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Second Chances

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“And this is Franky Doyle, my associate,” he shook hands with a dark-haired attractive woman with an engaging smile. They all sat around the conference table once the introductions were finished.

“You’ve read the brief we sent over?” he asked. Both women nodded. “This line of work is not our speciality but our client is important to us and we want to offer him the best possible legal representation. It is why we have contacted you,” he smiled briefly. “You have an impressive reputation in this area, Ms Wilkinson.”

The older woman did not acknowledge the compliment. “Your client is Stuart Roxton I take it,” she clarified. “And it is his daughter that the matter relates to?”

“Yes, Ruby Roxton,” he acknowledged.

“I’m not in the habit of representing rich, spoilt girls who have spent their youth being overindulged and now lack any moral fibre,” Stephanie pointed out. “If you’d done your research, Mr Hammond, you’d know that.” The young lawyer looked composed despite the implied insult.

“I am aware of that,” he replied seriously. “Ruby Roxton is not like that,” he hesitated slightly. “I think you know that, Ms Wilkinson, or you wouldn’t have wasted your time coming to meet with me,” he studied her intently.

There was a moment of tension while they each assessed the calibre of the other then Stephanie Wilkinson smiled. Her piercing blue eyes changed from icy Antarctic to the embracing blue of the Mediterranean.

“So what were you hoping my firm could do for you?” she asked.

“We would like to bring you in as special counsel to assist with developing a defence and representing Ruby in court,” he explained. “Would you be willing to assist in that capacity?”

“I would like to know more about the case before I agree,” she replied, “I have some questions.”

“Certainly,” he agreed. “I would like you to meet one of our partners. She has done the preparatory work on the case to date. I won’t be a moment.” He stood up and went to the door, which he opened and stepped out into the corridor.

Erica was working in her office when her secretary interrupted her. “You’re wanted in the conference room, it’s the Roxton case, here’s the file,” she deposited a legal file onto Erica’s desk.

When Erica entered the conference room, her associate Nick Hammond had been talking but he broke off immediately. “This is Erica Davidson. Erica, this is Stephanie Wilkinson from Wilkinson and Associates,” Erica shook hands with a composed woman in her late fifties. “And Franky Doyle,” Nick finished with.

Erica looked with surprise into those familiar green eyes, which held amusement and something else. Her mouth opened but no words came out. Seeing Franky so suddenly had completely thrown her. Then Franky stepped forward and took her hand. It felt warm and firm in hers. “A pleasure,” the dark haired woman murmured with a smile.

They all sat down and Nick explained to Erica why she had been brought in. Erica nodded, stealing a glance at Franky as she did so. Franky was watching her intently, looking more composed than Erica felt. She was dressed conservatively in a dark fitted jacket which covered the tattoos Erica knew were lurking beneath. Her hair was longer and she had lost the rat tail. She had toned down the eye make-up but she couldn’t hide those eyes.

Erica switched her attention to Stephanie Wilkinson. On any other day she would have been star struck to have met the woman whose reputation was faultless in both the legal and social welfare communities. Stephanie Wilkinson was tireless in her pursuit of justice for those disadvantaged women who were at the mercy of the criminal justice system. She had admired her work since her university days. Instead Erica had trouble focussing her attention on her idol’s words so completely distracted was she by the appearance of Franky Doyle.

Franky, who she had last seen in prison garb at the Wentworth Correctional Centre three years ago, seemed to have got her life together. Erica was having difficulty reconciling Franky Doyle, prisoner, with the woman sitting across from her. This woman seemed professional, assured and mature.

Erica had spent three years forgetting about Wentworth and getting her career back on track. She had worked hard and made partner in a firm which had no connection to her father. She was doing interesting work unrelated to her previous career. When the Roxton case came across her desk she had felt a slight pull back to that previous world. Broken women who needed saving drew Erica in.

Later she remembered little of the discussion except Stephanie had agreed to a second meeting where she would meet Ruby. As they shook hands on parting Franky leant in and said, “I look forward to us working together,” a flirty smile in her voice. Erica couldn’t be sure but it had sounded as though Franky had deliberately swallowed the word working to change the intent completely.

She watched Franky walk down the corridor towards front reception. Her legs were toned and tanned and Erica wondered if she still worked out. She still had a swagger although not as pronounced. She looked good in her outfit. Erica found herself admiring how it hugged her figure. Just as she was turning the corner Franky looked back suddenly and caught Erica in her observation. She smiled slowly then disappeared from sight.

Erica returned to her office and sent her secretary off to get coffees. Nick appeared in her doorway. “Get on to Stuart Roxton and arrange for his daughter to come in,” Erica instructed her associate. The young man nodded. “Good work today,” she added. She turned her attention to the file on her desk. After a moment someone approached her doorway again. “Anything else?” she asked as she looked up thinking it was Nick back again.

Franky was standing in her doorway smiling. “Hello, Miss Davidson,” she said. It took Erica back to Wentworth when Franky would smile at her in her office. “Fancy meeting you here,” she grinned.

“Franky,” Erica didn’t know what to say. “What the hell are you doing here?” she asked at last.

Franky looked offended. She wandered towards the desk. “I’m hurt,” she said in a teasing voice. “Aren’t you pleased to see me?”

Erica avoided the question. “How did you end up working for Stephanie Wilkinson?” she asked instead.

“That’s a long story,” Franky studied her. Erica couldn’t read the expression in those green eyes. “We should have a drink,” she said suddenly as though she had just thought of it and it hadn’t been her intent all along. She leant against Erica’s desk and picked up one of her business cards. She studied the details. “Don’t you think?” Franky looked up suddenly and caught Erica’s eye.

Erica looked into those green eyes and found herself nodding. It was curiosity she told herself firmly, nothing more. She wanted to hear how Franky had re-entered society so successfully. Of all the women at Wentworth, Franky had been the one to capture her imagination and blur the lines between professional interest and personal. It was natural to be curious about her journey since.

Franky smiled slowly. “I’ll call you,” she said.

Erica watched her leave. From behind there was almost nothing left of the Wentworth prisoner; from behind Franky Doyle looked like a city lawyer; except for the tattoo on her calf which stood out defiantly against the conservative dress code.

Franky sauntered back to reception feeling the day had taken an unexpected turn for the better. If anyone had told her she would ever see Erica Davidson again she would have been sceptical. In Franky’s experience life did not often give second chances. You had one shot usually to make good. She smiled. Today just might be the exception, she acknowledged.

Her boss was waiting at reception for her. “Find the ladies okay?” Stephanie Wilkinson asked as she put her phone away. Franky nodded. “Only the receptionist tells me it’s that way,” the older woman nodded in the opposite direction to where Franky had appeared from.

Franky raised her eyebrows and gave a quick smile. “Shall we get going, Boss?” was all she said.

In the taxi Franky was quiet. She was thinking about Erica. The ex-governor had looked good to Franky’s eyes. Her blonde hair had long curls which brushed her shoulders as she turned her head. Her figure was trim and looked as sexy as ever. Franky had noticed the engagement ring was still on her finger but no wedding band and for some reason that gave Franky hope. It appeared Erica was still in a hiatus when it came to her relationship. Franky remembered the kiss she had stolen in Erica’s office three years ago. The Governor had fought it then given in to it. The fighting had made the kiss even more intense. For a moment Franky had established her dominance. The kiss had reflected their relationship, which had been a battle for control from the very first day they had met. Franky smiled at the memory of those lips responding against hers, resisting then surrendering before Franky broke away. She had made her point and they both knew it.

“So what did you think?” Steph’s question penetrated her reverie.

“Of the case?” Franky asked with a frown.

“No, the décor,” Stephanie said sarcastically.

“I’m curious,” Franky said immediately. “Aren’t you?”

“Enough to at least meet this Ruby Roxton and take her measure,” admitted the older woman.

“What did you think of them?” Franky was really asking her mentor what she thought of Erica Davidson.

“Typical high-end law firm,” she chuckled, “this case would be so far outside their comfort zone they would have been having kittens when it first came across their desks. I imagine none of them have dealt with anything like it.”

Of course Franky knew that wasn’t the case and it surprised her that Erica had felt the need to call in the expertise of Wilkinson and Associates. Although perhaps it wasn’t so surprising, Steph’s reputation was formidable after all. “I’m glad you took me along,” Franky said gratefully. “I think I will benefit a lot from it.”

Steph Wilkinson snorted. “Don’t think I don’t know what you’re up to Franky Doyle,” was all she said.

Later that same day Erica’s direct line rang. Her secretary had gone for the day. She looked at the number but didn’t recognise it. She frowned. Usually she liked to have her secretary screen calls from strange numbers. She would let it go through to voicemail, she decided. A minute later her mobile started ringing. It was the same number. Okay, so this was someone with both her numbers, she decided to answer it.

“Hello?” she never announced her name if she didn’t know who was calling. She felt it gave the caller the advantage over her.

“I was wondering – did you get my letter?” asked a low female voice which she didn’t recognise.

“Who is this?” Erica asked with a frown.

“Only I gave Boomer very specific instructions,” the woman continued. “So I figure you must have.”

“Franky?” Erica said, suddenly realising who the caller was then added, “What letter?”

“The one I wrote and gave to Boomer when she was released. I told her where to take it and not to hand it over to anyone but you. Boomer is very good at following orders.” The implication was clear Erica should definitely have received the letter.

Erica remembered the incident.

She had been in a meeting when her secretary had knocked on the door.

“I’m terribly sorry, Erica,” she interrupted, “but we have a situation. You’re needed in reception.”

Erica looked at her secretary with surprise. She wondered what on earth could be so urgent that she would interrupt a meeting with a client. Her secretary had good judgement so it must be something important.

“What is it?” she asked once they were in the corridor.

“There is a woman staging a sit-in at reception. She is demanding to see you. She doesn’t have an appointment but refuses to leave. She is creating a scene,” her secretary finished with.

“Who is it?” Erica asked as they walked towards reception.

“A Sue Jenkins,” her secretary replied.

Erica thought hard, the name sounded vaguely familiar to her. “Have the police been called?” As she rounded the corner and entered the reception area she suddenly realised why she knew the name.

Boomer had made an effort. Her hair had been braided and pinned back away from her face. She was wearing make-up and while Erica questioned the lipstick colour, she couldn’t doubt Sue looked better than she ever had in the unflattering teal uniform from Wentworth. She was wearing a long skirt made of stretch material which covered her ample figure and a tight-fitting black top which did its best to be slimming but failed miserably. She had parked herself on the floor against the reception and was arguing with the receptionist in a loud voice.

Shit, thought Erica. She was pretty sure Boomer was out on parole and the police attending could only result in a report to her parole officer of a breach. “It’s okay I know her. Call off the police,” she murmured to her secretary.

“No,” Boomer was saying adamantly. “I have a personal delivery for Miss Davidson, so you can bugger off bitch.”

The young, immaculately dressed receptionist was barely holding on to her 9 til 5 smile. “You don’t have an appointment and I cannot let you just walk into her office and wait for her.”

“Well, you better fucking get her here then,” Boomer’s niceties were fading rapidly.

At this point Erica intervened. “Is there a problem?” she asked the receptionist. The young woman looked at her with relief.

Boomer turned her attention to the newcomer and a smile lit up her face. “Governor!” she said with recognition and relief. “They wouldn’t let me see you.” She struggled to her feet.

Erica nodded to the receptionist. She smiled at Boomer. “Sue, what are you doing here?”

Boomer leant in and Erica was overwhelmed by cheap perfume. “I have a letter for you, Miss Davidson,” Boomer whispered. “That’s why I’m here.”

“Well, how about we go to my office,” she suggested and put her hand on Boomer’s elbow to guide her away from reception.

“Fucking harder to see you than the Queen, ay Miss Davidson, and that slag on reception needs to lighten up!” Erica was just thankful Boomer hadn’t decided to put the receptionist in a headlock.

“Well it’s good to see you’re out, Sue, when did you get released?” Erica asked as they walked.

“Yesterday, ay,” she grinned. “I’m staying with my mum, so it’s all good,” she added as though speaking to her parole officer.

Erica ushered Boomer into her office. “Good,” she said with a smile. “You said you had a letter for me,” she prompted.

“Right,” Boomer fossicked in her bag and produced a crumpled envelope and handed it over. “It’s from Franky,” she added. Unnecessarily, in Erica’s view, she had known immediately who it was from and what it would say.

“Thank you,” Erica said and dropped the letter on to her desk. Boomer waited. There was an awkward moment of silence. “Was there something else?” The ex-governor asked at last.

“Franky told me to wait for the reply,” Boomer explained. Erica immediately had an image in her mind of Boomer waiting patiently in the visitor’s chair while she penned a thoughtful reply to whatever declarations Franky had decided to risk including in her letter. She smiled at the absurdity of it.

“There’s no reply,” she said quietly.

Boomer frowned. “Should I come back tomorrow?” she asked at last.

“No, thank you for delivering the letter but there is no need to wait for a reply.” Erica spoke clearly but the larger woman continued to frown.

“What should I tell Franky then?” Boomer asked.

“Tell her I hope she is keeping up her studies,” Erica offered lamely. She watched Boomer grin with confusion.

“You know I got the letter though,” Erica said quietly into the phone. “Boomer would have told you.”

There was silence. “Did you read it?” Franky asked at last. Erica thought she could hear the vulnerability in that question.

Erica knew her response would not satisfy Franky. If she hadn’t read it then the connection they had in prison meant nothing. If she had read it and hadn’t responded then she had deliberately left Franky waiting.

“Yes,” she said at last. The lights went out as she said it. The building’s lights switched off automatically at 8pm. She was sitting in the dark holding her phone to her ear listening to Franky breathe softly. It felt disturbingly intimate.

“You never wrote back,” Franky pointed out. Erica could hear the disappointment in those words.

“Franky,” Erica pleaded. “How could I have possibly written back? I was the ex-governor and all letters are opened.” More silence. Erica waited in the dark.

“You thought about it then,” Erica could hear the small triumphant smile in Franky’s voice.

I thought about you a lot, Erica could have said, for a time you were all I thought about. I almost lost my fiancé because of you.

“I think we should have that drink,” Franky said into the silence. “Then you can tell me what you wanted to say in that letter,” she breathed into Erica’s ear. “Tomorrow,” she suggested.

“I can’t,” Erica said immediately. “Next week,” she offered.

“Tomorrow,” Franky repeated firmly. She named a bar. Erica knew it. It was a popular bar near the law courts. “I’ll be there from 6pm.” She rang off and Erica was left alone in the dark.

Chapter Text

It was after 6pm and Erica was still at work.  The work she had to finish was done and now she was fiddling with tasks that had no urgency.  She was procrastinating.  It was the dream she’d had which made her delay.  It had made her question her motives.  

It was dark.  She was naked.  There were soft silky hands sliding over her stomach and up to her breasts.  Her nipples felt so sensitive.  The pleasure blurred with the pain and she gasped.  The hands were followed by a mouth which kissed and a tongue which teased.  Her body tingled with each touch as though the contact was creating its own electricity.  She arched her back in response, wanting more, wanting that mouth lower where a heat had started to build.  She wanted to demand it but she couldn’t speak because soft lips were kissing her mouth, distracting her, and instead she responded to the kiss.  The intensity of her desire made her desperate.  She moved her hands only to find they were bound above her head and she was at the mercy of those lips and hands.  Even as she struggled against her restraints she knew she didn’t want to be released.  She knew it from the sudden excitement she felt knowing she was powerless.  Then a voice whispered in her ear.  “You’re mine.”

Erica woke up suddenly.  Her was heart racing.  It was just a dream but a dream in which Franky featured again.  She hadn’t dreamt about Franky for over two years.  The prisoner had invaded her dreams while she had been Governor and even after she had left the prison Franky had haunted her for a short time. 

Erica rolled over. She could see the solid lump that was Mark asleep beside her.  She closed her eyes and as she drifted towards sleep a thought slithered unwelcome into her consciousness.  She wondered where Franky was sleeping and who was beside her.

Then there was that kiss, whether she liked it or not, binding them.  That was real.  She couldn’t claim Franky had forced her into it even though she had because while Franky had been the aggressor Erica was pretty sure she had wanted that kiss all along.  It had happened so quickly.  The struggle then the capitulation but even so Erica knew how it had played out.  She wondered if Franky knew too. 

 She had resisted her inner urges twice before.  Once, years ago at the Velvet Curtain; a second time when she had been attracted to the prisoner Franky; she wasn’t sure she was strong enough to resist a third time.

The bar Franky had chosen was usually full of conservative professionals.  She hoped its atmosphere would protect her from Franky’s charms.  It was just a drink, she reminded herself firmly, and a conversation.

She arrived closer to seven than six.  It was Friday night and the place was packed with young lawyers winding down after a busy week.  It was a bar where they networked, hooked up, or just got plastered.  She saw Franky chatting to an attractive woman near the bar.  When she saw Erica she wound up the conversation but not before the woman slipped her business card into Franky’s palm.

She smiled on approach.  A warm, welcoming, appreciative smile which made Erica feel they were the only two people in the room.  “I’ll get us some drinks, see if you can find a table,” she suggested.  “What are you drinking?”

“Scotch,” Erica said immediately.  She needed it, she decided, to calm the sudden nervousness she felt.  She watched Franky work her way to the bar.  She was dressed for work in dark fitted pants and a slim tailored jacket.  She looked like she fitted in.  Erica wondered what these private school lawyers would think if they knew Franky had done time with murderers, drug dealers and child abusers.   

She went to find a table.  It wasn’t easy, every last one seemed taken, but as she was giving up hope, a couple vacated a secluded booth.  Franky appeared about five minutes later.  She placed a glass in front of Erica.  She was pretty sure it was a double.  Franky was drinking beer.  She slid into the booth across from Erica and raised her glass.

“What should we drink to?” Erica asked.  “How about you getting your law degree,” she suggested with a smile.  She raised her glass.

Franky just shook her head.  “To freedom,” she said.  It was the toast she always made since leaving Wentworth.  Their glasses touched.

Erica studied Franky over her glass.  “Okay,” she said at last, “I’m dying to know.”

“What are you dying to know?” Franky asked with a slow smile.

“How the hell you ended up working with Stephanie Wilkinson?  Do you have any idea how awesome that woman is?”

“Oh that,” Franky shrugged dismissively.  “Yeah, I do actually.”  She put down her beer and unbuttoned her jacket.  Erica watched as she slid it off her shoulders and put it on the seat next to her.  She was wearing a sleeveless top which revealed tattoos, toned arms and cleavage.  It was the Franky Erica remembered.

Franky told Erica how she had fallen into her job after she'd finished her degree.

"It was that stupid reality TV show," Franky said with a grin.  "I never thought I’d actually be thankful for it but there you go.  Steph interviewed me and it turned out she had seen the show and was a bit of a fan.  So despite my complete inexperience and record she hired me on the spot.”  Then she added more seriously.  “She has been a really good mentor to me.  I was lucky."  Erica didn't think it was luck.  Franky could be so engaging and charming when she put her mind to it.

"I really like the work I'm doing," Franky admitted.  "I help women like myself who have made mistakes and are at the mercy of the system.  We get some funding from the government but Steph also takes other cases, which help to pay the bills.  She's a pretty good lawyer."  Erica could hear the admiration in Franky's voice.

“I’m impressed,” Erica said sincerely.  “I always knew you could do it,” she added.

“I wouldn’t have without your encouragement,” Franky acknowledged.  She put her hand on Erica’s and held it.  “I wonder if you realise just how important that was to me.” 

Her signal was clear.  Franky’s green eyes mesmerised Erica.  She may have toned down the eyeliner but those eyes were just as compelling as ever. 

“Franky,” Erica licked her bottom lip nervously and withdrew her hand.  Franky didn’t stop her.  This Franky, at her most sincere, was always the one that got under Erica’s guard.  “I didn’t do anything really.”

Franky leant forward.  “You believed in me,” she said softly.  She studied Erica intently, capturing and holding her gaze as though to burn the meaning of those words onto Erica’s soul.

Erica took an impressive swig of scotch and felt it burn her throat.  She looked towards the bar briefly but the crowd seemed so distant when compared with the one woman across from her.  When she looked back Franky had sat back and was watching her with a small smile on her face.  Her hand held her beer lightly.  She had hardly touched it, Erica noticed. 

“Why’d you leave?” Franky asked suddenly. 

Erica knew she was referring to her sudden departure from Wentworth close on the heels of their kiss.  She could have told Franky it was because of her, because of that kiss, because the lines between professional and personal had blurred too much, because if she hadn’t left she would have lost everything she had worked for. 

Instead she gave her stock standard answer.  The one she had given to Mark, at job interviews, to her parents.  “I realised my true passion was for the law and I was treading water in my role at Wentworth.  I wanted to become partner in a law firm.”

Franky just looked at her.  “Bullshit, Erica,” she said at last.  “Why’d you really leave?”  Erica was silent.  “It was because of me, wasn’t it?” she pushed, “because of what you felt for me.  You couldn’t handle it.”  Franky said knowingly.  “Why won’t you admit it?”

Erica took another mouthful of scotch.  It was a dangerous drink for her.  It gave her a terrible hangover if she drank too much of it but the effect it had on her was unlike any other alcohol.  It could calm her, intoxicate her, and she couldn’t resist coming back for more.  The parallels between it and her relationship with Franky were not lost on her. 

“Franky,” she pleaded.  She should have known Franky would not buy it, would see straight through it and would call her on it.

“What Erica?” Franky leant forward with her elbows on the table.  “Why are we here, if not to talk about this?”

“Because–” Erica struggled with words.  She looked at Franky, feeling stupid that she couldn’t articulate her reasons.  Wishing Franky didn’t look so tempting in her tight fitting pants and top with the plunging neckline that drew Erica’s eyes to her breasts.  “I–” still the words didn’t come.  

“Just breathe, Erica,” Franky smiled at her reassuringly.  “It’s okay.”

Erica took a slow deep breath.  “I wanted to see you,” she said at last.  As soon as she said it she realised it had come out wrong.  Watching her companion’s slow smile told her as much.  Franky had read volumes into that statement.

Franky’s eyes were drawn to Erica’s parted lips.  She wondered if Erica had any idea how gorgeous she looked with that confused little frown creasing her brow.  Franky wanted to kiss her, to distract her from those thoughts which made Erica hesitate and resist the chemistry between them. 

When they’d met yesterday she had felt that same electricity she had always felt when she was with Erica.  She had wondered whether maybe it was just the dying fizzle, the last flicker before the lights went out.  Maybe it was just a remembered sensation.  Now though, she knew it wasn’t and more importantly, she knew Erica felt it too.

“Let’s get out of here,” Franky said suddenly.

Erica blinked as though drawn out of a spell.  “And go where?”

“Anywhere,” Franky replied as she stood up and grabbed her jacket.  “This place is restrictive.”

“Why did you pick it?” Erica asked as she also stood up.

“Well, I thought you’d feel comfortable here.” Franky said with a grin.  “I didn’t want you to pike on me.”  She led the way through the crowd towards the door. 

On the street it was cool enough for Franky to put on her jacket again. 

“Do you think Stephanie will help us on the Roxton case?” Erica asked as they walked.

“Still trying to pump me for information, Erica?  Don’t you remember you never had much success with that,” Franky said.  The tone was light but the message was clear.  Franky was reminding her that their relationship was one of equals now and the days when she held all the power were gone. 

“A girl can try, can’t she?” Erica replied, her tone also light.  It was something Franky would have said in the same circumstances.

Franky stopped walking and faced Erica.  “Sure she can,” Franky raised her eyebrows and gave a quick smile.  “Quid pro quo though,” she added.

Erica frowned. “What do you want?” she asked suddenly uncertain where the conversation would lead.

Franky stepped closer.  “You know what I want,” she murmured.  Her voice was full of suggestion. 

Erica was staring at Franky’s lips which were parted slightly as she waited.  She might have answered or just leant in inviting Franky to kiss her right there on the street but before she could do either Franky’s mobile rang. 

The younger woman glanced at the screen and frowned. “I’ve got to get this,” she muttered.  “What’s up?” she asked into the phone.

Erica watched her.  Franky’s side of the conversation consisted of some expletives and finished with an ‘okay’.  She rang off.

“Is everything all right?” Erica asked.

Franky gave her an apologetic look.  “I’ve gotta go,” she stepped closer.  “I’m sorry,” she frowned, “but this is important.”

Erica shook her head.  “It’s okay.” 

“No it’s not,” Franky said quickly.  She leant in.  “We were just getting started,” she said softly.  

Erica watched her walk away.  It had just been a drink and a conversation after all. 

When Franky arrived at the police station it was 8.30pm.  She went up to the counter.  "Franky Doyle, here for Sue Jenkins," she said to the young PC on the front desk. 

He tapped the computer.  "Jenkins," he muttered to himself.  Franky waited impatiently.  "Wait a minute," he said after a moment.  "Hey, Wilson, know anything about a Sue Jenkins?"

A young female constable came up to the counter. "Hiya Franky," she smiled.  Franky remembered flirting with her on a previous visit.  "Yeah, Jenkins, in for assault, you her lawyer?"  Franky nodded.  "All right, come on through, you can see her."

Boomer was brought into one of the interview rooms.  She smiled when she saw Franky.  "Hey Franks, just like old times huh." She laughed as she sat down.

"You fucking owe me, Booms," Franky said bluntly.  "Your timing stinks."

"What's got up your nose?" Boomer asked with surprise.  "It's not like I planned it."

"Well, you're stuck in here until the bail hearing on Monday," Franky told her without much sympathy. 

"Can’t go home anyway, mum chucked me out ay," Boomer told her in a resigned voice. 

"What happened?" Franky asked.

"It's mum's new squeeze, he's a fucking arsehole, anyway I laid into him and mum called the fucking cops," Boomer said in disbelief.  "Not before I broke his fucking arm though."  She said with satisfaction. 

"Did he provoke you?" Franky rubbed her brow.

"Yeah," Boomer said immediately. 

"What did he do?  Hit you?"  Franky asked hopefully but she couldn't see any obvious injuries. 

"Nah," and Franky mentally crossed self-defence of her list of possible defences.  "He's just on at me all the fucking time.  Get a job you fat slag, stop sponging off your mother, start paying your way, like I haven't been trying since I got out.  Arsehole," she muttered again.  She looked at Franky.  "I'm screwed, aren't I?"

“Let’s just say it’s lucky you’ve got such a shit hot lawyer,” Franky said with a grin. 

 “Yeah?” Boomer looked at her expectantly.  “Who’s that then?”

It was almost midnight when Erica’s mobile vibrated on the bedside table.  She looked at the number and thought she recognised it.  She looked over at Mark.  He was sound asleep.  She took her phone with her and went into the kitchen.

She picked up the call.  “Franky?” She said quietly.  There was silence.  “What is it?”

“Did you think about me at all after you left Wentworth?” Franky asked at last.

“Franky,” Erica sighed. 

“Did you?” Franky’s voice was low.  Erica stared into the shadows.  Again she was talking to Franky in the dark and it seemed to draw the truth from her.

“Yes,” she confessed softly.

She heard Franky sigh.  Erica had a sudden vision of Franky lying in her bed, alone in the dark, making the call.  Not caring that it was late or Mark was there because she needed to know the answer to her question.

“It will depend on Ruby,” Franky said into the silence.

It took Erica a moment to catch up.  “Depend on Ruby how?” she asked.

Franky laughed softly.  “Good night, Erica, sweet dreams.” 

Chapter Text

“Where’s Franky?”

Erica had entered the conference room at 10am on Monday morning to find Stephanie Wilkinson waiting alone.  She felt a sharp stab of disappointment.  She had anticipated seeing Franky again.  She’d been looking forward to it, she realised suddenly.

“She had a bail hearing,” Stephanie explained.  The older woman studied Erica.  “You and she have history,” she stated.

How the hell did Stephanie Wilkinson know that?  She wondered what Franky had told her after their first meeting. 

Erica shook her head slightly and frowned.  “Why do you think that?” she asked slowly.

“I looked you up, after our meeting last week, you were at Wentworth,” Stephanie pointed out.  “And your time there overlapped with Franky’s so I presume you knew each other.”

That kind of history Erica was willing to admit to.  “Yes, I tutored her.”

Stephanie studied her.  “She’s a quick learner,” was all she said.  Erica nodded. 

The conference room door opened and Nick Hammond was preceded into room by a man in his fifties and a young woman.  Stephanie Wilkinson studied the young woman with interest.  Ruby Roxton was nondescript and had a way of holding herself which drew attention away from her.  It was as though she purposely shrank into the background.  Her father was the opposite.  Stuart Roxton exuded personality and presence.  He took over the room and cast everyone else into the shadows.  It was a fascinating contrast.

Once introductions were complete, Erica directed the discussion.  “We would like to bring in Ms Wilkinson, Stuart, as special counsel.  Ruby’s defence will benefit from her expertise.”

“Whatever it takes, Erica,” Stuart Roxton said and waved his arms expansively as though a whole room full of experts wouldn’t be too much.  “What are your initial thoughts?”

Stuart Roxton liked to dictate the discussion but Erica remembered Franky’s comment about Ruby being the key.  She looked at the girl who was the subject of the discussion but clearly wished she wasn’t.  “Ruby, why don’t you tell Stephanie in your own words what happened?”

Franky looked at the magistrate.  She had dealt with worse than him.  Prison was full of people wielding authority and enjoying the power they held.  He didn’t intimidate her. 

"Ms Doyle, has your client a permanent address to give the court?"

Franky frowned.  "Ms Jenkins was evicted from her home by her mother on Friday night, your honour.  She hasn't had time to make alternative arrangements."

"So no fixed address and a history of violent behaviour, can you give me a reason to support your client's bail application, Ms Doyle?"

The magistrate looked over his glasses at Franky.  She felt his disapproval.  Arsehole, she thought to herself as Boomer pulled on her arm.

"A moment to confer with my client, your honour," she asked.  She took his silence to be agreement and bent down.  "What?" She asked shortly. 

"You've got to do something.  This bastard is going to lock me up," Boomer hissed.

"Have some fucking faith, Booms," was all Franky said.  Although even she had to admit things weren’t looking too good for Boomer.  Then she had one of those ideas which seem genius at the time but in hindsight could have benefited from being thought through.

She straightened.  "My client will be residing at 1/32 Grantham St, Richmond, your honour," she informed the magistrate.

"And whose residence is that, Ms Doyle?" The magistrate asked sceptically.

"It's mine, your honour, she'll be residing with me," Franky explained.

The magistrate raised his eyebrows.  "Very well," he said in a resigned voice which managed to convey his disapproval.  "Bail is set at $10,000." 

Franky nodded to Boomer and indicated it was over.  "But I don't have the money," Boomer said immediately.

"Don't worry about it," Franky answered. "I'll cover it."

"Where are you going to get that kind of cash?" Boomer asked with a frown.

"Forget it," Franky said quickly.  "Come on, let's get the paperwork done."

When they left court, Franky got a taxi to take them to her flat.  She led Boomer up a flight of narrow stairs and into a flat which sat above a Thai restaurant.  The flat was small with one bedroom and an open area which contained a small kitchen, a couch and not much else.  Boomer explored while Franky looked for her spare key.

“Where am I going to sleep?” she asked at last.

“Well, not with me,” Franky said with a laugh.  “You can sleep on the couch.”

Boomer eyed it dubiously.  “It’s not very big,” she commented.

“Fuck Boomer, when did you get so precious?  You used to live in a cell remember,” Franky pointed out. 

“Yeah,” agreed Boomer, “but it still had a bed.”

“Fine, go back there then,” was all Franky said.  She tossed a key to Boomer.

Franky’s mobile rang and she answered it after a glance at the screen.  It was Stephanie.  “Hi,” she said in greeting.

 “How did it go?” her boss asked.

“All good,” Franky said briefly.  “How about you?”

“We’re going to take the Roxton case,” she informed her.  “I want you to pick up the files.  Nick Hammond is expecting you,” Stephanie instructed.

Franky smiled to herself.  She would get to see Erica after all.  “Sure,” she agreed.  “I’m just finishing up here,” she added, watching Boomer lie out on the couch to test its comfort rating.

“That’s fine, I’ll debrief you when you get in,” Stephanie rang off.

“I’ve gotta go,” she said to Boomer.  “If you go round to your mum’s place you’ll be in breach of your bail conditions, so don’t,” she told her friend. 

“I need my stuff though,” Boomer pointed out.

“I’ll get it for you,” Franky offered, “text me a list.”

“Where’s the telly?” Boomer called as Franky headed for the door.

“Haven’t got one,” Franky called back with a smile in her voice.  “Read a book,” she suggested as the door closed behind her.

Erica was working in her office.  She was feeling pleased with how the day was going.  Stephanie Wilkinson had been convinced by Ruby’s story and was willing to assist on the case.  Erica knew the senior partners would be relieved to hear that.  Stuart Roxton was one of the firm’s major clients and it was important they didn’t lose him. 

“I want to make it up to you.”

Erica looked up to see Franky framed in her doorway.  She sat back in her chair and gave Franky her full attention.  She was dressed for court and Erica couldn’t help but notice Franky managed to make even those conservative clothes look good.  “Hello,” she smiled.  “I was hoping to see you,” she admitted.

Franky eyed her with surprise.  Erica seemed a little eager.  She smiled.  She wasn’t complaining.  “Friday night, for disappearing on you," she added, wanting to make her point.

Erica shrugged.  "It doesn't matter," she replied.  "You've made up for it already with that tip about Ruby.  How did you know?" She asked curiously.

"Stephanie is a bit like you," Franky replied.  "She can see the potential in people.  If Ruby could engage her curiosity, I knew she wouldn't be able to resist."  Franky moved into the office towards Erica's desk.  "So we'll be working together," she said and the comment was loaded with suggestion.

"Yes," Erica agreed.  There was a silence in which Franky just smiled and Erica watched her smile and thought how she had missed Franky’s smile and her engaging manner.  She smiled back.

"I suppose we should keep it strictly professional then," Franky said at last.  She sounded serious and Erica hadn’t expected it. 

"I suppose we should," she agreed feeling a little disappointed for the second time that day. 

They continued to watch each other.

"Steph is big on that," Franky added after a moment, "being professional."  Erica just nodded in understanding.  She was big on professionalism too.  "You owe me a drink though," Franky remembered thoughtfully.

"I do," agreed Erica seriously as Nick Hammond entered her office.

"Drinks?" He asked hopefully.  "Count me in." He smiled at Franky.  "I saw you on Friday night."

Franky looked at him.  "Saw me where?" It wasn't a friendly question.

"In Richmond," he replied. 

"What?"  She asked with raised eyebrows.   "Are you following me?"  The question sounded aggressive, confrontational, and defensive.  She crossed her arms across her chest.  Erica remembered the stance from Wentworth.  Franky had used it to intimidate other prisoners.

Nick looked surprised.  "I was coming out of a bar," he explained.  "You were on the other side of the street."  Franky waited but he didn't say anything further.  She relaxed slightly.

"Steph said you had some files for us," she stated, changing the subject.

Nick nodded.  "I'll get them," he offered, relieved to be out of the firing line of Franky's stare.

Erica wasn't sure what had just happened.  Franky had over reacted to a seemingly benign comment.  It made her wonder what had happened on Friday night after they had separated.  She studied Franky.  The young lawyer looked distracted.

"Franky," she said suddenly.  Franky looked at her but Erica could see her mind was still elsewhere.  “What was that about?” she asked with concern.

“Nothing,” Franky muttered.

“It wasn’t nothing,” Erica refuted firmly.  “We are all going to be working together on the Roxton case and I need to know if there is going to be a problem between you and Nick.”

“No problem,” Franky replied sweetly.  “As long as your associate keeps his nose out of my business.”

Erica frowned.  “I’m pretty sure the only thing Nick is interested in is asking you out for a drink,” she said with a sigh.

Nick entered with a box of files saving Franky the bother of replying.

"I can carry them down to your taxi for you," he offered. 

She took the box from him and tucked it under her arm and against her hip.  "I can manage," she answered with a look that said girls like me don't need help from boys like you. We can look after ourselves.

Franky had reached the lifts before Erica caught her.  “Franky, wait,” she said as the lift doors opened.  Franky looked back but didn’t stop.  Erica was forced to follow her into the lift or lose her. 

"What’s going on?" Erica asked with a frown.

“Nothing,” Franky replied with a shrug of her shoulders.  She hit the Ground button and the lift doors closed.  “Look, I probably over-reacted,” she acknowledged.  “It’s a hangover from prison.  I can’t help thinking the worst of people,” she provided as explanation.  “Don’t worry Erica, I’m sure we’ll all be able to work together.  I get how important it is to you that Stephanie helps on the case.”

Erica put her hand on Franky’s arm.  She had forgotten Franky would be carrying deep scars from her time in prison.  She seemed so well adjusted on the surface.  “That is important,” she admitted, “but it’s not why I followed you.” 

“Let me guess, you want to buy me that drink,” Franky suggested in a teasing voice.  "But didn’t we just agree that was against the rules?" She asked with a frown.

"We did," agreed Erica. 

Franky nodded her eyes dropping to the floor as she considered this.  "So, we'd be breaking the rules?" She looked up and caught Erica's eye seeking confirmation.

"We would," confirmed Erica.  The lift doors opened but Franky ignored them.

Franky laughed to herself.  "Well, that would be a first," she acknowledged.  "You were never prepared to break the rules at Wentworth."

Erica broke eye contact.  In fact she had broken the rules quite a bit at Wentworth but Franky wasn’t to know that.  Besides, she knew perfectly well which rule Franky was referring to. 

"So this is progress," Franky pointed out with a smile in her voice.  The lift doors closed again but the lift remained stationary.

“So just to be clear,” Erica said seriously, “I’m going to buy you a drink.” 

Franky stepped closer.  “I want to be perfectly clear,” she murmured.  Her green eyes glanced at Erica’s parted lips and she leant in slowly, deliberately.  She wondered if the lift doors would open again but she didn’t care.   Her lips brushed Erica’s lightly, tentatively, curious to see how the other woman would respond.  There was no fighting this time.  She felt Erica’s lips press against her own.  They were soft, warm and hesitant but receptive.  Franky was encouraged.  So despite the ache growing in her arm which held the box against her hip, she let the kiss continue.  She let it grow in intensity until she forgot about the box.  Her free hand held Erica’s head and she felt Erica’s hands grasp her jacket pulling her closer.  It could have lasted forever except the lift doors opened. 

Erica broke away quickly looking disconcerted by the interruption.  Her eyes reflected the disappointment Franky felt.  She should have pressed the emergency stop or held the door close button.  Anything to have given them more time, more privacy, instead the lift was invaded by a group of suits and Franky could only grin with amused resignation before pushing her way through the throng.

Erica was back at her desk when her mobile vibrated.  She glanced at the text message.  “There’s more privacy in prison,” it read.  She smiled.  She took that to mean Franky was feeling frustrated. 

Franky was listening to Stephanie.  Her boss had just finished explaining why she had decided to take the Roxton case.

"So it was nothing she actually said that convinced you?" Franky clarified.  Her mobile vibrated in her pocket.  She thought it might be Erica but when she looked it was from Boomer.  "Where do you keep the chocolate stash?" It read.  Franky shook her head slightly and dropped the phone on the table in front of her.

Stephanie waited until Franky's attention was back on task.  "No, I'd decided before she opened her mouth to speak."

"Do you think she did it?" Franky asked curiously.

"I can't tell, the evidence is against her and her story is full of holes but she doesn't strike me as someone who would do this," Stephanie was perplexed. 

"Well, don't rely on that as the reason for her innocence," was all Franky said.  She had seen enough women in Wentworth who looked the picture of innocence and were as guilty as hell.

"I want you to meet her," Stephanie said.  "You have great instincts when it comes to people's intent.  I'd value your insight."

Franky just nodded but inside she felt a warm glow radiate.  She respected Steph and those words meant a lot to her.  Her time in prison had taken almost everything good that was inside Franky.  She had survived but the causalities had been her self-respect and her self-worth.   She hadn't liked who she had become. The woman in front of her had begun to restore Franky's belief in herself.  Bit by bit, day by day from the first day they had met when Steph had treated her as someone worthy of a chance to start again. 

"Call Erica Davidson and have her tee something up," Stephanie instructed.  Franky stood up to leave.  "Anything you need to tell me about?" She asked almost as though it was an afterthought. 

Franky knew Stephanie well enough by now to know all her comments and questions were considered.  She wondered what the older woman was fishing for.  It could be about Erica, it could be about Boomer, it could be something else entirely.  Franky had enough secrets that an open ended question like that immediately made her suspicious.  She shook her head slightly.  "No, boss," was all she said.

"Oh I almost forgot, this is for you," Stephanie handed over a stylish, embossed cream envelope.

Franky took it frowning.  "What is it?"

"An invitation," Stephanie explained.  "I'm getting an award, and you're invited to the presentation night."  She watched as Franky grinned.  "Only if you’d like to come but there will be free booze and plenty of good food," she added as incentive.

Franky tilted her head and smiled.  "Wouldn't miss it then," she said lightly.

In her office Franky pulled the box of files from the Roxton case towards her and opened the lid.  She grabbed the first file but before she opened it she dialled Erica's number.

Erica’s secretary answered.  Ms Davidson was unavailable, would she like to leave a message or be put through to her voicemail.  Franky smiled and asked for voicemail.

“Hello,” she said after the beep sounded.  “I need you to arrange a time for me to meet Ruby,” she sounded business-like even to herself.  She kind of liked telling Erica what to do.  She imagined telling Erica what to do in bed and that took her mind on a very distracting tangent.  When she finally realised she was still holding the phone she said quickly, “I want to kiss you somewhere more private.”  She smiled as she rang off, liking the double entendre, and wondering if Erica would pick up on it.  She hoped she wouldn’t have to wait long to find out.

Chapter Text

“Franky Doyle is at reception.  Should I take her to the conference room?” Erica’s secretary asked.

Erica stood up.  “No, it’s all right, I’ll collect her,” she grabbed the Roxton file and her legal pad. 

She walked into the foyer area and saw Franky chatting with the young receptionist.  She was leaning against her desk, smiling and being charming as only Franky could be.  Today she was dressed in tight fitting pants and open collared shirt which hugged her figure. 

When she saw Erica she immediately stood back and Erica could see the appreciation in her eyes.  Franky was checking her out and liked what she saw.  Erica could feel herself grow warm under that gaze.

"Hello," Franky greeted her. They headed towards the conference room.

"Were you just flirting with Rebecca?" Erica couldn't help but ask, a little incredulously.

"You shouldn't be jealous," Franky said lightly, teasingly.

"I'm not," Erica refuted.  Franky just raised her eyebrows at this.

"I'm just keeping my hand in," she went on.  "You know what they say, if you don't use it, you lose it," she grinned.

"You know she has a boyfriend," Erica pointed out.

Franky shrugged. "So do you," she countered with. “And yet,” she said dropping her voice and leaning in, “you were kissing me last time we met.”

They reached the conference room and Erica was relieved to finish the conversation which in hindsight she wished she'd never started.  She reached out to open the door but as her hand touched the doorhandle Franky’s hand covered hers and stopped her from opening it.  Erica looked at her with surprise.

"No," Franky said firmly.  "I want to talk to Ruby alone."

"Why?" Erica asked with a frown.

"Because," Franky said with a sigh.  It wasn't anything she could explain to Erica without probably offending her.  "Just trust me," she said at last.  "It will be better this way."

Erica looked at her for a moment, indecisive and questioning, she felt uncomfortable letting go.  She didn’t know why exactly.  She delegated happily to Nick but she also knew Nick’s capabilities.  Franky was an unknown quantity.  She was intelligent certainly and street smart.  Those traits Erica had seen at Wentworth.  If things went pear shaped and they lost Stuart Roxton it would be her responsibility.  Franky was waiting, watching her, willing her to take a chance on her. 

She stepped back.  "All right," she agreed.  "Come and see me when you're done."

Franky walked into the conference room alone.  She dropped her legal pad and pen onto the table and sat down across from Ruby.  She looked at her.

Ruby Roxton dressed to disappear.  Her top was shapeless emphasising nothing of the body beneath it.  The colour was soft and understated.  Her hair had a tendency to curl so Ruby had pulled it back tightly restricting the offending locks.  She wore glasses but not dramatic ones that drew attention to the eyes like Stephanie wore.  These were frameless and managed only to hide her eyes slightly when the light reflected off the lenses. 

Franky thought about the beautiful vibrancy and richness of a ruby stone and wondered at life's little ironies.  Anything less like a ruby she couldn't imagine. 

She continued to watch the young woman who she judged from her appearance to be about sixteen but knew from the file was twenty-two.  After a minute Franky saw her fidget slightly and begin to look uncertain.

"Who are you?" She asked at last.  "Where's Erica?" Her voice was low, and again understated.

"I'm Franky," was all she said. "And you're Ruby."

"Are you a lawyer?"  Franky nodded.  "Are you here to help me?"

"Maybe, maybe not," Franky said noncommittally.  "You need help," she added. 

Ruby looked into her lap.  "I didn't do it," she said softly.  Franky had to lean forward to hear her. 

"Someone did," Franky replied.  "Someone went to that daycare centre and took that little boy and left him alone in the bush to die."  It still turned her stomach to think about it.  Despite all she had seen in prison, all she had done, Franky couldn't reconcile herself to this sort of crime.  What kind of monster would do that to a child? 

"Henry," Ruby said. "His name was Henry."

Franky slid back in her chair.  She picked up her pen and tapped it against her notepad.  She looked up suddenly and caught Ruby's eye.  "You're not helping yourself," she said at last.

"So how did you go?" Erica asked as Franky entered some time later and sat in one of the visitor's chairs. 

Franky shrugged.  "I have three questions," she said with a frown.  "Firstly, if she went hiking that day as she claims why isn't there any record of her signing the register?"  All walks in national parks had a register at the beginning of the walk where hikers recorded their contact details and car registration as well as time in and out.

"But she explained she never signs those registers," Erica countered. 

Franky raised her eyebrows and gave Erica a look of disbelief.  "And you believe her?"  Erica frowned.  "Look at her, are you telling me, you think she would risk hiking alone in a national park where there's no mobile coverage and not sign the register?  Especially if, as she claims, she didn't tell anyone where she was going, come on Erica!"

"How do you know there is no mobile phone coverage?" Erica asked curiously.

"I googled," Franky said.  "Just like the prosecution will.  There are loads of helpful hiking tips on the web, including how good the mobile coverage is."

"You think she's guilty," Erica said.  It was a statement rather than a question.

"I think she's lying," Franky corrected her. 

“What’s your second question?”

"If Ruby didn't take the boy why is she lying about going to the centre that day?"

"You think she went to the centre?" Erica asked.  She rubbed her brow.

"Yep," Franky said briefly.

"Maybe because it incriminates her," Erica offered.  “Why do you think she’s lying?”

“She mentions in her statement to the police Henry’s blue shirt.  How did she know he was wearing a blue shirt unless she’d been at the centre?”

“Why didn’t we pick that up?”  Erica frowned.  How could they have missed that?

“Probably because it’s not in the written statement,” Franky said and Erica just stared at her.  “I found it on the audio but there is some background noise when she says it.  Whoever transcribed the interview didn’t catch it.” 

“But you did?” Erica sounded sceptical.

Franky took a USB stick from around her neck.  Erica hadn’t noticed it before because it had been hidden inside her shirt.  She stood up and walked around Erica’s desk and stood beside her.  She inserted the drive into Erica’s laptop then leant across her to tap some keys until she brought up the file on the screen.  She fast forwarded the audio then hit play. 

“This is the original,” she said.  They listened.  Ruby was talking about Henry.  It was the part of the interview where the police had let her talk.  They had been fishing, waiting for Ruby to incriminate herself.  “There,” Franky hit pause.  She’d been leaning on the desk and turned to look at Erica.  “Did you hear it?” 

Erica shook her head.  “What’s that noise?” she asked.  She couldn’t help but be aware of Franky’s closeness.  She could smell her shampoo when she turned her head.  She noticed how her shirt gaped as she leant forward revealing the curve of her breast and her tattoo.  

“Someone scraping their chair,” Franky explained.  “Now listen to this,” she tapped the keyboard again and opened another file and pressed play.  It was the same dialogue but much clearer.  This time Erica heard the word blue.  “I cleaned up the tape to see if I could hear what she said.”  She looked at Erica to see her reaction.

“How do you know how to do that?”  Erica asked, clearly impressed. 

Franky looked sheepish.  “An ex-girlfriend worked in radio, she taught me some stuff,” she said quickly breaking eye contact.  “You have to have the right software,” she added. 

Erica looked at Franky’s profile as she shut down the files and removed the USB.  She put it around her neck again and tucked it inside her shirt. Only then did she look at Erica again.  She was smiling broadly, she looked cocky, and very sexy.  She knew Franky’s blunt assessment of the flaws in Ruby’s story should worry her.  Instead she was admiring Franky’s abilities, feeling surprised and impressed.  She had under-estimated the woman in front of her, she acknowledged, and it made Franky even more attractive. 

“Now if only you’d put those skills to work defending Ruby instead of tearing her story apart,” she thought then realised she had said it aloud.

“You have to break a few eggs to make an omelette,” Franky pointed out, not offended by Erica’s comment.  “Anyway, there is some good news,” she offered.

“Great,” Erica replied in a tone which suggested it would have to be pretty damn good to outweigh what she had just heard.

Franky smiled at her.  “I think Ruby is covering for someone so all we have to do is work out who,” she said as though it was the simplest thing in the world.

"You said you had three questions," Erica asked, hoping the third question wouldn’t be quite as damaging as the first two had been.

"It’s late,” Franky said and Erica thought she must be about to defer their discussion.  She wondered if Franky had somewhere to be but her next words dispelled this.  “What are you doing tonight?”

“Working, why?” Erica asked with a frown.

“I think you should buy me that drink,” Franky said seriously. 

Erica had a mountain of work to do.  “I can’t,” she said with honest regret.  She would much prefer to be having a drink with Franky than ploughing through legal briefs.

“Yes you can,” Franky corrected her.  “All this will still be here tomorrow, you know.”  She waved her hands at the papers on Erica’s desk.  “If you don’t want me flirting with other women, you should give me the opportunity to flirt with you."

She couldn’t help smiling despite part of her wanting again to refute Franky’s assumption.  “Well, if flirting’s your intention we don’t have to go–"

"Not just flirting, Erica," Franky interrupted.  Erica swallowed at the look in Franky's green eyes and her words.  They brought to mind other words, the ones Franky had left on her voicemail, the ones which had made Erica’s pulse quicken when she heard them.  The kiss in the lift had been an invitation, the voicemail had been a promise, and the drink would be the fulfilment of those.

The bar was loud and crowded.  Erica had to lean in to be heard.  "What do you want to drink?" Franky could feel Erica's breath on her ear.  She already liked this place.  "Vodka," she answered. 

They were standing at the bar.  "Two vodka shots," Erica ordered from a passing bartender.   Someone pushed her from behind and she felt Franky's hand steady her.  She hated this bar but it was the closest one to her office.

She handed Franky a shot glass and picked up her own.  She watched Franky down it quickly then followed suit.  Franky leant forward.  "You still haven’t told me what you would have said in that letter," she breathed into Erica’s ear.  “Are you going to tell me now?”  She pulled back to see Erica's reaction. 

Erica shook her head with a smile but leant in.  “You never give up, do you Franky,” she said.  She heard Franky give a wry laugh.  “I’d have said you were fascinating, and dangerous, and so damn attractive that if I’d stayed I wouldn’t have been able to resist you,” she confessed.

Franky put her hand on Erica’s hip.  “Why are we still here?” she asked quickly.  She knew why though because Boomer was sprawled across her couch invading her privacy. 

As she considered alternatives Erica pulled on her arm.  “Come on,” she said and led Franky out of the overcrowded, overheated bar.

Ten minutes later Franky was looking around a top floor apartment about a block from Erica's office.  "What is this place?" She asked as Erica turned on a couple of lamps. 

"It's a serviced apartment the firm owns."  She watched as Franky explored.  In the kitchenette Franky opened the fridge and pulled out a bottle of wine.  She raised her eyebrows at Erica then continued exploring.  She was like a kid in her first hotel room.  She disappeared down the corridor.  "We keep it for visiting clients and specialists," she explained.  There was no response from Franky.

Erica put down her bag and took off her jacket.  She followed Franky down the corridor and found her in the bedroom testing out the bed.  She sat up when Erica appeared.  Franky studied Erica. Her green eyes caught the lamp light and sparkled.  Erica had thought Franky the prisoner had been attractive but this woman in front of her was gorgeous. 

"What are you thinking?" Franky asked suddenly.  Erica was surprised Franky couldn't read her thoughts on her face.

"I was thinking how sexy you look," she admitted. 

Franky's eyes lightened with amusement.  "Were you?” her voice was full of anticipation.  "Come here," she invited.  Erica closed the gap between them.  Franky put her hands on Erica's hips and looked up at her.  Erica's dress felt silky and smooth under her hands.  She pulled her closer and trailed her fingers down her legs towards the hem.  When she got there she stopped, her hands resting against Erica's thighs.  She saw Erica catch her bottom lip between her teeth.  She put her hands on Franky's shoulders.  "Did you ever imagine this?" Franky asked in a low voice.  Erica shook her head slightly.  "You never thought about what it might be like with me, what I might do to you, when you were thinking how attractive I was?"

Erica swallowed.  She was thinking about it now and she could feel herself getting aroused just at the thought of what might happen next in this borrowed apartment.  Franky's fingers slid under her dress and moved upwards, her thumbs caressing her inner thighs.  Her hands tightened on Franky's shoulders.

When she reached Erica's underwear Franky slid her hands around Erica's arse liking the feel of it.  Her eyes darkened as she peeled the underwear downwards.  Erica stepped out of them.  Her breath was a little uneven now.  Franky pulled her down into her lap.  Erica was thankful because her legs felt like they were about to give out.   Franky kissed her, loving the taste of her, the feel of her body, she pulled her close.  "I want you," she murmured in Erica's ear.

Erica was undoing the buttons on Franky's shirt, taking the initiative, hastily pulling it off so Franky was sitting in her cute simple red bra.  The USB stick dangled between her breasts.  Her tattoo finished just above her bra.  Erica traced it with her fingers and then her mouth.  She unclipped Franky's bra and pulled it off.  Her mouth found her nipples and she teased them with her tongue marvelling at how they felt and responded to her touch.  She sat back and pulled her dress over her head impatiently.  Franky took over removing her bra quickly, expertly.  She sank back on the bed and pulled Erica with her.  She reversed their positions effortlessly so she was on top.  She looked down at Erica's nakedness admiring it, soaking up the sight of it, storing it in her memory. 

Her mouth explored every inch of it, looking for Erica's sensitive spots and delighting in Erica's reaction when she found them.  Finally Erica begged and Franky went lower kissing her, using her tongue in ways which caused Erica to gasp and grab the side of the bed trying to anchor herself in the sensation.  It was torture, it was bliss, she couldn't stand another moment, and yet she never wanted it to stop.  "Franky," she managed to gasp.  When she came she cried out riding the waves of the orgasm unable to focus on anything but the intense sensations she was experiencing.

Franky dropped onto the bed next to her and rolled onto her side so she could watch Erica.  She could watch Erica forever she thought suddenly.  Erica turned her head to look at Franky.  "Fuck," was all she could manage. 

Franky gave a slow smile. "I've wanted to do that ever since I met you."

 

Chapter Text

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.

 

Chapter Text

Franky dropped Erica back at her office explaining she had to return the car to Stephanie. She promised to meet her later and Erica gave her the key to the apartment from her key ring.

"Wow! You sure about this?" Franky said with a grin. "I mean it's a big commitment."  Erica ignored her.  "Wait!" As Erica opened the door. "How will you get in?" She asked suddenly.

"There's a spare key kept at reception, I'll use that," Erica explained.

Franky watched her walk in through the glass doors to her building admiring the shape of her legs and the sway of her hips. She was impressed Erica had managed to walk up to the trailhead without complaining or turning an ankle in the heels she was wearing. She checked the rear view mirror and slid into the traffic. She still had a couple of errands to run before she could meet Erica.

Her first stop was the police station where Boomer had been taken and charged. At the front desk she asked if PC Wilson was on duty. As she waited she checked her messages. Boomer had sent her text asking her to bring home milk. “Are your legs broken?” she wrote back. She smiled thinking what a terrible married couple she and Boomer would make because neither would want to be the wife.

"Hey Franky," PC Wilson greeted her. "You never called." She said reproachfully.

Franky gave her an apologetic look. "Hello," she smiled her attractive, charming smile then looked seriously into her brown eyes. "I should have called."

"Well you're here now," she acknowledged with a forgiving smile. "Why are you here?" She asked curious, and hopeful.

PC Amy Wilson was a cute blonde with dimples and a flirty manner. Franky would have gone there despite the uniform if Erica hadn't reappeared in her life.

"Actually I need a favour," Franky confessed, raising her eyebrows and smiling. "I need the details of this registration." She handed her phone across.

The police officer looked at it then looked at Franky. "I can't give you that," she said. "I'd lose my job."

"What do you want?" Franky asked. These types of negotiations reminded her of prison. People on the outside, just like the inside, always wanted something and once you knew what it was then anything could be obtained.

"A drink, with you, Friday night," the police officer said.

Franky nodded. "Okay," she agreed.  "Text me where and when. How long til you can get me the info?"

"I'll bring it Friday night," she said writing Franky's mobile number in her little black book.

Franky then drove out to North Melbourne and pulled up outside some public housing flats. She looked up an address in her phone and walked into one of the buildings and went upstairs to the top floor. Franky looked for number 52. As she approached she saw a man exit the flat and walk along the corridor towards her. He was tall, thin with tattoos on his arms, and his eyes were the eyes of a junkie. Franky had seen enough of them at Wentworth to know the look. She watched him take the stairs and when he had gone she knocked on the door of number 52. A woman in her fifties answered the door. She had dirty blonde hair with dark grey regrowth and her face was harsh and worn.

"Mrs Jenkins?" Franky asked with a frown.

"Who are you?" She asked, peering at Franky as though trying to recognise her.

"Franky Doyle, I'm your daughter's lawyer," she explained. "Can I come in?"

The woman took in Franky's jeans, boots and tattoos and laughed. "You don't look like a lawyer," she scoffed.

Franky pulled out a business card from the back pocket of her jeans and handed it to Boomer's mum. "Ring the number on this card if you don't believe me," she said.

"All right, so Sue has a lawyer," she conceded, "so what?"

"Mrs Jenkins, your daughter is going back to prison unless these charges are dropped, do you really want that?"

"It's not up to me," she sniffed. "She broke Ron's arm just because he asked her to pay her way. Ron's not having it. He told me it was either her or him. I can't be on my own."

Franky frowned. She knew immediately it wasn't going to be any good. There was no way Boomer's mum would try and convince her boyfriend to drop the charges. Boomer placed a lowly third in this relationship triangle.

"Is Ron here?" Franky asked. "Can I speak to him?"

Mrs Jenkins looked unsure. "Wait here," she said and disappeared. Franky could hear voices but not what was being said and after a minute Boomer's mum reappeared. "He's busy," she said. "He can't talk."

"Okay," Franky conceded. "Can you give him that card and tell him to call me?" She asked knowing perfectly well that he wouldn't. As she left she saw another man with junkie eyes pass her on the stairs. She followed him and watched as he entered number 52. She smiled grimly. The trip hadn’t been a complete wash-out.

Franky dropped the car back to Stephanie’s home. Her boss wasn't there so she left the car in the driveway and the keys in the mailbox. She caught public transport back to the city. She hadn’t eaten since she and Boomer had grabbed a sandwich and coffee at lunch. She didn’t want to waste any more time though. Erica would be waiting for her. As it was she didn’t make it to the apartment until almost 10pm.

The lamps were on casting a soft glow across the room. There was no sign of Erica but there was a note to say she had gone to the office and there was Asian takeaway in the fridge. Franky smiled. She must remember to thank Erica properly later. She reheated some Nasi Goreng and ate it hungrily feeling her energy levels lift immediately. She chased it down with a large glass of water then refilled it.

Franky sat on the couch nursing her glass and thought about what she had seen at North Melbourne. Two junkies within five minutes visiting the apartment led Franky to one conclusion. The boyfriend was dealing and that might give her some leverage. She thought how she could use the knowledge to her advantage. Blackmail came to mind. A straight up exchange - her keeping silent for him dropping the charges. She could get him raided by the cops in the hope he had enough gear in the place to go down for dealing but she couldn’t see how that would help Boomer’s case. She felt her eyelids grow heavy and forced them open. She couldn’t fall asleep.

Erica entered the apartment twenty minutes later and found Franky asleep on the couch. She looked so quiet, so adorable with her hair falling across her eyes and a glass of water leaning precariously in her hand. Erica went to rescue the glass but as she did so Franky’s free hand grabbed hold of her wrist in a vice-like grip.

“Franky,” she gasped. She saw Franky’s eyes focus on her and she immediately let go. Erica could see red marks from where her fingers had encircled her wrist.

“Sorry,” she said quickly. “You startled me.” Her expression spoke volumes to Erica who recognised the action as another hangover from prison where Franky would have slept with one eye open.

Erica sat on the couch next to her. “It’s okay,” she said quietly. “I should have realised.”

“I didn’t mean to hurt you.” Franky sat forward putting her elbows on her knees and her head in her hands. “It’s a hard habit to break,” she muttered.

Erica put her arm around Franky’s shoulder and leant in. “It will take time,” she said softly, “but it will pass.” Franky didn’t answer. “You’re not going to break me,” she offered after a moment. She said it lightly.

Franky looked up then and Erica’s smile faded under the scrutiny. Franky took her hand and ran her fingers across her wrist where the red was starting to fade already. "I am dangerous," she said in a low voice. "You were right about that."

"I like that about you," Erica confessed. "I don't want safe."

Franky turned sideways crossing one leg in front of her on the couch. She studied Erica's profile. "What do you want then?" She asked eventually.

Erica bit her bottom lip briefly. She looked at Franky and saw she was waiting patiently, curiously. She didn't know how to answer her. She didn't even know what Franky was actually asking her. She didn't really know what she wanted except that right now she wanted Franky.

She reached out and put her hand behind Franky's neck and leant in putting her mouth to Franky's ear. She closed her eyes. In the dark her other senses took over. Franky smelt faintly of vanilla and her own intoxicating scent. Her hair felt soft against her hand.

"You," she breathed into Franky's ear. "I want to pull those boots off and those incredibly tight jeans you're wearing. I want you naked so I can explore every bit of you with my hands and my mouth." She wanted to say more, to tell Franky about those desires buried deep that voiced themselves in her dreams, and see her response. She wanted to flirt with pain and find the line where pain becomes pleasure. She wanted danger and excitement.

Franky felt her own excitement build. Erica could have said anything and Franky would have complied. Just hearing her talk was an aphrodisiac. She kissed Erica. There was an urgency to it, and a forcefulness that hadn't been there since their first kiss. Erica responded wondering if Franky had read her mind anyway.

It was Erica who broke away and took Franky's hand to lead her to the bedroom. But it was Franky who dallied, pulling Erica back against her as they walked, kissing her neck, maneuvering Erica against the wall as they went up the short corridor, holding her there while she kissed her thoroughly. Eventually they did get there.

They managed to peel Erica's jacket off without their mouths breaking contact. Franky's fingers found the buttons on her top and undid them sliding her hands upwards until she cupped Erica's breasts feeling her nipples beneath the thinness of her bra. Erica pulled at Franky's top wanting to feel her bare skin. She pushed her hands upwards forcing Franky to raise her arms so she could pull the top over her head. She undid Franky's jeans and pushed her back onto the bed so she could pull them off her. She took more time then running her hands over Franky's torso amazed again at its softness. She saw small scars where Franky had been injured in the past and the healing process had not been ideal. The worst of these were masked by tattoos. Each of those scars told a story of the abuse in Franky's life and her trials in prison. A particular spot on Franky's abdomen contracted as she ran her fingers lightly over it and she felt Franky pull away slightly.

"What is it?" She asked, watching Franky, afraid she was in pain.

"I'm ticklish there," Franky muttered reaching up to pull Erica on top of her. She kissed Erica then reached down and unzipped Erica's skirt sliding it off her.

Erica couldn't help touching the sensitive spot again just to confirm. She felt Franky try to pull away then she grabbed Erica's hands to stop her.

"Don't do that," she muttered.

Erica straddled Franky. Her hands were restrained by Franky's who reached up bringing Erica's own hands to her bra straps making her peel them off her shoulders freeing Erica's breasts from the confines of her bra. Franky's hands still entwined with Erica's found her breasts and Erica could feel Franky's fingers and her own caressing the buds. It felt strange to be touching herself while Franky also stimulated her, watching her with those green eyes clouded with passion. It felt intensely private and incredibly erotic.

She felt a pressure building between her legs. She guided Franky's hands lower. "I need you to fuck me," she said quickly.

Franky flipped their positions responding to the urgency in Erica's tone. She peeled off Erica's French knickers and then took off her own bra so she could lie against Erica and feel her breasts pushing against her own. Her fingers found Erica was wet and ready and she slid in. She found a rhythm which had Erica moaning. She felt Erica slide her own fingers between her legs and begin to massage her. Franky gasped but didn't slow down. She concentrated on Erica's sounds wondering if they could climax together. Franky was so aroused though even the slightest pressure took her to the brink. "I'm going to come," she gasped. She bit Erica shoulder as she climaxed. Erica felt a sharp pain which registered through the ecstasy and she came quickly relishing the confusion to her senses.

Franky rolled off Erica and let her eyes focus on the ceiling. She couldn't move, didn't ever want to move except maybe to drape her arm across Erica and pull her close. She felt complete. She wanted nothing more than to close her eyes and fall asleep.

"You're incredible," she heard Erica whisper and felt her hand slide into her own.

She woke up suddenly. Erica was asleep beside her. She didn't know what time it was. She didn't know where her phone was to check. She didn't really care either. Erica was on her stomach. Her naked back invited Franky's fingers to explore its contours. She stirred at the light touch and rolled on to her side. She looked lazily at Franky.

"Don't you have to go home?" Franky asked with a teasing smile. She liked waking up beside Erica.

"Mark is away on a business trip," she said. "I don't have to go anywhere, do you?"

Franky had a lot of questions about that statement but she didn't ask them. Franky was an opportunist and there didn't seem to be anything to be gained by a conversation about Mark right now. Instead she just shook her head.

"Then come here," Erica demanded softly and Franky did. "Put your hands above your head," she instructed.

Franky grinned but complied. She felt Erica's mouth on her breast kissing the sensitive area around the nipple before taking the bud in her mouth and teasing it with her tongue. She did this a few times until Franky's nipple felt rock hard. Then she turned her attention to the other one and repeated the process while her hand caressed the first nipple. It was so sensitised it almost hurt to feel Erica's hand run lightly over it. The sensation was so intense Franky gasped. Erica's mouth continued to explore Franky revelling in the smoothness of the skin and its silky softness. Franky held onto the rails of the bed head as her body arched to Erica's touch. She trailed her fingers upward along Franky's thighs. Her intent was obvious as her mouth continued its journey downwards. Franky's mind got ahead of the action and she thought about Erica going down on her. She thought she might climax just thinking about it as she felt those lips and that tongue seeking to pleasure her. "Don't stop," she managed to gasp because she knew she wanted to come again and again against Erica's mouth.

The second time she woke up there was sunlight streaming through the window. All she could see through the window was a cloudless blue sky. She couldn't think where she was for a moment then she remembered. She rolled over and saw Erica was still asleep. The sunlight caught the blonde highlights in her hair. Franky watched her sleep. She was beautiful in Franky's eyes but so different from anyone she'd been with before. Well educated, affluent, intelligent, classy, and super sexy.

Franky smiled. Where had Erica learnt to tongue fuck like that? The polished professional exterior hid an uninhibited experimenter. She had thought she had Erica all figured out but the woman next to her had surprised her. She wanted to know Erica but that wasn't exactly easy. Franky felt she could ask Erica the same question three times and get a different answer each time. One minute she was a closed book and the next she was revealing answers Franky never expected to get.

She had spent over a year at Wentworth trying to make ground with Erica. She had enjoyed it partly because flirting with Erica was enjoyable and partly because it helped to pass the long hours. It had been a game at first. Then something had changed. The connection became important to Franky and she began to rely on it. She had still treated it like a game but underneath she knew it was more than that. It had mattered when Erica left.

The blonde head stirred and blue eyes appeared. They focused on Franky and Erica smiled. "Mm," she stretched her arms above her head, "what time is it?" Franky just shook her head watching the sheet tantalisingly reveal Erica's breast as she moved.

Then Erica leant over the side of the bed and searched for her jacket. Franky watched appreciatively as her naked arse appeared as well. She lay back on her pillow with her phone in hand. Franky wondered if she had enough time to distract Erica before she looked at her phone and reality was let into the room.

It was already too late though. "It's 7.30," she said. She sighed and tossed her phone down. "I've got a 9.30 meeting."

"That's hours away," Franky pointed out with a suggestive smile. Erica lying there naked was hard to resist.

Erica sat up. "I have to go home first," was all she said. Franky watched as Erica collected her clothes and dressed. "I can give you a lift home if you want," she offered.

Erica drove an Audi. It was comfortable and smooth. Franky looked at the interior curiously looking for signs that would give her an insight into Erica. People's cars were a reflection of themselves. It was clean and tidy though. Franky directed Erica to her flat.

"You live in a Thai restaurant," Erica said with a smile.

"Above it," Franky corrected. "I'll show you sometime," she promised.

Erica looked about to say something. Franky waited. "This is complicated," she said at last. Franky wasn't sure she'd like what came next. "I want to spend more time with you but," she shook her head slightly and a frown creased her forehead.

"It's complicated," Franky finished for her. Erica nodded. She took Erica's hand in hers. "I don't think it's complicated. I really like you and I think you like me. We'll work the rest out." She leant in and cupped her free hand to Erica's ear. "And I really really like fucking you."

Erica felt a sudden rush of desire at those words. Franky was gone though.

Franky's apartment felt strangely empty. She looked at the couch where Boomer was usually asleep when Franky left for work in the morning. It looked like no one had occupied it overnight. Maybe Boomer had claimed her bed instead, she thought. There was no sign of Boomer there either and it looked as Franky had left it. Franky checked her phone but the last message from Boomer had been about the milk and had been sent at 6pm the previous evening. It was odd.

She showered and changed into work clothes but there was still no sign of her friend. She rang her but the call went straight to voicemail. She sent a text telling Boomer to call her urgently. If Boomer broke bail Franky would be in serious shit. If something had happened to Boomer because she'd got mad and banged a few heads then Boomer would be in serious shit. Either way it wasn't going to be good.

When she arrived at work Stephanie called her into her office. "Did you get anything from the national park trip?" She asked.

"A name," Franky said as she sat down. "I'm checking it out."

Stephanie nodded. "Anything else?"

"I've been excluded from any meetings with Ruby," Franky offered with a wry smile.

"Why?" Stephanie asked with surprise.

Franky just shrugged. "I'd like to know that too. Ruby is rattled I think."

Stephanie looked annoyed. "Well, we'll see about that." She picked up the phone and dialled. "Erica Davidson, please," she asked. "I'll wait." She drummed her nails against her desk. Franky watched curiously. "Erica? It's Stephanie Wilkinson. Franky tells me she has been excluded from meeting with Ruby again, is that correct?"

"Yes," Erica said briefly. She had been walking out the door to a meeting but took the call because of who it was but really she had no time.

"I want Franky in those discussions, Erica," Stephanie insisted. Franky grinned wondering how Erica would take Stephanie's tone.

"Well, it's the client's request, not mine," Erica explained patiently.

"I really must insist," was Stephanie's response.

Erica took a breath. "My firm has employed you to assist us, Stephanie, not Franky. If Ruby wants her excluded then I will ensure that is what happens."

"Franky will produce better results on this than either you or me," Stephanie said bluntly. "Ruby doesn't want to talk to Franky for a reason. Don't let your client manipulate you on this, Erica." Stephanie saw Franky raise her eyebrows at this. "When are you meeting with Ruby?"

There was a pause as Erica weighed up her options. Lose Stephanie's help on the case or risk losing the Roxtons, neither option was palatable. She sighed. "This afternoon."

"What time?" Stephanie was relentless.

"At three," Erica said reluctantly.

"Franky will be there," she looked across to Franky who nodded. She rang off. "She's not happy," she said to her protégée. "There might be some fall-out. Just use some of that charm you're always using on me. I'm sure it will work on Erica Davidson just as well," Stephanie said with a smile.

Franky smiled back. She was pretty confident she could charm Erica if necessary.

Her mobile rang. She answered it. "Boomer?" She queried. The call disconnected. "Fuck," she muttered. She immediately called back but it went straight through to voicemail. "Boomer, it's Franky, fucking call me back."

"Problem?" Stephanie asked curiously.

"No problem," replied Franky. Big problem, she thought. She was certain she had heard a PA system in the background announcing a departing flight before the call had disconnected, which could only mean Boomer was skipping out.

Chapter Text

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.”

Chapter Text

Franky was sent home that same night from the hospital.  She had sustained severe bruising to her back, ribs and abdomen.  There was no internal bleeding and no broken bones although one of her fingers was dislocated.  They had been concerned about concussion briefly because of a bump on her head.  The medical staff gave her some pain killers and told her not to drive. 

Erica brought her home and made sure the place was secure.  When she realised Franky hadn't eaten she went into the kitchen.  “I can do toast," she offered with a smile.  Franky just grinned.  She liked having Erica fuss over her. 

Erica helped Franky get ready for bed then brought her a glass of water and put the pain killers on the bedside table so Franky could reach them if she needed them in the night.

It was after 11pm. She knew Mark would be home from Sydney by now.  There were probably a dozen messages from him on her phone.   "I have to go," she said at last. "Mark will be -" she began then thought better of it.  There was an awkward pause.  Instead she asked: "Are you going to be okay?"

"Sure," Franky shrugged cautiously as though wary of possible pain.

"Okay," Erica said with relief. "I'll call you in the morning."  Franky just nodded.  "You probably should call the police tomorrow and put in a report," she finished with as she was turning to leave.

"It wasn't a burglary," Franky said as Erica headed towards the bedroom door.

Erica looked back with a puzzled frown.  "What?"

"What happened tonight, it wasn't a burglary," Franky clarified.  She saw Erica was waiting for more information.  "I'm in trouble."

She said it with such deadly earnest that Erica was afraid.  She returned to Franky's bedside and propped on the edge of the bed.  "What kind of trouble?" She asked with a sinking feeling.

Franky told her about Vince and about Boomer.  She left out her intimidation of Ron.  Erica listened with concern. 

"You need to tell Stephanie," she said once Franky had finished.  "Your firm will have reserves for this type of contingency.  Stephanie can give you the money to cover the debt to this Vince Diamond character."

Franky just shook her head.  She knew she wouldn't be able to make Erica understand but going to Stephanie for help would jeopardise all the trust and respect she had earned from her mentor.  She wasn't prepared to risk that.  It would be hard enough to explain why she was battered black and blue without raising suspicion. 

She thought Erica would argue with her but she didn't.  She accepted Franky's decision not to take her advice.  Instead she moved immediately to another possible solution.  This was Erica's strength, she realised, the ability to problem-solve without emotion or judgement, to read the cards she was dealt and adjust her strategy accordingly.

"You need to get Boomer back here then," she said.

"And if I can't get her to return my calls or respond to my texts?" Franky asked with resignation.

"You've got her mobile number," Erica pointed out.  "Get her phone traced."

Franky's brain wasn't working at its usual pace.  "How do I do that?" She asked with a frown.

Erica rubbed her brow.  "I don't know, Franky," she said wearily.  "The same way you're getting the details of that registration I suppose," she finished with a sigh.

Franky was silent.  Of course, why the hell hadn't she thought of that?  She looked at Erica and smiled.  "You're fantastic," she said sincerely. 

Erica stood up.  Franky expected her to leave as she'd planned.  Instead she walked around the bed, took off her shoes and lay down next to Franky. 

"I thought you had to go home," Franky said with surprise.

"I can stay for a bit," was all Erica said.  She had decided Franky needed her more than Mark did and she was worried the men who had attacked Franky might come back.  She slipped her hand into Franky's uninjured one.  "You should try to sleep."

Franky suddenly wondered if taking a beating hadn't been worth it after all.  "Come closer," she murmured.  Erica did.  Franky took Erica's arm and put it gently across her bruised stomach then interlocked their fingers again.  "Doesn't it hurt?" Erica asked with surprise.

"No," Franky replied quickly.  "It helps."  Erica could hear the smile in Franky's voice.  She was amazed how quickly Franky could bounce back. 

“Are you sure it doesn’t tickle?” she murmured.  She felt Franky chuckle.

It was strange to be lying next to her.  Not strange, she corrected herself, but different.  She was very aware of Franky's body against hers.  The warmth of it, her curves, how little there was of her and how her muscles, although subtle, flexed as she shifted slightly.  Franky exuded strength, certainty and danger.  Then Erica would glimpse her vulnerability and it was the combination of these that Erica found irresistible. 

"I like your decor," Erica said suddenly.  Franky laughed but stopped abruptly.  It hurt to laugh too hard.  “Did you choose it?"

"No," Franky was grinning.  "This place is a rental.  It came with the mirrors."  The wall opposite the bed was panelled floor to ceiling with mirrors.

"Mm," Erica replied.  She squeezed Franky's hand.  "Who was here before you?  A prostitute?"

"Well, I found a pair of handcuffs in the wardrobe."  Franky offered.

"Did you?" Erica was intrigued.  She couldn't help herself.  "Do you still have them?"

"Maybe," Franky answered noncommittally.  Erica could tell she was smiling.

She leant across Franky and switched off the lamp.  "You should try to sleep," she said again. 

"Aren't you going to give me a goodnight kiss?" Franky asked as Erica slid back over her.

"Only if you promise to find those handcuffs," Erica's lips were tantalisingly close.  "Do you promise?" she murmured.

"Definitely," agreed Franky immediately.  Erica's kiss was soft and sensual and finished too soon. 

Franky must have been exhausted though because Erica heard her breathing get deeper quite quickly.  The background noise from the street became less.  The mirrors reflected the glow from the streetlight.  She should close the blinds she thought drowsily but she felt so comfortable she couldn't move.

The next day Franky could barely move she was so stiff and sore.  It didn’t stop her getting up and getting ready for work though.  She didn’t know what time Erica had left but she had woken up alone.  She took a couple of pain killers and looked for her phone.  There was no sign of it either in the flat or outside on the pavement.  She wondered if the thugs from last night had taken it. 

At the office she called her mobile number.  It rang out.  Great!  Now she had no way of contacting Boomer because she had no idea what her number was.  She checked her emails and her appointments.  Boomer’s trial date had been set for Monday fortnight.  It gave her two weeks to find her friend.

Her phone rang.  It was Stephanie.  “I’ll have to work from home today,” her boss told her.  “The plumbing has gone on the blink and the plumbing company can’t seem to commit to an appointment time.” Franky could hear the frustration in her voice.  “It would happen when James is overseas,” she finished with. 

Franky was relieved.  At least she’d have a few days to heal before she had to face Stephanie’s forensic questioning.  “Anything you need me to do?” she asked helpfully.

“Just keep going through the Roxton files for me.  Did anything come out of the meeting yesterday?”  Franky filled her in.  “Good work,” Stephanie acknowledged when she’d finished.  “How was Erica?”

Franky smiled.  “She was very helpful.”

“I’m glad to hear it.  Call if you need me,” she rang off.

Franky pulled out the locker key Ruby had given her and looked at the membership tag.  It was for a gym on Toorak Road.  She rang them explaining she was looking for a gym to join and asked if she could come in for an introductory tour.  She made an appointment for later in the day. 

She rang her mobile again and this time a man answered.  “Hello?” he said.

“Hi,” Franky said.  “Who is this?”

“It’s Mark Pearson,” he answered. 

Franky scribbled the name on her legal pad.  “You have my phone,” she said.

“What?” he sounded confused.

“The phone you’re talking on now, it’s mine, I lost it yesterday,” she explained.  She drew a box around the name.

“Oh, right,” he sounded relieved.  “It was in my fiancée’s jacket.  I thought it was hers and she’d left it at home.” 

Franky suddenly realised who Mark Pearson was.  Somehow her phone had ended up with Erica.  “Look, is it possible for me to pick it up?” Franky wasn’t sure about meeting Erica’s fiancé but she had to admit a part of her was curious.  “I really need it.”

“Actually I was just heading into the office,” he paused then followed with, “where are you?”  Franky told him.  “Well my office isn’t far from there.  I can drop it off on the way in if you like.” 

“Okay,” she agreed.  “That would be great.”  She told him her name and the address of the firm.

Erica wanted to call Franky but she had back to back meetings all morning.  Between meetings she managed to send a text instead.  She was deliberating over how to sign off when Nick entered her office.  Should she put an X or not, should she put more than one X?

“Morning,” he said then added, “Are you ready to start?”  Erica waved him in.  “Have you read my brief?”  He watched her typing into her phone.  “Erica?”

She looked up as she hit send.  “Yes,” she said.   

Franky looked curiously at the brown haired man with the brown eyes and a two day growth.  He was good-looking in that urban professional kind of way.  He smiled at her.  “Franky Doyle?” he questioned.

Franky nodded and she moved forward cautiously to greet him.  It hurt to move too fast.  She put out her hand then hesitated.  He saw the taped fingers and nodded with understanding.  “Sports injury?” he asked.

Franky shrugged dismissively.  “I dislocated it,” she explained.

“I used to do it all the time playing footy,” he smiled.  “It hurts.”  He pulled out her mobile.

“Thanks for this,” Franky acknowledged.  He was about to hand the phone over when it beeped.  He glanced at the screen and saw Erica’s name.  He read the text with a frown.  Franky watched him.

“You know Erica Davidson?” He asked slowly.  It was Franky’s turn to frown.  “She has just sent you a text,” he explained.  “She’s my fiancée,” he added.

“We’re working on a case together,” she said slowly.

“You’re the one who was injured,” he said with sudden understanding.  Franky watched him closely.  “Erica told me she took someone to the hospital.”

Erica had elected to tell Mark the truth about why she was so late home.  At least as much of the truth as she felt was necessary.  A colleague had been injured and Erica had taken her to emergency and stayed with her.  She hadn’t called Mark or checked her messages because her mobile had been switched off consistent with hospital protocols.  He had accepted her explanation.

Franky nodded slowly.  He handed her the phone.  She glanced at the screen.  There was a message from Erica.  How are you?  I’m in meetings until lunch but will call later.  She let out her breath slowly.  “Thanks,” she said.

The gym on Toorak Road looked exclusive.  Franky thought about her own gym in Richmond.  It was tiny and didn’t run yoga classes or any classes for that matter.  There were spin bikes, treadmills, weights and not much else.  Franky liked it.  It was plain and unpretentious.  The girl who showed her around told her enthusiastically about all the great benefits which members could enjoy.  The equipment was shiny and new and the personal trainers looked like they should be on breakfast cereal commercials.  The tour ended in the female change rooms.

“There are complimentary toiletries, hair products, towels, and you get your own personal locker,” she finished with and glanced at herself in the mirrors. 

Franky nodded and looked around with interest.  She saw the lockers lining one wall.  She let the girl lead her out into the corridor.  “Did you want to try out some of the equipment?” she asked.

“I didn’t bring any gear,” Franky said.  “Do you mind if I just have a look around?” The girl smiled and said she would meet her at the front desk.

Franky wandered back into the change room and looked for Ruby’s locker number.  Once she found it she looked around but there was only one woman changing at the other end of the room.  Franky opened the locker quickly.  The soft toy was easy to spot.  Franky took it and put it in the bag she had brought with her.  She looked with interest at the rest of the contents of the locker.  There were some vitamin bottles containing tablets for cold sores and vitamin B.  There was a towel and a drink bottle.  Under the towel there was a notebook and Franky flicked through it quickly.  It looked like some sort of journal.  She dropped it into the bag as well. 

She listened to the final sell from the girl and took the pamphlet she offered then said she would think about it.  Outside the gym she called Erica. 

“Can you meet me?” she asked.  They agreed to meet at a café near Erica’s work. 

Franky arrived first and ordered a double shot expresso while she waited.  She took out Ruby’s journal and stared at it.  It was a plain spiral bound notebook about the size of a paperback with a hard black cover.  It was held closed by a thick elastic band.  She opened it with a certain curiosity.   It was always possible this would give her an insight into Ruby’s soul. 

Something fell out and onto the floor.  Franky bent down cautiously to pick it up feeling every ache with each small movement.  It was an envelope with something inside.  Franky slipped it into her jacket pocket and turned her attention back to the journal.

She didn’t notice Erica arrive until she sat down across from her.  “How are you feeling?” she asked with a frown.

Franky looked up.  “Better for seeing you,” she said with an appreciative smile.  Erica had her hair up and wisps had fallen down framing her face.  She smiled with embarrassed self-awareness and Franky’s smile broadened.  “Did you know Ruby keeps a journal?” She asked suddenly.

Erica shook her head.  Franky told her about the session with Ruby and her visit to the gym.  Erica had the same concerns about the soft toy being in Ruby’s possession as Franky did. 

“I don’t understand why she didn’t give the toy back to Henry,” Erica said as her coffee arrived.  “She must have seen him there because she knew the colour of his shirt.  Did she explain that to you?”  Franky shook her head.  “I don’t like this,” Erica confessed.  “It is sounding more and more like she is guilty.  She has his toy in her gym locker and her journal there as well.  It is as though she deliberately hid those items somewhere the police wouldn’t know to look.”

“Maybe she did,” Franky acknowledged.  Her gut still told her Ruby was protecting someone though.  “What do you want to do?”

“Give me the journal,” Erica instructed.  “I’ll have copies made and we can all go through it.”  Franky wondered how Ruby would feel about a bunch of lawyers poring over her personal thoughts and desires.  Franky knew what it felt like to have her private letters read by others and almost wished she hadn’t told Erica about the journal.  It was too late now.  She slid the journal across the table.  “Have you had any luck finding Boomer?”

Franky shook her head.  “Maybe tonight,” she said.  What Franky couldn’t understand was how Vince Diamond had discovered his money might be in jeopardy.  As far as she knew she was the only person who knew Boomer had gone AWOL. 

“Let me help,” Erica offered.  She wasn’t sure Franky wanted her help but she’d made some discreet enquires about Vince Diamond and she hadn’t liked what she’d heard. 

Franky didn’t trust offers of help.  In the past there had been too much obligation associated with them or she had been let down.  She had opened the door last night though when she had confided in Erica.  She knew it so she tried to meet Erica halfway.  “I’ll think about it,” she said with a quick smile.

Franky didn’t feel much like going out but she did want the information about the car registration and to speak to Amy Wilson about tracing Boomer’s phone.  The police officer scrubbed up well in civilian clothes.  She was wearing a sleeveless black dress and her blonde hair dropped in sexy curls below her shoulders.  Franky was understated by comparison.  She was all in black except for a shimmer of silver thread which was stitched through her top.  She had worn tight pants and long sleeves to hide the bruises to her forearms. 

Academy was buzzing and on any other night Franky would have been happy to drink and dance the night away there.  As it was the loud music was giving her a headache and the jostling crowd caused her pain each time someone bumped into her.

“Can we get a table?” she pleaded.

They found a free booth.  Franky sank carefully into the comfortable bench seat.  Amy slid in next to her.  She sat so close their arms touched.  “Do you have the registration details?” Franky asked immediately.

Amy smiled coyly.  “Pleasure first, Franky, business later.”  She picked up her drink and waited for Franky to do the same.  “Here’s to mutual satisfaction.”

Franky raised her eyebrows but drank anyway.  She wasn’t sure how alcohol would mix with the painkillers so she sipped the vodka Amy had bought for her. 

“How did you injure your finger?” Amy asked looking at the taped fingers holding Franky’s glass.

“Basketball,” Franky said immediately.

“Does it hurt?” she asked sympathetically taking Franky’s hand in hers and rubbing it gently.

A lot, thought Franky, withdrawing her hand.  “Not much,” she said with a shrug.  Prison had taught Franky to underplay the amount of pain she was in.  It wasn’t smart to let other prisoners know just how much you were hurting.  It was a sign of weakness. “Do you like being a cop?” she asked as a conversation starter.

“Well, I meet a lot of people,” she gave a flirty smile. “The overtime is good and I get to wear a gun and a uniform,” she leant into Franky.  “Which is a turn on, don’t you think?”  She breathed into her ear.   Franky choked on her drink. 

Franky thought about Erica.  She wondered if she had seemed this full on to Erica when they had first met.  “I want to ask you something,” she said abruptly.

“Ask me anything,” she invited eagerly.

“I need a mobile phone number traced,” Franky said.  “Can you do that for me?”

"That will cost you more than a drink." The implication was clear.  Amy leant in and kissed Franky.  It was forward and full of promise.

