Read A Hallowed Place Online

Authors: Caro Fraser

Tags: #Fiction, #Literary

A Hallowed Place

A Hallowed Place


During the long vacation, that fallow summer period falling between the end of the Trinity Term and the beginning of the Michaelmas Term, the Inns of Court in the City of London fall into a drowse. The air barely lifts the leaves of the lofty plane trees, the lanes and courtyards lie quiet and warm, trodden only by the occasional barrister or clerk. The judges have shed their wigs and gowns, and the courts are hushed and still. In the days before the reign of that misunderstood and much-maligned lord chancellor, Lord MacKay, the Rules of the Supreme Court stated that ‘time does not run’ during the long vacation. This ‘running of time’ refers to the time limits within which lawyers, in the conduct of litigation, are required to progress the various stages of their case. The notion of its suspension aptly captures the air of torpor and inactivity which hangs about the City in the dog days. As though, in the geriatric world of the law, it ever managed anything above a reluctant shuffle.
Nowadays, of course, under brisk new rules designed to encourage lawyers to prosecute the affairs of their clients as diligently as at any other time of the year, it is stated that time
run in the long vacation. But, in truth, nothing has changed much. Extensions to time limits are sought and granted, and if time runs anywhere, it is in Tuscan villas and on sun-kissed, tropical beaches, where barristers and solicitors take their hard-earned rest. The City slumbers throughout August, until the lawyers return in September, rested and refreshed, sporting sun-bleached hair and rich tans which sit strangely with pinstripes and Turnbull & Asser shirts, better suited to wintry, wine bar pallors.

It was at the end of one of these fading days of late summer that several of the members of 5 Caper Court, one of the most illustrious and renowned sets of commercial chambers in the Temple, congregated in a snug corner of El Vino’s to enjoy a glass of wine. Beyond the propped-open doorway of the wine bar the late-afternoon sky hung blue and balmy above the roar of Fleet Street traffic.

‘My wig’s taken on this strange smell recently,’ said David Liphook, taking another swig of his wine and frowning.

‘Smell? What kind of smell?’ asked Anthony Cross, reaching over for another smoked salmon sandwich.

‘I don’t know … A sort of musty, not very pleasant smell,’ replied David. ‘I thought one’s wig was meant to last a lifetime. At this rate I may have to chuck it and get a new one. I had a look at the prices in Ede and Ravenscroft, and they’re simply frightening.’

At this there was a general guffaw, and David, a stocky, blond man in his early thirties, glanced round resentfully.
‘Well, they are! I’m not
tight, but they are, you know.’ For a barrister whose practice probably earned him in the region of two hundred thousand a year, after tax, it struck the others that the price of a new wig wouldn’t make a great dent in his finances. But David, an eligible young London bachelor with a Ferrari to care for, and extravagant tastes in wine, food and women to husband, was thrifty when it came to life’s little things.

‘Which parsimonious reflection,’ murmured William Cooper, looking up from his
crossword, ‘forcibly reminds us all that it’s your shout. Get another bottle in, David.’

David sighed, got up, and went to the thronged bar to order another bottle of Chablis. Coming back, he set the bottle down and remarked, ‘I don’t see why we need the bloody things, anyway. Wigs, I mean. They’re archaic, they’re uncomfortable, and they look ridiculous.’

William groaned. ‘You’ve been reading articles in the
about bringing the bar up to date, haven’t you? You really shouldn’t look at that paper. You’re far too impressionable. Anyway, blame the criminal fraternity - they’re all in favour of them. They did a poll of defendants in criminal cases a while back and ninety per cent of them said they didn’t feel that they were getting the real thing if their brief didn’t have a wig.’

‘I’m personally all in favour of wigs,’ remarked Anthony. ‘They’re part of the uniform. They help the general public identify you in court. And they lend a certain authority.’

A large man in his sixties, ruddy-faced, his bulky body straining the broad chalk-stripe of his dark, three-piece suit, came in through the back door from Clifford Court.

‘Cameron,’ said William, ‘pull up a chair.’ He motioned to a passing waitress to bring another glass.

Cameron Renshaw subsided into a chair, puffing a little.

‘I disagree with you entirely,’ went on David. ‘I think the public are quite capable of working out who’s who in court without the benefit of a piece of horsehair. As for lending authority, I’d say they do the opposite. They’re a relic from a bygone age. Besides which, they’re bad PR. This wig and gown business just serves to distance the public, and perpetuates the myth that barristers are a pompous elite.’

‘That’s a myth, is it?’ murmured William from the depths of his crossword.

