Return to Sender
Mark Waddle sat on the hard plastic bench, barely screened from the elements in the dimly lit deserted station foyer in a northern town. The name of the city was ceasing to have any feel or semblance of home, just a brief scene in transit in his life before the train was due to take him to the new act in his life. The prison likewise was going to become just another nick he'd worked for in his personnel file when he had put emotional and physical distance from it. His overnight case was in his hand like any drifter moving from town to town across the length and breadth of Great Britain. He felt only that intermission feeling of terminal boredom waiting for the late train to come running down the line from distant towns. He felt in his jacket pocket for a lighter and a packet of cigarettes and inhaled the nicotine gratefully. The open station was a natural wind tunnel which blew a concentrated blast of cold wind on him to add to the freezing cold and his own dark mood.
From the start, Mark Waddle hated the new antiseptic prison life that he had moved to on transfer. HM Prison Bradgate was one of those new prisons that had been run up in the last ten years, which sounded fine on paper- except for the people there. To think that the crumbling Victorian pile of Larkhall would have any attraction in comparison was a real turnabout in his thinking. Months back, when he was on an identical train station at the end of the line coming up to here rather than going back, the future was bright and hopeful, new city, new job on promotion and a new life.
He had thought that the slippery sly Neil Grayling was the 'boss from hell' and Jim Fenner the sort of schoolyard bully he had hated and loathed since schooldays . This was before he had come across John Bostock, the Wing Governor at Bradgate.
"I run a tight ship, Mark." His expressionless voice had bypassed his frozen lips."Anyone new coming here either fits in here or gets out. I do things my way. As Senior Officer, you know where your loyalties are. I expect you to crack down on the moaners around here and if I hear that you haven't, I crack down on you. I get to hear about everything round here. Got that?"
The man was only half listening to him while he did some scribbling in a file on his desk. At least Grayling pretended to give you his full undivided attention and his best false smile and at least if you told him that Fenner was against the idea you wanted, you could influence the slippery snake. You might as well influence a brick wall by talking to it, Mark reflected bitterly, within the first week of working with John Bostock. All promotion did for him was to make him Mr Bastard's very junior mate. This was one reason that he got out and found himself on the near midnight train to Larkhall.
From endlessly looking at the dimly lit display board, the last minute had come and he willed the last few seconds to tick by. Then, in the distance, came the very faint distinct sounds of the incoming train growing ever louder as the metallic sounds and the dark shape appeared with a scattering of lights. Mark grabbed his case, yanked open the train door and, as expected, found his choice of the double seats with a table and space to stretch his legs.
On the table in front of him was a crumpled up paper that a previous passenger had thrown away. Mark picked it up and flipped through it while the train rattled along the tracks in the pitch black night in the middle of God knew where. Mark was cocooned in the rapidly moving train, alone with his thoughts, his suitcase and a throwaway newspaper. Yet another set of celebrity photos of Britney Spears. Nice legs, he thought, and he liked the look of the outfit she was wearing, what there was of it. The guy who wrote the article seemed pretty brain dead though and sounded as if his tongue was handing out onto the keyboard of his computer. Nothing much in the sports section that he hadn't read before and the front page was devoted to yet another tirade about asylum seekers and why don't the government find more effective ways of locking them up prior to throwing them out of the country.
Mark smiled cynically at this one. As if life were so simple. His working life was in locking people up for a living and slamming the cell doors shut was only the start of what it was all about. He wasn't much keener than anyone of the numbers coming to this country than anyone else but, though these families would have language problems, they hadn't actually committed any crime, not like the drug dealers and violent men who transplanted their gang mentality into the closed in world of Bradgate Prison. He could still see the bullet headed faces in their striped uniforms and closed in worlds, not much different from the POs who just happened to wear different uniforms carry the keys.
Mark was tired, as it had been a long day. He'd thanked the landlord who had been patient with his rather erratic payments of rent. All it had taken was a large metal trunk, which he'd somehow squeezed into a black cab and seen on its way to his parents at Larkhall. All that was left was his beds, stripped bare, waiting for the next transient soul to be a backdrop of another disconnected story. He'd manhandled his case onto the bus to Bradgate prison for the last time and hauled it all the way to the bright blue metal door and the familiar blue plaque announcing its identity.
He passed by the cell of a guy called Melvin who was busy scrawling letters to his girlfriend on the outside. The man's face smiled underneath the three day growth of beard and slightly wrinkled features. Mark Waddle knew his form. Three years inside for beating the hell out of his recently married bride of a few weeks yet he kept babbling on about his long time on and off girlfriend. By the sounds of it, she was this educated college girl who understood him as no one ever did and who was bringing up three children on her own. He sounded like a nice guy to talk to and everytime he passed by his cell, he called him inside and talked incessantly about Allah and what spirituality meant to him. This was weird to Mark as he understood that the guy was Jewish. A complicated man but too bad, as the man was a smackhead.
"Best of luck, boss." Melvin said to him and Mark was slightly touched by this. This was going to be the one and only words of farewell and good wishes he was going to get at this dump.
Sure enough, the other POs studiously ignored him as they had done every day that he worked there. This had hurt him when he first started at Bradgate as he was, by nature, a sociable man, fond of going down to the pub with 'the lads' but he had got used to his own company over time, even in the Social Club, where he went to his own corner of the dark, smoky room, smelling of alcohol as every PO social club did. When he was on duty, he had got into the habit of just talking shop and never joined in the conversations with the others which drifted over his head. As Senior Officer, he gave the orders but, outside this narrow world, every nuance of the place tried to make him feel the lowest of the low.
Right at the end, he picked up a copy of the POA Magazine which was flung in the corner. In the lead article it announced "Privatisation- The Government give no Guarantees for the future"
"Yeah, right," Mark snorted cynically, left the magazine for the next unseeing reader and slid out of the prison ready to face his future. He had asked for a posting anywhere so naturally, Area had chosen Larkhall to be his future. After all these months of living hell at Bradgate, even Larkhall was beginning to have its attractions.
John Bostock closed the file on Mark Waddle with a smile of satisfaction and dropped it in the out tray to go back to Area and then on to this Larkhall Prison down south. Probably all the female Eastenders criminal types from London end up there with a load of Cockneys in charge. He's a Senior Officer down right now but anything is better than having some wet liberal cluttering up his nick. Bradgate is meant to be mean and hard to scare the shit out of all the villains in the area so they don't come this way. Give Waddle half a chance and he'd turn it into a bloody holiday camp and have everyone dressed up as Redcoats. Thank God the lads sorted him out in no time at all and put the squeeze on him.
"You're telling me that my Principal Officer assaulted you in the toilet, Waddle? That's rubbish. I know him from when we were in training school together. We've shared a couple of training courses together so I know John Fletcher like the back of my own hand."
"Perhaps you'd better ask the guy for his side of the story before you disbelieve me." The big girl's blouse had the bloody cheek to tell him.
"So why are you wasting my time. At the very least, one man's word against another and in this case, the word of a Senior Officer with pips on your shoulder so new the pips squeak against my oldest and most trusted officer who's judgement I'd back to the hilt."
"Because I want out of here, John Bostock. I'm putting in for a transfer even if it meant going back to the prison I came from. I know I'm beaten so I'm taking myself to where I'm better appreciated. There you are, you have it in writing."
And Mark Waddle remembered looking at this hard faced guy in the eye with his slow burning anger threatening to boil over at any moment as he scribbled out the note. He knew he was an inch away from landing a punch on this man's face with all the force of his strength. The feeling choked him up inside and made it very hard to think outside the total burning fury bottled up inside him that blotted out everything around him. Once shown the faintest glimpse of his liberty, a transfer out, then it was as if an alcoholic, long denied his drink, totally binges and becomes drunk with his freedom. It took all of the strength of the little voice of reason and long institutionalised military order to hold him back.
"So what are you waiting for, Waddle?" the hard faced man sneered at him.
"For you to not provoke me into doing something that I'll regret." Mark's unsteady voice half choked by the anger within him as he rose from his seat, resting his knuckles on his desk. "And that you'll regret more than me."
"Are you threatening me, Waddle." Came John Bostock hard-edged voice, provoked to real anger.
"It's a promise, mate." Mark's reply was propelled and more focussed by anger and a little part of him, gaining a flash of satisfaction that, at last, he's rattled his cage. He looked John Bostock straight in the eye.
"I'll speed up a request to any nick that'll take you. You and me are never going to make a go at getting on with each other." John Bostock's unnaturally quiet voice responded, trying to sound matter of fact but fractionally failing. This was a new one on him and he wanted to get this guy out of his office and fast, and invading his personal space and his desk by his physical presence and something highly menacing about him.
The phone rang in Neil Grayling's office while he was working intently on his laptop, his latest gadget. Only when the tone became insistent that, with a flash of anger, he picked up the phone if only to silence its intrusion into his life.
"Grayling, here." His flat tones announced.
"Ah, Neil, " the familiar voice from Area personnel sounded in his ear."We think we have the solution to your vacancy of a Senior Officer that you've been bending our ear about."
"Yes," Grayling asked cautiously. He had been insistent upon the point when he thought about it and the fact that he was having lovelife problems had nothing, of course, to do with giving those slowcoaches at area a periodic verbal nudge.
"We have a fully competent Senior Officer with the best of recommendations on level transfer from up north, from Bradgate prison "
"And his name " Grayling broke intro the sales pitch.
"Mark Waddle. You're getting him next Monday. I think you've worked with him before so he should know the ropes." carried on the enthusiastic sales pitch to Grayling's unbelieving ears.
The voice over the phone from far off Area had broken through distance instananeously to carry the news of Mark Waddle's impending arrival to Grayling. The train sped down the metallic parallel lines towards its destination while rain spattered the windows, carried on vicious squalls of wind that made those on the inside feel as cosy as the train carriage will allow. Inside, a sleepy fug settled down on the train and its temporary inhabitants, causing those most tired to slump sideways against whatever crevice the sleepy shape can cling to and for the mobile phone addicts and the workaholic laptop tappers to fall silent.
"We are now approaching Larkhall station." came the impersonal voice out of nowhere."Remember to ensure you take all your luggage with you."
Mark shook himself awake, rubbed the sleep out of the eyes and the crick in his neck where his head was resting and stumbled towards the door, his suitcase bouncing off the seats. Just in time, he yanked the door open and half fell out of the carriage onto the platform just before the train started sliding away out of the station.
The large sign 'LARKHALL' stared him in the face and brought home reality to him, the one place in the world he'd sworn never to come back to. Even though he'd chosen to come back here, a feeling of abstract panic rose in him which he had to fight hard to keep within limits. He trod slowly and reluctantly, the short distance through the cold empty foyer to the nearest phone box to call a taxi.
The wall clock ticked away what felt like hours while Karen's mind shut off the evidence of her ears of the unbelievable news that was dropped on her by a very smug, malicious Sylvia Hollamby.
"The powers that be will be delighted to know that you won't have a Sylvia Hollamby to kick around any more." That loud self-important voice broke in on Karen's close concentration of the file she was studying in her office.
"Come again." Karen's vision focussed upwards to see her least welcome and most unusual visitor."Where did you spring from?" she added more sharply.
"My Bobby has been fighting a case against the Prison Service for years. Ever since he was forced out of the Prison Service by some Miss Interfering Busybody" Bodybag venomously uttered. "He's now got a lump sum pension and backdated superannuation from the Prison Service. No more locking up vicious, ungrateful cons for me and having to kowtow to the likes of you."
Karen was flooded by a mixture of feelings. The first thought was that she would be one Senior Officer down and the duties would need to be spread around. The second was a warm feeling that the substantial shape of Sylvia Hollamby, a persistent thorn in her side who moaned and criticised her behind her back was disappearing in an incongruous cloud of smoke. She squashed down the resentment that Sylvia had come into the money was unworthy. Overlaying these feelings was that she should not seem too eager and glad to see the back of her.
"Well, well, Sylvia. This is a surprise. Of course, I'm glad for you and Bobby and I hope you both have a comfortable retirement. All of us have that dream of getting to where you and Bobby are now. I assume that you will be working your notice, Sylvia."
"Then assume wrong, Miss Betts." Sylvia's full venom was revealed."I'm going at the end of this week and count yourself lucky that I'm not walking out here and now."
