A/N Hello again :) I'm not very happy with the way I wrote this chapter; I've gone back and changed little bits quite a few times, but I still think it could've been better if I'm honest. I hope you're not disappointed, but please let me know what you think. Thanks to all those who have been reviewing and putting me on alert, it means a lot and it was lovely to hear so many people's reactions to the last chapter. Enjoy!
'Are you ok?' Stella asked as Carla lowered herself onto one of the dining room chairs in the centre of the back room of the local. She was genuinely concerned for her welfare; as much as she tried to hide it, it was evident that she was in excruciating pain.
'I didn't come back here to talk about my injuries.' She couldn't stand being fussed over by those she loved, let alone those who had not believed her when it mattered the most. Carla couldn't help but think how fake Stella's concern seemed, although she wondered if it was just because she was so used to her hostility of late.
'I'm so sorry, Carla.' Carla's eyebrows raised and she leant back slightly in her seat. If she was honest, even though she was expecting her to say it after what had happened last night, it was still a shock to actually hear the words. She'd wanted to hear them for a while, but now she had it made her feel more angry than anything. She shouldn't have needed to apologise; she should never have doubted her in the first place.
'What for?' she questioned. 'Pretending to care about how I am? Or telling me that I made it all up?'
'Everything was piled against you...' Stella started searching for excuses, but she was saved the bother by Carla, who interrupted not wanting to hear them.
'You think I don't know that? He made sure my life was as hard as possible. That included turning practically the whole street against me.' It was the first chance she had had to vent her emotions in such a way, and now she had started she was finding it hard to stop.
'I know. I should've realised...' She tried to find the words, but she honestly didn't know what to say. Carla held up a hand to stop her.
'Don't beat yourself up about it. It's not like you're the only one who treated me like a vicious liar, is it?' Her tone was bitter and sarcastic. All she wanted to do was accept Stella's apology and be gone, but the fighter within her needed her voice to be heard. She needed her to know how hard her life had been, all because so many people on the street had disbelieved her; exactly what Stella had done.
'That doesn't make a difference. I should never have said what I did.'
She thought back to how she'd turned on Carla when she was at her lowest. She'd just come back from court, where Frank had been found not guilty, and no sooner had she stepped out the car she had launched at her. Thinking back, she could see how glazed over her eyes were; how she was trying to block out reality and pretend that everything was going to be fine. She hadn't even had time to let it sink in, and already she was being attacked from all directions. She was right to stick up for her daughter, but she had no right to say some of the things she did. She, of all people, should have understood how much that would hurt.
'But you did. And you can't change that.' Her voice cracked as she thought of how many times she had wished she could go back and change the way she had acted. 'None of us can change the past.'
'Maybe not, but we can still control the future. If there's anything you need, just ask. I mean I can't image what it's like having everyone knowing, but...'
'You said it'd get easier Stella.' She couldn't hold it together any more, and she began to let the tears fall. She remembered in that moment that she was the woman who probably understood what she was going through the most. Stella reached out for Carla's hand and stroked the back of it comfortingly.
'It will Carla, it will. He's gone now.' Her mind cast back further to the first conversation they had had after it had happened, and she remembered how she had told her not to let him take away her feisty spirit. Her heart broke as she thought how hard Carla had tried to get back to normal; how she'd tried to make her cheeky comments and go back to the way things used to be. She'd told her to do that, yet she'd turned against her for taking her advice. 'I'm so sorry' she whispered.
'Mr Foster, you can make this easy for us and just confess, or you can let us drag it out of you. What approach are we going for?' DC Malone said. Part of her felt extremely guilty for the way she had been so judgemental over this whole case. She had been too open about her personal views on the situation and fully regretted it. She decided that from now on she would be strictly professional, waiting for hard evidence before coming to her own conclusion openly. Now she had evidence against Frank, she would get him sent down if it was the last thing she did in this job.; she owed that to Carla.
