Copyright Â© 2015 Olly Jarvis
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For Amber and Ben
âA person often meets his destiny on the road he took to avoid it.'
Causing death by dangerous driving (Section 1 Road Traffic Act 1988):
A person who causes the death of another person by driving a mechanically propelled vehicle dangerously on a road or other public place is guilty of an offence.
Sentence â imprisonment not exceeding 14 years.
Watching. Waiting. Always waiting. That was part of it. The build up. Thinking about what was to come. Of how he was going to change her life â forever.
She would always remember it.
To have that connection with a woman meant everything. Even if only for one stolen night.
He skipped through the cemetery, drunk with excitement. Which grave would be theirs? A place that only they would know. Eeny meeny miny moe.
He with hood pulled up. Crouched down behind the wall. Waiting.
The bus drew into the stop. Doors opened. There she was. Just like clockwork. A beautiful young lady. She stood for a moment, silhouetted by the red tail lights fading into a distant blur. Raising a hand to adjust an earphone, she set off along the road.
They were alone now, blanketed together in the darkness.
A hand over her throat, grabbed from behind. He could feel her body jolt â shock â as he pulled her to him. He pressed the blade against her throat. âIf you make a sound, I'll kill you.'
Frozen with fear. Pushed and dragged over the railings. Thrown to the ground amongst the moss-covered stone slabs.
Lying on her back, motionless but for her eyes, dancing with terror. âPlease don't!' Then a whimper.
He knelt astride her, brandishing the knife. âSee this?' He ran his tongue along the serrated edge. âIt will help you remember tonight. Our night.'
John Anderson was awake, in that no man's land between sleep and remembering. Remembering what day it was. Weekend, or was he in court? It would only take a split second to find his place, for his brain to get in gear and start focusing on the trial; tactics, a cross-examination, or was it speeches? Strangely, today he couldn't recall. Something was different.
He opened his eyes, squinting. An unfamiliar ceiling. Where was he? Pain, like nothing he had felt before. His whole body ached. Head throbbing. So weak, he could hardly lift his arms off the bed. A mask over his face â to breathe. Some kind of tube â a drip â on the back of his hand. What the hell was going on?
âOh my God! He's awake!' A female â Mia â his wife, leaned over the bed. She looked into his eyes, hers watering. Mia's expression flickered between concern and curiosity. She pressed a button above the bed. âHow are you feeling?' She didn't wait for a reply. âWe thought we'd lost you, John.'
He stared at her blankly, confused.
âDoctor, he woke up, just now,' she announced to a man in a white coat entering the room.
âHello, Mr Anderson. I'm Dr Nesbitt,' he explained as he monitored various screens by the bed whilst a nurse fussed around him. âHow much do you remember?' he asked, pulling down the breathing apparatus.
Anderson couldn't remember anything. Only finishing in court, going for a coffee, thenâ¦ nothing. âWhere am I?'
âWythenshawe Hospital. You were involved in a car crash.' The doctor added: âA serious one.'
âCar crash?' Anderson had no recollection. His head ached. The conversation took all his strength. âWhat happened?' The barrister in him took over â there were questions that needed answers. âWhere?'
âOne thing at a time, Mr Anderson,' the doctor replied.
Anderson's lawyer's nous sensed more bad news.
âYou've seriously injured your right leg.'
Why was he saying
injured, as if somehow Anderson had done it to himself? He noticed things like that in people's speech.
âAnd you have a severe facial laceration.'
Anderson became aware of the bandage on his cheek. He lifted his hand.
âTry not to touch it. Mr Anderson, you've been unconscious for three days.'
âThree days?' He made to sit up but his body refused. âWhat about the trial?'
Mia touched his shoulder and gently settled him back down. âSam Connor, your junior, took over.' She paused, then flicked back some wayward strands of her long brown hair. âBut, John, that's the least of your worries.' She exchanged glances with the doctor. Anderson wasn't the sort of man to be kept in the dark. A deep breath, then she said: âThey're saying it was your fault.'
Tears â Mia could hardly bear to tell him. âSomeone died.'
