Four Lives: Part Nine

This is the ninth part of a fiction serial, in 825 words.

Once her guests were seated around the table drinking coffee, Lyndsey got to work. Using a large notepad, she wrote down as much detail as Ros could remember, going right back to the time she had first encountered Lee on a bus. She also noted everything Marian could remember about the night when her sister showed up, soaked to the skin and in a panic. Then she got Marian to send her the photos of Rosalind’s injuries from her phone. Once she was satisfied she knew all the details, she addressed the sisters in what sounded very much like a prepared speech.

“First things first, you haven’t met me. You haven’t been to my house or spoken to me about this case. You rang my chambers and left a message, which I did not return. Is that clear to both of you?” They nodded in agreement, and Lyndsey continued.

“As you know, I prosecuted Fowler after he was charged with assaulting his wife. I am aware of at least three other cases where he was prosecuted by other barristers and got off scot-free. Police contacts also made me aware of many women who had made statements alleging he had attacked them, and later withdrew them. This man is undoubtedly a serial offender since his youth, and you probably know from online research about his only conviction for beating up a woman in Germany?” Marian nodded again.

“Well I am going to suggest some things that are far from conventional. To start with, I think you should go and talk to his ex-wife, Denise. She may well be a mine of information about the man. Between us, I have no confidence in her police statements in the past, but I reckon she will be very happy to gossip. You have to assure her that she will not have to make a statement, or appear in court. And it wouldn’t hurt to bribe her, I suggest you be ready to give her two hundred for any useful information, as that is enough to get her attention. I can supply you with her address, and it might be best to doorstep her, catch her unawares. But you did not get that address from me, is that clear?. I also have the details of another woman you can go and see, but as she is now a shut-in, that might be harder”.

Marian finished her coffee, and put down the cup.

“How does any of that help us press charges against Lee though? Denise will do nothing, and presumably this other woman didn’t proceed with her charges either. We were hoping that you could tell us a way to get Lee to court for attacking Ros. Maybe a private prosecution, something like that?”

Lyndsey reached into her bag and produced a packet of cigarettes and a lighter. After not smoking for over ten years, recent events had got her back into that bad habit. She lit one, turning her head to blow the smoke away from the women.

“Far be it from me to burst your balloon, but that is unlikely to happen. Even if you got it to court, it could cost you both every penny you have. Then if he counter-sued for defamation and won, you would be facing a huge amount in damages. For one thing, the police evidence would not be helpful. It seems to me that the policewoman just didn’t believe a word of what happened to Rosalind. I suspect she gave the county police the nod too. Told them how to ask the questions, if you get my drift. And unfortunately they were on the right track. If it came to both versions of the events, his story is just as believable as yours, as far as Joe Public juror is concerned. If only he had forced you into the car, and that was on CCTV, we wouldn’t even be having this conversation, ladies”.

Ros hadn’t said a word since the lawyer had started talking. Now she had her say.

“As I see it, women who have been attacked like me have no recourse in law. Not unless they have completely independent witnesses, or the whole thing has been recorded on a CCTV camera somewhere. Lee can literally do something like this every week, and just walk away laughing. If I thought I could get away with it, I would just kill him. Stab him, or something. Then plead trauma, or diminished responsibility”.

Shaking her head, Lyndsey smiled.

“If you did that, you would either serve long prison time, or find yourself detained in a mental hospital, believe me. Besides, it would all be over for him in moments, and that’s not really punishment. Keep listening to me, and I can arrange something much more satisfying”. She took a long drag on the cigarette, and the sisters could hear the paper burning as the red tip got longer.

“We can completely ruin his life”.

Four Lives: Part Eight

This is the eigth part of a fiction serial, in 769 words.

Lyndsey Buller forced herself to eat some breakfast before smartening herself up. The women were coming to see her this morning, and she needed to look the part. It was going to take them a while to get from Hackney to Wimbledon Park, so she might have time to tidy the place up and run the hoover around too.

For the last few days she had been in a funk, during her self-imposed absence from work. Chambers had told her they would say she was in court if anyone phoned, and as she was essentially self-employed, it didn’t matter how much time off she took. But she knew better than to take too long. The Head of Chambers, Tom, would be happy to see her go, and he would not need too much excuse to suggest she went elsewhere. Ever since the scandal of her affair with Hugo, she had often considered herself to be on borrowed time.

So many years wasted on Hugo Fentiman. How could she have been so blind? But she was newly-qualified, excited to be accepted at a Chambers with a great reputation, and Hugo had been so helpful and charming. She knew he was married, and she also knew he had three children. But he had promised to leave his wife and kids as soon as they started at senior school, which meant only four years to wait.

And she had waited.

