It Ain't Me Babe
An Alternative series 5 Karen / Yvonne Tribute
Yvonne's cell door clanged back into its recess and she flung herself on her bed, mentally exhausted.
She'd let it slip privately to Karen the other day the bad news about Colin's addiction and had been in Karen's office with Colin. She'd looked at him as he silently pleaded with her with that look in his eye that nearly softened her to cover up for him. This time she hardened her heart and repeated to Karen the truth about Colin's heroin addiction.
Karen, in boiling anger rolled up Colin's sleeve to reveal the telltale evil red mark on his arm where all his money flowed in and all his self respect had drained away and her blue eyes damned him for letting her down once too often. You have standards to uphold, Colin, her thoughts blazed, and to wallow down into the subworld of the dealers on the outside is to put yourself on the same level as the dealers among the prisoners. They are the ones we have to piss test only you have more money than them to support your habit. You let yourself down and let down the prison service, she wanted to tell him also but she could see that look in his eye and so a cropped down officially correct form of words came from her lips instead, which was a compromise and had the worst faults of compromises. The whole thing left a bitter taste in her mouth. Not a trace of Karen's moral dilemma showed in her face and voice except to Yvonne's sharp sympathetic eyes. .
By grabbing at this one chance and not weakening, Yvonne had solved a problem that had been burning away at her. It was done now. There was pain in Yvonne's eyes for his wasted life and the way she had had to take the simple brutal course of action and grass on him which would finish his career. Yvonne could have acted according to her heart and try to fight his inevitable further spiral down into his addiction. That would only have prolonged the agony and he would have ended up in a worse mess than now. If he can't fight it for himself, no one could do it for him. It was the right thing to do. But it didn't make her feel any better. As Colin passed by her, limp and drained, there was a look in Karen's eyes that read the feelings mapped out in Yvonne's face. She had also had to do her share of the brutal hatchet job so she knew how Yvonne felt also. Then he was gone.
"Go way from my window
Leave at your own chosen speed."
She'd been sucked into a brief affair by a man who was a different proposition than the succession of men she had known. So why in hell did she get dragged into mothering Colin's heroin addiction? He was good shag to begin with, something she had missed unbelievably all these months at Larkhall. She ended up talking to him about his addiction, how he'd tried so hard to give up and that she would never understand that unless she were using herself. It wasn't as easy as simply "just say no." He was almost suggesting that she try it for herself so she knew what she was talking about but she dragged that insinuation into the open and told him that that was bollocks. She had seen her share of smackheads in Larkhall. But she'd learned from that not to trust his endless pleas to be trusted. She could tell from his eyes if they were 'pinned' whether or not he'd been using or not. "Don't make me grovel." he used to keep on saying to her, laying a guilt trip on her for being too hard on him. She'd bite her tongue back to begin with till she had stopped believing in all his shit. That happened when Denny, with tears in her eyes, force marched her into her cell and told her about a girl she'd once loved before Shell came on the scene who had OD'd and that 'there is nothing you can do for a junkie, man.'
I'm not the one you want, babe
I'm not the one you need
You say you're looking for someone
Never weak but always strong
He'd look wistfully into Yvonne's eyes as the woman/mother figure who could put the blocks on Fenner when he had the knack of staring right into his eyes and seeing the fear there. Somehow he always knew. He saw Fenner when he ran up against her and Fenner was different with her. That suppressed rage that boiled over and the threats he uttered was the mark of a man who banged up against an immovable object and didn't scare her. Couldn't she see how much he needed her?
To protect you and defend you
Whether you are right or wrong
Someone who will open each and every door
Her mind went back to the time that Ritchie used to when he lived at home. "Don't let Dad know about it. I'm depending on you, mum." he'd say with that little boy look on her face and had worked every time. She had got dragged into hiding yet another secret from Charlie till it was one secret too far and Charlie had found out. She remembered Charlie's contorted face as he started to beat Ritchie black and blue and being frozen to the spot. She couldn't move as she had got sick of Ritchie's lies, and besides, for once she ought to stand by Charlie, bastard though he was. She was sick of acting as go between. She got used to smooth down situations at home by wilful men who were used to blundering their way round situations and expecting her to pull them out of the hole they fell into. "Go and see Mum, she knows what to say,"
The next day after solving some crisis or other, she went into the betting shop where she was "top dog" and she would shout at the useless tossers to get their brains into gear, before settling into the tiny cramped office where she sorted out the takings for the previous day. .
All her life, she'd been used to the Charlie type of macho bullshit declaring his love and before him, a string of boyfriends in her teens. Somehow, she'd attracted the bastards.
But it ain't me, babe
No, no, no, it ain't me babe
It ain't me you're looking for, babe.
In a calmer moment, that very first time she had gone to the pub with Karen floated back into her mind and the mental image of when she looked into Karen's clear blue eyes. Two of a kind they were. Yvonne had said, "You're all right" that to a casual observer would have meant nothing but to Karen, was the highest form of praise. In her laconic way, she and Karen had exchanged confidences as to who was the worst mother and Karen told her straight advice about Ritchie. She remembered that day well as the afternoon sunlight streamed through the windows sideways on Karen's long blond hair. There was an air of worldliness and assurance and battered strength in the lines on her face, in her straightforward stare into the wide world. She breathed more evenly, her neck muscles relaxed and the feeling of imprisonment twice over started to lift. All her cares were lifted off her shoulders and thinking of Karen eased her mind and made her feel free and relaxed- even though she was in prison. There was something almost flirtatious the way Karen had said "Does that mean I get another date with you?" She had half registered it but she had let that moment go and had been carried on by the rush of events. She hadn't thought about it till now but she knew that she had gone back and recovered that first false step There wasn't anyone she'd met in her life that had had that strength like Karen, nor something else that she couldn't put her finger on but thinking of her made her feel good for the first time in weeks.
Karen grabbed a load of files which slithered through her hands and impatiently stuffed them into her briefcase which was straining at the seams and her handbag was slung over her shoulders and, with a force of will, she eased her way through the narrow corridors, through the rows of gates and out to her green sports car. She used the last of her strength to will herself to drive home and to collapse into a sofa with a stiff glass of vodka with her bags round her. She looked at them ruefully. A woman's mind can be gauged by what was in her bags and, right now, they were full of things to do that she hadn't had time to get round to sorting out. The pressure was grinding on her, she reflected, and images of those pressures were suspended before her eyes, the scheming cold faced Grayling and the glaring vindictive eyes of Fenner. She'd had the attitude that if she kept plugging away, day in day out, sooner or later sheer survival instincts and experience of the Larkhall snakepit would win through. That was the way she'd always coped, by sheer stubborn energy.
Karen looked with some distaste at the bundle of files she'd brought home, some being colourless budgets but some files concerned people's lives. She vowed she'd never forget this, even if by some miracle she were to suddenly become MP Inspector of Prisons. In her front room, the glare from the overhead lampshades streamed down or so it appeared. She'd turn them down if she felt less tired but she hadn't the energy as she settled into a comfortable ball of relaxation....
...from nowhere, the radio voice was recounting her a story in an old fashioned BBC accent and the words in tight precision settled in her dazed mind.."From that moment Rubashov's recollection of the hearing was rather hazy.there was a gap of uncertain length in his memory. Later on, it seemed to him that he had fallen asleep and he even remembered a strangely pleasant dream. It must have lasted only a few seconds . a loose, timeless sequence of luminous landscapes, with the familiar poplars which had lined the drive of his father's estate, and a special kind of white cloud which, as a boy he had once seen over them..."
Karen shook her head and her mind cleared. Mysteriously, the voice had turned off. She meditated dreamily over the vision that she'd been told of and wondered when was the last time she'd looked at the weather outside. That was something in the corner of her vision flashing past as she drove to work or out way there in the distance beyond the prison walls, beyond the windows of the Wing Governor's office.
She splashed cold water on her face to wake up a bit, made herself a cup of strong coffee and attacked her work with one last spurt of effort to get that done so she could relax and turn off from the world. It was only a while later that her aching shoulders and back were telling her that she'd done her whack and, wearily, she laid her self imposed burden aside.
Propping herself on the settee, she put on the TV, anything light and undemanding and no drama. She'd had enough at work having seen the dismissal of Colin, a feeble ally in the building. He, was scared to hell at the thought of crossing Fenner and was a broken twig. Apart from that, there was Sylvia but her limits were of that intelligence which came down to her to provide? At moments like that, when the dark of the night surrounded the solitary light she herself provided, she wanted the support of someone who would be there for when she gets home at night, She'd crossed Grayling and Fenner bigtime when she'd put a spoke in Lynford Securities bid and their selfish dreams of scavenging on the carcass of what would be left of Larkhall prison. Only the knives are out for her.
Once again the voice of the BBC on a tone that spoke of order and proprieties, including straight dealing, intruded on her thoughts.."' besides,' Gletkin continued there is a certain type of accused who confess under pressure but recant at the public trial. You belong to that tenacious kind..." But on the way back along the corridor, walking behind the giant, with short tired steps, it was not this perspective, which occupied Rubashov, but the sentence 'you belong to that tenacious kind.' Against his will, this sentence filled him with a pleasant self satisfaction....."
Karen smiled as the BBC voice trailed off and the adverts on TV switched on. Nice to hear an anonymous voice that didn't know her say some nice words about her. Her half-open eyes focussed with an effort on the clock on the mantelpiece. Half past nine. Early for her but she was done in. She ought to go to sleep.
