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The Natural Couple

Chapter 15

By Richard Campbell

Martha's mood had not improved during the day. After leaving the house, everything had gone wrong. Her car was scraped by another driver who had aggressively claimed that it had been her fault although it wasn't, the colleague with whom she had lunch had been in an argumentative mood, and their subsequent visit to a controversial exhibition of painting and sculpture in Bond Street, had been detestable. She disliked modern art as intensely as she disliked modern music, but the artist was facing a charge plagiarism and being sued by another, extremely well off sculptor. Eminent counsel had been retained, and the legal profession generally were looking forward to hearing the arguments advanced on both sides. It was going to be a fascinating case. As it was a civil matter Martha was not involved, but she felt that it would be useful to know something about it. She might, after all, have to preside over something similar one day.

The Gallery was hot and very crowded, the publicity having brought the world and his wife to see what the fuss was all about. Looking around with distaste, Martha couldn't understand why anyone in their right mind would think of creating, let alone copying, any of the works on display. Already feeling decidedly ruffled, the jostling, shrill voiced and ill mannered crowd fanned the flames of her irritation. When she was manoeuvred into meeting and shaking hands with the scruffy, surly, long haired artist, it was the last straw. He reminded her of her son.

For the sake of appearances she felt obliged to offer her colleague a late tea after they left the gallery, and had to spend another hour listening to her irritating conversation before managing to extricate herself. When she got to her car, there was a ticket on windscreen. She had planned to go home immediately after viewing the exhibition and neglected to top up the meter. She drove home furious about it, the journey taking three times as long because roadworks had mysteriously appeared since she'd passed that way earlier. Naturally there was no-one actually doing any work, only abandoned equipment occupying the coned off sections. She arrived home hot, sticky and weary, with no thoughts in her head other than a long cool bath, and early to bed. Bearing in mind the confrontation with her son that morning, it had been a long and tiring day.

She was still sufficiently angry with Martin to check all the downstairs rooms to see if he had tidied them as she had ordered. Annoyed at finding nothing to criticise, she went upstairs vaguely aware of sounds coming from his bedroom. Glancing through the open door, she saw at once the wet flannel on the carpet where Jimmy had dropped it, then her eyes were drawn to the clothes scattered everywhere.

Furious, she stalked into the room to see her naked son, his eyes closed, lying on his side facing her, while a hand manipulated his erect penis.

She stood there stunned, unable to take in what she was seeing. His body was moving rhythmically and suddenly the significance struck home. The figure she had been vaguely aware of behind him was male, and when she focussed her gaze, from her elevated height above the bed she saw the driving hips, and knew with sickening certainty precisely what he was thrusting himself into. It was his hand on her son and his, his ... in her son. Her brain reeled and she couldn't bring herself to name it.

A sound must have escaped her because Martin's eyes opened, glazed and unfocused, then in front of her eyes, in the throes of orgasm his body spasmed, and from his penis came spurts of thick white semen which splashed disgustingly over the cover carefully chosen by herself to match the carpet and curtains. The body behind him groaned and shuddered to a halt. Then the blonde head lifted and the bespattered hand that had been moving on her son's bloated penis came to her son's panting, half open mouth, touched the lips briefly, then moved to it's owner's mouth, for the tongue to lick.

At that instant, Jimmy looked up and saw her. For a moment they stared at each other, then she turned and fled, retching, to the bathroom and slammed the door.

Martin felt that his heart had stopped beating. During his orgasm he had seen his mother without really seeing her, but as the intensity began to fade, he knew that she had seen everything. He wanted to hide himself away somewhere and die. So strong was the feeling that he tried to pull himself away from Jimmy, as if by doing so he could expunge what she had witnessed. He felt no shame in the act itself, only that she had seen him; naked, erect, and in that most intimate and private of moments.

Jimmy refused to let him go. One arm tightened around him and the hand on his stomach held Martin so firmly he couldn't pull himself off that impaling masculinity. All he could do was move his head forward a little but Jimmy followed the movement and gently kissed the back of his neck.

