DISCLAIMER: Bad Girls and its characters are the property of Shed Productions. No infringement intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: I would like to thank my intrepid beta readers Isobel, Kate and Mary, without whom this story would have been of far lower quality. Any remaining mistakes are the responsibility of the author. All original characters and situations are the product of this author's fevered imagination and the beta readers have no responsibility for them.
SPOILERS: This story refers to some events in seasons 1-3 of Bad Girls.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
Nikki was heading for the shower, more or less on automatic pilot, when she heard the moaning. She looked round quickly, despite being sure she wasn't going to be attacked; her automatic pilot included a healthy dose of watching her own back. She listened to the background noise in the area, tracking who might be there, then, satisfied that she was alone, followed the sound to one of the cubicles.
Nikki put her sponge bag and towel to one side and cautiously pulled back the shower curtain, wary of an ambush. She took in the bloodied, naked figure lying on the tiles and swore under her breath. Moving quickly, she knelt down and checked the woman's pulse, then ran her hands lightly over the areas she could reach, checking for injuries. One thing about doing time, it turned you into a pretty good practical field medic.
She took hold of the stranger, who flinched and tried to cringe away.
"It's all right," Nikki said, "I'm not going to hurt you. Just need to get a look at your face."
She helped her upright, carefully not reacting to the damage she could see. This had not been a spontaneous attack. It had been a planned, premeditated punishment beating. The woman groaned and pushed her hair back from face. Nikki recognised Clarissa, though it was hard under the developing bruising. Whoever had beaten her had split her lip and torn out some of her hair, as well as closing one of her eyes.
"Can you breathe OK?"
Clarissa nodded, then huddled around the pain in her torso, wrapping her arms around herself, and began to cry in gulping, pained sobs. Nikki looked around for clothes, then realised that whoever had beaten her must have taken them away with them.
"Nice touch," Nikki muttered, "humiliate the poor bitch as well."
She handed Clarissa her towel. "Try and cover up. I'm going to get a screw."
"Yes. You need medical help. Just remember, you didn't see who attacked you. But it wasn't me."
Nikki avoided looking at the scratch marks around the other woman's throat and neck and went to get help. Twenty minutes later, she was being given the third degree by Jacobs and rapidly losing her temper.
"So you don't know anything about this?"
"No. I told you. I came in and found her like that. Ask the screw who let me out of my cell. I didn't have time to beat anybody up this morning."
In the background, Clarissa was being offered a dressing gown. She stood up and Nikki glanced at her.
"Keep your eyes front, Wade," Jacobs barked, "she's got enough to deal with without you thinking unnatural thoughts about her."
"Piss off!" Nikki said. She sneered deliberately. "I don't need to look. I got an eyeful earlier. Could have fucked her, I suppose. Except, strangely, blood and bruises don't turn me on."
"Get to your cell," Jacobs said disgustedly, "deviant."
As she left she heard Clarissa speaking quietly. "Miss, she didn't ...."
Nikki was sitting in her cell that afternoon, writing to Trisha, when there was a hesitant knock on the door. She looked up at Clarissa, taking in the bruising that was discolouring her face. She sucked her breath in through her teeth and winced.
"That must hurt."
"Yeah," Clarissa said. She looked at the bed. Nikki gave in to the inevitable.
"Come in, if you want to."
"Thanks," the blonde said. She sat on the bed, hunched over herself. Nikki watched her and internally shook her head. She had seen this behaviour before, in other women who had been beaten. Sometimes it wasn't the physical damage. It was the mental scarring that finished them off.
"You all right?"
"No." Clarissa tried to smile. "But I can deal with it." She paused. "I wanted to say thank you for what you did for me today."
"Don't worry about it," Nikki said, "I really hate getting blood on my flip flops when I'm showering."
"You could have just walked away."
"Not my style," Nikki said.
"When you got here I asked you ...."
"You asked me to front up to a screw for you. Bit harder than calling for help," Nikki interrupted.
"Yes, I suppose so," Clarissa said, "I wasn't thinking very straight."
"I think straight's overrated, personally."
That got a smile, which Nikki was glad to see.
"Are the people who did this going to leave you alone, now?" she asked.
"Yeah. I've worked something out."
"It was my own fault, really," Clarissa said, "I knew the score and I was silly."
"When you need a fix, you need a fix, right?" Nikki said. The younger woman blushed.
"Is it that obvious?"
"Process of elimination. I've seen you high a couple of times and you don't seem to piss anybody off enough to beat you for any other reason. Debts, was it?"
Clarissa hung her head. "Yeah. It's why I'm in here in the first place. Got into cocaine while I was outside and ..."
"Started to deal to support your habit," Nikki said.
"You don't, do you?"
"Not even fags. Too complicated. I mainline on English Literature instead." She raised her eyebrows. "With the odd diversion into Russian and French."
"In the original?" Clarissa said, impressed.
Nikki shook her head.
"No, just in translation. Though I might start to re-learn my French. There's bugger all else to do. Might impress the parole board. You never know."
"How long before you're eligible for parole?"
"Decades. I don't think about it," Nikki said flatly.
Clarissa started to pick at the bed clothes. She didn't seem to want to meet Nikki's eyes. Nikki cleared her throat, getting her attention.
"Spit it out."
"Was it hard?"
"When you ... when you killed them. You stabbed him, right?"
Nikki went cold. "What the fuck are you talking about?"
"When you killed that screw. Was it hard?"
"Bloody hell! Why d'you need to know?"
Clarissa flinched and Nikki realised that she had risen to her feet and was looming over the other woman. She sat back down again and glanced out of the cell door to see who was around, very uneasy with this conversation.
"I said, why do you need to know?"
"I just wondered."
"Well wonder about something else. I don't want to talk about it. You should go now," Nikki said.
Clarissa got to the door of the cell before she turned back. "It's what I'm going to be doing."
"To pay my debt. I wondered if it was hard."
Something occurred to Nikki. She played the conversation back in her head and focused on a phrase she should have noted the first time. "When you say you're going to be doing what I did, do you mean the stabbing or do you mean killing a screw?"
One look at the other woman's face gave her the answer. "You do like to make life difficult for yourself, don't you?"
"I don't have a choice. You do," Nikki said, frowning. If this was being done to pay off a drugs debt then logically the target would be somebody who was making life more difficult for the dealers. None of the screws in Southwold impressed Nikki as very effective in that direction. A horrible suspicion began to grow in her mind.
Clarissa shrugged. "Not much of one."
"You just haven't thought about it."
"Oh, what would you do instead?" Clarissa asked angrily.
"I'd find a lifer with nothing to lose who'd be willing to take the rap for you. Maybe even do the job. Somebody with a bit of form'd be ideal."
"But who'd do something like that?"
"I just told you."
"But why would they?"
"A lot of reasons. If it was a screw they didn't like. If you offered them something they wanted ...."
"Oh," Clarissa said. Nikki could almost see her thinking. "What could I offer them?"
"That'd depend on the person and how much they hated the screw you wanted to off. Now Jacobs, say .... I think I'd do her for a phone card. She's really been on my case."
"She's all right," Clarissa said dismissively.
"She's your personal officer, isn't she?"
"Yeah. She's always hassling me to get clean but I just ignore her."
"Watch out. She'll be giving you tracts next."
"What about Helen Stewart?" Clarissa asked.
Nikki covered her involuntary flinch with a shrug.
"She's not a screw."
"She works for them, though. That's nearly as bad."
"I'd have thought that you of all people would understand someone wanting to help other people off drugs." She nodded significantly at Clarissa's face. "Some of the side effects aren't pretty."
Clarissa flinched, confirming Nikki's suspicions. Nikki kept her voice light. "So, when are you going to do it?"
"Never said I was."
"Actually, you did," Nikki said, "I think you're a stupid cow, but it's up to you."
"What d'you mean?"
"Choosing to kill someone?"
"You did," Clarissa fired back at her, "twice."
"No," Nikki said, "I did it once because I wasn't thinking straight. Because I was too fucking stupid to work a situation out without hurting somebody. Then I sat in a brick box for years turning it over and over in my head, considering what else I could have done. That's one of the reasons I know I didn't do it the second time, even though I don't remember.
"Because even if Gossard was fucking slime, and he was; and I was provoked, and I was; I could have done it differently. I just didn't stop to think. I reacted instead and a man is dead. You know what it's like, knowing you've taken a human life? Knowing that even though it was manslaughter, not murder, that it could have turned out so differently if I hadn't straightened my arm and put the edge of the bottle in his throat? You don't want that in your head. Take it from me. Even if I had to do it to save Trisha."
"You make it sound really awful," Clarissa said hoarsely.
"It is awful. When you push the bottle in, there's just a little moment of resistance when you go through the skin, like, oh, I don't know ...." Nikki snapped her fingers. "Like when you break through the crust on a snow drift. Then the bottle just slides in. No more resistance. It's really easy. Like pushing a knife through jam. After that the blood starts spurting out. There's a lot of blood. It soaks into your clothes, gets on your hands, makes the bottle slippery, hard to hold. Puddles of the stuff on the floor, till you're tracking it around when you go and call the police and later when you let them in. It gets everywhere."
"What makes you think you can hurt someone when you can't even listen to a description?" Nikki demanded. "Get real. Ask for rule 45 or a transfer. Anything."
"I don't want to go onto segregation."
"Well you don't seem to have left yourself a lot of options," Nikki said.
"I can't take another beating," Clarissa said desperately, "I can't."
Nikki shrugged. "Your choice."
"You going to grass me up?"
"I don't do that," Nikki said, "ask around if you don't believe me. But if I were you I'd do it sooner rather than later. Before you let something else slip, or they find the knife in a cell search."
'Because the people who've put you up to this will stand back and let you take the rap', she thought to herself. 'Poor cow.' She waited until Clarissa had left the cell, then forced herself to wait for another three quarters of an hour before heading out to look for Helen, praying that her luck would be in. It had to look like a random meeting.
