DISCLAIMER: Bad Girls and all its characters are property of Shed Productions, a division of Shed Media Group, plc. The author implies no ownership of these characters, and they are used in the stories without permission solely for entertainment and not for profit. Similarly this applies to any copyrighted fictional characters either from literature, broadcast media or film.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This story was originally started the day after Episode 13 of Series two was aired in the UK and is my take on what happened afterwards. It was originally posted chapter by chapter on my old website, ZanWeb back in 2000-2001. This is intrinsically the same story, minus most of the original grammatical errors and cringeworthy cliches ... I hope!!!
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
FEEDBACK: To filbertfox.redux[at]gmail.com

Secrets & Lies (Redux)
By Filbertfox


Chapter Eleven

Kerry woke early to find Nikki staring out of the window, a faraway expression on her face.

'Anywhere interesting?'

Nikki jumped and turned around. 'Huh?'

'You look miles away.'

'Oh right.' Nikki smiled weakly in reply and then turned back to the window. 'Not somewhere … someone. No prizes for guessing who.'


Nikki nodded. 'I knew she wasn't going to like what I had to say, but even so …' She shrugged. 'I still thought I'd be able to get through to her.'

'Nikki, when you get out of here, you've got the rest of your life to make it up to her,' Kerry said firmly. 'Don't give up now.'

'That's probably the only thing that's stopping me from climbing the walls right now,' Nikki replied, lighting a cigarette. 'It's amazing how the certainty that I'm getting out of here has changed things.'

'What exactly did she say?' Kerry asked.

'She was pissed off because I hadn't told her, said I didn't trust her, and then asked for some time alone so that she could work out how she felt about it.' Nikki sighed and shook her head. 'You know, it's strange. I'd managed to convince myself that I was guilty anyway. That if Radio and his heavies hadn't arrived, that I would've killed that bastard myself. Going through it all again with Helen has made me realise that I couldn't have. I'm not a murderer.'

'Have you told Helen that?'

Nikki didn't reply, instead, she threw her half-smoked cigarette out of the window and then returned to her bunk. 'You mind if we change the subject?' she asked. 'I've done nothing but think about the whole bloody mess all night, and with the greatest respect, I don't think that talking about it is going to help in the slightest.'

Kerry lay in silence for a few minutes and then glanced at her watch. 'Shit!' she exclaimed as she jumped down from her bunk. 'They'll be unlocking in a few minutes!'

Nikki watched in amazement as Kerry rushed round the cell, pulling off her pyjamas before washing and dressing. The whole process took less than two minutes.

'Who lit the fire under your arse?' Nikki asked, as Kerry struggled with the concept of pulling on her socks while simultaneously trying to brush her teeth.

Kerry mumbled something around her toothbrush and then spat into the sink. 'Bloody Fenner,' she said, pausing to wipe her mouth on a towel. 'Haven't you noticed that he's always the one to unlock our cell in the morning? He's always a few minutes early too.'

'Now you mention it, I have got used to seeing his ugly mug in the morning.'

'He gives me the creeps,' Kerry said, shuddering as if to prove her point. 'I swear he does it on purpose to try to catch me in my underwear.'

As if on cue, a key rattled in the door.

Kerry raised her eyebrows at Nikki. 'Watch this.'

The door opened and Fenner walked in, his face showing a trace of disappointment when he noticed that Kerry was already fully dressed. Predictably, he took his frustration out on Nikki.

'Move it, Wade!' he growled. 'Get that dykey arse of yours out of that bed before I drag you out of it myself!'

'Sorry, Mr Fenner. I had a bit of a restless night,' Nikki countered, turning a lingering glance in Kerry's direction. 'Didn't get much sleep if you know what I mean.'

Fenner glared at Nikki before stalking out of the cell.

Nikki smiled at his departure before turning back to Kerry. 'Sorry about that. I think I may have ruined your reputation.' She rolled off her bunk and reached for her dressing gown. 'Although hopefully, it will have put the bastard off.'

'I doubt it.' Kerry replied, voice muffled by the sweater she was pulling over her head. 'He'll probably unlock earlier now in the hope of catching us at it!'

Nikki wasn't entirely surprised when Hollamby arrived instead of Helen to take her to her meeting with Claire. As she followed the rotund Prison Officer through the prison corridors, she suppressed a wave of annoyance. She'd told Helen that she'd give her time and she was going to stick by that, no matter what happened. Why couldn't Helen believe that?

On her arrival in the room set aside for her meeting with Claire, Nikki was very surprised to find a disturbingly sexy woman with short dark hair sitting in the place of the stuffy barrister she'd been expecting. The woman smiled directly at her and Nikki felt her stomach do a lazy somersault. Things weren't improved when she crossed her legs, which were easily among the longest Nikki had ever seen.

Hollamby, predictably, made a point of the fact that she wasn't too happy about running around after the inmates. 'I'll be back in an hour to collect her,' she said to Claire. 'I don't like being kept waiting.'

The woman sitting next to Claire shook her head in disbelief when Hollamby closed the door behind her. 'My God! It's Vinegar Tits!' she exclaimed in a Scottish accent.

Claire rose from her chair and smiled at Nikki. 'Hiya, Nikki. Take a seat.' She waited until a shell-shocked Nikki was seated before introducing her companion. 'Nikki, I'd like you to meet Anna Forbes.'

'Nice to meet you at last,' Anna said, reaching across the table to shake Nikki's hand. 'I've heard a lot about you.'

Nikki nodded in reply, only allowing her hand to shake Anna's for the briefest of moments before she flopped back into her seat. Get a grip! she ordered herself, anyone would think you'd never seen an attractive woman before!

'Nikki? Are you okay?' Claire asked in a concerned voice. 'You don't look well at all.'

Nikki opened her mouth to speak but no sound emerged. She cleared her throat, aware of the fact that she was blushing. 'I'm fine, I just wasn't expecting …'

'We're not all stiffs in long black robes you know,' Anna said, offering a packet of Silk Cut to Nikki. 'To be completely honest, the only time I wear anything remotely past knee-length is when I'm in my dressing-gown.'

Nikki smiled as she took one of Anna's cigarettes. 'So you're my brief then?' She lit her cigarette and frowned when she noticed that Claire exchanged a glance with Anna in response to this 'Have I missed something?'

'Nikki,' Claire began. 'I did ask Anna along here with the intention of briefing her on your case, but it's only right that I …'

'What Claire's trying to say is that I've never actually been involved with such a high profile case,' Anna interrupted, pausing briefly to light her cigarette. 'The thing is, Nikki, I need this case. In fact, I'm so desperate for this case that I'm prepared to have your babies … well, maybe not that desperate but …' She paused to take a quick drag from her cigarette and leaned across the table towards Nikki. 'I'm an extremely good barrister who is yet to realise her full potential because of the stranglehold the old boys brigade have on the legal system. Over the past few years, I've let so many old men disappear down my cleavage in the hopes of getting even the slightest whiff of something challenging, that I'm thinking of having a visitor's centre installed in my bra, so …'

'What Anna is trying to say … I think,' Claire interjected, turning to frown at her friend. 'Look, Nikki, as it is, your appeal is going to be something of a formality. I really don't see the point in you wasting your money on a silk when Anna is more than capable of handling it.'

'And you'll be doing me a huge favour, and of course I'll be eternally grateful,' Anna added.

With effort, Nikki dragged her eyes away from Anna's and turned to Claire. 'Do you think she can handle this?'

'I wouldn't have suggested it otherwise,' Claire replied. 'Anna's a good friend of mine, but I wouldn't advise you to take her on if I had even the slightest doubt about her abilities as a barrister. You are my client after all.'

Nikki leaned back in her chair and considered her solicitor. Over the past few months, she'd developed a real respect for Claire, and after revealing the truth to her about Gossard's death, had discovered that she could also trust her implicitly. Most importantly of all, Nikki knew that Claire possessed too much integrity to recommend Anna unless she really thought she could do the job.

She shifted her gaze to Anna … sexy, intelligent, feisty … Nikki liked her immediately, but it wasn't just that. Anna struck her as the sort of person who threw her whole self into anything she did, and, if she came across any barriers in her way, would crash straight through them without a moment's hesitation.

Eventually, Nikki nodded at Claire. 'Okay, why not?'

Anna let out a howl of delight and rushed round the table to plant a huge kiss on Nikki's cheek. 'Thank you, thank you. You won't regret this I promise!'

An astonished Nikki looked over at Claire who was shaking her head and smiling. 'Is she usually like this?'

'Usually she's worse,' Claire replied. 'When you're released she may well offer you her ovaries!'

For the other inmates, it was exercise time, and as they were led out into the yard, Polly made a beeline for Billy to retrieve her daily delivery. She was completely unaware that the attention of every single Officer was upon her. Therefore, after completing her transaction, she was unprepared when seemingly out of nowhere, half a dozen DST Officers swooped on her.

Before Polly realised what was happening, she was sitting opposite a stony faced Karen Betts via a trip down the block for a strip search.

'Well, Polly, looks like you've been up to your old tricks again,' Karen said, gesturing to the small packet of white powder sitting on the table between them.

'Yeah yeah,' Polly replied, sighing dismissively. 'Just try not to sound too chuffin' smug about it.'

'So you admit to the fact that you've been smuggling class A drugs into the prison?'

'I ain't admitting to anything, but seeing as the squat squad arrived in time to see Billy pass me that gear, it don't take a degree to work out the bleedin' obvious does it? I do know the majority of your screws couldn't find their arses with two hands and a torch, but you look as if you've got more than two brain cells to rub together.' Polly smiled lasciviously at Karen. 'You know, you're actually quite fit. You ever get bored of shagging that bastard, Fenner, you let me know.' She turned her smile Fenner who was standing behind Karen.

'Shut your mouth, Mitchell!' Fenner growled. 'You're in enough trouble as it is'

'Nah, on second forts, I don't want anything he's touched.' Polly continued, oblivious to the furious look on Karen's face. 'Although, I suppose you could always send that Miss Stewart along instead. Word is she likes slumming it with the cons.'

