DISCLAIMER: All the characters used within this story are the property of Shed Productions. I am using them solely to explore my creative ability.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This piece is dedicated to the real life character I have known who bears a close resemblance to the darker side of Bodybag whom, thank God, I am no longer working with and showed that real life to me sometimes can be as extreme as drama. I'm not sure how it will take shape.

Office Workers in Hell
By Richard

Part Two

Nikki pulled Helen aside into a quiet room and shut the door. It was a little used part of the office so she knew they would be safe for a bit.

"Before we go down into the snake pit, Helen, we'd better be clear what we're going to say and not going to say. You had a case from Appeals you needed to discuss, you wanted to speak direct as you've got a right to and I came along as I heard it was the sort of case I needed to know about. We're being 'outward looking' like we're always told we should be. And God help them if they start banging on about us being gay, got it."

Helen nodded at this in acceptance of this but they'd better stop short of bloodshed and Nikki thought, I didn't mean to use THAT word to describe Helen but, God bless her, she took that word without a blink of the eye, same as she did months back when Nikki first told her about herself. That woman never ceases to amaze me. Helen, for her part just accepted it as if it were part of her name, moved on and had a warm feeling of satisfaction that Nikki is coming over stronger than she was and taking the lead more. There was a steely forcefulness about Nikki that made Helen only too grateful that she had someone around with that strength and understanding.

Helen's mouth was tight set and she thought that those bastards better look out for the two of us.

They were both still tense and ready for anything when they came to the door to their room and hesitated on the brink of passing through.

"You're late" came Bodybag's barbed accusation.

"Late for what" Nikki replied, mind icy cool like a duellist except her weapons were words.

"Dominic was asking after you," Bodybag came out with "You know you should let your boss know where you are."

The bastards, though Helen. They are looking for every which way to get at us. She fought down a wave of anger, like having treated him like shit for months they have the nerve to try and use him against us but thought that's what they want you to do so do the opposite. Don't let them wind you up.

"I can't remember saying that. " Dominic said vaguely behind the pile of work.

"Yes you did," Maxi snapped. "You don't know what time of day it is."

"This is getting pathetic. And from a devout Christian like you, Maxi, you ought to treat Dominic better." smirked Nikki.

"Enough of a Christian to be disgusted by you and Helen to flaunt yourself in front of everyone when you came in."

"So when your partner comes in and gives you a peck on the cheek before he goes off to his place, we won't mind, will we Helen? If you had your way we'd be burnt at the stake or shoved in the gas chamber, with you singing Christian hymns and everything. And now, if everybody's happy, we want to get back to work, aren't we Helen."

"Sure am, I haven't got any time for these time wasters." Helen broadly smiled.

Maxi started to back away as Nikki's spiky brand of humour was starting to run rings round her.

Fenner had hung back as he knew that Karen had twice given him an earful on the phone but it didn't stop the glares directed at them like X rays.

Bodybag was fuming. She hadn't the ability to let feelings of anger burn thier way out of her system. She hoarded her grudges and could store up every moment in her life that she felt she had been slighted. She was seething with rage that Nikki and Helen were moving in on her area of expertise which she had grabbed to herself in her insatiable desire to be top dog. Only if she was up here and everyone else down there could she gain satisfaction in life. She sensed that Nikki was moving up to be a threat and she didn't like that, it made her feel insecure. If only she had the insight to give a bit to receive a bit and find common cause with people, she would have been all right but that required generosity of spirit and that was beyond her. so she brooded to herself and glared at the objects of her dislike who, unfortunately were chattering to themselves.

"Keep smiling at the bastards, Nikki. You aren't allowed to be happy so do the bloody opposite." Helen said.

"I feel really sorry for Dominic." Nikki said. "And worried as he could crack up with those witches and Fenner on his back. If I hadn't you around when I first started, I could have gone that way"

Helen had a long think to herself. Nikki was right and the shame was nobody notices him and that's not right.

Helen was tapping away at the computer when she was conscious of Bodybag looming down on her. She kept working away till the last minute till she had the question shot at her why she was up with appeals as everyone knew she was the one who dealt with them. Helen took in the redness in the face and the pent up anger and sussed out, this is the delay in time meant to make them feel they were off the hook and then move in.

"Why not, Sylvia" Helen replied with as much of a smile as she could muster. "We were broadening our interests, looking outward like we are always told to. And Nikki had never been up there before. Karen was very interested and glad someone showed an interest. We had a very productive talk."

"All the same, I don't think Jim Fenner will be very pleased people going behind his back. I wouldn't care to be in your shoes."

The bitch, Helen thought. She is trying for all she is worth to unsettle me. Just look at the way she is overacting. She can't look you straight in the eye. Mind you she got rattled at my mention of me talking to appeals and my emphasis on 'very'.

"Well you talk to Jim Fenner. Remember I heard the other end of the conversation but you were talking about Dominic earlier on. Just who is my boss?"

Bodybag stomped off obviously angry especially seeing Nikki grinning at her. Round three to us, smiled Helen, adrenaline pulsing through her system.

The day settled down to the usual humdrum day and eventually the Fenner gang made their way out followed soon after by Dominic on an earlier night than normal. Now they were on their own, Helen went up to Nikki and gave her a big hug.

Neither of them said anything for what seemed a long while. It was about comforting each other and what they needed to get over the adrenaline kickback of the emotional tumult of the day. If either of them let go, the other might drop. They both felt so utterly drained.

"Helen, do we really have to stay late tonight" Nikki's voice spoke quietly into Helen's ear.

"Well, there's still a lot of crap to work through but....but" Helen started to say.

"But there are better places we can be right now." Nikki finished for her. "Your place or mine?"

At that point Helen's mind blanked out utterly unable to think straight. She wanted to go somewhere with Nikki but it seemed like an enormous effort to make a tiny decision. At this point, Nikki fractionally more able to think straight decided Helen's mind for her and soon enough they were heading for Helen's flat.

"Hel, I've been wanting to ask you for ages and ages how come you've started a relationship with me so easily...I mean," Nikki stumbled at this point before going into total collapse, "I've had affairs with straight women before, not that I'm not sure what to call you, now...."

Helen smiled and put her finger on Nikki's lips as if to let her take over on this point. Helen had worked in an office a few years longer than Nikki and they were nearly all female. She could not for the life of her recall secretly fancying women. If she thought back, she could remember keeping up this pleasant guard but finding so many conversations about what happened yesterday in Corrie or Eastenders and wondering how come their minds were so limited, oh yes, riveting discussions about the National Lottery. She had had boyfriends but none of them were on the same wavelength but she never thought there was any alternative. There wasn't anyone she had anything she had in common.....till Nikki arrived, Helen said and her eyes went soft at the memory, and you are the alternative.

"That makes me sound like I'm some sort of substitute," Nikki said with a tiny smile on her face.

Helen went on to playfully push her off the sofa and after they has a brief cushion fight Helen went on to talk about her family. You get brought up by a Scottish Presbyterian Minister with narrow minded views, you are going to conform and put the mind blinders on or you are going to kick against it and rebel. That explained how come she could put away the alcohol. Because her father harangued the local congregation about the evils of drink, she thought she'd better find out what this evil was all about. She learned to work out her own ideas at an early age and she figured out that is why she isn't afraid of falling in love with Nikki.

A look of recognition crossed Nikki's eyes as she recognised a kindred soul as her father a naval Captain had the exact same rigidities. He used to go on about a bit of strict discipline would bring the country together and that made her kick against that one. She could remember the bitter inch by inch battles she had had over girlfriends.

They were talking at a slower leisurely speed as they knew there was all the time in the world to find out about each other's lives.

Unknown to each other, they trod the same path of mental independence. They seemed fated to meet and be with each other, Helen said, that's the best she could come up with words. That was answer enough for Nikki in her mind.

Was it only recently that they had stumbled into Helen's flat, totally pissed and that they'd drunk a toast to friendship? Nikki had meant it then and, come to think of it, she still did.

Nikki looked approvingly around at Helen's CD and book collection. That was the first thing she tended to do at anyone's house as it said something about the person and last time, the room was revolving too much to see clearly. right on top of the stack of CDs was a new Tori Amos CD she'd not seen before. Smiling, Helen put it on and the purity and taste and passion of the songs was something she could see in Helen. Helen agreed straight away with Nikki with a meeting of their eyes that everything that has ever impressed you becomes part of your name.

