Ainsworth didn't go to his office. He let his ever-mounting caseload pile up alarmingly on his desk and went straight to Pentonville, stopping only to buy the morning papers. The Ludlow case was all over them.
"HAMPSHIRE BUTCHER WILL HANG"
He wondered whether butchers ever felt insulted being compared to brutal murderers.
Ainsworth hated Pentonville. It was big, noisy, inadequately lit and smelled of despair.
"Lawyer for Ludlow," he announced. The guard smiled and nodded and waved him through.
It wasn't unusual for the condemned to receive last visits from their lawyers, to discuss whether an appeal against the conviction would stand a chance. If the appeal was successful and the conviction reduced to a lesser offence, they might receive several more to discuss the progress of the case and prepare for life imprisonment.
Michael Ludlow was alone in his cell. The condemned are always alone. There was a narrow, hard bed, a cupboard and a bucket in the corner. He was sitting on the bed scribbling away, but looked up as Ainsworth came in and smiled. Ainsworth hated himself more than he had ever hated himself before.
"Morning," he began, awkwardly. He was aware of the guards hovering behind him, listening to every word they said, in case Ludlow said anything which could be considered evidence of guilt. And, bizarrely for condemned cell guards, make sure he didn't commit suicide.
"Morning," said Ludlow.
"Busy?", nodding at the sheet of paper.
"Press statement. The curse of celebrity." Ludlow grinned. "They're not keen on gallows speeches these days, and anyway there'll be no one to hear, but various reporters have been bothering me for a statement."
Ainsworth picked up the paper and read what Ludlow had written.
"Final statement to the public,
I did not kill Jack. I thank Martha, Miss Margery Brown and my learned friend Ainsworth for being the only people who believe that."
So he knew. He knew that Ainsworth believed his innocence all the time he was speaking for the prosecution, and hadn't just tried to offer no evidence as a technical issue. And he saw it as a reason to be grateful.
"I don't blame anyone for my conviction. I certainly don't blame the jurors. They reached the most reasonable verdict from the evidence presented. It's the verdict I would have reached if I didn't know I was innocent. I thank them for their devotion to duty as independent triers of fact. The trial was conducted fairly and above-board and I have no cause to complain. I thank everyone at Pentonville for looking after me so well."
Ainsworth looked at Ludlow who stared back steadily. Not hostilely, just calmly, curiously.
"There's still hope of appeal," he said.
"There isn't. The governor told me about three minutes before you arrived."
"That was quick."
"Very." Ludlow smiled bleakly. "I doubt it was even read."
"Probably thrown straight in the bin."
Ludlow nodded and sighed.
What had he come here for? What was there to say? Why would this boy even want to talk to him? Had he come to apologise? What good would it do? "Sorry about getting you killed. Won't happen again. Cheerio." An apology in such circumstances is an insult.
"How are you?" asked Ludlow conversationally. "You look as if you haven't slept. Won't you sit down?"
"I'm well, thank you." Ainsworth sat down on the bed next to Ludlow. He knew he looked like ghoul—honestly, the boy who had spent all night in a cell looked as if he had slept better. "My Edward's taught Fido to jump over his arm on command."
"Yes. He's four. He loves that dog, for all he smells and drops hair on the carpet."
Ludlow laughed. "Bless."
"I got the dog for the children, really, but I ended up loving him, too. I have a girl, as well. She's Bonney." Ainsworth tailed off, aware of the oddness of sitting in a cell chatting about his family to a condemned murderer who wasn't a murderer.
"Thanks. How are you?"
"Very well, thank you."
"Are you comfortable?"
"They looking after you?"
"Scrupulously. One could be forgiven for thinking they fear my attempting drastic action should they fail to do so." He laughed, a little bleakly. "But, honestly, yes. Everyone's very kind."
"Have you had visitors?" He cringed at his kindly tone, like a slightly patronising hospital nurse.
"Yes. Gimble. Making himself useful by signing my will—a couple of guards witnessed." Ludlow sighed. "Perhaps I'm a little hard on him. It was good of him to defend me when he thought I was guilty. I did thank him, but perhaps I should-" He looked at the press statement and added. "I thank Mr Roderick Gimble for trying to defend me, despite obviously believing me guilty".
Gimble and I should have swapped sides, thought Ainsworth. I could have got him off. But could he? What would have stopped Ludlow sacking him, too? He knew he was deluding himself.
