By Becky B
"Nikki, can I have a word?" Helen asked her brightly as she walked across G-Wing, smiling at her.
"Sure," Nikki said standing up to meet her.
"I need you to do me a favour," Helen told her. Nikki had half a heart to refuse, remembering the last time she had done Helen a favour and what had happened then. But the pleading look on her face crumbled her defences; Helen may have gotten over her and into the Doc's trousers pretty quick but she still cared for her.
"Sure," she said at length, albeit reluctantly, and Helen laughed. "I promise it won't involve any book-burning."
"Oh, well how can I refuse then?!" Nikki replied.
"The thing is, we've got a group of executives paying Larkhall a visit next week," Helen informed her, her tone inferring she wasn't at all pleased about the intrusion.
"Hmm," Nikki said, prompting her to go on.
"And it's really important that everything goes smoothly because if it doesn't, they are going to introduce a tighter rule plan. Which means closed visits, restricted leisure time... and you know as well as I do that it wouldn't go down well with anybody "
"I hope you're not asking me what I think you're asking me, Helen," interrupted the taller woman. "We've been down this route before, I'm not bloody head prefect!"
"Oh, Nikki, it's not like you haven't done it before! Remember before the riot?"
"Yeah, and look how well that turned out!" she said sarcastically.
Undeterred, Helen went on, "And I don't mean just you, I'm sure you'll have support! I'm not just asking you, we're asking all the more trustworthy inmates. Please sweetheart?"
The words were out of her mouth before she realised she was going to say them, and Nikki looked up sharply upon hearing the term of endearment stuck onto the request.
They stood looking at one another in silence for a moment, Helen unsure of why she ha said it and what she should do now, and Nikki stunned into silence.
"What is it you want me to do?" Nikki asked more gently, resigned.
"Just keep an eye on things, and help persuade the others that behaving is in their interests? They listen to you Nikki."
The taller woman nodded and Helen smiled at her. "I'll see you later."
Nikki watched her walk off and turned to the table where the Julies, Barbara and Yvonne were sat.
"'Ere Nik, anyone'd think you fancied 'er the amount of time you spend talkin' to 'er nowadays," Yvonne teased her. "Or 'ave we got a screw's pet developin'?!"
Nikki smiled and replied, "it's funny you should say that 'Vonne ."
"She's got a point girls," Yvonne finally said as Nikki rounded off her explanation. Nikki released a long breath, relieved she's have the support of indisputably the top dog of Larkhall. Now just to convince the others
"Yes, I'm with you Nikki," came Barbara Hunt's crisp English tones.
"Nah, we ain't-"
"Ain't sure," The Julies managed between themselves.
"I mean," said Julie S.
"mean, we don't wanna be seen as no screws' narks."
"U know what 'appens to screws'"
"screws' pets," her twin finished for her.
"yeah," Julie J ended.
Nikki's head switched back and forth rapidly as she followed the dialogue between the two friends. Keeping up was always a difficulty where the Julies were concerned.
Detecting that they were finished for the moment, she ploughed on urgently, "Yeah, but Julies, if the suits get wind of any trouble or anything, then they're gonna enforce closed visits, and you don't want that do you? Rec' time cut short, less privileges, not that we've got that many now, but " She added.
"Well we don't want no closed-"
"Closed visits, nah. Alright, we're with"
"With ya Nik."
"Okay. So now we just have to convince this lot," Nikki flicked her thumb over her shoulder at where Shaz was stood on the pool table pulling indescribable expressions with her face, surrounded by other inmates. Glancing around, it didn't look too promising. The Peckham gang were leant over the landing, along with Buki Lester, spitting on any unfortunate soul who dared to walk below them, and a group of undesirables in the corner by the stairs were deep in intent conversation involving a lot of violent hand gestures.
Nikki stood up. "You're doing it for Helen," she thought to herself.
She pulled a chair out from the table and stood on it where most of the wing could see her, and Yvonne and company stood up in support.
