open in order to check just how much surveillance there was on the more notorious trouble makers. He shook his head, as his memories eluded his search for specific answers to the here and now. Historians always had both the time and opportunity to interview a whole variety of sources to investigate the motivations and backgrounds of the key players, to piece together the sequence of events that led up to the main riots and revolutions. If you were in the middle of events, which burst in on you, it was not so easy. After the sit in, John had relied on the sheer brilliance of his mind and on not being definitely caught out in the aftermath to go on to his illustrious career. The specific memories were consigned to his adolescent phase, even while he boasted of the allure of such adolescent delinquencies. Now he was being called upon to lead such disreputable behaviour. He smiled to himself at life's little ironies. In the absence of specific experience to draw upon, he would have to fall back on his inventive mind.

"We have to decide upon our targets. There's the Old Bailey and Court of Appeal and they are very handy and well known for the press. They won't need a route map to find us."

His experience was either of being doorstepped by pushy reporters from the Daily Mail to dish the dirt on him, or alternatively of briefing the more intellectual parts of the media on the government attack on freedoms. Building on this experience started to boost his confidence. His boldness and instinct told him that where there was a will, there was a way and that the brethren would back them.

"What about the Home Office?" Joseph suggested." We might as well take the war to the enemy?"

"Are there enough of us to stake out all three places, much though I like the idea?" questioned Monty.

"Are there enough of us who are bold spirited enough to look after the courts while we concentrate on bearding Haughton in his den?"

All three of them nodded their heads. The die was cast. Joseph poured them all a generous measure of whisky in celebration.

"Not too much, Joseph." John said softly.

"And why?"

"Because we're going to be busy organising the strike. If all goes well, we'll have a victory celebration and then we can all get thoroughly plastered."

"Good man, John. I'll drink to that. For England and St George and damnation to the establishment," enthused Monty, drinking a generous measure from his glass.

"This will make an excellent 'team building' initiative, all of us combining our forces and talents together to make that man grovel. It will be both a sacred duty and pleasure."

All of them burst into hearty laughter at the delicious irony of Joseph's witticism. The day's activities would certainly unite the brethren, but against the government.

"I don't need to say that barristers and solicitors cannot be seen to take part in strike actions. While there is nothing the LCD can do to touch us, they are quite capable and willing to take the wheels off the road of any barrister. We cannot let them take that step."

"So, do we spread the word to them to just stay at home or travel to work, and be ready to be turned aside and go home?"

"Well" Joseph reflected long and hard." If they have business to do at home, let them do so. If there are those disposed to even try to come to work, there'll be nothing for them to do, if we're united and resolute. Besides, they'll have us to reckon with, on the day and afterwards."

"The weather forecast is good for the time of the year. It predicts cold but bright weather," remarked Morag in the thoughtful silence." There's no wind either."

"Oughtn't we be provided with hip flasks to keep out the cold?"

"Oh, good." Beamed Joseph Channing at Monty. The day promised dedicated firmness of purpose and the prospect of pleasurable enjoyment was an added bonus." I shall donate my finest malt and enough hip flasks for us all."

"And we must wear our robes of office if we want to steal the headlines." Morag grinned.

"That reminds me," concluded John." We have to go out and get maximum publicity. It won't necessarily come to us. It strikes me that the media need to be forewarned. I suggest the BBC, ITV, the Guardian and the Independent for a start, unless there are too many of Haughton's cronies who would sit on the story."

"I think we can discount any attempt by the gutter press to create a diversion in terms of John's affair with Francesca Rochester if you don't mind me putting it this way, John." Monty added in the friendliest of tones.

A moment of doubt caused the mood to darken. They suspected very strongly that the greater danger was that the story could well be simply spiked.

"Aren't there any socialist rags or subversive organizations that would be happy to cheer us on, John?" Joseph Channing said hesitantly, screwing up his face at John. "They may once have seen us as their natural enemies at one time and vice versa, but these are strange times indeed. We must be prepared to be bold and innovative."

"I'll do the necessary research, Joseph. Just don't ask me too many questions."

"We'll leave all that to you, John," Joseph pronounced with a murmur of assent. They knew to trust to John's creative and imaginative mind.

A strange smile played on John's lips as he sat in his cambers the next day having given strict instructions to Coope not to allow any interruptions on pain of his most severe anger. His large memory conjured up possibilities as to where to start looking.

"I know of one organisation that might help." muttered John as his search of the internet brought up a promising source of help." Somewhat Bolshevik but I can't say that I disagree with some of their ideas. He glanced at an article on Crime and Punishment and he couldn't help approving of the notion of 're-establishing park wardens, bus conductors and platform attendants who provide some community control, and giving people a degree of hope and a sense of community.' He jotted down the contact number and picked up the phone.

The tousle haired man dressed in jeans and T-shirt was no stranger to phone calls from rank and file comrades , on the point of leading the workers out on strike. Yet at the same time, he was sensitive to that element of fear in the voice on the other end of the phone, as the prospect loomed ahead of the high risks in going over the top. He was used to the variety of regional accents and speaking manner but he was definitely unprepared for the rolling self-assured Etonian accent that made its leisurely way down the phone.

Scene Sixteen

"John Deed here. I looked on the Internet and found your organization to be one which could give advise on taking strike action."

"I'm glad to help you, comrade. Are you the branch secretary of your union?" he asked cautiously. The tone of voice aroused his suspicions, as a part of his political education was a healthy paranoia about MI5 agents trying to infiltrate the organization or alternatively, act as agent provocateurs.

"Aaah, I'm not an official leader but all the others follow me."

"Oh, so you are a rank and file leader?" the man asked approvingly. On the face of it, this sounded promising. There was a certain diffidence of tone, which suggested that he was a newcomer to rank and file trade union activism.

"As rank and file as a high court judge ever is. We do include the odd appeal court judge or two."

At that point, the man's hearing tried to make contact with his brain and failed utterly. This lay totally outside his political experience and didn't fit in with the familiar associated alphabet soup of organizations, political or trade union. No MI5 spy would have the bizarre imagination to masquerade as such pillars of the establishment. They would more likely to represent themselves as leaders of some suitably grimy handed proletarian organizations as railway or engineering workers.

"A high court judge? So you and your fellow workers are all judges?"

"That's correct," came the courteous reply.

"You don't mind me asking, why are you going on strike?"

"Is it safe to talk openly on the phone in case the line is tapped?" came John's cautious reply.

"It's all right, err comrade John, there is an up to date scrambler fitted to the phone."

"Briefly, I have been a thorn in the side of the establishment for years. Specifically we are up against the Home Office and their craven lackeys in the Lord Chancellor's Department. They see the relationship between the executive and judiciary as a master servant one and that we should manipulate the progress of politically sensitive trials to suit their squalid purposes. What brought matters to a head that I and two other judges recently wiped the slate clean of Nikki Wade who was unjustly punished for defending her partner. She was on the point of being raped by a policeman with a record of violence as long as your arm."

"Jesus, so you were that judge." Gasped the man in mingled astonishment and admiration to John's pleasure." That case was the talk of our organization."

"I am also particularly guilty of persuading my fellow judges who had previously thought me an outspoken maverick to share my point of view. In particular, I have crossed swords on a n umber of occasions with Neil Haughton, the present Home Secretary, and unprincipled, money grubbing petty dictator. What's bringing us out on strike is his proposed bill to totally shackle the powers of the judges to the powers of the Home Office which I hope you've heard about."

"That bastard," exclaimed the other man. Of all New Labour ministers, he was more hated than any of them." Too right, we've heard about his plans and we've wondered how it could be stopped. It will bring in a police state."

"Precisely. I cannot cast aspersions on his parentage, only on his character. As for stopping his plans, you need look no further than to us." John's droll tones responded. The man on the other end of the phone had to grin and warm to the comrade. He had a uniquely stylish wit and clarity of thought about him. Instinct told him that this story was becoming more and more promising.

"The only good that he has ever done has been that his dictatorial manner has taught the brethren that I have been right all along so that I ceased to be the disreputable outsider that I was once considered. They have come to follow my lead and set us on collision course with him."

"Brethren?" queried the man.

"It is an expression, referring to the entirety of the judges."

"Something like comrade," hazarded the other man helpfully. Everything John said made sense. He had made up his mind firmly on the matter and found himself on more familiar ground in describing his feelings on the matter.

"That sounds about right." John answered in studied tones while respecting the other man's succinct summary. It struck him as rather droll to be addressed as 'comrade' in contrast to opposed to 'my lord.' It recalled dim memories of egalitarian philosophies of his student days. The language of the voice on the phone sounded strange to begin with, but he found himself more and more comfortable as he continued. He sounded perfectly genuine, and was definitely on a higher moral plane than the false politeness of the apparatchiks.

"Look here, John," he exclaimed excitedly," I am sure our organization will back you but what's your plan?"

"The strike's on for Friday June 23rd 2001. We're picketing the Old Bailey and the Court of Appeals and also the Home Office where we hope to remonstrate with Haughton in full view of the press to make an ideal photo opportunity. We'll be in full regalia of course. It will be cold and the robes will keep us warm. Three high court judges and a very angry court of appeal judge will give him plenty to think about."

There was a perfect silence at the other end of the phone until the man picked up a stray thought, which made him urge caution.

"It sounds great but had you thought about the Tory anti-trade union employment laws? You have to give so many days notice or they'll hang that one on you, declare the strike illegal and seek damages against you."

"Against the National Union of Judges? No such organisation officially exists. Besides, who will do the government's dirty work for them? You need a judge for that and not even that one miserable spineless coward who won't come out on strike will dare do that. We are united in struggle and none of us are disposed to do the government's bidding."

The beautiful simplicity of John's formulation left the other man was like a bombshell and left him giddy with the rush of possibilities that opened up before him. Moreover, John's quiet determined tones impressed him with his force of purpose and the sheer outrageous theatrics. He desperately wanted to help out and play a part in this event. More than anything else, he knew what side he was on and that was the most important thing.

"What practical form of support do you want from us, John?" he asked in hushed respectful tones.

"We'd like to get full coverage in the mainstream papers. We're going for the least corrupt of the established press, the BBC and ITV but the established media may well be gagged. For this reason, we'd be grateful if any newspapers that you are connected with could cover the event. We realize that, while firm in purpose, we are relatively few in numbers and if any of your friends care to turn up on the picket lines, they would be extremely welcome. One thing I must impress upon you. The demonstration must be peaceful, as otherwise our stance as upholders of justice would be publicly compromised."

"You can count on us to cover the event. We'll keep any head cases well away from your protest. There are some around, unfortunately. Have you had any experience of this sort of thing before?"

"Only in my student days in the sixties when I was involved in protest and sit ins."

This judge was pegged as a strange distant relation of student radicals Tariq Ali and Paul Foot as warm-hearted sentiment washed through him. He was too young to be there but collective party folk memory passed down this history to him as well as sitting at the knee of such still active political veterans. It is strange what seeds of rebellion were sown that lay dormant for years, which have now reached fruition.

"I don't want to tell you the obvious but you'll need picket signs, leaflets to hand out to passers by and mobile phones to keep contact with each other for a start. If you can get hold of a megaphone, it'll help you to get your point of view to the public in general."

"I'm used to holding forth in an extremely large court building." John's slightly severe voice retorted in actorish tones while noting the practicality of the other suggestions.

"I'm sure you can but just think of the London traffic first thing in the morning and the wide open spaces. The acoustics are totally different from what you're used to. Why take any chances?"

"Perhaps you're right. I'd better look one out." John conceded.

"Look here, I know from what you've said, we'll back you one hundred per cent. Can you give me your phone number and I'll phone you back as soon as I can get an answer."

"That's extremely decent of you……"John said with a hint of emotion in his tones. On the other end of the phone, the word 'decent' had a quaintly old world air about it. It was something that the judge obviously believed with every fibre of his being. He had as much determination about him as any working class hero that he'd known or read about.

"By the way, is there anything else that we need?" he asked.

"You need good luck, good weather and solidarity, comrade." He closed the conversation softly.

John finally got back to his digs and smiled to himself, as that irresistible temptation that had nagged at him all day clamoured for his attention. He flipped through the phone directory searching for the names Stewart and Wade. Sure enough, he found what he was looking for.

Helen and Nikki were busy packing for their holidays. Nikki's initial idea had been San Francisco, which was the city of her dreams, but she had been prevailed upon to try another country as a dummy run. They would have had to apply for a visa and who knew what obstructions they would have had to face. In the end, the idea of Paris appealed to them as both romantic and a city of culture. Consequently, at the time when the phone rang, the normally tidy flat was strewn with freshly ironed clothes, various suits, dresses trousers and tops were hung on coat hangers all over the flat from various convenient.

"We're going to Paris, Helen. Remember the Galleries Lafayette has some of the finest

shops and we don't want to pay excess baggage." Nikki lectures Helen sternly while Helen pulled that winsome little girl look on her face and fingered the particular smart suit that she loved. Both of them were looking forward to a bit of retail therapy and

They were feeling a bit tired and bothered.

"Hi, it's Nikki," the well-modulated voice intoned in a friendly fashion. She expected that it might be Claire or Trisha or Sally Anne. She was definitely expecting some kind of female voice and was definitely unprepared for the deep masculine voice coming down the phone.

"Hi it's John, John Deed. I trust you remember me."

"Hey, hey, I never expected to hear from you again, John, you having your life to lead and me living mine….anyway, it's nice to hear from you and I remember telling you to call if you ever wanted to just pop in."

As Helen laid her favourite red shirt back over the back of the settee, she grinned at Nikki's obvious confusion and her usual resilience. She stopped what she was doing to listen.

"I will certainly take up your very kind offer but this call is more business. I wanted to let you into a little secret. I don't suppose you've read recent press 'speculation' that the government are planning to substantially tighten up on the powers of judges."

"Yeah, I read about it but there's no actual comment from the government," answered Nikki, the news hound.

"Take it from me that the plans are definite and we're all planning to go on strike this Friday, the full works, picket lines, press, publicity, you name it, we'll be doing it."

Those quiet spoken word had a tremendous effect on Nikki. Her eyes positively glowed and her mouth opened wide in total surprise till feelings of total exaltation and delirious joy radiated from her face

"If it was any other judge, John, I'd say I can't believe that what you're saying is for real but I believe you all right," Nikki said in shaking, emotion choked tones as the implications hit her as a rolling tidal wave of deep feeling." If those laws had been in place when I was first up for trial, I'd still be rotting alive in Larkhall."

"That is incredibly astute of you, Nikki," John's voice sounded in her ear with a telltale flicker of emotion. He had trust in humanity as a whole and Nikki was the most brilliant exemplar.

"So where do we come into the picture, John?" Nikki asked. She knew there was some purpose to this announcement.

"We need public support. We're holding a demonstration outside the Home Office and we need as many right-minded citizens in support of us. I though that you must know a number of like minded women to come along and lend support."

"You mean a demonstration?"

"Entirely peaceful, Nikki.We want to send out the right message."

Nikki' mind was decided in a flash

"We're packing for a holiday in Paris. You know what women are like but…we'll make time. We'll be there, John. We'll get on the phone and rustle up as much support as we can get…..excuse me a minute John……."

She could see Helen mouthing protest at the state of chaos that reigned in the flat and how could they get packed in time and deliver themselves at the check in at the airport in time.

"The judges are out on strike this Friday against a bill that would take away their freedoms. Solidarity, Helen. We gotta be there," she lectured in stern tones, unknowingly echoing the sentiments of the left wing organizer John had been talking to. In turn, John grinned at Nikki's succinct description of the situation. Helen mutely assented as she could equally see the force of the argument. However, she mentally reserved to herself the right to call on Nikki to make good the promise to be ready in time for their holiday.

"Right John, we'll be there. You may know that I'm not unused to protests. Just leave it to us."

"Thanks, Nikki, and Helen also. You will get your friends not to tell the press in advance. We have to keep control over this."

"That goes without saying, John. What time does the protest start?"

"We'll be there at half seven to be on the safe side. We anticipate that the party will warm itself up an hour later."

"Jesus," Nikki exclaimed. She hadn't counted on such an early start. Well, if the cause is right, all else follows. "Leave it to us. We'll be there and one last thing, John."

"What's that?"

"We'll be thinking of you as you go over the top. Good luck."

Nikki's soft tones made John feel how lucky Helen was. A couple of tears flicked into his eyes at the far-flung friendships he was privileged to enjoy.

"We'll get the packing done. We'll make time. Of course, you know that we have to be there, even if it is at eight in the morning."

Helen drew the taller woman towards her and clasped her close. No words needed to be spoken to explain why. Helen had drawn her own conclusions from Nikki's end of the conversation.

A little while later, John grinned to himself at the delicious humour at the thought of enlisting help from a left wing political organization and the equally committed band of women in whose warm heartedness and daring he had grown to develop strong affections. In these strange times, he knew that rules were made for the guidance of wise men and the slavish obedience of fools.

"Charlie, can you help me out with making up some picket signs? Oh yes, I could do with a fully functioning megaphone," John said over his mobile, making one final phone call on Thursday morning.

"Why on earth do you want to make picket signs at your age, dad." laughed Charlie.

"For the brethren to go out on strike with. What else?"

A few hours later, John and Charlie were hard at work, carefully painting some very decorative picket signs. Just as Charlie was enthusiastically putting the finishing touches, Mimi, the judge's dog, strolled past, wagging his tail and streaked the paintwork. He pirouetted in full view, traces of red paint staining the end of his tail.

"Oh Mimi," exclaimed an exasperated Charlie at her." You just have to stick your nose in everywhere. It's only because you want to be the center of attention."

"Dogs do, Charlie. They're worse than children," muttered a weary John as he straightened his back.

By unspoken agreement, John became responsible for the final preparations in the last days. He would coordinate the strike action via his mobile. What gladdened his heart was that the most cynical, jaded amenable of the brethren volunteered to man the picket lines on the Old Bailey and the Court of Appeal. It freed up the four of them to concentrate on the Home Office and John lay down to the peaceful sleep of the just. He had an early night and slept soundly.

Scene Seventeen

At a ridiculously early hour, John's mind switched on and he sprang out of the spare bed at Joseph's mansion. Because of his methodical preparation, picket signs, leaflets and loudhailer were stashed in George's convertible. The only problem he foresaw was to in putting on his flowing red robes in the outside winter air rather than in the cloistered environment of his chambers.

"If I get arrested by the police because of being caught up in your infantile games," hissed George from behind the wheel," I will be absolutely furious. I will never forgive you if I get caught out. I will want compensating of course."

"You don't change, George. You were just the same when you were a little girl." chuckled Joseph to George's embarrassment and John's knowing smile.

As they approached their final destination, everything felt unreal. For a start, they was heading away from his beaten track and for another, they were up and about a lot earlier than normal. George parked her car discreetly round the corner from the Home Office, her eyes flitting in every direction to spot anyone she might know. Fortune had blessed them with a rising sun on the horizon just starting to illuminate what set out to be a fine blue sky and not a breath of wind. The conditions were perfect. George hurriedly got out the robes of office, and pointedly ignored the instruments of public protest.

"If you must take part in this ridiculous masquerade, then I insist that you must be smartly dressed. I don't want the pair of you to disgrace yourselves on the front page of 'Cosmopolitan' magazine."

"You mean if we are arrested." John said impishly.

"I mean, John, I will not have either of you looking as if you have stepped out from an Oxfam sale." George retorted acidly, refusing to rise to the bait." Now I'm going home and I'm going to have a quiet day at home and, no, I won't be watching the news. I dread to think of what I might see."

As George stalked off haughtily, she threw the parting remark from over her shoulder.

"Phone me on your mobile and I'll pick you up."

"If I know George, she'll video the news. She's really proud of us, only she can't admit it." Joseph's very carrying 'stage whisper' was answered by John's grin as he watched two hackney taxis converge on them and Morag and Monty arrive. The arrangements were starting to fall into place.

"All right, John, where's the action?" Morag called out casually, her robes neatly in place.

John shot a quick look down the street. Already, lines of yellow-jacketed policemen were assembled outside the front entrance. He propped his picket sign over his shoulder and held the loudhailer by the handle, using it to gesture to the others.

"Over there unless they're double crossing us, Morag. I think that we should not disappoint the public guardians of the peace. Come on."

"I don't know about you but it's biting cold outside and a shot of whisky would warm us up." urged Monty.

"Great idea." pronounced Morag. The ardent spirits soon coursed through their veins and warmed their spirits without taking the edge off their thinking. They could hardly be arrested for being drunk and disorderly on a picket line. After all, they were judges, were they not?

They filed over to the front doors of the Home Office and curiously enough, the policemen gave them space. Ancient instinct prevented the Metropolitan police from barring the way to four distinguished judges, customarily the upholder of order.

There was a polite stand off as there was a pause in the proceedings. There was a curious uncomfortable edge in the air as if the police were confronting their traditional political enemies on the picket line. On the other hand, the four wise judges were starting to feel as if they were actors in a performance of Waiting for Godot. John looked at his watch. It struck him that for the first time in his life, he was forced to work to Haughton's daily routine. He glanced at the entrance to the underground car park and judged that this was the entrance to block. Long dormant instincts enabled him to size up the geography of the situation and locate themselves three dimensionally. John understood immediately what the political activist had said about the traffic noise. Fleeting steel shapes whizzed past them and their constant irregular droning sound intruded on everything, including private thought. He had not noticed it before, having been one of the drivers.

Suddenly, a crowd of casually dressed demonstrators rounded the corner, and filed in their direction. They were well muffled up against the elements. Instantly, the police reverted to their normal boot faced impassive demeanour. They recognized their natural enemy and felt almost relieved about being able to revert to type. They closed ranks so as to bar their way.

"Hands off our judges." A single shout rang out from the crowd. It seemed to confuse them.

"Are these others with you" one policeman curtly enquired of John.

"Looks like it." Came John's dry response." Any free spirited English people are welcome to celebrate with us the traditional freedoms, which are under threat from the government. I'll be answerable for their good behaviour so can you let them pass."

John's forceful tones had the desired effect and the line of policemen parted so as to let the crowd through. Their leader extended his hand to John whom he recognized as being in charge. John noted approvingly that his grip was as firm as the man's politics.

"You must be John Deed. I'm pleased to meet you."

"I'm glad you could make it. We're pleased that so many of your friends could spare the time to come along."

"I said that a lot of us would come along and support you."

"I confess that I'm not used to being up at this early hour. At least the weather is fine."

Incongruously, the unwritten but powerful mores of conventional English polite society prevailed on the city streets, occupied by four supposed members of the British ruling class and their one-time class enemies.

"How's your strike going?"

"We're certain that the Old Bailey and the Court of Appeal will be closed for the day. Hardly a single judge will turn up for work. There will be very few barristers who will even try and turn up for work and they won't dare cross the picket lines. I'm going to phone up in a bit and check."

Images came into the other man's mind of folk images of furious confrontations in the 1984 miner's strike. He could not help but be impressed that this strike was so solid and well organised.

"The press are arriving, comrade."

John glanced round and, to his surprise, a group of photographers were coming in his direction, complete with cameras and hand held film gear. Even he was becoming slightly overawed by the scale of the event unfolding. Was it only days ago that this was all talk as they had conceived the idea and made their plans?

"This way, gentlemen." John's carrying voice called out in their direction, still holding the megaphone in his clasp. It was just while they were crossing the road, Morag called out to him in an urgent tone of voice.

"Look out, everyone. Haughton's coming."

The pressmen froze for a second, before the more quick-witted hastily grabbed their cameras, video and sound gear just before events unfolded very rapidly. They had to take the chances as they came.

Sure enough a sleek grey limousine flashed into view, and the tableau froze for a second. Instinctively, John stepped out to block the approach of the car.

"The reckless fool," Monty muttered, as he hesitated where he stood.

Fortunately, the driver braked instinctively as a judge in full regalia was blocking his path. Slightly ashamed of his vacillation, Monty's feet unfroze themselves, followed by Morag and finally Joseph puffed his way to the scene. A lividly angry Haughton wound down his window, as the flashbulbs started popping and the cameras started to run.

'I'll have all of you arrested for obstruction if you block my way."

"And who's going to try us? None of the brethren would touch this with a bargepole."

"I'll find someone. Sir Ian might."

"You can't really mean that the fool has the slightest ability to run a court of law. To say that he was always mediocre in both his knowledge and application of the law would be to grossly exaggerate his talents. That was why he became an administrator." laughed John in his face.

The soundman noted with satisfaction that the judge's voice was nicely balanced for volume and well modulated for live transmission even if Haughton was less distinct. The smart suited politician went red in the face in anger and humiliation and raised his voice in an effort to sound masterful and dominant. After all, he was the Home Secretary, Mr Law and Order, wasn't he? He did not realize that he only came over as petulant as nobody had ever dare tell him that. In the crowd, Helen and Nikki looked on with keen interest. This was the first time that they had seen a politician outside his protective publicity bubble.

"You will not get in the way of the elected representatives of the people. I shall crack down hard on the lot of you."

"You fool, Haughton. You'll have us out for longer than a day if you carry on like this.

You come and face us, man to man, and tell the nation on prime time television that you'll impeach me if you dare," roared John at the insignificant man who shrank back in his seat. None of his minders were there to help or advise him.

Suddenly, there came the powerful if not very tuneless singing through another megaphone to the tune of 'London Bridge is falling down." An unamplified chorus backed the singer.

"Neil Haughton is a right.

Is a right, is a right

Neil Haughton is a right."

For a few moments, John, Monty, Joseph and Morag were puzzled at the way the song built itself up in such an obscure way until suddenly the payoff line explained all…

"Tory hangman."

John roared with laughter at this neat linguistic trick of this bit of street theatre protest. As the chorus leader swung into a repeat chant, John lustily joined in, followed more discreetly by the others, not without misgivings at the way that the creep was bracketed to their conservative upbringing. Joseph Channing's long experience of life hailed back to his own legal mentor Lord Denning, or Bob Denning as he knew him as, the legal stalwart of the McMillan government. No true die-hard conservative would ever deign to breath the same air let alone soil his hands by shaking hands with such a jumped up spiv. Everyone had standards in his younger days. Nevertheless, he did smile faintly at the spectacle and mumble along despite his reservations.

"Move it, driver. This is an order." Haughton snapped, unable to stomach the public humiliation any more. Unfortunately, the judges had crowded in on Haughton, the more effectively to harangue him and the way was clear. With a screech of tyres, the sleek black Mercedes was off and away, down the steep concrete ramp, round the corner and was gone.

Momentarily, John's wits were in a state of disarray. The object of their collective loathing had removed himself from the scene.

"Is that man so scared of us?" John asked abstractly of the world.

"It's more what you represent, John." Put in Monty.

"Do you want to talk to the press, John? They are waiting for us."

John pulled himself together in response to Morag's quiet suggestion. It was taken for granted that John was the most capable in this particular area. After all, had he not gone public in his crusade against the creeping power of the executive on a number of occasions? However much they may have criticized him at the time, both his past experience and his boldness made him the obvious public spokesman.

He eyed the pressmen warily, having crossed swords with a number of them who violated court procedures in their coverage of a 'reality TV' trial. One of them had sneaked a photograph of a witness on a mobile, put it up on the Internet where it was downloaded onto the front page of the tabloids. He had had the lot of them held in custody, day after day, until the culprit cracked. The difference was then that he was on John's territory , whereas he was now right out in the open on their territory, with no defence except his sharp wits. He saw that very same reporter was joining the queue to launch the attack.

"Isn't your strike an attack on law and order?"

"I disagree. Any authority can and should govern with public endorsement of its morality rather than mere passive acceptance. It is the Home Secretary who is bringing the law into disrepute. He is obsessed with shredding and binning what rights are still left to us leaving no opportunities for dissent. A famous man said that if you do not give the people reform, they will only give you revolution in return."

"Won't the public suffer?

"Name me a strike that hasn't had some effect upon the public. The argument is not of our making but the Home Secretary."

"Don't you feel that you're being used?"

"By whom? We have minds of our own. If you refer to the supporters of the strike, I can only express my gratitude in their public spirited attitude in passing up a morning's lie in."

"Won't the viewers feel uncomfortable in left wing activist extremists latching onto an otherwise worthy cause, and hijack it to their own ends?"

"The strike has a clear objective, that the bill which will shackle the freedom of judges be withdrawn. There is a general principle at stake that the executive should back off from its attempt to seize total control over all aspects of society. I think our worthy companions and fellow protesters agree with this last principle, whatever banners they may carry."

"What sort of example are you setting the criminals out there?"

"The laws of this country do not permit unpunished what is clearly a crime so long as the due process of law is complied with. The right to peaceful legitimate protest is a time honoured one. History will tell anyone that rights were hard fought for yet so easily taken away unless we all stand together."

"Do you anticipate any more strike action?"

"That is in the hands of the government. They don't have to misapply the overused Churchill metaphor of refusing to budge for no clear reason. If they have minds, then they can be open to reason and they should be large minded enough to admit their mistakes. The ball is in their court."

"Can you therefore definitely rule out any further strike action?"

"We shall continue with whatever it takes to achieve our goals. Naturally, a peaceful solution is to be preferred."

"What sort of support have you had in your strike action?"

"I quite forgot. I meant to check with my colleagues. If you bear with me for a minute."

John said courteously as he fished out his mobile through his red robes.

"John here." He asked coolly and calmly." For the benefit of the press and TV who are right next to me, how's the strike going on at your end………oh, one hundred per cent support apart from the obvious one…. a mere handful of barristers came to work and turned round the moment you politely asked them to…and the turnout at the Court of Appeal was exactly the same …….that's excellent…….well, I hope that you are all in good spirits….."

"I am proud to say that all the judges have risen to the occasion and that both courts are closed for business." John proclaimed with a slight tremor in his voice. It dawned on him how much he had asked of the brethren. Thoughts had fluttered at the back of his mind, that he might be demanding more of the more cautious brethren than they could deliver. After all, they had not had his hardening experience of a long career path of brinkmanship with the forces of reaction?

"So your senseless disruption has been complete?" urged the cheeky Scottish whippersnapper of a press hack whom he had punished for taking the photo in court. God, he must be getting old, he thought, to think in terms like this.

"Better to go on strike and make a clean sweep of it rather than launch a series of half successful strikes, don't you think?"

"Do you see the successful outcome of the strike benefiting not just judges and if so, who, how and why?" came the solitary voice of the friendly young man whose chance phone call to him had steered in John's direction.

"We have struck a notable blow for liberty. As far as I see it, freedom is indivisible. I was brought up to believe in the separation of the powers in the executive, the judiciary and the legislature. We of the judiciary are rooted in the sense of England's traditional freedoms. So far from being a revolutionary demand, it is a traditional statement of the pluralist society. On the one hand, a victory for us would make the power obsessed and control freaks think twice about encroaching on our traditional rights and freedoms. On the other hand, if the over mighty executive has failed signally in their attempts to attack me, then it will encourage one and all to claim their just rights. I trust that this day's action and others who respond to it will help rebuild the necessary checks and balances and keep at bay those who wish to rob our freedoms in the name of democracy."

As the reverberation from his proudly and loudly uttered words died away, John suddenly noticed how dry his voice was. While the mainstream press had fallen silent, his radical friend nodded approvingly, and was scribbling it down in rapid shorthand. It would make peculiar reading, side by side with Trotskyite politics but it all made sense to him. It was couched in a different vocabulary than he was used to, that's all.

The four of them looked on as John held the megaphone in his hand. It dawned on them that the main purpose of the strike had been achieved. The film clippage would be duly taken away and suitably edited and the press went off to file their stories. Suddenly, a massive feeling of peace and silence descended upon the actors in this street theatre. So focused had they been on in preparing for this event, that it was very hard to work out exactly what to do next. Hazily, John realized that while they stayed there, so would the police. It felt as if they were all at an all night party, with that same feeling of being tired, yet unable to leave. They had certainly been up since very early and on their feet for hours. So much had happened in a short space of time.

Scene Eighteen

"Hey John, I told you we'd be there. We've seen and heard everything that's gone on. You are totally amazing," called out the tall dark haired woman who had edged to the front of the crowd.

"I must congratulate you in handling a street demonstration with so much style," a Scottish brogue proclaimed with clarion volume.

Nikki was smartly dressed in a long dark overcoat, the wind ruffling her hair ,a broad smile on her face, eyes gleaming with excitement. She was holding hands with a smaller woman with striking features and a broad smile on her face. They had slid out from the rest of the crowd. Behind them, a windswept Trisha and Sally Anne smiled in a friendly fashion at the spectacle which had impressed them and made getting up at such an early hour so worthwhile. Other women who were more shy and retiring clung to the security of the crowd. Only Gill had failed to turn up.

Nikki and Helen looked up admiringly at the man who was overflowing with Olympian stature of personality and a profound capacity to use words as a righteous weapon. They could see with affection how much of a show off and a performer he was, yet it was the truest, most glowing expression of himself. In turn, John's dazed mind took a little time to register the fact that Helen and Nikki had popped up out of nowhere and had been true to their word. Tears formed in his eyes at the thought that they, too, had come to lay their bodies on the line in the most meaningful fashion possible.

"Nikki's really impressed with your performance, John. She's done something like this a couple of times on my watch when I was being the bossy git in charge at Larkhall. In my book, you definitely get ten out of ten for style."

"Hey, what about the rest of us?" Monty asked in grinning joking tones to a chorus of laughter from the others. They didn't really mind being upstaged by John. For one he deserved it and for another, they thought affectionately of this talent of his.

"You are all totally marvellous and we are totally inspired by each and everyone of you but let's face it, John has the glamour."

"Typical John. He always has had a female fan club," laughed Joseph Channing, his spirits overflowing with comradeship.

"Ah, but we are women with a difference," laughed Nikki.

"At least, we're under the protection of the highest law in the land," joked Helen, her skin flushed with the cold and the heady excitement of the moment.

So the light hearted banter carried on. All of them were sensitive people and realized that they were living a moment that was at the most intense level of felt experience. They were up high with the spirit of the occasion.. This was one of those intensely spiritual moment of their lives that they would all recall in quieter moments. They were disengaged from that modern sense of the passing of time so that this precious moment could extend forward to limitless horizons. To Nikki, sharing the power just for the day of running G Wing with Yvonne, the Julies and Barbara meant exactly the same as exchanging conversation with these judges who were armed with supreme moral authority. It was a real comedown when Helen who had surreptitiously checked her watch signalled to Nikki that they had to make a move. A part of her didn't want to be torn away from that scene and she knew they had to move on.

"The comrades and I have to make a move. We've got to get to work and I've got an article to write up. I expect we'll meet again sometime," their radical friend politely interjected.

"So long as you're not in the wrong end of my court." Joked John. Instantly, he regretted his remark. He shook hands with the man, followed by Monty, Joseph and Morag. While they had held back in their dealings with the others, it was only out of a peculiar sense of shyness, not having John's adaptability in mixing with all kinds of people and finding something in common with them. Their friend led the crowd away from the scene of their triumph and all that was left were the four of them, the policemen and the sound of transient traffic passing. Presently, the police shuffled their way down the street as they were needed elsewhere. Both women decided that this was their cue to say their goodbyes or they never would tear themselves away.

"Unfortunately, we have to make a move," Helen said slowly, feeling her words inadequate. "If there is any help you want from us, just say the word."

"I think neither of you feel that the help you give is ever enough in this world." John said, a smile shining out of his eyes and glowing in his face. "Take it from us, you've done everything that could be expected of you. Till the next time."

The other judges murmured assent and the two women finally shook hands with the judges in comradely fashion and reluctantly moved away. Work was such a comedown by comparison. Nikki vowed mentally to herself that they would somehow, sometime meet again.

"What do we do now?" John asked as the emotional high tide began to ebb away and the feelings of tiredness, which had been kept at bay, returned with a vengeance. The mixed presence of the two forms of intimate comradeship still hung in the air.

"I'm all for another shot of whisky," came Morag's prompt response. They were feeling chilled to the bone and that was an excellent idea.

"Where do we go now?"

"Back to the digs." Exclaimed Joseph promptly. "You did say we could celebrate, John. I for one am not doing any of my normal work. That would be indecent and it can surely wait."

"Do we phone for a taxi?" Monty asked in vague tones. They were at that level of tiredness, when even banal matters take time in thinking through.

"I've a better idea. George will pick us up. She did promise us."

Fifteen minutes later, John spotted George's car in the line of traffic. Fortunately for her state of mind, there wasn't a policeman in sight.

"Do you seriously think that my car will be able to take all of you? I'm not driving a cattle truck." George exploded when John imperiously demanded that George took them all to the digs.

"I don't know. Perhaps Joseph ought to be in the front. The rest of us will squeeze in the back, somehow."

"It's the somehow that worries me." George said grudgingly, eyeing the space in the rear seats dubiously. She capitulated , as poor Daddy was looking especially cold and tired. She permitted herself a secret smile as it struck her just how thin skinned and neurotic Neil was and that their protest might just work. She could not afford to be squeamish in letting the most disreputable means achieve her goal. She never had in the past so why stop now?

"Well, just for Daddy's sake, I agree but only on conditions."

"I might have known you'd drive a deal."

"For a start, I will not put up with any backseat drivers. If you don't like my driving, you can jolly well walk. For another, I do not want to see a single mark on my car."

George could feel the extra weight, as soon as she moved away and she drove with the utmost delicacy. It was uncomfortably sluggish when she braked, or when she accelerated. Only for that reason, were the passengers spared the aggressive style of George's driving in slicing in front of dithering weekend drivers.

"Is there a spare television that we can set up in the bar?" John enquired of the barman when they had piled into the digs.

."Why on earth do you have this unaccountable desire to watch daytime television?" George drawled with a knowing look in her eye, while the others looked as pleased as punch at the idea.

"Oh, only to watch the news. Nothing else."

"So you can see if the camera has caught your best profile, darling and minister to your vanity."

"Look who's talking. In any case, I know you really don't mean it, George."

"Just watch my lips."

"Never mind this infernal argument." Monty cut in, weary of this pointless bickering. "I'm dying for a drink."

"Do you want to join us, George?" came John's oh so innocent tones.

"I'm just checking on what Jo's doing just as a matter of interest." The expression on George's face was particularly unfathomable as she felt for her mobile and moved to a quiet corner of the bar, which was beginning to get noisy.