Two weeks ago she had been interested but now her head was full of Erica and Amy paled in comparison.  She pulled away.  "You can't bargain your way into my bed," she said bluntly.  Amy's smile faded.  "I think you're cute and maybe if," she trailed off.  "But I'm with someone right now."

Amy wasn't prepared to give up straight away.  "And you're exclusive?"

Franky hesitated.  She thought about Mark. "No," she admitted at last.

“So," she left it hanging in the air.  Franky didn't say anything.  "You want to be though," Amy caught on.

"Look, you can help me with this, or not," Franky said quickly.  "If not then I'll find another way," she shrugged and tapped the side of her glass.

Amy sighed.  It was a pity, she thought, because Franky Doyle was one hot girl.  There was always a chance Franky's current relationship would not pan out though.  She decided not to burn her bridges.

"Okay," she said after a moment.  "I'll help you."

Chapter Text

Michael Valeri confirmed what Franky had suspected.  He had seen no one on that hike.  He agreed it would have been unlikely for anyone to have passed him without his knowing unless they were off trail and bush bashing.  “There was one thing though,” he said as Franky was leaving.  “As I drove out I passed a car coming the other way.  It doesn’t match your timings but someone went out to the trail after me that day.”

“Can you remember what model car it was?”  Franky asked curiously.

“It was a forest green colour,” he said.  “I remember because it’s an unusual colour and really showed up the dirt.  It was one of those Subaru All Wheel Drives I think.”

Franky tried to remember what type of car Ruby drove but it escaped her.  “What time was that?”

“It would have been around 5pm,” Michael estimated. 

“Thanks for your help,” Franky said with a smile.  She went back to the office and checked the file.  Ruby drove a green Subaru Imprezza.  If it was Ruby’s car Michael Valeri saw then there was a four hour gap unaccounted for.

“Franky!” Stephanie called from her office as her employee walked by.  “Are you avoiding me?”

Franky stopped and appeared in her boss’s doorway.  “No,” she said.  She leaned against the doorway then straightened suddenly when she realised she was leaning on her bruised hip.

“I haven’t seen much of you,” Stephanie pointed out.

“And you’re missing me, right?” Franky said with a grin.

Stephanie sat back in her chair.  “And I’m curious,” she corrected.  “So do you want to fill me in?”

Franky looked at her phone to check the time.  “Actually, I’ve got a meeting,” she said apologetically.  “With Erica,” she added, “it’s the Roxton case,” she clarified.

Stephanie studied her.  “What did you do to your finger?” she asked, ignoring Franky’s obvious desire to leave.

Franky looked at her taped fingers.  “Dislocated it,” she said briefly.  “Basketball,” she lied easily anticipating Stephanie’s next question.

“Bad luck,” was all Stephanie said.  She eyed Franky thoughtfully.  “You better get going then,” she added at last.  Franky disappeared down the corridor.  “I’ll be here when you’re ready to fill me in,” she called after her.

Franky hadn’t seen Erica since the previous Friday.  It had been her secretary who had called to arrange a meeting to discuss the contents of Ruby’s journal. 

It was after 6pm when she arrived at Erica’s office.  The reception area was empty and Erica’s secretary had also gone for the day.  Erica was at her desk reading.  A small frown creased her forehead as she made a quick notation in the margin of the brief.  Her long hair was straightened today and her fringe dropped over one eye, as Franky watched she pushed it away absently.  She looked up and saw Franky. 

“Hello,” Franky said with a smile.  “Miss me?”

Erica smiled in return.  “You’re incorrigible,” was all she said.

Franky sat down in one of the visitor’s chairs.  “If I knew what that meant I’d be insulted,” she said with a mock frown.

“If you knew what it meant, you’d probably think it was a compliment,” Erica countered with.  Franky just raised her eyebrows.  “How are the bruises?”

“If you’re good I’ll show you later,” Franky offered.  “You could kiss them better,” she suggested hopefully.  

Erica let herself seriously consider the proposition for a moment.  “Maybe we should get through this meeting first,” she said eventually but not dismissing the idea Franky noticed with encouragement.

Franky was more than willing.  “What are we waiting for then?” she asked quickly.

“Nick,” Erica said as she looked for her copy of Ruby’s journal.

"Is Nick coming?" Franky asked with a roll of her eyes.

"Of course he is," Erica said absently.  She found the photocopy, which had sections highlighted and notes in the margin.  She reviewed the document.

"It would be more private with just the two of us," Franky pointed out.  She watched Erica read noticing the way she tapped her pen absentmindedly against the desk.  She was completely absorbed and didn't respond. 

Franky sighed then turned her head when footsteps approached the office.  Nick walked in smiling at Franky.  "Hi," he said immediately.  He was too eager she realised suddenly, and it made him seem disingenuous. 

"Hiya Nick," she responded putting undue emphasis on his name.

"Ready for a late one?" He asked putting his papers on the table.

"Not really," Franky replied.  "I'm starving."  She looked at him with intent. "You could get pizza," she suggested.

He looked at her, unsure whether she was serious. "Okay," he agreed at last, "what would you like?"

"Vegetarian," she said immediately. 

"Erica?" Nick questioned. 

"You better get her vegetarian with pepperoni," Franky said with a grin, looking at Erica as she said it and raising her eyebrows.  Erica frowned but didn’t change the order.

"Okay," Nick frowned in turn.  He felt as though he was somehow missing the sub-text.

Erica stood up.  “If we’re going to eat then let’s do this in the conference room.”  Nick went off to order the pizza.  “You know playing hard to get just encourages him," Erica said as she and Franky walked to the conference room. 

 "I'm not playing," Franky said seriously.

"He fancies you," Erica pointed out.

"Not my problem," Franky replied dismissively.

"Just tell him you're not interested," Erica persisted.

"What?  And lose my pizza delivery boy?" Franky said flippantly.

 "Franky," Erica sighed.

"I did tell him, Erica," Franky told her patiently as Erica switched on the lights in the conference room.  “Why do you even care?” she asked curiously.  When Erica didn’t answer Franky closed the gap between them.  "You could help me put it to bed," she said and put her hands on Erica’s hips.  She pulled her close.  "If he saw us like this," she murmured, "I think he'd get the memo." 

She leant in and put her lips against Erica's parted mouth.  It took Erica a moment to respond to the soft insistent kiss, just long enough to cause Franky to wonder.  Then she kissed her back, deeply, passionately, and Franky was surprised by its intensity.

Erica was torn.  A part of her felt excited and reckless.  Kissing Franky in such a risky exposed place where anyone working late could walk past and see them heightened the intensity of her response.  The other part of her worried about her career and how discovery could harm it.  The latter won and she broke off the kiss looking towards the open door as she did.

"We could get a room," Franky suggested with a smile as though she knew exactly what Erica was thinking.

“Or we could focus on work,” Erica suggested as an alternative.  She sat down.  “Did you get anything from Ruby’s journal?”

Franky shrugged and sat down on the other side of the table from Erica.  “Maybe,” she answered.

Nick appeared.  “Delivery in twenty minutes,” he informed them and took a seat next to Franky.  “Where are we?”

They analysed the journal entries in painstaking detail and consumed pizza while they did it.  It was more a dump of Ruby’s life than a journal in the traditional sense.  There were shopping lists, to-do lists, sums, pieces of half-finished verse, crossed out and heavily edited.  Amongst all these distractions Ruby recorded her thoughts.  She used initials to describe people.  Her life seemed to consist of university, her job at the day-care centre and someone referred to as L-A.

“This is the most boring read ever,” Nick declared, sitting back in his chair and looking at Franky to gauge her reaction to his comment.

Franky hadn’t found it boring though and she had been fascinated by the L-A entries.  Not just because of their frequency but the nature of them.  “L-A said I need to be more assertive!!!!”  “L-A said to stand up for myself." “L-A says no one is free to choose.” “L-A believes the struggle to be pure can only be won in death.”  After this Ruby had written Is death the price or the reward?  It sounded like suicidal talk to Franky but what if it was foreshadowing Henry’s death?

“Any idea who L-A is?” she asked the room in general.

“A nut-case,” was Nick’s assessment.

“I think L-A is who Ruby is covering for,” Franky offered.

“I agree with Nick,” Erica said, “there is something disturbing about these entries.”

“Can we get someone to look at them?”  Nick suggested.  “A psychiatrist?”

“Good idea,” agreed Erica.  “Tee something up, Nick.  Franky, I want you to talk to Ruby again.  See if you can get her to tell you more about L-A.” 

Franky just nodded but she hadn’t missed Erica’s immediate assumption that Franky would take the lead in any discussions with Ruby.  “Anything else?”

“Ask Stephanie to look at the journal.  I’d be interested in her opinion.”  Erica collected her papers.  “Good work today, I think we’ve made some ground here.”

They were all heading back towards the offices and front reception when Erica stopped short.

"Mark, what are you doing here?" she asked quickly.

Franky saw Mark Pearson was hovering outside Erica’s office.  She wondered what was about to go down.  Erica’s fiancé looked surprised by the question.

"You asked me to pick up your car from the mechanics," he reminded her.  "Here are the keys," he held them out to Erica who took them.

She must have seemed ungracious she realised but she had forgotten about the car and Mark appearing unexpectedly had rattled her.

Mark looked at Nick and nodded.  "Hi Nick, how are things?"

"Hey Mark," he grinned.  “What happened to the Blues on the weekend?  They’re out of the finals now.”

Mark shrugged and wore the expression of a football fan who had seen his team almost grab the premiership flag only to watch them topple at the critical moment.  He looked at Franky and smiled in recognition.  "And it's Franky, right?"

She nodded.  "Mark, right?" Franky matched his slight hesitation. 

Erica looked from Mark to Franky and back again.  "How's the finger?" Mark was asking.

Franky shrugged with a 'you know how it is' expression. 

"Do you two know each other?" She asked at last.  Her expression was neutral but her insides were churning uncomfortably. 

Mark laughed.  "No, but we met when I returned Franky's phone to her the other day.”  He told the story.

"You didn't think to mention it?" Erica asked with a slight edge in her voice.

"No," both Franky and Mark said in unison.  They smiled at each other.

Nick watched this play out then said suddenly, "Let's all get a drink."

"No," Erica said immediately.  Three pairs of eyes watched her.  "I've still got a lot to do," she added.

"There's not much more we can do with the Roxton case tonight," Nick pointed out.

"I could do with a drink," Mark said.  "How about you, Franky?"

"Of course she could," Nick answered for her.

Franky felt sorry for Erica.  This was an awkward situation for her.  She was rattled Franky suspected but she looked completely composed.  Franky was intrigued to see how Erica interacted with her fiancé. 

"Great," Mark looked at Erica.  "Majority rules," he said with a grin as though this was a common way they had of resolving differences.  Franky wondered who wore the pants in the relationship. 

Mark and Nick debated briefly about where to go.  While they did Erica pulled out her phone and sent a text.  Franky heard her mobile beep and glanced at it.  "Make some excuse and leave." It read.

Franky looked up and interrupted the debate but not to make her excuses.  "There's a new bar on Collins, which might be worth checking out," she offered.

"Okay then," Mark agreed with enthusiasm, "Collins it is!"

Erica rolled her eyes at Franky and gave her a questioning look.  Franky just raised her eyebrows and grinned.  It became clear to Erica that Franky was enjoying the situation. 

At the bar, which Franky knew immediately was too mellow and sedate for her tastes, Nick found a table while Mark bought a round of drinks.  Nick sat next to Franky who sat across from Erica.  Franky could feel Erica's annoyance from across the table.  The blue eyes were icy when she caught Franky's eye.  Franky just smiled at her discomfort.

Mark handed round drinks and slid into his seat.  "You know Franky," he began conversationally.  "Erica thinks your boss is fantastic.  Bet she didn't tell you that?"

"She did actually," Franky refuted as she sipped her beer. 

"Did she?" Mark said with a laugh.  "Did she tell you she stalked her on campus when she guest lectured at uni?"  Franky glanced at Erica.  She couldn't imagine her stalking anyone.

"Mark is exaggerating," Erica said briefly.  She drank a healthy amount of wine.

"She was star struck, embarrassing really," Mark continued in an undertone designed to draw Franky into a conspiracy of agreement. 

Franky just raised her eyebrows sceptically.  "Is that where you two met?" She asked.  "University?"  She looked from Mark to Erica.

Erica frowned at her then stood up suddenly and muttered something about the ladies.  Franky watched her go.

Mark was answering her question.  "Yeah, first year law but it took a while before I could convince her to go out with me.  Do you have a boyfriend?"

Franky noticed Nick’s keen interest as she answered.  “A boyfriend?  No," she said distractedly.  She stood up and walked in the direction Erica had gone.  The two men watched her walk away then started talking about the football.

When Erica came out of the stalls Franky was perched against the basin bench. 

"What the fuck, Franky," Erica exploded.  "Are you having fun out there?"

Franky couldn't help laughing at Erica's expression.  "I am actually," she admitted.

"Well, I'm not," Erica said with an annoyed expression.

"Erica," Franky put her hands on Erica's arms.  "What are you so uptight about?"

"Franky, if you are seriously asking that – “ She ran out of words to explain her position. 

Franky took her hands away.  "Look, we are just talking out there.  This isn't your life imploding before your eyes," she could tell from Erica's expression she'd hit the mark.  "Do you really think if you keep Mark and me apart then somehow you aren't really cheating on him and your relationship?"  Franky asked with a confused frown. 

She knew it wasn't logical but that was exactly what she did think.  Erica liked to compartmentalise.  In her head if she could keep Franky and Mark separate then what she was doing wasn't wrong.  It was the crossover which was causing her angst.  How could she be marrying one person and wanting to sleep with another?

"Erica you can't live like that," Franky told her with a shake of her head.  "You have to face the consequences of your actions."  If anyone knew that Franky did.

"I'm not taking relationship advice from you, Franky," Erica said dismissively.

Franky went quiet.  "Why not?" She asked slowly.

"Because you have your own agenda to push in this," Erica said with exasperation. 

Franky relaxed slightly.  "Okay, I'm only going to say one more thing, biased or not," she acknowledged.  "You have been engaged since I knew you in prison.  You’re having sex with me.  You are never going to marry Mark.  Maybe you're not ready to admit that yet to yourself or anyone else but it's the truth."

Erica stared at Franky.  "I am though," she said at last.  "I am getting married."

Franky just looked at her in confusion.  "What?" She asked eventually.

"In two months.  I'm getting married in two months."  She couldn't drag her eyes away from the expression on Franky's face.

"What the fuck is this then?" Franky asked.  She crossed her arms over her chest and straightened.  She waited for Erica's explanation but all she saw was anguish and anxiety.  Her mobile started ringing.  "Erica?"

"I'm sorry," Erica said at last and she walked out of the bathroom. 

The persistent ringing finally broke through Franky's consciousness.  She looked at the screen.  It was Amy Wilson.  She answered it with a curt greeting.

"Can we meet?” the police officer asked.  “I've found your friend."

Chapter Text

Franky met Amy at a pub in Richmond.  She ordered a vodka shot and drank it quickly.  Her mind was still reeling from Erica’s confession.  “Are you all right?” Amy asked as Franky ordered another drink.  They were sitting at the bar.

“Fine,” Franky said quickly.  “So what did you find out?”

“I traced the phone while I was on night duty to see if I could find out where your friend was.  It will be easier to track her down that way,” she explained, “if we know where she’s sleeping.”

 “And?”

“She’s in Geelong,” Amy told her.  She slipped a piece of paper across the bar.  “This is the address.”  Franky looked at it in disbelief.  Of all the places she imagined Boomer had gone, an hour or so up the road wasn’t one of them.

“I’ll kill her,” she muttered. 

“Do you want me to come with you?”  Amy offered. 

Franky looked at her.  She looked cute in her jeans and loose fitting black t-shirt which said Girl Zone in sparkly pink.  Her dimples appeared as she smiled at Franky.

“Do you have a spare pair of handcuffs?” Franky asked.

“You know it’s illegal to restrain someone,” Amy pointed out.  “Without their consent,” she added with a smile.

“I’ll keep that in mind,” muttered Franky as she drained her shot glass.  She ordered another round. 

“Don’t you want to see your friend?” Amy asked curiously as Franky passed her a drink.

“She’s not going anywhere I’m guessing,” Franky answered.  “And I feel like getting smashed, any complaints?”

“None at all,” Amy confirmed and touched her glass to Franky’s with a smile.

Franky was woken by the persistent ringing of her mobile phone.  It sounded like someone had hardwired it straight into her head.  She groped for it and rejected the call.  She threw the phone onto the bed.  Even that action was a harsh reminder of the previous night’s activities.  There had been tequila, a lot of tequila.  She groaned.  She lay perfectly still.  Everything settled.  She was okay.  She would live as long as she didn’t have to move. 

Her memory was patchy.  She remembered playing pool.  She and Amy had challenged some guys at the pub.  She remembered winning some games and celebrating with shots.  There might have been dancing.  She hadn’t been that tanked in a long time.  She didn’t even remember getting home.  Then she remembered Erica was getting married.  That was where it had all started.

She sat up slowly and stared at the mirror.  Sexy tatts! A xx was written in lipstick across her image.   That explained how she had got home and undressed presumably.  No mention of the bruising, which Amy must have seen, but then sexy bruises didn’t have quite the same ring to it.  She looked at her phone.  It was almost ten.  The missed call had been from Stephanie who was probably wondering where she was.

She got up gingerly and moved slowly.  Her mouth felt like it had been cultivating its own disturbing culture for days.  She took her toothbrush into the shower with her and let the hot water cascade over her body and restore some well-being.

Even though it hurt to think she couldn’t stop her mind latching onto Erica, or rather Erica’s bombshell.  Two months, in two months it would be November, in November Erica would be Mrs Pearson.  Franky almost choked on her toothpaste.  Could it get any more suburban, any more boring than that she asked herself? 

She tried to remember all their conversations looking for the clues she’d missed.  She only found one.  “It’s complicated,” Erica had said.  Maybe she would have told Franky then if Franky hadn’t finished her sentence for her and told her confidently it wasn’t all that complicated.  Franky had thought she had meant it was complicated because she was with Mark or because they were working together.  It never even crossed her mind Erica was on a countdown to domestic bliss.

Then she had a sudden thought.  What if she was Erica’s last fling before she settled down to being a good girl?  That left a taste in her mouth even worse than tequila.   She chewed her toothbrush unhappily.

She had known she was falling for Erica.  She had never felt like this with anyone else.  In all her other relationships she’d held something back and she was the one to walk away.  Last night she realised just how far she had fallen.  It was so sudden and yet she knew it had started years ago in prison when Erica had taken an interest in her.  All those sessions together, all the games, the flirting had all helped to tattoo Erica’s name on her heart.     

What she didn’t know was how Erica felt except she didn’t want safe.  So how could she be marrying Mark Pearson who seemed about as dangerous as a Kiddie Castle?

When Franky arrived at work Stephanie didn’t mince words.  “You look like shit,” she said.  “What’s going on?”

Franky knew the tone and she didn’t have the strength or stamina to dance around Steph’s skilled questioning techniques, which had seen many witnesses trip over their own stories.  So she told Stephanie about Boomer’s little walkabout.  Then she said she’d found her so it was all good.

“Where is she?”  Franky told her.  “Do you want to take my car to pick her up?”  Franky nodded with relief.  “Why did she take off?”

Franky shrugged.  “Worried about going back to prison I guess.”

“Well she’d lose her bail money if she didn’t attend court,” Stephanie pointed out.  “So she probably intended to come back,” then added, “unless it wasn’t her money of course.”  Franky was silent.  She wondered just how much Stephanie had figured out on her own.  “Are you okay to drive?”  Franky looked confused.  “Will your blood alcohol level put you over the limit?” she clarified.

Franky felt sick.  Stephanie’s face was devoid of emotion but in those words Franky realised how much ground she had lost that day.  “I’ll get someone to drive me,” she said.  She stood up to go.

“Oh and Erica Davidson has been trying to get hold of you.”  Franky looked expectantly at her boss.  “Something about a meeting with Ruby, I left the details on your desk.”

“Thanks,” Franky muttered.  She wondered why Erica hadn’t tried to call her.  Then realised it was probably because Erica had decided it was all too hard and it was easier to walk away than explain.  She gave Stephanie a copy of Ruby’s journal and asked her to look through it.

There was a meeting with Ruby arranged for that afternoon according to the note.  Maybe she would get to see Erica anyway and force the issue.

It was Nick who met her at reception.  “Hi,” he greeted her.  “Ruby’s not here yet but I’ve arranged a room for you.”  He indicated she should follow him.  “The conference room is taken with the partners’ meeting I’m afraid.”

“Is Erica in that?”  He nodded and Franky sighed under her breath.  No closure today then, she thought as they walked.

The room was small with only a round table and a couple of chairs.  No glass panelling or window made it dark and Nick switched on the light.  “Can I get you something?  Coffee?” 

Franky shook her head then regretted it.  “A water maybe,” she asked.  He disappeared.  She remembered she wanted to have Ruby’s journal with her and Erica had it.  She dumped her legal pad and her copy of the journal and wandered off to Erica’s office.  She asked her secretary for the journal but her phone rang so she just waved her through.  The office was unoccupied.  Franky looked curiously at the papers on Erica’s desk.  Amongst the legal briefs and files Franky noticed quotes for flowers, photographers and cars.  It confirmed in Franky’s mind that this was real and happening.  She grabbed the journal and left quickly.

Nick was waiting for her.  “What happened to you last night?” He asked with a smile as he handed her a glass of water.  “We missed you.”

Franky wasn’t in the mood.  “Something came up,” she said briefly.  She drank the water quickly.

“Maybe we can do it again,” he suggested, watching her.

“Look,” Franky said abruptly.  “I’m not interested okay.  I’m never going to be interested.  I like women.” I don’t like you I like your boss, was what she wanted to say but she stopped herself.  She watched Nick process her words.

“Oh,” he said at last.  “You’re a lesbian?” he clarified.

“Top of the class,” Franky said drily.

“Shit,” he gave an embarrassed laugh.  “You don’t look like a lesbian.”

“Fuck off, Nick,” Franky picked up her phone and sent a text to Amy.  Thanks for last night, it read, I guess I owe you.  When she looked up Nick was gone.  Amy must have been right by her phone because a message came back immediately.  No worries, how’s the head?

Franky arranged with her to go out to Geelong when Amy finished work. Ruby arrived as she was still texting.

Ruby sat watching Franky.  “You seem different today,” she said at last.

“Really,” Franky looked up and watched Ruby adjust her glasses self-consciously. 

“Yes.”

Franky’s leg was tapping under the table.  It was the only part of her that seemed to have any energy.  She took the journal out from under her notepad and placed it deliberately in front of Ruby.  Ruby just stared at it.  “Anything you want to tell me?”  Franky asked.  Ruby shook her head.

“Like who L-A is?”  No answer.  “Is that who took Henry?”  Nothing.  “We’ll find out you know,” Franky told her.  She felt flat.  What was the point when this kid didn’t seem interested in helping herself?  “You should plead guilty,” she said suddenly.  “There’s a chance they won’t throw the book at you.”  She stood up and collected her papers.  “We’re done here,” she left without a backward glance.

Two hours later she had her feet perched on the dashboard of Amy’s Volkswagen Golf swigging bottled water.  They had pulled up in front of the house in Geelong only to find no one was home.  So now she and Amy were waiting for Boomer to show up.

“What happened last night?”  Franky asked out of the blue.

“You don’t remember?”  Amy asked with a teasing smile in her voice.

“Not really,” Franky admitted.  “I read your message,” she paused, “so did we –“

Amy cut her off.  “Please!” she sounded offended.  “Trust me Tatts,” she winked.  “If we are going to have sex, I want both of us to remember it afterwards.”  Franky was relieved.  “You were totally trashed.  I’ve never seen anyone put away that much tequila and still be walking.  In fact at one point you were even dancing.”

“Great,” Franky muttered.  She sat up when Boomer came into view then got out of the car and leant against it watching Boomer approach.  She was eating hot chips.  As Franky watched she stopped eating to dig around in her shoulder bag.

“That stuff will kill you,” Franky said with a smile.  Boomer looked up and stopped short.

“Fucking hell,” she exclaimed.  “What the fuck are you doing here?”

“Looking for you,” Franky said with exasperation.  “What do you reckon?”

“Why?”  Boomer was frowning.  

“Why?” repeated Franky with raised eyebrows.  “Because you’ve broken your bail conditions, that’s why, what the fuck are you doing Booms?”  she asked.  “I thought you trusted me.”

“I do,” Boomer said simply.

“Then come home with me,” she pleaded.  “I’ve sorted Ron, you’re not going to prison, all you have to do is turn up to court and this will all go away.”

“Okay but what about Stu?”  Boomer asked.

“Who?” Franky asked with a confused frown.

“Stu, I met him on Tinder, we really hit it off. It’s been a shag fest!”  Boomer frowned.  “I did try to call you but my battery died.  Then I downloaded some new version of software and the fucking thing wiped all my contacts, ay.” 

Franky listened in disbelief.  “So let me get this straight,” she clarified.  “All this time you have been shacked up with some guy?”

“Yeah, awesome huh,” Boomer grinned.  

“Sure Booms,” Franky agreed then she laughed.  It was a massive anti-climax.  Why was she surprised though?  In the last twenty-four hours nothing seemed to be going the way she expected. 

When Franky climbed back in the car alone Amy looked surprised.  “She’s not coming?”

“Nope,” Franky said.  “She has to say good-bye to Stu,” Franky shook her head.  “She said she’d take the train.”

“Okay,” Amy replied and started the car.  “Your place or mine?” she said with a wink.

Franky closed her eyes.  All the tension of the last twenty-four hours had caught up with her.  She slept all the way back to Richmond. 

“I met your girlfriend btw,” Amy said as she dropped Franky at her flat.  Franky just looked at her.  “Slim blonde?  Yeah, she came round to your place last night as I was leaving.”

“Erica was at my flat?”  Franky said slowly.  Amy nodded.  “Thanks for the lift,” was all she said but her heart felt lighter.

“Call me,” Amy yelled out the window as she drove off.

When Franky arrived at her flat she saw Erica was waiting on the top step.  She stopped. 

Erica stood up.  “Hi,” she said.  “Can we talk?”  Franky looked worn out.  Her dark hair was all mussed up and the expression on her face made her seem very vulnerable.  She had asked Franky if she could help but all she had done was make things worse.

Franky just nodded and stepped past Erica to unlock the door leading Erica inside.  She dropped her phone and her keys on to the kitchen bench and leant against it waiting for Erica to speak.

Erica knew she owed Franky an explanation.  She should have told her straight up about the wedding but she hadn't and then the window of opportunity had closed. It got to the point where she didn't even know how to begin the conversation.  She imagined the awkwardness of "Thanks for the great sex.  Oh and by the way I'm getting married.  Want to come to the wedding?" So she said nothing until Franky gave her the perfect opening and she'd just blurted it out.  No prep work, no warning.  It was no wonder Franky had looked shell shocked. 

She tried to explain it now.  The whole wedding thing had become a joke between her and Mark.  He would ask Erica to set a date and Erica would delay, defer, or dodge.  Deep down they both knew she would never agree to a date.  Then she’d been made partner at her law firm.  Life was good.  She had been floating high on her success.  They had been out celebrating and had drunk too much champagne and she had thought she could marry Mark.  So when he asked again she had recklessly set a date. 

As the date got closer though and the plans firmed up Erica could feel the pressure building inside her.  On the outside she continued to operate as normal but on the inside she was a mess.  It had been a mistake but she felt she no longer had any control over it. 

“Then you turned up, out of the blue, and the attraction I had felt at Wentworth was even stronger and there were none of the obstacles.  With you I could escape the prison I was building for myself.”

She knew what she was doing was unfair, to Mark, and to Franky.  She knew it but she did it anyway.

“You came here last night,” was all Franky said.  Erica nodded.

When Franky hadn’t returned to the table Erica had made her excuses.  Something had come up she had explained and Franky had to go.  Mark and Nick had settled in talking sport and then moved on to politics.  Erica had left them there claiming she was tired and needed an early night.  She hadn’t slept though.  Mark had arrived home drunk and immediately fell asleep.  Eventually she had got up in frustration.  She had checked her phone but there was no message from Franky.  Why would there be? 

It had been after 1am when she had pulled up outside Franky’s flat.  Part of her had wondered if this was a mistake.  Perhaps giving Franky some time to process what she’d heard would be better.  Perhaps she didn’t want to see Erica.  But Franky had asked for an explanation and Erica had been banking on her still wanting to hear one.

As she had reached the top of the stairs the door to Franky’s flat had opened and a blonde haired woman had emerged.  She had stopped when she saw Erica and had looked at her curiously.

“I was looking for Franky,” Erica had said at last when the silence had stretched uncomfortably. 

“You’re the girlfriend,” the blonde said with an almost imperceptible sneer in her voice.

“I’m not her girlfriend,” Erica had corrected quickly.  She wasn’t quite sure how to define their relationship.  “I’m a colleague,” she settled on.

“Whatever,” she had said dismissively.  “I don’t know what you did to her but she’s a mess.  Lucky I was there to pick up the pieces.”  Erica had felt as though the blonde was marking territory.  She had pulled the door closed and stepped past Erica onto the stairs.

Erica had waited a minute then knocked on Franky’s door.  There had been no answer, no sign of life coming from inside the flat.  So Erica had gone home.

“So now what?” Franky asked with a frown.

“I don’t know,” Erica admitted rubbing her brow.  “It’s a mess.”

“You can’t have it both ways, Erica, it’s not fair on anyone,” Franky pointed out. 

“I know that but I’m not like you.  You’re so certain in who you are and what you want.” 

Franky laughed unexpectedly.  “I’m not asking you to choose today,” she said with a smile, her first smile since Erica had arrived.  “Why would I?  You have a lot more invested in Mark than me,” she said bluntly. 

Erica remembered how well Franky could think tactically to maximise her advantage.  Christ, she was so addictive.  Sex with Franky was addictive.  She wasn’t prepared to walk away just yet, not until she had explored it thoroughly.  “Franky, I don’t know what this is,” she said honestly, “and I don’t how it will end.”

“Well I guess I have two months to help you to find out,” Franky said with a smile.  On the inside she wondered whether her heart would survive if it all went pear shaped in two months’ time. 

Erica relaxed.  She had convinced herself Franky would walk away and find someone else, someone easier or ask for something she couldn’t give.  Instead Franky gave her time and Erica was grateful.

“I like your hair,” she said suddenly.  “Very sexy,” Franky’s hand went to her hair.  “Is that how they’re doing it in the clubs now?”

Franky went into her bedroom to look in the mirror.  Erica came up behind her and put her arms around Franky’s waist.  She pushed Franky’s hair out of the way and kissed her neck.  She felt Franky lean back against her.  She caught Franky’s eye in the mirror and noticed the lipstick message.  Franky saw her notice it.

“It’s not what you think,” she said hastily.

“You don’t know what I think,” Erica murmured into Franky’s ear.  “Your tattoos are very sexy,” she agreed. 

“I mean nothing happened,” the younger woman clarified.

“Franky,” Erica sighed, “even if it had I’m hardly in a position to complain, am I?”  She turned Franky so she was facing Erica and not the mirror.  “So let’s just –” She leant in and kissed her. 

“What?” Franky asked when the kiss ended. 

“Get naked, so I can admire your tattoos for myself,” she said.

Franky didn’t feel tired anymore.  She pulled off Erica's top and released her bra then tore off her own.  She kissed her, pulling her close so their breasts were pushed against each other.  Erica pulled her down on to the bed so she could feel the weight of Franky on top of her.  She felt Franky shift her thigh between her legs and press against her. 

"I have something for you," Franky murmured against her ear all the while pressing with her thigh.  She reached across the bed to the drawer of her bedside table and pulled out a pair of handcuffs.  She saw Erica smile.  "Now apparently," Franky said seriously as she took Erica's wrist and put a cuff around it, "I’m breaking some law if I restrain you,” she took her other wrist and moved it up to join the first.  “Unless you consent," she finished with. 

"Yes," Erica whispered immediately.  Franky snapped the other cuff into place.  Erica tried to move her hands but they were held fast against the bed head.  Franky watched her fascinated.  Then she took a silk scarf from the drawer and blindfolded Erica. 

"I want you to focus only on what you feel," she said into her ear. 

Erica could feel excitement building.  Franky unzipped Erica’s pants, then took hold of her hips and took them off then peeled her lacy underwear off as well.  For a minute she felt nothing.  “What are you doing?” she asked curiously. 

“I’m admiring you,” Franky said.  “You’re beautiful.”  She felt Franky caress her inner thighs, the sensation was doubly intense.  She felt Franky’s mouth replace her fingers and her tongue began to stimulate her.  She could feel something hard and cold replace Franky’s mouth.  It was nudging her opening gently, teasing her with small circular movements. She was wet and it slid easily into her.  Franky used long slow strokes and Erica's hips moved against it, matching the rhythm.  Without eyes or hands Erica focused solely on the sensations.  It was sliding in and out so easily now and with each thrust she felt its slightly rough surface.  Franky pulled the dildo all the way out and rubbed its lubricated length slowly against Erica's inner lips.  She gasped. It felt fantastic.  She tried to move her hands.  There was an urgency building in her now.  Franky must have been watching because she slipped the dildo against her opening so Erica could feel it.  "Franky," she begged and shifted her hips impatiently.  Franky complied and slipped it inside her again increasing the rhythm while her fingers stimulated her until Erica's moans became louder and more frequent.   Oh fuck! She could feel herself about to come and she pulled against the handcuffs so the hard metal dug into her wrists.  It was the pain colliding with the pleasure which made her scream out when she came, it was deliciously intense.  Franky cupped her using pressure to extend the orgasm for an eternity.  Franky's hand rested on her breast and she lay next to her.  "You are so fucking good," Erica said breathlessly. 

Franky pulled off the blindfold and kissed her slowly, lazily, deeply, letting her tongue explore Erica completely.  Her hand played with her nipple.  "I like you like this," she murmured against her mouth.  "In my power.  I could do anything to you."  Erica liked it too.

They woke up when the door to the flat slammed shut.  Erica rolled over and hit Franky with her elbow.  "What was that?" She asked.  Franky grinned suddenly. 

"I think you're about to be outed," she said.  "It's Boomer."

Chapter Text

The bedroom door was open and in moments Boomer could be standing in the doorway looking for Franky. In her panicked state Erica could only think of one thing to do.

“Fuck!” She muttered and vanished immediately under the sheet.  Franky watched this and began laughing.  “Not helping,” came the muffled response which only made Franky laugh harder.

“What’s so funny?” Boomer asked, appearing in the doorway as if on cue.  She took in the scene.  “Oh,” she said with sudden awareness, “did I interrupt something?”  She watched Franky try to collect herself.

“Close the door, Booms,” she managed to say at last.  “My girl’s a bit shy,” she nodded in the direction of Erica’s form outlined against the sheet.

“Right,” Boomer nodded.  She grinned at Franky and didn’t move until Franky gestured impatiently for Boomer to leave.  She did, still grinning, closing the door carefully.

Franky leant down and said quietly in the vicinity of Erica’s head, “You can come out now,” another fit of laughter threatened to overtake her.  “So to speak,” she said with a chuckle.

Erica’s head appeared.  “How am I going to get out of here without Boomer seeing me?”  She asked with a frown. 

“Well,” Franky considered it.  “If you don’t want Boomer to see you I guess you’re going to have stay in here until she leaves,” she grinned at Erica and moved closer.  “Although,” she continued seriously, “I should warn you sometimes she doesn’t leave the flat for days.”  Erica wasn’t smiling but Franky didn’t have much sympathy, in fact she was enjoying Erica’s dilemma. “So what will it be Miss Davidson, another round while we wait?”  She leant in.

“You could ask her to leave,” Erica pointed out.

“No way,” Franky said firmly, “I’ve only just got her back here.”  She kissed Erica.

Erica shifted out of Franky’s range.  “Well, ask her to go to the shops then,” she suggested.  Erica got up and began to dress.  Franky rolled onto her back and watched her.

“I told Ruby to plead guilty,” she said suddenly.  She didn’t know why it came into her head suddenly or why she blurted it out.  She watched Erica’s reaction.

Erica was in the process of putting on her top.  She pulled it over her head then stared at Franky. “Why?"

“I don’t know,” Franky replied.  “I was frustrated with her.”

“With her or with me?”  Erica asked slowly.  “Stuart doesn’t want Ruby to plead guilty.”

Franky sat up.  “Even if she’s going down for murder?”  She asked with disbelief ignoring Erica’s question.  “If she pleads guilty to manslaughter she could be out in four years instead of serving fifteen.  Surely it’s Ruby’s decision what she pleads anyway.”

“It should be,” Erica conceded, “but Stuart is worried about the fallout for his business enterprises.”  Franky raised her eyebrows in disgust.  “You can’t just go into a client meeting and wing it, Franky.”  Erica said slowly.  “You have to stick to the legal strategy we’ve agreed to.”

“There is no legal strategy,” Franky pointed out.  “And anyway don’t I get a say in it?” she added with a frown. 

“Of course you do,” Erica said calmly.  “But we are a team and we all have a role to play.  Ultimately it will be Stephanie and me who decide the strategy.” 

Franky lay back down on the bed and stared at the ceiling.  “Okay,” she conceded at last.

Erica sat on the edge of the bed and looked at Franky.  “I’m sorry, but it’s important.”  She put her hand on Franky’s leg.  “I want you to keep working with Ruby, don’t get downhearted by her reticence, she will trust you eventually.”  They heard the shower start.  “I guess that’s my cue.” 

She stood up and finished dressing.  Before she left she looked at Franky.  The green eyes held an expression Erica couldn’t read.  Impulsively she sat down again on the bed.

“What is it?” she asked.

“What did you think of me when we first met?” Franky asked.

Erica studied her, wondering where the question had sprung from.  “I thought you were all bravado,” she said after a moment, “and desperate to be noticed.”

Franky hadn’t expected that.  “You pitied me?”  She was surprised and disappointed. 

“No,” Erica said slowly, “I admired you.  You conveyed so much certainty of who you were in that bravado and desire to be seen.”  She watched Franky absorb this. 

“I wasn’t over the top?” she asked.

“Oh yes, you were – completely,” Erica agreed with a smile.  “But that was part of it.”

“Of what?” Franky was watching Erica intently.

“Your attraction,” Erica felt that magnetism now with those green eyes drawing her into their depths.  It caused her stomach to flip suddenly and she caught her breath.  “I know I’m being selfish,” she said eventually.  “I know this is unfair on you.”  She took Franky’s hand in her own.  She looked at their hands intertwined, fair skin against lightly tanned.  Franky’s hand felt smooth and warm in her own.  “I think you’re fantastic,” she admitted suddenly.  She stood up quickly and Franky watched her leave unable to stop a smile from spreading across her face.

When she heard Boomer come out of the shower, she pulled on some clothes and went into the kitchen.  She needed food she suddenly realised.  The aromas from the Thai restaurant were making her hungry.  “Fancy some Pad Thai?” she asked Boomer.

She put in an order and fifteen minutes later went down to the restaurant to collect it.  She was well known to the daughter May who looked after the cash register.  “Ask your mum if I can have another lesson soon,” Franky said to her as she handed over her card.

May’s mother Pim had been teaching Franky how to cook Thai cuisine since she had moved into the flat.  In return Franky had helped them out giving some legal advice on their lease arrangements.   

As they ate Thai takeaway on the couch Franky told Boomer how she had convinced Ron not to turn up to court. 

“You threatened to bust his drug dealing?” Boomer asked.  “Shit!  He deals for Vince D, and that guy is serious scary!  You don’t want to double cross him.”

Franky realised the attack on her that night had had nothing to do with Boomer’s bail money.  The little shit Ron must have made a call to Vince Diamond as soon as she had left.  She remembered she had left her business card with Mrs Jenkins.  He could have given Vince her name, occupation, where she worked and presumably he had contacts good enough to track down where she lived in no time. 

“You need to think about where you’ll live after the trial,” Franky said.  Boomer looked at her.  “Sorry Booms, I love you but you’re cramping my style,” she shrugged her shoulders.  She knew Erica wouldn’t visit while Boomer was on the scene.

“It’s okay, I’ll move in with Stu,” Boomer said immediately.

“The Tinder guy?” Franky clarified. 

“Yeah,” Boomer said.  She was texting but she looked up and saw her friend’s expression.  “What?”

“It won’t last with him,” Franky said bluntly.

“Why not?” Boomer was offended. 

“Well, it’s just that no one goes on Tinder looking for a lasting relationship,” Franky felt bad for Boomer.  “They go on there to hook up.”

Boomer didn’t seem bothered by Franky’s assessment of Tinder.  “I didn’t know you were seeing anyone,” she said looking interested.

“Well, I haven’t seen you so how could I tell you,” Franky pointed out.  She finished off the Pad Thai and dumped the container in the bin.

“It’s not that girl from the car today,” Boomer asked quickly.

Franky frowned.  “No,” she said immediately.

“It is, isn’t it,” Boomer confirmed.  “Shit, Franky, she’s a cop, I recognised her from that weekend I spent in the slammer.”

“Amy’s okay,” Franky said calmly.  “And anyway it’s not her.”  She could tell Boomer didn’t believe her.  “I’m going to have a shower,” she said, finishing the conversation.

Boomer wanted the last word though.  “Didn’t you have enough of uniforms in Wentworth?” She called after her. 

The following morning Franky was up early.  She went to the gym and did a weights workout followed by a session on the spin bike.  Then she went to work and had caught up on her emails and was working her way through the remaining Roxton files when Stephanie appeared in her doorway.

“How are you?” her boss asked.

Franky looked sheepish.  “Better,” she admitted putting down the file.

“Good,” Stephanie answered.  “I need you to be at the top of your game.”  Franky just nodded.  She would work hard and make up for yesterday so Stephanie wouldn’t regret her investment in the ex-con with no experience.  “Don’t forget the Awards night,” Stephanie continued after a moment, “I want you to be there.”  Franky smiled.  “Your invite has a plus one, are you bringing anyone?”

Franky thought about Erica, thought about bringing her as her date, thought about Erica wearing a cocktail dress with her hair up.  She sighed.  “No,” she told Stephanie.  Her mentor just nodded.

She worked through lunch and by early afternoon she had finished reading the files.  She looked at her notes, something was bothering her, but she couldn’t put her finger on it.  She grabbed her phone and went down to pick up a coffee and sandwich at her favourite café.

Her phone rang.  “Have you ditched that girlfriend of yours yet?” Amy asked when Franky answered.

“And here I was beginning to like you,” Franky said with a grin.  She heard her name being called and collected her coffee. 

“And about time,” Amy said with mock sincerity.  “Did your friend turn up okay?”

“Yeah,” Franky juggled her coffee and sandwich while keeping her phone to her ear.

“I just wanted to warn you,” the signal was patchy, “there’s a warrant out for your friend’s arrest.”

“What did you say?”  Franky thought she must have misheard.

“The guy she assaulted has turned up dead,” Amy was saying.  “I’ve got to go, sorry, I could only get away for a minute.”

Franky was standing in the middle of the footpath while people jostled to get round her.  Fucking hell!  She reached the road and skipped through the banked up traffic to get back to her building.  She filled in Stephanie between mouthfuls of sandwich. “The court has your address, so they will pick her up in no time,” Stephanie said with a frown.  “Will she try and resist arrest?”

“Probably,” Franky acknowledged.

“Call her then and find out where she is, if she’s not at your place, meet her wherever she is and convince her to go in herself,” Stephanie advised her.  “It will look better if this thing ends up going to trial.”  She watched Franky make the call.  “Do you think she did it?”  Stephanie asked as Boomer’s phone rang. 

Franky shook her head.  “No way,” she said.  “She has a temper but she’s not a murderer.”  Boomer picked up.  “Hey Booms, where are you?”

“Shopping,” she replied.  “Well, window shopping,” she conceded.  “I’ve got no cash.”

Boomer was at Highpoint Shopping Centre.  Franky told her to sit tight and she would meet her.  “And Booms,” she added, “turn off your phone when you hang up.”

“Take my car,” Stephanie offered.  Franky was thankful.

Erica was working in her office when her secretary came in.  “Your meeting is in five minutes,” she told her.  She dropped some correspondence into Erica’s in-tray.  “Dan asked if you could do him a big favour and take his ticket to the Victorian Institute of Law Awards.  His wife has gone into labour.”

Erica rolled her eyes.  “They are deadly dull,” she said wearily.

“Think of it as a networking opportunity,” her secretary reminded her, “and Dan will owe you, he said as much.  You know how the senior partners like someone to attend these things and represent the firm.”

Erica put her head in her hands and groaned.  “Okay, okay, when is it?”

“Tomorrow night,” her secretary gave her the invitation.  “You can take Mark.”

Erica looked up and laughed.  “Mark will run a mile before coming to one of these things.” 

Her secretary smiled in sympathy.   “As long as he turns up to the wedding, I suppose,” she said as she left.  It wiped the smile off Erica’s face. 

Franky took Boomer into the same police station where Amy was stationed.  Franky waited around until the detectives were ready to interview her.  She tried to get some more information from Amy but the police officer didn’t know much.  Ron had been found severely beaten resulting in serious head trauma at the flat he shared with his girlfriend in North Melbourne.  He had died on the way to the hospital. 

“He was dealing for Vince Diamond,” Franky told Amy, “it’s far more likely this was a drug deal gone wrong or he was ripping off Vince and this was the reprisal.” 

“I hope your friend has an alibi for this afternoon,” Amy said, “because the Ds will go for the most obvious suspect and right now that’s Boomer.”

Franky couldn’t help wondering if by fixing one problem for Boomer she had unintentionally created a bigger one. 

“She was shopping at Highpoint so it will take a bit of leg work but hopefully some of the retail stores remember her,” Franky explained.

Amy noticed her sergeant return to the front reception area.  “Well good luck,” she offered with a quick smile.

Late in the day Erica was working on a brief which was due to the client by close of business.  She was behind on everything and she was determined to get back on track.  She wanted to be back in control of something in her life.  Nick wandered in unannounced.  “Have you got a minute?” he asked.

“Not really,” Erica said without looking up.

“It won’t take long and I think you’ll want to hear this,” Nick sat down in the visitor’s chair.

Erica sighed.  “All right, two minutes,” she said firmly.  “What’s it about?”

“Franky Doyle,” Nick said.  “Did you know she’s been to prison?”  Nick could see he had Erica’s attention.  “She served time for intentionally causing serious injury.  She threw a pan of hot oil over the judge on a cooking reality TV show.  She’s a loose cannon and Stephanie Wilkinson has dumped her on us without the slightest warning.”  Nick was on a roll.  “We need to get Franky off the Roxton case.  She can’t be trusted.”

“Where did you get all this?” Erica asked slowly.

“I googled her.  There are YouTube videos of the assault and hundreds of articles following her trial,” Nick revealed.

“Why?” Erica asked with a frown.

“People were interested I suppose because she was on a TV show.  You know how everyone loves a celebrity these days,” Nick said with a sneer at society’s tastes.

Erica shook her head.  “No, why did you google Franky all of a sudden?”

Nick shrugged.  “Lucky I did,” was all he offered.  “What do you want to do?”

“Nothing,” Erica said immediately.  “Franky has served her time and Stephanie Wilkinson trusts her,” she took a breath.  “More importantly I trust her.”  She watched Nick’s reaction to this.  “Look, I have no interest in what’s going on between the pair of you but I do not want it affecting this case, Nick.  You need to keep it professional.”  She ignored the hypocritical nature of that statement.  She brought him back on track, away from Franky.  “What have you got from the psychiatrist?”

Nick wanted to argue but he was smart enough to recognise the warning in Erica’s words.  Back off, she was saying, and refocus.  “Nothing yet,” he said at last.

“Well, get on to them and find out how much longer before they get back to us,” she said curtly.  

When he had gone she sat back in her chair and stared into space.  She assumed this had been triggered by Franky finally making her disinterest clear to Nick and his not taking it well.  She could only hope Nick would take on board her comment about professionalism.

She thought about Franky and it made her angry to think this kind of prejudice would follow her all her life regardless of what she had done to get herself back on track.  Mistakes, like tattoos, once made were with you forever, marking you, defining you in the eyes of others.  Then she thought of Stephanie Wilkinson and how she had given Franky a chance.  Not everyone judged others by their mistakes, she acknowledged, and it restored Erica’s faith in human nature. 

On impulse she picked up her phone and called Franky.  “Hello,” she said. 

Franky saw the sergeant signalling to her.  “Erica, I can’t talk right now.”

“I just wanted to know if you are free tomorrow night,” Erica said hastily.

“No, I’ve got something on,” Franky said immediately.  “I’ve really got to go.”  She rang off.

Erica put down her phone.  Franky had sounded distracted and busy and unavailable. She couldn't help wondering where she was, what she was doing, who she was with. Erica picked up the brief she was working on. Five minutes later she was lost in thought. She was thinking about Franky not the brief.

Nick appeared in her doorway. "The psych report won't be ready until next week," he informed her.

Erica sighed. "Lucky we're not trying to save anyone here," she muttered sarcastically and returned to her brief. Her words would come back to haunt her.

Chapter Text

There was a crowd already gathering when Erica arrived. She found a drinks waiter and secured a glass of champagne.  She scanned the room looking for people she knew and people she wanted to know.  She saw her near the windows which looked out over the city.  She hadn’t recognised her at first.  It was the tattoos which caught her attention.  They looked out of place then familiar.  Even then she hadn’t realised the dark haired woman in the eye catching red dress was Franky.  It wasn’t until she turned her head, laughing at something her companion had said, that she recognised her.  Franky did not look like Franky!  Her hair was up revealing the tattoo on the back of her neck.  Her dress was elegant and Franky wore it well with her curves and toned body.  The colour emphasised her European ancestry.  From a distance Erica was able to admire her without interruption.  Erica liked that Franky hadn’t chosen to wear a more conservative outfit.  From the admiring looks she was getting Erica knew she wasn’t the only one who thought so.

Her attention turned to the man Franky was talking to. He was older with a shock of silver hair and a gentle face.  They seemed to be getting on very well and Erica wondered who he was.  She didn’t recognise him.  Franky seemed relaxed with him.  Her smiles were genuine.  She was stunning, animated and seemed to radiate her own energy.

“I almost didn’t recognise her tonight,” said a voice at her side.

Erica turned and saw Stephanie Wilkinson was beside her. “No,” agreed Erica and wondered if Stephanie had noticed her undisguised admiration.  “I didn’t realise you’d both be here tonight.”

“I’m up for some award,” Stephanie said a little dismissively. “I thought it would be good for Franky to meet some of the players in the industry.”

Erica nodded and sipped her champagne. “Do you know who Franky is talking to?” she asked curiously.

“Oh that’s James, my husband,” Stephanie informed her. “They get along very well together.  Sometimes I feel like I’m just a third wheel,” Stephanie laughed.  “Franky is a substitute daughter for James,” she added seriously.  “We couldn’t have children.”

“Franky hasn’t reconciled with her father I gather.” Erica remembered Alan Doyle from when he visited Franky in Wentworth. He was so fair in contrast to Franky’s colouring, the Irish genes prominent.   Except for her eyes Franky must have taken after her mother in looks. 

“She doesn’t talk about him but I gather she tried to find him when she got her parole but without success. It’s a pity because I think Franky has a lot of unresolved issues which reconciling with her father might help her deal with.”  Erica silently agreed.  “Come and meet James,” Stephanie suggested and she led the younger woman across the room.

When Franky turned at the sound of her mentor’s voice, her mouth opened in surprise when she saw Erica. Introductions were made and small talk engaged in and all the while Erica could feel Franky’s eyes on her.  Eventually when someone stopped to talk to Stephanie Franky was able to draw Erica aside.

Franky said under her breath.  “Why didn’t you tell me you were coming to this?”

“And miss that look on your face?” Erica teased. “I only found out yesterday,” she admitted.  “And I had no idea you’d be here.”

Franky remembered the rushed phone call. “Is that why you were calling?” she asked.

Erica nodded. “I was going to invite you,” she said with a smile.

“Like as a date?” Franky asked with raised eyebrows and a grin which dared Erica to admit it.

“I guess you’ll never know, Franky,” she said with her own smile, refusing to play Franky’s game.

Franky shrugged her shoulders. “I’m glad you’re here,” was all she said.  “You look very sexy,” she whispered in her ear.

Erica was wearing a black cocktail dress with a halter neck and a plunging V neckline. The dress stopped just above the knees and flared slightly.  It was simple and stylish.  Erica had dressed it slightly with a sapphire pendant and matching ear rings.

“And you look,” Erica paused struggling to find words which would do justice to Franky, “beautiful.” She said at last.  It was inadequate.  Franky had an ability to leave her inarticulate she was starting to realise.

Franky just smiled and Erica wasn’t sure whether she was smiling at the compliment or because she somehow knew she left Erica speechless.

“Much as I’d like to hang out with you I have to mingle,” Erica said with a sigh.

“Aren’t we mingling?” Franky asked in a surprised tone.  “Isn’t this mingling?”  

Erica smiled. “Mm not quite what the senior partners had in mind I suspect.  Come with me,” she said suddenly.  “We can mingle together.”

Franky let the warm feeling wash over her. She liked it when Erica talked about them in the plural.  It helped her believe this was more to Erica than just her escaping a situation she wasn’t happy with or exploring a side of herself to satisfy her curiosity.

“Franky,” Stephanie interrupted them before Franky could answer. “Come and meet some people.”

Franky looked at Erica with regret. “I’ve gotta go,” she said reluctantly.

 “I’ll find you later,” Erica suggested.  “We can sit together.”

There it was again, Franky thought, Erica taking the initiative and being inclusive. She was surprised, pleasantly surprised, and she wondered about it as she followed Stephanie.

After an hour of hand-shaking, small talk and smiling Erica was relieved to look for Franky. She saw Stephanie and James but noticed Franky wasn’t with them.  She had completed a lap of the room before venturing outside onto the balcony.  Franky was alone by the railing staring out at the city lights deep in thought.

“Penny for them,” Erica said as she stood next to her, watching Franky’s profile.

“I was thinking how much I missed this in prison,” Franky said.

“Boring parties?” Erica asked with a smile in her voice.

“Being able to stretch my eyes to the horizon and feel the cool night air on my face,” she answered seriously, taking a sip of her drink. It was water Erica noted with surprise.

“I never thought about that,” Erica admitted. “I always thought prisoners missed their freedom.”

“You do,” acknowledged Franky, “but it is often the small things which reinforce that.”

“Like coffee,” Erica said, remembering Franky’s request in her office one time.

Franky laughed. “Yeah, like real coffee,” she looked at Erica with a quizzical expression.  “You remember that?”

“I remember everything,” she said simply.

That simple statement made Franky’s heart flip. She smiled and turned to face Erica.  She was leaning in when the door to the auditorium opened and two people came onto the balcony lighting cigarettes.  She sighed.

 “Shall we go in?” Erica asked.

Franky followed her. Stephanie and James were up the front in allocated seating for award recipients.  Erica and Franky sat together further back.

“It reminds me of assembly at school,” Franky said as she looked about. “They used to be total time-wasters so we tried to liven them up a bit.”

 “How?” Erica asked curiously.

“Oh the usual stuff I guess. We set off the fire alarm once in the middle of it, faked an epileptic fit another time.  When it was a stinking hot day we set of the fire sprinklers and everyone got a shower.  Didn’t you ever do that kind of stuff?”

“No,” Erica replied, “I was a good girl.”

Something about that statement caught Franky’s attention. She let it percolate at the back of her mind for a moment and said instead, “Yeah?  How did that work out for you?”

“It got me here,” Erica pointed out.

“Engaged to some guy you don’t want to marry and having sex with a girl on the side, you mean?” Franky asked drily.

“I mean,” Erica corrected, “Partner in a law firm, sitting next to a very attractive, smart woman.”

Franky smiled at the compliment. “Well, I ended up getting expelled,” she admitted with a shrug of her shoulders, “and going to prison.”

Erica knew Franky’s poor life choices stemmed from having an abusive mother and absent father so the comparison was hardly fair. “And yet here you are,” she murmured.

“Shit,” Franky muttered under her breath.

“What is it?” Erica asked with surprise.

“Ruby,” Franky said ambiguously. Erica looked blankly at her.  “Something bothered me in her file and I’ve just worked out what it was.”  Erica waited for her to explain.  “Would you say Ruby was a good girl?” she asked.  Erica nodded.  “Exactly, so why was she was expelled from her secondary school when she was fourteen?”  Erica shook her head slowly.  “Doesn’t make sense, does it,” Franky said with puzzled look.

“No,” agreed Erica. “Why don’t you see what you can find out,” she suggested.  Franky’s investigative skills were impressive considering her limited resources.  She outshone Nick in that department. 

The lights dimmed and as the compere came onto the stage Erica felt Franky slip her hand into hers. Their arms touched and Franky leaned against her slightly.  She liked it she realised. For a while she forgot about her complicated situation and let herself believe she and Franky really were just on a date.  It made her wonder where Franky would take her on a date.  She suspected it would be nowhere conventional.  She didn’t pay much attention to the ceremony except when Stephanie went up to collect hers and Franky wolf-whistled causing a few surprised looks to come their way.

Afterwards there was more mingling and coffee was served. Normally Erica would have left immediately after the ceremony having felt her duty was done, tonight though she stayed.  Franky was drinking coffee and Stephanie was receiving accolades from her peers.

“I didn’t think Stephanie would be the type to hanker after awards,” Erica said to Franky as she watched Stephanie greet another industry stalwart.

“She isn’t,” Franky confirmed, “but she says it is a good opportunity to promote the inequity of the criminal and social justice systems to people who might be in a position to support her cause. She’s very passionate.”  She leant in.  “What are you doing after this?”

Erica could feel Franky’s breath on her ear. “Well that depends on what you’re doing –” she noticed Stephanie watching and broke away.

The older woman came up to them. “We’re going to head off,” she told them.  “Do you want a lift, Franky?”

“I’ll drive her home,” Erica offered quickly.

“I need to pee,” Franky said and disappeared in the direction of the toilets.

The party was well and truly breaking up now.

“Franky is not as tough as she appears,” Stephanie said suddenly into the silence.

Erica looked at her. “No,” she agreed.

“I suppose you and she developed a rapport while you were at Wentworth,” Stephanie continued.

“Yes I suppose,” agreed Erica, wondering where this conversation was going.

“She likes you,” the older woman stated suddenly, her piercing blue eyes stabbing and holding Erica’s in an unrelenting stare. “I wouldn’t want to see her hurt.”  The blue eyes dropped to Erica’s engagement ring then returned to drive her message home.

“Neither would I,” Erica said firmly, not flinching.

“Good, we understand each other then.” Someone stepped forward to congratulate Stephanie and Erica couldn’t help feeling she had just wriggled free from the shark’s jaws – alive but aware she wasn’t out of the water yet.

In the car Erica asked Franky whether she should drive to Richmond. “Boomer is still there,” Franky said apologetically.  “You could just drop me I suppose,” Franky didn’t hide the disappointment in her voice.

“Well, as I’ve just been warned off by your boss, maybe that’s the sensible choice.”

“What?” Franky asked in astonishment.  “What do you mean ‘warned off’?” she asked.

“Forget it,” Erica regretted mentioning it.

“It’s none of her fucking business.” Franky was annoyed.

“She’s worried about you, that’s all, it’s because she cares.” Franky looked like she was about to argue.  “When people care about you this is one of the trade-offs,” Erica explained.  “It’s not a bad thing but it can be annoying.”

Franky considered this. It wasn’t something she had experienced before.  No one had cared enough to interfere in Franky’s life – except Liz she thought suddenly.  Liz had interfered but Franky had seen that as a betrayal.  She thought about Liz and that period at Wentworth after Erica had left and before the rise of Bea when she had struggled to maintain her power base, out of her depth and out of control.  Relentless and ruthless and all for nothing in the end, she had ended up losing more than she had gained.  Liz had tried to stop her and ultimately betrayed her.  So much for people who cared, she thought cynically. 

“Are you okay?” Erica asked tentatively. 

“Yep,” Franky said briefly.

“Maybe I should just take you home,” Erica said after a minute. She slowed the car.

“No.” Franky said quickly. “No, don’t do that.  I want to be with you.”  She put her hand on Erica’s thigh.

They went to the apartment. Erica switched on the lamps while Franky fiddled with her phone. 

"What are you doing," Erica asked coming up behind her and putting her arms around her waist peering over her shoulder. Franky was scrolling through her playlists.  Erica watched her pick one called Sexy Times.  "Seriously?" Erica asked. Her laughter was muffled as she buried her face into Franky's shoulder.  

“You’re killing the mood," was all Franky said. She could feel Erica laughing uncontrollably against her.  It was infectious.  They laughed themselves out eventually.  Franky shifted out of Erica’s hold and sat on the couch. 

“I‘m sorry,” Erica managed to gasp at last. She watched Franky.  She looked even more enchanting in the half-light with her smouldering eyes and gypsy hair and that dress. 

“I didn’t recognise you tonight,” she said suddenly.

“Really,” Franky was intrigued. She patted the couch next to her inviting Erica to sit with her.

“I recognised your tattoos first,” Erica said as she sat down and kicked off her heels. Her toes were painted a deep raspberry red.  She curled them up under her and leant against Franky’s shoulder.

“Then my sexy good looks, right?” Franky prompted in a light tone.

“Mm,” Erica agreed. “I definitely noticed those.”  She turned her head reaching up to kiss Franky softly.  “I’m sorry I killed the mood,” she murmured. 

Franky wasn’t too concerned. She liked having Erica curled up next to her on the couch. 

“I saw you talking to James Wilkinson,” Erica said after a moment. “Stephanie said you are close.”

“I like him,” Franky acknowledged. “When I first started working for Steph she would invite me over for lunch on Sundays and that’s where I met James.  We hit it off immediately.  He likes to cook so we’d trade recipes and Sunday lunches became an opportunity to experiment together.  He likes to watch over me,” she finished with.  She had said it without emotion but Erica sensed the relationship was important to Franky.

She remembered what Stephanie had said to her early in the evening. “What about your own father?” she asked tentatively.

“What about him?” Franky was dismissive.

“You don’t want to get in touch with him?” she asked.

Franky was quiet. Erica wondered if she had crossed into forbidden territory.  As a prisoner Franky had never wanted to talk about her dad.  After she had asked for him while in the medical unit she hadn’t mentioned him again and as far as Erica knew, he had never visited her again.

“I tried,” Franky said at last, “but I couldn’t find him. So that’s that.”  Conversation closed.

Erica didn’t say anything she just took Franky’s hand in her own and squeezed it.

“Want to dance?” she asked suddenly glancing at Franky to gauge her reaction.

Franky looked at her in surprise then nodded. She reached for her phone.

“Oh no,” Erica said immediately. “None of that sexy times music.”  She picked up her own phone and found a slow, sensual song.  She stood up and slipped on her shoes.  Now she was slightly taller than Franky.  “You should be dancing in a dress like that,” she murmured as she drew Franky into an embrace. 

She let the music dictate the pace and the sway of their hips. The singer was French and the song was heart-wrenching in its soulful lament about love lost and regret.  Franky couldn’t understand the words but they conveyed a sense of longing she understood.  They lost themselves in the music and their bodies’ response.  This wasn’t about sex, this was about romance. 

Franky kissed Erica, slowly, thoroughly, a kiss which conveyed everything she wanted to say but couldn’t. She was certain Erica would walk away if she realised the extent of Franky’s feelings.

Of course all good romance brings its own rewards, Franky thought later. Erica was sound asleep.  Franky wasn’t surprised.  She’d put in a marathon effort which had left them both rewarded and exhausted.  Franky was a light sleeper and something had disturbed her.  She listened carefully.  She heard the sound of a door opening.  She got up quickly grabbing the light bedspread to wrap round her like a sarong.  Erica stirred but didn’t wake.  Franky moved stealthily down the hall.  The lamps were still on casting their soft glow.  She saw him before he saw her.  He had his back to her at the sliding door to the balcony.  Franky grabbed a knife from the knife block and reached him in seconds.  She slipped her arm around his throat and put the tip of the knife against his side.

“What the fuck do you think you’re doing?” she asked aggressively in a low voice. Her adrenalin was pumping.

He froze. “Security guard,” he said quickly. 

“Bullshit,” Franky replied just as quickly.

“Let me show you my ID,” he said calmly. He reached down slowly and pulled out a card.  He held it up so Franky could read it. 

Tony Habbib, Silver Knight Security Services, it read. She’d heard of the company.  “What are you doing here?” was all she said.

“My company is contracted to keep an eye on this apartment building. This apartment is owned by Ludlow & Brookes Lawyers.  It should be vacant.”  He seemed legit, she decided.  Franky stepped back and lowered the knife.

“Okay,” she said.

He turned around slowly then relaxed slightly when he saw he’d been accosted by an almost naked female. “Who are you?” he asked. 

“Tina Fey,” she said, saying the first name that came into her head. It was the comedian whose book she was reading.  She hoped the security guard wasn’t much of a reader or a fan of female American comics.  “I’m a client of Ludlow & Brookes. They put me up in this apartment overnight when my case was held over in court.  I’m sorry you weren’t informed but that really isn’t my fault.  You should try knocking,” she suggested.  Franky could bluff with the best of them. 

“I did knock,” he corrected her.  He studied her.  “Look, I’m sorry I disturbed you but I’m just doing my job.  They should have advised the company they had someone in the apartment.”  He headed towards the door.  “You should put on the internal latch,” he suggested as he left. 

Franky did just that then went back to the bedroom. Erica was still asleep.  She crawled into bed.  Part of her wondered if she should wake Erica so she could go home to Mark.  Fuck it, she thought, she was tired and another part of her wished the whole ugly business would come out in the open forcing Erica to deal with it.  Her last thought was to remember to tell Erica in the morning about her new client, Tina Fey. 

Chapter Text

“Franky,” the voice was female but unfamiliar, “Franky, can you hear me?”

Another voice. “She’s in and out, what are her vitals?”  It was male, deep, calming.  It reminded her of her father.  She drifted again.

Eight hours earlier.

“Shit!” Franky woke with a start. The sun was shining through the window.  “Shit!”  It was Erica.  “Franky, wake up!”

Franky was awake. She blinked and stretched and rolled onto her side, away from the sun and towards Erica.  “Morning,” she said with a contented smile.  She watched as Erica burst into a hive of activity.

“It’s nearly 8,” was all she got in return. Franky studied Erica’s back as she bent over the side of the bed.  Her spine and ribs were outlined as she stretched.  Franky’s fingers itched to trace their form downwards to her tailbone and beyond.  “Where’s my dress?”

“Dunno,” Franky offered. Her hand had almost reached Erica when she rolled off the bed and took her gloriously naked body down the corridor.  Franky rolled onto her back and stared at the ceiling.  So much for romance, she thought, the harsh light of day had no time for it.  Erica was agitated and Franky assumed it was because she would have some explaining to do when she saw Mark.  She couldn’t help wondering how that would play out.

Erica returned and handed Franky her clothes. “Come on, Franky,” she said irritably.

“Okay, relax,” Franky sat up and started dressing.

“Easy for you to say,” Erica muttered and Franky looked at her in surprise. She caught it.  “Sorry,” she sighed.

“Come here,” was all Franky said.

Erica hesitated.   Franky could see she was torn between not delaying any longer and wanting to do as Franky asked.  She waited.  Erica came closer, a worried frown creasing her brow.  Franky took her wrists and guided her down so she was sitting across from her.  She looked so gorgeous when she was worried, or torn, Franky thought with a smile.

“What’s the worst that can happen?” she asked.

“Franky,” she sighed.

She thought she knew Erica, but recent times had taught her not to be too confident in that assumption. “It’s scary when you think you’re losing track of who you are,” she said at last. Franky, pop psychologist, she thought wryly.  She knew though, what it felt like to re-model your idea of yourself.  Franky understood that completely. 

Erica deferred. “Do we have to talk about this now?”  She asked.

Franky let it go. “No,” she said lightly.  “We can talk about it whenever you want.”  She let the invitation linger in the air between them for a moment before starting to dress.

“Oh before I forget,” she added as she pulled on her dress. She told Erica what had occurred in the middle of the night.

“Tina Fey?” Erica asked in disbelief. “You couldn’t have just made up a name?”

Franky shrugged. “It popped into my head,” then added casually, “just tell them she’s your client.”

“I can’t do that,” Erica dismissed the idea.

“Why not?”

“Well, it will look a bit strange to have a client with no billable hours against her name.”

“Oh,” was all Franky said. “Can you drop me at my place?” she asked.  “I’ve got to get changed and see Boomer.”

“When is her trial?” Erica asked as she tried to make the bed look respectable.

Franky filled her in on the latest developments.

“That is pretty convenient for Boomer,” Erica said as she finished.

“Not if she goes down for murder,” Franky pointed out.

“They haven’t arrested her though?” Erica clarified.

“Not so far,” confirmed Franky. She had spent yesterday visiting the retail stores at Highpoint which Boomer remembered entering on the day of Ron’s murder.  A couple of the retailers remembered someone of Boomer’s description although they couldn’t pinpoint the exact time.  Franky hoped it would be enough.

Franky had called Ruby’s old school when she arrived at the office and had managed to negotiate her way round the officious secretary to score a meeting with the principal during the lunch period. “He can only spare fifteen minutes,” the secretary had said curtly.

Her mobile rang. It was Amy.  “They want to interview your friend again,” she said.  “Can you bring her in?”

“This is bullshit,” Franky said with frustration.

“Look,” Amy said after a pause, “they’ve found something, the weapon. It was dumped in one of the garbage skips at the apartment block."

“So what?” Franky asked brusquely. “Anyone could have dumped it there.”  She was annoyed.

“I’m just telling you what I know,” Amy replied, reacting to Franky’s tone. “I shouldn’t even be telling you this.”

Franky ran her hand through her hair. “I know,” she conceded, “and I’m grateful.”

“How grateful?” Amy asked with her trademark flirty smile in her voice.

Franky couldn’t help grinning. “I’ll buy you a coffee,” she offered.

Amy laughed. “Will I tell them you’re coming in?” was all she said.

“Yep,” Franky rang off.

She sent a text to Boomer saying she’d pick her up in half an hour. She went in to see Stephanie and filled her in.

“Take my car,” Stephanie offered. “I’m in court all day so I won’t need it.”  Franky nodded.  She wondered if Stephanie would mention the previous evening.  She couldn’t help remembering what Erica had said about Steph warning her off.  Her boss seemed distracted by her court appearance though and not inclined to have a lengthy discussion.

Franky’s instructions to Boomer were clear. Just answer their questions as briefly as possible.  Don’t offer up any information.  Don’t let them bait her into losing her temper and most important, be guided by Franky on when to answer and when to be silent.

When they arrived Franky saw Amy was processing an arrest. She caught her eye.  The young blonde winked and gave a quick dimpled smile.  Boomer was texting while they waited so Franky took the opportunity to ring Erica.  She reached her secretary.  “Just tell her Tina Fey called,” she said with a smile.  The secretary repeated the name dubiously.  Franky saw the senior sergeant gesturing to her and she rang off.  She wasn’t convinced the secretary would pass on the message.

The weapon turned out to be a meat tenderiser. It had a fingerprint on it which matched Boomer’s and Ron’s blood.  After over an hour of questioning that went nowhere Franky called for a break.  In the corridor she bailed up the detective in charge of the investigation.

“You know this is bullshit,” she said to him. “My client was seen at Highpoint on the afternoon of the murder and until recently she lived with her mum so of course her prints might be on a kitchen utensil which came from their apartment.”

The detective was a tall man with broad shoulders and a gut which looked as if he’d invested a lot of money in beer. He looked down at Franky with a mixture of superiority and boredom.  “Argue it in court then but your client has motive and opportunity.”

“The guy dealt for Vince Diamond,” Franky pointed out. “Have you even looked at that angle?”

He stuck his hands in his pockets. “Don’t tell me how to do my job.” 

Franky could hear the unspoken ‘girlie’ at the end of that sentence. Then start doing it, was what she wanted to say but settled for, “Arrest her then, otherwise my client is leaving.”  She knew the Department of Public Prosecutions wouldn’t be happy with the half arsed case the police had put together so far.

Five minutes later she and Boomer walked out of the police station. At the car Franky checked the time.  She squinted into the sun as she looked across the roof at Boomer.

“I’ve got to be somewhere, Booms, so you’re going to have to come with me,” she stated without apology.

Boomer was well used to trailing after Franky on some mission she only half understood. “Can we stop at Maccas?” was all she asked.

“Maybe later,” Franky conceded as she climbed into the driver’s side.

The school which expelled Ruby was located to the east of the city. Franky parked in a visitor’s spot and told Boomer she wouldn’t be long.  She went inside and told the front office she had an appointment with the principal.  As she waited she watched groups of effervescent teenagers in uniform bubble down the stairwell and cascade past her as though someone had spilt the coke bottle.  Lunch break, she assumed.

She was shown into an office and asked to wait. Five minutes later the door opened and a surprisingly young man walked in and introduced himself.  “And you are Ms Franky Doyle,” he assumed correctly.  “And you want some information about a former pupil of ours, correct?”

He was decidedly efficient, pulling out a file, and sitting down across from Franky. His blue eyes held hers enquiringly.  Clearly the annoying secretary had filled him in.  Franky wondered if he was even old enough to be principal of an elite secondary school.  She nodded, feeling slightly off kilter.  “Ruby Roxton,” she said.  “Were you here then?” she couldn’t help asking, or still in nappies?

“Yes, I was only one of the teaching staff then but I remember Ruby, her exit made her difficult to forget,” he said opening the file. “Crazy, isn’t it, we live in the age of technology which dictates our lives and yet here we are still using paper files.”  He laughed.

“What happened?” Franky asked curiously. She wasn’t interested in discussing the contradictions of the 21st century. 

“Ruby slashed another girl with a shard of glass,” he told her.

Franky couldn’t hide her astonishment. He may as well have said Ruby was a vampire.  “What?”

“Yes, she went berserk, broke a science beaker in chemistry class and cut another student’s face with it.” His voice was devoid of emotion but his face registered disbelief.

Franky thought after Wentworth nothing could surprise her about people. She thought she could read people pretty accurately.  She never expected this to be Ruby’s story.

“The other student didn’t press charges?” Franky asked after a moment.  There was nothing in Ruby’s file to indicate a violent history.

“It was hushed up,” the principal explained. “Ruby’s father, as you would know, is very influential.  He paid for some plastic surgery for the girl and Ruby was expelled.”

Franky was thinking. “And there had been no incidents before this one?” She asked.

“Nothing,” he confirmed. “Ruby was a quiet student, she worked hard, and the staff were concerned her social development was slower than other girls of her age.”  He looked at his watch.  “Was there anything else you wanted to know?”

“Was she friends with the girl she attacked?” The principal shook his head.  “Can I have her name?”

He flicked through the file and wrote a name on a post-it note and handed it to Franky. Julie Irwin, it read.  Franky stood up. 

“Ruby’s in trouble I gather,” the principal said quickly. “I hope things work out for her.  The attack was completely out of character.  She never explained it and the victim claimed it was unprovoked.”

“Thanks for your time,” was all she said. She couldn’t guarantee things would work out for Ruby.  On the contrary things were looking pretty shit for her client.

As she walked back to the car she passed a group of seniors. On impulse she walked across to them.  Ruby had left the school eight years previously.  These seniors would have been in grade five at the time.  The school catered for kids from grade 1 to year 12.  It was possible some of these students remembered Ruby.

“Hi,” Franky greeted them with an engaging smile. They looked at her curiously.  “I wanted to ask you some questions, that okay?

One of the boys responded. “What questions?  Are you a reporter?”

Franky laughed. “No, I’m a lawyer.  Did any of you know a Ruby Roxton?  She was expelled about eight years ago for slashing a girl.”

It brought an immediate reaction from a couple of them. “Oh yeah, I remember that,” one of the girls said.  “The way she cut that girl up was sick.”

“But out of character, right?” Franky probed.

“I don’t know about that,” the girl said dismissively. “My sister was in her year, and she always reckoned Ruby had lost it a couple of times before the whole slashing incident.  Nothing on that scale though,” she conceded.

“I’d like to talk to your sister,” Franky said, finally she thought she might be getting somewhere.

“Good luck with that!” The girl laughed.  “She’s backpacking through Africa.”

“Does she have a mobile she’s using?” Franky wasn’t giving up.

“Yeah, when she has coverage and credit on it,” the girl hesitated. “Look, I’m not giving my sister’s number to just any random,” she said bluntly.

Franky pulled a business card out and handed it over to the girl. “Call her then,” she suggested.  “And ask her if she’d be willing to talk to me.”

The girl looked at the details on the card. “Okay Franky Doyle,” she said at last.  “I’ll ask her.”

“Tell her it’s important,” Franky said as she walked off in the direction of her car.

She dropped Boomer at the flat and drove into the city. She decided to drop in on Erica.  It was optimistic but she was in luck and found her in her office. 

“Hey gorgeous,” she said in greeting.

Erica looked up from the brief she was reading. “Franky, what are you doing here?” she asked with a smile. 

Franky came into the office and leant against the back of the visitor’s chair. “I’m taking you out to lunch,” she said with a smile.

Erica looked apologetic. “I’ve had lunch.”

Franky straightened. “Well, I haven’t so come with me,” she suggested.  “Can you tee up a meeting with Ruby first though?  Ask her to come in this afternoon.”  Erica gave her a questioning look.  “I’ll fill you in at lunch,” she offered.

As they were leaving, Nick came up to Erica’s door. “I wanted to talk to you,” he said to Erica but he was watching Franky. 

“Nick,” she nodded briefly.

“Hi,” he said without enthusiasm.

“What is it?” asked Erica.

“Nothing,” he said quickly. “I’ll catch you later.” 

“What’s up with him?” Franky asked as she watched him leave. 

Erica knew exactly what was up with Nick. “Did you ever think about changing your name when you got released?” she asked suddenly.

Franky gave her that look where she pulled her head back slightly and looked surprised. “Why?”

“People will always be curious about your past, looking at footage on YouTube, judging you, doesn’t that bother you?” Erica was frowning, concerned at the idea of it.

“You can’t change who you are, Erica,” Franky said after a moment. She looked up and her green eyes held Erica’s in a compelling gaze.

She wondered if Franky was using the universal you or actually directing her comment at Erica. It was difficult to tell. 

They went to Erica’s favourite local café. It did good coffee and a selection of freshly made sandwiches and salads.  Franky ordered coffee and Zucchini fritters with a side salad.  Erica ordered a coffee. 

“I went to Ruby’s old school.” Franky said once the waitress had left them with a bottle of water and glasses. She poured water for both of them.  She filled Erica in.  She finished as her meal arrived.

“This is a disaster,” Erica said with a frown. She watched Franky begin to eat.  “How the hell did this not come to light?”

“Because these Roxtons are keeping quiet about stuff,” Franky pointed out. “Aren’t you curious to find out why?  Coz I am,” she added as she took another mouthful.  Erica watched Franky eat.  She found it fascinating.  Franky had carefully moved all the red onion off to the side of the plate. Then she had scraped most the minted yoghurt off the fritters so only a light spread remained.  Then she ate all the salad first before even trying the fritters.  Then she only ate one of them even though Erica knew they were completely moreish.  “How about I tackle Ruby and you talk to the father and we’ll see who’ll break first?”  Franky said when she’d finished.

Erica nodded. It seemed like the most logical approach.  She had forgotten about the psychiatrist’s report, which she had asked Nick to chase again.  Even if she had remembered, it wouldn’t have changed anything. 

When they arrived back at the office Franky went off to meet with Ruby and Erica phoned Stuart Roxton to arrange a time for him to come in. She was checking her emails when she noticed Nick had forwarded the psychiatrist’s preliminary report.  She read it with interest then increasing alarm.  Phrases leapt out at her, potentially violent or aggressive, possible Dissociative Identity Disorder, can be triggered by severe distress, further study required for complete diagnosis.  One thing became clear to Erica, Ruby was a ticking time bomb, and Franky was unsuspectingly about to light the fuse.

She stood up.

Franky was interviewing Ruby in the same small room where they had last met. They had been at it for an hour and it felt claustrophobic.  She was pushing Ruby for answers and getting nowhere.  What had happened at her school when she was fourteen?  Why her car was seen four hours after the time she claimed to have gone hiking?  Why didn’t she give Henry his toy back that morning when she had clearly seen him at the centre? 

She had paused for a moment to look down at her notes when it happened.

“You think you’re so fucking clever, don’t you?” The voice was low and aggressive and didn’t sound like Ruby.

Franky looked up in surprise. “What did you say?” she asked with a frown.

“So fucking clever,” Ruby repeated with a sneer on her face.

“Ruby?” Franky questioned in confusion, “Are you all right?”

“She’s not here,” Ruby said, “she’s hiding like a little terrified mouse.” The sneer hadn’t left the face but now it was directed at Ruby.

Franky put her pen down and sat back slowly. “Who are you then?” she asked watching Ruby carefully. 

The small girl leant forward suddenly. “Ella,” she said.

Franky thought quickly. She had heard of split personalities.  Shit in prison some of the women behaved as though they had one, docile and compliant one minute and violent and unstable the next. 

 “I’ve been listening to you,” Ella said with deceptive calm.  “always needling Ruby, wanting her to tell you stuff, pressuring her.  She can’t handle it, I won’t make her cope on her own, so you can deal with me.”  She wiped her hand across her nose.  Franky watched fascinated.  She couldn’t even see Ruby in the woman before her. 

“Okay,” agreed Franky calmly. “You tell me what I need to know to defend Ruby or else you are both going down for murder.”

Ella wasn’t interested. “I told her to stand up for herself!  You people are all the same,” she spat the words out.  “Pretending to help but really just finding ways to screw Ruby over.”

“What people?” Franky asked.

“No!” Ella shouted.  The escalation in her aggression happened quickly.  “No more of your fucking questions, right?  I am in control now.”

“Yeah?” Franky was sceptical.  “Like when Henry was murdered?  Were you in control then?”

Her reaction was completely unexpected and caught Franky off-guard. Ella leapt to her feet upturning the table they were sitting at against Franky causing her to lose her balance as her chair rocked backwards.  Her head hit the corner edge of the wall where the room recessed to the door.  As she lost consciousness she was aware of Ella looming over her.

Chapter Text

Erica walked briskly down the corridor towards the meeting room where Franky was conducting her interview with Ruby. She was keeping in check her agitation and worst case scenario thoughts.  It would be okay, she thought instead, Franky could look after herself and besides, what could possibly occur in the offices of city law firm?

The door was ajar but as she approached Erica could see nothing of what might be happening inside. There were no sounds coming from inside as she reached the door.  She pushed against it but it resisted her efforts.  Something was blocking the entry.  She slid through the gap and found it was Franky lying unconscious on the ground.  There was a disturbing amount of blood pooling around Franky's head but Erica couldn't see a wound.  There was no sign of Ruby. 

Afterwards she was amazed how calmly she had reacted. She didn't cry out or react in a blind panic.  Instead everything slowed down and she could see and think quite clearly.  She hadn't brought her phone with her but she looked for and found the conference phone which usually sat on the table.  It was lying upside down on the floor, the handset lying some distance from it.  She checked it was still working and on hearing the comforting sound of dial tone she got an outside line and dialled triple zero.  She requested an ambulance. Next she rang reception all the time keeping a watchful eye on Franky to see if she had come round.  Rebecca answered on the third ring.  Erica asked if Ruby had been past and received confirmation she had left five minutes earlier.  She told Rebecca to expect ambulance officers and to bring them to the small meeting room.  She rang off before the young receptionist could ask for an explanation.  It was only then that she crouched down over Franky's unconscious form and looked carefully for the wound.  She felt for a pulse and relief washed over her when Franky's heart beat a rapid rhythm against her fingers. She didn't know whether she should move her to try and stem the blood flow which must be coming from the back of her head.

She called Franky's name and touched her arm but received no response. She looked about her momentarily and wondered what had occurred to cause such chaos. Then she focused on Franky keeping up a constant stream of reassurances on the off chance Franky could somehow hear her but was unable to respond.  It was the longest fifteen minutes of her life.  She had never felt so helpless.  Franky in comparison looked as though she was asleep, blissfully unaware of her situation.  Her face was calm and relaxed, her hair falling across her eye.  Erica brushed it away absently and willed those eyes to open and greet her with a cheeky sparkle.

Eventually she heard voices and people approaching. She stood up with relief and stepped into the gap to warn them Franky was blocking the entry.  It was a male and female officer who attended.  As they assessed Franky she stirred but lost consciousness again almost immediately.  They asked Erica what had happened and with frustration she could tell them nothing of value.  They ascertained the blood was from a wound on the back of her head.  There appeared to be no other injuries. They contained the bleeding and prepared to move her to the hospital.

Erica returned to her office and asked her secretary to cancel her last meeting of the day. She gathered her phone and handbag with the intention of following Franky to the hospital.  Before she left though she printed out Nick’s email with the psych report and put a call into Stephanie Wilkinson.  She couldn't reach her so left a message for her to call Erica as a matter of urgency.  Nick arrived as she was hanging up.

"What's happened?" He asked. Rebecca had given him a garbled account when he had returned from a meeting across town.

Erica filled him in briefly. "I can't talk Nick.”

“Where are you going?” he asked.

“The hospital,” she said briefly.  “No doubt the police will want to talk to us about Ruby.  The ambulance officers said they would contact them."  She headed out the door.  "Get on to that psychiatrist.  We are going to need them to do a full psych assessment on Ruby," she said as she walked.  "If only that bloody report had turned up sooner."

When Erica was allowed to see Franky she was still unconscious but her head was now bandaged and she was wired to a machine monitoring her vitals. There was nothing Erica could do but wait.  She sat in the chair by Franky's bedside and watched her.  The doctor had said they had had to put 10 stitches in the back of Franky's head.  They had also completed CT and MRI scans to check for internal bleeding and brain damage.  They had both come back clear.  "She'll wake up when her body is ready," he had said in response to her question.  "Don't be concerned. The body does its best healing when it's resting."

Now Erica let herself process what had happened. She couldn't know what had happened in that room until Franky woke up.  She could speculate based on the psych report and what she had seen in the aftermath.  She had seen similar scenes while at Wentworth.  When Bea Smith killed Jacs Holt there had been so much blood.  The emotional aspect had been missing though.  Her reaction to those scenes had been professional.  Seeing Franky lying there in her own blood was a different ball game altogether.  She couldn't help thinking how much worse it could have been.  It made her thankful and fearful. 

Her phone vibrated. She had left it on.  She went into the corridor to take the call.  It was Stephanie.

"Sorry," Stephanie began with. "I've been in court all day.  I only just got your message.  Is there something wrong?"  Erica took a breath and filled her in.  "I'll be right there," was all she said.

Erica hesitated. She didn't return to Franky's bedside immediately.  Instead she sent a text to Mark saying she'd been held up at work and wasn't sure when she'd be home.  She knew she was pushing her luck.  When she had got home that morning there had been no sign of Mark and she hadn’t called him because she hadn’t known what to say to him.   

A nurse approached her. “You’re Erica Davidson?” she asked.  Erica nodded.  “We just need some particulars about Francesca Doyle.”

“What particulars?” Erica asked putting her phone away.

“Her next of kin?” the nurse asked looking at the form on her clipboard.

“Her father, Alan Doyle,” Erica replied.

“Contact details?” Erica shook her head.  “Do you know if Francesca has private health?”

“It’s Franky,” Erica corrected her. “And no, I don’t know.”  She rubbed her brow.

“That’s okay,” the nurse said reassuringly. She smiled.  “Franky can tell us when she wakes up.”

Erica went back into the room. Franky was still asleep.  She pulled out the psych report and began reading it more carefully than the first time.  It was just as disturbing on the second read.  She looked at the email Nick had forwarded with the report.  It was sent by a Dr Ian Chang.  She noticed the time stamp.  “Bloody hell!”  It had been sent to Nick at 11am.  He had forwarded it through to Erica at 2pm.  Those three hours could have made all the difference to Franky. 

She held her hand out flat in front of her and watched curiously as it trembled. The shock had caught up with her she realised as the adrenalin abated.  Someone approached Franky’s room and Erica looked up to see Stephanie enter.

“How is she?” the older woman asked immediately. Her blue eyes held concern as they rested on Franky where the white bandage contrasted starkly with her dark head.

“Still unconscious,” Erica replied. “The doctor isn’t concerned though.”

Stephanie nodded. “What happened?”

Erica explained then handed over the psych report for Stephanie to read. “I’ve heard of this,” she said as she skimmed the pages.  “I’ve never seen it though.  Where’s Ruby now?”  Stephanie’s eagle eyes caught Erica’s blue ones.

Erica shook her head. “She had left before anyone realised what had happened.”

“Are the police involved?”

“They will be,” Erica acknowledged. “The ambulance officers said they had to report it.”

Stephanie handed back the report. “This will change the defence strategy.”  She looked at her watch.  “It’s after six,” she said.  She looked at Erica.  “I’m sure you want to get home, I can stay with Franky.”