Lonely nights imagining him in bed with his wife. Feeling wretched when he took his family holiday to the villa in Tuscany for four weeks. Then elated when he came to see her on his first day back. More promises, more gifts. Then a suggestion she bought the Wimbledon Park house. Why not? It was near a tube station, not far from Hugo’s house in Putney, and she could afford it. That left her with a huge mortgage, and a three-bedroom house she didn’t need.

But oh, those nights when Hugo visited. It was as if they were actually living together. Drinks in the small garden, eating and laughing around the dining table, then the bliss of going upstairs to bed. Okay, he had to be home by eleven, but those four hours felt like a week to Lyndsey.

Then, that day. The terrible news. Hugo had accepted a corporate job in Dubai. The children were still too young, so he couldn’t possibly leave yet. But he would be back, he assured her of that. Sealing the deal with a huge gold chain and heart locket, he told her she was his only love, and he would be returning to claim her. She believed him completely, and swore lifetime devotion to him.

But that was the last time she had ever seen him.

Everyone at Chambers seemed to know. How could that be? They had been so discreet. It took her a very long time to realise that Hugo had been boasting about his young conquest, bailing out to Dubai when it became too awkward. The looks, the sniggers, but worst of all, the pity.

Throwing herself into work was the only option, short of suicide.

Campaigning for abused women, joining organisations, speaking out on television and in newspapers. Hugo may not have been violent, but he had abused her nonetheless. Emotionally scarred, she dedicated her life to getting justice for other women.

Then she failed to do that. So what was the point of her at all?

Fingering the heart locket for the thousandth time, she put it back in the drawer, and plugged in the hoover.

The noise and routine of housework failed to divert her thoughts. What use was she to anyone? The women coming to see her later offered an opportunity, as long as they were sensible enough to do exactly what she told them. But who was she taking revenge for? Denise, Rosalind, or herself? Hugo would still be living in Dubai earning a million dolars a year, whatever happened to Lee Fowler. And Hugo wouldn’t even know what she had done, let alone be thinking about her.

For the first time since she had gone to university to study law, Lyndsey was considering a change of career. Maybe she could retrain to become a social worker? Or work at a Law Centre, giving advice to poor people who could never afford her fees. Give something back to society, after failing at prosecuting violent offenders. As long as she could cover her mortgage and bills, she no longer cared what her job title was.

She was winding the cord back around the clips on the hoover when the doorbell rang.

Four Lives: Part Seven

This is the seventh part of a fiction serial, in 855 words.

By the time Ros woke up just after eight, Marian had already phoned in to both jobs. She explained that her sister had suffered a bad fall, and could not come in for a few days. Where her own boss was concerned, she laid it on thick, suggesting the injuries were much worse and she would need time off to care for her sister. He was very understanding, and immediately gave her three days of compassionate paid leave, saying she could have the whole week off if she took the extra two days as holiday time..

The sisters were both shocked at the state of Rosalind’s face. The bruising had come out, giving her two black eyes and a swollen nose. After they had prodded and wiggled the nose, it was agreed that it was not broken. Marian told her what the policewoman had said early that morning, and Ros nodded. “I’m not completely surprised, but no way am I going back to work while Lee is free to terrorise me whenever he wants. He knows where I live too”. Marian said she would hire a car and go and get some things from her sister’s flat later. “You can stay here for a while, until you feel better. Meanwhile, I am going to see what we can do about Lee”.

After breakfast, Marian got on her laptop and started Googling everything she could find about Lee Fowler. She got plenty of hits, mostly court appearances reported in local newspapers. Digging deeper by using other search engines, she even found a reference to the case in Germany, and a newspaper report about Denise being charged with being drunk and disorderly, assaulting a police officer when she was arrested. She showed the laptop screen to Ros. “They seem like a right pair”.

One hit interested her. The prosecuting barrister, Lyndsey Buller. Checking her out, it seemed that she had a thing for prosecuting domestic violence. She was also on a couple of committees, and there was a video clip of her being interviewed about Police leniency on the local news show, London Tonight. It was easy enough to get the details of her chambers, as well as an email address and contact number. When Marian phoned and asked to speak to her she was told she was in court, and asked to leave a message. Marian left her mobile number and said she would tell Miss Buller what it was about when she phoned back.

It was easy to hire a car over the phone, and they said they would deliver it to her address a couple of hours later. So they both got showered and dressed, as Ros was insistent on accompanying her sister to Hatfield. Before they left, Marian took photos of the injuries on her phone, and tried to make a doctor’s appointment for that evening. But the first they offered was the same day next week, so she told them not to bother. Before the car was delivered, Marian took the smashed phone to a local shop and had the screen changed. Once that was done it worked well, and they were able to see the missed calls from Lee’s number.

