DISCLAIMER: The characters used in this fiction are not mine, they are the property of Shed Productions and Talkback Thames.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This came to mind after incessantly watching episode after episode of Bad Girls one week and then switching to The Bill and my tapes the week after. I wanted to combine the two and this is the result which I hope you all like! Thanks for reading.
SPOILERS: Bad Girls- up to series two. The Bill- no specific time frame, slight spoilers from months ago.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
'Sam, Jo! A word in my office.'
Samantha Nixon looked up, slightly irritated at the distraction, to see DCI Meadows disappearing through the CID doors as quickly as he had arrived. Glancing at Jo Masters across the desk she raised an eyebrow. 'Sounds ominous.'
The DC brushed her hair away from her eyes with a frown. 'Yeah. Come on.'
Following the brunette through the doors Sam mentally examined her cases from the last few weeks, especially the ones that involved Jo Masters. There had been one incident with a burglar; he'd claimed a little bit of police brutality despite the fact Sam's hand had just slipped slightly, but it had quickly gone away when Sergeant Ackland had explained the consequences of lying about police attacks, particularly when you were up on an aggravated burglary charge. He'd changed his mind but, as with all those cases, it could come back to haunt them at any time.
After knocking on the door and being admitted the two women took seats, Sam sensing the tension that suddenly descended on them. Taking the bull by the horns as was her speciality, she asked, 'What's all this about, Guv?'
He sat back in his chair, lacing his hands together. 'What do you two know about HMP Larkhall?'
'Larkhall?' Jo repeated dubiously. 'Which wing are we talking about here, Guv?'
Jack shrugged. 'Take a guess.'
'G-Wing.' Sam connected the dots. 'It's the bogey-wing, isn't it? The suicide of '
'Rachel Hicks,' supplied Jo.
'Yeah, Rachel Hicks, that started it off. Then there was the letter to the papers about drugs and, unless I'm mistaken, one of the officers was caught up in that, she's doing time in another nick.'
'Lorna Rose,' Jack nodded. 'It's not her we're interested in though. There was another officer accused of beating up an inmate a few months ago. This man,' he said, handing them both a mug-shot of an aging man complete with scowl on his face. 'James Fenner. The Wing Governor, Karen Betts, got in touch with me after the prisoner involved withdrew her statement. Now, she isn't convinced he was entirely innocent nor does she think that was the limit of his misdemeanours. She wants us to investigate.'
'Larkhall's a bit out of our jurisdiction, though, Guv,' Jo pointed out.
Sam nodded her agreement. 'We've got enough with the villains on our patch without dealing with others as well.'
'Well, Karen's an old friend,' admitted Jack. 'The Prison Governor plays golf with this Fenner; he's not about to put him under investigation.'
Frowning, Sam questioned, 'How do you expect us to investigate it then, Guv? With no support '
The DCI leaned forward, resting his arms on the desk. 'I want you to investigate it from the inside.'
'Undercover, you mean?'
'In a nutshell, yes.'
Exchanging a look with Jo, Sam said, 'Larkhall's a high-security prison. Apart from the danger element, how would we gain entry? Civilian workers? Even that would require the Governing Governor to be onside.'
'Not exactly. Karen suggested one of you go in as a rookie officer and one of you on the other side of the bars. That way you get both sides of the equation and you've got each other to fall back on.'
Sam absorbed this. Larkhall's G-Wing was becoming as notorious as some of the criminals who occupied cells there. She could reel off a list of names of the dangerous inmates it housed- Nicola Wade, cop killer; Michelle Dockley, murderer; Yvonne Atkins; wife of Charlie Atkins which was enough said. Going into there would be akin to a suicide mission. Then again, a small voice whispered in the back of her head, it wouldn't do her reputation any harm, would it? Add an undercover job in a top-security prison to the serial killer enquiry and she might make it back to DI quicker than she had ever anticipated. 'Why us, Guv?'
'Because I trust you both,' he said plainly. 'You're experienced officers who work well together. I've got faith in the pair of you.'