"Jo, I'm at the digs and I'll be getting drunk with that disreputable band of judges, including daddy. After all, someone's got to keep charge of them."

"George, you tell everyone 'well done' from me. John looked and sounded positively superb on TV," Jo replied, her voice shaken by emotion with her particular ability to let go and ignore any sense of public embarrassment..

"Yes, yes, Jo, but don't ever tell John that, or his head will swell so much that he'll never get through a normal sized door."

"Too late, George. He knows it already."

George grinned, clicked off the phone and made her way back to the table. She was going

to get her share of drinking in. She stood foursquare at the others and, hands on hips, looked John in the eye.

"Yes John, I'm being perfectly contrary in joining in your victory celebrations. You know very well what I really feel about how splendidly you've behaved. Now do you have a problem with me?"

"I wouldn't dream of arguing."

"Let's have a bottle of your finest malt," boomed Joseph, the light of incipient pleasure in his eye." None of your tiny thimble sized measures. Five glasses and the bottle, and leave the rest to us. We want to celebrate."

"I'll see to the chairs. You take the weight off your feet, John. You look about done in." offered Monty in a concerned tone of voice.

"Nonsense, he's got more stamina than that," smirked George." As his ex wife, I should know."

John smiled weakly at the others. In their different ways, they were being kind hearted to him. He dropped down in his chair, more worn out than a particularly grueling fencing duel. In the meantime, Joseph's slightly shaking hand poured out recklessly large measures of neat spirit.

"Whew," Morag exclaimed." The fumes alone are enough to knock you out."

"I've had whisky that is strong enough to fuel a rocket to Mars and got us back to the pub for closing time." Declared Joseph roundly with firm conviction.

"My Lord," the barman called." We've found a portable television for you."

"That's excellent." John exclaimed, coming back to life." Can you set it up, so that we can all watch it?"

"And I'll pour another round," added Monty. There was a big smile on his lips. He was happy being sat in a comfortable bar chair, with good company and no Vera to put a damper on everything.

"This has all the signs of a drunken debauch," came George's non-committal observation.

"Are you complaining?"

"Only if you don't get me some soda. This whisky is stronger than paint stripper," came the cryptic reply as she sipped the smallest amount possible from her glass.

"We forgot to get it videoed, dammit," suddenly exclaimed Monty in a woebegone tone of voice.

"It's just as well that there is someone around with brains and organization," George retorted, an insufferably smug expression on her face." I taped it, while I was at home….well, I knew that none of you 'heroes of the revolution' would ever think of it."

John commandeered the remote control and flicked through the channels and, sure enough, the opening shot of the familiar sight of the Home Office headquarters came into view, only that the perspective was curiously detached. It did not feel that the viewer looked at the scene through their eyes.

"And now, news has just come in of extraordinary scenes outside the Home Office. Four judges, in full regalia, demonstrated outside the building, calling on the minister to withdraw the bill that would limit the powers of judges. There were minor scuffles, as they attempted to waylay Neil Haughton the Home Office minister. When interviewed about any future strike action, the leader, John Deed remarked that "If they have minds, then they can be open to reason and they should be large minded enough to admit their mistakes. The ball is in their court."

In the background, was shown the skirmish with Neil Haughton and his car and John's voice threatening to drown out the reporter. In a blink of an eye, a fragment of the press conference just came and went.

"A Home Office spokesman was not available for comment," concluded the interviewer before continuing with some item of pure trivia.

"Just that? The villains. I bet you that the BBC have been nobbled by those crooks," exploded Joseph Channing.

"Relax, Joseph. This will hit the press as well, not forgetting our worthy ally. They may try to minimize and misrepresent us but I bet you that we'll sleep easier in our beds tonight than Haughton will. Now drink up." Monty replied in hearty tones.

"That sounds a good idea. Draw a chair up for George, my splendid daughter and someone get a bottle of tonic water. We'll make this a day to remember."

Several hours later, a very prim and disapproving Vera stomped downstairs, dressed immaculately in her most unbearably pink suits. In contrast, the crowd of five sat with a nearly empty bottle between them and talking loudly. They seemed to be engaging with some long running joke that only they could understand.

"You ought to be ashamed of yourself," she said looking at Morag. 

"Why, just because I can drink these three under the table?" Morag retorted, waving her glass vaguely in Vera's direction.

"I'll give you a run for your money, Morag," muttered George. She was surprised to find that she was holding up better than she expected.

"Monty, you are hanging out with bad and disreputable company. Must you disgrace yourself? I have my reputation to maintain amongst all the other judge's wives."

"Vera, I have mixed with people here and others who were outside the Home Office with us who are the very salt of the earth."

"I don't know what I did to deserve this."

"Vera," Monty retorted in firm, unyielding tones "We have struck a blow for freedom. Now will you have the goodness to either join in or go away and let us get on in peace with some serious drinking?"

As Vera stomped off in high dudgeon, Joseph refilled their glasses with generous measures.

"I'll never drink malt whisky again," groaned John, his head in his hands, as George discreetly poured him a cup of strong coffee on Saturday morning. They had gathered at the obvious strike headquarters which was Joseph Channing's baronial mansion. The newspapers were spread discreetly on the table, including a mysterious brown envelope. They had covered the strike more or less sympathetically, but in the envelope, he and the merry band of men and women were centre stage on Page 1, with an excellent write up. Somehow, he managed to upstage everyone else in the front page photo. He had never achieved this amount of fame in his student days.

There was a knock on the door and Morag breezily walked in, looking as cool and as fresh as she ever did. It hurt his eyes to look at her.

"They say that sex is the best cure for everything," came her cool voice from out of his line of vision.

"For the first time in my life, Morag, I can definitely say it does have its limitations. I would never have believed it."

"This must be the first time I've seen you the morning after a night on the tiles and regretting it." Grinned Jo as she saw the human wreckage laid out before her. It was just as well that George kept her away from the party.

"My mind thinks so but I wish my body did." Mumbled John as he reached for the glass of Alka Seltzer that was fizzing away sympathetically at him.

Scene Nineteen

In contrast with Helen and Nikki's experience of wide screen cinematic grand drama of the judges' strike, their experiences of their holiday in Paris were of a sequence of picture postcard snapshots what were both intensely pleasurable and intensely spiritual.

On the Saturday that John and his fellow judges were recovering from their excesses of the previous night, Helen and Nikki were feverishly at work doing their last minute packing. They had had a very early morning start on Friday, gone on to work, done a full day's work and gone home at the end of a hard week. Consequently, their attempt at packing had been half hearted.

"Oh no," moaned Nikki as the alarm clock rang shrilly into her ear. She sensed Helen positively bound from the bed with a relentless display of early morning energy. "What the hell is the time?"

"Seven o clock, Nikki," came Helen's relentlessly cheery response." Time you were up."

"I can't function this early in the morning. Just another half hour in bed and I'll swear I'll be up."

"In what shape, might I ask? Besides, you were pressing me to be up at the very same hour yesterday," pressed Helen relentlessly." It's all very well wanting us to gad off and help John carry out his street theatre protest. The fun is over and we have simply got to get the packing done in time. Believe you me, we have a third less the amount of time to pack than you think we have. That's the way to organize things."

"You do agree with me that we had a fantastic time yesterday?" wheedled Nikki.

"Babes, I had a great time but the fun is over. This is work and it has to be done," concluded Helen relentlessly, driving home her point with the force of a piledriver.

Moaning to herself, Nikki bowed to the inevitable and slid out of bed.

Many hours later, both their cases were packed with quite an amount of spare space thanks to Nikki's stern restrictions.

"I really didn't want to leave that pair of dark trousers behind," Helen said mournfully." They were special."

"Everything's special, darling. The trouble is that you really want to take your entire wardrobe with you," Nikki retorted with a pointed stare in Helen's direction and a suggestion of a smile at the corner of her lips." Just remember that you will be spending loads of your hard earned money in the Paris boutiques and you won't be livable with if you can't take them back."

"There's an excess baggage allowance," pointed out Helen pertly." This is payback time, you being mean after I got you up nice and early."

"If you had your way, you know very well that we would go catastrophically over the limit. Anyway, you'll be thanking me when we're there," came the infuriatingly smug reply. To be separated from half her clothes was one thing but expecting gratitude for such hard heartedness was rubbing salt in the wounds and Nikki was definitely pushing her luck.

Soon, they were transported out of London's city streets on the way to Heathrow. The built up streets thinned out into the suburbs and Nikki exclaimed with pleasure. She had forgotten how it was like to travel and she was absorbed into the strange, transient world of the airport lounge and numerous officials checking this document and that document with long periods of time sitting around, not talking much. Nikki was wide eyed with wonder in realizing that she was actually on holiday with her beloved and nothing could stop them now. The heightened look in Helen's grey green eyes told Nikki how much she felt the same. Helen felt Nikki's excitement through her clutched fingers as the jet hurled itself upwards into the sky, leaving their stomachs behind the moment the wheels stopped bumping along the runway. On the flight over, Nikki spent time looking out of the window in wonder at the brilliant blue sky, the unbearably bright sun and the fluffy white clouds drifting below her. Helen sat back in her seat, reading the Guardian. She smiled to herself at the third page, which featured the following article.

"Judges strike against proposed bill to curb their power."

In an unprecedented move to block the proposed bill to tighten up drastically on sentencing guidelines, all London's courts were closed for the day by judges mounting picket lines. In unprecedented scenes outside the home office, a group of senior judges heckled Neil Haughton, Home Secretary. John Deed, high court judge and the apparent ringleader was quoted as saying.

'The strike has a clear objective, that the bill which will shackle the freedom of judges be withdrawn. There is a general principle at stake that the executive should back off from its attempt to seize total control over all aspects of society."

A crowd outside the Home Office was largely sympathetic towards the demands of the judges. A Home Office spokesman was unavailable for comment."

She grinned to herself at the photograph. John Deed looked splendidly defiant and distinguished. How the hell would the average holidaymaker consider that the two smartly dressed, respectable looking holidaymakers were part of that unruly crowd? It gave her a comfortable feeling of well-being. She prodded Nikki with the newspaper and a wide grin spread over her face as she drank in the good tidings.

"I'm starting a scrapbook with this article pride of place," Nikki said, half an eye glancing down at their Olympian view of the world at their feet.

The hotel they found themselves in on Saturday evening was one of those charming small family type hotels situated just away from the hustle and bustle of the city centre. Both women fell in love with it as soon as they saw it. Nikki's mouth hung open as she set eyes on the stylishly curved banister rail curving its way upstairs, the discreetly hung back curtains and the delicate artwork on the inlay in the ceiling. Both women were struck dumb with admiration that it took them time to adjust to their new surroundings.

"This is incredible," breathed Helen looking all around her, transported into a totally new world. Once she returned to the present, she noticed out of the corner of eye how Nikki was engaged in conversation with the receptionist in rapid French. Helen smiled in appreciation at yet another of Nikki's unexpected talents. Looking sideways at the way she gesticulated as she talked and her dark hair and matching natural elegance, yes Nikki was a little French in appearance. This was her way of diving enthusiastically into another milieu.

Helen made her way over to the receptionist with her brilliant smile and ransacked from the recesses of her memory the basic phrases that she had learned at school to check in and sign the register. The receptionist smiled encouragingly at her valiant attempt to assimilate herself in another culture rather than past generations of ignorant English tourists who expected others to talk in their language.

"You are a dark horse, Nikki Wade. You do your best to talk me into travelling to San Francisco and sneakily keep quiet about your own linguistic accomplishments," Helen exclaimed, hands on her hips to a grinning smug Nikki.

"I think we'll need to take the cases up on the lift, Helen," murmured the taller woman unobtrusively.

"Bravo et bon jour," exclaimed the receptionist enthusiastically, without the slightest reservations of the two glamorous mademoiselles who were clearly fond of each other and graced the presence of his hotel with their good manners. They said their 'mercis' to the receptionist in the form of politeness that they were fast assimilating. The two women smiled with appreciation at the way they were treated, not having the slightest preconception in advance of how gay friendly Paris would be. They would have to find that out.

Once upstairs, both women were entranced to see the same artistic touches, the creamy white painted walls, which framed the little pictures of famous Parisian scenes, and the half shuttered windows that were archetypally French. Their suitcases were made to fill up the wardrobes, a mini version of the flat they shared in London. A stream of strong sunlight greeted them in the friendliest fashion possible.

"Our very own home from home," sang out Helen as she surveyed the comfortable double bed.

"So what do we do now?"

"Well, sweetheart," Helen said in seductive tones, her grey green eyes fixed on the taller woman," I would really love to visit this romantic city but I feel a bit travel worn from all the rushing around and going through endless controls……"

"You think what it was like being a prisoner," joked Nikki to which Helen gave her a sphinx like smile and started slowly unbuttoning Nikki's shirt.

"….so I think we could do with a nice slow relaxing shower and start as we mean to continue."

"Ummm, I can get really turned on by your bossiness," drawled Nikki in her own smoky tone of voice.

The two women stared at each other, desire rising up in each of them. It was a matter of moments for Nikki to hastily gather in the shower bags and a dishevelled looking Helen to have the foresight to quickly hang a 'do not disturb; sign on the door outside. She was too impatient to do up her shirt buttons all the way up to her neck, while she quickly glanced up and down the darkened corridor to make sure that everything was quiet. She shot back into their bedroom and their clothes fell about them like fallen leaves.

Soon, the feel of rushing water sluiced down their bodies in a way that was both refreshing and arousing. Each of them smoothed shower gel on each other while the spray washed the lather off them. It was heaven for them to be so up close to each other combined with the mingled feel of running water and the smooth expert touch of fingers. They lovingly caressed each other's bodies and brought each other deliciously closer and closer to orgasm.

"You know what this feels like. I feel that we're two naughty schoolgirls enjoying themselves while teacher's back is turned," Helen said, throatily as she lay on their bed, more decorously dressed in a towel wrapped round her and trying to catch her breath. It struck them that this was the first place they had made love to each other outside their flat. This is what freedom felt and tasted like.

"You are so right, babes," grinned Nikki with lazy aplomb as she leaned back and reached for the hair drier. "I've done that in my time at boarding school."

"Show off," laughed Helen. She might have known.

The next day saw them sampling with total verve, the croissants and coffee in the delightfully tasteful basement café, looking at the charming paintings.

They headed off down the narrow cobbled quiet streets, noticing that the cafes were boarded up in the morning. All the buildings had that fascinatingly different look about them. Both women read the passing French word and mentally rolled the words off the tongue as they also noticed the different aromas. The sun cast sharp shadows on the opposite side of the street while they were bathed in sunlight. Both women wore pale coloured trousers, sandals and loose filling tops and felt as adapted to Parisian climes as they could be. Both women chattered as they walked while Helen clutched the street guide and navigated the two of them down the right hand side pavement. When they got near a corner, they came to a cross roads which included a leafy square. Triumphantly, Nikki indicated the Metro sign, indicating the flights of steps leading down to the underground railway deep in the bowels of Paris. Nikki automatically put one foot on the road while automatically looking to the right. She felt a hand feverishly pull her arm and a split second later, a car whizzed out of her blind side across her vision and accelerated off down the street.

"Wrong way, Nikki, for God's sake," yelled Helen.

"Just testing, hey," Nikki answered in strangled tones, a weak smile on her face before the delayed action shock could hit her.

"I don't want to be a widow this early," Helen shouted, a sense of real panic in her voice.

A confused set of feelings ran through Nikki like an electric shock. It hit her how even in the most blissful moment possible, she could run into sudden accidental dangers and how much Helen revealed of her feelings for her. Feelings of remorse flooded through her and she had to improve drastically on her flip aside.

'I'm really sorry, Helen. That was really stupid of me. I should have thought."

"Come here, sweetheart," Helen said in melting tones as she hugged the taller woman and felt her shake as the shock wave hit her. Whatever Parisians felt about two women sharing a moment of intimacy, Helen couldn't give a damn. Out there in the bright sunlight and the feel of the two women up against each other, the black moment of shock passed and the sunlight came back into their souls. They were ready to cross the road but this time, engaged conscious and deliberate planning of their moves to override habit and instinct.

"The Metro's so cleaner and better than the London underground," the taller woman pronounced as their combined French saw them pass the turnstile with smiles from the ticket clerk. The large, clean, airy well-marked tunnels guided them purposefully to the right platform. Everything looked smart and helpful.

"Why, Nikki?"

'Well, it just is." Nikki said vaguely and enthusiastically, her Francophile enthusiasms knowing no bounds. The smoothly running train swept then towards their future and their eyes shone as they were launched on their new adventure.

The Louvre stood before them in all its magnificent splendour. Huge rectangular windows looked down at them and the noble archway beckoned them forward. The building spread to left and right of them.

"Shall we go in? After all, this is what you've been talking about all these weeks," murmured Helen in Nikki's ear as the taller woman looked dazed and her feet froze.

"Do you know, Helen, all the time I was in Larkhall, there were times when I dreamed of music to listen to, films to watch and pictures to see. This is a feast for the senses."

A 'soul's awakening' expression spread over Nikki's face and, with great determination she led the way. They floated down to the large underground foyer and gained admission to the vast treasury of art. The huge stone simple classical architecture invited both women to admire and aspire to such grandeur. Floating on air, their feet took them in a leisurely fashion into the huge galleries and picture after picture that were hung up on the walls. Right away, their imaginations took flight at the wealth of artistry on display.

Nikki recalled the front pages of her favourite Victorian novels, cramped and constrained within the average paper book front-page size. The combination of the images summoned up by the written word and the front page gave her a tiny spy hole into a better world. This was that world of the imagination made as near flesh and blood as the past masters of the paintbrush could summon up. With a shock of sudden recognition, a dash of England came into view in the solitary Constable and Turner paintings. Both women smiled approvingly, thinking it fit that such works should be allowed to travel as freely to foreign countries as they themselves could do in this vast assembly of talent on display. There was no limit as they came to the end of each gallery and another invited them onwards through large open doors. Passing into the next gallery, they were conscious of the wide windows that towered towards the top of the spacious roof. They were tempted to move closer to them as the view looked so wide open and liberating. All at once, the brightness of the world outside temporarily blinded them. As soon as their eyes adjusted to it, they took in the width and depth of the courtyard, the fountains where ice-cold water was pushed upwards only to fall back on itself.

They came out of the last stately gallery onto the grand staircases and made their way up to the next floor where the world of the Italian renaissance greeted them. They were accustomed to it as just an accustomed word to be spoken of, or on a printed page, as a throwaway reference. Here it took shape and colour. There was a solemn stillness in the air as many people sedately took their respectful travels. The two women smiled and looked at each other as, in turn, they studied the enigmatic smile of the Mona Lisa whose delicate hands were clasped demurely in front of her. They felt like any other married couple who had shared a lifetime of experience together but to straight couples, casually looking around, who knows how they might have appeared to them and how an artist might paint them?

The scenery changed again as they turned to the more practical and decorative purpose of a holiday in Paris. Both women felt that, after the hard slog of the last six months, they definitely deserved to treat themselves to a new wardrobe and anything that took their fancy.

Even then, they were not prepared to see what the Gallerie Lafayette on Boulevard Haussmann had to offer. They found themselves inside a huge domed building. Each segment marked on either side by a column reached up into the pointed latticed top by a series of floors marked by a line of softly glowing light bulbs, which illuminated the subdued lighting and finally rising triumphantly to an ornamental arch. The dome right at the top struck both women most forcibly as a secular version of the Sacre Coeur Cathedral that they had visited the day before. Open-mouthed, Helen and Nikki finally took in the prospect of the breathtakingly wide selection of perfume and cosmetics. Names like Guerlain, Dior, Chanel, Lancome exerted their distant glamour from afar and from down the decades and, here they were, on the very home territory. This was a modern day equivalent of being back in time in a Montmartre café and realising how Toulouse Lautrec was holding court here with his sketchpad. This was the present, of the here and now of French couture and both women was enthralled and up high at the prospect of being part of it.

With exclamations of gratification, both women made a beeline for the nearest perfume stall and the famous names of Bucheron, Chanel and Givenchy leapt out at them. Excitedly, they tested the various perfumes and after much chattering and banter, they made their choice. With the rest of the vast palace making such delirious claims on their attention, they hurried onwards to the lingerie department. To come to Paris and miss out on this section was an equivalent of missing out on the Louvre. Both were impossible to miss.

"I can't decide which dress to buy you, sweetheart," Nikki said in a state of confusion. The floaty black dress and the sheer salmon pink halter dress had equal claims on her attention.

"Buy them both, darling," Helen said breathlessly."I have my eye on this expensive trouser suit that is just made for you. I'm being totally fair."

'OK, darling," breathed Nikki, her dilemma neatly solved.

Many hours later when they had walked twenty times round all the stalls and were finally satisfied with their shopping, they gradually realised how hungry and especially thirsty they were. They studied the directions, which both women were starting to think in terms, as a language to be immersed in, not something to translate in and out of. Sure enough, all signs led to upstairs, to the very crown of the creation.

They rode the modern equivalent of the magic carpet all the way to the sixth floor and their tired legs took them towards the Lafayette Café. Along with the hordes of other shoppers, they queued up in the self-service line and finally helped themselves to deliberately French cuisine and two large near bowl like coffees. They needed something like this to recharge their batteries. They would have liked a view that overlooked Paris but that was possible. They ended up in their small island of tired contentment, surrounded by an ever shifting and perpetual chorus of murmurous satisfied voices. They looked at each other and smiled.

"Now you see why we had to cut back on the packing, Helen," Nikki said as she nibbled her food while she was chatting. She could not honestly single mindedly just eat up her food while they were bathing together in this ocean of heightened pleasures.

"All right, smart arse. I can now see that you were not being deliberately and miserably Puritan," grinned Helen back. They were both weighed down by a number of shopping bags that they both knew they would have to lug back to the hotel. For once, they could do with a taxi to get back home.

"Me a Puritan? After the months of living together, can you honestly say that I deny you pleasures out of guilt?"

Helen saw how Nikki's expression was clear and open and utterly free from tension. She was dead right.

The Left Bank of Paris conveyed that majesty of intellectual achievement that had been on the periphery of Nikki's quest through the ages. With a sigh of satisfaction, Nikki slid into the bookshops and had mixed feelings that all the vast array of learning was written in French. It gave her mixed feelings as she respected the sturdy independence of the country she visited but questioned whether or not when they returned to England if she would read them. Reluctantly, she concluded that London bookshops had what was on offer.

They were walking across a triangular square and at its base an ornamental building with pillars on either side took their attention, A female carved statue stood, pride of place on top of a sculpted fountain, down which water ran down to the wide basin and so commandeered the attention of the square with the assistance of the carved winged riders, set on their plinths. What grabbed their attention was the trio of musicians who suddenly struck up their song with a rattle of the congas, a looping bassline and the golden voiced black man who strummed his way into their song.

"No, woman, no cry;
No, woman, no cry;
No, woman, no cry;
No, woman, no cry."

"Helen, we must listen to this artist," Nikki's voice muttered with intensity, clutching Helen's arm. Something had been unlocked within her by the intensity of the singing and the loose ramshackle rhythms that sounded so compulsively right. Fortunately, they were wearing jeans and T-shirts today, reserving their new Parisian outfits for when they went

out at nights. Instinctively, they sat down on the smooth worn stones of the square, on the front row of the ring of people who instantly composed the audience. The informal feel of the occasion felt good to them as the sun beat down on them.

"I remember when we used to sit
In the government yard in Trenchtown,
Observing the all the hypocrites
As they would mingle with the good people we meet.
Good friends we have, oh, good friends we've lost
Along the way.
In this great future, you can't forget your past;
So dry your tears, I say."

Tears sprang into Helen's eyes as the lyrics so forcibly expressed her life, the struggles she had fought in past years to become herself against the odds, the devious backstabbers and all the loving support that she had. Yes, they had friends of the most unexpected kinds, including a greying haired heterosexual man back in England whose ideals they had become a living part of so recently. She marvelled at Nikki's eager enthusiasm for every good experience around them, the mingled sexual pleasure and running water in their home away from home, the simple pleasure of engaging her French with those they happened to meet, experiencing the high culture of the Louvre, to selecting their material pleasures in the modern temple to good taste and finally Paris meets Jamaica on the Left Bank. She could afford to feel that way, as she was no follower, dragging her feet behind the other woman's lead. She could match Nikki every step of the way through their life as it opened up and showed them the riches if they had the eye and mind to see it.

"Everything's gonna be all right!
Everything's gonna be all right!
Everything's gonna be all right!
Everything's gonna be all right!"

Yeah, Nikki breathed intensely, clapping along with the rhythm as the song approached its own climax and the chorus blew away all the blues the writer had ever suffered into something like exaltation. In comparison with the money that they had quite rightly spent on clothes, jewellery and perfumes, they simply had to drop their notes in the guitar case left out, to give back in return for the spiritual experience that they had been blessed with. Helen met Nikki's eye and understood without saying.

It was later that evening when Nikki and Helen had looked up the whereabouts of a lesbian bar that they decided to make best use of their purchases and spent an infinity of time showering, applying their makeup and generally getting ready. Both women were having slight reservations at the feverish way they had bought their clothes.

Nikki looked open mouthed at the vision of loveliness that Helen presented to her. Her full breasts were shaped by the bodice of the low cut dress supported by narrow straps which supported the high-waisted floaty semi see through dress that fell down to a flirty satin- encircled hem. Her carefully applied makeup added subtle touches to her slightly sun tanned skin. A pair of Prada 3 ½ inch open toe black sling backs completed the picture of Paradise.

"Will I do, babes?"

"I can't believe what I'm seeing, Helen. You look totally ravishing. I'm not sure I'll have the self-control to let you out the door. Give me a couple of minutes and I'll be with you."

It was Helen's turn to gasp in wonder. Nikki's lipstick and makeup had been carefully applied and every hair in place. Helen virtually swooned at Nikki standing foursquare before her dressed in a close fitting exquisite white suit. Her close fitting jacket was cunningly shaped downwards over her breasts from its Mandarin collar with the aid of the row of buttons down from her shapely neck. The trousers were flared outwards elegantly from her tight waist and accentuated her height and her long legs. A pair of neat open toes sandals completed the picture. It accentuated her slightly androgynous sexuality that only a woman could fall for.

Arm in arm, they walked down the elegant staircase that was made for their entrance and the female receptionist's eyes were opened wide in wonder as they floated out and slipped into their taxi.

Scene Twenty

A/N: Credits to the Virtual Guide to the Tower of London in the internet site <http://www.toweroflondontour.com>

In striking parallel and contrast with Helen and Nikki's Parisian adventures, George Channing was entertaining the Chief Medical Examiner for the state of Virginia, Dr Kay Scarpetta and the very dependable Captain Pete Marino, whose blunt New York mannerisms concealed the sharp inquisitive mind made homicide detective for the Richmond police. It spoke volumes for the way that George had completely cut herself adrift from the establishment and had set out to make her own friendships, including her smart new flat. There were limits in living under Daddy's roof.

Kay was a sharply dressing blonde who was naturally curious and who loved nothing more than absorbing the ambiance and cultures of differing cities, both in her own home country and abroad. For reasons she had not ever fathomed, she had taken on herself the mission to culturally improve Marino who showed remarkable talents for digging in his heels in that area. They had enjoyed George's generous hospitality, which combined well with the case that George had been engaged with. They had a spare day left after the conclusion of their involvement with the murder case that George had taken on and, much to Marino's dismay, Kay saw the golden opportunity to make best use of precious time.

"So, you're going to see what cultural treats London has to offer? I'm sure you'll both enjoy yourselves." George said in her brightest conversational manner as she poured them an early morning cup of tea. Marino gallantly did his best in handling George's fine china cup and saucer and silver tea-spoon, when he was far more used to the utilitarian mug of coffee.

"It would be an insult to the fair city not to take in an art gallery or a concert or both while we have the spare time." Kay enthused.

George suppressed a grin as her sharp eyes spotted Marino's visible look of panic in his eyes. She could tell who wore the pants in this friendship.

"I could recommend the Salvador Dali exhibition on the South Bank. I've been round there myself and his paintings have to be seen to be believed. They're frightfully impressive compared to the prints."

Marino placed his cup and saucer with as much delicacy as he could summon up with only a slight rattle. It was an impressive effort, given the circumstances.

"Do you want to borrow my car to get around? London taxis cost the earth. I'll take it easy at home sunbathing in the back garden and maybe do a bit of work while you're out."

"That would be very much appreciated, George."

She's even beginning to talk like the English, moaned Marino to himself.

"You've been in England before, Kay so I'll leave the driving to you." George said, directing a very meaning look at Marino. She had gathered very swiftly how an American male and his set of wheels were inextricably married and how much of a show-off Marino would be in the driving seat. That's all very well, she judged, but not in her car.

"Ain't it enough to be the all-powerful doctor lawyer Indian chief? " whined Marino the second when they had turned out of George's front drive. He could sense the culture glitter in Kay's eyes and he feared for his future. "I bet you ten dollars that the Brits don't even have a nearby McDonalds for a man to relax. My feet get tired easy."

"It's a chance while we're over here to catch up with our cultural education. We're right on the doorstep for London."

"What's London got that New York ain't got?"

"It's not the same for a start. It would be unthinkable to come so close to London and not take in the Dali exhibition. If that isn't to your taste, what about something thoroughly English like the Tate gallery or the British Museum?"

Marino visibly writhed as if the Mafia were threatening him with some kind of hideous torture. He could see the mischievous gleam in Kay's eyes as she saw past his first objection to her choice of gallery.

"I'm too old to change, doc. I flunked art at high school. I flunked music at high school. Let's face it, culture and me ain't exactly good friends."

"So your rock and roll records don't count as music," put in Kay softly.

"That ain't the same. That's real American music. That's something that's pumping back at me when I'm cruising down the interstate bypass."

Kay's reaction was cool and unruffled. She knew very well that Marino only exaggerated the redneck inside him, the more she tried to improve his mind. The only problem was that he combined the cunning of an obstreperous teenager with the doggedness and dedication of the very fine cop that she knew him to be. Too bad that he couldn't see how good it would be for him.

"Ain't there any of this goddamn culture that I'm going to like…"

"It's like good medicine. It'll be good for you."

"Sure it will, doc and I bet you a hundred bucks that it tastes lousy like all 'good medicine.'"

Kay paused while she considered changing her tack. It coincided with waiting for the last person in the line of pedestrians at the zebra crossing. He nipped across the road while the hungry line of cars was waiting. She reckoned that Marino's mother must have had one hell of a time years ago dealing with his boyhood illnesses judging by the extra special sneer with which he overloaded the last two words. She turned smartly to the left into a cul de sac and switched off the engine. This had to be thrashed out while they weren't moving.

"Well, what would you like that's cultured, Marino?" Kay reasoned patiently.

"Something that's got some action in it. Something with guns," Marino said at last with a strong suggestion of wise cracking, 'one upmanship' smugness in his tone of voice.

Kay reached for her guide to London for inspiration. Culture and guns seemed like opposing concepts to her way of thinking but she was determined not to let him outsmart her. She flicked through the brochure, passed up on St. Paul's Cathedral and Royal Albert Hall until her eye lighted upon the imposing ramparts of the Tower of London. A slight smile lit her face much to Marino's discomfort. He had sneakily thought that he had set Kay an impossible task that she'd give up in despair but he should have known better.

"What about the Tower of London, Marino? It's historical which suits me and look at the picture of these cannons. They're far bigger than that Gloc of yours."

The expression on Marino's face was a picture. He had that look on his face that betrayed the fact that his bluff had been called. He didn't know what to think or say.

"It's a kinda oddball joint to go to. The Queen don't live there any more, doc? "

"Relax, Marino. She finds Buckingham Palace more comfortable. Hey, listen to this. The brochure says that some parts of the Tower of London date actually back to Norman times."

"I get it, Doc. Like it's been here a long time."

"And we're going to find out more about it, won't we Marino. It's something to tell the folks back home. You could send them a postcard."

By the way that Marino grimaced but didn't say anything, Kay realized that her enthusiasm wasn't well received. However, she knew that inwardly, he was well and truly trapped.

Marino's definition of a city was New York, He had worked a number of years for the police department. He had driven his car with total confidence into the roughest part of the Bronx but he had gladly passed up the chance to drive round London. He had solid reasons to do so from what he had seen so far. While the centre of the Big Apple was set out in a rectangular grid and made it easy to drive around, the sharp twists and turns of London streets were starting to make him feel dizzy.

"Every goddamn country drives right side of the road. What's with this big difference here?'

"Different country, different culture. Relax, Marino, I'm doing the driving anyway. All you have to do is sit back and take it easy."

Marino's nerve ends were out on stalks. All his normal senses were reversed as if he were looking in a mirror. Everything felt all wrong and it made him tetchy. He was wondering what would happen when they got to be pedestrians and it would not do his rough, tough self-image good for the Doc to see that he was nervous of a little old road. He would never live it down.

"I can't figure out that goddamn screwball architect when all this asphalt got laid down. I'm used to treading power with my right foot right past some asshole of a driver who can't drive and chew gum at the same time. That don't work here, no sir. It just has to be different," he muttered under his breath.

"London's a historic city, Marino. You have to understand that."

He watched idly out of the passenger window and his eyes spotted the black cabs and his practiced eye saw how they weaved in and out of the traffic with perfect assurance. If they drive round London for a living, he had to respect them, especially as every one of them was undamaged.

"Still, I gotta hand it to these taxi drivers even if they drive these funny black set of wheels like some kind of weird hearse. New York yellow cabs, they've got more style."

As Kay stopped at the traffic lights and checked her directions, she was pleased that Marino found something to approve of. The unspoken fraternity of wheels crossed cultures and continents, she supposed.

"Wow, those coaches are something else. That's real smart, building them two decks."

The prosaic red London bus had a long history of wending its way round the busy streets, taking consignments of people from one place to another and little did it think how strange, how exotic it looked in Marino's eyes when compared to the grey cladded Greyhound single-decker coach.

"I don't get it," came Marino's running commentary as they passed down a street full of restaurants of all sizes. "England is England, right. I thought that those guys eat roast beef and Yorkshire pudding and drink cups of tea. So what's with this Starbucks café and that Chinese joint? Don't they know who they are anymore?"

"It's just that it's a cosmopolitan city. There's Chinatown in New York, for instance."

"There ain't that many aliens doc, not even in this city."

"So perhaps English people are more adventurous with their diet than you might think."

"You think so? " Marino asked with genuine amazement, without his heavy-duty sarcasm.

Kay sat back smoothly in the car and let the conversation wash over her as she passed through Leicester Square. She had to admit that driving in London and totally reversing the habits of a lifetime was harder than she made out. It was six months ago since she was in England, but she had stayed at George's house and hadn't really been let loose in the big city. Nevertheless, she gloried in driving past the famous sights of London, past Piccadilly Circus, past…….

"Ain't that Nelson's column, doc?" interrupted Marino. "If he was so damn smart, how come he let some jackass stick a column right up his ass so high no one can see him?"

"I really don't know, Marino," Kay sighed.

She followed the road signs down the wide expanse of Whitehall and the imposing array of government offices, past the wrought iron black gates that sternly defended the entrance to Downing Street. Remembering that Marino was shortly to be force-fed large doses of English history, Kay declined to point out these features though Marino looked secretly impressed by the grandeur of the buildings. Turning sharp left into Parliament Square, to their right stood the incredibly ornate Gothic structure of the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben to its left. A shaft of sunlight illuminated its majesty. Kay had seen pictures of it and it took her aback to see it.

"Bet you don't know where we are now."

"Sure I know," Marino said with the enormous satisfaction of outsmarting the Doc. "It's the Houses of Parliament and that goddamn big clock on the side is Big Ben……. some place," he added laconically with masterful understatement.

Kay just smiled to herself and drove on down the embankment. The tide was in and the rippling waters bespoke a purposeful sense of bustle and purpose. In Marino's eyes, it looked like a classier version of the Hudson River. She picked her way out of the heart of the City of London and, sure enough the huge grey ancient turreted walls of the Tower of London loomed up. To one side was the famous Tower Bridge. By sheer luck, a multistory car park jumped out at her and Kay swerved left into the entrance, indicating at the same time, which made Marino wince. After a wearisome journey to the fifth floor, Kay led the way down the none too appealing concrete staircase while Marino followed on without saying anything.

Marino proudly led the way across the road as instincts took over, automatically looking the wrong way. A blast of a car horn and a screech of tyres shocked his senses as the car swerved, the man's mouth was opening and closing as it flashed past at lightning speed.

"Goddamn fruit loop driver. Ain't he got eyes?" Marino swore freely.

"Which side of the road do cars drive in this country, Marino," Kay said softly.

Marino blushed a delicate shade of red before he found a way out of his embarrassment.

"Just testing, hey. OK, let's go and get cultured."

Marino walked alongside Kay but let her just slightly lead the way. Kay smiled slightly but pretended not to notice.

It was inevitable that they would have to wait and queue up and Marino fidgeted by himself while Kay pretended not to notice. She seized the opportunity to buy a guidebook just in case her objective succeeded. She knew that Marino's natural inquisitiveness wouldn't be satisfied by her rusty general knowledge. Finally, the crowd of people moved forward and Marino suddenly saw the sharp outline of a perfectly formed double tower with a wide archway in the middle. His mouth hung open with total shock as if he couldn't believe his eyes. As they came closer, the archway seemed to lean over them and gently ushered them into a different world.

"Jesus Christ, a real castle. I thought they don't exist outside Hollywood." Marino exclaimed. A thoughtful expression crossed his mind as nostalgic memories of going to the pictures as a kid came back to him.

"Hey doc, I remember Errol Flynn all the guys firing bows and arrows, hanging out in the forest and wearing those funny green stockings. Next time I saw him, the guy was on some kind of ship, firing cannons. He ended up getting knighted by that Queen Elizabeth. Of course, it ain't the same as those Wild West guys packing a real mean six shooter but I guess they didn't have the Colt 45 back then."

Kay noted that Marino's distinguished historical authority was the late actor in films of dubious authenticity and his own equally dubious sexual morals by all accounts. Marino's key to analyzing key turning points in history obviously lay in how many corpses were strewn about the stage.

"So you're getting impressed, Marino?"

"I might be."

