Public stories, Private lives
Part Twenty Eight
Karen spent a good deal of Saturday catching up on the work she'd left unfinished. She did this from home, as being alone in the office building wasn't something she was about to do any time soon. Around mid afternoon she received a call from Mike, asking her how she was and what she was doing this weekend. In an attempt to cut the conversation short, Karen rashly invited him round for dinner, immediately regretting her inability to keep her mouth shut. She didn't want to completely freeze Mike out, but right now his company was not on her desired menu.
Cursing herself all the way to the supermarket, she threw chicken and the other components of a stir fry in to a basket, plus a bottle of scotch as she was running low. When she walked down the wines isle, she figured that if she wasn't going to be good company for Mike, they may as well get drunk. Selecting a bottle of Chardonnay and one of Sauvignon Blanc, she moved to the check out. As she rifled through her handbag looking for the ever faithful credit card, she spied Nikki and Victoria in the queue a couple of tills along from her. She waved at Nikki and got a smile in return. She longed to be the type of woman who had a group of female friends, other women who she didn't always have to put on some kind of show for. Women like Nikki, Yvonne, or even Cassie. But what was she talking about, she did have Yvonne. Karen didn't know what she would have done without Yvonne in the last couple of days, she'd probably have gone stark staring mad. She was destined for an evening in with Mike, when what she really wanted to do was to get drunk with a few of the girls. She put the shopping in the car, and drove home with a heart sinking deeper and deeper in to depression.
When Mike arrived at about seven that evening, Karen opened the door with a feeling approaching trepidation. He automatically moved to put his arms round her and kiss her, but the frozen expression on her face stopped him in his tracks.
"How are you?" He asked, putting some wine down on the table.
"I'm surviving," Karen replied dryly, "What about you?"
"I've got work coming out of my ears and could really do with a new junior reporter."
"But I thought Victoria was doing very well," Said Karen, surprised at Mike's words.
"Another reporter, not a new reporter. We're getting more work than the two of them can handle these days. Violent crime seems to be on the increase." He stopped, realising what he'd just said. "I'm sorry," he said, "That was thoughtless."
"Why?" Asked Karen matter-of-factly, "It's true. More and more people seem to think they can get away with committing violent crime, and let's face it, with pathetic, weak-willed women like me unwilling to go to the police, it's only going to get worse." Bitter tears of anger, frustration and total disgust were shining in her eyes, but she strove not to let them fall. Mike thought she looked utterly defenseless, like an abandoned kitten left out in the rain to starve, and all he wanted to do was to hold her and take the pain away. But he knew it wasn't quite that simple. Cautiously approaching her, he was about to put his arms round her when she said,
"Don't. If I'm going to get through this, I need to be strong, and that means not giving in to everything I feel."
They tried to talk about other things whilst they cooked and ate a meal that Karen didn't really have any appetite for. But everything they discussed seemed to lead one way and another back to the office and the people who worked there.
"How's Nikki getting on without Tash?" Karen asked, desperately looking for a safe topic of conversation, other people's misfortunes being far easier to talk about than her own.
"Oh, she'll live. They've put the house on the market, but this time of year isn't really the house buying season. Tash is living with Kirstie and Nikki with Victoria. Apart from the first few days after they split up, things seem to be ticking along civilly enough."
"Kirstie's one of those people who's always seemed to keep herself to herself. I don't think anyone even knew that women were her thing until the break up with Nikki and Tash."
"Yes, funny the things people hide, especially in an office full of what must be the nosiest people in the world." Karen returned to the subject never far from the surface for either of them.
"that's why I can't go to the police about Fenner," Karen said quietly. Mike put down his fork and stared at her.
"I think you might give the people you work with a little more credit."
"Oh, do you?" Said Karen scornfully. "Come on, Mike, you're a journalist, I'm a journalist. We both know the score. With both the perpetrator and the, victim," She poured all her anger at the situation in to this word, "in the same office, my other two news reporters and both your crime reporters would have a field day, and no doubt the financial and health reporters would do their damnedest to find an angle on the situation so that they could also get in on the act. I am not having my private life used as industry fodder for all and sundry."
"Karen, it wouldn't be like that," He cajoled. "If you went public, everyone would support you, you know that. Does Anton know?"
"Yes, Yvonne told him. She couldn't come up with a satisfactory excuse as to my absence."
