Authors: Dick Francis,FELIX FRANCIS
Julian Trent was waiting for me between two rows of parked cars. Whereas, the previous evening, I had been somewhat wary crossing Barnes Common, I hadn’t really been seriously concerned that I would be attacked. I had dismissed Trent’s posttrial threats as mere bravado, a lashing-out reaction to losing the case. And why would he want revenge from me when he had got off anyway? But here he was, with his trusted baseball bat, oozing menace and danger.
I didn’t actually see him until I had walked beyond his hiding place because I was concentrating on hunching my body to keep my computer dry as I balanced it on the box of papers. My peripheral vision detected a movement to my right and I turned in time to glimpse his face just before he hit me. He was smiling.
The baseball bat caught me across the back of both legs about half way up my thighs. The blow caused my knees to buckle and I was sent sprawling to the ground, my box of papers spilling out in front of me. The suddenness of the strike left me gasping for breath. Far from leaping to my feet to defend myself, I lay face down, immobile on the wet tarmac. Strangely there was no pain. My legs felt numb and somehow detached from the rest of my body. I used my arms to roll myself over onto my back. I was determined that he wouldn’t be able to knock my brains out without me seeing it coming.
He stood above me, swinging the bat from side to side. There was no one else about in the private road but he seemed not to care anyway. He was clearly enjoying himself.
‘Hello, Mister Clever-Dick Lawyer,’ he said with a curl to his upper lip. ‘Not so clever now, are we?’
I didn’t reply, not out of some feeling of defiance but because I couldn’t think of anything to say.
He raised the bat to have another swing and I felt sure that my time was up. I put my arms up around my head to protect myself, closed my eyes and waited for the crunch. I wondered if I would die here with my head beaten to a pulp. I also wondered if Angela would be waiting for me on the other side. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad after all.
The bat landed with a sickening thud but not on my head, not even on my arms or hands. Trent hit my unprotected laptop
computer with all his might and it obligingly disintegrated into several parts that scattered noisily across the road.
I opened my eyes and looked at him.
‘Next time,’ he said, ‘I’ll smash your head.’
Next time! Dear God, I didn’t want there to be a next time.
He then stepped forward and trod hard on my genitals, putting all his weight on his right foot and crushing my manhood between his boot and the road. This time there was pain, a shooting, stabbing, excruciating pain. I moaned and rolled away sideways and he thankfully released the pressure.
‘And next time,’ he said, ‘I’ll cut your balls right off. Understand?’
I lay there silently looking at him.
‘Do you fucking understand?’ he repeated staring back at me.
I nodded ever so slightly.
‘Good,’ he said. ‘Now you be a good little lawyer.’
Then he suddenly turned and walked away, leaving me lying in a puddle, curled up like a baby to lessen the ongoing agony between my legs. Could this really have happened in central London just yards from hundreds of respectable high-earning fellow professionals? This was the sort of thing that happened to some of my clients, not to me.
I was shaking and I didn’t know whether it was from fear, from shock or from the cold. Tears had come quite easily to me over the past seven years since Angela had died and I cried now. I couldn’t help it. It was mostly due to the relief of still being alive when I had been sure that I would die. It was the body’s natural reaction to intense emotion, and I had been frightened more than at any time in my life.
Only a few minutes had elapsedin real time since I had stepped out of the taxi but my life had changed from one of discipline and
order to one of chaos and fear. How easily I had been castrated of my courtroom authority. How fearful I had so quickly become of castration of another kind.
In my line of work one encountered fear and intimidation on an almost daily basis. How self-righteous and condescending I imagined I must have been to potential witnesses too fearful to give evidence. ‘We will look after you,’ I would say to them. ‘We will protect you from the bullies,’ I would promise, ‘but you must do what is right.’ Only now did I appreciate their predicament. I should have told Julian Trent to go to hell but, in fact, I would have licked his boots if he had so asked, and I hated myself for it.
Eventually the intensity of the pain in my groin diminished, only to be replaced by a dull ache from the backs of my thighs where the baseball bat had first caught me. The shaking also gradually abated and I was able to roll over onto my knees. It didn’t seem to help much but at least I was looking at the world the right way up. My computer was well beyond repair and all my previously neatly ordered court papers were blowing along the road in the rain, hiding beneath parked cars and flying up into the branches of the leafless trees. My gown and wig, which had also beenin the box, were soaking up the water from another puddle. But I didn’t really care. It was as much as I could manage to stand approximately upright and stagger the few yards to the door of my chambers. And still nobody appeared.
