“Closing the Distance” Taster

Chapter One

Marvin Starratt was a despicable human being.

An assessment Judge Chambers heartily agreed with and sent him down for eleven years; apologising to the court, the public gallery and the journalists on the press bench for not being able to incarcerate him longer.

“Unhappily, this is the maximum sentence I can impose,” he said. “I can only recommend that you are made to serve the full term.”

I watched from the public gallery. Starratt had beaten up and raped a client of mine, and four other women, over a period of seven months. I helped find him and get him arrested. A small victory, in the legal sense – and you have to hang on to those – but Starratt had brutally invaded the lives of five women and changed them forever.

My client and I met downstairs in the lobby. We shook hands.

“Thank you,” she said.

“My pleasure,” I said.

She turned, negotiated the big glass swing door and stepped out into the street.

The chances are, Louise and I will never meet again. She came to me in distress; frustrated and angry that the police were making no progress in finding the man they considered their prime suspect. Upright coppers have to work by the book. I’m liberated from that kind of consideration. Admittedly, I don’t have their resources, but I can go places they can’t. I found Starratt by breaking in to a flat in Stokes Croft. He swung at me with a cricket bat. I took it from him and hit him with it and delivered him to the police. Louise gave me a cheque, the Inspector heading up the investigation team gave me his thanks and Starratt got his day in court. It was a job satisfactorily done. But I couldn’t help to manage the fall-out. This is always the bit that bothers me. And the bit that never lets go entirely. My client cases get filed away in my office filing cabinet and each time, I hope there has been something about the case that has added to my learning experience. Something that will short cut the route to a successful conclusion of the next job I take on.

There was an angry bellow from behind me. I swung round and looked back across the lobby. A man in a brown tweed suit was squaring up to a barrister who was taking off his wig. He ripped the wig out of the barrister’s hand it and threw it across the lobby.

“Call that a fucking defence?” he yelled.

Lloyd Starratt was laying in to his brother’s brief.

None of the Starratts could be described as nature’s noblemen. The family had lived in the Forest of Dean since Noah was a lad. Earning a living down the years, as woodsmen, charcoal burners, farmers, miners, landowners, petty criminals and local terrorists. The whole tribe of head bangers and hard cases operated, without much correction, like the bad guys in a Kentucky backwoods movie.

This one, Marvin’s older brother Lloyd, was the head of the clan. In his mid 50s, odious, obnoxious; at the moment in his default setting and making his presence felt. As hard as nails and a seasoned scrapper, he had a lot of clout in his neck of the woods. A member of the Rotary Club, a big noise in the Severn Valley Hunt and briefly, the local Tory party agent – for a particularly barmy right wing MP who got in at a by election but was, mercifully, ousted at the following general election, when the good people of the constituency returned to their senses. Perhaps more damaging, for a while during the 90s, he contrived, somehow, to get himself on to the JP’s bench. An alarming west country re-creation of Elmore Leonard’s Maximum Bob.

The barrister, took a couple of paces backwards. Lloyd squared up to him again. The barrister looked around for help. A couple of security men sped across the lobby and intervened before Lloyd could do any damage. He elbowed one of them in the chest and attempted to kick the other in the crutch, before they managed to pin his arms to his sides and haul him across the lobby to the swing door. As Lloyd passed me, I was given the benefit of his opinion too.

“As for you, you fucker… Just you fucking wait.”

The security men heaved him into the door and swung him out into the street. He completed a full 360 on the pavement before he regained his balance. Then he focused on me through the glass and malevolently gave me the finger. I gave him a cheery wave.