Till Death Do Us Part
By Kristine and Richard
Before court on the Monday morning, John decided to put his plan into action. He and George had gone flat hunting yesterday, and he had seen a couple that he did quite like, but such a mundane activity had given him plenty of time to mull over the idea of trying therapy again. The thought did vaguely terrify him, but when had John Deed ever refused a challenge? When Helen had come to see him back in June, to tell him about Ross, she had given him her card. As he searched through his desk looking for it, he wondered what her reaction would be to his request. He had lighted on the idea of Helen, because he couldn't possibly fall back on the same get out clause as he had with Rachel Crawchek. That just would not be an option with Helen, and if the possibility didn't exist, he couldn't rely on it. Eventually finding Helen's card in his wallet, he examined it, finding both the numbers for the drugs rehab clinic and the psychology service, plus her mobile number. Dialing the number for the psychology clinic, he asked to be put through to her, the prickling sense of combined fear and anticipation creeping up his spine.
"Hi Judge," Helen said sounding pleased. "What can I do for you?"
"As unexpected as this question may be," John asked her carefully. "Do you ever take on private patients?" There was a slight pause before Helen replied,
"Sometimes. Why, are you thinking of trying to sort your head out?"
"Yes," John laughed. "In a manner of speaking."
"So, why me?" Helen asked, now completely serious.
"Because with you, I will not be able to use the get out clause that I did, the last time I had therapy."
"Do I even want to know what that was?" Helen replied sternly, a faint suspicion touching her thoughts.
"Probably not," John admitted. After a short, thoughtful silence, Helen said,
"I'll need to talk to my boss about this, mainly because I already know you, and it might be better for you to see someone else. I can't make this decision alone. Can I call you back, maybe at the end of the day?"
"Of course, and Helen, thank you for at least considering it."
Later that morning, Jo arrived at George's office in Knightsbridge, ready for their first meeting with someone who would eventually appear as a witness for Barbara. Jo had been to an appeal hearing in The Strand, and as George's office was closer, they'd arranged to meet there rather than at Jo's. Professor Zubin Khan was due at eleven thirty, barring any emergencies, and they were both looking forward to meeting the person who might prove to be Barbara's main witness.
"At least I can now feel as though we're actually doing something," Jo said when she arrived. "I know it's only been a week since she was charged, but it feels so much longer."
"Get used to it," George told her matter-of-factly. "Because this will go on for months until we know one way or the other."
"I know," Jo said miserably. "And I know it'll be far worse for Barbara, being stuck in prison. I suppose I just feel as though there isn't enough I can really do."
"Darling, you're doing your job, that's what matters," George told her quietly, thinking that she'd certainly been right to insist on taking some of the burden away from Jo's shoulders. If the strain was getting to her already, there was no knowing how she might feel by the time they reached the trial.
When Zubin arrived, he was shown in by George's secretary. As they were in her office, George did the introductions.
"Professor Khan," She said, getting to her feet when he appeared. "It's very good of you to take the time to meet with us. I'm George Channing, and this is Jo Mills." Zubin shook hands with both of them, and George asked her secretary to bring them some coffee. As she once again took her seat, she swiftly examined every inch of him, her eyes traversing the tall, thin frame, the aquiline nose, and the black, slightly receding hair. He looked distinguished, polished, and possibly a couple of years older than herself.
"Is it normal," Zubin asked with a certain level of curiosity. "For two barristers to work on the same case?"
"Not when both are QC's, no," George told him. "But as we both know Barbara on a personal basis, you'll appreciate that this case means far more to both of us than just another job."
"I will be primarily at the helm of Barbara's case," Jo further clarified. "As criminal work is what I do, with George acting to all intents and purposes as my junior, because civil work is her speciality."
"I see," Zubin replied, clearly impressed at the support Barbara would have. "I got to know Barbara very well, during the time I was treating her husband. It's pretty unthinkable to contemplate her being held behind bars."
"Something you must understand, as it may put you off becoming further involved with this case," Jo explained carefully. "Is that this isn't the first time Barbara has been held in custody."
"Yes, I know," Zubin amazed them by telling them. "Henry did once tell me where he met her. Having observed just how thoroughly she cared for him during the last few weeks of his illness, nothing would make me give up fighting for her freedom." George smiled at him on hearing this, perceiving such a level of sheer sincerity that she knew he would make a formidable witness.
When George's secretary had brought in their coffee, George visibly resisted the urge to light a cigarette.
"When did you first meet Henry Mills?" Jo asked, able to exhibit a far greater amount of self-control.
"Some time in the first week of July," Zubin told them. "He'd been seen by Connie Beauchamp in June, she's one of the Cardio thoracic consultants at St. Mary's, who diagnosed lung cancer, and who was able to verify that it was untreatable. Neither surgery, nor chemotherapy would have achieved anything, as the cancer was far too advanced, though you probably know most of this already. The only thing we could do for him was to provide palliative treatment, including ever increasing pain relief, which is where I came in. I am the head of Anaesthetics at St. Mary's, and was the consultant anaesthetist in charge of Henry's case. At first I prescribed oral pain relief, until something far more substantial became necessary. At the beginning of September, it was getting to the stage where oral pain relief would no longer be good enough. Henry steadfastly insisted that he wanted to remain at home, and Barbara was perfectly happy to care for him there, as he wanted. So, Barbara was taught to give an injection, which is very common when relatives are caring for terminally ill people at home." George's eyes momentarily drifted to Jo, wondering if this had happened to her. "I visited Henry roughly twice a week, prescribing more pain relief as he needed it. The last time I saw him, was on Friday the thirtieth, when I prescribed enough Morphine to last over the weekend."
"Barbara's response to her charge," George said carefully. "Is that Henry committed suicide. Did you have any idea, any idea whatsoever, that he might have had this in mind?"
"No," Zubin said sadly. "But it's far more believable than Barbara killing him."
"Did Henry ever tell you precisely what Barbara was in prison for, when he met her?" Jo asked, the weight of an approaching bombshell in her eyes.
"Yes, he did," Zubin further surprised them by saying. "He didn't want the same thing to be thought of her again. If anything, that does put some weight behind Barbara's story, because he might have killed himself, so that she wouldn't have had to make that choice."
"Well, that's a little more to go on than we had last week," George said almost cheerfully. "Though the postmortem results weren't exactly helpful."
"Can I offer some advice?" Zubin asked, a possibility only now occurring to him.
"All suggestions welcome," Jo said with a smile.
"If the pathologist was informed by the police that he had been murdered, that is precisely what he or she might have looked for. The point is, that if the suggestion of suicide wasn't alluded to, then it might not have been considered a possibility. It can be extremely difficult, to tell whether an injection was given by the person who received it, or by another. If you really want to be certain of your physical evidence, I would seriously suggest getting a second postmortem done without delay. The longer you wait, the harder it may be to find out the truth."
"As he hasn't yet been buried," Said George. "I'm assuming this would be possible."
"Perfectly," Zubin replied.
"Can you recommend anyone?" Jo asked. "Seeing as this person may be subsequently required to stand as a witness."
"Someone I work with on an occasional basis would definitely be your best choice. Dr. Kay Scarpetta is probably the most thorough pathologist I know. She normally resides in the States, but is over here at the moment giving a series of lectures to some of my medical students."
"Are you sure she's that good?" George asked, wanting to be clear before they asked this woman to become involved.
"She's the Chief Medical Examiner of Virginia," Zubin told them blandly.
"Ah, definitely good enough then," George said a little sheepishly.
"If there's evidence there to be found, she'll find it," Zubin assured them.
"Would you like to sound her out," Jo asked. "And see if she is willing to become involved?"
"I'm sure she will," Zubin replied confidently. "Kay always did like a challenge."
"Now, just how well do you know Connie Beauchamp?" George asked. "Because it appears that she may be standing for the prosecution."
"Oh, you're joking," Zubin said in complete disgust.
"Not in the least," George told him, seeing that there existed some deep-seated rivalry between Zubin and this woman.
"You'll certainly have a battle on your hands, if you get her into court," Zubin told them. "She's used to being able to manipulate every situation to her own advantage, and she won't give up the fight easily. If Connie thinks Barbara killed her patient, you certainly won't find it child's play to make her admit she's wrong."
"Kay Scarpetta, isn't the only one who delights in a challenge, Professor Khan," George told him almost evilly. "So don't give up hope just yet."
"As she was Henry's consultant," Jo put in, feeling the hackles rise in George's manner. "We could do with a cardio thoracic expert of our own." As Jo said this, a slightly malevolent smirk spread over Zubin's face.
"I could sound out Mrs. Beauchamp's colleague. Tom Campbell-Gore holds exactly the same level of seniority as Connie Beauchamp, so he would be well placed to be your expert."
"Very well," George replied a little sternly. "But I must ask you, not to use this case, to settle any old scores. We are here to set Barbara free, not to cripple any but the necessary opponents."
"Point taken, Ms Channing," Zubin said firmly, his eyes locking with George's for just a moment, just long enough to show her that he would do his best to heed her warning.
At the end of the afternoon, long after court had adjourned for the day, John was yet again sitting in his chambers, answering the day's e-mails that Coope couldn't deal with, and generally catching up on yet more of the incessant red tape that the Lord Chancellor's Department kept throwing his way. He was staring almost blindly at a truly, mind numbingly new piece of administrative rubbish, when the phone on his desk chose that moment to shatter the silence. Yawning widely, John reached out to pick up the receiver.
"John Deed," He said, sounding extremely tired.
"Hard day on the bench, was it?" Came Helen's slightly amused tones.
"No, just the following tedium from the LCD," John told her with a smile.
"I thought you might like to know, that I've been given permission to take you on as a private patient, that's if you still want to go ahead with it."
"Right," John said after a moment's pause. "When were you thinking of?"
"How about tomorrow, at five?" Helen asked, hearing the distinct wariness in his voice.
"That's, awfully soon," John commented slowly.
"Come on, Judge," Helen almost teased. "I thought you liked a challenge. Besides, it was your idea in the first place."
"Yes," John said heavily. "And I'm beginning to think it was a particularly stupid one."
"If you want my honest opinion," Helen told him gently. "From the little I do know about you, I'd say this was something that was long overdue." There was another fairly lengthy pause, whilst John tried to wonder just what she did already know about him, and whether he really could go through with this.
"Okay," He said eventually, feeling immensely out of his depth. "Tomorrow." After telling him where to find her, Helen hung up, her mind already working on overdrive to prepare herself for her slightly unusual client. When Helen had hung up, John got up from his desk and stretched. Walking over to where Mimi lay sprawled in her basket, he bent down to scratch her ears.
"Have I gone completely insane, Mimi?" He asked, as the little dog gazed lovingly up at him. "Have I just signed myself over to a prolonged session of torture, even worse than anything Ian Rochester could dream up?" As he attached Mimi's lead to her collar and led her out of the door and down the stairs, he was forced to wonder just why his judgment had suddenly chosen to desert him.
On Monday afternoon while Nikki was working in her office, her thoughts strayed from the files that she was checking and pondered the events of last Friday when she had seen the Julies having a ding-dong row with Bodybag. She had let the argument run without any direct intervention but she was beginning to ask herself if she had acted wisely.
Technically, the Julies had crossed the line in terms of what was acceptable in terms of how a prisoner should speak to a prison officer. Like it or nor, she owed Bodybag, she meant Sylvia, loyalty in terms of her position much though her sympathies went in the opposite direction. Her sharp ears had heard enough to tell her that Barbara had been on the receiving end of that woman's heavy-handed abuse. What had surprised her was that Sylvia hadn't come in and complained to her about her lack of support which indicated that either she was stewing on it, or was biding her time and acting under the guidance of that dangerous snake in the grass, Di Barker, or that she had simply cut her losses, having behaved totally improperly.
She threw her pen down and decided to act. She needed to investigate and not wait for trouble to come to her.
The Julies were enjoying a pleasantly idle moment and Julie Saunders was writing a letter to David with one of her favourite fluffy topped garish biros. He was a grown man now but Julie still saw him as that eager eyes, ever believing schoolboy whom she had seen only at infrequent intervals.
"Can't think of anything special to write, Ju. Things have been sort of quiet, sort of nothing newsy. Can't bleeding well say that we're still doing servery duties?"
"You're forgetting about Babs," Julie Johnson added.
"Oh my god, I'd forget to put my head on in the morning if it wasn't screwed on, Ju."
Came the incredulous reply and she scribbled away furiously. Just when she paused for further inspiration, there was a polite knock on the door and Nikki poked her head round the corner.
"Come in, Nikki. Make yourself comfy. We ain't seen you to talk to proper like for ages."
Nikki smiled diffidently. She was conscious that her smart suit sometimes set her apart from old friends like the Julies. She had told the interview panel that 'yes, there are people on G wing whom I would class as friends, but that would not allow me to digress from my professional responsibilities in the day to day management of their sentences.' Those were fine, brave words but it was quite another matter to look the Julies straight in the eye right now.
"It isn't exactly a social call," Began Nikki with a strained smile.
The Julies exchanged worried looks
"What exactly is it about, Nikki, if you don't mind me asking."
"Mind if I sit down?"
Julie Saunders gestured her consent to Nikki and immediately, she felt more comfortable in being physically on the same level as the other two women.
"I want you to help me out with a problem. I can't be everywhere and there are situations where things happen and I don't know the background and I might make mistakes."
"Are you expecting us to be grasses?"
The tone in Julie Saunders' voice became markedly colder. They couldn't believe what they were hearing, especially from their old mate Nikki.
"It's like this. I was watching you and Sylvia having a row the other day and I missed the first part of the conversation. I heard you speak up for Barbara how she was really suffering when Henry was dying .I can imagine that as I'll never forget the way she spoke about Peter once when she was writing her diary .."
The Julies saw that faraway look in Nikki's eyes and heard that tremor in her voice as old memories replayed themselves in her mind. She was the same old Nikki.
" ..anyway, I heard Sylvia say to you that you were 'living in cloud cuckoo land.' It sounded as if Sylvia had been sticking in the knife but I don't know for sure."
"Why don't you ask Barbara? You're old mates."
Why not, indeed, Nikki asked herself. It was only too easy. She was wing governor and she could set up an interview and call her into her office and talk to her just as in the old days. That was the trouble, she realized. The Julies were just that bit distanced from the situation and it did not affect them directly as it did where Sylvia was attacking a friend of hers. That instinctive heartfelt desire to stand up for an old friend made it incredibly hard to stand back and be objective about the matter.
"That's just the trouble, Julies. I have to be fair to Sylvia and be absolutely sure that I don't let my prejudices run away with me. It's just not safe for me to do that. In any case, if a complaint ever reaches my ears officially, it will be about you and not Barbara and I'd sooner get in there first."
The Julies thought long and hard about what Nikki so persuasively reasoned. They always ended up following the line of reasoning set out by a strong-minded smart leader, whether it was Yvonne or Nikki. They both made natural back up
"What do you want to know, Nikki?"