Ludlow scowled. "Tried to make me confess my guilt." He sounded really bitter for the first time. "Wasn't having it. Told him that the only reason I didn't sock him was because he was old enough to be my grandfather and that if I ever see him again I still might."
"You don't seem to think very highly of confession."
"Not when it's to something I didn't do. I told him that God knows my innocence and can either forgive or not, as He sees fit."
"You don't seem very keen on divine forgiveness?"
"You're not a Christian?"
"Oh, I am. I mean…" He blushed and gestured vaguely. "It's just what one is, isn't it? It's how I was brought up. Matilda, you know, and… at school."
"So you do believe in God?"
"Oh, yes, I suppose so. I mean, it's how I was brought up." Another vague gesture. "But I don't see why the messenger of His unconditional love spends his breath trying to browbeat false confessions out of me. Complete with threats worthy of a Mediaeval mystery play."
"I get the impression that the Lord, er, doesn't seem of immediate comfort in your predicament?"
"Not if He continues with this tone and manner." Ludlow's face softened and he smiled gently. "I have other things to comfort me." And Ainsworth knew without asking that Ludlow wasn't going to tell him what they were.
"Haven't your family come to see you?"
"No. I don't expect they will," he said matter-of-factly.
"Do they think you guilty?"
A slight smile and a shrug.
Right. Not important and not his business.
"Ludlow," he said, all in a rush. "I don't need a confession, I mean, I don't think you guilty, I mean, my help, such help as I can, doesn't depend, doesn't depend on your confessing or playing along, or…" He tailed off, not sure what he meant himself, never mind whether Ludlow would understand.
"Thank you," said Ludlow, quietly. "I appreciate that."
"Is there anything I can do to help?"
"You have helped. You've believed me."
But I didn't do anything about it. Or, at least, not enough. And he felt the burning shame of cowardice. No one likes to think he's done something cowardly, but in that cramped condemned cell in Pentonville, Ainsworth couldn't believe anything else. He shook Ludlow's hand, but couldn't meet his eye.
"Well," he said, in that artificially bright voice he hated to hear coming out of his mouth. "I…er… I'll be getting on. Goodbye."
"Goodbye," said Ludlow.
As Ainsworth turned to leave, he heard Ludlow say quietly, "Jack would have understood".
Ainsworth got through the afternoon in a daze, unable to concentrate on his work, and left early, pleading a headache.
The headlines in the evening papers were "APPEAL AGAINST LUDLOW MURDER CONVICTION OVERTURNED".
That night, Ainsworth was drunk before the children were in bed. Alice's shock and horror only increased his guilt.
Somehow he slid into gallows-haunted sleep.
The next morning he awoke calm and clear-minded. Gone were his agonies, his helpless, futile self-loathing. His mind was clearly, unwaveringly made up. He was going to save Michael Ludlow.
There was nothing else he could do with a clean conscience.
He called in sick but went to London anyway. The morning papers contained the full final press statement of the Hampshire Butcher.
"Final statement to the public,
I did not kill Jack. I thank Martha, Miss Margery Brown and my learned friend Ainsworth for being the only people who believe that.
I don't blame anyone for my conviction. I certainly don't blame the jurors. They reached the most reasonable verdict from the evidence presented. It's the verdict I would have reached if I didn't know I was innocent. I thank them for their devotion to duty as independent triers of fact. The trial was conducted fairly and above-board and I have no cause to complain.
I thank Mr Roderick Gimble for trying to defend me, despite obviously believing me guilty. My decision to dispense with his services and represent myself was entirely my own decision. I believed, and still believe, that it was the best way to conduct my defence, and don't regret it. No disadvantage or unfairness resulted from my representing myself, and the court was very considerate and understanding.
My learned friend Ainsworth is one of the most decent people I've ever met.
I thank everyone at Pentonville for looking after me so well."
Ainsworth quietly placed the newspaper in his briefcase. He slid his wig in as well and folded a set of robes under his suit jacket.
He whirled round.
It was Miss Grant. She frowned at him. "The clerks told me you were ill."
Damn the clerks! He thought he had successfully evaded them, he hadn't expected them to tell the whole Inn that he was off ill.
"High fever, they said. Floccilating and jactitating." Her expression sharpened. "You don't look very feverish to me. And you're certainly not floccilating or jactitating."
"Sudden miraculous recovery," he blurted, and fled.
Miss Grant was left gaping after him.
Ainsworth drove to Pentonville at the speed limit, imagining a baying mob of clerks on his heels.
"You're Ludlow's lawyer, aren't you?" smiled the guard on duty.
