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 Thirty-One

On the Friday of that week, all three of them were in court together, Jo for the prosecution, George for the defence, and John on the bench as usual. This occasionally provided some friction between the three of them, no matter how much they tried not to discuss the case outside of court. When pushed, neither Jo nor George would ever give up the chance to argue their point, sometimes making John feel the urge to bang their heads together. Jo had been relatively quiet since Henry's funeral on Wednesday, which was probably why she and George hadn't yet gotten around to arguing about this case. But by Friday lunchtime, George's nerves were becoming distinctly frazzled. She was well aware that her case was slipping through her fingers, and no matter how good Jo's arguments might be, that didn't mean George had to like it.

Foregoing her usual cigarette at the beginning of the lunchtime adjournment, she waited until she saw Coope heading for the canteen, and made her way up to John's chambers. When he bade her to enter, she found him sitting at his desk, finishing a ham sandwich and reading some papers.

"I thought it might be you," He said, wiping his fingers on his handkerchief and coming over to her.

"My client is going to fire me at this rate," She said, sounding thoroughly despondent. "And I can't even be cross about it."

"That's the name of the game, George," He told her, enfolding her in his arms.

"I know," She said miserably. "It just gets a bit wearing sometimes, that's all."

"You used to find fighting for a living a real turn on," He said, gently kissing her.

"I know, and I still do, just not with Jo. Fighting with you was always different somehow."

"That's because the making up is different," He told her between increasingly fervent kisses. "With you and me, the bigger the fight, the harder and more furious the making up. You can't ever have that sort of sex with Jo, so the fighting can't ever be neutralised so satisfactorily." Her nipples began to harden in response to his enchanting little lecture, and as he pulled her fast against him, he could feel them almost grazing his torso. "You really are in a bad way," He mocked her lasciviously. "Becoming quite so aroused whilst in a judge's presence, really is a most punishable offence."

"You'll have me as wet as that street out there if you're not careful," She said a little unsteadily, as the rain pattered against the window. But as John softly laughed, and brought a hand up to begin deftly massaging her left breast, George realised that she wasn't the only one in a significant state of arousal.

"See, I said you would get it back, now didn't I," She said in delight, moving her slim thigh up against him. John just stared down at her in shock. She was right, he couldn't believe it. After the last couple of weeks of perpetually fretting that he wouldn't ever again be able to satisfy his women, he was actually as hard as a rock, he was whole again!

"You're an angel," He told her ecstatically.

"I think this calls for a little celebration on your part," She said, with a gleam in her eye as she persuaded him in the direction of the sofa.

"The last person I did that with in here was Francesca Rochester," John told her, realising her intention.

"Which is why I intend this to be entirely different," George told him firmly. "I can seriously outweigh that scheming little bitch for behaving badly, any day of the week." John laughed.

"That's true enough," He replied, sinking down onto the sofa.

"Before I ruin my reputation entirely, are there still cameras in here?" She asked, knowing that this was how he and Francesca had been originally found out.

"There's only one, but I covered it up a long time ago." When she sank to her knees, showing him precisely what she intended to do, he said, "Are you sure?"

"Well, I would really rather you were sat on your throne in court, but I suppose here will have to do," She said almost dismissively.

"You're priceless," He said with a smirk, as she reached to undo his flies. Oh, god, that first touch of her lips on his firm column of flesh, felt incredible, almost as though he was experiencing it for the very first time. He couldn't quite believe they were here, in his chambers, and she was doing this to him of all things. But then his beautiful little minx always had loved to behave extremely badly.

Once Jo had smoked a cigarette and had something to eat, she thought that she might as well kill the remainder of her time by going to see John. She needed something to calm her down before the afternoon's session, and some of his usual charm would probably do the trick. Seeing that Coope was engaged in eating lunch with some of the other clerks, Jo waved to her, and walked up the stairs. It didn't occur to her that John might not be alone, so giving a brief perfunctory knock on his door, she opened it without further ado. The sight that greeted her, made her temporarily speechless. John was lounging on the sofa, with a look of sheer bliss on his face, and George was kneeling between his slightly parted thighs, nothing of what she was doing being left to the imagination. Jo just stared. Never in her wildest dreams could she have thought something like this would look quite so erotic. Looking up at her with a broad smile, John simply said,

"If you're staying, please come in and close the door. I don't want the world and his wife for an audience." Coming back to her senses, Jo did just that, absent-mindedly pushing the lock home as she did so.

Sitting down on the sofa beside John, she leaned over and kissed him.

"You look a lot happier," She said with a warm smile.

"Do you blame me?" He countered back, trying to keep his voice steady, which was becoming more and more difficult under George's ministrations.

"I take it you found the cure then?"

"So it would seem," Jon replied, his voice deeper than usual. Reaching out a hand, Jo gently touched George's cheek.

"Do you have any idea how incredible you look?" She asked, though not really expecting an answer. George just smiled up at her, smirking as she flicked out a delicate pink tongue, making John suck in a breath through his teeth at the sensation of it flickering over his skin.

George really began to get into her stride now that Jo was here, delighting in the opportunity to show off one of her talents. Jo's eyes widened when she saw just how far back into her throat George could take him, withdrawing in turn to just the tip. John had his arm around Jo by now, and was softly kissing her, the combined attentions of his two favourite women, making his desire all the more intense. Jo didn't think she'd ever seen something sexual quite so expertly done, and part of her wished that she too could do that for him. When George's movements became rhythmically faster, John's left hand rested on her shoulder as though to steady her. Jo's eyes focused on what George was doing, not entirely having believed that anyone would do this until now. John groaned luxuriously into Jo's mouth as he came, George taking in everything he had to offer.

Afterwards, as John fastened his trousers, George got swiftly to her feet, and knocked back the half mug of tea that was sitting on John's desk. When she put the mug down and turned back to face them, they were both smiling at her.

"Do you feel more like your old self now?" She asked John, slightly ruffling his hair.

"If I had more time," He told her lasciviously, pulling her down onto his knee. "Neither of you would be getting out of here unscathed."

"Well, you'll have to wait until the end of the afternoon, won't you," Jo said with a broad grin.

"I could just construct a reason to cancel court for this afternoon," John suggested lightly, knowing that he wouldn't ever cancel court for such a reason.

"Now that, might be a punishable offence," George replied with a laugh, kissing him lingeringly. "And as I'm going to be aroused to the point of internal combustion for the next few hours, you can bloody well wait till later."

"I'm sure I could alleviate your difficulty right here and now, for both of you," He promised seductively, and Jo noticed his right hand slowly edging its way up the inside of George's skirt.

"Stop it," George told him smartly, slapping his hand away. "You've got an entire weekend to make up for lost time, so I'm sure a couple of hours won't do you any harm."

Part Thirty-Two

The trial proceeded smoothly towards the end of the day, the afternoon session being especially harmonious. It did not prevent George in indulging in one or two of her favourite debating ploys just for the sake of it which Jo parried with as much good humour as once John dueled with Roe Colmore, only with words not foils. There was a definite playful banter as far as the seriousness of the matter in hand permitted. That measure of levity did not go unobserved.

As John trod slowly out of the courtroom, he was aware of a sharp clicking sound behind his languid lengthy stride. John paid it no attention. Some instinct told him to ignore it in hopes that it would go away overlaying an instinct that told him that he would be out of luck. He sighed as the sounds came closer. Just his luck when all he wanted was to flop down in his armchair and bask in contentment.

"Might I have a word with you, John?" that tight hard voice sounded in his ear.

"What would you say if I said no?" came his impish response. As the eyebrows of the other man rose, he added in weary tones. "You might as well come in now as anytime, Ian. Cup of tea?"

They observed the polite preliminaries and sipped at his cup of tea. So had he behaved when he was summoned before his headmaster before being punished for one of his more stylish transgressions of the school rules? As he thought back in time, he could not be sure if he was better or worse off in those days, the disadvantages of the very unequal balance of power as opposed to the advantages that rules were written down and he knew where he stood. These days, as the apparatchiks encroached more and more into what areas of freedoms still remained, what once was meritorious was becoming frowned upon as the half way staging post before being outlawed or proscribed. Conversely, what once was described as shameless, self-seeking greed was now described as the meritorious action of 'wealth creators?" Other people demeaned himself in slavishly worshipping the new gods for the grace and favours they received. As a fleeting aside, he wondered what Helen would make of this recklessly defiant and obstinate streak in him. They had never discussed such matters but he suspected that Helen would be sympathetic to that side of his personality of which he had never been ashamed. He was fated to fight yet another battle when he really couldn't be bothered to look for trouble. He knew that destiny would win.

"By coincidence, I happened to drop in on your court this afternoon, John. You may have overlooked me?"

"I spotted you in your accustomed place at the back of the visitor's gallery. I confess I was curious about your presence but I assumed that I would be enlightened in due course."

"Yes, well I couldn't help noticing the increasingly cordial relations between you, Jo and George. Even allowing for the orchestral performance and the rehearsals. I confess that it is a surprise."

"An improvement, I trust? You would surely not want us all to be at daggers drawn as at the time of the 'One Way' phone trial," John replied in his smoothest, most imperturbable manner.

Sir Ian winced to John's amusement. From his adolescence onward, he had impishly enjoyed that smooth neatly delivered thrust at the weak spot of the overbearing and pompous bully. Once that temptation flashed into his mind, it was only a split second to give way to it and spoken words to follow.

"Hardly, John. There must be a balance."

"Oh," John observed with an exaggerated appearance of profound philosophical enlightenment. "You mean that I should steer the conduct of the trial so that an acceptable measure of balanced hostility should be observed between all parties. Truly, you are asking me to steer such trials through such perilous waters."

Sir Ian shut up at this for a few minutes and sipped slowly from his cup of tea while the teaspoon jangled around in the saucer.

"There's another matter I wanted to make discreet enquiries about and that is the Mills trial."

At another time, Sir Ian's callous description of Barbara enraged him. Instead, he gently reproached him.

"Her name is Barbara, Ian. You remember, the lady who so kindly volunteered her services to play the harpsichord and, with her late husband, the generous use of church hall and the church itself."

"Don't I remember? I wish to God I had not made the acquaintance of the woman who is now on trial for murdering her husband."

Still the same old Ian, John concluded wearily. The supposed eleventh commandment 'thou shalt not be found out' was custom made for the man. Come to think of it, that squalid weasly fellow schoolboy wasn't that much better.

"You don't object to hobnobbing with dubious acquaintances who, in a just society, would be behind bars but I forgot, the power of the establishment defends one of their own. Who in hell invented the phrase, a level playing field? One of the most ineptly crass expressions imaginable."

"Ever the one to act morally superior," sneered Sir Ian, his temper rising. "You'll put a foot wrong one of these days and then, we'll have you."

"Look, just spare me the vitriol, Ian," Came John's bored response. "I came to my chamber to rest awhile, not to trade insults with a doubtfully welcome gatecrasher. Say what you've come to say and be gone."

Sir Ian shut up for several minutes and fumed inwardly. Even though he had never been able to win a single argument with John, some perverse sense of duty could not let him give it up as a bad job. Questions would be asked by his political masters but that was only half the matter. It was not necessary for some slave master to threaten those whose lives he ruled with the threat of the lash. Sir Ian was driven uncontrollably to do that to himself psychologically.

"I confess that I was somewhat surprised that you had got wind of proposals to move both trial and the accused's prison further afield out of harm's way."

"We live in an age where information is increasingly available. Take the internet. I must confess that it has spread the availability of knowledge so that it can be retrieved at a touch of a button. Whereas the reporting of court cases took such laborious efforts to print up in book form, to be published and then distributed, one click of a button and, there it appears on the screen of my laptop over there."

Sir Ian cut short John's enthusiastic endorsement of the internet. To him, it was a confounded nuisance and let far too many common people get access to dangerous ideas. The damned thing smacked of anarchy and, what was worse, it was so infernally hard to understand.

"I have not come to discuss the relative merits of the internet. It might be a useful merchandising toy but other than that, I have no interest in it. What is more to the point is how these proposals were leaked to you or did you indulge in unauthorized snooping."

The nerve of the fellow, John thought. Another time he would have got angry but today, he laughed out loud.

"Of course, Ian, when you talk so self righteously of snooping you are forgetting the over zealous functionary who acted as disgracefully as any despised paparazzi in photographing me and Jo, that night she was at my digs. Does it ring a bell by any chance?"

Sir Ian coughed while sipping his cup of tea, jerked it as his face twitched in discomfort and spilled some of it into his saucer.

"Will you come to the point, John? I will be answered."

Sir Ian tried to lash himself into a fury in order to sound dominant and powerful but only succeeded in coming over as petulant.