"It's all right, Mart," Jimmy said in a soothing voice, gentling him as if he was some small, wild animal, trapped and terrified.

Very slowly, the soft voice and the caressing hand on his stomach worked their magic and Martin became more calm. Jimmy still held him firmly and after a while Martin stopped trying to pull away, accepting the presence still in his body.

"She had to know sometime, love," Jimmy said quietly as he felt Martin beginning to relax. "It's not the way I would have told her, but there's nothing we can do about that now."

In the bathroom the toilet flushed and they heard the door open. Convulsively Martin tried again to pull away, but again Jimmy's strong hand stopped him.

"Don't worry, love. She won't come back here." he said, feeling the boy's muscles tighten deliciously around him, and even as he spoke, heard Martha stumbling down the stairs. Jimmy waited until Martin had relaxed again, then slowly began to withdraw.

His feelings the exact reverse of those a moment ago, Martin said quickly in a small voice, "No. Don't leave me," and moved his free arm back to hold him.

Very gently Jimmy came out, leaving him feeling empty and incomplete. "Don't think I want to my Martin," he said lovingly, "But we have to go down and settle things with her once and for all. You're not afraid are you?"

Martin turned to face him. "I am," he said, with painful honesty, "But I'll be alright as long as you're with me. But when I'm alone with her later ..." he couldn't go on, the thought too awful to complete.

"Mart, I've asked you before to trust me and now I'm asking you again. Leave it to me. It's going to be okay, I promise. Just trust me," although even as he spoke, he wondered if he would really be able to pull it off. Martha Jackson was no pushover. Which was why he wanted to go on the attack now, while she was still demoralised. "Right. A quick shower together, no more than a rinse, then we'll go down and face her together."

Martin nodded, and for the first time ever they soaped each other in the intimacy of the shower without it going any further. When they were dressed, Jimmy took his hand and led him down the stairs.

Martha was sitting in her favourite chair, glass in hand. It was a moment before she looked at them and when she did, the look on her face made Martin move instinctively closer to Jimmy. Jimmy let go his hand to put an arm reassuringly around his waist.

"I don't know how you can look me in the face," she said to her son.

Jimmy sensed Martin nerving himself to speak and gave him a warning squeeze. "I don't see why," he said quietly.

Martha ignored him. "I'm not surprised," she went on in a withering voice. "You are exactly like your father."

"Like father, like son," Jimmy agreed. "You would think like that of course, and in a way you're right, though not the way you think."

Martha turned on him. "Keep out of this. Get your hands off my son and leave my house."

"I'm here for Martin. When he asks me to go, I'll go. And until he does, I will stay."

"He doesn't give orders around here and neither do you. If you don't leave immediately, I will call the police."

"And I will call the gutter press straight afterwards, so I don't think that would be wise," Jimmy replied in a considering tone. "Would you really like to continue this conversation in the police station, and later on in court? I know a great deal about you Mrs Public Prosecutor and I'm pretty sure you wouldn't like that. It would all come out you know, what we were doing just now, and what we've been doing for weeks."

He felt Martin wince and tightened his arm to reassure him.

For the first time, she really looked at Jimmy, trying to place him. Upstairs, she had recognised him as the youth who had been with Martin the day he visited his father. Now something about his stance triggered a deeper memory and took her back to a courtroom, and an insolent youth in the witness box. A youth that she had so soundly trounced.

"You did this deliberately," she said in a low voice. "I remember you now. You did this deliberately." Her voice began to rise. "You set out to seduce my son because he is my son! You preyed on him and led him into this! Oh yes, I remember you James Evans. I remember you very well in court that day and I'm not surprised at this. If I'd had my way, you would have been in the dock as well that day. With your, paramour!"

"I'm glad you remember me Mrs Jackson, because I remember you even better. I have never forgotten you, what you did and how you behaved. And I can say this to you now, because you haven't got your tame policemen around you, and there are no witnesses. Yes, I may have seduced Martin as you say, but do you really believe he would have allowed me to if he hadn't wanted it?"

