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Second Chances

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Franky was worried.  She had ‘borrowed’ Boomer's bail money from a man who traded in other people’s problems.  If she didn't get it back from the courts then she had no way of repaying it.  She didn't like to think what Vince Diamond might do to someone who didn't pay their debts.  She’d heard about him through a client who had borrowed money from Vince and had been arrested for soliciting when she couldn’t pay the interest.  She had known it was a risky strategy but she had been confident Boomer would do as she told her.  In hindsight she realised she had either overestimated her influence with Boomer or underestimated Boomer's desperation to stay out of prison.  It didn't really matter which because she was fucked either way unless she could find Boomer and make sure she turned up to court at the appointed hour.

She arrived at the reception area fifteen minutes before the meeting was scheduled with Ruby and asked for Erica.  It was Nick who arrived to collect her though.

"I didn't think you'd be here today," he said, clearly surprised by her presence. 

"I guess you don't know everything then," Franky replied.  "Where's Erica?"

Nick frowned.  "Look, I can't help feeling we got off on the wrong foot," he said sincerely.  "Can we start again?"

Franky studied him.  She didn't trust him but she knew Erica would want her to take the olive branch.  "Okay," she said at last.

He smiled.  "Good," he sounded relieved.  "Maybe I could buy you a drink," he suggested.

"Don't push it," was Franky's response.  "Is Ruby here yet?"

"In the conference room with Erica." He led her down the corridor.

Franky was frowning.  Her gut told her something wasn't right.  "Already?" she queried.  "I thought the meeting was at three."

"It was brought forward," he said in an off-hand manner.  "I think Erica wanted her to come in early," he offered.

Franky wondered what Erica's game was because this was guaranteed to piss off Stephanie.  When they reached the conference room Nick asked her to wait while he went inside.  As the door closed Franky caught sight of Ruby.  For a brief moment Franky saw the alarm in her face as green eyes met brown.

A moment later Erica emerged carefully closing the door behind her.  She looked at Franky.  The green eyes told her more than words ever could.  There was disappointment in them but more disturbing was the hurt.  "Erica, you told Stephanie the meeting was at three," Franky sighed. 

"I'm sorry, I had to bring it forward," she began.

"Bullshit Erica," Franky interrupted, "if that were true why didn't you text me?"  She had skipped the charm and gone straight for accusation and confrontation.

"I had to bring it forward," Erica continued without reacting to Franky's tone.  "So I could explain to Ruby, before you arrived, that you would be in the meeting.  This isn't me trying to shut you out, Franky.  This is me trying to contain the fallout."

Franky studied her.  Erica looked sincere. She took a breath.  "Okay," she said more calmly.  "There won't be any fallout though," she added.

"Why do you say that?" Erica asked with surprise.  Franky seemed to have a very different take on everything about this case.

"For Stuart Roxton to walk away from your firm, Ruby would have to tell him she is unhappy with the legal advice you're providing right?" Erica nodded.  "Well that's never going to happen because Ruby hates her father and barely speaks to him."

Erica just stared at Franky.  "How do you know that?" She asked at last.

Franky smiled slowly.  "She told me."  She watched Erica absorb this.  She didn't tell her how she'd found out. 

The conversation had begun when Franky had called Ruby on wasting her father's money on her defence when she was doing everything in her power to circumvent it.

"I don't care about that or him," Ruby had said, almost defiantly.  It was the first hint of emotion Franky had seen. 

"You have a father that cares," Franky said slowly.  "Some people don't get that."

"I wish I didn't have a father." She said it in a rush.  It was a telling statement.

To Franky though it sounded wasteful.  "Don't say that," she said in a low voice.  "You don't know anything about it.  You're careless with your wishes if that's what you want.  I waited all my life for a father who never showed up."

To her surprise Ruby did not respond as she expected.  "There are worse things than an absent father.  You should be thankful."

No pity there, Franky acknowledged grimly.  "Like what?"

"Like having a father who is a monster."

Franky had wondered what kind of monster lurked under Stuart Roxton's successful veneer.

"This is why you should want me in the room," she said to Erica with a shrug.  It was a shrug which said 'take it or leave it but this is a good deal'.

Erica sighed.  She heard the resignation in Franky's voice, as though she shouldn't have to point this out because Erica should somehow understand this.  She rubbed her brow.  "I do want you in the room," she said.  "This isn't about me or you.  Or us," she added in a low voice.

Franky smiled for the first time.  She liked how that sounded.  As though a connection had been formed between them now that could never be ignored or forgotten.

"Trust me," Franky said quickly.  "Just trust me and I won't let you down." Her green eyes were serious as she watched Erica.  She saw angst and indecision.  Franky had realised some time ago Erica had a hard time letting go.  She waited.

"All right," she nodded briefly.

