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)
Nikki woke with a head that felt like a family of woodpeckers had settled inside it, and were now desperately trying to peck their way out. She lay there for a while and watched the room spin, wondering where the hell she was. Unreality began to overtake her as she noticed the blinding white walls and ceiling. Just as she began to suspect that she'd arrived in heaven, she nearly jumped out of her skin when an ugly and instantly recognisable face hovered over her.
'So Sleeping Beauty has finally awoken then?'
'Bloody hell, woman!' Nikki exclaimed, grimacing in response to the extreme pain this sudden movement caused. 'You just scared three years off me then!'
'That's Mrs Hollamby to you, Wade,' the apparition said before bustling out of the room.
A few seconds later, Nikki found herself looking up into the infinitely more attractive face of a blonde-haired, blue-eyed nurse.
'How are you feeling, Nikki?' she asked.
'I was fine until Bodybag scared the crap out of me, and Ow! Shit!' Nikki made an abortive attempt to sit up and regretted it when a sharp pain lanced along her right side.
'I wouldn't do that if I were you,' the nurse said, shaking her head as Nikki ignored her and tried to sit up again. 'You've got three cracked ribs, a fractured collar-bone and a bloody great bump on your head.'
'How did ?' Nikki paused, the events in the gym suddenly jumping into focus. 'Denny Kerry?' She rolled her eyes impatiently when the nurse frowned. 'The women I was brought in with?'
'I'm afraid I don't know anything,' the nurse replied. 'This place is a circus at the moment. We've got more Police Officers milling around the corridor than NYPD Blue!'
'Well can you find out?'
'The first thing I'm going to do is get a doctor in here to check you out.'
'Nikki, you've been unconscious for twenty-four hours. A few more isn't going to make any difference.' The nurse relented when she saw that Nikki had her mouth open ready to protest. 'Okay, I'll have a word with the officer outside when the doctor's finished with you.' She smiled and pointed towards the table by the side of Nikki's bed. 'By the way, a delivery man dropped those off for you before.'
Nikki looked over and saw a huge bunch of flowers, but by the time she turned back to ask the nurse if there had been a note, she'd gone.
Nikki frowned up at the ceiling. It was too much to hope that they were from Helen.
Outside in the corridor, Helen was trying to concentrate on the Evening Standard, 'Bloodbath at Larkhall', the headline proclaimed. She shook her head as she turned to page four to read the rest of the story. With two dead inmates and another three in hospital, Karen Betts was going to need a miracle to hang onto her job once Area Management launched an inquiry.
She looked up when the nurse came out of Nikki's room, feeling her heart begin to pound in her chest. 'How is she?' she asked.
'She's fine,' the nurse replied. 'Wants to know what's going on though. I don't suppose you could talk to her after the doctor's seen her?'
Although she was suddenly light-headed with relief, Helen managed to struggle to her feet. 'I was just going to leave but ' She paused when she noticed a harassed-looking Karen Betts approaching. 'That's the Wing Governor now,' she told the nurse. 'I'm sure she won't mind answering Nikki's questions.'
The nurse nodded. 'I'll go and find the doctor then.'
Karen frowned when she saw Helen. 'What are you doing here?'
'I've lost two lifers already in the past twenty four hours,' Helen replied. 'I just wanted to make sure I wasn't about to lose another one.'
'Any news on Wade?'
'She's just regained consciousness. They want you to go to speak to her once the doctor's seen her.'
Karen nodded. 'I need to speak to her before the police do, anyway.'
'Have you seen this?' Helen asked, showing Karen the headline on the newspaper.
'Have I seen it? I've just had to drive through a crowd of reporters outside the prison! Simon's doing his nut.'
Helen suppressed a smile. Although she honestly liked Karen, she resented the close relationship she had with Simon. Back when she'd been Wing Governor, she only had to sneeze and the number one came down on her like a ton of bricks. Whereas Karen had survived a murder investigation, a major breach in security and the Tessa Spall incident without so much as a passing comment.
'At least it's not a suicide,' Helen said at length. 'The press love those.'