When they went to bed that night, it was the most natural thing in the world now to Helen and the very least there was a warmth they could share in the evening that could heal the ravages of the day.

Maxi drove off for work in a bad temper. She had just had an argument with her husband Alan about the new kitchen unit she wanted. She had seen them advertised on TV in the sales and she really liked the look of them.

"But Maxi," Alan protested." You've only just changed it a few years ago." To his eyes, the present kitchen looked nice enough and he couldn't see anything wrong. To Maxi, that remark was to be pitied at best, he's a man and wouldn't notice these little things. She scowled and shouted at him while Alan did his best to 'keep the peace'. She knew she'd get it in the end. Besides he felt vaguely guilty as Maxi was a wonderful cook and always turned out lovely meals, his parents always said so and he didn't know one end of a kitchen knife from another, as Maxi kept telling him. That's the way their marriage went, he brought home a bigger wage than she did, he was wonderful at fixing things like plumbing and she organised the house and sorted out the bills. To show her trust, they had a joint account and only at the back of his mind did he feel that her wage was hers and a chunk of his wages, hers also. Maxi kept telling him that she's got to look good at work so she needed new outfits at work regularly. All the other women were bound to bitch at her if she had the same old outfit on, so she said to Alan and he believed it all.

She was still angry as she parked her gleaming new car in one of the spaces near the front door so that the likes of Stewart could perch her scruffy heap in one barely accessible far corner of the park. Besides, she was one of the virtuous "early comers" so she deserved her space.

"Men are typical, you can't trust them to do the simplest thing" Maxi said, carrying forward her grievances against him into the office, sure that Bodybag would join in with her.

"I could never depend on Bobby to do the slightest thing. I used to leave him strict instructions but he would never listen to me even if I repeated it. Everything would go wrong if he had a hand in it." she finished up with a two part chorus of 'men' at which point Fenner studiously kept out of the conversation. Just as well that he gets on with them and they need a good annual report out of him, they know which side their bread's buttered on so he never got in the crossfire.

"Jesus, and they're calling us anti men, Helen." Nikki grinned from the other side of the computer. This was something that Nikki could never work out. If Maxi and her kind bitched about their male partners as much as they did, why the frig did they get married to them, you know marriage wasn't compulsory. And why did they go out of their way to find the most ineffective men to get married to either assuming that what they said wasn't total bollocks. She hadn't exactly studied men as a species from close up but felt that there were good and bad in all people. Maxi is an evil cow and, truth to tell, she felt rather sorry for the guy who blundered into marriage with her though he must have shown a colossal lack of judgement or alternatively, that his head or his heart didn't do the thinking but something lower down.

This is surreal thought Helen, grinning equally broadly at Nikki. These conversations always used to get to me. Even though she'd had some useless boyfriends, finishing up with that minor public school smoothie Sean bloody Parr, they took things too far and there came a point where she parted company with them.

"Well you do know what I'd said about homophobic people, Hel." Nikki said, in code, with a wicked grin in Helen's direction. Helen promptly started choking on the cup of coffee she was drinking at either of two nightmare visions that flashed into her mind. As she apologised and went to the loo for a mug of water, she smiled back at Nikki's wide grin still on her face.

Nikki for her part was keenly aware of the looks of total bemusement on the faced of Maxi and Bodybag and was positive that they were too stupid to keep up with their coded conversation or know what they were on about. It crossed Nikki's mind that this was their major weakness and they could have some fun with them with this, it was a shame she'd not thought of this before.

While Helen was drinking a mug of water to wash down her disarranged tonsils, she looked at herself in the mirror and marvelled what Nikki saw in her. She went on to contrast the tender lover of the night-time with such a delicate touch in her fingers with the rock like friendship and shared good humour of the daytime.

"Of course, the two lovebirds are bound to hate men, they've got no place for men in their lives, have they?" Bodybag said with a venomous look in their direction when Helen had returned.

Nikki sighed. She might have thought she and Helen would get lugged into the discussion when this was the last thing she wanted.

"Sylvia, if you and Maxi want to go bitching on about men, fine but leave Helen and I right out of this one. I really don't like anyone to assume that we hate men or assume anything about us. We've got work to be doing, for Christ's sake."

The day went on as normal. Helen and Nikki were looking through the work intake with new eyes. it galled them that, now they knew they were being dumped on, they were having to take on all the shitty work without being able to say anything and knowing just why Bodybag and Maxi had the time to gossip mindlessly away and they had to sit tight.

Nikki was looking in Dominic's direction and was shocked how tired and stressed out he looked. This was the first time she'd taken a good look at him. They had hardly exchanged a word all the time she'd been there, just piled in more work into his 'in tray' that she'd done, exchanged the odd word or he'd made the odd correction of mistakes she'd made. He was a nice enough guy and she and Helen were the only two people he'd exchanged the odd friendly word with. In contrast, Bodybag and Maxi put the knife in verbally when they did talk to him or pointedly ignored him. Fenner offered occasional words of false friendship but dumping on him behind his back and running him down to Stubberfield as a 'problem.' In the afternoon, Nikki could see his eyelids droop down and his concentration faded away. He was in deep trouble and getting more tired, stressed and had no self esteem, as that had been knocked out of him . Nikki felt guilty as he'd been driven down the same way she was heading once till Helen had taken her under her wing. Neither she, Helen nor anyone else had really gone out of his or her way to help the guy though she could at least say that she had never treated him the way Maxi and Bodybag so cruelly did. Nikki walked round behind his bowed shape and took a good look at his desk and was shocked to see piles of work all over the place, in no particular order or system. Jesus, how could she have never noticed all this, she'd just looked at the bit of his desk she needed to notice and the bit of Dominic she needed to interact with.

Helen and Nikki waited for time to crawl away till the magic hour of 4pm and then Nikki chose her time to speak to Dominic who was still there.

"Dominic, Helen and I wanted to have a word with you." Nikki asked politely enough.

She could see Dominic shift his focus from his work to look in her direction but she sensed that he wasn't really looking at her. He was unable to look anyone in the eye but she had the curious sensation that he wasn't really looking out of himself. He mumbled something in reply that she couldn't really hear.

"Look, Dom, it's just that we're worried about you. You're looking really stressed and we want to help."

"Don't worry about me, Nikki, I'm all right really. Just got a lot of work to catch up with."

Jesus Christ, who's he trying to kid, thought Nikki as Helen gently tried to tell him that ever since she'd come here, he'd always had a lot of work around. She could recognise some clutter of papers that she'd passed to him for advice months ago which he'd promised to look at which he'd forgotten about or had got pushed to the back of the queue.

"It's OK, if I just keep working at it I'll get clear in the end, that's why I stop late." smiled Dominic.

His eyes are dead, thought Nikki in horror. He's being vaguely kind to us just to placate us in case we're going to shout at him and bully him like all the rest as if we would. This is the first time I've really looked at him properly, his face is a mask of tiredness.

"Dom, you've been struggling on for months and months and I know you've never sat back to look at yourself. You're literally drowning in paperwork and you're getting dumped on by Fenner."

"Fenner," Dominic said vaguely, his speech a bit slurry not from drink but over tiredness. he always thought Jim Fenner was being kind to him, he takes all the organisation off him and he's in charge of all the staff. Dom couldn't take the responsibility of all that as it frightens him.

With a mounting feeling of despair Nikki and Helen pleaded at him to get a grip of the situation, that Fenner only does things to help himself, no one else. As for Maxi and Bodybag, they are vicious bitches that will pick on anyone vulnerable and they make them sick when they do that to him. If he stood up for himself, then he wouldn't feel so bad about himself and he wouldn't have too much work to do. At the least, let them sort through some of the work on his desk. He resisted that as he said he'd do it himself when he had time. Which means never, thought Nikki in some frustration, her eyes pleading at him to listen.

"You've worn yourself out, "pleaded Nikki." you've got to get out off this situation as you'll crack up for sure. You've let yourself get destroyed by all those bullies. I started to go the same way as you but Helen helped me just in time."