He was right on one count. They did work reasonably well together, despite a few teething problems that had stemmed from Sam's desire to prove she was better than a person she saw as a jumped-up DC. Of course, Jo wasn't at all like that, it had just taken her a while to realise it. Turning to her now, she asked, 'Well? What do you think?'
She shrugged. 'Could be interesting.'
'That's one way of putting it.' Looking back to Jack, she nodded. 'Alright. How do we go about this?'
Already late for the lifers' meeting, Nikki was frustrated by the summons from Fenner but, remembering what Helen had said about keeping her nose clean, she turned and attempted to wipe the annoyance from her face. 'What?'
'Where are you off to?'
'Oh, yeah,' he said distastefully, leaning against the wall. 'Well, when you get back, try being sociable. You've got a new cellmate.'
Nikki stared at him. 'You what? Where's Barbara?'
'Moving into the four-bed apparently. Governor's decision.'
Surely Betts wouldn't be so hard-faced? Putting Barbara in with Denny and Shaz was like signing her death warrant. She'd go mad within a week. 'You can't be serious.'
Fenner shrugged. 'Think Hunt's better off away from you anyway, don't you, Wade? Stop you making any advances.'
His laughter followed her down the corridor but she refused to look back; both her eyes and her cheeks were burning with that statement and she wasn't about to show him that.
It turned out Helen was late for the meeting so Nikki had plenty of time to sit and contemplate what the hell was going on until she arrived. Opposite her, Shell sat whispering to another prisoner, one she recognised as a mate of Denny's. That was something worrying in itself, because, although Denny was slowly mellowing under the influence of Yvonne Atkins and her little girlfriend, Shaz, she was still susceptible to Shell's plottings. Maybe, Nikki thought, she was underestimating Barbara's ability to cope; after all, she'd managed her diligently enough when she'd arrived in Larkhall a few months ago. Perhaps it was a touch of selfishness. Several years of being practically a loner in prison had been shattered, first by her relationship with Helen then by developing a close friendship with Barbara- now she didn't get to see Helen as much as she'd like since they were being careful in preparation for the appeal and if Barbara was moving It was going to be strange.
Helen finally arrived with profuse apologies and the meeting got started. Nikki was quiet throughout, broaching no views and generally looking so bitter that no one dared venture a question to her. When the other lifers started to disperse she found, however, a hand on her arm to hold her back. 'Nikki, is everything okay?'
Relaxing slightly, she waited until everyone had left before turning to Helen, seeing the concern in her eyes. 'It's nothing.'
Her girlfriend raised an eyebrow. 'It doesn't look like nothing. Come on, Nikki.'
In truth, she felt she was laying herself right open but it was Helen, the person she wanted to be open with. 'They're moving Barbara to the four-bed.'
'Oh, right. Seems an odd decision.' Helen smiled. 'You're going to miss her aren't you?'
'I'm worried about her, that's all.'
Helen just nodded.
'Oh, alright, I'm going to miss her. Happy?'
'Ecstatic. Look, this was going to happen sooner or later. With your appeal,' she added, emphasising the last few words so Nikki looked up sharply.
'Have you heard something?'
Helen grinned. 'Claire says it's looking positive, she's got a lead on another possible victim of Gossard's, if she finds it '
Slightly sobered, Nikki glanced away. 'It's still a bunch of 'ifs', isn't it?'
'It's a step closer than we were yesterday,' answered Helen, taking her hand. 'Try to be positive, okay?'
A noise from the doorway forced them apart, Nikki looked over to find Di Barker with an unknown blonde officer. 'I'm just showing PO York around,' explained Di. 'This is Helen Stewart, she deals with the lifers in Larkhall.'
Ever-courteous, Helen stepped forward to shake the hand of the new arrival. 'Are you stationed on G-Wing?'
The blonde nodded. 'Yep. Samantha York. I've heard a lot about your lifers' unit, Miss Stewart, it's a good initiative.'
'I like to think so,' answered Helen. Inclining her head slightly, she continued, 'This is one of the unit, Nikki Wade.'
