DISCLAIMER: The characters belong to Shed productions, although I maintain that they don't deserve them.  Trigger belongs to Kristine and Richard.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

By Wonko


Jim Fenner took another swig out of his half empty whiskey bottle, wincing as the amber liquid burned its way down his throat and joined the rest of the bottle in his stomach.  He ran a hand over his chin, feeling at least four days of growth prickling under his fingertips.  That was the only way he could know how long he'd been in this stinking bedsit.  That, and the number of empty bottles, cans and takeaway cartons strewn across the bed and the floor.  So...four days since he'd been called up to Grayling's office and summarily given the boot from the job to which he'd devoted sixteen years of his life.  That bastard queer Grayling hadn't seemed to fancy him so much any more now that he, and Larkhall, were being dragged through the mud on the front pages of every newspaper in the country.  That day...well, that day had been bad enough.  But every day since had just thrown more shit in his face.

First of all it was Atkins shooting her mouth off about O'Kane, Dockley and even Rachel Hicks who she hadn't even known.  The next day who else but bloody Helen bloody Stewart had come forward to say that, yes Jim Fenner had run O'Kane's brothels and would you like some proof and of course I kept copies of all my photos.  And she'd dredged up that old sexual assault charge while she was at it.  But the day after that...well, that really took the biscuit.  Some enterprising young hack had gone digging and turned up that bogus rape charge Karen had filed against him.  And people were swallowing it!  Oh, and as if that wasn't enough, an old mate had got in touch to say Shell Dockley had been found, in a stripclub in Amsterdam of all places, and was on her way back to Larkhall.  Jim could just imagine what she would say if some journalist got a hold of her and, considering his recent luck, one probably would.

That was the day Jim stopped reading the papers.

Atkins.  It had all started with Atkins.  Jim drank deep from his bottle, rage consuming him more than the alcohol, and he vowed that, somehow, he'd get back at that bitch.  If it was the last thing he ever did.

Yvonne sat with her arms firmly folded, listening to the phone ring and grinding her teeth.  The answering machine clicked on, informing her caller that no-one was available and giving them the option of leaving a message, but warning that she hardly ever listened to them.  The beep sounded and then there was silence followed by a choked sob and the mechanical thunk of a receiver being replaced.  Yvonne ground her teeth harder.

Lauren breezed into the living room, taking in her mother's expression and bracing herself for yet another uphill struggle.  She dropped a sheaf of papers into her lap.

"Two letters, a fax, six emails and..."  She looked over at the blinking red number on the answering machine.  "And eight phonecalls from Karen," she said.  "You planning on speaking to her anytime soon?"

Yvonne remained silent, staring at an undetermined point in the middle distance.  Lauren sighed.

"You know, if you're trying to wreck your relationship you're going the right way about it."

Yvonne remained silent.



Lauren threw up her hands in defeat.  "You're a bloody idiot," she concluded.  There was no reaction.  Lauren shook her head.  "I'm going to work."

When she was gone Yvonne flicked on the TV, trawling through her multitude of cable channels, hoping for something light and brainless so she wouldn't have to think.

Cassie stopped outside the door, hand in the air on the point of knocking.  She took a deep breath.  Then another.  Mentally she was putting on about five hundred pounds of protective gear.  "Okay," she said to herself.  "You can do this.  You are strong.  You are fierce.  You are not shitting yourself."  Wholly unconvinced, she bit the bullet and knocked the door.

It opened almost immediately which caused Cassie to jump in a most undignified manner.  "Cassandra," said a cold voice.

"Hi, Mrs Maguire," Cassie said cheerfully, holding up her hand in a miniature wave.  The other woman's expression did not change.  Cassie's heart sank.  Why was it that this woman made her so bloody nervous?

"I expect you're here to see Roisin," said Mrs Maguire.  "She's upstairs getting the children ready for school."

"Right," said Cassie.  "I'll just...eh...go on up, shall I?"

She didn't wait for an answer as she made her escape to the only slightly more welcoming realm of her girlfriend's children.

"Oh, Cassie, thank God," Roisin exclaimed as Cassie slipped into Michael's room.  "I need to iron Michael's trousers, could you make their packed lunches?"

"Uh...yeah, sure," Cassie replied, slipping out again.  Of course, making packed lunches meant going back downstairs to the kitchen.  And the kitchen was Roisin's mother's territory.

"What I wouldn't give for a flak jacket," she whispered as she slowly made her way back downstairs.

Karen threw her bag onto the sofa as she hurried to the phone, her heart leaping into her throat as she saw the blinking message light.

"Hello, my name's Robert, I'm calling from Dave's Discount Double Glazing.  I was hoping to discuss an exciting money-saving opportunity with a Miss Karen Betts.  I'll call again another time or you can reach me on 0845-444-123.  Thanks."

Karen pressed delete angrily.  She remembered when these call centre arseholes had had some shame.  Well...perhaps that wasn't quite true.  It was probably lucky for Robert that she'd been at work when he called.  She'd been sitting by the phone waiting for Yvonne to contact her for days.  If she'd had to speak to some anonymous call-centre worker when she was in that frame of mind she might well have bitten his head right off.

G-Wing was in uproar.  Grayling had called her immediately after Yvonne's interview had appeared in The Guardian, begging her to come back to work.  Jim had been acting Wing Governor while she was recovering but Grayling had informed her he'd finally been thrown out of the Prison Service.  It figured.  Complaints couldn't get rid of him, clear evidence of misconduct couldn't get rid of him, criminal acts couldn't get rid of him but a bit of bad publicity and he was out like a shot.  It was just like Yvonne said - all Grayling cared about was image.  If things looked okay then he was happy to let any amount of rot go on underneath.  But he would act decisively the moment the rot started to show, especially if it reflected on him.  Karen supposed she should be happy Fenner was finally gone but she couldn't help but wish it hadn't taken the airing of all her dirty laundry in public to accomplish it.

The doorbell rang just as she was pouring herself a large glass of vodka.  She considered not answering but finally decided to cling on to the faint hope that it might be Yvonne.

It wasn't.  But it was close.

"Lauren?" Karen said incredulously.

"Hi, Karen," Lauren said, smiling.  "Can I come in?"

Karen stood to the side, letting Lauren slide past her and into the living room.  Karen followed her in, making straight for her untouched glass of vodka.  "Drink?" she said.

"No thanks," Lauren declined smoothly.  "I'm driving."

Karen nodded and took a large drink from her own glass.  She motioned for Lauren to sit down on an armchair.  Karen followed suit on the couch.  "So," Karen said.  "What can I do for you, Lauren?"

Lauren crossed her legs, the picture of cool.  "Well Karen," she began.  "It's more what I can do for you."

Karen took another long drink.  "Come again?"

