Till Death Do Us Part
By Kristine and Richard
Part One Hundred and One
As soon as court had adjourned, John asked Coope to summon Nikki Wade to his chambers. This was becoming a habit, he mused to himself as he waited for her, putting witnesses under the spotlight because they intrigued him, either professionally or sexually. Well, if Nikki Wade had interested him sexually, he wouldn't have got anywhere with her anyway, so he supposed that not having that issue at hand was probably a good thing. When Coope appeared and asked Nikki to accompany her to John's chambers, Yvonne quipped,
"Make sure you keep your chastity belt on up there, won't you." Giving her a tired smile, Nikki said,
"He wouldn't be able to work out the combination lock in a million years."
"Do you want me to wait for you?" Helen asked. "Only I've got a patient to see at four-thirty."
"No, you get off, I'll be fine," Nikki told her, wondering just why the judge wanted to see her.
When Nikki appeared and was shown in by Coope, John rose from behind his desk and offered her an encouraging smile.
"This isn't a slap on the wrist for the admirable way you treated Brian Cantwell, I promise."
"I did wonder," Nikki replied with a smile of her own. "As I have been warned that your punishments for such indiscretions are legendary." John laughed, and then offered her a cup of tea. "Nothing would be more welcome," Nikki said as she sat down in one of the comfortable armchairs. Asking Coope to bring them some tea, John sat down opposite her.
"So," Nikki asked when the tea had arrived. "To what do I owe the pleasure?"
"You are the third witness in this infamous trial to thoroughly intrigue me," John was forced to admit.
"Like a book that requires further study, am I?" Nikki asked with a raised eyebrow.
"That's one way of putting it, yes," John replied dryly. "Brian Cantwell, in his usual, utterly transparent fashion, did his absolute best in trying to break your cool, yet you managed to remain thoroughly restrained throughout, even when he was calling your past out of the woodwork for all to examine at their will."
"My past hasn't and never will be behind any woodwork, Judge," Nikki said a little regretfully. "I've been explaining myself since the age of sixteen, and that part of my life will probably never stop. I can't say it wasn't something I didn't expect from him."
"To the likes of Brian Cantwell, you are something of an anomaly that he will never come to understand. You have undoubtedly killed a man, yet you now work as a wing governor for the prison service, in the very prison in which you were incarcerated. Do you ever find that this provides you with professional conflict of interest?"
"Sure," Nikki said without a flicker. "Almost every day, especially when it concerns someone like Barbara, or the Julies, or anyone who's still there from the time I was there as an inmate. I'm the first con to turn screw that they know of, so they try every trick in the book to get me to go easy on them. Sometimes I do, sometimes I don't, though I do prefer to look on it as doing things differently, rather than showing favouritism towards those I know personally. Some of the other officers, such as Sylvia Hollamby for instance, loathe the fact that I am in authority above them. They hate it because the tables have been turned so successfully."
"How she ever made it into the prison service, I'll never know," John observed in disgust.
"She's much worse when you're on the cons' side of the wire, believe me," Nikki told him. "Knowing that I do have the necessary standing to sack her, does tend to keep her mildly under control." John smiled broadly.
"The legal profession lost out somewhere along the line," He told her seriously. "You would have made a formidable judge."
"Thank you," Nikki said just as seriously. "But I suspect I would often have become far too involved with the cases before me."
"Who says I don't?" John asked, knowing that he also did that very thing far too often.
"You do," Nikki agreed with him. "But you still somehow manage to keep enough distance to give whoever is before you a fair trial. That takes some incredible force of will if nothing else."
"Perhaps," John agreed, touched by her compliment. "But it doesn't mean that I always get it right."
"Does seducing witnesses come into that category?" Nikki asked without any hint of censure in her voice.
"Has news of my indiscretion reached you too?" John asked a little uncomfortably.
"Most things that reach Helen via the unprofessional route usually reach me too," Nikki informed him. "But we're all capable of it from time to time. How did me and Helen start out if it wasn't the biggest indiscretion in the book?"
"Would you ever do for Helen what you did for your previous partner?" Nikki met his eyes thoughtfully for what seemed an age while she thought about this.
"I don't know," She answered eventually. "That's not a question I can answer without being faced with the situation necessary to require such a decision."
"I'm sorry," John said, knowing that the question had sprung out of curiosity, and realising that it was entirely inappropriate. "I allowed my curiosity to outweigh human decency."
"No, you didn't," Nikki told him kindly. "You asked me something that you've been wanting to ask ever since the day you were first introduced to me, back in the middle of Lauren Atkins' trial. I don't blame you for wanting to know if I could do it again, because you're a member of the sentencing brethren, someone who is by virtue of your standing, forced to hand out mandatory life sentences for murder. You can't help wanting to know what made me capable of doing something so horrific, and you wouldn't be the only one. I probably ask myself that question every time I remember what happened."
"Do you ever come up with an answer?" John asked her quietly, heartily relieved that he hadn't offended her.
"Sometimes I put it down to wanting to protect the woman I loved, sometimes I feel as though it was a different person who killed Gossard, but I'm not stupid enough to believe that it was. All I've ever been able to come up with, is that if you love somebody enough, you'll do anything for them, even if it puts you at the highest risk or in the greatest pain. You might have learnt that already, or it might be something you have yet to learn, I don't know. I'd been nine years with Trish when Gossard started coming into the club as often as possible, frightening away half our clientele."
"Nine years was the length of time I was married to George," John said contemplatively.
"Well, there you are then," Nikki said with half a smile. "You do at least know what it's like to spend that amount of time with someone, whether happy or unhappy. I just hope that there aren't too many policemen around like Gossard, though I don't hold my breath."
"You don't have much faith in the establishment, do you," John said thoughtfully.
"After seeing what some members of the legal profession are capable of, both through my own experiences and those of my inmates, do you blame me?"
"Not in the slightest," John replied without any hesitation. "Far too many solicitors, barristers and judges can be leant on by just a nudge from the right sources, making justice a thing of fantasy. But if necessary when the time comes, I will try to give Barbara both fairness and decency, things that I believe are occasionally seriously lacking in a justice system that thinks it is perfect, just because it has long ago abandoned the death penalty. I can't claim to always do the right thing, but I do try."
Part One Hundred and Two
The tired bodies trooped into court, to take up their accustomed places and roles for one last time. George took the precaution to freshen herself up in the ladies, to look more perfect than she felt. She emerged to catch up with Jo, and was surprised to see her looking pretty alert. Either Jo has laid off the booze, she thought, or appearances could be deceptive.
"Well, George, I never thought that I'd ever get to the end of this trial a sane woman. I've you to thank for it."
"Don't think of it, Jo." Came George's self deprecating reply. "Are you ready to give Cantwell one last going over?"
"It's that pleasure to come that's giving me the energy." Smirked Jo.
It dawned on both of them, that Barbara's destiny would be shortly taken out of their hands, and would lose the burden of responsibility, to make or mar. There would be only one final exchange,and twelve men and women of the jury would be left to decide her fate. By that point, they would have to wait helplessly on the sidelines. George didn't envy them, sifting through the sheer volume of evidence placed before them and the burden upon their shoulders. They saw Brian Cantwell ahead of them , oblivious to everything.
As it became near to the time when court would open, the hitherto deserted courtroom started to take life and shape as a living being. The ushers and court recorder assumed their rightful positions. Upstairs, the gallery became sparsely filled with only Greg and Amanda Hunt on the one side, and Yvonne and Roisin on the other. The two groups maintained the same chilly distance between each other, as when the trial first started.
"I can see why Babs went and clocked him one." Yvonne muttered out of the side of her mouth which made Roisin grin.
"So long as you don't get the same idea, Yvonne. You can get into trouble for something like that." Came the whispered reply.
Up in the Gods, John and Monty paced out in their stately fashion, through the door to their chambers. They peered down through bleary eyes at the courtroom below, before the moment came to commence proceedings in the final act of the grand theatre of justice.
Brian Cantwell had the inward feeling that the game was up. He was only too aware that a succession of exchanges had been weighted against him. The defence witnesses had demonstrated that steel hard determination to hold their ground, against his most severe questioning, and that Jo and George had taken maximum advantage of the patently sincere testimony. He didn't want to think of that infernal battleaxe of a prison officer, whose stupidity had done its best to wreck his case, and he regretted that the defence had managed to pick holes in the evidence given by Connie Beauchamp. Nevertheless, he resolved to think of the bill that he would shortly receive, and he was determined to go out in style, as he delivered his closing speech.
"Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, you have heard character witnesses give purported glowing testimonies as to the character of the accused, but is it not significant that not one of the accused immediate family has stepped forward to testify, someone who has known the accused from an early age and grown up with her. I am not asking you to draw any untoward conclusions, only that the character evidence may not as strong, as it might appear."
While Jo was scribbling notes, George sat back in wonder at Brian Cantwell and she almost felt sorry for him. Given the circumstances, he had done as good a job in trying to convince the jury as to the rightness of his case, but what about his own feelings upon the matter? It was interesting that this question came so easily and quite naturally to her. Except when she was the government's hired legal gun, she had pursued her career with the pick of lucrative civil cases where feelings never came into it. Her role had been to grease the legal wheels of financial accommodations between two parties. This was the first time that she had taken part in a criminal trial, where she was on the right side. She wouldn't want to give way to John's rhapsodies to justice ,but she had to admit that she felt pretty good about herself if it weren't for one matter.
"Now let us come to the charges in question. You will have heard an extraordinary array of well wishers giving evidence as to the psychology, the character of the witness and indeed Uncle Tom Cobley and all. What you have to ask yourself, what does it all add up to? It might be argued that the character of the accused is such, that you feel it is safe to put out of account the possibility that the accused did take the life of Henry Mills. I urge you, the jury, to take the measure of the deceased, someone whose firm strength and Christian convictions would have not lightly voluntarily let go his grip of life, even with the extremities of his sufferings. One of the most significant points drawn out from the accused herself was to hear her describe the deceased as a 'very strong man.' That is suggestive of a man who would not lightly voluntary surrender his grip of life.