There was a glint of recognition at the name, something Nikki was infinitely used to. However, York didn't make a reference to the crime she obviously knew about. 'Nice to meet you, Nikki.'
Di stepped forward. 'We better get you back to the Wing.'
Nikki nodded, glancing back to Helen. 'Thanks for the help, Miss Stewart.'
'Not a problem, Nikki.'
Jo straightened her hair nervously as she looked in the mirror. She hadn't unpacked as a mark of respect to her new cellmate who was a territorial lifer according to the officer who had brought her onto the Wing- Fenner himself, as a matter of luck- but she was starting to regret it as the ride in the wagon had made her into a mess. Introducing herself to Nicola Wade was going to be a little tricky, it was like being thrown in at the deep end without a lifejacket. From reading her history in Jack's office a few days earlier Jo had learned Wade was a fiercely intelligent woman, probably the main person she had to fool on the Wing but someone who could also turn into her greatest ally due to an ongoing feud with Jim Fenner. The next few hours or so were going to make or break Jack's plan, she knew that much.
Taking a look around the cell she felt a shiver run about her. Larkhall was one of the oldest prisons in England, a Victorian masterpiece. Somehow, you didn't have to search too much for the spectres of the past to appear before you. For a moment Jo regretted being so quick to agree to this, knowing that part of her instant decision had been based on Samantha's acceptance of the offer. She hadn't been able to refuse when Sam had looked at her and offered up that challenge. While Jo wasn't one for rivalries she had made an exception in this case- she found that she and DS Nixon worked better together when there was an element of distrust between them. She, for her part, never truly believed Samantha was completely honest. There was something she was holding back but the discovery of what that was had so far eluded her.
The cell door groaned open and she turned immediately to face it. A woman she recognised as Nicola Wade entered followed by two officers, Samantha being one of them. Despite the nerves itching away in her stomach Jo took a moment to examine her in uniform then promptly looked at Nicola. 'Hiya.'
The tall dark-haired woman appeared unimpressed. She ignored her greeting and went straight to her bunk, pulling a book out of her locker and settling down to read.
It seemed the three of them had just stood there and watched Nicola's movements for no apparent reason. Jo was relieved when Sam cleared her throat to draw everyone's attention back to where it should be.
'Oh, sorry,' the other officer said absently then directed her gaze at Jo herself. 'Are you settling in, okay?'
'I think so, yeah.'
'Right, well, if you need anything, let one of us know. I'm Miss Barker, this is Miss York. We'll leave you two to get acquainted.'
Barker left first, giving Jo an opportunity to smile at Sam before she closed the door. The return was slight but it was there at any rate. Then she looked over to Nicola. 'Listen, I hear I might've put someone out of place when I got here. You had another cellmate, is that right?'
After a moment of resolutely ignoring her, Wade put down her book and sighed. 'It's not your fault, it's just the way this bloody place works. I'm Nikki.'
'Jo,' she answered. 'So what's the routine like in here?'
'Pretty standard stuff,' she shrugged. 'Banged up all hours, they let us out for feeding and washing so as long as the screws aren't pulling a sickie. This your first time?'
She nodded. 'I've had a suspended before, no prison time.'
'What are you in for?' asked Nikki then added, 'You don't have to tell me.'
'No, it's fine. Two years for assault. You?' she questioned though, of course, she already knew.
'Murder,' she replied shortly. 'I'm a lifer.'
'Oh, right.' She looked to the book on the bed. 'What you reading?'
Entering the office with Di Barker on her heels Sam gratefully took a seat. Aside from them the room was empty so she took the opportunity to finally quiz the woman she had been following around most of the morning. 'G-Wing's a tough job so I hear.'
'Well, if you can't stand up to the heat ' Di lifted the kettle. 'Cuppa?'
Sam nodded. 'Don't get me wrong, I like a challenge but you have to admit, this place has got a reputation.'
'Why did you apply here then?' asked Di conversationally.
'It's close to home.' She recalled her own fictional history. 'I've been working at bars in the town centre, commuting was a nightmare.'
