Till Death Do Us Part
By Kristine and Richard
Part One Hundred and Ninety One
When John left Karen's flat, neither admitting nor denying Yvonne's last assertion, he thought that he may as well walk back to his own flat, it not being all that far away from Karen's. His thoughts were in turmoil as he walked, ranging from anger, to despair, and even ending up on guilt. He should have been there last week, he should have been there to either stop Jo from doing that in the first place, or to do the right thing and take Jo to hospital. Why on earth had Karen acted quite so stupidly? She used to be a nurse, for god's sake, so she knew that Jo should have been in hospital. Then his thoughts centred in on Yvonne. How dare she call him a self-righteous bastard, when all he had been trying to do was to gain some answers to some clearly difficult questions. Then there was George. Karen had said that George had been the one, along with Thomas Waugh, who had insisted that Jo not be taken anywhere near a hospital. This had to be wrong, surely it did. Why would George do such a thing? He obviously wanted some answers from her too, like why hadn't she told him about this earlier, but he didn't think that tonight was the right time to be doing that. He was already considerably overwrought by the evening's revelations, and all he wanted to do was to get back to his safe, familiar flat, and sink a large portion of Scotch.
This was precisely what he did. When he arrived home, he opened all the windows to let in some air, selected Fauré's 'Requiem' which he slotted into the CD-player, and collected a bottle of single malt and a glass. As the soft, subtle tones of the mass for the dead began to envelop him, he drank the liquid that usually made fire course throughout his veins, but which now left him feeling partly numb, and partly extremely saddened by what Jo had done. What could possibly have made her want to end her own life? She was beautiful, intelligent, everything he desired in a woman. She had two happy, healthy children, even if they were now grown up and leading their own lives. She had him, and she had George, everything she could possibly want with regards to sexual partners, yet she still wanted to leave them all, in order to afford herself some much needed peace. He knew that she had been drinking too much, but what could he honestly do about that if she wouldn't be truthful to herself, never mind him or George? But maybe that was the point, maybe she had finally faced up to the fact that she had a problem, and saw killing herself as the only way to nip it in the bud. As for George, she really ought to have contacted him in Milan to tell him about this, but yet again, she had kept quiet over something spectacularly serious. Why did she always do this to him? Whether it concerned either herself or someone else, she always found a reason to keep things from him, things that by rights he ought to be told. Look at what had happened over her breast cancer. She had kept it from him and talked Jo into doing the same until a designated time for telling him.
As though his thoughts had conjured her up, the phone rang, and when he answered it, it was George.
"This is a surprise," He said somewhat bitterly. "I thought you'd be avoiding me like the plague."
"That's hardly fair, John," She replied a little caustically. "I rang to make sure you were all right."
"No doubt hoping that you won't have to do a rescuing act on me too."
"Do you want to talk to me or don't you?" She demanded, matching his obvious anger with a touch of her own.
"No, not right at this moment, I don't," He told her without any hesitation whatsoever. But George wasn't going to give up so easily. After a few moments of silence between them, she asked,
"What on earth are you listening to?"
"Fauré's Requiem," He told her. "It seemed rather relevant to the thoughts that are currently fighting to be acknowledged."
"And you really think that's a sensible course of action, do you?"
"You can hardly talk about sensible courses of action," John said scornfully, his anger not far below the surface.
"John, I'm coming over," She told him. "Because I don't think that this conversation ought to be had on the phone."
"I would really rather you didn't," He replied, currently wanting no company but his own.
"Tough," She replied before slamming the phone down and looking for her car keys.
John wasn't best pleased at the thought of seeing George tonight, but refilling his glass, he tried to ignore the fact, deciding to deal with her if and when she arrived. As he took another sip of his whisky, the requiem reached the Sanctus, the prayer for the loved one to rest in peace. It brought tears to his eyes to think that this was what Jo had been seeking when she consumed such a lethal combination of sedatives. She had been looking for peace, both for herself and for those who would have been left behind. She thought that ending her life was the only answer, because she badly didn't want to end up like her father. He knew that was what was behind her actions of last Friday, even if she hadn't said so. In fact, it was probably because she hadn't said this that he could believe it to be the real reason behind her wish to die.
When George arrived, she let herself in with the key John had given her some time ago. She did this very quietly, wanting an opportunity to observe him before he became aware of her, so that she could best know how to approach the situation and the very difficult conversation they were about to have. He was sitting at one end of the sofa, bathed in the subtle glow of a table lamp, with a glass in one hand and tears running down his cheeks. Her heart went out to him as she saw this, coupled with the sad and gentle music coming from the stereo. John only became aware of her presence, when she sat down beside him and put her arms around him. His arms went automatically round her, because although he had said he didn't want her, he really did need her, to soothe away everything he was currently feeling.
"Where did you spring from?" He eventually asked.
"Didn't you believe I'd come?" She countered back.
"I'm not so sure that you should have done," he replied regretfully.
"Darling, I wasn't going to leave you to stew about this on your own, and that," She said, reaching for the remote control to the stereo and switching it off. "Is hardly going to do you any good."
"Funny," He said, clearly trying to goad her. "I thought that a mass for the dead was more than a little appropriate."