The car was very nice, and much bigger than she really needed. But she could afford it, and it felt good to be driving again. She had left their old car with Steve, intending to buy one once she was settled. But she discovered that she didn’t really need one in Hackney, so hadn’t bothered. On the way out to Hatfield, she stopped at the council offices and bought daily car park permits for a week. The parking in the street outside her flat was Residents Only, and she didn’t want to get the hire car towed away.

Ros packed a suitcase with enough clothes and things for a week. She was edgy in her own flat, feeling nervous and keen to get back to Hackney. Ros also took all of her private papers and her passport, placing them in a vanity case. “I am not leaving anything here he might use to find me if he breaks in”. Marian hadn’t though of Lee actually breaking into her sister’s flat, but that could not be discounted.

As they were putting the things into the back of the car, Marian’s phone rang.

“Hello, this is Lyndsey Buller, returning your call. I am not actually working at the moment, as I decided to take a much needed break. But I can recommend someone very good to help you. What’s the name of your solicitor?” Marian explained that there was no court case, but she wanted to know more about Lee Fowler. She told the barrister she was prepared to pay for her time. The phone went silent for a moment, and Marian asked, “Hello, are you still there?” Lyndsey’s voice came back on the line.

“Lee Fowler you say? Well, there will be no charge for my time, and I will be happy to help. Come and see me tomorrow, but don’t tell anyone else you are seeing me. I will text you the address”.

Four Lives: Part Six

This is the sixth part of a fiction serial, in 832 words.
**Contains some swearing.**

The police told Marian that they couldn’t send anyone for up to three hours, and suggested she take her sister into the nearest police station to make a statement. But she was in no mood to be messed about, and insisted they come to her when they were available. Both her and Ros had already written off being able to go into work the next day, so it didn’t matter how long they sat up that night. She made a pot of strong coffee, and gave her sister some thick pyjamas to wear so she looked decent when they showed up.

It was well after midnight when two cops arrived. One was a stern-looking woman, the other a boyish-looking young policeman who didn’t really seem to know what to do. The stern woman took charge.

“So, have I got this right? You got into the car of an ex-boyfriend who wanted to take you for a meal in London. Then you took off your seat belt as he was braking hard in traffic on the A1 and hit your face on the dash? Later on, you jumped out of the car in North London and took a taxi to your sister’s flat here. Is that about it?”

Marian jumped in, raising her voice.

“No, that’s not right. She got in a car thinking it was a taxi, and when it turned out to be some bloke she had been on one date with ages ago, she wanted to get out. But he drove off fast, and when she was finally able to get out of the car, he grabbed her so hard she cut her head. You should be sending people to arrest the bastard, not mocking my sister”. Ros started crying again, and the young policeman stared out of the window of the flat, looking awkward. The stern woman sighed.

“Someone will go and get his side of it, I assure you. But see it from my point of view, if you can. What had he actually done, other than to pick her up from work and try to take her to dinner? He didn’t take off her seatbelt, and he may well have grabbed her to stop her getting out of the car, but that was at a busy junction where she could have been run over. That’s going to be his side of it, I promise you”. Marian was furious, and Ros carried on crying.

“If that’s the best you can do, then you might as well fuck off!”

The policewoman stood up, and wrote something on a pad. “I will ring you tomorrow with a crime reference number, then update you once someone has spoken to this Fowler bloke. If I were you, I would take photos of the injuries, and take your sister to see a doctor tomorrow”.

With that, they took their leave. Marian looked at her sister, who was shaking and crying on the sofa.

“Let’s get some sleep, you can share my bed tonight. I’m going to take the photos in the morning. Give me a number for your work, and I will ring them early to say you can’t come in. I have to get up anyway, to call my boss”.

Although she had set an alarm for seven, the phone rang thirty minutes before that, waking her up. Ros was still fast asleep next to her.

“Mrs Davidson? It’s Constable Hall here, I spoke to you last night in your flat. I have heard back from the county police, five minutes ago. As I suspected, they are not prepared to charge Fowler with anything. He says he had arranged to pick your sister up after work and take her out, but she became angry and aggressive on the way, took her seatbelt off and tried to get out of his car on a busy road. He braked in a panic, and she hit her face. So he wanted to take her to a hospital to get her looked at, but she jumped out of the car at Millhill Circus. He tried to stop her because it was so dangerous, and she caught the back of her head on the door frame”.

Trying to talk over her got Marian nowhere, and she carried on.

“He says he tried to find her, but couldn’t stop anywhere on that main road. He rang her mobile number numerous times to see if she was okay, the local police confirm they saw the dialled calls on his phone list. But he couldn’t get through to her. Now I know what your sister told you, but it will just be his word against hers, and any CCTV from the shopping mall will show her getting into the car of her own volition. Sorry, but that’s the real world. He won’t be arrested on this occasion. If you have a pen handy, I can give you the reference number”.