'What drew you to the Prison Service?'
'Well, the money was an incentive. But I can see myself doing the job, you know?'
Di smiled slightly. 'It can be rewarding. If you're interested in making a difference, though, you'd do worse than talking to Helen Stewart. The lifers' unit is the best thing to hit Larkhall in a while. Sugar?'
'No thanks. I heard she used to be Wing-Governor,' Sam probed. 'Do you know what happened?'
'I wasn't here when everything kicked off. I do know she resigned after another officer was suspended for assaulting a prisoner.'
So PO Barker was a gossip; that could come in handy. 'Really?'
Di passed her a mug then sat down. 'I probably shouldn't be telling you this but Well, it was Principal Officer Fenner. The inmate later withdrew her statement but, between you and me, I think Stewart thought he'd done it, and her replacement too.'
'That's Miss Betts?'
'Mmm, Karen. She's decent as well.'
'Suppose I've got to learn who to trust,' Sam commented as the door opened and a young male officer entered. 'Hello.'
'Well, this is one you can,' said Di. 'Dominic McAllister, this is Samantha York. She's just joined the service.'
He held out his hand. 'Nice to meet you. Listen, Di, Karen wants to see the new inmate for her induction.'
'I could take her if you wanted,' Sam offered, quickly scorching her mouth with her tea. 'Let me see if I've remembered my way around.'
'If you don't mind, that'd be great,' Di answered. 'I've got some reports to finish up.'
Leaving the office, Sam let herself onto the Wing, looking around at some of the faces she'd been introduced to over the course of the day. Over by the pool table there was Denny Blood and Shaz Wylie, she had them pegged as a couple and it seemed Di Barker had a fairly good relationship with Blood. Not having been in the environment before Sam couldn't say with certainty that friendships between officers and inmates couldn't work. There had been Helen Stewart and Nikki Wade too. She had definitely got a vibe from them when she and Di had interrupted them after the lifers' group; they were close, physically close. No, she shook the thought from her head, that was a ludicrous idea- Helen Stewart was an ex-Governor on the Wing. Besides, that wasn't what she was there to investigate. However, if Stewart disliked James Fenner, as Di had suggested, then she was a way in.
Walking into the open cell she found Jo chatting to Nikki Wade. It was amazing really, how easily Jo settled into new environments. Sam had been secretly relieved when Jack had suggested she take the role of the officer, knowing that the inmate task was bound to be the most difficult and while she could handle it- of course she could- she would prefer not to have to. 'Wakefield,' she said in her strongest voice. 'Governor wants to see you.'
Jo broke off and stood. 'What for?'
'Your induction. Come on.' Sam felt Wade's eyes on her before they left the cell but dismissed it immediately- she had already reminded herself that wasn't the reason she was there.
When the pair were in a deserted corridor near the Governor's office, Jo turned to her. 'Everything alright?'
'I think so,' answered Sam. 'What about you?'
'Takes a bit of getting used to, having gates locked behind you.'
'It's alright, I probably won't remember to lock all these,' she quipped then sobered a little. 'How are you getting on with Wade?'
'Well, she's territorial that's for sure. I can handle it though. Made any friends?'
'Di Barker seems a good source, bit of a gossip. She's already told me about the assault allegation and I've only been here five minutes.'
'Did she think he'd done it?' queried Jo.
Sam frowned. 'She wasn't here when it happened. Helen Stewart was a supporter though, could've had something to do with her resignation.'
'Have you met Stewart?'
'Briefly, yeah. I actually thought ' Sam trailed off. 'It doesn't matter.'
'No, go on,' Jo pressed, frowning. 'She's not bent an' all is?'
'Nothing like that. It was just Well, when I was introduced to Wade, Stewart was with her. And they seemed close, that's all.'
'Maybe they're friends.'
'I don't know. It felt more than that.'
Jo looked thoughtful for a few minutes. 'Ex-Governor sleeping with an inmate, that's not gonna look too good is it? Do you want me to ask Nikki about it?'
'Not outright,' Sam answered. 'You need to keep her onside. Just try and find out if she's single.'