Martha was on her feet in one angry movement. As she took two infuriated strides towards her son. Jimmy thrust Martin behind him and stood in her path.

"You will not hit him, Mrs Jackson. Not this time, not now, and never again. Keep your hands to yourself!"

He stood there, perfectly balanced, hands at his sides lightly clenched, ready to become fists at the smallest provocation. Martha stood still. Jimmy had grown and filled out since she had seen him last and she was facing a very determined, and fit young man, who clearly had no intention of getting out of her way. Even as she felt a jolt of unaccustomed fear, she thought it was typical of her son to shelter behind him. Involuntarily she took a step back, despising herself for doing it.

"I might have known he wouldn't have the courage to stand up for himself and fight his own battles," she said contemptuously.

Jimmy sensed Martin stirring and put his hand back to stop him. It was pure coincidence that it pressed against Martin's crotch, but to Martha it looked deliberate.

"There's no reason why he should," Jimmy said evenly, "As he's got me to fight for him."

"You! What do you care about him?" she snapped, despising Martin for his silence. She knew exactly how to reduce him to contemptible, trembling, obedience, and when she got the chance, she would to do exactly that. But first, she would have to get his lover, she used the word scornfully, out of the house. The thought calmed her. She looked Jimmy up and down. It was an effective weapon when she used it in court. "Well?" she said coldly.

"I care a lot more about him than you ever did," Jimmy said quietly, still poised to protect Martin physically if he needed to. "You're supposed to be his mother but you don't even like him, and you certainly never loved him. You never took the least care of him, never picked him up and cuddled him when he was hurt, never cared about what he was feeling or thinking. All you ever did was force your own ideas on him, give him orders, and expect him to obey you blindly. And even now, this very minute, you don't care what he's feeling. All you care about is how it affects you. As long as you get what you want, you're prepared to trample all over his feelings and you don't give a damn what he wants for himself.

"I know you Martha Jackson, and I know the type of person you are. I saw you in court that day and I've seen you in court many times since, and I know you for what you are. Did you think I'd forget the look on your face, as you sat there gloating when Jon was sentenced? You and people like you claim that you only do your duty, but I know better. I humiliated you a little while you were questioning me, you wanted for revenge, because you couldn't tolerate a sixteen year old standing up to you.

"You hide behind the law pretending that everything you do is right, working out your frustrations on powerless people who can't fight back. You're in exactly the right job. Not once did you or that Judge think of the misery you have caused to so many people over the years. I had plans for him as well, but all I can do is hope that he's burning in hell as he deserves. But you are still here, so lets see how you like being on the receiving end for once. This is just between you and me Mrs Senior Public Prosecutor, because now, you don't have the law, the courts and the police to back you up.

"You can't call them in because the minute this goes any further than the two of us the press will be down on to you like a pack of wolves, just as they were with Jon. Then you'll discover what it's like being on the wrong side of the publicity. They will twist and distort everything you say as they always do. There will be banner headlines all over the country and probably around the world too. How do you like that idea, Mrs Public Prosecutor about to become a Judge? Tell me," he invited.

"I've waited a very long time for this," he went on when she didn't answer. "I've waited and planned and now I've got you exactly where I want you and you are going to pay for what you did, the way I paid, and the way Jon paid. You drove him to kill himself, you and that judge between you, and that makes you guilty of murder in my book. I'm going to make you feel what it's like to be on the losing end, to feel what it's like when someone has total power over you, just as you had over Jon and me. If you piss me off just once you'll learn what it's like to get on the wrong side of me because I’m the one who has the power now, not you. And you'd better not forget it even for a minute, because I never forget and I never forgive."

Martha glared at him. "So that's what this is all about is it? Revenge! Cheap, theatrical revenge, like something out of a trashy film. Exactly the sort of thing that would appeal to your, puerile mind. You say you care for my son? You don't care for him any more than his father did. You used him! Used him simply to get at me. From the very beginning that was all you wanted from him. You say I didn't care for him? Well your supposed care for him doesn't look very good from where I'm standing. You exploited him and he was stupid enough to fall for it. My God, how I could have produced something so naive, stupid and plain disgusting I cannot imagine. And if he's disgusting, what does that make you, James Evans?"

