DISCLAIMER: Can you imagine what would be gracing your TV screens if I owned either one of these characters? Can you? Alas, no. L&O characters are property of Wolf Productions; Bad Girl characters, of Shed Productions.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Tricky, tricky timeline here, particularly involving events on "Bad Girls". The closest I could get to it making sense would be season 3 of BG, but with the characters of Dockley, Denny and Dominic still on the show. Even then, for those who watch the show, a suspension of time disbelief will be necessary. SVU and BG actually run concurrently, so it is a season 3 Benson we see here. My thanks to roman_machine for the title and BG analysis, and for beta-ing it AFTER the entire opus was done. Thanks also to a bunch of people for getting me hooked on BG in the first place (residentgeek being one). Now, before this becomes an Oscar speech
FANDOMS/PAIRINGS: Law and Order: SVU/Bad Girls Olivia/Nikki
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
Out of Context
She stepped out of the truck and was immediately overwhelmed by the oppressive size of the century-old building. Stone and brick and mortar rose several stories above her head and surrounded her on three sides. Long shadows crawled across the pavement, though, as much as she craned her head, she couldn't locate the sun. Colour tended to swing towards the monochromatic and the rare glimpse of something other than grey tried in vain to be anything other than muddy brown. Take away the bars on all visible windows and the guards who were always present and the fact that this was a prison would still be as obvious as the sky was blue. It wasn't so much its appearance -although there was enough of that to convince you- it was a feeling. A feeling of dread and fear. As a cop, she was no stranger to prison; she'd just never been on the other side of the fence.
"Come on, princess, this isn't a tour."
The gruff, flat voice of the older female guard jolted Benson out of her reverie, and, clutching her clear plastic bag, she fell in step with the truck of new female prisoners as they filed into the building.
She barely sat down before the female guard, whose name tag said 'Sylvia Hollamby' barked, "Right then. Which one of you is Olivia Benson?"
"That's me," Benson answered, standing up.
"That's me, miss," Hollamby corrected.
Olivia opened her mouth to ask the woman if she was out of her mind, then remembered where she was and why. Nodding politely, she echoed, "That's me, miss."
As Olivia approached the counter, Hollamby gave her the once over, and, despite being a good six inches shorter than the brunette, somehow managed to look down her nose at her. "American, are you?" When Benson nodded, the guard huffed, "Well, you won't be getting any special treatment around here." She looked at the sheet of paper in the file. "You were sentenced at Ayesworth Crown Court for 18 months?"
"Yes." She wondered why the older woman was glaring at her, then quickly corrected herself. "Yes, miss."
"Date of birth, April 8th, 1969?"
The guard couldn't quite find fault with the tone, so she continued. "Right. Any special diet? Special religious requests?"
"None that I know of. Miss."
"Right. Take your things and follow Mr. McAllister through that door. A female guard will be there to take your clothes and do a thorough examination."
This caught Olivia off-guard. "You mean a strip-search?"
Hollamby rolled her eyes. "Yes," she sighed, "a strip-search. Though it never seems to do any good, what with all the drugs round here." She looked down at the file again. "You'd know a thing or two about that, wouldn't you, Miss America?"
"Come on, Olivia, this way."
Benson turned to the guard who had quietly directed her to the next room. He seemed like a personable guy, though a bit young for the job. "Thanks, Dominic," she read his name tag.
He coughed and smiled, "You'd best call me Mr. McAllister. Sorry. Prison rules."
"This place should come with an information booklet."
Smiling again, he said, "It does, in fact. You'll be given one when you get to see the Wing Governor." He saw the twitch of her eyebrow. "The warden of the wing, I suppose you'd call her."
Now it was her turn to smile. "Thanks, Mr. McAllister. Do you think I could get an English to American dictionary with that?"
"Ah, but then you'll have no fun trying to figure it out on your own." A female guard entered the room and Dominic gave her Olivia's information. Turning back to Benson, he said, "Miss Erickson will do the examination and Miss Grant will witness it. It's standard procedure, for your protection as well as the guards. Once the examination is complete, you'll be ushered through that door," he pointed to the left, "and taken to your room. You're lucky coming in this early; you won't have to spend time in the general dormitory. We'll be able to set you up in your permanent room straight away. You'll get up to see the Governor sometime within the next couple of days and will be given a personal officer at that time. Do you have any questions?"
She shook her head. "No, seems pretty straight forward."
"Good," he replied. "Just keep your head down for a while, get used to how things operate, see how things work, yeah?"
"Right. Then I'll leave you to it."
The door clicked shut and Erickson slipped on her gloves. "Please remove your clothes."
As an officer of the law, Benson was well aware of the procedure from arrest to conviction, but it was only when she stood there, naked and exposed, her toes curling on the cold hard concrete floor, that she realized how it must feel, to know that this was it - life as you knew it was over. The finality of it must be the hardest thing, she thought, though the loss of individuality and dignity was probably a close second. By no means was she a prude when it came to nudity; her job hardened her over the years to barely blink at the sight, and she had nothing to be ashamed of regarding her own body, she knew. But this wasn't nudity, this was nakedness, and there was something incredibly demeaning about standing there in front of two women who couldn't have shown less interest in her as a person and only viewed her as another file.
When she was given her clothes, she was surprised to find she was allowed to wear what she brought in with her. She had thought the effort to wipe out individuality would have included some kind of generic prison uniform, but for whatever reason, this wasn't the case, and for that she was glad. She could see how easy it would be to forget who you were and what kind of life you had before prison, but this allowed the prisoner to hold onto one last tattered shred of that existence.
"Let's go," said Miss Grant. "Your room waits."
The unwelcome sight of Jim Fenner made his presence known in the doorway of the small cell.
"Barbara, get your things. You're moving."
The fifty-something prisoner looked up from her diary, her pen stopping in mid-word. "I beg your pardon?"
"Get your things, you're moving," Fenner repeated. "Come on, I haven't got all day."
Still stunned, Barbara stood slowly and began gathering her meagre possessions. Her cellmate, Nikki Wade lifted her head from her book and eyed the guard warily. "What's going on?"
The guard barely acknowledged her as he watched the older woman placing things in her bag. "If it was any of your business, Wade, I would have told you, wouldn't I?" He couldn't help the smirk that spread across his face and conceded the information, because he knew it would be to his benefit and not Wade's. "If you must know, we've got a shortage of cells on Basic, so until things rectify themselves, Barbara here is moving up to Enhanced."
The news got exactly the reaction he had hoped. Practically springing from the lower bunk of her bed and barely missing hitting her head on the metal bar, the lanky frame of Wade stood inches away from Fenner.
"Enhanced? She's going to Enhanced?" Quickly turning to Barbara, she apologized. "Sorry, Barbara, that's not what I meant."
Barbara, who had frozen in place upon hearing the news, could only shake her head and say, "No. No, that's quite all right, Nikki. I'm just as surprised as you are, I assure you."
"I've got a good three years on Barbara," Nikki argued, her attention back to Fenner. "If anyone should be moving up to Enhanced until things are fixed, it's me. I'm not even supposed to be sharing a cell!"
"And if Helen Stewart were still Wing Governor, I'm sure you'd get your way." The way Nikki's nostrils flared at his audacity was a joy for Fenner to behold. He knew the dig about her relationship with the former governor would get a rise out of her. "In the meantime, come on, love," he gestured to Barbara. "Get your things and let's go." As Barbara said her goodbyes to Nikki and walked out, Fenner turned back to Wade. "And I'd consider myself lucky if I were you. Betts gave you enough consideration to not put you in a four cell."
Nikki scrunched up her face in a grimace of fake sincerity. "I'll be sure to thank the governor the next time I see her in the food line."
"You do that," Fenner replied and tossed one more line in her direction before closing the door. "Enjoy your new cellmate."
"Piss off," she mouthed to the thick steel door before flopping back down on her mattress.
"You start in Basic," Dominic told her as they walked down the long corridor, stopping every so often to unlock and lock barred doors. "You'll be put in a two cell -two bunks per cell -and depending on your attitude and your progress, you could move up the wing to Enhanced." He unlocked and locked another door. "That's the top floor of the wing and that's single cell. You get it to yourself as well as more privileges within the prison." He was thorough with his information, but paused in his speech every so often to make sure Olivia understood it all.
"Got it," she told him.
"Good. If you have any questions, don't hesitate to ask your personal officer once you're given one or you can always ask me."
"You work the G-wing?"
"And how's that working out for you?"
He laughed at her directness. "Why don't we focus more on your adjustments here rather than mine?"
Without flourish, he held his hand out in the direction of a drab green door. "This is yours." When Olivia didn't move, he needlessly asked, "You've got everything?"
"What? Oh, yeah, sorry. I just "
"Is this your first time then?"
"Well, I won't promise it will get any better, but keep out of trouble and you'll do okay. Come on, I'll do the introductions." He gently guided her to the doorway and leaned into the cell. "Nikki, you've got a new cellmate."
Resting against the hard stone of the cell, arms folded and cigarette dangling from her fingertips, she barely turned from the window to say, "Yeah, Fenner told me the good news."
"Give her a break, Nikki. You never know, you might like her." The guard ignored her snort of disinterest and went ahead with the introductions. "Olivia, that's Nikki Wade. Nikki, this is Olivia Benson." When neither of the two women spoke up, he said, "Right. Well, I'll leave you two to get acquainted."
Nikki Wade. Benson did everything not to swear out loud once she recognized the name. Nikki fucking Wade. Cop killer. Great.
Though McAllister had left, neither woman moved, one because of the unfamiliarity of the situation, the other, because she couldn't have cared less. Several minutes of this silent impasse went by before Nikki decided to give the woman a break. McAllister might be right; maybe she'd like her. Yeah, and she might wake up tomorrow in Windsor Castle. She brought the cigarette up to her lips and turned.
Her lungs held the smoke in longer than normal in order to give her brain time to knock her eyes from their stock-still gaze. Her heart might belong to Helen Stewart, but right now, her body had other ideas. Nikki wasn't the type to love lightly, but Helen had made it clear that it was over, hadn't she? While her heart and her body debated the point, her eyes flicked up and down the long frame of her new cellmate a second time just to make sure. Short dark hair, a jaw line you could cut paper on and lips that were the cause of her staring in the first place. Then, once she got lower than the neck she barely registered the T-shirt/sweater combination Nikki herself wore on several occasions and went right to wondering if this Olivia got extra time for wearing those pants so tight. As Nikki's eyes went back up to the woman's face, she locked with a pair of eyes that were gloriously deep and brown. Yet there was something behind them- a distance and a scrutiny that made Nikki pause. She had never experienced it before, but she knew that she had been catalogued and categorized by this woman in the time it took to blink.
Finally exhaling the smoke, her acknowledgement came by way of a quip. "Sorry. I've been bunking with the Queen Mum for the last year and a bit. You're a bit of a shock to the system."
Despite her reservations, this got a small laugh out of the cop, who reached forward and extended her hand. "Olivia Benson."
Nikki looked down at the hand and smiled before shaking it. "We're not so much on the formalities here, except with the screws." When she saw Olivia's brow furrow, she realized the woman was trying to decipher what she said. "You're American?" Benson nodded. "Right. 'Screws', it's like another name for the guards, though I wouldn't recommend you call them that to their faces."
"Got it." The plastic bag crinkled in her left hand as she looked around the small room.
Nikki watched her until she realized the problem. "Sorry again. Not thinking. It's been a long time since I had a new cellmate. That cupboard is yours; mine's over there. You can put toiletries at the sink with mine, I don't care. Toilet's in the corner. Top bunk is yours."
Olivia nodded. "Thanks." She walked over to the empty cupboard and slowly began putting away her paltry amount of possessions. Nikki caught the sense of apprehension and tried to put the newcomer at ease.
"I won't tell you you'll get used to it - I wouldn't wish that on my worst enemy - but I will tell you it does get easier in a way."
Folding up her bag and putting it in the bottom drawer, Benson stood up and offered a small, but appreciative smile. "Thanks. Again."
"Yeah, well. Listen, I'm going to finish this fag somewhere else; give you some space to figure it all out. Then maybe if you're up to it later, I'll take you around, introduce you to some of the others."
She looked around the room a second time, as if there was more to see. "Yeah. That's probably a good idea."
"Okay then." Nikki stood in the doorway for a moment, wondering if leaving this woman was the best thing to do, but if she was going to get her head together, Benson had to do it herself and there wasn't going to be any better time. "Right. I'll close the door a bit; give you some privacy. God knows you don't get much of that around here." There was one more pause before she said, "Take it easy on yourself, Olivia."
As soon as Nikki left, Benson ran her fingers through her short hair and sighed. Even though she knew Cragen and his counterpart at the Metropolitan Police Service had given her no more than four weeks for their undercover operation, the fact that there was a light at the end of the tunnel for her didn't diminish how quickly her surroundings could change her attitude from one of independence to one of submission. She could see how easy it would be to fall into a trap of depression and lose sight of the future. She wondered how Nikki adjusted to it.
Nikki Wade. Whatever her thoughts might be on why the woman was incarcerated, pictures didn't do her justice, Olivia admitted with a smirk. The fact that she was allowed to wear her own clothes helped, as Benson favoured the look herself, but Wade probably would have made the drab grey jumpsuit of Rikers proud.
'Jesus Christ,' she thought to herself, 'get a grip. It's a prison and you're undercover.'
She was on tiptoes, trying to look out the window when she heard a noise behind her.
"Look at this one, Denny. She's a sight better than Babs, ain't she?"
"Sure is, Shell."
Olivia turned and despite not knowing the younger curly-haired brunette, she recognized the other speaker immediately. Michelle Dockley. Yet another instance of pictures not doing the person justice; for while there were obvious similarities between the blonde in the photos and the blonde standing before her, pictures failed to capture the edge of psychotic tendencies in her eyes. They twinkled with some kind of malevolence, but beyond that, were dead.
"You getting comfortable, Livvy?"
Benson started at her name, not to mention the moniker, but shook it off. "As comfortable as I can in a place like this, I guess."
Denny made a face. "What kind of accent is that?"
"American," Shell told her with an exaggerated flourish in her voice. "Innit?" Seeing Olivia's raised eyebrow, Dockley sighed. "Isn't it?" she enunciated. "Excuse me while I find the clot a dictionary, Christ."
"She just called you an idiot," Denny helpfully told Olivia, who nodded her reply.
Shell rolled her eyes before getting down to business. "So you're in for a bit of possession, are ya, Miss Olivia Benson?" She saw the expression on the American's face and laughed. "The first thing you should get used to is the fact that I run this place. I find out what I want to know, and I get what I want to get. Got it?"
Benson nodded. "Believe me; I don't have anything you'd want."
"Don't you? You're in for possession," she stressed the last word. "Drugs. And you're tellin' me you didn't crutch anything in here?" Any semblance of playfulness she might have had was out of her voice. She stepped closer and the room got deathly quiet. Holding out a hand to her side, Denny stepped forward at the prompt and placed something in it Olivia couldn't quite see, but the glimpse of a sharp end gave her a hint. Something homemade, she was sure, but no less deadly.
"You'd best listen good, Miss America. Either you have something on you that I want, or you can get it for me. And if it means I have to de-crutch you in the shower, then it's all part of business, innit? Either way, I get what I want. So what's it going to be?"