The other woman drew a breath of relief. All the natural warmth of feeling had returned to Julie Saunders tone of voice and, automatically, she handed out a couple of cigarettes to them as in the old days. This time though, she hardly had to hoard each cigarette smoked in case she ran through her weekly spends. The reality of her responsibilities and a handsome salary was in danger of increasing that nicotine habit of hers.
"Just exactly what that old cow has been shooting her mouth off about. I won't use what you say unless I have to. You know me."
The three women grinned comfortably at each other. They knew each other very well.
Nikki had only returned to her office for a mere quarter of an hour during which she had attacked her paperwork with added enthusiasm, fuelled by a sense of controlled anger and self satisfaction. She threw the last file in her out tray when a self-important knock rapped at the door.
Bodybag bustled in and grabbed possession of the chair and started talking without any polite preliminaries.
"I want to make a complaint about Julie Saunders and Julie Johnson under 'conduct likely to prejudice good order and discipline'."
"Oh? Can you explain, Sylvia? That is a very serious matter."
"I had not exchanged one cross word with either of them for I don't know how long. I was on duty keeping an eye on the prisoners and making sure everything was in proper order when they came at me, mouthing off at me without so much as a 'by your leave'. I was completely taken aback, I can assure you. I have never been so insulted and slandered in all my life, I can assure you. It is all the more disgraceful as they have been around for a long, long time and they should know better than any prisoner what can and cannot be allowed to be said to a prison officer, especially someone of my long standing."
A little voice at the back of Nikki's mind was sorely tempted to say 'fifty years, eh' but she crushed that thought back. If only the woman wouldn't puff herself up with self-importance and bluster and, most of all for once in her life, tell the truth.
"Oh, Sylvia, and exactly what did they say?"
Bodybag reached for the little pocket book where she had written down the most
"'evil old witch' 'you ought to be ashamed of yourself' 'you're jealous, that's what its all about.' Need I say more?"
"Well, it's not very good. Pushing it a bit but surely it's something that you could clear up with a quiet word, especially, as you say, you had done nothing to provoke them. Is there anything else that happened that you've somehow overlooked?"
Nikki said in her driest tones.
"It's not what they said, it's the way they said it. Pure venom in their voices. You were there. You must have heard what they said. You could hear it all over the wing."
Nikki had had enough. She had tried to play fair with her but it was now time to unmask her hidden guns and blow her out of the water.
"Now, see here, Sylvia. I've made a few enquiries about the incident and it has come to my ears that you are not treating Barbara Mills in the professional way that I would expect of one of my prison officers. I understand that you have repeatedly made prejudicial remarks about the offence that she is charged with. I do not approve of lynch law, as you should well know. To my mind, anyone is innocent until proved guilty. You would do well to remember it. On top of that, you have repeatedly called Barbara by the name of hunt, not Mills. You must have surely noticed that I have always addressed you as Sylvia despite my inclinations otherwise. I do this because I am expected to as a professional despite our past antagonisms. Now is there any reason why you cannot be expected to do the same for Barbara? And furthermore, is there any reason why I don't make it official if words reach me that you have not taken notice of my advice?"
Nikki surprised herself as she spoke in a cold, clipped delivery reaching out for the sort of judicial turn of phrase and intonation that had ever impressed her. She was gratified to see that the expression on Bodybag's face was as if she had swallowed a large, painful object before she made one last bid to get her way.
"But what about this absurd idea of jealousy? I mean, how could I possibly be jealous of her?"
Nikki had to hand it to Bodybag. She did a pretty good impersonation of bewildered innocence.
"In two words, Henry Mills. A little bird told me the background of that one. I would drop it, I really would."
Bodybag flushed as Nikki's revelation and the warning tone in her voice. She knew when she was beaten.
"I have had a gentle word with the Julies and explained the situation. I will back up one of my prison officers in preference to a prisoner if the situation ever demanded. I will not however take the rap in the sort of situation that, say, Helen did when she defended you against Carol Byatt when she nearly bled to death thanks to your incompetence. I have a long memory, Sylvia and I never forget ..now you may go, Sylvia."
Bodybag scuttled hastily out of the door as Nikki switched from her light and judicial delivery to burning her through with her eyes and finally dismissing her.
"So how did you get on, Sylv. Did my plan work to let her sweat over the weekend and then think you were not going to bother?" Di asked eagerly over a couple of glasses of orange.
"You would think that even she would have backed me up," Bodybag groaned into her drink. She was deeply mortified at how disastrously the interview had progressed." But no, not her. It's clear to see who her favourites are and that she and Hunt will be as thick as thieves as before. It's a case as business as usual."
"Your time will come, Sylv. You have to learn to be patient. Sooner or later she'll be lured into showing herself in her true colours. She can't keep up her act forever even with Betts backing her."
"Times have changed and not for the better. A con is a con and always will be and I'm not just talking about our resident Christian who's behind bars."
"What'll happen if she's found guilty?" Di asked with eager glee. "She'll have her work cut out to look impartial. She can't do that balancing act forever. She's bound to fall off the wire."
"Betts will be bound to cover up for her." Bodybag gloomed. "Us old guard are in the minority what with all the prison colleges feeding the new recruits with all sort of liberal eyewash. Take Selena over there. She's a classic example of someone who's been fed all these ideas. Time was that you picked it up on the job and an older, wiser, more experienced colleague showed you the ropes."
Selena could sense two pairs of venomous eyes boring into the back of her head but studiously ignored them and carried on talking to Colin. She smiled as Nikki strolled casually into the social club and joined them in their little crowd.
"Give it time, Sylv. You never know, one of the old school will be looking for a transfer in and there'll be more of us. Prison system is crying out for new staff, especially in the London area."
"Aye, but will it be before I pick up my pension at the first opportunity. Things are not the way they used to be."
If Nikki had heard Bodybag's final comment, she would have heartily agreed but from an entirely opposite perspective.
On the Tuesday afternoon, as John drove towards the clinic, he drummed his fingers on the steering wheel, the endless traffic jams driving him insane. Part of him was impatient to get this over with and the rest of him wanted to back out entirely. He put some rock music on, to try and steady his nerves, but it didn't really work. The clinic was in one of the more dreary parts of Paddington, and as he pulled into the car park, he heard the siren of an ambulance presumably speeding towards St. Mary's hospital. Why did the NHS always find premises in the most drab, miserable areas, he was forced to wonder. Oh well, at least he hadn't had to go on a year long waiting list, which is precisely what would have happened if he'd chosen to go via the national health route. Telling Mimi to behave, and leaving her contentedly snoozing on the backseat, he walked in through the automatic doors, already regretting his decision to come here. After informing the receptionist whom he was there to see, he sat in the waiting room, idly flicking through the pile of well-thumbed magazines on the low coffee table, though nothing could remotely capture his interest. He could now hear the rain pattering against the window, the weather seeming to perfectly reflect his sombre and extremely wary mood.
"Judge, would you like to come this way?" Helen said, breaking in on his thoughts. Coming back to himself, he realised that she was stood in the doorway, regarding him with a soft, encouraging smile. Getting up to follow her, he wondered if it was still too late to say no. She led him down the white walled corridor, simply expecting that he would follow her. When she closed the door of her office behind them, he took in its fairly functional surroundings. There was a desk in one corner, with the computer whose screen looked to be in suspended animation. There were several comfortable armchairs, arranged on either side of the room, with a coffee table in the centre. Perhaps the only personal effect John could see at a glance was a picture of Nikki, that was proudly displayed on the desk.
"Can I get you a cup of tea?" Helen asked, as John took one of the armchairs.
"I wouldn't mind a large scotch," he admitted ruefully.
"I can't offer you that, I'm afraid," She said with a smile. When she took a chair opposite him, he realised that now, sat here as he was, there really was no going back.
"I think we should start," Helen said a little hesitantly, feeling the type of nerves she hadn't felt since her very first session. "With you telling me why you're here." This threw John slightly, because he knew that he certainly wasn't ready to tell her precisely what had forced him to make this decision.
"It occurred to me," He said evasively. "That it was about time I tried therapy again." Taking this avoidance tactic for precisely what it was, Helen chose not to draw attention to it.
"So, why didn't it work last time?"
"Because I found it far too easy to quit," He told her honestly. "Which I suppose proves that I didn't want it badly enough in the first place."
"What happened?" Helen asked, though she thought she could probably hazard a guess.
"I slept with her," John replied, feeling a certain sense of disgust at just how easy it had been.
"Well, that won't be happening with me," Helen told him sternly.
"I know," he said with a smile. "That's why I chose you, because I knew that wouldn't be an option."
"That's something, I suppose," Helen said ruefully. "It shows that you're serious about it this time. I shouldn't say it, but I do feel a certain amount of professional disgust that this therapist let that happen. Was that why you chose a woman, so that if necessary, you could sleep with her, and so end the professional relationship you had with her?"
"Partly," John admitted. "Though that wasn't all of it. I find it hard enough, to talk about my feelings with anyone, Jo and George included, but discussing them with a man would be virtually impossible."
"I sometimes think feelings are a weakness," He replied, not quite answering her question. "They leave you open to being hurt, to being ridiculed, and they serve no useful purpose."
"Do you not think that feelings are what make us different from animals?"
"Feelings make us vulnerable," He said with more than a little scorn. "They give others the ability to manipulate us, and all they really achieve, is to make us do the most stupid, pointless things, all in the name of so-called friendship." He stopped, realising that he'd plainly said far too much, and had been about to blurt out what had happened with Karen at the conference.
"You're very angry today," Helen said gently. "Whether with yourself, or someone else, I really don't know."
"I don't mean to be," John replied, calming down a little, and not really knowing where all that had come from.
"You can be as angry as you like," Helen told him. "That's what this time is for, if necessary. Why not tell me what happened to make you want therapy again?" John looked utterly terrified at this suggestion, knowing that at the moment, he just didn't have the face to tell her. Seeing that this was a distinctly no go area, Helen tried another tack. "Okay, but we will come back to it, because I think it might be important. For now, let's go back to the last time you had therapy."
"Why?" John asked belligerently. "I didn't like where Rachel Crawchek was going, I seduced her, therefore it failed. What more is there to it?"
"Why did you start seeing her in the first place?" This question seemed to briefly catch him off guard, because he had been expecting her to focus on the therapy itself.
"As stupid as it sounds," He admitted eventually. "Because Jo wanted me to. She told me I needed help, and though I'm loath to admit it, she was right."
"And is that why you're here now?" Helen asked, barely suppressing a smile.
"Good, because that is not a reason to have therapy."
"I think that was partly why it didn't work," John tentatively speculated. "Because I felt under pressure to make it work."
"Does anyone else know you're here?"
"No, and I intend it to stay that way."
"Why did Jo tell you that you needed help?" John looked faintly embarrassed at this question, though he knew that this at least was one he couldn't avoid.
"I am, or at least I was, what some might call a serial womaniser."
"And is that what you would call yourself," Helen asked without a flicker. "Or is that a label others have given you?"
"It was the most palatable way of describing what I sometimes still am."
"There's nothing remotely palatable about therapy, Judge," Helen told him seriously. "That's the whole point of it, to abandon the concepts that you rigidly stick to as a matter of course, and to examine the truth about who you really are. So, forget the label, and tell me what it is that makes you describe yourself in that way."
"Isn't that obvious?" John asked a little scathingly.
"Yes, it is," Helen replied, looking him straight in the eye, almost daring him to look away. "But I want you to say it."
"Fine," He said a little exasperatedly, though knowing she was doing the right thing. "Before I got into the relationship I have with Jo and George, I used to find it a very delightful distraction, to pick up random women to go to bed with. Jo told me I needed help, because I couldn't have held down a committed relationship to save my life. I lost count of how many times I hurt George when we were married, or Jo in the years that followed. I'm addicted to the chase, the conquest, the feeling of stepping off life for an hour or a night, because it allowed me to forget for a while that for the rest of the time, I am forced to inhabit a moral high ground that I don't always want to fulfill."
"And now?" This threw John, because he had half been expecting some thought from her on his previous behaviour.
"If it were just George, or just Jo, I would still be as bad as I was before. They almost manage to keep me on the straight and narrow, because two women can keep me far more successfully occupied than one." Helen allowed herself the ghost of a smile.
"Before your relationship with Jo and George, did you ever think about the women you used to pick up, afterwards, I mean?"
"Not often," John admitted quietly. "I used to tell myself that they saw it as just as much of a random distraction as I did. That made it extremely simple to immediately forget about them the next day. There was the occasional one who managed to get under my skin, but it was pretty rare. Any love, affection, or fondness I had in me at the time was reserved specifically for Jo, with a very deeply buried portion for George that was still unresolved from when I was married to her. But no matter how much I loved Jo, I couldn't give up the women. Part of her despised me for it, I know she did, but I did try. For the six weeks that I was having therapy with Rachel, I didn't pick up anyone, and in those days that was quite a long time for me."
"Why did you sleep with her?" Helen asked into the resulting silence. "What was it she did, that made you suddenly want to back out?"
"She was getting far too close," He said, not looking at her. "She was gradually peeling away some of my layers, and I didn't like it."
"Did that frighten you?" Helen asked gently.
"Yes, I suppose it did," John said disgustedly. "And yes, I do realise that is the whole point of doing this, but I don't think I was ready for it. I don't think I knew quite what to expect." He got up, and began thoughtfully pacing round the room, as Helen just sat and watched him.
"Do you resent the fact that she made it so easy for you to quit?" Helen asked, seeing rigidity in his posture that could only mean anger and frustration.
"Yes," He replied, his eyes briefly rising to meet hers.
"So say it," She encouraged. "Actually try putting that into words."
"I loathe the way she just gave in," He said eventually, surprising himself immensely, because he'd never dared to think about Rachel so vehemently. "Oh, she put up the pretense of a refusal, but that was just a test, to see how far I would push it. At first, she played the game of assuming I was just another patient who had fallen in love with her, as if that was remotely likely," He added in total disgust. "I couldn't have fallen in love with her if I'd tried. She was forcefully prising away forty years worth of thoroughly constructed barriers, making me relive one of the most painful events of my life, and yet she stupidly thought I'd fallen in love with her. I found out where she lived, and went to visit her at home. Don't say it, because I know just how low that was. But it worked. She didn't put up any fight whatsoever. You see, simply walking away wouldn't have been good enough, because it would have meant that she'd won. I had to take back the reins, I had to get the situation back within my control, and the only way of doing that, was constructing the most clear of reasons for not continuing to see her on a professional basis. She couldn't remain as my therapist once I'd slept with her."
"Do you often use sex to manipulate a situation to your advantage?" Helen asked, provoking a long, penetrating stare from him.
"What sort of a question is that?" He replied, not knowing how to answer such a thing.
"I'm just trying to work out how important sex is to you," Helen told him.
"Isn't it important to everyone?" He responded dryly, not receiving a smile in return.
"Not to everyone, no. The point is, that sex appears to be your fallback, something you rely on whenever you either want a break from your life, or when you want to escape from a situation that maybe frightens the hell out of you. Is sex something you've always found especially easy to be part of?"