Erica hesitated. “It’s okay, I don’t mind staying.”

“Really?” Stephanie questioned.  “Won’t your fiancé be expecting you?”  The message in those piercing blue eyes was clear.

“I think Franky would want me to be here,” she said at last. She knew Stephanie couldn’t refute that and it was a gentle reminder that regardless of Stephanie’s feelings on the matter, it was Franky’s desires which should take precedence.  It didn’t acknowledge the other feeling Erica had had when Stephanie had calmly told her where she fitted into Franky’s life as a work colleague, a collaborator on a case, an acquaintance.  She hadn’t felt relief that Franky was someone else’s burden.  “I should call Boomer,” she said into the silence.  Not that she knew Boomer’s number.  “Someone should tell her.”

“I’ll do it,” Stephanie said, taking over the reins. She went into the corridor and Erica felt herself relax slightly.

“This is a fucking mess, Franky,” she said to the patient with frustration. Her mess, she acknowledged.  Franky was in that hospital bed because somehow that report had sat in Nick’s inbox for three hours.  Stephanie was being passive aggressive towards her because she was doing wrong by Franky and her fiancé.  And Franky, who could make all these things fade into insignificance with one mesmerising glance, was disturbingly silent.

Boomer arrived then James Wilkinson and Erica watched as these strangers, who were polar opposites, bonded in their love of Franky. Erica felt superfluous and awkward in their company.  She had no status, no reason for being there and she wasn’t sure Franky even needed her with all these well-intentioned people surrounding her bedside. 

She slipped out and walked to the hospital’s cafeteria where she bought a coffee. She felt anxious and distressed.  She assumed it was shock.  Franky would be all right, she told herself, and that was what mattered.

“Erica Davidson?” Two tall, uniformed police officers towered over her.  She hadn’t even noticed their approach she’d been so caught up in her thoughts.

“Yes,” she answered with a slight question in her voice.

“We’re investigating the incident that occurred at Ludlow & Brookes this afternoon.” She nodded.

Franky still hadn’t woken up when they were all evicted by the efficient night staff. Erica drove home feeling mentally fatigued.  She knew it was a hangover from the adrenalin hit and the shock.  When she saw the lights on at the St Kilda apartment she owned with Mark she knew explanations would be expected and she dreaded the conversation. 

When Franky woke up she was disorientated and had a monster headache. She didn’t know where she was.  She tried to sit up and realised she was connected to a machine.  She looked curiously at the machine mesmerised for a moment by seeing the beat of her heart reflected in the thin green line on the screen.  Then she pulled the connectors away from her chest and sat up.  That action didn’t help her head much.  There was a drip inserted in her left hand but before she could pull out the catheter a nurse entered.

“Hello Franky,” she said. “I’m going to have to put those connectors back on I’m afraid.”  She said briskly, using firm pressure on Franky’s shoulders to make her lie back down. 

Franky tracked her with her eyes as she moved around the bed and collected the connectors from where they had fallen and proceeded to reattach them to Franky’s chest.

“Hey,” Franky said with a raspy voice. “Usually I like to know a girl’s name before she gets this intimate.”

The nurse smiled. “It’s Billie,” she offered.

“That’s a boy’s name,” Franky pointed out as the nurse turned back to the monitor and checked it was reading okay.

“So is Franky,” the nurse replied. She looked at the patient.  “Are you going to cause me trouble?”

Franky grinned. “Probably,” she admitted.  “Can I have some water?”

The nurse brought her a glass of water. “Steady,” she said as Franky gulped it down almost choking in her haste to drink.

Franky handed the glass back. “My head hurts,” she said, “got anything for that?” she asked hopefully.

“Rest,” the nurse offered without sympathy. “Can I trust you not to fiddle with the equipment if I leave you alone?”

Franky shrugged. The truth was she felt tired just from that short exchange.  “I guess.” 

The nurse seemed satisfied with this. “You can press this if you need assistance,” she showed Franky a cord with an alert button by her pillow.  Franky’s eyes were already closing.

When she woke again it was morning. She felt slightly better.  She rang the button.  A different nurse appeared.  “Where’s Billie?” she asked.

“On a break,” the young nurse said.

There were a hundred questions presenting themselves in Franky’s head but practical needs took precedence. “I need to pee,” Franky told her.  The nurse disconnected her and helped her stand.  She established Franky could walk unaided.  She rolled the IV next to her and gave her directions to the bathroom.

As she was coming back to her room she saw Boomer wandering up the corridor. She smiled.  Boomer was carrying two takeaway coffees.  “Booms,” she said, “one of those better be for me.”

Boomer’s eyes lit up. “You’re awake!”  She said happily.  She attempted to give Franky a hug around the IV while juggling coffee.  “I brought you some stuff,” she indicated the overnight bag she had slung over her shoulder. 

“Tell me what the fuck happened, Booms,” Franky demanded as they walked slowly back to her room.

“Don’t you remember?” Boomer asked incredulously.  “That crazy client of yours went nutella on you!  Miss Davidson said the room where she found you looked completely trashed.”

Franky thought hard. Fragments of memory were returning to her.  “Erica found me,” she said.  She remembered hearing her father but he couldn’t have been there.  She shook her head.  Ruby had been angry, really angry, at her.  She didn’t know why.  She traced her memory back to where she could remember something concrete.  She and Erica had had lunch together and there had been red onion in the salad.  She felt relieved.  If she concentrated she would be able to follow the thread forward.

She climbed into bed and took the coffee offered by Boomer. She sipped it.  Boomer had sugared it and it tasted like a cappuccino.  Franky didn’t care – it was coffee.  It hurt her head to concentrate too hard so instead she let her mind drift aimlessly half listening to Boomer’s commentary.

“Stu dumped me,” Boomer said with resignation. “He sent me a text saying he thought I was nice but his girlfriend was giving him a second chance – wtf – I didn’t even know he had a girlfriend!  I bet she’s a skinny slag.”  Franky laughed.  “That cop came looking for you last night,” she said suddenly.

“Amy?”

“Yeah the blonde, your girlfriend, remember?” Boomer looked at Franky as though she should remember that at least.

Franky did remember. “Not my girlfriend,” she said firmly.  “What did she want?”  Boomer shrugged.  “I told her you were in the hospital.”  She looked to the door as a nurse entered.

It was Billie. She gave Franky a frown.  “No coffee for you, my girl,” she said firmly taking the takeaway container out of Franky’s hand.  Franky watched it go with regret. 

“I feel fine,” Franky said just as firmly.

“We’ll see,” was all she said. She didn’t hook Franky back up to the machine though which the patient took to be a positive sign.  “How’s the head this morning?”

“Fuzzy,” she admitted. “I mean you seemed nice last night,” she said with a frown.  “Not a coffee confiscating Nazi.”

“Yeah, it’s definitely fuzzy then,” the nurse agreed drily.

It wasn’t until the late afternoon that Franky began to wonder where Erica was. She had slept some more and Stephanie had come by to check on her.  James had brought flowers and Amy had sent a text asking if the tatts were still intact.  Boomer had stayed all day at the hospital, occasionally being evicted by Billie or one of the other nurses, but always coming back like a boomerang.  Franky welcomed her light relief.  When she was alone she continued to piece together the jigsaw pieces of her memory until a picture began to form.

She dozed again and this time when she woke up Erica was at her bedside. She smiled at her. 

“Hey,” Erica said softly. “How are you feeling?”

Franky shrugged. “Monster headache, I think that might be caffeine withdrawal though,” drawing a smile from Erica.

“Good to see it hasn’t affected your sense of humour,” Erica offered. She leant forward and said seriously, “I’m sorry, Franky.”

The patient frowned. “What about?” she asked watching Erica intently.

Erica looked uncomfortable. “I feel responsible,” she said at last.

“How can you be responsible?” Franky asked.  She didn’t understand what Erica was saying to her.  Her green eyes showed confusion.

“Nick delayed giving me the psych report on Ruby. You would have known what you were facing if he had sent it through when it arrived yesterday morning.  He did it deliberately.”  Erica concluded.  She rubbed her brow.

“Why would he do that though?” Franky asked sceptically.

“He has it in for you Franky. He tried to get you removed from the case.”  Erica sounded convinced but to Franky it didn’t make any sense.  “I’m not going to let him get away with it though.  I’ll fire him first.”  She finished with.  Her usual calm demeanour was missing.  She looked angry.

“What could he possibly gain by holding back the report, Erica? He wasn’t to know I would push Ruby out of her comfort zone.  What happened to me was because of Ruby, or rather Ella,” she corrected with a frown.  “And partly it was my own stupid fault,” she admitted.

“How do you figure that?” Erica asked incredulously.  

“I thought I had Ruby all figured out,” Franky shook her head slightly, cautiously. “It closed my mind to other possibilities,” she admitted.  “Even yesterday, I didn’t stop to re-think things.  It was a mistake.”

“I can’t ignore what Nick did,” Erica said.

“You don’t know there isn’t a reasonable explanation,” Franky pointed out.

“I know he has it in for you,” Erica countered with.

Franky laughed quickly. “I’m an ex-con who is also a lesbian, Erica.  Most people have it in for me,” she said drily.

“Doesn’t that bother you?” Erica asked with a frown.

“It bothers you, I can see, which I appreciate,” Franky’s eyes dwelt on Erica. “But to be honest if I got worked up over every slight or insult or discrimination I experienced, I’d be worn out.  I don’t think about it most of the time.”  She watched Erica process this.  “Okay?”

“No,” Erica said immediately but she smiled.

Franky leant back against her pillow. “You know, when you said you were sorry I thought you were dumping me,” she said with a grin.  She could smile about it now but for a split second she really had thought that and her world had darkened.

Erica laughed quickly. “When are they letting you out?” was all she asked.

“Tomorrow,” Franky answered putting her hand out to take Erica’s. “I want to see Ruby again.  I think I’m getting somewhere.”  Franky sounded agitated.  “Erica, you should have seen it when Ella took over, Ruby was unrecognisable.  We need to find out more about Ella and whether she took Henry.”

Erica was frowning. “Slow down Franky,” she said.  “I need to tell you something.”  Franky waited.  “We are waiting on Ruby getting a full psych assessment,” she paused, watching Franky.  “Ruby is being held until that happens.” 

Still Franky didn’t realise where Erica was leading her. “I don’t want to press charges,” she clarified. 

“She’s being held for breaking her bail conditions, not because of her attack on you, they picked her up at the airport.” Erica sighed.  “Franky, she’s being held at Wentworth.”

Then Franky knew what Erica was trying to tell her. If she wanted to talk to Ruby she would have to go back to Wentworth.

 

Chapter Text

Franky's phone rang. She was dressed in jeans and a fitted t-shirt and was propped on her hospital bed waiting to get her final instructions before she was discharged.  Her head was still bandaged but she was feeling much better.

"Hello," she said with a smile. It was Erica.

"Hi, are you still at the hospital?" 

"Yep," Franky replied. "Why?" Erica sounded like she was on hands free.

"I'll give you a lift home," Erica offered.

"It's okay, Boomer is collecting me," Franky told her.

"She doesn't have a car," Erica pointed out. "I don't think you should catch public transport."

"Um, it's called a taxi Erica, you've heard of them right?" Franky said with a smile.

"Well I have a car," Erica answered firmly. "So how about I pick you up? I’m only ten minutes away."

Franky shrugged. Erica sounded like she was intent on managing so Franky took the path of least resistance.  "Okay I'll let Boomer know."

"I'll ring her," Erica offered. "What’s her number?" Franky wondered what Erica was up to but she rattled it off. "Okay, see you soon," Erica finished with.

Franky looked up as Billie came in. “Do you ever go home?”

"I have a crushing mortgage and a single income. I do a lot of overtime.” The nurse told her.  “Now take it easy for a few days.  Here is a sick certificate signed by the doctor." Franky shoved it into her overnight bag without looking at it.  "You'll need to come back in ten days for a check-up.  If you have any dizziness, blurred vision, headaches or bleeding come back in or see your GP, okay?" Franky nodded.  "Any questions?"

"When can I get rid of the bandage?"

“As soon as you feel the sympathy vote has dried up,” Billie said, “most patients tell me it lasts for a good few days.” She grinned at Franky.

“You’re joking,” Franky realised.

“I am joking,” confirmed Billie. “As your wound is on the back of your head it is probably worth keeping it on at night to protect the stitches while you sleep but if you feel self-conscious wearing it during the day then you can take it off.”  Franky’s hands went to her head.  “From tomorrow,” the nurse finished with.

Franky was signing discharge forms when Erica arrived. She was dressed casually in jeans and a black top.  Franky did a mental calculation and realised it was Sunday. 

“Hello,” Erica said approaching Franky and kissing her softly on the lips. Franky was a little surprised at the public display.  “Ready to go?” was all Erica said.

Franky nodded. Erica picked up her overnight bag and slung it over her shoulder.  “I can manage,” Franky protested but Erica was already heading to the lifts.  Franky followed thinking Erica was behaving oddly.

At the flat Franky looked around suspiciously. There were fresh flowers in a vase on the kitchen bench and it was clutter-free.  “Have you cleaned, Boomer?” Franky asked incredulously.

Boomer nodded happily. “The flowers were Miss Davidson’s idea but I cleaned up,” she confirmed.

Franky smiled at her. “Thanks,” she said sincerely.  There was an awkward moment when Boomer looked at Erica, who looked at Franky, who glanced between the two then said, “Look, I’m really tired. I think I’ll just lie down for a bit.” 

Erica followed her into the bedroom and put down the overnight bag. “You okay?” she asked.

Franky nodded. “Sure,” she confirmed, “just tired.”  She took Erica’s hand.  “Will you still be here when I wake up?”  She asked.  Her green eyes looked anxious.  She felt firm pressure from Erica’s hand.

“If you want me to be,” she said with a smile. Franky felt relieved. 

“I do,” she confirmed. “Stay with me til I fall asleep.”  She lay down and rolled onto her side so she could watch Erica.  The pillow smelt fresh and lemon scented.  Boomer must have put on clean sheets.  Her eyes grew heavy quickly.

Erica watched her for time. There was something so intimate about watching someone sleep she thought.  Franky was so vulnerable lying there, unprotected and exposed, it signified a level of trust.  She wanted to crawl onto the bed next to Franky and listen to her breathe.  Instead she stood up and left the room quietly closing the door behind her.

Boomer was making a cup of tea. “Want one?”  She asked.  Erica nodded and sat on one of the stools at the kitchen bench.  “How do you have it?”

“Black, weak,” she answered. “How have things been going for you since you got out?”  Erica asked as she watched the larger woman get another cup and tea bag.

“Shit,” Boomer acknowledged. “I guess Franky told you about my mum’s boyfriend.”

Erica nodded. “I’ve still got some contacts in the social welfare system.  If you want I could get in touch with them and ask them to try and source some work for you.”  Boomer looked hopeful.  “I can’t promise anything,” Erica was quick to manage expectations, “but we could give it a try.”

“That’d be awesome, Miss Davidson,” Boomer said immediately.

“It’s Erica,” she said as she took the tea Boomer offered.

“Right,” Boomer nodded. There was a knock at the door. Boomer put down her tea and went to answer it. 

It was Amy. She was still in uniform.  Boomer rolled her eyes.  “What do you want?”  It wasn’t friendly. 

“How’s Franky? I went past the hospital but they said she’d been discharged,” Amy looked past Boomer in an attempt to see if Franky was inside.  Instead she saw Erica. 

“She’s resting,” was all Boomer said but the ‘so bugger off’ was easily heard. Boomer knew how to protect Franky from unwanted solicitations.  It had been part of her job in prison. 

“You and Franky kissed and made up then,” Amy said to Erica. She leant against the doorframe.  Boomer looked at her with confusion.

“We did,” confirmed Erica.

“Pity,” Amy said. “I can’t stay,” she said to Boomer, as though refusing an invitation to come inside which hadn’t been offered.  “I’m on duty.  Tell Franky I dropped by though,” she disappeared down the steps. 

Boomer closed the door and walked back to the kitchen. She picked up her tea and studied Erica processing what she had just heard and trying to make sense of it.  “What did she mean by that?” she asked at last.

Erica shrugged. “I’m sure you can figure it out, Boomer,” she said.  Then she put down her tea and went to the door of Franky’s room and slipped inside.

Franky was still asleep. Erica took off her shoes and slid onto the bed next to Franky.  She closed her eyes and listened to Franky’s soft breathing. It was rhythmic and hypnotic.  She moved closer carefully so as not to disturb her.  Franky was on her side with her back to Erica.  She slid her arm warily over Franky’s waist and let her hand rest against her stomach.  She remembered the last time she had disturbed Franky when she’d been sleeping but Franky didn’t stir.  She was close enough to smell the slight hint of hospital antiseptic which lingered on Franky.  She dozed.

Franky woke to feel the comforting weight of another body close to her and Erica’s arm draped across her. She changed positions so she was facing her.  Erica was asleep.  Franky watched her marvelling at her closeness, her stillness.  She had so many questions she wanted to ask but her mind kept coming back to one.

Erica stirred and her blue eyes opened and blinked focussing on Franky. Blue eyes met green.  “Hello,” she said.  Franky continued to watch her.  “What are you thinking?” she asked.

“I was wondering what you want,” Franky said immediately.

Erica stretched slightly then resettled. Like a cat, Franky thought, a comfortable, contented cat.  “You’re always asking me that,” she answered, her eyes not leaving Franky’s.

Franky smiled at the attempt to deflect. “That’s because you never answer it.”  She pointed out.

“What do you want?” Erica asked instead.

Franky suddenly realised Erica might be scared to say what she wanted. It was scary, putting yourself out there, not knowing what the response might be.  Franky had thought what she wanted was obvious.  She had been so busy trying to work out what Erica wanted she didn’t stop to think her own desires might not be as clear as she thought.

“I want you to stay not because it’s what I want but because you want to stay,” Franky said after a moment. “I want you to always want to stay.”  She added in a quiet voice.  Her green eyes were magnets drawing Erica into their depths.  She sounded so sincere and vulnerable.

“I do want to stay,” Erica whispered.

Franky continued to watch her. “So stay,” she said simply.  Then she smiled and Erica felt embraced in the warmth of that smile.  She returned it with one of her own. 

They had Thai for dinner. Erica could see Boomer had joined some dots and was keeping a curious eye on the interplays between Erica and Franky.  Erica cleaned up while Franky had a shower. 

She was reading Ruby’s preliminary psych report when Franky reappeared smelling of vanilla and with a toothbrush in her mouth. She climbed onto the couch next to Erica and peered over her shoulder.  “What are you reading?” she asked.

“Ruby’s psych report,” Erica said. “I was looking for the triggers that might set Ruby off.”

“Always working, Erica,” Franky chastised with a shake of her head. “Where’s Boomer?”

“Gone to see her mum in the hope of some sort of reconciliation,” Erica said as Franky took the report from her.

“Good,” murmured Franky. She leant in and kissed Erica.  She tasted of spearmint.  “Want to go to bed with me?” she said into Erica’s ear.  She had no expectation Erica would agree.  It was Sunday night and presumably she had to go home to Mark eventually.

Erica wasn’t sure Franky should be doing anything too energetic. “Are you sure?”

“I’m not going to ravish you,” Franky said immediately with a grin. “Although I’d like to,” she admitted.

Erica thought she’d quite like to be ravished by Franky. “Ravish me huh?  Where did you pull that word from?  A gothic novel?”

Franky ignored the interjection. “But I haven’t got the energy.”  She stood up.  “I need to sleep.” 

“Have you got a spare one of those?” Erica asked looking at Franky’s toothbrush.

Franky was watching her quizzically. “No,” she said at last.  “You can use mine though,” she replied trying to stop a smile from sliding across her face.  She wasn’t sure her next question was strategically smart but she asked it anyway.  “What about Mark?”

“What about him?” Erica asked as she stood up and took the toothbrush from Franky’s hand. She disappeared in the direction of the bathroom.  Franky followed her more slowly.  She leant around Erica at the sink and filled a glass with water.  She rinsed watching Erica in the mirror.  Something had happened she realised and Erica didn’t want to talk about it.  She glanced down quickly to Erica’s ring finger but the engagement ring was still there. 

She found a t-shirt for Erica. Franky was already wearing pyjama bottoms and a sleeveless top.  By the time Erica came in from the bathroom Franky was in bed propped up on the pillow reading the psych report.  As engrossing as it was, Erica stripping off her jeans and top distracted Franky from it. 

Her head felt okay but her energy levels were low. The doctor had told her to expect this.  Her body had been through a trauma and would recover at its own pace.  "You're fit which helps but don't force it," he told her.  "Rest is your best friend."

Erica climbed into bed and saw Franky watching her with a grin on her face. "What?"

"Nothing," Franky said still smiling. "I like having you here," she couldn't help adding.

Erica gave her a spearmint kiss and wriggled down into the bed next to Franky so she could feel the length of her against her.

When Erica woke suddenly it was still dark. She didn't know immediately what had disturbed her.  Then she realised Franky was rambling in her sleep.   She was getting more and more agitated.

"Franky," Erica shook her gently. "Franky, wake up!" She woke up with a gasp.  Sitting up quickly, drenched in sweat, her heart racing.  "It's okay," Erica said reassuringly.  "It was just a dream."

"Fuck!" She switched on the lamp at her side.  She pulled off the bandage round her head in a frenzied movement.  Erica could see her hair was wet with sweat.  She got out of bed and went to the bathroom.

"Want to talk about it?" Erica asked when Franky returned with a glass of water.

"Bad dream," Franky said then she downed the water without pausing.

"Shit Tina Fey, you don't say!" Erica was relieved to see a small smile from Franky.  "Was it Ruby?"  She asked more seriously.

Franky shook her head. She sat down on the bed.  "It's Wentworth," she said. 

Erica knew on one level the emotional and psychological trauma women suffered who had been to prison. On a rational, intellectual level she understood it.  On an emotional level she couldn't understand the scars prison left on a person, what effect the thought of returning there could have on them.  Franky was subdued.  Erica rubbed her hand across her back in comfort feeling it was probably inadequate.  She offered the only help she could.

“Franky,” she said tentatively. “You don’t have to go back there.  I can meet with Ruby.” 

“Yeah, I do,” Franky replied quietly. The dream told her how much of a hold Wentworth still had on her.  She had to face it or let it dictate her responses for the rest of her life.  She wouldn’t be a prisoner to it like she was to her father’s abandonment. 

“Okay,” Erica conceded, “but I’m coming with you.” She wouldn’t make Franky face it on her own.  Franky was silent and Erica wasn’t sure how to break through the reserve.  Franky was so open and engaging except when she wasn’t and then Erica could feel the protective impenetrable wall go up. She had an idea.  “I used to dream about Wentworth,” she offered, “and you.”

“Really?” Franky looked at her curiously.  Erica nodded.  “What did you dream?”

She could see she had Franky’s full attention. As a distraction it was perfect.  “That we were in your cell kissing,” she confessed.

“You had erotic dreams about me?” Franky sounded almost gleeful at the idea. 

“You’re not going to let me forget this, are you?” Erica realised with dismay.

“Well, I don’t know,” Franky considered it. “Maybe we should workshop it,” she said with a grin.  “Get it out of your system.”

Franky didn’t mention her dream again but as the time for the visit grew closer Erica could see she was getting edgy. She was like a caged tiger exuding a strength and power which was tightly contained.  Anyone watching though would know in a matter of moments that power could be unleashed and the damage would be devastating.  Danger, Erica could feel it lurking, and she was worried. 

They met with Dr Ian Chang and were briefed on Dissociative Identity Disorder. “If that is what Ruby has, and I’d need to complete an assessment of her before I could say definitively, then it was probably triggered by sexual and/or physical abuse in her childhood.”

Franky remembered what Ruby had said about her father. With a sinking feeling she realised what kind of monster it was that lurked inside Stuart Roxton.  “That fucking bastard,” she muttered.

“Franky,” Erica cautioned. “We don’t know.”  But Franky knew.  She didn’t need a psych assessment to tell her what had happened.  She was only surprised she hadn’t worked it out on her own.

“I’m keen to see her,” Dr Chang said, he looked at Franky, “seeing her transition must have been fascinating to watch.”

It had been but Franky suddenly felt sick at the undisguised excitement in the psychiatrist’s eyes. Ruby wasn’t a person to this guy, she thought, she was a specimen.  She stood up suddenly.  Erica watched her and Franky could see the concern in her eyes.  “I’ll meet you outside,” was all she said.

At the conclusion of the meeting Erica found her drinking a takeaway coffee leaning against the car soaking up the sunshine. Her sunglasses hid her eyes.  “Franky, what is going on?” she asked.

Franky shook her head. “Nothing,” then added immediately, “You’re not going to let that guy loose on Ruby, are you?”

Erica frowned. “Why wouldn’t I?” She asked in genuine confusion.

“Because he’s a fucking parasite! He’s just going to use Ruby to write some Nobel prize-winning paper,” Franky spat out the words.  She tossed her empty cup into a nearby bin then looked at Erica, who was staring at her.  “What?”

“Maybe you’re not ready to come back to work yet,” Erica said slowly.

Franky turned away from Erica towards the passenger door and pulled on the handle. It was locked.  “For fuck’s sake,” she muttered with frustration.  Erica pulled out her keys and unlocked the doors.  She walked round to the driver’s side without saying anything.

They drove back to Wilkinson and Associates in silence. Erica pulled into a loading zone.  “We’re due at the prison at noon,” she said.  “I’ll pick you up at eleven,” she offered.  Franky nodded and opened the car door to get out.  “You can still pull out,” Erica said quickly.  “If you want to,” she added. 

Franky gave her a look she couldn’t interpret. “I’ll see you tomorrow,” she said and got out.

Erica was working late when her mobile rang. It was Franky.  She answered it.  “Hello,” she said tentatively.

“I’m sorry,” Franky said. “I don’t know what made me react like that today.”

Erica sighed. “Do you think it might have something to do with you being stressed out of your mind at having to go back to Wentworth?”

“No,” she said immediately. There was silence, “maybe,” she conceded at last. 

“Franky, it’s okay to feel that way,” Erica said quietly. She didn’t know what had happened to Franky in Wentworth after she’d left, maybe she’d never know, but she didn’t want it to dictate Franky’s reaction.  What she needed was some perspective.  “You know what I see when I look at you?” she asked after a moment.  Franky was silent.  “I see a woman with such incredible potential.  I think I’ve been pretty successful but I’ve done that with a supportive, wealthy family behind me.  Then I look at you and I realise that despite all your setbacks and disadvantages you are not that far behind me.  Franky, you didn’t finish high school and yet here you are working as a lawyer, and your instincts are so good.  When you walk into Wentworth tomorrow and are confronted with your demons I want you to remember this, you have left that place so far behind.  You are light years from that girl who threw a pan of hot oil over someone.  And once your meeting is over you’ll walk out of there, free to be whoever you want to be.  Wentworth doesn’t own you.  It shaped your future and that future is so bright.  I feel lucky to know you.”

“Wow,” Franky said after a moment. “I think you’ve got a little crush on me, Miss Davidson,” and Erica was pleased to hear the light, flippant tone in her voice.

“Maybe I do,” she agreed with a smile in her voice.

Chapter Text

Erica could feel the tension radiating off Franky. She was next in line to pass through the metal detector.  Once through she would be inside Wentworth.  Just by looking at Franky no one would know.  She looked cool even nonchalant.  Erica could feel it though.  She moved forward slightly and brushed her hand against Franky's.  The dark head turned slightly and Erica gave her a reassuring smile.

"Next," the prison officer called.

Franky didn't recognise him. She stepped through the scanner.  It went off immediately.  She stood to the side as the officer waved a hand-held detector across her body.  It alarmed as it passed over her chest. 

"It's an underwire bra," she said, mentally kicking herself for choosing that bra on this day.

The prison officer said nothing but signalled to a female officer who felt up Franky to the point where she thought they should have exchanged numbers. She hoped Erica didn't have to suffer the same fate.  It turned out to be her house key which was hanging on a chain around her neck.  She had forgotten about it.  Next she had to hand over all her possessions.  She never carried much anyway.  Her mobile, house key and sunglasses were all taken.  Some business cards, a $20 note and her credit card were stashed in an inside pocket of her jacket.  The only other thing she carried was a legal pad and a pen both of which she was allowed to have with her to visit her client.

She waited with the other visitors. Erica soon joined her.  Both women had dressed in dark tailored skirts and jackets.  Erica wore a simple fitted blue top under the jacket.  It brought out the blue in her eyes.  Franky had chosen a fitted shirt which opened wide at the collar.  In their heels they were about the same height.

Erica saw Vera Bennett enter the reception area. She looked older, harder than when Erica had left.  There was no smiling as the deputy governor reviewed a list provided by one of the officers.  Suddenly she looked up.  Her eyes scanned the group until they found and settled on Franky then shifted to Erica.  She spoke in an undertone to the officer who had provided the list.

Erica knew the drill and wasn't surprised when she and Franky were selected randomly with some others to be checked by the drug dogs. When they had cleared through that process they were taken to a room where they were told to wait.  Erica noted the camera sitting above them in the corner of the room.  She looked at Franky.

"What's going on?" Franky asked. She didn't know the routine from this end.  Her experience was limited to a prisoner receiving a visitor. 

"Something," acknowledged Erica. Either they weren't going to be allowed to see Ruby for some reason or something else was going on.

They waited. Franky started to pace.  Erica kept her eyes on the camera.  If someone was watching she had no intention of giving them the satisfaction of thinking she was rattled.  Because she wasn't, Vera Bennett didn't scare her. The thought of Vera trying to intimidate her was laughable.  She smiled into the camera lens.

Five minutes later the door opened. Vera entered.  She glanced at Erica then Franky.  "There's a problem," she stated unemotionally, her face tight as a day old lemon.  "I'm afraid you won't be able to see Ruby Roxton today."

"What do you mean?" Erica asked. "What problem?"  She was immediately wary.  "You can't stop us seeing her," she pointed out.  She saw Vera glance towards the camera and realised the deputy governor was just carrying out orders.

"This is bullshit," Franky said with frustration. Vera glanced at her.  "This is just Ferguson playing her little games."

"No," Vera said firmly. "This is prison protocol.  Ruby is in the medical centre, which means no visitors." 

“Since when?” Erica asked sceptically. It certainly hadn’t been the protocol when she was Governor. Franky’s dad had visited her in the medical unit.

Vera ignored her question. “I’ll have you escorted back to reception.”  She turned to leave.

“How is Ruby?" Erica asked quickly, stalling her retreat. “Is she even capable of talking?  You can at least tell us that,” Erica asked reasonably.

Vera hesitated then nodded. "She’s conscious and will likely recover fully.  She was bashed,” she answered more fully than Erica had expected.

“Well then, break the rules Vera, and take us to medical," she said patiently.

“It’s not possible,” was all Vera said.

Erica stepped forward and leant in so the camera couldn't read her lips. "If you don’t I'll go to the media Vera and I'll have you plastered across every internet news site in Victoria until the Department decides you're a liability and fires your pathetic arse."  Erica pulled back to judge the reaction but Vera just looked disbelieving.  She leant in again.  "Who do you think leaked to the media to make you look bad after Meg Jackson's death?  I have contacts and I'm willing to use them.  It won't matter if the story is true or not, will it?  Not in this current climate - 3 deaths in custody last month, wasn’t it?"  This time when she pulled back she knew Vera would crumble.

"All right," the deputy conceded. "Follow me."

Erica gave Franky a quick smile as she preceded her out of the room.

The prisoners they passed stared openly some wolf whistled or made obscene gestures. Franky was relieved not to recognise any of them.  She could feel the tension strangling her.  This was even worse than being in the visitor centre, now she was in the prison itself, with its bars and oppressive atmosphere.  She focused on Erica who was walking slightly ahead of her.

In the medical unit Vera led them to where Ruby was laid up. She looked bad.  Someone had beaten her within an inch of her life.  She was conscious though.  Her eyes sought out Franky.  Her glasses looked bent and sat crookedly on her nose.  “You told me what they’d do to me in here,” she said.  Her brown eyes were large as saucers and unnaturally bright.  They were full of fear and anxiety.

"You can’t show your fear in here," Franky said to her. "No matter how scared you are, you got that?"  She glanced quickly at Erica.  "The screws, the other women, they will fuck you over if you give them a chance."

"We are going to try and get you out of here, Ruby," Erica explained. "We have a psychiatrist who will undertake an assessment of you, and subject to his diagnosis, we'll ask the court to have you moved to a psychiatric institution until your trial."

"I'm not crazy," Ruby said quietly. Her eyes went again to Franky.  "I'm not."

"Do you remember what happened when we last met?" Franky asked.

"We were talking, I remember that, you were asking lots of questions," Ruby frowned.

"Do you remember leaving?" She asked. Ruby shook her head.  "What is the next thing you remember?"

"Being at the airport," Ruby said. "The police said I cracked your head open," she looked at Franky for confirmation.

It sounded bizarre coming from Ruby. "Not exactly," Franky corrected her.  "You, or Ella, overturned the table knocking me backwards against the wall.  That's how I cracked my head open.  It was an accident.  I think you were angry with me."  She studied the patient.  “So when Ella takes over you don't remember anything?"

"Nothing," Ruby confirmed.

"The day of Henry's disappearance, do you have any memory blanks from that day?"

"Yes," she admitted softly.

"What was happening just before you blacked out?" Franky felt she was so close to finding the answers they needed to piece together Ruby's story.

"I got to the day care centre and had gone inside to leave Henry's toy for him in his box. All the kids have their own allocated peg for jackets and a partitioned bit of shelving for their other belongings.  It was early and I didn't expect anyone to be there,"

Erica interrupted. "How did you get in, do you have a key?"

"No, there is a keypad where you punch in the code so parents can come and go but the building is always secure. Anyone with the code can get in though.  They're not supposed to leave the kids before the centre is open but sometimes they do if one of us is around."

"So you went inside, what then?" Franky asked fascinated.

"I noticed Henry's jacket was on the peg so instead of leaving the toy I looked for him." Ruby paused. "I couldn't find him at first although I searched everywhere.  There is a little room where the cleaners store their stuff.  As I went past I heard something, like something had fallen off a shelf, so I stopped.  The door should be locked so the kids can't get in there but that morning it wasn't.  I opened the door."

There were footsteps in the corridor outside the medical unit. Franky knew that step.  It was firm, purposeful, determined.  It was Ferguson.

"What then?" There was urgency in Franky's tone.

It was too late. Ferguson swept into the room, dominating it with her size and presence.  She looked the same to Franky.  The uniform, without a crease to be seen, was worn with precision.  The hair, with maybe slightly more grey amongst the dark strands, was contained in a tightly controlled bun.  The face was without expression.  The eyes were cold and unfeeling.  Franky knew though, it would be a mistake to think the Freak had no feelings.  They were there, warped, disturbing and tightly controlled.

"Doyle," she said raking her eyes over Franky, "couldn't stay away from us I see." The smile was small, tight and lasted a nanosecond. 

Franky leant in, invading her personal space, forcing the Governor to step away as she knew she would. “Just like you can’t stay away from a bit of black velvet, huh Miss Ferguson,” she said with a knowing smile.

Ferguson sniffed as though the air held an unsavoury smell. "I see you've brought a friend this time."  Her eyes settled on Erica.  "A special friend," she added. 

Franky suddenly wished she had warned Erica about Ferguson. Instead she had said nothing because talking about her brought it all back and Franky just wanted to forget.  If she had told her what she was capable of Erica could have been prepared. 

Erica wasn't looking particularly girly that day in her lawyer outfit with its straight lines and dark colour. It was designed to instil confidence and exude competence.  Next to Ferguson though she reeked of femininity.  The long blonde locks which were dropping in loose ringlets around her face.  The side fringe which sat across her forehead softening her face.  The high cheekbones, long lashes and slender build.  The slim long legs and the heels, which earlier had looked conservative, now looked sexy when compared with the plain shoe the Governor was wearing.  It was only her eyes which betrayed the steel inside Erica.  Those blue eyes, which Franky had seen hold warmth, passion, desire, concern and humour, were now cool and assessing. 

"Do you mind?" Erica asked.

"Erica Davidson, isn't it?” the Governor said as though she hadn't spoken. "My predecessor and," her eyes flicked to Franky, "and what else exactly?"

"Ruby's lawyer," Erica pointed out.

“I hope you’re a better lawyer than you were Governor,” she said briskly. “I’m not surprised they got rid of you given the incompetence you displayed.”  The gloves were off.

Erica didn’t seem bothered by the insult. “You seem to have forgotten your own lapses, Governor,” she said sweetly, “as I recall there were at least two deaths in custody, an escape which resulted in the death of a civilian, and drugs being brought in under your nose by the same men from Walford prison that you approved to work on a gardening project.  And that was just the first six months of your tenure,” Erica held Ferguson’s gaze.  “So excuse me if I don’t take your comment about my own performance too seriously.”

Franky could have laughed out loud. Erica had delivered the set down beautifully.  She was so classy and cool.  Know your enemy, Franky thought, and clearly Erica had done her research.

"Now if you’ll excuse us, Ruby is entitled to meet with her lawyers in private, as I'm sure you're aware." Erica continued with.

"Of course but she cannot have visitors while she is in medical," Ferguson said tightly.

“Well that’s just ridiculous,” Erica said, directly challenging Ferguson. Franky waited.

"There are good reasons for it,” the Governor replied vaguely.

“And what are they?” Erica asked reasonably. 

"We cannot guarantee privacy in the medical unit nor can we risk the spread of contagion,” Ferguson offered as explanation.

“Well, neither of those reasons are relevant in this case. There are no other patients in here today,” Erica pointed out with the calm logic of a lawyer.

Franky watched the exchange as though it was a tennis match. She saw Erica frown, a look of concern crossing her face.  

"Should I tell Stuart Roxton we were denied access to his daughter unnecessarily?" she asked. "Stuart was a major contributor to this government's election campaign.  In fact he is a personal friend of the Premier.  Melbourne is such a small town if you mix in the right circles." 

Franky hid a smile. Erica could play politics with the best of them she decided.  She hadn't raised her voice or even made a direct threat but there was nothing Ferguson could misinterpret in the message.

"Be careful, Miss Davidson," the Governor warned.

"Always," Erica replied coolly. "Now if you don't mind, our client gets billed for our time."

"I hope the price she pays isn't too high," Ferguson retreated on that final note.

Franky was frowning. Erica may have won the round but those last words indicated Ruby could well suffer the consequences. 

"Ruby," Erica was saying, "what happened next?"

"Henry was in the maintenance closet. He said he was hiding from the green man."

"Who is the green man?"

Ruby shrugged. "I don't know.  Henry was frightened.  He said the green man scared him, that he wanted to hurt him.  His shirt was partly open, and some buttons were missing, as though he had caught it on something and it had torn.  There was something not right.  I heard someone come up behind me, and I remember the look on Henry's face.  He was terrified." She stopped.

"Then what?" Franky asked impatiently. It was like watching an irritating TV show where the writers left you hanging at the critical point.

"Nothing, the next thing I remember I was driving along the freeway."

Franky looked at Erica. It sounded completely implausible and yet Ruby could have told them some bullshit story weeks ago and sent them on a wild goose chase to find the green man.  It sounded like a fucking alien, Franky thought to herself, little green men.

"How often do you black out?" She asked after a moment.

"Not often," Ruby replied. "In my teens it happened more often, every few weeks for a period, but since leaving school it hasn't happened much." 

Franky nodded. Dr Chang had said it was a protective mechanism.  When Ruby felt threatened Ella would take over and protect her.  "The girl you attacked when you were fourteen, Julie Irwin, she bullied you right?"  Ruby stared at her.  "You don't remember attacking her, do you?"  Ruby shook her head.  "So it was probably Ella.  Shit Ruby, is there a chance Ella took Henry, to protect him?"

"I don't know, I don't know," she was agitated. "I'm not in Ella's head.  I don't know what she thinks."

"Yeah you do," Franky said quietly. "She leaves you messages, in your journal, L-A, it's code for Ella."

Erica was barely keeping up with Franky's leaps. She was impressed at how nimble Franky's intellect was when it came to making connections and joining dots. 

"You told me you did a yoga class after you went to the centre and that's when you left the soft toy in your locker," Franky raised her eyebrows at Ruby daring her to lie twice about it.

"I found it there the next time I went to the gym. I must have put it there but I don't remember doing it.  By then the police were involved and -" she shrugged her shoulders and looked at Franky with despair.  Franky knew that feeling.  When things had spiralled out of control and all you could hope for was to contain the fallout.  "I didn't know what to do so I just left it there."

"Did you put the journal there or was that Ella too?"

To Franky's mind this was critical. If Ella put it there then she hid it deliberately probably because she knew there was something in there to incriminate her.  If Ruby put it there then maybe she had done it to protect herself or to stop prying eyes from reading it.

"I did, it's where I keep it, to keep it safe," Ruby answered. Safe, Franky thought about the word and wondered what Ruby meant by it. 

Before she could ask the nurse entered. Franky didn't recognise her.  "You're going to have to leave now," she said.  "Ruby is having an X-ray."

"Is there anything you need Ruby?" Erica asked. The prisoner shook her head.  "Dr Chang will visit you soon to complete his assessment.  You're going to get some help."  She smiled reassuringly.  "We'll be working hard to give you a good defence, okay?  You can call us, I've asked for our numbers to be put on your approved phone list."

"She's going to need more than that," Franky said as they were escorted by a prison officer back to reception. "Ferguson will take her out before we can get her out of here."

"To what end?" Erica was sceptical. "Ruby doesn't pose a threat to her and if she's killed in custody then Stuart Roxton will make Ferguson's life hell."

Franky was silent. What Erica said was logical and rational but still Franky was worried.  Ferguson had it in for her and by default Ruby.  Erica had played her and won.  The Freak wouldn't like that either.  Besides the women in Wentworth had made it clear what they thought of Ruby.  She wanted to give Ruby some protection on the inside.  She saw Miss Miles approaching them.  She slid across the corridor and into her path.

"Hiya Miss Miles, been missing me?" She asked with her most charming smile.

The prison officer gaped. "Franky Doyle!  What are you doing here?  Not back inside, are you?"  She took in Franky's appearance.

"I'm a lawyer these days, working with Miss Davidson," Franky nodded in Erica's direction. Linda Miles did a double take.  "We've been visiting our client, Ruby Roxton."

"Roxton, child murderer right?"

Franky nodded. "She was beaten up pretty bad."

"Well, some of the women don't take kindly to killing kiddies," the officer pointed out. "You know how it is Franky."

"I need some help with something," Franky said. "You still interested in helping?" She asked in an undertone.

Erica watched Franky. She wondered what she and Linda Miles had to talk about.  She glanced up to where the surveillance camera was mounted.  Ferguson was probably watching.  Franky came back to where Erica was waiting.  Erica gave her a questioning look.  "Always got on with Miss Miles," was all Franky offered.  They continued on their way.

As they passed the toilets, Franky stopped. "I need to -," she frowned apologetically to the prison officer.  He nodded.  Franky disappeared.

Inside she checked to see if there was anyone else in there but the stalls were empty. She went into one.  Fuck the memories flooded back just from the smell of the place.  The cleaning product which the prison used was still the same.  Five minutes passed and she began to think they'd come looking for her.  Still she waited.

At last the door opened. She counted to ten then flushed and came out of the stall. Bea Smith was leaning against the basin bench. She gave a short laugh and shook her head in disbelief when she saw who it was.

"Franky," she said in a tone which made it hard to tell whether it was a friendly greeting or not.

Franky grinned. "Hey Red, looking good."  She did too but then Franky had always thought Bea looked good.

"What do you want?"

"Who says I want something, Red? Can't a girl just want to catch up with an old friend?"

"We were never friends," Bea pointed out. That was also true.

"So I need your help," Franky said cutting to the chase.

"How can I possibly help you?" Bea was sceptical. 

"You still top dog?" Franky asked seriously. Bea nodded warily.  "Then you can help."  Franky paused, making Bea wait.  "There's a prisoner on remand here called Ruby Roxton, heard of her?"

"The child killer? Sure, everyone has."

"She's been beaten up pretty bad. I need you to give her protection."

"What makes you think I didn't give the order?" Bea crossed her arms and raised her eyebrows.

Franky laughed briefly and shook her head. "Nah,” she said after a moment, “not your style Red, unless a hell of a lot has changed.  You might turn a blind eye to it but you wouldn't inflict it."

"Unlike you huh Franky," she pointed out.

"I never did anything I didn't have to do," Franky defended herself.

Bea laughed cynically. "You keep telling yourself that," Franky waited.   "Look, she's not in Cell Block H," Bea said at last.  "I can't protect her even if I wanted to."

"You have allies in every other cell block, Red, if you want to you can make sure Ruby isn't hurt." Franky played her last card.  "It will piss off Ferguson too."

Bea's face changed. "Why's that?"  She asked curiously.

"Ferguson knows Ruby is my client, she as good as said she was going to target her."

"You really did become a lawyer then?" Bea sounded surprised and intrigued with the idea that a person could choose another, better path than the one that stretched out before them.  She smiled.  "Fuck her then, I'll do what I can."

"Here," Franky handed her a business card.   "Get my number on your list.  If you ever need a lawyer, or anything, just call me."

She walked out without a backward glance. She had done what she could for Ruby.  "Let's get out of here," she said in a low voice to Erica.  She didn’t want to spend another minute in the place.

Chapter Text

“Just a moment.”

Franky was in the process of handing over her visitor’s pass when she heard those three words. Seconds later she would have been through the doors and free from Wentworth.  It reminded her of when she had been a teenager walking down the dark alley which she used as a shortcut from the train station to her street.  She was always convinced someone would grab her in that alley.  The moment when she was most afraid though was not in the middle but when she was seconds away from stepping out of the alley into the well-lit street.  The moment when she was so close to safety she could see it.

It was Vera who had said it. When Franky turned, still hoping the comment had been directed elsewhere, she saw the deputy was looking in their direction. 

“What is it?” Erica was asking.

“The Governor wants to speak with you,” Vera said stiffly.

“Tell her to –” Franky began but Erica interrupted her.

“I think we’ve said all we need to say.” Erica said coolly.

“This way,” was all Vera said in reply.

Franky reluctantly put the visitor’s pass around her neck again and sighed. They were escorted to the Governor’s office.  Just being there made Franky feel like she was just that prisoner again without power or influence.  The dark, sterile décor hadn’t changed including the carefully ordered items on the desk which screamed obsessive compulsiveness. 

The Freak was seated behind her desk and standing before her was Bea Smith. The prisoner's eyes caught Franky’s briefly before staring steadily in front of her.

“Perhaps you can explain, Doyle, what you and Smith exchanged during your meeting in the toilets just now,” the Freak asked with deceptive politeness.

“What are you talking about?” Erica asked immediately. “It was a coincidence that Franky and Bea met.”  She realised Ferguson must have been watching on the surveillance camera when Franky took her impromptu loo stop and Bea had entered the same toilets not five minutes later. 

“Was it?” The Freak asked. She smiled and Erica felt the full menace of that smile.  “Officer Miles reported to me that Doyle approached her about speaking with Smith.”  That bitch, Franky thought immediately, why the fuck had she trusted her.  “I know you gave Smith something or she gave you something so just tell me what it was,” she said it as though it was most reasonable request in the world, “and you can be on your way.”

Franky had no intention of telling the Freak anything. “If you think I gave Bea something why don’t you search her,” she asked.  She knew Ferguson would have already done that and found nothing.  “And look, I’ve got nothing on me,” she opened her arms expansively, “check me if you like,” she offered.  She wasn’t too keen on the Freak touching her but it was better than the alternative.  “Bet you’ve been panting for a good feel, haven’t you?” she asked with a suggestive smirk.

The Freak looked repulsed at the idea of it. She indicated Vera should check Franky.  The deputy gave her a quick impersonal frisk and found the credit card, cash and business cards but nothing else.  “See,” was all Franky said.

“What did you want to see Smith for then?”

Franky said the only thing she could think of. “Why do you think?  We were pretty close for a time,” the inference was clear.  She felt four pairs of eyes on her.  “Weren’t we, Red?” she said.

Franky’s eyes held Bea’s in a steady gaze. She could see something in the prisoner’s eyes but couldn’t tell if it was disbelief or relief.  Bea had learnt to play things cool and close to her chest.

“That’s ridiculous,” the Governor said immediately.

“Is it?” Franky asked. She moved deliberately towards Bea and hoped the redhead would play up for the audience.  She leant in and kissed her on the lips, slowly, deliberately.  She felt Bea’s initial resistance then after a moment Bea responded hesitatingly.  Franky encouraged her by placing her hand lightly on her hip.  When she thought they had sold the idea sufficiently she pulled back.  Bea looked slightly dazed and Franky couldn’t help grinning at the expression on her face.  She glanced at Erica and noticed she was wearing an odd expression. 

Vera cleared her throat. “Should I take these two back to reception?”  In her mind the issue had been resolved.  Her radio crackled and they heard a call for assistance in the exercise yard.  She took out the radio and asked for clarification.

They all listened to the response. A fight had broken out between the women, there were about thirty involved and the officers were having trouble shutting it down.  “Let’s go,” Ferguson said immediately.  “You better come with us Smith,” she said, “you claim to have control of these women.”

“What about these two?” Vera asked, looking at Erica and Franky.

“We can’t deal with them now,” Ferguson said. “Leave them here, they can’t do any harm.”

Franky and Erica were left alone in the Governor’s office. Franky wandered over to Ferguson’s desk and tried the top drawer but it was locked.  She glanced at the computer screen and saw the surveillance camera footage from each of the cameras was displayed.  One of the images was of the exercise yard.  She watched it.

“Fuck, you can see everything on this thing,” she muttered.  “Did you watch us like this when you were Governor?” she asked looking across to Erica.

“Why did you meet with Bea Smith?” Erica asked suddenly.

“What?” Franky asked with confusion. Then she realised where the odd look had stemmed from.  “You don’t think,” Franky laughed then decided laughing perhaps wasn’t the best strategy to adopt in this circumstance.  “Erica,” she said seriously, “that was just to put Ferguson off the scent.”

“Really? It looked pretty real to me,” was all Erica said. 

“Shit you’re jealous,” Franky realised with delight. She couldn’t help smiling.

“I’m not,” Erica refuted.

“Yeah, you are,” she said knowingly. Franky moved out from behind the desk and towards Erica.  “You are so jealous, Miss Davidson,” she murmured.

Then Franky did something unexpected. She put her hand on Erica’s hip and manoeuvred her into the corner of the office.  She had Erica up against the wall and was kissing her before Erica realised what was happening.  She resisted but Franky was stronger, more insistent, more determined.  The kiss was reminiscent of their first kiss.  It was intense, it was urgent, it was a battle between passion and power.  It left Erica reaching for the wall in support when Franky finally pulled away.

This time though, Franky didn’t walk away with a cocky, satisfied look on her face. This time it wasn’t about control.  This time Erica didn’t feel ashamed of her desires.  This time she could admit her attraction to this woman.

“Let’s get out of here,” Franky said for the second time that day.

“They told us to wait,” Erica said, still feeling off kilter.

“Fuck that,” Franky replied.

Chapter Text

Franky was thinking about Erica. She was in her local cafe waiting for her coffee order.  She hadn't seen much of her since their visit to Wentworth.

Erica had called a strategy meeting after they had talked to Ruby in prison. She and Nick had met with Stephanie and Franky to discuss next steps.  The plan was to get Ruby moved to a psychiatric institution and adopt a defence of diminished responsibility.  Franky had wanted to pursue the green man angle.  Her view was there was still a possibility Ruby was an innocent bystander to what played out that day and it wouldn't be fair to Ruby if they didn't pursue all avenues.  Nick and Erica had argued against it.  It would prove to be a fruitless exercise they claimed and Franky's time would be better spent researching cases where Dissociative Identity Disorder had been argued successfully as a defence.   Franky had lost the argument when Stephanie had sided with Erica.

As Stephanie was with her she didn't get the chance to speak to Erica privately after the meeting.

She wanted to ask Erica what was going on in her head. The whole Bea thing had been an eye opener.   Franky had felt a little bud of hope bloom and wanted to nurture it. 

There had been no opportunity though. First it had been work swamping Erica then she'd sent a text saying she had to go away for a few days.

"Look mum, it's the pink lady," a young voice interrupted Franky's reverie.

She glanced across at the nearby table and saw a young girl of about four looking out into the street. Franky followed the look and saw a Wendy's ice cream girl in her pink uniform on the pavement outside. 

The pink lady. The green man.  The similarity between the two phrases struck Franky suddenly.  What if Henry's green man referred to what he was wearing like some kind of uniform?  

Her coffee arrived. She rang Erica on the way back to the office.  Her secretary answered.  "She's not in the office today.  I can take a message," she offered.

Franky sighed and didn't leave a message. At her desk she googled green uniforms but couldn't find anything which seemed even a remote possibility.  She went to her whiteboard and wrote uniform with a question mark under a note saying the green man.  She stared at it sipping her coffee thinking.  She didn't notice Stephanie appear in her doorway.

"Any news on Boomer's trial?"

Franky looked around. "The DPP dropped it," she said, "I was notified this morning.  The bastards waited until the last possible moment."

"Still, good news for Boomer," Stephanie pointed out. "Her mother must have decided not to testify and without her as a witness and Ron dead, they wouldn't have much."  Stephanie watched Franky thoughtfully.  "And the murder investigation?"

Franky shrugged. "No news."

"How's your head?"

"Fine." Franky was dismissive.

"Are you sleeping okay? It must be difficult with the wound being where it is," Stephanie asked.

"It's okay, I try and sleep on my side," she explained.

"How about you come out to lunch this Sunday?" the older woman said suddenly. "James would like to see you and we haven't had a catch-up in a while.  If you're free," she added as an afterthought.

"Sure," Franky agreed absently. "Can I borrow your car this afternoon?"

Stephanie didn't answer immediately. She glanced past Franky to her whiteboard.  It was covered in scribbles about Ruby's timeline on the day of the murder and questions.  "How's the research coming into DID cases?" She asked instead.

"Not good, most using it as a defence lost their case," Franky informed her. "So the car?" She prompted. 

Stephanie held out the keys. "Keep looking into those cases," was all she said.

Late in the afternoon Franky drove out to the day-care centre where Henry had been enrolled and Ruby had worked part-time. She knew Stephanie's comment had been an indirect way of telling her to keep her focus on the strategy that had been agreed.  And she would but it didn't mean she wouldn't pursue what her gut told her was important.  She didn't know why it was important but something had changed for Franky the day she witnessed Ruby's transition to Ella.  Beforehand she had found Ruby frustrating and her sympathy levels for the girl had been low.  Since she met Ella though she realised many of Ruby's problems stemmed from her childhood and, Franky suspected, her father.  This was something Franky could relate to.  She also realised the loyalty driving Ruby was not some self-sacrificing, misplaced loyalty to another person, it was protecting Ella and therefore herself.  This was also something Franky could understand and respect. 

Nick had suggested Ruby was faking it and it was nothing more than a cleverly executed distraction from the truth.

Franky had shaken her head emphatically. “No, you didn't see her, it was real."  No one had challenged her but in the silence which followed her statement Franky heard the unspoken question from the others.  Was this just a ploy by a desperate girl?

Suddenly Franky had felt she was the only one still in Ruby's corner and the others were more concerned with finding a defence strategy which would minimise the damage. Even Stephanie, who Franky had seen argue cases from impossible positions and win, was erring on the side of caution.  It surprised her.  Not Nick, who Franky suspected had always thought Ruby was guilty, and not even Erica.  She sensed Erica was focused on managing the relationship between her firm and Stuart Roxton.  She didn’t blame Erica for her position, she understood it to a point but it also made her more determined to continue with her own investigations until all the avenues were exhausted.

She met with the manager of the centre. Georgia Freeman was a woman in her late thirties with the look of someone who worked long hours.  Their conversation was interspersed with Georgia picking up kids who had fallen over, resolving disputes over toys and cleaning up messes.  It gave Franky an insight into parenting.  She had read Georgia’s statement to the police and knew the manager had been surprised when Ruby was arrested.  Her experience was of a girl who enjoyed looking after the children and was able to build a good rapport with many of them, including Henry.  She was responsible and carried out her duties with care and diligence. 

“Have there ever been any incidents involving Ruby where she has acted out of character?” Franky asked. Georgia shook her head as she rescued a crayon from the mouth of a toddler.  “If Henry mentioned a green man, do you know who he might be referring to?”

“Oh sure,” Georgia said immediately. She went over to the toy box and picked through it until she pulled out an incredible hulk toy.  Franky looked at it.  Well it was certainly green, she agreed silently. 

“Okay,” she acknowledged, “but I was kind of thinking of an actual person.”

Georgia frowned. “No one comes to mind,” she said apologetically. 

Franky gave her one of her business cards. “Can you call me if you think of someone?” she asked.

“Sure,” she agreed distractedly as a parent arrived to pick up their child.

Franky’s mobile rang as she walked back to the car. It was Amy. 

“Hiya Tatts,” she said when Franky answered. “You’re hard to get hold of these days.”

Franky remembered the text message from Amy and Boomer’s reluctant message that Amy had dropped by. Then she’d had a missed call almost a week ago.  “Sorry, been busy, what’s up?”

“Meet me for a drink tonight and I’ll tell you,” she offered.

Franky deliberated. She could do with a drink.  Amy was fun.  Erica was MIA.  Boomer had packed her bags and headed back to her mum’s place optimistic as only Boomer could be that it would all work out okay. 

“All right,” Franky agreed, “when and where?”

They settled on a bar and a time. Franky went by the law courts to pick up Boomer’s bail money.  She wasn’t looking forward to meeting Vince Diamond, not after the beating he had ordered for her.  She arrived back at the office and handed over the keys to Stephanie.  She waited for the interrogation but her boss just took the keys absently and Franky escaped thankfully.  

The flat seemed empty without Boomer. Franky changed into gym gear and headed out for a run.  It had started to rain.  She did her usual route up to the Botanical Gardens through them then back home.  The rain made the footpaths free from pedestrians and the gardens empty.  As Franky ran she wondered where Erica had gone so suddenly and without explanation.  A girl could get paranoid, she thought, if she dwelt on it.  She turned up the volume on her music to drown out the doubts. 

“Drink, dance, talk,” Franky instructed later when she had found Amy amongst the Friday night crowd. She had dressed in a short black sleeveless dress that hugged her toned tanned tattooed body.  Her eye make-up was heavy drawing attention to those entrancing eyes.

Amy whistled. “You look stunning,” she said, “sexiest girl here.”

“Ahuh?” Franky replied casually, “Don’t get any ideas.”

“Too-oo late,” Amy said with a grin. “Wanna hear them?”

“I want a drink or three followed by a dance, you up for that?”

Amy was easy going by nature. She gave way with good grace.  They drank vodka, enough to take the edge off their respective days then joined a throbbing throng of bodies on the dance floor.  The music was loud and had a bass beat which Franky could feel vibrating up from the floor and through her body.  She lost herself in the beat.  Her brain stopped processing.  She felt herself relax.

When dehydration drove them off the dance floor and towards the bar where they drank schooners of water, Franky’s hair was wet and perspiration made her skin gleam.

“They arrested someone for Ron Maxwell’s murder,” Amy said when she’d put down her glass.

Franky looked surprised. “Who?”

“Just a random, guy called Pete Lukovic, it was a dispute over a drug deal, just like you thought,” Amy acknowledged. “The idiot stole Ron’s stash and was caught dealing.  He also took his credit card and it was found on his person when he was searched at the station.  When they searched his place they discovered he still had the clothes he’d been wearing when he killed him… still with the blood on them.” 

Franky shook her head at the stupidity of people. “Fuck,” she muttered, looking over Amy’s shoulder.

“What is it?” Amy asked.

“Just an arsehole I’d rather not run into,” Franky said as she drained her glass. It was too late. 

Nick Hammond approached her as Amy turned her head to check out who Franky might be talking about. “Francesca Doyle,” he said with a slight slur in his voice.  “You see I’ve been doing my research.”

Great, thought Franky, a pissed arsehole. “Nick,” she said briefly. 

Nick was looking at Amy. “Hello,” he said.  “Go on break my heart, tell me you’re gay too,” he said leaning in.

Amy put a hand on his chest restricting his forward momentum. “Just for you, buddy,” she said.

“And Francesca huh?” Nick said with a knowing look.  “So do you know who you’re going to bed with?”  Amy just gave him a look of contempt.  “Oh come on,” Nick said with a laugh.  “Maybe it turns you on, knowing she–” Franky knew what was coming next.

“Let’s go,” she said to Amy. She walked off.  Outside the club the temperature was cooler and the air fresh after the rain.  Franky took a deep breath. 

“Friend of yours?” Amy asked. She lit a cigarette and offered Franky one.  “Or just someone that you used to know?”

“Just someone I work with,” Franky replied, declining the cigarette. “Forget about him.” 

“I can do that,” Amy said as she smoked. “So, do you want my other news?”

Franky looked at her. “Yeah,” she said after a moment.

Amy exhaled making Franky wait. “Your girlfriend came to see me,” she said at last.

“Erica?” Franky questioned in disbelief.  Her mind was processing at lightning speed but without finding any answers.  “What did she want?”

“She wanted me to track down your father,” Amy said, watching Franky’s reaction. She could tell by the stunned expression on her face Franky had no clue about it.

For a moment Franky didn’t say anything, she just stared at Amy. A thousand questions raced through her mind.  “Why?” she asked at last.

Amy shrugged. “I thought you could tell me,” she said.  Franky just shook her head.  She stared ahead of her for a while, trying to understand the implications of what Amy had said.

“Have you?” she asked at last in a quiet voice.

“Have I what?"

“Tracked him down,” Franky felt like everything had slowed down as she waited for Amy’s response.

“Do you want me to?”

Franky didn’t know how to answer Amy. Part of her was desperate to find her father but another part of her feared the worst.  What if she hadn’t been able to find him when she had first been released because he was dead or didn’t want to be found?  She was going okay on her own, wasn’t she?  What if finding her father made things worse not better?

“I don’t know,” she said at last. “Can you track him down?” she asked, “if I wanted that?”

Amy frowned. “Maybe, depends, I could try but no guarantees,” she cautioned.  “It could just end up being a big disappointment.”   She tossed her cigarette down and put a sassily heeled foot over it to stub it out.  She grinned at Franky.  “So don’t say I didn’t warn you, Tatts.”

When Franky got home she tried to call Erica but it went straight through to voicemail. She sent a text instead just saying, “Call me”.  She felt sober and wired.  She stripped and showered and lay on her bed waiting for Erica to call her back.  What the fuck was Erica doing?  She hadn’t the first clue.  She put her arms across her chest.  She had felt shocked when Amy first told her and then furious at Erica for interfering in something that had nothing to do with her.  Then she felt scared all over again that her father would disappoint her one more time.  She fell asleep eventually.

She woke to the sound of someone banging on her door. She looked at her phone.  It was eight am and there were no messages or missed calls.  She considered just staying where she was until they went away but the knocking didn’t seem to be stopping.

With a groan she rolled out of bed. She answered the door in a sleeveless top and pair of boxer briefs.  Erica had been about to say something but instead she took in the skimpy attire. 

“Finally,” Franky said rubbing sleep out of her eyes and turning away from the door and heading towards the kitchen to get a glass of water. Erica was still distracted by those tanned legs and firm butt.  She knew Franky had said something but she couldn’t quite remember what it was.  “Want one?” Franky offered as she filled a glass.  Erica shook her head.  “So,” she eyed Erica over the rim of her glass, “you want to tell me where you’ve been?” 

“I –” Erica began, “do you always answer the door dressed like that?” she asked distractedly.

“Don’t stall,” was all Franky said. She raised her eyebrows.

Erica sighed. “I had to go to Sydney.  Mark’s brother was in a car accident.  He was in a critical condition and they put him in an induced coma.  Mark was a mess.  I had to be there for him,” she finished with.  She sounded unapologetic, as though she knew Franky wouldn’t like what she was saying, but she’d made the only choice she could have made.  “I only got back late last night.”

“How’s his brother?” Franky asked after a moment. She hugged the glass to her chest.

Erica seemed to relax slightly. “Out of danger,” she sounded relieved.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” Franky asked.  She was conscious of the bench between them, and the emotional distance.  She held the glass tighter.

Erica rubbed her brow. “I needed some space, Franky, I needed to think, and,” she looked at Franky with a worried frown, “I can’t think straight around you,” she confessed quickly.

Franky smiled. She suddenly felt a little happier.  “Well, I just meant a text message actually.”

Erica smiled back. “Oh,” she said.

Franky put down her water and walked out from the kitchen. “I get that you wanted to be there for him without distractions,” she pulled Erica into an embrace.  “I get that,” she murmured into Erica’s hair.  It felt good to hold her.  She’d missed Erica, she realised, in just a few days she’d learnt to miss her.  “Are you okay?”

“I’m exhausted,” Erica admitted, “it has been emotionally draining to watch Mark and his family swing from hope to despair depending on what the specialists were saying, and trying to be the one who holds it together.”

She felt Franky pull her closer and run her hands down her back in soothing rhythmic strokes. She felt tears threatening to spill.  She had held in her emotions so tightly when she’d been with Mark, being stoic and strong for him, now Franky’s small gesture was enough to undo her.

“It’s okay,” Franky said softly, “it’s okay, I’m here.” Then she did cry and Franky held her.

“I thought about you a lot,” Erica said after a while, “in the down time, when we were waiting for a change in his condition.” Franky didn’t say anything.  “I didn’t like it when you kissed Bea,” she admitted at last.  “And I needed to work out what that meant.”

Franky smiled into Erica’s hair. “Isn’t it obvious?” she asked.

“I don’t get jealous,” Erica said emphatically, “ever.”

“Well maybe that’s because you’ve never cared enough before,” Franky pointed out. She pulled back and looked into Erica’s eyes.  “It’s okay to be jealous.  I’d be jealous, if I saw you kissing someone else,” she said slowly.  

She watched Erica process this. “Why did you ask Amy to find my father?” she asked suddenly.

Erica looked guilty. Her eyes shifted from Franky to the kitchen bench then the floor.  She stepped back.  Franky let her go.  “How did you find out?”

“Amy told me,” Franky told her, “did you think she wouldn’t?”

“I – yes, I thought she could keep her mouth shut,” Erica said with frustration.

Franky shook her head. “Well, I’m glad she couldn’t,” she retorted.  “For fuck’s sake Erica, it’s none of your concern, what made you think I even want to find him?”

"Because you've already tried for starters," she said immediately.  Then Erica looked at her. Her eyes held, not pity but compassion.  “Franky,” she said with concern.  “You need to see him and try and get some resolution to all the issues you are carrying because he abandoned you.  I didn’t tell you, and maybe I should have –”

“You reckon?” Franky interrupted with.

“Maybe it was high-handed of me,” she acknowledged, “but I didn’t want to get your hopes up and then have them dashed if Amy couldn’t find him. I wanted to protect you from that.”

Franky ignored that. “How the fuck did you even find Amy?” 

Erica sighed. “I saw her when she came round to see you the afternoon you came out of hospital.  I realised she was a police officer because she was in uniform.  When I had the idea I rang Boomer and asked her which station Amy was based at and I went and saw her.”  Franky stared at her.  It was as though there was a conspiracy going on behind her back. 

“You’re unbelievable!” she said putting up her hands in astonishment. She rubbed her eyes.

“Franky,” Erica said urgently, “Franky, listen to me,” she took hold of Franky’s upper arms to stop her from walking away. “I did it because I care, don’t you get that?”  Franky’s green eyes lifted and held Erica’s with a questioning look.  “I interfered because I care about you,” she said wearily.

She saw Franky relax. “You care about me,” she repeated.

Erica relaxed. “I do,” she said.

Franky frowned. “Don’t think that’s going to get you off the hook,” her tone was serious but Erica could tell Franky was pleased. 

“I wouldn’t dream of it,” Erica said seriously.  “I’m willing to take my punishment with good grace.”

“Are you?” Franky said and her eyes lit up impishly. “I look forward to that.”  She grinned, completely distracted by the thought.  She was still annoyed with Erica, definitely, absolutely, but maybe it could wait for a little bit.

Chapter Text

They were sitting on the couch, close but not touching.

"You can't do that," Franky said, looking at Erica to gauge her reaction. "You can't just act on an impulse which directly affects me without talking to me."  She was trying to be as clear as possible.  "I spent years in prison where I had no control over anything.  Whether I look for my father or not, it has to be my decision.  I need you to get that," she paused, "and respect it."

Erica felt as though nothing in her life was going well. She was already on the edge of her reserves both physically and emotionally.  The Roxton account was finely balanced.  She had briefed Stuart Roxton after the Wentworth visit and explained the proposed strategy for Ruby's defence.  It had been a difficult conversation.  Stuart had refused to believe Ruby might suffer from Dissociative Identity Disorder.  He questioned Erica's ability to defend Ruby successfully.  He then questioned whether Ludlow and Brookes was the right firm for his business interests into the future.  She had talked him down but she knew he could walk in a heartbeat.

Mark's brother while out of danger could still suffer complications as a result of the trauma to his brain. His wife had been killed in the accident.  Mark was close to his brother despite the physical distance between them.  He was going to be Mark's best man.  Now no one was sure if he would be able to fulfil the role.  His parents suggested delaying the wedding.  Erica had felt immense relief at the possibility but guilt had followed hot on the heels of that initial reaction; guilt that she was putting her own desires ahead of Mark and his family.

Now Franky was annoyed with her for trying to help. What was worse was Franky's perspective, when she explained it, was completely understandable.  It was something Erica felt she should have known intuitively.  She looked at her actions through Franky's eyes and saw she was trying to manage her as though she knew what was best for Franky based on what exactly? She didn't know.  Her intentions had been worthy but her actions had shown a lack of respect for Franky.  Even though she thought she was protecting her, even though she cared enough to bother, she'd done wrong.  Now Franky was telling her to shape up or ship out.

She closed her eyes so she didn't have to see the disappointment in those green eyes that were watching her so intently. She rubbed her brow.  She hoped Franky was willing to forgive her if she admitted her mistake.  She gave a small shake of her head then opened her eyes and looked at Franky.  "I'm sorry," she said with a sigh, "I thought -" she stopped, "I'm sorry," she repeated and left it at that.

"No," Franky said immediately, "you're not doing that."

Erica frowned in confusion. "Doing what?"

"Clamming up, not explaining yourself, making me work it out on my own," she said firmly. "If you really do care about me, Erica, tell me what is going on in your head."  Or I'm done.  She didn't say it aloud because she wasn't sure she could walk away and what was the point of an empty threat. 

She suspected she had let Erica get away with saying little about how she was feeling and if she let it continue then Erica would just keep doing it. She waited.

Erica took a breath and launched into the water she feared, plunging her head under because total immersion would be the only thing which would satisfy Franky she was genuine.

"I didn't think it through," she admitted. "I saw a potential way of finding your father and just set the wheels in motion. I wanted to give you the chance to resolve things with your dad.  I wanted to help you because I worry you will never be free of him and what he did to you until you get the opportunity for reconciliation or closure.  But, I should have talked to you about it.  You have every right to be angry with me.  When I say I'm sorry I mean it," she hesitated.  "As to what's going on in my head," she shifted her gaze away from Franky.  "Confusion mostly," she said with a small laugh at herself.  "Am I straight and curious, am I gay, am I bi?  Am I Mark's fiancé or your girlfriend?"

"All those words are just labels, Erica," Franky said slowly.

“Those labels are what define us,” Erica replied.

"Who you are,” she said, “is in here," Franky put her hand on her heart. "You need to work out who that person is and then the labels won’t matter." 

Franky studied her. Her anger had gone.  She did believe Erica had her best interests at heart.  Franky's emotional intelligence had come a long way.  She had reached rock bottom and the climb back had taught her a lot about herself.  She suspected Erica had been in denial for much of her life.  What was worse a part of her worried that Erica was caught in the headlights unable to commit to Mark but equally unable to walk away.  And now she suspected Erica would have even more difficulty extracting herself from her relationship if she felt Mark was vulnerable.  She sighed. 

"I missed you," Erica offered suddenly and then all Franky's doubts seemed foolish. Erica leant across and kissed Franky softly on her lips.  She ran her fingers up the back of her neck and into her hair lightly massaging her scalp careful to avoid the injured area.  It made Franky's skin tingle.  "I don't want to fight with you," she murmured.

Franky didn't want to fight either. Unless it was physical in the lead up to sex that would be okay she added as a postscript.  She knew she was stronger than Erica and the idea of wrestling her and winning had its appeal.  Erica's hands had slipped down to her shoulders where the thin straps of her top lay.  She slipped her fingers under them gently massaging and along the top of Franky's shoulder blades then back over the shoulders letting her thumbs run across her collarbone.  Her eyes caught Franky's as her hands slid back to her shoulders and down each arm squeezing gently.  Her thumbs grazed the sides of Franky's breasts almost by accident.  She felt her nipples respond instantly.  She saw Erica's eyes drop momentarily and she knew the thin layer of material would not disguise anything. 

She slid her hands up again and down Franky's chest resting them there just above her nipple line. Franky could feel her heart beating against Erica's palm.  “Who are you in here?” She asked softly.  Their eyes were locked as Erica moved her hands so her thumbs brushed over Franky's nipples.  It sent a shot of excitement direct to Franky's loins.  Her hands cupped her breasts massaging them through the material.  Franky gasped and Erica caught her bottom lip with her teeth.  Her hands slid the thin straps off Franky's shoulders and she pushed Franky back onto the sofa.  She peeled the top off to expose her breasts.  When Erica's mouth found one of those tight buds she heard Franky growl softly.  That small sound sent shivers of excitement through her.  Her hand found the other nipple and began to stimulate it.  Franky's breasts were fuller than Erica's and her nipples darker.  Touching them and tasting them excited Erica beyond anything she thought possible. 

Her mouth continued down Franky's firm torso. She spent some of those long hours in the hospital getting herself hot and bothered by thinking about what she wanted to do with Franky.  She'd felt guilty about it but that only made her think about it more.  Guilty pleasure, she had understood what that phrase meant. 

She pulled those boxer briefs off and Franky lifted her hips to assist. Erica's mouth explored Franky slowly thoroughly enjoying the responses she triggered.  Her hands slid around Franky's arse caressing it as her tongue danced to its own erotic rhythm. Franky's breathing was ragged and her hands went into Erica's hair encouraging her.  The combination of Erica's hands everywhere on her butt and the sight of her blonde head between her legs and the sensations she was creating was too much for Franky.  She came hard and vocally, the aftershocks leaving her incapable of movement or thought.

"See what happens when you answer the door dressed like that," Erica murmured after a while.

Franky laughed quietly. “Mm, good to know.” She pulled Erica to her.  “I missed you too,” she whispered in her ear, hugging her close and kissing her neck.  They lay there like that for a while with Erica half on Franky and half squashed against the back of the couch until Franky’s arm started to complain.

“I’ve gotta get up,” she said easing Erica off her.

She went to the bathroom and Erica watched her admiring her nakedness. She had almost called Franky a dozen times over the past few days just to hear the sound of her voice.  Just to hear the cheeky smile in her tone.  When her plane had landed the previous evening she had fought the temptation to call Franky there and then.  She had resisted but as soon as she woke she decided to drive over to Richmond.  There was a brief moment when she had thought of Mark, still in Sydney and worried about his brother, and wondered whether she should cool things with Franky until the situation was resolved.  She had thought it and then realised she couldn’t keep away.  It wasn’t just the sex either, which she had to admit was better than anything she’d experienced previously, it was Franky. 

Franky didn’t let Erica get away with anything. It was challenging and frustrating but Erica had to admit the way Franky could make her feel was intoxicating.  Franky had captured her attention at Wentworth easily.  She had been so brazen with such raw potential and challenging but Erica had been in control there. 

“Are you hungry?” Franky asked, interrupting her thoughts. “I can cook something for breakfast.”  She’d put on jeans and a top. 

“Let’s go out,” Erica suggested.

 “What and miss out on my competition winning breakfast?” Franky asked with mock surprise. 

“Well,” she began, she didn’t want to hurt Franky’s feelings, “it’s just, I really need a proper coffee,” she said apologetically.

Franky laughed and grabbed her phone. “Okay, I get it,” she said.  She didn’t really care as long as she was with Erica.

They walked to a café in Richmond which Franky knew did good coffee. Franky asked if Mark had come back with her but didn’t comment further when Erica said he was still in Sydney.  Erica asked if Boomer was still under suspicion for murdering Ron Maxwell.  Franky shook her head.  She remembered she had to see Vince Diamond, or at least one of his boys, that night.

“She said you were helping her find work,” Franky said with a slight question in her voice.

“I asked one of my old contacts to see what she could do but I haven’t heard anything back from her. Has Boomer?” 

“She went and saw someone. I don’t know if anything came of it.  I’ve been busy,” Franky finished with.

Erica thought it sounded suspiciously vague then wondered if she was reading too much into an innocent statement. “What have you been up to?” she asked trying to make it sound like just an interested enquiry.

“Just work,” Franky said dismissively.

“The Roxton case?” she asked.

“Yeah and a couple of others, Steph has been tied up in court most days so I’ve been handling anything else that comes up.” She didn’t add that she’d have more time if she wasn’t fixated on finding the green man and working out where Ella might have gone in the period between leaving the day-care centre and Ruby finding herself driving along the freeway.

The café was full of people enjoying the spring sunshine and all the outdoor tables were occupied. “There’s a courtyard out the back,” Franky suggested and led Erica through the café and into a sunlit courtyard.  There was a table in part shade still free.  It was quieter without the street noise.

They ordered coffees and food. Erica looked around curiously.  The crowd was an eclectic mix.  She liked the ambience of the place.  It was quirky without being pretentious.  The courtyard felt intimate removed as it was from the hustle and bustle of the café.  There were only four other tables all of which were occupied by couples talking quietly absorbed in their own conversations.

Her attention returned to Franky who was watching her with a small smile. “Like it?” she asked as though she could read Erica’s mind.

“I like the look of it but I reserve judgement until I’ve tasted the coffee,” Erica said.

Franky laughed. “Fair enough,” her eyes held an impish look.  “It’s a lesbian café,” she said.

Erica glanced quickly at the couples sitting near them. Each table had a man and a woman at it.  She looked back to Franky with her confused frown which Franky found so adorable. 

Franky was grinning broadly. “It’s owned and run by a lesbian couple,” she clarified.

“Oh,” Erica’s brow cleared. “Do you know them?”

“Only to say hello to,” Franky answered. “I bet they’re checking you out though.”

“Why?” Erica asked naïvely.

“It’s a small community,” was all Franky said.

“But I could be just someone you’re having breakfast with,” Erica said.

Franky shook her head with a smile. “Mm, I doubt they’re thinking that though.”  Erica blushed unexpectedly and Franky thought it was gorgeous.  “Although the ring might be confusing them,” she admitted. 

“I could be engaged to you,” Erica suggested, settling into the game.

“Except same sex couples can’t get married in this country,” Franky pointed out.

“Maybe we are going to get married in New Zealand,” Erica offered as their coffees arrived. She stirred her cappuccino then glanced up at Franky.

“Maybe,” Franky agreed and she looked so serious Erica wondered what she was thinking.

“Did you hear from Nick?” Erica asked changing the subject.

“What?” Franky seemed confused.

“I asked him to call you and offer to help research the DID cases. It’s a shitty job I know, and I didn’t want you to have to do it on your own.”

“Oh,” Franky replied, sipping her coffee, “I don’t mind doing it.” What she thought though was that she hadn’t heard a peep from the prick Nick until his appearance at the bar last night.  “I think Nick knows I’ve been to prison,” she told Erica. 

Of course she wasn’t telling Erica anything she didn’t already know. “He won’t do anything with it,” she reassured Franky.  Not once Erica had told him to get back in his box.  “Don’t worry about him.”

Their food arrived. Erica had ordered poached eggs on toast.  Franky had chosen a smoked salmon version of eggs benedict.  Erica watched again as Franky carefully removed all but the barest hint of the hollandaise sauce from her dish.

“Why do you do that?” she asked curiously.

Franky looked up then back at her plate. “I don’t really like sauces,” she said.  “They used to drown everything in sauce in prison.”

“Why don’t you just order it without the sauce?”

Franky thought about that. “I could I guess,” she admitted, “but sometimes I like a hint of sauce.”  She grinned.  “What can I say, I’m complicated.”

“Not that complicated,” Erica murmured as she took a mouthful of food.

“Well, not as complicated as some for sure,” agreed Franky with a pointed look.

They stayed in the little courtyard talking for a while. The sun slipped round until their table was in full sunshine.  They ordered more coffee.  It was relaxing and for the first time Franky felt like Erica wasn’t about to dash off somewhere.  She let her imagination run wild until this was their Saturday routine and she woke up every morning with Erica’s warm sexy body beside her.

“What’s your favourite book?” Franky asked out of the blue.

“I don’t know, there are too many good ones,” Erica replied.

“There’s an answer from someone who can’t commit,” Franky said with raised eyebrows.

Erica dodged. “Well, tell me yours then?”

“Easy, Far From the Madding Crowd,” Franky said immediately. “Do you know it?”

Erica nodded. She was surprised Franky had picked it as her favourite.  “Why that one?”

“It’s a feminist novel written by a man, that’s appealing in itself,” Franky said. “Hardy was ahead of his time.”

“I don’t know how much it did for feminism, the heroine was an idiot,” Erica said bluntly.

“She made some poor choices,” Franky corrected her. “We’ve all done that, it doesn’t make us idiots.  Besides those choices led her to find true love and I’m all in favour of that,” Franky finished with a grin.

“Eventually,” Erica agreed grudgingly but she was intrigued by Franky’s answer which revealed her romantic tendencies.

“Well some people take a while to see what’s obvious,” Franky replied with a look which made Erica wonder if the conversation had broadened beyond that of the book.

She could see better why the novel might appeal to Franky. They talked books more generally;   Franky had clearly read more than just law books during her time in prison.  When at last the lunch crowd started to arrive they went up to the counter to pay. 

“Everything okay today?” The woman on the cash register asked as Franky handed over her card. She looked at Erica then Franky.  Erica studied the woman who would have been in her late thirties or early forties with short spiky hair and deep laughter lines around her eyes.  Erica wondered if she was one of the owners. 

As they walked back to the flat Erica asked Franky if she was still playing basketball.

“Nah, it was only ever something I did to pass the time in prison. I’d rather run or go to the gym.”

“I thought Amy was getting you to play,” Erica fished. It was something Amy had mentioned in their conversation at the police station. 

Franky knew she was fishing. “Mm, she’s mentioned it.  There’s a police comp. she wants me to play in.”  Ever since Franky had told Amy she had dislocated her finger playing basketball she’d been on at her to come and play a game with her team.  “I can’t see it happening myself,” Franky assured her.  Erica smiled.  “So don’t be jealous,” she added with an impish grin.  Her phone rang before Erica could reply.  She glanced at the screen and didn’t recognise the number.  She answered it anyway.  She’d given out her number to so many people lately she never knew if the call would be important.

“Franky, you don’t think you could have told me your client is a psycho!” Erica could hear the tone if not the words from where she was standing.  She watched as Franky grimaced and held the phone slightly away from her ear.

“She’s not a psycho, Red,” she replied calmly. She raised her eyebrows at Erica and pursed her lips.

“You don’t think? Well how about violent and unstable then?”  She could tell Bea was furious.

“What happened?” She asked quickly.

“I stuck my neck out for you and your bloody client and almost had it cut!” Franky could hear the familiar rasp in Bea’s voice when she got emotional over something.  This time it was anger.  Shit! 

“You saw Ella?” Franky asked unable to keep from sounding a little excited about it. “What did she say?”

“This isn’t a bloody science experiment, Franky, she almost killed me.”

“Yeah, well you’re not dead, are you?” Franky pointed out brusquely. “So suck it up.  She has a split personality.  Ella comes out when Ruby feels threatened so what were you doing, Red, that made her feel threatened?”

 “It wasn’t me. I was trying to help her, not that it seemed to make a difference.”  Franky was grinning.  Go Ruby, she thought, or Ella.  It made her think of something.

“Is she in the slot?” Franky asked curiously.

“I didn’t dob, if that’s what you’re asking,” was Bea’s response. She sounded annoyed.

“So she’s not?” confirmed Franky.

She heard Bea sigh. “You can forget about the protection, Franky,” was all the prisoner said.  “She can look after herself.”  Then Franky was listening to dial tone.

She looked at Erica. “We have to go back and see Ruby,” she said immediately.

Erica frowned. “Why?” 

“She’s vulnerable in there, which means Ella is more likely to appear. The only way we are going to find out what happened that day is by talking to Ella.”  Franky was speaking quickly, clearly excited.  “Then we’ll know who the green man really is and can start to investigate him.”

Erica shook her head. “Forget it Franky,” she said.  “It’s not part of the strategy.  We are going to use the diminished responsibility defence,” Erica reminded her.

“That defence is never going to work,” Franky said with frustration. “No one has won their case using a DID defence.  We need to find a plausible alternative story to what happened that day to sell to the jury!”

“You’re letting Ruby get under your skin,” Erica pointed out calmly.

Franky looked at her. “Like I got under your skin, you mean?” she asked slowly.  “Should I just walk away like you did, Erica?”  There was so much accusation in that question. 

In the silence that followed, Franky realised all her fear stemmed from her belief that Erica would do it to her again. Franky hadn’t even known it was there until that moment when she spoke the words. 

Erica felt as though she’d been hit by a Mack truck. Was it only five minutes ago she’d been thinking she felt closer to Franky than ever before?  She took a breath.  “You need some professional distance, Franky,” she said slowly.  “We’re on the same side here.”

Franky shook her head. “No we’re not, because I think you are more interested in playing partner politics than protecting Ruby.”  She wasn’t holding back at all. 

“That’s ridiculous,” Erica said immediately.

Franky tilted her head drew in her lips and gave the smallest shake of her head. It was a gesture which said she knew Erica would say that and she didn’t believe a word of it.  She turned around and walked off.

“Franky!” She called with exasperation.  Franky was gone though. 

Erica reached her car without seeing her. She felt she didn’t have the emotional reserves to deal with whatever was going on in Franky’s head.  She hesitated.  Would she stay or would she go?  In the end she compromised and called Franky’s mobile.  It rang out.  She sighed and unlocked her car.  It was clear Franky did not want to speak to her.

Chapter Text

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.

 

Vince

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.

 

Stephanie

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.

"Why?"

"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?"

"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.”

 

James

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.

 

Ruby

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.”

 

Georgia

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.

 

Erica

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.

Chapter Text

Exactly twenty-four hours later Franky's phone rang.

"I want you to be my lawyer," Ruby said immediately.

In her mind's eye she could see Ruby queuing at the phones to make her call getting jostled maybe, hassled maybe to give up her spot, feeling anxious in case Franky didn’t answer.

She didn't say anything for a moment. She was processing Ruby's words and their implications.  She hadn't expected it although now she wondered why she hadn't anticipated this result when she had calmly told Ruby to sack her lawyer. 

"I'll have to talk to Stephanie," Franky's said at last, "it's her call which clients Wilkinson and Associates take on."

"I don't want Wilkinson and Associates," Ruby said in her quiet but certain way. "I want you."

"But I work for Stephanie," Franky explained. "And she's the best."

"I trust you," Ruby replied. Franky hesitated.  Her loyalties were torn between Ruby, Stephanie and Erica.  "You can't desert me now," Ruby said softly, desperately. 

Franky heard the plea in her voice. Isn't this what she wanted?  An opportunity to take control of Ruby's defence and yet now she was hesitating.  Not to mention she had created this situation and didn't she have an obligation to stand by Ruby?

"Okay," Franky said at last. "I'll sort something out."  She rang off.

Shit! She was on a collision course with Erica and possibly Stephanie and it was her own fault.  Not to mention this would be the biggest case of her career so far.  The minor assault and drug offences were straight forward and Franky handled them competently.  Steph left her to deal with those cases on her own.  A murder case would test her abilities and challenge her beyond anything she had done yet.  A little part of Franky couldn’t help but feel excited by the opportunity.  And if there was one thing Franky was good at it was making the most of her opportunities.

She wandered next door to Stephanie’s office. “Got a minute?” she asked her boss.

Stephanie looked up from her computer and nodded. “Of course,” she watched Franky drop into a chair.  Her protégée looked as though she was a pot of boiling water with the lid about to blow.

Franky had told Stephanie that morning about Ruby’s phone call to Erica so she knew their association with both Ruby and Ludlow and Brookes was over.

“Ruby wants me to be her lawyer,” Franky said at once. She waited.

“Erica Davidson won’t be happy if we take her client,” Stephanie pointed out.

“Ruby wasn’t her client,” Franky reminded her. “Stuart Roxton is her client.”

“You think Erica will see it like that?” Stephanie asked with a raised eyebrow. Franky didn’t think so.

“It’s not us though,” Franky went on to clarify. “It’s me she wants me,” she pursed her lips and raised her eyebrows apologetically.  