Even in the small room it was difficult to keep an eye on both women, and when Benson took the split second to glance at Denny's position, Shell's hand flashed up, backhanding Olivia's face. A sharp pain burned across her cheek and she realized she was cut. When her palm came up to her face, she noticed Dockley's hand coming around again and Benson wasn't about to make the same mistake twice. As Shell's right hand approached, Olivia slid her left arm inside, gripping the blonde's forearm and pulling the lifer's nose right into Olivia's forehead. Dockley dropped the homemade shiv and reeled back, her lips moving to say something, but the shock only allowing a small squeak to escape. The only eyes wider in the place than Shell's were Denny's, who stood frozen in her spot. Benson reached over the blonde's right shoulder and grabbed a handful of hair. Pulling it down, she forced Shell onto her knees and picked up the shiv, which was nothing more than a plastic spoon handle, the ladle end broken and pointed. She leaned forward and pressed the tip against Dockley's throat. This snapped Denny out of her stupor and she stepped forward.
Olivia's head jerked up and stopped Denny in her tracks. "What's your name? Denny?" The younger woman nodded. "Denny, you look like a good kid. Just stay there, okay?" Denny nodded again and didn't move. "Now, Shell, I don't know how much damage this can do, but my cheek hurts like a son of a bitch, and I've been working out lately, so with just the right amount of force, who knows? Ever hear the expression 'born with a silver spoon in your mouth'? How would you like to die with one sticking out of your fucking throat?" Still out of breath, Dockley could only shake her head. "That's what I thought. Now, I listened to your business proposal and only understood half of it. Doesn't matter, because I have a proposal of my own. When it comes to drugs in this place, you're going to get them for me." Shell's eyes went wider. "I don't care what shit you've got on the side, but what I want, I get. Understand?"
At long last getting her lungs to work, Shell whimpered, "I can't help you. I've got nothing. I get it from other prisoners, I swear."
"That's not what I heard." Benson was please to see the confusion cross the blonde's face. "You're not the only one who finds out what they want to know. You've got someone on the outside feeding you drugs. We'll start there."
"But, but, I can't just call him out of nowhere; these things take time."
"Shell, you've gone from telling me you've got nothing to admitting you've got someone on the outside. I suppose that's a start for a compulsive liar." She pressed the shiv harder into the soft white flesh. "Shell Dockley gets what she wants. As long as it's what I want, we'll have no problems, understand?" She let go of Shell's hair and jerked her head back roughly. "And the next person who calls me 'Miss America' gets my foot up their ass. Does that translate?"
Nikki chose that moment to return to the cell.
Looking at the tableau before her, with Shell on her knees and a trickle of blood coming out of her nose, Olivia with a shiv in her hand, and Denny looking like she had shit herself, Nikki asked the only thing that seemed appropriate. "What the hell's going on here?"
Shell quickly stood up and brushed her knees. A hand came up to fix her hair and shaky fingers went to her throat. Choosing not to answer the question, she turned to Denny and said, "Let's go. We've got better things to do, don't we, Denny?" When the girl didn't respond, she repeated it louder, "Don't we, Denny?"
"What? Oh, yeah, right, Shell."
As soon as they were out of the cell, Denny looked at her friend and asked, "What did she mean about being born with a spoon in your mouth?"
"Shut it, Denny. Jesus."
"Looks like you're left holding the bag and the shiv. Which, if you don't mind a piece of advice, I suggest you get rid of as soon as you can. The screws catch you with that and it'll be down the Block for you." Benson tilted her head. "Toss it out the window," Nikki suggested.
"Right, thanks." Olivia stood on the frame of the bottom bunk to see if there was anyone below before she dropped the homemade weapon. It was the little jolt that went up through the sole of her right foot when she hit the floor again that reminded her of the pain in her cheek. "Shit," she muttered as she peered into the small mirror on the wall. Picking up her small towel, she wet it under the tap and pressed it against her face.
The remnants of violence lingered like a mist and Nikki attempted to wipe it away with humour . "You know, for a second, I thought Dockley was going to give you an Aussie kiss." A look she was already recognizing crossed Olivia's face. "Aussie kiss. Like a French kiss, but down un never mind."
Olivia's eyes narrowed until the pieces fell together. Pulling the towel away from her face, her mouth opened as the realization hit. "Right," she said with a small smile, "since you seem to be my resident translator, what does 'de-crutch' mean?"
Nikki's face darkened. "Is that what that psychopath said to you?"
"She mentioned it, yeah."
Sighing, she explained, "Crutching is a way of hiding drugs in an orifice that isn't your mouth, ears, nose or arse hole. I'll leave you to figure out what de-crutching means."
It didn't take Olivia long. "Jesus!"
"So, whatever the American equivalent is, did you do it?"
"Do what? Crutch drugs into the prison?"
"No!" She saw the flicker of doubt cross Wade's face, so she repeated it. "Believe me, I didn't bring any drugs in."
Seemingly satisfied with the answer, Nikki sat down on the bed and asked, "So what are you in for?"
Although she knew the answer, she volleyed the question back. "What are you in for?"
Nikki held up her hands. "Point taken. Sorry I asked."
She took another look at her cheek and, satisfied it had stopped bleeding, folded the towel and draped in on the edge of the sink. "Possession," Olivia stated simply, figuring she might as well come clean, or at least as clean as her cover allowed.
"What?" Wade asked, then realized she heard right. "Christ, a smack head. That's great."
"It's not like that."
"Then what is it like? No, wait," she stopped, her hand held up again, "I don't care."
"Marijuana," Olivia repeated. "Weed, pot, grass, Mary Jane -"
"-ganja stick, yeah, I got it, thanks," Nikki interrupted, though a ghost of a smile shadowed across her face.
When she said nothing more, Benson took it as her cue to continue. "I bought some here, went to a few parties, had a good time, forgot it was in my coat pocket when I tried to get through security at Heathrow."
Nikki frowned. "It's unusual you'd get time, though, isn't it? Most possession charges let you off with a fine and a warning."
Shrugging, Olivia replied, "Who knows? Maybe they thought they'd make an example out of me."
"Because you're a Yank."
"That's what my lawyer thinks. He's working my appeal through the US Embassy now."
"Well, that explains Dockley's interest in you."
"I take it she's the drug maven around here."
"Yeah, among other things."
Benson rubbed a finger across the top of her brow, as she tried to put the pieces together. "I wonder how she knew. I mean, she even knew my name."
"She's in with one of the screws."
"Not that McAllister guy."
Nikki shook her head. "No, despite whatever rough patches we've had, McAllister's one of the better ones around here. It's Fenner you've got to watch. He's as bent as a bottle of chips."
"I'm sure that's as bad as it sounds," she smirked.
"Yes, it is," Nikki replied, giving a smirk of her own. More seriously, she said, "It's good that you settled things with Dockley straight away. Just watch your step with her, all right? She's not in here because of a traffic violation."
"Okay." Benson bit the inside of her lip as she mentally weighed scales in her head. On the one hand, she knew this woman to be a cop killer, and her professional instinct was to be on guard. However, she also knew that the text in a file rarely ever told the whole story, and her personal instinct was to trust this woman. In the very least, she'd have someone on the inside watching her back, even if the woman didn't realize it.
Her gaze must have lingered too long on the floor, because Nikki said, "I can almost see the wheels turning."
Olivia looked up. "Sorry. I was just trying to figure out who I can trust in here and who I can't," she replied truthfully.
Nikki's expression hardened to stone. "Yeah, well, I'm no saint, but I'm not Dockley, either."
"No one's a saint, or we wouldn't be here."
"You've got me there."
Olivia didn't bother flipping the coin in her mind. She had already made up her mind, and would stick to it regardless of the risk. "By the way, thanks for everything; I appreciate it."
Nikki paused as if to question how Olivia came to her decision, but instead chose to let it pass. Deflecting the compliment, she said, "I haven't done anything. Besides, I saw what you did to Dockley. I wouldn't want to get on your bad side."
As she was beginning to recognize, there was often a spark in the eyes of Nikki that would completely undermine the feigned seriousness of her tone, and this was no exception. Benson returned the favour. "I meant it about that Miss America bullshit."
"Absolutely." Standing up and barely covering her grin, Nikki asked, "You up for having a look around?"
"No time like the present, I guess."
Nikki held the door open and said, "After you. Miss."
"Knock it off," Olivia threw over her shoulder as she walked out, with Nikki trailing behind with a smile.
"Let's go upstairs," Wade directed. As they ascended the steel grill steps, a few heads turned, but most went about their business. "We've got a fairly diverse population here," she explained. "A lot of women are on their first year, a bigger middle portion of women are near the end of their sentence, and there are a handful of lifers. We get old faces leaving and new ones coming in to take their place every day." When they reached the second level, Nikki gestured for Olivia to keep going. "I take it McAllister gave you the basic setup of the place?"
"So you know you're in Basic. It's for all sorts of prisoners. New ones, unruly ones, and sometimes, it's just about space. Second level is General. Pretty much the same as Basic, but more settled and an extra privilege or two. This is third level," she said as they arrived at the top. "Also known as Enhanced. All cells are singles, you get more V.Os - visiting orders - a few more quid and a nicer duvet."
"And it's okay for us to be up here?"
"Oh yeah. There's not much that's off-limits that isn't clearly marked." She pulled out a pack of cigarettes from her pocket and offered one to Olivia.
"No, thanks. I don't smoke."
Nikki's eyebrows rose. "What did you do, eat the grass?"
Olivia realized her slight misstep and quickly fabricated a response. "My lungs could never handle the cigarette smoke, if you can believe it. Too strong. Besides, those things will kill you."
"Yeah, well," Nikki drawled as she lit her smoke, "fags never got anyone prison time."
"Anyway, I suppose one vice is bad enough."
"Oh, I've got more than one," Olivia quipped, "cigarettes just aren't one of them."
They spent several minutes in silence, each leaning against the railing, looking over and down to the mass below. Olivia watched women playing pool, having a cigarette, chatting in groups or just walking around. She wondered how long it took them to get used to the life.
Nikki was wondering what the woman beside her was thinking.
"You look deep in thought."
Dragging herself out of her thoughts, Benson glanced over at Nikki. "Hmmm? Oh, I was just thinking about the different coping skills people must have here."
"Ah, now you sound like a head doctor." When Olivia didn't say anything in reply, the cigarette dangled from Wade's lips. "You're not, are you?"
Although they hadn't worked her cover story in that much detail outside the drug angle, Benson figured she had heard Huang drone on enough times to be able to fake it. The closer it was to the truth, or at least her experiences, the easier it would be to remember it.
Nikki's eyes widened. "You are! You're a head inspector."
"Christ, I suppose I should watch what I say then."
"Don't." Benson looked right into Nikki's eyes. "Don't, please. I'm not going to analyse you, I promise."
"I hope not," she replied, "I couldn't afford you." They both looked below them again. "Well the good news is, this must be like Shrink Paradise for you."
"I'm sure there are a couple of books waiting to be written."
"Though I have to say, Olivia, you're the first head doctor I've known who could kick ass."
Benson laughed. "You know a lot of head doctors?"
"Besides you, no. Got me there."
"Single woman, living in New York. I took self-defence classes," Olivia explained.
The Brit nodded. "Makes sense."
"You ever been to New York?"
"I've never been anywhere." She took another drag of her cigarette before putting it out on the bottom of her shoe. "I'd love to go to San Francisco some day. You ever been?"
"One summer when I was in college. Best two months of my life."
Nikki sighed wistfully. "I'd love to go one day."
"Maybe you will."
"Yeah, well, right now, only in my dreams."
Olivia turned around and leaned back on the railing, her elbow resting on the steel bar. "So which are you?" Seeing her questioning look, Benson clarified. "You said a lot of women are on their first year, a bigger middle portion of women are near the end of their sentence, and there are a handful of lifers. Which are you?"
"Christ, you memorize everything I say?"
"Part of the job description," Olivia replied truthfully.
"Yeah, I suppose it is." Suddenly, Nikki wished she hadn't put that cigarette out so soon. Every time she felt on the spot, she got fidgety and never knew what to do with her hands. In an attempt to cover her restlessness, she draped her arms over the railing and clasped her hands together.
"Sorry, I shouldn't have -"
"Lifer," Nikki cut her off.
Though Olivia already knew the answer, she gave it appropriate pause before asking another. "How long have you been here?"
Wade looked at the American curiously. "You didn't ask me what I'm in for."
Benson shrugged. "Does it matter?" Tilting her head in the direction of the women below, she continued, "Drugs, theft, homicide, prostitution; we all get treated the same, don't we? Prison has a way of levelling the playing field." She had Nikki's rapt attention. "I don't think how we got in here is as important as what we do while we're in here and what we're going to do when we get out."
"That's very insightful, Dr. Benson."
Olivia scowled in feigned disapproval. "You're right, you can't afford me." The humour lingered between them, and then she said, "I mean it. I've seen too many people go through the system only to come out and re-offend two months later. It's a vicious cycle." It was an admission the cop felt comfortable in making, knowing her doctor ruse could cover it.
"Yeah, well, a day in this shit hole should knock sense into anyone," Nikki replied softly. "Once I'm out of here, that's it." She glanced around the wing and grimaced. "Only another 10 years, if I'm lucky." Not looking back, she started descending the stairs. "Come on, it's almost lunch. I'll make the introductions."
"As you no doubt noticed, you're responsible for your own dishware. One cup, one plate, one bowl, et cetera bloody et cetera. You lose it or break it or try to turn one into a weapon or crack spoon, it comes out of your weekly wage. And, as mentioned, the weapon will get you thrown into the Block, as will the crack spoon. Solitary, basically." Nikki gathered her things and looked at Olivia. "Got all that?"
"Cup, plate, responsible, crack, block, bloody et cetera."
Nikki came to a full stop in the doorway. "Are you taking the piss?" she asked incredulously.
The corner of Olivia's mouth twitched in amusement. "If it's what I think it is, yes."
"Bloody cheek! Not here four hours and already taking the piss. Come on then, Dr. Benson."
As they stood in line, Olivia got a chance to get a closer look at the women sharing the prison with her. They seemed to be comprised of all ages, some looking as young as eighteen, others approaching and passing middle age. Her initial instinct was to try and figure which ones were in for what crime, but out of context - out of the familiarity of her own comfort zone as a cop - it was harder than it looked.
"I hope you have enough paper and pens for all the books you're going to write in here," Nikki leaned in and whispered slyly.
Olivia gave her a sideways look and shook her head. "I wasn't analysing anyone," she whispered in return.
"Of course you weren't."
"Next!" came the call from the serving counter.
Olivia stepped up and came face to face with Shell Dockley, who startled upon seeing Benson.
"Careful she doesn't spit in your food," Nikki warned.
The blonde sneered. "Shut it, Wade."
"That won't be necessary," Olivia stated coldly. Dockley saw the look and decided to take her own advice. Benson looked down at the selection of food, which comprised of two choices that both looked to be about the same mash of ingredients. Pointing at the first option, Olivia said, "I'll have some of that."
Dockley all but slammed it onto the plate and turned to Nikki. "What do you want?"
Benson coughed and got Shell's attention. "I think I'll have a bit more."
Shell made a condescending face and replied, "Well, you only get what you're allowed, and that's all you're allowed."
Benson leaned forward ever so slightly and repeated, "I think I'll have a bit more." It only took Dockley a fraction of a second to make up her mind. With a slight tremble in her hand, she scooped up a spoonful of the mash and put it on Olivia's plate.
Wade could barely suppress her laugh. She pointed at the same concoction Olivia chose. "I'll have that." The slop hit her plate with a loud thud and she moved on, but not before scrunching up her nose and asking, "What's that awful smell? It smells like someone shit themselves."