As the procession carried on, Marino swiftly dropped his Mr. Supercool routine and became something like an excitable kid though the names and historical associations of the various sights passed him by.

"Hey, what's that? Feels spooky. I've visited pens that give you the creeps that way." Marino jabbed a forefinger straight ahead, referring in his own imitable way to the grim American penitentiary. It pointed down to the darkened area below them, silhouetted by a set of double barred gates looking like angry teeth. It gave Kay the shivers as if once past those gates, there was no escape. This looked like the ancestor of every prison that came after it.

"That's easily explained because this is Traitor's Gate, a one way trip from the River Thames and an execution at the other end."

"No kidding? This dump's a real let down. It ain't as scary as its name. No dead bodies just kind of hanging around," queried Marino petulantly, switching moods arbitrarily as was his wont.

"It was originally known as Water Gate," sighed Kay from the depths of her guide book," but was later changed when it was used as the landing for the Crown's enemies. All important prisoners entered the Tower through this gate. According to legend when Princess Elizabeth arrived on Palm Sunday 1554 she refused at first to land at the gate, angrily proclaiming that she was no traitor. A sharp shower of rain however, caused her to change her mind. Later when as Queen she visited the Tower she insisted on passing through Traitors Gate. "What was good enough for Elizabeth the Princess is good enough for Elizabeth the Queen", she is supposed to have told the Constable."

"And she walked? That's real smart- or else her lawyer was," approved Marino.

Marino had mixed feelings about the Bloody Tower as he peeked at the small four-poster bed with velvet drapes, the delicately carved dark oak table and chairs and the modest but clean white room.

"No rats, no snakes, nothing like that?" Marino said with incredulity.

"Sir Walter Raleigh stayed here." Quoted Kay from her guidebook, hoping to detain Marino while she breathed in the cultural enlightenment.

"So what's with this guy?"

"He invented tobacco."

"No shit. So he's the guy that got you hooked."

"Well a few generations down the line, very indirectly."

Marino's spirits rose when they got to the White Tower, that formidable foursquare central tower buttressed at each corner by a high tower. It created a look of menacing military power. He was not disappointed by what it promised.

"Say, look at those suits of armour. It makes those guys kind of hard." Marino exclaimed. He eyed the shining curved metal and the way that their faces were covered. It made them look deadly, as if their shiny steel hard swords were made for killing people with. He really wanted to hold one of the swords thinking how totally lethal they looked.

"I could scare the shit out of some of those squirrels." He muttered meditatively.

"Marino, don't," Kay snapped.

He turned on that disappointed little boy look and strode off enthusiastically to the adjacent room to study "the collection of hunting and sporting arms including crossbows and firearms. Here can be traced the technical advances in firearm mechanisms, from the matchlock, the snaphance and the wheel lock to the flintlock. The development of decorative techniques is also evident. Craftsmen applied or inlaid precious metals, ivory, bone and even mother-of-pearl to enhance the wood they carved and chiselled with such consummate skill; the contemporary artistic styles from the 15th to the 19th centuries can thus be compared."

The most unlikely event finally happened to Kay that day. Marino asked her if he could borrow her guidebook.

In turn, Kay was entranced by " the exquisite Chapel of St John the Evangelist" on the first floor" where the royal family and the court worshipped and where the knights of the Order of the Bath spent their vigil the night before a coronation. It is one of the most perfect specimens of Norman architecture in Great Britain." She tried to stall her enforced exit for as long as possible but Marino's enthusiasm would not give her peace.

When they came out into the courtyard, Marino was in Seventh Heaven to spy the large cannon in the yard, mounted on wheels. The brightly coloured beefeaters and the yeomen of the guards passed him by, unnoticed. Marino eyed up the line of the gun and carefully judged where the shot would fall. He was transported to another realm of existence where he could indulge his fantasies to the limit. Kay stood patiently at his side until she had a brainwave as she had spotted a building of very fine Tudor architecture, the Queen's House.

"You stay here and I'll see you here in half an hour," Kay pronounced, very loudly and clearly in the general direction of his back.

"Huh?" he responded, his barely hearing ears having picked up the message.

She was sure that she could look out her version of culture, fine paintings and the refined world of a bygone age. She felt safe to leave Marino to indulge his boyhood gun fantasies. After floating through the artistic delicacies that were offered to her, Kay walked out of the low entrance door. She crossed the square to see Marino eye the chopping block with great satisfaction.

"If I had Diane Bray and Jay Talley before me, then……." Marino said with a chuckle." Sure beats hell out of the electric chair. Too quick though."

"They didn't always kill the prisoner with the first stroke." Kay interposed.

"You don't say," Marino beamed with satisfaction. "That was real smart of the Brits."

Presently, both of them were starting to feel dead tired. Kay looked at her watch and she could see that visiting time was nearly up. All good things had to come to an end. She couldn't believe how Marino's attention had been captured for so long. She would never have thought it possible. Just what he had absorbed from his version of culture was something she didn't want to think too much about. She was sure that she would hear all about it before long.

"Hey doc, you drive round London real good. You must have been here before."

This was the nearest that Kay would get to a compliment from Marino, she smiled wryly.

In turn, Marino was puzzled how they had quickly cut through the London traffic after all the twists and turns of this morning until he put two and two together. No wonder, he called her doctor lawyer Indian chief, he reflected. He was tired yet curiously satisfied and was looking forward to George's cooking, a comfortable chair and a shot of Bourbon.

"I don't buy all this steel and concrete crap like they have back home. Last time I went home, places where I used to hang out got trashed. Makes me sad like nothing lasts. It's different here. You can feel the history. This is all real class, like George." Marino reflected somberly and quietly as they neared their home.

"What about George?"

"She's a real lady. Way she speaks, way she dresses is like something out of history but that's good. Bet you fifty bucks that her folks are just like her and the folks at the back of them. She ain't changed 'cos what went into them was built to last. It means something. This kinda changed the way I see things now. It's real strong. I trust it."

This was the first sensible comment Marino had said all day. He had finally become a cultured Anglophile in his own time and fashion.

Scene Twenty-One

A/N: - Lyrics credited to Carl Perkins as sung by Elvis Presley - the last part is partially translated from Marino speak into C S Forester. This chapter is co written by another writer called Kristine.

They were all quiet on the way to the airport, Marino because he was tired after his trip round the tower of London, and Kay and George because neither was sure how to bid the other goodbye until the trial. When Kay and Marino had checked in their bags and received their boarding passes, they walked with George as far as the barrier where she would be forced to leave them. Putting his arms round George in an uncharacteristic display of affection, Marino said,

"Take care of yourself, sweetheart, and don't let the ass-holes get you down, specially."

"I'll take your advice to the letter," she told him with a smile. "And if Kay tries to coach you as to how to behave in a British courtroom if you ever come to give evidence in one, please allow her to do so."

"That's all I need," Marino replied in offended dignity. But when Kay stepped forward to give George a tentative hug, she looked sad.

"When will you go through the medical records?" George found herself asking. Kay had talked of the case that she was due to catch up on when she got back to Virginia and George very kindly sought to at least appear positive for her.

"Probably not until the weekend," Kay admitted ruefully. "I'll have quite a lot to catch up on when I get back."

"Do you really think it's possible that the fingerprint was manufactured in some way?" George asked.

"I learned a long time ago that anything's possible when it comes to the committing of crime," Kay replied philosophically. "So I'll wait and see. If there's something there to be found, I can promise you that I'll find it."

Marino was dog tired as he sat back in the 747 that would take him back to the life he knew. The familiar stomach jerking pull as the aircraft climbed up steeply into the air, greedy for height, told him that he was leaving England but his overloaded senses told him differently. Conveniently, his seat was right next to the window so he could look down on the countryside below. There below him, was a neat patchwork quilt of fields and woods and little roads with the occasional nearly straight line gashing its way through the countryside, the universal motorway. Just before the aircraft flew into that fluffy white bank of cloud, he saw the map of South Wales in all its cragged convolutions. When they had got to their full cruising altitude, Marino lost interest and he turned to talk to Kay.

"Well, doc. That was quite some stay in England." Marino said with masterful understatement.

"We'll be back someday, Marino and we'll get to meet a lot of people like George."

Marino smiled at the good news. This wasn't some one-off treat in his lifetime.

"George is quite some lady. I'll miss her cooking."

Kay refrained from making any comment, as she was weary. There was nothing more for her mind to occupy itself with and the journey, allowing for the five-hour time zone change was going to be a long one. The low hum, the feeling of suspension and the subdued lighting all had a gently soporific effect on them both.

Marino floated effortlessly, suspended in space and, right below him was a concert. Not that high class violin scraping classical stuff, but a real group on stage and an audience of screaming girls. As he drew nearer, the guy out front was one of those pretty boys with long greased back ducktail haircut and a pink jacket that was way too big for him. He carried a guitar and was wiggling his hips like crazy, getting the girls going. It couldn't be, he couldn't believe it ............it was his all time hero, Elvis Presley, alive and well again. Well, today was a weird kind of day, all those suits of armour and guns from way back in time so why shouldn't he be at an Elvis Presley concert? Didn't know how he got here but what the hell. He just wanted to float on down there and be part of it.

It gradually dawned on him that he could do just that and not be just some dumb spectator. He was sure tempted to be Elvis but his sense of reality forced him to pass up the chance. The guy was a trucker, right enough, but his taste in clothes was a bit too fancy for him. It wasn't his style and he couldn't manage all that jiggling about though he could just about thrash his acoustic, same way as him. He looked to one side and a regular country guy was picking out neat guitar licks from that shiny electric guitar. It had to be Scotty Moore. He ducked out of that one, as it was way too tricky for him. He couldn't figure out how to play all that fancy stuff all night. His fingers were just too big and stiff to twiddle their way round those frets on his guitar. He'd fluff his solos, that's for sure. He looked at the guy at the back who was bashing hell out of the drums but he was too far back to be of interest. Besides, D J Fontana sounded a funny kinda name. Last of all, a big built guy was plucking hell out of that big stand up bass. That was more his line and the guy looked like him. Those pumping bass lines ain't too tricky and that's what made it rock and roll. The guy was Bill Black, a tough no nonsense name, and he looked as if he was having one hell of a good time.

Suddenly, he was down there on stage and his left hand fingers made all the right shapes without screwing up his fingers while his right hand fingers plucked away at those heavy strings. Those bass sounds vibrated through his body as he moved about on stage to the rhythm. He grinned to DJ who pounded the drums just so. It was true, rock and roll is here to stay. The boy's edgily controlled rock and roll singing summoned them to jump right in with him for the next song.

"You can burn my house,
Steal my car,
Drink my liquor
From an old fruit jar.
Do anything that you want to do, but uh-uh,
Honey, lay off of my shoes
Don't you step on my blue suede shoes.
You can do anything but lay off of my blue suede shoes

But don't you step on my blue suede shoes.
You can do anything but lay off of my Blue suede shoes.

He always stretched out that song, didn't he, with that final endlessly repeated chorus, singing with his soul on fire. All the guys were right behind him and weren't no slouches either. While he was singing and playing, Bill nailed down that backbeat right along with DJ's rock solid drumming. Scotty sure as hell played a mean sounding guitar which went around and around in his head. Nothing deterred us from the task in hand and even though they were dead beat, things were looking up for the band. Next stop was a couple hundred miles down the road to another concert, endlessly traveling in a van south of the Mason Dixon line, jam packed in there with the drums, guitar cases and amplifiers and leads.

Blue blue, blue suede shoes, baby

Blue blue, blue suede shoes, baby

You can do anything but lay off of my Blue suede shoes."

Right through the concert, a wall of adoring female fans went wild. Mostly, they crowded round the stage and when the song finally swung to a close, the house exploded with squeals of excitement. It was now that they really felt what a commotion their music had generated in the audience. Their music really took everyone on a trip, sure enough. If they couldn't please themselves, they couldn't please their audience. That's how they figured it but they had more than that, they had real fans.

While Elvis gyrated center stage, Bill was well to the side of the stage and he couldn't help but notice the very pretty blonde with her hair pulled up in a ponytail. She wore a low cut, highly revealing top and a flared skirt. Her face was lit with excitement and while the boy did the remote untouchable routine despite the cocky grin on his face, her soft eyes looked knowingly into his own, not Elvis's. There was a glance of recognition and those well-shaped lips smiled at him. As he focused in on her, he realized with a shock of recognition that it was George. She winked at him, turned around and strolled nonchalantly away, her skirt swirling. It was one of those chance encounters in life on the road.

Back in the dressing room as the boys changed into casual clothes, Elvis picked up a local newspaper, glanced at the headline, laughed at it in a contemptuous way and tossed it across to Bill.

"Elvis Presley is morally insane," the headlines screamed.

'That's the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard from a so-called adult," he snorted contemptuously to Bill.

"Well, the kids like us, Elvis. That punk don't matter. We'll make it big some day, just you wait and see."

They had no time to lose. The four of them humped the gear into the back of their vehicle and were off down the road to the next gig. While Elvis took the wheel, Bill slumped sideways next to DJ's bass drum and, despite its uncomfortable shape, he dozed off. It had been a long day for all of them…………..

He floated effortlessly, suspended in space and, right below him lay the blue green ocean stretching away to infinity. The wind blew endless rows of furrows gently over the water and there, right below them was an old-fashioned three-masted, fighting warship of the Tudor era. It wasn't some hulking overloaded galleon but a trim fighter of a vessel, with a line of gun ports down each side that meant business. The fore and main topsails were drawn in tight while the triangular sail on the mizzen mast balanced the steering nicely. There, down on the quarterdeck, the bearded captain stood with his evident air of authority. There was something about the man's air that made him want to be him. To his delight, it suddenly occurred to him that he had that chance. This was a lifetime's unbelievable good fortune. He would once again relive history, this time another one that he had recently got to admire from afar.

Feelings of grandeur sustained Marino's good feelings about himself. He wasn't some overweight policeman divorced from his wife and with a no-good son whom he didn't even want to talk to the Doc about. After all, was he not Francis Drake, the terror of the Spanish Main? His feet were planted on his quarter deck, his hands gripping the rail while the mizzen sail curved tautly behind him, the Queen's flag fluttering from the top of the mast. The salt spray stung his bronzed cheeks from months at sea. He felt good about himself, and about those he commanded. The good ship "Golden Hind" was one of England's finest warships, which more than held its own even in the full fury of half a gale. In calm winds, it slipped cleanly through the water. He was out on an independent command and could take on any enemy ship that came his way. His ship was the lone policeman of the seas, his precinct stretching as far as the horizon stretched. He knew that his country and Spain weren't exactly at war but that hadn't stopped his ship being directly commissioned by the Queen to capture as much booty that his ship could hold and take it back to England. What he was doing wasn't exactly legal but he got backing from the very top. The Pope and the King of Spain might not like it but, these days, hey they don't count.

He placed his telescope to his eye and, right on the horizon, he saw the topsails of a ship, which wasn't one of Queen Elizabeth's. The Spanish flag was faint and distinct. He snorted contemptuously of that Spanish captain's belief that he could sneak past him to Cadiz. They reckoned without his sharp eyes.

"Enemy in sight, bearing ninety degrees so jump to it. Shake out the mainsail and foresail and we'll catch him," he shouted.

In their disciplined way, seamen swarmed up the rigging to obey his orders and the ship cut more fiercely through the water. On his order, the helmsman turned the wheel round and round and slowly, the bows turned into the wind. The sails flapped and flailed until the momentum turned the ship onto the other tack. As the sails captured the wind again, the crew hauled in the ropes tight while the mizzen yard slanted the opposite direction and soon caught the wind. Their ship soon gathered pace and was heading straight for the enemy with all the confidence in the world.

Closer and closer they advanced, certain of their purpose. A line of cannons was manned and run out by his trusty men who were trained to diamond-hard professionalism ready for his order. Out here, men were men, and anyone else well they just walked the plank.

They were all set to unleash a storm of red hot metal on the enemy but Captain Drake waited just till the right time. His upstretched arm finally swept down to give the signal to fire. A solid barrage of shot rang out and blue powder smoke puffed back. Immediately the gunners sponged the hot guns and rammed in powder, shot and wadding into the grim barrels ready for the next barrage. In the meantime, shots rang out from the other ship and splinters of wood flew and tatters of split canvas appeared in the main sail but this was nothing. His men scorned such a puny counterattack. The guns were run out again ready to fire and another broadside smashed out.

The battle raged on until to Captain Drake's joy, the other ship's main and fore topmasts suddenly leaned, tottered and fell over the side, trailing wrecked canvas and smashed spars. Their gunfire had knocked half the fight out of the ship as only a few guns were firing back ineffectively.

"Lay her alongside. Prepare to board." He yelled, his voice hoarse and cracked.

The "Golden Hind" closed in and the men threw grappling irons to hook into the splintered sides of the other ship. With an exultant leap, Captain Drake landed on the deck. He pulled out its sword and brandished it menacingly, just as he had always wanted to do. His crew swept in after him and they became an unstoppable force. In no time at all, they seized control of the ship and the remaining crew surrendered as they knew what was good for them. The heist had gone off without a hitch and both ship and cargo became theirs, well the property of the English Crown. He climbed down into the hold with his men there they were, what looked like treasure chests, fresh from the Spanish Americas. One of his accomplices broke open the nearest chest and the gold glittered fiercely at them. This was a real haul.

The "Golden Hind" finally sailed up the River Thames, past the formidable fortifications of the Tower of London that he knew so well. Just short of London Bridge, the ship was laid smoothly along the dock and waiting for him, was Queen Elizabeth, resplendent in the richest of flowing gowns and frizzed red hair. One of those pretty boy courtiers helped her climb onto his deck. Bursting with pride, he showed the queen the treasure chest stuffed with doubloons and rare jewels, looted from the American continent until diverted to a better use, what with a little bit of discreet piracy. The Queen's eyes shone with gratitude and a gracious smile spread across her face. For a second, her speaking voice and grand manner reminded him of George but he must have been dreaming. She'd been in the last movie he's seen.

While she was going to scoop the majority of the prize money to feed the British Exchequer, his cut of the booty would handsomely support him. Those were rough and ready times and he needed no crooked lawyer to tell him what was his and what wasn't. The seamen's eyes glittered with pride and anticipation of pleasures to come. Their share of the prize money would be spent on the wine and the women of London town. Are not conquering sailors devilishly attractive to the womankind of the bustling capital city?

Curling his lip like Elvis, Captain Marino stood triumphantly on the quarterdeck of the "Golden Hind", cheered by all his trusty seamen, glad to be back home with overflowing treasure chests. He sneered as much as he grinned at the grand finale scene.

"Errol Flynn, eat your heart out."

Kay was much puzzled by this mumbled remark of Marino's while his eyes were tightly closed. Just at this time, the air flight stewardess came by to serve meals in the usual plastic covering. She was there to dispense drinks as well, which, to her surprise, he disregarded.

"Hey, doc, bet you didn't know I played bass for Elvis Presley and saved England from the Spaniards?"

Kay looked totally perplexed at him for the first time in her life. Then he shook her head at what she took to be was one of Marino's endless fantasies.

"In your dreams, Marino."

Marino was silent for a moment. It felt so goddamn real and the inside of this aircraft looked kind of pale and washed out in comparison.

"Say doc, have you ever had a dream come true?" he said at last

"Sorry but no."

"You ain't no fun, doc," Marino replied disparagingly, lingering over the words. A man can dream, can't he?

Scene Twenty-Two

Sally Anne mused on a curious unfathomable part of herself that made the commitment to sue the Metropolitan Police seem surprisingly possible. How was it that letting Trisha in on her deepest fears moulded together with the payoff of her therapy so that she could do better than she anticipated. Somehow, it was borne in on her that she wasn't reenacting the past when she felt so powerless. She didn't dwell overlong on her lingering feeling of fear but almost talked herself into determining on the action and finally believed herself.

"The choice of barrister is obvious. Jo Mills is the barrister for us. She cares," pronounced Trisha with confidence as Sally reached for the phone and booked up an appointment.

Immediately, both women were reassured by Jo Mills' natural warmth of manner. They had never seen her close up, only this distant figure in the downstairs arena of the court battle while they were confined to the circle seat. She shook each woman by the hand and kindly gestured to them to take a seat.

"If my memory serves me right, you were both at the Nikki Wade's reappeal."

"That's right," Sally eagerly pronounced and, their spirits emboldened, both women eagerly gave Jo a run down of what had happened to Sally Anne

"I'm not sure that I'm necessarily the best barrister for what you want of me."

"Oh, but why?" Trisha jumped in."We were so impressed by your performance at Nikki's appeal. We hadn't even considered anyone else to represent Sally."

Jo was incredibly touched by their faith in her but that objective reasoning part of her mind had expanded her initial niggling doubts to full-scale reservations.

"Let me explain. I have specialized in criminal law for years and Nikki Wade's case was right up my street. Give me a case where the accused is unjustly accused of a criminal charge, then I am in my element. This case of yours is different. What you are asking for is a twin track approach, one of which is reinstatement in your old job which I have my doubts as to its advisability, both personally and practicality. I'm not sure you'd really want to be working amongst your one-time colleagues who either kept quiet or actively betrayed you. The other tack is to sue the Metropolitan for its failure of its duty of care and to force them for the highest possible settlement. It might sound strange to you but I haven't got the bargaining mind or that degree of ruthlessness, just how far to push to cut the best possible deal. I'm sorry but I haven't got those qualities and civil cases really aren't my forte, both in experience and the procedures."

The light went out in Sally and Trisha's face as Jo slipped them the bad news. Their spirits were about to drop into a bottomless pit until Trisha saw a slight smile on Jo's lips.

"However, I could introduce you to a friend of mine, George Channing. She would fit the bill admirably."

The words hung in the air as Jo did a double take on how she'd described George. The word came out without thinking. It really did describe their relationship now.

"So what's this George Channing like? I'm not being funny but is a guy the best person to represent a rape case?" questioned Trisha.

"You're right about reinstatement, Jo. I couldn't even begin to think of working along those………" shuddered Sally, as she started to conjure up images of her one time colleagues and memories of their threatening voices down the phone started to haunt her. Trisha slipped her hand in Sally's and stroked it gently to comfort her.

"George short for Georgia," corrected Jo, smilingly." She is a major specialist in civil cases. She is a very interesting woman. She was once the partner of the present Home Secretary and handled a lot of compensation cases where her clients were major employers ……"

"Jesus. She sounds like the last barrister we need," exclaimed Trisha in disgusted tones.

"Since she separated from him, she has undergone a real change of heart. She has cut loose from Haughton's political cronies and all the hangers on. I happen to know that she has recently made the acquaintance of Kay Scarpetta, the Chief Medical Examiner for the state of Virginia. I have come across her in recent trials and I know she has changed. She has the unique advantage of knowing how your opponents will think and she has that degree of ruthlessness that I haven't got. More than that, I feel sure that she wants to atone for what she has done in the past though she will never admit it. I have this gut feeling that the best poacher is the ex gamekeeper or the best gamekeeper, the ex poacher whichever way you care to look at who is who."

"What is she like, Jo? Try and paint a portrait for us. That will help."

Jo leaned back in her chair and a faraway look in her eyes

"She has this very aristocratic manner. She gives off this impression of being very hard and unfeeling but underneath, she has real heart. She just doesn't like to show it, that's all. She and her ex husband, John Deed have a daughter who is at Sussex University and George gets more worried for her safety than she likes to let on. You need to judge her by what she does, not so much by what she says."

Both women fell silent, musing on the picture that Jo conjured up. The more they considered it, the more Jo's recommendation appeared attractive. It was an off the wall idea that in reality might pay off best. There was one thought that crossed Trisha's mind and, though personal, slipped out of her mouth before she could contain herself as she blindly sought the truth.

"How do you come to know George? Is your connection with her just professional? You seem to go out of your way to recommend her."

A slightly quirky smile spread across Jo's features. She opted to be totally candid about the matter and trust to the truth.

"Perhaps I ought to explain something. I was the final nail in the coffin of George and John's marriage. For years, we have heartily disliked each other. We have had something of a rapprochement and, surprisingly, we have become friends. On the face of it, I am the last person to recommend her but despite past history, that is what I'm doing."

"In which case, we'll trust what you say as we've trusted you before," Sally pronounced firmly at which point, Jo offered them the phone to contact George.

Both women scrutinized George as she sat in an easy chair opposite her and explained their case to her. George's long fair hair fell smoothly round her shoulders while her alert blue eyes took in everything. Her mouth was immaculately painted with lipstick and looked amused and cynical. Trisha noted with interest that George could have remained behind her desk and exercised power position on her but chose the chair. She guessed that this was what Jo meant by George's actions than words.

"I think I can see why Jo steered you in my direction. She will have told you about my past experience in defending the 'wealth creators' from parting with more than a derisory amount of money for their transgressions. However, I've since learnt that a change in lifestyle is as good as a feast and I must admit that this case appeals to me personally. From what you have said, I don't think that you really want to be reinstated in the police force. Would anyone who has been bitten by a snake volunteer to enter a nest of vipers?"

Both women were impressed how rapidly George had grasped the essentials of the case.

"That's what we thought," Sally ruefully admitted." It does sound like a no hoper to me."

"You know that, I know that but the Metropolitan police don't know that," grinned George with a conspiratorial expression on her face." Let's face it, a job in the police force may have its dangers but it is as safe as houses and relatively well paid. I assume that your record is that of a dedicated, serious minded policewoman, is it not?"

"Yeah," Sally mused," I did believe in it at one time."

"Our main line of attack is to sue the Metropolitan Police for mental distress, forcing you to resign under duress and covering up the violation of rape that was committed against you by a fellow colleague. There is an alternative of negligence on all counts. We then use the card of reinstatement to push them to the limit in terms of compensation. You ought to consider that they are perhaps as much as afraid of you as you are of them."

Both women were dumfounded. George's precision of manner blew them away. These thoughts had never crossed their minds.

"You ought to understand that basically I am not a very nice person, Sally. When I go to battle, I mean to win it, hands down," George drawled, a wicked smile on her face on her face.

"I know what the Metropolitan Police are like. They are very hard and will band together to protect their own. I thought I was part of the crowd. I learned differently," Sally replied, her voice choked with emotion. Trisha saw that flicker of concern in George's eyes before it blew away like a shadow on a sunlit lake.

"We don't want someone who will just play by the laws of cricket. I suspect that the other side will play dirty. We need someone who is resourceful who can beat them at their own game.

'I think we understand each other, Trisha." George smiled more freely, sensing this very astute woman who accompanied Sally Anne. In turn, that artificial edge and façade which George had adopted melted away.

"Do you know anything about the Nikki Wade case?" questioned Trisha out of interest.

"I know much more than that fearful ex of mind, Neil Haughton suspects. I have very good hearing and a retentive mind and I know just how much chicanery went on in the background. Besides," and here George let drop the confident aristocratic edge in her voice, "I had the interesting experience of rowing with Nikki right after the hearing. She won."

"Hey, Nikki never told us that one," breathed Sally, her eyes wide open with wonderment while Trisha smiled affectionately at her friend. Knowing Nikki and seeing this formidable woman, it must have been a battle royal.

"You know her?" George asked softly.

"Yeah, " Trisha proclaimed proudly and dreamily." I lived with her for nine years. Sally's my current partner. We're all friends now including Helen, her present partner"

"I guessed," smiled George kindly, impressed by this example of sisterhood, something that wasn't part of her experience. Something in her warmed to these two women in the same way that Nikki's personality had struck a chord with her.

"Anyway, I made some extremely tactless and foolish remarks about prisons and Nikki corrected me. She told me that women needed protecting from animals like Gossard. She was right. It was that which set me to rethink my life."

Trisha and Sally Anne saw George's naked sensitivity before them. This was the real woman before them. She inspired confidence in them that George was the ideal barrister for the case. Jo's instincts were perfectly correct. The pause in the conversation was laden with a welter of positive emotions.

"Anyway, enough of my 'intimate confessions'," George snapped back to normality, wearing her best aristocratic accent like a suit of armour, apparently scornful of her softness." From what I've heard so far today, I consider that we have the makings of a case and I am positively eager to be unleashed on the case. I need to go away and consider the whole thing carefully and be sure of where I stand."

"We definitely want you to handle it."

"Right, I need to reserve myself a good solicitor, someone bright and resourceful. I've heard very good words about Claire Walker, who helped with Nikki's appeals. She's the solicitor for me."

"That may be difficult. We both know her and we've heard that the other senior solicitors are jealous of her success and are trying to sideline her."

"What I want, I get," George proclaimed smugly with steely determination before alternating back and forth in a softer vein that was uniquely George." Anyway, thanks for the warning. Leave the arrangements up to me and I'll remain in touch. You may be sure of that. I regularly leave men late for dates as that is my prerogative as a woman, but I don't let people down, not these days."

Trisha and Sally shook hands fervently with this remarkable woman. Both of them were sure they had a powerful ally.

Claire had to hand it to Jim Patterson when he came up to give her the message that George had relayed to her in advance.

"You might be surprised but another controversial case might be coming your way, Claire."

"Oh, what kind of case is it," asked Claire politely with her best blank face.

"Some kind of female hysteric who's suing the police force for negligence because of being raped. From the sound of it, she's got a martyr complex or got a compensation complex," Jim Patterson said in his best bored dismissive tones." Between you and me, she hasn't a hope in hell but I know that you like these difficulties so I thought, what the hell, I shouldn't stand in your way."

"That's very generous of you, Jim," she said, her face mentally screwing up at telling this bullshit.

"Think nothing of it. Rather you than me, anyway."

"I'll do my best, Jim. That's all you can do after all."

"I'm glad you see it this way,' Jim Patterson said with false heartiness, gritting his teeth at the memory of the conversation with the very frightening female barrister who took no prisoners.

Scene Twenty Three

John had felt on top of the world after the triumphant outcome of the judge's strike. Everything he had been saying for years about the need to take a stand against the apparatchiks and that, bit by bit, liberties were being whittled away a bit at a time had been proven right. He had felt for a long time as if he were a lone voice crying in the wilderness while his fellow judges mockingly patronized him behind his back.

He now noticed the respectful look in his fellow judge's eyes and, by contrast, Huntley was a total outcast. He was treated as if he didn't exist. Likewise, John trod the corridors with a jaunty step whenever Sir Ian and Lawrence James came into view. They slunk away and didn't dare to lecture him or give him unasked for opinions as to how his cases should be handled. Only the niceties were observed.

It was in this ebullient mood that John asked George out for a meal and to his astonished delight, she agreed. He couldn't believe his luck after the time when George had very flirtatiously explained to him how she had politically changed sides yet had kept her distance. When John entered the restaurant and straightened his tie, catching a reflection of himself in the glass door, he was delighted to see George in her very best flowing black, off the shoulders dress. His spirits were full to overflowing and who knows how the evening would progress. The night was full of promise as was the light in George's eyes.

The thousand twinkling lights of an expensive restaurant bathed George and John in an inviting glow and the two of them sat down to a meal, accompanied by the finest wine. Their conversation sparkled in much the same way as the wine and George found herself laughing at his witticisms. She had not laughed for a long time.

'Do you know, John, you are in danger of getting positively bigheaded? You'll have trouble in fitting yourself through doors."

"Nonsense," John retorted with aplomb." I have had to be a lone voice for a long time and have sustained my beliefs from my own convictions. I have had to learn to be self reliant."

"You are not exactly the solitary monk in a cave, darling. I know you only too well. I have heard of Frances Rochester for instance."

"She has been recruited to holding Ian's miserable hand in his hour of crisis. He has no spine," John said contemptuously.

"What about Little Miss Oxfam?" George enquired. This was her scathing description of Jo Mills, his one time lover who had finally broken up her marriage to John and the smile disappeared from John's face.

"She is keeping her distance. She problems in believing in my capacity for fidelity."

George's mind was working overtime in filling in the gaps. It did explain the way John had unexpectedly come back into her life. It had been the pattern of their relationship since they had divorced.

"I know exactly what you're thinking. You are so predictable." George admonished him with a taunting smile.

'I am completely inscrutable," John argued back. "Not even you will know what I will do next. Sometimes not even I know."

'That reminds me how absolutely infuriating you are. You pretend that you are freewheeling through life and making some kind of artistic statement."

"So what is wrong about that? It would do some of us good to be a little spontaneous," John murmured, his eyes twinkling mischievously at George. The dim light shone on his distinguished features, which only improved with age. His graying hair only made him look distinguished. Likewise, George's beauty had hardly changed over the years.

"At this moment, you want me to ever so spontaneously want to go to bed with you."

"You must admit that I am a step up from Lover Boy."

"Anyone is a step up from Lover Boy. After all, I should know from first hand experience."

"So you concede my point," John came back smoothly. This was in keeping with their conversations, which had been like the perpetual ping-pong game.

"It goes deeper than that. You are definitely more cheerful these days than you used to be. I know very well that you are totally overjoyed that my temporary detour with Neil Houghton is at an end……."

"…….you must be as well, dearest."

"As politicians say, I refuse to comment. I have also done something unheard for me of acting as roadie for your middle aged delinquents plotting revolution. I have heard tales of your sit in days at university."

"I have splendid memories of shaking the very bastions of power. There was never a cause that I didn't believe in. Today's students are apathetic by comparison."

"I am sure that you were also very much attracted to the revolutionary doctrine of 'free love'- that is freedom for you to make as many possible conquests of wide eyed, long haired women with slim legs with rapacious sexual appetites."

"I did have the good taste to only marry the only most expert in that direction," John said smoothly.

George grinned freely at John in frank confession of their past until she thought about her past and the grin faded from her face. She admitted to herself that nostalgia was so very attractive. If she let herself, she could almost see those magic days of the past through misty eyes. She then remembered the feelings of hurt and anger when his first sexual infidelity came to light. What was worst was his blasé manner, then his studious apologies and promise to make amends - until the next time. The crowning moment came when he took up a teaching position in a London Law School and the wide-eyed eager eyed blonde called Jo Mills who came into their lives. He even spoke of her as the most promising student that he had come across. Foolishly, she had supposed that because she was married and had two very young children, she would be safe for him to platonically respect her talents. How wrong she had been, she had thought to herself bitterly over the years. Her experiences over the years had turned her into a realist, scornful of romantic make believe.

"There may be much that came later that I became prepared to forgive but that does not mean that I have forgotten it," George added in polite but firm tones. Her pride would not let her soften up for John's sake.

"I can see that you think that we'll end up together after all these years. We started as a married professional couple with an offspring which both of us were proud of. We started to make our way in the world and I become this money mad barrister attracted to the material things in life. Then comes the process of discord and disruption when your series of adulteries finally sunk our marriage and we took different partners. In the meantime, you become this infuriating 'new age' man with your radical causes and not letting your principles get in the way of the series of women who pass through your bed. In public life, we become standard cardboard cut out characters in an upper class soap opera, hurling abuse at each other, inside and outside the courtroom. Then comes the possible happy ending. After being the evil sinner all my life in my alliances with the 'wealth creators,' I join the common mood of repentance. I'm sure that you've heard that I've taken on the Sally Anne Howe case.'

"I am familiar with it," John said in even tones.

"I don't suppose you know the details, John. I'll tell them to you. A one-time policewoman was raped by a policeman, the very same animal who Nikki Wade stabbed to defend her girlfriend who was on the point of being mistreated the same way. She was shamefully treated both by her colleagues and through the line of accountability right to the top. After years of suffering in silence, she came forward to testify for Nikki and has now had the courage to seek compensation and possible reinstatement in the Metropolitan police."

John's eyes opened wide with astonishment. This was not his George talking but a completely different woman who felt passionately about the case. She cared.

"It does mean that I can put myself in the mind of a barrister who will try and fend off the claim. After all, the obvious target is the Head of Personnel and it is no easy matter to make that person culpable. I'll find a way though."

"I could assist you," John murmured.

"Is this the way you used to behave with Jo Mills," George laughed." You must remember my infamous pride. That hasn't changed."

"Nothing changes between us ultimately. We were destined to reunite with each other."

"No John," George said more firmly this time.

"You see us dancing the same familiar waltz together and apart. Round and round we go. Finally, we fall into each other's loving arms and we can supposedly forget the past as if the sum total of feelings can be wiped clean as if it were a blackboard. Life doesn't work that way. The problem is that you haven't changed."

"I can reform. Anyone can."

"You delude yourself. You have always been a serial womanizer and always will be. You might conceivably get worse as you try to recapture your lost youth."

"You can make me reform, George. After all the women I have chased, I realize now that you are the only woman for me," John said with a slightly shaking voice. For a second, George nearly softened as her newfound ways let her more open to emotion.

"I ask myself if you are the only man for me, John."

"Will you get a better offer?"

"No John. I am not a vessel waiting to be filled by you," George insisted more firmly. You have noticed that I am moving on, that I am changing my ways. You must consider what I want out of life. You cannot run my life in your ever so charming way and get me into bed the same way."

"So what do you want out of life?"

"A pleasant evening where we act like friends and friends only. Our relations should continue the same way. There should be no need for the verbal fireworks in court between each other and I suppose there will be a cease fire between Jo Mills and I if she's willing."

"But what do you want to do with your life, George?" John asked with a look of mystification and concern in his eyes." Sometimes, I worry for you."

"Were you worried for me when I was with Haughton?" George challenged.

"In some ways," John frankly admitted." I used to worry that you would marry the man and live to regret it. Alternatively, you might not regret it and become like the unutterably callous hard hearted people he surrounds himself."

"And am I not hard hearted?" George grinned playfully, daring him to disagree with her.

"Ultimately not or I wouldn't have married you," John said shortly.

This short remark rocked George to her foundations. What John said was perfectly true. How did she never spot this obvious truth about herself? Her thoughts started turning over and over in her mind. Completely out of the blue, her thoughts were given immediate voice. This was so unlike her.

"I need to work out what I want to do with my life, who I am, where I belong. I need to question everything and to get some answers for myself," George said, a look of distraction on her face. She had totally dropped her normal cool, command. It unsettled and disturbed John who wasn't ready to deal with this.

"I went through this phase when I went to university," John said in smooth tones, trying to be understanding. After all, it fitted life's pattern to his way of thinking.

George felt like smacking him across the face but restrained herself just in time. This wasn't what she had meant or felt at all. Her experience felt very unique to a female professional divorcee and mother to a student daughter. She had this mad impulse to get out of here but restrained herself. There would be time later on to think when she was on her own.

