Franky arrived home late. The lights in the flat were still on and she found Boomer sitting on the couch surrounded by chocolate wrappers and rolling drunk. She had a bottle of rum in her lap and some dark grunge music playing loudly on her phone. She looked bleary eyed at Franky when she heard the door swing close.
"Hiya!" She slurred and waved the bottle in her direction then took a healthy swig. She slumped sideways knocking a pizza box off the couch. Franky watched as pizza slices slid out and rested upside down on the floor.
The feeling of euphoria which had settled over Franky after her interlude with Erica evaporated. So did the intense feeling of satisfaction that her instincts about Erica had proved correct.
"Shit Boomer, are you right?" she said irritably. She rescued the pizza slices and dumped them and the box in the rubbish bin.
"It's okay, Franky," Boomer said seriously and almost soberly. "I'll be outta here soon."
"What are you talking about?" Franky asked as she collected chocolate wrappers and dumped them in bin as well. "You haven't been back to your mum's place, have you?" She asked suspiciously.
Boomer looked at Franky. "Nah," she said. "I wouldn't," she added. Franky just looked at her and raised her eyebrows in disbelief. "There wasn't anyone home."
"Fuck Booms, do you want to go back to prison?" Franky said with frustration.
"I can't go back there," Boomer said and thumped her fist on the couch causing more wrappers to fall onto the floor. "Franky, I can't," she pleaded.
Franky looked at her friend's face and saw there a look of anguish and despair which was all too familiar to Franky. The fear of returning to Wentworth haunted her own dreams. All her irritability vanished in a heartbeat.
She sat on the couch next to Boomer, sitting sideways so she could look her in the eye. She could see her friend's eyes were glistening with tears. "It's going to be okay," she muttered. "I won't let that happen," she promised.
"You won't?" Boomer sought confirmation. She sniffed.
Franky shook her head. "I'm a shit hot lawyer, remember," she said grinning.
Boomer gave a small smile in return. "Oh yeah," she said.
Franky took the bottle from Boomer and stood up. "Why don't you get some sleep? Tomorrow you can come into the office and we'll work on a strategy for your defence, okay?" Boomer nodded and seemed comforted by this.
Franky lay on her bed staring at the ceiling. She’d had a shower and was dressed in a sleeveless top and pyjama pants. Her bedside lamp cast soft light into the room. Her hands rested across her stomach. It was another hangover from prison. She’d do her best thinking lying on her bed staring at the ceiling in her cell. She'd been distracted she admitted and it meant Boomer's problems had been shoved to the back of her mind.
She thought about her conversation with Ruby Roxton that day. There was a moment when she had felt frustration well up inside her. She had let it influence her words.
"I've got a friend who is going back to prison because I can't get her off the charge. You know why?" Ruby had just shaken her head. "Because she did it and there isn't a defence strategy in existence which can save her. She would do anything to save herself because she knows what prison is and what it will do to her."
Franky had stared at Ruby, watching her, willing the girl to ask and eventually she did. "What does it do?"
"It saps your soul until all you recognise as good in yourself is gone," she had said with certainty. "And there are moments where you can see it happening and they're the worst moments." There was silence while Franky had let Ruby digest this. "If you don't start trying to save yourself you're going to find out," Franky finished brutally.
Now she thought about Boomer and her own rash promise. She wasn't confident she would be able to deliver on it. If Boomer went back to prison she would blame herself. Somehow she needed to work out something. She would talk to Stephanie she decided. If there was a defence to be argued then Stephanie Wilkinson would know what it was.
This decided she switched off the lamp and crawled under the covers. In the dark she let herself remember how it felt to finally have Erica's body against hers, responsive and eager, a look of undisguised desire in her eyes. It was better than any fantasy she'd had involving Erica. She fell asleep cocooned in its memory.
"How did you find out about this?" Nick asked Erica the next day when she'd finished briefing him on the blue shirt discovery. She told him.
"Franky found it," he repeated thoughtfully. He looked at his boss. "Should I be worried about her?" He asked after a moment.
"You know what I think of your capabilities," Erica replied. It wasn't a direct answer to his question but Erica felt if Nick thought Franky was a threat than all the better. A little competition was always healthy in her opinion.
"So what now?" Nick asked.
"We need Ruby to start giving us some straight answers," Erica said with a sigh. "Franky thinks she is covering for someone."
"Do you?" Nick asked with surprise. All his gut instincts told him Ruby was guilty. It didn't matter to him either way except to determine which defence strategy they would adopt.
Erica shrugged. "I don't know," she admitted. "Bring her in again." Nick stood up but as he reached the door Erica added, "Nick, ask her who she wants to talk to." Whoever Ruby felt the most comfortable with was most likely to get the truth from her.