Too angry to reply, Marian hung up.

Guest Post: Abbie Johnson Taylor

I was delighted to receive another guest post from American writer and blogger, Abbie. A short story that was previously published in a magazine.
To read more from Abbie, follow this link to her site.
https://www.abbiejohnsontaylor.com/wp/

JUST MY LUCK

by Abbie Johnson Taylor

The weekend after I was laid off from my job as a high school guidance counselor, my husband Charles and I went skiing. I took a flying leap off a small hill and landed spread-eagled in the snow, my skis pointing in one direction, my poles in another. My right knee was badly twisted.

On Monday, my birthday, Charles said he had out of town business that couldn’t wait. After promising to return late Friday night and kissing me on the cheek, he was out the door. Here I was, with no job, no husband, and no one to take care of me. I lay on the living room couch and wallowed in self-pity, while watching a mindless game show on television.

When the doorbell rang, I struggled to my feet, picked up my crutches, and hobbled to answer it. Reaching for the doorknob, I heard a thud, then two men yelling and punching each other. When I opened the door, I gasped at the sight in front of me. A box of fruit lay torn open on the porch. Planters were broken, and pears had rolled everywhere. Two guys were fighting and yelling. A UPS truck was parked in the driveway, and a sport utility vehicle stood on the street directly in front of the house.

“What’s going on?” I yelled.

The two men stopped and looked at me sheepishly. One of them handed me a business card that read “Doug Ross, Certified Massage Therapist.”

“Teresa Redford?” he said.

I nodded.

“Happy birthday. Your husband arranged for me to give you a massage today.”

The UPS driver said, “I also have a delivery for you. It looks like a subscription to a fruit of the month club.” His gaze shifted to the smashed pears on the porch.

“And you guys were fighting over who would make the first delivery?” They looked at each other and shrugged.

“Oh, for Heaven’s sake,” I said. “Come in out of the cold.”

They followed me into the kitchen, where I started making coffee. The massage therapist put a hand on my shoulder. “Sit down. I’ll do that.”

“I’ll clean up the mess on the porch,” the UPS driver said. “You’ll be reimbursed for what was broken. I’m really sorry.”

A few minutes later, we were drinking coffee and eating pears that weren’t too badly damaged. “Would you guys like to tell me what’s on your minds?” I asked.

The UPS driver said, “Doug and I have been friends for years. A couple of months ago, I met the most incredible woman. I made the mistake of introducing her to him. Now, she’s seeing him and wants to break up with me. But you know what, Doug? You can have her. I found someone better.”

“Glad we got past that one, Brent,” Doug said. “Still friends?”

“Still friends.” The two shook hands.

For the price Charles paid for one massage, Doug gave me daily treatments, paying special attention to my injured knee. Brent also came every day and brought more fresh fruit.

On Monday afternoon when the mail came, I opened Charles’s credit card statement. He usually took care of the bills, but I was bored to tears and sick of game shows, news programs, and soap operas. I was shocked when I saw charges for restaurants where we’d never eaten, a flower shop, a jewelry store, and a hotel in Denver, Colorado. I couldn’t remember the last time Charles gave me flowers or jewelry. His work often took him out of Wyoming. So, the hotel charges probably weren’t suspicious.

On Monday night, I called Charles’s cell and a woman answered, “Hello?”

“Oh, who’s this?” I asked.

“I’m Melanie.” She giggled.

“I’m sorry,” I said, not surprised. “I was trying to reach Charles Redford. I’m his wife. I must have the wrong number.”

After that, Doug and Brent took turns spending the night. They gave me more than massages and fresh fruit. Charles never called, and I didn’t try to reach him again.

On Friday night, when Brent and Doug both showed up at the same time, I said, “Both of you can have me tonight. Let’s get a pizza and watch a movie.”

When Charles walked in late that night, he found the three of us snuggled on the living room couch, watching Casablanca. Doug was rubbing my injured knee, and Brent’s arm was around my shoulder. A bowl of oranges stood on the coffee table.

As Charles gaped at us, I placed an arm around each of them and kissed Doug, then Brent. “Hi, honey. Did you have a nice time with Melanie?”

***

Abbie Johnson Taylor is the author of three novels, two poetry collections, and a memoir. Her work has appeared in The Writer’s Grapevine, The Weekly Avocet, and Magnets and Ladders. Please visit her website at: https://www.abbiejohnsontaylor.com

Four Lives: Part Five

This is the fifth part of a fiction serial, in 905 words.

“Come in and get out of those wet things, Ros. What the hell happened?” Marian went into the bathroom to get clean towels as her sister stripped off the saturated clothes in the hallway. When she still hadn’t answered the question, she asked it again. “What happened? How did you end up here, bruised, bleeding, and soaked?” But with her bottom lip quivering, and tears still streaming down her face, Ros was unable to say anything.