"Just because my mother's a grade-A idiot it doesn't mean that I am," Lauren said softly.  Karen did not reply.  Lauren shook her head minutely.  "I want to get you two talking again," she said.

"I'm doing plenty of talking," Karen said quietly.

"I know, I'm the one who takes all the messages," Lauren replied.  Karen managed a small smile.

"I-" Karen began and then stopped.  She breathed deeply through her nose.  "I don't know what to do," she admitted finally.  Lauren quietly moved to sit next to Karen on the sofa, slipping an arm round her shoulders and pulling a handkerchief from her pocket just as Karen started to cry.

"Thanks," Karen sniffed, taking the handkerchief.

"Don't mention it," Lauren replied softly.  "I want to help you, Karen, because this situation isn't doing anyone any good.  Mum's unhappy, you're unhappy, and I'm tired of watching you two self-destruct for no bloody reason."

Karen wiped her eyes.  "Didn't Yvonne tell you?" she asked.

"Tell me what?"

Karen exhaled shakily.  "Lauren, I-"  She combed her fingers through her hair.  "Well, uhm, a few months ago...Jim Fenner-"

"Raped you?" Lauren finished for her.  Karen looked up in surprise.  "I do read the newspapers," Lauren said.

"Yeah," Karen laughed mirthlessly.  "So does your mum.  She, uh, didn't appreciate finding out about it that way."

Lauren was taken aback.  "You never told her?"

"Well...not exactly.  I mean, she knew it happened but I never told her it was him."  Lauren lapsed into silence.  "We had the hugest fight when she read about it," Karen was saying.  "And she hasn't spoken to me since."  Lauren remained silent.  "Lauren?"

"That," Lauren said slowly.  "Is the stupidest thing I've heard in a long, long time."


"I can't believe Mum is throwing you away over something so ridiculous!  Jesus Christ, you're only the best thing that ever happened to her!"

Karen perked up.  "Really?" she said, but Lauren was in full flow and didn't hear her.

"Come on," she said, grabbing Karen's hand and pulling her to her feet.  "We're going to see mum and we're going to sort this out.  Tonight."

Cassie and Roisin sat opposite each other at the kitchen table, separated by reams of papers.  It turned out setting up a registered charity was a lot more complicated than it looked.  Thankfully they had an appointment to see a very nice woman called Brenda McDonald at the Charities Commission to help them get started.

"Okay," Roisin breathed.  "Let's recap.  What do we need?"

"Hmm," Cassie said, beginning to count off items on her fingers.  "Premises, staff, fund-raising-"

"Okay, okay," Roisin interrupted.  "Let me rephrase.  What do we have?"

"Um...a hundred thousand pounds of Yvonne's money and two dedicated spokeswomen.  That's us."

Roisin snorted.  "Well, it's a start."  She threw down her pen.  "I'm knackered.  Let's have a break."  With that she stood up and moved round the table to sit in Cassie's lap.  She put her arms around her and kissed her softly.

"Roche?" Cassie began hesitantly.


"Your mother hates me."

Roisin laughed softly.  "Oh sweetheart, my mother hates everyone."

"I'm serious," Cassie began to say but Roisin interrupted her.

"So am I!  Every boyfriend I ever brought home to her got this treatment, even Aiden.  So if you think you're getting it badly just because you're a woman then stop worrying.  My mother is indiscriminate in her unpleasantness."

Cassie managed a smile at that, small but genuine.  "Okay," she allowed.  "But there's another problem."

Roisin kissed her again.  "What's that?" she asked softly.

"The kids hate me," Cassie said.

Roisin frowned.  "What?"

"This morning when I said goodbye to Michael he kicked me in the shin," Cassie explained, wincing as Roisin exploded out of her seat.

"Michael Sean Connor get in here right now!" she shouted in the general direction of the door.

"Roche-" Cassie tried to stop her but Roisin was too angry.  "Way to go Cass," she continued to herself.  "They're really going to warm up to you now."

Jim sat in his mate's grubby Ford Escort drinking whiskey from an unmarked plastic bottle and waiting.  He didn't know what he was waiting for but he figured he'd know it when he saw it.  He'd known Atkins' address for years, having read it in her prison file once and having been blessed with an exceptionally good memory.  His good memory had come in useful over the years - a lesser man would have had trouble keeping all his lies straight.  So now he was waiting outside her house, waiting for her to slip up so he could get her sent straight back to Larkhall for the rest of her sorry miserable life.  And he'd make sure that life was short - he still had mates in the Prison Service after all.  And there were so many accidents that could happen...

He perked up as he heard a car approaching from the main road.  He squinted.  It was a flashy little sporty number that he recognised as belonging to the daughter, a chip off the old block if ever there was one.  But it was the figure in the passenger seat that caught his attention.  He fumbled around in the glove compartment for his camera as Karen and Lauren pulled into the driveway.  He'd come looking for evidence of something - anything - and it looked like he was about to get it.

"Mum?" Lauren called as she led Karen through the door.  "Mum?" she tried again when there was no answer.  She poked her head in the living room door to find that Yvonne was still there.  In fact, it looked like she might not have changed positions all day.  Lauren held out her hand, stilling Karen's movements.  "Let me go in first," she said quietly, for Karen's ears only.  Karen nodded.

Lauren took a deep breath and slipped into the room, bracing herself for a fight.  She planted her feet directly in front of Yvonne, blocking the older woman's view of whatever drivel she was watching on TV.

"Hey!" Yvonne said.

"She speaks!" Lauren exclaimed.  "Well halle-bloody-lujah."  Yvonne retreated into sullen silence.  "I went to see Karen tonight," Lauren continued.  That raised a flicker of interest which Yvonne did her best to conceal.

"That so?" she said.

"Yes," Lauren continued firmly.  "She told me what this situation," she waved her hand in an all encompassing gesture, "is all about."

Yvonne grunted.  Lauren's face hardened.  Karen, who was observing through the crack in the door, thought she suddenly looked a lot like her mother.

"So I'm here to tell you to get off your selfish arse, get over yourself and apologise for what you've put that poor woman through!"

Yvonne exploded from her seat and began yelling, as Lauren knew she would.  "What the hell do you know about it?" she demanded roughly.

"I know that Karen went through the most horrific experience any woman can have," Lauren replied.  "I know she's been trying to get over it however she can.  And I know I had to comfort her tonight when she was crying her eyes out over the way you've been treating her!"

Yvonne turned around and presented Lauren with her back, fuming silently.  "She should have told me," she said eventually.

"She did tell you," Lauren pointed out.

"I mean that it was Fenner," Yvonne replied.  "I mean...he was her ex..." she trailed off.

"And?" Lauren prompted.

