DISCLAIMER: All characters are not ours, we're simply playing with them. Characters are from the following fandoms: Bad Girls, Judge John Deed, Holby City, Silent Witness and the Kay Scarpetta novels.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Credits to Shed specifically in using dialogue from their episode 7, Series 2 Bad Girls as in the dialogue between Barbara and Nikki when she tells the story of her second husband Peter.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the authors.
BETA: by Hunca Munca and Jen.

Till Death Do Us Part
By Kristine and Richard

Part Twenty-One

As Kay settled into her seat on the Virgin Atlantic flight on the Friday evening, she abandoned all thought of sleep. She was sitting in the aisle seat, and the man next to her kept leering at her, trying to see down the top of the open-necked silk blouse she was wearing. Pointedly unfolding the newspaper she'd picked up in the airport, Kay tried to put him out of her mind. The plane roared, and eventually they were airborne, with a very long eight hours before they would be back on terra firma. She'd had one last cigarette in the bar at Heathrow, but now she wouldn't be able to smoke until she was back in America. This might be a good opportunity to give up again, she thought half-heartedly, but she didn't somehow think she would act on it. She was flying from Heathrow to Washington DC, where Marino would hopefully be waiting to meet her, ready to drive her back to Richmond, so that she could leave the contents of the ominous sealed box, that was sitting in the luggage compartment above her head, in the freezer in her office before going home. She was relieved that there hadn't been any serious delays, because although dry ice was a perfectly reliable way to transport human tissue, it would never do for it to thaw prematurely. She'd done a full day's work in the hospital morgue, with a few senior medical students who were considering specialising in forensic pathology, and now it was eight o'clock on the Friday evening. The really weird thing about going back to the States from England, was that because of the time difference, she would arrive in Washington at around eight in the evening, as if no time had passed at all. Having obtained a large scotch from the drink's trolley, she dug out a notepad and pen, and began composing a letter to George, partly to explain what she intended to do with the samples she had taken from Henry's body, and partly to keep her occupied for a while. George had been something of a surprise, her clipped, clearly upper class drawl combined with a dry sense of humour and a sensitive touch of kindness when dealing with her client. Kay could see that there was clearly a steely determination to succeed behind George's outer layers, and she knew that it would definitely be an experience to see her perform in court. As she automatically wrote the date and salutation at the top of the letter, she knew that she didn't really need to do this. She could just write George an e-mail when she went into work next week, or write it from home, but a letter seemed more conversational somehow, and anyway, she didn't have to send it.

October 14th 2005: Seat 4, row 15, halfway across the Atlantic, (My current location).

Dear George,

I realize that this letter may come as something as a surprise in the circumstances, but an eight hour flight leaves me with far too little to do, and anything to stop the man next to me from staring at me as if I were the next angel incarnate. As I had predicted, customs were certainly less than amused at my unusual cargo, and it took every ounce of diplomacy I possess to persuade them to let me through without further investigation. It's at times like that, that I suppose my Chief Medical Examiner's identity shield comes into its own. I guess I can count myself grateful that I wasn't also trying to walk through with a gun.

So, I thought I would take the opportunity, to explain to you what I intend to do with the samples I brought with me. The UK might pride itself on having such a thing as the National Health Service, but I know that America's Department of Justice puts far more funding into its investigative technology. The samples that are resting in dry ice as we speak are as follows:

Excised skin and muscle tissue from Henry Mills' thigh. This is the most important sample, as it will allow me to examine the injection site far more closely, and will hopefully allow me to discover the exact angle at which the hypodermic needle pierced the skin.

Sections of liver, spleen, kidney, heart and lungs. These will help me to ascertain just how static Henry Mills' body was. When a person is terminally ill, and especially if they are spending considerable amounts of time in bed, their bodies can go into a temporary stasis, with many bodily processes being in suspended animation. This can include anything from digestion to the workings of the liver and kidneys. This is only a hypothesis, and I won't know the answer until I've done some more tests, but it is just possible that Henry Mills might have died from an accidental overdose, rather than an intentional one. As a result of a temporary bodily stasis, his liver wouldn't have been metabolizing the morphine at the usual rate, meaning that it would take less morphine than prescribed to overload his system. But as I said, this is only a hypothesis.

I also took several blood samples, just in case there were any underlying conditions resulting from the cancer that your state pathologist didn't look for. As I tried to explain to your client, anything is possible at this stage.

I realize that this may all seem a little too graphic for you, but that's the way it is with a case like this. Being in civil law, you may not have come across a case of this nature requiring your direct attention before. I don't know, I am simply guessing. If I find what I'm hoping to find, I'm going to need to present plenty of photographs and possibly histological slides at the trial, and I am not about to mince my words on the stand. People who die, deserve the truth to be told about them, whether this be in court or anywhere else. I am probably so vehement about this, as a few years ago I was unfortunate enough to work with a commonwealth's attorney who insisted on stipulating my reports on every possible occasion. He had the rather nasty habit of avoiding the less palatable details, in favor of focusing on points of law. I suppose I feel that if I'm not in the courtroom, then neither is the person whose body I have examined. In this case, Barbara would not get a fair hearing, if I couldn't show the jury everything I possibly can.

Talking of witnesses, I don't know if he's told you, but Professor Khan has found you a cardio thoracic expert, Tom Campbell-Gore. I've met him, and apart from being as arrogant as most other cardio thoracic surgeons, he's nice. That sounds dreadfully noncommittal, doesn't it, but I did only meet him for a few minutes.

That brings me very nicely onto first impressions. George, I had to let you find out about my slightly suspect publicity in the way you did, because I couldn't afford to give you a watered down version of the facts, and have you blame me later for not knowing everything. It is quite rare for a defense counsel back home to use my publicity against me, but that's probably because law enforcement has been hearing and reading less than favorable coverage about me for years. I would fully expect a British prosecuting counsel to make use of it, however, because if they can focus on sensationalism rather than the facts I may present, so much the better for them. I really wouldn't have blamed you if what you read about me had frightened you off, but it was nice to be given a chance to explain.

Well, I'll leave this slightly offbeat epistle here. You know how to contact me, and I'll let you know as soon as I come up with any results on the samples.

Take care,


A few hours later when they touched down at DC airport, Kay got up and stretched, her muscles feeling stiff from hours of sitting. She felt crumpled, tired, and thoroughly out of sorts, and they still had the hour and a half's drive to Richmond. She first caught sight of Marino as she walked through the barrier, pushing a trolley containing her briefcase, medical bag and the sinister-looking box.

"Oh, shit," Marino's gruff voice said in greeting. "You been carting body parts halfway across the world again?"

"Nice to see you too, Marino, and yes, there are human tissue samples in this box, which is precisely why I asked you to meet me. I've had quite enough interrogation by customs officials already tonight, and I can do without the extra hassle of getting a connecting internal flight to Richmond."

"How did it go?" He asked, enquiring about her fortnight away as they waited for her bags to appear on the carousel.

"Oh, not bad," She said wearily. "Anything horrific happen while I was away?"

"Nothing out of the ordinary," He said as they walked towards the exit. "Too many shootings, the odd drug bust, you know how it is."

"And how's Lucy?" Kay asked, referring to her thirty-two-year-old niece.

"I ain't seen her. She's been closeted up in the Big Apple for ages now. She might fly down and see us now you're back. So, get up to anything nice over there?"

"Only the usual. Oh, and I'm going back in February."

"That soon, why? You suddenly found yourself a man over there or something? Finally weaned yourself off Benton?"

"No, I haven't," Kay told him sharply. "And I thought we'd agreed that all discussion of me and Benton, if there is a me and Benton, are closed. It's hardly my fault that he changed so much, and became a virtually different person whilst he was away playing the living dead." Marino stopped and turned to face her, absolutely stunned by her more than harsh words. "I'm sorry," She said quietly. "That was a bit uncalled for."

"Hey, no worries," He said, not wanting to push any more of her buttons tonight. When they emerged into the car park, Kay smiled when she saw his blue pick up truck. It was just one of the familiar things about being back home.

"I can't believe you drove your truck all the way to DC," She said with a smile as he opened the door for her, and they removed her bags from the airport trolley.

"What else was I supposed to do?" He asked in return. "Break into your house and borrow the keys to your nazi-mobile of a Benz?"

"I wish you wouldn't call it that," She said, knowing he was referring to her black Mercedes. But as they kept on fondly bickering, and as Marino carefully manoeuvred his truck through the DC traffic, Kay began to relax. She was back home again, back within the familiar surroundings and with the man she'd known for nearly half her life. As she filled him in on the case she'd become involved in, and why she'd brought samples of human tissue home with her almost like souvenirs, she couldn't help but smile. No matter how brash, disgruntled and to the point Marino was, he always managed to make her feel herself again. A good while later as they left the interstate, she decided that she would fax that letter to George, she would send it from home, as soon as she'd slept off the jet lag tomorrow.

Part Twenty-Two

It seemed that this Friday in court contrived to drive him to distraction to a point almost more than he could bear, especially when Neumann Mason-Alan was at his clumsiest and Brian Cantwell at his pushiest. Both of them had tenaciously locked horns with each other and only his periodic interventions, delivered in the weariest, most fed up tones, dragged the progress of the trial back on track for the unpteenth time. He was aware that he was being more scathing than normal but, then again, he felt compelled to give vent to his feelings, which were churning away at the depths of him while his very bored mind kept easy pace with the progress of the trial. The matter of the crime was a commonplace enough murder, if such a tragedy could ever be described in such a blasé fashion. The man in the dock had his eyes cast down the whole time and, to him, the process of law might appear to drone on to its predestined conclusion of a custodial sentence, the only question being, how long. The main players in this trial were all male and it was at times like these that he felt as if they were transported back in time to their long ago schooldays. Only the occasional glance at the twelve ordinary members of the jury and the accused kept him to the point of the trial and to keep within bounds.

"Court is adjourned till Monday morning when I shall give my summing up."

He couldn't wait to walk out of the door at the back of the court to his chambers so that he could relax in his favourite armchair and click on his Vivaldi CD. He yearned for the music, which lost him in a reassuring ordered world. As he paced the corridor, a suspicion edged its way into his mind that he was in a black mood, which had expanded the merely mildly tedious into something more than his spirit could endure. His eyes stared vacantly into space as he lay back and heard the music play. He barely heard Coope say goodbye in that concerned tone of voice, which a portion of his mind replied to in his unfailing courtesy to her. He was so lost in his own thoughts that he had not noticed that the room was silent, as the CD had finished. That again, was unusual.

As he restored the shiny disc to its case, a stray thought struck him. This was becoming more and more common as in days gone past, he had not gone in for any great periods of introspection as he had always prided himself that his flexible and quick-witted mind could seek out what he needed. It was this that gave him the confidence that he could deal with anything that life threw at him and keep him on the right track. He had made the well-reasoned decision to seek therapy after that catastrophic night at the Conference, which had brutally derailed him from one of his deepest certainties as to himself. From then on, he had been being assailed by thoughts that popped up out of nowhere, long forgotten memories, anything. He wondered if in seeking therapy, he had jumped out of the frying pan into the fire - that seemed a fair description of that gruelling meeting with Helen.

What was it he had said, as the words were wrung out of him, stretched tight upon the rack?

"I need to feel loved, 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."

Why had Helen just abandoned him at that point when he had painfully and laid himself out for all to see, including himself. Those words were hardly the actions of the debonair, man of the world as he had liked to consider that he was?

He lunged desperately at something that would save him, anything and, galloping to the rescue like Roy Rogers riding Trigger in his beloved cowboy films was the memory of that extraordinary dream he had had on Tuesday night. It was not a habit of him to dream or, at least, not that he could recall. He usually had the occasional recollection of a vague multitude of assorted thoughts that had crossed his mind but they escaped his memory at the precise moment that he woke up. This one was different. He had to smile to himself at that most whimsical and incongruous memory, which was like nothing, he had ever encountered before. The idea of him performing the most spectacular practical joke on the very politicians who were dragging the ancient liberties of this country through the mud was so appealing, so enticing. These men of straw were only the older versions of the most arrogant prefects of the public school, complete. They gave their orders so imperiously while those craven, shameless self-seeking underlings like Sir Ian and Lawrence James did their bidding.

John shook his head in bemusement. It was one thing to listen to a Black Sabbath CD with his daughter Charlie. It was quite another to perform such glorious barbarously unrestrained music up on stage. What was savage and unrestrained ripped apart the constraining proprieties that bound him in that he had grown up with all his life and was somehow righteous, most holy and blessed. Regrettably, it was a pipe dream but it had left him feeling refreshed, mentally invigorated when he had woken up the next day. It had made him feel good about himself, satisfied with himself to the depths of his soul. It was something he needed more than he had ever suspected. He needed to feel validated more than he had ever suspected, whether lying in the soft arms of the woman of his dreams, striking off the fetters of injustice with one blow of his most finely tuned words.

Yes, and he added to the list, being transported to a better, finer world by the power of music either by Vivaldi or, smiling to himself, by being Eric Clapton.

Somehow, everything he had ever done had slid downhill to a deflated, flat feeling at the end of the day. By some process he was unaware, he returned to the surroundings of the present from that mysterious alternative universe where he was lost in thoughts, saw that the room had descended into the sort of gloom to match his mood, looked at his watch and realized it was late. He had to go elsewhere.

As he drove in his car, he knew not where the words he had spoken to George popped into his mind, 'Even though I'm going through a midlife crisis?' Those words were treacherous. He had heard the expression but never in his remotest imaginings did he ever think that those words had ever applied to him or would they ever. He felt in the prime of his life, fit as a fiddle, mentally alert, devastatingly attractive to women and like a fine wine, one that improved with age. That night that he had slept with George was an enormous blow to his self-esteem and, much though George had tried to reassure him, it didn't feel real to him. The frustrating part of having Helen as his psychiatrist, he cursed himself as he violently grated his change of gear upwards from second up to third, was that he was forced to deal with her as another intellect, one who was very steely and resolute in her purpose and one who could not be brushed aside or deflected. Up till then, she was the very friendly, vivacious woman who accompanied her partner, Nikki. All right, he admitted to himself, he liked being at the center, the focus of a variety of charming, beautiful women and was forced to consider that his admiration for the Larkhall women was not wholly platonic. What man was really different from him except a monk? It was that fortune gave him more scope, more talent and opportunity? So why did Helen make such a beeline for that particular topic?

