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 headed across the yard towards the latest half-finished bench. She was in a relatively good mood. Caroline had left her alone at breakfast and she was finally beginning to get used to the change in temperature, or at least had worked out how to dress to cope with it. She sensed that she was finding her place among the other inmates. Things were looking up.
The first few weeks in a new prison were always difficult but Nikki was used to starting over and finding her place quickly. She'd learned the routine and the screws and mastered Fellgarth's individual variations on the rules. She had written to Trisha at the beginning of the week and was hopeful of getting a letter back soon.
Nikki squinted at the bright northern sunlight and looked over the walls at the panoramic view of the moors that could be seen if you knew where to stand. She was gradually getting to like the scenery around the prison. It was very bleak compared to the more southern landscapes she was used to, but it could be beautiful and some of the colours were magnificent.
She was studying the shadings within a stand of grey clouds when someone cannoned into her, nearly knocking her over. Nikki recovered quickly and seized the offender by the arm. "Oi! What was that about? You blind, you stupid cow?"
The other woman, who Nikki vaguely recognised as someone she had seen running around the yard every day, stopped and looked at her. She was shorter and stockier than Nikki, her compact body lean in a well-worn tracksuit and trainers. Nikki was struck by the blank, closed nature of her face. Her brown eyes were shuttered and she wore her shoulder length hair combed forward, almost as though she wanted to hide her expression.
The other con bowed her head, made some sort of gesture against her chest and then, twisting her arm out of Nikki's grip, started to run again. Nikki stared after her, disbelieving, and began to sprint to keep up. As she caught the woman, determined to settle the issue, she became aware of an order from the edge of the yard. She stopped, disconcerted. She had never heard Atkinson shout before.
"Wade! Leave her alone!"
She was so distracted that she lost her grip on the runner as she turned to see Atkinson and Jones advancing on her.
"What? She ran into me! Am I supposed to just ignore that?"
"She said sorry," Jones said impatiently.
"No she bloody didn't!" Nikki said indignantly. "She didn't open her mouth!"
"She signed 'sorry'"
Jones made the same gesture against her own chest, a circular motion of her fist. "That's 'sorry' in BSL."
"British Sign Language. Lorraine's deaf and without speech."
"What's she doing in here, then?"
"Killed her husband." Atkinson said.
"But she can't talk to anyone!" Nikki said indignantly.
"Mostly she chooses not to," Atkinson said, "back to work, Wade."
"Does anybody know how to sign round here?"
"Jones is her personal officer. She's been on a course."
"What about when Jones isn't here?"
"We manage. Back to work."
"What can't be cured must be endured," Atkinson said. She looked significantly at the bench. Nikki took the hint and trudged off to the other side of the yard. She worked for the rest of the morning, occasionally glancing up to watch as the lonely figure passed her, doing its monotonous circuit. The woman seemed tireless, closed in her own world, indifferent to anybody else.
Mid morning, Nikki stopped to rest her aching back. Jones came over to chat. They stood out of the wind, under the wall and watched Lorraine, apparently tired of going round in circles, stretching out her muscles before turning silently and going into the building. Nikki noticed that she was effectively invisible; other inmates ignored her and the screws glanced incuriously at her before going on with their duties.
"How long's she been in here?" Nikki asked.
"Lorraine? Five years."
"It's a nick, for God's sake! This isn't the right place for her."
"I know," Jones said, "but she won't communicate, so we can't help her."
"Thought you knew how to sign."
"I do. But she ignores me. Looks straight through me. I gave up after about six months." She looked at Nikki. "You want to try?"
"Do you want to try talking to her? You've got something to discuss, anyway."
"What? Oh yeah ... 'Why don't you look where you're going, you stupid cow?' Great opening for a conversation."
"It's a start," Jones said, "she reacted to you. It's more than she's done with anybody for months. I'll drop the book off in your cell."
"Sure," Nikki said, and shrugged, "why not. It's something to do. Make a change from the gym."
"You might need that too. You have to catch her before you can talk to her."
"This is getting too bloody complicated," Nikki said. She turned back to the bench. "I'll do a bit more."
The book was on her bed when she came back from her afternoon work session, with a note attached 'See me if you get stuck.' Nikki shook her head.
"The day I'm thicker than a screw ...." she muttered. She put it to one side and might not have bothered, except that she was finding Henry James harder going than usual and decided to give herself a break. She put 'The Golden Bowl' down and picked up the book on BSL.
Teaching herself a new sign every day and practising the old ones became one of her distractions. Things got more interesting when Jones started signing at her.
"Keeps my hand in," she said, when Nikki asked why.
Helen stood in front of the fridge in her new house, feeling a bit disorientated. She had seen the last of the casual guests out half an hour before, leaving a few old friends. She had decided to have the house warming party while it didn't matter if anyone spilled wine on the carpets. It also meant that she would have longer to re-decorate, which was important, given her busy schedule. Her commitments had made the move stressful enough, ensuring that she had simply packed up her possessions and transferred them over wholesale without doing any de cluttering. A cynical part of Helen suspected that she had paid the moving company to transport stuff that would end up being thrown away.
As she hooked a bottle of white wine from the top shelf, Monica and Barbara came in, deep in conversation. Both middle aged and the image of respectability, they had in fact served time in Larkhall prison; Monica because of her ignorance of the system, which had led her to be blamed for her ex boss' crimes and Barbara because she had helped her terminally ill husband to die. Helen and Monica worked together often because of their shared interest in prison reform and Helen had been pleased to invite Barbara because of her friendship for Nikki during her partner's first time in prison, where the older woman had been Nikki's cell mate.
Though they had never met face to face before this evening, the two women had their memories of Larkhall and many of their attitudes in common, and they seemed to have really hit it off. They had been talking to each other for most of the party, staying slightly away from the younger, more raucous element among the guests. Barbara was especially animated; her recent release and marriage had combined to boost her crusading zeal to almost dangerous levels.
Helen stood up and smiled at them. "Are you two still setting the world to rights?"
"No. Just the British legal system," Barbara said cheerfully, "sorry, I mean the English legal system."
"Oh, go on," Monica said, "it's not every day I let my hair down, after all."
Helen grinned at her and reached for the corkscrew. Barbara handed it to her. She waited until Helen was pulling the cork before speaking.
"So how are you. Really?"
Helen tilted her head and favoured them both with a level, searching look. "What is this? An ambush?"
"Well, with everything that happened at Southwold ... ," Monica said.
"I'm fine, thank you."
"It's been four months and I've been busy buying this place. I haven't had time to dwell on it. The Health and Safety Executive investigation is nearly over, the police have decided not to press charges against anyone except the inmate who attacked Jacobs and, shockingly, the internal investigation has concluded that no officers or staff were to blame for what happened."
Helen put the bottle of wine back on the counter with a little more force than was strictly necessary. "Life goes on."
"What about Nikki?" Monica asked.
"She was shipped out to another prison. After all, why wait to find out whether somebody's guilty of anything before you punish them?"
"Have you spoken to her since then?"
"Why not?" Barbara asked. "I know how you two feel about each other. I can't imagine how hard it must be for you, not having any direct contact."
"I manage," Helen said tightly. Smiling falsely, she poured both women another glass of wine and took a generous swallow from her own drink.
"But do you?" Barbara persisted. "Nikki's been inside for over eighteen months, and in all that time you haven't spoken to her. Except during the riot and that hardly counts."
Helen bit her lip to prevent herself from verbally lashing out at Barbara. Today, on the day when she had a lost a connection with her partner, however grim, she wasn't ready for this conversation. While she would never forget the horror of letting herself into her old flat and finding Nikki unconscious in the hall and Jim Fenner dead in the kitchen, she also had other memories linked to her former home.
The time she had spent with Nikki after her release, planning the rest of their lives together, intoxicated with each other's company and the freedom to explore it outside of old routines and roles. The memories had a sort of golden haze around them. Helen sometimes thought that it was the time when she had been most happy in her entire life. At least since her mother had died.
"Barbara, I think you should remember that Nikki sent me a 'Dear Jane' letter immediately after her second conviction. She decided to end the relationship, not the other way around. I have to respect her wishes. Or do you think I should ignore them?"
Barbara and Monica looked at each other. Helen gave an inward groan as she recognised the unspoken exchange - it was the kind of thing her aunties used to do just before they gave her the benefit of their unsolicited advice as a teenager.
"I'll be honest," Barbara said, "I think Nikki's being pig-headed and stupid."
"Too noble for her own good," Monica agreed.
"Maybe," Helen said, "but it's her choice."
Her voice cracked and she stopped to regain control. "It sure as hell isn't mine. Now can we talk about something else?"
"Helen, shouldn't you move on?"
Helen looked at Barbara, totally stunned by the comment. "What?"
"If Nikki wants you to get on with your life, it shows she's got your best interests at heart. She would understand if you did. Found someone else."
"How fickle do you think I am?" Helen demanded. Furious, she slammed her glass down on the kitchen counter. "I loved her in Larkhall, where we couldn't be together. Even when I was denying it to myself, fighting myself not to admit it, I loved her. Damm it, Barbara, you're the one who talks about soul mates. If your Peter had been locked away from you, would you have abandoned him? Ever?!"
"You have to be realistic," Monica said.
"I am realistic," Helen said, "we're going to carry on with campaigning and trying to influence public opinion. For as long as it takes."
"It might not work."
"No, it might not. But you don't know until you try."
Distantly, Helen was aware of how conversation in the other room had stilled. She lowered her voice. "This woman is the other half of my heart. I'll try and get her out and if that doesn't work I'll be waiting for her when she is released."
"Either that, or campaign for a law allowing conjugal visits," Barbara said, deadpan.
Helen stared at her and then succumbed to a fit of giggles, unsuccessfully stifling them with her hand. After a moment, Barbara and Monica joined in and they ended up clutching at each other, howling with helpless laughter. If any one of them started to calm down, a look at the others' faces would set them off again. Gradually they ran out of steam and quietened. Helen felt better. Somehow, the laughter was more cleansing than any amount of tears would have been.
Barbara and Monica made their excuses soon afterwards and left, taking taxis to their separate addresses, but not before Barbara had agreed to help with the campaign web site and Monica had volunteered to speak to some of her contacts about Nikki's case. Helen was left sitting in the kitchen, filled with longing as she tried not to think about what Nikki was probably doing at that moment. 'Sleeping in her cell after lock-up.' Helen decided.
She could hear Trisha moving quietly in the background, as she pottered around, clearing up random bottles and glasses. Finally, Helen sat up straight and slammed her palm down on the table, part of her enjoying it as Trisha jumped with shock.
"What? Where's the fire?"
"We are not going to give up on her." She stood, feeling the strength that anger had given her.
"Preaching to the choir here."
"Sorry. Just that conversation with Barbara ...."
"Well, she's from the generation that thinks you just haven't met the right bloke yet," Trisha said. She shrugged. "I need to go and check in at the club. Good party, though."
"Thanks for coming," Helen said, giving her a quick hug. "Tell her about it when you write, won't you? If she does get out unexpectedly, I want her to be able to find me."
"You mean if she tries to escape again?" Trisha said wryly.
"Don't. That's not even funny."
She saw Trisha out and locked up, doing a final round of tidying up before going to bed. As she moved through the living room she gently straightened Nikki's picture. It was her favourite, taken during a trip to the Downs. She had called Nikki's name and taken the photo as her partner turned her head to answer, the abstraction that came from deep thought still on her face.