To her surprise Stephanie tilted back her head and laughed. “Oh, she’s going to hate that!”

Franky frowned. “You don’t mind?”

Stephanie looked at her, suddenly serious, “why on earth should I mind? Franky, you have done all the hard work with Ruby, it doesn’t surprise me that she wants you to take over her case, and it’s a compliment to you and your abilities.  It reflects well on you and the firm.”

“So I can take the case?” Franky asked.

“If you want to take the case,” Stephanie confirmed. “Do you?”  She studied Franky wondering if the young lawyer had any idea what it would mean.  Well, if she didn’t she soon would and there was only one way to grow in Stephanie’s opinion and it wasn’t by playing it safe.

Franky nodded slowly.

“Even if it creates tension between you and Erica?” Stephanie asked curiously. She wasn’t exactly sure what was going on between the two of them but it was clear Franky was smitten. 

“It won’t,” Franky replied confidently. “I’ve done Erica a favour.  Stuart Roxton wanted Ruby to plead not guilty and Erica’s strategy wouldn’t have pleased him.”

Stephanie nodded. It was one way of looking at it.  She wondered though if Erica would see it like that. “Well good luck,” was all she said.

The next evening Franky came out of the bathroom after her shower dressed in exactly nothing except for a towel. She wandered into the kitchen and found Boomer with her head in the fridge.

"Shit!" She exclaimed. "You nearly gave me a heart attack,” she frowned.  “How did you get in?"

Boomer's face appeared. "I used my key," she said looking surprised by the question.

"Fuck Booms, give it back," she demanded.

"All right, keep your pants on," then she noticed Franky's towel. "Oh sorry, were you and the Gov doing sexy in the shower?" She gave Franky a lewd grin.

Franky ignored it. She put out her hand.  "Key," she prompted.  "What are you doing here?"

Boomer handed it over. "Catching up with you," she replied.  "You haven't got any food."  She added immediately. 

"So order Thai from downstairs," Franky suggested, “and you can go down and get it," she said returning to her bedroom. Bloody Boomer except for the fact that Erica was in Sydney she could easily have been doing sexy in the shower or kinky in the kitchen for that matter, bondage in the bedroom, her mind followed the alliteration train.  With Erica anything was possible.  It was a goldmine of possibilities they had barely begun to explore.  She had pulled on some clothes and was getting some beers out of the fridge when Boomer returned.

"What do I owe you?" She asked.

"Nothing, I told them to put it on your tab," Boomer answered as she dumped the takeaway on the bench. "What's this?" Boomer asked when Franky handed her a beer.

"Posh beer," Franky said. It was some boutique beer Erica had brought over one night.  Franky handed Boomer a bowl and fork.

"Do you have any chopsticks?" Boomer asked wandering into the kitchen and opening drawers.

"What's wrong with a fork?" Franky asked from her stool at the bench.

 "I heard on the radio that if you learn a new skill every day you won't get dementia," Boomer said as she fossicked through Franky's stuff drawer.

"Bit late for you Booms," Franky said with a grin.

"Holy crapoly!" Boomer said suddenly. "What's this?" Franky looked up from opening containers and saw Boomer had found Vince Diamond's money, which Franky had wrapped in a tea towel and put in her stuff drawer.

"It's your bail money," Franky told her as she went back to serving up Thai green curry.

"What's it doing in here?" Boomer asked, staring at the wad of notes in awe. "What have you got against banks?"

"Nothing," Franky replied. "I have to pay it back to Vince Diamond only it's not enough."

"Huh? Why not?"  Boomer grabbed some rice, only distracted momentarily from her hunger.  Franky told her.  "So you either steal some confidential info from Miss Davidson or you find another ten grand?"  Sometimes Boomer got it, thought Franky, like now coz in a nutshell that was about it.

"Yep," Franky said between mouthfuls.

"Shit," Boomer said thoughtfully. "What are you going to do?"

"Dunno," they ate in silence. Boomer got more beer.

"If you get him the info do you have to pay back the loan?" She asked after a while.

Franky shook her head. "Payment for services rendered," she said. 

"There's this guy I hooked up with on Tinder," Boomer began with but Franky interrupted her.

"Shit Booms are you still on that App?" Franky asked in amazement.

"Yeah," she said as though it was a stupid question. "It's great, I'm pretty popular,” she confessed with a grin.  “There are a lot of guys out there who fancy shagging big women." 

Franky wouldn't know. "Well as long as you know that's all they want," she said taking another mouthful.

"I don't know why you are so against it. You could hook up too you know, some girls are into girls too," Boomer informed her.

Franky laughed. "Thanks but I don't need an App to hook up," she said with certainty.  Franky had never had any trouble finding casual sex. 

"Any ways," Boomer continued, "this guy was into horse racing. He told me he made $300k last year just betting on the races."

"So?"

"Franks, it is the spring carnival, there are horse races every friggin’ weekend. We just need to put this money on a horse and we could double it in two minutes!" Boomer was excited at the prospect.

"Sure we could," Franky was sceptical, "or we could lose it in two minutes," she pointed out.

"Yeah but so what? If you lose you're no worse off."

"Actually I'm ten grand worse off," Franky said with a frown.

"Well yeah," admitted Boomer, "but do you want to steal confidential info and risk going prison?"

That wasn't the only risk either, Franky thought, she also risked Erica finding out. She didn't like to think how that would affect their newly established understanding.  She had cased Erica's office the other day and was pretty sure she knew where the file would be kept.  She hadn't done anything about it though.  She was reluctant she realised because it would be relationship defining.  It would be a betrayal of Erica's trust.

"How's the new job going?" Franky asked effectively ending the discussion.

"Mm okay I guess," Boomer sounded less than enthusiastic.

"What have they got you doing?" Boomer had scored a job at a department store through Erica's contact.

"I fit women's bras for them," Boomer replied. She eyed the last of the curry hopefully. 

Franky shook her head when Boomer half-heartedly offered the rest of the dish to her. "Sounds like a great job," she said with a grin. 

"For you maybe," Boomer said forlornly. "I can think of better things to do all day than groping women's breasts."  Franky couldn't help laughing at her tone.

They drank more beer. Boomer googled the upcoming race fixtures.  "This Saturday there are races on at Flemington," she said.

Franky's phone beeped. She glanced at the screen.  It was from Erica.  "Just back," it read, "are you at the flat?"

Franky was texting a reply when Boomer interrupted. "So are we going?"

"I'm here. Come over." She wrote then she looked up.  "You have to piss off now, Booms."

"What about the races?" She asked standing up.

"I'll think about it," Franky promised. She was already thinking about Erica and wondering how the talk with Mark had gone. 

When Boomer left Franky tidied up and cleaned her teeth. She felt nervous.  What if Erica had decided not to go through with it after all?  What if she was coming over to tell her she'd changed her mind? 

She paced nervously, checked the time repeatedly and had the door open before Erica had finished knocking.

"Hi," she said breathlessly. "You're here," unnecessarily.  She took hold of Erica's arm and dragged her inside.  "Have you eaten?"

Erica smiled at Franky's odd behaviour. "On the plane," she answered. 

"Good, so," Franky studied her. "How did it go?"  She asked impatiently.  Erica didn't look overly happy. 

"How do you think?" Erica said with a shrug dropping her bag onto a chair.

"I don't know, that's why I'm asking," Franky said with a frown.

Erica looked at her and realised Franky was worried. "It was difficult," she said with a sigh.

"But?" Franky prompted.

"It's done," Erica confirmed.

Franky smiled. Relief washed over her, relief and anticipation.  Suddenly the future looked brighter.  She pulled Erica into an embrace.  “So,” she said licking her bottom lip and grinning.  “Wanna stay here tonight?  With me? ”   She pressed herself against Erica suggestively.  “We could listen to my sexytimes playlist,” she said with a smile in her voice as she kissed Erica’s throat.  She wanted Erica in her bed knowing she would still be there in the morning.

Erica’s head tilted back as Franky’s lips worked their magic. "Ah," Erica tried to focus. 

Franky took that as a yes. She nipped Erica’s neck with her teeth possessively as though marking her.  Erica gasped loving the intensity of it, not caring if it left a mark, Franky’s mark. 

Franky’s fingers were undoing Erica’s blouse. She caught a glimpse of sexy French underwear.  Erica wore provocative underwear which invited Franky’s imagination into overdrive.  Suddenly she wanted Erica just in her sexy underwear and nothing else.  She pulled off clothes urgently, her own as well as Erica’s.  Their hands clashed as they both pulled and tore articles of clothing but they were oblivious to everything but the need to be skin on skin.

Then Franky remembered her phone. “Wait!” she said quickly.  She held Erica away from her as she grabbed her phone.  She chose her favourite song.  The beat was heavy and slow.  The vocals were sultry. 

Erica knew the song. She gave herself up to the music and Franky’s mouth and hands which seemed to working in tandem with that heavy throbbing beat.  Franky was on top of her, their bodies were slick with sweat and sliding easily, their breathing was ragged.  Erica’s thighs were gripping Franky and she rode her rhythm urging her on.  She was so wet and the sensations so strong and Franky was relentless.  She gripped Franky’s fingers as the orgasm hit her.  She was aware of Franky achieving her own orgasm moments later and collapsing on top of her.  Their breathing slowed.  Erica’s legs released Franky and she gently withdrew her hand. 

“Franky,” Erica managed to say as Franky rolled off her. They hadn’t got further than the floor of lounge area.  “Fuck!”

“I thought we just did,” Franky said with a grin. She propped up on one elbow and looked down at Erica.  “Song’s still going though,” she acknowledged as Alannah Myles sang the first lines of Black Velvet again.  “So it’d be a shame to waste it.”

"Well now Ruby has fired us, what else is there to do?" Erica asked with a smile.

It was the perfect segue but Franky didn't take it. She was going to enjoy tonight.  Her news about Ruby could wait.

Hours later Franky looked lazily at Erica. "I've got you something," she said.

"What?" Erica asked curiously. They had ended up in the bedroom eventually.

"Wait here," she disappeared into the bathroom. On her return she made Erica put out her hand and placed a brand new toothbrush in it.  "It's yours," she explained, "for when you stay over."

Erica smiled. "Thanks," she said then laughed lightly.

"What is it?" Franky asked with surprise.

"Nothing, it's just of all the gifts I might have expected from you, a toothbrush wasn't one."

"Oh," Franky watched her thoughtfully. "What did you expect then?" she asked after a moment.

"I don't know, maybe a sex toy or a tattoo." Erica said with a laugh.

“Well I think that says more about you than it does about me,” Franky said with a knowing smile.

Erica wondered if Franky wasn’t right. “I’m going to use my new toothbrush now,” she said with embarrassment.  She got off the bed and Franky rolled over onto her side to watch her leave.  Erica didn’t have any tattoos which was unusual in this age of body art.  Franky wondered what sort of tattoo Erica would get.  Something discreet and girlie like a butterfly just above her bikini line she suspected.

She must have fallen asleep because she woke up suddenly and it was still dark. Erica was on her stomach.  Franky rolled over and found Erica’s warm body.  A feeling of unexpected happiness flooded her soul as she remembered all her dreams had become real. 

Erica moved slightly away from Franky towards the edge of the bed. “No,” murmured Franky pulling Erica back towards her.  She was half asleep but she was determined to keep close to that warm, sexy body.  She kissed Erica’s shoulder blade.

The next time she woke up it was as though there was something important which she couldn’t quite capture. It was as though part of a dream had survived the transition to consciousness and was floating just out of reach.  She lay there with her eyes closed, waiting patiently like a fisherman waits for a bite.  It was connected to Ruby.  It was something she had forgotten. 

Shit! She sat up suddenly.  It was the cool hour just before the dawn and Franky shivered when her skin was exposed to the night air.  She pulled on a hoodie and her pyjama pants.  Erica didn’t stir.  She went to her wardrobe and began checking the pockets of her jackets.  She couldn’t see them properly in the dark of the wardrobe so she used her hands to explore them.  Nothing.

She bent down and checked the floor of the wardrobe. She found a nailfile and a lighter but nothing else.  She sat back on the floor wrapping her arms around her knees and thought hard about that afternoon all those weeks ago.  She had come home and showered then dressed to meet Amy at Academy Bar.  She thought she remembered taking off her jacket and tossing it on her bed.  She looked at her bed.  There were boxes underneath it.  Franky found her phone and crawled under the bed pushing aside boxes.  She switched on her light App and searched between the boxes.  Then she saw it.  It must have fallen off the bed and then she’d kicked it under without realising it.  She stretched forward grabbing at it then bumped her head against the slats as she tried to shuffle out.  “Fuck,” she muttered.

She leant against the side of the bed and opened the envelope. Inside was a collection of photos which Ruby must have printed out and put inside her journal for safe-keeping.  Although the dawn light was starting to seep into the bedroom, Franky still had trouble seeing the photos clearly.  Why, in this time of the iPhone and digital cameras, Ruby had bothered to print out photos Franky couldn’t fathom.  She turned on the light on her phone again trying to shield it from Erica’s sleeping form.

The photos appeared to be of a party held at the day-care centre, probably a birthday party, as there were streamers and balloons. In one photo a boy of about four was blowing out candles on a cake.  Franky suddenly saw Henry in the corner of the shot. He was carrying his soft-toy rabbit in one hand and a red balloon in the other.  He wasn’t looking at the cake and the birthday boy like the rest of the children.  He was looking at something off camera.  Franky flicked through the photos trying to see what it was that had engaged Henry’s interest.  That’s when she saw him.  Dressed in green cargo pants and a green polo shirt, he had his back to the camera so his face was hidden but even so, Franky suddenly realised who the green man was. 

When Erica woke up she realised Franky’s side of the bed was vacant. She wondered if Franky had gone for a run.  She got up and wondered what had happened to her clothes.  She wandered into the lounge area and noticed Franky was at the kitchen bench working on her laptop.  She glanced up when Erica came out.  “Aren’t you cold?” she asked, her eyes returning to the screen.

“Morning Franky,” Erica said pointedly.

“Morning,” Franky muttered. She scribbled something on her legal pad.  “There’s coffee,” Franky indicated a plunger half full of coffee on the bench.

Erica found her clothes and pulled them on. She wondered what was engrossing Franky at seven am.  She found the mugs and poured a coffee for herself.  She studied Franky from across the bench over the rim of her mug.  “What on earth are you doing?” she asked at last.

Franky looked up distractedly. “Want to come to the races on Saturday?” she asked instead.

Erica smiled. “Like on a date?” she asked.

“Yeah,” agreed Franky, “except Boomer’s coming too,” she added with a frown.

“So not like a date then?” Erica clarified a teasing note in her voice. Franky looked a bit confused.

“Not exactly,” Franky’s green eyes looked apologetic. “It’ll be fun,” she promised with an engaging smile.

Erica leant across the bench and kissed Franky. “Great,” she murmured, “can’t wait.”  She noticed the photos sitting next to Franky’s laptop.  “What are these?” she asked curiously.

Franky knew she was about to open a can of worms but she couldn't help herself.  “I’ve found the green man,” she said with a cocky smile.

Chapter Text

"I don't understand," Erica said with a frown.  She put down her mug and watched Franky.  "Why are you still following this?"

Franky saw genuine confusion in Erica's blue eyes.  If she didn't tell Erica now and she found out later, which she would, it wouldn't look good.

"Aren't you curious?" She asked.  Part of her mind took note of Erica standing in her kitchen leaning against the bench looking relaxed, comfortable, at home.  It gave her a warm feeling inside.

Erica shrugged.  "It's over," she said simply.

"Not for Ruby," Franky pointed out. 

Erica studied Franky.  There was a side to Franky which she hadn't consciously acknowledged before.  Maybe it was because she hadn't always seen it in prison where loyalty was a commodity to be traded.  Now though she realised loyalty featured strongly in Franky's character.  Not walking away, that was important to Franky, Erica suddenly understood.  It wasn't just people abandoning her that Franky feared, it was a fear she was like her father.  The trouble she'd had with Vince Diamond was because of Sue Jenkins and some obligation she felt towards her ex-hench.  Now she wondered if Franky would have trouble letting go of the Roxton case because of some sense of loyalty she felt towards Ruby.

"I can't help someone who doesn't want my help," she said at last.  "I didn't abandon Ruby.  She fired me."

"I know that," Franky acknowledged.

"And neither did you," Erica added quietly.

"No," she nodded, "I haven't," Franky admitted.  "She's hired me to run her defence."  There it was, out in the open, one less secret between them.

Erica frowned.  "Ruby has hired you?" She questioned incredulously.

Franky nodded.  "It's not what you think," she added hastily.

"Really?" Erica asked sceptically.  "Well here's what I think.  You had an issue with the defence strategy so decided to go Lone Ranger to Ruby.  God knows what you said to her but I'm pretty sure it wasn't trust Erica she's on your side."  Franky didn't say anything but her green eyes looked back defiantly.  "So she sacks me for you because you have some white knight fantasy going on in your head."  Erica said bluntly. 

"It's not a fantasy, Erica.  I'm going to get Ruby off this charge."  She said it with such conviction, challenging Erica to ridicule the idea of it.  Then she sighed.  "Look, I didn't plan this." She said rubbing her brow.  "I'm not that -"

"Smart? Strategic?" Erica interrupted her.  She shook her head in disbelief.  "Yes you are Franky I just never expected you to use it against me."  She walked off towards the bathroom.

"Erica," Franky pleaded.  She heard the bathroom door close.  She slid off the stool and dumped her empty mug in the sink.  Fuck!  She spent the five minutes Erica was in the bathroom thinking through her pitch. 

When Erica opened the door Franky was leaning against the wall in front of the door.  Erica walked past her into the lounge area and picked up her bag.

Franky followed her.  "What are you doing?" She asked with a frown.

"Going to work," Erica said without looking at Franky.

"Erica," Franky took hold of her arm to stop her. "I get that you're pissed off with me right now but I didn't set out to fuck you over.  Why would I do that when all I want is to be with you?"  Her eyes pleaded, her heart tightened, her hold was firm.

"I don't know, Franky," Erica said with annoyance shaking off the restraining hand.  Franky watched her walk towards the door.  In moments she'd be gone.  To work and then where?  Back to Sydney? Back to Mark?  Franky didn't like to think about it.

"You risked losing Stuart Roxton with that defence strategy, Erica, and if you stopped to think about it for a minute you'd admit it."   It was her parting shot because Erica had disappeared out the door and Franky heard her heels on the stairs outside.

That was hardly the point, Erica thought as she descended the stairs.  She had uprooted her life for this girl and all the while Franky was calmly usurping her.   Now she had to meet with Stuart Roxton and somehow explain to him that the special counsel she had brought in was now running Ruby’s case and he would have no control over it because he wasn’t the client. 

She should have realised Franky would do this.  The first clue was when she had told Ruby to plead guilty.  She was a bloody law unto herself.  That energy and passion which Erica found so attractive in Franky had just bitten her on the arse. 

When she arrived at the office there was an email confirming the court ruling to have Ruby transferred to a psychiatric institution.  She printed it out and put it on the pile of unfiled papers she had begun to gather relating to Ruby’s case in anticipation of handing it over to her new legal firm.  Then she checked her meetings and decided she had enough time to get a coffee.  She was walking out when she passed Nick.

“Erica,” he said reversing his direction and walking with her towards the lift.  “How’s Mark?”

Erica looked at him blankly.  “Mark?”

“Didn’t you go to Sydney yesterday?”  He asked with a frown.

“Oh yes,” she looked away, “He’s fine, upset about his brother,” she added, and his fiancée dumping him in the middle of it, she added to herself, in fact upset was putting it mildly, more like furious.  She remembered some of the words he had used about her, insensitive, heartless, selfish, cruel, unfeeling she couldn’t remember them all.

Nick nodded then asked after a moment.  “Have you had a chance to look at my study application?”  Nick wanted L&B to pay for his Masters in Commercial Law.  Erica as his supervising partner had to approve it.

“Not yet,” she said. 

“Well, could you look at it today?” he asked.

She didn’t answer his question.  “Have you packed any papers relating to Ruby Roxton’s case?”  She asked instead.

“Yes but most of the files are at Wilkinson and Associates.  I’ll go over there and pick them up,” he offered.

“No need,” Erica said immediately.  “Ruby has hired them as her lawyers.”

Nick stopped walking.  “You’re kidding!  They stole our client?”  Erica was silent.  “I hope you’re going to give Stephanie Wilkinson a serve.”

“You can count on it,” Erica muttered.  “There are some papers about Ruby’s case in my office.  Can you collect them and take everything over to Wilkinson and Associates.”  Nick nodded and they separated.

Henry's day-care centre was a hive of activity when Franky arrived at 8.30 in the morning.  She slipped in the gate behind a woman with two little girls then followed them to the door of the building.  She watched her key in the code 72589 and thought the security system they had in place left a lot to be desired.  She followed them inside and found Georgia Freeman.

"Hi," said the frazzled manager.  "Um Franky right?"  She smiled.  "You want to enrol your daughter next year?"

Franky laughed.  "Ah no, that must be the other Franky," she said with a grin.

Georgia frowned.  "Sorry, I have a terrible memory for faces," she admitted apologetically.  It didn't bode well for the lawyer's next question. 

"No worries," Franky gave an engaging smile.  "I'm Ruby Roxton's lawyer," she reminded the manager.  "I wanted to ask you something."  Franky moved out of the way of a young bouncing four year old in a kangaroo outfit. 

"Oh sure," Georgia nodded. 

"You use a gardening company, right?  To mow the lawn, keep the hedges tidy?"

"That's right, Green Thumbs Gardening, why?" Georgia replied.

Franky handed her a photo.  "Do you recognise this guy?" She asked tapping the image of the green man.

Georgia pulled out her glasses and peered at the photo.  "Um yes, he's one of the regulars they send.  It's not a great photo of him."

"Do you know his name?"

She frowned, trying to remember.  "Dan?" she said hesitatingly. "Dave? No, Darren, Daz!  That's it, Dazza," she nodded.

"You're sure?" Franky asked. Georgia nodded.  "Darren, from Green Thumbs Gardening, last name?" The manager shook her head.  "Okay," she smiled.  "Thanks," she added sincerely.

At the office she googled the gardening firm and found their number.  She dialled it and waited.

A cheery male voice answered.  "Hi, I need help with my garden and my friend recommended your firm," Franky said with a smile in her voice. 

"All right," the man said.  "Is it just maintenance you wanted or some landscaping?"

"Maintenance," Franky confirmed.  "Could you come out and give me a quote?"

"I'll send one of the boys out," he said.  "Won't be until the end of the week though," he added.

"Okay," Franky agreed.  "My friend said Daz is really good so can you send him?"

"Should be okay, how about 4pm Friday?"

"Great," Franky gave him Stephanie's address and rang off.

She went over to her whiteboard cleaned off the smudged writing and began again.  She wished she could clean the slate as easily with Erica.  A part of her wanted to be vindicated in her actions but another part, the larger part, would give it all up to be back in her bed pressed against Erica's sleeping form dreaming of the future.  Get a grip, Doyle, she thought.

"I've just had a call from Erica Davidson," Franky looked around to see her boss standing in her doorway.  The piercing blue eyes looked reproachful.  "She wasn't too happy with me," Stephanie said.  "Seemed to think my firm had poached her client."

Shit!  Maybe she hadn’t been too clear on that point but then Erica hadn’t hung around to hear the details either.

"I explained to her that Ruby had hired you personally, not Wilkinson and Associates, but I'm not sure she was any happier as a result," Stephanie raised her eyebrows and looked over her glasses at her associate.  "I doubt we'll be on their Christmas card list this year."  Franky didn’t say anything.  Stephanie looked at the clean white board and back to Franky.  “My door’s always open,” she said.  Franky nodded.

She had filled the board and was staring at it thinking about what Georgia had said.  Just because Darren was in the photo and he worked for the gardening contractors it didn’t necessarily mean he was the green man who took Henry.  He was one of the regulars Georgia had said, which meant there were others who regularly worked at the day-care centre.  She needed a good photo of Darren so she could show it to Ella.

“Well, aren’t you a piece of work?”  Franky looked around to see Nick Hammond leaning against her doorframe.  “Although I suppose stealing comes naturally to an ex-criminal.”

“What do you want?” Franky asked with an edge in her voice.

“Just dropping off some papers we had on the Roxton case,” Nick said wandering into her office and looking round curiously.  “Not exactly top end, is it?”  He said at last, “but I guess you were lucky just to get a job.”

“Yeah, lucky that’s me,” she agreed.  “Must piss you off to see how lucky I am, huh?  I get to run a murder trial and you’re just the file delivery boy.  Sucks to be you I guess,” she grinned. 

“It’s a small industry we work in and it is easy to get a bad reputation,” Nick fired back.

“Thanks for the tip,” Franky said then added, “but I’m used to being infamous and it beats the hell out of being a nobody.”  So do your worst, her green eyes flashed.  “Now get the fuck out,” she said calmly but with deadly earnest. 

She had realised she didn’t have to be polite to him anymore since the professional relationship between their two firms was over.  She hoped karma would catch up with Nick somehow but he wasn’t worth the effort otherwise.

She checked her email and saw there was one from Erica.  For a moment her heart lightened but it was just a forwarded email from the courts about Ruby’s transfer to the mental hospital.  She sighed.  There hadn’t even been a lead in message.  She hit reply.

“Thanks,” she wrote, then she sat there staring at the cursor.  She wasn’t sure what else she could say that would pacify Erica.  Then she realised there was one thing she hadn’t said. 

She picked up her phone and rang Erica.  It went through to voicemail.  “I’m sorry,” she said sincerely then she added, “don’t give up on us.”

She spent the afternoon arranging Ruby’s transfer and re-reading Ruby’s journal with a new understanding of the L-A references and her knowledge of Ruby’s condition.  Ella’s entries in the third person as though Ruby was writing them were intriguing.  It was as though Ella was leaving subliminal messages for Ruby, making her think she had written them in her black-outs.  To what end, she wondered.  It was something she would ask Ella if she ever got to talk to her again.

When Erica listened to Franky's voicemail she heard a desperate note in that final plea. Their relationship could not be defined as neatly as black and white, right and wrong, but if it was Erica was hardly blameless. In fact she was as guilty as Franky. Not today maybe, not yesterday but eventually if she tracked back far enough and dug deep enough she could find it lurking in her guilty conscious.

Franky was eating a mango.  There was only one way to eat a mango in Franky’s opinion and that was over the sink.  The juicy, slippery fruit had a habit of sliding out of her hands.  She would peel it then slice segments off eating them straight off the sharp knife.  It was risky.  The knife could easily slip but it was worth it.

She had just finished it when there was a knock at the door.  She rinsed her hands and went to answer it.  To her surprise Erica was standing on her doorstep.  It was the last person she had expected.

“Can I come in?”  Erica asked.  She took in Franky’s running gear.  “Are you going out?” 

Franky shook her head.  She was back from her run.  She stepped aside.  “I thought you weren’t talking to me,” she said, “because I stole your client.” 

“Well I think maybe we are even.”  Franky didn’t know what that meant.  “I won’t deny I was pissed off this morning when you told me,” she admitted.

“And when you rang Stephanie and gave her a blast,” added Franky with raised eyebrows.

Erica ignored that.  “But what you did with Ruby is no worse than what I did to you when you were inside and I was Governor.”

Franky frowned.  She had no idea where this was going.  “What are you talking about?”  She just wanted Erica to forgive her so they could get on with being together properly without Mark lurking in the background.

“Franky, if this is going to work we have to clear the slate.”  Franky suddenly felt hopeful. 

“I think it’s good we’re not working together anymore.  It complicates things.  Don’t you think?” 

Franky shrugged.  She didn’t think so but she wasn’t prepared to argue a minor point when the future of their relationship was on the line.

Erica sat down on the couch.  “The thing is,” she hesitated.  “I fucked you over in prison.”  Franky stared at her.  “When you were accused of trafficking drugs and ended up in the slot for five weeks, I knew you hadn’t done it but I didn’t say anything because it would have damaged my career if the real culprit had been identified.”  She felt a certain relief in confessing it.  She hadn’t been proud of her actions that day.  She had known Franky had deserved fairer treatment from her.  She had justified it at the time though by telling herself she could help Franky more by remaining Governor than being sacked.  Ironically she had left anyway in the end.  “So I really can’t complain, can I?”

Franky sat down.  She remembered the incident.  She knew at the time she’d been fucked over but she had thought it had been by Toni controlled by Jacs.  Those five weeks in the slot without her books, without Erica, knowing Jacs was reclaiming top dog and punishing her supporters for their loyalty.  They had been tough.  Erica could have spared her that but chose not to. 

Franky was philosophical though.  She understood better now than then the sacrifices you made to keep power.  The choices you had to make that took your soul bit by bit in the dark lonely hours in your cell. 

Sleepless is the night

And silent it crawls

Haunted by wakefulness

Along guilt-ridden halls  

My armour lies useless

That protects in the light

And my demons can sense this

As I wait out the night

She remembered reading that in Ruby's journal and it had resonated with her because that was exactly what it was like in prison.

“Franky?”  Erica put a hand on her knee, gently, tentatively. 

Franky looked into those anxious blue eyes taking in the worried frown.  Maybe Erica was right.  They were both ambitious and calculating, maybe it was better that they weren’t competing against each other.

“So I forgive you, you forgive me and we live happily ever after?” Franky asked with a smile.

“Okay,” Erica agreed, “if you want.”

Franky did want that.  She leant in and kissed Erica softly.  “Fighting means making up,” she murmured against Erica’s lips.

“You taste fantastic,” Erica answered, “like mango.”  She kissed her more thoroughly. 

“I need a shower,” Franky said before they went further. 

“Me too,” agreed Erica.

Franky chuckled. 

Her phone rang.

“Don’t answer that,” Erica said holding onto Franky’s running top. 

“I better it might be Ruby,” Franky said apologetically.  “If it’s Boomer I won’t answer,” she promised.

“Or Amy,” Erica suggested.

She found her phone but the number was blocked so she answered it.

“Is that Franky Doyle?” a young female voice asked when she answered.

“Yep, who’s this?”

“Rose Harper, my sister told me you were trying to get in contact with me.”  

Franky remembered the conversation she’d had at Ruby’s old school.  This was the sister who had been in Ruby’s class at school. 

“Yeah, thanks for calling me,” Franky sat on the couch and grimaced.  She watched Erica get up and head towards the bathroom.  Moments later she heard the shower start.  She filled her in quickly.  “Did you know Ruby well?”

“Ruby kept to herself,” Rose answered. 

“She was friendly with Julie Irwin though,” Franky questioned.

Rose Harper laughed.  “Not likely, Jules was a bitch and a bully, she tormented Ruby until one day Ruby fought back,” Franky could hear a hint of admiration in the girl’s voice.

“Actually it was Ella,” Franky explained.  “Ruby has a split personality.”

“No shit!” Rose exclaimed. 

“So your sister said Ruby had lost it before that incident,” Franky asked the question but she didn’t expect the answer to tell her anything she didn’t already know about Ruby.  Her mind was already getting into that steamy shower with Erica.

What Rose said though made her question everything Ruby had told her so far and made Franky doubt she was any closer to knowing the truth about Henry’s murder.

Chapter Text

 “She’s lying.”

 Franky raised her eyebrows at Ruby in disbelief.  “Is she?” she asked sceptically.

They were sitting on a bench in the grounds of the hospital.  The day was warm and Franky had taken off her jacket.  She saw Ruby looking at her tattoos.  Her legs were stretched out in front of her.  She looked relaxed.  Her arms were resting against the back of the bench showing off those arms and shoulders, and the tattoo which dressed her upper arm.  Her sunglasses hid her eyes and her hair shone in the sunlight.  She was everything Ruby wasn’t.

“It wasn’t like that,” Ruby insisted, quietly but firmly. 

No one would believe this girl was capable of murder surely.  As a witness she would be her best defence, unless Ella appeared, Franky added to herself, then all bets were off.  But she needed Ella, to identify the green man, and there was the problem.

“What was it like?” She watched Ruby carefully looking for signs that she was lying.

“We had to do an extra-curricular activity each Friday afternoon.  It was supposed to make us more rounded individuals.  As part of that we did some form of community service and I helped out at the local public primary school.”  She explained. 

“Helping with the first graders,” Franky prompted. 

“Yes, most afternoons it was helping them with their reading.  I would sit with one while they read a story to me and I helped them to sound out the words.  They loved being singled out and I managed to build a good rapport with most of them.”

“What about Daisy?”  Franky led her down memory lane.

Ruby’s eyes softened.  “Daisy was the sweetest little girl and she thought I was wonderful.  The first afternoon we sat together she took my hand at the end of the class and dragged me off to meet her mother.  She was so excited to be showing me off.”  Ruby smiled at the memory and Franky watched her face change.  It looked animated when she talked about this kid.  “It was then I realised I wanted to work with children.”

“And Rose Harper was doing the same community service?” Franky brought her back on track.

“Yes, we would walk to the school together, it was about a twenty minute walk,” she explained.

“So you were friendly?”

“Not really but Rose liked to talk and I was a captive audience on those walks.”  She said it without emotion but Franky sensed Ruby hadn’t enjoyed those walks.

“So,” Franky continued.  “Daisy doted on you.  Maybe you thought it would be okay to take her away from the school, just a little excursion for your favourite reader, to make her feel special, to make you seem special?”  Franky watched her.  “Huh?”

“No, Daisy went off on her own, she told me later she was following a butterfly,” Ruby said.  She sounded certain.  Franky looked for the lie but she couldn’t find it. 

“But you found her?” She continued to prompt Ruby trying to draw the information out of her.  In prison she would have put a forearm to Ruby’s throat and dragged it out of her by sheer intimidation but, she acknowledged, those days were over. 

“I saw her leave the school grounds through a gap in the hedge.  It was too small for me to get through so I went round through the front gates.  I’d lost her by the time I got around to the back of the school.”

“Rose said you were found with Daisy though, and she had bruises and scratches and her dress was torn,” Franky pointed out.  When Rose had heard what Ruby had been charged with she recounted the story. 

“Yes but it wasn’t odd or suspicious or wrong like she’s making out,” Ruby sounded almost irked at the suggestion. 

“Well what was it then?”  An edge of frustration crept into Franky’s voice.  Reticent fucking Ruby!

“Daisy had fallen into a stormwater drain.  When I found her she was crying and hurt, she was happy to see me.” 

“Rose also said Daisy didn’t want to read with you after that?” 

Ruby looked towards the main building.  “I have to go in now,” she said.

Franky followed her gaze.  She couldn’t see anything that might have triggered her comment.  “Daisy would be about twelve or thirteen now,” Franky said thoughtfully.  “I could ask her what happened I suppose.”

“If you can find her,” Ruby said and for a moment Franky wondered what she meant, “she’ll tell you what I’ve just told you.”

“Good,” was all her lawyer said.

Franky stood up to leave.  “Can you do something for me?” Ruby asked quickly.  She seemed reluctant but desperate.

Prison had taught Franky to be wary.  “What is it?”

“Look after my cat?”

She had not expected that.  “Your cat?” She asked dubiously.

“My cat,” Ruby repeated, “My father said he was feeding him but now I’m not so sure.  I have refused to see him since your last visit and I’m worried the cat is starving,” she looked anxious.

Franky didn’t think cats ever starved.  They were too street-smart for that.  “Ah,” she felt partially responsible given she had encouraged Ruby to break ties with Stuart Roxton.

“Franky, please, just go and get him,” Ruby begged. 

“Okay,” she said reluctantly.

Bloody hell!  If anyone had ever told her becoming a lawyer would involve cat-sitting she would have ridiculed the idea.  Who knew, she thought grimly, then hoped Erica wasn’t allergic to cats. 

She found the house key where Ruby had told her it would be buried in the flower pot at the front door in a plastic canister.  She found the cat stretched out on the back deck in the sun.  He meowed immediately and rolled onto his side to inspect her.  He was a black and tan tabby with tiger markings and green eyes that watched her curiously.

“Hello,” she said tentatively then crouched down on her haunches and waited.  Eventually the cat got up and approached her, rubbing against her thigh.  She tried to watch him as he circled her and appeared on her other side.  He walked away then into the shade of the vines and watched her again.  “You’re a handsome fella, aren’t you?” she crooned softly.  His ears twitched. 

“What happened to you?” Erica asked when Franky opened the door to the flat later.  She was sporting several deep red scratches on her neck and arms.

Franky grimaced.  “Apparently my charm doesn’t have the same effect on cats as it does on you,” she said ruefully.

Erica grinned with amusement.  “I find that so hard to believe,” she murmured as she came in and dumped her bag.  “Come here,” she said.

Franky did leaning in to kiss her but Erica held her head away and looked at the scratches.  “Have you put anything on these?” she asked.

“Nope,” Franky wasn’t interested in talking about her war wounds.  She had other ideas.  She pulled Erica closer.  “Now kiss me,” she demanded.

“I think you should put something on –” Franky’s mouth swallowed her words.  Today she tasted of strawberries.  She wasn’t sure which she preferred but she certainly liked Franky’s routine of eating fruit after her run.

“You can kiss them better,” Franky told her after a while but Erica thought she’d like to kiss other parts of Franky first.

She slid her hands down until she could feel Franky’s running shorts which hugged her arse.  “I think you need a shower,” she said with a smile.  Franky’s phone rang.  “Don’t you dare answer that,” she threatened.

Franky had no intention of answering it.  To prove it she pulled off her sweaty sleeveless running top. 

The shower was warm.  Franky slicked her wet hair back off her face.  Erica watched her breasts rise with the movement and water cascade over them, rivulets forming and following the curve.  She squirted the liquid soap in both hands and turned Franky massaging the soap into her shoulders and down her back in a sweeping movement.  The muscles in Franky’s shoulders relaxed under her touch.  She admired their toned definition tracing it with her hands.  The suds slid down her back and Erica’s eyes followed them.  They chased each other over the curve of her arse catching momentarily between her cheeks.  Erica’s hands followed them massaging the firm butt before dropping lower teasing Franky by brushing lightly against her sex as she soaped each thigh running her hands from the top of her thigh to the back of the knee and back again.  She heard Franky gasp when she did it with the other leg.  She continued downwards though following the contours of Franky’s calves which were tight from her run.  When she finished she straightened and turned Franky back to face her.  The spray hit her shoulders bouncing excitedly down that fit body.  Franky’s nipples were erect showing Erica how well her attentions had been received. 

She applied the soap directly to Franky’s chest watching it drool down between her breasts.  Her hands went immediately to stop its slide south.  Her hands lathered and massaged their way down Franky’s front.  She spent time on her breasts until she heard Franky’s breath getting ragged and saw the green eyes close and her head drop back.  Then she slid over that toned stomach watching the suds slide even lower.  This time as she washed Franky’s thighs her touch wasn’t accidental when she reached the top of her inner thighs but when Franky decided to take control by rubbing herself against Erica’s hand, those hands slid downwards away from temptation finishing at Franky’s toes.  “You were always impatient,” she said as she rose.

Franky wasted no time pressing against her and kissing her roughly under the spray, possessing that mouth completely for a moment.  “And you were a fucking tease,” she said into her ear then took the lobe into her mouth letting her teeth graze it as she sucked it.

Erica liked the roughness in her tone and her attentions.  She could feel herself getting excited.  Franky’s body was warm pressed against her, and strong as she held her, as though she could overpower her in an instant. 

Erica slid her hands down that tattooed back before finding Franky’s warm, wet, pussy.  She wanted to reward Franky with something unexpected.  So with her other hand she slid her fingers between her cheeks and touched her in that very intimate place.  She felt Franky spasm against her hand and withdrew.  Tentatively she tried again and Franky didn’t resist it.  She finger fucked her all the while exerting pressure from behind.  She could feel Franky’s excitement soaking her hand.  She could hear Franky’s incoherent demands.  She could see Franky almost hyperventilating as she gasped air in but barely exhaled it as the sensations overwhelmed her.  When Erica’s mouth took her breast and began sucking and licking, it took Franky over the edge into the abyss.  She had never wanted that exquisite release so badly.

“Tease, am I?” Erica asked with satisfaction.  She was pleased to see Franky was incapable of responding and was relying on Erica and the tiled wall for support. 

It was afterwards when Franky was in the kitchen making dinner and Erica was seated across from her drinking white wine that Erica suddenly asked after Ruby.  She did it in part because she genuinely wanted to hear how Ruby had settled into the psychiatric institution but also to show Franky she wasn’t going to hold a grudge over Ruby.

“She’s doing okay,” Franky said as she tossed rocket with roast pumpkin, caramelised onion, blue cheese and roasted walnuts.  “Better than her defence,” she couldn’t help adding.  She was about to go on to tell Erica about Daisy.  “She –”

“You can’t tell me,” Erica interrupted her.  “Confidentiality,” she reminded her.

“But Ruby was your client,” Franky pointed out. 

“She’s not now though so anything you tell me about Ruby isn’t confidential anymore.  I could be subpoenaed by the prosecution and only the information I gained as Ruby’s lawyer is privileged.”

Franky frowned.  She had stopped tossing the salad and was looking at Erica over her wine glass.  “Is that likely?”

Erica shrugged.  “Anything’s possible, besides you have an obligation to keep Ruby’s confidence regardless.”

“What about Stephanie then?” Franky asked suddenly.  “Ruby isn’t her client either anymore.”  She would be isolated without Stephanie’s counsel.

“If you are seeking advice then it doesn’t apply,” Erica explained.  “Just make sure your conversations reflect that.”  She leant across the bench and pinched a piece of pumpkin smeared with melting blue cheese from the salad bowl.

“Hey,” Franky protested picking up the bowl and shifting away. 

“It looks so good and I’m starving,” Erica pleaded her defence.  “Your cooking is fantastic,” she offered in trade.

“This isn’t cooking,” Franky said dismissively.  “And don’t think flattery will work.”

“Wouldn’t dream of it,” Erica murmured as she sipped her wine.  She smiled at Franky.

Franky couldn’t hold out and found herself smiling back.  “I could get used to this,” she said impulsively.

As they ate, Franky asked Erica about her day.  “It looks like Stuart Roxton will break ties with the firm,” she told her.

“Seriously?” Franky asked with her fork halfway to her mouth.  “Because of Ruby?”  She added just to be sure.  Because of her, was what she meant though. 

“He’s ‘not happy, Jan’,” confirmed Erica.  She saw Franky digest this along with a mouthful of salad.

“What will happen if he walks?” she asked after a moment.  Her green eyes shifted from her meal to Erica.  She wasn’t too keen on the idea that Erica might get fired because of her actions.  Erica’s forgiveness would not be endless.

“Worse case, the firm goes under,” Erica told her with a nervous smile, “best case, I’ll be fired.”

Okay that was worse than she had expected.  She and Erica were sitting on a see-saw it seemed where when her fortunes rose, Erica’s dipped.  “No way they’ll fire you,” she said dismissively. 

Erica smiled at her certainty and wished she had the same confidence. 

After dinner Franky looked for the cat.  She found him hiding under the bed between the boxes curled up on a yoga mat Franky kept under there.  She used it for stretching, not yoga, she had told Erica.  She tried to coax him out with some cheese but he wasn’t interested. 

“Know anything about cats?” she asked Erica when she returned to the lounge and dropped onto the couch putting her head in Erica’s lap and stretching her legs out. 

“They carry fleas,” Erica offered brushing Franky’s hair off her forehead.  Green eyes watched her.

“Great,” Franky replied without enthusiasm.  She grabbed Erica’s hand and pulled it down onto her stomach.  She wanted to ask Erica when she planned to move out of the St Kilda apartment or maybe Mark would move out.  It didn’t matter at the moment with Mark in Sydney but eventually he would come home.  She didn’t ask though.  Instead she closed her eyes and thought about Stuart Roxton.  She’d had an idea.

Erica woke suddenly.  Green eyes were watching her, unblinking and knowing, it was unnerving.  "You can't possibly know," she said quietly.  Ears twitched and a tail flicked.

"Know what?" Franky mumbled as she rolled over and settled against Erica's back sighing happily.

Erica heard purring.  Was that Franky or the cat?  She couldn't be sure.

She moved her hand and the cat's eyes shifted quickly from her to the suspicious lump under the sheet which was alive but still.  He waited, alert but not alarmed.  Erica's eyes grew heavy.  She wasn't sure how much she had missed but suddenly her hand was taken by claws and sharp teeth in a tactical pounce.  She jumped crying out and trying to extract her hand from the vicelike grip.  Her reaction had a twofold effect.  The cat vanished off the side of the bed and Franky woke up with a start.  "What the fuck?" She asked.

"That cat attacked me," Erica said in disbelief. 

"What cat?" Franky asked still dopey from sleep.  Erica inspected her hand.  Even through the sheet she was marked with little red scratches.  Franky remembered.  "He hates us."  She took Erica's hand and brought it to her lips placing light kisses over the wounds.  "Where is he?"  She asked when she'd finished.

"Under the bed I think," Erica thought she had seen a flash of tail head that way.  "Waiting for us to put our feet on the floor," she said ominously.

Franky sat up.  "I need to pee," she said peering over the side of the bed.  "I can't see him," she felt the blood rush to her head and sat up.

Erica watched Franky stand up on the bed and walk to the edge nearest the door.  Her muscles working hard to keep her balanced on the soft surface.  She took a flying leap and landed just short of the doorway which she vanished through immediately.  It drew out the cat and Erica watched as a flash of black and tan darted from beneath the bed to the hallway.

Erica looked for her phone then remembered she had left it out on the kitchen bench charging.  She heard the toilet flush but Franky didn’t appear back in the bedroom.  Erica heard her in the kitchen making coffee. 

She rolled onto her stomach and nestled into her pillow.  She really didn’t want to get up.  She must have fallen asleep because the next thing she knew Franky had straddled her and was sitting on her arse. 

“Are you going to get up?” she asked.

“No,” Erica mumbled into the pillow.  “They can’t fire me if I’m not there,” she said defiantly.

“Coward,” was Franky’s response, “besides haven’t you heard of email and mobile phones?”

“Let’s not go to work,” Erica suggested, “we can stay in bed and you can ravish me.”

Franky found that offer very tempting indeed.  She leant down so her breasts pressed against Erica’s back and her head was next to Erica’s.  “I promise to ravish you tonight,” she said in her ear.  “And you can spend your spare time today wondering exactly what that will involve if you like,” Franky said with a smile in her voice.

“Now who’s the tease?” Erica asked.

Franky just laughed.  “Get up and save your job.”  She climbed off her and slapped Erica on the arse.  Erica hoped it was an indication of what Franky had in mind for the evening.

When Erica dropped her at work, Franky checked her emails and saw Ruby’s trial date had been set.  She didn’t have much time to finalise her defence.  She waited until she heard Stephanie arrive and wandered into her office.

“Morning,” she greeted her boss, “I need some advice,” she said immediately.  “Legal advice, got it?  This isn’t just a conversation, I’m seeking your counsel about a legal matter,” Franky said clearly remembering what Erica had said to her the previous evening.

Stephanie looked at her.  “Okay,” she said slowly wondering if Franky had had too much caffeine.  “What is it?”

“Let’s go and get a coffee,” the young woman suggested.

 Stephanie laughed.  “If you think you can handle it,” she replied. 

Franky looked at her oddly.  “What?” she asked with confusion.

“Nothing Franky, let’s get a coffee,” she agreed with a smile. 

While they waited for their order Franky briefed Stephanie.  “Ruby has now been involved in two separate incidents involving children who have been taken from a seemingly protected environment.  It’s a pattern,” she finished with. 

“You say Ruby denies taking Daisy though,” Stephanie pointed out.  “It’s unlikely anyone other than Rose and Ruby know about this.  The prosecution, if they found it, would have a field day doing exactly what you’re doing, establishing a pattern of behaviour.  But,” Stephanie continued, “Chances are they won’t find it.  Your best strategy is to continue to do what you’ve been doing and show the jury a viable alternative to the prosecution’s theory.  You have a couple of things in your favour, there are no forensics connecting Ruby to the crime, and Ruby herself does not come across as a child murderer.”

“Yeah until Ella turns up,” Franky pointed out.

“You dealt with worse in prison I suspect, how did you manage them?”  Stephanie asked.

“Intimidation, violence, hardly a strategy for this situation,” Franky pointed out.

“Why not?” Stephanie asked, surprising Franky with her comment.  “I’d say that is exactly what Ella needs to be kept in line and,” her mentor continued, “I’d say you were the perfect person to succeed in it.”

Franky remembered their exchange in prison.  She had used threatening behaviour to get Ella talking.  It had worked, she acknowledged.  Stephanie could be right.

“Maybe Ruby did take Henry,” Stephanie broke the silence, “or maybe she didn’t.  Don’t get too hung up on the truth.  Your job is to give her the best defence possible, if you do that then regardless of the outcome, you will be able to sleep at night.”

Franky absorbed this and then said something unexpected.  “I need to borrow your garden tomorrow at 4pm.”

When Franky returned to her office she went immediately to the box of Roxton files and flicked through them until she found Stuart Roxton’s number.  She dialled, sipping her coffee as she waited.

It went through to his voicemail.  “Stuart, it’s Franky Doyle,” she said, “your daughter’s new lawyer, I think we need to talk so how about you give me a call?’  She rattled off her number.  She wondered how long it would take for him to call her back.

Chapter Text

Nick had asked to be reassigned. They had called it a restructure to accommodate changing priorities. Erica found out from Dan though that Nick had spoken with the senior partners the day after they lost Ruby's business.

Her star was falling. Two months ago she had been the golden-haired girl. The senior partners had been fawning over her sending her out to entice new clients to the firm. All men, she had noticed, but at the time it hadn’t bothered her that she was being asked to use her feminine wiles to seduce successful businessmen, metaphorically speaking anyway. It reflected the power she wielded. It wasn’t just her smiles and skirts which brought them in, these were men at the top of their respective industries, they wouldn’t have been sucked in by just a pretty face. It was the combination of brains and beauty that had won them over. Erica was easy on the eyes, sharp as scissors, and as strategic as any of them. It was due to that work that she’d made partner. Then Stuart Roxton had thrown a curve ball at the firm with his daughter’s criminal case and Erica had been there to take control with her unusual experience. She had welcomed it because she knew success would place her at the front of the pack. She had always known though, if she failed, it would finish her.

Today in the partners’ meeting they had announced the restructure leaving her without a dedicated associate. She wasn’t asked to take on any new clients despite the gap in her schedule left by Ruby’s departure. When she had pointed this out she had been told to concentrate on her current clients. Not Stuart Roxton though, they clarified carefully, he would be handled personally by Kenton Brookes.

None of this had surprised Erica but Nick’s slimy, traitorous retreat from the disaster zone had marked him in her eyes as someone to be wary of and distrust. Despite everything Franky had said to her, she still felt Nick had held up that report from the psychiatrist. Then there was his deliberate attempt to undermine Franky’s credibility with her. Now this, getting her to approve his study application one day and jumping ship the next. Three strikes, only he wasn’t out, he was swanning around with Kenton Brookes.

Well, she was still a partner, they hadn’t fired her yet. Stuart Roxton had not formally walked although Erica knew it was imminent. There was only one way to save her job and that was to make sure he didn’t. She had been as good as told not to contact him though.

She rubbed her brow then stood up and went over to the window staring out at the skyline. Well they could forget that, she thought after a while, she might be on the plank walking towards shark infested waters but she wasn’t going blindfolded and with her hands tied behind her back.

She went out to her secretary and asked for all the Roxton files to be brought to her. There were quite a few of them and soon Erica’s desk looked like a fortress of files. When the last of them arrived she said she didn’t want to be disturbed and promptly began working her way meticulously through them gleaning and refreshing her knowledge of Stuart Roxton the businessman.

She worked late into the night skipping meals and surviving on the coffee her secretary brought her then scotch from the stash she kept to share with clients when necessary.

Her phone had rung at some point. It was Franky so instead of ignoring it she answered it.

“I can’t talk,” she said immediately, “I’m busy saving my job.” She heard Franky laugh.

“Okay,” she acknowledged with a smile in her voice, “well, I don’t want to interrupt that.” She had said then proceeded to do exactly that. “I just needed to know,” she went on. “Do you like prawns?”

Erica hadn’t expected that. “Yes, why?” she added.

“What about coriander?”

“Yes,” confirmed Erica.

“Garlic?” Franky continued her list.

“I like everything, Franky,” Erica tried to cut her off at the pass.

“Even tripe?” was Franky’s response.

Erica frowned. “No, I don’t like tripe.”

“So not everything then,” Franky clarified.

“You’re not planning to cook tripe, are you?” Erica asked suddenly uncertain.

“No,” Franky replied with certainty.

“Good,” Erica said picking up another file and opening it. This file related to Stuart selling a property up near the Victoria Markets. There were three bidders. Her eyes noticed one name in particular, Vince Diamond, Franky’s money man. Nick had been handling this transaction so she hadn’t been aware of the players. It was a strange coincidence how his name had come up twice in a matter of months.

“Erica?” Franky’s voice penetrated her thoughts. She didn’t know what Franky had been saying.

“I’ll be working late tonight, and I don’t know what time I’ll finish,” she said then paused, “maybe I should sleep at the apartment tonight,” she suggested.

Franky didn’t want that though. “I’ll leave the door unlocked,” she said, “you can come over whatever time you finish up.” She rang off before Erica could respond.

Even though she had been distracted a part of her mind had registered that she had liked it that Franky had called her on some flimsy excuse just to talk to her.

Now the Mark complication had been dealt with, however painfully, she felt she shouldn’t compartmentalise Franky anymore. Their relationship should be given the room it needed to breathe, grow and flourish. Not that the split from Mark was clean or complete by any means. She had given Mark the briefest of explanations for her departure. She had told him the truth but not the whole truth and nothing but the truth. She hadn’t mentioned Franky. She knew Mark was distracted and once his brother was on the road to recovery he would want more than she had given him. You couldn’t just end a ten year relationship with a five minute conversation, could you?

It was almost midnight before she closed the last file and had the semblance of a plan. She felt back in control of her career. She rubbed her eyes and stretched relieving her back and shoulders of the tension she had been carrying for the past few days. She looked at the scotch bottle and realised she’d drunk too much to drive. She called a taxi.

The driver was Iraqi, one of the many immigrants who had fled from the troubles in that part of the world. He was chatty and despite Erica’s weariness she found herself dragged into a conversation.

“You have big weekend?” he asked after he had exhausted news about his family.

“I’m going to the races,” she offered thinking it was a safe topic.

“Flemington?” he asked. Erica nodded. “My cousin works there as a security guard. He gave me a tip about a horse, you want it?” Erica wondered how many other passengers had received this tip. She smiled though and nodded obligingly. “Its name is,” he paused, “I always forget,” he said, “in the sky, you know?”

Erica didn’t know. “Clouds?” she offered lamely. He shook his head then took a hand off the steering wheel leant forward and pointed out towards the sky. Erica peered out the window. The black sky had a haziness to it. She caught sight of a star. “Star?”

He shook his head. “Like that but not a star.” He said something in Arabic. Great tip, Erica thought as the taxi pulled up outside the Thai restaurant. She handed over her card. “You have good night, lady.” He said with a smile.

The flat was quiet and there was no sign of Franky. A lamp shone softly which gave Erica enough light to navigate. She peered into the bedroom and saw Franky had fallen asleep reading. She went into to the bathroom and prepared for bed.

She slipped between the sheets carefully so as not to disturb Franky. The book on her chest was by Tina Fey and Erica smiled to herself. She eased it out of her hand and leant across Franky to put it on her bedside table and switch off the lamp.

“Look out for the cat,” Franky mumbled and Erica thought she was talking in her sleep until a pair of claws took hold of her feet. She cried out and instinctively pulled her feet up towards her body. That action only invited further attacks. The cat, she realised, had been lurking under the bed waiting with intent.

“Bloody hell!” She didn’t know where it was in the dark. She could feel the scratches stinging. Franky switched on the light. There was no sign of the cat. Erica saw Franky was grinning. “It’s not funny,” she said with a frown, she peered under the sheet to inspect the damage.

“It is funny,” Franky contradicted her still grinning, “because the fucking cat attacked me too.” She pushed back the sheets and showed Erica her own feet which were marked with scratches. “At least he doesn’t play favourites.”

“Small comfort really,” muttered Erica. “Maybe we should shut him out of the bedroom,” she suggested.

“Tried that,” Franky said immediately. “He began scratching under the door then banging on it. At least he’s quiet when he is under the bed.”

“Yes,” agreed Erica, “because he’s plotting his next move.” She lay down and stretched out carefully fearing another attack. She watched Franky who was still sitting up staring at the mirror. “What are you doing?” she asked after a while.

“Nothing,” she said, “I thought maybe we could see the cat in the mirror but he is completely camouflaged under there. Ah!” she said suddenly, “I think I saw his eyes.” She looked down at Erica triumphantly.

“I really need to sleep now,” was Erica’s response.

Franky took the hint and turned off the light then slipped down the bed so she was lying on her side facing Erica. “Good night,” she said, then leant in and kissed her. “Have you been on the booze?” she asked curiously.

Erica couldn’t help smiling, “Yes,” she offered, “not like you mean though.”

“I mean you smell like a brewery,” Franky said. Erica could hear amusement in her voice. “I always knew you were a bad girl deep down.” There was so much truth in that light-hearted comment Erica wasn’t sure how to respond. “Don’t worry nothing you can do will shock me,” Franky reassured her when the silence had stretched to tightrope tension.

There it was. The difference between Franky and her ex-fiancé was that she never thought that Franky would judge her. She always had a sense that she could tell Franky her deepest, darkest, dirtiest desires and she would embrace them.

“I’m just a little disappointed you didn’t invite me on your boozy fun fest,” she added with a yawn.

“I was saving my job,” Erica said firmly.

“Just like any good superhero,” Franky murmured. Erica could tell she was losing the battle with sleep.

“What did you do today then?” She challenged.

“Nothing special,” she mumbled then she was gone, to chase rainbows or fight demons or whatever Franky did in her dreams.

It was four o’clock on Friday afternoon. Lucky people were packing up to go away for the weekend or down to the pub to drink with friends. The rest were clock watching hoping they could slide through the last hour at work without any painful splinters.

Franky was waiting impatiently in Stephanie’s front garden for the green man. It was one of those unexpectedly warm spring days. The sort that tells you summer is just round the corner. Stephanie’s front garden was full of roses and the bees buzzed soporifically amongst the blossom. She waited on a bench in the shade. He would be here soon and she would be another step closer.

Erica arrived at Stuart Roxton’s offices just after four. The traffic had been bad so she was a little late. She hoped he wouldn’t hold it against her. She greeted the efficient receptionist and was told to wait. She replayed her pitch in her mind as she waited. She would get just one shot at this.

Franky saw a green van pull up outside the house. It had Green Thumbs Gardening written on its side. She watched curiously to see a man dressed in bottle green cargo pants and a matching polo neck t-shirt climb out. He was older than she was, maybe in his early forties, tanned from days spent out in the weather with strong arms and large hands. She went onto the path to greet him wondering if she was about to meet Henry's murderer.

Stuart Roxton listened to Erica in silence. She was used to him interjecting, swaying the conversation in the direction he wanted it to go, and moving matters quickly. Today though he did none of those things and she wondered why. Was she too late? Had the decision been made? Was she wasting her breath? She had thought she could persuade him but now she questioned that. People could only be persuaded if they had an open mind. She soldiered on.

"Hi," he greeted her with a smile, "Franky is it? I'm Daz, you need a quote for your garden right?"

Franky nodded and he looked around assessing the potential workload. Franky watched him. First impressions meant nothing to the ex-prisoner. There had been women in prison who had looked and seemed as sweet as barley sugar but were actually poison. She relied on what her instincts told her. Those instincts had saved her life countless times.

"So just lawns, hedging and some light pruning?" He asked, his eyes returning to Franky. They were brown eyes but with a distinctive green fleck in the left one. Franky found it hard to ignore. "I need to see the backyard," he said. She led round the side of the house through the gate. "I used to do a place up the road from here," he offered conversationally, "it's a nice area."

"Whose place was that?" Franky asked as they walked.

"The Pattersons, know them?" Franky shook her head. "It was a while ago, maybe they moved." He walked through Stephanie's well maintained garden. "So probably about three hours work each fortnight," he said at last. "Weekly at this time of year, monthly during winter but it will average out to once a fortnight I expect. I’ll do up a quote if you like.”

“Sure,” Franky agreed. They walked back to his van. Franky pulled out her phone. She only needed one good photo.

Erica waited. She sensed her words had been wasted. Stuart had already decided before she stepped into his office.

“Why did you come here today, Erica?” Stuart Roxton asked at last.

Erica frowned. “Isn’t it obvious?” she asked slowly. “I know you are unhappy with L&B, with me,” she corrected herself, “over Ruby’s defence and her defection. I know you are planning to take your substantial business elsewhere and you must know my tenure at the firm will be short-lived if that happens.”

“Yes,” he agreed, “but your friend has already ensured I will stay with your firm.”

“My friend?” Erica’s confusion was genuine. What was he talking about?

“Friend, colleague,” he used the words interchangeably as though the exact relationship didn’t matter.

“I don’t understand,” Erica was completely at sea. “Has someone else spoken to you from L&B?”

“She’s not from your firm,” Stuart clarified. “She is Ruby’s new lawyer. She convinced me to stay with your firm, with you Erica.”

Franky had been to see Roxton and somehow had found an angle to use to Erica’s advantage. She didn’t want to ask. “How?” The word slipped out anyway.

Stuart Roxton smiled. “I’m a business man, Erica, and she had something to trade.”

Surely Franky hadn’t sold out Ruby but Erica didn’t think there was anything else Franky could possibly trade. Then again, what did she actually know about Franky’s life outside of Ruby and the little glimpses she had caught since meeting her again?

“I need more than that Stuart,” she told him bluntly.

He laughed. “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth, Erica.” Good advice but Erica had no intention of taking it. “I’ll be informing Kenton Brookes on Monday that I want you to handle my business.” He stood up. “Is there anything else?”

Erica left. Her mind was churning through questions without answers. She didn’t understand what had just happened or how Franky had single-handedly reversed her fortunes. It seemed so surreal. She glanced at her watch as she climbed into her car. It was 4.30pm. She tried to call Franky but the call rang out then went to voicemail. She asked Franky to call her.

She didn’t start to worry until it was 10pm and she still hadn’t heard from Franky. She reviewed her options. Call Boomer, call Stephanie, call Amy, do nothing because she was over reacting. It was Friday night. Franky hadn’t told her if she had any plans for the night, maybe she was out drinking or dancing with friends.

She went to the flat but it was locked up and silent. She sat on the top step outside Franky’s front door gave in and called Boomer. It was a fruitless exercise. Boomer hadn’t seen or heard from Franky in days. She couldn’t think where she might be except maybe with Amy. Erica didn’t want to call Amy if she could possibly avoid it so she called Stephanie.

“I haven’t seen her,” Stephanie told her. “She was over here at 4pm though. She wanted to use my garden for something.”

“For what?” Erica asked with surprise.

“No idea, she didn’t say,” Stephanie said immediately.

“And you didn’t ask?” Erica tried to keep the accusatory tone out of her voice. It seemed an obvious thing to do.

Stephanie laughed. “We are talking about Franky here,” she pointed out, “she keeps things close to her chest, even if I had asked she wouldn’t have told me.”

Erica thought about Stuart Roxton and Ruby and silently agreed. Franky liked to act first and explain later. “Was it to do with Ruby?”

“Possibly, we had been talking about Ruby just before she asked to use the garden,” Stephanie explained.

Erica wondered. The green man worked for one of those garden maintenance companies, she had seen that from the photo Franky had shown her. What if Franky had decided to try and find him? What if her hunches had proved correct and Franky had gone looking for a murderer? What if something had gone wrong?

“Erica?”

“I’ve got to go,” she replied to the question in Stephanie’s voice. “Call me if you hear from her.”

With reluctance she decided she had to speak to Amy. She was still annoyed with the police officer for betraying her confidence to Franky over Alan Doyle but it did show where her loyalties lay. If anyone could help her track down Franky then it would be Amy. She didn’t have her number so she went to police station where she had met her previously and hoped she’d be on duty.

It was Friday night and the station was bedlam with drunk and disorderly arrests. Erica had a hard time attracting anyone’s attention. Finally she managed to catch the eye of the sergeant. She asked for Amy. “Out in the squad car,” she was told. She asked how she could get in touch with her. “Wait here, she’s bringing in an arrest,” he informed her.

Twenty minutes later Erica saw Amy walk in with a couple of drunk men with blood oozing out of cuts on their faces. The blonde handed them over explaining the charge to the duty officer. The sergeant spoke to her and Amy looked across to where Erica was waiting. Her expression was a mixture of curiosity and dislike. She came over though.

“Didn’t expect to see you again,” she opened with.

“I need you to do something for me,” Erica said ignoring the tone.

“Yeah? Not sure I can help you,” was all she said.

“Can you at least hear me out?” Erica asked with frustration. Amy shrugged. “Have you heard from Franky today?”

Amy grinned. “Had another domestic, have you? That girl’s wasted on you.” Erica was silent. “Well, even if I had I wouldn’t tell you where she was, sweetheart,” she said with certainty.

“She’s missing,” that wiped the smile off her face quick enough.

“What do you mean?”

Erica filled her in. “Franky told me you were able to trace Boomer using her mobile phone,” she finished with. “Can you try and trace Franky’s phone?”

Amy frowned. “Wait here,” was all she said.

It took another twenty minutes before Amy reappeared. “I’ve got an address,” she said. “We’ll send a car out there.”

“I’m coming too,” Erica said immediately.

“I don’t think so,” Amy replied firmly. “We don’t know what we’ll find there.”

“I don’t care, you’re not going without me,” Erica insisted. It was a battle of wills

“Forget it,” the police officer replied. Erica stared at her, willing her to cave, but those brown eyes just returned the stare unyielding and unmoved by Erica’s determination. It was frustrating.

“All right,” she agreed at last. “You’ll call me though, and let me know what you find?” she asked.

Amy nodded and Erica wrote down her mobile number. She walked back to her car and waited until she saw a police car pull out into the traffic. Amy was in the passenger seat. Erica followed at a discreet distance.

If Amy thought she was going to wait patiently by the phone she was dreaming. She’d worked in a prison for fuck’s sake, it wasn’t like she needed to be protected from potentially dangerous situations. And, she thought with annoyance, Franky was her girlfriend not Amy’s, so – well she wasn’t exactly sure what that meant in this scenario but bloody hell it should mean something.

The address they pulled up at looked respectable and Erica’s black Audi with the lights switched off slid to an unobserved stop across the street one house up. She watched the police officers approach the front of the house. She couldn’t see the front entry from her position or who had opened the door. Suddenly she picked up her phone and dialled Franky’s number. It was ringing in her ear.

Then she heard it faintly ringing somewhere nearby. She got out of her car and followed the sound. She and Amy converged on the vibrating, ringing phone at the same time. It was lying on the grass under a lavender bush near the driveway. Abandoned.

Erica looked towards the house and saw Stephanie Wilkinson hovering just outside the entry. She realised that this wasn’t where Franky was now. It was where she had been before she had vanished into thin air.

Chapter Text

Franky thought in hindsight she might have got away with the photo but specifically mentioning Henry to see the green man's reaction had pushed her luck to breaking point.  He had knocked the phone out of her hand and when she had bent down to retrieve it he had hit her from behind. 

Stupidity, that's what they could write on her coffin.  Here lies Franky Doyle.  Limited in life only by her own stupidity.   If Boomer wrote it though it would read, fuckin’ stupid ay! 

The vehicle took a sudden left turn causing Franky to roll roughly.  Her head hurt.  Her hands were tied.  When had he done that? Then she answered her own question.  Presumably when he had flung her into the back of the van like a sack of potatoes.  She had passed out but not for long surely.

She pulled at her restraints and they dug into her wrists.  She manoeuvred herself into a sitting position and looked for something that could cut her bonds.  There were pruning saws, pruning shears then she saw a chain saw.  Perfect except the blade had a cover on it and Franky was pretty sure she couldn’t remove it with her hands tied.  She settled instead for the pruning shears.  She got onto her knees swaying ominously with the van's motion.  Without the use of her arms balancing was difficult.  She shuffled towards the tool.  She lost her balance when the van slowed then came to an abrupt halt.  Shit!  She needed more time to free herself.  She wanted to be ready for him when he opened the door.  She struggled upright again and continued towards the shears only to face plant again when the van moved off again.  They were in traffic she realised. 

It seemed to take forever to get hold of those shears and manipulate them with her fingers so she could use them.  At first she tried to cut the cord but it wasn’t easy with the shears to get the right angle and compress the handles.  So she switched to using one sharp edge to rub against the twine.  This worked better but it took time to cut through.  The shears would slip or miss the cord and cut at her wrist or hand.  She persevered.  It took all her concentration.  She noticed at some point they had stopped slowing and stopping.  It made her task easier.  The final cut came unexpectedly and suddenly she had the use of her arms again.  She looked at her wrists which were chaffed and sore from the twine that had bound them. 

She wondered where he was taking her.  None of this was planned so he could be panicking unsure what to do with her.  Leaving her in the back of the van, even unconscious, would be risky for any length of time.  There were plenty of weapons at hand.  She hadn't realised how many dangerous implements were hiding in the average gardening shed. 

There was no window between the driver's cabin and the back of the van so he couldn't see her and she couldn't see him.  She looked around.  Franky didn't want to fight him if she could avoid it.  Maybe the door was unlocked and she could step out the next time the van slowed for a corner or a red light but, she realised, the van's journey had been straight and continuous for some time now.  It was as though they were on a highway.

She searched through the paraphernalia which had collected randomly in the back of the van and found a pruning knife which was small but sharp.  It would have cut her restraints in no time.  It reminded her of the weapons she'd used in prison and it felt comfortable in her hand.  Just then the van slowed and turned onto a rougher surface.  It hit a pot hole and Franky was thrown forward landing painfully on top of the chainsaw.  She dropped the knife.

As she scrambled to reach it from where it had slid into the corner, the van suddenly stopped and the engine was cut.  More desperately she reached forward, her ribs hurt from the fall, but finally her fingers clasped the weapon and she pulled it to her.  She had no time to plan anything.  So she played dead.

It was Stephanie who suggested they go into the office and see if Franky’s whiteboard could give them any clues to the green man’s identity.  Erica agreed because action was better than inaction and she wasn’t convinced the police would take Franky’s disappearance seriously regardless of her connection with Amy.

Despite the circumstances Erica was curious to see where Franky worked.  The office was small and unpretentious.  It was also quite sparse.  Some law books lined a shelf but there were no personal items other than a water bottle on the desk.  Franky’s whiteboard was covered in neat writing but there was nothing on it which identified the green man.  Erica noticed Franky’s legal pad on her desk and went over to it.  She picked it up and realised Franky was a doodler when she was on the phone.  She saw her own name scribbled repeatedly in one corner of the pad then Stuart Roxton’s name along with a time then she saw Green Thumbs Gardening followed by Friday, 4pm.  She showed it to Stephanie.

“That must be his firm,” Stephanie agreed.  She pulled out her phone and googled the name.

“Look for a mobile number,” Erica suggested.  At this time of night no one would be answering an office phone but a mobile was a different matter.  Stephanie read it out and Erica dialled. 

It rang, four times, eight times, surely voicemail would kick in any second, she thought anxiously.  On the tenth ring a male voice answered.

“Is that Green Thumbs Gardening?”  Erica asked quickly then proceeded to fill him in before he had a chance to hang up.

“I don’t have my appointment book with me,” he said when she’d finished.  “I don’t know who your friend might have met at four today.”  Disappointment flooded through Erica.  She looked at the whiteboard.

“He works at the Small Friends Day-care centre as well,” she said suddenly noticing it written up there in green pen.

“Well that would be either Rob or Daz,” he said with certainty.  “Except Rob is on holidays this week so it must be Daz.”

“Can I have his number?”  Erica held her breath.  She picked up Franky’s legal pad and gestured to Stephanie to find a pen.

There was a pause.  “Look, I’m not giving out his number,” he said firmly, “but I’ll call him and ask if your friend kept their appointment and if she gave any indication where she was going next.  I’ll call you back on this number.”

Erica had to be content with that.  She sat down in Franky’s chair and waited.  “I suppose it’s possible Franky has mislaid her phone and just gone out with friends.”  She said into the silence.

“Franky wouldn’t survive ten minutes without her phone,” Stephanie pointed out.  “So if she lost it then realised she didn’t have it what would she do?”

“Ring it,” Erica said immediately.  She pulled out Franky’s phone and scrolled the call register.  The only missed calls were from Erica.  She looked at Stephanie and shook her head.  Her phone rang.

“He’s not answering,” he told her. 

Erica frowned.  “What’s his name?” she asked at last.

He didn’t respond immediately.  She held her breath.  They were about to hit a dead end.  “It’s Darren Lock,” he said at last.  She didn’t know why he had offered that information when he had been so reluctant to give out his number but she was grateful.

“Thank you,” she said with relief.  “Can you call me if you hear from him?”

She rang off and told Stephanie what she had found out.  “What now?” the older woman asked.

“I’m going to call Amy,” Erica said immediately.  “She might be able to get an address or something from the police database.”  She dialled the number the police officer had given her earlier.

Problem-solving was what Erica did best.  Amy didn’t see it like that.  “You need to leave this to the police,” she said firmly.

“I would if I had any confidence the police were actually doing anything,” Erica replied with frustration.

“There are protocols in place,” Amy responded.  “Most people reported as missing turn up within twenty-four hours.”

“Fine, your hands are tied, I get it but mine aren’t so you can either help me find Franky or you can follow your precious protocols,” and fuck off!  She didn’t have to say it out loud for the message to be loud and clear.  “I’ll let Franky know how helpful you’ve been when I find her,” she added as the sting in the tail.

She heard Amy sigh.  “Okay,” she said at last.  “I’ll see what I can find out but it could take a while.”

Erica sat down again.  "She’s looking into it," she told Stephanie.  Now she didn't have anything she could do to help Franky her mind latched onto her dilemma.  Where the hell was Franky?  She must have met with this Darren Lock because they’d found her phone at Stephanie’s place but what then?  Maybe she was already dead, lying somewhere, her body waiting to be found but her essence already gone.  She thought about their last conversation.

She had been cleaning her teeth in the bathroom when Franky had appeared and leant against the doorframe watching her in the mirror.

"What is it?"  Erica asked through a mouthful of spearmint toothpaste.

"I've been thinking," Franky said.  Erica watched her. "It's not very smart to leave the door unlocked so I wanted to give you this."  She held out her spare key. 

Erica looked at it then looked at Franky.  She looked nonchalant about it.  Maybe it was nothing more than a practical solution to a potential problem.  She rinsed then turned to face Franky.  The scratches were still there on her neck but not as angry now.  "I can't move in here," she said in a rush.  It had come out wrong.  She saw Franky straighten and drop her arm back to her side.

"I wasn't asking you to," she said.  She sounded defensive, hurt by the suggestion.

Erica attempted to repair the damage.  "I just mean I'm not ready.  I need some distance between Mark and us."  The look on Franky's face told her she probably hadn't made things any better. "I don't want to mess this up."  She pleaded with a frown.

Franky studied her.  Those green eyes were dark and thoughtful.  "Okay," she said at last.  "I'm going to leave the key on the bench.  When you're ready you can put it on your key ring.  How does that sound?"

Erica smiled with relief.  "It sounds good."

Now she wished she had taken that key.  She knew her reaction that morning had disappointed Franky.  She had surprised her though and her initial response was to put the brakes on.  It was habit.  She'd been doing it with Mark for years.  She sighed.   Now Franky had disappeared and the key seemed so trivial in the grand scheme of things. 

She thought about where she would be if Franky hadn't turned up at her law firm.  She'd be about to get married knowing it wasn't what she wanted but doing it anyway.  Franky had changed her life, saved her from herself, and there was a real possibility she wouldn't be around to hear Erica tell her that.   She put her head in her hands.

Franky's phone started ringing.  Both women looked at it then each other.  Erica picked it up and looked at the screen.  It was a blocked number.  She answered it.

"Hello?" She said tentatively.

"Erica?" Franky sounded surprised. 

"Franky!"  Erica stood up.  "Where are you?"

"No idea, I'm on a public phone in the middle of nowhere, I didn't even know these things existed anymore."  Erica heard her laugh and relief washed over her. 

"Okay, we'll find you.  Is there a number on the phone?" 

"Um," there was silence for a minute.  "There's a phone cabinet ID," she said at last.  She rattled it off.

Erica wrote it down.  "Okay, sit tight," she said then added, "What happened?”

“It’s a long story,” Franky’s voice sounded weary, “I’ll tell you when you get here.”

“Are you okay?" Erica asked with concern.

"Yeah," she paused, "but I think I might have killed someone."

Fucking hell!  "Franky, don't say anything to anyone until I get there," Erica switched into lawyer mode.  "Okay?" 

“Sure,” she agreed, “no one here to tell anyway.”

Erica found a website that allowed you to search for public phones by location or ID number.  She plugged in the number Franky had given her.  “Bloody hell, she’s in the middle of nowhere,” Erica exclaimed when the location came up. 

“Do you want me to come with you?” Stephanie asked.

“No, it’s okay, I’ve got this,” Erica said with a reassuring smile.  “You go home.  I’ll text you when I find her so you know she’s okay if you like.”  Stephanie nodded and Erica was reminded of all those weeks ago when Stephanie had told her to go home to her fiancé when Franky was in the hospital.  How things had changed since then, she thought with a smile, well some things anyway.  Franky still seemed to be getting herself into trouble but Erica suspected she would just have to get used to that.

It took her over an hour to drive out to where Franky was waiting even with the light traffic at that time of night.  When she arrived there was no sign of Franky.  She got out of the Audi leaving the engine running and the lights on.  She looked around.  The phone booth was in one of those rest areas the government put in along highways to encourage drivers to rest, revive, survive.  In terms of facilities there wasn’t much there apart from the phone and a picnic table.  Erica peered into the darkness.  There was rustling in the undergrowth beyond the glow of the headlights. 

“Franky?” she called softly.  She saw her appear from behind a large gum tree and walk towards the car.  The sight of her was enough to make Erica’s heart tighten in her chest.  Franky looked no worse for wear but as she got closer Erica noticed her top was smeared with blood.  “What happened to you?”  She asked with dread.

Franky followed her eyes and noticed the blood.  “It’s not mine,” she said immediately. 

Erica pulled her close, hugging her tightly.  “I’ve never been so happy to see someone,” she said sincerely, “as I am right now.” 

Franky returned the hug.  “Right back at you,” she said with a smile.

“So whose blood is it?”  Erica asked as she pulled away.

“It’s the green man’s,” Franky said and she looked worried.

 “You killed the green man?”  Erica asked in disbelief.  “What happened?”

Franky frowned.  “I think I have,” she said with a sigh.  “The van stopped and I lay down in the back pretending I was still unconscious.  When he leaned over me I stabbed him with a knife I’d found in the back.  He recoiled and fell out the back of the van.  I left him lying there while I checked the ignition for keys but I realised the reason why we’d stopped was one of the front tires had punctured.  I had intended to take the van but it wasn’t drivable so I walked towards the back of the van and he surprised me swinging a shovel at my head.”  Erica couldn’t see any damage.  “His balance was out though, probably because of the wound in his side, and he missed me.  I managed to get the shovel off him and in the struggle I whacked him over the head.  He went down heavy and I don’t think he’ll be getting up again.”  She said it with resignation.  She knew the consequences of violent behaviour. 

“Franky, can you remember where you left him?” She nodded.  “Then I think we should go back there and check if he really is dead.”  Erica said decisively. 

“Okay,” Franky agreed.  She climbed in the passenger seat and put her feet up on the dash.  For once she was happy for Erica to take control.

As she drove Erica thought about what Franky had said to her.  She’d been kidnapped and restrained.  If she had killed this man then there was a good case for self-defence.  Going against Franky though, would be her previous conviction for intentionally causing serious injury.  “It’ll be okay,” she said suddenly.  “Whatever we find, it will be okay,” she said with certainty.

Franky smiled half-heartedly.  Maybe she was tired but she couldn’t see how it was going to be okay.  She appreciated Erica’s attempts to reassure her though.  The clock on the dash read two am.  She stared ahead watching the road markings skip past and the gum trees light up for a brief moment before disappearing into the darkness again.

Franky had walked from where she had left the van to the rest area.  It had taken her almost five hours.  Some cars had passed her during that walk but none had stopped for her.  Nothing to distract her from her thoughts. Reliving how the green man had fallen, remembering how Meg Jackson had fallen. Two deaths at her door. It was wrong what people said, it didn't get easier, not to live with the knowledge you had taken a life. It had taken all her mental strength not to curl up in a ditch and wait until morning. 

After a while she told Erica to turn right onto a dirt road.  “The van should be just round this bend so go slowly,” Franky instructed.

When they rounded the bend there was no sign of the van though.  “Are you sure this was the track?”  Erica asked staring at the empty road which disappeared into darkness.

“Yeah,” Franky said slowly.  “Go further up,” she said.  The Audi rolled forward slowly but after five minutes there had still been no sign of the van. 

Erica stopped the car.  “Well, the good news is that I don’t think you killed him,” she said, looking at Franky’s profile.  “The bad news is that he has probably skipped town and we’ll never find him.”

“I should have taken the fucking keys,” Franky said in frustration.  Stupid, she thought for the second time that day.

Erica put her hand on Franky’s leg.  “Don’t beat yourself up,” she said with a smile.  “You did pretty well just to escape.”  Franky muttered some unintelligible.  “I’m going to take you home.”

Erica sent two text messages, the first to Stephanie and the second to Amy telling them Franky had been found safe and unharmed. 

Franky thought about the green man as they drove back to the city.  She wondered what he had planned to do with her, whether he would have killed her or just ditched her in the middle of nowhere.  Ironically her time in prison had prepared her well for the situation.  The skills she had learnt inside, how to defend herself, how to disarm someone, how to fashion items into weapons and use them effectively.  More importantly, it had given her the mental strength and fortitude not to be downhearted or defeated by incarceration.  She had been in a tight spot but she had always backed herself to get out of it alive. 

She thought about Henry, found lying in the bush, the autopsy had indicated he hadn’t been dead when he’d been left there.  He hadn’t had the skills to survive.  Maybe the green man planned to leave her to die in the scrub too.  It didn’t matter now.  She knew for certain that Ruby hadn’t taken Henry and now all that mattered was convincing a jury.

It was almost four am when they arrived back at the flat.  The cat had demonstrated his displeasure at being deserted for so long by leaving a little deposit in the bathroom.  While Franky cleaned it up, Erica picked up the key from the corner of the bench and slipped it onto her key ring.

In the dark, under the covers with Franky’s warm body tucked against her own she said softly, “I don’t want to disappoint you.”

Franky’s arm tightened around her.  “You could never disappoint me,” she whispered, “don’t you know that?”

“Even if I tell you I hate that cat?”  She heard Franky chuckle.  “You went to see Stuart Roxton,” she said after a while.  Franky didn’t answer and she wondered if she was asleep.  “He said you did a trade.”

Franky wasn’t asleep.  “You want to talk about this now?” she asked eventually.

“No, but I do want to talk about it Franky,” she heard a sigh.

“Is your job safe?” she asked sleepily.

“It is, thanks to you,” Erica answered.  “I just hope you didn’t have to sell your soul to save it.”

Franky was silent.  It wasn’t quite that bad, she thought, but it was close.

Chapter Text

Erica was woken by someone banging loudly on the front door.  Franky was dead to the world.  She must be exhausted to sleep through this racket, Erica thought as she slipped out of bed carefully so as not to disturb her.  She pulled on some clothes and looked at Franky's sleeping form.  What she could see of it which wasn't much.  Franky was curled up on her side under the covers, with only a small amount of dark hair exposed to the world.  She was facing away from Erica.  The banging began again.

Erica walked out of the bedroom and went to the front door.  When she opened it she was surprised to see Boomer dressed in heels, a fascinator and a sleeveless purple dress patterned with large white and yellow flowers.  Erica looked at her.  Once the initial shock had worn off she acknowledged Boomer looked more stylish than she usually did.

"You're not dressed," Boomer said taking in Erica's attire.  "Aren't you coming to the races?"

The races, she'd forgotten about them.  She looked at the clock on the microwave.  It was ten am.  "We're not going to the races today," Erica said firmly.  She thought Franky needed to recover from her ordeal.  A quiet day bumming around the flat was on the agenda.

"What about the money?" Boomer asked with a confused expression.

"What money?" Erica asked equally confused.

"Vince Diamond's money," Boomer said as though it was obvious, as though Erica should know about the money.  And she did know about the loan but she didn't understand how the races connected to it.  So she asked.  "Easiest way to double your money is at the races." Erica was no better informed by this statement and she said so.  "Franky has to pay Vince Diamond $20,000 and she doesn't have it."

"So you're going to the races to make twenty grand?" Erica said, finally catching on.

"Yeah," Boomer confirmed as though it was obvious. 

"Well that's a crazy idea," Erica stated in disbelief.

"Yeah? Well do you have a better one?" Boomer asked aggressively.  "Coz Franky is in a whole lot of shit if she doesn't either get the money or the info."

"What info?" Erica asked, confused again.  Talking to Boomer was like watching a foreign film with only half the subtitles.

Boomer shut up.  Suddenly, she realised that perhaps Erica was not in the loop, that Franky hadn't told her about the information her firm held and Vince Diamond wanted.  Suddenly Erica seemed more like the Governor and less like Franky's girlfriend.

"What info Sue?" Erica asked again when she noticed Boomer clam up.  Boomer shrugged and studied her freshly painted finger nails.  "Fine," she said at last.  "I'll ask Franky."

She went into the bedroom and found the cat had curled up against Franky and was washing itself happily.  It stopped abruptly and looked at her with his pink tongue sticking out slightly.  After a moment it went back to washing itself, clearly believing possession was nine tenths of the law.  He had claimed the bed and Franky and that was the end of it.  Erica opened the blinds and bright sunshine flooded into the room.  Both Franky and the cat rolled and blinked put out by the sudden intrusion into their respective activities. 

Unlike the cat though Franky smiled when she saw Erica bathed in sunlight standing at her bedside.  "Hey," she said, "what are you doing dressed?"

"I had to answer the door," Erica said watching Franky.

"I think you should come back to bed," she said not particularly interested in the answer to her question.  "I owe you a ravishing," she said with a grin. 

"Boomer's here," was all Erica said.

"She won't care," Franky said dismissively.  Boomer had been gate-keeper many a time for Franky and Kim. 

"To go to the races with us," Erica continued, "to win the twenty grand you need to pay back Vince Diamond."  Franky's eyes shifted from Erica to the cat.  She patted him absently.  "Do you want to tell me what's going on?"  Franky was silent.  "What information does Vince Diamond want you to get?" She asked slowly. 

"It doesn't matter," Franky said and continued to pat the cat.  It reminded Erica of times in her office at Wentworth when she wanted information that Franky had no intention of giving.

"I'm not the Governor," Erica said suddenly.  "I'm your girlfriend."  That made Franky look up.  "So will you please tell me what is going on?"

"Say that again," Franky said looking serious, Erica shook her head slightly, confused.  "About being my girlfriend," Franky prompted.

"I'm your girlfriend," Erica repeated blankly.  Franky grinned.  "Are you stalling?"  She asked after a moment.

Franky sat up.  The cat looked disconcerted. "Okay girlfriend, come here and sit down."  She said patting the bed in front of her.  She grabbed her shoulder and pulled down on it stretching her back while she waited.  "If you call me your girlfriend I'll tell you anything you want," she offered.

"That's coercion," Erica said teasingly but she sat down across from Franky.  “And I thought you didn’t believe in labels,” she reminded her with raised eyebrows.

Those green eyes looked steadily at her.  "Just say it," she demanded.

"You're my girlfriend," Erica said softly, seriously.  Franky's smile stretched across her face.  She leant in and kissed Erica.  "Happy now?" Her girlfriend asked pulling away.  She was smiling.

"Very happy," Franky said pushing Erica backwards onto the bed causing the cat to meow in protest then disappear.  She followed Erica pinning her hands to the bed and holding her there watching her with impish eyes.

"So what's the story?" Erica asked refusing to be distracted by those eyes and that smile.

Franky sighed, rolled away from her and stared at the ceiling.  "When I went to pay Vince Diamond he changed the deal.  I could either get some information for him about a bid for a building he was involved in or pay double what I owe him." Franky stated the facts without emotion. 

Erica made the connection quickly.  Much more quickly than Franky had expected.  "The building near the Vic Markets," she guessed, "which Stuart Roxton owns."  She turned her head to look at Franky.

"I don't want to have to steal information from your firm, from you," Franky rolled onto her side resting her head in her hand and looking at Erica.  "So you see how important it is for me to get the money."

Erica dreaded asking the question.  "What did you give Stuart Roxton as a trade for his staying with L&B?"