"You're a fine one to talk about disgust," Jimmy interrupted, his control over his temper beginning to slip. "When last did you have a compassionate or even a human impulse? So he's disgusting is he? And so am I? Well what are you going to do about it? Send him away to that boarding school so you don't have to see him? Put him out of your mind and forget about him? That wouldn't be hard for you would it? But what about the holidays, or do you plan to leave him in school then as well? Do you seriously believe that you can change him into what you want him to be? If so, you're even more stupid than I thought. Nothing and no-one can change his nature. He is what he is. Even if you do send him to that school, you'll have to have him home sometime, and then what? Can you watch him every minute of the day, or will you employ a minder to do it for you? That will go down well with your colleagues when they find out! But that's what you'll have to do. He's a queer, a poof, a bumboy, a homo if you prefer, and what are you going to do about it? Get those perverted priests to beat it out of him? I'm sure they'd really enjoy trying and you'd enjoy it being done too, but however hard they hit him they won't succeed, because what he is, a confirmed homosexual, is not something you can beat out of anyone.”

"You revolting, depraved, male slut! I knew what you were the very second I saw you in court, you and that ... that gigolo of yours. It makes my skin crawl even to have you in my house. You debauched my son."

"Don't make me laugh! I debauched your son?" Jimmy said scornfully. "He knew what he wanted from the beginning, it just took him a little time to realise it. And once he knew, he wanted it as much as I did, and wants it more and more all the time. Your son is bent Martha Jackson, not bent like the coppers you love so much, but bent as in queer. I've never forced anyone to have sex with me, they wanted it as much I did, or more. And he's exactly the same. Like his father!"

"Get out of my house!" Martha shouted. Not even when she had caught her husband out, had she felt such rage. It was him, this, this youth. This cheeky, disrespectful, insolent youth, and, she realised suddenly, her son too! Her son had been plotting, scheming, conniving with him to deliberately deceive her! "Get out! Get out of my house and take him with you. He's no son of mine. He never was."

"Do you think I don't know that. You couldn't stand him from the minute he was born. That's why you treated him like shit. Call yourself his mother? If the rest of the human race was like you it would have died out centuries ago. All you ever cared about was your bloody career. You never gave him a single thought or cared about him in the way that ordinary people care for their children. As for loving him, you don't even know the meaning of the word!"

"And you do I suppose? You're going to stand there and tell me that you love him?"

"Yes," Jimmy said more calmly, "I'm going to tell you exactly that. I love him and I'm going to take care of him. He will get whatever he needs, and whatever he wants from me. Which is a hell of a lot more than you ever gave him."

"Oh for pity's sake. Do you think I've forgotten you standing up shamelessly in court not so long ago, whining and snivelling that you loved and needed that, Jonathan Melton? You may have haven't forgotten, but I haven't. I have never forgotten the spectacle you made of yourself, and I vividly remember you claiming that you would love him forever. Well now, boy, tell me. How long did that last? Two weeks? Three weeks even, after he went to prison? Is that what you mean by forever?"

She paused for a moment then continued, her voice glacial. "I suppose it's going to be different this time, is it? Perhaps it's going to be longer than forever, this time. You're going to be together and in love for much longer, this time. It might even last for five weeks, this time! Spare me! I know what people like you are like, God knows I've seen enough of them in court. I'll tell you exactly how long it's going to last this time. It will last up to the moment another good-looking deviant comes along and makes eyes at one or other of you. Then it will be over. You think you're going to live together happily ever after like some nauseating fairy tale do you? Oh I can see it now. You two apologies for men living together in a half baked fashion. How touching. How sweet" she said, her voice dripping sarcasm.