Jo smiled a little. 'You suggesting I try it on with her, Sarge?'
'Oh, consider it an order.'
As a pair of officers came round the corner the duo quickly began walking again, Sam careful to avoid closeness with Jo, for the sake of the investigation, obviously. Reaching Miss Betts' office, she knocked and they were admitted.
This was her own first glimpse of Karen Betts. Sat at her desk with a hand pressed against her furrowed brow she looked every inch the stressed Wing Governor Jack had made her out to be. She felt an affinity for the woman, having dealt with Phil Hunter's various misdeeds when she was Acting DI. It wasn't the same as having a fully corrupt officer around but it had given her a taster. 'Joanne Wakefield to see you, Ma'am.'
Karen looked up questioningly. 'Samantha York?'
'Yes.' Sam allowed Jo in, shut the door and quickly shook hands with the blonde behind the desk. Jo did the same. 'It's good to meet you.'
'Mmm, if only under better circumstances,' answered Karen wryly. 'How's Jack?'
'Same as ever.'
'No nearer to retirement then?'
'Despite the best efforts of our DI. I think they'll have to carry him out in a box.'
'That's Jack for you.' Karen smiled at a memory then returned to business. 'He told me you were two of his very best officers- very discreet and competent. I trust his judgment. I'm not sure what he's told you.'
'Very little,' Jo supplied. 'Just the common knowledge I think.'
'I don't know much more than that to be honest. The person who could probably tell you more would be Helen Stewart. However, I think the fewer people who know about this the better.'
'She isn't safe then?' Sam asked, thinking back to the moment between the Lifer's Officer and Nikki Wade.
'Oh, I don't think Helen's corrupt if that's what you mean. I'm just concerned that her personal feelings towards Fenner might impede your investigation.'
'This inmate who withdrew the assault allegation,' said Jo after a moment. 'What's she like?'
Karen let out a heavy breath. 'Michelle Dockley. I wouldn't usually trust her sort an inch but I attended after the attack and she was fairly convincing. Fenner's story about her battering herself Well, it doesn't hold up. She's not that type.'
'Why do you think she withdrew the allegation?' questioned Sam. 'Surely with your evidence it was enough to have him arrested.'
'I think he got to her. Probably through another officer.'
'Any idea who?'
'Mmm.' Karen reached into her desk and pulled out a newspaper clipping of a ballroom-dancing middle-aged couple. 'Sylvia Hollamby. She's everything you don't want in an officer. Be careful what you say around her, the first whiff of anything and she'll be onto Fenner like a shot.'
Sam examined the photo with a smile. 'Thanks for the tip. What else do you think Fenner's involved in?'
'Well, like I said, I'm no expert on him but I'd definitely say he's got something going on. He's too cocky for someone just back from suspension.'
'Maybe he thinks he's untouchable,' Jo commented.
'It's your job to prove he isn't,' Karen replied with a steely determination. 'Anything either of you need, let me know. The sooner he's out of the prison service for good, the better.'
Two nights in a prison hardly did anything for a person's confidence in humanity. Each night a fresh bounty of nightcalls drifted through the window; obscenities, death wishes, everything you could think of that made a criminal what they were was present. The first night Jo had been more than intimidated but had managed to hide it from Nikki's view. She wanted to keep up a strong persona in front of her cellmate. During the second dusk she had listened more carefully to what was actually been said and, reading between the lines, there were obviously a lot of long-running jokes amongst the inmates. She was shocked to hear Rachel Hicks' name mentioned once in relation to a suicidal prisoner but the next morning she realised she may be able to use it to her advantage.
While brushing her teeth she looked to Nikki who was pulling on her trainers on the bottom bunk. 'Who was Rachel Hicks?'
The lifer looked up immediately, a bad memory on her face. 'Why do you want to know that?'
'I heard her name last night. I just wanted to know who she was that's all. You don't have to tell me,' she added as an afterthought.
Nikki sighed and finished lacing up her shoe. 'Rachel was a young prisoner, killed herself last year after being bullied by another inmate.'