"Don't you?" He asked, getting a hint of where she was heading with this, and not liking it one bit.
"That's none of your business," She deflected easily. "Is it perhaps the one area of your life, where you've always felt most confident?"
"Probably," He replied eventually, loathing the fact that he had to concede this point to her.
"Why do you think that is?" She persisted, half wondering if she should have a scoreboard on the wall for the next session.
"I couldn't possibly tell you," He said with a laugh. "Though I suppose that the more you do it, the better you become."
"It doesn't always work like that," Helen told him with a rye smile. "But that brings me back to the reason why it appears to be the one thing you can rely on, when things aren't quite going your way."
"I've never really thought about it like that," He was forced to admit. "It's just my usual reaction to almost anything. If I'm happy, then I want to go to bed with someone, and if I'm furious, such as after the very bitter row I had with George back in April, I want to cheer myself up."
"So why sex?" Helen probed further. "Why not alcohol, or drugs, or gambling, why sex?"
"Because sex doesn't usually hurt either me or anyone else," John told her, receiving a raised eyebrow at the word usually. "After that argument I had with George, which was definitely the worst we've had in years, I went out, and picked a woman up in a bar. A couple of months later, George discovered that because of this woman, I'd given both George and Jo Chlamydia."
"I bet you weren't popular," Helen said ruefully, easily able to picture an irate George.
"Not very," John replied a little shame facedly. "I don't think I've ever seen George so angry. But most of the time, sex doesn't hurt anyone."
"Thought for another's welfare, isn't really why you do it, is it, Judge?"
"What makes you so sure?" He asked her, giving Helen the thought that if he asked any more questions in response to her own, she just might be struck off for shaking a patient to death in their first session.
"Because you came out with that explanation far too easily," She told him, seeing by the slight slump of his shoulders that she'd finally broken through, finally achieved something with her questions. His continued pacing led him over to the window, where he stood looking out at the still pouring rain. He didn't want to do this, he did not want to stand here and show her just how weak and sometimes vulnerable he was. Helen simply waited, knowing that he was summoning up the courage to tell her something that to him was the first step in the long, highly treacherous road of his unveiling. He gripped the hot radiator in front of him, the warmth slightly taking the edge off his fear.
"I need to feel loved," He said eventually. "And being physically close to someone, getting to know every inch of her body, and giving her as much pleasure as is humanly possible, is really the only way I can understand that feeling, or at least the pretense of that feeling. With Jo and George, making love is the only way I can show them I love them, and the only way I can believe that they love me. With a stranger, it just for a while, allows me to feel loved, even if I'm not." As these words were dragged out of him, she could tell that this had taken an enormous amount of effort. It crucified him to be so vulnerable with anyone, and he deserved some praise for this first achievement. After quite a lengthy silence, John turned and came back to his chair, refusing to look at her, not wanting to see what might be in her eyes.
"I think we should leave it there for this week," She said, at last bringing his gaze back on her.
"Is the time up already?" He asked in surprise, glancing at his watch to see it was almost six o'clock.
"Yes, almost, but what you've just told me, that was an enormous achievement to get that far, and I think you need to recover from that, before we go any further."
"It doesn't feel much like an achievement," He said miserably.
"No, it probably doesn't," She said with sympathy. "But you did make the right decision in coming here, and I hope that you'll keep coming back."
"I'm not going to give up now," He said, offering her a slightly shaky smile, and feeling as exhausted as he usually did after a serious workout. As they walked out to their cars, John appeared to be miles away, clearly submerged in his thoughts.
"Try to keep your eyes on the road," Helen told him as she got into her car, thankfully lighting a much needed cigarette as she watched him drive away, wondering precisely what the next few sessions would bring. John Deed had many layers, she realised, each and every one of them complex and steadfastly maintained. Helen just hoped that she really was up to the job of breaking through them all.
Song credits= The Beatles "Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band"
John Mayall's Bluesbreakers "Stepping Out"
The Doors "Five to One"
Muddy Waters "I've got my mojo working"
Members of Cream- Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce, Ginger Baker
John could remember the day when he confessed to his beloved daughter Charlie that he shared her taste for Black Sabbath. Her tolerant smile showed that she had failed to realise that his playful nature had the tendency on occasion to understate the more outrageous sides of his personality rather than exaggerate it. The memory of that conversation however lingered at the back of his mind.
It all started from the day he watched the television and saw the Prime Minister up to his usual tricks of image projection in the tactfully unostentatious way that his guitar case was displayed to make him look vaguely hip. It angered him much to see him so very badly clothed by the tattered remnants of a vanished hippie past. He was not sure whether this or the nauseating way he said the word "guy" incensed him more. John was always a man of strong views. By God, he was better than this mediocrity who presumed to rule the nation. He bet that he was a mediocre musician as well.
He had worked hard all his life with not much of a respite from the law books and the cases, which had dominated his life yet everyone felt distant from him, out of reach that night. He was at a loose end and, for once in his life, searched out the more forgotten parts of his flat.
There it was, on the topmost shelf, buried below a mixture of old papers and a few clothes, a long black flat case. He pulled it out, dislodging everything around it. He clicked the catches and, there it was, a shiny cherry red Gibson electric guitar. For a second, he didn't want to disturb it but the force within him was too great. He picked it up and the lean plastic shape fitted snugly into his hands and his fingernails dragged their way across the strings. The muted but to him, resonant hum dragged him back into his past and brought back to him that long forgotten thrill.
With characteristic obstinacy, John blithely propped the small practice amplifier on a coffee table, hooked the guitar strap over one shoulder and struck out the first shimmering amplified notes of "Sunshine of your Love." The fingers still remembered the once familiar patterns as he punched out the intro. An intense feeling of satisfaction brought him to life. Just when he was about to ascend the musical scales into that familiar solo leaving behind that bedrock riff, the door opened and Monty poked his head round the door.
"John, what in hell are you doing? I'm trying to work."
."What does it look like?"
"You can't play that music here."
"Aha. You didn't call it an infernal racket as my university tutor used to call that song."
"Yes, well, I have some affection for it, but this is neither the time or the place."
"You are a rock fan, Monty?" John looked at him with that expression of spiritual recognition of a soul brother, instead of that mockery in his eyes. Stanley might have looked at the long lost Dr Livingstone that way.
"Yes," growled Monty." I used to play drums a bit but I gave it up when I met Vera."
The faint tinge of regret was not lost on John.
"And would you like to get back to playing in a band?"
John's words and his appealing blue eyes roused a flicker of spirit in him, as he was secretly bored with his life. He knew he shouldn't let John coax him into such a mad idea but deep down he wanted to be tempted.
When he stood in the mysteriously acquired rehearsal hall, he felt too old and stiff for the shiny drum kit before him. However the cymbals weren't quite his height, he noted.
"Just imagine that Neil Haughton is the drum kit and you are kicking at him with the drum pedal and clouting him with your drum sticks." John's voice insinuated its way into his fantasies.
Monty seemed to swell inwardly, removed his tie and jacket, unbuttoned his two top shirt buttons, took his place and unleashed a brutal drum solo where the sideways smashed at the bass drum pounded out in perfect synch with the drum rolls off the top and into the cymbal crashes. John felt this animal thrusting rhythm, which blew the top off Monty's long, pent up rage. He immediately locked into it with a throaty rhythmic guitar figure, which drove Monty's fury onwards. The spirit between them fused together till Monty's final flourish drew the music to a halt.
"Not as fit as I used to be," Monty gasped apologetically.
"Monty, you are brilliant. We've got to get a group together,
" I suppose it's like riding a bike, you'll always remember." Monty panted, still recovering his breath but he felt unexpectedly good about himself.
"We need a bass player and singer at the minimum."
"You're right," enthused Monty when he had recovered." but we can't just stick an advertisement on the student union notice board like we used to. "
"Where there is a will, there is a way." John muttered, a faraway look of determination in his eyes.
The next day, he still looked that way when he had adjourned to his favourite café. One half of his mind was on the trial he was overseeing, the other was fixated on his frustration in being in a potentially rock solid outfit but minus a vital component.
"Hi John, didn't know you were going to be round these parts." Nikki's bright pleasant tones broke in on his thoughts. By the expression on your face, you have a tricky case on your hands."
"The trial is commonplace. What is driving me to distraction is that I am trying to form a rock band as an extra curricular interest and I have a problem."
"Suppose you talk to me about it." Her curiosity was definitely roused and she had an inkling in her mind that she could help out.
"Coope has tipped me off through her network of contacts that the Prime Minister is considering coming to the local town hall in a sponsored talent show for groups."
"It will need to keep out the would be "pop idols." Nikki concluded.
"I understand that he plans to perform with a pick up band. I have that itching, burning desire to form a rival outfit and just blow him off the stage. That is my ultimate ambition in my life."
That combative gleam in his eye and the drawl in his voice was infectious and immediately had Nikki in its grip.
"So what's the problem?"
"I am an accomplished lead guitarist in the Eric Clapton mould and I have a partner in crime as a Ginger Baker styled drummer. I urgently need a vocalist and bass player."
"The answer to your problem is sitting opposite you."Nikki smiled broadly." I sang and played bass in a group in my early days till my other half at the time made me settle down and give up the music scene. Now I have a regular daytime job, I'm up for something like this. Helen will understand."
The gleam of intense satisfaction shone out of John's eyes as fate fell into his hands. He knew Nikki, the former inmate of Larkhall and now governor of G Wing but Nikki the reincarnation of Jack Bruce was an enormous stroke of luck
Back in the rehearsal room on another evening, John enthused at length to his comrades in arms as they sweated away to set up the array of amplifiers, drum kits and to plug in the leads.
"One, two three four." John counted in as, with a will, Monty smote the drum kit with that peculiar lopsided beat for the four beats in a bar for Nikki and John to come in with that unique scrubbing rhythm.
"We're Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.
We hope you will enjoy the show
We're Sergeant Pepper's one and only Lonely Hearts Club Band.
Sit back and let the evening go ."
Nikki's voice had that ecstatically raunchy intonation and she played with that thumping edge over which John's fluid high-pitched guitar cut an authoritative edge through the music. Beneath that, Monty hammered away and they were all together with that intense joy at making music, however ill assorted were their origins. That was almost the point of it all.
They started to strike problems from the next song onwards as the sound balance started to go awry. Monty's drums started to drown everything out and other times Nikki's bass occasionally did the same with John's elaborate guitar solo. The expression on his face became more and more pained till he drew the last song to a close.
"We're all playing fine but the music's out of balance. We need a mixing board and someone to work the PA."
"Did you mention a PA?" A strange voice broke in on them. It was none other than the respectably dressed Coope, that infinitely resourceful manager of John's complicated love life, the embodiment of imperturbability who gently steered into his hands the cases she thought he should have.
"I. was looking for you as Jo Mills had kept calling for you and was increasingly worried that you weren't returning your calls. Now I see I have no cause to worry."
"But we do." Retorted John." I need someone to manage a different kind of PA that you perform as your daily function."
"I think I can help out here. I used to manage the board for my son till he went to university. Even he thought I wasn't bad."
"Coope, as usual, you're a godsend," exclaimed John. Fortune blessed them as, with inspired musicianship, they played the same set of songs again the next night and Coope's deft touch manipulated the various channels to perfection. They grabbed the songs by the scruff of the neck and rode them all the way home.
It was the evening that the P M had been waiting for. His close political advisers had warned him that a more hip image would draw back the young voters who had stabbed him in the back by daring to take to the streets and march in the streets about Iraq instead of sticking their favourite pin up posters of pop stars on their bedroom walls. He wasn't exactly "pop idol" himself but his looks were still vaguely youthful. His political fixers had set everything up and he was the top of the bill attraction, together with the Chancellor of the Exchequer and a reluctant Neil Haughton on drums. It suited his aggressive tendencies and was safely consigned to the back of the stage.
The youthful groups played as tastefully though not too expertly, helped by the fact that no alternative musician or pop idol would have dreamed of turning up for totally opposite reasons, even with the faint hope of a second of TV coverage. The TV cameras were set up complete with the supine press corps and the besuited trio drank sugar free tea backstage and waited to be given the curtain call. The local yokels had been duly given their instructions as to what to do.
Behind the curtain, John, Nikki and Monty were sweating hard to fix up their equipment in record time in the narrow space to the side of the expensive gear of the band they vowed to upstage. The break before the headline act was judged to be long enough to heighten that feeling of anticipation of the passive celebrity worshippers. Ironically, it gave them just enough time with the help from women working at the hall that Nikki knew from her club days who helped them get set up ten minutes before the interval was due to end.
"One two, one two," John spoke into his mike and there was a brief squeal of feedback before Cope, serene at the mixing desk, got it under control. It did bring in the quicker witted audience back from the bar to augment the few who stayed in their seats.
"We are an unscheduled support band before the P M takes the stage. We are the Storm Riders." John announced, his expressive voice capable of filling a court room now amplified by the PA which sent it rolling round the hard domed ceiling of the much larger concert hall." On bass and vocals we have, Nikki Wade, a prison governor. I'm John Deed on lead guitar and I'm a high court judge and on drums is Monty Everard who is my senior in the legal profession. One, two, three, four."
Immediately, the band careered into a perfectly balanced version of "Sergeant Pepper" The three instruments meshed and blended perfectly together to perfection and the wall of music grabbed hold of the audience, John inspired to venture into back up vocals behind Nikki. The audience were entranced and a solid stream of people filed in from the bar. At the end, Nikki's voice built to a crescendo as the song soared out into the audience before the band signed off with a brief instrumental flourish.
"And now, our second number features John Deed as Eric Clapton.This is no "Stars in Your Eyes" though. This is for real." Nikki shouted exultantly into the mike as john tore into the opening riff of "Stepping Out". Nikki and Monty held down the short stabbing staccato rhythms while all of John's soul was at one with the fiery flurry of notes which reached out into the dark. His flying fingers coaxed such an intensity of feeling out of his freeboard, his face intent with concentration yet stepping back from the spotlight.
There was pandemonium backstage as three angry powerful rulers of the country burst out of their dressing room and struggled their way through the rambling maze of corridors to find the stage. Whoever was responsible for escorting them to the stage had let them down badly.
With one eye mentally on the clock which ticked away the time they had to perform their set, John led the trio into the archetypal Cream song "Sunshine of your Love' which Nikki and Monty blessed alongside of him with their music, their undying devotion to that song. He stepped forward to the microphone to add a touch of emphatic background harmonies to the line " ..I'll stay with you till my seeds are dried up "But, he thought smugly to himself, while he followed that pulse of music to its distant source so far away in an endless quest, his powers would stay with him, like Nikki's, like Monty's. They drove that song home to a climax of thundering drums and crashing chords until the Doors of Perception opened right up in front of their eyes in the next song.
"Five to One
One in Five
No one here gets out alive
You get yours, baby
I'll get mine
Going to make it if we try"
"The old get old
And the Young get stronger
May take a week
And it may take longer
They've got the guns
But we've got the numbers
Gonna win, yeah, we're taking over."