"This leaves us in rather an awkward spot," Karen replied with a bit of an edge to her voice. "Still a woman's gotta do what a woman's gotta do. I suppose you don't want a farewell do ..like your wedding anniversary, Sylvia." At this point, Karen hand moved to cover her mouth to conceal the large grin that was splitting her face from ear to ear as her memory of Sylvia's very excitable dancing and attempt to pull any man on the dance floor.
"No I do not. And you leave my Bobby out of this. A drink at the pub with Jim will do nicely for me. He's the only one who has shown me any consideration and friendship." Bodybag stormed at her.
If only you knew, Sylvia, Karen smiled cynically to herself. And you never once wondered how I came across the newspaper picture of you and Bobby doing the light fandango while you, the supposed invalid, was feebly tottering to work with your neck brace. The extension of your daily embarrassment of prancing around in your tracksuit was down to everybody's best friend, bloody Jim Fenner.
"Do you want to say the farewells now or later, Sylvia." Karen's chilly tones accompanied her very formal outstretched hand, which was designed to put that bloody woman on the spot.
"Save your farewells, Miss Betts." Bodybag scowled at her and turned for the door.
"In which case, goodbye and good riddance." Karen's parting salvo was fired with all the pent up frustrations of the past few years.
Karen helped herself to a celebratory glass of vodka and toasted soon to be absent not exactly friends. A shaft of sunshine peeked out of the white cotton wool cloud and threw an illuminated patch of light on her desk which matched her mood. Then she picked up the phone to let Grayling know and give him the job of finding a replacement Senior Officer. That made her smile the more as the buckpassing sod was always palming off work onto her if he could get away with it so that he could swan off to some conference.
Grayling picked out in Karen Betts's tones, the very hidden amusement that he is being pushed into getting something sorted out fast. He resented that. He has clawed his way up to being Governing Governor so that he had the power and was in command of his destiny and of those below him. And he was very conscious of rank as rank equals power.
"Hello, Roy. Can you start the ball rolling and get me a new Senior Officer. I'll put it in writing. I don't care where or how you get the replacement. I'll send you a letter to put it in writing."
"Relax, Neil." Came the self assured voice, knowing what a worrier the man is."I'll get onto this straight away. There'll be someone from the provinces around that is attracted to the London weighting and who wants to run out on the partner."
Fenner and Bodybag marched out of the prison to the pub, cavalierly telling Ken to cover for both of them on Friday lunchbreak. Ken opened his mouth to protest at this being dropped on him at the last minute only to receive, full in the eye, one of Fenner's more murderous glares.
"Let them have their fun", Karen told Ken under her breath out of their earshot. Ken closed his mouth thinking, after all, that he didn't want to start an unpleasant scene. He was used to smoothing things over, largely at his expense which is why they picked on him as dogsbody."Wish Mark Waddle was here," he muttered. "He was the one man who could stand up to him."
Bodybag marched out of Larkhall looking like the Queen of Sheba, at least in her own mind and they walked together down the lane in the clear blue frosty air, a welcome change from the stale recirculated fuggy atmosphere inside the prison..
"Well, the Prison Service will miss you, Sylv" Fenner drunkenly assured Bodybag as they sat in the corner of the 'Larkhall Arms', the third drink already on the table."Remember what it was like in the old days under Pickering. He was a Wing Governor who taught me all I knew." laughed Fenner.
"None of those prisoners rights in those days, Jim." Bodybag beamed."If some con dared to breath so much as a word that we'd been a bit firm with her, Pickering himself banged the con up at once and turned a blind eye if some of the PO's had a word or two with the con down the block."
"No letters to the Guardian." Fenner chimed in, the alcohol lending bravado to his tones.
"And none of the likes of Miss Stewart with her 'do gooder' ways. If she'd been there in the old days, she'd have been an ordinary PO organising the tea for the rest of us." Bodybag malignantly joined in with Fenner. Even if Helen Stewart had left the prison service and had moved on, Bodybag had hoarded her grudges and still keenly smarted from Helen's sharp rebukes.
"And dyke bitches like that Wade bitch would never have been let out of seg. And not gone swanning about the place getting special favours from Wing governors. Not off old Pickering." And at this point, both of them laughed heartily, seeing before their eyes a vision of Larkhall that had passed into memories even if the solid grey stone structure dated from the Victorian days of empire. To the two of them, the past was almost tangible, almost but not quite within their reach, especially when alcohol fuelled their feelings of nostalgia.
Karen noticed one letter sent to her from Area. This seemed to be of more importance than the usual clutter of junk mail that came her way. It wasn't only Grayling's managementspeak that had the ability to talk about everything yet to actually say nothing. There were days when Karen wondered if she ought to have stuck to nursing but from what she's read in the papers these days about hospital trusts, the same wave of oily polluted language would have flooded into the places that dealt with the healing of the sick, injured and dying. The good memories of her nursing days that were started to creep into her mind were only good because she never knew when she was younger the sort of shit she now had to deal with.
She flipped open the stuck down grid envelope and spread open the contents of the letter and took a series of deep breaths to get over a feeling of panic that swelled inside her.
"Oh shit." she said.
'Notification of transfer.
'Senior Officer M J Waddle is starting at H.M. Larkhall on level transfer with effect from October 26th 2002 from H.M Bradgate to replace the vacancy left by S Hollamby who resigned recently.
You will draw to the attention of the officer concerned the provisions under the staff code of any entitlement to travelling expenses .. "
At that point the rest of the letter went out of focus and her feelings went into overdrive instead. Why in hell did Mark want to transfer back to Larkhall of all places. Surely he was established in a nice new cosy life up North, well beyond Hatfield and the motorway sign pointing out uncharted territory for Mark and anyone that she knew. And why in hell should he want to come back to Larkhall of all places. It couldn't be some forlorn romantic dream that Mark had, looking at the past through rose tinted spectacles that, given the separation of time, both of them would think that they had made a mistake in splitting up in the first place. That would a very drastic rewriting of history, Karen thought, her lips tightening as she remembered that she was the one that told Mark that he was a nice guy but that it was not happening between them. Mark had always been the one to put his heart on his sleeve with an intensity that scared her. She had wanted that tentative shapeless formless thing to 'take it easy' to 'let it flow', 'have a few laughs'. It was a coming together of two office colleagues who had recently broken previous relationships where they had the odd game of squash together, had a few drinks and, one night spent the night together. He had read far more into all that than she was prepared to consider. She screwed the transfer notice up and threw it in the wastebin to put distance from it until she realised that this was official business and couldn't be cast aside that easily.
The business side of her that made her able to wrench a situation away from the emotional brink too charge of her, with a big effort of will. At the end of the day, she had lost one moaning, useless woman who forever complained about her by a man who suited much more her way of dealing with prisoners. He was kind, caring, very professional and, like her, saw that there was some good in prisoners if only he could reach it. The sort of new POs that were coming into the service were increasingly becoming the backlash to the sort of progressive ideas; she, Helen Stewart and other isolated pioneers were trying to bring in.
Increasingly, she was feeling more and more isolated. Fenner was there like some lowering storm cloud now that she could see through him. He was getting at the new POs and infecting them with his level of cynicism. In place of the welcome patronage of Stubberfield, she was up against that slippery snake, Grayling. She resolved to herself that she needed to make it quite clear right from the start that she wanted a professional relationship and to keep all past bitter arguments strictly off limits. Perhaps things might be looking up if things were handled right.
She knew that she could do with all the help that came her way. The impending privatisation of Larkhall gave her that chill feeling inside and that the pressure was on her.
Suddenly, she threw her pen down as the paperwork swam before her eyes and refused to make sense. She had to take a stroll and clear her head and she couldn't think of a better place to go than walk up to the 3s and chat with Yvonne. Ever since the fire at Larkhall and the discovery how badly they were conned by the same man, Ritchie Atkins, her lover and Yvonne's son, they discovered that they had more in common than they had ever thought that they had.
"Hard day at the office?" Yvonne ironic tones greeted Karen as she flopped herself down on Yvonne's bunk without any preliminaries.
"Only my usual day to day job, wiping arses, like a whole prison load." Karen nodded and sighed. "Keep this under your hat but there's a couple of people coming in tomorrow to look round Larkhall from a firm called Lynford Securities ."
"You what?" Yvonne's face expressed total puzzlement." Are you seriously telling me that her Majesty's Prison Larkhall needs a home security team to fit up bleeding burglar alarms?"
"Lynford Securities are a private security firm who are putting in a bid to take over the running of this place. There will be a clean sweep of some of us, if not all of us." Karen explained patiently. A feeling of despair overtook her when the potential complexities were whizzing round in her head and that her brief words were not even remotely doing justice to it. Even someone as sharp as Yvonne wasn't getting the picture.
"Well, if some of the screws like Bodybag, I mean Mrs Hollamby, gets the boot, things can only get better."Yvonne snorted contemptuously. "Clear out some of the dead wood and dead from the neck up screws. She's bleeding lucky she jumped instead of being pushed."
"Don't think for a moment, Yvonne, that things couldn't get any worse here and that Larkhall has the worst prison officers around," Karen said evenly and slowly. "I've known very well what you've thought of Sylvia Hollamby and, come to think of that, I've had my own opinions as well. But imagine this place being run by frightened men and women with lousy training, cutting corners for profit, making sure that nice fat dividends get paid out, at the expense of you and me. Think of it, Yvonne."
"Fenner would be well away," Yvonne snorted." They'd welcome him with open arms. I could imagine him stealing your job."
"Fenner would be well away," Yvonne snorted." They'd welcome him with open arms. I could imagine him stealing your job."
"I couldn't possibly comment on that, Yvonne," Karen's deadpan facial expression was betrayed by that very slight upturn at the corner of her mouth."Still there's another piece of news. Mark Waddle's coming back to take her place."
Yvonne's face brightened. That was good news as she'd heard what Mark Waddle did for Buki Lester and for Roisin. One of the better screws around. Good looking guy as well.
"Well, that's some good news, Karen. You two used to be close at one time."
"We were," Karen replied, flatly."I'd better be on my rounds. See you, Yvonne."
"See you, Karen." Yvonne replied in those tones of easy familiarity. She wanted to stay in her cell and mull over what Karen had said, her expansiveness of conversation over the Lynfords thing and her bare clipped delivery of speech about Mark Waddle.
Mark got off the red London bus, a large holdall slung over his shoulder with all the assorted work possessions. In front of him were the familiar wooden gates and ancient ramparts of Larkhall Prison. The whole scene had an element of unreality as if life was an old time filmtrack only the operator had fitted it in wrong way round. The gates of Larkhall enlarged themselves bit by bit when once, as periodic glances over his shoulder told him, the prison diminished in size until his eager rapid strides took him round the corner and Larkhall abolished from his vision. Now he was, with full consciousness, choosing to go back.
"Hello, Ken." Mark greeted the familiar face at the door with a heartiness that was partly him keeping his spirits up."Long time, no see."
"Hey, it's great to see you, Mark. This place hasn't been the same since you left. Let's have a drink in the Social club first chance we get."
"I'll hold you to that one,"Mark said, his spirits lifting. A chance to mix again in human company would be a real tonic after all those months of being treated as a social outcast. This put him on a roll to face less welcome people around, Grayling being the first.
"Hello, Mr Waddle, nice to see you back." echoed down the wing as Mark made his way to Mr Grayling's wing.
"Mr Waddle sir, how did they let a dangerous trouble maker like you back here?" Yvonne grinned, her tones a mixture of light sarcasm underlain by real respect.
"It takes one to know one, Yvonne." Mark's lightning quick response was accompanied by his cheekiest grin.
"Off to see Grayling, sir?" Yvonne joined in the double act, attempting to cap Mark's very amusing one liner.
"Yeah well," Mark replied in a theatrically exaggerated casual style." I might be left hanging around a bit while Grayling personally rolls out the red carpet for me. Can't get the service these days."
"See you around," smiled Yvonne, nonchalantly leaning against the wall while Mark strode along the corridor.
"Mark Waddle, grab a chair. I'm delighted that a man of your experience is here to fill the breach. It's good that someone who I have taken a personal interest to move up the career ladder has come back to us to do his bit to keep HMS Larkhall afloat and steaming full speed ahead."
It's the way Grayling he tells bullshit with such a straight face, Mark thought cynically and what hideous cliches he comes out with. As an afterthought he concluded that he is better, than the Terminator monster at Bradgate, just about.