Dockley's reply of "Bitch" was loud enough for the line to hear, but the two women didn't bother to turn around and instead walked over to a table on the far side of the room. Nikki slid into a seat and Olivia followed suit.
"Who's your new friend?" one of the women already at the table asked.
"This is Olivia. She's from America." Nikki imparted the last bit of information with an exaggerated tone of awe.
"Ooooh!" the women replied in kind.
Putting a hand on Olivia's shoulder and putting her at ease, Nikki said, "Yvonne Atkins, this is Olivia Benson. And the lovely woman across from you is Barbara Hunt, as of today, my ex-cellmate."
"Nice to meet you," Benson said.
"Yeah," Yvonne snorted, "it's a regular Sunday social club."
"Well, it is nice to meet you, Olivia," Barbara said.
Two women who appeared to be attached at the hip approached the table.
"Nikki, who's your new friend?" the shorter one asked.
"This is Olivia."
"Well, hello Olivia "
" nice to meet you," the other finished.
"Olivia," Nikki informed, "the tall one there would be Julie Johnston. And the other one's Julie Saunders. To keep things simple, we just call them "
"The two Julies," they said in unison.
"Don't worry, you'll get used to that," Nikki replied.
Yvonne scoffed. "Christ, I haven't."
"So, Olivia," Julie S ventured, "me an' Jules usually try and figure out what the new girls are in for, you know, for a bit of a laugh. We've gotten pretty good over the last few years, haven't we, Jules?"
"So Jules decided, after overhearing your conversation there with Shell Dockley, completely by accident, mind, that it's some kind of assault? You look like you can take care of yourself "
" and maybe someone tried to pull one on you?" Julie J chimed in.
"Now me, knowing the business as I do "
" as you do "
"I was thinking more along the lines of prostitution."
Olivia's eyes doubled in size.
Julie S held out her hands. "Now don't take that the wrong way, Liv," she apologized. "Alls I'm sayin' is, you've got a body that I can imagine would be of some use to you, if you get my meaning."
"I think we all do, Jules, thank you," Nikki said.
The two Julies brushed aside her reply and looked at Olivia.
"So if it isn't too much to ask "
" what are you in for?"
Benson took note of the reactions around the table. Barbara very politely continued to eat her meal, though Olivia could tell she was paying acute attention. Yvonne was leaning in, her curiosity obvious and overt. Nikki, already knowing the answer also continued eating, only half-listening to Olivia's response.
"You really want to know?" All interested parties nodded their heads. "Well, it started because I came home early from work one day and found my husband in bed with the mailman."
Nikki coughed so hard that Yvonne looked over in concern. "Oi. You okay there?"
Hitting her chest to clear the airway, Nikki nodded and took a drink. "I'm fine."
"Anyway," Benson continued, "as I stood in the doorway of the bedroom with the meat cleaver in my hand, I played the 'Either/Or' game." She saw the puzzlement on the faces of her audience, so she clarified, "The 'Either/Or' game. Either him or him. Either the man I've been married to for five years who is banging the mailman, or the mailman who leaves my packages out on the doorstep in the rain."
"How did you decide?" Julie J asked breathlessly.
Olivia shrugged. "I didn't. The mailman decided for me. He called out 'Oh, God!' and my asshole of a husband said, 'Yeah, yeah, yeah!' The mailman said, 'No, no, no! I mean, oh God, your wife!' By the time I lunged at them, the mailman was out the bedroom window. Lucky for him, it wasn't a two-storey house."
Nikki pressed her lips together to hold in the laugh, but Yvonne had no such qualms. With a full laugh, she swore, "Bastard!"
Julie S bit her finger. "What happened to your husband?"
"We got into a huge knock-down-drag-out fight," she sighed. "I substituted the sharp cutting pleasure of the cleaver with the satisfaction of hitting him with my fists."
"I told you she could take care of herself," Julie J said to her friend.
"Next thing I know, he's on the floor, bleeding from the head. Cracked his temple on the corner of the dresser he bought me for an anniversary gift. So here I am. Manslaughter. The end."
"Christ," the two Julies whispered in tandem.
"Bastard had it coming to him," Yvonne pronounced. "And you're only in here because bloody men stick up for their own kind. No woman judge would give that kind of sentence. Bastards."
Before she could respond, out of the corner of her eye, Olivia saw a small brunette inching her way towards the table. Yvonne was the first to say something.
"What are you doing skulking around, Denny? Speak up."
Denny stepped forward and fidgeted for a few seconds before glancing down at Olivia and managing, "I was wondering if I could talk to you."
"I mean, somewhere private."
Olivia looked around the table, then back at Denny. "You can say whatever you want to me here, don't worry."
Twisting a strand of hair around her finger, she shifted from one foot to the other, unsure of the situation.
"Oh, for God's sake, spit it out, Denny," Yvonne ordered.
"I was just I mean, about earlier. We're okay you and me, yeah?"
Olivia nodded her understanding. "Denny, what's passed is past. I don't hold grudges. But you need to take stock of your life and your friends and figure out what's best for you. I wasn't lying back there; you look like a good kid, Denny. Get your shit together."
Denny gave a shy smile. "You're all right, Olivia. Thanks."
When the young girl left, Nikki tapped her forehead and whispered conspiratorially, "She's a head inspector."
"Really?" Barbara asked.
Yvonne frowned. "What? You mean a shrink?"
"One and the same."
"You going to get us all to confess about pissing our beds when we was kids?"
Benson laughed. "There are some things I don't need to know about the women I'm stuck in prison with."
A ripple of laughter went around the table.
"Listen, Liv, it was good to meet you, but "
" we've got to get back to work or "
"Bodybag will have our tits!"
As the two Julies walked away, Olivia admitted, "I'm getting used to only understanding half of what anyone says around here."
After another round of laughter faded away, Yvonne tilted her head and asked, "What was all that about with Denny?"
Nikki jerked her thumb in Olivia's direction. "She doesn't like to be called 'Miss America'."
Benson gave her a gentle kick under the table. "I had a run-in with her and Shell Dockley earlier today in my cell. After this little accident," she pointed to the cut on her cheek, "we all came to the agreement that Shell would do her thing and I would do mine."
"Yeah," Wade crowed, "the agreement being, she'd kick Dockley's arse if she tried her shit on Olivia again."
"Really?" Barbara said in amazement.
"You need to get some more words in your vocabulary, Barbara, honestly," Nikki quipped.
"Well, good for you," Yvonne praised. "I think you and I will get along just fine. Besides," she slyly glanced at Nikki, "any friend of Nikki's is a friend of mine."
"Ow!" Barbara exclaimed as she felt a foot sharply connect with her shin.
"Sorry, Babs," Nikki apologized.
Yvonne grinned knowingly and stood up. "Nature calls, my ladies. I'm sure I'll see you all later."
They finished lunch and Barbara went off to do some writing, leaving the two new cellmates alone. Nikki suggested they clean up and, as they washed up in the small cell, she asked, "Why did you tell the two Julies you were in for manslaughter?"
Benson shrugged. "I don't know. It looked to me like they could use a good story to add a bit of flavour to their day. Seemed more interesting than telling them I got busted for possession of weed." Nikki conceded the point with a nod. "So how do you pass the days in here?"
Nikki dried her plate and gave the question some thought. "Well, there's karaoke on Fridays." She pretended not to see Olivia's 'we are not amused' expression. "No? Maybe the library's more your thing. There's a small one here; not much of a selection, but it helps me get through the boredom sometimes. You've seen the pool table. Some of the girls play for phone cards or fags, but don't let the screws catch you doing it. There are university courses you can take, though you've obviously been down that road. And rumour has it, there's a gym around here."
"Not the physically active type?"
Wade pursed her lips in amusement. "Not the gym type." The quip got her an eye roll. "I spend a lot of time in the potting shed." She realized the suggestiveness of the words as soon as they were out of her mouth. "Potting, I mean. Plants and flowers and the like. Not really your thing though, is it?"
"Never had much time," Olivia confessed. "The closest to green I got was a walk through Central Park."
"Well, you can always join me if you want. I mean, obviously, you don't have to follow me around every minute of the day; I just thought on your first day, you might want to get the ins and outs of the place."
Olivia smiled. She was glad the cop in her was on the alert even when she wasn't, because Wade made it almost easy to forget where she was and why. "And here I was worried I was being a pain in the ass by tagging along everywhere you went."
"No, no," Nikki assured her, "not at all. I reserve the right to change my mind if I find you behind me in the loo, but right now, you're all right, Liv." She noticed the reaction the moniker got. "It is okay to call you that isn't it? Julie S used it earlier, so I thought-"
"It's okay," Benson said gently. "It's just something only friends call me, so it's a bit jarring to hear it in here." Before the lifer could get the wrong impression, Olivia added, "I consider you a friend, Nikki." She was pleased to see the blush of thanks stain the other woman's cheeks. "And who couldn't like the two Julies?"
"Okay, but just so you know, no one calls me 'Nicola'."
Olivia's face was a mask of innocence. "Oh, really?"
"Shit," Nikki groaned, "I'm going to be sorry I mentioned it, aren't I?"
"This is a spade, this is a pot, and this is dirt."
Olivia crossed her arms and bit her lip. "Damn, I should have brought a pad of paper to take notes!"
"Very funny," Nikki replied. "I'm just starting with the basics since I don't know how knowledgeable you are."
"Sorry, Ms. Wade. Teach me more."
"Cheek. Here, fill these pots up about halfway. We'll put some flowers in, then fill it up the rest of the way."
A good half hour passed with neither woman speaking. Instead, they worked side by side in tandem, doing their task in an easy-going silence. They worked closely together, and, every so often, their hands or arms or bodies would brush against the other, though neither of them took notice. Olivia found an unusual comfort in standing beside the tall woman. It surprised her, all things considered. Warming up to someone who killed a cop wasn't something she thought she'd ever do. The wall of blue was a strong one, and yet she couldn't quite pinpoint why, but she knew she was a fair judge of character, and, that in the short time she got to know Nikki, she could trust this woman. That was a welcome feeling on any given day, but considering the circumstances and situation, it was invaluable.
Olivia was the first to break the silence. "I can see why you enjoy this."
"Why's that, then?"
"It's very comforting," Benson remarked. "The solitude and the sense of creating something. These are beautiful," she said as she lifted one of the small potted flowers. "I bet beauty's a commodity you don't get much around here."
Nikki's eyes flicked over Olivia from head to toe and back. "Oh, I don't know about that."
Benson couldn't help but laugh at the overt come-on. "If these walls could talk, I bet it would be a much more interesting book than the one I have in mind."
"I don't know what you mean," she replied innocently, though her wily grin betrayed her.
"Yeah, I bet you don't."
Nikki glanced down at her watch. "Shit, I'm going to be late. I've got a class to get to. Are you going to be okay on your own?"
"Of course," Benson told her. "You don't have to baby-sit me 24/7. I can take care of myself."
"As I've seen."
"Get going. I'll straighten up things here."
"Okay, thanks. I'll see you later, yeah?"
"Unless I figure out a way to teleport out of here, yeah."
"Don't give the walls anything more to talk about while I'm gone."
With Nikki gone, Olivia cleaned up, then leaned back to look at her handiwork. The flowers really were beautiful. She'd have to make it a point of joining Nikki out here on a regular basis. Looking around the shed, she laughed out loud at her thoughts. 'Business, Benson, business. Jesus.' She reached into her back pockets and pulled out a plastic card. She decided it was time to try and find a phone.
"Elliot, it's me."
"Hey, how's life in the big house?" her partner asked over the phone line.
"Well, it's not Riker's, but I wouldn't recommend it to anyone. Made contact with Michelle Dockley."
"That was fast."
"Yeah, well, she found me."
"That doesn't sound good." When he got nothing in return but a grunt, he got right to the point. "What've you got?"
Benson looked around to make sure she couldn't be overheard. "Not much, but it's a start. I'm going to let it sit for a couple of days before I make my next move."
"The captain only signed you off for four weeks."
She nodded even though he couldn't see it. "I know, but I don't want to force it."
"Makes sense," he agreed. "How're you doing?"
She smiled. Even across the ocean, he was watching her back. It was one of the things she valued the most about him. "I'm okay. Met a few of the women who are friendly enough."
"Get propositioned yet?"
"Elliot!" she exclaimed.
"What?" he laughed. "You're hot. You're in a women's prison where there must be a handful of other hot women. Two plus two is-"
"-your fantasy life gone out of control," she finished. His laughter was infectious, and she couldn't help but join in. "Besides, I've only been here half a day."
"You're losing your touch, Liv."
The laughter faded and he asked, "You're okay though, right?"
"I'm fine, Elliot," she reassured him. "Really. Not my idea of a vacation hotspot, but I'm figuring things out."
"What's your cellmate like?"
Olivia knew her answer would raise his eyebrows. They had both looked over the files of more than a dozen of the prisoners before Benson's arrival. Wade was one of them.
"She's good. She's really been helpful."
"It's Nikki Wade."
She waited for the other shoe to drop and at long last, Stabler said, "The cop killer?"
"Sorry," he cut in. "You're right, I read the file, too. It's just hard not to stand up for one of our own, even if the cop was an asshole. How are you two getting along?" Her soft chuckle rolled down the line and he said, "I see. And here I thought you were losing your touch."
"I've got to go; there's someone waiting to use the phone."
He laughed again. "I bet there is. Call me tomorrow."
"I won't be doing anything about Dockley for another couple of days."
"Doesn't matter," he told her. "I just want to make sure you're all right." Just as she was beginning to appreciate his concern, he added, "Besides, my fantasy life could use some fresh material."
"There must be something wrong with the connection," she growled, "because I couldn't have heard that right. Ass." She hung up with the sound of his laughter still ringing in her ears.
She looked around and wondered what to do next. In prison, she knew you had nothing but time, but she was just beginning to realize what it was like to have it drag. Back in New York, whether on the job or a day off, there always seemed to be something to do, from chasing perps to running errands across town. There was never a moment without sound, but, she imagined the nights here would be so quiet, she'd be able to hear the time tick away. Glancing at her watch, she realized she only had another six hours before she found out first hand.
She could find this alleged gym Nikki spoke of, she thought, but decided to leave it as something to look forward to tomorrow. And after thinking about the silence she had to look forward to later on, she wasn't quite up to checking out the library just yet, either. A cheer went up from a girl over at the pool table, which drew Benson's attention. With a wry smile, she made her way over.
"Hiya," a young girl with short spiky blonde hair greeted. "I'm Shaz."
"Hey," Benson answered in return. "Olivia."
"Nice to meet ya, Olivia." She gestured to the table with a tilt of her head. "I can't find anyone who wants to play, on account I win too much. You look like you might be a bit of a challenge. Wanna play?"
Even if she had never played in her life, she couldn't have avoided being lured in by the easy-going nature of the girl. "Sure."
Shaz caught her looking around and told her, "We have to share the stick. Screws are worried we're going to bash each other over the head or something."
"So only one person getting bashed over the head is considered better than two?"
The blonde grinned and shrugged. "I 'spose so. You wanna rack them?"
"Rules are like this," Shaz detailed. "Straight 8-ball. One fag for the win, and a fag if you scratch on the 8 ball. Easy, yeah?"