Grayling, too, wasn't finding his evening the rest from work that he expected. Tony was out working at the club and so he thought that he could settle down to the freedom of an evening on his own. Despite all his flings, he was used to 'his own space' an expression he'd picked up casually from feminist career women on courses he'd been on. Only Grayling's take on this was that anyone and anything that demanded his time unselfishly was an intrusion to be brushed on one side. Even Tony, much as he was in love with him that he thought he was, had a tendency to crowd him. His body language spoke subtly of 'keep your distance.' If people got too close, they might have a claim on him and that would cramp his style. Recently though, he'd had a bit of a change of heart.
Tony was head over heels about being a father and if the boy wants that, then he ought to feel the same. He does, doesn't he? All Di's got to do is to produce the child and he suppose he ought to find some manual about bringing up children, how else does something as tricky as that sort of thing get done? Isn't that a shop somewhere round town called "Mothercare"? He supposed that he ought to have a casual wander round there like any other proud father to be or possibly get Di to do it instead.
Karen's face swam, uninvited and unwanted, into his thoughts. Those blue eyes beneath that fringe seemed to drill into him and that slight twist of the mouth told him that she knew what he was up to. He wasn't out for saving the world, let those humourless prigs fight for all the freedoms going and he'll participate if it suited his purposes. Besides, the latest management journal he'd got positively encouraged "Equality and Diversity" and he'd do just that...as long as it was to his advantage.
But Karen was getting to be big trouble. She'd got this campaigning zeal about the prisoners when there wasn't anything obviously in it for her. Everyone around had the strings that could pull that made him dance to his tune and were puppets jiggling under his control. Somehow he could sense them. Better change that to include 'her' as well as 'him' These days you have to be gender sensitive and also mindful of equal treatment regardless of sexual orientation. That was what he was known for. But Karen Betts was different, She hadn't got the sort of desires he could mould to his will. Somehow, he didn't understand that.
"Oh the shadows of doubt are in many a mind.
Looking for an answer they're never going to find
But they'd better decide 'cause they're running out of time.
'Cause these are the days of decision."
Fenner's mouth contorted at the image of Karen with her defiant blue eyes laughing at him and he threw his glass of scotch at the wall in a drunken rage. That bitch is standing in his way and that is the one thing he won't forgive her for.
It all goes back a long way but he remembered the day like it was yesterday when he saw Eric Bostock climb out of his shining new Porsche in the car park. At last saw a boss he could respect, who was as hard as nails and wouldn't go soft like Stubberfield and Grayling, a man's man, one of the lads. It meant curtains for some of the others but so long as he was all right and he was Wing Governor, he was all right. Couldn't understand what all the others were whingeing on about though. You've got to look after Number One, noone else would. If it was a case of a spot of brown nosing, he'd be there first before the others, pushing anyone aside for first place. Life was hard, always was and you had to keep in line, watch your back and keep schtum if things got too dangerous.
"I've seen your heads hiding 'neath the blankets of fear
When the paths they are plain and the choices are clear,
But with each passing day, boys, the cost is more dear
For these are the days of decision."
There were many grudges he held against Betts but a lot of it went back to that privatisation deal going pear shaped. He would never forgive Betts for that.
Karen could remember it as clear as yesterday.
"We have six months. If we fail, they throw us to the wolves." Grayling's words burst through the shelter of the cosy old-fashioned POA culture forever and left the PO's naked and frightened and exposed to the elements. They read in the union magazine that privatisations were starting to happen but never dreamed that it could happen to them.
She could remember seeing Sylvia's face gaping round in astonishment like a surprised goldfish and could sense the fear rippling round the POs at the meeting. She looked at Sylvia with concealed contempt. Surely the old dinosaur could remember smarming her way up to Grayling when she willingly took on the privatisation of the canteen, oh yes and knifing her in the back as well. She is the POA rep, for God's sake. Surely even Sylvia could see that if a part of Larkhall were privatised, then the whole of it would be swallowed up. So she understands 'the financial imperative', does she? Well if she can be bought and sold like a commodity, like the 'past the sell by' date crisps that her shady dealings inflicted on the prisoners, now she knows how it feels, Karen thought grimly. She clasped her notepad dutifully to herself in all appearance, Grayling's loyal subordinate.
"Privatisation" Sylvia burst out at last but stuck for further words, as is her wont.
"Locking people up for profit." Di said in a worried tone." Can't be right, can it?"
Di was taken aback by this one. She had been in the prison service 8 years and working for the state seemed an unalterable part of life. She'd first worked as an inexperienced casual in the local Job Centre pretending to the shuffling queue of humanity that she knew what she was doing in handing out advice. "Di, you're doing a good job," her boss said, only knowing that she had a pleasant manner even though she damn well knew that she was floundering. She'd had a dust up on the counter with one of the more aggressive claimants on one of her 'off' days and burst into tears. Thank heaven the advert for the Prison service came into her hands one day and she'd grabbed at it. Not much pay but a pension at the end of it and the comfort of job security. She'd seen every day the other side of the counter and didn't ever want to end up there. The POA would help take care of her also. That was why the announcement triggered such an attack of primal fear in her that she could be out on her ear. She thought she hadn't shown too much of her feelings.
"It will be wages and conditions next, that won't be right. 'Cos it will be curtains for the union." Karen remembered Sylvia's slow brain at last getting the message. An ironic twist in her mind tried to imagine Sylvia as a Joan of Arc figure, encased in armour, wielding a sword, bidding her trusty steed to lead the charge against the privatising enemy hordes but failed dismally. Karen suppressed a snigger at that crazily irreverent thought.
"We can whinge on or we prove ourselves. I'm telling you guys, G wing is the make or break now." Grayling retorted, his eyes alive and his body mannerisms appearing to give heart and hope to the bewildered and disorientated POs.
"Well said." Karen could remember saying to Grayling as they strolled along the corridors. Yes, she'd really said this. She'd been impressed by his positive manner in those distant days. She'd really meant it as she'd never been one for wringing your hands in despair and her time managing the wing had taught her that someone had to take charge of even a hopeless situation and find solutions.
"I hope you're not going to regret taking this job back but it's not just my neck. They're going to want a clean sweep." Grayling stared meaningfully back at her. She'd thought that he was one ahead of her. He'd been at conferences and had seen the writing on the wall. She didn't exactly trust Grayling as a slippery character but she hadn't been prepared for the sort of devious self serving she knew now he had always been capable of.
Trust yourself to do the things that only you know best
Trust yourself to do what's right and not be second guessed
Don't trust me to show you the truth
When the truth may only be ashes and rust
If you want somebody you can trust, trust yourself."
Yes that was the night she'd ducked out of Di's hen night to see Ritchie and ended up being embroiled with him and, unknown to her, Snowball. What had she seen in Ritchie who was good looking, a good shag with a stranger who didn't know her past with Jim Fenner and everything. He wasn't part of the incestuous Larkhall prison culture where everyone knew everyone's private business sooner or later, he wasn't compensating around her like Mark did or throwing his association in her face which only made her feel worse about being raped by Jim Fenner. In some crazy way she felt that she had deserved everything and she had a gut feeling that carrying on with Mark was doing her no good. If she gave Mark up, perhaps he'd find someone less damaged or complicated, in a way she was doing him a favour. She started out with a clean slate with Ritchie even as he took her roughly on that bed. The fact that he was anonymous was in a strange way an advantage. How she'd smiled when that "wanna screw" text message popped up on her mobile and gave her a better choice than line dancing with Sylvia and Di. In any case, she reflected as she lay in bed with a handsome young stud wrapped round her. He knew how good-looking he is, you could tell that, but it gave her self-esteem a boost when she needed it that a younger man who could have his pick of women should make a deliberate play for her.
Karen's mind hazily focussed in from those days up to the present. So the not together Karen of those days had to be the superhuman Karen of today when she knew she wasn't infallible, when the dice were loaded against her. It took her a long time to trust someone else again as she eventually came to do but only when she could fully trust herself first. All this kicked in at a time when she needed all the strength she could get.
Yvonne opened her eyes on yet another day in Larkhall. It seemed as if she would be in this place forever so much that the daily routine had been ground into her mind. At the same hour, regular as clockwork, came the rattling keys and Bodybag's stentorian bellow at her and the "let's be having you call" and the crackly voice on the tannoy announcing that it was time for work duties, arts classes, stuffing envelopes, etc and everyone trooped to their appointed places. If she had a bleeding sound system that had that lousy quality, she'd ask the salesman if he was a bleeding comedian and, no, she wasn't laughing and neither would he very soon. The same screws with the same po faces and the same chips on their shoulders, all working their jobsworth routines week in, week out till they trooped off to the Sad Old Screws old people's home in the sky...like Bodybag's Bobby who she'd seen at their wedding anniversary. Nothing will ever change that way apart from the odd half way decent screw and even then, her defences were still well and truly up. An enemy is an enemy, guilty as charged unless they work their bollocks off to prove their innocence.
It had got to the point that her past existence on the other side of the ugly forbidding stone walls was a perfumed unreality, where everything that she wanted arrived with a click of her fingers, including the mob that would 'lean on' anyone in her way. Anyone that crossed her and her family were moved out of the way, alive, half-alive or dead. The Atkins had a reputation to maintain. Mind you, there was no front about it, no poncing around like TV villains. This was the real thing.