"Highly inappropriate more like," George replied scornfully.
"Oh, so you're going to tell me that it was all a dream, are you, Jo thinking it was a good idea to kill herself?"
"No, of course I'm not," George retorted disgustedly.
"Thought it was a good idea not to involve a hospital and a fully qualified medical team though, didn't you," he threw back at her. "Really good thinking that was, George."
Getting up from the sofa, George went into the kitchen and made him a mug of very strong coffee. Returning and putting it down on the coffee table before him, she said,
"I refuse to take anything you say remotely seriously whilst you are as drunk as this, so get that coffee inside you and then we might be able to have a civil conversation."
"I'm not drunk," He protested.
"Oh, so that's plain water in that glass, is it?"
"One can drink alcohol without the need to become inebriated, you know, George."
"Yes, well, at the moment, Jo doesn't appear to agree with you." There was a stunned, awful silence hanging between them, before John reached forward, picking up the mug of steaming coffee.
"This looks like tar," He said before taking a tentative sip.
"And it probably tastes like tar," She replied. "But you're still going to drink it." After taking a swig and grimacing, he asked,
"So, are you going to tell me why you insisted on the utter farce that took place last Friday?"
"John," George replied carefully. "The one thing that is stable in Jo's life right now is her career. If she lost that, then I doubt she would fail next time. Keeping that area of stability is extremely important, if she is to make the slightest attempt at a recovery."
"Karen said something to that effect."
"So you've talked to Karen?"
"I went to see her," John replied, putting the coffee mug down on the table.
"And?" George asked, slightly fearing what was coming.
"I shouted at her, and because Yvonne was there, I shouted at her too."
"John, if it wasn't for Karen possessing the skills necessary to do what she did, Jo would probably be dead now."
"That still doesn't make it right," John persisted stubbornly.
"Look," She said, taking one of his hands in hers and gently holding it between her own. "If I were in your position, I would probably be furious with me too, as well as Karen and Yvonne, so I do understand why you feel the way you do. But shouting at people, including one of your closest friends, isn't going to achieve anything. You and me, and Jo, owe Karen the biggest debt a person can have. You shouldn't blame Karen, just because she did what I asked of her, rather than what she initially told me to do." In the resulting silence, John took in what she'd said, trying to make sense of it and wanting to be able to believe that she was right. He inwardly knew that he owed Karen a bigger debt than he could ever hope to repay, but did that honestly mean that she was right and he was wrong?
Part One Hundred and Ninety Two
The following weekend saw John alone in his flat and because he was in the unusual position of having quite a bit of time on his hands, it provided time for introspection.
In the moment of calm, he heard Helen's voice tell him that if there was ever a need to make an appointment for a therapy session, that he should phone her for an appointment.
John judiciously appraised the situation and came to the considered conclusion that he should arrange a therapy session with Helen. After all, had he not gone through the trauma of an imagined suicide in his life of someone who was most precious to him precisely because it had nearly happened? That childhood trauma was not so easily soothed that everything was now all right. The distrust engendered by that shattering event so early in his life would not be so easily quietened. He remembered how he had gone on to vent his anger on both Karen and George, and he was starting to have severe misgivings about it. It was all the more disturbingly ironical that considering what had happened to Jo that he himself had got seriously drunk. When he threaded all the relevant facts together, it told him that his life had swung off balance and that booking a therapy session was the answer.
"Hi, judge. It's nice to hear from you."
John was immediately heartened by the instinctive warmth in Helen's voice. It made him feel good about himself.
"You're probably wondering why I've phoned." Came his enigmatic reply as he edged into the matter in hand.
"Is it social or business?"
"Strictly business. I was wondering if I could arrange a therapy session with you at fairly short notice, if that is convenient for you."
"You're sure that you want to take your chances with me, judge, after what's happened in the past."
Despite his deliberately restrained tone of voice, Helen sensed the urgency in his tone of voice. As it happened, he was in luck.
"I know that you're a busy man, judge but a vacancy has just cropped up at 10.30am tomorrow. Will that suit you?"
"As it so happens, I haven't very much work to do that day. I go back to the grindstone the day after on a major trial. No peace for the wicked as they say."
Helen smiled understandingly at John's posture. What mattered more was what he would say tomorrow.
"Well, judge, you've been used to me asking the questions, of setting the agenda. This time, because you've come to see me of your own accord, you have the privilege of talking to me about what's prompted you to make this appointment."
Helen's opening remarks temporarily disorientated John, as this was exactly what he had not been used to.
"Ah, well, it is a bit of a long story. Quite a bit has happened since I saw you last."
"Begin at the beginning, judge."
"Two weeks ago, I went to a Human Rights seminar at Milan, safely leaving George and Jo behind or so I thought. My behaviour was exemplary while I was away in staying to the straight and narrow except, of course, ruffling a few political feathers that deserved to be so treated "
Helen smiled at both John's understated description and in genuine pleasure that he had at last achieved some balance in his life. It surprised himself momentarily how quickly he could snap into action and simply relay the facts. He had learnt this much from his time as a patient.