"Yes." Ainsworth tried to look plausible and trustworthy, and conceal his racing heart. It wasn't difficult. He had built a whole career looking plausible and trustworthy.
The guard lead him to Ludlow's cell, the same one as he'd been in before, with the same beady-eyed, hovering condemned-cell guards.
Only when he saw Ludlow, sitting on the bed reading yet another paperback novel, did the full scale of his deed hit him. Forget professional ethics, he was breaking about a hundred laws.
But there was no question of his conviction deserting him. He couldn't look Ludlow in the face and let him down, even though—especially because—Ludlow expected nothing from him.
"Good morning," he said, cheerfully.
"Good morning," said Ludlow.
Ainsworth turned to the guards. "Could I have some privacy with my client, please?" He only hoped that Ludlow wouldn't say something stupid.
Ludlow's expression flickered for a moment, but he said nothing.
The guards glanced at each other. "I think you're wasting your time, mate," said one. "The conviction's been sustained. What more is there to say?"
"A possible miscarriage of justice. Confidential."
But the guard wasn't going to oppose him, he just found such diligence in the face of a lost cause amusing. He shrugged. "Go ahead."
As soon as they were left alone, Ludlow frowned at Ainsworth. "Did you get in here pretending to be my lawyer?"
Ludlow blinked, then shrugged and grinned. "Sit down? How are you?"
Ainsworth produced the wig and robe. "Put these on."
"What?" Ludlow was astonished.
"Put these on. Don't talk so loud."
"What?" repeated Ludlow more quietly.
"I'm breaking you out."
Ludlow gaped in pure shock. Then his face shone with pure joy. "Thank you," he choked. He could barely speak but the way his eyes were shining made his feelings quite clear.
Ainsworth's gut twisted. This had to work, now. He couldn't raise hopes so high only to see them dashed.
Ludlow wrapped himself in the rope and pulled the wig over his head. "It itches," he whispered.
"We get used to it."
Quite a few barristers did turn up at Pentonville in full robes, even though they weren't supposed to wear them out of court—they were simply so overworked that they pulled them on in the morning and couldn't be bothered taking them off until it was time to go home.
Now came the difficult bit. Actually getting out.
"You were in the Scouts, right?"
"Yes, sir." Ludlow's face glowed with pride.
"Did you do locks?" Come on, you fucker. Say yes. The whole plan hinged on this bit. Ainsworth had never picked a lock in his life, and, although some of his naughtier schoolmates had done, he couldn't for the life of him remember how it was done.
"Oh, yes. But they took my Swiss Army knife when I was arrested. They took all the junk out of my pockets."
"What did you have in your pockets?" Ainsworth's heart seemed to be beating somewhere in his throat.
"All my lock-picking gear. Pins. Coins. Paperclips. Blade."
"I've got a Swiss Army knife."
"Let's see it."
Ainsworth produced his Swiss Army knife. Ludlow took it and began trying to prise it open—Ainsworth hadn't opened it in about ten years—as discreetly as possible, in case someone were to come by. He finally snapped open the blade, revealing a tension wrench.
"Better and better."
The tension wrench was horribly rusted, but Ludlow scrubbed the worst of the rust off on the blanket and waited for all the guards to be out of sight. He calmly slid the wrench into the lock, twisted and, as if by a miracle, the huge iron lock sprang open. Ainsworth gaped as if Ludlow had performed a magic spell.
Ludlow hid the knife under his robe and grinned. "Thank God for the Scouts. Although I doubt gaol-breaking was what Baden-Powell had in mind."
But opening the door was the easy bit. Getting past the guards which lay between them and the open air was more difficult.
Fortunately, that was what the robes were for.
"Don't talk to anyone," whispered Ainsworth. "Don't look at anyone. All right?"
Ludlow nodded, picked up his paperback novel and shoved it under his robe.
They strode down the corridor, Ainsworth talking quiet but confident legal jargon, making up the details of a complex fraud case—as unlike Ludlow's case as possible—as he went along. Ludlow didn't answer, didn't look left or right, just kept his eyes on the ground in front of him, as if he were deep in thought about this complex fraud case.
Ainsworth felt sick as he passed guard after guard. How was his fear not showing on his face? He was an even better actor than he thought. He kept his mind firmly away from the consequences of being caught—of the shock that would kill Alice, of the headlines—and pretended he really was absorbed in a complex fraud case.
A guard at the gate smiled and nodded, and he smiled and nodded back, so he wouldn't seem to have anything to hide. He didn't think anyone would remember his face. One lawyer with a dark suit and a briefcase looks very much like another.