She had to get used to the fact that any 'muscle' she had now depended on the tone of command in her voice, her ability to summon up outright fear in the bitch that she crossed, yes even that bastard Fenner knew now not to overstep his mark, least if he didn't want his bleeding toes chopped off. Most of all, she had to get used to the treacherous quicksand of Larkhall life that could swallow you up. You got to know who your friends were. The biggest change she got used to that amongst the rest of 'us cons' were the more defenceless younger women that some of the bastard screws and the likes of that bitch Dockley would pick on. Deprived of her maternal outlet, Denny most of all and Shaz and Charlotte Middleton received the overflowing 'tough love' mothering that came second nature to her. No bastard Charlie to sneer at her for going 'soft', he was ten feet under, feeding the bleeding worms. She'd as like tell Denny when she was talking bollocks, but always with a lurking tone of tenderness in her voice. Denny knew anyway, she wasn't that daft, Yvonne smiled though she was a bit bleeding slow when she got Denny to "crack on" to that razorhead, Al. She could still see before her that puzzled uncomprehending expression on her face and remember it with affection.
"The chair's hard
Your voice is hard
The money's hard
The living's hard
Give me something that's not hard, come on, come on
Give me something that's not hard, come on, come on
Give me something that's not hard, come on, come on"
Give me, give me"
Right now, she was worried as shit about Denny. Since Shaz got killed in the fire, Denny was in pieces over it. What the Julies told her and their worried expressions said everything to her. She'd never admit it to anyone, she's tough bitch Yvonne, but she was stretched to the limit to persuade Denny not to top the bitch with Fenner's 'blind eye' not looking on. The one bleeding time she Fenner and Denny feel the same about anyone, that has to be some kind of sick joke.
No one knew behind her poker face, the effort it took not to rip that smug bitches head off her shoulders like Denny wanted to do, like she'd had a try right after the fire, like even the Julies, as happy go lucky as you could get, were half way wanting to do. And no wonder, they'd been nearly burnt alive. She was getting older and more tired. She couldn't keep up the hard act all the time, least of all to herself.
She'd been trained by her Dad not to show emotion. Dad was a poker player and when she was little, she, Mum and Dad used to play on a Sunday afternoon before Sunday afternoon telly. She was the apple of his eye, she'd go far that girl would, so he said. She could remember the rain pouring down on a Summer's day and she'd sit in the old fashioned comfy chair with her elbows resting on the dining room table with the slightly creased, patterned cards spread like a fan.
"Don't give your feelings away," he'd said to her "so you get the drop on the person you're playing against." Dead ruthless he was and she'd got a wallop once when she'd called out that it wasn't fair and she'd been sent to bed early. He meant it to, none of your soft parents you get these days that let the kids rule the house. And it worked, outside the game of poker, as she grew up. That's why she clicked with Charlie, first time she'd seen him on the dance floor.
But when she woke up after seeing Ritchie's big brown eyes and felt his little finger clasp onto he larger finger, she felt that rush of that one emotion that, in her world, was allowed. Nothing wrong with being a good mother, Yvonne's one of the best, the neighbours said as she pushed Lauren up the street in her pram, holding Ritchie in his little gloved hand...the same Ritchie who, smiling faced, cheated her out of 50 grand.
She'd got her spies out, Lauren on the outside and Babs, playing deaf and hanging around near that evil tart Snowball. Sooner or later, she'll find out what her bastard son and that evil tart are up to and then they'll both get their comeuppance.
Right now she'd got her confident entrance to make on the wing for breakfast. Time to slip on the suit of armour, she thought, as the cell door opened onto another day in sunny Larkhall.
It all started for Karen with a lump of cold steel wedged into her back and the cold voice of Snowball speaking venomously into her ear. "Found the missing gun, miss. Stay cool. I'm a civilian worker. You're giving me a lift to the station."
Karen's mind froze at the unreality of it for a second. She had strolled along to the side gate, walking past Snowball on a sunny afternoon, after supervising the inmates paying their last respects to Shaz. Like lightning, a memory of her reporting that "So is the search for the missing firearm. It hasn't been found. The DST has turned over the whole prison inside out for the past three weeks. Wherever it is, it isn't this side of the prison walls." Yes she'd told the prison Officers that in her rapid confident tone. It shook her that something that she had faith turned out not to be the case.
"No way, Merriman." Karen's anger flashed.
"Six bullets in this gun. If I have to use them on you, I'll have to use them all. Now move it."
This was for real and she went into mental overdrive. She had to play along with this mad bitch. She means this one or else she's doing her Bonnie and Clyde overacting routine or both. No mock heroics now, better see if the evil bitch makes a slip up later on.
"Remember I'm an actress. If you don't play this straight, you'll get it." Snowball's cold evil voice conveyed every willingness to use the weapon at the first chance.
"You got that gun because of me. I'm not going to risk anyone's life." Karen fired back but these fine moral distinctions were lost on Snowball.
Karen walked along a tightrope path where others came close to them yet were not part of her life right then, like the POs struggling with a new prisoner. "Sorry Miss Betts" one of them said to Karen's unseeing eyes.
Snowball was drunk on the feeling of power that flowed through her that one rod loaded with six bullets could make the high and mighty Miss Betts dance to her tune. She would be the one giving orders now but she had to make it look convincing in the last few yards through the iron gates to freedom. Her Ritchie would be proud of her, that's what he wanted, a strong woman to tell him what to do. Her mouth twisted in anger. She had hoped to see Betts looking scared. That would have given her a real kick out of the situation as she had dreamed all those dark days locked up in segregation. Revenge is sweet, that's what all the movies say, but she's not getting it right now and that fanned the flames of her hatred for Karen.
Karen walked through to the gatehouse and, according to script, she asked John on the gate to let her out. Because Miss Betts, the Wing Governor was walking out with a blond haired stylishly dressed woman, he supposed it was all right. It was on the tip of his tongue to ask for identification but it must be all right as Miss Betts was with her. Last time he stuck to the letter of the book, Mr Stubberfield chewed his ear of for being 'Jobsworth of the year.' when he was bringing his wife in. He hadn't forgotten that incident even though it was months back. Best play safe, he thought.
"Yours is that nice little sporty number," Snowball asked, her feelings lighter now on the other side of the gates and her bottled up anger was raised another notch at Karen's retort that "Ritchie should recognise it. Harry, gate please." with a faint access of the authority she did not feel as she was definitely not calling the shots right now.
As Karen's car turned onto the open road, a battered looking Ford Fiesta tagged on behind Karen's car. Rob, the driver smiled to his mate, Dave at the sight of the car. In the stream of traffic, this one would be dead easy to tail as long as the driver didn't put her foot down too hard on the accelerator, Not like, spot the one red Fiesta out of seven in a line. He'd got his instructions from Miss Atkins, follow that car and the first chance that it stops and it is quiet, you know what to do. Don't mess this one up, the boss said with razor sharp eyes and a hard edged voice. Chip off the old block, especially if all the rumours are true about the Pizza Delivery Service for Charlie. All the lads had heard the rumour though noone talked openly of it.
While keeping her revolver pointed menacingly at the side of Karen's head, Snowball punched the buttons on the mobile she was holding and, for the first time, Karen saw a genuine dazzling white smile on her face.
"Rich, ten minutes, babes. I've got your old shag to give me a lift.," she said, digging in the insult for all she was worth. Karen was expressionless. Wondering what she meant or didn't mean to Ritchie hardly mattered when she was playing for her life.
Once out in the countryside, Karen played what cards she had without much real hope of Snowball changing her mind, not this cheap failed B movie actress.
"You'll just pile more years on your sentence," she had urged patiently.
"Actually, I do have a good reason to waste a bullet on you, don't I." Snowball's mouth curled with vicious anger. This really is a revenge trip, Karen thought, and I'm in a real fix.
Directed by Snowball to swing off the road onto a rough field, Karen saw a white car in the distance. Totally numb of feeling, Karen saw the slim built handsome shape she had last seen in a hotel room begging her to stay off work and, smilingly, Karen advised him that she had a boss to account to. He wasn't even her shag, just that tart's boyfriend who was using her. Snowball grabbed the keys and flung herself into the arms of Ritchie who studiously ignored Karen as if she didn't exist. For the moment, the attention was off her. In the rear view mirror, Karen could see it all but was numb to it all, nothing mattered right now but survival. In the corner of her mirror, her eyes picked out a distant shape of a car, a faint gleam of hope.
"There's the pair of them," Dave yelled, "get some speed on and catch the bastards."
Rob sighed. Dave was fine for muscle and breaking bones but Lauren Atkins put him in charge as he had the brains. There was time yet and to go slowly wouldn't put the wind up them and the two cars parked next to each other were fairly close.
"No, you silly bastard. We go in slowly- this dump could be a regular lover's lane, pity you haven't got a blond wig."....."Didn't mean that, you stupid berk, just joking." He laughed at Dave's known discomfort at anything slightly camp.
Snowball broke off and yanked the car door open while Ritchie looked on with a flicker of fear for Karen as he had an inkling of what Snowball had in mind. He feared these periodic moods of madness that overtook Snowball to which he was a spectator, feebly arguing. All were oblivious to the car pulling up closer.
"OK, out, bitch" Snowball sneered, manhandling Karen and knocking her to the ground. Karen shouted 'Jesus' at her and looked down the length of the revolver pointing straight at her.
"It's her fault this happened to me," Snowball snarled, patting that lock of fair hair that covered that scar on that image of perfection. "You hadn't stopped me getting free last time."
"We're free now, babe, let's go." Ritchie with a flicker of concern for the woman he's slept with, only shag, but this was going too far.
"No Ritchie." Snowball's voice cut decisively over Ritchie's "I want her to know what it's like on death row. I want you on your knees, begging me for a pardon." Snowball cocked the gun while Karen's mind temporarily froze. There were no words to describe what she felt.