Yvonne opened her mouth to reply but Karen chose that moment to burst into the room and did it for her.  "I'll fill in the blanks, shall I Lauren?" she said angrily.  "After all, I've heard it so many times before haven't I?  He was my ex.  I went to see him of my own free will.  I let him get me drunk.  I let him kiss me.  I got into bed with him.  So it couldn't really have been rape, could it?  That's what he said and hey, that's what the world said too.  Well let me tell you something Yvonne Atkins, I said no.  I said it over and over again, and he didn't listen, he just kept telling me I really meant yes.  I said no and he held me down and forced himself inside me.  Do you want to know what that feels like, Yvonne?  D'you want me to go into all the gory details?  Maybe you'd like to know how much I struggled, or how hard he held me.  Or maybe you'd like to hear how much I screamed and cried, or perhaps you want to know how many times I turned myself inside out throwing up afterwards?  Would you?"  The last was said in a strangled scream which she cut off, breathing deeply as she ran her hands over her face.  When she began again she was slightly calmer.  "And then I told Mark, the bloke who was supposed to be in love with me at the time and he didn't believe me.  He thought no meant yes too.  Not to mention the CPS who wouldn't prosecute because it was just my word against his.  And what good was my word when even the people I loved didn't believe me?  When even you don't believe me?  And you're wondering why I didn't tell you!"  Yvonne was silent.  "You've really got nothing to say?" Karen said, her face hardening.  "Yvonne?"  Again, there was no reply.  Karen shook her head.  "Well in that case...fuck you, Yvonne Atkins."  With that she turned on her heel and left, slamming the door behind her.

Lauren and Yvonne stood there in stunned silence for a few seconds after Karen's abrupt exit but it was Lauren who regained her senses first.  "Mum, if you don't go after her right now I'll make you regret it," she said menacingly.  Yvonne just shook her head dumbly.  "Mum," Lauren began again, grabbing Yvonne by the shoulders.  "The woman you love just walked out of your life.  Are you really going to just let her?"

That got through to her.  Yvonne cracked slightly, nodding.  "You're right," she said softly.  "You're right."  Then she seemed to come back to her senses properly for the first time in three days as she shook Lauren off and made a sprint for the door.

"Karen?" she yelled frantically as she burst into the driveway, relieved to see a familiar blonde-headed figure standing at the end of the path.  Karen looked very small and frail and the way she was hugging herself just about made Yvonne's heart break.

"Karen," Yvonne said more gently as she approached.  Karen held up a hand, halting her.

"Please, just leave me alone," Karen said through her tears.

"No, I won't," Yvonne said, taking another step.  "Karen...everything you just said...you have to believe me, it never once entered my head."  Yvonne swallowed, only just realising the torture she'd put this woman through, and hating herself for it.  "I believe you, Karen.  I always believed you.  That wasn't why I was angry."

Karen snorted.  "Yeah, good one," she replied.

"I swear, Karen," Yvonne said seriously, taking another step closer.  She was close enough that she could reach out and touch Karen.  She got as far as stretching out her hand but she stopped short, hand trembling an inch away from Karen's rigid back.

"Then why?"  Karen said in a small, lost voice which just made Yvonne hate herself even more.

"Because I hate him," Yvonne replied.  "I've hated him since the first day I met him.  The thought that you once loved that bastard, that you once wanted his hands on you, is bad enough.  But the idea that he hurt you as well!  I-"  She broke off, biting back the huge anti-Fenner rant building up inside her.  She took a deep breath and started again.  "When I found out it was him I just wanted to find him and hurt him as badly as I could manage.  And I couldn't understand why you didn't want me to do that."

Karen turned slowly.  "You really don't get it do you?" she said.  "I don't want you doing that because you'd probably end up killing him and what then?  You'd get sent straight back to Larkhall for life.  I couldn't handle that, Yvonne.  I'm not protecting him, I'm protecting myself!  Because when I think about losing you my whole body goes numb; I can't breathe, I can't think...and it's just too much, it's just too damn awful...because, as painful as it is at the moment, I love you, Yvonne."

With what seemed like preternatural timing Yvonne reached out for Karen just as she collapsed forwards and they ended up clinging to each other tightly, as if for dear life.  Yvonne was crying and just saying I'm sorry over and over again.  She pulled back slightly, holding Karen's face in trembling hands.  Slowly, tenderly, she leaned close and kissed the tears from her lover's cheeks with light butterfly kisses that wanted to absorb both the moisture and the pain and draw them both inside herself.  "I love you so much, Karen," she whispered, kissing her eyelids now with trembling lips.  Karen's eyes fluttered open and she pinned Yvonne in place with them.

"Yvonne..." she whispered, pulling her lover closer.  When their lips met Karen felt something fall into place inside her for the first time in days and she clung to the first instinctive, unschooled thought that flit through her head.  I'm home.

And neither of them were aware of the man in the battered old Ford Escort across the street who had his camera trained on them and thought that all his birthdays had come at once.

"Learn to drive you fucking moron!" Cassie yelled at the back of the grey Escort which had just narrowly avoided hitting her as she turned into Yvonne's street.  She shook her head.  She'd had a bad enough day without adding a head on collision to her list of woes.  So now she found herself going to discuss parenting with the only mother she knew aside from her own, and she sure as hell wouldn't be talking to that shining example of how not to raise children.

Cassie sighed.  Even in her thoughts she was tangled up in knots.  Finding herself at Yvonne's door she rang the doorbell and waited.  Just as she was beginning to regret not calling first the door swung open to reveal Lauren, complete with cordless phone.  Lauren smiled brightly and motioned for Cassie to come in as she finished her call.

"Yeah, well when you've got the package I want you to go to Joey's and call me.  I'll give you the rest of your instructions then.  Yeah.  Okay, bye George."  She cut off the call and turned her attention to her guest.  "Cassie," she said warmly.  "Good to see you."

"Yeah, you too Lauren," Cassie replied, frowning slightly.  "Look, I know it's none of my business but Yvonne said you were getting out of the dodgy stuff?"  She gestured towards the phone.  "What was that all about?"

Lauren surprised her by laughing softly.  "Look, I know what you're thinking and it's not that, okay?  It was my dad who was into drug-running, not me."

Cassie breathed a small sigh of relief and shook her head.  "Sorry," she said.  "It's just...well, it sounded like-"

"I know," Lauren interrupted.  "You'll just have to trust me, okay?"  Cassie nodded.  "Right then," Lauren continued.  "Can I get you anything?  Coffee?"

"No thanks," Cassie replied, sinking into one of Yvonne's expensive armchairs.  "I was actually hoping to speak to Yvonne about something, if she's about."

Lauren rolled her eyes as she sat opposite Cassie on the sofa, folding her legs under her.  "Well, she is and she isn't.  She's upstairs with Karen."