"The first time one of you looks at someone else you'll be scratching each other's eyes out if you're not hitting each other with your handbags. And which of you is going to be the man in the relationship? It will have to be you, my limpwristed son certainly hasn't got it in him. In fact living with you and twining himself around you for support would suit him right down to the ground. It's what he was born for. But mark my words James Evans, it's not going to happen. If you think I'm going to stand by while you turn him into even more of a mincing catamite than he is already, you can think again. The very thought of you inducing him to take part in that, that loathsome act sickens me. Pushing your ... your ...yourself into his ... Not even pigs carry on like that. Coupling in a way that not even the lowest animals would dream of. Spreading your filth, an affront to decent people, an affront to God! If I had my way you and everyone like you, male and female, would be locked up for the rest of your lives to protect the rest of us. You disgust me. The pair of you."

"Not as much as you disgust me, you foul mouthed harridan! Look at you, standing there so upright, so convinced you're right and everyone else is wrong. You don't have an iota of feeling or sympathy for Martin. You haven't said a single word about loving him, not one word about sympathising with him, not a word about trying to understand him, not one word about his thoughts or his feelings. All his life, all you've ever done is criticise him for not being exactly like you. You've hardly said a decent word to him, or said a kind word about him to anyone else. All you've done is lay down the law as if you, and everyone who thinks as you do, are the only ones who count. An apology for a man is he? Well let me tell you this, Martha Jackson, he's more of a man already than you are a woman. And even if he wasn't, what gives you the right to force him to be something he isn't and doesn't want to be?

"Much you've ever cared for him or his needs. When he needed sympathy, reassurance and support did you ever give it to him? Not bloody likely, all you worried about was your career and so long as he didn't interfere with that, you tolerated him. But the minute he stepped out of line or did something that you didn't like, or when he needed a little of your attention, then it was a different story. Then he was a sissy. Then he needed to be kept up to the mark. Then his nose had to be kept to the grindstone.

"I could forgive you if you'd done it out of love for him, but you don't know what the word means. But understand this Mrs Jackson, however badly you and the vicious people like you try to treat him, you won't succeed because I'll be there to protect him from you. I'll be there to pick him up when he falls and hurts himself. I'll be there to help him sort things out at that appalling school you sent him to. I'll be there to nurse him when he's sick, to comfort him when he's sad, and to cheer him up when he's unhappy. I'll be there because I love him and I want to see him happy.

"And I'll tell you something else. He has something now that you've never had and never will have because you've never been worth it, and that is someone who loves him. Between us there's not only love, not just passion and sex, but friendship and companionship, jokes and laughter, caring and tenderness. And if you want to think of that as effeminate, I don't give a damn and neither does he. We know what we are and accept what we are. Not perfect but a bloody side better than you with your narrow minded nastiness. You're not going to turn him into something like yourself! I won't let you even to attempt it, because in the process you would destroy every bit of talent he has, not just for writing - and when did you ever take the slightest bit of interest in that? - but his talent for living and loving."

Jimmy stopped speaking, panting slightly from the intensity of his emotions and wondering if anything he had said had got through to her. Just saying it had got much out of his system and he felt almost light headed with relief. For a few minutes, as he had faced her for the first time since the trial, he had been again that bitter, angry and vengeful sixteen year old. He had felt again that fierce anger and wanted nothing more than to see her, and her career, utterly destroyed. But that had changed as he'd been speaking, from the child he was then to the young adult he was now, able to meet her on equal terms both mentally and physically. He was as tall as she was, physically stronger, but still retained the mental agility and strength of youth. He no longer hated her, or felt that she should be made to pay for her crimes against Jonathan. What he cared for now was Martin's happiness, and making sure that she would never again do to him, what she had done that morning. That was what he would concentrate on.

When she didn't reply, he thought for a moment then said quietly, "We don't just love each other you know, we like and respect each other as well."

"Respect?" Martha spat, "After what I saw you doing upstairs. What sort of respect is that. It's obviously a word that you don't know the meaning of. As for him... do you understand that thanks to you he is in a state of mortal sin? That when he dies he will go to hell? Though I'm beginning to think that it's where he belongs. My only comfort is that you will be there with him."