"Yeah." Benson bent down at the far end of the table and gathered the balls. Once they were all on the slate surface, she formed a triangle with her arms and the bank of the table, and in one fluid motion, rolled the balls to the spot. Placing her hands firmly on two of the corners, she made a perfect triangle of balls.
Denny watched the technique from her spot at a nearby table and hooted. "You've reeled in a shark, Shaz! Don't smoke those fags just yet!"
Olivia lifted her eyes from the table and glanced at the young girl who was leaning on the cue stick and gaping. With a wink, Benson said, "Break."
An hour later, 7 wins and two scratches born of frustration from Shaz, Olivia placed the stick on the table and held out her hand. "Pay up, kiddo."
"Where did ya learn to play like that?" Shaz asked grudgingly as she counted out the cigarettes.
"I got to know a guy back home by the name of Lenny." Remembering Briscoe, a wistful smile crossed her face.
"Yeah, well you think you could teach me?"
Olivia laughed. "I'm sure I could find the time." She closed her hands around the cigarettes without a glance. This got her a wide-eyed look from Shaz.
"You're not gonna count them?"
"Why? Can't you count?"
"Sure I can."
"You going to cheat me?"
"Then I don't need to count them, do I?"
Denny smiled. "I told you she was all right, Shaz. What'd I say?"
"She did say that," the blonde said.
"Be here same time tomorrow, Shaz. You've got talent, but you need work on your style." She dropped four cigarettes on Denny's table. "I don't even smoke," she revealed, before walking away.
Nikki entered the cell to see Olivia sitting in the corner, her legs bent up in a lotus position, and her hands loosely on her thighs. A quip tickled the end of her tongue, but Nikki thought better of it. Quietly stepping, she got halfway across the room before Benson spoke.
"Sorry," Nikki said. "Didn't want to disturb you."
"You weren't. I wasn't really meditating."
Wade took in the scene again, her eyes slightly narrowing as if scrutinizing the situation more closely. "So you're just sitting like that because the chair's too hard?"
Olivia slowly unfolded her long limbs and stood up. "Oh," she grimaced and stretched. "I never had the chance to meditate in New York. Some of my patients swear by it, so I thought I'd try it." In truth, it was Alex Cabot who praised the benefits to high heaven.
"Considering you're not treating them for a sore tooth, I'd question taking the advice of your patients, but that's just me."
"You might have a point there."
Motioning over to the corner, Nikki asked, "So, did you find that was working?"
"The meditating? Not a bit. You know, I always had so much going on on the outside that I never had time to think. And now that I'm here, I'm finding I don't have much to think about."
"Really?" They both sat at the small table. "I found it quite the opposite." Off Olivia's questioning gaze, Nikki clarified, "Out there, I did a lot of living day to day; didn't think too much about my past or my future, quite frankly. Now, it's all I do. Things I would have done differently. Things I want to do. Things I may never get to do." There was a short moment of quiet, then Nikki said, "I'd try that meditation thing if I thought I could origami my legs like that."
Not for the first time that day, Benson admired the woman sitting across the table. Figuring a change of subject was in order, Olivia looked at the spiral notebook Nikki had brought into the cell. "What course are you taking?"
"English. Through the Open University."
"Ah," Benson replied as she pointed around the cell, "that explains the books. Bit of a bookworm?"
Nikki shrugged. "Well I figure I'll never write one, so I might as well read them."
Olivia raised an eyebrow as a thought occurred to her. "I thought you weren't allowed books. I'm sure these aren't all from the library."
Caught, the lifer sheepishly remarked, "Yeah, well, if the screws wrote us up for every infraction, they'd be doing paperwork all day. And God forbid they do any real work around here. Speaking of which, what have you been doing all day?"
"Oh, right," Benson remembered. Walking over to her bunk, she lifted up her pillow and grabbed the small items that were hidden. She tossed five cigarettes on the table. "I've been out earning what would constitute as a living around here, I guess." Now it was Nikki's turn to look puzzled. "I played some pool today," Olivia explained. "Won those. You might as well have them. Consider it a down payment for putting up with me."
Nikki's expression changed from puzzled to amazed. "You won these playing pool?"
"Well, those and the four others I gave away to Denny."
"These are like gold round here, you know that, don't you?" When Olivia brushed the comment aside, Wade asked, "Is there anything you're not good at?"
"Skiing. I can't ski worth shit."
Shaking her head, Nikki promised, "Well then, I'll be sure to keep you away from the Larkhall Alps."
Hollamby chose that moment to announce her presence at the door with an exaggerated cough. "They're serving tea. You'd best get down there while the food's still hot. Come on, get going!"
"You're all charm, Sylvia, really," Nikki complimented facetiously.
The guard sniffed. "That's Miss Hollamby to you, thank you!"
"Let's go, Liv," Nikki said. "We wouldn't want to miss the Chef's Surprise."
Even with Olivia, Nikki, Barbara and Yvonne sitting and contemplating at the same table they shared at lunch, no one could figure out what the surprise was, as they pushed the indefinable food source around their plates.
"The first thing I'm doing when I get out of this shit hole is having an enormous plate of chips and a bottle of champagne, I swear to Christ," Yvonne muttered, lifting her fork, inspecting the sample, then dropping it back on her plate.
Nikki leaned back and closed her eyes. "I'd kill for a good curry." Realizing the implication of her words, she opened her eyes and held up her hands. "Figuratively speaking, of course." The women around the table chuckled. Turning her attention to Barbara, she asked, "How 'bout you, Babs? Anything special on the menu once you get out?"
The older woman looked up and offered a small but genuine smile. "I always used to make shepherd's pie for Peter. It was his favourite. I'd like to have that again. And a nice cup of hot tea."
"Yeah," Yvonne agreed, "not like this shit they try and pass off in here. And how 'bout you, Liv? Think you'll miss anything?"
Olivia shook her head. "If all goes well, I won't be in here long enough to miss anything." She looked down at her plate and couldn't disguise her disgust. "But I'll tell ya, I wouldn't turn down a New York hotdog right now.
"How has your first day been, Olivia?" Barbara asked.
The cop leaned back in a pose that mirrored Nikki's and shrugged. "Sobering, shitty, frightening and like I had a glass of cold water thrown in my face," she admitted. The group nodded as one, only all too familiar with the feeling. "But I guess not as bad as it could have been."
"Yeah, you got a good cellmate there," Yvonne said mischievously and tilted her chin in Nikki's direction.
"And not to take advantage of someone else's misfortune, but I've got a cell all to myself," Barbara beamed.
Nikki wagged her finger between the two women. "And these were all I could come up with for best mates," she told Olivia.
Yvonne's eyebrows went up and she smiled broadly. "Cheek!"
The banging and shouts echoed throughout the stone and metal prison, signalling lock-up for the night. Accustomed to the routine, Nikki blithely stripped down and tossed a thin strapped nightgown over her head, then walked over to the sink to brush her teeth. She didn't once look over at Olivia, in hopes the American would simply see it as a routine and not over-think her first night in Larkhall. It must have worked to some degree, because it only took a few minutes before Benson turned her back slightly and stripped down to her panties, before covering up again with a T-shirt and cotton shorts. It was only when she tore her eyes away from the lithe body of her new cellmate that Nikki realized toothpaste had dropped from her open mouth to the front of her nightgown.
"Shit," she muttered.
Olivia turned. "What?"
"Nothing," Nikki smiled. She wiped away the paste and rinsed her mouth. Stepping back, she motioned to the sink. "All yours," she stated, mentally chastising herself for the clumsy segue.
If Benson found it clumsy, she didn't say, as she made her way to the sink. Wade fiddled with some of the items on the small dresser before turning back to the newcomer. Figuring it was best to face the awkwardness head on rather than ignoring it, Nikki tried a different tack.
"The first night's always the hardest," she said.
Olivia didn't turn her head as she brushed her teeth, but nodded in reply.
"Sometimes it's it's the noise that gets to you," Nikki continued, frowning. "There's never a real silence in this place. Some people find that unsettling."
Wiping her mouth, Olivia faced her cellmate and, in an attempt to defuse the hollowness that had developed in her stomach, she showed a wan smile and replied, "I think I'm more worried about falling off the top bunk."
Nikki recognized the remark for what it was, and returned the smile with more sincerity. "Ah, it's only a five foot drop to a concrete floor. I've heard you New Yorkers are a tough lot."
Olivia couldn't help but chuckle. "I notice you didn't offer to take the top bunk."
"Not bloody likely!" she feigned her offence. Slyly, she added, "But you can share the bottom with me if you like." When she saw Olivia's wide eyes and open mouth, the lifer backtracked. "Sorry, just a joke. I was out of line."
"No, no, it's okay," Benson said, her voice returning to her at last. "You're just not what I expected."
"You mean lesbian?"
"No," she repeated with a smile, "English. I thought you were all polite and stiff-upper lip and all that. I'm going to have to re-think my entire perception of British people."
Nikki laughed, before becoming serious again. "Yeah, well, this place will make you re-think your perception of a lot of things. Look, I'm sure today was a hell of a shock to the system for you, but you made it through your first day and you didn't let it break you. I can't tell you how many don't have it in them to get past that first day. But you did it, and you've got to take your victories where you can get them in here. So, for what it's worth, congratulations. Now, if you don't mind," she smirked, "I was teacher, tour guide and translator all in one today and I'm beat." She crawled into the small bunk and pulled the thin blanket up to her shoulders. "If you fall, can you try and keep the noise down to a minimum?"
Now it was Olivia's turn to laugh. "You're all heart." Finding a foothold on the metal bed frame, she hoisted herself up to the top bunk, making sure she kept low enough to not hit her head on the ceiling. "God, I haven't been on the top bunk since I spent the summer with my cousins in Michigan when I was nine." She heard the snort of amusement from Nikki. Thinking about the inmate below, Olivia had to agree with Wade; the day turned out as well as she could have expected. And she was right - it was a shock to the system. What Olivia hadn't mentioned was the fact she hadn't factored in being celled up with a cop killer. She still struggled with that wrinkle, despite establishing what could be considered a trust with the woman. She wasn't the type to trust simply on faith, yet Wade had somehow managed to draw that out of her without even trying. There might come a time when Benson would take the time to examine that situation more closely, but for now, she was glad to have that one positive mark on the score sheet. And she had established contact with Michelle Dockley, albeit not how she imagined, either. Two relatively good things in a day most people would consider the worst of their lives. With any luck, the next few days would be just as smooth.
She tasted the warm metallic tinge of blood in her mouth and the cold concrete floor against her forehead, as she curled up in the fetal position and tried to protect herself from the kick she knew was coming. Sure enough, a large boot found its way between her arms and her knees, connecting soundly with her ribs.
"Now listen closely," whispered the menacing voice of Jim Fenner, low, into her ear. "A little birdie told me you've been trying to run a little show behind my back. Now, you're new and I've taken that into consideration. So consider this a generous warning - nothing goes on in here without going through me first. Whatever business you think you're running is my business. Is that perfectly clear, my American beauty?"
Olivia could only nod her head weakly and breathe out an affirmative answer between clenched teeth.
"Good. Now clean yourself up and we'll start fresh tomorrow, yeah?" He didn't even bother to wait for her answer.
As she lay there on the hard floor, the beat of her heart magnifying every bruise on her body, she wondered why she hadn't seen this coming.
On the third day of her time in Larkhall, Benson had approached Shell Dockley on the way to the communal bathrooms. Shoving her into one of the stalls, she sat the blonde down and got down to business.
"I thought we'd have a little talk."
Dockley looked nervous. "What about?"
"I need some stuff."
"What kind of -"
Benson grabbed her by the throat before the sentence was finished. "Don't play stupid, though I bet you play it well. I need some smack. An ounce to start."
"Smack. Heroin. An ounce."
"You're mad," Shell scoffed. "That's almost 400 quid worth of drugs! I can't get that into a bleedin' prison!"
"I'm not asking you to. I'm asking you to get it for me. I've got someone on the outside who will take care of the rest."
Olivia sighed. "God fucking help me." Looking the blonde right in the eye, she spoke slower. "I've got someone on the outside who will take care of the rest. I get a small sample, but the rest goes to him. I'm not interested in starting a drug trade in a fucking prison. I've got bigger things going on than that little brain of yours can comprehend. So, you contact your friend on the outside and you get him to agree to sell my friend some good stuff. They meet somewhere on the outside; I don't care where. And I get a small sample to keep you honest. It wouldn't look good if I was getting shit for a friend, would it?"
Shell shook her head as much as she could with Olivia's grip around her throat.
"Good." She reached into her back pocket and put a phone card into Dockley's hand. "You phone your dealer and when he's got the stuff, I give you a contact number for my friend. You pass it along. They meet and I get my shit. I don't care how you get it in, but I want it all set up by tomorrow before lock-up."
The grip was squeezed tighter. "Tomorrow. You're a resourceful and persuasive girl. I have faith in you." Releasing the choke hold, Benson stepped back and said, "I'll leave you to think about it. You look like you could use the can."
She was halfway up the metal stairs when she heard a voice call out from behind her. Turning, she saw Yvonne's long strides catch up.
"Oi! Liv, you got a minute?"
When she made a motion to come down, Atkins ascended and shook her head. "Let's go upstairs, shall we? Too many bloody big ears around here."
Intrigued, Benson agreed and walked up to the Enhanced level. When it looked as if they were relatively alone, the cop asked, "What's this about?"
Yvonne's face turned hard and hawkish. "What are you playing at?"
"I don't under-"
"Shell Dockley," she hissed as she stepped into Benson's space. "I was in the bleedin' stall next door while you were setting up a deal with that bitch."
'Shit,' Benson thought. She hadn't checked the bathroom before pulling Dockley in. Out loud, she said, "It's not what you think."
Atkins would have none of it. "Look, I don't give a shit what it is. What I care about is Nikki Wade." Seeing Benson's brow raise, she snorted, "Not like that, Christ. But she's my best mate in this shit hole and that's saying something. You've got her respect and that's good enough for me, right? But if you mess that up or do anything to disappoint her, I won't take kindly to it. Am I making myself clear?"
She had been bullied, intimidated and threatened before - it was par for the course in her job as a cop - but there was something so deadly calm in Atkins manner that Benson knew this was no empty promise.
"Good." And just like that, Yvonne's face softened and they were friends again. "She likes you, Liv. Don't let her down."
The familiar face of Nikki came into view as the brunette climbed the stairs.
"Well, speak of the devil," Yvonne smiled as Nikki approached. "Were your ears burning?"
Nikki smiled in turn, then noticed the close proximity of the mob wife and Olivia. "You putting the moves on my cellmate, Yvonne?"
"Eh?" she replied, then realized where she was standing. Jumping back like a scalded cat, Atkins retorted, "Not bloody likely!"
"That's good to hear," Wade replied, her mouth twitching in amusement, "I would have been incredibly offended, after all the passes I've made in your direction."
"Sweetheart, if the only man left on the planet was Jim bastard Fenner and all the batteries had been used up, you know you'd be the first person I'd call."
"Gee, thanks Yvonne. I think."
When the laughter of the three women died down, Yvonne said, "I've got work to do; haven't met my daily quota of taking the piss out of Bodybag yet. I'll see you two ladies at tea."
As the older woman walked away and started down the steps, Nikki looked at Olivia. "So what was all that really about?"
Olivia tried to shrug it off. "Nothing." Seeing Nikki's steadfast gaze, she relented, though leaving out the most damning details. "I ran into Dockley in the bathroom." Nikki's eyes widened and Benson put her hand on Wade's arm to nip the lifer's worry in the bud. "It's okay. Nothing happened that I couldn't handle. We had a little talk and I reinforced what the ground rules were between us, just to make myself clear. Nothing happened," she repeated.