John noticed the flash of anger on George's face and knew immediately that his planned for sexual celebration of his triumph wasn't going to happen. George meant every word she said about striking out on her own. It wiped away his feelings of satisfaction and completeness as he realized that that comforting circularity of life's pattern was being firmly rejected by George. He hoped that this would be a temporary phase and that that sense of completion in his life would be restored.

Together, they chatted away inconsequentially over the finest wines for the rest of the evening or so this couple looked as such to the outside observer.

Scene Twenty-Four

The dark haired man had a rigid sense of duty in providing for his wife and children, paying for the mortgage on his large detached house at a comfortable distance out of London. He had carved out his empire in the form of his status in life and his material possessions. They were the visible results of all he'd worked hard to achieve in his life. His values were written into the stiffness of his body language and the relative tonelessness of his voice. His rigid unbreakable way of behaving was the result of how he had been brought up to behave. It was something that he had never questioned. He lived his life constantly on the move from his office in the heart of London, driving back home to his sanctuary where he was a dutiful husband and father. He never missed accompanying his wife to the parent's evenings and the thousand and one little details of family life.

Life didn't get any easier as he got older. He had to drive himself hard to keep up with the up and coming younger solicitors who were joining the practice. He reckoned he had got to the point in life where he had achieved a measure of experience while the flames of his drive and ambition still burnt brightly within him. He stood in high esteem in his local community and was on good terms with his father who was a naval Captain and his mother who was a pillar of strength in the local community. The only fly in the ointment was that he faced the highly unpleasant reentry into his life of that outcast sister of his that he'd put out of his mind many years ago ever since she'd landed their family in such deep disgrace. The naval port that he grew up in was a small community and it didn't take long for word to get back that his sister had been expelled from her boarding school for 'lesbian activities.' The shame and embarrassment of it all was unendurable to the young man that he had been. He had been highly conscious that his proud family name had been dragged through the mud. He could see it in the censorious expressions that he could see around him, everywhere he moved.

What enraged him right now was how his father, of all people, had taken a soft line with his sister. Whenever he passed his opinions on his sister to his father, opinions that were family truisms, his father would instantly contradict him and stick up for her. It enraged him and gave him the uncomfortable reminder that Nicola had always been his favourite. He wouldn't admit to himself that he had always found her brighter and wittier than he was. When he came off the phone or got home from the family visit, he would complain to his very patient wife until he got it out of his system and life would continue as before. Life was so unfair, he reflected.

Never mind, he thought to himself. He looked outside his first floor office window on a hot, sunny July day and reckoned that he was finding himself in the world. He had been given a new case that he wanted to get his teeth into. It involved prosecuting some neurotic woman who had a clear grudge against the police force

"Hi dad," sang out Nikki as she picked up the phone in the hall while Helen was getting their evening meal together. A light summer breeze wafted through the kitchen, taking the edge off the harsh summer heat and the sunlight streamed through the front door windows. On the other end of the line, her father talked in his usual friendly fashion.

"I thought it was only time I phoned to ask you how your new job settling down, Nicola?"

"It's great. It's made me work harder than I ever have had before in my life but that's no bad thing," came the considered, meditative reply for which her father mentally gave ten out of ten. It is no bad thing for a father to have a talented independent minded daughter who has a lot of old fashioned values of diligence and application. She'd never admit it if he ever told her, he smiled smugly to himself. In turn Nikki grinned at her father down the line as she leant against the wall. It was a quirk of his personality that everything had to have a purpose and this was his way of phoning to have a chat.

"I've had to learn a lot in a short space of time. It's stretched my ability to research into prison conditions, to get advance notice of what horrors the Home Office plan to inflict on the Prison Service. You simply have no idea of the sort of crackpot plans we are trying to block or water down before they see the light of day."

"Isn't this being tough on crime and the causes of crime?" her father said

"The problem is they don't work even on their own terms. They sound as if they were written on the back of a fag packet. I'm part of a team, which gets to look at the fine details of the proposals in detail. You need to develop a perspective without forgetting that you're talking about human beings. As I work, I think all the time about how old mates of mine like the Julies, Yvonne, Denny and yes, decent prison officers like Dominic would think of it. That helps to keep me grounded."

"A bird's eye view is very helpful, Nicola. It sees everything."

"You need a worm's eye as well, dad. Both together. There's nothing contemptible about the worm. I know that from working in the prison gardens and our own garden. Worms see things that birds don't see, as they're too high up and at far too removed from the situation. Helen got to know that in the end."

"That reminds me, how's Helen doing these days?"

"You know her. She's blossoming, doing the junior executive role to perfection. Even as we speak, she's cooking the dinner which I can smell wafting through into the hall. She's got her feet under the table, happily 'out' and those who work for her trust her and have faith in her as I do."

"Have you got any more holidays booked, Nicola?" came the thoroughly natural and conventional question.

"We may have a short break in Scotland and pop in on her father. Do you know, he's never seen us? His only presence is the occasional chilly voice on the phone and that really winds up Helen."

"Do you mean he can't accept you as her partner?"

Nikki smiled with pleasure as her father's reference to Helen rolled so smoothly off his tongue and she felt comfortable explaining the situation to him.

"He's a Scottish Presbyterian minister, dad. He's incredibly straight laced."

"I know the type. All hellfire and damnation. Still, I know you're both strong enough to sort him out. "

Her father's simple statement gave her a glowing feeling in the pit of her stomach and emboldened her to ask a question she'd meant to ask for months and kept putting off, not wanting to risk her newfound closeness to her father.

"Do you hear anything of my brother these days?" Nikki asked in a more guarded tone of voice.

"You must know me well enough now, Nicola," came the firm reply.' Both you and John are our children and I'll do my damnedness to see that you are both treated fairly. You'll know that I won't stand for any sniping behind each other's backs. If either of you have a problem with each other, you sort it out yourselves."

The forceful reply had an exhilarating effect on Nikki. This reply was as utterly transparent as it could be and also told her that he would be stand by her like a rock. It didn't preclude either of them being ruthlessly honest to themselves and everyone and everything about them.

"Thanks a million, dad. That means everything to me. Hey, wait a minute," she added as she could see Helen gesticulating at her, urgently."I've gotta go and help with the dinner.

I'll bring you a sprig of lucky heather from Scotland."

"You just do right by yourself and everyone else, Nicola. That's all I want," came the fond answer.

Only a few miles away, both Trisha and Sally shared that brief period in the day after Sally had come home from work before Trisha was due to go down to the club. Life had become more positive for her as she was blissfully free from the blood freezing anxiety of concealing her condition from Trisha. She had taken to writing down her thoughts when she was feeling at her most positive, snippets of self revelation she had encountered with her therapist. They locked her thoughts in on the fact that the metropolitan police weren't all powerful. Last of all, she remembered that very confident glamorous barrister who expressed so much confidence in them.

She made random notes, even at work and whenever a neighbourhood nosy parker passed by, she guiltily shoved the piece of paper into some convenient receptacle. The fact that she overheard whispered comments about some mysterious boyfriend only amused her. At work, she was this colourless, very private woman who retreated within her shell. She had quite enough on her plate and this was a step up for her when, at one time it had taken all her determination to separate herself from her bed and struggle off to work. The thought of admitting that she was a lesbian and had a female partner had that alienating, distancing effect which was something she could endure. Only when she came to the front door she shared with Trisha, did she change to that other person.

"What sort of day have you had, babes," Trisha asked as Sally came through the door and dumped her handbag down.

"Oh, so so, nothing exciting. It pays me at the end of the month," Sally said without enthusiasm. Trisha said nothing for a second. It had been at the back of her mind to question just why Sally was working in a job that she had little enthusiasm.

"Still, I've got you to come home to at the end of the day, darling," came a much brighter tone of voice and the dark-haired woman veered round with outstretched arms and kissed Trisha full on the lips. The blond haired woman melted eagerly into Sally Anne's arms and the two women gratefully embraced. This must be one of Sally Anne's good days, which she was welcome. On other days, she could still be jittery.

"Mmm, I'd love to take you to bed right now but I've got a club to run. I simply daren't skive off."

"It is your own business, Trisha."

True, she thought, but she was beginning to feel that she was coming to feel more beholden to her assistant Gill, than she liked to be. Trisha knew that her talents were for accounts and the entertainment side of the business. She was gradually taking more and more time off work and delegating more to Gill who accepted the situation uncomplainingly but gracelessly. Nikki took a tougher line with staff than Trisha was prone to do so and nipped any problems in the bud.

"True," Trisha sighed.

"So why don't we both go to the club tonight, babes," Sally Anne said with an enticing edge of confidence." I should seize the chance of a good mood and take advantage of it."

Trisha beamed with pleasure. Even though other women's source of entertainment was her business, she could summon up the feeling that they were going out tonight on the town.

"Babes, that's fantastic of you. I realize you can't stay out till too late and I'll sort you out with a taxi, you know I will."

The brilliant smile that spread across Trisha's face and her solicitous tone of voice warmed Sally up inside and sharpened that edge of confidence. She was beginning, ever so slowly, to respond to feelings of well being that did not come from a chemical source. She clung gratefully to Trisha and buried her face in the other woman's neck and flowing blond hair.

They were upstairs in their bedroom and Sally Anne selected one of her more floaty decorative dresses that she had bought which was a move away from her normally straight cut formal work suits that she favoured. It crossed her mind that this tendency of hers was an unconscious drive for security.

"How do I look, Trisha?' she asked with a small smile on her face.

"You look totally divine, Sally," came the answer without reservation." I must choose an outfit to match it."

The two women carefully applied their makeup and chose the ideal perfume. They were going out tonight and Sally was going to face the scene and achieve one more small victory over herself.

Scene Twenty-Five

Trisha and Sally felt on top of the world when they got to 'Chix.' Instantly, they plunged into the vibrant ambiance of the club. The rhythm of the music called to them both in time with the flashing lights that sporadically flashed colours over them. Sally felt comfortable in her mind and responded brightly to the introductions that Trisha made to her friends. With a shock of recognition, Sally realized that these were the same women that Trisha had introduced her to two or three months ago and she'd been intimidated by their glamorous confidence. Now she realized that they just liked dressing up and they were trying to be friendly to her. They were ordinary women, just like herself, nothing to be afraid of. It made her realize that these women hadn't changed but she had over the past months. She was nearly three months into living with Trisha, which had smoothed away a lot of her self-consciousness. Outside her place of work, it was one thing she realized she'd come to accept. Also, she had worked hard in her therapy sessions and without thinking about it, the payoff had sneaked up on her right now without her expecting it. She was less inclined to attribute everything to the dubious double edged power of the tablet and to give herself a break. Feeling comfortable in her skin and absolutely unthreatened was such a blessing that those who didn't have her problems took for granted all too easily.

"Care for a dance?" Trisha smiled at her.

Without hesitation, she let the blond haired woman take her by the hand the same as any other woman in the club. It all felt resolutely normal to her.

Inevitably, Trisha had to slide away later and engage herself with the running of the club and Sally was quite happy to talk comfortably with the others. She didn't feel panicky about being deserted but behaved quite naturally. A friendly woman called Alice engaged her in conversation. She wore black trousers, a white lacy top and a relaxing manner.

"I'm glad you could make it down one night, Sally. Trisha is always talking about you."

"She is? I mean I wasn't sure what there is to tell about me."

"Don't underrate yourself. I've known her for a long time and ever since she and Nikki went their separate ways, she's just drifted from one relationship to another until she met you. She can charm the birds off the trees but one night stands really aren't her thing."

"It's wonderful to hear that," came the bashful response.

"Sometimes, it helps for someone else than your lover to be supportive. That's what we all do for each other."

All of a sudden, a sudden chill came over Sally in the heat of the club. This puzzled her, as everyone was dressed lightly for party night. Next feelings of panic started to creep through her system. Oh no, not those horrible feelings coming back to haunt me just when she was thoroughly enjoying herself, she thought to herself, cursing her fate. Instantly, she reached for a solution and started murmuring to herself the formulas for relaxing. She tried her deep breathing techniques and lay back in her chair. The other woman looked at her with a concerned expression on her face.

"What's wrong, Sally?"

"I ought to have explained, Alice," Sally stammered apologetically." Some years ago I was in the police force and was raped by another policeman. I've been on tranquillizers ever since."

"It's no wonder, Sally. You poor thing. Try and relax and do whatever you need to do to feel more comfortable, anything. We'll look after you," that soothing voice answered, gesturing and including the other women in the group.

Those caring words achieved a miracle. They started to make her feel less like an alien amongst all these lovely supportive women. She was still edgy and jittery but she felt as if she could cope even if she felt clammy all over. Suddenly, she glanced to one side and all of a sudden, the woman who must have been around for some time came clearly into her vision. It was Trisha's assistant, Gill who was looking at her with a particularly unpleasant smile on her face, before she turned away and headed back to the bar.

"It's as if that woman over there spooked me," she said apologetically.

"Between you and me, I don't like her. There's something about her that doesn't fit," murmured Alice reassuringly. Sally reached gratefully for that sense of validation and clung to the safety of the crowd while the women swayed and gyrated in time with the music.

"I don't understand it," Trisha exclaimed to herself as she rifled through the recent bank statements the following evening. "I've got a lot less money in the bank than I ought to."

Sally pricked up her ears as the normally calm and collected Trisha was clearly agitated. The dark haired woman felt like an intruder, as she had never pried into Trisha's finances but found words to say.

"Like how short are you, babes?"

"Only a couple of grand," Trisha laughed mirthlessly." You know, like I can afford to chuck that sort of money away."

"Is this recent?"

'I'm not sure," admitted Trisha, biting her lip." I mean, my accountant went through the books last April and didn't point out anything wrong then."

"I haven't noticed you spend any more money personally so it must be the business," pronounced Sally softly with what felt to her as unnatural calmness and resting her hand on Trisha's shoulders. The neck muscles felt dangerously taut to her.

"I know. That's what worries me."

"Why don't you try and get to the bottom of it and go through the books right now."

"Can't," said Trisha, her voice tight and strained." Gill has the business cheque book right now."

"Then get it back off her as soon as you can and go through the books," said Sally in a determined voice. It was curious, she reflected, how certain and determined you can be over someone else's problems.

Trisha shook her head as if to clarify her thoughts. She knew that she had let things slide in recent months and that Gill had expressed an interest in her accounts. It was as if she had really been looking for a co manager to run the club and had disguised what was happening to herself by calling Gill her assistant. There had been a more convenient side to the arrangement. It had helped her to take time off to be with Sally and this taciturn woman had silently assented to the arrangement. Because of her feelings of guilt in not doing proper justice both to her lover and to her business, she had inhibited herself from examining closely what might have been going on under her very nose. It suggested that stark choices needed to be made in her lifestyle.

"What do you know about Gill?" Sally Anne persisted. Somehow, her long dormant policewoman instincts were roused to focus in on this conundrum.

"Very little," Trisha admitted frankly." She answered an ad I put in the paper and she convinced me that she was the one for the job. I interviewed others but they didn't impress me as much as she did."

All Sally's gut instincts rose up inside her and focused in on the dimly perceived threat. It wasn't just her feelings.

"Just how persuasive is she?"

"Very persuasive. I mean, Nikki used to do all the hiring and firing. I mean, I feel such a fool."

Trisha's face suddenly crumpled and Sally reached out to the other woman, folding her in her arms and gently stroking her back to offer the sort of comfort she had been crying out for.

"I'm scared," Trisha admitted later on as they lay together on the sofa while Sally gently kissed away the tears. "Scared at what I'll find."

"I'd volunteer to help you but accounts aren't my scene. You'd spend all your time showing me what should be going on. I'd hold you back."

'That's what bothers me. I know what I should do but I need someone I can trust to double check, someone with a good grasp of the ……criminal mind."

The two women shared an appalled glance. It was obvious that Trisha's subconscious had been way ahead of her conscious reasoning. All her fears were dragging these suspicions to the surface.

"What about Nikki………."

"That won't work, babes. I mean Nikki is brilliant in her way and I trust her implicitly. She has an inquisitive mind. but accounts aren't her thing. She'd be the first to say so," came the disconsolate reply.

"……………..or Helen. She's got the sort of mathematical mind that you need and she must have done accounts when she worked for the prison service."

A wide smile slowly spread across Trisha's face. The suggestion was sheer brilliance. She considered everything that she had heard about Helen and wondered why she had never thought about it before. She flung her arms round Sally and kissed her full on the lips out of sheer gratitude. It felt heavenly that her girlfriend was giving so much support and the possibilities were opening up to her.

Saturday night at Trisha's had that electric buzz about it. It was part fuelled by that questing sense of investigation and partly Helen and Nikki's immediate heartfelt sympathy. They brought a bottle of wine over and Nikki was pouring generous measures in the kitchen. Helen was armed with sheets of paper and a pocket calculator and spread all the account books, cheque stubs and bills over the large dining table. She held a biro between her forefingers and pointed it at the mass of paperwork in a meditative fashion.

"So have you known Gill to have a girlfriend?" Nikki asked with raised eyebrows.

"You know, babes, that she isn't forced to be gay to work for me," laughed Trisha.

"Let's put it this way. Why should she bother working in a lesbian club when London's nightlife is stacked with straight clubs? Unless it's changed since my day, Chix is hardly Sodom and Gomorrah but any barmaid or assistant is going to have to get used to women naturally expressing their feelings towards each other. From working in the straight world, it isn't every straight woman's cup of tea."

"I really don't know anything about her. She is a closed book."

"And on the other hand, she's been getting into yours, hey," came Nikki's impulsive retort. On seeing the shocked expression on Trisha's face, feelings of contrition swept over her and duty compelled her to apologise. "Sorry, babes, I didn't mean to be tactless."

"Just tell it like it is, Nik. That's you all over," Trisha said with nostalgic affection. Sally smiled appreciatively as Nikki confirmed the vague suspicions that had centred on this shadowy woman that she had confused with her nervous problems.

There was a lull in the conversation while Helen's body tensed as she eagerly pursued the financial trail to its source with the same degree of fanaticism finding the source of the Nile.

"I see what's been going on," Helen suddenly exclaimed loudly in a tone of mixed triumph and anger." The conniving backstabbing bitch."

The other three women turned sharply to focus on the glowing grey green eyes and the smouldering expression of anger that emanated from Helen. Sally and Nikki felt intense satisfaction that Helen had got to the bottom of the situation. Trisha's stomach lurched as she heard the fateful words. While she was incredibly grateful for Helen giving her time so generously, she felt incredibly foolish and blind to have let the situation run.

"Don't beat yourself up about it, babes," Nikki said gently laying her hand on her sleeve. Trisha flashed her friend a look of intense gratitude.

"Don't forget, we're with you," put in Sally.

"You look here, Trisha." Helen pronounced intensely, gesturing to her to come over to the crime scene." If you check through this bill here ….and here….you'll see that there's a duplicate invoice. The second one just happens to be when she gets her hands on your chequebook. You can see a payment made each time and both supposedly to the same firm but that doesn't guarantee just who the cheques are made payable to. The second cheque is definitely not in your writing so who else has had access to it."

"She's been assisting you all right," muttered Nikki cynically.

"Assisting herself more like," Helen commented derisively." She's been fleecing you out of money left right and centre. No wonder you're short of money."

Trisha stood up and moved away from the table. Everything was blindingly clear when she looked at it. It's just that she needed someone else to validate her perceptions. She turned her back and put her hands to the mantelpiece. Stress and anger could be seen in every lineaments of her body language.

'I never really trusted her from the word go," Nikki observed." There was something creepy about her."

"You thought so," Sally said open mouthed." I thought it was me being paranoid."

"I can't say I ever particularly took to her." Put in Helen." If there was one thing I learnt from working in the prison service and that was to spot a devious backstabber in good time."

Trisha stood open mouthed at everything she was hearing. Each woman had their suspicions but had delicately refrained from expressing them. She could understand how it happened as none of them really wanted to badmouth Gill when all they had to go on was suspicions. It was an unfortunate downside of the spirit of sororiality. She blessed the chance that Sally had put her way to get everything out to the open. At that moment, she profoundly loved them all.

"So what are you going to do about this, Trisha? It's your call," Helen observed quietly.

Trisha was silent for what seemed like ages while a thousand thoughts whirled through her overheated mind.

"I want her out of my club immediately," Trisha exploded with total venom." I don't need some sneaky bloodsucker to leech off me. God knows I've worked hard enough – with Nikki's full share, of course," and here she flashed a smile at her old friend," - to get this club off the ground. I don't want some parasite to

"Just how bad are you placed, babes," Nikki asked gently.

"Oh, I'll survive. It means that nearly all my profits have been swallowed up. I'll have to borrow from the bank to tide us over," Trisha answered with a bitter tone in her voice. If she'd acted sooner, she wouldn't need to go through that shit. It was the sense of waste that angered her.

"But you won't have your funds being drained, left right and centre," put in Helen. "Look here, Trisha, there are the makings of a criminal case to be made against her. If you place this in the hands of the police….."

"The police?" echoed Trisha." You mean ask them to help? Sorry, Sally."

"That's all right, babes. I understand," came the soft words and the soothing feel of her lover's arm round her shoulders and that real feeling of sympathy.

"Then you get rid of her. Sack her on the spot," chimed in Nikki.

Trisha strode down to the club with mile long strides, or so it felt to her. She had that blazing quality of purposeful anger inside her that felt nicely controlled. The other three women followed after her with the clear understanding of letting Trisha do the talking. Her self-respect demanded it.

"I want you out of my club tonight and never come back, either as customer or working here," hissed Trisha at the woman whose back was half turned to her. For a moment she said nothing and didn't move.

"Did you hear me?" shouted Trisha while the other three women gestured to the few regulars not to worry, the situation was under control. .

"What the hell are you talking about?" the other blond shouted, red in the face and her blue eyes glaring.

"We've just done a thorough audit of the club accounts and you've been fleecing me out of a lot of money. I am absolutely certain that you've been double billing the club and pocketing the proceeds."

"So if you're that certain, why haven't you called in the police?" Gill angrily shouted, her Northern accent accentuated in her anger. Now that she was forced out into the open, her spiritual ugliness became apparent for all to see. She reminded Nikki irresistibly of Dockley at that point.

"I don't want to involve the police, I just want you out of here."

"Well, I'm not going. I'll sue you for unfair dismissal."

Helen could sense Trisha wavering at the unexpected resistance and steamrollered in, her Scottish accent accentuating every key syllable for maximum effect.

"For your information, I've been through the accounts with a fine tooth comb. Your fingerprints are all over the cheques that you used to rob Trisha with. I used to be an acting governor in the prison service and you are in this right up to your neck. Trisha stands a good chance of seeing you behind bars if she wants to."

"Speaking as a one time policewoman, I've arrested your kind before," Sally intervened, boiling over with anger.

"So do you go the easy way or is it the hard way? You'd better cut your losses and go," Trisha demanded, feeling the balance swing in her favour and sensing the other woman start to buckle.

"You've got no chance of running your club on your own. You need me to do all the donkeywork, even paying all the bills for you. This is how I get treated."

"I'll manage. I've managed before."

"Including holding the hand of that neurotic girl friend of yours. I've been carrying this club. So what if I got a bit of extra money on the side. I've earned it," sneered Gill spitefully. At that moment, the vicious smile on her lips reminded Nikki forcibly of Dockley at her worst. The irony of it all was that there were women like the Julies who didn't deserve to be behind bars while this brass necked villain deserved to be locked up. All her recently acquired professional knowledge just amplified her raging feelings of injustice.

"You'd better go, Gill. In case you don't know me, I'm a dangerous lesbian cop killer. He tried to rape Trisha in this very club and I took him out with a broken bottle. You're just doing the same financially."

The violence of Nikki's manner as she stepped forward made the other woman shrink back. It contrasted with the mild mannered respectable woman who she'd seen and taken little notice of. Instantly she scuttled back to the office and hurriedly collected all her personal stuff and clattered out of the club.

"I'll send on your P45," sang out Trisha to her departing figure.

Helen looked at Nikki with horror. This was the first time that she'd seen Nikki so roused and dangerous. It vividly recalled that occasion when Nikki had in not so many words, threatened Fenner with a bottle in the PO's room and Helen had verbally hauled Nikki away.

"Jesus, Nikki, you scared me. I thought you'd left that all stuff behind you and you'd be going straight."

Nikki's body relaxed and she leant against the bar. She opened her handbag, flipped a cigarette out of its packet and lit up. The casual mannered gesture was a study in contrasts.

"Straight? With you, darling? Besides, I was bluffing. The rest of you ought to know that I'd never risk doing time after all we'd gone through. I'd have let down those members of the legal profession who worked so hard for us, stuck their necks on the line. That bitch wasn't to know that as she's too self centred to know differently."

"Tell you what, Nikki, it was a bloody good act. It had me convinced. As a just reward for scaring the shit out of us, the round's on you."

"All right," Nikki said sheepishly with that 'butter wouldn't melt on her mouth' expression while the other women laughed away the tension of the moment and the club returned to normal.

Scene Twenty Six

George sat in her office, a file full of notes and papers and she was clicking her fingers in irritation. She knew exactly where the problem with the case was. In order to put the Metropolitan Police on the stand for "failure of duty of care, the personification in court would be the Head of Human Resources. It was at him that the buck stops, the responsibility lay for a case to be brought of negligence. She realized that she had let her natural sympathies for Sally Anne Howe override that coldly calculating characteristic quality that best served her in court. After all, she might easily have picked up the brief for defending the Metropolitan Police. She could quite easily put herself into her opponent's mind as she had been there in the past, to beat back claims for compensation to a trifling amount.

The case wasn't as watertight as she liked when she thought about it. At the time when her client had been raped, she had pressed charges, which had been assigned to an investigation authority, which was completely independent of the Larkhall Police Station. They had interviewed D C Gossard who had signed a statement that he had not known who Sally was.

Her strongest line of attack was why the police should have failed to act when confronting Gossard's abrupt change in testimony in 'not knowing who Sally Anne Howe was' to saying they were in a consensual relationship. If it was generally known that Gossard had separated from his wife quoting physical and mental cruelty, then surely the Human Resources team should have known it as well. Or should they?

She considered another strand to the case where as Marian Chambers said at the original appeal hearing, 'there was a clear failure of the police to disclose material evidence." She wondered when this failure to disclose took place and who was responsible. Moreover character testimony was offered by Gossard's colleagues as to what a shining pillar to the community Gossard was. However, that would put his colleagues in the frame, not the Human Resources.

The more she thought about it, the more George realized that she really needed a smoking gun. She weighed the facts of Nikki's interrogation by the police, that they brushed aside Nikki's and Trisha's claim that Gossard had tried to rape her. That never appeared in the investigation at all.

Suddenly her mind was made up. She needed to talk to Claire Walker about the case. She reached for the phone and her secretary contacted her with Claire straightaway.

"I've been looking carefully through the Sally Anne Howe file and I want your opinions, Claire. Could you come over and see me?" George said in her most pleasant tones.

Claire smiled with pleasure at the courtesy and compliment she paid her as she headed out of her office to George's neatly appointed office within a stones throw of the Oxford Street shops. Not all barristers behaved that way. She was used to those who imperiously demanded that she run errands without explaining the purpose of them. George Channing had earned the reputation of being a demanding Prima Donna. She didn't just not suffer fools gladly, she didn't tolerate them at all.

"I'm all ears, George," she said when George's secretary waved her through.

"The problem is that I'm worried about how much we can rely upon the obvious approach of trying to smoke out the head of personnel into some damaging and incriminating admission of guilt. It leaves too much to chance on the day and if I were the opposing barrister, I would stonewall. I'd be happier with some utterly damning written admission that they knew that Gossard and his gang had conspired to drive our client out of the police force and considered her expendable or some such contemptible mealy mouthed expression that they use to justify their dirty work - like the 'greater good' for instance."

Claire was sufficiently emboldened by the other woman's invigoratingly frank manner to pop the question that demanded verbal expression.

"I like your use of the word 'we,' George."

"You mean, I'm not quite the power mad domineering woman you expected to find? Well," she drawled, picking up on Claire's smile and a nod of assent," you come to me with a good reputation and, in certain areas of my life, I'm changing my ways…… Right, so that we obviously understand one another, I am open for any helpful ideas."

"I can't think of anything that doesn't breach the Official Secrets Act always supposing we could find some obliging official. Could we get the judge to direct that such papers be made public to both sides?"

"I know," George confessed in a lowered tone of voice." That's what's bothering me. We might strike lucky in the choice of judge but I don't like hanging my hat on something like that."

Claire leaned back in her chair and let her imagination flow free and then an idea came to her mind.

"Could I perhaps track down Gossard's widow and persuade her to talk? You never know, there may be a letter from the prison service that might be incriminating. After all, that was a year before he tried to rape Trisha Williams and some time before he raped our client."

George's face spread in a broad smile of delight. She knew well enough to keep an open mind and to never dismiss even the most outside possibility. Things were starting to look up and started to make her feel more confident. One sudden thought crossed her mind which wiped the smile off her face.

"One question, Claire and that is how well do you know our client?"

"Only indirectly, George. Helen Stewart is an old friend and I know her partner, Nikki Wade pretty well. Sally Anne is living with Trisha Williams who is Nikki's ex with whom she's still on friendly terms."

"It's a small world as they say," George said lightly though she was secretly impressed by this level of friendship in a world of which she knew nothing. Her experience of ex partners was to steer clear of them. John was the sole perverse exception but he was in a league of his own for reasons she still couldn't fully fathom. " Coming to the point, is there anything, literally anything, that the opposition could dig up on Sally that might prejudice our case?"

"As far as I know, Sally leads a perfectly blameless life but I could double check to be on the safe side."

"Do so," urged George forcefully. She hoped she had pitched the urgency of this at just the right level. "I know how malignant my fearful ex, Neil Haughton the Home Office minister is and he will stick at nothing in this matter."

The last three weeks since the judge's strike had been the darkest on record for Sir Ian. His world had been built upon him greasing the wheels of justice, in seeking various means of finding accommodations between the sometimes turbulent idiosyncratic judges and the pressures of the executive. He had learned to be skilled in the arts of diplomacy, persuasion, subtle pressures and in general balancing the use of both stick and carrot in judicious measures. He had also picked up skills in taking the edges off some crackpot scheme of the Home Office. Right now, he felt as if the foundations of this cozy world had been blown apart and the rule of anarchy let loose. He felt as if her had been precipitated into a grand social affair wearing only his pyjamas. He felt naked.

The first few days after the strike felt strange. He visited the various judges in their chambers and superficially everything felt normal. The usual civilities had been exchanged but every judge that had been out on strike had that look of confidence and superiority in his eye that told him that the balance of power had shifted irrevocably. Huntley, the only judge to work that day, had utterly marginalized himself and was talked about as being an 'utter bounder' which was an upper class version of 'scab.' The damage done by that fool Haughton had been colossal and it was incumbent on him to talk to the man to see if he really intended to go ahead with the bill. He was absolutely certain from the press headlines that the judges had the power to bring the machinery of justice to a grinding halt.

His conversations with Sir Alan Peasemarsh, the Attorney General were totally dismal and fruitless. All he and Haughton were doing were a 'pass the parcel' game of denying any responsibility and Sir Alan was being totally ineffectual in his Old Etonian fashion. Thus it was that he, Sir Ian Rochester, resolved to defuse the situation and to try and minimize the damage as far as was possible. It was clear that the bill was a total no hoper and should be allowed to die a quiet death somewhere in the hopes that eventually the revolutionary mood would sink back to normality. At some point in time, the illicit dormitory celebration had to come to and end and the rule of the prefects could gradually be restored.

'I wanted to have a word with you, Neil," Sir Ian asked rather hesitantly, seeing the glare in Neil Haughton's eyes." I was wondering if there are going to be further developments about the bill to restrict the power of judges."

"Curb. The word is curb, Ian," snapped Neil Haughton.

"As you will," Sir Ian compromised. He had no qualms about dressing up unpleasant actions in cozy sounding language but he felt that he was getting old, unable to really keep up with the latest politician's buzz words. After all, his occupation was not to fool and hoodwink the electorate." I'm agreeable to any words you care to describe the bill. All I wanted to ask you are likely developments on the matter."

"You'll keep quiet on the matter."

"My lips are sealed," Sir Ian answered in his silkiest tone of voice.

"Well, between you and me, the PM wants to let the dust settle for a bit and then I'm going to move the bill in the next session. The opposition has no problems with it though they'll perform the usual Punch and Judy show at question time. Only the usual handful of rebels will oppose the bill and they're no problem," declaimed Neil Haughton in stony tones of voice.

Sir Ian could hardly believe his ears. The man needed certifying. Thinking about it afterwards, the situation must have been desperate for him to have let rip like this. Forty or so years of repression and inhibition suddenly melted away in this instant.

"You may have no problems but this is political and judicial suicide. For one, you'll push the judges into further action. They've got the bit between their teeth and they're perfectly capable of taking strike action any time they want to. You're confirming John Deed as the hero of the hour, the one who saw everything happening a mile away. You'll even push Huntley into throwing in his lot with them. For God's sake, do you really want there to be twenty to thirty John Deeds, all beavering away at us. What the miners couldn't do twenty years to bring the country to its knees twenty years ago, the judges can. Do you really want that as your political epitaph?"

The reverberations of Sir Ian's outburst echoed round the stately corridor, much to his embarrassment. Decades of conditioning and his ancestry reclaimed him for its own like a glacier, obliterating everything in its path. He looked all around, smiled sheepishly at the other man's shocked expression as if to pretend that it wasn't him that had created the uproar.

Neil Haughton said nothing for a few long moments, his mouth set as tight as a trap. Normally, he shut away any destructive arguments and carried on regardless but the impassioned words did blast their way through the natural barriers. The prospect of his political suicide was the one thought to penetrate. He clasped his hands behind him and started to stalk off down the corridors of power while Sir Ian trotted after him.

"I need to think about what you've said, Ian and I'll come back to you as soon as I've reflected on the matter," he said stiffly.

Sir Ian had long experience of politicians not being seen to back down but finding their own circuitous way of doing a U Turn. That's what it amounted to however much they detested the merest accusation. They were practiced in doing just that and throwing up a cloud of verbiage to disguise the act. It didn't matter to Sir Ian as he drew a huge breath of relief. All he was concerned about was what this fool was going to do. The PR stuff to disguise this wasn't his responsibility. Mopping his brow with a neatly folded handkerchief, he rushed home to the security of his office. Maybe this nightmare might come to pass and he might achieve normality.

Scene Twenty Seven

Tracking down the former Mrs Gossard had proved to be a more difficult task than Claire had expected. In retrospect, she should have expected that the press publicity over the years would have caused her to run for cover. After all, the actions of her one time husband had been put squarely in the public eye. Not surprisingly, she had reverted to her maiden name and had moved town. Eventually, Claire tracked down Miss Marilyn Kemp (formerly Mrs Marilyn Gossard) to a quiet backstreet of Southend on sea, thirty miles east of London at the mouth of the River Thames. This was where she had come from in the first place and where her family still lived. After a brief phone conversation, she agreed to meet Claire though her guarded tone promised no answers, no cooperation.

Driving down from London took her past nondescript looking fields and clumps of elm trees until the aggressive looking garish looking garages and petrol pumps came in sight. This announced the outskirts of the conglomerate set of towns and, from then on, she followed the written directions and finally turned her car down a quiet side street in an area that was coming up in the world. It was situated a little distance away from the white painted mock Tudor, mock Georgian seaside houses, built in a bygone era of prewar affluence. The house she sought was placed deliberately in the middle of an identical row of yellow-bricked terraced houses as if for protection. Inside the front door told a very different story altogether than her perfectly ordinary neighbours.

A thin woman of medium height greeted her. On the periphery of her vision, did Claire notice her medium length mid brown hair, but she focussed in on her thin, drawn face and her watchful haunted eyes that flickered all around her. They made her look prematurely aged and testified to the nightmares of her past.

"Before you say anything, you ought to know that I've been doing my best to get away from everything and start a new life. I have too many bad memories. No one helped me when I was down. I got away from Larkhall under my own steam. I don't want to think about the past, not if I can help it. You'd better say what you have to say and have done."

"It would be the easiest thing in the world to say that I understand how you feel but that would be futile. I've only got the barest details of what you've been through. I'd guess that it's nothing like the reality. That being said, I have to try and understand for your sake and for the sake of my client."

"And who is your client, just out of interest?"

"Sally Anne Howe, another of your ex- husband's victims."

"You'd better continue."

"The trouble with my job is that I get to see the worst side of life, after the crime has been committed. All I know is that there's a lot of people out there in the world try and escape from the past but don't always succeed as they want to," Claire offered gently.

The other woman gazed at Claire in silence for a few minutes with a peculiar mixture of hard-edged contempt and an inner flicker of human interest.

"Every copper at Larkhall Police Station used to come out with that line about what a hard life they have just so they get their meals on the table, their clothes washed and ironed just so and God help the wife if they're less than perfect. Just where do you belong then?"

"Someone who's trying to put things right for someone who's been similarly damaged. I'm trying to give something back to the victim," Claire offered gently without reproach. She could see that this line of apparently random conversation should be allowed to run its course.

'You're not from the press trying to sneak some kind of sob story out of me and make a load of money out of it, are you?"

"Here are my credentials, Marilyn. I'm sorry, I should have shown them from the start."

Marilyn's sudden look of suspicion suddenly evaporated when Claire's gently apologetic manner soothed down her paranoia. She held the identity card between her fingers, closely studying it as if she were trying to extract some meaning from it to make sense of it and also of her own life.

"Just what sort of woman gets stars in her eyes about some right charmer who could only wait to get me into bed, snap the wedding ring on my finger and, hey presto, I become the household drudge to be abused when he sees fit? Just what sort of man acts that way in the first place?"

Claire realized that these questions weren't rhetorical and noticed with alarm the way the other woman suddenly blurted out the reply, how emotions of anger were starting to work loose from under her initial hardened resolve. The conversation was starting to unravel faster than she expected.

"I really don't know that answer. Unfortunately, it lies outside my experience. All I know is that everyone makes choices in their lives and inevitably mistakes are made, especially in your teens when you're young and impressionable. It all depends on the person you meet or the person you should have met but didn't, or the person you just missed out on meeting. I mean both friends and lovers."