Nikki finally caught Helen on her own in the library, working on some files. She took the opportunity to study the other woman, storing up the sight for later consideration, building memories she would need to get her through the lean times. Her eyes became her hands, ghosting over the shoulder length hair, now back to its natural dark colour; running over the intent face, strong jaw taut as Helen concentrated; touched the soft lips and brushed down the slim neck to her shoulders; moved further on, across the full breasts and down the curve of the side and flanks before returning to the well toned arms and gentle, expressive hands lying relaxed on the table as Helen read through her paperwork.
Helen felt that someone was watching her and turned quickly. She coloured slightly as she saw who it was.
"Can I have a word, Miss?"
"Nikki, we're not supposed to be associating with each other."
"I know. But I have to talk to you."
"You'll get the fall out. Not me."
Nikki shrugged. "Doesn't matter."
"Yes, it does!"
"I'm not a prisoner under your care. You don't have to worry about it."
"You know why I worry about you," Helen said fiercely, "and it has nothing to do with your status as an inmate."
She stood up, stepping into Nikki's personal space. "Do you know what it did to me, seeing you the way you were on the block?"
"So I was wearing a paper suit. Big deal!"
"Not just that," Helen said, reaching up to touch the taller woman's face, "you were so alone, so vulnerable. Nikki ..."
Nikki stepped away.
"Forget it. I'm dealing with it, OK?"
"It sure as hell doesn't look that way."
"Maybe not to you. But you can't get me out of here. So ...."
"I'm working on it!"
"I know. And I'll be sure to say thank you when I walk out. About twenty five year's time, according to my diary."
"We need to think about the here and now. You need to watch your back."
"Listen. There are people who don't like you or your drugs project. You're a target."
"I can't tell you that," Nikki said.
"Can't or won't?"
"Can't. It's not how it works in here! You know that!"
"So what am I supposed to do? Abandon the project?"
Nikki reached out to put her hand on Helen's shoulder, an aborted, half meant gesture. "I know you won't. You're too stubborn for your own good. Just ... stay away from groups. Watch people's hands when you're around them. Never get backed into a corner. Always make sure there's an escape route. Try and be aware who's behind you. All the time."
"That sounds pretty paranoid."
"It's how you have to be in here. If someone's got it in for you."
"Nikki ... ," Helen said.
"Just be careful, OK. I don't want anything bad to happen to you."
Helen bowed her head, closing her eyes to shut out the pain. When she opened them again, Nikki was gone.
"Miss, can I talk to you?" Jacobs said urgently. Helen stopped in the corridor, adjusting her arm load of files.
"Sure. What's the problem?"
"It's one of my girls. She wants to come onto the Drugs Free programme."
"Well, she's in luck, we've got places available. Talk to the Governor's secretary; she'll set up an admission interview, probably next week."
"Miss .... This woman's right on the edge." Helen listened, concerned. "She's in deep with the drug dealers; she was beaten up the day before yesterday. I've been trying to persuade her to go clean for awhile. I think the attack was the final straw but I don't know if she'll manage to keep her nerve if she's left too long."
"I hope she knows that she can't use the programme as an alternative to segregation," Helen said sharply.
"I've told her that. And how hard it's going to be. I think that's why she's losing her nerve. She asked if she could speak to you. I believe it might help."
"Bring her to my office, then," Helen said, "I'll make time."
"The assault really took it out of her. She can hardly move. Could you come down onto the wing?"
Helen looked at her watch; it was the end of the day. She wouldn't be interrupting any meetings. She hesitated, wondering if it was safe, then mentally shrugged. She couldn't not go onto the wing if her duties required it. She'd just have to follow Nikki's advice and be careful. "All right, let me dump these and get a set of keys."
"Don't worry about it. Part of the ethos of the project is that every woman matters; sometimes it's best to communicate that message non-verbally."
Jacobs blinked and Helen could see that she was getting too abstract.
"Anyway, I'll just dump these."
Helen followed Jacobs onto the wing, both of them threading their way through the usual crowds. Helen checked the number of officers and frowned, her old training asserting itself. "You seem a bit light on staff."
"Tell me about it. We've got two late back from an escort and then someone phoned in sick."
"Not helpful," Helen agreed, as they headed towards the basic cells.
The inmates parted at the sight of Jacobs' uniform, so they made fast progress. Half way down the wing, they encountered the woman whom Gates had identified as a drug dealer. She smiled at Jacobs as she went past. "Miss."
They got to the pool table, where a game was going on. Helen cleared her throat and tried to ignore it; Nikki was playing and was lining up a shot, apparently concentrating on her strategy. As Helen watched she seemed to change her mind and stepped back, straightening up to study the balls.
"Take the shot!" her opponent said bad temperedly. "You're wasting time."
"Just because you're winning," Nikki said casually. She glanced down the wing and Helen realised that she was not focused on the game; she was watching what was going on. Helen followed Nikki's gaze and saw that the women who had been standing with Siobhan had dispersed, moving off up onto the landings. She felt a prickle of unease and shook her head, angry with herself for giving in to Nikki's paranoia.
She walked past the table, falling in beside Jacobs and followed her to Clarissa's cell. Jacobs knocked and then stood back to let her go in first. Helen glanced back from the cell door, something about the behaviour of the inmates bothering her. Everything had gone very quiet. Up and down the wing she could see POs reacting, picking up on the same thing. Jacobs was looking up at the landings, where crowds of women had begun to gather, frowning.
It all happened very quickly after that.
The place erupted into chaos as missiles started raining down from the landings, groups of women targeting prison officers in what looked like an organised pattern. Some of the bigger, stronger women actually picked up chairs and other weapons and began to attack anyone in uniform. Helen was paralysed with shock as she saw Nikki abandon her game and start running towards her, clutching the pool cue like a club. Then she felt a hard shove against her back and turned quickly, finding herself face to face with Clarissa, who had come out of her cell and was standing in the doorway, clutching a knife. 'Shit,' Helen thought. 'Have I been stabbed?'
She saw Clarissa with a strange, heightened clarity. The knife the inmate was carrying must have been smuggled in - it was a sleek, matt black, blade, made of some sort of composite material. Although it wasn't very big, it was wickedly sharp and tapered. It obviously had no other purpose than to maim and kill. Clarissa's hand was smeared with blood. Helen wondered dazedly how she had managed to avoid being hurt and then realised with a shiver of fear that Jacobs must have pushed her out of the way.
She looked to one side and saw that Jacobs was clutching at her stomach. The slow inexorable seep of blood between her fingers told its own story. Clarissa was staring at her with shocked horror but as Helen watched she seemed to gather herself. Helen had no doubt that she was the next target. She danced away from the other woman, trying to create space, frantically trying to think if she had seen anything that could be used a weapon in her walk up the wing. She doubted it; everything useful had already been taken by the prisoners, who were still attacking the guards. Somewhere, distantly, an alarm began to sound. Clarissa swung at her with the knife, no more than a blurred shape in her hand but, as Helen had seen, very deadly. Helen stepped back again.
That was when Nikki arrived, wielding the pool cue like an avenging angel. She had reversed it and didn't waste time - she slammed it into Clarissa's shoulder, disabling her knife arm. Clarissa's hand spasmed as the bone broke and she dropped the blade.
"Pick it up," Nikki said and Helen realised dimly that the instruction was aimed at her. She picked the bloodied thing up and held it at arms length.
"Bitch!" Clarissa said. "Screw lover! You're dead meat, now."
"You're the one with the broken arm, darling," Nikki said grimly. She cocked the pool cue threateningly. "Back off!"
Clarissa seemed to feel her injury for the first time. She folded around it, cradling her forearm with her other hand. Tears of pain began to run down her face. She was still defiant, though, shouting insults and threats as she backed away from them. In the cell door, Jacobs started a slow slide down the frame, folding over her injury. Helen was startled to realise that the whole thing had only taken a few seconds. She looked for back-up and realised that the guards were in full retreat down the wing, being herded with missiles and insults by the jubilant prisoners, who realised that they had the upper hand. Nikki saw the same thing.
"Shit! We'll never get through them!"
As they watched Clarissa got to the edges of the crowd and said something to Siobhan. The woman turned to look at Helen and started to run back down the wing, a couple of other inmates following her at a trot.
"That's it," Nikki said. She looked into the cell and pushed Helen into it. "Get in!"
Nikki lifted Jacobs across the threshold and thrust her into Helen's arms, before stepping into the cell herself. She grabbed the door and swung it shut. It slammed with an audible crash. Before Helen knew what was happening, Nikki had seized the keys from Jacob's belt and locked them in. As she did so, the hammering on the outside began.
"We saw what you did, Wade!" Siobhan's voice echoed through the barrier. "You're dead! Dead, you hear me!"
"I hear you," Nikki said wearily, then turned to Jacobs, who was gasping spasmodically, her face white with pain. Helen tried to support the older woman but found her dead weight hard to manage. She sagged with relief when Nikki took the prison officer, using her greater strength to hold her up. Repulsed, she dropped Clarissa's knife.
She watched as Nikki gently got Jacobs onto the bed, apologising for the pain she was causing her as she laid her out.
"Sorry, Miss. Sorry. Got to get you flat."
"Give me her radio," Helen said. Nikki nodded and handed the set to Helen, grabbing a towel from beside the sink. Helen tuned into the general frequency, listening in to the panicked messages flying around. She swore as she deciphered the garbled information.
"What?" Nikki asked. She didn't look at Helen; she was too busy coaxing Jacobs to take her hands away from her stomach so that she could assess the injury. As Helen watched, she managed it and cursed under her breath, immediately packing the towel over the wound to try and stem the slow seep of blood. She got up and searched for more things to use as makeshift bandages. On the bunk, Jacobs tried weakly to sit up and Nikki stopped her, pushing her back gently.
"No, Miss. Don't move. You'll make it worse."
"I ... the wing ..."
"The rioters have control of the wing. We're in a cell."
"We're safe for now," Nikki reassured her, "look, let me do what I can for your stomach. Miss Stewart is going to radio out and let them know we're here. Then they'll send help."
"Yes. So you have to do your part by lying still and not moving. You'll make your injury worse."
"Knife ... Clarissa ...."
"That's right," Nikki said shortly and started tearing things to make bandages.
Helen tuned out what Nikki was doing and got onto the radio. She managed to patch herself through to the crisis control centre that Gates seemed to have set up, her fingers fumbling at the controls as she remembered an induction course from a long time ago. By the time she had clarified the situation and answered his questions Nikki seemed to have finished her impromptu first aid and had managed to swaddle Jacobs in blankets on the lower bunk, in an effort to keep her warm and comfortable.