"If you went to the police, Fenner would be out on his ear. Anton wouldn't have any choice."
"Yes, I know, and I've thought about that, believe me. But at this stage, it would be my word against his, and I am not becoming the soap opera entertainment for every Post reader in the immediate vicinity. So, I'm afraid that all your persuasory tactics aren't going to work."
"Well, that's obviously your decision," He said, getting up from the table and preparing to do the washing up, "but I can't pretend that I think you're doing the right thing."
"Oh, I know, I didn't think you would," She replied nonchalantly, as if they were an old married couple disagreeing over the colour of the new bedroom curtains. "But, as you said, it's my decision, and it isn't one I'll be altering in any way."
"Are you really sure you've thought about this rationally?" He asked, in a last ditch attempt to persuade her to change her mind.
"No, I probably haven't thought about it rationally," She said, laying particular emphasis on her last word. "But I doubt I'll be in danger of being even vaguely rational about what Fenner did to me for a very long time." Mike had recoiled at the mention of Fenner's name and Karen hadn't missed this. "Do you know something," She said, the sarcasm dripping from every syllable, "I don't know if it's the fact I was raped or the fact that it was Fenner that you're really furious about."
"Hey, that isn't fair," He said, trying to stay calm but failing miserably. "I hate the thought of you going through something like that."
"Why?" She asked, knowing she wasn't being fair to him, but also knowing that she had to take it out on someone.
"What do you mean why?" He answered, looking thoroughly mystified.
"Why does what he did to me make you so angry?"
"Because I couldn't stop him doing it, because I wasn't there and couldn't protect you, and because I love you," He finished quietly. She stared at him, utterly gob smacked because this wasn't something either of them had said before tonight.
"You've never said that before," She said, all the fight having gone out of her.
"I know," He replied, drying his hands on the tea towel she'd been using. "But maybe I should have done. Maybe if I had, you might have felt more able to tell me."
"I couldn't," She said, sounding utterly defeated. "Being forced in to having sex with Jim Fenner isn't something I'm especially proud of. I suppose part of me feels that I should have been able to stop him. I keep wondering what I should have done, what I could have done to prevent it."
"Karen, what happened with Fenner isn't your fault," He said gently. "You've got to start believing that."
"Mike, would you mind leaving me to it for this evening?" She asked after a moment's pause. "I really don't think I can deal with company right now." Thinking that this wasn't an entirely good idea, he nevertheless agreed.
"Of course, if that's what you want."
"I'm sorry," She said, "I shouldn't take this out on you. I just don't really know where I am at the moment."
"Don't worry, this skin's thicker than it looks," He replied, with a lopsided smile, trying to put her at her ease. But when she let him out of her front door a while later, she knew that her affirmation of not wanting company wasn't quite true. She wanted company, just not his or any other bloke's company. She wanted the kind of female friend company, someone who she could be totally at ease with, someone who didn't need anything from her. After finishing the clearing up, she phoned Yvonne.
Part Twenty Nine
Yvonne had been to the pictures with Nikki and Victoria, and they were all ensconced in Victoria's sitting-room when Yvonne's mobile rang.
"Yvonne Atkins?" Greeted Karen's ears, and she could hear the hint of a laugh in Yvonne's voice which made her smile.
"Yvonne, it's Karen. Are you busy?"
"Not desperately," Said Yvonne turning serious at the heavily disguised plea in Karen's voice. "I'm having a drink with Nikki and Victoria. Why?"
"Do you think all three of you would mind coming over and giving me some company. Mike and I had a bit of a row, and I think that getting drunk and having a laugh would do me good."
"Yeah, sure. We'll be over in a bit." #Switching her phone off, Yvonne said, "That was Karen. She asked if we'd like to join her in getting a bit plastered. It sounds like her and Mike have had a bit of a tiff," Yvonne finished lamely, thinking that she could probably work out what they'd been arguing about.
They picked up some wine and cigarettes from the offlisence on the way to Karen's, all thinking that she clearly needed cheering up.
"Do you reckon this has got anything to do with whatever happened between her and Fenner this week?" Asked Nikki as they walked down the street where Karen lived. Yvonne stopped and put a hand on Nikki's arm to halt her in her stride.
"Whatever did or didn't happen between Karen and Fenner, is not, I repeat not to be talked about. Is that clear?"