They saw Dominic's attention which they'd manage to grab briefly by sheer force of personality start to fade, His eyes glazed over and he turned his attention back to his work which he wanted to get back to. Was it the last faint flicker of male vanity or pride in not wanting to admit how bad things are or was he just too worn out to think properly? She remembered that it took Helen to give her a good talking to to get her out of a similar mess. It was horribly ironic if it was that flicker of pride that stopped him accepting help when so much pride in himself had been beaten out of him.

Giving up in despair, Helen and Nikki did the same and worked through some complicated work which was easier to do when it was quiet without Bodybag's hated voice forever in their ears.

Right at the end, when they went to leave, Dominic was still there later than normal. No doubt he was 'making up time' for the 'time lost' in talking to Helen and Nikki.

"Just remember what we've been telling you, Dom. You can't go on like this forever. And don't get locked in by the security guards for the night."

Dominic looked briefly up to smile vaguely and turn back to his work.

"You are a really amazing woman, Nik, the way you spoke to Dominic came from the heart" Helen told Nikki in bed that night.

"We did our best but I've a horrible feeling he's too far gone. Bastards what they've done to him."

"I know."

"If there is one hatred that I've never been ashamed of, it's my hatred of bullying. When I was little I remember getting into loads of fights in the playground when any friend of mine got picked on. " Nikki reminisced. "It's only later as I got older I learned to cool things down and try to talk things through calmly and patiently. And of course I can't go grabbing people by the throat in this job as I'd get the sack. Me being who I am, and you," smiled Nikki at that point "is quite enough for trouble to find me."

Helen said last thing before they went to sleep that knowing Nikki as she knows her now, she'd be surprised looking back that she hadn't ended up being with Nikki. Nikki smiled to herself that the little Helen type logical puzzle was buried in her declaration of love.

"Resigned?" Nikki and Helen's incredulous voices questioned the shock news dropped on them by Fenner. "but he couldn't have."

"We've got a section meeting in ten minutes time" Fenner replied, his face masked of all emotion and not looking overburdened with regret.

Shit, that's screwed everything up, they thought, minds whizzing at top speed to take in the shock news of Dominic's resignation, no notice and above all, no explanation.

When they dragged their chairs round in a circle, Nikki and Helen looked round at the faces which were curiously expressionless and did not express the shock that they felt.

"Well, you've heard the news. Stubberfield took the phone call and all I know is that Dominic wants out and wants us to respect his views. Course, we'll be all sorry to see him go, he will be greatly missed but we have to move forward and reorganise things."

Bodybag broke in to gush forth how all the girls had been trying to help him out. She and Maxi were in first thing when he came in and Dominic used to talk to them about his problems and they used to try and get him to be more confident. All the girls will greatly miss him.

"Dominic had a confidence problem, sure, but the poor sod was worked to death. If he came in before us, Jim Fenner, and left the same time as us, that means he was working bloody long hours, way too long. Didn't Stubberfield know of this?" Helen said.

Nikki was about to say that Dominic wasn't exactly best friends with Maxi and Sylvia when Fenner cut her off after the first few words and said that Dominic's job must be covered one way or another.

Bodybag at her most revoltingly obsequious said that she had ever so much work on but, as the best on the section, she would spend one week pulling in Dominic's work and one week on her own job and so on. Of course, she can't do decisions on her own calculations so she would have to take Maxi's, Helen's and Nikki's work. It should be OK as she's trained them all at some time or other.

This is a fucking stitch up, thought Nikki, they've worked this all out before but we haven't got an answer to this one.

"What about getting a replacement for Dominic," asked Helen." This plan is all very well but Dominic has been under the cosh for months. This is a short term fix but we need another decision maker, and fast."

Fenner spread his hands wide and said that what Helen said was all very well but it would take time to get a replacement and there's bound to be some training. You know that, Helen, you've been there and Nikki also. The smug oily look of Fenner's face was especially galling.

There was nothing they could do right then not with Bodybag's noble self sacrificing "I'm saving the Department routine " yet again. Nikki and Helen wanted out of the meeting. It was being cleverly steamrollered over them and the strain of bottling down their feelings was becoming unbearable. Helen had a quick look around and noticed Dominic's untidy desk has been totally cleared and, Helen guessed bitterly, all his belongings would be in a plastic sack just as if he were dead and his personal effects were being disposed of. It was all bare, clinical and unfeeling.

Immediately after the meeting, Helen gave a slight sideways head movement which was Nikki's cue to nip off to the loo after her.

"Nikki, this is total and utter shit but we've got the immediate problem of Bodybag lording it over us, at least a week at a time. We gotta get ready for her to pick fault with us as she's going to go on a total power trip."

"You mean more so than present?" was Nikki's acid reply.

"It's simple, we're going to get the 'Contrary Mary' routine and, whatever we do, it's bound to be wrong. She's going to be the super efficient supervisor digging up our so called mistakes."

"That's no surprise but......."

"So we make damn sure we have everything down in writing. No bloody verbal diarrhoea to send us round in circles. We stick to our guns and don't give that bitch an inch, OK?"

Nikki listened to the passionate anger in Helen's voice and her flashing eyes and reckoned that that fighting talk got it about right.

"We'll go for it and stuff the lot of them." They knew that the war was going to come right out in the open.

The rest of the day dragged on in oppressive silence. The minimal communications between the two groups had stopped completely now. Helen and Nikki were waiting for Bodybag to start her nit picking attack on them and sure enough, it came as predicted.

"That's wrong, Nikki." was the opening shot with the nasty emphasis on the word 'wrong'. "You remember the way I trained you up." And then the long spiel started and a few minutes in, Nikki said.

"I haven't got the foggiest idea what you are saying. Can you write it up and let me have a look at it in my own time."

"Can't you understand the Queen's English, Wade? I thought you fancy yourself special and educated with your airs and graces"

"I said, put it in writing, Sylvia." Nikki replied quietly, looking at Bodybag straight in the eye.

Eventually, not giving an inch on this one, Bodybag backed down, took the papers back, did some scribbling and virtually threw the papers on her desk.

"What's up with you, Wade", Fenner's voice broke in on her concentration a couple of minutes later when Nikki was dug into a new case. "Are you being awkward for awkward's sake with Sylvia?"

"Not in the slightest, Jim Fenner. It's simply that the only way I can follow what Sylvia "(here she bit back the urge to call her by her proper name )" is saying is in writing. Helen really did the training for me, she's so much easier to understand."

That dragged in Bodybag into the battle as her position as 'top dog' was being directly attacked but Helen's steely tones cut in to say, yes, she's been there longer than anyone else but Helen can't overtake her in time spent on this job. Sylvia can't do a clear verbal explanation to save her life and Dominic was happy enough with their work. That is why they want it in writing, to make it easier on all sides, they aren't interested in arguing till the cows come home there's too much to get done. The smile on Helen's face and their unassailable logic prevailed. The atmosphere you could now cut with a knife.

That evening was one of mixed emotions. On the one hand, they were delighted that they'd stuck it out as much as they had. Helen reached out for a vodka bottle in celebration and also today had taken it out of them more than any other day and both of them were pouring out generous measures.

Nikki suddenly started crying and Helen gently asked her what the matter was. It was about Dominic and, Jesus, they'd pleaded with the poor bastard to take control over his life and in a twisted way, he had done, he'd jacked in his job unable to stand it any more. That was because their help was too little, too late and she wished they'd done something earlier and that was what tore her up inside. If they hadn't spoken to him perhaps he'd still been there. That empty desk just got to her and likewise all the lying hypocrisy was a cover up. It maddened her that as far as the official record was concerned, Fenner's and Bodybag's version was the truth. And Dominic was just a guy who'd been kind enough to them in his way, she hadn't had much of that in her life and she could have helped him out more, you do understand Helen. And Nikki's eyes looked beseechingly to Helen for an answer.

Helen clung on to her and told her that Dom could have had a nervous breakdown if he'd stayed, at least he has a chance and, yes, she understood everything Nikki was saying.

It was the first and last time Nikki had cried over a man but she knew Helen knew why and, most important, was there for her.