"So how did you want to be a solicitor and get so lucky? I can see that you are married and all," said the brown haired woman with intense bitterness.

"I don't know. I got good advice to work out what I wanted to do with my life. I was lucky to meet someone who is compatible with me. I see plenty of women who are not so lucky. I shouldn't apologize for my good fortune but I try to use it to help others."

The other woman suddenly fumbled for a cigarette in her handbag, took a deep drag from a cigarette and forcibly exhaled the smoke without thinking. The words were frank enough. She suddenly stubbed it out in a convenient ashtray and reached her moment of decision.

"You sound OK. All right, I'll trust you. Enough of all this fancy philosophy. Let's get down to business. You tell me what happened to your client and I'll tell you what I know. As it happens, I knew Sally slightly. She was one of those bright, enthusiastic naïve trusting women who my bastard ex spotted a mile away."

"How do you mean?"

"Knowing him, I can guess what happened. He fixed it that they were sharing a car and went on a 'private operation' where he lured her to a nice private room, she walked straight into the trap and he raped her…..Oh yes, he's Mr Fixit all right."

It shocked Claire how Marilyn's bitter succinct description of Sally's story was so accurate. How could she have known?

"……….the only thing I'd add to that is that she's quite so trusting anymore. She's as wary and as scared any woman can be after experiences like that and being forced out of the police force didn't help any. This is where I come into the picture. She is suing the Met for mental distress. They were also guilty of covering up the rape that was committed against her by her fellow colleague. She was forced to resign and to withdraw the charges she had laid against them. She was on the sick for a while and then unemployed. She managed to get a job eventually but she's on tranquillizers and under a course of therapy. This is all thanks to that man and, above all else, the police force who closed ranks on her."

"So why can't she sue them on what happened to her?"

"She got threatening phone calls, that they'd drive her out of the police force if she carried on so she withdrew the charges. That's why we need some backup evidence."

"So you want me to stand up in a witness box and tell some fancy lawyers all the sordid details of my life with him, if you can call it a life?" snapped Marilyn. She thought she could see how the conversation was heading.

"We were wondering if you had some letter from the Metropolitan Police after what you suffered from him that would put them in the frame. This shows how he might have been kept within limits if the police force culture had been all that it should have been. Don't forget that your troubles predate what happened later which happened to be in the public eye."

Some composite kaleidoscopic vision of all her late ex husband's colleagues swirled before Marilyn's eyes. Above all, the sounds of their heartless laughter rang in her ears and made her wince. She put her hands to the side of her head, which ached so much. When she looked up, she saw that very kind hearted woman before her who had shown her nothing but compassion. All at once, she knew what she had to do.

"Stay right there. I'm going to find a letter which says everything."

Claire sat back while Marilyn Kemp rummaged through a bureau. Right at the back, she withdrew a large brown official looking envelope and passed it to her.

"Just take a look at this. This says everything, doesn't it?"

Claire carefully removed the letter and it made her stomach heave. It was what she should have expected, every syllable overloaded with moral equivocations which conveniently and nicely blurred the harsh edges. It was a visual atrocity.

Dear Mrs Gossard

It is with great sadness that it has come to our attention that you and your husband have separated. You will, of course, understand that service in the modern day police force imposes stresses and strains on service policemen and policewomen that are a feature of increasing trends of violence in society. The Human Resource Department of the Metropolitan Police force are especially watchful in monitoring symptoms of such stress to serving members of the police force.

It has come to our attention that allegations have been made of violence towards you by Kevin Gossard, which has given great course for concern. This is at variance from the highest standards of professional behaviour, which his close colleagues have observed in such a dedicated and experienced officer. I have no reason to make a secret of the fact that Kevin has been informally interviewed about the matter and his explanation of events has been accepted.

The Police Federation has long standing strategies in place to provide a counselling service for serving policemen and their wives to enable to patch up their differences or, if marital difficulties have got to the point of no return, advice to both the policeman (or policewoman) and their spouse to effect an amicable separation that minimizes the distress to both parties and their children.

I do hope that you arrange such an approach in conjunction with your partner and this can help you to work through your difficulties with Kevin along the lines outlined above. .

Yours sincerely

Jean Baxter, Head of Personnel"

"This letter would be very helpful to the case," Claire explained in calm tones to Marilyn.

"Take it," the other woman said in an off hand manner." I certainly don't want it for the memories. Mind you that none of those bastards track me down and give me a hard time, that's all I ask."

"In that case, would you have a problem in letting me have a copy of your divorce certificate? I just have the feeling that it will be useful. It will make sure, of course, that you won't be required at the court hearing as it is incontrovertible evidence."

Without hesitation, Marilyn Kemp dived back into the bureau and silently handed her the papers.

"Mind you send me the originals back. I don't want these papers going awol," she said firmly.

"You have my word upon the matter," Claire said softly.

"I wouldn't be talking to you this way if I didn't trust you," came the reply in softer tones. Claire sensed just why this woman had had to keep up this hard front just to survive.

"Just one question puzzles me, Marilyn and that is why you stayed with him as long as you did. It's none of my business but I'm just curious," Claire said suddenly, the words positively crowding out of her mouth as her mind had turned over this conundrum that had been running round at the back of her mind and demanded that they be given voice. She had gleaned the details of how long she had been married to Gossard and it didn't add up to her.

"Isn't it bloody obvious," the other woman snapped. "Of course I fell in love with him? I fell under his spell. Why else did I marry him? Why else did I stay with him so long?"

Why indeed, Claire asked herself after their conversation petered out and Marilyn indicated that she had jobs to be getting on with. Claire politely said her goodbyes and turned her car away from the accumulated misery that Marilyn Kemp had only half exposed to her. On a scorchingly hot July day, she was compelled to take a short break by the beach before heading back.

Behind her spread the length of the promenade that lined the seafront. Turning round and looking further back, she couldn't help be impressed by the variations in gables, square baronial buttresses, all framing leaded windows in imitation of bygone eras and all ideally suited to the new suburbanites. In front of these mansions, neat rose bushes or privet bushes proclaimed the land owned by the confident upper middle classes to be approached by the solid wooden or wrought iron gate. They were all fitting emblems of the proud saying 'An Englishman's home is his castle.' Fine, thought Claire, but where did that leave the Englishwoman? What would her friends think of this entire spectacle? She had a pretty fair idea of the answer she'd get.

Turning back to the sea, she sought nature's simplicity. The tide was in and sailing boats were moored in profusion in the slightly choppy waters, all bobbing their heads. She walked slowly along the shingle beach, wind blowing through her long hair as she had done when she was a child and her parents had taken her on traditional family holidays. Yes, compared with others, she had been fortunate in her life but in no way did it invalidate her. It gave her that quiet strength to persevere.

Scene Twenty-Eight

Deep in the bowels of government, the high and mighty deliberated long and hard and had finally figured out a strategy to quietly ensure that the case never got to court. Sir Ian was deputized to carry out these tricky negotiations and he caught up with George Channing in the foyer of the Old Bailey.

"Ah, George. We don't get to see much of each other these days."

She was not deceived by the man's tight-lipped attempt at casual cordiality. She didn't like the feel of his remark, especially when his eyes were coldly fixed firmly in her direction. She decided that flippancy would best suit her purposes so that she could be rid of him and head off elsewhere.

"Well, you know how it is, Ian. Life these days is so hectic that I don't get a chance to talk to people as much as I like."

"You mean this wretched lawsuit against the Metropolitan Police is taking up so much of your valuable time, George."

'Well, you know me, Ian. If a job is worth doing, it's worth doing well. That's the way that Daddy brought me up."

"Quite," he said curtly." What has intrigued a number of us in high places is your choice of client. Your particular exemplary track record would suggest that you would be more likely to defend the Metropolitan Police than to attack it. You would have done a brilliant job in sweeping away this vexatious claim for damages from some supposedly hard done by ex policewoman who is suffering from a martyr complex."

'I take work as I please, Ian. You know that," George retorted, her glassy smile her best shield in an emergency. Up till now, she had dismissed him as a rather insignificant man.

This was the first time that she found him start to threaten her and she found it unsettling.

"Come come, George. You are becoming quite the campaigner these days. Jo Mills and John Deed must be impressed with your skills and dedication," Sir Ian said with false heartiness, making up his commentary on the spot.

"Surely you are being somewhat premature in celebrating my success. I've yet to appear in court."

Sir Ian sighed with exasperation, finding this infuriating woman impervious to his insinuations and he resolved to a more direct form of attack.

'You know, George, we of the Lord Chancellor's Department maintain an active interest in our barristers, especially the high fliers. We have never really talked to you in any depth as it has been an understood thing that you have long shared the interests of the 'movers and shakers' in society. Your partner, Neil Haughton is a politician who is held in the highest esteem. We've noticed you going through something of a temporary mid life crisis. You have parted company from Neil Haughton which is, after all, happens in political life as much as any other. What has caused concern is that you have neglected more long lasting connections. We really wonder just where you are heading."

"Surely, aren't you being rather foolish in apparently telling a woman what to do?"

"We embrace the modern ethics of equal opportunity."

"That's being unusually progressive of you, Ian," George retorted sarcastically.

"By no means, George. At one time, we tended to recruit only from a restricted class in England with the results that ideas and people stagnated. It was counter productive in terms of our long-term aims. We recognize that there are those coming into the fold who are of different ethnic origin – Lawrence James for instance- who has much to offer. We also recognize that there is really no difference between career women and career men. For this reason, we are gently urging you for your own good to drop this case. It can do you no good to your future career."

"What on earth do you mean?"

"Surely, word is bound to get around your normal clientele that you are ceasing to be as sound as you used to be."

"Are you seriously suggesting that I am losing my marbles?" snapped George, an inward chill freezing her veins as she saw how the conversation was heading. Her mind started to go on overload and her thought processes were going click, click, click.

'It's not how I see the matter but more how they see things. A temporary blip can be smoothed over. There is still time to retrieve your fortunes before they start to slip through your fingers. After all, your lavish standard of living is dependent on a regular succession of wealthy clients. Think about it, George."

The blond haired woman spun round on her heel and stalked off, her high heels clicking in short rapid steps. She would not dignify him with an answer.

Her first instinct was to get back to her chambers and grab for her mobile phone and talk to Daddy. Sighing with that sense of long patient suffering, his feet reluctantly dragged him towards her office, only to be greeted with unusual warmth from her daughter.

"So what's the problem now?" he rumbled, wanting to be put out of his misery yet dreading what scrape his imperious daughter might be seeking to be extricated from.

"I've just had a very worrying conversation with Sir Ian," she replied in an unusually muted tone of voice."It seems that he is trying to blackmail me to abandon the Sally Anne Howe case."

"What?" Joseph exclaimed in shocked tones of voice, jumping to his feet. He could not think for the life of him George could possibly be blackmailed about.

"I haven't done anything wrong, Daddy, only in taking the case on in the first place and joining in with you band of rebels. I am threatened with being frozen out from my regular supply of clients. They think that I am vulnerable because I love the high life."

"Had you thought of taking up criminal work on a regular basis? After all, you are an excellent advocate. It would add more strings to your bow."

"You mean become an imitation Jo Mills? I think not," scoffed George. The idea of her acting in public as a noble defender of the weak seemed laughable. The vision of sainthood hurt her eyes.

"No, as an original George Channing, whoever she is. You have to decide your destiny."

For the first time in his life, a deafening silence greeted Joseph Channing's remark. On the other end of the phone, the words resonated in George's mind as if a tuning fork had been precisely struck. She had focussed in on the one case without thought for the future. She realized that she had approached the crossroads in her life. She needed to go somewhere and sit down and think.

Kay had just finished eating her homemade pizza together with a very grateful Marino who had coincidentally dropped in at dinnertime. Italian cooking was her speciality. Marino had cultivated that wistful look on his face and knew that the Doc's company and home cooking was a much better deal than eating some lousy takeaway food, someplace nowhere in particular. Just as Marino helped himself to a beer from the fridge, the phone rang.

"Kay Scarpetta, Chief Medical Examiner," she announced in formal tones."Oh hi George, it's great to hear from you. I remember my stay with you with fond affection and Marino remembers your cooking."

"Hmm hmmmm," echoed Marino, grinning his face off but also vividly remembering the sharp edged cut glass charm of George's manner in place of the cheaply disposable world he lived in, well except the Doc's house. He hurried back to rejoin Kay and put his beer on the side. Seeing Marino's sharp interest, Kay kindly gestured Marino to pick up the other extension in the kitchen.

"I'd love to have a social chat but my reason for calling you is business," George said in a lowered tone of voice." I'm in trouble right now. I am in serious danger of being blacklisted by the establishment."

"That's horrible, George. That can't be right. What in hell have you done that deserves this? You are one of the finest advocates I've ever had the pleasure of working with."

"No shit," Marino called out." They can't do that to you."

"Unfortunately they can," George answered in a tight tone of voice as she replayed the reality of the scale of threat being deployed against her. The spontaneous expressions of affection and support really churned up her emotions inside when she had to be objective about the matter.

"It all stems from the case I'm handling now and the case that you helped me out on. Since the judges strike that I told you about, everything has changed. There's been open warfare between us and the establishment and……….."

"They've picked on you as the fall guy," put in Marino." It's not what you've done, see."

Kay fell silent at Marino's sharp observation. It could not be improved upon.

"I wanted to ask you if you can think of any serious problems in working over in your state at least part time. I can foresee that my work in civil cases will dry up over here and I'm not totally confident that I'll get enough criminal work to sustain me. It isn't my speciality, you know."

"Just let me think this one over and I'll come back to you. I need to research this one. I'd love to see you work over here, both personally and professionally," Kay pronounced in a firm definite tone of voice. It was the plain, direct answer that George expected.

"It would be a dream come true," sang out a star struck Marino.

A little while later, a solitary tear worked its way out of George's eye, which she wiped disdainfully away. She was happier to bathe herself in feelings of being wanted by her nearest and dearest. It helped her feel better

John had been reading his the copy of the Times when there was a discreet knock at the door. George had a little knowing smirk on her face as she let herself into his chambers and kissed him on his cheek.

"People will start talking about us if you keep popping into my chambers," he said, his tone of voice indicating that such a prospect would be pleasurable.

"Well, we're married or at least we have been," came the flirtatious reply, which made John beam all over his face. Despite her conversation with John at the restaurant, she couldn't resist flirting with John as long as did not lead him into getting the wrong ideas.

"Is this business or pleasure?" he answered in kind.

"John, I thought I'd let you into a little secret," George confided gleefully as she figured out that he should be the first person to know of her future plans." I'm seriously thinking of upping sticks and moving to the States, at least part of the time."

John carefully folded up the newspaper and his face was studiously blank. This was not what he had expected. After the conversation in the restaurant, this was seriously bad news.

"Of course you are free to come and go as you please but won't you find it something of a culture shock?"

"I don't know. I've always been a quick learner. Of course, the differences between law the other side of the pond may be exaggerated and it is something I'm researching."

"So what's brought this on?" he said, making it clear to George that this was his first reaction to the news, not the second.

"Only that Sir Ian and his cronies are threatening to cut back on my normal work if not

I have to use my talents to bring me enough money to live on. If you must know, I've asked Kay Scarpetta to check out the ground over there."

"I'll kill Haughton for this," murmured John with suppressed fury in his voice, noting with alarm the Americanism that George had unintentionally slipped into. It seemed symbolic of the situation.

"Oh, don't be so nineteenth century, with pistols at dawn. That fearful ex of mine might

be only partially responsible. It takes a crowd of them to have thought up this plan. You

have to keep everything in perspective. Besides, you don't get rid of me that easily any more than Daddy will see the last of me. It might not come to anything, after all."

George embraced this sometimes infuriating intractable man more to comfort him. She wasn't totally certain of her own feelings of the idea anyhow but John wasn't to know that. If he did, he wouldn't stop beavering away at her to change her mind but she couldn't be doing with that. Only George could change George's mind. She had supposed that John would have worked that out long ago.

Scene Twenty-Nine

That Wednesday evening had started out as such an ordinary event for Nikki and Helen. They'd been out at Claire and Peter's last night and had looked forward to an evening in. What heralded the change in their plans was the very polite tap on the front door.

"I'll get it, Helen. Who's coming round tonight," she added talking to herself," I can't think who it might be?"

Nikki saw a vague shape through the widows of the front door, which made no kind of sense to her. Then suddenly through the wide crack in the space was a sight that jumbled her feelings all over the place. Standing in front of her was a middle-aged man, with tousled grey hair and untidily dressed. Surely this can't be the resplendent figure draped with the red robes of office and wig, whose place in the world was in his throne in court or alternatively making his defiant stand on the picket line? On either occasion, he was glowing with language and strength of purpose. This man had disaster written on his face and was the picture of emotional defeat despite his vague attempt to keep up appearances.

"Hi judge, I didn't expect you to pop round here, but no matter," she added hastily, seeing the fear in his eyes." I don't exactly run an appointment service," she grinned, self deprecatingly.

"You can call me John if you want. You have the perfect right after that very interesting discussion we had after your reappeal."

Nikki hid her confusion as best as she could as to why on earth this man had decided to call round that night and what had brought the man to this state of distress.

"You did say that I could call in if I ever wanted to," John said in the meekest tones, his eyes looking at the carpet.

"Of course, John," Nikki answered in more confident tones. A promise was a promise, her code of values told her. This was such an embedded part of her character that making a decision really missed the point. Over the years, she had always welcomed her female friends and offered a shoulder to cry on. She would like to think that this guy was a friend so end of problem. "Come in and join us. Helen's here and I'm sure she'll be as keen to see you as I am."

Nikki noted that John didn't walk through to the living room with his usual spring in his step. For his part, John felt the healing homeliness of this flat start to fractionally lift his spirits and he fixed his eyes on the warm reddish orange large padded three-piece suite as a guiding light. When he came through the door, the large collection of books and Helen's reassuring smile told him that he had made one of life's right choices no matter how many bad personal decisions he'd made in the past. There was still hope for him.

Helen's smile and outstretched hand concealed the same mixed emotions as Nikki felt. She couldn't mistake the melodious tones she overheard for any other man in the world.

"Hey John, we didn't expect you round but you're all the more welcome for it. Take the weight off your feet."

"That would be most welcome as well as taking the weight off my life," John said in cryptic tones. Both women exchanged knowing glances. They tuned themselves into their best listening and questioning mode of thinking in the most sensitive possible fashion.

"Do you want tea, coffee or something stronger?" Helen offered.

"Definitely tea," John said in firmer tones than he'd said to date.

"John reminded us that I'd promised that he could pop round any time he liked so here he is."

"This isn't just a casual call, John but feel free to tell us what's on your mind. In the meantime, I'll get the tea and biscuits," Helen offered lightly in her best drawing room manner to cap Nikki's simple explanation.

"It may sound trivial to you after all the troubles you've been through," John said in deliberately minimized, slightly embarrassed tones.

"Believe me, everything can be important depending on its context and how you live your life. I've learnt that much."

Nikki's soothing tones and those extraordinary expressive brown eyes steadied John and stopped him from running away from exposing his emotions, as only he knew best.

"I remember talking to you in your chambers and I was so moved by the way you and the others had done so much to take away the burden of my prison sentence. I never ever forget such kindness that you showed me from your judge's throne. You knew how I was feeling. That was your moment of triumph yet you come over as personally disconnected from it, that you didn't get the satisfaction from your personal life that you deserved."

Nikki's words were softly and slowly phrased and sought to heal his wounds yet john's curious sense of pride wouldn't let him give himself the succour he deserved. It brought up decades of barriers that were first erected by the old School Tie. Jesus, it's hard to deal with a guy like this, Nikki felt sharply.His intelligence is positively dangerous. I'll have to take this very slowly.

"There's something in what you say, Nikki. I have my male friends like Monty but one can't discuss emotional matters with them. It's somehow indecent in my circle."

"So have you female friends?" Nikki pursued as Helen brought in the tray, having heard and digested everything.

"I'm divorced from George Channing, the barrister who's representing Sally-Anne Howe."

"So why did you split up?" Helen gently asked." I might understand as I used to be a straight woman, plenty of boyfriends but I would never commit myself, just the archetypal single woman ….before I met Nikki."

John's blue eyes visually blessed Helen at that point. Her past was something he could relate to. He had desperately wanted comfort but dreaded the process of unburdening his soul under cross-examination.
"I don't know. We had different views on pretty well everything. I thought she was a money mad woman who would shamelessly sell her skills to the establishment on the open market. I suppose we had our own careers and were both selfish……I suppose being a womanizer didn't help."

"John, it is so obvious to me how successfully you charm the women. I know the type and it doesn't do marriages any good," Helen smiled kindly on this surprisingly diffident man's admission.

"George isn't that way any more," observed Nikki softly." She's a bit like you. You have this front of being this debonair self-assured guy and she has very unsuccessfully tried to pretend that she's hard and ruthless. She's taking on Sally's case with as much integrity as I've ever seen in anyone. She really cares."

John sat upright in his armchair. He highly valued Nikki's judgment of integrity.

'That's the problem," he mumbled." Keep this under your hat but I have to advise you that attempts have been made to blackmail George from carrying on with Sally Anne's case. She's faced them out and refused to compromise….."

John stopped short as emotions welled up inside him of a mixture of pride, long buried feelings of love, and fears of losing her. He couldn't speak as his feelings were too intense for words.

"……she'll carry on with the case to the bitter end, don't worry, but she's talked of moving part of the year to work in America. She's got to know the Chief Medical Examiner of Virginia State, Kay Scarpetta. I can understand that George's talents in civil cases can cross boundaries of nation fairly easily. There are bigger differences in criminal law which may be harder for her to become established."

Just then, Helen judged it prudent to pour out three cups of tea, to offer the sugar basin and rich tea biscuits. They all enjoyed a companionable silence in such a traditional fashion. John had strong views that a proper home held the contents of a man's intellectual pursuits towards the truth. John marvelled in how civilized everything felt around him, the softly glowing colours and above all, two intelligent and caring women.

Both women knew for certain that John's more confident exposition of George's legal qualifications, though interesting, was drifting away from the point. Nikki put her cup and saucer on the side and resumed the questioning.

"Jo Mills once mentioned Kay Scarpetta in favourable terms. Just what is she like ?"

"She is the Chief Medical Examiner of the State of Virginia. I have heard of her reputation as highly talented, very principled woman who will stick at nothing to get to the truth."

"So in other words, George is unlikely to hook up with another crook politician. Trisha told us that George described her ex, Neil Haughton as 'fearful' and sounded as if she has a personal aversion to him and all his kind."

For the first time, John grinned slightly. He could hear so very easily the arched inflection George would put on the word. It brought back so many memories of her going back a long way. Then, his fear of losing her hit him like a hammer blow and he was forced to speak in an unsteady tone of voice.

"No that's true. It's just that I don't want her to go too far from me. I don't think I could deal with that. I'm already separated from Jo Mills my one time girlfriend."

The naked emotion that suddenly flared from John that was all the more shocking to both women in view of their perception of his normal manner. It was Helen who finally found her voice.

"You have a real fear of losing those who are close. I was very young when my mother died of cancer," Helen said slowly, trying to search for a suitable comparison.

"As least you had time to prepare for the event, if you can ever prepare for it. My mother was depressed and committed suicide and my father shut myself off from me. I suppose that going to boarding school took the edge of the pain, gave me somewhere to belong to, to cling to."

Both women's mouths dropped a mile in total shock at that bombshell, not least because it came from nowhere. They didn't know what to say at the almost detached voice in which John spoke, knowing full well how much he was hurting inside. At that moment the phone rang. Helen cursed at the untimely interruption while Nikki dutifully picked up the phone.

"This is Rita Cooper speaking better known as Coope, Judge John Deed's personal assistant. This may sound an unusual request but have you seen anything of the judge?"

"He's right here. We're talking to him right now."

"Would you be Nikki Wade?"

"That's me,"

"Oh I am glad you're there to look after him. That means he's safe. He disappeared and I was very worried what had happened to him."

"How on earth did you figure out where he was? I mean Helen and I are a long shot."

"You of all people should know. It's called women's intuition," came that imperturbably masterful voice which made Nikki grin at her knowingness, if only to reach for something reassuring." I'll leave him your capable hands."

"I take it that was Coope," John murmured after Nikki put down the phone.

"How on earth did she know that you were in trouble and how did she know to phone us?" Nikki asked, a slight wondering smile curling round her lips.

"I may have talked about you both. She has her own system," ventured John at which, both women smiled more easily, being easily able to fill in the gaps.

The slightly comic moment lightened the mood. They chatted awhile of family matters and this gave John the opening to become expansive about his daughter, Charlie whom Nikki had met briefly. A real smile spread across his face and both women generously gave him the chance to bask in something positive in his life. For all that, they saw that John was becoming more restless and agitated, as if time was running out for him. As the answer popped into her mind, she realized how obvious the answer was.

"You don't want to go back home tonight," said Nikki flatly. It was a statement rather than a question.

"I admit I don't, but……" John said, an appealing look in his eye.

"This flat isn't the ideal crash pad but if you can sleep on the sofa for the night."

"You're sure about it?"

"We wouldn't offer it if we didn't mean it," Helen chimed in with her decisive tone of voice which John was happy enough to submit to.

"We're not used to guys kipping down for the night but, hey, you're our friend and, strangely enough, two lesbians trust a middle aged womanizing judge to behave accordingly."

John made no answer to this astute judgment, which took in the silent case for the opposition. His blue eyes shone up at both women with total thankful blessing for their kindness and generosity.

A little while later, Helen crept out into the living room for no particular reason. She gazed down affectionately at John lying in a fetal position, a quilt wrapped round him to his neck. He looked peaceful and asleep but Helen knew that one strain of consciousness made him feel that he was tucked up like a little boy while the grownups went to bed and were there to protect him. She smiled and knew that John would recover his strength come the morning and that they would maintain this special friendship.

Scene Thirty

George had spent the evening alone with a bottle of gin and tonic and weighed up the options. She could feel the undertow of attraction back to the safe and familiar but the other side of her was capable of being bored with the familiar. Another strand of thinking positively disliked being dictated as to what she should do and her capricious personality was quite capable of taking umbrage at being dictated to. Yet another serious strand in her makeup realized that she had been playacting in driving John and his disreputable friends down to the picket line even though she secretly had backed them. She found it hard to drop her guard, that was all. Recent events backed her into a corner where she had to work out who she really was. In a crisis moment of being blackmailed, she was forced to confront herself and the world all around her. When she took a cool hard look at herself and weighed up the practicalities, she knew what she had to do and her smile widened to a grin when she realized that stuffed shirts like Ian acted in ways that had unexpected results. She took a swallow of gin and tonic and exhaled a cloud of smoke from the cigarette that dangled from her elegant fingers.

"Oh Ian, I thought it would be a good idea if we had a chat about that charming proposition you put to me the other day."

Sir Ian viewed George between narrowed eyelids and was slightly disconcerted to see that George seemed in good spirits. It was either the manner of the sinner repenting and wishing to rejoin the forces of law and order again or else she was playing some devious game on him.

"Perhaps we should talk in private. It would be more prudent."

"Just as you wish, Ian."

While his heels trod portentiously along the flagstones of the Lord Chancellor's Department, George's high heels clicked daintily along as her skirt swirled. She spun round to face Sir Ian in his office and looked foursquare at him, a slight smile on the corners of her lips.

"I've thought long and hard about your very interesting proposition and considered that there was only one possible answer."

"And that is?" murmured Sir Ian, trying his best not to look over eager. He hoped his face looked suitably deadpan.

"I really consider that what I should do in the future is to …..carry on exactly the way I started. I'm carrying on in representing my client Sally Anne Howe in the way that I see fit. Sir Ian, I defy you."

George noted with amusement that Sir Ian's fingers became restless while unusually, his face reddened.

"It is a pity, George, because you will lose important friends. Your action will only be to the detriment of your career."

"In which case, there is really no need to prolong the conversation."

"No indeed," Sir Ian said through gritted teeth.

"See you around sometime," sang George before she swirled out the door leaving a trail behind of expensive perfume.

Sir Ian clenched his fists with exasperation and reached for the phone.

A half hour later, Sir Ian and Lawrence James were in a particularly tense, tight-lipped mood as they considered their future strategy. Two cups of tea were lukewarm, heading for cold as they considered the options.

"It looks as if we're stuck with the trial going ahead," reported Sir Ian." I've got Alan Peasemarsh and Neil Haughton both breathing down my neck. The price of them withdrawing their ridiculous bill is that I'm being hounded more than ever to deliver the 'right' verdict in sensitive cases. There is no more sensitive a case than this Howe case that's coming up in court soon. We're stuck between this infernal mischief maker, those Hampstead intellectuals who have latched onto the case, and the police baying 'no surrender.'"

"So which judge should hear the case or more particular, which judge should be excluded."

"John Deed is absolutely out of the question," Sir Ian decided at express speed.

"We can't keep him away from all cases as there are many cases coming up for listing."

"Could we arrange for him to consider a traffic violation?" sighed Sir Ian hopefully before reluctantly accepting the idea as a hopeless fantasy." I suppose not. I appreciate your concerns but I definitely want Deed kept away from this one."

"What about Huntley?"

"What makes matters infernally complicated is that the most rebellious judges have a positive appetite for contentious cases while the more politically acceptable judges are notoriously timid. Huntley is the obvious candidate but he hasn't got the stomach for it. Just remember it is one ex policewoman versus the entire Metropolitan police force. He is too indecisive. He needed both wingers to prod him into making up his mind in the first Wade appeal and they've since gone over to the enemy."

"Could we not bring Judge Jackson out of retirement? His views are sound and he knows his own mind. He isn't afraid of bad publicity." Lawrence James ventured as a daring idea.

"It is a nice idea but the rules of retirement are strict. This one cannot be finagled. Besides, Jackson was too much the hanging judge type and it would backfire on us."

"What about Monty Everard?"

"Yes, that sounds like a good idea. While he becoming infected with this subversive spirit, he's basically a good 'law and order' man who has had good relations with the police. He's the sort of typical fox hunting man or gives off that impression. Yes, he's the best choice we have right now."

"I suppose Frobisher is the obvious choice as barrister. It will give him his chance to redeem himself."

"Hmm. He must feel like the Ancient Mariner only that the albatross hanging round his neck has a nametag of 'Gossard.' Yes, let him do it," said Sir Ian spitefully.

"You might be interested to know that I have been given the Sally Anne Howe case," Monty said in matter of fact tones to John as they sat at the long breakfast table, complete with its starched white long tablecloth. He ran a sharp eye over John, having heard rumours of John going through an emotional crisis. What he saw was moderately reassuring.

"That's all right by me, Monty. I've received the mortgage fraud case, which suits me at the moment. I need to lose myself in some dry detailed case right now."

"That's good then," came the deliberately matter of fact response. Monty knew better than to pry into John's intimacies unless he was expressly asked to. John felt comfortable with the other man's solidity but felt enormously cleaned emotionally by his stay at Nikki and Helen's.

"Is there anything that strikes you that I should need to watch out for in the case?" Monty added in lowered tones even though the dining room was perfectly deserted.

'You'll get the usual political interference but you've come across that one with the Nikki Wade reappeal. You'll know what to look out for."

"I'm beginning to take that as read for nearly everything these days. Even a humble traffic violation case could inadvertently upset the tender sensibilities of the powers that be."

"It could be Lawrence James' younger brother for instance," observed John and both men laughed heartily at the prospect, not knowing of Sir Ian's gloomy observations on the same hypothetical situation.

"There's just one thing I would do if I were in your shoes and that is to lay hold of the Nikki Wade trial papers. I have a gut feeling that they may be of significance."

"All three? Not many people have the drive and determination to take the British legal system to two rematches and come out on top. Is there any particular reason for your suggestion?"

"Just this. The natural focus has been on Nikki's guilt or innocence. When you consider how DC Gossard was the villain of the piece in that story and looms large in the trial you are about to oversee, then it is prudent to have all the cards you can lay your hands on."

"Seeing that you are advising me so strongly in this direction, I shall heed your advice," Monty pronounced just as traditional breakfast in the form of sausage, egg and baked beans arrived to start their day.

Now that the major decisions had been taken over the trial, George lay back and contemplated her situation. She had taken all the steps she could have done to protect her future and the trial was nicely in hand as much as it could possibly be. Her idea of trial preparation was not to wear herself to a frazzle about what might lie ahead of her, as she needed to have all her mental agility to hand. This case however promised to break new ground for her as, for once in life, she was doing what the pompously virtuous thought of as the 'right thing.' Instantly, she took back that thought as her clients Sally-Anne and Trisha actually did the right thing without calling attention to it. They were unconsciously virtuous and what impressed her was the conversation of like-minded women who were the best of friends. She had never had any time for ideas of 'the sisterhood' as she had to struggle hard enough on her own to achieve her present position of being a highly qualified barrister in civil cases. Now she thought she ought to reconsider this idea as much as she reconsidered taking on this case. She was breaking the mould and she had to admit that she got as much illicit pleasure from this in all the areas of her life that she was changing. She came to the conclusion that she really liked the two women and envied them their obvious closeness with each other. At least they were free of the sort of man like Neil Haughton and Sir Ian Rochester. She shuddered at the thought of both of them, as clearly they were hollow creatures, without any substance or depth. By contrast, she thought tenderly of how Trisha and Sally-Anne spoke kindly of Helen and Nikki and of their life. She had a moment of regret that somehow she was on the wrong side of a line, in looking at a social scene that she had mild regrets that she would never be a part of. What was her alternative? The endless array of stuffy social events that was an inescapable part of the legal profession. The spectacle seemed shallow and insubstantial and only the prospect of verbally sparring with John had any attraction. Ah well, she sighed. It was a necessary part of her life and her position of being single again seemed a curious interregnum in her life for reasons she couldn't fathom. She knew well enough that when it came to the trial, she had to be in as cold and clinical a mood as she could summon up in order to do full justice to her case. Jo's naked emotionalism in court was not her way though it had only taken till recently not to mentally or verbally put Jo down for this. It was the way she was made, the same as John was.

Meanwhile Nikki, like Helen, let her life carry on as normal as the regular rhythms of the days propelled them ever onwards even while she knew that Sally Anne's trial was scheduled for Wednesday August 3rd and this date was marked in her diary. She was glad that she could busy herself in her job much as Helen could do in hers. Her work kept her satisfied

The Friday before the trial, Nikki popped out on her lunch break to grab a sandwich from round the corner where she worked. It gave her the chance of getting some fresh air and gave her the pleasant satisfaction of being out on the streets, amongst the bustle of people on the move. She no longer felt the desperation to temporarily escape the shackles of her work as it used to be. As she strode purposefully back from the sandwich shop, she couldn't help looking across the busy street and a familiar figure could be seen walking rapidly the other way. It was her old friend, Tony.

'Hi Tony," Nikki hailed him from across the street in her carrying voice. Instantly, her heart sank. The monotone humming sounds of cars on the move drowned out her voice and, besides he was some distance away and walking quickly. She called out another couple of times, her feet somehow rooted to the spot and could see that the guy was in his own private world. This wasn't uncommon for city life but she felt frustrated and angry at circumstances causing a guy she had been friends with to fail to notice her. She couldn't in all fairness blame him personally.

Tony moved off rapidly down the street and Nikki gave up in despair of him catching her voice. She guessed by his manner that he was somehow getting on with his own life. She hoped that he would remember her kindly along with all those whom time and chance had separated from her life. It frustrated her that she couldn't make contact as it went against the grain.

She turned around and saw the same blank empty faces. She shrugged her shoulders and realised that, yes, she had to get back to work herself.

Scene Thirty-One

Nikki could never work out just why Helen suddenly developed this fevered wish to immediately drive up to Scotland that July weekend. True, they had vaguely talked about the matter a month ago and Nikki recalled mentioning it to her own father. Nevertheless, they were off at the crack of dawn, complete with road maps and a comparatively light load of clothes. Once their red Peugeot had hauled off the huge roundabout that marked the start of the M1, Nikki noted the light of exploration in Helen's eyes as she sat behind the wheel, alert, and poised and she was curious just why Helen's vision was trained ahead of her, occasionally flicking to her mirrors.

They chatted awhile as their car gradually ate up the miles driving north and accompanied the massed ranks of fellow travelers, either in cars or juggernaut lorries. At other times, one or either of then slipped on a favourite cassette of theirs and let the soothing melodies of Tori Amos articulate their thoughts. Helen drove them fast, passing one car after another and bypassed by one service station after another. When they had clocked up more than a hundred and fifty miles, Nikki politely pointed out the next service station. Reluctantly, Helen lifted her foot off the accelerator and swung the car off the road. They made their way to the toilet and next to the cafeteria to have a refreshing cup of coffee. Helen's fingers were drumming restlessly on the table and she was fidgety until Nikki finally broached the proposal that she had been turning over in her mind.

"Want me to drive for a while, darling and give you a rest?"

"I'm fine. I'll be OK to drive a bit longer," Helen insisted politely but firmly.

Nikki had figured out by now just why Helen was so single mindedly determined to drive them all the way up to that remote parish in Stirling. Just why she wanted to take them in the first place would clarify itself in time. One of the delights of living together was that neither of them had to be a burning hurry to find out what they didn't understand in the other.

"I know you're doing this to keep yourself occupied till you meet your father but three hundred odd miles is a long way to drive. You'll be dead beat when you see him. Come on, you normally do most of the driving round London but just you sit back, trust yourself to me and relax."

"Nikki, it's the last part I'm having problems with," Helen said in a strained tone of voice.

"OK, you're a woman on a mission to say something to your father which you might as well do sooner rather than later. I had to do the same for my parents and you helped me through that one. Tell you what, you choose the CD for the next stage of the journey while I drive."

Helen breathed outwards and smiled for the first time since they set off. She felt that this compromise could work.

"To tell you the truth, I haven't the faintest idea while we're up here but now that we are, we press on to the end. It's what we've always done."

"Let's clear our thought a bit," Nikki said decisively." While we're here, we might as well have a bit of a holiday break and explore the countryside even if visiting your father goes pear shaped. We need part of this visit for us. We have a perfect right to it."