"I see my light come shining
From the west and down to the East
Any day now, anyway now
I shall be released."
"OK Merriman, freeze." came the loud hailer voice to Snowball and Ritchie's shocked ears, seeing a man in combat position ready to fire.
No one gets in the way of my plans, if they do that, they die, burned the last conscious thought while Snowball hadn't crossed over the divide where she might meet the God she worshipped in her twisted way.
"No Snowball.." started Ritchie but two sharp cracks split the still air. The shape of Snowball spun round and dropped itself like a rag doll on the rough ground close to Karen's feet. The pistol flew out of Snowball's limp fingers, her clutch on life now brutally severed.
With a sideways lunge, Karen threw herself in the direction of the gun in one mad moment of energy born of the release from death but Ritchie got there first.
"No Karen." Ritchie called out, starting to raise the pistol in the direction of the two hit men. Was it a fraction of a feeling of mercy to Karen or an attempt to shoot his way out, the thought flashed across Karen's mind.
In that flash instant, Ritchie recognised one of the men as Yvonne's oldest members of the mob who had showed him how to load a pistol as a kid, the feel of the bullets as they were put into the magazine when..crack..the pistol fired at him.
A spear of fire lanced into his kneecap where the bullet entered and while his gun tilted to face Rob, he thought, shit, he's going to take me out even as he's dying, after all, he's an Atkins. One more crack and a second bullet entered his shoulder and he toppled over.
"Get the hell into the car, Dave," Rob yelled, we're off. "We're not doing time for Atkins and his bird. The boss has promised to cover for us." Rob pushed Dave into the passenger seat and the car veered off crazily out onto the open road, wheels skidding leaving silence that echoed all around.
Afterwards Karen blessed her nurses training that came to the rescue. It triggered her like reflex to care for the dead and the living. This is what she knew, only it was in the antiseptic ward of a hospital, never in an open field. Feelings could catch up with this one afterwards.
One feel of Snowball's pulse, her white face and one bullet straight through the heart alone told Karen that Snowball was now meeting the God whose name she constantly invoked. Her short and wasted life was over. Yvonne Atkins's son was calling out to her as if she were his mother or nurse.
"Ritchie, Ritchie, come on, stay with me." Karen's urgent voice called out to him, willing him to stay alive. His right leg was twisted badly out of shape. She feverishly fished out a piece of cloth in the car, anything to staunch the flow of blood from his wounds. In a moment of panic, her thoughts willed out hope to someone, anyone to come to his help. He might have been nothing more than her shag but he was a human life to be kept alive. All of Karen's nurse's experience flowed to the surface, unstoppable.
There in the distance, the wail of the siren told her that shortly, she would get her release.
Karen glanced round at her surroundings for a split second. A rough field, criss-crossed with tyre tracks and a few shrubs in the distance and far in the distance, a distant strip of green, the roadside hedge a gap in which they had entered what seemed like a long time ago.
"Where is that damned police car." Karen swore fighting down that sneaking fear that the police car was screeching its way to another emergency rather than hers.
Karen was painfully aware that instead of the nurses close to hand and all the medical backup of the busy city hospital that she'd worked at was just herself pinned down in an open field, miles from anywhere and the knowledge that she dredged from her memory when she was Nurse Betts.
She stared down at the white-faced man who she held in her arms. Whether in that sliver of consciousness left to him, she was either friend, traitor, enemy or lover did not matter to him or her. He lay there to be nursed while all that time, his lifeblood leaked away into his clothing and into the solid earth.
Second after second ticked its infuriatingly casual unconcerned way, oblivious of any life event. The other side of the hedge, the sight was cut off to the casual motorist who sped his bored way through featureless countryside, conscious of eating up the miles and how many more miles to go. All consciousness of the outside world in that car was blotted out by the loud music of the car in tune with the driving car but never the countryside in which the car sped. One bit of country was just like the rest. He'd got to get some speed up, hadn't he, or he'd be late.
"Come on Ritchie. You'll make it." She urged him to will to stay alive. He must not give up on her now than any other patient she had nursed. She was the nurse, all her training having jumped to the foreground.
Suddenly, Ritchie turned white in the face and went into spasm. Her worst fears were being realised. He was going into heart failure.
In automatic habit, she pressed her lips to his and forced air into his mouth once and pressed hard with a practised hand once, twice, three times, four times and five times, short sharp pushes to force his lungs to keep him breathing and for his blood to pump round his bloodstream. Then again and again as she settled into a routine born of desperation, not feeling the aches and pains in her own body from the unaccustomed exercise. At the bottom of her mind was that he would live, at this minute now, from second to second. First her life she had gambled from a position of seeming weakness, now Ritchie's.
"Who will save your soul when it comes to the flower
Who will save your soul after all the lies that you told, boy
Who will save your soul if you won't save your own?"
Down the country lane, the police sergeant steered the white Panda car with sirens wailing their way to any car driver to move out of their way. It must be serious, the way Area Control had radioed through that there had been a shooting and two people, possibly wounded or dead. They had given him a good fix on the incident which helped in this featureless countryside. Out near the junction of the A234 out of Larkhall near to where it crosses the B165. The policeman was a local lad who knew the countryside like the back of his hand. When he had asked Area who the informant was, they were vague as it was a mystery informant who had abruptly hung up.
Karen drove herself into a desperate routine and she seemed to be holding his own. Something in Ritchie held him in there, either his will to live or her nursing or both. She was getting tired but she had to keep going. That was dinned into her when she was a young girl by nursing sisters passing on the nursing tradition to yet another generation.
Grayling sat gloomily in his room, remote, unapproachable. His arms were resting on his desk and wrists bent so that he rested his head on his hands. He couldn't believe that sudden stroke of bad luck which threatened to upset his career plans. A long time ago, he sensed he was superior than his peers in the one skill that mattered to him, that of getting on. His sincere smile and willingness to cultivate those friendships that would be useful in furthering his career helped. Also his fluent ability to deny, cover his back and make plausible explanations. Now all this was threatened by those cretins on the gate. He would not have the finger pointed at him by area not if he could avoid it, not when the privatisation plan offered him such a glittering prize. He waited, frozen to the spot for news of the incident and for Area to react to the matter, fearful of what he might hear.
The two policemen rushed out of the car and took in the scene straight away. One female, young and attractive was clearly dead and a young man, still alive, laid out on the far and a fair haired woman was bent over him, giving him what looked like the kiss of life. Whatever shootings had taken place, she clearly was not the guilty party or else she'd not be hanging around and would have made off in that green sports car which he'd guessed was hers.
He fished his mobile out of his pocket.
"Tango two to control. Ambulance required as soon as possible."
He went over to the woman to make sure she heard. She was clearly in charge of the situation and was doing the best she could. Rather than crowd her, he noted down a few particulars for a full statement later on when things were clearer.
Karen sensed, rather than saw the presence of the two policemen and, even though they weren't able to practically help, the mere presence of two people who had the sense to slot into the situation, made her less frantic. Deliberately in the same repetitive rhythm, she carried on, breathe, press five times, breathe, press five times. She could feel his pulse, very faint and something told her she had an even chance, now for Ritchie's life as well as hers.
The ambulance screeched its way at top speed, the driver knowing the fine line between death and a human snatched from the grave and pulled in close besides the parked cars. One of the ambulance men took over from Karen who sank back to the ground, exhausted by her hard work. She never knew how done in she was until she had finished. In no time at all, the repeated punches of the defibrillator worked by a man more confident and sure of his touch than Dr No No, had pulled Ritchie back from the grave. The white shape spun round in an arc and sped away across the field, turned the corner and disappeared down the lane.
The policeman had to start to piece together what had happened and after a decent pause, offered Karen a cigarette. Gratefully, she drew in the nicotine and the exhalation of her breath drove away the peak of the tensions of the day. She was as ready as she'd ever be to start to answer questions.
"Can you give me your name and address. You'll need to come down to the station to make a statement but whenever you're ready. Don't worry," the policeman added seeing Karen glancing at her car. "We'll make arrangements for your car to be fetched"
"I'm Karen Betts, Nurse at the City....." began Karen in automatic thinking mode which for once was working askew. "No I'm not, I'm Wing Governor at Larkhall Prison. I ought to be back there..."
The policeman kindly squelched that idea. No matter how tough she appeared to be, she was in the hands of the police and he would have control over her fate right now, not even the Inspector of prisons. She was in gentler hands than the police were used to extending.
Karen slumped in the passenger seat of the nice comfortable car and let someone do the driving and temporarily take control of her destiny.
It was late on in the day that Grayling took one of the first phone calls that made him jump.
"Grayling here," spoke the business voice.
"We've got your Wing Governor at the police station, helping us out with out enquiries with a police matter..."
An almost imperceptible movement of Grayling's face brought dawning hope that that trouble maker Betts was in some kind of trouble of her own when the voice went on to explain.
"......I mean, she's alive and well and in one piece. She's assisting with a statement on the fate of one of your prisoners. We haven't got the full story but it looks like Karen Betts' car was tailed and Tracy Pilkington was killed in a shootout. A man called Ritchie Atkins was wounded but Miss Betts looked after him till the ambulance. She wanted you to be told first thing that everything is all right. It was touch and go with the man. Lucky that you've got a Wing Governor who is a good nurse. Quite the hero of the hour." The policeman meant well in praising a senior officer of Larkhall that ought to enable Grayling to bask in her reflected glory.
