Read A Place of Safety Online

Authors: Natasha Cooper

Tags: #UK

A Place of Safety (6 page)

‘Oh, any red-brick graduate like me just loves hearing gossip about
proper
universities, Robert,’ she said, batting her eyelashes at him. Then she caught sight of the time. ‘Shit. I’ve got to go. Can we finish this later?’
She picked up the tidy pile of papers and slid it into the thick envelope, without looking back at Robert. He was still there. She could hear his breathing and smell the faint whiff of medicated shampoo that hung about his hair these days. At least it had stopped the flaking dandruff that had once made his shoulders look like a freshly dusted chocolate tart, but someone should have told him to rinse his hair more carefully if he didn’t want to smell like a chemist’s. Slapping the envelope into her briefcase, she added her laptop and moved to fetch her overcoat from the hanger behind the door.
‘Could you move, do you think? I really do have to go.’
‘Why? What’s so important? Some little domestic errand, I suppose, for that boy you’ve adopted. You want to be careful, Trish. Pseudo-maternity is blunting your edge and only the sharpest of the sharp get to do commercial cases with Antony Shelley.’
Trish turned to smile over her shoulder. She wasn’t going to admit she was off to represent a pathetic client in the magistrates’ court. ‘Actually this isn’t anything to do with my brother. Antony asked me to sort out something privately for Henry Buxford.’
 
Helen closed her aching eyes. She was exhausted, having been on her feet for nearly twelve hours. They’d just moved her back on to day shifts, and so she hadn’t got much rest last night. She always found it hard to adjust to sleeping in the dark again.
The kidney bowl in her hands felt very cold, and gripping it helped to keep her mind working properly. Any moment now the doctor would call for her and she’d have to get back to work, but for a minute or two she could stare out of the window at the road down which Jean-Pierre had walked away from her.
Even though the sun had sunk behind the horizon at least an hour ago, there was enough moonlight to see everything for a hundred yards or more. Thick black shadows were thrown by the bushes at either side of the white road. Sometimes they seemed to move. Once or twice, she thought she could see a man-shaped shadow leaving the bigger blobs of the hedges and coming towards her, but it always turned out to have been a mirage when she looked a second time.
Would he ever come back?
‘Nurse! Nurse!’
She went to do her job.
Half an hour after she’d left chambers, Trish was sitting with Susie Brown, Tamara O’Connor’s solicitor, in one of the cells below the magistrates’ court, watching their client struggle to stop crying. Tamara was shaking and there were needle tracks up and down both arms, as well as long scratch-marks from her ragged fingernails. She was sharply thin, and her grey, doughy skin was blotched with picked spots.
Who could have thought she’d be a suitable mule? Trish asked herself. Everything about her screamed ‘heroin addict’. Any woman who looked like this, flying in from anywhere that produced drugs of any sort, was bound to be stopped and searched.
‘Have a fag,’ Trish said, pushing an open packet across the table. She herself had never smoked, but her painful years in crime and family law had taught her always to have a packet ready for her clients and today she’d bought one specially.
‘Thanks.’ Tamara wiped her hand under her nose. She sucked on the cigarette, then had to put it down again to cry properly, dropping her face on to her arms. Trish brushed Tamara’s hair away from the lighted cigarette end.
‘OK, Tamara. Now, have you really got names to give the police?’
“Course,’ she said from inside the circle of her arms.
‘You do understand the risks you’ll be taking if you become an informer, don’t you?’
The woman lifted her face. Trish understood the meaning of the word ravaged in a way she never had before.
Oh for the day the state decides it’s lost the war on drugs and legalizes the lot! she thought. At least then the fools who choose to destroy their own lives with smack and coke and everything else can get on with it and leave the rest of us in peace.
There would be no mules then, no dealers, and none of the other crimes that always attached themselves limpet-like to the first one. Prices would be controlled, so burglary and street crime would be less common. And maybe, just maybe, some of the drug-takers would lose interest when their habit was no longer glamorously wicked.
‘Of course,’ Tamara said, dragging Trish back into her job. ‘But it’s the only way I’m ever going to see my kids again.’
‘Who told you that?’ As Tamara started crying again, Trish cursed herself for sounding so sharp. It wasn’t the client who was making her angry. She tried again, much more gently: ‘Have the police been telling you they’ll get your kids back for you if you help them?’
Tamara shook her head. ‘No. They haven’t said anything. But my boyfriend said I would. That’s why I told them I’d talk after this, when they’ve let me out on bail.’ Her voice tailed off, and she sniffed. ‘Can I have my fag back?’
Susie, who had rescued it, handed it over. Trish started to explain that there was no way the police could make Social Services give Tamara back her children while she was in this state, however many names of drug dealers, importers or manufacturers she might give them. Before she had got very far, watching Tamara’s blankly stubborn expression, she had to give up. Susie shook her head and pointed at her watch.
‘We’ll be called any minute now,’ Trish said. ‘Your solicitor and I have to go up now. But whatever happens we’ll see you afterwards. OK?’
On her way upstairs, Trish phoned Steve to ask who would
be dealing with Tamara after today. He laughed and told her that Robert had agreed to take on the case.
‘That’s not even funny, Steve. Be serious: who will be doing it?’
‘Young Sam Makins. He’s taking on most of your old clients. Tamara will be all right with him, if you really won’t do it.’
Susie tugged at her arm.
‘Got to go, Steve. I won’t see you this evening; I’m due to fetch David from school, but I’ll let you know how it goes when I see you tomorrow.’
Trish settled her shoulders and went into court to do her job. Not remotely to her surprise, the magistrates were unimpressed by her practised advocacy and remanded her client to custody.
 