"I foolishly imagined that everything was fine while I was away. What I did not know was that the evening after I went, Jo took an overdose of alcohol and sleeping tablets.
"My god, that's terrible for you all. What happened, I mean ."
Helen immediate sat up rigid in her seat, concern and shock spreading over her features. She could not get over the fact that it was that force for legal advocacy that could move mountains had been reduced to such a state of desperation, like like Monica Lindsay so many years ago. That incident was forever etched in her mind.
"I have to say that fortunately, she's survived unharmed. It was what saved her that I have problems with."
"Can you backtrack a bit? While all this went on, you knew nothing about it while you were away?"
"Absolutely nothing until Jo and George picked me up at the airport and Jo told me while George dropped my cases off at the flat."
"So how did it happen that her life came to be saved?"
"Some instinct of George made her go round and find her half conscious. She phoned Karen who came over with Yvonne and an improvised medical kit and a hot line to the SMO at Larkhall .."
" ..who is Dr Thomas Waugh." Breathed Helen, her eyes wide open while a camera in her mind started to replay the video in her head of what had happened.
"I know Dr Waugh personally from way back and also via Nikki who works closely with him. While he is a stickler for procedure, he is prepared to consider radical solutions if he honestly believes that they are justifiable."
The confident tone in Helen's voice and her clear description of the man made a definite impact on John, who stowed it away as material to possibly reconsider his position.
"Whatever they did seems to have worked even though one might say that Karen was being recklessly foolhardy in risking Jo's life not to say her own professional position in not getting the proper authorities involved at the outset."
Helen smiled at John's convoluted delivery of words. This was no rococo form of verbal structure, but John's own way of flying a kite, of stating the facts without committing himself to expressing his own feelings upon the matter. There was one matter she needed to investigate first before pursuing John's feelings about the matter.
"Just one thing, when did all this happen?"
"Friday, June 16th, the day after I flew to Milan and I came back on June 23rd, the same day when Jo told me what had happened." John said crisply. His profession made the chronology of events easier for him to relate to Helen.
"I'm only asking you that question because Nikki and I had a party on June 18th to celebrate Nikki's first year in her job and Karen and Yvonne came round. They were very quiet and subdued that night. They looked as if they only half belonged there. Now I know why .."
Helen's eyes grew large and introspective while she weaved in her own memories of the party before switching back to the present in questioning mode.
" suppose you tell me how you came to find out what had happened while you were away, John."
"Well, first I talked to Jo. She told me that she made a stupid mistake mixing alcohol with sleeping tablets and by some miracle George happened to come round "
"Hang on a minute, judge, aren't you rather glossing over the facts? For a start, how long had Jo been taking sleeping tablets?"
"I assume that she had only recently obtained a prescription as she had problems in settling off to sleep and this was her first prescription."
"So how would you describe Jo's approach to alcohol?"
"At times, not good," John admitted ruefully, opting for direct honesty rather than defending Jo's reputation. He paused a moment while he launched into a more precise description. "In normal times, she is the same as you or I. There are periods when if she is under stress, she binge drinks."
"And what events in particular can you recall where you have evidence of a particular problem with Jo's drinking?"
"Two incidents come to mind, Helen. One was when she was hung over early on in Barbara Mills' trial so that George had to take over the cross examination. It all came too close to home as Jo once had to nurse her husband who was dying of cancer and "
" there but for the grace of God goes Jo Mills."
"And the other occasion?"
John immediately rattled off a concise explanation of the Jason Powell trial and a vivid description of how Jo had knocked back glass after glass of whisky.
"How long have you been worried about Jo's drinking?"
"Seriously worried?" temporised John to which Helen nodded definitely, and fixed a determined gaze on John.
"For the past month now I come to think of it when my concerns gained definite shape and substance."
"So what makes you think that Jo made a mistake with the sleeping tablets? After all, she's an intelligent woman and is very likely to know about the dangers of mixing alcohol with sleeping tablets, which, in any case, are clearly set out in the instructions. When you put together a pattern of, on average, heavy drinking over a number of years, then wouldn't you think to be rather sceptical of her account as a mistake as to what caused the overdose?"
"Aah." John said and then stopped dead. He might have known that Helen was lulling him into a false sense of security by getting him to talk impersonally about someone else's problems and then, verbally speaking, shine the inquisitor's naked light bulb into his eyes.
"I er, I suppose that I took Jo's word for it. I didn't blame her for what happened. I couldn't blame her."
"From what you have told me, you had a tremendous shock to the system from what nearly happened to Jo compared with what did happen to your mother. It's not irrational to react in this way. I've seen so many times how shock and anger often go hand in hand. So did you look for someone to blame and if so, who?"
"I have to admit that I have behaved very badly to Karen and Yvonne," John admitted very slowly after a long pause. His misgivings had taken on solid form, after Helen had exercised her considerable skills in steering him into a corner from which there was no escape.
"Coming back to what we were talking about earlier on, did you think that Karen was being recklessly foolish in risking Jo's life in not getting the proper authorities involved at the outset."
"I certainly did at the time and I went round to see Karen to give her a piece of my mind. I did, I can tell you." John burst out with a touch of defiance in his tone, rattled by receiving the succession of precisely phrased questions that were lobbed down at him. After all, it was his role in life to ask the questions.