'That's true,' Karen acknowledged this point with a long sigh. 'At least they can't blame the Prison Service for Polly Mitchell being a complete psychopath. But anyway, that's not the worst of it. According to Simon, Area Management have been in touch already. They're going to be launching a full investigation into what happened.'
'I had a feeling they might,' Helen confided. 'I had a call from Area last night. The Home Secretary's on the warpath, apparently.'
'Any news on who's going to head up the investigation?'
Helen shook her head. 'But if I hear anything I'll let you know.'
'I'd appreciate that.' Karen spotted a doctor disappearing into Nikki's room. 'Do you want to come in to speak to Nikki with me?'
Helen hesitated. She had only been planning on staying at the hospital until she knew that Nikki was okay. Eventually, she shook her head. 'There's no point,' she replied, making a point of glancing down at her watch. 'I'd better go. I'll see you back at the prison.'
Walking down that corridor and away from Nikki was the hardest thing Helen had ever had to do in her life. The anger she'd felt after finding out about Kerry had completely drained away the moment she'd seen her lying there unconscious in that hospital bed. As she continued down the corridor, Helen felt the old doubts gnawing away at her. Were they always destined to do this to each other? She loved Nikki wanted Nikki but she was just so tired of all the pain, anger and tearing each other apart for just a few moments of happiness.
Maybe it was just time to let go.
To the casual observer, the man and woman who sat together on the top deck of an open-topped London tour-bus were sightseers. What the casual observer didn't know was that the man was a Detective Sergeant with the Sun Hill Police, and the woman was the only daughter of one of the country's biggest gangland leaders.
'You got the address then?' she asked.
DS Beech nodded and reached into his jacket pocket for a packet of cigarettes. 'Cigarette, gorgeous?'
Lauren reached for a cigarette and also took the scrap of paper that was sticking out of the packet. She pocketed it and then smiled as she leaned forward to avail herself of the light the detective offered. 'Mum was right about you,' she said with a grin. 'She said you're as long on charm as you are short on loyalty.'
'Well I'm sure your mum also told you that my loyalty comes at a very high price.'
'Don't worry. You'll be taken care of.' Lauren stood up and nodded towards the folded newspaper she'd left on the seat. 'It's all there.'
Beech watched Lauren as she walked down the aisle towards the stairs, appreciating the tight leather trousers she was wearing. Like mother like daughter, he thought to himself before picking up the newspaper.
Nikki was sitting up in bed with a confrontational expression on her face when Karen walked into the room.
Karen took a deep breath and positioned herself at the end of Nikki's bed. 'How are you feeling?'
'I'll be feeling a damn sight better when someone tells me what the bloody hell happened yesterday,' Nikki replied. 'Denny Kerry are they okay?'
'Denny's in Intensive Care but the doctors have assured me that her condition is stable,' Karen explained. 'They're reasonably confident that she'll be okay. Kerry's just down the corridor. She lost a lot of blood and now has a torso that looks like a patchwork quilt, but she was never in any danger.'
Karen replied by shaking her head.
Nikki's left hand tightened into a fist. She slammed it down on the mattress. 'Stupid, stupid cow!' she exclaimed. 'Trying to set Mitchell up was like facing a tiger with a water pistol!' She glanced up at Karen. Talking about Mitchell '
'She spent most of the night in surgery but she didn't make it.'
'Thank God for small mercies!' Nikki rolled her eyes when she saw the reproving look on Karen's face. 'Come on, she was a bloody psychopath! Anyway, is Yvonne okay?'
'As far as I know. She was relocated to a safe-house during the early hours of this morning.'
'She's going to love that.' Nikki mumbled under her breath, wondering how this new development would affect Yvonne's plans. 'So, what am I doing here? Last thing I remember was one of your officers hitting me like a ton of bricks.'
'That room looked like an abattoir and you were standing there holding a knife,' Karen said sharply. 'How were they supposed to react?' She relented immediately. The last thing she needed was for Nikki's solicitor to make a formal complaint about her client's injuries. 'If it makes you feel any better, Miss Barker feels terrible about the extent of your injuries.'