"I'm glad to come back here, sir. I've had a quick wander around and it feels like I've never been away. All the old faces are still here ..except Sylvia. I'll do my best to fill the gap, obviously." Mark responded with a sincere smile designed to covered up his real feelings and leave the bastard guessing.
"You understand you'll be back on G wing, Mark. I trust that it poses no particular problems." Grayling said quietly with an apparently concerned expression.
"That's fine by me. I know everyone and they know me. Show me to the locker room to dump my stuff and then on to G wing." Mark's best casual tones blocked off Grayling's little feeler out about how his past problematic relationships both with Fenner and with Karen and ended on a tone of breezy confidence.
"Perhaps you ought to see Karen Betts and Jim Fenner first, both of whom you'll be working for." Grayling persisted with a sly smile.
"Oh yeah, that goes without saying." Mark chipped the last sly comment back. And he stood up to shake Grayling's cold, unenthusiastic hand and strolled out to renew old acquaintance.
Karen was running over in her mind exactly what she wanted to say to Mark until she realised that the Karen Betts she would be depended very much on the Mark Waddle she would be facing. This is impossible, she decided, throwing down her pen on her desk, and reaching for a cigarette. This is like a puzzle with no answer. Friendly but businesslike was what finally jumped into her mind and be ready to adjust to anything.
"Come in, Mark." Karen's outstretched hand shook Mark's hand firmly and gestured him to a chair while she sat back behind her desk "Looks like I've swapped you for Sylvia Hollamby whose husband Bobby has come into the money so it's 'piss off Larkhall, I don't need you any more.'" Karen explained with a slight edge of annoyance at the departed Bodybag.
"Well, at least I'm better looking than she is," Mark replied impulsively with a wide grin.
"Just as you understand, Mark, that things are strictly on a professional basis. Get any romantic dreams out of your head. I'm wing Governor, you're my Senior Officer." Karen's frosty reply was distinctly unromantic.
"That suits me fine, Karen Betts." Mark's tone was equally cold. "There's a few things you ought to understand. I vowed when I left Larkhall that nothing would drag me back here. What's driven me back here is the pure living hell of Bradgate Prison with a total swine of a Wing Governor called John Bostock who's worse than Fenner could ever be. I wanted out and if getting out was Larkhall, well, that's a step up in the world. All I want is to be treated fairly and decently and I know I'll get that off you."
"What are you saying, Mark?" Karen looked disbelievingly.
"Oh, nothing much, Karen." Mark's flat emotionless tones told more."Only the sort of things that can happen in a man's prison, dangerous gangsters all around you, both those inside the cells and those carrying the keys. Like the time I was beaten up by the Principal Officer who got away with it because that bastard is thick as thieves with the Wing Governor. Do you know what it is to have that level of injustice done to you and there's sod all you can do about it as all the cards are stacked against you and ."
Karen's eyes opened wide in shock Out from her unconscious jumped her feelings of being in front of Grayling, being a supplicant while he played with her vulnerabilities when she went to see Fenner for the time when she called at his bedsit and
"So really back here at Larkhall, is a move up in the world, even with Fenner and Grayling." Mark 's voice was more cheerful and positive." I can handle you getting prickly with me from time to time." And Mark stretched himself out more confidently in the chair.
"Well, any trouble you have with Fenner, I'll have his balls on my mantlepiece, I mean that, Mark."
"Did Fenner tell you that I kneed him in the bollocks as my parting gift to him ..oh he didn't" Mark added seeing Karen's spontaneous grin.
"You'd better get it over with and see Jim Fenner. And try and keep it peaceful. I've got work to do."
And Mark drifted out in a haze of contentment. He knew enough to realise that he would get a fair deal from his Wing Governor and that if he handled things right, there would be no tensions. And Karen drew a breath of relief that the worst of her fears were confronted and, yes Mark was a big improvement on Sylvia. She was going to need it.
"Hello, Jim. Remember me?" Came a hearty voice and a slap on the back from out of nowhere for Fenner as he stood talking to Colin Hedges who was nodding eagerly back at him.
"Waddle," Fenner turned round and glared, his mouth tight drawn and his eyes glittering. "Just so that you know that I'm Principal Officer round her and, as Senior Officer, you're bosses mate, a very junior mate. You come with me and I'll show you the ropes ..Now."
"I'll treat you with as much respect, Jim Fenner as I've always done." Mark laughed in his face, squaring up to him." Exactly the same as before I became Senior Officer. And you've got me to chat to instead of Sylvia."
"Mr Waddle, Sir. Grateful though all the girls here are to see the one of the few decent screw come back here, we were wondering if you were feeling quite yourself to volunteer to come back here. " Yvonne Atkins chipped in with her unique blend of spiky humour leaving exposed a real respect under the flimsy surface attitude. The Atkins memory banks had registered in her faultless records how caring he'd been to Buki and Roisin.
"Couldn't stand the beer up north, Yvonne." Mark joked back. The friendly cross cutting banter made Mark the old friendly, expansive self and banished the solitary recluse of Bradgate prison. Soon Denny, the 2 Julies, and Buki gathered round while Fenner was getting more and more angry at the way that he was sidelined and fuming at the way Mark was dawdling around nattering when he had work to do.
"All right, break it up, girls, you're keeping Mr Waddle from his work." Fenner finally broke in, tension running through him at the sheer frustration of being unable to bend the group of people to his will. He hated it when even one person defied his schemes, let alone a crowd of people.
"I'll catch up with everything later," Mark finished hastily as Fenner clutched him by his arm and hustled him away to the PO's room. Yvonne shook her head, grinning wickedly as she bloody well knew that Mark was relying on the girls to find out what was going down at Larkhall, and not that bastard Fenner.
"Not changed have you, Waddle." Fenner sneered.
"Neither have you, Fenner." Waddle shot back. Mark was as cool as ice and was feeling as good about himself as any time in his life. Snap responses were coming quick and fast out from the depths of his mind and Fenner was getting clearly rattled.
"Look here, Fenner." Mark said patiently."I've got a job to do so have you. I need to sort out the duties so I can start straight off and get onto the Wing. Only thing, Jim Fenner, no dirty tricks, just play things straight down the line and I'll work with you as well as I can with someone I despise. You put one inch over the line and I go to Karen Betts."
"You think that Betts will listen to you, after what happened. You got your arse straight out of Larkhall so quick that your feet didn't touch the ground." Fenner sneered." It's obvious what that was all about."
At that, Mark snapped. With more controlled anger than he thought himself capable of he grabbed Fenner by his tie making him choke.
"I told you, Fenner, what would happen if you step over the line. I didn't tell you what I'd do to you myself." Slow anger burned in Mark's eyes. "You don't want your love life to be permanently put out of action."
An instinct at the back of Fenner's mind told him that he had pushed things too far. He'd better cool it before this dangerous headcase went off on one. Besides, he was sure that Atkins and her witches coven were looking on. He'll settle scores with Waddle later on.
"For Goodness sake." Karen broke in on the tension filled moment. She had walked along the wing, spotted Fenner and Mark Waddle headed for the PO's room and sensed trouble straight off. "I'm not having you two brawling already. I don't want to know who started it first Break it up or both of you or I'll throw the book at both of you." Her whipcrack voice grabbed control of the situation straightaway.
Fenner slunk out of the door and headed elsewhere.
"Mark, I want a word with you, immediately." Karen spoke sharply.
Mark hesitated looking warily at his boss. It looked like he was going to get his first bollocking at Larkhall a mere hour after setting foot in the place.
"I thought I'd told you to keep it peaceful." Karen sighed. "I do not want to have to spend my time keeping the peace between two testerone filled men .especially as I suspect that at the back of your mind you are still rescuing me as the damsel in distress from Jim Fenner. I know what you're like, Mark Waddle."
"Believe what you want, Karen." Mark snapped. To begin with, he was too steamed up with anger to tell Karen that this quarrel had nothing to do with Karen. Why did this bloody woman think that she knew his psychology better than he did? He turned his back away from her while Karen was debating this over in her mind. At the back of her mind she knew that Mark genuinely believed what he thought. However, sincerity wasn't enough in relationships of any kind. A gut instinct in her believed that Mark was acting out of pride and wouldn't admit that a little part of him wanted to get back with her. So it all came out in anger.
"Look here, Karen Betts." Mark said evenly" This is a straight man to man argument. You don't come into this one believe it or not. I've straightened a few things out with Fenner to stop him stirring things up for the future." And Mark recounted the argument, word for word, between him and Fenner while Karen listened intently.
"Right, I'll have Fenner's balls on the mantlepiece, Mark. But try and keep the peace, Mark for my sake. It isn't easy these days. It isn't the same as the old days." Karen added to Mark's mystification. To his way of thinking, Larkhall was enough of a snakepit and treacherous to the unwary and all his experiences of this one-day alone only told him that things hadn't changed since he was away.
Karen turned her heel and strode out of the PO's room with all the confidence in the world to confront Fenner with a pretty cast iron, reliable case against him. She felt totally centred and had all the will in the world to tell Jim bloody Fenner to bloody well act like a professional and keep his mouth shut. She thought about Mark's account and thought 'not bad, for a guy,' nodding in appreciation. She noted one difference between men and women telling a story as a woman will remember whole chunks of dialogue and will recount it. A man will summarise and, sometimes, miss out subtleties. Fenner of course was different with his devil's brew of truth and falsehoods all stirred up together. In a twisted kind of way, he had to know the truth so that he could know what to lie about and what to leave alone. Still, she was ready for him this time.
"Will you come to my office, Jim Fenner." Karen cut in on Fenner as he was giving Colin Hedges the benefit of his long experience of jailcraft.
"I've got other duties to do, Karen." Fenner replied, not wanting this irritating woman to boss him about yet again.
"Now, Jim. This can't wait." Karen glared at him from under her blond fringe.
Fenner bowed reluctantly to the inevitable but deliberately ambled down the corridor to piss that Betts woman off as much as he could.
"Right, Jim. I've just talked to Mark Waddle about the row between the two of you and I'm telling you the same to you as I'm telling you now. I know there's been bad blood between the two of you and part of it is about me. For the record, I'm telling you both, that no matter what has gone on in personal lives between me and you and me and Mark, it is over on both counts. So the pair of you are going to have to act as professionals between each other and both of you to me. I know very well, Jim Fenner, the way you can stir things up and cause arguments and, of the two of you, you are much more likely to be guilty of this than Mark, and you are the one in the wrong this time. So I'm telling you that one foot over the line and I'll make a disciplinary matter out of it, got that clear."
"You're not going to listen to my side of the story, are you Karen," Fenner replied sulkily like a spoilt boy getting a telling off. "Then again you never have."
For one split second, Karen's fair mindedness made her feel guilty that she was condemning him without hearing his side of the story. Then a memory flash came to the rescue recalling Fenner's wheedling insidious drip drip approach that persuaded her that 'Stewart has this thing about him and was concocting charges of sexual harassment' She had believed it all against her better instincts right until that fateful night when she went to his bedsit as she felt sorry for the way Grayling was victimising him. She was so close to apologising to him that she had a sick feeling as of nearly falling over a precipice and recovering her balance just in time.
"Tell me what you have to say Jim "she said stiffly."But remember, you blew your credibility the way you used to bang on about Helen Stewart accusing you of sexually harrassing her and I was fool enough to believe you until I had the same treatment off you that you also inflicted on Helen. Not my fault if a habitual liar gets found out and now you want to believe yet another likely story."
Fenner's face went red and his scowl told her to her delight that she had said exactly the right thing and had expertly blocked his attempt to manipulate her. Nothing enraged him more than the 'won't believers' who can see right through him.
"If you want to get back with Waddle, there's nothing I can do about it. It's obvious you're going to believe him over me so I'm wasting my time begging to you to be treated fairly. I'll keep out of his way if it's going to land me in the shit every time."
Fenner slunk out of the room so quickly that Karen did not think to pull him up over his attitude and the barefaced cheek of the man. Still, he'd never sincerely apologised in his life so why should he start now? She'd won that minor battle and every little victory helps.
She reached out for a cigarette and puffed at it in satisfaction.
