'Trish? That you?' Antony Shelley's voice was quick with satisfaction over the phone. 'They're going to settle. We're off the hook.'
'Oh, sod it!' she said, her whole body tingling with wasted adrenaline. She'd been expecting to leave for court any minute now, even more keyed up than usual because it was such a big case.
'Sod it? You should be pleased. The clients are.'
'I am. Of course. But Antony--Oh, hell! It's not fair. I wanted them to have their triumph in public. Now nobody except us will ever know exactly what those bastards did to them.'
He laughed. 'Such passion, Trish. When am I going to teach you to be less emotional? Didn't you abandon family law precisely so that you wouldn't have to anguish over your clients' fate? Be like me: I never care which side wins or who knows it.'
'You are such a cynic, Antony,' she said, knowing she could never feel as little about anything.
She had to care about her clients to do her best, and, caring, minded what happened to them. This lot had been abominably treated. In her view, no financial settlement could ever make up for that.
'I feel all let down,' she said, trying to be professionally casual. Then she shivered. 'I've always hated anticlimaxes.'
'I know. But don't worry. You won't have to endure this one for long. Henry Buxford was on the phone only last week, asking whether I thought you'd do a little private research for him. I told him to keep his sticky fingers off you until we'd got the case under control.' Antony laughed. 'He sounded so disappointed you ought to be flattered.'
'I am. But research? What sort of research? And why does he want a commercial barrister for it?'
'No idea. Why not give him a ring and find out? I know he'd pay well for your time.'
That should help, Trish thought, remembering all the big bills she'd have to pay after Christmas.
Although she would eventually get the whole of her generous brief fee for the case that had just settled, there would now be none of the daily refreshers for time spent in court. Until last year that wouldn't have mattered because she had earned more than enough for the kind of life she wanted to live. Then she'd taken her 9-year-old half-brother, David, to live with her and her expenses had rocketed, along with her anxieties.
'It all sounds very mysterious,' she said.
'Only because I wasn't listening properly. Hang on a minute. I've got his direct line at Grunschwig's here somewhere.'
Trish waited, pen in hand, until he came back with the number.
'Thanks,' she said when he had had dictated it. 'But, you know, I really ought to spend the time with David. I've been neglecting him even more than usual over the last few weeks.'
'Small boys need freedom far more than sororal attention,' Antony said. 'Take it from one who knows. And don't forget that Henry's a powerful man. They're always worth helping - even when they're not friends of mine.'
Trish bit down hard on the words that hovered around her tongue. She hated the trading of favours that was second nature to her head of chambers. And she hated recognizingher own reluctance to piss him off. Her career had boomed after Antony had started to take an interest in her, and she wasn't high-minded enough to risk losing that.
Even so, she didn't want to look like a complete pushover. 'OK, I suppose I could talk to him; see if I might be able to fit him in.'
Antony laughed and put down the phone.
Direct line or not, Trish found herself talking to Henry Buxford's secretary at the merchant bank of which he was chairman, then hanging on for five minutes before he'd freed himself to speak to her. When he did come on the line, he said he was very pleased she'd called. Trish reminded herself to feel flattered.
'I'd like to explain what I need face to face,' he went on. 'Because it's a complicated story. I've got a rare window between 5.30 and 7.00 this evening. Is there any chance we could meet for a drink?'
All year Trish had fought to keep that particular slot free for David, even when she'd had to go out or back to work on her case papers afterwards. Still, now that the case had settled she could fetch him from school and have tea with him. That might do instead.
'I could rejig a few things. Where should we meet? El Vino?' It wouldn't take long to get back to Fleet Street from her Southwark flat.
'Too many hacks and barristers to eavesdrop there,' said Buxford. 'Do you know a friendly basement wine bar off Leicester Square called the Cork & Bottle? Could you get there by 5.30?'
An image of Procrustes' bed started to flicker on the margins of Trish's mind, like an irritating icon on a computer screen. During the last year she had become obsessed with the ancient Greek myth of the robber who waylaid travellers, measured them against his bed, and then either cut bits off them orstretched them out until they fitted exactly. For Trish, the 21st century equivalent was time itself. One day, she thought, the stretching will go too far and I'll snap.
'Is that a problem?' Henry asked into the silence.
'Not if I can get a babysitter. I'll let you know.'