Nikki stared at Karen with her mouth open. 'You're joking!' She smiled and shook her head. 'I wouldn't have though she had it in her! But, I suppose I understand why she did what she did.'
'Obviously Yvonne gave us the full story and Sharon and Annette corroborated it later.' Karen frowned disapprovingly. 'But what I don't understand is why you didn't inform an officer as soon as you heard that Kerry was being attacked.'
'What, and telegraph to the whole wing that Kerry was a copper and Yvonne was a grass?'
'Two inmates are dead, Nikki.'
'Yeah, well that's your problem,' Nikki snapped. 'Mitchell should never have been allowed back on the wing. Something like that was bound to happen.'
The fact that Nikki was right only served to increase Karen's ire. However, just as she opened her mouth to unleash the bollocking of a lifetime on the truculent inmate, Hollamby walked into the room unannounced.
'Sorry to interrupt, Ma'am, but the police want to know if they can speak to Wade.'
Karen nodded. 'I'll be out in a second to speak to them.' She waited until Hollamby had closed the door behind her before turning back to Nikki. 'Don't get too comfortable, Nikki. I'm not finished with you yet not by a long shot.'
Nikki raised a 'V' sign at Karen's retreating back but regretted it when another bolt of pain shot through her shoulder.
After a long grilling by the police about the events of the day before, Nikki was finally given permission to visit Kerry. Unfortunately, the nurse had insisted that she make the short journey down the corridor in a wheelchair, and if that wasn't bad enough, Hollamby had been asked to do the honours.
'I don't know,' Hollamby grumbled. 'Atkins with her feet up in a cushy safe-house, and you being pushed around like lady muck ' She shook her head and let out a long-suffering sigh. 'You know, if I had my way '
'Yeah, yeah, I know,' Nikki interjected. 'We'd all be banged up in our cells twenty-four hours a day and fed on nothing but bread and water.'
'Less of your lip, Wade,' Hollamby snapped. 'You're not out on appeal yet.'
'Does that mean you're going to miss me?' Nikki asked, smirking up at Hollamby as she reached forward to open the door.
'Like a hole in the flaming head,' Hollamby replied. 'Your sort always ends up coming back though.' She glowered with disapproval at Kerry who was sitting up in her bed. 'As if I haven't got better things to do.'
'Thanks, Sylv. I'll call you when I'm finished,' Nikki called out as Hollamby left the room. The grin left her face when she turned around to look at Kerry and noticed her deathly white face and the dark circles under her eyes. 'How are you feeling?'
'Stupid, sore and sorry for myself,' Kerry replied.
'Stupid? Kerry, what happened wasn't your fault.'
'Nikki, two women died yesterday and I couldn't do anything about it.'
'Believe me, Kerry, you were lucky to be unconscious when it all happened.' Nikki paused, feeling her chest tighten as she relived the events of yesterday. 'I'm just sorry that we didn't get there early enough to stop her ' Her eyes flickered down to Kerry's torso.
'You stopped her from killing me, which is what she told me she was going to do before I passed out. I believed her.' Kerry looked directly at Nikki, the fear in her eyes plain. 'I've been in the position where my life's been in danger more times that I could possibly count, but you dismiss it as part of the job.' Slowly, she shook her head. 'But yesterday, looking at the smile on her face when she cut me, her eyes I've never seen evil like that before.' She let out a ragged breath, blinking back tears. 'I honestly thought that was it she was going to kill me.'
Nikki honestly didn't know what to say, so instead, ignoring the pain it caused her, she reached forward to take the detective's hand.
'I'll be okay.' Kerry forced a smile and wiped her eyes with her free hand. 'The DI thinks I should make an appointment with a counsellor.'
'Well maybe you should. I know as much as anyone how hard something like this is to live with.'
'I'd rather just get back to work.' Kerry squeezed Nikki's hand briefly before releasing it. She looked up and smiled. 'Anyway, how are you feeling? Karen said you got taken out by one of her officers.'