Yvonne was lying on her own on her cell bunk, without moving. It happened to all of the girls from time to time, she reflected. Sometimes, she was more cheerful than she expected of herself from recent events. On her good days, feelings of strength and power inside her would radiate outwards to the rest of the girls around her. She could see it in the smiles of the other girls and the scowls on the faces of the screws as they ran up against the Atkins brains and sharp tongue. Nothing made her feel better than when she had something to exercise her mind on, like planning the Larkhall Tabernackle Choir to get the girls their visiting time back and to put one over the screws.It was then that she was in her element and the lightning quick thinking alone gave her a buzz. Standard piss taking of the likes of Bodybag was a bit of mental limbering up ready for the serious work.
At other times, no matter how comforting the company of Babs, Denny, or the Julies, she had this desire to crawl away to her own cell rather than be the life and soul of the party like she was bleeding expected to be. The other girls let her disappear into her own cell with no comment but real sympathy as it could be them next week and usually was. It wasn't as if any particular event had got her down, like when she figured out that Charlie had done the dirty on her. No, it was the unaccountable grey slide into a depression where nothing and noone could comfort her. She could never put her finger on it either far less control it. What was it Nikki had once said? "It's this shithole. It does something to you." Nikki had explained to her that just the one little thing would get to you as you had all the time in the world to brood and blow things out of proportion. Somehow, out there, someone somewhere was planning to do something nasty to you. With bastards like Fenner around and his new weedy hanger on, Hedges, this was for real.
At nighttimes, she hated the feeling of the narrow bunk and the thin quilt that she wrapped around herself when the temperature of Larkhall plunged to freezing level, so that you could see the steam of your own breath in the air. She didn't want to think of the long ago king sized luxury bed, the warm feeling inside her after having had a shag off Charlie the night before and the brilliant white warm bedroom that her sleepy eyes used to open onto first thing. No, despite her decorative touches, the rough whitewashed bare bricked wall of her prison cell at Larkhall stared at her from about six feet away and told her unconscious that this was not home. To her conscious mind, her luxurious past was abolished as if it had never been and her present surroundings were normality, to be lived through. With luck, the day that she woke up to was averagely average, just like the day before and the day before that and if you kept feeling that way, you were doing bloody well.
She knew that some of the girls turned to each other for sexual comfort. She was never sure if they were that way before they came to prison or being permanently without a shag turned women that way. Before she got sent down, lesbians were something she read about in the magazines if she cared to skim it. She'd grown in a straight up, straight down world where if you were a girl growing up, you played the field with the boys till you found the right man and settled down with him and brought up a family. And the man you met was from the same Eastend community. This didn't change even if she and Charlie had come into the money and moved out to the suburbs into a flash new mansion and an apartment in Spain. No, she was still the same Eastend girl she had always been. This didn't stop your fella being a bit of a bastard from time to time but the making up made the arguments worthwhile and Charlie used to be good at that. That is, till she got banged up here at Larkhall Prison.
From time to time, out of the corner of her eye out of focus, some woman would have her arms wrapped round another woman and her initial feelings of uncomfortableness had faded away. Like the rest of Larkhall, this was normal.
Over many months and by slow degrees, Denny had taken her place in her large maternal heart. It was understood between them that Yvonne ran protection for her in much the same way as she had done for her kids. That bewildered lack of comprehension expression on her face always made her smile and want to protect her as she knew that the likes of Dockley had ruthlessly exploited her slow mind. She had seen Denny through the pain when her own mother had once again let her down and knew that Denny trusted her implicitly. There was a strange puritanical streak and split thinking in both of them that had made both of them reluctant to talk of sexual matters. You didn't do that between mother and daughter, it just happened or it didn't. The other side of this split was that Yvonne's large maternal heart and sensitive ear were ready to offer comfort to the heartaches suffered by her children or substitute children. That was what mums were for in her orthodox world. Because of that, she knew that Denny had been in love with Shaz and Shaz had felt the same about Denny from the odd time that Denny came to her to have a good cry on her shoulder over some argument she'd had with Shaz . For that reason, she accepted Shaz although to her mind she pissed her off from time to time as a whining immature little brat. Nevertheless, she too, came to be erratically under the very spacious Atkins protective umbrella.
There weren't that many straight down the line people who had real brains around, these days. Nikki Wade had been one but she was long gone. She'd been a good mate with as much brains and toughness around as anyone. She really missed her company these days and the thought took shape in her daydreaming that she was really looking for that sense of other in her life.
Still, Yvonne thought to herself, a solitary sunbeam breaking through the clouds, she's getting good company off Karen Betts these days. It's a change for the Wing Governor to casually pass by her cell on her rounds and pop in for a chat. For a screw in a uniform, she at least has a bleeding brain to think with- she was ahead of her when they were talking about that Lynford lot coming in. Funny that these days when she pokes her head round the door, she knows that she's not up for a bollocking but she gets a feeling of pleasure to see her.
Yvonne reached for a cigarette, flicked her cigarette lighter and deeply inhaled the nicotine. She knew that this habit wasn't doing her lungs much good but the tiniest little pleasure was precious when so much of life felt denied to her as the faint glow of the cigarette end was a pinprick illumination of the total darkness of her cell.
Eric Bostock's shiny new large car saw fit to grace the presence of Larkhall Prison's cramped car parking space and force the next late comer to hunt around for a space in a sidestreet. But then again, pushing other people out of the way without thought for others came second nature to him. By the time Mark Waddle made his way on the familiar trudge up the sideroad to the prison, Eric Bostock had finished his chat to Grayling and both disappeared into Grayling's lair for a cup of tea and a talk discussing the "radical restructuring of Larkhall Prison" far out of view from those who were to be their victims, PO and prisoner alike. It was the way modern management operated though, these days.
All Mark was conscious of was idle wondering what visitor was let loose round Larkhall Prison as the motor was well out of anyone's price range, even bloody Neil 'keep fit' Grayling. He shrugged his shoulders and collected his keys at the gate, same as any usual day in the prison.
"The library looks as if someone's cleaned it up," Mark spoke lightly to Babs in passing as he was on library duty that day."Not the same dump as when I was last round these parts."
He sat at his freshly polished desk, looking round at the fresh selection of books, whether romances or the more obscure offerings scrounged from clearouts of libraries on the outside. Even the old favourites like the dog eared Mills and Boone were relatively fresh and the paintwork looked sharp and new.
Babs quietly closed the book she had finished reading and carefully slid it back it in the rightful place on the shelf. In her world, books were to be treated with respect, as a source of learning even while the prison to which it belonged had long since forfeited any like respect. Only then was she able to collect her thoughts and answer Mark's casual question.
"Hasn't anyone ever told you about the explosion, Mr Waddle." Babs spoke delicately. She closed her eyes in anguish as Mark's casual words had exposed raw nerve ends.
"The explosion, Babs?" Mark repeated Babs last few words blankly.
Babs briefly looked at Mr Waddle's expression of incomprehension and closed her eyes tight shut. His question forced her own mind back to the shattering explosion that shook her world apart, the concussion, that had left her barely unconscious and every atom of strength utterly drained from her. Visual flashes invaded her present world of Julie Saunders as she had put her arms round her, her lips moving soundlessly and an expression of concern for her though the Lord knew what she was concerned about. The smell of smoke seemed very real as it had poured through from the corridor. The acrid taste of it had choked her lungs and, in making her cough, drained what little strength she had. Through closed eyelids, split second flashes of her sight could see all the others as they had rushed around in panic. Her senses could feel the unbearable feeling of being trapped inside a confined space. If she could rush towards the way out and move her body in that direction, her mind screamed out, but her body had a curious feeling of lassitude which held her in a cotton wool vice like grip which ..as she later woke screaming out of in the middle of the night, black pitch night after night while the Julies came to rescue her and comfort her.those very real flames pouring through the four bed dorm she had moved into were surely not real, were they?
Babs opened her eyes and she saw through Mark's eyes, the spick and span modern prison library, not the horror visions etched on the insides of her eyelids.
"It was a terrible business, Mark. A prisoner called Snowball Merriman who came her just after you left, concealed a home made bomb in the corridor to the library so that she could escape. Me, the Julies, Al, Denny, and Buki were trapped in the fire and nearly got burnt alive before the fire brigade came to the rescue. Shaz Wiley came to visit Denny for the day and died in the fire. Oh yes, Roisin Connor and Cassie Tyler pushed Mr Grayling on a trolley out of the fire as he was the most hurt of all of us. They received a free pardon for their bravery."
The skin crawled all over Mark as Babs in her 'stiff upper lip' accents of Middle England recounted in a matter of fact way, such horrors that he could not conceive of.
"That's absolutely horrible, Babs. I'm really really sorry that I was so thoughtless. The news about the fire at Larkhall went all round the prison service. Only I never realised that it took place here. I was under a lot of pressure at work at the time." Mark explained, looking away from Babs. He felt perfectly terrible that he remembered so little about it. He ought to have known about it at the time. This had happened at the worst point of his ill treatment at Bradgate when his world had shrunk to the daily battle of facing another day at work. Bad news from afar, even if involved somewhere some place where he had been intimately involved was seen as if through a fogged up pair of binoculars viewed from the wrong way round. Certainly the other PO's at Bradgate hadn't even broken their wall of silence to talk directly to him about it, much less asked for his opinion. No, the 'Sun' had written their crudely inaccurate version of events and they took their lead from that paper. If it was in the news, it must be the truth. .
"That's all right, Mr Waddle, you weren't to know." Babs smiled forgivingly.
Tears came to Mark's eyes as, next to the pure gentle Christian charity of this very civilised middle aged woman, the hard brutality and cynicism of Bradgate flashed back to him. This woman was a finer human being than any of his former so-called former workmates could ever be.
"What happened to this Snowball Merriman. Sounds a nastier piece of work than Maxi Purvis, Shell Dockley rolled into one. Even they wouldn't stoop that low."
"Snowball Merriman forced Miss Betts at gunpoint to drive her out of Larkhall prison to meet Ritchie Atkins, Yvonne's son only they were intercepted by gunmen. Snowball Merriman was killed while Ritchie Atkins was wounded. I would not wish to speak ill of the dead, but .." And Babs's level tones tailed off, discreetly drawing a veil over her involvement as spy for Yvonne.
"Yvonne's son, I never knew she had a son, Babs." Mark shook her head in bewilderment. He had heard Yvonne talk so many times about her daughter Lauren and he had seen her occasionally on visits. Mark picked up straightaway on the sheer absence of any past mention of Ritchie by Yvonne for all those months he had known her.
"He had been abroad in Spain as he'd had a disagreement with the family. The first any of us knew of this was when he came to visit and sending bouquets of flowers for Yvonne .and later on did the dirty on her. She's been upset and depressed since then." Babs explained politely.
"And Karen Betts. What happened to her in the kidnap." Mark asked, an expression of concern on his face.
"She was fine as far as could be heard. She wasn't hurt or anything." Babs smiled kindly.
"That's good. I mean she is a good Wing Governor ..and you, Babs how have you coped since the fire." Mark smiled in a non committal way before switching the conversation away from Karen to a far more uncomplicated matter.
"You learn to manage, Mr Waddle. And welcome home back at Larkhall." Babs finished with a smile before she went out of the door in her sedate unhurried fashion.
Mark's feeling of buoyant well being in himself and the world around him lasted while he paced the corridor, one, two, three four, five and turned the corner to see his worst nightmare in human form.
Right in front of him was that well remembered hard face as if a psychopath sculptor had carved a face out of solid rock with a chisel and lump hammer and had included the suggestion of all human feelings except those of humanity. Fortunately his attention was turned away from him because he was quietly chatting to Grayling who was in his most blatant arse licking mode. The hand gestures tried to convey fervent agreement with the bastard and his smile was that of the most unscrupulous second hand car salesman. He didn't need to overhear the conversations though, like most devious bastards around, they had that facility to lower their voices so that they couldn't be overheard.
"Here, Mr Waddle, just who is that suit over there? Don't say, he's a film producer and they're going to film this place like that time that those clowns came round and Dockley escaped in their van." Yvonne greeted him with a smile. She was careful just which screw to pump for information to add to her intelligence network and the fact that she asked him at all was a compliment which was not lost on Mark.
"Don't ask me. I only work here," Mark said shortly.