He had driven some miles until he realized that he was unconsciously heading for Jo's flat. Oh well, let Jo be his destiny tonight. He had not talked to her properly for some time. Instinct told him that he needed her soothing, gentle quality right now.

Inside her flat, Jo was washing the pots from the meal she had cooked and heard the insistent bleep from her mobile.

"It's John," Came the very weary voice. "Can I come and see you tonight?"

Jo knew instinctively that John wanted comfort more than words. Her time was her own and evening television was totally uninspiring.

"I thought you'd changed your mind about coming over and had other plans," She enquired in a reserved tone of voice.

"Making alternative plans is something I do not have the particular inclination for, personal or private."

"Where are you right now?"

"Parked in my car nearly opposite your house. I don't know how I got here."

Jo pricked up her ears. He had pulled this trick before but he had never owned up as to where he was phoning from. This was a novelty.

"You'd better come in," she answered with more warmth than before.

A very weary John made his uncertain way through her front door. He blinked at the cosy domesticity of her very familiar flat. It ought to have felt familiar but nothing seemed familiar, least of all him.

"Take the weight off your feet and I'll pour you a drink," She offered.

"You had better make it a strong one," He sighed.

Jo raised her eyebrows with concern.

"Tell me what the problem's been?" Jo's soothing voice urged.

"Is there a problem?" John instantly countered with the last dregs of that combative spirit of his.

One steady knowing look from Jo immediately answered him and he shrugged his shoulders and surrendered as he virtually collapsed into a chair. In the meantime. Jo poured a slightly larger measure than he was used to which he drained in a gulp. This was certainly not like the normally temperate, abstemious John, that is abstemious except for one prominent aspect of his person.

"Have you had as rough a week as you've dished it out to others?" Jo enquired in a friendly tone.

"Have I really been that bad?"

Jo smiled at the very down in the dumps John whose reply was more of a sigh than the instant verbal parry which he was so good at, in and out of court.

"From what I've heard you probably have and this has not come from your obvious enemies."

Even in his present state of mind, John immediately produced a shortlist of two, George or Coope or both. He dismissed the likes of Brian Cantwell and Neumann Mason-Alan as possible informants as colleagues whose word Jo would be reluctant to take what they said on face value.

"I probably have been as difficult and unbearable as they say," John said with a sigh.

Again, Jo wondered how untypical it was of him to go in for self-criticism so easily.

"I've had a few bad weeks of it. Can't explain it. It just sometimes happens that the sort of day to day inconveniences assume the size of a major irritation or source of depression."

John really isn't talking at all about something major that is really troubling him so she decided to lighten the conversation.

"I haven't seen much of you, not since the conference. You aren't telling me that you are finding it hard to keep up with your harem of demanding women?" Jo said with a smirk, fully expecting him to laugh heartily at the little jest

Instantly, the expression on John's face was blank, as if a shutter had descended in front of him, utterly shutting her out. This really worried Jo.

"I'm sorry, John. I must have said the wrong thing. It's not just the obvious like sex, it's just that I've missed you being around here. This place feels incomplete without you."

"You can't be serious?" John asked, the expression on his face brightening with hope. His ego really needed a boost like that right now and he saw his way in to have the comfort of Jo's soft arms to settle him to sleep without the sexual ecstasy that accompanied it. An absurd train of thought, one of many these days, found it absurd to describe a night of passionate sex with a woman as 'sleeping with' her when it involved most of the night doing anything but that.

"Even if you're down in the dumps, fifty percent of John Deed is worth more than one hundred per cent of any other man than I've met in my life."

A light looked as it was switched on in John's mind at that utterly sincere compliment from Jo, one of his dearest friends. It started to seep through the solid layer of negative feelings. He stepped forward and slid his arms around Jo and nestled his head on her shoulder. Jo instantly detected only his need for simple human affection from her. The low lights in the flat bathed them in simple intimacy.

A little while later, Jo refilled John's glass with a more generous measure, certainly enough to make it completely impossible for him to go back home to his digs.

"Jo, this may seem an unusual request but I am really glad I've come to see you but I'm really tired. I don't think I feel at my best tonight. You can see that I'm hardly the best conversationalist, five out of ten I would give myself so I am hardly going to excel in any other way….."

Jo listened as John started to meander all over the place and let him continue until he became lost for words with which to express himself.

"But you want to sleep next to me but you don't want to make love to me," Jo finished off the sentence, pertly with a hint of a smile on her face.

John blushed very slightly, something that was a first for Jo and he looked down at the floor.

"How did you guess what I meant?"

"John, just how many times have women from time immemorial resorted to that line when all they want is simple human comfort but no more? There is nothing you have to apologise for, least of all to someone you knows and loves you so well."

John stared in wonder as a blinding revelation hit him and an enormous feeling of gratitude to Jo. He felt weak from the release from the tension of the day and of negotiating his delicate way to expressing the most hideously embarrassing confession of all time. An unearthly chorus of young fellow barristers, fellow students and fellow schoolboys had seemed to laugh at him in discordant harmony in his head even as he spoke. This was the hardest battle of all alongside which his worst set to with the Lord Chancellor's Department was as nothing.

"Oh well, you live and learn," John finished lightly but badly failing to sound his normal nonchalant self.

Part Twenty-Three

John slept fitfully on the Friday night, his dreams filled with fear and uncertainty, though fear of what he couldn't say. Jo was very much aware of his tossing and turning, and when the clock edged towards seven on the Saturday morning, Jo turned over and put her arms round him. His body was extremely tense, his eyes holding that slightly wild, desperate look that almost begged her for reassurance.

"I wish you'd tell me what's bothering you," She told him gently, softly running a hand up and down his back.

"I can't," He said miserably, wishing he could but knowing that he didn't have the face to do it.

"John, this is me you're talking to, not some random fling."

"I know," He replied darkly. "That's what makes it worse." They lay quiet for a time, because Jo simply didn't know how to proceed. It was extremely rare that John couldn't talk to her, and she always felt utterly helpless when it did happen.

"Would you like a cup of tea?" She asked him, hitting on something to buy him some time, if that was what he wanted.

"Yes please," He readily agreed, seeing this as her tactic of lulling him into a false sense of security, before she started in on him again. Pressing a soft kiss to his lips, she slipped out of bed and went to make the tea. As he lay, listening to the muffled sounds of her moving around in the kitchen, he couldn't help but think that George might have been right. How much easier last night would have been if he'd been able to tell her why he didn't want to make love with her. Not that it had really been difficult. It had taken him a while to getting around to actually saying it, but Jo had simply accepted it without explanation. Should he tell her? Should he abandon every shred of pride he possessed and tell her of his failure? This was all Helen's fault, he decided in a moment of abject fury. If she hadn't started him back on that road of admissions and self-discovery, he wouldn't now be contemplating doing such a thing. But that was ridiculous, his conscience told him scornfully, as it was he who had elected to start the therapy again in the first place. Thumping his fist into the pillow, he silently cursed his traitor of a body, vowing to one day make it pay for the torment it was currently putting him through.

When Jo returned with the tea and slid back into bed, she could tell that something in John had been resolved in her absence. Jo snuggled under the duvet, waiting for her tea to cool down a little, but John immediately took a swig of his, the hot liquid bringing him to full alertness. When he lay back down, putting his arms around her soft, voluptuous body, he knew that the time had come to bury his pride, and trust in her usual level of tact and diplomacy.

"I feel quite ashamed," He began, hesitating over the right word to describe his feelings. "Which is why I didn't want to tell you. You'll probably think I'm being incredibly stupid, but I don't. It's funny, but George said I should tell you, and I virtually bit her head off for suggesting it. Last Saturday, when I was with her, I, erm, I couldn't rise to the occasion." As John went as still as a rock, Jo suddenly understood everything. He felt a failure because he had been unable to make love to George, and he was terrified of not being able to do the same with her. A wave of sympathy rose up in her, and she reflexively tightened her arms round him.

"Oh, John," She said, gently kissing him. "It's not anything to be ashamed of."

"I don't want pity, Jo," He said stonily.

"Sympathy, John, not pity, they are two very different things," She told him quietly.

"I felt so humiliated," He said, almost relieved to have it out in the open. "And all George could do was be nice to me."

"John, it happens," Jo told him firmly. "It doesn't mean that you won't get it back, and it certainly doesn't mean that you're a failure."

"George said that I should just try and forget it, and not feel under any pressure to make love to anyone."

"And she was absolutely right," Jo said, feeling a touch of pride that George had handled this so sensitively.

"I badly didn't want that to happen with you," He admitted sheepishly.

"John, do you seriously think it hasn't ever happened with other men I've slept with?"

"That's different," He said dismissively, making Jo laugh softly.

"No, it's not," She told him fondly. "It happens to everyone at some point or so I'm told. But George is right, the more you worry about it, the more it is likely to become a problem."

"I'm sorry," He said, softly kissing her, wanting to make up for his inadequacies.

"You've got nothing to be sorry for," She told him firmly. "Nothing whatsoever." As she said this, his thoughts strayed to Karen, and the precise reason why he was in this predicament in the first place. He did have something to be sorry for, but Jo didn't know it, and if he had anything to do with it, she never would know about that. She would neither understand, nor sympathise with him, not that her sympathy for what he had done was something he wanted in any case.

After quite a long time of some simple cuddling, Jo said,

"You know, it's funny, but quite often when I'm with George, I feel as though I don't know a thing about her. It's as though she's hiding an awful lot of herself from me."

"You mean when you're in bed with her?" John queried, glad to be onto a different topic of conversation.


"She probably is," He replied, wondering if George knew that she came across like this.

"But why?" Jo wanted to know, George's wanting to conceal anything from her in that respect almost unthinkable.

"George is a little," John searched for the right word, "different, when it comes to bed. She always has been, and I suspect she always will be. There are some things she's into, that I can safely say she wouldn't want you to know about."

"Why, does she think she'll frighten me off?" Jo asked with a sardonic smile.

"Probably," John said entirely seriously. "The thing you need to understand about George," He continued, slightly adjusting his position to get more comfortable. "Is that nothing turns her on more, than to feel that she is being bad. She sometimes needs to feel as though she is being punished. I think it stems from always feeling the need to behave when she was a child. After her mother died, I think part of her probably realised that her father didn't know how to handle her, which is why he sent her off to boarding school. So, whenever she was at home, she was forced to persistently behave, either because it was what her father expected of her, or because she simply wanted to please him. The older she got, the more she realised she could act on her own feelings, rather than on what those around her expected of her. I've a feeling that smoking dope at university was a part of that. She was even more on heat than usual if she was slightly stoned." Jo laughed. "So, anything sexual that would make her feel in any way that she was doing something forbidden, she found incredible. That's why she likes being tied up, because it gives her the feeling if not the reality, of being forced to submit, not something your average person is supposed to enjoy. I suspect she would love to be spanked, but she knows I wouldn't do it for her, which is probably why she's never asked. I remember once, she wanted me to pick her up from King's Cross, just like any other prostitute, though she was a little drunk at the time, so we didn't ever get around to it, thank God. I can't tell you all of it, because I'm not about to break a confidence that I know she would definitely want to be kept."

"It can't be that bad," Jo encouraged with a broad smile, thinking that her eyes were certainly being opened this morning.

"It's not, in the grand scheme of things, but I know she would be highly embarrassed if I told you, and that's not something I'm about to do to her." Jo was forced to admire his unerring loyalty to George, and to the secrets of their marriage, which still could not be undone.

After John had left later that morning, saying that he had some work to do before going to see Charlie, Jo caught up on all the housework and a pile of ironing, jobs that she had been putting off all week. This seemingly endless succession of mind numbing tasks, gave her time to think, time to dwell on everything that had been said in the early morning. She had felt an enormous amount of sympathy for John, as she more than anyone, except perhaps George, knew just how much the ability to make love really meant to him. It was the one thing he could always cling to, the one act he could always rely on himself to perform. Well, at least until now. As for all the things John had told her about George, Jo couldn't help but smirk. She didn't think that being tied up was something she would ever come to enjoy, but each to their own. She also couldn't help continually wondering what on earth it was that John wouldn't tell her. She thought with a soft little smile, that one day she might be able to persuade George to tell her what this forbidden fantasy was.

When Jo arrived to see George late on the Saturday evening, she had to admit to being in a state of heightened arousal. She knew that it was a combination of having thought about George's slightly unusual sexual tastes all afternoon, and not having been satisfied by John. As George opened the door, she could see that every one of Jo's senses was on red alert, ready to act on George's merest suggestion.

"You look positively alight with lust, darling," George said in greeting, as Jo's arms went round her.

"Very much so," Jo admitted sheepishly. "And it's all your fault."

"That's nice to know," George said as they moved into the lounge. "But before you become entirely fixated on my body, there's something I want to show you."

"I should imagine I can manage to restrain myself," Jo answered with a wry smile. Going into her office across the hall, George returned with the letter from Kay, that had been faxed to her a couple of hours before. As Jo read it, she smiled. "That's nice," She said, handing it back to George.

"It made a difference from any average report," George agreed. "So, where's our Lord and master this evening?"

"Helping Charlie with an essay," Jo replied, George's fondly satirical name for him making her smile.

"She never asks me for help with an essay," George grumbled, and then felt stupid.

"I always had to force Mark to do his homework under extreme duress," Jo told her, trying to change the subject slightly.

"Charlie's always been her daddy's perfect little angel in that respect," George said almost bitterly, and then forced herself to lighten up and forget about all her insecurities over Charlie. "So," She said, sitting down next to Jo and putting her arms round her. "Why so aroused, frustrated and distinctly on heat this evening?" She asked, punctuating each word with a kiss, and making Jo blush.

"I'm not quite that bad," Jo told her with a laugh.

"Darling, have you looked at your nipples lately?" George asked with a smirk, delicately running a finger over an already erect peak.

"I'm sorry," Jo said, feeling a little silly for the intensity of her feelings.

"Jo," George told her sternly. "Don't ever apologise for feeling sexy. Believe me, it's almost unbearably flattering. Do I perceive your state of highly unfulfilled frustration, to be as a result of John's temporary abstinence?"

"Partly," Jo admitted. "And this morning, I even managed to persuade him to tell me what that was all about."