"Oh," Cassie said reflexively then coloured as she realised exactly what Lauren was saying.  "Oh!"

"Yeah," Lauren laughed.  "I'm just glad mum's room is soundproof."

"How is Karen anyway?  I saw her plastered all over The Mirror the other day."

"She's okay.  She and mum were having a tough time of it for a bit but I think it's gonna be all right."

Cassie shook her head.  "I can still hardly believe it.  I mean, I hate Fenner but I never thought-"  She broke off.  "Poor Karen."

"Yeah," Lauren agreed softly as the conversation lapsed into silence.  Trigger chose that moment to make his presence felt, ambling in from the kitchen and making straight for the strange smelling blonde girl.  He barked in greeting as he approached, making Cassie feel a little wary.

"He doesn't bite, does he?" she asked Lauren, but Trigger answered the question for her by licking her outstretched hand.

"Nah, he's a pussycat," Lauren said, laughing as Trigger shot his head round to look at her, a if he understood what had been said.

"Oooh, you're in trouble," Cassie teased as Trigger made for Lauren, jumping up to sit next to her on the sofa.

"Good thing mum's otherwise engaged," Lauren said, ruffling the dog's ears.  "She doesn't let him up on the couch."  Cassie smiled distractedly.  "What's wrong Cass?" Lauren asked.

Cassie opened her mouth to deny that anything was wrong but somehow the whole story came tumbling out; about how Roisin's mother didn't like her, and how her kids just plain hated her, and how she couldn't adjust to sleeping alone at night now she and Roisin weren't sharing a cell, and what did Lauren think she should do?

Lauren took a moment to digest Cassie's spiel before shoving Trigger off the sofa and motioning for Cassie to come over and sit beside her.  "Okay," she said as Cassie sat down.  "We'll deal with the mother first.  It doesn't matter how the hell she feels about you.  You're not in a relationship with her, are you?  All that matters is that Roisin loves you, and you'd have to be blind not to see that she does."

Cassie managed a small smile.

"Now the children," Lauren continued.  "That's a little trickier.  It's to be expected that they would hate you at first.  I mean, their parents have split up and they don't know all the reasons behind it - they just see that you've stolen their mum away from their dad.  It's important that you handle this one just right.  They're going to be a big part of your life from now on and if they hate you that could put a strain on your relationship with Roisin in a way the mother's disapproval wouldn't."

"Yeah, I know, that's why I'm worried," Cassie said.

"Would you shut up, I'm distributing my wisdom here," Lauren replied with a small smile.  "Now, you were a smart kid I bet, right Cass?"

"Well, not to put too fine a point on it but, yeah," Cassie answered.

"Okay, well what's the one thing smart kids hate more than anything?" Lauren asked.

Cassie frowned.  "Adults treating them like they're stupid just because they're young," she said.

"Exactly," Lauren smiled.  "You have to sit down and talk to them like equals.  They'll respect you for it, and if they respect you then liking you will follow.  If you give them a little time."

The was lifted from Cassie's forehead as her face lit up in a smile.  "You know something?" she said.  "I think you just might be onto something there."

Lauren laughed.  "I'm glad.  But I'm afraid you'll have to deal with your last problem on your own."

Upstairs, Karen and Yvonne were unaware they had a guest in the house.  They were pretty much unaware that there was anyone else in the world, in fact.  They were lying together, wrapped tightly around one another in Yvonne's huge King size bed.  Karen sighed softly and Yvonne felt it reverberate through her in tiny ripples.

"Hmm," Yvonne murmured.  "I love the way you feel."

Karen's lips flickered in a smile and she held Yvonne even tighter.  "I've missed you so much, darling."

"Me too," Yvonne replied sadly.  "I'm so sorry-"

"Ssh, ssh," Karen admonished, kissing Yvonne lightly to quieten her.  "Don't.  Let's just enjoy the moment, okay?"

Yvonne closed her eyes as her forehead bumped gently against Karen's.  "Okay," she whispered.

Karen closed her eyes, revelling in the tactile sensation of being in Yvonne's arms again.  For the first time in days she felt centred, and at peace.  At moments like these, it really struck her how she and Yvonne just seemed to 'fit' together.  Karen had never been a sappy romantic - she had never believed in soulmates or all that Romeo and Juliet 'one true love' stuff.  But, when she was lying like this with Yvonne, she could imagine changing her opinion.

Yvonne was taking the opportunity to reacquaint herself with the unique texture of Karen's skin under her fingertips.  She hummed softly as she traced random patterns over her lover's stomach.  Karen shuddered.

"Tickles," she sad softly.

"Then why aren't you squirming?" Yvonne said with a small smile.  She continued ghosting her fingertips over Karen's skin until gradually she became aware that the patterns weren't as random as she'd thought.  With a building feeling of something like horror she realised that she was actually tracing out a single word over and over again.  Mine.

She halted her movements immediately, disgusted with herself.  Karen had just relived the most horrific experience of her life, one which, incidentally, involved someone taking possession of her body against her will.  The last thing she needed to feel was Yvonne marking her territory.  Yvonne tightened her grip on Karen slightly as she felt another shudder ripple through her lover's body.

"What is it, baby?" she asked gently, looking up at Karen's stricken face.

"It's...it's just that talking about it...you know...has just made me start thinking about it again and-"  She broke off.  "I'm sorry,"

"Sorry?" Yvonne choked out.  She started to pull away.  "It's my fault.  We shouldn't even be doing this right now; you need some time and space before we-"

"No!" Karen cut in, pulling Yvonne back to her.  "That's not what I meant at all."

Yvonne frowned.  "I don't understand."

Karen sighed.  "Join the club," she said with a small laugh.  She thought for a moment before starting to speak.  "Remember our first time together?" she said.

"That shining example of romance?" Yvonne replied.

"Hey, it was the most romantic thing that had happened to me in a while," Karen said, with a small smile.

"Considering your recent history that doesn't say a lot," Yvonne answered.

"Don't sell yourself short," Karen said.  "You reminded me that sex didn't have to be violent, that I could choose who I wanted to give myself to.  I wanted to give myself to you."  Yvonne swallowed back a lump in her throat as Karen gently kissed her.  "I think I need you to do that again," she whispered.  "And I want to give myself to you, now."

There was no stopping Yvonne's tears this time as she reached out to Karen.  "Oh God," she groaned.  "I love you, Karen."

Karen threaded her fingers through Yvonne's hair as she pressed their lips together.  "Then show me."

Yvonne's pulse immediately skyrocketed.  She reached a trembling hand upwards and cupped Karen's cheek tenderly.  "God, you are...amazing.  Just amazing."  She leaned closer and kissed her lover gently; tender kisses merging effortlessly into a deep embrace which left them both breathless.  Karen groaned throatily as her tongue tangled with Yvonne's and their bodies moved minutely against each other.