Nikki raised her eyebrows. She was slightly perturbed by the way Kerry had just changed the subject, but decided not to question it, sensing that the detective would rather come to term with her ordeal in her own way. 'I'm okay,' Nikki replied. 'Just a couple of cracked ribs and a fractured collarbone. Bloody typical, isn't it? I get through four years in prison without anything more than the odd cuts and bruises and here I am, on the verge of getting out, and I end up like this.' She looked down at the sling supporting her right arm. 'I can just imagine how much fun it's going to be, trying to go to the loo with this thing.'
Kerry smiled and for a second they sat in silence.
'Don't take this the wrong way Nikki,' Kerry began, serious once again. 'But do you have any ideas about who might've told Polly about me?'
Nikki thought for a moment before shaking her head. 'As far as I'm aware, the only people who knew about you were Yvonne, Karen, Helen and me. I know for a fact that it wasn't Yvonne and I know I didn't say anything. I'm also one hundred per cent certain that Helen didn't.'
'Which leaves Karen,' Kerry deduced.
'No, it can't have been unless ' Nikki paused, thinking back to gossip she'd heard on the wing. 'There was a huge rumour going around few months ago about her being involved with Fenner. I wouldn't put anything past that bastard.' She thought about this briefly and then shook her head. 'No, Betts lives by the rule-book. I think it was probably just a lucky guess on Dockley's part.'
'I think you're probably right,' Kerry agreed. 'But I'm warning you now, the DI is out for blood. He's not going to rest until he finds out who blew the whistle on me.'
The next day, Nikki was surprised and pleased when Anna walked into her room unannounced.
'That bloody woman!' Anna snapped as she collapsed into the chair next to Nikki's bed. 'I only have to spend two seconds in her company before wanting to strangle her. God knows how you've managed to get through four years without taking an axe to her!'
'Bodybag I presume?' Nikki smiled when Anna nodded. 'I think Betts left her here to punish me.'
'No wonder the suicide rate in prisons is so high.' Anna took her cigarettes out of her bag, hesitated briefly when she noticed the 'No Smoking' sign but then lit up anyway. 'It's psychological,' she said with a shrug, smiling when she saw the disapproval on Nikki's face. 'And don't you dare tell me you've not considered lighting up.'
'I had no choice. I could hardly send Bodybag down to the nearest corner shop for twenty Marlboro Lights could I?' She grinned when Anna held her packet of Silk Cut out. 'Don't suppose you could leave the packet when you go?'
'I should be leaving you to suffer for forcing me to step foot in one of these ghastly places, but seeing as you asked nicely.' Anna reached forward and placed the packet on the table next to Nikki's bed. She whistled when she noticed a huge bunch of flowers sitting in a vase. 'It looks like somebody loves you.'
'Yeah, I can't work out who sent them though.' Nikki looked up at the flowers and frowned. 'They didn't come with a note.'
'Well don't get your hopes up too high,' Anna said, expression darkening. 'They're from Claire. I think the only thing you're going to receive from Helen from now on is the cold shoulder.'
Nikki concentrated on the end of her cigarette, unable to meet Anna's accusatory stare. 'I know.'
'You've been a complete shit to her, Nikki.'
'Yes, I know,' Nikki replied irritably. 'Now, did you have a reason for visiting or are you just going to sit there and continue to state the obvious?'
Anna sighed and reached into her bag for her notebook. 'This is the last chance I'll have to speak to you before the appeal. I just want to go over everything one last time oh, and I think I may have solved your accommodation problem.'
The following afternoon, Nikki was given the all clear by the doctor and was bundled into a taxi and taken back to Larkhall.
After the pandemonium of the past few days, she was actually looking forward to the solitude of her cell. The last thing she was expecting was the chaos that greeted her.
'What the hell is going on?' she asked Hollamby who simply ignored her and pushed her through the wing gate before locking it behind her.
'Nikki!' The Julies chorused as they ran over.
'What's going on?' Nikki repeated her question, as she was nearly bowled over by a line of inmates doing the conga. 'Did Fenner resign or something?'
'Yvonne's escaped!' The Julies announced.
Nikki stared back at the Julies in disbelief. 'Do what?'