"Yes, Mum, crystal clear," Said Nikki, with a slight hint of sarcasm. "You can't blame me for being interested though. Fenner's been heading for a fall for ages now, and it sounds like he's finally done something worth being sacked for."
"Jesus," Said Yvonne in disgust, "Forget being sacked, he deserves to be put behind bars for this." Then, realising she'd definitely said too much, she turned and continued walking down the road towards Karen's house. Nikki began thinking. She wasn't a journalist for nothing, and suspicion, especially where Fenner was concerned was second nature to her. when Karen opened the door, she looked relieved to see them.
"Thank god for some sane company," She said as they went in to the lounge.
"That's why I stick with women," Said Nikki, trying to put Karen at her ease. "They never manage to annoy the hell out of you quite like men. Mike's the best boss I've ever had, but at the end of the day, he's still a bloke."
They'd spent a good couple of hours, talking, drinking and listening to music. Karen felt far more relaxed than she had done since Wednesday night, but she didn't feel any happier with herself. She didn't even think it was anger at what Fenner had done to her. She felt slightly unhinged, ungrounded, as if everything she'd previously known about herself had been turned upside down. It was almost as if she didn't know who she really was any more. Even after the Rachel Hicks/Shell dockley business, and she'd discovered what Fenner had been doing with them and with her pictures, Karen still would never have thought Fenner actually, seriously capable of raping a woman. Sure, Fenner liked his women rough and ready, but what he'd done to her had been something else altogether. He'd really meant to hurt her, to punish her for humiliating him in front of the entire office. Karen had been listening with half an ear to a friendly argument between Yvonne and Nikki concerning some new singer Nikki was in to, but clearly not attentively enough, as she suddenly realised that Nikki had said something to her.
"I'm sorry," Karen said, "what did you say?"
"Are you all right?" Asked Victoria in gentle concern. This seemed to be Karen's undoing. Those four little words at first made her unable to speak.
"No, not really," She eventually replied, and they could all hear the threat of tears in her voice.
"Karen, what happened with Fenner?" Asked Nikki, equally as gently, receiving a glare from Victoria, accompanied by the words,
"Nikki, you promised you wouldn't." Karen, who was sitting on the other end of the sofa to Victoria, gave her a small, watery smile.
"It's all right," She said. Then, turning to look over at Nikki who was sitting in an armchair opposite Yvonne, she said, "Fenner raped me."
"No!" Said Victoria, in a quiet though nevertheless aghast tone.
"Yes," Said Karen dryly, "I believe that's what I kept saying, but to no avail." She realised that she must be on the verge of being seriously drunk to come out with such a comment.
"Jesus," Said Nikki, "Have you told Meyer? Fenner should at the very least be sacked."
"Fenner should probably be a lot of things, Nikki," Replied Karen, "One of them being handed over to the police. But it isn't going to happen. You're a crime reporter, which means you know just how these things happen. there are too many people in that office who would love to get their hands on a story like this."
"Yeah, probably because most of us hate Fenner's guts and would like nothing better than to hound him for the rest of his life. Karen, there isn't anyone there who wouldn't support you in this."
"Forget it, Nikki. Yes, what he did to me was the most horrific thing I've ever gone through, I don't know where I am any more and it's highly possible that I'm going slowly insane. But I'm not going through the process of reporting it only to have my every action since I lost my virginity called in to question."
"Okay, calm down," Said Nikki gently. "I'm not trying to pressure you in to anything. It's your decision. But if you ever change your mind, here's three of us who would back you all the way."
"Was that what you and Mike were rowing about?" Asked Yvonne, thoroughly relieved that it was now in the open and that she didn't have to go on keeping Karen's secret under Nikki's unerring determination to get at the truth.
"Yes," Said Karen, lighting a much needed cigarette. "He thinks I should go to the police too. I think he feels guilty that he wasn't there and couldn't stop it happening." Vowing that she would have a little talk to Mike at the earliest opportunity, Nikki refilled all their glasses.
A while later when the three of them left to walk home, Nikki turned to Yvonne as they were walking across the market square and said,
"Are you up for teaching Fenner a lesson he won't forget?"
"Nikki, don't be so stupid," Put in Victoria.
"Actually, Victoria's right," Replied Yvonne. "Nikki, this isn't your fight. If it's anyone's, it's Karen's, or at the outside it's Mike's, but it isn't yours."