Yvonne broke away with a soft gasp and immediately moved her lips to Karen's throat, nuzzling against the throbbing pulse point she found there.  "Love you," she whispered as she trailed her lips down the line of Karen's neck to the soft hollow of her clavicle.  Yvonne loved this spot; loved the way it felt and tasted, and especially the way Karen would shudder when she kissed it with just the right amount of pressure, like she was doing now.  Her hands roamed freely over Karen's hips and stomach, moving up now to cup the underside of her breast.

"Mmm," Karen groaned.  Yvonne smiled as she felt the vibrations against her lips.

"Sorry, I didn't catch that," she teased, lifting herself up slightly to take in Karen's flushed face.

"Yvonne," Karen pleaded softly.

"I must be going deaf in my old age," Yvonne continued.  "What was that?"

Karen opened her eyes, shocking Yvonne into silence with her serious expression.  "What I'm trying to say," she said softly.  "Is that if the woman I love more than anything in the world doesn't touch me right now, I think I might pass out."

Yvonne felt tears pricking at the back of her eyes as she reached out a hand to stroke Karen's cheek and comb through her hair.  "You-" she began, dismayed at the croak in her voice.  "You make me feel like...like I'm a good person," she managed finally.

"You are," Karen replied, frowning as Yvonne shook her head.

"Only when you look at me, just like that," she answered, leaning down and touching her lips gently to Karen's.  Karen arched her back to stay in contact, wrapping her arms around her lover's strong shoulders.  Their bodies instinctively fit together, Yvonne's thigh slipping neatly between Karen's slightly parted legs.  Karen moaned low in her throat as the damp evidence of her arousal slid against Yvonne's thigh.

"Oh, God," she whispered.  "That's good.  Stay, just like that."  She let out a slightly higher pitched moan of excitement as Yvonne flexed her thigh muscles, creating a little delicious friction.

Yvonne buried her face in Karen's shoulder, drinking in the unique feel and scent of her lover's skin.  She spread her fingers wide, one hand buried in Karen's hair, the other supporting her lower back as she gently thrust her thigh against Karen's centre.  "Like this?" she questioned softly against Karen's ear.  Karen groaned in response and moved slightly so that she was mirroring Yvonne's movements.  "Oh God," Yvonne gasped as she reflexively thrust her hips forward.  "Okay, just like that."

Karen felt sweat beading on her forehead as she grabbed frantically at Yvonne, trying to pull her lover even closer.  "Oh God, I love you, I love you, I love you," she whispered over and over as she kissed and licked Yvonne's throat.

Yvonne tried to reply but found that she seemed to have lost the power of speech.  Her muscles were stretched like taut wire, her hips arching to meet Karen's thigh.  She felt the first wave of release roll over her and suddenly all could feel was Karen.  Her senses were overloaded by the sight, sound, scent, feel and taste of the woman she loved and it was all she could do to keep her heart beating and her lungs full of air as her orgasm crashed over her.  As if from far away she heard her name being called, Karen clutching at her shoulders in an almost painful grip.

"Oh...fuck," Karen groaned as she came back to Earth, aftershocks rippling periodically through her body.  "Yvonne.  God, I love you..."  She reached up and placed her hands on either side of her lover's face, pulling her head up so she could see her.  She was startled to discover that Yvonne was crying.  "What's wrong, sweetheart?" she asked, moving her fingers to wipe the tears from her cheeks.

Yvonne was lost for words for a moment and then she remembered, smiling.  "Nothing," she said softly.  "You're just so beautiful, Karen."

Karen's face softened.  "How is it you always know exactly what to say?" she asked, genuine wonder tingeing her tone.

Yvonne leaned close and kissed her softly.  "It's a gift."

"No," Karen replied dreamily.  "You're a gift."

Karen blinked the sleep from her eyes with a wince as the morning sun made its presence felt at last.  She moved her hand up to shield her face, careful not to wake the woman still blissfully slumbering beside her.  Yvonne didn't stir as Karen slipped out of bed and crossed the room to close the curtains.  The sun was still quite low in the sky but Karen could tell already that it was going to be an absolute scorcher of a day.  Yvonne's bedroom overlooked her back garden, complete with a gorgeous oval swimming pool, and Karen smiled at the thought that it was Saturday and she had nothing to call her away from spending the day lounging around that pool with the woman who lay sleeping in the bed behind her.  She turned round, a glint entering her eye.  Then again, she thought, she could do worse than to spend the day doing exactly what they'd spent most of the night doing.  And she doubted Yvonne would have any objections.

First thing's first, Karen decided, dropping a gentle kiss on Yvonne's forehead as she slipped on one of her lover's night-shirts and a dressing gown.  Breakfast.

"Ah," said Lauren as Karen ambled into the kitchen.  "Good morning, Karen.  Or do I have to call you 'mum' now?"

"Shut it you," Karen replied, trying to inject some of her Wing Governor steel into her tone but failing miserably.  When Lauren just smiled in response Karen gave it up and smiled back.  "Thanks," she said softly.  "I'd like to tell you how much what you did means to me...but I think you already know."

Lauren looked away, trying to disguise how touched she was by Karen's words.  "Don't mention it evil stepmother," she said, causing Karen to roll her eyes.

"Okay Cinders," she said with a laugh in her voice.  "If that's the way you want it then you can help me make your mum's breakfast.  Since I don't know my way around this kitchen."

"Oh, I walked into that didn't I?" Lauren teased.  "Just let me get the milk and the papers.  They should have been delivered by now.  In the meantime - there's the coffee machine.  I take mine very strong, with nothing in it."

Lauren's lips fluttered into a smirk as she turned her back on Karen's answering grumble.  The newspapers and milk were indeed waiting for her on the doorstep - two bottles of gold-top, The Guardian and The Sun, as usual.  The Atkins family had been having this same delivery for as long as Lauren could remember and now, even though most of the milk got thrown away since there were fewer people around to drink it, Lauren wasn't inclined to change it.  The newspapers also spoke of an earlier time - The Sun was Charlie's order while The Guardian was Yvonne's.  These days Lauren kept getting The Sun mainly for the comic relief.

But she wasn't laughing at the headline this morning.  Huge black letters seemed to shout their message (WHO'S BEEN A NAUGHTY GIRL THEN?) while underneath was a grainy colour photo - slightly out of focus but unmistakably Karen and Yvonne kissing, in front of this very house.

"Oh, shit!" Lauren muttered, dropping the glass milk bottles in her surprise.  The tinkling of shattering glass attracted Karen from the kitchen.