Tamara’s wails were still ringing in Trish’s ears as she rushed from her cab to Blackfriars Prep at twenty to five. She tried to distract herself as she rang the bell at the top of the ostentatious flight of stone steps by thinking how lucky the pupils were that their school wasn’t part of the state system. If it had been, such a potentially profitable piece of real estate with a river view would have been turned into loft apartments by now, with the children sent to classes in a leaky prefabricated building on the edge of a car park somewhere infinitely cheaper.
‘Ms Maguire,’ said Mrs More a few minutes later, holding out a well manicured hand, ‘thank you for coming. Do sit down. David will be released in a few minutes.’
‘How is the boy who was hurt?’ Trish asked.
‘Shocked, of course, and in some pain. His mother has taken him home. But you will be glad to hear that the doctor in casualty said there would be no scarring on the eyebrow. All the tests have confirmed that his sight has not been damaged.’
‘And David?’
‘Stoical, of course. He’s a brave child and, usually, a pleasure to teach.’
Trish felt her face relax a little. Breathing became easier, too.
‘But rules are rules and discipline is important, so I had to keep him in today. Now, do please sit down.’
‘Thank you. You know, I just don’t understand this. Fighting is so unlike him.’
Mrs More rubbed her hands against each other. There was a rustling sound, as though the skin of her palms was as dry as tissue paper.
‘That is why I am so concerned. Given his history, he must have a great deal of repressed aggression, which might be why he was so violent when he let go.’
‘I suppose that’s possible. But couldn’t it just have been an accident?’
‘I can understand why you would like to believe that. We haven’t been able to persuade David to say anything, and so I should like you to try. Will you tell me if you get anywhere? It is important for us to know exactly what happened.’
‘I’ll do my best,’ Trish said, ‘but he’s always reluctant to tell me anything.’
‘Which brings me to the other reason why I wanted to see you. Have you considered getting some counselling for him? I think you should.’
‘I did consider it, yes,’ Trish said. ‘But his social worker thought he was too young to benefit and that it could simply add to his difficulties. I’m holding it in reserve. And I do not believe this episode is significant enough to justify it.’
‘Ah, I see. I was going to recommend a very good woman we use in serious cases like this. Let me know if you change your mind.’ A bell rang. ‘That’s the end of detention. You’ll find him in the courtyard in about two minutes. Good luck.’
‘Thank you.’ Trish was relieved to have got away so lightly, but she didn’t look forward to the cross-examination she was supposed to carry out now.
Seeing how forlorn David looked, and limp, with his bright blue-and-yellow rucksack dangling from his hand and bumping into a muddy puddle, she knew she wouldn’t force him to talk if he didn’t want to. She couldn’t imagine him in a fight with anyone.
‘I’ve always thought that child was spooky,’ said a voice behind her. ‘Now I know why. The attack on Stephen was vicious. I’m not surprised she looks so scared.’
Trish knew she’d been supposed to hear the comment. But it didn’t make the accusation true, any more than the suggestion in the wine bar that Henry Buxford was a psychopath had been true.
She smiled at David and saw his lips quiver as he smiled back at her. All she wanted to do was hug him, but she fought to keep her hands to herself. Very early in their dealings, she had consulted George about what a 9-year-old boy could and could not accept in the way of public shows of affection, and she tried conscientiously to remember everything he’d said.
‘How are you feeling?’ she asked calmly, as she took the boy’s rucksack and walked out of the courtyard beside him. ‘Those bruises must have hurt. How did it happen?’
David shrugged, his face turned towards the bridge and the blue plastic hoardings that hid this particular bit of Trish’s favourite view of St Paul’s and the river. They seemed to have been up there for ever.
‘David?’
‘I’m OK.’ They walked in silence for nearly twenty yards before he added, in a voice scratchy with effort: ‘Have you heard what the divers were looking for this morning?’
‘No,’ Trish said, as determined to keep him talking about the fight as he was to get her off the subject.
After a while, getting nowhere, she had to give up and tried to think of something easier for him to answer. ‘You had
a rehearsal for the Christmas play today, didn’t you? How did it go?’
‘It was OK. Mer was stupid, of course. But he always is.’
‘Mer?’ This had to be Toby Fullwell’s son. There couldn’t be two people with such a peculiar name.
‘He’s got the part of the tramp.’ His voice was as polite and gentle as ever, but Trish was aware of an unusual antagonism.