Nikki screamed out the words of Jim Morrison of the Doors into the dark as the repeated pile driver rhythms eventually erupted out into the audience with a glorious explosion of interlocking rhythms, Monty grinning devilishly as he pounded away in the background and the music reached its triumphant conclusion.
"All right, Houghton, what is the problem," John exclaimed as the crowd exploded in cheering while that contemptible weasel was suddenly pulling at his shirtsleeve. Behind him, the face of the smiling smoothie behind him who always looked so in command before a TV camera was distorted with rage and jealousy. The real man, so carefully hidden from public eye, was coming to the surface. He wasn't coming forward to back up his friend but hung back, leaving someone else to do the dirty work for him.
"We're Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.
We're sorry but it's time to go
Sergeant Pepper's one and only lonely Hearts Club Band"
Nikki improvised this last finale as an encore as she knew that the wrath of the establishment would cut them short very shortly. She wondered how they had gone on so long without the plug being pulled on them for so long but wasn't asking questions. John tore off a brief snatch of a solo as his torn shirtsleeve flapped loose leaving an enraged Neil Houghton in the wings, impotent and helpless.
"Prime Minister, beat that." He shouted through the blend of stamping and cheering and turned round to stare defiantly at the PM who stood aghast and indecisive. He was no longer a politician appearing at the rostrum at a party conference or a would be rock star. The TV cameras had caught and transmitted the last two minutes of the Storm Riders performance on prime time television. As Muddy Waters might have told him, his mojo definitely wasn't working now or would it ever work in his life.
When John woke up, he felt enormously elated and refreshed in comparison with the way the wounds of his psyche had been opened up and had bled all over the carpet. Perhaps this was John's way of self-preservation through the ultimate rebellion to rise from the ashes of his former self.
As Dr. Kay Scarpetta travelled in a cab towards George's office, she reflected that this unexpected meeting was providing a more than interesting break in her busy schedule, of lectures to endless streams of medical students. In her usual job as Chief Medical Examiner of Virginia, she really spent very little of her time passing on the knowledge of her profession, the endless investigation of crimes, testifying in trials and administering the Virginia medical examiners' system, overloading her days well beyond capacity. She did hold a position at the national Forensic Academy, but her other commitments never allowed her to do as much teaching as she would like. So, when she had met Zubin at a medical conference some years before, and he had suggested her doing a couple of week's teaching for him every year to the new influx of medical students, she had jumped at the chance. This enabled her to pass on the knowledge of how to investigate an unexplained death, and it gave her a very welcome break in her day to day activities. She had been over in England for a week already, when Zubin had put this latest problem to her. He had explained about his patient, and how there was some question over how he had died. Zubin had told her of meeting with his patient's wife's barristers, and how what they really needed was an expert pathologist. Well, what was she but an expert in unnatural or unexplained deaths. So, here she was, travelling across London in a cab, heading off to meet one of Barbara Mills' barristers, someone by the name of George Channing. After making sure that Kay was agreeable to meeting with her, Zubin had contacted George the day before to arrange the time. He had been planning to accompany her, but he had been kept in an operation longer than expected. When Kay had asked what this George Channing was like, all Zubin had been able to say was that she was very pretty. As they entered the much smarter streets of Knightsbridge, Kay was forced to admit that George had a far more glamorous location for her office than she did back in Virginia, with her office there being on the outskirts of the city, amongst all the other investigative paraphernalia of her trade. With all this in mind, she paid the taxi driver, and presented herself at reception, her mind entirely open to the possibilities this meeting might raise.
When George's secretary brought Kay upstairs, George was at first surprised to see that she was alone.
"Professor Khan sends his apologies," She said in what was definitely a cultured American accent. "But he got caught up in surgery."
"That's no problem," George said, taking in every inch of this woman's immaculately dressed frame. "I get the feeling that this case is going to be fraught with such difficulties from start to finish. Thank you for coming," She said, holding out her hand, which Kay shook.
"Would you like some coffee, Dr. Scarpetta?" George asked in her perfect drawing-room politeness.
"Please, call me Kay," Kay assured her, gratefully sinking into one of the chairs grouped around the coffee table in George's office. "I've been called Dr. Scarpetta by more students than I care to remember over the last week or so."
"Ah, yes, the virtues of the proverbial mockery of decorum," George agreed with feeling. "Every time I'm in court, I am referred to as Mrs. Channing, even though I haven't been married for nearly twenty years. The only judge who ever seems to remember that I'm divorced, is the one I was married to." George had no idea why such a piece of personal information had slipped out so easily, but this beautiful woman, with her petite stature, ash blonde hair and blue eyes, seemed to draw confidences from her without even asking.
"That must be something of a problem," Kay said with slightly widening eyes.
"Only when we get into a row and he bangs me up for contempt," At which Kay couldn't quite hide a smile. When their coffee arrived, George said, "As you are clearly well acquainted by virtue of your profession with the consequences of such a disgusting habit, will you object if I smoke?" Kay smiled broadly this time.
"Not at all," She replied. "As long as I can join you." Then, at the look of surprise on George's face, she added, "Doctors are just as human and just as infallible as everyone else, George. We smoke, eat bad food, and drink caffeine and alcohol just like the rest of you."
"That's good to know," George replied, gratefully reaching for her ashtray and putting it on the table between them.
"So, how much has Zubin told you?" George asked when she had lit a cigarette and taken a long drag.
"The patient's name was Henry Mills," Kay began, digging for some cigarettes of her own. "Aged fifty-eight, and was suffering from the final stages of terminal lung cancer. This was pronounced inoperable and untreatable by either chemotherapy or radiotherapy, on a thorough examination by, Connie Beauchamp," She added, searching her enormous memory for the name.
"Zubin was suspiciously quiet on the subject of Mrs. Beauchamp's professional skill," George put in, clearly impressed at Kay's almost total recall of the facts. "Which makes me wonder precisely why the prosecution might recruit her."
"Having met her a couple of days ago, I wouldn't be in the least surprised," Kay agreed with her. "She is what you might call forceful, in a self-assured, arrogant manner and who is obviously used to flattening anyone who lands in her path."
"Sounds like a woman after my own heart," George said in eager contemplation, clearly itching to tangle with such an object in the battlefield of court.
"I'm serious," Kay assured her.
"And just how long did it take you to work all this out?" George asked with obvious interest.
"About five minutes," Kay replied without the hint of a smile. "She gives off an even tougher exterior than I usually do. However, by the sounds of it, her surgical skill really can't be called into question."
"The police, in their infinite wisdom," George continued regretfully. "Have charged our client with murdering her husband, primarily because she did help her previously terminally ill husband to die. Now, I am not here to discuss the rights and wrongs of what she did last time, because I personally believe it to be irrelevant. Barbara, our client, maintains that her husband committed suicide. I suspect, though I have absolutely no proof of this, that the pathologist who did the original postmortem, was informed that he had been murdered, and therefore didn't look for any possibility. I am not attempting to cast any aspersions on your undoubtedly noble profession," She added, seeing the brief flare of professional pride and protectiveness in Kay's eyes. "But I do know how the police often react in situations such as these, and I do sincerely believe this to be a probability. What we need you to do, if possible, is to perform a second postmortem, and to attempt to establish what really happened. I am entirely prepared for the fact that my client is lying to me, though in truth I don't think she is. What we simply need is a second opinion, someone to look at this with a fresh perspective. Now, I can see that you have at least a dozen questions, so please fire away."
"First of all," Kay began, digging a pad and pen out of her handbag, and taking a swig of her coffee. "Why does Barbara Mills have two barristers?"
"I can see that particular question is going to crop up every time we find a new witness," George said with a rueful smile. "Both Jo Mills, no relation to Barbara, and I are friends of Barbara's, at least I like to think we are. This case is perhaps far more personally important to both of us than professionally. Jo is a criminal QC, whereas I chose to follow the path of civil law. I found that the financial reward was somewhat more lucrative. For the purposes of Barbara's case, I am acting as Jo's junior, even though I hold the same rank of QC as she does."
"I see," Kay replied, clearly impressed. "Well, seeing as you've given me your credentials, it seems only fair to give you mine. After finishing medical school, I did my law degree at George Town, Washington, after which I obtained my specialty in pathology, with my subspecialty in forensic pathology. I worked my way up through the medical examiners' system of Dade County, Miami, and was then made Chief Medical Examiner of Virginia in 1983, and I've been in Richmond ever since. I also work on a consultancy basis for the FBI, as their consulting forensic pathologist, as well as occasionally teaching at the National Forensic Academy."
"And I thought my life was busy," George said dryly, in an effort to cover up how astounded she was.
"It doesn't leave much room for anything else," Kay admitted quietly, and George got the fleeting feeling that Kay hid an enormous emptiness beneath all her professional achievements.
"Would you like to see a copy of the original postmortem report?" George asked, thinking that if she wasn't careful, she could sit and talk to this woman all day.
"No," Kay replied without hesitation. "I prefer to examine a body with a completely open mind. The police say Henry Mills was murdered, your client says he killed himself. I'd like to stay on neutral territory until I know for sure. If I do discover that your client is telling the truth, would you require me to take the stand in any resulting trial?"
"Yes, if at all possible."
"Something you must think about before you actually decide such a thing," Kay said carefully. "Is whether or not you are willing to put up with the bad publicity that may be dragged up by the prosecution? I haven't ever featured in the British press, at least not that I know of, but it wouldn't be an exaggeration to suggest, that institutions such as The New York Times and The Washington Post have created an entire archive, for the information they have published about me over the years. In some cities back home, I am considered a liability to have in any courtroom. Not because of the reliability of my testimony, but because of the publicity certain major events in my life have attracted. The best thing for you to do is to first of all find out everything you can about me, before you decide whether or not you really do want me as a witness. I would be doing your client a severe disservice if I didn't give you this prior warning."
"Couldn't you enlighten me yourself?" George asked, not remotely put off by the prospect of bad publicity. She had defended enough utter scoundrels in her time to no longer give a damn about such things.
"Whilst the archives of the press might give you a somewhat biased view, they will show you the stance that the prosecution is likely to take, if you should choose to have me appear on the stand, rather than to simply stipulate my report."
"Right," George said, thoroughly understanding her logic. "It sounds as though I'm in for a shock."
"That is highly likely," Kay told her with absolute certainty. "Now, what I do need before I can proceed with the second postmortem, is the permission of his next of kin, your client I presume."
"That can probably be obtained for you today."
"In that case, I'll contact the mortuary that is currently holding him, and have him transferred to St. Mary's, where I can work on him tomorrow if possible."
A little while later, as George dropped Kay back at St. Mary's hospital, she couldn't help but take another opportunity to visually check out this new acquaintance. She was poised, petite, and immaculate, the tailored grey suit complementing her perfectly. She was on her way to court, to catch Jo in the lunchtime adjournment, and to possibly spend a little while with John if he wasn't too busy. St. Mary's had been a little out of her way, but it had provided her with ample opportunities to get to know Kay Scarpetta a little more. When she drew up in the car park of the Old Bailey, she saw that the adjournment had obviously already begun, because there Jo was, standing at the top of the steps with a cigarette in her hand.
"You look as though you truly need that," George commented as she approached.
"You have no idea," Jo said exhaustedly.
"Yes, I do," George smiled fondly. "However, I am here to tell you that your work won't be ending with the final adjournment this afternoon. I have enlisted Dr. Kay Scarpetta, who is, I must say, the most ravishing pathologist I think I've ever met in my life, but she needs Barbara's permission to do the second postmortem."
"And you want me to go and see Barbara after court this afternoon," Jo concluded tiredly.
"If possible," George replied. "You do the sympathetic touch far better than I do."
"Then perhaps it's about time you learnt," Jo said icily, immediately regretting her outburst. "I'm sorry," She said, finishing her cigarette and flicking the end down the steps.
"The case not going as planned?" George asked, knowing just how frustrating a morning in court could sometimes be.
"No, not in the slightest," Jo said bitterly. "And I really think hell must have finally frozen over," She added with a short laugh. "Because I am actively considering completely forgetting any hint of discretion, in order to get a cuddle from you in public."
"You must have had a bad day," George said with a broad smile. Then, much softer and with far more feeling, she added, "Save the thought of it till later."
"Hmmm, I will," Jo replied almost contentedly, giving George's hand a brief squeeze as they moved towards the doors to go inside.
"Do you happen to know whether or not our Lord and master is busy today?" George asked as the doors swung too behind them.
"Well, he was in a particularly vile mood in court, so I should imagine he's hiding," Jo said ruefully. "I haven't seen him like that for a long time."
"Ah," George said in understanding. "I'll go up and see him then, and persuade him to lighten up a bit. Oh, and I think you and me will have some fairly hefty reading to do tonight."
"Why?" Jo asked ominously, knowing that after a day like today, all she would really want was a long soak in the bath and a good night's sleep. As George filled her in as to Kay's slightly cryptic warning, Jo's face darkened in disbelief.
"You are joking?" She said, her anger clearly rising. "George, the last thing we need on this case, is some overgrown government official who's managed to get herself more bad publicity than some of your ex-clients. Just because you are used to defending some of the most despicable human beings I've ever met, does not mean you have the right to jeopardise this case."
"As I assume you don't want an audience," George said a little acidly. "Shall we leave this till later?"
"Yes," Jo replied, calming down a little. "I'll go and see Barbara, and if the worst happens, we can always submit Kay Scarpetta's report as evidence without questioning her." As Jo walked away, and George retreated outside to her car, she reflected that any passing court officials would think this was like the old days, her and Jo fighting in public, just as they once had done on so many occasions. She didn't want to see John now, because she knew she would end up telling him about their disagreement, and he didn't need that on top of everything else. She would see Jo later, they would sort everything out, and she would go and see John tomorrow when she was feeling happy again.
Jo was grateful to put some distance between that massive stone edifice of the ancient court of law in which she had spent so much of her life. She needed a break but, after a trying day, could not mentally face up to what must come next.
Suddenly, a train of thought spirited her away with her eager consent from the pressing needs of the moment. The Old Bailey was a building that was her place of work, which she took for, granted as somewhere where she moved around as her natural right. It was something, which she did not think about as there was never enough time in her life to contemplate something so abstract. It hadn't always been like this. An image leapt into her consciousness, one that had been so deeply implanted in her mind as if it were a part of her DNA and therefore buried in her unconscious. That was of a black and white TV depiction of that massive domed roof and the symbol of the scales of justice perched on the summit. It symbolised ancient majesty and one of the most powerful depictions of evenhandedness that could be conjured up. So rightly had that physical depiction been created, something that ancient craftsmen had laboured long and hard on and had swung it up to the very top of the edifice to announce that value to all and sundry. It was a shame that, right close up, it was so difficult to see. She had watched black and white films centred on the Old Bailey and that had been her initial guiding spirit that had propelled her to her destiny. She knew that John had been similarly driven and that she had been deeply influenced by him on a personal level, second hand through this same shared vision.