"Lauren?" she said.  "Are you okay?"

Lauren covered the front page with her hand as she turned to meet Karen's concerned gaze.  "I think you should be sitting down for this one, Karen."

Cassie felt a little better about entering the lion's den this morning.  Her chat with Lauren had really helped, and she felt a little more confident now she had a plan of attack.

"Cassandra," Roisin's mother pronounced in her cold tones as she opened the door.  Cassie smiled brightly.  She would charm this woman if it was the last thing she did.

"Good morning, Mrs Maguire.  Isn't it a glorious day?"

Mrs Maguire was caught on the back foot for a moment but she quickly recovered.  "Indeed," she said witheringly.

Although it seemed impossible, Cassie's smile actually widened.  "I was thinking Roisin and I might take the children to the park later," she continued.  "I'd love you to come with us."

Roisin's mother couldn't hide the surprise from her face now - Cassie usually said two words to her and then all but ran away.  "I'll consider it," she replied.  "Roisin and the children are in the living room."  With that she beat a hasty retreat to the kitchen.

Cassie smirked.  That'll show you, old woman, she thought.  When Cassie Tyler charms someone they stay charmed!

The living room was filled with the sounds of Saturday morning cartoons when she entered.  Michael and Niamh were sitting approximately two centimetres from the screen and Roisin was on the sofa, reading a newspaper and tutting periodically.

"What's up, babe?" Cassie asked, dropping a gentle kiss onto her girlfriend's lips.  Roisin responded to the kiss distractedly.

"Have you seen The Sun today?" she asked.

"The Sun?  I wouldn't use it to wipe my arse," Cassie replied.  Niamh shot her a look.  "Pardon the language," Cassie added, belatedly.  Roisin dragged her attention back by folding the paper back to the front page and pointing at the headline and photo.  "Oh, Christ," Cassie muttered, taking the paper from her and scanning the text of the article.  "Well, whoever wrote this really hates Karen.  Did you read this part?  'Only a week ago HMP Larkhall's G-Wing lost its longest serving officer, James Fenner, over unfounded allegations of improper relationships with prisoners.  Now that Karen Betts has been caught in the act of just such a relationship shouldn't the Prison Service also be calling for her resignation?'  I can't believe they're comparing Karen to that ba-" she cut herself off, realising that Michael and Niamh were both staring at her.  "Uh, bad man," she finished weakly, passing the paper back to Roisin.

"Poor Karen," said Roisin, shaking her head.  She stood up, making for the door.

"Hey, where are you going?" Cassie asked.

"I'm going to give her a call," Roisin replied.  "I'll bet the poor thing could do with hearing a friendly voice after this hack job."

That left Cassie alone in the room with the children.  An awkward silence ensued.  "So," she said with faux cheer.  "What are we watching?"  Michael just rolled his eyes as he stood up and started to follow his mother out of the room.  "Michael, wait," Cassie said firmly and Michael was too well brought up to ignore that tone in an adult's voice.

"What?" he said in a surly tone of voice, slumping onto the floor and crossing his legs.

"I'd like to talk to you," Cassie replied.  "Both of you," she amended, looking at Niamh.  The girl turned off the TV and joined her brother.

"Well?" said Michael, when Cassie made no effort to tart talking.  Cassie ran a hand through her hair and sighed.

"Okay," she began.  "I'm going to level with you.  You don't like me.  That's fine.  You have no reason to.  But soon we're all going to be living together and we can either learn to do that peacefully or we can make it hell for each other.  Which would you prefer?"  Michael mumbled something.  "What was that Michael?"

The boy looked up, lips curled in a sneer.  "I said, we're not all going to be living together.  Mum and Dad are going to get back together."

Cassie sighed.  "Michael," she began gently.  "That's not going to happen."

"Why not?" he exploded.  "They were happy before you came along!  And when you're gone they'll be happy again!"

Cassie shook her head.  "Even if that were true, Michael, I love your mum and I'm not going anywhere," she said.

"I hate you!" Michael yelled, his small fists clenched so tight his knuckles were white.  "It's all your fault!  If it wasn't for you Mum would never have had to go to prison, and she and Dad would still live together and we'd never have had to go and live with Granny Connor!"

"Quiet, Michael," Niamh injected, placing a hand on her brother's arm.  "Mum'll give you into trouble again."

"Do you think I wanted to hurt you Michael?" Cassie asked softly, managing to keep her temper with some effort.  "I didn't.  I just met a person I really liked and then, somewhere along the line, I fell in love with her.  I didn't mean for it to happen, it just did.  Believe me, if I could have chosen who to fall in love with I would never have chosen someone who had a husband and children.  But that's just what happened."

"Granny Connor said," Niamh began timidly, "that you're a really bad person and that you...you stole Mum away from Dad."

Cassie's face hardened.  "Yeah, the woman who used to beat you really knows what she's talking about," she said bitterly.  "And anyway, I didn't steal anyone.  Your mum didn't belong to your dad.  She doesn't belong to me.  She belongs to herself.  She makes her own decisions and it was her who chose to leave your dad."

"With a little help from you," Michael spat.

"Maybe so," Cassie conceded.  "But it would still have happened, even if she'd never met me."

Michael squirmed a little.  "How d'you mean?" he asked eventually, sounding like he hated to be asking Cassie anything.

Cassie ran a hand through her hair as she tried to think.  Lauren had told her to talk to the kids like equals but she didn't think they were quite ready for a discussion on the role of sexuality on personal identity and the psychological repercussions of repressing one's true self.  "Okay," she said eventually.  "Imagine...imagine that you've got this friend.  And you've been friends for years and years.  You used to hang around together all the time but lately you've felt like you don't have as much in common as you used to.  You want to go out and make new friends but you're scared because you've been with this one friend for so long.  And then someone comes into your life and they're new and interesting.  You start to spend time with them and have fun with them and you start to realise that you'd rather spend time with them than with your first friend.  And it's not because you don't still care about that friend, it's because you're just happier with the new one.  Do you get what I'm trying to say?"

The kids were quiet.  Cassie sighed - even to her own ears that analogy had sounded convoluted and pathetic, how could she expect the kids to get what she was trying to tell them?

"So," Niamh said hesitantly, frowning a little.  "You're saying that Mum was unhappy before and if she hadn't met you she'd just have found someone else?  Because she's happier with you than with Dad?"

"Yes," said Cassie with a relieved smile.  Damn, this was one smart kid.  "That's exactly what I'm trying to say.  Do you think your mum is happy now?"

Niamh looked at Michael before she answered.  "Yes," she said softly.  Michael frowned and then grunted.  Cassie thought it might have sounded a bit like yes and she was willing to take whatever she could get.

