Authors: Nikki McWatters
Tags: #Fiction, #Psychological, #Retail, #Suspense, #Thrillers
‘I don’t think it’s that. I think he had some kind of break down. He was exhausted and stressed from the trip and he had that illness and some drinks and a few drugs and he was mad, psychotic. He snapped. But I don’t think he did it to hurt you. I think he did it with no rational thought in his brain and you and I both know he is so full of remorse it is killing him. Isn’t this public humiliation enough without losing you too?’
‘I want to forgive him,’ she said, her chin trembling. ‘But I just can’t get the images out of my head and I feel like I’ve never really known him. That it was all some big act. Maybe he’s been screwing teenage girls the whole time and just managed to hide it. I don’t feel safe with him anymore because he feels like a stranger.’
I nodded. I knew how she felt. I really did. Because early on in my relationship with Clay, I’d busted him with a groupie backstage. It had ripped me to pieces but I understood that it was some kind of addiction that he’d picked up over the years as a musician and together we built back the trust.
I told Meg all of that.
‘It takes a lot of time. Years. To rebuild that trust, but honey, it’s worth it,’ I added.
She looked out at the pedestrians walking the busy city streets and put Harrison over her shoulder and rubbed his back. I watched dead, brown leaves wheeling down the sidewalk.
‘The counsellor that we’ve been seeing says the same thing,’ she told me. ‘But Jules, I do love him and I just wish I could erase all this and go back. Go back to before.’
‘Well life throws challenges at us and what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger,’ I said, sipping the last of my coffee.
‘But this has killed me Julie. I feel dead,’ she whispered.
‘Don’t say that, Meg. Your kids need you. Write about it. You told me once that writing is like therapy for you. So write it!’
‘Maybe,’ she nodded but I knew she had barely heard me.
I knew it was probably not the best time to bring it up but I felt it had to be said. All those years ago I had promised Meg I would never bring it up, but it was the elephant in the room and it had to be spoken of.
‘Meg, remember you told me once, your deepest secret?’
She looked up sharply. Spooked by the ghost of secrets past.
‘Don’t!’ she warned.
‘No Meg. You’re a big girl and you need to be fair here. You cheated on Chris when you were in college. That lecturer. You never told Chris and I’ve never spoken of it to anyone. But you still loved Chris…’
‘I was a naïve girl and anyway, we weren’t married yet,’ she whispered, her voice raspy.
‘What sort of pathetic excuse is that? You were living together and you had a little baby. Olive. It’s not different and you have to be a big girl and realise that both you and Chris are human and vulnerable.’
Meg let out a big whoosh of breath and nodded.
‘You are being the voice of reason, Jules,’ she nodded and gave a resigned sigh. ‘Don’t think I haven’t thought about it and it is double standards I know…but…I can’t help the way I feel. It is different. This time I was pregnant and what we had after fifteen years was more rock solid and tangible than what we had when we were just young kids. I was swept away by that stupid older man thing. Up til then I’d only ever known Chris is a sexual way. I was just a stupid teenager.’
She was trying to justify herself but the words were falling flat and she knew it.
Just then, I caught sight of Clay walking down the street and I tapped on the window to get his attention. I’d told him to meet us there and fill us in after he’d given his evidence.
‘Hey Meg,’ he said as he arrived at our table and bent to kiss her on the cheek. ‘He’s gorgeous.’
‘And I heard your news,’ Meg replied. ‘Huge congratulations. I’m so excited for you both.’
There was a long awkward silence while Clayton pulled across a chair and sat down with us.
‘So?’ I jumped in. ‘How’s it looking?’
‘Good,’ he nodded sombrely, darting looks between me and Meg. ‘I had a chat with Tim outside while I was having a smoke.’
Meg put the baby back into his pram and crossed her arms tightly, pursed her lips and waited for Clay to fill is in.
‘The best news is that Tim got the taped conversation thrown out. The next best news is that the psychologist gave a pretty negative report on the girl, Libby, and is of the professional opinion that the girl is not being truthful about the facts and that she is suspicious about the rape claim and thinks that there is enough doubt to warrant a need for strong evidence before proceeding to trial.’