'She killed herself because she was being bullied?' Jo pushed. 'That's a bit heavy.'
'Somehow I don't think it was the bullying that did it,' said Nikki with a touch of bitterness. 'You worked out which screws to trust yet, Jo?'
'I've got a fair idea. Why, what are you saying?'
'What do you think I'm saying?'
Realising she had reached a political stalemate with Nikki at this particular juncture Jo went back to brushing her teeth and thought about her other options. The previous day she had met a couple of other inmates, including Dockley herself. She was everything the press had painted her as when she was first convicted but with a bit of a prison edge on her. She obviously liked to think she ruled the roost but Jo had to guess that accolade went to Yvonne Atkins, the gangster's moll herself. Both women, however, had short private conversations with Fenner at some point, leaving Jo wondering what the heck was going on. The Shell Dockley interlude had been interesting since she had sidled up to him and he had quickly distanced himself, perhaps adding value to Karen's theory he had worked his way around her. With Atkins it was the opposite. He made all the running and she disappeared sharpish. Was it possibly the same as it had been with Dockley? No, unlikely. Yvonne Atkins could be picky about her men whereas Dockely couldn't. But that left something else up in the air; a situation which Jo wasn't too keen on.
So, aside from Dockley and Atkins she'd encountered Denny Blood and Shaz Wylie, both a little immature for her purposes; Barbara Hunt, who had admitted she was still adjusting to life in prison therefore she wouldn't have known Rachel, and the two Julies. She almost smiled. Of course, the Julies were the best possible source for information. They seemed to know everything.
A few more days and she might actually get used to this, Sam thought as she looked around the wing. She had expected the job to be much more depressing than it was but there were prisoners who obviously survived on their humour- the Julies and Shaz Wylie for instance. Then again, she had yet to face her first major incident. Hearing a tuneful whistle behind her she accepted that it might not be a riot that would turn out to be her first test. She turned with a smile. 'Hello, Mr Fenner.'
'I've told you, love. It's Jim.' His eyes ran down her body. 'Still settling in alright?'
She prevented herself visibly recoiling. 'Yeah, I'm finding it very rewarding.'
'Well, it soon stops being that so enjoy it while you can. Listen, we need that drink we've been promising ourselves. Won't be much of a welcome drink if you're halfway to retirement when we have it.'
Oh, yes, that. He'd playfully suggested it at the end of her first day and she'd dodged with the excuse of being tired. With her fictional life as empty as it was she hadn't been able to come up with a better excuse. She really didn't want to be in the same room as him despite the investigation calling for it. He gave off this vibe, one even she feared to an extent. Then, of course, she had berated herself for feeling that way- this was another job, that was all. Yes, it was an unusual one but if Jo could handle it so could she. 'It's just fitting it in that's the problem isn't it? I might have a window free at the end of the week, if that's alright with you?'
When he smiled it never reached his eyes. She had noticed that. 'Yeah, great. I'll speak to you then.'
Watching him disappear in the direction of the breakfast queue where Yvonne Atkins was holding court Sam's whole body tightened. There was no way she was going to get out of that, if she did he would smell a rat. But he just repulsed her! She'd rather kiss Jo Masters than She checked herself at the thought. Kiss Jo Masters! What a ludicrous idea.
And yet Her eyes automatically searched her out in the queue. Even dishevelled as she looked after a few days in a top security prison Jo retained her beauty, maybe it was enhanced by the bleak environment. No, it wasn't enhanced, Sam recognised, it had always been there, she had just never had reason to look at it before. Nor did she have reason now. It really was a ludicrous suggestion and one she was more than willing to ignore. Her job was clear and it certainly didn't involve anything like that to do with Jo Masters.
'Mind if I butt in?' Jo poked her head round the door of the second floor cell and threw in her best smile. 'Only I wanted to ask you something.'
The smallest one- Julie Saunders- smiled widely. 'Come on in, love.' When she was settled on the end of the bed she continued, 'What is it you wanna know?'