Jimmy looked at her measuringly for a moment, and then he smiled.

"Do you know," he said. "I don't believe in all that rubbish. But if it does turn out to be true and you are there in heaven, you and the others like you, we'd rather go down below. Neither of us would touch your heaven with a barge pole. You can stuff it!"

Martha glared at him.

"Get out of my house," she said between clenched teeth, looking at him with loathing. "Get out. And if you ever interfere with my son again, so help me, I will call the police."

"Leave him to your tender mercies?" Jimmy replied, shaking his head. "No Mrs Jackson. No way. After what you did to him this morning? When I leave this house, he goes with me or I go to the newspapers. I can see the headlines now; 'Public Prosecutor's Underage Gay Son had Sex in Front of Mother' - 'Hard on Homosexuals Prosecutor's Son is Queer' - 'Bumboy in Court, Prosecuted by Mother, Tells all.' And of course, the big one, 'Prosecutor Mother of Gay Son Forced to Resign. Career wrecked by Scandal of Son Buggered in front of her.' "

He saw her wince and turned the knife in the wound, aware that this was his final chance to convince her, wishing that he had Martin's way with words. "No-one would be interested in your side of the story after I gave them the details. The press wouldn't be able to publish half of them of course, but it wouldn't make any difference. They would skirt around the edges and hint at the salacious bits, they're very good at that, and everyone would know exactly what they meant. They'd crucify you. Especially when they learned that you, the person who prosecutes parents for assaulting their kids, had assaulted your own son. Twice that we know of, but how many other times? everyone would wonder. There wouldn't be a minute of your life that they wouldn't go over to find something damaging. How much of your career would be left after that?

"You know as well as I do how the establishment operates. They never forgive a scandal, and particularly one like that. You'd never be a judge. If you had to try a case involving gays, and you gave a lenient sentence, the press would say that it was because your son was gay, and if you did the opposite, they would say the same thing. But either way of course, they'd bring everything up all over again to sell their papers, and the great British public would lap it up and talk about it and gloat over it for days. Oh no, you wouldn't be a judge, I don't suppose they'd even let you carry on as a prosecutor."

He let it sink in for a minute the said in an offhand tone, "Of course it would be done tactfully. I don't suppose they'd actually fire you, just shunt you off into some obscure department never to promoted or heard of again. Or they could make you announce that you were resigning for reasons of health, not to spend more time with your family of course, that wouldn't work under the circumstances. But they'd make sure you went one way or another. They can apply so much pressure, taking away your pension, things like that, you know better than I do how it's done. Think about it, years and years of hard work down the drain and just when you were beginning to get somewhere. Of course you could still work as a defence lawyer, hundreds of gays are prosecuted every year, and you with your intimate knowledge, because you have a gay husband and a gay son, would be in a good position to pick up work. You might find it a little uncongenial though, gays so seldom win no matter how well they're defended. Or you could give it up altogether and work in an office as a legal secretary or something."

She turned slightly away from him and he watched her profile, wondering if he had said enough. He didn't underrate her intelligence but she was badly off balance and he decided to let her think about it for a minute.

He turned to smile reassuringly at Martin, but he wasn't there. He didn't know at what point he had left the room, and knowing how he must be feeling, Jimmy desperately wanted to go and find him, but he didn't dare. Things were in too critical a state. He faced Martha again. She was looking sick he thought with satisfaction, but was careful not to let it show. He'd made that mistake once before.

She said nothing because she was struggling with emotions she had never had to handle. No-one had threatened her like this before. Certainly there had been occasions when she had been verbally abused at the end of a trial, but it had never worried her because she hadn't felt it was directed at her personally. It was the system she represented which had been the real target. Besides which, it had only happened in the context of the courtroom. Although the insolence of the threats had irritated her, she had never felt unsafe. She was an officer of the judicial system after all, and the full weight of the law would have protected her as a matter of course had she been in any real danger. But at this moment, here in her own house, it was a different matter entirely, and personal in a way that left her both vulnerable and unprotected.

