On Borrowed Time
"Nikki?" Helen called over to her as she entered the incident room on Saturday morning.
"Yes boss?" Nikki had a twinkle in her eyes. She and Helen had sat up till the early hours of that morning talking and now they were fully back on track.
"I've just had a word with Superintendent Fenner and everything is ok. He wants us to get the investigation underway, so can you get a team together? We're heading over to Parry's printing works." Helen didn't seem thrilled about the idea, Parry was well known for being a nasty piece of work.
"Certainly can, oh and Helen? Thanks for helping me out of this, I do appreciate it." Nikki was referring to Helen's meeting with Fenner.
"My pleasure. Oh before I forget, has Karen been informed about Dougan's identity yet?" It seemed to Helen that she had a million and one things to remember and was trying to mentally tick them off.
"Yes, I did it ten minutes ago. She said to tell you that we need to pick up the postmortem report and take a trip to the labs, they've got some interesting information for us apparently." Nikki picked up her jacket and car keys.
"We'll get around to doing that sometime today then. Will you drive me down to the printing works?" Helen didn't mind traveling with Nikki now that she had slowed her speed down somewhat.
"Course I will. I'll get everybody organised and then we can go." She straightened her collar and smiled.
"Great, see you in a minute." Helen walked off to her office whilst Nikki got the team sorted out.
Nikki looked around the incident room, "Right you lot, listen up!" she started to explain the situation.
Ten minutes later, everybody was organised and they were ready to go. People scrambled into nearby vehicles and screeched off down the road, enjoying the adrenalin rush they got when they were off on a job. Nikki unlocked the car, whilst she was chatting to Helen but was interrupted as Tony shouted to her across the courtyard.
"So Helen how ."
"Nikki! You couldn't give us a lift could you?" Tony gave a cheeky grin.
"Yeah, hop in!" She started the car and turned to Helen.
"So how do ." Nikki was interrupted once again.
"Room for a little one?" DS Laura Jordan poked her head through Nikki's window.
"Yeah get in; this is turning into a bloody charabanc!" Nikki giggled as they all climbed in and put their seatbelts on.
"They obviously don't know what your driving is like." Helen giggled from the passenger seat.
"Ooo that's evil! My driving skills are second to none!" Nikki put her arm around the passenger seat as she reversed the car, she accidentally brushed Helen's breast as she did so, "Sorry." Nikki blushed.
"That's ok." Helen smiled, she thought it was quite funny but didn't say anything because it was obvious Nikki was embarrassed.
"So do you know the drill? We've got uniformed back up to gain access to the printing works. And we've got armed response just in case, because I wouldn't put anything past these bastards. We are to wait outside until we are given the all clear, then we can go in and the SOCO's can do their thing." Nikki indicated left at the traffic lights.
"Yes." Laura and Tony answered in unison.
Helen could see that she had made the right decision in wanting to bring Nikki back to work, not only had she missed her but she was very good with the team, she was a natural leader. Helen was feeling better now that things were sorted between them again, she didn't feel as ill as she usually did and she had managed to get a fairly good night's sleep.
Nikki could see Helen wasn't looking as tired or pale as the previous day but she still could see she wasn't a hundred percent and was still worried about her. She had tried to ask her how she was but Tony and Laura had interrupted, and she didn't want to mention anything in front of them now. So she decided to ask her when they got to the printing works. She knew it wasn't the time or the place but she didn't want to leave it any longer.
As she drove, a thought popped into her head and she almost laughed out loud, it was obvious and she wondered why she hadn't thought of it before, she had a sneaking suspicion she knew what was wrong with Helen. They pulled up outside the printing works ten minutes later and hung back whilst uniform and armed response went in first. Tony and Laura were talking to the rest of the team while Helen and Nikki stood a short distance away from them.
"How are you feeling today?" Nikki came straight out with it.
"I'm much better, thank you." Helen smiled and turned her attention back to the door of the printing works and hoped she would forget about it.
"Can I ask you a personal question? I don't want to stick my nose in but I'm concerned about you." Nikki fiddled with her watch; she didn't want Helen to see how worried she really was.
"Go on." Helen turned around and now Nikki had her full attention.
"Are you pregnant? Or do you think you might be? It would explain a hell of a lot." Nikki still couldn't look at her.
"Nikki look at me." Helen waited until she did, "I'm not pregnant. I've been very careful, because I can't afford to get pregnant at a time like this. Don't worry, I'm fine really." Helen didn't want to tell her what was wrong, but on the other hand she could see the concern on Nikki's face.
"I can't help it, you still don't look right. What aren't you telling me?" Nikki was now more worried than ever.
Nikki saw a look of indecision pass Helen's face.
"Look Helen, if you really don't want to tell me, then that's fine, I'll respect your privacy."
"We'll discuss it after we're done here. We can talk about it on the way back to the station." Helen discretely took hold of her hand and gave it a squeeze. There was a good reason why she hadn't already told her but she had no choice now.
"I'll tell Tony and Laura to get a lift back with somebody else then." Nikki changed the subject, "I'm not looking forward to this, Parry is not a nice bloke."
"Have you ever had the pleasure of meeting him before?" Helen still held on to Nikki's hand, she enjoyed the comforting feeling of being close to her.
"I have once, years ago, not long after I'd joined the force. We did a dawn raid on his gaff, but we didn't find anything and we haven't been able to pin a damn thing on him since." Nikki shrugged, she wasn't sure they would manage to pin anything on him this time either.
"Area secure!" the head of the armed response unit shouted out through the doorway.
Helen gave Nikki's hand one last squeeze and they marched in to the printing works, closely followed by the rest of the team. Nikki shuddered as she looked around, she could only imagine what had gone on in there over the years. It had an eerie feel to it, there wasn't much light coming in through the grime covered windows, and there was a stale smell of cigarettes in the air.
There was still evidence that machines had been placed in the huge room that they were standing in, it was several hundred square feet in size and there were bolt holes in the floor from where the machinery had been removed. The building was made of solid brick and as Helen surveyed her surroundings, she didn't doubt that if you were unlucky enough to end up there, nobody could hear you scream.
Helen stayed with Tony whilst Nikki went down into the boiler room; neither of them thought it was a good idea for her to go down there whilst she was feeling off colour.
When Nikki got down there, she could see that John was absolutely right, it was as hot as hell and the air was stagnant. She stepped around the SOCO's and spoke to the head man.
"Alright Gerald?" she had known him for a few years and they got on well.
"Hi Nikki. How you getting on with the new boss? We heard the two of you were at loggerheads." Gerald Simmons was a big hulk of a man, at least six foot five with jet black hair that had just begun to gray at the temples.
"Sounds like the jungle drums have been working overtime. You heard wrong mate, we're getting on just fine." Nikki smiled and then took a quick look around the room, "you found anything yet?"
"We're looking but so far zilch."
"Do you think they've cleaned up in here?" Nikki could have kicked herself; it was all her fault if they didn't find anything.
"They may have, it looks to be very clean down here. But you can't always get rid of every piece of evidence, if there is anything in this room then we'll find it. We'll get the chemicals and the laser out later on, to check for blood. The minute we find anything I'll let you know. Did you want the upstairs examining as well?" he hoped not.
"It's a bloody big area to examine, it would take days. I'm sure this is where you need to be but I'll let you know when I've spoken to the boss about it."
"Right, can I get you on your mobile?"
"Yeah but I'll be interviewing Parry with the boss later on so if you don't get an answer, leave a message with Tony." Nikki shook his hand and then made her way back upstairs.
It was obvious Parry had been found and arrested, Nikki could hear him, he was hurling abuse at anyone who would listen. A couple of uniforms were restraining him, but it didn't take much muscle power. Parry was just a little over five feet, shorter than Helen in fact with a thick head of blonde hair, and was in his early thirties. What he lacked in physical strength, he more than made up for in fear tactics. It was well known that he had a liking for torture and kept his men in line with the threat of what he would do to them if they pissed him off.
"Fucking pigs! Come in here and arrest an innocent businessman? You lot should be out doing your jobs properly," he spat at a few officers who were standing nearby.
"Shut it Parry!" Tony snarled at him from where he stood a few feet away talking to another officer.
"Hey lads! I wouldn't even bother telling them your name, the bastards twist everything," he shouted to his men who were being herded in to the police vans that waited outside, and Nikki knew they had been issued with a warning to keep their mouths shut.
"He's vocal." Nikki remarked to Helen who was standing a few feet away from Parry.
"He hasn't shut his yap since we slapped the cuffs on him. Noisy bastard." Helen shook her head in disgust.
"I never thought I'd here you talk like that." Nikki was amused.
"He'd try the patience of a saint." Helen shook her head, "he's really getting on my nerves."
"Oi Scotty! Fancy interviewing me in my cell on a one to one basis?" He leered at Helen.
"Ignore him." Helen saw the look on Nikki's face.
"Maybe you could bring your friend there, and we could have a threesome," he laughed harshly, "I could watch you for a bit before I joined in."
"He's testing my bloody patience to the limit." Nikki didn't like the way he was talking about Helen.
"Hey you, put a sock in it. Otherwise you'll get more than you bargained for." Helen glared at him and hoped he would shut up. She knew Nikki was going to blow any minute.
"Excuse me if I don't shit myself with fear. Scottish slag," he remarked before spitting in their direction.
Nikki had had enough and marched over to him; she grabbed him by the throat and thrust her face to within an inch of his. The difference in height was very noticeable and she had to pull his head up so that she could see him properly.
"Listen to me you little prick, I'm the one you have to worry about. When you're all alone in your cell, with none of your heavies about, you could quite easily get hurt. So unless you want me and a couple of my mates to pay you a visit, I'd keep your mouth shut, got me?" Nikki could see he was working out whether she was serious, "I said do you understand me?" she tightened her grip on his throat, just enough so that he could be in no doubt.
"Yes!" he coughed as Nikki stepped back.
"Good, just remember what I've said." Nikki walked back to Helen, "I'm sorry, I shouldn't have done that," she hoped she wasn't in trouble again, it was exactly the sort of thing she wasn't supposed to do.
"It's ok, he was getting on my nerves and I'm glad you shut him up." Helen winked at her and smiled.
"That's a relief, I thought I might have been in trouble again." Nikki had been holding her breath and let it out.
"So long as you don't follow through on your threat of kicking his head in, then we're fine." Helen said it with a smile but her eyes issued a warning.
"I won't I promise." Nikki held her hands up.
"Good." Helen looked around for Mark Waddle, "DC Waddle, could you escort Mr. Parry here back to the station?"
Mark waddle stood there unmoving, he wasn't keen on taking orders from Helen, he would have preferred to take his orders from Nikki.
"You heard her Waddle, move your arse." Nikki glared at him, "and don't get any ideas about going anywhere this afternoon because I want a word with you later."
"Of course DI Wade," he nodded his head and escorted Parry outside.
"They're never going to accept me." Helen looked upset.
"I'm sure they will," she rubbed her forehead and sighed, "I'll have a word later, they're going to have to buck up their ideas."
"No it's ok, they'll only end up resenting you." Helen didn't want to cause any trouble. She could cope so long as she had Nikki and Tony on her side.
"They need a talking to, just leave it with me." Nikki turned to Tony, "hey Tony mate, you're going to have to get a ride back with Waddle. We've got to nip off somewhere before we head back to the station." Nikki knew it would give them the privacy they needed to talk.
"No problem Nik, I'll grab Laura and tell her." He smiled before going off in search of DS Jordan.
"Come on then DCI Stewart, I believe you had something to tell me." Nikki headed towards the car with Helen following.
Helen got into the car, waited until Nikki had pulled away from the kerb and then took a deep breath.
"When Karen examined me yesterday, she could find absolutely nothing wrong with me. She told me that the headaches I've been getting, along with all the other symptoms are down to chronic stress and panic attacks."
"Why didn't you tell me?" Nikki wasn't angry, but was disappointed that Helen hadn't told her and gone through it all on her own. The feelings of guilt were back.
"This is why I didn't want to tell you, because of the look on your face, you've gone off on another guilt trip. I assumed you would put it down to tiredness and forget all about it." Helen lit a couple of cigarettes and passed one to Nikki.
"Of course I wouldn't forget about it. How could I? You still look like shit, and I mean that in the nicest possible way." Nikki didn't laugh when Helen began to giggle, "chronic stress and panic attacks, brought on by Arsehole-Wade syndrome. This is all my fault, I'm so sorry."
"Look, this all started a while before I came to Oakley road. I had put in for my promotion and the stress built up for weeks before I found out I was going to get the job. It wasn't because I was afraid I wasn't going to get it, but more a case of panicking in case I did."
"You said yourself that I have no confidence or faith in myself. I was worried about how I was going to handle the job if they gave it to me. Plus my personal life isn't exactly brilliant at the moment and things got on top of me. I've never been a worrier but these last few months, I've steadily found it more difficult to take things in my stride," Helen rested her head back and closed her eyes.
"You should have faith in yourself, you've done a brilliant job so far and I'm proud of you." Nikki patted Helen on the arm, "so you feeling ill has all been down to stress?"
"Yes. That's why I've been getting headaches and feeling sick. I've also lost my appetite and I'm having trouble sleeping. That's why I pegged out on you in the mortuary, I hadn't eaten much for days." Helen took another drag of her cigarette and opened her eyes.
"You could have told me, I've been worried sick about you."
"I didn't want to worry you. I thought I could get it under control before you realised anything was wrong. Promise me you'll stop feeling guilty."
"I can't help it, I've made things worse."
"I was stressed up the eyeballs even before we met. I'm not saying you didn't add to it slightly but you certainly didn't cause it," she placed her hand on Nikki's shoulder, "If I know you feel guilty then it's going to stress me out more and Karen says I need to calm down." Helen batted her eyelashes and smiled.
"Blackmailer." Nikki grinned, "Alright, I'll try to stop feeling guilty, but only on one condition."
"And what's that?"
"That you let me help you. You can't totally de-stress on your own, and I intend to help you mellow out."
"And how do you plan to do that?"
"Wait and see." Nikki tapped a finger on the side of her nose.
"Oh don't be mean, tell me." Helen pouted.
"No! Just wait and see."
"Not even a little clue?"
"Nope. I'm not going to give anything away so don't waste your time." Nikki shook her head.
"Bloody spoilsport." Helen folded her arms and pretended to be pissed off with her.
"You won't get your surprise if you carry on like that."
"I'll be good I promise!" Helen said in a childlike voice.
"Now who's the spoilsport?" Nikki laughed, "You have to stop pouting, I never could resist a woman who pouts at me."
"That was part of the plan, I thought you might have gone all gooey on me and then I could wheedle it out of you." Helen knew she was flirting, and didn't give a damn.
"How would you feel if I reported you for sexual harassment?" Nikki laughed, she knew Helen was flirting with her and she decided to play along even though a voice in her head was telling her not to.
"Pretty pissed off actually, especially as I haven't had time to sexually harass you yet!" Helen rubbed her hands together and leered at her.
"You're going to get yourself into trouble." Nikki stopped at the traffic lights.
"As long as it's you I'm getting into trouble with!" Helen wiggled her eyebrows.
Nikki was about to reply when her mobile phone rang, she pulled over and parked before answering it. It was Gerald Simmons and he didn't sound as if he had any good news for her.
"And that was it? Nothing else to prove Dougan was murdered down there?" Nikki's face took on a serious look, "ok thanks Gerald oh hang on a mo," she looked at Helen, "did you want the SOCO's to search anywhere else?"
"The place is too big and it would take too long. Tell them that they can call it a day."
"Ok." Nikki lifted the phone to her ear again, "the boss says that it's too big, and you can call it quits .right ok yeah, thanks Gerald, bye."
