Henry is waiting for her by the rear entrance. There are television cameras, as well as the protesters at the front of the High Court for the last day. He had warned her there would be. She emerges from the taxi, and when he sees what she is carrying, his smile turns into a grimace. ‘Is that what I … You didn’t have to do that! If it goes against us we’d have made them send a security van. Jesus Christ, Liv! You can’t just carry a multi-million-pound work of art around like a loaf of bread.’
Liv’s hands are tight around it. ‘Is Paul here?’
‘Paul?’ He’s hurrying her towards the courts, like a doctor ferrying a sick child into a hospital.
‘McCafferty? Not a clue.’ He glances again at the bundle. ‘Bloody hell, Liv. You could have warned me.’
She follows him through Security and into the corridor. He calls the guard over and motions to the painting. The guard looks startled, nods, and says something into his radio. Extra security is apparently on its way. Only when they actually enter the courtroom does Henry begin to relax. He sits, lets out a long breath, rubs at his face with both palms. Then he turns to Liv. ‘You know, it’s not over yet,’ he says, smiling ruefully at the painting. ‘Hardly a vote of confidence.’
She says nothing. She scans the courtroom, which is fast filling around them. Above her in the public gallery the faces peer down at her, speculative and impassive, as if she herself is on trial. She tries not to meet anyone’s eye. She spies Marianne in tangerine, her plastic earrings a matching shade, and the old woman gives a little wave and an encouraging thumbs-up; a friendly face in a sea of blank stares. She sees Janey Dickinson settle into a seat further along the bench, exchanging a few words with Flaherty. The room fills with the sound of shuffling feet, polite conversation, scraping chairs and dropped bags. The reporters chat companionably to each other, swigging at polystyrene cups of coffee and sharing notes. Someone hands someone else a spare pen. She’s trying to quell a rising sense of panic. It’s nine forty. Her eyes stray towards the doors again and again, watching for Paul. Have faith, she thinks. He will come.
She tells herself the same thing at nine fifty, and nine fifty-two. And then at nine fifty-eight. Just before ten o’clock, the judge enters. The courtroom rises. Liv feels a sudden panic. He’s not coming. After all this, he’s not coming. Oh, God, I can’t do this if he’s not here. She forces herself to breathe deeply and closes her eyes, trying to calm herself.
Henry is paging through his files. ‘You okay?’
Her mouth appears to have filled with powder. ‘Henry,’ she whispers, ‘can I say something?’
‘Can I say something? To the court? It’s important.’
‘Now? The judge is about to announce his verdict.’
‘This is important.’
‘What do you want to say?’
‘Just ask him. Please.’
His face shows incredulity, but something in her expression convinces him. He leans forward, muttering to Angela Silver. She glances behind her at Liv, frowning, and after a short exchange, she stands and asks for permission to approach the bench. Christopher Jenks is invited to join them.
As barristers and judge consult quietly, Liv feels her palms beginning to sweat. Her skin prickles. She glances around her at the packed courtroom. The air of quiet antagonism is almost palpable. Her hands tighten on the painting. Imagine you are Sophie, she tells herself. She would have done it.
Finally the judge speaks.
‘Apparently Mrs Olivia Halston would like to address the court.’ He glances at her from over the top of his spectacles. ‘Go ahead, Mrs Halston.’
She stands, and makes her way to the front of the court, still clutching the painting. She hears each footstep on the wooden floor, is acutely aware of all the eyes upon her. Henry, perhaps still fearful about the painting, stands a few feet from her.
She takes a deep breath. ‘I would like to say a few words about The Girl You Left Behind.’ She pauses for a second, registering the surprise on the faces around her, and continues, her voice thin, wavering slightly in the silence. It seems to belong to someone else.
‘Sophie Lefèvre was a brave, honourable woman. I think – I hope this has become clear through what’s been heard in court.’ She is vaguely aware of Janey Dickinson’s face, scratching something in her notebook, the muttered boredom of the barristers. She closes her fingers around the frame, and forces herself to keep going.
‘My late husband, David Halston, was also a good man. A really good man. I believe now that, had he known Sophie’s portrait, the painting he loved, had this – this history, he would have given it back long ago. My contesting this case has caused his good name to be removed from the building that was his life and his dream, and that is a source of immense regret to me, because that building – the Goldstein – should have been his memorial.’
She sees the reporters look up, the ripple of interest that passes over their bench. Several of them consult, start scribbling.
‘This case – this painting – has pretty much destroyed what should have been his legacy, just as it destroyed Sophie’s. In this way they have both been wronged.’ Her voice begins to break. She glances around her. ‘For that reason I would like it on record that the decision to fight was mine alone. If I have been mistaken, I’m so very sorry. That’s all. Thank you.’
She takes two awkward steps to the side. She sees the reporters scribbling furiously, one checking the spelling of Goldstein. Two solicitors on the bench are talking urgently. ‘Nice move,’ says Henry, softly, leaning in to her. ‘You’d have made a good lawyer.’
I did it, she tells herself silently. David is publicly linked to his building now, whatever the Goldsteins do.
The judge asks for silence. ‘Mrs Halston. Have you finished pre-empting my verdict?’ he says wearily.
Liv nods. Her throat has dried. Janey is whispering to her lawyer.
‘And this is the painting in question, is it?’
‘Yes.’ She is still holding it tightly to her, like a shield.
He turns to the court clerk. ‘Can someone arrange for it to be placed in safe custody? I’m not entirely sure it should be sitting out here. Mrs Halston?’
Liv holds out the painting to the court clerk. Just for a moment her fingers seem oddly reluctant to release it, as if her inner self has decided to ignore the instruction. When she finally lets go, the clerk stands there, briefly frozen, as if she has handed him something radioactive.
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