Now we come to medical evidence. Amongst the multitude of medical evidence, you should not overlook the testimony of Sam Ryan of a fresh injection mark on the deceased's right thigh, which had caused the overdose of morphine. She further testified that the deceased had not the physical strength to administer the injection himself, something that the accused had been accustomed to doing herself. It is the contention of the Crown that the accused may ,for the most well meaning motives, have conceived the idea of ending the deceased's life in the most merciful fashion possible. Whatever the motivation, the law considers that such an act is a crime as defined by the laws of the land and you must find the accused guilty as charged."
To their surprise, Yvonne and Roisin weren't greatly worried by Brian Cantwell's address. They had unconsciously absorbed the knack in being able to pick out what was really damaging in a case. In Yvonne's eyes, the guy was dealing off the pack with largely sixes and sevens of diamonds with only the occasional jack. He had a great line in bullshitting, and she might have been impressed with his manner at one time. They both knew that they needed to wait to see what Jo or George would come up with. Experience and superstition forbade them in thinking that they would walk it, but there was at least reason to hope.
John noticed with surprise that Brian Cantwell had spoken in such a low key fashion. He had expected endless verbal flourishes to make the most of a weak case but, no, he promptly sat down as if he had finally dealt himself out of the game.
"Thank you Mr. Cantwell." He intoned and sat back in his throne for Jo to reply.
Part One Hundred and Three
On Jo's bench lay the crumpled notes, much thumbed evidence folder, which comprised the fruits of her's and George's labours for the last two weeks, and every question asked over the past five months. Now she was done, and she focused her mind to make one last effort.
"You have heard a considerable volume of evidence but there are three basic questions that I ask you, the jury, to consider. First of all, was it possible for Barbara Mills to take her husband's life , secondly, was she capable of doing so and thirdly, did she do it? I am asking you, the jury, to consider the very valuable evidence of Dr. Kay Scarpetta, Chief Medical Officer of the State of Virginia, whose access to the finest medical analytical techniques have established that, regrettably, it was Henry Mills who took his own life. You may think that a strong minded man would cling resolutely to his own life. Instead, I ask you to consider that a man in the worst extremities of a painful and lingering terminal illness is in the most extreme situation imaginable. Such a person could have taken his life, even the strongest. It is very easy to commit a fallacy in considering the deceased, who my learned counsel man justly described as a very strong man as being strong, whatever the circumstances. You would draw false conclusions as to what he may or may not do. You must remember that months of painful decline can create such a state of desperation that is almost conceivable to imagine. Yet, I am asking you, the jury, to try and make that leap of the imagination."
Jo paused for a second and reached for the mug of water on her bench as, unaccountably, her voice had become hoarse. Entirely focusing her mind on Barbara's plight to the total exclusion of everything else, including herself, she plunged onwards down the leaping line of logic.
"Once you admit that possibility, then Henry Mills engaged that sheer desperation of will to use the last strength within him to reach for the pre prepared morphine syringe at his bedside and to take his own life. It explains why Mrs Mills, in making a cup of tea downstairs would be utterly unprepared for the danger of her leaving her husband's bedside. In the land of the healthy and the living, however tired out, she would, for the one time in her life, have been utterly unable to foresee the train of thought that had formed in her husband's head. The evidence offered by the consultant anaesthetist, Dr Zubin Khan is particularly important because he was closer in experience to the situation. This was because he had the responsibility for overseeing Mr Mills's pain relief. It is to be preferred to Ms Connie Beauchamp because, capable surgeon though she no doubt is, she was further away from the situation. The direction points in one way, and in one way only. Mrs Mills could not have taken her husband's life.
Finally, I must pay tribute to highly professional and insightful evidence offered by Nikki Wade, who has offered compelling evidence from a unique perspective of closeness. It reinforces and is reinforced by Dr Waugh's psychological assessment. It paints a clear picture of a devoted wife of extraordinary clear principles, who was simply not capable of the sort of self-deceit that my learned counsel implies.'Perhaps if I give him an overdose on the quiet, it will put him out of his misery.' That is, after all, what the case of my learned counsel amounts to."
Jo threw those words across the courtroom with a sweeping gesture of the hand and every ounce of scorn to dismiss utterly the central proposition of the prosecution. She let her words hang in the air before resuming in a quieter vein.
"When you put it as crudely as that, how grotesquely improbable it all sounds from all you have heard about the defendant, as opposed to the outpourings of prejudice and bigotry from Mrs Hollamby, whose capacity as a competent and caring prison officer I would seriously question. So in winding up, I urge you, the jury who hold the defendant's life in your hands to acquit her. She couldn't have done it, she wouldn't have done it and she didn't do it."
"Hear hear." George muttered under her breath, smiling reassuringly at Jo as she sat back in her bench exhausted. The final address had taken it out of her more than she had thought. Brian Cantwell kept his head lowered. He had done all that he had been paid to do, and could now view proceedings with a certain degree of detachment.
"It seems a convenient point to adjourn the court for lunchbreak to give all members the court, particularly the jury, a chance of a break. I advise everyone to be back sharp at two so that they will be here for the summing up." John intoned.
Part One Hundred and Four
John turned quietly to Monty as they remained seated, while everyone else had filed out.
"I would be infinitely grateful if we could have a chat, about what form the summing up should take. It would do both of us good."
Monty took one look at John's face, and promptly decided to follow John's lead, wherever it might wander. As they strolled along the corridor, he started to turn matters over in his mind. He had been impressed by the steadiness that John had shown during the trial and his willingness to listen.
"I am aware that for considerable parts of the trial, it might have appeared that you have been relegated to the sidelines." John commenced with a touch of awkwardness. "Believe me, this has not been my intention."
"Nonsense, John. I have felt entirely comfortable throughout the course of the trial. The situation of you as judge and me as winger has worked out amicably enough and business has proceeded efficiently enough and that is the measure of its success. I know that there was a fracas in chambers over that damned woman's testimony but that was speedily resolved. If I had wanted to intervene because you had done anything seriously out of line, I would have told you, either in open court or afterwards. I confess that I was uneasy at the idea when you first suggested the idea in your usual damned persuasive fashion ."
John broke into a slight chuckle at the memory at his exercise in selling ice cream to Eskimoes. He needed some slight amusement.
" .but it has worked out better than I could have dreamed of."
Emboldened by Monty's kind words, John broached a delicate matter.
"I was going to ask you, Monty, if you would you have any problem if I did the summing up? There is the alternative that you do it and a second one that we share the duty and the responsibility."
Monty picked up the hesitant tone in John's voice. This was not the manner of someone craftily angling for power and prestige but John being considerate, responsible and nervous. At one time Monty would never have conceived that John could or would behave in this fashion.
"It is obvious what should happen. You must lead as you have done throughout the trial. I think we should talk about what you're going to say and I can have the opportunity to give advice. Quite frankly, I would very much hesitate in doing the summing up myself."
John beamed at Monty's sturdy common sense and openness,which cut through a delicate matter of etiquette which had started to trouble him the previous night.
"So, where do we start, Monty?"
"In one way, the facts of the case are simple. Only Barbara and Henry were present at the time of his unfortunate demise. In another way, it is devilishly complicated with no obvious crime and no obvious villain. I can't help but feel and think that there but for the grace of god goes Monty Everard. That makes it so easy for me to feel sorry for the poor woman if she was guilty and ashamed of myself if I ever misjudged her. If I feel this way, then what of the jury?"
"There is a lot of medical evidence." Gently urged John in a positive spirit.
"Almost too much."
"I agree with you. So, do we make available the entire transcript of the trial available for each member of the jury? Even a juryman with an exceptional memory would be hard put to retain such a volume of conflicting information."
"That is fine so long as the daily transcripts are clearly titled and marked out into chapters of each day so that the jury aren't confronted by a mass of indigestible typescript. The jury must be given every assistance."
"That is an excellent idea, Monty." John beamed. He calculated that a word to the clerk at the start of trial, and the wonders of modern computers would enable that to be done at short notice. This interchange of conversation did wonders in generating much more readily the necessary flow of ideas. Normally each judge was required to sweat it out in the dead quiet loneliness of the judge's chambers. "The trial does divide neatly between the medical evidence and non medical evidence. Which should the jury consider first?I am open to ideas."
"The medical evidence should come first but we must advise them not to overlook anything they have seen and heard throughout the trial. The evidence of Thomas Waugh can be neatly tacked on to that."
"And the character witnesses?"
"We must strongly advise the jury to utterly disregard the evidence of that infernal jack booted prison warder for a start."
John smiled at Monty's heated description which so chimed in with his own views.
"I should not quite use those precise words but I'll wrap them up in an acceptable package. So long as I do not appear to be biased in overpraising the merits of the last witness, Nikki Wade."
"Hmmn," paused Monty for reflection."You cannot be criticized by even Sir Ian or Lawrence James for giving credit where credit is due."
"Aaah, that is a very significant point you raise there, Monty. They were at the back of the courtroom and they haven't attempted to waylay me after the hearing. She made some splendid remarks about the establishment, and pushed the boundaries of cross examination with a finesse that you must have admired, John."
That little smile at the corners of his lips made John's feelings transparent.
'That precious pair just want to wash their hands of the matter, Monty. So long as Barbara disappears off the public stage and ceases to bother them, they will, for once, let two judges, three barristers and a jury take the moral courage for doing their work for them, yes even Cantwell. He will be well paid but even he isn't as thick skinned as he made out. Someone had to do it and, whatever the motives, he chose to do it."
"It's not every day that you have anything good to say about him." Murmured Monty.
"And Barbara?" John asked the question that both of them had shied away from the start of their deliberations.
"It is fortunate that her diary is available for the jury. It is not a modern habit to write diaries expressing your innermost thoughts and feelings as they happen, even in such extreme circumstances as this. We are extremely fortunate that this is so. There has been a testimony of sorts given by Henry in absentia in relation to Barbara."
John nodded his head in agreement. Monty put that last point very succinctly. He didn't need to ask Monty to expand on it. The room felt warm and cosy with a sense of shared purpose and a meeting of minds.
"There's one question I have to ask you, John. What do we do if the jury find her guilty."
A sudden cold feeling ran through both of them. John's face appeared to suddenly turn to stone.
"We adjourn the court and debate that one in chambers. I can't even think of the answer to that one and I hope to god we never have to face that one."
