This story is by Johanne Winwood and was part of our 2017 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the Spring Writing Contest stories here.
Bethany stood up, cricked her back and thrust the spade into the soft earth. Had it really only been a week since that name had stared up at her from the brief on the desk? So much had happened that her head had yet to stop spinning. An owl hooted and she glanced about her, wary in case anyone had crept up unobserved. She took a deep breath and resumed her shovelling.
Monday morning, Bethany sat down heavily at the desk, gripping the sides of her chair after peeling the paper from her damp fingertips. Finally, as she had feared it would, the day had arrived that threatened everything she held dear. A name on a sheet of paper that could bring her whole life crashing down about her, taking everyone she loved to the edge of a cliff and threatening to shove them all over into oblivion and heartbreak. She snatched at her breath and tried to calm the maelstrom roaring through her brain.
‘George! When did this brief come in?’
A momentary pause until a greying head peered round the door.
‘Which brief, Miss?’ A slight Cockney accent which George had failed to shake in all his years living in Oxford.
‘The Loveday brief. Wounding with intent on the Cowley Road last … let me check … last August. When did it come in?’
‘Let me check, Miss,’
The door swung closed.
Bethany caught her breath. After all the care she had taken over the years how could this be happening? She was sure she had been careful, covered her tracks, made no mistakes. So how could that name be staring up at her from the official paperwork? Her head spun. She reached for a glass of water, her hands trembling. She placed the glass carefully on the desk and closed her eyes. The blood was pounding in her ears, sweat beaded on her forehead, her skin felt cold and clammy and she was sure that she was on the verge of passing out.
A light tap on the door pulled her back into her office and she straightened up. The same head peered round the door again.
‘Thursday, Miss, while you were at court waiting for the verdict in the Clarke case. Mr Asquith thought you’d be able to take it as his case might drag on. Are you ok, Miss? You look very pale, if you don’t mind me saying.’
‘Thank you, George, I’m fine. I think I just stood up a bit quickly. Can you ask Henry if he’s free this morning please? I’d like him to assist me on this one.’
The door closed noiselessly and she was once again alone with her thoughts. This was serious but not impossible. After all, she’d been through worse than this and one name from the past wasn’t going to take away everything she had worked so hard for.
Bethany passed the morning writing letters, making phone calls and reading the brief on the Cowley Road assault. Usually this was exactly the sort of case she enjoyed taking. A drunken night out had ended with a brawl in the City Arms and a man had been attacked with a broken bottle. Plenty to get your teeth into if you were an ambitious barrister. If only someone else had been involved; anyone else in fact.
Johnny Loveday. A name from the past; a past that she had tried so hard to forget. How had he ended up in Oxford? And why had the results of his drunken night out landed on her desk of all the barristers in the city?
A brisk knock on the door and it immediately swung open to admit Henry and a flurry of papers. Files and papers were dumped on the desk and Henry appeared from behind the pile.
‘Sorry, sorry, slipped out of my arms.’
Bethany smiled. Henry had joined the firm recently and already had a reputation as a clumsy whirlwind. She loved watching him crash around the offices causing chaos wherever he went. Some of the partners eyed him with suspicion, each blaming the other for appointing him. But he was a hard worker and had a formidable memory for legal precedent so Bethany liked to work with him.
‘Henry, sit down. A new brief has come in that I’d like you to assist on. Wounding with intent on Cowley Road. We’ll need a provisional trial date and a meeting with the solicitors. Can you sort that out for next week if possible? I think my diary is relatively light then and we can plan our strategy.’
Henry nodded, rifled through a planner and took notes, muttering under his breath as he did so. Planning over, Henry left the office and Bethany was alone with her thoughts again. Somehow a ghost from her past had re-appeared and she needed to work out what to do. She needed to act quickly, certainly before the meeting with the accused and the solicitor next week.
Facts. She needed facts if she was to act. Untying the ribbon from the brief she skimmed through the papers, making notes as she read. Soon she had all the information she needed and an embryonic plan began to form. Bethany was shocked at what she was thinking but the more she thought, the more she was sure that this was the only way forward.