As Helen refocused on the situation in the cell, Nikki was washing the blood off her hands and arms at the sink, her shoulders drooping with tiredness and the adrenaline come down. She felt Helen's gaze on her back and turned, silently offering her a damp towel. Helen abruptly realised that she had blood on her skin and top and wiped off as much as she could, Nikki's intent gaze on her. She was unsurprised that she hadn't noticed before. The cell was full of the metallic stink of blood and she could tell from the spreading stain on the blankets around Jacobs that Nikki hadn't managed to stop her bleeding.
"Are you hurt, Miss?" Nikki asked.
"No. Mostly thanks to you. Are you all right?"
"Bit shaky, but I'll live."
"We'll all live," Helen said firmly, with a confidence she didn't feel, "they're aware of the situation and they'll get to us as soon as they can."
"Sure," Nikki said cynically.
"Nikki, there are two members of staff in here and they know Jacobs is injured. They'll make every effort."
"Then you can go home and I can go back to my cell and to sleeping with one eye open."
"You heard Siobhan. My card's been well and truly marked," Nikki said.
"Well if you regret what you did, I'm sorry," Helen snapped, her temper flaring. "but I for one am grateful that you did it."
"Thanks, Miss. I'm sure the thought of your gratitude'll keep me warm at nights."
Nikki slouched over to the cell window and looked out, craning her neck to see what she could. "Emergency services must have arrived. I can hear the sirens."
She looked over at Helen, her face open and unguarded.
"God, I wish you weren't here."
"Why? Is my company so hard to bear?"
"No. It's just ... this is going to get bad. I can tell."
"We're safe in here," Helen said. On the bed Jacobs groaned and Nikki turned quickly to her, bending over the older woman.
"I know. Just hold on, OK. Help's coming."
"I'm thirsty ...."
"Yeah, but we can't give you any water. You got stabbed in the gut."
Jacobs moaned, a low, helpless sound. Helen could see tears beginning to trickle out from under her closed eyelids.
"Look," Nikki said quietly, "how about if I wipe your face? Moisten your lips? That should help."
"OK." She reached back without looking at Helen. "Can I have that flannel on the sink? Sorry, forgot. Miss."
"Bloody hell, Nikki!"
Helen ran the tap and handed Nikki the washcloth, then turned away as she gently wiped Jacobs' face and adjusted the blanket over her, trying to make the prison officer more comfortable without moving her. She looked out of the window, watching the drama in the courtyard outside, where a rain of missiles was still being directed at every officer trying to cross the yard. Some of the cons had lit bundles of paper and rag and attached them to makeshift ropes made of tights and torn up bed clothes, which they swung outside the cell windows, producing strangely beautiful arcs of fire, whose afterimages lingered on the retina after they had passed.
Others concentrated on shouting to each other, jeering and threatening every person in uniform they could see through their cell windows. Helen thought back to the riot at Larkhall, and shivered. She believed Nikki when she had said that this situation had the potential to be very bad indeed.
She heard Nikki moving and turned back to see her dropping the flannel into the sink. "How's Jacobs?"
"She dozed off. Or passed out. I don't know which."
A voice floated in from outside. "Oi, Nikki!"
Nikki stepped up to the window and looked out, locating where the voice was coming from. "What?"
"You still got that screw in there?"
"Killed her yet?"
"No need. She's dying anyway. Let the bitch suffer!"
The cells above and around them erupted with laughter and cheers as the other cons applauded Nikki's comment. Helen pulled her away from the window, appalled.
"Leave it, Miss," Nikki said more quietly.
"What the hell was that about?"
"Keeping you both safe."
"Listen. If they think she's dying, nobody 'll bother to come and finish the job. And if they've forgotten you're in here, none of the clever bastards out there will think about trying a bit of hostage taking."
"D'you think Siobhan has forgotten we're here?" Helen demanded.
"I don't know. I hope so. She's got a lot on right now."
"Nikki we're locked in this cell and we have the keys. We can't get out, but ...."
"Really?" Nikki said furiously, facing up to Helen. "You know there aren't any more sets of keys floating around, do you? Out there on the wing?"
"No, but there's no way they can force us to go out there."
"Really, Miss? What if they pour something flammable through the door and set light to it? Or smoke us out? You can breathe smoke, can you?"
"You've got a really nasty imagination, sometimes."
"Not as nasty as some of the women out there," Nikki said grimly.
"Whoever planned this."
"You believe it was planned?" Helen said, startled.
"I don't know about the riot part. The rest, definitely."
"Because it kicked off the minute you and Jacobs went near Clarissa's cell. Someone was making sure she wouldn't be disturbed while she finished you both off."
"What?" Helen said, confused.
"She asked for the meeting, didn't she? With you and Jacobs?"
"There you are then. Unless you think she wanted a witness handy," Nikki said contemptuously and walked to the door of the cell with quick, agitated steps. She listened intently, fists clenched, trying to work out what was going on outside, as Helen watched her, absorbing what she'd just been told.
"But why, Nikki? Why would Clarissa, who has never been in any trouble, want to kill an officer and me? She was trying to get on to the Drugs Free project."
"I expect she had her reasons," Nikki said evasively.
"You know more than you're telling, don't you? This was the danger you were warning me about. Where you wouldn't give me details."
"Yeah, well. Miss. Like I told you once, I'm nobody's nark, specially not yours," Nikki said.
Helen bowed her head, trying to hide her exasperation. This was Nikki at her stroppy, rebellious worst. It didn't help that Helen was aching to hold the other woman and comfort her. She didn't have the distance that a professional relationship and ignorance had given her the last time she had had to deal with this version of Nikki. She knew exactly what that front was hiding, how angry and frightened the lifer undoubtedly was. She could even read the concern for Jacobs that Nikki was trying to hide under her pose of hating all screws. It was obvious in the way that she reacted when Jacobs groaned or moved restlessly in pain, a quick glance to check that the injured woman didn't need anything.
Nikki watched Helen's jaw tighten and tried to figure out how long they might be trapped in here. Being in the same space as Helen, watching her move, hearing her speak, breathing her perfume again after so long, was proving increasingly hard. All Nikki wanted to do was take the other woman in her arms and comfort her, reassure her that everything was going to be all right, even if it was a lie. Take one long, deep kiss away with her, a memory to cherish through the rest of the lonely nights she had condemned herself to. And that was the worst of it; Nikki still believed that she had made the right decision for Helen, freeing her to get on with her life. That meant, whatever the cost to herself, she would not go back on it.
"If all this was planned, does that mean I have to watch my back out there from now on?" Helen asked.
"That's always good policy in here, Miss."
"Well that's a thought to keep me warm at nights," Helen said, and shivered as she became aware of how the temperature was dropping in the cell as the October darkness deepened. "How much longer do you think this is going to take?"
"I don't know. Gates is going to be pulling in every screw he can. If we're really lucky he'll sent for the Tornado Team."
"Specialist prison riot squad. You'll be all right."
"What about you?"
Nikki shrugged. "Shouldn't be too bad. They go a bit easier in women's prisons. So I've heard."
"And if they don't?"
"They know you and Jacobs are in here. They'll be careful."
"Somehow that doesn't reassure me."
"It should. They take care of their own." Tentatively, Nikki put her hand on Helen's shoulder. "Just relax, OK. It's out of your hands."
Helen nodded and listened, trying to hear what was happening on the wing. The sounds of running feet and crashing as furniture was thrown onto the netting between landings had almost died away now, as the women got tired of it. She could still hear occasional sirens and see the blue and orange flashing lights of emergency service and police vehicles reflected on the walls outside, but that had mostly stopped. It should have been peaceful. Instead it felt like the calm before the storm.
Nikki stretched and then settled on the floor by the bunk, leaving Helen the cell's only chair. Helen sat down, wrapping her arms around herself. She wished she'd put her jacket on before coming to see Clarissa. Nikki's default prison dress of several layers of clothing was beginning to make more sense. Suddenly, Nikki got to her feet and took a blanket from the top bunk. She held it out to Helen.
"Here. She's got the rest but I kept one back. In case."
Helen took the blanket and wrapped it round her shoulders. "Thanks."
"That's cells for you. You freeze when it's cold, you fry when it's hot."
"What about you?"
"I'm dressed for it. Don't worry," Nikki said dismissively and returned to the floor. She had pulled a pillow from the top bunk as well as a blanket and put it beneath her. As she moved she jogged the bunk and Jacobs cried out in pain. Nikki turned round and put her hand on the older woman's arm.
Jacob's voice was a thready whisper. Helen could barely hear her.
"Are they coming?"
"Yeah, they're coming," Nikki reassured her, "fast as they can. Not long now, OK? Just hold on."
"You do that, if it makes you feel better. Just don't talk. Save your strength."
Jacob nodded, closing her eyes. Her lips began to move silently. Nikki sat down again, folding her arms and hunching her shoulders.
"You're cold, aren't you?" Helen said.
"Been worse. I'll be fine."
"I'll come down there and share the blanket."
"For God's sake, I think I can manage to keep my hands to myself!"
That got her a long, measuring look. Finally Nikki shrugged. "Whatever. You can have the pillow."
"It does get cold in Scotland, you know. We even have snow sometimes."
Despite her words, Helen was glad of something to sit on as she felt the freezing concrete floor. She settled herself next to Nikki and threw the blanket over both their shoulders, trying not to react as she felt the other woman's involuntary flinch when their arms and thighs touched. Nikki was chilled and Helen moved closer to her, trying to share her body heat. The blanket wouldn't quite close in front. Nikki looked at Helen, then bowed her head. "Don't take this the wrong way, all right?"
A moment later she stretched her arm around Helen's shoulders, bringing the smaller woman to her side. Helen gasped, then controlled her breathing with difficulty, feeling a warmth that had nothing to do with body heat spread through her. In her turn, she tentatively put her arms round Nikki, tensing slightly as she found her forearm touching Nikki's breasts. As she started to pull back, Nikki tightened her grip.
"It's all right, Miss. I'm not going to scream assault. OK?"
