Chapter Nine

It was four p.m. by the time Blake had finished his evidence, so Denham adjourned until the following morning. That gave Tom the entire evening to write his closing speech. As he left the courtroom, he was still livid that he’d gifted Blake a point in their duel, but he figured that a well-crafted speech would make up for it. He started planning the rest of his day: he’d get home, pull together the notes he’d been making in court, do bedtime with Bella, then sit down to draft that final forensic offensive.

The lobby was deserted when he passed through it; the robing room empty when he entered. The other trials must be running into the evening, he thought. He placed his laptop and file on the table before slipping off his gown and texting Sophie: Any thoughts on the cemetery? How’s Bella doing? I take it the post didn’t come? As he popped his phone into his pocket, he heard the door close behind him. He looked round to see Anna marching to her carrel.

‘Hey,’ he said. 

She tore off her wig and squashed it into its tin, then shook off her gown and rolled it up.

‘So, err,’ Tom hauled his wheelie case onto the table and began packing up his things. ‘How, err, how do you think it’s gonna go?’

‘You’ll win,’ she sighed, turning her back to him. ‘But you know that.’

‘What? No I don’t. I cocked up at the end there.’ He walked towards her then stopped, remembering her anger that morning. As she took off her blazer he saw that her blouse was damp with sweat. He imagined the sheen it would leave on her skin, then held out his arms and asked: ‘Can I …? Can we …?’

She turned to look at him, her tongue pressed in to her cheek. ‘No,’ she said, her tone dead. She lifted her chin and locked her eyes onto his, as if at a weigh-in. ‘You haven’t been tested. You could be carrying it for all I know.’

‘That’s ridiculous,’ he dismissed the idea with a laugh. ‘I haven’t seen anyone in a fortnight, so there’s no way I could have it.’

As he awaited her response, she zipped up her wheelie case, pulled it out of her carrel, and lowered it onto the floor with a thud. Then she fiddled with its handle, extending it to waist-height and jiggling it around until it clicked into place.

‘Are you OK?’ he asked. ‘I’m sorry about earlier. Sorry if it got too … heated.’ He smiled. ‘All in a day’s work though, right?’

‘If you win this,’ she straightened up and spoke like a scientist presenting her conclusions, ‘he won’t see the end of this outbreak. If the inmates don’t get him, the virus will.’

‘That’s rubbish,’ Tom scoffed.

‘Really? Do you want to bet on it?’

‘Oh, don’t be so,’ he floundered, searching for the word. ‘Don’t be so you.

Anna left the robing room first, with Tom trailing behind. They passed between the soldiers in the entrance, then headed down the driveway towards the main road. Once they were through the gates, she turned to face him. 

‘I’ll call you later,’ he said. ‘OK?’

‘Actually,’ she gazed at her feet—awkwardly, he thought. ‘I can’t tonight. I’ve got to ring my parents, then write my speech. For what it’s worth!’ She gave a quick, loose laugh. ‘I’ll see you tomorrow, though. Bright and early.’

As he watched her walk up Borough High Street, he wondered why she was being so prickly. The reason, he suspected, was that she knew she was about to lose, and she hated losing. He’d seen it before, when he’d beaten her in the Bailey, and he’d no doubt see it again. All she needs is some space, he thought. And perhaps the odd win.

He retraced the route he’d taken that morning, through Elephant Square and up Walworth Road. The streets remained dead, the rubbish on the roadside untouched. A white transit van chugged past with “Medical Supplies” plastered on its side, then disappeared out of view. He felt his phone buzz in his pocket, so took it out to see that Sophie had replied: Yep, post and shopping came. Yay! Chat later. He wrote back asking to do bedtime with Bella, and within seconds received a response: Be my guest!

When he got home Tom changed into jeans, set his work out on his desk, and took a masala out of the freezer. He loitered by the open fridge, toying with the idea of pouring some wine—but resisted. It was a Monday, after all, and he had a speech to write.