"You see, love, this is our new house," she told it, "bigger than the last one. There's a room at the moment that's a study but, in time, who knows?" She paused, her hand on the light switch.
"Sleep well. Dream of me," she whispered and went up to bed.
Helen was filling in her journal, putting a deliberately light spin on what had in fact been a tough week, when the phone rang. Absentmindedly, she picked it up.
"Helen Stewart," she said, still in work mode even though it was Saturday.
"Helen. I need you to come over immediately," Barbara's voice said.
"I'll tell you when you get here. But it's very important. How soon can you make it?"
Helen frowned. Barbara was normally one of the calmest people she knew. Today, however, there was an unusual tone in her voice. Something between apprehension and hope. She put her pen down and reached for her car keys. The other thing about Barbara was that she didn't manufacture crises. If she said something was important, it was.
A short time later, Helen knocked on the door of the vicarage Barbara now shared with Henry, the priest she had married just before leaving Larkhall. Barbara opened the door almost at once, as if she had been looking out for Helen's car, and led past the dark, heavy furniture in the hall into the living room. Helen looked at the teenage girl perching nervously on the edge of the sofa and turned to Barbara.
"What's all this about?"
"Wait and see."
Barbara turned to the girl. "Rachel, this is Helen, a friend of Nikki Wade's. I want you to tell her exactly what you've just told me. Helen, this is Rachel Higgs. You might want to sit down for this."
"Higgs?" Helen said, choosing an armchair that meant the girl's face was in full light from the window. She studied her, seeing nothing exceptional. Dark haired, pretty, dressed in jeans and trainers, still losing the last of her puppy fat. She was clutching her mobile phone in a death grip; her shoulder bag, which was adorned with badges and graffiti in marker pen, sat by her feet.
"I'm Charlie Higgs' daughter," the girl said. She sounded like she expected Helen to work out the significance of her statement. Instead, Helen was at a total loss. She smiled at the girl, trying to make her feel less nervous.
"OK. I'm pleased to meet you."
"We were doing a project about prisons. For my General Studies," the girl said. "I went on the web site. The Free Nikki Wade campaign web site. My Dad ...."
"Was the main witness against her. Yes," Helen said, deliberately keeping her voice non-confrontational as understanding dawned. She could see Barbara out of the corner of her eye, almost vibrating with tension, her glasses clutched in her hand.
Rachel put her head down. "He was lying. It didn't happen like he said."
Helen took a deep breath, willing herself to stay calm. "What makes you say that?"
"I was there. That day. I saw it all."
"Are you sure?" Helen demanded. "Absolutely sure you know what you're saying?"
The girl nodded, close to tears. "I don't want to get him into trouble!"
"Rachel, I wish I could tell you that that won't happen. But the fact of the matter is that if what you say is right, then he has ... possibly ... committed perjury. That's serious."
"I know." The girl looked at her, tight lipped, and for the first time Helen recognised the strain in her face. "But I can't let that woman be in prison any more. Not for something she didn't do. I was thinking about it all over Christmas."
"She did stab Jim Fenner," Helen said, trying hard for objectivity, "that's not in dispute."
"Yeah, but Dad said she picked the knife up and stabbed him. That wasn't how it was! That makes a difference, doesn't it?"
Helen took another deep breath. "Rachel, before we go any further with this, you need to think carefully about whether you'd be prepared to tell what you know to the police and the courts. Because if you're not you might as well just leave now!"
She saw both Barbara and the girl flinch and disregarded it. She had to know if the teenager would be able to stand up under pressure. She continued relentlessly. "I know Nikki Wade did not set out to kill Jim Fenner, even for an instant, because I know her. But unless you can show in a court of law that she didn't commit manslaughter according to the legal definition, based on your honest testimony, then coming here does her no good at all. In fact, it could make things worse, because it would give her false hope. She can't afford that."
Rachel was staring at her now, white faced. "Don't you want me to tell the truth?"
"Yes, of course, more than anything! But don't think that it'll be easy or that you'll get any thanks for it, from anybody but Nikki. You have to be prepared for that, and for the questions about why you didn't come forward earlier. Never mind the people who will challenge whether your account is accurate, given the length of time since you saw what you saw. Never mind the fact that your father will probably try and persuade you to retract your statement. The only satisfaction you will get is from your own conscience. That, and seeing an innocent woman go free."
There was a moment's silence. Barbara cleared her throat. "I think I'll make a cup of tea. Would you like one, Helen?"
"Yes, please." She turned back to the teenager. "I'm sorry if I sounded harsh. I just need to get across to you that it won't be easy. Do you understand?"
"Are you prepared to continue?"
Inwardly, Helen sagged with relief.
"Oh, come on, Helen," Barbara said, "the girl's travelled halfway across London to find a stranger who'll listen to her story. That meant tracking me down, which wasn't straightforward. I think her mind's made up, don't you?"
"I hope so. Things are very hard for Nikki, right now."
"She's in prison, isn't she? They're horrible places!"
"They're not designed to be nice," Helen said grimly.
They waited in silence until Barbara came back. She poured Rachel a cup of tea and smiled reassuringly at her, offering her a biscuit, which the girl took eagerly. Helen waited until they had all settled down again, then put down her mug.
"All right, Rachel, let's start at the beginning. Why were you with your father?"
"I wasn't supposed to be. I told my Mum I was going shopping."
"Why not? He's your father."
"They're separated. There was a court order. He wasn't allowed to come near us."
Helen filed that away for future reference. "But you wanted to see him."
"Yeah. I went down the Club. We were going to the cinema. But he had Jim Fenner with him." She shrugged. "They were already drinking when I got there. I was going to go home but Dad said if I waited we'd do a later showing and I wanted to see the film."
"So how long were you at the Working Men's Club?"
"Did anyone see you there?"
"I got talking to one of the bar maids. About Corrie."
"Right. What happened next?"
"We had some chips. Fenner came with us. He was drunker than Dad and he kept going on about this woman. Stewart. Something about her getting one over on him."
Helen glanced quickly at Barbara, who shook her head almost imperceptibly, indicating that she had not mentioned Helen's surname. Helen knew that it didn't appear on the website. Barbara was the figurehead for that part of the campaign.
"Then he started talking about Nikki Wade. He got angrier and angrier. He said some really nasty things about her. Till Dad asked him to stop because I was there. In the end Dad said we had to go, otherwise we'd miss the film. Fenner asked him for a lift. Dad said yes."
She stumbled to a halt.
"Take your time," Helen said gently.
"Anyway, we got to this flat and parked up. Dad went to get some fags. Fenner looked through the front windows. Then he went round the side of the house. I followed him."
"I was bored. I wanted to know what he was going to do next." She swallowed. "The French doors into the kitchen were open. There was this woman. Tall. Dark. She was singing along with the radio. Peeling an apple. Fenner said 'Oi, Wade!' He was really angry. You could tell. He was nearly shouting."
Silently, Barbara poured the girl another mug of tea. Rachel took it and nodded gratefully, clutching at it. "She looked at him like he was something she could scrape off her shoe. She stood there ... I didn't understand how she wasn't frightened."
"Maybe she should have been," Helen muttered.
"And she said 'Look what the cat dragged in.' He just charged at her. He was screaming stuff .... He hit her. Her head went back. Then, when she got up ...."
"He knocked her over?" Helen interrupted.
"Yeah. He picked up the knife from the table. That's when my Dad arrived. He said something like 'What are you doing? Leave it. She's not worth it.' He was scared. I could tell."
"I'll bet," Helen said quietly.
"Fenner turned round and told him to back off. Stay out of his business. He said 'I'm going to gut the bitch.'"
Rachel started shaking. Barbara got up and went to her, putting her arms around her. The teenager turned gratefully into the hug. Helen waited until her breathing had calmed down then resumed her questioning, more gently.
"Do you think Nikki heard that?"
"I know she did. She said 'We're not in Larkhall now, you bastard. I'm allowed to defend myself.'"
"What did your father do?"
"Nothing," Rachel said bitterly, "nothing."
"All right. What happened next?"
"They fought for the knife. Fenner hit her a couple more times but she wouldn't give up."
"I'm not surprised. She was fighting for her life."
"They struggled for the knife. He tripped, fell. I don't know. It went into his neck. He put his hand on his throat. She stood there, then she went out. I didn't see her any more. She was all over the place."
"She headed for the phone!" Helen said, in sudden realisation.
"What?" Barbara said.
"I'd never understood that. She was exhausted from the fight, she'd been punched, but she didn't just collapse. She went into the hall. I'd always assumed she was trying to get away. But she wasn't. She was trying to get help. For Fenner!"
"That's one point of view," Barbara said.
"It's not important. Rachel, can you finish telling us what happened? I know this is painful for you, especially this last part, but we really need to know."
Rachel nodded. "Dad turned round. He said 'You weren't here.' I didn't understand, at first and then I was like, 'What?'"
"So how did he persuade you?"
"He told me he'd get in trouble with the court. He gave me the money for a bus fare and told me to go home and not tell anyone where I'd been. I did what he said." The girl looked appealingly at Helen. "I was scared."
"I'm not judging you, Rachel. That was an unfair thing for your father to do to you. What did your mother say?"
"She was out when I got home. I didn't see her till the next morning. By then I'd talked to Dad on the phone. She put my being upset down to what he told me."
"I see. It must have been tough for you," Helen said.
"I had nightmares for weeks," Rachel said quietly, "then I put it to the back of my mind. I tried to pretend it hadn't happened." She hung her head. "I never thought about what it meant for her. Till I started doing this project. Then it all came back."
She sat, huddled on the end of the sofa, and looked at Helen through her fringe. "Will it be enough?"
"It might be," Helen said, "it would help if we had some concrete evidence. But it might be enough for reasonable doubt. I'll have to call Claire."
She closed her eyes, feeling hope waking inside her and crushing it relentlessly down. She had to be able to think and act, not just feel, to help Nikki now. "And Rachel, you are going to have to talk to the police. I know a woman called Sally Anne Howe who will want to hear your account."
"I'm going to have to tell my Mum, aren't I?" Rachel said.
"She'll be angry with me."
"I think she's more likely to be angry with your father," Helen told her, "for putting a teenage girl in an impossible position."
"There is one more thing," Rachel said slowly.
Rachel reached into her bag and pulled out a brightly coloured hard back book. It had some kind of Japanese cartoon character on the cover. She handed it to Helen, who flipped it open and took in the lines of childish, half-formed writing, the occasional date heading.
"Is this what I think it is? Is this a diary?"
Rachel nodded. "I couldn't talk to my Mum, or anyone. I wrote it all down."
Something else caught Helen's attention. She felt her mouth go dry as she recognised the date and began to scan the writing. The reason the book had fallen open at that page was because of the bus ticket. The bus ticket which, like all London bus tickets, had the date, time, route number and stop where it had been sold printed on it.
"Why did you keep this?" she asked.
"I don't know. I think it was to make it real. So I wouldn't forget." Rachel frowned. "I stopped going to see my Dad after that. He asked me, but I never would."
Helen waited while Sally Anne Howe looked at the file she'd prepared. Finally the Detective Inspector reached across to her telephone and dialled an internal number.
"Harvey. I need you." She listened, then spoke. "I don't really care, John. Just get yourself in here."