"John, you were dealing with Karen and Yvonne, the two women who I now know why they were subdued at a party two days afterwards. You and I know them well enough to have good reason why they act and who were backed up by the permission of Dr Waugh whose reputation I also know. Suppose you fill me in on the details."
"I was angry that Karen had taken it upon herself to deal with a dangerous situation without going through the proper channels. Karen surprised me by saying that she had told George to do just that but that George had refused because a section wouldn't help Jo's career. She said that if Jo had lost her career, she would have lost the one thing that would have given her stability. She admitted that what she did was probably the stupidest thing she had ever done, but it worked, and Jo is alive."
"So how did Yvonne enter the picture?"
"I didn't accept what Karen had said and so Yvonne gave me chapter and verse as to what Karen had done I seem to remember that Yvonne actually called me a 'self righteous bastard.' Do you know, Helen, that in all my rows with authority, no one has ever called me that?"
To his discomfort, Helen burst into loud laughter and didn't stop for quite a few minutes.
"You don't say that your royal highness has never been called that in your life? It must be the strict rules of the Playing Fields of Eton that you can't call a spade a spade, much less a bloody shovel."
"Come on, Helen, be serious."
"But I am being serious,' she retorted with great aplomb. "You must accept that sometimes you have acted like a bastard in your private life. You should know Yvonne well enough by now that there is a ruthlessly honest quality about her. Some might be offended by her manner but from my experience, that applies only to those who can't tell the truth to themselves, much less to others, to basically selfish, evil people."
John's eyes looked at the floor while he remained silent. Helen could sense that he was turning everything over in his mind. Both of them knew that Helen was talking about Fenner most of all.
"Haven't you ever gone out on a limb for something or someone you have believed. Haven't you found that that risk is worth it for the justice that you have brought about? Aren't you Mr. Danger Man personified?"
For the first time since he had entered the room, John faintly smiled. He had to admit that Helen's description of him was very droll and very respectful.
"So don't you think that what Karen did in the medical field matches up very closely with what you have done in the legal field? The motivations seem very similar to me." Helen pursued softly, infused by that note of unshakeable admiration in her voice no matter what she knew of him.
"When you put it this way, I cannot disagree with you. Yes, yes, I accept it and I have spoken out of turn."
"So are you going to do something to remedy the situation, to put it right. Karen has the right of appeal to your better judgment and you of all people must grant it."
John nodded. He was unable to speak as the shame of his harsh words made it impossible to speak.
"The point is that, unlike the situation of your mother, there is nothing is irrevocable, there is nothing that cannot be put right in Jo's case, both with Jo and everyone affected
What you must do is to apologise to Karen. You will feel the better for it, believe me."
"Do you know, if you had come to me with a similar situation nine months ago, you would have ducked and dived and wouldn't have told me a quarter of what you've told me today. You are a smart learner. There is so much hope for your future."
"Does hope mean that much to you, Helen?"
A shadow passed over Helen's eyes. She had remembered the dreadful times when she had first worked at Larkhall as Wing Governor and remembered the times when she felt that hope had abandoned her. She knew very well what hope meant to her.
"Yeah, it does, judge. That's why both of us are in our professions, to give hope."
Part One Hundred and Ninety Three
For the next week, Tom couldn't get that totally unexpected confession from Jo Mills out of his mind. His memory took him back to that meeting nine months ago when he and Zubin first met her and George and he was impressed by their very feminine and incisive intelligence that was to firmly dominate the progress of the trial. Was it only a matter of months ago at the trial itself that he remembered a rather pale and washed out Jo Mills, recovering from a hangover and that he had casually mentioned diet coke as a hangover cure? He didn't think too much of it as many people suffer from hangovers from time to time. She had gone on to conduct a thoroughly professional double act with George when he had taken the stand and had then had his own history of alcoholism put under the spotlight. He had defended himself with some spirit and had received an unexpected measure of sympathy and understanding from the judge. Because of the pressures of a busy professional life, he had let those thoughts disappear into the ether or so he had thought. The conversation of the past week had brought everything back into sharp focus.
He debated with himself as to whether or not to make contact with Jo. Certainly, there was a neediness about her that touched him deeply, as if there was such a mountain of words that she needed to get out from inside her, that she couldn't put into speech. Well, he thought smilingly to himself, he had his share of personal charm, but that wasn't really important to the situation. What mattered most was that he had been incredibly fortunate to have walked that tightrope wire and had come back from the edge. He had received so much help from others, from Ed who had covered up his lapses, from Ric who had pushed him towards the course of action to save himself, something that he had shrunk away from for the so called best of reasons. The reasons were always extremely plausible from the outside in his specific line of addiction. Finally, Anita had been his psychiatrist and sometimes lover who had finally put him back on his feet again. He had taken so much from so many people and his drinking had caused hurt to so many people.
The penny dropped with him that he had to phone Jo. The choice was obvious.
With a slightly shaking hand, he reached for the phone one evening and dialled the required numbers. He held his breath in as he waited for the ring tones to give him the answer to that choice that he had made.