Franky's expression looked uncomfortably serious.  "Information on Vince Diamond," she said at last.  "His intention to corrupt the bid, his drug dealing activities,"

"You sold out Vince Diamond?" Erica said in disbelief.  "Just to save my job?"  Then when she didn't get a response.  "Fucking hell Franky!" She exclaimed with exasperation.  "Do you want to get yourself killed?"  She stood up putting a hand on her hip and rubbing her brow.   "Vince Diamond is dangerous.  He kills people who double cross him."

"You don't sound very grateful," was all Franky said.  She was watching Erica getting all het up, looking worried and she knew it was about her.  Erica was angry because she was worried about what might happen to her.

"What else?" Erica demanded.  Franky watched her carefully.  "There had to be something else for Stuart Roxton to agree," she said.  From all she had seen of the businessman she knew him to be a wily negotiator.  He wouldn't have settled for just that.

Franky had a clever girlfriend she realised with resignation.  "I have to plant some information with Diamond when I hand back the money.  Info I supposedly got trawling through the files at your offices."

"What if he works out what you're up to?"  Erica asked, no longer angry just afraid.  She sat down on the bed again.  Franky sat up cross legged watching Erica. 

"I can look after myself," Franky reminded her.  She took Erica's hands in her own and smiled at her.  "You look adorable when you're worried."  She couldn't help saying.  "Trust me, it will be okay," she added when Erica didn't respond.  "But first I have to get the twenty grand so let's go to the races and make some money." She got up.  "I feel lucky today." 

Flemington Race Course was alive with crowds of well-dressed men and women intent on having a good time and enjoying the spectacle.  The attraction of horse racing was that it didn't discriminate between class or creed.  Anyone with a dollar had the chance to win.  The excitement of watching the horse you picked fly to the front of the field could only be surmounted if you owned the horse yourself.

Franky was studying the form guide.  She was looking for a sure thing.  She had found a spot tucked away from the bustle so she could concentrate. Erica had gone to buy drinks and Boomer had gone to find the food stands.  The form guide took a while for Franky to navigate but eventually she worked out what the numbers all meant.  She found a horse in race five that had three to one odds which looked the goods.  It was called Absolutely Nothing which seemed like a stupid name for a race horse but presumably it wasn't living up to its name with those short odds.

This decided, she looked up to watch for Erica.  The other enjoyable pastime at the races was crowd watching.  Women were looking their best in stylish summer dresses with bare arms and legs, insane heels considering they would be on their feet all day and ridiculous hats.  Franky admired their figures but had to laugh at their headwear.  It seemed the more outrageous the item the better.  Franky had refused to wear one despite Boomer producing a purple fascinator for her which she had spare.  She was dressed simply in a figure hugging white sleeveless dress which had a band of black running up each side to emphasise her curves.  She wore open toed black heels that gave definition to her calves but would probably also give her blisters before the day was over.

She caught a glimpse of Erica in the crowd.  She was looking classy in a simple navy and white dress with capped sleeves and a flared skirt.  She'd put her hair up and was wearing a broad brimmed navy hat tilted slightly to the side.  Maybe she was biased but the hat really worked on Erica.  She was carrying a bottle of champagne and three glasses.

"Picked your winner?" She asked as Franky rescued the bottle from her.

"I think so," Franky replied with a smile which made Erica wonder if she was talking about the races.

"Where's Boomer?" She asked as Franky popped the cork on the champagne and poured two glasses. 

"Finding food," Franky said.  She touched her glass to Erica's.

"Good luck!"  "To freedom!" They said in unison then laughed admiring each other over the rim of their glasses.

Boomer turned up not long afterwards.  She had buckets of chips and a tip.  "There is a horse in the sixth called Freedom we should back," she said immediately.

Franky looked at her form guide.  "We're not backing that," she canned the idea.  "It's 30 to 1."

Boomer looked disappointed.  "But the name is perfect," she made her case.

Erica poured her a glass of champagne.  "Can I have a look?" She asked and Franky handed her the form guide. 

"Okay, here's what we're going to do," Franky instructed.  "Each of us will take a third of the money and spread it round the bookies but don't take odds less than two to one, okay?"  Boomer nodded.

Erica had spotted a horse called Comet in the last race of the day.  She remembered her friendly taxi driver and wondered if this was the horse he was trying to recall.  It was in the sky and kind of like a star.  There was also a horse called Stardust in the same race.  It could be either of these. 

"I don't know anything about betting," she said, "but aren't we better off backing the first five horses in the race rather than putting all our eggs in one basket?"  She looked from Franky to Boomer.  "That way we've got more chances to win."

"But what if the 2-1 comes in, in your scenario we wouldn't have enough money on it to make twenty grand," Franky pointed out. 

Erica shrugged.  "I guess," she acknowledged, "but what if it doesn't? You've blown all your money."

"True but even backing five horses doesn't guarantee a win," Franky argued.

"If we backed every horse in the race then we would definitely win," Erica countered with.

"Yes but then we've spread the money even thinner." Franky answered.  "So still a problem if a short odds horse comes in."

Boomer yawned.  “Don't you two sound like a couple of lawyers in love!" She drained her glass and held it out for more champagne oblivious to the awkward pause she'd created.

Franky busied herself pouring Boomer more champagne.  "Okay," Erica conceded quickly to move the conversation on.  "We back the favourite."  She glanced surreptitiously at Franky wondering what she thought of Boomer's clanger.   Franky was avoiding her eye though.  "There must be easier ways to make $10,000."  She sipped her champagne.  "Like getting a loan," she suggested with raised eyebrows.

Franky grinned equally relieved to be putting some distance between Boomer’s insight and the rest of her life.  "Yeah but isn’t this more fun?"  She asked raising her eyebrows at Erica and sticking out her tongue.

Two hours later she wasn't smiling.  Absolutely Nothing was doing exactly that on the track. It had started badly then had to swing wide to have any chance of getting round the traffic and it became clear at the top of the straight its race was over. Only Boomer continued to encourage it until the bitter end. 

"Fucking hell!" She muttered.  "Fucking useless horse!"  She tossed her stubs into a nearby bin.  "I knew this was a bad idea." She said accusingly to Boomer.

"Nah, it was a good idea, you just picked the wrong horse," Boomer defended herself.

"Well let's see how well your fucking horse does then," Franky challenged her.  She downed her champagne in one hit and grabbed the bottle.

Erica looked on with concern. She pulled Boomer aside.  "Keep an eye on her," she said quietly.  Boomer nodded.  She would always look out for Franky.  Erica slipped away into the crowd.

"So you and the Gov are getting pretty serious, huh?" Boomer fished.  She stole the champagne bottle off Franky and filled her glass.

"None of your business, Booms," Franky replied.

"Only she's not wearing her engagement ring anymore," Boomer continued not at all put out by her friend's tone. 

"How's your job going?" Franky asked.  She emptied the last of the champagne into her glass.  She’d lost count of the number of bottles they had gone through.

"Well they sacked me from the lingerie section," Boomer admitted.  "Apparently I told too many customers their breasts were past their best."  Franky laughed so hard she bumped into the group of people next to them.  She apologised in an off-hand manner.  "So they've put me on security, ay." Boomer seemed pretty happy about that and oblivious to the irony of it.

"Hey, you wanna watch it," a guy from the group next to them tapped Franky on the shoulder.  "You almost pushed my girlfriend over."

Franky grabbed his arm and pushed him backwards with it.  "Fuck off," she said aggressively. 

He shook her off.  "Dumb bitch," he muttered turning back to his friends.

"Hey!" Franky called after him.  "I'm smarter than a dumb fuck like you!"

This drew the attention of the crowd.  People were getting drunk but happily drunk.  Franky's anger disconcerted everyone.  No one wanted things to get anti-social.

"Francesca," she turned at the sound of the name she hated.  "Didn't think you'd be an untidy drunk," his smile spoke volumes.

"Fuck off Nick," she muttered. 

"What and miss the spectacle you're making of yourself?  No way!"  Nick Hammond shook his head.  He was dressed in a slim fitting well-cut suit and looked the trendy shallow arsehole she knew him to be.  "I guess you can take the girl out of prison but you can't take prison out of the girl."

"That's right so unless you want your smug face wearing a tattoo of my fist, you'll fuck off out of my space," Franky said with deadly earnest. 

He laughed.  "Just try it," he goaded. 

Franky didn't get the chance.  Boomer moved in from the side and landed a punch squarely on his nose.  He never saw it coming.  The second punch drew blood.  Franky looked on in delight.  "Go Booms!" She cheered.

People pulled Boomer off Nick but not before she had managed to land a couple more punches.  The police arrived to manage the disturbance.  One of them was PC Amy Wilson.  She told her partner she'd handle things and pulled Franky aside.  "What's going on?" She asked quietly.  Franky shrugged.  "Who started it?"

"Not me and Booms," Franky said immediately.  "We were having a quiet chat, minding our own business when that arsehole started bothering us," Franky waved her hand at Nick.

Amy recognised him.  "Isn't he the guy from the bar that night?" She asked curiously. 

Franky nodded. "He's stalking me." The police officer went over to the injured unhappy Nick Hammond. 

"I want her charged," he said immediately, through the hanky that was soaked in blood.

"I'm not sure you want that, sir," Amy corrected him.  "You see, the woman over says you're stalking her and I recall seeing you at a bar a few weeks ago harassing her.  So it might be better for you if you just put this one down to experience."  She smiled.   "That's a nasty injury," she continued.  "Are you telling me a woman inflicted that on you?"  She waited and when he didn't respond.  "Some people would find that hard to believe," she suggested. 

He shook his head.  "This is discrimination," he muttered.

"Well it's a bit hard to discriminate against a guy like you when we live in a patriarchal society skewed to advantage young educated Anglo Saxon males, don't you think?" She pointed out with raised eyebrows. She suggested he visit the St John Ambulance volunteers to seek medical assistance.

Boomer noticed the jockeys were mounting for the next race.  She lost interest in the crowd and turned her attention to the track.  Franky was still watching Amy who was talking quietly to her partner gesturing occasionally to Franky and then to Nick.  She hoped Amy was convincing him there was nothing to pursue.  Boomer didn't need another assault charge against her.

Amy came across to Franky.  "Okay," she said, "I have to give your friend a caution but I've managed to convince him not to press charges."  Franky nodded with relief.  "You can thank me later," she said with a smile and a wink.  "Sexy dress."

"How come we were lucky enough to get you?" Franky asked grateful for Amy's intervention.

"Are you kidding? This is a great gig.  I try and get it every year."  The police officer looked about at the crowd.  "What happened to you last night btw?"  She asked, her eyes turning back to Franky.

"Garden maintenance problem," Franky replied ambiguously. 

“You don’t have a garden,” Amy pointed out.

Franky ignored that.  "Erica said she gave you the name of the dude.  Did you get anything on him?"

"Nope," Amy shook her head.  "He's a cleanskin."  Her radio crackled and she listened to the call.  "I've gotta go," she said.  "You owe me a drink!" She said as she went towards Boomer had a quiet word with the big woman then walked away.  She passed Erica and they nodded coolly at each other.

"Where have you been?" Franky asked. 

"You missed all the excitement," Boomer put in.  Erica gave her a questioning look.  "Franky had a go at some guy and I took him out," she said.

Erica looked at Franky who shrugged.  "Where have you been?" She asked again against Erica's ear.  She sounded not drunk but not sober either.

"The race is starting," Boomer said then began cheering for her horse Freedom to get its arse moving.  It had settled into the lead and Boomer was getting more excited by the moment. 

"Pity you didn't put some money on him," Franky muttered, watching in disbelief as the horse stretched its lead slightly.

"I did," Boomer corrected her.  "I put a grand on him."

Franky looked at her.  "Fucking hell Booms, that was supposed to go on my horse!"

"Yeah," Boomer agreed, "and a lot of good it would have done you!  Now you have a chance at thirty thousand."

"Actually," Erica interrupted, "I think your horse is in trouble Sue," and she gestured to the track.  Sure enough Freedom was being run down by the field.

"Fuck!" She exclaimed.  She watched as her horse was overrun.  "Okay now we're screwed."

"Maybe not," Erica offered.  "I've backed a horse in the last race.  If it comes in we'll have the money."

Franky looked at her.  "Did you ignore my instructions too?" She asked with a sigh.

"No, this is my own money.  I got a tip from a taxi driver about a horse with a name connected to the sky. There are only two horses racing today with a name like that and they're both in the next race so I backed one of them."

"Not both?" Franky asked with a smile.  "Just to be sure?"

"I could only get enough cash from the ATM to back one with enough return to get you twenty grand so I backed the one which would do that."

"You shouldn't have done that," Franky chastised her.  "This is my problem."

"Well let's see if it works first," Erica said lightly.  "But as your girlfriend," she slipped her arm around Franky's waist and smiled teasingly, "I think I should get to help out, don't you?"

"You are so damn sexy," Franky murmured in her ear.  "I'll let you do anything you want." 

Erica laughed.  "Promises, promises."

The crowds were thinner for the last race of the day.  Many had already left the track either out of money, out of luck, or falling out of their dresses, the end of the day held its own surprises.  Those still there were having their last hurrah.  It only took a little bit of luck to change their fortunes. 

The field was tight, the race was short, and none of them could pick which horse was ahead.  When two horses broke away from the field, Erica felt a moment of hope, they were Stardust and Comet.  “Come on!” She heard Boomer call.  Her heart was in her mouth.  They hit the line together.  The crowd held their collective breath.

“Which one did you say you backed?” Franky asked.  Erica was watching the board, waiting for the official results.  Those moments before the board confirmed the winner seemed to last an eternity.  Then it was over.  Comet had won it by a nose hair.  “Erica?” 

“Comet,” she said quickly, “I backed Comet.” 

“You are fucking fantastic!”  Franky pulled her into a hug then kissed her.  Boomer hugged them both then proceeded to hug everyone around her.  Erica couldn’t believe it.  If anyone had told her she would win twenty-five thousand dollars on a horse race she would have thought they were insane.

She saw Franky watching her.  She looked stunning in her dress which clung to her curves and complemented her olive skin.  Many women were looking worse for wear now, some had lost their shoes and many their sense of balance.  Franky looked cool and composed.  Suddenly she wanted to disturb that composure and see Franky dishevelled and desperate.  She knew exactly how to do it too.

“I didn’t realise winning would turn me on so much,” she murmured in Franky’s ear.  She felt her hand graze her back and then tighten on her hip. 

“Wanna do something a little bit dangerous?” Franky asked in a daring tone.  Her mouth so close Erica could feel her breath on her ear.

“What?” she asked breathlessly.  Just the idea of it was turning her on.

“Sex,” even the word said out loud did things to Erica.

“Here?” Now Franky had planted the seed she wanted it desperately but she couldn’t see how.

Franky led her to one of the corporate tents.  They had been deserted once the food and drink had dried up.  It provided some privacy but the risk of someone entering laced the kiss with an addictive excitement.  “Is this what you want?” Franky teased in her ear.  Then her hands headed south to the hem of her dress.  “For me to fuck you at Flemington,” her hands were on her thighs caressing them and her mouth kissed her throat almost hurting in its intensity.  She gasped.  She was so ready.  Franky pushed her back onto one of the temporary tables and moved her hand against Erica’s hot excited centre.  She worked quickly knowing their time was limited.  She watched enjoying the spectacle of her girlfriend in the grip of an orgasm, fighting the urge to cry out, breathless and beautiful.  For Erica, the sensations were magnified by the idea of being caught. 

“Gambling and exhibitionist sex,” Franky murmured against her mouth.  “You are such a bad girl.” 

“Perfect match then,” Erica managed to respond with before Franky claimed her mouth again.

Chapter Text

"You're having an affair."  Accusation filled the air seeping into the silence the words had created.

"How can I be having an affair when we're not even together anymore?"  It was such a lawyer response.  When you are caught out argue the semantics.

"You know exactly what I mean.  Those nights you never came home, the calls in the middle of the night, your emotional detachment over the last few months."  He would have gone on but she interrupted him.

"You know I've been busy at work and the stress of the wedding -"

This time he interrupted.   "Don't lie to me," he said firmly.  "At least show some respect for our relationship by telling me the truth."

Franky dug her toes into the sand then lifted them feeling the warm granules cascade over her feet.  Was there a better feeling in the world than letting your feet escape the confines of their shoes and bask in the sun on the sand?  Well maybe a few, Franky acknowledged, but it was up there.  She ran her finger along the scratches the cat had left.  They didn't hurt anymore just marred the smooth surface.

She lay down on her back drawing her knees up and closing her eyes.  She was hot and sweaty and it was tempting to strip down to her underwear and take a refreshing dip in Port Philip Bay but she didn't.  She had run on the cycle track for 45 minutes towards Brighton then doubled back to where she had begun.  Now she was waiting for Erica.

She didn't like swimming which is why she had resisted the urge to take a plunge.  When she had been a kid she had almost drowned at the local swimming pool because her drugged up mother had been too out of it to notice her daughter had lost hold of her kick-board and gotten into trouble in the deep end.  The result had been threefold.  Franky had realised that day that her mother couldn't be relied upon.  She had discovered she had a strong survival instinct and could rely on herself.  Even so the incident had left her with a deep and lasting fear of putting her head under water.  In prison she had used that very tactic to intimidate the other women because she knew how much she hated it.

She wondered how much longer Erica would be.  How long did it take to pack up ten years' worth of personal belongings?  Ten years, she thought about that and the implications.  Erica was a stayer. Despite everything that wasn’t right about her relationship with Mark she had stayed until Franky had forced her to make a decision.  She thought about being with Erica for ten years.

She saw Franky lying on the sand with her arm across her eyes to block the sun.  It was a warm spring this year and the temperature was sitting in the mid-twenties.  Warm enough for Erica to be in a sleeveless dress and sandals.  She looked out to the bay and saw a few keen people were swimming although she guessed the water would still be cool. 

As she approached with sandals in hand, her feet enjoying an exfoliation on the soft sand, she saw Franky was smiling.  Whatever her thoughts they were happy ones. 

“What are you thinking about?” she asked as she dropped onto the sand next to her girlfriend.

Franky moved her arm, still shading her eyes but now able to look at Erica.  She continued to smile.  “I was having a fantasy about you,” she said.  “You interrupted it before it had finished.”

“Did I?” Erica was smiling now.  “Maybe we should go back to the flat and you can tell me about it.”

They hadn’t had sex all week.  Erica’s workload had tripled overnight with all Stuart Roxton’s business in her in-tray and no dedicated associate.  She had come home late every night that week too exhausted to contemplate anything but sleep.  Franky had been gone early every morning to prep Ruby for trial and prepare her defence. They had barely seen each other.  Even on Saturday they had both had commitments they couldn’t avoid.  They had both gone into work then Amy had called in the drink Franky owed her and Erica had been summoned to her parent’s place to explain the leaked news of her broken engagement. News that Mark was returning meant Erica had to make some quick decisions about her stuff that was still in the apartment hence their trip out to St Kilda.

Green eyes watched her for a moment before Franky rolled onto her side and propped on her elbow looking down at Erica.  She found it impossible to look away.  “Mm,” Franky said eventually.  “You sure you can wait that long?”

“Ah sex, sun and sand, not a good combination,” Erica pointed out.

“And how would you know that Miss Davidson?” Franky teased.

She watched Erica's eyes dart away then return revealing her embarrassment.  Franky wondered at it.  In bed Erica was adventurous.  She was clearly on a journey of self-discovery from which Franky was reaping the benefits.  However, she still had some hangover issues it appeared.

"You don't like talking about sex," Franky said with sudden insight and slight surprise. 

"I was brought up catholic," Erica said.

Franky hadn't been brought up anything.  "So?" She asked blankly.

"So there's a lot of guilt associated with sex," Erica explained.

“Oh,” Franky looked at her with pity.  "There shouldn't be," she said firmly. 

She took Erica's hand in her own.  "Anyway," she added.  "My fantasy wasn't sexual."

Erica looked confused, adorably confused in Franky's view.  "Oh, what was it then?"

Franky's green eyes flickered.  "I'll tell you sometime," she offered.  "Did you get all your stuff?"

Erica took a moment to adjust to the conversation shift.  "Yes," then added, "I think so.  Mark was there." 

Franky had been in the process of getting up and she paused.  "What happened?"

"Nothing," then she added in a rush.  "I told him about you."

Franky was on her haunches but no longer interested in getting up.  She balanced there her eyes never leaving Erica who was absently taking handfuls of soft sand and letting it run through her fingers.  "And?"

Erica thought about Mark's response.  Disbelief, confusion, anger, hurt.  At least he took it seriously.  There was a part of Erica which feared he might just dismiss it.  He didn't but he did say she'd regret it.  Seeing Franky now looking so nervous and steeling herself for the worst Erica couldn't see how she could ever regret meeting this woman.  "And now there's just you and me in this complicated relationship."

"It's not that complicated," Franky said with a smile as she leant forward and kissed Erica putting her hands on Erica's shoulders to steady herself.  "And the cat," she added as she ended the kiss.

"The cat?" Erica asked with a confused smile. 

"Yeah, you, me and the cat, remember?" Franky said with a grin.  She was teasing Erica.  Then she had a sudden thought.  “You’re not religious, are you?”

Erica laughed.  “No, are you?”  She didn’t think Franky was and this was confirmed immediately.

“Nah, I can’t imagine the church warming to me somehow,” Franky said dismissively.

“Actually you are exactly what the church is peddling; the idea that you can transgress and be redeemed.  You could be their poster pin up girl.”

“Like this?”  Franky asked with a grin.  She put her hands behind her head thrusting her chest forward slightly and dropping her knees into the sand and parting her legs slightly, invitingly.  Her head was tilted and there was a provocative expression in her eyes.  With her midriff exposed, her biceps flexed, the muscles in her thighs outlined, and the sand and sea in the background she looked like she should be on the cover of a sports magazine.  The church was the last thing on Erica’s mind.

Clouds had rolled in while they talked and a clap of thunder told them a storm wasn't far away.

"We'd better get moving if we're going to beat the rain," Franky advised.

They put Erica's possessions into storage.  Erica would stay at the flat until she could sort out some alternative accommodation.  She had proposed it as a temporary solution and Franky had been happy to agree to it. 

"Can you drop me here," Franky asked suddenly.  Erica looked sideways at her.  "I need to get some stuff for dinner." She offered in explanation.

"Do you want me to come with you?" Erica asked as she looked for a place to park. She hated grocery shopping but felt obliged to offer.

"Nope," Franky said to her relief.  "I want to surprise you."  The car pulled into the kerb.  "I won't be long."  She said with a quick smile.

Erica smiled.  "Okay," she watched Franky get out and dodge the pedestrian traffic on the footpath.

She had to leave the car a five minute walk from the flat and as she approached she noticed a woman hanging around the stairs.  Erica eyed her curiously.  She looked to be in her mid to late twenties, slim with long dark hair put up casually.  She was wearing shorts which showed off her long legs and a sleeveless top.  Her wrists and neck were dressed with multiple chains and bangles.  Her sunglasses hid her eyes.  As she watched the woman took out her phone and proceeded to take photos of the stairs to Franky's flat then the Thai restaurant.

"Can I help you?" Erica asked as she approached.  She had a suitcase rolling behind her full of clothes and shoes. 

The woman turned and gave Erica a quick once over.  "I was looking for Franky Doyle.  This is where she lives, right?"

"Yes," Erica confirmed.  "Who are you?" She added.

The woman just smiled.  "I knocked on the door but no one answered.  Do you know when she'll be back?"

Erica frowned.  "No, I can give her a message though," she offered.  She was curious to know who this woman was. 

The woman had already taken a few backward steps away from Erica though.  "It's okay," was all she said and Erica watched her turn and walk briskly down the street.

It was strange being in Franky's flat without Franky.  She looked in the closet and wondered how they were going to fit all her clothes and Franky's in the space.  It was lucky this arrangement was only short term. 

When Franky came home she dumped all her winter clothes into some storage containers and rolled them under the bed disturbing the cat in the process.  This gave Erica enough room to hang her work clothes.  Franky showered and changed while Erica finished collecting stuff from the car and sorting herself out.

“Some woman was here looking for you earlier,” Erica called out from the bedroom. 

Franky appeared in the doorway, knife in hand.  She spared a moment to note Erica’s changes to the bedroom.  She had moved the chair from under the window to next to her side of the bed so she had the equivalent of a bedside table.  There were shoes lined up under the window which clearly didn’t fit in the wardrobe.  There was jewellery on the dresser.  “Who was it?”

Erica shook her head.  “She didn’t leave a name,” she described her. 

“Doesn’t sound familiar,” she said with a blank expression.  “She asked for me?” Erica nodded. 

Franky shrugged.  “No idea,” she said and vanished back into the kitchen.

She liked cooking on Sundays.  She found it relaxing to create something with her hands.  It seemed crazy to Franky but actually distracting her mind seemed to add clarity to her thinking.  Ideas came to her and problems were solved during the process of preparing vegetables or assembling rice paper rolls. 

Franky sent Erica out to buy some wine for dinner.  She'd forgotten it, she said, when she'd been at the shops earlier.  While she was gone Franky moved the small dining table which she never used out from against the window and placed it in the centre of the small space listed on the rental spiel as a quaint dining area.  She grabbed the chair Erica had claimed as her bedside table and the spare which Franky had been using in the living area as a spare chair while Boomer had been sleeping on the couch.

She set the table and found a couple of candles she had bought after the power had gone during a massive storm the previous year.  Wine glasses shone against the flickering flame.  Franky hoped the food impressed Erica more than the decor was likely to. 

When Erica opened the door to the flat she immediately saw the results of Franky's labours.  The low lighting, the romantic table setting, the aromas coming from the kitchen all showed her Franky had made an effort.  Then Franky appeared dressed in a deep purple top with a plunging V neckline and a pair of incredibly tight black jeans.  Her eyes, emphasised by Franky's trademark eye make-up, looking expectantly at her and a little nervously.

"Franky," she said softly. 

"I wanted to mark your first proper night here with something special," she explained.

"It's lovely," she acknowledged watching Franky smile in response.  "Should I change?" She asked suddenly.

"No, you're perfect," Franky closed the gap between them and pulled Erica to her kissing her.  She took the wine and poured two glasses.  She handed one to Erica.  "To us," she said with a smile.

Erica noted Franky had broken from her traditional toast.  She sipped her wine and watched as Franky put the finishing touches on her preparations.  Erica never thought of herself as a particularly romantic soul but she had to admit she liked it when the effort was made on her behalf.  What girl doesn't like to be wined and dined in a romantic setting with the promise of intimacy?

In the candlelight Franky's eyes were more distracting than ever especially as they were sitting opposite each other across a small table.  The meal was Asian inspired but Franky hadn't limited herself to one cuisine.  There were oysters with a ginger wine and black vinegar marinade then kingfish sashimi which had a punchy dipping sauce followed by little corn pancakes which had some caramelised chilli and a spice which Erica couldn't distinguish.  These were followed by broccolini sautéed in garlic and chilli with toasted sesame seeds and fried bean curd with bean sprouts, cucumber and a peanut sauce.  The dishes were small, tasting plates and they grazed as they drank white wine comparing flavours and choosing favourites. 

"You did all this while I was faffing about in the bedroom this afternoon?" Erica asked impressed by the variety and flavour.

Franky shrugged.  "It is pretty easy if you know what you're doing and this stuff doesn't need much prep time."

"It was fantastic," Erica said sincerely.  She smiled in genuine admiration.  "I had no idea."

"No idea about what?" Franky asked with a slow smile.

"How lucky I am," Erica said with laugh. 

"Well," Franky said her green eyes flickering in the candle light.  "If you’re lucky, I’ll have you begging before the night’s over."  She stood up clearing the plates leaving Erica to wonder what exactly might make her beg.

Dessert turned out to be a mango which Franky peeled at the table showing off her knife skills in the process.  She shared the spoils.  Long succulent slices of juicy flesh which was so sweet, light and zingy it was the perfect accompaniment. 

It also turned into foreplay.  Franky’s fingers would graze Erica’s lips as she slipped the mango into her mouth.  Erica managed to catch those fingers between her lips from time to time and took great enjoyment in sucking the excess juices from them.  She watched Franky slide mango into her own mouth provocatively licking her own fingers.  Erica couldn’t drag her eyes away when Franky’s tongue slid down her index finger and licked the juice caught at its base.  She could feel her body responding to the deliberate teasing.  Her nipples were straining against the confines of her bra and there was a delicious pressure building between her legs.  She shifted in her chair just enough to feel some friction and bit the inside of her bottom lip.    

“What did you say?” Franky asked looking at her intently.

“What?” Erica said immediately wondering if Franky had noticed the effect she was having.

“I thought you said something,” Franky's eyes dropped and lingered on Erica’s breasts.

Erica swallowed.  She could feel her heart begin to race.  She didn’t know what game Franky was playing but it was driving her body crazy.  Her eyes were fixed on Franky’s parted lips mesmerised by the thought of having those lips sucking her painfully erect nipples.  Then Franky leant forward resting her elbows on the table the plunging neckline of her top revealing the curve of her breast.  She slid her hand across the small space and placed it over Erica’s tracing the fine bones lightly with her finger.  Her touch sizzled against Erica’s now hypersensitive skin.  Franky turned her hand and continued to leave little trails of fire across her palm then up to her wrist.  Erica’s arm jolted slightly and Franky put her hand firmly almost roughly around Erica’s wrist to hold it in place.  Erica gasped.

If she leant forward she would be millimetres from Franky’s lips and within kissing distance.  It wouldn’t be close enough for her aching body but it was something.  She leant forward and parted her lips.  She wanted Franky to kiss her, roughly like her hand had been rough with her wrist.  She wanted Franky to use her strength to dominate her just like she had during their very first kiss.  She wanted it rough and suddenly she realised how to get it.  She wasn’t going to play Franky’s game any longer.

She stood up and walked away.   

Franky’s response was immediate.  She caught her at the doorway to the bedroom spinning her round her mouth claiming Erica’s swiftly.  Instead of melting into the kiss Erica resisted it, struggled against it forcing Franky to use her strength to tame her.  And she did.  Her hands held her head and her thighs pushed Erica backwards towards the edge of the bed.  Erica’s legs buckled and she fell backwards onto the bed.  Then Franky was on top of her pinning her arms above her head with one hand, biting her neck while her other hand pushed up the skirt of Erica’s dress.  She could feel her desire through the thin silky material of her French lingerie.  Then Franky got it. 

She pulled Erica up roughly and tore her dress off not caring if she ripped it.  Erica undid her own bra as Franky pulled down those wet panties.  Her head was so close to Erica’s pussy she could smell her desire and she felt her own wetness in response.  She pushed Erica back onto the bed forcing her leg over her shoulder diving immediately into her nectar using her talented tongue to tease her and her teeth to torture her.  Her hand reached up to pinch her nipple hard and hearing Erica moan only encouraged her to go harder.  She knew from her responses Erica was going climax hard and fast.  Words spilled out of Erica's mouth along with moans and gasps faster and faster as the intensity of the sensations increased. 

Then she stopped suddenly and completely.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” she asked looking up at Erica watching as her lust-filled mind refocussed on Franky and her words.

“Oh fuck Franky, don’t you dare stop,” she gasped with frustration.

“You know,” Franky said slowly, deliberately.  “Bad girls like you really should be punished.”  And Erica suddenly realised what Franky had in mind and she almost whimpered in anticipation.  “Turn over,” Franky commanded.  Erica didn’t waste a moment sitting up on all fours.  Her soft rounded arse on offer.  Franky caressed it sliding her fingers down to where Erica was so ready but just when Erica had thought she had anticipated her lover’s next move Franky slapped her hard on the arse.  “Do you like that?” Franky crooned in her ear.  She pulled off her own top and bra and pressed her breasts against Erica’s back.  She could feel Erica quivering with excitement and she felt a jolt of power course through her.  She slapped her again.  “You are my bitch,” she said fiercely into Erica’s ear grabbing her hair in the process and pulling, “and I am going to fuck you senseless.”

Then she flipped her roughly and grabbed a tit into her mouth sucking and biting it in turn until she felt Erica thrust against her thigh desperate and wanting.  Her fingers slipped inside so easily and she felt Erica tighten around them.  The fucking was fast.  Franky found her sensitive spot and felt Erica buck in response.  Oh this was going to be good, she thought.  Her thumb caressed her clit driving her wild.  Erica wasn’t holding back fucking Franky’s fingers as hard as she could.

She was begging for more, for it to be harder, she knew she was going to explode and she planned to ride it for as long as she could orgasm after orgasm.  She started gasping Franky’s name when the first waves hit her and Franky’s free hand pinched her nipple hard then she licked it repeating the process until eventually she felt Erica’s thrusts slow.  She planted small light kisses on her throat and her neck.  “Oh God,” she heard Erica murmur.  Women without any religious tendencies still liked to thank God for the results of Franky’s loving labours.   

She rolled off Erica.  She was still wearing her jeans.  Erica was lying spread eagled in total abandon her breathing only just returning to normal.  She rolled onto her side so she could look at Franky.  “That was the best sex I’ve ever had,” she said putting her hand on Franky’s flat stomach and caressing her.  “Best food followed by the best fuck,” she said with a smile.  She felt Franky’s stomach muscles contract as she laughed.  She loved it when Erica talked dirty.

“I dare you to tweet that,” she said.

“Those who can do, those who can’t tweet,” Erica murmured.

She kissed Franky sliding her hand lower to the waistband of Franky’s jeans.  “And I definitely have things to do.” 

Chapter Text

A storm had been brewing for days.  Thunder and lightning had been turning the Melbourne skyline into a sound and light show promising rain but never delivering.  The humidity was unusually high.  Erica discovered one of the downsides of Franky's small flat.  It was hot and airless.  There was no air-conditioning and she was having trouble sleeping at night.  It made her tired and grumpy.

"You're soft," Franky told her without much sympathy.  "Try sleeping in a prison cell when it's a 40 degree summer."  She was standing at the kitchen bench munching on muesli.  She looked remarkably relaxed considering it was Ruby’s arraignment that day.

Erica sighed and poured herself a coffee.  It was the first workday they had actually had breakfast together since Erica had arrived and they began their temporary living arrangement.  Erica rarely made it to work before 9.30 and worked late.  Franky was usually gone early to the gym then straight on to work.  Today she had adjusted her morning ritual though.  Court didn't start until ten and Erica had offered her a lift.

"Have you heard anything from Vince Diamond?" Erica asked as she sipped coffee.

"I have to meet him tonight," Franky told her putting her bowl in the sink and rinsing it. 

When Franky had contacted Vince's money man she had been told to wait until she received a text with the meeting details.  That had been over a week and a half ago.  Then late last night she had received her instructions.

"One thing I don't understand," Erica said thoughtfully, "is how you are supposed to have got this information you’re planting if you are paying back the money?  I mean isn't any explanation going to sound odd?"  She looked at Franky who shrugged.  "Well isn't Vince Diamond going wonder why you were trawling through the files if your intention was always to pay the money?"

"Don't worry about it," Franky said dismissively.  She filled a glass with water and began drinking it.

"Well I do worry about it," Erica told her.  "I'm worried you are going to get yourself killed."

Franky put down her glass and slipped her arms around Erica's waist where she stood leaning against the bench.  “You worry too much,” Franky told her.

“Only since I met you with your reckless ways,” she defended herself. 

“Don’t you mean wicked ways?” Franky asked with a grin.  She pressed herself against Erica.  “Fancy a quick fuck?” she asked.  “For luck?” 

“I know you’re just trying to change the subject,” Erica replied, refusing Franky’s charming offer. 

Franky’s green eyes looked serious.  "Look, I have a virtually foolproof plan.  So when I say don't worry about it, I mean it."

Erica wasn't buying it. "There's no such thing as virtually foolproof," she pointed out.  "Being foolproof is an absolute, it either is foolproof or it isn't, so which is it?"

"You are such a fucking lawyer!" Franky replied in exasperation.  She rested her forehead against Erica's. 

"Well what is this master plan then?"  Erica kept pushing.

Franky broke the embrace and went back to drinking her water.  "I'm not going to tell you," she said at last when she realised Erica was waiting for an answer.  

"Why not?"

"Because," Franky admitted with a sigh, "it will only make you worry more." 

This didn't pacify Erica at all and Franky was thankful when her phone rang.  She answered it quickly.  "Hey Booms," she said with a grin placing her tongue on her top lip quickly and raising her eyebrows at Erica.

"Turn on the telly," Boomer said breathlessly in her ear.

"Um, don't have one, remember?" She replied.  She was watching Erica put some hot water in the sink to wash up Franky's bowl and her own mug.  Franky was thinking how domestic it looked and how three years ago the idea that this scene could ever play out was not even a fantasy inside Franky's head.  Boomer's next words brought her back to reality.

"Pity coz you are fucking all over it," Boomer told her excitedly.

"What?" Franky said in surprise.  For a moment she thought Boomer meant that somehow her sexual exploits were being broadcast on national television.

"Yeah, they're running some story about you and Nutella."  It took Franky a moment to recall that Boomer's nickname for Ruby ever since Ella had put her in the hospital was Nutella, which Franky had to admit was pretty appropriate.

"Which network?" She asked as she opened her laptop.

"Seven," Boomer told her. 

Franky brought up the link and looked for their local news stories.  "Shit," she said in one drawn out breath.  "Okay thanks." She was about to ring off.

"You want me to come to court today?" Boomer asked, "There might be some trouble."

Franky decided Boomer taking out a reporter wouldn't help her cause.  "No, it’ll be fine.  I’ll talk to you later.”  This time she did ring off.

The headline told her the pitch of the story.  Ex-con to defend child murderer.  There was a large photo of Henry looking innocent, happy, and vulnerable.  Below Henry was a smaller photo of Ruby and another of Franky.  Hers wasn't recent.  She looked younger and less polished than she did now, less like a lawyer and more like a delinquent.  She wondered if it was one the network had in their files from when she had been convicted.  She read the article.

Today Ruby Roxton, daughter of well-known entrepreneur Stuart Roxton, will appear in the Victorian Supreme Court on trial for the murder of Henry Page.  Earlier this year the four year old’s body was discovered in bushland in the Grampians National Park.   Ruby Roxton, 22 and a part-time carer at the victim’s day-care centre was an early target of police investigations and eventually charged with his murder.  Her bail was revoked last month when she attempted to leave the State.

In a bizarre twist to this story Ruby’s lawyer, Franky Doyle from Wilkinson and Associates was herself convicted with intent to cause serious injury and spent four years at Wentworth Correctional Centre before being paroled.  Her crime was violent and shocking.  Captured during the filming of the popular reality TV show, Can you Cook? she threw a pan of hot oil over the show’s host, Mike Pennisi, after tension between the two had reached boiling point.

During her detention Franky Doyle completed her Higher School Certificate and was encouraged to undertake a law degree.  This is just one example of a general softening in approach towards criminals in this State.  Violent and anti-social elements of our society are being rewarded in our prison system with free university while those who obey the laws have to pay for it.  There appears to be a disconnect here which needs to be urgently addressed.

"Oh please," Erica muttered as she read over Franky's shoulder.  "Who writes this rubbish?" 

Franky looked for the by-line and saw it had been written by a Natalie Perin.  “They’re running it on the local news segment on Sunrise,” she told her.  She continued reading.

Then to add salt to the wound lawyers like Franky Doyle are using their state funded skills to defend criminals who have committed some of the most despicable and heinous acts.  Do Victorians really support a criminal justice system which allows criminals to obtain qualifications, paid for by the tax payer, which they use to defend accused child killers such as Ruby Roxton? Surely it is a loophole in our system that needs to be plugged? 

Franky hoped there wouldn't be any fallout for Stephanie with the mention of her role at Wilkinson and Associates.  Of all the things she'd been concerned about with Ruby's case, bad publicity hadn’t even been on her radar and now she wondered why the hell not.  She of all people should have realised the damage the media could do.

"Fuck, fuck, fuck," she muttered as she checked other news sites to see how far the story had gone.

“Look, a case like this was bound to get some media coverage,” Erica pointed out rationally.  “I doubt it will last the 24 hour news cycle.”

“Yeah,” agreed Franky absently. 

In the car she continued to scroll through the news.  “The last thing Ruby needs is an aggressive media campaign against her,” she said.  “People already hate child murderers as it is.”

Erica pulled into a loading zone near the courts.  She put her hand on Franky’s thigh. “Franky,” she said distracting her from her phone.  “You’re going to be great,” she leant across and kissed her.  “You can’t control the media so just forget about them.”

The arraignment held no surprises.  The prosecutor was a well-respected seasoned senior lawyer in the DPP and the judge was Justice Elizabeth O’Connell.  The jury was selected and Franky didn’t object to any juror.  She figured in a case like this it would be pretty hard to find a jury sympathetic to her client so she didn’t waste her energy.  Franky put in a plea of not guilty on Ruby’s behalf and the judge asked for opening arguments to be presented the next day.  Ruby had been reserved and a little overwhelmed by the proceedings and the imposing surroundings.  Franky had bought her new glasses and new clothes, nothing fancy just a plain conservative outfit, so the jury could see her at her understated best.  Her father had been in the gallery so Ruby kept her eyes strictly ahead.

When Franky stepped out onto the front steps of the Supreme Court she was approached by a dark haired attractive woman wearing a tight pencil skirt and impossible heels.  “Franky Doyle?” she asked.

Franky smiled appreciatively into the dark brown eyes.  She was taller than Franky with a slender frame. “Sure, who wants to know?”

“Natalie Perin, Seven news,” Franky’s smile faded.  She looked past her into a camera lens.  “Your client Ruby Roxton pleaded not guilty today, is that correct?”

“Yeah,” Franky said briefly, “because she’s innocent.” Then she added as an afterthought.  “Did you ever stop to consider that?”

“What do you mean?” The reporter asked with deliberate obtuseness.

“I mean,” Franky spoke slowly, “that surely trial by media is a loophole in our system that needs to be plugged.” 

“The public has a right to know how their tax dollars are being spent, don’t you think?”  The reporter asked with a superficial smile.

Franky just laughed shaking her head slightly.  “I like your outfit, Natalie,” she said as she passed her and headed down the steps.  “Brings out your eyes,” and she winked into the camera lens as she passed it.

She debriefed with Stephanie back at the office.  Her boss had seen the brief coverage on the breakfast show that morning.  “I think the journalist came past my place on the weekend.  Erica says someone was looking for me and from her description it could have been this same woman,” Franky told her.

The older woman frowned.  “I thought it was strange the network had picked up on who you were so quickly.”  Even though Stephanie had realised Franky and Erica Davidson were involved, hearing reference to her so casually brought home to her how serious the relationship had become.  She resisted the urge to question Franky. 

“Well it’s not so strange, all they had to do was google me,” Franky pointed out.

“Yes, but why would they?  Lawyers aren’t usually the story,” Stephanie explained her thinking. 

Franky shrugged.  “Dunno,” then changed the subject.  “What do you know about Justice O’Connell?”

“Conservative, doesn’t appreciate antics in her courtroom, favours harsh sentences for crimes sexual in nature and dislikes trials running on too long so don’t expect any continuances,” Stephanie offered.

That evening Franky waited at the usual spot for Vince Diamond.  Her phone beeped.  She glanced at the SMS from Erica.  “Text me when it’s done,” was all it said.  Erica had wanted to come with her.  Franky had refused joking that someone had to call the cops if she ended up dead in a dumpster.  Erica hadn’t found it funny. 

The car pulled into the kerb and Franky approached.  She was told to get in the back.  Vince Diamond was looking just as well dressed as on their previous meeting. 

“Miss Doyle, do you have the information?”

“No,” she watched him smile and remembered how much she disliked that smile. 

“We had a deal,” he pointed out.

“For the information or the twenty grand,” Franky reminded him.  She handed him a cheap black backpack.  “I chose the money.”  When he didn’t take it from her she put it on the seat between them.

“You think you are cleverer than me, Miss Doyle,” he said eventually.  The words were harmless, an observation rather than a threat, but Franky knew better than to take the words at face value.

“You don’t scare me,” she said quietly. 

He considered this.  “Only idiots are fearless,” he said at last.

Franky heard the menace in those words.  “Look, I’m smart enough to know it would be crazy for me to piss you off,” she said seriously.  “I have some information for you,” she offered.

“And what is that then?” He asked and she thought she could detect a mild curiosity in his tone.   

She repeated word for word the information which Stuart Roxton had given her.  The words meant nothing to her as she repeated them, something about tenders and Greenfield sites and legislation being amended.  She watched Vince Diamond trying to discover if any of it had any effect on him.  He was hard to read though and in the end she couldn’t tell if he had the slightest interest in what she was telling him.

“And you know this how?” he asked still sceptical.

Game on, Franky thought as she looked in to those dark eyes.  “Stuart Roxton told me,” she said simply.

“And why would he do that?” There was that smile again. 

“He wants to set you up,” Franky said with an apologetic grin.  “That information isn’t worth anything.  It might be true, or it might not but my guess, he wants you to use it.”

Franky had weighed up the risks and decided conning Vince Diamond could be a fast way to ending up dead.  Erica was right about that.  Her options then were limited to just paying back the money and welshing on the deal with Roxton.  This was the best option except it could backfire and leave Erica without Roxton as a client.  The other option, which had come to Franky as she hiked along the highway after her abduction, was to give Vince D the information and then tell him it was bullshit. 

“So he asked you to deliver it?”

“I needed him to do something for me.  It was a straight exchange of favours,” Franky admitted.

“However, I do not think Stuart Roxton expected you to give the game away,” he pointed out with raised eyebrows. 

Franky laughed for the first time.  “No,” she agreed.

The more Franky had thought about it, the better the idea seemed.  Ever since she had heard about Ruby’s condition and the likely reasons behind it she had wanted to do something about it.  Her hands were tied.  The law couldn’t help her and Stuart Roxton’s power and influence meant voicing her suspicions would leave her fighting a slander suit and losing.  Then she thought about Vince Diamond.  An interested party with nothing to lose given his business interests often overlapped those of Stuart Roxton.

“So why did you?”

“I dislike Stuart Roxton even more than I dislike you and if I can fuck him over I’m going to,” she said plainly.  “You might be a drug dealer or worse but under that polish he’s just a fucking child molester.  He abused his daughter and because of who he is he will never go to prison or suffer in any way.  And that seems pretty fucked up to me.” 

Vince Diamond was silent, watching her.  Then after a lifetime he put his hand on the bag which sat between them.  “And you think this is worth $20,000?”

She looked at the bag and shook her head.  “No, I’ve paid my debt and our business transaction is over.  I want you to use that information against Stuart Roxton.”  She said clearly.

“Ah,” Vince Diamond nodded with sudden understanding.  “So you want to do a deal with the devil to bring down a demon." 

Franky frowned.  “Is that possible?”

For a moment they eyed each other, Franky assessing the risks and Vince Diamond assessing her.  “I know a bit about you, Miss Doyle,” he said eventually.  “You are not so different from me.” 

Franky wanted to deny it, to claim the higher ground but she couldn’t.  Drug dealer, murderer both those labels could be used to describe her.  She watched as he held out his hand.  She looked at it.  Fuck it, she may as well push her luck to the limit, she decided.  “I need Stuart Roxton to know you got the information about the Greenfields site,” she said to close the deal.

Vince Diamond laughed but didn’t withdraw his hand.  Stomach churning slightly Franky shook it knowing there was no going back now, unsure what she might have set in motion.

“Good luck with your case, Miss Doyle, I look forward to following it.”  He said in farewell as she stepped out onto the kerb.

Despite the humidity the air felt fresh after the closeness of the car.  She took a deep breath then pulled out her phone to call Erica.  She needed to hear her voice to pull her back from the precipice.

Erica answered immediately as though she had been waiting for the call.  “Franky?”

“All good,” she said immediately to alleviate Erica’s concern.  “Where are you?”

“At work but I can come home if you want?” she offered immediately.

“Yeah,” Franky said wearily, “I want that.”

By the time Erica arrived at the flat Franky had recovered her bravado.  "It is so hot in here!"  Erica went over to the window and opened it. 

"Let's get wet, and naked, and have sex under the fan," Franky suggested.  She was feeling edgy as she usually did after running risks and taking chances.

"What fan?" Erica asked distracted by the idea.  She watched as Franky pointed upwards and sure enough there was a ceiling fan.  "Shit," she muttered, "I'm sleeping out here."

"What?" Franky said with a frown.  It was bad enough that Erica wouldn't let her anywhere near her on these hot nights without Erica deserting the bed completely. 

“So what happened?”  Erica asked as she put the fan on the highest setting and stood under it.  Franky gave her the guts of her meeting with Vince Diamond glossing over the finer details. 

"Wait a minute let me get this straight,” Erica stopped her wanting to understand the implications.  “You double crossed Stuart Roxton?" Franky nodded.  "Then you told Vince Diamond he is a child molester?"

"Yep," Franky said.

"Why?" Erica asked. 

"Because he is and there's nothing I can do about it except this," Franky said and Erica could hear the frustration in her tone and her words.  "Give it to someone who works outside the law and who might have an incentive to act on it."

Erica shook her head, no wonder Franky hadn't wanted to tell her what she had planned.  "Franky, did you even think this through?"  Silence.  "What if Stuart works out you've been slandering him?"

"He won't," was all Franky said. 

"Well what makes you think for a second you can trust Vince Diamond? Jesus, Franky, you've just sold your soul to the devil," Erica said in exasperation.

Franky heard the judgement in those words.  "Yeah?" she said bitterly, "well so what?  You think I haven't already done that a thousand times while I was in prison, Erica?  Do you really think there is a part of me left that isn't tainted?" 

Erica stood perfectly still watching Franky.  The words were so raw and honest and final.  She saw then what prison could do to a person and it was heartbreaking. 

"Franky, I'm sorry."

"Forget it," Franky said and turned away. 

Erica took a breath.  “I’m not judging you.  I just can’t see how this will turn out well.” 

“Whatever,” Franky said dismissively and walked away from her into the bedroom.

Erica rubbed her brow closing her eyes in the process.  She sighed.  She heard Franky’s phone ring.  She went into the kitchen and got some cold water from the fridge.  The weather was ridiculous given it wasn’t even December yet.  She heard Franky talking on the phone. 

She went into the bathroom and turned on the cold tap in the shower then stripped.  She stood under the icy spray for as long as she could tolerate it feeling her hot skin begin to cool.  She emerged to find the flat empty.  There was a note on the kitchen bench from Franky.  Gone for a drink with Amy, it read.  She sighed.    

She moved the sofa so it was under the fan.  It was moving so fast she wondered if it was going to spin right off its socket.  She found a bottle of white wine in the fridge and poured a healthy amount into an oversized wine glass.  She drank it quickly then poured another.  She hated that Franky thought she was judging her.  She hated that she had spoken rashly and given Franky reason to think that.  She hated that Franky was off somewhere with Amy.  She took her glass and the bottle to the couch.  As she lay under the cool breeze she thought about Franky.  She remembered when she had first met her.

It had been her first day at Wentworth.  The prison environment was such a contrast to the conservative world she knew and yet she had felt immediately comfortable there.  She was drawn to it, and the broken women who were fighting for some semblance of respect and power.  She would be an enabler helping to empower these women to overcome disadvantage and their own destructive tendencies.  It was an intoxicating idea.

One of the correction officers had been escorting her to the education centre when they had rounded the corner and come face to face with her.  “You should be in the laundry, Doyle,” her escort had said.

“Sure boss,” she’d said easily but her eyes had been on Erica.  Appreciative eyes that raked her figure from her slim ankles all the way up to her long blonde locks.  Erica had seen it before, from men and women, naked admiration of her femininity and looks.  “Who’s your friend?”  The prisoner had asked with curiosity.

“This is Miss Davidson,” the officer had said.  “She will be overseeing the new educational programs.  Erica, this is Franky Doyle.”

“Great!” Franky had said enthusiastically.  “I’m all for educating people,” she had added, “especially the screws,” then she had smiled and Erica had been introduced to Franky’s charm.   

“I hope I’ll see you in one of my programs then, Franky,” she had replied already recruiting. 

“Is that a personal invitation, Erica?”  Franky had asked, head tilted and green eyes flirting brazenly.

“It is,” she had confirmed, smiling into those eyes.

“Well in that case,” she had raised her eyebrows suggestively, “how can a girl possibly say no?”

The correction officer had intervened.  “Laundry, Doyle,” he had reminded her.

Franky had sauntered off and Erica had watched her go her interest already spiked by the prisoner with the entrancing green eyes and cocky manner.

She woke to find those same green eyes watching her intently.  Franky was propped on the coffee table, elbows resting on her knees, an unfathomable expression in her eyes.  Erica felt drunk.   She wasn’t sure how many glasses she’d had and wine on an empty stomach, she remembered, was never a good idea.  She put her hand out to caress Franky’s cheek.  Franky caught her hand and held it.

“Franky Doyle,” she murmured watching her.  “Are you going to break my heart?” she asked.

“I wasn’t planning to,” Franky said with a smile.

“No one has ever broken my heart,” Erica told her, “but you might be the first.”

“Okay,” Franky said standing up.  “Let’s get you to bed.”

"I saw you on the news tonight," Erica said conversationally as she draped her arm around Franky’s shoulder. 

Erica had turned on the news at the office out of curiosity to see if Ruby's trial had received any more coverage.  There had been a brief item stating that Ruby had pleaded not guilty and the trial was set to commence the following day.  Her lawyer seemed confident they had finished with, showing Franky winking at the camera, slowing down the shot so viewers had a clear view of the wink and Franky's smile.

"And how did I look?” Franky asked curiously as she guided Erica into the bedroom. 

"Like you were going to win," Erica stated with some surprise.

Chapter Text

Franky was waiting for Amy at the same pub in Richmond where they had met on the night of Erica's confession.  She had ordered a beer and was reliving Erica's words, which were so similar to Vince Diamond's assessment of her actions.  She hadn’t liked it when Erica had said them though because she cared what Erica thought. The question was how many times could she play with the devil before she lost the game?  At least one more, she gambled, but things were getting out of control and Franky didn't like that.

Amy's call had been a welcome distraction and her reason for calling tantalising enough for Franky to agree to meet.  Erica had been in the shower so she'd left a note.

"Hey Tatts," Amy greeted her.  She ordered a beer.  "Heard about you on Sunrise today,” she winked.

"I can't stay long," Franky said immediately.

Amy looked disappointed.  "Sure, well you might want to hear this," she sipped her beer.  "That dude you had a problem with, Darren Lock," it took Franky a moment to connect the name with the green man.  "There's been some chatter about him."

"I thought you said he was a cleanskin?"

"Yeah, I did," the police officer confirmed.  "There was nothing on the database about him on the night you disappeared but -" she drank more beer.  Franky waited.   "His van has turned up abandoned.  Turns out the company he works for hasn't seen him since the night you vanished." Amy studied Franky over the rim of her beer.  "They found blood in the van," she said slowly.  "Know anything about that?"

Franky took a mouthful of beer.  "Nope," she said after a moment. 

"They said on the news you'd been inside," Amy said with a question in her voice.

Franky looked sideways and saw serious brown eyes very different from Amy's usual light-hearted flirty expression.  "Yeah," she said eventually.

Amy nodded.  "Look," she said slowly.  "I like you." Franky was silent.  "If you were in that van and something happened," she waited but Franky didn't say anything.  "They’re doing a forensics check on the van.  If you were in it they'll find out, Franky," she warned.

There was silence while they both drank beer.  Franky's brain was processing the facts and the implications.  The green man was missing, which Franky already knew, but now the police were involved.  This could be good or bad depending on how it played out.  She hadn't reported her abduction and Amy's investigations had been informal.  As far as the police were concerned, Franky had just been another missing person who had turned up without incident.  If they connected her to the missing Darren Lock then things could get awkward especially if he turned up dead.

"What do they think happened to him?"  Franky asked after a while, her tone mildly curious.

"They don't know," Amy answered immediately.  "Do you?"

Franky laughed.  "How would I know?" 

Amy just shook her head.  “Okay, I get it, I’m a cop and you don’t trust me.”  Franky didn’t say anything just raised her eyebrows at her beer.  Amy saw it.  “I traced that rego for you, traced Boomer’s phone, said I’d try and find your dad, I even helped your girlfriend find you.”  Amy pointed out.  “I wouldn’t have done all that shit if I was just being a cop.”  She slid off her bar stool.  She waited for a moment to see if her words would generate a response but they didn’t.  She gave a wry smile.  She knew when to quit.  “See you round, Franky.” 

When Franky returned to the flat it was late.  She had stayed at the bar after Amy had left thinking about the green man and Ruby’s defence.  The green man was critical.  Really it didn’t matter to Ruby’s defence if he was found or not.  All Franky needed was reasonable doubt and the green man could give her that if she could somehow get Ella on the stand to identify him.  She was pretty confident that the prosecution had no surprises.  Only one thing worried her.  Ruby had claimed Ella had put Henry’s rabbit in her gym locker but the timeline didn’t seem to support that theory.  Ella had immediately followed the green man’s van so she couldn’t have gone first to the gym.  Ruby had transitioned back during the drive so Ella couldn’t have done it later.  So that meant Ruby was still lying about Henry’s soft toy and Franky didn’t know why.

Erica was asleep on the couch.  The fan was creating a welcome breeze as it spun a little crazily above her.  Franky noticed the almost empty wine bottle standing on the floor next to the couch.  She went over to Erica and sat on the edge of the coffee table.

Erica was dressed for bed in a cami and knickers.  She’d put her hair up casually.  She looked so peaceful Franky didn’t want to wake her.  Erica had been frustrated with her because Franky had done what she always did.  Played things close to her chest and played as though she had nothing to lose because for a long time she hadn’t.  It hadn’t mattered how close to the edge she skated because there was no one except Franky around to care if she fell.  Only now there was Erica and suddenly Franky did have something to lose.  She needed to remember that. 

Erica’s eyes opened and focused on Franky, a little confused maybe, a little worried but never wavering in their gaze.  She put out her hand and touched Franky’s cheek as though to check she was really there.  Franky captured that hand and held it.

“Franky Doyle, are you going to break my heart?” the words were so soft Franky barely caught them above the noise of the fan.  Even then she wasn’t sure she hadn’t misheard them, heard instead what her heart wanted to hear.  It was the uncertainty in those blue eyes which convinced her.  Franky realised they were both in unchartered waters, happiness at risk and hearts in jeopardy. 

She smiled feeling suddenly relieved.  “I wasn’t planning to,” she replied.

“No one has ever broken my heart.”  She said it firmly almost sounding proud that she had survived so long without injury.  Then she frowned, “but you might be the first.”  Now she sounded a little drunk and Franky wondered if she should take anything Erica said at that point seriously.

“Okay,” she stood up pulling Erica with her.  “Let’s get you to bed.”  And Erica compliantly draped herself over Franky and allowed herself to be led.  She was babbling about seeing Franky on the news then declared she needed to clean her teeth.

Franky finally got her into bed where she immediately kicked off the sheets and pulled Franky down on top of her.  “Now you want to cuddle,” Franky said drily. 

“I knew you were going to be trouble from the first day I met you.” Erica said randomly as she kissed Franky who returned it briefly then managed to extract herself.  By the time she had completed her own preparations for bed Erica was fast asleep. 

The next day something strange happened.  Erica had a hangover.  That wasn’t so strange.  She didn’t remember much of the night before.  That wasn’t strange either.  When Franky checked her twitter account though she noticed her followers had tripled overnight.  Okay that was strange.

Erica gave her a lift to court again.  “How’s Amy?” she asked a little too casually.

Franky gave her a sideways look.  “Pissed off with me actually,” she said.  She watched Erica smile slightly.  “Happy about that, are you?”

“No,” she said immediately.

“Liar,” Franky said softly.

“I’m not,” Erica protested.  “I –”

“Just a sec,” Franky put up her hand.  She turned up the radio.

“I’d seriously consider getting arrested if she was going to be my lawyer,” the DJ said laughing.

“Well what I was going to tell you, Phil, is that Franky Doyle has been to prison so she has seen both sides of the law.  She might be too much for you to handle, mate!”  There was more laughter. 

Franky raised her eyebrows at Erica.  “I’m willing to give it a go,” Phil said through the laughter.  “How about it Franky Doyle, if you’re listening give us a call. In the meantime here is Charli XCX with Break the Rules.” 

Franky pulled out her phone.  “What are you doing?” Erica asked.

“Getting a bit of positive media,” Franky said, raising her eyebrows and giving Erica a quick smile.  She found the radio station’s number and dialled while Erica watched in amazement.

“You can’t talk about the case,” Erica reminded her, “you’ll be in contempt.”

Franky shook her head slightly holding up her hand.  “Hi, this is Franky Doyle, yeah I was listening and heard your DJs – yeah I can hold,” she agreed.  She reached forward and switched off the radio.

She was on hold for a couple of minutes then the producer told her she was putting her through.  She heard a man talking.

“So for those of you who missed it, one of the stories du jour is the trial of Henry Page’s murderer, sorry alleged murderer, we don’t want to get sued, do we Phil?”

“Well like I was saying before, Danny, if I had Franky Doyle as my lawyer maybe I wouldn’t mind so much.”

“We have her on the line so you can ask her yourself if she’d represent a degenerate like you.  Hi Franky, what do you say?  Would Phil make your client list?”

“Hi boys,” she said with a smile in her voice.  “Sure I’d be happy to help.  Do you want my number, Phil?” She asked light-heartedly.

“Definitely,” Phil agreed immediately his tone making it clear he wanted Franky’s number for other reasons entirely.  Franky just laughed.

“That help doesn’t come cheap I’ll bet.  You lawyers always have your eyes on the dollars, right?”  Danny continued with.

“Well, it is a common problem with lawyers,” Franky acknowledged with a laugh.  “You worth a bit Phil? “  There was more laughing.  Franky rolled her eyes at Erica.

“Now your client Ruby Roxton is being tried for murder in the Supreme Court,” the DJ said more seriously.  “Only one question, Franky, did she do it?” 

“Unfortunately I can’t discuss the trial or I’ll need my own lawyer,” Franky smiled at Erica, “but my client is innocent.  What happened to Henry was tragic but it wasn’t Ruby who killed him and we’ll prove that in court.”   

“And what everyone is talking about is your previous conviction and time spent in prison.  You spent four years, is that right, in Wentworth Correctional Centre?”

“I did,” Franky agreed. 

“You were convicted of the crime intent to cause serious injury, that’s a bit of a mouthful, isn’t it?  You went in without having finished high school and came out with a law degree.  That is pretty impressive!”

“I finished my degree once I was released but, yes I was given the opportunity to study while I was in prison thanks to some excellent programs,” she grinned at Erica and raised her eyebrows.  “So I was able to spend my time in prison productively.  Not all women are that lucky.”

“Actually Franky no one is talking about that.  Danny has got that completely wrong!” Phil interjected.  “Everyone is talking about how hot you look!”

“Well it is a bit sultry at the moment, don’t you think?” Franky said with a laugh.

“I’m certainly feeling it,” Phil quipped.  “Good luck in court today and thanks for calling in and being such a good sport.”

“A pleasure,” Franky said with a smile. 

“I can’t believe you just did that,” Erica said when she ended the call.

Franky laughed.  “Fight fire with fire, Erica,” she said with a grin.  “Someone set me up with that coverage on Seven. I’m pretty sure that woman you saw on Sunday hanging around the flat was the reporter who wrote that piece.  How the fuck did she even know to look into my background, huh?”

Erica pulled into the kerb.  She looked at Franky.  “So who knew you’ve been to prison other than me?”

“Who didn’t?  I mean, shit, people involved in the reality show, anyone who was inside with me, screws, it could be anyone,” Franky said with frustration.

“No,” Erica corrected her, “it can’t.  It has to be someone who knew you were Ruby’s lawyer and also knew you’ve been to prison.  That narrows the field considerably.”

Franky stared out the windscreen.  “I dunno,” she said at last.  “That would limit it to Stephanie, James, and Boomer.  It can’t be them.”

“What about Amy?”  Erica asked tentatively.

Franky shook her head.  “Nah,” she said immediately.  “She only found out when she saw Sunrise yesterday morning.”  She looked at the clock on the dash.  “I’ve gotta go.”  She didn’t move though. 

“There’s always Ferguson or Bea Smith for that matter, they both knew you were Ruby’s lawyer.”  Franky was silent.  “It would only take a phone call,” she pointed out.

“Yeah,” Franky said after a moment.  She had contacted the media while she was on the inside to plant stories and cause trouble.  “Looks like it might rain,” she added looking at the sky.

Erica looked at the stormy sky.  “I wish,” she muttered.  “Good luck with your opening, are you prepared?”

“I’m going to wing it," Franky answered absently.  Erica raised her eyebrows in surprise so Franky added, “It’ll be fine, I’ve got the gist of it sorted.”

Erica shook her head.  “Well maybe don’t tell Ruby that,” she suggested.

Erica had a full day and a headache.  With Stuart spending much of his day in court she was proxy at a number of his meetings.  She needed a coffee she decided and stopped at the cafe nearest her office.  As she waited she heard the radio playing in the background.  It was the same station she had on in the car.  They were repeating grabs of Franky’s interview.  She listened hearing both sides of the conversation this time.  She couldn’t help smiling.  Franky sounded engaging and a little bit cheeky. 

“Hi Erica,” she looked up to see Nick had entered and was waiting in the queue to order coffee.  He smiled at her.

She watched him warily as he put in his order.  She wondered what he thought of Stuart Roxton’s about face.  He had jumped too early and she couldn’t help feeling relieved that he wouldn’t be working with her any longer.  The senior partners had agreed she needed a dedicated associate to assist with Stuart Roxton’s business but she had requested someone new so Nick could pursue other development opportunities.  She felt, she had told them, Nick would benefit from some broader experience.

He came across to her.  “So that was a bit of a surprise,” he opened with, “Stuart Roxton I mean.”

“Not really,” Erica said.  “Stuart is an astute businessman.”  She left it at that.

Nick didn’t.  “I thought after Ruby’s desertion he would pack his bags.”  Erica didn’t feel the need to respond.  “Her trial started yesterday.”

“I heard,” Erica wondered how long her coffee would be.

“The media coverage isn’t favourable,” he added, “looks like she’ll go down for it.”

“The coverage seems to be more concerned with Franky’s record than the trial,” she pointed out.

“Well it’s a pretty crap system which gives a hand out to people who have no regard for society’s rules.  The article made some valid points if you ask me.”  Nick sounded, what was it? Annoyed? 

Erica heard her name being called.  “That’s me,” she said with a brief smile. 

It wasn’t until she was almost at her office that she remembered Nick had known Franky was defending Ruby and that she’d been to prison.

“Doubt,” Franky said, “it lurks in the back of your mind, a feeling that’s not always rational.  Reasonable doubt is more than that.  It's not a feeling, it is based in fact.  When you weigh up the evidence presented by the prosecution and cannot be certain of guilt then that is reasonable doubt.  There is a presumption of innocence in any courtroom until such time as guilt is proven beyond reasonable doubt.”

The evidence the prosecution would present was all circumstantial she claimed.  Ruby Roxton was an innocent bystander to what played out that day, caught in the wrong place at the wrong time.  The prosecution will focus on opportunity but where is Ruby’s motive?  Where is the forensic evidence connecting Ruby to the crime?  The police were desperate to find the perpetrator for a disturbing, upsetting crime, which had caught the attention of the media and the public.  Ruby was close to the victim.  She is passionate about working with children.  That does not make her a killer, Franky told them.  “Ruby is just a quiet girl caught up in a nightmare.  She could easily be your sister, your daughter or your friend.”

Franky watched the jurors.  Their eyes went to Ruby as they processed that idea and either accepted or rejected it.  She needed just one of those jurors to believe Ruby didn’t do it, just one to stand against the tide.  “Someone else committed this atrocity and I’m going to show you who that was.  I’ll give you a name, a face and enough evidence to make each of you ask this.  Why didn’t the police find him?”  She sat down and gave Ruby a reassuring smile. 

The judge was talking.  “Let’s take a break then if you are ready with your first witness, Mr Russell, we will recommence in fifteen minutes.”  The DPP lawyer said they were ready.

Franky leant across to Ruby.  “It’s going to sound like we’re losing but remember, we’ll get our chance next, okay?”  Ruby nodded.  Franky looked across at Stuart Roxton.  “Your father’s here again.”

“He’ll be here every day,” Ruby said a little wearily, “it’s what he does.”

Franky thought about her own father.  Amy’s offer was off the table now.  It was too late and she wasn’t sure whether she was relieved or not. 

“How’s Mr Lincoln?” Ruby asked sounding anxious.

“Who?” Franky asked with a frown.  She didn’t know anyone called Lincoln.

“The cat,” Ruby reminded her.  “Has he settled in okay?”

Franky frowned.  The cat lived under the bed mostly.  He hated Erica and she hated him.  He took great delight in ambushing them at any opportunity.  “Sure,” Franky replied. 

“He’s a friendly little tiger,” Ruby said fondly.  “He loves to sit on your lap.”

Franky just looked at her.  Were they talking about the same cat?

Franky looked at her phone and saw there were five missed calls from the same unknown number.  She went outside the courtroom to return the call. 

“Hello, this is Andrea,” said a bright spunky voice.  She sounded like she was fifteen to Franky.

“Did you just try to call me?”

“I don’t know, who are you?” asked the teenager.

“Franky Doyle,” she answered.

“Right!  Yeah.  Thanks for calling back,” she sounded enthusiastic.  “I work for Sunrise, the breakfast show on Seven, right?" Maybe not a teenager then.  "So we would really like it if you could come on the show tomorrow morning.” 

 Franky gave a disbelieving laugh.  “You’re kidding right?”

“No, serious,” Andrea replied.

“What?  So you can have another go at me and my state-funded law degree?  Forget it!”  She said plainly.

“Oh Nat’s piece, right,” the girl caught on.  “Actually no, just for a chat, thing is you’re trending sensationally.  People want to hear from you.” 

Franky shook her head in amazement at the shallowness of the media.  From zero to hero, she thought, in a matter of hours.  Still, no harm in milking it for all it was worth.  If the story became about Franky then she figured less people might have it in for her client. 

“I can’t talk about the case,” she warned.

“No worries, just you then,” Andrea agreed immediately.

“And I’m not talking to that journo who wrote the article,” Franky dictated her terms.

“Nat?  No, it will be Laura Dean, the Sunrise anchor, do you know her?”

“Nope, don’t have a TV,” Franky said.

“You’re kidding?  Well, you’ll love her, trust me.”  Andrea went on to talk through the logistics.

As soon as she finished that call, her phone rang again.  It was a reporter.  She explained she had to go back into court and rang off.  By the time Franky returned to the office that evening she had countless voicemail messages.  Stephanie told her the phones at Wilkinson and Associates had been ringing off the hook with people wanting to talk to Franky.

“What the fuck?”  She said to Erica when she rang her.  “The world’s gone mad.  Do you think it’s safe to go home?”

“Probably not, let’s go out for dinner,” Erica suggested.  “I wanted to talk to you.” 

That sounded ominous to Franky’s ears.  She tried to guess what it might be about as she waited for Erica to pick her up.  They chose Indian cuisine.  Franky ordered Bhajia, Roti Parcels and Vegetable Korma.  Erica ordered Beef Vindaloo then pleaded with Franky to share her appetizers. 

“I know who tipped off the journalist,” she offered as a trade.

“You want me to give you food in return for information?” Franky asked with surprise.  “You sound like Boomer.”

Erica shrugged.  “You won’t eat all that food you ordered,” she predicted.

Franky considered this.  “Okay, who was it?”

“Nick,” Erica answered immediately.  She watched Franky process this.  “He knew you were Ruby’s lawyer.  He also knew you’d been to prison.  He doesn’t like you,” she added, “and I checked with my secretary who knows everything, guess who he dated about a year ago,” Franky just raised her eyebrows and waited, “Natalie Perin.  Pretty conclusive I’d say,” she finished with.

Franky nodded slowly.  “Nice work,” she acknowledged.  Arsehole, she thought, Boomer should have hit him harder when she had the chance.  She gave up half her appetizers willingly.

After they had eaten their fill Franky poured more red wine into Erica’s glass then her own.  “So what did you want to talk about?” She asked as she played with her wine glass.

“The weekend,” Erica said.  Franky relaxed slightly.  This couldn’t be so bad.  “I thought I should start looking for an apartment.” 

Okay maybe it could.  “Why?” 

“Franky,” Erica said in a resigned voice, “we agreed the flat was a temporary arrangement.”  Franky drank more wine.  “I thought you could come with me and help choose it,” she suggested.

“I’ve got a better idea,” Franky offered.  “Let’s go away for the weekend.”  Erica couldn’t do any apartment shopping if she was out of town.  She waited to see Erica’s response.

“What about the cat?”  Franky had forgotten about the bloody cat.

“Boomer can feed it,” she decided, solving that little hiccup.  “So what do you think?”

Erica considered it.  She knew Franky was using it to delay Erica’s quest for alternative living arrangements but she had to admit the idea had its appeal.  She was feeling the weariness that came with the end of the year and putting everything on hold for a couple of days was tempting.  Going away with Franky, being with her without distractions, that was tempting too.  She smiled.  “Where would we go?”

“Surprise me,” was all Franky said.  Erica liked that idea too. 

“I know you think I’m reckless,” Franky said suddenly leaning forward her eyes sincere.  “But I wouldn’t do anything to jeopardise what we have, you know that don’t you?”

Erica put her hand over Franky’s where it rested on the table near her wine glass.  “What do we have?” she asked softly.

Franky smiled.  “A second chance.”

The storm when it hit took them by surprise.  Parking was a nightmare around the flat given it was Thursday night.  Erica found a spot eventually but it was a fifteen minute walk.  Franky put her arm around Erica's waist and they dawdled chatting idly.  Then the rain came.

Its force was sudden and unexpected, torrential and unforgiving, drenching them both in a matter of minutes.  Franky took Erica's hand and ran until she saw a convenient alcove that would provide some shelter.  She pulled Erica to her.  There was barely enough room for both of them.  Their hair was plastered to their heads and faces, their clothes saturated and moulded to their bodies.  The noise from the downpour made conversation almost impossible.  Erica laughed, loving the danger of being caught in the wild weather.

"What is it?" Franky asked, yelling to be heard above the noise of the storm.

"It's crazy," Erica yelled back gesturing to the weather and turning to watch it.  "I love it!"  Franky could see she did.  She looked excited, breathless, and sexy in a just fallen into the canal kind of way. 

"I love you," Franky said impulsively.   Saying out loud what was in her heart.  Erica turned back towards her, smile fading looking suddenly surprised and serious. 

Those moments before Erica responded seemed to last forever.  Her defences were down and she was completely vulnerable.  Her heart was thumping painfully against her chest.  The storm was forgotten.  There was only Erica. 

"Franky," Erica said her name but it was swallowed by an almighty clap of thunder.  She leant in and put her wet lips against Franky's and kissed her gently.   Another clap of thunder cracked above their heads followed immediately by lightning.  They were in the eye of the storm at that moment.  "Call me crazy,” she whispered in her ear, “but I love you too, every reckless bit of you."

"Only my reckless bits?" Franky asked her hands on Erica's hips, a smile on her lips, and happiness in her heart.

"Your frustrating bits as well," Erica conceded.  She kissed her then partly so Franky couldn't demand a litany of all the bits she loved and partly because she liked kissing Franky in the eye of the storm.

"It could get a little crazy," Franky warned her when the weather broke and the rain eased.  “Ruby’s trial,” she clarified, “there’s a media storm brewing.  You might get caught up in it.”  She had seen it before.

“Lucky I like storms then,” Erica said with a smile. 

They finished their walk to the flat, a little wetter, a little later but a lot happier. 

As they approached though Franky noticed a police car double parked outside the Thai restaurant.  It could be Amy but she didn’t think so.  She watched as two tall well-built police officers got out of the car.  She kept walking keeping them in her peripheral vision.

“Franky Doyle?”  They asked as she and Erica began to mount the stairs to the flat.  She turned back reluctantly.  “We need to ask you a few questions.”

Erica watched with resignation.  She was beginning to understand what life with Franky Doyle was going to be like – new, exciting, and a little bit dangerous.   

Chapter Text

Franky pushed wet hair off her forehead.  She looked down the street for any signs of cameras or reporters then back to the police officers.  “What questions?” she asked with a frown.

“If you’ll come down to the station,” the police officer added.

“What’s this about?” Erica asked politely but firmly.

“We’re investigating a missing person,” he explained.  “Miss Doyle appears to be the last person to have seen him.”  He looked at Franky.  “Darren Lock,” he clarified.

Franky shrugged.  “Who?”

“This will be easier down at the station,” was all he said.

“Easier for who?’ Franky asked drily.

Erica stepped in.  “Of course officer, we’re happy to assist but it’s late so maybe you could just ask your questions here.”

“Sorry ma’am,” the officer said implacably. 

“It’s okay,” Franky reassured Erica.  “I’ll be okay.”

The officer watched as Erica hugged Franky pulling her close.  “Where is it?” she whispered quickly into Franky’s ear.

“Stuff drawer,” she murmured in reply.  “I’ll see you soon,” she said as she broke away giving Erica a quick smile.

They took her to Amy’s station.  A Detective Harris greeted her in one of the interview rooms.

“Just a few questions, Franky, to clarify things for us,” he opened with.  Franky watched him.  His round tanned face with a scruffy pepper and salt growth creased into a smile.  His short spikey hair was greying at the edges.  He had broad shoulders and a round belly.  His demeanour and appearance made him seem like a teddy bear.  She wasn’t sure she’d be able to take anything he said seriously.  “You had an appointment with Darren Lock at 4pm on Friday the 2nd, correct?” he asked looking up from his notes.

Franky shrugged.  “Who?”

“Darren Lock,” the detective repeated with a frown.  “Green Thumbs Gardening,” he added in explanation.

“Oh,” Franky’s brow cleared.  “Sure,” she agreed.  “How did you know that?” she asked curiously.

“The company’s appointment book,” the detective offered.  Franky wondered if they had also found the green man’s worksheet in his van.  “You met him in Hawthorn at,” he referred to his notes and reeled off Stephanie’s address.  He looked up.

“Yeah,” Franky confirmed.

“Not your address,” the detective pointed out.

“No,” agreed Franky.  The detective waited.  “My boss’ address,” she clarified at last.

“Why was that?”

“Well I don’t have a garden,” Franky said as though it was obvious.  There was silence.  The detective watched her.  Franky waited patiently.

“Yes,” he replied eventually.  “In that case what was the purpose of the appointment?”

“I suspected he was involved in Henry Page's murder and I wanted an opportunity to meet him without confronting him directly.”  Franky explained rationally.

“Henry Page,” the detective’s face betrayed his confusion.

“I’m Ruby Roxton’s lawyer,” Franky stated.

“Yes, I’m aware of that,” he said.  “I’m just not sure how Darren Lock fits in.”

Franky sighed and leant forward resting her elbows on the table between them.  “He does garden maintenance at the day-care centre that Henry was taken from,” she said in a tone which said, do I really have to catch you up on this?

“Okay so you met,” he continued, “then what happened?”

“Nothing,” Franky replied sitting back in her chair and folding her arms.  Her shirt still felt damp.  “I went my way, he went his way.”

“What did you talk about at this appointment?”

“Pruning, mowing, hedging,” Franky replied with a smile.

“Nothing else?”

“Nope.”

“The thing is, Franky, Darren Lock is missing.  He’s been missing since you met him,” he said plainly.

Franky shrugged.  “I don’t know anything about that.”  She said immediately.

“Now his van has turned up,” he continued, “with blood in it – his blood.”  Franky didn’t say anything.  “When forensics went over the van they found your fingerprints.  Can you explain that?”

Franky frowned.  “Nope,” she said.  Then she offered an explanation.  “I used his secateurs,” she said, “to cut some roses to take home.  Steph has stunning roses and there were hundreds in bloom.”  She smiled.  “Maybe that’s how,” she said helpfully.

The detective watched her.  “An Erica Davidson reported you missing that same night,” he said slowly.  “Why was that then?”

“I’d misplaced my phone,” Franky answered easily, settling comfortably into the divide between truth and lie.  “She didn’t know where I was.”

“Seems pretty extreme to report you missing just because she hasn’t heard from you for a few hours,” he pointed out.

“Tell me about it,” agreed Franky immediately with a roll of her eyes.

They eyed each other for a moment.  “Did you have anything to do with Daren Lock’s disappearance?” he asked at last.

Franky shook her head.  “No,” she said clearly.  She looked at him her eyes serious and sincere.  “I need Darren Lock to defend my client against a murder charge, Detective,” she pointed out.  “I want to find him not kill him.”

Detective Harris stood up.  “All right,” he conceded.  “I’ll have a patrol car drop you home.”

He led her back to the reception area and had a word with the sergeant who nodded.

“Wilson, Jones,” he said to the two officers walking out the door.  “Drop this woman home on your way.”

Franky watched as Amy turned, her eyes seeking out the person in question.  Franky saw slight surprise register before her expression became guarded.  “Sure Sarg,” she said holding the door open.  Franky caught her eye as she passed through it but Amy didn’t acknowledge her.

“I’ll drive,” Amy said to her partner who tossed her the keys.  “Address?” she asked curtly.

“Wow, you need to work on your public liaison skills, officer,” Franky said.  Amy looked unimpressed.  “Richmond,” she said at last.  “32 Grantham St.” 

Franky got into the back seat of the patrol car.  She saw Amy watching her in the rear view mirror.  She raised her eyebrows.  Amy’s eyes returned to the road and they pulled into the traffic.  The trip was completed in silence except for the occasional chatter on the police radio.  Amy’s partner was texting on his phone.  Every so often Franky would catch Amy watching her in the mirror but she didn’t speak.  When they pulled up at the Thai restaurant Franky got out.  She walked up to Amy’s window and tapped on the glass.  Reluctantly Amy opened the window.  Franky rested her hands on the door and watched her for a moment.  “Thanks for the lift,” she said eventually.  “I’m sorry I can’t give you more.”  Amy looked at her.  She knew Franky wasn’t talking about Darren Lock and her interview with the police, “but I can’t.”  Franky shrugged and stepped away from the car.

Erica was still working when Franky walked in.  She found it easier to distract her mind with work than reading.  Stuart’s business world was even more complex than she had realised and its reach extensive.  She was still trying to get her head around exactly what he was involved in. 

“What happened?” she asked immediately.  Franky filled her in.  “Did they say whether they’d need to speak to you again?”

“Nope,” Franky drank a glass of water.  “I guess it will depend on whether or not they find him.”

“Did they say where they found the van?”  Erica closed her laptop and put it and her papers back into her leather satchel. 

“Nope,” Franky would have asked Amy to find out if she hadn’t sabotaged that avenue to information.  She assumed the green man had swapped cars because the van was too distinctive with its artwork.  “I’m going to bed.”  She had to get up at sparrow’s fart to do the Sunrise gig. 

The rain had brought temperatures back to normal which meant Erica let Franky snuggle instead of banishing her to the edge of the bed.  She kissed Erica’s shoulder.

“I got rid of that incriminating evidence for you,” Erica said suddenly. 

Franky’s hand halted in its journey towards Erica’s breast.  She had forgotten about the pruning knife.  “Where is it?”

“Somewhere the police will never find it,” Erica assured her.  Franky was relieved.  She had taken the knife with her when she had escaped from the van because she had thought she might need a weapon.  Now she was glad she had.  If they had found the knife in the van with the green man’s blood on it and her fingerprints, she would have been in serious shit.  She should have dumped it immediately but she hadn’t and then she had forgotten about it until the police had turned up.  Erica’s cool thinking had impressed her.  She felt confident Erica had her back.  She couldn’t help thinking they were a pretty awesome pairing in more ways than one.  Her hand resumed its journey.  “I thought you had to get up at the crack of dawn,” Erica said realising Franky’s intentions.  She shifted position so she could kiss Franky.

“That’s hours away,” Franky told her.  Her mouth moved to Erica’s throat. 

“You’ll have bags under your eyes on national television,” she said unevenly.  Franky was pinching her nipple and it was responding enthusiastically to the attention.

“Shut up,” Franky demanded.  “And I promise to ravish you properly.” 

Erica didn’t need to be told twice.     

Franky was at the Seven studios at 6am.  She was greeted by a bouncy Andrea.  Franky felt no one had the right to be that bright and bubbly so early.  Andrea was small with multi-coloured hair and multiple facial piercings.  She wore cargo pants and a baggy flannel shirt.  A pen was stuck behind her right ear.  She looked as old as she sounded.

“Franky, awesome,” she greeted her.  “So I’m going to introduce you to the producer and then Laura.  They’ll talk you through the segment and where to look and what not to say or do,” she grinned.  “Although you’d be pretty comfortable in front of the cameras I guess.”  Franky assumed it was a reference to her previous career as a reality TV contestant and nodded.  “Sweet,” Andrea nodded.  “Then I’ll take you into make-up.”  She looked at Franky’s conservative outfit which she wore to court.  “And wardrobe,” she added.  “Can I get you anything?”

“Coffee,” Franky said immediately. 

Erica had been disturbed by Franky getting up and offered to drive her to the studio.  So she arrived at work when the lights were still off and there was an eerie silence cloaking the corridors.  It was probably the same at night she admitted but she never seemed to notice it when she was working late in her office.  She set herself up in the conference room where there was a television and put Sunrise on in the background so she could watch Franky’s interview. 

Laura Dean was welcoming.  “Franky, thanks so much for coming on the show.  Our viewers are dying to hear your story so don’t be shy,” she smiled her perfect, appealing, ratings smile.  Her make-up was finished and she looked immaculate.  “Think of it as a chat – just the two of us,” her blue eyes twinkled.  “Is anything off limits?”

“The trial,” Franky said. 

The presenter nodded.  “Of course, we’ll mention it in passing but I won’t ask you anything about it.  Anything else?”

Franky shook her head.  The woman had incredible charisma and Franky could feel herself responding to it.  She had to be close to forty but could pass for thirty.  She kept herself in good shape and her Scandinavian background gave her face eternal youth.  Franky watched her walk away admiring her figure.

“Told you,” Andrea said at her side, her eyes following Franky’s.  “She is awesome!” 

Erica looked up from her reading when they announced Franky.  Wardrobe had decided Franky should wear tight black pants, heels and a tailored, fitted shirt which they left open down to her cleavage so audiences could get a glimpse of her tattoo if the camera angle was right.  Make-up had enhanced her eyes but otherwise they kept it minimal.  She looked good, a professional with edge.

They talked about Franky’s conviction and showed the footage of her attack on Mike Pennisi.  Laura Dean’s interview style was engaging, inviting confidences, and it seemed to work.  Franky was open in her answers about prison and what it was like to lose your freedom, dignity, and self-respect.

“What was the worst thing you had to do in prison?” Laura asked fascinated.

Franky didn’t answer the question directly.  “I did anything I had to do to survive.  It wasn’t pretty but I wouldn’t be here now if I hadn’t done those things.” 

She talked about how she managed to turn her fortunes around by making the most of her opportunities, not letting setbacks stop her, and using all her talents to their full potential.  She told Laura Dean things she hadn’t told Erica like being sexually assaulted and almost being killed in prison power plays.

“How about sex, Franky?”  Laura asked suddenly.

“Are you offering?” Franky asked with raised eyebrows and a saucy smile. 

Erica, watching, realised suddenly Franky was flirting with the attractive Sunrise anchor.  “She can’t help herself,” she said under her breath in amazement.

Laura laughed, delightfully in Franky’s view, and possibly blushed under her make-up.  “Tell me about sex in prison,” she invited.  “Television would have us believe that everyone in a women’s prison turns into a raging lesbian as soon as they walk through those gates, how close to reality is that?”

Franky laughed.  “Not very,” she said dismissively.  “There are some misconceptions about what goes on in prison.  Many different types of alliances are formed between the prisoners themselves and between the screws and prisoners.  Some of these are sexual in nature but the reasons behind them are varied.  For some women it’s about wanting protection and having a sexual relationship with another prisoner gives them that.  For others it’s the need for intimacy with another person.  Prison is a lonely place.  Some prisoners use sex to intimidate.  Then there are the women, like me,” she smiled, “who just like having sex with women.  Prison doesn’t turn you gay,” Franky assured her.  “Most women go back to their boyfriends or husbands once they’ve done their time.”

“One final question,” Laura looked serious.  “Prison has its own rules from what you’ve been saying and its own rough justice.  What is waiting for Ruby Roxton in prison if she is convicted of murdering Henry Page?”

Franky hesitated.  Don’t say anything, Erica thought as she watched the camera cut to a close up of Franky’s face.  Even as she thought it, she watched Franky glance quickly at the camera lens.  “She won’t last a month in there.  If there is one thing female prisoners agree on it’s that they detest anyone who hurts children.”

“She’ll be killed?” Laura clarified.

“Yes,” Franky said clearly. 

“Fucking hell, Franky, that’s contempt!” Erica said in frustration.  She rubbed her brow.  She picked up her phone and made a call.  “Are you watching this?” she asked.

“Yes,” Stephanie replied.  “Franky should know better.”

“She knew exactly what she was doing,” Erica retorted.  “She just doesn’t care.”