She had arrived back at her parked car without knowing how she had got there, sat in the driving seat and lay back as she smoked a cigarette. She knew that when she had extinguished it, she would phone Karen on her mobile and make the necessary arrangements to interview Barbara. Dog tired though she was, she could face the reality of what she had to do. It almost didn't matter how desperately tired she felt. After the event, she always knew that she would rise to the occasion. The course of action was clear enough. It was just a question of doing it. As she fumbled in her handbag for her mobile, she checked her watch and it was four thirty. She was relieved to see that the icon 'battery low' didn't flash up. She had a tendency to not bother recharging it until it was needed at a critical time and let her in for scouring the streets for that increasingly rare sight, a phone box that was unvandalised.
"I wanted to see if it is convenient to see Barbara a little while later this afternoon."
"How soon is soon?" enquired Karen. At this time of the day, there was plenty of time to fit her in for an interview, even allowing for London traffic.
"As soon as it takes to get to Larkhall from the Old Bailey which is where I am now."
"You've even got time to share a cup of tea as well with Nikki and me if you want," Came her cordial reply.
Jo smiled gratefully at the kind offer.
As she engaged in the cut and thrust battle to edge her way through the rush hour traffic, she reflected on how unspeakable John had been. The normal patient courtesies that he had displayed were conspicuous by their absence. There had been occasions in the past when she had deliberately pushed her luck but her interventions today had been smacked
down in short order. She had seriously wondered, not for the first time, that he was going through some mid life crisis. At some point, she would have to speak to him inside or outside court and would have to edge her way into discussing the matter. As the shiny new Audi powered its way just across in front of her, causing her to brake sharply, she ended up suspending that background contemplation of matters more distant and stuck to the job in hand. John and everything else not immediately connected to the matter in hand could wait till later. That was her philosophy of coping with challenges.
With something like a growing feeling of familiarity, Jo passed through the front lodge.
"You know the way, madam." Ken's friendly voice was more a statement than a question and Dominic was on duty to welcome her.
"Do you want to see Barbara now or perhaps see either Nikki or Karen first?" Dominic queried in his friendly, helpful fashion.
Jo debated the matter in her mind. It would be pleasant to sit back and take it easy in friendly company but her evening was already going to be taken up scouring through computerised newspaper archives. Business first, a little mild relaxation later, she concluded.
"I'd better see Barbara first. I may not have time to drop in on Nikki and Karen later on even if they are available."
Jo strolled down the corridors to the private room and took her place in the cramped space. She placed her briefcase at her side and waited patiently till a polite knock at the door heralded the arrival of a slightly concerned Barbara. She was puzzled at the message of a second visit by Jo and had been trying to work it out.
"I'll be outside the room for when you've finished," Dominic tactfully explained, covering two purposes in one explanation for his presence.
"I know you must be a little surprised at me coming back so soon after last time," Jo's pleasant voice and reassuring smile grabbed hold of the conversation from the start. "But there's been a development in the case which I had to see you to ask you for your permission or otherwise."
Barbara studied Jo's manner carefully. She had seen Jo in action on a number of occasions and had had pleasant experience of her before in that far off time when they had played together in the same orchestra. She judged that Jo was not trying to conceal bad news as a doctor might to an incurably ill person like, like her husband.
"Please continue," Came her invitation in the precise tones of Middle England offering cucumber sandwiches.
"What I didn't know last time I saw you is that there is available to us the opportunities and advantages of the Chief Medical Examiner of Virginia, Dr. Kay Scarpetta. She is perhaps the highest authority in her field."
"Which is, Jo?"
"As a pathologist, to being able to definitely establish what led to the unfortunate death of your husband."
The expression on Barbara's face tightened and a look of fear flashed across her face. Jo felt uncomfortable as she spoke. The situation could so easily be reversed. She could imagine so easily Barbara's intense desire that Henry's body be left physically in peace after his sufferings over the months before his death.
"I know that you are doing what you think is for the best for me but don't you have any idea what that means. Remember, I've lost two husbands, both dear to me the same way.
Does it have to be this way?"
Jo licked her lips and deliberated before she carefully articulated her reply.
"I can't hide it from you that it means conducting a postmortem and all that it entails. I would never suggest it if I didn't think that there are good reasons "
Jo's voice trailed away. The barrister side of her personality was setting out what was mathematically a good case but sometimes equations didn't feel like emotional sense. Two strands of thinking were starting to twist against each other till she found the will and inspirational thinking to carry on.
" .I have to advise you that, thinking dispassionately as I have to do, so much of this trial will depend on medical expertise. If we don't double check for ourselves, some vital clue, something that neither myself nor any of the legal profession that I will know, could remain undetected. We are simply handing over a vital area of ground to the prosecution. I can never in all good conscience, fail in my duty to give you my best advice to my client. This is a vow I made to myself that I could never break."
Perhaps it was the way that Jo's voice broke for a fraction of time with emotion or that Jo's statement of her ideals was so close to her form of Christianity. Either way, Barbara could not help but be swayed by her. If it took that to gain her freedom, then so be it. Barbara could feel Henry's tangible presence in the room smiling down on her with quiet approval.
"I must explain that we don't know what Kay will find, so you mustn't get up any false hope."
"That doesn't stop me having faith."
Barbara's very quiet, slowly articulated words and direct expression pierced Jo through and through. A woman like Barbara had the knack of making Jo feel that, for all her knowledge, she had a lot left to learn in life.
"You must have faith. You must indeed."
Jo nodded her head vigorously and a tear or two welled up in her eyes as Barbara's kindly gaze settled on her.
The conversation veered off sharply towards lighter, inconsequential matters which suited both of them until Barbara suddenly asked the question which had been at the back of her mind all along.
"If you don't mind me asking, Jo but when will it be done?"
Barbara's reply was polite but it was plain to Jo that she did not want to dwell too much on the details.
"I understand that it will be tomorrow."
"That quick?" Barbara raised her eyebrows before slipping into a Shakespearian quote which surprised Jo slightly. "Well, if it were done, it were best done swiftly."
"If that is all right by you," Jo carefully replied.
"Quite sure," Came the definite reply with strength of purpose behind it.
Presently, when Dominic escorted them both back to the wing and to the welcoming smiles of Denny and the Julies,
"Why don't you pop in and see Nikki and Karen while you're here. By the off chance, they're both in Nikki's office."
Dominic must have taken a few lessons from Coope in gently moving situations along, Jo thought as she noticed the ready smile, which accompanied his soothing words.
"I don't know," Jo said hesitantly. "I've got more work to do tonight."
"You're worse than Karen if that's possible. A break will do you good if you don't mind me saying."
Jo felt a sudden rush of tiredness run through her system. She did need that break when she thought about it.
Nikki poured a cup of tea for Jo and Karen drew up a chair as Jo wearily made her way into the office. She did need this period of time to let go and her throat was parched with all the talking all day, both here and in court. She accepted a cigarette eagerly and sank back in her chair. They chattered in a leisurely fashion and enjoyed the companionship together. After a while, her promptings of conscience began to get in the way of her enjoyment. Her mouth made the right sounds but she didn't feel them the way that she wanted and occasionally, to her embarrassment, her reply was out of sync with the preceding comment. Both Nikki and Karen smoothed away Jo's faux pas with the fluency that came natural to them. Finally, Jo stubbed out her second cigarette, which she had left to smoulder away in her fingers.
"I'm sorry. I really am not the best company right now. I must be getting on to do what I'm supposed to do. I can't afford to let things slide."
Nikki's eyes flicked between Jo and Karen. Karen was the worst workaholic that she had known, especially since she came back from the conference. She could feel Jo's tangibly compulsive desire to be elsewhere but was tactfully silent upon the matter.
"Well, whenever you're round these parts, don't hesitate to look us up, Jo," Nikki said casually as she rang for a prison officer to see her on her way. In the meantime, while Jo made her exit, her mind was already in the next scene, to where George was waiting for her and remembered the little squabble she had with her earlier on. However, this was the least of her problems because that was the way things were between them these days.
When Jo arrived at George's later that evening, she had calmed down considerably since lunchtime. She shouldn't really have said what she had to George, but bad publicity aimed at their expert witness was definitely the last thing they needed. When George opened the door, she looked relaxed, as if the harsh words of this morning were entirely forgotten.
"How did it go with Barbara?" George asked as Jo moved into the hall.
"Fine, and I rang the hospital and spoke to Dr. Scarpetta, to let her know to go ahead with the postmortem tomorrow. She does have a nice voice, I'll give you that," She added with a smile.
"Rolls over you like honey, doesn't it," George said, the slight gleam of lust in her eyes.
"You're incorrigible," Jo said fondly, drawing George into her arms. "And I'm sorry about earlier," She said, after they'd exchanged a softly lingering kiss.
"Oh, that's all right," George said airily. "Any random observer will think it's just like the old days, you and me scrapping at every possible opportunity. They'd never even suspect we were sleeping together."
"I think John's been far too much of a bad influence on you over the years."
"Yes, more than likely," George agreed, moving into the kitchen to pour them a glass of wine, before they began on the evening's work.
"Did Kay give you any ideas as to where to start?" Jo asked, as they both drew chairs up before George's computer.
"She suggested the New York Times and The Washington Post. So, whilst I was waiting for you, I familiarised myself with their archives, and I found enough headlines about our, dear, chief, to make John's bad press look like fairy stories in comparison."
"Oh, well," Jo said philosophically. "It should make interesting reading if nothing else."
"Jo," George said carefully. "I've not read much of it, but from what I have seen, I think you might have been right, in what you said at lunchtime. If the likes of Brian Cantwell got hold of some of this, her testimony in this case would be history."
"Show me, and only when we've seen the worst of it, will we make a decision," Jo said quietly, now willing to at least give Kay's publicity a fair hearing, before doing anything rash.
"Let's start with the most recent," George began, clicking the mouse and bringing the monitor back to life. "Because I think the few I found will give you plenty to think about." As she began to scroll through the various headlines that the Washington Post had accumulated about Kay over the years, Jo began to get a fractured picture of someone who had lived far too much in the public eye, and who's every misfortune had appeared in print.
"FBI lover comes back from the dead," Read one, dated 2003, followed by a picture of a man in his late fifties, with silver-grey hair and a world weary face.
"The world of law enforcement has been brought face to face with the resurrection of one of its most valued and cherished profilers, Benton Wesley. Chief Medical Examiner, Kay Scarpetta, thought her FBI lover and most trusted colleague to have been killed at the hands of Carrie Grethin, one of the most notorious serial killers of the age, back in June of 1998. Imagine her shock, therefore, when she is presented with the unbreakable evidence that her lover faked his own death, in order to go undercover, and bring down the Chandonne criminal cartel from within..."
"There are numerous stories along the same lines," George filled in as they read.
"I just can't imagine that," Jo said in total horror. "Thinking someone you loved was dead for over five years, only to then find out they were still alive."
"Killer, or victim," The next one read, dated December 1999.
"Jean-Baptiste Chandonne was last night apprehended as he tried to attack Chief Medical Examiner Kay Scarpetta in her home in Richmond, receiving a particularly severe injury for his trouble. Believing this man to be the killer of several people in the Richmond area, Dr. Scarpetta retaliated by dashing formalin in her attacker's face, rendering him blind from caustic burns to the eyes..."
"Good God," Jo said with a wince.
"Not quite how I would choose to defend myself," George said dryly. "But there you are."
"Wolf man blinded as he enters home of Chief Medical Examiner."
"Has Le Loup Garou finally met his match?"
"Beauty and the Beast: a crime of fury."
The headlines went on and on about this particular event, seeming to become even more wild and speculative the more they increased. Then, perhaps the biggest shock of the night so far.
"Chief Medical Examiner to be tried by grand jury."
"The Chief Medical Examiner, Kay Scarpetta, is to be tried by a Richmond grand jury, to decide whether or not she should be indicted for the murder of Deputy Chief Diane Bray, who only joined the Richmond Police Department some months ago. Dr. Scarpetta, is currently refusing comment. Readers may remember that just before Christmas, Dr. Scarpetta threw formalin in the face of a man trying to gain entry to her Richmond home. When questioned by the press at the crime scene of Diane Bray's murder, Dr. Scarpetta also refused us comment. Was this because she knew only too well who had committed this crime?"
"That's ludicrous!" George exclaimed in anger. "She's gorgeous, she wouldn't kill anyone." Jo laughed.
"George, I knew that John was unfailingly naive when it came to female beauty, but I didn't think you were quite as bad. Besides, if she had been found guilty, she would hardly still be in her job, now would she." There appeared to be nothing immediately prior to the incident of the formalin, until they reached June of 1998.
"FBI lover killed on the job."
"FBI profiler, Benton Wesley, was yesterday found dead, after the most recent of a series of fire related deaths that have called such officials as Dr. Kay Scarpetta, Chief Medical Examiner of Virginia, and Teun McGovern, head of the arson investigation department of the bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms to the scenes of the crimes. Dr. Kay Scarpetta was called to the scene of the third in this series of fires, to find that her own lover, the FBI profiler Benton Wesley, had become the latest victim..."
And so the stories went on, many of them to do with Kay's involvement with Benton Wesley, and his tracking down and eventual capture of the psychopath serial killer, Carrie Grethin, in the Bowery in New York.
"Chief Medical Examiner kills for the third time in self defence."
"Third time?" George queried, her entire body breaking out in a cold sweat. "Just who has Professor Khan introduced me to?"
"It does say self defence, George," Jo reminded her.
"The Chief Medical Examiner of Virginia, Dr. Kay Scarpetta, has brought her total number of self defence killings to three."
"They make it sound as though she makes a habit of it," George said in disgust.
"Whilst Carrie Grethin, the female accomplice of the serial killer Temple Brookes Gault, was yesterday apprehended in the Bowery of New York city, the Clyde to her Bonny meeting his end under a train in a subway tunnel, after being stabbed. Dr. Scarpetta is persistently refusing to comment, though the information has been leaked that the knife Gault was stabbed with, was a scalpel he had previously stolen from the Chief Medical Examiner. Temple Gault has always been assumed to be the killer, or at least one of the killers, of thirteen-year-old Eddie Heath, a prison Governor and a prison guard from Richmond, as well as Scarpetta's former morgue supervisor, Susan Storey. Whilst the general public can only feel a sigh of relief at the capture of Carrie Grethin and the death of Temple Gault, it must surely be noted that this is the second time the Chief Medical Examiner, Dr. Kay Scarpetta, has killed in the name of self-defence in the past three months. Back in October, the public will remember that she shot Mrs. Denesa Steiner, at the same time saving the life of her long time friend and colleague, Captain Pete Marino. Is the Chief Medical Examiner perhaps becoming more than a little trigger happy?"
"I couldn't have put that question better myself," George said dryly, thinking that never again could she be shocked or surprised by anything.
"It's all sensationalist rubbish, George, anyone can see that."