"Rest assured, the trial will be in safe hands. As I said when I talked the matter over with Monty, I freely confess that I would have had misgivings if I had sole charge of this case. It would be very hard for any single judge to be dispassionate. The combination of the two of us seem unlikely but I sense that Monty and I may pull it off. I have not had a cross word with him since the performance. I freely admit that we are taking a risk but so is any alternative."

"But the leak?" Piped up Sir Ian. He was so agitated that he had set the cup of tea down and was pacing around restlessly.

"You surely don't expect me to divulge my sources of information to you any more than I expect you to discuss your sources of information to me," Came John's answer in lordly amusement and, he had to add his stinger of a follow up riposte. "Level playing field, Ian. You know it makes sense."

Sir Ian's level of frustration had built up to a crescendo and he was about to lose his temper when he realized that Deed was behaving differently. There was a distinct note of bored disdain and a reluctance to pile in, full tilt into a full-scale row with him. The fellow was too smug and self satisfied by half.

"You're looking very cheerful," Sir Ian's hardest, accusatory tones accompanied his squint of concentration. "The last time I remember you looking that way was when you slept with my wife."

"Afterwards, surely, Ian. No, this was far more pleasurable."

For once, Sir Ian managed to resist rising to the bait. He wasn't sure if deed was playing with him. It would be his style to have such a reprehensible sense of humour. That silence spurred John to drop another bombshell on him.

"By the way, Ian. I am moving out of the digs into my own flat in the very near future. It means that my fellow judges won't be disturbed by my comings and goings. It does make the LCD spy network somewhat redundant."

Sir Ian reacted as if someone had jabbed him with a red-hot needle. Goodness knows what a 'let off the leash' Deed might get up to without the restraining influence of the brethren. The LCD spy network was precisely the point. John was someone whom it was positively incumbent on them to spy upon.

"You can't, you mustn't. It would be unwise. The digs provide a certain collective protection from the close proximity of the outside world which is increasingly dangerous to the reputations of public figures," he spluttered away vaguely and incoherently.

"I am touched by your concern, Ian," John grinned. "I think I am quite capable of looking after myself. I repeat, I would have thought that such a move would mean a more peaceful life for you. Think of it, no more complaints from my fellow judges about my private life. They can go their way and I can go mine. Everyone will be happy."

Sir Ian narrowed his eyes suspiciously. There had to be more to it than this.

"Just what schemes are you up to, John?" Sir ian growled, coming to the point.

"None whatsoever, Ian. Much though I am gratified by your continuing concern for my welfare, I fear you have outworn your welcome. I really could do with some peace and contemplation."

Sir Ian stalked off. He had gained precisely nothing from his errand and had received news, which disturbed him greatly. All the time, he couldn't put into words the worrying mental picture of a John Deed unleashed on the world at large, free to get up to anything he wanted with nobody knowing. It was that fear that he felt most strongly but he couldn't say it in so many words. Of course, Deed had chosen to remain utterly oblivious of his dark hints. He would, he fumed angrily as he slammed a door behind him viciously. Unexpectedly, its well-oiled hinges allowed it to slam shut with a loud thud and the superb acoustics made the sound echo round the high ceilings in a sequence of sound waves that only slowly diminished. Immediately, Sir Ian felt totally sheepish and embarrassed and he tiptoes his way out into the sharp cutting wind of an October evening.

John smiled freely to himself. The very unexpected sexual gratification from a very bold and forward George and the presence of a very interested and curious Jo had restored his self esteem and did a lot to restore that sense of sense of 'all's right with the world.' Correction, all's right with his immediate surroundings and the rest of the world was a madhouse with him as a leading force to reclaim the world, as it should be. He could live with that external turmoil, even thrive on it perversely. It was only when he started to question his own place in the universe that he started to worry. He suspected that this feeling could grow inside him and gnaw away at his self-belief. That sense of self-doubt was a very dangerous form of emotional castration, which had him in a grip that even his strength could not free himself from. If he did not believe in himself, whoever that restless fellow was, then who was he? He shook his head in bemusement at the thought that he had never seen fit to ask that one question while everything else around him was there to be probed and illuminated by his formidable intellect. All he knew that he would have to account to himself at some time in the future or to Helen at the next therapy session or both. Up till then, at least for this evening, he had achieved a measure of balance.

Part Thirty-Three

Both George and Jo had been on something of a high for the rest of the afternoon, neither feeling remotely capable of going back to the office, to tidy up their unfinished paperwork before the weekend. They both however knew this to simply be one of the job's many irritations. If they'd been in court for too much of the week, other things were left until late on Friday to complete. When they left to go their separate ways, George gave Jo a broad smile, ran a teasing tongue along her upper lip as a promise of what was to come later, and roared away looking extremely pleased with herself. But as Jo drove back to her office and began catching up on a couple of day's worth of e-mails, she couldn't get that image of George expertly fellating John out of her mind. Was it John who had taught her to do that? Jo supposed it was. But what had possessed George to want to learn in the first place? Then she remembered what John had told her the week before, about George's desire to be bad, to feel as though she was digressing against a normal moral code of decency. What was it in George that made her like this, Jo wondered, and therefore, could she really find Jo as sexually inviting as she always said she did?

When she eventually arrived at George's at around eight-thirty that night, after detouring home for a shower and a change of clothes, she wondered if John would already be there. After a little while of self-enforced celibacy, he would be very eager to make up for lost time. But John hadn't yet arrived. When George opened the door, she was wearing nothing but the thin, silk robe Jo had bought her for her birthday.

"I do like you in that," Jo said as she came in and closed the door.

"That's excellent taste for you, darling," George said, kissing her. "Have you eaten?"

"No, and I'm starving," Jo told her, smelling something wonderful coming from the kitchen.

"It's only chicken casserole out of the freezer," George told her as they moved towards the tempting aroma. "I really couldn't be bothered to cook tonight." She had heated up some rice to go with the fragrant casserole, and they sat at the kitchen table to eat it.

"Is John not joining us?" Jo asked, seeing only two places.

"Not yet," George replied, filling two glasses from a bottle of rich Burgundy. "He's having dinner with Monty, to discuss Barbara's case. But I shouldn't imagine anything will keep him from joining us as soon as is politely possible."

They ate in companionable silence for a while, George's gaze soft on Jo, because she could see that Jo's brain was gradually working up to asking her something. After taking a mouthful of the Burgundy, Jo finally broached the subject that had been creeping into her awareness all afternoon.

"What on earth made you want to learn to do that?" Smiling broadly at her, George said,

"I wondered how long that would take you."

"I don't mean to be quite so predictable," Jo said a little sheepishly.

"Darling, you're not, but coming from someone who isn't a particular fan of what I did this afternoon, it's a perfectly natural thing to ask. You surprised the hell out of me when you appeared, you know, because I really hadn't been expecting an audience. I wasn't sure if that was something you would really want to see."

"George, when I opened the door, and took in what you were doing to him, it was the most erotic thing I'd ever seen. Where you were was probably quite a significant part of that. It occurred to me that I could have been anyone, Coope, Ian Rochester, anyone, but neither of you cared. That's what made it so intense, the fact that both of you were prepared to take such a risk. Watching you do that, it was, I don't know, as though my eyes had been opened far more than they previously had been." As they'd both finished eating, George reached across the table, laying a hand over one of Jo's.

"I remember the first time I ever did that for John," George told her with a slightly fond smile. "I'd tried it before, with a couple of other men, but I hadn't been especially successful at it. This made me very wary of trying it with John, because he was such an incredible lover, so I didn't want to disappoint him. But you know John, he manages to worm confidences out of you so skillfully, that before you know it, you've told him more than is really good for you. I think I'd been sleeping with him for about four months, when I finally plucked up the courage to try it. John didn't criticise what I did, he taught me how to do better. John is even now, an incredibly patient lover, and he could see that doing that for him was something I badly wanted to achieve. You could say I wanted it so badly, because I needed to give something back. I wanted to make him feel just as special as he always made me feel. He wouldn't let me take him all the way like that for a very long time, not until he knew I was confident enough with the rest of it. Perhaps the most valuable lesson John did teach me during the years of our marriage was to accept me for who I was. He taught me that it was perfectly all right to explore the sexual side of my character with complete freedom. I'm not entirely sure why I like some of the things that I do, things that most people would consider slightly abnormal to say the least, but I always had John's constant reassurance that it wasn't wrong to feel as I do. Yes, I know he became very unsettled over the idea of me being with another woman, but we both know that was because he felt threatened, not something he'd ever previously felt by any other of my slightly outlandish fantasies." After a short, thoughtful silence, Jo said,

"Taking all that into account, I don't want you to end up finding me too," She hesitated over the right adjective, "predictable. Sleeping with a woman is about as far as my alternative sexual exploration has gone."

"And I don't want to frighten you off or in any way disgust you," George told her seriously. "The thing that John almost told you but didn't, is something we haven't done since we were married. I'm not even certain that John would still consider doing it for me if I asked him. It took me nearly two years to tell John about that, and I had to get pretty drunk to even contemplate saying it then. He wasn't especially surprised when I finally told him what I wanted, but then you know just how infuriatingly difficult it is to really shock him at any time. So, if I do ever get around to telling you about it, which I honestly doubt, it won't be until I know you an awful lot better than I do already."

As they cleared away the meal, Jo said a little ruefully,

"John always has enjoyed playing the part of tutor."

"Yes," George agreed with a laugh. "Nothing makes him happier than to pass on knowledge or expertise of some form or another. Law, bed, music, you name it. Did he do that with you too?"

"Sometimes," Jo admitted a little sheepishly. "I occasionally found myself feeling like a virgin all over again."

"I doubt he'd ever admit it," George said dryly. "But I suspect John once had a thing for seducing virgins. It would give him an incredible boost of ego to introduce someone to the delights of making love."

"Perhaps when he was in his twenties," Jo suggested meditatively. "But once he really got the taste for picking up random strangers, the responsibility of taking someone's virginity would have been too great for him. It would have meant his having to take a lot more care with their feelings than he otherwise might have done." It felt odd to both of them, discussing John like this in his absence, but they both knew it to be a product of their growing intimacy with each other. Neither of them entirely knew what to expect when John arrived later that evening, but they did know that the more they talked, the more they tried to get to know the woman they'd avoided knowing for so many years, their relationship with both John and each other, would only continue to strengthen, enabling them to provide the stability and depth of warmth that John so badly craved.

Part Thirty-Four

Yvonne's sleepy ears picked out the faint sounds of Lauren getting up first thing only a little later than normal even though she had the morning off work. She was quieter and neater round the house than she used to be before Lauren had been brutally snatched away from her. How many times had Yvonne cursed the way she used to leave a shoe or pair of shoes lying about the furthermost corner of the house, forget about it and then whinge on at her about it? Life should have been better when the two of them started sharing the house. Indeed it had been but there were still these petty arguments from time to time. They used to loom large at a time when Yvonne forgave her for working so hard and so long, not knowing that she had been stalking Fenner. Shooting and burying alive even a total bastard like him was just ever so slightly more important than being a pain of a domestic slob.

Yvonne noted sleepily with satisfaction that Lauren's year in prison had at least given her a sense of self-discipline. It had to be that way, she remembered, when what little of your private belongings was squeezed into a shared wardrobe where space was precious. Leaving personal belongings carelessly around wasn't the safest thing to do as things had a nasty habit of disappearing. Larkhall wasn't exactly some five star hotel with your own room service. She should be grateful that at least some good had come out of a year being snatched out of her life with Lauren being away. Of course, when Charlie was around, everything around was perfect. Appearances had to be kept up, from makeup to meals on the table. It had to be or she would suffer the consequences behind closed doors. The house and everything and everyone had been kept in proper order.Yvonne shivered at the memory and not because, in late October, winter was well and truly setting in. She craved the warmth, hence the idea of the Spanish villa which Charlie had agreed to just to be flash and a showoff. She needed emotional warmth too, much though she had spent a lifetime denying it. Her bed was soft and warm and she dozed off into dreamland.

Several hours later, she was reclining in the living room when Lauren came into sight. Rain was lashing against the window and spotted the still waters of the unused swimming pool.

"I'm taking got the morning off work, mum but I'm going out in case any of the lads phone up and ask questions," Lauren informed her.

"Going anywhere special?"

"The therapy session with Meg Richards."

Yvonne pricked up her ears at the way that Lauren spoke and closely scrutinized the expression on her face. There was no trace of negativity, of boredom or distaste, only as a bald statement of fact.

"How's it going, if you don't mind me being nosy?"

"Be my guest. In a few words, so far so good."


"She's good," Judged Lauren in her laconic but respectful fashion. "She was the one who got me to talk when I was banged up, a trial hanging over my head and withdrawing from the weird state of mind that got me to kill Fenner."

"So what things does she talk about?"