Nikki nodded. "What did Yvonne have to do with it?"
"She was in one of the stalls when things went down. She just wanted to make sure I was okay and advised me to just stay away from Dockley."
"It's good advice," the con agreed.
"So, what are you doing up here? I thought you had a class today."
"You my personal secretary, then?" She saw Olivia's innocent look and laughed. "I did have class today; you've just lost track of time. Some secretary you'd make." Lazily dangling her hands over the rail, Nikki looked down to the levels below. "Now I'm here to survey my fiefdom, of course."
Olivia copied the relaxed pose and leaned forward. "I heard you were top dog around here."
"Oh, yeah," Nikki replied, "just call me Donna Corleone." She shook her head in amusement and reached for her pack of smokes. "Be serious, would you?"
"I am," Benson said. "Get Nikki Wade's respect and you get the respect of the wing. This might only be my third day, but I know which side my bread's buttered on."
Lighting a cigarette, she blew the smoke away from Olivia before responding. "You've been talking to Yvonne too much. I forbid it from now on." The two women laughed, then Nikki said, "Besides, you might want to talk to Shell Dockley about this whole respect thing."
Olivia shrugged. "I suspect she doesn't have much respect for herself, so she'll never have respect for anyone else. And she's not the wing, is she?" She didn't miss the eye roll she got from Nikki. "Trust me. When I walk through the wing, I know the women respect me. I've only been here three days. It's because of you."
As was her nature, Nikki brushed away the compliment. "Yeah, well, I'm sure it has nothing to do with your fan club telling everyone you put it to Dockley."
"My fan club?"
Nikki turned to her and smiled. In unison, they said, "The two Julies."
"They're sweet. But maybe I should tell them the truth about why I'm in here."
"Let them have their fun," Nikki said, stubbing out her cigarette. "God knows there isn't much of it in this place."
The intercom crackled to life and dinner was announced. Olivia was the first to move. She got to the top of the stairs and noticed Nikki hadn't moved and was instead still watching the world below her. There was a sadness in her face that Olivia hadn't seen, and it made her feel equally sad. Thinking it best to not draw attention to the moment, she tried a lighter tact.
"Hey," she called out. Nikki raised her head and offered a wan smile. "Come on, Aretha."
Wade's brow furrowed and she tilted her head, though she followed Olivia's order. "Aretha?"
"You know any other women calling you from prison?"
The detective laughed. "Sorry, Larkhall Prison doesn't seem to come up on my call display. How are ya?"
"Good, except for the stuff they're passing off as food. It's worse than the damn hospital."
"I'll treat you to a hotdog and pretzel when you get back. Anything happening otherwise?"
Olivia looked around and lowered her voice, despite no one being within earshot. "Set up something this morning. Just waiting to hear back. Gave her until tomorrow to make arrangements."
Stabler sat forward in his chair. "Good work, Liv. Have you contacted DCI Williams?"
"No," she answered, "can you call him for me? I only have so much time on these phone cards. Besides, I'm still working on figuring out more than half of what people are saying in this country."
"Cor blimey!" Elliot quipped. "I know what you mean. Speaking of, how is your resident translator lately?"
"Very funny. She's fine. I'll tell her you asked. Listen, I gotta go. I just wanted to give you an update. Tell Williams I'll call him when I've got a drop-off set up."
"Will do, Liv. You're sure you're okay, though?"
"God," Benson groaned, "are you my partner or my brother?"
"Hey, I can be both. You're family. The kids would have my ass if anything happened to you."
She smiled. "Thanks, El. I'll call soon."
"Take it easy. 'Bye."
She had her head down as she approached her living arrangements for the next three weeks, and almost ran into another, smaller woman who was also going in that direction.
"Sorry," Benson apologized.
"No need," the shorter woman said. "You going to Nikki's cell?"
Eyeing Olivia from head to toe and back again, the woman offered a small smile. "You're the American," she stated in an accent Olivia couldn't quite place.
"Yeah. Olivia Benson."
"Right, you're here for possession." She must have seen the puzzled look on Benson's face, because she laughed softly and gave an apology of her own. "Sorry, we've never met. I'm Helen Stewart. I'm the governing Governor." Benson's look changed from puzzled to one of amusement. "Yes, it's quite redundant." Stewart's eyes narrowed as she retrieved a piece of information from her memory banks. "Your solicitor is working on an appeal, isn't he?" When the taller woman nodded, Helen did as well. "Good. Keep at it. And if you need to meet with your solicitor, ask one of the guards to inform Ms. Betts or myself and we'll see that it gets done."
Benson smiled. She didn't know this woman from Adam, but she had a straight ahead quality about her that was infectious. "Yes, Miss," she couldn't help but reply.
"Good. After you?" Stewart tilted her head in the direction of the cell door.
"Hey, Nik," Benson said as she walked into the room.
Not even bothering to make the effort of peering over the top of her book, Wade groaned, "Must you call me that?"
Benson laughed. "I only do it because I know it bugs you."
"You're a right pain in my ass, you are."
"Which is the perfect place for me to come in," Helen quipped.
"Helen!" Nikki blurted and sat up straight, hitting her head on the bar of the bunk. "Shit!"
"Good to see you, too, Nikki."
The simple exchange between the two women made Olivia's ears perk up in interest. She didn't miss the fact that Nikki had called the woman by her first name. And now, having the chance to look at Stewart unaware, her natural cop instinct kicked in. About five foot four inches, 130 pounds, light brown near-shoulder length hair, and hazel green eyes. The woman couldn't have been more diametrically opposite to Nikki if she tried. On the surface, anyway. But that brief glimpse of her take-charge attitude she saw outside the cell was right in line with what she knew about Nikki's character. And if the looks they were giving each other were any indication, they had a lot more in common than Olivia would have suspected.
Thinking that three was a crowd, Benson casually grabbed Nikki's pack of cigarettes and said, "I'm just going to go out for a fag?" She saw Nikki smile at her use of the British slang. "I'll be back later."
Nikki's smile fell quickly and she said, "No, stay."
Benson furrowed her brow. That wasn't what she had expected Nikki to say. But hearing the firmness in her voice and seeing the almost pleading look in her eyes, Benson silently agreed.
Helen glanced at Olivia, then back to Nikki. "It's about your appeal," she offered, her tone indicating it was confidential.
Nikki ignored Helen's silent request that they be given time alone and instead replied, "Whatever you have to say can be said in front of Liv. I trust her."
If Nikki's use of what Helen guessed to be a personal moniker stung her, the flinch was a brief and fleeting one. "Right," she began, "Claire has come back from holiday and has started working on your appeal in earnest. She's reviewing case law, but she's also doing extensive background information on Sgt. Gossard; something which wasn't done the first time round."
"Bloody bastard cops looking out for their own, I suppose," Nikki spit out.
Helen's expression neither confirmed nor denied Nikki's accusation. "Anyway, she may have come up with something, but it's early days yet. She wanted to tell you that as soon as she knows anything, good or bad, she'd let you know."
"Yeah, well, she knows where to find me, doesn't she?"
"Nikki." She reached forward to touch the lifer's shoulder until she realized they weren't the only ones in the room, and quickly pulled her hand back. "You've got to keep positive. There's no sense getting yourself down when there is a good chance there's no reason to."
Silence spread though the small cell and finally, Helen glanced over at Olivia as if asking for her help. The American slid a cigarette out of the pack and flicked a match to life. Drawing in a lungful of smoke, Benson said, "I'll tell you what, Nik." The other woman looked up at her and glowered. "I've got a hundred bucks that says you get out before I do."
Nikki shook her head, but couldn't stop the small lopsided grin from tugging at the corner of her mouth. "You'd better spot me ten years if you want to win. Besides, your Yankee imperialist money is of no value to me." She punctuated her sentence with a genuine smile which made the other two women do the same. "You're right, Helen," Nikki admitted, looking up at her. "No sense worrying about rain when it's clear skies, is it?"
"That's what I like to hear. I also hear you've got a big test at the end of the month."
"What? Oh, university. Yeah, it's supposed to give us an idea of what the final exam is like."
"You'll do great."
"Yeah, well, we'll see."
This time, Helen did reach out and touch Nikki's shoulder, albeit very briefly. "Let me know how it goes." She glanced over at Olivia again. "It was nice meeting you, Olivia. Remember what I said - if there's anything I can do to help you and your solicitor, don't hesitate to ask."
When Helen was gone and safely out of earshot, Benson handed the cigarette over to Nikki. "Those are awful!"
Nikki laughed and took it out of her fingers. "I was wondering what that was about."
"Thought I'd give myself something to do besides stare."
"What do you mean?"
Olivia pushed herself off the wall and slid into one of the hard chairs. Instead of answering the question, she looked around the room with a sly grin. "Well, that explains the books."
Rather than repeating her question, Nikki took a drag of her cigarette and muttered, "I don't know what you're talking about."
Olivia all but hooted her mirth at what amounted to a confession. "I bet you don't!"
"Bloody head inspector."
"Along the yard wall, to where it juts out, there's a bush there."
This information was passed along at the food counter, along with a large dollop of the daily mysterious nutritional concoction. Benson simply nodded at Dockley and moved on to the table that Nikki, Yvonne and Barbara already occupied. The meeting between Dockley's source and Benson's contact had gone down without a hitch. Information had been exchanged and a meeting had been arranged. Now it was only a matter of setting up something a bit larger.
After lunch, and under the pretence of getting some fresh air, Olivia took a stroll around the yard. From the steps of the prison, it was easy to see exactly where Dockley had stashed the sample Olivia had requested. Keeping it within her peripheral vision, Benson tucked her hands in the pockets of her jacket and lazily made her way around the yard. Stopping directly in front of the small tree Dockley had described, Olivia crouched down and, using the façade of tying up her shoe, glanced under the shrub. The corner of a hidden plastic bag poked out from a small pile of dirt, and, surreptitiously looking around, Olivia quickly reached under and tucked the bag into her sock. Standing up and taking another quick look around, she took a deep breath of satisfaction and relief and continued on her way.
As she reached the top of the steps, she bumped into Dominic.
"Sorry," she apologized, then realized who it was. "Oh, hello, Mr. McAllister."
"Hiya, Olivia," the young guard responded amiably. "How are you finding things?"
She tried not to react to the double-meaning the guard was unaware of making. Instead, she smiled and shrugged. "Not bad I guess, considering."
He nodded his understanding. "You taking in the sights of the Larkhall yard?"
"Hmmm? Oh, yeah. Thought I'd get some fresh air. It seems to be in short supply in there," she gestured inside. "Though I suppose I could say that about a lot of things."
"I suppose you could," he agreed.
"Anyway, nature calls, so " she pointed towards the door.
"Go on, then."
Her heart was racing, but it was a good feeling. She always welcomed that rush of adrenaline a good job gave her. Slipping into the very same stall she had cornered Dockley in, she reached down into her sock and retrieved the bundle of plastic. The bag opened as she slid the plastic zipper across the top and she emptied the contents into the toilet before flushing it. When the bowl filled again, she tied the bag into a small knot and flushed it as well. She hadn't needed to check the quality of the drugs - if anything had been suspect about it, DCI Williams would have warned her. She had only given Shell the story of wanting a sample to keep her honest, and to manufacture an image. But she didn't need to be caught with the stuff, either. Satisfied it had all been washed away, she came out of the stall, rinsed her hands, and wondered what to do next.
Making sure her appearance on G3 had gone unnoticed, Benson slipped into the cell of Shell Dockley. The blonde's head snapped up from her beauty magazine and she frowned.
"Oi! Don't you gits knock in America?"
The cop let the insult go by and instead facetiously rapped on the inside of the door.
"Thrilled to bleedin' death," Dockley grumbled. "What do you want now? I got your precious kit for ya, didn't I?"
"And that's what I'm here to talk about," Benson replied pleasantly. "The stuff you got me was good. More importantly, my partner liked it."
"Yeah, well," she huffed, "I should hope so. I went to a lot of trouble to get it."
Benson smiled humourlessly. "You would have had more trouble figuring out how to get up and down those stairs with two broken legs if you hadn't. You're not as dumb as you look, Shell."
Dockley looked pleased with herself until she realized what Benson had implied. "Oi!" she objected.
Waving her off, Olivia said, "I didn't come here to flirt with you. I want you to get me some more."
"The first job was just a sample test, Shell. But my partner and I are interested in the larger picture."
Benson could almost see the pieces falling into place for the blonde.
Her eyes widened and she breathed, "You mean America, don'tcha?"
"Wow, you really aren't as dumb as you look."
Dockley's face darkened. "You slag me off one more time and I'll cut your tits off and serve 'em as curry!"
Olivia bent forward, her face equally dark, her expression stony and hard. "And it will be the last thing you get to do with your hands."
The woman blanched. "So what is it this time, then?"
"A kilo?!" The volume of her startled exclamation made Dockley clamp her hand over her mouth. Slowly taking it away, she fiercely whispered, "Do you know how much that'll cost ya?" Chuckling as if she'd just seen Olivia grow another head, she said, "You've got a tear in your marble bag if you think I can get a kilo of smack in here."
"Shell," Benson shook her head, "You're gonna make me want to take back all the good things I said about you. To answer the first question, about 45 thousand pounds. As for the second bit "
A small smirk spread across Shell's face. "I get it. Same as before. You get a sample, but it's your friend who gets the prize."
Benson pretended to be impressed. "Good girl."
"Yeah!" Shell narrowed her eyes. "What am I gettin' out of this, then?"
"Oh, I'm sure you'll get what you deserve, Shell." Seeing that this answer didn't appease the woman, Olivia shrugged. "Why don't we start with me giving you my portion, and we'll see about more later." Now it was Benson's turn to narrow her eyes. "Or have you already skimmed from my sample?"
The blonde laughed nervously. "Come on, Liv, what do I look like, eh?" Faced with Benson's unwavering stare, she admitted, "Okay, so maybe just a little taste is all. Nothing worth anything to anyone." She curled her legs up under her and tucked her hands under her thighs. "Just a little something between friends, right?"
Olivia glowered, but relented. "Not much I can do about it now, can I? Besides inflict bodily harm." Shell shrunk back on her bed. "But everyone deserves a second chance, I guess."
"You're all right, Liv," Dockley stammered.
"I don't give third chances, Shell." She held the door ajar and said, "I want to hear something arranged by Monday." She saw Dockley's look of amazement. "That gives you the whole weekend. I could break out of here and come back in that time." As a parting shot, she turned back and said, "And don't fucking call me Liv again."
Saturday started the same as always, though if Nikki had been in a cynical mood, she might have said it started like any other day in Larkhall, considering the days all seemed to bleed into each other. She woke up, washed up, went for tea and spent a good part of the day chatting with whomever stopped at her table. Benson was right, though Wade would never admit it - everyone knew Nikki, and Nikki knew everyone. More importantly, Nikki had the respect of everyone. Whether it was due to her criminal reputation as a cop killer, or her personal reputation of sticking up for the underdog, she had it here in Larkhall in spades.
She had just spent an hour of quiet contemplation in the potting shed when she returned to the wing, only to see a small crowd gathered at the bottom of the stairs that joined the three floors.
"What's going on here, then?" Nikki asked Yvonne, who was leaning back against the railing. No sooner had the words come out of her mouth when she saw Olivia lightly jogging down the last flight of stairs. "Hey," she said brightly.