That was great news.
‘That’s very positive. But the girl won’t agree to the
DNA testing will she? Has the court made an order for that. Wasn’t that what we were hoping for?’
‘Unfortunately the Magistrate has refused to order that because of the risk to the baby and he said it’s not actually a paternity case but a rape case and that it was wrong to confuse the two. So regardless of whether the DNA links back to Chris, it doesn’t prove or disprove the allegation of rape.’
‘He doesn’t even remember being with the girl,’ I mused.
‘But if he’s going to screw one, why not two? Why not ten?’ Meg said bitterly.
‘The Magistrate did mention that when a girl is only a few months off sixteen that it’s a grey area when consent is involved and that the only thing they have to proceed with the rape charge is the girl’s word and they have to peg that against Chris’s reputation rather than his recollection.’
The baby was sleeping peacefully as Meg rocked the pram with her foot, distractedly.
‘The prosecutor is a total bitch though and she’s out for Chris’s blood. She’s good but I get the impression that the ball-breaking act is getting on the Magistrate’s nerves. She’s putting the friend, Abigail, up in the witness box because the two girls are all she’s got and the younger is a minor and has elected not to speak. She had her statement read this morning.’
Clay then gave me a look and then tapped me on the forearm.
‘Did you tell Meg about your mum’s friend?’
Meg looked at me quizzically. I hadn’t been sure whether to tell her what I’d heard about the girl. Libby O’Neil. I was afraid of even bringing up her name. But it might make Meg feel a little more secure.
‘My mother knows the Principal of the school where that Libby girl attends,’ I whispered across the table. ‘And she told some stories. The girl is basically a problem. She’s been in trouble for drugs and lying before. Apparently she once accused a teacher of feeling her up but then recanted later. She’s an attention seeking little drama queen and also the most talented actress in the school. She got in on a scholarship and is also a member of the Australian Youth Theatre.’
‘The principal shouldn’t talk out of school? That’s unprofessional.’
That’s all Meg had to say on the matter. She simply criticized the principal.
‘Well, it was told to Mum on the sly because they are best friends and she likes a tipple and a good gossip but she’s given the police a statement and a transcript of the girl’s records.’
‘I don’t even care about that girl. I don’t care if Chris did it or didn’t do it with her. I don’t even care if the baby is his or not. Well, that’s not completely true,’ Meg said firmly. ‘The fact that he admits to being with the blonde is enough. That’s enough. That hurts so much that anything else…I don’t even feel.’
And she began to cry. Tears but no sound. She put her head down on the table and I didn’t know what to say.
‘Chris loves you,’ Clay whispered into her hair. ‘If you did something while you were sleep-walking, would you be totally responsible? Because that’s what this is like. The Chris you and I know was not with those girls. The drugs made him something else.’
‘That’s a cop out and you know it!’ Meg said, looking up sharply.
‘He’s not perfect is all I’m saying,’ Clay shrugged. ‘And what else I’m saying is that if you took that night away, you’d be left with perfect and that’s a pretty incredible thing to throw away.’
I smiled at Clay. He put it well. My stomach was rumbling.
‘Maybe we should order some lunch,’ I suggested. ‘How much longer is the thing going to take?’
‘Don’t know. Another hour maybe,’ Clay answered. ‘But yeah, you girls get some grub in your bellies and I’ll go back and wait around for Chris. I want to be there for him when they decided whether to take it to a jury or not. He needs me.’
We watched Clay walk back out onto the dirty city street and then I hailed the waiter.
Putting the Proudfoot girl on the stand was risky. It’s always risky with a teenager because they don’t often think before they speak but I’d coached her up and told her to answer my questions as simply as possible without any embellishment. She was a bright girl and she’d had some stage experience at school so I figured she’d be fine.