"Hey, could I have your attention everyone?" She called loudly. Heads turned and the din was lessened to a dull roar as her fellow inmates began to take an interest. "Could you all just listen up for a minute, please, I've got something I want to say to everyone?"
The noise level went down and she continued in a more normal volume, "Okay, now, a little birdie tells me that early next week, there's to be a top screws' outing. They're coming to Larkhall and they want to take away our open visits and limit our out-time," she told everyone, her presence felt throughout the corridor. A mumbling and muttering commenced. After a moment, Nikki continued, "They want to make sure we're in our cells 24 hours a day and that we get less spends, too."
She looked around and saw the desired reactions of the prisoners. Yvonne looked up at her and she glanced back over the wing.
"But," she shouted, regaining their attention. "But, we can stop them doing that. We can stop them by making sure they have no cause for complaint."
A murmur of opposition started up.
"Lookey 'ere girls, we got ourselves a new head girl!" called Maxi Purvis from the first landing, chewing gum noisily.
"We aren't supposed to know about this visit, so they're expecting us to give them reason to restrict us. IF we all make sure they've got nothing to grumble about, then we can keep our visits and our free time."
She paused, waiting for the reaction. She anticipated this wouldn't go down well, and was prepared to try and persuade them using any means she could.
For Helen, you're doing it for Helen
"Now I more than anyone understand that this is a new thing for G Wing " she paused as most people smiled and laughed, "But just this once, it would be in our interests just to be model prisoners for this short time at least publicly," she ended and a few laughs were raised.
Yvonne, stood beside her, suddenly said, "So 'ave we got your support girls?"
The wing turned to see Yvonne was backing Wade, and decided against refusing to co-operate. No one messed with Atkins.
"I'm wiv ya Nik," came a voice to her left. Turning, Nikki saw Crystal stand up, and Shaz followed suit, a little nervously. Soon most of the wing were stood up and Nikki exhaled in relief and smiled.
She glanced up just in time to see Helen stood by the gate, arms crossed as she leant against the wall and grinning over at her. Nikki smiled and looked back towards the crowd which had gathered around her as she jumped off the chair.
Maxi Purvis was pissed off. First, Jim Fenner had completely blown her off and now Wade was getting up on her high horse. No one rivalled the Peckham Boot gang. Maxi would just have to show her that.
She couldn't believe that after so long flirting with the ugly bastard, he had completely lost interest and given her the cold shoulder that morning. She needed Fenner on her side but so far she had only managed to close that open door of opportunity. She scowled and walked down the stairs.
"Jim, could I have a word?" came bodybag's dulcet tones through the officers' room. Fenner scowled and sighed, then turned to face the stupid woman. "Oh, 'ello Sylvia, I didn't see you there," he smiled.
"Yes, well Betts and Stewart have got us all running round like headless chickens today, haven't they. Think we have no work to do already!"
Jim nodded sympathetically. Get on with it, he thought glancing around him.
"Well I was hoping you might have a word with your miss Betts and see if she could get me some leave," Sylvia smarmed.
"Well why can't you do it?"
"Well, I could. It's just it would look better coming from you."
"Alright, leave it with me," he said, purely in the hope she would vanish from sight and leave him alone. It worked.
He was having a crap day already; he didn't need Hollamby whinging at him. Already, Karen had told him she wasn't interested in dinner or anything else for that matter, when only days ago she was asking him to move in with her! Women. Can never make up their bloody minds. And what was she on about, all that stuff about finding out what sort of a person he really was? Surely she couldn't have uncovered his affair with Dockley. Nah, they'd been careful
Muttering obscenities under his breath, he reluctantly went to carry out the new cell checks and shifts that Helen Stewart had so kindly introduced before the inspection day.
He was stopped in his tracks, however, by Maxi Purvis. "Excuse me, Mr. Fenner," she called. "I need to talk to you."
"Purvis, I don't have time for this crap "
"Oh, it's in your interests," she interrupted.
"Oh yeah? How would that be then?"