Then he scrambled into his car and floored the accelerator. He hadn't realised he had held his breath until he heard himself gasping. "Get down," he whispered as they turned the corner from Pentonville. When the hue-and-cry began, a barrister in full wig and robes in the passenger seat of a fast car out of London would look a bit suspicious. Ludlow slid down into the foot-well. It was small and cramped and he had to wriggle a bit, but it would only be for a while.
He crossed the river at Blackfriars and headed south-east. As soon as they got out of London, he sat back and felt the tension leave his shoulders. He sped up, no longer having to dodge pedestrians and stop at junctions. The car bounced along the country road.
They hadn't spoken since leaving Pentonville. Now Ainsworth looked at Ludlow, curled up on the floor.
"Are you all right?"
Ludlow smiled and exhaled. "Yes, thank you. Thank for saving me."
"I haven't saved you yet," said Ainsworth. Stay there until I can get you some proper clothes."
"Where are we?"
Ainsworth kept the speed up, and the car effortlessly ate up the miles to Maidstone.
He preferred country driving to towns as faster and safer from prying eyes, but he drove into Maidstone because he had to find a clothes shop.
He pulled up outside the first one he saw. "Stay there," he whispered out of the corner of his mouth. He didn't want anyone to see he had a companion.
Ludlow nodded. "I haven't any money," he whispered.
"It doesn't matter."
Ludlow bit his lip. "Aunt Matilda wouldn't like me to sponge…"
"Shut up." Ainsworth was a tired, emotionally wrung-out fugitive in no mood for dealing with the bloody boy's finer feelings.
He grabbed the nearest clothes which looked about Ludlow's size—an open-necked shirt, loose canvas trousers with deep pockets, a jacket with more pockets and a pair of cheap sandals. Outdoor clothes. Then he swapped the sandals for a sturdier pair. He bit his lip. He had no idea what people in the Legion or on Greenland whalers wear. He had a vague idea it wasn't his own button-up shirt and tie. He hoped this would do.
He paid as quickly as he could without alarming the poor young lady behind the till, who wanted a friendly chat and looked slightly put-out at his abruptness.
Ainsworth dropped the clothes into the footwell on top of Ludlow and soon they were soaring over the Downs towards Dover.
He stopped on a remote hill-side, so Ludlow could get dressed. The green hills rolled away southwards in front of them, endless green fields where cows munched on the long, sweet Kent grass. In the distance was a cluster of farm buildings. Unusually for England, it was actually sunny, and the birds wheeled in the clear blue sky and chirruped in the hedgerow by the road-side.
Ludlow jumped out of the car and collapsed against a nearby tree, wrapping his arms around it and laughing like a child.
"Are you all right?"
"I never thought I'd see this again," said Ludlow, breathless.
Any lingering thought of Ainsworth's that this might be an elaborate suicide attempt were laid to rest. He had never seen a man so happy to be alive.
Ludlow unwound himself from the tree and flung himself on the grass, looking up at the birds. "It's beautiful."
"You seem relieved."
"Of course I'm relieved! I thought I was going to die."
"Haven't you got… well, used to it? In Canada…"
"That's different." Ludlow looked up earnestly. "You go up against a bear or an ice floe or something and you fight to stay alive—you've never been more alive, because you're fighting on your wits. I'm no keener on being locked in a cell with my hands tied behind me and choking to death on a rope than you are." He buried his hand in a clump of cornflowers and laughed with wonder.
"Get your clothes on," said Ainsworth, trying to fight down an unpleasant empathetic choking feeling in his own throat—he couldn't help it, the image of the gallows in the cell was so real. "You can't drive around the countryside looking like a barrister." He hated to interrupt Ludlow's joyful reconnection with the world, but he was horribly aware that Ludlow's escape had almost certainly attracted attention by now. He was expecting the countryside to erupt with police at any moment.
"Sorry." Ludlow changed quickly and slid back into the passenger seat.
"Right," said Ainsworth. "Let's press on. Shove the robes into the footwell."
He stamped on the accelerator. As the hedgerows flashed past, he glanced sideways at Ludlow, and realised to horror tears were pouring down his face.
"What's wrong?" He fumbled in his pocket for a handkerchief.
"Jack," said Ludlow quietly, and began to sob, breathless, heaving sobs. "I couldn't cry… back then… they'd think I was only doing it because I wanted mercy… I couldn't bear to be thought a coward."
