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By Clare Revell
Pelican Ventures, LLCCopyright © 2012 Clare Revell
All rights reserved.
Thursday's Child chases the whole ...
But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. ~ Isaiah 40:30-31
Dressed in her black gown and white wig, Niamh Harkin sat in Crown Court number three and sent up a prayer that she would do her best and that justice would be done.
As senior crown prosecutor for the Headley Cross Crown Prosecution Service, she hoped she was beyond pre-trial jitters by now, but this case could prove to be as long and messy as it was big. The preparation had been awful, with files disappearing, and witnesses vanishing or changing their stories, due to death threats. Having finally got the case to court, she owed it to the victims to ensure the defendant was put away for a long time.
The Jonathan Acre case had made the national news and the public gallery was full to the rafters with reporters, and everyday folk alike. All of them eager to catch a glimpse of the man accused of a string of mafia type murders. The TV and ordinary cameras, prohibited under the current legal system, remained outside the court building. Thus sketch artists drew furiously on their pads to record the images for the evening news and the morning papers.
Niamh was dead against the proposed changes to allow cameras inside the courtroom. The media circus needed to stay well away from criminals and victims alike. They needed to protect the anonymity of jurors who weren't permitted to speak to anyone about the cases they heard at all — even after the case was completed.
The jury was finally sworn in and seated. The introductory speeches concluded. Sitting under the Royal Coat of Arms at the bench, Judge Matheson looked from his papers to Niamh. The gold trimmings on the judge's red gown caught the sunlight streaming through the barred and frosted windows. His long white wig rested on his shoulders, and he regarded her over the top of his glasses for a long moment before pushing them up his nose.
"Mrs. Harkin, you may call your first witness." His gravelly, yet quiet voice resounded in the hushed courtroom.
Niamh stood and nodded. She tapped her papers on the desk in front of her. "My Lord, the crown would like to call Mrs. Gina Luckett."
"No." A shout of protest and shuffling footsteps came from the dock behind her as the defendant leapt to his feet. "You can't call her."
Niamh turned and glanced at him. She picked up the file and opened it.
"Silence in court!" The thunderous roar from the bench echoed in the courtroom. "Mr. Kingsman. If you can't keep the defendant quiet, I will have him removed and jailed for contempt, and the trial will continue in his absence until it is completed."
There was a nod from the defense counsel, and he twisted toward the dock for a moment, gesticulating at his client.
Niamh took her seat and waited apprehensively as Mrs. Luckett came in. The court usher escorted the woman to the witness box. She looked terrified, her shoulders shook, and she kept her gaze down on the floor. Niamh glanced over at the dock to catch the expression of utter panic on the defendant's face, as Mrs. Luckett placed a hand on the Bible and took the oath. Then Niamh rose to her feet and smiled at the witness.
Before she had chance to say anything there was another outburst from the dock. "You can't do this."
Judge Matheson cleared his throat. "Mr. Kingsman, your client has been warned already. I will not repeat myself in my own court room."
"Your Honor, might I have a word with my client?" Miles Kingsman got to his feet.
Judge Matheson nodded. "Two minutes. If that's all right with the prosecution?"
"Of course, Your Honor." Niamh sat and twisted her pencil in her right hand, watching the agitated conversation at the dock. The voices were kept low, but from Kingsman's stance, it wasn't what the defense barrister wanted to hear.
Kingsman turned to face the bench. "Your Honor, my client wishes to change his plea to guilty on all counts."
Surprise flitted across the judge's face for an instant before he regained his composure. "Really? He does understand the severity of his action? That it will mean a custodial life sentence? And one in a maximum security prison without the chance of parole for at least forty years?"
"He does, Your Honor."
Niamh was unable to suppress her smile as Judge Matheson promptly dismissed the jury and remanded the convicted man into custody until sentencing the following week. She gathered her papers.
Someone blocked the light in front of her. It could only be one person.
"Is something wrong, Miles?"
"That was a dirty trick, Niamh," Miles Kingsman hissed.
Niamh viewed the angry man before her. "What was a dirty trick? It's not my fault that your client changed his plea. Or are you referring to the fact that I managed to track down the witness someone tried to hide? When I did find her, the paperwork conveniently went missing. I had to hunt high and low for those files, and if I ever find out your office had something to do with their disappearance —"
"Then you'll what? Are you making an allegation here, Mrs. Harkin?"
"Of course not, Mr. Kingsman." Why had he gone all formal?
"If you have any kind of proof —"
"Oh, please. If I could prove it, do you think I'd be standing here having this conversation? I said if I ever find out. There is a difference."
"Are you threatening me, Mrs. Harkin?"
