On Borrowed Time
Karen sipped her wine and smiled over at Yvonne, she hadn't had this much fun in ages. She was thoroughly enjoying Yvonne's company, and despite knowing she shouldn't, she was already wishing it would go further. Yvonne was thinking similar thoughts, and while it felt good, she also felt guilty for even entertaining the idea.
Her mind wandered to Charlie, she had loved him a great deal, and she still did in some ways. But she and Charlie had been apart for twenty years, and over that time, she had felt herself slowly drifting away from him although she'd tried hard for it not to happen.
The gravity of the situation suddenly hit her with full force, Charlie was never coming back and if she didn't do something now then she would always be alone. Nikki and Helen had started her thinking, and now it was clear, something seemed to have clicked deep down. She smiled as she took another sip of her wine; at last she knew where she was going.
"The starter was lovely." Yvonne remarked.
"Yes it was." Karen nodded her head, "this is the first time I've ever been to this restaurant, but I must say, the food is wonderful."
Yvonne put her glass down and met Karen's eyes again, "it's the dessert I'm most looking forward too though."
"Really? Got a bit of a sweet tooth then?" Karen leaned forward on her elbows, and looked at her with interest.
"That all depends on how sweet you are." Yvonne smiled as Karen's jaw dropped in shock.
"You mean?" Karen couldn't say the words.
"Yes," she nodded, "But only if you want to."
"I wish they'd hurry up with this main course." Karen said impatiently with a grin, "I've got somewhere else to be."
"Don't you worry, plenty of time yet." Yvonne winked at her and was rewarded with a sexy smile in return.
"Before I forget
." Karen placed her wine glass down, "I had a visit from a young woman today claiming to be Laura's sister."
"Laura didn't have a sister." Yvonne said straight off.
"I was pretty sure she didn't." Karen nodded.
"What did she look like?"
"Fairly tall, thin, attractive, long blonde hair."
"Caroline." Yvonne nodded knowingly.
"Caroline?" Karen looked questioningly at her.
"Caroline Lewis, a reporter with an exceptional talent for worming her way into places to get a story."
"She must have been good if she got past Sylvia Hollamby." Karen giggled, "Sylvia doesn't even like letting me or my staff in."
"Oh she's good believe me. Did you tell her anything?"
"I'm not that daft." Karen raised an eyebrow at her as she smiled, "I refused to tell her anything, even though she tried."
"Good. I'll have to let Nikki know she's hanging around again, and she won't be best pleased." Yvonne knew it was a big understatement, Nikki would go mad.
"Nikki once had a relationship with her. At the time none of us knew who she was, she had us all fooled. Needless to say, she was only after a story and she broke Nikki's heart."
"She sounds ruthless, and yet when you look at her, she doesn't seem that way at all. She seemed so plausible even though I felt instinctively something wasn't right."
"She's a good actress." Yvonne replied as the main course arrived, "right, no more shop talk, dinner is here and afterwards we've got somewhere to be."
"I look forward to it." Karen said with a wink.
Helen was standing on the doorstep of Nikki's parent's house and was feeling slightly panicked. Nikki tried to calm her down and told her that everything would be ok, but Helen was still doubtful and her anxiety went up a notch as Nikki knocked on the door.
"Deep breaths, it will be fine." Nikki smiled and clasped her hand tighter.
"I bloody well hope so." Helen replied as she panicked for all she was worth.
The door opened and Helen's heart lurched.
"Nikki!" a tall dark haired man, who looked very much like Nikki, shot out of the front door and grabbed her in a bear hug.
"Christ, steady on Stevie." She pulled away from the hug, "Helen, this is my brother Steve. Steve this is Helen, my partner."
They shook hands and Helen began to relax a little, it didn't seem quite so scary now.
"Nice to meet you Helen, we've all been really looking forward to this." He smiled warmly and Helen liked him already.
"It's nice to meet you too Steve." Helen returned his hug and then smiled back at him.
"Come on inside then, they're all desperate to meet you," he ushered Helen inside and Nikki closed the door behind them.
Helen entered the living room to see a group of eager friendly faces smiling in her direction.
"Hello Nik." A woman who was the spitting image of Nikki but about thirty years older, came towards them, "and you must be Helen, it's great to meet you love," she enveloped Helen in a big hug.
"It's good to meet you too Mrs. Wade." Helen grinned, and felt her heartbeat beginning to return to normal.
"Call me Bev love, we don't stand on ceremony in this house," she grinned, "right, better introduce you to this lot. You've met Steve, this is Liz his wife, and that gorgeous looking boy over there is his eldest, David."
"Awwwww eh Gran!" He looked embarrassed; "nice to meet you Aunty Helen," he smiled and politely shook her hand.
"Ooo Aunty Helen already." Nikki grinned.
"Nice to meet you too David, and you Liz." Helen was now wondering why she had ever been worried at all.
"Likewise love." Liz smiled broadly.
"This little tinker is Steve's daughter Rebecca." Bev pointed proudly to her.
"Hello Aunty Helen." Rebecca chirped.
"Hello Rebecca." Helen smiled back, the kids were adorable.
"Nikki's dad Geoff is outside burning the food to a crisp on his new barbecue. One of these days he's going to cause the great fire of London mark two." Bev giggled, "he'll be back in a few minutes and I'll introduce you to him. Jill, Jimmy and the kids still aren't here yet, but she's as big as a house and it takes her ages to get ready."
"It's Jimmy I feel sorry for, Jill always was stroppy anyway and being pregnant hasn't improved her mood." Nikki sniggered.
"You can't talk!" Bev grinned at her daughter, "You could get stroppy for Great Britain. If you and Helen ever have kids, I hope she'll be the one to get pregnant because we couldn't put up with you in that condition."
Helen started laughing, "I'll keep that in mind," she gave a conspiratorial wink to Bev.
"You bloody won't!" Nikki was looking shocked, "I have no urge to start chucking my genes around, I'll leave that to Steve and Jill."
"Shut yer cakehole Nik, if Helen wants kids then you'll do as you're told. Sit down love and I'll get you a drink." Bev smiled and disappeared into the kitchen, leaving a smiling Helen and a shell shocked Nikki behind.
Jim Fenner swallowed painfully, his mouth was dry, and his tongue felt like sandpaper. Waddle stood over them with the gun pointing in the general direction of Fenner's head. He had tried on several occasions to get Mark to let his wife and kids go, but he refused and Jim was fast running out of options.
From the looks of it, Mark had lost it; he was standing there with an eerie smile on his face as if he knew something Jim didn't. That's when the realisation hit him full force; he knew now why Francis had been so keen to protect Waddle. The revelation made him sick to his stomach; he'd done his best to help only to find he'd been used by someone working with the enemy. He'd never even entertained the thought, he'd had no reason to, but to his mind it was the only possible explanation.
"So she told you to come here and kill me did she?" Fenner tried to play it cool, although the sweat running down his face was an indication that he was terrified.
"Francis told me to take care of you yes." Waddle was still smiling.
"Well if you do kill me, you'll never get away with it."
"You just keep telling yourself that." Waddle pulled out a dining room chair and sat down in front of them.
"You wanted to kill me, so why is this taking so long?" Fenner was angrier than he could ever remember being.
"You make it sound like you're in a hurry to die." Waddle started laughing, he was evidently amused by it all.
"Let my wife and kids go please. You were about to be a father Mark, you must understand how it feels to lose a child." He didn't make any mention of the fact that he'd actually murdered his unborn baby.
"I have no feelings about it one way or the other." He shrugged, "it presented a problem and I dealt with it." The eerie smile was back.
"My family is innocent, please don't punish them for this." Jim was getting frantic.
"Here's the deal then, I'll kill you first so that way you won't have to watch your wife and kids being murdered," he said menacingly.
Jim stood up and approached Waddle, who held the gun up higher in front of him. Jim pushed his head against the barrel of the gun and looked straight into Mark's eyes. He'd had enough, he no longer cared about his own life, the safety of his family was paramount and if that meant dying to save them then he would.
"My family is leaving, and if you want to shoot me then go ahead!" Jim screamed, "Marilyn, take the kids and run, don't argue."
"Don't move!" Waddle screamed as the kids began sobbing louder.
"Just take the kids and go!" Jim shouted as he pressed harder against the gun with his forehead.
Marilyn quickly gathered the children and fled, she expected to hear the gun going off, but as she escaped from the house all was quiet. Fenner still stood facing Waddle and wondered why he wasn't dead yet.
"You've got guts Superintendent Fenner; I'll say that much about you. Did you really think I was going to murder your family?" A slow smile spread across his face.
"I don't give a shit now, they're safe." Jim didn't back down, he continued to hold eye contact.
"I would have if you'd sat there any longer, I was getting bored. Doesn't matter anyway, you're the one I came for, say goodnight Jim." Waddle began grinning again as he pulled the hammer back on the gun and placed his finger on the trigger.
Francis lay back in bed and smiled, the plan was taking shape and she just had to hope that Waddle would go through with it. She quickly picked up the phone and dialed his number.
"I'm taking care of it," he said in irritation, he had just been about to pull the trigger when his phone rang.
"Good, I knew I could rely on you. And when all this is over, you'll get your reward," she said seductively.
"I look forward to it."
"I do too. So don't disappoint me and finish him off," the tone of her voice was firm.
"It's as good as done already." He said before clicking the phone off.
She smiled again and dialed another number; it was picked up on the second ring.
"Hello, which service do you require please?"
"Police." Francis said and waited to be put through.
"Police, how may I help?" A calm voice sounded in her ear.
"Oh dear, you have to come quickly, I just saw a man going into a house with a gun." Francis said breathlessly.
"What's the address madam?"
She gave Fenner's address, but when asked for her contact details she put the phone down. She smiled once more as she stood up, and began to pack some of her belongings into a suitcase. She wasn't taking much, she wouldn't need it where she was going, and she'd soon have plenty of money to replace it all.
Helen giggled as Nikki lay on the living room floor covered in children. It had started out as a game of Twister and had turned into an all out wrestling match. The rest of the family sat watching fondly as Nikki grabbed the kids and started to tickle them.
"Aunty Nikkiiiiiii," screamed David, who was the oldest at 12.
"Surrender." Nikki said giggling.
"No way!" he shouted, "Aunty Helen, make her stop!" he looked over pleadingly at Helen as her face crumpled into a soppy smile at being called 'Aunty Helen'
"Got news for ya kiddo, Helen can't help you now." Nikki laughed evilly.
"Aunty Helen, come and help us get Aunty Nikki." Rebecca shouted.
Helen jumped up and hitched her dress up slightly as she grabbed hold of Nikki from behind and forced her onto the floor. Nikki knew Helen was strong but was always surprised by the way she managed to move her around with seemingly little effort. Helen sat astride Nikki and pinned her arms down.
"Right kids, fill your boots and don't stop until she begs for mercy." It was Helen's turn to grin down evilly at Nikki.
The kids squealed with delight and the four of them piled on top of Nikki and Helen. Nikki wasn't ticklish but she moaned and shouted in all the right places and the kids were having a great time. The adults looked on fondly, Helen was a lovely girl, and she seemed so perfect for Nikki. Bev and Geoff surveyed their family proudly, all of their kids had made good choices in choosing partners, and they were happy to see Nikki beginning to settle down at long last.
The fun and games carried on for a while longer until it was time for the kids to go to bed. Liz gathered them up and took them upstairs to get ready for bed while Geoff refilled everyone's drinks.
"So have you two set a date then?" He asked casually as he sat back down.
"Dad!" Nikki shot him a horrified look, "it's early days yet."
Helen put a hand over her mouth to stifle a giggle; Nikki had warned her this would happen.
"Never too early to plan ahead love." Bev chipped in, "I think you and Helen would look stunning in matching ivory suits."