“Franky will always do things her own way, Erica,” Stephanie pointed out.  “It’s what makes her stand out from the crowd.  You’re just going to have to accept it,” the older woman said bluntly, “if you’re serious about her.”  Erica realised Stephanie Wilkinson knew exactly what was going on.

As Franky left the Seven studios she and Natalie Perin passed each other at the front doors.  She remembered what Erica had said at dinner the night before. 

“Hey Nat,” she said turning her head to catch the journalist’s eye.  “Tell Nick thanks for the publicity,” she smiled and kept walking.

An hour later Franky felt Justice O’Connell’s stern eyes upon her and she looked up.  The judge was frowning.  The morning session was about to commence.  Here we go, thought Franky, and she sat back in her chair and waited. 

"Before we bring the jury in,” the judge began with, “can I remind everyone that any discussion of the trial in the media will have serious ramifications.”  Justice O'Connell frowned over her glasses at the young lawyer.  "Are you listening, Miss Doyle?"

“Yes, your honour,” Franky acknowledged, equally serious.

“I do not want this to turn into media circus.  I do not want you using the media to bias the jury.”

"I don't believe I have discussed the trial, your honour," Franky defended herself.

"Well let me make it clear then.  I caught your little stunt on Sunrise this morning, and I won't have it." The judge said sternly.  "If you insist on making a mockery of this court, Miss Doyle, I will hold you in contempt.  Consider yourself warned."  She turned to the prosecution.  "I will advise the jury to ignore anything they have heard in the media about this case."

Franky looked at Ruby.  She looked anxious.  “You didn’t see Sunrise this morning, did you?” she asked suddenly.  She hadn’t considered that a possibility. “Shit,” she muttered when she saw Ruby nod.

“It’s okay, Franky, I’ve already had a taste of it, remember?”  She said it without emotion.  “I know what’s coming.” It sounded so tragic and inevitable.

“It’s not over,” Franky said immediately.  “Don’t think it is, okay?”

The jury entered and the judge cautioned them not to be influenced by anything they heard in the media.  Franky felt their eyes on her.  She was pretty sure almost every juror had seen Sunrise that morning or had heard about it.

The prosecution continued to present their evidence and when the forensics expert was on the stand Franky took the opportunity to cross-examine. 

“You also checked my client’s car, didn’t you?” she asked.

“Yes,” confirmed the witness.

“What were you looking for?” Franky asked with a smile.

“Evidence that Henry Page had been in it,” he explained.

“And what did you find?” Franky asked with a frown.

“Nothing,”

“Nothing?”  Franky looked at the jury with a question in her eyes. 

“No evidence that Henry Page had ever been in the car,” he clarified.

“Did you check any other vehicles for forensics relating to this case?”

“No,” he admitted.

“So you didn’t find anything in my client’s car to connect her to Henry’s murder and you didn’t check any other vehicles.  There seems to be a bit of a gap in the prosecution’s logic in that case.” She said looking at the jury.

“Objection,” the DPP lawyer leapt his feet. 

“Is there a question looming, Miss Doyle?” asked the judge drily.

“Nothing further,” Franky said without apology and sat down.

She followed this strategy whenever there was the opportunity to point out there was no actual evidence connecting Ruby to crime or another feasible explanation could be equally applied to the information presented. 

When they broke for lunch she noticed Erica sitting in the gallery.  She went up to her.  “What are you doing here?” she asked with smile.

“I had to get Stuart to sign some papers so I thought I’d come down and see you in action.”  Erica told her.

“Wanna buy me lunch?  My client isn’t paying me much,” she said with a grin.

“Okay,” Erica agreed with a smile.  “I know a great café near here.”  She didn’t mention it was one she and Mark went to regularly.  Franky didn’t need to know that and the food was good despite the history.

As they left court there were some photographers who took the opportunity to snap Franky and a journalist asked for a comment on the trial.  Erica teased her about being a celebrity. 

At the café they ordered then Franky checked her messages while Erica went to the bathroom.  There were a lot of positive tweets about her interview and even some voicing concern for Ruby’s safety in prison.  So far so good, she thought.

“I don’t know how you do it,” Erica said as she sat down.  Franky gave her a questioning look.  “Why aren’t you on a contempt charge?” she asked. 

Franky shrugged.  “Could it be my good looks and charm, do you think?” she asked seriously.  “It’s the only explanation I can think of,” she added with a grin.

“Well it’s one more than I can think of,” Erica replied with a shake of her head.  She had considered Stephanie’s words and had decided upon reflection that she had a point.  Franky was a risk-taker.  Erica admired that about her. So she would just accept it, like Stephanie said. 

Their meals arrived.  “Stuart said he’s happy with your approach in court,” Erica offered as she picked up her knife and fork. 

“I don’t give a toss whether or not he’s happy,” Franky said dismissively.  “He’s not my client.”

“He’s very influential,” Erica reminded her.  “I thought you’d have your eye on the end game.”

Franky finished her mouthful.  “I do,” she said seriously.  She looked at Erica with resolute eyes.  “Why do you think I gave him to Vince Diamond?”   

Erica looked puzzled.  “Because it was the lesser of two evils,” she said after a moment.

Franky shook her head.  “No,” she said eventually.  “Why do you think fellow prisoners kill child molesters?”  Her green eyes were dark and serious.

“They’re often educated so don’t fit into prison society well, fellow prisoners are often parents and so abhor a crime which so easily could have been committed on one of their own children.”  Erica reeled off the answer her social work degree had given her.

Franky nodded.  “Yeah, all that,” she agreed, “but also because they tend to reoffend, once a child molester, always a child molester.”

“You think he’s still doing it?” Erica sounded incredulous. 

Franky shrugged.  “Scary thought, isn’t it?”

“What if you’re wrong?”  Erica asked suddenly.  “What if the abuse that caused Ruby’s condition came from another quarter?  What if Ruby’s hatred of her father comes from a sense of being let down or not being protected by him?”  The lawyer in her couldn’t help but argue the alternative view.

“I’m not wrong,” Franky said quietly and with conviction. 

She couldn’t say how she knew with such certainty.  Maybe it was her conversations with Ruby.  Maybe it was the subtle nuances in tone and word that only someone who has also been abused as a child would pick up on. Whatever it was, she didn’t want to spend her time with Erica dwelling on it. 

“So,” she said pouring more water for them both.  “What should I pack?”

Erica was also happy to move the conversation on.  “Oh no,” she shook her head.  “You said to surprise you, and that is what I intend to do,” she replied firmly, “so no clues.”

“Asking what I should take is not about clues, it’s being practical,” Franky pointed out. 

“The clothes aren’t important,” Erica said ambiguously.  “Is there anything you don’t want to do?”

“Nope,” she said immediately. 

“Then relax,” Erica said with a smile. 

“Shit!  I’ve got it!  We’re going to a nudist resort, aren’t we?” Franky guessed. 

Erica laughed.  “How do you draw that conclusion?”

“Clothes don’t matter, the question about my boundaries, your exhibitionist tendencies,” Franky counted them off on her fingers.  “How am I doing so far?”

“You are so cold you’re in the freezer,” Erica said bluntly.  “Are there even such things as nudist resorts?”

Franky shrugged.  “Dunno,” she said, putting a forkful of salad into her mouth.  “I’ll google it,” she offered through a mouthful of food.  “We could go to one on our next holiday if you like.”  She grinned.

“I’ll sure your paparazzi would love that,” Erica said under her breath.  Her phone rang.  She looked apologetically at Franky as she answered it.  “Hello?” she said.  “Yes it is,” she listened. 

Franky watched her, listening to Erica’s side of the conversation but unable to work out who she was talking to.  She raised her eyebrows in question when Erica rang off.

“That was a Detective Harris,” Erica told her.  “He wants to interview me.”

“You?” Franky said with surprise.  “What about?”

“What do you think?” Erica asked in a resigned voice.  “I’d say your friend Amy has been talking.”

Chapter Text

"Remind me why we're doing this again," Franky said dubiously as she peered over the edge of the granite rock.

Erica looked disappointed.  "You said you didn't like holidays where you just sat around without doing anything," she reminded her.

Franky had a vague recollection of saying that.  She'd meant though that four weeks lying by a pool would drive her barmy.  There was only so much reading a girl could do after all.  A two day getaway spent in bed having sex and sleeping sounded just fine to her.  Still Erica deserved brownie points for listening, Franky acknowledged, and trying to accommodate her wishes.

Erica watched her as Franky tightened the straps of her safety harness.  She was wearing shorts and a sleeveless top.  She looked in her element even though she had told Erica she'd never done any abseiling or rock climbing in her life.

"Helmet," Erica reminded her. 

Franky frowned.  "I'm not wearing that," she said dismissively.  "It will ruin my sexy look," she added with a grin.

Erica squinted into the sun.  "Oh come on, you'd look sexy in a Miss Piggy outfit."

"Ooh," Franky grinned suggestively.  "Role plays, now you're just teasing me."  She grabbed Erica's hips as her girlfriend put a helmet on her head and clipped it securely.

Franky watched while Erica checked her knots.  “Good job,” she said at last.  “Where did you learn to tie knots?” she asked curiously.

“My father taught me,” Franky replied.  She saw Erica’s hands become still on her harness.  She looked up to find Erica watching her.

“He taught you well,” she said after a moment.

“I practised a lot,” Franky admitted, and she had, to impress her father she had practised those knots until her fingers had blistered.  It was one of the few memories of her father that wasn’t tainted.  It had also proved to be a useful life skill. 

Erica didn’t comment further but she gave Franky’s arm a light squeeze as she went to check her own ropes.

“So you’ve done a lot of this?”  Franky asked as she watched Erica.

“I used to do it all the time as a teenager,” Erica admitted.  “My father is a keen mountain climber.  Every school holidays he would take me on trips right up until I started uni.”

“But not with Mark?”  There was a question in Franky’s voice.

Erica looked up from what she was doing.  “Mark is afraid of heights.  There is no way he would ever walk off the edge of a cliff for me.”

There was a message in that seemingly benign statement which Franky heard loud and clear.  She peered over the edge again.  How hard could it be?  She was attached to a rope with a safety harness for fuck’s sake.  If this was some kind of test Franky intended to pass it.  The first drop was not sheer and only about thirty metres in length.  The next one, Erica had told her, was longer.

“Okay, let’s do this,” Franky said casually.  She listened to Erica’s instructions and followed her example to prepare herself for the first descent.   Her heart was racing by the time she positioned herself on the edge of the rock face. 

“Remember, lean back, the worst part is the initial bit until your rope jags against the edge of the rock.  I’ll wait until you’re on your way then I’ll follow you.”  She watched Franky disappear over the edge, a study of concentration.  “Don’t do anything reckless,” she added under her breath. 

Twenty-four hours earlier Erica had left their impromptu lunch date to go down to the station and meet with Detective Harris about the disappearance of Darren Lock.  Franky had gone over again with her what she had said in her own interview with the detective.  "Not that it will matter if Amy has talked," she finished with.

Erica looked serious.  "You didn't do anything wrong," She reminded her.  "You're the victim and everything you did was to extract yourself from a potentially life threatening situation."

"The cops won't care about that," Franky said realistically. 

"What time will court finish?"  Erica asked.

"Four, maybe sooner if the prosecution finishes this afternoon," Franky replied.  She didn't think their last witness would take that long.

"I'll meet you at the flat then," Erica smiled reassuringly. 

"Yeah," Franky agreed absently.  "Good luck with Harris."

Franky was furious.  As she returned to court she rang Amy.  It went through to voicemail.  "What the fuck, Amy?" She exclaimed as soon as she heard the beep.  "If you're going to fuck me over at least have the guts to answer your fucking phone!"  She rang off.

When she got out of court though, there was a message from Amy asking if they could meet.  Franky shook her head in amazement.  She called her.

"You've got some nerve!" She said when Amy picked up. 

"Franky," Amy sounded concerned.  "I have no idea what you're talking about."

"Talking?  Well you've been doing a bit of that, haven't you?  Just because I wouldn't fuck you, is that it?  Which I'm pretty sure I made clear when you kissed me fucking months ago, Amy, so I don't know what fantasy world you've been living in since!"

"Can we meet?" Amy managed to get in.

"No, we can't fucking meet.  I am going away for the weekend, with my girlfriend," she added, "unless you have fucked that up as well!"  She rang off. 

She called Boomer.  "Need you to do something for me, Booms," she said when her friend answered.

"What now?" Boomer asked reluctantly.  "Only I'm kinda busy, ay."

"No, not now," Franky conceded.  "I’m going away with Erica for a couple of days so feed the cat, will you?"

"Sure," Boomer agreed amicably.  "How do I get in?"

"I'll leave a key," Franky decided.

"Where?"

"I dunno Booms," Franky said with frustration.  "I'll text you where, okay?"

"Okay, where are you going, somewhere posh?" Boomer asked curiously.

Franky thought about that.  She actually had no idea where Erica might be thinking of going.  It was intriguing.  She was curious.  Somewhere posh, the idea of it bounced around her imagination and she liked the feel of it.  Luxury, it wasn't something she was familiar with but she imagined it involved feeling good, cared for, indulged. 

"Yeah," she agreed, "something like that." 

Only it hadn't been quite what she had expected.  Erica had surprised her. 

Her girlfriend sparred with Detective Harris for most of the afternoon.  “Maybe you could forget you’re a lawyer for a minute, Miss Davidson, and start answering some questions instead of asking them,” the detective said wearily.

Erica smiled.  “I am only too happy to help, Detective, what exactly is the question you are asking?”

And so it went on until Erica noticed the time and decided to wrap things up so she could go away for the weekend with her girlfriend.  “It is perfectly simple,” she said, “Franky thought Darren Lock was involved in Henry’s disappearance.  When she didn’t turn up at the flat I was very worried she had confronted a murderer and come off the worst for it.  I panicked.  As it turned out Franky had misplaced her phone and I had over-reacted.  We went to the races the next day,” she added.  “Do you really think we would have done that if Franky had been involved in that man’s disappearance?”  Then she added for good measure.  “Have you checked his finances?  He’s probably in debt.”

The detective let her go shortly afterwards, probably happy to see the back of her, and she was almost sorry the game was over.  She went back to the flat to pack and wait for Franky to return from court.  They got away just after 5pm.  Franky was armed with chips, water and apples.  Erica filled her in.

 “So not Amy,” Franky said, watching the road ahead.

“No, it was the guy from Green Thumbs who I rang that night looking for Darren Lock’s number,” Erica explained.  “He gave my mobile number to the police and they traced it back.”

Franky was silent thinking if Amy hadn’t talked yet then the blast she had given the police officer that afternoon on the phone might have been enough to make Amy reassess her loyalties.  It hadn’t been very strategic of her and Franky kicked herself mentally.  Dumb-arse move, Doyle, she thought ruefully.  She didn’t know why she had reacted so strongly except she hadn’t liked the idea of Amy dragging Erica into it.  It had seemed spiteful. 

“I’d drive,” she offered, “but I don’t know where we’re going,” she pointed out.

Erica smiled.  “This is killing you, isn’t it?”  She looked sideways at Franky.  “You really like to be in control.”

“Nothing wrong with that,” Franky didn’t deny it. 

“Just an observation,” Erica replied.  She put her hand on Franky’s thigh.  “Sometimes I quite like it.”

“I’ve noticed,” Franky said with a smirk.  She opened the chips and put her feet up on the dash.

She thought about being in control of things.  It had been so important in prison where having any control was like trying to catch a feather in a hurricane.  Even now, she acknowledged, the thought that things were slipping out of her control bothered her. 

The craziness of the week caught up with Franky and she fell asleep after exhausting a set of twenty questions trying to guess where they were going.  She didn’t wake up until they reached their destination. 

The accommodation was luxurious.  A bungalow located in the middle of isolated bushland.  It had high ceilings and large windows which, they discovered the next day, looked out on spectacular views.  The king bed had floor to ceiling windows on three sides.  There was an outdoor spa under the stars lighted by eco-lamps built into the decking. There had been champagne chilling on ice accompanied by fruit and cheese.

“Wow,” Franky said when she’d finished exploring.  “Who died and left you a fortune?”  She asked with a grin. 

“I got lucky at the races,” Erica replied.

“Yes, you did,” Franky grinned wickedly.  “Won some money too if I remember right.” 

She hooked up her phone to the surround sound stereo system and grabbed the champagne.    “Let’s have sex under the stars,” she suggested wrapping her arms around Erica’s waist.  “Let’s get loud,” she murmured in her ear.  “I want to hear you scream with ecstasy, so loud that our neighbours, wherever the fuck they are, can hear you.”

“Oh I plan to,” Erica said taking the champagne from Franky and walking out onto the deck.  Franky watched her as she turned on the spa.  The large uncovered windows gave her the perfect view.  Then Erica slowly unbuttoned her shirt until flashes of lacy red bra appeared.  She reached behind her revealing more cleavage as she unzipped her business skirt, slid it over her hips leaning forward provocatively as she stepped out of it.  Franky couldn’t move she was so mesmerised by the slow reveal.  Erica turned towards the spa and leant over to feel the water temperature.  Her shirt rode up revealing a totally sexy arse encased in totally sexy underwear which teased Franky’s imagination.  As she leaned over the spa Franky watched her shapely legs which were shown off to perfection by her high heels.  She loved Erica’s legs and her arse.  It wasn’t until the first time she got Erica naked that Franky realised just how much she loved them.  They were smooth and soft and so fair and feminine.  Franky loved how they felt under her hands.  She thought about them all slippery and wet in the spa.  Erica peeled off her shirt and her shoes then sat on the edge of the spa.  In one fluid movement she slid into the steaming bubbles and immersed herself up to her neck.  She moved so she was facing Franky and stood up letting the water stream off her body.  She’d left on her underwear which was even more revealing wet.  She looked directly at Franky and beckoned her with her index finger. 

It was so fucking hot that Franky only spared a moment to grab two glasses and the bowl of strawberries before doing as she was bid.  Her libido over-rode the voice in her head reminding her she didn’t like water that much, particularly if there was a chance that her head would be submerged.

 She pulled off her clothes not bothering with buttons and almost suffocating herself as she struggled to pull the tight shirt over her head.  Her black bra hugged her breasts and she followed Erica’s lead and left it and her underwear on when she slid into the warm water.  She loved the way the aerated water tingled against her skin.  There was a ledge and she sat on the edge of it with relief.  Erica straddled her sitting in her lap facing her.  She reached behind Franky and as she did so her breast pressed against Franky.  When she pulled back she had a strawberry which she put between her teeth and offered to Franky.  The taste of Franky and strawberry was a match made in fantasies.  She repeated it again and again kissing Franky thoroughly to savour it.  Franky had managed to unhook Erica’s bra and take it off so those perky breasts were wet and glistening in the soft light.  The night air was cool and her nipples responded to it.  Franky’s mouth was warm as she bent Erica back slightly so she could capture one of those breasts with her lips.  Her mouth slipped easily across its wet surface until it found her swollen hard nipple.  Erica’s reaction was immediate.  She put her hands in Franky’s hair and pulled her closer.  Sometimes Erica’s nipples were hypersensitive and Franky realised tonight was one of those times.  She wasn’t quite as rough as she normally liked to be.  She heard Erica above the jets moaning softly and noticed she had changed her position so she could grind against Franky’s thigh.  Time to take back control she decided and peeled off Erica’s underwear then the water made it easy for Franky to lift her and place her on the edge of the tub.  Her mouth was at the perfect height and she knelt on the ledge to ground herself and put Erica’s legs over her shoulders.  Then she realised the jet that was positioned to massage her back as she sat on the ledge was now pushing water against her thigh which was then bouncing off it causing amazing sensations against her already excited centre.  Her mouth was teasing Erica and the water jet activity was teasing her.  Gradually she built the excitement for both of them until Erica was getting very loud just as she’d promised and her sounds and the water jet got Franky off as Franky’s tongue and fingers did the same for Erica.  

So far the weekend was working out just fine, Franky thought, as she pulled Erica back into the water and kissed her. 

Franky had woken with the birds and watched as kangaroos grazed happily on the lush green lawn which created a fire break before the native eucalypt forest began its dominance of the landscape on this side of the bungalow.  She hadn’t spent much time out of the city and found the idea of wildlife in her backyard fascinating.  She lay on her stomach watching them for ages.  There were joeys in the pouch of a couple of the female kangaroos and some young ones just free of the pouch. 

Erica had distracted her eventually with her hands and mouth as they leisurely explored Franky’s naked body building desire slowly but surely until Franky wasn’t interested in the kangaroos any more. She rolled over suddenly presenting Erica with another area to explore which was hot and wet with desire. Erica’s breath teased Franky’s sex. “Turn round,” Franky instructed and as she did Franky grabbed a pillow for her head and Erica grabbed something else.  She straddled Franky and as she sank lower she could feel Franky’s tongue start to explore her own throbbing butterfly.  She followed Franky’s lead mirroring the kissing, tonguing and fluttering encouraging Franky to do to her what she wanted in return but then Erica added her own distinctive touch which she knew would drive Franky wild.  She switched on a small vibrator and slid it gently against Franky’s other entrance. 

Franky’s “Oh fuck,” against her nub caused Erica to almost lose track of her task the sensations were so intense.  As Franky’s excitement grew her attentions became more frenzied.  Erica could feel herself building to orgasm.  If she and Franky could climax together it would be the perfect way to start the day.  She doubled her efforts so her tongue, her fingers and the vibrator were combining in a symphony of sensations that took Franky to the very top of the roller coaster ride and tipped her over the edge.  Erica thrust herself even lower hoping Franky could still breathe then lost herself in her own orgasm fully enjoying Franky’s continued tonguing which took her straight into another one.  In the end she had to pull away because it was too much. 

She rolled onto her side and smiled languidly at Franky.  “That was so good it should be illegal,” she said eventually.

“I think it is in some countries,” Franky said putting her hand on Erica’s leg and running it lightly across the surface.  “Hello,” she murmured. 

Erica was still smiling.  “Hello,” she watched Franky, drinking in the sight of her, wondering what she was thinking.

“Do you think this place has any coffee?”  Franky asked at last.

“I don’t know.  I could get up and find out, if you want,” Erica said.  She made no attempt to move.

“Mm,” Franky said without much enthusiasm.  “Maybe,” she rolled onto her side, her hand still stroking Erica’s leg.  “Caffeine withdrawal causes me to lose all sense of perspective,” she said randomly.

“Is that what causes it?” Erica asked with a grin.  She liked the feel of Franky’s hand against her skin.  It was so much softer than a man’s hand.  Everything about Franky was softer except her edginess.

It was hunger that forced them up eventually.  Franky looked at the courtesy breakfast package, which she suspected was not at all courtesy but rather included in whatever exorbitant rate Erica had paid for this luxury isolation.  She made omelettes, toast and pan-fried tomatoes and got very excited when she realised there was a proper expresso coffee maker.  “This is fucking unreal,” she said to Erica as she handed her a plate of food and a freshly brewed coffee. 

“You’re unreal,” Erica said in reply.  “I can’t begin to tell you,” she said as she put a piece of toast in her mouth.

“Oh go on,” Franky encouraged her.  She wanted to ask Erica to tell her again that she loved her.  She wanted to hear it again to be sure it hadn’t been an aberration of the storm, a response to the moment rather than a truth to outlast time.  She wanted to erase the memory of that conversation with Mark.  The one she hadn’t mentioned.  The one she wanted to forget.  She didn’t though instead she sipped her coffee.

Erica heard doubt beneath the bravado.  “You’re something special Franky Doyle,” she said.  “Do you even know how special you are?”  Franky’s green eyes just watched her as she sat cross-legged on the bed, plate in her lap, coffee mug in her hands, hair mussed up, looking not at all special.  Erica’s heart tightened suddenly in her chest.  She really was falling for this girl with her tattoos and her chequered history and her raw energised potential.

They had driven into the national park, left the car at the end of the fire trail and then hiked into the spot where they were at the moment.  The trees ended in a cluster of large granite boulders.  She and Erica scrambled up them and were presented with a spectacular view across to the ranges.  Franky drew in her breath.  It was beautiful in its vastness and subtle colourings of greys and blues and eucalypt greens.  Erica pointed down to where the valley floor was barely visible below them.  “That’s where we’re headed,” she said, sounding confident and certain.

“How?”  Franky asked.  There didn’t seem to be any path to lead them down the cliff face. 

Erica was taking off her backpack and pulling out ropes.  Franky watched her, realisation dawning slowly, she looked down again.  “No fucking way,” she muttered.

But then Erica seemed so sure and Franky had thought, “Why the fuck not?”  People did it all the time and lived to tell the tale.  Erica clearly knew what she was doing.  And it made sense to her that Erica ‘I don’t want safe’ Davidson was into extreme sports.  Franky was fit and fearless and she suspected she would need both of those before the day was over.

Franky found that first descent was the worst even though it was the easiest.  Going over the edge had taken some courage she admitted.  Then the positioning of her body felt unnatural and she had to constantly resist the urge to shift herself into an upright position.  Erica came behind her descending like it was the most natural thing in the world.  She passed Franky giving her a word of encouragement pushing herself off the rock face and rappelling rapidly using her feet to keep her away from the cliff wall.  Franky watched her admiring her balance and skill.  She decided then she would try freefalling before the day was out.

From the lower ledge Erica could watch Franky descend.  She was doing well for a novice.  There was none of the hesitation which usually gripped first-timers.  Franky rarely second guessed herself, Erica suspected, and once she had chosen her path she didn’t question that choice.  It served her well when abseiling. 

“How was that?”  Erica asked her when her feet touched the ledge.

Franky shrugged.  “Okay, I guess,” she sounded blasé but she looked pretty pleased with herself.

They made another three descents each one a little tricker and longer than the last.  The final drop began on an overhanging rock and then a vertical freefall of about 100 metres to the bottom.

“You ready to try a freefall?” Erica asked her.

“Sure, why not?”  Franky agreed casually.  She was excited by the prospect though. 

“You’re a natural at this,” Erica told her with a smile.

Erica showed her how to set up for a free fall, how to slow and brake.  They had been using anchors already set up and Erica had checked them carefully to ensure she was happy with their integrity.

"You go first," she instructed Franky.  "That way if you get into trouble I can come down and rescue you."

Franky laughed.  "I'd like to see that," she said but decided not to waste the opportunity.  "You better kiss me for luck," she insisted.

Their helmets clashed.  Erica smelt of sunscreen and tasted of coconut lip balm.  Her hands were on Franky's shorts pulling her close.  She opened her mouth kissing Franky properly.  "You look very sexy in your helmet," she murmured against her mouth.

Actually Franky looked pretty damn fantastic.  She suited the outdoors.  Her shorts were short showing off her long tanned and toned legs.  She had a couple of scrapes on her knees from hitting the edge of the cliff face.  Her trademark sleeveless top showed her muscles to advantage and perspiration gave her skin a golden glow.

"So do you," Franky returned the compliment.  Even in her climbing gear with her hair up there was something feminine sexy about Erica.

"Ready?" Erica asked as she patted Franky on the butt.

Franky nodded and Erica watched her disappear over the edge.  When Franky had suggested a weekend away she had really wanted to surprise her and introduce Franky to one of the things she liked to do.  At least something she used to like to do.  Erica had discovered early on that extreme sports could give her that little bit of danger she craved.   For the past ten years she had stifled it, suffocated it but it hadn't died.  It had festered within her waiting for the chance to flourish.  Franky had given it that.

Now she couldn't understand how she had stayed with Mark for so long when clearly they didn't suit, not in the bedroom, not in life.  He had wanted the package, a smart, attractive woman who would share his desire for a calm, comfortable, conservative life.  A life her parents had, a life her friends at school had craved. 

She heard Franky call up to signal her safe descent.  Erica unclipped Franky's rope and calling out a warning she dropped it down.  Then she clipped herself to the anchor, sent her own rope over the edge, did a safety check and launched off the cliff.  The rapid descent was thrilling and although 100 metres was a decent drop she could have happily gone further. 

"What now?"  Franky asked once they had packed up their gear.  "I mean how do we get back to the car?" She squinted as she looked back up from where they'd come.  It would be one hell of a hike.

Erica saw the expression on Franky's face and laughed.  "Relax," she said.  "Are you hungry?"   Franky nodded.  "Then let's find a shady spot."

The meal consisted of peanut butter and jam sandwiches, apples and chocolate.  It was simple but it tasted sensational.  "I think the fresh air makes everything taste better," Erica said.

Franky was perched on a rock eating her apple with a knife.  She was watching Erica.  "Okay," she said at last.  "You surprised me."

"Did you enjoy it?" Erica sounded a little anxious.

"Are you kidding?  I loved it," Franky was quick to reassure her.  "I want to do it again, right now," she admitted.  “That last descent,” Franky whistled silently.  “That was seriously good.”  Erica was pleased.  She smiled at Franky then stood up and crossed the small distance between them.  She sat on Franky's lap facing her and put her arms around her neck. 

"I'm glad," she said softly her blue eyes serious.  “That means a lot to me.”  She leant down and kissed Franky, her fingers running lightly through her hair. 

"So did I pass?" Franky asked after a minute.  Her green eyes looking quizzical.

Erica frowned.  "Pass what?"

"The test," Franky raised her eyebrows.  "Wasn't this a test?"  Erica frowned looking confused.  Franky just laughed.

The sound of a helicopter approaching overhead distracted them.  They looked up to see it pass over the cliffs into the valley.  "That's our ride," Erica said and she stood up.

Franky's mouth opened.  "We're going in a helicopter?" She asked in amazement.

"Yes," confirmed Erica.  "Ever been in one?" She asked although she was pretty sure she knew the answer.  Franky just shook her head.  "Well it's a weekend of firsts then."

Erica picked up her pack and put it over her shoulder.  Franky wondered what else Erica had in mind for the weekend as she did the same.  Then Erica held out her hand and Franky slipped hers into Erica’s and they walked hand in hand to the clearing. 

 

Chapter Text

Erica looked up to find Franky watching her.  It was late evening.  The weekend glow had left them and work now consumed them both.  It seemed surreal that they had been lazing about in happy abandon just a few days ago.

She had come home to find Franky on the couch with the cat on her lap and a delicious aroma wafting from the oven.  Two sets of green eyes watched her enter, one thoughtful and the other suspicious.  Franky had been reading a report but she had stopped when Erica had run her hands over her shoulders.  “You feel tense,” Erica had told her and she had massaged her shoulders lightly.

Franky was having trouble sleeping.  Erica had noticed it but when she had asked Franky if something was bothering her she had just shaken her head.  She knew Franky was worried about getting Ella on the stand.  Her testimony was critical to Ruby's defence.  Now the prosecution had finished the media's attention, which had been piqued by Franky, was firmly focussed on the young defendant and her charismatic lawyer.  Franky had told Erica she couldn't leave the court buildings without getting mobbed by reporters.

“I made quiche,” Franky had told her then she shifted the cat, who complained at the unceremonious change in its circumstances.  She had stretched, reaching up behind her to take Erica’s hands and pull them down over her shoulders so Erica’s cheek had rested against hers.  “I don’t think you should move out,” she had said suddenly. Erica hadn’t said anything but she realised Franky wasn’t going to let this one go quietly.

They had eaten dinner and Erica had cleaned up then Franky had returned to her report and Erica had been working on her laptop at the kitchen bench because her battery was low and she needed a power outlet.

Now she looked into those green eyes wondering what was on Franky’s mind.  “You look very serious,” Erica told her.  Franky was propped against the arm of couch facing Erica, one leg tucked under her and the other stretched out on the couch in front of her.  Erica closed her laptop.  “Want to tell me about it?”

“Stephanie asked me to come to lunch on Sunday,” Franky offered.  Erica just nodded.  “Would you come with me?” she added.

Erica smiled.  “How would Stephanie and James feel about that?”

“James wants to meet you,” Franky told her.

“He has met me,” Erica reminded her.  “At the Awards night.”

“He met a lawyer who was working with his wife on a case.  Now he wants to meet the woman I’m having sensational sex with,” Franky corrected her.

“Really?  He said that, did he?”  She asked sceptically.

“No,” Franky admitted.  “He just asked why I hadn’t been around lately.  Stephanie told him I’d met someone and was probably too busy fucking my brains out to be bothered with a fuddy duddy like him.”  Franky said with a deadpan expression.

“She did not!”  Erica exclaimed with a laugh.

“Well not in those exact words,” Franky conceded with a grin.  “So you’ll come?” she asked a little anxiously.

“I’d like that,” she said with a smile.  She recognised the significance of the invitation.  It meant Stephanie was prepared to give Erica the benefit of whatever doubts she had about her for Franky’s sake.  It was also the equivalent of Franky taking her home to meet her family. 

It made her think of her own parents.  Her mother had been very disappointed to hear about her broken engagement.  She had even suggested that perhaps she just had pre-wedding jitters.  “You’re not going to find anyone who will treat you as well as Mark does,” she had warned.  That was the moment when she should have told her mother about Franky.  She loved her parents and was grateful for their well-meaning, well-funded support.  To tell her conservative Catholic mother that she had ditched Mark for a lesbian lover with a criminal record would completely shatter her.  She knew it was cowardly, she wished she had Franky’s fearlessness, but she didn’t. 

Her father she wasn’t quite as worried about.  She had already disappointed him when she had left his law firm.  Charles Davidson had wanted a son and getting a girl instead hadn’t changed his aspirations for his only child.  Erica was sent to the best school and encouraged to succeed.  She had been groomed to enter the family law firm and eventually take over the reins.  As soon as she was old enough he had taken her mountain-climbing and taught her how to survive in extreme conditions.  She had been compliant despite a growing attraction to a wilder, more risqué life.  The girls in her school who did drugs, broke the school’s and society’s rules and partied hard were frowned upon by everyone at her elite school except Erica.  She would watch their clique initially with curiosity and later with envy.  She had never attempted to join them though, as she had told Franky, she had always been a good girl.  Until the day she had walked out of her father’s law firm to pursue a career in the prison system.  Their relationship had never really recovered.  She sighed and coming out of her reverie she noticed Franky was still watching her.

“You’re putting Ruby on the stand tomorrow, aren’t you?” She asked coming over to the couch.  Franky moved so Erica could sit down next to her. 

“Mm,” Franky agreed tossing the report onto the floor and pulling Erica to her.  She felt tense, Erica was right.  It had been a frantic, stressful week as Franky had attempted to steer the jury towards Ruby’s innocence.  Tomorrow was the most important day of her career.  She was so wound up it was affecting her ability to think straight.  Stress balls could only do so much.  She knew exactly what she needed, a quick release to relax her enough to be able to sleep, to stop the dreams that had been plaguing her.    

Franky pushed Erica back onto the couch and with one arm holding herself up she undid the button and zip of her jeans then took Erica's hand and slid it impatiently between her legs.  Then she pushed up Erica's top and bra up until she freed her breast.  Her hand covered it rubbing aggressively over the nipple.  All the while grinding herself against Erica's hand desperate to get herself off, feeling frustrated that it was taking so long, just wanting release. 

“Grab my arse,” she ordered. 

"Franky," Erica managed to gasp but Franky wasn't listening. 

She felt Erica’s free hand pull her closer creating more pressure.  She climaxed, her heart thudding against her chest as she thrust against Erica's hand.  As she came down she became aware of Erica beneath her.  Franky opened her eyes.

"Are you okay?" She asked Erica although it was a little late she acknowledged.  She moved so Erica could sit up. 

"Are you?" Erica asked instead.

"I –," Franky stopped.  In her green eyes there was a flash of angst before she shrugged.  "I think I'll go to bed," she said after a moment. 

Erica watched her closely.   “You know it might help to talk about it,” she suggested. 

That wasn’t Franky’s way though.  When she was stressed and anxious she buried it deep inside her until eventually those feelings exploded out of her in frustration and anger.  "Night," was all she said, feeling like crap for leaving Erica so unceremoniously but unable to stop herself.

This was a different Franky and Erica was thoughtful.  She said goodnight absently and stayed on the couch.  She hadn't seen Franky like this before, even at her most aggressive Franky had always had incredible control.  Tonight she seemed unusually edgy almost to the point where she might lose control.  The sex was raw and angry.  Erica hadn’t known what to expect from Franky.  It had excited her and she was disappointed it had finished before it had even begun.

She picked up from the floor the report Franky had been reading.  Although it probably related to Ruby’s defence and therefore confidential, Erica glanced at it anyway then realised suddenly what is was.  It was the forensics report from Darren Lock’s van.  She wondered what Franky was doing with it.  She couldn’t have been given it by the prosecution because their forensics expert had said they hadn’t checked any other vehicles.  She glanced at the date of the report.  It had been completed recently.  She doubted Franky had got it from Amy.  Erica read through it then put it on the coffee table and went to bed.

Franky was in a court room but instead of sitting at the bar table she was in the witness box.  The room was in darkness except for a spotlight directed on her.  It was too bright and she was sweating. 

“It’s not love.” Franky looked out beyond the light to see who was speaking.  She squinted but couldn’t make out who it was except it was a man’s voice, dismissive, ridiculing.  She knew they were talking about Erica, how did she know that?

“She does love me,” she replied, sounding sure.  She looked at the judge.  It was Stephanie.  When had Stephanie become a judge? she wondered.

“She’s incapable of loving anyone.  She’s attracted to the excitement of being with a woman, but it’s not real, it’s never real with Erica.”  The voice was sneering, knowing.

“That’s bullshit,” Franky couldn’t help saying.

“I can’t allow any fucking swearing in the courtroom,” Stephanie told her sternly.  Franky laughed at the ridiculousness of it.  “No fucking laughing either.”  Then Stephanie laughed and continued to laugh until the voice broke through the laughter.

“What do you know about it?  I was with Erica for ten years.  You’ve been with her for ten minutes.”  It was Mark she realised with a sinking feeling, the voice was Mark, but then she had always known it was.

“I know Erica,” Franky said firmly, “better than you ever did.  She loves me,” she insisted.

“Did she tell you that?” he asked, sounding curious.

“Yes,” Franky felt relief.  Erica had told her, it was okay.

“That’s what she does,” he spoke the words, low and insidious, and Franky didn’t want to hear them because she had heard them before.

“No,” she shouted.

“She tells you what you want to hear, but it’s not real!”  Mark was laughing.

“It’s not real!  It’s not real!”  Stephanie squealed from the judge’s bench.

Franky woke up sweating, her heart racing, and her mouth dry.  She sat up quickly and kicked off the doona.  The clock read 5.43am.  Erica was asleep, lying on her stomach, her head turned away from Franky.  She got up and the cat immediately attacked her ankle.  “Fucking hell!”  She muttered as she hopped away from the edge of the bed and out of danger.  She went into the bathroom and switched on the light.  She filled a glass of water and looked in the mirror.  “It is real,” she told herself.  She drank the water quickly then splashed cold water onto her face. 

She grabbed her running gear out of the pile of clean clothes and pulled them on.  She found her runners and her phone.  She ran almost fifteen kilometres with music blaring in her ears so she didn’t have to think.  She felt the burn in her lungs and her legs and ran faster daring her body to fail her.  She passed the regulars on her route, the two fat ladies who walked together every morning, the badger who always overtook her and had a white stripe down the back of his black t-shirt, and the compact jogger whose running style was so neat and tidy.  She was feeling calmer with a better perspective by the time she finished.  She’d been letting Mark get into her head. 

She stopped by the early morning café and picked up two takeaway coffees and some croissants.  It was almost 7.30 when she walked in the front door of the flat.  She drank water and did some token stretches then went to wake Erica.

“Good morning,” she said softly as she leant in waving coffee under Erica’s nose and followed it with a light kiss. 

Two blue eyes appeared.  “No,” Erica said and pulled the doona over her head in rebellion.

“But I have coffee,” Franky tempted her, “and croissants, still warm.”

“What time is it?” came the muffled reply.

“Coffee time,” Franky said with a grin.  “Okay, I’ll drink yours.” 

That produced a head.  “You’d do that, wouldn’t you, because –” Franky shut her up with a kiss.

“Mm, you taste of coffee,” Erica said when the kiss ended.  She sat up and took the proffered coffee.  “This is very nice,” she said watching Franky over the rim of her takeaway cup. 

“I’m sorry about last night,” Franky said and her green eyes were dark and serious, “I was in a bad place.”  Erica didn’t say anything.  “I’ll make it up to you.  Anything goes,” she offered with a cheeky grin.

“Anything?” Erica said smiling then the smile faded.  “It kills me to say this but sex won’t solve everything,” that elicited a smile from Franky.  “Something is up with you.  I can see it a mile off.”  She sipped her coffee.  “Is it just the trial?”

Franky offered her a croissant.  “Big day today, I don’t want to screw it up.”  She said not really answering the question.

“Franky,” Erica said with disappointment.  “It’s okay to tell me stuff that is going on in your head.  You can trust me.”

Franky sipped her coffee, looked at the doona, and rubbed her chin with her thumb frowning all the while.  She should trust Erica or else what was the point of loving and being loved.  “I’m scared,” she said at last letting out a deep breath, her eyes drawn to Erica.  “I’m scared that none of this is real, that you’ll go back to Mark once you’ve had your fill of me.”

Erica’s hand moved from her coffee cup to Franky’s cheek.  “Of course it’s real,” she said softly.  “Can’t you feel it?  In here?”  She placed her hand against Franky’s chest where her heart was thudding.  “And here,” she took Franky’s hand and placed it against her own heart, which was beating just as rapidly.  “I’m never going back to Mark, Franky,” she said seriously, surely.  “You set me free.  I was in a cage, and you came flying wildly by and set me free.  And I’m so glad you did.”

“Are you just saying that because you think that’s what I want to hear?” Franky asked reluctantly.

Erica pulled back slightly and frowned.  “Is that what you think?”

“I don’t know,” Franky said with frustration.  “I don’t know what to think.”

“Look,” Erica said slowly.  “Maybe you’re feeling unsure because this has been a crazy week and today is a big day for you.” Shit, she sounded like her mother.  “Forget that,” she shook her head.  “I don’t want to be anywhere but with you and you’re starting to scare me with the way you are talking, okay?”

“Then don’t move out,” Franky said, “stay here with me.”

Erica sighed.  “If I say yes now then I will be saying it because it’s what you want to hear,” she said honestly.  “We’ve got loads of time, okay?”

“We’ve already wasted so much time,” Franky said.

Erica laughed softly.  “Always so impatient, Franky Doyle, now come here and kiss me, my sexy messed-up girlfriend.” 

Erica gave Franky a lift to court.  As she pulled into a free parking spot she remembered the report.  “How did you get hold of that forensics report?” she asked curiously.

“It arrived at the office anonymously,” Franky said as she undid her seatbelt. 

“Someone leaked it to you?” Erica asked incredulously.  “Any idea who?”

“Nope,” Franky had her hand on the doorhandle.

“You need to report it,” Erica said immediately.

“Why?”

“Because if you don’t how will you use it?” Erica pointed out.  “The prosecution will tell the judge you obtained it illegally and it won’t be allowed into evidence.”

“Ah,” Franky said with a smile.  “I’ve thought about that and there’s a way.”  She leant across and kissed Erica.  “I’ll see you tonight.”

“You will,” Erica confirmed with a smile.  “Good luck today.” 

Franky had crossed the road and was heading towards the steps of the Supreme Court when she heard Erica call out.  “I’ve never been happier than I am now, Franky Doyle, and that’s down to you.”  She turned back and saw Erica had got out of the car and was leaning against the open door. 

She smiled and impulsively dashed back across the road and kissed a laughing Erica.  “Fuck you’re gorgeous,” Franky said, feeling some of the doubt leave her.  “One more for love,” she murmured and kissed her again.

In the courtroom Franky watched Ruby take her seat in the witness box.  She smiled at her reassuringly.  She walked her through the easy stuff hoping it would give her some confidence.  Then she asked her about the day of Henry’s disappearance.  Ruby spoke well if quietly.  Franky talked her right up to that moment at the maintenance cupboard.

“What did Henry say to you, Ruby?”

“He said he was hiding from the green man,” Ruby replied.

“Who is the green man?”

“I don’t know,” Ruby said with a frown.

“How did Henry seem to you?”

“He was terrified,” Ruby said with certainty.

“What happened next?”

“I heard footsteps behind me and I blacked out,” Ruby explained.  Franky nodded. 

She turned to the judge.  “I have nothing further at this time, your honour, but I may need to recall this witness.”

Justice O’Connell nodded then turned to the prosecution.  “Your witness, Mr Russell.”

The prosecution lawyer stood up and looked at the papers in his hand.  “In your statement to the police you claim you weren’t at the day-care centre that day.  Is that correct?”

“Yes,” Ruby answered.

“Just now though, you have testified you were at the centre that morning, correct?”

“Yes,” agreed Ruby with a quick glance at Franky.  She was smart enough to know where this was going.

“So you lied to the police, did you?  Or are you lying now?” Franky shook her head slightly.  It was a cheap point.

“I’m telling the truth,” Ruby said firmly, “I was at the day-care centre that morning.”

“You say you went there to give Henry his soft-toy so where is it?”  Ruby’s eyes flicked again to Franky.  “It wasn’t found at the day-care centre, it wasn’t found with Henry, so where is it, Ruby, with the green man?”  The prosecutor asked with a cynical smile.

“I have it,” Ruby answered.  “I never got to give it to Henry.”

“You have it,” the lawyer repeated.  “But the police searched your townhouse, and your car and didn’t find it, so where was it?”

“It was in my gym locker,” Ruby admitted quietly. 

“You hid it in your gym locker.  You understand that looks very suspicious to everyone here,” the lawyer said waving his arm expansively.

Franky was on her feet immediately.  “Objection!”

“Sustained,” the judge ruled.  “Mr Russell you know better than that, I’m sure.”  She turned to the jury.  “You will ignore the prosecution’s last remark.”

It didn’t matter though, the damage had been done.  Ruby looked like a liar.

“You never saw this green man, correct?”

“No,” Ruby confirmed.

“And we only have your word for it that Henry saw him, don’t we?”  Ruby looked confused.  Franky could have put her head in her hands.  “Nothing further,” the prosecutor said with a smile.

Franky got up.  “Ruby, did you murder Henry Page?”

“No, I didn’t,” Ruby replied firmly.

It was too late though.  The jury now thought Ruby was a liar and it didn’t matter how often she said she didn’t do it, they just wouldn’t believe her.  Franky knew getting Ella on the stand and controlling her was crucial now.  Her next witness though was Ruby’s psychiatrist.  It was time to introduce the idea of Ella to the jury before they met her in person.

Dr Ian Chang was the ultimate professional.  He guided the jury through Ruby’s disorder, explaining it in simple terms, demystifying it, removing the fear associated with mental illness.  Franky was no fan of the psychiatrist but she had to admit he was an asset in the witness box.  She had almost sacked him when Ruby had hired her but Stephanie had counselled her against it and she admitted now it had been good advice.  She handed him over to the prosecution feeling they had made up some ground with his testimony.

The DPP lawyer stood up.  “You testified Dr Chang that Ella can be violent and unstable, with some of the usual social inhibitions missing from her character.  Do you think Ella is capable of murder?”

The psychiatrist smiled slightly.  “We are all capable of murder.  Ella is no more capable than you are or I am, Mr Russell.”  One to the defence thought Franky grimly.

“So given the right circumstances, Ella could have killed Henry Page, am I correct in saying that?”

“Yes, of course,” Dr Chang conceded.  “But if you are basing your argument solely on her condition then it is no more likely that she did than Justice O’Connell having done it.”

“If she can be violent and unstable as you have testified then surely that increases the likelihood?”

“Let me be clear, Ella’s violence is triggered by a quite specific set of circumstances, if she or more usually Ruby feels threatened then Ella’s response will be violent.  If those circumstances do not exist, it is very unlikely Ella will even appear let alone be aggressive.  A four year old boy would not trigger those responses in Ella.”  He turned from the prosecutor to the jury.  “The idea it could be otherwise is just absurd.”  Go Changie! Franky thought gleefully. 

“I have no more questions, your honour,” the DPP lawyer conceded.

“Very well, Miss Doyle, is your next witness available?” the judge asked.

“If I could have a short recess, your honour, then I can have Ella ready to testify,” Franky explained.

The DPP lawyer stood up.  “Can I approach the bench?” he asked.  The judge agreed and Franky went forward too. “Your honour, I request this witness isn’t allowed to give evidence.”

“On what grounds, Mr Russell? Ella has been on the defence witness list since before the trial began, you have had plenty of time to object” the judge asked.

“Well I didn’t know until today that Ella is an alter-ego created by a mental illness.  How can someone who isn’t real testify?”

Franky interrupted.  “A minute ago you were asking if Ella was capable of committing murder,” she pointed out.  “You can’t think she is a murderer one minute and claim she isn’t real the next.”

“Miss Doyle has a point, Mr Russell, your request is denied,” she ruled.  As they returned to their seats the judge called a fifteen minute recess.

Franky had worked with Ruby over the past weeks on bringing Ella out on command with little effect.  Other than the time in prison when Ruby had felt so threatened, she hadn’t been able to summon her alter-ego.  In desperation she had consulted with Dr Chang to find optimum techniques she could use to put Ruby under sufficient pressure to draw Ella out.  It was like trying to coax a dragon out of its lair.  Finally they had stumbled on a strategy which worked more times than not.  Using hypnosis Dr Chang would take Ruby back to a distressing event in her past.  It seemed that reliving an event such as Julie Irwin’s bullying at school would trick Ruby’s mind into thinking she was being threatened all over again and Ella would appear.  Franky wasn’t entirely sure of the ethics of such a strategy but she was desperate enough to try anything to keep her client out of prison.

As Dr Chang worked his magic on Ruby, Franky went into the hallway and checked her messages.  There was one from Stephanie.  She called her.

“How is it going?” her mentor asked.

“Good and bad,” Franky admitted.  “We’re about to put Ella on the stand.”

“Well good luck, I hope she behaves herself,” Stephanie said sternly.

“Well that would be a miracle,” Franky said with a grin.

 “Something’s come up.  I need to talk to you,” Stephanie said more seriously.  “Come back to office when court finishes today,” she requested.

“What’s it about?” Franky asked as Dr Chang emerged from the room.

“I’ll tell you when you get here,” Stephanie said mysteriously. 

“Okay,” Franky agreed quickly, “I’ve gotta go.”  She rang off and went to speak to the psychiatrist.  “Ruby or Ella?” was all she asked.

“Ella,” Dr Chang confirmed.  

Franky smiled with relief.  “Can you hang around this afternoon, in case I lose her?”

“Of course,” he agreed immediately.  “I am curious to see how Ella will respond to this kind of questioning.”  There was that sick fascination which Franky disliked so much. 

“Sure, whatever,” she said dismissively, wishing she didn’t need him but knowing that she did.

She entered the room and could tell immediately it was Ella just by looking at her.  She was slouched in the chair with her hand down the front of her skirt pleasuring herself.  She looked up when Franky walked in and gave her a sly smile withdrawing her hand slowly then licking her fingers provocatively.  “You wanna watch me get myself off, do you?” she asked. 

Franky didn’t react.  She’d seen worse than that in prison and had used the same shock tactic on Bea when she had walked in on her and Kim shagging.

She sat down across from Ella.  “Remember the rules, Ella?” she asked.  Ella sulked and said nothing.  “Don’t fuck this up for Ruby or I am going to fuck you up, got it?”  Ella was silent.  “Just answer the questions, no games, no trying to be a smart-arse, no lies, right?”

“I bet you’re a real hoot in bed,” Ella mumbled.  “No games, no butt fucking, what else is off-limits?”

“Let’s go,” Franky said ignoring the taunts but wondering what the fuck Ella would be like when she had the spotlight if she was like this with an audience of one.

Franky needed three things from Ella, to identify the green man as the person who took Henry, to identify the van she followed, and not to give the jury the impression she was a potential murderer.  The first two were relatively simple, the third Franky was not nearly as confident about.

Franky watched as Ella was sworn in.  Soon everyone was watching with interest.  She stood up.  Law 101 - never to put a witness on the stand where their testimony is uncertain.  Well it was too late now.  Ruby's future lay in Ella's hands.

Ella did behave herself.  She explained what had happened at the day-care centre and why she had followed the green man.  She even managed to curb her swearing.

Franky put a photo up on the overhead screen.  "Is this the green man?" She asked.  The photo of Darren Lock was the one Franky had managed to take before being kidnapped.  When Erica had returned her phone it was the first thing she had checked.  It wasn't a great photo but it was clear enough.

"Yeah," Ella confirmed.  Franky could see the prosecution table burst into a hive of activity out of the corner of her eye.  "That's him."

From the public gallery a murmur rose then died like a Mexican wave passing round the MCG.

Franky put up a photo of Ruby's car caught on the freeway's video surveillance camera.  She zoomed into a green van ahead of Ruby's Subaru.

"Is this the van the green man was driving?"  Franky asked.  "The one you were following?"

"Yeah, that's the one."  The name Green Thumbs Gardening was clearly visible.

"Your witness," Franky handed Ella over to the prosecution.

The judge intervened.  “It is nearly five pm.  Let’s reconvene in the morning for the prosecution’s cross.”

Franky heard a scramble from the public gallery as journalists dashed out the door to report on the day’s events.  This was the drama the media had been waiting for, the identification of a mysterious alternative suspect, which Franky had mentioned in her opening remarks.

She walked out to a throng of reporters and cameras on the steps.  Microphones were shoved in her face and she was constantly asked who the green man was, how was he connected to Henry’s murder, and did she intend to put him in the witness box.  “He’s missing,” she said in response.  “It’s up to the police to find him and put these questions to him.  My job is to prove my client’s innocence.”

She remembered she was supposed to drop into the office when she was walking along her street towards her flat.  She rang Stephanie. 

“Sorry I forgot,” she said.  “What did you want to speak to me about?”

“Where are you?” Stephanie asked.

“Just coming up to the flat, why?”

“Because it is very likely that –” Franky saw a vaguely familiar figure sitting on the bottom steps of the stairs leading to her flat.  “ – your father is there.”

Chapter Text

Franky stopped in her tracks.  From a distance her dad didn't look much different to when she had last seen him, his shirt sleeves rolled up and his strong forearms dusted with freckles and fair hairs, his head shaved, his eyes squinting slightly in the afternoon sun.  He was looking away from her and she could study him at her leisure.  A myriad of emotions washed over her as she stood there.

"Franky?" Stephanie's voice broke through. 

"He's here," was all she said.  "How did he find me?"

"That idiot receptionist gave him your address," her boss explained.  Stephanie had hired a temp to manage the spike in calls due to the publicity surrounding Ruby's case.  Despite specific instructions around handling calls from the media, when Alan Doyle had turned up unexpectedly attempting to contact his daughter, the receptionist happily handed over Franky's home address. 

"But it was her dad," the young woman had said, "not a reporter.  He showed me his driver’s licence to prove he was kosher."  Stephanie had just rolled her eyes and called Franky to warn her.  She didn't know what Franky's current thinking was about her father but she knew if it was her she would want to be given a heads up.  She hadn't wanted to distract Franky from the trial which was why she had elected to ask Franky to come back to the office.  The best laid plans, thought Stephanie wryly.

Alan Doyle turned his head suddenly in Franky's direction.  She turned on her heel and walked away her mind frozen in uncertainty, her heart thudding.

"I've gotta go," she said to Stephanie.

She needed more time to prepare.  She walked quickly, not looking back, and not stopping until she reached a pub.  She went inside and ordered a vodka shot then another.  When she'd finished those she ordered a beer.  She sat on it, staring into space, processing what had happened, what it meant to her.  After trying to find him and failing then Amy's offer and her own hesitation now suddenly her father had taken matters into his own hands.

She scrolled through questions.  Why now, why after all this time would her father suddenly appear?  How the hell did he even find her?  What did he want?  What did she want?  She knew there was only one way to get the answers.  Did she care enough to try and get them?

Her phone rang.  It was Erica.  She picked up.  "Stephanie called," Erica said immediately.  "Is everything okay?"

"Well if hiding out in a pub while my dad is camped out at the flat represents okay then yeah," Franky acknowledged.  "Everything is sweet."

"Where are you?"  Franky told her.  "I'll be there soon," was all she said.

Despite the confusion, angst and nervousness she was feeling, a part of her felt happy that her mentor had called her girlfriend and that Erica had responded immediately and there had been concern and understanding in her voice.  Erica had told her about the drawbacks of having people who cared in your life but Franky had just realised the upside. 

She thought about the last time she had seen her dad.  She had sent him packing.  It had been hard, the hope of reconciliation had tempted her but she had done what was necessary.  She didn't regret it and what happened to Bea's daughter had shown her she had done the smart thing, no matter the cost.  Having no one meant there was no one Jacs or anyone else could use as leverage in the power games.  If being estranged kept her father safe and Franky unencumbered then it was worth it.  When she’d been released though she hadn't been able to find him and she had thought the door was closed, locked even, but it was still there in the corner of her eye.  Erica had asked her why she hadn't changed her name when she had left prison.  One of the reasons had been the knowledge that if she had, the locked door would disappear entirely, boarded up, painted over, renovated out of existence.  And the little spark of hope that her father might find her would be extinguished.  Even after all these years she was still waiting.

"Hey," Erica greeted her as she ordered her second beer.  She gave Franky a hug.  "White wine," she told the bartender.  "I just did a drive by and your dad is still there."  She told Franky.  "What do you want to do?"

Franky shrugged.  "Talk to him I guess, find out what he wants."

Erica nodded and sipped her wine.  "So why are you here and not doing that?" She asked at last.

"I thought I was the one who got to ask the hard questions in this relationship," Franky said with a smile.

"And I thought I was the one who always deflected but you do a pretty good job of it too when you don't want to talk about something," Erica pointed out. 

Franky drew in her breath quickly and acted hurt by the accusation.  "Bit harsh, don't you think?" She was smiling.  Just being with Erica made things easier, more hopeful, brighter.  She slid her hand over Erica's.  "I need time," she admitted.  "It's too sudden.  I need to think about what I want to say," she explained.  It didn't make much sense because hadn't she been thinking about what she would say ever since she had started looking for him?

Erica seemed to understand though.  She just nodded and squeezed Franky's fingers reassuringly. "How about I go and tell him that?  Then at least we can go home tonight.  I can find out how you can reach him."  She waited.

"Yeah," Franky said eventually.  "Okay." 

Alan Doyle watched her approach curiously.  Erica was dressed in tailored pants and matching jacket, which emphasised her slim figure.  Her hair was straightened giving her blonde locks a sleek shiny look.  She walked with purpose.

"Mr Doyle?" She said on approach.  He stood up, dusting off his pants, looking expectant.  She wondered who he thought she was.  "I'm Erica Davidson."  She offered her hand as though he was a client and this was a business meeting.  He took it with a firm strong grasp.  "You probably don't remember me," she conceded, "but we met at Wentworth prison a few years ago."  He nodded but looked unsure.  "I'm here on behalf of your daughter."  His expression changed.  Doubt, disappointment and some confusion were reflected in his eyes.  They were aqua eyes, not quite green, not quite blue, and lighter but no less dramatic than Franky's colouring Erica noticed.

“She doesn’t want to see me,” he stated rather than asked nodding slightly to reconfirm it.  “She made it pretty clear last time I saw her so I shouldn’t be surprised.  I suppose I just hoped somehow that she might have changed her mind.  I knew it was crazy to fly all the way over here just on that though,” he finished with.

Erica frowned.  “Where did you fly in from?” she asked curiously.

“Port Hedland,” he said.  “I work in a mine up in the Pilbara.  Had a few days leave owing to me though so I thought I’d come here and try and see her.”

“Why now though?”  Erica asked the obvious question.  “Why not when she was released?”

Alan Doyle nodded as though it was a fair question to ask.  “Never thought I would bother her again,” he rubbed his thumb against the stubble on his chin.  Erica had seen Franky make the exact same gesture.  “Then my sister called me.  Said Franky had been on the telly and I realised I couldn’t not try one last time, owed it to myself, and to Franky,” he said gruffly.  “Not saying I deserve a second chance but –” he shrugged.  “Still, I guess she hasn’t forgiven me and I can’t blame her for that.”

Erica couldn’t help but feel for the man before her.  He had let down his daughter and he knew it.  His raw honesty was hard to listen to and remain unmoved.  He had turned away from her as though about to leave.  “Mr Doyle,” she said quickly.  “I think Franky wants to see you but you’ve caught her in the middle of a high profile trial.  She needs some time.  Can you give her that?”

“How much time? I only have a week of leave,” he told her. 

“I don’t know,” Erica said, “but I think you owe her as much time as she needs, don’t you?”  She raised an eyebrow at him.  “Give me your number and I’ll make sure she gets it,” she offered.

Franky’s phone rang but it wasn’t Erica.  “Hey Booms,” she said, hoping her friend could provide some light relief.  “Thanks for feeding the cat.”

“What? Oh sure,” Boomer said after a moment.  “I never actually saw him, Franky,” she confessed, “not once.  You sure you’ve got one?”

“Was the food gone when you came back?” Franky asked patiently.

“Yeah,” Boomer said immediately.

“Well, who do you think was eating it, the cleaner?”  Franky toyed with her beer.

“You don’t have a cleaner,” Boomer said in a confused voice.

“Exactly,” Franky replied with a sigh.  “What’s up?”

“Nothing,” Boomer replied.  “Oh, no,” she corrected herself.  “There’s a photo of you and the Gov having a snog, ay,” she offered.

“What?” Franky had been in the process of taking a mouthful of beer.  She almost choked on it.  “Where?”

“On the net,” Boomer told her.  “Looks pretty hot!”  She told her. 

Fucking hell, could the day get any more crazy, she asked herself.  “Send me the link,” she told Boomer, maybe it wasn’t as bad as Boomer was making out.  She wasn’t sure how Erica would feel about being captured on camera regardless of her exhibitionist tendencies.  Other than Mark, she wasn’t sure Erica had told anyone that she had hooked up with woman.  Maybe Erica wasn’t ready to come out to people who weren’t aware of their relationship.

Before the link came through Erica called her.  “Your father’s gone,” she told her.  “You didn’t tell me you had an aunt,” she added.

“Huh?”

“I’ll tell you when you get here,” Erica said with a smile in her voice.  Franky wasn’t sure Erica would be smiling for much longer. 

When she arrived at the flat Erica was in the kitchen.  She had put slices of leftover quiche on plates and was chopping up vegetables for a salad.  “Who said I can’t cook?” she asked as Franky came into the kitchen and poured herself a glass of water.

“You did,” Franky reminded her between mouthfuls.  She watched Erica’s amateur chopping skills and cringed as the knife came dangerously close to Erica’s fingers.  “Like this,” she said and she put her hand over Erica’s guiding the blade surely and swiftly. 

Erica could feel Franky’s arms wrapped around her own and her body pressing gently against her.  It felt warm and strong.  The repetitive action of the slicing was soothing.  She leant back slightly into the protective embrace.  “Better,” Franky said after a bit.  She stepped away but continued to watch.

“So your father is working up in the Pilbara region in the mines,” Erica told her.  “It’s probably why you couldn’t find him.”

“Skipped out again, huh,” was all Franky said then after a bit.  “Did he say what he wants?”

“I think he wants a second chance,” Erica said after a moment, “for both your sakes.”

Franky’s phone beeped.  She checked her messages and saw it was from Boomer.  Inside the message was a link, she clicked on it.  It was a shot taken from a distance.  Erica’s fair head and Franky’s dark contrasted nicely.  They did look hot together.  It had been taken that morning in the street near the courts when Franky had kissed Erica impulsively.  Her hand was on Erica’s arse and her lips were clearly pressing against Erica’s, half-smiles lingering on their faces.  Franky could recognise both of them but maybe not everyone would.  It wasn’t definitive.  Maybe.

After tea they sat on the couch together.  Franky stretched out putting her head in Erica’s lap and her arms across her chest.  “My aunt wouldn’t take me,” she said into the silence, staring at the fan.  “When social services finally decided to take me away from her they contacted my aunt but she told them it wouldn’t work out.”    

“Why not?” Erica asked.

“She had her own kids and her husband was away a lot working as a truckie.  She thought I would be too difficult to handle on her own.  I wasn’t her responsibility she’d said.  That’s what social services told me anyway,” Franky explained in a neutral tone.  She had never told anyone that not even James.  “Apparently we’re not big on responsibility in the Doyle clan.”

It made Erica think of her own family.  They took responsibility seriously.  They may be conservative but they were good people who did not walk away from their commitments and their family.  They had protected her and cared for her when she was vulnerable and they loved her.  It was something she had taken for granted until she had started her social services degree and saw suddenly that many children did not have that protection.  Children like Franky grew up quickly, without guidance or support, surviving on their wits or their charm, ready to be exploited by those without a moral compass.  They were the ones society had left behind.

“I think your dad is genuine,” she said after a while.  “He’ll be in town for a week then his leave runs out.  He gave me his mobile number and the address of the place he’s staying.  I put them on your bedside table.”  She brushed Franky’s hair off her forehead. 

“How did he find me?”

“Your aunt saw you on Sunrise and called him.  He said he found that article which mentioned Wilkinsons and Associates and just turned up at reception asking for you.  Stephanie said she wasn’t there at the time but heard about it from your receptionist,” Erica explained, “then promptly fired her I gather.”

Franky laughed.  “That’s Steph,” she acknowledged. 

“How did the trial go today?” Erica had almost forgotten Ruby was testifying that day. 

Franky told her.  “Ella was suspiciously compliant,” she finished with.  “I don’t trust her.”

“What do you think the prosecution’s angle will be?”  Erica asked curiously.

“Well, if I was them,” Franky said reflectively, “I’d make Ella lose her cool because she looks like a fucking psychopath when that happens.”

“And if she does?”

“Plan B, I guess,” Franky replied.  Erica wasn’t surprised Franky had considered the possibility that Ella would let her down in the witness box.  She was strategic enough to plan for any eventuality. 

“Plan B wouldn’t have anything to do with that forensics report on Darren Lock’s van, would it?” Erica asked with a smile.

“You know one of the things I love about you,” Franky said with a grin, “you are so fucking smart.”  She sat up suddenly.  “Where’s my phone?”  Erica shook her head, confused by the sudden shift in conversation. 

Franky found it and came back to the couch.  She handed it to Erica who looked at it curiously.  She frowned.  “Who took this?” she asked at last looking from the photo to Franky.

“Dunno,” her girlfriend said with shrug of her shoulder.  “It’s on the net,” she told her.

“What!”  Erica exclaimed.  She looked at Franky to see if she was kidding.  She didn’t like what she saw in Franky’s eyes. 

“It’s hard to tell it’s you,” Franky offered.  “I could be kissing any gorgeous blonde.” She said with a grin.

Erica wasn’t convinced.  “How did you get hold of this?”

“Boomer spotted it,” she conceded and Erica rolled her eyes.  “Yeah but she knows we’re together,” Franky argued.  “Of course she’s going to know it’s you.”

“Franky, my parents don’t know I’ve switched sides,” Erica said with some angst.  “No one does, I’m not even sure I want anyone to know.”

Franky raised her eyebrows and shook her head in disbelief.  “What the fuck does that mean?”  To be fair Franky had no idea what it was like to have to come out to loved ones.  She knew it might take time to find the right moment but that was the limit of her understanding.  “You told Mark,” she pointed out.

Erica rubbed her brow.  “Yes, because Mark was under the delusion that I just needed some space and would come running back to him with my tail between my legs.”

“Well how do you know he hasn’t told everyone?” Franky pointed out reasonably.  

Erica didn’t respond and Franky could tell she hadn’t considered that possibility.  “No,” she said after a moment.  “I’d have heard something.”

Franky sighed.  “Look, it’s not like it’s gone viral or anything.  Chances are no one is going to see it but Boomer.”  Then she realised she wasn’t going to convince Erica not to worry about it.  She sat down with a sigh.  “Fuck,” she muttered. 

“I think that’s what got us into this situation,” Erica said with irony. 

“Well, it was totally worth it,” Franky replied absently. 

To her surprise Erica laughed suddenly.  “Yes, it was,” she agreed.

Franky leant over and kissed her.  “I’m glad you think so,” she said with relief.  “You know if it’s any comfort you look pretty hot kissing a chick.”

“Not something I’ll mention to my parents,” Erica murmured.  Franky smiled happily.

Ella was sulking.  She hated being tricked into appearing and it made her difficult to manage.  Franky had contained her so far by sheer intimidation.  Today though, it seemed to be having little effect.

“If Ruby goes to prison, I’ll get more game time,” she said thoughtfully then she looked quickly at Franky and grinned.  “Won’t I?”

“She won’t go to prison though,” Franky said, watching her carefully.

Ella laughed.  “Yes she will, she’s pleaded not guilty, no extenuating circumstances, if she’s found guilty she’ll go to prison.”  Her eyes narrowed.  “I thought a shit hot lawyer like you would have worked that out already.”  And of course Franky had, she just hadn’t realised Ella had worked it out too.

“She’s going down, I’m yelling timber,” Ella started singing under her breath. 

“Listen to me, you little shit,” Franky said in a low menacing voice.  “If Ruby goes to prison, she’ll be dead in a month, not even you will be able to keep her safe in there and then it’s goodbye Ella, got it?”

She knew she had because Ella went back to sulking.  Franky’s leg was tapping.  She had a lot of pent up energy today.  She hadn’t run this morning because she’d overslept, her body finally catching up on all the sleepless nights.  She had woken up to find the warm lump pressed against her back was the cat and not Erica who had even beaten her out of bed.  She must have dozed again because she woke again to find Erica sitting on the edge of the bed watching her.  She smiled lazily at her. 

“If you don’t get up soon, you’ll be late for court,” Erica told her.

“Mm,” the expression on Franky’s face suggested she wasn’t bothered by that.  “Come here.”   

She had been late but it had been worth it. 

She was smiling when she looked up and saw Ella was watching her with a fixed stare.  It was unnerving but she didn’t let it rattle her because she suspected that was exactly Ella’s intent.

They went into the courtroom and when Ella was reminded she was still under oath she just smiled.  Franky watched her warily. 

The DPP lawyer got to his feet.  “Ella,” he began.  “When you realised Henry was being abducted, what did you do?”

“What?”  Ella’s lip turned up into a sneer.  The prosecutor looked perplexed.  He repeated the question.  “Heard you the first time, mate,” Ella informed him.  

The judge intervened.  “Answer the question, Ella,” she said sternly.

“I answered that question yesterday,” she pointed out, “and you were all here when I did.”  She looked at the DPP lawyer.  “Not my fault you weren’t paying attention.”  She sniffed.

There was a pause.  Franky looked at the jury.  Without exception their eyes were focused on Ella, fascinated. 

“You must answer the question or be held in contempt,” the judge told her.

She sighed, sniffed, and then ran her hand across her nose.  Disrespect oozed out of her.  “I kicked him in the shin then I grabbed Henry and we bolted for the exit.  We didn’t get there though.  He grabbed my hair and pulled me backwards.  I fell over and lost hold of Henry.  When I got up he hit me with something across the back of my head.  I fell down.”  Ella said in a bored voice.

“What happened then?” he asked.

“By the time I was able to get up they’d gone so I went out to my car.  Then I saw him getting into the van so I followed him.”

“Until you transitioned back to Ruby, is that right?”

“Yeah,” Ella started looking around the courtroom.  Franky followed her gaze wondering what she was looking for.

“Why didn’t you call the police?”

“Those bastards,” Ella laughed with contempt.  “You must be joking.”

“You didn’t actually see Henry being put into the van, did you?” He asked suddenly.  Here we go, thought Franky, the weakest part of her case was about to be exposed.

“What?” Ella’s attention returned to the prosecutor.

“You have just testified you saw the green man get into his van.  Did you see Henry being put in the van?”

“No, but it’s pretty obvious for fuck’s sake,” she said dismissively.

“No, it isn’t,” he refuted.  “It is possible that Henry was not in the van you followed onto that highway, isn’t it Ella?  It is possible Henry got away from the green man and someone else took him, isn’t it?  It is possible you are lying about the green man, and you took Henry, isn’t it?” 

“Go fuck yourself,” Ella replied.

“This is your final warning,” the judge stated.  “Another outburst and I will hold you in contempt.  Miss Doyle will you restrain your witness.”

Franky didn’t get the chance.  “Just in case you missed it, arsehole, Ruby didn’t take Henry and neither did I!   I’ve told you who took him, right?”  Ella stood up.

“You haven’t been excused,” the judge reminded her quickly.

“Fuck that,” Ella muttered, climbing out of the box.  Two security guards approached her.  They restrained her eventually but not before she had managed to get a few painful kicks in.  They took her away screaming and swearing.  Looking like a potential psychopath just as Franky had predicted. She sighed.

Then Ella did something Franky hadn’t predicted.  “You want a fucking killer, you should be asking Franky Doyle about Meg Jackson’s murder,” was her parting shot as they led her away. 

Franky now realised what Ella had been scheming.  Her constant intimidation of Ella had created its own consequences. 

“Approach the bench,” the judge instructed.  She felt the eyes of the courtroom upon her as she walked slowly to the judge’s bench.  “Your client is in contempt, Miss Doyle,” the judge informed her.  She turned to the prosecution.  “Do you wish to recall Ella to the stand to complete your cross examination?” she asked.

“No your honour,” Mr Russell said with a smile.  “I think our point’s been made.”

“Very well,” the judge nodded.  “Miss Doyle, that was your final witness, are you ready to close?”

“No, your honour, I’d like to recall the prosecution’s forensics expert to the stand,” Franky told her.

“To what purpose?” her opponent asked with annoyance.  He wanted the jury’s last impression of the defendant’s case to be a screaming, ranting Ella. 

“I think there is evidence available which proves Henry was in Darren Lock’s van,” Franky informed them.  “I want to question the forensics expert to confirm that it does exist and bring it into evidence.”

“How can you possibly think that?” the DPP lawyer asked in amazement.

“I know a forensics report exists on his van, your honour, and the jury should be able to know what’s in it,” Franky insisted.  “You are claiming Henry was never in the van Ella followed.  If that is true then the forensics report should prove it,” she pointed out.

“How are you aware of this report, Miss Doyle?” the judge asked.

“The police told me the van had been checked when it turned up abandoned.  There is a report, so let’s all take a look at it, huh?”  She raised her eyebrows at the prosecutor daring him to argue.

“Is there a report, Mr Russell?” the judge asked.

“I don’t know, your honour,” he admitted.

“Very well,” the judge agreed.  “We will reconvene after lunch at which time your forensics expert, will testify, Mr Russell, about the existence of this report.”  He nodded with resignation. 

Franky breathed a sigh of relief.  She was back in the game.  Unfortunately, just as one thing resolved itself another problem loomed.  She knew that even if the judge was willing to ignore Ella’s accusation, putting it down to a rant from an unstable individual, the media would not be.  Gotta feed the beast, she thought, and Ella had done just that.  She didn’t want to go out there and tell them Ella was unstable, untrustworthy and unreliable because it wouldn’t do Ruby’s case much good.   

She wasn’t worried the police would suddenly take an interest in Meg Jackson’s murder again.  There were no forensics connecting her to the crime and Ella could only be spouting rumours given she was not at Wentworth at the time of the murder.  No, she wasn’t worried about the police and even the media she thought she could probably manage.  The thing she was worried about was what her girlfriend might make of it. Fucking Liz, she thought suddenly, what's the bet it was all down to her.

Chapter Text

Erica brought up the photo on her laptop.  She studied it intently, wondering what a stranger would see.  Was she recognisable?  Did it matter?  Franky was easily identified, the camera had her in profile, but she shadowed Erica somewhat.  There was long blonde hair and a slim business clad figure but couldn't it have been anyone unless you knew?  She could risk it.  Say nothing and hope no one noticed.  Franky was right, it hadn't gone viral and she might tell her parents for no reason at all.  On the other hand she didn't want to have her mother surprised by a comment from a random like she had been with the broken engagement.  Maybe she would go and see them after work.  Just drop by on the off chance they were home.  She didn't have to say anything.  Her secretary came in and she quickly switched her screen to her emails.

Franky stood up.  Ruby was sitting with her, subdued and unaware of Ella's behaviour.  The next ten minutes would turn this trial on its head if Franky made the most of the opportunity, if she didn't stumble.  The forensic expert waited warily. 

"You completed a forensic check on a van found abandoned in a truck stop on the Hume highway, the registration number was -" Franky referred to her notes and rattled off the number.  "Is that correct?"

"Yes," he agreed.

"This van," Franky showed the photo of Ruby’s car following a green van with green thumbs gardening written clearly on the side.  She zoomed in on the registration.  It was blurry but readable.  The same number as Franky had read out a moment ago.

"Yes," he repeated.

"This van is registered to a Darren Lock, is that right?" The forensic expert confirmed it was.

"Is there a report available?" She asked. When he answered in the affirmative she immediately turned to the judge.  "The defence requests this report be provided to the court, your honour."

The judge agreed and set a recess to allow both sides to review it then put their arguments forward for its inclusion or otherwise.  Franky raised her eyebrows at Ruby and gave her a quick smile. 

"The report helps us?" Ruby said with a question in her voice.

"It will give us reasonable doubt," Franky told her.  "Trust me, I've read it."

"How have you read it?" Ruby asked.

"Someone, I don't know who, gave me a copy.  Someone on our side," Franky stated surely.

"What if it wasn't someone on our side?" Ruby asked with a frown.

"Had to be," Franky said immediately, "it helps us not the prosecution."  Ruby didn't say anything and Franky was inclined to dismiss her fears as undue worrying.  There wasn't anything in the report which could harm Ruby, was there?  Why did Ruby think there might be?

Then the doubts about the Ruby/Ella story, which Franky had put to the back of her mind, resurfaced.  When had Henry's soft toy been hidden in Ruby's locker?  When exactly had Ella transitioned back to Ruby?  It would have been almost dark when Ruby had arrived at the car park where Michael Valeri had seen her car pass his.  Who goes hiking at night, especially a girl like Ruby?  She didn't have any answers.  Maybe it didn't matter.  Steph would tell her everyone lies, and she knew it was true, so focus on the story which can be proved and don't worry about the rest.

It was time to face the press and play down Ella's crazy accusation without making her seem untrustworthy, to distract the press with something more titillating.  She switched on her phone and checked her Twitter account.  Her followers were now in the thousands.  She had to be careful.  The judge had already warned her about using the media to influence the trial.  She sent a tweet.  She wasn't sure what would happen next.

Erica left work a little earlier than usual.  Her parents lived in Toorak, an affluent suburb with some very expensive real estate.  Her parents lived in a pleasant somewhat rambling house with two stories and vines which climbed the lattices to the second floor windows.  It wasn't the most prestigious house on the street but it still spoke of money.  Her mother's blue BMW was parked in the driveway.  The Audi purred to a stop behind it.  She cut the engine then sat behind the wheel without moving, looking at the entrance, trying to imagine Franky in this surrounding.  And she couldn't.  The best she could come up with was Franky leaning with one hand against the doorframe as she pressed the bell with the other waiting for a response.  Her triceps flexed and her tattoo standing out defiantly, her jeans tight emphasising the fit body beneath them and her expression wary as though expecting prejudice and judgement. 

She started the car again but before she could reverse another car swung into the driveway and blocked her.  It was her father's car.  She got out of the Audi slowly and waited for him to join her.

Franky was doing sit ups on the floor of the lounge area.  The cat thought this was a great game and attempted to catch Franky's hair on each downward movement.  Franky didn't mind except when it upset her rhythm.  She had kind of gotten used to the cat.  He seemed to be less standoffish these days. She had never had a pet growing up and hadn't known what to expect when she had first collected him.  She hadn't realised that cats, like humans, didn't like to be imprisoned, taken away from the environment they were familiar with, treated with disrespect.  She had some affinity with the cat.  He was smart, sometimes cunning, attacked rather than defended, and didn't surrender lightly but knew when retreat was strategic.  She respected the cat for these attributes.  So she kept doing sit ups and let the cat enjoy his game.

Erica was later than usual.  She had sent Franky a text saying not to expect her for dinner. No explanation and it could just be work holding her up but Franky was wary.  It had been a crazy twenty-four hours with her dad showing up out of the blue, the photo of them kissing and Ella's attempt to cause trouble.  Erica had clearly been worried about the photo, about the effect it might have on her life.  Maybe she needed space to process it, time away from Franky, like when she had been processing her reaction to Franky kissing Bea.  Maybe that was just how Erica operated.

Franky switched to push ups.  The cat lost interest and leapt onto the lounge to wash itself.  Or maybe Erica had seen the news and the Ella outburst had been reported.  Maybe she was freaking out because the woman she had chosen was a killer. 

She had thought about her strategy and had elected to be honest and tell Erica the truth.  It had been an accident, unfortunate, fatal, but an accident all the same.  She hadn't planned to kill anyone, certainly not Meg Jackson anyway.  Her plan had always been to bring down Jacs Holt.  The riot had been started by Jacs even though Franky had thrown the first punch.  Looking back she realised Jacs had manipulated her and the situation to her own advantage.  Franky had been outplayed.  She knew it and it still annoyed her to think about it.  She'd lost control of things and the Governor's death had been the outcome. 

Erica was in her parent's kitchen drinking tea.  Her mother had just finished telling her about Catherine Salinger's wedding in Hawaii.  It was so obvious to Erica what her mother was doing.  She may as well just have said outright that it could have been Erica if she hadn't thrown it all away.  Her father came into the room and switched on the television. 

"How's work?" Her mother asked when she realised her daughter wasn't going to engage in a discussion about Mark or weddings.

"Busy," Erica said distractedly.  She was watching her father channel hopping.    "Stuart Roxton's business is a full load.  I'm not working on anything else at the moment."

Her father found the news.  "Are you going to stay for dinner?" Her mother asked.  Erica nodded.  She was watching the news wondering if there would be any coverage of Ruby's trial.  She tried to catch updates when she could.  "What else have you been up to?"  Her mother was fishing.

"I went abseiling last weekend," she offered.  She knew this would give her mother the perfect opportunity to quiz her.  She noticed her father glance quickly at her.

"Not on your own I hope," Her mother said with concern.  Erica knew perfectly well what her mother was really asking.  She was rarely direct or blunt with her comments but Erica had grown used to reading between the lines over the years.

"No," Erica said.  She took a breath.  "I went with -" she stopped as the news anchor began coverage of Ruby's trial.

"In a trial which has captured the attention of the State, today's proceedings took on yet another bizarre twist.  The defendant, Ruby Roxton, again took the witness stand as alter ego Ella to answer questions from the prosecution. When put under pressure the young defendant refused to answer further questions and had to be physically restrained.  As she was led away she shouted accusations about her own lawyer, Franky Doyle, who spent time in Wentworth Correctional Centre.  These accusations, centring around the murder of an ex- governor of the prison Meg Jackson, have been downplayed by the accused's lawyer."

The footage switched to a shot of Franky on the steps of the law courts.  She looked serious, concerned and professional but unfazed by the questions.  "Prison is rife with rumour and speculation," Franky explained, "if I had a buck for every time someone said something about me while I was inside, well I wouldn't be working that's for sure," she smiled, her green eyes dancing.  "Ella must have heard those rumours while she was being detained at Wentworth.  You don't make friends in prison but you can make a lot of enemies," she shrugged as though to say, shit happens.

The shot returned to the studio where the news anchor continued the story.  "The defence scored a significant win today when the judge allowed a forensics report relating to the van of missing Elwood man Darren Lock to be submitted into evidence.  Darren Lock is, the defence is claiming, who really killed Henry Page. 

"Social media has been active following the developments in this trial and today went viral with the hashtag findthegreenman trending on Twitter.  The trial resumes on Monday."

"That trial isn't about that poor little boy anymore," Erica’s mother said sadly.  "It's all about that ex-criminal lawyer and her crazy client." 

Franky had showered and changed.  She was sitting next to the cat fingering the piece of paper which had her dad's details.  Her phone was sitting in her lap but she hadn't put in his number.  She had some clear water now with the recess.  She didn't have to think about the trial until Monday.  She could think about her father instead.  It was time to meet.

She dialled the number quickly and listened to it ring. And ring. It went through to voicemail.  "This is Alan Doyle," said a gruff low voice.  "Leave a message."  That was it.  Franky hung up.  She had no intention of leaving a message begging him to call her and then spending days waiting for him to call back. He should have been waiting by the fucking phone for her call, shouldn't he?  She felt disappointed and annoyed at herself for feeling that way. 

Her phone rang.  She glanced hopefully at the number but it wasn't her father's mobile number.  It was Amy.  She hesitated.  She probably owed the police officer an apology for her misplaced accusation.  With a sigh she answered it.

"Didn't think I'd be hearing from you any time soon," she opened with.

"Me neither," the cop admitted.  Franky could hear caution in her tone.

"What do you want?" Even to Franky's ears it sounded abrupt.

Amy sighed.  She knew there wasn't any point answering that question.   "There's been some chatter," she said instead.  "About your girl."

"Erica?" Franky's mind went immediately to the photo.  Shit! 

"No," and Franky relaxed slightly, "your client, Ruby Roxton." 

Franky hadn't expected that.  "What chatter?"

Amy hesitated.  "Look, I can't talk right now.  I didn't expect you to pick up to be honest."  She paused.  "Maybe we could meet for a drink."  She said hopefully.

"Amy," Franky said, "we're not doing this." 

"I know," Amy said immediately.

"I'm with Erica.  I'm always going to be with Erica and if I wasn't I'd want to be."  She tried to be clear.

"I get it," Amy said with resignation. 

Franky could hear her phone beeping in her ear to indicate another caller.  "Okay then," she agreed hastily.  "I've gotta go, what time do you finish work?"  Amy told her.  “Usual place then.”

The call was from a private number.  She let it go through to voicemail.  Too many reporters had her mobile number these days to risk answering calls from unknown numbers.

She heard a key in the door and looked up expectantly.  Erica walked in.  Franky still found it a little surreal to see Erica treating the flat as her home.  Her eyes immediately sought out Franky but the expression in them was difficult to read.

“Hello,” Franky said.  She watched Erica lean against the door.  “Good day?” 

Erica ignored the niceties.  "Meg Jackson?"  She raised her eyebrows at her girlfriend.

Franky pursed her lips.  "What about her?" Even though she had told herself she would be straight with Erica she found it impossible to change her defensive habits.

"Is it true what Ella said in court today?"  Erica asked slowly.  “Did you kill Meg Jackson?”

"Not on purpose," Franky said flippantly. 

Erica didn't look amused.  "You think this is funny?" she asked in disbelief. 

“No,” Franky replied, suddenly serious. 

“So are you going to tell me what happened?”  Part of Erica didn’t want to know and the other part hoped Franky would tell a tale of being coerced into the deed by Jacs Holt, physically restrained with a knife to her throat. 

"It was an accident," Franky admitted slowly.  "It was the day of the riot.  I was running through the corridors, my adrenalin was pumping, Jacs had been out to get me that day, I kicked a weapon which had fallen onto the ground.  I needed a weapon so I stopped to pick it up.  Someone grabbed me from behind, I didn't know who but I was pretty sure it was one of Jacs's crew.  I swung around quickly and struck out blindly. By the time I realised who it was it was too late to do anything but get the fuck out of there."  She waited.  Erica looked pale.  Maybe she should have lied.  Erica couldn't handle it she realised.  It had taken Franky some considerable time to come to terms with it and yet she was expecting Erica to just roll with it.  “I'm no saint," she admitted, "but I never meant to kill Meg Jackson."   

"Franky," Erica said.

She didn't even want to hear what Erica would say, the disappointment, the judgement, the regret.  It would be too hard to hear.

But Erica's first words were not what Franky had expected.  "How did you not get caught?"  And for once Franky was thankful for Erica's analytical lawyer mind.

"No forensics," she said with a shrug, "and Liz said nothing.  Until now," she added.

"Liz?" 

"She saw it happen.  Kept her mouth shut until it suited her not to."  She sounded bitter.   Despite Franky's acceptance of many things that had happened Liz's betrayal, like her father's abandonment, was something which still hurt.  "It would have been Liz that told Ella."

Erica was silent.  She was processing.  When she heard Franky deny it on the news and she had sounded so convincing, she had expected her to repeat her denials in private to Erica.  Now she realised Franky was a very good actor when she chose to be.  But then hadn’t she always known that?

The silence was making Franky nervous.  "Look, this is who I am.”  She said plainly.  "I've done other stuff that I'm not proud of but I did those things to survive.  It got me here.”  Then she spoke rashly.  "If you can't handle that then we may as well call it quits."  She crossed her arms over her chest looking defiant and defensive at the same time. 

Erica felt Franky’s eyes on her.  “I never said that.”  She said quietly.  She looked into Franky’s anxious green eyes.  “I know what goes on in prison.  I’m not naïve, Franky.   I can’t say how I would react in those circumstances and what I would do to survive it so it would hardly be fair to judge you by your actions in Wentworth.”  She could see Franky’s eyes were glistening.  She talked tough, Erica realised, but Franky’s armour had vulnerabilities.  “I know you’re not always sure of me but I am sure about you.”