"Good," George said with a warm smile. "I told him he should tell you, when he came to see me yesterday. He didn't know how to tell you that he didn't want to sleep with you."

"Yes, it did take him a while to say it. George, he's still very wound up about it."

"I know, but as I told him last weekend, the more he thinks about it, the less it's likely to sort itself out. Jo, he was mortified, he made me promise not to tell you."

"Well, let's face it, he'd probably just received one of the biggest shocks of his life."

"That therefore means, that you will have to content yourself with me for the time being," George stated lasciviously, the gleam in her eye promising Jo that she wasn't going to be disappointed by this turn of events.

They moved by mutual consent from sofa to bedroom, Jo badly needing what George could give her, and George being more than happy to oblige.

"I never would have thought we'd end up doing this," Jo said, as they lay in George's spacious bed, their hands and mouths deliciously wandering. "Two years ago, I mean."

"No," George laughed huskily. "But then I've always thought that particularly sustained fighting was definitely a precursor to foreplay."

"In that case," Jo said with a smirk. "You should be destined to sleep with half the members of the Bar council."

"Most of them wouldn't know a sex life if it crept up on them and took them forcefully in public," George said dismissively.

"You used to think that about me," Jo reminded her fondly.

"No, I didn't," George insisted. "You'd managed to make John fall hook, line and sinker, and you couldn't have done that with just your intellect alone."

"I think there was a backhanded compliment in there somewhere," Jo said with a laugh, as George's kisses moved steadily downwards.

"You're bloody right there was," George assured her, her mouth now contentedly full of soft, warm flesh.

"Are you trying to make up for all those years of anorexia," Jo asked unsteadily. "By attempting to consume me whole?"

"Something like that," George replied, briefly detaching her lips before returning to the highly delicious occupation of gently tugging at Jo's hardened nipples, soothing the sensitive skin with her tongue.

"How on earth do you manage to do that with a complete absence of teeth?" Jo asked, still not quite having mastered this particular art.

"Practice, darling, that's all," George promised her. "Ask John, I learnt on him."

"You really enjoy doing that for him, don't you," Jo said almost in wonder, giving oral to a man never having been one of her particular favourites. George briefly stopped what she was doing and sat up slightly to look at Jo.

"Enjoy is really the wrong word," She said, clearly having had to think about this. "It's not something I do all that often, at least I certainly don't take him all the way like that very often, and he always gets it on my terms not his. I like doing it for him occasionally because he likes it, and because I know I'm good at it, but I'm not sure that I'd recommend it to anyone else. Those who can stand the taste of the end result are very few and far between, and I am highly fortunate that I happen to be one of them, but just because I occasionally do that, doesn't mean I actually like it. Women on the other hand, and especially you, taste infinitely better." With this thought lingering between them, she returned to her task of stimulating Jo's nipples until they could easily have pierced any bulletproof vest. But once these delicate peaks had been mercilessly teased, George began kissing her way down Jo's ribs, nibbling at every inch of skin on the way down. Jo's musky scent was different from Karen's, though at the same time similar, acting on George like the proverbial aphrodisiac. Before sleeping with Karen, George couldn't quite get her head round the thought of doing this for another woman, yet now here she was on her second, delighting in Jo's taste far more than many men might have done. Neil Haughton had always refused to do this for George, on the odd occasion when she'd asked him, insisting that he didn't like it, and that it wasn't something normal people did. She had refrained on those occasions from telling him that John had never been able to get enough of doing that for her, but she had always wondered why he wouldn't at least try it. Now she had tried it on two women, she didn't know what all the fuss was about. Doing something so sensual, so deliciously erotic was incredible, and not just for the person receiving it. Nothing currently delighted her more than to follow Jo's every reaction, to interpret precisely what she wanted. George could tell just how sexually wound up Jo had quite obviously been for hours, from the slightly hushed unintelligible verbal encouragement that was coming from her, spurring George onto further endeavour. Seeming to realise that she just might scream if she wasn't careful, Jo bit down on her right hand as her orgasm approached, every muscle screwing itself up at the rush of feeling.

When Jo returned to full alertness, George was lying beside her softly smiling. Her entire body tingled in the aftershock, her hand trembling slightly as she raised it to push some hair out of her face. Reaching out an arm, she gently pulled George against her, their mouths meeting in a gloriously sensual kiss that took the breath out of both of them.

"You see," George told her when their lips parted. "That's how utterly divine you taste."

"You're as bad as John," Jo told her with a laugh. Then turning serious, she said, "I do want to try it, and I don't, if that makes any sense."

"And there's no one here saying you have to try it," George assured her gently. "Darling, just because I enjoy it enormously doesn't mean you will. I suspect that your curiosity will take over one of these days, but I won't be complaining if it doesn't. However, what I would like you to do for me," She said, giving Jo another lingering kiss. "Is to tell me precisely what had you so fired up today, because I know it wasn't just a lack of attention from our wayward judge."

"Again, it's your fault," Jo told her with a smirk.

"Things far too often are my fault," George replied with a mock frown.

"We ended up talking about you, and John filled me in on some of your slightly more eccentric tastes. I don't think I've learnt quite so much about one person on a Saturday morning for a long time."

"It sounds as though our lord and master, needs a little lesson of his own," George said a little bitterly. "On how to interpret that little word discretion. Just how much did he tell you? Though I suppose he couldn't have told you everything as you're still here."

"Don't be so defensive," Jo gently admonished her. "John didn't tell me anything you need to be ashamed of. Yes, I don't understand why you do enjoy some of it, but that doesn't put me off, I promise you, and no, John didn't tell me everything. He said that there was something that he definitely wouldn't tell me, because he knew that you wouldn't want me to know." As she said this, she felt George's body go rigidly still, with a crimson blush rising furiously to her cheeks. Then, as if needing to hide, George tore herself out of Jo's embrace and turned away from her, pulling the discarded duvet over her, lying with her back to Jo and with her shoulders as stiff as a rock. George just couldn't believe it, how could he? How could he have almost told Jo about that? She didn't care that he had actually kept her confidence, because he had succeeded in rousing Jo's curiosity, something George would far rather had been left untapped in such a matter. She knew that she liked some pretty out of the way things when it came to bed, but that didn't make her a bad person, or did it? She could vividly remember how long it had taken her to tell John about that particular fantasy, and she had only got round to it after a few glasses of red wine. But just because he hadn't castigated her curiosity, didn't mean she wanted Jo to know about it.

When Jo tentatively put an arm round her from behind, delicately entwining their fingers, George tried to ignore Jo's compassion.

"Don't sulk," Jo told her quietly.

"I'm not sulking," George replied stonily. "I'm hiding, rather unsuccessfully it would appear." Jo laughed softly.

"George, you might be hiding, but your thoughts are even louder than they usually are, so try talking to me instead."

"Jo," George said slowly, not entirely sure how to put this into words. "Just because I sometimes need to feel bad, doesn't mean I want to feel wrong. I know that some of the things I like are a bit peculiar to say the least, but I don't think that makes me a bad person."

"Of course it doesn't," Jo assured her, feeling the weight of all George's insecurity about this. "George, I don't care what you may have liked or may have tried, because it doesn't alter who you are to me. If you ever want to tell me about it, that's fine, and if you don't, then it's not a problem." Turning over to face her, George put her arms round this woman whom she certainly hadn't expected to ever have in her bed, feeling a lifetime's worth of reassurance coming from her. Jo kissed her, wanting to make her feel better, wanting to take away any lingering vestiges of uncertainty. But as George felt her breast being softly stroked, she laid a hand over Jo's wandering one and said,

"Sorry, but no," Her earlier lust having entirely dissipated. Jo simply held her close, occasionally kissing her, and trying to soften the sharpened edges of defensive armour that had risen between them. She perhaps shouldn't have broached the subject at all, but it was done now, and all she could do was to help George to relax, something that only time and sleep could achieve.

Part Twenty-Four

"What the devil do we do about the Mills trial?" Sir Ian testily demanded of his subordinate Lawrence James in one of their regular conferences in his private office.

A profusely worded memo had appeared on his desk listing various options but in all its wordiness, had frustratingly failed to come off the fence and left it to him to finally decide on how to prosecute the trial. For once, he was given an open field on a matter to decide when he felt utterly unable to come to a decision.

"This could be embarrassing for the Department," Lawrence James observed pronouncing that curious abbreviation for the LCD with an audible capital letter.

"The woman must be dealt with in the same way as any other person who is facing trial," Came his curt reply.

"We must not be seen to be taking sides."

"Correction, Lawrence. We must not be taking sides. It is incumbent on the brethren to distance themselves as far as possible from the accused in the prosecution of the trial."

"That is all very well, Sir Ian, but you are forgetting that she once played in the orchestra where virtually all the brethren were present?"

Sir Ian promptly broke the pencil that he had been fiddling with.

"There is one person above all else to whom the trial should never be entrusted and that is Deed. He cannot be considered a 'safe pair of hands."

If Lawrence James's dark complexion could have paled, it would have done at the nightmare vision that came to his mind of the damage that man could do.

"Where is the prisoner held right now?"

"Larkhall. Where else? That can of worms," Sir Ian spat back in exasperation.

"Could she not be moved to a prison remote from Deed's area of work? If we cannot separate Deed from the opportunity of trying the Mills case, the Home Office could separate her from the chances of the case falling into his hands."

"An excellent suggestion," Sir Ian beamed. "Can you follow up the matter as a matter of extreme urgency?"

The two men sipped tea out of expensive bone china crockery as they casually decided on the fate of a single individual with that confidence of those who felt that they were born to rule. The accused was a woman who had only briefly entered their circle of acquaintance but was not really a full time member of their croneys. It had escaped their minds that James Brooklands, a wealth creator, had been afforded protection by the establishment whereas Mrs Mills was a mere vicar's wife and was therefore expendable.

"Oh no, they can't do this," Grayling swore to himself with suppressed outrage as a memo appeared on his desk from Alison Warner suggesting that 'to secure transparency in justice and avoid public embarrassment, Mrs. Mills should be transferred to a rural prison away from the rough and tumble of the London prisons in keeping with her age. I would suggest that Style prison in Cheshire would be admirably suited to her needs.'

At one time he had behaved in a devious and unprincipled fashion and this experience enabled him to see into their minds and be especially acute to the machinations of his political opponents.

Grayling smiled as these last two words popped into his mind. The Home Office was part of the civil service and, as such, should act as the impartial administration of the government's affairs. In reality, he knew that such a viewpoint was hopelessly naïve. He sensed a pervading authoritarian, intolerant spirit which saw prisoners rights and civil liberties groups as an infection in society to be extirpated by all means, fair or foul. There was certainly good mileage to be had out of being hard on 'law and order' in terms of newspaper headlines. He smiled to himself that the establishment had made a major mistake in admitting him to their ranks and probably viewed him as a Trojan horse, engineered by the forces of subversion. That thought cheered him considerably.

He would not think of informing Karen of this proposal. This was something, which he felt instinctively, he should shield her from. His salary from the Home Office enabled him to live a luxurious lifestyle with his partner, Marcus, and it was this sort of situation that prompted him to feel that he should earn every penny of it by taking the knocks. The trouble was, when his anger had cooled down, that there was a lot of merit in what was suggested. Objectively speaking, a trial conducted by complete strangers would ensure proper justice. He was accustomed to producing policy recommendations setting out the pros and cons of a case and if he considered the matter of Barbara's transfer to another prison, he would find himself hard put to it to find arguments to outweigh the move. His incisive mind and wealth of experience in the prison system made him useful to his masters, too useful to be dispensed with. That was the sole reason, he reflected ruefully, why he had maintained his position, apart from his natural cunning obstinacy in clinging to it like a limpet to a rock.

He moved away from his computer and paced round his office in thought and sipped from a tumbler of ice cold mineral water before time for reflection crystallized the ideas more sharply. The problem was what he didn't know. The whole matter spanned the entire arch in justice between the home office and the court of law, he finally concluded. He simply did not know anywhere near enough about the legal side of the matter. The idea both sprang into existence and hardened into a decision. He had to discreetly consult John, the one man with the combined knowledge and integrity in whom he could trust.

"Take a seat, Neil," John courteously offered Neil, as he looked inquisitively round John's chamber, at its impressive library and tasteful pictures. "To what do I owe your time and trouble?"

"It's a discreet matter I wanted to take your advice on, John. I trust that this conversation stays between these four walls."

John viewed Grayling's suggestion rather dubiously. This was the way that at one time Sir Ian prefaced his suggestions to be dragged into some squalid establishment deal before constant rebuffs made him give up in despair.

"I'm only talking this way as a matter has come into my hands which no one outside the Home Office knows about. If this got out, my head will roll. I've been asked to arrange the transfer of Barbara out from Larkhall where she is held on remand to Style Prison in Cheshire, all for the most plausible of reasons."

"And what might they be?"

"That the entire London based judiciary have a conflict of interest in their acquaintance with Barbara and that she would be better suited to being housed in a more rural, remote prison away, as they put it, 'from the rough and tumble of the London prisons in keeping with her age' and that 'Style prison in Cheshire would be admirably suited to her needs.'

"This smacks of a put up job," John winced, an expression of distaste on his mouth. "The more purple prose the establishment go in for, the likelier is it to be a camouflage for some very shady and morally squalid scheme."

"The whole difficulty is that the recommendation makes a very good case because a very wide section of the legal profession are at the very least slightly acquainted with Barbara. If I remember it correctly, your Bar Council suggested the performance of 'the Creation' as a 'team building exercise' and it succeeded very well, certainly where Barbara is concerned. In her unobtrusive way, she made her presence felt in the most friendly and kind hearted fashion imaginable, as did her late husband."

"So where is the hidden agenda?"

"Certain individuals in the Home Office," began Grayling in his stilted fashion, "Sorry, I mean my boss for a start, view Barbara as simply a potential embarrassment to be quietly disposed of as quickly as possible……"

John sat up straight in his chair. He was favourably impressed by the bluntness with which Grayling described the situation. It chimed in with his own viewpoint.

"…….which is the main reason I came to you. I needed some input on the legal front and also your advice in coming up with an alternative proposal."

John paused awhile in thought. Grayling had certainly set out a very tricky conundrum. However, it ought not be beyond the wit of both of them to come up with a solution.