"So what did they find?" Helen was keen to know.
"They found a small piece of duct tape with a sliver of industrial plastic sheeting stuck underneath it. It was free from fingerprints and there wasn't anything else to be found."
"Looks like Parry prepared in advance, and coated the place in plastic. So even though he told Dougan he wanted a bigger cut of everything, it didn't really matter whether he agreed or not because he was going to kill him anyway. What I don't understand is why he went to all that trouble? Why not just kill him and get it over with?"
"It's common knowledge Parry is twisted, he probably wanted to have fun playing his sick little games before he put a bullet in Dougan's head. He probably got off on Dougan knowing that he was going to die irregardless. He wanted him to know he had nothing to bargain with because Parry wanted him dead." Nikki was pretty sure that's how it had happened.
"This isn't going to be an easy case." Helen sighed, relaxing wasn't going to be an easy task.
"No it's not, but you've got to learn to calm down. Until you start making a vast improvement, let me do all the running around eh?"
"We'll see," was all Helen said as Nikki parked up back at the station.
When they got back to the incident room, Tony informed Helen he had a message for her from Jim Fenner, he wanted to see her urgently.
"Oh Christ, what now?" Helen muttered to herself.
"Tony, do me a favour. Go with the boss to Fenner's office and wait outside for her. When she's done, take her for a coffee. I need to talk to this lot." Tony nodded and she turned to Helen, "Stay calm and focused, things are never that bad. I'll finish up here and then I'll come and have a coffee with you, ok?"
"Ok, see you later Nikki." Helen flashed her a smile and left the room with Tony.
Nikki knew Waddle had opened his mouth, because everybody was sitting around with mutinous expressions on their faces. Waddle was trying to escape from the room on the pretext he was dropping a file off somewhere.
"I'm not blind Waddle, get back in here and take a seat. Wherever you were going can wait for another ten minutes." Nikki shot him a look.
"It's important, I won't be long," he knew he was going to get a talking to and wanted to put if off for as long as he could.
"Listen Mark, you know I'm not fond of repeating myself so I'd appreciate it if you could do as you were told the first time around," she pointed to his chair.
He threw the file back on his desk and flopped down in to his chair. A few people were on the phone or seemed to be engrossed in their computer screens, Nikki didn't buy it for a second.
"Can I have your attention please? Drop whatever you're doing and point your eyes in this direction," a few phones went down and computers were abandoned, as Nikki knew they would be. "I don't like what I've been seeing this past week. I thought you all knew better than to behave like a group of kids."
Nikki saw a few faces take interest in the carpet.
"I was extremely unhappy with your performance today Mark, you know better than that. And I don't, under any circumstances, want to see you behaving like that again. If DCI Stewart gives you an order then you bloody well follow it, you don't stand there like a dummy or look to me for confirmation. That goes for the rest of you as well, do you understand?" Nikki watched as heads nodded around the room.
"So you're telling me that you're perfectly happy to take orders from somebody who doesn't look like she's got the first idea about how to do her job?" Mark Waddle had decided to add his opinion despite just having been told off.
"This is DCI Stewart's first time in control of a team, and it's up to us to help her out. She's in a new station with a group of people she has never worked with before, and if I was in her position, I would be feeling exactly the same. We should do our best to make her feel welcome, and I include myself in this, I didn't exactly behave the way I should have when she turned up. But given the circumstances, I think she has done a wonderful job so far." Nikki began to walk around the room.
"Maybe she should go and do a wonderful job elsewhere then." DC John Graveson piped up from the back of the room.
"That's the kind of comment I don't need John, and it was totally uncalled for." Nikki shook her head at him, and he nodded an apology "I'm asking you to try and put yourself in Helen's shoes .."
"What for? We all know you should have taken over, she shouldn't be here." Mark Waddle started in again.
"And I didn't get the job, so what? Life goes on for god sake, I'm over it and so should you be. Would I have gotten the same treatment as DCI Stewart?" Nikki stood opposite him and folded her arms.
"You know you wouldn't have." Waddle leaned forward on his desk, "you know that we respect you, you're a good officer."
"So why is Helen any different? Is she any less deserving of respect than I am? The answer is no. The poor woman is just trying to get on with her job, the same as we all are. Just give her a chance to settle in and become a part of the team. It's not fair keeping her out in the cold all the time, she's every bit as vital to this team as the rest of us and this has all got to stop."
"Nikki's right." DC Dave Thomas stood up, "I spoke to DCI Stewart yesterday. She's very nice and not at all unfriendly like some of you seem to think, we should give her a chance. It's understandable that she is nervous and unsure of what to do, this is her first time as DCI and like Nikki said, we should make her feel welcome. You know I had the utmost respect for Yvonne, but I think DCI Stewart is just as capable, and I'm sure she will prove herself equal to the task of running this team, given time."
"Cheers Dave, I can always count on you to be fair." Nikki smiled over at him.
"No problem Nikki, I just felt I had to say something." He nodded and sat back down.
"Well?" Nikki looked around the room.
"Dave's right. We've all been acting unfairly, I think it's about time we accepted DCI Stewart as part of the team. You have our word Nikki, she'll get the respect she deserves." DS Jordan had finally come round and the rest of the team were starting to follow suit.
"Good, I hope that turns out to be the case." Nikki gave them a look that told them she meant business, "I've got a meeting with the boss now but I hope to see a big improvement when we get back." Nikki stood up and they all murmured their agreement.
She took a deep breath as she walked down the hall, that was the team sorted out and now hopefully things would start settling down. She needed to try and keep Helen's working environment as free from stress as she could, and if the team behaved themselves then that would be a big help.
She looked at her watch and wondered if Helen would be finished with Fenner yet. She didn't have a clue what he had wanted and hoped Helen wasn't in trouble. By the time Nikki had rounded the corner, her mind was working overtime and she quickened her step.
Nikki couldn't find Helen anywhere; she had checked in the canteen and in Superintendent Fenner's office but there was no sign of her. Nikki's stomach flipped uncomfortably, what if Fenner had found out about what she had done? It meant Helen would in serious trouble. On the other hand, if it was serious then she was sure Tony would have informed her.
She thought it was possible that Helen had gone back to the incident room, and so headed back in that direction. On the way, she ran into a PC who worked on the front desk. There wasn't a thing that went on in the station that he didn't know about, and if anybody knew where Helen had gotten to then it would be him.
"Degsy! Have you seen DCI Stewart anywhere?" Nikki called out to him as she approached.
"The pretty little Scottish girl?" it took him a little while to get to know people's names but he never forgot a face.
"That's the one."
He looked thoughtful for a second and clicked his fingers, "she's downstairs in the custody suite."
"Cheers Degsy, I owe you one." Nikki gave him a friendly pat on the back.
"That makes it several you owe me Nikki!" he pointed a finger at her and laughed.
"Play your cards right my son and I might pay out!" she winked at him and shot off downstairs.
She arrived in the custody suite but there was no sign of Helen. Tony stood next to the custody desk with Mark Parry, whilst the custody sergeant gave him back his belongings and he signed for them.
"Can I leave this shit hole now?" Parry stood with his hands on his hips.
"Yes, Mr. Parry, you're free to go." Tony didn't look happy.
"Ta flower." Parry sneered at him, "I'd like to say it's been nice, but I'd be lying if I did." He smiled menacingly at Nikki and headed towards the door.
Nikki wondered what the hell was going on, Parry wasn't due for release, and they still had most of the 24 hour period left in which they could question him. She quickly forgot about him, whatever was going on could wait, she needed to find Helen.
"Tony, where's the boss?" Nikki was slightly out of breath.
"I think she went outside Nik, she didn't look too well." Tony watched Nikki take off at a run, "she's probably in the car park."
"Thanks mate." Nikki shouted over her shoulder as she pushed the door open.
She spotted Helen sitting on the little brick wall in the corner of the car park, she was leaning forward with her elbows on her knees and her hands covered her face. Nikki hurried to her side, worried that she was having another panic attack.
"Helen." Nikki sat down beside her and gently placed a hand on her arm, "you're not feeling ill again are you?"
Helen looked up at her, "I'm bloody angry but otherwise I'm fine."
"You had me worried for a minute there." A pain in the region of Nikki's chest reminded her she had been holding her breath.
"I'm sorry; I forgot you were supposed to be meeting me in the canteen. I came out here for some fresh air." Helen closed her eyes and sighed.
Nikki dug into her pocket for her cigarettes; she lit one and passed it to Helen. Helen accepted the cigarette with a smile, and leaned against Nikki as if all the energy had suddenly drained from her body.
"We had to let Parry go, Chief Constable Stubberfield's orders." Helen shrugged.
"Yvonne said there were high ranking members of the force involved in this. I should have known something like this would happen." Nikki shook her head in disgust and lit a cigarette of her own.
"That's not all. I've been told that this case is no longer to be investigated. Apparently the Special Investigation Squad has it all in hand." Helen didn't believe it for a second.
"What a load of bullshit." Nikki tapped the heel of her boot against the tarmac in annoyance, "Somebody would have had to pass the investigation over to them and if that was the case, we'd have been informed before now."
"That's what I thought but there's sod all I can do about it." Helen knew she was powerless to do anything and didn't think it was worth agonising over.
"What about Dougan's postmortem report?"
"We can go and pick it up, and take that trip to ballistics like Karen said. After that, we file it under B for Bollocks." Helen crushed her cigarette out.
"Or W for Whitewash." Nikki shook her head in agreement, "Maybe we should go and talk to Jim, find out what the hell is going on."
"You'll be lucky." Helen laughed humourlessly, "He's pissed off down the golf course. In fact I got the feeling he couldn't wait to get rid of me, even though I was there at his request."
"That's not like Jim at all, he's usually alright." Nikki was puzzled.
"Well, it was basically a case of don't let the door hit you on the way out." Helen didn't get it either, she had found him to be ok so far and they got on well.
"So where do we go from here?"
"We'll nip over to see Karen this afternoon and after that?" Helen shrugged, "who knows."
"Why don't we go back inside? It's freezing out here, and we might as well get paid for doing sod all where it's warm."
Helen nodded her agreement and they made their way back upstairs to the incident room. Helen was greeted by quite a few friendly smiles, and couldn't work out why until she remembered Nikki was going to have a word with them.
"DCI Stewart." Mark Waddle called over to her.
"We'd like to give you these." He held out a large bouquet of flowers.
Helen took them and read the card.
To DCI Stewart,
Welcome to the team Boss,
It's great to have you aboard.
"It's our way of trying to say we're sorry for not welcoming you to the team. And I'm sorry about what happened this morning, I was out of order and I promise it won't happen again." Mark held his hand out.
"That's ok Mark; we'll say no more about it," she shook his hand and smiled, "Can I have your attention for a minute please?" Helen looked around the room, "I'm not going to make a long speech, but I'd just like to say thank you for the flowers. I hope that we can get to know each other properly over the coming weeks, you make a great team and I'm sure it's going to be a pleasure working with all of you." Helen blushed when they gave her a round of applause.
"Told you they'd come round." Nikki smiled down at Helen who was looking a bit tearful.
"Thanks, I really appreciate what you did for me." Helen squeezed her arm.
"This had nothing to do with me, they did this off their own bat." Nikki pointed to the flowers, "all I did was have a few words with them."
"Thank you anyway." Helen gave her a dazzling smile, "I've got some paperwork to catch up on but I'll give you a shout when I'm done, then we can get over to see Karen and draw a line under the whole bloody thing."
Nikki sat down at her desk and tapped her pen absentmindedly, she knew something wasn't right. Firstly there was the order from Stubberfield that Parry was to be released. Now Jim was acting strangely and there was also the problem of the Special Investigation Squad's involvement. Normally, a case would be passed over to them; they didn't routinely start investigations on their own. So somebody had to have informed them of what was going on, she was sure Yvonne hadn't and she knew Helen hadn't either.
She knew they couldn't get at Parry for now, but they could certainly carry on delving into his business affairs. She wasn't sure Helen would be willing though, after all they had been told not to carry on investigating the case and she was pretty certain Helen wouldn't condone them breaking the rules. It was something Nikki was more than happy to do in her spare time, but if Helen refused she would have to let it go.
She thought about involving Yvonne, she might be able get in touch with John, and they could get a statement from him. It would go a long way to helping them build a case against Parry. The more she thought about it, the more convinced she became that they should do it, so she decided to go and talk to Helen about it straightaway.
"Can I have a word please boss?" Nikki poked her head around the door and smiled.
"Since you asked so nicely, come on in." Helen had a playful tone to her voice.
"I've just been thinking about this case." Nikki sat down in front of Helen, "something isn't right somewhere and I think we should do something about it."
"Look Nikki, I'm just as upset about it as you but there isn't a lot we can do. It's not like we had much evidence anyway, all we had was the word of an informant, and a small piece of duct tape. Hardly incriminating is it?" Helen put her pen down and leaned back in her chair.
"I know it's not much use, but it was a start. What the hell was Yvonne thinking about when she let him go anyway?" Nikki knew it wasn't a fair statement, Yvonne had her reasons and she understood them.
"He was jumpy and he'd have run a mile if she asked him to sign a statement, you said so yourself, and he would never have testified in court anyway. She thought, like we all did, that we would find enough evidence at the printing works to nail him." Helen knew Nikki was frustrated and she didn't blame her.
"We should call Yvonne; maybe she can get into contact with John and get us a statement from him. It could help us in building our case against Parry."
"We've been told to let it go." Helen knew what Nikki was driving at, and didn't think it would be wise.
"Yeah I know, but it doesn't stop us from taking a look into things in our spare time."
"No Nikki, no way!" Helen shook her head vigorously, "I've had my arse in this station for a grand total of five minutes and I'm not about to go breaking the rules! You can't afford to get into trouble either, not after what you've done this week."
"I'll be careful, I promise nobody will ever know, and if by some slim chance they find out then I'll deny you had any knowledge of what I was getting up to."
"If you did start snooping around Parry, you'd be doing it without back up and these aren't the nicest of people to get involved with. It could be very dangerous and I'm not about to let you put yourself in that kind of danger," Helen wasn't sure what to do but there was no way she would let Nikki go off and do it alone.
"I can get Yvonne to help, I know she wouldn't hesitate, and she knows an awful lot of people. There's Tony too, that makes four of us before we start. Just think about it, that's all I'm saying."
"Alright I will ." Helen was interrupted as the phone rang, "Hello, DCI Stewart . you're kidding? Right, I'll be there soon." Helen slammed the phone down.
"What's the matter?" Nikki stood up.
"Call Yvonne, and tell her to meet us at the old railway tunnel on Richmond Road." Helen quickly put her suit jacket on.
"Is this gonna be one of those cloak and dagger meetings like in the old detective movies?" Nikki smiled.
"You wish!" Helen chuckled, "unfortunately, your statement has just rolled over and died, like the poor bastard who was going to give it to you." Her expression became serious.
"What?" Nikki hoped she had heard incorrectly.
"They've just found John dead. They positively identified him; he was carrying his driving license."
"Oh god." Nikki made for the door, "the bastards must have got to him."
"It looks that way." Helen nodded; Parry had definitely got to him alright.
They pulled up on Richmond Road twenty minutes later; there was a swarm of police cars parked at angles, all with their lights flashing. There were coppers everywhere and it looked more like a film set than an actual crime scene. Helen noticed Yvonne was already there, she was leaning against her car looking agitated and they quickly approached her.
"Poor bastard, I thought he'd have had it away on his toes to Spain by now." Yvonne surveyed the activity all around her.
"Maybe things weren't that simple." Nikki remarked as Helen nodded for them to follow her.
