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Out of the Shadows (3/6)

BBC Sherlock

Rating 15 (femslash, references to alcoholism)

Spoilers for A Scandal in Belgravia

Summary: Clara's trying to help Kate recover from Irene, but the past isn't always easy to escape.

Betaed by the wonderful blooms84

Part 1, Part 2




It was odd how guilty Clara felt phoning Jane on Monday morning, but she knew if she didn't, Jane would be chasing her for a report.

"I've talked to Kate Winter," she told her. "I don't think she's likely to blackmail Rebecca Trent or any of Irene Adler's other former clients. She just wants to try and get her life together again, make a new start for herself. Irene Adler seems to have treated her pretty badly."

"It sounded like that when she contacted me, but I wasn't sure if it was all just a trick," Jane said.

"Why would you think that?"

"Because I am old and cynical and jaded. And I've had several clients who got entangled with Ms Adler, and lived to regret it. I didn't think I could give Ms Winter a fair hearing. Whereas you can clearly find redeeming features even in a con woman."

"Kate isn't that. She's...well, she's broken a few laws," Clara said. "But I think she got in over her head."

"Well if she's not a crook, she's probably well shot of Irene Adler. I met her once, at a posh party," Jane said. "She was flirting remorselessly with all the most important people there, male and female. Still, Ms Winter will doubtless find someone else soon, looking like that." She paused and then added: "Tell her to make the next relationship official. She could have got a lot more from Irene Adler if she'd played her cards right."

Jane was completely unromantic about relationships, Clara thought, but she might well be right about that. On the other hand, Jane might know everything about the marriage market, but Clara knew more about the job market...

"Jane," she said tentatively, "is there any chance one of your contacts could find a job for Kate?"

"Did she ask you for one?"

"No," Clara said, "and she may have something sorted already. But I'm not sure how easy it would be for her to get back into modelling. And it hardly looks good on any job application when you can't provide an employer reference because your former boss has done a moonlight flit."

"What you mean is that you're worried she'll end up in something sleazy? She's a grown woman, Clara, she can look after herself."

I wonder if that was what Irene thought, how she justified it to herself? Independence as the excuse for selfishness. Because it was weak to let yourself be hurt by somebody else, wasn't it, in Jane and Irene's dog-eat-dog world?

"I want her to have a choice, that's all," she told Jane. "She's well-organised, loyal and discreet. There must be someone you know who'd like an employee like that."

"I'll see what I can do," Jane said. "I do owe you, after all, Clara. Take care."

***

Jane's efficiency was staggering, as usual. Or maybe her firm had secret fixers, like in Michael Clayton. A couple of days later, there was an e-mail with the contact details for an art gallery in Bethnal Green. They need a new receptionist. Tactful, posh and able to cope with rotting meat as art. Clara left a tentative message on Kate's mobile, trying not to sound pushy: I thought you might be interested...if you do need help in any way...

A text came back rapidly:
Sounds more hopeful than anything the job centre has. Thanks, KW.

And then a few minutes later:
I think I owe you several drinks for all your help. Kate.

Clara smiled and texted back:
I'll take you up on that when you've received your back pay. Clara.

Then she went back to work and tried not to think about the fall of Kate's auburn hair, the trained grace of those long legs. She was there to sort out Kate's financial problems, and that was that.

***

She'd been right to be cautious, Clara told herself, when she got Kate's letter a couple of weeks later. Odd to have a handwritten one, but maybe Kate thought an e-mail wasn't formal enough. It was an oddly formal little letter, in its old-fashioned, slightly glossy politeness. Kate had got the receptionist's job and she had a date for her county court hearing. I'm so grateful for all your help, the letter ended, and Clara rather ruefully translated that: and now I want to forget this whole thing ever happened. Not surprising, she supposed, that Kate was now running away as fast as she could from her previous life and didn't want any witnesses.

***

"Good evening, is that Clara Johnson?" the young woman's voice announced on her voicemail a few weeks later. "This is Kate Winter. You very kindly helped me a little while ago and I wondered if I could possibly ask you for another favour..."

She didn't sound as if she was in trouble, but it wasn't hard to think of a lot of things that might have gone wrong in Kate's life. Clara hastily dialled the number Kate had left.

"I'm sorry if I worried you." Kate's voice was warm down the phone. "I only realised as I was going to leave a message that it was a bit of a cheek. I have to attend a private viewing at the Hickman Gallery on Saturday evening, and I'd rather not go on my own."