Marian rubbed the sobbing woman’s hair with a separate towel, and softened her tone. “Okay, love. It’s alright, you’re here now. Go and get warm in the living room, and I will bring you a drink”. She picked up the wet things and took them into the bathroom, draping them over the wire airer. The she went into the kitchen , returning with a glass of Brandy. “Get this down you and calm down, then tell me in your own time”.

Since splitting up with Steve and moving into London, Marian had not seen so much of her sister. Neither of them had a car, and it was a mission to get up to Hatfield, or for Ros to visit her in Hackney. Keeping in touch on Facebook seemed a better option, and they had drifted apart gradually. When they met up again at dad’s funeral, the mood was tense for everyone. He had died suddenly and unexpectedly, and mum had seemed almost happy about that. When she announced her intention to marry one of dad’s best friends less than six months after his death, both the sisters had more or less cut her off.

It was almost thirty minutes before Ros felt okay to talk about it. She told Marian about the date with Lee that had happened ages ago, and how she had told him she didn’t want to see him after. When the Brandy was topped up, she relaxed and explained why she was there that night.

“The rain was awful today, and when I finished work I couldn’t face the walk to the bus stop to get the bus home. I hadn’t taken an umbrella, as it had looked fine this morning. So I rang for a taxi, and they said it was a fifteen-minute wait. I walked to the main entrance of the shopping mall, and stood under the canopy out of the rain. When a car pulled into the drop-off area instead of taking the exit for the main car park, I ran across to it, sure it must be my taxi. It was raining so hard, I didn’t even stop to check.”

She picked up her glass and swigged down some more of the warm spirit.

“As I closed the car door, it drove off really fast, and I looked at the driver only to realise it was Lee. I screamed at him to stop and let me out, but he had taken the turning onto the A1 and was driving fast in heavy traffic, heading south. I tried to reason with him, saying I wouldn’t tell anyone if he just dropped me off and left me alone. But he just laughed at me, saying I had got in his car willingly, and he hadn’t done anything to me. So I asked him to get off the motorway at the next junction, and at least take me home to Hatfield. He shook his head and said he was taking me for a nice meal, and I would enjoy it”.

Placing the now empty glass on the coffeee table, she turned back to her sister.

“I was really scared, Mal. I took my seat belt off, ready to try to jump out of the car when he slowed down, and when I did that he suddenly slammed on the brakes. My head went forward and smacked onto the dashboard. That really hurt, my eyes were watering and I had terrible pain in my nose. I was half-unconscious, and he pushed me back in my seat and told me to put the belt back on”.

Shaking her head in disbelief at what had happened to her sister, she went to get them both another drink. “I have some cheese and crackers, but I can ring up for a delivery, pizza or something, you should eat”. Ros shook her head. “I couldn’t face eating anything, I’ll tell you the rest”. Marian sat down again, and held Rosalind’s hand.

“Once we hit the traffic around North London, Lee had to slow down a lot. A couple of times I thought I might have a chance to jump out, but he accelerated into a different lane. Then there was a big traffic jam on the roundabout at Millhill, so I got my phone and bag and opened the door. He grabbed the collar of my jacket and pulled me back, that’s when I cracked the back of my head against the door frame and cut myself. But I managed to get out and run, though as I ran along the pavement I dropped the phone, and smashed the screen. So I couldn’t ring anyone to help me. Then I was walking along the main road for ages until I saw a London Taxi with it’s light on and waved him down. I don’t know how I remembered your address, but I did”.

Marian sat up straight. “Right then. Now you have calmed down, I’m going to ring the police”.

Four Lives: Part Four

This is the fourth part of a fiction serial, in 843 words.

Amanda.

There was a time when Amanda liked to be called Mandy.
A time when she used to enjoy going out with friends for drinks, or a meal.
A time when she liked the company of men, and having a regular boyfriend.
A time when she had a great job, and actually enjoyed going to work.

But not any longer. Not since Lee.

He had seemed so nice at first.
Older by a few years, but not too old.
Confident without being cocky.
Good looking without being vain.
Tough and manly without too many muscles or tattoos.

That sort of man rarely looked twice at her, let alone ask her out.

Okay, so he didn’t have a car. Some issue with his licence after leaving the army, so he said. But she had her car, and was happy to drive them around. His job sounded mysterious too. Security Consultant. Being ex-army that probably meant he worked for the Secret Service or something. He didn’t take her to any grand or fancy places, saying he had to be careful where he was seen. But country pubs were nice enough, and he always paid for both of them. So when he suggested an overnight stay in a rural location, she booked the small hotel, and paid for the room in advance.

Her treat.