She picked up her mobile and checked her messages. She was hoping there might be one from Franky. Nothing. Her secretary announced her ten o'clock appointment had arrived.
Franky was sitting at her desk with her feet propped on her open bottom drawer thinking. Boomer was in the visitor's chair playing Angry Birds on her phone. Occasionally she would groan interrupting Franky's train of thought. They had spent the morning working on Boomer’s defence until the ideas well had dried up.
Stephanie appeared in the doorway. Franky sat up. "You're back," she stated, somewhat unnecessarily. "Can we talk?" Stephanie nodded. Franky looked across at Boomer. "In your office," she suggested.
"What happened yesterday?" Stephanie asked her protégée as they both took seats.
Franky smiled. Her mind went immediately to Erica and how they had spent the evening. It dwelt on how Erica had responded to her touch, how she tasted, the sounds she made, her curiosity and her impatience.
Stephanie was waiting. "With Ruby," she prompted at last.
Franky switched back to the present. "Can I borrow your car?" She asked.
Stephanie was watching her intently. "Yes," she said. "Why do you want it?"
"I have an idea I want to prove about Ruby. It might get her to start telling us the truth.” Franky offered. It wasn’t much in the way of an explanation but Steph was used to Franky being reticent about her motives. She had learnt to trust her.
"What is your sense of her?" Stephanie asked with curiosity. Franky's time in prison had given her a unique insight into human nature which influenced her take on people. She could read people better than any lawyer Stephanie knew.
"I think this case is all about loyalty," Franky answered. "Ruby's loyalty," she clarified. "It is easy to be distracted by what we see. She seems insipid, lacking inner strength, easily manipulated by those around her but I think Ruby is being driven by something else."
"Loyalty," Stephanie repeated, watching Franky closely. "To whom?"
Franky shrugged. "No idea."
The conversation moved on to Boomer's defence. Stephanie admitted the usual tactics were not going to work in Boomer’s case. “She has already been convicted of assault so getting character references saying this behaviour is not usual isn’t going to convince the court. A magistrate will say sending her to anger management therapy didn’t work last time so why would it be any different this time. You could argue the mental abuse defence but it is flimsy. You’d have to demonstrate years of abuse and from what you say, the boyfriend has only been on the scene for a couple of months. Your best chance is convincing him to drop the charges,” she offered.
Erica’s phone rang. She smiled as she answered recognising Franky’s mobile number. “Hello,” she said. “I was just thinking about you.” In truth Franky hadn’t been far from her thoughts all day. Her memories of the previous evening had kept threatening to drag her away from the task at hand.
“Want to come for a road trip?” Franky asked with a smile in her voice.
It hadn’t been what Erica had been expecting. It was 4pm. “I can’t, I’m working,” she said with a frown.
“This is work, it’s the Roxton case,” Franky answered. She could almost hear Erica’s mind working through all she still had to do that day and weighing it up against Franky’s unusual invitation. “I’m outside your office, illegally parked.”
This seemed to decide Erica. “All right,” she agreed.
Erica looked curiously at the car Franky was driving. It was a silver four wheel drive, the kind which dropped kids at school and picked up groceries, it was not the sort of car she had expected Franky to be driving. “Is this yours?” she couldn’t help asking as she climbed in.
Franky grinned. “Why?” she asked, “What sort of car did you think I’d own?”
“I don’t know,” Erica admitted, “but not this.” Franky just laughed. “Where are we going?” Erica asked as Franky swung the vehicle into the traffic. The GPS was giving instructions to continue straight ahead.
“Out to the national park where Ruby claims she was the day Henry was taken. I want to find out if she really did go hiking,” Franky explained.
Erica wasn’t sure how going to the national park would achieve that. She stole a glance at Franky. She was dressed casually in skinny jeans which hugged her thighs emphasising her curves. Her hands rested lightly on the steering wheel. She had long slim fingers and Erica remembered all the intimate places those fingers had been. How they had generated responses from her unlike anything she had experienced.
The drive out to the national park took an hour and a half. They spent most of it talking about the Roxtons. Erica filled in Franky on the firm’s involvement with Stuart Roxton. His business interests were varied and numerous.
“Is he legit?” Franky asked at one point.
“Of course he is,” Erica said firmly. She was annoyed by the question although she knew she shouldn’t be. It was a reasonable question given how diverse his activities were, how much he was worth. She felt Franky was questioning the firm’s judgement and by association her own.
They left the car in the dirt carpark and walked up to the trailhead where the register was kept in a weather-shielding metal container. Franky flicked through it until she reached the day in question. She gave Erica a look of triumph and the latter looked over her shoulder at the page. Ruby’s name wasn’t there.
“What does that prove?” Erica asked with a frown.