'That's enough!' Karen snapped. 'Mitchell, you'll be spending the next fourteen days down the block and as from this moment, all of your privileges, including personal spends and visits are withdrawn until further notice!'

'You can't do that!' Polly protested.

'I just have done,' Karen countered, leaning across the table to confront the furious inmate. 'I'm going to be keeping a very close eye on you from now on. You step out of line once more and I'll have you transferred out of here so fast your head will spin!' She turned to Fenner. 'Take her away.'

After transporting Polly down to the block in total silence, Fenner looked around to check that he was unobserved before pushing her into a cell, and then closing the door behind them.

'You've well and truly marked your card now, Mitchell,' he said. 'But if you saw your way into helping me out with a small matter, I might think about turning the occasional blind eye in the future.'

'I take it by small, you're referring to the contents of your kecks,' Polly replied, glaring up at Fenner from the bunk. 'I don't do sexual favours for no twat. Especially an ugly one like you!'

Fenner suppressed his initial reaction, which was to kick Polly from one end of the cell to the other, and settled instead for grabbing her face and pushing it against the wall. 'Listen to me, you stupid bitch! I'd have to be bloody desperate for it before I touch a common scrubber like you!' He let go of Polly and stepped back. 'Now, I want you to tell me everything you know about Helen Stewart!'

Polly had been rubbing her face, her pained expression turned into a smile as she looked up at Fenner. 'Now you're talking! What exactly do you want to know?'

The news about Polly's incarceration down the block passed around the wing quickly. After hearing about it from the Julies, Yvonne wasted no time in seeking out Denny. Eventually finding the younger inmate curled up on her bunk.

'Right, now that psycho's down the block you can tell me why you've been working for her,' Yvonne said as she sat down on the edge of Denny's bunk. After receiving no reply, she reached over to touch the younger inmate on the arm. 'Listen to me, Denny love. Whatever she's done to you, I promise I'll sort it out.'

With effort, Denny rolled over to face Yvonne. 'Yvonne, man, if she even 'ears that I've been talking to you she'll …'

'She'll what?' Yvonne leaned forward, shocked by the terrified look on Denny's face. 'What's she done to you?'

Denny tried to turn back to face the wall, yelping with pain when Yvonne tried to prevent her from doing so.

Yvonne needed no further encouragement. She yanked Denny's sweater up and gasped at what she saw. The whole right side of Denny's torso was one large purple bruise while across her stomach were a series of cuts. Puffy and red around the edges, they spelt out POLLY. 'That bitch!' she spat, appalled. I'm gonna rip her fuckin' head off and shit down her neck!'

'No, Yvonne!' Denny protested, pulling her sweater back down. 'She'll kill me when she gets back. It's alright for you, you don't 'ave to share a cell wiv 'er!'

'Denny, I'm not gonna let her get away with this,' Yvonne said gently. 'You should've come to me as soon as she did this.'

'I'm shit scared of 'er,' Denny whimpered, tears of frustration beginning to appear in her eyes. 'She told me she done Shaz, and if I don't do what she says she'll send someone up to the 'ospital wing to sort 'er out!'

Yvonne reached out and gently touched Denny's face. 'When she gets off the block she ain't gonna be in any fit state to sort anyone out,' she said firmly. 'Now, we'd better get you sorted.'

'I ain't goin' down the 'ospital wing!'

'Of course you ain't. You go up there and Betts'll find out what's 'appened. Nah, I'll go and get the Julies … bit of antiseptic on them cuts and a couple of jellies and you'll be right as rain.' Yvonne smiled reassuringly as she stood up. 'And don't you worry about Mitchell. She ain't gonna know her own name when I've finished with her!'

The meeting passed quickly, and, as Anna began to talk about what would happen at the appeal, Nikki became even more convinced that she'd made the right decision.

'Basically, you won't even have to open your mouth,' Anna explained, pausing to light yet another cigarette. 'The prosecution will have seen the evidence, and won't offer any arguments against my recommendation that your murder conviction should be quashed. They may however point out that the video also shows you assaulting a serving Police Officer, but if that happens, I'll point out the amount of time you've already served and …'

'Hold on,' Nikki interjected. 'You mean there's still a chance that they might send me back here for bottling the bastard?'

'Not with me defending you they won't,' Anna replied, smiling reassuringly. 'No, it's the job of the Crown to present all of the facts to the court. Even so, I can't see them raising any objections when I request your immediate release.' She reached across the table and patted Nikki's hand. 'Smile, Nikki. This time next month you'll be a free woman and most probably talking about your ordeal on daytime television.' She paused and frowned. 'No, forget I said that. We don't want you re-offending, do we?'

Just then, the door opened and Helen walked in.

Helen looked fragile and tired, the black trouser suit she was wearing only served to drain the residual colour from a deathly white face. Nikki felt her heart constrict painfully. How could she be attracted to another woman when everything that was true and good in her life was balancing on a knife-edge?

Claire jumped out of her seat as soon as she saw Helen. 'Hi, Helen, you're just in time. Anna and I have just finished.'

Helen nodded and walked over to the table. 'I just want a quick word with Nikki first if that's okay?'

'Of course,' Claire replied, motioning Anna to her feet. 'Oh, I don't think you've met Anna have you? Anna Forbes, meet Helen Stewart.'

Helen held her hand out to Anna. 'Nice to meet you. Claire's told me a lot about you.'

'It's probably all lies,' Anna said as she shook Helen's hand. 'She's never forgiven me for pulling the bloke she'd spent three years pining after at graduation.'

'Yes, and how is Miles these days?' Claire asked innocently. 'Enjoy his honeymoon did he?' She smiled slyly at her friend and then turned back to Helen. 'I invited Anna along for lunch. I hope you don't mind?'

'Not at all,' Helen replied. 'I'll see you outside.'

Helen waited until Anna and Claire had left the room before turning to Nikki.

'Nikki, it's only fair that I let you know that as from this afternoon I've taken two weeks leave,' she announced, looking down at the floor. 'I've just updated Karen on your appeal, and she's agreed to keep an eye on things while I'm away.'

Nikki closed her eyes and fought the familiar onrush of hurt and anger … with Helen she was finally learning to think first and speak later. Once the immediate danger had passed, she nodded and rose from her chair. 'I said I'd give you as much time as you needed. I'm not going to argue.'

Helen sighed, obviously relieved. 'I need to think about where we go from here and I can't do it in this place.' She reached out to touch Nikki's arm and then changed her mind, returning her hand to its original position almost immediately. 'Take care of yourself, Nikki.'


Chapter Twelve

Although the reasons behind her idea to put on a production of Romeo & Juliet were decidedly suspect, Yvonne Atkins found that she was quite enjoying the demanding role of director. Therefore, the fact that Denny and Shaz seemed to spend most of their time taking the piss instead of taking their roles as Benvolio and Mercutio seriously, was taxing her patience to the absolute limit.

On the up side though, the rehearsals had helped to put the spring back into Denny's step. The permanent state of alertness she'd held herself in since Polly's attack was slowly slipping away and the old Denny was returning. This process had been speeded up drastically by Shaz's return from hospital and the two were soon back causing mischief and havoc.

The situation had also been eased by Polly's extended absence. Her original two-week period of segregation had been increased to three weeks after an abortive attempt to head-butt Di Barker when she'd been refused access to the telephone. Yvonne had also been relieved to find out, via Kerry, that Betts had plans to move Polly into a cell of her own upon her return to the wing, hoping that it would make easier to keep an eye on her. As far as Yvonne was concerned, Polly would be seeing her first sunrise off the block from a hospital bed.

In fact, the only trouble on the wing in the past fortnight had been a brief skirmish between Yvonne and Shell after the part of Juliet had been given to Kerry. Shell, ever the exhibitionist, had been gagging for the role, and had tried to exercise her power as Polly's deputy by threatening to give Yvonne 'a good old slapping' unless she got her way. It hadn't taken much for Yvonne to convince her that it wouldn't be a prudent course of action.

Behind her, Yvonne was acutely aware of Dockley observing the proceedings.

In Polly's absence, Shell had taken over her gang of heavies and was revelling in the power it afforded her, but, without Polly's contacts on the outside to smuggle gear onto the wing, business was very slow and they mostly spent their time hanging around and shooting menacing looks at the rest of the inmates while their new leader tossed out threats left, right and centre. Shell was also ignorant of the fact that Yvonne knew about her involvement in Shaz's overdose, and that she was living on borrowed time until Yvonne came up with a suitable method of revenge.

Up on the makeshift stage, Denny and Shaz were reading Act Two, Scene Four in which Mercutio and Benvolio are discussing the letter that Tybalt has sent to Romeo's father, challenging Romeo to a duel. Yvonne was surprised yet gratified to notice that, for once, Shaz was playing Mercutio completely straight.

'Alas, poor Romeo! He's already dead.' Shaz said to a frantically giggling Denny. 'Stabbed with a look from the dark eyes of that pale wench! Pierced through the ear by a love-song! The centre of his heart split by one of Cupid's practice shots! And he's going to fight with Tybalt?'

Denny continued to snigger, not realising it was her turn to speak until Shaz kicked her in the shin. 'Ow! Oh shit, is it me?' She suppressed more laughter when Shaz nodded sternly and then tried to find her place in the script. 'Er … Why, what's so bleedin' great about this Tybalt geezer?'

'He's a Top Cat.' Shaz's serious face broke into a huge grin when she saw the opportunity to improvise. 'The indisputable Top Cat …' Her rendition of the theme tune to the cartoon came to a halt when she saw the murderous look on Yvonne's face. 'Yeah …right … er … He's a Top Cat, only more so. He's like the Tybalt in our children's stories. Oh, he's very suave! He fights like you sing in close harmony, his timing, pace and rhythm are perfect …' She paused and then began to wave her arm about, pretending to fence. 'He pauses, one, two, then stabs you in the bosom …'

Shaz and Denny collapsed in hysterical laughter.