Jo hesitated- she wasn't sure how to phrase this without sounding completely crazy. 'I heard someone's name last night, after lights-out, you know? And it's stuck in my head. Rachel Hicks. It keeps repeating.'
Julie J exhaled deeply. 'Well, it would. Ain't you heard of her?'
'No, should I have?'
'Killed herself last year, didn't she, Ju?' said Julie S. 'Lovely girl, Rachel. Just never got the right friends that's all.'
'What do you mean by that?'
'We don't know nothing for sure but there was rumours about ' Julie J trailed off. 'Nothing was proved.'
Jo smiled wryly. 'Doesn't mean it wasn't true, does it?'
That seemed to put them both at ease. Julie Saunders said, 'Rachel was being bullied. You've met Shell Dockely?' Jo nodded. 'Well, it was her mainly but Rachel was an easy target for anyone. Especially a bent screw.'
'Bent screw,' echoed Julie J. 'Only we didn't know till it was too late.'
'Sorry, didn't know what?'
'She was sleeping with a screw and he let 'em bully her to death. Bastard.'
Jo absorbed this. Presumably she was on their wavelength with this but she had to check. 'Which screw?'
'Fenner,' they replied in unison. 'Bloody Fenner.'
Spot on then. Triumphant, she made her excuses and left the cell, pausing on the landings to observe the floor beneath her. A couple of screws stood over by the pool table, Sam was one of them. The uniform certainly did wonders for her figure, Jo thought then grinned at her own open homosexuality. Unfortunately, it was a privilege of the job, getting to work with Samantha Nixon on a regular basis. If she'd been put on this op with Phil Hunter it wouldn't have been an issue.
But still, she was there to do a job. She could worry about her non-existent love life when all this was over. For now she had to collect some more dirt and she reckoned the way to do it was through Nikki Wade.
Helen sighed with relief as she felt the air on her face. It had been a long day, one where she was ensconced in a private room talking to numerous lifers from various wings about their sentences and none of them were Nikki. It really irritated her- those days when she was in Larkhall but didn't get a chance to speak to that particular charge. Of course, she told herself- hopefully- that Nikki would be out soon and they wouldn't have to worry about being caught by Di Barker anymore. They would just be able to live their lives together without the bars impeding.
The pile of files she was carrying dislodged sending a scattering all over the yard. Cursing to herself she knelt to pick them up.
'Here, let me help,' a voice said from behind her.
She looked up quickly, it was the new officer, Samantha York. 'Oh, thanks. I'm a real klutz sometimes.'
The blonde smiled. 'Oh, join the club. When I worked in bars I couldn't keep ahold of the money, turned into a bit of a problem. At least here the keys are attached to me.'
Helen smiled at this fresh face, someone who hadn't been jaded by life in Larkhall yet. 'I'm sure you'll be fine.'
'Yeah, probably.' Samantha paused. 'Miss Stewart, could I ask you a question?'
This sounded ominous yet she was intrigued. 'Of course.'
'Well, I'm new to this and I wondered If an officer, a more senior officer, suggests it would be detrimental to your career if you didn't go out with him what do you do?'
As if she couldn't guess. 'Is it Jim Fenner by any chance?'
She nodded. 'How did you know?'
'Let's just say I've had dealings with him.' Helen glanced at her watch. 'Listen, have you got time for a drink?'
Jo eyed Nikki carefully, waiting until the right moment arose. When the lifer got up to have a drink of water she decided it was time. Clearing her throat, she asked, 'So what do you have against Jim Fenner?'
Nikki looked over sharply. 'Who said I have anything against him?'
'Well, I thought after what he did to Rachel '
'Who the hell have you been speaking to?' Nikki demanded, shocking Jo slightly with her sudden angry tone. She was determined to keep up her own aggressive persona though.
'You wouldn't talk to me, would you?'
'Don't drag it up, it's not worth it.'
'What, not worth getting a bent screw? Thought you were better than that, Nikki.'
After a moment the prisoner slammed her water bottle down on the table, sending droplets everywhere. 'You don't know me, alright? You haven't got the first idea about me.'