"That hardly sounds like you asking me for a favour," Clara commented. "The Hickman's terribly fashionable at the moment." It all went to prove that there was no such thing as bad publicity: the Hickman had become an overnight sensation when its previous owner had had to resign after proving to be a crook. Now everyone wanted to go and play "spot the fake".

"The thing is...," Kate said nervously, and then there was a long pause. "The artist...it might be a bit difficult, you see."

"Who is it?"

Another silence and then Kate said: "A man called Paul D'Annunzio. He's rather controversial, and, and I thought I needed someone unshockable, but grown-up."

There were probably worse ways to be described, Clara thought. And she did want to see Kate again. A few dodgy pictures were surely worth putting up with.

***

When Clara googled him, it turned out that D'Annunzio's big idea was painting porn stars as saints, which had surely been done long before. She wondered if someone should break it to him that Mary Whitehouse was dead and buried. Still, the pleased look on Kate's face when Clara arrived at the gallery almost made up for it. Kate was wearing a terribly trendy dress in a shade of old gold that made her skin glow, but it didn't seem to bother her that Clara was in her normal boring navy suit.

"I wasn't sure you could face it," Kate said, bending to brush Clara's cheek with a kiss. "You have a Turner print on your walls, don't you? I should have remembered contemporary art wasn't your thing."

"Always willing to expand my horizons," Clara said, trying to sound more like a sophisticated woman of the world, and less like a slightly giddy teenager. She didn't belong in this world of beautiful people and fancy galleries, but Kate looked immediately at home.

"Come and have a look round then. See what you think," said Kate. There was a slightly wary note in her voice now that said she suspected Clara wasn't going to enjoy the next part of the evening.

What offended her, Clara decided after the first dozen paintings, wasn't the religious symbolism – though she could see now why some Catholics hated D'Annunzio's work. What annoyed her was how ugly he'd made some of the women look.

"He simply can't draw, can he?" she said in a low voice to Kate. "I've seen far more erotic things in the National Gallery."

"I liked Cranach's Venus in her hat," Kate replied. "I always fancied posing like that."

Kate would fit in perfectly with Cranach's slender, seductive beauties, Clara thought, as well as today's models. Whereas her body shape hadn't been fashionable since at least the time of Rubens.

"Do you think Mr D'Annunzio has ever seen a woman with normal-sized breasts?" she said instead, because there was a difference between Rubenesque bosoms and silicone-enhanced. "Or has he just got a special deal on flesh tint?"

"Careful what you say," Kate said, her head turning rapidly, like a slightly worried gazelle. D'Annunzio's here somewhere. That's why Mark, our boss, said we all had to come. He's hoping he might get a deal to sell some of his prints. So we have to sound enthusiastic."

"I'll try my best," Clara said hastily. She was supposed to be being grown-up, wasn't she? But she felt oddly awkward with Kate tonight. As if the most popular girl in school had decided to be friends with her, but was suddenly going to realise her mistake.

"Would you like some champagne?" Kate's smile was warm now, approving.

"Yes, please," Clara replied. One glass would be fine, if she drank it slowly. She knew her own capacities precisely. One glass and she would not say anything rash, but she could relax a little and stop feeling self-conscious when Kate looked at her. "So are you enjoying the job?"

"It's good," Kate said. "More commercial than I'd expected, it's all about getting stuff in that will sell, even if it's not to your own taste. But I'm learning how to do the selling. Do you want to come and meet some of my colleagues?"

***

Clara had been to a lot of work parties over the years – hers and Harry's – and she prided herself that she could make coherent small talk about everything from Mergers and Acquisitions to Big Brother. And she did find it interesting listening to Mark and the others talking about contemporary art, even if she couldn't share their enthusiasm for it. People's work fascinated her; one of the reasons she'd specialised in employment law was the glimpse she got into other worlds.

"You're a barrister, are you, Clara?" Mark said, smiling warmly, as his shrewd, friendly eyes scanned her, obviously trying to work out what he could persuade her to buy.

"Employment law," she replied. "I'm afraid I don't have deep enough pockets for your kind of art."

"And I suspect your tastes are more old-fashioned," he said, still smiling. "Well, I'm relying on Kate to educate you. She should bring you to the gallery sometime, and we'll dig out something you might like. At a special discount, obviously. Excuse me, I need to go and grab Joella over there."

He clearly thought she was Kate's girlfriend, Clara realised. "You're out at work?" she murmured to Kate when they got out of earshot. This was getting complicated, not to say a little uncomfortable.

"Sort of," Kate replied a little uneasily. "I probably ought to have told you. The thing is–" She broke off, and looked with alarm at a very tall thin man in gaudily patterned jeans and a tight-fitting green shirt advancing on them. He smiled smugly down at Kate.