After a long ten minutes, the door opened and a middle aged, balding man walked in. Helen got the impression that he had deliberately dawdled. He was wearing a rumpled suit over a badly ironed shirt. His tie was loose and he was carrying a battered folder and a toasted sandwich in the other hand.
"Sit down. I've got a case for you."
"I'm already writing three reports ... ," Harvey protested.
"This isn't report writing. This is a cold case," Sally Anne interrupted, "if you're not interested I can give it to someone else."
"Be a waste wouldn't it? I've got the most experience, depending on the case, of course."
Helen watched as the policeman relaxed. This was someone who was utterly confident in his own world, secure in his abilities. She wondered if he was up to his own estimation of himself.
"Yes, you're better with the hard stuff, aren't you? Real thief taking," Sally Anne said thoughtfully.
"Don't thank me yet. This isn't thief taking and I expect you to give it your best shot. You get this wrong and I'll have your balls. Mounted on my desk as an executive ornament. Do we understand each other?"
Harvey grinned, seemingly unmoved by the threat. "Perfectly, guv'nor."
"Right. You'll be helping a cop killer get off."
He blinked. "From a cop killing?"
"Good. Don't want to spend my last couple of months on the job drinking alone."
"Christ, what was he going to do? Off a traffic warden and get the set?"
"She. Nikki Wade."
"You've heard of the case, then?"
"Yeah. I paraded at Gossard's funeral. Wade got off on some technicality a while back."
"It wasn't a technicality," Helen said.
Harvey looked at her properly for the first time. "Who's she?"
"Nikki Wade's partner," Sally Anne informed him.
"Not just a business partner, right?"
"No," Helen told him, "d'you have a problem with that?"
"I'm not allowed to, love. Diversity policies - they're wonderful things."
"Who she is isn't relevant," Sally Anne interrupted, "she's brought us new evidence suggesting that the main witness for the prosecution perjured himself on the stand. If it's true, Nikki Wade shouldn't be doing time; she should have got off on a self-defence plea."
"And you want me to get to the bottom of it."
"I want you to find out what happened and present it to me in a nice little package with a bow on it. Can you do that, John? Before you retire?"
"Watch me," Harvey said. He got up, more animated than he'd been throughout the interview and dumped the toasted sandwich casually in the bin. "I'll start reviewing the files."
"OK. Keep me posted," Sally Anne said.
Helen waited until the man had left the office then stood up, her back stiff with anger. "Nice to see you're giving me your best."
She walked out before Sally Anne had a chance to respond and paused to gather her thoughts. A conversation caught her attention.
"What's the job, John?" one of the men in the office asked.
"Guv'nor wants me to look at the Nikki Wade case."
"Wade .... Didn't she kill one of us?"
"So why are we bothering?"
Helen stopped, a bank of filing cabinets hiding her from the men who were talking. She blinked when she heard Harvey's next comment.
"Orders. Besides, I worked with Gossard. Someone was going to kill him, sooner or later. He was trouble waiting to happen."
"So who's decided Wade needs another look?"
"The girlfriend's turned up with new evidence. Guv'nor wants to check it out."
"Yeah, I know. And she's a looker. Fucking waste, if you ask me."
"Maybe they'll let you watch if you get Wade out of the nick, eh?"
Both men laughed. Unable to contain herself, Helen stalked around the filing cabinets into their line of view. The other man suddenly developed an interest in his computer screen. Harvey looked at her, seemingly unimpressed.
"Can I help you, love?"
"I don't know," Helen said, "I need you to take a couple of facts on board, that's all." Her voice dripped contempt. "Firstly, what happens between people who love each other is private and we don't allow spectators, however sad and lonely they may be. Secondly, if you ever allow a suggestion like that to be made in my hearing again while you're in service, I will personally ensure you end up in front of a misconduct panel."
Harvey blinked, taken aback. Helen drew a breath. "And, for your information, I am not your "love". You do not have the privilege to call me that. Are we clear?"
"Yeah," Harvey said. He shook his head. "You've got balls."
"No I don't," Helen said tightly, "but since, unlike you, I don't think with them, that is not a problem for me."
Harvey glanced at the man he had been talking to, who was now trying to metaphorically crawl under his desk, and grinned. "Bet you drink whisky, right?"
"I'm a Scot. What do you think?"
"I think we have a side bet going."
"I prove your woman innocent, you owe me a good malt. If not, I'm buying."
Helen looked at him, considered the matter, then stuck out her hand. "Deal."
Harvey shook it. "Can you see me now? I need you to talk me through why you think the new evidence makes a difference."
"I need to make a couple of phone calls," Helen said. Harvey surprised her by shaking his head. "No. This is going to be a long job."
"How'd you know?" Helen demanded.
"Copper's nose. Give me your next free slot and make it at least an afternoon. It'll give me a chance to read all of the paperwork." He looked at Sally Anne, who had appeared from somewhere. "Assuming my reports are signed off?"
Howe sighed. "Don't worry about it."
"By the way. You two. My office. One hour."
"Is that how long till you want us or how long you're going to bollock us for?" Harvey asked.
"Probably both," Sally Anne said decisively.
As they walked down the corridor, Helen stopped. Sally Anne looked at her, concerned. "Are you OK?"
"Just still angry," Helen said, "give me a minute."
"If it's any consolation, you just won his respect."
"Really? Why d'you pick him, anyway? Not that I mind cutting misogynistic bastards down to size, but I don't see him being very sympathetic."
"That's where you're wrong. He's a good copper. He's hard, but fair. If you can get your evidence past his scrutiny, it'll stand up to any hanging judge in the country."
"That's what we need, I suppose."
"And warn Nikki that you could be in for the long haul. These things take time."
"I haven't told her about the new evidence."
"I will when we've got something more concrete but I don't want to give her false hope."
"But what if she does something to endanger her appeal while John's investigating? Makes trouble?"
"To be honest, after what happened at Southwold, I don't think it matters any more. Nikki literally risked her life to try and save me and Jacobs and they still blamed her. She's been labelled. She could turn water into wine and they would put her on the block for bringing a contraband substance into the prison."
"It's a risk, though."
"Claire warns her about keeping her nose clean every time she sees her. Fellgarth is supposed to be a pretty calm nick. It's out of my hands. I have to focus on proving the new evidence."
Sally Anne buzzed Helen through a couple of security doors, nodding to other members of staff as they walked down the corridor. She waited while Helen handed in her pass and took her down to the car park. Once they were alone she started the conversation again.
"He's unallocated resource. I'm supposed to be baby-sitting him until the silver clock. That means nobody will ask too many questions about where he goes or who he talks to. But he has the powers of a constable, so what he does will hold up in court. I think he's what you need."
"One thing I've got better at is playing politics. I can justify this however it turns out."
"Good. I wouldn't want you to endanger your position."
"That isn't going to happen." She handed Helen a business card. "Here's my number. His is on the back. If he doesn't come up to scratch, let me know."
Nikki was working on the final set of benches. In her more depressed moments she wondered if the job was like painting the Forth Bridge and once she'd finished she'd have to go back to the beginning; she'd noticed how rusty some of the railings were getting. Jones wandered up to her.
"When are you going to do it, Wade?"
"Do what?" Nikki said. She sat back on her heels and surveyed her handiwork.
"Try talking to Lorraine. You know, if I didn't know better, I'd think you were scared."
"Terrified, that's me," Nikki said cheerfully and went back to removing rust.
A couple of hours later she dropped the wire brush and stepped into Lorraine's path as she completed her latest circuit. Lorraine went around her and evaded the grab that Nikki made for her arm. Nikki frowned and began to give chase. Lorraine didn't seem to even be aware of her, but she speeded up. From the other side of the yard Jones watched as Nikki swore under her breath, threw her hands in the air and gave chase.
Everyone watched as the two woman followed each other round the yard, the distance between them stretching and contracting as one or the other gained ground, the prisoners cheering and shouting out ironic encouragement, the screws outwardly impassive. Nikki had the advantage of much longer legs and was reasonably fit because of her sessions in the gym but Lorraine was the distance runner of the pair. When the lifer proved unwilling to actually tackle her to the ground she had no way of making Lorraine come to a halt unless she chose to stop. After a while Nikki stood, hand on her side, chest heaving, staring after the other woman in frustration.
"Giving up, Wade?" Jones asked.
"She doesn't want to talk," Nikki said shortly and turned away.
She was scrubbing rust off the bench, fuming, when a shadow fell over her.
"What?" she said, without looking up. A hand touched her shoulder. Nikki looked across at a familiar pair of track suited legs. She stood slowly to face Lorraine.
"What do you want?" she signed.
Lorraine's eyes widened in surprise. When she began to sign, her movements were slow, uncertain, as though she hadn't done it for a while.
"Wanted to know why you were chasing me. Guess now I do."
"Well, it's all right. I won't bother you again. Not if you want to be left alone."
"You want someone to practice with?"
"Something like that. Actually ...." Nikki glanced round, checking that Jones wasn't in sight. "I need to learn some new signs."
"Get a book. That's how you've learnt those."
"No! Swear words."
"No point knowing a language if you can't swear in it, or order a drink. They're not in the book. Not the one I've got anyway."
Lorraine thought about it. "Suppose not. You're a lesbian, aren't you?"
"Not so long as you're not after me."
"Don't worry. I'm still getting over the last one."
"Is that why you're telling the blonde waitress no?"
"How d'you know about that?" Nikki asked, shocked
Lorraine shrugged. "It's easy to lip read conversations at a distance. People forget that, in the hearing world."
"I see. You been deaf all your life?"
"Yeah. My kids are hearing, though."
"You got kids?"
A spasm of pain crossed Lorraine's face. "Adopted. After ...."
"Don't be. It's a long time ago. They won't remember me."
"Want to bet?"
Lorraine's face shuttered itself again. "I want to finish my run. I'll find you this evening and show you a couple of signs."
"Deal. Don't you get bored, running round and round? I would."
Lorraine shook her head. "No. Today, I'm doing the Isle of Dogs section of the London marathon. The first day you tried to catch me, I was going over the bridge at New York." She tapped her forehead. "It's all in here."
"Where they can't get at it ...." Nikki signed. The two women looked at each other, sharing a moment of understanding, then turned back to what they'd been doing.
A couple of weeks later they were sheltering in the lee of the wall, waiting for a sudden squall of rain to pass, when Lorraine nudged Nikki.
"When's your release date?"
"Haven't got one."
"I'm on a whole life tariff."
"I'm supposed to have killed someone else, after I got out the first time. A screw."
"Did you?" Lorraine asked curiously.
"I don't think so. But I don't remember."
"He knocked me out during the fight. Memory loss." Nikki squinted up at the overcast sky, feeling the sting of rain on her face. "I killed a copper, then I killed a screw. They won't ever let me out."
Lorraine nudged her again and gestured with her chin. Atkinson was coming across the yard, dressed in the same oversized coat that Nikki had first seen her in. Nikki stood up as she approached.
"What, Miss? I'm only sheltering until it passes."
"Well, I suppose that answers my original question."
"Which one, Miss?"
"About whether you had the sense to come in out of the rain."
"You try being banged up inside for as many hours of the day as I am and see how you feel about it."
"That's the ironic thing. They lock us up in here as well. As many hours as you, most days."
"Yeah. But you've got a fucking choice."
