Esme’s heart was pounding through her chest. She could hear Sam’s footsteps thumping wildly behind her and her coffee stained breath on the back of her neck.
The girls ran through Bridgeport, past the Docklands and up through the industrial estate which had recently been labelled the up-and-coming area of Bridgeport – Esme just thought it was tatty and dilapidated. Down through the building quarry they flew the police hot on their tales. Even though they did not dare stop and look round they knew they were there, just inches away ready to pounce. A stitch shot through Esme’s chest and she forced herself to push through the pain pounding the ground heavily and running even faster than she knew she was capable of.
Just as she came out the other end of the query she suddenly heard a shriek coming from behind. She stopped dead and spun on her heels to see Sam slumped on the ground nursing her ankle and trying to stand up but failing.
Within a split second she contemplated going back for her best friend and partner in crime but seeing a cop swiftly moving behind her she realised there was no point – there was not enough time to save them both. She flipped herself round and once again ran, the stich in her chest relentless. As she rounded a stack of oil barrels she was running so hard and so fast that she did not notice she had run straight into a cop coming from the opposite direction until it was too late!
“You know it was not me who told them about you,” Alfie said. He had been sitting in the visiting room with Esme for over 20 minutes and this was the first thing either of them had spoken.
“I know,” Esme responded. It came out in a whisper though it sounded louder in her head. “They found my finger prints on some of the relics they recovered. Silly me really, number one rule is to always wear gloves. I don’t know why we didn’t!” She went silent and looked down at her hands. Why was she sharing all this with him?
“Why are you here Alfie?”
“I was worried about you, I am worried about you. I wish I could help. I wish there was something I could do!”
“The only thing you can do is leave and never think of me again Alfie. I’m bad news and I’ve hurt too many people already. I don’t want to hurt you even more. You don’t deserve this.”
“I’ll wait for you,” he replied looking straight at her. “I’ll wait forever.”
“I don’t want you to,” Esme replied sighing loudly. This was not going to be easy. “I don’t want you Alfie. Go home to your family. Go home to your wife!”
“I know you don’t mean that. After all we have been through I know that the way I feel about you is no lie and I know you feel it too.”
“I don’t,” Emse shrieked. “I don’t love you! Please leave!”
But Alfie did not budge. He sat rooted to his chair like he had not heard her. “GO,” she screamed again turning her face from him. Eventually she heard the scrapping of the chair legs across the floor and the slamming of the jail door. She did not watch him leave; instead she let her heavy head slump down onto the cold wooden table and allowed the tears to finally fall.
Alfie walked away from Bridgeport City Prison like a zombie. He drifted home and once he got there he could not even remember driving himself. “Hi Joan,” he said coming through the door and greeting his wife who was busy preparing a microwave dinner. “Is Ronny home?”
“Nope,” Joan snapped back without evening turning round. “She went back with a friend after school today. Thank goodness for that as I needed to some peace and quiet for a change.”
“Joan we need to talk.”
Finally she turned and folded her arms across her chest giving off an air that made Alfie feel like he was an inconvenience to her. “Go on then – talk!”
Alfie drifted over to his wife of ten years. Where did it all go wrong? They were high school sweethearts and he remembered how Joan used to laugh and smile all the time. But that was not the woman who stood before him now. Somehow she had turned into a resentful bitter woman who wanted everyone around her to know how unsatisfied she was with her life.
“They found the people who robbed the Gallery,” he started. Always start on a good note he reminded himself. At least he had learnt something from community collage.
“About bloody time,” Joan retorted. “Who was it?”
“Oh just some girls but that’s not what I wanted to talk to you about.”
“Oh yeah?” She eyed him suspiciously.
“Yeah I err…. I need to let you know that I err… I’ve been sleeping with someone else and I am leaving you……”
Alfie watched the sun rise from his hotel room window. Joan had not even let Alfie get his tooth brush after his confession the night before. She kicked him out there and then slamming the door in his face and vowing to make his life hell from now on. Not that he really cared, if he was honest with himself lying in the dingy old hotel room was a relief after being stuck with Joan for all these years. In a way he had wished he had done it earlier but he had stuck around for Ronny’s sake.