Franky let go of the breath she was holding and relaxed slightly.  Erica’s reaction was not what she had expected.  She thought maybe she had misjudged her.  She had automatically associated Erica with conservative (and by default) prejudicial values.  Her world was not Franky’s world.  She had done her a disservice.  Erica’s attitudes might have been built on conservative foundations but the woman before her had a far broader experience of life and human nature and it had influenced her view.

“Have you got any other surprises in store for me?”  She asked a little wearily as they sat down together on the couch. 

“Only about a hundred,” Franky admitted with a grin. 

Erica couldn’t help smiling. “I was at my parents’ place when it came on the news.”  She told her.

“Oh,” Franky said with sudden understanding.  Timing is everything, she thought.

“What was I going to say?”  Erica asked.  “Point to the screen and say ‘there she is, that’s my girl, the one they are now saying killed my predecessor at Wentworth but don’t hold that against her.  I don’t.’  They are going to be prejudiced against you enough without that added to the mix.”  Erica said with a sigh.

“Maybe it would help if they met me,” Franky offered.  “I can be pretty charming, you know,” she said with a grin, her green eyes lighting up.

“I’m not sure even your charm will work on my parents,” Erica smiled.  She rested her head against the back of the couch, relaxing as she felt Franky’s thigh press against her own.  “They are never going to accept you or this lifestyle,” she said with finality. 

“I like a challenge,’ was all Franky said.  Erica sounded definitive and Franky hoped she hadn’t given up the idea of telling her parents.  She slid her hand along Erica’s thigh and let it rest there. 

“Do you think Ella’s outburst will harm Ruby’s defence?”  Erica asked after a while.

“It’s possible,” Franky acknowledged.  “She did look like a complete fucking nutter.”

“They said on the news there was a hashtag about finding the green man which has gone viral,” Erica told her. 

“Is there?” Franky asked innocently.  Erica wondered.

“I guess if he turned up it would help Ruby’s case.”  She speculated.

“Yeah, I guess it would,” Franky agreed absently.  “What time is it?”

“Just past ten,” Erica said looking at her watch.

“I’ve got to go out,” Franky told her with regret.  “You don’t mind, do you?”  She hesitated but Erica just shook her head.  “Don’t wait up.”  She patted her thigh as she got up and collected her phone and keys.

Amy was waiting for her at their pub in Richmond.  She was sitting at the bar drinking beer and texting.  "I guess I owe you an apology," Franky offered in greeting.

“For thinking I’d dobbed Erica into Harris?” Amy asked as she put down her phone.  “Yeah, I’d say you owe me at least an apology,” her dimples appeared.

Franky was grateful Amy wasn’t the type to hold a grudge.  “A beer and an apology then,” She agreed.  She ordered two pints.  “So what’s going on?”

“This trial of yours has been so high profile we’ve been monitoring social media,” Amy explained. 

Franky didn’t understand the significance.  “So?”

“So there’s been some chatter about your client, threats about taking her out if she is given a not guilty verdict.”

“What?”  Franky hadn’t seen anything like that on any of the tweets.  It had been all positive.

“There’s a Facebook page dedicated to Henry Page, check it out, there are a stack of negative comments about Ruby,” Amy told her. 

“Who are they from?” Franky asked with a frown.

Amy shrugged.  “They’re fake profiles, and it’s not a high priority to trace them.  There is a cybercrime unit but its resources are dedicated to internet fraud and paedophile cases.”  She drank some beer and glanced at Franky’s profile.  The lawyer was deep in thought.  “It’s probably nothing to worry about.  Most of these things turn out to be empty threats,” Amy explained, “but no harm in being forewarned.”

“Thanks,” Franky said absently.  She played with her beer processing the implications of Amy’s news. 

“Are you likely to win?” Amy asked curiously.

Franky shrugged.  “I plan to,” was all she said.  She changed the subject abruptly.  “How are things with you?” 

Amy’s beer halted in its progress to her mouth.  Surprise registered on her face.  “You know Tatts, that’s the first time you’ve ever asked me that,” she pointed out drily.

Franky’s green eyes caught Amy’s brown ones.  She realised she had been unfair to Amy.  The cop had no reason to keep Franky supplied with information and a few good ones to remain silent.

“Well, are you going to tell me or just sit there like a stunned goldfish?” she asked after a moment.  As apologies went it wasn’t much of one but Amy didn’t seem to mind.  She just laughed and told Franky about her dishy new flatmate.

When Franky woke the next morning she realised Erica’s hand was clamped onto her breast.  She rolled gently away hoping the hand would just slide off but it remained firmly in place.  She rolled back and looked at Erica’s face relaxed in sleep.  She looked so peaceful that Franky didn’t want to disturb her but she really needed to pee.  She stared at her drinking in the long lashes resting against pale skin, her blond hair falling across her eye, her mouth slightly open.  As she watched those eyelashes fluttered and blue eyes appeared.  They focussed on Franky.  She heard a small sigh escape.

“I need my boob back,” Franky told her quietly.  She watched Erica process this.  After a moment she saw understanding dawn.  Instead of removing her hand though, Erica tightened her hold.

“What if I don’t want to give it back?” She asked lazily.  “I’m rather attached to it.”

“Yes you are,” agreed Franky with a smile. 

“I meant figuratively,” Erica answered.

“Whatever that means,” Franky murmured her eyes serious.

Erica continued to watch her.  She never knew if Franky was joking when she claimed not to know a word.  On the one hand her education had been patchy, so it was possible she didn’t know some words but on the other she suspected Franky was playing with her.

“What if I refuse to give it back?” she asked instead.

“Well,” Franky contemplated this.  “First of all, that’s sounds very possessive of you,” she said at last, “which I kinda like,” she admitted smiling, “and second, things could get messy.”  She added.

“Well, I thought messy was what we did,” Erica replied refusing to yield.  Her hand shifted slightly and Franky realised her nipple was resting between Erica’s thumb and forefinger.  She had flicked it gently as her hand had moved and resettled.  It felt good.  It was a pity she had to pee so badly.

“I don’t think you’ll like this messy,” Franky said grinning. 

Erica shifted her hand so it slid down to Franky’s stomach and rested there lightly.  “Go on then,” she grumbled with a sigh.  She watched as Franky sprang out of bed with purpose.  A firm butt, toned legs and tattoos disappeared out the door. 

She rolled onto her stomach and closed her eyes again. Without Franky in the room there was nothing worth looking at.  She drifted towards sleep.  Erica rarely had trouble sleeping and she was not a morning person like Franky obviously was.  The only mornings Franky wasn’t already up when she woke were the weekends.  Those days Franky liked to stay in bed until Erica was awake.  Sometimes Franky would wake her deliciously on those mornings with her lips, tongue or hands exploring sensitive parts.  Other mornings she’d find Franky lying on her side watching her intently, her green eyes dark and her expression unreadable.  She would ask Franky what she was thinking.  Those mornings Franky seemed more likely to open up to Erica telling her what was on her mind and in her heart.  She liked those mornings the best.

It was time to have a serious conversation with Franky, she decided, but with the trial unresolved and Franky’s dad in town it didn’t seem the right moment.  She would wait.  Timing was everything after all.

Chapter Text

From across the street Franky looked at the entrance to the hotel where her father was staying.  It looked respectable without being anything flash.  She had been standing there for almost twenty minutes waiting for, she didn't know what, but still she waited.

It was Friday night.  Her day had been quiet.  With the court in recess until Monday, Franky had gone into the office and caught up with Stephanie.  Her boss had given her perspective on the Ella outburst and how it might impact Ruby's chances.  She also gave Franky some advice should the police decide to reopen their investigation into Meg Jackson's murder.

"Do you think they will reopen it?" Franky asked her.

"It's possible," Stephanie acknowledged, "if they get pressured from some quarter to do so.  Otherwise I imagine they wouldn't take the wild allegations of a person with a mental illness who is on a charge for murder too seriously."

Her boss never asked Franky whether or not the allegation was true.  Either she didn’t believe it, didn’t care one way or the other or didn’t want to know.  Franky wondered which it was but didn’t think it was strategic to ask. 

Franky suddenly saw her father walk into the entrance of the hotel.  She felt her palms go clammy and her heart rate rise.  It was now or she'd lose her nerve.  She saw a break in the traffic and ducked across the road entering the doors he had gone through a few minutes earlier.

His room was on the third floor.  She knocked with more confidence than she felt.  A moment later the door opened and Alan Doyle greeted his daughter with a hesitant smile.

"Franky," he said, "I thought maybe you wouldn't come.  I'm glad you have,' he added quickly.  "Come in," he stood aside.

Franky walked past him into the small unpretentious room with a double bed and a small round table with one chair near the window.  She could hear the traffic below. 

"Can I get you anything?" He asked, sounding eager to accommodate her.  "Tea?  Or a beer?"

Franky shook her head.  The room was neat.  Her father's bag was on the floor and his clothes neatly folded on the chair.  Franky was also tidy by nature.  She had always assumed it was a need to be in control but now she wondered if maybe it was a learnt behaviour.  He moved the clothes quickly freeing up the chair but Franky didn't sit.

"It's good to see you," he said after an awkward silence.  "You look good.  I'm glad you came," he said again.

"Why did you come back?" Franky asked suddenly.  Her green eyes distant refusing to show the angst she was feeling.  She was going to control this conversation, she had decided.

"Kathleen told me you were on the telly, a lawyer," he sounded impressed.  "You were always a smart little thing."

"Yeah, I've done all right," Franky acknowledged.  She crossed her arms over her chest.  She was wearing skinny jeans and a casual fitted black top.  She'd put on more eye make than usual, war paint Erica had called it insightfully when Franky had told her where she was going.

"That other woman said you had a high profile trial, did you win it?"  He trudged on bravely although the going was tough.

"Her name's Erica," Franky said.  Her father nodded.  He was confused how she fitted in and said so.  "She's my girlfriend," Franky told him.  "I'm a lesbian."  She took some delight in telling him that. 

He knew though.  The reality TV show liked to tag the contestants and Franky's had been 'Franky Doyle - unemployed lesbian'.  "She seemed to care about you," was all he said.

"Yeah, I've got people who care about me."  She said then returned to her earlier question.  "So why are you here?"

He heard the unspoken 'I don't need you' in those words.  "You're not as angry as you were when I last saw you." He said at last.

"Yeah I am," Franky refuted.  "But I can control it better now."

"I wanted to see if you had changed your mind.  See if you'd give me a second chance.  I know I don't deserve it and maybe I wouldn't if I was in your shoes but I hoped maybe you’re a bigger person than me."

Franky shook her head with a short laugh.  "Nah," she said immediately.  "Emotional blackmail isn't going to work on this little black duck, get it?  I don't owe you anything." 

"No, you don’t," he agreed quietly.

"If I give you a second chance, what's to say you're not going to piss off again at the first opportunity?"  She asked bluntly.  "I don't trust you."  She said it harshly.

He didn’t flinch.  "I won't," he said calmly.  "I told you why I left you with your mother.  Maybe it was wrong, but it's done."  He waited but Franky didn't say anything.  "You've got people who care and maybe you think you don't need me," he acknowledged.  "If that's true, I'll go back to Port Hedland and won't bother you again." He watched her but she was hard to read.  "It’s your call,” he finished with.

“Yeah, it is.”  They could agree on that at least.

“My flight is booked for Tuesday,” he said.  “I’ll go back just to collect my gear and quit if that’s what you want.”

“I don’t want anything from you,” she said immediately but she knew it was a lie.

“How about I just come back and we see what happens then?  You don’t have to see me if you don’t want to but I’ll be here if you do,” he offered. 

He was trying to give her an easy option, to keep the door ajar, she realised.  “I can’t promise anything,” she said at last. 

He nodded.  “Okay then,” as though that settled it.  “If you like we could have dinner or a drink when I get back.”  He suggested tentatively.  She was like a skittish colt, curious but so nervous. 

“Maybe,” she answered non-committedly.  He had to be content with that.

That night in bed Franky asked Erica to hold her.  She felt things were spinning dangerously out of control and Erica was her only anchor.  If she lost her she would be lost.  

"So what do you think?"  Erica could already tell what Franky thought.  It was written all over her face and in her body language.  She persisted though in her pretence that Franky was here with an open mind.  "There's a gym, spa and swimming pool on the top level which residents have access to as well," she told her.

"It's sterile," Franky said glumly.  Her arms were crossed against her chest and she was slumped against the kitchen bench.

"It's new," Erica corrected her.

"It's got no character," Franky pointed out. 

"It's got air conditioning," Erica offered, "and an underground secure car park."

Franky shrugged.  "Then I'm sure you and your car will be very happy here."

"Franky," Erica said with a sigh.  "This is the fifth apartment and you've managed to find something wrong with each of them."

"Yeah, because they're all crap," she said as though it was obvious.

"That's not the reason though, is it?" Erica said calmly.

Franky scowled at the floor.  "I dunno, you're telling the story," was all she said.

Erica sighed. The real estate agent walked into the room.  "How's it going, ladies?"  He asked watching the dark haired sullen woman warily.  He saw a flash of green flick over him before she pushed herself off the bench and prowled towards the bedroom.

"Give us a minute," Franky heard Erica tell the guy.

Erica followed Franky into the bedroom.  "No mirrors," She said with a smile.  "It has a lot more storage space than your place."  She opened the door to the large walk-in wardrobe which stretched along an entire wall and peered inside.

She had a vague awareness that Franky had come up behind her.  She thought though that Franky was also curious to look inside.  She didn't expect Franky to grab her wrist and manoeuvre her quickly into the back of the deep wardrobe.  She felt the wall halt her progress and Franky's body press against hers.  Her wrist hurt from the pressure Franky was exerting.  "What are you doing?" She gasped.

Franky's free hand came up and she pressed two fingers against Erica's lips to silence her.  Her eyes never left Erica's, the sullen expression replaced with an intense stare.  She moved closer and Franky deliberately shifted her gaze to Erica's lips.  Her thighs were now pressing along the length of Erica's.  The pressure on her wrist hadn't eased but Franky's fingers rubbed against Erica's lips.  It was obvious what she wanted. 

Erica couldn't believe it.  The real estate agent was in the next room waiting for them to appear again.  "Franky," she said against her fingers.  "Are you mad?"  Even as she said it she could feel her body responding to the idea.  Franky's fingers released her mouth and slid down her torso holding her to the wall at her hip.  Her lips replaced them.  The kiss was slow but deliberate.  Erica felt Franky's tongue slide along her lips demanding access.  She couldn't deny her anything, she realised, even a stolen kiss in a vacant apartment.  Her mouth parted and she felt Franky's tongue exploring her mouth leisurely, deeply.  Their tongues met and flirted.  Franky's free hand found the edge of Erica's top and slid under it caressing her back and pulling her even closer until she could feel Franky's breasts hard against hers.  She let out a soft moan against Franky's mouth unable to stop herself.  This seemed to tell Franky she was more compliant than she may have been initially.  She let go of her wrist and used that hand to push Erica's head up so she could kiss the sensitive spot on her throat.  Franky knew exactly what that did to Erica.  She melted against the wall and Franky only had a moment to shift her hand from her back to her side.  Her breath was becoming ragged.  She wasn't sure how far Franky intended to take this but she knew what her body wanted.  This illicit daring make-out was just the type of behaviour which had her body begging for it. 

"I want to fuck you."  The warm breath and whispered words in her ear made Erica shiver with anticipation.  She knew what Franky was doing.  Her girlfriend was taking back control of the situation.  Franky had made it perfectly clear what she thought of the morning's excursion, not directly, but in every comment, every look it had radiated from her.  "Right here," her tongue slid down Erica's jawline, "with that tosser toying with his phone in the next room."

Her hands slid between them and unbuttoned Erica's jeans.  "You are so fucking sexy,” her voice was low and erotic, her words creating a rush of heat and desire in Erica.  “Are you ready for me?”  Her mouth captured Erica’s again and she kissed her hungrily.  “Tell me you want it,” she demanded against her mouth.

“Oh fuck,” Erica managed to gasp.  “Don’t tease.”  She felt Franky bite her throat then kiss it in turn.  She’d have a mark there she suspected. 

“I’m not teasing,” Franky murmured into her neck.  To prove it her hands had unzipped Erica’s jeans and she slipped her fingers past the waistband of Erica’s silky underwear until she could feel her heat and wetness.

Erica’s arms had reached up to grab the overhead rail to steady herself as her legs spread wider allowing Franky’s fingers full access.  Franky held back though.   “Tell me what you want,” she repeated firmly.  Her eyes, dark with passion, locked onto Erica’s with an intense stare. 

Erica’s mind couldn’t control her responses anymore.  She was desperate for Franky to finish what she had started.  She didn’t care about the real estate agent waiting in the living area.  She didn’t care that Franky was manipulating her to suit her own purposes.

“Fuck me,” she said immediately, “make me come, I want to come hard for you.”  Her blue eyes were filled with desperation and desire, pleading silently with Franky to make it real.  The words sounded like they were out of some bad porn movie to her but it was liberating to say them even so.  More than that, talking like that seemed to turn her on even more.  There was power in words, she thought abstractly, before Franky’s fingers slid into her and she stopped thinking.  There was an urgency and roughness to it which Erica loved.  Franky put her free hand against Erica’s mouth.   As she climaxed she bit down on it to silence her cries. 

“I forgot to mention there is underfloor heating in all the rooms,” the agent’s voice floated in from the bedroom.

Erica, still coming down from her orgasm, looked alarmed.  Franky calmly removed her hand so Erica could adjust her clothes.  She licked her fingers clean, watching Erica with a slight smile as she did it.  She turned and walked out of the wardrobe to see the agent standing in the middle of the room looking unsure.  “You’re right, the storage space is awesome, babe,” she said as she re-entered the bedroom.  She eyed the agent curiously.  “What did you say?”  She decided to be engaging to give Erica some time.

He coughed.  “The heating, it’s underfloor, very efficient,” she made him nervous she realised. 

“Gas cooktop?” she asked.  He nodded.  “Oven’s electric I hope,” she added. 

“Yes, and fan-forced,” he said.  She just nodded.  “You’d be the first tenants,” he added as an additional selling point.  Female professionals were the best tenants in his experience.  These two were obviously a couple, which was even better, no wild parties.

“Cat okay?” Franky raised her eyebrows.

He shook his head.  “No pets,” he said firmly.  He saw the green eyes flicker.  “Do you have a cat?”

“Yep,” Franky answered briefly.  “Guess it’s a no go then,” she said not at all upset about it.

“Oh, right,” he said flatly.

“Franky has been minding a cat,” Erica said from behind her.  “We don’t own one.”  She gave Franky a look.  Erica looked completely composed to Franky.  There was no hint she had recently been having sex.  “Thanks for showing it to us,” Erica smiled at the young man.  “I’ll be in touch.”

“Is there any more of this torture?” Franky asked over the roof of the Audi, “or can we get some lunch?  I need a coffee.”

“Well you certainly need some perspective,” agreed Erica drily, “so maybe lunch is a good idea.”

They found a nearby café.  Erica ordered a fig, prosciutto and goat’s cheese salad.  Franky ordered toasted Turkish bread filled with chargrilled vegetables and a double expresso with milk on the side.  She disappeared to the toilet as soon as the waitress had left. 

It was a sunny Saturday with the temperature forecast to reach a pleasant 23 degrees.  The hot November weather was gone and everyone was less worried that summer might be insanely hot. 

“Okay,” Erica said with purpose when Franky had returned and poured them both water.  “We are going to talk about this.”

“About what?” Franky asked blankly and Erica wondered if she was being deliberately obtuse. 

“Franky,” Erica said with a sigh.  “I know exactly what that was back there.  You were manipulating me because you don’t like the idea of me moving out of the flat.”

“I didn’t hear you complaining at the time,” Franky replied.  Her fingers drummed against her water glass.

Erica laughed.  “Oh you’re very good at it,” she acknowledged, “you pushed all my buttons to get the response you wanted.  It doesn’t mean I didn’t know what you were doing.”

Franky was silent.  Erica was smarter than anyone she’d ever been with.  Worse, she seemed to understand Franky better than anyone else.  Fuck, why did she think that was a bad thing?  She knew why though, it made her vulnerable.

She reached across the table and placed her fingers against the red mark on Erica’s neck.  “Does that hurt?” she asked.

Erica pulled Franky’s hand away and saw the bite mark, the result of Erica stifling her cries.  “Does that?” she asked. 

Franky grinned.  “Yeah, you almost broke my fucking hand,” she looked pleased with herself.

Franky’s coffee arrived.  She added milk, just a little, just enough to take the edge off it.  She breathed it in. 

“Are you going to make me sit here and guess what is going on with you?”  Erica asked at last, echoing Franky’s words at her. 

Smart and with an excellent memory, Franky acknowledged the hit.   “Okay then, I don’t understand,” she said suddenly, “how you can say you are sure about me then want to live somewhere else.”  She looked up.

To Erica the two weren’t contradictory but clearly in Franky’s eyes they were.   She tried to explain.  “I was with Mark for ten years, living with him for most of that, one half of a couple.  You told me I need to work out who I am.  Well I need some space to do that.  There’s no harm in us each having our own space, Franky, it doesn’t mean that I don’t want to be with you.” 

Franky shook her head.  “I’m done being alone, Erica.  I’ve been on my own for most of my life.  It sucks.  I want us to be together.  I like my flat.  I like you being at my flat.  Why does anything have to change?”

Erica felt selfish.  Franky’s plea was so heartfelt.  She slid her palm over Franky’s palm letting her fingers circle Franky’s wrist.  She was fine boned.  Her wrist was narrow and Erica’s fingers could circle it.  It would be easy to give in to Franky.

Their meals arrived.  They broke contact and concentrated on eating.  Nothing was resolved.

When Erica woke on Sunday morning Franky wasn’t there.  Her side of the bed was empty.  Erica felt disappointed.  She had gotten used to their weekend mornings, she liked them, and she would miss them she suddenly realised.  Her hand slid over to Franky’s side of the bed hoping to feel the residual warmth of her but the sheets were cold.  She pulled Franky’s pillow towards her and breathed in.  There was vanilla mixed with the lingering scent of Franky.  She would never be able to smell vanilla now without thinking of Franky.  She dozed.

She was dreaming of a field of giant vanilla pods.  They were rubbing against her face as she brushed past them.  They smelt fantastic.  They were strangely soft against her cheek and warm.  She leant into them closing her eyes to let her other senses dominate.  They were brushing over her lips.  They were kissing her.  Part of her mind knew that was strange but the other part could only register how good it felt.  She might have moaned slightly.  She opened her eyes slowly.  Someone was kissing her. 

“Good morning,” Franky murmured against her mouth.  “Miss me?”

“Yes,” it sounded heartfelt.  Erica pulled her closer breathing her in.

“I’ve made coffee,” Franky offered, “and pancakes.  Want some?”  She knew Franky was doing it again.  She loved pancakes.  It was one of her weaknesses. 

“I don’t deserve you,” Erica said with a smile.

“Yeah you do,” Franky grinned at her.  “Up you get beautiful,” she gave her a final kiss.  “Do you want berries and yoghurt or apple and cinnamon?”

“Berries and yoghurt,” Erica decided, “and cinnamon,” she added.

“Kinky,” Franky said with a smile.  “You’ll freak out James if you start asking for strange flavour combinations.”

“I promise to behave,” Erica said seriously.

Despite Franky’s obvious enthusiasm Erica had some reservations about Sunday lunch.  She knew how much James meant to Franky and vice versa.  She worried she wouldn’t be good enough, that James would see her as not serious, as someone likely to be unfaithful (because after all she had been unfaithful to Mark), as someone who would end up hurting Franky. 

She dressed carefully choosing a colourful sleeveless sundress which finished mid-thigh showing off her legs and strappy sandals.  She wore her hair down styling it naturally into soft curls which sat on her shoulders.  Her make-up was understated, enhancing rather than making a statement.

“You look gorgeous,” Franky told her, “very girly, which I totally love.”

Franky was more relaxed wearing tight jeans and a white fitted shirt which she wore open to her chest underneath was a trademark black sleeveless top.  A long chain with heavy silver pendant dangled between her breasts.  Franky didn’t wear jewellery very often and Erica looked at it curiously but she couldn’t make out what it was.   

They arrived just after midday.  James opened the door and his face broke into a smile as he greeted Franky.  “About time I got to meet your new girlfriend,” he said with an inclusive glance at Erica.  “Although I think we’ve already met.”  He added with a twinkle in his eye.

“You have,” Franky agreed, “at the Awards night.  This is Erica,” Franky said with a smile.  She slipped her hand into Erica’s and squeezed it as though she knew the other woman might not be feeling quite as assured as she looked.

“You are very welcome Erica,” James said immediately.  He embraced her smelling of aftershave and spices.  He ushered them inside.  “Stephanie is out on the patio.  We thought we’d eat al fresco since it is such a nice day.”

“Lovely,” Erica murmured as she let Franky guide her through the house and out the back. 

Stephanie looked up from a legal brief when she heard them approach.  “Sorry, caught,” she admitted with a smile.  “I promised James I wouldn’t do any work today.”  Her blue eyes settled on Erica.  “I’m so glad you could make it,” she said easily.

“Is everyone happy to drink white wine?” James asked.  No one complained so he disappeared into the house.  Franky and Erica sat down under the shade of a Jacaranda tree.

Lunch was a simple, light affair.  Leek, mushroom and goat’s cheese tarts with a garden salad.  The wine was a refreshing pinot gris.  The conversation was also light.  They talked about travel as James had recently been to the United States for work.  Franky attempted to guess the herbs in the tarts, she was pretty accurate, identifying the flavours easily and this led to a discussion about favourite herbs and spices.  Erica discovered the Wilkinsons were well-read and less conservative than her own parents.  She found herself relaxing in their company, nothing was rushed or awkward, they were very good hosts.  Erica watched their interactions with Franky.  They were clearly fond of her and she seemed more relaxed than Erica had ever seen her except perhaps after sex.  She would tease James mercilessly and he obviously loved it.

After two bottles of wine James stood up.  "I'm just going to get dessert ready," he said then looked at Erica.  "Why don't you come and help me?" He suggested to her.

"Me?"  She said with a surprised smile.  "I think you mean Franky not me."

"No," he answered seriously.  "I mean you."

"Oh," Erica looked confused.  She glanced at Franky who just raised her eyebrows and gave a quick grin.  She stood up and followed James inside.

He went to the fridge and brought out four stylish cocktail glasses filled with a rich stunning berry mixture like a soft mousse but the colour so much deeper and vibrant than a mousse. 

"You know I'd heard of you well before I met you," he said as he placed them on the bench then returned to the fridge.

"Really?" Erica said as she watched him pull out a bowl of creamy mixture.

"Franky told me how much you helped her when she was in prison.  She talked about you quite a lot.  I could tell you were important to her even back then."  He was putting dollops of the creamy mixture onto each berry dessert, the contrast was striking.  "I'm glad to be able to finally meet you."

Erica absorbed this.  She wasn't quite sure how to respond but her earlier fears that she wouldn't be good enough receded.  She smiled.  "I think you're important to Franky too."

"I hope so," he said quietly.  He struck her suddenly as such a lovely, kind, gentle man.  "She has been hurt by people who she loved and trusted and now she has trouble believing she deserves anything better or that people will treat her decently.  Consequently, I think Franky finds relationships difficult.  Well, we all do at times," he smiled, "but perhaps Franky more than most."

"You and Stephanie seemed to have got it right, what's the secret?" Erica asked lightly.

He took her question seriously.  "Well I picked the right girl, that always helps," he said smiling.  "But just as important we wanted the same things and gave each other the room to grow.  Mutual respect and a desire to be fair when we do disagree also helps I think."

"Sounds idyllic," Erica said thinking about her relationship with Mark and wondering how many of those attributes it had demonstrated. 

"We had our challenges, don't worry about that," James admitted easily.  He was decorating the desserts with tiny crystallised mint leaves.  "When we realised we couldn't have children that was very hard on the relationship.  I very much wanted children and the realisation it wasn't going to happen was very difficult for me.  Steph was disappointed but she came to terms with it much more quickly than I did.  We almost lost each other then."  He looked at the young woman next to him.  "Still, the whole children thing isn’t something you'll have to worry about."  He added.

Erica could only think he meant one thing. "Lesbian couples can have children," she said with a frown.  She was surprised he didn't realise that.  It wasn't unusual these days for children to have two mothers or two fathers.  James hadn't struck her as old fashioned in his attitudes. 

"Oh yes," James agreed quickly.  "No, I didn't mean that,” he added.  "I wasn't making a judgement about same sex parents," he tried to reassure her.  Erica wondered what he had meant then but he didn’t expand further.  He put the last of the crystallised mint leaves on as decoration.  "Shall we take these out?"

Erica followed him puzzled by how their conversation had ended.  She handed Franky a dessert and felt her hand caress her lightly.  “Thanks,” Franky said and her green eyes caught Erica’s as she smiled.  Erica felt her breath catch suddenly and a wave of happiness spread through her.  She wasn’t sure what just happened.

The dessert was a clever blend of contrasts.  The natural sweetness of the berries contrasted with the tangy flavour of the yoghurt.  The smooth creaminess of the berries and yoghurt contrasted in turn with the granulated mint leaves.  Appreciation flowed around the table.

Franky offered to make coffee.  Erica offered to help.  They disappeared into the house.  Franky put on the kettle and found the coffee.  As Erica stretched up to get cups out from an overhead cupboard she felt Franky’s arms encircle her waist.  “I am sure about you,” she whispered.  “I’ve fallen for you so hard.  I never want to be with anyone else.”

Erica turned and looked into those dark serious eyes.  “Neither do I,” she said softly.  “You’re in my heart.”  Then Erica kissed Franky.  

Chapter Text

Ruby Roxton hated her name.  She'd never liked it but now she hated it.  She hated that it built up expectations in people she always failed to fulfil.  "Oh I expected you to be brighter, more vibrant, beautiful," they would say then laugh.  "You're not much like a ruby."  Ever since school her name had been a burden.  She hated her surname as well.  It connected her to her father.  "Roxton, not as in Stuart Roxton?  Shit! You must be loaded."  She hated the alliteration.  It drew attention to her name.  People remembered it, smiled at it, and it sounded slightly disjointed when said together as though it wasn't quite right. Like Ruby wasn't quite right...in the head.

Since the trial began her name had been bandied about freely by the prosecution, witnesses, the media, even Franky, she thought as she watched her lawyer engaging in a verbal joust with the prosecution lawyer.

Franky was arguing her case to include the forensics report.  The other lawyer kept objecting.  Franky was so feisty and quick witted.  She made the other lawyer seem dull and earnest in comparison.  She would win, Ruby knew it, and then the report would be in evidence.

"What happens now?" She asked as Franky sat down triumphantly.

"There'll be a short recess while they recall the forensic dude," Franky explained.  "Then the fun begins," she grinned raising her eyebrows mischievously at Ruby.

Franky was having fun, Ruby realised suddenly, her lawyer loved the cut and thrust of court.  Her confidence combined with her intelligence made her a worthy ally and a serious opponent. 

Franky's phone vibrated on the table between them and Ruby watched as she checked the message.  She could tell it was from Franky's girlfriend just by the lawyer's reaction to it.  She looked happy.

Ruby hadn't realised Franky was a lesbian until she had seen her on Sunrise that morning.  Ruby's understanding of lesbians was limited to the bull dyke at Wentworth who she had seen kissing a skinny blonde girl in the showers.  When she had stared for a moment too long, the woman had told her to stop fucking perving or she'd get a couple of broken legs for the privilege.   Ruby hadn't known any lesbians until now, until Franky. 

She watched Franky make a call and listened to her side of the conversation. "Hello," Franky's tone was flirty.  "Wanna go dancing?"  Franky laughed at whatever her girlfriend had said.  "Think of it as foreplay.  Our bodies all hot, close, and sweaty."  Franky doodled on her legal pad.  She didn't seem to care Ruby was in hearing distance.  "Well, maybe after I'll have a surprise for you," she said her voice lowering suggestively.  She listened to the response.  "I'm never going to be able to concentrate with that in my head."  She laughed. 

"I need to go to the bathroom," Ruby said quietly.

Franky looked up.  "I've gotta go," she said into the phone.

"Sorry," she said with a frown but her lawyer just shrugged.

They walked together to the women's toilets but at door Franky stopped.  "I'll wait here," she said.

"Don't you need to escort me?" Ruby asked with a confused look.

"You're entitled to some privacy, Ruby," her lawyer said.  "Just don't do a bolt on me," she added with a grin.

There was no window in these toilets though.  Ruby knew it and she knew Franky knew it so clearly she was joking.  Her lawyer seemed to be in a very good mood today.

She found only one other booth was occupied.  She picked one well away from it.  Afterwards she washed her hands with her head down so she didn't have to look at herself in the mirror.  Ruby hated how she looked.  She was unattractive.  It hurt her to see herself so she didn't look.

She heard the other toilet flush and the door open.  She glanced up to see who would appear.  She felt herself tighten with anxiety.  It was the woman who had been in court every day of the trial, seated in the first row of the gallery in the same seat just behind the prosecution.  It was Henry's mother.  Their eyes met in the mirror.  Gillian Page stopped as she realised who was at the basin.

There was a moment of stillness, of silence while Ruby waited. 

"How dare you?" The other woman said suddenly with tightly controlled anger.

Ruby looked startled.  She wasn't sure what she had dared.  She knew Gillian Page of course.  They had had many conversations over Henry's head as his mother had collected him or dropped him off.  Since the trial began though there had been no conversations.  They had been separated by distance, by sides, by the enormity of what lay between them.  The one thing which had joined them had been taken from them both.

"I'm sorry," Ruby's natural inclination was to apologise even though she wasn't sure what she was apologising for.

"He was in your care," she spat out the words.  "He was vulnerable.  He should have been safe, protected by you, instead he was put in danger's way."  Her face told the story of her tragedy, her grief.  "He was just a little boy, a sweet innocent little boy, and he trusted you."

"I didn't hurt him," Ruby said quietly.  She turned from the basin and glanced at the door.  "I didn't do this."  She knew Gillian Page did not believe her.

"How do you even know what you are capable of?  You are sick in the head," she hissed. 

"I -" she hesitated.  How did she know what Ella was capable of?  The black-outs had been more frequent in the lead up to Henry's disappearance.  Ella was pushing for control.  She wasn't content with cameo appearances anymore.  She wanted to be the star.  And Ella was the stronger of the two of them.  She hadn’t told Franky that.  It wouldn’t help her case.  She wanted to protect Ella as Ella had protected her in the past.  She owed Ella that.

"I want you to suffer," Gillian Page said coldly.  She stepped closer, invading Ruby's personal space.  "You don't deserve mercy, or pity, you are a monster!"

Ella looked into the glassy eyes of Henry's mother.  "Back off bitch!" She said with menace.  "You left your kid in that day-care centre outside of hours, before any of the staff had arrived, you left him unprotected and made him vulnerable.  Don't lay your guilt on Ruby!"  Her finger pushed hard into Gillian Page's chest, forcing her backwards.  "You wanna lay the blame somewhere, lady?  Take a good hard look at yourself."  She grabbed the woman by the collar of her blouse and pushed her towards the mirror so her face was pressed against the cold hard surface.  Gillian Page screamed.

Franky entered the bathroom and assessed the situation quickly.  She pulled Ella off Gillian Page and held her, restraining the girl with some effort.  "What the fuck!"  Ella exclaimed.  "Get the fuck off me!"

"Shut up!" Franky told her.  "And stop struggling." She looked at Gillian Page who was visibly distressed.  "You all right?" She asked. 

"This bitch started hassling Ruby!" Ella interrupted.  "Don't waste your sympathy on her."

"If you say another word," Franky said with menacing calm, "I'll break your arm."

Ella laughed.  "I'll have you up on a charge," she said quickly.

"Dream on Ella," Franky whispered in her ear.  "No one will believe you and do you really think Mrs Page will come to your defence?"

"I hate you," Ella said in a sullen voice, defeated and unhappy.  She had the emotional maturity of a child.

"Yeah?  Well get in the fucking queue," Franky replied with exasperation.  She was watching Henry's mother.  "Are you okay?" She asked again.  The woman nodded.  She wouldn't look at Ella or Franky.  "What did you say to her?"  Franky asked curiously.  It wasn't clear whether she was asking Gillian Page or Ella and neither woman answered.

Ella had not transitioned back when court resumed.  Franky had to question the forensics expert again and she gave Ella a warning look as she stood up.  Ella was still sulking and ignored her.

Again Franky established the forensics report was on Darren Lock's van.  Then she held up the report and told the court there was evidence which suggested Darren Lock had been involved in Henry's murder.  Ella watched her with a sour expression on her face.  Franky Doyle was a thorn in her side.  She wasn't intimidated by Ella.  She was more street-smart than Ella.  And she had what Ella wanted.  Freedom and control.

Ella watched Franky through slitted eyes, appraising her.  The lawyer was leading the witness carefully through a series of questions to the destination she had picked, to a place she wanted the jury to be, in the land of doubt.

"This item, on page five, which I've highlighted, can you read it out?" Franky was asking.  She handed a copy of the report to the expert.

He read it.  "Blue thread," he said then looked up 

"You found blue thread in the van?" Franky asked.

"Yes," he confirmed.

"Henry Page was wearing a blue shirt on the day he disappeared, were you aware of that?"

"Yes," he answered.

"Was this thread tested at all?"

"No, we itemised anything found in the back of the van and tested for fingerprints but due to budget constraints we only analysed the fingerprints."

“My client testified that Henry’s shirt had been torn when she found him in the maintenance cupboard.  The pathologist’s report confirms this.  So is it possible this blue thread in Darren Lock’s van belongs to Henry's shirt?"

"It's possible," the expert agreed. 

“If you tested this blue thread could you determine whether or not it came from Henry’s shirt?”

The expert frowned.  “It is not that simple,” he said.  “I could establish definitively if the thread did not belong to Henry’s shirt if the fibres did not match,” he explained.  “I could possibly establish that it did come from Henry’s shirt if the fibres matched and there was also something which linked the thread to Henry’s shirt specifically but equally I may only be able to not rule it out.  Forensic science is not an absolute science,” he said with an apologetic smile.

Franky smiled at him.  “So, if the police had asked for this thread to be tested then it is possible we would know whether or not Henry had been in Darren Lock’s van but for now there is nothing to dispute Ella’s claim and in fact, there is potential evidence to prove her claim.  Is that fair to say?”

“Yes,” the expert agreed.

"Thank you," she said sitting down again.

Mr Russell stood.

"Were Henry's fingerprints found in the van?" He asked the witness.

"No," he said.

"And just to be clear, this blue thread, could it have been from anything other than Henry Page's shirt?"

"Of course, it could have come from anything."

The prosecution lawyer smiled at the expert and then the jury.  Ella laughed.  All eyes focussed on her.

"Not helping," Franky murmured under her breath to Ella.

"Maybe I don't want to help anymore," Ella replied.  She stared at the lawyer then gave a slow smile.

Franky watched her warily.  "Did you ever?" She asked.

Closing arguments followed.  The prosecution reiterated their position.  A vulnerable four year old, a young woman in a position of trust with a mental illness, video surveillance placing Ruby on the freeway which led to the National Park where Henry’s body was found on the day he disappeared.  Henry’s soft-toy was, by her own admission, hidden in Ruby’s gym locker.  Surely this was evidence of her guilt.  Her story constantly changed as she was caught out in her lies.  Was she protecting her alter ego or herself, he asked, then explained it shouldn’t matter to the jury.  Regardless of which girl murdered Henry, it was Ruby who would be held responsible, who should be held responsible for this terrible crime.  “Our children should be safe and protected,” he finished with¸ “you, as the jury on this case, have the chance to hold Ruby Roxton accountable for the heinous act she committed in taking and killing Henry Page.”

Franky stood and faced the twelve jurors.  Over the days of the trial she had watched them closely.  She felt now she knew which of them had a sense of humour, which of them didn’t really want to be there, which of them had always believed Ruby to be guilty and which of them had begun with an open mind.  She felt now she knew which jurors she was making her pitch to and which ones would not hear her words.

“When we all gathered here at the beginning of this trial, I told you Ruby was innocent of this crime.  I told you I would give you the name of the man who was responsible and present you with evidence sufficient for you to ask why the police hadn’t considered this man as a suspect.

“Darren Lock is that man.  His van was also caught on video surveillance on the afternoon of Henry’s disappearance heading towards the national park.  He also worked at Small Friends Day-care doing gardening maintenance.  Ella testified that she was attacked by Darren Lock when she tried to protect Henry from him.  Blue thread was found in Darren Lock’s van which could be thread from the shirt Henry was wearing on the day he disappeared.  There is just as much evidence connecting this man to Henry’s murder as there is to connect Ruby to it. 

“An equally plausible explanation to the one the prosecution has presented is that Ruby is telling the truth.  She went to the day-care centre that day to leave Henry’s rabbit in his box.  When she arrived though she realised Henry was already there and looked for him.  She found him hiding terrified in a maintenance cupboard, his shirt torn, afraid of the green man.  Ella has identified the green man as Darren Lock.  She explained she was on that highway following him and Henry.  The prosecution claim Ella is lying about that and that Henry was never in that van but forensics found a blue thread which could have been from Henry’s shirt, the shirt he was wearing that day, in that same van. 

“Henry could tell us what really happened on that day but since he cannot you must be his voice.  You may think there isn’t enough evidence to say Darren Lock murdered Henry Page but that isn’t what you have to decide today.  Your job is to decide whether it casts sufficient doubt on what happened on that day to make you question Ruby’s guilt.  If there is reasonable doubt in your mind, you must find my client not guilty.”

Franky sat down.  She had done everything she could for Ruby.  She hoped it was enough.  The judge gave her instructions to the jury and court was adjourned while the jury deliberated. 

Franky was waiting in one of the interview rooms with Ella when her phone rang.  It was Amy. 

“Hey Tatts,” Amy had slipped back into her usual casual, relaxed manner with Franky.  She seemed to have put behind her their falling out.  “I’ve got a job for you, if you’re interested,” she said.

“I’ve got a job,” Franky pointed out.  She watched Ella as she spoke.  The young woman stared back at her with a belligerent look on her face.  Franky was surprised she hadn’t transitioned back to Ruby yet.

“Sure,” agreed the police officer, “lucky too because the one I’m offering doesn’t pay anything.”  She confessed with a smile in her voice.

“What is it then?” she asked mildly curious.  She turned away from Ella to lean her hip against the window.  The sun bathed her in warmth.

“We are taking a bunch of delinquent youths up into the bush this weekend.  It’s a programme we’ve been running for a while now with a good success rate.  It is designed to give these kids some life skills and some positive role models.  I suggested to my sergeant, who runs the programme, that you might be a good role model for these kids.”

“Me?” Franky said with surprise.

“Yeah you,” Amy said with a laugh.  “You had a tough childhood, was convicted of a crime and served time but have managed to turn your life around.  You’re an excellent role model.  My Sarg agrees with me.  So what do you say?”

Franky squinted against the harsh glare as she looked outside.  “What would I have to do?”  She wasn’t sure what exactly Amy was asking of her.

“I think you are a natural leader, Franky, I think you will relate to these kids better than any of us or any bleeding heart liberal.  I think they will listen to what you have to say.  You’re fit, smart and you‘ll tell it like it is.  Come with us this weekend, talk to these kids, and let them hear about your journey.”  Franky was silent.  “Think about it at least,” Amy urged when she felt she was losing Franky’s interest.  “I think you can make a difference to these kids.”

Franky heard the door to the room close.  She turned away from the window.  She was alone.  “Shit!” she exclaimed.  “I’ll call you back,” she said hastily as she dashed to the door.  She opened it and scanned the corridor in both directions.  No sign of Ella.  “Fucking hell,” she muttered.  She had taken her eye of her for one fucking second!

She walked as quickly as she dared towards the entrance of the law courts.  She didn’t want to draw attention to herself.  She saw Ella drift inconspicuously past security and through the main doors.  She followed her but she was stopped at the top of the steps by a group of journalists.  Microphones were shoved into her face and she was greeted with a dozen questions about the trial and Ruby’s chances. 

In the gap she saw Ella step off the bottom step and turn back.  She smiled triumphantly at Franky and walked away down the street, free and in control at last.  Fuck you Franky Doyle, Ella thought as she walked, this time she wouldn’t be so easy to find.  She knew Franky wouldn’t report her disappearance.  She knew the lawyer would back herself to bring Ella in on her own to minimise the fallout for Ruby.  She was so fucking predictable.

By the time Franky got free of the reporters there was no sign of Ella.  She considered her options.  She didn’t want to report her disappearance.  It would be bad for Ruby.  She knew Ella would be banking on this too.  The problem was she had no idea where Ella might go, what she had planned, where to even start looking.  With the jury deliberating at least she had some time to find her, the longer they deliberated the better it looked for Ruby.  If they came back quickly then Ruby’s problems would be a lot bigger than just doing the Harold Holt.

Franky called Erica.  She didn’t know why exactly.  It wasn’t like Erica would have any ideas about Ella’s whereabouts but she called her anyway.

“Fucking Ella’s bolted,” she announced when Erica picked up.

“What?” Erica exclaimed.  “Where? 

“Fucked if I know,” Franky said with a sigh. 

“When?”

“Just now, I turned my back for a second and she was gone,” Franky was still kicking herself.

“Where would she go?” Erica asked after a moment.  Franky thought hard.  “Last time they picked her up at the airport,” Erica reminded her.  “Would she go there again?”

“That would be a dumb move,” Franky replied.  “She’s not dumb.”

There was silence as they both wondered what Ella’s plan was.  “Franky, she might go to her townhouse,” Erica suggested, “just to pick up some stuff.  If she is intending to bolt she’ll need her passport, cash and some clothes.”

“Have you still got a copy of her journal?” Franky asked after a moment.

“I gave everything to you,” she said, “unless Nick scanned a copy and kept it on the network drive.”

“Okay,” Franky decided.  “You’re right she might go to her house to get something.  Also, there might be a clue in that journal.  Ella left messages for Ruby in it.  It’s possible she said something in it which would give me a clue.”

“I’ll get a copy,” Erica said immediately.  “I can get Stephanie to give me a copy if I don’t have one here.  Any ideas what I’m looking for?”

“Nope,” Franky answered.  “Hopefully you’ll know it when you see it.”  She was about to ring off.

“Franky,” Erica said quickly, “be careful.” 

Franky laughed grimly.  “It’s Ella who needs to be careful,” she said with certainty.

Ruby’s townhouse looked quiet.  Franky watched from across the street for five minutes to see if there were any signs of occupation.  At last she opened the front gate slowly and took the front steps two at a time.  In the small alcove she dug out the spare key and opened the front door, slowly, quietly, then returned the key to its hiding place.  She slipped inside and waited.  All she could hear was a deafening silence, she strained her ears to hear past it.  She thought she heard a click. It sounded like the soft, barely discernible sound of a door closing.  Franky moved cautiously towards where she thought the sound had come from.

Erica couldn’t find a copy of the journal on the network drive but she remembered Nick must have emailed a copy of it to Dr Ian Chang.  She searched her inbox and sure enough Nick had copied her into the email.  She had her secretary cancel her meetings and closed the door.

She wasn’t too concerned about Franky.  She was more than a match for Ella both physically and in the brains department.  She was more concerned about what might happen if they couldn’t find her. 

Franky had been through the entire townhouse without finding anyone.  She had found something though.  Someone had been squatting there.  There was evidence of it.  In the bathroom Franky had noticed water pooling in the bottom of the shower as though someone had taken one that day.  There was milk in the fridge which had a due date of the next day.  It was puzzling.  There was no sign of forced entry so whoever it was either had a key or knew where the spare key was kept.  She decided to wait and see if they intended to come back.  She had nothing better to do until Erica called her.

As Franky waited she let her thoughts wander.  At first they ran to Ella tumbling over each other in their haste to find her.  It was a fruitless exercise.  Then they drifted to Erica and settled there.  She thought about their conversation of the night before.

“What are you doing for Christmas?” Erica had asked suddenly.  Franky had been reading, stretched out on the bed with the cat curled up next to her.  She’d been so engrossed she hadn’t heard the question the first time round.

“Nothing,” she’d said without looking up.

“Nothing?” she’d heard the question in Erica’s voice.

“Yeah,” Franky had agreed.

“You mean you haven’t got any plans,” Erica had sought clarification.

Franky had put her book aside with a sigh.  “I mean I don’t celebrate Christmas,” she had clarified.

“Ever?”  Erica had frowned.

“Christmas is about religion or family.  I’m not religious and I have no family so what’s to celebrate?”

Erica had nodded.  “So what do you do?”

Franky had thought about it.  “Mostly I go out on Christmas Eve and get totally smashed then I spend Christmas day in bed sleeping,” she had told Erica.  “What do you do?” she had asked.  “Go to your parents place?”

Erica had nodded.  She had moved into the bedroom and propped on the end of the bed with one eye on the cat.  “Mark and I would spend Christmas day either with my parents or his family.”

“What will you do this year?” Franky had asked.

Erica had just looked at her.  “Spend it with you,” she'd said as though it was obvious, as though Franky should have known.  “Not getting smashed and sleeping though,” she had added.  Franky had smiled.

“What then?” Franky had been curious.

“I’ve had an idea,” Erica had admitted.  Franky had watched her waiting.  “But it depends,”

“On what?” Franky hadn’t been able to look away.

Franky heard something.  She looked up.  It came from above her only Ruby’s townhouse didn’t have an upstairs, did it?  She stood up looking at the ceiling.  She walked from room to room until she found it.  It was in the second bedroom, a trapdoor that led to the roof space.  She’d missed it the first time round. 

Then her phone rang.  It was Erica.  She answered it.  “Anything?” Erica asked immediately.

“No,” Franky said clearly, her eyes on the trapdoor.  “Ruby’s not here.  I’m heading out.  How did you go?” 

Erica sighed.  “Nothing, nothing I can see anyway, I’m sorry,” Erica felt she had let Franky down. "It's a dead end then."

"I guess so," Franky agreed with her eyes still on the trap door.

Chapter Text

Franky was pretty sure she knew who was up in that roof space.  She just wasn't sure what to do about it.  She realised now why, despite #findthegreenman going viral, no one had found him.  He had gone to ground in the most unexpected of places.  It was clever, it was ballsy, Franky acknowledged.  It was almost foolproof.  Ruby's bail being revoked had been well publicised.  Her townhouse would be empty.  Would anyone look there?  Probably not.

The question in Franky's mind now was whether Ella was also in that roof space.  It could be that Darren Lock was using Ruby's townhouse as a refuge just because he was much smarter than Franky had anticipated but she didn't think so.  Much more likely was that he and Ruby, or most probably Ella, were connected in a far more disturbing way than just being employed at the same day-care centre.

Had this murder ever been about paedophilia as Franky had come to believe or was it something else entirely?  Had Ruby's history clouded her thinking?  There was only one way to find out and that was to confront whoever was on the other side of that trap door.  Only problem was whoever was in the roof would have the advantage if she pulled down the hatch, dropped the ladder and climbed up.  She didn't know what would greet her when she entered the roof space and whoever was up there would have plenty of time to prepare an uncomfortable welcome.

If it was only Darren Lock up there Franky would have been happy to walk away.  Although she had triggered the Twitter search for him she had done it mainly to distract the media.  She had never wanted him found.  Her case relied on the idea of him, someone else to blame, and if that person was missing so much the better.  He appeared guilty just by disappearing and he wasn't there to defend himself.  All this played in Franky's favour.  

She couldn't afford to have Ruby missing though.  Ella absconding did not help Ruby's chances.  It made her look guilty.  If Ella was also in that roof Franky needed to get her down.

Going into the roof was a suicide mission.  Not going into the roof though was not an option.  Then Franky had an idea.  

She walked back to the front door and went outside.  There was a glass panel on one side of the door.  It would be security glass she guessed and very difficult to break.  She cased the place and found a window near the back door which led into a small laundry.  Without any hesitation she used her elbow to break the glass.  It fucking hurt but the sleeve of her jacket protected her skin from the shards of glass.  She reached in protecting her hand as much as possible and unlocked the door.  As she stepped through it she looked back to see if her entry could be observed by neighbouring houses.  It all looked quiet.  She found a rag and wiped the door handle clean. 

Leaving the door ajar she went back to the second bedroom and looked for the pull down pole which Ruby must have used to access the ladder.  She found it in the wardrobe.  It was easy to open and soon the ladder was fully extended waiting for someone to go up.  Franky didn't go up though.  Instead she pulled out her phone and called the police.

As she was connected she looked up but she could see nothing but blackness.  "Is that the police?"  She spoke clearly.  "I want to report a break in." She reeled off the address.  "A window is broken and the access ladder to the roof is down.  No I haven't touched anything.  Can you send someone soon?"  She rang off.  

Next she called Erica.  "Do you have any meetings this afternoon?"

"No, my secretary cancelled them.  Why?"

"Can you meet me?  I have an idea."  They agreed on a place.  "Give me twenty minutes," Franky said.  "It will take me that long to get there."  She looked up into the roof space again as she rang off.

She left the house by the front door but instead of leaving to meet Erica immediately she went across the street and waited out of sight.  Within five minutes she saw what she had expected to see. Darren Lock came out of Ruby's house and walked briskly along the footpath towards the train station. He had a cap pulled down low and his trademark green shirt and pants had been replaced by a pair of jeans and grey t-shirt.  There was no sign of Ella.

Erica ordered a coffee and waited.  As she waited she relived the conversation she had had with Franky the night before.  

Her mother had asked her about Christmas when she had been over there for dinner.  The same night she heard the truth about Meg Jackson's murder.  Her mother had assumed Erica would spend it with them.  Erica hadn't thought about it.  She had stalled, not knowing how to answer but not wanting to commit.  It had made her wonder about it though.  She and Franky had never talked about it.  Christmas had seemed a lifetime away with everything that was going on.  Only it was just round the corner really.  That afternoon at the Wilkinson's home had made Erica wonder if Franky intended to spend Christmas with them.  It made a lot of sense.  Then she wondered if she would get an invitation.  It was possible and it would be nice.  It would be better than spending it with her parents, with or without Franky, facing either their unspoken disappointment or their unspoken (or worse spoken) disapproval.  

Then she thought about spending Christmas with Franky, and only Franky.  Family was important, Erica acknowledged, but a part of her didn't want to share Franky with anyone.  Then she'd had an idea.  But it would depend on Franky.  So after she'd finished drafting a contract for one of Stuart's business transactions, she put away her laptop and found Franky reading in the bedroom.  The cat was happily asleep beside her.  She leant against the doorframe watching them for a minute.  Franky didn't notice her and neither did the cat.  Suddenly Erica saw the similarities between the two of them. It wasn't just the green eyes. There was so much energy within both Franky and the cat and yet they could rest as though an earthquake wouldn't shift them.

It took her several attempts to capture Franky's attention.  The green eyes reluctantly leaving the page to focus on Erica's question.  Her answer had confused her before Franky explained her disinterest in Christmas and then it made sense.  For those without family, Christmas must seem like a puzzling hiatus where the western world stopped without question and made them wait unceremoniously until its time of feasting and celebrating was done.

She had managed to capture Franky's curiosity.  The green eyes watched her with interest when she had revealed her idea.

"Does Stephanie owe you any leave?" Erica had asked first.

Franky's brow creased.  "Yeah," she said immediately.  Franky hadn't taken any leave since she had started working for Stephanie.

"Do you have a passport?"  Erica wasn't sure Franky would have a passport.  It was the sort of thing you only got when you planned to go overseas and Franky was unlikely to have ever been in a position to need one.

"Somewhere," Franky had said with a shrug.

"Is it current?" Erica had asked dubiously.  By now Erica had moved to the end of the bed and Franky had put her book aside.  Her foot was pressing gently against Erica's thigh.

"I guess, I got it when Stephanie wanted to go to some conference in Hawaii and she thought I should go too."

That had distracted Erica for a moment.  "You've been to Hawaii?"

"Nah," Franky had sighed.  "It didn't come off in the end.  Stephanie got appendicitis and had to be rushed to hospital so the trip was cancelled.  I almost cried," Franky had said with a cheeky grin.  "It was friggin July and I could have done with some sun."

Erica had taken Franky's foot and put it in her lap massaging it gently.  "Which of course you mentioned to Stephanie when you visited her in hospital," she said with a teasing smile.

"Only when she was asleep," Franky had admitted.  She wriggled her toes.  "So are you going to stop being so mysterious and tell me your idea any time soon?"  She had demanded.

"I think I can get a week off," Erica had told Franky.  Her hands continued to massage Franky's smooth tanned foot.  There were callouses on the ball of her foot from all the running she did.  "If you had a pedicure you could get these removed," Erica had told her, rubbing her thumb over them.

"I don't want to have them removed," Franky had told her with a frown.  "They stop the blisters."

"Oh," Erica had replied with enlightenment.  She took her hands away.

"Don't stop," Franky had said quickly, "I like it."

Erica's hands had returned to the task.  She wasn't really into feet, most of them were ugly but she liked Franky's.   Hands, on the other hand, she thought with a smile, appealed to her.  They were so expressive and they had such power. The way a musician could summon beauty from an instrument with their hands always amazed her.  Those same hands could squeeze the life from someone, she thought suddenly.  

"Hello, earth to Erica," Franky had said.  "We were about to hand over our passports, remember?"  There was a hint of excitement in Franky's voice.  "You and me, celebrating Christmas, somewhere sexy," Franky had invited.

"Well I was thinking New Zealand actually," Erica had admitted.  She had seen the disappointment.  

"You're kidding?" Franky had said incredulously.  "Why?"

"Well there's loads of hiking and white-water rafting, the water will be awesome in December, wild and crazy," Erica could tell she wasn't convincing Franky.  

"It's cold, and there is nothing sexy about hiking," and as for white water rafting, Franky didn't even want to think about it.  

"Cold can be romantic," Erica had said.  "Open fires, snuggling close, spas," she'd said.  "I bet you'd look pretty sexy in a beanie and scarf." She couldn't help smiling at the expression on Franky's face.  

"You're so cute when you're desperate," Franky had said with a grin.  "I've got a better idea," she had declared.

"Of course you do," Erica had murmured.  Franky had presented her other foot and Erica had obediently switched her attentions.

"Let's go away, that's a great idea," Franky had charmed her with a smile, "somewhere secluded and sexy."

"Where?" Erica had asked.

"I don't know, the Caribbean," Franky had picked randomly.     

"You're mad," Erica had told her and Franky had just smiled, her head tilted slightly to the side.  "And I'm crazy about you," she had added impulsively and was rewarded with a light entering Franky's eyes.

As she remembered that look Franky came through the door of the cafe.  She looked serious and determined.  When she had ordered coffee Franky filled her in.  "I waited another five minutes until I saw the cops do a drive by then left.  No Ella."

"You had Darren Lock cornered in Ruby's roof and you let him go?"  Erica wanted to be sure she understood correctly.  "The man who killed Henry Page?"  It was impossible to keep the criticism from her tone.

Franky was watching her.  "Yep," she shifted as her coffee arrived and watched as the cup was placed in front of her.

"Why?"

"It won't help Ruby if he's found," Franky said calmly.

"Franky, you have an obligation to report his location," Erica said.  "You're letting a murderer walk free."

"What? Like you let a drug dealer walk free while you slotted me, you mean?" Franky said with frustration.

Erica's face became still, in fact, Franky noticed, her whole body seemed to tense.  "I thought we were past this," she said slowly.

"I am," Franky agreed with a sigh.  "But don't take the moral high ground with me Erica, you are just as capable of turning a blind eye when it suits you."  

Franky had a point.  "What now?  With Ruby I mean?"  Erica asked careful to keep any emotion out of her voice.

"No idea," Franky admitted.

"If you can't find her by the time she is due back at the hospital then you are going to have to report her missing," Erica pointed out.

"I know that," Franky said a little impatiently.  

Erica sighed, nothing she said was right it seemed.  "On the phone you said you had an idea," she prompted.

Franky shook her head.  "I was just saying that so he thought I wasn't hanging around and he'd be able to get out before the cops arrived."  She looked up suddenly, her green eyes catching Erica's.  She looked a little guilty.  "And it meant I got to see you."

Erica couldn't help smiling.  She couldn't be annoyed with Franky for dragging her away from the office on a whim.

"What about Amy?" Erica was loathed to suggest it.

"I already called her," Franky told her.  "She's doing what she can."  

"Oh," even though she had suggested it, Erica still wasn't keen on Franky being in Amy's debt.  It's what made of her think of her next suggestion.  "Why don't I speak to Stuart?" 

Franky had taken off her jacket and was trying to see the damage to her elbow.  It felt tender but there was no bruising.  Her head came up at Erica's words.  "What?"  She asked.  The look on her face did not invite Erica to continue.

Erica went on bravely despite the look.  "Ella must have taken off before, when Ruby was growing up," Erica explained her thinking.  "You said she'd had run-ins with the police in the past right?" Franky nodded.  "Well it was probably when they picked her up as a runaway."  Franky was silent.  "Her father will know where she was found.  He'll know the places Ella likes to go."

Franky hated the idea.  She stared at her coffee.  Erica was right.  It was possible Stuart Roxton could help his daughter.  Could Franky stand in the way of that?  Despite her own feelings of disgust about what Stuart Roxton had done she was not so blind to see it was Ruby's best chance not to end up back in Wentworth.  

Begrudgingly she nodded.  "Do it," she said.

Erica took out her phone.  Franky sat back and sipped her coffee watching Erica explain the situation to Stuart.  "If you have any ideas, Stuart, then Franky would appreciate your help."  Franky frowned at that.  "I think Ruby would too," Erica offered softly.  

Franky fidgeted as Erica took out a pen from her bag and scribbled something on the paper napkin.  Franky tried to read it upside down but couldn't make out Erica's scrawl.  

"There's no need Stuart," Erica was saying.  "Both Franky and I have contacts and we can bring her in without formally involving the police.  Thank you, I'll let you know."  She rang off.  "There was a squat in Brunswick she used to go to, he doesn't know if the warehouse is still there but it is worth a try.  He gave me the address."  

Franky put out her hand.  "Can I borrow your car?"

"I'll drive you," Erica said instead and stood up.  "You won't be able to contain Ella and drive," she pointed out as Franky began to object.

The warehouse was still there.  Erica parked in a loading zone.  

"Wait here," Franky instructed.

"I'm coming with you," Erica insisted.

"We don't know what's inside," Franky said.

"Exactly," Erica answered and got out of the car.  "I'm not letting you go in alone and never come out again."  

Franky grinned.  "That's not going to happen," she said dismissively but she didn't argue further.

The warehouse was stripped bare of all its assets.  It was impossible to know what it was used for before it had been abandoned.  It appeared to be deserted.  Franky and Erica walked cautiously through the ground floor.  Their footsteps echoed noisily in the silence.  Franky found an old lift but without power it wasn't operational.  They continued to search until they found a flight of stairs.  The railing had gone and some of the steps had rotted.  They went up slowly to the next level.  Here they found evidence of squatting.  There were blankets and sleeping bags.  A camp stove and packets of quick noodles as well as empty beer bottles.  "Home sweet home," Erica said.

It looked all too familiar to Franky.  She had squatted for a while after leaving her last foster home.  She touched the pot on the stove.  It felt warm.  There were plastic mugs set out and a tea bag sitting in one of them.  She looked up.  There was another level at least.  "Someone was here until recently," Franky said quietly.  She indicated to Erica that they should go up another level.  

The next level was vacant.  Franky kept leading them up until they reached the top floor of the building.  Part of the roof had fallen in.  There were some crates stacked near the gap.  Franky looked at them then put her finger to her lips indicating Erica should be quiet.

Erica stood still and waited.  It seemed right to let Franky take the lead.  She was a natural leader.  Her fearlessness instilled confidence and her decisiveness encouraged a willingness to comply with her wishes.  She watched as Franky cocked her head and listened.  She must have heard something because she indicated Erica should wait and she went over to the crates and climbed onto the roof.  Immediately Erica heard running feet above her.  She followed Franky up onto the roof.  She heard Franky shout a warning.  She saw three youths escaping over the rooftop and leap across a breach to the nearby building.  Ruby was with them.  Although she took the leap at full pace her legs were not as long as the two young men she was with.  While they made the jump safely, Ruby's foot landed on the edge and slipped.  Erica watched in horror as Ruby lost her footing and tumbled off the edge.  Instead of falling though, Ruby managed to grab a piece of guttering and hang precariously four floors above the ground.  The two men looked back then Erica watched as they began to run again not towards Ruby to help her but away from her.

Even before Erica could process what had happened.  Franky had started sprinting across the roof choosing a spot about five metres to the left of Ruby to make her jump.  She was tall and made the distance easily.  She scrambled down to where Ruby was swinging one handed unable to get purchase with her other hand.  Franky lay down on her front and grabbed Ruby's free arm up near the elbow in a firm grasp.  That steadied the girl somewhat.  "Pull yourself up," Franky instructed.

"I'm fucking trying," it was Ella speaking.  Her feet were scrambling against the side of the building.  Franky lent over the edge, dangerously, and grabbed the waistband of Ella's pants and tried to hoist her up.

Erica could see the problem.  Franky just didn't have enough strength lying in that position to pull Ruby up and Ella had nothing to use to generate enough momentum to pull herself up.  

Erica pulled off her heels.  At least she, like Franky, had worn pants to work that day.  She walked to the edge of the roof and checked the sturdiness of the corrugated iron where she would leave from.  Her mountaineering had relied on making judgements based on careful assessments of the risks.  She was not reckless.  When she jumped she would know for sure what the risks were.

Franky noticed what she was doing.  "There are some loose tiles on this side, just near the edge," she told Erica.  She sounded remarkably calm.

Erica crossed to the other roof and slid down to where Franky was lying on her stomach.  "I'm going to grab Ruby and on three we both pull her up, okay?"  She told Franky who just nodded.  There was perspiration on her forehead.

Erica counted it down and with a huge effort they pulled Ruby back onto the roof.  Erica fell backwards and she felt Franky's hand grab her arm.  "I'm okay," she said quickly, "I just lost my balance once Ruby was up."

Ella wriggled free of Franky's hold.  There wasn't even a thank you from her.

Franky sat up and rubbed her shoulder.  Her shirt was drenched in sweat.  "How do we get her down?" Franky asked.  "She can't make that jump."

In the end they found a ladder which led down to a landing.  From there they were able to find a set of fire stairs which took them down.  Franky waited at the Audi with Ella while Erica rescued her shoes.

"You'd better start giving me some answers, Ella," Franky said to her.

"What about?" She asked with a sullen expression.

"Like what the fuck is Darren Lock doing hiding out at Ruby's townhouse?"

"How should I know?"  Ella shrugged. 

"Don't piss me about," Franky said with irritation. "You are up to your neck in this."  Ella just sulked.

When Erica returned Franky shoved Ella unceremoniously into the back seat and climbed in after her.  "I need to change before I go back to court," Franky told Erica.  Her black pants were covered in dust and her shirt was stained.  "Let's go via the flat."

Erica looked in the rear view mirror from Franky to Ella.  "Okay," she agreed.  

When Erica pulled up outside the Thai restaurant she also got out of the car.  "Has she said anything?"  Erica asked as she leant against the side of the car.   Franky just shook her head.  "Maybe you should have asked her while she was hanging over the side of that building.  She might have been more inclined to answer."  Franky just laughed, acknowledging the truth of it.  She was turning away when Erica took her hand and pulled her back into an embrace.  "You were awesome back there," she said sincerely.  Then she kissed her.

"Careful," Franky murmured, "there could be cameras lurking."  

"I don't care," Erica said smiling.  "I'm so proud of you."

"Are you?" Franky liked hearing that.  "You were pretty awesome yourself, Miss Davidson."  She kissed Erica.  She didn't want to end it. They both heard Ella mutter from the back seat, “get a fucking room,” and the kiss collapsed into laughter.  "Don't tempt me," Franky said with a grin but despite her words she left Erica to go inside and get changed.

Erica waited in the sun.  Ella waited in the car.  They were both thinking about Franky but their thoughts were very different.

Twenty-four hours later Erica would wonder how things had turned so quickly from that moment of happiness where the future looked bright and anything was possible.  

Erica dropped Franky and Ella at the courts.  She had decided not to go back into the office.  Although she didn't look quite as disreputable as Franky had, her attire left something to be desired.  She rang her secretary and told her she would be working from home for the rest of the day.

When Franky arrived home she went immediately to the fridge.  She poured two glasses of white wine and handed one to Erica.  

"No verdict?"  Erica asked as she took the wine.  

Franky shook her head.  "Jury's still out," she said putting her wine on the coffee table without drinking any.  "Which is good," she added.

"And Ella?"

"Transitioned back to Ruby almost as soon as we arrived at the courthouse," Franky told her.

"Does she know anything?" Erica asked curiously.

Franky sat down on the couch and pulled off her jacket and shoes.  "She admitted that her blackouts had been more frequent than she'd led us to believe.  It sounds like she's in a power struggle with Ella.  She couldn't understand how Darren Lock had ended up in her townhouse." Franky shrugged.  "I don't know anymore."  Erica stood up and walked over to where Franky was sitting.  She rested her hands on Franky's shoulders massaging them.  She felt some of tension leave her.  "I thought this was about some fucked up guy and his sick perversions."

"Maybe it's better that you don't know," Erica said at last.

"Why?"  Franky asked puzzled.  She liked Erica massaging her shoulders.  She felt sore from her exertions on the roof.

"Your job is to defend Ruby.  Knowing the truth may work against that," she explained and Franky remembered Stephanie saying something similar.  She felt Erica's hands slide lower and rest against her chest.  "So do you want to go dancing this weekend?" She asked.

Franky smiled.  "I can't," she said apologetically.  "I'm going away this weekend."  She felt coolness where the warmth of Erica's hands had been when she moved them.

"Oh," Erica sounded disappointed.  "Where are you going?"

"Amy wants me to help with some delinquents.  We're taking them bush."

"You're going away with Amy?"  Franky could definitely hear an edge in Erica's voice now.

Franky moved so Erica was no longer behind her.  "Yeah but it's this program she's involved in where they take at risk youths and try to help them make better choices.  I thought you'd be all for it," she said with a frown.

Erica was all for it.  What she didn't like was Amy having two whole days with Franky to seduce her with those brown eyes, dimples and easy manner.  What happens on tour stays on tour.  The expression, often trotted out when colleagues went away for overnight conferences, was supposed to remind everyone that any casual hook-ups which might have occurred should never be mentioned again.  It was an acceptance that people frolicked when they were away.  

"I don't want you to go," Erica didn't say it aloud but the look on her face must have said it for her.

"You said you wanted your own space, Erica," Franky reminded her.  

"Here we go," Erica said rubbing her brow.  "Okay let's have this out once and for all Franky because if you are going to hold it over me every time it suits you, then it is going to get tired very quickly."

"What?" Franky raised her eyebrows.  "You've said you want your own space, fine, but don't object to me taking some."

"It's different and you know it," Erica said with annoyance.  "I'm not going off into the wilderness with someone else."

"Oh so that's what this is about," Franky said with sudden understanding.  "You're jealous of Amy," she shook her head.

"Are you telling me Amy isn't interested in you?"  Erica asked with mock surprise.

"Well so what?"  Franky answered in frustration.  "It takes two people for anything to happen, Erica, two people," she emphasised. "So are you saying you don't trust me?  Is that why you're worried?"

Erica realised then how quickly the conversation had spiralled out of her control.  "Of course I trust you," she said wearily.  "I just-" she didn't even know what she was trying to say anymore.  Maybe she was being unreasonable.  "I don't know what I'm trying to say."  

"Well when you work it out let me know," Franky said her irritation making her sound abrupt.  She went into the bedroom.  She reappeared a few minutes later in her running gear.  "I'm going for a run," she said.  

She hadn't come back when Erica went to bed.  She wondered if the run was just an excuse and Franky had gone to the pub or to see Boomer.  She didn't know where Franky would go when she was upset.  She fell asleep wondering.  

She woke suddenly as though something had disturbed her.  It was dark.  Something moved in the shadows.  "Franky?" She whispered.

"I'm sorry," Franky said softly as she slipped between the sheets.  Erica didn't know whether she was apologising for disturbing her or because of their argument.  She didn't care.

"I'm sorry too," she whispered.  

She felt Franky's arm slip round her waist and her body press against her back.  Then she felt Franky's lips leave sparks of fire across her shoulder blade.  She rolled over and Franky's lips found hers.  She sighed into the kiss.  Happiness was a fragile thing. 

Chapter Text

Franky leant forward and turned up the car radio. 

"Today a verdict is expected in the Crown versus Roxton trial at the Supreme Court.  In a trial which has had all the hallmarks of celebrity, the focus will return today to the victim in this horrendous crime.  The parents of Henry Page spoke emotionally of the trauma they have suffered since their only child disappeared earlier this year and their hope that the perpetrator of this crime would be brought to justice.  Ruby Roxton's lawyer said yesterday that the fate of her client now rested in the hands of the criminal justice system and that was appropriate.  In other news, the Premier has announced $14 million -"

Franky turned the volume down.  "Shit," she muttered, "talk about a falling star," she gave a mock sigh.  "Yesterday I had a name, and now I'm just Ruby Roxton's lawyer."

"It will rise again soon enough if you win," Erica told her.  "You'll have law firms banging down your door with offers."

Franky hadn't thought of that.  "I'm not leaving Stephanie," she said firmly.

Erica laughed.  "I wouldn't put money on that."

"Anyway, I haven't won yet," Franky rightly pointed out.  Erica just smiled.

She pulled the car into a no parking zone near the law courts and cut the engine.  Franky looked at her with surprise.  Normally Erica would just drop her and dash.  Her hands rubbed the steering wheel.  Franky watched them curiously.  Her fingers were slim and unadorned.  She wondered what Erica had done with her engagement ring.  Given it back to Mark?

"When the trial is done I think we should have a proper talk," Erica was looking intently at Franky, her blue eyes serious.

"Proper?" Franky repeated, those expressive eyebrows going up in surprise.  "You mean as in using big words?"  She asked flippantly with a cheeky smile.

She had been like that ever since she'd woken up.  Erica couldn't get a sensible answer out of her.  It was like Franky was high on something, and maybe she was, Erica thought suddenly, because the verdict was expected today.

Erica shook her head.  "As in about the future," she clarified.

“Like what we’re doing for Christmas?” Franky offered, still grinning. 

“No Franky, not like what we’re doing for Christmas,” she said patiently, “I mean like what we’re doing for ten years.” 

"I don't make plans," Franky said immediately and with certainty.   

"Why not?" Erica asked.  Her tone was curious rather than critical.

"What's the point?" Franky asked with a dismissive shrug.

Erica said something unexpected.  "So we don't get sea sick."

"Huh?" 

"If you're prone to seasickness then you focus on a fixed point, usually the horizon, and by doing that your body isn't concerned with the motion of the boat because the horizon never moves, it is always there providing something steady and sure.  Waves rock the boat but the horizon keeps your mind focussed."  She watched Franky absorb this.

"I don’t get seasick though," Franky said with a confused look.

Erica decided that maybe she was being a bit esoteric.  “Forget it,” she said dismissively and focussed instead on Franky’s comment. "Why don't you make plans?" she asked again.

Franky lost her casual attitude.  "Because," she said softly, "they always go to shit."

Erica caught a glimpse of the young Franky, the person she had been before life had taught her not to hope and her heart went out to her.  She put her hand over Franky's.  "Isn't it time that changed?"

Franky was silent for a long time.  Erica could feel Franky's hand warm but unresponsive in her own.  She was staring ahead, lost in thought. 

"Are you okay?"  Erica asked at last. 

It broke the spell.  Franky looked at her, her expression a little distracted, and she freed her hand to undo her seatbelt.  "Yeah," she said sounding surprised.  "I'm okay.  Are you?"

Erica smiled at her.  "I'm okay too," she said.  Franky smiled back.

"I better go," she said after a moment.  Erica nodded.

When she was out of the car she rested a hand on the open door and another on the roof then leant into the car.  "We can have that talk if you want," she agreed.  She watched Erica nod.

In the law courts Franky was waiting with Ruby in the same room Ella had absconded from.  The difference today though was that she wasn't letting anything distract her.  She had her arms crossed against her chest and was leaning with her back against the window with her ankles also crossed. Her eyes were firmly on Ruby even if her mind was wandering.  She thought about what Erica had said in the car about things changing.  The idea that it could change was unexpected and tantalising.  Franky turned it over cautiously in her mind as she might a new flavour in her mouth, considering it with curiosity and without judgement.  What if it could change?   Maybe with Erica it would change.  She watched as Ruby rolled her shoulder tentatively.

"Hurt does it?" Franky interrupted the silence.  Ruby looked up and nodded.  "You probably strained something," she offered.  "Try this," she demonstrated a movement with her arm.  Ruby repeated the action and grimaced.  "Yep, it's strained," she confirmed.

"What should I do?" Ruby asked anxiously. 

Franky shrugged.  "Don't go hanging off any roofs," she suggested drily.

Ruby withdrew again.  Franky continued to watch her.  Her curiosity wanted desperately to be satisfied but she suspected Ruby didn't have the answers, Ella did. 

Ruby shifted in her chair, distracting Franky from her thoughts.  She wondered what Ruby’s plans were.  "What will you do when it's over?" She asked suddenly.  She didn't mention the alternative.  They both knew it was there staring them in the face.

Ruby looked up at her.  Franky had a curious expression on her face.  "I don't know," she answered after a moment.  "Go away I suppose, some place where no one knows me, change my name."  She sounded certain.  "How do you –" she trailed off.

Franky pursed her lips.  "Most of the time it's okay," she said, "but you're never free of it," she acknowledged.

Ruby stared at her.  "You're very brave," she said in awe.  There was a little hero worship in those words.  Franky just laughed.  It was a short brittle laugh that died quickly.  "Braver than me," Ruby corrected herself.  Her lawyer leant down to rub her calf.  Ruby glimpsed some taping on her chest as her shirt gaped.  "Did you hurt yourself yesterday?"  She asked anxiously.

Franky looked up with a puzzled expression.  "Huh?"

Ruby pointed.  "On your chest, did that happen on the roof?"

Franky looked down and fingered the tape.  "Nah," she said dismissively.  "I got a tattoo done last night."  Her phone beeped and she glanced at the message then looked at Ruby. "Jury's back," she said with a hint of excitement.

The courtroom was crowded.  The gallery was packed full of journalists and the public.  Franky saw Stuart Roxton was there sitting just behind the defence table.  Natalie Perin came in as she was watching the crowd.  She slipped into a seat near the back.  Then Franky saw her father sitting right at the back looking out of place.  She remembered he had said he was flying back to WA that day.  He must be on an evening flight, she decided.  He looked up as her eyes were on him and he smiled hesitantly at her and mouthed a silent 'good luck'.  She couldn't help feeling pleased he was there.  It probably meant nothing, she thought immediately. He probably heard on the news the verdict was likely coming down today and was curious.  She wondered how he'd known this was her trial.

Justice O'Connell entered and an expectant hush fell.  Franky suddenly felt nervous.  She watched the door the jury would come through, waiting.  It seemed to take forever for that door to swing open. 

When it finally did Franky watched those jurors closely as they took their seats.  She couldn't read anything from their expressions.  She stood with Ruby when the defendant was asked to stand.  She had a sudden flashback to her own trial and the day she was convicted.  Her feelings now were the complete opposite of that day.  Back then she hadn't cared.  She had been so cocky and careless.  She had thought no one and no place could be worse than what had gone before.  She had thought she was capable not only of surviving but of thriving anywhere.  She knew better now. 

"Members of the jury, have you reached a verdict?"

A slim, female juror with a pixie haircut and sharp theatrical features stood up and addressed the judge.  "We have, your honour."

"Do you find the defendant guilty, or not guilty?"

Franky could feel the expectation.  It was as though everyone in that room had stopped breathing, stopped being, except for the members of the jury.  For a split second the forewoman was a magnet, dragging attention from every corner until it rested expectantly at her feet.  Then it passed.

Her voice was firm and clear.  "Not guilty, your honour."  The murmur in the gallery rose like a tidal wave and crashed around Franky.  She gave a satisfied smile then turned to her client.

Ruby was looking dazed.  The judge dismissed the jury thanking them for their service.  She looked at the defence table and spoke directly to Ruby.  "You are free to go, Miss Roxton."

Ruby turned to Franky.  Her lawyer.  "I can't believe it," she said still looking stunned.  "It's over."  Franky nodded, watching her.  "Thank you," Ruby said in a rush.  "You did it."  Franky just smiled.  Yes, she fucking had!

"Miss Doyle," Stuart Roxton shook her hand.  "I cannot thank you enough."  He said it sincerely.  They were all friends now, Franky thought grimly.  Everyone loves a winner.  She watched him hug his daughter.  Ruby let him but there was no return embrace.  She was the passive receiver only.  She turned away and picked up her phone from the table.  She would text Erica.  "There is going to be a lot of media outside wanting to speak to us," Stuart Roxton was saying.  "I think we should go out together and present a united front."  He'd slipped easily back into the driving seat, directing things to his preferred outcome. 

"I need to go to the ladies," Ruby said.

"Me too," Franky agreed, happy to upset his plans, if only for a moment.  Stuart Roxton could do nothing but agree to wait.

In the toilet Franky heard Ruby throwing up in a stall further along.  She finished up and after washing her hands she tapped on the door of Ruby's toilet.  "You okay?" She asked.  No answer. 

Franky moved back to the basin and leant against it.  She pulled out her phone and sent Erica a text.  “Your girl is awesome!  NOT guilty.”  She smiled as she sent it.

She felt fantastic.  She felt unstoppable.  If this was what they called a natural high, she was buying out the supermarket.  She couldn't understand why Ruby was throwing up.  

She banged on the door again.  "Ruby?  Open up," she demanded.  She heard movement and the door opened.  The girl looked pale and unhappy.

"What's wrong with you?" She asked without much sympathy.  "Anyone would think you lost."

"I'm sorry," Ruby said anxiously.  "I'm okay."

"Sure you are," Franky muttered.  She waited for Ruby to clean herself up.  "Let's get this media thing over with so we can get on with our lives," she said impatiently.  She was thinking about taking Erica out to celebrate.  They could go dancing.  

Franky thought for a moment they had missed the media swarm.  The front steps were clear of journalists.  Then she noticed they were interviewing Henry Page's parents.  When they saw Ruby they made a bee line for her.  It was a stampede of cameras and microphones.

"Ruby!" They called. "Ruby, how do you feel now it's over?"  

"Did you have any doubts about the verdict?"

"What will you do now?"

Stuart Roxton monopolised the media speaking of the faith he had in the criminal justice system in Victoria after today's verdict.  He spoke at some length but Franky wasn't listening.  She was watching the crowd.  She caught sight of her father hovering at the back of the crowd.  He put up his hand in greeting.  It distracted her. 

Erica was returning from a meeting across town where she had been proxy for Stuart Roxton.  She would be happy when this trial was over and Stuart would be available to attend his own meetings.  She was thinking about all the things she had to do as a result of the meeting, mentally putting them into priority order, when one of Franky's sexytimes songs came on the radio.  She smiled and turned it up thinking about what she had been doing last time she'd heard it.  Her mind wandered.  She was lost in a delightful and distracting memory.  The song ended but Erica's mind did not return to work.  Instead she thought about the offer Franky had made the previous night.  In bed she had told Erica she wouldn't go away with Amy if it bothered her that much.  Erica had felt relieved and reluctant to accept it at the same time.  She actually thought Franky was a great choice for that type of thing.  She was young enough to engage with those kids and yet wouldn't put up with any of their bullshit.  Her experiences would mean her words and wisdom would ring true with them.  She had to admit that even though she suspected Amy's motives she couldn't doubt her choice.  Franky would be brilliant.  

The radio announcer interrupted her thoughts.  "...at the Supreme Court where shots have been fired. It is still unclear exactly what has happened but police are saying it appears to be an isolated incident and not connected to the heightened terrorist alert put in place by the Federal Government earlier this year.  There are at least three people dead, and several others injured.  The incident occurred while Stuart Roxton was making a statement to the media concerning his daughter's successful defence against her murder charge.  Roads around the courts have been cordoned off and the police are asking for people to stay away from the area."

Erica had gone pale.  There was a roaring in her ears. She found a place to pull over and switched off the engine.  For a moment she just stared straight ahead of her unable to comprehend what she had just heard.  Then she grabbed her handbag and searched frantically for her phone.  She saw a message from Franky and relief washed over her but when she read it she realised it had probably been sent a while ago when her phone had been on silent.  It was a boast and she could hear the tone of voice Franky would have used if she’d said it to her directly.  It didn't say, "I'm okay, don't worry," like she'd hoped it would.  Three people dead.  Three too many but if one of those people was Franky, her heart tightened in her chest until she couldn't breathe, her mind wouldn’t accept it.  Erica dialled Franky's mobile but it went through to voicemail.  She left a message asking her to call.  She would have called, wouldn't she, if she had been okay?  Next she called Stephanie.

"It's Erica," she said, "have you heard from Franky?"  She sounded anxious, unlike her usual calm, collected self.

Stephanie knew without explanation why Erica was calling.  "No," she said with concern.  "I was hoping you had."

"What happened?"

"According to the news reports, a shooter on the back of a motorcycle mounted the pavement fired a weapon into the crowd of journalists while Stuart Roxton was giving a statement," then she added.  "It is unclear who the intended target was but at least three people are dead and quite a few more have been injured.  Police are interviewing witnesses but I understand the perpetrator got away."  Stephanie informed her.

"Which hospital did they take the injured to?  Did they say?"  She already guessed it would be the Royal Melbourne.

“RMH I’d think, it’s only five minutes away,” Stephanie answered immediately.

“I’m going there,” Erica said.  “Call me if you hear from her.”  There was a note of desperation in her voice now. 

“Of course,” Stephanie said then added, “Erica, Franky’s a survivor.”  She was trying to reassure the younger woman.  They were empty words.

Erica pulled out from the verge.  She didn’t check the traffic and her car was hit on the driver’s side front fender by a cyclist.  She watched in slow motion as he bounced off the edge of her bonnet and landed on the road in front of her car.  Shit shit shit! 

She got out of the car.  “I’m sorry,” she said to the lycra-clad body.  Her lawyer mind chastised her for accepting responsibility with that statement.  Fuck it, it was her fault.  “Are you okay?”  She asked anxiously.  At least he was moving. 

“No I’m not fucking okay, lady, what the fuck do you think you were doing?  This is a fucking cycle lane!  Did you even fucking look?”  The verbal abuse went on for some minutes.  Clearly his mouth hadn’t been injured in the fall.  “Look at my fucking bike,” he gestured to his fallen steed.  Erica acknowledged it didn’t look quite right.  The front wheel seemed to be mangled.

“Can I call someone for you?” She offered when she could get a word in. 

He had already pulled out his phone giving her a filthy look as he waited for his call to connect.  “Josh, it’s Mitch, do me a favour mate, can you come and get me, some stupid bitch has taken me out on my bike.”  He looked at Erica.  “Yeah,” he said in response to something his mate said then laughed.  “No, just a couple of grazes, had a sweet landing, the bike’s fucked though.”  Erica waited impatiently.  “You’re lucky I don’t call the cops,” he said after he rang off.  “You are paying for my bike,” he added emphatically.

Erica was getting annoyed.  Her emotions were already on edge and this guy with his aggressive attitude was beginning to try her patience.  She took out her business card.  “Happy to,” she said tersely.  “Send me some quotes,” she said.  Then she proceeded to take photos of the bike, her car where he had hit it, and the cyclist himself just to cover herself. 

“A lawyer,” he muttered as he read the card, “and an Audi driver, just my fucking luck!”

It took Erica another ten minutes and some more abuse before she was able to get away.  She felt bad about the cyclist but less so after she had listened to his diatribe on women drivers.  Nevertheless she drove more carefully from then on. 

The emergency department of the Royal Melbourne Hospital was busy and Erica had trouble attracting the attention of any staff.  “I’m looking for my girlfriend,” she said when she finally cornered a nurse.  “She was at the law courts.”

“Name?” The nurse asked from behind the computer.

“Franky Doyle,” Erica held her breath.  It was the longest moment of her life.

“No Franky Doyle,” Erica felt relief then realised if Franky had been killed she wouldn’t be listed as being at emergency.  “There’s a Doyle though.”

“What?” Erica was confused.  Maybe they had registered Franky under the wrong first name.

“It’s Alan Doyle though,” the nurse continued.  She looked up and peered at Erica over the top of her glasses.  It reminded Erica of her first year law lecturer.  “So not your girl,” she said.

Erica's brain seemed to have seized up.  She couldn’t comprehend how Franky’s father had ended up in hospital.  It didn’t make any sense.  She thought Franky had told her that Alan Doyle was flying back west today.  “Can I see him?” she asked.  “He’s Franky’s dad.”

“He’s in surgery,” the nurse informed her. 

Erica wasn’t sure what to do next.  She didn’t know how to find out if Franky was dead or alive.  She rang her mobile again but it was still switched off.  Then she saw Stephanie.  She was a welcome sight.  She and Stephanie had an uneasy relationship but in times of trouble she had proved herself to be a worthy ally. 