Instinctively, he looked at his watch. They had just finished at the right time. It was nearly time to go back into court.
While these deliberations had been going on behind closed doors, Yvonne and Roisin had moved out to the foyer where Cassie greeted them, smiling broadly. In no time at all, she had steered the other two women towards the nearest pub, and bought in the first round.
"I've slaved all week enough so I've got this afternoon off and tomorrow if I need it."
Explained Cassie."I'm in need of a drink."
"I hope to God that Barbara isn't left waiting till then."
"You are driving us back tonight, Roache?" pleaded Cassie with a winning smile as the barman filled her glass up with a double. In turn, Roisin sighed and gave way to the inevitable
"Roisin has filled me in on what's going on." Cassie explained, chatting away."I never thought I'd live to see the day to hear Nikki call a guy 'sir.'"
"Nikki knew what she was doing."Yvonne pronounced definitely. "She used it to get to hang that brief of theirs out to dry. As for Bodybag, she made a right tit of herself and I bet the Julies will hear it all in no time."
"Nikki won't tell." Protested Roisin.
"These things have a habit of getting their way round all by themselves. Believe me." Grinned Yvonne as memories of Larkhall came back to her.
They had barely taken their seats, Barbara standing at ramrod attention, flanked by Gina and Dominic, when John launched straight into his summing up with none of his usual casual ease of manner.
"Before I sum up this trial, I want to make clear a few preliminary arrangements. The clerk will make available for you, the jury, written transcripts of the trial set out in what I hope is a clear and comprehensible order. This is intended in no way to substitute for what your eyes have seen and your ears have heard over the past two weeks. It is intended as a supplement to your memories, as a definitive record of what was actually said. We have ordered this to be made available as there has been a large quantity of conflicting medical evidence that was placed towards the beginning and the end of the trial with character witnesses and, of course, the evidence of the defendant being sandwiched in the middle. The other preliminary point we would wish to make is that none of you, the jury, should feel in any way constrained to arrive at an early verdict. If there are any points that you have difficulty in resolving, you carry on as long as it takes to resolve them."
John paused to help himself to a drink of water. He was pleased with the thoughts were falling out of his head into the spoken word.
"In summing up, this case is an extraordinarily hard case to give directions to a jury. For a start, only the defendant was present on the occasion of the unfortunate demise of Henry Mills and there are two options. One is that the deceased took his own life in a moment of desperation. If you draw this conclusion, you must acquit the defendant. The other proposition is that the defendant assisted her husband to take his own life. The laws of the land do not recognize arguments put forward by lobbyists for 'mercy killings.' Whatever private sympathies you have, you must put them out of your mind. To return a guilty verdict will find the defendant guilty of murder if you consider that there was deliberate intent to take the life of Henry Mills. You may consider the alternative charge of manslaughter where the deed is the same but where intention would be in doubt due to the defendant's state of mind.
To assist you in coming to a verdict, you have at your disposal the diary complied by the defendant. It has the inestimable virtue of being complied contemporaneously within the definition of the word, and has the advantage over any recollections, inadvertently blurred by the passage of time. I am directing you to treat the diary in this way as no one has sought to question its authenticity. It is inevitable that you, the jury, will form a mental picture of the deceased, as if he were present at this court. This will do no harm as long as you are aware of this. The crucial problem for you is in dealing with two people of more than average good character who have been pushed into an extreme situation. On this matter, I cannot give you any direction except to build your conclusions from the interrelated matters which I have set out.
I must give praise to all parties of the trial, both opposing counsels and the witnesses who have given of their best with one notable exception. I would remind you to utterly disregard the evidence of Mrs Hollamby, the prison officer from Larkhall. Her evidence has been tainted from beginning to end, as she has been utterly unable to tell a straight story but has sought to obtain unfair advantage in being shifty and malicious. By contrast, it would not be improper to praise the high professionalism of Nikki Wade, wing governor of Larkhall which is especially valuable in the quality of contact she has had with the accused."
John paused deliberately at this point so that he could highlight the final point he wished to make and draw together all the strands of the trial.
"I must however finish with reminding the jury above all else to consider the totality of the evidence , that character opinions are only one strand of the evidence and that you are required to give all the evidence its due weighting. It only remains for me to give my profound thanks to Monty Everard for his immense help in overseeing the trial and, if he has nothing to add "at which point, Monty shook his head, "I wish to bid you all good luck, because you will find this decision one of the hardest that you will be asked to make in a court of law."
The jury shuffled out to their room and there was an outrush of feelings as the emotional dynamics that had propelled the trial forward had snapped. There were no more witnesses, no more forward planning by judges and counsel alike. Everything was given over to twelve anonymous jurymen. They had been compelled by in the court etiquette of formal behaviour that was expected of them. The result was that the debate felt as if it had taken place in a disembodied vacuum and reality now lay elsewhere.
"Coming for a wander?" Yvonne suggested to the others. Both she and Roisin felt extremely sore from sitting on the hard benches in the visitor's gallery and wandered up to the top of the gallery. They stood at the top of the staircase, looking down at the courtroom but did not go through the door to the outside although the way was clear for both of them.
Time started to crawl painfully along and, although nothing was ever said, it was plain that everyone's gaze was fixed on the door to the jury room for some signs of life. Minutes, then quarter hours and finally whole hours of purposeless activity crawled by.
Brian Cantwell was possibly the most relaxed of them all as he was starting from the bottom line of losing the case and anything more was a bonus. Barbara didn't care to think what the outcome would be. Jo and George were restless as, although the case felt as if it were stacked their way, they did not dare to draw any conclusions. John and Monty were compelled to look dignified in their red robes of office and resist the urge to ask the usher how matters were proceeding. They had told the jury to take their time and, by four thirty, they made the announcement everyone was expecting.
"As the jury are still undecided, court is adjourned to carry on tomorrow. I would ask the usher to remind the jury to keep their deliberations strictly confidential and be on time tomorrow to carry on where they left off."
Betaed By Jen
Part One Hundred And Five
On the Friday morning, Yvonne, Cassie and Roisin again convened in the court building, waiting with rising stress levels for the verdict. Barbara was sequestered in a holding cell somewhere, with Gina and Dominic as escorts, and she too was beginning to feel the strain. Yvonne, Cassie and Roisin, joined by George and Jo, spent far too much of the morning drinking the court canteen's disgusting attempt at coffee, all of them slipping outside for cigarettes every now and then.
"I realise that juries are a law unto themselves," George commented around noon. "But this is ridiculous."
"Let's just hope that all this deliberation will give us the verdict we want," Jo said quietly, but also feeling every ounce of George's frustration with the deciding body. Just then, Nikki and Karen arrived, having both found it almost impossible to concentrate on work for the entirety of the morning.
"Are they still not out?" Nikki asked when they approached where the others were sitting.
"No," George told them. "And if they take much longer, I think I'm going to internally combust."
As time dragged slowly by, others began to arrive, including Helen, Thomas, who received a raised eyebrow from Karen, and Crystal. But not long after Crystal's arrival, Gina came up to them looking worried.
"Can one of you come and see Barbara?" She said, addressing Jo and George. "The waiting's driving her up the wall and I don't think being stuck in a holding cell is helping."
"We'll both come," George said decisively, realising that the interminable waiting was probably aggravated by Barbara's tendency to claustrophobia.
"She could probably do with some fresh air," Nikki told them as they moved away with Gina.
When they reached Barbara's cell, they found Dominic making every attempt to keep her calm, though noticeably having very little success.
"Look who I've brought to see you," Gina said, trying to sound brighter than she felt. Barbara was visibly trembling and she had a wild look in her eyes that didn't bode well for mental or emotional stability.
"Would you like to go outside for a while, Barbara?" Jo asked her gently.
"That might help, yes," Barbara agreed.
"Why don't you two go and get lunch or a coffee or something?" George said to Gina and Dominic. "We'll take care of Barbara."
"Well, don't lose her," Gina said with a smile. "Or you'll get me sacked." Tucking Barbara's arm through hers, Jo led the way along the corridor towards one of the side doors that led out of the building.
"But what about the judge?" Barbara asked as George walked alongside them. "He surely wouldn't allow an unaccompanied prisoner to take the air whilst waiting for a verdict."
"Oh, don't worry about that," George said confidently. "We can handle him."
"Is that right, Ms Channing?" Came John's voice as he rounded the corner of the passage, clearly having heard her assertion.
"Of course, My Lord," She said just as confidently. "Because you're not going to deny a woman the right to a temporary cure for claustrophobia, are you," She said, emphasising the last two words.
"Not at all, Ms Channing," He said, seeing that she had him somewhat over a barrel. But as he passed her, he put his lips next to George's ear and said extremely quietly though with the threat clearly just below the surface, "Don't you dare lose her." Having heard what he'd said, Barbara smiled at him.
"I've come this far, My Lord, so I'm not about to duck out now."
"I'm relieved to hear it," John said as he walked away from them. When they reached the outside, Barbara took in great lungfuls of the icy cold air surrounding them.
"Is that better?" George asked her.
"Much," Barbara replied gratefully.
They'd only been outside for about five minutes when Yvonne and Nikki appeared.
"The judge told us where you were," Yvonne explained. "How're you doing?"
"Not brilliantly," Barbara replied dully. "I feel as though I'm in limbo."
"You are in a way," Jo told her. "But you've got a lot of people here to support you."
"Yeah," Yvonne agreed. "There's Karen, Thomas, Helen, Crystal, Cassie, Roisin, you name it."
"You've all been wonderful to me," Barbara said, a few tears rising to her eyes.
"Do you seriously think any of us would be anywhere else at a time like this?" Nikki asked her fondly. "We haven't come this far just to let you go through it alone."
When Yvonne, Nikki, Jo and George returned to the group in the canteen, after returning Barbara to her cell, they saw an unexpected sight moving towards them. Tom, Zubin, Kay, and believe it or not, Connie were approaching their by now large group of supporters.
"Some of us are on call," Tom explained. "So we don't know how long we'll be able to be here."
"Thank you for coming," Jo told them with a smile. But most of the eyes in the assembled group were focused unerringly on Connie. She had spoken for the prosecution, and many of the Larkhall hackles were rising at her presence. Connie could feel their growing antipathy towards her and she momentarily doubted her wisdom in coming to court with the others. Moving forward slightly, she took a deep breath, and took the step she had been meaning to since deciding to be here for the verdict.