Yvonne threw her copy of the script onto the floor and marched up to the stage. 'What the frig are you two laughing at now?'

Shaz recovered herself for long enough to answer. 'How can you stab someone in the tit?' she protested. 'If you're gonna stab someone, you stab 'em here.' She mimed plunging a sword into Denny's stomach, blowing a raspberry to emphasise the imaginary blade making contact.

'Or if it was Fenner you'd stab 'im in the bollocks,' Denny added.

'I don't give a shit about what you think,' Yvonne snapped. 'Just stick to the script or I'll be stabbin' the bleedin' pair of you!'

Yvonne returned to her seat. As she continued to follow the script and the dialogue, Nikki caught her eye. The dark-haired inmate was standing by the stage and preparing for Romeo's entrance.

It had taken quite a bit of persuasion to get Nikki to take on the lead role. Eventually, after two days of pleading from the Julies, multiple threats from Yvonne and a good talking to from Barbara who had instructed her to, 'get off your backside, stop moping about and do something to take your mind off it!' she had reluctantly agreed.

Nikki had been distracted all morning and Yvonne knew that was because Helen was due back at Larkhall today. Every muscle in Nikki's body appeared to be tense, her eyes constantly searching the wing for a sign of the ex-Wing Governor. Yvonne was making sure that she kept a very close eye on her, knowing that when Nikki was in this sort of mood, she was liable to explode at the slightest provocation.

Nikki stepped onto the stage as Denny announced her presence.

'Ah, Signor Romeo!' Shaz exclaimed, miming taking an invisible hat off her head. 'Bonjour! That's a French greeting for your French trousers.' Shaz paused and nudged Denny who was snorting in the background before turning back to Nikki. 'You cheated us last night.'

Nikki waited until Denny's giggles had subsided before greeting Shaz. 'Good day to you both. How did I cheat you?'

'Gave us the slip, sir.' Shaz replied, a mischievous grin appearing on her face. 'The slip, I say.'

'Forgive me, good Mercutio. I had some pressing business, and in my special circumstances, a man …' Again, Nikki paused as Denny started to laugh. 'A MAN may skip politeness.'

'That's like saying that in a case like yours, a man can use his legs to bend the rules.'

'You mean curtsy?'

'That's it exactly!'

Yvonne began to relax as Nikki's stern presence on the stage meant that Shaz and Denny were deterred from any more mischief, well, at least for the next few lines of dialogue.

'In that case, my shoe is very beautiful,' Nikki said, looking down.

Again, Shaz was unable to resist the opportunity for a wisecrack. 'Nah, wouldn't be seen dead in flip-flops meself!'

Only Yvonne and Denny's quick reactions prevented Nikki from strangling Shaz.

Karen Betts cast a jaded eye over that month's budgets. She'd been unable to concentrate since hearing from the guard on the gate-lodge that Helen had returned that morning. She sighed and lit a cigarette, leaning back in her chair as she gazed out of the window. The prospect of Helen's return was actually troubling her greatly.

A couple of days after Helen's leave of absence began, Jim Fenner had paid her a visit, and had reiterated his concerns about Helen's interest in Nikki being less than professional. The nagging doubts that Karen had pushed to the back of her mind returned with a vengeance. To such an extent that she'd even taken Kerry to one side and asked her if she'd noticed anything unusual about Helen and Nikki's relationship. The detective had replied in the negative but hadn't quite been able to meet Karen's eyes when she'd done so.

Karen was at a complete loss about what to do next.

Over the time she'd worked with Helen, she'd gained a great deal of respect and admiration for her. They'd become comrades, meeting up regularly to discuss their concerns about the running of the Prison Service and their opinions about how things could be changed for the better. The simple fact was Karen honestly liked Helen. She didn't relish the prospect of confronting her with her suspicions.

There was also the fact that she didn't completely trust Fenner. She'd made a grave error in judgement in trusting him once before and didn't want to repeat the mistake. No, better to rely on her own instincts … which were to wait, watch and then come to a decision.

A knock at the door interrupted Karen's musings.

'Come in.'

Karen had the grace to blush when Helen walked into the office. 'Helen, good holiday?'

'Yes thank you.'

Karen raised an eyebrow. Helen's tone suggested the exact opposite. And, as she looked at the woman who was now seated on the other side of the desk, she could see tired, dark circles around her eyes and signs of a dramatic weight loss. In short, Helen looked like someone who hadn't slept or eaten in weeks rather than someone who'd just spent the last fortnight on leave.

'I suppose you've come for an update on Nikki's appeal,' Karen said, deciding to take the bull by the horns.

'Actually, I've just heard that Shaz Wylie is back on the wing, and that Polly Mitchell is down on the block,' Helen replied matter-of-factly. 'I'd rather we started there if that's okay.'

As Karen updated Helen on the events of the last fortnight, she noticed that whenever she tried to raise the subject of Nikki, Helen's manner would immediately become brisk before she quickly changed the topic of conversation. In the past, Karen wouldn't have given this a second thought. Now, she found that it set off even more alarm bells. Purely out of respect to Helen, she would wait until she was one hundred per cent sure before voicing her suspicions … but only until then.

Yvonne lit a cigarette and watched the two women who were now on the stage. After the antics of Shaz and Denny, it was a relief to find two people who took the whole thing seriously. All she had to do was sit back and watch them get on with it.

This was Act Three, Scene Five. After spending most of the night with Juliet, Romeo was preparing to leave to travel to Mantua. It was a particularly romantic scene and it was by no means an accident that Yvonne had decided that they should rehearse it that morning. She was hoping that Helen would happen onto the wing to see it and witness the obvious chemistry between the two women on stage.

Since she had revealed Nikki's innocence to Kerry, Yvonne had noticed the change in the way the detective acted towards her cellmate. To most, this would be considered a purely natural reaction, but Yvonne wasn't most people. She had long since picked up on the way Kerry's eyes would linger over Nikki for longer than was necessary, and the sudden change in her demeanour whenever the tall inmate would enter the room. To put it plainly, Yvonne suspected that if Miss Stewart didn't get her act together pretty damn quickly, she'd find that she had serious competition. Yvonne had badgered Kerry and then Nikki to take the lead roles for exactly that reason. If Stewart really was in love with Nikki, the old green-eyed monster would make an appearance as soon as she saw the two women together on the stage. In Yvonne's experience, jealousy was a great motivator.

It was a pity though. Kerry and Nikki really did look good together. Whereas Helen was all fire and passion and would inspire emotions in Nikki that swung from extreme happiness one minute to deep despair the next, Kerry was the exact opposite, and had a calming influence over the normally volatile inmate.

Yvonne shook her head and smiled to herself. She had to remind herself on regular occasions that Kerry was a police officer. She had to admit though, Kerry was tenacious, intelligent and tough … exactly the sort of person she'd want on her side … if only she wasn't a copper.

Again, Yvonne became aware of Dockley standing just behind her as she turned her attention back to the stage.

Helen decided that she'd put the inevitable off for long enough. It was time for her to make an appearance on the wing, and the unavoidable first meeting with Nikki.

The past fortnight had been absolute torture. Helen hadn't believed it was possible to actually miss someone so much, and, as Nikki had been as good as her word and had cut off contact altogether, it had made it even more unbearable.

But the more she thought about it, the more Helen managed to convince herself that she and Nikki didn't have a future together. The Dominic incident, followed by Nikki's escape had already caused cracks in their relationship. These new revelations had turned those cracks into great, yawning chasms. Try as hard as she might, Helen just couldn't see any way across them.

Maybe they'd been doomed from the start, Helen thought. Nobody could build a lasting relationship on the few clandestine moments they'd existed on so far. There had been a time when she'd been willing to put everything on the line to take that chance, but now? If Helen was honest with herself, she wasn't sure the end result would be worth the risk. She just couldn't get past the betrayal she felt. All those nights she'd spent poring over Nikki's case-files in the faint hope of finding something. She'd searched in vain for the 'magic key', only to discover that Nikki had been keeping it hidden all along.

She missed Nikki … she loved Nikki … and it would be the easiest thing in the world to forgive her, but Helen could no longer shake the nagging feeling that the hurt she was experiencing now, would be nothing compared to the pain she would suffer in the future. Helen sighed hopelessly. It had to end, she realised … now.

As Helen walked towards the wing, intending to relay the most difficult decision she'd ever had in her life, running into Jim Fenner was the icing on the cake.

'Morning, Helen. Good to see you back,' Fenner said with a predatory smile that betrayed his real feelings. 'You'll be pleased to know that your favourite inmate has been keeping herself busy in your absence.'

Helen raised a disinterested eyebrow. Experience had taught her that it was best just to endure Fenner's comments and not to rise to them. 'I'd be interested if I had the slightest idea of what you're talking about, Jim.'

Fenner leaned closer. 'Wade,' he said softly. 'I'd keep an eye on her and Harrison if I were you. Who knows what goes on in those cells after lock-up.'

Helen shook her head dismissively and pushed past Fenner without further comment.

It was unfortunate that she arrived on the wing just as the scene was drawing to a close. Nikki and Kerry were standing together in the middle of the makeshift stage. The sight was enough to stop her in her tracks.

'Go now,' Kerry said, staring into Nikki's eyes. 'It's getting so much lighter.'

Nikki nodded. 'Much lighter our light, much darker our sorrows.'

Helen, who had read Romeo & Juliet at school, recognised this scene and knew what was coming up next.

Barbara appeared on the stage then and touched Kerry lightly on the arm. 'Your mother is coming to your bedroom. It's daybreak. Be on your guard!'

Helen found that she was holding her breath as Barbara departed.

Kerry returned her attention to Nikki, taking her hands. 'So then, window, let daylight in and let life out.'

'Goodbye, goodbye, just one kiss and I'll climb down.'

As Nikki and Kerry embraced, Helen left the wing with the sound of cat-calls and wolf-whistles ringing in her ears, entirely unaware of Fenner grinning from his vantage point in the officer's room as she locked the gate behind her.