Yvonne looked at the man with real concern. Nice guy though he is, he upheld the shaky authority and public reputation of the screws as best he could. This momentary dropping of his guard told her enough and gave her a feeling of impending danger. Somehow, in a perverse way, it pushed her depression of last night to the back of her concerns. She'd got bigger things to worry than her place in the bleeding universe, or so she reasoned to herself.
"Are you sure you're all right. You look as you've just seen a bleeding ghost?" Mark registered Yvonne's softer tones and concerned expression but the engrained stiff upper lip instinct, so quick that he had no time to challenge it, took charge of and spoke with Mark's mouth and voice. While his voice said one thing, part of his mind was grateful that Yvonne, like Babs, cared for him as a concerned human being.
"Everything's fine, Yvonne. If you will excuse me, I'm off to war ,I mean, tell Miss Betts of the visitor that she is expecting." For the first few words, Mark covered himself with a smile that was more of a grimace, a mere clumsily draped façade over his real feelings and one which his honesty was unable to sustain.
"Then I won't get in your way, Mr Waddle," Yvonne replied with none of her usual bantering style. She wanted to think things over.
"Mark Waddle," came that well remembered hated voice." Fancy seeing you here. I've heard a lot about you from my brother John."
It seemed an eternity while Mark grappled with the fact that there was not only one monstrous deformed specimin of humanity which he had escaped but that he had a twin brother. And what is worse was that he had travelled one to two hundred miles to escape him and what he represented only for his clone brother to come back to haunt him. Mark looked desperately for an answer to conjure out of his mind or the space before him to work out who this guy was and why is he here. Then some sheer chance or guardian angel shifted his thinking to tell himself if he didn't know, why and it was not him at fault for not knowing but this guy was at fault for telling him by wearing a visitor's badge. For once, the instinctive mindset of rules and regulations came to the rescue for a good cause.
"Mr Grayling, don't you think that this man, whoever he is and wherever he is from should wear a name badge like any other visitor here."
Grayling's face tightened as this troublemaker was committing the unpardonable sin, showing him up before someone he wanted to impress.
"For your information, Eric Bostock is Chairman of Lynford Securities, a private company who area is giving the go ahead to put in a bid to take over the running of the prison and drag it into the twentieth century." snapped Grayling.
"You want to watch who you're speaking to, Mark Waddle. From what I've seen so far, this is a typical Victorian prison. We plan to introduce changes around here."
"So who's going to be in charge around, you or Mr Grayling?" Mark asked with a broad smile.
"Come on, Neil." Eric Bostock's face coloured. "We've got more work to do. You'd better make sure I see the Wing Governor on G Wing and soon. Time costs money, you know."
"Oh, I'll find Karen Betts for you, Mr Grayling." Mark said, rather pointedly ignoring Eric Bostock." Where shall I say to ask her to go to."
"To my office," Grayling replied curtly.
"Karen, you've got a guy in from Lynford Securities waiting to see you." Mark ran into Karen 's office with no preliminary knock on the door as was the custom, talking nine times to the dozen in an incoherent stream of words. "He's called Eric Bostock, the twin brother of that bastard that was my Governing Governor at Bradgate. You know the one I was telling you about. "
"Hold on, hold on, Mark. Are you telling me that someone is walking around on my wing and I haven't been given advance notice of it " Karen said, beginning to get angry.
"Well, don't blame me, Karen. I'm only the Senior Officer and I don't get told these things." Mark turned his total fear into anger at Karen. There she was, blaming him for something again which wasn't his fault but then again, why change the habits of the past few years.
"I don't mean you, Mark. I mean Grayling. After all, I'm Wing Governor and nobody told me either. I'm going to see Neil about this." Karen's mouth was pursed tight fuelled by determination and outrage at what must be either Grayling's incompetence or a deliberate ploy to keep her in the dark and catch her at her worst.
"You be careful, Karen. This one is a total and utter bastard." Mark advised with real concern as to what she was rushing headlong into."And he's treading all over the wing without a name badge, breaking all the rules in the book and just because he's with Grayling."
"You might be surprised that I am actually quite good at handling total male bastards. I don't need you, Mark Waddle, being the knight in shining armour. I'll manage. In the meantime, you take yourself to the PO's mess for a bit and take it easy. That's an order."
Mark coloured but said nothing. Even while he was trying to help Karen out and give her the benefit of his experience, up come the shutters and she has to come over as all hard. And we're supposed to be on the same bloody side on this one. Having a female boss who was your one time lover had its complications that a male boss who was a total thug and a bully didn't have. This just messed with his head.
A part of Karen was beginning to regret that Mark had come back to Larkhall. All their latest row had achieved, superficially about nothing, was to bring into her mind a whole confusing mixture of emotions about the past and that what was dead and buried in her mind was coming to life from beyond the grave. That habitual sense of self-discipline reasserted itself and she had to bury those human feelings while she was on the job.
She had more important fish to fry. But Mark was right about one thing. Eric Bostock should wear identification like any other visitor as it's the number one rule in the book on internal security.
From the middle reaches of Yvonne's memory was dragged the snatch of conversation she had had with Karen "Lynford Securities are a private security firm who are putting in a bid to take over the running of this place. There will be a clean sweep of some of us, if not all of us ." She knew instinctively that that was what she was looking for and explained the sight of Karen striding down towards Grayling's office faster than she had ever seen her move. It didn't explain how come Mark Waddle was scared shitless, though. First he runs off to Karen Betts' office and then she zooms off to Grayling's room as if she were jet propelled.
"Ah, Karen" Grayling's hearty voice and expansive gesture did a very good imitation of open hearted hospitality." Come in and take a seat."
Karen was on the point of telling that sly bastard that she would prefer to stand but considered that, if she was going to have a first class row, she would prefer to sit. This would be the one and only time she would prefer to play his game. To compensate, she ripped open a cigarette pack and ostentatiously lit a cigarette.
"Why have I not been informed in advance of the visit by Lynford Securities and by whose authority does a perfect stranger walk all over my wing and break the basic rule in the book by not wearing a security pass." Karen demanded quietly.
"Right trouble maker you are, I see .Karen Betts." Eric Bostock replied, peering at her own name badge as his memory failed to remember the name of this Wing Governor of the worst of Larkhall, this infamous G wing.
"No, actually." Karen smiled tightly." Larkhall runs on some pretty basic rules that are there to avoid trouble. When a visitor comes round Larkhall if it is made obvious who that person is, then the prison officers will be sure to look after that person's security and the security of the prison. We have had enough problems with prisoners like Snowball Merriman trying to escape, pretending to be a nun from the local convent. Don't want a repeat of that episode, do we? As you said one time, we are supposed to convince area that we have listened and learned" Karen argued forcefully. .
"Even if I am escorting Eric Bostock round." Grayling frowned back at Karen."Or does someone have to certify for who I am. That is the sort of jobsworth attitude that will be changing around here very shortly, won't it Eric?"
"Exactly Neil," Eric Bostock said as the other partner in the double act "Just because we make rules for the running of the prison doesn't mean that we can't change them for what we need, when we need to. The main point is that you knew I was coming and I knew it as well."
"Oh, it is, is it and why didn't you tell me in advance about this visit, Neil. You haven't explained that, have you."
"There is such a thing as a need to know, Karen. You knew that the visit was due shortly and I am taking it on myself to do the guided tour, not you. Eric was going to detain you from your busy duties for a short while and .."and Grayling raised his arm so that he could check his watch and see if he was still on schedule .."I am due to introduce Eric Bostock to Jim Fenner, our Principal Officer in two minutes time. He's the only one of G Wing management team you haven't met yet."
Karen was livid with anger to see how unscrupulously these two scheming bastards had used her righteous anger against herself and alarmed that Jim bloody Fenner was going to be given a clear run to repeat history and crawl his way up to the new boss. She was beginning to regret her hasty words to Mark without going soft on him. All through this exchange of views, she had noticed an interesting prospectus called 'Lynford Securities what we can do for prisoners' with a picture on the front with happy smily faces. She wanted to get her hands on this for what it was worth.
"So what have you to offer Larkhall Prison, Eric Bostock." Karen asked softly.
"New blood, fresh investment, opportunities for those who want to take advantage of them, radical ideas "
"In other words, bring in the boot boys and get rid of existing staff, CCTV cameras, understaffing, shit wages and whatever you do, don't ask awkward questions," Karen Betts shot back .."despite the fact that the women in this prison are not an easy lot to manage, mothers separated from their children, women cutting up, a dysfunctional system and not enough POs already to give the real help that's really needed. Might I take a look at that prospectus, Mr Bostock?"
"Once again Karen, this book is my department not yours," and Grayling shuffled papers over the top of it."You will be informed what will transpire in due course. Come on, it's time to go, Eric."
Karen's sense of total disgust and total loathing had boiled up to such a pitch that she knew that if she stayed any longer, she would really do or say something she would regret. She had deeply absorbed a sense of institutional discipline from the years in the Prison Service like an invisible straight jacket but at this moment, her anger was such that this was threatening to burst asunder. That was going to do her or the prison officers and prisoners alike under her care any good so she found the best alternative. She shot out of Grayling's office in search of Yvonne. She needed to talk.
Yvonne was lying on her bunk reading a magazine when she heard a rapid clack clack of heels outside her cell door and the door was unceremoniously flung wide and shut behind her. She raised her eyebrows to see a very flustered Karen who was bottling down some very strong emotion.
"God a miniature bottle of vodka or two, Yvonne." Karen shot out and." Don't worry, I'll replace them."
"Isn't that against prison regulations, Karen Betts?" Yvonne asked guardedly, her mind whizzing overtime guessing what has caused the ultra correct Karen Betts to make such a request implying a breach of prison rules and, still more amazingly, to collude with it. The planets were lurching violently out of their orbit that had steered them round the sun or so it seemed.
"Rules are meant for the guidance of wise women and for the obedience of fools" Karen's obscure reply puzzled Yvonne as Karen reached for a blue plastic mug."Come on, we'll take a swig in turns. This is as near as we'll get to going out for a drink."
Yvonne waited patiently until the bottle was cracked and they took a swig of the spirits neat."
"If you're wondering if I've suddenly gone mad, Yvonne. I have in a way, mad and angry that I've been done down and my future is being trussed up like a parcel and that I'm totally powerless against it with Lynfords coming in ."
Karen's intense voice and blue eyes penetrated Yvonne's very being as her voice sped on down her storyline like an out of control express train through the dark of the night. Somehow the vodka gave her that release that she needed to speak and she was never more grateful for the company of an understanding ear as now. She had been staring at some vision that only she could see until she focussed on Yvonne and came back to reality. She blushed slightly, feeling ashamed that she was burdening her woes on another person, a woman on the wrong side of the prison bars as well, separated from her daughter and her son gone to the bad and recovering from his wounds somewhere in the great unknown.
"I'm really sorry for dumping my problems on you, Yvonne, but it will be no better for you or the rest of the prisoners. I told you about it last time I saw you, remember."
"I remember all right, Karen Betts."Yvonne looked back with her all seeing eyes."But what's changed since then."
"Only because it seems more real. And I'm being shut out of what's going on." Karen answered more evenly."But you take if from me that someone like Bostock will love Fenner. And he'll save his own skin as usual."
"Well, at least Mark Waddle is back. You both used to be close, Karen. He'll be a help."
Karen closed her eyes as Yvonne could see Karen's breathing racing out of control. Jesus, this isn't the cool and calm Karen Betts when she first came here. Her heart melted in sympathy for her. She had mentioned Mark Waddle as a nice guy who should be able to back her up but she seemed to have made matters worse. She couldn't work that one out.
"That's a long story, Yvonne. I can't tell you about it now but I've a feeling I soon will. Would you be up to listening to me sometime? I don't want to come over as some neurotic self pitying cow forever putting on other people. That is not Karen Betts, or at least I don't think it is?"
Yvonne was incredibly moved by words Karen used to deny her some invisible accuser when it was obvious that she was turning that criticism on herself. Karen's eyes looked at her for an honesty from her that heals.
"You don't do self pity, Karen. And I'll listen to you when you're ready. About Mark Waddle and Lynfords, yeah."
Karen nodded, gave her a brilliant smile and drained the plastic mug with a gulp.
"I've gotta go. Got a wing to run. And thanks, Yvonne. I'll replace the drink tomorrow."