Stubberfield was holding the phone in his hand for a long time after Dominic finished the call. He couldn't believe his ears. He couldn't believe what he was hearing when Dominic had gone and rambled on in an emotional way about how he felt, how he couldn't face coming into the office any more so he was resigning on the spot. He felt embarrassed at the way the man was going on, it made him feel uncomfortable. He was going on about how he was bullied and made to feel about one inch tall. He did say that Helen Stewart and Nikki Wade had been unfailingly kind to him and did their best, it was the others. He remembered a feeling of incredulity rising up inside himself as it was Maxi and Sylvia who were most concerned for him, they said so while Wade and Stewart seemed stand-offish. That can't be right. He'd back his judgement to know better as he's got his finger on the pulse on what goes on in his section. Dominic has got a good experienced chap like Jim to show him the ropes and look after the organisation. Must remember that one for his next annual report, dependable bloke like him. Dominic ended up blubbering on the phone and making a real fool of himself, glad he wasn't there to witness the spectacle and finished off asking that Wade and Stewart be publicly thanked for helping him out as best as they could and he'll remember their kindness. Naturally I told him to put his resignation in writing, no chance to persuade the man to change his mind and I'll sort things out with personnel. Least I could do for him I said.

He reflected awhile wondering if the finger could be pointed at him in not noticing if he was in trouble. Can't say I remember any sign of problems though, oh yes, he always seemed to have a lot of work around. Man was very quiet. Never knew much about his background come to think about it. Come to think of it, he remembered the most recent set of monthly figures of work outstanding that Jim prepared and things looked to be going quite well and that must be the truth as the figures say so. Jim always says things are going pretty smoothly and he should know. Must be something personal at the back of it especially the way he was so unstable on the phone.

I'll call Jim in, slip him the news and ask them to sort out the work. Don't think I'll mention anything about Wade and Stewart though. Suppose I'll have to send a minute to personnel asking if it is OK to ask for a replacement. Can't take too many chances these days in bashing ahead for more staff on my own. Too risky.

The door to Karen and Mark's room flew open with a bang and an out of breath Nikki and Helen clattered in and made their way to a couple of empty chairs.

"Hey, what's the rush? Didn't think our hideout was that exciting " Karen's raised eyebrow and gentle irony was designed to calm them down.

"Dominic's resigned." The words shot out of Helen's mouth. "No reason given but it's bloody obvious that the poor bastard has had enough. Of course, the whole thing is being covered up, just swept under the carpet"

"Shit, that's landed you in it." Mark offered his sympathy. He did not need diagrams being drawn for him that their plans to share out the work had gone pear shaped." When did all this happen then?"

"Three days ago. The whole thing was dropped on us first thing and we've had bloody Bodybag doing decisions on our work alternate weeks. We've been driven spare trying to stop that cow from treading all over us. We need a replacement and fast but Stubberfield that useless fat pillock has given us a load of vague nothings and done sod all. We've only just come up while their backs are turned." Nikki spoke at breakneck speed, still out of breath.

"Hold it. Are you telling me that you are short of one overpayment decision maker and that lazy fat no hoper can't turn anything up? I know for a fact that an old school friend of mine called Roisin Connor is there to be snapped up. She's working at the office down the road, been doing the job for several years, she's just split from her husband and has a hardship application for this office to be near her mother who lives in this town. She's had mega problems in her marriage and I mean mega. Got two kids to bring up. She's there for the taking."

Helen and Nikki might have knocked their heads against the wall in sheer frustration but somehow they were ceasing to be surprised at the mixture of incompetence and viciousness that marked where they work. Somehow putting this issue on one side Helen asked Karen what had happened to their report and Karen said that her boss had just sent it on its way to Stubberfield 'and they had been able to say pretty much what they wanted to say- it takes no prisoners.'

"Gotta go, you guys." Nikki rose pulling Helen by the hand and smiling as she spoke. "We've a boss to see about a woman. Thanks, thanks a lot."

And the door banged back as they shot out of the door pulling a draft of air behind it.

A little later, another door opened quietly, the door to Stubberfield's room.

"And what might you two be doing here? Is there something keeping you from your work?"

"So if Jim Fenner spends half his time here, that's OK but not us. It's not that you've spent a great deal of your time talking to us." Helen spoke quietly trying to keep a smile on her face. "We've got a problem we wanted to talk with you about."

"Shouldn't you be talking to Jim Fenner about it," a bit of an edge coming into his voice "I'm sure he'll be able to deal with it."

"He either won't or can't. That's why we are going up the line till we find the guy who can and will." Nikki replied quietly but firmly and looking Stubberfield in the eye. She has previously noticed a report half hidden behind some papers which she recognised as Karen's. Good, we may have the bastard on the jump.

Helen came to the point and explained that they wanted to know if there was any progress about replacing Dominic as they'd been under pressure for months and things can only get worse at present....Stubberfield cut Helen off, talking over the top of her that he had only just got the OK to fill the job and he couldn't do any more at this stage.

"Do you know that right at this minute, there is a fully trained up decision maker called Roisin Connor wanting to come in on a hardship transfer. She could drop in just like that. Did you know that and are you going to do something about this."

Just as Nikki had raised the tension a notch in her voice, with deceptive casualness, she delivered the knock out blow that she'd heard this from appeals.

Stubberfield quivered at this one, the mention of his least favourite word right now with the combined threat to go over his head if he did nothing and the sharp feeling of worry that they knew all about the damning report on his desk. He had better do something and, in any case, claim the credit in front of his fellow bosses for being Mr Dynamic.

Nikki and Helen graciously allowed him to get the credit of fixing the transfer and went back to hide studiously behind their computers. For the rest of the day they kept a low profile as, unknown to Bodybag, Fenner and Maxi, they were due for some nasty surprises. Best thing was to get the hell out of there for the weekend.

Nikki's flat was stripped bare and all her possessions were packed into suitcases, or cardboard boxes full of books squeezed into every spare inches of them. All the personal things were taken off the walls, the pictures and so on till they were cleared into the van they'd hired. All that there was now was a few full up rubbish bins. They were ready to move her stuff into Helen's bigger flat and, cross fingers, there would be the space.

Nikki looked around and the memories flooded back, mostly not very good. This was where she'd ended up after splitting from Trisha and was Nikki trying to get her life together by herself. Part of it was too many lonely evenings and bad scenes with other ex girlfriends in the flat. She was making a big step now and a bit of her was nervous. She smiled a bit now to look at her bed stripped bare and reflect on the first night she had spent with Helen. That was something she would look back nostalgically and any time she passed back along the street that part of the street would stay with her in her mind.

It was time to move on.

All the neighbours regarded Fenner as a solid citizen. His house looked smart and his family was well turned out. Periodically, delivery vans called at his house for some new piece of furniture and he was obviously a good father. He had a solid reputation there just as he had at work. His gleaming new car was parked on the drive where every Saturday morning, he would be out with buckets of water and chrome cleaner. His wife was friendly and neighbourly and they obviously had good standards. They would go out in the car to Saturday football match which was what Fenner enjoyed. Sundays was golf with Stubberfield and a few jars after. He was, if nothing else, a conventional man, furthering his career..

Sitting at home in front of the TV watching "changing rooms" while Marylin chirped on about ideas for the house, Fenner was musing. Besides the perennial absence of a good looking bird round the office that he fancied and who fancied him, Fenner was puzzled by Stubberfield's attitude on Friday afternoon. Normally, he could stroll in and be welcome of a chat and the latest inside news, that day Stubberfield was jumpy and clearly not himself. He got the feeling that Stubberfield didn't want to prolong the conversation. He couldn't get that.

"What's with the two lovebirds doing in early?" Maxi hissed under her breath to Bodybag. "And why are they grinning over their faces? I thought with all the aggro they'd been given last week by you, they'd keep a bloody low profile."

Bodybag couldn't work that one out either. Pity she's down this week doing assessing so she couldn't lord it over them. Her power fix that week had made her feel so much better and wielding that extra bit of authority felt good to her. It was as if she'd had that extra stripe sewn on her uniform in her Army days. It was so much better then with real discipline around and those below you took orders without questions, not like that argumentative twosome. Her blood pressure rose when she could see them smiling lovesick at each other. Nothing like that happened in the Army in her day, as far as she was aware.