"Keep talking that way, Nikki. Perhaps that Methodist father of mine, always doing 'good works' in a guilt ridden way has been more of an influence than I ever thought," Helen answered in a relieved tone of voice as inspiration suddenly dawned on her.

"You think of that naval captain father of mine and how easily I can take command

of a situation," Nikki laughed in a tone of tender affection and a nod of appreciation at Helen's sharp perception.

"There's something else going on here and we're alike in this," continued Nikki in a leisurely discursive fashion as she sipped her coffee."We both feel that we've got to be around all the time for our friends. It doesn't have to be the case, not always. Right now, we can't help Sally Anne or Trisha or John. If any of them come around when we're back in London, we'll be there for them. Perhaps this visit to your father might also be your roundabout way of checking that we're strong enough for them?"

"And aren't we, sweetheart?"

"I know but it doesn't harm to put it to the test. This sounds like a mixture of duty and pleasure and we might as well go with the flow."

Helen drained the last of her coffee with a sense of satisfaction and order in her mind and placed their cups and saucers in the tray. It was her cue to call time for them to set off down the road again.

The last stage up to the Scottish border passed smoothly enough. Helen snuggled herself in the passenger seat and rested her head on the window as she saw Nikki take capable command of the wheel. The smooth and assured way that Nikki drove instantly reassured the smaller woman, her presence plus the soothing strains of Alison Krauss's smooth American country tones relaxed Helen more than she had thought possible. They were in limbo land, on the way to her father's but not necessarily purposefully heading that way. The sensation of travelling was arrival enough.

It was a shock when Helen took over to drive along the narrow twisting country roads and bare upland heath lands, criss crossed by stone walls and dotted with sheep. This was where Helen had first learnt to drive and it portended the unforgiving, grey granite stone structure of the vicarage where she had come from. Helen's pulse started racing straightaway as she sensed that they were coming up to her village, if she could call it that.

"Take it easy, sweetheart," came Nikki's soothing voice. "I know how you're feeling."

Helen turned her head to smile quickly at Nikki and then swerved to avoid the stone wall lining the road. From anyone else, the words would sound lame but Helen knew through to the core of her soul the wealth of feelings being conveyed to her.

"Everywhere looks like a child's model village," she exclaimed," but I know how real it felt at the time."

Nikki laid her hand on Helen's sleeve reassuringly and they finally came to a rest with a slight scrunching of gravel and the reality of her one time home hit her. Helen paused for that slight moment of time before she slid her seat belt aside and threw open the door. To Nikki's eyes, they were dressed decorously enough in dark trousers, sensible tops and light jackets, hardly Brighton Pride material. Despite all of that, they were shown into the large study with chilly formality where the heat of the day was kept excluded by the high severely white plastered room where only the piled up bookcase added any visual counterpoint. Nikki's eager eye was disappointed by the ancient volumes of a religious nature. After the polite formalities, Helen's father showed his colours quickly enough.

"I suppose that you were responsible for my daughter's present sinful life."

"Helen is a hard working woman who's doing great in her career," Nikki spoke eagerly until the penny dropped slowly but surely." Oh, you mean you're getting at the fact that that we're living together as a couple. I suppose your religious views have trouble in accommodating the fact."

"That's part of the problem. The other is that you have committed a crime."

"That's what you said last time I spoke to you on the phone after Nikki's reappeal. Still the same stuck record," Helen retorted, stony faced.

"You know, that last point is an interesting one, reverend," intervened Nikki with dangerous and unexpected politeness."I appeared before two appeal courts. The first one gave me my freedom and the second wiped the slate clean. These consist of three high court judges of about your age. The second one cross examined me at length and got to the truth. In the law of the land, I'm innocent."

Helen was constrained to appear very decorous and formal in her father's house for she could not in all justice, deny her father the right to set the rules in his house. However, she marvelled at the way that Nikki ever so tactfully and smoothly combatted his right to lay down the way anyone in his house believed. Unlike Nikki's days in Larkhall where she fought back with passionate blazing anger, this battle was mounted with a smiling face and the politest of manners.

"Even high court judges cannot make judgments on moral guilt. It is not their preserve."

"So what I did is not moral but it is legal? That is a strange proposition. I'm not formally religious but I've always read a lot and, thanks to Helen, got my English degree. There's something I read about once that has always interested me, the idea of atonement for your actions, the idea that you can make things right if you work at it. I'd be interested to hear your views on it and also my job as a researcher for the Howard League for Penal Reform."

At this point, Helen couldn't restrain an open grin on her face, thankfully on the sidelines as Nikki quietly asserted herself. It crossed her mind that, since she left home, her father had been simply unused to anyone disagreeing with him, not his parishioners and not the rest of the village. She gained a perspective of entering the village from the outside world, that it was tucked at the base of huge jagged mountains that thrust upwards into the sky and locked out the modern world. She almost felt sorry for her father but, typical of him, he tried to deny the reality that was being laid on him. If only he weren't so bloody obstinate, she thought, and realize that making concessions won't plunge his immortal soul into the fires of hell. She stared at his stiff, angular features, which looked like a piece of carved granite and typified his whole personality. Her mind drifted back to the present when her father inevitably raised the question of their sexuality.

"There's another point, Helen knows that the Good Book is very firm on the subject that God permits only a man and woman to live together in a state of holy matrimony."

"There is a whole wealth of religious learning in your bookcases. Perhaps you could show me where it states that two women who live in a loving relationship are committing a sin?"

She shook her head in wonder as he skittered away from that point. Emboldened, she spoke out for the first time.

"Besides, we both chose to live together. Nikki is my first real love. We care for each other. Surely that can't be wrong?"

The reply she received showed her that his approval was a lost cause and that her own self-approval was ultimately what counted. She knew that all along but it helped her to put that to the test. Presently, his housekeeper came in at just the right time and served three cups of tea and the preoccupation with politely sipping the liquid filled up the blank very nicely. The atmosphere felt strained and uncomfortable until Nikki broke the silence.

"Well, Mr. Stewart. One reason I came here was that I was dying to walk in the lovely country around here. As the daughter of a Naval Captain growing up around London, this is an entirely different world for me."

"I am sure that Helen will still remember her roots here and will be able to show you the glories of the countryside. I would do it myself but unfortunately, I have the Sunday service to prepare for."

The hasty way he said those words made both women feel sure that the Reverend Stewart was perhaps being less than honest, considering that he might very well want to escape from his unreasoning prejudices being put to the test. The flicker in his eye showed how disconcerted he was at the respectability of Nikki's background. He was not to know how new it was to Nikki to invoke her family background in an argument.

The heat of the day enfolded them as they set off into the car and headed off for the mountains, stopping occasionally to let a flock of sheep cross the road into the field. When they had climbed up high enough into the peaks, Helen found a convenient lay by and parked the car.

The view took Nikki's breath away. She had not experienced before the intensity of the clear blue sky and the feel of the fresh country air. Down below her, the roof of the vicarage could be picked out as if it were a toy house. The craggy mountains etched a jagged line against the horizon, coloured in the greys of jagged outcrops and patches of greens, denoting the tenacious vegetation that could cling on with their roots. There was not a trace of a human being was in sight until their vision looked down on the isolated slate roofs of outlying farms, the clumps of odd trees and narrow lanes that zig zagged their way.

"It's beautiful," breathed Nikki. "I never knew you came from somewhere like this."

"Wonderful views are fine enough if there is the human warmth to go with it," observed Helen." That was why I left home. Let's go for a walk."

Companionably, they slid their arms round each other's waists and the human contact told Helen that, yes, if she'd met Nikki here, she could have settled down in her home village. She laughed to herself at the impossibility of such a notion, that it was a miracle that they'd ever met in the first place. Their feet trod the tough tarmac while their eyes feasted on the glorious richness of colours around them.

"You know that soon, we'll have to be there for Sally Anne and Trisha when their trial comes up," murmured Nikki, hating to detract from nature's glories, which surrounded them.

"I know. We needed to get away for the weekend, freshen ourselves up and then we'll do what needs doing. This is the first time I've been here and everything feels right."

The utter stillness of being right on top of the world in such ancient lands overawed them. They didn't want to go back to the vicarage but the time had to come like it did for everything that happened in their lives.

For the one night, the two women were forced to sleep in separate bedrooms and single beds. Both women felt totally unnatural, as if part of each of them were amputated. Both of them longed for the sweet normality of their double bed in London.

Nikki never did find out what Helen's father's Christian name was. Her experience of John Deed made it so much easier to frame an indictment of this poor representative of men, one generation above her. Helen's father never made one concession to their point of view. It said everything.

Scene Thirty-Two

Gill's sacking had been such an enormous relief for Trisha and Sally in cutting loose that manipulative background presence that had robbed them blind. So many of their friends at Chix told Trisha that she had soured the tone of the club and congratulated her for getting rid of her. It had a fortunate side effect in temporarily boosting Sally's confidence in being the strong one while Trisha had agonized over the problem. She so much wanted to give something back to her fair-haired lover. It also reassured Sally that she wasn't being paranoid. The downside was that the scale of the rip-off meant that the little luxuries that both women liked had had to be curtailed. While there was a sense of purpose in them trying to claw back the damage done, it would take a month or two for the income from the club to put them back on her feet. Trisha was more rushed off her feet than normal in making do with no replacement for Gill with less time for both of them together. They needed the security of Sally's regular wage packet much as Sally needed Trisha's steadiness under pressure.

To Sally, the run up to the trial was the terrifying 'X marks the spot' point in her life that dominated and blotted out everything by comparison. She tried to remember what her therapist had told her but found it increasingly hard to be nurtured by the ideas. She found herself imagining the questions that she might be subjected to and muttering the replies. She was crucially uncertain if her imaginary answers would be good enough. She remembered the advice George had given her at their consultation. 'We don't want someone who will just play by the laws of cricket. I suspect that the other side will play dirty.' All at once, the thought of unknowable scary questions that she had not thought existed totally frightened her. She felt totally frightened and alone in the period that Trisha was working at the club. The more resolute part of her tried to tell her that she just had to sweat it out but it was easier said than done. She felt as if she was struggling to keep her head above water, sleeping irregularly at nights and getting tired in the daytime. In the blackness of night, she could feel Trisha's shapely body next to her but didn't have the heart to wake her.

Day after day crawled painfully by till the increasingly pale and wan Sally Anne rang louder and louder danger signals to Trisha. She suddenly decided to risk sending her lover over the edge by talking about the great unmentionable the Monday before the trial.

"Babes, I really hate to do it but I really want to talk to you about the trial. I've not said anything in case it makes you feel worse about yourself."

"What about?" came Sally's jumpy response as her pulse started racing.

"For a start, I'm sure Nikki and Helen would be only too willing to come round on your last night. Don't forget, they've been through this before."

Why didn't I think of that before, Sally asked herself in wonder? Why hadn't I thought of the obvious?

"You've been so shut up inside yourself, babes. Take a look around at those who want to be there for you, me most of all. I know your ways from living with you, more than you think," Trisha softly urged her.

She was incredibly gratified by the smile on Sally's taut face. It was not exactly cover girl material but showed more spirit than she had dared to think. Trisha wrapped her arms protectively round her lover and felt the tensed up rigidity in the Sally's body begin to loosen up.

"As we haven't seen you for a bit, we've brought a couple of bottles of wine over," Helen said cheerily on Tuesday night. Trisha grinned as Helen could be relied upon to provide good spirits, alcoholic and otherwise.

"You look tanned. Have you been anywhere special," Trisha asked politely, seeing Nikki and Helen's glowing skins.

"We've just spent the weekend up at my father's house and Nikki beat my father into the ground in a theological dispute."

Trisha collapsed into laughter at the delicious thought of Nikki, hardly a recruit for the God Squad, showing such an unexpected gift of debate. It even made Sally Anne start to smile slightly as she had heard of Helen's father by reputation.

That set the tone of the lighthearted conversation while Helen generously refilled everyone's glasses. Sally drank her share of the wine but instead of making her pleasantly fuzzy round the edges, the effects of the alcohol bounced off her. A part of her was withdrawing from the conversation and it was beginning to upset her.

"OK, Sally Anne, keeping things light is working for the rest of us but not for you. We planned this evening for you so I guess we'll try another tack. You have to talk about what you're feeling. You need to do it for you."

Sally swallowed and momentarily felt that she was under pressure, the same she would surely be the next day. Then some stray thought made her feel, these are all her dearest friends. Nikki of all women has the perfect right to ask her to open up.

"I'm terrified of being powerless. I have this total dread of this authority figure who's going to beat me down again as he's always done in my life. I know you'll all be with me and everything there is going for me but I can't get past that feeling. I know I sound neurotic and irrational but I can't shut off that feeling. God knows I've tried for days," Sally Anne answered Nikki in a nervous, jerky tone of voice on the edge of hysteria.

"How did you come to agree to come forward to speak in my defence at my first appeal?" Nikki asked with knitted eyebrows. She couldn't get her head around the obvious contradiction.

"I suppose I was taking more tranquillizers at the time. I've come down a long way since then. I had some kind of buffer."

"How about controlled anger? That's a pretty effective motivating drive. Don't forget, I saw you take on that barrister and stick to your guns."

Sally sat open mouthed at that thought. It hadn't crossed her mind before.

"Listen Sally," Helen added with fierce sympathy," I know exactly what you're going through. I used to have a boss who 'called me in for a private chat' and he used to make my nerves turn to jelly, that I was a hundred times wrong and made me feel that small," and here Helen held up the tiny space between her thumb and forefinger." It took something I don't know where it comes from to find the words so that I began to see that he was afraid of me. You're imagining some all powerful head of personnel who has nothing to fear, that can beat you down and the police will tread all over you again. It won't be that way. You'll come across a barrister but you've faced one of them out before. You know what went on back then, he doesn't. That head of personnel has to reckon with George and I bet you anything they haven't come across anyone like her. One thing you have to hold in your thoughts and in your heart is that George believes in us just as much as Jo does. She's one of us, don't forget it. You can do it, Sally."

Impulsively, the smaller woman wrapped her arms affectionately round Sally and stroked her hair just as a mother might. Nikki and Trisha looked on, willing their support for her and praying that some of Helen's strong will could be bodily transferred to Sally. Nikki's large heart went out to Sally as she had been through just such an ordeal and had the advantage of having never been beaten down by the system. She silently prayed to herself that Sally would find that courage inside her, more than she knew she had and would rise to the challenge.

Out of oblivion, the harsh sound of the alarm clock rudely woke them up. Sally was lying limply in the bed, feeling tired out as it had taken her longer than she liked to finally settle off. She knew that she wouldn't have slept at all last night if it hadn't been for the warm affection from her friends. The morning had finally come and there would be no more endless replays of what might happen. This was make or break time. Sally reached out for a much-needed cigarette while her eyes were trying to focus on the world. Trisha kindly found the packet and handed her a cigarette and lit it for her. The blond haired woman had given up smoking some years before but realized that such a chemical crutch was small time stuff.

"It really is the day of the trial, Trish?" she asked vaguely.

"I'm afraid it is, babes but you know that you'll have all the support in the world. You take the shower first and take as long as you like."

Sally Anne stumbled into the chamber and felt the warm water splashing down on her, marginally making her feel clean and pure as she emerged to be greeted by Trisha's tender embrace.

"You've been through this sort of thing more than I have but it seems that we must be dressed in our finest, babes."

Throughout the morning, Trisha was thinking of every conceivable ploy that would pump up Sally's wavering sense of self-belief and the crunch came when Sally had the pill bottle in her hand and was staring at it. She was wondering if she had just extra tablet, it might calm her nerves but would it go too far and would she be breaking her resolution?

"I can't make up my mind on this, babes. Help me."

Trisha was instantly scared inside but summoned up her ability to look calm and sought the right words to say.

"Babes, if you take it and if it makes you feel woozy, you won't be in any proper shape to testify. Why don't you try all your relaxation techniques, stick on the music and wait for Helen and Nikki to come? They'll be certain to come after you went on the stand and testified for Nikki."

The blond woman's soothing words contained the magic word 'certain.' Certainties were here emotional refuge. She reached out for Trisha whose arms slipped round her and softly cuddled her. Sally didn't want to let the other woman go.

Sure enough, Helen and Nikki came round on the dot as they promised to, one more kept promise that Sally definitely wanted. Between them, they set off in Helen's Peugeot past the front door, the point of no return, Sally squashed in the back with Trisha. The dark haired woman tuned into the gentle soft flurry of words from others, in which she could lose herself while Helen steered them to their destination.

Suddenly, they arrived at the massive hulk of the Old Bailey and Helen turned into the narrow lane at the side entrance. Sally's nerves suddenly started racing as she found herself outside the protective bubble of the car and her eyes flicked round the unaccustomed blur of people passing and the threatening front entrance.

"I'm ever so pleased you're here on time with all your friends," spoke a pleasing aristocratic voice out of nowhere. Sally adjusted her vision and a small, trim blond haired woman dressed in her smart jacket and skirt. She looked immaculately confidence inspiring and her warm smile and blue eyes lit up her face. She reached forward and surprisingly enough kissed Sally Anne lightly on her cheek. Suddenly Claire came into view and added her cool emotional tone to the blend of good feeling.

"Babes, you're in as good a shape as you can ever be at a moment like this. Believe me, you look good. Take a look in my hand mirror," urged Trisha in as soft and gentle a voice as she could.

Sally saw the fine boned face in the mirror, her makeup perfect and her hair swept back from her forehead. It was true. Her fears weren't visible on the surface and she looked as good as anyone here. She let the four women flank her, gently smooth her way through security and wait with George and Claire. The word was passed that the trial was due to commence and they filed through the back door. She could see the witness booth before and suddenly knew that her destiny had taken her here. However scared she had been this last week, perhaps reality could be coped with better than imaginary scenarios might be. She stepped forward towards her future.

Nikki, Helen and Trisha filed their way reluctantly to the front row in the visitor's gallery as the various court functionaries took their place. They saw George and Claire take their place and Sally Anne make her uncertain entrance into the court chamber. Their hearts went out to her. Nikki looked sharply down at the solicitor sitting behind the opposition and was enraged to discover that it was her stuck up brother.

"Take it easy, sweetheart," Helen softly urged. " I know who he it is. He's not worth getting worked up about."

Those words went some distance in calming Nikki down though she was still fuming.

"Mind if I sit down next to you," spoke the familiar voice. John was dressed immaculately in his smart bluish suit. Trisha threw him a questioning glance but Nikki and Helen smiled welcomingly at his self-effacing manner. He made a symbolic contrast with Nikki's brother and comfortably wiped the slate clean. At this point, Nikki resolved to simply ignore him as the best response. Right at the back, Sir Ian and Lawrence James took their place like threatening statues, glaring at John suspiciously. After all, he had the right to sit in the court itself.

Sally Anne moved up to the witness stand like an automaton and grasped the bible between her nerveless fingers. Miraculously, intoning the time-honoured oath, gave her that fractional relief in easing her into giving evidence in court. She clung to that fragment of comfort that she had acquitted herself well enough at Nikki's first appeal. She just hoped that she would hold out, being the principle witness.

"Miss Howe, can you please state your age, your former rank within the Metropolitan Police force and the particulars of your service with them."

Sally's mouth was dry and she trembled slightly as she grasped the lectern but was surprised to hear the words come quite clearly from her mouth as she spoke.

"I'm aged 28 and I joined the Metropolitan Police force in April 1994, when I was twenty one. I served as a WPC- women's police constable throughout my stay with them. I passed my period of probation quite satisfactorily and was looking forward to the start of a promising career. Of course, things worked out differently. I left the police force on July 31st 1996."

"What were your first impressions of working for the police force?"

Sally Anne Howe drew an intake of breath as she searched her memory, back before the darkness fell on her.

"The majority of the police were men and there was very much a men's drinking club atmosphere. Policewomen were very much subservient. I was very young and nervous yet keen at the same time and I was told not to take all the rules and regulations too seriously when it came to working relations between police officers. I was not made to feel as if my opinions were worth as much as men at equal stages of the training. I was considered as sort of 'eye candy' and considered as a pretty airhead. Real policing, I was given to believe, was a man's world."

"Was that true of all police officers?" George quickly intervened to build on the point.

"I can't say that was universal. Some were more human than others but none of them went beyond a certain point."

"Can you describe your performance and point to any particular achievements in your time?"

"I was generally efficient across the range of jobs and was generally trusted, even if some begrudged it. I gave evidence in court in a couple of burglary cases and was thanked for the clear way I gave evidence. Because nobody else wanted to do the job, I ended up with chief responsibility for interviewing the victims of rape. I would like to think that I was sympathetic in my manner and this enabled a number of prosecutions to be made. Funny isn't it," Sally Anne laughed in a bitter ironic tone of voice," I really meant well but didn't really know the half of it."

John's fatherly instincts and Nikki, Helen and Trisha's various experience all flamed up in sympathy for Sally Anne.

"Can you tell me what official instructions and training you received about interpersonal training, in particular equality awareness?"

"Now you come to mention it," Sally said vaguely, searching her memory. " I really can't remember much about it. All I remember was the intensive talk about the lads sticking together and not squealing on your mate. I was told that any problems got sorted out internally."

"Objection, your honour," Donald Frobisher chimed in with slightly bored impatience.

"Is the prosecution case going to be dependent on fact rather than memories going back five to seven years ago?"

"If my learned colleague would bear with me, I was going to ask the witness about police guidance to new recruits that is marked as item 4M in your bundle. I would urge that recollections of this guidance is a strong indication on the emphasis in actually inculcating values into new recruits rather than the written word."

"Mrs. Channing, you are free to continue in your line of questioning as long as you deal with the point legitimately raised," Monty firmly pronounced. John nodded with satisfaction at the straight bat that Monty played while the three women kept a sharp eye on John, being a sure barometer of the trial. They all felt glares stab into the back of their necks.

"Miss Howe, can you turn to item 4M in the bundle and study the guidance. Can you tell me how much impression this guidance had on you, both in your training and after it?"

Sally Anne Howe looked with glazed eyes at the close typed notes as if she were dealing with a neglected memory. Babes, keep going, Trisha silently prayed.

"I really can't remember very much of it. I never had my own copy of these guidance notes. I borrowed a copy of it while I was under training and after that, I had to return it to the DI's office – that's the detective inspector- and borrow it if I needed to."

"I have to deal with events that I am sure are painful to you but it is at the heart of the case. Can I ask you how and when you first became acquainted with DC Gossard?" George asked in her gentlest most reassuring tone of voice.

Even though Sally Anne Howe knew that this series of questions was coming, she shuddered at the memory. She stopped to sip the glass of water on the side of the witness stand, briefly closed her eyes and pressed forward in a strained voice.

"When I came out of my period of training, I was assigned to another more experienced police constable as a kind of mentor. They chose Gossard. He drove us around on jobs. It suited him down to ground."

"What first impression did you make of him?"

"I felt unsafe. Something about him made my skin crawl."

"Did you raise an objection at the time?"

"I did. For once in my life, I went over his head to the DI. I was told very firmly that we were short staffed and there was nobody else around with the time and opportunity and that, for the good of the force, I would have to put up with it. I was assured that DC Gossard was a reliable and experienced officer."

"'A reliable and experienced office'," George repeated triumphantly in her carrying tone of voice to emphasize the point that Sally Anne's low tone of voice had not. She was pleased that Sally Anne had put it this way, as this was the first time that the police authorities had been put in the frame. It had secretly worried her that all Sally had pointed to had put Gossard alone in the frame. Nikki and Trisha couldn't restrain themselves from nodding eagerly at Sally Anne's precise description.

"Did you know that he was separated from his wife and why?"

"Nobody talked of their home life. It was a forbidden subject. All the men liked to give the impression that they were single and available even if they wore marriage rings, Gossard most of all."

"So did you establish a working relationship with him and if so, how did you do it."

"With great difficulty," Sally Anne said with deep feeling. "I tried to keep topics of conversation on an impersonal business level and blanked off the periodic double meanings."

"I take it you mean of a sexual nature."

"Definitely so."

"So could you tell the court when DC Gossard raped you and how it came to take place?"

"April 14th 1996. The date is written on my memory forever," Sally Anne said the words in a rush before she put her hands to her head, paused and with an effort, continued.

"…….He came out with what I found out too late to be a cock and bull yarn of being needed for an urgent call at this hotel. It was only when the two of us were alone in this seedy bedroom that I realized what he was after. He came up to me and touched me and told me that he'd fancied me from the first day he'd seen me. I kept walking back until I could retreat no further. He kissed me and kept telling me that this was what I really wanted… I kept thinking this can't be happening. He's a police officer- then I came to my senses. I started screaming, trying to fight him off but he was so strong. He raped me."

With a shock of recognition, both Nikki and Trisha recalled that these were Sally Anne's very words that she'd said at her first appeal. Helen recalled that terrifying moment when she'd walked innocently enough into the PO room and Fenner had pinned her up against the filing cabinet.

"What happened after that horrible event?" George said in a low unsteady tone of voice. There but the Grace of God goes Charlie Deed, she and John both felt. She was beginning to see why Jo Mills got so emotional about the cases she handled.

"I phoned in sick and got straight onto the chief inspector. Curiously enough the total shock of what had happened made me decide this very fast."

"What was his reaction?"

"He said the right words but there was no enthusiasm or sympathy for me. He said that my work would be covered. He told me that my complaint would be referred to an independent body and he hoped I'd get well. It was a day or so after that, when I had a medical examination, in the same way as the women whom I'd interviewed. I got through that, as I knew the clinical necessity of it. Then a policeman came round from the internal investigation unit."

"A man?" questioned George incredulously.

"Yes and his colleague as well. I must admit that he was a little apologetic. He said that he had had a course in equal opportunities and conducting interviews with sensitivity. I can't fault him in his attitude. He was perfectly businesslike and went away to tell me that he was purely a fact finder and that a decision maker at a senior level would make the final decision as to whether or not charges would be pressed. I was told that I would be kept fully informed as to what was going on. I was told that, at all costs, not to talk about this or any subsequent events with my colleagues as it would prejudice the investigation."

"And what happened after that?"

"Then the phone calls started to come, from him and his mates. I was told that it was my word against his, that he had a sound reputation round the force and who would be believed? When I wouldn't play ball, He threatened me, he and his colleagues. They said that if she went ahead with the charges, they'd force me out of my job. They did anyway."

"Did you know that when the forensic results came back, that DC Gossard, first of all maintained said that he didn't even know who Sally Anne Howe was? When the results came through showing this to be a lie, he signed a statement that they were in a consensual relationship?"

"I knew nothing about that at the time," Sally Anne said with repressed anger, the first time during her evidence. Go for it Sally, the three women in the gallery loudly thought to themselves. Up till that time, she spoke in a low, almost monotonous tone of voice.

"I was promised that I would receive counselling and support. I didn't get it. I sat and stewed on the whole thing on my own until I withdrew the charges. I just wanted to run away and hide and have nothing to do any more with the police force."

George finally led Sally Anne through her account of how she had unemployed for four years, her tranquillizer addiction and of the course of therapy she had been undertaking. She finally sat down, much to Sally Anne's dismay as she sensed that her support was being withdrawn. She couldn't help but notice on the opposite side of the court the man in the wig and black gown rise to his feet. She couldn't ignore him any longer.

"I have listened with great interest, Ms Howe," Donald Frobisher commenced," and you have given a full and accurate account of your life. You tell a good story, Ms Howe," Donald Frobisher declaimed with a tight smile on his lips. It's a trap, Sally Anne thought to herself, wondering just where he would attack her.

"Is it not the case that you are currently living in a homosexual relationship, Ms Howe?" Donald Frobisher suddenly threw in out of nowhere.

Nikki abruptly twisted her body round and glared at the woman who was sitting at the top of the visitor's gallery. Sure enough, there was Gill who made a sudden appearance, with a nasty grin on her face. John couldn't make an overt reaction but he turned red with anger as he looked rigidly ahead of him. Trisha mentally gave the guy full marks for feeling the right thing.

"It's true that I am living with Trisha Williams who runs Chix club. She is a hard working woman who, together with her former partner, got the business off the ground."

"The expression 'living with' covers a multitude of different meanings, Ms Howe, as I'm sure you are well aware of. Can you be exact in the nature of your relationship with Ms Williams?"

"If you are suggesting that I'm living a lesbian relationship with Trisha, you are perfectly correct. If you're insinuating that because of this, I must be a man hater, I absolutely deny this."

"Your words, not mine," slipped in Donald Frobisher slyly but Sally Anne plunged ahead without hesitation.

"Trisha is my first and only love but I didn't meet her until November 2001, that's about four years after I left the police force. Falling in love with her was the most normal thing I have ever done in my entire life."

"But surely this condition does not come on overnight, Ms Howe? I find it very hard to believe that your feelings of antipathy for DC Gossard were not coloured by your feelings for women as opposed to men, even at that early date."

"You talk as if being a lesbian is some kind of medical condition," shot back Sally Anne scornfully." It is not true to say that I was prejudiced against Gossard because I harboured some deep-seated antipathy against men. I disliked Gossard and his kind because they were total misogynists and a danger to all women. It just that I didn't know or what I was till I fell in love with Trisha."

Donald Frobisher looked over the top of his spectacles at the woman opposite him. She was glowing with suppressed anger and realized that he had made a false start in his cross-examination. He was irritated that John Wade had wrongly advised him to try this ploy and had handed the advantage to her. He was an experienced enough barrister to drop this line of questioning and quickly change his point of attack. By contrast, the front row of the gallery was glowing inside at the spirited reply.

"You say that you were threatened by DC Gossard and his friends. Can you explain, Ms Howe, why nowhere in all these papers are any threats mentioned?"

"I was scared. I dared not tell anyone in authority that I had been threatened. Everything in my experience of the police force had told me that the odds would be stacked against me."

"Isn't it quite proper of the investigating authority to insist that you have no contact with your colleagues in case you influence them."

"They did more than try to influence me. They threatened me."

"So how were the proper authorities supposed to know that, even if your version of events is to be accepted," proclaimed Donald Frobisher triumphantly. Sally bit her lip anxiously at that question. Enough of the policewoman existed within her to know that it was a legitimate point. George tried to hide her own worries behind a confident front as the very same point had occurred to her.

"So we only have your word for your version of events."

"You have my word for it," Sally Anne said in a shaking voice, red in the face.

The barrister leaned back and deliberately paused in his deliberation. He knew that it would wind her up.

"I was interested in hearing you describe events that go as far back as seven years. That's a long time. This court is forced to be dependent on your side of the story as DC Gossard is dead and therefore unable to refute your allegations. So, for a start, I must ask you just how good is your memory, Ms Howe?"

"When I was in the police force, I had to have a good memory," Sally Anne said in hesitant tones." So much of my job depended on memory."

"I am not talking about your period of time in the police force, I am talking about now." Donald Frobisher spitefully demanded.

"I hold down a job now…..it is true that I have lapses from time to time," she said shakily, feeling an utter fool and in danger of being entirely powerless and being moulded to whatever words he wanted to put into her mouth.

"So when you were tragically and grievously unemployed with nothing to occupy your mind, would it not be likely that you would be likely to forget things. I refer you to the evidence you gave of your therapy."

"It's possible. Nobody's perfect."

"Yet you are asking the court to accept your version of events when you admit that your

own memory is flawed and so it could be deduced is the worth of your evidence. I put it to you that you may as easily likely to not remember things that had happened as think you remembered events that had happened when they had never have happened."

"That's not true. Whatever I am, I am not a liar."

"That's not the point, even if it were true. You may very sincerely feel that you have been wronged when there might be a perfectly innocent explanation of events that you cannot remember, only what you imagine what happened to suit your purposes. I submit that your evidence is all smoke and images, signifying nothing," thundered Donald Frobisher, in full flow.

"Being raped by DC Gossard is nothing I would conjure out of my imagination," fired back Sally Anne Howe. "I would have to have a death wish to do that."

"Come come, Ms Howe. You are being absurdly melodramatic."

"I mean an emotional death wish. All those years on my own, I died inside. That is what that man did to me. It was only when Claire Walker traced me that I began to come back to life to help out Nikki Wade, there in the gallery," and here she pointed dramatically to the dark haired woman, who took the only course of action to get that monster off, from doing the same to Trisha Williams, the woman who became my lover. It's so ironic that Gossard made this link between the two of us."

George had to restrain herself from applauding Sally Anne's spirited reply, which so linked in the essence of the case. Sally had done far better than George ever thought she could. A murmur of support inevitably echoed round the gallery, which Monty tolerantly overlooked. By contrast, Donald Frobisher sat back against the bench in secret frustration. He had fired the last shot in his locker in this encounter.

Do you have any questions, Mrs. Channing?" Monty asked in deliberately formal tones.

"None whatsoever," George proclaimed triumphantly." My client has so eloquently explained everything."

Monty checked the time. He had been totally engrossed in the case so that he had not notice the morning had passed. He had even managed to overlook John's presence in the visitor's gallery, well most of the time.

"This is a convenient time to take a break. Is your witness ready to be called at one thirty?"

"He is, my lord."

"Court is adjourned."

Gill was the first to slink out of the court in case retribution in the form of three strong-minded women caught up with her.

Scene Thirty-Four

There was only the briefest pause before the second witness was called, Mrs. Baxter, Head of Personnel for the Metropolitan Police but it was enough time for Sally Anne Howe to make her way to the visitor's gallery.

George immediately took the measure of this witness as she sat back, waiting for Frobisher to open the defence. She was a self satisfied, complacent hard woman and knew she was in for a battle royal. The shape of her bobbed cut hairstyle was precise and severe. To Helen, this woman was a dead ringer for Mrs. Warner, one of the Area Investigators who, years ago, was out to pin the responsibility on her for the prison break out of Shell, Denny and Shaz. John sat back, knowing that this encounter would be interesting especially as George had been in such superb form so far. Sally took her place in the gallery with Trisha holding her hand on one side and Helen on the other. She felt so much more comfortable with those who were dear to her around her. Her expression asked questions of the man on the end of the row and, with an effort, figured out that he was John Deed. The other three women signalled assurance that the guy was on the level. Everyone in the gallery became tense with excitement as the trial resumed.

"Mrs. Baxter, can you please state your age, your responsibility within the Metropolitan Police force and how long you have undertaken them?"

"I am aged 55, and I am the head of Human Resources in the Metropolitan Police forces, one of the largest and busiest areas within the police force as a whole. I have been in charge ever since I stepped into my predecessor's shoes on July 1st 1991."

"What are your responsibilities towards the average serving officer who works for your organization?"

"We are responsible for issuing strict guidelines for every single facet of the life of the average police officer, from rates of overtime payable, marriage leave down to the fine detail of police uniform. The average policeman or woman might feel that they are operating in an environment without rhyme or reason. Believe me, our word operated through the line of management command, perhaps without knowledge as to who are the original authors of them. That doesn't matter, because the substance of the culture that the average police officer adheres to does matter."

"And what is your attitude to inappropriate behaviour, both external and internal."

"We have an absolute zero toleration of inappropriate behaviour of all kinds. We are firmly opposed to homophobia, xenophobia, discrimination against men and women likewise. More than anything else, we are absolutely committed to rooting out any suggestion of inappropriate behaviour between colleagues. If we are expected to be the exemplars of good behaviour within the wider community, we must be doing everything we can to ensure the same within the police force itself. We have long since had a realistic and achievable business strategy for achieving these goals and to unsure their maintenance."

"Excuse us while we go outside and throw up," muttered Sally Anne and Trisha.

"This is disgusting. I'll join you outside," chipped in Helen, as the spectacle was revoltingly reminiscent of Larkhall.

"Why waste good food? She'll get her comeuppance when George has her turn," Nikki dryly observed while John smiled.

"How long have these policies been in effect, Mrs. Baxter?"

"It took only the first six months of my tenure to be given absolute assurance that these policies were being adhered to."

"So let me turn your attention to the original complaint made by Ms Howe dated April 16th 1996. It is item P4 in your bundle. Do you recall the investigation?"

"I do indeed."

"What was the response of your department when you first received the complaint and the charge?"

"Naturally, the investigating officers interviewed Ms Howe at length. They operated within the strictest guidelines on handling sensitive matters. They also interviewed DC Gossard at length. He gave assurances that he did not know who Ms Howe was. The normal forensic examination took place and the case was reviewed when the results came out. When evidence was received that Ms Howe had engaged in sexual intercourse with DC Gossard, he was reinterviewed and he explained that he must have made a mistake. He explained that he had had a painful and problematic relationship with Ms Howe that had terminated very unpleasantly. He apologized for his mistake and explained that he had wanted to keep the matter quiet, as he had had hopes of reconciling with his wife. It is the policy of the Metropolitan not to drive a wedge between serving police officers and their spouses and, in view of his exemplary record and that the Metropolitan Police force is a very busy one, we were inclined to accept his word on the matter. It was a judgment call and we think we made the right one."

"It's funny when people use expressions like 'judgment call', it is only a puffed up version of 'I think.' I've seen her kind before," sneered Helen derisively under her breath.

"What do you say to Ms Howe's allegation that DC Gossard and a number of his colleagues threatened her with being forced out of her job if she went ahead with the charge?"

"As you can see," Mrs. Baxter said in the most amused patronizing terms imaginable, "There's absolutely nothing about it in her complaint. Surely as a one time serving police officer, she would have featured it then or in her letter of withdrawal? To the best of my knowledge, I cannot recall such a complaint."

"How can you be sure that your memory doesn't play you false?"

"The average police officer has a better than average grasp of the value of factual evidence. As head of the personnel department, I have made it my business to 'know the staff' that I am responsible for and consequently, I have a very large and retentive memory. The details of the Ms Howe case came back immediately to mind when your solicitor first asked me. The picture is as clear as a summer's day."

"What was your reaction when Ms Howe finally withdrew her charges and what action did you take?"

"To be honest, I wasn't the least surprised. Ms Howe hadn't earned herself a sound reputation and it was entirely in keeping with her record that she withdrew her charges."

"I know all about 'sound reputations', John," observed Helen bitterly to John.

"Finally, Mrs. Baxter, do you see yourself in any way responsible for Ms Howe's misfortunes and if not, why?"

"I can't help feeling sorry for someone who's gone down in the world after leaving the police force but, as a whole, the metropolitan police are entirely blameless. All procedures were in place and were correctly applied from start to end."