But the demise of his marriage was not the only thing running through his head. In just a few hours it was Esme’s court hearing where she could be sentenced for up to fifteen years behind bars! He couldn’t let it happen no matter what she had said to him the day before! He needed to do something! Various scenarios played out in his head and he had to dismiss each of them as they were too preposterous. And then the simplest idea in the world struck him – why hadn’t he thought of it before! He hopped off his bed and grabbed his cell phone; there was only one person who could help him. “Hello Stacey. I’m sorry to call you so early but I need a huge favour….”
“The Prosecution calls Mr Alfie Lakes to the bench your honour. He is the curator of Bridgeport City Gallery and will testify on what has been stolen.” Esme had been sitting in the court room for over three hours listening to the evidence from the Prosecutor, a man called Mr Heal who for some reason reminded Esme of a rodent.
When she heard Alfie’s name being called her heart skipped a beat. She had had no idea he was going to be called! She had thought she would never have to see him again after what she said to him yesterday and the shame made her feel sick. As she heard the back doors of the court room open she hid her head the best she could so she would not have to look at him.
Too late! As soon as he got to the front of the courtroom and swore on the bible, he looked straight at her and smiled. There’s that dam smile again, Esme thought to herself. Doesn’t he know what he’s doing to me? But just as quick as the smile spread, it disappeared and Alfie’s face changed to horror.
“What is the meaning of this,” he said confronting the court. “Why is this lady here?”
“This is Miss Esme Starr,” the Prosecutor said suddenly looking rather anxious, “the defendant.”
“I know who this is but she cannot be the defendant,” Alfie raged. “She is one of my most valuable customers.”
Esme looked up at Alfie, what was he doing? Had he gone mad?!
“What are you talking about Mr Lakes,” the Judge piped in. “Are you saying that this lady is one of your customers?”
“Yes she is,” he replied turning his back on Esme and addressing the Judge. “And a very respected one who has spent a lot of money in my Gallery. Why would you have her in custody?”
“Miss Starr’s prints were all over the stolen relics that have been recovered Mr Lakes,” the prosecutor stated getting exasperated by his witness. “Plus she is a known thief having spent three years already incarcerated.”
“Well of course her prints were on the relics,” Alfie replied in the same tone. “Miss Starr had been planning on buying those said relics before they were stolen. When she found out they were gone she was very distraught but in the end she purchased some other items.”
“Can you prove this Mr Lakes,” asked the judge.
“Of course I can. My assistant Stacey Breen has accompanied me to court today and she can vouch for Miss Starr.” Alfie pointed over at Stacey who was beaming from ear to ear – she just loved being involved in any drama.
“Miss Breen will you please stand up,” the judge instructed.
“Objection,” the prosecutor shrieked before she had the chance to rise from her bench. “All evidence has to be submitted in advance!”
“Overruled Mr Heal,” the Judge responded. “There is no case if this is correct. Now please Miss Breen can you confirm what your boss Mr Lakes is saying?”
Stacey gracefully rose from her seat. “Yes I can your honour. I have all the paper work back at the Gallery that proves prior to the robbery Miss Starr had reserved these items after carefully looking at each and every one. Plus further paperwork to prove she in fact purchased other items instead when she found out that her favoured ones had been stolen.”
“Good gracious,” Anna gasped at the realisation that her daughter might be innocent.
“Quiet in the court,” the judge said banging his hammer. A wave of silence filled the room and everyone starred at the judge who was now looking at the prosecutor. “It seems Mr Heal that you have no indictment against Miss Starr here. Case dismissed!”
Esme could hear her parents whooping and clapping behind her and was so stunned she just sat still with her mouth hanging open and staring into Alfie’s eyes who were smiling back at her.
She was ripped from her trance by her lawyer who pulled her from her seat and gave her a big hug. “We won,” she cooed squeezing Esme tight. Esme hugged her back and then looked around for Alfie, but he had already gone!