Olivia smiled back. "Hey," she greeted, only to turn around when her feet hit the floor and climb the stairs again.
Nikki's brow furrowed in confusion, though she took notice of the curve of Benson's ass as she made her way to the top.
Yvonne didn't miss the look. Lightly tapping the back of her fingers under Nikki's chin, she smirked, "Close your mouth, love, you're catching flies."
"Very funny." Wade looked around at the small group who craned their necks up the open stairwell. "Where's the fire?"
"Evidently, she's exercising," Atkins responded. "Had to hand Bodybag a dictionary when she came round and asked the same question."
The pounding of Benson's feet on the metal came closer, and the brunette made the turn to descend the final set of stairs. Now able to take a slightly longer look, Wade skimmed Benson from head to toe. Her hair was damp and slightly askew, probably from the woman wiping the sweat from her brow. Thankfully for those in attendance who were interested, there were other places Benson couldn't wipe the sweat away, most notably for the audience, in the dip between her breasts and at the small of her back, both spots a darker grey than her cotton shirt and suitably clingy. Her feet hit the floor and she turned again, back up the stairs.
"How long has this been going on?" Nikki asked.
Yvonne shrugged. "Ask her personal trainer here. Denny!" The young woman turned her head. "How long has Liv been entertaining you lot?"
Denny grinned and didn't bother denying the implication. "I don't know about time, but she's gone up and down forty-nine times now."
"The only thing I'd be wanting to go up and down forty-nine times is on some young stud with a nice tackle," Yvonne stated.
Several of the women laughed, including Nikki. "You don't know what you're missing, Yvonne."
"I do. I'm missing a young stud with a nice tackle, is what I'm missing!"
"Fifty!" Denny and Shaz announced as Olivia touched the floor.
She rested her hands on her hips and bent at the waist as she tried to bring her breathing back to normal. Heads in unison tilted to the side to get a better view, but either she was unaware of the attention or chose to ignore it. She took in huge lungfuls of air, and, when she felt her heart slow down to a more comfortable rate, she stood up straight.
"Here ya go, Liv," Denny said as she handed Olivia a plastic bottle of water. "It's not real bottled water, 'cause they don't bother with that stuff here, but it's something."
"Thanks, Denny," Benson breathed as she took the offering. With one hand still on her hip, she tilted her head back and let the cool liquid soothe her parched throat. Small rivulets spilled out of her mouth and down her chin, making little trails down her neck and pooling in the hollow of her throat.
"That sound you heard was a hundred lezzies getting off," Yvonne whispered conspiratorially towards Nikki, who had been transfixed with the rest of them. At that statement, Nikki's head snapped around and she looked at Atkins in disbelief. "What? That woman right there has just been given the starring role in a year's worth of fantasies." Seeing her friend's mouth agape, Yvonne winked. "Don't worry, love, you'll always be my number one girl."
Nikki couldn't help but laugh. "You're a peach, Yvonne. A real peach."
"Anyway, don't worry," Atkins went on. "Everyone knows she's your number one girl." When Nikki didn't reply, the older woman turned and looked at her. "You telling me you and her nothing? Cellmates for almost a week and nothing?" Wade was silent, looking very much like a child being chastised. "What? She have someone on the outside?"
"I haven't asked," Nikki admitted.
"You what? I pictured you two shagging like rabbits by now."
Nikki raised an eyebrow in amusement. "You pictured me and Olivia naked, Yvonne?"
The mob widow scrunched her face as if she had just eaten something bad. "Sod off, will you?" She nodded her head in Benson's direction, who was talking to Dominic. "And for God's sake, do something. One of us should be getting our rocks off."
"I was wondering if I could go have a shower, Mr. McAllister?" Benson asked the young guard.
"Well, I ," he stuttered, "it's not really allowed. Wash up's in the morning." He looked at her, knowing it wouldn't be the end of the world if he bent the rules. Anyway, it was obvious she needed a shower. Her cough brought his eyes up from her breasts. The heat rushed so quickly to his face that he dreaded knowing how red he must be. "Go on, then. Make it quick."
"You're the best, Dom," she whispered, and jogged in the direction of her cell as 40 pairs of eyes followed.
"Well," Yvonne said to Nikki, "what are you waiting for? Get going."
Despite a rather aggressive shove by Yvonne, Nikki couldn't bring herself to follow Benson into the showers. It seemed so predatory. Besides, she didn't know if the American was even interested. Or even gay. As she tipped her chair back against the stone wall of the cell, her eyes glazing over a book she wasn't reading, she made a mental edit regarding the last point. God knew she was banged up in Larkhall long enough, but she was still confident in her instincts. An image of Helen came to mind unbidden, and Nikki brushed it aside.
The sight of a wet Olivia Benson in the doorway helped.
Nikki's eyes snapped down to her book and she feigned a disinterest in the woman who had just entered the cell. It wasn't as if she'd never seen Olivia step out of the showers, wet and smelling of something soft and understated. Hell, it wasn't as if she'd never seen the woman naked, albeit never as long as her memory banks would have liked. But those moments were never prefaced by the long view of Benson jogging up the stairs, the fleece of her pants, the cotton of her tee clinging possessively to the curves of her body because of sweat and movement. Yvonne had joked about Olivia becoming the subject for a hundred fantasies, but she wasn't far off the mark. It didn't take much imagination to see the small droplets of sweat trickling down her temples to that hard jaw line in a context more carnal than stair-climbing. On that last descent, when she had opened her mouth to draw in huge gasps of air, her tongue making a brief appearance to moisten her lips, it wasn't hard to place that image in a very different scenario.
She was allowed to think these thoughts in unquestioning silence, because Benson had turned, her back to Nikki, and shrugged the thin white robe off her shoulders, where it pooled to the floor.
'You are an adolescent boy out of control,' Nikki reprimanded herself. It didn't stop her from looking, though. While she liked to think she valued intelligence and integrity and honesty above all else, even Nikki Wade had to admit it helped when it came wrapped in a gorgeous package. And she had rarely seen one so beautifully sculpted as Olivia Benson. If she was allowed to touch, Nikki wondered whether Olivia would be cool on her fingertips like marble, or if she would be warm and yielding.
Lost in her visions, she hadn't noticed Olivia was almost dressed. 'Shame,' Nikki thought. Some bodies weren't meant to be covered. She almost said the words aloud before she caught herself. "Somebody left their mark on your shoulder."
Benson turned. "What's that?"
"Your shoulder. You have a nasty scar on the back of your right shoulder."
"Oh, yeah," Olivia replied, trailing her fingers through her damp hair. "Patient of mine and a letter opener. Not a happy couple." She figured that was a better story than telling Nikki a perp had come up behind her in a darkened apartment building and stabbed her with a switchblade.
Nikki dropped her chair back into its original position with a thud. "Jesus!"
Olivia shrugged. "Hazard of the job, I guess," she remarked truthfully and slid into the wooden chair opposite Nikki. Resting her forearms on the table, she leaned forward and commented, "You're very observant."
"Yeah, well, hazard of being banged up in a prison with criminals, I suppose."
"I suppose," the cop agreed with a smile. She heard Nikki's knee hit the underside of the table with a nervous bounce. "What's up?"
Nikki shook her head. "Nothing."
Raising a doubting eyebrow, Benson said, "Come on. The first session's on me."
This offer drew a small grin from Wade. Biting the inside of her bottom lip, the con frowned and remarked, "You'd think I'd never kissed anyone before."
Eyes narrowing, Olivia asked, "Who did you kiss?"
"I haven't kissed her yet."
It only took a fraction of a second for the meaning to sink in. "Oh, I see."
If Olivia had leaned back, Nikki wouldn't have pressed the matter any further. She could take a hint better than most and she would have understood and moved on. But Benson didn't lean back. She remained, arms on the table, body still leaning forward.
It's not that alarm bells weren't blaring at 200 decibels in Benson's head; it was just that she wasn't listening. She waited for the movement she knew was coming from Nikki, and when it happened, she did nothing to stop it.
Resting on her forearms, Nikki rose up slightly and leaned across the short space between her and Olivia's mouth. She paused briefly, offering an unspoken, final chance for Benson to change her mind. The American closed her eyes, giving a silent consent that almost made Nikki moan out loud.
The kiss was simple and chaste, as their lips grazed across each others; a scouting mission for nerve endings to send messages back to the brain. As well as other parts of the body. A second pass was bolder as Nikki captured Olivia's top lip between her teeth. The cop sighed with pleasure, allowing Nikki to slide her tongue past the parted teeth and meet its counterpart. Strong hands gripped Nikki's arms as warmth and flesh and desire came together. The table between them prevented anything other than this - the exchange of electricity between their tongues and through the touch of fingertips on forearms. It wasn't enough and yet, being forced to focus solely on those two connections, it seemed like too much.
With palms against the table top, Nikki pushed herself up, wanting to get closer, to be closer. There was no grace to their kiss now, as teeth collided with teeth, lips pressed almost painfully against each other as they tried desperately to reduce the space between them. It was only when she felt Olivia's hand reach up to grab a handful of hair that Nikki did moan.
It was this sound that did what all the internal alarms could not do. Startled out of the moment, Olivia pulled back, breathless and bruised. Nikki leaned forward, but Benson shook her head.
'What the hell am I thinking?' she berated herself. 'I'm a cop. Undercover. In a fucking prison.' It could be a death sentence to forget it, or to let her mask slip for a second. And yet, looking into the honest eyes of Nikki Wade, she wondered how long she could keep up the charade.
"What is it?" Nikki asked gently.
"There's something I have to tell you," she began, then faltered.
"Let me guess. You're not interested." Even at that moment, Olivia couldn't help but laugh at the absurdity of the comment. "So it's not that." Nikki's brow creased and she became more serious. "You've got someone on the outside."
'This is your out, Benson,' she told herself. And yet she couldn't bring herself to confirm Nikki's guess.
She didn't have to - Nikki took her silence as confirmation. Sitting back into her seat, she said, "Shit. I should have known." She tempered her disappointment with a small smile. "I mean, look at you, you're gorgeous."
"I'm sorry," was all the cop could say. She was sorry. Sorry she couldn't tell the truth. Sorry she had to lie to this woman.
Though she meant the apology to cover a multitude of regrets and dishonesty, Nikki accepted it for something not nearly as complex. "Don't apologize," she forgave, "I made the assumption. Anyway, it was a nice little slice of heaven while it lasted, eh? I don't regret it. Do you?"
She had a lot to regret, but kissing Nikki Wade wasn't one of them. "No," she answered truthfully.
Her smile was larger now. "Small victories, Liv."
Benson nodded, though she didn't feel victorious at all.
"So," Yvonne said immediately. The woman had quickly sat down across from Nikki and gauged how long it would take Olivia to get through the breakfast cue.
"So what?" Nikki feigned ignorance.
Yvonne snorted. "Give it up, will you? I mean, so, you and Liv?"
Barbara's head jerked up from her book. Looking between the two women, she asked, "I'm sorry? What's this?"
Nikki rolled her eyes and explained, "Yvonne has developed a rather uncomfortable interest in my sex life, Babs."
Yvonne would not be deterred. "And you're avoiding the question, love."
"Fine," the brunette sighed, "so, nothing. She's got someone on the outside."
"Oh, Nikki, that's too bad," Barbara sympathized.
"Male?" Yvonne asked.
"No," Nikki grinned, "I don't think so."
"How did you find out?"
Nikki lifted her cup to her lips and smirked, "Well I kissed her, didn't I?"
Olivia arrived at the table just in time to help Barbara slap a choking Yvonne on the back.
"You all right there, Yvonne?" Benson asked.
"Marvelous, thanks." She shot an evil glare at Nikki. "Bloody marvelous."
Olivia looked at Yvonne, then to Nikki, then to an amused Barbara, and back to Nikki. "Why do I get the feeling I walked in at the tail end of something I would have been interested in hearing?"
Nikki tilted her head at Yvonne and said, "I bet you didn't know Yvonne here is a cupid in her spare time."
"Oi!" Yvonne glowered. "Problem is, I've got too much of it to spare."
Benson's eyebrows raised in realization. "Ah, I see. Me and Nikki? Well, I'm flattered. You've got great taste, Yvonne, I'll give you that."
Nikki laughed at the red flush that spread across the mob wife's face. "Our kids would be gorgeous!"
"And tall," Barbara offered, contributing to the jest.
"All right, all right, you've all had your fun," Yvonne said. "Nikki told me you have someone on the outside. I know when the cause is lost. I'm glad Nikki got a kiss out of the deal, anyway. Someone should be getting something in here."
Benson slowly turned her head to look at a sheepish Nikki. "You kissed and told?"
"Come on!" Nikki defended. "You can't honestly expect me to kiss you and not want to brag about it, can you?"
"Is flattery your way of getting out of shit?"
The four women laughed.
"So you two are all right, then?" Yvonne asked. "I mean, no hard feelings or any of that?"
The two cellmates looked at each other and Nikki spoke for them both. "No. No awkwardness. Life's too short. Besides," she added slyly, "not everyone has the pleasure of being kissed by Nikki Wade."
"Not from your lack of trying," Yvonne said.
"Hey!" Nikki objected, and the four women laughed again.
After breakfast, the two cellmates cleaned up and made plans for the day.
"I thought I'd work on that tunnel I've got going underneath the potting shed. What do you think?" Nikki asked, all innocence and curiosity.
"Oh, I'd help you with that," Olivia played along, "but this is the only spoon I've got."
With an exaggerated sigh, Nikki stood up and shrugged. "Fine. Just don't think you're tagging along when I bust out of this place."
She hadn't been gone five minutes when Benson received a surprise visit. "Christ, I thought Saint Nik would never leave," Shell groused as she entered the cell.
Olivia looked up sharply from her paper. "Watch it."
"Oh, excuse me," Dockley said without a glimmer of sincerity. "I didn't realize you two were kissin' carpets. You'd best be careful there. She finds out you're pushing drugs and you'll fall out of favour faster than " she paused to find a suitable metaphor.
"For God's sake," Benson muttered, "the entire wing will know if you don't spit it out. What are you doing here?"
"Eh? Oh, I'm to tell you, before any more deals go on, Mr. Weston would like to speak to you, one on one like."
Though she knew the answer, she asked, "Who's Mr. Weston?"
Shell looked insulted. "Only the bloke whose gonna get your kit into the States if you play your cards right. He's the top dog, in't he?"
"Why does he want to talk to me?"
"Do I look like bleedin' Russell Grant? I'm to give you his number and you're supposed to ring him. That's all I know. Though if you ask me," Olivia didn't point out that in fact, she had, "I think he's a might suspicious about why you've jumped from an ounce to a kilo in a week. I tried to tell Bill - he's my bloke on the outside, if you get my meaning - about your idea for America, see, but Mr. Weston wants to speak to you personal like."
Benson's mind whizzed at the possible reasons behind a phone call, not to mention the pitfalls. First things first, she had to get Dockley out of the cell before anyone saw her, or worse, before Nikki came back. "Where's the number?"
Shell reached into her bra and tossed a scrap of paper on the table.
When Olivia noticed the con hadn't moved, she tilted her head. "What?"
"Am I still gonna get some stuff?"
Benson pinched the bridge of her nose. Fucking addicts. "I'll do what I can, that's all."
Dockley stood for several more seconds until she realized she had been dismissed. Unimpressed with Benson's offer, but unable to come up with a suitable protest, she left. Lucky for Benson, Nikki hadn't found a reason to double back. However, Dockley's exit wasn't missed by the watchful eye of Jim Fenner.