“Anything?” the older woman asked on approach.  Erica filled her in.  “I’ve got a contact in the coroner’s office.  I’ll give him a call.”   She said practically.  

Erica was at a loss.  She sat down in one of the chairs in emergency.  There was a television on the wall opposite her.  She watched it mindlessly until she realised they were showing images of the Supreme Court.  She moved closer to hear but the sound was muted.  The footage showed Stuart talking to journalists with Ruby beside him looking down towards her feet.  In the corner of the screen was Franky.  She looked as she always did when watching the proceedings rather than participating.  She was watching the interactions closely.  It was one of the reasons she was so perceptive.  She liked to study people.  Then suddenly there were people scrambling and falling.  Franky went down quickly but unexpectedly Ruby was even faster.  Erica couldn’t tell if they were taking cover or they’d been shot.  The camera was knocked and the footage was lost.  The coverage returned to the news studio and Erica couldn't understand what the announcer was saying without sound.  The image of Franky spurred her on again but there was nothing she could do.  She asked again after Franky's father but he was still in surgery and they wouldn't give her any information. 

She waited feeling helpless and with each passing minute becoming more and more convinced Franky was lying on a stainless steel bench somewhere in the bowels of the hospital.  Stephanie hadn't returned which only added to her conviction.  She tried to imagine her life without Franky in it but her mind wouldn’t process it.  There was no point to life without Franky in it.  It would continue, she acknowledged, but as weary days to survive rather than enjoy, hollow days to somehow fill with purpose when there was nothing that could possibly fill the void Franky would leave.  Her charismatic energy filled Erica’s universe, her love filled Erica’s heart until there was nothing more precious or fragile, and her caress ignited Erica’s body drawing untamed, unrivalled responses as though Franky knew her body better than she did herself.  

“Erica?”

She looked up and saw Franky standing a few steps away looking confused, and very much alive.  Erica closed the gap between them in an instant.  She shoved Franky hard in the chest causing her to take a few steps backwards to steady herself.  “What the fuck Franky,” she said furiously.  “I thought you were dead!”  Her fists pummelled Franky’s chest.  “Don’t you ever do that again!”  Franky winced and tried to halt the assault on her body.  People were staring but Erica was oblivious to them.  “I called you, I left messages, Stephanie is checking the morgue for your body!”  She was crying she realised at some point.

“Erica,” Franky managed to catch her hands and tame them bringing them gently to her chest where she held them.  “Erica, I’m sorry,” she pulled her close.  “I’m sorry,” she repeated softly.  She let go of Erica’s hand and brushed her blonde hair off her face then she tried to brush the tears away but there were too many so she just pulled her into a hug, holding her tightly.  “I’m sorry,” she said again in a low, soothing voice.

“I thought you were dead,” Erica whispered through her tears.

“I know, I’m sorry,” Franky said helplessly.  She saw Stephanie approach.  Her mentor was smiling with relief.  She continued to hold Erica until she felt her body become still and silent.  “Stephanie’s here,” she said eventually.   

Erica didn’t want to let go.  She felt Franky’s warm, solid presence in her arms and didn’t want there ever to be a moment where they were separated.  “I hate you,” she said.  She heard Franky laugh softly into her hair.  “I do,” she insisted.  “I hate you Franky Doyle.”

“No you don’t,” Franky contradicted her.  “You love me,” she said firmly. 

“Too much,” Erica mumbled.

“And I love you,” she told her, “and we’ll work the rest out.”

“What else is there?’ Erica asked blankly, her voice low. 

“Amy, our living arrangements, where we’ll be in ten years,” Franky said patiently. 

“I don’t care about any of that,” Erica murmured, sounding defiant and defensive.  She felt Franky’s chest move against hers as she chuckled. 

“You will tomorrow,” she said with certainty. 

Tomorrow, Erica thought suddenly, yes there would be a tomorrow after all.

“Miss Doyle?”

Franky looked up to see a surgeon still in his scrubs standing nearby.  She eased Erica out of their embrace but kept hold of her hand.  “Yes,” she said with a question in her voice.

“You’re Alan Doyle’s daughter is that correct?” he asked.

Franky shrugged.  “Yes, why?” she asked blankly.  The surgeon frowned.  “You were aware he was brought in with multiple gunshot wounds?” he asked, suddenly unsure.

“No,” Franky said slowly.  “I came in with my client, Ruby Roxton, how is she?”  It was as though Franky was avoiding the discussion about her dad. 

“I’m sorry I don’t have any information on her.”  The surgeon’s eyes held compassion.  “Your father though,” he prompted.  Erica felt Franky’s hand tighten in her own.   “The surgery was successful.  He is in recovery in the intensive care unit,” he smiled.  “You can go up and sit with him if you’d like.”

Franky nodded.  She looked calm and unmoved by the news.  Only Erica could feel the vice-like grip on her hand.  The surgeon left and Stephanie looked at Franky with a question in her eyes.

“I don’t know,” Franky said with a shake of her head.  “We were at the press conference and Stuart was talking when there were shots fired.  Everyone panicked and started running in all directions.  I ducked down but Ruby was hit almost immediately and hit the ground faster than me.  Stuart Roxton is dead,” Franky told Erica.  “I think he was dead before he hit the ground.”  Erica could only feel relief that the bullets had missed Franky.  “Ruby was losing a lot of blood,” Franky continued.  “I tried to staunch the flow with my jacket.” 

Erica noticed for the first time Franky was just in her skirt and shirt then she noticed blood seeping through Franky’s shirt on her chest.  “You're bleeding,” she said, “I thought you weren’t injured.”

Franky looked down and fingered the blood that had seeped through the bandage which was protecting her new tattoo.  Erica’s fists must have opened the wound again.  “I wasn’t,” Franky said.  She pulled her shirt aside to show the taping.  “It’s my tattoo,” she explained.  “I only got it last night and it’s still sensitive.”

Erica missed the implication.  She was too busy processing that Franky’s long absence the night before was due to her getting a tattoo.  She smiled. 

Later that night Franky was sitting quietly by her father’s bedside.  He was asleep.  She was watching him.  Erica had gone to get them both coffee and a sandwich.  At rest Alan Doyle’s face looked a little worn and weathered.  It was the same face though which Franky remembered from her childhood.  The face she had looked for in crowds and out her bedroom window as a kid.  The face frozen in that photograph she’d kept for years.

She looked at his forearm resting on top of the sheet.  She had always liked his arms she remembered.  They were strong and she had always felt safe in them.  She remembered the fair hairs which covered his forearms.  When she had slept with men, before she found women, she had always been attracted to men with strong forearms.  She would rub her hands along them enjoying the feel of the hair against her skin and the hard muscles.  Now she wondered if she had been searching for something in those encounters that she could never have found with those men.

And when she had just found it, today it had almost been taken away again.  She frowned at her father.  He had almost done it to her again.  There better not be a third time.  His eyes opened as she thought that.  He looked confused until his eyes settled on her then he relaxed.  He tried to speak.

“Can I get you anything?” Franky asked leaning forward with her elbows on her knees.

“Water,” he croaked.

She stood up and poured him a glass and offered it.  He sipped it tentatively then handed it back.  “I didn’t know Kathleen’s number,” she told him.  “Do you want me to call her?”  She asked referring to her aunt.

He shook his head.  “I’m glad you’re here though,” he added.  Franky sat down again and crossed her arms over her chest.  Her father watched her, his aqua eyes drinking her in.  “Last time you were the one in the hospital bed,” he said after a minute.  “I thought I’d never see you again after you sent me away.”

“I didn’t want to,” Franky said after a bit.  “Send you away, I mean.” He didn’t know what that meant but he took the crumbs she gave him.

“Sometimes we have to do things we don’t want to do,” was all he said.

“Yeah,” Franky said thinking about all the things she’d done.  She heard someone approach the door 

“Franky?”  Erica came into the room but hovered near the door.  She nodded to Alan Doyle. 

Franky followed her out into the corridor.  “What is it?”

“How is he?” Erica asked looking back into the room where Alan Doyle had closed his eyes again.

“Okay I guess,” Franky said with a shrug.  There was something in Erica’s expression which disturbed her.  “What is it?” she asked again.

“It’s Ruby,” Erica’s blue eyes already told Franky what she was about to say.  “They said there were complications during surgery and she had lost too much blood.”  Erica took a breath.  “She died, Franky.”  Erica put her arms around her.  “I’m sorry.”  It wasn’t nearly enough.

 

Chapter Text

Out of tragedy can come harmony.  It shouldn't be possible and yet sometimes, not always, instead of tragedy tearing us apart it forms a web of strength and solidarity that can cocoon us from the desolation and destruction that tragedy can wreak.

We can become, not better people, but find within ourselves qualities that we had overlooked or ignored.  Collectively we swarm to our places of weakness to rebuild and nurture.  It is in tragedy that our finest moments are realised.

Or we can stumble, overwhelmed by loss, by heartache, and by the enormity of what has happened. 

"So when we're in the boat," Franky rolled up onto her elbow and looked down at Erica.

"We're not in the boat, Franky, we are the boat," Erica corrected her.  "It's a metaphor for our relationship," she explained.  She watched as a slow smile spread across Franky's face.  "You're messing with me," she realised with a sigh.

"I like hearing you explain it to me," Franky said with a grin.

"Do you?" Erica said watching Franky's smile.  Glad she was smiling and seemingly out of the quiet reflective withdrawal of the past two days.

"It's not a very good metaphor," Franky continued with.  "I mean if we're not in the boat who is getting seasick?"

Erica frowned.  Now she was confused.  It had seemed like a good metaphor at the time but now Franky was running her critical eye over it there appeared to be holes, in the metaphor not the boat. 

"Are you seeing your dad today?"  She asked in an attempt to change the subject.  Alan Doyle was still in hospital but Franky expected him to be discharged that morning.

"Yeah," Franky rolled onto her back.  "Steph has offered to put him up," she told Erica. 

"Really?"  Erica was surprised.  She shifted onto her side so she could watch Franky.  Even though it was a week day neither of them was keen to get up. 

"Steph didn't like the idea of him in a hotel while he is still recovering," Franky explained. 

"What about your aunt?"

Franky shrugged.  "Maybe my dad thinks he will see more of me at Steph's place," she suggested perceptively.  Erica wondered if Stephanie had thought that he would too.  She hadn't forgotten Stephanie's words at the awards night.  Stephanie saw the value in Franky reconciling with her father.

The cat leapt onto the bed and rubbed his head against Franky's hand.  She scratched his chin until he began purring then fondled his ears.  The cat leaned into her touch.  Erica watched that hand caressing the cat.  She watched the way it slid firmly but gently over the fur rubbing sensitive spots until the purring was drowning out the silence.  Franky's hands had the power to draw ecstasy regardless of the recipient it seemed.  For a moment Erica had complete empathy with the cat. 

"What are you doing today?" Franky asked suddenly.

Their respective workloads had dropped dramatically.  Erica’s focus had shifted to sorting through Stuart Roxton's business affairs.  His will was incredibly simple given his assets.  He had left everything to his daughter.  With Ruby surviving him by eight hours now it was her will that was critical.  Erica had begun the unenviable task of tracking it down.

"I was going to Ruby's house today to search it," Erica said.  "It could take me all day."

"I doubt it," Franky replied.  "Her place isn't cluttered.  It's quite ordered actually.  It will take the morning maybe."

"Good, you've just given me a free afternoon," Erica said with a smile.  “What about you?”

“Go into the office after seeing my dad and work through the backlog,” Franky said sounding flat.  Even though she had won the victory was not sweet.  No one wants to save the damsel from the dragon only to watch her die at the end of a sword.

“Maybe you should take a couple of days off,” Erica suggested tentatively, “and spend some time with your dad.  Stephanie wouldn’t mind I’m sure.”

“Maybe,” Franky responded without enthusiasm.  Then she looked at Erica suddenly, her green eyes held a reckless look.  “Let’s get out of here.  Just pack up and go.  Steph owes me leave and you can get time off right?  Let’s just get in the car and drive.”

Erica frowned.  “Franky, I can’t do that – and neither can you,” she said with certainty.  She understood the desire to flee that Franky was feeling but she also knew it wasn’t possible and that problems did not resolve themselves.  When you escaped from them, it was momentary, and they returned with the inevitability of the breaking day.  Maybe Franky knew that too because she didn’t push it.  Sometimes it is enough to say it aloud and let the idea disperse into the ether. 

Franky got up and pulled on her running gear.  Erica was happy to watch her.  She liked the view.  If Franky was going running then Erica had no intention of getting up any time soon.  They weren’t expecting her in the office that day.  Her eyes were closed before Franky had shut the door to the flat.

The mornings were light and bright early now.  Long days, balmy nights, crowded restaurants and bars all spoke of the festive season.  Melbourne was gearing up to celebrate.  Franky had never felt more removed from it than she did right now.  What was there to celebrate?  Certainly not Ruby’s death, which had turned triumph to tragedy?       

Running helped to keep her feelings from overwhelming her.  Those feelings of frustration, guilt and helplessness battled for dominance within Franky.  She had replayed everything over in her head a thousand times searching for a different outcome.  It was a pointless exercise.  This morning she did something different.  She thought about finding the person who had done it.

By the time she had returned Franky had a plan.  She looked for her phone then remembered she had lost it.  It had been in the pocket of her jacket but at some point between when she took it off to press it against Ruby's neck to stem the blood flow from her wound and when her jacket was returned to her she had lost it.  When she called her number it went straight through to voicemail.  She felt lost without it.  Her contacts were gone and her means of contact with the world was gone.  Life as she understood it was gone.  It didn't matter that she had gone without all of these while in prison.  It was right now that mattered and right now she wanted to get hold of Amy.

As she went into the kitchen she saw Erica's phone charging on the bench.  As she poured herself a glass of water she remembered Erica had Amy's number from the night she had been abducted.  As she drank the water she decided Erica wouldn't mind if she borrowed her phone.  She could have woken up Erica to ask but she chose not to because, well, who would do that, seriously?

The phone was locked.  Franky closed her eyes and thought.  She put in Erica's birthday then various combinations of it.  Then she put in her own.  Then she had an idea but she didn't think Erica would use it.  She punched it in anyway.  The phone unlocked.  She went to Erica's contacts but there was no Amy listed.  She scrolled down not sure what she was looking for but finding all these names that weren't familiar, strangers, but not to Erica clearly.  She saw Mark's number and hesitated.  She felt an overwhelming desire to text him, to give him a message, to crow but she resisted.  She wasn't sure how Erica would react if she ever found out she'd done it.  As a compromise she deleted his number.  She found Amy's number listed under PC Wilson.

"Let me guess, another favour?" Amy asked as soon as she picked up.  "You know all these favours are starting to add up, Erica.  Maybe we need to come to an arrangement."

"And what arrangement would that be, Aims?"  Franky asked grimly.

"Franky?" Amy asked confused.  "Fuck!"

"Yeah, it's Franky," she said.  She leant against the bench.  "What could you possibly want from Erica, huh?"

"It was a joke," Amy said in her defence. 

"And yet I'm not laughing," Franky pointed out.  She wasn't going to pick a fight with Amy though, she needed information.  "This shooter at the law courts, do the cops have anything on him?"

"Not much," Amy said quickly, happy to move the conversation on. 

"What about that Facebook page with the hate posts about Ruby?  Are they investigating that?"

"Um not sure," Franky could hear the hesitation in Amy's voice, "but they think it's a professional hit."

"Professional?"  Franky frowned.  "Against who?"

"Stuart Roxton," Franky could hear a police radio in the background.  "Look, I've got to go," Amy said in a hurry.

"Why do they think Stuart Roxton was the target?" She asked quickly.

"His was the only clean shot to the head.  All the others seemed to be accidental, just collateral damage.  I'll call if I hear anything."  She rang off.

Franky put the phone back onto the charger her mind chewing over the information Amy had provided.  Stuart Roxton was the target, maybe, possibly, and the implications of that was, what exactly?  Erica came into the kitchen while Franky was propped on a stool with her chin in her hands staring pensively at the fridge.  Her girlfriend gave her a sideways glance but didn’t say anything.  She put the kettle on.

“I borrowed your phone,” Franky confessed out of the blue.

Erica looked across at her.  “Okay,” she said then frowned, “but it has a security lock.”

Franky raised her eyebrows. “1-2-3-4?  A five year old could work that out,” she said without apology.

“Who were you calling?”  Erica got out two mugs.

“Amy,” Franky told her, “to tell her I couldn’t go away with her this weekend.”  Franky told herself she would have done that if Amy hadn’t hung up so quickly.  She thought she saw Erica relax slightly.  She didn’t know why exactly she was reluctant to tell Erica that she had asked Amy about the shootings but she suspected Erica would tell her she was picking at a wound. 

“Right,” Erica said without emotion.  Franky came up behind her as she put coffee in the plunger and put her hands on Erica’s hips.

“I said I would,” she murmured.  “I don’t want Amy to come between us.”

“She won’t,” Erica said, surprising Franky.  She felt Franky’s arms slip around her waist and her head rest against Erica’s.  She held her like that until the kettle boiled.  “Let’s go out for dinner tonight,” Erica said impulsively.

“Okay,” Franky agreed as she moved away.  She needed a shower, coffee could wait.

Erica called Franky on her office phone at eleven thirty.  “You’re not going to believe this,” she said immediately.

“What?”  Franky had been cleaning off her whiteboard feeling odd as one by one the details of Ruby’s trial disappeared.  It was as though she was erasing all memory of Ruby by doing it.  With her father was gone, who would remember Ruby now?  Then she realised she would.  Ruby may as well be a name tattooed across her forehead.  Made by Ruby, it could read.  As Erica had predicted, winning Ruby’s case had been a game changer.  She had been approached, invited to talk over her future with larger, more lucrative law firms that specialised in criminal cases.  So far she had resisted.  Her loyalty to Stephanie was strong.  Her mentor hadn’t said anything to her about the offers although Franky suspected she knew there had been some.

“Ruby has a will all right.  I found it in a two drawer filing cabinet.  It’s one of those do-it-yourself ones and she made it recently.  She has named you as Executor.”  Franky wasn’t surprised even though Ruby hadn’t mentioned it to her.  “And she has left everything to her cat,” Erica added.

“What?” Franky was surprised at that.

“Her cat,” Erica confirmed it.

“The cat that’s ensconced under our bed?”  A corner of her mind still got a buzz when saying things like ‘our bed’.  It no longer felt strange but the excitement of it hadn’t worn off either. 

“Does she have another one?” Erica asked.  “I mean, when she wrote it, she was probably worth a couple of thousand dollars,” Erica was saying, “but now that cat is worth a million dollars.”

“Fucking hell,” Franky said in amazement.  “Someone is going to challenge it, for sure,” Franky said with certainty.

“Who?”  Erica asked. 

“Someone,” was all Franky said.  “You watch.”

“We better set up a meeting.  I’m going to have to start getting you across all his businesses,” Erica said.  “Oh, and I had a message from Amy asking you to call her,” Erica added.  “When are you going to buy a new phone?”

“Today,” Franky told her.  “I needed Stephanie to approve it and she has been tied up in court.” 

When she rang Amy her friend had just finished her shift.  They agreed to meet for lunch at a café near Franky’s office.  The blonde was in civilian clothes, texting on her phone when Franky arrived.  She put it aside.

“Hey, meant to say Tatts,” Amy started with, “I’m glad you’re okay, I mean that was a close thing.”

Franky shrugged.  “What have you heard?”  She asked.

“They are questioning someone over the shooting,” Amy told her.  The waitress hovered.  She ordered a marinated lamb burger and a coke.  Franky asked for a spinach and feta pastry triangle and a coffee.

“Who?” Franky asked as she poured water.

“A Paul Huxley,” Franky shook her head slightly.  The name meant nothing to her. 

“What’s his connection to Stuart Roxton?” she asked.

“None,” Amy told her.  “I told you, this was a professional hit, Huxley was hired by someone.”

“Who?” Franky pushed.  The police officer just shook her head.  “Come on Amy,” she said with frustration.  “You didn’t come all this way just for that.”

“All right, settle,” Amy grinned, “I’ve got more than that, don’t worry.”  She waited though, letting Franky hang for a moment at the edge of enlightenment, enjoying her frustration.  “The thing is,” she continued at last.  “I’ve heard Huxley’s name before, in connection to Pete Lukovic.”  Amy waited but Franky just looked at her blankly.  “The guy arrested for Ron Maxwell’s murder,” she prompted Franky’s memory.

“So?”

“Turns out Lukovic’s involvement in Maxwell’s murder got him killed.  Before his case went to trial he was murdered.  Shot in the head, professional hit, nothing was ever proven but Huxley’s name was mentioned in connection with it.”

The waitress brought their meals.  Franky was trying to piece it all together.  “So Ron Maxwell’s murder wasn’t just some random drug deal gone wrong then?”  She looked to Amy for confirmation. 

“People like Pete Lukovic don’t get taken out in professional hits unless they have got themselves involved with some bad people,” Amy said knowingly. 

“Okay,” Franky acknowledged, “but I don’t get how that’s connected to Stuart Roxton.  I mean it could be just a coincidence the same guy took out Roxton and Lukovic,” she pointed out.

“Yep,” agreed Amy, unhelpfully in Franky’s view.  They ate in silence.  “So I’ll pick you up Friday night around 6pm,” Amy told her when she pushed away her plate.

Franky pursed her lips.  “Actually, you won’t,” she said, “I’m not coming.”

“What?” Amy exclaimed, “why not?”

“Something’s come up,” Franky said vaguely.

“Bullshit,” Amy said immediately.  She was annoyed.  “This is about your insecure, selfish girlfriend, isn’t it?”

Franky frowned.  “Don’t say that shit about Erica,” she said with a warning tone in her voice. 

Amy heard it.  “I thought we had a deal,” she said more reasonably.  “I’d help to find Ella, you’d come this weekend, right?”

“Well, it’s not going to happen, all right, so get over it,” Franky muttered.  She was welshing on the deal and she knew it.  She drank her coffee.  “Thanks for the information on Huxley,” she stood up, “I’ll get this.”  She went up to the cash register without waiting for a response.

She bought a new phone on the way back to the office and immediately felt better.  She sent Erica a text so she had her new number.  She’d track down her other contacts eventually.  She spent the afternoon mindlessly filing Ruby’s trial paperwork and let her mind puzzle what Amy had told her.  Eventually she picked up a whiteboard marker and wrote up names.  Stuart Roxton, Paul Huxley, Pete Lukovic, and Ron Maxwell then she drew lines between the men that she knew were connected.  It didn’t make sense.  She thought about what she knew about each of them and what the common link might be.  There was something she was missing and Stuart Roxon had to be the key.  He was the one who was dead and yet he didn’t link to any of these men but his killer.  Then it hit her.  She wrote another name on the board and redrew the links.

She circled the new name and her stomach flipped uncomfortably.  Fuck!  She reached for her phone and remembered she had no contacts listed.  Franky checked her emails and network drive until eventually she found the number she was looking for. 

Late in the day Franky was waiting on a street in Richmond.  She was due to meet Erica and she knew she'd be late.  When the car pulled up to the curb, Franky had a disturbing sense of déjà vu.  She got in the back and looked at Vince Diamond’s smile. 

“I need to know something,” she said immediately.  Her green eyes never wavered as she saw the danger in Vince Diamond’s dark ones.  “Did you arrange the hit on Stuart Roxton?”

He laughed.  “Miss Doyle,” he greeted her, “this is unexpected.”

“Cut the bullshit,” she said in a low voice.  She didn’t care anymore.  She wasn’t scared of him.  She was angry.  The look on his face told her all she needed to know.  It was a look of pity at her naivety.  “You killed his fucking daughter!”  Franky heard the powerlessness in her words. 

Suddenly she had to get out.  The car was airless.  She couldn’t fucking breathe.  She turned away.  Her hand was on the door when he spoke.  “You asked for this, don’t you remember?”

She paused and looked back.  “What?”

He smiled.  “Stuart Roxton, you asked me to use the information to bring him down.”

Franky felt sick.  “Not like this,” she said in a low voice.

“But what else did you expect?”  He asked in a surprised voice.  “That I would speak to the Chief Commissioner and have him arrested?  We are playing outside the law, you and me, Miss Doyle.”  She stared at him.  “Who do you think leaked that forensics report to you?”  He smiled.  “It won you the case, I think.”

“You did that?” and when he didn’t answer, “Why?”  She could sense her feet slipping on the loose surface at the edge of the abyss.

“You needed some help,” he said a little patronisingly.  “And I wanted to help you.  We are partners now I think.”

Something snapped in Franky’s brain.  There was no way she was going to be beholden to this guy for the rest of her days.  No way would she live her life slipping deeper and deeper back into the place she had come from.  Not when she had fought so hard to climb out. 

“We are not fucking partners,” she said in a steely tone.  “This ends here.”  She watched him smile.  She had always hated that smile, she thought, as a chill passed through her.

Erica was waiting at a little Italian restaurant.  It was a small, busy place which had a reputation for excellent simple regional cuisine.  She had always wanted to try it but never had.  Franky had sent her a text earlier to say she would meet her there. 

She had spent her free afternoon productively.  She had plans.  She had a list.  Now she just needed Franky.  She wanted to tell her everything and to share her excitement.  She had waited impatiently for Franky to come back from the malaise that had engulfed her since Ruby’s death.  Today she had seen the old Franky and her heart had lightened.  She had missed her, she realised.  She looked up expectantly as a shadow fell across the table but it was the waiter.  He smiled at her and asked if she would like a drink while she was waiting.  She ordered an Italian red wine.

Franky arrived eventually.  She seemed edgy and poured herself a large glass of wine which she drank quickly, too quickly to appreciate it.  Her eyes were bright and restless.  Erica wondered what had happened. 

“Is your dad okay?”  She asked as she watched Franky pour herself another wine.

“Yeah,” Franky said looking at her with a question in her eyes. 

“Good,” Erica smiled.  “Are you okay?” she added.

“Sure,” Franky said, looking anything but okay.  “Hungry,” she added.  She opened the menu and studied it.  “I’ll have the spaghetti puttanesca,” she said looking up.  “And some herb bread,” she added.

When their meals arrived though, Franky just played with her food and drank more wine. 

Erica wasn’t sure now that it was the right moment to have a serious talk with Franky.  She seemed a bit all over the place.  Her conversation kept leaping randomly from topic to topic.  She wasn’t listening to anything Erica was saying.  She was clearly distracted.

Finally she put her hand over Franky’s and stopped it tapping against the table.  Franky’s eyes, which had been wandering around the restaurant, came back and settled on Erica.  Her green eyes watched Erica, suddenly still and expectant.

“What is going on with you?”  Erica asked at last.

“Nothing,” Franky said immediately.

“Franky,” disappointment flooded her tone.  “I know that’s not true.”  She glimpsed something in those eyes, just a flash and it was gone.  “Tell me,” she urged.

Franky slid her hand from Erica’s.  She put both hands to her head and held it.  “You’re not going to like it,” she said at last.  She crossed her arms against her chest and sat back with a resigned sigh.

“Maybe I should be the judge of that,” Erica replied.  Franky watched her.

“I had a run in with Vince Diamond,” she said in a rush.  Erica suddenly understood the nervous energy radiating from Franky.  She wasn’t going to make the same mistake twice though.  She waited.

“Vince Diamond leaked the forensics report to me,” Franky said after a moment.  Erica was surprised.  “And he put a hit out on Stuart Roxton,” she added suddenly.  “Ruby is dead because I told him about her father.”  Franky said the words without emotion but her heart sank with the weight of that knowledge, holding it down, drowning it in guilt and regret.  “I guess you can say I told you so at this point,” Franky said with a grimace.

Erica’s eyes held compassion though.  When we are told often enough, at a young age, that we are to blame then eventually we believe it.  It becomes a part of us, of our thinking.  Franky's childhood had been dominated by a careless mother who held her daughter responsible for Alan Doyle walking out of their lives and countless other things no doubt.  It would be easy for Franky to believe this was her fault.  If Vince Diamond had told her it was.  Erica wasn't going to let Franky accept responsibility if she could help it though.  “Franky, you couldn’t have known this would happen,” she said softly.  “Ruby is dead because a random bullet punctured an artery in her neck, not because you told Vince Diamond anything.  You cannot trace an outcome back to any one single event.  Otherwise surely this all started with Henry Page’s disappearance and was already in train well before you appeared on the scene.  So many different things could have influenced the outcome.  What if Ruby hadn’t gone into the day-care centre that day?  What if Ruby had bent down at the precise moment of the shooting or you had been standing next to Stuart?”  She didn’t want to think about that.  “There are only two people responsible, Vince Diamond and the gunman.”  She said firmly.

Franky watched her, weighing up her words, looking for something she could believe.  She sighed and rubbed her chin.  Maybe Erica was right.  No matter how she felt about it, no one would hold her responsible.  She did feel responsible though because she had deliberately set about to bring down Stuart Roxton.  If anyone had told her the price of that upfront, she would never have agreed to pay it.

She looked from Erica to the ceiling and back again. She had spent the entire evening caught up in her own angst.  She was lousy company she realised.  “I’m sorry,” she said.  “I guess this probably wasn’t what you had planned.”

Erica smiled.  “Not exactly,” she agreed.  “Are you okay?”

Franky took hold of her hand.  Her green eyes were serious.  “Yeah, I’ll live,” she said with a self-deprecating smile.  “How did I get so lucky?”  She wondered aloud, her heart and eyes appreciative.

“You didn’t get lucky,” Erica refuted, “you saw what you wanted and pursued it relentlessly.  I doubt if anyone can resist you.” 

Franky grinned.  “You gave it a good shot.”  Her fingers interlocked with Erica’s playfully.  “All those opportunities in Wentworth that went begging, I think you were definitely resisting, Miss Davidson.  It was very attractive,” she admitted, eyes alight, then Franky leant in and lowered her voice.  It was full of suggestion.  “So, wanna go home?”

Erica didn’t need a second invitation.  “I’ll get the bill,” she said quickly.  Maybe they could have the serious conversation later.

“Do you think Vince Diamond has anything to do with Darren Lock?”  Erica asked out of the blue as they walked to the car.

“What?” Franky said with surprise.

“I just wondered,” Erica said pensively.  “I mean why did he leak that forensic report to you?’

“I dunno,” Franky wasn’t going to tell Erica that Vince had thought she needed help.  Erica’s comment made her wonder though.  Ruby’s death had meant her chance to find out what had really happened that day was gone.  Unless they found Darren Lock or someone else knew.  “What happened to your car?” she asked suddenly as she noticed the dented front end on approach.

“I hit a cyclist, the day of the shootings,” Erica confessed, “I didn’t kill him,” she added hastily.  “Although it was tempting afterwards,” she added drily.  “His bike is going to cost almost $3000 to fix.”

“Why?” Franky asked with surprise. She wondered how she hadn't noticed the damage before now. Had she been that caught up in her own head?

“Something about a carbon fibre frame, I don’t know, I’ve told him to get more quotes. I don’t want to think about it.”  In the end she had reported the accident to the police and had rung her insurance company just so she didn’t have to fork out the full amount.

“Well,” Franky said as she opened her car door.  “Don’t forget, we own a million dollar cat.”

Chapter Text

Franky was dressed in black, wearing sunglasses, and sipping a takeaway coffee.  She watched people walk into the crematorium and wondered who they were.  Ruby's friends?  She didn't strike Franky as much of a friend collector.  Colleagues from daycare?  Maybe one or two.  That left family, aunts and uncles, cousins; and the curious.  People who had followed the trial and thought it was okay to crash a funeral to satisfy their thirst. 

She saw Erica approaching from a distance.  She was wearing a tight pencil skirt and light blouse.  She had obviously decided to leave her jacket in the car.  Smart choice, thought Franky, as she pushed herself off the low stone wall she'd been leaning against and tossed her empty cup into a nearby bin.

"Hi," Erica said in greeting, "I'm not late, am I?  My meeting went on," she gave Franky a quick hug. 

"Thanks for coming," Franky whispered in her ear.

"Should we go in?"  Erica asked as she stood back.

Franky slipped her hand in Erica's.  "Yeah probably," she agreed.

Ruby's service was simple based on the instructions in her will.  There was no slideshow set to music attempting to capture Ruby's essence in single, static snapshots.  The only person who spoke about Ruby was the funeral conductor.  He set out plain facts about her life and talked in some detail about her work with children.  Franky looked for Georgia Freeman and saw her near the front.  She wondered if she had given the information about Ruby's work at Small Friends.

Franky listened to the words about her death and felt completely removed from the moment.  She watched it over again in her mind as she had done many times.  She heard a shot fired then another.  Her mind had been focussed on the contradictory nature of Stuart Roxton's comments.  Her eyes had shifted to Ruby to gauge her reaction.  Then the shots in rapid succession and blood on Ruby's neck flooding her chest in the moment she fell.  Then, as she ducked instinctively, she saw Stuart Roxton's eyes.  There was surprise in them as though this outcome had never been considered, should not be possible.  Her scrambling attempts to save Ruby.  Her jacket soaking up blood too quickly until Franky's hands were sticky with the warm thick substance.  Watching as Ruby's life oozed away onto the law court’s steps.

She felt Erica's hand move in her own.  She looked down to see that her hand resting between them was so tight on Erica's that she wondered if she might break her fingers.  She let go.

When it was over Franky moved quickly outside and drank in the sunlight, suddenly glad of the heat.  As she was pulling off her jacket someone approached.

"I saw you on the television," a woman in her late forties said.  "You were Ruby's lawyer."  Franky nodded.  "I’m Melissa Stern, Ruby's aunt."

"Never saw you in court," Franky said pointedly. 

"I've been living in the States for the past ten years," she explained.  "My husband is from Boston.  I came home when I heard my brother had been killed."  Franky didn't say anything.  She wondered though if this woman knew what her brother was capable of.  "I wanted to thank you for clearing Ruby's name," she said.  "Do you think we could talk?"

Erica appeared beside Franky.  "I have to get back to the office," she said, casting a curious eye over the stranger.  "Did you want a lift?"

Franky nodded distractedly.  "What about?" She asked Melissa Stern. 

"Ruby's case," she answered.  "I read the news reports of the trial, something struck me as curious and I thought, well I didn’t know who to tell, but I thought you might be interested.  It might be nothing of course," she added with an apologetic smile.  "I wouldn't feel right though, not saying something, just in case."

The woman knew how to say just enough to hook a person's interest, thought Franky, as she dug in her jacket pocket.  She handed over her business card. "Call me," she said, "we can talk."

In the car Erica asked who the woman was and when Franky told her, she raised her eyebrows.

"I wonder what she wants to tell you," she speculated.

"My bet," Franky said astutely, "she is going to challenge Ruby's will."

Erica thought Franky could be right.  "I need to talk to you about something," Erica said as the traffic lights turned green.

"Okay," Franky waited.  Her mind was still half on Melissa Stern.

"Remember that last apartment we looked at," she prompted. 

Franky frowned.  Erica hadn't mentioned moving out since that weekend.  She had optimistically thought Erica had reconsidered since hearing Franky's views on the matter.  Clearly not.

"I've leased it," Erica said quickly, as if she knew how Franky would react to the news.

"You leased it," Franky repeated blankly.  Okay, worse than she’d thought.

"A twelve month lease," Erica added.  Franky was silent.  "Franky?"

"Fine," Franky said at last, "if that's what you want then fine."

Erica could see it wasn't at all fine.  "Franky, let me explain," but Franky interrupted her.

"You want to move out, I get it, you've already explained it Erica," Franky said shortly.  "There's no point reliving the reasons why, is there?"

"Well, actually, there is -" the car had pulled up to another set of lights.

"You know what," Franky interrupted her.  "I think I'll walk, I need the fresh air."  With that she got out.

Erica watched her go.  She had thought telling Franky while in the car would ensure she had to listen to what Erica had to say but apparently not.  She sighed. 

When Franky arrived back at Wilkinson and Associates, Stephanie called her into her office.  Franky sat down, feeling less annoyed than disappointed, she just didn't get where Erica was coming from. 

"How was the funeral?" Stephanie began with.

Franky shrugged.  "You know," she said.  What can you say about a funeral for someone who had their whole life ahead of them?  It wasn't a celebration of a life. It was a lament of life lost.

Stephanie nodded.  She did know.  "Your father has been asking whether you are going to visit soon," she said gently.  "What should I tell him?"

Franky didn't particularly want to go home and watch Erica pack.  "I'll come tonight," she decided quickly.

"What about those law firms?" Stephanie asked next, proving to Franky that Stephanie had always known what was going on.  "Made any decisions?"

"Nope," Franky crossed her ankles and slouched. 

"Need any advice on them?" Stephanie prodded.  "I can tell you which one will probably give you the best opportunities," she offered.

"What? Is this get rid of Franky day, or something?" She asked suddenly annoyed.  "What if I've decided not to take any of them?"

Stephanie looked surprised.  "That would be foolish, Franky," she said plainly.  "You are ready for the next step in your career.  Ruby's trial proved that.  These firms can give you cases you won't get at Wilkinson and Associates.  You've created a name for yourself, now it is time to build a reputation."

Franky looked at her a little defiantly.  "It's my choice what I do," she pointed out.

Stephanie watched her appraisingly.  "Of course it is," she agreed.  "Choose wisely is all that I'm saying."

"Anything else?"  The tone dared Stephanie to push Franky further.

"Come for dinner tonight," was all Stephanie added.  "James is doing salmon with herb Parmesan crumb."  She smiled at her protégée, who she sensed was feeling out of sorts with the changes ahead of her.

There was already a message from Melissa Stern when Franky checked her voicemail.  She looked at the tasks ahead of her and saw a window late in the day.  She sent a text letting Melissa Stern know.

She spent the rest of the afternoon working through Ruby's financial situation.  This task was leaving aside her inheritance from her father, which would require Erica to finalise administering Stuart Roxton's estate, before Franky could manage it for Ruby.  Eventually she would need to set up a trust for the cat but for now she just wanted to get a handle on Ruby's assets and debts.  Part of that involved going over to Ruby's townhouse to collect her papers.

The place was no different and yet Franky felt different there.  She realised she would have to pack up Ruby's belongings at some point.  Once she had packed Ruby's papers into a few boxes, she went into the second bedroom and opened the hatch to the roof pulling down the steps with the pole.

She climbed up curiously.  The roof space had been converted into a storage area.  The flooring was cheap pine boards and the colour bond roofing had been lined with insulation to keep down the heat.  Even so Franky felt hot being up there.  There was a light.  Franky switched it on and looked around.  At the height of the roof pitch she could stand upright.  Darren Lock had left a sleeping bag behind and some empty chip bags but nothing else.  She wondered how long he had been holed up in this place.  There were no clues to his whereabouts now.  The police had reopened the Henry Page murder case the day Ruby was acquitted stating they were pursuing leads relating to Darren Lock.  Franky wondered if they would ever find him.  She left everything as it was.

Melissa Stern was well preserved.  Her hair, styled in a short cut with long layers, was a golden blonde with her natural dark brown showing through underneath.  Her trim figure had seen plenty of the gym Franky suspected.  Her blue eyes were the only resemblance Franky could see to Stuart Roxton.

"Thank you for seeing me," she began with as she sat in Franky's visitor's chair, her blue eyes holding a serious expression.  "I wasn't aware of Ruby's situation until I was informed of Stuart's death.  My brother and I are not close," she admitted.  "I have had no contact with him since I moved to the States."  Franky said nothing although she had paused in her story.  The older woman continued with some reluctance but determination.  "There was an incident when we were young.  He is ten years older than me you understand.  One night when I was seven, Stuart came into my bedroom and made me touch him, stimulate him," she clarified, "until he ejaculated.  He did this a few times then one night he tried to put his penis inside me.  I was terrified and cried out.  He hadn't expected it because on all the previous occasions I had complied without making a sound.  My father came into my bedroom and realised what was going on immediately.  He played it down though, told me it was just a natural curiosity by my brother and for me not to worry about it.  He did put a lock on my bedroom door though and Stuart was sent away to boarding school not long afterwards."  She took a breath, clearly distressed by the memory.  "I'm sorry.  I've never told anyone about it, not even my husband."

Franky watched her curiously.  The story didn’t shock her.  It didn’t even surprise her.  It just reinforced in her mind that she had been right all along about Stuart Roxton.

"You know he probably interfered with Ruby," she said after a moment.  "Did you ever think about that?"

"I wondered yes," Melissa Stern admitted softly.  "When Ruby's mother died I tried to convince Stuart to let Ruby live with me.  She was five then but Stuart refused saying he had already lost his wife and he wouldn't lose his daughter too.  After that I travelled extensively with my career before meeting my husband, getting married and settling in Boston." 

"Why are you telling me this?" Franky asked with a frown.  "I mean if you've never told anyone before, why tell me now?"

"When I came back I looked for and found the news reports on Ruby's trial.  I read and watched them all. I don't know why exactly except I thought maybe there would be some clue as to why they had been killed.  Then I heard a name which was familiar to me, and I wondered."

"What name?" Franky had no idea where this was going but she couldn't take her eyes off Melissa Stern.

"Darren Lock," she said.

Franky leant forward, her arms resting on her desk, her green eyes intense.  "How do you know his name?"  She felt on the edge of something powerful.  It was knowledge.

"He worked for Stuart many years ago as his gardener.  He would have only been in his early twenties, It's a strange coincidence don't you think, that they knew each other, and now his name is connected to Ruby's trial."

Stranger still, thought Franky, was that Stuart Roxton never mentioned their connection to Franky when his involvement came out in court.

She left the office early, telling Stephanie she had an appointment with her future.  She went home and changed into running gear.  Her head was overloading with speculation and she needed to clear it.

As she ran she didn't think.  She had left her music behind today so she wouldn't be distracted by anything other than the rhythmic pace she was setting.  She let her mind roam unfettered.  She was in the zone.  If she was patient her mind would make the connections.

Erica was in a meeting when her phone vibrated next to her.  She glanced at it surreptitiously and saw it was Franky.  She interrupted the flow of conversation.  "Sorry, I have to take this," she said apologetically, already on her feet and heading to the corridor.

"Franky, I can't talk now but can we talk?"  She said in a low voice.

"Huh?"  Franky sounded confused.

"I mean, can we talk tonight?"

"I guess," she said distractedly, "when I get home," she offered.  "I need you to get some information for me."

"What information?"  She watched Kenton Brookes walk past her.  She smiled at him.

"Check Stuart Roxton's private papers and see if you can find any mention of Darren Lock or Green Thumbs Gardening.  I think it will be an invoice but don't limit yourself," she instructed.

"And why am I doing this?" Erica walked a little way from the conference room.

"I'll tell you tonight," Franky offered.

Erica sighed.  She really had to get back to her meeting.  "I'm holding you to that," she said. 

She arrived home late.  It took some time to complete Franky's request.  The flat was in darkness. 

She took a shower, ate a toasted sandwich and had a glass of wine.  She wondered where Franky was, and the cat for that matter.  She went into the bedroom, got onto all fours and peered cautiously under the bed.  Two green eyes watched her from the yoga mat.  Well that answered one question.  She curled up on the bed and thought about Franky.  Maybe she dozed for a bit.

Franky was listening to James talk to her dad.  They had nothing in common and yet James had managed to find a subject of mutual interest and was drawing Alan Doyle out.  They were talking about fishing.  Franky couldn't see the appeal and said so.  Both men immediately offered to show her sometime.  She rolled her eyes and was glad when her phone vibrated.  She checked the message.

"I'm thinking about you," was all it said.  It was from Erica.

"Where are you?" Franky responded with, thinking Erica must still be at work doing something tedious.  She was happy to be distracted.

"In bed."  Franky glanced up from the text to see no interest from her companions.  Her phone vibrated again.  "Thinking about you."

"What are you thinking?" Franky wrote back.

“About what I want you to do to me.”  Franky bit her lip.  She typed quickly.

“Tell me.”  She wondered how far Erica would go with her sexting.  There was a delay.  Franky watched her phone impatiently.  Finally it vibrated.

“Hold me down, tie me up, pleasure me, make me beg.”

Franky felt desire flood her.  She shifted uncomfortably.  Another text came through.  “I want you touching me.”

"Where?" 

“Everywhere, I want to feel your tongue, I want your mouth on my – ,” Franky swallowed.  She finished the sentence in her head.

“What are you doing now?”  She waited.

“Touching myself.”  Oh fuck!  Franky wanted to watch that, she wanted to be a part of that.  The words had given her an image in her head of Erica lying on their bed playing with herself, her eyes glazed with lust, her body writhing on the bed, desperate to be sated.

“So not such a good girl then,” she wrote back.

“Bad girl!  !!!!!!!!!!!”  Franky was pretty sure she knew what all those exclamation marks meant. 

She stood up suddenly.  The two men looked at her strangely.  “I’ve gotta go,” she said quickly.  “Um thanks for dinner.”

James stood up.  “I’ll drive you,” he said.  “It’s late.”

“You think I can’t take care of myself in the dark, James?”  She asked with a teasing smile.  “Coz I can.”

“I’m sure you can, Franky, but humour me,” James smiled back. 

It would be quicker if James drove her, Franky decided.

The flat was quiet.  Franky found Erica asleep on top of the bed.  She was on her stomach.  She was wearing a cami and knickers.  Her legs were bare and slightly apart.  Franky’s eyes ran over the silky rounded butt and down to the treasure trove of ecstasy and desire.  She wet her lips.

She found two silk scarves then pulled off her clothes.  She slapped Erica’s arse hard.  It woke her up with a start.  She tried to roll over and sit up but Franky straddled her, holding her down, her hands rough on Erica’s wrists until she gasped.  “Oh no you don’t,” she said harshly.  She had expected Erica to comply because she thought this was what she wanted.  She didn’t expect Erica to thrust upwards and roll so Franky was suddenly at the disadvantage.  She grappled with her trying to get purchase, trying to use force to gain back the upper hand.  Erica was stronger than she seemed.  Franky had to use all her strength to force Erica off her and onto her back.  She smiled slightly, breathing hard, once she had Erica under her again but this time she was sitting across her stomach.  Erica’s eyes held rebellion.  “Are you going to behave?”  Franky asked once she had her breath back.

“Make me,” Erica challenged as she wriggled without effect. 

Franky laughed quietly.  “Okay, if that’s what you want.”  She slid up Erica’s torso until her legs, curled under themselves, were on either side of Erica’s head and her knees held her upper arms in place.  She let go of her wrists but Erica was trapped.  Franky tied a slip knot and fastened one of Erica’s hands to the bedhead.  She did the same to the other one. 

She could see erect nipples through the silky material of the camisole.  “I think this is in the way,” she said softly as she ran her hands over Erica’s breasts.  In one fluid movement she ripped it off.  Erica gasped.  Franky suddenly understood the concept of bodice ripping.  It felt primal to tear clothes in a moment of passion.  Her mouth sought one erect nipple and she sucked it greedily.  Her other hand was against Erica’s mouth rubbing her lips roughly.  She felt Erica pull against her restraints and suck one finger into her mouth.  Obviously she wasn’t going to be passive. 

Franky moved with deliberate intent, her mouth kissing and licking moving slowly downwards until she could hear Erica gasping and her pelvis beginning to thrust upwards.  Her hands concentrated on Erica’s breasts before moving down to part her legs so she could slide between them. 

“What did you ask for again?”  Franky asked suddenly.  “I can’t remember.”  She was watching Erica.

“What?” Erica gasped. 

“In your text, you asked for something, tell me what it was,” Franky was looking at her intently, her mouth and hands had stilled in their respective tasks.  “I want to hear you say it.”

“Franky,” Erica looked a little desperate.  Her chest was heaving and her nipples were engorged from Franky’s attentions.  “I can’t remember.”

Franky sat up.  “Yes you can,” she told her.  “Tell me.”  She licked her lips.  “I’ll do whatever you ask.”  She caressed Erica’s inner thighs as she waited, sweeping close so Erica could feel the air moving on her wet glistening sex.

“Tongue fuck me,” Erica gasped, “that’s what I want.  That’s what I was thinking about when I was alone.”

Franky felt her own excitement building with those words.  She could see Erica’s excitement.  She tasted it, sucked on it, building to a crescendo of sensations as she heard Erica’s appreciation of her efforts.  The crashing intensity of Erica’s climax was reward enough for Franky.  She loved seeing Erica in the throes of an orgasm.  She was completely unguarded in that moment. 

The only other time Franky thought she had seen that was the moment in the hospital when Erica had shoved her then hit her for letting her think she might be dead.  At that moment Erica had shown her unguarded heart to Franky.  It had been a gift in a moment of chaos and tragedy.  And yet, Franky remembered, Erica was still intent on relocating to her own space.  The afterglow vanished and Franky felt disappointed once again.  Sex never fixed anything, she remembered, it just distracted you from your problems for a while. 

She shifted so she was lying on her back next to Erica, her eyes on the ceiling and her arm above her head.  If Erica loved her then why did she want to leave?  It didn’t make any sense to Franky. 

“Are you going to untie me?”  Erica asked eventually sensing a change in Franky.

“No,” Franky answered her.  She rolled up onto her elbow so she could watch Erica.  “Not until you tell me why, after everything that’s happened, you still want to move out.”  Her green eyes darkened.  “I don’t get it.  My father says he loved me, yet he left.  You say you love me and yet you want to leave.  What is it about me?”  There was a note of desperation in Franky’s voice.

“Franky, it’s not like that,” Erica said softly.  “Don’t think that.”

“What else can I think?”  Franky’s eyes glistened.  “I haven’t got room in my heart for anything because it is full of you, Erica, don’t you get that?”  She felt the weight of that knowledge.  It was like a stone in her heart at that moment.  “I am so completely in love with you.”  Her tears fell unheeded. 

“Franky, please,” Erica pleaded.  “Untie me,” she couldn’t bear to see her cry and not be able to comfort her.  Franky just shook her head wiping away her tears.  “It’s not like that,” Erica repeated softly.  “That afternoon at the café when you told me how you felt about it, I decided then I wouldn’t pursue it.  I didn’t understand before then how you felt.  Then the day of the shootings I realised I had everything wrong in my head.”

“Then why?”

“I can’t live here Franky,” Erica said honestly.  “This flat is too small for the two of us.  There is no air-conditioning, there is no wardrobe space, the bathroom pre-dates the 1960s.  I know you are used to living in a cell but I’m not.  I leased the apartment for us to move into together.  I know you think it’s sterile but we will make it a home.  I’m not leaving you, Franky,” she said softly.  “I promise you.  Please don’t think that.”

Franky sniffed.  “What about the cat?”

“We’ll bring him with us,” Erica confirmed. 

“There’s a no cat policy,” Franky pointed out.

“They’ll never know,” Erica said with a smile.  “He lives under the bed most of the time.”

“Okay,” Franky said at last.  She reached up to untie Erica. 

As soon as the restraints were gone Erica put her arms around Franky and held her.  “I love you,” she murmured, “don’t ever doubt that.” She kissed her and tasted salty tears. "You don't mind leaving here?" She asked eventually.

"I don't want to stay here without you." Franky snuggled against Erica. "And you're right about the bathroom," she acknowledged with a smile.

It wasn’t until the next morning that Franky remembered her request to Erica about Darren Lock.  “So did you find anything?” she asked through a mouthful of muesli.

“There were no invoices from Darren Lock but Green Thumbs Gardening was sending a monthly invoice to Stuart right up until a month ago.”  Erica told her.  She yawned.  It had been a late night.

“I bet it was Darren Lock who did his gardening,” Franky said triumphantly. 

“They’re connected?” Erica asked with surprise.

Franky nodded.  Then she put her bowl in the sink and picked up her mug.  “Stuart Roxton’s sister told me a very interesting story.”  Franky repeated it.

Erica looked appalled.  “So he and Darren Lock were well acquainted,” Erica frowned resting her coffee mug against her lip.  “What does that mean?”

“It means that Stuart not telling me this when Lock’s name was first mentioned is strange, to say the least, don’t you think?”  Erica had to agree it was.  “As though he didn’t want the connection to be known, now why would that be?”

“He didn’t want to be connected to a potential child killer?” Erica offered.

“He already was though as Ruby’s father,” Franky pointed out. 

“Then what?”

“I’ve got a theory,” Franky said mysteriously.  She grinned at Erica.  “I’m pretty sure I’ve worked it out.”

“Who killed Henry Page?”  Erica asked.  She was going to be late for her first meeting at this rate.

Franky nodded.  “Darren Lock did,” she said with certainty.  She sounded cocky, “or at least he might have but more likely it was an accident.”

“Okay, you’ve lost me, how does Stuart Roxton fit in?”  Erica asked with confusion.

“I think he was involved in a pedophile ring, possibly running it.  I think Darren Lock worked for him, finding children and taking them to places where they were then abused, probably on film, for distribution on some secure website.  Amy told me that is usually how it works.  Something went wrong the day Darren Lock took Henry Page.  Maybe he stopped for some reason and Henry escaped, ran into the bush and hid and Lock cut his losses, leaving him to die out there.  Maybe we’ll never know for sure, but that’s my guess.”

Erica stared at her.  “Fuck Franky, you were in the back of that guy’s van being taken who knows where.  These people are dangerous because they have a lot to lose.”  She didn’t say it aloud but the implications were clear.  There was no doubt in Erica’s mind that Franky would have been killed that day if she hadn’t managed to escape. 

“I hope they find the fucker,” Franky said.  “He won’t last two minutes in prison.”

“What will you do now?”  Erica knew Franky’s tactics were at times unconventional.  She hoped this was not one of those times.

“Hand everything I know over to the police,” Franky said and Erica felt relieved.  “I expect you’ll get a call from them saying they have a warrant to seize Stuart Roxton’s computers and search his house.  This will be a massive investigation,” Franky predicted. 

Erica knew she was right.  No stone would be left unturned.  “How did you work it out?”  She had given up any pretense she would make her first meeting on time.   

“I didn’t completely until I talked to Amy and she told me something about how pedophiles work.  These rings often have people who they use to groom potential victims.  They work in places where access to children is easy and opportunities are plenty or they have access to people’s homes.  That sounded like Darren Lock and with Stuart’s sexual perversions now confirmed by his sister.  I guess it all just clicked in my brain.”  Franky frowned.   “It’s pretty fucking sick.  And you know the worst thing,” she looked at Erica, her expression serious.  “I can’t help thinking maybe Henry Page was lucky.  How fucking screwed up is that?”

Erica slid her arms around Franky and hugged her close.  “I know,” she murmured. 

“What kind of fucking screwed up world is this?” Franky asked.  Erica didn’t have an answer. 

Chapter Text

“I’ve made my decision.”

Stephanie looked up from her brief to see Franky lounging in her doorway, arms crossed, eyes looking a little defiant perhaps.  It was late in the day.  The older woman sat back and indicated Franky should come in and sit down instead of hovering.

“Let me guess,” her boss said with a smile, “Bell and Chambers, right?”

Franky sat down across from her, her eyes dark and unrevealing.  “Why them?” she asked curiously.

“Their offer was probably one of the better ones and they have a good program to fast-track talented associates to partnership,” Stephanie explained her thinking.  “Unless you went with one of the big three,” she said with a question in her voice.

“Nah,” Franky said after a moment.  “None of those,” she sniffed dismissively. 

“Who then?” Stephanie asked curiously.  There must have been a dark horse in the running that she hadn’t heard about.

“I’m staying here,” Franky said and Stephanie realised it had been defiance she had seen in her protégée’s eyes.

“Franky,” she began but she was interrupted.

“I thought about what you said and it made a lot of sense,” Franky acknowledged, “if this was just a job to me and all I cared about was my career.  I’d been gone, no looking back, for sure,” she agreed.  “It’s not though,” Franky paused, watching Stephanie carefully.  “You gave me a chance when you had no reason to, you helped me,” she nodded as though to reinforce the words, “and that meant more to me than you will ever know.  I want to repay that.”

“You already have Franky,” Stephanie told her with a smile.  “The publicity alone from Ruby’s trial will mean I’ll have to put on another lawyer for paying clients.  More than that though you have given James and I an opportunity we never expected to have, in coming into our lives and letting us love you like a daughter.  Don’t feel obliged to stay here out of a sense of loyalty, please.”

Franky felt warmth flood her with those words.  She knew she like a daughter to James but with Stephanie their relationship had been that of employer and employee, of mentor and protégée.  She was glad Stephanie also saw her as family because these two people were the closest thing Franky had ever had to family.  It was another reason not to leave.

“James told me about the tests,” she said quietly.  Stephanie’s face betrayed her.  “You are going to need someone you trust to keep this place running smoothly while you get better, don’t you think?”  She sounded calm and practical.  There was none of the wretchedness she had felt when she had first heard the news or the angry raging at the unfairness of it that Erica had witnessed.

“I would have told you once the treatment started,” Stephanie assured her.  Even now she looked a little frailer than before, as though just the acknowledgement of an illness can take a little fortitude from a person. 

“So that’s settled then,” Franky said firmly.  “When I get back in the New Year I’ll start looking for another lawyer to join us, yeah?”  Only her eyes betrayed the depth of her emotions.  Her mobile started ringing.  She was happy to finish the discussion.  It was Erica. 

“Hey,” Franky greeted her with.  “I’m sick of packing up stuff.”  They planned to move out of the flat in the New Year.  “Let’s go out tonight?”  Franky had felt tension building inside her for days and she was about to explode with it.  It had begun with the shootings then the news that Stephanie had been diagnosed with breast cancer.  She needed to forget about everything for a few hours.  “Let’s go dancing,” she suggested. 

Erica was all too ready to comply with her wishes.  “About time you took me out and showed me a good time,” she said in a teasing voice.  She rang off before Franky could reply.

When Franky arrived back at the flat she was surprised to see Boomer waiting for her.  Her friend looked worried.  “You gotta help me, Franky,” she pleaded immediately.

“Going out Booms,” she told her.  Boomer’s face fell and Franky took pity on her.  “What it is?”

“I gotta go into work tonight but my dumb-arse sister has left Lily at the apartment for me mum to look after only she hasn’t come home.  So I need you to mind Lily, just until I get back from work,” Boomer finished hurriedly with a pleading expression in her eyes. 

Lily was Boomer’s four year old niece.  Franky had never met her but Boomer told stories of her sister’s less than ideal mothering techniques.  “Boomer,” she said with a sigh.

“Please Franky, I can’t take her into work,” Boomer’s desperate expression combined with Franky’s already sympathetic attitude towards the kid wore her down.

“Okay,” she raised her hands in a gesture of surrender.  “Where is she?”

“Inside, playing with the cat,” Boomer told her with a smile. 

“Fuck Booms, have you still got that key?”  Franky had left Boomer a key when she had Erica had gone away for the weekend.

“Nah,” Boomer said defensively.  “I used the spare one that you keep taped behind the downpipe.”  Franky didn’t even know how Boomer knew about that key.  She shook her head in disbelief and proceeded Boomer up the stairs.

Lily’s feet were poking out from under the bed.  She was holding a one-sided conversation with the cat.  “Lily,” Boomer tried to attract her attention but Boomer rated lower on the interest scale than a live furry four footed feline.  “I’ve gotta go to work now, okay?”

“Aunty Sue, why does the cat wag his tail?  Is he happy?  Is he smiling with his tail?” came a voice from under the bed.

Boomer frowned.  “I think he might be pissed off,” she warned.  “You better come out from there.”  There was no movement except for those four year old legs waving casually in the air.

Franky grinned.  “Hey Lily,” she said.  “Wanna get some ice-cream?” 

This caused a wriggle which produced a brown haired head and inquiring brown eyes which looked up at Franky with curiosity.   “Hello, I’m Lily,” she said after a moment of scrutiny.  “Who are you?”

“Franky,” she told her. 

“I like ice-cream,” Lily told her.

“Me too,” Franky agreed with a serious expression.  “We have to walk for a bit though, but it will be worth it.”

“Okay,” Lily scrambled to her feet.  She was dressed in a blue skirt and purple t-shirt which had pink love hearts on it.  She took Franky’s hand with the innocent inclusiveness which is the domain of children.  “Are you coming Aunty Sue?”

“Gotta go to work,” Boomer told her, “but Franky will play with you.  You make sure you do everything Franky tells you, okay Lily?”  The girl nodded.

At the bottom of the stairs they went their separate ways.  Franky slowed down to accommodate Lily’s short legs.  “I should have brought my scooter,” Lily told her.  “I’m really fast.”  She boasted.

“Yeah?” Franky wasn’t exactly sure how to respond. 

“I can go faster than any of the other kids,” Lily informed her.  “Do you have a scooter?”

Franky laughed.  “No, I never had a scooter,” she admitted.

“Oh too bad,” Lily said.  “Next year I’m going to get a bike.  It’s going to be pink and have streamers and special wheels.”

“Is pink your favourite colour then?”  Franky asked as they waited at the lights.

“Mm sometimes,” Lily scrunched up her face.  “I like purple and red and blue and green and orange and yellow and” she counted them off on her fingers then looked up.  “What’s your favourite colour?”

“I like purple too,” Franky said with a smile.  “Pink not so much.  What flavour ice-cream will you pick?”

“Pink,” Lily told her immediately.  Franky laughed.  They went on like this all the way to the gelato store, Lily’s mind flitting from one topic to the next as swiftly as a small bird.

Lily got a strawberry and chocolate ice-cream.  Franky got chocolate and lemon.  They ate them sitting on plastic chairs outside the shop.  Lily managed to transfer a lot of her ice-cream onto her face and clothes and hands and the ground.  In fact Franky wasn’t sure she had actually eaten any of it. 

“Why do you draw on your arm?” Lily asked in a moment of quiet between the two as Franky used a napkin to try and wipe off the worst of the mess from Lily’s person.  The girl traced the pattern on Franky’s bicep.  “Mum says I can only draw on paper.  She gets angry if I draw anywhere else.”

Franky thought about her latest tattoo.  “Sometimes it’s important to make a statement about yourself,” she told her.

Lily got tired halfway back to the flat so Franky picked her up and carried her on her back.  Lily pretended Franky was a tiger and she was a princess.  “I’m going to be a princess when I grow up,” Lily whispered in her ear as they walked. 

“Really?” Franky said with surprise.  “Don't you want to be someone more kick-arse?”

“I’m going to be a kick-arse princess,” Lily told her.

In the flat Lily disappeared immediately into the bedroom to find the cat.  “What’s his name?”

“Ah,” Franky thought, “well, I call him cat,” she said at last.

Lily clearly thought this was a terrible name.  “I’m going to call him George,” she decided. 

They put out food for George then Franky sat Lily on the kitchen bench so she could help make dinner.  Erica found them like that when she came home half an hour later.  She raised her eyebrows at Franky who just shrugged.

“Hello,” Lily said immediately.  “I’m Lily.”

Erica put her bag down and smiled.  “Hello Lily,” she said.  “I’m –” but Lily was ahead of her.

“You’re Erica,” the girl said quickly.  “You’re Franky’s girlfriend.  Do you want some juice?”

Erica glanced at Franky.  “Thanks but I think I’ll have a wine.”  As she went to the fridge she passed Franky and leant in.  “You owe me a dance,” she murmured then kissed her briefly on the cheek.

They ate star shaped roasted pumpkin and spinach pizza with feta cheese and pine nuts.  Lily ate half a peanut butter sandwich.  After tea they played fish with a pack of cards Franky rustled up from somewhere then made paper aeroplanes which they launched from the kitchen bench.  When Boomer came back at ten to collect Lily she found her curled up on the sofa between Franky and Erica watching Fireman Sam on Franky’s tablet.  It was hard to tell who was more exhausted. 

Franky was already in bed when Erica came into the bedroom.  “Worn out, are you?” she asked with a smile.

“Yes,” Franky said sincerely.  “Lily’s games are tougher than any boot camp.  I had to invent a game which involved pretending to be asleep just to get a break.”  

Erica laughed.  “I can’t believe it, Franky Doyle worn out by a four year old.” she said with glee. 

Franky made a face.  “Funny,” she muttered.

“You know,” Erica said more seriously as she climbed into bed.  “You were pretty good with her.” 

Franky shrugged dismissively.  “I can be a big kid when I want, haven’t you noticed?”  She grinned impishly at Erica.

“It’s probably why you can relate to them,” she said it only half in jest.  “It will make you a good parent,” she added.

Franky shook her head slightly.  “That’s not what makes you a good parent,” she said with certainty. 

“What then?” Erica asked curious to hear Franky’s thoughts.  It was a conversation they had never had.

“Not using your kid as an ashtray for starters,” she said with bitterness, “and being there no matter what.  Being so fucking reliable and safe your kid thinks you’re boring and takes you for granted.”

Erica had spoken lightly, hastily and had forgotten Franky would have a unique perspective on parenting.  “I think you’ll be a good parent,” she said softly.

“I’m not having kids,” Franky said dismissively.

Erica looked at her.  “What, ever?”

“Never,” Franky added.  She reached out and switched off her light and settled down under the covers already keen to close her eyes. 

“Franky?” Erica prompted. 

“What?” 

“Can we talk about this?”  Erica sounded worried.

Franky rolled over onto her side.  She looked at Erica.  “What’s to talk about?” she asked blankly.

“Well,” Erica said with a confused frown.  “Maybe I want them.”  Franky was watching her.

“Do you?” she asked at last.

“I don’t know, maybe, yes one day, I guess,” she said feeling slightly off kilter.  Franky had sounded so certain. 

“Why?”

That question threw Erica even more because she didn’t have an answer.  “Why don’t you?” she asked instead stalling for time.  And anyway, wasn’t that the more pertinent question?

Franky sighed then Erica realised she didn’t want to talk about it either.  “It’s late.  Can we just go to sleep?” she asked, her green eyes looked anxious and Erica didn’t have the heart to push her on it.

“Okay,” she said.  She could feel the relief immediately.

“I love you,” Franky said and she gave her a spearmint flavoured kiss.  It had sounded like a consolation prize. 

As Erica lay awake in the dark she remembered that strange conversation she had had with James Wilkinson.  She realised now what he had meant by his obscure remark.  He had thought Erica had already known that Franky didn’t want children.  At some point, Franky and James had had a conversation about it.

The next morning Franky was up and gone before Erica had stirred.  She had left a note saying she had an early meeting with a client.  There was nothing out of the ordinary about this but even so Erica wondered about it. 

When she arrived at the office she called Stephanie.  “How are you?” she asked.

“Erica,” she sounded surprised.  “Franky’s out with a client.  I can leave a message for her.”

“No, it’s you I wanted,” Erica told her.  “Franky told me about your illness, I’m so sorry Stephanie, if I can help in any way…” They were just words, even though she meant them sincerely, but they were all she had to offer.

“Thank you, I appreciate it, just look after Franky,” she asked.  “What can I help you with?”

“I wanted to speak to James, could you give me his number?”  She waited for Stephanie to ask why she wanted to speak to her husband but the older woman just rattled off the number.

James Wilkinson answered promptly.  He expressed his delight in hearing from her.  Erica spent a few minutes answering his questions about her health and happiness.  “And now, why were you calling?” he asked at last.

“I was sorry to hear about Stephanie, James, how are you holding up?” Erica said instead.

“I’m doing well given the circumstances,” he said.  “How is Franky?”

“Angry mainly,” Erica told him. “Franky is the reason I’m calling actually.”

“Yes?”  There was a note of concern in his tone.

“When I came over for lunch that Sunday and we were preparing dessert, you said something which I didn’t understand at the time but I do now.  You knew Franky didn’t want children, didn’t you, that’s why you made that comment about it not being something we’d have to worry about.”

“Yes,” he admitted. 

“You’ve had a conversation about this with Franky then,” it was a statement not a question.  “I don’t understand,” she said simply, “why she is so adamant.”  James Wilkinson was silent.  “Can you explain it to me?”

“Isn’t that for Franky to do, Erica?” he asked after a moment.

“She won’t,” Erica said flatly.  “At least she hasn’t,” she conceded.

“Give her some time,” he advised.  “It wasn’t something she told me easily.”

“I understand you don’t want to break her confidence, and I respect that,” Erica said clearly.

“And I understand you are confused,” he responded in kind, “and want to understand.  I think you probably already know why and if you think about it for a while it will become clear to you.” He offered.  “You will decide for yourself how much this matters to you but rest assured, it is possible to want children then be forced to give up that dream and still be happy.”  He spoke kindly. 

Erica spent all day thinking about his words.  They had sounded so final as though James knew Franky would not change her mind.  If that was so then it was Erica who must change hers or accept her future was not with Franky.  Her mind dwelt on it, turning it over, considering it at all angles, until her head hurt. 

Franky’s phone rang.  She didn’t recognise the number but she was expecting a call from the removalists so she answered it anyway.

It was Bea Smith. 

“How did you get my new number?” she asked as she walked into her office.

“It wasn’t so hard, you’re not the Queen, Franky,” Wentworth’s top dog told her. 

“What do you want?”  As she remembered it their last conversation had resulted in Red hanging up in her ear. 

“You’re on the visitor’s list today,” the prisoner said.  “I’ll tell you then.”  She rang off.

Franky frowned.  She wouldn’t go.  She already had her day planned.  She would finish up at lunch-time and head out to the airport with Erica.  They would have plenty of time to get through security and immigration.  It would be relaxed and enjoyable.  They would have time to anticipate their holiday over a drink.  There was no room to go out to Wentworth on some errand for Bea Smith.

She sent a text to Erica.  “Hey do you think we’ll get champagne on this flight?”

Erica heard her phone vibrate.  Franky loved to send her random text messages when she was in meetings.  Erica liked getting them.  The meeting was breaking up and Erica was able to respond.  “What are we celebrating?”

She almost bumped into Nick Hammond as she walked with her head down reading Franky’s reply.  “I can think of lots of things.” 

“Erica,” Nick said with a smile.  “I was looking for you.  Kenton said you might have capacity to help me now Stuart Roxton’s –” he stopped suddenly, realising what he was about to say might sound insensitive.   

“I’m on leave from today, Nick,” she told him without regret.  She went back to texting Franky.  “Care to share?” she wrote.

“Oh Erica,” Nick called after her.  “How’s Franky?”

Erica stopped in her tracks.  “What?”  Her phone vibrated in her hand.  She glanced at it then looked at Nick.  “What did you say?”

“Franky Doyle,” he said, “I wondered how she was doing, after the shootings at the law courts.”

Erica hesitated.  She didn’t understand Nick’s motivation for asking.  As far as she knew Nick and Franky had parted on bad terms.  She had the beginnings of a bad feeling.  “How would I know?” she asked at last.  Her phone felt as though it was burning Franky’s response into her palm.

Nick gave her a keen look.  “I thought you saw each other socially.”  Had there been a slight hesitation before that last word?  Erica wondered about it.  What did he know or think he knew?

She gave a slight smile.  “She’s fine, I think.” 

Nick smiled in return.  “Have a good Christmas, Erica,” was all he said.  On the surface it was an innocent exchange between colleagues.

Franky waited in the interview room.  She asked herself again what she was doing there.  She could be in the bar at the airport, getting excited about their Christmas getaway, texting Boomer with instructions about the cat.  Instead she was here.  Somewhere she didn’t want to be again.  Waiting.  She felt like she had been waiting for her whole life. 

Stephanie had been surprised when she said she was going out to Wentworth then straight on to the airport.  “What’s so important you’ll risk your holiday?” Stephanie had asked curiously.

“It’ll be fine,” Franky had said dismissively.  “It’s not like Bea Smith needs legal advice,” she added.  “She’s a lifer.  She wants to talk to me for another reason entirely.”

“Then why go?”  Stephanie had pressed.

Franky had shrugged.  “Curiosity,” she had offered.

The door to the interview room opened.

Bea Smith looked a little more tired than when they had last met.  Her signature red dyed hair looked as striking as ever though.  Her expression gave nothing away although from her phone call Franky suspected she was agitated.  She nodded to the lawyer.

“So, why am I here, Red?” Franky asked immediately.  Her pen tapped impatiently against her notepad.

“I’m calling in my favour,” Bea said once she had sat down and the guard had closed the door.

Franky gave a slight shake of her head and small smile.  “What favour?”

“I helped you with that psycho, remember?” Bea pointed out.  Her hands clasped on the table in front of her. 

 Franky sat back.  “Nah,” she said dismissively, “you welshed on that, remember?  She raised her eyebrows and gave a penetrating stare.  “So, again, why am I here?”

“Liz needs help,” Bea told her.  “I need you to help her.”

“Forget it,” Franky said without hesitation.  She couldn’t believe Bea’s nerve.  The prisoner knew how things were between her and Liz. 

Bea watched her.  “Okay,” she said after a moment and began to stand up.  “Oh,” she stopped and looked at Franky, “just one thing –”

Franky waited.

“I’ve got some stuff on Ferguson –” Bea left it hanging, baiting Franky like a fish.

“What stuff?” Franky knew Bea was just trying to tempt her away from her current position. 

“Stuff that will bring her down,” Bea pulled on the line slightly and waited.

“So what?  She’s not my problem anymore,” Franky told her.  She danced away from the hook.

Bea shrugged.  “Forgive and forget, is that the new religion, Franky?” she stared at the lawyer, holding her glance with mesmerising intensity. 

It was like playing poker.  She and Bea had always played well together, one up then the other, re-dealing the cards to get a better hand, and playing for high stakes.  She thought about Liz.  She had felt so betrayed by her.  Could she just ignore that? 

“What does she need help with?” Franky asked at last. 

“She’s on a murder charge,” Bea told her.

“What?” Franky asked in disbelief, “Liz?”

“Yeah,” Bea confirmed.  “It’s some bullshit charge.  There was a prisoner who was smuggling in dirty drugs and selling it on to the women.  Liz was overheard arguing with her the previous week, threatening to shut her down if she continued to deal.  Anyway, next week she is found dead and the weapon is found in Liz’ cell.  It has the Freak written all over it.”  Franky didn’t doubt Bea.  Firstly, Liz was not a murderer and secondly, Ferguson had shown she would stop at nothing to regain and maintain control.

“What’s Liz done to piss off Ferguson?”  Franky asked.

“Ferguson’s doing it to manipulate me,” Bea told her.  “She can’t do anything to me but she can hurt people I care about, like Liz, to keep me in line.  This isn’t about Liz, this is about me.” 

“So what did you want me to do about it?” Franky asked curiously.    

“I’ve got some information,” Bea said, “it will clear Liz but Ferguson has made sure the investigating officers aren’t allowed anywhere near me.  I need you to get me an interview with the detective in charge of the investigation.”

"And how am I supposed to do that exactly?" Franky asked with a frown.

"You've got contacts, haven't you?"  Franky shrugged in half-hearted confirmation.  "So use them."

Franky felt frustration well up inside her at Bea’s manipulative ways.  She stood up.  “You know what Red, I don’t think I will, but thanks for the offer,” she smiled then walked out.

By the time she was outside the gates she had decided to call Amy.  Her relationship with Liz had been difficult but if she could fuck over Ferguson one last time then she would.

"Hey, Merry Christmas!" Amy sounded drunk.  "I'm at the Christmas party.  Why don't you come down?" She invited.

"Thanks," Franky said briefly, "but I need information," she said quickly.

"No," Amy said sternly.  "No," she repeated.  "This relationship is all one way Tatts and it's got to stop."

Great, a drunk assertive Amy determined not to be manipulated, thought Franky, just what she needed.  “Okay, what do you want then?"

"No," Amy said again.  "You promise but you don't deliver, Tatts.  I’m surprised you have any friends.    It's going to have to be payment upfront in future."

"Fine but I need this info now so what's the payment you want?"  She heard someone talking in the background.  'Amy?" She said, "What do you want?"

"Get your arse down here and buy me a drink," Amy said suddenly.  Franky rolled her eyes.  "Then I'll help you."  She added sweetly.  Assuming she was still capable, Franky thought as she took down the address.

Erica had sent a text to say she'd meet Franky at the airport because a partners' meeting had just been called.  That was fine with Franky as it would give her a little more time. 

Amy was dancing when Franky arrived and she dragged her friend onto the dance floor.  "Come on girl," she insisted.

"Okay," Franky agreed amiably, "but first, who is the detective working the Wentworth murder, do you know?"

"Sure," Amy said with a knowing smile.  "I know her reeaally well," she winked.

"Okay," Franky got the not so subtle message.  "Are you still on good terms?"

Amy screwed up her nose.  "I guess, we keep in touch," she grinned.

"Is she here?" Franky looked around hopefully at the throng of people.  She couldn't see how anyone could find someone in the crush.

“Sure,” Amy said again.

“Okay, can you point her out for me, I just need a quick word then I’m all yours,” Franky promised.

“No, you’re not Tatts,” Amy shook her head sadly then she smiled, “but that’s okay, hey!  We can still be friends.  Where’s m’ drink?” She asked suddenly. 

“I’ll get you one when you’ve introduced me to your friend, Aims,” Franky offered a little impatiently.  “What does she look like?”

“Hot,” Amy said immediately.  She leaned into Franky.  “But not as hot as you, it’s true,” then she winked.

“Okay,” Franky looked around.  There was nothing for it but walk around until they found her. 

“What’s her name?”

“DS Louise Patterson,” Amy told her. 

They found her eventually up at the bar.  She was slim with short strawberry blonde hair and soft hazel eyes.  She gave Franky the once over in a non-aggressive curious way.  Amy introduced her then took no further interest in the conversation preferring instead to get another round of drinks. 

“I know you,” Lou Patterson said immediately.  “You’re that lawyer on the Roxton trial, yeah?”  Franky admitted to it.  “What do you want?”  Franky explained the situation.  “Yeah, that Ferguson is a player,” the detective acknowledged, “very careful about who we can talk to, almost as though she is directing things.  Not much we can do about it though because she does it so it all looks legit.”

“I think Bea Smith has something that would help your investigation, if you can get access,” Franky offered.  “Any chance?”

The detective smiled.  “Yeah, I like a challenge,” she pulled out her phone.  She gave instructions to her DC to get over to Wentworth to interview the prisoner Bea Smith.  “I’ll meet you there.”  She gave Franky a quick smile.  “Thanks for the tip,” she said.  “If anything comes of it, I’ll owe you a drink.”

Franky asked the taxi driver to put his foot down.  They were slightly ahead of peak hour.  The traffic was moving freely but it was Christmas Eve and everyone seemed to heading to Tullamarine.  She sent a text to Erica.  “On way.”  Erica promptly sent one in reply.  “The queues are crazy!”  Fuck.  She’d had to buy Amy two drinks and have a dance with her before she could get away.

Her phone rang.  It was Bea.  “What made you change your mind?”  The prisoner asked and then when Franky didn’t respond.  “Liz owes you,” she added.  “I’ll let her know.” 

“Tell Liz nothing’s changed,” Franky said coolly.

“You’re never completely free of this place, huh Franky,” the prisoner said with a knowing smile, “even when you’re free.”

Franky watched the taxi driver lane weave to avoid a semi-trailer.  “Well, I guess you’ll never know, Red,” she answered.  

“I miss it,” Bea said suddenly.  “I know it’s pointless but I can’t help it sometimes,” a glimpse of her vulnerability showed briefly.  “You’re lucky.”

“Yeah," she agreed, "see you round, Red.” Franky rang off.  The traffic was now backed up and moving more slowly.  She wasn’t sure any more that she would make that flight. 

Erica was waiting at the gate.  The final boarding call had been made a while ago.  Erica glanced at her phone.  There had been no message from Franky since the one indicating she was on her way.  Erica had tried to call her but it just kept going through to voicemail.  She wondered what she should do.  If Franky had managed to drop her bags before they closed the flight then they would hold the plane because to offload unaccompanied baggage was an expensive and time-consuming process.  If she hadn’t made it to the airport then she would have to catch a later flight, if she could get on one.  The gate was empty and the flight attendants were giving her strange looks.  If Franky couldn’t get a later flight then they would spend Christmas apart. 

She heard her name being called over the PA system then she heard Franky’s name.  Would missing passengers Davidson and Doyle get the fuck out of the bar and get your arses to the gate where some pissed off passengers and crew are waiting to start their Christmas holidays.  At least that was what she imagined they were saying.

Then suddenly she saw her.  Franky was sprinting towards the gate.  As she watched, Franky dodged a Japanese tour group and was almost taken out by one of those motorised carts for people requiring special assistance.  She skidded into the gate lounge and almost collected Erica in the process.

“Hello,” she laughed.  “Shit!  I didn’t think I’d make it.”

Erica was already walking towards the gate.  “I’m glad you did,” she told her with a smile.  They handed over their boarding tickets and passports together.

“Enjoy your trip ladies,” the young flight attendant said with a smile.

Their seats were up the back of the plane.  Erica offered the window one to Franky.  “Just to stop you leaning all over me,” she said with a smile.

“You love it,” Franky murmured as she brushed past her. 

When they were settled Erica asked Franky why she’d been so late.  “Nothing important,” Franky said dismissively.  She explained about the call from Bea Smith and what had ensued. 

The flight attendants came past and offered them wine.  “Champagne?” Franky asked hopefully.  There was no champagne though so they settled for white wines.

“I feel like we have been out of touch these past couple of days,” Erica told Franky as they touched their glasses.

Franky sipped her wine.  “Why?”

“Ever since that talk we had about kids,” Erica wasn't sure how Franky would respond.  “You’ve seemed distant.”

Franky looked at her.  “No,” she said.  “I haven’t been.  Just busy sorting out the flat and getting ready to go away, that’s all.” 

Erica relaxed slightly.  She watched Franky peer out of the window at the clouds below.  “It’s because you think you’ll be like your parents, isn’t it,” she said suddenly.  “That’s why you don’t want kids.  You’re afraid you will be abusive or absent.”

Franky turned back from the view.  Erica watched to see her reaction.  A myriad of emotions flashed in those green eyes but the most telling was acceptance.  “Yeah,” she said at last. 

“Why?”  Although Erica thought she knew why.

“Coz that’s what happens isn’t it,” she answered with a sigh.  “A child gets abused and they grow up, have kids that they in turn abuse, like a never ending vicious cycle.”  Franky had read the books too.

“Sometimes,” agreed Erica, “but not always.  For every case where it occurs there are another two where it doesn’t.  The very fact you are worried about it, Franky, would indicate you are unlikely to be abusive.”  Franky was silent.  “I want children,” Erica wanted to be clear, “but only if you do too.  I think you would be a wonderful parent but if you never change your mind then that’s okay too.  You’re enough for me.  I don’t need anything else to make me happy.” 

Franky’s hand slid into her lap and squeezed the hand that lay there.  “Thanks,” she said sincerely.  “You know when I told James I didn’t want kids, he told me about how much he had wanted children and how difficult it was to even be around children for a while.  They considered fostering at one stage but James was away a lot for work and Steph was flying high in her career so they decided it wouldn’t be fair on the children.”

“They didn’t try for adoption?” Erica asked.  They would have been prime candidates she would have thought.

Franky shrugged.  “James never mentioned it.”  She smiled.  “I hope he doesn’t lose her,” she said suddenly, “and end up without anyone.”

“He won’t though,” Erica corrected her softly, “he’ll have you.”

“You sound like Steph,” Franky said with a smile.

“How is she?” Erica asked more seriously.

“Stoic,” was all Franky said.  She looked out of the window. 

Erica put her hand on Franky’s thigh.  “Hey,” she said softly.  “We’re on holidays.”

“Yeah,” Franky agreed.  She smiled.

“So let’s make the most of it,” Erica suggested.

“We will,” Franky told Erica, her eyes light with mischief.

Franky felt warm, cosy, and happy.  She couldn't see a reason to change that.  Life could race on, opportunities missed, friends forgotten, and she wouldn't care.  What was in her heart could sustain her forever. 

Except she needed to pee.  No amount of love could change practical realities.  Reluctantly she got up and the icy morning air shocked her.  They could have been in the Caribbean, she thought briefly, but she had let Erica have her way.  It wasn't much of a sacrifice.  They were in New Zealand, somewhere in the mountains, and it was so quiet they could have been the only people alive. 

When she climbed back into bed she disturbed Erica.  She pushed her cold body against Erica's warm one.  She heard grumbling and smiled.  "It's freezing," she told her.  "I think it's snowing, in friggin December, what the fuck?"  She pressed her cheek against Erica's warm shoulder blade and breathed her in.  She stayed like that for a while in the half state between awake and sleep, her mind empty and her body content.  She dozed.

When she woke again she felt so good.  She must have been dreaming.  She moaned softly as she stretched pushing herself against Erica's rear.  Her hand slid over Erica's stomach pulling her back against her.  She felt Erica's hand caress her hip and thigh.

"It's Christmas," Erica said softly. 

"So?" Erica could hear the smile in Franky's voice.  She rolled over to face her.  She felt the pull of Franky's green eyed stare. 

"So Merry Christmas Franky," Erica said and kissed her.

It built slowly, the desire, like a fire takes its time to catch alight smouldering at first then little fiery flames until it blazes with intensity.  This time their desire was fuelled by something other than need and attraction although they were there.  It was love that declared itself in every touch.  And afterwards it was trust that protected as they lay there heart to heart, open and vulnerable, sharing their hopes and their dreams.

"I want it to always be like this," Franky said quietly.  "Just you and me, and fuck the world."

Erica put a hand to Franky's cheek.  She smiled.  "Okay," she agreed.  "Let's get married."  She could tell she had surprised Franky.

"What?" 

"We're in New Zealand," Erica pointed out.  "Where same sex couples can marry, and I want to marry you, Franky Doyle, if your risk taking, reckless heart will take that chance."

"It took you ten years to decide you didn't want to get married and now you've changed your mind," Erica heard the scepticism in Franky's tone.

"No," Erica said firmly.  "I didn't have a problem with marriage.  I had a problem with marrying Mark and not being true to myself, although I'm not sure I realised that until recently, until we got together.  It was like the first time I went snorkelling," Erica tried to explain herself.  "For years I had swum in the ocean, paddled on top of it, sailed on it thinking that was all there was then one day I went snorkelling and I realised what I'd been missing all those years.  There was another world down there, underneath the surface, and it was fascinating and colourful.  Nowadays I'd rather snorkel than swim any day.  Does that make sense?"

"It makes a lot more sense than your seasickness metaphor, I gotta say," Franky said with a grin.  She did understand though despite her light-hearted response.  Her mood became serious.  "Yeah, it does actually."

"So," Erica lightly fingered Franky's new tattoo.  It had healed and stood out shiny and new above Franky's breast.  It had been that tattoo which had encouraged her to ask.  Franky had already declared her commitment to Erica in the design of that tattoo.  An E and an F facing each other written in intricate flowing calligraphy script, their horizontal lines interweaving until it was impossible to tell where the E finished and the F began. 

Franky took hold of her hand but held it there.  "Have you thought this through?"  She asked seriously.  Erica's brow furrowed slightly, giving her that confused, adorable look.  "Have you told anyone about us yet?” Franky asked.  “And I don't mean Mark," she added hastily.  "I mean someone you care about, your friends, your family?"  Franky remembered the list of contacts in Erica's phone.

"What does that matter?"  Erica frowned.  She thought about her mother.  She wanted to take her hand away but Franky's hold was firm.

"It matters," Franky told her.  "I'm not a closet gay, Erica, and I have a profile. Are you ready for what that means?"

"Yes," Erica said immediately.

"I've been in prison," she reminded her.  "People will judge not just me but you as well when they hear that.  What about your career?"

"It's none of their business who I'm with, it doesn't affect how well I do my job," Erica sounded annoyed at the idea of it. 

"I know that," Franky said soothingly, "but prejudice doesn't work like that."

Erica broke eye contact.  She thought about Nick Hammond’s pointed enquiry and her response.  She thought about Nick knowing about her and what he might do with that information.  How he might hurt her.  She looked back at Franky and saw she was watching her closely.  She realised then what Franky was saying to her.

"Look, if you don't want to get married just say so, Franky, don't make it about me," Erica said with frustration.  "Shit, now I wish we'd gone to the Caribbean."

To her surprise, Franky laughed.  "Really?" She asked.  "I was just thinking how glad I am that we came here."  She kissed the hand she held.  "Of course I want to marry you, today if it's possible," she smiled that embracing, warming smile that Erica had fallen in love with when Franky was still a prisoner.  "I'm just a bit concerned you are so busy snorkelling you've forgotten there is a whole world out there that doesn't get the whole snorkelling thing."

"I haven't forgotten," Erica said seriously.  "I will deal with it I promise.  I don't want to hide from who I am or who I'm with.  Plenty of straight people elope and tell their family and friends about it after the event," she pointed out.  "The thing I think you're missing here, Franky," she said patiently, "is that I want to marry you...the ex-con, lesbian with a profile who has just tattooed our initials onto her chest in a declaration of fidelity...so I think you should just shut up and kiss me."  She said firmly.

Franky couldn't help grinning.  Without warning she shifted herself so she was above Erica looking down into those smiling slightly surprised blue eyes which were framed by light lashes and fine eyebrows.  "Don't think for a moment you are going to be wearing the pants in this marriage, Erica, because I have other plans entirely."

"Wouldn't dream of it," Erica murmured.  She let Franky kiss her then, thoroughly and without interruption.  It was entirely possible they would spend Christmas Day in bed.