Later that evening Esme was back home, safe and sound. She had not thought in million years that she would ever see her house again, she was certain she was going down. Around her Anna, Carter and Sandra the lawyer celebrated and chitchatted about their victory. But they had done nothing – it was all Alfie. Why did he lie for her?
“I didn’t doubt her for a second,” Anna was saying to Sandra and Carter like Esme was not even there.
“What about the other girl Sam,” Carter asked. “What’s going to happen to her now?”
“Well she was only going to be charged by association to Esme so now Esme has been acquitted, so has she.”
“Isn’t that wonderful darling,” Anna said finally turning to Esme. “Maybe you should go and see if she is ok? Tell her you are sorry for getting her into trouble.”
“Yeah I should go and do that,” Esme replied jumping up and running out of the door. She needed to get out of there. Out of her parents really thinking she was innocent because really she wasn’t. And there was only one person to thank for saving her.
She jumped into her car and sped into the city. She needed to see Alfie. She needed to thank him. To let him know that she was sorry for what she said to him in jail and to tell him that she loved him. As it was getting late she knew he would not be at work so she drove straight to his house. She knew this was risky and that she would come face to face with his wife. But if she pretended that there was nothing going on maybe it would be ok. Maybe?
She parked her car on the curb outside his house and marched up to the front porch gently rapping on the door.
“Yes,” Joan snapped flinging open the door and glaring at Esme.
“Hi is Alfie Lakes here please,” Esme chirped trying to sound as cool as possible. The last thing she wanted was to get him in trouble.
“And who should I say is calling,” Joan retorted.
“I’m a client of his at the Gallery and I need to speak to him urgently about an order I have placed.”
“Its you isn’t it,” Joan suddenly spat. “You’re the slut who’s been having it off with my husband,” she screamed. “You are not welcome here now get off my property!”
She slammed the door in Esme’s face and left her there on the porch. Esme did not really know why but at that moment the tears exploded from her eyes and she started sobbing uncontrollably. So Alfie had told his wife about her? Where was he? Was he inside? Did he know she was there?
Esme managed to pull herself together enough to get in her car and drive away from Alfie’s house. She had no idea where to go. She could not go home, she felt too ashamed to face her parents. She had no friends anymore and she was sure Sam would never speak to her again wherever she was. She drove and drove and drove for hours weeping like a lost puppy. Eventually she stopped the car – she had driven herself to the Gallery. She looked up at the building for any sign of Alfie but his car was not in its usual spot and all the lights were off.
She decided to go in anyway. For the second time she picked the lock to the gallery and went inside. She was past caring about being caught anymore – in a way she knew she was sabotaging herself so she would be caught and would get what she deserved.
The Gallery felt empty and lifeless without the presence of Alfie. She strained her eyes to look around at all the beauty in the room but after crying so hard for so long her head was spinning and she thought she might faint with exhaustion.
Spotting the visitors couch, she managed to drag herself over to it, flopped down and fell instantly into a deep slumber, the events of the day drowning with her sleep.
“Wake up sleepy head.”
She awoke to see Alfie’s head hovering over hers. She had no idea how long she had been asleep but it was light outside so it must have been at least morning. She jumped up from the couch with a start and shook down her clothes. “Sorry,” she said conscious of the fact she had been caught. “I’m err… sorry but I couldn’t find you so I err… came here and I was so tired…”
“Shhhh,” Alfie said putting his fingers to her lips. “Don’t worry. I am here now.”
“What you did for me yesterday,” Esme started chocking back the tears – had she not cried enough? “You gave me back my life!”
“No. You gave me back mine,” Alfie replied pulling her into his arms and cradling her like a child. He lowered his lips onto her and she finally let herself go, letting Alfie take away the weight of the world off her shoulders.
“Hang on,” she suddenly squealed pulling back.
“What! What is it,” Alfie reacted looking concerned.
“There’s something I need to tell you. Something that may change everything!”
“Esme you’re scaring me. What’s going on?”
Esme rubbed her tummy and looked back up at him. How was she going to say this.
“I’m pregnant,” she cried.