She hesitated before picking up the receiver. Should she phone DCI Williams and let him know what was going on? Would it do any good? What could he tell her that she didn't already know as a cop? Let Weston think he's got the upper hand, but don't make it too easy or it'll raise suspicions. Play hard ball, but don't scare him away. Still, she wished Stabler was around so they could toss ideas around and have a couple of dry runs before making the call. She took a deep breath, closed her eyes briefly, and dialed the number.
'It's now or never,' she thought. "Yeah, I'm looking for Mr. Weston."
"Who's doin' the lookin'?"
"Benson. Olivia Benson. A friend from New York."
"Hold on." Voices were muffled as the receiver was pressed against a shoulder or chest. "Yeah, sorry, love," the male voice returned, "but Mr. Weston's busy at the moment. You got a number, he'll ring you back, yeah?"
"No," Benson replied calmly, "unless he knows how to get a call through to my cell in Larkhall."
"Right. Hold on." A few more seconds of muffled sounds passed until he came back again. "I'll put you through."
"Olivia Benson," a different voice stated.
"I take it you're Mr. Weston," she said. "Because if you're not and I'm wasting this phone card for nothing, it's gonna piss me off."
The voice chuckled. "I'll be sure to throw a few into our next deal, free of charge. I won't waste your time, love, because you don't have much of it, and mine is money. I've been told you're looking for another shipment."
She knew he'd never say the word 'heroin' or anything else that might incriminate him should the phones be tapped. "We enjoyed your last sample so much, we'd like to increase it."
"So I've heard. And while I'm flattered that you were so pleased, I'm sure you'll understand why I'm a bit hesitant to agree to so much more so soon. I usually like to let a friendship cultivate and grow over the years, give ourselves some time to get to know one another before I feel comfortable in dealing in that sort of amount."
"I understand." Benson decided to try a harder edge. "And if you feel you can't commit to that kind of arrangement, I could always shop around."
The man laughed. "You must be new to these parts, because I'm the only shop in town."
She would have none of his bolster. "I'll be sure to mention that to the Booker brothers in Camden. I bet the Footie Boys of Ealing would be interested in hearing that bit of news as well." There was a lengthy pause on the other end and Olivia could almost here the gears turning in Weston's head. "I hear you've been trying to get into New York for a while now, but you're having a bit of trouble with the triads. I think I can help you, but that's your decision." The silence stretched on and she played her last card. "I understand your hesitancy, Mr. Weston. I'm sorry we couldn't do business. It's been a pleasure talking to you." Had the bluff not worked, it would have been the end of the road. She was as close as they had come to getting this bastard, and months of man power would have gone down the drain.
Fortunately, she heard him say, "Wait."
"You're an impatient woman, Miss Benson."
"Well, as you alluded to earlier, time is money. I've got distributors and clients lined up. I just need the supply. It seems like a fairly simple business venture. And a very lucrative one for all of us."
"I agree." There was another stretch of silence, though much shorter this time. "What did you have in mind?"
Benson willed her heart to slow down. "First, we start with the new amount. You get that to my partner in New York without a hitch, and we'll go from there."
"How do I get paid?"
"Same as the first time. Except we pay you half here, and your deliverer gets the second half when he gets to New York."
"Full payment up front."
"Not a chance."
"You don't trust me, love?" he chuckled. "Now you know how I feel. Full payment this time. Half and half on any future dealings. Consider it a payment towards an accelerated friendship fund."
There was no way she could turn him down, not when she was so close. Still, she paused long enough to make him think she was genuinely considering it. At last, she said, "Fine. I'll pass it along to my partner and he'll manage the rest. He'll get back to you within a day to make the arrangements."
"Just out of curiosity, Mr. Weston, how do you plan on shipping to the U.S.?"
He chuckled again, but this time it sent shivers down her spine. "Let's just say it's child's play."
Once he was certain no one was watching, Fenner entered the cell and got straight to the point.
"What are you playing at, Dockley?"
The blonde looked away from the mirror and touched her hair. "What do you mean, Mr. Fenner?"
"Don't bother, Shell, I'm not interested in you right now. I am interested in what you've got going on with the new one sharing the cell with Wade."
"What? The American?" Dockley asked, as if she didn't know.
The crooked guard stepped menacingly closer. "Don't try and be clever, love, it doesn't suit you. I saw you coming out of her cell."
"Oh, that? That, that was nothing, sir. Just having a little fun with the new girl, right? Winding her up about sharing a cell with a lezzie, though if you ask me, sir, like is like there, if you get my meaning."
"You came all the way down from 3 a week after the new girl's been here, just to take the piss?"
"Well, there's not much else to do round here, is there?"
Fenner's eyes narrowed. "I know she's in for drug possession, which would be right down your alley, wouldn't it?" When the blonde didn't respond, he continued, "You wouldn't be doing anything behind my back, would you?"
Shell's fear was masked by her manufactured sputter of disbelief. "Me, behind your back, Mr. Fenner?" She trailed her finger from his chest down to his belt buckle. "You know I'd rather be doing something with you face-to-face."
He brushed her hand away, but softened his tone to a leer. "You're a tart, Shell Dockley, you know that?"
She smiled. "Just the way you like me, innit?"
He smile held nothing but self-serving pleasure. "Wear that pretty lace thing you've got at lock-up and maybe I'll come round later."
"Look forward to it, sir."
He got to the door and turned. "But remember, you try to mess about behind my back and the Block will look like paradise, got it?"
The smile remained plastered to her face. "Got it." It was only when the door closed behind him did she allow the smile to drop and the fear to spread over her expression. "Shit!"
"You know," Benson began, "you should mix that up a bit. 'Detective Stabler, SVU,' or 'Elliot Stabler, how can I help you?' That sort of thing."
His chuckle rolled down the line. "Hang up and call me again."
"Right!" she replied with a laugh of her own. "I'll be cutting the time on this card close enough as it is."
Knowing she had information on the case, he turned serious immediately. "Okay, I'm listening."
"Had a chat with Mr. Gregory Weston today." She heard the audible breath of surprise from Elliot. "Yeah, I know, surprised the hell out of me, too. Seemed he was a bit suspicious about the increase we wanted. Can't blame him."
"What'd you say?"
"The usual. Short of saying the actual words, I let him know I'd try somewhere else. Not surprisingly, that got his attention and we compromised. He'll ship to New York, but we've got to pay him the full amount, up front."
She could almost see him nod. "Makes sense. He figures if something goes wrong, he's still got the money."
"Yeah," she agreed. "It's a first time only deal, he said. To make up for the trust factor."
Stabler laughed humourlessly. "Money can buy you everything. So what's next?"
"Get Williams to set it up, like before. They'll exchange the money, then make the New York arrangements."
"Did he say how he's gonna ship?"
Benson shook her head. "No, but there's no doubt in my mind he's using kids. Bastard told me it was 'child's play'."
There was a brief moment of silence until Olivia asked, "Can I say something, between you and me?"
"You know you can."
"We're close to getting this guy, El, but not close enough. He's not going to come out and tell us when the drugs are leaving London or even when they're showing up in New York. He's only going to tell us where and when to meet his supplier. We've never found one of these kids alive. I'm not sure how comfortable I am, knowing I could be sending someone to their death, let alone a kid."
He knew her concern, because he felt the same way. "The difference is we've got a jump on him this time. We've always been a step behind because we've never been on the inside like this. Once we get this deal set up, Williams will have people around the clock watching this guy and his associates. They'll be watching the airports. We'll be doing the same here. We've got a better chance than we've ever had of nailing him."
"We need to I.D. the supplier before he gets to New York. We need the kid alive. And we need something from one of them to lead back to Weston."
There was a lot of room for things to go wrong and Stabler knew it. "You know we're gonna do everything we can. That's all we've got."
"I guess I want guarantees that aren't there," she sighed. Covering her eyes with her hand, she whispered, "I'm tired of finding dead kids, El."
"I know, Liv. I feel it, too."
The phone beeped and a very helpful automated British voice informed Benson that she had one minute remaining on her card.
"Looks like I need to win some more pool games," she said, attempting to bring some light back into the conversation.
"What's that?" Elliot asked.
"I'll explain when I see you," she replied. "Call Williams. Tell him what's up."
"Call me tomorrow, if you can. I'll let you know what's goin' on."
"You're doin' great, Liv."
A hint of warmth came back to her smile. "Thanks, El." Hanging up the receiver, she pulled out the phone card and tossed it into a nearby garbage bin.
It was the start of a brand new week, though that approach was reserved only for those on the outside of prison walls. Inside Larkhall, it was business as usual, right down to Nikki Wade having a book glued to her hand.
"Why are you always readin'?" Denny had asked at breakfast.
"Lots of reasons," Nikki replied, surprised at the question. "To better myself. To make sense of the world. And sometimes, just to remember there is a life outside these walls." She knew the young girl had been working hard to learn to read and write on the inside. "How are things coming along with your studies, Denny?"
The girl's face brightened. "Oh, brilliant! I wrote a letter to me mum the other day."
"Do you read books?"
"Not like those ones," Denny motioned to Nikki's thick novel. "I get a headache just lookin' at the size of that one."
Nikki laughed. "Well maybe when I'm done, we'll read it together."
"Thanks, Nikki." She saw Shaz wave at her from the other side of the room. Turning to Wade, she said, "I'll see you later, yeah?"
When Denny was out of earshot, Barbara said, "That was a very nice thing for you to do, Nikki."
"You're so damn quiet, Babs, I forgot you were here."
"Deflecting compliments as usual, I see. Speaking of which, I didn't see Olivia this morning."
"She was down here first thing," Nikki explained. "I think she wanted to hit the gym before everyone got going."
"Yes, she did attract quite a crowd last time."
Nikki searched the older woman's face for a sign of anything other than innocence, but found none. "You're a sly one, Barbara, I'll give you that."
The slight twitch of her mouth gave her away. "Age has its advantages."
"I bet." She gathered her dishes and book and stood up. "I'm going to wash up."
"Just in time for Olivia to be finished her exercises, no doubt. Perhaps slyness transcends age?"
"Perhaps," Nikki agreed, playing along. "I'll see you later."
She propped the tray of dishes against her left hip and flipped open the novel with her right hand. She passed through the door that separated the eating area from the residential wing and walked past the stairs on her way to her cell. She knew every square foot of the prison and this route by far required the least amount of attentiveness. So, with her nose in the book, Nikki didn't notice Shell approaching, and with the blonde nervously looking around to make sure Fenner wasn't nearby, there was an almost amusing near-miss of the two women as they reached the cell at the same time.
Nikki's head jerked up just in time and she retorted, "Watch it!"
"Piss off," Shell shot back.
"Whatever," she said, and turned to enter her cell, only to notice Shell doing the same. There was an awkward moment of stutter steps by the two cons, as each inched in the direction of the cell, but neither entering. Nikki had had enough. "What do you think you're doing? Get lost coming down from the threes?"
"Don't be pissy at me just because you're down here in the muck. Well, not entirely muck, is it? Your girlfriend's a bit of all right, in't she?"
"You mean Denny?" Nikki asked innocently.
Dockley scoffed. "As if Denny would touch you with a ten foot barge."
"She was closer than ten feet in the showers this morning when everyone left."
"Sod off," Shell glowered, unsure whether the brunette was joking or not. "I'm here to see Liv."
"What? Back to have your arse handed to you again?" Nikki sneered.
"Oh, haven't you heard?" Dockley asked, the malevolent edge unable to resist showing itself. "Me an' Liv have kissed and made up. I told her we're stuck with each other, so we might as well get on. We're best mates and all now."
"You're so full of shit, Dockley."
"You can ask her when you see her. Tell her I need to have a word."
Nikki made a face. "I'm not her bloody secretary. Go find her yourself."
Shell tapped the door frame with a painted fingernail. "I just might do that. Cheers."
Left alone in the cell, Nikki sat down in a nearby chair and wondered what the hell was going on.
Nikki had an odd sense of déjà vu when Benson entered the cell, robe tied around her waist, and her hair choppy and wet. This time, however, Nikki forced herself to concentrate on her book. She didn't need the distraction of Olivia's body clouding her judgment.
"Hey," Benson tossed over her shoulder as she dressed.
There must have been something in the tone, because as she tucked her white tee into her jeans, she stopped. "Is something wrong?"
"No," Nikki replied immediately, and tossing her book on the table, changed her mind just as quickly. "Yes." Olivia said nothing and instead waited for Nikki to continue. Wade stood up and paced the small cell, her brow furrowed and her thumbnail between her teeth. She didn't make eye contact with Benson as she sifted through her vocabulary to find the right words to convey her concerns, her suspicions, her fears. "What's going on with you and Shell Dockley?" was the best she could do.
Years of police work helped hide the surprise she felt hit her in the chest like a fist. "Sorry?"
Nikki stopped pacing and looked at Olivia with an unwavering gaze. "You and Shell Dockley," she repeated calmly. "She was here earlier, looking for you. Told me to tell you she wanted a chat. What about, I wonder?"
Olivia shook her head. "No idea."
"I know it's an odd question to ask considering the circumstances we find ourselves in, but do you respect me?"
"Respect you?" Benson echoed. "Of course I respect you."
"Then don't lie to me," she said simply.
"Is it drugs?"
Olivia was quiet for a moment, wondering what Dockley wanted. And more importantly, wondering what to tell Nikki.
The silence was seen as an admission of guilt by the lifer. "Shit!"
"Nikki, wait. It's not what you think."
Her laugh was a cold one. "Not what I think? I think you're in for drugs. I think Shell Dockley is up to her eyeballs in crank. I think one plus one is two. Tell me I'm wrong." It wasn't a plea as much as a dare.
Olivia stood up and put her hand on Nikki's arm. She tried not to flinch when Wade jerked her arm away. "Nikki. Will you please listen for one minute?"
"What? Listen to a smack head? Yeah, I'm sure I can believe every word that comes out of your mouth!"
"I'm a cop!" Benson whispered fiercely.
She might as well have slapped Nikki in the face. Under any other circumstances, her expression might have been a funny one. Her eyes widened like an animal caught in a beam of light and her mouth opened in shock. As the silence stretched between them, Olivia wondered what the other woman was thinking. Then, the most unusual thing happened - Nikki laughed. It started as a short cough of mirth that rolled into a chain of notes. Then, just as soon as it began, it ended, trailing off into a humourless whisper of air.
"You're having me on. A cop!"
Benson tried again to touch Nikki's arm, and the confession shocked the woman so much that she didn't notice the gesture. Keeping her voice to a bare whisper, she stressed, "Nikki, I know you don't have much reason to believe me, but I'm telling you the truth. I'm Detective Olivia Benson of the New York Police Department."
The wheels seemed to start turning again in Nikki's head, because the fire returned to her eyes. Misinterpreting what Olivia was saying, Wade snorted, "Why does that not surprise me? Bloody cops are bent no matter where you go!"
Benson turned her head slightly, puzzled. "What?"
"A cop, in prison for drug possession. That's a good one. No wonder you told me you were a shrink. People find out you're a cop and that's it for you, isn't it? So you come in here, make up some bullshit story, and carry on as if you're on the outside." Nikki shook her head. "You'd think prison would put a damper on your habit, but no, you pick it right back up, and with Shell Dockley of all bloody people. All these women who've come to trust you in such a short time. Barbara. Yvonne. Denny. The two Julies. What are you going to tell them? Or are you going to keep lying to them?" Nikki tilted her head towards the door. "Maybe I should tell them. What do you think?" She made her way in that direction when Benson twisted the lifer's arm behind her back and pushed her face down onto the table.