Ainsworth had no idea what to say. "My condolences." It sounded hopelessly feeble—what good are condolences? He reached out nervously and placed a hand on Ludlow's shoulder, keeping the other hand on the steering wheel.
Ludlow swallowed his sobs and smiled through wet eyes. "Thank you." He took a deep breath. "It wasn't his fault."
"That he was killed, you mean?"
"Yes. He was my friend."
It was on the tip of Ludlow's tongue to ask "So whose fault was it?" but he didn't.
Ludlow regained his self-control and the tears dried up. There was a moment's pause as they drove on through the countryside, but pauses are never awkward driving the way they would be sitting back in a room. They looked at the scenery, at the cows and the trees and the sunshine, and looked ahead towards Dover and freedom.
"I'm very grateful for everything," said Ludlow. "You've been very kind."
"You're welcome," said Ainsworth. "It was the least I could do." Such fervent gratitude embarrassed him when he had nearly got Ludlow killed.
"You've saved my life."
"I nearly got you hanged."
"That was just a job. This is because you chose to."
"You were only doing your job. You had been asked to prosecute." Ludlow looked at him earnestly.
"I lied. I knew you hadn't killed him, but I told the jury you had."
"Well, all the evidence points that way, doesn't it?" Ludlow smiled slightly.
"But it's not the truth."
Ludlow looked thoughtful. "Do you know what the truth is?"
Ainsworth inhaled. He had been expecting a question like this, but he had no better answer than an honest one. "I think so," he said simply. "I don't know."
"What are you going to do about it?" There was a slight edge to Ludlow's voice, not aggressive, but sharp, enquiring.
"Nothing," said Ainsworth simply and truthfully. He had saved the innocent man. His part in the Ludlow case was over.
Ludlow smiled. "Thank you."
The sun was high in the sky when the sea spread out below them, a blurry blue line on the horizon that got bigger as they approached, an expanse of rolling waves, the wind blowing inland onto their faces. Freedom. Ludlow relaxed and smiled.
Ainsworth pulled up on a hillside above Dover. "Well," he said quietly, suddenly feeling slightly at a loss. "Good luck."
"Will you be all right?"
"Oh, yes." Ludlow grinned. Of course he would be all right. He was young and self-reliant and the world was his oyster. "Will you?"
"You won't get into trouble?"
"No one'll know."
"Melton will know."
They grinned at each other, because they both knew, instinctively, that this was true. Melton would know. Somehow.
"He'll never prove it."
"You'll never practise law again."
"I'm not sure I want to."
"What will you do?"
Ainsworth shrugged. He thought about Alice and the children, waiting back home in Epping Forest. He had only ever wanted to give them the life they deserved. "I have my family."
Ludlow thought about this and nodded. "Thank you for everything," he said. "Goodbye."
"You're very welcome. Goodbye. Take these." He pulled his Swiss Army knife out of one pocket and a wad of twenty pound notes out of the other.
"Oh no. You've done enough."
"Take them. Please."
"I have plenty. I won't miss it."
"You've done so much for me…"
"I nearly got you killed."
"You do harp on that idea, don't you?" Ludlow grinned.
"Thank you. Thank you for everything." Ludlow slid the knife into the same pocket as the paperback novel and the money into the other.
"You're welcome. Goodbye and good luck."
They shook hands and Ainsworth watched Ludlow striding towards the docks and a new life in the Legion or somewhere, where no one knew his name.
Alice met Ainsworth at the door as she always did to kiss him. "You're back early!" She stared at the bouquet of roses he pressed into her hands. "Thank you! What's this for?"
"Because you're an angel."
"Thank you, darling. You're looking awfully happy. What is it?"
He smiled at her. "I'm going to take early retirement. Work's been… stressful lately."
"Oh." She looked surprised, but not disapproving. "What will you do with yourself? Gardening?"
Ainsworth thought for a moment. "Write, maybe."
He spent the evening curled up on the sofa with Alice, playing twenty questions with the children, the wireless burbling in the background.
"Murderer Michael Ludlow has escaped from HMP Pentonville, and his current whereabouts are unknown."
They hadn't caught him! Thank God!
"How the escape was accomplished is under investigation. The public is reminded that Ludlow is a dangerous man and should not be approached. All sightings should be reported to the police immediately."
Ainsworth noticed Alice smiling at him, not just an affectionate smile, a knowing twinkle as well. He met her eyes as innocently as he could and her smile widened. Why could he never hide anything from Alice? His lawyer's manner had never worked on her.