I leaned up against the board with all the barristers’ names painted on it and looked at the blue front door. I couldn’t remember the code for the security lock. I had worked in these chambers for almost thirteen years and the code hadn’t been changed once in all that time, but still I couldn’t recall it now.
So I pushed the bell and was rewarded with Arthur’s friendly voice from a small speaker.
‘Yes,’ he said. ‘Who is it?’
‘Geoffrey,’ I croaked. ‘Geoffrey Mason. Can you come and help?’
‘Mr Mason?’ Arthur asked back through the speaker. ‘Are you all right?’
‘No,’ I said.
Almost immediately the door opened and Arthur, my rather tardy Good Samaritan, at last came to my rescue, half carrying me through the hallway into the clerks’ room. He pulled up a desk chair and I gratefully sat down, but carefully so as not to further inflame the problems below.
I must have been quite a sight. I was soaked through and both the knees of my pinstripe suit were torn where I had landed on the rough tarmac. My once starched white shirt clung like a wet rag to my chest and my hair dripped rainwater down my forehead. It is surprising how quickly one becomes wet from lying in persistent rain.
‘Goodness gracious,’ said Arthur. ‘What on earth happened to you?’
I hadn’t expected Arthur to be a ‘goodness gracious’ sort of chap, but he did spend his working life in close proximity to barristers who acted like they lived in the eighteenth or nineteenth centuries, and some of it must have rubbed off.
‘I was mugged,’ I said.
‘Where?’ he asked.
‘Outside,’ I said. ‘My stuff is still on the road.’
Arthur turned and rushed outside.
‘Be careful,’ I shouted after him, but I didn’t really expect
Julian Trent still to be there. It was me he had been after, not my clerk.
Arthur returned with my gown in one hand and my wig in the other, both dripping onto the light green carpet. He had just a few of my sopping papers stuck under his arm, and I suspected that most of the others had flown with the wind.
‘Is that your computer?’ he asked, nodding his head towards the door.
‘What’s left of it,’ I agreed.
‘Funny,’ he said. ‘Muggers normally steal things, not break them. Is anything missing?’
‘No, I don’t think so,’ I said patting myself down. I could feel both my wallet and my mobile in the soggy pockets of my jacket.
‘I’m calling the police,’ said Arthur, moving round the desk and lifting the phone. ‘Do you need an ambulance?’ he asked me.
‘No,’ I said. ‘But a change of clothes would be good.’
Arthur spoke to the police, who promised to send someone round as soon as possible, though it might be some time.
While we waited I changed out of my sodden clothes into a track suit that Arthur found in one of my colleagues’ rooms, and then I tried to make some sort of order from the saturated paperwork. After a second attempt, Arthur had recovered about half of what had been in the box and I spent some time laying the sheets out all over my room to dry. I couldn’t reprint them as nearly all the files had only been on my computer.
I thought that calling the police would be a waste of time and so it turned out. Two uniformed constables arrived about forty minutes after the call and they took a statement from me while I sat in the clerks’ room with Arthur hovering close by.
‘Did you see the mugger?’ one of them asked me.
‘Not at first,’ I said. ‘He hit me from behind with a baseball bat.’
‘How do you know it was a baseball bat?’ he asked.
‘I saw it later,’ I said. ‘I assumed it was what he hit me with.’
‘Whereabouts did he hit you?’
‘On the back of my legs,’ I said.
They insisted that I show them. Embarrassed, I lowered the track-suit trousers to reveal two rapidly bruising red marks half way up the backs of my thighs. Arthur’s eyes were almost out on stalks.
‘Funny place to hit someone,’ said the other policeman.
‘It knocked me over,’ I said.
‘Yeah, it would,’ he agreed. ‘But most muggers would have hit you on the head. Did you get a look at his face?’
‘Not really,’ I said. ‘It was dark.’ Why, I thought, had I not told them that it had been Julian Trent who had attacked me? What was I doing? Did I not stand up for justice and right? Tell them, I told myself, tell them the truth.