She knew as well as Jimmy did how the press would revel in the story. And although Martin's name couldn't be revealed, she would be easy enough to identify and then the rumours and innuendoes would start to fly. Particularly when the youth confronting her was named, as would certainly happen. The newspapers would be ecstatic. The story had everything they loved; underage sex, an underage victim, revenge, blackmail, the murky past of the articulate blackmailer, suicide, herself as the hated establishment figure to be brought down. The story would run and run. Yes, she thought bitterly, they would find out who she was quickly enough then all hell would break loose. And she had been specifically warned to avoid the slightest hint of scandal. This wouldn’t be a hint, it would be the scandal to end all scandals.

As she thought about it, her anger flared again. That Martin, Martin, her own son, should do this to her and lay her open to this sordid situation. For a wild moment she was seriously tempted to go through with it and damn the consequences, for the sheer pleasure of seeing the look on the face of the youth in front of her. He'd get a very long sentence she thought viciously, whatever weak excuses he brought forward in his defence. But it would be a hollow victory, because by then her career would be in ruins.

As for her, her son, she could send him to Yorkshire after the trial and they would be able to keep him quiet for a couple of years. But once he turned eighteen he could do and say what he liked, and nobody could stop him. Anyway, it was immaterial. Without a well paying job she couldn't afford to send him to Yorkshire anyway. I should have packed him off with his father in the first place she thought angrily, but it's too late now, the damage is done.

She had a sudden vision of Martin describing the scene upstairs to a judge and jury, with herself in the body of the court instead of at it's apex. A mere, powerless parent, humiliatingly forced to listen to the acts committed, and worse, the acts enjoyed by her depraved son. She would be called by the prosecution to confirm every sickening detail, because she had been an eye witness.

No! She couldn't go through with it. Even if she had resigned by then it wouldn't help. Any defence lawyer worth his salt would bring up every unpleasant detail of the last five years, including the reason her husband had left her. The humiliation! And suppose Martin wrote about it himself? She hadn't forgotten the episode at primary school when he was ten. He'd find a newspaper or a publisher easily enough, even if he had to wait until he was eighteen. No, she couldn't just throw everything away like that. She hadn't got where she was by cutting off her nose to spite her face, the childish saying suddenly occurring to her. Although Evans would pay dearly if she went to the police, her son would come out of it almost unscathed. In point of fact, he would come out of it a lot better than she would and very well off into the bargain because he'd be paid a fortune for his story. He had nothing to lose. She had everything to lose, and lose she would.

Jimmy, watching her closely, saw the slight sag of her shoulders and decided it was the moment to give her a face saving way of getting out of the corner she was in.

"It doesn't have to be like that," he said quietly. "Let him go to his father. That's what he wants and no-one will think twice about it. Do it quietly without any fuss and everyone will get what they want. His father wants him, and once he's out of the way you can concentrate on becoming a judge and you will achieve everything that you've worked for. If he stays with you, whatever you do, he will always be a liability."

He wondered if he had said enough, but decided to add something more.

"It won't get any better. You might be able to control him for another year or so, but he has grown up a lot in the last few months and it won't be easy. He'll be resentful, sulky, sullen, disobedient, and you will have to spend more and more time, and more and more energy trying to make him behave. He will defy you, fight you, and oppose you every step of the way. You can't watch him twenty-four hours a day and you can't lock him in the house, so he will do what he likes and you won't know what he's up to until he gets into real trouble, probably with the police. You could try sending him to that boarding school, but his father would oppose it and even if he failed to stop you, he would insist that Martin spend his holidays with him, if you refused to have him here."

He waited a moment for this to sink in then added, "Let him go, and this can forgotten. His father has agreed to have him."

Martha stiffened. She realised that she was being manipulated, but decided wearily that it didn't matter. More than ever she wanted to go upstairs, have that long cool bath and then go to bed. She'd had a long, frustrating and desperately tiring day, and was both physically and emotionally worn out. She wanted to go to bed and sleep for hours, but of course she couldn't. She would have to get Martin's supper, or nag him into making it himself, various household chores were waiting to be done, laundry, ironing, his as well as her own. If she didn't have him to worry about, she could leave everything until tomorrow.