"From my direct knowledge, Barbara could not be better served than Larkhall prison where she is assured of sympathetic care by those who know her personally, both inmates and prison officers alike," Spoke up John, a slight edge of emotion in his tones. That image of Karen recklessly risking her life to save a very out of control Denny on a high up rooftop still struck him with admiration and haunted his memories.

"True, but this cuts both ways, especially in relation to Nikki. I just have the gut feeling that my political enemies would love to embroil her in particular in public controversy. I must explain," as John opened his mouth to protest, "that Nikki's record since she became Wing Governor has been exemplary ……like Karen's has."

"You are very fond of them."

Grayling's smile spread over his face, openly showing his intense disinterested pride in them and not as an advertisement for his judgment.

"It is not very often for a gay man to be bound by ties to a growing band of attractive, very determined and resourceful and above all, very loyal women. It wasn't the situation I expected to find myself in as I was growing up."

John smiled at the irony of Grayling's words and its resonance for himself.

"There's another matter. If they are ever attacked, it leaves me vulnerable as well and the finish of my career…..…"

"Meaning?" John bristled.

"I used to want to get to the top of the ladder out of sheer ego, to feel good about myself and there wasn't anything I wouldn't do or say to debase myself to achieve that goal. Now I see it as a chance to do some good in this world and for those who I feel loyalties towards, wherever they are. My position in the Home Office is as far as I will get and I am content. It is a means, not an end."

"So why would you be threatened?" John's silence on the last matter signified assent as he pursued this matter of abstract philosophy and also to further get the measure of this inscrutable man.

"Guilt by association," Grayling said shortly.

"That's contrary to every tenet of English justice." Ancient teachings in John's memory banks talked replied automatically with his voice.

"That's what happens these days. You should know better, John."

The words visibly shook John. He had never heard the increasing power of patronage, of the gradual encroachment of tyranny expressed so cynically or so succinctly before. He had fumed impotently at the gradually emerging pattern of trials where, on the face of it, the accused man was found guilty against all the odds and, on the contrary, where creatures of the establishment wriggled free from their just deserts. The words went against his deepest beliefs but his desire for the truth could not fudge the issue.

Grayling studied John closely and allowed a decent pause to elapse. He sensed that john was a troubled man and half way regretted his presence. He had come here to seek help and not to disturb him.

"I feel that we ought to attack this problem from the other end. Supposing that Barbara were to remain at Larkhall, what are the prospects of you becoming the trial judge and how would you feel about it?"

John looked visibly more uncomfortable than ever. He was unusually sensitive to questions about his feelings as opposed to niceties of legal judgment. He felt highly uncomfortable at the prospect of looking down from his throne at Barbara standing before him in the dock and questioned his ability to be as dispassionate as long training dictated to him that he must be.

"The first question is easily answered. The Lord Chancellor's Department would fight, tooth and nail, to ensure that the trial ended up out of my hands. They would prefer that some spineless creature would be there to do their bidding…..As for your second question, I admit to feeling an element of discomfort in trying someone who I am on friendly terms with. It would be a real test of justice."

"If we try some 'blue sky thinking' and imagine what the ideal outcome should be," Grayling's soft voice urged persuasively with a touch of that 'management speak' that was his inevitable trademark. "Can you possibly think of an alternative judge who could treat her in an absolutely non discriminatory fashion." Grayling posed the question.

"True." Reflected John." If I had the choice, I would not care to entrust the responsibility to anyone but myself. I am not speaking out of vanity."

John felt really conflicted by the desire not to let such a case slip out of his hands and scared by the possibility if it were given to him. He had tried former inmates of Larkhall before, Miss Pilkinton, Yvonne's son and daughter but he had become gradually closer to that indomitable female support group that was Larkhall both sides of the prison bars. As he got emotionally closer, he got scared, the perpetual problem of his life.

Grayling meant very well, John noted, he really believed in what he was doing and the man was so infernally persuasive.

"So can you think what the answer might be? We really need as much lateral thinking as wide as possible."

"I am not sure that I could shoulder the responsibility, that's the rub."

"Is there any way that you could share the responsibility?"

To Grayling's intense relief, the light was turned on inside John's mind, smoothing out the lines of distress on his face. He had gradually become aware that that he was putting a lot of emotional pressure on John and he felt guilty. His strength of feeling on the matter had uncharacteristically obscured this from him.

"I hadn't thought of that. That might work."

"I don't quite understand, John."

"A winger……In certain trials, it is possible for a second judge to sit on the trial. You might have noticed from sitting in on previous trials that there is space for as many as three judges in court. It is a system that the Court of Appeal employ for the very reason that three heads are better than one in highly sensitive cases that cases going to the court of appeal invariably are. In this case, it would be perfectly possible for me to conduct the trial and a second judge to be there to assist in the conduct of a trial, to advise and, most important, to be something of an equal partner in deliberations out of court and the structure of the conduct of the trial….yes, this opens up possibilities."

John's mind was racing at top speed as he rapidly explained matters to Grayling's very attentive ear.

"What you need is political insurance, someone who even your opponents couldn't object to but who you would be able to work with. It would have the advantage over any single judge wherever they presided and would show that you are treating the matter with the utmost seriousness."

Grayling's smooth words rolled off his tongue like honey and John could not but admire his astuteness.

"Monty. Monty Everard. He's the man we want. He has that unmistakeable air of the typical God fearing fox hunting man whose reputation is totally impeccable in the eyes of the establishment."

"And yours isn't?" questioned Grayling with a smirk.

"If you have a reputation as a maverick, you have a positive duty to live up to it," John answered in his best insouciant fashion which made Grayling grin in appreciation.

"Do you think that he would agree to the idea if you put all the arguments to him that we've discussed and would you be able to get on with him. It is something of a real commitment for two people in a stressful situation to hold the ring?"

John looked thoughtful.

There would be no natural majority / minority option that a three person bench enabled in the last resort. This trial, if it could get off the ground this way, would be like a coach and two coachmen who might pull in opposite directions in a critical moment. He would have to surrender part of his unquestionable authority and would have to rely more on persuasion and reason. This trial would place demands on him that would be new to him but, then again, this was starting to creep into his life in general.

"It's worth trying. He can be crusty and irascible though that might be the pretence of sustaining a fiction of a marriage with that utter ogre of her wife, Vera. You will recall her from her lamentable attempts at singing at the rehearsals."

Grayling winced. He remembered. Then he said in a meditative tone of voice.

"How do you feel the Lord Chancellor's Department will view the proposal?"

John grinned for the first time since the meeting started.

"I feel it may be checkmate. They cannot believe that 'their man' won't be able to prevail in what they fondly imagine will be their point of view. It is too much of a temptation to resist as it is both easy and expedient."

"They are politicians. They will go for it," Came Grayling's cynical rejoinder.

John sat back comfortably in his chair. How on earth did he have such an unreasoning aversion to this man, he wondered?

"How much time can you buy in procrastinating in this move to transfer Barbara to another prison before the necessity for it can be scotched."

"I am a master at procrastination when it suits my purpose. The first thing Alison Warner learnt to her cost is not to push me about. I have a whole arsenal of techniques in buying time. You leave that to me, John."

"I'll phone you as soon as I can convince Monty of the wisdom of this idea."

The two men exchanged knowing looks. It looked like a devious conspiracy but in a society increasingly dominated by political fixers, the conspiracy by the 'nod and the wink' the fight for survival to pursue justice meant building up a counter network across institutions. The theory of the separation of powers, between the judiciary, executive and the legislature was all very fine in the ideal democratic society but old formulas didn't work. He had to work out new ones from instincts but at least, he wasn't on his own. Jo and George were telling him this in their different ways as well. It should be a comfort he could cling to.

Part Twenty-Five

As Tom and Zubin drove towards George's office, Tom was forced to admit to a growing sense of curiosity. Zubin had filled him in on the facts of the case as far as possible, and now Tom was eager to get involved. He still wasn't entirely convinced of Barbara Mills' innocence, but he supposed that neither were her lawyers at this stage. He had also met Kay Scarpetta at the end of last week, just before her return to Virginia, and couldn't help but think that involvement with this case might just provide him with some delightfully exciting female company, should he decide to play his cards right. When they drew up in the car park, Tom's comment of, "Very nice," seemed to sum up the situation perfectly. George's office was in the fashionable area of Knightsbridge, right in the very heart of high class shopping territory. "This beats working for the NHS any day," Tom observed dryly.

"I don't suspect that Mrs. Channing has ever done any work for the state in her life," Zubin suggested as they walked inside.

After the introductions had been made, and coffee had been served, Tom broke the silence with,

"You know, Zubin was absolutely right about you two." Then, after taking a sip of his coffee, he elaborated. "When he filled me in as to some of the facts, he told me that there were two of you, and that you could probably win this case on female beauty alone." George laughed, Jo smiled, and Zubin looked highly embarrassed.

"Well, I'm sure we both appreciate the compliment," George told him kindly. "Though I would like to think that we could win this case on an awful lot more. Now, Mr. Campbell-Gore, could you fill us in as to your exact position at St. Mary's?"

"For a start, call me Tom," He said with a smile. "Mr. Campbell-Gore becomes a bit of a mouthful after a while. It's funny, but I think my own name was the one thing I could never quite say when I was drunk."

"Tom then," George corrected herself. "We need to have some idea as to your professional status in relation to Connie Beauchamp, as it appears she will be the prosecution's main witness."

"Then feel free to relax," Tom assured them. "Both myself and Connie Beauchamp are cardio thoracic surgeons, though she has the unenviable task of Medical Director, a position I also had at one time. However, being at least ten years older than Mrs. Beauchamp, I've been in the cardio thoracic ball game a lot longer than she has."

"Is there any possibility," Jo asked. "That she could have wrongly diagnosed Henry Mills as being inoperable?"

"Anything's possible," Tom mused in reply. "But I doubt it. Connie Beauchamp might stamp on everything that gets in her path, but she's good at her job."

"Something Connie doesn't do," Zubin further clarified. "Is to take a risk with someone's life if she can possibly help it. If she hadn't been absolutely certain with something like lung cancer, she would definitely have asked for a second opinion, even if it would have shattered her pride to do so."

"Other than the state pathologist," Jo put in. "We don't know who the other prosecution witnesses are yet, if any have been found. What we also don't know, and which from your point of view is far more important, is who will be prosecuting this case. Until we know that, we can't possibly predict just how rough a ride you might have."

"Yes, we do know," Tom told her. "Does the name Brian Cantwell ring any bells?"

"Oh, marvellous," George said disgustedly.

"I might have known he'd jump at this case," Jo agreed gloomily.

"How did you know?" George asked.

"Connie got a phone call from him when we were in theatre on Friday morning," Zubin filled in. "Arranging a time to meet with her, presumably for the same reason that you two are now meeting with us."

"Well now, that is a nice little bonus," George said unexpectedly, the slight gleam of deviousness in her eyes. "To have what amounts to two spies in the camp of the main prosecution witness, couldn't be better."

"Is that how you work all your cases?" Zubin asked a little pompously.

"Where necessary, yes," George told him without a flicker. "Surely you would use every method at your disposal to achieve the desired results?"

"However, what you must remember," Jo told them firmly, clearly acting the stern parent in this case. "Is that both of you are far more likely to unwittingly give away information to the opposition than Mrs. Beauchamp is, for the simple fact that there are two of you, and only one of her, so please be careful."

"One possibility that I don't think either of you have considered," Tom said slowly, thinking that George was certainly going to be a lot of fun to work with. "Is the very outside chance that Henry Mills could have died from natural causes."

"But how?" Jo asked incredulously. "The state pathologist's report and Kay Scarpetta's initial report say that he died from a morphine overdose."

"I'm only floating it as a suggestion," Tom explained. "Because with a condition as chronically invasive as lung cancer, there is always the possibility of all the vital organs simply going into shock, mainly from a lack of oxygenated blood. The more lung cancer spreads, the less oxygen can get into the body, and the less oxygenated blood can reach organs such as the heart, liver and kidneys."

"So, we now have four possible outcomes, not two," Jo clarified. "Murder, suicide, accidental overdose, or death by natural causes."

"I'm guessing that's what Connie will be there for," Put in Tom. "To thoroughly discount the possibility of death by natural causes. She's determined to stick to the idea that Henry Mills was murdered, or at least she was in theatre last Friday."

"Professor Khan," George said sternly. "Just what did we tell you about not using this case to settle any scores?"

"Tell me, have you ever worked with Connie?" Zubin asked, not willing to go down without a fight in front of Tom.

"That is hardly the point," George argued back.

"Mrs. Beauchamp would argue with Dr. Crippen's defence lawyer if she thought she could get away with it," Zubin insisted, making Jo laugh.

"Well, I'll be in good company then, won't I," George told him with the lust for battle clear for all to see. "But you must try not to give Mrs. Beauchamp, which in this case means the opposition, any fodder for mud slinging against defence witnesses."

"I shall attempt to curb my tongue," Zubin promised her glibly.

"Holier than thou intensions are all well and good, Zubin, but we all know that the road to hell was paved with them."

"Just how plausible," Jo broke in, wanting to change the subject fast. "Is the possibility that the overdose was accidental?"

"Given that Henry's body was almost certainly going into medical stasis, which is where all the vital organs and processes begin to shut down, it is something that does need to be considered. Morphine metabolites can build up in the liver when this happens, meaning that the body doesn't process it at the expected speed. This therefore means that the tolerance level will gradually get lower, as more and more of the metabolites are stored in the liver. Hopefully the tests that Kay will run should give us more informed answers than we have at the moment."

A good while later, when Tom and Zubin had left, George reached over and briefly touched Jo's hand.

"Well, I might not have met the dishonourable Mrs. Beauchamp, but I think I can safely say that we have the best of the witnesses."

"We haven't found out what their particular hidden skeletons are yet," Jo said ruefully. "And Kay's were quite bad enough to be going on with."

"I just hope they can keep their mouths shut," George replied, thinking this something of a tall order.

"I like Tom," Jo said meditatively. "There's something really down to earth about him."

"Whereas Professor Khan does get very hot under the collar," George added with a smile. "He's going to have to really toughen up his act before we get him in the witness box, or Brian Cantwell will have him flustered and floundering in the first five minutes."

"Brian's done this because it's his turn to win a case against me," Jo said with utter certainty. "We slid into the score keeping thing a few years ago. We've been pretty even until now, but he probably sees this as a case he can win without any possible risk."