'There was an armed raid on 'er safe 'ouse a couple of hours ago,' Julie S explained. 'We saw it on the news, din't we, Jue?'
Julie J nodded. 'Bleedin' fantastic, ain't it, Nikki?'
Nikki shook her head and smiled ruefully as the Julies re-joined the mayhem. Clearly, everything had gone to plan after all.
Helen sat in the kitchen and tried to focus on the Berocca tablet that was fizzing in the glass of water in front of her. Monday mornings were bad enough, but accompanied by a hangover and a dodgy stomach after a late night trip to the Indian takeaway, they were absolute murder.
She couldn't remember many details about the night before, but she vaguely recalled meeting up with Anna and one of her housemates in a pub, and then when he disappeared off to a club, the two of them raiding Oddbins before returning to her flat.
As if on cue, a dishevelled looking Anna staggered into the kitchen, completely oblivious to the look of total surprise on Helen's face.
'I feel like I've got the entire cast of Riverdance in my head doing a fucking clog dance.' She collapsed in the chair opposite Helen and lit a cigarette. 'And I'm due in court at ten. The magistrate's going to take one look at me and order me into rehab.'
'Anna, what are you doing here?' Helen asked.
'I have absolutely no idea,' Anna replied, shifting uncomfortably in her chair. 'But my back's telling me that I must've passed out on your sofa. The last thing I remember is you rushing off to be sick.'
Helen groaned and clutched her head. 'I'm getting too old for this.'
'Oh please!' Anna scoffed. 'Early nights in with a Catherine Cookson and a mug of Ovaltine? You might as well get out in that garden and dig your grave now!' Anna raised her eyebrows sceptically. 'You're just crapping yourself about speaking to Nikki today. Go on, admit it.'
'Okay, I admit it.' Helen sighed and looked down into her glass of Berocca. 'I don't know what possessed me to agree to head up this investigation. It was obvious that I was going to have to interview her.'
'Maybe that's why you decided to do it. Maybe subconsciously, you wanted to speak to her.' Anna rolled her eyes. 'My God! I'm turning into Warren! I'll be standing on street corners and dragging unsuspecting passers-by into therapy before you know it!' Anna's grin faded when she saw the serious expression on Helen's face. 'I have to say I was quite surprised when you told me that Area had asked you to lead the investigation. I mean, I would have thought you were much too closely involved.'
'That's precisely why they did ask me.'
'Oh, I get it,' Anna said with a nod. 'They think that because you're investigating your former colleagues you might be tempted to sweep the whole thing under the carpet?'
Helen nodded. 'The only thing is, I don't think I'm going to be able to do that. When I think of all the women the system has failed already.' She exhaled heavily, feeling the old frustrations beginning to surface. 'I won't participate in a cover-up, even if it does involve the deaths of a psychopath like Polly Mitchell and a waste of space like Michelle Dockley.'
Anna leaned across the table, her face suddenly serious. 'Helen, you're going to have to tread extremely carefully. This investigation is bound to attract a lot of press attention. If they catch the slightest whiff of your relationship with Nikki '
Helen regarded Anna defiantly. 'I have no relationship with Nikki. Not anymore.'
'You know what Warren would say now don't you?'
'Denial. Complete and utter, total denial!'
The atmosphere on the wing was still jubilant after news of Yvonne's escape, but with the announcement of an investigation and the prospect of heads rolling, the whole place was on the verge of going up like a rocket.
'Wonder what Betts'll do after they've given 'er the 'push,' Julie J wondered aloud as Babs reached the head of the breakfast queue. 'What d'ya reckon, Babs?'
'Well, I would've thought it was a bit premature to be speculating,' Barbara replied, lifting her glasses to inspect the food on offer.
Julie S nudged her friend when Karen appeared at the gate to the wing. 'I can just see 'er in PVC gear wiv a whip.'
Julie J regarded Karen for a moment and then nodded. 'Bit too posh to be working down our end though.'
'Nah, she'd be one of them up the West End, torturing businessmen for two hundred quid a pop.' Julie S leaned over the servery to pour tea into Barbara's mug. ''Ere, ain't Nikki got to go and see Miss Stewart today?'