‘Not this bloody nonsense about wigs again,’ snorted Cameron, sipping gratefully on the glass of wine which Anthony had poured for him. ‘Do you know, this old chestnut comes up once a decade. By the time you’re my age, you’re sick to death of the thing.’ Shifting his bulk in his chair, he lifted his plump chin slightly and ran a finger along his salt and pepper moustache. Cameron was the head of chambers at 5 Caper Court and the younger members waited respectfully for his own views on the matter. ‘The fact is, they’re part of the theatre. Just as a policeman has his uniform, so we have ours. And judges have theirs. British people like their barristers to look the way they do. And the judiciary. It sets us apart.’

‘That’s just my point,’ said David. ‘It creates an artificial barrier between the public and us. It distorts their perception of us as real people. Why can’t we do as American lawyers do and just wear ordinary clothes, without these distinctions of dress? I think it’s all nonsense.’

‘Just because your wig pongs and you’ve got to get a new one,’ observed William.

‘It’s more than that,’ replied David. ‘Our judiciary look like complete fools, too. I mean, look at that ridiculous charade at the State Opening of Parliament. Silk tights, buckled shoes, full-bottomed wigs. Absolutely ludicrous. Much better to have the kind of rig you see judges wearing in Italian or French courts.’

‘That lot? They all look like clerics. The day we start importing any of the habits of our continental counterparts will be the end for this country,’ snorted Cameron. ‘Anyway, look upon it as a form of protection. There are more than a few judges on the criminal bench who are quite glad of the fact that nobody recognises them with their wigs off, at the end of the day.’

‘You have a point there,’ agreed Anthony. He glanced up and smiled at the pretty, auburn-haired young woman who had just joined them, and the others murmured in greeting. Camilla Lawrence was the newest tenant at 5 Caper Court, and its first woman member. When she had first joined chambers as a pupil fifteen months before, she had been a gauche bluestocking, fresh from Oxford and Bar school, brimming with ambition and ineptness. During her time in chambers she had matured into a quietly confident young woman, with a mind just as incisive as any of the men with whom she worked. The others knew of the relationship which had grown up between her and Anthony, but the matter was never referred to. It did not encroach upon their work, and in public they behaved towards one another as they did towards all their colleagues, with candour and friendly insolence.

She sat down and chucked a copy of the
Evening Standard
on to the table. David poured a glass of wine and passed it to her. ‘Thanks,’ she said, then nodded towards the paper. ‘I take it that none of you has seen this yet?’

‘What?’ asked David, reaching for the paper.

Camilla smiled. ‘Page five. A profile of one Leo Davies, top commercial silk and, if I remember correctly, the possessor of steely blue eyes and a courtroom manner as cold as it is courteous.’

‘Let’s have a look.’ William lost interest in his
and leant over David’s shoulder as he thumbed through the pages.

‘Oh, listen to this,’ said David, and began to read aloud, grinning. ‘“The world of the commercial Bar is not renowned for its excitement. It doesn’t generally produce headline-grabbing cases or celebrity lawyers. But over the past few days the media have gradually been discovering a new legal superstar in the person of Leo Davies QC. Davies, a charismatic, suave figure, with the kind of good looks not normally associated with middle-aged lawyers, is the barrister who has been conducting the cross-examination of Giannis Kapriakis, the London-based Greek shipping tycoon accused of masterminding a massive fraud involving the sale of metal futures. A member of 5 Caper Court, one of the most prestigious sets of commercial chambers in London, Mr Davies possesses a subtle, infinitely courteous technique, plus the ability to pierce through veils of prevarication with the most devastating and beautifully timed of questions. Although the case has attracted considerable media attention from the outset, Mr Davies has rapidly become its star turn. His steely blue eyes and
chiselled features seem to be as much of an attraction for the members of the public gallery as his renowned forensic skills. He is one of the superbreed of commercial litigators, with enormous earning power, and is respected and well liked amongst his fellow barristers. Little is known about his private life, however, except that he is divorced and lives alone in London, and perhaps this enigmatic aspect adds to the fascination. Watching him in court number five today, one couldn’t help feeling that behind the professional facade there is ultimately something cold and lonely about this most ambitious and highly regarded of QCs.”’

‘Extraordinary,’ remarked William, as David laid the paper open on the table. Almost two-thirds of the page had been devoted to the article, which included a full-length photo of Leo Davies striding out of the law courts.

‘They do a lot of this kind of thing these days,’ said David. ‘Especially if the case is high profile. But even so, you don’t expect them to pick on the commercial Bar.’

‘It’s because he’s so good-looking,’ said Camilla. ‘He’s got—’ All eyes turned towards her and she hesitated, embarrassed.