They came to a line of police tape that covered a gap in the bent and twisted metal railings that were supposed to stop anyone gaining access the track. They showed their ID's to a uniformed Policeman who was guarding it, he lifted the tape and let them pass under. Beyond them lay a steep bank, covered in weeds and various discarded bits of rubbish. The railway tracks below led into a dark tunnel that was situated a few hundred yards down the line to their left.
They began a slow descent down the steep embankment, and Helen wished she could have stayed at the top. She hated heights and she was wearing heels. She resisted the urge of wanting to grab hold of Nikki; she didn't want the people stood at the bottom watching them come down to know that she was afraid. Nikki as ever, seemed to be able to read her mind and held a hand out to her.
"It's alright, they won't think anything of it since you're wearing those bloody shoes."
"I hate heights." Helen gritted her teeth and wished she didn't have to look down.
"It's ok, I won't let you fall. Just keep tight hold of my hand and take one step at a time. So much for you trying to de-stress." Nikki sighed.
They finally got to the bottom, a short while behind Yvonne who had taken big strides on the way down. It seemed to Helen that the woman was fearless and she secretly wished she could be more like her. She reluctantly let go of Nikki and they began to make their way to the mouth of the tunnel. It wasn't easy to walk on the big stones that covered the track and she almost fell a couple of times, she silently muttered to herself that it would be the last time she wore heels to work.
"Grab hold woman, honest to god, those bloody shoes!" Nikki chuckled despite the seriousness of the situation and held out her hand once more.
Helen stumbled and leaned heavily against Nikki, as she grabbed her hand "I'm going to buy myself the flattest pair of shoes I can find."
"Although they're nice, they're not very practical are they? You need a big heavy pair of boots with steel toecaps." Nikki tried not laugh at the thought of Helen plodding around in big boots.
"Oh yeah? They don't sound very sexy." Helen pulled a face.
"Depends on who's wearing them doll." Nikki winked at her.
"You can come with me when I buy them then. If your tongue hangs out then I know I've got the right pair."
"You want me to perv at you while you try on shoes? Wouldn't miss it for the world!" Nikki was flirting and for once, the little voices in her head were silent on the subject.
"When you two have bloody finished!" Yvonne glared at them, she didn't mean to but she was on edge and didn't know what to expect.
"Sorry Yvonne." Helen looked apologetic, "we didn't mean anything by it."
"Nah it's me that should be sorry darlin'. I'm just dreading what we're going to find that's all." Yvonne gave them a reassuring smile.
They reached the entrance of the tunnel, and it was pitch black inside. There were a few beams from torches waving around but they were quickly swallowed up by the darkness. Nikki noticed that a Policeman standing to one side had a torch, there was no way she was going to drag Helen through the dark without one.
"Hey mate, do us a favour and lend me your torch." Nikki smiled at the young copper.
"This is specialist equipment love; we're not supposed to lend it out. If my sergeant found out then he'd have my balls on a skewer," he wasn't going to risk the wrath of his sergeant for anybody.
"There is no way I'm going into that tunnel without a torch. My boss here has heels on and there's all kinds of shit in there," she pointed to the tunnel, "so give me the torch." Nikki glared at him.
"Like I said, my sergeant .."
"I don't give a toss about your sergeant, I probably know him anyway so give me the fucking torch!" He reluctantly handed it over, and Nikki checked it was working "don't look so upset, you'll get it back when I'm finished."
She switched the torch on and they headed through the opening, it smelt damp and there was an aroma of diesel drifting up from the floor. They could hear the noise of water dripping above them, and the wind whistled through the tunnel making eerie sounds as they walked. Nikki kept the torch pointed at the ground so she could pick her way through the debris.
"Right girls, walk either side of me, I'll flash the torch about and tell you if there is anything you have to step over. There are used syringes and all other kinds of stuff in here so for god sake be careful." Nikki felt Helen grip her around the waist.
They continued walking for what seemed like forever and still seemed to be no closer to getting to where Karen was. Helen didn't mind the dark, and even if she had then she felt safe with Nikki. She gripped her tightly with both arms and they were so close together that they moved as one.
"There are a couple of syringes, make sure you don't walk on them." Nikki shone the light on them so both women could step over them.
"What's that noise?" Yvonne heard a rustling noise.
"Rats." Nikki informed her.
"I bleedin' hate rats." Yvonne shuddered, "creepy horrible things."
"They won't come anywhere near you, they're more frightened of you than you are of them." Helen didn't like rats either but she knew they would run away and hide.
Periodically they wrinkled their noses, the stench of human waste was strong, but they were thankful that most of the down and outs who usually lived down there had scarpered. Nikki saw the lights illuminating the scene up ahead and breathed a sigh of relief; at least they didn't have too much further to go. They caught up to Karen and Nikki switched the torch off.
"Bloody hell!" Yvonne remarked when she saw John's body.
He had been strung up by the neck, his eyes and tongue protruded grotesquely, and his face was a dark purple colour. They were all affected by the sight, they had seen lots of awful things in their time but this had to be one of the worst. It was obvious that John had suffered before he died, his remains showed evidence of torture.
"Sick bastards." Helen remarked with venom, she felt like tracking Parry down herself.
"They certainly are, this poor sod didn't get a peaceful death," one of the crime scene technicians remarked as he looked up at the body.
Karen walked towards them, and even she looked affected by it. She greeted them with a nod of her head.
"We've identified him as John Howe, 32 year old white male. We found his driving license in his wallet, so whoever killed him didn't seem too bothered about us knowing who he was." Karen began to put her gloves on, she had held off on her examination of the area until they had arrived.
"What that driving license won't tell you is that he had a wife and daughter. He'd only been married two years and his kiddy is less than a year old. She's gonna grow up never knowing her father." Yvonne's composure began to slip.
"You knew him?" Karen looked at Yvonne.
"He was an informant of mine; I've known him since he was a kid. Poor bastard was living on borrowed time, they got to him in the end." Yvonne's voice broke.
"Come here." Helen took hold of Yvonne as her tears began to fall, she steered her a short distance away down the tunnel, as Nikki followed.
For the first time in a very long time, Yvonne lost control of herself. She sobbed on Helen's shoulder as Nikki rubbed her back. Both Nikki and Helen had lumps in their throats and it took them all their time not to cry. Karen could hear Yvonne's sobs echoing around the tunnel and looked at the floor, and felt a lump form in her own throat. She never became emotional at a scene; she saved her tears for later but seeing Yvonne cry had gotten to her.
Karen had known Yvonne for a few years, and a bond of mutual respect had formed between them. If Karen was honest, she felt more for Yvonne than friendship but had never made it obvious to her. Karen had always been wary of making her sexual preferences known, she knew Nikki didn't have a problem with being openly gay but she wasn't as brave and remained peeking out of the closet.
Nikki knew it would be a good idea if she left Yvonne and Helen alone. She walked back up the tunnel to Karen knowing that Yvonne would be feeling a bit embarrassed about her display of emotion. Helen was a relative stranger to her and it was always easier to talk to somebody you hardly knew.
"I've never seen her like that before." Karen spoke quietly to Nikki.
"I've seen her get upset a few times but never like this. She's not one for showing her feelings but I know she cared about John." Nikki wiped a tear from the corner of her eye; she was upset about Yvonne and what had happened to John.
Helen's tears were also falling, as she held on to Yvonne and whispered words of comfort to her.
"Shhh it's ok," she rubbed Yvonne's back, "I know it's hard but we're all here for you."
"It's all my bloody fault." Yvonne could hardly talk through her tears.
"Don't say that, John wouldn't want you to take the blame. I'm sure he would take comfort in knowing that you cared about him enough to be here."
"I couldn't blame him if he thought I didn't give a shit about him though. I took his information and sent him on his way with his money, I should have helped him."
"He knows you care about him." Helen pulled back and placed her forehead against Yvonne's, "trust me sweetheart, he knows."
Nikki could hear every word that was spoken between Yvonne and Helen because even whispers echoed off the walls and she had to fight to keep her tears at bay. Yvonne would never have opened up to her like that, but she was in the least bit offended. Helen seemed to have a way of drawing people out and Nikki knew Yvonne was in good hands.
Yvonne eventually let go of Helen, embarrassed that she'd lost control of her emotions. She knew she wouldn't think any less of her for it but she wasn't impressed with herself. Her emotions were usually the only thing she could control in her life and she wasn't happy that she failed to keep them in check. Helen waited until Yvonne had composed herself slightly and took hold of her arm as they made their way back to Karen and Nikki.
"So what's the story behind this then?" Karen cleared her throat and put her professional face back on.
"John was the informant on the Dougan murder. He was planning to get away to Spain; this was going to be his last tip off. Only he didn't get that far, Parry got to him first." Nikki spoke because Yvonne had remained silent.
"Any number of people could have been behind this. If he was an informant then I can imagine that a few people would have an axe to grind with him." Karen knew it wasn't good to assume things before you were aware of the facts and she tried to remain unbiased.
"It's parry Karen, trust me." Helen spoke up, "Parry must have put two and two together that John was the one who informed on him, and he made sure he paid for it."
"Somebody's gotta tell his wife." Yvonne suddenly looked at them, "I should be the one to do it."
"Let somebody else do it love, it will only upset you." Nikki placed a hand on her shoulder.
"I don't want some arsehole barging in there and just dropping it on her." Yvonne's voice became harsh.
"Yvonne." Helen moved closer to her, "Nikki's right, but what I will do is arrange for someone who we know we can trust to be sensitive to her when she's told. You've done all you can for him." Helen held eye contact with Yvonne.
"I still should be the one to tell her, it's the least I can do." Yvonne felt a burning need to make up for his death, she still felt responsible.
"I can call Tony and ask him to go and see John's wife. Trust me Yvonne, you don't need to do it." Helen placed her hands on Yvonne's shoulders, "Tony will treat her with respect, he's a good man." Helen received a nod from Yvonne and promised to call him as soon as they left the tunnel.
They watched as Karen and her assistants examined the scene. And shortly afterwards John was zipped in a body bag and taken away as Karen approached them.
"I'll schedule the postmortem for sometime next week. I'll go over everything I've seen here today, but under the circumstances I thought it would be best not to discuss it just now." Karen took off her gloves and placed them in a bag.
"Thanks Karen, I appreciate that." Nikki was grateful that Karen didn't want to upset Yvonne further by giving her all the facts.
"When you come in for the post, we can also sort out Dougan's report." Karen then turned to Yvonne, "Yvonne, why don't you come to my house tomorrow for lunch?"
"Thanks, that would be nice." Yvonne was happy to spend time in Karen's company.
"That goes for you two as well." Karen smiled at Helen and Nikki.
"Thank you for the offer Karen but Nikki and I have some work to do tomorrow." Helen wanted to get started on the task of going after Parry, seeing that John had been murdered so brutally had made up her mind.
"Yes that's right we do, but thank you." Nikki smiled; she assumed that Helen was warming up to the idea of digging information up on Parry's dealings.
"That's a pity, another time maybe?" Karen wasn't too disappointed; it would give her the chance to talk to Yvonne alone.
"Absolutely." Helen replied as they all began to make their way back out of the tunnel.
They arrived back where they had parked; Helen went off to make the phone call to Tony and then quickly made another call. Judging by the whispered tones, Nikki assumed she was on the phone to Andy. She put her arms around Yvonne and gave her a hug.
"You ok boss?" she used the term affectionately.
"Yeah I'll be ok in a bit love." Yvonne looked up at her, "that's a bloody good friend you've got there, she's got a heart of gold," she jerked her head in Helen's direction.
"She is something special isn't she?" Nikki gave Helen a quick glance and then turned back to Yvonne.
"Are you taking good care of her?" Yvonne had a twinkle in her eye, and Nikki knew she was trying to come to terms with what had happened by getting back to her old self.
"Not the kind of taking care of her that you're talking about." Nikki shook her head in amusement.
"And why not?"
"Pretty daft shagging the boss isn't it? Otherwise I'd have shagged you years ago." Nikki looked Yvonne up and down jokingly.
"What me turn lezzy? No bleedin' chance! She's a nice girl, she'd be good for you." Yvonne wondered if Nikki had realised she fancied Helen yet.
"Except she's straight and I'm not interested." Nikki placed her hands in her pockets and stuck her tongue out at Yvonne.
"The only way to get over a broken heart is to get back in to the game Nik. Besides, I've seen the way you look at each other. She's not so straight and you're not so uninterested."
"Yvonne, I don't think of her like that and she wouldn't look twice at me anyway."
"Who wouldn't look twice at you?" Helen had returned and was smiling.
"You my love." Yvonne piped up, "Nikki was just saying how you aren't that way inclined." Yvonne hoped Helen hadn't heard the part about Nikki not being interested in her, she felt that given time Nikki would realise.
Nikki closed her eyes and swore quietly.
"I keep telling her that if she wants to sleep with me in order to advance her career then she is more than welcome." Helen grinned.
"There ya go Nik, dive straight in there love, after all Helen is a very attractive woman and you could do a hell of a lot worse." Yvonne tried to forget about what she had seen in the tunnel and concentrated on the two women standing with her.
"Good god, you two make me feel cheap." Nikki smiled; she saw the humour in the situation.
"No need to feel cheap about it Nikki, I'll make sure I treat you to a slap up meal and a few bottles of expensive wine before I have my wicked way with you." Helen winked at her.
"Yeah right, you'd run a bloody mile." Nikki was amused by the idea.
"Only one way to find out sweetheart. My desk is plenty big enough, but if a quickie wasn't what you had in mind then I can always take you home with me." Helen shrugged her shoulders and smiled.
"You'd be mad if you didn't jump at the chance of a good seeing to Nik." Yvonne chuckled.
"Bloody pervs." Nikki shook her head at them, "I think I'm going to file a report on sexual harassment after all Helen," she pretended to look offended.
"Why waste your time? Give me a chance to harass you properly and then you'll have something juicy to write down to keep the brass entertained." Helen folded her arms and giggled.
Yvonne shook her head in amusement but was fairly certain Helen was quite enamoured with Nikki. She knew there was many a true word spoken in jest, and Helen may have appeared to be joking but Yvonne knew she was more than interested; Nikki on the other hand didn't seem to be aware of it. Yvonne liked Helen a lot; she was a warm and caring person, very much like Nikki and she thought they would be good for each other.
"Right, let's get out of here. After all, the longer you spend here is less time spent in bed." Yvonne smiled mischievously at them and retrieved her car keys.
She hugged them both and waved goodbye as she drove off.
"She's right you know, your place or mine?" Helen stuck her tongue between her teeth and smiled.
"Better be yours. Food and wine right?" Nikki raised an eyebrow.
"Yes." Helen nodded.
"And we discuss what we were talking about earlier?" Nikki held out her hand and Helen shook it.
"Done, and you will be." Helen batted her eyelashes and smiled, "oh by the way," a seductive look spread across Helen's face.
"Yeah?" Nikki took her car keys from her pocket and looked at Helen.
"Is that a torch in your pocket or are you just very pleased to see me?" Helen saw the look on Nikki's face and started laughing.
"Oh bollocks! I didn't give him his torch back. Sod him, I'll hand it in to the front desk on Monday," she shook her head and got in to the car.
Nikki noticed Helen seemed edgy when they pulled up in front of her house, it had puzzled her until she spotted Andy's car and instantly knew he was the reason. Helen was silent on the subject and Nikki decided if things became awkward, she would make her excuses and leave. There was certainly no love lost between her and Andy and she knew Helen didn't need the hassle. Helen made an effort to act normally as they made their way to the front door.