Anderson's mouth went dry. His body felt cold, numb. âNo!' Was he dreaming. A nightmare? âThere must be some mistake!'
Mia shook her head. âA woman.'
The words sank in.
âAnd a little girl lost her legs. She's here in the hospital. Still critical.'
Too much to comprehend.
A commotion, outside the room. Voices getting louder. âHe's somewhere down 'ere, the bastard.' A female voice. Louder. âHere he is, in 'ere.'
The nurse left what she was doing and attempted to block someone's entrance, to no avail. Nearly at the bed, Anderson glimpsed her eyes, bloodshot and full of hate. âDo you know what you've done?' Sobbing, shouting again: âDo you know what you've done?'
âPlease, Sandra, come away.' Sandra's husband pulled her back out and into the corridor with the assistance of the nurse.
Screaming: âShe's dead! Not five minutes ago. You killed my baby.' Gut-wrenching sobs. âMy little Molly. My beautiful Molly.'
Anderson closed his eyes tight, wishing he could open them again in his old life.
âOur final and arguably most prestigious award is for the north of England's junior barrister of the year.' The master of ceremonies bestowed a supercilious grin on the audience, relishing his role, and at such a prestigious location â Manchester's Midland Hotel. A symbol of the city's great industrial history, built by the Midland Railway at the turn of the last century to service their northern terminus, the terracotta baroque building was a suitably grand venue to honour the region's greatest lawyers.
The clinking of glasses and background chatter dipped as attention switched to the stage.
Circular tables crammed the banqueting hall. The occupants of each represented a set of barristers' chambers. Only one chair remained empty.
âWhere the hell is Anderson?' whispered Head of Chambers, Orlando West QC, not wishing to be heard beyond the confines of his party â colleagues from Spinningfields Chambers.
âHistory tells us,' the host continued, twisting a silver cuff link embedded in his pristine white dress shirt, âthat the winner invariably goes on to take silk, followed by a career on the bench.' A conspiratorial smile. âAn indicator of great things to come.'
Gary, the senior clerk, held his phone below the table and banged furiously at the keys. âHe's not responding.'
âHe'll be working in chambers,' offered Sam Connor, Anderson's contemporary at Spinningfields. âHe doesn't do social functions.'
âEven if he's up for a bloody award?' laughed West, full of admiration for his former pupil.
Connor snatched at his wine glass and took a slurp. Anything to distract his mouth from saying something publicly about John Anderson that he might regret. He turned to the pretty young blond beside him and stole a glance at her breasts, erupting out of a shimmering black evening dress. At least he had the best-looking pupil in Manchester, and she seemed to worship him, despite his middle-aged spread. Thank goodness for Tilly. Anything to break the monotony of his crappy marriage. Tilly Henley-Smith was definitely worth the risk of being caught out by Connor's bitch of a wife. Maybe this was the push he needed. He only stayed for the kids. Another ten years before they were off his hands. Sticking it out for that long was unthinkable. Virtually a life sentence.
âThe recipient of this award has enjoyed an extraordinary year, successfully prosecuting a series of complicated VAT frauds in the crown courts of both Manchester and Liverpool. A versatile performer, he is just as much at home prosecuting gang violence â fast becoming the scourge of the criminal gangs that so blight our inner cities.'
âEvening all,' said John Anderson, taking his seat.
âWhere've you been, sir?' asked Gary, his clerk. âBeen pulling my hair out.'
âWorking. Have I missed anything?' His humourless persona seemed out of sync with the excitement of the evening. That was John Anderson. He kept it all inside, behind the armour. Emotion was weakness. He'd learnt that from his father.
âThe presenter of this award needs little introduction. A glittering career at the Bar, an eminent silk, and now a circuit judge in Preston. Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome former winner of this award, His Honour, Judge Howard Anderson.'
Everyone at the table watched John Anderson for a reaction.
He was poker-faced.
âDid you know your father was presenting it?' Tilly asked, wide-eyed and smouldering.
âNo,' Anderson replied, without further explanation.
âYeah, right,' said Connor, almost in a sneer, the drink having loosened his tongue.
