Good afternoon world!
Personally, I am not a huge fan of Mondays. They are FAR too far away (in the opposite direction) to Friday, but I suppose that is the curse of having a 9-5 job presently and not being able to write full time. Maybe if I were lucky enough to do so one day, Monday might become a bit more enjoyable.
But anyway, I digress……Sherlock. That is, the BBCs latest offering!
I am afraid that as I haven’t had chance to catch up with the recorded programs that have taken a huge 64% of my Sky + memory up (why do we have to furiously delete ones that we haven’t seen yet just because you might get somewhere near to the memory being full?) I haven’t see Sherlock yet, but I am assured that it is well-worth watching. I will reserve comment until I can verify that because it was my dad that said as much and he has been known to like such drivel as ‘Ello, ‘ello’ and ‘Gardener’s Question time’!
Anyway, my point here is that, rather surprisingly, I find myself in an unexpected and somewhat unusual collaboration with another writer.
Like the newly resurgent Sherlock Holmes, I seem to have acquired a partner. Elementary it isn’t my dear reader!
In fact, if you were to have told me a few weeks ago, that I would not only be contemplating sharing my ideas and darkest fantasies with a complete stranger, but that I would happily hand over Equilibrium and the girls that come with it to him, I would have sniggered into my Merlot and called you crazy. However, that is exactly what has happened and I am REALLY excited.
Jess and Gabrielle have lived in my head for many years now and I have always envisaged that one day, we would tie up all the loose ends and finally part company, but like trusted old friends, I just couldn’t wave goodbye or see my life without them.
So what did I do? Exactly nothing! I would write like mad and addle my brain with potential new plots for Equilibrium and then shelve it. I guess it was my way of never having to let go. I also was never quite sure where they would end up or whether I was capable of taking them there. Call it aversion therapy, but I convinced myself that I wasn’t actually a writer and that they would never be more then people living inside my own imagination.
That was until my co-author came along. For the purposes of this blog and hereafter, we shall call him Mark, although once he actually gets to know me properly, that may change and depending on the mood I am in, become less favourable! 😉
Mark has happily (and hopefully temporarily) put aside some very interesting projects that he was working on and willingly jumped on the ‘vampire and angel’ train with me.
So, from here on in, everything you read will be a joint venture and I will keep you updated with how we get on. In the meantime, see what you think to the revised prologue and new chapters that we have chewed up and spat out between us:
The century old fortress walls seemed to bulge as more people attempted to squeeze into the already over-crowded public gallery, bustling against ushers desperate to keep order. The marble floors outside Court One teamed with security, the scowling murals of King Alfred and Moses looking on in silent disapproval. Anywhere else this would have been a scene of impassioned frenzy, but here in London’s Central Criminal Court the hushed voices and polite jostling for position reflected the austere, unrelenting authority that is the Old Bailey.
As the door to the dock opened the Court fell silent, all eyes turning on the woman, in handcuffs, being marched forward by the two guards. They stepped to the rear, leaving her in the full gaze of the Court. She surveyed her audience with the hint of a smile, nodding courteously to her legal team. On the opposite bench the Prosecution counsel affected to have no interest, huddled together in a mass of quiet celebration they dared not yet show, black gowns and silver wigs shimmering in the light that emanated from the frosted circular window overhead.
To the fore, behind the Judge’s throne, the golden sword of justice hung elegant in the centre of the oak-panelled wall, like a cross on an altar. A door opened and the Judge appeared in the doorway, pausing expectantly.
“Court will rise!” Most people were on their feet before the Usher had finished the order, straining to catch a glimpse of the defendant, some desperate to have her acknowledge their support.
The Judge, dressed in regal scarlet and ermine, walked unhurriedly to his seat, a wave of his hand indicating the show of respect was over.
The Court sat, apart from Jessica, ordered to remain standing by her guardians.
She smiled, despite the profound sense of desperate loss that had settled ad infinitum in the pit of her stomach. Gabrielle would have loved this, she thought to herself. No, she would have basked in it, lapped it up like a retiring actor’s last curtain call. The image of Gabrielle bowing to her audience in top hat and tails popped into her head. She stifled a giggle briefly before the enormity of the moment brought her crashing back down to earth. The Judge was staring intently at her.