At six p.m. he sat down at his desk and used his tablet to ring Sophie. She answered on the HomeScreen, sitting at the kitchen table with Bella on her lap. At the sight of his daughter eating yoghurt with her fingers, Tom wanted to say, ‘Can’t you make her use a spoon?’—but he left it.

‘Daddy!’ Bella yelped.

‘Hey there Sausage! How’s dinner?’ 

Sophie smiled and waved at the screen, then Tom lowered his voice: ‘Please tell me you’re not going tomorrow.’

‘Oh, we’re fine, thanks,’ Sophie said, merrily. ‘How are you?’

‘Sorry,’ he held up a hand in apology. ‘How’s the day been?’

‘Eventful, actually. But don’t worry: I spoke to David, and he … uh,’ she faltered, ‘he agrees with you. He thinks we should wait a bit.’

‘Good,’ Tom relaxed into his seat, his limbs loosening. ‘Thank you,’ he added. ‘I know that it’s important for you to go, and when the time’s right you can.’

‘Well,’ Sophie shrugged as Bella splattered yoghurt on her chin, slurping and mmming. 

‘So what else happened?’ he asked.

‘Huh?’ Sophie looked into the camera.

‘You said the day was eventful?’

‘Right. Yes. Well, we got a package addressed to you.’ She tipped back in her chair and reached over to the kitchen counter. After fishing around for a moment, she held up a white envelope, the size and shape of a large pencil case. 

‘Excellent, thanks,’ Tom said. ‘That’ll be my test.’

‘What do you want me to do with it?’

‘Any chance you could get it couriered to me tomorrow? I’ll transfer you the money.’

‘Sure,’ she tossed it back onto the counter. ‘Just remind me in the morning.’ 

Sophie moved Bella onto the seat next to her, then went to the cupboard and grabbed some kitchen roll. The camera zoomed out so that she remained in the frame, then zoomed in again when she returned to the table and wiped the yoghurt from Bella’s chin. 

‘Well that sounds like a pretty manic day,’ Tom grinned.

‘Oh, sod off,’ she gave him a playful scowl, before Bella pulled at her arm and whispered something up to her. ‘What’s that?’ Sophie crouched down and listened, then said: ‘Well, you can tell Daddy yourself.’ Bella’s head shook. ‘No? OK.’

‘What’s happening?’ Tom leant in, as if it’d bring him closer to home.

‘She’s reminding me that the shopping arrived.’

‘Ah, d’you get anything nice, Sausage?’

‘Yoghurt!’ Bella shouted back.

‘Anyway,’ Sophie looked into the camera. ‘That was our rollercoaster of a day. How was yours? How did the trial go?’

‘Oh—fine,’ Tom kept it short, eager to avoid any reference to Anna. ‘But look, could you, uh, could you call me back once you’ve bathed her, then I’ll read her some poems?’

‘Sure.’ Sophie nodded, lifted Bella into her arms, and muttered: ‘Come on, you.’ 

Twenty minutes later Tom was chatting to Bella, who lay tucked up under her duvet. Sophie had propped up a HomeScreen Mini on the bedside table, and Bella was gazing into it. Tom asked about her day, and she described riding her trike on the patio, putting the shopping away with Mummy, and miming a high-five to the delivery driver.

‘Ooh, can I have one?’ Tom raised a palm and when Bella did the same, said: ‘bish.’

After a while he started reciting The Walrus and the Carpenter, pausing—as usual—for her to complete the occasional line: ‘Of cabbages…

And kings!’ she murmured, her eyes beginning to close. 

As he came to the end, he watched her nestle into her pillow. Once her breathing had become audible and her expression blank, he texted Sophie to say that he’d finished, then hung up. The moment he did so, the government’s nightly reminder filled the screen: ‘The future is ours. Let’s save it together.

Go to Chapter Ten

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