"Mum!" Nikki had expected it, but was still shocked.
"Oh come on Nik, your parents are right, we've got to start planning ahead." Helen gave her a wicked grin.
"Don't you bloody well start, I've told you, there is no way we're getting married." Nikki folded her arms and shook her head.
"You've got a gorgeous woman like Helen, and you won't marry her?" Nikki's sister Jill piped up.
"That's right I won't, I'm not going to be railroaded into marriage by you lot, I'll do it when I'm ready."
"Who says I'd want to marry you anyway?" Helen looked straight at her.
"Of course you would, what more could ask for in a woman? I'm intelligent, devilishly good looking, and I make you laugh." Nikki said laughing.
"Bollocks." Nikki's dad piped up, "The only thing you've got going for you sweetheart is the fact that you look like your mum." He giggled.
"Gee thanks for that dad, you're a real gent." Nikki glared at him.
"If I was a real gent, I couldn't tell Helen about the time you were found naked on that school trip ." He caught the look on Nikki's face and it made him choke on his drink with laughter.
"It's all coming out now." Helen got comfy and turned to Nikki's family, "I for one would love to hear about that school trip. What did she get up to?"
"How long have you got Helen? We could be here for weeks." Steve laughed and dodged a cushion that Nikki had thrown at him.
"Ah come on I'm not that bad." Nikki started to panic slightly; she knew her family would start giving away all her secrets.
"She is you know." Bev was warming up to the subject, "Right, that school trip ..," she was interrupted when Helen's phone rang.
"I'm sorry, please excuse me for a second." Helen smiled apologetically and went out in the hall to answer the call.
The blood drained from her face as she listened to the voice on the other end. She clicked the phone off and hurried back into the living room.
"What's up?" Nikki asked immediately seeing the look on Helen's face.
"I haven't got time to explain now, we've got an incident, and by the sounds of it a bloody big one at that."
Nikki stood staring at Jim's house as the uniformed officers were in the process of evacuating the neighbourhood. She fiddled nervously with the bullet proof vest she was wearing and jumped when a hand was placed on her shoulder.
"Jesus Tony!" Nikki turned around and shot him an evil look, "do you always have to creep up on people like that?"
"Sorry," he said grinning, "what's going on?"
"We're all out here on a picnic, lovely night for it wouldn't you say?" Nikki said sarcastically.
"What crawled up your arse and died?" he raised an eyebrow at her.
"Ignore me, I'm just a bit tense at the moment and besides it was a stupid question," she pulled a face at him.
"I'll rephrase then, what's being done about it?" he grinned cheekily.
"The woodentops are evacuating the neighbourhood." Nikki said as she pointed to the uniformed cops ushering people away down the street, "and Helen is in the incident room at the top of the street meeting with the head of SO19. They're trying to figure out the best way to get Fenner out alive, they were arguing about getting a sniper in when I left."
"Let me guess, Helen doesn't want one," he folded his arms and surveyed his surroundings.
"No actually she does, it's the head of SO19 that isn't keen on the idea. He's worried about killing a fellow officer." Nikki made it known what she thought about it by the look on her face.
"Waddle is a maniac plain and simple, he stopped being an officer when he murdered Laura," he spoke between clenched teeth.
"You know that and I know that, but Hallsworth has always been a difficult sod. It amazes me how he ever got the job. He spends that long farting about that the hostage's die of old age instead of being murdered."
Tony laughed softly in the dark, "any further on tracing the anonymous caller?"
"No, whoever phoned in did it from a secure number, but it doesn't matter anyway because I already know."
"I don't follow." He looked puzzled.
"Francis Myers, it has to be, I know how her mind works." Nikki was positive.
"How are you going to prove it?"
"You know as well as I do that all calls are recorded."
"But she might have altered her voice, she's not stupid, she knows all calls are recorded."
"True, but I'll catch her out anyway." Nikki was certain of it.
Helen paced up and down the mobile incident room, she was still thrashing it out with Hallsworth, who seemed reluctant to budge and give in to her request.
"While we're standing here pissing about, Jim Fenner's life is in serious danger." Helen glared at him.
"I'm well aware of the situation thank you DCI Stewart, but I have many years experience and I assure you, sending a sniper in at this stage is not necessary."
"So we just sit around and wait until he shoots him then?" Helen's eyes were on fire, she was getting sick of him now.
"We will continue to assess the situation and if the need arises we will get a sniper into position."
"Far be it from me to tell you how to do your job, but doesn't the fact that somebody is being held hostage by an armed gunman automatically require a response?" Helen felt a headache coming on.
"Yes of course it does and that's why ..," he was cut off.
"And that's why your lot are sitting around drinking coffee and eating Kit Kats as if they're on some fucking school trip!" Helen exploded, "You may have been called in to take care of the firearms side of things but this is still my operation and I'm telling you, you need to put a sniper in there before it's too late."
"Look, DCI Stewart .."
"Don't look me, just get off your arse and do it." Helen snapped before she left the incident room slamming the door behind her.
"That's some set of balls she's got." Hallsworth remarked to his second in command.
"And she's just broke yours well and truly Sir," the man laughed.
"She's got me hanging by them as well, if we don't move now, she's going to put a complaint in."
"In a way she's right Sir, he knows we're going to try and communicate with him. He won't be willing to give in, he knows the tactics, well he should do if he's any kind of a decent officer. Negotiating with him is a non-starter, it's already gone too far for that," he knew his boss was a bit of a nervous nelly and felt he should give him his opinion.
"Don't you bloody well start! Give the order, get the sniper into position and have our men take up their spots," he knew he was beaten.
"Yes Sir," the man nodded and got on his radio.
Yvonne smiled as Karen snuggled further into her arms in her sleep. She had felt guilty at first; it was like she'd cheated on Charlie. But then her feelings for Karen overtook the situation and Charlie was temporarily forgotten. She knew he wouldn't be angry with her though, he'd always told her that he loved her and wanted her to be happy no matter what, or who she was with.
It was at the point that she and Karen began to make love that she knew she had made the right decision. She was in love with her and she couldn't deny that, and she knew that if she hadn't taken that step then it would have eaten away at her and made her miserable. She was just about to close her eyes and relive the memory of her first night with Karen when the phone rang, rudely interrupting her thoughts.
"Hello." Yvonne said quietly not wanting to wake Karen, who seemed to have slept through the shrill noise of the phone ringing.
"Yvonne it's me, I thought you and Karen might want a heads up." Nikki said breathlessly on the other end of the phone, "Fenner is being held hostage by Mark Waddle."
"Bloody hell!" Yvonne exclaimed and sat bolt upright forgetting all about Karen for the moment.
"Tell me about it." Nikki said down the phone, "Jim's wife says Waddle has a gun and that he doesn't appear to be afraid of using it."
"How did she manage to get out?" Yvonne felt Karen's arms slip around her from behind.
"I've not got the time to explain now; I just thought I should let the both of you know." Nikki was anxious to be off the phone, she had a briefing with Helen and the team shortly.
"Hang on a minute, how did you know Karen was here?" Yvonne felt herself blushing.
"I'm not daft Yvonne, you were going out on a date, and I knew you'd end up back at your place doing the horizontal tango." Nikki started laughing.
"You know your problem? You know your own tricks best." Yvonne chuckled.
"You're probably right there." Nikki agreed with a giggle, "look, I've really got to go, there's loads to do."
"Ok love, and thanks for calling, bye." Yvonne put the phone down and explained to a sleepy Karen what was going on.
"Right, I better get down there." Karen climbed out of bed and shivered as the cold air hit her skin.
"You're not serious?" Yvonne looked horrified.
"Deadly serious, I know a member of my staff will have taken the call and gone to the scene but I need to be there in case anything happens." It wasn't that Karen didn't trust her staff, but she liked to do things properly and that sometimes meant feeling the need to take control even if she didn't have to.
"There could be bullets flying about everywhere, I don't want you involved in all that Karen." Yvonne wanted to protect her.
"It's my job love," she said gently as she sat down beside her, "you know that as well as I do. This has happened to both of us countless times before, it's what we do."
"I know, but it doesn't make it any easier." Yvonne looked down at the floor.
"I know it doesn't but I've got to go love," she kissed Yvonne softly on the lips before resuming getting dressed.
"Hold it right there, I'm coming with you." Yvonne stood up and began to get dressed, and Karen knew there was no use in arguing.
Nikki was getting stiff and cold after crouching behind an armed response unit van. There hadn't been a peep from inside the house and the sniper was quietly watching and waiting for any sign of Waddle.
Helen was beside her and was beginning to feel the effects of the cold herself. "I really need to pee." Helen said as she rubbed her hands together.
"Serves you right for drinking too much." Nikki said as she looked through her binoculars at the house.
"That's what I love about you, I can always count on your sympathy." Helen grumbled.
"You didn't care when I was stuck outside Yvonne's today in a similar situation."
"Why? Cos I was going to pee myself on Yvonne's doorstep and you're gonna pee yourself against a van?" Nikki started laughing.
"Shut up." Helen said tetchily, although a smile broke through.
"If you need to go then go, I doubt anything is going to happen for a while yet."
"Where is everyone?" Helen looked around and noticed they were on their own.
"I sent Tony home, he's still got that crack on the head to worry about, and in any case Shell would have gone straight into labour worrying about him. As for the rest of them, they're probably playing cards somewhere, the lazy sods."
"Who's looking after Gina?"
"They sent a doctor round to the house with Graveson, I regret sending him cos he's not all that sensitive but he'd be no bloody use here either."
"One minute you're praising them all and the next they're the worst team in the world." Helen said with amusement.
"Well when one of your officers turns into a homicidal maniac, it tends to have an effect on you." Nikki was getting sarcastic again.
"Ooooo alright, keep your knickers on." Helen grinned.
"That's exactly what I will do, cos you've pissed me off now." Nikki smiled back.
"Aye right, I could get them off in five seconds flat." Helen was confident on the matter.
"Wanna bet do you?" Nikki winked at her.
"Oh absolutely, but first I really need to pee." Helen got up and wandered off down to the incident room, making sure she was out of view of the house in case Waddle decided to start taking pot shots.
Nikki leaned back against the van and closed her eyes. When all this was over, she would take Helen somewhere hot and exotic on holiday, they both needed a break, their nerves were frazzled. She dreamed for a little while, a smile passing over her face now and then as she imagined all the places she would go with Helen and all the things they would see. She felt a warm body press up against hers and groaned, she loved the way Helen cuddled up to her.
"You weren't long." Nikki muttered.
"I'm always quick off the mark baby, you know that," a voice said as Nikki's eyes shot open.
"Caroline." Nikki's eyes narrowed into slits as she looked at her, "how did you get past my officers? And what hell are you doing here?"
"You know me babe, always looking for my next story," she said seductively as Nikki quickly stood up and moved away from her.
"Right, and now you can piss off." Nikki took her radio and was about to use it when Caroline snatched it from her.
"Oh come on Nikki, don't be like that, I'm just doing my job," she pouted.
"And I'm just trying to do mine, so why don't you go away and let me get on with it."
"I never realised how much I'd missed you," she took a hand and rubbed it along the side of Nikki's face until it was slapped away.
"Don't you dare touch me, I don't want you anywhere near me." Nikki felt her skin crawl, she'd once loved this woman but now she didn't know why.
"Don't be shy baby." Caroline murmured, "you help me and I'll help you, just like we always did."
"What you mean is, I tell you everything and you stab me in the back. Well no thanks, I've been there once and I have no desire to go there again. You disgust me, and I want you out of my way." Nikki snarled.
"You don't mean that." Caroline made eyes at her.
"Don't push me." Nikki warned.