Jessie felt her stomach convulse as the image of Gabrielle’s face swam behind her closed eyelids. She gripped the hand-rail with her remaining strength, summoning it from the very depths of her soul, sucking it upwards, gathering the love that they had once shared and squeezing it until it gasped its last breath. Then, and only then, did she have the energy to open her eyes and face the judge.
“Miss Jessica Jordan.” The judge was staring at her reproachfully over half-moon glasses, theatrically shuffling his papers.
The court was hushed.
“You have pleaded guilty to seven counts of murder. I have reviewed your case thoroughly in determining my final decision, and have taken full account of the discretion your guilty pleas allow me in exercising a degree of leniency. However, your crimes are so heinous and so cruelly executed such that none was warranted. Jessica Jordan, I have no hesitation in sentencing you to life imprisonment, with a minimum term of forty years.”
There was a collective intake of breath from the gallery. Prosecution and Defence Counsel alike stared ahead, determined to show no reaction. But before the Judge could clear his throat to say, “Take her down,” Jessica was gone.
Within minutes the image of the two bewildered guards and an empty pair of handcuffs was the lead story on every news channel across the globe.
Nine months earlier.
The screaming wind whipped up brittle leaves like corn flakes in a blender, desperately trying to punch holes in the unbreakable glass that separated Jess from a world she was no longer part of.
She watched enviously as rain droplets fell on ground that she had not walked on for almost a month.
The storm clouds had prematurely advanced the autumnal evening, and as it was before seven o’clock, there was no power to her room. The pitiful glare from the ground’s security floodlights outlined her meagre furnishings.
She glanced suddenly to the far corner of the cell, where the all-seeing camera eye normally studied her every move, an irritant she had grown accustomed to. It was not that she cared for her privacy, just that the high-frequency vibration never went away. Until now. Above the scream of the wind the sudden silence of the camera broke her inner calm.
Squinting through the gloom, Jess could just make out the silhouette of her unyielding bed and a partition which separated the toilet from the rest of her cell. The single shelf she was permitted held a lone, seldom opened book.
Her one privilege.
She pressed her forehead against the pane, fingers of cold creeping over her skin and starting a dull ache in her skull as she stared out into the darkness.
In her mind she was out there; could smell the night, was part of it.
The whup-whup of wings as an owl hunted to survive against an ominous sky was loud in her ears, and muffled, far-away screams floated into her senses on autumn winds. She could feel it – but most of all – she could feel her.
Jessica Jordan. 35946JJ.
Referred to no longer by name, merely by a number in a long list of misfits to no doubt follow. Somewhere between a mother of two who had stabbed to death first her husband, then her children, and the new arrival to her right, whose history she had yet to learn. Not that it mattered. They would never meet. This was total isolation. An experimental secure women’s unit at Belmarsh, reserved only for the most serious female criminals. Jess was an honorary guest.
As her mind wandered like a drunk through a maze, taking her to the one place she remained untouchable, she tried to imagine how she was coping, if she was thinking about her.
Gabrielle was her alter ego, her soul mate, the other part of her; but she was on the outside, continuing their quest and doing it alone.
The supper bell broke her train of thought as it reverberated through The Icehouse, ricocheting off metal rafters, seeping through the clogged pores of prison breezeblock walls and resonating in her ears. Jess felt unfamiliar tears sliding down her cheeks, blurring her normally accustomed night-vision.
She soaked them up with the swipe of a sleeve. She was feared in here – respected. She couldn’t afford any display of weakness. While the others were in awe of her, the guards would leave her alone
She heard the footfall in the corridor outside long before the sound of electronic bolts sliding back. Only one? Were they getting brave or just being careless? It didn’t matter. Now was not the time. Jess shielded watery eyes as her heavy cell door swung open, bathing the cell with synthetic orange light. She squinted at the slender silhouette leant casually against the frame.
“You were expecting someone else?” She was angry at being interrupted.
The visitor entered the cell without invitation. Jess sensed immediately from her elocution, sharp dress and confident posture that she was no ordinary member of staff.