"Well," she said.  "Like I said, we're all going to be living together soon.  Do you think we can manage to get along?  If only to keep your mum happy?"

Michael grunted again, refusing to meet Cassie's eyes.  Then he shrugged.  "Have you ever played Soul Caliber?" he asked.

"I've dabbled," she replied.

"I play Cervantes," he said, scooting over to set up his Dreamcast.  "You can have Lizardman."

Cassie smiled widely.  It was a small breakthrough to be sure, and she was about to take on the persona of a six-foot genetically engineered lizard, but it was a start.  And, she vowed, she'd let Michael's polygonal character beat hers to digital death as many times as it took for him to like her.

"Okay," she said.  "I'll meet you on the Stage of History."

"Thanks for calling, Roisin," Karen said with genuine warmth.  "I'll let you know what's going to happen as soon as I know myself.  Yeah.  Thanks again, Roisin.  Bye."

Karen replaced the phone in its cradle with a slightly shaking hand then grabbed the packet of fags that were lying open on the table, lighting up with obvious relief.

"I thought you'd given up," Yvonne mumbled around her own cigarette.

"I had," Karen replied, breathing in the calming nicotine.  "Then again, so had you."

Yvonne shrugged.  "Touché," she replied as she picked up their copy of The Sun for what felt like the millionth time.  She studied the name of the hack claiming responsibility for this outrage, half wishing for the old days when she could just have had bastards like this knocked off without a twinge of remorse.  Not only was Karen's job at risk, this bastard had intruded on one of the most private and personal moments of her life.  She wouldn't forget that in a hurry, or forgive.

"Maybe it'll blow over," Lauren said hopefully.

"Yeah," said Karen, entirely unconvinced.  "Maybe."

Any hope Karen might have had of this was quashed the second she stepped onto the Wing on Monday.

"Whoo, here comes the Lady Governor!  How's Yvonne, Miss Betts?"

"How is she in bed we mean!"

"Yeah, which one of you goes on top?"

"Who'd have thought it?  All Yvonne really needed was a good screw!"

The women were crammed up against the bars, their laughter and catcalls reaching Karen's ears easily.  Only Denny was quiet.  She was looking at Karen with the a small but genuine smile.  "Well done, Miss," she said, just loud enough for Karen to hear.  "You deserve each other."

Karen's face melted into a smile; a smile which she quickly lost as she entered the Officer's room.  Di was waiting for her with a face like thunder.  "Neil wants to see you," she said stiffly.  "As soon as you like, Karen."

Jim fumbled with his keys, trying to find the one that would let him back in to his bedsit.  It didn't help that he was seeing double, sometimes triple, because of the whiskey flowing around his body.  The Sun had paid him handsomely for his photos of Karen and Yvonne and he'd spent and drunk most of the cash in the ensuing days.  He'd just nipped out to get that day's papers, hoping for more on Betts.  He figured that, even if he wasn't going to get his job back, it would be almost as good to see Betts drummed out of the profession too.

"Need some help mate?" a deep yet definitely feminine voice asked from behind him.  He turned blearily.

"Eh, yeah, actually," he slurred.  "Feeling a bit fragile."

The woman came forward and took the keys from him with a smile.  "I think this is the one," she said, holding up one of the keys before fitting it neatly into the lock.

"Cheers," Jim said, stumbling a little as he entered.

"Don't mention it," the woman said.  "Oh, by the way..."

"Hmm?  What?" Jim said, turning.  A fist flying towards his face was the last thing he saw.

Karen sat with her legs crossed and her hands folded neatly in her lap, determined that, if the axe was indeed about to fall, she wouldn't give Grayling the satisfaction of seeing her squirm.

"Care to explain?" Grayling said, his voice tight.

Karen shrugged.  "I'd say some Paparazzi have been following me around.  I'm considering suing for breach of privacy."

Grayling banged his fists on the desk, almost making Karen jump.  "For God's sake, Karen!" he shouted, showing some genuine emotion for the first time since Karen had known him.

"What do you want me to say?" Karen replied reasonably.

"For a start you could tell me what the hell you were thinking!"

Karen let out a small impulsive laugh.  "I wasn't," she replied.

Grayling didn't react for a moment, then he sighed.  "Well, at least you're honest."  Karen resisted the temptation to say something sarcastic, like that makes one of us.

"Would you have believed me if I'd said that was our first kiss?" she said, nodding to the newspaper clipping on his desk.

"No," Grayling replied.  "And neither would Area, which is more to the point.  I got a call from them today.  They've been looking for a way to offload this prison for months, Karen.  The fire could have been a PR disaster but Connor, Tyler and Atkins saved that situation.  And it's certainly a bit clearer now why Atkins put herself on the line, isn't it?"  Karen made no reply.  "But then your little girlfriend decided to paint the worst possible picture of G-Wing in The Guardian.  I had to sack Jim.  Sylvia's been demoted and transferred.  But this," he said, throwing up his hands.  "This is the last straw.  They want you out, Karen.  And then they're going to sell this place off to the highest, or rather the lowest bidder."

"Privatisation?" Karen breathed.

"Yes," Grayling replied.  That sat heavily in the air for a moment.

"Shit," Karen said.  "I mean, I knew it was a possibility but I suppose I wasn't really prepared for it to be a reality."

Grayling snorted.  "For you it's not," he reminded her, none too gently.

"The Prison Service can't get rid of me that easily," Karen replied.  "There's no proof whatsoever that Yvonne and I had a relationship before she was released.  If I stick to my guns, they can't sack me."

Grayling smiled obsequiously.  "No," he said.  "But they can transfer you.  I expect the women were a little unruly on the wing this morning?  You've lost credibility there.  You'll have to leave G-Wing whatever happens."

"Okay, so I get transferred.  Then what?"

Grayling shrugged.  "You've been in the Service long enough to know how it works, Karen.  If there's a bullet with your name on it then it'll reach you.  It's just a question of when and how."

Karen lapsed into silence.  She knew he was right.  She could get transferred to God knows where, serving out her time in professional purgatory.  And then, when the public eye was off her, she'd get her marching orders.  Or, like they'd done to Helen before her, they could make her job so insufferable that she'd end up resigning.  Either way, she was screwed.

She looked up at Grayling.  Then again, did she really want to stay in the Service so badly if this was the future?  Men like Grayling spouting the latest buzzwords, changing their politics more often than their underpants.  Private companies running prisons, locking people up for profit, cramming human beings in cells like sardines, cutting whatever corners they could get away with as long as it made a bit of money.  It seemed like no-one gave any credence anymore to the idea that if a job was worth doing then it didn't need to make money - as long as it was right then that was enough.  Karen believed that.  It was why she'd got into nursing and, later, the Prison Service.  But people like her were a dying breed.  She looked at Grayling again.  A dying breed indeed.  And they were about to take another hit.