"Quite," Grayling said shortly, his lips compressed together. "Tell Miss Betts that she can come back to Larkhall whenever she is ready and Miss Pilkington's unfortunate death will be relayed to her friends. Anyway I'll let you get on with your business. No doubt you are busy people."
Grayling went back to brooding on his future. You had to keep your ears open in this game. A few years ago there was a change of government and that set the cat among the pigeons. For years, hard faced area men had been going on about a "short sharp shock" at meetings which he'd sat in on. They gave this aura of laying down the law and, if they keep up the pressure, the prison population would be cowed into shape. That was the message that the Governors would pass down the line. He heard one dissenting voice timidly reason that perhaps this might have something to do with the prison riots but he was shouted down from all sides. Life was easy as he'd grown up in that 'man's man' culture which he'd blended in to as best he could. He was a good actor and the lines were easy to learn. At prison, he was as straight as anyone.
Come the election in 1997 and, overnight, he saw these same people turn somersault, see the light and suddenly as if was a revelation, that they realised that patient's needs were to be met, that there should be investment in prison education and that by treating prisoners like human beings, the powder keg with the burning fuse ready to blow would be defused. Grayling didn't know where to put himself at the first Area meeting so he kept quiet.
This was the one and only time he met Helen Stewart. He remembered her very well. Amongst the management uniform of smart blue suit (they all coincidentally chose the same colour) she stood out in her low cut top, black leather jacket, sparkling eyes and short bobbed hair flopping round her face. Her outstretched firm handshake gripped his limp, unenthusiastic hand and his cold withdrawn manner was immediately detected by Helen's open intuitive mind behind the broad smile. She was clearly happy that area "clearly liked my politics" whereas to his cynical mind, they were merely wearing the mask of the moment and would change masks without thinking. After all, that was how they got on.
It was towards the end of his stay at his previous prison that he sensed the winds were changing again. He'd been taken on one side and that New Labour was now geared up to trampling on the unions, the decision was made, and at the same time, privatisation was the new flavour of the month.
"No, not the old style Conservative 'privatise your grandmothers silver collection,' only where it makes practical common sense. You do understand, old boy, that where a case can be made for a prison to remain in the Public sector, the Minister would not dream of seeing it flogged off on the cheap."
And the inscrutable Mandarin gave a crooked smile and Grayling knew that he had a short time to learn his new lines, go to the right conferences, read some new books to learn the buzzwords of the future. After all, he was an ideas man, not for checking over budgets and writing annual reports, much though the latter activity gave him full scope for making or marring a man or woman's career.
And when he got the call from area that Helen Stewart had resigned from Larkhall at short notice, he knew that he was on his way if he could deliver his Master's message. It meant climbing a slippery perilous ladder but he knew he had no compunction at kicking off the ladder the man or woman below him if needed.
On his very first day at Larkhall, he instantly pigeon holed Karen Betts as another of these reformers like Helen Stewart and hated her straightaway.
"One who sings with his voice on fire
Gargles in the rat race choir
Bent out of shape by society's pliers
Cares not to come up any higher
But rather gets you down in the hole
That he's in."
Karen Betts strode purposefully up the metal staircase to the 3s, turned hard right and facing Yvonne's cell, wrenched the cell door back on its hinges. To Yvonne's eyes, the Karen who was always neatly dressed in her suit was dishevelled, with coat unbuttoned and flying back. There was real anger in her eyes.
"I don't know what you had planned, Yvonne. Watching Merriman escape. She stuck that bloody gun in my back and made me drive her to Ritchie. He got shot." Karen finished on a hard accusing note.
Yvonne's face never gave away the horror and fear of what more bad news she feared would come.
"He's not dead, is he."
"He'll live." Karen said flatly. "A bullet in the shoulder which hasn't done him any harm but his knee's smashed. He'll be in hospital for awhile. Too early to say how long. Merriman's dead."
"I hope that bitch is rotting in hell, not that bleeding heaven she was banging on about." Yvonne finished in
"This is not the way, Yvonne. No hit man vigilante stuff." Karen stormed. "If you'd put the information in my hands, we'd have pulled her in. None of this 'I can't grass' crap."
"And then what." Yvonne's eyes stared directly into Karen's. "Would she be back on the wing with a slap on the wrist, down the block for a bit, or would you have got her transferred out. Let's face it, Miss Betts, if you were going to do it, you could have done it after the library blew itself up. My Ritchie had what was coming to him."
Karen's eyes blazed when she remembered that desperate time she had spent in that field saving his life.
"Miss Betts, I mean Karen, Ritchie was in with Merriman in Shaz dying and five others nearly killed. You believe in British justice. Where I come from, we punish our own. Don't expect you to understand but thanks for what you've done for Ritchie....and I'm sorry."
From anyone else, Karen would have thought the flat understated words totally inadequate. From Yvonne, with her words, the look in her eyes and that she sensed Yvonne had never apologised in her life before, least of all to a screw, that meant everything.
With a formal nod, Karen left the room.
Karen made her way downstairs, her thoughts turning over her conversation with Yvonne. She'd stuck to the rules all her life because they were the only guarantee of any sort of consistency or else everything would be done 'by grace and favour' and if your face happened to fit. More than that, she'd lived in, breathed in, worked in institutions all her life and knew her way round them. She'd toughened up the hard way, by experience and she could still remember sensing Helen's vulnerability in her very early days at Larkhall to the sort of pressures which would glance off her. Helen was always too far out of reach to talk to her properly at the time. Yvonne had given her food for thought.
"Ah, Karen." Grayling's concerned voice greeted her at the bottom of the staircase. He looked as if he was making a special effort to be nice to her in the soothing words that he uttered. "How are you."
"What doesn't kill us makes us tougher." Karen replied stoically with a slight smile on her face.
"Oh I hope so..." And Grayling turned to go. In afterthought, he stopped in mid motion. "Oh, Area called last night. They dumped my part privatisation model. Going the whole hog." Grayling announced, clearly annoyed by the look of the expression on his face, that his contacts at Area which he used to talk about at meetings, had failed to deliver.
Karen's lips tightened. So Area will throw us to the wolves after all. When Grayling came back off sick leave, Di in her usual dippy, arm clutching way of 'my man', reassured everyone that 'Area would privatise Larkhall over his dead body.' So where was the bolt of lightning from above to strike him down?
"Oh, shit." she spontaneously responded.
"Yeah, the formal offer is going to Lynford Securities. They're sending in an advance team at the end of the week to pave the way." Grayling finished off.
So I suppose the guy will be dressed in Superman in red cape and tights and will show us lesser mortals how to solve the problems of Larkhall in one easy lesson, Karen thought. And just how much practical experience will they have?
Grayling walked back to his room and a slow grin split his face. All his careful manoeuvring had now come to fruition. He had tried the odd small-scale experiment in Larkhall which had succeeded. The computer which he'd ordered for the "spends" had proved itself once Bodybag's floundering efforts had been detached from it and a more computer literate younger PO had taken over. All the POs were talking about how good it was that someone had come along and push Larkhall into the twenty first century. The introduction of the "commercial imperative" into the stocking of the canteen had ruffled a few feathers but it was only the more stroppy prisoners who were known trouble makers. A bit here and a bit there softened up Larkhall for the grand plan and Grayling could see what lessons needed to be learnt. It was Area who were a bit nervous of going the whole hog but Grayling had gradually wheedled them round and smoothed their hesitations.
Fenner was on his usual rounds and had seen Karen come back to work. There was a mysterious absence of Merriman on the wing but no one was saying anything. He knew better than to ask Karen direct, as things were not like the old days when he could smooch her up into believing anything. He knew that there was something afoot as he saw Karen pacing about downstairs while G wing were about to break off from their dinner break. She broke off and mounted the stairs where she could look down on everyone.
"Can I have your attention," she called out. "I have to tell you, before rumours start flying about, that there was a shoot out involving Snowball Merriman and I have to say that she was dead on arrival of her wounds in Larkhall Hospital."
A loud burst of cheering and whooping went up from the crowd, not least from Denny, Al and the 2 Julies who were the most vocal. Babs was known for her Christian charity but she was not that inflexible that she could not smile. Karen let the cheering go on as she fully expected such a reaction. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Yvonne standing at the sidelines, stony faced for reasons she perfectly well understood.
"I know that Snowball Merriman has not been the most popular prison on the block..."
"Yeah, too right, hope she burns in hell." Denny echoes, unconsciously evoking Crystal's favourite expression.
"....but I am asking you all to put the whole business behind us. You are not going to get me to express views on this event, one way or another." Karen called out, looking full into Yvonne's eyes." There will, of course, be a memorial service for those who want to attend if they want to unless any next of kin express any requests otherwise." she finished, keeping a straight face.
"....but I am asking you all to put the whole business behind us. You are not going to get me to express views on this event, one way or another." Karen called out, looking full into Yvonne's eyes." There will, of course, be a memorial service for those who want to attend if they want to unless any next of kin express any requests otherwise." she finished, keeping a straight face.
'The Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come conveyed him as before, into the resorts of businessmen, but went straight on, until they reached a churchyard. Here then, the wretched man, whose name he had now to learn, lay under the ground. Walled in by houses: overrun by grass and weeds; choked up with too much burying. A worthy place!
...Scrooge crept towards it, trembling as he went; and following the finger, read on the neglected name his own name: EBENEZER SCROOGE"
At that, Karen stepped down from the staircase and made her way to the office to start tracing next of kin and the whole formal machinery of mourning. Fenner heard the news and a slow evil smile spread across his face that he made no attempt to disguise. Just for one moment, his feelings and the prisoners were identical. It would not last.