"Home sweet home." Helen remarked as she put the key into the lock, "you're trapped now Wade, I'm going to lock you in the cupboard under the stairs and keep you as my love slave." Helen's tongue rested between her teeth as she smiled.
"Oh please let me share your bed." Nikki got down on her knees and took hold of Helen's hand, "the weather is freezing and I'll keep you so much warmer at night, tis my duty mistress."
"You're a nutter Nikki." Helen was giggling.
"It's just one of the many reasons why women find me irresistible, they just can't keep their hands off me." Nikki grinned.
"Doesn't surprise me, after all when I first met you I couldn't wait to lay my hands on you." Helen stepped in to the hall, "Had I not controlled myself, I'd have ended up strangling you." Helen laughed again.
She took Nikki's coat with a smile and hung it up next to her own, before showing her into the living room. Andy had made himself at home, the TV was loud and beer bottles and empty crisp packets littered the coffee table.
"Hiya," he smiled but noticed Nikki and it turned in to a scowl.
"Hi Andy, how are you?" Nikki tried to be friendly with him for Helen's sake.
Andy chose to ignore her and it grated on Helen's nerves. She shot an apologetic look at Nikki and glared at him.
"How long have you been here?" Helen began to collect the rubbish and felt her anger rising inside of her.
"Since lunchtime. I thought I'd nip over here and see the match, I don't have satellite at my place remember?" He swallowed the rest of his beer, before placing the empty bottle on a side table.
"You didn't tell me you were coming." Helen snatched up the empty bottle he'd just put down.
"I forgot, it was only as I was picking up some lunch that I remembered the football was on." He shrugged and carried on watching the TV.
Helen turned to Nikki, "Please sit down, make yourself comfortable," she then picked up the remote and turned the volume down.
"I'm watching that!" Andy protested loudly.
"On second thoughts, why don't you come into the kitchen, at least it's quiet in there." Helen tried to hide her embarrassment.
Nikki smiled and followed Helen but almost bumped into her when she stopped dead in her tracks as she stepped into the kitchen.
"Oh for fuck sake!" Helen looked around the kitchen, it was a complete mess.
Andy had obviously had a Chinese takeaway for lunch and the remains of it were scattered about the table. Noodles hung limply from a foil takeaway container, there were big splodges of sweet and sour sauce dotted about and prawn cracker crumbs littered the floor. The sink was full of cold greasy water, where he had left his plate unwashed.
"You must think I live like a pig." Helen was deeply embarrassed now, "when I left the house this morning, it was spotless."
"Hey don't worry about it, I came here to spend time with you, not to give the house a military inspection." Nikki walked up to Helen and placed her arm around her shoulder, "I don't mind if we do this another time."
"No, I want you to stay. I'll get the kitchen cleaned up and then we can have a drink and a chat." Helen didn't want her to leave, and it wasn't just because Andy was there.
"Only if you're sure, I don't want to cause a problem."
"The only thing that's causing me a problem is him." Helen angrily pointed towards the living room, "I'm going to have to talk to him."
"Why don't you let me tidy this up? You can go and talk to him while I do." Nikki offered.
"No it's ok, this isn't your mess." Helen shook her head and picked up the dishcloth.
"It isn't your mess either. I'll clean up, go and talk to him." Nikki took the cloth from Helen, "Oooo have I got a story to tell at the station on Monday! Just wait till I tell them how I ended up scrubbing my boss's kitchen. How many brownie points is this worth?" Nikki chuckled.
"Enough to earn my undying devotion." Helen smiled; somehow Nikki always made her feel better.
"Nice!" Nikki winked at her, "go on, I'll have a drink ready for you when you get back."
Helen walked over to Nikki and leaned up on her tiptoes, as she kissed her on the cheek.
"What was that for?" Nikki grinned lopsidedly.
"Just for being you." Helen said, before leaving the kitchen.
Helen closed the living room door behind her, if their discussion turned into an argument, Nikki would hear it anyway but it was more psychological than anything else. She didn't want him invading the particular part of her life that Nikki belonged to, like he had invaded every other part of her life.
"Andy, I need to talk to you." Helen sat down beside him on the couch.
"Give me twenty minutes, it'll be half time then," he didn't even bother to look in her direction.
"No Andy, I need to talk to you now."
"I'm not going through this again, the last time we talked it turned into an argument," he stood up, "I'm going home to get changed and then I'm going out with the lads. After all you've got Superdyke for company and you won't miss me."
"Don't call her names!" Helen became indignant, "Why do you always have to make disparaging remarks about her?"
"She's a pain in the arse and I can't stand the sight of her. Oh yeah and she's a dyke," he emphasised the word, "is that a good enough explanation? I'll see you when I see you," he stormed out and slammed the front door behind him.
"Bastard." Helen shook her head and stood up, any doubts about whether she should stay with him or not had been cleared up. She hated the way he spoke of Nikki, and she wouldn't stand for it.
She leaned against the doorframe in the kitchen for a minute, as she quietly watched Nikki. She had cleaned up already and was trying to remove the cork from a bottle of wine. Her suit jacket had been removed and the sleeves of her t-shirt were short and close fitting, giving Helen a great view of her arms. She watched the muscles ripple in Nikki's arm as she finally freed the cork. Helen didn't think she had ever seen a more breathtaking sight than the one she had just witnessed. Nikki had a great figure, she was strong and she carried it off in a casual way that Helen found fascinating.
Nikki had the feeling she was being watched but didn't turn around, she busied herself with pouring the wine and slipping the cork back in to the bottle. Before she turned around she heard Helen finally step in to the kitchen.
"Everything ok?" Nikki asked as she handed a glass to Helen.
"No, he wouldn't talk to me but it'll keep," a look of anger flashed across Helen's face but it disappeared quickly, "Shall we get started on Parry then?" Helen was eager to start digging.
"Yep, no time like the present." Nikki picked up her glass.
"Come on then flash, I'll get my laptop out and you can show me your stuff." Helen raised an eyebrow and smiled.
"I can show you my stuff any time Helen. The laptop isn't required." Nikki grinned.
"Hey not fair, I'm supposed to be the one sexually harassing you." Helen chuckled.
"Just playing you at your own game ma'am." Nikki saluted.
"I think the game just went up a level." Helen smiled mysteriously and beckoned for Nikki to follow her.
Helen had set up the laptop on the coffee table and she sat beside Nikki on the living room floor.
"Ok, that's us connected. Where do you want to start?" Nikki's fingers hovered over the keys.
"Well we can't prove Parry murdered Dougan or John, so the only way to get him is to take a look at this gun smuggling. And if we're lucky, something else might pop up." Helen took a sip of her wine and placed her glass down.
"I want to hear your take on how he's getting the guns in." Nikki folded her arms.
"I can't see him air freighting guns in to the country, it's far too risky moving things like that around an airport, not to mention costly. My guess is, he has them shipped in and manages to get them through customs somehow or other. Either he is bribing a customs officer or he has them so well hidden that they don't find them. So I think the logical place to start will be to find out if he has connections with any shipping companies." Helen smiled at her, "how did I do?"
"Spot on, exactly the same thing I was thinking." Nikki gave her the thumbs up.
"Must be hard you being so clever." Helen chuckled.
"I admit being a genius is a curse but one gets used to one's intelligence over time." Nikki put on a posh voice.
"And your head grows bigger as we speak." Helen shook her head in mock disgust.
After dialing into her computer at the station, Nikki did a search through the police national database for any information on Parry that related to shipping, but was getting nowhere. They kept a record of all the people they knew he dealt with when he did business and she was sure she would find something if she persevered. That of course, was assuming they had any knowledge of it.
"Can they find out you were rummaging around in here?" Helen was worried; she didn't want Nikki to get into trouble.
"They could if they wanted to but nobody will bother. There are millions of searches done every day and it would be like looking for a needle in a haystack. Besides, nobody is going to have a reason to suspect me are they? So long as we keep it quiet, they need never know." Nikki carried on looking through the records.
"I hope so." Helen prayed they wouldn't get found out.
"Trust me?" Nikki suddenly turned to Helen and looked deep into her eyes.
"With my life." Helen answered sincerely.
Nikki smiled and gave Helen's hand a squeeze before turning back to the computer. The next ten minutes passed in silence as they concentrated on the screen, looking for anything that would be of use to them.
"Aha, you little beauty." Nikki remarked as she found something interesting and clicked to open up the file.
"He has connections with a shipping company called White Dove Cargo. According to this he has dealt with them for the past three years or so." Helen moved closer to the screen and leaned against Nikki.
"A little ironic wouldn't you say that the dove is an internationally recognised symbol of peace and these bastards are shipping guns in using a company that has a dove as its logo." Nikki took a mouthful of her wine and put the glass down. As she did so, her hand accidentally touched Helen's.
"Sounds typical of them from what I know so far, they probably think it's funny." Helen had tried not to react visibly when she felt Nikki's hand glide across hers.
"There's a little bit more info, I'll scroll down." Nikki moved the mouse wheel.
"It says that the main shareholder is David Hartley, otherwise known as Parry's brother in law. He owns a sixty percent share in the company but it doesn't say anything about the remaining forty percent." Helen speed read a few paragraphs.
"Unfortunately that's all it tells us though. Makes you wonder what the hell else he's had shipped in before he got a liking for firearms. Could be drugs I suppose but then again it could be any number of things."
"We may never know." Helen shrugged her shoulders.
"True, but we're going to nail the bastard anyway."
There wasn't any more information on the subject in the database, so they decided to search the net for White Dove Cargo. They almost immediately found the link to the company's site, and began trawling through the pages.
"Well it's a legitimate company, and they handle quite a few tonnes of cargo per year. The perfect cover for a bit of shady business, after all who's going to find a few crates of guns amongst all that lot?" Nikki sat back and sighed.
"We will, but first we need to find out where this place is."
"They have an office in London and ." Nikki said as she located the contact page, "another one in Southampton and one in Hull."
"That gives us somewhere to start then. We should probably check the London one out first seeing as how it's nearer."
"What did you have in mind?"
"We take a look around the office when it's not busy." Helen said casually.
"DCI Stewart! Are you suggesting we sneak around a shipyard like common criminals?" Nikki was winding her up and Helen knew it.
"That's exactly what I'm suggesting, but in actual fact it's more like your suggestion since this was your idea to begin with. So if we get caught I'll say I was forced into it, I'll sing like a canary the minute they slap the cuffs on." Helen laughed and picked up her wine again.
"You'd grass on me?" Nikki pretended to be shocked.
"Not if you keep making cow eyes at me like that I wont." Helen smiled.
"Covert operations in November though? It'll be bloody freezing! Still, I'll stick close to you and it will keep us both warm." Nikki couldn't resist teasing her.
"Get as close as you like, you won't hear me complaining." Helen winked at her.
"Well ." Nikki was cut off as the phone rang.
Helen jumped up to answer it, and rolled her eyes when she realised it was her mother. The last thing she needed at the moment was a parental lecture and that's usually what she got when they called. Helen had never been close to her parents although it wasn't through lack of trying. They had always been distant with her, continually keeping her at arms length and she didn't know why. She knew they must care for her in their own way but there had never been any evidence of it.
"It's my mother," she mouthed to Nikki as she listened.
Nikki jokingly made the sign of the cross with her fingers and smiled.
"Why what's the matter?" Helen's face suddenly became serious, "oh Jesus," she swayed and sat down heavily on the sofa.
Nikki became concerned and sat beside her; she watched Helen's face as it grew pale.
"Why didn't you tell me before now?" Helen grabbed hold of Nikki's hand, "that's not the point mum, I shouldn't have had to find out like this." Helen was shocked at her mother's revelation.
Nikki knew that whatever had happened was bad news, Helen seemed to be in a state of shock as she listened to her mother.
"Ok, I'll be there as soon as I can. I'll try and get the next available flight up there." Helen listened for a minute longer, "see you soon, bye," she put the phone down and drained the rest of her wine as her mind whirled.
"What's the matter?" Nikki rubbed her thumb across the back of Helen's hand.
"Er." Helen tried to gather her thoughts, "it's my dad, he's in hospital in Glasgow and he isn't expected to live through the night." Helen felt strange saying it, she didn't even know why her father was ill, her mother hadn't said.
"I'm sorry Helen. What's wrong with him?" Nikki didn't know what else to say, Helen must have been going through hell and she felt useless because there wasn't anything she could do to help.
"That's just it, I don't know, all she said was that he was admitted a week ago and he's been going downhill ever since. A whole bloody week! Why the hell didn't she tell me sooner? I can't believe it, I saw him six weeks ago and he seemed fine."
"Maybe she didn't want to worry you." Even to Nikki it sounded like a weak excuse. If it had been her father, her mother wouldn't have hesitated to inform her and she couldn't figure out why Helen's mum had left it so long.
"If I really believed that ." Helen didn't finish her sentence.
"Look, why don't you run upstairs, take a shower and get packed."
"What time is it now?"
"It's 4 o'clock." Nikki glanced at her watch.
"I think there's a flight at around six, it doesn't give me much time." Helen stood up and wondered what to do next, she couldn't think properly.
"Go and get ready, I'll sort everything else out."
Nikki pulled Helen into a hug and held on to her tightly as she rubbed her back; Helen felt tears threatening and quickly pulled away. She told Nikki she wouldn't be long and raced off upstairs to shower and pack her clothes.
Nikki immediately got on the phone and booked Helen's ticket to Glasgow, then hired her a car. The flight didn't leave till half six so they had plenty of time to get there. Nikki had sorted out everything she had to now, apart from informing Jim on Monday that Helen had had to go home to Scotland. She knew it wouldn't be a problem, Jim would understand and she could fill in for her while she was away.
She sat down on the couch and waited for Helen, she had contemplated asking her if she wanted her to go with her but she didn't want to get in the way. Plus the fact, the station was a little short staffed at the moment and she didn't want to draw any undue attention to Helen's absence. The brass could sometimes get funny about people taking time off, even if they had a valid reason, and Helen had only been there a week. So Nikki thought it was probably best to stay.
Helen reappeared twenty minutes later, out of breath and holding a suitcase. She rushed around picking her things up and then put her coat on.
"I better get going." Helen said once she was ready.
"I'll drive you to the airport." Nikki picked up her car keys.
"I don't want to put you to any trouble."
"You won't be, give me your suitcase and I'll start the car while you lock up," she took it from Helen and then went to put it in the car while Helen locked the front door.
Five minutes later they were on their way to Heathrow, and Nikki was telling Helen about the arrangements she'd made.
"Your ticket is waiting at the airport for you. I've left the return date on the ticket open since we don't know how long you'll be gone, and I've hired you a car for a week but you will be able to re-hire it for longer if you need to, they said just to give them a call." Nikki put her foot down a little, so they wouldn't be late.
"Thanks Nikki, I promise I'll pay you back." Helen was grateful.
"I'm not bothered about the money. So long as you're ok then that's all that matters. And don't forget, any time you need me then just call, it doesn't matter what time of the day or night it is."
"What would I do without you?" Helen reached over and gave the back of Nikki's neck an affectionate squeeze which made Nikki's heart flutter despite herself.
They soon parked at terminal one and Nikki carried Helen's suitcase in for her. They collected the ticket and then she helped her check in. When that was done, they decided to go for a quick coffee before it was time for Helen to leave. She made Helen sit down at a table and then went to fetch the drinks.
Helen was still in shock, it hadn't sunk in properly yet and she was dreading what was coming. She knew her parents had to die someday but she hadn't thought it would happen so soon. Her father had been very distant as she was growing up, in fact she could never remember a time when he had showed her any affection at all but she still loved him deeply. So much so, that being told he was about to die had broken her heart.