"OK," Helen said. She felt more than saw Nikki grin.
"I'm supposed to be the big bad dyke, remember? If I say I didn't want this, they won't believe me anyway."
"You're probably right."
They sat quietly together, neither of them needing to speak, listening to the noises on the wing. Helen was astonished to find that, despite the danger, she was starting to relax. She felt so safe and so comforted in Nikki's space that she could block out the situation they were in and not worry about it. She felt Nikki move slightly as she checked on Jacobs.
"How is she?"
"She's unconscious. Good thing," Nikki commented.
"Yes. She must be in a lot of pain."
Nikki snorted. "Not just that. She's born again. She'd be telling me to stop molesting you. She thinks I'm an abomination before God and going straight to hell."
"Has she said that?"
"She's never given me any trouble."
"Are you out at work, then?" Nikki asked curiously.
"I don't broadcast it. It wouldn't be professional. But if somebody asks me, I tell them."
Curious, she twisted, looking up into Nikki's face. "Did you think I wouldn't?"
"I never thought about it," Nikki said weakly. She paused.
"Too hard," she said eventually, her voice breaking.
"Let's talk about something else."
"You started this conversation," Helen said fiercely, "and if the real question is 'Am I seeing anybody else?' the answer is no. I haven't since we split up. Satisfied?"
Nikki shifted restlessly. "It's none of my business whether you are or not."
"Oh yes, I remember. Because you dumped me."
"Bloody right I did," Nikki said angrily, "what was the alternative? Tie you to a fucking con. Let you waste your life until you got sick of it, like Trisha. Except that, as a bonus, it would have ruined your career as well. You were the one who always said that we couldn't be together while I was in here. Well, all I did was act on that, so why don't you cut me a bit of slack?"
"Don't you dare throw that in my face!"
Furious, Helen moved out of Nikki's arms and knelt in front of her. "That was when I was an employee of the Home Office and in charge of locking you up. I showed that you were my priority by resigning when I did and I made my feelings perfectly clear after your appeal succeeded. Unless you think I normally proposition women in the street?!"
"I don't bloody know, do I!" Nikki said. "I'm stuck in here! You could be sleeping with a different woman every night and I wouldn't get to find out about it unless you chose to tell me."
"So what you're saying is, it wasn't the big noble gesture sending me a letter telling me to move on in my life. You just couldn't handle the uncertainty of not knowing what I was doing! Christ, Nikki, I thought that you'd got over that whole jealousy thing. Turns out I was wrong."
"It wasn't like that!" Nikki said vehemently.
"No? That's what it looks like from here."
Fuming, Helen got to her feet and went to the other side of the cell. She leaned against the desk, arms folded on her chest, trying to get her temper under control. The last thing they could afford to do was to argue, but the conversation was tapping into long held anger and grief, bringing back the moment when Claire had handed her Nikki's letter ending their relationship. She bit her lip, fighting back tears, and closed her eyes, trying to regain her self control. The temperature in the cell had dropped again. She shivered and went over to Jacobs, checking that the other woman was well cocooned in blankets. Jacobs was pale and clammy, her breathing laboured. Worried, Helen got the flannel and wiped her face, before giving up and putting it back in the sink. She took the radio from the top bunk and tuned into the general channel.
"It's Helen Stewart here. Can I speak to the Governor?"
After a while they patched her through to Adam. Helen gave him a terse report on the officer's condition. "If you don't get Jacobs some medical help soon, I think she might die."
"We're doing our best, Helen," Gates said across the crackling air waves. She could hear the tension in his voice. "I can't go into specifics. I don't know who's listening in. I'm aware of the situation. Just sit tight. I haven't forgotten about you."
"I didn't think you had. I just wanted you to know what's happening," Helen said.
"Is Wade behaving herself?"
"Yes. A few smart remarks, but other than that, no problem."
"Good. I'll keep you posted if I can."
"You do that," Helen said and dropped the radio onto the upper bunk.
She rested her forehead tiredly against the metal frame. She became aware of a hand on her calf and looked down. Nikki was touching her leg.
"Come down here. Where it's warm. I need to talk to you."
Helen thought about it, then shrugged. "OK."
She took her place beside Nikki and did not resist when the inmate reached out to draw her closer. She huddled in to the other woman's side and didn't try to pretend to herself that it was for anything other than the chance to be near her. She breathed in her scent, memorising it. She was still angry, but it was fading quickly in the light of the situation. This might be her last chance to spend time with Nikki. She had no doubt that after this riot the other woman would be back on the ghost train, whatever Adam had said about not shipping her out.
"Helen?" Nikki said softly.
"D'you want to know why I wrote that letter?"
Helen took a deep breath. "I'm more interested in why you didn't tell me face to face. Give me a chance to ask questions, at least."
"I was scared."
"I've never been able to say no to you. You know that. I could see that separating was the best thing for both of us."
"How? How could it be the best thing for you and me?"
"I was afraid you'd change my mind."
"Helen, I knew what doing time was going to be like."
"Which meant that you needed more support, not less!"
"No," Nikki said, "the first time I got banged up my ignorance protected me."
She laughed bitterly. "I didn't know what to expect, so I dealt with it. One thing at a time. I thought I was so tough. So streetwise. Really I was a nice middle-class girl who didn't have the first idea about how to handle being inside, even though I'd been on remand. But somewhere in all that crap, the processing, being made into a number, I figured out how to cope. I got angry. Some bastard screw looked at me the wrong way and I hit him. Got me a week down the block and a chance to think. Funny thing was, it wasn't as bad as the stories I'd heard. Just boring, lonely, unpleasant. I could deal with that."
Helen shivered and Nikki rested her forehead briefly against Helen's hair before continuing in a low voice. "What I didn't realise then was that every time it's worse. Prison grinds you down. It's like the walls choose - they let the good memories out and leave the bad ones behind. They take everything you are away from you till there's nothing left except a shell. The Nikki Wade you met the first time ... she wasn't me. She was what I needed to be to survive."
"So you felt you had to be like that again?" Helen said, understanding dawning. "And you didn't think you could be if we were still seeing each other."
"Yeah. I had to front up. I was going in labelled a screw killer. I didn't think I'd make the month. I remembered what it was like the first time. One of things that nearly finished me off was worrying about Trisha and whether she was OK. I kept wondering how she was getting on with running the club. Then I'd remember that I couldn't do a thing about it. I had to focus. Pretend the world outside the walls didn't exist. Otherwise, I wouldn't have been able to get through it."
"I could have helped you cope," Helen said softly.
"You couldn't," Nikki said bleakly. She stroked Helen's face with the back of her fingers. "All you could do was ruin your life trying. I wasn't going to let that happen."
"So you sent me away."
Helen thought about it, vaguely aware of Nikki's breathing beside her.
"So what you're saying is your decision still stands."
"At least now I understand why."
"Well, good job we had this chance to talk, eh?" Nikki said ironically.
"No, actually it is," Helen said. She turned to Nikki. "I'll respect your decision. I see the sense in it."
"My wee practical Scot."
"Aye. But what you need to know is that doesn't mean I've given up on you. I will get you out of here, just like I did last time. There will come a day when you walk out of that gate. And when you do, I'll be waiting for you. Count on it."
"Because that's going to happen in a hurry," Nikki said bitterly. "I can't keep my nose clean this time. This time the screws really do have it in for me. Whatever I do."
"I've seen that, while I've been here. But you mustn't give up hope. Or believe I'm not thinking of you."
Nikki sighed wearily and bowed her head. Tears fringed her dark lashes. She looked at Helen and Helen was shocked by the bleakness in her eyes. "I can't afford to remember what we had. I can't afford to hope."
"Then remember this," Helen said.
Recklessly, she took the taller woman's face in her hands and kissed her, putting every ounce of desire and feeling that she could into the contact. For a second Nikki tried to resist, then she moaned deep in her throat and returned it, wrapping her arms round Helen as if she was trying to mould every inch of their upper bodies together. They ended up pressed against each other, kissing passionately. Helen worried briefly that the edge of the bunk must be digging into Nikki's back, then abandoned the thought. Nikki didn't seem to mind.
Suddenly Nikki stiffened and pushed Helen away. Helen looked at her, confused.
"Shit! Get up on the top bunk!"
"They're coming! Listen!" Nikki said, as she stood up and pulled Helen to her feet.
Helen turned her head towards the sound outside, blinking as she recognised the hammering of multiple heavy boots moving quickly closer down the wing. It sounded like an oncoming thunderstorm; relentless and inevitable. Helen could hear shouting and crashing as the prisoners reacted to the presence of the squad, but it seemed to have no effect on their speed.
"Helen!" Nikki said. Helen looked down and saw that the other woman was bending over, making her a place to stand with her joined hands. Behind her Jacobs lay unmoving, a still form under the blankets.
"Get up there! Do as I say!"
The urgency in her tone stopped Helen from arguing. She put her foot onto the makeshift step, her own hand onto Nikki's shoulder and found herself boosted onto the top bunk. Nikki took two quick paces back and pressed herself against the wall of the cell, underneath the window. She crouched and turned sideways, putting her arms defensively up to protect her head. There was a loud percussive drumming against the metal door.
"STAND BACK FROM THE ENTRANCE!"
The key turned in the lock. The door exploded inwards, so fast that Helen wondered afterwards how many people had kicked it at once. A tide of boiler suited figures carrying shields and batons burst into the cell. Their faces, doubly distorted behind the thick plastic of shields and helmet visors, were hardly visible, except as blurs of pink. They surged in and slammed Nikki against the brickwork. Helen winced as she saw the amount of force they were using.
"DOWN ON THE FLOOR! NOW! I SAID NOW!" Nikki was forced to the ground in seconds, before Helen had a chance to react to the sight. Her disorientation was increased by the noise levels. The entire squad seemed to be shouting commands without waiting for them to be obeyed.
Desperately worried for Nikki, Helen became aware that one of the baton carrying figures was standing back from the action and observing what was going on. As she was helped down from the top bunk she saw him thumb a chest radio. "Team two. Hostile secured. Get the paramedics and stretcher party in here. Now! Make sure you cover them. It's raining chairs out there."
The man turned to the team holding Nikki down. "Get her up."