“Can I help you?” It was an attempt to sound indifferent that could not quite disguise her curiosity. So far, nobody had allowed themselves to get too close to her unless absolutely necessary, and never alone. Adding to her surprise, the visitor strode the few steps to the bunk and sat, leaving no doubt who she felt was in charge.
“Not interrupting anything, am I? I like to get to know all the girls, no matter what they’re in for.”
Jessie met her stare, returning her smile and watched bemused as the visitor patted the bed to suggest Jess sit too. She refused to look away, hazel eyes steadfast in the semi-darkness, making clear it was Jessica’s move.
To her annoyance, this woman had her respect.
“I’d offer you tea, but…” Jess gestured around the cell, managing a smile, electing to play along.
Her visitor smiled back. “Don’t worry. Refreshments will be brought along shortly. Real coffee, not that instant rubbish that they normally serve. And some decent food. Lobster Thermidor for two, and a rather pleasant Viognier” She paused. “That’s if you don’t mind?”
“Do I know you?”
“I’m sorry.” The woman stood up and extended a well-manicured hand. “Lisa Carlisle. Doctor Carlisle to the staff. You can call me Lisa.”
Jess saw Lisa’s eyes widen as her hand slipped into her own.
“You’re cold. Let me sort the heating.” She lifted her mobile, but Jessie gestured restraint.
“I’m fine. The cold doesn’t bother me. Not anymore. But you knew that, surely?”
Lisa laughed, a warm, genuine sound, like wind chimes. Suddenly the cell didn’t feel so lonely. “Yes, I read the papers, Jessie. I can call you Jessie, can’t I?”
Begrudgingly, Jess nodded her consent. As if she needed it. She took her seat next to her visitor, impressed by her confident aura. She showed no sign of being intimidated.
“There are some fascinating stories out there about you, Jessie. You’re quite the celebrity, you know.”
Jessie smiled. “I try my best. Maybe they’ll give me my own TV show.”
Lisa smiled. “Somehow I doubt that, Jess. You realise you’re looking at life. At least thirty years.”
Jess raised her eyebrow theatrically. “Whatever happened to innocent until proven guilty?” The unoriginality of her question made her cringe.
“Jessie, as I understand it you are on CCTV murdering your last victim. They have matched your DNA to, what was the last count, five murders? And further charges pending? There’s not a lot of room for pleading innocent.”
Jessie shrugged. “I wasn’t planning to.”
“Maybe I can help you.”
“Did I say I needed help?”
“No, but in your position… You need someone.”
Jess shrugged. “I’ve got a good lawyer, but thanks anyway. So you’re a doctor. Have you come to examine me? To see if the stories are true?” She smiled coyly. “I hope you’re not going to take blood. I’m awfully squeamish.”
“I’m not that sort of doctor, Jessie. I’m the resident forensic psychologist. My job is to assess your state of mind. To decide whether you are a risk to yourself or others in the unit. And to determine whether you are fit to stand trial.”
“That’s yes to both.”
“Yes, I’m fit to stand trial. And yes, I’m a risk to others. Including you, Dr. Carlisle.” She fixed her guest with a smile. “You’re very brave to come here alone. Brave, but foolish. Did you know the camera’s not working?”
“Yes. I switched it off. But how the hell would you know that?”
Jess smiled. “You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”
Lisa narrowed her eyes. “You don’t frighten me, Jessica Jordan, so save the theatrics. There’s two guards outside the door – with Tasers.”
Jess turned impossibly quickly on her guest, reaching a hand out to her shoulder, fixing her eyes with her own. “You came alone, Lisa, and completely unarmed. Not even so much as a pepper-spray. And you switched off the security camera first. Now why was that exactly?”
“I want to help you, Jessie.”
Jess backed off, confusion scarring her almost perfect features. “Help me what? I killed them.”
Lisa oozed sympathy. “That doesn’t mean you need to go down for murder. There are alternatives. Manslaughter on grounds of diminished responsibility, for example.”
Jess turned back to face her and this time placed both hands onto the doctor’s shoulders. “My responsibility is entirely undiminished, Dr. Carlisle. It was cold-blooded murder.”
A quick flick of her eyebrows and a widening of her eyes for extra effect and Jess had her full and undivided attention.
Saffy & Mark. xx