"Oh, come on," George said with disgust. "Not even the Sun would print a blatantly fabricated lie, and the Washington Post and the New York Times, are far more reputable. There must be something in it."
"Well, like it or not," Jo said matter-of-factly. "She's going to do the second postmortem tomorrow, and we need to decide what we're going to do about using her as a witness, or merely submitting her report as evidence."
"You want to use her, don't you," George said, closing the computer down because she thought they'd probably read quite enough for one night.
"Look beyond the headlines," Jo replied with a sympathetic smile. "And I suspect you'll find someone who's had to fight against the odds for most of her life. That is precisely the kind of person we need on this case, someone who is used to fighting with everything they possess. She must have an endless supply of severe determination, in order to still be functioning after all that."
"I would like to be as optimistic as you are," George said regretfully. "But is Barbara's case worth putting trust in someone you've never even met."
"You have met her, and spoken to her," Jo told her seriously. "And until you read all this, you liked her. I think it might just be time, to put some faith in your initial impressions. When she's done the postmortem tomorrow, talk to her, and use the opportunity to iron out some of the things that bother you. For all we know, the prosecution might not even think to look in the American press."
"You would, if you were acting for the prosecution, wouldn't you."
"Yes, I would, but Neumann Mason-Alan rarely thinks along such sensible lines." After a moment's far away thought, George broke the silence with,
"I wonder what it's like, to kill someone?"
"You've clearly not defended enough killers," Jo said quietly.
"I'm serious," George insisted. "I mean, to talk to her, she's so normal, that to contemplate her killing three people, never mind one, is pretty much unthinkable. I just wondered how she's managed to come out of it so sane, that's all."
"Well, ask her," Jo said with an encouraging smile. "She might just tell you."
During most of Thursday morning, George's thoughts kept straying back to the evening before, and all the headlines and stories she'd seen involving Kay. She didn't want to believe that someone as stunning and articulate as Dr. Scarpetta could possibly have killed even one person, never mind three, but the truth did have to be faced. What would such an experience do to someone? How could they possibly come out of something like that and still function as a perfectly normal human being? Whilst she talked to other clients, and wrote up reports of various cases, she couldn't help persistently wondering how Kay was getting on. George was ninety percent sure that Barbara was being truthful with them, but she had been in this job long enough to realise that one's client wasn't always honest with their lawyer, especially when it concerned such a serious charge. If it turned out that Barbara was concealing what had really happened, George knew that Jo would feel bitterly betrayed. But just after eleven thirty, her musings were brought to an end.
"George Channing," She said on answering the phone.
"George, this is Dr. Scarpetta," Came back the rich tones of the woman behind the headlines.
"How did you get on?" George asked her without further delay, and Kay could hear the unmistakable barrier of uncertainty that now existed between them.
"Your client is telling you the truth," Kay told her seriously. "I just need to find a way to prove it, which isn't something I can do with the antiquated equipment the hospital has here."
"Right," George said with a distinct air of relief. "So, what will you need to do?"
"First and foremost, I need to talk to your client," Kay explained. "Because I need her permission to take various tissue samples back to Richmond with me, where I can use photographic enhancement and histology to hopefully get you some useful answers."
"I should imagine I could arrange that for this afternoon, if you could fit it in."
"I'm finished with my lecture series over here, so yes."
"I'll contact Barbara's Governor," George replied. Then, after a moment's thoughtful pause, she said, "Would you like to come here first and have lunch? I think we need to talk."
"You did quite a lot of digging last night, didn't you," Kay said quietly.
"Yes, you could say that," George admitted sheepishly.
"I don't blame you for having misgivings, you know," Kay said gently. "I'm not sure that I'd want me as a witness if I had the choice."
"I want to trust you," George tried to explain, feeling that this would be far easier said over the phone than face to face. "It's just not a situation I've found myself in before."
"I wish I could say that it's not something you get used to, but it is."
"I'm not afraid of a witness's bad publicity," George insisted. "I'm just not used to being that wrong. When I met you and talked to you yesterday, the impression I got was of someone who is one hundred percent dedicated to her profession. I'm just finding it a little difficult to put the woman I met yesterday, with the woman discussed in all those headlines and stories I read last night."
"That's what I'll try to straighten out," Kay assured her. "And believe me, I do appreciate your honesty. It actually makes quite a refreshing change."
When Kay arrived at one o'clock, she looked neat, clean, and not in the least as though she had been digging around in human flesh all morning. Trying to banish such thoughts from her mind, George poured her a coffee, and they began on a tray of sandwiches that was laid out on the coffee table.
"Just out of pure, scientific interest," George said, nibbling at a slice of cucumber. "How on earth, does one transport human tissue samples across the Atlantic?"
"Dry ice," Kay said succinctly. "It won't be the first time I've been stopped at customs with less than desirable cargo. Some officials are even brave enough to try and unpack what I'm carrying, just to see what it is. I'll contact the airline before I travel. It's supposed to make things like this easier, but it rarely does. How did you get on with your client's Governor?"
"Well, seeing as Karen Betts is what you might call my ex, asking for the odd favour isn't a problem."
"Oh, I see," Kay replied, trying to hide the fact that she was attempting to figure out this puzzle. Yesterday, George had mentioned once having been married. Yet now here she was stating that she had also had an affair with a woman. Oh well, Kay thought philosophically, some people really did like both. "So," She asked, finally arriving at why she was here. "Just how much did you read last night?"
"Quite enough," George said without hesitation. "Let's start with Diane Bray, and your appearance before a grand jury."
"Ah yes," Kay said in bitter memory. "Possibly Le Loup Garou's most creative achievement, to have me suspected as the perpetrator of one of his crimes. Whilst all that was taking place, Chandonne agreed to be extradited to New York for one of his previous murders, meaning that he was never even tried for what he did to the two women he killed in Richmond, never mind the night he tried to kill me. However, I don't really see what the prosecution would do with that, because I wasn't indicted, and therefore wasn't subsequently found guilty."
"We also found quite a lot about Benton Wesley," George said carefully, realising that this would probably be a very closely guarded subject.
"That's not relevant," Kay said quickly. "Nothing about what Benton did could possibly reflect badly on me as a professional. Me as a woman perhaps, but not me as an expert in suspicious deaths."
"I quite agree," George said gently, seeing that Kay would put up with very little probing on this particular issue, something for which George couldn't possibly blame her. "What we do need to talk about, however," She continued slowly, as though she were approaching a python in its den. "Is the three people you have killed, because I think we both know that the prosecution will make everything they possibly can out of something like that. Perhaps in your country of origin they wouldn't, but over here, I can assure you they will."
Lighting herself a cigarette and taking a long drag, Kay tried to explain.
"Frank Aimes, Denesa Steiner, and Temple Gault. Those three names will be engraved on my memory till the day I die. I'm not sure what you want me to tell you, except that if I possibly could have taken any other course of action, I would have done. All three of them were killers, Aimes and Gault both serial killers, and no, that doesn't make what I did in any way right. When you begin working in law enforcement, you learn very rapidly how to use a gun, because one day it could mean the difference between life and death. You get into a regular routine of practicing at the range, and of cleaning your gun afterwards, so that you're always ready to defend yourself. I can safely say, that if I didn't do what I did on all three occasions that I ended someone's life, I certainly wouldn't be alive to talk about it. Each one of them was horrific, but Gault was probably the worst. He'd been on the FBI's 'Ten Most Wanted' list for years, and all of us, me, Benton, and Captain Marino, had been picking up the pieces of his crimes since the late 1980's. Gault murdered his sister, in Central Park on Christmas Eve, and left her bleeding, naked body in the snow by the fountain, which was where too many of us began Christmas Day of 1993. Death doesn't stop just because it's Christmas, and Gault knew we would all flock to the scene of his latest crime. A few days later, Gault and his accomplice broke into my Richmond office, and he stole a set of very valuable scalpels that my niece Lucy had given me the year before. When Carrie Grethin was finally apprehended in The Bowery, Gault escaped, and took my niece hostage in the subway tunnel. When I reached them, he was holding one of my scalpels to her throat. Gault wanted me to kill him, because he knew that if I did, I wouldn't ever be able to forget him. In dying at my hands, he would have his last feeling of contact with his victims. He knew I'd been the one to examine some of them, and he saw me as the connection with them. So, as you read in the press, he got what he wanted. I wouldn't go near a train death for months after Gault was killed, and you're right, a prosecuting counsel will make a ten course meal out of this."
"It's nothing we can't deal with," George said quietly, feeling a surge of inexplicable protectiveness for Kay, seeing that it must have taken the determination of a greyhound for her to survive. It hadn't gone unnoticed with George that Kay had very successfully skirted over the precise details of what she'd done, but George thoroughly understood why. "Jo was absolutely right about you," George added with a self-deprecating smile. "She said that all I had to do was to look beyond the headlines, because someone who was prepared to fight that much on a regular basis, was someone we definitely needed on this case. It's a shame you couldn't have met her before you go back."
"Tell her thank you for the vote of confidence," Kay said with a smile, thinking that she was going to thoroughly enjoy working with these two women, different as the circumstances of the case may be.
As they drove towards Larkhall, George tried to fill Kay in on some more of the background to the case.
"Barbara actually met her husband when she was in prison last time. He used to be the prison chaplain. Jo and I got to know her, when Jo took on a case for another ex-criminal, and we sort of became part of an entirely new group of people. Before this last year, I can safely say that I wouldn't have been seen dead in the company of a group of ex-cons, but I've learnt that every single one of them whom we've come to know, is far more genuine than the numerous law abiding people I've been forced to mix with over the years, all in the name of professional advancement."
"That's often the way," Kay agreed with a smile. "Captain Marino, the police Captain I've worked with for over twenty years, is the rudest, roughest, most tactless redneck I've ever met in my life, but he's also the best cop I've ever had the pleasure to meet. Marino might not go about his job in the nicest way, but if there's an answer to be found, he'll find it, and he always manages to keep me on my toes."
"Yes, John always seems to achieve that with me," George said ruefully and then tried to explain. "The judge who I used to be married to."
"I wish I could talk about my ex so fondly," Kay said with a smile.
"That's almost certainly because he's not quite as ex as he probably ought to be, if I had any sense," George replied as she turned into the car park.
"That sounds complicated," Kay tentatively suggested.
"Very," George agreed with a laugh, bringing the car to a stand still in front of the gate lodge.
Karen was waiting for them, standing chatting to Ken as she saw them approach.
"This is a nice surprise," George said, kissing her cheek. "I didn't expect a welcoming committee."
"Curiosity won out," Karen told her with a smile. "I wanted to meet this star witness of yours."
"I wouldn't speak too soon," Kay said with a nervous laugh.
"Karen Betts, Dr. Kay Scarpetta," George said, introducing them. Then, to Karen, she added, "Did you tell Barbara we were coming?"
"Yes, Nikki should be bringing her down now." As they went through the perfunctory body and handbag search, Karen and George seemed to find it easier to chat than they had done last time. The presence of someone else seemed to give them both the courage and the level ground they needed. They followed Karen down to one of the legal interview rooms, where Barbara and Nikki were already waiting, with Gina sitting outside the door.
"Ain't seen you in a while," Gina said upon seeing George.
"Ah well, I haven't felt the need to do an impromptu shift recently," George replied with a rueful smile. "One evening last January was quite enough."
"Are you working on Babs' case?" Gina asked with interest.
"It looks like it. How is she today? Jo told me that Barbara sometimes gets claustrophobic."
"She gave Sylvia a right mouthful the other day, so she can't feel that bad." When they went into the interview room, George introduced Kay to Barbara, and Nikki and Karen left them to it.
"When Jo came to see me yesterday," Barbara began. "To ask my permission for the second postmortem, I assumed that was all you would need."
"That was before I found what I did this morning," Kay explained, having taken a seat across the table from Barbara. "Let me first of all tell you, that I have no doubt whatsoever, that your husband committed suicide, for which I would like to offer my sincere condolences. The problem arises, in my being able to prove this beyond all reasonable doubt to a judge and jury. With the photographic equipment that St. Mary's hospital currently possesses, I cannot possibly prove whether you administered that final injection, or whether Henry did, which is why the initial postmortem report cannot prove your statement. However, with the image enhancement and microscopy techniques that I have at my disposal back in Virginia, I am fairly certain that I can prove, that the injection couldn't possibly have been given by you, because of the angle that the needle pierced the skin. Does that make sense?"
"Yes, I think so," Barbara said a little hesitantly, trying to take this all in.
"Now, the only way for me to do this, is to take various blood and tissue samples back to Richmond with me. As Henry's next of kin, I need your written permission to do this, but I also wanted to explain why I thought it necessary."
"Yes, of course," Barbara said with widening eyes. "If you feel it really will help."
"I can't promise it will achieve what I want it to achieve," Kay told her seriously. "But I can tell you that there is an eighty percent chance of my being able to prove this, but as I said, I can't do that here."
"This may be a stupid question," Barbara said carefully. "But how will you take what you need back home with you?"
"I'll pack the samples that have already been removed in dry ice," Kay explained. "They will be quite safe until they can be placed in the freezer in my Richmond office. Now Barbara, are you sure that you are perfectly okay with my doing this?"
"Yes," Barbara said firmly. "If you think it will help to get me out of here, then that's fine by me."
When they'd left Larkhall behind, and George was driving Kay back to St. Mary's, Kay eventually broke the silence.
"I shouldn't say it," She said with a self-deprecating smile. "Because I've been in the job long enough to know better, but she really doesn't strike you as the type to end up in prison, does she."
"I thought exactly the same thing, the first time I met her," George agreed. "Mrs. Middle-England, I think Nikki once called her, and she really was every inch the vicar's wife. Several members of the bar council got involved in a performance of Haydn's 'Creation' a few months ago, and we held the performance in Henry Mills' church. We made up a few of the gaps with various people who weren't lawyers, and Barbara was one of them. She played the harpsichord. I knew then that she'd been behind bars before, but I never thought she'd end up there again."
"So," Kay asked, eventually raising the unavoidable subject. "Am I to stand as a witness, or am I not?" She had realised during the interview with Barbara, that part of George was testing her, seeing just how she would deal with the woman whose case they were discussing.
"I would like you to take the stand, if you are agreeable to it," George told her, having thoroughly abandoned any hesitation she might have had. "Whatever bad publicity the prosecution might choose to throw at us, I think we can handle it. Most of all, Barbara needs your expertise, and I'm not about to deny her a one and only chance, just because I'm afraid of ruining my already questionable reputation."
"Thank you," Kay said quietly. "You know, usually I'm in court to give the victims of crime a voice, because I am the only way that the dead can speak to a jury. They need me to interpret whatever has happened to them, something which can't always be put into words. But this time, I'm fighting for someone who still has a life to lead once all this is over. For once in my life, I'm not fighting for the victim of crime, but for the victim of injustice, perhaps a far more deadly enemy than murder itself."