"Before any of you say a word," She said, sounding sincere but wary. "I've had a change of heart. We are all capable of making mistakes, especially professional ones, and this time, I did what was previously unthinkable to me and got it wrong." After a short pause, where each and every one of the Larkhall women examined her for any hint of insincerity, Yvonne rose from her chair, and rounding the table where they were sat, shook Connie's hand.
"It's nice to see a witness who isn't afraid of changing her mind." This was a vote of acceptance from all of them, and Connie offered a tentative smile of thanks, feeling the depth of feeling that bound all of them in the same quest for Barbara's freedom. As conversation broke out again amongst the assembled group, Connie slipped into a chair beside George.
"That was a little unexpected," George said quietly to her.
"A little overdue though, don't you think?" Connie replied thoughtfully.
"As long as it's sincere, the acknowledgement of a mistaken belief is always welcome," George told her. "What made you reconsider?"
"You were absolutely right to persuade me to come and listen to Barbara's evidence," Connie told her with a rueful smile. "I think you knew it would change my mind, didn't you."
"I thought it was possible," George admitted. "Nothing else would have done it."
"I'm glad you made me do it," Connie said a little more quietly so that the others wouldn't hear her.
"Yes," George agreed. "So am I." Sitting on the other side of George, Jo intermittently heard bits of this conversation, and couldn't help wondering at the undercurrent she could feel between these two, up until now, opposing women.
"Will all participants in the case of the Crown versus Mills, please make their way back to court two for the verdict." Once the announcement had been heard, most of them felt that their hearts were in their mouths.
"Come on," George said, getting to her feet. "This is what we've all been waiting for." As everyone else made their way up to the gallery, Jo and George made their way towards the barristers' entrance to the court. But halfway across the foyer, George saw that her father was walking in through the heavy swing doors.
"Daddy," She called. "You're just in time. The jury's back with the verdict."
"About time," Joe Channing replied, making his way towards the stairs. Up in the gallery, the members of Barbara's support group had taken up places on the first three rows on the left-hand side. Catching sight of Joe, Karen waved to him. When he sat down beside her, Karen said,
"I didn't expect to see you here."
"And I didn't ever expect one of our orchestra to be on trial for murder," Joe replied sadly. "It felt only right to be here for the verdict." They were then joined by Grayling who sat down on the other side of Joe.
"Has Alison Warner let you off the leash for the afternoon?" Karen asked him, trying to slightly lighten the tension rising up in them all.
"She can go hang if she's got a problem with me being here," Neil said darkly, making Joe laugh surreptitiously. Glancing around them, Karen saw that quite a number of their orchestra for 'The Creation' had turned up, no doubt wanting to know what would happen to someone who had been one of them. The gallery was almost full by the time the clerk of the court called out "All Rise," and Karen wondered what their combined reaction would be to the verdict.
"Foreman of the jury, please step forward," The clerk intoned once the two judges were seated. "Have you reached a verdict on which you are all agreed?"
"Yes," The foreman answered.
"Do you find Mrs. Barbara Mills guilty or not guilty on the charge of murder?"
"Not guilty." One down, one to go, Karen thought to herself, realising that she had been gripping Joe's hand without even knowing it.
"In the alternative," Continued the clerk. "Do you find Mrs. Barbara Mills guilty or not guilty of the charge of manslaughter?" So many members of the gallery seemed to hold their breath as they waited for that all-important answer.
"Not guilty," Said the foreman, who was then drowned out by the cheer that seemed to fill the courtroom with noise.
"Sorry," Karen said sheepishly, letting go of Joe's hand.
"Feel free," Joe replied with a broad smile. Looking over at John, both Karen and Joe saw just how relieved both he and Monty looked. They didn't have to sentence Barbara, they didn't have to condemn her to years of what would be nothing more than a living death to her. When the cheering had eventually calmed down, John looked over at Barbara and smiled.
"Mrs. Mills, it gives me great pleasure to tell you that you are without doubt free to go."
Part One Hundred and Six
"You're free, Babs." Gina repeated John's words into Barbara's unbelieving ears. She stared up at the infinitely kindly and relaxed faces of John and Monty and, of course, remembered that she had once performed with them. "No more pie and chips and lockups for you."
"You come with us to see your friends. We'll look after you." Dominic urged her kindly.
Somehow, Barbara's feet carried her out of the dock where she had stood for so long. Gina and Dominic ceased to be prison officers who, at the end of the day, had to fasten the handcuffs on her, and lock her up for a living. Now, they accompanied her as well wishers through the back of the court. Everything felt very strange to her, as she was only starting to adjust to her new reality.
Behind her, the visitor's gallery started to empty itself rapidly, leaving John and Monty sitting limply in their thrones. They were mentally exhausted.
"Thank God the jury voted the right way, John. For the life of me, I do not know what I would have done if the verdict had gone the other way."
"Me neither." John frankly confessed." What do you say to the idea of a celebratory drink?"
The idea hit the right spot with Monty. It didn't seem right to shuffle off without some acknowledgement. He had never conceived of John as a drinking partner, but there were a lot of things he had never conceived of when the trial had first started, what felt like a long time ago.
"You lead the way, John."
A crowd of her well-wishers from the gallery clattered down the stairs to join Gina and Dominic, as Barbara's feet made their way by themselves towards the heavy swing doors. Group instinct decided that Jo and George take Gina's and Dominic's places either side of Barbara.
"Are you ready to face the press, Barbara?" Grayling asked gently, experience knowing what would be in store for her.
Barbara nodded her head and pushed the heavy door open and the others grouped themselves protectively around her, Nikki conspicuous only by her height and not through any personal choice. Barbara was utterly dazed by the crowd of photographers ,who crowded in from all sides from out of nowhere. She was half blinded as the flashguns exploded in the gathering gloom of a winter February late afternoon.
"What does it feel like to be free?" a distant voice asked her.
"Like nothing else on earth I could imagine .I want to give my undying thanks to all my friends who have stood by me, who have encouraged me when I have been tempted to give way to despair. I must thank first of all the twelve members of the jury who have done their duty, have listened carefully to everything that has been said and have given me my freedom. I also want to thank my barristers, Jo Mills and George Channing who have worked so tirelessly for me. I must not forget the witnesses who have given their time to speak up for me and, in particularly Dr Kay Scarpetta who has traveled all the way from America. I want to thank the humanity and common decency of the judges, John Deed and Monty Everard ."
At that point, Barbara's mind froze on her to name more than those who had came immediately to mind.
" and anyone else I haven't thanked personally. They know who they are and know my feelings."
"What are you going to do with your freedom?"
"I really don't know as yet. I'll spend some time, catching up with my friends and devoting proper time to my husband's memory. I really haven't anything else I can think of to say."
"Hey, Nikki Wade, how does it feel to be a lesbian cop killer and run a prison?" called a particularly strident reporter. Nikki only felt cold contempt at this illiterate reporter, who came over as a badly behaved adolescent brat. She must be getting old, she thought.
"You must be from the Sun." came Nikki's ice-cold voice, dripping with contempt for it. "I'm not going to answer that one because I don't have to. If you're going to ask any questions, ask Barbara or her barristers about her trial. That's what you're here for, aren't you?"
Outraged, Helen made space for Nikki to slip back through the double doors and followed her in. Incandescent with anger, Grayling strode forward to the interviewer and pulled him to one side, speaking in a low, angry tone of voice.
"One word in print out of turn and I'll personally see to it that your feet won't touch the ground, your paper will have to grovel to the public on page one and you will be out on your ear. Believe me, I can do it."
The full impact of vengeful authority exploding over him was an almighty shock to the brash reporter and he could see a P45 hovering before his eyes. Besides, he could see the other reporters grinning at him, and he couldn't hack that one. Yvonne was hugely impressed by Grayling's valid alternative of threatening the prick with a concrete overcoat, and slipped back to tell Nikki the good news.
Jo and George smiled for the interviewers, who had got their required two-minute sound bite and, in the abrupt silence, politely escorted Barbara back into the foyer and to the nearest seat. Behind her back, a two-person storm cloud was illuminated by contrast by the feelings of radiance that pervaded the high domed hall. Somehow there seemed a point to the boldly and optimistically religious frescoed ceiling but not to Amanda and Greg Hunt.
"This has been a total miscarriage of justice." Amanda stormed.
"I'm going to write to the Daily Mail about this. The lily livered jury were totally taken in by the best con artist in the business." Pronounced Greg coldly. However, their attempts at stage whispers reckoned without the sharpest ears in the business of human life.
Immediately, Yvonne reached for her mobile and phoned Lauren.
"Babs is free, Lauren."
"Wow, that's fantastic news," enthused Lauren loudly in Yvonne's ear.
"How soon can you get home and start organizing the party? There's the regular gang coming give or take a few."
"As soon as, mum. You leave it to me."
"Everyone's invited back to my place for a celebration party" Yvonne announced deliberately loudly amongst all the high spirits of the crowd around her." That is, except for your very much ex step children who can piss off to where they came from. if that's all right with you, Babs."
"I never heard of an ex stepchild before," chimed in Cassie with as much apparent innocence as she could contrive. It might have been her motto that wherever Yvonne was stoking up trouble, Cassie should follow on behind her.
"It's easy to think of them that way when I see two such greedy, vindictive people who are not worthy of Peter's memory." Barbara observed. With the gradual dawning realization of her freedom, she realized that she was in a position to settle a few scores, being well protected by the higher echelons of the prison service plus two barristers. Greg and Amanda had tried to pretend not to listen but eventually their pride overcame their discretion.
"I suppose you're glad that your side won." Greg pronounced coldly to Yvonne
"Yeah, like justice was done." Yvonne retorted. "How does it feel to know you were wrong?"
"We haven't the slightest idea what you're on about." Blustered Greg.
"We knew exactly what you were thinking, all the time we sat in the gallery." Yvonne retorted, a grin frozen on her face though she wasn't laughing." You were looking down your oh so superior noses at us and at Babs. We kept quiet, well most of the time, because we wanted Babs to get set free and then to look at your faces to see how much the verdict chokes you."
