Once the search was over, the officer placed a yellow sash around Danny's shoulder to identify him as a prisoner, not unlike the fluorescent one his mother made him wear when he first learned to ride a bicycle. He was then led into the largest room he'd been in since arriving at Belmarsh. He reported to a desk that was raised on a platform about three feet above the floor. Another officer checked another list, and said, "Your visitor is waiting at E9."
Seven lines of tables and chairs were set out in long rows, marked A to G. The prisoners had to sit on red chairs that were bolted to the floor. Their visitors sat on the other side of a table on green chairs, also bolted to the floor, making it easier for the security staff to carry out surveillance, assisted by several CCTV cameras whirring above them. As Danny walked down the rows, he noticed officers were keeping a close eye on both prisoners and visitors from a balcony above. He came to a halt when he reached row E and searched for Beth. At last he saw her, sitting on one of the green chairs. Despite having her photo sellotaped to the cell wall, he had forgotten quite how beautiful she was. She was carrying a parcel in her arms, which surprised him, as visitors are not allowed to bring in gifts for prisoners.
She leaped up the moment she saw him. Danny quickened his pace, although he had been warned several times not to run. He threw his arms around her, and the parcel let out a cry. Danny stepped back to see his daughter for the first time.
"She's beautiful," he said as he took Christy in his arms. He looked up at Beth. "I'm going to get out of here before she ever finds out her father was in jail."
"When did-" They both began to speak at once.
"Sorry," said Danny, "you go first."
Beth looked surprised. "Why are you speaking so slowly?"
Danny sat down on the red chair and began to tell Beth about his cellmates as he tucked into a Mars Bar and drained a can of Diet Coke that Beth had purchased from the canteen-luxuries he hadn't experienced since he'd been locked up in Belmarsh.
"Nick is teaching me to read and write," he told her. "And Big Al is showing me how to survive in prison." He waited to see how Beth would react.
"How lucky you were to end up in that cell."
Danny hadn't thought about that before, and suddenly realized he ought to thank Mr. Jenkins. "So what's happening back in Bacon Road?" he asked, touching Beth's thigh.
"Some of the locals are collecting signatures for a petition to have you released, and Danny Cartwright is innocent has been sprayed on the wall outside Bow Road tube station. No one's tried to remove it, not even the council."
Danny listened to all of Beth's news while he munched his way through three Mars Bars and drank two more Diet Cokes, aware that he wouldn't be allowed to take anything back to his cell once the visit was over.
He wanted to hold Christy, but she'd fallen asleep in Beth's arms. The sight of his child only made him more determined to learn to read and write. He wanted to be able to answer all of Mr. Redmayne's questions so that he would be ready for his appeal and to surprise Beth by replying to her letters.
"All visitors must now leave," announced a voice over the loudspeaker.
Danny wondered where the shortest hour in his life had gone as he looked up to check the clock on the wall. He rose slowly from his seat and took Beth in his arms, kissing her gently. He couldn't help remembering that this was the most common way for visitors to pass drugs to their partners, and that the security staff would be watching them closely. Some prisoners even swallowed the drugs so they wouldn't be discovered when they were searched before returning to their cells.
"Goodbye, my darling," said Beth when he eventually released her.
"Goodbye," said Danny, sounding desperate. "Oh, I nearly forgot," he added, pulling a piece of paper out of a pocket in his jeans. No sooner had he passed the message to her than an officer appeared by his side and grabbed it.
"You can't exchange anything while you're on a visit, Cartwright."
"But it's only-" began Danny.
"No buts. It's time for you to leave, Miss."
Danny stood watching as Beth walked away, carrying his daughter. His eyes never left them until they had disappeared out of sight.
"I must get out of here," he said out loud.
The officer unfolded the note and read the first words Danny Cartwright had ever written to Beth. "It won't be long before we're together again." The officer looked worried.
"Short back and sides?" asked Louis as the next customer took his place in the barber's chair.
"No," whispered Danny. "I want you to make my hair look more like your last customer's."
"It'll cost you," said Louis.
"Same as Nick, ten fags a month."
Danny removed a packet of unopened Marlboros from his jeans. "Today, and a month in advance," said Danny, "if you do the job properly."
The barber smiled as Danny placed the cigarettes back in his pocket.
Louis walked slowly around the chair, occasionally stopping to take a closer look before he offered an opinion.
"First thing you'll have to do is let your hair grow and wash it two or three times a week," he said. "Nick never has a hair out of place, and his cut is slightly at the nape of the neck," he added, as he came to a halt behind him. "You'll also need to shave every day. And cut your sideboards a lot higher if you want to look like a gent." After another perambulation, he added, "Nick parts his hair on the left, not the right, so that's the first change I'll have to make. And his hair's a shade lighter than yours, but nothing a little lemon juice won't take care of."
"How long will all this take?" asked Danny.
"Six months, no longer. But I'll need to see you at least once a month," he added.
"I'm not going anywhere," said Danny. "So book me in for the first Monday of every month, because the job has to be finished by the time my appeal comes up. My lawyer seems to think that it matters what you look like when you're in the dock, and I want to look like an officer, not a criminal."
"Shrewd fellow, your lawyer," said Louis, throwing a green sheet around Danny before picking up his clippers. Twenty minutes later an almost imperceptible change had begun to take place. "Don't forget," said Louis as he held up the mirror for his valued customer before brushing a few hairs from his shoulders. "You'll need to shave every morning. And shampoo your hair at least twice a week if you hope to pass muster, to use one of Nick's expressions."
"Back to your cells," shouted Mr. Hagen. The officer looked surprised when he saw an unopened packet of twenty cigarettes pass between the two prisoners. "Found another customer for the alternative service you offer, have you, Louis?" he asked with a grin.
Danny and Louis remained silent.
"Funny that, Cartwright," said Hagen. "I'd never have put you down for a queer."
MINUTES TURNED INTO hours, hours became days, days ended up being weeks in the longest year of Danny's life. Though, as Beth regularly reminded him, it hadn't been entirely wasted. In a couple of months' time Danny would take-sit, Nick's word-six GCSEs, and his mentor seemed confident that he would pass them all with flying colors. Beth had asked him which A levels he had signed up for.