"I'm not sure if I'm phoning at a good time or not but I thought I'd phone you anyway," came Tom's slightly stumbling opening introduction.
"Why Tom. It's good to hear from you. You did the right thing."
Jo's warm tones gave Tom an immediate ego boost that made him feel good about himself. He had made this choice and the gamble had paid off.
"I wanted to phone you up as I was a bit worried about you when I saw you at the hospital."
"You were the right man at the right place and at the right time, Tom. I don't know about you but the experience of having a drinking problem is horribly isolating. You have the feeling that you have all those who are nearest to you but they can't really help you at the end of the day. They mean well but "
"There's always that distance between you and them. Alcohol makes the situation that way."
Jo nodded her head fervently as Tom's wise words even though he couldn't see her gesture. It didn't matter right now.
"Do you know, you're the only person I've told as to why I took an overdose of sleeping tablets? I've been kidding everyone else, myself included that I made a 'stupid mistake.' I've done a really brilliant job in covering up the shame and disgust that I've felt for myself. I couldn't admit it to anyone that I actually thought that ending my life would give me some kind of peace"
"There have been moments when I have felt that way, Jo. It's just that I could never steel myself to do anything like that. I've read too many medical books and it's very off-putting clinically speaking."
Jo laughed slightly at Tom's dry humour and plunged on with baring her feelings. It felt safe to do so.
" I just kept up a pretence for years about it until there came the odd occasions when I couldn't pretend any longer. It didn't really matter as lots of people get periodically drunk. I could hide behind it and no one would really think twice except John and George. I love them to bits but I don't want to hurt them."
"Does it help that they are close to you?"
Jo didn't answer that. She knew that she loved them both and that they loved her. She couldn't work out in her mind where this added dimension of her was going to fit in. After all, family life had revolved around her father's troubles and she was worried about inflicting it on someone else.
"It's no good either of us beating yourself up for the mistakes that we have made in our pasts," Tom concluded." That will only dig ourselves deeper in the hole that we have made. You have to start to learn to take one day at a time ."
"I know that from accompanying my father down to AA meetings. He was a recovering alcoholic, you know."
"Ah yes, Jo but is that something you're aware from the outside instead of breathing it, living it and feeling it?" countered Tom.
"Well, I suppose not .at the end of the day, it was happening to someone else," mused Jo. The formula for coping seemed very real at the time but perhaps she had never given it enough thought. She was beginning to suspect that she would have to be reenrolled in the School of life and start from the beginning again. At least there was a classmate to hand if she chose to let him
Part One Hundred and Ninety Four
John paced round and round in his flat, summoning up the strength to say the words 'I apologise.' At each turn, the mouth opened but the words failed to materialize. He felt as uncomfortable as ever he had in his life, back to when he first went away to Oxford and the trace of the rounded Birmingham accent of his youth ran up against the languid public school accent of his peers. The one compromise he had ever made in his life was to spend hours in the quiet of the evening mimicking these accents and assuming their unhurried mannerisms. The class that he had aspired to join did not run round in circles like headless chickens but maintained that unassuming unruffled sense of assurance of a class that was born to command. Of course, from that early surrender to his environment, he had carved out his own personal space as a maverick, yet within the exclusive club of the brethren. He had never felt the need after that to apologise for anything after that, and his pride held him to that sense of resolution in his career.
Yet here his life came round in a full circle and this time, it wasn't the unspoken assumptions of his fellow students but the determined voice and clear sharp eyes of that very remarkable woman, Helen Wade who had manoeuvred him into this situation. After all, wasn't it perhaps better to concede to a well-argued line of reasoning in an arena where the power of his position held no sway? It was surely more preferable than the
mere desire for social camouflage without which he could not have risen to his present position? The one was moral and the other functional at best.
"Go on, judge," John could hear that Scottish brogue and that faint challenging smile.
"All right, Helen, I mean, Karen. I'm truly sorry for barging in and taking my fears for Jo out on you. You didn't deserve it. I've had time to think about it and I understand why you acted as you did. It was definitely for the best. I was wrong and you were right."
"Excellent, judge." He could hear Helen's slightly amused but genuinely warm-hearted praise. He needed all the praise that he could get and ,at one time received it when he had been a little boy. Was it from his mother that he had received it? Some ancient suggestion of a memory told him that it must have been so.
Two more circles round his flat as the resolution percolated through the surface layer of an intellectual proposition. Finally it sank deeper into that determined will to act, no matter how uncomfortable it might make him feel. As he sank into a cosy armchair and reached for a glass of spirits, he realised that his legs felt tired. It had been a blazing hot day today and the stress of finally arriving at this resolution had taken it out of him.
It was Friday June 30th 2006 and the full heat of summer glared down onto the street as John turned his car away from his chambers and in the direction of Larkhall Prison. At one time, he would have had to check his copy of the London A - Z map for directions but, over the past few years, his memory took him through the familiar back streets to the castle-like walls of the building. Grey grim as they looked in the depths of winter, even they were bleached and coloured by the brilliant blue sun into being halfway inviting, at least if you ignored the reality that lay behind them.