She couldn’t tell anyone she was seeing him, as he had warned her not to. Her friends started to call him ‘Mandy’s Mystery Man’, and that added to the sense of fun. No photos or selfies either, confirming her excited suspicions that he was doing some cloak and dagger work.

After the weekend away, she knew she was in love with him. He had been a wonderful lover, and attentive and caring all the time. The difference between him and the last man in her life, Richard, was incredible. After work on the Monday, she bought him an expensive watch as a gift. But when she gave it to him that Friday evening, he just closed the box, kissed her, and said he couldn’t wear it at the moment.

On the way back to her flat after drinks, she had become niggled about that, and started to ask him why. As they got out of the car in the underground garage, he suddenly turned and pushed her violently, shouting as he did so. “Stop going on about the shitty watch!”. She fell hard enough to graze her elbow, and tears filled her eyes at the shock of the sudden change in him.

There were apologies of course, but she wasn’t convinced. “You can come in and phone a taxi, but I don’t want you to stay over tonight”. He had sat quietly waiting for the taxi, and left without incident. Flowers were delivered in the post for her, and a card with butterflies on it contained one word. “Sorry”. When he rang her for the tenth time, she answered. He explained about the stress of his job, the danger, constantly feeling on edge. He was sorry he had taken it out on her, but it would never happen again. He sounded sincere, so she accepted his offer of a meal the following night.

Mandy met him outisde the pub, and was upset to find him already drunk at seven in the evening, slurring his words. Alarm bells went off in her head. “Sorry, but I am going to go home. Contact me when you are sober, and I will decide if I am going to see you again”. She headed back to her car parked in a side street, confused and angry. As she got into the driver’s seat, a rough hand grabbed her. She looked up and saw Lee, a horrible smirk on his face. Then he pulled her into the gap of the open door and slammed it against her head.

Three times.

When the dizziness went away, she wiped her eyes and nose on a tissue then drove straight to the police station. They took a statement, and arranged for a police doctor to come to see her there. Photographs of her head were taken, and dressings put on the two cuts caused by the edge of the door. Then two policewomen drove her home, telling her to leave her car where it was and collect it when she felt better. They said they were going to arrest Lee at his house that night, and charge him with assault. She would be hearing about the court case in due course.

But after three days off sick at home, she rang the police and withdrew her statement. They pressed her, even mentioning wasting police time, but she stuck to it. There was no way she could face him in court and have all her past life dragged up by the defence. Another policeman phoned her later, and when she convinced him that she was not going to give evidence under any circumstances, he told her they would have to drop the charges.

After that, she just stopped going out anywhere.

Four Lives: Part Three

This is the third part of a fiction serial, in 882 words.

Lyndsey.

Heading for the pub on the corner after leaving the Crown Court, Lyndsey had a large gin and tonic in her sights. Yet again, the witness statement had been withdrawn at the last minute, and the victim had refused to give evidence. She wondered what the point was any longer. All those years of training to become a barrister, and half the cases she specialised in never got to court in the first place. Even when they did, the accused either got the benefit of the doubt, or the victim failed to show up.

Small wonder that the police were so cynical.

The defence barrister had shrugged, then smiled. To make her feel better, he had offered to buy her a drink, but she had shaken her head. She couldn’t stand the oily bastard, and she had put her head in her hands when she heard he was defending.

After ordering her drink and a ploughman’s lunch at the bar, she sat alone at a table at the back. The others at chambers would no doubt make the right noises when she saw them, but she knew they all pretty much regarded her to be a failure. If the partners kept her on next year, it would be a miracle.

Tom Alfriston had never been that happy about her taking on so many domestic abuse prosecutions in the first place. He liked his team to defend. Then you could string out the cases by questioning witnesses’ authenticity, and the quality of evidence. More days in court, more extra money on the brief.

Tom couldn’t care less whether or not they had actually committed the crime.

After eating the tired-looking ploughman’s, she had another large gin to finish off the tonic and decided not to bother to go back into the city that afternoon. Better to go home and look through the papers on the case she was prosecuting next week. Crown v Fowler, in St Albans.

Denise Fowler had been badly beaten by her husband, Lee. And not for the first time. As it had been outside a pub in Hatfield, there were some witnesses. And Denise must have finally had enough, as she had made a statement and agreed to give evidence. Ex-soldier Lee Fowler had been dishonourably discharged from the army after beating up a prostitute in Germany. He served time for that in Military Prison before being thrown out of his regiment. Returning to Hatfield, he had taken up with his former girlfriend Denise, and found work as a security guard. They married the following year, when she was pregnant with their daughter, Daisy.