Nikki and Karen exchanged glances. They could see Yvonne gearing up for all out warfare and both knew that Yvonne's pure loathing of the pair of them could boil over the top. Karen was first to intervene.
"Do I have to put you in handcuffs, Yvonne?"
"Come on, Karen. I'm only having a little fun with these two losers." Protested Yvonne.
Nikki moved up on the other side of Yvonne and, in her best wing governor tone, cracked out her order.
"Come on Atkins, you've got a party to host. You can't let the side down."
"Yeah Yvonne, we've got other places to be. I'm gagging for a drink and so is Roache." Put in Cassie.
Yvonne's mounting anger was snuffed out like a blown out candle as she turned away from them. What replaced it was cold contempt. She and the others could afford to pass them by to whinge impotently. They were history.
Connie's pager was already bleeping, as she joined the surge of spectators flowing out of the gallery. She, Tom and Zubin had been jammed half way down the staircase when she heard Yvonne's invitation. She sighed to herself that at least St Mary's had spared them that long.
"We have to go back."
Tom and Zubin nodded. They were exhilarated by the verdict, but even then that nagging feeling started to intrude into that good feeling that they ought to be back at the hospital. Guilt made them picture in their minds what must be building up in their absence.
Connie came over to the group with her brightest smile.
"I couldn't help overhearing your announcement of a party. Normally, I and my two very disreputable friends would love to come. Unfortunately, I've just been paged by St Mary's and it's only a matter of time before Zubin and Tom get called also. Have a great party on us."
The three of them faded into the background away from the centre of good spirits as reluctantly, their feet dragged them away in the direction of a waiting black cab. Very soon, Grayling explained that he had to make tracks elsewhere and received a warm send off.
"Well, you can count us in, Yvonne." Helen pronounced for her and Nikki that they would make up numbers.
"And me, Yvonne. I've had two weeks of staying in poring over case notes. All work and no play makes Jo a dull girl. Are you coming, George, and keep me company?"
"I'm sorry, Yvonne, I can't make it. I feel desperately tired and all I want to do is head for home have a soak in the bath and an early night. Trials can get me sometimes this way."
Yvonne did wonder why George seemed so tired. She could hear it in her voice as well as see it in her face but she let it go. George's words resonated with Jo much more because, for a lot of the trial, George had been the strong one. Besides, wasn't it her habit, not George's to go through a kickback at the end of a long trial because she had invested so much of herself emotionally in it? She left it alone.
Kay chose this ideal moment to make her excuses to leave early. She hadn't been paged, texted or phoned by Marino but she felt the pull of her own unfinished work from across the Atlantic.
"I'll go back with you, George. I'd surely love to come to the party but I've got a flight back to Virginia tomorrow and face what's piled up on my desk while I've been away. It has been a real honour and pleasure to meet you all."
The farewells of George and Kay were very poignant as they made their departures.
"Well, Josh is looking after the children so I'm coming with you Barbara." Crystal pronounced."
As the crowd left made a pretty good number, everyone cheered up, especially at the prospect of it being at Yvonne's house. It had the reputation of the perfect lotus eating environment and the best company imaginable. Even though February weather ruled the swimming pool out of bounds, there was plenty left over. In no time, the line of cars zigzagged their way through the London streets out towards the land of freedom. Barbara lay back in the incredibly luxurious, adjustable passenger seat in Yvonne's car. She could let herself be driven and not have to worry about a thing. She was in safe hands and felt the car speed through the streets. Yvonne's profile was focused on the road apart from when she occasionally turned to her to smile and make some commonplace remark. On a day like this, nothing was mundane.
The sharp turn off the road, the crunch of gravel under the car and the sight of high trees and the shape of a large house against the darkness told Barbara that she'd reached journey's end.
"Well, Babs, this is my gaff. You might find it a bit big after Larkhall but you'll get used to it." Yvonne grinned reassuringly.
Lights beamed out of open windows and an illuminated rectangle expanded where the front door opened and Barbara could tell that this was Lauren. Before, she could accept the vision as quite real, Barbara had to go to the front door where the bright colours and luxury fittings invited her in. As she crossed the threshold, it totally overwhelmed her and drove away the darkness forever. She was rooted to the spot.
"Come in, Barbara. Mum has told you what we have in store for you?"
"Before you ask, I wanted to explain why I never went to see you in court. I did a deal with mum that I would work the family business and keep the house straight, everything, so that mum could spend as much time as possible in court. Besides, you know how much court freaked me out when I was in the dock. I got to visit you in Larkhall but court was too much for me. You do understand?"
Barbara's smile of understanding was enough answer for Lauren. After the stress of waiting for the verdict, having to do an impromptu speech for the nation's press and being whisked away into a new world, she felt very much lost for words.
It had only been four months that Barbara had lived in the dull painted, bolts and bars world of Larkhall but that had seemed an eternity, almost erasing any past memories except, of course, her previous spell there. Her life with Henry in the serene ordered world of a country vicarage seemed like something she had read in a book. Now she was swept up into a new existence with those who were close to her. She found herself in a large room, with unheard of delicacies like party food and a glass of sherry in her hand while all her friends gradually filed into the room.By the fireplace, lazed a large contented dog who rose to his feet.
"I'm used to a party with loud music, lots to drink but like many of us here, Barbara, we remember what it was like first day out so I just want to say welcome, Babs and we'll take it as easy as you want." Yvonne said simply before going on to add quietly to her." You know that you're welcome to stay here as long as it takes to find your feet."
It crossed Jo's mind with a brief flash and was gone again that only she and Helen hadn't done time behind bars at Larkhall. This was shaping up as no mindless, drunken party but a demonstration of that highly sensitive caring Larkhall support group that she had come to know and respect.
Part One Hundred And Seven
After making her excuses, telling Yvonne that all she really wanted was a soak in the bath and an early night, George drove home feeling utterly exhausted. It was over, the trial at least, and Barbara was finally free. As Kay sat beside her, watching her navigate the Friday afternoon London traffic, she could see the tiredness exuding from George's every pore.
"You and Jo did a wonderful job, you know," Kay said into the silence.
"We couldn't have done it without you, or Tom, or Nikki, or any of you," George acknowledged with a tired smile. "But yes, I'm glad it's over. Barbara should never have been put on remand, in fact she should never even have been charged, but that's our lovely justice system for you."
"At least you don't have the possibility that any conviction you might achieve may send someone to the electric chair." George shuddered.
"You're absolutely right," She said, meaning every word. "I am very, very lucky in that respect."
When they reached home, George went up for a bath, and Kay said she would cook.
"I'm not especially hungry," George mildly protested.
"But you need to eat," Kay said gently but firmly. "And I promised myself that at some point while I was here, I would give you a taste of my almost infamous Italian cooking."
"All right," George agreed with a smile, thinking that John would never have found it so easy to persuade her to eat. "As long as it's fairly light, I would love to be introduced to what I suspect Marino gets on a regular basis." Kay laughed.
"It is usually the way to get him to stay and discuss a case," She admitted with a fond smile. So, whilst George lay upstairs in a steaming, scented bath, Kay hunted out whatever she could find in George's kitchen. She had to content herself with dry instead of fresh pasta, but she managed to find the accoutrements to an authentic Italian meat sauce in the fridge and freezer. As she made a fresh tomato sauce, adding garlic and fresh herbs as she went, she put on some light classical music, something to soothe rather than immediately capture the brain's attention. She hummed quietly to the music as she sliced onions, mushrooms and tomatoes on a chopping board, eventually adding them and the meat to the sauce simmering on the cooker. Not finding any Parmigiano Reggiano in the fridge, Kay settled for using Gruyere for the cheese sauce, grating it into a fine, powdery consistency that melted in an instant when she added it to the white sauce already heating gently in another saucepan. After briefly cooking the pasta, she began putting the lasagne together, layering the pasta, meat and tomato mixture and then the cheese sauce, and then starting all over again. When she finally placed the well-filled dish in the oven, she began clearing up, setting the dining-room table and opening a bottle of Frascati that she found in the fridge.
When George emerged from her bath, the heady aroma of cooking lasagne rose into her nostrils and for the first time in months, her appetite seemed to rise to greet it. She sincerely wanted to taste this wonderfully aromatic creation, to sample its flavours and textures, and actually finding that she was, if only a little, hungry. Going downstairs, she found Kay putting together a small green salad to accompany their dinner, and she stood in the kitchen doorway just watching her. It had been nice, she realised, to have some companionship in her home for the last couple of weeks, and she would miss Kay when she finally went home tomorrow. Kay could feel George's eyes on her, and turned to give her a tentative smile.
"You don't mind me taking over your kitchen?"
"No," George said in surprise. "Usually I hate it, someone else invading my territory, but it's different with you. Much to my amazement, I've enjoyed having you in my house over the last couple of weeks."
"I doubt it would last," Kay said philosophically. "You're like me, you prefer to maintain your space and your distance from just about everyone."
"You mean I act in a similar manner with Jo and John that you do with Benton?"
"Possibly," Kay admitted ruefully. "I can't really comment on how you are with Jo, because being in love with a woman isn't something I've ever experienced."
"Do you think you ever could, fall in love with a woman, I mean?"
"No," Kay said without any hesitation. "It doesn't mean that I can't appreciate female beauty, I just don't think I could ever find a woman sexually compelling. Lucy often tells me that I don't know what I'm missing."
"Well, each to their own," George replied amicably, pleased by the fact that Kay was being so free and frank with her.
When they eventually sat down at the table, plates of Kay's sumptuous creation in front of them, George poured them both a glass of wine.
"Here's to success," Kay said, raising her glass.
"To success," George agreed with her. "Success and Barbara's freedom." When she took her first bite of the lasagne, she groaned in authentic pleasure. "How on earth do you get lasagne to be so light?" She asked in amazement.
"I guess it comes with practice," Kay said a little shyly. "Italian cooking was the one thing my mother ever taught me."
"If I'd been a boy," George said with a smile. "My father would have taught me to hunt, to shoot, and anything else that he might have seen fit for the son of an up and coming judge. I sometimes think he was disappointed at getting a girl instead."
