With an accusatory slam of the door, Peony had left.
Michael remained on the couch, elbows resting on his knees to prop up his head.
He tried not to think. There was a strange reassurance in numbness. When he let his mind go, waves of shock ran through him, almost too tortuous to bear.
What had just happened?
How had it come to this?
He didn’t know how long he sat there, but when he heard the door to his PA’s office open, he jumped up. Looking around the room he saw the chaos on his otherwise always pristine desk. It made him feel strangely violated.
His pants sagged around his hips, and he pulled it up, tidied himself by tucking in his shirt and buckling his waistbelt. He realised he was still wearing his advocates’ toga, but he didn’t remove it. It gave him a sense of protection.
Michael started ordering his desk. He stooped to pick up the documents that had flown off when Peony had splayed herself on the desk. It was his preparatory notes of the JSC interview. He placed the writing pad and his Mont Blanc pen where they always go, slightly off-centre to the right, so that they are at hand, next to his always-open diary. He started ordering the stack of current files, and the books that had toppled off the desk.
Then he removed his Macbook from the file case that he carried between his chambers and court and plugged it in at his desk.
The handle of the door interleading between his and the PA’s rooms rattled. Michael gave the door a bewildered look. It remained closed. He heard some shuffling in the room next door, and then a knock on his door to the corridor.
“It’s open!” he called, sitting down at his desk.
“I apologise for disturbing you,” his PA, Jessica, said. “Did you by chance take the key to the other door? It’s not in its usual place.”
“No, no, I don’t think so,” Michael said.
“Are you all right?” Jessica asked.
“Yes, of course.”
“It’s just — you look rather off. And you’re still wearing your toga.”
Michael looked down at himself, then up at her, standing in the door. “So I am.” He got up to remove the silken garment, and she came closer, her hand outstretched and took it from him. She walked over to the closet beside the door, took a wooden hanger from it, and used it to hang the toga in the closet.
It’s as if the last bit of lingering warmth left Michael’s body when he relinquished the toga to Jessica.
She looked back at him again. “You sure you’re OK? You look rather pale.”
“Maybe I’m coming down with something,” Michael said.
“I’ll make you a cup of tea and organise some Myprodol,” Jessica said, making to leave his office. She was halted in the doorway by a boulder of a body.
“Can I help you, ma’am?” Jessica said to the woman.
“I see advocate Lindley is in,” the woman said, peering over Jessica’s shoulder towards Michael. “I’m here to speak to him.” Her voice had an unapologetic boldness that matched the wildness of her hair.
“His time is blocked for the afternoon,” Jessica said, trying to close the door between them and Michael.
The woman had manoeuvred herself into the doorway, such that it would be impossible for Jessica to close the door completely. And now she wasn’t budging. “It won’t take long. I’m actually just picking something up.”
“Come with me, we’ll schedule a time, or I will organise for whatever it is you need to get to you, Ms —?”
“Williams, Mona Williams, from the Observer.”
Jessica’s soft-spoken insistence, usually such a good shield, was no match for the burly defiance of Mona Williams.
“This really will take just a minute,” she said to Jessica, and then spoke directly to Michael, over Jessica’s shoulder. “Michael Lindley, I’m picking up the bag you have for me, from Peony Wilde? You know about it, right?”
Michael had been observing the exchange between the two women as though they were far away, a soap on a TV screen, and he startled at being addressed so abruptly and directly. Her mention of Peony sent an electric current through his entire body.
What did she know about Peony? What was she talking about? A bag?
Michael noticed that Jessica had turned back in his direction and was giving him a quizzical look. Then he looked around again and noticed the handbag next to the couch on the floor.
“Oh yes, now I remember,” he said. “No worries, Jessica, I’ve got this.”
“I’ll go see about that cup of tea,” Jessica said, and moved out of Mona Williams’ way, freeing her to enter. She did not offer her tea or coffee, Michael noticed.
The woman watched Jessica go down the corridor. “Nice arse,” she remarked, under her breath.
Michael was pretty sure she wanted him to hear that.
Then she stepped fully into the room and closed the door.
“What do you want, Ms Williams?” Michael asked, getting up and moving around his desk. He didn’t like the idea of being trapped behind it. Instinctively, he didn’t want her to think he was hiding from her either.
“The truth,” she said, approaching him. “And the handbag.”The woman was more menacing than anything Michael had ever encountered in his years in the courtroom.
Mona Williams came to stand across from him, hands on her hips, the coffee table between them.
He stooped, in slow motion, keeping his eyes on hers, and picked up the handbag. He held it out to her as though it was a wet rag.
She received the bag, slung it over her shoulder. “Are you, or were you, romantically involved with Peony Wilde?” she asked. Then, after skipping a beat, “Or did you just force her to have sexual relations with you.”
It took Michael a beat or two to regain his composure. The pressure on him forked. No matter what he said, it would be wrong.
“Silence is a good enough answer.”
“Nothing is what it seems, Ms Williams.”
“It rarely is.”
They stared each other down. Michael felt anger stirring around his heart. It was an unusually slow-burning furnace, stoked by her defiance.
“You’d better go,” he hissed, his jaw tense.
Mona Williams’ hand slipped into her slacks’ pocket, and she pulled out a business card. She didn’t bother to offer it to him. She just dropped it on the coffee table, saying “For when you change your mind.”
Then she turned and walked back to the door. She turned back to him, her hand on the knob. It was a pitying look she cast him.
“Michael Lindley, I was rooting for you,” she said. Then she disappeared into the corridor.
- : women's lit
- : some profanity