It was only when John had gone to sign in with Ken that he realised that he had assumed that Karen would be there to receive him. She might easily be working at home or at some conference as far as he was aware.
"I've come to see Karen Betts. At least I assume she is available today." John ventured in a diffident fashion.
Ken raised his eyebrows at the debonair, smartly dressed man with that air of command common to all those in high authority. The judge had always been different from the rest of them in the way that he didn't treat him as part of the furniture and in that sense of humanity. This was the first time he had ever appeared to him as shy and he couldn't understand it. He had no reason to be from what he had heard of the judge, both famous and merciful.
"You're in luck," Ken smiled broadly back at him as he put the phone down. "Nikki will come and show you the way, not that you need it, but rules is rules."
That commonplace proverb set the seal. He was very powerful in his own orbit and made the rules, the complexities of case law but gladly surrendered himself to others' demands, whether personal or institutional. There were occasions when he needed to tilt his lance at oppressive over mighty institutional power like some latter day Don Quixote but not today.
Nikki's face brightened as John came into view.
"It's really nice to see you, judge. Helen and I were thinking of you when I had a little party to celebrate my first year in office a few weeks ago."
"I would have liked to come, Nikki, but matters in my life were somewhat unstable nearer home. Things are getting clearer now," he added hastily.
Nikki's smile was as warm as if it had been exposed to a lifetime of English summers. It exposed her feelings unashamedly for all to see and bestowed her blessings on him. No wonder Helen saw so much in her to love her, he thought in a detached observational way that was not possessive. If he chose to be open, he would receive the blessings of her essential goodness.
"I'm really glad to hear it, judge. I'll take you up to see Karen." Nikki started to say in her best formal tones until she took a closer glance at John's rather edgy manner and her basic instinct to help the distressed bade her enquire in solicitous tones.
"If you don't mind me saying, you've got the manner of going to the doctor to take some unpleasant medicine."
"Something like that." John started to say, dryly. It struck him in that instance that this was his suave, well-armoured brush off and that Nikki deserved better than this.
"Do you get to hear of everything that is going on?" he added.
Nikki took one look at John's genuine bemusement and opted for directness.
"Nearly everything. You should know the Old Girls Network by now, judge. You aren't as inscrutable as you like to think you are."
John smiled wryly at her laughing eyes. He decided that there were some things in life that he might never know but so long as there was a benign force that somehow looked after him as much as it would scold him, he should simply let things be. It started to cross his mind that this powerful sisterhood had adopted him and that its strength would nurture him. It dawned on him with some satisfaction that the likes of imperious men Sir Ian and Neil Houghton would strive to achieve their dreams of power all their lives and never even conceive that such a force might exist much less appreciate its full dimension. The experience of the last months, if not years, had instilled this knowledge in him through Helen's patient efforts and spreading outward from there. If he was one eyed, he was a king in the land of the blind apparatchiks.
"John, how nice it is to see you."
"I just thought it was time for me to clear the air a bit."
"Do you want a cup of tea?"
"I'd love one. Driving through London traffic doesn't get any easier and becomes insufferable on such a hot day."
As John indulged in strained polite conversation, he was highly conscious that he was coming over as hideously inexpressive. This wasn't what he wanted to do. He surprised himself that the thought of changing the course of the conversation was speedily followed by action. He opted for the shortest, simplest approach with no verbal decorations.
"You may have guessed that I didn't come round here to make polite conversation."
"I gathered that," Karen said in a perfect imitation of John's dry tones.
"Look here, I don't want to beat about the bush but .. I wanted to say that I'm truly sorry for barging in and taking my fears for Jo out on you that time she took an overdose. You didn't deserve it. I've had time to think about it and I understand why you acted as you did to save Jo's life. It was definitely for the best. I was wrong and you were right."
Karen blinked as John shot out the words with the speed of a projectile. John felt intensely uncomfortable as if he were an adolescent out on his first date and that he had spoken charming words that he had cribbed from a book or a friend. He felt as if he were an alien.
"I think I heard what you said but would you kindly repeat it ...It's really important to both of us that I understand what you have to say."
John blinked at Karen's first impersonal tones and nearly lost his nerve. When Karen softened her tones, it gave him the reassurance that he needed. He swallowed nervously and this time deployed some of his acquired verbal tricks of slow deliberate delivery of words and all the consciousness he had gained from his therapy sessions to get out the words without him sounding as if he were hurting. He felt the sentiments as he spoke the words.
"You know that I too will occasionally go against my professional training if it is morally right to do so. It's just that in your profession, the balance of justice is so weighted that you are compelled to do it in order to stay human."
Karen answered him deliberately as her large blue eyes stared straight into his soul. In another era, it would have made him feel uncomfortable and vulnerable but now it made him feel that she was there for him on a far more profound level than all the casual pick-ups in some anonymous hotel.
"Besides, John, you make it into an art form. I am a beginner by comparison."
Karen's smile and her husky tones might have aroused John's physical desire except that intense feelings of friendship and mutual understanding stood in the way. In her turn, Karen felt that she was being wordier than she wanted to be. She got up from her chair, crossed the space between them and gave him a big hug.