She would have to make arrangements for the rest of the week while he was on holiday as well. She couldn't leave him on his own, not now that she knew what he'd been doing. And no matter what arrangements she made, she couldn't watch him all the time. She knew what they were like, and if he wasn't with this, this animal, he would be with someone else. She knew the type, they had no self-control. All they wanted was to indulge their, appetites, and anyone, man or boy, friend or stranger, would do. She wouldn't know if he'd brought people to the house either, and would wonder about it every time she came home. She would have to check his sheets. He might even do it on her own bed out of sheer wickedness. Her stomach heaved at the thought.

All at once she wanted to be done with him. She never wanted to see him again, or at least, not until she'd had a chance to forget that scene upstairs. If she ever did. She had a vision of the house without him. Peaceful, undemanding, and herself able to concentrate her energies without distraction on what was best for her. No tidying up to do, no shoes on bedspreads, no dirty towels all over the bathroom, no unreasonable demands on her time and energy, no checking of homework to do. Her selfish heart embraced the vision. As this, this creature had said, no-one would know the real circumstances. It would be considered quite natural for him to live with his father, in fact her superiors would almost certainly approve of it.

"I won't let him go to you," she said eventually, looking at Jimmy with unconcealed distaste.

"That will be for him and his father to decide," he said firmly, determined to make sure that she let Martin go totally. "Either you give him up completely, or you keep him. You can't have it both ways."

Martha's vision of the pleasant, peaceful house collapsed abruptly and was replaced by one of a sulky, surly, rude teenager, daily becoming more difficult to handle, getting up to God knows what when she wasn't there, and probably falling foul of the law out of sheer perversity. She shook her head slightly to drive it away. If only this debased individual wasn't involved she might be tempted. And what about his soul? She knew her duty as a Catholic parent, none better. But how could she do anything about it? Neither she nor Father Jarrell had been able to overcome his obstinacy and there was no way that they could force him to receive the sacraments, or even attend Mass. She shuddered to think of the scene he might create if they were to try, and recalled him asking sarcastically if she intended to drag him to confession and communion by force. She wouldn't put it past him to start shouting about how she treated him in the Church itself, if she forced him to attend. And what force could she apply in any case?

She realised as she considered it, how little real power she had over him now. Neither upbringing nor the example of her own correct behaviour, had had any effect on him. As for the sinful relationship he'd been enjoying, he had amply demonstrated that he had neither qualms nor guilt about it, in fact had embraced it eagerly. Like father like son, she thought bitterly.

Let the priest worry about his soul she decided, it was his responsibility now, she had done her best and could do no more. She would have to handle Father Jarrell carefully or he might cause trouble, but that was the least of so many evils, and she had no doubt of her ability to take care of it.

"Very well," she said coldly after a very long silence. "Take him to his father."

Jimmy said nothing, just nodded and turned towards the stairs. He realised that his hands were shaking and thrust them into his pockets before she noticed. We've done it, he thought, we've bloody done it. We're rid of her for good. If he hadn't been feeling so drained he would have danced and shouted all the way up the stairs to Martin's bedroom. We'll only pack his school stuff, notebooks and a change of clothes. She can burn the rest for all I care, I'll buy him whatever else he needs. We'll see about a new school if that's what he wants and we'll keep up the fiction of us being stepbrothers. I'll get Brian to draw up a power of attorney or whatever for Joe to sign.

He had few illusions about Joe, and it came to him suddenly that he was going to be totally, and probably legally, responsible for Martin for the next three years until he turned eighteen. I'm all he's really got, poor little toad he thought, awed by the idea. But we'll manage. With a light heart, he tapped gently on Martin's bedroom door and walked in without waiting for a reply. Martin's dirty clothes were where they had dropped them, still scattered on the floor. But of the boy himself, there was no sign.

The room was empty.

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