Monday night, well past midnight and Bethany was shivering in her car. She hadn’t been home that evening, phoning Phil and making an excuse about working late and staying in a hotel because of an early start. She hated lying to him but this was too important to wait. She peered down the street towards the house where Johnny Loveday was staying. The curtains were pulled but there was light showing through the thin fabric. He was in there and she was prepared to sit here as long as it took until he showed his face. She needed to confirm that it was indeed the man she remembered from all those years ago, the brother of the man she had beaten to death to save her own skin.
Bethany shivered when she thought of Robert, Johnny and their brutality. Robert had selected her from all the kids in the neighbourhood. He had watched, groomed and finally abused her for so many years until she snapped. Johnny had covered for his brother, had taken pictures and sometimes joined in. The barrister at her trial had painted a picture of a damaged child, brutalised until she could see no way out, until she was pushed to the edge and fought back in the only way she knew. Responding to violence with violence they had said. Even the tabloids had stopped referring to her as a devil child when the details of what Robert and Johnny Loveday had done to Alicia Walker. She remembered the pictures of her last injuries, the tearstained face and bloodied hands that had been shown to the jury; the long wait for sentencing; the cold white room she had lived in for seven years while they helped her to repair the damage and the trauma done to her.
Eventually she had come to terms with her past, had been moved to a secure home and given a new name and story. She had grown up determined that the abuser would not triumph, that she would make a good and useful life for herself despite her past. Hard work and determination had taken her through A levels and university, gaining a first class degree in law and several opportunities in top London law firms. Alicia was forgotten and Bethany began to rise in the legal world, marked out as a star of the future.
Bethany was pulled back into the cold car by the sound of a door slamming. She peered down the street and saw a figure leaving the house she was watching. The man walked towards her, pulling on a cigarette and swaying slightly as he walked. A chill flashed down Bethany’s spine as she remembered how the Loveday brothers had swayed and swaggered around the estate when she was growing up. Cocks of the walk her grandfather had called them. All at once she was a small girl again, watching the man she feared most walking towards her. She could see him, feel him, smell him. The ghost of his brother seemed to walk beside him. Her resolve hardened and she knew she would have to go back to that place she had left so long ago. She would have to kill this man to preserve her precious new life.
With each shovel full of earth she threw into the hole Bethany remembered an event from her past life. She remembered sitting in front of the camera as she gave her evidence; the unsmiling face of the police woman who sat beside her; the harsh white walls in the reform home; the bullying and crying herself to sleep every night; the counselling that helped her to heal. She thought about the person she had left behind, Alicia Walker, who seemed like a character from a book. The past had stayed buried and she had moved on, forging her career, marrying and having a family. These were the precious things that the Loveday brothers had tried to deny her; these were the things that she had to protect from Johnny Loveday; these were the things that had driven her to kill again.
Once the hole was filled Bethany kicked leaves across the bare earth, threw a few fallen branches over the leaves and stepped back. In a few days it would be difficult to tell that the scene had ever been disturbed. She picked up the shovel and walked calmly back to the car. Carefully she wrapped the shovel in an old blanket and placed it in a black bin liner in the boot. There was an old tyre dump several miles away where she could dispose of it in one of the fires that burned there day and night. Any last link between her and Johnny Loveday would go up in flames. She felt a weight lift from her as she drove through the back streets. Any last connection severed, she was free to resume her life, free to be the person she had created, free to leave the person she used to be far behind.
Some hours later she pulled up in the drive of the home she shared with her husband and daughter, the two people she would do anything to protect. They knew nothing about her previous existence and they never would if Bethany could help it. The lights were on all over the house and she could see the television flickering in the lounge. As she took off her coat in the hall she called out,
‘I’m home! I hope you’ve put the dinner on, I’m starved!’
Her husband appeared from the kitchen, wiping his hands on a tea towel.
‘Busy day, dear? I’ll pour you a drink.’
‘Just the usual – clients, briefs, office politics, you know. Any messages?’
‘Henry called. Apparently your wounding client has gone missing. Seems you won’t be going in to bat for him tomorrow after all.’
She took the glass, swirled the ice around and sipped. It felt as if a weight had been lifted, the last obstacle to her continued happiness. Bethany sighed and relaxed for the first time in days.