Oblivious to Helen's brief appearance, Nikki and Kerry broke apart. Both were incredibly embarrassed by the reaction from the other inmates.

''Ere, Wade!' Shell called out. 'She a natural blonde?'

'Fuck off Dockley!' Nikki countered.

'Strange,' Shell continued, oblivious to the murderous looks Yvonne was shooting in her direction. 'And here's me finking you only ate haggis these days.'

Yvonne intervened hastily before Nikki could respond. 'If you don't shut your friggin' pie-'ole, Dockley, my fist'll be making friends with your tonsils!'

Shell grinned and carried on regardless. 'What everyone 'ere is wonderin', Atkins is why you keep jumping in to defend that pair of rug-munchers all the time. What's up? Missing it so much you're batting for the other side yerself these days?'

'Oh yeah?' Yvonne raised an eyebrow. 'Word is you can't pull your head out of Mitchell's arse for long enough to wonder anything!'

'What you tryin' to say, Atkins? I ain't no-one's girl!'

'Really?' Slowly, Yvonne rose from her chair. 'You know, Dockley. What everyone is really wondering is how you can even move without Mitchell's hand up your arse to do the actions for ya!'

Shell glared at Yvonne but it was plain to see that she was losing the argument. 'I don't work for no one.'


With one last furious glance in Yvonne's direction, Shell stormed off back to her cell with Dawn in tow.

Shaz started humming the tune to Laurel & Hardy and before long. A few seconds later, most of the wing had joined in. Then, Hollamby popped her head around the door of the PO's Office and screamed at them all to shut up.

Helen closed her office door and leaned against the wall.

All of her resolve had disappeared in a sudden and savage surge of jealousy as soon as she'd seen Nikki and Kerry on the stage together. She'd experienced it before with boyfriends in the past but never had it affected her to such an extent. As Helen reflected on the fact that it had taken every last ounce of her willpower not to physically intervene, she realised that she had no right to be feeling this way. Her relationship with Nikki was over … wasn't it?

But just the thought of Nikki moving on, of being with other women was enough to make Helen feel physically sick.

As she returned to her desk, she felt the familiar confusion return with a vengeance.


Chapter Thirteen

As far as Helen could see, there was something very strange going on with G-Wing's lifers.

Take Shaz Wylie for instance. She was sitting so closely to Nikki that she might as well be perched on the tall inmate's knee. Occasionally, she would look up as if to check that Nikki was still there. Meanwhile, Nikki spent half of the meeting shooting menacing glances in Shell Dockley's direction and the other half smiling down at Shaz reassuringly. Obviously, she was providing some sort of protection for the teenage lifer.

As far as Helen was concerned, it was pretty obvious who Shaz needed protecting from. Shell Dockley's eyes had hardly moved from her face since the meeting had begun, but occasionally the threatening expression on her face would waver when she detected Nikki's scrutiny.

Helen sighed and reflected on the fact that with all of these murderous looks being thrown around, it was debatable whether she'd have any lifers left in her care at the end of the session. As she thought this, her eyes came to rest on Nikki.

This was the first chance she'd had to see Nikki close up since her return from leave and she was appalled to see how thin and pale she looked. Obviously the separation had taken its toll on her as well. Most worrying was the fact that not once during the meeting had Nikki looked her in the eye. Helen, who had spent the last few days enduring constant digs from Jim Fenner about Kerry, didn't know what to think about this. On one hand, she kept hearing Nikki's voice in her head, telling her 'you're the only woman I want'. However, at the same time, she couldn't help but burn with jealousy every time she thought about what might be going on between Nikki and Kerry whenever their cell door was closed.

Helen's feelings for Nikki were in no doubt, and thought that she might be finding comfort in the arms of another woman was unbearable. Yet still, she couldn't let go of the feelings of hurt and betrayal that she'd carried with her since discovering the truth about Gossard's death.

Now though, it was no longer Helen's internal confusion that prevented her from making an attempt to speak to Nikki. Over the past few days she'd noticed that whenever she spoke to Karen, the Wing Governor would always manage to force the topic of conversation onto Nikki's appeal, and then study Helen's reaction carefully. She was clearly becoming suspicious.

Only a few feet away, Nikki was counting the seconds until the end of the meeting. After a fortnight's separation, being in Helen's immediate vicinity again was almost more than her body could stand. The most important thing was to avoid eye contact. She felt sure that if she looked into those hazel eyes she'd lose whatever grip she had left on her self-control and end up ravishing Helen right in front of Shell Dockley.

The two weeks while Helen had been on leave had been torture, but the continuing uncertainty was infinitely worse. Every instinct Nikki had was telling her to try to speak to Helen … to force her to make a decision. Nikki shook her head. She'd made a promise though, hadn't she? However, the longer Helen forced her to wait, the harder it became to keep it.

Mercifully for Nikki, the meeting came to a close a few minutes later. With Shaz in close pursuit, she prepared to leave the room with the others. She didn't believe for a second that Helen would ask her to remain behind.

'Nikki, could you stay behind please?' Helen said. 'I need a quick word.'

Nikki caught her breath and stopped dead in her tracks. Unfortunately, Shaz was following behind so closely, that she was unable to stop herself from colliding with Nikki's back.

Helen was surprised into laughter she was forced to hide behind her hand when Nikki flashed a warning look in her direction.

'Wait outside,' Nikki said to Shaz. 'I'll only be a couple of minutes.'

Helen waited until Shaz had closed the door behind her before her curiosity got the better of her. 'What on earth is all that about? She was practically sitting on your knee during the meeting.'

'She's not Dockley's favourite person at the moment,' Nikki replied, smiling slightly. 'She found a dead mouse in the yard yesterday, and decided to drop it on Dockley's head when she was in the shower. Turns out that Shell's not exactly keen on mice. She'd streaked to the end of the corridor, screaming her head off before she realised that half the wing were watching. Anyway, Shaz is a bit jumpy at the moment, so I promised Yvonne I'd keep an eye on her.'

'Jumpy,' Helen said. 'Because of her so-called overdose, I'd expect.'

'I wouldn't know,' Nikki said with a shrug. Folding her arms, she cleared her face of all expression. 'I'm doing Yvonne a favour, that's all.'

Helen's first instinct was to question Nikki further, but she'd had this sort of conversation with her before and always ended up feeling like she was banging her head against a brick wall. As much as she wanted to get to the bottom of Shaz's overdose, she only had a limited amount of time before someone came to take Nikki back to the wing. She walked over to her desk and took a deep breath. She didn't think Nikki was going to like what was coming next.

A chorus of wolf-whistles and cheers greeted Shell Dockley when she arrived back down on the wing.

'Wotcha, girls!' Julie S called out, emboldened by Yvonne's presence. 'It's the phantom flasher of G-Wing!'

''Ere, Dockley!' Yvonne added. 'Always wondered if you had matching collar and cuffs!'

Shell stopped in her tracks in order to confront Yvonne. 'You wanna watch it, Atkins,' she said, trying her best to sound menacing. 'Otherwise …'

'Otherwise what?' Yvonne was suddenly serious as she walked towards Shell. 'You gonna set Mitchell on me when she gets off the block?'

'I don't need 'er 'elp to teach you a lesson!' Shell snapped, squaring up to Yvonne. 'One of these days I'm gonna be waiting for you wiv a blade to do what Renee Williams shoulda done!'

Yvonne smiled and moved even closer to Shell until finally, their faces were only inches apart. 'Yeah, and look what happened to her,' she said softly.

A passing Dominic McAllister, sensing trouble, stepped between the two women. 'What's going on here?'

Yvonne moved away from Shell, dismissing her by smiling at Dominic. 'I bet you got a good eyeful yesterday din't you, Mr McAllister?'

'Come on, Yvonne.' Dominic said, blushing. 'I said, what's going on here?'

'Absolutely nothing,' Yvonne replied. 'Nothing at all.'

Dominic watched Yvonne and Shell walk away in separate directions. The tension had been building between the two women since Mitchell's segregation, and just like every other PO on the wing, he had the feeling that her return to the general population in two days' time would blow the lid off the whole thing.

Nikki took a deep breath, as she looked Nikki directly in the eye. 'Nikki, with your appeal coming up in a fortnight, I don't think there's any reason for you to carry on coming to lifers' meetings.'

'Well that's bloody marvellous!' Nikki snapped, shocked into an angry reaction. 'You keep me hanging on for weeks, and then you drop it on me just like that.'

'This is nothing to do with that,' Helen said calmly, spreading her hands out before her in a conciliatory gesture. 'Look,' she continued. 'Karen's been asking awkward questions about you. I'd rather not give her any reason to be any more suspicious about our relationship than she already is.'

If Helen had hoped to calm Nikki down with this revelation, she was mistaken.

'It's that bastard Fenner!' Nikki exclaimed furiously. 'When I get out of here I'm gonna …'

'Nikki, will you calm down? The last thing either of us needs is for you to erupt back onto the wing shouting the odds! You said yourself that you'll be out of here in a fortnight. Please try to resist your natural urge to do something stupid when we're almost …' Helen's words trailed off as she realised her mistake. 'Please,' she said desperately. 'Will you just do what I say?'

'You said we,' Nikki said, walking over and attempting to take Helen's hands. 'Does that mean …?'

Helen pulled away, before Nikki could make contact. She was afraid of what her physical reaction might be if they touched. 'No … I … I don't know.'

Just then, the door opened and Karen Betts walked in.

'Would someone mind telling me what Shaz Wiley is doing …?' Karen, frowning at the tension she encountered in the room. 'Nikki, shouldn't you be back on the wing by now?'

Nikki looked over and saw Shaz hovering in the doorway. Mindful of Helen's warning about Karen's suspicions, decided that a certain amount of tact was called for. 'I'm sorry, Miss Betts,' she said, careful to smile apologetically at the Wing Governor. 'I wanted to ask Miss Stewart if I could pull out of the lifers' programme,' she explained. 'There doesn't seem to be much point in me carrying on with it if I'm going to be out of here in a couple of weeks.'

