Isobel Harris shook her head in wonder. "I cannot believe this woman has her child's best interests at heart," she mused. "I reckon she's just out to give her ex grief." She read the letter again.
"Dear Miss Harris,
I am sorry to bother you again but my former wife continues to try and curtail my time with our son. The court was quite clear in its ruling: alternate weekends (Friday evening to Sunday evening) and half the school holidays. Because of business commitments I have to arrange my visit weekends a long time in advance. She will text me on a Wednesday to ask me to take Larry on the Thursday evening as she is going away for the weekend knowing full well that I am in Spain or somewhere and rushing home on Friday to pick him up that evening. When I reply that I can't she says she will take him with her and I will just have to wait until the next prearranged weekend. I have made notes of all the occasions she has done this and similar things.
I am concerned also that she is not looking after him as well as she might. Over the last three months he has had four teeth removed by the dentist who attributes their decay to excessive sweets. Larry innocently corroborates her view and is embarrassed at school by the gaps. He is also embarrassed by his long hair which his mother will not have cut despite pleas by both of us. Consequently he is teased about being a girl: something hurtful for a six year old.
Are there any steps that can be taken to ensure that my former wife abides by the spirit of the court ruling? The last thing any of us want is for Larry to be taken into care but is there anything that can be done to help her look after him better and more considerately?
Isobel shook her head again. "It's time we pulled out the stops," she thought. She picked up the file and walked down the passage to Henry Honey's, one of the senior partners, office.
"Is he free?" she asked his secretary and on receiving the affirmative knocked on his door.
"Can you spare me a few minutes, Henry?" she asked.
"Of course, my dear, what's the problem?"
"I've got a case that's been dragging on and on. I think the mother is deliberately bending the visitation rules, is out primarily to rile my client and probably to alienate him from their son. It appears too that she is not looking after him as well as she might."
"I have written to her solicitors several times but it appears to achieve nothing. She sacked one and the second resigned. The third one has been going a month and I'd be prepared to bet that he won't last long either. Frankly, Henry, I think she's a ghastly woman."
"No doubt, Isobel, but don't say that to anyone else," grinned Henry.
Isobel smiled back. "I wouldn't dream of it."
"So what do you want to do?"
"Give her the works somehow."
"Any ideas or are you asking me for them?"
"I'd like to take it to court again but, if my client is prepared to foot the bill, enlist the help of a barrister who may be more effective with the judge than me."
"Sounds all right to me."
Isobel smiled again. "I wondered if you could put me on to someone. I need someone good and don't know where to begin to look.
Henry picked up the telephone and dialled. "A university and law school chum who has chambers at Lincoln's Inn Field," he said. "Ah, Miriam! It's Henry Honey is Sir Norman free? Thank you."
There was a short pause before he went on. "Good morning, Plasters. Are you well? Good. Look, one of our juniors, Isobel Harris, has a client with a particularly difficult former wife and wants to give her the works as she puts it. Have you got a fire-eater who could do it?"
He listened attentively and jotted down a name and telephone number.
"Many thanks, Plasters. If Isobel's client gives the go ahead I'll get her to give your Mr du Puys a call. Incidentally, while I'm on, it's about time you came to see us. I'll ask Penelope to give Anthea a ring. 'Bye."
"There you are, my dear," he said handing her the piece of paper.
"Thank you, Henry. Any idea of the cost?"
"I doubt you'll see much change out of two thousand quid for one court appearance."
Henry shrugged. "You wanted a good one which is what this chap will be and they don't come cheap."
Isobel wrote to Arthur Corsellis explaining her proposal adding that she suspected that the rapid turnover of his former wife's solicitors was an indication that they had tried to persuade her to be less difficult and scheming. She warned that one court appearance by a barrister would cost something in the order of two thousand pounds and that the choice was entirely his. If he chose not to follow that route she would continue to do her best for him. She asked him to send her a copy of his records of the times that Miss Shepherd had been deliberately obstructive. She sent the letter by special delivery to ensure that he received it the next day.
Mr Corsellis rang her the next morning. "Thank you for your letter, Miss Harris. I think this huge amount of money will be worth spending although I imagine that if your barrister reckons he won't win he'll tell us."
"I'll make it a condition, Mr Corsellis."
"Thank you. Now, if you'd give me your fax number I'll send my notes to you now."
Isobel gave it to him. "I shall be contacting Mr du Puys today," she said, "and will let you know his reactions and how he wants to play it."
"Thank you. I'm off abroad again tomorrow and back again on Friday week so don't rush."
"Thanks. I hope that this will do the trick for you."
"So do I. Fingers crossed. Good-bye, Miss Harris."