Nikki's mind had been turning matters over in the back of her mind about Barbara's forthcoming trial from the moment that she arrived at Larkhall. She realized that her role would be to sit on the sidelines. She was pleased that a wealth of expertise was being drawn in to buttress Barbara's case as solidly as it could be. She was highly impressed by the very real intellectual presence of the attractively cultured American accent of Kay Scarpetta. Nikki was no automatic respecter of high flown inflated titles but even the obviously distracted Jo's casually tossed aside description of Kay as a chief medical examiner with a law degree told Nikki that Kay was someone quite out of the ordinary.
Once the combined talents of Jo and George were engaged to battle it out in court, Nikki had no obvious role except to take a keen and active interest in Barbara's case and her welfare. She was wing governor after all and she had both the power and the authority to see that while Barbara was in her care, that she would be properly looked after and that the likes of Di and Sylvia were kept at arms length. After all, if she had not fallen in love with Helen, she could quite legitimately have done the same for her. It was only after having settled into Helen's old job that that happy realization came to her after all this time. Sometimes, you have to actually be in the situation to be finally and fully aware.
There was a difference between her and the other awesomely and professionally qualified women who were helping Barbara and that was that she knew Barbara of old. Sharing a cell all those months meant that assumed attitudes and polite social fronts went right out of the window. Added to that, you were thrust into an environment where, with the best prison officers' will in the world, events happened which might be a close kept secret from officialdom for years, if not forever. Nikki's musings over history led her effortlessly to the vision of that other written historical record which she had overlooked, Barbara's diaries. You have to start to look for something in order to find it, Nikki smiled to herself. This is where she came into the picture.
"Barbara, can I have a quiet word with you if it's convenient." Nikki's soft polite voice reached the ears of the other woman while she was chatting to the Julies.
"Sure Nikki," answered Julie Saunders for the other two. "We'll soon catch up with you later?"
The raised eyebrows were answered by Nikki's short nod when Barbara led the way to her cell. Nikki was about to reach for a cigarette to make her feel relaxed when she remembered just in time. It was a curious thing that every single friend of hers was a smoker with the exception of Barbara and John. After that conference, she ceased to think of him as purely the judge.
"The reason I wanted to have a quiet word with you was that I remembered about the diaries that you used to write when we shared a cell. I can still remember lying in my bunk and hearing you talk about them. You said you'd always kept a diary so that you could clear your thoughts if I remember rightly."
"Goodness. That takes me back a long way. I'd forgotten about those set of diaries."
"You were intending to have them published to show up the prison system as it was," Pursued Nikki in a leisurely fashion.
"You know what it's like, Nikki," Barbara smiled uneasily. "You couldn't get away from the injustices in this place. They haunted you day and night."
"And when you were released?"
"I had every intention of getting them published but it was different out of prison. I married Henry and I had so much of a new life opening up for me that everything before then was unreal, God forgive me "
Nikki laid a friendly hand on her shoulder as Barbara broke down and reached for her handkerchief to mop up the tears that she had bottled up. Nikki instantly regretted the tack she had chosen. She knew in her own mind how she was going to approach the topic but had forgotten that Barbara wouldn't be aware of this line of conversation. She cut
to the chase at once as soon as Barbara had recovered.
"You weren't thinking of getting them published, were you Nikki?" she asked, slightly nervously.
"That would give weight to Neil Grayling's political enemies. They would have a field day of it. The reason why Karen and I can sleep more or less easy at nights is because he keeps the 'hang them and flog them brigade' off our backs. Our cards are probably marked after that conference we went to. Much though I would like to see certain individuals publicly pilloried for what they did or didn't do, it just isn't worth the backlash. No, my reason for being interested in your diaries concerns you and you alone.
The reason why I'm asking isn't for a stroll down memory lane but in particular if you kept up your diary writing up to date."
"Well, you don't have to be worried, Nikki," Barbara replied with a grin.
"I was thinking if you kept up your diary while Henry was ill. It might be useful evidence for the trial."
Barbara stared as the force of Nikki's quiet words struck home. Of course, she had kept up her diary. In happier times when Henry was well, the mood was soft and relaxed and basking in her feelings of utter content but during Henry's illness, it was that tiny fraction of time that she could leave to herself, usually written while Henry was semi dozing and quiet.
"I did keep the diary, come to think of it. Writing it was my only link with sanity."
"Can you remember what you wrote in it with any accuracy?" Nikki asked gently.
Barbara shook her head. Writing the diary was a form of therapy to keep at bay black feelings of despair, which had threatened to overwhelm her. She had been brought up to ideas of bearing adversity with Christian fortitude and that despair was the ultimate capitulation that you should never make. It was a touch and go affair when Henry's sufferings were at their height. It was a tall order to now recall what she had written day by day. A part of her didn't want to remember.
"Would it be easily available?" Nikki asked slightly more sharply. What did concern her was if it had fallen into the wrong hands. As far as Nikki knew, they had no immediate next of kin that were sympathetically inclined, certainly not her stepchildren.
"Good heavens. I hadn't thought of that." Barbara
Nikki reached for her mobile. The one person she recalled who had fetched some clothes and personal things in was Yvonne. She was also the one to turn to in a matter like this.
"Hi, it's Nikki. I was wondering if you could do Barbara and I a small favour?" Nikki started to say.
"So long as it is legit. You know me these days," Teased Yvonne.
If Yvonne was in the same room, she would have thrown a cushion at her, Nikki sighed impatiently, as she carried on in controlled tones.
"I'll get to the point. You know when you fetched some of Barbara's clothes."
"Would you be able to go back and lay hold of Barbara's diaries? I'm only asking because of a particular diary that she kept before Henry died. It might contain evidence of Barbara's state of mind that could be produced in court if necessary. We want to ensure that it doesn't fall into the wrong hands and gets sat on or misused against her."
Yvonne's smile widened. She had been ahead of the game. She had had the coolness and presence of mind to look carefully round the vicarage and had methodically picked out what Barbara might need. As an afterthought, the words 'Barbara' and 'diary' had jumped out of her capacious database of a memory and with practiced accuracy, located exactly where Barbara might keep a diary and had laid hold of it. The plods had worked in their time honoured uninspired Inspector Lestrade fashion and a bit of Yvonne Atkins' past accomplishments were used to a purely good purpose.
"As we speak, Nikki,"Yvonne responded with intolerable smugness." It is in safe custody in my house, which is safer than your average nick. I shall do whatever Babs wants doing with it."
"Thank Christ for that. Hang on while I talk to Barbara."
"I was thinking that it would be a good idea if Jo and George had sight of the diary to check out if they think it is a good idea for that to be produced in evidence in court. If they don't think so, then it can be returned to Yvonne's charge. Of course, you have seen enough of courts to know what that means," Nikki concluded gently.
"I rely on their judgment," Barbara responded promptly.
"Yvonne, you cling onto it and wait to hear about it. I'll talk later."
"You top executives know how to live, Nikki," Was Yvonne's parting shot and Nikki stuck her tongue out at the silent mobile.
Just then, there was a loud rap at the door. It was Di.
"We were looking everywhere for you, Nikki," Di said with limpid eyes. "Miss Betts was looking for you. You might have left word where you're going. There's only so many of us here."
Don't rise to her, Nikki thought to herself. Just smile sweetly and don't let her have the satisfaction that she's got to you. She got to her feet and lounged against the cell wall.
"Your concern for my welfare is touching, Di. I ought to make a note of it when you come up for your annual report. Anyway, gotta go, Barbara."
It was Friday morning, and by eight thirty the hospital had sprung to life, with various early morning disasters cluttering up the emergency department. As Connie and Zubin accompanied a patient up to theatre, Connie called to Tom who was strolling ahead of them down the corridor.
"Tom, we could use your help here," She said, without the merest hint of a greeting.
"Where's Will Curtis this morning?" Tom asked turning to face them and taking another bite from his breakfast.
"He's been on duty all night, so I've sent him home," Connie replied curtly. "We've got a knife through the chest, a victim of a road rage attack on the way to work, hardly surprising with this traffic, so I could do with another pair of hands."
"Jesus," Tom replied, glancing down at the patient on the trolley. "That's just what you need on top of a bacon sandwich."
"That is a truly disgusting habit," Connie told him sternly. "Eating on the job."
"And what about the old adage of breakfast being the most important meal of the day?" Tom threw back as he walked along beside them still munching.
"Try a coffee and a croissant at home before you come in to work, Tom," Zubin told him conversationally. "It allows you to start the day far more gently."
"Are you getting too old to hit the ground running, Zubin?" Tom teased him.
"In your dreams," Zubin quipped back, pushing the trolley ahead of him through the swing doors into the theatre. As he and Connie walked into the scrub room, Tom finished his bacon sandwich and brushed the crumbs from his fingers, unwilling to sacrifice his breakfast for anyone's high minded principles.
They'd been at it for nearly an hour, painstakingly trying to remove the six-inch blade without endangering this man's life even more.
"What on earth possesses anyone to drive round with a knife like this in their car?" Connie asked into the silence, her gloved hands immersed inside the man's chest cavity.
"A wish for revenge or self-preservation, I suppose," Tom replied, carefully trying to cut round the knife whilst Connie held the blood vessels in place. When the phone rang, Zubin took his eye off the monitors to answer it.
"It's Chrissie, for you," He said, looking over at Connie.
"Put her on speaker phone," Connie told him, unable to remove her hands from inside the man's chest.
"Connie," Chrissie began. "There's been a call for you from a Brian Cantwell. He wants to know if you can meet with him later today?"
"Is he still on hold?" Connie asked.
"Tell him I'll see him at five this afternoon, and also tell him never to disturb me in theatre again. Is that clear?"
"Crystal," Chrissie replied firmly.
"Thanks, Chrissie," Connie called to her, just before she ended the call. "Secretaries should be banned from going off sick," She added, as if the woman who usually did her bidding was nothing more than a robot.
"Who's Brian Cantwell?" Zubin asked, getting a feeling that he really didn't like.
"Oh, only the barrister who will be prosecuting Barbara Mills," Connie replied far too casually.
"I knew it," Zubin said furiously. "You just had to get involved, didn't you?"
"Professor Khan, she killed him, what more is there to it?"
"If you believe that," Zubin told her exasperatedly. "You must be even more bitter and twisted than I already thought you to be."
"Oh, it's started," Connie replied, sounding utterly bored. "I knew you'd be like this, protesting her innocence from the word go."
"That's probably because she is innocent," Zubin said disgustedly, as if spelling out some simplicity to a witless child.
"Rubbish," Connie said curtly, determined to make her point sink home. "Barbara Mills killed her husband, and nothing, I repeat nothing, will convince me otherwise. You do know it isn't the first time she's done it, don't you?"
"Where on earth did you hear that?" Zubin asked, not having thought this was common knowledge to the prosecuting team.
"Prosecuting counsel filled me in, the last time I spoke to him," Connie said smugly. "She helped the last one to die so that she could get her hands on his money, and she presumably helped this one to die because he was becoming too much of an inconvenience."
"Just because you're so flippant about your marriage," Zubin threw back hotly. "Doesn't mean everyone else is about theirs."
"Cut it out, the pair of you!" Tom finally exploded, slamming the scalpel down and straightening up to look disapprovingly between them. "I have had quite enough of this. Theatre is neither the time nor the place for such an argument. You're both obviously convinced you're right, and to be honest, I really couldn't care less who is right. We are here to try and save this man's life, not so that you two can persist in scoring points off each other. Will the pair of you for god's sake drop it until after this operation? We've got very little chance of saving this man's life as it is, so let's try and give him our full attention, shall we." There was a stunned, slightly awkward silence, only punctuated by the beeps of the cardiac monitor and the regular rush of air from the ventilator. "Thank you," Tom added, almost in relief.
"But Tom..." Zubin tried to get another word in.
"I don't want to hear it, Zubin, so leave it."
"One would be excused for thinking that you have assumed your previous role as headmaster of this joint," Connie said conversationally, refusing to admit that Tom had successfully made her shut up.
"At least I don't take the mistress part of the other variable to heart," Tom said as an aside.
"Just because you're jealous," Connie taunted him, now switching her argumentativeness to him.
"Jealous of Mubbs Hussain getting his rocks off? You must be joking," He said in disgusted reproach, immediately annoyed by Connie's low, husky laugh.
"Oh, Tom," She almost crooned. "You'll have to get up a lot earlier to get me going with that old bit of gossip."
"Why, who's in the picture at the moment?" Tom asked, feigning disinterest.
"Well, now, I'd say that was probably none of your business, wouldn't you agree?" Connie replied silkily, as Tom was finally able to remove the knife that had pierced this man's left ventricle.
"Just taking a passing interest in my colleague's personal life, that's all, just in case she should ever be indiscreet enough to bring bad publicity down on her own and the hospital's head."
"No chance," Zubin said with a mirthless laugh. "Connie's far too adept at that particular pastime to allow it to influence her working environment."
"Just for once, Professor Khan, you are absolutely right. Though, whilst we're on the subject of my professional reputation," She added a little icily, her voice dropping to that seductive level that a snake may use to lure some unsuspecting prey to its den. "If, when I take the stand in due course, I should hear one, single word of either my professional or personal inadequacies, I shall have both you, and the defence team you appear to be supporting, back in court for slander. Do we have a deal?"
"Only if you also keep to the bargain, Mrs. Beauchamp," Zubin replied, seeing that she really was deadly serious. "Because I wouldn't want professional rivalry of any kind to be a deciding factor in Barbara Mills' fate."
"Very well," Connie said stonily, realising that he had her over a barrel but being entirely unwilling to admit it. "But I would warn you not to take my threat at all lightly."
After the patient had been stitched up and moved to intensive care, Connie left to do a ward round, and Tom remained to see the patient settled in.
"Tell me some more about this legal battle of yours," He casually invited, as he and Zubin set up the various drips and monitors the patient required.
"Henry Mills was fifty-eight, and was examined by Connie, who told him that he had inoperable lung cancer, which also wouldn't have benefited from chemotherapy. So, all we could really do was to provide palliative care and pain relief."
"Which is where you came in?" Tom clarified.
"Yes. He wanted to be cared for at home, something his wife, Barbara, was perfectly happy to do. So, I taught her the usual, how to give an injection, and how to manage the morphine, and I visited him on a regular basis to keep his pain relief at a satisfactory level. He died less than a couple of weeks ago. The postmortem report claims he was murdered, and Barbara claims that he killed himself. Either way, he died from an overdose of morphine. Having got to know both of them pretty well over the last couple of months, I believe Barbara. But Connie, in her infinitely bloody-minded wisdom, thinks otherwise. I'm not certain, but I'm guessing that the prosecution have taken her on, because they want to avoid the defence claiming that he died from natural causes."
"Do you think he could have done?" Tom asked.
"Anything's possible with cancer patients, you know that as well as I do," Zubin said ruefully. "The overdose might not have been intentional for all I know. There might simply have been a build up of morphine metabolites in his liver. He wasn't exactly moving around very much, so his body would have gone in to a temporary stasis, but Connie thinks that this idea is also ridiculous."