Nikki didn't resist as she was dragged to her feet and searched.
"No weapons, Sir," one of them said.
The leader nodded to the men around her. "Get her out of here."
He turned to Helen. "You go as well. We haven't cleared the wing. This is a snatch squad."
Helen hesitated and the man smiled at her. "Just keep your head down. My people'll take care of you. Reilly!"
"Sir," the figure who had searched Nikki said. She raised her visor.
Abruptly, Helen realised that it was a woman, almost unidentifiable as female in the bulky overalls and stab vest, carrying her shield and baton with the same casual confidence as the other shock squad members.
"Giving you another war story to tell. I want this woman protected on her way to the gate. Can you do that?"
"Easy. What about Nikki Wade?"
"What about her?"
"She's a prisoner under our care."
"She'd better hope her mates don't chuck anything too heavy at her on the way out," the squad leader said casually. Helen looked across at Nikki and saw the way she was standing; withdrawn, stoical. She took a gamble and spoke directly to Reilly.
"If we're next to each other, will that help you?"
"Yes," Reilly said, visibly surprised, "but I thought you might have a problem with it."
"We have a duty to keep her safe."
Reilly looked at her for what seemed like a long time then, abruptly, nodded. She spoke quietly to her team mates. "OK. Cover the hostage. Let's go. Sooner we get them out, sooner we can be back here, cracking heads."
She took Nikki's arm and pushed her next to Helen. "Stay inside the shields and do as you're told, Wade. If you take advantage, I'll personally make you suffer. You hear me?"
"I hear you."
Reilly took a firm grip of Nikki's neck, forcing her head down. "All right, let's go!"
Helen could hear the clamour beginning to rise on the wing outside as the prisoners regrouped and began their counter-attack. The men formed up around her and Nikki. Reilly took a deep breath. "Move!"
The team sprinted out, hustling Helen and Nikki along with them. The moment they were out of the cell the noise levels exploded. Women screamed at them; missiles rained down onto the shields the squad were holding up to protect them. Ahead of them Helen could see a small group of prisoners forming up, clutching pool cues and other makeshift weapons. As she watched most of them seemed to lose their courage and scattered but a small hard core held their ground, shouting insults and threats. In response the officers began to drum their batons against their shields and increased their speed. Helen tensed, fear filling her. Beside her, Nikki moved quickly, head still held down. Helen tried not to imagine what it was like for her, hustled along and unable to properly see what was happening.
As she struggled to keep up, the two groups met with a shuddering impact of bodies. The inmates were swept off their feet, unable to stand against the greater weight and experience of the boiler-suited men. They went down, their shocked cries echoing in Helen's ears. Helen winced as she saw the officers striking out with their batons, the dull thuds of the impacts punctuating the screams of the women as they felt the blows. The squad didn't slow down, driving relentlessly on, seemingly uncaring when they stepped on the casualties.
"Bastards," Nikki said grimly next to her.
"Shut the fuck up, Wade," Reilly barked, "or you'll get some later."
Suddenly Nikki lunged against Helen, driving her into the perimeter of officers. Helen cried out, winded, then realised that Nikki had put herself between Helen and a woman on the floor who was carrying a knife, probably liberated from the kitchen. The prisoner flailed at Nikki, the point of the blade catching in the front of her top and ripping the cloth. Reilly deliberately stepped around her and kicked the woman hard in the side, before moving them both onwards out of danger.
Another team accelerated past them, going in the opposite direction, protecting a group of apprehensive looking paramedics carrying a stretcher. They finally made the wing gate and burst through it. Half the men immediately peeled off and covered the officers locking it. The others fell back into a compact group and waited, except for two men who joined Reilly and hustled Nikki to one side. Helen followed Nikki with her eyes, willing her not to fight back. Luckily, she seemed to be cooperating with the officers, though there was a mutinous set to her jaw that worried Helen. As she watched, Reilly shoved her back against a wall.
The noise levels subsided as the women still on the wing ran out of steam without an immediate target. Helen bent over, hands on her thighs, and concentrated on breathing slowly and steadily. She was distantly aware of people she didn't recognise milling around. She supposed there must be police and quite possibly officers from other jails there. Suddenly she felt a warm hand on her back. She straightened up and saw Gates' concerned face.
"Are you all right, Helen?"
"I'm fine. Just a bit shaky."
"Well, we'll get you checked over. We've got a doctor here."
"Maybe we could start with a place to sit down," Helen said.
"Fine. Anything you want."
"Any news about Jacobs?"
"They're bringing her out next. Once the paramedics have had a look. We've got an ambulance standing by."
Helen nodded carefully, glad.
Suddenly, she heard Nikki's raised voice from the other side of the landing. "The hell I will!"
She turned to see her facing off against Reilly, apparently totally unintimidated by the burly men standing either side of her.
"Listen," Reilly said, "you get behind that screen and do as you're told, Wade, or I will have you held down and stripped and to hell with 'gender issues'"
"Bloody Gestapo! I didn't do anything!"
"No. It's just a coincidence that you ended up in a cell with a stabbed officer. You like sharp things, don't you, Wade? You're good with them, especially around people in uniform."
"I don't swing that way, darling. Now do as you're told. Last chance."
"Nikki," Helen said softly, unsure as to whether she should intervene.
Reilly took the matter out of her hands, abruptly nodding to the men, who seized Nikki and forced her to walk to the screen. Helen heard a roaring in her ears and swayed. She felt Gates take her elbow, supporting her. "You don't need to be here, Helen. Mitchell's waiting for a call. He'll take you home."
"No," Helen said. She wasn't sure if she could face her boss. "I've got a friend who can do that."
"Are you sure?"
"He's a medical doctor. Thomas Waugh. Let me call him."
In the end Helen's hands were shaking so much that Gates had to dial the number for her. He handed the phone to her when he got through. Thomas' voice was full of concern.
"Helen! I saw the news! Are you OK?"
"You don't sound fine. What about Nikki?"
"I can't talk now," Helen said, aware of Gates hovering in the background. "I need a lift, Thomas. Can you do that for me?"
"Sure. You'll need to get word out to the police. They've got the place cordoned off."
"Good. About an hour?"
"Fine. Don't break any speed limits. I'm being taken care of."
A doctor was brought in and she cooperated numbly as the woman asked her a series of standard sounding questions and checked her pupils and blood pressure before briskly diagnosing shock and exhaustion and recommending a good night's sleep as the best remedy. Before she left Helen asked after Jacobs again. The doctor looked at her, frowning. "Were you a friend?"
"No, but she's a colleague."
"I'm very sorry to have to tell you that Officer Jacobs died of her wounds fifteen minutes ago," the medic said seriously, "they just couldn't get to her in time."
"Oh God," Helen said. She thought of the older woman, lying wrapped in blood stained blankets, life slowly ebbing away as she tried to hold on while a riot raged outside. Tears rose in her eyes and she tightened her lips, trying to suppress them. The doctor left the room quietly.
The door opened and Gates came in. He was moving without his usual energy, his shoulders slumped. "Your lift's here. I'll take you down." He looked at Helen. "You heard?"
"I did this. I was so determined to prove that I could make that bitch Wade toe the line ..."
"Nikki didn't kill Jacobs. She tried to save her," Helen said sharply.
"I was there, Adam. I know what happened."
"I expect the enquiry 'll sort it out. I'll see you tomorrow, Helen."
He turned away and then, abruptly, turned back. "I nearly forgot .... Helen, have you got any other clothes here?"
"I think I've got some work-out gear in the car."
"Do you mind getting changed? The police want your clothes for forensics and they'd prefer to take them now."
Helen nodded, then walked out to her car and retrieved her gym kit which, thankfully, was clean. She got changed in the prison officers' locker room and handed over her blood-soaked clothes to a policewoman before going to wait for Thomas.
She walked through the prison. It was obvious the news had already spread. Officers gathered in sombre groups, talking quietly. Here and there single members of staff stood by themselves, fighting their emotions or getting themselves under control. The mood was angry, bitter with unexpressed emotion. Helen felt the hate in the air and shivered. Shouting and banging drifted down from the wings, where the prisoners were still commenting on the scenes they could see out of their cell windows.
As Helen waited for Thomas in the outer yard, four prison officers came out carrying a stretcher with a covered shape on it, the paramedics trailing after them in a small huddled group. One by one, in waves of movement as the stretcher passed, the police and prison officers in the yard took off their caps and helmets, watching as Jacobs was loaded into the ambulance.
Only one man did not see her out. Gates stood with his back to the others, gazing up at the prison, his eyes flicking from cell window to cell window, almost daring the prisoners to react to the scene. In the flickering yellow glare of the harsh sodium spotlights, Helen thought that she could see the silvery traces of tears on his cheeks.
Thomas met her outside the gate, took one look at her and didn't try to talk to her. As he accelerated away from the prison Helen closed her eyes in utter weariness and despair. An indeterminate time later, she jerked awake and found herself outside her house. The engine of the car was turned off, the chill from outside beginning to seep in. Beside her Thomas sat quietly in the driver's seat, hands resting on his thighs.
"How long have I been asleep?"
"About half an hour," Thomas said.
"I didn't want to disturb you."
He glanced at her. She couldn't make his expression out in the street lighting. "That was good of you."
"You've had a bad time of it."
"And worse coming," Helen said bleakly, "especially for Nikki."
Thomas nodded slowly and handed Helen her handbag. She fumbled out her door keys and got out of the car, then stood on the pavement, staring at the house. After the emotion of the riot and its aftermath, she found that her normal life didn't seem quite real or connected to her.
"Come on, we ought to get inside."
"Before the neighbours worry? This is London, Thomas."
Helen shrugged and led the way into the house, dumping her stuff on the side before heading for the kitchen. She put the kettle on and leant against the counter, hugging herself and staring into the darkness beyond the kitchen window. After a moment Thomas came and joined her, standing slightly awkwardly, as though he was unsure as to what to do next. Finally he cleared his throat.
"So what happened?"
"There was a riot. Haven't you been watching the news?"
"It's on the 24 hour rolling news channel, but they aren't giving out much detail. They certainly didn't give any updates on what happened to you. They just said the staff had lost control of the wing."