Nikki arrived back and Helen snapped out of it, thinking about it too much would upset her and she needed to try and remain strong for her mother. Nikki placed the coffees down on the table and then got her cigarettes out. She still didn't know what to say to Helen, there wasn't really anything she could say to take the pain away but knew that being there for her was something at least.
"Oh shit, I forgot about work. I need to call them and tell them I won't be in." Helen lit her cigarette and passed the lighter back to Nikki.
"I've already thought about that. I'll tell Jim on Monday, it won't be a problem because I can stand in for you." Nikki lit her own cigarette and picked up her coffee.
"They'll love that back at the station." Helen grinned.
"Oh no they won't, I intend to work their arses off. And by the time you get back, they'll be overjoyed to see you." Nikki tapped an ash and smiled.
"Thanks for what you've done for me Nikki, you've been fantastic." Helen gave her a warm smile.
"Don't mention it, it was my pleasure mistress." Nikki winked at her.
"I'm buggering off and leaving you in the lurch over Parry as well." Helen took a sip of her coffee.
"That can wait till later; just make sure you're sorted first. And when you feel up to it we can carry on with it."
"I know but I feel awful going off and leaving you with everything." Helen leaned back in her chair and sighed.
"It's not your fault; you didn't know this was going to happen. I want you to concentrate on your family, forget about work and what's going on down here, I can handle it." Nikki reached over and took hold of Helen's hand.
"I know you can, you're more than capable. I'm going to miss you." Helen shyly looked down at the table; she wasn't sure why she felt that way all of a sudden.
"I'll miss you too, but look on the bright side, it's not a million miles away, and you'll be back."
Helen was about to reply but her flight was called for boarding, "that's me, I better get going," she stood up and they made their way to the departure lounge.
Nikki's heart ached at the look on Helen's face, not only did she look worn out, she looked scared. She wished she had mentioned about going with her now, she really didn't want her to face everything on her own but she knew Helen was stronger than she looked and she would get through it.
"Take care sweetheart, and thanks again for everything you've done for me. I'll see you soon." Helen was pulled into Nikki's arms.
"You take care too, and remember what I said, call me. Safe journey darlin'." Nikki pulled back and saw the tears in Helen's eyes, "don't cry, everything will be ok."
"I always get like this with goodbyes." Helen smiled tearfully.
"It's not goodbye, just an 'I'll see you later'." Nikki wiped Helen's tears away with her thumb, "go on or you'll be late." Before her brain was fully in gear, Nikki leaned forward and gently pressed her lips against Helen's.
The kiss lasted longer than Nikki had originally intended, but she didn't once think about pulling away. Finally, they pulled apart, knowing they couldn't stand there any longer.
"Bye Nikki." Helen opened her eyes and smiled.
"Bye Helen." Nikki couldn't help but smile back, even though she had taken herself by surprise.
Their hands reached out to each other until their fingers finally slipped apart and Helen was quickly gone. Nikki stood there for a minute or so and then slowly turned and left the airport.
Helen leaned back in her seat as the plane was about to take off, she could still feel the tingling on her lips from where Nikki had kissed her, it was the softest kiss she'd ever had. Far from denying her feelings for Nikki, she had embraced them, but she'd heard her tell Yvonne earlier on in the day that she wasn't interested in her. Helen had been crushed when she heard, but now she had to wonder just how interested Nikki was. After all, they had just kissed and she thought she saw something in Nikki's eyes before it disappeared as quickly as it had come. Maybe Nikki was interested after all, and maybe God had answered at least one of Helen's prayers.
Nikki stood on Yvonne's doorstep with her head leaning against the door as she pressed the bell for the third time in the last two minutes. She knew she was in, she could hear Yvonne's Cliff Richard CD playing in the background. Nikki would tease her mercilessly about it but she maintained it was better than the dance music Nikki listened to, claiming it was noise pollution.
"ATKINS! Open the bloody door!" Nikki shouted in the through the letter box.
There was a muffled shout and a short while later, Yvonne opened the door clad in a dressing gown with a towel wrapped around her head, a mudpack finished off the ensemble.
"About time, I could have died from exposure out here Oh good god! It's the creature from the black lagoon!" Nikki howled with laughter.
"Shut yer cakehole and get in here." Yvonne grabbed her and propelled her through into the living room.
Nikki collapsed giggling into a chair and her laughter got louder when she saw the state of Yvonne's living room. Various types of creams and lotions littered the living room floor and makeup bags jockeyed for position on the couch.
"What are you laughing at now?" Yvonne scowled.
"Cliff Richard, mudpacks, beauty products." Nikki ticked them off on her fingers, "you're going soft in your old age boss." Nikki grinned.
"I might be old but I can still give you a run for your money." Yvonne wagged a finger at her and smiled.
"Going anywhere special then?" Nikki had a good idea that all this extra effort was for Karen's benefit, although she would never mention it to Yvonne.
"I'm going to Karen's tomorrow for lunch as you know, and I wanted to look my best. Just cos you're a scruffy git." Yvonne grinned.
"I'll pretend I didn't hear that." Nikki winked at her, "I wish you'd get rid of that Cliff Richard CD though, it does sod all for your street cred. I've got some CD's you can borrow."
"No thanks, I'm not listening to that crap you call music. What are you doing here anyway? I thought you'd have been safely tucked up in bed with Helen now." Yvonne lit a cigarette and tossed the pack at Nikki.
"Helen has gone to Scotland." Nikki lit a cigarette and passed them back to Yvonne.
"Why? What have you done now?" Yvonne raised her eyebrow at her.
"I haven't done anything." Nikki rolled her eyes, "her mum called to say her dad was ill, and he isn't expected to live through the night."
"Bloody hell, poor Helen." Yvonne had been there and knew what Helen was going through.
"It gets worse, Helen didn't even know her dad was ill, nor does she know what's wrong with him. He's been in hospital for a week and her mother didn't bother to tell her. She said that when she saw him six weeks ago he seemed fine."
"That must have come as a big shock." Yvonne felt sorry for her, when she'd lost her own father it had knocked her for six but she had at least known about his ill health and had had time to prepare for it.
"It did, you should have seen the look on her face, you could tell she was heartbroken." Nikki rubbed her forehead and sighed, "on top of all that she's suffering from chronic stress and panic attacks. She's finding it really hard to cope with things at the moment, and I hope to god she'll be ok."
"Far be it from me to point out the obvious but shouldn't you have gone with her?"
"I should have shouldn't I?" Nikki realised she had made a big mistake.
"Yes, why didn't you?"
"It's complicated." Nikki blew smoke out.
"I'll put the kettle on and you can tell me about it." Yvonne went in to the kitchen and left Nikki alone with her thoughts.
Helen was currently sitting in a traffic jam in Glasgow; she tapped her fingertips on the steering wheel as she waited for the traffic to get moving. The radio played softly in the background but she was barely listening, her thoughts seemed to keep gravitating towards Nikki. The kiss replayed over and over in her head and she wondered what it all meant.
Was it a friendly kiss? Or did it mean more? These were the sorts of questions going around in Helen's head. She had enjoyed the kiss, it made her feel things she had never felt before, and it brought a whole new set of emotions to the surface but she wasn't sure where things would go from there. She felt something pass between them when they had kissed and she was almost certain Nikki had felt it too. But did it mean Nikki wanted to take things any further? Helen knew it was pointless torturing herself, she couldn't make any assumptions now, and she would just have to hope that given time, things would become clearer.
At last the traffic got moving and she was only a short distance away from the hospital. She was shaking and on edge, she didn't know what to expect and felt sick to her stomach. Karen's advice about trying not to get stressed out had gone out of the window, and all her symptoms were back with a vengeance. She pulled up at a set of traffic lights and suddenly felt dizzy. She leaned her head against the steering wheel while she waited for it to pass and hadn't noticed that the lights had changed to green.
A horn sounded out from behind her, the driver obviously didn't take kindly to her sitting there and continued to honk the horn impatiently.
"Alright, you impatient bastard!" she shouted as she shoved the car into gear and pulled away from the traffic lights, "what else did you get for Christmas?" she said in annoyance.
She pulled up at another set of traffic lights a few hundred yards ahead, and the car pulled up beside her. The driver was gesticulating at her and she wound down her window in a fit of temper.
"What?" she yelled across at the man driving the other car, who looked to be in his forties.
"Ye shidnae be let oot on the road woman!" he said in a thick Glaswegian accent and flashed his middle finger at her.
"Kiss my arse!" Helen shouted at him, her accent noticeably stronger now that she was back in Scotland.
"Drivin' wi'out due care and attention is an offence ye know," he yelled back as if he was some sort of expert.
"Yeah and so is road rage arsehole," she flashed her police badge at him and he very quickly turned his attention elsewhere, "thought that might shut you up." Helen couldn't help a small laugh as she pulled away from the traffic lights.
Five minutes later, the hospital was looming on the horizon and she felt her throat constrict, she dreaded going in there and having to see her father lie on a hospital bed while his life ebbed away. She didn't think she was strong enough to do it, until she heard Nikki's voice in her head telling her she should have more faith in herself. It spurred her on; she parked the car and walked towards the hospital with a quiet determination.
She enquired about her father and was told he was on the seventh floor on ward nineteen. She located the lifts and pressed the button for the seventh floor, as the doors closed a sudden wave of nausea spread over her and she leaned heavily against the wall of the lift. She was shaking noticeably now and flexed her fingers stiffly; she prayed she wouldn't have another panic attack.
She concentrated on her breathing and the rapid beating of her heart began to slow, she took several deep breaths and ran a hand across her forehead as she broke out into a cold sweat. By the time the lift doors opened, she had managed to calm down slightly but the closer she got, the worse she felt.
She stopped at the nurse's station to ask where her father was and got directed to a private room at the end of the corridor. She looked in through the window in the door, her mother sat at the bedside staring in to space and her father appeared to be sleeping. She took a deep breath and pushed the door open.
Yvonne had returned from the kitchen and handed Nikki a cup of coffee, she gratefully accepted it and placed it down on the coffee table as she lit another cigarette.
"So come on, why didn't you go with Helen." Yvonne knew they would be in for a long chat.
"I tried to tell myself it was because I didn't want to get in the way and that I'd be better off covering for her here, because you know how funny the brass can get about people taking time off even if they have a valid reason and she's only been there a week."
"And what's the real reason?"
"I'm scared of getting too close to her." Nikki thought it was about time she was honest with herself.
"How do you feel about her?" Yvonne wanted to try and help her sort her head out, it was obvious she was struggling with her feelings.
"I really like her. She's smart, she's funny, she's kind and she's gorgeous. She's everything I've ever wanted in a woman. I've thought about it and I think you're right, she isn't as straight as she seems, but even if she was willing to get involved with me I'd still be scared."
"What is it that scares you?"
"I've only known her a week and already I want her so much that it hurts. I don't know if I can be in a relationship with her though, I'm too afraid of being hurt again. And I don't want to hurt her either by not being able to give her what she wants, even assuming it is what she wants. Oh I don't know, it doesn't seem to make any bloody sense," Nikki took a sip of her coffee and held her head in her hands.
"It makes perfect sense to me. Listen, this is how I see it. I think where you've been going wrong is looking at this whole thing in terms of jumping in to a relationship straightaway. Now where's the panic? You've got all the time in the world to ease yourself into it, give yourself time to get to know her and let things develop naturally. Your fears will lessen over time and it will give Helen time to get used to how she feels about you. I can't imagine her wanting to jump in feet first when she's getting used to all these new feelings. Plus the fact, she needs to sort her life out as regards Lockyer, and the gossip going around the station is that they're coming to the end of the line."
"I know for a fact they're not getting on too well. I don't think it's going to last much longer myself," Nikki nodded her agreement; "you wanna know the only good thing to come out of today? I kissed her and she didn't even give me a black eye!" Nikki grinned.
"Let me guess, you kissed her goodbye at the airport?" Yvonne grinned, "Was it good?"
"Yes on both counts. It was very, very nice." Nikki smiled at the memory, she felt different about it now after having talked to Yvonne, she had definitely eased her fears.
"There you go then. Like I said, just concentrate on being friends and let things develop over time. You'll get to the point where you're ready to take things further and so will Helen. In the meantime, just let her know you're there for her." Yvonne gave Nikki a smile, "I guarantee things will work out for you and you'll wonder why you were ever worried."
"Thanks boss, my head would still be up my arse if it wasn't for you." Nikki stood up and gave Yvonne a hug.
"My pleasure love. So what are you going to do now?"
"I think I should probably get my arse up to Scotland but I'll have to talk to Helen first." Nikki felt butterflies swimming around in her stomach at the thoughts of seeing Helen again so soon.
"So go ahead and call her."
"I'll need twenty cigs and another cup of coffee while I psyche myself up."
"I better put the kettle on then." Yvonne marched off into the kitchen with a smile; it was good to see Nikki was getting back on the right track. Six months ago she wouldn't even have contemplated going anywhere near another woman.
When Helen had first entered her father's hospital room, her mother was in a world of her own and had jumped when she saw Helen in front of her.
"Hiya mum." Helen had whispered not wanting to disturb her father.
"Hello Helen," her mother replied stiffly, "you arrived quite quickly."
"I got the half six flight. How is dad?" Helen placed her handbag on the floor and took a seat next to her mother.
"Your father is unconscious at the moment. Don't bother to whisper, he can't hear you," she sounded agitated.
Helen had known she wasn't going to get much conversation from her mother and approached her father's bedside. She leaned down to kiss his forehead; it felt so strange being able to kiss him without being pushed away. She had taken hold of his hand and stroked it as she spoke gently to him.
"Hi dad, it's Helen. I know you can hear me, and I promise I'll be here when you wake up." Helen leaned down and kissed his forehead again.
"For goodness sake Helen! Don't fuss so, leave the man in peace." Helen's mother suddenly snapped.
"Would you like to go for a drink? I can stay with dad." Helen ignored her mother's outburst.
"Don't you dare swan in here and start taking control, you've only been here five minutes!" her mother's eyes became harder than usual.
"I wasn't trying to mum; I just thought you would like a break that's all."
"Perhaps we should go for a drink. You've just been on a journey, and you're probably in need of one, I don't know where my manners are," she stood and picked up her handbag before draping it over her arm.
"I spotted a coffee shop on the way in, we can go there." Helen picked up her handbag as her mother nodded.
Twenty minutes later, they were still sitting in the coffee shop and the conversation was stilted, but it always was and Helen had gotten used to long silences. Helen sat staring out of the window, and was brought back to reality when her mother spoke.
"Looks like rain." Helen's mother said as she looked up at the dark sky.
"I was thinking that." Helen said with a smile, maybe they were getting somewhere because it wasn't like her mother to make small talk.
"I'm sorry I didn't tell you about your father." Grace Stewart wouldn't meet her daughters eyes but her tone had softened considerably.
"That's ok, I'm sure it was because you didn't want to worry me." Despite being hurt, Helen didn't want her mother to feel bad.
"I would have told you before now only your father insisted you remained unaware. He was diagnosed three months ago with cancer, unfortunately it had spread quite extensively and there was nothing they could do. When you came to visit us last time, he did his best to hide it, and the drugs he took helped him a great deal. I did try to persuade him to let me tell you but you know how stubborn he can be." She finally looked up in time to see Helen's face drain of all colour.
"I don't know what to say, I can hardly comprehend it." Helen was even more shocked than she had been before.
"Yes, I suppose that's how I felt when I found out. Although for very different reasons," she replied mysteriously.
"What do you mean?" Helen didn't know what she was getting at.
"Nothing, it doesn't matter." Grace shook her head and went back to staring out of the window.
Helen's mobile suddenly rang, she took it from her pocket and a shiver ran down her spine when she realised it was Nikki.