Karen left the cell with a spring in her step, smiling at Yvonne who felt that this was a new experience for her sharing a drink of illegal vodka with Karen Betts. She felt somehow whole and with some vague purpose in her life.
"Getting in with Bostock is as easy as falling off a log, Colin" Fenner bragged."It's the lads running this nick for future and not the bloody sisterhood. Betts' days are numbered, mark my words from what I've heard from Bostock. Still, you and me are all right so long as we don't get on the wrong side of him .and if you keep in with me." Fenner added meaningfully.
They were sitting in a discreet corner of the dimly lit Prison Officer's Social Club which smelt of decades of stale cigarette smoke and cheap beer. Sometimes the fug made it difficult to see to the other side of the room but everyone got used to that.
"I know which side my bread's buttered on. Who knows, we might get the chance of another 'fishing expedition' in Amsterdam and no ex-cons around to mess everything up. Think the new boss would let us get away with it?" Colin asked eagerly.
"Whoh then, Col. Lets play things cagey. Got to get our feet properly under the table so to speak when all the dead wood is cleared out of the way. Course, there will probably some other lads come in from some of the nicks they're running already but this is our turf, not theirs. As long as we stick to the rules and don't balls anything up, we'll be all right."
"That means we won't have a cats chance in hell. Betts is so bloody politically correct as it is." groaned Colin, his dreams of women on call starting to fade before his eyes."You can't make a single move on any of the younger women without the likes of Atkins threatening to scratch your bloody eyes out."
"I didn't say what rules," laughed Fenner."Rule number one is we do what Bostock says and don't get caught out. Apart from that, we make up the rules as we go along. It means Prison Officers on top, on the landings and in the cells after dark."
Colin Hedges laughed along with him. To him, Jim Fenner was a real Jack the Lad and he remembering him promising him 'fanny heaven' as they strolled down the red light district of Amsterdam eyeing up all the women in the front windows.
"But will all the lads think the same way. I'm getting a lot of earache from that new bloke, Mark Waddle. He seems to be right pally with all the cons as if he's some conquering hero. What do you make of him."
"Me and Mark Waddle go back a long way," burped Fenner as his pint of beer settled uneasily in his stomach."He's another 'do gooder' like Betts. After I pissed her off as she was getting right on my tits, you know the kind, nag, nag, nag, he moves in on her and gets fooled by all the sob stories she was telling about me and starts giving me a load of grief. I tell you, it got awkward with the two of them ganging up on me. Luckily, their cosy little relationship went tits up and she moved onto someone else, Atkins son. All that got kept very hush hush."
Colin Hedges stared at him open mouthed and couldn't believe his ears. You never know what really goes on in people's lives as he had never noticed what was going on around him. Luckily, he had Jim Fenner to see him right. He wished he had his obvious confidence and he had to pretend he was all tough and hard like all the others.
"Can I get you another one, Jim." Colin asked him.
"Yeah, I could do with another. Pint of bitter, same as the last one."
While Colin was waiting at the bar, Fenner mulled things over. This Eric Bostock was just the person to sort out this dump. He knew that he had made a favourable impression and could tell that if he played his cards right, he could end up a suit full time. He'd dished the dirt on Betts who Bostock wasn't keen on. Only thing Bostock made clear was that he had to work and talk a different language than he was used to.
"I've got no time for old dinasaurs who work by the rule book and won't pull their weight as we've always done it this way. Time costs money, you get that, Jim."Bostock told him confidingly.
"Absolutely, I couldn't agree with you more." Fenner said admiringly.
"You either got on board this train or you lie down on the track and get run over. There's no third choice with Lynfords around here. I'll get this bid sewn up with your Area people and we'll change this place around. Clear out some of the dead wood around here. You're not in the union, are you." Bostock finished suspiciously.
"Good lord no." Fenner laughed. He'd seen the POA go to pot when Sylvia left and it was like paying insurance money with no chance of a payout. He'd better send in his resignation straight away if this was the way the wind was blowing. He couldn't think why he'd not done it years ago but, if he was a fault, it wasn't looking too closely at his payslip and seeing that his money could stretch further. It was only for old times sake as Sylvia used to bang on about it and you never knew when it would come in useful. Really, all the insurance he ever needed was being in with the right people.
"Cos we don't recognise unions. At my place, unless I can see the sweat burn off you, you're not working hard enough. We can't carry passengers, those who swing it on the sick, those who moan on about family commitments, and those who come back just that little bit late from break. They're the first out the door even if we don't weed them out first."
Fifteen minutes later, Fenner and Colin had downed their pints and Fenner turned round to him.
"Come on, we'd best be getting back now. Time costs money, you know."
Colin couldn't believe his ears. Fenner was always one to stretch the breaks out a bit and had always encouraged him to do the same. There are always the Di Barkers around who'll cover for you if you smooch them up a bit. Fenner turning conscientious was a novelty. Besides, he had another reason for not going back early.
"I'll be a bit later, Jim. I've got a bit of gutsache. I'll be back in a bit."
"You be quick enough. This place can't carry passengers you know, Col. This place is going to change. Take a tip from me."
Colin was in the place that he craved more than anything else even if it was a scruffy toilet in the PO Social Club. Heating up a spoon, and dissolving the brown stuff, filling up his syringe and tieing off was something that he'd got down to a fine art. He wasn't sure if he got off more on the fixation of the needle or the thrill of danger of imminent detection. It was a craving that peaked at the moment of injection and faded away into a dreamy state of untouchability. He stared up into the white bright light for ages or so it seemed. Heroin was the ultimate buzz or so his mate told him and he needed that to feel like a man and stop worrying about everything. Presently, he tucked his syringe away, looked at himself in the mirror to try and feel normal.
Shit, he's late. He's got to go back to the wing and help out with a piss test on one of the cons.
The workshop at Larkhall had been a hive of activity as never before. Phyl had surprised everyone including herself in adapting her rusty skills in working on Formula One racing cars to the more limited facilities of Larkhall Prison. Karen had made good her promise to arrange for materials to be supplied by Larkhall Prison's works department and the unpromising junk of Virginia O'Kane's old wheelchair. By sheer hard work and slog, a nice shiny metal motorised wheelchair took shape with curved shiny metal and an engine that would take Buki anywhere. To her surprise, the motley team of amateur mechanics followed her lead enthusiastically banged and hammered away. At nighttime, they slept like logs after the aches and pains in their wrists and arms and legs had worn off. They were building the vehicle for Buki's son Lennox for no other reason than what had happened to Lennox could have happened to any of their own sons and daughters, or sisters and brothers. There was no thought of brownie points, or how it would help towards their release date. Not while they were all together on this one. It gave them a sense of unity instead of the habitual shift of relationships, of friendships, petty irritations and major blowups which the prevailing atmosphere of boredom and mental stagnation created.
"Denny," drawled Bev, her hands held out in front of her palms together in her characteristic pose,"You have such a positive artistic flair with the red trim set against the yellow background."
"Wicked," Denny's big smile split her face.
"And the rest of you have excelled yourselves." Bev added hastily. While she had designs on cultivating Denny's artistic talent, and their own depleted bank accounts, it did not do to have favourites. Still, the spray painting had been carried out with unexpected precision and the dark blue, the black and the vivid yellow contrasted just nicely. The last layer of paint hardened just nicely and the crowd who had worked so hard at putting the motorised vehicle for Buki felt justifiably proud of himself.
"Well done, girls," a hated voice broke in on the crowd and a series of handclaps like pistol shots "That's the spirit. You've done Buki's son proud. It's not every day that such team spirit is shown these days."
"Team spirit," Julie Saunders echoed. "Is Mister Fenner feeling right. Not had a bump on his head?"
"His head." Came Julie Johnson's delayed echo.
"Are you wanting to join in this enterprise, Mr Fenner.There isn't any remuneration in this except all of us knowing what a sterling job we have done to help Buki's poor unfortunate child." Phyl drawled pushing a lock of curly brown hair out of her eyes. Superficially she had all the manner of a more extravagantly gushing vicar but underneath she was damned if they were going to let this oily jackbooted creep insinuate his way into their schemes. There was a steely glint in her eye and undertone in her voice that was the very hard iron hand underneath the velvet glove.
"Jumped up maggot." Phil muttered under her breath."Bet he calls the AA out to open up the car boot and top up the radiator."
"You've got me wrong, girls" Fenner's best disarming smile was deployed to fool the naïve and unwary." I'm just trying to get you a bit of public recognition. Trust me, girls and leave it all up to me." And Fenner loped off out of the workshop as a man on a mission.
"Up yours," Bev exclaimed in a loud theatrical voice that made all the others chuckle.
"Where's that slimebag going, Karen," Yvonne spoke out of the corner of her mouth with her lips hardly moving."I get uneasy when the bastard's smiling. That means he's up to something."
"Don't ask me, Yvonne. After all, I'm only the Wing Governor." Karen's dry tones responded with a sense of easy cameraderie that had deepened since their illicit drinking session. At another time, Yvonne would have taken that as a sarcastic thrust in her direction in the days when it was us and them. She had now gained the insight that Nikki had acquired before her that the world of the screws has as many complexities as her side of the prison bars. "He's gone to Grayling's office. You keep your spies out and I'll keep mine."
It was on the tip of her tongue to say 'You mean Mark Waddle' but after their last exchange she thought she'd better keep schtum on this one. She saw Mark start to walk in their direction and Karen turned on her heel and walked briskly off with a 'see you later, Yvonne' flung over her shoulder.
"You have an excellent idea, Jim." Grayling exclaimed."I can visualise this in my mind. Larkhall Prison, enterprising and caring in partnership with Lynford Security. Care in the community for a disabled little boy. The camera loves children and animals. A famous celebrity to be featured in 'Heat' Magazine to give high profile press attention with the prison in the background. And most of all, we shall demonstrate to Area that we have turned Larkhall Prison around. And you won't be forgotten when Lynfords start recruiting properly and want to recruit a dedicated cadre of Prison Officers, new uniform, new appearance to take forward a mission statement that a new revitalised Larkhall Prison is on course." Grayling's eyes glittered. He was never so happy as he was now with a new goal rather than carry on with the same old drudgery and having to watch his back from Area.
This was one of the blackest periods in his life when he came back from sick leave and went to his first area meeting to see the sniggers round the table from his fellow Governing Governors. He felt that he was out of the limelight and all the attention was off him and the Area Director was loudly singing the praises of the latest enterprises of his hated rival. Grayling was last year's model. That hurt more than anything else.
"I am sure that this radical PR operation will see a new Larkhall." Jim Fenner smoothly uttered the buzzwords of the moment. "This will be a day that I am sure that none of us will forget."
"You mean you've gone ahead and arranged for this Lynfords lot to come in and transform the handing over of Buki's vehicle into some grotesque circus," Karen Betts's scornful tones reacted in violent disgust to Grayling as he announced it to her in passing at the end of the Wing governor's meeting under "Any Other Business."
"I'm afraid you're out of luck on this one, Karen." Grayling frowned."Area have approved it as they have felt for some months that Larkhall is become an embarrassing liability to the prison system. Anything that can improve the image of the prison has to be welcomed."
"Oh so the women who have worked hard on this project had it in mind to be public relations officers for Larkhall Prison. Have you taken into account how they'll feel about the matter? And, by the way, exactly what are Lynfords putting into the event apart from grabbing some free publicity. As far as I understand, all the materials have come from the work department which have nothing to do with Lynfords."
Grayling pursed his lips and said nothing and stalked out of the room.
"Bout time some of the dead wood is being cleared out." Fenner held forth while Colin studied his shoes studiously. "When Lynfords have come in here, they'll turn things around"
"Have you had a silicon chip implant recently." Karen asked in a puzzled questioning tone." like when you first went to see Bostock. For years you've been the one to 'keep things running smoothly, remember? Even the time you were crawling up Grayling's arse, you've always been the same mysogynist pig that you've ever been. Now that Lynfords are around, it's as if you've been abducted by aliens and talking a different language."
"I wish," Mark added. "Pity the aliens didn't take him with them."
"Remember the time when Renee Williams died on the wing. Di Barker had to deal with that all on her own and where were you, Jim Fenner? Clearing off to the Social Club and getting pissed every chance that you could. And remember the time that I called round that time that Marilyn cleared off with your children and you were crying on my shoulder? You were telling a different tale then." Karen added scornfully.