"Mmmmmmm well, I think I'll just have to kiss you instead," she grabbed Nikki and pushed her up against the van, she clamped her lips over her mouth before she had time to do anything.
Helen came back and automatically looked at the figures standing in the darkness ahead of her. Nikki was pinned against the van in a passionate embrace with a blonde woman she'd never seen before. Her heart plummeted and she felt sick to her stomach, seeing Nikki in the arms of another woman had destroyed her.
"What the fuck is going on?" she heard herself say, and wondered how she'd even managed to speak.
She saw Nikki push the woman away violently, "Helen, this is not what it looks like, let me explain," she said frantically because she was all too aware of what it did look like.
"Get back to work." Helen felt detached, as the professional side of her took over pushing her personal feelings away, "this is not the time or the place for you to be flaunting your relationship with her," she pointed at Caroline.
"Helen please, just let me tell you what happened, it really isn't what you think it is." Nikki pleaded with her. Her stomach was doing somersaults at the look of revulsion on Helen's face.
"You heard me DI Wade, get back to work, that's an order." Helen marched off leaving a distraught looking Nikki, and a grinning Caroline behind her.
Nikki watched Helen walk away and her heart raced painfully. She felt sick to her stomach, she'd just lost the best thing had ever happened to her. She felt the rage build up inside her and turned to Caroline, who was looking very smug.
"Happy now? You've just cost me the only woman I've ever really loved."
"I'm still here for you baby." Caroline advanced towards her, "You know we were good together."
"You don't get it do you, I don't want to be anywhere near you. So just do me a favour and piss off Caroline!" Nikki snarled.
Helen stopped dead in her tracks when she heard Nikki shouting. Caroline? Caroline Lewis the reporter? She turned right back around and strode towards Nikki.
"Is this the Caroline you told me about? The reporter?"
"Yeah," she nodded but didn't dare to hope that it meant anything.
"Good." Helen smiled and walked towards Caroline, "It's about time I met you Miss Lewis, I've heard a lot about you."
Caroline couldn't help but feel self important and she smiled, "I have heard that said many times."
"I bet you have, although I'm sure it was for all the wrong reasons."
"I wouldn't say that, I'm well known for a lot of reasons."
"I can believe that. Well I'm sorry to have to cut this short, but Nikki and I are needed elsewhere." Helen went to turn away, "oh but before I do."
"Yes?" Caroline looked at her questioningly and unfortunately for her, she hadn't noticed the look in Helen's eyes.
"If I ever see you near Nikki again, you'll regret it. So the next time you fancy clamping your mouth around my girlfriend, make sure you think about it first. Do I make myself clear?" Helen spoke quietly, but the tone of her voice was threatening.
Caroline nodded, she could see Helen was deadly serious.
"Good, because if it ever happens again, I'll make you sorry you were ever born."
"Get her out of here." Nikki said to a couple of uniformed constables standing a few yards away.
They dragged Caroline off up the street; Nikki watched her go with a feeling of uneasiness. She didn't know what Helen was going to do next.
"Did you want to kiss her?" Helen asked quietly.
"You should know the answer to that question."
"I need to hear you say it. You have no idea what it did to me seeing her with you like that. I felt my heart breaking." Helen's voice was unsteady.
"I didn't want to kiss her, she grabbed me and I didn't have time to react. The only woman I want is you, I love you Helen."
"I love you too." Helen threw her arms around her; the icy feeling in the pit of her stomach had disappeared.
They stood there in each others arms for a few moments, both lost in their thoughts. Nikki couldn't quite believe how things had turned out, and Helen was kicking herself for not trusting Nikki. They were both aware of how close they had come to losing each other.
"I'm really sorry Helen," tears shone in Nikki's eyes, it was beginning to hit her full force.
"I'm the one that should be sorry; I overreacted and walked away without waiting to find out the truth."
Nikki ran a hand down the side of her face, "I'm just sorry you had to see it."
"Hey it's ok, it's all over with now." Helen said softly and then pulled Nikki closer and hugged her fiercely.
"On the job again eh?" a giggle sounded from behind them.
"Trust you to turn up when I'm a passionate clinch with ma bird." Helen chuckled and gave Nikki's hand a squeeze.
"You two are always .." Yvonne was interrupted when the crack of a sniper rifle echoed around the houses.
They all looked at each other in alarm and went haring off down the road toward Fenner's house. Helen skidded to a halt in front of Hallsworth.
"Who the hell gave the order to shoot?" she asked angrily.
"I did, you weren't here and I thought it was about time somebody took charge."
"I've got my radio; it would have taken only a couple of seconds." Helen snapped.
"We didn't have a couple of seconds, he came into view and we took our shot."
"I don't bloody believe this!" Helen began to pace.
"You wanted a sniper, you got one. You wanted Waddle dead, and I'm pretty sure he is," he shrugged his shoulders.
"Pretty sure?" Helen's nostrils flared in temper.
"He went down, what more do you want?"
"Jesus Hallsworth, it's a wonder you ever made it this far." Nikki looked at him in disgust.
"I could say the same about you. If you two weren't conducting your private lives at work then maybe you'd have been here when you should have been."
"One more word out of you .." Nikki advanced towards him.
"Nikki, leave it." Helen warned, "right, you better get your men in there then." Helen said frostily.
Hallsworth nodded smugly and gave the order for them all to move in. Helen and Nikki hung back with Yvonne until they were told it was all clear. By the time they entered the house, Hallsworth was looking uncomfortable.
"Where's Waddle?" Helen asked immediately.
"I don't know."
"What do you mean you don't know?"
"The sniper got the wrong man, he shot Superintendent Fenner." Hallsworth said quietly as Helen's face went pale.
Francis stepped off the plane in Italy and made her way through to the arrivals hall of Rome airport. Gino Camaletti smiled and shook her hand warmly.
"Francis, it's good to see you."
"It's good to see you too Gino. Thank you for inviting me to stay, I'm sure I'm going to love it here."
"I can guarantee it. Italy is a beautiful place, and so peaceful I think. Have you not brought anyone with you?" he looked questioningly at her.
"No, Mark Waddle and I have parted ways I'm afraid."
"I'm sorry to hear that, he seemed like a decent man."
"Not to worry, these things happen," she shrugged her shoulders and smiled.
"Yes, it's a sad fact of life. Anyway, let's not dwell on that, somebody is waiting to see you."
"Your cousin is here, and he's eager to see you by all accounts."
"We better make a move then." Francis smiled and then sighed inwardly; she was hoping she had left Parry behind because he was becoming a weight around her neck.
Helen paced up and down the hospital corridor, trying to deal with the overwhelming sense of anger inside her. She did blame Hallsworth for what had happened, but she blamed herself more. If she hadn't acted unprofessionally then maybe Waddle wouldn't have escaped and Fenner wouldn't be laying in intensive care with a serious head wound.
The bullet had entered his skull but he'd still been breathing when he was found. He'd undergone six hours of surgery to remove it, he was in critical condition and they weren't sure whether he would be brain damaged or not if he actually survived.
Nikki was in a daze, everywhere she looked death surrounded them. She'd been quiet ever since it had happened; she blamed herself for distracting Helen when she was needed elsewhere. Yvonne had just come back from speaking to the doctors, there was no change in his condition and they had been told it was best for them to go home.
"Come on then, lets go." Yvonne picked her jacket up and slung it over her shoulder.
Nikki had to do something; she couldn't sit and let Francis get away with everything. She took her phone from her pocket and quickly dialed the station.
"Hello, this is DI Wade, is Degsy around?" she began to walk down the corridor at a brisk pace with a puzzled Helen and Yvonne following, "Degsy mate, do me a favour. Call the team and get them assembled in the incident room as soon as. Don't take any shit."
"Ok Nik, no problem. I'll get right on it," his voice echoed down the phone.
"Cheers, I owe you another one," she clicked the phone off, "Hurry up you two," she chivvied the women along, they had a lot to do and not a lot of time to do it in.
The incident room filled up; there was a noisy discussion about the events of the last few hours. Speculation was rife, nobody really knew the details of the situation and it turned into a game of Chinese whispers. Nikki pushed the door of the incident room open and stood before them all with Helen and Yvonne at her side.
"What are you going to do?" Helen asked. Ordinarily she would be ticked off about Nikki taking control but tonight she was too tired to care.
"What we should have done a while ago." Nikki replied.
The noise carried on, nobody seemed to notice that their superior officers were stood in front of them waiting for silence. Nikki got fed up of waiting and yelled at them to be quiet, sensing her mood; they immediately did as they were asked.
"Thank you, about bloody time." Nikki snapped, "As you all know, Superintendent Fenner was taken hostage by Mark Waddle tonight. He is now in hospital in a critical condition. Waddle is as we speak, on the run and I want him found. I've notified the relevant people and he'll be stopped from leaving the country. I want you split into two teams; team one will liase with the airport police and customs and excise officers and team two will set about rounding up the members of Parry's gang plus the gentleman himself."
"What are you going to do then Nikki?" DC Dave Thomas piped up.
"Me? I'm going on my holidays." Nikki grinned as the room erupted into moans and groans, "settle down, it will be a working holiday. I'm after a suspect that's gone abroad."
"Who?" Dave asked. He still didn't understand the situation.
"That I can't tell you but what I will tell you is that this case is more complicated than it seems which I bet you've already guessed anyway. When this case is solved, you'll all find out exactly what's happened, but for now it's on a need to know basis and you don't need to know just yet. Do as I've asked and things will be fine."
They all nodded, they trusted her and took her at her word. If she said she would tell them eventually then she would. Helen hadn't really been listening; she was too busy going over the night's events in her head. She was analysing the situation, trying to think of what she could have done to prevent it all from happening.
Nikki was busy finishing off getting the team organised when Andy Lockyer swanned in looking bored. He'd been to bed with Francis and then had gone home to have a few beers before turning in, and wasn't impressed when Degsy had told him to get back to the station on Nikki's orders. He'd deliberately taken his time, as far as he was concerned, Nikki wasn't worth hurrying for.
"Nice of you to show up Colombo." Nikki said sarcastically, "where've you been till now?"
"Some of us have lives outside work, we can't all live and breathe this place like you do, some of us aren't that sad." He grinned smugly.
"In DCI Stewart's office now, we need to talk." Nikki said in a tone that invited no argument.
He shrugged and wandered off, while Nikki and Helen followed him. Nikki stopped to talk to Yvonne.
"You coming in?"
"Do you need me?" Yvonne was excited at the prospect of being needed in a professional capacity again, but tried hard to hide it.
"Course we do, come on." Nikki winked at her and led her into Helen's office.
Andy was now lounging in the chair in front of Helen's desk and looked as if he'd rather be tortured than have to talk to Nikki. Helen sank down in to her chair and went back off into her own little world. Nikki was worried about her, but she'd speak to her later on when they had some time alone.
"So where's she gone then?" Nikki perched on the corner of Helen's desk and got straight to the point.
"Who?" Andy hadn't a clue who she was talking about.
"Francis, where is she?"
Andy wondered why Nikki was interested, "I don't know, at home I must imagine," he shrugged his shoulders.
"I know you two have been seeing each other." Nikki knew the look in his eyes; she'd seen it countless times before in other men who were trying to keep an affair secret.
"That's personal," he snapped, "I don't ask questions about what you get up to with my fiancée."
"Ex fiancée." Nikki narrowed her eyes at him.
"You should know nothing stays private in this place." Yvonne piped up, "where is she?"
"She's gone away for a bit, she said it had something to do with the case."
"Where?" Helen asked.
"Italy, she said she had to liase with the Italian authorities over a few aspects of the case."
"Whereabouts? Italy isn't that small that I can jump off the plane and find her." Helen said sarcastically.
"Rome. Camaletti has a big house somewhere outside of Rome but I don't know where."
"Right. Off you go then." Nikki dismissed him.