She shrugged. 'Maybe not. But I don't like people who abuse their positions, especially not when vulnerable young girls are involved.'
'Why do you care so much? It happened ages ago.'
'Yeah, but Fenner's still here! And still wriggling out of everything!'
She recognised what she'd said as Nikki looked her over sharply. 'Who the hell are you? And don't give me this shit about an assault charge. Who are you really?'
Jo eyed the alarm on the wall. 'I don't know what you mean.'
'Don't piss me about,' said Nikki, threateningly advancing. 'Let me guess, police?'
She nodded. 'Yeah.'
The lifer turned away for a moment then returned her glare to its former position. 'So what am I supposed to have done this time?'
'Nope, Nikki, this isn't about you. As far as I'm concerned you deserve your appeal, okay? Karen Betts wanted Fenner investigating but it wasn't going to happen unless we '
'We?' Nikki interrupted.
Oh, no. To say she was supposed to be an expert at this kind of work she was messing up big time. Maybe it was the stress of being in a cell with a cop killer trying to explain why she was undercover. 'Samantha York. Or Samantha Nixon as she's known in Sun Hill.'
'Sun Hill? You're way out aren't you?'
'It was a favour for Karen,' she answered nervously. 'So, what are you going to do?'
'I should smash your face in.'
Jo swallowed. 'You're not going to do that.'
Suddenly she recalled her conversation with Sam a few days earlier. She just hoped her colleague had been right. 'Because if you do I'll report your relationship with Helen Stewart. She'll lose her job.' Gaining in confidence, she added, 'That's why you're going to help me, Nikki.'
The lifer appeared beaten. 'I knew coppers were bastards but you take the biscuit.'
'I'm not doing this to hurt anyone. I know you want Fenner off the wing as much as we do. You're not a bad person, you don't want him to carry on hurting people.'
'You know, you're sounding convincing?' The voice was painfully sarcastic. 'I mean, you might talk me into it. That's if I actually had a choice.'
'Look, Nikki, I'll level with you. I wanted this assignment like a hole in the head, alright? The sooner it's sorted out, with as few casualties as possible the happier I'll be. I don't want to rat you and Helen out, and I won't if you just cooperate.'
The eyes narrowed but eventually she looked up. 'What do you wanna know?'
'So how are you finding life in Larkhall?'
Sam shrugged casually. 'It's a difficult job, especially when you start out. Sometimes you don't know where the lines are.'
Mistakenly believing it was a reference to Jim Fenner's advances, Helen answered, 'Well, I think when you get close enough you know.'
'What about distancing yourselves from the prisoners, does that work?'
'Not in my opinion. There are other schools of thought, the 'lock them up and leave them' philosophy, courtesy of '
'Sylvia Hollamby,' guessed Sam with a grin.
'You are getting to grips with Larkhall.' Helen seemed pleased. 'Some people just join the prison service for the pension, they actually enjoy what they do.' After a moment she added, 'That didn't sound right. I enjoy what I do but they enjoy the control it gives them. They don't want to fight the bureaucratic rubbish of the good old days, as long as they get the wage slip at the end of the month they're happy.'
The passion in the ex-Governor's voice was evident for all to see. For half a moment Sam found herself actually wanting to do the job, to make a difference, but then she remembered that she'd probably had to clean up after half of the women on the other side of those bars. Briefly, she wondered which copper had gained the job of telling DS Gossard's wife that Nicola Wade had stuck a bottle in his neck. 'Call me slightly cynical, but don't you think that some people are beyond saving?'
'Oh, I'm sure there are a few. But my charges are fairly rescue-worthy, I think.'
'Even Nikki Wade, cop-killer?' She said it with a smile but she was carefully examining Helen's face. Sure enough, the eyes glinted with something that wasn't mere recognition of a person.
Finally, the Scot smiled tightly. 'Nikki's appealing. I believe her sentence was a miscarriage of justice, I'm sure her defence team will prove that in court.'
Sam lifted her glass to her lips and took a long deep sip. 'I'm sure.'
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