Orlando West gave his protÃ©gÃ© a wink. âA good sign, I think, John.'
Anderson remained cool.
Howard Anderson was at the microphone. Sprightly and distinguished looking at sixty-three, further judicial elevation was still possible. No way would he settle for the lowly honour of being a crown court judge. Nothing less than the red dressing gown of a high court judge would do.
Howard Anderson opened the envelope. âAnd the winner isâ¦' He took a pair of glasses out of the top pocket of his dinner jacket to prolong his time in the spotlight, before flashing a broad grin for the audience. âJohn Anderson.'
Orlando West QC was the first to slap Anderson on the back, followed by hearty handshakes from other members of Spinningfields Chambers, all clamouring to rub shoulders with the man of the moment.
Anderson rose to his feet and set off towards the stage. Another step nearer his goal â Queen's Counsel â a silk gown. He could almost feel it around his shoulders.
The applause pushed him up the steps and onto the stage where his father was waiting with the silver trinket.
Their eyes met, if only for a second.
John Anderson couldn't read his father's face, though he knew it so well. An unfamiliar expression. What was it? Not adoration or even love. Both emotions were alien to Howard Anderson. John reached out to take the prize, then it clicked: envy. His own father was jealous. Of his son's success. Jealous that John had it all before him, and that he, Howard, was in the autumn of his career.
It pained John Anderson that his father should think like that. He shook it off.
âLet's hope this bodes well for your silk application,' Howard whispered.
Nothing was ever enough. Howard Anderson was unable to just enjoy the achievement, bask in the reflected glory and be proud. Always a better view from the next hill. This had been the way of it ever since John could remember. Instilled in him from an early age â relentless ambition.
Quickly burying his unhappy thoughts and feelings deep below, John Anderson moved across to the microphone and began his acceptance speech.
âFirstly I would like to thank my father, without whose guidance and support I would neverâ¦'
Whilst all eyes were on Anderson, Connor took the opportunity to pour the dregs of a bottle of Chardonnay into his glass. Not bothering to top up Tilly's glass, or anyone else's, he muttered: âCold fish. Just like his dad.'
âQuite good-looking though,' Tilly replied with a mischievous smile.
Connor gave a nonchalant harrumph, though her words had cut like a knife.
âAnd to my former pupil-master, Orlando West QC, I would like toâ¦' Anderson went on, thanking all the right people. An efficient speech, nothing flamboyant, just like his advocacy.
Anderson finished with a few words of praise for the judiciary before weaving his way back through the hall to his table. He was now the most celebrated junior barrister in the north of England. A shoo-in for Queen's Counsel.
As Head of Chambers, Orlando West had already ordered champagne. A coup of this magnitude for Spinningfields had to be celebrated properly.
As Anderson retook his seat, a waiter opened the bottle and plonked it down before scurrying off to take more orders.
âShall I do the honours?' asked Connor, without waiting for a reply. He splashed champagne into the empty flutes, eager to arrive at his own.
Just as he was about to pour, Anderson leaned across the table and whispered: âBetter not have any more. You did agree to schedule the billing records for my cross tomorrow.'
âWhat?' Had Connor heard right? âYou want me to go to chambers,
?' he slurred. âTo prepare a document for your cross-examination?'
âIt needs to be done, Connor. And you are my junior,' Anderson replied, hoping to avoid a confrontation. Anderson didn't want to embarrass his colleague but the case came first. âYou know I'd rather do it myself, butâ'
âBut he's needed here, old chap,' said West, having overheard some of the conversation.
An uncomfortable silence descended over the table.
Connor's eyes bored into Anderson. It was the humiliation of being led by someone of the same call. He needed every last ounce of strength to stop himself exploding, from letting rip at his chambers rival. But he couldn't afford to make an enemy of West's protÃ©gÃ©. Connor's career was already in the doldrums.
Reluctantly, he got to his feet and, without another word, staggered towards the exit.
Sam Connor wasn't going to forget this in a hurry.
âA toast,' declared Orlando West.
They all raised a glass.
âTo John Anderson.'