"Aren't you going to tell me what all this is about?"
"No, it's none of your business. You're not needed here anymore, so you can go and join team number two." Nikki smiled sweetly at him; she knew she shouldn't but she enjoyed getting under his skin.
He scowled and marched off towards the door, bumping into Tony as he left the room. Karen was standing behind him in the doorway.
"Private party or can anyone join in?" He grinned.
"I thought I told you to piss off home Dockley?" Nikki shot back.
"I did but Degsy called and here I am," he did a little twirl.
"Don't mince about Tony; it doesn't suit you." Nikki giggled, "next you'll be wearing pink and asking us to call you Tracy at weekends."
"Since you come to mention it, I have been wearing Shell's underwear, and I really think it suits me," he grinned.
"No way would you fit your arse into her underwear." Yvonne chuckled.
"Tell me about it." Tony nodded, "this thong is giving me gyp," he said as he pretended to adjust his underwear.
"I worry about you sometimes." Nikki shook her head as she laughed.
"It's ok, I worry about me too darling." He walked into the office, hands resting on his waist, wiggling his hips for effect.
"So where do we go from here?" Helen suddenly asked, she'd been daydreaming again.
"We go to Italy, we find out where she is, and we get Camaletti while we're there. It will involved a bit of surveillance work but we should be able to manage it."
"Tell you what Nik, I'll come with." Yvonne was determined to help out.
"Me too." Tony nodded.
"Right, that's four of us." Nikki didn't have the energy to argue.
"Five." Karen chipped in, "I'm coming with you."
"Karen you can't." Yvonne didn't want her there, it would be too dangerous.
"I can and I will." Karen was adamant.
"Alright bloody hell five." Yvonne grumbled.
"Er no, six." Tony said quietly, "Shell will want to come."
"Tony, this is serious police work, not an 18-30 holiday." Nikki said.
"No, let her come." Helen looked thoughtful; "if we're going to be doing surveillance then we need to look inconspicuous. If we look like tourists then nobody is going to question it."
"Jesus." Nikki exclaimed, "Right you better tell her to pack her bikini then, she's off on holiday."
At 6am the next morning a group of four tired looking people sat sipping coffee while Tony and Shell skipped around the shops like a couple of kids. Nikki found it amusing, the way they scanned the shelves as if they'd never gone shopping before. She noticed Yvonne wasn't quite as grumpy as she normally was in the mornings, Karen seemed to be making her happy and she was glad about it. Helen on the other hand, was still spaced out and had hardly said two words to her.
"Helen, talk to me." Nikki said quietly as she Yvonne and Karen chatted.
"What? Oh sorry Nikki," she gave her a little smile, "I was in a world of my own there."
"I'm upset about Jim, and Waddle escaping. I fucked it all up; I could have handled it better. I made the mistake of not negotiating with him."
"We talked about this, even Yvonne agreed with you. That was never going to work and we all knew it. You did the best you could, it was Hallsworth's fuckup not yours." Nikki gave her hand a gentle squeeze.
"If I'd been there though maybe I could have stopped them shooting him."
"I doubt anyone could have, that's just the way it turned out. Waddle knew what we'd do, so he set Fenner up and then went on the run."
"Where do you think he's headed?"
"He'll be headed for Francis. We'll see him in Italy soon enough." Nikki said prophetically as she took another sip of her coffee.
It was late afternoon in Rome when Helen opened her eyes and squinted through the semi-darkness to see Nikki still sleeping beside her. She smiled and snuggled into her again. Nikki's arms wrapped around her and she closed her eyes, this was what she'd been waiting all her life for and she was happy she'd finally found it.
Nikki made her feel things nobody else ever had, and she knew she felt the same. They'd discussed it one night after Helen had mentioned soul mates, and they both agreed that they had finally found theirs in each other. She found it incredible that sometimes they would know how they felt without even having to ask.
Feelings of guilt hit her again; she had come so close to losing the love of her life because she had jumped to conclusions. She had doubted her and it made her feel ashamed, but she knew Nikki had forgiven her for that. Nikki's words echoed through her head, and she realised that she was right; it was only because she loved her so much that she'd been so upset. She knew she had to stop thinking about it before the guilt became so bad that it consumed her.
"You're still thinking about it aren't you?" Nikki's voice drifted over her in the darkness.
"How did you know?" Helen rested up on one elbow and looked down at Nikki in the gloom.
"I could hear your brain ticking over." Nikki giggled, "seriously though, I know how your mind works. I knew you'd still be feeling guilty."
"I am and I was. You've caught me out." Helen said quietly.
"Well stop it. We love each other, we're still together and there's nothing to feel guilty about."
"How about I make it up to you?" Helen whispered.
"You already did that twice, but I won't say no." Nikki dragged Helen under the covers and began to kiss her neck.
There was a banging on the door and Helen groaned, she was just getting going and felt ready to kick whoever was outside the door.
"Wake up you lazy pair of sods!" Yvonne's dulcet tones came from the direction of the door, "Karen and I are starving, and we wanna find somewhere to eat."
"I'll give you some directions. Get in the lift and then walk towards the exit!" Nikki called out as Helen giggled against her.
"Yeah yeah. Very funny, come on!" she hammered on the door again.
Nikki rolled her eyes and switched the lamp on, "alright, just give us ten minutes will you?"
"Ten and no more." Yvonne said as they got up and began to get dressed.
"You'd have thought she'd want to keep Karen in bed wouldn't you?" Nikki grumbled, "We've been together longer than they have and we're always at it."
"At it?" Helen raised an eyebrow at her, "what happened to calling it making love?"
"You know what I meant." Nikki tried to get into her jeans and fell over on the bed, "Bloody jeans, I don't know why I bother," she wasn't reacting well to being interrupted whilst in a romantic mood.
"I told you your arse looked sexy in them, that's why you bother." Helen giggled as she finished off getting dressed.
"I knew there was a reason." Nikki grinned.
They sat in the restaurant quietly chatting while Tony and Shell drooled over the menu. They were like kids, they decided to order a few dishes and have a little bit of everything.
"I don't know what you're taking your time over that menu for Shell, they don't do fish fingers." Nikki giggled.
"Shut it Nikki." Shell flashed her the finger as she smiled, "You're out of luck as well, cos I don't think they do steak sandwiches with onion rings."
"She knows you too well." Helen sniggered.
"I don't always have a steak sandwich." Nikki pouted.
"Yes you do." Helen took a sip of her wine, "I've been to lunch with you several times and you've always ordered the same thing."
"Shall we ask the nice man if he's got some onion rings especially for you then Nikki?" Shell grinned wickedly.
"Piss off Dockley." Nikki grinned back.
"Nikki, don't look now, but that's one of Parry's goons isn't it?" Tony said quietly.
Nikki casually inspected her surroundings and caught sight of him, "Yes it is, so let's get going. We don't want him recognising us."
They left the restaurant in two's and thankfully hadn't been noticed. They stood across the other side of the street, considering their next move.
"Ten to one bet Parry is here if one of his lackeys is." Tony looked thoughtful, "If Francis is here, with Parry and Camaletti, what the hell are they planning?"
"I don't know but it's not looking all that good is it?" Helen agreed.
"Here's what we do." Nikki took her cigarettes out and passed them around, "Karen, you'll have to go back to the hotel with Shell, while the rest of us follow him and see where he goes," she pointed towards the restaurant.
"Why can't I come with ya?" Shell looked disappointed.
"Two reasons, you're not a copper and you're pregnant." Tony stated.
"Not fair, I always miss out on the fun."
"It's for your own good love." Yvonne placed a hand on her arm.
"If you weren't up the stick then I'd let you go." Nikki tried to pacify her.
"Up the stick?" Helen chuckled, "what a lovely way to describe being pregnant."
"Up the duff, with sprog, pregnant ..it's all the same bloody thing." Nikki shrugged, "right Karen, you better take Shell back to the hotel and feed her cakehole before she starts moaning."
"Will do." Karen nodded and then turned to Yvonne, "Be careful sweetheart, please."
"I will love, I promise." Yvonne self-consciously kissed Karen and felt embarrassed because they were all watching.
"Come on then lover girl, I'm 'ungry." Shell linked arms with Karen, "You lot be careful, and take care of my Tony," she leaned over and gave him a quick kiss before she disappeared off down the road with Karen in tow.
"Tony, you get the car. Yvonne, you go with him. Helen, come with me." Nikki gave her orders.
"Where are we going?" Helen gave in and let Nikki be in charge for once because she seemed to be enjoying it. And if the truth be told, she was relieved to take a back seat, because she had no idea what to do about anything.
"The most important place on earth, Kentucky Fried Chicken." Nikki giggled as they went off to get some food.
Two hours later they were following at a discrete distance behind the man they'd spotted in the restaurant. They had driven out of Rome and were now in the countryside. Nikki didn't have much time to sightsee seeing as how she was driving but she caught quick glimpses and thought it was beautiful.
"Helen, is there any more chicken left in the bucket?" Tony piped up from the back seat.
"Yep, there you go." Helen handed it to him with a smile.
"Oooo breasts, I love a bit of breast." He giggled as he started to eat.
"Just as well yours are saggy enough for you to play with then." Nikki chuckled.
"You cheeky git! I've spent hours toning up my pecs in the gym." He flashed her a dirty look from the back seat which she caught in the rear view mirror.
"So how come they look like old lady's jugs then?" Yvonne chipped in.
"You should know boss, you've seen your own plenty of times." Tony grinned cheekily.
"Oh look." Yvonne pointed out of the window, "wall to wall sodding grapes. That reminds me of a certain part of your anatomy Tony."
"Shut up." He said grumpily and carried on eating his chicken.
"One nil to the ladies!" Nikki flashed Helen a cheesy grin and she burst out laughing.
"Leave him alone, he's a bloke, he can't help being daft." Helen bit down on her tongue but couldn't stop giggling.
"Ah eh Helen, don't you start!" Tony grumbled, "I get picked on something rotten by you three."
"That's cos you're the only bloke amongst a group of women. You were asking for trouble sunshine." Yvonne stuck out her tongue at him.
"I'll remember that when we're all stuck out here in the middle of nowhere and need to live off the land. You can get on with it; I won't be helping you to survive at all."
"Oh you will." Helen turned around to face him; "cos when we get fed up of grapes, you'll be the first one who gets eaten," she giggled.
"Charming!" he scowled.
"Looks like this is the place girls, and Tony, you're included in that so before you say anything, shut it." Nikki said as she spotted a big villa clinging to the hillside in the distance.
They watched as the car turned up a long sloping driveway and Nikki carried on past the house. She found a secluded spot a few hundred yards up the road where she could hide the car and they all climbed out.
Parry sat in a chair sipping expensive whisky and smoking Cuban cigars. He was becoming far too fond of alcohol these days, he very rarely used to touch the stuff but now he was drinking on a daily basis. He felt he could afford to relax though, he was away from England and the police and nobody could touch him.
Francis entered the lavishly decorated sitting room of the villa and rolled her eyes at Parry, who sat there looking very much a lord of the manor. He grated on her nerves, he had been good for certain things but now he had outlived his usefulness and she couldn't wait to get rid of him. She'd spoken to Gino about it, and fortunately they were thinking along the same lines. Parry would soon breathe his last.
"Hello Franny, sit down and have a drink," he said cheerfully.
"Don't call me that, you know I hate it," she snapped.
"What's gotten up your nose?" He asked as he poured himself another drink.
"Nothing I'm fine," she dismissed the subject with a shake of her head.
The man who'd been in the restaurant earlier on that evening, suddenly breezed in and placed a paper bag in front of Parry.
"I got what you asked for boss, it wasn't cheap though," he sucked air in through his teeth and shook his head.