"What's that yellow crate doing on Dominic's old desk?" Bodybag asked in growing anger "We've a right to be told what's going on"

Her sincerity sounded almost believable and if Helen and Nikki had heard they would have told them bluntly that what they really meant is that they wanted the right to be 'in the know' and feel superior knowing something that others didn't. Keeping others in the dark out of spite came easily and naturally to them but justice, poetic or otherwise, was a closed book.

A little later, a stranger came their way to the room who Bodybag didn't know and was to be duly cross examined. You can't be too careful these days.

"I'm Roisin Connor", came the lilting Irish voice in reply. "I'm your new Decision Maker. Is that my desk over there where my stuff is?"

Helen came forward with a broad welcoming smile to give her a hand to tidy up the desk which had been cluttered with 'junk' official circulars which everyone had 'skimmed' signed off as read to die quietly in a corner.

"I'm really sorry the place is in a bit of a tip but we'd heard very late on that you are coming. Believe you me, you're very welcome."

Bodybag stood opening and closing her mouth like a goldfish. Bad enough that she'd not heard of this but that someone like Stewart had heard of it was ten times worse. She and Maxi waylaid Fenner who had the ill luck just to be coming out of Stubberfield's room with an angry red face.

"Just shut it Sylvia." Fenner hissed under his breath feeling infuriated enough that Stubberfield had dropped the news on him like that and then these two harpies were going for his jugular as well. "And you, Maxi. It's out of my hands. And in any case, we need some help anyway. Might end up dumping on her like I did with Dominic," Fenner smiled crookedly to mollify them, in other words appeal to their base instincts.

"Roisin Connor, is it." smiled Fenner seemingly almost sincerely welcoming. "You sit down and when you're ready, I'll show you the setup. Everything's nice and cosy here, you're amongst friends"

Roisin made the first correct move of the day by spotting the flash of anger on Nikki's and Helen's faces at the sheer barefaced nerve of Fenner's lies. Better still, they both spotted Roisin's reaction in return.

Roisin was busy sorting out her desk quietly, conscious already of a distinct atmosphere. It was blindingly obvious when she first saw Stubberfield what he wasn't saying about the section she was landing into so her eyes and ears were wide open. In a corner of her desk, she set out a photograph of a little boy and a girl which went with her everywhere. She felt safe with them dropped off for school and was glad that they were happy at her mothers and were visibly more settled now that she'd finally moved out. Mum enjoyed outrageously spoiling them though she'd deny it.

Presently, Fenner came over and did a passably convincing display of friendship, smoothing over Bodybag's undisguised glare of hostility at Roisin having 'stolen' her temporary promotion from her and being an unknown factor as opposed to Dominic whom they had been used to being kept down.

Roisin smiled briefly and formally as she was introduced to the layout of the office. Lucky she was tipped off by Karen what she was letting herself in for when she accepted the post but images of a living nightmare of Aiden hammering at the door late at nights following the final almighty row, the frantic call to the police when .....but now was not the time and she forced her mind back to the present, spend today getting settled in. She was acutely aware when she first saw Stubberfield, he wasn't that friendly.

Maxi and Bodybag eyes were on her trying to get the measure of what she was like the framed photo of a little boy and a girl told them that she was a normal married woman with children. The little crucifix on a necklace told Maxi that the clerical robes might steer her via our Lord into their gang and against the two dykes. She appeared quiet with a quick friendly smile that certainly didn't exclude Helen and Nikki. This was early days and it was only a matter of time till lurid tales of their so called "goings on" would be relayed to her. Unless they missed a mile, there was a halfway decent chance that Roisin would be all right, especially if she was an old friend of Karen. Just take it easy they thought and she had a nice enough welcoming smile for them last thing.

"Of course, it's a terrible journey I have to drive in every day." moaned Bodybag. "I was talking to my neighbour just the other day that I'm a fool to work here when there's an office just down the road but what can you do? Can't let the side down." she finished in full martyr mode.

I wish the frig she would move thought Helen. I've had to stand her for so long even more than Nikki has. She's part of my bloody problem that if I said what I really think I'd be in deep trouble so these years of reining myself in has inhibited me and not say things the way I should. I've been working here too long, she thought, office etiquette is the pits. Thank God for Nikki to bring me out of myself and not just the obvious way, she smiled. With her around, I can push the boundaries a bit more.

"But all this travelling is costing me, I'm not sure how much longer I can keep doing this."

What is the devious cow talking about, Helen thought, why keep that remark hanging in the air?

"Which is my split of work, Jim Fenner, " Roisin asked mildly. At this point, she had the curious sensation that while she was sure she was making a perfectly sensible remark, the expression on the faces of Fenner and Bodybag suggested she was talking some strange foreign language.

"I think Roisin means that we should take a chunk of work so that she does decisions on any claimant between the range of 'aardvark' and 'justice', you know alphabetical order, Jim Fenner." Helen said, a streak of crazy humour springing straight from her unconscious.

"I knew a Suzie Aardvark once, Helen." Nikki chimed in with a cheeky grin." My first girlfriend, as it happens."

Maxi's and Bodybag's faces were a picture of anger and bewilderment at being mentally wrong footed. They were most at home in straight line, narrow minded moralising and they could not get their heads round anything that did not conform to this. In this state of confusion Helen dropped them in it when she said that Maxi and Bodybag insisted on 'sorting the work out for everyone' first thing in the morning. Nikki's reply that she had always been bemused by what she thought was an ancient tribal ritual from the simplicities of looking after your own chunk of work in her old job. Motivates you to feel responsible for it so you can set your priorities, she finished grabbing at a convenient chunk of managementspeak.

"Looks like we need some changes around here," Roisin smiled. "You agree Jim Fenner. The other thing is, where is the Decision Maker's Guide?"

A deafening silence echoed round the room and Bodybag looked sort of swivel eyed and for once wasn't to going to chime in with the smart remark. Maxi glared not going to say anything either and Fenner discreetly looked the other way.

"You mean, the one we once found in your draw, Sylvia." Nikki's quiet voice oh so effortlessly dropped Bodybag in the mire. Fenner at this point pretended complete ignorance and Maxi and Bodybag were speechless.

"My God, this one's as old as the hills. There's tons of amendments not been done. How in hell have you been able to do the job properly?" Roisin asked in astonishment.

Bodybag's face was a picture when she was told that as the Guide had been at the bottom of her drawer, she ought to sit down and get the guide up to date. This was a job that she hated for one and also, that it would set up something that her words of wisdom could be challenged by something of real authority in writing. Her feeble reply was that she had been able to impart wisdom through talking to appeals and they had got along that way was met by Roisin's smile as she said that Karen Betts was an old friend of hers.

Just at that point, a rather out of breath Stubberfield hurried out of his room and asked to speak to Fenner. That must be Karen's report smiled Nikki, I've never seen the guy move like that. He's the sort of person who needs to show that he doesn't have the same worries and fears that the menials in an office admit to.

"Is that both of us he wants?" Roisin asked.

"No, it's just me he wants, it's personal," snapped Fenner, angry that this new bloody woman is throwing her weight about. Why didn't Stubberfield tell him what was in store for him?

"Well, we'd better all get the work shifted around. No time like the present," Roisin's quick smile and soft tones took away any apparent bossiness. Helen and Nikki started sorting the papers with a will and Maxi and Bodybag with a sulk.

"Do you go to church," Maxi asked Roisin later on with a smile on her face but not in her eyes. "It's just with the crucifix and everything."

"Not as often as I should," Roisin replied politely "what with two children to look after."

"It's nice to have some normal people around, what with those two," gesturing in Helen and Nikki's direction. "I suppose you've heard about them. Don't suppose the Pope is very keen on them. Next thing, they'll want to get married in Church. Give them an inch and take a mile."

Roisin excused herself politely, gently reminding her that they work for an Equal Opportunities employer and that she carries her religion quietly. She thought they were nice enough people and she likes to get on with everyone.

After Helen and Nikki sorted out all the accumulated rubbish that has sneaked to the bottom of the trays and putting them in order, a quick look showed that a lot of the easier work that had been kept away from them had now ended up with them. They both smiled to themselves that Maxi and Bodybag were going to have it rougher and a good thing too. Now they were going to get a taste of what they and Dom had to put up with.