Barbara nodded and turned to look at Nikki who was sitting on her own, head buried in Sophie's World and seemingly oblivious to the general feeling of hysteria around her.
'Look at 'er!' Julie S exclaimed. 'She's gettin' out of 'ere in three days and she's got a face like a smacked arse!'
Barbara collected her breakfast and wandered over to join her former cellmate.
'Are you okay?' she asked as she sat down on the opposite side of the table.
Nikki sighed and put her book down. 'Not really, no.'
'I hate to say this, Nikki, but you don't know who else is going to be there. Just try your best not to lose your temper.'
'Yeah, the last thing I'd want to do is drop her in it, isn't it?'
Barbara leaned across the table and took the hand that wasn't in the sling. 'Nikki, do you have any idea how high profile this investigation is? This is the sort of thing that could make her career. If you mess this up for her I can guarantee you that she'll never forgive you.'
'I know, I'm just I don't know,' Nikki looked down at the table. 'I'm just scared of looking into her eyes and finding nothing there.' Nikki pulled her hand away from Barbara and used it to wipe away the tears that had appeared in her eyes. 'I always thought that when I get out of here I'd be able to make it up to her, make everything alright, but now '
'Nikki, you mustn't give up! Look at everything you've been through so far her resignation, that thing with Dominic, the escape '
'But things are different now. It's not only the fact that I didn't tell her about Gossard, it's ' Nikki let out a long sigh. She hadn't told anyone about this and she could imagine what Barbara's reaction would be, but her silence was too heavy a load to carry. 'When Kerry was here, I we I mean, we didn't get very far because Betts walked in but '
'And Helen knows about this?'
Nikki nodded, still unable to look at Barbara. 'I know. I'm a complete and utter twat and I don't deserve to be forgiven, but,' she blinked back more tears, 'I just can't bring myself to think about a future without her in it.'
'That's the question that's been keeping me awake every night since it happened, and all I can come up with is that I was tired of waiting. I needed someone and Kerry was there.' Nikki forced herself to look at the older woman, expecting anger and therefore completely flabbergasted when she saw the kindness in her eyes.
Barbara shook her head. 'Nikki, what am I going to do with you?'
'Take me out and shoot me?'
'Sorry to interrupt, ladies but Miss Stewart is ready to see you now, Nikki,' a voice said.
Nikki looked up at Di Barker with ill-concealed irritation. Ever since the incident in the gym, the PO had been treating her with kid gloves and the constant niceness was really beginning to get on her nerves. She stood up slowly, careful not to give any indication of the pain the movement caused, the last thing she needed was to be fussed over.
'Good luck, Nikki,' Barbara said as she watched her friend follow Di off the wing.
Helen paced around Karen's office an office that had once been the scene of many confrontations between her and the inmate she now awaited with such trepidation. This was where it had all started, where she'd first reacted to the unexplainable emotions that Nikki inspired within her by allowing her back onto the wing after she'd attacked Shell Dockley. The same office she'd retreated to after that incident in the potting-shed, and where she'd first admitted to her true feelings for the volatile inmate after being forced to ship her out.
On the desk lay Nikki's file that same photograph affixed to the cover the picture she'd found herself staring at so many times. Just as she'd done on countless occasions, she allowed her fingers to gently linger over Nikki's face, feeling that same rush of intense emotions.
She sighed and sat down behind the desk, putting Nikki's file to one side as she concentrated her mind on the investigation.
She'd seen Shaz Wylie already that morning. At first, the lifer had employed her usual method of hiding behind impudence, but finally, as Helen managed to pin her down with relentless, probing questions, the teenager had broken down and admitted to Polly and Shell's involvement in her overdose. After this breakthrough, Shaz had given her account of what happened in the gym and had also revealed that she'd been plagued by nightmares about Shell's death ever since. Helen had offered counselling but Shaz had flatly refused, announcing that she'd be okay once Denny got out of the hospital.