"Jo, if I know anything about Brian Cantwell," George assured her. "It will be far more likely that he's found out who Barbara's team consists of, and can't quite forego the challenge of taking on the two of us in one fell swoop."

As Zubin parked the car, Tom walked back up to Darwin Ward, inwardly planning the operation he had to perform that afternoon.

"Mr. Campbell-Gore," Connie said as she accosted him. "Nice to have you with us. Go anywhere nice?"

"Nowhere you need to worry about," Tom told her blithely, remembering George's warning. "And I did ensure adequate cover before I left."

"So I see," Connie said almost disappointedly, as though she badly wanted something to pin on him. "So, have a nice meeting with Barbara Mills' barristers, did you?"

"A nicer one than I suspect you had last Friday with, now what was his name? Oh, Brian Cantwell, if I remember rightly."

"At least I'm batting for the worthy cause of justice," Connie threw back disgustedly.

"Is that right," Tom said carefully, trying to rein in his anger and not really succeeding.

"I know she killed him," Connie said furiously, her voice taking on that quiet, venomous calm they all knew so well.

"And I know she didn't," Tom replied firmly, his determination to beat her overriding his sense of danger.

"Well, let the best man win," Connie told him almost sweetly. "At least I have righteous certainty, and a barrister who isn't afraid of tearing witnesses to shreds."

"Connie, all you've got in your favour, is a pair of good legs," Tom told her smoothly. "Though I suppose they could come in handy, should you choose to fight this case by seducing the judge." Turning on his heel, he walked smartly away from her, thinking that keeping his opinions to himself was going to be nothing less than an uphill struggle.

Part Twenty-Six

John had recovered his native sense of resolution in immediately seeking out Monty in his chambers. His sense of urgency was propelled by his desire to ensure Monty's cooperation at the earliest possible time for his own peace of mind. He dared not think of failure.

He knocked politely on Monty's door and saw that Monty was busy studying a set of trial papers.

"Ah, John, what brings you to see me."

"I have something of a delicate matter on which I wish to seek your advice on an idea I had but perhaps I am calling at an inconvenient time?"

"Take a seat, John. I've about finished anyway and you have roused my curiosity. Cup of tea?"

John realized that he had struck the right note. While he had a pretty clear idea as to the way forward, in truth, the novel possibility of him working in tandem with Monty needed Monty's input as well. He would have to learn restraint and diplomacy, qualities which did not immediately come to mind to his circle of acquaintances.

"You are aware, no doubt, of the impending trial of Barbara Mills who was once a member of our orchestra."

"Dashed perplexing the whole case is, John." Monty confided." Even a fairly casual observer like me could tell that she and the vicar were a very happily married close couple who were destined to live out their days together. I just don't understand what happened."

"The whole matter was a considerable shock to me, Monty."

There was a pause in the conversation while Monty contemplated the case. Monty prided himself in knowing a criminal when he saw one but Barbara? He freely confessed that he could not in his wildest imaginings, imagine that this mild mannered woman was a cold-hearted killer, least of all in respect of the very kindly vicar. Both of them had spirit, character. Vera had irritated him even more than usual wittering on about 'it's the quiet ones you have to watch' and that 'she knew there was something wrong, the moment she first saw her' but that sounded more of a case of sour grapes of being ousted from the orchestra. If Neil Houghton had been found dead of alcoholic poisoning, he had no doubt that Vera would have trumpeted George's obvious guilt to all and sundry and would have had an even more transparent motive. He was less on speaking terms with Vera than normal and that was not saying much. He stared generally at the far distance of his chambers and gradually turned his head and looked sharply at John. Because, not despite of his impassive expression, he could see at a jump where the casual drift of conversation was heading.

"If I know you, John, you are considering making a foolish, wrong headed plot to wrest the case for yourself so that, with your inflated perception of justice, you could set her free," Monty rumbled, fixing John with a stern stare.

"You are partly mistaken on the matter. Let me explain."

"Please do."

John paused a second while he marshaled his thoughts into cold logical order. This multiple facility in thinking, almost a split personality, was an essential tool of his trade without which he could not function.

"The extreme difficulty of the case is that all the brethren are acquainted not only with the deceased but the accused as well. This is a situation which I confess is new to my experience."

"Me too."

"I freely confess that if the case were offered to me to try, I would have severe misgivings in taking the case on. I would be hard put to it to trust myself to retain an objective, detached, and rational approach and, what is worse, that I would not be unconsciously affected by such feelings. My approach is significantly different from the brethren as I am more inclined to get passionate, rightly or wrongly, about seeking out the truth and administering justice. Whether I go about it in the wrong way is a matter for even handed debate. What I can do is to put my hand on my heart that such feelings are, in a way, abstract. It is a very different kettle of fish in dealing with someone who I know personally outside my profession. Such natural feelings of friendship are apt to collide with the demands of our profession, which has to be, of necessity, cold blooded. You understand my line of reasoning, Monty?"

Monty breathed in an out as he grappled with the unexpected line of reasoning that was coming at him. He had always known that the fellow was very persuasive, silver tongued but he had to admit that he had set out the problem very clearly. But from what direction was John's next cleverly pitched googly going to spin in on him?

"Perfectly, John."

"You would concede that what is true for me will be true for every judge in the land. Despite my somewhat maverick approach, we all come from the same professional grounding. Could you think of any one judge that could be entrusted to try the case?"

"I must confess, there you put your finger on the problem but, dammit, a case like this should not be untriable? You are not seriously suggesting such a solution? It would be unthinkable. If our connections with both parties came out, the press would have a field day. We would be utterly exposed to public condemnation, not to mention the 'hang them and flog them' politicians and their like."

By which, Monty includes his less than beloved wife. The man has more spirit than I had thought.

"No such idea had crossed my mind. Regrettably but inevitably, Mrs. Mills must face open trial and all that entails." Came John's deliberately dry and formal response.

"Then what is the solution?" Monty growled in frustration, feeling enmeshed by the negatives and impossibles that surrounded him.

"I was going to sound you out on the possibility that not one judge try the case but two."

"You mean?"


Monty's feelings were mixed. The idea was bold and attractive but the prospect of him and John jointly trying a case made him nervous. He had never sat with him before and felt that they would be at each other's throats in seconds. Besides, he was used to running his own trials and his boundaries would be encroached upon.

"I do not conceal from you that there are very real risks in my proposals. It would mean that one of us would be the judge and the other a winger but it would give equal scope for deliberations behind the scenes and would require both of us to have to work in a spirit of harmony and consideration of the other. Both of us are proud, independent individuals. It goes with the job. But saying all this, I am freely offering to curtail my somewhat individualist tendencies. I have to because without some sort of give and take, such an arrangement is doomed to failure from the outset. But consider the advantages. You must have, like me, been in situations where you are uncertain how to proceed. In a situation like this, each can freely take the other person's council. Given will on both sides, two heads are better than one."

Monty paused again for reflection. The arguments were persuasive and john was not underestimating the potential problems and was making a clear and open promise. He had to admit that he had never known John to go back on his word.

"But why me, John."

"Because you are my senior and because you have qualities which I sense will balance out mine….."

"And my presence would be politically acceptable to Sir Ian and the rest of the powers that be, isn't that right, John."

John nodded. He had to concede that point. Monty was as much in the establishment's good books as he was in their bad books. That was part of his calculation.

"What is Sir Ian's and, for that matter, Lawrence James's attitude to the trial. We all played in the same orchestra, after all."

"Quite frankly, they are embarrassed. They have buried their head in the sands hoping the problem will go away. Their latest plan is to let a judge way out in the provinces deal with the matter and pack off Barbara to the nearest prison. Rather shabby treatment, I call it."

John was touched by Monty's sentiments. It boded well for the future.

"Can an approach be made to Sir Ian of our alternative plan, Monty?"

"Leave it to me, John. Now I think of it, it is the ideal solution for all parties concerned."

Monty positively enthused.

"Just one very delicate position, who is to be judge and who is to be winger, if you don't mind me asking."

"The procedures are clear," rumbled Monty." As your senior, I should be winger. You take the case. You really wanted the case from the first, didn't you John, despite your uncharacteristic show of indifference."

John smiled widely at Monty's joking, fairly perceptive thrust and nodded in agreement. He could sense John's desire to get at the case in short order once his own dilemmas were resolved. It was a fair trade after all as Monty felt less than confident heading the trial and was worried about riding for a fall. It was the sure fire personal solution as John's presence was the perfect guarantee against Vera being present for the trial.

"One word of advice, John," Monty cautioned. "I can sense that you may get more personally involved in the case for your own good. It will do justice as a whole no good if you do. You must retain a certain element of detachment and play a straight bat."

"That is what I am relying on you to help me with amongst other reasons. With the way I feel right now, about everything in general, I really don't think I could do it on my own. Thanks, Monty."

Monty detected a slight tremor in John's voice. The fellow really means it.

"Right. I'd better go over and see Sir Ian and square the matter with him. I'll phone you at your digs."

John briefly touched Monty on the shoulder and departed. He felt as if his spirits had been lightened. His driving need was to get back to the safety and security of the digs and contemplate his future.

"How the devil did Deed get wind of our plans?

Lawrence James shrugged his shoulders. He had a suspicion of what had happened but did not want to be the chief whipping boy. Sir Ian had a nasty tendency to pick him out as the fall guy because he was conveniently to hand. He deeply resented John because, when Sir Ian taxed him on a similar matter, he just laughed in Sir Ian's face and cheekily told him that in a culture of spying and reporting on, he shouldn't be surprised if he, in turn should be was spied on and reported on. He had remembered receiving the brunt of Sir Ian's anger after John had nonchalantly lounged his way out of the door. At all costs, therefore, it was more prudent to let Sir Ian draw the necessary conclusions himself and stomp his anger out of his system. His role in life was to shut up when he was told to and only come to life when he was called upon to agree with his political master. Back in his own office, he was free to bully and command, as he felt fit.

"You would have thought that the basic instincts of loyalty to the service would have stopped some officious minor official from tittle tattling to some renegade judge. The initiative must surely have come from Deed, not Monty."

"Does it matter in the long run? Deplorable though it is for our private deliberations to be spied upon, the outcome is not necessarily to our disfavour? It is a possible solution."

Sir Ian cooled down a little while the wider implications started to sink in. The very idea was shot through with improbability.

"So, what do you make of this, Lawrence? The lion lying down with the lamb? Surely an unlikely duo, don't you think?"

"What is surprising is that Deed offered to work with Monty and Monty actually agreed with it. The idea seems on the face of it, absurd."

"Well, it does mean that if anything goes wrong, it will be Deed having egg on his face. It sets him up to be publicly crucified for nepotism and alternatively, we have insurance via Monty of a sound judgment. It is the best solution. I just want the whole damn thing out of the way and buried in a one inch column in page 33 of the Guardian." Sir Ian snapped pettishly. He conveniently forgot that Lady Rochester's past criminal transgressions had come close to landing him in hot water but that was different. It was him, not Deed.

Part Twenty-Seven

John couldn't quite believe that Tuesday evening had rolled around again so quickly. It seemed barely five minutes since he'd walked out of that clinic, yet here he was going back there again. Perhaps this was because he'd thought about virtually nothing else in the last few days, his anger and humiliation even haunting him in his sleep. As he drew up in the car park of the psychology clinic, he had half a mind to turn round and drive away, to hide forever from her probing questions and her manipulative thrust of absolute honesty. But he couldn't do it, because if he did, if he turned round and made some feeble excuse for never going back, he would feel infinitely more pathetic than she could ever make him feel during a session. The therapy had been his idea, no one else's, therefore he owed it at least to himself to continue with it. With this resolve in mind, he got out of the car and announced himself at the desk.

When they were again sitting opposite each other in the consulting room, Helen gave him a smile.

"If I'm honest," She told him carefully. "I didn't actually expect to see you here again."

"And I nearly didn't come back," He told her with a slight smile of his own.

"How did you feel after last week?" She asked, thinking that this would also tell her why he had been so reticent about returning.

"Erm, I felt a bit disjointed," He said eventually. "As though I'd been taken apart, and not put back together in quite the right way. I've barely thought about anything else this last week, and I've alternated between being angry with you for doing this to me, and angry with myself for starting it in the first place."

"Angry with me for doing what to you?" Helen asked, John's reaction being extremely common amongst her patients.

"After just one hour of talking to you, I told you something that made me feel immensely vulnerable, and I didn't like that you'd found it so easy to make me do that."

"Why does telling me that you need to feel loved, make you feel so vulnerable?" Helen asked him quietly, observing the flinch as she repeated his words of the week before. "Don't shrink away from it, Judge," She told him firmly. "Those were your very words, words that you said with your back to me, so that I wouldn't see how much it hurt to say them. Needing to feel loved, doesn't make you a bad person, because it's something that we all need, though not many of us are prepared to admit it. So don't be afraid of saying it. You need to accept that needing to feel loved, doesn't automatically make you a weaker, lesser human being."

John sat in silence for a little while, fervently struggling to organise his thoughts to her assertion.

"I think I see it as a weakness," He said eventually. "Because being loved can so easily lead to being hurt. I love Jo, and I love George, yet I know that I am capable of hurting both of them enormously. They are also both fairly adept at returning the favour, yet they both say they love me."

"When you sleep with someone," Helen asked him calmly. "Whether it's someone you've known for years, or only for a couple of hours, what is it you're actually after? Is it real love, plus all the added complications that come with it, or is it simply the pretence of love?"

"When I'm with someone I've picked up in a bar, or at a conference, for example," John replied carefully, realising too late that the listing of a conference as a pick up venue wasn't perhaps the best move he'd ever made. "I'm definitely only looking for the pretence, the feeling, because the women I go to bed with in those types of situations, are almost instantly forgettable."

"Is that because of how they are in bed, or their personalities, or what?" John had to think about this for a moment.

"I wouldn't pick someone up if she didn't interest me on an intellectual level," He answered. "And I certainly wouldn't pick her up if she wasn't physically attractive. As to her sexual skill or lack of it, that's obviously not something I can really estimate in advance, and to be honest, it isn't really an issue. If she is particularly good at what she does, then this is naturally a very welcome bonus, but if she isn't, it's not something I try to dwell on. I see the female body as something to be worshipped in its entirety, and giving a woman pleasure as opposed to simply taking it for myself is simply how I tend to behave with women."