"She gets me to talk about myself," corrected Lauren. "It isn't comfortable or easy on the ear. More like watching a horror film, switching off the telly and realizing that it's me all the time."


"First thing I had to do was to accept that whatever she throws at me, and she does it very quietly without warning. I had to trust in her that she knows what she's doing. Otherwise, whatever the judge said, I'd have done a runner."

"That's my girl," Yvonne said proudly. Lauren's matter of fact manner was belied by the description of what she was going through. Nevertheless, she could tell that Lauren in her quiet, determined fashion would see it through to the end of the line, wherever and whenever that would be.

"I'm beginning to realize that Atkins' aren't that good on trust. Always looking over their shoulder to check out to see if someone is taking them for a ride. Smile nicely, lull them into a false sense of security and sneak up on them when they're not expecting it. Sounds a pretty paranoid way of dealing with people when you think of it."

"Makes me sound a right cow," Joked Yvonne.

"You might have sounded like that when you were in public or when Charlie was around but you always softened up when we were on our own and when Ritchie was younger. I could see it in your eyes," Came Lauren's slow deliberate answer.

"So what went wrong?"

Yvonne immediately regretted the bluntness of the question. It came right off the tip of her tongue. She was apt to talk that way after years of having to watch every word when she was with Charlie.

"That's what I've been trying to figure out," Lauren said slowly. "Charlie really got into the inside of my head in a big way. He was a charmer, he dominated. I mean, he couldn't have taught me to fire a gun in the back garden when I was thirteen without him having some sort of hold over me. I mean, I grew up having more spending money than most kids. Everything I wanted materially, I could have, everything I wanted, everything except a normal life. Everything was so confusing, especially when Ritchie got into his teens. It was like listening to a television with two channels playing at once."

Lauren could see that expression of hurt and intense guilt flood across her face. She laid her hand on her mother's arm.

"Don't beat yourself up about it, OK, I know you will whatever I say. Believe me when I say that I really think that you could have done no different. It's so easy, looking backwards at what you did, or didn't do, in your life. You can go to the grave with guilt written over your heart. There must be a different solution."

Yvonne remained silent. She sensed that Lauren was on a roll in what she had to say and the occasional nod of her head would be all that was necessary.

"So what do I do at these sessions? It's like going back to school in a way but I'm not there just to listen to the teacher gas on and get a test and be marked, seven out of ten and a gold star or whatever………."

Through Lauren's mind came the memory of Cassie and Roisin talking about their kids and showing their homework. God, sometimes she wished that she could return to school. Life was so easy, so certain. She envied them their innocence. That's why she loved being with them. Hers had disappeared long ago, if she ever had it. Innocence and being an Atkins didn't exactly go together.

"…….I learned recently by talking to Meg just how ingrained it is to think like an Atkins. I've got a lousy temper, I know it. Something goes off in my mind to hit back as hard as I can if I'm crossed, fair means or foul. You just don't take out the old mental programme, chuck it away and slot in a new and better one, it's not that easy. I've been away from all that shit and trying to learn how to be a better person. I have to learn to count to five and try and bottle down that blind anger and really think it through. It's not like learning to drive but unlearning one way of driving and consciously trying to learn a completely different style. It's a real strain."

"Since when has this been a problem?"

"At work," Lauren replied shortly. "Some of the lads, between you and me, do daft things and, instead of behaving like an Atkins, I try and handle things differently."

"Losing your rag ain't exactly a hanging offence," Put in Yvonne.

"Once you've got the small battles won, the big ones come easily. I tell you, it's a real struggle………"

Lauren gazed contemplatively into the distance while Yvonne respected that silence. They had got to that companionability where they could be silent if there was nothing to say. While they took their ease, Trigger had padded softly downstairs with big mournful eyes and flopped down on the carpet without bustling over to them and demanding to be made a fuss over. He curled himself up on the carpet, his legs splayed out.

"Trigger looks tired these days. He isn't as lively as he used to be," Lauren said casually.

"He's getting old, Lauren. It happens to all of us."

"Even you, mum?" Lauren enquired with a hint of a smile on her face.

"Cheeky sod," Yvonne retorted, grinning as she moved towards Trigger and bent over to ruffle his hair. Trigger rolled over on his back.

"Meg was talking about the way that I still lived at home," continued Lauren after Yvonne let Trigger sprawl all over the carpet. "I explained to her that I hadn't any plans to settle down. I don't exactly fancy getting dressed all in white and meekly submitting to some dickhead of a man to ruin my life like he did yours……."

True, thought Yvonne. If only she knew then what she had come to learn now it wouldn't necessarily be a man that she'd be hitched to. Then again, someone like the judge was real class in every sense of the word. She had fond memories of that very special night.

"She wasn't starting to ask me was I gay or straight or whatever," Lauren explained. "It was just that she gently eased me into a corner that I had to say that it was commitment itself that I was afraid of. I'd seen what had happened to you and Charlie and didn't want the same in my life. I came out with the easy explanations that I'm happy living at home. It's true but it's not the whole picture. She quietly explained that it is perfectly natural that I wouldn't want to repeat the bad experiences of the older generation and that was what was known as learning from life. Only I can really work out what I really want out of life….."

"Did she tell you that one?"

"No, that's what I worked out for myself and told her. She agreed with me."

Yvonne beamed at Lauren's words. She was getting her life together, a bit at a time.

They sat companionably next to each other while Lauren's rapid mind worked out all the plans she could make in her life. She smiled with satisfaction until a face popped into her mind and it wiped the smile off her face.

"There's Denny," Lauren said abruptly in total shock. "I haven't contacted her since I got out which must be, shit, two months ago."

She put her hand to her mouth in shock. She didn't think she'd been out that long but the days had marched on relentlessly without her being aware of it. She could see in her mind's eye the hurt expression on Denny's face that she'd abandoned her. Of course, she'd been busy but that sounded a pathetic excuse to anyone banged up with too much time to brood when little things got so easily magnified out of proportion. She remembered how Denny had been there for her and her way of repaying her was to shut Larkhall out of her mind and everyone else who was stuck in there.

"So what are you going to do about it?" Yvonne interrupted, breaking the spiraling train of panic and guilt reaction.

"Do?" Lauren asked vaguely.

"You know, what your shrink told you what to do when you mess up. She must talk about stuff like that."

Yvonne's shrewd thrust went home. It was the more effective, as she was so casual about the matter. Lauren breathed in and out intensely and she looked out of the window, far beyond the garden, far away all those miles to those grey walls. She could almost see them in front of her. With an effort, she looked at her mother and her gaze gradually sharpened and focused in on her.

"Meg said that 'I should break the cycle of mistakes,'……'to not be afraid to admit to yourself if you're in the wrong' ….that 'once you've done that, it makes it easier to tell anyone else'……." Lauren said in a slow dreamy voice, her intonation that of repeating a lesson from school.

"So what does that mean, Lauren?"

"I'd better visit her, no, write to her, do something to contact her, phone her." Lauren rapped out the words in a stream of utterance as she fished around for the least painful way of remedying the fault.

"You can't phone in on the payphone, Lauren," reminded Yvonne quietly.

"I'd sooner phone and talk to Denny even if she bites my head off. At least I'd know," Lauren replied firmly and decisively.

"Look, Lauren, what say I phone up Nikki and ask her to pass on a message to Denny? I wouldn't want to bother her but if it would help Denny, she'd do it."

Lauren looked back with grateful eyes. Mum had the solution.

As luck had it, Nikki was at her desk when the phone rang. The rain was beating down against her windows

"Hi, it's Yvonne. Don't want to disturb you but I wonder if there's a little favour you'd be able to do me, dead legit like."

"That's not like you to be coy, Yvonne?" Nikki retorted, grinning at Yvonne's almost exaggerated persuasion.

"It's for my Lauren. She's realized that she's messed up in pushing Larkhall and everyone in it out of her mind, and that includes Denny. She really wants to put that right and talk to her."

"So you want me to get Denny to phone you so that Lauren could talk to her?"

"Something like that if you've got the time, Nikki."

"I'll make time, Yvonne," Nikki's decisive tone answered Yvonne's polite reluctance to burden an already busy Nikki with this errand. "Ten minutes maximum, eh?"

"Look, Denny, don't let your pride get in the way. It's only natural for anyone on the outside to push any thought of prison right out of their mind. I did that when I got out. I'd been out a year and Helen and I kept out of everyone's way till Yvonne walked into my club. I felt a bit funny at the time the first time I saw her even though it was lovely to talk to her.So don't you be a dozy cow and you get to that phone and talk to her. Right?"

Perhaps it was the crack of authority in Nikki's voice or else the way that Nikki always was a leader but Denny walked to up to the phone without a murmur.

Yvonne had talked to Denny first briefly and Denny had accepted Lauren's sudden appearance back into her world with a mixture of bemusement and a measure of resentment until her resistance to Denny had crumbled away. She had promised to be with Yvonne next time they visit. It would piss off Bodybag a treat, wouldn't it? She could hear Denny laugh briefly just before she heard the pips, which announced that the phone card was about to run out. They gabbled their goodbyes and Lauren put the phone down.

Denny replaced the phone on the stand and her confusion showed up like a beacon for all to see, the way her brows were knitted together. It's nice to hear Lauren, her sort of sister, come back and take notice of her but hadn't she been desperately trying to get in contact with Shell. She could hardly tell Lauren that one, couldn't she?

"That's done,"Lauren said, her face glowing with satisfaction.

"Getting your life sorted out, Lauren. It works, doesn't it?" Yvonne grinned.

That self-assured expression on Lauren's face was ample answer. It remained on her face for precisely a couple of seconds until she glanced at the clock.

"Shit, I've got to see Meg in half an hour."

"But what about your makeup."

"Which matters most, the way I look or missing my therapy?" Lauren cut back.

Yvonne shrugged her shoulders as Lauren went against the basic instinct of the Atkins woman. There was no answer, was there?

Part Thirty-Five

It was the night of Halloween, and after having spent the last ten days in a state of intense happiness and relief, it occurred to John that he hadn't seen hide nor hair of Karen since they'd returned from the conference. He knew this had probably been a sensible course of action, to allow them both time to recover from what had happened between them, but he found that he was missing her, missing her friendship and her common sense. He knew that George had seen her a couple of times over the last few weeks, and she would have said if there had been anything wrong with Karen, but he was now beginning to think it was time he found this out for himself. He needed that reassurance that she was still surviving, still coping with everything that had happened to her. It was only three months since her son had died, and John was far too aware that Karen had barely talked to anyone about how she was feeling.

If Karen had been compelled to tell the truth, she couldn't possibly have said she was doing well. In fact she could hardly have suggested that she was even doing vaguely okay. All the fears she'd had after cutting that first time had been realised. She just couldn't help it, she tried to rationalise with herself. It seemed to be the only thing that would enable her to release her emotions, to undo the constricting knot of panic that would take her over whenever she thought about Ross. She loathed herself for doing it, for giving into something quite so despicable. It had become almost easy to bring her own blood to the surface, to feel the physical pain it caused, as this would temporarily drive out the emotional pain, leaving her empty, quiet, and for a brief time relieved. She knew that what she was doing to herself was wrong, but she was almost powerless to give it up.

When her doorbell rang on the Monday night, Karen at first thought it must be "Trick or treaters," given what day it was. But on opening the door, she received something of a shock to see John standing on her doorstep. She hadn't seen him since the conference, and this in itself had been something of a mixed blessing. She knew she had needed a break from John, but in truth she could also have done with his company.

"John," She said, opening the door wider to let him in. "This is a nice surprise."

"I thought it was about time I made contact with you again," He told her a little warily, coming into the hall, and carefully scrutinising her. She looked paler, thinner, and extremely tired. When they reached the sitting room, John put a hand on her shoulder and examined her more closely, not missing the slight tensing as he touched her. "You look as though you've been working too hard," He said diplomatically.

"You mean I look knackered, worn out, and generally not as attractive as usual," She corrected him dryly.

"Erm, possibly," He admitted with a slight smile. "Are you all right?" Just for a moment, her expression wavered, briefly revealing how unhinged she really felt. It was such a tempting thought, to be held in those strong arms again, just as a friend, just as he used to occasionally hold her before she ruined everything. She couldn't seem to find anything to say to him, the need to tell him what she'd been doing to herself being ridiculously strong. Seeing her hesitation, and realising that she would probably be a little wary of needing such an advance from him, John gently put his arms round her, feeling the tremor run through her as she desperately strove to maintain her control.

"I've missed you," She said unsteadily, her face against his shoulder.

"I know," He replied quietly, his hand moving soothingly in the centre of her back. "I've missed you too."

Suddenly realising just what she was doing, Karen moved hurriedly away from him.

"I'm sorry," She said, trying to gather her shattered senses together. "I shouldn't be doing this."