Fenner strolled away along the landing on the 2s where he'd watched Karen's announcement and into the Social Club. It had the typical smell of institutionalised stale beer, dart board in the corner and cheap chairs and formica tables. Like any club, it had the attraction of cut price drinks for the 'lads' top unwind after a shift. Despite the influx of more female POs, it had made few concessions to passing times.
"Hey, Colin. You're looking under the weather. Been out on the piss last night?" Fenner enquired of the slim ashen-faced younger PO who had bags under the eyes and was as white as a sheet. Larkhall wasn't exactly the place for looking rugged and tanned but Colin looked as rough as hell. His natural nosiness for another little snippet of news to feed into his calculating brain was concealed by his appearance of concern in the way that a principal Officer of long standing would display.
"No, just a rough night." Colin's lantern jawed face responded trying to look positive. "Just going to the loo. Must be something I ate last night. See you later, Jim."
Fenner queued up at the bar and wondered how long he'd take to come out. He must have a bad case of the shits, the way he hogged the loo every bloody time. He collected his pint and wandered over to Ken.
Yvonne straightened her smart beige leather jacket nervously and looked at herself in her mirror to adjust her make up. On special occasions, this was an Yvonne Atkins rule, as a confidence boost. It wasn't going to be easy in visiting Ritchie in hospital knowing that it was her efforts that resulted in his girlfriend being killed and Ritchie badly crippled. It was that underlying guilt complex, her Achilles heel. She had to work hard to remind herself that he'd come over all love and flowers and scammed her out of £50 grand and tried to fit her up for Snowball's crime. No matter how she tried to reason herself into feeling that it was a knock for a knock, she knew that her feelings would slither from underneath herself.
"Do you know any more about how he is." Yvonne asked Karen. There was none of her abrasive 'anti screw' edginess as, for one, she was glad it wasn't Fenner or Di Barker accompanying her. It was good of Karen to trouble herself to go, and being the person Snowball had tried to kill would shut that mouth of Ritchie from opening too much. Karen being there would even things out a bit.
"It's early days." Karen said casually with the air of someone who was used to prodding at the truth of the vague words of hospital "He's comfortable. The bullets have been extracted and that's about all they'd say."
They walked to the gate when Karen produced a pair of handcuffs with an apologetic air. "Look, Yvonne, I'm sorry. I'll take them off in hospital." As she clicked the handcuffs on each wrist.
Yvonne nodded silently. At another time, she'd have made a barbed comment like 'Yeah, like I'm like a normal mum' but not today. Apparently Karen was handcuffing Yvonne to keep her safe as a prisoner in an outside environment. In reality, Yvonne regarded Karen as a bit of moral protection that she could do with.
Karen walked slightly ahead of Yvonne with that obvious feel of someone used to the ways of the medical world, another closed in institution, and asked the way of the ward Sister who motioned her to the side ward, third on the left. On a bed, Ritchie was laid out flat with his shoulder heavily bandaged and his leg suspended slightly above the bed with a mountain of dressings round it. Taking all her courage in her hands, Yvonne crossed the huge gulf to Ritchie's bed.
"Come to gloat, Mum." Ritchie's opening verbal jab was thrown at her.
"No more than you would have done if you'd got away with that tart Merriman with £50 grand you'd scammed off me and Lauren." Yvonne's voice, though pitched low, carried more force than Ritchie was expecting. "Though you're a complete bastard Ritchie, you're my son and part of the family."
Karen broke in apologetically, not wishing to intrude on family matters.
"I'll catch a word with the consultant."
"No, Miss Betts, I'd be grateful if you can stay and help keep the peace. One time I want a screw to stick around." Yvonne looked with a slight smile on her face and Karen, also being a mother, knew the flashpoint signs of family argument.
"Surprised you've come to visit me in hospital, Karen." Ritchie said with a less hostile tone in his voice.
"Yeah well, as wing governor, either I ask one of the Prison Officers to do it and Yvonne Atkins isn't everyone's favourite." Karen said nonchalantly, flicking her fair sideways as she glanced at Yvonne for her reaction." Or else I do it myself."
An awkward strained conversation trickled between the three of them as Ritchie had broken bridges of communications with all of them. When Ritchie wasn't rejecting Yvonne with his words, he was consciously giving Yvonne the cold shoulder by looking away from her.
"Mother, you had me but I never had you
I wanted you but you didn't want me
So I got to tell you
"Snowball's dead." Ritchie said accusingly out of nowhere.
"So's Shaz, burnt to death in the fire your murdering tart started...and the Julies. Babs, Roisin, Cassie nearly died as well, oh yes I forgot Al and Buki. Quite a mass murderer Merriman nearly was."
"Snowball and me were together, till you took her away from me."
"Well, scuse me if I don't go to the funeral, Ritchie." Yvonne sneered "The hymns would choke me." That son of mine is fixated on her, nothing exists outside their lives.
"You two will have to cool it," Karen said politely. "or I'll have to slip the handcuffs on both of you, that is until the police come."
The combination of Karen's firm stare and slight smile to soften the words worked like the upended bucket of water neatly damping out the steadily growing bonfire. The conversation stopped dead while Ritchie glared impotently at Yvonne and Karen maintained her impassive silence while the sounds of a busy hospital provided the background sounds to cover the gap.
The doctor in a white coat saw Yvonne and Karen standing guard over Ritchie's bed and hurried over and Karen duly introduced them.
"Were you the woman who kept Mr Atkins alive until the ambulance came to collect him." the doctor said as he shook Karen by the hand. "I've heard the account from the ambulance team and wanted to thank you personally for your efforts. We're grateful if a member of the public will give of their time in an emergency like this but it's not every day that a member of the public turns out to be a brilliant standby nurse in waiting. This is the sort of thing you find depicted in hospital dramas."
Ritchie's face was a picture so the even Mr Cool could not conceal the fact that "his old shag" had kept him alive. The doctor explained for his benefit in detail what Karen had done and that it was touch and go in the ambulance but if it weren't for Karen, Ritchie would have infallibly been laid out on a mortuary slab instead of here on a sunny afternoon, waited on hand by nurses who were there to help him back to health.
Yvonne's mind went back to the day she'd advised him that "if the uniform attracted him, then go and find a nurse" and her mind idly wondered how Ritchie's days might be spent in future. At the top of her thoughts was the huge wave of gratitude and awesome respect that came over as she looked at Karen Betts which, up till then, she'd viewed as the woman who turned the key on her cell door.
Grayling scanned through the smartly presented portfolio Eric Bostock had laid out on Grayling's desk and his vision of the future which he had dreamed of was real before his eyes. This hard faced man in the expensive suit was a man after his own heart, the sort of person he wanted to be if only unaccountable impulses below his level of consciousness had pulled him from his path.
"This is all very impressive." Grayling concluded, "if only the Public Sector could exercise this sort of imagination. I've tried to install similar initiatives but the POA is very strong here."
Grayling needed to secure his alibis and this blatant lie served his purpose. In truth, the local POA branch had sleepwalked its way through the tumults of twenty years of trade union history, oblivious and unseeing. So long as the traditional working practices carried on in the manner of a mediaeval guild aided and abetted by the fat complacent 'don't rock the boat' form of Stubberfield, Larkhall could slumber on into the twenty second century given half a chance. Many years ago, Sylvia as a young Prison Officer exchanged her daily level of bile with the young Jim Fenner at the striking miners in the Thatcher years, and religiously bought the Daily Mail to read in the PO's room as she drank out of her "Charles and Di" coffee mug. For nine months, her daily tirades against Arthur Scargill and the 'bully boy' miners intimidating ordinary miners who wanted the right to work had filled the air. On her Saturday mornings in town, she'd seen the collection or riff raff standing on a street corner, jangling collection tins and wearing "Coal Not Dole" yellow badges. Half of them are probably students or work shy anyway, she sniffed as she walked past them with her head in the air. As her mother used to tell her, you feel safe under a Conservative government, rules are rules, and Scargill and his lot are breaking them. The only benefit that there was from Sylvia's and Fenner's right wing outpourings was that the venom directed at one load of troublemakers meant that it kept the heat off the piss takers and troublemakers amongst the cons. Even with Bodybag, there was only so much venom that she could feel. So Bodybag had slumbered her life away as POA rep, until now.
"Not any more. We don't recognise them." Eric Bostock said with chilling finality
"My staff are happy coming to work. Off sick with stress. Bollocks. You see Lynford Securities can't fail because failure means going bust. So we don't."
A hundred miles away, in the prison run by Lynford Securities, Stuart Lander felt for the prison gates with a shaky hand. He really wasn't ready to come back to work, not after having a couple of days off sick with stress. He knew that he'd gone over the maximum days off sick that he was allowed and that the boss would come heavy on him. Life at home, sweating and shaky wasn't much better. There was a fat wad of letters on his mantelpiece of red reminders and final reminders but what could you do with a shit wage like Lynfords paid. He'd had one of the more dangerous prisoners kick off at him and he'd lost it. Perhaps if he'd gone on the course on "Handling Dangerous Situations" which he'd been promised, the situation might never have happened but the course was put back four months as the budget was tight. Course, his mate argued come the fourth month, the boss would only turn round and say, as you've lasted so long, you don't really need the course, do you? Mr Bostock would say with those cold eyes that looked inside you and froze your insides.
"Your self cert says you've been suffering from stress." Bostock's deputy launched into the attack when Stuart Lander presented himself to the boss on request, five minutes into getting into work. "He doesn't look very stressed to me, does he." the remark escaped out of the corner of his mouth to his sidekick while at the back, an anonymous clerk from Lynford's Head office transcribed the record of interview onto his glossy notebook.