"Well, right now, they're retaking control. And I doubt they're being very subtle about it. They've a score to settle."
"An officer died. I wouldn't want to be a prisoner on that wing right now. Gates is overwhelmed. He's allowed his emotions to take over. He'll look the other way, whatever's done."
"What about Nikki?"
"She's out of there, thank Christ. She was in the same cell as me. They brought us out together. She'll be on the block by now."
And just like that it was too much and Helen found herself fighting tears, unable to maintain her control any longer. She gulped as Thomas took hold of her, folding her gently into a hug, comforting her without words. Except that part of her could not help comparing him to Nikki, in her arms so recently. Just as warm, just as strong and much, much more desired. Helen put her hands on Thomas' shoulders and pushed him gently away.
"Please, not just now."
"Sorry," Thomas said easily, "all a bit too much, I suppose."
"Tea or coffee?"
They sat silently at the table, sipping their drinks. Outside the sky was dark with the still quiet of the early hours of the morning. Helen recognised it from her sleepless nights.
"What happens now?" Thomas asked, interrupting Helen's thoughts.
"I phone a few people."
"Claire, Trisha, Monica. Oh, and Mitchell when it's office hours."
"You're going to phone the others now?"
"Trisha is probably still at the club. I'll get an answer machine for the others. But they need to know what's happening. They'll be frantic otherwise, when they see the news."
"Is that your support network, or hers?"
"Bit of both."
"I'm glad there is one."
"I wouldn't have kept going this long without it," Helen said, "then I'll get some sleep and go back in."
"Why don't you take the day off?"
"The police will want a witness statement. I want to check on the Drugs Free project." She paused. "I can probably get an idea of what's going to happen to Nikki."
"Do you think they'll ship her out?"
"I don't know. It'd be safer for her if they do."
After seeing Thomas out, Helen went to bed for a brief, exhausted sleep, then woke herself up with a hot shower and a change of clothes before taking a taxi to Southwold. She spent a couple of hours with the police, giving her statement, spoke to Mitchell by phone, then went to see Gates. She found him slumped at his desk, his suit jacket slung carelessly over a chair, working on paperwork. Helen stopped in the doorway and assessed how he looked.
"Have you even been home?" she asked, concerned.
"Too much to do," he said hoarsely, "area wants a written report, the whole wing's on lock-down, we've got cell searches to do."
He looked briefly haunted. "Jacobs' husband is coming in later to talk to me. He wants to see where it happened."
"I suppose you can hardly refuse him that."
Helen sat down across the desk from Gates. "Adam ...."
"You should get some sleep."
"I haven't got time!"
"I know. But when we had a riot in Larkhall it took days to sort out the mess. You have to pace yourself or you'll collapse. Take it from me."
"I'll bow to your greater experience, when I've finished my list of jobs."
"All right. Then how about I drive you home?"
"No, I'll get a quick half hour in the hospital wing."
He sighed. "I took a phone call from Mitchell earlier. Has he spoken to you yet?"
"Yes," Helen said tightly.
"How d'you feel about being pulled off the project?"
"I think it's the sensible thing to do. Doesn't mean I like it. But I accept that Mitchell has to think about my safety."
Gates laughed tiredly. "You say that like you blame him."
"Prisons can be dangerous environments. I came to terms with that a long time ago."
"Well, this riot was connected to drugs, somehow. You were a target. I think he's doing the right thing. At least till we find out as much as we can."
"Are you running the investigation?"
"Yeah. I don't what good it'll do. Everybody's suddenly developed a serious case of 'deaf and dumb'."
"I'm not surprised. It'll be a murder charge, won't it?"
"So much for getting clean, getting out and going straight," Helen said disgustedly.
"To tell you the truth I'm not really interested in the murder. The police will take care of that side of things. I want to know who put her up to it."
"She certainly got that knife from somewhere," Helen agreed thoughtfully, "she's probably going to be too scared to tell the truth."
"Maybe. I hope not."
"We've always had a problem with drugs in this prison. It was one of the reasons it was chosen for your project. It would be nice if we could use this whole incident to clear that up."
Helen hesitated, then decided that she might as well grasp the nettle. "I need to see Nikki Wade."
"She saved my life back there. I want to say thank you."
"Saved your life? I think she's the woman who put Clarissa up to it!"
"Well it was a brilliant piece of stage management, then," Helen retorted, her temper flaring, "because it certainly looked to me like she risked her own life to get me and Jacobs into that cell and away from the riot. Something about the way she was fighting off other inmates with a pool cue! Or did nobody else see that?"
"It didn't do Jacobs much good, did it?"
"No. But that wasn't Nikki's fault. Jacobs ran out of time."
"Hell of an epitaph," Gates said, then stood. "all right. You can see Wade. I'll come with you. I've got some news for her anyway."
They walked down to the block together in silence. The atmosphere in the prison was still subdued. Helen had never realised how in tune with the routine she was until she saw it disrupted, the normal patterns of movement absent as officers got on with clearing up the mess. The few prisoners who were out of their cells moved quickly and furtively about their duties, avoiding eye-contact and staying out of the way of the staff. The Tornado Team were still around, scattered in small groups, providing an obtrusive, visible back-up to the normal shift. Reilly was standing on the end of a wing near the office as they passed by, shield resting tidily against the wall, baton in one hand, watching the clear up. She caught Helen's eye and nodded as they walked past. Helen nodded back, unwilling to be rude. Giving the woman a piece of her mind wouldn't help anyway.
The officers on the block were more relaxed, slightly insulated from the atmosphere of the rest of the prison. After all, Helen reflected, it was a normal day for them. Their occupancy rate was slightly higher, that was all. She and Gates were greeted with a chorus of "Morning, Sir, Miss."
Gates stopped abruptly. "You're an officer down. Why?"
"Jones is busy cleaning Wade's breakfast off his uniform, Sir. He took it in and she threw it at him," Allen, the senior man on shift, said.
"I see. Open it up."
"Wait a minute," Helen said, "why?"
"Why what, Miss?"
"Why did she do that?"
"She's a trouble maker," Allen said patiently
"So if I was to ask Nikki Wade what Jones said to her just before she threw her meal at him, there wouldn't be anything to report?"
"No derogatory language, no insults, no taunts. No score settling at all? Despite the fact that an officer died here last night?"
"No, Miss," Allen said. A slow tide of red was creeping up his neck.
"Glad to hear it," Helen said.
"Open the door," Gates said wearily.
Nikki was sitting against the wall, arms folded around her knees. She glanced briefly at them as they came in, then turned her attention back to the brickwork opposite her.
"Wade," Gates said.
"That's my name. When do I get a shower?"
"When I've got enough spare officers."
"Great. In the meantime I'll just cope with the dried blood on my skin, shall I?"
"It's on your hands. I don't see the difference, personally," Gates said viciously.
"So why have you come to see me, Sir? Fancied a gloat, did you?" Nikki sneered.
"I'm here to tell you're moving on."
"Really? Thought you were going to keep me here, whatever happened."
"Area Management think you might be subject to reprisals if you stay."
"Yeah, because I stabbed Jacobs. Not that I touched her, or had a knife, but I still killed her."
"I don't know how, Wade, but you were behind her death. Don't worry. We'll work it out."
"In your dreams." Nikki shook her head. "I tried to help her. Much fucking good it did me."
She looked directly at Helen for the first time. "How about you, Miss? Are you OK?"
Helen nodded. "I'm all right. Mostly thanks to you."
She stepped forward and put her hand on Nikki's shoulder. She felt Nikki lean briefly into the touch, too quickly for any of the guards to see what she was doing. She drew her fingers along Nikki's shoulder blade as she let go, her movement masked from Gates by her body.
"I have given an accurate report of what happened. Don't worry."
"I'm not worried about that, Miss. You can say what you want. It won't change their opinion."
"Maybe not. But I know that you saved my life and I will make sure that's as widely known as it needs to be."
Nikki ducked her head. "Thanks, Miss. For what it's worth." She looked at Helen. "I won't forget what you said. In the cell."
"You just do that."
As they walked back into the main prison Gates stopped Helen.
"What did you tell her in the cell?"
"I told to keep her nose clean. I also said she might get some credit for trying to help me and Jacobs. Though, really, I'm not sure why I bothered."
"What makes you say that?"
"Because every officer in this prison, including you, has pre-judged the outcome before seeing the evidence!"
"We're mourning a dead colleague!"
"Yes, I know. But what incentive has Nikki Wade got to try and get along with the prison regime when whatever she does has the worst possible interpretation put on it from the start? When she's shipped out the minute anything happens?"
"That's for her own protection!"
"And you're telling me it wouldn't have happened anyway?" Helen demanded. "That woman is in the 'too hard to handle' file and as a result she is given nothing. No help, no support, even to address her offending behaviour. Nothing that would persuade her to change her ways and cooperate!"
"We're a prison, Helen, not a bloody counselling service! We're here to punish people."
"The punishment is the deprivation of liberty. After that we're supposed to be trying to help them!"
"In ways that are consistent with the good order of the wing and the safety of my officers! It's not as though Wade is willing to address her offending behaviour, for God's sake. She's on a whole life tariff. She'll never get out! We just have to manage her while she's here!"
Abruptly, Helen slumped, all of the fight going out of her. "Well, I suppose that's the rest of her life mapped out, then."
Helen turned to him, her arms wrapped around herself. "When are you moving her out?"
"Good?" Gates asked incredulously.
"What you've forgotten is that Wade was seen to protect an officer. If she stayed here, it wouldn't just be the staff who'd be out to get her. So would the inmates. She's safer out of here. Not that you care."
"I don't want any more trouble, if that's what you mean."
"And of course shipping Nikki Wade out is going to ensure that this place is trouble-free from now on."
"It'll certainly help," Gates said, "and if she's not here, it might be easier to persuade Clarissa to tell me what's been going on."
"Sure, whatever you say," Helen said dismissively, "I think I should go now."
Nikki leant her head back against the cold metal wall of the cubicle and wondered if they were going to hold her in the meat wagon overnight. Just as a demonstration of the way they felt. She had been dragged out of segregation at Southwold, given even less time than usual to shower and change her clothes, then had her bag of possessions almost thrown at her head by a sullen guard. Gates had personally seen her to the van and had watched her being loaded, a scowl on his unshaven face.