George Channing couldn't wait to wipe the smile off the face of this smug woman. She stood up straightaway, leaned one hand on the rail and started her attack.

"You say that you know the staff for whose welfare you bear direct responsibility bearing a duty of care under the Health and Safety Act. Can you please explain what is the basis of your knowledge?"

"As I have explained, I have profession qualifications and have long experience in the police force."

"That's not the answer to the question I asked. How would you set about knowing any one officer in the entire metropolis sight from Stepney Green to Greenwich."

"Different officers have reputations. We keep our ears to the ground."

"Reputation? What is a reputation? How is a reputation formed?"

"By the name they build up for themselves. By how they perform their job and the periodic reports."

"And how often are these reports obtained? Who writes them? How much input does the reportee have on it and is the contents known to the police officer?"

"Once a year," Mrs. Baxter admitted in lowered tones. "The line manager writes them and talks to the reportee who gets the gist of what he or she is thought of."

"So this sketchy, flimsy record which the reportee may or may not know the contents of is dependent on the objectivity of the reporting officer with little recourse to put right any inaccuracies. Is that not so?"

"That's your opinion."

"Do you often meet many of those who you claim to know so well?"

"Only by accident. We prefer to stay at arms length from local managers so as not to inhibit them."

"I put it to you that your supposed expertise and knowledge of the people is nothing more than a self protective bubble of utter complacency while the real world goes on elsewhere. It is possible that such noble and worthy policies exist in the sanctity of your cushioned and comfortable environment twenty stories up some plush office block. What I argue is that there is major systemic deceit so that misogynist, bullying attitudes ran rampant through Larkhall police station as my client described all too vividly this morning. Everyone colludes in this deceit and no one asks questions, except such a victim as my client was."

John was thrilled at how George launched into the attack. He was proud of her.

"I say again that you are entitled to your opinions."

"Let's consider your interesting explanation of the differences between DC Gossard's original statement when, to quote my learned counsel Marian Chambers in Regina versus Nicola Wade part 1, 'the results came through proving this to be a downright lie, he signed a statement that they were in a consensual relationship."

Nikki looked around with an embarrassed smile. She had simply no idea that her two appeals had the sort of fame that they would be quoted in legal precedents in court hearings. She simply had no idea that what had taken place would resonate down the years. Helen squeezed her hand, knowing exactly what Nikki was thinking.

"That means you, sweetheart," she whispered.

"Let's consider DC Gossard's badly spotted history. What is of fascinating interest is how the same policeman really gets about, the late DC Gossard." George drawled, a look of menace in her eyes and a broad smile of triumph on her face, as if she were a gambler ready to pull out her high cards to lay down on the table. She paused deliberately long enough to rattle her opponent.

"I refer to the Appeal Court case Regina versus Nicola Wade Part 1 where evidence was accepted by Judge Huntley that 'There was a clear failure of the police to disclose material evidence to the defence that a year before DC Gossard died, his wife left him, citing mental and physical cruelty as her reasons.' This finding was found in the Appeal Court. Perhaps you can explain this failure seeing that, in your own words, you 'have a very large and retentive memory."

"Mrs. Channing, might I interrupt you, please," Monty called out from above her head, leaving George open mouthed, which covered up for Mrs. Baxter's silence.

"There is an important point that needs to be considered. Did the Metropolitan Police merely neglect to advise the court dealing with the killing of DC Gossard of his past or did they give out active disinformation?"

George's mouth dropped open in horror. This was the one point she never thought to properly pursue.

"It so happens that I took the liberty of obtaining all three court files and if I turn to a letter in the original court papers I see a letter dated September 13th 1996, signed by Mrs. Jean Baxter where, I quote, "As far as I am aware, DC Gossard has an exemplary work record and is a respected member of the police force. I think that this clears up the point, doesn't it."

George grinned openly in triumph while Mrs. Baxter's heart sank into her boots, knowing that this dangerous woman was about to continue the onslaught.

"I refer your lordship to item MG1 in the bundle of evidence dated August 30th 1995, a year and a quarter after Sally Anne Howe starts working at Larkhall police station. This is the heart-rending letter you sent to DC Gossard's separated wife. There isn't much that needs saying about it. It is obviously your handiwork….."

"…..It's obvious as I signed it…." snapped Mrs. Baxter petulantly.

"That's not what I was getting at. There is the same rose tinted view of DC Gossard, the same refusal to acknowledge that DC Gossard's wife might be telling the truth about his physical and mental cruelty. I refer your lordship to item MG2 in the bundle of papers that the basis of the divorce was physical and mental cruelty. While I would concede that the date of the divorce obviously postdates the letter sent by you to Mrs. Gossard, I put it to you that the facts underlying the later divorce should have been known by you. It all smacks of, at the very least, the same professional negligence. Looks like a pattern, doesn't it."

George looked up at Monty who indicated to George with his forefinger to carry on. She drew breath before carrying onwards to batter her way through the tissue of lies. She felt that she was on the home stretch after an exhausting race. Her mouth was feeling dry and she swallowed a mouthful of water down. She was starting to feel tired but the intensity of emotion provided the adrenaline thrust that propelled her ever onwards.

"I refer to Part 2 of the same case which considered character evidence given by DC Gossard's colleagues that his character was such that he could not have tried to rape Ms Williams. This was overturned by both appeal court hearings. In other words, the whole system of flawed appraisal systems and 'Chinese whispers' was shown in a criminal court of the highest level, to be a tissue of fabrication."

"Are you attacking my integrity?" spluttered Mrs. Baxter, red in the face at what she took to be an insinuated charge against her.

"Not necessarily so, Mrs. Baxter. Do not unnecessarily accuse yourself. There are two alternatives, one that you took an active part in this cover up, which verges on the criminal. In this case, you are guilty of colluding with forcing my client to resign under pressure and covering up the rape that took place. The alternative is that you are simply and consistently negligent, deceiving yourself and closing your ears and eyes as to what was happening on your watch, and that you utterly failed in your duty of care to my client as a serving policewoman in the Metropolitan Police."

"It was also accepted at both hearings that the original police investigation into the causes of the death of D C Gossard did not accept that he was trying to rape Ms Trisha Williams. Once again, the consensus opinion upon which you are reliant upon is so wide of the mark. As to who should be believed. In the first case, you have a wife who was divorced on grounds of mental and physical cruelty in a court of law against her husband, the supposed paragon of virtue. In the second case, you have the same policeman on the one hand and my client on the other. In the third case you have two women's evidence as opposed to one policeman who admittedly was unable to give his own account of events but his colleagues and you, Mrs. Baxter, spoke on his behalf and misled the court. What is the one factor in common? Why DC Gossard? And what have we here but a head of personnel whose main qualification is that of reality denial if not active collusion in this tragic catalogue of abuses. After all, you know all the police officers on your watch," George concluded with a heavy sneer for final effect.


She paused in this oration as she glimpsed the shining eyes of the row of women in the gallery as she tightly pulled the strings of the case together. Now she knew how Jo Mills felt in one of her cases. In that second, she felt mild feelings of regret for her sarcastic jibes at her over the years. This was washed away by the thought that she was spiritually Jo Mills' sister but in her own way. Her voice just carried her through to conclude in a rather hoarse tone of voice.

"I trust that you have no doubt as to where the truth lies and where the deceit exists.

No one can take away my client's sufferings over the years but I urge that the case is found in favour of my client and punitive damages exacted to give her the only recompense possible and to ensure that nobody else has to go through what my client has gone through."

George sank back onto her seat with almost a curtsey. She had put on the performance of a lifetime and was overcome with the intensity of emotion at what she had conjured up.

"Do you wish to ask Mrs. Baxter any questions?" Monty intoned. Donald Frobisher shook his head silently. Once again, he had been beaten. It was thirty love against him.

"I will take this lunchtime to consider my verdict," Monty proclaimed in confident ringing tones with a twinkle in his eye. "I am confident that when I return, I will be in the position to give a decision. Court is adjourned."

The four women immediately made their way to the nearest pub while John made a discreet exit to his chambers to have a quick look through his in tray. Sally was flanked by all three women who understood the tension that she was under while the case awaited judgment. Sally eagerly asked the others just how she had come over and they reassured her that she looked more composed than she might have felt. The lunchtime raced by at an express pace until Helen checked her watch and indicated that it was time to return to court. Trisha's arm circled Sally Anne's shoulders as her legs were like jelly and hardly carried her up the flight of steps. John smiled his greetings to them and took his place, as did Lawrence James and Sir Ian. Only Gill was conspicuous by her absence, which was taken as a good omen. Every pair of eyes was fixed on Monty Everard as he stood up, cleared his throat and started to speak.

"I have considered the evidence at great length and in announcing my verdict. I feel it is in order to explain my reasonings. The onus of proof in a civil case is on balance of probabilities, in other words that it is more probable than it is not that such a proposition is found to be based in fact. Both sides of the case must be considered and the arguments, both for and against must be carefully weighed. This is a different standard of proof from a criminal case where the burden of proof on the state in taking criminal prosecution is 'beyond all reasonable doubt.

I am quite positive that in DC Gossard, there is a rotten apple in the Metropolitan Police force. I accept the very clear and persuasive evidence of Miss Howe.

When placed in conjunction with the circumstances of his death, the second court of appeal hearing I had the honour to sit in judgment along with my two worthy fellow judges. There is not the slightest doubt in my mind that the Metropolitan Police, through Mrs. Baxter blatantly covered up DC Gossard's transgressions. In deciding this point, I have also taken account of whether or not innocent mistakes did or did not happen. As has been said on numerous occasions, no one is perfect. I would be loath to suggest that there was deliberate error where a simple 'one off' mistake took place. When this is repeated, this level of explicability is more difficult to sustain. For these reasons, I would look somewhat askance at 'two off' mistakes. Where there are 'three, four or five off mistakes' involved, become progressively unsustainability. On the contrary, it starts to build a pattern of a systematic cover up.

However, these events all date from September 13th 1996 onwards from the letter I quoted from. The critical events of Miss Howe's ill starred period of service with the Metropolitan Police force are April 1994 when she joined the police force, April 14th 1996 when she was sexually assaulted and to July 31st 1996 when she left it. At that point, DC Gossard was a policeman and not the stuff of the front page of the tabloids. What is instructive are the circumstances and time sequence leading up to DC Gossard's separation and divorce and I am compelled to conclude that the Metropolitan police through Mrs. Baxter willfully blinded itself as to the abuses that went on at Larkhall Police station. The much harder test is whether there was deliberate collusion in covering up these abuses and, at the point in question, I have to conclude on balance of probability that it did not. However, I am inclined to take a very severe line with such negligence in the scale of the punitive level damages that I intend to impose. In doing so, I am mindful that the average citizen is dependent on the police force being first on the scene where crime is committed and that its work should not be undermined. I am also mindful that Miss Sally Anne Howe was a member of this very police force and that, if she had had the proper support that she deserves, she would still be pursuing a career in the force. For these reasons, I order that the Metropolitan Police force pay Miss Howe a sum of ninety thousand pounds in compensation for her mental distress and interruption of her earning power."

The front row of the visitor's gallery openly showed their delight in cheering at the verdict while John grinned openly and his tacit support made him an honorary member, no doubt about it. Monty's clear open expression warmed her inside and her friends with a gentle glow of justice. Trisha flung her arms round her in joyous exaltation round Sally's neck while Nikki, the other side of her, stroked her shoulder and Helen openly clapped loudly. "I can't believe it," Sally murmured blissfully into Trisha's ear. Every part of her body was suffused by an inner glow of satisfaction.

"Well, this is how justice feels like, babes," came the soft reply.

Nikki and Helen smiled on fondly as Sally Anne's incredible fortune was theirs as well. That was how the sisterhood operated. Helen who sat next to John saw the twinkle in his eye and the looks he exchanged with Monty. Sir Ian and Lawrence James shot out of the courtroom to relay the news to the Home Office while Mrs. Baxter scuttled out of the back door of the courtroom.

"Excuse me but I have to leave you," John said courteously. "The gentlemen of the press will be swarming around I ought to keep out of the spotlight for once in my life. I'm going to keep Monty Everard company."

"Have a drink on us, John," Nikki called out cheerily.

"You'll all be in our thoughts, don't worry."

The six women filed out of the back door and made their way down the staircase when Sally Anne who led the way was brought up short by a sight that was forever branded on her mind. She looked down open mouthed at Mrs Baxter who was trapped in the crowded foyer, that normally smart suited powerful woman who held the strings on so many police officers who worked for the Metropolitan Police. She had looked so strong and confident when she first went into court and now she looked shrunken diminished by that very kindly judge. By contrast she and her friends stood on the curved staircase and held the strategic advantage.

Scene Thirty-Five

"We'd better meet up with George and Claire and be prepared to meet the press, Sally. That's the way it goes," Helen said in firm tones.

"Oh God, I never thought about that," Sally exclaimed in horror. "What do I say?"

"Babes, you will find that the words will come naturally," Trisha said in tones of pure affection.

"Thanks to you, there are other women out there who'll get fair treatment. Not much to ask for, is it? This is a big knock to the Gossards and Fenners of this world," commented Nikki in her laconic fashion. She stared coldly at her brother as he fleetingly passed her by. She'd somehow managed to overlook him right throughout the trial and that said everything about their severed relationship.

Trisha was looking all around her in the crowd that assembled for the number of cases that were due to take place in the various courtrooms and finally spotted George emerging into sight, a big grin on her face and conspicuously waving at them. Claire accompanied her, a big smile of satisfaction. Once again, Jim Patterson would be spitting feathers as, once again, the case would be a big triumph against the man's twisted and cynical prediction.

Sally rushed downstairs and flung her arms around first Claire and then George who were still wearing her white wig and gown, both symbols of her trade.

"You were fantastic, George. I can't believe that we've beaten them," Sally said in a breathless tone of voice.

"I'm only too proud to represent you, Sally. You were incredibly brave in standing up to that barrister. You were asked some nasty questions and handled them superbly."

Impulsively Nikki hugged first Claire and then George. Claire had been so dependable from her very first appeal while George had fulfilled all expectations. Helen and Trisha followed suit

"I have never felt so good in all my life." breathed George, a faraway look in her eyes. She looked like an appealing looking little girl at her birthday party, an excited look on her face. There was a curious innocence about her.

"So George, you have joined the rebellious sisterhood," suddenly sneered the most unwelcome voice that George could conceive, short of Neil Haughton. She knew that the spineless coward wouldn't come here. She supposed that one of his army of lackeys would do that for him.

"And why not?" George retaliated, furious that this man should spoil this magical moment.

"You have dug your own grave, professionally speaking," Donald Frobisher sneered at George." Your old clientele wouldn't touch you with a bargepole now."

"Real talent can't be kept down. A mediocrity like yourself may brown nose his way up the backside of the establishment but you'll still fail when it comes to a case like this where I'll beat you every time," fired back George, her voice dripping with contempt.

"There's only space for one Jo Mills in the world."

"There is for the original George Channing. I wouldn't pretend to be a copy of anything. It's forty love to us, Jo has talked to me," George retaliated with the light of battle in her eyes.

"You go on and enjoy your so called triumph while you can."

"Don't worry. I will."

The other women laughed with delight at the fiery exchange and the short and sharp way, in which she sent the man packing. He had failed in his attempt to spoil the atmosphere but had enhanced it with a different spiritual flavour.

"You know George, you remind me of Nikki. I have special memories of her at her most combative," Helen said, a knowing look in her eyes.

"I shall take that as a high compliment. There are times when you have to say it like it is."

Out of the corner of her eye, Nikki noticed the red robed figure of Monty Everard pressing through the crowd and indicating in her direction with a beckoning forefinger. Nikki raised her eyebrows and Monty indicated that he wanted to catch up with her. While George chatted with Sally-Anne and Trisha, Helen also picked up on Monty's presence.

"You must be Nikki and Helen. On a personal note, I wanted to thank you for everything you did in looking after John when he came round to your flat. It was very decent of you both."

"You're very fond of him," Nikki said softly.

"We were very worried about him. He told us what you'd done for him and how you'd set him on his feet. We look out for each other, especially John who is our leader. I hope you understand."

"Perfectly," Helen chipped in with a dazzling smile, remembering the kindness that they had done for Nikki."We have the same system amongst our women friends."

Monty shuffled his feet awkwardly in this overflow of emotion even though he was obviously pleased. He suddenly shook Nikki and then Helen by the hand and indicated that he had to go elsewhere, nodding amiably at George in passing. Both women knew that protocol frowned on judges appearing to exhibit partiality and that they normally remained removed from the public arena after the court hearing.

"Got to keep John company. He's been behaving himself, for once," chuckled Monty, indicating John's presence somewhere in the crowd.

All at once, the group became aware of a confused wave of indistinct sound the other side of the front entrance.

"Isn't it customary to meet the press afterwards or am I missing something? I can hear them buzzing outside," cut in George."You forget that I am new to the aftermath of trials where I am on the side of justice."

"You're right, George. We'd better go out and meet the press," Helen said, sticking to business. She decisively led the way out with firmness of manner as old prison officer habits died hard. The rest of the group filed out after her.

Events in the hierarchy of power moved like lightning once the outcome of the trial was known. The Home Office was like an ants nest that had been kicked over while the Lord Chancellor's Department was in chaos. The Attorney General, Sir Alan Peasemarsh was engaged in a lengthy phone call with the Cabinet Office, being the minister who was more closely aware of the anarchy that had broken loose in the Old Bailey that day yet it was the Home Office who had, through the Metropolitan Police, been at the source of all these troubles. The first Nikki Wade appeal had gone unexpectedly badly yet popular belief was that, the damage could be contained, as Ms Wade would float off into obscurity. The second trial was a nasty surprise, which had the nasty effect of resurrecting unwelcome headlines. The wretched woman had capably fended off the press questioning which had been designed to stitch her up. Worst of all was the utter public humiliation of the judges' strike. This latest fiasco of the corrupt police officer would undoubtedly stain the reputation of the Metropolitan Police on the basis that mud sticks. Worse still, the successions of reverses were setting up seismic shocks in the very structure of government itself. It was decided that some drastic damage limitation should take place. The instrument of government should not be entrusted to Sir Ian who was looking more and more like damaged goods but should be entrusted to Alan Peasemarsh, a white haired patrician on the old school.

"Ah Neil, I wanted to have an informal chat with you," he said in his normal unflappable tone of voice which concealed his anxiety.

"I have some fresh ideas that the PM might be interested in for the next session of parliament," Neil Haughton said with undimmed enthusiasm just like the archetypal second hand car salesman.

"So how are things going on the home front?" Alan Peasemarsh said, adroitly steering the conversation away. The execution should not be a hurried affair.

"Well, you know how it is. Home life gets sacrificed on the altar of public life. You know, sometimes it is such a squeeze to fit everything in twenty four hours."

"And of course, your constituents as well," Alan Peasemarsh commented with significantly raised eyebrow.

"My constituency secretary is a diamond and handles a lot of bread and butter issues," Neil Haughton spoke in the tones of discussing Jeeves the butler.

"Ah, that helps a lot," came the non-committal reply.

"So George isn't likely to come back to you?" Alan Peasemarsh said with a meaning look.

"A pity but there is a matter of irreconcilable differences. She can be very demanding and self-centred and has trouble in seeing the wider outlook. She has an appetite for making mischief. I'm not saying that she isn't a good barrister and I'm sure she will go far."

"She is a great loss to the government. A pity but life has to go on."

There was a pause in the conversation as both of them sipped from the Crown Derby teacups.

"I've been talking to the PM earlier on and he feels that there have to be some strategic realignments without leaving sight of our strategic goals."

"Of course we must be flexible in our approach."

"This means that the bill to restrict the power of judges must be dropped. It is not politically expedient right now."

Neil Haughton's jaw dropped by a mile. He was sure that it could be forced through the House of Commons with dissent only from the usual culprits. The press would surely favour it.

"You can't mean it. I mean I have worked myself to the bone on it. It is something that I feel passionately about it."

"Needs must when the devil drives," Alan Peasemarsh said in his usual imperturbable tone of voice, cynically noting the improbabilities in the man's protestations. "It is one of those unavoidable casualties of politics. Politics is the art of the possible and the government can't take another series of knocks as it has done.

"I can't accept this as it. I owe this to my convictions. I must talk to the PM myself."

"Better not, Neil or the bill won't be the only political casualty," replied the political mandarin pointedly.

Neil Haughton immediately backtracked and stammered his apology. Even he knew when the game was up. Alan Peasemarsh made his polite excuses to move on elsewhere concealing one secret that he had maintained. Haughton didn't know it but in the next government reshuffle, he was due to return to the backbenches where he could spend more time with his proverbial family and constituents.

Sally Anne emerged onto the narrow pavement outside the Old Bailey flanked by Trisha on one side and Helen and Nikki on the other. Claire and George stood behind the other four women but still in camera shot. She was beginning to feel enormously empowered at surviving the rigours of the cross examination and George's very kindly praise, not given lightly, gave her that feeling of controlled power. It helped her disregard the constant flash bulbs exploding in her face and somehow to focus on her questioners.

"So what will you do with the money?"

"I honestly haven't thought of that. I'm not some pools winner who's going to spend, spend, spend. It will come in useful but the main point of the court case is that the Metropolitan Police are made to admit that they inflicted a massive wrong on me in not believing that that police officer DC Gossard had raped me. It will mightily deter them from acting out of expedience and to find some other sacrificial lamb," Sally Anne called out clearly.

"What about the damage this court case has done to the public standing of the Metropolitan Police?"

"They had plenty of time over the years to put the situation right but they didn't want to know. Those who don't want to know are the biggest accessories to wrong doing and have stood in the dock today. Their excuses for their actions don't even convince themselves. I wonder how they can sleep at nights."

Sally Anne seemed to rise out of herself as her scorn for the cheap question rolled back the interrogation. This was the equivalent of Frobisher without the wig and gown.

"So what will you do with the rest of your life? Are you going to hawk your story on prime time television?"

"I want to settle down quietly with my partner, Trisha who has stuck with me through thick and thin after the psychological damage done to me. I want to get my life back. I must thank my dear friends who have been so incredibly supportive of me. Lastly, I want to thank the professional brilliance of Claire Walker, my solicitor and George Channing, my barrister who I would like to think of also as friends."

Trisha smiled freely as she squeezed Sally Anne's hand as she spoke of Trisha. Babes, you sure have come a long way since the early days of you thinking of me as a friend to coming out as a lesbian on prime time news. There's so much more to you than I ever dreamed of when I first met you.

Claire, Nikki and Helen felt like relative veterans of appearing before the media while all this was new to George. They felt proud at the way that Sally Anne had stood up to the press, giving them no opening. Presently, the questions dried up as the answers didn't fit their pre-planned script and they gradually thinned out. The silence after they left was overwhelming.

"Where do we go now…I mean what do we do now?" Sally Anne asked vaguely, brushing a strand of hair out of her eyes. A wave of tiredness rolled over her and Trisha put a supporting arm round her.

"Let's go to the pub across the way," George said firmly. "It's the only one for miles around."

"I'll give you a hand to help Sally," Nikki volunteered. "I know how it feels."

George smiled fondly at the feelings of supportiveness that embraced Sally Anne and led the way. They found a quiet spot to rest while Helen offered to get in a round of coffees. Suddenly, George's mobile phone rang and she reached for it. A broad smile spread across her face as she realized who it was.

"I had to phone you, George, to say how wonderfully you performed today," rumbled Joseph Channing down the phone. "Monty's told me all about it and I know you well enough to fill in the gaps."

"I'm pleased not just how I did but also that Sally Anne Howe held up under some very tough questioning. It seemed that right was on our side."

"That's my daughter."

"I know we haven't always agreed about everything but at the end of the day, you always come round to my point of view," she declared imperiously, much to Helen's admiration. If only she could talk to her own father in the same fashion.

"Whatever you do in this world, you are my daughter and I will always support you."

"You mean, literally anything?" George enquired with a mysterious lilt in her voice.

"Definitely everything. Will I see you later on to talk about it properly?"

"That depends on how the post trial celebrations go on. I have my obligations you know."

Joseph chuckled down the phone at George's smirking tone of voice. George clicked off her mobile with a look of self-satisfaction on her face as the others gathered round and gave Sally Anne a chance to rest.

"I might have known that you would be at the pub celebrating," called a cool voice with a faint tone of amusement in it. It was Jo Mills. She shook George by the hand to congratulate her. The other women greeted her with affection and drew up a chair for her.

"You got a fine result today. I'm really proud of you."

"So it's my turn to play the good angel instead of the bad?" George riposted with a trace of her old manner.

"It's strange how people and situations change and in yes, definitely for the better. I became hopeful of you when you chucked that dreadful Home Secretary."

"You may think that I came round to your point of view. Whatever I have done, I have done it in my way."

"That is one thing about you that doesn't change," Jo said affectionately and George smiled more openly, demonstrating that her earlier banter was just play-acting.

All of them felt the friendly August sunshine and the soothing breezes as time passed.

Scene Thirty-Six

Trisha was the first of them to rise out the exhausted slump that the group had sunk into.

"Why don't you all come back to my club for a celebration party?" she urged.

"You can count Nikki and I in for a start," Helen replied.

"What about you, Claire?" urged Trisha, her eyes starting to shine as she sensed encouragement for her idea.

'Yeah OK. I'll come. I'm not too tired to not come with you guys for a bit. If I do flake out, someone point me in the right direction home," that very calm and self-assured woman pronounced with measured enthusiasm.

"Well, I'm definitely up for a party. That feels good to me. Too much hard work makes Jill a dull girl and one of my aims in life is definitely not to be dull," exclaimed George with a wide grin on her face." Besides it would be the height of rudeness to refuse."

"The thought doesn't worry you, George in coming to a gay club?" Nikki enquired with a twinkle in her eyes.

"It is hardly likely to be Sodom and Gomorrah, is it. It's all new to me but I am open to any new pleasurable experience. Besides, Neil Haughton will be after my blood if I know anything about him and this is the last place he'll ever think to find me."

Everyone fell about laughing at George's witticism. In the meantime, a thrill of excitement ran through George's nervous system. The invitation had come out of nowhere but the thought crossed her mind that she might not have to seek the answer to her conundrum of what to do with life. It might suddenly appear from out of the blue. At any rate, she was willing to give this new experience a go.

"What about you Jo? Do you care to broaden your experiences of the world?" Trisha said jokingly. Unfortunately, Jo immediately went into a panic state and reached for the nearest excuse to hand.

"Oh no, no. That is I'd love to come but I have a trial to prepare for tomorrow. That's why I've just popped in here to hear the verdict."

"Are you sure you can't spare us a bit of time?" George asked with all the kindness in her eyes.

"Quite sure. You know me. As soon as I'm there I'll feel guilty that I'm not where I should be. Make sure you give my love to everyone."

The six women looked regretfully at Jo but didn't consider trying to persuade Jo to change her mind as they sincerely thought that they were respecting her wishes. Jo turned on her heel and waved gaily at them, her heart full of bitter regrets as she found history repeating herself, when she could have been a rock and roller and passed up the chance.

After a thoughtful silence, Trisha phoned up the club quickly and the cars headed off in convoy to the club. Claire and George followed the lead of the other four women who knew exactly where they were going and, as Sally Anne had done before them, they found the club to be perfectly normal in its ambiance. Claire viewed the club with cool appraisal while George greeted it with a whole souled smile. Already, the smooth pop sounds of Kylie Minogue coiled its way round the pulse rates of the women in the club. Sally Anne immediately felt enormously relaxed and she put aside the previous strain of the court hearing as if they were soiled unclean clothes. That was the past, here is her future.

"Gill isn't here, Trisha. I can feel the difference."

"Yeah. It means I don't have to have eyes in the back of my head. Wanna dance babes?"

Sally's beam of pleasure was of someone coming home to herself. She took the outstretched hand and sashayed onto the dance floor with all the confidence in the world.

"You don't mind me having first dance, guys," Trisha explained over her shoulder.

"You two go and enjoy yourself. You've both deserved it. We know the pressure Sally's been under has been yours as well," Helen called back to the blonde haired woman. "After all, we've both been there."

A brief smile of gratitude from Trisha in return was cut short as they both disappeared into the throng of swaying, gyrating women, all sharply and fashionably dressed.

"Do you want to join us for a drink and let Trisha and Sally let their hair down and enjoy themselves?" suggested Helen.

She indicated a table for four in a quiet alcove where the music was quieter but still loud enough for the musical emotions to wash over them like a grateful morning shower. She remembered how out of place she once felt ages ago in 'Chix' and she could relate to George and Claire possibly feeling uncomfortable. Nikki went to fetch a tray full of drinks from the bar while Helen chatted to the other two women in her most relaxing manner. As the conversation rambled onwards, she could see that Claire was enjoying herself in her quiet fashion. This was really the same as Helen and Nikki going round to their place, only there was music and ambiance in the background. She sensed that George's reaction was entirely different as the first thing that blond haired barrister did was to immediately slip off her dark formal court jacket, as if to cast aside that necessary formality which was the tools of her trade. She was an excellent conversationalist but Helen couldn't help but notice how she was glancing all around her. All the time, Claire looked more and more fidgety and finally she took her leave in her usual courteous fashion. This club really wasn't her scene.

Sally and Trisha came to join them at their table just after Claire made her way out of the club. Sally was chatting away with Alice as they made their way over, having first got to know her a month back. Alice was a warm-hearted beauty with loose flowing long black hair who wore her favourite tight black trousers and white lacy top. Her attention was taken by George who greeted her with a dazzling smile.

"I thought I'd introduce George to you, Alice. She's a red hot barrister who represented me in court and screwed thirty thousand out of the Metropolitan Police for the way they treated me."

"Sally is in danger of overestimates my talents, Alice. She was frightfully brave in taking the stand against one of our more unpleasant, reactionary barristers."

Alice opened her eyes wide with announcement at this very glamourous blond haired woman with her arched aristocratic nose and sparkling blue eyes. She swooned inside at hearing that particular aristocratic accent which she had a weakness for. She had insight enough to see beyond George's self deprecating manner and at once respected the talents of this highly intelligent woman. This combination of feelings was irresistible and she was in no mood to resist them. She took the seat that Claire had vacated and two more chairs were brought up for all of them to talk.

While there was a superficially genial atmosphere, the conversation tended to pair itself off. Nikki gave a slight sideway nod of her head and Helen, taking the hint, moved off with Nikki and they leant against a pillar to deliberate.

"Are we doing right with dropping George into this situation?" asked Nikki anxiously.

"Dropping George into what?" counter questioned Helen. "George knows her own mind very well. You can't force her into doing something she doesn't want to. For God's sake, she's probably more single-minded than we are. Besides, you take a look at George and Alice. Don't you think they look like an item already?"

"What's bothers me a bit is that John obviously wants George," Nikki muttered uncomfortably.

"You are a real romantic, Nikki," laughed Helen, her white teeth gleaming and her tongue licking her bottom lip in the way Nikki found so endearing. "You can't pair everyone up perfectly. It depends on what George wants and that is bloody obvious. Besides, what John really needs is close friendship and he'll get that from us as we'll give it to John. He can get girlfriends any time he wants."

"I see what you're getting at, darling," said Nikki, brightening up, grateful that Helen had squared the situation with her conscience.

'Come on, Nikki, let's dance. I feel in the mood for it. We'll get Sally and Trisha to join us and leave George and Alice to it."

Nikki let Helen take her by the hand and Sally Anne and Trisha followed them while they danced away under the soft pulsating lights. They were at home in the music and were happy to let their hair down after the stresses and strains of the day.

"Is this the first time you've come here, George?" Alice enquired, knowing perfectly well what the other four women were up to. The feeling grew around them of being in a bubble of space just for the two of them.

"To be perfectly honest, it is. I wanted to come here and celebrate with my client, sorry Sally Anne, and it seemed only right to come here….."

A slight look of disappointment flicked into Alice's eyes. She was afraid that this woman was, at most bi curious.

"……………….but there's more to it than that. I came here as I've been changing my lifestyle so I decided to let everything flow naturally."

"Am I part of what you want to let flow?" Alice asked in soft tones, lowered eyelashes over her large brown eyes.

"To be honest, you look absolutely divine, Alice. I've never looked at another woman in the way I see you now. As they say, there's a first time for everything."

"So do you want to dance with me?"

George undid the top couple of buttons of her shirt as she was going to get hot very quickly. She smiled freely and let her hand be taken. A feeling of excitement ran through her system as they were entering the zone where they weren't just observers from the outside. This was a world that she knew for certain she really wanted to join. She hadn't been to a proper dance for so long. She started feeling good in herself as she started to dance as well as the way Alice moved her body. She idly wondered as she gyrated with Alice how come she had made this decision so quickly and easily. She vaguely concluded that all along, Sally Anne and Trisha had been siren voices showing her as they talked legal business how lives could be lived. She'd absorbed that in her unconscious so that when Trisha invited her to her club, she was surprisingly ready to face who she wanted to be. Presently, she swept such introspection aside and swam in the here and now. As the music pumped away and the coloured lights splashed over the dancing crowd, George had the perfect opportunity to take in Alice's beauty, her slim legs and she knew beyond doubt that Alice was equally attracted to her. Life was so good, right now.

Presently, the music slowed down and despite herself, George was a little nervous as she slipped into Alice's soft arms without thinking about the matter. Her body was soft and welcoming and George sighed with satisfaction as her face nestled on the taller woman's shoulder and drank in her perfume. This was heaven for both women as they gently swayed to the music and their bodies were pressed up against each other. Alice glanced down at George and sensed the look of the blond haired woman's full breasts that her open necked shirt half revealed. She couldn't believe her fantasy made into flesh and blood nor could she believe she had the luck to meet this intelligent woman with a larger heart than she cared to make public. George's head moved slightly away and her face came into view. This was surely the right moment for Alice to kiss the other woman's cheek so softly and delicately. George smiled and murmured in pleasure and sought out Alice's lips, her tongue feeling Alice's. The dark haired woman was in seventh heaven at the certain promise of making love with such a surprisingly confident lover. George wasn't remotely shy or restrained as she ran her fingers down the soft material covering her back. It was not the normal way round but all the more of a delightful surprise for all that.

"My God, that's the fastest coming out I've ever heard of," exclaimed an open mouthed Helen to Nikki. "It puts me to shame as being hopelessly indecisive."

"George is a determined lady," drawled Nikki fondly at the way Helen overlooked the obvious difference.

"If my memory serves me right, I was a prisoner and you were my jailer."

"Oh," Helen said in an absent minded fashion. "I quite forgot."

"You kept calling me up to your office and bending my ear about it every time I made half a move on you. Can't you remember, darling?"

"Well, sweetheart, it goes to show you how long ago that was and how we've left all that bad stuff far behind us," Helen said pertly.

"Come here babes," Nikki called out to her lover in the sultriest tones she could summon up. Helen slid eagerly into her arms and their lips met in a long lingering kiss. The party was there for everyone.

Just when the two women disengaged from each other, Trisha and Sally Anne emerged from the half lit crowd on the dance floor. Sally's eyes were shining bright with elation and a wide grin lit up her face. She had all the confidence in the world as her arm was looped round Trisha's waist. They cuddled each other close and their heads leant into each other.

"How on earth are you so confident in kissing me like this? Most women, me included, go through big hang-ups to get to where you are now. You're in a perpetual battle with yourself for weeks, if not months to sort out who the hell you are," said Alice in a state of blissful contentment.

"Oh Alice darling, I am very willful as you will find out. I've had enough of being Queen Bee to the political male elite. My ex husband, John has lofty ideals yet he broke my heart with his womanizing ways. Of course, I never admitted it to myself, far less to John and I even made jokes about it. Deep down, I vowed to myself that it would never happen again so I became this hard, money minded bitch," George explained as she stroked Alice's hand and looked close into her eyes. They were seated at the table, taking a rest and talking as only lovers do when meeting for the first time. George found Alice a sympathetic and attentive listener so that spoke freely and easily in a way she had never done before with previous partners.

"Curiously enough, it all started when Nikki joined with John in an almighty row I had with them. I had the doubtful assistance on my side of the two pathetic men who sat in the visitor's gallery today. Nikki set me off to question my existence. Then Sally Anne's case came my way and the more I heard of her plight, the more it unfroze the hard protective shell I'd built around myself. I also came to realize that my identity as a straight woman left me in a conundrum I couldn't get out of. The feeling crept over me by degrees that somehow or other, being a lesbian will help me to stop being selfish and to be as soft as I wanted to be, perhaps seeing Trisha and Sally Anne so protective of each other. Everything pointed to another way of living, which I finally knew for certain when I came here tonight."

"But why me in particular?" Alice asked, seeking validation of her immense good fortune.

"Darling, as they said in the movies, I saw your face from across a crowded room and our eyes met. I used to think that was sentimental rubbish in a Barbara Cartland novel till I felt it for myself. I remember Sally told me about this kind hearted and warm creature she talked to at the club. When I heard your name, I put two and two together. I discovered for myself the softness and gentleness in you so I fell in love at first sight, dearest," George murmured softly in her most gentle tones, her fingertips gently stroking the other woman's cheek."

"Everything you say makes perfect sense to me."

"What about you, Alice? Here I am, talking about who I am, what I want. What of your life?"

"I've been into women all my life so there's nothing I've ever had to give up, as it were. It's the case of finding the right woman. You talk to a lot of women here and the hardest and most cynical of them are shame faced romantics. I'm open about it if I can find someone to be open with. I know that everything about you makes be feel weak at the knees. That's a pretty good guide."

George laughed appreciatively at Alice's understanding and her confession of desire for her. It sounded far better than the stale platitudes she'd been lumbered with over the years.

"So what can I give you in return? I think I can give you the kind of love I once had for John but this time, I know that we'll get it right. Our lives are just starting."

For all six women during that magic evening, events moved like tableaux which appeared and mysteriously moved on and the feeling of being in an unforgettable grand cinema embraced them all. George and Alice slowly embraced while the other women in the club looked fondly on, mentally wished them well and saw only a normal coming together. This was what the club was about.

"You're not going to suffer from the likes of those stuffed shirts that were at the back of the gallery for becoming a real the pain in the arse to the establishment?" Nikki asked George with gentle concern as all six united once again round the table after eons of time had passed. "I don't wonder that those bastards don't try and put the screws on you and shut you out of the loop, professionally speaking."

