Melbourne, early 1990
"My dear, whatever is wrong?"
Hannah Overington QC had opened her chamber's door in her usual aggressive fashion, expecting to find another weedy boy wearing a beige cardigan from her clerk's office, trying to deliver a brief without soiling himself in fright. She had not expected to see young Johanna, looking awfully upset.
Johanna took a deep breath to compose herself.
"BSL and I have parted ways. Reg Petersen is no longer my superior."
"Well, what a fucking relief. Good riddance I say. The man is a first class turd and that firm's reputation as a dynamic litigation practice is hopelessly misplaced. Come in dear. Time to get you some scotch."
Johanna did not protest as Hannah's virtual tractor beam drew her in. Both women soon settled into leather chairs on the client side of the advocate's desk. Johanna then noticed what her companion was wearing: it seemed to be a leopard print skin-tight catsuit, and nothing else. Not even footwear.
"Forgive me Ms Overington..."
"Oh fuck. Johanna, it's Hannah. Hannah. I've told you that before. Don't be a formal prude."
"I'm sorry, Hannah, but what are you wearing?"
"Would you like one? I find I do my best paperwork when I shed my clothes down to something... racy."
Johanna smiled in mock admiration. The outfit was not flattering. Every middle-age lump, bump and sag on Hannah's tiring frame was exaggerated by the fabric. It was the sort of unitard even most sixteen-year-olds would feel self-conscious sporting, and struggle to look good in. It was evident the QC didn't care what people thought of how she looked. She felt good and that was all that mattered.
Johanna hesitated for a moment, concerned what she was about to make a mistake asking her cherished mentor. The doubt was transitory.
"I'm going to apply for the Bar Reader's Course, and I'd really like to read with you, if that's ok Hannah."
"Of course. That's a bloody given. I'll teach you the tricks. You beat me to the punch: I was going to ask whether you'd like to read under me next time we met."
Johanna beamed with delight. Hannah Overington QC was one of Johanna's true idols. She was a trailblazer at the Bar: the first female criminal law specialist appointed silk in Victoria. She had also been lead counsel in Doctor Sergio Domieri's murder trial and the two women had got quite close. Hannah's fiery red hair was a more subdued blend of auburn and grey these days. Her changing hair colour with age had not dampened her notorious temper and foul mouth.
"Now, finish up that scotch. I'm already a couple ahead of you and I don't want to be taken advantage of."
Johanna arrived at Brassington's at the appointed time. Tom was late. He was nowhere to be seen. This frustrated her a little. Tom was showing a repeated habit of being late to whatever arrangements they had made, be it dinner, a movie or even a scheduled sexual encounter.
What made his tardiness on this occasion worse was this meeting was originally his idea. Tom felt so proud his fiancée was embarking on the Reader's Course that he quickly suggested he accompany her to the fitting for a robe and gown.
Brassington's was the local barrister's outfitter. Everyone went there for new attire. There was an underground market for second-hand garb, but such behaviour was limited to those hailing from less privileged backgrounds. If you came from pedigree, you simply wouldn't dare walk the corridors of Owen Dixon Chambers in someone else's clothes. There were some things beyond the contemplation of the better classes. If it wasn't for her relationship with Tom, Johanna feared she too may have wandered into the murky depths of used wigs, with its meetings afterhours in stairwells and secret coded messages in the classifieds section of The Age .
Johanna gasped as she