After that, he had come to notice on many occasions. A driving ban for drink-drive, emergency calls to the house after Denise had been punched and kicked. But it was always the same outcome. She either refused to make a statement, or retracted one before the case proceeded. This time, he had put her in hospital for three days, as she had to have her broken jaw wired. The Magistrate’s Court had sent him for trial because they considered he needed a custodial sentence. He had gone back to live with his mother, and been told not to approach his wife, or any of the witnesses.

Lyndsey already had a sinking feeling. The defence would undoubtedly try for PTSD, considering his service in Afghanistan. But that could only be in mitigation, as four witnesses to the attack on his wife would make the assault irrefutable. It all depended on Denise holding firm, and actually showing up. During the meeting with her at the solicitor’s Lyndsey had been hard on her. Anyone who had retracted five previous accusations could not be relied upon. And she had been worried about Lee’s family. He had three brothers who had something of a reputation in the town. If they got to work on the witnesses from the local pub, it could all fall apart.

And just as she feared, that was more or less what happened. The CCTV of the pub car park showing the attack failed to adequately cover the corner where the incident took place, and the two main witnesses who had previously been certain that they saw him punching her had now decided that she may have fallen against a concrete post, and Lee was probably trying to help her up and calm her down. The worn-out looking casualty doctor who treated her said she told him she had been punched by her husband, but the judge threw that out.

Admittedly, Denise stood up well though. Until the defence questioned her morals by suggesting a sexual affair that had never happened, and asked her about money she spent on scratchcards instead of buying adequate food for the family. Lee was portrayed as a caring father who had contacted social services with worries over her treatment of Daisy, and she had to admit he had done that. Then it all went downhill when she admitted that she had left Daisy with a casual friend so she could go out drinking with Lee. When pressed, she admitted to being very drunk that evening, but she was adamant that she had been punched, not fallen over.

A majority verdict of ten to two had got the bastard off. Not guilty.

Again.

Four Lives: Part Two

This is the second part of a fiction serial, in 935 words.

Rosalind.

Being the youngest of three used to mean you got spoiled, at one time. But Ros had a lot to live up to. An older brother who was a military hero, killed in Afghanistan. His photos were everywhere around the house, and she could hardly remember what he was like.

Then there was the older sister. Not that much older, but enough to have done so well at university when she was still struggling with poor results in her ‘O’-levels. Her parents were proud of their dead son, equally proud of their academic daughter, but not so proud of the one who couldn’t concentrate at school, and wanted to spend time around boys when she was too young.

So they came down hard on her, making her take a weekend job, and stopping her coming home late after school. By the time she turned seventeen, she had started to feel old before her time. However, she had to admit that working in the shoe shop at the shopping mall in Watford had turned out okay. She seemed to have a flair for convincing people to buy shoes, and even the full-time older staff liked her being around.

Exam results were worse than expected, even by her standards. It wasn’t that she didn’t get a pass grade in any of them, just that the grades were the lowest acceptable for a pass. Most of the teachers didn’t even try to encourage her to stay on at school, so when the shoe shop offered her a full-time position, she decided to leave school that summer, and start the job in September.

Hoping to make the post of the summer break, she soon discovered mum and dad were not going to let that happen. They were so pissed off that she wasn’t going to university, they said she might as well start her job straight away.

Ros walked out of school on that Friday, and was working full-time the following Monday.

At least Marian didn’t judge her, and she didn’t seem to resent that she was better-looking, either. Besides, she was doing so well in her finance job at the insurance company, putting her Maths degree to good use. But as Ros started her new job, Marian moved out of the family home, leaving her alone to face the moans of her parents. Then there was talk of her marrying Steve, the strange guy she had been with since she was fifteen. Ros understood. When you looked like someone had hit you with the ugly stick, you took the first solid offer.

Over the next few years, Ros drifted further away from her parents, and hardly spoke at home. Then when the company asked her if she wanted to take over as manager of the shop at Hatfield Galleria, she jumped at the chance. That would mean moving away, but rents near Hatfield were just about affordable, and she relished the prospect of living alone.

At the age of twenty-three, and with no current boyfriend, she signed an agreement to rent a smart one-bed furnished, pleased that the bus stop she needed for work was right outside on the street. Mum and dad helped her move, seemingly keen to get rid of her.

They sneered at the flat of course. Dad said it was “On a busy road”. Mum sniffed at the sight of a mixed-race neighbour and said, “I don’t like the look of the others living here”.

The freedom was wonderful though, and the icing on the cake was that she took to her managerial role like a duck to water, her young team of staff all warming to her immediately. Meanwhile, things were not going so good for Marian, who always looked depressed and fed up whenever they met. “Steve doesn’t want kids, apparently. First I knew about that. And I will be thirty soon. Might just as well try for the promotion in my job, if I’m never going to be a mother”.