Atkinson looked at her impassively. "Language, Wade. However, point taken. Tell Lorraine to either put on a waterproof or go inside till it's dry. That tracksuit's soaked through."
Lorraine nodded and walked off before Nikki could start signing. Atkinson watched her leave, then turned shrewd eyes towards Nikki. "She's better since she started talking to you. Pays more attention to what's going on. She's come out of herself a bit."
"Well maybe all she needed was somebody to make an effort."
"Jones did try, but they just didn't hit it off. Happens sometimes. Luckily, you two have."
"What about when I get ghosted?" Nikki demanded. "What then?"
"Why, are you planning on that?"
"I don't plan it. It happens to me."
"Well so far, unless, of course, there's something I don't know yet, there's no reason to ship you out."
Despite herself, Nikki relaxed a little. She hated being locked up, full stop, but it was like the circles of hell. Some were better than others and Fellgarth wasn't too bad, now that she had adjusted to the biting cold and the endless rain. As she had the thought, the rain stopped, the clouds cleared and the brilliant, shimmering sunlight of the high moorland flooded the yard. Almost unconsciously, Nikki stepped into a patch of it and turned her face up, closing her eyes.
"Come summer, this place is a sun trap," Atkinson said, "you wouldn't believe it now. Heat reflects off the walls. You'll get a tan."
"Right," Nikki said, "must make it hard for the gardeners."
"So they say."
"I'll believe it when I see it," Nikki said, turning back to the bench.
"I hope the new Governor copes with the weather as well as you do."
"New Governor?" Nikki said, her attention already focused on her task.
"Aye. Had you not heard? Mr. Duncan has passed his promotion board. He's staying here as principal Governor."
"No, I hadn't," Nikki said, "they don't keep me briefed on staff changes. Must be an oversight on their part. D'you think I should have a word?"
"Mebbe. New Governor's a southerner. Transferring here."
"Betts, her name is. Karen Betts."
"Right," Nikki said. Atkinson caught the change in her voice and looked at her sharply. "You know her?"
"She was Wing Governor at Larkhall when I was there," Nikki said carefully.
"So you've come across each other."
"In a way. She was engaged to Jim Fenner. I imagine I'm not on her list of favourite people. Can I get on, Miss? Work's done with the hands, not the eyes."
Betts did her first inspection three days later at lunch time. Nikki heard the murmurs and whispering going round the other inmates but didn't look up from her meal or turn her head. She was already in a bad mood; Caroline had been working as a server and had smiled warmly as she had ostentatiously given Nikki a bigger piece of pie for desert. Lorraine, who was sitting facing the access gate onto the wing, nudged her after a moment.
"It's the new Governor. Don't you care?"
"I know who she is."
"She recognises you."
"We've got history."
Nikki moved the food around her plate, waiting for developments. It didn't take long. She heard a number of people come closer and waited until the footsteps stopped.
"Stop wool gathering, Wade. New Governor wants to speak to you."
She sat back in her seat, folding her arms. "And why's that?"
"Manners, Wade," Atkinson said.
"Sorry, Miss. Why's that. Miss?"
She looked up at Betts. The other woman hadn't changed that much. She was older and more strained; probably, Nikki had to concede, like Nikki herself. But she was still slim, still blonde, still dressed in the standard power suit and wing walking shoes. Her blue eyes hadn't lost any of their measuring quality; she still summed up things with one glance, filing her conclusions away for future thought. Right now, Nikki could sense her considering how best to handle this situation.
"I thought I recognised you," Betts said neutrally, "I didn't know you were here."
"I get around," Nikki said.
"Obviously. How long have you been here?"
"A few months. You stop noticing after a while. All nicks are the same. Like screws."
"Well I hope you'll be able to tell me apart from Mr. Duncan," Betts said.
"I'll let you know. Miss. Can I go now?"
"You haven't finished your meal."
"It's all stodge. You don't need a lot."
"Well, I'll have to look into that. It's supposed to be healthy, varied and of good quality."
"I wouldn't know, Miss. Can I go now?"
As she stood up Lorraine caught her arm. "Are you all right?"
"Later," Nikki signed. She felt Bett's attention on the exchange and on her back as she walked away. Getting changed, she headed out into the yard as soon as she could.
She was sweeping up when Atkinson came out to find her. "Come on, Wade. The new Governor wants to see you."
"Tell her to piss off."
"You can tell her that yourself," Atkinson said implacably. Nikki gave into the inevitable. She didn't have much dignity left; the system was good at stripping it away however hard you fought. But she didn't really want to be dragged into Betts' office by a couple of screws.
She stopped at the office door. Atkinson knocked for her and then showed her in. "I'll wait outside."
"Come in, Nikki," Karen said pleasantly, "sit down. I thought we should have a word."
Nikki did as she was told and waited for whatever Betts was planning to throw at her. The next comment blind-sided her and she frowned.
"I've been reviewing your sentence plan. You don't seem to be participating in any of the courses you need to attend to build credit for your probation hearing."
Nikki looked at the other woman, unsure what to say. Betts raised her eyebrows. "Well?"
"I'm on a whole life tariff."
"I know that. But your behaviour does affect things. According to your personal officer you've been co operative while you've been here, kept your nose clean, followed the rules. You're even mentoring another inmate. Lorraine, isn't it?"
"Mentoring? Is that what they call talking to people?"
"Sometimes. So, why aren't you taking the next step?"
"Jumping through the poxy psychological hoops, you mean? My thinking skills are fine as they are, thanks. I don't need them enhancing."
"There's a bit more to it than that."
"I just don't understand why an intelligent woman like you is so focused on some sort of adolescent rebellion that she won't do the necessary work to improve her chances of getting out of prison. Or do you like it in here?"
Nikki stiffened. Her fists clenched and she carefully relaxed them. "I haven't done it because to do that I have to 'address my offending behaviour' and that would mean saying I'm sorry Fenner's dead. Whatever else I am I'm not a fucking hypocrite, all right?"
Karen sat back, seemingly curious, studying Nikki. "Are you deliberately trying to provoke me? You do remember that I worked with Jim Fenner, don't you?"
Nikki tried to keep a hold on her temper and failed. "You started this conversation! I was willing to leave it alone, but no, you had to have it out in the open. Well, fine! Just don't blame me when you don't like what you hear. Miss."
"What are you trying to say, Nikki?"
"I'm saying I know about you and Fenner."
Nikki tightened her lips. She certainly wasn't going to let Betts know that Helen had told her the whole story in bed one night. She folded her arms.
"No secrets inside. You ought to know that."
"So what does that mean?"
"I'm saying that I think it might be better if you and me stayed away from each other."
"And how am I supposed to manage that when you're an inmate in my care?"
"I don't know. It's not my problem."
Karen sat back in her chair. "I had ... concerns when I got here and found that you were my responsibility. I've been to Mr Duncan to discuss them. I thought it best to get everything out into the open. I was candid about my relationship with Jim Fenner. We were engaged to be married, you know."
"More fool you," Nikki muttered.
"I'll pretend I didn't hear that," Karen said deliberately, "I advised the Governor of my worries that you might cry victimisation over perfectly normal decisions because of my relationship with Jim, and your part in his death. He promised me his full support and I believe him."
"Don't worry. You're nothing special," Nikki said.
"OK, you were screwing him. Big deal. I don't suppose it meant that much, at least on his side. He had Shell Dockley to satisfy him, and whoever he replaced her with after she escaped."
"That sound you can hear is the thin ice creaking under your feet," Karen said calmly, "get to the point."
"The point is that every screw has had it in for me since I was convicted of Fenner's death. Every bastard one. So, you want to make my life harder? Join the orderly queue. What are you going to be able to do to me that hasn't been done a hundred times before? OK, you might feel more malice than most towards me, but you can't actually go that far outside the rules. Which means it's the same old stuff. The block, loss of privileges, every fucking thing the system can throw at me. Well, guess what, Miss. I'm already there."
Nikki leant forward slightly, her arms still folded. Karen was slightly chilled by her calmness, then dismissed it.
"This is where I live. Whatever I say, none of you bastards is ever going to believe I didn't murder Jim Fenner."
"You've just told me you're not sorry he's dead!"
"That's a different thing from saying I did it."
"Which, since you allegedly can't remember enough about what happened to give a reasonable account of events, doesn't hold a lot of credibility, does it? Even if your previous crime isn't taken into account."
"Fine. Whatever. Can I go now, Miss?"
"What's the matter, Nikki? Don't you like a few home truths?"
"I don't like the brick wall I've been banging my head against for my entire sentence. I'm sick of it," Nikki said deliberately.
"I know I'm never getting out. There are people who believe different, but they're just fooling themselves," Nikki said, "so my world is in here. For the rest of my life." She shrugged. "I've accepted that."
"Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose? Is that it?"
"More like the law having its pound of flesh. Can I go now?"
"You don't think this conversation serves any purpose?"
"No. We can carry on, if you want. I've got all the time in the world. Nothing but time. You? You might have other things to do."
"All right. You can go. If you change your mind, let me know."
"Sure, Miss," Nikki said over her shoulder as she left the office.
Karen smoked a cigarette slowly as she tried to weigh the exchange up in her mind, then, dismissing it, moved onto the monthly reports.
Nikki dumped the arm load of books on the table in front of Lorraine and gestured at them. The deaf woman looked at her dubiously and spread her hands, silently questioning her. Nikki grinned, then signed :"Inter wing garden design competition."
"Your brains. My muscle. It'll be a walk over ..."
"Don't like gardening ...."
"You like flowers. I'll do all the hard work."
Lorraine thought about it, then shrugged, her version of agreeing. She watched Nikki as the taller woman selected two or three volumes that had more pictures than text and put them in front of her. Nikki raised her eyebrows, put a large piece of paper on the table between them and tapped Lorraine's forehead lightly with a pencil. "Paper, pencil, brain. All set."
Nikki pressed the pencil into her hand and pointed at the books. "Have a look, see if you find anything you like."
"Steal the ideas?"
"Take it from one book, it's stealing. More than one, it's research. My course taught me that."
Lorraine laughed soundlessly and then picked up the book with the brightest cover, opening it cautiously. Nikki went to find the biography of Byron she was reading her way through. Soon she was lost in eighteenth century Italy, feeling the sunshine on her face and watching the fishing boats drift across the bay, only looking up occasionally as Lorraine moved backwards and forwards to the shelf on gardening, frowning in concentration as she got out more texts. Nikki grew so absorbed that she almost lost track of time, suddenly sitting upright and checking her watch.
She tapped Lorraine on the shoulder. "We have to go. Tea time."
"Want to stay. Things to do."
"We'll come back tomorrow."
"Yeah! Come on. Help me reshelve these."
Lorraine nodded and started to hand the titles back to Nikki, who slotted them neatly back into place. She was on her knees, fitting an oversize volume back onto the lowest shelf, when Karen Betts came in. The Governor looked at the paper on the table and began to pick it up. Lorraine snatched it away and held it against her chest, glaring daggers at her. Betts raised her eyebrows and held out her hand. The deaf woman shook her head emphatically.
Karen turned to Nikki. "Tell her I'd like to see that, please."
"It's nothing, Miss," Nikki said, scrambling to her feet.
"Then why doesn't she want to show it to me?"
"I don't know."
"Seems like she's picking up some of your attitudes, Nikki."
Nikki angled herself so that Lorraine could read her lips, as well as the Governor's.