"I go in alone, just like last time," Franky said firmly.  She knew she was pushing Erica.  This was important though.  She couldn't have Nick in the meeting and even Erica would change the dynamics enough for Franky to lose her advantage.

"I want a complete debrief, Franky," Erica insisted.  "Not just you telling me what you think I need to know."

Franky moved closer. She leant in and said in a low voice.  "I'll do anything you want, don't you know that?"  Erica wondered if they were just talking about the Roxton case.  It was tempting to extend the statement to all things Franky. 

Erica went to the conference room door and summoned Nick.  She spoke to him briefly and he glanced at Franky as she did.  His face was carefully neutral but as she watched Franky realised something.  Nick had deliberately wound her up by telling her Erica had brought the meeting forward.  She didn't know why exactly but it could have resulted in difficulties between her and Erica.  She would have to be careful.

Ruby eyed her warily when she entered.  Franky sat down and gave a slight shake of her head and a smile which said “Franky one, Ruby nil”.

“So,” she said after a moment.  “Where were we?”  Franky studied Ruby.  The brown eyes dropped to the table.  “You were going to tell me why you are lying about what happened on the day Henry was taken.”  Ruby was silent.  “We could talk about your father if you’d prefer,” Franky offered at last. 

This brought a reaction as Franky had hoped it would but it didn’t help.  “I’m not talking to you about anything, not my father and not Henry’s murder.”

She tried a different tact.  “Look, I believe you didn’t kill him but the prosecution will point out you worked part-time at the day-care centre and had established a relationship with the victim.  Your car was seen parked near the centre that morning even though you weren’t rostered on that day.  Worse still, your car was caught on CCTV on the freeway heading towards the national park where Henry was found on that same afternoon.  You haven’t managed to explain any of that enough to satisfy a jury.”  Franky paused.  “Oh then there’s your story about going hiking,” Ruby looked up.  “No one can verify that, right?”  Ruby just watched her.  “Only there was someone else doing that particular hike on that day.  I’m tracking him down.  What do you think he’s going to tell me?”  Ruby couldn’t seem to look away even though it must have looked like she was standing on the tracks with a train approaching at full speed.  “Then there’s the slip about the blue shirt,” she added softly.  She hadn’t mentioned this before to Ruby and she saw it startled her.  Ruby’s eyes were full of questions.  Franky could almost guess what she was thinking.  She smiled to herself but didn’t offer anything further.  Instead she waited.  Franky was good at waiting.

“What slip?” Ruby whispered.  Franky told her.  “You’re lying,” she said.  “I read my statement before I signed it.  You’re trying to trick me.” 

Franky laughed.  “Keep telling yourself that, sister, but right now I’m the best hope you have of staying out of prison.  This is the last nail in your coffin.  Once the prosecution have this, it’s game over.  Did I mention what happens to child murderers in prison?”

“Okay,” Ruby conceded at last.  “Okay, I did go to the centre that day.”  Even now her voice was soft, understated. 

Franky didn’t stop to enjoy the moment.  “Why?”

“To see Henry,” she admitted.  “I had his soft toy.  It’s a bunny rabbit called Strawberry and one of the other kids had torn an ear off so I took it home and stitched it back on.  He can’t sleep without it so I’d promised to bring it back the next day.”

“Seems pretty innocent, so why didn’t you mention it when you were first questioned?”  Franky asked curiously.

“I never got to give it to Henry,” Ruby gave as an explanation. 

Franky frowned.  “You still have it then?”  Ruby nodded.  “Shit!  Who else knows?”

“No one,” Ruby frowned.  “Unless Henry told someone, is it important?”

“Right now everything against you is still circumstantial.  It doesn’t look good but there is no forensic evidence to place you at the scene or Henry in your car.  Having his toy in your possession will be hard to ignore.  Why didn’t the police find it when they searched your car and your house?”

“It’s in my locker at the gym,” Ruby stared at Franky.  “I went to a class straight after going to the centre.  It was in my gym bag but I took it out.”

Franky looked sceptical.  “You work out?” she asked with raised eyebrows.

“I do yoga classes,” Ruby explained.  She almost smiled at the look on Franky’s face.

“Do you have the key to your locker here?”  Ruby nodded.  “Okay, give it to me.  Which gym is it?”  Ruby hesitated.  “Trust me,” she said for the second time that day.  “I’m on your side.” 

Franky walked to Erica’s office but was stopped by her secretary.  “Erica is in a meeting,” she explained.  Franky looked beyond her to the glass panelling and into the office.  Erica was talking with two other people.  As she watched Erica looked up and noticed her.  For a moment their eyes met before Erica’s attention was drawn back to the discussion.  When she looked back a minute later there was no sign of Franky.

Two hours later Franky watched Boomer's mum exit the stairwell which led to her apartment and head towards the train station.  She had been waiting for this.  It was better not to have any witnesses to what she was about to do.  She took the stairs two at a time and relished the burning in her quads and gluts.  She knocked on the door of apartment 52. 