Karen raised an eyebrow. 'You're being rather previous aren't you, Nikki?' she said. 'As far as I was aware you've got a date for appeal, not for release.'

'Well my solicitor and my barrister are both extremely optimistic about my chances,' Nikki replied, risking a mischievous grin. 'You play your cards right, Miss Betts and I'll get you an invite for my release party.'

Karen shook her head and smiled ruefully. 'Go on. Miss Barker's waiting outside to take you and Shaz back down to the wing.' She waited until Nikki had left the room before turning to Helen. 'I have a feeling you'll miss her when she's gone.'

Helen, tired of Fenner's constant digs and Karen's insinuations, forgot the advice she'd given to Nikki earlier and completely lost her patience. 'Just what are you inferring, Karen?' she said sharply. 'She's a lifer I've been helping to formulate an appeal, that's all.'

'I wasn't inferring anything,' Karen replied calmly. 'I do have concerns about the extent of your personal involvement with her case but …'

'Believe me Karen, my involvement is strictly professional,' Helen continued angrily. 'If you do have any concerns about my conduct, then maybe you should take them up with Area.' She paused to pick up the stack of files on her desk. 'Now, if you'll excuse me, I've running late for a meeting.'

Karen blinked as Helen slammed the door behind her. Either she was completely wrong about her suspicions or the other woman was an extremely good liar.

Yvonne exchanged a worried expression with Kerry and Barbara when Nikki stormed onto the wing with the impact of a force-ten gale.

Shell Dockley, who was more attuned to Nikki's mood than anyone, decided that this was too good an opportunity to miss and immediately went on the offensive.

''Ere Wade, you been making plans with your girlfriend, Stewart, 'ave ya? Nice semi somewhere quiet wiv roses round the door and two-point-four … oops, I forgot, you might be butcher than Rambo but you ain't gonna be able to stick a bun in 'er oven!' Shell was hardly able to contain her delight at the furious look on Nikki's face and decided to go for the knockout blow. 'Never mind, I'm sure she'd be able to find a bloke to knock 'er up!'

Nikki completely astounded Shell by smiling. 'If I didn't know you any better, Dockley I'd swear that you were jealous.'

Shell laughed in disbelief. 'Jealous? Of you? I don't fink so somehow.'

'Really? Even Fenner doesn't want to shag you these days,' Nikki countered. 'Face it, Dockley, you've completely lost the plot.'

Yvonne had been standing by to intervene in case Nikki reacted violently. She suppressed a smile and then nodded at Kerry to follow when Nikki stormed off back to her cell.

Kerry found Nikki pacing up and down, smoking a cigarette furiously. Every time she reached the window, she paused to kick her locker before continuing.

'Are you okay?' Kerry asked with a degree of trepidation.

'No I'm bloody not!'

Kerry sighed and sat down at the table. She watched in silence as Nikki continued to pace. Finally, the other woman became self-conscious and sat down on her bunk with a defeated sigh.

'What happened?' Kerry asked. 'Did Helen say something?'

'She hasn't come to a decision about us yet if that's what you mean,' Nikki replied tersely. 'Oh, but she did chuck me off the lifers' programme though. Apparently, Betts has been asking awkward questions.'

'About you and Helen?' Kerry's eyes widened when Nikki nodded. 'I wondered how long it would be. She asked me if I'd noticed anything untoward about your relationship with Helen last week.'

'Shit!' Nikki stood up and began pacing again. 'Well Helen's bound to blow me out now isn't she? I mean, she's hardly going to want me to get in the way of her precious career is she?'

'Nikki, did Helen tell you that things were over between you?'


'Well then,' Kerry said reassuringly. 'What's the point in getting so wound up about it? You'll be out of here in …'

'If I hear one more person telling me that I'm going to be out of here in a couple of weeks then I'm going to go bloody mad!'

'Yes, and if I hear you moaning on about Helen one more time then I'm the one who's going to go bloody mad!' Kerry snapped, finally giving voice to her own irritation with Helen, and bringing Nikki to a complete stop in the process. 'For God's sake, Nikki! You've finally got your life back and all you can do is mope around feeling sorry for yourself because some bloody woman can't make her mind up!'

'Don't blame her! I'm the one who messed the whole thing up!'

'Really? Well from what I've heard, she's got quite a talent for making you miserable.'

'And what would you know about it?'

'How long have I been sharing a cell with you?' Kerry said sharply. 'It's like living with a roller coaster … up one minute and down the next. She does that to you, Nikki.'

'That's because I'm stuck in this shit-hole,' Nikki countered. 'It'll be different when we're both outside.'

'Will it?' Kerry asked, raising an eyebrow. 'Have you thought that the reason she's being like this now, is because she can't handle the fact that you're going to be out of here soon?'

'What on earth are you talking about?'

'Well what have you had so far? A few minutes alone together here and there? The odd loaded glance across the landing? Hardly a real relationship is it? My guess is that Helen's keeping you dangling like this because she's having doubts about whether or not she really wants to commit.'

'You don't know anything!' Nikki crossed the cell to confront Kerry angrily. 'She resigned as Wing Governor because of me, and then got another job back here so she could help to get me an appeal. And anyway, we've …' Nikki stopped herself before she could tell Kerry about the escape. 'Let's just say that I have absolutely no doubts.'

'And that's why you've spent the past fortnight on a short fuse is it?' Kerry shook her head, smiling humourlessly as she continued to stare up at Nikki. 'The whole thing has been on her terms from the beginning. She's the one in control here.' Kerry stood up, totally unaffected by the furious expression on Nikki's face. 'Face it, Nikki. She's playing you for a fool!'

Nikki felt the nagging doubts she'd kept hidden away at the back of her mind ever since her escape attempt beginning to resurface with a vengeance. The love she felt for Helen was screaming at her that Kerry was wrong, but in the background, a softer, more persistent voice was telling her that the detective might be right. The thing that shocked her the most though, was the venomous tone of Kerry's voice. She'd never known her get so passionate about anything before.

'Why Kerry?' she said softly. 'Why are you being like this?'

'Because if I was Helen, there is no way I'd ever treat you like that!'

The feelings that Kerry had spent weeks trying to suppress were out of her mouth before she could stop them. All she could do was carry on looking up at Nikki who was staring back at her, completely aghast. But then she saw realisation flash across Nikki's face, and felt her heart ricochet around her chest as the taller woman moved closer.

Acting completely on instinct, Nikki found herself drawn towards the inevitable … feeling the frustration of all of those weeks without Helen building inside her as her lips collided with Kerry's.

The last thing Karen was expecting to see when she pushed open Kerry's cell door, was the blonde-haired detective in a passionate embrace with Nikki Wade.

'What the hell?' Karen blustered.

Nikki and Kerry jumped apart immediately. It was debatable which one of them looked the guiltiest.

'Harrison, I want to see you up in my office immediately!' Karen said, averting her eyes as Nikki hurriedly began doing up the buttons on her shirt. 'I'll send someone along to escort you.'

Nikki watched Karen storm out of the cell and then lit a cigarette with shaky hands. Shame and guilt were beginning to cascade over her like molten lava as she realised what she'd just allowed to happen. 'Shit!'

'Nikki, what just happened …' Kerry began hesitantly.

'No!' Nikki snapped, banging her hand down on the table. 'Nothing happened. Nothing! Do you understand me?'

As soon as Fenner closed the office door behind him, Karen launched into a furious attack.

'Nikki Wade is a prisoner in my care and you're a serving police officer! What the hell were you thinking of?' Without giving Kerry a chance to reply she continued. 'Not to mention the fact that sexual relations between inmates are strictly forbidden.'

'It was just something that happened, Karen,' Kerry said calmly. 'It's not as if it'll ever happen again.'

'And that's supposed to make everything okay is it?' Karen snapped. 'The fact remains, you broke the rules!'

'Karen, I can appreciate why you're concerned about this, but don't you think you might be overreacting slightly?'

'I've always had doubts about this operation, DI Deakin will tell you that, but I was prepared to cooperate. Things are different now.' Karen paused and ran an agitated hand through her hair. 'It looks to me like you're personally and emotionally involved.' She shook her head slowly, seeming to relent slightly. 'You're playing a really dangerous game, DC Holmes.'

'I know what I'm doing,' Kerry said firmly.

'I hope you do,' Karen said softly. 'For your sake.'

Outside Karen's office Jim Fenner smiled to himself as he overheard the heated conversation between her and Kerry. Well, well. So Harrison … or should he say Holmes … was actually an undercover copper. The fact that Karen had just discovered her in some sort of romantic clinch with Wade was the icing on the cake. Jim grinned as he thought about this. Actually … no … it was the cherry on top of the icing.

Fenner backed away from the door and mentally rubbed his hands together.


Chapter Fourteen

The ping of the microwave roused Helen out of her conflicted thoughts about Nikki. However, as she crossed the kitchen to retrieve her ready meal, the doorbell rang.

On the doorstep, with a bottle of white wine in each hand, stood Anna, Nikki's barrister.

'Hope I'm not interrupting anything,' she said, smiling warmly. 'But you did say to pop round whenever.'

During their first meeting over lunch with Claire, Helen and Anna quickly discovered that they had a lot in common. An easy friendship and several raucous nights out had followed. On the second of these nights out, a drunken Helen had revealed the truth about her relationship with Nikki. Anna hadn't even batted an eyelid.

Deciding that a drink was just what she needed, Helen stepped back to allow Anna into her flat.

Moments later, her visitor wandered through to the kitchen and dumped two bottles of Soave on the work surface. She grinned as she watched Helen take her chicken korma out of the microwave.

'Saddo meals for one?' she observed. 'Looks like I've saved you from a fate worse than death. Now, you can save me from one and tell me where I can find a corkscrew.'

'In the drawer next to the sink,' Helen replied as she transferred her untouched dinner to the bin. 'So what's so bad it's driven you to drink yet again?'