‘Would you know him again?’ the policeman asked.
‘I doubt it,’ I heard myself say.
Next time, I’ll smash your head
, Trent had said.
Next time, I’ll cut your balls right off
. I had no wish for there to be a next time. ‘It was all a bit of a blur,’ I said. ‘I was looking mostly at the bat.’
‘But you were sure it was a man?’ he asked.
‘I think so,’ I said.
‘Black or white?’ he asked.
‘I couldn’t say.’ Even to my ears, it sounded pathetic. I hated myself, again.
They asked me if I wanted hospital treatment for my injuries but I declined. I’d had bruising worse than this due to an easy fall in a steeplechase, and I had ridden again in the very next
race. However, there was a big difference this time. Racing falls were accidents and, although the laws of chance might imply that they were inevitable, the injuries produced were not premeditated, or man made.
The two policemen clearly thought that I was not a helpful witness and I could sense from their attitude that they, too, thought that the process was a waste of time and that another mugging would go unsolved, just another statistic in the long list of unsolved street crimes in the capital.
‘Well, at least you didn’t have anything stolen,’ said one, clearly bringing the interview to a close. He snapped shut his notebook. ‘If you call the station later they’ll give you a crime number. You’ll need one for any insurance claim on your computer.’
‘Oh,’ I said. ‘Thanks. Which station?’
‘We’re from Charing Cross,’ said one.
‘Right,’ I said. ‘I’ll call there.’
‘Good,’ said the other, turning for the door.
And with that, they were gone, no doubt to interview some other victim, on another street.
‘You weren’t much help,’ said Arthur, rather accusingly. ‘Are you sure you didn’t see who it was?’
‘I’d have told them if I had,’ I said quite sharply, but I wasn’t sure he completely believed me. Arthur knew me too well, I thought, and I hated myself again for deceiving him more than anyone. But I really didn’t want a ‘next time’, and I had been frightened, very frightened indeed, by my confrontation with young Mr Julian Trent. This time, I was alive and not badly damaged. And I intended to keep it that way.
I sat at my desk for a while trying to recover some of my confidence. ‘Be a good little lawyer,’ Trent had said. What had that meant? I wondered. If I really had been a good little lawyer I would have told the police exactly who had attacked me and where to find him. Even now, he would be under arrest and locked up. But for how long? He wouldn’t get any jail time for hitting me once on the back of the legs and smashing my computer. I had no broken bones, not even a cut, no concussion or damaged organs, just a couple of tears in my trousers and a rain-spoilt barrister’s wig. A fine, or maybe some community service, would be all he’d get. And then he’d be free to visit me again for ‘next time’. No thanks. And was he anything to do with the ‘do as you are told’ whispered phone message? I couldn’t imagine so, but why else would he attack me? Something very strange was going on.
Arthur knocked on my open door and came in, closing it behind him.
‘Mr Mason, he said.
‘Yes, Arthur,’ I replied.
‘May I say something?’ he said.
‘Of course, Arthur,’ I replied, not actually wanting him to say anything just at the moment. But there would be no stopping him now, not if his mind was made up.
‘I think it is most unlike you to be so vague as you were with those policemen,’ he said, standing full-square in front of my paper-covered desk. ‘Most unlike you indeed.’ He paused briefly. I said nothing. ‘You are the brightest and sharpest junior we have in these chambers and you miss nothing, nothing at all. Do I make myself clear?’
I was flattered by his comments and I was trying to think what to say back to him when he went on.
‘Are you in any trouble?’ he asked.
‘No, of course not,’ I said. ‘What sort of trouble do you mean?’
‘Any sort of trouble,’ he said. ‘Maybe some woman trouble?’
Did he think I’d been attacked by a jealous husband?
‘No, Arthur, no trouble at all. I promise.’
‘You could always come to me if you were,’ he said. ‘I like to think I look after my barristers.’
‘Thank you, Arthur,’ I said. ‘I would most definitely tell you if I was in any sort of trouble.’ I looked him straight in the eye and wondered if he knew I was lying.
He nodded, turned on his heel and walked to the door. As he opened it he turned round. ‘Oh yes,’ he said. ‘This came for you earlier.’ He walked back to the desk and handed me an A5-sized white envelope with my name printed on the front of it, with
written on the top right-hand corner.