"What I meant to say is that I would probably have done exactly the same in your position, John," she murmured into his shoulder.
"You mean it, Karen?"
John felt Karen nod her head rather than heard her words. That was answer enough.
"I realize that I didn't get it clear in my head exactly what you did for Jo. I've no moral or legal right to ask this of you, but might I see a copy of the report on what you did to Jo. You know how the presentation of solid facts eases my mind. It is something that you are not a million miles away from you in your profession."
Karen was touched by John's humility and her hearty warmed to accede to his wish.
"But of course, John. You might find it rather technical. The report is at home so why not come with me and I'll cook you dinner."
"I'd love that."
Karen was his friend and he was going with no prior expectations or hidden agendas. What would be, would be.
As they crossed the wing, they ran into the Julies who were armed with mops and buckets and they positively beamed at him as they waylaid him. Karen smiled tolerantly, knowing that over time, John had gained understanding of women in prison.
"Why, judge, ain't we glad to see you around here. You should come here more often."
"More often. We don't get any good looking fellas like you around here."
John laughed appreciatively at the compliments and their harmless flirtation and felt that he was a welcome part of this perpetual cabaret show.
"Hey judge," Denny's voice called out from the side of John's vision. It could only be Denny Blood with that huge grin on her face. "It's great to see you. You know that you're our favourite judge."
"Thanks for the compliment, Denny."
John could see by the frown on Denny's face that she was wrestling with herself whether to say something that was playing on her mind. John smiled to encourage her and at last she spoke.
"Excuse me for saying it, judge, but you better watch out if you keep visiting or you'll become institutionalised."
A general laugh echoed round the wing, John's laugh just that bit louder than Karen's. He could see that the delicious irony of Denny's immortal one liner would not go down well with his humourless enemies.
"I'll never forget the way you looked after me when I was in the witness box at Lauren's trial. You're a real gent, don't let anyone say any different or they'll answer to me."
John was touched by Denny's sentiments. He had conducted a lot of trials since Lauren Atkins' trial and the details had got a bit blurred. He must have done better than he knew for those details to be so razor sharp in her mind.
At that moment, Tina strolled into view while Natalie scowled away in the background.
"Have a cheese straw, judge. Special recipe what I got from an old mate of mine called Noreen."
John's natural courtesy bade him pick one. It did taste good with a mature cheese base in the light texture. He chatted away contentedly with the women who clustered around him. This was another women's support group who had also adopted him. It made him feel humble and tears pricked his eyes. It was only when he remembered that Karen waited patiently on him that he was forced to make his polite exit.
When they arrived at Karen's flat, John placed himself entirely in Karen's hands. He knew himself well enough to feel safe in doing so and, after all, Karen was an old friend. Occasional disagreements and outright rows would never permanently disturb this balance. Karen immediately clicked on her laptop, searched her folders for the one word document that didn't fit into her carefully arranged categories, clicked print and the two page document whirred its way onto the table.
"Take your time to look at this while I cook something for us. Now let me see, do you fancy macaroni cheese? I can cook it quickly enough." Karen enquired, taking charge of her surroundings. The choice jumped into her mind as it would provide John with excellent comfort food as well as being quick and easy.
"That sounds fine by me. Can I help?" John asked politely enough
"Well, since you've offered, you can grate 4 oz of cheese for me." Karen called out over her shoulder as she headed for the kitchen.
I can't blame anyone taking me at my word on an offer of help, John reflected ruefully as he followed her. He remembered how he had studiously offered to be guided by Jo's good sense and friendship while all along, he had been maneuvering her into following the course of action he had wanted her to do in carrying out work for the benefit of Francesca Rochester of all people. This was a little bit of comeuppance.
He felt highly conscious of intruding into Karen's cooking space and found himself a distant corner of the kitchen to work in. He grated the cheese into a bowl and placed it wordlessly next to Karen before discreetly retiring to the living room. She nodded to acknowledge his contribution, while she effortlessly sieved plain flour into another saucepan and vigorously whisked in butter and milk to make her standard white sauce mix. With a flourish, she poured dry pasta into a saucepan to boil and gradually worked the cheese into the white sauce along with a sprinkling of salt and pepper. In expertly draining the pasta, she turned it into a serving bowl with the cheese sauce and grilled it to crisp the surface on top. Triumphantly, she served it on her dining table with green salad and a bottle of chilled Frascati straight out of the fridge.
John had started to read Karen's report and her deployment of the foreign language of medical terminology took him aback. The times recorded explained to him of the medical complexities of various tests that must have been taken. It was all an alien language to him.
" Jo Mills initial GCS was ten, e3v1m6. There was an initial lack of verbal response due to emotional shock. She was seriously bradycardic, pulse 48 and there were some slight arrhythmias. A search revealed a bottle of 30 tablets of Temazepam, the prescription date dated the day before yesterday. An Intra-venous line was set up and 2 syringes of Apomorphine to induce vomiting were administered while the heart rate was carefully monitored ... GCS9, E2V1M6, pulse rate maintained at 48 ..After 2MG's of Atropine were administered intravenously the pulse rate increased to 78 .. .Jo Mills regained consciousness As Jo Mills skin felt cold and clammy, GCS reduced to 8, E2, V2 and M4, and pulse 130, 2 half litre bags of fluid were administered, fifteen minutes apart .. Finally she regained full consciousness and her condition stabilized sufficiently a blood sample was taken for LFT's and Creatinine levels "
He had never considered that Karen had that depth of medical knowledge. He gathered what he could understand from it and lay back with pleasure to receive Karen's practical care.