'You should try living in my house at the moment.' Anna grimaced as she pulled the cork out of one of the bottles. 'Glasses?'

Helen retrieved a pair of wineglasses from a nearby cupboard and handed them to Anna. 'Things still bad are they?'

'Much, much worse.' Anna poured wine into two glasses and handed one to Helen, draining her own with indecent haste. 'Egg spends all of his time these days crying into his beer and listening to The Smiths. Warren meanwhile, is doing his tragedy queen act and drifting around the house like Mrs Haversham because he's jealous that Ferdy's just moved in with Lenny,' she paused to light a cigarette, 'which is unfortunate because he's taken all of his dope with him. These days, I can only get through a night with the brothers Grimm if I'm drunk or stoned.'

Helen raised her eyebrows disapprovingly. 'You do that?'

Anna had been in the process of lifting her glass to her mouth, she looked at Helen and laughed in disbelief. 'What? Don't tell me you were one of those people who didn't inhale at University.'

'I only tried it a couple of times but I always ended up falling asleep,' Helen replied, appalled to find that she'd already finished her first glass of wine. 'You know, I think I've got a drink problem.'

'So have I, it's called having two hands and only one mouth!'

A couple of hours later, the wine Anna had brought was long gone and the two women had moved into the living room with a bottle of vodka.

'So did you speak to Nikki today?' Anna asked, slurring slightly.

'Yes, and managed to completely piss her off.'

'I did warn you not to dump her off the lifers' programme,' Anna said accusingly. 'She's going to take that as even more rejection.'

'Why do you always defend her?'

'Because I like her,' Anna replied as she lit her twentieth cigarette of the evening. 'She's obviously so in love with you it's sickening, and I know what it's like when you can't be with the person you love.' She paused to down another shot of vodka and poured another. 'Throw the poor woman a bone, Helen.'

Helen thought about this. 'I don't know,' she said eventually, leaning forward to put her head in her hands. 'I do want to see if a relationship between us would work, but I'm worried that Nikki will have expectations that I'm not ready to fulfil yet.'

'So why don't you talk to her about it?'

'It's too difficult,' Helen replied, sitting up. Reaching for her glass, she took a long swallow of vodka. 'Every time I try to get Nikki on her own, Karen Betts appears out of nowhere. I've got no chance.'

'Can't you lock the nosy cow in the broom cupboard or something?'

Helen laughed. 'I only wish it was that simple.'

'Listen, you know I've got a meeting with Nikki tomorrow? Why don't I talk to her? See if I can't find out what these expectations are you're talking about. You know, it's probably going to turn out that she's just as scared as you are.'

'But she knows what she wants,' Helen protested. 'I'm not sure I do.'

'You're sure about that are you?' Anna raised her eyebrows. 'She's on the verge of being released after three years in prison don't forget. She's not only got to cope with how much things have changed in that time, but also going back to work, finding a place to live and God knows what else. Basically, she's got to rebuild her whole life from scratch. You might be a lower priority than you think.'

Helen considered Anna for a second and then nodded. 'Okay,' she said reluctantly. 'Just don't make it sound like you've spoken to me.'

'Oh please, Helen, give me some of credit,' Anna said, rolling her eyes. 'I've pulled the wool over the eyes of enough Judges in my time. I think I can cope with Nikki.'

It was several hours after lock-up. Kerry was totally unable to sleep and lay there staring up at the ceiling. From the occasional sigh and the sound of a match striking, she knew that Nikki was also awake, but the tall inmate hadn't spoken to her since she'd returned from her confrontation with Karen.

Kerry still had no idea what had possessed her to voice her true feelings like that. She'd been aware of her attraction to Nikki for a while now but realised that nothing could ever come of it, not only because of Helen, but because their situation was impossible … whoever heard of a police officer falling for a con? But her frustration at Helen's treatment of Nikki had finally won over. This time, she was unable to bite her lip.

What she hadn't expected was Nikki's reaction, and her own response to it. She'd been with women before but she'd never experienced anything like that. Her pulse had been pounding in her ears, arousal had been pumping through her veins and every single cell in her body had been screaming out for release. God only knew how far it would've gone if Karen hadn't walked in like that.

Kerry groaned softly and rolled over in her bunk. Just thinking about it awoke the most incredible feelings in her body.

'Kerry?' Nikki whispered. 'Are you awake?'

Kerry debated with herself whether or not to answer.


'I'm awake.'

'I think we should talk about what happened earlier.'

'It's okay, forget about it,' Kerry said. 'It was just one of those things that happen.'

'Yeah I know, but …' Nikki paused and Kerry could hear her shifting in her bunk. 'The thing is, Kerry. If I … if I wasn't with Helen …'

'Forget it, Nikki. It doesn't matter.'

'But …'

'I appreciate what you're trying to do,' Kerry said firmly. 'But I'd honestly prefer it if we could just forget it ever happened.'

Kerry heard the rasp of a match as Nikki lit yet another cigarette and closed her eyes. The urge to call DI Deakin and pull out of the operation had never been so strong.

The following morning, the relative peace of the wing was shattered when an ear-splitting shriek was heard coming from the Julies' cell. Yvonne had been deep in conversation with Kerry, and she exchanged a worried glance with Nikki and Denny at the pool table before the three of them, with concerned Di Barker in tow, sprinted over to find out what was wrong.

The Julies erupted from their cell. Both women were hopping around excitedly and Julie S was waving a sheet of paper in the air.

'What the frig is up with you two?' Yvonne snapped. 'We thought you was being murdered in there or something!'

'It's a letter!' Julie J declared breathlessly. 'We got a letter!'

'Who from?' Nikki asked. 'Don't tell me you've been sending your dirty knickers to Cliff Richard again!'

Julie S exhaled heavily and rolled her eyes at Julie J. ''Ave you 'eard her?'

'Cliff Richard indeed!' Julie J exclaimed, totally scandalised. 'For your information, it were Tom Jones.'

'They're both the bloody same aren't they?' Nikki said.

'What would you know? If they ain't got tits you ain't interested!' Julie S countered.

'Good point.'

'Oh for Christ's sake!' Yvonne hissed. 'Who's the bleedin' letter from?'

'Crystal,' The Julies' answered in tandem. 'She's gettin' married!'

'To Josh?' Denny asked innocently.

'No, to Prince William,' Julie S replied sarcastically. 'Use yer brain, Den. Who else would she be marrying?'

'Well I don't know, do I?'

Grinning, Di returned to the PO's office. Jim Fenner had been watching the commotion through the window as he made himself a mug of tea. He raised his eyes to heaven as he observed the Julies dancing around like a pair of complete loonies.

'What's going on?' he asked Di.

'The Julies got a letter from, Crystal,' Di explained as she reached for her own mug and dropped a teabag into it. 'Apparently, she and Josh Mitchell are getting married next month.'

'Riveting,' Fenner said with a yawn.

Di turned to look up at Fenner incredulously. 'You haven't got a romantic bone in your body, have you, Jim?'

Fenner rolled his and turned back to watch the women gathered on the wing. He'd spent most of the night trying to figure out the best way to use his newfound information about Kerry. Now, as he noticed her laughing with Yvonne and Nikki, he was suddenly struck by inspiration.

A few minutes later, he settled into his favourite armchair and picked up a copy of The Sun. A smug smile bloomed on his face as he turned to page three.

'And then George Clooney turned up and rogered me senseless over the photocopier!'

Nikki looked up sharply. 'Sorry, what was that?'

Anna shook her head as she reached for her cigarettes. She'd been talking to Nikki about her appeal for the best part of half an hour now, and seriously doubted that any of it had managed to filter through.

'Nikki, for the amount of response I've had from you so far, I might as well of been speaking fucking Urdu.' She leaned across the table and offered her packet of Silk Cut to Nikki who shook her head. 'Are you okay?'

'I'm just wondering what it's going to be like out there,' Nikki replied, getting up to walk over to the window. 'I know it's only been a few years but so much has changed,' she added. 'I spoke to Trish the other day. Apparently, she's been getting hassle from her new girlfriend.'

'About you?'

Nikki nodded. 'She's the manager at the club that Trish and I own. Trish actually employed her just after I was sent down.' She laughed bitterly. I' suppose you could say that she ended up replacing me in more ways than one.'

'Let me guess, she's worried that you're going to make her surplus to requirements?'

'Bingo!' Nikki said with a long sigh. Turning around to face Anna, she leaned back against the door. 'Luckily, I'm not that fussed about going back to work full-time at the club. So, Trish and I decided between us that it might be for the best if I just go back to looking after the financial side of things. That way, I should avoid contact with her girlfriend altogether.'

'Are you okay with the idea about her being with someone else?'

'I don't feel that way about Trish anymore, I …' Nikki closed her eyes as she was hit by a sudden wave of longing for Helen. 'Let's just say I've met someone else too.'

'Helen?' Anna smiled when Nikki turned around to stare at her. 'Don't worry, Claire swore me to secrecy.'

Nikki nodded and turned back to the window. 'I suppose the first thing I'm going to have to do when I get out of here is look for somewhere to live.'

'So you and Helen aren't going to …?'

Nikki shook her head. 'No. Let's just say … well, we've been having a few problems recently.' She shrugged. 'And anyway, I think it's going to take me a while to adjust to being back in the real world again. Helen only knows the person I am in here, not the person I was on the outside … if that person still exists.' Returning to the table, Nikki sat down and lit a cigarette, pulling on it deeply. 'If she does decide that we still have some sort of future together, we're going to have to take it slowly, otherwise we'll just end up ruining everything.'

Anna suppressed a smile. She could see a point in the very near future where she'd be banging Helen and Nikki's heads together. As she continued to think about this, something else occurred to her.

'What are you going to do?' she asked Nikki. 'Look for a flat?'

'I suppose so,' Nikki replied. 'Money's not an issue, so I'll probably end up crashing in a hotel until I find something. Although I can't say I'm looking forward to the prospect of microwave meals for one in front of Coronation Street.'

'Whereabouts are you going to be looking? North or South?'