"I don't care how expensive it was," he opened the takeaway paper bag and pulled out a kilo of cocaine.
"What the bloody hell do you want that for?" Francis's eyes were wide, "you know Gino doesn't like drugs."
"It didn't bother him when he was taking a cut of my profits." Parry shrugged.
"That's not the point. He gave all that up after his sister died from an overdose." Francis stood up, "if he catches you with that in here, you know he'll go mad."
"So what?" Parry seemed unconcerned as he snorted some of the cocaine.
"I never thought I'd see you on that shit." Francis pointed to the drugs.
"I wanted to know what everyone was raving about," he laughed, "it helps me relax, I'm not an addict, I'm not that stupid."
"You and millions of others," she shook her head in disgust, "cos that's that what they all say to begin with. Mark my words, you carry on sticking that shit up your nose and you'll fry your brain."
She left the room and went in search of Gino, Parry had to be dealt with, especially now that she knew he was on drugs. If he was stoned out of his head, there was no telling what he would do, and they couldn't afford to take risks. She found him in his study inspecting his collection of guns, just like always.
"Gino, we have a bit of a problem."
"Oh? Care to tell me about it?" he smiled and invited her to sit with him.
"It's Mark, he's just had one of his gorilla's bring him back a kilo of cocaine."
Gino's face grew red as the veins in his temples immediately began to throb, "He brought that shit into my house? He knows about what happened to my sister, how can he disrespect me and my family in such a way?"
"It's worse than that." Francis cleared her throat, "he's snorting it."
"I won't stand for it," he said angrily, "I'm going to take care of him, right now," his eyes darted about, trying to find the perfect weapon for the job.
Nikki led the others up a steep slope opposite the house some distance away. They were trying to stay out of sight, but it wasn't easy because there wasn't much cover. She was thankful when the came to the outer reaches of a vineyard, at least now they had something to hide behind.
"Are these grapes safe to eat?" Tony asked as he trudged along behind the three women.
"Should think so." Helen replied distractedly as she kept one eye on the house and the other on Nikki who was in front of her.
"Do you think they'd miss a few?" he rambled on.
"Oh for fuck sake!" Nikki suddenly stopped and Helen bumped into her, "yes, they're safe to eat and no, with god knows how many acres of grapes, I doubt the bloke will miss a bunch," she said as she laughed.
"Not sure I fancy any now, I'm still full from the chicken," he looked undecided.
Yvonne picked a bunch and handed them to him, "go on treat yourself. At the very least, it will keep you quiet for five minutes," she giggled.
"Nikki?" Tony called out.
"Do you want one of my grapes?" He grinned cheekily at her.
"Muppet." Nikki smiled as she looked over at him, "if it's all the same to you though mate, I'd rather not. We've got work to do if you don't mind."
"Will you two shut it and move!" Yvonne pushed them all along, "we haven't got all bloody night."
"That's why I'm thankful you're my boss Helen, you're not nearly as bad as bossy boots Atkins there." Nikki chuckled.
"Oi Wade .." Yvonne's voice tailed off when she heard a faint noise in the distance.
They'd all heard it and automatically dropped to the ground.
"Is that what I think it was?" Helen whispered, even though she couldn't be heard as far away as the house.
"Definitely sounded like a gunshot to me." Yvonne replied and nodded.
"It was. Look, stay here and keep out of sight." Tony began to crawl away.
"Where the hell are you going?" Nikki called out after him.
"I'm going to take a closer look," he turned to face her, "It's easier for one of us to get a look at what's going on than for all four of us to go snooping about. I'll be back soon."
"No way." Helen shook her head, "You're not even armed and it's not safe, the place will be guarded. Don't risk it."
"Is that an order?"
"Then I'm sorry Helen, I'm going to have to disobey it." He said apologetically as he took off back the way he came.
"Bloody men!" Yvonne exclaimed, "He's off to play Rambo and we're stuck in the middle of nowhere, in a foreign country, with no help if we need it."
"He'll be fine, he's a good copper and he's not stupid." Nikki tried to sound confident but she definitely wasn't feeling that way, "He'll be back soon enough."
Gino looked down at Parry's lifeless body with satisfaction; he'd disrespected him and paid the price. He motioned for one of his men to come closer.
"Get rid of this piece of rubbish," he placed his gun down on the coffee table, "and while you're at it, dispose of this shit too," he picked up the cocaine and handed it to the man.
"Where do you want him Sir?" the man flexed his muscles as if preparing to warm up for the task ahead of him.
"Anywhere you like, just get him off my property before he starts to stink the place out." Gino poured himself a drink to steady his nerves, the anger still had not left him.
"That's another problem taken care of." Francis stood beside Gino and watched as Parry's body was prepared for being moved.
"What about all the rest?" He turned to her and his eyes bored straight through her.
"I told you, it's taken care of," she placed a hand on his arm and smiled up at him.
"Good, I'm pleased," his hand reached around her neck as he pulled her towards him and kissed her.
Francis had doubts in the back of her mind though, Waddle and Fenner had been taken care of but that still left Nikki and Helen. Perhaps she should have had them dealt with when she had the chance, but deep down she still had a soft spot for Nikki and hadn't been able to bring herself to do it. Maybe she was worrying over nothing, maybe Nikki would let it go. But a little voice inside her head told her that it wouldn't turn out to be the case.
Tony crouched in the bushes, trying not to breathe for fear of anyone hearing him, even though he knew it was highly unlikely. He had peeked in the French windows from his vantage point in the bushes, and tried hard to stifle a gasp as he saw Parry's body being dragged from view. He had then watched as Francis locked lips with Gino Camaletti before they left the room.
He was pleased he'd done it now; at least he had something to take back with him to tell the others. He felt it made up for his imagined failings on the night Sarah was kidnapped. He'd been feeling guilty about it ever since, and not even Shell knew. It wasn't like him to keep his feelings to himself, but he felt ashamed that he hadn't been able to help Sarah and the baby and he had kept it bottled up.
He knew it was time to get back to the others so he slowly began to turn around to make his way back down the hill to the road. A click of metal on metal stopped him and he froze. He knew what and who it was without even turning around.
"Fancy seeing you here Mark," he said quietly as the hairs on the back of his neck stood up.
"Taking a little holiday are you?" Waddle's voice was cold and menacing.
"Yeah, quite enjoying myself too as it happens." Tony tried to keep his voice steady, but inside he was panicking.
"Get your kicks from peeping into window's then?"
"Not really, but you'd know more about that than I would," he slowly turned around to face Mark, who had a gun pointed right at his head, "having said that, I can't imagine what you just witnessed was a lot of fun. After all, your so called girlfriend just had her tongue down another bloke's throat."
Mark brought the gun down and smacked Tony over the top of the head with it, "one more word out of you ..," he left the threat hanging, he didn't need to say any more than that.
Tony winced as he touched the top of his skull, the blow from the gun had split his head open and he was pretty sure it had made his fracture worse. He now wished he'd listened to Helen.
"Get up." Mark kicked him in the legs, "I think it's about time we let them know they have guests."
Francis gazed openmouthed as she was confronted with Mark Waddle. It was like being confronted with a ghost, and she had to wonder for a second if she was seeing things. But no, he was real and so was the gun in his hand. She quickly looked around the room but she was alone. Gino had been there only seconds before, where the hell was he?
"You look surprised to see me." Waddle grinned and waved the gun at her.
"Mark I ," she was lost for words.
"You thought I was dead I'm sure," he pushed Tony ahead of him and motioned for him to sit down; "It took me a little while to work out how the police got there so quickly. Fenner's wife had barely left the house before the armed response lads turned up. Then a thought popped into my head, who else knew I'd be there?"
"It's not like that Mark." Francis didn't know what to do for the first time in her life, "You know I wouldn't do that to you. The plan was that you'd join me here once you'd gotten rid of Fenner."
"Yeah I know, but now we both know it wasn't supposed to happen that way. You wanted rid of me, and you almost managed to kill two birds with one stone, only for the fact that I cottoned on to it in time."
"Oh come on, this is real life not a fairy story." Francis's laugh was hollow.
"I'm sorry to intrude, but I could do with using the bathroom." Tony piped up; he was trying to think of ways to distract Waddle.
"Not a chance, do I look stupid?" Mark growled.
"Do you really want me to answer that question?" Tony knew he was pushing it.
"Shut it now, before I smack you over the head again, cos I don't think I made my point forcefully enough the first time." He shot a look at Tony that told him he meant it.
"I see your boyfriend ran off quickly when he noticed I had a gun."
"Gino isn't my boyfriend, I don't know what made you think that." Francis folded her arms and tried not show she was uneasy.
"Funny that, cos he looked like your boyfriend to me. That is, unless you go around making a habit of kissing every man you know."
"I don't know what you're talking about."
"I saw you from outside. I watched you sticking your tongue down his throat, I'm not blind."
"It's not what you think." it sounded like a weak excuse but it was the first thing that entered her mind.
"I really don't care anymore. You know I murdered my child for you, and I killed Laura because I believed you. She was probably the only pure thing in my life and you poisoned me against her."
"Don't be so stupid. You knew she was a risk, you made that decision on your own." Francis could see he was becoming unhinged.
"With a lot of pushing in that direction from you. And now, I'm going to make certain you die the way she did," he pointed the gun at her and saw the flicker of fear in her eyes.
Helen did her best to keep up with Nikki, but it was difficult because she had longer legs. Yvonne was having trouble keeping up with them both; she wasn't as fit as she used to be and was finding it hard. Helen seemed to find a burst of energy from somewhere and managed to catch up with Nikki before rugby tackling her to the ground.
"Helen." Nikki complained as she struggled to get up.
"Sit still!" Helen pressed down on her with all her weight, "and just listen."
"Bloody hell! What are you two on?" Yvonne stopped beside them puffing and panting, "Any bugger would think you were training for the Olympics."
"Let me go Helen." Nikki couldn't get free no matter how hard she tried, Helen was stronger than she looked.
"Not until you listen to me. You can't go running in there blindly, you don't even know what happened to Tony yet. We're not armed and we have no authority here. I think we should call the police."
"No way, Camaletti's probably got them all on his payroll anyway. Tony should have been back now and I know something has happened to him. I'm going in there whether you like it or not."
"For once in your bloody life Wade listen to me." Helen grew angry, "if we go storming in there now, we'll all end up dead and if they've got Tony he will too."
"Go on then Einstein, what do you suggest?" Nikki snapped.
"I already told you, we should call the police."
"No, stupid idea." Nikki started struggling again.
"For god sake Nikki, stop it." Yvonne flopped down beside her and placed her hands on her shoulders, "Helen's right, we can't go in that house without getting killed. I bet he's got blokes with guns all over the place, it wouldn't be wise."
"Are you two still on this planet?" Nikki looked incredulous, "the longer we sit around, the more danger he's in."
"We know." Yvonne was exasperated, "but that doesn't change the fact we need a plan."
"Fine, here's a bloody plan for you. Camaletti is a gun fanatic; he's bound to have a load of them in his house. That good enough for you?" Nikki eventually managed to get up and she pulled Helen to her feet.
"Oh come on, that's hardly a plan." Helen rubbed her forehead and sighed, "There's so many holes in it that I can see right through it."
"Have either of you got any better suggestions?" Nikki looked back and forth.
"No." Helen said quietly.
"Yvonne?" Nikki looked questioningly at her.
"No, but its still a stupid idea," she fixed one of her famous looks on Nikki.
"Right now we don't have any other option. It's not like a regularly carry a machine gun around in my pocket, so it's the next best thing." Nikki pointed towards the mansion, "lets go."