They had given Roisin plenty of time to settle in and they had a gut feeling they were going to be all right.

"I can't believe this one, Nik. Look over there."

Nikki had just come back with the drinks to the table that Helen had saved and plonked them down and looked in the direction that Helen was pointing at.

There was a couple in a discreet corner of the pub in a passionate embrace which in any other pub would have attracted at the very least 'pretending not to look' looks. They recognised the dark haired woman straight off but were, for the moment, not sure what to do next. The Roisin in the pub that they saw was far from the reserved polite woman that they had started to get to know.

They mentally flashed back to the week that had just gone when Roisin had had periodic conversations with Maxi, Fenner and Bodybag. They kept rabbiting on that at least there was a bit of respectability coming to the office what with Fenner, a happily married man, Maxi and her partner, just leaving "those two", letting the tone of the place down. By implication, Bodybag had all the moral virtues around, she was just unlucky with her getting married to Bobby. They both noticed that Roisin never started these conversations and diplomatically tried to get away from the 'them and us' angle. She had tried to do a balancing act between all of them which wasn't easy. In the end she had had enough and said politely that she doesn't come to work to bitch about people she's got better things to do with her time. She could see that they had trouble getting their heads around that idea.

Nikki and Helen were able to almost smile at barbed comments about them about the way they were. The more that gang disapproved of them, the more confirmation they had that they must be doing right. Besides, very quietly and effectively, Roisin had changed things in the direction that they had both wanted for a long time.

"Hey, Roisin. Nice to see you." Nikki called out and smiled and waved at her and grabbed her drink.

Roisin blushed slightly and looked very sheepish to be recognised but introduced Nikki and Helen to the small fair haired woman next to her that they had not seen before.

"Are these two some of your straight nobbing women that you work with, Roisin." Cassie asked slightly aggressively. Behind that hard exterior, Nikki could see that Cassie was simply very defensive. Roisin had moved town recently and Cassie had jumped to the conclusion that they must know Roisin from work and that therefore they must be straight. Though God knows why she got that idea, why else were they at that pub what with the regulars who used the pub?

"We are an item just the same as you two are." And Nikki launched immediately into a rapid explanation that they understood very well why Roisin wasn't "out" at work as she had the bad luck to be around some of the most narrow minded homophobic bitches around. They would use that one against her and do their best to pull her down like they'd done to the poor guy who was there before her.

"Yeah, well, Roache needed to get away from that nob of a husband and she doesn't need any more grief, do you hon." Cassie's tones had softened as she slipped her hand into Roisin's.

"We can tell how protective you are of each other. We know how you feel that way," Helen's voice conveying total sincerity and was greeted with a grateful smile from Cassie.

They chatted awhile and they found out that Cassie did the exact same job as they did though by common consent, now was not the time to 'talk shop'.

Presently, Helen suggested tactfully that if they wanted time to themselves, they'd understand and no way would they tell anyone at work about Roisin. Coming out was purely her choice. After an exchange of 'see you around', Nikki and Helen went back to their seats and Roisin and Cassie to embrace partly in relief that being publicly 'outed' at a time they least expected was treated with such kindness and understanding.

"So what's your husband do for a living," Maxi asked Roisin, the following Monday.

Roisin when she first came in to work, had exchanged glances with Helen and Nikki who smiled encouragement back. They both conveniently enough worked to Roisin who now had got the measure of the people around her. She had heard the backstabbing start as soon as they were out of the room but Nikki and Helen were pleasant accommodating helpful people and they were on the same side and not because they were gay.

"Oh he works as a warehouse manager. He works all sorts of hours." Roisin said briefly.

"What are your children called," Helen asked thinking that Roisin needed a diversion creating and fast.

Roisin became more animated and said that Niamph was really bright and had got a gold star for her latest story while Michael was into football and was a good boy. Roisin was about to enlarge on this when Bodybag just came off the phone and elbowed her way into the conversation.

"Of course Cassie and Cougar keep me occupied all the time. They are good but they know who's in charge."

Roisin's eyebrows were raised at the coincidence of one Christian name and the odd choice for the other one for a child and was about to speak when Nikki's low voice of explanation enlightened her .

"They're huskies, Roisin. I know what you're thinking."

Roisin found it hard not to grin in reaction to Nikki's little smile which was hidden behind the computer from Bodybag. After all, Bodybag's dogs were not a laughing matter and she would be mortally offended if she were found to be amusing at her expense. This was especially hard for Roisin when she thought that Bodybag was precisely the sort of woman that her girlfriend would hate her guts instantaneously. She would make that bloody obvious and she'd be extremely pissed off sharing the same nobbing name as one of her nobbing dogs, something Cassie was not into by any stretch of the imagination. She ought to be grateful that the blare of conversation took the attention clean away from questions about her husband and her marital respectability. Nikki and Helen, on the other hand, groaned inwardly and wondered if, after failing to get at them every other way was going to wear them down to a gradual death by boredom. They'd heard these tales so many interminable times before and they wondered why in hell looking after two boisterous dogs didn't give her a big enough power fix to satisfy her that she needs more of it at work.

Next day Fenner shouted to everyone that they were going to have a quick meeting and he was red in the face and his eyes were glaring at Nikki and Helen in particular.

"Of course, if those two got in early, we'd have been able to have the meeting first thing and be out of the way," moaned Bodybag.

"Scuse me," Nikki shot back "a thousand apologies for not bringing my crystal ball with me. If you'd asked Hel and I last night, you might have got what you want."

"That's too easy and straightforward for you Sylvia, it would have stopped you having a whinge at us" smiled Helen.

"Don't I get a say in all this," Roisin asked quietly.

Fenner partly suppressed his natural rudeness. "This is from before your time, Roisin. This is about those bloody shitstirring appeals lot having a go at us, and telling us how to do our bloody job with this shitting report about the state of training. I've let Sylvia have a look at this one before and she's as livid as me. 'The standard of decision making leaves a lot to be desired and reflects partly on the training given to the calculators........there are glaring obvious mistakes made that remedial training would reduce substantially the number of appeals' Patronising crap I call it."

"Oh so you did know about this beforehand, didn't you Sylvia." Helen fired back starting to get angry. The bastards have sat on this report. It was out at least a week or more, she thought at lightning speed.

"Hold it, hold it, this involves everyone at every level, those being trained, those doing the training and even if it started before my time, I'm going to be involved as much as you in putting things right. This report needs to be copied, if you please."

Fenner glared at this new woman, very polite and restrained who was sticking her oar in and stopping him sweeping things on. Dominic would have not said a thing, we could have swung this across Wade and Stewart and sewn things up tight.

Nikki and Helen were delighted that Roisin quietly chipped in at the right time and were vociferous that they weren't going to sit by while Fenner read out excerpts of a report and bounce them into agreeing something quickly. The report was about them. They wanted a copy of the report and lets put off the meeting till we've all seen it.

"I thought you were best friends with appeals, Sylvia." Helen's smile rubbed in the jibe. "That's what you've been banging on about ever since I've been here."

"You set this up you two. I'm sure you two snitched on us," Bodybag said with a sniff.

"As if we would," Nikki's grin provoked Bodybag further. "If anyone goes in for conspiracies, it's you."

Roisin cut in asking that Fenner copy the report and give everyone a couple of days to look at it and let's have the meeting for say 8.30, she said looking at Helen and Nikki who nodded agreement.

" I bet you give your poor sod of a husband the run around, giving him orders." Fenner said under his breath at which point the others had to fight hard to stop giggling.

"That's it, I'm putting in for a transfer to the office round the corner where I live. I've given the best years of my life into trying to keep this section going. As an old stager, you would have thought that it would command respect but it seems I'm wrong. you get no thanks for all you've done. Nobody listens to what people of my grade think..........."

She was allowed to go on and on. Roisin figured out that Bodybag worked to Fenner and he could have the privilege of calming her down and he pleaded and begged her to stay. Helen and Nikki thought that the more she moaned and moaned, it would wear her out and if she did leave, so much the better. Even if they had to slog their guts out trying to catch up till they got a replacement, it would be worthwhile to get the most poisonous of them out of the way. Maxi was vicious but she was fairly thick in comparison. Things were going more and more their way. We're getting those bastards on the run now.

