The Rapunzel Act: A Burton & Lamb Case (Burton and Lamb Thrillers) by Abi Silver
Judith Burton and Constance Lamb are my two main protagonists, the equal-but-opposites legal duo, who have lent their names to the series. In this extract, Constance tells Judith for the first time about the new scheme to film and live stream criminal trials and they discuss its impact on Debbie Mallard’s trial for the murder of her former spouse.
Judith took her blue notebook from her bag and wrote the date at the top of the first page.
‘Some things never change, then,’ Constance giggled.
‘That’s unfair,’ Judith laughed too. ‘I have embraced many aspects of twenty-first-century technology, I even have an electric toothbrush! But the feel of the words is as important as their look and sound; the shapes they make when I write them down.’
‘If you say so.’
Judith sat back and placed both hands flat on top of her newspapers. ‘What is it?’ she said.
‘Something’s bothering you.’
‘All right,’ Constance stopped typing. ‘Given the timing, the case is likely to fall within the new “public transparency” pilot scheme. It’s going to be filmed for public viewing.’
‘I anticipated that.’
‘And you’re OK with it?’
‘Not really,’ Judith shook her head. ‘But you’re the one who’s always telling me to move with the times.’
‘I was so worried what you were going to say,’ Constance spluttered, then broke out in a broad grin. ‘I can see that it could be a really positive thing,’ she continued. ‘I mean, it’s great for us, because we can watch the prosecution witnesses later on, really see their reactions when you ask them questions, rather than relying on memory.’
‘And see where we’ve slipped up – all the questions I should have asked, but forgot…’
‘And, it helps our witnesses too. You’re often saying how difficult witnesses find it being in court, when it’s such an alien atmosphere. This way, they get to see the process over and over in other cases, before they give their evidence.’
‘I wish I could share your enthusiasm. I just see it as another nail in the coffin of the professions. First, they devalued teachers, then doctors and now it’s our turn. Show enough court cases on TV and then every wannabe Harvey Specter will want to have a go. But if Debbie’s case is in the scheme, there’s nothing we can do, so no point complaining.’
Constance was silent. Judith’s stoic response was considerably better than expected.
‘What about motive?’ Judith asked.
‘That’s the thing; there isn’t one. Well, there’s this whisper of “money trouble”, like I said, but it’s just gossip and Dawson is trying to say there’s a history of violence. I told you about the 999 call.’
‘So the prosecution will most likely play it as a domestic incident, the culmination of months or years of abuse. Debbie’s admitted she was there, too. All right. I’m going to wade through the papers and make some notes. Shout if anything jumps out at you. Otherwise, let’s break in an hour for another brainstorm.’
Judith grabbed the top newspaper and peered in close. Constance watched her for a moment. She was pleased that Judith was here, wasn’t she? If she’d instructed someone else, she wouldn’t have the same collaborative approach. Most barristers expected her to do all the work and they just picked up the papers at the court door. Judith wasn’t like that, partly because she didn’t need the work or the money. She just loved solving the puzzle.
‘Did you used to do them, when you were younger?’ Constance asked.
Judith finished her coffee.
‘Yes. Didn’t you? Or was there some new-fangled version you completed, online, in your youth.’
‘No. There were jigsaws, but I didn’t have any.’ Constance thought back to the tiny flat she and Jermain had shared with her mum, not far from where they were now. Maybe she had completed some jigsaws when she was really young, those wooden ones that nursery school kids use. But she couldn’t remember owning the more difficult variety, the 500 or 1,000 piece landscapes; a scenic railway, a forest, a cityscape: Rio de Janeiro, Venice, New York.
She watched Judith at work and, feeling the heat of her gaze, Judith looked up and smiled at her. She smiled back and returned to her laptop and Google searches.
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