When he'd gone, Trish picked up the phone again to call Nicky, who would have been David's nanny if he'd been young enough to need one. They had none of them been able to think of a way of describing her job and so she was just Nicky, who did all the things at home that Trish would have done if she'd been there. Nicky had a busy social life of her own, but she was saving up for a laptop and so she was usually happy to work overtime when she could.
'Sure,' she said when Trish asked if she could stay on until eight tonight. 'Or all evening, if you like. I'm not going anywhere and your TV's bigger than mine. Your sofas are more comfortable, too. Why don't you take George out, to make up for cancelling that dinner last week?'
'Are you sure, Nicky? That would be great.'
There were no words fit to describe George's role in Trish's life either. He was the most important person in it, even though they didn't actually live under the same roof and would have eaten raw nettles rather than share a bank account.
Trish phoned his office to tell him about the case's settlement and find out whether he'd like her to book a table at their favourite restaurant to celebrate.
'You mean you're abandoning David today as well as Wednesday?' he said, making his voice sizzle with amazement. 'How will he survive?'
'Oh, shut up,' she said, having in fact forgotten that she'd agreed to dine with one of his clients later this week. As the senior partner in a big firm of solicitors, George had to do a fair amount of client entertaining. Trish always tried to help when she could, but it often bored her. 'You know why it'simportant for him to be able to trust me to be there whenever he needs me.'
'Come on, Trish. I was teasing. OK, given that you've decided to allow us a night off, is eating really what you want to do? What about the theatre? Is there anything good on at the National?'
The idea that George might prefer a play to food was surprising. But if the theatre was what he wanted, that was what she would try to give him. She was well aware that she'd been short-changing him as well as David in the last few weeks.
'I don't know. But I could find out.'
'Great. And if you like the look of something, book it. I have absolute trust in your judgement.'
She laughed and told him she'd had plenty of evidence to the contrary in the five years they had been together.
'Most of the time,' he amended. 'Trish, I've got to go. I'm due to chair the partners' meeting in five minutes. 'Bye.'
The phone rang again as soon as she had replaced the receiver. Hearing her clerk's lugubrious voice, she waited for him to tell her about a stunning new brief that would catapult her into the ranks of the really big hitters, like Antony himself. Then she wouldn't have to do favours for anyone.
'One of your old clients is asking for you,' Steve said, deflating the fantasy in an instant. 'And you've got time to sort her out now the case has settled. It's Legal Aid, of course. Will you do it?'
'Who is it?'
'Oh, no!' Trish remembered the drawn, anguished face of the most dispiriting woman she had ever represented. 'I thought she was safely in prison after that last soliciting charge.'
'She got out four months ago, but she's in police custody again and probably on her way to Cookham Wood. It's worse thanusual this time. She's been caught at Heathrow with twenty-two condoms of cocaine in her gut. She says she needs you to see her through the bail application.'
Trish detested everything about the drug world and all the people involved in it. But most of all she hated the men who persuaded poor, usually naive, women to become their mules, smuggling the stuff through customs. Only a few of the mules had any idea of the kind of prison sentences they were risking, or the sometimes permanent separation from their children. Even so Trish did not want to get involved with this one.
'You know perfectly well I don't do crime now, and Tamara doesn't need counsel for a bail application anyway. Her solicitor can do it.'
'She's convinced you'll be able to get her bail.' Steve didn't sound as though he shared the client's opinion. 'And once you've done that, she wants you to go on to get her kids back for her.'
'With her record? She hasn't a hope. They were taken into care for about a million very good reasons. And I don't do family law any more either.'
'The theory is,' Steve said, as though he hadn't heard her interruption, 'that she's going to give the police names of some big drug dealers this time, and she thinks that'll make the authorities look kindly on her. The police have told her they can't do any deals, but she doesn't believe them. Are you on? I need to know. Susie Brown, her solicitor, is on the other line now.'
'Oh, all right then. I'll do the bail application, but someone else will have to deal with the rest of it. I really can't take Tamara on again long-term. When do they want me?'
'She's scheduled for early afternoon tomorrow. Now don't forget: in success, humility; in failure, grit; and ...'
' ... in everything, hard work,' Trish said, interrupting his favourite Churchillian quotation because she'd heard it far too often. She put down the phone before he could retaliate.
A PLACE OF SAFETY. Copyright © 2003 by Daphne Wright. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information, address St. Martin's Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.