Isobel rubbed her hands in glee. She genuinely liked Mr Corsellis and hoped that her scheme would work but either way it ought to be quite fun.
She rang the number that Henry Honey had given her.
"Mr du Puys' office."
"Good morning. My name's Isobel Harris from Barnes and Honey at Pitsbury. I suspect Mr du Puys is expecting a call from me."
"One moment, Ms Harris, while I put you through."
"Good morning, Miss Harris. Gerry du Puys here. What can I do for you? I got a rather terse note from Sir Norman saying 'expect a call from Barnes and Honey'."
Isobel gave a slight chuckle. "Mr Honey was pretty short. 'One of my juniors' was what he called me."
She gave him an outline of the case, her thoughts and feelings on it and Arthur Corsellis's reaction to her suggestion.
"Poor devil. She sounds like a manipulative minx."
"A malevolent, manipulative minx, I'd have said."
There was a bark of laughter. "The lady has a way with words. Right, Miss Harris, we need to get our heads together. I live about ten miles from Pitsbury so what if I come down next Friday morning and come and see you at eleven? That way I can wangle a longish weekend. I'll need to talk to your client at some stage but that can come later."
"That sounds fine. Do you know where we are?"
"Yup. Next door to the library."
"I look forward to meeting you. Good-bye, Mr du Puys."
"Good-bye, Miss Harris."
"Yippee!" Isobel hugged herself gleefully. Gerry du Puys sounded quite pleasant too.
Isobel had plenty of other casework to keep her busy for the next two days but she went through the Corsellis file and flagged up anything she thought would be of interest to Mr du Puys. She asked her secretary to copy them and make up a file for him.
He had an odd name she thought and wondered whether he was French or Belgian not that he sounded as though he was. He had what she termed a public school accent: no trace of a regional accent but a bit drawly.
Merle, Isobel's secretary, showed him in on the dot of eleven on Friday. Isobel came from behind her desk and they shook hands smilingly. Isobel offered him coffee which he accepted and Merle nodded and disappeared.
"Decent journey down?" Isobel asked politely.
Gerry grinned. "I came down last night," he said. "Never look a gift horse in the mouth so breakfast at a civilised time and here I am just in time for elevenses."
Isobel smiled back. "I must make sure that all future meetings are on a Monday or a Friday," she said.
"Monday afternoon preferably."
Merle returned with coffee and biscuits.
"Wow!" exclaimed Isobel. "Chocolate biscuits! Are you two old friends?"
Merle went pink and fled. Gerry laughed.
"Unfortunately not. I only met her just now. It looks as though it might be quite a promising friendship all the same."
They settled down to business.
"Tell me about your client: not just from a professional point of view but also as a person."
"I've known him for just over three years when he came to us to represent him during his divorce. They had been married for seven years and separated for two so the grounds were clear. Things started to go wrong after three when their son, Larry, was two. Mr Corsellis is a civil engineer working for one of the big construction companies and has to go abroad frequently in a consultancy and supervisory role. His wife started to complain that he was neglecting her and failing to share the responsibility of bringing Larry up. She was also living beyond their means. He had a good salary even then so she must have worked quite hard at it. They had endless rows and constant bickering. He went to Citizens' Advice who told him what he needed to do to separate, covering the financial aspects, the house, visitation and, well done them, drawing up an agreement to which he could draw her attention if she started to overspend or deny him access to Larry. He knew there was no chance of reconciliation even though they did attend counselling at one stage before the separation. When the divorce came up, for some reason that only she knows, instead of just going ahead on the two years' separation she countered alleging adultery."
"Might she have been right?"
"Almost certainly not. Mr Corsellis is a very straight guy. He denied it to me and I believed him. She had no evidence so it didn't stand. She on the other hand was less upright. Larry told Mr Corsellis about Uncle John coming to stay several times. He said nothing about them sleeping together so Mr Corsellis said nothing."
"Well, the divorce went through and the judge virtually repeated their separation agreement. Six months after the decree absolute she started to mess him about. You need to read his diary of events. I wrote to her solicitor several times and each time he assured me that Miss Shepherd would abide by the rules. She's now, incidentally, on solicitor number three."
Gerry raised an eyebrow.
"The first resigned. The second was sacked. I reckon they did their best to get her to obey the judge's ruling but she refused."
"Mm, you could be right. Presumably you know how to contact the first two."
"Good. Go on telling me about Mr Corsellis."
"Well, I've told you I like him and respect him. He loves Larry dearly and values his time with him enormously. He's decent, honest and straight forward. He's also got the patience of Job. It was I who persuaded him that the time had come to go for the minx's throat."
"Thanks. Now tell me about Miss Shepherd."