"We've still got some talking to do, haven't we," John said ruefully, wanting to put her at her ease.

"Probably," She admitted sheepishly. "Would you like a drink?"

"A scotch wouldn't go amiss," He said, sitting down at one end of the sofa. When she handed him his glass, but didn't fill one for herself, he raised an eyebrow at her.

"I'm avoiding alcohol for the time being," She told him evasively, pouring herself a glass of orange juice, and remembering all too clearly the last time she'd partaken of her favourite scotch, on the day she'd started cutting.

"Karen," He began carefully, making no comment on her temporary abstinence. "Are you still feeling guilty about what happened at the conference?"

"A little," She told him regretfully. "We both know that I slept with you, because I was definitely on a sexual collision course after finishing with George, and because I badly needed the distraction. You slept with me, because you could see that was what I needed."

"It wasn't just because of that," John told her with a lopsided smile. "You are incredibly attractive, and that weekend simply gave me the excuse to bring something to a head, something that I think we'd been building up to for a while."

"That's the point though, isn't it," Karen told him bitterly. "We shouldn't have been building up to anything, neither of us should, because we both know an awful lot better. John, I need you as a friend, at the moment I need your friendship more than just about anything else, but I don't trust myself not to need more than you can give me." John watched her in slightly stunned silence. He'd had absolutely no idea that her feelings for him ran so deep, but he thought in retrospect that it probably made sense. She had been cut asunder by George at precisely the wrong time, and now she simply craved that stability of having someone for herself. "You don't need to look quite so uncomfortable," Karen assured him with a slight smile. "Just because I'm going through a midlife crisis, doesn't mean I intend to pursue any feelings I might have for anyone."

"It's not wrong to feel like this," He promised her gently. "In fact it's perfectly understandable. Do you remember what I said to you, the night you got drunk? I told you not to be afraid of needing someone."

"That was before I ruined it, by making you feel as though you'd raped me," Karen replied, her voice full of self-recrimination.

"Karen, you have not, I repeat not, ruined our friendship," He insisted vehemently, laying a hand on her left arm to emphasise his point. "Would I really be here if you had?"

"I suppose not," She admitted grudgingly. "John, I feel as though I don't really deserve you to be here."

"Well, take it from me that you do," He told her gently but firmly, moving closer to her and putting his arms round her. "This is because you're my friend, and I want to help you," He said into her hair. "Not because I'm trying to sleep with you."

"Oh, that's good," She said with a mirthless little laugh. "Because I doubt I could come up with the goods even for you at the moment."

"Why so depressed?" He asked her after a short silence. "Or is that a particularly stupid question?"

"It's complicated," She told him evasively.

"So tell me," He prompted gently, running his hand up and down her left arm. She only just managed to stifle her gasp of pain, as his hand rubbed over the thin dressing that covered her latest wounds. But John didn't miss her flinch. "What?" He asked, unsure as to what he'd done. But as his hand rested on her arm, he became gradually aware of something different, something that shouldn't be there. As he moved to undo her cuff and role up her sleeve, she stopped him.

"Don't, John, please."

"Why?" He asked, slightly mystified by her behaviour.

"Because I don't want you to be angry with me," She told him quietly, not meeting his gaze.

"And why would I be angry if I looked at your arm?" He asked, a terrible, nagging suspicion crawling up his spine. Wholly unable to think of a satisfactory reply, Karen simply stared at the sideboard across the room from them. Observing her obvious discomfort, John continued in his endeavour to see what she was talking about. Drawing back her sleeve, he stared in total horror at the barely heeled scars adorning her skin, together with the small, white dressing that clearly covered something more recent. She watched as the fleeting expressions of bewilderment, anger, disbelief and pain flitted across his face. She could feel her skin crawling with the need to cover it up, the need to wipe all hints of it from his memory. He held her hand in his, gently chafing it as he stared at what she'd done. Putting out a finger, he delicately traced one of the older scars, feeling the ridge of uneven tissue where there ought to have been perfectly smooth skin. Rolling her sleeve back down, he refastened the cuff, and got up from his seat. He paced round the room, needing a little time to think. He absent-mindedly refilled his glass from the bottle of scotch on the sideboard. Stopping by the coffee table, he picked up her packet of cigarettes, regarding it thoughtfully. Karen had been watching him in silence until then, but this brought an exclamation of amazement from her.

"Now I know I've shocked you," She said dryly, as he withdrew a cigarette and lit it with her lighter. Taking an experimental drag, he screwed up his face in disgust. "Give it here," Karen told him, resisting the urge to laugh at his discomfort. Handing her the cigarette, he sat back down on the sofa.

"It must be thirty-five years since I had a cigarette," He told her thoughtfully. Then, seeming to remember why he'd lit up in the first place, his attention returned to Karen. "What made you start doing this?"

"It's a bit hard to explain," She said, taking a long drag of the cigarette.

"I'm not going anywhere," He told her, determined to get some answers.

"The first time I did it, was the day of Henry's funeral. It wasn't a conscious decision, but I felt as though I was suffocating, when I'd returned from dropping Barbara and Nikki back at the prison. I think I was hyperventilating, but instead of looking for anything resembling a paper bag, just like any sensible ex-nurse ought to have done, I poured an enormous glass of scotch, as though that could sort out all my problems. My hands were shaking and I dropped the glass. John, I really didn't decide to do this, it just felt right, something I did almost automatically."

"What were you thinking when you did it?" John asked, her assertion worrying him greatly.

"I kept thinking of that day when I went to the clinic, when I saw his body, when I saw what he'd done to himself. John, letting out some of that pain, it allowed me to cry, something I'd been finding virtually impossible for fear that I wouldn't be able to stop. Doing that, it made the pain physical rather than emotional, and just for a little while, it leaves me feeling entirely empty, which really is a blessed relief sometimes. I do know that I can't keep doing it, and I'm certainly not stupid enough to think that it's a perfectly decent way of dealing with everything I feel, but for now, it's the only way I can get through it."

"You're beginning to sound just like George," John told her, the fear far too evident in his voice. "That's what she said, when I discovered what she was doing after Charlie was born. She told me that it was her way of coping, her way of keeping some sense of sanity in her life. Karen, cutting yourself, it's just as self-destructive as anorexia or alcoholism."

"I know," She told him regretfully. "And I will come out of it eventually, but you need to give me time to do that."

When he left some time later, he put his arms round her, briefly holding her tightly to him, betraying the distinct need he had to protect her.

"I keep feeling that I really shouldn't be leaving you on your own," He admitted ruefully, softly kissing her cheek.

"John, I might currently be living right on the edge of things," She said into his shoulder. "But I'm not about to do what Ross did, because even as miserable as I feel now, I know what it would do to far too many people, you and George included. So please, try not to lose too much sleep over it."

"How can you be so matter-of-fact about it?" He asked in sheer wonder.

"Because I can finally understand what drives people like Denny, and Buki, and god knows how many others to do it," She replied philosophically. "Physical pain is something they can understand, and possibly because I spent some years of my life trying to cure it, I can understand it too. Emotional pain requires far too much self-exploration, a type of solo therapy that I don't think I've got the courage to face." Oh, the irony of it, John thought to himself as he slowly drove away. He seemed to think he had the courage to face therapy from someone else, yet Karen didn't have it to brave an internal dialogue with herself. How peculiar the world really was.

Part Thirty-Six

John spent most of Tuesday thinking about Karen when he wasn't in court, causing Coope to ask him more than once whether he was all right. He gave her any amount of evasive answers, but always his thoughts returned to the night before, when he'd uncovered those terrible scars, that showed just how much emotional pain she was really in. He couldn't believe she'd done that to herself, actually taken a razor-sharp edge to her beautiful skin, and carved patterns into her flesh like some macabre type of art. But when the time eventually came for him to drive to the clinic for his next appointment with Helen, John almost thought that this time, it might actually do him good. He needed to talk about Karen, because he needed a sounding board to try to organise his own feelings on what she had done.

"You look very on edge this week," Helen said as she closed the door of the consulting room behind them.

"I am," He replied dismally, sinking gratefully into a chair.

"Is this because of what we talked about last time, or something else?"

"I need to talk about something that almost certainly isn't on your agenda," He told her, wondering how she would feel to digressing this once.

"I don't really have a strict agenda as such, Judge," She told him, sitting down in a chair opposite. "I just go with the responses you give me, or more likely the lack of them. What's happened?"

"I suspect this is going to be as much of a shock to you as it was to me, in fact I probably oughtn't to be telling you at all. I went to see Karen last night, because I hadn't seen her for a while, and I naturally wanted to see how she was doing."

"You hadn't seen her since you slept with her at the conference, had you?" Helen astonished him by saying.

"How do you know I did?" John asked with a slight laugh.

"I'm not stupid, Judge," Helen told him firmly. "I've got eyes, and so has Nikki."

"All right, no, I hadn't seen her since the conference. I think we managed to clear the air about that, which was definitely something we needed to do. Helen, I, erm, I discovered that she's started harming herself."

"Oh, no!" Helen exclaimed, sounding genuinely distressed. "How long has she been doing it?"

"Since Henry's funeral. At least that's what she told me. I think she's been cutting her arm on a regular basis ever since."

"What was your initial thought, when you saw what she'd done?" Helen asked him, realising that he might be tempted to use this to draw her attention away from him and onto someone else.

"Horror, disbelief, anger, you name it," John told her ruefully. "I didn't want to believe what I was seeing. Karen is a very attractive woman, and it hurts me terribly that she could do something so horrific to herself."

"Judge, can I make a tentative suggestion?"

"This must be bad if you're asking my permission," John replied dryly.

"You decided to start coming to see me, exactly one week after we came back from that conference. You have also so far avoided telling me precisely why you made that decision. Am I so far off the mark, as to be wrong, if I suggest that whatever happened between you and Karen, was what prompted you to seek therapy again?" John regarded her thoughtfully. He ought to have known that she would work this out eventually, but that didn't mean he wanted to reveal all to her by any means.

"You are half right," He admitted eventually. "Though not entirely. Sleeping with Karen, brought quite another problem into being, and it was that which prompted me to come and see you."

"Stop talking in riddles, Judge," Helen admonished him gently. "Start by telling me what was so catastrophic about sleeping with Karen." John looked extremely uncomfortable. If there was one thing he really didn't want to do, that was to tell Helen either what had happened with Karen, or what that had caused to happen with him. "It won't be anything I haven't heard before, you know," Helen told him with a slight smile, seeing that this was something he wasn't remotely eager to discuss.

"This isn't something I want to tell you," John said evasively, wanting to buy himself as much time as possible.

"I can see that," Helen replied encouragingly. "Tell me why you don't want to talk about it."

"I am, somewhat ashamed of it," He said regretfully, refusing to meet her eyes.

"That's often part of what therapy is all about," She told him matter-of-factly. "Coming to terms with things that you wish you hadn't done. So, try thinking of yourself as being at confession for once." Helen didn't know where this simile had come from, but she knew it to be the correct one in this man's case.

"That last night at the conference, I pursued Karen out onto the balcony, because I could see she was clearly looking for some company. I don't think I'd ever forgotten what it had been like to sleep with Karen that first time, almost two years before."

"Yeah, she did tell me about that at the time," Helen put in.

"Women really do talk about everything under the sun, don't they," John replied resignedly.

"Pretty much, yeah," Helen agreed with a smile.

"She, erm, she wanted me to be rough with her," John said quietly, his skin crawling with the fact that he'd actually agreed to it and gone through with it. "She said that she didn't want to have any time to think, because if she did, she knew she wouldn't enjoy it. I, very stupidly, thought I knew precisely what that entailed, but I didn't. I had absolutely no idea just how much I would come to loathe myself for doing it. I've never felt anything quite so incredible, but when I saw what I'd done to her, it terrified me." John had got into his stride by this time, and he seemed wholly unable to stop, as though this confession had been burning to escape from him for quite some time. "She was covered in bruises, bruises that I swear I hadn't meant to give her. Never, in the last forty years of sleeping with women have I ever been remotely violent towards anyone. I felt..." He stopped, not entirely sure how to explain it. "I felt very similar to Fenner." Helen's eyes widened at this, and she stared at him in utter disbelief.

"Don't forget, I know only too well what Fenner was like," Helen told him firmly. "So I doubt very much that you would ever do what he did to anyone. I can't say that with absolute certainty, because I don't know you in that way."

"Karen told me that I shouldn't feel like that," He said a little sheepishly. "But I couldn't help it."

"And she knows more about Fenner's behaviour than the rest of us," Helen said sympathetically. "So if she doesn't think you raped her, you can rest assured that you didn't. That's what terrified you, wasn't it, Judge." Her use of the title Judge, combined with the possibility of such a crime, hit him in quick succession. When he seemed unable to answer, she said, "What made you feel that that's what you'd done to her?"