"It's her design for the garden competition. Don't worry, Miss. We're not planning a tunnel."
"Then she shouldn't mind me looking at it."
Nikki frowned, then turned to Lorraine. "Sorry, you'll have to show her."
"Because otherwise we won't get to eat."
"Not hungry anyway."
"Fine," Nikki signed, shrugging and crossing her arms as a signal that the conversation was at an end as far as she was concerned. Lorraine waited for a moment, then mutinously handed the paper over. Betts looked at it, then handed it back.
"Thank you. That's impressive. Now move along. You're late."
As they walked down the corridor Lorraine nudged Nikki. "Bitch."
"Forget about it. She has a problem with me. You know why."
"No need to take it out on other people."
"Hang out with me, you join the enemies list." Nikki shrugged.
"Like I care!"
They had slowed down to sign to each other. Karen's voice followed them down the corridor. "Can you have that discussion when you've got where you're supposed to be?"
"Yes, Miss," Nikki acknowledged, speeding up her pace.
Over tea, Lorraine signed non-stop about her ideas, occasionally turning to pencil and paper to demonstrate what she meant, until Nikki caught her hands and pointed at her untouched food. "It'll go cold."
"Told you, not hungry."
"OK. Too much new stuff for my tired brain. Talk about it in the morning?"
"Sure," Lorraine signed. Nikki picked up her tray, dumped her plate and cutlery and headed over to the pool table.
She was just considering how she should best take advantage of the break she had made when Shannon, one of the younger inmates, came over. Nikki frowned. Shannon was in on a short sentence for benefit fraud and tended to avoid the women she thought of as dangerous, which normally included her. Nikki thought back. She had noticed her hovering around in the last few days, but had dismissed it as unimportant. Now she leant on her pool cue and studied the table, seemingly ignoring her, waiting.
"You been talking to Lorraine?"
"Not talking. Signing," Nikki said, and potted a ball, "why?"
Shannon waited until Nikki looked at her, then moved her hands clumsily. "I sign ... some."
"My kid. He's deaf."
Nikki leant back and waited. Shannon frowned, concentrating hard on her signing. "Social services have got him. If I can talk to him, they might not keep him in foster care after I get out."
She looked hopefully at Nikki. Nikki shrugged
"Yeah. You, me and Lorraine. If we practice every day .... Deal?"
"Now. I need my hands to play pool. Get lost, OK?"
Shannon walked off, with a distinct spring in her step. Nikki smiled to herself, then focused on the game and slaughtered her opponent. Prison might not teach you much, but it certainly gave you a chance to practice your pool.
On the way back to her cell she passed Lorraine, who was sitting hunched on a plastic chair, staring at nothing. Nikki stopped, concerned, and nudged her.
"What's the matter?"
"Can't be. You haven't eaten anything."
Lorraine shrugged. "Still got stomach ache."
"Want me to get a screw?"
"No. I'll sleep it off."
She stood up and shuffled away to her cell. Nikki watched her go, worried, then dismissed it and headed for her own bed. She had enough problems of her own without worrying about anyone else's.
Nikki settled down for the night, glad of the tiredness that came from the combination of her new routine in the gym and the yard work she'd been doing. As she always did, she allowed herself five minutes of thinking about Helen. Tonight, she remembered the time in the lifer's group, when she had managed to put Helen off her stride enough to lose the flow of what she was saying to them. She relived the memory of Helen groping for words as she refocused her attention, watched the sun shining on her hair, then took a deep breath and firmly put those thoughts away for another day.
She fell asleep, unaware that the same small private smile was curving her lips as during the actual event.
The cell door slammed open without warning. Nikki woke up instantly and sat up, throwing the covers off to free her legs. "What?"
"On your feet Wade. We need you," an unfamiliar voice said. Nikki concentrated and then identified it. Wood, one of the officers on night shift that week.
"Just come on."
Nikki glared at the screw, then slowly obeyed the order, pushing her feet into flip-flops and following him along the landing. She stayed puzzled until she realised where they were heading. Lorraine's cell. Betts was already there, kneeling by the bunk, supplementing the officers who were milling around outside.
Looking at her outfit of jeans and a sweat shirt, Nikki realised that she must have been called in to deal with the situation. Her attention switched to the pale, sweating figure on the bed
Betts looked round. "Ask her what the problem is."
"You don't know?"
"She's been ringing the bell since shortly after lock up. The interpreter's two hours away. Talk to her!"
"Bastards," Nikki said.
"No. Just trying to do our best," Betts said, "now are you going to help or just get in the way?"
Nikki glared at the Wing Governor and then dropped to her knees by the bed. Gently, she touched Lorraine's shoulder. The other woman opened her eyes and gripped Nikki's arm as another wave of pain passed through her. Nikki gritted her teeth and freed her hand.
"Where's it hurt?"
Lorraine took Nikki's hand and put it on her lower right stomach. "It's the gut ache she's had all day," Nikki said.
"Looks like a bit more than that to me," Karen said, "ask her if she's got any other symptoms."
"Nausea, loss of appetite, blood in her stools. Pain anywhere else."
"I don't know how to sign half of that!"
"Then finger spell it. But ask her!"
They stumbled their way through a difficult, three-way conversation. It seemed to take forever. Lorraine's condition was getting worse. Finally Karen caught Nikki's attention by tapping her shoulder. "Tell her I'm going to touch her stomach and it might hurt."
"All right," Nikki said reluctantly and signed the message.
Betts leant in and pressed on the area of Lorraine's stomach that she had said was painful. The deaf woman cried out, an incoherent noise. Nikki reacted without thinking, shouldering the Governor away from her. Betts picked herself up and looked angrily at her for a moment, before she stood up and pulled out a mobile phone.
"This is the Governor. Get an ambulance here. Tell them we've got an inmate with a possible ruptured appendix. Call ahead to the hospital and warn the interpreter. Wood, you and Saunders are the escort. You'll be paid overtime if necessary. Wade, explain it to Lorraine and help her to get dressed. Try not to worry her too much."
"What do I tell her?"
"She's ill, but it's not serious, and we're getting her to a hospital."
Nikki hesitated and Karen leant in closer to her, hiding her face from Lorraine. "If she's afraid she'll feel the pain more. The best thing you can do for her right now is reassure her that everything's under control."
"If it is," Nikki muttered, "Lorraine, listen ...."
By the time the ambulance had arrived Nikki had managed to get Lorraine into her clothes and had even calmed her down with a pragmatic mixture of half-truths and misdirection. Realistically, she knew that this was the best outcome for the deaf woman. At least she was going to a real hospital and not just being seen within the prison. She stood, watching Lorraine going out with the paramedics and her escort. She was unaware that her worry and concern showed clearly in her expression.
Karen glanced at her and was taken aback. This was not a side of the lifer she'd seen before. She raised her voice. "Well done everyone. Thanks for your help, Nikki."
Nikki looked at her, startled. Karen cleared her throat. "I'll make sure I put a note on your file."
"Don't bother. I don't need your gold stars." Her face had returned to its usual mask of sullen defiance.
"Fine then," Karen said resignedly, "get her back to her cell."
Standing in the cell door she watched the tall inmate slouch away behind an officer and wondered what you could do for people who weren't even prepared to help themselves.
Helen walked into the pub and looked around for John Harvey. He was easy enough to find among the plastic decor and the predominant clientéle of middle aged, middle-income families and pensioners taking advantage of the special rates. He was chewing his meal of deep fried breaded fish fillet, microwaved frozen chips and reheated mushy peas with a sort of gloomy determination, ignoring its mainly cardboard texture. The rectangular plastic packages of synthetic tartar and brown sauce lay at the side of the plate, disregarded. The glass of orange juice set next to the plate seemed, somehow, like the final insult.
Helen crossed the garish, synthetic room and sat down opposite the detective. He saw her coming and raised a fork in her direction.
"Take a seat, love. Fancy a bit?"
"No," Helen said.
"Don't blame you. Made by ... foreigners in a chemical factory, my old Dad would have said."
"Never mind the casual racism. How are you getting on with finding Charlie Higgs?"
"Not good," Harvey said, "I think the scrote knows I'm looking for him. He's gone right underground."
"Is that possible?"
"Not really. If he claims benefits, taxes his car, sets up a business or commits a crime, I'll have him."
"I didn't think the computers were that connected."
"They're not. But I've got friends in a lot of places and right now they're all looking out for Charlie."
"How long d'you think that'll take?"
"How long is a piece of string?"
"How long till you retire?"
"Better hope it's a short piece of string."
Helen sat back, her jaw clenched. Harvey studied her over his plate.
"You really love this Nikki Wade, don't you?"
"I suppose you think it's not real because we're both women," Helen challenged.
"I think real's what you make it," Harvey said, "and I think that if Charlie Higgs has vanished like this, there's something to your story."
"Could we go ahead with just the daughter's testimony?" Helen asked.
Harvey dragged a limp chip through a pool of ketchup and glared at some children who were being allowed to run riot by their parents. "We could, but we'd be taking a chance. A loser like Wade needs copper bottomed evidence to do the job. I wouldn't advise taking anything less to the CCRB. Not with her record."
"All right," Helen said. Despite herself, her shoulders slumped. "You know best."
"You're too close to it."
"I know that, which is why I'm trusting you."
"Oh, there's me thinking that, as a tight Scot, you just didn't want to pay out for the malt."
Helen straightened up, her body radiating outrage.
"That's better," Harvey said, "spit in their eye. I plan to."
"You're a fucking hypocrite," Helen said, "the whole misogynistic, sexist act is just that."
Harvey reached into his pocket and got his cigarettes out. "No it isn't, love. Not most of it. But one thing I like? It's a fighter. You'd go to the pits of hell for that woman of yours. I just hope she's worth it."
"Right. I'm going to Stoke on Trent." He stood up and got his lighter out. "Don't worry." He tapped the side of his head. "I've got him here. It'll be a cold day in hell before he gets away from me."
Helen watched him stride away, pausing to light his cigarette just inside the door. She hoped, for Nikki's sake, that Harvey knew what he was talking about.
Lewis picked her moment carefully, waiting until Nikki was busy at the edge of the yard, scrubbing the rust off some railings, well out of earshot of anyone else. Then she walked casually over and sat next to her.
Nikki didn't look round. "Piss off."
"Why? Does me being here bother you?" the other woman said carefully.
"Yeah. Makes my skin crawl. If you must know," Nikki said, attacking the ironwork with increased vigour. She wiped her forehead with the heel of her hand and considered the patch of rust she was working on as though it was the most fascinating thing in the world.
"You used to like me being around."
"That's before I found out what you are."
"What am I, then?"
"A nonce," Nikki said bluntly, "and this isn't your first sentence, is it?"
"No," Caroline said calmly, "strangely, it can be a bit hard to get work outside when you've got a record like mine." She shrugged. "I had to survive."
"Tell you what," Nikki said, "you could take your sick, pathetic, excuses somewhere else. Then I won't have to hurt you."
"Would you?" Lewis asked quietly. "Aren't you tired of the block and all the rest of that crap?"
"Don't push it. What have I got to lose?"
"I don't know. I suppose it depends on whatever Betts thinks up next. She doesn't like you, does she?"
"I'm not talking to you. Why are you still here?"
"Because I think we can help each other."