"You only have to see the two of you together to see that's not true," Kay said fondly. "I don't think I've ever seen a father who is more proud of his daughter's achievements than your father is of yours."
"I doubt he'll be very proud of my complete inability to acknowledge the fact that I very probably have breast cancer," George said dismally, making Kay feel slightly relieved that it had been George to raise the forbidden topic, not her.
"I think he'd be very worried about you," Kay said quietly. "And quite rightly so, as would John, and Jo, and anyone else who cares about you."
"Yes," George said regretfully. "Both Daddy and Jo will be worried about me, and John will go off me quicker than he ever has done before."
"He does love you, you know," Kay said quietly. George laughed mirthlessly.
"Well, he won't for very much longer. Darling, what you need to understand about John, is that he is inevitably attracted to anything beautiful. Hence Connie Beauchamp, Jo, Karen, last year's Angela, and God knows who else that I don't know about."
"George, you don't know how you might look afterwards, and you don't know how John is going to react to it."
"Kay, I'm not stupid," George said a little bitterly. "I'm going to be damaged goods as far as John is concerned, and that's not something I think I can bear."
"So do something about it sooner rather than later," Kay said a little cajolingly.
"This may sound stupid," George said tentatively. "But I don't think I know how to." This was her opportunity, Kay thought in resigned acceptance, her opening to tell George about what she had done on her behalf.
"On Tuesday," Kay began cautiously. "I once again spent the afternoon in theatre, courtesy of Tom's lack of a registrar. During that operation, I became acquainted with a general surgeon, someone who deals with, along with just about everything else, breast tumours. After we came out of theatre, I went to see him, and told him about you."
"That must have been a conversation and a half," George said ruefully.
"Yes, it was," Kay admitted a little sheepishly. "As well as his NHS commitments, he also has a private list at another hospital. I took the liberty of making you an appointment for next Thursday, one which I can only encourage you to attend."
They were quiet for the rest of the meal, George not having yet voiced any thought on what Kay had done for her. But when they were clearing up in amicable silence, George ventured a question.
"There's a little more to this than what you've already told me, isn't there?"
"Yes," Kay told her without any preamble. "As a result of how the health service works over here, you need to be referred for treatment."
"Does that mean I need to go to my GP?" George asked, not sounding thrilled with the idea. "The last time I saw him, was when he gave me the all too wonderful news that John's inability to remain faithful had given me Chlamydia, so I'm not all that eager to see him again in a hurry."
"No, it doesn't need to be your GP," Kay explained. "Mr. Griffin told me that as I am a fully licensed doctor, I can refer you to him myself."
"I sense a but," George said knowingly.
"In order to follow the correct procedure," Kay said carefully. "I need to examine you, just to make sure that you do actually need to be referred to a general surgeon." George regarded her thoughtfully. She wasn't sure how she felt at giving Kay a flash of her assets, but she supposed that Kay wouldn't have suggested it if it weren't absolutely necessary.
"Fine," She replied, putting the last plate into the cupboard.
As Kay followed her up the stairs, she could feel all of George's mental barriers going right up. George obviously wasn't looking forward to this, and Kay tried to remember every method and instinct she'd used in her medical school days, to persuade a patient into co-operating and relaxing with her. That was the thing with dead bodies, she mused to herself, they didn't argue, ask questions or refuse to let her near them. Following George into her bedroom, Kay averted her gaze as George removed her blouse and bra.
"It's usually easier if you're lying down," Kay told her, waiting until George was lying flat on her back on top of the duvet. Having retrieved a penlight from her medical bag, Kay perched on the side of the bed. George had her head turned away from her, clearly trying to keep her mask of emotional indifference in place.
"Which breast is the one with the lump?" Kay asked.
"My left," George replied stonily, feeling Kay's eyes on her, but refusing to meet them, determined to maintain her emotional equilibrium to the end. Kay was more than a little averse to laying her fingers on George's skin, invading her privacy in such a fundamental way. But this was the only way to ascertain what she needed to know in order to refer George to Ric Griffin. George tensed when she felt Kay's long, delicate fingers on the flesh of her right breast, her entire body rebelling at someone else touching what was supposed to be only either Jo's or John's familiar territory.
"I need to examine the other breast, to find out what is normal," Kay explained, needing her words to cover up the rather awkward silence. George furiously bit down on her lip, willing her body to remain still, not wanting to betray her extreme discomfort at what Kay was doing to her. Kay examined every inch of George's right breast, making George blush scarlet as her body instantly betrayed her by reacting to Kay's gentle touch. Kay was aware of George's physical reaction to her, but completely ignored it, approaching her task with the professional disinterest that her training had taught her. George felt utterly mortified as she felt her nipple hardening under Kay's expert exploration, and wanted nothing more than to bury herself forever in the duvet under her. When Kay moved onto her left breast, gently palpating the flesh, George's nipple yet again rose to attention.
"I'm sorry," George said, feeling the need to apologise for her reaction to Kay's touch. Putting a cool hand on George's cheek, Kay turned her face towards her.
"George, it's perfectly normal, I promise," Kay told her sincerely, wanting to minimise her discomfort.
"What, sexually reacting to someone I don't even think of in that way."
"You can't help your body's natural responses," Kay said with a slight smile.
"That sounds like an excuse John would use," George said with a nervous laugh.
"If our roles were reversed," Kay assured her. "I would probably react in exactly the same way."
"I'll take your word for it," George said a little disbelievingly. "So," She asked after another thoughtful pause. "Have you found what you're looking for?"
"Yes," Kay said regretfully. "If I look at the lump I can feel with the penlight, I can see that the skin is slightly discoloured. George, are you sure that you've only had this since Christmas?"
"Christmas was when I found it," George told her. "Though how long I'd had it before that is anyone's guess."
"How often do you usually examine yourself?" Kay asked.
"Probably not as often as I should," George admitted dismally.
"Okay, you can get dressed," Kay said, moving away and switching off her penlight, and dropping it in her pocket. Swiftly putting on her bra and blouse, George found that she was unable to prevent the tears from running down her face.
"I've been really stupid about this, haven't I?" She said, feeling tiny enough to slip into a hole and die. Laying a hand on her shoulder just as soon as she was fully clothed again, Kay said,
"I'm not going to tell you that fear is stupid."
"You think so though, don't you," George said bitterly.
"George, just because I'm a doctor, doesn't mean that if I were in your position, I would have approached it any differently. I have absolutely no idea how I might feel and how I might react to something like this, so don't beat yourself up about something that you can't change. What's important, is that you're doing something about it now."
"Only because you've made me," George told her with a watery smile.
"I couldn't just sit by and do nothing," Kay told her honestly. "I would be breaking the Hippocratic oath for a start."
Part One Hundred and Eight
Life in Yvonne's house made a restful haven for Barbara for her to find her feet, as she woke up bright and early on Saturday morning. For a start, the bed she lay in was luxuriously soft, and the duvet incredibly enveloping. Her possessions from the vicarage had been set out in the spare room that she occupied. First sight in the morning, it gave the room a feeling of familiarity and made it feel like home. Best of all to her, the bedroom door was only shut with her permission. By turning the handle, she could have the run of the house when she wanted. She could go to bed, and get up in the morning, whenever she wished. This made life so simple and unregimented. It just so happened that she got dressed early, wandered into the living room to find Yvonne making tea and toast and smiling at her to sit back and take it easy while she pottered in the kitchen.
She soon found out that there was a quiet restful undemanding quality about Yvonne that she had not fully appreciated before. She could read the entire contents of the Guardian over a morning cup of tea, and maintain a companionable silence, knowing that Yvonne was there. This alone seemed like luxury to her. Her memories reached back to when she and Yvonne used to share the same tea table at Larkhall but now, there was no Shell Dockley, no Fenner and Bodybag to jangle her danger instincts. It was inevitable that memories came back to her of the Julies and Denny still in Larkhall but she knew she had to let them fade temporarily in order to let her heal herself at Yvonne's house. The faces and voices at the celebration party had agreed with her. Even the abbreviated report of her trial and release on Page 17 did not disturb her composure. Barbara finished her second cup of tea and decided to take a stroll around the back garden. Outside the warmth of the house, it was a rare sunny winter's day. The grass was speckled by dead leaves, the icy cold water in the swimming pool awaited the coming of the summer seasons and sunbeams angled low across the lawn, casting exaggeratedly long shadows across the lawn from the bare trees. Barbara paced around the garden, deep in contemplation until the cold proved too much for her.
While the rest of the morning passed effortlessly by in a dreamy haze doing nothing in particular, more definite plans started to shape themselves in Barbara's mind, without the need for even kindly men and women in uniforms to arrange them for her. She didn't realize that Lauren, who had been imprisoned far longer than she had been, took a lot longer to brave the outside world.
"Yvonne, I've been thinking. I ought to start doing something with my time and I thought I'd visit Henry's grave."
"You're ready for it, Babs?"
"I'm sure of it. I would very much like you to give me a lift there, Yvonne. I was thinking of going this afternoon if that's possible."
"You tell me the time and I'll be ready."
The day drifted on until close to the appointed hour and Barbara disappeared to get changed. While Yvonne was attending to her makeup, her sharp ears just picked out the faint call from Lauren from some distant part of the house.
"I'm just going with Trigger to Cassie's and Roisin's."
Yvonne didn't try to shout back as, by now, Lauren would be outside the front door. What was strange today was that, for once, Yvonne wasn't the last to be ready. From rustling sounds, Yvonne gathered that Barbara was changing her clothes. She sat back reading a magazine taking it easy until the soft sounds of footsteps announced a nervous looking, immaculately dressed Barbara.
"Do I look properly dressed, Yvonne?"
"You look fine, Babs."
Yvonne's warm, easy going tones visibly reassured Barbara and she led the way to her car. While Yvonne unlocked the car, Barbara looked around and was dazzled by the view around her. Yvonne's house sprawled with perfect luxurious ease outside which her gleaming car spelt luxury. The view felt spectacular as she had come here in the pitch dark.
Presently, Yvonne drove them through the almost unbearably vivid, new painted countryside where everything looked fresh. With practiced easy, Yvonne drew them close to the church and Barbara started to get nervous. All her time at Larkhall, she had kept in her mind's eye, precious images of when she was so happy with Henry with the vicarage, the church and church hall at the centre of their universe. Today, she would confront that reality, when she knew that time and people had moved on .