The sausage rolls and rolls with assorted fillings were lined up geometrically on plates along with the cheese cubes expertly skewered by cocktail sticks. The paper napkins were geometrically folded and the bottles of wine, allowed in by special dispensation by Mr Stubberfield were of the best. Maxi and Bodybag both agreed they'd done the section proud in arranging a buffet in honour of Bodybag's last day before she started work at her new office. The feeling of unreality hung over the section that Bodybag's final day had come but that this was not really happening.

"Yes Mr Stubberfield I shall be ever so sorry to leave such a crowd of people, "she beamed "and I do feel guilty that I am leaving everyone in the lurch but this place will live on without me. Far be it for me to stand in anyone's way to shine. Besides, none of us are getting any younger and these bones feel the aches and pains of all the driving over the years travelling to work."

"Well, I'll be sorry to see you go," Mr Stubberfield said with real sincerity for who else would give him that precious insight onto the 'shop floor' that Sylvia had unfailingly provided over the years. "And no one else but you and Maxi could lay on such a spread. You would have thought that those two in the corner would offer to help out", he said pointing at Nikki and Helen who were standing in a corner." but I suppose some people don't have that team spirit, do they?"

"Well, some people will naturally join in and others will keep themselves to themselves," Bodybag said with a sneer." You'll have to watch these two now I'm no longer around....but you've still got Maxi and Jim Fenner to help you," she finished not wasting the last few chances to stick the knife in.

Nikki and Helen were reflecting on the success of the meeting that they'd finally had where the version of the report they'd finally seen wasn't the edited version that Bodybag and Fenner were trying to palm off. The report named no names but Karen had quoted chapter and verse in showing where the blatant errors were and pinpointed Bodybag at the back of the poor training. It showed how capriciously she had operated behind the scenes in the contradictory mistakes that were picked up. Fenner was shown up for what he was in being sloppy and careless. Curiously, few of Dominic's cases were brought to light. Nikki and Helen remembered how bruising the debate was and that only by frankly admitting their own mistakes when they hadn't known any better at the time, could they drop the others in it to the extent that they did. No names were mentioned but this was the price of getting things changed in how they did their job. They faced the scowls and glares from across the room but Roisin, in quietly directing the debate into changing their ways, gave just enough of a push that Nikki and Helen freely admitted they couldn't quite have done on their own.

All this was quietly swept under the carpet today which they were content to let things run. Let Bodybag have her brief moment of glory to finally hold centre stage, to brag and show off her self importance for the last time. They knew her for what she was and all that they wanted was her to drive off in her car, never to return again. The small group surrounding her were as if her courtiers willing to let her shine and remember the Good Old Days that never were.

"Ladies and gentlemen," Fenner started and didn't blink at the incongruity of the remark. "We'll be sorry after all these years to see Sylvia Hollamby leave this office where she's worked so long but what is bad news to us will be good news to the place where she'll take up duties. We'll remember her for the way she went out of her way to pass on her vast experience to nervous new trainees and mould them into the sort of person who, like her, gives their all to the job........."

You hypocritical lying bastards, they thought. Slightly missing was the hectoring and bullying and sneaky attempts to undermine you, the paranoia about what was said if you once went out of the room and, if they hadn't been there for each other from the start when they were simply friends, their self esteem would have drained away in the way that had happened to poor Dominic. He's never got a mention and was he the first nameless faceless victim of her twisted nature? Never mind, let's go through with the pantomime, get stuck into the food and for once, have some of the wine as well.

"And Mr Stubberfield, ever mindful of the welfare of his staff has got hold of a replacement for Sylvia. Course I don't expect her to fill her shoes but Mr Stubberfield has assured me that Miss Tyler has come with pretty good recommendations even if he hasn't heard of her personally. We'll look forward to her coming much though we'll regret losing her long experience. Sylvia's loss will be the other office's gain so let's raise your glasses to Sylvia."

During this last piece, Nikki and Helen had to fight hard to suppress a grin. They knew her even if Mr Stubberfield didn't and Roisin knew her very well and they could see her acting the part of Mrs Innocent very well. They said 'To Sylvia' with the others, get lost and good riddance as they drank their wine with a flourish.

Right at the end, a cheaply sentimentally tearful Bodybag was escorted to her car and their eyes never made contact with her and they watched her drive off into the distance. It was dark in the foyer to the office as they saw the car manoeuvre its way out of the car park, Bodybag not looking back and was finally gone. For the first time ever in the office they wrapped their arms round each other as the enormity of the relief started to hit them.

"Haven't you two got homes to go to" Karen's voice jumped out at them from out of the darkness. "Didn't think you loved the place that much or are you going out to celebrate Bodybag's departure."

Nikki and Helen sprang apart in shock as the light had been switched on and Karen and Mark approached them.

"Didn't see you at the celebrations, Karen?" Helen said with a slight smile.

"If I had come. I would have ended up publicly vomiting at the lying bitch droning on about how she hated to leave you and all that sort of stuff conveniently forgetting the real reasons" Karen said with heartfelt anger.

"And what's that?" enquired Nikki listening intently.

"You do know that Bodybag first came here on periods of temporary loan from the office she's moving back to. Eventually, she took a permanent transfer and was paid excess travelling costs. She could only get it for three years and after that her expenses would stop. That was due to take place any time now so her tearful 'nobody loves me' routine was just a big con when it was just financial greed that motivates her, that and stabbing people in the back and watching them bleed. And, of course you didn't know that when that strike took place years ago in Leicester, she volunteered to strikebreak and was really coining in the money on travelling expenses, subsistence expenses, you name it, she got it."

Neither of them had trouble in finding the words to express themselves but the sheer enormity of the greed and selfishness hit them. both of them were naturally generous but they'd been given an insight into a way of thinking that was an abomination and was so evil. There wasn't a single little area of her life that didn't offend them.

"But what are you doing hanging round here, you guys." Mark's face could be seen grinning from ear to ear now that the person who had caused him so much grief had gone. He could cut a swathe through all the crappy work that had come from Bodybag and do what the hell he liked with them with no comeback. "We're out for a celebration, Karen and I and I thought you'd want to do the same unless you're stopping in with a bottle or four."

Mark was right, Why on a Friday evening weren't they elsewhere? They were good people and accepting of them naturally. Perhaps this was a sign of things to come.

"So what's this new nobbing office you've lured me away to, babes." Cassie asked Roisin when they were out on a Saturday night. Roisin had done the usual evening flurry of maternal activity putting the children to bed for her mother to babysit, hastily getting dressed up and zooming out in Cassie's smart car out for the night.

"Like hell on earth, Cassie. Well not all of it. You've got Nikki and Helen for a start."

"I remember them. They're cool. So what's the downside." Cassie said, looking Roisin in the eye.

"You've got Stubberfield who's idle and lazy and has his favourites. You've got Maxi who's homophobic and vicious. And you've got Fenner who'll want to have a private chat with you to see if you will be 'his special girl.' He's tried it on with Helen and Nikki and no doubt others."

Cassie grinned thinking that it will be the case of third time unlucky. She could hardly brush him off like knee in groin and get the sack, first day but verbally she could do the same and just keep within office protocol. The art of pushing at boundaries came easy to her.

"Well, if it means not having to drive like a maniac between towns to see you, moving in with you and your nobbing husband at last out of the way, then lead me to the snakepit, hon."

"It won't be as bad as it had been, remember, Cassie. They're in the minority now and especially that Bodybag is out of the way now.........."

That was exactly the same reflection that Nikki and Helen now shared. It was strange now that they couldn't adjust to the fact that the person who had been the focus of their lives at work was no longer there. This was strange even if the focus of that energy had been hatred and contempt and fear about what was happening while their backs are turned.

"Surely, you're not going to say that you're missing Bodybag already" Helen joked as she raised the wine glass to her lips.

"It's that I know I won't get that voice out of my head for a long time," smiled Nikki. "Hey, sounds like a line out of a Kylie Minogue song."

"Not the same, Nikki, is it" Helen returned the grin.