Nikki felt both relieved and apprehensive after her little speech to the wing. She seemed to have almost universal support. There were the few who refused to listen to anyone The Peckham lot, for one. But she couldn't help that, could she? No, with Yvonne on her side she was assured backing.
Walking towards the stairs back to her cell on G3, she tried to avoid seeing Helen stood watching her, for she knew she wouldn't be able to keep her cool. But it was imminent.
"Nikki," called a soft Scottish tone.
Nikki turned and smiled at her, still walking slowly. Helen caught up and walked with her.
"Thank you, you were brilliant," Helen told her.
"Just remember this little favour when I need copies of the cell keys and an escape car," Nikki told her.
"It is in your interests too, you know," Helen countered. "I would've thought you knew that, given how well you managed to persuade the rest of the wing of that fact!"
Nikki raised her eyebrows, "Yeah, and you spend your day telling crackheads and psychos they'll be released within a year. Doesn't necessarily mean it will happen," she ended, her voice becoming hoarser and quieter just as it always did when Helen was around, for some unknown reason. She wished she could control these things more; she could never seem to hide anything from the other woman because her voice or face would betray her, and it gave a sense of helplessness and vulnerability.
Helen shot her a look, although her happy mood continued to flourish despite Nikki's sarcasm. Nikki glanced at her askance.
"What's up with you today, you're too happy for my liking?" she joked, receiving a punch in the arm from the smaller woman.
"So what is it, someone buy you a Benz or something?"
Nikki looked at her unconvinced as they rounded the top banister of the stairs, taking in the broad grin.
"You know what, I'm not gonna ask."
Helen laughed as they stopped outside Nikki's cell. Their eyes met, and although no word was spoken between the two, they seemed to convey an entire conversation. Unable to stand the tension, Nikki entered her cell, leaving the ex-governor to stand for a moment before making her descent.
For the first time that day, Jim Fenner broke into a grin.
"So what you're saying is that YOU can help ME to get Wade AND Stewart in the shit, just by bringing you a couple of things in?"
"Well, yeah and other stuff too. You ain't getting' that good a deal Fenner."
"Not just a pretty face are you?"
She looked at him and, quite frankly, felt repulsed, but smiled. "Well, I do what I can. So you interested or what?"
"yeah. I reckon I could be," he said leading her off to her cell for a more private talk. Things were looking up!
Helen walked briskly back to her office, stopping only to converse a few pleasantries with the gate guard, who seemed a little too eager to unlock the gate for her to pass through before she got there. Normally she would have had to suppress a laugh at this behaviour, but her eyes didn't leave the spot ahead of her they were fixed on.
"Thanks," she attempted a smile, and continued her journey unaware of his eyes fixed on her behind as she departed.
Once inside the safety of her office, she sat down and reflected on the conversation that had just taken place on the landings of G Wing. Once, Nikki and she had been enemies. She remembered a time when they had shouted at one another across the wing, ending in Nikki's removal to the Block and Helen's temper pushed to break-point. Then, they had become friends. Allies, almost; both fighting for the same cause and against the same opponents. She smiled as she remembered their brief time as lovers. But what had happened? It was like they were back to square one, and yet so much had changed since their first meeting.
Shit, Helen, had been the one to break it off. She had told Nikki in NO uncertain terms, that their relationship would not work while Nikki was a prisoner and Helen locked her up at night. She had looked her in the eye and told her she didn't want her, and to hate her. Needless to say, she couldn't hold the gaze for long, and Nikki had left. Helen had done something she didn't often allow herself to that evening before she left the prison; she had cried.
She knew it was for the best; it had been the right decision to make. So why was she now doubting that decision? And why did it hurt so much?
She doubled in agony as someone's boot met her stomach with sledgehammer force, knocking the breath from her chest. A couple of friends moved toward her, either in concern or defence, she couldn't tell, and didn't have time to think long and hard on it as another blow rained to her shoulder.
"Shaz!" called her cellmate. She opened her mouth to reply but no words came out, and she groaned as she rolled on the floor.