"Why?" Helen asked, thinking that some of the men she had known in her time could learn a lot from this man.

"Because the female body was made for receiving pleasure," John told her succinctly. "But I suppose you could say that to do that for a woman, makes me feel special, wanted."

"It makes you feel needed," Helen corrected him quietly. "And that's something you're terrified of not feeling, isn't it."

"Yes," He agreed, not looking at her.

"Tell me why you have two women currently on the go?" She surprised him by asking.

"It was Jo's idea, believe it or not."

"I'm not asking why they agreed to it," Helen replied, halting him in his tracks. "I'm asking why you agreed to it."

"Because in spite of the fact that I seem to have loved Jo for years, part of me still loved, and still does love George. I could never entirely close the door on what we'd once had, even though the years that I was married to her, represent some of the worst times either of us have been through."

"Tell me," Helen encouraged him gently.

"When our daughter, Charlie, was born," John began a little reluctantly. "George didn't love her. It wasn't her fault, not something she could help, but she thought it made her a bad mother. George stopped eating, and by the time Charlie was six months old, and I finally discovered what George was doing to herself, she was down to five and a half stone. When I managed to persuade her to tell me why she was starving herself, I think for a time I wished I hadn't asked. I didn't understand how she couldn't love her own daughter, but at the same time I knew I shouldn't blame her for it. George was carrying around more than enough guilt of her own, without any added burden from me. I knew something was wrong, because she wouldn't let me anywhere near her. It wasn't just that she wouldn't let me make love to her, which during the first few months after the birth of a baby is pretty normal, but she wouldn't even let me hold her."

"How did that make you feel?" Helen asked, seeing the cracks beginning to appear in his iron facade.

"I thought she didn't love me any more," He replied half ashamedly. "Whereas it was George who thought I couldn't possibly love her, if I found out that she didn't love Charlie. For that first week, after she told me why she'd stopped eating, I really thought that she might try to kill herself, and that terrified me. I would hardly let her out of my sight, and I removed everything lethal from the house. I couldn't have borne it if I'd lost her. Not just for me, but for Charlie too. It wasn't George's fault that she couldn't love her own daughter, but even less was it Charlie's. I desperately didn't want Charlie to lose her mother in the same way I had."

John stopped, his flood of words suddenly faltering as he realised what he'd said. It had taken Rachel Crawchek six weeks to get this far, yet inside the space of two sessions, Helen had drawn this out of him with no difficulty whatsoever. Helen just watched him, this latest little fact having somewhat shocked her. So, John's mother had committed suicide. Well, that really did explain an awful lot. But she wasn't about to go easy on him, just because he had unwittingly handed over the key to his main source of heartache. He had to explain this for himself, not have her do it for him.

"How old were you?" She asked into the resulting silence.

"Ten," He told her curtly, every possible barrier slamming into place like the clang of a cell door.

"Do you know why she killed herself?"

"She was very depressed," John told her almost clinically. "Why else would anyone want to kill themselves?"

"Why do you think she was depressed?" Helen persisted, unwilling to let go of the reins at this stage.

"Why is that remotely relevant?" John countered back, his instinct to argue now well established.

"You're not going to rattle me, Judge," Helen promised him blithely.

"Do you want a bet?" John replied before he could think better of it.

"Okay, let's try this from another angle," Helen said, still appearing calm on the surface, though she was inwardly shaking her head with frustration. "Why don't you want to talk to me about your mother?"

"Because she has absolutely nothing to do with why I'm here," John said stonily. "My mother having killed herself when I was a child, and my inability to stop going to bed with other women, even though I have two beautiful women to keep me happy, aren't in any way connected."

"I don't agree with you," Helen replied quietly, her calm, utterly relaxed demeanour winding him up even further.

"Whether you do or don't agree with me is hardly the point," John told her icily. "Because my childhood is not up for discussion."

"You really don't like someone else calling the shots, do you," She said almost contemplatively, seeing the anger rising like a vapour around him. Then, when he didn't answer, she said, "You see, the more you insist that your childhood has nothing to do with the behaviour that you've exhibited for the last forty years, the more I think it does. Tell me, am I doing what your last therapist did? Did she get around to persuading you to talk about your mother, and is that why you slept with her, because you couldn't deal with it?" Her voice might have been relatively quiet, but her words still felt like taunts to him, the frighteningly accurate arrow tips of accusation that he couldn't escape from, no matter how hard he tried.

Getting up from his chair, he strode purposefully towards the door, meaning to walk out of the room, out of the clinic, and never again go back.

"Sit down," She said, still sounding calm and collected. But as he clearly intended to ignore her, she slipped unthinkingly back into the tone of voice she had once used as Governor of G wing. "Sit in that chair!" She almost shouted at him, causing him to turn round, and do exactly as she'd told him to do. He stared at her, never having suspected that she would pull rank on him, lose her cool in order to force him to do her bidding. All the anger seemed to have gone out of him with the pistol shot of her command, and now he simply sat and watched her.

"I'm sorry," She said, really sounding rather sheepish. "I sometimes forget that I'm not still a Wing Governor. I once said the exact same thing to Nikki, after she'd had a fight with Shell Dockley."

"Well, I hope that I'm not in danger of ever doing that," John said with a slight smile.

"Tell me what you're so afraid of?" Helen prompted him gently.

"You were right," He said a little heavily. "Rachel did get as far as you have, in fact she managed to take it a little further, even though it took her six weeks to do it. She made me feel incredibly vulnerable, and I am, terrified of feeling like that again." He had hesitated over the right adjective, but Helen could see that he meant every syllable.

"If talking about your mother makes you cry, that really doesn't matter, you know, Judge," Helen told him kindly, observing the slight flush that rose to his cheeks. "It's a perfectly natural process," She continued. "And it's a sign that you're beginning to grieve, something I don't think you've ever done, not properly anyway."

"I had to seduce Rachel, in order to regain control of the feelings she was trying to drag out of me," He explained a little hoarsely.

"I know," Helen replied quietly. "And you came to me, because you knew that I wouldn't even let you consider that possibility. One thought in that direction and you're out the door," She added with a little smile. Then, tentatively she added, "Tell me about your mother." This simple encouragement, these few kind words, with neither threat nor promise attached to them, seemed to release the block on his tongue.

"I don't know why my mother was depressed," He began slowly, not looking at Helen for fear he would see pity in her eyes. "She killed herself, by taking sleeping pills on top of a bottle of scotch. I was ten, and my sister was twelve. After it happened, my father withdrew from us, emotionally, I mean. It's funny, but when I split up with George, she did exactly the same thing, keeping all her feelings inside where they could only hurt herself, or at least that's what she thought. Charlie developed the not so charming little name of 'The Ice Maiden' for George, which is a pretty good description of how my father was to me and my sister. I remember, after my mother died, I kept returning to this place we used to go, whenever there was a thunderstorm. The perfume she always wore smelled of vanilla. I can remember that smell, every time I think of her." There were tears shining in his eyes now, but they hadn't yet begun to fall. Helen silently watched him, waiting for him to go on, but he didn't, as though mortally afraid of betraying his vulnerability in front of her.

"Your mother, was the first woman who told you she loved you, and yet then left you, wasn't she," Helen said into the silence, suddenly seeing with total clarity the source of all John's insecurities.

"It wasn't her fault," John tried to insist, his voice unsteady with grief.

"I'm not trying to accord her any blame, Judge," Helen told him gently. "But I think it's where everything began to go wrong."

"I just wish I knew why she had to do it," He said, the pain of not knowing clear in his voice.

"That's what you're frightened of, isn't it," Helen clarified. "Loving someone that much again, and them leaving you like she did."

"George nearly did, more than once," He surprised Helen by saying. "Not just after Charlie was born, but last April, after the row we had about her and Karen. But for Jo's timely intervention, George wouldn't be here now." Helen couldn't prevent her eyes from widening. Jesus, she'd known absolutely nothing about this at the time, which showed just how much could go on unnoticed under the surface. "The only thing that's ever stopped George from actually going through with it, is because she knows what it would do to me. But thinking that she'd lost me for good back in April, she didn't think she had any other option."

"Tell me what frightened you most, about the prospect of George killing herself after Charlie was born?"

"I didn't want Charlie to end up like me, wondering for the rest of her life, why her mother had left her behind." In the resulting silence, Helen wanted to reach out to him, to tell him that he was doing fantastically well, and that he was being incredibly brave to do this, but she couldn't. This man exuded so much pain, so much buried anguish, that for a moment she thought it might make her cry. But, eventually pulling herself together, she said,

"Well, I think we'll leave it there for this week. You look exhausted."

"You don't look much better," John told her, for the first time wondering just how much this was taking out of her too.

"It's been a long day," She told him evasively. "Now, I can't fit you in for another fortnight. Will that be okay?"

"I think a fortnight's break from severe mental torture won't do me any harm in the least," He said dryly, thinking that he would need at least two weeks to recover.

Part Twenty-Eight

Nikki nervously adjusted the trim of her black suit and checked herself in the mirror. She brushed her short sideways fringe straight and touched up her makeup. Today was a day that she was not looking forward to, as escort to Barbara for Henry's funeral. She wanted with all her heart to go as her close friend as that was the role that she naturally played, but that wasn't going to be possible in the pure and unspoiled way that she wished. The only consolation was that Karen was going to come along with her and so many others. It was a shame that it took a funeral to bring all these scattered people together for a common purpose.

"Are you ready, Nikki?" came that well modulated voice right behind her. Nikki turned round with a jerk and Karen came into view. She was smiling slightly, trying to reassure her though Nikki suspected that this was her way of dealing with the situation, someone else's worries than hers.

"Just got to finish looking perfect though I don't exactly know why."

"That's so that we can face the day. Can't say I'm looking forward to it but we'll be in good company to keep each other going."

Nikki was curiously heartened as Karen's direct, warm-hearted response answered her own throwaway aside and ventured to ask the question that bothered her more than anything.

"Do I really have to put the handcuffs on Barbara? That gets to me more than anything else."

"You know what you have to do at least as far as when we get to the church. Neil's meeting us there and so, technically, with such a number of senior officers, you could allow yourself special dispensation."

Wearily, Nikki reached for her handcuffs. What must be, must be. At least it wasn't that bastard Fenner on prison officer duty.

Nikki felt so vividly that she was Barbara's friend when she went to her cell, spoke to her in her gentlest tones that she looked just fine and gave her all the encouragement she could possibly give as she sat on her bed like in the old days. It was the caring human being in Nikki that was uppermost in her and she could almost forget that she was wing governor. She swallowed down her own nerves to be strong for Barbara. It was what had always come naturally to her all through her life.

"You look lovely, Babs," Julie Saunders called out.

"Yeah, and give our love to Yvonne and all the rest of them…if you get the chance, I mean," Julie Johnson added, realizing at the end of her words that Barbara might be hard put to socialize with all their friends on the outside.

"You look after her, man."

Nikki smiled slightly at Denny's typical greeting. Bodybag scowled at a distance at Denny's total lack of formal respect.

"I'll try," Came Nikki's quiet response as she turned round briefly to face them. A mental flashback crossed her mind of when she had walked this way to the set of barred gates when she left to face the Court of Appeal and to gain her freedom. Barbara was there to give her a big hug and now they were both of them back here. Funny world, isn't it, she mused, her thoughts dazed and confused. Only this time, she held the keys and Karen and Neil walked some distance behind her and would be with them. Sometimes the world makes no sense.

"I have to do this, Barbara, you know," Nikki said at last at the first set of barred gates and reached for her handcuffs. At that moment, she felt like a traitor and all her well meant sympathy felt false and dishonest. She was hyper conscious of the Julies and Denny watching her every move.

"You've got your duty to do, Nikki. I understand," Barbara smiled reassuringly.

Grayling had been cheerful the other day after John had tipped him off that the LCD had decided that there was no necessity for Barbara to be tried in a faraway court and that the Home Office would be instructed accordingly.

"There's a change of plan about the transfer of that Mills woman out of Larkhall," Alison Warner snapped petulantly as she shoved a memo on his desk. "I suppose you've gone ahead with the move and now you've got to cancel it all."

"By sheer chance, I had regrettably overlooked to set the wheels in motion." Grayling grinned his broadest grin. "That makes it very convenient for all concerned."

"You're telling me that you know nothing about the way the minister has shilly shallied about? You have the knack of knowing more than is good for you," Alison Warner muttered suspiciously, fixing him with her beady stare.

"Me? I'm only here to carry out my job? Why should I know?" Grayling replied in his most disarming tones.

As she stomped off, Grayling reflected that he could do with regular fixes of decent, human company. Most of what emotional sustenance he got was from the Governing Governers on the other end of the phone, the most warm hearted and human of all was Karen. He was looking forward to getting out there among some decent human beings who, by definition, would be there.

As Grayling straightened his tie he was in a somber mood as he readied himself to leave his office. The reality of the funeral was hitting home. He remembered a long time back to when he first had dealings with Henry Mills who was a thoroughly decent, upright man who was untainted by the world and had been fortunate to find himself that secure corner in an increasingly valueless world. Barbara was another of the same kind. It seemed a cruel irony that Henry's life was cut short and that Barbara stood accused of his murder. It seemed grossly improbable to him. He finally disconnected himself from the electronic universe when he clicked off his computer and left his in tray with a pile of papers in it. Alison Warner's reminders could wait till when he got back. He must not be late, he vowed to himself. Getting to the church on time felt as important as getting to the highest level meeting on time. He sensed that his role was to mingle, be inconspicuous and to be generally supportive.

As they had got out of the car Nikki had pretended that she was keeping close to Barbara and tried to ignore that hated band of metal round her wrist which bound her to Barbara. She had arrived at just the right time before a line of cars could assemble the length of the kerb outside. As Karen kept them company, she was glad to look back and see Helen's car pull up and, as she came in view, it seemed about the right time to slip the cuffs off.

"Jesus, I've hated locking up Barbara to me more than I could ever say," Murmured Nikki to Helen.

"I've been there. I had to do the same once for Monica Lindsay," Helen's gentle understanding voice answered. She had seen Nikki's tense face and really felt for her. Nikki remembered that of course, she was banged up in her cell once when Helen had come back from Spencer's funeral and she remembered how desolate she sounded.