"Oh, come on, Yvonne," Nikki insisted. "Mike isn't the fighting kind. Sure, he'd defend himself if he had too, but he won't do anything to Fenner without more provocation than this."
"Nikki, you're a journalist for god's sake. Giving Fenner a kicking is the quickest way to getting this in if not our paper then someone else's, which would be doing exactly what Karen doesn't want."
"Not if it's done properly," Said Nikki, not willing to leave it alone, like a dog with its nose down a rabbit hole.
"By properly I assume you mean quietly," Said Victoria in disgust.
"Absolutely right," Replied Nikki. "He can't be allowed to get away with this." Nikki didn't say any more as they walked the rest of the way home, but her thoughts were buzzing around in her head like rats on a treadmill. This one wasn't just going to be left to blow over, no way! But she had to go about this carefully. It would take four, possibly five of them to really give Fenner the kind of kicking he wouldn't forget in a hurry, and Nikki would have to choose her accomplices with absolute precision. Pick on the wrong person, and this would go tits up before it even got started.
On the Monday morning, Nikki stood outside smoking, until she saw Tash and Kirstie arrive in Kirstie's car. As they approached her, Tash began to feel a little uncomfortable and Kirstie simply held her head high. She wasn't going to apologise to anyone for being with the woman she loved, no matter how much that might have hurt Nikki.
"Have you got a minute, Tash?" Nikki asked as they moved to walk passed her.
"Yes, of course," Tash said aimiably, as Kirstie walked inside.
"I need your help with something," Nikki said quietly. "Not for me, for someone else."
"You're not making any sense, Nikki," Tash said gently, seeing instantly that this was something very serious.
"It's about Karen," Nikki continued. "Some time last week, Fenner raped her."
"No!" Tash said in heartfelt rage and sympathy.
"I know," Nikki agreed bitterly. "Shit, isn't it. The thing is, she's refusing to go to the police about it. I can't blame her really, what with this place. Someone like Nick Jordan would sell this story quicker than he would his own grandmother, if he thought it would get him noticed."
"That's a little unfair, Nikki, even taking into account Nick's complete lack of principles," Tash said with a half smile.
"Fenner needs teaching a lesson," Nikki persisted. "If Karen won't go to the police, then he'll get off scot free, and we both know that Fenner's done that far too often."
"Just who knows about this?" Tash asked, thinking she could see where Nikki's thoughts were going.
"Yvonne, Victoria, Mike and Meyer, I think."
"Nikki," Tash said slowly. "Would I be right in thinking that you want to give Fenner a little tactical persuasion not to do this again?"
"You know me too well, darling," Nikki said fondly.
"Nikki, you can't just go taking the law into your own hands, purely because Jim Fenner's a wanker of the highest order!" Tash insisted vehemently.
"Why the hell not?" Nikki demanded, both their voices having dropped almost to a stage whisper.
"Because you might end up in far more trouble than it's worth," Tash replied angrily. "Nikki, I am not going to stand by and watch you throw your career, your freedom and possibly your life away, just because Karen isn't prepared to fight for justice."
"Oh, so what do you propose I do?" Nikki asked stonily. "Just sit by, and let him get away with it?"
"If that's what it takes to keep you out of harm's way, then yes!"
"You know I can't do that, Tash," Nikki said with the sort of finality that Tash knew not to argue with.
"Oh, and just how were you planning to do this?"
"I haven't really thought that far," Nikki admitted sheepishly. "I just think a few of us ought to give him a bit of a kicking, that's all."
"Oh, and that's really the right way to go about it," Tash said disgustedly. "Leave it with me," She added quietly. "I can't promise I'll come up with anything, but I'll have a think about it. You are right, in that Fenner can't simply be allowed to walk away from this. But if any revenge is to be had, it's got to be done properly."
All morning, Nikki sat staring at her computer, wholly unable to keep her mind on her work. Victoria had offered to go to court, to sit at the press bench and to take note of anything news worthy that might have happened over the weekend.
"You could try putting Fenner in that category," Nikki said dully, thinking that yet again, he would get away with it.
"Try not to dwell on it too much, Nikki," Victoria said gently. "There's nothing you can do."
"We'll have to see about that, won't we," Nikki said, the furious determination in her voice making Victoria instantly alert.
