Franky was throwing a stress ball against her whiteboard. Stephanie had given her a stress ball not long after she'd started as a technique to channel her anger when she was still learning to manage it. Although Franky had been sceptical it had been surprisingly effective. In the early days Franky had split quite a few stress balls. Now she used ones that had some bounce and threw them whenever she felt her stress levels getting too high. The rhythmic nature of the exercise soothed her and helped her think.
Each time the ball hit the whiteboard it smudged a bit more of Ruby's timeline. Not that it mattered now and here's why.
On Saturday night Franky went to meet with Vince Diamond's money man to pay back the $10,000 she'd borrowed plus interest. Franky was to meet him at the same location where she had done the original deal. She couldn't help but glance across the road to the bar that Nick had come out of all those weeks ago and seen Franky. She didn't know whether he'd actually seen the deal being done but she had known it would have looked dodgy if he had. Her defensiveness when he'd mentioned it had stemmed from not wanting anyone (read Stephanie and Erica) to know she was consorting with criminals. Funnily enough, in the end she had told Erica herself and Stephanie had clearly known something if not the details.
She hoped the guy would turn up soon. She'd promised to meet Boomer for a drink. Boomer had news according to her text message and it beat sitting around the flat reliving the Erica conversation. His car pulled up at the curb and Franky went across. When the window opened instead of Franky just handing across the money and being on her way, she was told to get in the back. Fuck! Not good, her brain was screaming at her. She glanced about wondering if she should bolt but she hadn't given the money back and she didn't want Vince Diamond to get the wrong idea about her willingness to pay. Reluctantly, very reluctantly, she climbed into the back seat. Immediately the car pulled into the traffic. She tried to keep an eye on where they were heading.
"Miss Doyle," said a deep voice with a slight accent Franky couldn't pick. She looked across at the man sitting beside her. Vince Diamond looked younger than he probably was. He was well preserved with a deep olive tan. His hair was long and slicked back in a tight ponytail. It was as dark as hers and she wondered if he dyed it. His dark eyes bore into her as though imprinting her image into his mind. He was wearing a dark suit but his shirt and tie were differing shades of purple. Franky remembered Boomer's description of serious scary but he presented as a well-heeled business man.
"I've got your money," Franky said quickly. He waved his hand dismissively.
"You can keep the money," he said instead. Franky's hairs on the back of her neck started to rise. "I need you to do something for me, a little thing," he assured her.
"What thing?" Franky asked slowly. She watched him smile and suddenly her skin crawled with the appearance of those white perfectly straight teeth.
"Your law firm is working with Ludlow & Brookes on the Roxton murder case," he stated. It wasn't a question. She waited. "Stuart Roxton has wide-ranging business interests, as do I, there is a small matter," he paused. Franky had no idea where this conversation was going but she didn't like it. "The purchase of some property near the Vic Markets." Franky relaxed slightly. "Stuart Roxton owns it, I wish to purchase it but I'm being outbid. You have access to the L&B offices. All I need you to do is find out who has put in the highest bid."
"So you can pressure them to pull out of the race," Franky said with a slight question in her voice.
"So I can outbid them," Vince corrected her.
Franky looked at him. "Yeah, right," she said. "Why would I help you after that beating you gave me?" Stupid question, Franky, she thought, coz there's a reason right there.
"That was unfortunate but necessary," Vince replied as though that made everything okay. "You were getting in the way."
"And if I say no to this little request?" Franky asked. "Another beating?"
"Then that loan will cost you $20,000." He said without missing a beat.
"That wasn't the deal!" Franky knew it was senseless to argue but that didn't stop her.
"New deal," he paused. He had this habit of talking in half sentences. "If you wanted a deal with set terms,” he smiled at her. “You should have gone to a bank."
Franky was silent. There was no way she could find that much money. "And if I say yes?"
"Then our business transaction will be over," he smiled again. Franky was beginning to dislike that smile.
“You give a girl great choices,” she said sarcastically. "Okay," she agreed reluctantly. "But you’ll have to give me a few days," she could at least buy herself some time.
He nodded. "Enjoy your evening, Miss Doyle," he said and the car came to a halt.
Franky got out and looked around to get her bearings. It appeared they had done a large trip around the block. She wasn't far from where they had picked her up.
Franky was cutting red onion in the kitchen at Stephanie's house. She and James lived in the old part of Hawthorn near the river where the houses were expensive. Franky didn't like raw onion much but it really worked in this recipe. James was beside her preparing the rainbow trout with a garlic, lemon and thyme stuffing he'd made. They worked together in companionable silence. James was a quiet man and a very good listener. Franky would find herself telling him things that she'd never told anyone. Not today though, today she was wrapped up in her thoughts.