"Ow! Get the fuck off me!"
Benson bent over Wade's back, her weight holding the other woman down until she stopped fighting. With her mouth pressed against Nikki's ear, Benson whispered, "I don't want to hurt you, but will you shut up for one fucking minute?" She waited for Nikki to nod before standing up and letting the other woman do the same.
"Ow," she repeated, rubbing her arm.
"I'm sorry," Benson said truthfully. "Sit, please."
Nikki hesitated for a second, then thought better of it. Dropping herself unceremoniously onto the wooden chair, she barely looked up. "So?"
Benson slipped into the opposite chair and leaned forward. "Yes, I am a cop. But I'm not here because of a drug charge." She sucked in her breath and knew it was now or never. "I'm undercover." This bit of information made Nikki snap to attention, just as she suspected it would.
"I told you the truth. I'm a detective for the NYPD. I work in a division called Special Victims Unit. We only deal with cases that are sexually based or involve children. I'm here on a case."
"Here in Larkhall?" Nikki asked incredulously. "A bit out of your jurisdiction, isn't it?"
Although she could still hear the thread of suspicion wind through Nikki's words, she also knew the worst of it was over. "It's a case that has roots in England."
"No cops in England since I've been banged up?"
"We've got one on the outside helping out, but we were worried if we put anyone on the inside that they'd get recognized by someone. Besides," Olivia let herself show a cold smirk, "I'm not inclined to trust anyone else to do the job."
"I still don't know what job that is and what all this has to do with Shell Dockley."
"Before I say anything else, I want to make one thing clear." She squeezed her eyes shut and pressed her fingertips against her temple before continuing. "I've already said way too much, you understand that, right? I have broken the most important rule of undercover work - I've broken cover. In the best circumstances, that would mean I've blown everything I've worked hard to achieve. In the worst circumstances, that would mean my life. You know that if this gets out, I won't last to the end of the day. You know that, right?"
"Then I guess the rest doesn't matter." She looked down at her hands. "For the last six months, my partner and I have been working on a drug case in New York. There hasn't been much to go on, but through some hard work and gut hunches, we found out this much - the heroin tied to our case is coming into New York from London."
"I thought you said you only dealt with sexual cases and kids," Nikki interrupted.
"We do," Olivia replied. "The drugs are coming into New York with kids. One kid at a time with a 'guardian'." She looked up into Nikki's eyes. "They're using the kids as drug mules."
"Makes sense, I guess," Wade said. "No one would think of checking a moppet."
Benson ran her fingers through her hair and sighed. "If only it were that simple." She had gone this far; there was no sense in stopping now. "They're making the kids swallow condoms full of heroin to bypass customs. Then the supplier who is traveling with the kid takes him somewhere, an abandoned building, an alley, anywhere they can get the kid alone and without witnesses... and extracts the condoms."
"Extracts? Like, what, making him shit? What are we talking about here?"
"Nikki, they don't wait that long. Too much of a risk that the condoms will burst in the stomach. So they," her voice wavered for a fraction of a second before she found her strength, "they cut the condoms out of the kid. From sternum to pubic bone, and straight across the abdomen. They pull the condoms out and leave the kid to bleed to death."
The colour in Nikki's face drained away and her body jerked as her gag reflex kicked in. She barely made it to the toilet before throwing up in violent heaves. Benson jumped up and filled a cup with water at the sink before kneeling down beside the toilet. With a hand on Nikki's back, she handed the woman the water.
"Here, take this." The lifer took the cup in a shaky hand. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have told you. Or at least, I should have found a better way to tell you."
Nikki drank the water and put her hand on her stomach, willing it to settle. Reaching blindly behind her, she grabbed the nearby towel and wiped her mouth. "How can there be a better way to tell me they're making kids swallow drugs then butchering them to get them back?" She took a couple of deep breaths. "Bastards."
Olivia helped her to her feet and walked them to the bed. They sat side by side and didn't say anything for a long time.
"You still haven't told me what this has to do with Dockley."
Benson had been enjoying the silence and comfort of sitting beside Nikki. The con could almost make her forget the reason she was here. She should have known it was never that easy.
"When we traced the drugs back to London, we got as far as finding out the name of the guy controlling the supply. Weston. But we didn't have anything definitive to tie him to the kids. We had to go through hundreds of channels just to figure out who he was. But found nothing that would hold up in court, and nothing that would hold him responsible for the murders. We didn't know how to get closer without raising suspicion. Too many cops are in the pockets of these guys, and it's not like we can just show up on his doorstep and say, 'Hey, wanna deal me some drugs?' That kind of operation usually takes years. It was through one of the links that we found Billy Murdock - Shell Dockley's drug dealer on the outside. He's lowlife; a street thug who's just another cog in the wheel. We figured we could use him to get inside. We watched him for over a month. Every move, every deal he made."
"That's how you found out about Dockley."
Olivia nodded. "Yep. She's got a fairly steady diet of drugs coming into Larkhall. We thought that was our best shot."
Nikki gave this some thought before asking, "Why not just approach him directly?"
"We weren't sure we wouldn't scare him off. Like I said, we couldn't get anyone local to do it without worrying they'd be recognized, and we didn't think an American would be much better."
"Yeah, as soon as you opened your mouth, it would raise questions," Wade agreed.
"You got it. But by putting me here, establishing a criminal background of drugs well, we had nothing to lose, did we?" Benson stood up and walked over to the sink to pour herself a cup of water. She hadn't counted on talking this much, but she wanted Nikki to know everything, and she knew even if she didn't, the lifer would question her until she did. Despite the circumstances, the thought made Olivia smile. Returning back to the bed, cup in hand, she sat down beside Nikki once again.
"So you got yourself banged up here in order to get friendly with Dockley, hoping it would get you into bed with this Billy, which would then get you into bed with this Weston bastard."
"Figuratively speaking, yes," Benson answered, pleased at how quickly Nikki's mind worked. It made things that much easier.
Nikki must have seen the appreciative look on Benson's face, because she flashed a smile for the first time since Olivia entered the cell. "I am a criminal, you know."
The significance of Nikki's remark and Benson's reply was not lost on them. In an attempt to delay that conversation a little while longer, Nikki shifted the topic back to Benson.
"Have you had any luck?"
"More than we would have guessed, actually. I talked to Weston today."
Benson's expression acknowledged Nikki's surprise. "I know. I was just as shocked."
"I thought you said these things can take years to develop."
The cop shrugged. "We took a chance and made a push. Basically told him he wasn't the only game in town."
"You made him think you were willing to go through someone else, even though he was the guy you really wanted," Nikki surmised.
As layer after layer of the case peeled away, Nikki couldn't hide her interest. It was a knotted string meant to be unraveled, and she couldn't resist the challenge. "So what happened? I take it he went for it?"
"He did," Benson confirmed. "We started with an ounce last week, just to test the waters. Today he agreed to send a kilo to New York, with the idea of shipping more in the future. Well, his idea, anyway. With any luck, we won't need it."
Nikki's face was pensive. "Can I ask you something?"
"I think we've established that, yeah."
"How many of these kids have you found?" she asked quietly.
Benson looked down into her cup, then glanced up at the ceiling before looking at Nikki. "In six months, we've found five bodies. We suspect there's more and we just haven't found them yet."
"Bloody hell," Nikki whispered. She closed her eyes briefly, then said, "Wait a minute. How can he send these kids without someone missing them? Wouldn't it raise suspicion, these kids disappearing?"
"From the little we could find, these kids are homeless, probably looking for a few extra bucks, thinking they'll get a trip to America out of the deal. Or kids of immigrants who either don't speak the language or are too afraid to announce the fact that they're here illegally. The parents are offered some money and don't know where to turn to when their child doesn't come back. And if they do find the right channels, it means deportation."
Nikki sneered in displeasure. "If I had a kid gone missing, I'd tell them to screw deportation and find my child."
"I understand, Nikki," Olivia agreed gently, "but you have to remember that sometimes where they've come from is a hell of a lot worse than where they are. And fear will do funny things to people."
"It wouldn't make me forget my kid, I'll tell you that much." She took a few breaths to soften her edge. "So you've set up a deal with this Weston bloke and he's agreed to ship the drugs to New York."
"So another child could die."
This was the crux of the dilemma Benson had shared with Stabler. How do you get guarantees when nothing is certain? She opened her mouth to give Nikki some party line about how they'd do the best they could and that their chances were better this time, but she didn't have that kind of confidence. It sounded so much better coming from Elliot. Instead, she said simply, "I don't know. We hope we've got everything covered, but I don't know."
"And you can live with that?"
Benson stood up and finished the rest of her water. Placing the cup on the ledge of the sink, she looked at her reflection in the small mirror above the taps. "I live with shit like this every day."
Though Nikki knew the words could do little to take away the weight of Olivia's burden, she said them anyway. "I'm sorry." When there was no reply, she pushed herself up and sat on the edge of the table, facing Benson. "Who else knows about this?"
Olivia turned and leaned against the sink. "My co-workers on the unit and a small handful of cops here in London."
"No one else?" Nikki asked. "Not Miss Betts? Not any of the screws?"
"No," Benson answered, shaking her head, "we figured the less people that knew the better. I didn't want even a hint that I was getting preferential treatment here. And we're a tight-knit bunch back home - we don't trust just anybody. Who knows who's in Weston's back pocket?"
"Thank you. For trusting me."
"Did I have a choice?" Benson asked, feigning defeat. "Nosy parker."
Nikki choked back a cough of surprise. "I prefer 'naturally inquisitive', thanks." Sharing a smile with Olivia, she then said, "I've got a question."
"Colour me surprised."
Wade ignored the jibe and asked, "On your first day here, did you set up that entire dust-up with Dockley?"
"No. That was sheer luck. I had planned on giving it a couple of days before I approached her."
"Well, your Bruce Lee makes so much more sense now." Her smile lingered for a bit, until she got serious again. "I've got another question. Do you really have someone on the outside waiting for you?"
Benson hadn't been expecting that one. "No," she answered truthfully.
Nikki pressed her lips together and shook her head. "I suppose I can see why you lied. God knows it must have shattered your moral code to be attracted to a crim." She chuckled derisively at the thought. "In fact, that must have been a bit of an ethical dilemma for you, yeah? What with you being a cop and me being a cop killer. Did you know that? That I killed one of yours?"
Benson pinched the bridge of her nose between her thumb and forefinger. "Nikki, one day you're going to break your ankles jumping to conclusions." Sighing, she opened her eyes. "First, it's not always about you. Second, of course I knew what you were in for; I knew before I got here. Just like I know what Yvonne's in for. And Dockley. And about fifteen other prisoners here. You don't think they'd just drop me in here, unprepared, do you?" She didn't wait for an answer. "And do you really think I couldn't have gotten myself moved to another cell, even without any of the higher ups knowing who I was? Do you?"
Embarrassed, Nikki's eyes dropped to the floor. "No, I suppose not. So why didn't you? Get moved to another cell, I mean."
"Nikki " She moved closer to the woman and reached out to touch her arm, repeating the same action as she had done earlier. This time, it was a much different gesture. She waited until the lifer lifted her head. Looking right into her eyes, Benson said, "I read your file, Nikki. And believe me, as sad as it is to say, your case isn't unique, especially for me. Yeah, my first instinct was to approach with caution and probably with more than a bit of distrust," she admitted. "But I'm a cop. You've got to understand why I would think the worst first. But if I've learned one thing, it's that things aren't always the way they appear. If Gossard hadn't been a cop, would I have felt the same? If I simply read the case on its own merit, would I still assign blame? Yeah, I would. On him. If I saw some piece of shit try to rape my girlfriend, would I have done the same as you? You better fucking believe it. Except I might have broken some bones first."
Wade was stunned at the admission; at all the admissions. "I I don't know what to say."
"Thank Christ, she's run out of questions!" She let go of Nikki's arm and said, "Listen. I've got to go see what Dockley wants. Are you and me okay?"
"Yeah," Nikki answered. "I'm glad you told me, Liv. I mean, I'm not glad for the situation, but I'm I'm just glad you told me."
"Me, too," Benson admitted. "And I know I don't have to tell you this, but I will anyway. You cannot breathe a word of this to anyone. Not Yvonne. Not Barbara. Not anyone."
Wade nodded. "I know. You can trust me, I promise." She gave a little laugh. "Listen to me, promising not to dob in a cop. There goes my reputation."
"I won't tell if you won't," Olivia smiled back. She walked to the door, then turned. "And Nikki, I didn't lie to you about having someone on the outside because I had some moral objection to being attracted to a cop killer. I did it because I wanted to avoid distractions." She gave the con an overt look from head to toe. "Not that I've had any luck there." With that, Olivia left, leaving Nikki rooted to the spot, her mouth agape.
As she walked up the metal stairs to G3, Benson could tell her emotional equilibrium was wildly out of sync, and she willed herself to get it in check. She hadn't expected to feel such a wave of relief for telling Nikki the truth. She never would have thought blowing her cover would end up feeling so good. And yet, she was also faced with the harrowing reality of the case. Within a couple of days, the deal would be set and they'd have to face the biggest risk of the entire operation. Even after all these years, after hundreds of cases, she could never shake that anxiety that ate away at her. It didn't help to know she'd be stuck here, thousands of miles away; not knowing what was going on, not knowing if they failed or succeeded until it was all over. And now she had Shell Dockley on top of everything else.
The door of the cell was open and when Benson took a quick glance inside, she found it empty. Turning to head back downstairs, she bumped right into the blonde.
"Oi!" Dockley barked. "I've been looking for you."
"So I've heard," Benson replied flatly.
Dockley looked around then pushed Benson into the cell. "Fenner thinks something's up."
"Then maybe you shouldn't be visiting my cell, where everyone can see you."
Shell snorted. "Sweetheart, you learn nothing stays a secret very long round here."
"So?" she repeated. "So, what are you gonna do about it?"
Olivia crossed her arms and leaned back against the wall. "What would you like me to do? If nothing stays secret, then there's not much I can do, is there?"
"Well, you'd best get Fenner off my back. I'm not about to get seven shades of shit beat out of me for a seppo. Anyway, I just got this bloody cell back and I'm not about to lose my privileges just so's you can run some smack operation on the outside."
"Shell, I don't give a shit about your little privileges or anything else for that matter. You should be more concerned about keeping me happy."
"And you should be more concerned about your little girlie not finding out," Dockley shot back.
Benson pushed herself off the wall. Smiling, she asked, "You mean Nikki? She already knows, Shell."
"You're having me on."
"I told her five minutes before I came up here."
"I know it might be a foreign concept to you, Shell, but honesty really is the best policy. And getting the jump on some little weasel who thinks they're going to turn things around on you is the next best thing."
Shell looked dumbfounded. "You're winding me up! I don't believe you."
"Believe what you want, Shell, but definitely believe this - don't ever fucking threaten me again, understand?"
"Yeah, whatever," Dockley replied, then seeing the menacing look from Benson, repeated, "Yeah, I said, Jesus."
In hindsight, Benson would chastise herself for letting Dockley off the hook, and would recognize this conversation as the moment she took her foot off the tiger's tail, ever so slightly. But for now, with her mind on the case and all its possibilities and implications, she let it slip by.
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