Helen reached into her briefcase and pulled out the statements that Yvonne and Nikki had given to the police and the report that Kerry had submitted. She was becoming more and more convinced that Karen had made a grave error in judgement in allowing Polly Mitchell back onto the wing, especially because every Officer she'd spoken to had been convinced that a showdown between her and Atkins had been inevitable.
A knock on the door interrupted her thoughts. She looked up and forced herself to take a deep breath in preparation for the interview ahead.
Di Barker opened the door and smiled at Helen. 'Nikki Wade for you, Ma'am.'
'Thanks, Di. I'll let you know when I'm finished.'
Helen waited until Di had closed the door behind her before she allowed herself to look up at Nikki. 'Can you take a seat please, Nikki?'
Nikki nodded and slowly lowered herself into the chair opposite the desk, the pain this movement caused obvious by the grimace on her face. As she reached out to place her hand on the desk in an attempt to steady herself, Helen saw that she was carrying the illicit copy of Sophie's World and felt a stab of pain as she remembered the conspiratorial grin they'd shared when she'd sneaked it into her cell hidden in a file.
'How are you feeling?' Helen asked.
'Sore,' Nikki replied, finally settled in the chair. 'I'm not due another dose of painkillers until lunchtime, and ' Nikki looked down at the floor and swallowed uncomfortably I'm so sorry, Helen,' she said softly. Raising her head, she looked directly into Helen's eyes. 'I can't believe this has happened to us.'
'Neither can I.'
The words were out of Helen's mouth before she could stop them, and for a moment they stared at each other.
'Nikki,' Helen said at length. 'I've got a really heavy day today and I can't afford to spend too long on this. So please, can you just stick to answering the questions I'm going to ask you? I realise that we need to talk about certain things, but can we save that for another time?'
Nikki nodded and transferred her attention to the files on the desk in front of them. 'I take it one of those is my statement to the police? I don't think I have anything to add to it.'
'Humour me,' Helen said as she produced a notebook from her briefcase. 'Nikki, I want to start by asking you why you didn't alert an officer to your fears for DC Holmes' safety.'
'Precisely because of that reason,' Nikki replied. 'If we'd told the screws, Mitchell would've just ended up holding Kerry hostage for as long as it amused her before killing her anyway. Yvonne was the only person who could've handled her.'
'That was your informed opinion was it?'
'Helen, you weren't there. You don't have the slightest idea of how much danger Kerry was in.'
Helen felt a burst of jealousy at Kerry's name, not to mention the fact that Nikki had put herself into a life-threatening situation because of her. 'Nikki, two women died as a result of your misguided decision not to notify a Prison Officer!'
'Oh yeah, and the screws always have the best interests of the inmates at heart don't they?' Nikki snapped. 'If that was the case, why was Mitchell allowed back on the wing in the first place? You didn't need a degree in working out the bloody obvious to know that the whole thing was going to kick off. Shell finding out about Kerry just forced the issue.'
'How do you think Shell came across that information?'
'I don't know, why don't you ask Betts? She might talk in her sleep.'
'Nikki, what are you suggesting?'
'She's shagging Fenner isn't she? You know as well as I do that he's capable of anything.' Nikki smirked in response to the look of surprise on Helen's face. 'What? Don't tell me you didn't know?'
'As far as I'm aware, Karen's relationship with Jim Fenner is strictly professional.'
'Looks like she's quite an old hand at making errors of judgement, doesn't it?'
'I can't believe you're being so nonchalant about this. Two women died, Nikki!'
'Look, I'm sorry about Shell,' Nikki conceded. 'As much as I disliked the woman, she didn't deserve to die like that. But Mitchell? She was pure evil a sicko who got her kicks out of hurting people. She deserved everything she got!'
Helen regarded Nikki for a moment and then sighed. 'Okay, I don't think there's any need for me to keep you any longer. Go and wait outside and I'll call for someone to escort you back to the wing.'
Nikki stood up slowly and walked over to the door, pausing to turn before she reached it. 'I don't know what's going to happen with us if there is still an us. I just well, I know I can make this up to you if you'll give me a chance.' She stared at Helen for a moment and then opened the door. 'It's up to you.'