Niamh picked up her files and briefcase and got to her feet. "I don't do threats, Mr. Kingsman. I leave that sort of thing to your clientele. I deal in promises and the truth. Now if you'll excuse me, I have a pile of paperwork that needs attending to." She swept past him, wanting nothing more than to de-robe and head back to her office. She'd put the papers in her briefcase in the robing room.
She was almost to the door when a hand grabbed her and spun her around. She gasped, her files flying to the floor. A figure in black shoved her back hard against the wall. She'd have a bruise where her hip caught the edge of the bench. She stifled her instant reaction. "What are you playing at, Miles?"
"Don't start something you're not prepared to finish." Miles's low, deadly voice hissed in her ear. "Or you will regret it."
Niamh stared at the blond man holding her. His icy lavender eyes glinted at her, and his fingers dug painfully into her arm. She swallowed, refusing to show fear. "Now who's making threats?"
"To coin a phrase, that wasn't a threat, Niamh, that was a promise."
Ice slid down her spine. It wasn't the first time she'd been threatened in her career. In fact she'd also received a series of death threats over the few weeks she'd been preparing this case. It came with the job, but this? This was something different. Miles was a colleague, even if they were on opposite sides of the fence.
Judge Matheson's voice came from the other side of the courtroom. "Is everything all right over there?"
Miles nodded and dropped her arm as if it burned. He turned to face the judge, his voice a more normal level. "Everything's fine, Your Honor. Niamh tripped and dropped her papers. I was just making sure she was all right."
Niamh bent to retrieve her files, snatching them off him.
"Mrs. Harkin?" Concern filled the judge's voice.
"Everything's fine, Your Honor." Niamh took the last of the papers and shoved them into her briefcase.
"Very well. Good work by the way."
"Thank you." Niamh stood and looked at him, her fingers tightening on the briefcase. She forced her voice to remain calm. "I should be going."
The judge nodded. "I will see you soon no doubt."
Niamh left the court and headed swiftly down the corridor. Which part of her offhand comment had rattled Miles ... unless he or someone he worked with really did have something to do with the files disappearing? He stood to gain much if he'd won the case. He'd only gone into pubic defending because she got the CPS job instead of him.
"Mrs. Harkin, please wait." Footsteps ran down the hallway behind her. A frightened voice called her name. "Mrs. Harkin, could you take a look at this? I received it this morning, and I don't know what to do. I was going to hand it to the police, but now the case is over I thought maybe you should have it instead."
Niamh turned. The last thing she wanted was a conversation with a witness, but she smiled and listened before taking the letter and, promising to read it and take the appropriate action when she got back to her office, hurried on her way. Once in the robing room, Niamh changed out of her robes and hung them back in her locker. She left the court via the back entrance to avoid the press. Taking a few deep breaths of the damp October air, she speed dialed the fire station, hoping Jared would be there.
Despite everything that was happening between them, her husband's voice always calmed her. Besides, she'd promised to tell him how she'd got on in court.
* * *
"Hey, Jared. Phone."
Jared looked up from the pile of equipment he was cleaning at Cedarwood Fire Station. "Be right there." He stood and brushed the dust from his uniform trousers. Tugging down his navy T-shirt, he ran to the office. "Who is it, Skippy?" he asked the firefighter sitting at the desk.
"Your wife. Make it quick." Pete Callaghan, the duty officer for Green Watch, known as Skippy due to his Australian accent, rose, moving to the side to give Jared some privacy.
Jared picked up the phone. Eight years married and still the sound of Niamh's voice sent a warmth down his spine. He just wished things were better between them. "Hey, Niamh. How did it go?"
"It went good. I won. The defendant changed his plea to guilty."
"I keep telling you that you're scary in those robes." Jared laughed. "Does this mean I can take you out to celebrate tonight? It is tradition after all. Maybe we could talk over dinner."
"Talking isn't going to change anything, but OK. Far be it for me to be the one to break with tradition." She sighed. "We'll go to that new Chinese place you wanted to try. I'll make a reservation for eight fifteen."
"That sounds great. Gives me time to shower and change when I get home."
The alarm bells began their shrill call to duty ring. Jared wasn't sure if he was relieved or not. "Niamh, I got to run. See you tonight. I love you."
"Love you too, Jarrie Jace." Her voice sounded stilted as she gave him the standard answer. Did she mean it? He dismissed the thought. No matter how rough a patch they were going through, Niamh had never lied to him. She hated liars as much as he did.
Jared hung up, tore the message specifying the details of the fire from the printer, and ran out into the main section, shouting as he went. "Both pump and ladder, house fire at One Five Four Whitgate Road, persons reported." He handed the sheets to the drivers of both fire engines and pulled on his fireproof clothing.
The familiar surge of adrenaline filled him. He loved his job and the fact that what he did saved lives. Climbing in the fire engine, he leaned back in the seat and took a deep breath.