"Mum, I've got to take this call, I'll be back in a minute." Helen stood up and answered the phone, "Hi Nikki, how are you?" she made her way outside to the main entrance of the hospital.
"I'm fine thanks. How are you?" Nikki felt much better now that she could hear Helen's voice again.
"I'm ok thanks. I was going to call you but I had to see my parents first."
"Don't worry about it. How is your dad?"
"He's unconscious at the moment, I saw him for a short while earlier on, I was having a drink with my mum when you called." Helen lit a cigarette and found a bench to sit on.
"I'm sorry, I didn't meant to interrupt." Nikki sounded apologetic.
"You didn't, she isn't saying much anyway. I get the impression she would rather I wasn't here."
"Did you find out what's wrong with your dad?"
"Yes I did, he's riddled with cancer, he was diagnosed as being terminally ill three months ago and he didn't want me to know." Helen's voice became quiet, she couldn't even begin to come to terms with it.
"Bloody hell, that's awful." Nikki's heart went out to her, "how are you coping?"
"Oh you know, I'm not doing too badly." Helen didn't want to worry her.
"You're feeling ill again aren't you?" Nikki had the impression Helen wasn't telling her the truth.
"Don't worry, I'm fine really."
"I can't help but worry."
"Did you get home ok?" Helen changed the subject; she didn't want Nikki to know how ill she was feeling.
"I didn't go home, I'm at Yvonne's at the moment and you should see the state of her! Ow!" Nikki rubbed her forehead vigorously.
"What happened?" Helen heard the long line of expletives as Nikki shouted at Yvonne.
"She threw a bottle of nail varnish at me; hit me right on the sodding forehead. That's gonna bruise Atkins!" Nikki launched a cushion across the room at Yvonne.
"You're like kids, I can't leave you alone for more than five minutes." Helen smiled, "what state is she in?"
"She's got a mudpack on her mush, there are bottles of moisturiser all over the shop and she's painting various bits of her anatomy in last year's colours." Nikki giggled, "don't you dare Yvonne!" she said when Yvonne threatened her with another missile.
"Ah lunch at Karen's." Helen wasn't surprised, "So what are you going to get up to tonight?"
"I'm not in the mood to do anything; I'm just spending a bit of time with Yvonne because I'm miserable."
"Why are you miserable?" Helen's heart thudded a little.
"Cos you're not here and I miss you."
"I miss you too and wish I was there."
"I wish you were too. In fact, I wish I'd gone with you." Nikki noticed Yvonne grinning at her and stuck two fingers up at her.
"Why didn't you?" Helen's heart was pounding now.
"I didn't want to get in the way." Nikki said quietly.
"You wouldn't be in the way. I love having you around." Helen answered honestly.
Nikki closed her eyes and wished she had gone when she had the chance, "I could, if you wanted, swing a sickie for a few days and come up there."
"Do you want to?" Helen's mouth had gone dry.
"Yes," she replied with sincerity, "do you want me to?"
"You know I do." Helen closed her eyes and smiled.
"I can go home and pack a few things, and come up there straightaway." Nikki sounded enthusiastic.
"Don't be daft. It's a long way to drive, come up tomorrow on a flight."
"I don't want to wait that long, I want to be with you as quickly as I can. I really should have gone with you this afternoon."
"Are you sure?" Helen wanted to be certain, and she wasn't just talking about Nikki traveling to Scotland.
"I'm more than sure." Nikki caught the double meaning and reassured her, "I might not get there .before anything happens but I want to be there for you."
"I'll be honest and say that I can't get through this without you."
"You won't have to. I'll get going in a minute, and I can be there in a few hours."
"I'll let you go then, I'll see you later." Helen's heart was jumping for joy.
"Yes you will. Before I go, is there anything you need?"
"Apart from you, no." Helen wanted Nikki to know exactly how she felt.
"It won't be long now, I promise." Nikki had almost fallen off the chair when she'd heard Helen reply.
"I'll be waiting." Helen smiled at the thought, "although if I don't tell you where you're going you'll never find me. I'm at the Glasgow central hospital and Dad is on ward nineteen on the seventh floor. Bloody good job I remembered to tell you." Helen chuckled.
"Right, got it. But I'd have moved heaven and earth to find you anyway."
"You really know how to talk to a girl." Helen said huskily.
"There's more where that came from." Nikki laughed softly.
"Hmmm I look forward to hearing it. I really should let you go this time sweetheart. See you soon."
"Ok darlin', take care, I'll see you soon." Nikki put the phone down with a smile, "what are you grinning at?" she looked at Yvonne.
"It's nice to see the old Nikki Wade back." Yvonne smiled.
"Oh don't go getting soppy on me woman!" Nikki smiled.
"Go on then, get going. Give my love to Helen; tell her I'm thinking of her. And Nikki, go get your woman," Yvonne gave her a hug.
"So much for taking things slowly!" Nikki chuckled, "Thank you, I would never have sorted myself out if it wasn't for you. I'll call you when I get there and if you need me for anything then give me a bell."
"Righto love, drive carefully."
"I will, and enjoy your lunch with Karen."
"I intend to love, don't you worry about that." Yvonne winked at her.
Helen had taken the opportunity to have another quick cigarette before going back in to her mother. There was a spring in her step, and she immediately felt guilty about it because her father was gravely ill and it made her feel selfish. She pushed Nikki to the back of her mind and tried to concentrate on her mother.
"Sorry about that mum. How are you feeling now?" Helen took a sip of her coffee and pulled a face, it had gone cold.
"I'm fine, it's not as if I'm the one dying," her mother retorted, "sorry, that was very harsh of me," she had the grace to look ashamed.
"It's ok, don't worry about it." Helen once again let it go without saying anything, she was pretty sure something was bothering her mother and it wasn't all to do with her father's illness.
"Perhaps we should get back to your father."
"Yes, we probably should. Oh before I forget, that was my friend on the phone. She's driving up here tonight to spend a few days with us because she knows dad is so ill." Helen hoped her mother wouldn't think it strange.
"That's very nice of her, it's good to have a friend that takes an interest." Grace stood up and straightened her skirt.
"Yes it is." Helen agreed and followed her mother back up to the ward.
Nikki had showered, changed her clothes and packed all in record time. She had quickly phoned Jim Fenner, who was currently partying at a police ball, and told him about the situation. He was very understanding and wasn't bothered about being interrupted in the least; he said they should take as long as they needed. This made Nikki wonder once again about his strange behaviour earlier on in the day.
She put her luggage in the car and started the engine, she sent Helen a text before she left.
I'm just setting off now,
I'll be there as soon as I can
darling. Take care, see you
soon. If you need me in the
meantime, give me a call.
Helen had been about to switch her phone off before going back on to the ward when her phone bleeped. She opened the message and read it with a smile, before replying.
Drive carefully, and
take your time
I can't wait to see
Helen smiled as she switched her phone off, they had been able to be honest about how they were feeling and she was sure they both more than understood what was happening. She counted herself very lucky indeed to have someone like Nikki, and she was grateful for all the help she had freely given her. Helen had spent her life trying to remain in control and be strong, and just when it got the point where she was tired of having to cope, Nikki had come along and given her the support she craved.
She was glad that they hadn't hit it off at first, because now she was totally sure of how she felt for Nikki, she knew it wasn't just a passing attraction. Hostility had grown into friendship and now hopefully that friendship was growing in to love. She sensed Nikki was wary, and she was more than prepared to give her time to get used to the situation. After all, Helen didn't want to rush into things either, she wanted to get to know her properly first.
She entered her father's room, pulled a chair over to his bedside and sat opposite her mother, who had gone back to staring out of the window again. Helen left her to her thoughts, now that they were back in the room, her mother's barriers were up again. She slid down in the chair and got comfortable, it was going to be a long night, and she followed her mother's example and got lost in her own thoughts.
Nikki cursed the early morning traffic as it hemmed her in, and stopped her from getting to where she desperately wanted to be. It was 6am and it seemed like the world and his brother were on the roads, she took a quick glance at her watch and tapped impatiently on the steering wheel as she waited for the traffic to get moving.
She decided to take a quick look at her map, she wasn't far away now and guessed it would probably only take ten minutes normally but with the way the traffic was looking it might take a bit longer. She put the map back on the front seat and called Yvonne's mobile, leaving her a message telling her that she was almost at the hospital and that she would call again later.
It was just after 6:20am when she finally arrived at the hospital, and she found a parking space easily in the almost deserted car park. She locked the car and hunched further in to her jacket, it was quite a bit colder in Glasgow than it had been in London. She made her way straight up to the seventh floor and stopped to ask the sister on duty where Helen's father was.
"Hi, could you tell me which room Mr. Stewart is in please?" Nikki spoke in hushed tones.
"Visiting doesn't start till 2 o'clock this afternoon, you'll have to come back later." The nurse said wearily, she'd been on duty since 8pm the night before and wasn't in the mood for messing around.
"I'm aware of that but I've driven all the way up here from London, surely you could cut me a little slack?" Nikki couldn't care less about the rules; all she wanted to do was get to Helen.
"Since the patient is very ill, I could perhaps bend the rules. Are you a relative?" Her expression softened slightly.
"No but I'm falling in love with his daughter big time and I'm a police officer to boot." Nikki handed over her warrant card, "does that help?" she finished off with a grin.
"It's the room at the end of the corridor, please be quiet on your way down there. And here's your flexible friend back," the nurse winked at her and smiled as she handed her ID wallet back.
"Cheers." Nikki smiled back and started off down the corridor.
She peeked in through the door and saw Helen sitting by the window facing her father's bed. Nikki's heart melted at the sight of her, she looked so small and vulnerable, and all she wanted to do was gather her up in her arms and hold her forever. Helen's arms were folded and her eyes were closed, she looked so worn out that Nikki really didn't want to wake her, but she knew Helen would want to see her the minute she arrived. She crept into the room and knelt down beside her chair; she placed a hand on Helen's knee and gently shook her. Helen woke with a start as her head shot up, she blinked to focus her eyes and they rested on Nikki.
"Nikki!" Helen whispered and threw her arms around her, "God it's good to see you," she said emotionally.
"It's good to see you too sweetheart." Nikki rocked her gently in her arms, and breathed in the scent of her perfume.
Helen felt so relieved to see her, ever since she'd left Nikki at the airport she'd had the dull aching feeling in her stomach that she associated with being parted from her. The minute she was pulled into Nikki's arms, a feeling of warmth enveloped her. She knew she could deal with anything as long as Nikki was by her side.
Nikki gently stroked Helen's hair as she held her close, she knew from the minute she'd set eyes on her that she'd made the right decision in going to Scotland. She was a little afraid of getting close to Helen but not getting close to her seemed an infinitely scarier prospect. She couldn't lose Helen, she cared about her too much and wanted to be with her and if that meant confronting her fears head on then she was more than prepared to do it.
"Yvonne sends her love, and she told me to tell you that she'll be thinking of you." Nikki pulled back slightly to look at Helen.
"That's very sweet of her." Helen smiled.
"How's your dad?" Nikki changed position slightly and rested her arms over Helen's legs.
"The nurse says he's stable at the moment but he's still going downhill. I'm not sure how much longer he will last." Helen didn't like talking about it, it hurt too much. She took one hand and brushed Nikki's hair from her forehead as she smiled, "I've missed you."
"I've missed you too." Nikki gave Helen's leg a squeeze.
"You look tired." Helen said softly as she ran her thumb across Nikki's cheekbone.
"I'm a little tired but I'll be fine. How's your mum doing?" Nikki took a quick glance at her.
"She seems to be coping ok but something is bothering her, and I don't think it's entirely to do with my dad." Helen looked over at her mother who was still sleeping, "I've never seen her like this before. Last night I could have sworn she was being nice to me, which is totally out of character for her, and then she suddenly reverted back to normal. Talk about blowing hot and cold." Helen was confused about it; she couldn't work out what was going on.
"Maybe she's just finding the situation difficult to cope with and that's why she's acting strangely," Nikki couldn't really come up with any other explanation because she didn't know Helen's mother.
"Maybe." Helen wasn't so sure that was the case though, "I could do with a coffee, do you fancy one?"
"I'd love one." Nikki smiled and stood up, "what about your mum?"
"I think we should leave her to sleep for a little while longer." Helen didn't want to disturb her; she knew she hadn't been asleep very long.
Helen took hold of Nikki's hand and led her from the room, it took her by surprise. Helen seemed to have no problem with being close to her in public and it wasn't what she expected. She had expected Helen to want to hide it, to only want to be affectionate in private but then she realised she had made an unfair assumption. Helen had never made a secret of how she felt about her, it had just taken Nikki a while to realise it.
As they passed the nurses station, the nurse Nikki had spoken to five minutes ago looked up and smiled at them,
"Morning girls," she said with a wink.
"Morning." Nikki and Helen replied in unison.
"What was that all about?" Helen had noticed the little smile on the nurse's face.
"Let's just say she knows I'm here to see you and well, she's one of us." Nikki grinned, she didn't realise she had just automatically described Helen as being gay without a second thought.
"One of us as in being a lesbian you mean?" Helen's face took on an innocent look; she saw an opportunity to wind Nikki up.
"Yes." Nikki nodded and then blushed when she realised what she'd said, "I'm sorry."
"You look cute when you blush." Helen placed her tongue between her teeth and smiled, "don't worry about it, I think we both know what I am."
"Do we?" Nikki asked casually.
"Yes, and this proves it." Helen held their entwined hands up in the air and knew Nikki understood what she meant, "canteen's up here," she pointed to the left and dragged her off in that direction.
Helen felt incredibly proud to be holding Nikki's hand as they walked in to the canteen. They had several disapproving looks and also a few friendly smiles, but Helen didn't care what people thought anyway, she felt comfortable being close to Nikki in public and didn't see it as a problem. Helen stood in the queue with her as they were waiting to be served and got as close to her as she could.
"Do you want some breakfast?" Nikki asked looking at the menu.
"I'm not really hungry." Helen's stomach clenched tightly at the thought of food.
"When did you last eat?" Nikki raised an eyebrow at her.
"Friday night." Helen quickly looked away, she didn't mention that she'd only had about three mouthfuls of a takeaway.
"Bloody hell Helen!" Nikki shook her head, "you've got to eat something, otherwise you'll end up ill."
"Alright but just a little." Helen relented for Nikki's sake.
"Two coffees and a large cooked breakfast please love." Nikki smiled at the woman behind the counter and turned to Helen, "I'll let you share my brekky."
"I bet you say that to all the girls." Helen grinned.
"Nah, only the cute Scottish ones." Nikki winked at her.
"Is that the best you can do? Hardly does wonders for my self esteem Wade." Helen pretended to be hurt.
"On an empty stomach yes, but I suppose I could stretch to saying that I think you're gorgeous." Nikki smiled as she spoke, she was glad the tone was playful; it was making it easier for her to say things she would be afraid to otherwise.
"I'll let you off the hook then, and I could say the same about you." Helen nudged her and smiled.
"I have to admit that I am pretty stunning." Nikki adopted a regal pose.
"You're so modest, how do you do it?" Helen rolled her eyes at her.
"One has to practice." Nikki giggled.
"You can practice on me anytime." Helen leered at her.
"You'll be sorry you said that Stewart!" Nikki said with an evil grin.
They paid for breakfast and then found a table in the corner away from everybody else. Helen sat next to the window and Nikki sat beside her, so that they could be close. She began to cut up her breakfast and shoved the first forkful toward Helen.
"Open wide." Nikki sat poised with the fork, ready to feed Helen.
"It's a little too public for that isn't it?" Helen wore a naughty expression.