"As it happens, they've threatened that already. I loathe admitting it but the prospect did rather scare me. I since decided to take a leaf out of John's book, and stand here and fight them. They don't push me out that easily. If all else fails, I could get a limited amount work in the State of Virginia. I have professional connections there."

"You didn't look today as if you were scared," Trisha said in tones of wonder and respect.

"When I have to, I'm good at keeping up appearances."

"Well, if you fool them into believing you, it can't do any harm," Helen volunteered brightly, impressed with the logic.

"There can be such a condition of too much of a good thing, Helen," George answered in an utterly serious and sincere tone of voice." It is a dangerous failing of the English upper class and those, like John, who have climbed their way into it. It works as a short term fix but I know now that you have to be in tune with how you feel and not lose sight of it and of yourself. I mean that."

"I don't have an emotional belief that goes deeper than that even if the downside is that you sometimes suffer from it. I really couldn't live any other way," Nikki said, her voice slightly shaking and her eyes slightly misty. The force of the remark got to George's emotional core in raising her spirits and validating her newfound beliefs.

"You speak often of John. I can relate to that as well as Nikki does," Helen observed in an even tone of voice disguising her intense interest in how he emerged into the conversation, unbidden.

"We'll remain platonic friends however much we row with each other. We have our daughter Charlie in common. Nikki met her once. I knew a long time ago that we could never live together again. This night has made that possibility doubly remote and I know now where my life and where my heart lives," and here she squeezed Alice's hand reassuringly." Besides, you and Nikki will remain friends of John. You have too much in common with him to avoid that possibility even if you wanted to. I just know that everything will turn out for the best, for all of us. Are we not all sisters under the skin, even John?"

Everyone laughed lightly at George's droll final observation yet they all knew that she had spoken the truth. This was one of those poetic moments that made all of them feel that they were at the right place and time and the truth of their situation was laid out before them with a perfect clarity of beauty.

"I suppose we'll all meet up again here?" Sally Anne suggested after a long pause for contemplation.


"I rather think we will," drawled George in her nonchalant fashion though her glowing eyes belied her speaking manner. The murmured assents of the others was answer enough.

"George, y lucky," said Trisha, venturing her emotional support. "I've known Alice for a fairly long time and she's very warm and sympathetic. She's a good listener."

"I agree with that and the two of you look good together," added Sally Anne with striking simplicity.

"How do you feel right now, Alice?" Helen asked, turning to the other woman.

"Like a million dollars," Alice murmured, looking dreamily and adoringly at George. Her face certainly expressed her feelings clearly enough.

At this point, George's conscience rose to the surface. She had been becoming gradually aware of her conflict in her desire to share this moment of togetherness with the other women, with more direct physical desires growing within her demanding expression. The way things were going, the rest of the night was running dangerously short of time for what they needed to do. The mental picture of the two of them and her spacious bed was becoming more and more beguiling. She looked touchingly embarrassed to the other women and for the first time ever blushed slightly as she finally found the words to express her mixed feelings in a less than self-assured manner.

"I really hate to break up the party but right now, my libido is running over and I really want to take Alice home and let her show me what I've been missing out over the years."

"I know, first night together is always special," Trisha grinned with understanding, glancing sideways at Sally Anne who nodded in agreement. She remembered all right.

"We remember oh so very well," agreed Helen while Nikki smiled dreamily, nostalgia taking her back to what felt like years ago.

"Here, let's have a quick hug before you two race off to bed. Fair compromise," put in Sally Anne, neatly splitting the difference.

The four women each held George and Alice close, physically bestowing their blessings on them before they finally departed. All of them fondly looked on as the two women hastily threaded their way through the crowds to the club door. So much had happened that day, especially tonight.

Scene Thirty-Seven

As Sally Anne she lay in their double bed in the early hours of the morning, she felt conflicting emotions of extreme tiredness and blissful contentment, while she was waiting for Trisha to unbutton her shirt and hang up her suit.

She had been sustained on a mixture of adrenaline and nervous tension while she was in the club until it was as if someone had suddenly cut off her prescription. Her recollections of the later part of the evening at the club grew hazy as she started to nod off in a chair from time to time while Trisha somehow squeezed energy from out of nowhere to carry on with the party. The music meandered in and out of her dreams in a half sleeping , half waking reality. Sally wasn't aware of it but her blond haired lover had kept a careful eye on her and her soft affectionate gaze lingered protectively over Sally.

"Wake up, sleepyhead," a very familiar voice finally whispered into her indistinct dreams until her eyes blinked half open. She felt Trisha's arms drape across her breasts from behind her and her cheek nudging affectionately against hers made her feel wanted.

"You've had a long hard day and I'm ready to close up the club."

"Do you want a hand, Trisha?" she asked apologetically. "I'm sorry I've dozed off."

"Is it any wonder what you've been through," Trisha said with the utmost tenderness. "You're fine where you are, babes. When I'm ready, I'll give you a hand to the car."

She recalled stumbling along, her arm draped round Trisha's shoulder and the blonde haired woman's willing strength half carrying her to the car. When they hit the cool night air, a little of Sally's strength returned to her to carry her back home and to finally strew her clothes on the floor any old how.

So it was that the dark haired woman waited sleepily for her lover to join her. She couldn't wait for her to finally slide into bed and feel their naked skin against each other.

"This is so much better, darling," Sally Anne murmured as she sleepily caressed Trisha She softly kissed the tip of her elegant nose and then brushed her mouth. The feeling of Trisha hugging made her feel whole again.

"There's one thing that bothers me though."

"And what's that, babes."

"After all we've come through and the celebration at the club and everything being so perfect, I really want to make the rest of the night special. I've got the day off tomorrow…." she murmured, feeling Trisha's lips smile from the texture of her fingers brushing her skin, "……but I'm not sure I have the energy to make love."

"Darling," Trisha said in the most melting, loving tones that Sally had ever heard. "I understand perfectly how you must be feeling. "We've been lovers for the four months

and we've been through so much today. Really, I don't feel that much better as your trial has been mine as well, emotionally speaking. My heart was with you every inch of the way while you were on the stand and being so brave. I was thinking to myself, that's my girlfriend out there."

While Trisha spoke so eloquently, stripped of any sense of acting cool, she emphasized her loving feelings by running her fingers through Sally's long, dark hair and softly kissing her neck. Warm feelings ran through Sally-Anne in response and made her feel good inside.

"Besides, it means that I'm not going to feel rejected, don't worry. That's the joy of having a lover you can rely on. It means that there's all the time in the world for everything. That's what long term relationships are about."

"You know that from living all those years with Nikki. Don't worry, babes, I cannot be jealous of the past loves that you've shared."

"We learnt so much together which one night stands can't compare with. This is partly why Nikki's relationship with Helen is so rock solid, the other reason being Helen's own special qualities. I so want us to share my knowledge with you without you being some kind of protégée. That would demean you. Because you have your strengths, babes, that I've fallen in love with. You've come such a long way so quickly."

The soft bedside light cast beams of light that made Trisha's flowing blond hair looked bleached white while her face was in shadows. She looked so beautiful to Sally Anne as her mellow voice caressed her as much as her fingers did. Sally smiled sleepily in gratitude and softly kissed Trisha on her forehead, her cheeks the tip of her nose and her mouth. Her lips felt Trisha's slow smile, and the other woman wrapped her arms affectionately round Sally in her thanks for just being there. They lay next to each other in the peace and the soft quietness.

"What's happened today has taken the heat off us. We won't have to struggle so hard. I feel hopeful for our future."

"Oh of course, I, we'll be getting thirty grand from Metropolitan Police. I quite forgot," Sally Anne declared with open-mouthed innocence.

"You are so sweet, babes," Trisha said so tenderly. Aside from Nikki who came equals, her lover was the least grasping, least selfish woman she'd ever met. She sensed from Sally Anne's thoughtful expression that she was trying to frame some proposition and Trisha waited patiently. From what she'd heard of Nikki's relationship with Helen at Larkhall, she concluded that everything comes to she who waits. She ought to take a leaf out of their book.

"There's something else I was thinking about while I was half asleep in the club, Trisha. I know you've been run off your feet after you sacked Gill, Are you thinking about getting some more help?"

"You mean another outsider? No thanks babes. The longer I run the club, the more I want to keep things in house unless you have someone in mind."

The slight questioning, hoping look in Trisha's eyes made Sally finally pop the question.

"You know, I've felt more at home, more comfortable at the club than ever before. I feel I can stretch out a bit, try something new, work with you in the club full time. This isn't something that came out of therapy but I considered it all by myself."

"Babes," declared Trisha, her voice slightly shaking with emotion," you really want to give up your job? I've never asked you before as I thought you wanted that bit of independence, something you feel comfortable with."

"It's not been the job of my life, only my security blanket, something I could cling to that felt familiar. You think it over in the morning and figure out what I could do."

"Is this your own sweet way of demonstrating that we're here for the long run, babes?"

"I suppose it must be. Definitely maybe. We'll be working and living together, won't we. I think that makes sense," Sally Anne murmured sleepily.

"Darling, you don't know what this means to me," Trisha said, her voice edged with naked emotion. She had always tended to act cool and 'darling' was a rare form of endearment for her. She ran her fingers delicately over Sally Anne's breasts and stroked her nipples. The dark haired woman felt sleepily romantic and tender and desires started to well up in her.

"Are you really so sure you want your sleep more than anything else, sweet lover of mine?"

"Definitely not so sure, Sally mumbled into Trisha's lips and she gradually eased her glamorous blonde onto her back as the rhythms between them pressed back and forth. Trisha slowly wrapped her legs around Sally Anne who pressed herself up against her. Yes, everything was becoming more possible in their lives thanks to the events of the day and she felt more open to their gentle lovemaking.

Their bedside light had one last glimpse of Sally's back as it curved and her hips pressed forwards while her dark locks lay in a tangle. Their murmurous sounds of sighing satisfaction gradually gathered apace. Trisha smiled blissfully and her tongue slowly penetrated into her lover's mouth while one slim arm reached out and clicked off the light.

By contrast with Sally Anne and Trisha's sleepily romantic lovemaking, George and Alice were lustfully passionate, their molten passion finally boiling open. They staggered down the street, their arms wrapped round each other, kissing each other frantically. For a split second, Alice stared open eyed at George's steel grey BMW convertible car whose passenger door opened up invitingly for her, a real mistress car. How George drove them to her flat was one of those agonies of indecision, the dilemma of giving way and touching and tasting each other there and then or of barely restraining their appetites and somehow getting to their destination to more thoroughly enjoy each other's bodies later on. It was the craziest drive of their lives. Somehow, George fumbled inside her handbag for her front door key to let them in while Alice's body was wrapped round her, expert fingers caressing her. They started to unbutton each other along the way to George's kingsize double bed. For one moment, they both stood in awe of each other when they arrived and feasted their eyes on each other. Both white lacy top and businesslike shirt had become three quarters unbuttoned and Alice gazed longingly at George's ripe womanly figure, her white lacy bra barely concealing her full breasts and glorious cleavage. Her skirt had ridden up and her shapely legs were shown off to full advantage. In turn, George was captivated by Alice's sleek body and small breasts. Her slim legs under tight fitting trousers seemed to go on forever. George had never before felt her lusts running over and that tiny reservation at the back of her mind was abolished, in other words, how would she actually set about making love with another woman?

"Darling, you are absolutely gorgeous. What have I been thinking of to miss out for so long?" came her husky drawling tones dripping with sexual allure that made Alice's own desires boil over.

'You are an absolute babe. You lie back and I'll show you. I want to make love all night long," came Alice's sensual reply. This term of endearment from one woman to another thrilled George to her core and seemed so right to her.

They quickly discarded what was left of their clothing and slipped into the softness of the bed. George was riding on the crest of a wave high at the feel of the incredibly smooth skin next to hers while her nipples stood out like diamonds. They kissed each other deeply and ran their fingers all over each other's bodies. Alice was excited at the feel of the other woman's tongue as the sleek contours of her back were lovingly explored as she moved on top of George. She ran her lips and tongue all over George's face and neck whose breath came in ragged short bursts. Her lips begged out for her skin to be licked and tasted. George's hand reached out for Alice's and eagerly guided it down the length of those glorious curves and down towards where she ached for contact.

"Oh God, Alice, Oh God, Oh God, Oh God. This feels so good. It's better than I could even believe possible," George cried out. She moaned with pleasure and her back arched as she thrust hard against the certainty of those fingers that coaxed her to excitement. The pleasures of satisfying George's rampant desires gave Alice that dizzying feeling of accomplishment, that feeling of being wanted and brought up her own desires to clamour for attention. George finally came to a long shuddering orgasm and her juices ran over and she took a long time for all her impulses to finally run through her system. Alice sensed that George had never really been properly made love to even while her blonde lover took this voyage of discovery into the unknown with sublime confidence. Jesus, this woman had so much nerve, she thought to herself in total adoration.

"You never know how good that feels inside, Alice darling," George gasped out as she tried to catch her breath while Alice stared with desire at the golden beauty of her lover and patiently waited for her to catch her breath. George could feel the movements of Alice's body against hers and a further shiver of excitement ran through her as she thought of the delicious pleasures in store for her lover.

"You must have waited simply ages for me to indulge my pleasures. Because you are so patient, only my absolute best can possibly be good enough for you."

They moved fluidly around in the bed and Alice lay back, her arms spread open while George stared lustfully down at her lover. It excited her to be given total control of her lovemaking and as she descended to meet Alice, she was overjoyed how Alice's expert fingers ran down her back and over the roundness of her buttocks. After kissing her deeply and exploring her lover's delicate neck muscles, George smoothly slid her way down the dark haired woman and her lips made their erratic pattern to Alice's breasts in turn and her shapely lips and soft tongue lovingly coaxed every atom of pleasure out of her. What made Alice's juices start flowing and her body moving was the very purposeful way that George reluctantly left her rock hard nipples alone and her tongue and lips continued to move down her body. Alice's thighs opened in anticipation as George's tongue boldly entered her wetness and started to sensually lick her to distraction with all the self-assurance in the world. To Alice, this was so confidently and essentially George and her pure love for George carried her to an emotional high that she had never touched before.

"Oh Jesus, George. You feel so good, so amazing. Keep doing this to me."

Alice gave way completely to the sharp rhythms inside her hips and sharp cries of ecstasy sprang from her lips as George's arms wound her way round her body and caressed her breasts. This was such a heavenly experience and this unbelievable woman took her to the top and over into most intense orgasm that she had experienced for a long time. She shook her head from side to side in delirious joy.

"You taste so good, darling. Is this absolute Garden of Eden of pleasure what those narrow minded right minded people get so fearful," George whispered huskily against Alice's flat stomach, planting little kisses on it.

"It's so different once you know," laughed Alice, still catching her breath from the aftershocks running through her. "Have you really never made love to a woman before?" she asked incredulously.

"The first time ever with another woman but definitely not the last time with you," George drawled lasciviously and with no sense of embarrassment. She slid up Alice's body so she could look down on the beauty of her face and her long sweeping hair.

"Am I that much better than the men in your past?"

"You can't be serious, darling. It is as if a wine connoisseur had been stuck with the cheapest supermarket plonk and suddenly discovered the finest Champagne. Not even John is as good as you."

"I am glad to hear it," Alice said in slightly formal tones.

George got the message straightaway. She needed to explain her complicated past very rapidly. She could not lose that moment.

"Darling, you don't have to worry about John. I had a talk, oh ages ago, or so it seems when he tried to seduce me in his charming way. I knew then that going back to him simply wasn't possible. There were too many unresolved conflicts around which John isn't interested in resolving. I made that perfectly clear to him and he accepts it. I didn't know then that I would be into women. He'll be a good friend and no more. Anyway, enough about John. I am now your very passionate and very demanding girlfriend – how I love the sound of that word 'girlfriend.' "

Alice melted where she lay as she heard that incredibly tender tone in George's word of endearment for her and at the entranced way that George savoured the word 'girlfriend' in her mouth. She reached out and wrapped her arms joyfully round George's bare shoulders.

"I'm looking forward to making love with you all night and waking up to realize that my dearest friend is also alongside me. I've really never experienced that before. I've never been so happy in my life. You are my perfect lover in every sense of the word," George said, her drawling tones suddenly giving way to tremors of emotion and a few teardrops fell on Alice's shoulder to her amazement.

"Never mind me being soppy, Alice darling. It's all my wasted years or not believing how good life can be."

"Come and lie down next to me, babes," Alice murmured with all the affection in the world, sliding her hands round George's shoulders so their bodies could resume contact. This was pure George that she was feeling and hearing. The feeling of smooth skin against smooth skin was an enchanted novelty to George.

"The night is still young," George drawled softly and seductively into Alice's ear,"I love talking to you and lying naked next to you but surely we're not going to settle down to sleep. That would be such a frightful waste, especially our first night together. Just remind me again what I've been missing over the years in case I forget."

The blond haired woman slid onto her back, her arms spread out and smouldering with desire, looked up expectantly at Alice. The dark haired woman shook her head in joyful disbelief. She couldn't believe her incredibly good fortune that her lover, so new to lesbian love making, was so expert and unashamed. It was enough for Alice to seriously believe in reincarnation as her own desires rose up in her.

"You really aren't going to play the part of Miss Innocent. I wouldn't believe you if you did," Alice said, matching George's sensuality.

"The very idea of that," George riposted, her fingers tracing a delicate pattern up Alice's slender arm.

"I'll look after you for a very, very long time. I know it," Alice huskily promised her in tone of voice mixing tenderness and desire. As she slowly kissed George's neck, she savoured the feelings of pleasures rising up in George whose body started to move and she moaned softly to herself. Both women rejoiced in the infinity of time while the dark haired woman carefully savoured her lover's body who tenderly touched Alice's bare skin in return. George finally shivered in delight as Alice finally got to taste her sweet juices. This was sheer heaven, she breathed into the intimacy of the night. As she cried out in ecstacy, George was blissfully conscious how free she was to give of herself entirely to her lover, without cynicism, without reservations.

"We're home at last, sweetheart," sang out a very tired Helen to Nikki as their tired bones dragged their way up the steps to the flat's front door. Helen turned her key in the lock while Nikki's arm hung loosely draped round her shoulders. Somehow, watching their two friends go through the ordeal that they had gone through had emotionally been their fight as well. This lad led to an emotional kickback to which was added the physical tiredness of dancing all night at Chix. Neither of them could forget that Sally Anne's sheer courage in speaking up in court had helped Nikki so much in getting free in the first place. Both women knew that Trisha had deftly steered Nikki in Helen's direction in the club after Nikki had got her freedom. They both collapsed on the bed in utter exhaustion and lay there silently.

"I was just wondering, Nikki, why on earth that two women aren't allowed to get married," Helen said flatly, completely out of nowhere and the half-light of the room.

"Why indeed?" smiled Nikki. This was an old question to her that had been buried by the way life was, by the utter lack of prospects of the laws ever being changed. She'd lived with Trisha for nine years and had once been the only women with whom that possibility had ever existed." You should know by now the way that laws are written to support straight marriages even in these days of marriage breakdowns, left, right and centre."

"We should get John Deed on the case," laughed Helen.

"I really am not sure just how gay friendly he is on principle. We relate well enough to him and he relates to us because we're all fighting the same battles. Us being lesbians seems incidental to his point of view."

"Tell you what, babes, if he thought that it would put a spoke in the establishment's wheel, he'd get on the case all right," laughed Helen in response to Nikki's musing out loud.

"In any case, if my imperfect legal knowledge serves me right, he can make case law but I don't suppose he is best buddies with those who write the legislation."

"In any case, I feel we're married, right enough," murmured Helen softly.

"It's been that way between the two of us right from the word go. Some women feel why spoil a good thing but I'm not one of those," Nikki said with great satisfaction as her hand reached out to Helen's lips to be kissed.

Nikki became conscious of the slightly crumpled feel of her and reluctantly faced up to pressing responsibilities.

"We really ought to take our clothes off and get into bed," sighed Nikki as she stared round the room. Duty called one of them to say something in that direction. Both women dragged themselves to their feet, kicked off their shoes and slung trousers, shirts and underwear on top of the chest of drawers. They slipped into bed and lay on their sides, looking thoughtfully at each other.

"I was thinking to myself…..can you remember that time we kissed and held hands in the arts room at Larkhall?" Helen asked in tentative tones as her head lay on the pillow and her hand lay on Nikki's breasts.

"Do I not," exclaimed Nikki with a broad smile on her face." I remember every word of that conversation. Picturing you in that black top and remembering the way we kissed kept me warm inside on far too many cold lonely nights in that cell of mine."

"Can you remember me saying that I wanted kids some day," murmured Helen.

'Yeah," Nikki said in a distracted fashion as if to say that it had not been foremost in her attention." I do remember but I'd always thought that both of us had troubles dealing with the idea of Happy Families. To be honest, I hadn't thought any further about it since then."

"You mean neither of us have had the best experience of the man and wife and two point four children situation," mused Helen reflectively, a faraway look in her eyes," though it beats me how you can have point four of a child."

Nikki laughed loudly at Helen's irreverent humour and fondly stroked the lock of brown hair that flicked over her lover's eye.

"I'd never really thought beyond getting settled as a couple with nothing to disturb our peace and float around letting us see where life takes us," Nikki's musical voice slowly articulated her thoughts as ideas came off the top of her head." From my experience of women I've known as just friends and lovers, relationships do break up from time to time and there's never that sense for the long term. You like to plan ahead, Helen, it's natural to you and I've come to see that there's something, I mean a lot in what you think when you come up with new ideas. The idea of us seriously having a child together seems all very new to me but I can sense that I could relate to this one, I mean emotionally and practically. You have to let me mull this over in my own good time."

An appealing look of half fear, half attraction was written all over Nikki's sensitive features. Helen read that expression as clear as if it were written on a page.

"You've made as much a promise as I could expect of you," Helen said softly and a feeling of relief swept over Nikki's face.

"There's one problem though," Nikki continued thoughtfully with a straight face.

"And what's that?" Helen asked with a sharp look on her face.

"I can't make you pregnant or is there something I'm missing," Nikki grinned cheekily.

Helen exploded in laughter and looked in vain for a spare pillow to swat Nikki in the face with for mischievously winding her up.

"You get on pretty well with your parents these days and it's possible they'd support us," Helen pursued. Nikki sighed as her tired mind struggled to give the idea a fair hearing.

"Yeah, my dad. My very unpredictable, conservative father who you never know when he'll come up with some marvellous flight of insight and understanding just to say 'aha, fooled you,'" Nikki replied in affectionately ironic tones. "Yeah, he might just like the idea. Perhaps, we should be open to new ideas."

Nikki ran her fingers lovingly down Helen's smooth curving flanks. She knew every inch of her shapely curves just as Helen's fingers could trace the same for her. Equally important for them, their shared intimacy of thought made them psychically inextricable.

"I remember in Paris you looking the wrong way when you went to cross the road," Helen said softly as she tenderly curled a lock of Nikki's black hair behind her ear.

"You said that you didn't want a widow on your hands."

"I was never so frightened right at the moment when we were having the time of our lives. I would feel so incomplete, as if I'd lost half of myself."

"Darling, I promise to watch my step. I'll never forget the look on your face. It has made me careful, believe me………….There's only one problem about having a child, mystically significant though it is," Nikki said softly into Helen's ear while she planted kisses on the smaller woman's cheeks,"………and that is what about our sex life?"

"Aha," Helen grinned as her fingers slowly caressed Nikki's left nipple," I wonder when you would get onto that subject."

'Well, you know how much it means to us," Nikki said in coaxing terms while she pressed herself against Helen." One of the delightful thought on my mind when I finish work is that we can make love whenever and wherever we want to."

"We don't have sex every night. Enough of your euphemisms, babes," Helen retorted pertly, as her fingers slowly travelled inch by inch down Nikki's stomach.

"Well, yes, if you want to put it that way," admitted Nikki as she started to tingle inside and sensual desire started to rise up within her." I know what point you're making right now."

"I don't beat about the bush. You know that by now," Helen said sensually as her fingers reached down to the center of her desires.

"Oh yes, yes, yes. Keep trying to convince me," gasped Nikki as she felt Helen's expert pressure on her.

"I'll make you sign a binding agreement if you put it that way," Helen said in her best sultry tones as she pressed herself up against Nikki and leaned over, her full breasts in view.

"You're so unfair," complained Nikki as delicious shivers rose in her."You've got me at a hopeless disadvantage to argue with you………..I mean what would we do if we were like this and our baby started crying out for, I don't know, because something upset her. Are we capable of being that unselfish to break off from our climaxes? You have to think of things like that."

"Very good, Ms Wade." Helen smiled, admiring the way her lover swung her own form of persuasion back onto herself." I really don't know the answer. I mean how do straight couples manage?"

"I suspect very badly."

"Where there's a will, there's a way."

"I tell you what. I have the answer," Nikki gabbled at rapid pace as Helen expertly brought her up to a climax." Let's check out at Chix if there are any mothers who go there. They can't all be either singles or couples. We research this properly and take it a stage at a time and work out what we'd be letting ourselves in for. There are all sorts of possibilities….."

Nikki's voice rose in pitch and intensity until her voice finally rose to a heartfelt wail. Her body felt as if it were uncontrollable, like a train at express speed threatening to hurtle off the track as she approached orgasm.

"…..Meanwhile, please stop tormenting me with this discussion. I can't stand it."

A smile of pleasure spread across Helen's face as she considered Nikki's inspiration. She

leaned over her lover and she kissed Nikki's cheek and sought out her mouth, which opened wide for her tongue to reach deep inside her. Her fingers bore down on the taller woman whose cries of ecstasy and the rapid movements of her body told Helen that she was right on the mark in both senses.

"You are the biggest tease in the world, babes," Nikki said hoarsely as her lungs were heaving to gulp in much needed oxygen." It's my turn to pleasure you. Never mind the time of night as I'm in the mood."

She looked up at the strong jaw line, the full lips, the straight determined nose of her lover, and her incredible jewel like grey green eyes all framed by her somehow perfect bob of mid brown hair. The roundness of her body as it hung protectively over her was like bliss. She loved the feel of her lover's body resting against hers. She smiled to herself as she figured out that the very forceful yet loving Ms Stewart relished nothing else than a challenge and knew for certain that she was with her every inch of the way and always would be. She waited eagerly for her lover to move so that she could taste of her sweetness. Whatever pleasures she wanted with Helen would assuredly come and, yes, she started to think that any offspring of their love would be pretty amazing. It was all part of their future and their wide assortment of dear friends would be queuing up to be godparents.

Scene Thirty-Eight

"We're home at last, sweetheart," sang out a very tired Helen to Nikki as their aching bones dragged their way up the steps to the flat's front door. Helen turned her key in the lock while Nikki's arm hung loosely draped round her shoulders. Somehow, watching their two friends go through the ordeal that they had gone through had emotionally been their fight as well. This had led to an emotional kickback to which was added the physical tiredness of dancing all night at Chix. Neither of them could forget that Sally Anne's sheer courage in speaking up in court had helped Nikki so much in getting free in the first place. Both women knew that Trisha had deftly steered Nikki in Helen's direction in the club after Nikki had got her freedom. Helen clicked on a low light and they both collapsed on the bed in utter exhaustion. They lay there silently and stared awhile at the ceiling.

"Another battle fought and won and a fantastic party afterwards. I'm really happy for Sally Anne and Trisha. It's a thirty six hour day or feels like that," spoke Helen at last, wondering if she was making any sense.

"It feels great at the time but I wouldn't care to live like that every day," Nikki's weary voice responded." I bet you the Knights of the Round Table had to go someplace to chill out after slaying the dragon or rescuing some damsel in distress."

Helen grinned at Nikki's quirky sense of humour and turned her face sideways to look at her profile.

"I can't help thinking how times change," Nikki said at last.

"How do you mean?"

"Look at it like this, darling. Years ago when I was sent down, all I knew were the women from Chix. That was my world. Authority in general was stacked against me. That was all I knew. I now have a one time prison governor as my lover…."

"Acting governing governor," put in Helen, the precisionist to Nikki's accompanying smile at Helen's endearing little ways.

"…..two barristers, a high court judge and his friends who'll look kindly on us. Monty Everard despite appearances otherwise has done wonders for Sally-Anne who knew that she has a female lover but that didn't bother him. My parents have come around to being proper family and now the old boys network in the Metropolitan Police have been made to look total idiots. That's progress if you like- and comeuppance for Gossard. I wonder how Fenner's taken the news."

Helen laughed out loud at Nikki's sharp and witty observations, appreciating their serious nature as well. It made her thoughts meander all over the place till a thought popped up from nowhere.

"I was just wondering, Nikki, why on earth that two women aren't allowed to get married," Helen said flatly, as they lay on their bed in the half-light of the room.

"Why indeed?" smiled Nikki. This was an old question to her that had been buried by the way life had been, by the utter lack of prospects of the laws ever being changed. She'd lived with Trisha for nine years and had once been the only women with whom that possibility had ever existed.

"You should know by now the way that laws are written to support straight marriages even in these days of marriage breakdowns, left, right and centre."

"We should get John Deed on the case," laughed Helen.

"I really am not sure just how gay friendly he is on principle but I wouldn't underrate him in any way. We relate well enough to him and he relates to us because we're all fighting the same battles. Us being lesbians seems no problem to his point of view."

"Tell you what, babes, if he thought that it would put a spoke in the establishment's wheel, he'd get on the case all right," laughed Helen in response to Nikki's musing out loud.

"In any case, if my imperfect legal knowledge serves me right, he can make case law but I don't suppose he is best buddies with those who make the legislation. God knows, he's pissed off enough of them. He spells danger."

"In any case, I feel we're married, right enough," murmured Helen softly.

"I've felt the same way from the word go. Some women feel why spoil a good thing but I'm not one of those," Nikki said with great satisfaction as her hand reached out to Helen's lips to be kissed.

Nikki became conscious of the slightly crumpled feel of her and reluctantly faced up to pressing responsibilities.

"We really ought to take our clothes off and get into bed," sighed Nikki as she stared round the room. Duty called one of them to say something in that direction. Both women dragged themselves to their feet, kicked off their shoes and slung trousers, shirts and underwear on top of the chest of drawers. They slipped into bed and Helen cradled Nikki's head in the crook of her arm, lying against each other and stroking each other's hair gently. That felt much more comfortable. Both of them were in a dreamy reflective state of mind, tired but happy. In such moments of intimacy, their thoughts floated easily to the surface and shaped themselves into words.

"I was thinking to myself…..can you remember that time we kissed and held hands in the arts room at Larkhall?" Helen asked in tentative tones as her head lay on the pillow and her hand lay on Nikki's breasts.

"Do I not," exclaimed Nikki with a broad smile on her face." I remember every word of that conversation. Picturing you in that black top and remembering the way we kissed kept me warm inside on far too many cold lonely nights in that cell of mine."

"Can you remember me saying that I wanted kids some day," murmured Helen.

'Yeah," Nikki said in a distracted fashion as if to say that it had not been foremost in her attention." I do remember but I'd always thought that both of us had troubles dealing with the idea of Happy Families. To be honest, I hadn't thought any further about it since then."

"You mean neither of us have had the best experience of the man and wife and two point four children situation," mused Helen reflectively, a faraway look in her eyes," though it beats me how you can have point four of a child."

Nikki laughed loudly at Helen's irreverent humour and fondly stroked the lock of brown hair that flicked over her lover's eye.

"I'd never really thought beyond getting settled as a couple with nothing to disturb our peace and float around letting us see where life takes us," Nikki's musical voice slowly articulated her thoughts as ideas came off the top of her head." From my experience of women I've known as just friends and lovers, relationships do break up from time to time and there's never that sense for the long term. The idea of us seriously having a child together seems all very new to me - and unknown territory for both of us," Nikki added, divining what the next thought was taking shape in Helen's mind. An appealing look of half fear, half attraction was written all over Nikki's sensitive features. Helen read that expression as clear as if it were written on a page.

"It's just an idea, Nikki, that crossed my mind tonight. I really don't know any more of babies and pregnancy than you do. My one and only experience of ever holding a baby is on the rooftop of the medical wing. You remember the time that Zandra Plackett went up onto the roof as she thought that I'd get her baby taken away from her? I really can't remember any mystical feeling, not at that height with a sheer drop down to the courtyard."

"I remember seeing you up there as if it were the other day. I remember thinking 'That's my woman up there,'" murmured Nikki as she kissed Helen's neck softly and felt the smaller woman enfold her all the tighter. The memory of the past clasped hands with the romantic haze of the here and now. In the heavenly silence, Nikki ran her fingers lovingly down Helen's smooth curving flanks. She knew every inch of her shapely curves just as Helen's fingers could trace the same for her. Equally important for them, their shared intimacy of thought made them psychically inextricable

"There's one problem though," Nikki continued thoughtfully with a straight face out of nowhere.

"And what's that?" Helen asked with a sharp look on her face.

"I don't think I can make you pregnant or is there something I've overlooked?" Nikki grinned cheekily.

Helen exploded in laughter and looked in vain for a spare pillow to swat Nikki in the face for mischievously winding her up.

"We'll cross that bridge if and when we come to it. There's no hurry. I don't feel like hurrying anything tonight."

"The thing to remember is that we have choices, darling, and whatever comes up in life we can deal with it. There's so much shit we had to deal with before we became lovers, full time."

The two women lay there in the peace and quiet, satisfied by their conclusion of the lazy ebb and flow of conversation. There wasn't much traffic that passed by their house so the regular murmuring sound and the dim lights made them feel sleepy as they fell silent for a bit.

"Coming back to that first romantic meeting, I mean not the first time we kissed….." Helen said in sleepy tones.

"Guess we've always been lovers even when neither of us knew it," murmured Nikki softly.

"No matter how hard things got, you were never not in my mind nor I not in yours," Helen lazily confessed, sliding neatly over the painful memories of their break up. That had been healed by their months of living together.

""….I mean, I remember telling you that I didn't know what to expect from a relationship with you. I mean, I definitely thought in those terms. There were no signposts, which for some strange reason I felt I needed. It's funny," laughed Helen dreamily, the soft light of nostalgia in her eyes," it all seems a long time ago. It seems so natural living with you and all my exes, totally unnatural."

"Some things take time, darling," Nikki pronounced, her mellow tones curving delightfully round Helen's senses." You forget, that when I was younger, I could work out all my mistakes in my relationships. Once I left home, the last thing I had to worry about is whether or how I should come and go as I pleased, was anyone watching me, and all that shit from Larkhall."

"It was Friday November 24th last year when you got out and we started living together, sweetheart, and it is Wednesday August 3rd today so we're headed for our first anniversary. We should celebrate it, somehow."

"…….and we knew so much about each other before we got out freedom. yeah, why not have a party at Chix."

"I remember in Paris you looking the wrong way when you went to cross the road," Helen said softly as she tenderly curled a lock of Nikki's black hair behind her ear as they shuffled back and forth through time.

"You said that you didn't want a widow on your hands."

"I was never so frightened right at the moment when we were having the time of our lives. I would feel so incomplete, as if I'd lost half of myself."

"Darling, I promise to watch my step. I'll never forget the look on your face. It has made me careful, believe me…………."

"It's strange seeing Sally-Anne and Trisha and George and Alice starting out, perhaps going through their changes together. I wish with all my heart that they find the same happiness and contentment that we've got."

Helen looked at Nikki's face and marvelled at her beauty. Her slightly boyish, sideways parting and the way her hair curled over her ears complemented her beautiful soulful brown eyes, her perfectly formed lips and heart shaped face. She could study her for ages.

"It's nice lying here together, darling. Somehow, I don't feel like going to sleep just yet," murmured Nikki, the suspicions of a smile lurking at the corners of her lips.

While Helen hung in the soft padded luxury of their bed, it seemed to heal their tiredness. She lazily ran her fingers down Nikki's neck and skirted her breasts. It made her start to feel good and perhaps some of her energy was starting to return after all. Nikki's fingertips stroked the line of her cheekbone and she reached sideways to plant a gentle kiss on Helen's full lips and then another. That sensation and the sight of her large eyes and straight nose reminded Nikki of Helen's beauty.

"Neither do I. You did fix up to have the morning off as today was bound to be a pretty intense one and you know how post trial celebrations go. You have to be prepared, you know," Helen's voice spoke against Nikki's ear, her lips brushing against it.

"I've learnt to be organized, darling. I mean it was our celebration as well. You can bet your bottom dollar that Trisha and Sally Anne aren't saying to each other 'Not tonight Josephine' not to mention George and Alice," Nikki's mellow voice replied with that alluring edge to her voice as she realized that she was starting to feel lazily and sexily aroused.

A smile of pleasure spread across Helen's face as she considered Nikki's delightful insinuation. She leaned over her lover and she kissed Nikki's cheek. Helen sought out her mouth, which opened wide for her tongue to reach deep inside her. She moved over the body of her dark haired lover and her hands slid down the length of that perfect body while Nikki's hands lovingly caressed Helen with total familiarity of her contours.

Their bodily rhythms moved together in ways that felt both totally familiar and special

With ever increasing certainty, Helen's fingers bore down on the taller woman whose sounds of growing sexual pleasure and the movements of her body told Helen that she was right on the mark in both senses.

"You are the best lover in the world, babes," Nikki said hoarsely as her lungs were heaving to gulp in much needed oxygen after Helen had coaxed her to a long satisfying orgasm." It's my turn to pleasure you. Never mind the time of night as I'm definitely in the mood."

She looked up at the strong jaw line, the full lips, the straight determined nose of her lover, and her incredible jewel like grey green eyes all framed by her somehow perfect bob of mid brown hair. The roundness of her body as it hung protectively over her was like bliss. She loved the feel of her lover's body resting against hers and waited eagerly for her lover to move so that she could taste of her sweetness. Whatever pleasures she wanted with Helen would assuredly come and, yes, some random thought idly considered that any offspring of their love might be pretty amazing considering their intense commitment to each other against all the odds against them in the first place. Their future looked so good and it was theirs to decide along with all their wide assortment of dear friends who would say yes to whatever they decided.

Both women looked overawed as they luxuriated in the past, present and future and that their friends fanned out all around them like some protective halo. What could be more perfect?

The End

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