"I don't know a lot about her. She's pretty and I can see why Mr Corsellis found her attractive but this is the only thing I fault him on. To me she appears selfish and scheming. When you read the notes from him you will see that she uses every occasion that he is unable to meet Larry at the appointed time as a chance to show that he doesn't really love him. The sweet feeding is, I suspect, another means of pulling Larry's affection towards her. The long hair may be something similar. 'They're horrid teases but don't worry Mummy will always make you feel better.' When you see her performances in court you cannot help but wonder whether she has a stable mind. You might like to look up some of her rants on Facebook."
She shrugged. "I really don't think there's much else I can say."
"So what do you want to achieve?"
"It's difficult. In many ways I think Mr Corsellis should have lead custody so that her vacillations would be nullified but that's no good because he's so often away for ten days or so. The threat of Larry being taken into social care might make her mend her ways but Mr Corsellis would fight that too. If only he would get himself into a stable relationship with a woman who was prepared to take Larry under her wing but I think he's once bitten twice shy and I've little doubt that the minx would make hay of being denied a mother's rights and another woman stealing her child from her."
Isobel shook her head in frustration. "I'm letting my dislike and mistrust of that woman get the better of me," she admitted ruefully. "I think that the judge needs to feel it necessary to hand down some pretty strict rules with court officials able to enforce them. She has got to be made to abide fairly and reasonably by the divorce ruling. I think that Mr Corsellis would be content with that."
"So what you're inviting me to do is to make the judge's decisions for him and think that they're his own."
Isobel could not help herself and grinned impishly. "Isn't that what you always set out to do?"
Gerry rolled his eyes. "Heaven forbid," he said unctuously then turned serious again. "I ought to read through this lot and see whether I have any further questions for you."
"OK. I'll ask Merle to show you the library. It should be reasonably quiet."
"Thanks. I'll come back when I've finished. It shouldn't take too long."
Isobel sat back down at her desk and linked her hands behind her head. Mr du Puys was not at all as she had expected. She knew he had a sense of humour from the telephone conversation but she had expected someone in their late thirties at least but he was only in his late twenties. Still he seemed pretty sharp and Henry had asked nothing about him, accepting Sir Norman's recommendation without question. And that red hair! A flaming untidy mop but quite attractive. So were his eyes: blue and sparkling with intelligence and humour. He was an odd shape too with long legs and a short, broad torso. He was not as tall as her either, probably about five foot eight. None of which mattered. Accepting the brief did.
Gerry did not start to read straightaway either. It was an interesting case and he reckoned he could enjoy working with Miss Harris with her long blonde hair and huge, dark eyes which could change quickly from seriousness to laughter. She was quite pretty too with those eyes, turned up nose and generous and mostly smiling lips. As usual, she was taller than him and she was not wearing heels, a good two inches at a guess. She seemed thoroughly switched on too. She had been straightforward and to the point but clearly had much sympathy for Mr Corsellis. Her quick 'malevolent' had appealed to his sense of humour.
He turned to the file. Most of it he skimmed but he did read the letters from Miss Shepherd's solicitors. 'Despite these assurances, I regret that I see little chance of her living up to them for long.' That smacked of mistrust and some despair from the one who had resigned. 'I am sorry to say that Miss Shepherd has dispensed with my services. It appears that she was unwilling to accept my advice. I wish I could have been of more assistance to you, ' wrote the one who had been dismissed. There was clearly no love lost there either. He would have to have a word with both. Neither would wish to be indiscreet but direct answers to direct questions of fact plus some unconscious body language should paint a vivid picture. He read through Mr Corsellis's notes. Miss Shepherd was clearly no sluggard: dental appointments on a Saturday, a sudden temperature on a Friday, a holiday with friends abroad from which they would perforce be returning two days late for the holiday handover. An imaginative woman.
He returned to Isobel's office. "Quite something isn't she?" he said to Isobel who nodded smiling grimly.
"Will you accept the brief?" she asked.
"For a fee."
"That was my next question."
"Great! That's a couple of hundred less than I warned Mr Corsellis it might cost. He'll be pleased and not a little relieved."
"I could always add a few extras like travel."
Isobel said nothing; just stared at him.
He grinned. "Just to make sure that you stick to our agreement to meetings on Friday mornings or Monday afternoons."
"I stand by my word unlike one woman we know."
They both laughed.
"Well as that's settled why don't you come and have some lunch with me to celebrate?" said Gerry.
"That'd be fun. Thank you."
"How long can you spare?"
"I ought to be back by two."
Gerry glanced at his watch. "Excellent. Let's get out of the town. Do you know The Trout? It's only about quarter of an hour."
"Yes, I do. It's a nice place. Let's."
"Good! In that case I suggest we drop the formality. May I call you Isobel?"
"Of course you may, Gerry."