"Hi, Barbara," Helen smiled with the most cheerful smile she could summon up and the reality of their surroundings in the churchyard started to hit home. She wasn't the only one where the reality of the tragedy was starting to hit home.

Yvonne came into view next and smiled her tightest smile at Barbara, said a few meaningless words and passed on. For once, she didn't crack a joke. She was dressed at her smartest, befitting an Atkins. Churches meant bad news to her as they were about weddings and funerals and her wedding hadn't exactly ended up all hearts and flowers. Her heart gave a wrench as this was where Ritchie's funeral took place and it brought back painful memories despite her best efforts to push them away.

"The judge isn't here?" questioned Yvonne of Grayling who was nearest to her.

"He would have wanted to be here, Yvonne but regrettably, he has to keep his distance in view of the trial. I had reason to speak to him of another matter and he mentioned this to me. You understand?"

Yvonne nodded but only accepted this as a fact. Whatever the judge did was right because of the man, not because of some ancient bleeding ritual. She knew better than to fight it.

Presently, the rest of them started to arrive and each of them looked all around them. Was it only four months ago that this church had given birth to the blend of orchestral sounds, played and sung, which had blasted upwards and outwards to the very rafters to celebrate the creation of life itself? Jo, George, Roisin, Cassie, Grayling, Crystal , Josh, Nikki, Helen and Karen and Barbara briefly mingled around outside and looked nervously at each other with a distinct reluctance to go inside. It seemed a cruel irony to come back to the very same church to mourn the death of Henry whose incredibly kind words had so generously blessed that incredible performance. It is a perfectly natural desire to nostalgically revisit the scene of one's triumphs in life although there is a tendency for a slight let down feeling that the scenery remains the same but people either move on or change or both. There is enough of the original bouquet of experience to still smell fresh even years later. Today was not such a time. This assembly was about the grim finality of death which even Christians are hard put to be philosophical about.

Certainly, as Barbara entered the church and heard the smoothly flowing organ chords resonate through the steep vaulted church, she not as much spoke but words were forced out of her.

"Why is she playing the organ? It should be me."

"I don't know what to say, Barbara but for what it's worth, we're all here for you," Nikki's very hesitant voice groped for a glimmer of failing inspiration. A brief background murmur of assent around them momentarily steadied Barbara for that vital moment.

A young vicar was there in Henry's accustomed place. Barbara dared not look at him but filed her way to the front of the pews, on the right hand side and the others filed in to their pews. Yvonne, sitting between George and Roisin, noted cynically that none of Henry's family deigned to turn up. Bastards. Whatever the arguments there may be in Henry marrying the 'wrong' woman, families should stick together. The high and mighty stuck up toffs could at least pretend to care for Babs. Henry was different, a real gent and it seemed a shame to Yvonne that such a lousy shitty could have happened to him.

The funeral hit Jo hard. This death was of the man whose widow ought to have a chance to grieve and not be incarcerated for something that she was not responsible for. The words of the sermon were jumbled round in a meaningless blur. George glanced sideways at Jo and could read her emotions from the tell tale tremor of her lips. It was just as well that she was there and still more, in helping Jo with the case.

"I know what you're feeling, darling," she whispered, laying a hand on Jo's. "but you're not on your own. Take a look around you."

George had gained a measure of strength in palpably feeling all the Larkhall women around her. It recalled the feelings of the Lauren Atkins trial when, in her unexpectedly gauche way, she had gained emotional sustenance from them. At one time, she would not have dreamed that she could relate to the word 'sensitive', not when she thought that a steel hard emotional armour would see her through. An occasion like this heightened the minute details of awareness of what was around her and fortunately, fate came to her rescue. Helen was in the row ahead of her and to one side and she turned round and smiled briefly at them. George was right and she got the comfort that she needed.

The rhythms and the phrases of the vicar's sermon were ancient memories to Helen from when she lived at home with her father who was a Scottish minister. Only the accent was different. It meant that her mind could run free. She turned round to see George comfort an obviously distressed Jo and her thoughts lighted upon what John had said about George. Jesus, she would never have suspected that the apparently confident, demonstrably strong woman who was at the top of her own profession could have been the one time potential suicide when her daughter was born. That was an eye opener but then again, people change. She had, for one, as without such a change she would not be living with Nikki. What was an utterly startling revelation was that George came close to repeating this last April and it was the now very broken up Jo who had saved her, not George herself. Where was she when all this was going on, she questioned herself? She finally placed a memory for the event. It must have been a bit after she and Nikki had a gorgeous meal with Karen and George. She was the perfect host and in good spirits. She'd even talked with Karen who was so happy at the time with George. The rather strained stoical woman sitting the other side of her from Nikki wasn't the same woman either. She shook her head in wonder. Perhaps God was right after all as all the vast knowledge of the human race is imperfect. She's the psychologist after all. It was her profession to know people.

Sitting behind Helen, it was only when the vicar paused and addressed the congregation in terms of the man, not the religion that Jo's vision and hearing suddenly became focused and it seemed that someone threw the 'on' switch in her mind.

"I wish to say a few words about a colleague and distant friend of mine, Henry Mills." the young vicar broke in to the more personal part of his service. "You may have not known too much about what was a very modest man who was the last to laud his own achievements. From what I know of him, he would not have thought that he had done anything special with his life, that he had done no more than God demanded of him. With the dearest respect, he would for the first time in his too short life, he would have been wrong. I knew him first when I was a very new vicar, uncertain of what my role is in an age old religion that is facing a fast changing world that offers challenges as never before. Do I merely retread the well-worn paths and rely solely on the equally well-worn texts that have been handed down from generation to generation, I asked myself? God's answer manifested itself in the example of Henry Mills, whose kindness and compassion and willingness to reach out to any human being in distress is unequalled in my experience. Henry was happily married, first to his first wife and then to Barbara and it was not his destiny to be a parent but from what I know of him, he would have been a good father."

The young vicar, earnest and nervous, coughed a bit and wound into the brief finale.

"I am aware that these are highly personal recollections but I trust that there is something in what I have said that all of Henry's friends and relatives, from all walks of life might recognize."

A deep profound silence could be heard in the church but the very nervous vicar was pleased to tell from the intent expressions on the congregation that he had hit the right note. There was a subtle difference between this and the expressions of the normal congregation who let the familiar words and their rhythms flow over them.

"Ahem, I forgot to mention it earlier but I was wondering if Mrs Mills might say a few words for us.

An electric shock ran through Barbara. A part of her had not expected that had just about got herself prepared to be part of the audience although on the front row and the focus of attention. In so many services, she was tucked to one side of the front of the church and her fingers gently played on the well-worn keys in the organ, which towered up and around her and whose tall metal tubes carried the richness of the music all around her. She was stuck on the front pew. In that fraction of a second, a contrary determined impulse took control. She had to say what came into her mind, for Henry's sake. With determined strides, she walked along the ancient flagstones and climbed the short steps to the pulpit. She adjusted her glasses before speaking.

"I'm totally unprepared for this so I hope everyone will bear with me as I'm not the one normally to stand in the pulpit and speak. I want to say how pleased and supported I feel that so many of my close friends have come today to share our memories of Henry. I know that there are friends of ours who would be if they could but I know that they are here in spirit….."

"The Julies and Denny." Whispered Nikki.
"…….I must say how touching are the words so kindly spoken about Henry and the strange thing is that he probably never knew the influence he had on people. He would have denied it in his dear way……"

Barbara clutched for a handkerchief as her eyes spotted the ominous shape of the wreath bedecked coffin in front of her. The associations were too strong and everyone's hearts went out to her as she hesitated. With a final access of strength, she carried on.

"Anyway, I just want to express my feelings about how precious and rare true friendship is. Whether you give or receive it, you are indeed fortunate and you must hang onto it as something to be prized above everything else, ambition, fame…"

At this point Grayling nodded his head in approval. He had worshipped such false gods for so long before he had seen the light, not in any theatrical sense but gradual exposure to decent people.

"…….wealth, power and career. It is worth nothing in the long run….. Anyway, just to finish up, I would like you to sing a hymn that was a favourite of Henry's and the words were written by William Blake and it is about faith and struggle. It is Jerusalem."

The swelling organ chords sounded in the introduction and the clear singing tones of the congregation carried out into the dark vastness of the church, with definite shades of "The Creation" and the "Larkhall Tabernackle Choir" and all such experience of feeling in between.

"And did these feet in ancient times.

Walk upon England's mountain green.

And was the Holy Lamb of god,

On England's pleasant pastures seen?

And did the countenance divine,

Shine forth on our clouded hills?

And was Jerusalem builded here

Among these dark satanic mills?

Bring me my bow of burning gold,

Bring me my arrows of desire.

Bring me my spear : O clouds unfold,

Bring me my chariot of fire.

I shall not cease from mental fight,

Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand,

Till we have built Jerusalem

In England's green and pleasant land."

At a nod from the vicar, the footmen who had waited patiently by swung up the coffin and the congregation filed solemnly and sadly behind and out of the church mixed with feelings that something of Henry's spirit would be carried on. A very attentive audience drew upon the words spoken and each adapted the meanings for their own.

The light was dazzling as they filed into the churchyard. Memories at this point became disjointed of the traditional litany spoken over the gradually descending coffin of "…..earth to earth, ashes to ashes…" They stood around in contemplation as the first clods of earth were thrown into the gaping hole. It was a time for hidden reflection for all of them, for all of their futures.

Part Twenty-Nine

The three of them were silent as they drove back to the prison, Karen behind the wheel and Nikki and Barbara in the back of the car. Karen was only vaguely aware of keeping her eyes on the road, seeming to work on autopilot while her thoughts became steadily more cluttered. She could feel the panic rising in her, the perpetual increase in the nervous tension that was flowing throughout her body. She shouldn't have gone there, no way in hell should she have gone anywhere near that funeral. Ever since the day she'd gone to the seaside to scatter Ross's ashes, she had thrust her memories of those few days immediately following Ross's death out of her mind. It had been impossible for her to escape the loss itself, but she had just about managed to stop herself from persistently dwelling on watching his body going through those terrifyingly ominous curtains. But today, seeing Henry's coffin, had brought everything surging back like a canal whose loch had been allowed to fill up. Seeming to sense her silent distress, Nikki reached over and gave her shoulder a gentle squeeze, receiving a slight smile in the driving mirror in return. When they pulled up in the prison car park, Nikki and Barbara got out, but Karen stayed where she was.

"Are you all right?" Nikki asked, stopping by the driver's window.

"I'm fine," Karen said unconvincingly. "You look after Barbara. If you need me for any reason at all, I'll be at home."

Before Nikki could utter another word, Karen turned the car round and drove away. She needed to get away from there, needed to get away from everyone who knew her. She was falling apart fast, and she knew that it wasn't going to be nice. She was almost frantic as she sped through the traffic, barely noticing as she jumped the occasional lights, feeling her chest constrict as though all the air was being slowly dragged out of her. The feeling of suffocation only grew as she approached her flat, the torrent of emotions that she'd buried since Ross's funeral, representing a far greater threat than Fenner ever had done. She pulled up haphazardly in her driveway, the car being left slightly askew, and fumbled for her keys, trying three before she found the right one for the lock. It was almost as though she couldn't breathe, couldn't quite get in enough oxygen, or at least that's how it felt. It terrified her, this feeling of sheer, blind panic, and as she ran up the stairs to her sitting-room, part of her mind was screaming out to be released, and the rest of her was trying to remain calm. She was sensible, usually, so she knew precisely what was happening to her. She was experiencing an emotional reaction to being forcefully reminded of what it had been like to see her son in a coffin, and now she was hyperventilating. But where on earth was the proverbial paper bag when you wanted one? Without a second thought, Karen moved to her sideboard, and poured herself a very large scotch, taking a grateful swig, hoping that the fiery liquid would shock her senses back into some semblance of order. But her hands were shaking so much that the glass slipped from her hand, splintering and the scotch pooling on the wooden floor. This was just too much for her to stand, what some might call the last straw. She could feel the anger at what Ross had done to her rising up inside her, almost entirely consuming her in its bewitching flames. Why had he done this to her, why? Why hadn't she been good enough for him? She had tried to be the best mother a child could have in the circumstances, but she wasn't perfect, nobody was. Yet, that seemed to have been what he had wanted. Picking up a jagged piece of glass from the floor, she couldn't escape the memory of seeing his body there in the morgue at the clinic, with his arm sliced from edge to edge in that stark, sinister fashion. Is this what he'd wanted, she thought to herself, undoing her cuff and rolling back her sleeve? Did he want her to feel so hurt, and angry, and most of all guilty, whenever she thought about him? As the razor-sharp edge of the broken whisky glass pierced her skin, she felt the tears begin to finally flow down her cheeks. Moving as if in her sleep into the kitchen, she held her arm over the sink as it began to bleed, having just enough presence of mind not to allow her outpouring to create any more mess than was absolutely necessary. She felt an odd sort of relief as her blood, her life essence dripped into the sink, the scarlet droplets representing the strength of pain that had been surging through her only moments before. It hadn't been a conscious decision to start cutting, she had purely done it by instinct. The suffocating feeling was going now, slowly ebbing away just as her blood was doing, leaking away bit by bit, until she finally began to feel calmer. Her tears had thinned her blood as they met her skin, almost making it seem as though it was rich, red Burgundy that was running from the gash in her arm, not the iron-filled coagulating force that was keeping her alive. Yet it hadn't kept Ross alive, had it? His blood hadn't kept him alive, it had killed him by its loss, by running away just as hers was doing right now.

As this thought jolted her back into her full awareness, she stared down at her arm, as though only just realising what she had done. Then, hastily grabbing a tea towel, she pressed it to the small wound, and put pressure on it in the way she'd been taught whilst learning to nurse. Christ, what on earth did she think she was doing? She wasn't a cutter, she wasn't the same as Buki or Denny, or any of the other cutters she knew, at least she didn't want to think she was. She was just herself, Karen Betts, the mother who hadn't been quite good enough for Ross. Walking through the lounge, avoiding the whisky and broken glass, she went into the bathroom, rummaging in the cabinet above the sink, and emerging with a sterile dressing. Thankful that the wound wasn't deep, she covered it up, staring at her pale, shattered, utterly terrified face in the mirror.