"Helen Stewart! You little pervert!" Nikki giggled.
Helen nodded her agreement with a smile and opened her mouth; Nikki had tingles running down her spine as she fed Helen. Even the way Helen chewed was erotic and Nikki tried to banish all thoughts of it as she concentrated on her own mouthful of food.
"Did the doctors say any more about your dad?" Nikki swallowed and looked at Helen.
"I haven't seen any of the doctors yet, but I did have a word with the nurse at four this morning. She said he was still deteriorating and that he had done well to hang on for so long but she said that she doesn't think he'll live much longer." Helen opened her mouth and accepted another forkful of food from Nikki.
"Maybe it's for the best really, at least he won't suffer for much longer."
"That's what I was thinking. It's the only comfort, at least when he goes he won't be in pain anymore."
"Did you tell your mum I was coming?" Nikki took the opportunity to give Helen another forkful of food.
Helen chewed and then swallowed, "yes I told her."
"What did she say?"
"She said it was nice that I had a good friend who took an interest in me. I didn't give her the full details obviously, it would have made her hair curl." Helen took a sip of her coffee and smiled.
"Oh we have details do we?" Nikki said casually and tried not to smile; it was her turn to wind Helen up.
"Well you know what I meant, I didn't tell her that .well that we er," it was Helen's turn to blush.
"Relax, I'm just teasing." Nikki patted her on the knee, "any conversation that starts off with 'well mum there's this woman' should be left well alone for a while."
"It's not that I don't want to tell her, please don't think that. But at the moment it's a bit complicated because of dad." Helen wanted Nikki to know that she wasn't ashamed of telling her mother.
"Honestly it's ok, I understand."
They carried on chatting away and soon made their way back up to the ward, they got there to find a whole group of medical staff crowded around her father's bed. Helen's heart began hammering and she gripped Nikki's hand tightly. Her mother stood to one side with an unreadable expression on her face.
"What's happening mum?" Helen's face had gone pale.
"Your father is rapidly deteriorating. He doesn't have much longer left." Grace spoke without emotion.
"Oh Jesus." Helen closed her eyes and leaned against Nikki, she felt comforted by her presence.
"Where the bloody hell were you?" Grace snapped, "you were in such a rush to get up here but the minute you do you bloody well disappear!"
"I'm sorry." Helen was close to tears.
"It was my fault Mrs. Stewart, don't blame Helen." Nikki moved closer to Helen and put an arm around her shoulder. Had they been anywhere else she would have told her firmly to leave Helen alone.
"Is this your friend Helen?" Grace had noticed Nikki at last.
"Yes this is Nikki." Helen replied distractedly, she was too busy watching the doctors and trying not to cry.
"Nice to meet you Nikki." Helen's mother smiled and held out her hand, "I'm Helen's mother Grace," she instantly calmed down and was as nice as pie.
"Nice to meet you too." Nikki replied and shook her hand, whilst privately wondering what sort of woman she was. Shouting angrily at her daughter and then greeting her calmly, all while her husband lay on his deathbed.
The doctors talked quietly amongst themselves for a few minutes longer and then one of them approached. His expression was serious and he looked very uncomfortable, as if he was afraid to say what he had to.
"Could I have a word with you outside about your husband's condition please Mrs. Stewart?" he had heard her shouting at Helen a few minutes ago and hoped he wouldn't be on the receiving end of her vitriol.
"Would you please talk to the doctor about your father? I'm afraid I can't," she played with the string of pearls around her neck and looked at Helen.
Nikki didn't think it was fair of Grace to rely on Helen do it, and she privately wondered just how much she cared for her husband. If she even cared in the slightest she was doing a good job of hiding it.
"Sure mum," then she looked at the doctor, "I'm ready when you are."
"Please follow me, this will only take a minute," he turned on his heel and headed for the door.
"Nikki, will you come with me?" Helen looked petrified.
"Course I will." Nikki nodded and followed her from the room.
They joined the doctor in the corridor, and he flipped through his notes and cleared his throat. He hated having to tell families bad news.
"I'm afraid your father doesn't have very much longer to live. He did very well to make it through the night but I'm sorry to say that he won't live for much longer. I can't give you an exact time but it may only be another couple of hours at most."
Helen stared at him, she couldn't find the words to reply, and Nikki quickly answered for her.
"Thank you for informing us doctor."
"Are there any questions you need to ask?" He looked at Helen again but she was still in a world of her own.
"Will there be any chance of him regaining consciousness?" Nikki knew he was in a coma and that he wouldn't come round. But she didn't think Helen had realised he was never going to wake up again.
"I have to say it's very unlikely. So you might want to tell your er," he faltered, he didn't know what relation Nikki was to Helen.
"She's my friend." Nikki offered.
"You might want to tell your friend that if she wishes to talk to her father then now will be a good time to do it," he said quietly.
"I'll make sure I tell her. Thank you doctor." Nikki shook his hand and he went back in to the room to collect his colleagues.
The doctors left shortly afterwards and Helen was still standing in the corridor with a blank expression on her face. A short while later she seemed to come back to reality and saw Nikki still standing beside her.
"I better get back in there." Helen spoke suddenly.
"The doctor said it would be a good idea to say goodbye to your dad, because he isn't going to wake up," Nikki said gently as she took hold of Helen's hand.
"I don't know what to say to him." Helen's eyes teared up.
"Shhh, come here." Nikki pulled Helen into a hug and she could feel her tears soak through her t-shirt, "you'll find the words sweetheart," she rocked her gently back and forth.
"I'm sorry." Helen sobbed.
"What for?" Nikki wiped her tears away with her thumb.
"For crying all over you, you shouldn't have to see me like this." Helen buried her face in the crook of Nikki's neck.
"When you care about somebody as much as I care about you, you're there for them no matter what. Don't ever apologise for crying in front of me sweetheart, you've got nothing to be sorry for." Nikki kissed her on the top of the head.
They broke apart a little while later when Helen had managed to compose herself a little, and entered the room. Helen sat down next to her father and took hold of his hand. Grace however, was keeping her distance. Nikki settled down on a chair next to Helen, and her eyes roamed around the room.
She looked closely at Helen's mother, she would have been strikingly attractive once but now she looked worn out, as if life was too much for her. Her shoulders stooped as if she had the weight of the world on them, and she had a strange faraway look in her eyes as if she wasn't part of the same world that everybody else lived in.
Although she didn't look to be much older than her early fifties, her dark hair which was the same shade as Helen's was streaked with gray. She and Helen looked nothing alike, Helen's eyes were a striking shade of green whereas her mother's were a light shade of brown and hair colour was the only thing that they had in common.
Nikki looked toward the bed, and could see that Helen looked very much like her father. They had the same nose, the same chin, and the same shaped face. The only difference being is that his nose was much bigger, and his chin stuck out further. His face was illuminated by a small nightlight over his bed, and Nikki could see he was only a short step away from death. He was a pale shade of gray and his face looked sunken, it was obvious he had lost a bit of weight, and his cheekbones jutted out through paper thin skin. Death seemed to hang about in the air, it was almost tangible and Nikki knew it wouldn't be long.
Time seemed to pass by slowly as they sat around the hospital bed, waiting for the inevitable. Helen had hold of her father's hand but Grace was still keeping her distance, she made no move to be closer to Helen either. Time ticked on, it was almost 8am and the room was silent except for the bleeping of the heart monitor.
An hour later, Nikki heard the sounds of laboured breathing, and knew it was all coming to an end. Helen knew it too and fought against it, she didn't want to believe her father was going to die but at the same time wanted him to move on and be free of pain. She had seen death countless times in her job, but it didn't compare to watching somebody you loved die. Death arrived quietly in most cases, there was no big drama like on TV, they just stopped breathing and slipped away.
"Come on dad, let go. Mum and I love you very much but it's time for you to move on. We'll never forget you, you know that." Helen's voice broke and tears dripped down her face, "we'll both be here with you, we're not going anywhere." Helen couldn't say any more.
Nikki stood up and crouched down next to Helen, she didn't speak but placed a hand on her shoulder to let her know she was there. Helen took her other hand and placed it over Nikki's while her mother sat staring in to space. Nikki remembered she had some tissues in her pocket and handed one to Helen.
"Thanks Nik," she said tearfully, "mum, do you want us to wait outside while you talk to dad?"
"No thank you, I've said everything I have to say to him, well almost," she replied in a small voice.
Helen could see the strange look in her mother's eyes again; she wondered what it was all about and not for the first time since she'd arrived.
"Are you sure Mrs. Stewart?" even Nikki could see she was acting weirdly.
"Please call me Grace," she smiled, "I'm perfectly sure."
Helen's mother glanced at the bed and if Nikki didn't know any better she would swear there was a glint of triumph in those eyes. Suddenly a noise startled them all, Nikki noted the time as the machine attached to Helen's father flat lined, it was 9:03am and William Stewart had finally slipped away. Helen broke down and sobbed as it struck her full force that her father had gone and he was never coming back. Nikki felt her own tears begin to fall, seeing Helen in distress was breaking her heart.
She took her in arms and cradled her like a child, as Helen sobbed against her shoulder. She stole a quick glance at Grace and there was a look of relief on her face which Nikki put down to being relieved that her husband's suffering was at an end. A nurse crept in to the room almost unnoticed and switched the machine off, before quietly closing the door behind her again as Grace stood up and straightened her skirt and walked towards Helen.
"Why don't you go outside with Nikki for a bit of fresh air," she spoke softly to her daughter, "I need to talk to your father before I leave."
Helen nodded tearfully, "goodbye dad, I'm going to miss you," she leaned down and kissed her father's forehead one last time, she looked at him for a few seconds longer and then turned around, struggling not to look back.
Nikki put an arm around her shoulders and they left the room, closing the door behind them. Grace made sure they had gone and then approached the bed; she stood there staring at William for a few minutes before she spoke.
"I promised to love, honour and obey you till death do us part William, and I almost fulfilled my obligation to you. Two out of three isn't bad and you know what they say about love, it isn't everything," she turned and left the room without a second glance.
Helen sat outside wrapped in Nikki's arms on a wooden bench just across from the main entrance. She had sobbed her heart out and didn't think she would ever stop, but slowly her tears had stopped falling.
"Are you ok?" Nikki knew it was a stupid question but she couldn't think of anything else to say.
"Yes and as long as I've got you I'll be fine." Helen shivered in her thin leather jacket and Nikki took her coat off and placed it around her shoulders despite Helen's protestations.
"I'm here for you, I'm not going anywhere I promise." Nikki pulled her closer and wrapped her arms around her again, "are you going to go home now?"
"Probably yes." Helen turned to her, "How long are you up here for?"
"For as long as you are. I explained the situation to Jim, I told him there was no way I was going back to work until you did and he understands. He said that we were to take as long as we needed and he told me to tell you not to worry, just to concentrate on things here."
"Thank you Nikki I." Helen was interrupted.
"Shhh, it's ok, I know." Nikki smiled at her.
Helen sank back in to Nikki's arms and she stayed like that until she heard the sound of her mother's footsteps behind them.
"Hello," she smiled warmly, "I've spoken to the medical staff, they will make arrangements for your father to be sent back to Stirling," she sounded casual about it.
"Oh right, to be honest I hadn't thought about it," and Helen didn't want to think about it.
"We should go home, there is no point in us sitting around here." Grace fastened her coat and adjusted her handbag on her arm.
Helen nodded and they made their way over to the car park, Grace walked ahead and Nikki and Helen hung back, wanting just a few seconds more on their own.
"You take my car, I'll drive the hire car back." Nikki passed her car keys to Helen.
"Are you sure you trust me to drive your baby?" Helen asked with a slight smile. Nikki loved her midnight blue BMW and was very protective of it.
"Course I do and just so you know, she isn't my baby anymore, somebody else took her place." Nikki winked at her.
"Well whoever she is, she's a lucky woman." Helen couldn't help the big smile that found its way on to her face.
"I think I'm the lucky one." Nikki replied sincerely.
They came to a stop behind Nikki's car and Helen pressed the button on the remote. Grace climbed in and put her seatbelt on as Helen stayed with Nikki.
"You don't drive like a maniac do you?" Nikki grinned, "Only I'll be following behind in a Ford Focus and I think my car's a bit nippier."
"I promise to go slowly for you." Helen smiled, the double meaning was intended.
"Not too slowly I hope." Nikki raised an eyebrow and smiled, "right, we better get going. I would like to give you a kiss but with your mother sitting a few feet away it's not wise." Nikki said shyly.
"Just my rotten luck." Helen pouted, "but I will settle for an innocent kiss on the cheek until you can give me a proper kiss until later."
Nikki pulled her into a hug and then kissed her on the cheek, she got as close to her lips as she possibly could and Helen inwardly groaned in frustration. They parted as Nikki went off to find the hire car and Helen settled in to the driving seat next to her mother. She didn't make an effort to speak and Helen knew there was going to be an uncomfortable silence all the way home.
Helen entered her parents home with a feeling of trepidation, she had grown up there but she'd never felt comfortable in the house even back then. She sat down on the couch whilst her mother trundled off in to the kitchen and breathed a sigh of relief that she had disappeared for five minutes.
"Helen?" Grace called out from the kitchen.
"Tea or coffee?"
"Coffee will be fine, and Nikki will have the same." Helen cut out the middle man; she knew her mother would ask Nikki the same question.
Nikki and Helen sat side by side on the two seater, their arms and legs were touching but Helen resisted resting against her, she didn't want her mother to catch them and start asking awkward questions. She closed her eyes and leaned her head back, and felt a warm soft hand stroking her dark silky hair.
"That's nice." Helen smiled as she spoke, completely forgetting all about her mother.
"You look tired sweetheart, you should get some rest." Nikki spoke tenderly.
"As soon as I've had my coffee I'll drag you off to bed." Helen almost purred as Nikki wound her fingers through her hair.
"On a first date? You're one brazen hussy Helen Stewart!" Nikki chuckled softly and kept one eye on the doorway, she didn't want Grace to catch them.
"Aye, but you'll get used to it." Helen was quickly getting lost in Nikki's touch.
"Helen?" Grace came through the door and Nikki quickly took her hand back.
"Will you both be ok in the spare room?"
"Yes we'll be fine. Don't worry," she replied wearily.
"I'll just go up and change the linens, it's been a while since you last stayed Helen," she bustled about handing the coffee out and darted off upstairs.
"I'm surprised you even remembered." Helen spoke softly as her mother left the room, "You've gone quiet Nik," she remarked as she sipped her coffee.
"I'm fine." Nikki replied.
"There are two single beds if that's what you're worried about." Helen said softly.
"Even if it was a double bed I'd have no problem sharing with you." Nikki answered honestly, she had in fact been thinking of something else.
"So what's the matter?"
"It's nothing really." Nikki smiled, "I was just thinking."
"If you don't want to tell me I'll understand but I'd like to hear what you were thinking about. I often watch you and I'd love to know what goes on in your head." Helen rested her head on Nikki's shoulder, knowing that she would be able to quickly move when she heard her mother coming back downstairs.
"I was just thinking about all the things that have happened today. It's put things in perspective for me, made me realise that life is too short and you've got to go for what you want in life rather than let it pass you by." It had driven it home to Nikki that her fears of getting close to Helen had been pointless.
"What do you want out of life?" Helen snuggled closer.
"Probably the same as everybody else, love and happiness and for the first time in my life I think I'm on the right track." Nikki saw Helen immediately smile upon hearing her words.
"Ditto." Helen replied and took hold of Nikki's hand.