‘Don’t you like him?’
‘No.’
‘Why not?’
‘Why d’you want to know?’
‘Only because someone at work knows his dad, so I was thinking of asking him to tea. But if you don’t like him, I won’t.’
David kicked the raised edge of an uneven paving stone, scuffing the carefully polished leather of his black uniform lace-ups. ‘Good. Because he’s stupid.’
‘So you said, but he can’t be that stupid if he’s in your class.’ Trish was glad she’d already told Buxford she wouldn’t try to get to Toby this way. ‘It’s the top set.’
‘He can’t keep up. I heard Mr Phillips say he’ll have to be put down if he doesn’t shape up. And everyone hates him. He’s always trying to make the cast go to tea with him after rehearsals. He says his dad’s got a secret basement full of treasure, but no one wants to go. He eats rust, too.’
‘What?’
David looked up at her, his black eyes earnest, as though he had to prove that he wasn’t about to be stupid himself. ‘You know the netting round the playground?’
‘Yes.’
‘Well, some of it’s rusty. Mer picks off the rust with his handkerchief, then he gets the bits out and eats them. I’ve seen him do it.’
‘Hasn’t he got any friends?’
‘I told you.’ He sounded as nearly cross as she’d ever heard him. ‘No one wants to go to his house.’
‘What’s the matter?’
He didn’t answer. His mouth was turned down at the corners and his eyes were sullen. He kicked the pavement again. Trish remembered the light in his smile this morning, and his bouncy conversation about war.
‘Will Nicky be in when we get home?’ he asked.
‘She should be. She said she was going to make flapjacks for tea.’ They’d reached the iron staircase that led up to Trish’s front door now.
‘I’ve got my key.’ David ran up the stairs to unlock the door, then waited for Trish to precede him. ‘Thank you for fetching me today.’
‘I was glad to have the chance. It’s always fun to walk back with you. Aha, I can smell the flapjacks. Hello, Nicky.’
Trish walked on into the narrow galley kitchen, which was really too small these days. Maybe she and George would soon have to take the plunge and buy something bigger together. No one was sure when the next property crash would come in London, but if interest rates went up, there might soon be a buying opportunity.
But would George want to live with her after all these years of refusing to give up her own space? Would he be able to put up with David all the time? And what would she do if he found he couldn’t? There was no way she could pass the child on to anyone else. He had had more than enough to bear without a rejection like that. But what about her? What would it be like to try to live without George now? Looking back to the days before she’d known him, she could see that she’d inhabited a kind of tundra, semi-frozen and bleak as hell.
‘Those look just as good as they smell,’ she said, telling herself not to worry about things that hadn’t happened and probably never would.
‘D’you want one?’ Nicky said, looking pleased.
‘Better not.’ Trish smiled. ‘I’ve got a client dinner with George tonight and I’ll never be able to eat enough to be polite if I’ve filled up on tea first. I’ve got some work I ought to do now. Will you two be OK?’
‘Of course,’ David said, much happier now that he was in Nicky’s consoling company.
Trish left them to it. Sitting at her desk, she phoned chambers to tell Steve about Tamara O’Connor’s bail application.
‘Fine. I’ll let Sam Makins know,’ he said. ‘While you’re on the phone another two likely briefs have come in. We can discuss them in the morning. I can’t see that you’d need a leader for either of them, but you’ll want to check that for yourself.’
Trish lay back in her chair and smiled at the ceiling. She told herself she hadn’t really been worried that she’d never get any more commercial work. But it was good to know new briefs were coming in so fast, even though there was nothing nearly as big as the case that had just settled.
 
Toby couldn’t think why it was so hard to draft a simple letter to a teacher who thought he should admit her pupils for nothing just because her school had no budget for expeditions to art galleries. How did she think his would survive if everyone tried that on?
He heard the phone in the outer office ring, once, twice. Jo picked it up. This morning’s talking-to had obviously worked. He waited, listening.
‘Yes, he is here,’ she said. ‘I’ll put you through.’
The extension on his desk rang. As soon as he picked up the receiver, Toby heard Jo’s voice, sharp with sarcasm, telling him that he had a call. She knew he would have heard everything she’d already said. The partition wall was very thin.
He thanked her and waited until he’d heard the click of her phone, before saying quietly: ‘Toby Fullwell.’
‘Hi, Toby; this is Ben.’
Toby’s guts tightened into a sharp tangled mass, like a steel pan-scourer. He couldn’t speak.

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