She always saw the same guy on the bus on her way to work. Ros knew he was a security guard by his uniform, and he was already on the bus when it got to her stop. He used to chat her up, get flirty with her. Tell her she looked sexy, and he liked her hair. The first time he asked her for a date, Ros checked his ring finger. No wedding ring, but he seemed to be a lot older, maybe forty. She said no thanks, but that didn’t put him off.

Being honest with herself, she did find him attractive, but the age diference worried her. Then one day when she was shopping in town, someone called out to her as she left a supermarket. It was Lee, the bus guy. “Want a lift?” He was standing next to a big car, electric blue in colour. Ros smiled back. “Okay”.

On the way back to her flat, he asked her out again. She was cagey. “You married, Lee?” He grinned. “Was once, not now”. As she got out of the car, she said yes to the date.

It was okay, as dates go. A nice burger place, followed by drinks in the pub. But Ros didn’t feel a spark, and when he tried to kiss her in the car, she ducked away. “Thanks, Lee. I had a nice time, but I don’t think I want to take it any further, or see you again”. He had mumbled “Your loss”, then driven off as she closed the door. And she hadn’t seen him again.

Not until last night.

Four Lives: Part One

This is the first part of a fiction serial, in 823 words.

Marian.

It was pouring all the way home, and the walk from the bus stop had soaked her feet. All she could think about was getting in, and putting on some cosy pyjamas. There was half a bottle of Chablis left in the fridge, and the Brie would have to do for dinner, with some of those nice sesame seed crackers.

Leaving a wet footprint on the pile of post behind the door she flipped off her shoes without bothering to bend, and took her wet tights off before she had even removed her coat. Her umbrella went into the bath to dry off, and she had the wine open less than three minutes after closing the door.

Once she was in the panda pyjamas and fluffy socks, Marian stretched out on the sofa and thumbed through the post as she sipped her wine. Credit card bill, phone bill, and a reminder to book a cervical smear test. She kept forgetting to go online and arrange paperless bills, and as for the smear test, that would have to wait. Work was much too busy, and the clinic didn’t do tests at weekends.

Feeling the dent in her finger where her wedding and engagement rings had sat for so long, she wondered for a second what Steve was doing at that moment.

Just for that second though. No point dwelling too long on the past.

The wine was going down too easily, and she knew that it was time to put another bottle in the fridge for later. It always had to be as cold as possible, for her to enjoy it. The cheese and crackers could wait though, as she wasn’t very hungry yet. The chicken pesto panini she had for lunch was repeating on her, but she knew that would calm down soon. The bottle of Chablis in the wine rack was her last one, so she stuck a post-it note on the fridge to remind her to buy more.

Forget switching on the TV, she had been looking at screens all day. But one screen was calling, and that was on her mobile phone.

No matches on the dating app, and nothing much going on with Facebook, except everyone complaining about the rain in London that evening. Just as well she didn’t take the tube, as some stations were closed because of flooding. She put the phone on charge, and rested her head back against the far too expensive cushion that had tempted her. It wasn’t even seven, and she was contemplating a very early night.

Her legs needed shaving, but she knew that was never going to happen tonight. She would wear her pinstripe trouser suit tomorrow, and nobody would be any the wiser about leg hair.

Music might help, and she had the new Ed Sheeran CD in the machine. Pressing play, she drifted away to his voice. Steve had never liked him, not even at the beginning of his fame when everyone thought he was great. He stuck to his shitty rock stuff, and she would watch TV in the bedroom when he played AC/DC and Def Leppard.

Sometimes, Marian wondered how they had ever got together. They didn’t like any of the same things, whether music, films, TV, or even food. He hated foreign food, and she detested fish and chips, his favourite. But when you had been school sweethearts people expected you to get engaged, then marry eventually.

Marian had gone along with it. Dad walked her down the aisle, and they had the full deal. A white Rolls-Royce, the huge reception at a nice hotel, and a honeymoon in Las Vegas so Steve could play on the machines while she sat bored watching him. By the time they got back from America, she knew it had all been a terrible mistake. But she stuck with it for the sake of both families, and because she felt she owed it to her dad after he had spent most of his redundancy money on the wedding.

And because you did all that, when you were a woman. You just did.

Perhaps it was the third glass of wine from the second bottle, or because she hadn’t eaten anything since lunch, but she was out cold on the sofa when the door buzzer sounded.It took her a while to come round, and her head was fuzzy. One good thing about her rented flat, it had a camera on the entryphone.

She could make out her younger sister, Ros. She wasn’t dressed for the rain and was soaked to the skin. If she had come from home, it would have taken her the best part of two hours. She was looking into the camera, her eyes swollen, hair lank from the rain, and a huge bruise visible on her cheek. Her loud voice on the intercom made Marian jump.

“Let me in, Mal. For christ’s sake, please let me in!”