Ron answered the door.  His arm was in plaster and a sling.  "What?" He asked aggressively.

"Hiya Ron, remember me?" Franky asked.  "I picked up Boomer's stuff after you booted her out and got her charged with assault."

"Fuck off," he started closing the door but Franky was too quick for him.  She shoved the door open and put something sharp against his stomach.

"Don't be like that," Franky said sweetly.  "I just want to talk.  How about you and me step into the lounge room and have a little chat."  She backed him up to where the short corridor opened into a living area.  "Careful," she warned, "I don't want to have to slash you."  She pushed a little harder against his beer belly.  "Now, this is how it's going to play out," she explained patiently.  "You are going to fail to attend court on the day of Boomer's trial, got it, and when they try and find you and your little lady, you are not going to be here."

He sneered.  "You don't scare me, and you can't intimidate me into doing anything. That bitch deserves what's coming to her."

"You stupid fuck," Franky hissed.  "I've got way bigger problems than you so don't think for a moment I won't stick this knife into your guts and leave you here to die."

This had him looking a little more worried.  "We haven't got any cash to go anywhere," he said.

Franky was relieved.  She realised he was considering it to have even made the comment.  "Don't bullshit me, Ron," she said calmly.  "I know you're dealing.  You probably have a stash of cash around here somewhere."  Ron looked like he wanted to deny it.  "Do you want me to tell the cops about your little set up?" She asked as added incentive.

"You fucking bitch," he muttered angrily but the knife at his belly stopped him from getting physically aggressive.

"You can bet on it," Franky said sincerely. "I better not see you in court Ron, you got that?"

She waited for him to nod briefly before she hit him in the balls hard enough to bring him to his knees.  She left.  Adrenalin was pumping through her.  Fuck!  She'd forgotten what the excitement of living on the edge felt like.

On the train her leg tapped impatiently.  She was full of nervous energy which needed channelling.  She called Erica’s mobile.  “Hello,” she murmured into the phone. “It’s Franky.”

“Didn’t we agree you would give me a full account?”  There was an edge in Erica’s voice. 

Franky ignored it.  “You were tied up when I left.  I wanted to debrief you.”  She thought about that for a moment.  It had given her an idea. 

“You could have waited,” Erica pointed out. 

“I had something I had to do,” Franky explained vaguely.  “I’ll make it up to you,” she offered.  A smile had crept into her voice.  “Where are you?”  Franky asked as the train pulled into her station. 

“At the office,” Franky didn’t catch the rest of what she said.  She saw two men checking her out as she got off the train.  They looked like thugs.  Her gut told her their attention wasn’t casual. 

“I’ve gotta go,” she said quickly. “Meet me at my place and I’ll tell you about Ruby.”  She heard an exasperated “Franky!” as she rang off.

Franky walked quickly.  She looked back once but couldn’t see anyone tailing her.  She thought about Boomer, about how she would get her back in time for her trial.  If she was a no show Franky would lose the bail money.  She didn't know any of Boomer's friends on the outside.  They didn't really mix socially.  Occasionally they would meet up and drink because the bond they had formed in prison was lasting.  Franky knew Boomer didn't speak much to her sister so there was no point trying to track her down in the hope of information.  That left a text message to Boomer in the hope she would see it and come back. 

As she reached her flat her phone beeped.  There was a message from PC Wilson telling Franky to meet her at Academy Bar at 10pm on Friday night.  It was only a moment’s distraction but that was enough time for them to jump her.  The first punch brought her to her knees then they kicked her repeatedly.  She never got a chance to produce the knife.  The best she managed was to put her arms up to protect her face.  “Message from Vince,” one of them said as they walked away. 

When Erica arrived an hour later she found the door to Franky’s flat ajar.  She entered cautiously calling Franky’s name.  She found her sitting on the ground propped against the couch in a semi-conscious state.

“Fucking hell!” she exclaimed.  “What happened?”  Franky looked at her blankly.  “Was it a burglary?”  She didn’t wait for a response.  “You need to go to hospital.”  Franky attempted to protest but Erica ignored her.  She helped Franky to her feet and put Franky’s arm around her shoulder. 

Outside Erica’s foot kicked something.  It was a mobile phone.  She managed to pick it up without dropping Franky and slipped it into the pocket of her jacket.  Fortunately her car was parked nearby. 

In the emergency while they waited for a doctor to organise x-rays Erica asked Franky if there was someone she should call.  “Your dad?” she asked tentatively.  She didn’t know if Franky had reconciled with her father. 

Franky shook her head.  She took Erica’s hand and held it tightly.  “Stay with me,” she said suddenly.  “Please.”   

Erica couldn’t resist the plea. She put her other hand out to brush Franky’s hair away from her eyes.   Her green eyes were dark and troubled.  “It’s okay,” she said.  “I’ll stay.”