"No, boss, looks fit and healthy to me. And looking at the CCTV tapes over the last week, he looks happy enough to me, doesn't he? The duty rosters show he's had an easy time of it recently." came the response to the deputy boss and Stuart nerve crumbled.
"Now the rules say that you can have a stress risk assessment. You know that Lynfords value their staff and have firm policies in place but it looks to me that yours is a border line case, like fifty miles away from the border, don't you think. Now, if you take your self cert back and perhaps you make a simple adjustment....."
"Firm and caring also," Grayling marvelled at the portfolio, examining carefully the policies that laid down the law that disciplinary action would be started to nip a sickness problem in the bud where there was no apparent justification but managers were encouraged to be proactive in considering any underlying health problems and in finding solutions giving 'full and fair consideration to the needs of the PO "This will sort out our long term sick problem. And your pay structure giving the power to Governing Governors to award and withhold pay bonuses." Grayling licked his lips. If he could have all those powers, all that thirst for control that had been denied him would be satisfied and his dreams would come true.
"We're singing from the same hymn sheet." Grayling spoke; uttering the mantra of control freaks everywhere in Management in the whole civilised western world. "You 're the man I've been waiting for."
Karen knew that today was the day that she would meet her future in Lynford Securities. She left her office prepared for the worst. Nevertheless, she knew she oughtn't to be ready to scratch out the eyes of whatever man or woman would appear in front of her. She ought to be fair, she was telling herself, and don't kick off straight away.
Sure enough, she saw Grayling do a semi wave of his hand and she turned from her clipboard and extended her hand in friendly fashion.
"This is Lynford Securities chief executive, Eric Bostock." Grayling, one of the double act handled the introductions.
"You drew the short straw." The cold words came out of the skullface wearing the expensive suit.
"I'm sorry." Karen asked to buy time and to be sure she had got the right end of the stick.
"Hardly an advert for the penal system, G Wing." Came the complacent words uttered by someone who had heard a few stories and had made up his mind. I have my preconceptions, Karen thought of him bitterly, don't cause any trouble by telling me the truth and she took fire straight away, throwing all her good resolutions out the window.
"We've got some of the most dangerous men in the country. Proper education, doing 16 hours out of the cells, drugs rehab, real work." Eric Bostock intoned from the script.
"And we all know how you fund that, don't we. Shit wages, understaffing, no training. Prisoners packed in like sardines. No wonder your shareholders love you so much." Karen threw in the face of the two unseeing creatures in front of her.
"Obviously knows her days are numbered." Grayling told Bostock in an exaggerated stage whisper.
Karen stormed off back to her office, past Yvonne's eyes who had clocked this new man as someone who the Krays would think twice about bumping off. He gave off that unmistakable evil aura.
First thing she picked up was an Area "Question and Answer briefing" which Grayling had initialled for her to deliver in a talk to the staff. Why ask me to give messages from Area when I fundamentally don't trust the bastards and what answers can I give to reassure the POs? Oh well, let's open it up and see what bollocks it says."
Question "How many staff will be needed at Larkhall, what job do I apply for and how do I do it."
Answer . "It is not clear at this stage how many staff will be required by Lynfords. You have the choice of what job you can apply for in the prospectus attached. See appendix 1 for the model application form"
Question - "If I am unsuccessful in my job application, what are my job options."
Answer "Every effort will be made to provide alternative employment to place surplus staff in other prisons. Staff are expected to move within the travelling distance limits set out in the Staff Rules in the paragraph headed "mobility terms." The availability of alternative employment will be subject to the staffing requirements of other prisons."
Question - "Are there redundancy terms available."
Answer "It is too early to tell at this stage. Further information will become available when it is known."
Karen threw the briefing paper into the wastebin in disgust and reached for the vodka bottle and took a large swig. When the alcohol had mercifully dulled the edge of her feeling of outrage, the memory of a more pleasant afternoon spent in a pub with Yvonne Atkins came back to her mind.
She was sitting on the barstool and offered her lighter to Yvonne who angled the line of the cigarette to the flame. The sun poured through the window and bathed Yvonne's face in a gentle glow. For once, there was something soft in the expression of her face.
"Ritchie's been a bastard but even he's known he's done wrong. All his life he's known he'll get the truth from me instead of his smooth talking bastard of a dad. I'm just sorry you nearly got caught up in it, Karen. That won't happen again. I'll give you my word on that." Yvonne told her earnestly.
Funny, Karen thought bitterly, she'd believe implicitly a convicted criminal and the wife of the centre of London's gangland far more than the treacherous bastards the right side of the prison wall who thought that there was no blood on their hands and that they hadn't broken the law.
Scene 12 (In Dreams)
Everything was a swirly white before Karen's eyes as a strange feeling overcome her of being drawn up out of her everyday life and upwards in some journey. She had no sensation of height or vertigo but had a feeling of inner tranquillity and that the force that drew her up had her in its care and would not let her down.
Suddenly her eyes cleared and a light fall of snow sprinkled down onto the gentle undulating ground. Her feet took themselves forward of their own accord and a herald of celestial trumpets greeted her and angelic shapes whispered to her that she had been transported into the Fifth Dimension to meet a Very Important Man who had studied her plight and wanted to help her.
"That's very kind of him." murmured Karen with more of a feeling of trust than she had let herself feel for such a long time.
With a gentle striding motion, she came upon the stranger who she studied as she got closer. He was engrossed in reading a large book and so her study of the man was undisturbed. He was dressed in a three-piece suit in an old fashioned angular style but with a certain flamboyance and he had a mop of white hair and a goatee beard and spectacles. He put his book down and spoke to her in fluent English though accented in Russian.
"Good evening, Miss Betts. Welcome to my surroundings. More magnificent than my humble dwelling in Mexico. I am Leon Trotsky, one time leader of the Military Revolutionary Committee that led the Bolshevik Revolution."
Karen shook her head. From far off history lessons in school, she could vaguely remember his name but the last thing she expected as an overworked Wing Governor in Larkhall Prison was to be introduced to a famous world revolutionary leader. Queuing up to see George Michael in concert in her younger years was the high point of her aspirations.
When she recovered from her confusion, she could see that his surroundings had red flags draped on banner poles marking off his quarters. She could not read the script as they were written in an angular foreign language. In the middle was a portrait of a middle-aged man, bald, with a short beard but with penetrating eyes which gazed knowingly into Karen's soul.
"You are no doubt surprised to see me here. And me a Bolshevik and, by definition, a militant Atheist being honoured by eternity and at the hands of a deity that I do not believe in. Yet she has explained that because of my lifetime spent dedicated to furtherance in humanity, I have been honoured. And I am reunited with the great Vladimir- Lenin to you- who was my hero, even though I'd argued with him. So tragic that his life was cut short when it was."
From nowhere a massed choir sang a refrain in perfect harmony.
"Then raise the scarlet standard high
Within it's shade we'll live or die
Though cowards flinch and traitors sneer
We'll keep the red flag flying here."
Being in more of a receptive mood, Karen said "Yeah, that song reminds me of Fenner and Grayling. Though I don't suppose that you know what I'm talking about." She finished more timidly than was her normal manner. "This is not in the time that you were famous."
"But of course," Leon replied effusively. "Even now, I follow every revolutionary struggle now I have all eternity to study it. To consider merely history in the lifetime I was on your planet is totally un-Marxist. The dialectics of history compel me to follow the class struggle no matter what forms it takes. There is no final shape of history, least of all when Lenin, me, Zinoviev, Kamenev and Sverdlov gave the leadership of the Bolshevik revolution. That was unfinished business. If you would be most kind, Miss Betts, could you help me with this modern device called a video. I'm getting old and these devices try the patience of someone not born into this age."
Suddenly a TV and video emerged from the whiteness of the room. Karen clicked onto the remote control and fiddled about a bit. Suddenly, the shape of Nikki Wade, on the second floor at Larkhall prison, leapt out of the TV screen. She was calling for a sit down protest demanding proper conditions for Femi, the convicted drugs mule and that the Prison Officers who assaulted her should be disciplined.
"Ah my Nikita, my favourite daughter. So proud, so fiery, What an orator. How I would have loved to be with her in addressing the factory workers of Petrograd. Such a, how you say it, a double act. Such dedication and courage." Leon's eyes were shining with admiration and he seemed younger than his apparent years.
"Yeah, Nikki Wade and Helen Stewart. It's a pity I wasn't closer to them than I was. I was away with Jim Fenner on holiday." And Karen's face grimaced at this point.
"You are sad, Karen." Leon's understanding eyes focussed in on her. "Don't be. We all make our mistakes. I did. With Stalin."
"How did that happen, Leon." Karen asked him gently as she could see the sadness peek through the old fashioned continental gaiety of spirit. And Karen as if by mysterious process read the words of Trotsky written in his book about his arch rival Stalin.
"Since early youth, Stalin had sought power over people, who, for the most part, seemed to him weaker than himself. Yet he was neither wiser, nor more educated nor more eloquent than others He did not possess a single one of those attributes which attract sympathy. But he was richer than others in cold persistence and practical common sense. He did not yield to impulses: rather he knew how to subject them to his calculations...Even in that early period, Stalin did not hesitate to set his opponents against each other, and to carry on intrigues against every one who was, in any way, seemed to be superior to him or who seemed a hindrance in his path...."