Helen followed Nikki as they made their way toward the house; she had an icy feeling in the pit of her stomach. It was the same sort of feeling she'd had when she'd been scared shitless countless times in the past but this was panic and then some. Even Yvonne was rattled and she prided herself on being able to keep calm in any situation. Nikki didn't know whether she was scared or not, she wouldn't allow herself to feel anything while Tony was still in danger.
They stopped at the edge of the property which was surrounded by a stone wall. But there were no gates so it would be easy for them gain access. Nikki wondered if there were security cameras, because if there were, they would be caught pretty quickly. She didn't really have the time to think about it so she motioned for them to follow as she stepped around the wall and went scurrying off into the darkness.
They crept along as they looked into the house; all of the rooms were brightly lit but seemed to be empty. Helen was sweating now, they were too close for her liking but she knew they had no other option. Yvonne tapped her on the shoulder and she jumped violently as her heart lurched.
"What?" she whispered in the darkness.
"Tell Nikki to stop, I think we just found a way in." Yvonne pointed to an open window.
"Nikki wait!" Helen hissed.
"What's up?" Nikki crouched down beside her.
"Yvonne just spotted a window was open." Helen said pointing towards the house.
"I suggest we take advantage of it then." Nikki crept towards the window as her heart hammered wildly in her chest.
Gino Camaletti's heartbeat was steady though, if he had been attached to a machine it wouldn't have shown a flicker. He had always been the same in situations like this, he knew it was either kill or be killed and he knew which one he preferred. That's not to say that he had any fear of what death would hold for him, more the fact that there were still many things he hadn't done yet and wasn't ready to go.
The gun felt reassuringly heavy in his hands and his fingertips played absentmindedly over the cold steel of the Heckler and Koch MP5 machine gun. He moved across the room noiselessly, and stopped at the doorway. He took a deep breath and popped his head through. He could have sworn he saw a shadow disappearing around the corner further up the hall but the house was deathly quiet and he must have imagined it.
He crept back toward the sitting room, he was hoping he would see a few of his men on the way there but they all seemed to have disappeared. Once this was over, he would rake them all over the coals; he paid them good money and expected their loyalty at a time like this. He flew into the sitting room with the gun held out in front of him only to find it was empty. He was confused, where the hell were they?
Nikki's heart had threatened to break out of her chest when she caught sight of Camaletti with the machine gun. She had quickly jumped back hoping he hadn't seen her and had trodden on Helen's foot in the process. Helen bit down on her lip and thumped Nikki on the backside in retaliation. Nikki couldn't help grinning at the look on Helen's face and had whispered an apology.
"How's your foot now?" Nikki asked as she kept an eye on the corridor.
"Like it's just been run over by a truck." Helen nudged Yvonne, "you ready to move?"
"Yeah, ready when you are." Yvonne gave her a reassuring smile.
They crept up the corridor towards the direction they'd seen Camaletti come from; they were hoping that's where the guns would be. They entered his study and spotted a few weapons on the coffee table but apart from a few handguns they couldn't see any others.
"Well we aren't going to get very far with those." Yvonne muttered as she eyed the weapons.
"A gun's a gun, it fires bullets and bullets hurt so what you worrying about?" Nikki picked up one of the handguns and was looking at it intently.
"If I'm going to face a bunch of nut jobs, I'd rather have something a bit more substantial in my hands than that." Helen pointed towards the gun Nikki was holding.
"It's these or nothing cos I don't see anything else around here." Nikki shrugged and tucked the gun in her waistband just like she had seen them do on TV.
"I hope the safety is on." Yvonne sniggered, "cos if it ain't, you're gonna lose a certain part of your anatomy and without it, life is gonna be miserable."
"Nikki, make sure that bloody safety is on! Or Saturday nights will never be the same." Helen grinned at her seductively.
"Or any other night of the week." Nikki giggled.
Helen began looking around the room; she knew Camaletti must have far more hardware than a few lousy handguns. They needed something with a bit of firepower if they were going to be able to take anyone on. The fact that she'd never fired a gun didn't bother her, it wasn't like she had the time to take a firearms course, and like most things in her life she'd have to deal with it as best she could.
Her eyes rested on a bookcase at the side of the room, it didn't quite line up properly and that's when she realised where the guns were. She slid her fingers around the edge and tried to prise the door open. It began to slide open slowly and she pulled until the door was ajar far enough for her to go through. When she saw the inside, it looked like a maniac's paradise. Different types of guns lined the walls, either hanging on special pegs or sitting in gun racks.
Sitting on one shelf was every conceivable bullet known to man, she couldn't tell how many boxes there were but it was a lot more than any normal person would ever use. She ignored them for a minute and began to examine the guns. Here eyes rested on a rack that held a few machine guns, she decided they'd do very nicely. She began to hand them out while Yvonne looked for the correct ammunition since she was the only one who really had any knowledge of firearms.
"Right, there you go. All you gotta do is push the bullets into the clips." Yvonne showed them how.
"How do you know so much about it?" Nikki asked as she kept one eye on the door and another on her gun as she fed the bullets in.
"Oh you know, just picked up a few things in my time." Yvonne smiled mysteriously.
"Like what? Come on spill." Helen smiled; she knew there was something Yvonne wasn't saying.
"This goes no further right?" she waited until they nodded, "my Charlie wasn't as pure as the driven snow, he was involved in some things he shouldn't have been. He kept a few guns around the place, but when I got pregnant with Lauren, I made him get rid of them all and told him to stop associating with certain people."
"But you were a copper." Nikki was shocked, "you're not allowed to do that."
"I know, I know." Yvonne nodded, "but he was my husband and there was no way I could let him go down for it. He changed when I found out I was pregnant, he gave it all up and he never got involved in anything again after that. Then he had the accident and ," a fleeting sad look passed her face.
"Don't worry about it, it was a long time ago." Helen smiled at her; she shot Nikki a look telling her that this wasn't the time to discuss it.
"I'm done." Nikki said as she slid the clip into the gun, "ready to go?"
They both nodded and then crept from the room.
Mark Waddle stood in the wine cellar muttering to himself, then started pacing back and forth. He'd thought that the wine cellar was a safer option since there was only one way in and he was now facing it. He was getting tired of listening to Francis drone on. Tony made the odd wisecrack every few minutes and that was getting on his nerves too. They could see he was holding a gun, why didn't either of them take him seriously?
"Just shut up!" He yelled at Francis, "I'm tired of you going on at me, so shut up."
"We don't have to do this." Francis kept on at him, she had to get him to listen, "there's no need for this. Give me the gun Mark, please."
"I told you to shut up!" He smacked her across the face with the butt of the gun and it split her lip open.
She made no attempt to wipe the blood away, she wanted him to see the evidence of what he'd done, "You know I love you Mark, does that mean nothing to you?"
"It might have done if I believed it," he calmed down slightly and backed up a few feet.
"Oh please." Tony shook his head and looked bored, "If you two are going to end up rolling about on each other, please shoot me now."
"I told you to keep it quiet, unless you want another crack over the head." Mark snarled at him.
"Well anything would be better than listening to her," he pointed at Francis, "she never shuts up."
"That's the one thing we agree on," he nodded at Tony, "In fact it annoys me so much, I think I might just kill her now," he leveled the gun at her.
"I wouldn't do that if I was you." Camaletti said from the doorway at the top of stairs leading down in to cellar.
Mark looked up and saw the machine gun pointed straight at him, he cursed under his breath, he should have been watching the door.
"I wonder what's down there.." Yvonne asked as they passed another hallway.
"God knows." Helen replied, "and I don't fancy finding out either."
They carried on walking until they came to the sitting room. It was obvious it had been occupied a short time ago because there were still drinks on the coffee table. Nikki could feel the hairs on the back of her neck rising up, as if something horrible had happened in there a short while ago.
"Is it just me or does it feel creepy in here?" Helen echoed what Nikki was thinking.
"It's not just you." Nikki shook her head.
"We better keep looking." Yvonne said, she didn't like the feel of the room any more than they did.
They moved on, checking each room along the hall and still not finding anyone. They had a feeling they were the only people in the house because it was deathly quiet. If they had been properly trained in the use of stealth and firearms then they would have split up but they felt it wise to stay together since there was safety in numbers.
They very quickly learnt how to communicate using hand signals and both Nikki and Helen nearly collapsed into fits of giggles when Yvonne kept using rude ones. They all knew it was a way of relieving the stress they were under, even though they were aware they should have been concentrating properly.
Yvonne signaled for them to stop, "should we go in here?" she whispered pointing to a door.
"We should look everywhere." Nikki nodded.
Helen wasn't so sure though, "yeah ok, but if anything happens, I'll blame you two," she gave a weak grin and followed them.
Mark knew Camaletti wasn't bluffing when he threatened to spread his brains all over the floor with just one bullet. He knew the kind of damage a machine gun could do to you and it wasn't something he wanted to think about. But being faced with it, he had no other option.
"Go on then arsehole, just try me." Gino said when Mark's finger moved almost imperceptibly towards the trigger.
"Steady," he said, "I'm not doing anything." He moved his finger away and lowered the gun a little as he held up a hand.
"I saw your finger move off the trigger guard." Camaletti took a step closer, "and just so you know, you could shoot me but I doubt your aim would come to much because you'd be riddled with bullets before yours even left the barrel."
"He's not joking Mark, he means it. Put the gun down and nobody has to get hurt." Francis said quietly.
"I thought I told you to shut the fuck up?!" Mark snarled as saliva dribbled down his chin.
"She's like the Duracell bunny, she just keeps going and going." Tony sniggered.
"Keep laughing while you can." Camaletti prodded Tony with his foot, "You don't have much longer because as soon as he's dead, you're next."
"Charming," he rolled his eyes in a jokey way but he was terrified, "Do I get a last cigarette?"
"I'd shut my trap if I was you." Francis glared at Tony.
"How about you take your own fucking advice? You're enough to drive any bloke up the wall." Tony wasn't trying to get himself killed, but he was trying to get them to start fighting amongst themselves so that hopefully he could escape.
"He's right, shut your yap Francis before I do it for you." Waddle eyed her evilly.
"Where I come from it, it's impolite to talk to a woman like that." Gino flicked the safety catch off.
"I don't give a shit. Anyway, she's your tart, you get her to shut up." Waddle's veins were bulging in his temples and he was quickly getting to the end of his rope.
The three women crept around the next corner after coming out of another room. It had been empty, devoid of any life at all with just a few dusty packing crates lined up against one wall. Helen spotted the man before Nikki did; she saw a glint of metal as he pointed the gun at them. As if by instinct she pushed Nikki out of the way, flicked the safety catch off and fired all in one fluid movement.
The gun burst into life and Helen felt her teeth rattle as every bone in her body absorbed the shock of the rapid fire of bullets. Nikki had dropped to the floor looking stunned, she hadn't expected it at all and sat staring dumbly at Helen with the gunshots still ringing in her ears. Yvonne hadn't seen anything at all; she had been watching the rear and the noise had made her jump out of her skin.
"Bloody hell Helen." Yvonne shook her head and smiled, "you're dangerous," she said as she looked at the crumpled body a few dozen feet away.
"Nik, are you ok?" Helen knelt down beside her.
"Yeah I'm fine," she seemed to snap out of it, "let's keep moving," she got to her feet and this time, she stood out of Helen's way just in case she fancied firing the gun again any time soon.
Shell lay back on the hotel bed and sighed, she was hoping Tony would have been back by now. She missed him when he was away for too long, it always made her worry, and she prayed there was nothing wrong. The floodgates opened then, every fear she'd ever had came rushing at her all at once and she was bewildered.
Karen came into the room and the look on her face told Shell something was wrong. She began to panic, she knew it would be bad news and a part of her didn't want to hear it. Karen sat down on the bed and sighed, Shell grabbed hold of her arm and saw the tears in her eyes.
"What is it? What the bloody 'ells 'appened?" Shell felt her heart drop.