Since she had voiced her concerns about Ruby's defence she'd felt a strong urge to do something about it. The only idea she'd had though would put her in direct conflict with Erica. Franky didn't want that but she couldn't see an alternative. The knife slipped off the onion and cut her finger. "Fuck!" She dropped the knife and watched the cut curiously. At first nothing happened, no pain, no blood and she felt relieved. Then blood welled up out of the wound and it began to throb.
She looked around to find something to stem the flow. James handed her some paper towels and led her to the sink where he put her finger under the tap. "I'll get a band aid," he offered.
"Bring the box," she said as she leant on the edge of the sink with her head in her free hand watching the blood mix with the water and disappear down the plug hole.
When James returned she let him administer the first aid. "I’m okay," she told him but it was half-hearted. He'd put four band aids over the wound and most of Franky's finger. She tried to bend it without success. "Well that should do it," she said with a grin.
"I think you need a wine," he said going to the fridge and pulling out a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc. He poured three glasses and handed two of them to Franky. "Do you want to take one to Stephanie and I'll finish up here."
Franky found Stephanie out on their patio buried in legal briefs. "It's Sunday," she pointed out as she handed over the wine. She took a sip of her own and dropped into a nearby chair. She closed her eyes and let the sun warm her.
"No rest for the wicked," Stephanie looked across at Franky. "Have you two finished in there?"
"The fish is in the oven and James is finishing the salad," Franky told her. "Fifteen minutes tops." She sipped her wine. It was cool and light. "I want to go back and see Ruby," she said suddenly. She opened her eyes and looked at her boss.
"Are you okay with that?" Franky asked instead.
"Tell me why first," was all Stephanie said.
"I had a call from someone I still know inside. Ella has appeared again. I want to talk to her if I can and see if I can find out what happened that day."
"What does Erica say?" Stephanie asked watching Franky carefully for the non-verbals.
"That it's not part of the strategy," Franky admitted. She drank more wine as she recalled the conversation once more. She looked at her boss. "I don't agree with the strategy," Stephanie didn't say anything. "I think Erica has a conflict of interest." She added.
"And Ruby is suffering as a consequence," Franky finished with frustration.
Stephanie nodded thoughtfully. "If you are asking for my advice, I think you should stick to the agreed strategy if you value your career. If you're asking for my permission to ignore the strategy and go with your gut, I can't give it." She took a sip of wine and studied Franky. "But if you are asking what I'd do in your shoes then I'd say I would trust my instincts and hang the consequences." She raised her glass.
Franky grinned. She also raised her glass and gave Stephanie a salute with it. “Why did you side with Erica over me on the strategy?” She asked what she had wanted to ask ever since that strategy meeting. “You tell me you value my insights but then you backed Erica.” Stephanie could hear the reproach in Franky’s words.
“It wouldn’t have done Ruby any good to have her legal team divided over strategy. If the vote had split down the middle Wilkinson against L&B then Erica could well have fired us. I can do more for Ruby on her team than off it.” She looked at her protégée. “Sometimes Franky, it’s smart to play the long game.”
The afternoon passed and Franky felt relaxed at the end of it. The Wilkinsons had a strong caring marriage and they had welcomed Franky into that relationship easily. Her experience was of relationships that were destructive and damaging. To see the bond between Stephanie and her husband and the respect they had for each other gave her a different perspective. She wanted that for herself, something strong, resilient, constant and caring but she questioned her ability to find it and keep it.
When Franky was leaving she hugged James and held him close for a moment. “You’re important to me,” she whispered suddenly. “Whatever happens,” then she pulled away.
As she walked away she heard him call her name. She turned and saw him smiling at her. “Don’t be stranger,” he said. “Or I’ll come looking for you.” She laughed feeling unexpectedly pleased by his threat.
The next time Franky walked into Wentworth she was alone. The previous visit with Erica had given her confidence but still her palms felt clammy as she walked through the metal detector. No alarms were set off and Franky handed over her personal items and collected her visitor’s pass without incident. This time she met Ruby in one of the private rooms off the main visitor’s centre. She looked rough. Her injuries were healing but Ruby looked haunted. Her crooked glasses were taped together now. Her eyes moved nervously around the room and out to the main meeting room.
Franky brought her up to speed. The psychiatrist’s report was complete and they were waiting on a ruling from the courts about her transfer to a psychiatric hospital. She explained the defence strategy carefully to Ruby. Diminished responsibility was admitting Ruby as Ella took Henry and murdered him. It would rely on the jury believing Ruby had DID. Previous cases had not been successful she explained. It was risky. Her father would be asked to testify whether he had seen episodes where Ruby had transitioned.
“Do you have any control when Ella takes over?” Franky asked. Ruby shook her head. “Do you know when she’s about to take over? Are there signs?” Again Ruby shook her head. “Have you ever tried to bring Ella out?”