"It might sound a very stupid question as my knowledge of medical matters is very limited indeed but was there a point when you became seriously worried about coping with the situation?"
"You might say that again, when Jo's pulse suddenly shot up like a rocket and I couldn't understand what the hell had gone on. Dr Waugh, God bless him reminded me that Jo was simply dehydrated from the alcohol she had taken and having vomited up the contents of her stomach." Karen exclaimed, pulling a face as she drank a generous measure of her glass of wine.
"A foolish question to have asked. I am sorry."
Karen smiled slightly and leaned over the table to gently stroke his face. She had had head to head arguments with this proud, highly intelligent man but she had never seen the man apologise so much in one day. It humanized him.
"Now you know what it is to be the layman, John."
"True, very true. It has been an eye opener." John conceded gracefully before returning to take another mouthful of Karen's excellent macaroni cheese.
"Jo went to see Ric Griffin recently on Ric's request and she had been extremely lucky. There is no long term damage but she has been strictly warned that she should under no circumstances drink alcohol ever again," Karen added in conversational tones.
"As drastic as that?" John enquired, raising his eyebrows. The realms of permanent liver damage had been a closed book to him. The assumption of free choice when to drink and when not to seemed pretty fundamental, even to someone who was relatively temperate in a profession noted for the periodic alcohol lubricated socialising of the brethren. "This reinforces the feelings that I have come to consider that there is a lot that I haven't known, both about myself and the world about me."
"So did these revelations take place of their own accord, John. I am impressed."
"I can't lay claim for all the credit, Karen. If you must know, I've been having professional therapy this last year. For once in my life, I have stuck to it no matter how hard the going has been."
Karen's mouth opened wide. She had thought that she knew pretty well what went on in the lives of her friends but John had kept this one very dark from her.
"So who is this remarkable person? I don't suppose I would know him, psychologists not being in my field of acquaintances."
"She is certainly remarkable and very persistent, I can assure you."
"You haven't answered my question, John. I did ask you if I know her." Karen teased him.
"Haven't I?" John responded vaguely. "It so happens that you do know her."
A light bulb switched itself on in Karen's mind. Very smart, John Deed. As I might have predicted, you pick a female psychologist and you choose the one therapist who you know that you will never get to sleep with when it gets awkward. You really were serious when you started your therapy.
"Let's cut to the chase, John. The only possible candidate is Helen, Helen Wade. Am I not right?"
John sheepishly nodded. There was no point in verbal fencing. What point was there in playing games and what would it achieve?
"Well, you certainly picked yourself a tough one but someone who I know really cares about you. She was putting herself a bit on the line in knowing you previously and in having some common history."
"So it proved."
"So what did you get out of it?
John's mind flashed back over what seemed like years of conversations.
"I finally realised what damage my mother's death did to me, in being fearful of emotional commitment and how brilliantly I misused my grasp of the English language to blind myself with words. I got to see what should have been blindingly obvious, that the highly moral, upright virtuous man struggling for justice was anything but in my private life. My nice neat compartmentalisations were shown to be irrational and totally dysfunctional. It wasn't all down to me and I learned that there are other imperfect human beings out there with their own internal demons and I simply cannot shoulder their guilt but try to help them as best as I can ."
Both Karen and John knew that he was referring to Jo's alcoholism and that her life was not as perfect as George believed her, the George Channing who had been tortured by her own lack of normal maternal feeling, the same George that Karen had loved and who was still her friend.
" I have known that I must treasure the good people I have come across but I never knew that I had been adopted by the formidable women's support group, both inside and outside prison. I know that I am grateful even though they can become fierce critics. They don't miss anything ..."
Karen grinned at the earlier memories. To her mind, Nikki and Denny clasped hands together.
"I have done some good in this public world and some harm to women in my private life." Added John in a choked voice.
"You can't blame yourself for everything, John," Karen added in soothing tones, laying her hand on his shoulder. "Barbara Mills has walked free and you have given her life back which another judge would have deprived her of."
"That's true," John added reflectively." I had forgotten that."
A companionable silence descended on the flat as fitting two old friends who didn't have to fill the spaces with meaningless words for the sake of it.
"So what of your life, Karen." John enquired as he finished the last morsel off his plate and finished his glass of wine.
"I get by, John." Karen replied, shrugging her shoulders nonchalantly. It disturbed John a little as she had assumed a little too much of his own nonchalant manner for her good. Then maybe he was wrong about that. "I have enough to occupy me and I can't see myself exactly being tied down in a relationship."
John held his tongue. Who was he to judge her? After all, if it hadn't been for Karen and what they'd done together at that conference back in October, he would never have started therapy, and if he hadn't begun having therapy, where would he, where would any of them be today?
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