Since then she had been locked in a steel box, trying to brace herself against the walls on corners and roundabouts as the van drove to wherever she was being taken. As usual, she had no idea where that was. She only knew that it had taken hours to get there and the temperature had been steadily dropping all the way. The van had come to a stop in a prison yard a couple of hours ago; Nikki had heard the familiar sound of the gates closing behind her. Before then the van had moved from motorways to normal roads and into far less traffic. All of that, and the hilliness of the last stretch, pointed to somewhere in the north. Nikki wrapped her arms around herself and tried to think warm thoughts. She was determined not to give the screws the satisfaction of banging on the door for attention.
By the time the door was unlocked she was chilled and the steady persistent drizzle outside did nothing to help. Nikki climbed down and looked round, seeing the usual grim stone walls and Victorian architecture, topped by razor wire and cameras. The difference here was the cap of grey cloud that sat atop the prison, hiding everything beyond the walls. It was like being in a small self-contained universe of granite and mist.
Nikki picked up her bag of stuff. The slim, compact woman waiting for her signed the driver's clipboard and looked her over. Nikki returned the scrutiny, her chin tilted defiantly, feeling the rain starting to soak into her clothes. The woman, who was dressed in an oversized coat over her prison officer's uniform, nodded and gestured with her thumb. Nikki could see the moisture beginning to gather in her brown hair.
"Come on. Let's get you inside."
The Yorkshire accent flattened the vowels. It went well with her matter-of-fact tone.
"Where the hell am I?" Nikki demanded, unmoving.
"Fellgarth. Northernmost women's prison in England. I'm the southerner here. Now, are you going to act like you've enough sense to come in out of the rain?"
She walked off without waiting for an answer.
"Piss off!" Nikki said to the woman's retreating back. The woman stopped and turned to face Nikki. She smiled at her and Nikki had the time to notice that she had a pleasant, open face and, strangely, was not angry or apparently bothered by Nikki's rudeness.
"Please don't speak to me like that. Not when I haven't given you cause."
"I'll say what the hell I want," Nikki retorted.
The woman looked at her. "I'm Atkinson. I'm going to be your personal officer, so I'd prefer for us to be polite to each other, if we can."
"Oh, great," Nikki said, "pleased to meet you. Miss. Are you the bitch that kept me locked up in that coffin for an extra couple of hours?"
"Yes," Atkinson said calmly.
"What the fuck for? Making a point, were you?"
"No. The Governor wasn't sure where to put you and I thought you wouldn't want the intake dormitory when you could go straight to your own cell. It was the only way I could manage it. I'm sorry that meant you were confined in the van for longer, but we are short staffed."
"Whatever," Nikki said.
"I'll do you a deal," Atkinson said.
"I don't do deals. Specially not with screws."
"Why don't you wait until you've heard it? I might be offering you the keys to the main gates."
"You've been processed a few times, I expect?"
"Once or twice."
"Right then. Help me make this as quick as we can and I can get you down onto the wing in time for a hot meal, not sandwiches. I expect you'd be glad of that, after travelling all day."
"Do I have to say pretty please?"
"No. Just cooperate. Come on."
She turned and walked into the prison without waiting to see if Nikki was behind her. After a short pause, Nikki shrugged and followed her. She went through the familiar routine and didn't make trouble, too indifferent to care. Atkinson had another officer standing by for the strip search, as dictated by regulations, but otherwise conducted the process herself, moving it along quickly and efficiently. Once she got her coat off, Nikki realised that Atkinson was a senior officer. She puzzled over it as she followed her round. What was a senior officer doing staying back to see a particular prisoner through reception? In the end Nikki mentally shrugged and dismissed the question. Maybe, like every prison she'd ever been in, they had a slightly different way of interpreting the rules.
Atkinson led her out onto the wing, with the other officer trailing behind. "This is B wing, Wade, your new home. I'll give you a proper tour when I come in tomorrow. You'll get to choose your work then. Your file says you're a gardener. We have got some plots free. They'll need a lot of digging ...."
"No," Nikki interrupted suddenly. Atkinson frowned at her.
"No point. I never stay anywhere long enough to see the plants grow."
"Yard work it is, then. Come on."
Nikki stopped, puzzled. Atkinson was climbing the stairs to the upper landings. When she sensed that Nikki was no longer behind her she stopped and looked back. Whereas Hollamby would have barked out an instruction to hurry up, Atkinson looked past Nikki to the other PO with them.
"Jane, could you let the servery know to get that meal ready, please? I'll bring Wade down when she's dropped her stuff off."
The younger screw nodded and headed off, apparently unworried by the idea of leaving Atkinson on her own. Nikki dismissed the last of a long line of puzzles and followed the officer to a cell. Atkinson waved her in, busy placing the card with Nikki's name on it in the metal rack by the door.
Nikki walked in and then stopped, paralysed with shock. She came back out, her possessions still clutched in her arms. "Funny, Miss, very funny. Now where's my actual cell?"
"Take your things in, please, Wade. This is your actual cell."
"This is an enhanced cell. I don't get enhanced! I get the shittiest basic they can give me," Nikki said vehemently.
"Go in, please," Atkinson said. She stepped into Nikki's space, forcing her to move back or jostle the older woman. Once in the cell Atkinson folded her arms and waited until Nikki dropped her plastic bag on the bed then nodded, as if satisfied.
"Right, then," she said quietly, "the Wing Governor, Steven Duncan, has decided that you should be on enhanced status."
"Why?" Nikki demanded fiercely.
"Because he has been investigating what happened during the riot in Southwold. In particular he has read a witness statement by a woman called Helen Stewart which says that you tried to save an officer's life."
"How'd he get that?"
"It was faxed over today, at his request. He thinks that you deserve enhanced status for your actions. I don't know that I agree, but he is the Governor."
"Bastard," Nikki said quietly.
"If word gets out that I tried to help a screw, I'm dead! I might as well have a target on my back!"
"Aye, that's true. But since the only people who know about this are the Governor and me, you'll be right so long as you keep your mouth shut."
"Like I can trust you!"
"We have a saying in Yorkshire, Wade. 'See all, know all, say nowt.'" Catching the flicker of confusion in Nikki's eyes, she clarified. "Say nothing."
"How do I know I can I trust you to do that?"
"You don't. Trust has to be earned. Wait and see, I'm afraid."
She looked around the cell. "One thing you need to know about me. When I give my word, I keep it. But I'm a by-the-book kind of woman. Rigid, they call me."
"Well, at least I'll know where I am," Nikki sneered.
"Exactly. And one thing I do not like is discourtesy. Try not to swear at me again and we'll get along a lot better."
"Or, I'll see about getting you put back on basic. It's in your own hands, if you feel more comfortable there."
"Then why haven't you already done it?"
"Because I hadn't given you fair warning," Atkinson said, "now I have, and it's up to you."
She glanced at her watch. "Come on. It's not mannerly to keep the prisoner in the kitchen out of her cell any longer."
"Not like any of you'd get your hands dirty," Nikki sneered.
"Maybe not. But that's how things work in here."
Nikki followed Atkinson down the stairs and into the servery. The place was mostly closed down, surfaces scrubbed and wiped ready for the morning. The screw who had acted as Atkinson's side-kick throughout the booking in process was in the kitchen, chatting to the server. The woman had her back to Nikki, leaning casually against the counter, arms folded, her hair hidden by the white cap she wore. Nikki glanced at her and then sat down to the pasta bake and salad that had been put out. She ate quickly, concentrating on the food. She was hungry, as well as tired and cold. For once she actually wanted to be in her cell, with the door closed, so that she could get some sleep and prepare for tomorrow.
A mug of tea appeared on the table next to her.
"This is getting to be a habit," an amused voice said. Nikki looked up and found herself face to face with Caroline Lewis. The other woman smiled at her.
"Pleased to see me?"
"No," Nikki said bluntly, "what are you doing here?"
"My sentence," Caroline said.
Nikki thought about it, then asked the question she couldn't avoid. "Same thing as last time?"
Nikki stood up abruptly.
"Stay away from me."
"That's going to be hard. We're both on B wing."
"Not my problem," Nikki said. She turned to Atkinson. "I'd like to get some sleep now, Miss. It's been a long day."
Atkinson glanced at the half finished plate of food, then shrugged and took Nikki back to her cell.
"You know Lewis, then?"
"We were both in Larkhall during my first sentence."
"You don't seem to like her very much."
"Something she did?"
"Something she is."
"Well, she's in here for another year, so you two are going to have to work something out."
"I'll just avoid her," Nikki said.
She stepped into her cell and heard the door lock behind her, then took a deep breath. Dealing with the blonde woman was a complication she didn't need. It didn't help that her skin crawled whenever she thought about Lewis' real crimes, which she knew were against children.
Nikki shuddered. Objectively, she knew she shouldn't blame herself for the brief romance she had had with the woman before she had found out the truth. Helen had told her that their relationship was over, Caroline had already made it clear that she was interested in Nikki, and she had been lonely. None of that made Nikki feel better about associating with a child abuser. But it was in the past and nothing she could do would change it. Wearily, Nikki cleaned her teeth and put it out of her mind, before putting an extra tracksuit top over her usual night wear and crawling into bed. She huddled around herself, fighting the biting cold, and fell into an exhausted, troubled sleep.
Atkinson rapped on the door of the Wing Governor's office and walked in without waiting for an answer. As usual at this time of the morning, Steven Duncan was engaged in his daily battle with the Telegraph cryptic crossword. He glanced up at Atkinson and reluctantly put the paper aside.
"How's our new arrival?" he asked without preamble.
"That's what I wanted to talk to you about. We've got a problem."
"Already? What did she do, try and hit you?"
"No. She knows Lewis and I'd lay money that she knows Lewis is in for kiddie catching."
"And from you that's saying something," Steven commented thoughtfully.
"Just because the queen blinks when she comes out of me pocket."
Steven nodded at the chair in front of the desk and Atkinson sat down. He put his thumbnail in his mouth and started chewing, before catching Atkinson's expression and taking it out.
"Don't be. I think this might be a three pipe problem."
"So the game's afoot. All right."