We needed her testimony because she was the only witness who could give the Magistrate a snapshot of that hotel room in April. A snapshot of the out-of-control behaviour of the defendant. She could paint Chris Bergin as the lecherous drug fiend that he is. He sat by while teenage girls drank and drugged away and then he had sex with them and encouraged them to arouse one another. And I am not buying for a minute that an upstanding Australian of the Year just up and does something so extreme, completely out of the blue. With the drink and drugs in his system, he got sloppy and let his defences down, showing his true colours. And who is surprised that his status as one of the most famous musicians on the planet, was enough to turn young girls heads and make them do things that they might not ordinarily do? He took advantage of my vulnerable client and he was going to pay for that.
Abigail was wearing a sensible pale blue skirt with a matching cardigan and her long hair was loose. She was a beautiful young woman with impeccable grooming. Her mother had elected to sit outside the courtroom and that is just as well I think because some of the ground we were covering would get a little sordid. Libby’s parents opted to sit through the whole thing. That was their choice.
We’d had to fight tooth and nail to get the Magistrate to agree to let her appear. She was only sixteen but she was a crucial witness and she and her mother had both been keen for her to speak. The Magistrate made an announcement to the packed court that the girl’s name could not be repeated outside of the court and explained that a psychologist had formed the opinion that the girl was fit to answer questions before the court.
‘Good afternoon Abigail,’ I smiled after she was sworn in.
‘Hi,’ she said and coughed nervously.
Her eyes locked on mine, like we’d rehearsed. I didn’t want her looking at the defendant or anyone else. It could throw the poor girl.
‘On April 4
you and you friend Elizabeth O’Neil, who I’ll refer to as Libby, attended a concert by the band
Drop Dead Gorgeous
at the Sydney Entertainment Centre. Is that correct?’
‘Please answer the question aloud, Abbie. May I call you Abbie?’
‘Yes you may and yes we did go to the concert.’
‘Had you planned to go partying with the band? Had you prior contact with any members of the band?’
‘No to both questions.’
She was doing well. The public gallery was full but quiet, only the occasional sniffle or cough. Photographic equipment was not allowed inside the room but I could see the approved journalists up the back firing off minute to minute updates on twitter and presumably sending email updates back to their editors. Despite everyone knowing the names of the two young girls at the centre of this case, their names could not be used in the press. The media had a duty of care to suppress their identity and the legal obligation to do so as the court had made an order.
‘But you had told your mother that you were staying at Libby’s house and she had told her parents that she was staying at your place?’
‘Yes. But it was just so we could stay out late and try to get in to some of the clubs.’
I nodded and smiled.
‘So how did you come to end up in Chris Bergin’s hotel room early in the morning of the 5
Abbie explained how they had waited at the back stage area for the band to come and sign autographs which they did. Abbie showed a piece of paper that had the signatures of three of the band members. One of whom was Chris Bergin.
‘And then one of the roadies picked out four of us and invited us backstage for a drink.’
‘Did you know the other two …were they young girls?’ I asked.
‘Women. Young women and no we didn’t know them.’
Abbie described drinking some champagne and said that she targeted Chris Bergin because he was the most famous and best looking in the band.
‘Did you want to seduce him?’ I asked.
‘Yeah, I guess so. Who wouldn’t? He’s someone that everyone fantasizes about.’
‘Who was the bigger Chris Bergin fan? You or Libby?’ I asked.
‘I’d say me but she’d probably say her,’ Abbie giggled.
‘Did Chris offer you drugs or alcohol?’
‘I guess,’ she shrugged.
‘Yes or no. What did he offer you?’
‘Well there was some champagne but I don’t remember who gave me the first glass. I don’t think it was Chris but he definitely topped up my glass later. He had lots of people all around him. Someone passed around a plate with lines of cocaine on it. I think someone passed it to Chris and he shook his head and passed it to me because I was next to him.’
‘How did you come to go back to the party in the hotel room?’
‘Chris announced that he was tired and if anyone wanted to party they could come back and have a few drinks at his room.’
‘Did he ask you specifically?’
‘No. Libby fronted up to him and begged him to let us come. She really wanted us to hang out with the band and so did I. We’d never hung out with rock-stars before. He said ‘sure thing’’
‘This photo of the three of you was taken backstage. Do you remember who took it?’