After taking Barbara back to her cell, Nikki felt at something of a loose end. Barbara had thanked her, but had politely asked to be left alone, saying that she simply needed some time to reflect. Telling Barbara to give her a shout if she needed anything, Nikki left her to it, quietly shutting the cell door behind her. Popping her head round the door of the Julies' cell, she found Julie Saunders writing an essay for her open university course, and Julie Johnston mending the hem on one of her skirts.

"You got a minute, Julies?" Nikki asked, pushing the door open a little further.

"'Course we have," Julie Saunders replied, looking up from her work.

"Come and have a sit down," Julie Johnston invited, moving her sewing paraphernalia to one side to make some room on the bed. After Nikki had handed round her cigarette packet, they all lit up, filling the confined space with smoke.

"How did it go?" Julie Saunders asked, seeing how tired Nikki looked.

"The same way any funeral goes, I expect," Nikki said ruefully, blowing smoke up at the ceiling, and thinking that but for the smart suit she was wearing, this felt like old times.

"It ain't right Henry dying like that," Julie Johnston broke out suddenly. "Leaving poor Babs stuck in this shit hole again."

"He couldn't help dying, Ju," Julie Saunders tried to calm her down.

"I didn't mean that," Julie J said, looking apologetic. "I just meant that Babs shouldn't be here, going through all this again. She didn't kill anyone, she loved Henry."

"That's the law for you, Julie," Nikki told her philosophically. "You know what a pile of bollocks it can be, just as well as I do."

"Well, at least she's got a good brief," Julie S said with a slight smile.

"What, you mean that one who came to see her, the day after she arrived?" Julie J queried. "I'll have to see it to believe it."

"Why so cynical?" Nikki asked, certainly never having questioned her own faith in Jo's ability.

"Well, she didn't exactly get Lauren off, now did she," Julie J replied glumly.

"It's hardly the same," Nikki told her quietly, trying to keep her voice down because of Barbara in the next-door cell. "Lauren killed Fenner, and no matter how much I might think he got everything he deserved, she did kill him, after weeks of stalking his every move. If Jo had managed to get Lauren found not guilty, it would have been a bloody miracle. Barbara didn't kill Henry, plain and simple. Besides, Jo's got some help this time."

"Oh, yeah," Julie S said in thoughtful realisation. "She's got that George Channing, hasn't she? We've only met her twice, but I reckon she'll fight this case with everything she's got. She's the kind of brief who won't go down without a bloody good fight."

"We could have done with her when we were in court," Julie J said meditatively.

"Just try and keep Barbara occupied in the next few days," Nikki said as she got up to go. "Because now that he's gone, I mean really gone, it's going to be harder than ever for her."

Later on when Nikki returned home, Helen was waiting for her.

"How's Barbara?" She asked, giving Nikki a very welcome hug.

"Insisting on being left alone," Nikki said tiredly. "Not that I blame her."

"What about Karen? Today can't have been very easy for her."

"She roared off home, as soon as she'd dropped us off," Nikki told her, as Helen poured them both a much-needed glass of wine. "She didn't look that good though."

"It felt kind of weird, everyone being there today," Helen said contemplatively. "Like we all were for Lauren's trial."

"And like we all will be for Barbara's trial," Nikki finished for her. "Jesus, is this what it's going to be like for the next few months?" Nikki asked bleakly, taking Helen in her arms and laying her face against Helen's neck. "Me locking up Barbara, one of my closest friends, just because I think I'm good enough to wear a suit?"

"You are good enough to wear a suit," Helen assured her. "And Barbara will be far better off with you as Wing Governor, than she would have been with a perfect stranger looking after her. You're doing everything you can, Nikki, and you can't do any more."

"Yes, I can," Nikki said quietly. "I can be a character witness for her for a start. Karen nearly did it for Crystal once, so I don't see why I can't do the same for Barbara."

"No, I don't see why you can't either," Helen said thoughtfully, pleased to see that Nikki was at least trying to think positively.

"I felt such a shit, putting the cuffs on Barbara today," Nikki said gloomily, brief tears of utter shame rising to her eyes. "When George saw me putting them back on at the end of the funeral, she gave me a look of total disgust, and then smiled apologetically when she saw I'd seen."

"Nikki, they all know you had to do it," Helen told her gently, softly running her hand over Nikki's back.

"Doesn't make me feel any better though," Nikki said miserably.

"You remember when I took Monica to Spencer's funeral?" Helen said quietly. "I felt exactly the same. I hated having to put the handcuffs on her, as though she was nothing more than the likes of Shell Dockley, but I had to do it. Making sure Monica couldn't do a runner, was part of my job, just as it is yours. It makes you feel as though you're the most evil, heartless bitch in the world, but you're just doing your job. Barbara will forgive you for it, if she's even remotely concerned about it, which given what day it is, I doubt."

"Why do you always talk so much sense?" Nikki asked tearfully, softly kissing her.

"One of yesterday's patients wouldn't agree with you," Helen told her fondly, thinking of John's perpetual insistence on arguing with her. "He got up to walk out at one point, and I found myself shouting at him just as I used to with you." Nikki laughed.

"I bet that scared the shit out of him."

"It made him listen to me, and it stopped him from walking out, so yeah, I guess it worked. The point is, fulfilling the requirements of your job, whatever that job happens to be, sometimes involves doing things that you bitterly regret. In your position, you can't help that, it's just part and parcel of having superiors who create policies that you have to abide by."

After patching herself up, and clearing up the whisky and broken glass from the floor of the sitting-room, Karen sat down on the sofa and lit a cigarette. What on earth had made her do something quite so stupid? She'd never even thought of cutting before now, so why today? Why, even taking into account her reaction to being at Henry's funeral, had she suddenly resorted to something so desperate, so soul shattering as cutting? She played absent-mindedly with the dressing on her arm, extremely ashamed of what lay under the covering. Helen had suggested that Ross might have been cutting himself, so what did this make her, no better than her own, highly stupid, utterly self-obsessed son? Feeling the slight sting of the cut, she silently prayed that no one would ever discover what she'd done. But then another thought struck her, drenching her in the cold sweat of emerging fear. Would she, could she do it again? If she ever encountered that feeling of suffocation again, would taking a blade to her skin become her immediate response?

Part Thirty

Life at Larkhall went on its routine way despite funerals and tragedies and the early morning routine of the check of the morning post went on, outgoing and incoming. As luck would have had it, Di was in the PO room sorting through a neat pile of post with a slitter placed to the right of her. With practiced easy, she separated the incoming post out. She always worked that way so that she could concentrate the most on the envelopes headed "HMP Larkhall." She reached for her blade and slashed each envelope angrily open with a practiced, assured mannerism and eased each letter out. She ran her eye rapidly over every illiterate scrawl and nearly all the time, the letters were harmless, if pathetic. From her experience, all human life was there, the curiously empty, love struck letters from partners on the outside requesting visiting orders. All manner of human life were scrawled on the raggedy pages. Di laughed cynically inside at the sentiments. Odds were that within a month or so, half of them were shacked up with another con. Some of the prison officers weren't much better and, to cap it all, G Wing was headed by that notorious lesbian of them all. Inwardly, Di hated while her smooth face erased all signs of inner conflict. It was best that way. She had to also watch out for the other threat, the attempt to smuggle in drugs or anything dangerous, especially in parcels. It happened sometimes. She worked quickly through one pile and soon the first heap was done. Nearly all the time, she was able to let the letters go through to their destination and they were sorted for Colin to take to their particular destinations. There was no objection to this invasion of privacy. Sooner or later, prisoners accepted the fact of life that any letter at any time would at least be casually scrutinized. It was a fact of life.

Outgoing mail was a different matter and required more discretion. There were some respectable people on the outside. Sometimes mothers weren't responsible for what their daughters got up to. Mothers and daughters, eh? Story of her life, she dreamed, her mind not quite in focus. She blinked her eyes as she remembered that some of these kids might have gone to the bad but their parents were ready to object to any casual intrusiveness. She got to the last letter and immediately she picked out Denny's familiar script and gave a start. This time, the letter was addressed, not to Yvonne Atkins but to a shockingly familiar name "Michelle Dockley, Ward 18, Ashmoor Special Psychiatric Hospital."

The letters jumped out at her. Shell Dockley had left Larkhall about three years ago but the memory of her had not faded, that mixture of the scheming dangerous woman and the most recent one of the loving mother. She was unpredictable and doubly so, was her influence on Denny. The fact that Denny was writing to her testified to her influence on Denny, for good or bad. She placed that letter on one side, swiftly worked her way through the remaining letters and, at the end, handed these letters to Colin.

"These are sorted, Colin. I'm just nipping off to see Nikki about an urgent matter."

Colin raised his eyebrows with surprise at the apparently friendly way she spoke of her and her genuine concern.

"See you later, Di."

"I'll be back on the wing soon enough. Can't let the side down, eh," Di replied, a soft smile playing on her face and a tone of brisk enthusiasm in her voice.

Colin carried on with his job, his back to her and head bent over a ledger. He was starting to log into a valuables book a number of cheques and a recorded delivery letter which

had been in the post. He was a precise sort of man and always took care not to make any slipups in the recording. This was money for which he was accountable and responsible if there are any discrepancies. Besides, it gave him an excellent opportunity to bury himself in his work and avoid chatting to Di. It meant that, at most, only a quarter of his attention had to be devoted to her.

Di strolled out onto the wing and, glancing round to check if Nikki were around, very unusually headed for her office where Nikki was hard at work catching up with a pile of paperwork which had built up incredibly rapidly with the one day away at Henry's funeral.

"Hi, come in. What can I do for you?" she said politely enough. Her mind whizzed at breakneck speed wondering what made Di Barker go out of her way to see her.

"I was wanting a bit of advice. I was wondering what to do with this letter that Denny's written to Shell. I thought of opening it but I wasn't sure how that would go down seeing as she's under hospital treatment. You never know what's going on with her."

Nikki took the point. She was able to lock onto that mental structure which pushed to one side Dockley as her one time hated enemy as slippery, treacherous and as vicious as a rattlesnake in the undergrowth and replace it as an unpredictable ex inmate with more than her share of problems. She took a sip of her tea and indicated the seat in front of her desk but Di remained standing. Oh well, can't say I didn't try, she thought to herself.

"Have you got the letter with you?" came Nikki's instant response.

Di nodded and laid it on the table. Gingerly, Nikki picked it up. It was strange being in the position of peeking into someone else's private thoughts. It brought back very strong memories of receiving Helen's necessarily cryptic postcards from even such a friendly a soul as Dominic. It felt like an invasion and now, this time, she was going to be the invader. Then the practical side of her took over. She had responsibilities, to prison officers and prisoners alike. She picked up the slitter on her own desk and sliced the envelope open. To the surprise of both of them, a slightly faded and tattered news clipping fell out onto her desk. It was a full page out of the 'Sun', which splashed in uncouth details the whole horrific details the tragedy, which Nikki was trying to forget.

With an effort, Nikki dragged her mind to the necessities of the job in hand.

"Should we let the letter go to Shell, Nikki? It's not right, surely?" queried Di with wide-open guileless blue eyes.

"We ought to let it go, Di. It's something that Shell Dockley will probably know anyway. It can't do any harm. I will make a point to tell Karen about this and keep her up to speed on it. Does that make sense?"

"Perfectly," Di smiled freely.

"In the meantime, reseal it and send it on its way and you tell the others to keep their eyes skinned for any return post and any changes in how Denny is getting on. Anything that should be reported, I want to hear about."

Nikki spoke in her most relaxed, friendly fashion while Di remained just long enough to appear, resisting the temptation to rush off immediately. She made vacuous small talk which Nikki patiently endured before she spoke the words that were foremost in her mind.

"I best be getting along, Nikki and get it sorted out."

She laughed slightly nervously and went out the door, displaying suitable keenness for the job in hand. Nikki sighed and lit up her cigarette for the day as a break before attacking the mountain of files. Her mind had been so focused on the job that she forgot to say farewell to Di. She shrugged her shoulders. It didn't matter.

It took till lunchtime for Nikki to be able to clear all her work. It was funny but files landed on her desk in the same way that London busses appeared, nothing for some time and, out of the blue, loads of them. Finally, she made her way over to Karen who had been similarly quiet, at least she had not had a phone call from her all morning, which was unusual. She knocked politely at the door to see Karen's eyes glued to her computer. She was intently focused to the screen and it took her a few minutes for her to be aware of Nikki's presence. Despite her rather forced smile, Nikki sensed that Karen was not exactly at her best. Her eyes looked tired as the clue as there is only so much that makeup will cover.

"I thought I'd let you know that we've picked up a letter sent from Denny to Shell," Nikki started without preamble, still in her 'hurrying through the work' mode of thinking.

Karen's head swiveled round, totally taken aback by that voice to one side of her, out of the corner of her vision. Her eyes flitted round nervously, looking fairly blank to begin with.

"What do you mean, Nikki? Is that all you came to tell me?" she replied rather testily after an untypically long pause.

"There's more to it than that, Karen," came Nikki's rather more gently phrased answer.

"I opened the letter and there was a newspaper clipping of when you were in the papers after Ross died."

"After he abandoned his life in the same way that he lived it," Added Karen's bitter response. "They say that death comes in threes, first Ross, next Henry and tomorrow, who knows?"

Nikki winced at the raw edge in Karen's voice. She was doing what she always did in a crisis, put on a deliberately hard unfeeling shell to mask the pain. It didn't sound good.

Her eyes kept flitting back to the computer screen. She could so easily lose herself in the depths of the electronic universe, far easier than the real one. She didn't have to talk to anyone but could hide her face in the shelter of an E-mail identity. She resorted to keeping matters light and bright to distract her though exactly why she should, totally escaped her.

"Those superstitions belong to the age of Sylvia's mother of which we've all heard so much. Remember, the one who was responsible for spreading enlightenment and humanity to so many. Never believed in them myself."

"Nikki, I know you're trying your best to cheer me up but right now, it isn't working.

Thanks for trying but you'd better leave me on my own."

There was a dull, defeated tone in Karen's voice that made Nikki think twice about reasoning with her to come out into the light and the life around her. It was no good, she realized, she would have to just let her be and hope that whatever was disturbing Karen would blow over. She turned for the door and gently clicked the door behind her. It was only five minutes later that she remembered that she'd forgotten to tell Karen that she would keep her up to speed on the matter but it would definitely not be a good idea to pop back and see her. This had to be a first and it worried her.

Part 31

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