"Don't worry Shell, it's not Tony," she placed a hand on her arm and pushed her back on the bed, "relax, you've got the baby to think of."
"What's happened then? Is it one of the others?"
"No, they're all fine." Karen assumed they were but she didn't have an inkling about what was happening at that precise moment, "It's Yvonne's husband Charlie. He had a stroke a couple of hours ago, he's dead."
Shell's eyes widened, "Oh the poor bloke ..and I never even knew she was married."
"Nobody did till recently." Karen wiped her eyes, "anyway, it was Lauren who phoned. Poor girl is devastated and she wanted to tell Yvonne but she's not here."
"You could call her." Shell suggested.
"I don't really want to tell her something like that over the phone."
"Best to tell her face to face then love." Shell smiled, "she'll be fine cos she's got you innit."
"Thanks Shell." Karen gave her hand a squeeze, "right, you still hungry? Because I fancy something chocolaty and loaded with calories."
Shell gave her the thumbs up, "You won't hear me refusing chocolate. Get on the blower and tell 'em not to spare the 'orses."
The three women huddled together outside the one door they hadn't tried yet. It was at the bottom of the corridor none of them had wanted to go down earlier. They had been putting off the inevitable, because if you wanted something it was sod's law that it was always in the last place you looked. Nikki signaled and opened the door as quietly as she could.
They entered a narrow stone passageway that sloped downwards. The slope wasn't very steep and it didn't appear to be very long, perhaps fifty feet or so. When they got to the bottom they could hear raised voices. They recognised them as belonging to Mark Waddle and Francis Myers. All three of them mouthed 'oh fuck' in unison, they'd found the right place.
"What do we do?" Nikki whispered, "Crash in and shoot them or what?"
"If it was just them in there aye, but we don't know whether Tony is with them or not."
"Good point." Nikki nodded, "so we sneak in there and see what's going on?"
"That's about the size of it." Helen gave her the thumbs up.
Nikki pushed the door open slowly and was relieved when it didn't squeak. They were exposed from where they stood but thankfully nobody seemed to notice, they were too busy yelling at each other. Nikki figured if they took a quick run down the stairs, they could find cover behind the nearest wine rack and go from there.
Helen and Yvonne had the same idea as they shot down the steps after Nikki quickly but silently. They dropped to the floor and peered between the bottles. They had a pretty good view of everything from where they were and they were relieved to see that Tony was still alive and kicking.
"I've had enough of your shit, you die now." Gino held the gun up.
"Go ahead then, put me out of my fucking misery." Waddle said defiantly, "there's nothing left for me now so just do it!"
Camaletti hadn't expected it and he dropped his guard for a second. Waddle took advantage and quickly fired his gun catching him in the shoulder. He took a second to realise he'd been shot and as the crimson tide of blood began running down his shirt he felt a searing pain from the wound. Helen could smell the gun smoke and it mingled with the smell of fresh timber and the hint of fruitiness from the wine.
She was almost paralysed and her mouth was like sandpaper. She felt Nikki and Yvonne tense beside her but she was the first to move. She stood up and quickly made her way to the end of wine rack. But she hadn't been quite quick enough because Waddle whirled around and fired a shot off at her.
Nikki cried out and raced toward Helen who had dropped to the floor. Bullets began to whiz all around them now as Gino and Waddle started taking potshots at each other. Nikki feared Helen had been hit because she wasn't moving.
"Helen, Helen are you alright?" Nikki got down on her knees and rolled her over.
"I'm fine. For fuck sake get down!" she ordered.
Nikki immediately dropped onto the floor and hugged it just as Helen had been doing ten seconds previously. Yvonne hadn't moved. She knew Helen was ok now and she was looking for a way to get Tony out of the firing line.
"Tony! Get over here," she called out to him where he lay on the floor.
He looked up and grinned, "Thought you'd never ask," he said as he crawled commando style towards her.
The shooting seemed to stop and they cautiously lifted their heads and peeked around the wine rack. There was no sign of anybody but that didn't mean they weren't still in there. Helen stood up and began making sure each aisle was clear just like she'd seen them do on TV. Nikki remained firmly by her side, whilst Yvonne remained with Tony.
"Say goodnight." Waddle suddenly sprang up from a crate of wine nearby and shot at them.
Helen reacted in a split second and fired the gun at him, multiple bullets piercing his flesh in rapid succession. He wondered if he would be dead before he hit the floor, as the blood from his ruined chest sprayed onto the stone wall behind him. He slid to his knees, and looked at Helen with dying eyes; he knew his time had come.
"The end of the line," he said and almost smiled before his eyes closed for the last time ever.
Helen didn't feel anything; she couldn't even say she felt numb because she felt nothing at all. Although she was sure the gravity of the situation would hit her at a later date. She turned around to talk to Nikki and was alarmed to see her lying on the floor in a pool of her own blood.
"Jesus Nikki!" Helen quickly located the wound. Nikki was bleeding from the abdomen and it was bad.
"I'm ok." Nikki managed to say, although she knew she wasn't. She felt cold and weak and the pain from her stomach was excruciating.
'Yvonne! Come here, quickly!" Helen shouted as she ripped her shirt off and pressed it to Nikki's stomach.
The blood was everywhere and had already stained her jeans and t-shirt. The harder she pressed the more Nikki groaned but she had to, to make sure it stopped much of the blood flow. Yvonne came rushing towards them with tears in her eyes.
"Hold on to this." Helen ordered.
"Oh Jesus." Yvonne sobbed.
"Don't worry, she'll be ok." Helen felt as if the words were coming from somebody else.
"....dead." Yvonne sobbed and Helen couldn't quite make out what she was saying.
"She's not dead, she's still breathing." Helen fumbled with her phone but she knew she'd never get a signal down in the basement.
"It's Tony he's gone."
"What?" Helen's heartbeat couldn't stand anymore shocks, it beat dangerously and painfully fast.
"He's gone; the bastards shot him when he was crawling to safety."
"Tony!" Nikki suddenly screamed and tried to crawl towards him.
"Nikki stay still!" Helen stopped her from wriggling about, "He's gone baby, there isn't anything we can do," she realised the tears were coursing down her face.
"Tony, oh god Tony." Nikki sobbed.
Helen had a feeling inside she'd never encountered before and it was the feeling of desperately wanting to kill somebody with her bare hands. The rage built up inside her until she could stand it no longer. She stood up and wiped the blood from her hands onto her jeans.
"Where's Francis and Camaletti?" she asked Yvonne.
"I don't know, I think they've gone." Yvonne wasn't sure but she thought she might have seen them leaving in the confusion.
"Take care of Nikki, I'll be back soon." Helen bent down and placed a gentle kiss on Nikki's lips, "I'll be back with you soon sweetheart, I promise," she removed the car keys from her pocket and then stood up again.
"Where are you going?" Yvonne looked up at her with red rimmed tearful eyes.
"I'm going to call an ambulance and then I'm going after those two bastards." Helen's eyes hardened.
She would never have thought of herself as a cold blooded killer but here she was going after somebody to do just that, murder them in cold blood the way they had murdered Tony.
Helen had called for an ambulance on the way to the car, the authorities wanted to know more about what was going on but she didn't have time to tell them anything other than what they were needed for and the address. She spotted a car off in the distance and knew it was Gino and Francis.
She jumped into the car and the back tires spun as she hurtled forwards. She was thankful for the fact that Nikki had a hired a car with some power in the engine, because it meant she was quickly gaining on the car in front. She could see that Francis was driving and that Camaletti was hunched over in his seat.
She tried to pass Francis to run her off the road but she wasn't having much luck. Every time she tried to get near, Francis would speed up and move out of the way. Helen was getting frustrated, she wanted to get at them but she couldn't. Ten minutes later her mobile rang and she swore as she picked it up, now was not the right time to be driving with one hand while she was on the phone.
"Helen it's me." Yvonne said, "The ambulance is here, they're loading Nikki into it now. I think they got to her in time," she sounded very relieved about it.
"Oh thank god." Helen felt a tear trickle down her cheek, she didn't know how she would live if Nikki wasn't with her and it came as a great relief.
"Where are you?"
"I'm following Francis now."
"Helen just leave it, let the police sort it out." Yvonne was worried, she'd already lost one good friend and had nearly lost another, she didn't want Helen being added to the list.
"Not now, I've come too far for that. Tell Nikki I love her, and I'll be with her soon." Helen clicked the phone off and threw it on to the passenger seat.
It started to rain and Helen cursed as she fumbled for the windscreen wipers. She eased off the accelerator a little, she might be homicidal but she wasn't stupid. The roads were greasy and she felt the back end of the car sliding a little, she steered to correct it and kept up a steady pace. She noticed there were some steep and winding roads coming up and she prayed to god she could keep the car on them.
Francis glanced in her rearview mirror every ten seconds or so, Helen was still following and showed no sign of giving up. Gino had passed out in the seat beside her, blissfully unaware of the panic Francis was suffering from. She wondered how long this would take, the petrol would only last for so long and she didn't know what she was going to do then. There was only one thing she could do, she picked up Gino's gun and swung her arm out behind her before firing a couple of rounds at the back window. The glass shattered and the moist air rushed into the car blowing her hair into her eyes.
Helen realised she was being fired at and swore loudly. She weaved from side to side in the car trying to make herself a hard target. But in the process the car kept sliding over the wet tarmac and she knew if she wasn't careful she'd end up off the road altogether. She saw Francis raise the gun again and prayed that the bullets would miss.
Suddenly the windscreen cracked and shattered and the glass flew everywhere. Helen instinctively closed her eyes as the glass landed on her. She felt a few shards embed themselves into her face but she ignored the pain and put her foot down, feeling angrier than ever now. More bullets came at her, whizzing past her face and shattering the back window.
It was getting ridiculous now; here she was chasing a mad woman by car in the pissing down rain, who was desperately trying to cut her life short with a machine gun. If the situation hadn't been so serious then Helen might have laughed out loud at the absurdity of it all. She wasn't one of the cops you saw on TV, real life wasn't like that but here she was acting out an episode of bloody Kojack.
They were getting up into the hills now and the roadside started to drop off steeply as the road wound round to their left. Francis hadn't slowed down; she had to try and keep the pace up hoping Helen would tail off and give up. But Helen had no intention of giving up, although she did ease her foot off the accelerator further still. The gun she had been using was sitting on the passenger seat but she had no intention of using it, she wasn't as ruthless as Francis and would only use it when it was necessary.
She had left the house in a rage, but she knew deep down she had no intention of killing anyone unless she had no other option. They had hurt and murdered people she really cared about but she would never stoop to their level, no matter how much her emotions told her otherwise.
She saw Francis raise the gun again and braced herself for another volley of bullets. The first one ricocheted off the bonnet but the second entered the car and grazed Helen's head leaving her with a trail of blood to add to the existing sticky mess from the glass. She felt a pain in the region of her chest from the shock of having a bullet come so close to putting an end to her life.
She knew it was pointless carrying on the chase because the last bullet had been too close for comfort. She began to slow right down with the intention of leaving Francis to it, but she saw the car up ahead begin to fishtail wildly while Francis waved the gun about. The car was suddenly sliding all over the road and then it disappeared over the edge.
Nikki's vision was swimming; things would come into focus and immediately go blurry again. She felt someone gripping her hand but had no idea who it was; she thought of Helen and hoped it was her.
"Helen," she croaked.
"No, it's Yvonne darlin'. Helen's on her way, she just has a few things to sort out." Yvonne tried to reassure her, because it would have done no good to tell her that Helen was chasing Francis around Italy in the hire car.
"I want Helen." Nikki could see lights moving above her. Things came into focus again and she realised she was in a hospital, "where are they taking me?"