For the first time Nikki looked at Caroline. Involuntarily, her eyes were drawn to the puckered scarring on her neck, the burn mark that extended below the collar of her T-shirt. The other woman shrugged. "Somebody found out. Tried to throw boiling water over me."
"You should have dodged."
"I did. Just not fast enough."
"Is that why they transferred you?"
"Well, if you're lucky, people here won't find out what you are."
"No reason they should, unless you tell them."
"Your secret's safe with me. Now get lost."
Nikki turned back to the railings, ignoring the other woman. She was aware that the child molester was still there, standing behind her.
"So you wouldn't sell me out?"
"I'm not a grass, OK."
"I know that. You've got a lot going for you."
"Don't start that crap again," Nikki said, warningly.
"Why not. Because you liked it last time?" Caroline reached out and put her hand on Nikki's neck. "We were good together. You know that. We had something."
"Based on lies," Nikki said, shrugging the hand off and standing up to face the other woman. Lewis touched Nikki's face. Nikki jerked her head away.
"I'm not looking for hearts and flowers," Caroline said, "I don't care what you think of me. I just want .. an arrangement. Something to keep us both satisfied. I won't bother you the rest of the time, if that's what you're worried about."
"No. I'm just honest about my needs. You must get lonely in here. Are you telling me that you haven't done anything about it?"
Nikki deliberately stepped closer to Caroline, her fists clenching. "If that's all you want, why don't you find someone who doesn't know what you're in for?"
"Because I'd always have to worry about giving myself away."
Nikki made a small, involuntary sound of disgust.
"You keep your promises. I'd be safe. And I remember how it was." Caroline glanced at Nikki under her eyelashes. "You really know your way around a woman's body, Nikki. I want that again. Why settle for second best when I can have you?"
"Try 'I'm not available.'"
"You say that. Are you sure?"
Nikki looked around the yard, seemingly considering the matter. Actually, she was looking at where everyone else on the yard was, prisoners and guards, and working out how soon the screws could reach them. Caroline had miscalculated. She hadn't realised how much Nikki had changed. Nikki reckoned she just had to show her.
"Yes," Nikki said. Deliberately, she tapped the wire brush against the railing, loosening the flakes of rust trapped in the bristles and then raised it to blow them off, straight into Caroline's face. The blonde woman flinched and put her hand up.
"You don't say my name," Nikki said, "you don't come near me again. You stay out of my way."
She ran her thumb over the surface of the brush. "Prison is full of people with short tempers. Like me."
She glanced at Caroline's neck. "And weapons are so easy to improvise. Even if I didn't have a weapon .. truth is, for you, I'd use my bare hands."
She smiled deliberately "Remember how much stronger than you I am? Remember that time I picked you up in the potting shed? Put you on the bench?"
Caroline swallowed. She was staring at Nikki as though she didn't dare break eye contact. Nikki tapped her gently on the chest with the wire brush, then turned it so the bristles were lying against the cloth covering her breast. "You could take someone's skin off with this. My hands ...."
She pulled the brush back just as Wood wandered over to investigate the conversation, quickly enough that he wouldn't have seen anything, and stepped back, seemingly studying the railing.
"How's it going?"
"OK. Needs a bit of elbow grease, that's all. You know how it is when you're working. People come and distract you."
"I was just going," Caroline said quickly.
"You all right, Lewis?" Wood asked.
They both watched her walking off.
"You two had an argument?" Wood asked.
"Bit of a disagreement. I wouldn't put it as strong as an argument."
"Sorted it out?"
"Yes, Sir. We both know where we stand now. Can I get back to work?"
"Don't let me stop you," Wood said. He thought about the incident for a couple of minutes, concerned that something had seemed a bit off about the interaction, then filed it and forgot it. Bloody hormonal women. Give him a men's prison any day. Much more straightforward.
Nikki was standing in the lunch queue when she became aware that something was wrong. Like most cons, she was attuned to the normal rhythms of prison life. They were her world, day in and day out, and survival sometimes depended on sensing when they had changed. She had been on edge ever since Caroline Lewis had approached her in the yard.
Nikki frowned as she had the thought, realising that she hadn't seen Lewis all morning. On one level, that was a welcome relief. On another it was worrying; the other woman had been dogging her footsteps since she had arrived. It was only gladness at her absence, a half wish that it could be permanent, that had led Nikki to ignore it. Now, watching the way that the POs were gathering around the hall, Nikki had the feeling that something had changed for the worse. Her eyes settled on the main office. Karen Betts was there, deep in conversation with Atkinson. As she watched, they seemed to become aware of her studying them and turned so that she was looking at their backs. Nikki forced down a surge of paranoia and moved up with the rest of the queue. Maybe Betts was only here to do the Governor's mandated weekly tasting of the prison food.
She was two steps nearer the front of the queue when Atkinson appeared at her elbow. "Come with me, Wade."
"Just do it."
Nikki rolled her eyes, put her tray down, and followed Atkinson out of the wing. As she got to the gate a couple more officers dropped in behind her so that she was surrounded by uniforms.
"Where are we going?" she asked. "Pictures? Concert? Theatre?"
"Governor's office," Atkinson told her. "Now be quiet and move."
Betts was sitting behind her desk when Nikki was brought in. Atkinson and another screw came in with her and stood, bracketing her.
"What's all this about?"
"Sit down, Nikki."
"I'll stand, if you don't mind."
Nikki did as she was told, aware that if she didn't she wouldn't find out what was going on. She folded her arms and waited, her face set. Karen Betts looked at her and frowned.
"Where were you after breakfast this morning?"
"Reading in my cell. Why?"
"Did anybody see you?"
"I expect so."
"Do you remember if you spoke to anybody?"
"No. You know how it is here. The days sort of blend in to each other."
"For crying out loud!" Betts snapped. "I'm trying to help you and all you can do is be bloody insolent."
"So why is playing twenty questions helping me?" Nikki demanded. "All you're doing right now is stopping me having my lunch."
The Wing Governor studied her and then visibly came to a decision.
"Caroline Lewis was viciously attacked sometime this morning after breakfast and left unconscious. She's currently in hospital having her injuries checked out. When she was asked who'd done it, she said you had."
"Well, she's lying, isn't she," Nikki said.
"Oh? So you deny that you threatened her the other day?" Karen asked.
"We have that from Lewis."
"No comment. Apart from, I didn't do it."
"For God's sake, Nikki, you're just making it worse for yourself!" Karen said. "The victim has identified you, you have a history of crimes of violence and you don't seem to be able to provide an alibi. If you don't cooperate with the inquiry, you're practically admitting that you did do it!"
"No," Nikki said, "I'm just showing that I don't trust you or any of these other screws to conduct a fair investigation and that I know I won't be believed whatever I say. So you can just piss right off and do what the hell you want, because you will anyway."
"All right. I don't have to listen to this. Put Wade in her cell. She's behind the door until further notice. Make sure she gets fed. I'll keep you informed, Wade. If you change your mind about being willing to share your thoughts, do let me know."
Nikki stood up, boiling with anger. She felt the familiar sick helplessness overwhelm her as she walked back onto the wing and to her cell. Once there she paced until she had calmed down and then selected a book from the shelf. She looked up as Atkinson came in with a tray.
Instead of leaving, Atkinson sat down. Nikki shrugged and picked up her knife and fork. She started eating.
"Did you attack Lewis?"
"Didn't you hear me before? No comment."
"You're not helping yourself."
"Sorry, Miss. No doubt you'd prefer a signed confession."
"I remember how you reacted to Lewis when you got here. Wood has reported your disagreement in the yard."
"That's all the evidence you need that I beat her up, then. Case closed," Nikki said bitterly.
"Lewis wanted something from you."
"She wanted sex."
"But you said no."
"You're very well informed."
"I keep me eyes open, that's all."
"Well why don't you open them a bit wider and find out who actually attacked her?"
"But you did threaten her?"
"I told her to stay away from me. Now, are we finished?!"
Atkinson nodded. "I'll come and pick the tray up later." She left and Nikki listened to the rattle of the key in the lock. She looked at the painted brick walls, fighting back tears.
"This is so shit," she said quietly to herself, then took a deep breath, banishing the self pity she couldn't afford.
Karen was talking to the hospital when her office door opened and Steven Duncan came in. She waved him to a chair in front of her desk, finished her conversation and sat back. "Lewis has a couple of cracked ribs, as well as a broken collar bone and some serious soft tissue bruising but the good news is that her internal organs seem to be all right."
"What about her jaw?"
"Not fractured. They're going to take some photographs of the injuries and hang onto the X-rays. She'll be back with us by the end of the day."
"Do you think Wade did it?" Steven asked.
"Truthfully? Yes. What reason would Lewis have to lie about it?"
"If there's bad blood between them ...."
"We know Wade's capable of violence," Karen said, getting out her cigarettes and lighting one, "true, it's always been men before, but maybe she's extending her repertoire."
"I suppose so," Steven said.
"Something bothering you?"
"She's always been upfront about admitting what she's done. She's denying this one."
"She didn't admit to Jim Fenner's murder. Sorry, manslaughter."
"She said she couldn't remember. That's different."
"But awfully, awfully convenient."
"Lewis is a nasty piece of work, in more ways than one. Are we sure she's telling the truth?"
"I'm a mother, Steven. You don't have to tell me what a piece of scum Lewis is. To my mind that's actually the strongest argument for her story."
"There hasn't been a whisper that anyone else knows that she's a child molester. No one else has any motive to attack her. Either because of her crimes or because she's been bothering them. She's fitted in well with the other inmates. Wade is the only one she's had a problem with."
"As far as we know."
Karen leant back in her chair and blew out a plume of smoke. "As long as she hasn't got an alibi and Lewis sticks to her story, it's all academic, I'd say. We haven't got another suspect."
There was a knock at the door.
Atkinson stepped in. "Well, did you get anywhere with her?" Karen asked.
"No, Miss. She admits to threatening Lewis to make her stay away but she denies the assault."
"Right. We'll have to get the police involved. It was worth a try."
"Miss, I don't think she did it."
"What is it with Wade?" Karen said, exasperated. "She's a cold blooded murderer but somehow she gets people on her side. People who should know better!"
"It's not that, Miss."
"What is it, then?"
"Lewis has been propositioning Wade every chance she's had since she arrived. Nikki's told her to back off but she hasn't done anything else. Why now, suddenly? Why not last week, or three month ago, when she first got here?"
"I don't know," Karen said, "maybe Lewis got too close. Groped her in the showers or something. Maybe Wade was in a bad temper this morning or had simply had enough. It does happen."
Atkinson shook her head. "It doesn't feel right."
"The police will establish the facts. It's not like it matters. She's on a whole life tariff! She's not going anywhere!"
"No, Miss, but if Lewis gets the idea that she can do this sort of thing and get away with it, she could cause a lot of trouble."
"Well if she does we'll manage the situation," Karen said, "get her personal officer to have a word with her; remind her that she needs to keep her head down and not make waves. Secrets have a way of getting out in prison."
Nikki listened to the footsteps coming down the wing, resigned to the fact that they would pass by her door. She had another five days before the police were due to interview her again. She didn't expect to see the outside of the cell before then. She drifted back into her memories, taking herself to the place she wanted to be.
The month after she had been freed by the Court of Appeal, just her and Helen, everyone else almost a footnote. Happy, drunk on each other's company. Long hours in bed, rebuilding the link between them, exploring each other's bodies in a way they'd never had time to do before, learning about the joy and pleasure they could find together.