'I don't know, the club's pretty central and I've got my car so I don't suppose it matters.' She looked up at Anna. 'Do you know of anywhere?'

Anna shrugged noncommittally. 'Might do, I'll ask around and let you know.' She opened the notebook in front of her and then reached for her pen. 'Right. Switch your brain back on and concentrate. I did actually come here to do some work, today.'

That afternoon, Helen returned from lunch with Anna in an extremely good mood and decided to go straight down to the wing to see if she could grab five minutes alone with Nikki. Unfortunately, Fenner noticed her arrival and sauntered out of the PO's office before she could unlock the gate.

'Can I have a quick word, Helen?'

Helen looked up with ill-concealed irritation. 'Is this going to take long, Jim? Only I'm in a bit of a hurry.'

'I just thought I'd better warn you before you go to see her,' Fenner said cryptically.

'Go to see who?'

'Wade, of course,' Fenner replied. 'Well, you are down here to speak to her about her appeal aren't you? I took her up to see her brief earlier. Nice woman … short skirt, legs that go on for miles … Scottish.' He leaned closer to Helen, smirking. 'I often wonder how she does it … all those good-looking women falling at her feet.'

'Jim, I do actually have work to do today,' Helen said impatiently. 'So whatever it is you're trying to say, will you just spit it out before we both die of old age?'

Fenner gestured towards the wing where Nikki was leaning against the wall and talking to Kerry. 'Karen walked in on them yesterday you know,' he announced. 'Now, either Wade's taken up dentistry and was examining Harrison's fillings with her tongue or you've got serious competition.'

Shaking her head dismissively, Helen walked away from Fenner without a word.

Helen managed to convince herself that Fenner was just being his evil, manipulative self until she saw Nikki look up and then instantly jump away from Kerry. She was aware of the blood boiling in her veins as she reached the two women.

'Can I have a quick word please, Nikki?'

Nikki's smile disappeared as she detected the coolness in Helen's voice and the rigid formality of her posture. 'Is there something wrong?' she asked.

'I'd prefer to do this in private if you don't mind,' Helen replied, making a point of glaring at Kerry.

Nikki felt realisation crash over her like a bucket of cold water as she followed Helen into her cell. She could almost picture the upcoming argument – Helen shouting the odds, her reacting to her own guilt by shouting back, Helen walking out and the whole thing crashing down around both their ears once again. As Helen closed the cell door behind them, she decided to jump in with an explanation before things got out of hand.

'You've been speaking to Karen haven't you? Listen, before you say anything it was just something that happened. It didn't mean anything … honestly it didn't. I love you, Helen.'

Helen didn't reply. She just stared back at Nikki with a totally unreadable expression on her face.

'Helen, say something, please,' Nikki pleaded.

'I think you've said enough for both of us.' Helen replied before leaving the cell.

'No, Helen … wait!'

Nikki kicked her locker in frustration, but this time, she knew she had no one to blame but herself.

Later that evening, Shell returned to her cell after a shower and frowned when she noticed the scrap of notepaper lying on her pillow. She lit a cigarette, considered it for a moment and then picked it up.

Question – Have you been wondering how Betts knew about Polly's supplier?

Answer – Nikki Wade's new girlfriend is an undercover copper.

Does that make things clearer?


A Friend

Shell re-read the note a few times and then flushed it down the toilet with a grin.


Chapter Fifteen

Dominic exchanged a worried glance with Di Barker when Polly Mitchell walked back onto G-Wing. The moment she stepped through the wing gate, every other inmate stopped what they were doing and turned around. The silence was deafening.

'It's just like one of those Westerns,' Di whispered to Dominic.

Dominic nodded. His eyes came to rest on Yvonne who was glaring at Polly. He felt sure that if looks could kill, the new arrival would be lying on the floor … stone dead. 'The Good the Bad, and the Completely Psychotic,' he commented eventually.

Karen, who was standing behind the two Officers smiled slightly at this. 'Make sure you keep a close eye on those two,' she said. 'The last thing we need is handbags at fifty paces.'

'More like razor-blades,' Di said softly as she watched the Wing Governor disappear into the PO's office. 'If I was her I would've transferred Polly out of here.'

Over by the pool table, Yvonne placed a reassuring hand on Denny's shoulder. 'You just stick with me, Denny love,' she said as Polly turned a cold stare in their direction. 'I ain't gonna let her near you.'

Polly meanwhile had other concerns. Fenner led her straight past the dorm and escorted her into a single cell.

'What's this shit?' Polly asked, totally outraged, especially when she saw the two plastic bags containing her belongings sitting on top of the top bunk. 'Which fucker's been going through my stuff?'

'The Governor thought you might appreciate a bit of privacy,' Fenner replied. 'Seems to think it might be easier to keep an eye on all of your comings and goings.'

'Yeah, well you'd better make sure she don't!' Polly snapped. 'We've got a deal remember?'

'Trust me,' Fenner said, looking up when Shell walked into the cell. 'Right, I'll leave you to it.'

Shell watched Fenner walk out of the cell and then turned back to Polly, a disdainful expression on her face. 'What you talking to that bastard for? You ain't shaggin' 'im are ya?'

'Who? That gob-shite?' Polly laughed and shook her head. 'I'd rather get up close and chuffin' personal with Bodybag. At least she ain't got a dick.' She stood up and trailed her finger along Shell's cheekbone. 'Don't you worry, darlin'. I can handle pricks like him. Now, how's things been while I've been out of circulation?'

'Well wiv no gear coming in …'

'Apart from that,' Polly interrupted. 'How come Denny's all over that dried up old bitch, Atkins again? She been throwing her weight around has she?'

Shell shrugged and looked away, unable to meet Polly's cold, questioning stare. 'You know Atkins. Finks she's the bleedin' queen.'

'Pity no one told her that most of the population fink the monarchy are an outdated institution.'


'Never mind.' Polly grinned and rooted around one of her plastic bags until she found her cigarettes. 'If she weren't so fucking old school, I'd swear it were her that tipped Betts the nod about Billy.'

Shell looked around shiftily and then walked over to close the cell door. 'I found out who grassed you,' she said to Polly. 'And it weren't Atkins.'

Yvonne looked up from the pool table when she spotted Shell leaving Polly's cell. She frowned suspiciously when she noticed the wide grin on the blonde inmate's face.

'What's she looking so bleedin' smug about?' she wondered out loud to Nikki. 'Reckon Mitchell gave her a seeing-to?'

Nikki shrugged dismissively. 'Don't know. Don't care.'

'What's up with you? You've been walking round with a face like you've just sucked a lemon for days now.'

'I'm fine,' Nikki replied as she lined up her shot. 'Marvellous! In fact, I'm so bloody happy I might break into song in a minute.'

'Let me guess, 'You Keep Me Hanging On'?'

'Very funny.' Nikki said. 'Only I'm not going to be hanging on any … Shit!' She threw her cue down onto the table when she missed her shot. 'Got pissed off with waiting, so I chucked her.'

Yvonne raised a disbelieving eyebrow. 'Pull the other one. It's got bells on it! Come on, what happened?'

'Doesn't matter what happened. It's over now.'

'You okay about that?'

'Oh yeah, you watch, I'll be breaking the champagne open in a minute!' Nikki relented when she saw the disapproving look on Yvonne's face. 'Can't you hear the clanging as the defences rattle back up?'

'It ain't over, Nik. I've seen the way she looks at you.' Yvonne smiled and patted Nikki on the shoulder. 'Anyway, the fat bird ain't singing yet.'

'Well let's hope Felicity doesn't make an appearance at the Karaoke tonight then,' Nikki said as she retrieved the pool cue. 'You mind if we change the subject?'

Up in her cell, Shell reclined on her bunk, a self-satisfied smile spreading across her face as she lit a cigarette. Things were going exactly to plan, and by the end of the day, every problem she had on the wing would be taken care of … Mitchell, Wade, Atkins … all of them would be nothing but a bad dream.

Just as she began to make plans for the future, Dawn slid into the cell.

Shell looked up with ill-concealed irritation. 'What do you want?'

'Polly sent me,' Dawn replied. 'She says you've gotta meet her in the gym, Shell.'

Shell nodded and stubbed her cigarette out. ''Old on a minute, Dawn. I want you to go and tell Atkins that Polly's got Harrison in the gym.'

Just as Dawn was about to leave the cell to follow Shell's instructions, she found herself pinned against the wall, held by an iron grip around her throat.

'Tell anyone I told yer and I'll be using yer eyeballs on the pool table, got me?'

Dawn nodded and fled.

Thirty seconds later, Shell emerged from her cell and sauntered down to the gym.

Only fifteen minutes earlier, Kerry had decided to work out her frustrations over Nikki in the gym. She was totally oblivious to the fact that one of Polly's minions was only a few steps behind her.

As she concentrated on her stomach crunches, the last thing she was expecting was the size seven trainer that came out of nowhere to rest on her throat, pinning her to the ground. As she looked up, she saw the grinning faces of Polly and Shell.

'Oh shit!' Polly exclaimed as she pressed down with her foot, causing Kerry to gag. 'I just stepped in some filth!'

Nikki was lost in Sophie's World, a book that always made her feel closer to Helen, when Yvonne suddenly loomed over her. She only had to look at the menacing glint in the older inmate's eyes to know that something was very wrong.

'Mitchell and Dockley have got Kerry in the gym,' Yvonne whispered. 'I don't know what they know but …' Yvonne was forced to grab Nikki when she flew off her bunk. 'Listen to me. We do this, we got to do it right,' she said sharply, slamming Nikki up against the wall. 'You run in there like the bleedin' Terminator and you're only gonna make things worse. Think, Nikki!'

Nikki stopped struggling and nodded. 'What do you want me to do?'

'Denny and Shaz are on their way. You get down there after 'em. Mitchell's bound to have a couple of her goons on the door so stay out of sight until I get there, got me?'

'What are you going to do?'

'I'm gonna get the Julies.'