Lord, be with us on this shout. Protect us, help us do our jobs to the best of our abilities. Give us the strength to save lives, to be alert and hear the weakest of cries for help. Enable me to give my best. You alone know what awaits us on this shout. If I am to lose my life, Lord, be with Niamh, and protect and comfort her. Above all, grant me the courage to sacrifice my life in the line of duty without thinking twice about it.
A hand touched his leg. He opened his eyes and looked at Phil Rodgers, the watch manager. "Yes, Sub?" It was kind of funny how they all still called him by his old rank title. The new one of 'Watch Manager A' didn't have the same ring to it.
"The lads noticed you do that every time we go on a shout, but none of them wanted to ask. Tell them what you're doing."
"Praying." He held the gaze of the senior officer.
Phil smiled and gave a warning glance to the young men. "Nobody's going to mock you for doing that, least of all me. I don't think there are many of us that don't say the Firefighter's Prayer every so often."
Jared nodded and addressed the newer firemen. "And I believe what I'm saying. It's not just words to me."
Skippy nudged him. "Well, let's just hope you don't find out if God really does exist today."
"I know He exists and meeting Him is something I am looking forward to doing. And if it's today, then so be it. If not, I go home to Niamh, and we celebrate being alive and loved by God and her winning another case."
The fire engine pulled to a stop outside a blazing house. "Here we go." Jared tugged his helmet on securely and jumped out.
* * *
Finishing dead on five, Niamh left the office and headed through the vaulted hallway to the main door. She smiled at the security guard as she signed out. "Goodnight, Duncan. You have a good evening."
"This came for you about half an hour ago. Young girl dropped it off."
"Thank you." Niamh took the envelope. Her name was printed on the front. She ripped it open. Making sure she showed no outward reaction, she smiled and nodded to Duncan. "Goodnight."
Duncan smiled back. "Goodnight, Mrs. Harkin. You take care out there, now. Rain's coming down real heavy."
"I will." Swallowing hard as bile rose in her throat, Niamh turned and headed over to the elevators. The one good thing about the underground car park was not getting wet on days like this. And it was secure, only accessible by CPS staff, another very good thing.
She pressed the down button, grateful she was the only one there. Why was she still getting these letters? OK, death threats went with the job, but this one was worse than the usual. The elevator came and she got in. Just before the doors closed, her boss, Alan Reynolds jumped in. She managed to smile at him, hoping it was enough to convince him she was fine. "You're leaving early tonight, boss."
He smiled, the familiar pain showing now they were alone. "I'm planning on visiting Morag before it gets too late."
"How's she doing?"
"Good days and bad days. She doesn't recognize me at all now." He sighed. "I wouldn't wish Alzheimer's on my worst enemy."
"Give her my best." Niamh screwed the note in her hand into a tight wad.
"I will." He paused, staring at the paper. "What's that?"
"Another one," she admitted reluctantly.
"What does it say?"
"It's just the usual charming threats with a new twist this time. 'Just because Jonathan Acre is banged up, doesn't mean you're safe' et cetera, et cetera, et cetera ..."
Alan held his hand out for the note. "OK, that's enough. I'm getting you protection."
"I don't need protection, Alan. I'm a big girl. I can take care of myself."
"Yes, I'm sure you can look after yourself, but you do need protection. I'll organize it now. Was the note delivered here?"
"Yes. Duncan just gave it to me." She handed it to her boss.
Alan put his finger on the hold button as the doors opened. "I will deal with this, check the CCTV, and so on. I want you to go home. Someone will pick you up in the morning. Any more contact and you come straight to me."
Niamh opened her mouth to protest, but he cut her off.
"No debate. I'm not risking the life of the best prosecutor we have. Niamh, you're up for a judgeship and therefore have to take extra precautions and follow the rules. Just let us do our jobs as well as you do yours. Goodnight."
Niamh smiled. She'd learnt a long time ago, that when Alan was in that mood, you just nodded, said "Yes Sir", and left him to it. "Goodnight." She exited the elevator and crossed to her car. The lights flashed, the beep-beep echoing in the silent garage. She got in and shoved the CD into the player. A compilation of hymns from her computer at home, she'd picked ones that made good driving music. Whacking up the volume full blast, she started the car and headed to the exit, singing as she drove.
The windscreen wipers didn't make much impression on the torrential downpour as Niamh drove along the main road. The lights ahead of her were red, and she changed down a gear, water spraying high on each side of the car, as she went through a deep puddle. There was a squeal of brakes behind her. Niamh glanced in the mirror horrified as the black car behind swerved in an arc as it aquaplaned. It slammed into hers, pushing it towards the junction.
Excerpted from Thursday's Child by Clare Revell. Copyright © 2012 Clare Revell. Excerpted by permission of Pelican Ventures, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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