Nikki shook herself and turned her mind to the other things they'd done, in bed and out of it. Talking about everything under the sun, dreams, goals, past history. Talking about their differences as well, the places where they needed to work out compromises. Mapping out a new relationship that went beyond their earlier encounters. That had, in many ways, been harder than the physical side of things and had felt more dangerous. They both knew the other well, had vivid memories of their conflicts in Larkhall. The challenge was reaching beyond that to try and frame a new relationship that allowed them both room to relax and redefine the way they reacted to each other.
Nikki lost herself in the memory, staring at the wall as she mentally replayed a walk they had taken one Sunday through the deserted City of London, well away from the tourist haunts, wandering hand in hand through centuries of history. Helen had been casually dressed in jeans and a sweater that brought out the colour of her eyes, her face animated and alight with sheer delight as they chatted.
Nikki had occasionally forgotten that Helen had shorter legs and she would pick up to her normal pace for a couple of steps, until a small insistent tug on her hand reminded her that she was not alone. Nikki grinned as she remembered how they had eventually made it a game, pulling opposite ways at intersections, silently trying to drag each other down different roads. They had laughed a lot, and ended up at one of the museums, drinking overpriced coffee in the cafe while they planned their first holiday together.
She jumped as the cell door slammed open and looked up. "What?!"
"All right, Wade," Jackson said, "the Governor wants to see you."
"Why? I've nothing to say to her."
"Just do it."
"Sure," Nikki said and got slowly to her feet.
Charlie had just raised the pint to his lips when a heavy hand fell on his shoulder. He turned round, the surface of the beer trembling in the glass, and swallowed as he looked at the warrant card that was being held out towards him.
"Hello, Higgs. I've been looking for you," Jack Harvey said, "I'm arresting you on suspicion of committing perjury. You have the right to remain silent ...."
Nikki shouldered her way into Bett's office, her arms already folded, and stood mutinously in front of the desk. "You wanted to see me."
"I don't, actually," Karen said, "but Lorraine says she knows who attacked Caroline Lewis and she refuses to tell me unless you're here, so I thought it would be simpler just to humour her."
She picked up the phone on her desk. "Bring her in now, would you?"
Nikki looked round as Jones came in with Lorraine. The other con looked pale and strained and she wouldn't look Nikki in the eye. Concerned, she reached out and tapped her shoulder, getting her attention.
Lorraine shook her head.
"What's the problem?"
"Sold you out, Nikki. Let you take the blame."
Jones interrupted. "So who did attack Lewis?"
Lorraine bit her lip and then pointed at her own chest.
"What's going on?" Karen asked.
"She says that she did it."
"Oh, I don't believe this. Tell her that lying will not help. Does she really know or is she just making this up to waste our time? Because if so, I'll have her put on report."
Nikki was watching Lorraine. "Why d'you attack her? What did she do to you?"
"She's a nonce."
"How the hell do you know that?" Nikki demanded.
"I lip read one of her conversations with you. In the corridor. You remember?"
Nikki thought back and realised that she could vaguely recall the exchange. Caroline had been especially pushy and Nikki had ended up calling her some of the choicer things in her vocabulary. She'd thought they were alone. "I remember. Shit, I'm sorry, Lorraine."
"No, I'm sorry. I never thought they'd blame you."
"They blame me for everything. You know that. It's not your fault all screws are bastards."
"You want to go on report, Wade?" Jones said.
"See what I mean?"
Lorraine smiled but it didn't reach her eyes. Nikki put a hand on her shoulder. "Forget it. You didn't let it go anywhere. You should have sat tight. They wouldn't have been able to prove it."
"You were locked up in your cell ...."
"I can take it. What's the difference between being locked in a cell to being locked up in a prison?" She nudged Lorraine. "Friends?"
"Get Lewis here," Karen said abruptly.
"What the hell for?" Nikki demanded.
"Because I'm not sure that your little friend isn't just protecting you. I want to get Lewis' version of this. Not that I have to justify my decisions to you."
"She's told you, hasn't she?"
"That's not evidence."
"It would have been if I'd confessed."
"Shut up, Wade."
"They're bringing Lewis here. They don't believe you."
"But I did it!"
"I know. But as well as being bastards, screws also have shit for brains. You know that."
Karen watched Jones' face tighten and remarked casually. "One more insult out of you, Wade, and you are on the block."
They waited in tense silence for Lewis to be brought to the office. Nikki stepped closer to Lorraine, silently trying to offer her moral support. The other woman stood, staring at the floor. Finally Caroline was brought in. Her bruises had mostly faded to a mottled green but her arm was still in a sling and she walked slowly and painfully.
"You wanted to see me, Miss?"
"Yes. Sit down."
Nikki could see that Lewis was getting more and more uneasy as she tried to work out what was going on. Karen Betts waited until she had taken a chair and seemed to become absorbed in some papers on her desk. Caroline stood it for a while and then broke the silence.
"Oh, sorry. Got distracted. Now, your account of what happened during the attack."
"What about it?"
"I just wondered if you have anything to add to it?"
"Well, you haven't made your formal statement to the police yet, have you?"
"That's good, because perjury is a serious matter. And so is wasting my time and the time of my officers."
"Well, you can hardly blame me," Caroline said calmly, "Wade's had it in for me since she got here and Lorraine's always been all right up till now. I'd have told you eventually. I just wanted a bit of payback."
"You bitch!" Nikki said.
"Yeah, but they were all awfully ready to believe me, weren't they?" the blonde woman said. "You'll have to do something about that reputation of yours."
"How about yours?" Nikki said. "Do you want the real reason you're in here to get about?"
"You've kept your mouth shut so far. I imagine you can carry on doing it."
"All right, break it up," Karen said calmly, "Lewis, you'll be given the usual notice of your adjudication. Wade, you're back on the wing. Jones, tell Lorraine I'll see her later and that we will be involving the police."
"That's a pity," Caroline said, "after all, it'll lead to questions."
"That, I believe, is the point."
"No, I mean for Lorraine." She turned to face the deaf woman so that she could clearly read her lips. "Do you think they'll find out? After all the trouble you went to to hide it?"
Next to Nikki, the other inmate had gone rigid. She moved towards Lewis, her hands making futile shushing gestures, shaking her head.
"After all, you never told anyone that he was abusing them, did you? Or that that was why you set fire to him. Do you think it'll get out? Into the papers? Do you think they might read about it? Some of their friends, maybe?"
"Close her down!" Betts said urgently, breaking the deadlock. Lorraine had gone totally white. A thin, keening noise was coming out of her mouth.
"Shut up, you evil bitch!" Nikki shouted. She surged towards Lewis and Jones had to get between them. Through the haze of anger, Nikki could hear the nonce's voice, relentlessly continuing.
"Will they wonder why you didn't protect them? You see, in my experience, mothers know, deep down. Even the ones who say they didn't. Even when they're turning a blind eye so they won't get hit."
Lorraine sank to her knees, weeping. Nikki stopped struggling with Jones and went to her, putting her arms round the other woman, murmuring reassurance. "Shh, shh, it'll be all right. It'll be fine. Don't worry. It's going to be all right." Distantly, she was aware of Jones escorting Lewis out of the office.
The deaf inmate was still shaking her head slowly from side to side, almost rocking. Nikki heard Karen use the phone and call for the medical officer to attend. Then she felt a hand on her shoulder. "Come on, let's get her off the floor."
She looked up into Bett's face and gently helped Lorraine to her feet, before persuading her to sit down. The other woman obeyed like an automata, following instructions listlessly, as though she had lost all will to act for herself.
"That needn't have happened," she accused Betts, "if you'd taken her word for it ...."
"And if you hadn't gone ballistic we might have been able to shut Lewis up more quickly, so don't push it, Nikki. One other thing. If word gets out about Lewis' real crime, I'll know where to come."
"Why not? It's your default option."
"I had perfectly good reasons for the actions I took and I can justify all of them.
"I never said you weren't good at back covering," Nikki sneered.
"Get out. I'll have an officer take you back down to the wing."
Nikki slammed out of the office. Wearily, Karen looked at the mumbling, rocking wreck of a woman who sat in the chair in front of her desk. "What a bloody mess." she said quietly.
Nikki paced her cell for most of the night, unable to sleep, trying to contain her anger. In the end exhaustion forced her into a troubled, restless doze. She woke automatically in time for unlock and stumbled through getting dressed before going out to breakfast. The only good thing was that Lewis was not working in the servery because of her injuries, which meant that Nikki didn't have to talk to her that morning. She looked around for Lorraine but couldn't find her anywhere. She went up to one of the POs.
"Miss, is there any news about Lorraine? She isn't on the wing."
"None of your business, Wade. Go and eat your breakfast."
"But, Miss ...."
"I told you what to do," the woman said. Nikki frowned, wondering why she was so jumpy. Now that she thought about it, the screws did seem to be more tense than usual. She hoped that there hadn't been another incident. Though if somebody had finished Lewis off, she wouldn't mind at all. Nikki glanced casually around as she joined the queue and spotted her at another table, eating carefully with her one good hand. No luck there, then.
She glanced down the wing again, seeing Shannon, who looked pale and upset but was walking determinedly towards her. Further along, a gaggle of officers had gathered around Atkinson, who was giving some sort of orders. The Yorkshirewoman saw Shannon and, for some reason, looked alarmed, stepping into her path and stopping her coming any closer to the queue.
They started speaking to each other and Nikki watched them idly. Shannon seemed to be arguing at first and then gave in, her head hanging as she turned away from Atkinson. As she did so, she looked up. Nikki saw that she was crying quietly, tears running down her face. As soon as she realised that she had been seen Shannon tensed and, with sudden decision, began to sign. Nikki watched her hands, feeling the shock roar in her ears as she absorbed their message. She hardly heard the noise as she dropped her tray and pots.
"Are you sure?" she signed back.
Shannon nodded, still weeping. Nikki turned, took two deliberate steps towards Caroline Lewis and, before she had time to react, picked a plate up and smashed it over her head. Lewis pushed her chair back, staggering as she tried to get away. Nikki went for her with single-minded ferocity, knocking her over, and pinned the other woman to the ground. She held the sharp edge of a piece of plate against Lewis' throat.
"She's dead! Are you happy now? She bought your fucking mind games and she topped herself last night! "
"Get off her, Wade," a voice said. Nikki ignored it. Suddenly her hand was peeled away from Lewis' throat and her wrist was taken in an agonising grip. She fought it for as long as she could, but all the nerves in her arm and shoulder were lighting up in a blaze of pain. She was pulled upright and her arms pinned behind her back. Other officers helped Lewis to her feet. Nikki could hear her own breath roaring in her chest as she growled with frustration and anger. She raised her voice and looked deliberately out at the audience of cons, pitching her voice to carry. "You know why she's good at mind games? Because she's a nonce! I saw her file in Larkhall."
Murmuring started in the crowd, growing to angry shouts in the parts furthest away from the PO's
"Get them both off the wing. NOW!" Atkinson said. The screws formed a protective mass around the two women and escorted them through the barred gates.
"Let's see how easy you find life now, you bitch," Nikki said. The other woman stared at her impassively.
"Right. Lewis to the hospital wing. I want that cut on her neck looked at. Wade, you know where you're going. Lead the way."
Nikki shrugged and allowed herself to be taken to the block. Once there she lay on the thin mattress, unmoving, until Betts came to see her sometime the same day.