'The Julies?'

'Just get your bleedin' arse down there and leave the thinking to me! Careful you don't attract any attention from the screws. This is between me and Mitchell!'

Nikki strolled down to the corridor leading to the gym. On the outside, she looked relaxed but inside she was as tightly coiled as a spring. Now that the dust had cleared from that initial explosion of rage, her anger was cool and controlled.

Denny and Shaz looked up, suddenly alert when they heard Nikki's footsteps.

'Where's Yvonne?' Denny whispered.

'On her way,' Nikki replied. She quickly popped her head around the corner and spotted one of Mitchell's henchwomen keeping watch at the door to the gym. Turning back, she saw that Denny was hopping from foot to foot like a boxer warming up, obviously impatient to get stuck in. Shaz however was deathly pale, her normal bravado conspicuous by its absence. 'You two okay?'

Before either could answer, Yvonne arrived and Nikki was horrified to see that she had Annette Williams in tow.

'Call it a wartime alliance,' Yvonne explained, reading Nikki's mind. 'Annette here's got a few scores to settle with Dockley and Mitchell. Anyway, listen up all of you, the Julies are gonna take care of the look-out and then we'll be going in. You're all gonna do exactly what I say, alright?'

'Who'd tell Polly that Kerry's a copper?' Denny asked. 'She ain't one is she?'

'Denny, do you honestly think I'd be doing this if she was?' Yvonne paused when she heard the Julies talking as they approached from the other end of the corridor. 'Get ready.'

The woman keeping watch outside the gym looked up when she heard the Julies pushing their cleaning trolley towards her.

''Ere, Jue,' Julie S said for the benefit of the lookout. 'Pity we won't be out for Crystal's wedding ain't it?'

Lulled into a false sense of security by the Julies' inane chatter about Crystal's wedding, the woman standing outside the door wasn't expecting the steel mop-bucket that swung out of nowhere and collided with her nose. Once she was incapacitated, Julie S stuffed a duster into her mouth.

As soon as Yvonne saw this she motioned the others to follow her down the corridor.

'Nice one, Julies,' she whispered. 'Now, get back onto the wing and do what I told you.' Yvonne turned to face the four women standing in the corridor. 'Just do exactly what I say.'

Kerry was still flat on the floor and Polly, knife in hand, was hovering over her, knee planted firmly in the unconscious detective's stomach. Nikki only just managed to hold back the inevitable eruption of rage that rose within her when she saw the blood on what was left of Kerry's white T-shirt. She was only barely aware of the warning look that Yvonne threw in her direction before she started to walk towards Polly.

'Leave her alone, Mitchell,' Yvonne said coldly.

'She's a copper, Atkins,' Polly replied, not even bothering to look up at Yvonne. 'Been squealing to Betts. You should be thanking me for this.'

'Use your head, Mitchell. I can smell filth from a mile off. Do you really think I'd be down 'ere now if I thought she was one of them?'

'You're obviously losing yer sense of smell then.' Polly stood up. Pausing to kick Kerry in the ribs she turned around to face Yvonne. She grinned when she saw who was accompanying her. 'Well if it ain't Tinky Winky, Dipsy, Laa Laa and Po! That must make you Noo Noo, Atkins.'

Yvonne didn't rise and instead took a step closer to Polly, not even acknowledging the presence of the knife. 'Let me fill you in on a few things 'ere, Mitchell,' she said. 'The reason I know that Kerry ain't a copper is because she used to work for me on the outside. Believe me, you don't wanna know what happens to scum who interfere with my people.'

'And that's supposed to scare me is it?'

'Look at you. You're just a jumped up pusher with a few contacts who treats her people like shit,' Yvonne snapped, losing patience. 'No wonder they're selling you down the river.'

Polly's smile disappeared for the first time. 'What you on about?'

Yvonne nodded towards Shell who was standing a few feet behind Kerry. 'Let me guess … Dockley spins you a line about Kerry being a copper and grassing you up to Betts and you arrange this little welcome party. Meanwhile, she sends someone along to warn me.'

'Don't listen to her, Pol!' Shell said, voice wavering slightly.

'Shut it, Shell,' Polly told her, eyes not moving from Yvonne's. 'The grown-ups are talking now.'

'Bit stupid sending Dawn wasn't it, Dockley? You know as well as I do that given the right inducement, she'll spill her guts to the highest bidder.' Pausing to smirk at Shell, Yvonne switched her attention back to Polly. 'Since you got sent down the block, Shell's gotten used to throwing her weight around. I don't reckon she's that happy to see you back in charge.'

Polly nodded, suddenly realising. 'So she thought she'd set this up, so me and you would end up cancelling each other out.'

'Like I said, you should choose your stooges with a bit more care, Mitchell.' Yvonne took another step towards Polly, spreading her arms in a gesture of conciliation. 'Look, all I want is to get Kerry sorted. So why don't you give her back and I'll leave you and Dockley to sort this out between you.'

Nikki, who was standing just behind Yvonne, had been amazed by the way the older woman had engineered this turn of events. She was now beginning to relax, believing that they were going to be able to get through the situation without any more violence. But then she watched a smile appear slowly on Polly's face, and was suddenly transported back to the club. Radio had smiled like that just before he'd stuck the broken bottle into Gossard's throat. As Nikki opened her mouth to warn Yvonne, Polly pounced with the knife she was holding. But rather than using it on Yvonne, she spun around and slashed it across Shell's throat.

Shell's hands immediately flew to her throat, a look of disbelief in her eyes as she encountered the warm blood that pumped from the wound. Seconds later, she crashed to the floor.

Polly turned around to survey the stunned faces of the women in the room. 'Thing is, Atkins. I don't fink Shell and me have got anything to sort out anymore.'

As she walked onto the wing, the last thing Karen expected to see was the Julies engaged in what looked like a violent catfight as Di and Hollamby desperately tried to separate them.

'What the hell is going on …?' Karen was forced to jump in to help the other officers when Julie J managed to tug a handful of hair from her friend's head.

After a brief struggle, Karen finally managed to get a grip around Julie S's waist and attempted to pull her away. Unfortunately, both Julies' chose that precise moment to let go of each other and the Wing Governor ended up in an undignified heap on the floor with the inmate she was trying to restrain.

'You'd better have a very good explanation for this, Julies,' Karen said as she finally managed to disentangle herself from Julie S.

'It's that cow!' Julie J howled as she made another lunge for Julie S. She was prevented from doing so by Hollamby who received a kick in the shin for her trouble.

'Don't you dare call me a cow, you bitch!'

'Pack it in, both of you. Right now!' Karen injected enough steel in her voice to silence the Julies immediately. 'Now, I want to know what's going on and I …' Her words trailed off when she noticed that the crowd of inmates who were enjoying the spectacle was a great deal sparser than it should've been. 'Atkins, Mitchell, Dockley … where are they?' She narrowed her eyes suspiciously when she saw the Julies glancing at each other shiftily. 'I'm going to give you precisely five seconds to tell me what's really going on here.'

'Don't know what you're talking about, Miss,' Julie S protested, her face the picture of injured innocence.

'Me neither,' Julie J added.

'Do you two think I was born yesterday?' Karen snapped, losing whatever patience she had left. 'You either tell me what's going on, or you'll both be seeing the sun rise from the punishment block!'

Seconds after Shell's body hit the floor, Denny was by her side. Nikki had tried to stop her but the smaller inmate had wriggled away.

Polly didn't seem to notice. Now that Shell was taken care of she'd turned her attention to Yvonne and began to advance slowly towards her with the knife. 'Did anyone ever tell you that you're a complete pain in the arse, Atkins?'

'Mitchell, don't be a twat, put the bleedin' knife down.' Yvonne said calmly. 'You're in deep enough shit as it is.'

'Exactly. One more ain't gonna hurt is it? And at least I'll get to wipe that smug grin off your face!'

Nikki was finally able to recover her voice. She turned to Shaz who was completely white as she stared down at the steadily expanding pool of blood around Shell. 'Shaz! Go and get help!'

Shaz nodded briefly before fleeing the room. The two remaining members of Polly's gang, plus Annette followed suit, leaving the three women to face each other.

'Looks like the rats have just deserted the sinking shit!' Yvonne said mockingly.

'Never mind,' Polly said dismissively. 'By the time the Keystone Cops get 'ere I'll have kebabed you, Atkins!'

'Put the knife down,' Nikki said, moving into position beside Yvonne. 'You don't have to do this.'

Polly ignored Nikki and continued to move towards Yvonne. 'You really piss me off, Atkins. You really think you're something, don't you? Well you ain't nothing! You're a dinosaur! It's people like me who's taking over … people who've got the guts to do what you old school wankers are too scared to!'

'Guts?' Yvonne scoffed. 'You ain't got guts, Mitchell. You're a psycho. There's a big difference.'

'Oh really? Don't tell me you wouldn't have killed that stupid bint given half a chance.'

'Dockley always was a pain in the jacksie,' Yvonne admitted. 'I've always known how to handle her, though.'

Nikki heard noises in the corridor. Help was obviously on the way. All Yvonne had to do was keep Mitchell talking until it arrived. But it seemed that Yvonne had other ideas.

'The Cavalry's arriving, Mitchell,' she said. 'You'd better make your move.' She opened her arms and took a step towards Polly, aware of Denny sprinting towards her from behind. 'Come on then, do it! What you waiting for?'

Polly hesitated briefly and, unknowingly, provided enough time for Denny to reach her. Just as she made a lunge at Yvonne, Denny hit her like a cannonball and brought her to the ground. Nikki and Yvonne jumped in on top and joined the struggle to relieve Polly of the knife. In the ensuing melee, Nikki was only dimly aware of a muffled shriek and a warm wetness against her thigh as she managed to wrench the knife from Polly's grip.

The door flew open as Nikki stood up with the knife in her hand. She felt a wrenching pain in her shoulder as she was brought to the ground. Her mind registering the fact that both Denny and Polly were both lying completely motionless, only a few feet away.

Part 16

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