They were at home with a couple of bottles between them, the alcohol starting to mellow them down. The week had built up to a fever pitch as if it they were prisoners coming to the end of their time in jail. The first sniff of freedom and waiting, counting down, for the last few hours, no seconds before the barred gates are at last swung open and, before them, only blue sky and nothing standing in the way. Physically nothing had changed, they could go where they liked but it was the freedom of the soul that they wallowed in as if it was some heaven sent shower sprinkling goodness down their skins.

"Still," Helen said looking affectionately at her "If it hadn't been them banging on about us, we might not have got together."

"You sure of that one, Helen." Nikki looked deep into Helen's eyes.

"Probably not." Helen admitted. And Nikki was close in thinking to Helen to realise that what she meant was that she would have probably fallen for Nikki sooner or later without Bodybag and the rest going on about it. Still it was amusing to think that they were unwitting matchmakers, did they but know it.

Fenner grumped his way round the house. He had depended on Sylvia so much over the years telling him how to do his job that it was a shock that the prop he was used to was no longer there. He snarled periodically at Marilyn who, typically didn't understand him and kept on asking him what the matter was. When the kids were pestering him to help them with their homework, he told them to shut it and stomped off down the garden to his shed. He didn't like change in his life that way. So long Marilyn kept things running smoothly at home and Sylvia at work, though in different ways of course, he could focus his energies into keeping in well with Stubberfield at home and eyeing up the talent at work and from time to time taking things further when he had the chance to do so. What was this Miss Tyler like? Nobody knew much about her from the grapevine. Still, see how she looks and you never knew your luck.....

Bodybag was alone with her dogs at home. So it was all ended and she was at home on another empty weekend with all her bits and pieces and souvenirs from her time at the office. On her mantelpiece was a farewell card signed "from all your friends" and she studied the signatures. Most effusive was Mr Stubberfield and Jim Fenner and there were squiggles from other people in the office that she'd worked with outside the section. She was glad to get out of the office now that the section had been taken over by that Irish bitch and those two lovebirds. She would nurse her resentment and grudges against them forever and a day. She prided herself that she never forgot a slight against her. Forgiveness was a sign of softness and she'd been brought up to be hard. That was a sign of strength where she came from. Her parents had brought her up never to cry and that, she thought, was what had made her strong, stronger than anyone else....

Mark was collapsed in a drunken heap on the floor laughing his head off and Karen was having trouble focussing her eyes upon him. They'd cracked open the wine early Saturday morning drinking toasts to the future in large measures. It seemed a good idea late in the afternoon to crack open the bottle of Malibu they'd bought for a special occasion. Mark had odd days when he got plastered but Karen was not worried for him this time as this was blowing open a lot of pent up stress that he'd been under. He was happier than she'd seen him in months and his conversation was gloriously surreal and it wasn't just the drink. There was a light heartedness she hadn't seen in ages about him. She'd been worried about his disturbed nights. Somehow she felt that tonight he'd be out like a light although mind you just when they'd get to sleep tonight was anyone's guess when she sensed that they would be both up for it. They wouldn't get that drunk.

It was amazing that the absence of just one person made such a difference......

Nikki stood looking at the bare empty desk where Bodybag had once worked. Everything was swept bare but Nikki fancifully thought that perhaps the desk ought to be exorcised to cleanse it of evil spirits. It had been the place where so much bad vibrations had been focussed in on and had radiated round the room, not that the place was entirely clear with Maxi and Fenner were still there. Nevertheless, the linchpin had been knocked out of the structure of evil that at one time had come close to driving her down.

"Glad that Sylvia's gone now, Wade." sneered Maxi "With her gone, we're really in the shit now."

"Oh ecstatically so, Maxi" Nikki replied with a smile. Let the cow make of it as she wanted.

Next thing Roisin and Cassie came through the door and Roisin asked if one of them could show Cassie the ropes at which point Helen being the most experienced jumped in a second before Maxi. They had to move like lightning to stop Maxi filling Bodybag's shoes. That cow was absolutely, definitely not going to rule the roost whatever she thought because we're taking over. Things were going to change all right, Helen thought. We've got the numbers now and the upper hand though the bastards don't know it yet. What Nikki and I were trying to do on our own, with Cassie and Roisin with us we can now do. Helen smiled with all the satisfaction of someone who's dream was coming true.

"I'd be glad for you to show me where everything is, Helen." Cassie responded with her friendly smile.

How in hell does she know her name, Maxi thought. What the hell is going on?

Nikki was amused to see how well Roisin and Cassie were keeping up the pretence that they'd never known each other before. They look a bit different from when she last saw them wrapped up in each other's arms in that pub we saw them at.

Fenner couldn't believe his luck when he saw Cassie. A small ravishing blond with a cheeky smile and very sexy looking. He liked them with bigger boobs but there was plenty to grab onto. Well, much though he was grateful for Sylvia's solid support over the years, Cassie looked as though she could do things for him that Sylvia couldn't do. So long as she could chuck out the work up to Sylvia's standard, things were looking up. This was a change from Maxi who's OK but respectably married, those two dykes in the corner and that Roisin who comes over as prim and proper who's treading on his toes far too bloody much these days. Yes, unless he's guessed wrong, he's in with a chance. I think it is time for a friendly introductory chat he thought especially as Cassie is working to him. Surprisingly, Roisin didn't offer a word of objection when he suggested that, he thought she'd butt in and insist on doing that like she did with a lot of things these days.

A private letter landed on Nikki's desk addressed to both her and Helen in a script that looked familiar. Nikki opened it as Helen was engrossed in getting Cassie settled in. A warm smile spread over Nikki's face as she read it.

"Dear Nikki and Helen

I'm sorry I never got the chance to speak to you properly . I had a nervous breakdown over that weekend and I phoned up Stubberfield to tell him I couldn't stand it any more. I really can't remember too well what I said but I did ask him to thank you publicly for all the kindness and help you gave me.

I feel guilty that I'd not stood up enough for you both but I'd not stood up enough for myself either against Sylvia Maxi and Fenner. Anyway, I wanted to write to make up for it and I'd love to see you both again with my new partner Zandra who's worked wonders with me. I also hope that both of you are happy in your life together.

Don't forget to phone and this letter you can also use officially. It is something I can still do for you.

Your old boss and friend


Nikki's smile was radiant thinking that Dominic had come through for them in the end and landed Stubberfield in the shit just nicely.

"A letter from your lover" sneered Maxi.

"Can't you make your staff grow up, Jim Fenner. There's no room for that sort of bitchiness now" Roisin spoke up sharply.

Nice one, Roisin, thought Nikki. And this is just for starters.

Cassie had taken a swift look round when she came in. She could see Fenner leering at her and realised straight off, Roisin had explained things exactly right. Well, that nobbing idiot is going to be in for the shock of his life when I talk to him. I'll play along with him till when I see him on my own. And I can do my job just fine so if he thinks he can tell me what to do, he's got another think coming as I used to stand in for his type of job at my old office. Roisin is doing a great job in pretending not to know me. Helen and Nikki are old mates already and I can eat that cow Maxi for breakfast, no probs.

Nikki and Helen grinned at each other when Fenner asked Cassie for a 'private chat' while Roisin smiled serenely being quite relaxed at Cassie's ability to handle herself. Cassie gave him an inviting smile and Maxi was dug into her work while Fenner, thinking that this was definitely his day, couldn't wait till they had walked down the corridor to where the private interview room was inviting them to step in.

Twenty of the longest minutes that Nikki and Helen had known crawled by, till a red faced sweating Fenner emerged looking visibly shaken and a smiling Cassie followed. Cassie made her way up to Roisin and kissed her full on the lips right there in the middle of the office.

"Ere, Jim, are we being overrun by dykes? What's happening?" Maxi glared round looking totally confused.

"Why do you always get things wrong, Maxi? For years we've suffered the noisy bigoted opinions of you and your kind. You'll never believe us but this is a victory for human decency especially with this letter I've got from Dominic, God bless him. As if we're conspiring to drag you along on the next Pride event." Helen replied in exasperation to Maxi's still uncomprehending ears.


Credits are given as follows

1. To the real life Bodybag and real events which I have drawn on extensively in this fic .
2, To the very kind support and encouragement by Mbers whom I am as always grateful to.

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