“Franky, it’s not safe,” Ruby said in a worried voice.
“Have you tried though?” Franky persisted.
“No,” she whispered.
“I want you to try,” Franky said immediately. Her eyes held Ruby’s. “Now, try now,” she said urgently.
“I don’t think we should do this,” Ruby said anxiously. “Ella is dangerous.”
Franky stood up suddenly aggressively and leant across the table so she was inches from Ruby. “Just fucking try!”
That was all it took. Just as Franky had suspected, Ruby was so on edge in prison, the slightest sign of aggression towards her and Ella appeared.
The small girl stood up suddenly sneering at Franky. “Or what? What will you do to her? She fucking likes you,” Ella spat the words out. “You in your fancy lawyer clothes with your mind games. You think you’re so fucking clever but you’re no better than me, are you? I’ve heard about you in here,” she laughed, watching Franky with a knowing expression. “Rumours about you and the shit you did in here are everywhere,” she hissed the words at Franky.
“What happened to Henry, Ella?” Franky asked, ignoring her taunts.
“The best one is about you killing a governor,” Ella continued. “You want to tell me about that one, Franky?”
She moved quickly and had Ella against the wall in seconds. “Don’t make me hurt you,” she said quietly. “All those fucking rumours are true so here’s an idea, don’t fucking mess me around.” She let go and ducked instinctively as Ella’s arm swung around. It held a shiv. Franky disarmed her effortlessly. “I’m better at this shit than you’ll ever be, Ella, so give it a rest.”
The door opened. “What’s going on in here?” It was the deputy governor.
Franky stepped back and tucked the shiv out of sight. “Nothing that concerns you,” she said firmly. Vera looked from Franky to Ruby and back again. Franky raised her eyebrows. “Anything else, wanna reminisce, Miss Bennett?” She heard Ella snigger. The deputy retreated. “I’ll cut that smile off your face in a minute,” Franky warned in deadly earnest as soon as the door closed. “Now, did you take Henry that day?”
“Listen, if you want to help Ruby you need to find the guy who took Henry,” Ella said sulkily.
“The green man?” Franky queried.
“Fuck, do I have to spell it out,” she muttered. “Yes, the fucking green man, he took Henry.”
“Who was he?” Franky asked quickly, she was so close now.
“How the fuck should I know? He was wearing a green uniform. He drove a green van. How many fucking green men in green vans are there for fuck’s sake? Work it out!”
“Did you follow him?” Franky asked trying to make sense of the facts as she knew them. “Is that why Ruby’s car was picked up on CCTV on the freeway heading to the National Park?”
Ella frowned. “Yeah, I followed him, he’d kidnapped the kid!” Franky thought she knew what had happened. Ella hadn’t taken Henry but she had followed the man who had but somewhere along the way she had transitioned back and Ruby had no idea why she’d been driving down that freeway. She had planned to go hiking that day so that was what she did, just later than she’d planned, and Henry had died. “Why didn’t you call the cops?” Franky asked wearily. If she’d called the police then maybe Henry would still be alive.
“Don’t trust them, never had any good experiences with the police,” Ella said with finality.
Franky sat down feeling weighed down by the tragedy of it. She rested her elbows on the table, put her head in her hands and closed her eyes. It was such a fucking waste, she thought. She felt sick. She didn’t know how long she sat there like that but eventually she heard Ruby say her name.
She knew it was Ruby just from the tone of her voice. It was soft, quiet, understated with a question at its end. “Are you okay?” she asked.
“Yeah,” Franky said sitting up. She looked at Ruby, her eyes serious, “I have to go now,” she said. She hesitated but in her heart she knew she was doing the right thing regardless of the consequences. “Ruby, Erica Davidson works for you on behalf of your father. I’m not sure his interests and yours are aligned anymore.” If they ever were, she thought. “You might want to think about who is best placed to represent you.” She stood up.
“Thank you for coming,” Ruby said in a rushed voice. “For taking the time, no one else except my father has come and I’d rather he didn’t.”
“You don’t have to see him, you know, it’s your choice,” Franky gave a slight smile, “it’s one of the few good things about being in prison.”
“He’s paying for my defence,” Ruby pointed out.
“That’s your choice too.”
Franky had ignored numerous calls and voicemails from Erica since Saturday. Now she called Erica’s office to update her. Her secretary answered explaining Erica wasn’t in that day. Franky could guess where she was and disappointment flooded through her. She rang off leaving a message that Erica should call her about the Roxton case.
She headed back to the office. Stephanie was in court again. Franky googled green vans and a bunch of shoes came up. They reminded Franky of a green version of the prison issue shoes she had worn for years. She shuddered. She tried green trucks and was bombarded with environmentally- friendly trucks like that wasn’t a contradiction in terms.