"I... I couldn't have stopped, even if she'd begged me to stop. It was as though my body had completely taken over."

"So, it was the loss of that iron hard control you're so fond of that frightened you."

"Yes, something like that," He replied. "I couldn't understand why I'd both loathed and enjoyed it. Karen tried to convince me that it wasn't wrong to have enjoyed it, but part of me still couldn't accept what I'd allowed my body to do."

"Control means an awful lot to you, doesn't it, Judge."

"Control of my feelings, certainly," He agreed with her. "It's a necessary part of my job, to keep any feelings I might have with regards to a case, well and truly under wraps. Emotions do not belong in a court room, at least not on the part of the judge."

"Why do you think that is?"

"Because if the judge had any feelings either way on a case, he or she would be bound to act accordingly when it came to sentencing," John told her, as if that should have been obvious.

"Don't give me some law textbook reason for it," Helen said with a smile. "Tell me what it means to you."

"If I allowed myself to become emotionally involved with a case," John said slowly, as though he hadn't previously considered this so thoroughly. "I would probably ask even more questions than I already do, driving every barrister in the vicinity to absolute distraction, which I'm told I often accomplish without even trying. But I know that if I began to care too much about the victims, or the defendants, I wouldn't be able to leave the case behind, when it was time to move onto something else. Some time last year, there was a case involving a prostitute who had witnessed someone being murdered. Jo virtually begged me to allow the witness to give evidence via a video link to preserve her anonymity, but I refused, saying that I wasn't willing to go back on my principle of holding a thoroughly open and honest trial. The night after this witness gave evidence against the three men in the dock, she was killed. I felt almost unbearably guilty. She had died, purely and simply because I had made the wrong decision. Jo was so angry with me, because she'd done everything possible to urge me to allow this witness to remain anonymous. If I had done, if I had listened to Jo and just for once abandoned one of my principles, she wouldn't have been killed."

"How did you eventually get past that?" Helen asked gently, seeing that this had greatly affected John when it had happened.

"Threw myself into another case, tried desperately to convince myself that even though she was dead, justice still prevailed. But I questioned every decision I made after that for quite some time."

Heartily wishing for a cigarette, Helen finally brought out a theory that had been nagging at her for a while.

"What you said, about not getting too emotionally involved with a case, because you won't be able to leave it behind you, that's also how you think about women, isn't it."

"Erm, yes, I suppose so," John admitted grudgingly, never having had his attitude to women spelt out quite so starkly. "I can't afford to become attached to any random fling I might pick up, because if I did, I'd never be able to move on and forget them. Jo and George are the only two women I am prepared to be in effect emotionally bound to, yet I can't help occasionally finding the chase and the seduction of a perfect stranger, far too tempting."

"What is it about picking up a stranger that makes you unable to stop doing it?" Helen asked.

"Women deserve nothing less than to be expertly and sensitively handled," John said almost reverently. "Any woman who catches my attention, is to some extent, asking for the best of anything I can give her. That makes me feel incredibly privileged, that I have the opportunity to make a woman writhe in total ecstasy if at all possible."

"You mean it gives your ego an enormous boost to give a woman pleasure," Helen said for him.

"Yes," He said with a smile.

"It's interesting," Helen said slowly. "Because the way you speak about women, is the way I would also expect you to speak about the attention you give to a case. Both cases and women deserve to be expertly and sensitively handled, and they both deserve the absolute maximum of your attention. Do you have any idea why you think like that about two very different things?"

"None whatsoever," John said blandly, not altogether sure whether or not he liked this comparison.

"Do something for me," Helen said on a whim. "Think about that for next time." Agreeing that he would, John eventually left, feeling slightly less unhinged than he had on the previous two occasions, though knowing this was because she hadn't actually stumbled on precisely why he had sought therapy from her in the first place. He dreaded the day when she would drag that out of him, because he wasn't stupid enough to think she wouldn't. He couldn't help thinking that Helen Wade was really far too astute for her own good.

Part Thirty-Seven

John had intercepted both Jo and George as they were chatting together in the grand foyer of the Old Bailey. He was a bit hesitant in making his request but eventually, as he drew close, they both saw him out of the corners of their eyes and turned their heads in his direction. He blurted out the first words that came off the top of his mind in an unusually gauche fashion.

"I would be grateful if you could help me with some shopping."

George gave John a severe look and addressed him sternly.

"Are you seriously telling me that you are acting the helpless man at your time of life and wanting us to plod round the supermarket and that your keen incisive mind cannot distinguish between one wretched make of baked beans and another and that women have that superior mystical facility?"

"No no, nothing like that."

Jo and George exchanged puzzled glances, John had been pretty self-sufficient so why, after all these years did he want their help?

"You had better spit it out, John."

"Oh, hello, Neumann," George turned her head, smiling glassily and waving at the man. "See you in court tomorrow. May the best woman win."

Neumann Mason-Alan had the ill luck to cross swords with her on a court case. Everyone had their good days and others when their grip was more uncertain. He observed gloomily to himself that George was in scintillating form and she had tripped him up continually while he had stumbled through his cross examination of the accused.

John looked a little sheepish in view of the other barristers who flitted past, their heels clicking sharp sounds on the chequerboard flagstones.

'I could really do with some help in choosing a bed for my new flat. I want to make sure it is up to the task," He murmured under his breath.

A lascivious smile spread across George's face and Jo grinned likewise. Perhaps they had a vested interest in the matter after all.

"Oh, why didn't you explain, John?" They chorused. "Oh well, we'd better get going."

Presently, they arrived at the furniture shop of their choice. The very fastidious salesman raised his eyebrows as another customer or possibly three entered his shop. He was very proud of the expensively priced superior range that he sold. Let the run of the mill tat be sold by the supermarket chains. He studied the body language of the middle-aged man and two attractive women. They were smartly and properly dressed and had that air of money about them. They appeared to know each other and there were possibly two beds

if not three that could be sold.

"Can I help you, sir?" he smarmed in his best style.

"Could I have a look round first?" he said politely in a definitely posh voice.

"Perhaps you two ladies could do with some assistance?" he probed.

The taller of the two women drew level with the man

"Oh we're fine, we're..we're just helping him out."

The man was very inquisitive and nosy. He wanted to know everything about everyone else's lives and this irritating woman had blocked him off.

"Take all the time you want. If you want any help. Pray ask me."

Fortunately, a few customers were starting to come into the shop and he devoted his attentions to them instead although he kept a sharp eye on the trio who had moved to the end of his shop.

John ran an eye over the standard sized double beds and ruled them out straightaway.

"These definitely won't do," Agreed George.

A young couple entered the shop next, the woman proudly displaying a glistening engagement ring but, as yet, no wedding ring. They were so obviously in love and only had eyes for themselves.

John's restless eye looked at the corner of the shop just as the traditional middle aged married couple started to move away from it. To the woman's practiced eye, it would take up too much space to allow the bedside corner tables to fit in properly. She propelled him away just in time for John to gaze at it and feel the springiness of it. It looked as if it would suit his purposes just right.

"It is the right size, John." Jo commented, visually comparing it with her own double bed.

While the assistant was selling his smiles by the minute to the middle aged couple, he deduced that the taller woman and the man must be married or something.

John grinned expansively in his totally show off fashion, blithely ignoring the assistant and the assorted people who were coming into the shop and pretending not to look at the three of them. He had an irresistible impulse to act in the way that impulse prompted him. He sat on the bed, basking in the comfort

"Take that look off your face, John. I know very well what you are thinking," hissed George in the most conspicuous stage whisper imaginable for all the shop to hear.

John bounced gently on the bed, just imagining what sexual acrobatics he, Jo and George might perform and calculating just how much space that it allowed the two women without falling off either side of the bed. It looked as if the bed fitted his specifications exactly and he was possessed by that craving to possess this bed before anyone else could get there first. Jo sighed inwardly at the tell tale glitter in his eye which revealed his feelings naked before her even if the rest of the shop was oblivious to it.

"The bed looks ideal, doesn't it?" John teased.

"The rest of the shop are looking at us," George whispered to him, though a part of her was making similar calculations.

"If you're happy with the choice, you'd better snap it up. If I might say, I think you've made the right choice," Jo observed judiciously, with a smirk playing at the corner of her lips.

"Do you think we ought to look at some of the other beds? I mean, you don't settle for the first thing you see. There might be better beds elsewhere."

John groaned inwardly. This was a distinctly female touch that threatened to take over and that was to be dissatisfied with the shop altogether, try every bedding shop in town, finally conclude that this bed was the best choice and bemoan their fates and apportion blame for the mischance everywhere but themselves. When he said 'help him choose a bed' he meant encourage him to buy the first bed he liked. Whatever on earth did they think otherwise?

"I'm sure that this shop will satisfy our needs," John said firmly and decisively and one split second later, regret his words as he had given the game away. George averted her head, grinning at John's obvious slip up.

A potential sale in the offing. These three aren't window shoppers after all, only bent on window shopping, fantasizing and departing, exclaiming that he had a wonderful selection of beds, promising to come back next day when they had made up their minds and never hearing from them again.

John made his way back to the assistant and caught his attention while Jo and George tried to look inconspicuous and fade into the background.

"I think I'll take that bed. It is admirably suited," He exclaimed, trying to look as if he was the only one whose needs should be satisfied. He did the necessary paperwork while the nosier shoppers readjusted their guesses as to the relationships between the three, if any. It was not until they strolled out of the shop, obviously happy and excited that the assistant began to bridge the speculative gap between situation and conclusion.

It was a few days later, on Saturday that John was able to say farewell to the digs, which had served him comfortably. He would miss the pleasant, old-fashioned surroundings but concluded that it was time to move on. After all, he had been that sort of 'moving on' man all through his life, from when he first left home to go to boarding school and in his very complex relationships.

He had selected a flat in the exclusive Holland Park area of London, just outside the more down market, cosmopolitan Shepherd's Bush. It was the entire first floor of a large white painted Georgian block that ran the length of the street and curved slightly in line with the road. It was very tall, from the ground floor basement with five floors altogether and a communal back garden. What attracted him was both the sweeping balcony and the flight of steps, which led proudly up from the wide tree lined street and up to the large, black imposing front door. One look and a quick tour round the half furnished flat convinced him that the flat was his especially as, best of all, it would accept dogs. It should be his. It was his by right of rental agreement once he had shot out and cemented the deal.

He had had a harassing Friday evening and early Saturday morning boxing up all his possessions ready for the removal van. His beloved Strad and his CD collection would travel in the back of his car. He said his formal goodbyes to the other members of the judiciary who had visions of peace and tranquility returning to the dignity of their calling.

He was off on the open road, well another part of London anyway.

He pulled his car up behind the van to go in and handle the directions as to where the furniture would go. Once in the flat, he was struck how large and spacious it was. The ceilings seemed to be about twelve feet off the ground in pristine white. The front hall was a worthy prelude to the other rooms. The spacious front living room, bare of furniture opened out to the wide balcony, which had struck him before when he had visited it. It had an elevated position to take in the whole sweep of the elegantly uniform street whose perspective was entirely different from the pygmy perspective from the street. It would soon be filled by his large bureau desk by the window, his bookcases, along the walls, elegant settee in the center of the room and soft lights. This would be the antechamber, both in time and place, for his bedroom in which, pride of place was the king-size bed. His spirits rose when he contemplated the ardent nights of sexual passion that would be in store for him, unencumbered by any prying eyes of agents of the LCD.

The removal men were relieved that the posh bloke was polite and considerate and gave clear instructions where to set the furniture. None of this fussy hectoring demands to put the settee down exactly so as sometimes they had the ill luck to be saddled with. In no time at all, everything was in place and they were able to shift off back to the depot.

With enormous satisfaction, John got his prized books out of the boxes and arranged them on the shelves and likewise, the CD's, plugged in his computer and got the front room to his satisfaction. He turned his attention next to the kitchen behind the bedroom with the large oak table in the center of the room and all the appliances which he was at home with. A mug had been left out on the units by the last tenant, which he filled, to the brim with water. It had been an energetic day and it was most refreshing. In the corner of the house, a small bedroom housed a single bed. It would be a spare room in case Charlie wanted to stop over. Even though she was at university, there must be a place for her as of right should she want it. It had ever been that way from after he and George split up and, in another flat, there was another Charlie's room. Finally, there was his large bedroom and the tasteful furnishings were the perfect expression of his own tastes in every respect. The flat was there to be filled with by the presence of his forceful, many-sided personality and the local pub round the corner, a valuable center of a social life.