"Nikki, I know he deserves teaching a lesson, but you can't do it on your own." When Victoria had driven off with her notebook and pen, Nikki started thinking. Victoria was right, she couldn't do this on her own. Opening a new, blank document in Microsoft word, Nikki began making a list of the people who might just want Fenner to be brought off his pedastol of apparent innocence. Putting her own name at the top, she then added Tash, because although Tash wasn't wild about the idea of serving some social justice, Nikki thought she could probably be persuaded. Denny was a definite, as maybe was Shaz. Cassie, possibly, though she wasn't really the kicking the shit out of people type. The same went for Jasmine. Yvonne, now she really was a must. She might not want to get involved, because of her having been the only one Karen had trusted, but she was a possible. Mike, now he was definitely off limits. Give him an excuse to beat the crap out of Fenner, and Mike would take it too far, probably landing himself a life sentence in the process. Nick Jordan wouldn't want to get involved, because he usually preferred to be well away from the consequences of his actions, long before the shit hit the fan. Danny might want a piece of the action though. He was hot headed like herself, and loathed other men who took advantage of anyone. Before drafting an e-mail to go to the respective people on her list, Nikki thought she'd better talk it over with Yvonne first. If Yvonne didn't give her support to this endeavour, it would go tits up before it even started.
Walking up to the second floor, Nikki put her head round the door of Yvonne's office. Yvonne was on the phone, but gestured for Nikki to come in and sit down. When she put down the receiver, Yvonne came straight to the point.
"This is about Fenner, isn't it."
"How did you guess," Nikki said dryly.
"I can see it in your face," Yvonne replied matter-of-factly. "And I think you're here to try and persuade me to help you give Fenner the biggest kicking he's ever had in his life."
"Something's got to be done about him, Yvonne."
"Maybe, but not by you, not by me, not by anyone, except maybe Karen herself."
"this isn't like you," Nikki said, the disappointment evident in her tone.
"I'm too old for this, Nikki. Settling scores isn't what I do any more. You've got absolutely no idea how much I would like to see Fenner pay for what he did to Karen, but giving him a few bruises and a couple of cracked ribs isn't the answer."
"so what is, Yvonne?" Nikki demanded. "Because he can't be allowed to get away with it, time and time and time again." Yvonne put her hands to her head, this conversation having given her a headache after only five minutes.
"Nikki, listen to me," She said wearily. "Twenty years ago, I was just like you. I thought I could solve anything in the world, anything that didn't quite agree with my way of thinking."
"Yvonne, this isn't just a difference of opinion," Nikki interrupted vehemently.
"Shut up for a minute and listen," Yvonne continued, holding up a hand. "This is Karen's fight, if she wants it to be one, not yours, not anyone's. If you give Fenner a kicking, you'll be the one getting the sack and a visit from the police, not him. You'll be the one in the centre of your own crime column, not him. Meyer would have you out of here within the hour if he thought you'd done something like that, you know he would. You're far too good at your job, Nikki, to ditch your career over a shit like Fenner, and don't for one minute think that Karen would thank you for it. You have to let this one go, Nikki, promise me." Nikki stayed quiet. "Nikki, do you want Fenner to come out of this smelling of roses?" Yvonne asked, now getting more than a little impatient with Nikki. "Because that's exactly what would happen if you gave him a bit of Nikki Wade style justice." Looking up in irritation at a knock on her door, Yvonne bade whoever it was to enter. It was Anton, his slightly cold, piercing eyes making Nikki instantly aware that he knew what they'd been talking about.
"Nikki was just telling me about a possible upcoming story that might involve both crime and finance," Yvonne said, the journalist's ability to think on her feet still second nature to her.
"Really," Meyer dralled, not believing her for an instant. "I do hope that what you were in fact doing, was trying to persuade our resident vigilanti here, not to do anything that might bring the paper into disrepute."
"Is that all you care about?" Nikki demanded rashly.
"No, not in the slightest," Anton replied, keeping his cool to perfection. "I am just as outraged at the recent events involving James Fenner as you are."
"You've got a bloody funny way of showing it," Nikki said stonily.
"Nikki," Yvonne warned.
"I saw you this morning," Anton continued to Nikki. "Talking to Ms Vandara as she arrived for work. So, whatever you have up your sleeve for dealing with the situation, forget it, right, now." His tone was unequivocal, forbidding her from any course of action which might have occurred to her. "If justice is to be had," Anton said a little more gently. "It will be served in its own time, not ours."
To Be Continued
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