"NOW LISTEN GOOD YOU LOT!" Al McKenzie yelled in her strong Scottish brogue. Everyone was shocked into silence as they watched poor Shaz writhing on the floor.
Maxi took over the oratory side of their campaign. "Right, now here's the deal, right? You do like we say or we kick the shit outa you."
"Fairly simple idea," Barbara Hunt muttered disgustedly, moving to help Shaz up.
"Or what?" Yelled back Yvonne Atkins from her seat on the other side of the room, upon which her arse had been firmly planted throughout this display of thuggery.
"There's more of us than you darlin'," Yvonne told her menacingly.
Maxi was about to continue in her crusade to pronounce the Peckham boot Gang Top Dogs of G Wing, but decided against it as everyone moved to Yvonne's side of the room. It was almost like two opposing sides gearing up to fight a war. It was now four against around eighty. No, make that three, Maxi corrected herself as her younger sister moved to Yvonne's side.
"OI! Get back 'ere you! Peckhams 'ave got to stick together you stupid twat! I'm warnin' you "
But these threats did not seem to influence Tina, as she sat down beside the Julies.
"You wait, I'll get you for this, Tin," Maxi told her before walking off, obviously beaten, in a huff, her followers following obediently.
"Don't worry about it, they're just tryin' to be the most powerful," Yvonne said disinterestedly, going back to her magazine, and the wing erupted into noise once again.
"Well it didn't bloody work, did it you fucking shithead!" Maxi exclaimed, shooting dagger looks at Al across the cell.
"You shoulda let me pound 'em, maxi," Al said almost incomprehensibly.
"What, you gonna beat up an entire wing?!" Shouted the older Purvis sister, undeterred by the accent. "Don't be so bloody stupid."
Her mind had already begun to work out alternative ways to make their mark on the prison, and show them who was boss of G Wing.
"Go on, piss off out of it," she told Al, lighting a cigarette and drawing on it thoughtfully.
Her cogitation was interrupted by the cell door swinging open and Jim Fenner's bulk filling the doorway. "What do you want?" she asked bluntly.
"I've had a thought."
"that'll be a first. Did it hurt?" she quipped, and he seemed about to take a threatening step toward her, but stopped. Restraining his temper, he said, "Now look, Purvis, you wanna watch how you speak to me. I can make life ve-ry hard for you in here."
"I'm shakin' in my boots Mr Fenner," she said innocently.
"The inspectors are coming a day earlier than what we'd thought. That means you're gonna have to think fast, cos they'll be here tomorrow."
She looked surprised. "Well that ain't no bleedin' good is it! How's d'you expect me to set anything up in one pissing day?!"
"I don't give a shit," Fenner told her. "But you will."
He left, and she exited the cell.
Yvonne looked round at the group assembled before her and began speaking. "Right, now if we all keep an eye on that sodding Peckham twat, then we can make sure they don't go and do something stupid and jeopardise our visits and freedom in this shit-hole. It's really important that she don't go and do anything dodgy while the suits are here, right girls?" she spoke quietly, but everyone heard every word. A Mexican nod was sent across the women.
"Right. Now Nikki and me'll be in charge, so anything you see or hear you come to us with. Got it? Good."
They all disappeared in different directions, and Yvonne turned to Nikki who was leaning against the railings staring into space below her. "Glad to see you're payin' attention," Yvonne teased. "Whassup with you?"
"Nothing," Nikki shook her head.
"Then why 'ave you been staring at the floor for the past half hour?! Or don't I wanna know what goes on in your 'ead?"
Nikki glanced up from the space Helen had just left. "I'm fine, Yvonne. Just thinking."
Atkins left her to it, deciding Nikki wasn't in the talkative mood. But she wasn't blind, and if she was right then there was something more going on behind the scenes with Nikki and Stewart.
Fenner handed over the replicate key unquestioningly, looking about him nervously.
"Thanks," Maxi said pocketing it.
"Make sure you don't get caught with that," Fenner grumbled.