Franky just tapped the paper and pulled out her phone and started typing something into it. Erica looked again and saw she was recording the details of the lone entry on that day, one Michael Valeri.
“You’ve lost me,” Erica said with a sigh.
Franky finished recording his details then put her phone away. She looked at Erica and smiled. She slid her hands around Erica’s waist and pulled her close. “It’s like this,” she said patiently. “The walk is linear according to the website, so if Ruby walked it as she claims, this guy would have passed her at some point. His times in and out overlap with the timeframe Ruby gave in her statement.” Franky leant in and kissed Erica. “All we have to do is ask him whether he saw her.” She kissed her again.
Erica wanted to tell Franky to stop trying to disprove Ruby’s story, to remind her they were trying to defend her not convict her. Erica had to stop thinking though because her mind couldn't keep pace with her senses. Franky's body was so close she could feel her strong thighs pressing against her own and her hands slid up her back pulling her even closer. Her own hands held onto Franky's hips as the kiss deepened.
A gunshot sounded and they broke apart immediately. Franky looked dazed. Another shot sounded.
"What was that?" Erica asked, looking around for the source. They were completely exposed on a valley floor of cleared meadows scattered with scrubby bush that stretched for at least half a kilometre in width before rocky granite cliffs rose on either side. It was impossible to see what was hidden amongst the eucalypts and scrub that covered the ridges on each side.
"Let's get out of here," Franky suggested taking Erica’s hand in her own and leading her back down the track towards the car.
They reached the car without further incident. As they drove out Erica pointed to a sign which had come away from its post causing them to miss it on the way in. It stated kangaroo culling was in progress between the hours of 5pm and 7am. It explained the gunshots.
"Is this how you show a girl a good time?" Erica couldn't help asking.
"Well, usually it's fireworks," Franky replied.
Erica laughed softly. She stole a look at Franky’s profile. “How are you going to find this guy?” she asked suddenly. “You only have his name and rego.”
Franky had a plan but she was reluctant to tell Erica what it was. “There can’t be that many Michael Valeri’s in Victoria,” was all she said.
Erica frowned. “Don’t waste your time on this,” she said. “It’s not likely to help Ruby.”
Franky was silent, intently watching the dirt road for pot holes. “Why did you bring in Steph?” she asked after a moment.
“You know why,” Erica said with a frown. “She’s the best.”
“So trust us to have Ruby’s best interests at heart,” Franky said firmly. Her gaze left the road briefly and she looked across to Erica catching her eye. “I’m not trying to screw up your case, Erica,” she said sincerely. “Let’s face it right now you don’t really have one,” she added with brutal honesty.
Erica sighed and stared out the window. Much as she wanted to refute Franky’s claim, she knew what she was saying was true. They needed Stephanie on board because the case against Ruby was strong and their defence strategy was weak. The senior partners had been pretty clear. The firm couldn’t afford to lose Stuart Roxton. Not only did he contribute a significant amount to the firm’s profit margin from his own business. He had been responsible for bringing in numerous other clients. If Stuart walked so would his associates leaving the firm in dire straits. This didn’t make it any easier for Erica to let go and give Wilkinson and Associates free reign over the case.
Franky didn’t say anything further. She didn’t expect Erica to understand her motives. She didn’t even expect her to trust her instincts. It had taken Steph months to get to that point. She and Erica had worked together for a matter of days. She didn’t know how much of what was playing out between them personally was influencing Erica’s reaction. She had invited Erica to accompany her not because she needed her participation but because she wanted to see her. She wanted to spend time with her. She hoped Erica felt the same.
Erica’s phone started beeping letting them know they were back in range. She took her phone out to check her messages. Her secretary had left three letting Erica know changes to her morning schedule. There was also one from Mark.
“Gone to Sydney for meeting…should be back tomorrow night…will call later. X”
She glanced quickly at Franky. She didn’t think she just acted and slid her hand across the top of Franky’s thigh. “What are you doing tonight?” She asked.
She watched as Franky grinned and took one of her hands off the steering wheel. She placed it over Erica’s. “What do you want me to do?” She asked her voice full of possibility.
“I’ll tell you,” Erica promised, “at the apartment.”
Franky’s hand tightened on Erica’s. “Why don’t you tell me now?” she suggested hopefully.
Erica’s phone beeped again. She gave Franky an apologetic look and withdrew her hand. The new message was from Nick.
“Ruby wants to talk to you,” it read, “asked specifically for Franky not to be there!” Erica could almost hear the glee in Nick’s words.
Shit! “What did you say to Ruby?” she asked slowly.
Franky glanced at her. “Why?” she asked. Her eyes returning to the road and her expression blank.
“She wants you excluded,” Erica stated.
To Erica’s surprise Franky smiled. “I rattled her,” she said with satisfaction.