As he sat back in contemplation, a flood of memories surged back. He remembered how he had been plucked out of Birmingham and had gone to boarding school when he was little. That was no life for anyone who wanted their own space where everything intruded, nothing was private and the echoing chorus of other voices was all around him in the dormitory, which was his very tenuous home. He had learnt to speak a foreign language, a languid self assured tones, that of the class that was born to both rule the nation and also to serve it ,or so the Christian prayers repeatedly told him. Life was an upward move from one institution to another. Next, memories of the house he lived in with George flitted across like some ground mist and was gone like his marriage, then his previous flat where he had brought up Charlie, then the digs and finally, his very first place of his own at the somewhat belated age of mid fifties. Someday the restless rolling stone would come to rest but what peace and tranquility finally meant, he really was at a loss to know.

Part Thirty-Eight

It had always fallen to the Julies to take on responsibility for the little treats and comforts of prison life. Many years ago, one of their kinder gestures had been in smuggling in a plastic bag full of cigarettes and chocolates to where Nikki was banged up in segregation after the row over Carol Byatt's miscarriage. A regular one was in commemorating birthdays. Somehow, it was the two of them that remembered them and organized everything. Anyone else could have done it but it took their very special kindness, thoughtfulness and memories to do it. Somehow, it was an accepted feature of prison life to leave it to the Julies. When Nikki took over as wing governor, she needed no familiarization tour of G Wing to be briefed as to some of the idiosyncrasies of prison life. Some she knew to be as she remembered them. The rest, she learnt as she went along.

It was Monday, November 7th when the Julies were closeted in their cell. Julie Saunders was lazily twirling her favourite biro with the green plastic spiky decoration at the end. She was deep in thought wondering if she should write a letter to her David. The vision of him grew vague, the way she had last seen him at his school concert. How proud she was of him. He sounded like a real actor, dead posh, dead confident and that glow in his eyes. A wave of depression overtook her when she realized how long ago that was. He must be a man now and she was dead scared to think of that. What could she possibly write to him that would mean anything? A bitter thought struck her that if he could only intermittently appear in her thought like some dream, how could she think she had the right to think any more often of her? He had his life to live. He had done it for so many years by now, too many. It got her down and, what made it worse that even Julie didn't realize what she was thinking. She stared into space thinking for something to take away the pain of separation.

Nikki was getting increasingly worried about Karen. It was something in the way that she refused to look her in the eye. Anyone would think that she was trying to pry into her private life and this was the last thing she ever wanted to do, with anyone she was in any way close to. She had always known Karen as a strong, resilient reliant woman and also as the governing governor and one time experienced wing governor. When she had started her job, she had looked up to Karen despite her superb act of being perfectly in control. Only Karen had known just how much sheer nerve and inventiveness had got her through and that was because she'd been there. It was five months since she had started her job and she had become more relaxed in her exercise of authority. For these reasons, it disturbed her to see the way that Karen had steadily declined despite her outward show of command. It was nothing but years on the job that had enabled her to hold her own. At some of the wing governor's meetings she had chaired, it had been touch and go that she would manage to hold the reins of the meeting together. She came to a sudden decision as she finished off her last cigarette. She resolved to casually drop by for a chat and, depending on how the land lay, express her concerns to her more directly. It hardly crossed her mind that other, more experienced wing governors could talk to her. It might as well be her as anyone else so therefore it was up to her to act.

"Hi Nikki, I'm afraid that I haven't heard any more news about the increase in the budget allocation for your education projects," Karen said without Nikki having broached the question. "I thoroughly agree that we have an uphill job in drugs education for new inmates after the damage has been done but getting funding out of the Home Office is like trying to get blood out of a stone."

"But it's obvious. Prevention is better than cure. Are those bureaucrats at the Home Office for real?" exploded Nikki in exasperation.

"Nikki, Neil is one of those bureaucrats. He works bloody hard to fight our corner, don't you understand?" Karen retorted with an unusual degree of exasperation before the echoes of her own anger spoke back to her. She didn't want to admit it but a lot of her anger was directed at herself and she felt guilty at having taken it out on Nikki. The emotional scars felt all too real in the half healed cut lines underneath her white blouse, underneath her smart business suit. "I'm sorry, I shouldn't have talked to you like that."

"There's me opening my big gob again," Nikki answered lightly, trying to raise a smile out of Karen but, worryingly to her, without success. "I ought to have thought. I mean, I wouldn't care to have his job for all the tea in China."

Karen gazed sightlessly without a response for a couple of minutes while Nikki hung back waiting for Karen to reply. She didn't want to crowd her but she felt that she was making the opposite mistake.

"So, I'll hang fire about the funding till I hear from you, right?" Nikki asked brightly.

"Sure," Karen replied vaguely, fuzzily after a distinct pause.

"Karen, are you all right?" Nikki asked impulsively before adding softly and soothingly. "It's just that you really don't sound that well and as a friend, you know me well enough that I'd love to help out where I can."

Karen's expression hardened momentarily as her pride was being challenged by Nikki's well-meaning words. The expression of soft concern was manifestly there in Nikki's large brown expressive eyes and she had to make some kind of gracious response, smiling nicely as she did.

"There's nothing I can't deal with. If there's anything that needs dealing with, I've spent a lifetime having to cope with it myself but thank you for asking, Nikki."

"Right, OK, I'll be on my way and let you have space to yourself."Nikki replied, nervously getting to her feet, her expressive hands moving restlessly. "See you around, Karen."

"See you, Nikki." Came the automatic response. She immediately regretted Nikki's absence from her empty office a few seconds after she left. She craved isolation and separation but she also needed some emotional warmth. The story of her life, she reflected bitterly. The only positive thing she could point to was that the bottle of whisky on the shelf at the back of her had remained a quarter full for the past fortnight. A brutally honest voice within her told her that it was because she had been too emotionally numb to even reach for anything even alcoholically warming.

"Hey, Ju. It's Babs's birthday. November the ninth. Four days after Fireworks night. I always remember it that way," Julie Saunders suddenly exclaimed, her mind in free association mode as she twirled her biro.

"So what day's today?" Julie Johnson asked in a vague tone of voice.

"The seventh." Julie Saunders muttered through gritted teeth. One day followed another in the nick but to her way of thinking that was no excuse.

"Bloody hell, so it is." Came the quite unnecessary reply.

"We got to do something for Babs, her being on her own for the first year since the vicar died. Do you think she would want a party?"

The dawning light across their faces was the precursor to a full-blown scheme.

The early morning knock on the door had woken Barbara up to just another day. It was her birthday tomorrow, she remembered gloomily and without enthusiasm. The last three or four years had seen real ups and downs in how happy a birthday could be from the best to the worst. These ranged from when she was in Larkhall last time around to the previous year when her dear Henry was alive. That had been a blissful event, safe and secure together in that cosy vicarage, complete with the neatly kept flowers and rose bushes. In the first flush of their love as two middle-aged romantics, they had a tendency to retreat into a magical world of their own. After a topsy turvy life of three marriages, it was no surprise that she had wanted to surrender to a deep, long lasting commitment where neither of them had held anything back except life itself. As those words crept into her waking thoughts, a trickle of tears ran down her face. She had been a devout Christian all her life but at times like these, God's purpose for her seemed deeply perplexing and cruel, if not perverse. She knew all the litanies about enduring suffering uncomplainingly and never giving up hope but first thing in the morning as the cold air cut through the bare cell and froze her breath on the air. The cell was so small and bare when compared with her bedroom in the vicarage. Alas, she would be fated to never returning to that paradise or that church. She would become a stranger to what had been once the centre of her world. At that moment, she silently prayed for deliverance, even just for that moment in time.

Deliverance came through the door in the form of the Julies. Barbara turned over in her narrow cramped bunk, a million miles away from her wide comfortable, homely double bed that she had shared with Henry. They both wore wide smiles in their faces.

"Who's going to be the birthday girl, sorry woman, tomorrow?" they chorused.

"I'm sorry, Julies, but my birthday is hardly something that I want to celebrate, more like something to mourn. Henry for instance." She replied stiffly. She couldn't be angry with them as they meant so well. They both had hearts of gold but her spirits refused to respond to their good intentions.

"Oh don't be like that, Babs.We know how you're missing your Henry but you're a Christian, like, ain't you?" Julie Johnson's soft voice coaxed persuasively.

"So what of it?"

"Don't the Bible say something about counting your blessings and that Jesus was all positive, something about looking on the bright side of life."

"That was 'Life of Brian' not the bleeding Bible," Julie Saunders whispered out of the side of her mouth, accompanied by an elbow in the ribs, at the theological inaccuracies.

"Oh, well he ought to have said it," Came Julie Johnson's best dizzy blonde response.

There was something inimitable in the delightful absurdity of the Julies inimitable double act that made Barbara start to grin slightly, despite the way that the determination of her depression tried to hold her back. They were right too, in their fashion. If their views had been heard in theological college, they would have raised a few eyebrows from most earnest students, all except her dear Henry. She felt him smiling down on them all. He would have understood.

"You've got something in mind, haven't you?"

What showed vividly in her facial expression was Julie Saunders wariness in wondering whether or not their brilliant idea would go down in the cold light of day. She paused before eventually replying and crossing fingers behind for luck behind her back.

"Quick, Ju, into Miss Betts' office while it's quiet. She's off down the wing."

Their sharp eyes had observed the pattern of Karen's daily movements and knew them like clockwork, better than she did. As a result, the two of them, complete with their convenient alibis of buckets and mops, sneaked inside. They looked desperately round at the room. It looked far too large with too many drawers, cupboards until their eyes spotted the bottle. Not too much left, they thought, so she wouldn't miss it.

"Nick it fast and leg it."

Julie Johnson stuffed it into a bag and they shot out the door before they could be spotted. So far, so good.

"You're right, Nikki," Karen admitted as they went back to her office. "I've let everything slide a bit. I wouldn't admit it earlier as I didn't want to face it but I've got to face the future some time."

What Karen had in mind was her job. That was something to which she could discipline her mind and escape into that conveniently large part of her waking life. Nikki was not to know the special restricted meaning of her words and was overjoyed at thinking that Karen had turned the corner at last.

"We ought to have a quick drink to that."

"I've still got the dregs of a bottle of whisky which I haven't touched," She answered as she half turned her head. Nikki looked on, slightly puzzled at the shelf which contained nothing but dusty volumes. "At least, I did have it."

"Isn't it Barbara's birthday?"Nikki questioned from out of the blue in a totally unrelated fashion. The little desk calendar had helpfully spelled out the date for her and the stray memory shot into her mind.

"Do you think we ought to visit Barbara to wish her a happy birthday? Where will she be right now?" It was the first time for a long time that Nikki had seen a faint amused smile at the corner of Karen's lips. It lit up her whole face, in contrast to the anxious strained woman who Nikki had worried over.

"The Julies cell. Where else?"

It was that mellow, comfortable part of the evening before lockup. The Julies had tipped off Denny and Tina and the five of them made a nice family type get together. They had already presented her with one of their very stylized birthday cards, which cheered Barbara up with the lovely thoughts expressed.

"And seeing as this day is real special, we've got a nice little treat. Fill up your mugs, girls."

They giggled freely with that atmosphere of a midnight feast in a girl's boarding school. The spirits went straight to their heads and everything was seen in a warm, generous glow as the drink loosened their tongues. Barbara peered benevolently at the world through and sometimes over her trademark black rimmed glasses. She was happy for the present. Suddenly, the official tread could be heard by the Julies' sharp ears.

"Quick. Hide the booze." Came Julie Saunders' voice of command.

Denny grabbed the bottle, twisted the cap on tight and stuffed it under the topmost bunk bed just before Nikki and Karen put their heads round the door.

"We thought we'd come by and wish Barbara a happy birthday."

"Yeah, right miss."

"You're welcome, man."

Denny's unmistakable greeting capped Julie Saunders uncertain response. To her alcohol-relaxed mind, Nikki and Karen were just two more women dropping in for the party. Why else were they there if they hadn't dropped in for that reason? Stands to reason. They're both cool.

Nikki's sharp eyes took in the greater amount of frivolity than normal and it gave her a most peculiar sort of twisted déjà vu feeling. It was only a few years ago that they were all here plus Crystal and Zandra and they were toasting Zandra out of some smuggled in miniature bottles of spirits. Dockley was here as well but that cow was just mouthing off, shit stirring it between Barbara and everyone else. Nikki blocked off that little ploy, then Barbara and Zandra finished off by telling her to piss off, that she wasn't welcome. It was just then that one of the friendlier screws popped his head round the door and asked what was going on while they played it all innocent. She saw Dominic's intent gaze flick past where that tart Dockley had stashed one of those miniatures that the most obvious place imaginable. With intense relief, she heard him give them 'one hour max.' for the rest of the party. It restored her faith that Helen wasn't the only good screw around. She blinked her eyes, which dispersed the nostalgic mists, which clouded her sight. She was the Wing Governor now. She wore the smart suit and not her usual T-shirt and jeans. It was obvious to her what she should do and say and not as the case may be.