"I won't, don't worry."
Maxi headed up to G3, a secret smile playing on her face as she slipped the cold metal object into a drawer and buried it amongst the contents already in there. We'll soon see who's laughing, she thought to herself as she nonchalantly strolled down the stairs again, winking at Jim Fenner as she passed him on the way back down.
He smiled to himself wondering how long it would be before he got the top job, and Stewart was sacked.
Nikki looked up from her book as the cell door was pushed open, expecting Yvonne. She was surprised to see, in place of the gangster's moll, Helen Stewart. She watched her open the door, enter, and push it to in silence, unsure if she was in trouble or if this was a social call. She put the book on the table to her left and looked expectantly at the other woman from her prone position on the bunk.
"Nikki, I'm sorry."
The prisoner was momentarily perplexed. "Why?" she said with a short laugh, puzzled. "If it's about this thing with Yvonne and the others, it really isn't that big a deal "
"No," Helen told her. "I didn't mean that."
Nikki looked at her as she stood by the door biting her lip and looking fragile.
"I have been sooo stupid, Nikki, and I'm sorry."
She sat up on the bed and patted the edge, indicating for Helen to sit down. When she did so, she put an arm round her shoulders.
"Now, d'you wanna start from the beginning and tell me what's wrong?" she asked gently.
She was taken by surprise as Helen turned her head towards her and kissed her on the lips.
Yvonne walked up the landing towards Nikki's cell quietly. Her posture didn't indicate sneaking, but her lack of footfalls did. She wanted to know exactly what the deal with Nikki Wade was, and looking through the spy-hole on the cell door, she was left in no doubt.
Stewart was in her cell, and they were kissing. Yvonne had thought something was going on with those two, but didn't think the ex-gov was that way inclined, so to speak. Well, well, at least this would explain Nikki's behaviour recently.
Unaware that they were being watched, the two women in the cell maintained the embrace, and Nikki's hand ran up the other woman's back to her hair. At length the separated and Yvonne saw their heads close together, talking. She didn't hear the words but felt that this would be a good time to break up the party.
She cleared her throat loudly and pushed the cell door wide noisily. Both women's heads turned to the doorway so quickly that Yvonne was surprised they hadn't given themselves whiplash, guilty looks on their faces as they obviously tried to cover up what they had been doing. Nikki's arm moved back down to the bunk.
"We were just-"
Helen seemed about to say something innocent to justify her presence in the cell, but Yvonne leant against the doorframe and said, "No need, love. I've got a pretty good idea of what you were "just" doin' already. My, you're a dark horse, miss. Never would have thought."
Nikki stood up almost defensively. "I dunno what you're on about 'vonne."
"Then I dunno where you're brain's been the last five minutes, cos anyone'd think you'd made the tonsil tennis finals."
Nikki gave in and looked down, defeated, at her feet. Helen stood up too and faced Yvonne.
"Oh, don't worry darlin', I ain't gonna tell no one," she said in a tone that could mean the exact opposite. Helen couldn't tell.
After a pause, Nikki played the card of truth. "Yvonne, please don't tell anyone. As a friend."
Helen was briefly reminded of a certain conversation with Dominic. She felt Nikki's hand on her back protectively.
"No, I mean it Nik, I ain't gonna say anything. What good would it do me? Anyway, I ain't no grass. Even if it is on a screw."
The pair breathed out, and Yvonne added, "As long as you promise not to force me to watch that again on an empty stomach!"
Nikki grinned at her and a smile played at the edges of Helen's mouth as Yvonne tossed something to Nikki. Catching it with her free hand, she realised it was a small book.
"What's this?" she asked Yvonne.
"A present from Shell Dockley," Yvonne said smiling victoriously, and Nikki opened the cover curiously to find page upon page of small neat handwriting.
"This is Barbara's how'd you get hold of it? Who took it after Shell legged it?" Nikki asked, grinning at her friend.
"Let's just say our friend Dockley shouldn't trust her dogsbodies so much," Yvonne said and departed.
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