"Is the defence team looking for a cardio thoracic expert of its own?" Tom asked, the slight gleam of the fight in his eyes.
"Yes, they are, if only to cover their backs," Zubin replied, seeing just where this was going.
"I would be willing to get involved," Tom said carefully. "If my expertise could be put to some use."
"I was categorically warned not to use this case to settle any scores," Zubin told him honestly.
"Well, it looks like that went out of the window this morning," Tom replied with a laugh. "So, does this barrister have a name?"
"There's two of them," Zubin told him happily. "George Channing and Jo Mills, both of whom could probably win this case on female beauty alone. They both knew Barbara before all this happened, which is why she has two QC's working for her."
"Well then, we'd better give them something to fight with, hadn't we," Tom said a little jubilantly, rubbing his hands in anticipation. He was all too aware that he was probably signing his professional death warrant by getting involved in a fight with Connie, but he simply couldn't resist. He didn't usually agree with Zubin Khan on anything whatsoever, but this time he did. He wasn't entirely convinced of Barbara Mills' innocence, because he hadn't yet heard all the facts, but anything to make Connie Beauchamp admit she was wrong. That was worth all the serenity of a quiet life any day.
At lunchtime on the same Friday, George was sitting at her desk, picking from a bag of grapes as she worked. She didn't want to have any work left that needed doing over the weekend. She hadn't seen John since the weekend before, and she wanted to check on him, to make sure he was all right. But she was unexpectedly save the trouble. When the knock came on her office door, she called come in, assuming it to be one of her colleagues. But when John put his head round the door and enquired whether or not she was busy, she got up from her desk with a smile.
"No, at least not with anything that can't wait," She said as he came in and closed the door. He looked somehow lost, adrift, as though what he really needed was some sensible reassurance. When his arms went about her, he felt as though he was coming home. He hadn't felt quite himself ever since last Saturday, but far less so since the therapy session on Tuesday. He almost wanted to tell her about it, to explain to her why he was doing this, but he managed to restrain himself in time. If anyone knew about him having therapy, he knew he would feel under pressure to make it work. But here he was, stood in George's office, holding her close to him. She smelled familiar, the combination of cigarette smoke, perfume and shampoo incredibly comforting to him.
"Are you all right?" She asked, after kissing him gently, having missed his company over the last few days just as much as he had hers.
"Not really," He admitted miserably.
"Are you still fretting about last weekend?" She asked, knowing he probably would be.
"Wouldn't you be?" He demanded belligerently.
"Oh, darling," She said in sympathy. "I don't really know what to say, except that worrying about it will probably make it worse."
"Oh, great," He said in disgust.
"John," She said calmly. "I am aware that you've been looking for a fight in court all week, so please don't do it with me."
"Is that what Jo told you?" He asked, feeling slightly admonished.
"She only said that you were taking out your mood on everyone in sight." Walking over to a chair, John sat down, and drew her down onto his knee. "Are you trying to completely shatter my professional reputation?"
"Well, isn't it about time yours was as bad as mine?" He replied, raising a slight smile for the first time since he'd arrived. She reflected that there really was something to be said for taking a little time out in the middle of the day like this, to sit as close to him as she was now, with his face against her neck. She could feel the uncertainty in him, the need to return to something normal, something he used to think he could count on.
"I love you," She told him softly, thinking that he probably needed to hear it.
"Even though I'm going through a midlife crisis?"
"Yes," She told him firmly. "Because you will get over this. You didn't stop loving me when I lurched from one crisis to the next, at least I don't think you did, so I expect that it's allowed to work in your favour for once."
"What if it doesn't sort itself out?" He asked, his main fear now coming out into the open.
"John," She said with a fond smile. "The things you are capable of doing to me in bed, or anywhere else for that matter, is not the sole reason why I love you."
"I was lying in bed last night," He told her a little shame facedly. "Thinking about you, and Jo, separately and together, and nothing."
"John," She said, trying to hide a smirk. "I think you're trying too hard. I know it's difficult, but you really do need to try to forget about it. The more you stress about it, the less co-operative your body is likely to be."
"Perhaps," He agreed noncommittally. "I'm supposed to be seeing Jo this evening. I've barely talked to her since I returned from the conference."
"Ah," George said in understanding. "The light begins to dawn."
"How do I tell her, that I don't want to make love to her?" He asked, the full force of his insecurity showing in his face.
"Just tell her," George tried to persuade him. "She won't mind."
"But it's not something I've ever said to Jo before."
"There is a first time for everything, darling." Then, she tentatively added, "You could always tell her why you don't want to make love to her."
"No way," He said without any hesitation whatsoever. "Absolutely no way."
"Okay, calm down, it was just a suggestion," George said placatingly. "But if you won't talk to Jo about this, I want you to make me a promise, not to dwell on this as much as you clearly have been this week. Going without sex for a little while won't do any of us any harm, and the sooner you stop worrying about it, the sooner it will come back."
"Okay," He agreed reluctantly, seeing that she really did mean what she'd said. "But it doesn't mean I have to like it." George laughed. He always did have to have the last word on a subject, even if what she was asking him to do was for his own good.
"If I didn't have to work this afternoon," George added with a smirk. "I would want to know everything you fantasised about last night. There's nothing I like better than knowing that someone has been thinking about me in such a manner."
"You're just bad, that's your trouble," He said with a laugh, kissing her to make himself feel better. He knew she was right, but it didn't make the prospect of his night with Jo any easier to contemplate.
Yvonne really didn't want to make that particular phone call to Roisin but it had to be done.
Her hand hesitated at picking up the rather ornate phone in the living room and she took a sip of the glass of wine instead. This wasn't exactly Dutch Courage but she really didn't want to make the call, not even to either of her two old friends. Of course, they all had busy lives these days, that internal voice wouldn't let her off the hook as easily as that. Of course Cassie and Roisin were engrossed with their children at the age when kids want them for one hundred and one different reasons, from taking them to one of those new multiplex cinemas to helping them out with their homework. She had enough on her hands, discreetly watching over Lauren as she intermingled her daytime job with her therapy sessions, the combination of which kept her on the alert. Never assume that kids are adaptable, she said to herself. She had made enough of a mistake when Lauren and, yes she had to say the name, Ritchie, were growing up. Quality time was one of those bollocks words that, to Yvonne's questioning, skeptical mind, were as airy-fairy as you can get. All that meant was that you thought too bloody much about your own life and let too much go by so that you couldn't see your own kid's troubles until they hit you over the bleeding head.
She reproached herself for this when she remembered the times when they were all banged up together. Even with all the shit that went down in their lives at Larkhall, they always found time for each other. From early morning unlock to the cell door slammed shut at night, the pressure was on, in their heads, in the restrictions on even the most natural human functions and that never totally suppressed awareness of what they were missing on the outside. It also bound them together, Yvonne cursed herself bitterly, and meant that, outside the periods of tedious boredom, she was more intensely involved in the lives of her fellow prisoners, than any group of people she had been around. Charlie's mates were nothing like that. It was as if she saw them through the wrong end of a telescope as she laughed at all their stale jokes, so many times told which didn't improve with repetition.
It wasn't like that these days. Oh, she had her Lauren whom she watched over in her maternal fashion but that wasn't the same. At times like these, her morose brooding made her feel that life felt as flat as last night's leftover's glass of wine. She stared for several minutes out of the window as her mind faded into blankness. Outside, the wind was whipping past her house and blowing from the branches what remained of the leaves of the trees at the bottom of the garden. That time of the season was starting to bind her inside the house once again.
What was that shape that hovered at the edges of her vision, she lazily wondered. Only the phone, she concluded and a sharp arrow of fear pierced through her. It was the train of thought having come round full circle that she had started off when she had first poured the glass of wine in terms of minutes ago beyond measure.
Sure, she reminded herself that she had made the round of calls when the news first broke from a phone call out of the blue from Barbara. She had done what needed doing that day in making the scattering of phone calls to all those nearest and dearest to Barbara. Because Barbara was not close to any of Henry's family (nor Peter's come to that) it meant that most of Barbara's friends were hers. It was only when she got to talk to Barbara's friends from the church that she was on foreign territory but she persevered right through the list that Barbara had given her. It was no more than she expected of herself. True, she had also offered to front the legal bill and had gone with George to talk to Barbara about the trial. She'd even persuaded Barbara to accept George's help but that was a week ago. Since then, she's slipped back into her old routine.
"Come on, get a grip on yourself," She muttered into her glass of wine before she laid it on one side and, discarding the thought to reach for a cigarette, her other emotional prop, her hand found the phone.
"Yvonne, how lovely to hear from you. Cassie and I were talking about you only the other evening. It's really good to hear the sound of your voice."
Bless her, Yvonne thought, tears pricking at her eyes. She found it easier than ever these days for her emotions to come to the surface. She hadn't always been allowed to act or feel this way.
'I must have some bleeding use these days," She replied in her tough self-deprecating way before a brief coughing bout interrupted what she had to say. Somehow, she had climbed out of the pit of self-recrimination and her business head was back on her shoulders.
"I really want to see you but it's a bit of business as well. I hate to mention it but someone's got to sort out Henry's funeral "
" And it might as well be us, Yvonne?"
Quick on the uptake, Roisin, Yvonne judged.
"Something like that."
"So what do you think we should do? Come over here and we'll go and see Barbara?"
"I'll be over as soon as."
It was as easy as that.
In no time at all, Yvonne and Roisin were bowling along in Yvonne's car to Larkhall.
"It's a school inset day," Laughed Roisin. "Michael and Niamh have been planning to spend the day with friends of theirs and, while the teachers are busy on some training scheme, it left me free for today to rattle round the house for a change. Somehow it feels really strange."
"Count yourself lucky, Roisin. I've always loved my kids being around but when Lauren and Ritchie buggered off somewhere when they grew older, I got to like having time for myself. It's just that I get too much of a good thing these days."
"So, I'm glad I've helped."
Yvonne grinned and steadied the car to power its way along the many miles again to Larkhall.
"Humph, so it's you again," Bodybag glowered at her old enemy. " ..and Connor back again, another ex- criminal. I never understood why Grayling was soft headed to let you out of here together with Tyler."
"Saving a fellow human being's life wasn't it? You know, I never got to hear what you were doing at the time of the fire."
Bodybag reddened a little while Yvonne grinned at the way Roisin promptly retaliated accompanied by her sweetest smile. She had never been cool and calm in any crisis, being far too inclined to stomp round the place if she felt she was in a position of power or to flap around like a wet hen if the situation were beyond her.
"Let's be having you. I've got a job to do which doesn't mean having you two under my feet."
"Sounds like old times eh, Roisin," Yvonne retorted cheerfully and grinned at Gina who came to greet them while Bodybag slunk off in the opposite direction.
Barbara came into view towards the back of the dimly lit, cavernous room. She raised her hand to attract their attention and both women threaded their way through the crowd. She was especially pleased to have Roisin's company as well as Yvonne's. A stream of conversation flowed between the three of them while they had time. It was spontaneous and Yvonne gave into the pleasure of seeing her old friend and saying what came natural to her. A little warning voice prompted her to interrupt the flow of words.
"There is another reason why Roisin's come along for the ride. It ain't just to pass the time of day."
" I guessed so," came the polite reply as Barbara's smile faded slightly at what instinct told her was coming. It had to happen, a fatalistic side of her whispered in her mind.
"I ain't sure how to put it into words, like, but Roisin and I volunteered, if you wish
it and only as if there ain't someone better, to make the necessary arrangements for Henry's funeral."
Even at a moment like that, Barbara registered the way that Yvonne's words changed from the unusually convoluted to the artificial. It showed her extreme nervousness about the matter. It was all too close to home.
"It's kind of you to offer, Yvonne. I know that you've been through this sort of thing before "
" .I ain't that much up on vicars and praying .." muttered Yvonne under her breath.
"Yvonne and I'll do everything the way you want to, that you can be sure of," Reassured Roisin eagerly.
"Of course, I've been used to talking to parishioners coming round late while Henry .." Barbara started to say as automatic habit took over. She promptly shut up as she remembered that her life being with Henry had ended with a brutal full stop.
"You can't do it by yourself while you're in here. You know that Barbara. You need others to help you out," Pursued Roisin gently but more definitely.
Barbara felt resentful about her present lot in life, which a part of her still fought against, but she could see the pleading look in Roisin's eyes not to shut them out. She saw that Yvonne was more poker faced about the matter but realized that she was the more uncomfortable of the two of them. It was only two years ago that her own dear Henry had conducted the funeral for Yvonne's own son, Ritchie and she had played the organ.
So much had changed since then but she knew only too well that the hurt that Yvonne had felt would have only been covered up, not fully healed. She could not be unchristian in being preoccupied with her grief and just do nothing. The boot was well and truly on the other foot now .She finally faced what she knew would come to pass and started to give a mental once over to what she knew was involved. Barbara finally agreed to the inevitable but she could tell that Yvonne was really nervous and laid her hand on the other woman's.
"Yvonne, I want to entrust this to you and Roisin. I know you'll find the strength to do it."
Yvonne sat back in her chair, incredibly touched at Barbara's simple faith in her. Her time inside had taught her that there was no time for arid polite gestures, least of all between those who had both done time being locked up here.
"Hey, Babs, I don't mind admitting that I ain't used to looking in the classified section in the phone book to find a vicar to say prayers. Even if I do try lucky dip, I'm nervous about talking to some stranger as I'm still known in the outside world for fixing up for a hit man. You don't think that some posh vicar will be put off by the Atkins name."
Barbara and Roisin laughed gently at Yvonne's apparent awkwardness. Roisin glanced sideways at Yvonne and rather suspected that this was Yvonne's very generous way of lightening up an awkward situation at her expense.
"Henry was a well respected member of the cloth. There are any number of his former colleagues who would be proud to help out or point you to who should do it, especially if a friend of the family asks. There's an old boy's network in the clergy but in a good cause."
"Do you want me to pick out some suitable hymns?" Roisin offered helpfully.
Barbara looked dazed. This was something that she was used to being presented to her and thumbing through the well-worn music book at the pages, which fell open at the right page. She had never had to think about this before. She eventually found words to buy time to think.
"Let me think over what Henry would have wanted."
"Is there anyone you would want at the funeral that none of us know?"
Barbara thought long and hard and realized that she could only think of a few friends from their church local that she would want to go out of her way to invite. Yvonne thoughtfully passed a pen and notepad to Barbara to write down a list of names and phone numbers. A notice in the church would suffice for the rest. She had pinned this on the green baize rectangle so many times in the past out of sheer instinct for other funerals but, this time, it gave her a very unreal feeling that she was planning her own.
"What will I wear?" Barbara suddenly found voice after a few minutes of contemplation.
"I'll bring in what you want and the Julies will sort you out with a makeover. They'll look after you on the inside along with Karen and Nikki while the rest of us on the outside look after you. All of us will be thinking of you. Don't ever get the idea that you're on your own."
Yvonne's definite voice shook slightly with emotion. This visit gave her a purpose in life once more.
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