"You've got to go for an operation love, but don't worry you'll be just fine. When you wake up Helen will be here." Yvonne sincerely hoped it was true, she didn't want to lose anyone else today.
"Yvonne what about ." Nikki felt fresh tears pricking her eyelids and she closed them.
Yvonne opened her mouth but no words came out, she licked her lips and tried again, "Don't worry about Tony love, we've sorted it all out."
"Does Shell know?"
"No not yet." Yvonne's voice cracked.
"Oh god the baby." Nikki sobbed.
Yvonne couldn't speak, tears ran down her face and she gripped Nikki's hand tightly. But she had to let go when Nikki was wheeled into the operating theatre. She stood watching the door for a few minutes and then walked back the way she had come. She had to get back to the hotel and break the news to Shell.
Helen climbed out of the car and stood in the torrential rain looking down at the car which was now burning. It had hit the bottom and the petrol tank had exploded. She was relieved it had ended that way. She wasn't a cold blooded killer and her resolve had started to waver. She wasn't sure she could have killed them, even though she had wanted to, because it just wasn't in her nature.
"Now you've paid the price." Helen said quietly as she watched the flames reach up toward the sky.
She got into the car and didn't look back.
6 months later
Nikki looked up into the bright blue summer sky and whispered a few quiet words to Tony. She missed him so much that her heart still ached and some days she could hardly get out of bed because of her grief. But she still had Helen to care for her and they managed to get through things together.
They regularly visited Shell who had moved back home to her parent's house. She'd almost had a breakdown when Yvonne told her Tony had been killed, but the thought of her child stopped her from giving up. She had good days and bad days but she knew she had to be strong for the baby that was due any day now.
Helen sat to her left and held on tightly to her hand; Yvonne sat on the other side with Karen beside her. Yvonne had been devastated when she found out about Charlie but with it came a sense of relief. It was no kind of life for him and in a way she was glad he had passed on and would now be at peace. She'd told Lauren about her relationship with Karen and she'd been happy for them both, insisting that it was about time her mother had somebody to love and look after her. They'd wanted to take things slowly but it hadn't quite worked out that way and they were preparing to move in with each other.
Nikki heard her name and snapped out of her thoughts; she stood up and straightened her uniform as she walked towards the podium where she would receive her award for bravery. The medal was handed to her by Metropolitan Police Commissioner Gossard; she shook his hand and tried not to let it show how angry she was. She was told to stand to one side while Helen was called up.
Helen's actions were identical, as were Yvonne's when it was her turn to receive her medal. They stood closely together on the raised platform a few feet behind Gossard as he leaned over the podium and spoke into the microphone.
"I'm sure you'll agree ladies and gentlemen that these three exceptional human beings stood next to me now are very brave indeed. They went above and beyond the call of duty in their attempts to crack a huge gun smuggling ring and to catch the perpetrators which included several corrupt police officers. I think they deserve a heartfelt round of applause." when the clapping stopped, Gossard droned on, "I also have another award to present today, and unfortunately it is a posthumous one. Receiving it on behalf of DS Anthony Dockley's widow, is retired Superintendent James Fenner."
The crowd clapped once again as Jim slowly made his way towards the stage. The bullet had done him some damage and it had been a long and painful recovery. His movements and speech were now slower than before and they would never be as they were but he had come to terms with it. He still had all his faculties, even if it took him a little longer to achieve something.
He didn't bother to disguise his contempt for Gossard though and as he shook his hand, his eyes bored deeply into him. Gossard looked a little uncomfortable but it didn't affect him too deeply, he knew he was well protected and they couldn't touch him.
Jim joined the others and gave them a small encouraging smile. Gossard was just about to start droning into the microphone again when a commotion erupted at the back of the seated guests. Helen caught sight of the blonde head and smiled with satisfaction, at least Caroline was useful for something.
She came rushing up to the podium with a camera man and sound technician. She'd recently branched out into television and now loved herself more than ever. Gossard was flustered; she was shouting questions at him, questions about his corrupt activities.
A police officer Helen had come to know quite well over the last few months tapped her on the shoulder, "I wonder how the media found out?" Terry Wilson smiled at her knowingly.
"Not sure about that Terry, I'm just as surprised as you are." Helen gave him a wink and he walked towards Gossard with a grim smile on his face.
"You told Caroline?" Nikki looked at her with a shocked expression on her face, "I thought you hated her?"
"Hate is a strong word Nikki, I don't hate her, just dislike her intensely. But I had my reasons." Helen said mysteriously.
"What did you do?" Nikki grinned at her.
"Nothing for you to worry about right now." Helen tapped the side of her nose and smiled again.
Gossard didn't know whether he was on his head or his elbow. The TV crew was still jostling about in front of him and he was now being read his rights by DCI Wilson. They had started the ball rolling almost as soon as they had returned from Italy. They found an officer they knew they could trust and they began going over all the facts. It had taken them a long time to build a case against him but they were glad they had taken things slowly because they had found out many other details about what he was up to and now the case was water tight.
Gossard was handcuffed and taken away with the camera man running after him. Caroline hung back with a smirk on her face, they'd caught the whole thing on tape and she knew it would do her new career a lot of good. She turned around and saw Nikki talking to Helen on the stage, with Karen and Yvonne standing beside them. She walked up the steps and cleared her throat.
Nikki rolled her eyes, "Piss off Caroline."
"Actually Nikki, I wanted to have a word with Helen if I may?" she said politely.
"I'm sure I can spare you five minutes." Helen replied just as politely and they moved off to one side.
"I know you and I don't see eye to eye but thanks once again for giving me the tip-off." Caroline sounded genuinely grateful.
"Don't think I did it for you." Helen was quick to tell her, "I did it for Shell."
"I know." Caroline nodded and smiled, "the money will already be in her account. With a sum that substantial, she won't ever have to worry."
"Good." Helen held out her hand to shake Caroline's, "oh and one more thing," she said before she walked away.
"Yes?" Caroline looked at her questioningly.
"I still mean what I said, if I catch you near Nikki again, I'll kill you." Helen smiled as Caroline laughed softly.
"You have my word Helen, I won't go near her again." She flashed one last smile at Helen and then was gone.
"What was that all about?" Nikki said from behind her.
"Mind your own business nosy." Helen said playfully.
"Oh come on, don't keep me in suspenders." Nikki cracked her usual joke.
"Is that an offer, cos I really would love to see you in suspenders." Helen winked seductively at her.
"You're not going to tell me are you?" Nikki chuckled.
"Not right now no, maybe later though." Helen reached up and kissed Nikki on the cheek before returning to Jim and Yvonne.
The others trooped off to the pub for a drink but Nikki had said she would join them later. She wanted to go to Tony's grave and lay some flowers there, just as she did most days. She and Helen often joked that his grave looked like the Chelsea flower show and they both felt sure he was laughing with them.
She placed the flowers by his headstone and sat down, as she laid one hand on the grass, "Hello mate, it's me again. I bet you're sick of me sitting here and yacking on."
She felt a breeze pass her ear and smiled, she liked to think it was him letting her know he was around. She often had similar feelings, little breezes or taps on the shoulder and when she would turn around, she found herself alone. It comforted her to know that even though she could no longer see him, it felt as if he was with her as much as ever.
The tears began to fall again as they always did, and she sat and poured her heart out to him. Eventually her tears began to stop and she chatted away to him like she usually did, telling him about Gossard's downfall.
Helen sat with the others in the pub nursing a drink. They were all happy that Gossard was going to go down for what he'd done but they didn't much feel like celebrating. They sat talking quietly, each occasionally getting lost in their thoughts.
"How are you getting on Jim?" Helen asked. She hadn't seen him for a couple of months.
"I'm doing great," he smiled, "I'm slow these days though, the kids take bets on how long it takes me to get to and from the loo," he chuckled, "But thanks to Marilyn and the kids, I've come on in leaps and bounds."
"That's great, it's good to see you doing so well." Helen smiled warmly at him.
"How's Nikki been?" He asked.
"She has good days and bad days, she's still grieving." Helen said quietly.
"It takes time love, I know how she feels." Yvonne sighed and took a sip of her drink.
"Anyone want another drink?" Karen stood up.
"Yeah I will please love." Yvonne winked at her; she couldn't imagine life without Karen now.
"Just an orange juice for me please, I'm driving." Helen passed her glass to Karen.
"Not for me thanks." Jim said, "I'm off my head enough at the moment as it is, without adding drunkenness to my list," he laughed softly.
Karen bought the drinks and ferried them over from the bar. Just as she sat down, Yvonne's phone rang.
"Atkins." Yvonne said gruffly, "Oh that's fantastic!..I'll pass the news on, give her our love and tell her we'll be by to see her soon." Yvonne ended the call and looked at them with tears in her eyes, "that was Shell's dad, she just gave birth to a little boy."
Nikki was sitting silently beside Tony's grave when she felt a hand on her shoulder. She nearly jumped out of her skin as she whirled around in shock.
"Helen!" Nikki put a hand over her racing heart, "I hate it when you creep up on me."
"I'm sorry sweetheart, I did call out to you but you didn't hear me." Helen kneeled down beside her and placed her head on her shoulder, "are you ok?"
"Yeah, think the heart attack has almost stopped now." Nikki chuckled softly.
"I wasn't sure how much longer you were going to be so I came to find you." Helen wrapped her arms around her, "I've got some great news for you."
"Oh?" Nikki looked quizzically at her.
"Shell had a baby boy less than an hour ago. Anthony Nicholas, weighed in at 6 pound 7 ounces. He's the spitting image of his dad apparently." Helen grinned.
Nikki immediately burst into tears of joy mixed with sadness, "Tony, congratulations, you're a dad mate." she said as the tears streamed down her face.
Helen held on to her as she sobbed and shed a few tears of her own. It saddened them that this should have been a happy occasion, they should have all been celebrating the birth of Tony's first child and yet he wasn't there to be a part of it. It seemed so cruel and feelings of guilt once again overwhelmed them both. They felt they'd made all the wrong choices and that he was dead because of them.
"This is all my fault." Nikki said the same thing she had many times.
"I know how you feel." Helen rubbed her back.
"None of this is your fault." Nikki wiped her eyes, "this is my fault, I should have known better."
"It's nobody's fault darlin' these things happen." Yvonne said from behind them, "Tony wouldn't want you to blame yourselves, you know that."
"I know." Nikki nodded, "God I wish he was still here."
"We all do baby, but there's nothing we can do about it now." Helen placed a kiss on her forehead.
"Karen and I were going to cook a meal tonight and wondered if you'd like to come over for dinner." Yvonne offered.
"That would be nice." Nikki smiled weakly, "we could have a bit of a celebration for Little Tony," her heart swelled when she thought of the baby, at least Tony was still around in some form.
"Sounds like a great idea." Helen took her hand and they stood up.
"You two go on, I'll be right there, there's something I want to say." Nikki kissed Helen and then watched as she walked away arm in arm with Yvonne.
She turned her gaze back to the grave and once again crouched down.
"I bet you're looking down on all this with the same big smile you always had. I miss you mate, I wish you were still here with us; it would have been so much fun. I love you, I just hope you know that wherever you are." Nikki kissed her fingertips and placed them on the headstone before walking away.
The heavy feeling in her heart persisted, but since she'd found out about the birth of Tony's son, it had lessened somewhat. She was sure that from now on, things would get easier and they would all be a part of the baby's life. She'd made a silent promise to Tony many times since he'd died that she would look out for Shell and the baby and she was determined to.
She saw Helen and Yvonne walking slowly up ahead and smiled. She still had Helen and her friends and they'd all get through it together. The sky began to cloud over and it blocked the sun from view. As she was walking along to catch the others up, a single sunbeam fell at her feet, and it made her smile. Tony really was still with them after all.
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