She walked over to her whiteboard. Under the green man she wrote ‘access’ and then ‘green van’. Next to access she wrote parent, staff, other with a question mark. Who else would have access to the day-care other than parents and staff? It had to be a parent, didn’t it? Then she wrote cleaner. She thought about Maria who came and cleaned her office each morning. The building owners contracted cleaners through a cleaning company. One day when Franky had come in at 7am to finish a brief and had seen Maria she had asked what hours the cleaner worked. Maria had told Franky she started at 6am and finished at 2pm. She had a swipe card to access the offices and wore a red and blue uniform.
Franky called Georgia Freeman at the day-care centre. “Do you use a cleaning company?” she asked once the preliminaries were done.
“Yes, Bright and Clean,” she confirmed. “Why?”
Franky scribbled the name of the company on her legal pad. “Do the cleaners wear a uniform?” she asked.
“Yes,” Georgia said after a pause.
“Is it green?” Franky held her breath.
“No, it’s black with some red edging,” Franky let out her breath in a long, disappointed sigh.
She really had thought she was on to something. “Okay, thanks,” she said with resignation.
Franky’s phone rang. It was Erica. This time she answered it.
“Can we meet?” Erica pleaded. “And talk?” she added.
“I thought you were in Sydney,” Franky said flatly.
“I’m back,” Erica said shortly.
This was going well, thought Franky. “I’ll come to your office,” Franky offered thinking about Vince Diamond’s little request.
When Franky arrived Erica’s secretary waved her through. Erica was standing near her filing cabinet reading a file. She looked tired, Franky noticed immediately. It made her want to hold her, to kiss away the worn look and massage her weary shoulders. She shook herself mentally. That wasn’t going to happen.
“I went and saw Ruby,” Franky launched with, letting Erica know immediately she had defied her. May as well start with the hard stuff, she thought.
“Franky,” Erica sounded disappointed. She put down the file and moved to her desk.
“I talked to Ella,” Franky continued.
This caught Erica’s attention. “And?” Franky told her what Ella had said. “Is she lying?”
Franky hesitated. “She could be,” she admitted at last, “but I don’t think so.” Erica looked at her desk. “Well?” Franky prompted.
“What do you want me to say, that you were right?” She opened her arms expansively. “You were right, I was wrong, happy now?” She said with exasperation putting her hands on her hips and moving away from the protection of the desk.
“I don’t care about being right,” Franky said quietly.
“What then?” Erica asked frustration creeping into her tone. “What do you want?”
“I want you to take a chance on me.” The conversation shifted suddenly. “I want you to stop sitting on the fence, having a bet each way,” she ran out of idioms. “I want you to choose.”
“What happened to giving me some time?” Erica asked slowly.
“Giving you time was the worst thing I could have done,” Franky said bluntly. “You’ve been sitting on the fence with Mark for years, why would it be any different with me?”
Erica stared at her, put out by Franky’s blunt assessment of her character but unable to deny it. Then she realised she had the perfect response.
“Then I choose you,” she said simply.
Franky’s green eyes, which had blazed truth a moment ago, clouded with confusion. “What?”
“You said you wanted me to choose,” Erica explained. “I choose you.”
“Just like that?” Franky said with disbelief.
Erica laughed feeling sudden relief. As though the fog had suddenly cleared and she knew exactly where she was. “No, not just like that,” she paused. “Don’t you realise I spend every waking moment that isn’t occupied by work thinking about you, what to do about you, why you can make me feel so wanted, what it is about you that holds my heart and soul to ransom. Franky,” she sighed, “I’ve hated these past few days when we’ve been at odds with each other. I want us to be together.” She watched Franky begin to close the gap but she hadn’t finished. There was something else she had to say. “You think I deserted you in prison and maybe you think I will again but –”
Franky put a finger against her lips. “Shush,” she murmured. “You can stop now and kiss me.” She said with a grin. She slid her hands over Erica’s shoulders and into her hair and held her head. “Kiss me before anyone comes.” She was pleased that Erica didn’t hesitate and her lips were soft and warm and welcoming and then Erica parted her lips letting Franky deepen the kiss. Everything Erica didn’t get a chance to say she put into that kiss and anyone could have come in and they would have been oblivious.
Then her phone rang. They broke apart and remembered where they were. There was a tap on the door. “It’s Ruby Roxton on the phone, Erica, do you want to take it?” her secretary asked.
Erica nodded. She was smiling at Franky as she took the call. “Ruby?” she queried. The conversation was short and one-sided. “I see,” “well, it’s your choice, of course,” “Why don't I come in?" Franky watched. “Yes, I understand.” Erica said at last. She put down the phone. “We’ve just been fired,” she said.