Atkinson straightened at his tone and Steven wondered, not for the first time, if he got on so well with the older woman because they both came from military families. He might never have been in the regular army, like his two siblings, but he knew the value of a good NCO. Atkinson was that, in spades. Tough, unassuming and competent, she had saved him from more than one bad mistake since he had become Governor. He knew that she thought some of his more liberal ideas were wrong but he also had the knowledge that whatever he did she would back him up and only argue about it in private.
Trusting Atkinson to comment if she needed to, he thought aloud. "I don't think Nikki Wade will say anything. I've been looking at her file. One thing she's very strong on is not telling tales."
"Right. She's been interviewed after incidents and even when she was attacked, it's always been 'no comment' all the way."
"Problem is, Lewis is definitely interested in Wade," Atkinson said neutrally, "and not just for holding hands."
"Aye. You remember what the trick cyclist said."
"Yes. Amoral, very intelligent, a sociopath and an extremely high sex drive."
"And since she works in the kitchens we can hardly put bromide in her tea."
"OK. Keep an eye on the situation. Brief Lewis' personal officer. Try and keep them apart."
"And if we can't?"
"We move Lewis onto another wing."
"D'you think Wade might hurt her?"
"Depends on Lewis. Wade doesn't use violence unless she has to or unless she's provoked. All of the incidents with other inmates in her file are defensive."
He caught Atkinson's reaction and spread his hands. "It's a fact. Officers are a different matter, of course."
Atkinson stood up. She nodded at the discarded paper on the corner of his desk. "Tricorn."
"Thanks. Keep me briefed on the Nikki Wade situation."
Nikki came down to breakfast. She was already in a bad temper so when one of the other women jostled her on the landing, her response was instantaneous. "Watch it, you!"
The woman, a bleached blond, whippet-thin youngster in a cut off shirt with several prison tattoos on her arms, snarled back. "Piss off."
Nikki looked around, took a deep breath and reached out to grab the other inmate's shoulder. She was stronger because of her extra height and pulled her round despite her struggles.
"Do we have a problem? Because if so, let's just sort it, shall we?"
"Thought you'd go running to the screws. Blue eyed girl like you," the other woman sneered.
"Why would I do that? Screws don't like me, and the feeling goes both ways. Now what is your problem?"
"I'm still on basic because of you."
"Bollocks. How d'you figure that?"
Nikki was aware of movement in her peripheral vision and got ready to fight off one or more people, possibly from behind. The woman was under control. It was her mates Nikki was worried about, especially since a circle of people had formed around them as they faced off against each other and Nikki didn't know who was friends with whom. Still, the confrontation had to happen and Nikki knew that if she handled it right, she'd stop several more before they even got started.
"I was supposed to get that cell they put you in. It was promised me!"
"Well, shit happens. You think I choose where I get put?" Nikki demanded. "It's all a power game anyway. Be a good little girl and you get a duvet and few extra quid a week. We say jump and you say 'How high, Miss?' It's all crap." She shrugged. "Give it a while and I'll be back on basic. I always am. You'll get your cell then. I'll make sure to leave it clean for you."
"What's your name, anyway?"
"All right, Jen. If you believe what the screws tell you, you're not as clever as you look. You know they only keep their bastard word when it suits them. What they do or don't do is nothing to do with me."
"I'll fucking get you," Jen said.
"Tell you what, why don't you try? We'll see what happens."
Deliberately, Nikki put her breakfast things down on a nearby table. Jen blinked, disconcerted.
"Come on. I'm waiting. Isn't one of your mates going to hold your stuff? Or are you going carve me up with a plastic mug?"
"I meant ...."
"I know what you meant. Well, I haven't got time for this bollocks. If you want a go, do it now." She folded her arms. "I'm waiting."
"They'll put us down the block."
"That's right. And you can kiss good bye to any chance of an enhanced cell," Nikki said. Jen swallowed. Nikki could see her mind working, trying to find a way out of the situation. When Atkinson appeared, a flash of actual gratitude crossed her face.
"All right," Atkinson said, "break it up. Do we have a problem, Wade?"
"No, Miss," Nikki said, "we were having a discussion about room allocation. That's all."
"Well hurry up and get your breakfast. I want to show you around the yard. I've a project in mind for you."
"That's kind of you, Miss. The devil makes work for idle hands, after all."
"That he does."
Nikki picked up her things and went down to get some food. Caroline Lewis was serving. She smiled at Nikki, who responded with a stony glare and made as little eye contact as possible. When she got to the front of the queue she was forced to look at the other woman. Lewis seemed to have taken quite a lot of care over her make-up, though she couldn't do much about her hair, which was hidden under the standard white cap. She was still attractive, blonde and slim. The only significant change that Nikki could see was an angry puckered scar, which ran from the side of her jaw line and under her collar. It looked like a burn mark.
"Did you sleep well, Nikki?"
"Just give me my food."
"No need to bite my head off, I'm trying to be friendly." She smiled. "We were friends, weren't we?"
"Past tense. Food, now."
"All right," Lewis said, serving her, "we'll talk later."
Nikki went and sat down, aware that Atkinson had been watching the whole interaction. Gloomily, she started to eat her breakfast. Atkinson waited until Nikki had finished and gone back to her cell before appearing again.
"Ready for your tour, Wade?"
"As I'll ever be."
"Have you got any overalls?"
"I'll wait outside while you get changed. Oh, and you might need this." She handed Nikki a body warmer.
"Thanks," Nikki said, startled, "what about you?"
"I'll be right. I'm used to it."
"Don't know if I ever will be. It was freezing last night. More than a cell usually is."
"It's the temperature difference you're feeling. It's probably three degrees colder than it is down South and you came here in one day. You'll adjust."
"Thanks," Nikki muttered and got changed.
As they stepped outside into the yard she stuck her hands into the pockets of her donkey jacket, shivering. "The bloody wind straight off the Arctic doesn't help, either."
"It warms up on the way over Russia. Don't be nesh," Atkinson said complacently. Nikki resisted asking her what 'nesh' meant. She had already decided that Atkinson was perfectly capable of speaking standard English when she chose. Nikki had no intention of learning Yorkshire dialect from anybody except the Bronte sisters.
After a brief tour Atkinson took her to the tool shed and handed her a wire brush, a pair of gloves and a kneeler. Nikki took them silently.
"OK, you know the routine," Atkinson said, "anything sharp gets handed in and counted at the end of the shift. Problems, ask a member of staff. The same person who gives you your task at the beginning of the day. Follow me."
Atkinson led her to the other end of the yard. Out of the wind, Nikki realised thankfully. She rubbed the tip of her nose, which was freezing and had started to run slightly. Atkinson pointed at two rust speckled, wrought iron benches which were bolted to the concrete near the wall.
"Weather here is hard on paint."
"Those things are more rust than iron!" Nikki said.
"Aye. So you scrub it off with the brush and when you've done that you can paint them. That'll keep you busy for a while."
"Bloody right it will."
"Well, remember, there's always the garden if you change your mind. Or, if not, there's the rest of the benches."
"I told you. I never stay anywhere long enough for that."
"You might surprise yourself, here."
"Sure," Nikki said and knelt down in front of the bench. At least getting the rust off would keep her warm. She looked up as a young, stocky man with his balding hair cut in a military style crop walked over. He had a suit on, not a uniform. His boots were highly polished but the rest of him had a crumpled appearance, more of the academic than the civil servant.
"On your feet, Wade, it's the Governor," Atkinson said.
"Make your mind up," Nikki said, "do you want me to do this or do you want me to meet and greet?"
"I want you to do what you're told, when it's asked of you."
Nikki stayed on her knees for the obligatory thirty seconds, just to make a point, then stood up. The man smiled pleasantly at her. "Steven Duncan. I'm the Wing Governor here. I believe you've already met your personal officer." He looked at the bench and frowned. "I thought you were a gardener?"
"Wade prefers to do yard work," Atkinson said impassively.
"All right. Seems a bit of a waste. I believe the soil here's quite good, though I've got black thumbs. Something to do with this being one of the old houses of correction. Either it's been well taken care of over the years or, more luridly, there are inmates buried in the grounds."
He seemed to become aware of Nikki's stony silence for the first time and smiled again. His voice became more decisive. "If you have any problems, I want you to see either me or Senior Officer Atkinson about them. Don't let anything fester. We might not be able to give you the answer you want to hear but we'll listen to what you have to say. OK?"
"Right. I'll let you get on."
He turned away and then seemed to remember something. "Atkinson. Yesterday's intake?"
"What about them?"
"An allegation of brutality."
"Oh, that. I've done a report, as have the officers who witnessed the incident. It's in your pigeon hole."
Nikki grinned cynically to herself. It seemed that Fellgarth was no different to any of the other prisons she had been in. Screws backing each other up, not that she had expected any different.
"But what happened?"
"One of the women who came in was high as a kite, Sir. Not opiates. She were a body builder, so I think it was roid rage. She started getting nasty in reception, threatened another inmate, so I stepped in and she threw a punch."
"I see," Duncan said. Nikki could hear the amusement in his voice. "She didn't know, then?"
"I don't wear me black belt at work, Sir. So I held her hand for a bit and she calmed down. Once she'd stopped fighting it and screaming she was as good as gold."
"That's what I thought had happened, but I've got the adjudication for the threatening behaviour today, so I wanted to get your side of things."
"I've outlined the hold I used in the report, Sir. It's all there."
"I'll look it up as usual."
"Oh, and Sir, I'm going to need a weekend off next month. I'm judging a competition."
"Just put in a request."
"Carry on, then."
Nikki waited until the Governor was out of earshot, then stood up.
"So what form of beating people up have you got a black belt in, then? Just so I know."
Atkinson looked at her impassively. "Third dan. Aikido. It's an entirely defensive system of holds and locks. Very useful in this job. They call it 'the way of the harmonious spirit'. You should look it up sometime."
"Doesn't sound like that woman thought it was very harmonious. Not if she was screaming."
"She were in pain as long as she continued to fight. Once she stopped she was fine. Carry on with the bench, please. A job gets done with hands, not words."
Nikki shrugged and settled down to work. Atkinson watched her for another couple of minutes and then wandered off.
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