"It feels like old times round here. I've fond memories of this room and some things don't change, not really." Nikki's soft tones reflected all the warmth of her personality, the way she wore her heart on her sleeve. All the other prisoners were carried back in time and remembered. Karen looked on. She wished she could let her feelings flow out of her so naturally as Nikki did.

" We're really glad that you're enjoying yourself, Barbara and you've got good friends to celebrate your birthday with," Karen added.

They chatted awhile, Nikki and Karen standing straight as they were comfortably sprawled around on the beds. There was a difference between them but all of them could push that to the back of their consciousness.

"Well, Nikki and I have got to be going but enjoy yourselves on us."

Denny nearly spat out a little of her spirits in her mouth. Karen spoke truer words than she knew, or did she?

"Think they noticed the booze?" Tina asked. She thought that they hadn't sounded too pissed, just happy.

"Course they noticed it. What do you think?" Denny retorted. Tina was dead nice but sometime she could be a bit backward. "Come on. Who's for a refill?" she asked, making a grab for the bottle. A row of grinning faces was enough answer and lockup was a drink or two away.

"Well, I did think I ought to cut down on my drinking. Couldn't say the same about smoking or my life would be one big misery."

"Don't even think about that one." Shuddered Nikki with real feeling.

"They'll enjoy Barbara's birthday with my present which I didn't know I was going to give."

"It's all happened for the best. I suppose it could be worse."

"It was once, in a mildly outrageous way. To celebrate my promotion, the Julies got Gina and I stoned on hash cookies. Very interesting sensations, I must admit."

Karen had answered Nikki's vague philosophising in her best deadpan manner for best dramatic effect.

"They did?"Nikki asked rhetorically and unnecessarily as her face split from ear to ear in a huge grin. "Come on, Karen. Tell me all. What else have you been holding out on me?"

"Well, it happened this way…."began Karen in best storytelling mode. Telling this story would cheer Nikki up and possibly herself, at a pinch.

Part Thirty-Nine

Nikki had just signed off and slid her last file into her out tray when the self confident tread of approaching footsteps could be heard. Everyone had their own individual way of approaching her room, Nikki reflected, Di's oh so falsely polite double tap on the door, Dominic's firm controlled rap, Selena's formal single knock and, the exception, Gina's stride into her room a split second after her hasty token warning if she remembered.

This time, a thoughtful barely audible sound preceded Gina entering her room. She took her time to approach, clearly deep in thought and likewise, hesitated before speaking, totally unlike her normal brash style.

"The wing's fine, Nikki, if I watch out for that snake in the grass, Natalie Buxton, and don't give her any slack. You give her that and she'll wrap it round your neck and try to hang you with it," Began Gina in response to Nikki's polite greeting." Everything's straight down the line between us."

"Meaning?' interjected a smiling Nikki.

"She hates my guts and I hate hers. She knows I've got a nasty temper and she doesn't cross me."

Gina's bluntness was refreshing to Nikki. It made her feel comfortable.

"You've come for more than a social call though that's welcome enough."

Gina took the weight off her feet and stretched out comfortably in the chair opposite Nikki. She hesitated on how to express her thoughts till she resolved to cut out the shit and get to the point. Of all bosses, Nikki was very accommodating to her natural style.

"I don't want to be nosy but do you know what's been getting Karen down? You can tell something's not right when you see her around and that's not as much as it used to be. I've been meaning to ask you for months now."

Nikki sighed. She had become more preoccupied by the very same question.

"My trouble, Gina is that there's a lot that I don't know. I can feel it in my bones."

So Nikki thinks the same way as me, thought Gina with some small satisfaction. It

was so like her not to waffle but to get right to the point.

"Most of the other PO's will stick up for Karen as she's been around so long. They're worried and just want to know that she's taken care of. A couple of them will just love it. Problem is that they can go off on their own where nobody can catch up with them and land one on them."

Gina didn't have to mention names. Di and Bodybag would make up any sort of malicious gossip and spread it all around and undermine her authority.

"So is there anything you do know? If anyone's going to know what's going on, you will."

Where does she begin to start on this one? How can she put it into words? Of course, the easy explanation, the tragedy of her son committing suicide made it harder to see anything outside that glaring spotlight of illumination and easy explanation? Worse still, she was struggling at the limits of her capacity for understanding, as maternal loss was something she could only gauge as an intellectual proposition, not feel deep within her. That made her insecure and uncertain. All she had was a few throwaway comments by Karen, which hit on an intuitive nerve but nothing with which she could untangle the facts.

"I've talked to Karen a couple of times but she shuts me out. She's a great friend. She's fine when she's the one who's giving help but the world's worst at accepting it…."

"…she was a nurse once, Nikki." Cut in Gina who received a smile and nod in return.

"I really don't know but there's something there beyond the obvious. If there's anything there, I'll find it. I just need time as I can't, I won't crowd her……."

Nikki's eyes were focused far into the distant horizon as she meditated on the problem before the tone of her voice became brisker, more definite.

"……All we can do in the meantime is to back her up as best we can and just be there when she's ready. The only positive outcome was that she had told me that she knew that she had let things slide at work and she'll try and get better."

"Just keep me posted, Nikki."

"If I can, I will."

By the time she entered the flat, Nikki's mind was still focused on Karen and rerunning past conversations with her and she was getting nowhere. Helen was there already and she immediately picked up on Nikki's somber mood. It didn't take a psychologist to spot this.

"You look as if you've had a rough day, sweetheart." Helen called out to her from a distance before enfolding her in a warm embrace. She could feel the tension in Nikki's body.

"I've had worse…I've just got a lot on my mind right now."

The tough side of Nikki, which she reverted to, self protectively under pressure softened as Helen's questioning glance pierced through her. Living with Helen left no room for evasions let alone falsehoods even if she were so disposed. Helen's high intelligence and her profession kept that spotlight trained on her. It was just as well that Nikki found that hard clarity of illumination congenial to bathe in and both defined and centred her.

"So what's been bothering you?"

"Karen," Nikki said shortly, having taken the weight off her feet. "I've been worrying about her and I can't get to the bottom of it."

Helen's stomach lurched while on her face, her attempt at a reassuring smile was aimed mostly at Nikki but partly at herself. In a flash, she could see what was coming. She had always been fearful that her private life and her profession would become intermingled. She didn't feel safe and a feeling of blind panic started to well up inside her. She ran the tip of her tongue across her lower lip. An almost frightened look glinted in her eyes, which was not lost on Nikki, any more than the long silence.

"Helen, you do know something about this, don't you?"

"Why should I know any more than you? You work with her and I don't."

Nikki caught a sharp intake of breath. Fate was starting to place in her hands, the first building blocks out of the meaningless rubble. Helen had not been at her best the last week and, if her private life were excluded as a cause of this, then signposts pointed the answer at Helen's professional life with a clear straight pointed finger.

"Somehow, I get the feeling that you've picked up something at your therapy sessions which holds the answer or at least some sort of a clue."

Despite the slow almost stately delivery of her words, Nikki regretted what she had just said. She feared that that pressing concern for Karen had made her press Helen too hard. In her turn, the memory of Ross's death flashed into her mind and the echo of that impassioned diatribe which she had launched at John about bloody confidentiality.

'……….Do you realise, that if just once, either you or I had chosen to do what was morally right, rather than what was legally right, this might never have happened?…..Don't you feel any guilt, Judge?……..Don't you think that maybe this time, the law didn't know best? Because I can tell you that I sure as hell do…….This hiding things from her that she needs to know, ends whenever she begins to want answers, and that's not negotiable….'

Yes, she had said all that and had meant every word she has said. Helen found that living with Nikki meant that any double standards and hypocrisy in general utterly impossible as it would have totally compromised her. She had been professional and just look at the consequences. Just at the right time, Nikki gently laid her hands on Helen's shoulders.

"Look, Helen, I know just what it means to have professional responsibility. I have a duty of care to both prisoners and prison officers and to be totally fair to each and every one of them. It's hardest when I've known them before, liked some and hated others, yes even Sylvia Hollamby, god help me. I feel that sometimes I'm going against gut instincts. I pick up a lot of knowledge in the files that pass through my hands and no one else's. Keeping my mouth shut becomes far too easy and most times, it's the right thing to do."

"So if I were to give you information, given to me in strict confidence, am I being professional and exactly what would you do with it?"

Nikki bit her lip. The point delivered diamond hard in Helen's soft tones was a good one. She didn't know what she might get to hear and could easily regret it. Once she heard, there was no going back.

"You've got me there, Helen."

Nikki shrugged her shoulders, slipped her hands into her trouser pockets and paced awhile to collect her thoughts.

"The only justification I can come up with is that I've got a moral responsibility to Karen, as our friend. She's my boss as well and she's in charge of the whole prison, not just my wing. If there's anything that you know that explains just why Karen is seriously not in control of herself, in the last resort, and I mean last resort, I have to know. It's not that I

ever ask you about your patients, it's …."

"…….just this one time," Helen finished for her. "That sounds very glib and far too easy to say. That could be argued to be the thin end of a very dangerous wedge. Anyway, what will you do if I tell you? It's a heavy burden to bear."

"No heavier than it is for me. Anyway, I'm on the spot at Larkhall where we both work. I know I'm together and in control and Karen's barely hanging on by the skin of her teeth. If she does anything wrong and I know why she's feeling the way she feels, I can help her or stop her from making a mistake. I can't stand to watch helplessly from the sidelines, not knowing. Even if I have to just watch and wait, I'd sooner accept the responsibility. At least I'll know what to look for and I'd just have to keep my eyes and ears open. You think about it Helen. You would do the same if you were in my shoes."

Helen sank back into her armchair. She might have known in advance that she would have to surrender to Nikki's patient persuasion. She had temporised in conceding that she had private knowledge, which she was withholding. She could have denied all knowledge but she didn't. She could have stuck to her guns but she didn't, not at that moment. Nikki was a temptress inviting her to give way to what she wanted to do while appearing in the guise of a very well meaning, caring woman. Her fears shrieked at her that this was fatal but a contrary siren song sounded louder in her mind. It had happened that way before.

"All right, Nikki, I'll tell you but you make sure that you are sitting comfortably. You're going to need it."

"Sure, Helen. You're in charge."

Helen felt as if she were at the top of a high cliff, poised at the point of diving off the edge into the far below distant cool blue water. She took her courage or recklessness into her hands and jumped. The flight was crazily exhilarating.

"I found out that Karen has been self harming, Nikki."

Nikki's mouth opened wide and her eyes dilated with total shock. A kaleidoscope of very disturbing images came to her mind. Karen was just too healthy to break her skin with blood like that. It wasn't Karen, she cried out inside but a whispering voice of reason within her told her that it must be the truth. Too many disconnected memories were being forcibly, terribly connected together. She couldn't deny to herself that power of reason.

"How long?" she heard the faintly articulated words hang on the still air. They were hideously way off the mark from the central thrust of her intensely caring emotions.

"Since Henry's funeral. I was told that she had …it had happened on a regular basis since then."

The words 'Who told you this' jumped straight into her mind and by a hairbreadth, just failed to be expressed in words till she fought down the words. It did not matter who told Helen, only that it had happened.

"You didn't, I mean, you didn't find out why Karen was doing this terrible thing to herself. I mean she's so strong and so good. She couldn't be doing this sort of thing. I can't believe it, I won't believe it. I mean, she deserves better than this……..How in hell didn't I spot this one? I mean what in hell has happened to the sight I was given. I should have known. "

Helen let Nikki's outpouring of words of horror, pity and utter sympathy come to a halt before attempting an answer.

"I didn't get to ask how long." Helen answered. Her words sounded lame and trite. She ought to know. She was the strong-minded psychologist who was expert in enabling her patients to fashion the right words, thought processes and emotions to colour in a clear picture of themselves so that they could get along in this troubled world. It was another thing to come home, stripped of all her professional powers, everything except who Helen Wade was, with all her strengths and weaknesses.

The informant clearly wasn't Karen herself, Nikki concluded swiftly. She would never have left it at that with such sparse information.

It seemed an eternity later when darkness gradually crept over the room as both of them had gone through the whole gamut of emotions and words. No one thought to switch the light on. Helen felt curiously relieved that Nikki knew what was going on. The sense of sharing felt good to her and somehow reflected off distant memories. However, she had to start looking to the future. That strain in her seemed to keep her from enjoying the here and now yet at the same time, it was a useful if sometimes tiresome gift.

"So what are you going to do with my professional confidence," challenged Helen, as she clicked the light on, temporarily blinding both of them.

"As I said before, watch and wait. I'd tell Neil but only if it came to the last resort. You know that if I don't tell him when I should, he would never forgive me. He's a good friend of hers. You need friends like him…….."