"Yeah, that's Jim Fenner all right," Karen recalled bitterly. "That was the way he set me against Helen Stewart. And it was all my fault. And that is why Colin Hedges is so afraid of him."
"Then you must contact Helen," Leon advised her. "It is the part of a leader, like you, having made that false step, to retrace that step. And do not give Jim Fenner any warning of the blow you inflict upon him. I made that mistake. Vladimir told me to trust to no rotten compromise that Stalin might offer. And I ignored that advice."
Karen's mind was cleared now. It was late in the day but not too late.
"And you live under the rule of a Labour leader called Tony Blair. Pfft." Leon Trotsky spat derisively. " Read this if you please as you must be aware of the wider struggle which you are of a part."
"Let us overcome our natural aversion and read through the article in which Ramsay McDonald expounded his views a short time before leaving office. We warn the reader in advance that we shall have to enter a mental junk shop in which the suffocating odour of camphor is not sufficient to retard the effective work of the moths."
Karen rolled off the invisible chair and laughed in that infectious way that Leon Trotsky joined in politely pleased that someone of another age could relate to his most satisfying written jab to the solar plexus.
"' Who cannot deny that poverty is evil, not only for the individual but for society? Who does not feel sympathy for the poor'. We here find presented as a theory of socialism the philosophy of the socially minded philanthropic bourgeois who feels 'sympathy' with the poor and because of his sympathy makes 'religion his conscience' not permitting it, however to interfere very much with his business habits."
The assured knowledge and irony focussed in her place in the world around and her position. It was satisfying, sharing the vast accumulated wisdom of the man and it brought into sharp focus what she must do and it gave her strength she needed and what she must do.
"Remember," Leon Trotsky advised her finally before she wended the way of the downward slide back to earth. "If it lies in God's hands to make or mar the future, you are the hands, and the allies that you can gather up. If there is a God," smiled Trotsky ironically. "she is a wise woman. A lot of 'Christians' are in for a shock when they die. "
Karen saw Leon wave to her all the way down and he never walked away until she was gone.
Almost the first of Karen's waking thoughts as she rubbed the eyes of sleep from the long journey she felt she had taken was a list of things she must do and fast. It gave her a nice feeling that she could take some steps to decide her fate.
Karen was walking along the 3s when she spotted Yvonne looking down on the wing, her arms resting against the bar. Fenner glanced upwards when he was chatting away to Eric Bostock about his ideas on running Larkhall and glared.
"You see that woman up there, Eric." Fenner advised him in his most confiding tone. "When your lot are in here, that's the first one you need to nail, she's trouble."
"Coming to the Social Club for a pint," Eric asked, for once with as much a smile on his face that he could manage.
There was drilling and banging sounds coming as a bunch of workmen were fixing up wall brackets in regular intervals along the wing and the first CCTV camera was set up. The cameras were being tested and checked over. And it wasn't the regular Board of Works who were doing the job, it was outside contractors.
"Wonder if those wankers are better at fixing those cameras than the regular lot," Denny said to Julie J the other side of the breakfast table as she puffed away at a cigarette.
"The bloody thing will probably fall down in a week, mate. Why should they be better than what we've got already? Supermen they ain't" Julie S replied derisively to the man who had to drill another hole into the stonework to fit the brackets to hold the camera. The piles of grey dust that powdered down from the ceiling indicated that the workman was chewing up enough of the ancient structure of the building with his drill.
Thank Christ those two vultures have gone, thought Karen. Those cowboy workmen doing the job are telling everyone that Lynford Securities are so cocky that they think the whole thing is in the bag. For Christ sake, they aren't being subtle about it.
"Yvonne, have you got a minute? In your cell." Karen asked quietly.
Once inside, Karen came straight to the point.
"I want to ask you a favour, Yvonne. I need you to ask contacts on the outside like Lauren to try and track down Helen Stewart. I need to get in touch with her urgently."
Yvonne's eyebrows were raised that the ultra correct Karen was resorting to the less than reputable Larkhall empire for official business. Hasn't she got access to a bleeding army load of pen pushers and a truckload of files.
"I need someone reliable, discreet, someone that Grayling and his lot won't catch onto and not someone who's going to lose her bloody file, deliberately or otherwise. I need extra muscle, everything I can get or else Lynfords will take over and we've all had it."
"And you're looking at Lauren, Miss Betts."
"She's your daughter, isn't she. That says enough for me, what I've heard of her and what I've seen of her at visiting time. I'm sure she'll find Helen. I pretty sure I know who can do a bloody job right without botching it and also who I can trust these days and who not to."
Yvonne said nothing but trusted that if Karen was making such a request then she'd better do it. Funny to think that of the small number of people she really trusted, Karen Betts, head screw was one of them.
The next appointment Karen had was the internet room where she sat herself down and a smile of satisfaction crossed her face when she found what she wanted and the next source of outside influence was but a phone call away.
"Lauren, I've got a bit of business for you," Yvonne whispered into the phone." I want you to track down Helen Stewart for me.....yes I know it's bloody strange asking you to track down an ex screw for me but when you've done this, Karen Betts needs to talk to her. You might be best to play it by ear when you see her whether you talk to her to pave the way first, so to speak or let Karen do the talking later on. Yes it's a bloody unusual thing to ask but this is for real. It's for all of us. I've given Karen your address and phone number, she'll fill you in on the details."
Lauren put the phone down, shaking her head and trying to make sense of it all. What's with this Karen? Was she, who ran the network of the Atkins empire with operations ranging from the barely legitimate to the dead dodgy, going to spend time tracing down one ex Wing Governor for the benefit of another? Wasn't this the one Mum only recently or so it seemed, referred to her as that cow Betts. She was the one who, together with Fenner, had blocked the attempt for mum to climb over the wall with a rope ladder thrown over the wall by her gang? She'd handled some strange assignments for Mum like delivering a bulk order of guitars, a Harley Davidson for a screw Mum fancied, fixing up the phones for the 'babes behind bars' scam but this one hit the jackpot and just what is Mum up to anyway? She can't keep up with life at Larkhall these days and she had the feeling it wasn't worth trying, it would be bad for her head.
Lauren was sweating as she drove her car along the succession of mountain hairpin bends in the heart of the Welsh Mountains. The woodlands stretched for miles and the sunlight shining in her eyes flickered as it was filtered through the leaves and overhanging branches of the huge trees that overhung the road. She was used to dicing with death in the speedtracks of the London traffic system where the timid drivers got cut up and shouted at. This was another world as the roads were impossibly narrow and she was fearful of approaching a car head on coming the other way round the hundredth blind corner. A country girl, she would never be and where the hell is the nearest pub round these parts?
Following the road directions, she turned into a side road that, to her wasn't much more than a cart track, and went in a dizzying climb up the mountain and up onto the very top of the universe. The grasslands and hillocks were intersected by a succession of stone walls and little cottages. Most worryingly, the stone walls lined the road so that, one slip up in her driving, and it would noisily and expensively gouge up the side of the car without so much as knocking a speck off the wall. The bloody drivers round here must have radar perception, Lauren thought frantically to herself.
She turned her way up a short hill and the name of the cottage appeared on the left. Manoeuvring the car with intense caution turning into the drive, she pulled the car up a short slope, cut the engine and sank back in the driving seat, exhausted and deadbeat. Give me the M25 in the rush hour any day rather than this country endurance test.
Helen was looking at her watch while Nikki busied herself in the back garden. She had had a sudden leap into the past when Yvonne Atkins phoned her up from out of the blue asking if her daughter Lauren could come over and talk to her. This gave her very mixed feelings. One part of her was an intense feeling of blind panic, emotionally dragging her back against her will to a period of her life she wanted to forget. Life at Larkhall felt like some fearful whirlpool dragging her down into the depths when with a mighty effort, she had escaped to the peace and beauty of life on the beach of her present life.
.....An image floated into her mind of Yvonne's sharp honesty and someone she could trust. Despite the craftiness with which she carried on her private business, she was infinitely preferable as top dog than Shell Dockley....
Helen shook her head to clear her thoughts and walked to the mirror on the stone mantelpiece. Reflected back at her in the mirror was a face tinted with all the sun-tanned glow of country living and a touch of blond in her hair that did not come out of a bottle, but the natural soothing air. First thing in the morning, a very pallid face used to stare blankly back at her with all the stress lines that needed makeup to cover along with all her vulnerabilities before she could set foot at Larkhall.
Helen wandered out into the back garden which overlooked the rugged shapes and varied hues of the mountain range which Snowdon topped. Right at the back of the garden, Nikki was absorbed in tending to the garden, eagerly expanding in her horizons from the cramped Larkhall Prison rose gardens to growing vegetables at the bottom of their garden and flowers of all description. The air was cool and fresh and that in itself breathed a feeling of dreamy contentment while the sun smiled down on them both. She looked at the cottage which was theirs. The square bright red painted wooden window frames stood out against the solid grey stonework which would last all eternity. Nikki had climbed up a very high ladder and had repainted them only this summer as her enthusiasm for DIY and lack of fear of heights exceeded Helen's.
"I'm going to cash in my hand and pick up a piece of land
I'm gonna build myself a cabin in the woods
And it's there I'm gonna stay until there comes a day
When this old world starts changing for the good
Now the reason I'm smiling is over on an island
On a hillside in the woods where I belong."
Nikki's sun-tanned face smiled up at Helen as she walked along the rough slate pathway bringing a steaming hot mug of coffee to where she was working but she immediately noticed the shadows in Helen's eyes and asked her what the matter was.
"Ghosts from the past, Nikki" Helen replied shortly. "Come on, we must talk."
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