"Well, you'll be out on your ear, Karen." sneered Fenner "Bostock can see a mile away that you're not a team player. Enjoy your new job stacking shelves in Tescos."
"You leave Karen alone." Mark burst out."Or I'll finish off what I started last time."
Mark had interposed himself between Karen and Fenner and was within a few inches of Fenner who physically backed away in annoyance.
It was on the tip of his tongue to make some wisecrack about Karen and Mark having cosy cosied up to each other but he remembered Karen's threat of disciplinery action and he muttered something sourly under his breath before turning to slink out of the room.
"Aren't you going to take your sidekick with you, Fenner." Mark jeered. "You know, the one who laughs at all your jokes even before you've made them."
Mark's thought was, as he had sent Fenner packing, he might as well clear out the other bastard from out of the room. A very chastened Colin looked very sheepishly and scuttled out of the room. Karen, in turn, grabbed her papers and made a swift exit from the room back to her office.
Mark was due to have a break from his shift and with a glow of victory well fought, he downed a pint from the Social Club in short order. Despite Karen's initial prickly behaviour, it seemed like the old times doing battle with Fenner. As soon as he had really got to know the bastard after he and Karen split up, every caustic word she uttered seemed to sum up the bastard perfectly. He was someone that had every bad quality going for him, a liar, a bully, treated women like shit and, oh yes, he fancies himself as God's gift to women. If there was one hatred in his soul that he was totally unashamed it was a hatred of bullies and that went back as far as the school playground. You didn't need female intuition to know their type, what made them tick, how they operated. You couldn't say the name of a bastard like Fenner without spitting it out into the air.
All this time, he was chatting to Ken and his own thoughts were whirling around at the back of his head while he sustained the everyday conversations. These seemed to sparkle now he was back with his mates at Larkhall and not the social outcast. This place had seen many a pint downed and plenty of good cheer and, at moments like these, it seemed impossible that it was all going to change, even with Lynfords creeping around. This was first strike to the resistance and the war was on.He turned to the barman and there seemed to be time for a swift half.
"Still single and fancy free, Mark?" Ken asked."I would have thought you'd have got yourself hitched by now. It's different for me as I was bloody glad to find someone who would take me on. Course, with two kids to support, it's all hard graft and the money flows out before you can even blink" And he nursed his half pint he'd stretched out on this break. All very different for a Senior Officer with no ties.
"Oh there's time yet." Mark smiled to the others mysteriously.
It seemed that relationships between him and Karen were going to work out easier than he had feared. She had been pretty frosty till they'd started to talk and the old sympathy was coming back. He'd been glad that he'd been around when Fenner mouthed off and it had needed someone to stand up for Karen. He remembered when he'd first talked to her, her grin when he'd told her that he'd kneed Fenner in the bollocks. That brought back in a rush the old days before things had gone all wrong between them and that was all Fenner's fault for coming between them. The bastard thought that he could trash their relationship if Karen wouldn't go back to him. He still remembered the nights they'd spent together and there was never a lover like her, especially that one magic night after they'd gone out to the pub. However much he'd tried to banish all the memories from Karen from his mind, they'd come back with a rush, the happy memories to the fore. It was what he remembered her best for and surely the good times would come back.
Karen went back to her office in a fury. What she did not want was Mark as a knight in shining armour to defend her. It might be all very fine in children's stories but not in real life. But she was conscious of the swirling pressures that had funneled in with her at the centre. And it dragged her mind back to the horrors that she wanted to forget and didn't let her move on from them. Yes, Mark was a shining knight in armour, apart from the one time in her life when she wanted him to believe her and the look in her eyes betrayed him and her even before he started to speak .. She pressed her hands to her head before starting to furiously work through her files. She dared not even begin to think.
It was in the empty library later on that Mark, in the full flush of a romantic mood saw Karen. She gave a tight smile as acknowledgement while Mark greeted her heartily.
"You don't need to worry any more, Karen." Mark spoke confidently and kindly."You've got me to back you up."
"It's not as easy as that with Larkhall up for privatisation." Karen said cautiously." I saw the way you reacted to Bostock. He scared the hell out of you. That's why I don't want you to get too heavy handed with Fenner. For your sake." Karen finished with real concern and a suggestion of tenderness in her eyes.
That brought Mark up short. He remembered that fear that the sight of him had instilled in him and the nightmare memories of his time at Bradgate.
"There's no one else around apart from me that will stand up to them. Fenner's ready to jump ship and leave us to drown. Colin Hedges, he's spineless and will follow Fenner. All the others are keeping their heads down, pretending it won't happen. The POA is nothing like it was, and it wasn't much good in Sylvia's time That's why we need each other, Karen." Mark said tenderly, trying to put some spirit into them and reassure her.
True,thought Karen. Mark was talking sense and was raising to the surface all her own fears that Lynfords will cherry pick who they want and leave everyone else out in the cold. She did not doubt the power of her own personality and the authority of her position but a small part of her felt that she was standing on quicksand that would drag her down no matter how hard she fought. Mark saw a small flicker of fear in her eyes behind the impassive strong exterior.
"Why can't it be like it was in the old days," Mark urged."It was good between us, until Fenner got in the way, wasn't it."
Karen didn't answer. She had welcomed the company of a sympathetic man who had gone through a turbulent relationship with Gina and had lost the baby that she was expecting. After Fenner, Mark had seemed a step up in the world when they first started going out together, nothing heavy. That was what she had always wanted.
And Mark very gently put his arms around Karen and went to clasp her to himself and to heal the emptiness in him and between themselves.
Karen froze. Everything in her seemed to turn to stone at the feel and the presence of him.. Suddenly, something inside made her push him away. She seemed to push herself away with a speed of a rocketing pheasant. It was at the level of instinct that took over her beyond all conscious thought.
Mark felt as if a cold bucket of water had been thrown over him as a liquid slap in the face. He was frozen with shock.
"You hysterical woman. You've not changed, Karen. And I thought that there still were feelings between us even after everything" Mark snapped.
Karen's world had brutally shifted on its axis to the time she'd told Mark about that horrible night. And bloody Fenner was in the middle of all this mess as before. She had to leave this room and go somewhere, anywhere.
Outwardly to the casual passer by, Karen was her normal self, same suit, same hairstyle and expression which gave nothing away as she made a bee line to her office . Inwardly, she was driven by an automatic instinct to reach for whatever salvation lay to hand. It could have been two or three very outsized glasses of scotch, work or no work, or to throw some large object at the wall, never mind the noise or her reputation but instead, she hovered that one second and her eye lit on the computer in the corner of her office. She had to let it all out, that much her instincts told her. Intelligence, reasoning power, straight line logic did not enter the situation. The computer was someone she was sure she could talk to without it judging her. Everything she had felt in the past which she had bottled up came straight out into the here and now. She wasn't remembering the past, she was reliving those feelings in the present with all the intensity with which she had first experienced them. She clicked on the computer with slightly trembling fingers, watched the screen take shape, selected a document name and her fingers ran rapidly across the keyboard. Her ability to touch type meant that the typing tapped directly from her feelings to the screen without any physical intervention.
"I didn't want Mark to touch me at first. I didn't want anyone to touch me. The very thought of male hands on my female body was nauseating. Mark used to be so hurt when I flinched away from him. I don't blame him really. He tried so hard to be there for me, but he never understood. He could never and would never understand how I'm feeling because he's a man. All most men can really focus on is the bit of them they shove in to a woman at the point of climax. All they can feel is the grinding thrust that achieves their goal. They're not really seeing the woman they're fucking, just the bit of her body which they need to achieve their ultimate aim.
I tried to sleep with Mark, I really did. The problem was he could tell I was faking it. I hated doing that to him, but to lead him on then push him away would have been even worse. I needed to see how it would feel after Jim. I needed to know how I would react to having a man inside me again. I felt very detached from it. It was like I was watching myself being screwed by Mark. I wasn't part of it. To give Mark his due, he didn't rush me. It was me who made the first move. I had psyched myself up to sleeping with Mark and it was something I had to do. He just held me afterwards. I think he knew I hadn't enjoyed it but we didn't discuss it. I couldn't say anything. If I'd tried to talk about it to try and put it in perspective, I think I might have lost it completely.
I tried not to think about it for a couple of weeks. I kept Mark at a distance. I probably kept everyone at a distance. He went to put his hand on my shoulder the other day and I couldn't stop myself moving away. He doesn't know how to deal with me. I don't think I know how to deal with myself. Jim keeps telling me that I'll never know it good with anyone else. He's just trying to make himself feel better. I marvel at his inability to comprehend the simplest of concepts sometimes. He really doesn't realise that what he did to me A: constitutes a serious crime, or B: that he has hurt me beyond anything he could ever imagine. Maybe I know how Shell Dockley felt. There were times when she didn't want it, I'm sure of that. I think she stabbed him because she'd had enough and partly because she was scared of losing the friendship I gave her. But Helen didn't ask for any of this. She knew what Jim was like from the start. She didn't have to sleep with him and get lost under his spell to know what he was like. why didn't I listen to her? She told me I was too close and that I couldn't see it. Maybe I should find her, talk to her and tell her she was right. Is it my fault for not listening to her? Maybe that's one question I'll never know the answer too.
It was when Jim made that crack about my relationship with Mark being middle class and boring that I changed. Suddenly I needed to prove to myself that I could sleep with men again, that I could enjoy it again. No way was Jim bloody Fenner going to put me off anything. Especially not something I used to enjoy so much. Jesus! He's got the pictures to prove how much I got out of it. As Mark is still somewhat in attendance, I thought I may as well try out my plan on him. It worked. I think he got the shock of his life when I asked him to stay. He didn't understand what had suddenly changed in me. It didn't take him long to consider it though. I can't say I did enjoy what we did but I didn't hate it as much as the first time. I think I abandoned myself to giving Mark the best time he'd had in his life. Maybe I was making up for all the times I refused to let him touch me. He was completely floored by the amount of energy I put in to it. It was almost like I needed to possess him. I needed to be the one in power. I think it was my way of saying that I was no longer going to be a victim. I think I knew that this would be the last time for me and Mark so I wanted us to go out with a bang, as it were. And Richie, Yvonne's son, he was a complete spur of the moment thing. The way he flirted with me in the visiting room made me realise that men still wanted me. That was the most vigorous sex I've had in a long time. It was like I was exorcising a ghost, which in a way I was. I was getting rid of the Jim Fenner which had haunted my days and interrupted my nights for far too long. I screwed the hell out of Richie and I suppose I did enjoy it, in a way. When I thought about it afterwards, it was like I'd adopted a different personality for the night. Or maybe I returned to my old one, my pre-Jim Fenner self. Whatever happened to me that night was good. Even if I act like a slag for a little while, it has to be better than what I've put Mark through recently. Maybe I'm on the road to rediscovering myself ."
Karen was not aware of anything around her at all and did not know that one of the POs had said, "Miss Betts, Yvonne Atkins to see you." Yvonne had walked towards Karen's desk and was slightly surprised to see that Karen did not turn round and greet her with her normal friendly smile. Instead she was facing at right angles to her desk clicking away at her computer at a furious pace.
"Miss Betts," Yvonne said, quietly and politely, feeling on ceremony a bit."I thought you wanted to see me."
Karen did not answer but rattled away furiously, hunched up over the computer. Something about her body language screamed emotional tension. The lock of the hair at the side of her face was falling halfway across her eyes but she didn't even flick it away.
Yvonne let time pass briefly while she thought out what to do. She didn't want to be nosy but her eyes flicked to the computer screen and fragments of the story leapt up off the screen at her. This was not some novel that she was in at the creation of the writer's story but this was for real, the flesh and blood people that she sees everyday and her son Ritchie whom she had a 'behind the scenes' view of. Jesus, Yvonne thought, this is a woman that's emotionally cut up to hell. Her instinct to go over to her and hug her battled with her instinct that Karen should get it out of her system her own way, undisturbed.
Suddenly a tickle ran up the inside of her throat and she coughed.
"Yvonne, what are you doing here?" Karen asked in a dazed, surprised tone of voice, wondering why she was here and not Yvonne and not the anger of, why are you invading my personal space and my secrets.
"I've got an appointment, Karen, remember. I didn't want to disturb you," Yvonne said with real tender concern that melted in her voice.