"So what if any of the prison officers ask you?" Helen probed.

That stopped Nikki in her tracks. It was only a few short hours ago that both she and Gina had been innocently ignorant. That had changed just as Helen had predicted. There was no going back on what she had heard.

"Like I said, accept the responsibility with all it means. I've never broken my word and I'm not about to start now."

While Nikki's tough words left her lips, her mind whizzed rapidly at a dizzying pace. She would have to tell Gina that, yes she did know, but couldn't say as she was under the crumbling doubtfully believable authority of professional obligation. She laughed ironically to herself. These were deep waters and she would have to persuade Gina that she would watch and wait and trust her. It would almost be worse if Gina accepted her advice with that blind faith in her eyes. Nikki shivered inwardly as she was by no means sure if she could utterly trust such a gamble.

Part Forty

On the Thursday morning as Jo was in court, George decided to follow up on something they'd both been meaning to do for a while now. They were about as aware as they possibly could be of Kay Scarpetta's bad publicity, which was unfortunately a necessary part of dealing with such spineless, devious cretins as Brian Cantwell. But Kay was only one witness, a very important one, but still only one. Picking up the phone, George called their cardio thoracic expert.

"Tom, it's George Channing. Would it be convenient for me to come and see you this morning?"

"I don't see why not," Tom said thoughtfully. "I'm in theatre till eleven-thirty, but any time after that would be fine."

"I need to catch up with Zubin as well while I'm there," George explained. "Though it would probably be better if I could see you separately."

"This is all very cloak and dagger," Tom said amusedly.

"I'm on a mission to seek out any bad publicity about either of you, that the prosecution could make use of," She told him seriously. "So perhaps you might like to cast your thoughts deep into your past before I arrive."

"My bad publicity can be summed up in four words," Tom replied honestly. "But I'll wait to tell you about it till you get here. Come to St. Mary's Darwin Ward, fifth floor."

Later on that morning, George traversed the long, endless corridors of the hospital with a certain amount of interest. Whenever she usually met up with witnesses, it was in plush offices in the smarter districts of London. But this felt more real somehow, as though the people she was working with this time round, actually meant something to society, rather than simply making enough money to employ the likes of her. She lost count of the many signs and entrances she passed, eventually coming to one gesturing her to a lift. When she emerged into the hustle and bustle of Darwin ward, she made her way to where Tom was arguing with someone she didn't know, his scrubs liberally spattered with blood. Catching sight of her out of the corner of his eye, Tom gave her a lopsided smile.

"Welcome to the delightful world of cardio thoracics," He said, breaking off from his discussion with Will Curtis without a backward glance.

"You look like you've been busy," George told him dryly.

"It's been one of those days," Tom said ruefully. "Will you give me a minute to get out of these scrubs, and then I'll be with you." Telling Lisa to show George to his office, Tom turned on his heel and swiftly departed.

When he returned not long after, he was carrying two mugs of coffee, which he placed down on a corner of his cluttered desk.

"Two hours of very messy surgery, all because of someone who thought he was practicing for the grand prix, so the scheduled list gets pushed back even further than usual. Still, the patient appears to be holding his own so far, so I must be doing something right."

"What lured you into cardio thoracics in the first place?" George asked with a smile, as Tom sank down into the chair behind his desk, and took a grateful swig of the coffee.

"They say that all cardio thoracic surgeons have about as much arrogance as your average silk," He said, watching her as she sat opposite him. "Just as fighting in court allows you to show off your strengths, that is, I suppose, what heart surgery does for most of us. There isn't much that beats that utterly hedonistic buzz of piecing the main source of all human life back together. Christian Barnard really knew what he was doing when he performed the first heart transplant, because he knew that the ability to put life back into another human being would only ever grab the attention of the very best that the medical profession has to offer."

"You might remember some of that, for when we get you on the stand," George told him quietly, slightly in awe of the extent of his drive to succeed. "That will impress the jury far more than any bluster from the prosecution."

"You want to hear Zubin when he gets into his stride," Tom told her with a smile. "He's just as bad, only he usually focuses on what it does for him to be able to take someone's pain away. He doesn't teach as much as he does for nothing. You should go to one of his lectures, you might learn something."

"What I really came to talk about," George said after a short silence. "Is anything that the prosecution might find very interesting about you."

"I'm a recovering alcoholic," Tom told her, without the merest sign of shame or self-consciousness attached to it.

"Oh, right, I see," George replied, almost successfully hiding her surprise.

"Not something you'd expect to hear from a heart surgeon, I assume," Tom said with a wry smile at her slight discomfort.

"Perhaps not," She admitted sheepishly. "But we all have our skeletons, Tom."

"Hmm, perhaps we do," He replied thoughtfully, scrutinising every inch of her face, and wondering just what lay behind that mask she usually wore.

"How long have you been on the wagon?" She asked him, wanting to avoid his penetrating gaze, but finding it incredibly difficult to do so.

"Nearly three years," Tom said almost proudly.

"Well done," George said with a smile, thinking that this certainly wasn't any small achievement. "How public is people's awareness of this?"

"It's not something I try to hide," He told her matter-of-factly. "They all know I spent a little while at a drying out clinic, and a couple of them know that there was a time, when I couldn't go into theatre without a nip of scotch to keep me going. Drinking on duty, it's incredibly stupid, and extremely frowned upon for obvious reasons. But, I stopped drinking, got myself sorted out, so they let me come back to the only thing I've ever really wanted to do."

"Then there's really very little the prosecution can make of it," George said firmly. "They can try, and they probably will, but it won't amount to anything. Juries are funny things, they often have far more time for someone who can show that they've mended their ways, rather than someone who's lived a life entirely on the moral high ground."

"Oh, and what about the judge?" Tom asked in slight amusement.

"Believe me," George said with a light laugh. "Neither of the judges involved in this case, have any room whatsoever, to talk of morally suspect behaviour."

"Why two judges?" Tom asked, his curiosity again peaked by the slight anomalies of this case.

"They both know Barbara," George told him succinctly. "So, one will be overseeing the trial, and the other will sit as a winger."

A little while later, Tom led the way back downstairs, and towards the intensive care unit.

"You could get lost in this place if you're not careful," He told her.

"Did you tell him why I was coming?" George asked, as they passed through the hive of activity that was AAU.

"Yes," Tom replied, glancing over his shoulder at her. "And he didn't look all that happy about it. I wonder what he's got to hide." They eventually found Zubin in the ward office, scribbling notes on a pad with one hand, and holding the receiver of the phone in the other, firing off orders and recommendations as rapidly as possible. When he looked up and saw them, he gave George a quick nod of recognition before finishing his phone call.

"Sorry about that," He said, replacing the receiver. "But it's like Bedlam in here this morning."

"Are you sure this is convenient?" George asked, not wanting to intrude on his work.

"As long as it doesn't take long, it's fine," He told her, removing a pile of folders off a chair so she could sit down.

"I'll leave you to it," Tom said, tactfully retreating and closing the door behind him.

"Did Tom explain why I wanted to see the two of you?" George asked, thinking this as good a place as any to begin.

"Yes, but I wouldn't mind also hearing it from you," Zubin said a little testily.

"Knowing Kay Scarpetta as well as you do," She began carefully. "I'll assume that you are perfectly aware of most of the suspect publicity that surrounds her on a fairly regular basis."

"Yes," Zubin said regretfully. "Journalists have a lot to answer for."

"Quite," George agreed with him. "But Kay isn't our only witness. If I or Jo were prosecuting this case, or any case, we would look into the past and backgrounds of every witness we were to cross-examine. We will be doing this with Connie Beauchamp as well as anyone else they decide to use. I need to know, if there is anything, anything at all that the prosecution could use against you when they get you on the stand." There was a long, very tense silence. Zubin looked at anything in the little room but her, clearly wanting to maintain his cover for as long as possible. "I wouldn't be doing this if it wasn't absolutely necessary," George assured him, seeing just how difficult he was finding this. "And I can assure you, it won't be anything I haven't heard before." Hoping this was really true, she simply waited, giving him as much time as he needed to formulate an answer.

"I used to occasionally visit a prostitute," He said eventually, refusing to look at her.

"Okay," George replied, having wondered by his reticence whether it was something like this. "So, are we talking one regular prostitute, or several different ones?"

"One regular woman," Zubin told her shame facedly.

"And does this woman have a name?" George probed delicately.

"Why is that relevant?" Zubin asked, feeling that this had gone far enough.

"Because I would like to avoid her being snapped up by the other side," George told him succinctly. "Digging up a prostitute to tell him stories about you, is precisely the type of thing Brian Cantwell would do as a matter of course."

"And just how do you propose to find her?" Zubin asked belligerently. "Because I don't even know where she is now."

"You leave that to me," George told him, already having an idea about this. "Though just out of interest, why did you stop seeing her?"

"She turned up here as a patient, after a train crash. You could say that it made things somewhat awkward."

"Yes, I can see that," George said kindly. "Well, unless you have anything else to tell me, I can leave you to your patients."

As George drove away from the hospital, she couldn't help thinking that they really had picked a bunch of problems for witnesses. Oh well, she mused to herself, that was the name of the game these days. Professor Khan, a visitor of prostitutes though, that certainly wasn't something she'd expected. That brought her very neatly to the problem of how to track down this woman. Zubin had said that her name was Caroline Dewer, not that this meant anything to George. Who knew about how to find anybody anywhere? It had to be Yvonne. Scrolling down to Yvonne's number on her mobile, George phoned her as she sat at the traffic lights.

"Yvonne, it's George," She said when Yvonne answered.

"How's it going?" Yvonne asked, sounding pleased to hear from her.

"Interesting," George told her evasively. "There's something I'd like you to do for me if possible. Are you busy?"

"No, come on over. You're just in time for lunch."

When George drew up outside Yvonne's house, her eyebrows soared. Yvonne lived a matter of a couple of streets away from her, but her house looked to be about twice the size. When she rang the doorbell, she heard a muffled bark. When Yvonne opened the door, she was accompanied by Trigger.

"Come in," She said with a smile.

"What's his name?" George asked, holding out a hand for Trigger to sniff.

"Trigger," Yvonne replied fondly. "Charlie always had a thing for calling his dogs after the tools of his trade."

"Oh, god," George said with half a laugh, as the pieces slotted into place. "He's lovely." She scratched the dog behind the ears, and he leant his head against her thigh in utter contentment.

"I wouldn't have placed you for a dog lover," Yvonne said in slight amazement.

"My father's had dogs for as long as I can remember," George told her, following her into the kitchen. "Though he's usually preferred lurchers, or anything else he could take hunting or shooting with him." They ate cold chicken and salad, and Yvonne poured them some strong espresso coffee.

"So what is it you want me to do?" Yvonne asked, crunching on a piece of celery.

"I need you to find me a prostitute," George told her, and only then realised how this sounded.

"You can't be that hard up for it," Yvonne said with a laugh.

"No," George replied with a smile. "She's a previous acquaintance of one of our witnesses, and I need to make sure that she isn't going to leak anything dodgy about him to the other side. I'm asking you, because you have methods for finding people at your disposal, that would find me out of a job, not to mention disbarred."

"Are you asking me to break the law in order to find her?" Yvonne asked evenly.

"I would far rather you didn't," George said honestly. "But we do need this woman found. If this were anyone else, I wouldn't bother, but she is precisely the kind of person our prosecuting counsel would go looking for."

"Do we have a name?" Yvonne asked, feeling that old tug of curiosity to get into something new.

"Caroline Dewer," George told her. "And her client was Professor Zubin Khan. I'm told that he stopped seeing her, after she turned up as one of his patients at St. Mary's after a train crash. Professor Khan being the type of person he is, I wouldn't have thought..." George stopped, not entirely sure how to phrase what she wanted to say.

"...That she was just any old scrubber off the street," Yvonne finished for her.

"Something like that," George agreed. "He's very, fastidious, I suppose is the right word, and he wouldn't want to lower his standards more than necessary."

"I'll ask the Julies to start with," Yvonne replied, sounding business-like. "It's always possible they can give me a lead to one of their old friends."

When they'd both finished eating, they lit up cigarettes. Sitting down by George's chair, Trigger gazed up at her sorrowfully.

"He looks at most people like that," Yvonne said fondly, thinking of when this dog had met John and Mimi. George laid a hand on his enormous shaggy head, gently kneading him behind the ears. "He's getting old though, poor sod."

"I bet he missed Lauren when she was in prison," George observed, remembering how her father's dogs had always been delighted to see her when she'd returned from a term away at school.

"Yeah, he did. He always somehow knew when I'd been to see her."

"How's she getting on?"

"Fine," Yvonne said with a proud smile. "She's one of the few people for whom I can safely say prison actually worked."

Part 41

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