‘Got what?’ asked David.

Camilla smiled. ‘Well, he’s got sex appeal, I suppose. I mean,’ she went on hastily, ‘he’s a handsome, highly paid, successful QC, involved in one of the biggest City frauds in years, and the papers and the public perceive that as very sexy. After all, they’ve even managed to hype up old George Carman in that way, haven’t they?’

Cameron shook his head. ‘It’s utterly beyond me why the newspapers these days have to turn everyone into a celebrity.
Fifteen minutes’ worth of fame.’ Cameron paused, musing, then glanced up. ‘That was that Andy Warhol chap, wasn’t it?’ He looked rather pleased with himself. ‘Well, I don’t think it does much good for the dignity of the profession, to have our QCs written up like soap stars. I can’t imagine Leo will like it very much.’

Camilla glanced at Anthony, who had said nothing so far. ‘What do you think Leo will make of it?’

Anthony picked up the paper and gazed at Leo’s familiar, handsome, unsmiling features. ‘I don’t know. To be honest with you, I don’t know what Leo thinks about anything, these days.’

Fifteen minutes later Anthony left the wine bar and walked back to Caper Court. He was seeing his father later that evening and wanted to go pick up a few papers from chambers beforehand. It was, he realised with a flash of guilt, a relief to be doing something on his own, even if it was just a drink with Chay. Since the start of their relationship last Christmas, he and Camilla had seen one another almost every evening. On top of a working day spent in the same chambers, though not necessarily in each other’s company, things occasionally felt claustrophobic.

Pushing open the door of 5 Caper Court, Anthony was surprised to see Henry, the head clerk, still beavering away in his shirtsleeves at one of the word processors. Henry was a slight, amiable young man in his early thirties, who had been unexpectedly catapulted to his position of responsibility two years before when the old head clerk had retired.

‘Still here, Henry? It’s gone seven.’

‘Just chasing up a few fee notes. Otherwise you lot give me an ear-bashing, don’t you?’ He pointed to a sheaf of papers lying in one of the baskets. ‘Those came in for you from Mr Poulson’s chambers after you’d left.’

‘They can wait till tomorrow. Anyone about?’

‘Mr Davies came back just after half five and he’s still up there. That fraud case has him at it every night. Which reminds me -’ Henry fished around on the desk for a copy of the
Evening Standard
and handed it to Anthony, folded open at page five. ‘You seen that?’ He grinned.

Anthony took the paper and smiled. ‘Yes, someone had a copy in El Vino’s. Haven’t had a chance to read it properly, though.’

‘You can hold on to my copy, if you want,’ said Henry.

‘Thanks.’ Anthony looked curiously at Henry. ‘By the way, forgive the personal nature of the enquiry, Henry, but – is that a moustache you’re growing?’

Henry flushed slightly. ‘Yes, it is, as a matter of fact. Just an experiment. You know, by way of a change.’ He fingered the sparse bristles of his three-day-old moustache nervously, his breeziness suddenly gone. Did it look messy, he wondered. He had hoped it would have been a bit fuller by now. It annoyed him that Anthony hadn’t been certain what it was.

‘Well, very nice,’ said Anthony. ‘I’ve never tried either myself. Beard or moustache, I mean. Good luck.’ He turned and went slowly up the narrow wooden staircase to his room, reading as he went.

On the first landing he paused to finish the article, then glanced towards Leo’s door. Had Leo seen it yet? Anthony longed to go in and show it to him, but the last thing Leo
probably wanted was to be interrupted on such a trivial pretext. Anthony glanced down again at the photo. It was a face he had seen every working day for the last five years. Even so, the unexpected sight of it in the newspaper in El Vino’s had caused his heart to give a little lurch. Absurd, but true. Leo had always had that effect on him. His smile, the faint Welsh lilt to his voice, the arrogant glance of his blue eyes. When Anthony had first begun at 5 Caper Court as a raw, nervous pupil, he had liked to think of Leo, the great Leo Davies, as his friend. But it was a friendship whose intensity seemed, over the months and years, to wax and wane according to Leo’s emotional caprices, which were beyond Anthony’s understanding. He rarely thought back to the time when Leo had tried to seduce him and he had almost reciprocated. The incident seemed to belong to another age. But there were still occasions now when the chemistry between them was so intense and perfect that it left Anthony confused and troubled. Not that they had spent much time together recently. That was partly to do with Camilla, and partly due to the fact that Leo seemed to be in one of his reclusive cycles, when he would retreat into his work and the others in chambers would see little of him. Time to break that, thought Anthony. He knocked lightly on Leo’s door and looked in.

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