'If you don't mind, Yvonne, I don't want to go near the church or the vicarage. I just want to visit Henry's grave. He'll be there, even if everyone else isn't."
"Whatever you want, Babs. I'll sit in the car for as long as you want as I suppose you'll want to be on your own with him."
Barbara smiled gratefully at the other woman's thoughtfulness and set out unsteadily, veering away from the church as far as possible. Amongst the ancient carved headstones and cropped grass, her past was comfortably distanced and some instinct led her to the particular sharp edged sturdy stone shape and the carved words, which announced his presence. An immense feeling of peace and communion flowed into her, and time ceased to flow. She knelt on the grass and silently, her lips started to move.
"Well, Henry dear, I'm here at last even if I have been a little late. Some foolish people had the utterly absurd idea that I had united you with your maker earlier than God wished it. I have been back at Larkhall, you know, back to where we first met. I'm glad to say that I was treated very kindly by nearly everyone, the Julies, Denny whom of course you remember. Of course Bodybag was her usual heartless ignorant self but what else would you expect of her? I've a surprise to tell you, Henry, as to just who is running G Wing these days.You'll have heard me talk of my dear friend, Nikki, who was so protective of me when I first came to Larkhall. Well, she's in charge now and ,with Karen above her, they couldn't have been kinder. It hasn't been easy at times in prison but I know your illness wasn't either, Henry. What I wanted to tell you most of all that at the very end of my trial, all those friends of us from the orchestra were with us, cheering us on in our hearts. You will remember of course, John and Monty. They were so kind and patient with us for what cannot have been a pleasant prospect. As for Jo and George, they moved heaven and earth so that I could be free. You'll remember George very well, from presenting the bouquet of roses to her and how nervous she was. Well, both she and Jo were as resolute as steel this last fortnight. You would have been proud of them all if you had seen them .It was a pity that you weren't able to talk as much to them as much as you had wished, after the performance but I knew how much it took it out of you to deliver that final and very gracious speech of yours "
A passing couple quietly threaded their way through the graveyard, out for a healthy morning's walk and, even in their momentary mood of contemplation, thought nothing of the middle aged woman kneeling before a grave, the odd tear stealing down her cheeks. She must be there for a good reason, they thought, before they made their way to the field at the far gate. The graveyard was a good place for acceptance of people, far better than some of the pitilessly fast rushing streets of London.
Yvonne lay back in the car, the bright winter sunshine shining in her eyes listening to the car radio. She didn't put on Bruce Springsteen as she might have done but reached for something softer and more reflective. It matched the way she could be when the mood took her. It was only when a lot of time had passed that she thought to discreetly check that Barbara was all right. She locked the car, glanced at the church and found her way to the graveyard. In the distance, she could make out Barbara so she stopped and leaned against an ancient stone wall.
"I'm free at last now, dear Henry, and I'm staying at Yvonne's house who know will look after me . I have been luckier than most, if I think about it. I have known and loved two good men while I know that friends of mine from Larkhall have not been so lucky. What I do with my life for the future, only God knows, but I know that you will never be far from my thoughts. Goodbye for now, Henry and rest peacefully and know that I shall return .."
It was only then that Barbara realized how frozen her hands and cheeks were and how cramped her body was. She got herself to her feet and saw Yvonne in the distant, smiling and infinitely patient. Time was unfettered, free to run at its own pace.
Part One Hundred And Nine
Kay woke early on the Saturday morning, probably because she knew that today she would be going home, seeing Marino and possibly Lucy, and her beautiful house once again. As she had plenty of time before they needed to get ready to leave for the airport, Kay went downstairs and switched on George's computer. It didn't take her long to compile a brief letter to Ric Griffin, stating what she'd found during her examination of George the night before, and explaining that she definitely thought it required further investigation by a specialist in that field, namely him. Printing a copy, she signed it and left it on the blotter, where George couldn't possibly fail to find it. Making them both a cup of tea, she went upstairs and quietly tapped on George's door. At the muffled command to come in, she did so, switching the light onto its dimmest setting, and putting the mug of tea down on the bedside table.
"What time is it?" George asked groggily as she turned over.
"Still quite early," Kay told her, sitting down on the edge of the bed. "How're you feeling this morning?"
"Erm, just tired," George replied, thinking that this was all she ever seemed to feel lately.
"The only advice I can give you for the moment," Kay said gently but firmly. "And this is going by what happened last Saturday," She said, referring to George's dip in blood sugar. "Is for you to try to keep eating. Such a severe alteration in your usual hormonal activity can affect things like your blood sugar, so keep a watch on the anorexia at least until you've seen Ric Griffin."
"You don't mince your words, do you," George said dryly, sitting up and reaching for her tea.
"No, I don't," Kay said with a slight smile. "Because it wouldn't do you any good for me to go entirely soft on you. Now, I woke up earlier and couldn't get back to sleep, so I've written your referral letter for next Thursday. It's downstairs in your office."
"Thank you," George said after taking a swig of the hot, sweet liquid.
Later that morning as they drove to the airport, George was quiet, somehow not wanting to relinquish the friendly support she'd had over the last two weeks. Seeming to sense her inner turmoil, Kay said,
"I will keep in touch, I promise." Sparing her a glance in the driving mirror, George said,
"I'd like that. I think the next few weeks if not months are going to be a little trying to say the least. I'd also like to know that you're still managing to stay out of the way of that killer."
"Yes," Kay said with a world-weary tone to her voice. "He isn't something I'm looking forward to going back to."
"Or she," George pointed out.
"No," Kay said with absolute certainty. "This one's definitely a man. Either that or she's a particularly aggressive lesbian, but I doubt it."
"Well, just be careful," George said with a slight shudder.
"I always am," Kay said with a wry little smile. "Though it sometimes doesn't make any difference."
"Is anyone meeting you off the plane when you get back?"
"Marino's meeting me at DC airport like he often does when I've been away. I think it's his way of making sure I'm still in one piece."
"He's very fond of you, isn't he?"
"Marino's been in love with me for about the last twenty years," Kay replied almost sadly. "No matter how many other women he goes to bed with in the meantime, he can't quite get me out of his system, which makes him alternately protective and angry with me on a regular basis. But he wouldn't be quite the same Marino if he wasn't."
"John was a little bit like that in all the years we weren't together," George told her as she pulled into the Heathrow car park. "It means that they always seem to pop up just when you need them, doesn't it."
"Usually," Kay admitted with a smile. Then, turning serious, she said, "I think you ought to take advantage of how much John will want to be there for you."
"Don't," George said a little tightly. "Because telling John, telling anyone isn't something I can even contemplate at the moment."
"You told me," Kay pointed out quietly as George switched off the engine.
"You were acting purely professional at the time," George informed her. "Which made it an awful lot easier."
"Just don't leave it till the last minute," Kay tried to persuade her. "Because you're about to need as many people as possible to help you get through it."
When they'd gone through check in and they finally reached the barrier where George had to leave, she gave Kay a slightly rueful smile and said,
"Don't forget to dismantle your gun, or I'll be trying to get you out of a cell on a charge of suspected terrorism." Kay laughed.
"I almost did once, when I went to New York, where carrying guns also isn't permitted. I'll take it apart just before I go through customs and passport control. They can't quibble about it being in pieces in my briefcase, not with Frank's letter to back me up." They both knew that they were putting off the inevitable, but both women found that they didn't want to end the beginning of what may prove to be a very close friendship. As they stood facing each other, neither of them quite knowing what to say, George took the initiative. Putting her arms round Kay in an unexpected show of affection, she said,
"Promise me to take care of yourself, because I don't ever want to read about your untimely death in the newspaper."
"Only as long as you promise me to go to that appointment," Kay said with just as much feeling, her arms going round George of their own accord. "Because I don't ever want to have to see you on one of my slabs." Both sentiments were meant with the utmost seriousness, because they each had a threat of death hanging over them in one way or another, something that irrevocably seemed to bind their friendship into something long and lasting. When Kay eventually turned and walked away, George watched her, wondering just when she would see this incredibly talented and complicated woman again.
Part One Hundred And Ten
On the Monday evening, John got into his car, and drove towards the clinic where Helen worked in Paddington. He hadn't had an appointment with her since before Christmas, as she had been almost overrun with patients in January and early February. She had explained to him that Christmas often caused such a deluge in the need for counselling and psychological services, and that as he wasn't anything like an emergency, could he possibly wait a while before seeing her. As John was busy with the run up to Barbara's trial, plus other cases that were demanding his attention, he was more than willing to put off the next onslaught to his mental and emotional capabilities. But now here he was, only three days after the end of Barbara's trial, heading towards that sanctum of unveiling that he alternately dreaded and craved. He knew that he often found Helen's probing to be more than invasive, but he also knew that it was doing him good. Well, it had been, until he'd screwed it up so spectacularly with Connie Beauchamp. He would almost certainly have to talk to Helen about that, he thought, as he reminded himself that she already knew about it. He inwardly squirmed as he thought of how he would go about justifying himself on this point, because he knew that she would want to know his precise reasoning for doing something quite so stupid.
"Well, Judge, it's been a while," Helen said as they took their usual places inside her consulting room. "How're you doing?" The question was innocuous in itself, but that didn't mean John found it simple to answer.
"Erm," He hesitated, unable to find even a remotely satisfactory response.
"That good then?" Helen said with half a smile.
"I think that I managed to get used to the break from emotional battering," He finally replied. "And I suppose that part of me isn't looking forward to its resumption."
"That's understandable," Helen said with perfect calm, not in the slightest taking John's assessment of his feelings as any kind of insult. "But I'm assuming that as you're here, you did want to come back."
"I think it's fairly safe to say that I needed to come back," He said evasively, his thoughts immediately straying to Connie.
"Okay," Helen said noncommittally, not as yet betraying her knowledge of what had happened with Connie. "How did you feel, having to oversee Barbara's trial?"
"Oh, you mean apart from having to chastise certain members of the public gallery?" He quipped with a smile.
"I've got a bigger mouth than George when necessary," Helen said with a grin of her own. "How else do you think I survived so long as a wing governor?"