They settled back and enjoyed the feeling of being close, they knew they were on the same level and nothing more needed to be said right now. Helen's mother came clattering downstairs a few minutes later and they moved further apart, there would be plenty of time for them to be alone later on. Grace collected the cups and pottered around the kitchen, she was unable to sit still and needed something to do. Helen got up to see if her mother was ok, she was slightly worried that she seemed to be ignoring the fact that her husband had just died.
"Need a hand mum?" Helen stood awkwardly in the doorway feeling like an intruder.
"No thank you Helen. You look tired, why don't you show Nikki upstairs and the two of you can get some rest. There are clean towels in the guest bathroom so you can both have a shower." Grace continued washing the cups and wouldn't look at her.
"Are you going to get some rest?"
"No I'm fine, I don't need as much sleep as I used to."
"Ok, well I'll head on upstairs with Nikki and if you need me you know where I am." Helen waited for an answer but her mother had already blocked her out and had started on cleaning the kitchen.
Helen showed Nikki upstairs and in to the bathroom, and then sat on her bed thinking about things until Nikki had finished showering. When Helen had taken her shower and came back into the bedroom Nikki was already in bed, she had her eyes closed and she thought she must already be asleep. She crept around the room and threw her clothes on top of her suitcase before making her way over to her own bed.
"Jesus Nikki!" Helen flopped on to her bed and held a hand to her heart, "I thought you were asleep."
"Sorry, didn't mean to scare you." Nikki opened her eyes, turned on to her side, and rested her head on her hand "That's a fabulous tweetypie t-shirt. Do you wear that often or was it especially for me?" Nikki grinned.
"If I was wearing something especially for you then I'm sure I could do a lot better than this." Helen pointed to her shirt and winked at her.
"I won't even bother to ask what you would wear. I'm enjoying the image in my head right now and don't want my illusions shattered." Nikki chuckled softly.
"Oh well if you don't wanna know." Helen smiled seductively and started to get into bed.
"What do you think you're doing?" Nikki said as she watched her.
"I'm getting in to bed."
"Haven't you forgotten something?"
"Have I?" Helen pretended to look thoughtful.
"You know you have and if you don't want a kiss then I'll let you get some sleep." Nikki smiled and lay back down.
"I remember now!" Helen shot out of bed and kneeled down beside Nikki's bed so that their faces were only inches apart, "so come on, where's my kiss?" Helen whispered.
"Right here." Nikki placed her arm around Helen's neck and pulled her closer.
The velvety softness of Helen's neck under her fingertips sent shivers down her spine. Their lips met softly and they kissed slowly, tasting each other's lips properly for the first time. Helen captured Nikki's bottom lip between her own and gently sucked on it, making Nikki groan quietly. Their breathing came in short gasps as their hunger for each other increased.
Helen's body was on fire, she had never felt like this before and the feeling of being pressed so close to Nikki was making her hormones rage out of control. Nikki was feeling very much the same, everything she had experienced in her life so far didn't even compare with the wonderfully sensual feeling of having Helen's soft moist lips pressed against her own.
Both felt something stir deep inside them, the sudden feeling of knowing that you had met the person you'd always dreamed about and that they were the one you were meant to be with. They pulled apart breathlessly, knowing that they couldn't take things any further; it just wasn't the time or the place. Neither of them wanted to say anything about what they had experienced during the kiss, for fear of scaring the other one off. They had plenty of time to explore their feelings for each other, and wanted to take it slowly.
"You are a fantastic kisser." Nikki said as she wound her fingers through Helen's hair again.
"You're a fantastic kisser yourself." Helen leaned forward and placed a single loving kiss on Nikki's lips, "and as much as I'd love to stay here all day, it's bloody freezing in this bedroom."
"I'd noticed." Nikki said pointing to the front of Helen's shirt.
"Now who's the perv?" Helen grinned.
"You don't have to if you don't want to but you're more than welcome to share the bed with me." Nikki said shyly.
"You've twisted my arm." Helen jumped up and climbed over Nikki to lie against the wall, "I've never been kissed like that before," she said as she snuggled against her.
"Neither have I." Nikki replied honestly, "I could have sworn I felt your tongue tickling my lungs at one point," she chuckled softly.
"Really?" Helen pretended to look disappointed, "I was heading for somewhere else and missed completely," she placed her tongue between her teeth and smiled.
"It's official, you're a bigger perv than I am." Nikki rolled her eyes and smiled, "How about we get some sleep?"
"Good idea, I'm knackered."
"Come here." Nikki wrapped her arms around Helen and they both settled down, "before we go to sleep, one question. Have you shaved your legs Helen? I don't want to be the recipient of gravel rash while I sleep." Nikki giggled.
"Cheeky sod." Helen slapped her playfully, "they are as smooth as a baby's bottom," she removed one leg from underneath the covers and placed it on top of Nikki, "wanna feel?" she said seductively.
"Very smooth." Nikki said as she ran her hand down Helen's calf, "very smooth indeed."
"Can I have my leg back?" Helen grinned as Nikki continued to run her hand up and down her leg.
"Didn't your mother ever teach you that it was rude not to share Helen?" Nikki laughed.
"Yeah she did, which is why if you play your cards right I'll share with you again later."
"I look forward to it." Nikki said.
Nikki turned on her side and pulled Helen closer, they could feel their bodies pressed tightly together and it gave them a warm feeling that they'd never before experienced. The rest of the world ceased to exist as they lay in each other's arms, and eventually sleep overcame them.
Yvonne was busy putting her makeup on in preparation for going to Karen's house for lunch. She had just about finished when there was a knock on her front door, she wasn't expecting anybody and opened the door with a frown.
"Mrs. Atkins?" a man with dark hair stood on her doorstep, she didn't recognise him.
"Who wants to know?" she stood back and pushed the door closed a little, ready to slam it if anything happened.
"Are you Mrs. Atkins?" he didn't look to be in the mood for messing about.
"Yes, what do you want?" she asked warily.
"I've got a package here for you." He held it out and she hesitantly accepted it.
"Who from?" She looked for writing on the envelope but it was blank.
"John Howe, and yes I know he's dead. He asked me to give this to you should anything happen to him."
"Who are you?"
"Doesn't matter who I am, I told him I'd deliver the package and I have." He walked away and got into his car before she had a chance to say anything else.
Yvonne settled down in her living room and opened the envelope, it was quite a large one, and padded on the inside for protection. She pulled out several DVD discs, six in total and a thick wad of papers. She began to sort through them, and her eyes widened in shock when she speed read a few of the paragraphs. She shuffled further along and came across a handwritten letter.
I've tried writing this letter over a dozen times now, how on earth do you put into words the fear of knowing you're going to die soon? On the other hand, there is a sense of calm acceptance beginning to win me over. It had to happen one day, I've grassed on far too many people to know I'm not going to grow old, but I do regret that I'll never get to see my little girl grow into a beautiful young woman like my wife. I don't want her to think of her father as just a criminal, there was so much more to me than that and I want her to know that above all else I was a decent human being who knew right from wrong despite my choice of path in life. I want her to know I love her and why I had to do the things I did.
Anyway, the long and short of it is, I've been set up and the realisation of that came far too late for me to do anything about it. As I left the pub after our meeting this afternoon, a couple of Parry's men were standing across the road waving at me, and that's when I knew it was all over. I don't know how he found out and even if I did, I don't suppose it would make much difference. I know there is no way of escaping, I fell into his trap and I'm going to pay the price, which brings me around to the point of this letter.
A few nights before Dougan was murdered, there was a lot of activity at the printing works. Parry decided to do a bit of spring cleaning, I wondered why at the time but now I know. That's when I took the opportunity of stealing a few of the discs he was going to destroy. I was going to arrange to have them sent to you once I was in Spain but knowing what I do now, I wish I had given them to you personally when I had the chance. There are also a few pages of information that I think will go some way to helping you catch some of the people involved in all this. And one or two of them are already known to you, you'll see what I mean when you read over it.
This is my last chance to help you, and I ask for only one thing in return. Please look after my family when I'm gone, I won't be around to protect them for much longer and I wouldn't put it past Parry to hurt them. You were always so good to me, and I know you will carry out my last wish without hesitation. Thank you, the things you did for me will remain with me forever, no matter where I am.
Yvonne's tears streamed down her face, as she picked up the phone and dialed Tony's number. If John had been sufficiently worried to tell her about it then something would need to be done right away.
"Tony, it's Yvonne."
"Hi boss, what can I do for you?" He sounded cheerful.
"Are you busy? I need you to do something straightaway for me." Yvonne wiped her eyes and sniffed.
"I'm at my parent's house with Shell but if it's urgent I can cut it short. Are you ok boss?" Tony could swear she was crying.
"I'm fine. I need you to go to John's house and get his wife and kiddy out of there. Arrange to have them taken to a safe house for the time being. As soon as you're out, let me know. Tell her I'll come and explain the situation to her." Yvonne began gathering her things together.
"Ok no problem, I'll get on to that straightaway. I'll give Laura a call and she can help me make the arrangements."
"Thanks love, I appreciate it. I've got to nip over to Karen's and let her know that I can't stay for lunch but I'll have my phone on me."
"I'll call as soon as it's done then."
"Talk to you later." Yvonne put the phone down and picked up her car keys.
She went to leave the house, only to come back and pick up the envelope containing the discs, she needed them with her, she didn't want to lose the evidence now. She became hyper vigilant as she drove to Karen's place, it wasn't inconceivable that she was being followed, and wanted to prepare for any eventuality.
Tony screeched to a halt in front of John's house, there had been a quiet urgency in Yvonne's voice and he knew he had to act quickly. He took the front path at a run and his heart hammered in his chest as he realised somebody had been there before him. The front door had been prised open and the wood around the lock was splintered. He pushed the door open with his elbow to preserve any evidence and could see the house was in a state of chaos. Objects were strewn around everywhere, and lay in broken pieces on the carpet.
He opened his mouth instead of breathing through his nose, that way if anybody was in the house they couldn't hear the sound of his heavy breathing which may alert them to his presence. He quickly checked to make sure the downstairs was empty and then crept upstairs, knowing he was vulnerable to attack from above should anybody still be up there. He checked around the bedrooms but there was no sign of anybody and that's when he really started to panic. John's wife and baby were nowhere to be found, a sick feeling hit him in the pit of his stomach when it looked increasingly likely that they had been kidnapped.
"Tony! Where are you?" Laura shouted up the stairs, she had arrived a matter of minutes after him.
"I'm up here, there's no sign of Sarah or the baby." He came to the top of the stairs as Laura made her way up.
"Shit!" Laura had noticed the state of the house, "They did a bloody good job on this place."
"We'll have to phone ." Tony suddenly stopped.
A noise was heard from above and they both turned their heads toward the ceiling. Sarah's frightened and tear stained face peeked out from the loft.
"Sarah, are you alright?" Tony was relieved.
"I hid up here so they couldn't find me," she was in shock.
"Where's Jade?" Tony reached up to the opening and pulled the ladder down.
"She's up here with me, she's sleeping."
"Pass her to me and then I'll help you down." He climbed up the ladder and took hold of the baby, he passed her to Laura and then helped Sarah down, "collect some stuff for you and the baby, we are taking you to a safe house on Mrs. Atkins orders. She said she will come and visit you later on today, and she will explain everything."
Sarah nodded and began to collect her things, while Tony kept watch outside and Laura looked after the baby. When she was ready, they quickly bundled her into the car and began their journey to the safe house.
Karen was pottering around the house, she was nervously waiting for Yvonne to show up, and put some music on to try and calm her nerves. She made sure the wine was chilling nicely and then heard a knock on the door.
"Hi Yvonne, come in." Karen smiled and offered to take her coat.
"Hiya." Yvonne smiled back but it didn't reach her eyes, "I'm sorry but I can't stay, something important has come up."
"What's wrong?" Karen had never seen Yvonne quite so rattled before.
"I don't really have time to explain, John's wife might be in danger and I've arranged for her to be taken somewhere safe. I'm just waiting for Tony to call so that I can find out where she is."
"I'll come with you." Karen picked up her coat.
"It's ok, you really don't have to do that." Yvonne said although she was grateful for the suggestion, the whole situation had knocked her for six.
"I'm coming with you, don't argue." Karen gave her a quick squeeze on the arm.
Yvonne's mobile rang and she quickly snatched it from her pocket, "Atkins."
"It's me boss. I'm all ready for my day trip, it's so lovely there this time of year and we haven't been sightseeing for a while," he knew she would know where they were headed.
"Right, I hope you have a safe trip and I'll be by to visit soon."
"I'll look forward to it, bye then."
"Bye." Yvonne ended the call and turned to Karen, "he's taking her to Windsor, are you sure you still want to come?"
"Just you try and stop me." Karen picked up her handbag and locked the door behind them, "you can tell me about it all on the way."
Parry paced his office; he couldn't get John's last words out of his head.
"What goes around comes around, and you'll get yours sooner than you think." John had calmly grinned at him, he wanted to get one last dig in before he died.
"What's that supposed to mean?" Parry had begun to feel uneasy.
"Let's just say that you should be careful what you leave laying around. Anybody could come along and take it."
Parry put two and two together; "if you've taken some of my discs I want them back," a slight sheen of sweat had broken out on his forehead.
"And what if I don't give them back? What will you do? Kill me?" John began to laugh.
"Tell me where they are and I'll let you go."
"I'm not stupid, you'll kill me anyway."
"Just tell me where they are! If you don't I might just pay a visit to you your wife and kid."
"My wife and daughter are well taken care of, you can't touch them. As for the discs, you'll never find them, so lets get this over with." John was ready now, they could do what they liked to him, safe in the knowledge that Yvonne would look after his family. Even though they were going to kill him, he'd won; he had shown them he wasn't afraid.
"Take him away." Parry ordered. He knew John was never going to tell him what he wanted to know.
So he'd sent a few of his men to John's house to search for the discs, hoping that when they came back they'd have them. He knew he'd made a mistake in allowing John to be there, he was getting careless and if anything came to a light, he knew a few people would be pissed off with him. He sincerely hoped that John had been yanking his chain but deep down knew he wasn't. A knock came at the door and he yelled for them to enter.
"Well?" he looked at his men.
"There was nothing there Guv. We turned the place upside down and we didn't find anything." The taller of the two men spoke.
"What about the woman and the kid?"
"They weren't at home." He shrugged.
"And you're a hundred percent sure there was nothing there?" A feeling of despair washed over him.
"We went over the house with a fine toothcomb, from top to bottom, and didn't find a thing."
"I hope so for your sakes, because if anything turns up, you know what I'll do," he gave them a menacing look, "get out," he bellowed and they shut the door behind them.
"He's getting paranoid," the taller of the two remarked as he closed the door behind them.
"And he's getting sloppy. He knew Howe was a bloody grass so why did he have him here in the first place?" He placed his hands in his pockets.
"Cos he's a cocky bastard that's why. You know he thinks he's made of Teflon, nothing sticks."
"The minute things start looking sketchy, I'm out of here."
"I won't be far behind you." He nodded his head in agreement.
"Do you think we should have checked in the loft though? He coulda been hiding something up there."
"This suit cost me three hundred quid, if he thinks I'm shuffling around in shit wearing a suit like this then he's sorely mistaken. Besides, it's all in his head, Howe had sod all, he was putting the boot in because he knew he was about to get topped. If he had anything he'd have given it to that copper the day they met at the pub and we'd have known about it by now. The Guv's looking for things that aren't there, as far as I'm concerned, John grassed and he paid for it, end of story." He waved his hands about to emphasise his point.
The other man nodded and the subject was closed, they like a few of the other men thought that Parry was beginning to lose it. He had been cocky ever since he'd bumped Dougan off and if he carried on like that, it wouldn't be long before he landed them all in the shit.
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