'I'm not confessing to anything, I've done nothing wrong.' His innocent victim act was as in tact as it had been last time she had questioned him, despite the fact he knew this one was going to be a lot harder to get out of. There had been so many witnesses, but if he stood any chance then he needed to keep his composure. He wasn't about to give up so easily; that just wasn't his style.
'Oh, you can drop the act now. Only hours ago we witnessed you dragging Mrs Connor into a car against her will.'
'It wasn't against her will. She said she was tired and wanted a hand.' He knew it was a ridiculous story, but he hoped he could make it work. There wasn't many ways he could explain why he was dragging someone into a car, was there? He'd managed to fool the police twice before – he'd do it again. They were more gullible than people gave them credit for.
'Oh, another conspiracy was it?' she mocked. Frank nodded in agreement. 'How do explain our officers having to restrain you after you lunged at Mrs Connor then?'
'I was angry. You would be if someone had tried to cause trouble for you with the police. Again!'
'Get angry often do you, Mr Foster?' He tilted his head slightly and raised his eyebrows. Malone waited for a while, but soon realised she needed to take the more evidence-based approach if she was going to crack him. 'There were many other witnesses to you dragging Mrs Connor to the car by her hair' she said expectantly.
'I didn't do anything of the sort.' There was even less ways you can twist that one, so he figured point-blank denying it was the safest option. Go for the "poor, defenceless man who the whole street has turned against" routine.
'So these magically appeared did they?' She pushed a photograph over to Frank's side of the table. It showed small crescent-shaped cuts on Carla's head from where his nails had dug into her scalp and he had to restrain himself from smiling as he admired his handiwork.
'I have no idea how she got these' he replied as he pushed the photo back towards her. DC Malone sighed heavily. This was going to be a long day, she could tell. There was lots of evidence, but to be sure of a conviction she needed a confession and after her handling of this case so far it was her duty to get it from him.
'Mrs Webster part of this conspiracy, is she?' It was then that Frank realised that this really was over. The evidence had been mounting against him by every second, and this was the last straw. He'd assumed that Sally would go to the police, but a small part of him had hoped she'd be too scared to. He'd been wrong, obviously. He slammed his fist into the table in frustration and threw his head back. Stupid mare couldn't just serve her purpose and let it drop, could she?
'Start again shall we, Mr Foster?' He tilted his head up slowly until the detective was in view, but he didn't look the same as he did just a minute previously. His eyes were cold and his gaze was harsh; the Frank nobody but Carla was used to seeing.
'How's her rib?' he asked emotionlessly. His expression was chillingly neutral, until she replied.
'Broken.' She felt a tang of guilt as she realised that there was a high possibility none of this would have happened last night if she'd taken her seriously. He laughed humourlessly. It bounced off the walls of the small interview room and left behind it an eerie silence, which was quickly disturbed.
'Good' he jeered, and it sent a shiver down her spine. She had dealt with many characters in this job, but he was something different entirely.
When Carla and Stella re-appeared from the back Peter got up and ran round behind the bar to help the woman he loved. He could feel everyone's eyes on them, but as much as it bothered him Carla came first.
'Are you alright, love?' he asked her. He was reassured by the calm expression on both their faces, and figured it hadn't turned into the argument he had foreseen. However, he could see that Carla's make-up had smudged slightly and knew she'd been crying.
'I'm ok' she said, putting on a brave face. Peter could see right through it, and she knew that, but truth was that she did feel better having cleared the air with Stella. 'There are just a few people I need to see.'
Her conversation with Stella had made her realise how many people she needed to talk to. There was Hayley, Sally...
'I'm guessing she isn't one of them.' Peter's voice turned hostile and Carla couldn't work out who he could be referring to. When she had finished manoeuvring herself around from behind the bar she lifted her gaze, only to be greeted by someone who she had least expected to see. Why was she even here? She knew the answer, and she wasn't sure she was comfortable with what was coming.