"I didn't have to preside over Barbara's trial," John found himself telling her. "Ian Rochester wanted to have a change of venue, purely so that I wouldn't be able to keep things vaguely within my control. But I couldn't allow that to happen."
"Why?" Helen's question was almost insignificant in the way she had asked it, but for John, it symbolised the admission to something he had forced out of his mind a long time ago.
"I wanted her to have a completely fair trial," John replied after a moment's thought, this seeming to be one of his all time mottos. "I thought, perhaps in a moment of arrogance, that at least I couldn't be leaned on by the establishment, if it should be decided that they wanted a particular verdict or sentence for her. Ian Rochester and his snivelling little lackey, learnt a long time ago that I can't be leaned onto do their bidding, though they still do their utmost to try. To give the prosecution their due, and because I knew of her previous conviction, I really didn't know whether or not Barbara had killed her husband. So, it was my duty to give her and her witnesses a fair hearing. I agreed to Monty sitting on the bench with me, purely because I do know Barbara, and so does he, and we both thought it would be advisable for me to have a sounding board when necessary."
"What was it like, having Jo and George working together?"
"Bizarre, at first," John said with a smile. "If I'm honest, I never thought it would work. The way they go about assembling a case is so different from each other, that I really couldn't conceive of them managing to put aside their differences long enough to succeed. They might be extremely happy with the relationship we have, but that doesn't usually make them agree when it comes to the law and the practicing of it. But they couldn't have made a more successful team. It made me immensely proud to watch them together. They both put every ounce of their knowledge, determination and skill into mounting Barbara's defence, and if it hadn't been for the seriousness of the circumstances, it would have been a sincere pleasure to watch them from start to finish. Jo found this case very difficult, because of the memories and feelings of inadequacy that it resurrected for her, but George stood by her every step of the way, taking over where necessary, and giving Jo more support than I suspect I ever could have done. Three years ago, such level of kindness and generosity from George would have been virtually unimaginable where Jo was concerned."
"You know," Helen said thoughtfully. "I saw the look of relief on your face when the jury found Barbara not guilty. I think everyone did. You were dreading having to sentence her, weren't you."
"Of course I was," John said a little bitterly. "Whilst I might have started out that case with a fairly open mind, I reached the conclusion that she could never have killed him, long before the end. I think it was first Barbara herself, and then their three medical experts who had me convinced. I discussed all this with Monty, whilst we were all waiting for the verdict. He was just as uncomfortable with the thought of sentencing her as I was. No matter what our usual professions might have been," John continued, with an almost reverent look on his face. "That performance of 'The Creation' really brought us all together. In the end, it hadn't mattered who was a barrister, or who an ex-prisoner. Well, not to most people anyway. We were all just one group of people who wanted to make beautiful music together. Barbara was one of us, sitting there, rehearsal after rehearsal, playing the harpsichord as well as any of us played our own instruments. Making music, especially such beautiful music as Haydn's 'Creation', it does something to everyone involved, giving us a feeling of completeness that can never be entirely broken." Helen almost felt jealous of the players of that orchestra as he said this, sounding so sincere in the feeling of togetherness the performance had given them. "So, when I was faced with the prospect of possibly having to sentence Barbara to life imprisonment, I almost wished I hadn't been so eager to take on the trial in the first place."
"You were regretting an action that was taken on the spur of the moment?"
"Possibly," John admitted, though he immediately tried to justify his actions. "Whatever my feelings, whatever my misgivings, it was the right thing to do, for Barbara and for old-fashioned justice if nothing else. So yes, whilst it was without doubt very difficult at times, I can't seriously say that I regret taking on her trial."
"And what about Connie," Helen asked without any warning whatsoever. "Do you regret what happened with her?"
"I wondered how long it would take you," John said with a slightly long-suffering smile.
"One thing you need to learn about women, Judge," Helen told him seriously. "Is that we talk. You think the old boys' network is bad? Well, believe me, it's got nothing on the old girls' network. Women need to talk, to cry, to share the things that either please or upset them, to keep them sane and able to deal with the situations men throw us into every single day."
"Yes, so I see," John said a little dryly.
"Why did you sleep with her?" Helen asked quietly, coming straight to the point.
"Because I wanted to," He answered her just as simply. "The aura coming off her was practically electric," He tried to explain. "She was, is, beautiful, sensationally sexy, and I could feel the old pull of the conquest like a magnet. When I summoned her to my chambers, she challenged me, and I've never been able to resist a challenge in my life."
"So," Helen said, really feeling his craving for the conquering of a beautiful woman. "How did George find out about it?" Helen didn't in actual fact need to ask this, as George had explained in every lurid detail on the afternoon after Sylvia's debacle in court, but she wanted John's interpretation of it.
"Ah," John replied, looking extremely uncomfortable. "She, erm, she walked in on us. Believe me, being discovered in post-coital afterglow is not something to be recommended."
"What did she do?" Helen asked quietly, George having left this part out of her explanation.
"She stood there stunned for a few minutes, just staring at us, a time in which I felt like the most loathsome individual on the planet." As he watched Helen for her reaction, he caught sight of something in her gaze, a knowledge of something he wanted to know. "You're thinking something," He commented quietly. "Something that tells me that you agree with how I felt."
"I'm not here to pass judgment," Helen said without a flicker.
"That doesn't mean you're not," John observed dryly.
"When George told us why she'd ripped so spectacularly into Connie on the Wednesday morning, she said that when she walked in on you, all she could think about was how beautiful Connie was, and just how good you looked together."
"I think that's what hurt her more than the infidelity itself," John said regretfully. "We attempted to talk it out on the Friday evening, and I ended up making the situation worse, not better. George said that she needed to understand why I'd done it, why I'd betrayed both her and Jo, when she thought I was happy with what I had, which I am. So, I told her, giving her far too many details for her to handle. It was without doubt cruel of me to do that, and I sincerely wish I hadn't. But then I wish that about the whole fiasco with Connie, not just its actual results. When Connie had gone, I attempted to apologise, which seemed to spur George into action. She was furious, as she had every right to be, but by the Friday evening, she'd calmed down a bit, turning up at my door feeling sad rather than angry. I wish George wasn't so used to my infidelity, but she is, something I will always regret."
"If you regret it that much," Helen asked, trying to keep any hint of an opinion out of her tone. "Why do you still do it? Why do you keep on sleeping with women who are, let's face it, of absolutely no consequence to you, when you have two beautiful, loving, supportive women, who would give you everything you wanted if you only asked?"
"I wish I knew," John told her, feeling the guilt at what he had done forcefully rising up in him. "It sounds pathetic, but I really don't know what made me sleep with Connie, except for the fact that she presented me with the challenge that I wouldn't be able to satisfy her. I'm not trying to excuse what I did, but perhaps to explain it."
"What about your assignation with Connie, makes you feel the most guilt?"
"George is currently hiding something from me," He surprised her by saying. "Something enormous that she is struggling to deal with, something that I can't help her with because I don't know about it. I probably couldn't have slept with Connie at a worse time, because I know that both Jo and George need me in their different ways. Jo is frightening herself stupid because she got drunk at least once in the middle of Barbara's trial, and George is terrified of something that is slowly eating her up from the inside." If John had known just how accurate a description he had given of George's behaviour, he would have been out of that office and on his way to find her without delay. "At first," He continued, finding it somehow easier to talk to Helen than at all his previous sessions. "I wondered if she was pregnant."
"Why, do you think she would keep it from you if she was?" Helen asked gently, seeing that this was clearly a difficult topic for John to address.
"George knows that she couldn't go through motherhood a second time, and she also knows that it would crucify me to know that my prospective child had been aborted. Therefore, if she was pregnant, I can say with absolute certainty that she would have a termination without even telling me that it had existed."
"What makes you so sure that George would know how you might feel in that situation?" Helen asked, her question hitting John with all the accuracy of a bull's-eye. John was very quiet for a time, trying to sort out his thoughts, trying to submerge the more painful ones so that he didn't entirely give way in front of this woman whom he had far too much respect for. When he rose to his feet and moved over to the window, Helen realised that something painful was on its way. John always did this, turning his back to her when he had something particularly difficult to say to her.
"Nearly twenty years ago," He eventually began, his voice containing an awful lot of barely suppressed pain. "When I first met Jo, she was still caring for a terminally ill husband, which is why she has found Barbara's case so difficult. She also had two very young children. I think she found the occasional afternoons with me something of a reprieve, an escape, a haven in which she could retreat from all her responsibilities. At the time, I was going through my divorce from George, and was gradually getting used to living on my own with a seven-year-old Charlie. When Jo discovered that she was pregnant, it was something of a catastrophe for both of us. I left the decision almost entirely up to Jo, believing in my naivety that any opinion I might have would only confuse the issue, and put her under further pressure that she certainly didn't need. When she decided that the only option open to her was to have a termination, I had to support her. She barely looked at me when I drove her to the clinic, and when I drove her home afterwards, she told me that it had been a boy. She was just over four months when she had the termination, which was why they could tell it was a boy. For so many years, I think Jo blamed me for not fighting hard enough for her to keep it." He might have had his back to her, but the slight tremble in his shoulders betrayed the fact that he was crying, and desperately trying to keep all knowledge of it from her. Seeing that he was entirely lost in his painful memories of the past, Helen got up from her chair and moved softly over to him. His hands were resting on the windowsill, and when she laid one of hers over his, he turned his agonised gaze on her, the tears running down his cheeks.
"You can't blame yourself for every event that might have gone wrong in your life, John," She told him gently. "Because the more you allow it to fester, the more corrosive and damaging it will become. Jo's still here, she's still with you, and that doesn't strike me as something she would do if she didn't still love you. You've got so much guilt inside you, about Jo and about George, and by being there, it isn't helping you to stop picking up stray women with good legs, who use their silver, forked tongue on you like a particularly devious snake. We'll keep talking about this next time, and for as many sessions after that as it takes, because I think the route of half your problem stems from all the guilt you've got cloistered away up here," She said, gesturing to his forehead.
"I'm sorry," He said, digging in his pockets for a handkerchief and feeling extremely vulnerable under her kind and watchful gaze.
"Don't be," She said quietly. "You need to grieve for a lot of things in your life, and Jo's baby is only one of them."
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