"Well, I suppose you're pleased with yourself."
Nikki ignored her.
"You nearly caused a riot, Lewis is on rule 45 and will be shipped out in the morning. Oh, and you came very close to another murder charge today. Anything to say for yourself?"
The silence stretched between them.
"I didn't think so. You can be your own worst enemy, Nikki. Why don't you give yourself a chance?"
Two weeks later she came to Nikki's cell.
The lifer was sitting at the desk, hands folded, a book lying closed in front of her. She glanced up as Karen came in and then returned to staring at the brick wall in front of her. Betts studied her, seeing the shadows under her eyes and the strain on her face. She had seen the taller woman in most of her moods; angry, defiant, expressing cold disgust or being insolent towards officers; laughing and joking with other inmates, deep in conversation with the people she considered friends. She had witnessed her suppressing her emotions, keeping up her prison mask in front of others, staff and inmates. She had never seen this cold, distant despair, the withdrawal and silence like an impenetrable barrier between Wade and the rest of the human race.
"Atkinson tells me that you won't leave your cell except when specifically requested and that you're refusing to do your work."
The silence stretched again. Karen raised an eyebrow. "How long is this voluntary mutism going to last? Is it some sort of protest?"
Nikki put her head in her hands. "Nothing to say."
"Look. Lorraine's death was a tragedy but this behaviour isn't helping anyone. If you have to blame someone, blame Lewis."
She waited for Nikki to reply, then shrugged and left the cell. She went to the wing office and accepted a cup of tea from Atkinson. "I see what you mean about Wade. I'm forced to share your concerns. Has the medical officer assessed her?"
"Aye. He got the same treatment. She did what she was asked but nothing else. The night staff say her sleep's increasingly disturbed. Either she's pacing the cell at all hours or she's calling out in her dreams. One of the officers had to go in and wake her up Monday night."
"Well, we'll just have to keep an eye on the situation," Karen said, "short of medicating her, there's nothing else we can do. Maybe she'll snap out of it on her own. Why is she taking this so badly?"
"Suicide is an act of violence against those left behind," Atkinson said sombrely, "especially when they blame themselves."
"Why should she do that?"
"Lewis was only around because she was interested in Wade's ... charms."
"That's irrational. I might as well feel guilty because I brought them together in my office!"
"Guilt's an emotion, Miss. It's not logical."
"Well, make sure she's watched. One suicide is enough."
Atkinson stood in the shelter of the recessed doorway, looking out across the courtyard. It was a hard, cold day, a typical blustering April weekday, the weather making a mockery of the fact that it was officially spring. It wasn't raining for once, but the sky was bleak with the promise of unseasonable snow, and the bitter wind cut through any protection. Most of the yard workers had chosen to stay inside and scrub floors and corridors rather than go outside.
Only one inmate had elected to brave the full rigours of the weather and clear up the drifts of sleet that lay in the corners, as well as tidying up the usual detritus that had rained down from the cells in the night. As Atkinson watched, she trudged back from the edge of the yard with the last bucket full of rubbish and dumped it into the bins, then looked around as though she was planning to do another circuit. Atkinson was about to intervene when she was distracted by a blast of warm air as the door was opened. She turned round to see who had come out.
Karen shivered inside a borrowed coat. "What are you doing out here? I thought you were running reception."
"Is everything all right there?"
"I'm sorry, Miss, we should have consulted you before we changed duties."
"No," Karen said impatiently, "that's not what I mean. You're all experienced officers and I trust your judgement. It's just I was expecting to find you inside, especially in this weather."
"Aye, this is a right lambing storm. I'm supervising the yard work."
"We've got someone out there in this?!"
"The inmate volunteered, Miss. There was no undue pressure."
"OK," Karen said. She fumbled inside her coat for cigarettes and lit one. "As long as I'm outside, I might as well ... ," she said, "who is it?"
Karen took a long pull from her cigarette and blew out the smoke. The fierce wind snatched it away. "And you're still worried about her."
"Want to tell me why? It wasn't so long ago that she wouldn't come out of her cell. That did concern me. Surely this is an improvement?"
"Mebbe. Mebbe not."
"You're not being very clear."
"She volunteers for all the arduous duties."
"That's her choice, isn't it?"
"Working herself into exhaustion is just another way of avoiding the memories. It doesn't mean she's dealing with them."
"Maybe not, but we're not paid to be counsellors."
Out on the yard, Nikki had picked up a brush and was preparing to start sweeping, her head down against the biting cold.
Atkinson stepped out of the protection of the doorway. "Wade!"
"I want you to get warmed up before you go out again."
"Sure," Nikki said, and trudged past them, her shoulders slumped. She didn't acknowledge the Wing Governor, but stood leaning against the corridor wall, arms folded. Karen looked at her and was struck by how gray her skin had become. Nikki looked as ill as any prisoner she had seen outside a medical wing.
She came to a sudden decision. "I got a phone call this morning, Nikki. About you."
The tall con looked at her incuriously, then returned to studying the opposite wall. "Your solicitor's coming to see you. Today, in fact."
"Someone will come and get you when she arrives."
"Don't you want to know what it's about?"
"She'll tell me."
"Atkinson, can you put one of the other officers in charge and take Nikki Wade back to her cell? She's going to have to get her stuff together."
Nikki looked at her with weary contempt. "Being shipped out, am I?"
"Back to London."
Nikki took her shoulders away from the wall and waited for Atkinson to move off, so she could follow her.
"Don't you want to know why?" Karen asked.
"Yeah, sure," Nikki said, in a tone that strongly suggested that she was humouring the Governor.
"Your case has been referred to the Court of Appeal. They've found fresh evidence. You're going to need to be in London so that you can attend court. Your solicitor thinks you've got a good chance and the CCRB seem to agree. They referred it."
"And how do you feel?" Nikki asked.
"Well ... ," Karen said, disconcerted by the question.
"Because he's still dead. Just like Lorraine. Just like Gossard. Doesn't change anything."
"It might for you," Atkinson commented.
Nikki shrugged, her face unreadable.
When they got to her cell Nikki stepped in and saw the plastic bag on her bed. "Not wasting any time, are they."
"Get your stuff together," Atkinson said.
Nikki shrugged and began to rake her possessions into the bag. She did it quickly - it was a well practised routine by now.
"I might have missed some of my cashmere, but yeah, I think so."
"Wait here. I'll come and get you when your solicitor arrives."
Nikki sat down on the bed. Atkinson turned back. "Nikki."
"When my George died, I felt like you. I wondered what the point was. I sat at home, first day after the funeral and I thought about it. Two bottles of gin and Ilkley moor. Gets cold up on the tops in winter. You don't feel anything, so folk say."
"So what stopped you?"
"I thought about the bollocking she would have given me. Breast cancer's a hard way to go and she fought it the whole way. If I'd have given in I'd have been letting her down. So I didn't."
She smiled at Nikki's expression. "Shocked you, have I? How d'you think I knew what Lewis wanted from you? What I'm saying is that right now Lewis has one scalp. Lorraine's. You let her do this to you, she'll have two. Three, if you've anyone waiting for you on the outside. Do you want to give the cold-hearted madam that victory over you? Think about it."
"Atkinson. Why not? We'll not see each other again."
"Did you ever meet anyone else?"
"No. Why would I want to? Georgina, George, was the most beautiful woman I ever saw, a lass without equal. I never knew what possessed her to choose me, but I counted my blessings every day and we had twenty odd year together before our luck ran out."
"That's ... a long time."
"Is there someone waiting for you?"
"Nice name. Cleave to her, Wade. You don't get the time again. Believe me."
She left the cell. A couple of hours later she came to tell Nikki that Claire had arrived and that her transport out was ready.
Nikki shouldered her way out of the cell and followed Atkinson across the wing. She was aware of being the focus of a lot of attention from the usual gaggle of spectators and made sure she kept at least one hand free. There seemed to be more screws than usual around the place, though, and Nikki relaxed a little.
"Oi, Nikki, where you going?" someone called out.
"Bahamas," she answered, without missing a beat.
She followed Atkinson up the long corridor to the Wing Governor's office, dumping her stuff outside when she was told to. Atkinson opened the door and indicated she should go through with a jerk of her head. Nikki walked in and waited, blinking in confusion as she saw who Betts already had in her office. She scowled at the burly middle aged man in the long rain coat who had 'copper' written all over him and glanced at Claire, who was standing next to him.
"What's he doing here?" Nikki demanded. She turned to him. "Come to frame me for another murder, have you? Only I've got a bloody good alibi if it's anytime in the last couple of years."
"Believe me, darling, if I framed you, you'd stay framed," the man said casually, "I'm here because your solicitor invited me to be here."
"Because as the man who proved you were fitted up, she thought I might like to see your face when you got the news. Though I gather you've already been told."
"Is this some sort of wind up?"
"No wind up. I was the man who got Higgs to sign on the dotted line."
"It's true," Claire said.
Nikki stared at her, speechless. She allowed herself, for the first time, to believe it might be real. Suddenly weak, she sat down hard in the chair by Betts' desk. She cleared her throat, found her voice again. "When did you get the news about the leave to appeal?"
"This morning," Claire said gently, "I've come straight here. I didn't want you to spend another night in this place without knowing."
"So what happens now?"
"As I said, you go back to London for your retrial," Karen said.
"This ... this isn't happening," Nikki said disbelievingly.
"Why didn't you let me know?" she appealed to Claire.
"Because it might have come to nothing. We didn't want to raise your hopes." She reached out and put her hand on Nikki's arm. "It's been a long, hard road, and we've had help from a lot of people. Including this dinosaur, here." She smiled affectionately at the copper, who cleared his throat and, almost, looked embarrassed.
Nikki shook her head. "I can't take it in," she said, her voice breaking.
"You'll believe it when you're out of the doors," Karen said decisively, "on your feet, Wade, I'll give you a Governor's escort out of here. And I don't want to see you again. Ever."
"No chance of that."
"Good. Twice is unlucky. Three times starts to look like a habit."
As they walked out of the office Nikki stopped to pick up her stuff and Claire dropped back to walk beside her. "Who did this?" Nikki asked.
"It's been a team effort. Just like your defence. Me, Trisha ...." She trailed off. Her eyes flicked towards Betts' back and Nikki nodded, understanding what was not being said. She walked a while longer, hardly seeing the corridors and uniforms, only aware of the moment when they finally walked into the yard and the sun hit her full in the face. She stopped, putting up her hand to shade her eyes. "Jesus, that's bright!"
"You're not used to natural light, that's all," Claire said cheerfully.
"It'll be dark enough in the cattle truck," Nikki said.
'But hopefully one of your last trips in one."
Nikki stopped in the yard and looked back up at the grim, forbidding bulk of the prison. Claire looked at her, slightly concerned, as her gaze travelled across the building, taking in the barred windows and weathered stone work.
"Take a good long look," Atkinson said, "you won't see it again."
"You don't know that."
"I've one of my feelings. Remember what I said in the cell."
"I'm not likely to forget it, am I?"
Atkinson held out her hand and Nikki hesitated and then shook it. "Right," the screw said, all business again, "let's get you in the wagon before these soft Southerners freeze to the cobblestones."
Nikki's last sight of Atkinson was of her standing, four square and practical, watching with an almost aloof expression as the door to the cubicle was closed.
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