That was the cue Karen needed to smile in a sheepish, embarrassed way, the woman and not the Wing Governor. She relaxed back into her chair, her head resting against the backrest. All the tension had evaporated out of her body, somehow
"You're surprised to see me behind this cool, calm exterior, Yvonne" Karen replied with an exaggeratedly debonair manner about her which did not fool Yvonne one bit in the very real defensiveness about her. Totally blind instinct took charge in making her feel incredibly guilty and incredibly foolish." nor what's happened to me these past few months."
Yvonne read through the sheet of paper word for word and one passage jumped out at her and gave her the presentiment of some appalling horror from what she knew Fenner had done to Dockley. "He really doesn't realise that what he did to me A: constitutes a serious crime, or B: that he has hurt me beyond anything he could ever imagine. Maybe I know how Shell Dockley felt."
"What happened with Fenner, if you don't mind me asking."
"At one point, Grayling had had his knife into Fenner for all the wrong reasons .. .I know that you wouldn't think that is possible but it was for selfish reasons. I was going out with Mark at that point. I went round to Fenner's bed sit one night as I was sorry for him and I thought it was safe going round to see him. You remember that I lived with Fenner at one time ."and Karen grimaced at that point. "and I thought I knew him. Just shows how wrong you can be." Karen's voice tailed off for a moment before picking up the thread. "Anyway, he kept pouring me drinks and we were talking. He kissed me and we ended up in bed. I told him at that point I didn't want to go any further but he forced me. I kept telling him no but he ignored me and pretended to himself and me that it was never rape, at the time afterwards and I'm sure the bastard believes it still. " As Karen spoke, Yvonne could feel as if it were happening to her.
Karen's dry flat emotionless tones etched out the story painfully till at the end her anger broke through and she could call her emotions her own.
"What happened to you thanks to that bastard Fenner, Karen, is my worst fucking nightmare come true. I was Yvonne Rayner, living at home out for a dance with my mates and I nearly got raped when I was seventeen. Want to hear?" Yvonne asked, not wanting to take away from Karen's experiences and highly conscious not to break the delicate spider's web thick thread of communication between them. Karen nodded, her eyes fixed on Yvonne.
"I was young and stupid then and went to a club with my mate Bev. We'd both had had a skinful, she was arguing with her boyfriend and, next thing I knew, they'd shot off in a taxi to his place. There was I, stood outside in the pitch black and wondering what I was supposed to do as she was supposed to be stopping at my parent's house as they'd gone out. It was pissing it down and I was with this fella I'd picked up."
Yvonne paused and Karen's eyes told her that she was listening to every syllable and seeing the scene through her eyes.
"We hopped into a taxi and I remember I was yabbering away to him, nineteen to the dozen. He seemed quiet, not much to say for himself and seemed harmless. I took him back to my parents after stopping at the offy for another bottle. When we got back, we were drinking away and laughing. He seemed to have come out of himself. Yeah, right. Till the drink got to his dick and he tried it on with me. I was bleeding shitting myself. He'd ripped off my blouse and," And at this point, Yvonne's tough, casual persona crumbled. "There I was, lying on the couch, having my clothes torn off by some bloke who was as quiet as you like before he got me home. But I managed to kick him out, so I was lucky."
"I felt so stupid," Said Karen in a half strangled voice.
"Yeah, me too," Replied Yvonne. "Just because you knew him doesn't mean you should have known any better. If anything, it's the other way round."
"Helen tried to tell me so many times what Fenner was like," Went on Karen, "And I didn't listen to her till it was too late."
"You mean he did this to Helen?" Asked Yvonne, beginning to see the full extent of Karen's anguish.
"Not quite, she left a report about it on my desk the day she left, and even then I didn't take her seriously. He told me it was bollocks and I fell for it."
"Karen, you can't blame yourself for what happened to Helen. We've all done things we know were stupid at the time. I certainly should have known better, but you do these daft things when you are young, you can do daft things at any age. It doesn't mean you are a bad person, you fall for the wrong man and you can't hear that voice in your ear that tells you to back away, and you can't hear those around you telling you to leave."
"After that, I became the tough bitch Yvonne Atkins, hard as nails, with the gift of the gab and vowed to myself never to let myself be under any man's thumb, not again. I was the one who was going to call the shots in the future."
"Sometimes I don't feel strong enough to keep it together," Said Karen, getting up and moving towards a cupboard from which she drew out a bottle of scotch and two glasses. She gestured with the bottle in Yvonne's direction and received a nod and a smile.
"I know," Said Yvonne, taking the glass from her. "You can see it in your eyes sometimes, it's like everything's begging to be let out." Karen stared at her.
"I didn't know you looked at me that closely," She said, half laughing to cover up how touched she was that someone had noticed.
"So is that how you deal with it, by writing?" Asked Yvonne, eager to change the subject from just how much she'd tracked Karen's emotions.
"Sometimes," Said Karen, lighting them both a cigarette. "It doesn't always work, and I'm quite often too uptight to do it."
"I can't say it'll get easier," Said Yvonne, "Because I don't know the answer to that."
"I think that's what Ritchie was supposed to be about," Said Karen, taking a long drag. Then, at Yvonne's questioning gaze, she elaborated. "Ritchie knew nothing about me. It was the easiest thing in the world to fake it with him." Yvonne felt a sharp stab of pain at Karen's words. Even Yvonne had known what it was like to have to fake it from time to time. It was a lesson all women had found it necessary to learn since the dawn of time. But to have to sleep with a total stranger so that they wouldn't know, that was just terrible.
"Sweetheart," Yvonne said gently. "None of this makes you a bad person." Brief tears rose to Karen's eyes at the term of endearment, no-one had called her sweetheart in longer than she cared to remember.
"That's open for discussion," She replied drily, trying to disguise her emotions. "But it does make me pretty useless where men are concerned."
"Why all this now?" Asked Yvonne, knowing there must be a reason for this sudden need to offload.
"Mark was trying the old protective routine. I know it sounds stupid, but it really got to me. When he came back, we agreed that things had to stay absolutely professional. Then first, I catch him fighting with Fenner, and now he's trying to act as if guarding my career, never mind my body, is what he's here for." Karen's voice had risen in the old familiar way Yvonne knew best.
"It wasn't such a good idea him coming back was it?"
"No," Said Karen, getting up to refill their glasses. "Having him around, all it does is to remind me how bloody weak I'm capable of being." Karen moved to sit in a chair near to Yvonne, rather than putting the barrier of her desk in between them once again. "Why do you always make me unwind?" Karen suddenly said. Yvonne laughed.
"Probably because we're both as mental as each other." Then she turned serious. "Listen, Mark being back here might dig up a lot of things, though quite how you can work in the same place as Fenner day in day out without chopping his dick off is beyond me. Just remember that your computer isn't the only one who can listen, so to speak." Yvonne put her glass down and stood up. "I'd better go," She said, giving Karen's shoulder a little squeeze as she moved towards the door. It was noted by both of them that Yvonne's touch hadn't made Karen flinch, in the same way it had with Mark. "I would say stay safe," Said Yvonne, "But I think stay sane is more appropriate." As Yvonne left, Karen wondered just who this being was, this woman who seemed to know what buttons to press to make her begin to purge herself of some of the anger, some of the guilt, and possibly even the pain.
"Oh shit, what have I done?" Mark exclaimed to himself in the dead of night when the subconscious thoughts on his mind had swirled around in his dreams and he woke up with a start, wide awake at one o clock in the morning.
He had meant to be protective of Karen when he joined with her to attack Fenner. The bastard was being his usual conniving self and she needed backup, no matter how tough she thinks herself. He meant well enough as a romantic gesture and Karen's reaction shocked him. Her reaction was the total and bewilderingly opposite to what he had expected, that she would melt in his arms and that it would heal the wounds of their relationship which were still red raw. It was only just recently that he knew that to be the case. That was certainly rammed home, the way she felt like a stone statue, repelling the physical display of intimacy and the way that she turned on her heel and ran.
He turned over in bed and shifted the pillows but he only seemed to get more and more wrapped in his bedclothes. In the dark, the numbers on his bedside alarm clock told him the bad news.
He had to get his head down and get some sleep or he would be a zombie the next day, hardly the condition if he was going to be called on by Prison Officers and prisoners alike. He wanted sleep desperately but the more he wanted something like that, the more it eluded him. Story of his life. He groaned to himself.
He looked desperately for some element of certainty that he could grasp hold of with his feelings swirling round in his head but peace wasn't coming to him. His breath came in and out in short bursts.
OK, he was bloody right that Karen was up against it and needed all the help that she could get. At times like these, the burst of confidence fuelled by one too many drinks at the social club had deflated and the memory of Eric Bostock's face added to his fears. How crazy that with what there was in common with Karen was blowing back in his face. He had to make his peace and try to kill off these feelings for Karen that were getting him nowhere. Easier said than done, he thought ruefully.
In a moment of decision, he turned on his light, blinked when the glare from the light hit his eyes and went to make a warm drink for himself. His bare feet trod the unsympathetic cold floor and took him to his fridge where he guessed the amount to slosh into a saucepan and shivered in the unsympathetic night air as he waited for it to boil. It was funny that, once he was out of bed and downstairs, his eyes grew sleepy and he stumbled his way upstairs holding his hope to sleep to deliver him from the loneliness of the night.
He looked all around him in the dim light of the bedside tablelamp. Only himself in a bed made for two which made him feel empty inside. He knew that Karen would make for completeness on the few rare nights that they slept together and after they had made love and lay in each others arms in exhaustion and that sense of completeness, he had gone off to sleep in a hazy feeling of wellbeing, not that sense of loneliness and, yes he had to admit it, sexual frustration. He could not own up to this one out on a drink with the lads.
"What, Mark. You're joking. Bet you have to fight all the women off." A chorus of voices leered at him if he were to own up. Deny it, and he would be lying to himself and living a lie while he acted all mock coy, tell the truth and he would lose face. And, if the rare event happened that one of the lads was all sympathy, what good would it do? He shuffled the pillows around in sheer frustration for the sleep that didn't come..
That night, Karen didn't even dare to think of the sort of mental horrors that had been dug up out of the vault where for sanity's sake, they had been best hidden out of self preservation, certainly not Fenner, not Mark and not Richie. Some pride in her didn't want sympathy for herself as it embarrassed her and made her feel weak, especially in times like this when she needed all the strength she could get. Was mentally falling apart going to be what she really needed to do right now, she asked of herself. Yet some instinct channeled her mind to the one place where she could clasp that sympathy to herself, by feeling the feelings of someone else who had been through the same experiences. In her mind, Yvonne's face appeared to as sight and her voice in her ears as memory and her matter of fact sympathy and real understanding was as if she were on her last legs in the middle of the Sahara desert and out of nowhere an oasis of water and emotional rescue was magically to hand. All she knew was that it was right. In some mysterious game of life, Yvonne certainly made the right move at the right time even if she might not be aware of it herself.
The soundless way that Yvonne's story of her own past came back into her mind and a real human sympathy flowed its way to the other woman as she exposed her own mental scars that had not healed. Somehow, reflecting on Yvonne's troubled past life might be a way to confront her own problems. So this explains Yvonne's own 'tough bitch' persona where those narrowed mascaraed eyes could pin down any foolish and disrespectful man or woman, whoever she was,at thirty paces. Yet, coming into her office on a routine interview, Yvonne surprised the hell out of her by letting down her guard straightaway, not to a fellow inmate, but to Karen Betts, Wing Governor, near the top of the shitheap, of all people. But, so her mind reasoned, it was not so surprising perhaps if, rank aside, they were sisters under the skin, one who could call her 'sweetheart.'
Karen shook her head in wonder at such fanciful notions. She'd got hardly any woman friends, she wasn't that confiding type, not that many close friends come to think of that, only the men in her life who had come and gone and did that really count?
So who was there around at night when she wanted answers from life around her. Up till then, she had herself, because, unless she could depend on herself, nobody else could or would do it for her. But was that enough, she asked herself as she stretched her legs out in the big double bed which felt too big and lonely for her.
Still, there was no denying, as soon as Yvonne came into her sight, her spirits automatically lifted and she wanted to know her better. Somehow, she sensed that that was what she needed. That feeling of semi resolution soothed her down a little and let her eyelids drop down over her restless sight and sooth her gradually off to sleep.
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