Representing the Crown and prosecuting for the Fiscal Office, Queen’s Counsel Montrose appears born to the era of wigs and absentmindedly fingers the gown commonly known as silk. He’s a tall man, whip thin, shaved purpilish jowls, sharp beaked with a tendency to lean towards those he cross-examines. His hazel eyes flicker over Karen slumped in the witness box, head sliding down t her chest, waiting to discover a weakness and pounce. His voice is sonorous, old school, artlessly sure of its place in the world each word enunciated like newly minted coin. He speaks in a sarcastic tone to Karen, but she doesn’t seem to notice.
‘You say in a statement given the police that your partner abused you?’ He raises his eyebrows into his wig and offers her a chance to comment and shares a smile with Judge Drummond Brodie when she doesn’t.
Judge Brodie prompts her in a gruff voice, ‘The witness has been asked a question.’
Karen looks up at him, eyes blinking and baffled. The judge gives a slight nod, a cue that Montrose picks up immediately and he repeats his question.
Another pause. Karen looks up from the polished hardwood floor at the rows of nameless people watching her and the prosecutor smirking at her. ‘Yes,’ she stammers.
‘In what way did he abuse you?’ his eyes lock on hers.
‘He beat me.’
‘He beat you?’ Although Montrose and his team has carefully read through and annotated the police report and the psychiatric reports prepared for the court, he gives a boyish grin and acts as if mildly surprised.
Her shoulders slump and there are things she dare not say, which simmer and burn, aren’t decent and she dare not glance at him. ‘He raped me.’
‘He raped you.’ Montrose half turns towards the bench behind him and his grin grows wings, big enough to fill the court, letting them in on the joke. ‘Anything else?’
Her small mouth opens and her lips move as if offering up a silent prayer, ‘No’.
‘So your partner beat and raped you. Rather than leaving him you hatched a plan to poison and murder him, which you did. Is that not correct?’
‘Let me take you back to the night and early hours of 31st October last year. It’s the early hours of the morning your partner is found dead. Toxicology reports suggest that he has been poisoned.’ He leans across, ‘you, yourself, pointed to chicken curry which you said he’d consumed. And a bottle containing paraquat was found at the scene. How do you explain that?’
Judge Brodie frowns and sighs. ‘Witness must answer.’
‘I don’t know,’ she says in a faltering voice.
‘You don’t know.’ The prosecutor holds her statement up for the court to examine. A frail, elderly looking, man sitting in the jury begins coughing. A woman juror with permed hair, seated beside him, hands him a paper hanky. The Queen’s Counsel stands and waits for the bout of coughing to finish and the elderly looking man to sip a glass of water before continuing and once more turns his attention to Karen in the dock. Montrose cocks his head as if listening. ‘Is it not true that you waited until your partner was suitably intoxicated that his taste buds were impaired and you mixed a poison that is commonly available in any high street with his food and thereby killed him?’
Karen shakes her head. ‘No.’
Her answer seems to amuse the QC. He flashes his teeth in a smile and offers her another option. ‘Perhaps you didn’t mean to kill him? ‘Perhaps,’ he pauses and leans and lowers his voice, ‘you only meant to give him a fright to warn him off, but you got a bit mixed up with what you were doing – a perfectly understandable mistake?’
Karen shakes her head. ‘Nah, I’d hardly poison myself too, now would I?’
‘Can you speak a little louder,’ the judge reminds her, ‘for the benefit of the stenographer and the jury.’
A faint flush comes into Karen’s doughy face. Her hands clench into her palms. She tries not to look at the jurors, ordinary looking people, as she repeats herself in case something in their passive expressions changes and hints that they don’t believe her.
‘Uhu,’ says Montrose. ‘Your partner James Docherty’s death was hardly instantaneous. He would have had difficulty breathing. His throat would have been burning and there was a hole in his oesophagus that shows he would have been in considerable pain. He would have been physically sick. We can only surmise that he cried out for help, but you chose to ignore those cries. Instead you let him lie in his own filth and hatched a plot to douse yourself with the self-same poison in order to give yourself an alibi, but here you made a terrible mistake and overdosed. Is it not true there were two innocent victims here James Docherty and the child you miscarried and you were responsible for both of them?’
Karen blinks rapidly as she looks at him, shifts her feet, holds her hand over her mouth and begins to cry. ‘I don’t know.’
Judge Brodie regards the witness with paternal concern. ‘Take your time,’ he advises her, perhaps a drink of water?’
Karen shakes her head and tries to compose herself.
The defence and prosecution teams shuffle papers. Montrose stands very still outside their orbit and waits until her sombre face damp with tears and sweat is composed enough to once more look across at him. ‘You made a statement to the police in which you said,’ he glances down at the paper in front of him to remind him and allows a winning smile to shape his profile as he changes register, “that you were glad he was dead and hoped he was rotting in hell?” Come now, is it not true that you had the motive and helped him on his way?’
There is a hush in the gallery and jury members sympathies seem to have shifted in a heartbeat back and forth, but now wait for the cross-examination to cease and for Karen to reach a verdict for them.
‘No,’ she says, her body trembling and voice quavering. ‘I hated him and I’m glad he’s deid, but I didnae kill him, although I wish I had killed the bastard.’