"Okay, Neil," she said with a small smile.  "I quit."

Grayling did a small double take.  "What?"

"I quit," she repeated.  "I resign.  I'm leaving."

And as she stood up to do just that, reflecting on the job that had been practically her whole life for the last fourteen years, she realised that she wasn't even sad about it.

Yvonne stood up, a frown creasing her forehead as she heard a car's wheels crunching the gravel of her driveway.

"Who is it?" Roisin asked.  She and Cassie had stopped in after their appointment at the Charities Commission.  They were sitting on the sofa facing Yvonne, Cassie absently stroking Trigger's ears.

"It's Karen," Yvonne replied.  "I don't think this can be a good sign."  The three of them went to meet Karen at the door.  "Sweetheart?" Yvonne said.  "Don't tell me that bastard sacked you."

"Okay," Karen replied.  "I won't."  She sank thankfully into Yvonne's arms, accepting the reassuring hug Yvonne was offering.

"Oh, babe," Yvonne consoled.  "I'm sorry.  This is all my fault."

"No," Karen said firmly, pulling back.  "It's no-one's fault.  Except maybe the bastard who was spying on us.  Anyway," she continued.  "I actually resigned."

"Um," Roisin interjected.  "Doesn't resigning usually involve serving out notice?"

"Yes," Karen confirmed.  "I've left him in quite a fix."  Cassie and Roisin covered their mouths to smother a pair of matching giggles.  "Exactly," Karen said with a smile.  "Now, if you don't mind, I think I'd like to get pissed."

Several bottles of extremely good Australian Shiraz later and Karen was ready to feel philosophical about the tattered remnants of her career.

"It's all bollocks anyway," she said.

"Hear hear," cried an equally tipsy Roisin, raising her glass.

"The only question is," Karen continued.  "Where am I, a disgraced former prison Wing Governor, going to find a job?"  She paused.  "Tesco?  Sainsbury's?

"I don't know," Yvonne mused.  "They usually prefer people with retail experience."  She got a cushion in the face for her trouble, which she accepted with good grace.  Roisin and Cassie were exchanging significant looks.

"What are you two up to?" Yvonne asked suspiciously.

"Well," Roisin said.  "We were just thinking - our charity is looking for someone who has man management and administration experience, along with a keen understanding of the workings of the Prison Service.  A disgraced former Wing Governor sounds just about perfect."  Karen stared at them blankly.  "What I'm saying," Roisin continued.  "Is - would you like a job?"

Both Karen's eyebrows shot into her hairline.  "Let me think about it," she said.  A fraction of an instant passed.  "Okay, I've thought."

"Well?" said Cassie.

"Well," Karen replied, pouring herself another glass of wine.  "I say - a toast to Cassie and Roisin; my new bosses."

The four of them raised their glasses.  "Cheers!"

Under cover of darkness a slightly beaten up Vauxhall Astra rolled quietly through a large metal gate.  A large sign above it read 'Joey's Scrap'.

"Georgie!" a slightly high-pitched cockney voice called from the office.  "Long time, no see.  How's tricks?"

"Not bad, Joey," replied Georgina Hodge, known as George to her friends.  "Anyone else about?"

"Nope," Joey said.  "I'm all alone."

"Good," George said firmly.  "I need to use your phone."

In the office she dialled Lauren's mobile number from memory, lighting up a Marlboro as she did so.

"Yeah," came Lauren's terse voice as the call connected.

"I've got the package," George said.

Lauren let out an audible sigh.  "Good," she said.

"What now?" George asked, taking a long drag of her cigarette.

There was a pause.  "I hope you're not too attached to your car, George."

It took a moment for that to register with George but when it did her eyes widened slightly.  "You're buying me a new one, Lauren," she said.

"Fine," Lauren answered.  "Just do it."

George nodded, stubbing out her cigarette.  "Yeah.  Why are you so hot for this guy anyway?"

Lauren was quiet for so long that George thought she might not answer.  When she did speak her voice was low and dangerous.  "The woman he raped is my mum's girlfriend.  She may not be able to take our name, but Karen Betts is still part of the family.  And when you hurt one of the Atkins family-"

"You hurt them all," George finished for her.


George nodded, finally understanding.  "Okay.  It's done."

"Good," Lauren said.  "And George?"


"D'you prefer Jags or Mercs?"

George laughed as she said goodbye to Lauren and replaced the phone in its cradle.  Motioning for Joey to follow her she trotted back out to the yard.  Lifting the boot of the Astra revealed a bruised and tied Jim Fenner, crushed in a horrible contorted position.  George removed his gag.

"Oh God," he pleaded, tears shining on his battered cheeks.  "Please, let me go."

George ignored him as she lit up two cigarettes, stuffing one into his mouth.  His hands were tied behind his back so George had to periodically flick the ash from the cigarette for him.  When he had smoked it down to the filter she discarded it, throwing it to the ground below them.

"Well, Mr Fenner," she said.  "I hope a cigarette was your last wish, cause you ain't getting anything else."

The cigarette had calmed him slightly but the fear came rushing back into his face now.  "Wait a minute," he pleaded desperately.  "You can't do this!"

"Funny, I thought I was," she said calmly.

Fenner started to cry, tears matting his face as he began to realise this was one situation he might not be able to weasel his way out of.  "Why?" he gasped.

George shrugged.  "Nothing personal," she said.  "But you've pissed off my boss.  Big mistake."

"Who?" Jim demanded.  "Whatever they're paying you, I'll double it."

George's only response was a hollow laugh.  She leaned down close to him.  "Does the name Atkins mean anything to you?"  Fenner's face slowly drained of colour.

"Oh," George said, as an afterthought.  "I've got a message from my boss.  She says...'see you in hell'."

With that George stubbed out her own cigarette, preparing to finish the job.  Fenner's eyes cast desperately about for anything that could save him.  They landed on Joey.

"You!" he shouted.  "Are you just going to stand there and watch this?"  George shoved his gag back in his mouth, silencing him.

"Of course he is, Mr Fenner," she said coldly.  "Every execution needs a witness."  With that she slammed the boot back down and hopped into the driver's seat.  "You know what to do Joey," she said.  Joey nodded, heading into the office and manning the controls of the car crusher.  He lit a cigarette of his own as George manoeuvred the Astra into position.  He waited until she had hopped out before sending the huge magnet down to collect the car and its one condemned occupant.  He took a long, thoughtful draw on his cigarette.  The car disappeared into the main part of the crusher just as George re-entered the office.  Together they watched the crusher squeeze steel and flesh alike, both fancying, despite the noise of the machinery, that they could hear the final screams of Jim Fenner reverberating into the night.

The End

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