"I wasn't expecting you to be here, Kate. How are you getting on?"

"Fine," Kate said in a small voice. Cla ra moved a little nearer to her, almost instinctively. Whatever was going on, Kate might need help.

"Sad to hear about Irene, terrible way to go," the man went on, still smiling."But she liked to live dangerously, didn't she?"

What the hell did he think he was playing at, Clara wondered. He didn't sound drunk; maybe this was his idea of performance art, embarrassing beautiful women at parties. But how did he know about Irene?

"So what are you doing now that's Irene's gone? Taken over the business?" the man went on remorselessly.

"I'm working at the Eightfold Gallery." Kate said a little more confidently.

"I thought when I saw you with your friend–" the man began, and then stopped, as if he was seeing Clara properly for the first time. Clara drew herself up to her full – inadequate – height and eyeballed him right back. The way she did in court with the cockiest of her opponents, who needed to be shown that she was just as tough as them, in her own quiet way.

The man gave her a knowing smile, and said: "I do apologise. I'm an old friend of Kate's, but she's obviously a bit busy right now. I'll see you around, Katy. Take care. Don't do anything I wouldn't do."

He wandered off and Clara turned to look at Kate. She was just standing there, very pale. Looking guilty.

"Who was that?" Clara demanded.

"That," Kate said tightly, "was Paul D'Annunzio."

The not very skilful painter of porn stars. Who was therefore quite likely to have heard of Irene Adler. No, that wouldn't explain why he called himself an "old friend" of Kate's....

"He was one of Irene's clients?" Clara asked. Kate nodded and then said:

"I had to come, but I thought if I came with you, he'd leave me alone. He wouldn't think..." She looked away. "It doesn't matter."

"He thought you were working as a dominatrix now," Clara went on. She was being very slow, wasn't she? "You knew he would be here, that he would try and talk to you–"

"Mark and the others don't know about Irene, I'm going to tell them, but I haven't yet," Kate broke in. "I thought you'd understand if he did say anything embarrassing, wouldn't make a fuss..."

When I saw you with your 'friend', D'Annunzio had said. It was all too obvious now, wasn't it? This was doubtless the sort of party that Irene – that Kate – was used to. "He thought that you'd picked me up, didn't he?" Clara said angrily. "That I was a client of yours. That's what I look like is it, to those in the know? Someone who pays to be mistreated?"

"No," Kate said hastily, "But like someone who might have fallen for me." And then her jaw dropped as she realised what she'd said.

Oh fuck, thought Clara, but even now she couldn't face a scene in public, after all the ones she'd had with Harry. She was still holding her champagne glass, she realised.

"Can you hold that for me, please," she said, thrusting it at Kate, "Back in a minute." And as Kate stood there, puzzled, a champagne glass in each hand, Clara forced her way through the crowds to the exit. She'd had a lot of practice in leaving parties hastily in the last few years, and Kate probably wouldn't realise she was running away till it was too late.

She'd been so stupid, hadn't she? Hadn't realised that Kate was just using her, or that she was so obvious. A pretty face and a sob story and Clara Johnson would agree to help anyone out, wouldn't she? Till Kate didn't need her anymore.

She wasn't quite sure where she was going, once she got out onto the street, but it didn't matter anyhow. It was still early in the evening. She'd have plenty of time to wander round London in a daze before going back to her empty flat. To the heaps of case files and the DVD boxsets and the ordinary, boring life of an ordinary, boring single dyke. And she could phone up Jane and tell her she was right, that Kate Winter was just another con woman like Irene, and that she'd been played for a sucker.

No, she told herself. Kate hadn't been after her money; she wouldn't have fallen for that. But her heart – even after Harry, that was still apparently up for grabs.

Her phone buzzed in her pocket, and she pulled it out to read the text:

Clara, I'm sorry I said the wrong thing. Please can you come back so we can talk? Kate

She only realised as she tried to type her reply that her hands were shaking:

I don't think there's anything to talk about. Clara

Kate's reply was prompt:

Let me buy you a drink at least. I owe you that. Kate

Best to get it over with, Clara decided abruptly. To say the things she felt now to Kate, not mutter them into her pillow to herself at 2 a.m. To stand up for herself, the way she should have done with Harry.

I'll give you half an hour and then I'm going home. Clara.


Part 4

Comments

( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
zauzat
May. 25th, 2012 10:43 am (UTC)
Lovely twists and turns. Very enjoyable.
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )