Public stories, Private lives
After lunch, Nikki and Victoria went back upstairs to the big office to start work on the arson story. They sat at Nikki's desk which was as far as it could be from Fenner's so that he couldn't steal their headline. They were sat between Alex Adams, the junior finance reporter and an open window so they got plenty of peace and quiet. The endless hum of computers with the odd ringing of a phone was, in a way, relaxing. Everyone in there was writing up some story. Mike Barrett passed through the office on his way upstairs and stopped to speak to Nikki.
"I'm off to see Jim Fenner's latest. I'll let you know how I get on."
"Sure. Good luck. I don't think she'll listen to you, though." Mike leaned over Victoria's shoulder to read the headline she was forming on the screen.
"Single mum and baby escape from suspected arson attack!"
"Not bad. I'd like to read this before you submit it to Anton, okay?"
"Fine. Nikki said she wanted to see my writing style in progress."
"Good idea. I'll see you later." With that, he left them to it and took the stairs to the news editor's office.
"Karen, do you have a minute?" Mike said as he poked his head round Karen's office door.
"Yes, of course. Come in." Mike had always found Karen attractive. She was blonde, blue-eyed and usually had a magnificent tan, whether fake or real he didn't care. She also had a delectable figure which Mike personally thought was wasted on Jim Fenner who would shag anything including his ex-secretary, Shell Dockley. Mike walked in and closed the door.
"This is somewhat delicate, Karen."
"Oh?" Karen failed to see why Mike would be coming to see her about anything which he described as delicate.
"I need you to put all personal considerations aside for a moment."
"Is this about Jim?" Oh, great, thought Mike. She's already on the defensive and I haven't even got started yet.
"Yes. It's about what Jim was saying to Rachel Hicks when Nikki arrived at the hospital to see her this morning."
"What did Nikki say she heard?"
"Nikki said, and I do believe her, that Jim Fenner was leaning over Rachel's bed threatening her."
"Threatening her how?"
"He was telling Rachel to keep her mouth shut if she didn't want anything else to happen to her baby."
"Bollocks! Why the hell would he say that?"
"Karen, forgive me for saying this, but you're not exactly unbiased where Jim's concerned."
"What's that got to do with anything?"
"Don't get angry, Karen. I'm trying to deal with this in the quietest and most sensitive way possible and you're not making that very easy for me."
"And why the hell should I make it easy for you when you're accusing Jim of something he wouldn't do?"
"Karen, do you want me to take this further? Because be assured if you don't start listening to me I will be forced to go official about this."
"Okay. I'll talk to him, find out what all this is about. Will that do?"
"For now. But if I hear of anything like this in the future, it won't rest there. Do I make myself clear?"
Victoria and Nikki spent most of the afternoon working on the story. They disagreed over some minor points of grammar and sentence structure but they got it finished and e-mailed it to Mike to criticize. When Mike had added his comments and the thing had finally been corrected, Mike suggested that they take it up to Anton just for him to have a look at Victoria's first joint effort with Nikki. When Victoria looked a little apprehensive at this suggestion Nikki laughed and said,
"Oh, don't worry. Everyone has to go through the mill with Meyer when they first arrive. You'll get used to it."
They went up to the top floor, passed Kirstie Collins and Personnel to where Anton Meyer, the Lark City Post's senior editor had his lair. Nikki introduced Victoria to Keri, Anton Meyer's personal assistant and as he was apparently free, they were shown in. Victoria remembered all the force of Meyer's personality from her interview. He was a relatively quiet man but only because he didn't need to be anything else. His mere presence made Victoria feel like she'd been called in front of the headmaster.
"Ms Wade and Ms Merrick, good to see you. I hear you've been working on the story of last night's fire."
"Yes. We went to the house this morning and it appears to be arson but the head fire investigator has agreed to contact me when he has some more concrete evidence."
"Good. Mr. Barrett sent me a copy of the piece you've written between you. It's very good."
"Victoria wrote most of it," Said Nikki.
"As I see. Well, Victoria Merrick," His tongue seemed to roll itself around her name. "If you keep writing like this, you'll go a long way in this profession."
"How have you found your first day here?"
"Great. I think I'm going to enjoy working here."
"Well, I hope you live up to my first impression of you."
When they returned to the main office, Victoria began collecting her things together as it was almost five thirty. Yvonne came in and stood in the middle of the room and clapped her hands to get everyone's attention.
"Right," She said. "We've got a new kid on the block today. What say we all go to the pub to welcome her aboard this rapidly floundering ship?"
A chorus of agreement came from most sides.
"Where are we going?" Asked Cassie.
"Well," Replied Yvonne. "Let's say we meet in the Printer's Press at about eight and take it from there. That okay with everyone?"
"Where is it?" Asked Victoria.
"Me and Tash will pick you up if you like," offered Nikki. "You don't live that far from it actually. You definitely chose the right place when you moved here, the Printer's Press is the pub most of us use."
"Okay, see you later then." Victoria was glad she had time to go home and change. She now had the opportunity to make herself look absolutely stunning. She'd made a good impression on her work colleagues from a professional point of view so now it was time to get to know them all, including the men, a little better.
When Tash and Nikki arrived at her door, Victoria was wearing a little black dress with shoulder-straps as thin as boot laces. Both women looked her up and down very appreciatively. Victoria blushed because she wasn't used to getting this kind of attention from other women.
"Sorry," She said. "Hands off. I only bat for the one team I'm afraid."
"Bugger!" Said Nikki with feeling. "Walk around in clothes like that and you won't only have us two scrutinizing your every curve."
"Why? Who else should I look out for?"
"Well, If fenner's there, he's the obvious one. We have a lot more style than him, though, don't we darling?" Nikki said as she linked her arm through Tash's.
"At least when we're on the pull, we do it with a modicum of finesse." Victoria's response to Tash's comment was to burst in to laughter.
"This I have to see!" She said.
"Hey," Said Tash. "Don't say that too often or we'll have to take you up on it."
"If you really don't find women the slightest bit sexy," Said Nikki. "You might want to keep out of Cassie's way till she's got the message."
"Some hope," commented Tash. "Cassie Tyler's worse than you when she's got her mind set on someone."
The conversation continued in a similar manner till they reached the little pub, The Printer's Press.
"I see why you all come here," Said Victoria.
"Yeah," Replied Nikki. "The name kind of forced us to in the beginning."
As they walked in, a cheer arose from the group around the table in the corner. Yvonne, Cassie, Alex, Mike and Dominic were sat there. Mike stood up.
"right, as I'm your immediate boss, I guess I should buy you the first drink. What are you having?"
"A Malibu and Pineapple please." They sat down at the table and Nikki asked,
"anyone joining us?"
"Yeah," Replied Yvonne. "Denny and Shaz will be along later and Keri said she might look in as well."
"What about Karen and Fenner?" Asked Tash.
"don't think so. Fenner said something about a quiet evening in, which is probably just another euphemism for a shag."
"Thank god for that," said Nikki. "The last thing I need is you and Karen arguing with each other all evening."
"It's only healthy competition," Said Yvonne. Mike came back with the first round of drinks and Nikki and Yvonne lit cigarettes.
"I do wish you'd give that up, Nikki," intoned Mike sounding more like a perpetually nagging mother than a work colleague.
"You should be glad it's only tobacco I'm smoking," Replied Nikki.
"Okay, don't tell me any more," Mike replied.
"Oh come on, Mike," Said a voice behind them. "don't tell us you've never been even slightly stoned." The voice came from Zandra who'd just arrived. She sat down next to Victoria and Mike turned a slightly smug gaze her way.
"Not to my knowledge, no."
"I think we'll have to do something about that. Don't you Yvonne?" Said Nikki as she leaned closer to relight her cigarette from Yvonne's.
"Yeah," Was the response. "I think that might be quite fun."
Victoria felt extremely relaxed and she began to feel like she'd known some of them for years, not simply a matter of hours. As Nikki had warned her about Cassie, Victoria kept noticing the other woman staring at her with what could only be called pure lust in her eyes. Nikki must have seen Cassie looking at Victoria at some point as well because she leaned over and whispered in Cassie's ear,
"sorry, darling. She prefers the male variety."
"Oh shit! You're joking," Said Cassie with clear dismay. "I was hoping to give her a real welcome later on."
"It's nothing personal Cassie," Said Victoria having heard the Tyler reaction to her sexuality.
"There's time," Cassie replied, clearly not yet giving up hope.
As it was a Monday night, they all left at closing time and decided not to go on to anywhere else.
"Meyer would never forgive us if we got you plastered on your first night here," Said Zandra.
"Yeah, and as I want him to increase my budget," Said Yvonne. "I'm not being held responsible for that."
As they all lived in fairly close proximity to the pub and each other, they all began walking home together dropping people off on the way. When they arrived at Victoria's flat, Yvonne, Mike, Nikki and Tash said goodbye to her. Yvonne gave her a hug.
"You'll get on all right here, Darling and you can count on all of us, you know that." Victoria was touched by this display of motherly affection from Yvonne. It made her think of the story she'd written that afternoon. If only Rachel Hicks had received some of that, she might not be where she was now.
When Victoria went in the next morning, it felt nice to her to be able to walk straight up to the office as if she'd been there for years. Julie Johnson was there giving the computer screens a dust and she asked Victoria if she'd like a coffee.
"Please, that'd be wonderful."
"Drink a bit too much last night did we?"
"Just a bit. It was fun though. It's funny but everyone tried really hard to make me feel one of them."
"Oh yeah. We're a pretty closely knit bunch around here."
Victoria sat down at her desk and turned on her computer. She was preparing to see what e-mail she had and also to check up on any stories that might have come in over night. But she didn't get further than her in-box before Nikki and Mike came in to the office talking about something and the look on Nikki's face told Victoria it was serious. They came straight over to her.
"You may as well turn that off again," said Nikki looking at Victoria's computer. "We're off out again. You know that woman, Rachel Hicks, who I went to see yesterday?"
"The one who's house was torched? Yes."
"Well, we're both going to see her this time and we're taking Denny. Someone tried to walk off with her baby last night."
"Quite," was Mike's rejoinder. "And that's exactly what we'll all be in if we don't get this story right. We need to tread very carefully. One wrong move and we could be doing that poor woman more harm than good."
Nikki and Victoria ran down the stairs and found Denny outside smoking a cigarette.
"Sorry, Denny, you're gonna have to put that out. We need you now."
"What's the friggin hurry man?"
"Attempted kidnap on Rachel Hicks' baby, that's what the hurry is."
"Give us two minutes and I'll get a camera and stuff." Denny rejoined them outside and Nikki drove at a ridiculous speed towards the hospital.
"Get any picture of anything that interests you, Denny. Well, anything accept pretty nurses. We're not doing a page three number this morning." Denny giggled. "You know the score," continued Nikki. "If so much as a facial expression catches your eye, I want it."
"I'll do my best, innit."
"What do we know about what happened?" asked Victoria, already scribbling in the notebook she never went anywhere without.
"They were going to let Rachel and her baby home today but after this they think that hospital will be the safest place."
"Like shit it will!" Came Denny's scornful voice from the backseat.
"Well, it stands to reason. It's far easier to get in to a hospital, I mean they never lock their doors and once you're asleep, you're anyone's." Nikki thought that Denny was talking from experience but she knew enough of Denny's background not to press the point in front of the new girl.
When they drew up in front of the hospital, Denny retrieved the most unobtrusive camera she had and followed Nikki and Victoria inside. They found Rachel Hicks and her baby in a private room so that Rachel could keep an eye on her daughter. The young girl looked very tired and very frightened.
"Rachel, are you feeling up to talking to us. I know we're not the police but we might be able to help you."
"Not you lot back again. It was the publicity about the fire that caused what happened last night."
"You don't know that," Said Nikki though Victoria could tell she didn't quite believe it. Meanwhile, Denny was snapping away and taking picture after picture of Rachel cradling her baby and of the complete lack of flowers by her bed. Victoria also saw this and made a mental note to ask Mike if they could send her some.
"Rachel, why don't you start by telling me what happened last night?"
"You know what happened. Someone tried to steal my baby. And what I want to know is why are you journalists doing more about it than the police?" Bloody good question, thought Nikki.
"Okay, so where was," She consulted her notebook of yesterday. "Maddy when whoever it was tried to take her?"
"She was down on the kids ward. We were supposed to be going home today." Rachel began to cry.
"Okay," Said Nikki. "We'll come back in a little while."
"No, please stay, I'm sorry. I just feel so scared."
"Rachel," asked Victoria. "Do you know who is doing these things to you?" Rachel went very quiet and even stopped sniffling. "Because if you do, we may be able to help you. You can't go on living with this amount of fear." Nikki was amazed at Victoria's apparent ability to hit the nail on the head. She could have screamed, therefore, when Denny suddenly ran out of the room. Nikki looked towards Rachel who didn't appear to have noticed.
"I can't tell you who tried to take Maddy."
"Does that mean you know?" Victoria didn't seem to need Nikki there at all.
"Yeah, I know, I know who nearly made off with Maddy and I know who set fire to my house, but like I said I can't tell you. Now I suppose you'll decide you can't help me just because there's no story in it." Oh, if you only knew, thought Nikki. She stood up.
"Why don't I go and get us all a coffee. Victoria will stay with you and if at any time you decide you can tell her who this person is, you feel free."
Nikki left the room and began to look for Denny. She didn't need to go very far till she heard angry voices.
"You've gone way too far this time, Shell. You could've killed her for shit's sake. Why her anyway?"
"Yeah, well, now she knows not to mess with my bloke, don't she?"
"Back with Mr. Fenner, ain't I. She shouldn't have been shagging him behind my back."
"Er, Shell man, you got it the wrong way round. It's Fenner who's been playing away with Rachel, so why torch her house?"
"Needed to teach her a lesson didn't I."
"But Jesus man! I didn't think even you could steal a kid. I mean that's mad that is."
"Yeah, well, she didn't listen the first time did she."
Nikki, having heard the majority of this appeared around the corner.
"I might've known you'd be mixed up in this, Dockley. When are you gonna take your psycho brain away from here?"
"I don't work for you no more, Wade. So you ain't telling me what to do. Right?"
"You mad bitch! You nearly killed a mother and child."
"Nearly killed a two-timing bitch more like." Nikki lifted her mobile out of her pocket to call the police and Shell tried to run for it. In an instant, Denny had sprung on her, had her hands behind her back and was holding her down.
"Want me to break your wrist do you, Shell? After what you did to Shaz, you fucking deserve it!"
When the police had taken Shell Dockley away in handcuffs, Nikki and Denny returned to Rachel's room but outside, Nikki put a hand on Denny's arm.
"Wait. Don't say anything about this in there. I wondered if it was anything to do with that psycho bitch ex of yours yesterday."
"Cheers man, you didn't have to remind me about that."
"when I arrived to see Rachel yesterday morning, Fenner was leaning over her bed and I swear he was threatening here."
"Shit man! I knew he was a twisted bastard but, bleedin hell."
"Now, Victoria doesn't know any of this. And I want you to fill her in while I talk to Rachel. She's got to be persuaded to give the police a statement. Otherwise, Dockley walks and her and Maddy are history."
"You really want me to tell all this to Victoria?"
"She's got to learn just who she's sitting next to in the office some time. She just thinks Fenner's an oily little bastard and we both know that he won't be touched by any of this, even though he's in it up to his neck. She needs to know. Take her for a coffee or something."
When Nikki reentered the room and told Victoria that she needed her to follow up something with Denny, Victoria looked unsurprisingly quite annoyed. Nikki smiled at her.
"What I need you and Denny to do is extremely important. You remember that fraudulent vicar we were following up yesterday," She winked behind the cover of Rachel's medical charts. "Well, there's been a huge development so I need you and Denny on it right away." Victoria, getting the hint followed Denny out of the room. Nikki took the vacated chair and turned to Rachel.
"Now, are you going to tell me what Mr. Jim Fenner was doing threatening you yesterday?"
"No! I can't. She'll kill me."
"She's in custody so she won't be doing any killing for the moment."
"You don't know her. She'll do anything just to prove a point."
"I do know Shell Dockley, Rachel. She used to be my boss's PA. That's how she met Jim Fenner."
"I didn't say Shell Dockley!"
"No, but I do know that she's who you were talking about. I caught her and Denny having a fight about you. Denny was sticking up for you and Shell was telling all for the world to hear."
"All I want is for me and my baby to be safe."
"And I'll do everything to make sure you are. Tell me, how did you meet Jim Fenner?"
"I sometimes work as an escort, just to earn a bit extra. I leave Maddy with my mum. Jim Fenner was one of my regulars."
"What do you mean, was?"
"Well, Shell warned me off him."
"So is she working as an escort as well now?"
"Yeah, she rules that area of business round here. Piss Shell off and you sign your own death certificate."
"And are you going to speak to the police?" Rachel began to look scared again.
"They'll have to promise to put me and Maddy somewhere safe. I won't do it otherwise."
"Well, I'll see what I can do about persuading them. And will you think about giving me a story. I don't mean about all the stuff to do with Shell. I'm not that stupid and neither are you. I just mean about you and your daughter and the fact that you've lost your home to a complete nutter."
"Maybe. But you've got to promise me one thing."
"I'll try," said Nikki who hated promises at the best of times.
"I don't want that Jim Fenner anywhere near me." She shuddered. "He's probably the slimiest customer I've ever had."
"Yeah. But if he knows Shell Dockley, I'm not really surprised."
"The police will find somewhere safe for us, won't they?"
"I hope so." Never had Nikki wished something so fervently. This young mother was still in a hell of a lot of danger and it wouldn't do anyone any good to forget that.
Return to Bad Girls Fiction
Return to Main Page