Helen's last appointment of the day was with Jim Fenner. It was an interview she really wasn't looking forward to, not only because of her own personal dislike of G-Wing's Principal Officer but also because she knew he wouldn't waste the opportunity to lace his obvious contempt for her with sly references to Nikki.
Helen thought back to the things Nikki had said about him, suspicions shared by Kerry who had made her own doubts about Fenner's character clear when they had spoken at the hospital. But, no matter how much Helen despised him, she couldn't quite allow herself to believe that if he had discovered Kerry's identity, he would have deliberately put her life in danger like that.
A random thought suddenly entered her head a sobbing and bloody Shell Dockley revealing how Fenner had beaten her up how he had taken advantage of Rachel Hicks. Helen had no illusions about how reliable Shell had been, she'd witnessed enough Oscar winning performances in the past to know that the bleached blonde lifer could spin a convincing story out of any situation. But still, she had believed that Fenner had been partway responsible for Rachel's suicide at the very least, and, if he'd been capable of that, then maybe
Fenner didn't even knock before breezing into the office, almost knocking Helen sideways with a waft of strong aftershave as he slid into the seat opposite, the obligatory oily smirk present on his face. But there was something not quite right. Jim Fenner looked more than a little ragged around the edges. Red-rimmed eyes revealed the fact that he hadn't been sleeping that well lately and beneath the strong smell of his aftershave, Helen could detect the faint smell of alcohol. Clearly, the turn of events had affected him more than he was prepared to admit.
'I won't keep you very long,' Helen said as she reached for the statement Fenner had given to the police. 'I just need to ask you a few questions about the events of last week.'
Fenner replied by reaching into his trouser pocket for his cigarettes. 'Do you mind?' When Helen shook her head, he lit up and regarded her with a predatory grin through the smoke. 'You know, I was quite surprised when Karen told me you'd been asked to head up the investigation. Bit of a conflict of interest isn't it? Not to mention a step up the ladder.'
'Are you inferring something, Jim?'
'So how many pairs of trousers did you unzip to get it then?' he asked, leaning across the desk. 'Ooops, I forgot, you're not interested in the contents of men's trousers these days are you?'
Helen took a deep breath and forced herself to count to ten before turning to a clean page in her notebook. 'You said in your statement that the first you knew about the incident in the gym was when Shaz Wylie approached you.'
'That's right, she came running up to me in a complete panic and gabbled something about Dockley being dead and Harrison being held hostage in the gym.'
'So what did you do next?'
'It's all in my statement isn't it?'
'I'd still like to hear it from you.'
'Well, I called Karen and appraised her of the situation and we decided to go in.' Fenner took a long drag on his cigarette, his face suddenly serious. 'I'll never forget the moment we opened that door. There was blood everywhere. Dockley and Harrison were flat out and Wade, Mitchell, Blood and Atkins were all fighting for the knife. Then Wade stood up with it and Di took her out.'
'Nikki, Yvonne and Shaz have all stated that Shell claimed that Kerry was an undercover police officer. How do you think she came to that conclusion?'
Fenner shrugged noncommittally. 'You know Shell ' His words trailed off, a bleak expression momentarily passing over his face before he composed himself. 'Anyway, if the Met are stupid enough to send an undercover detective into the lion's den '
'Who said they had?' Helen leaned forward, trying to control the rising excitement she felt. 'As far as I was aware, Shell's information was purely guesswork on her behalf.' Fenner stared back at her. She could almost hear the cogs turning in his head as he tried to work himself out of the corner she'd forced him into. 'Unless of course you know something I don't.'
'I don't know anything,' Fenner blustered eventually. 'Just heard a few rumours, that's all.'
'Oh really? And where did you hear these rumours?'
'Allow me to let you into a secret, Jim. Up until now, the only people who know that Kerry Harrison is actually DC Holmes are her colleagues, Karen, myself and Yvonne Atkins.'
'These things have a tendency to get out.'
'Well I know I didn't tell anyone, and Karen assures me that she didn't. So, the question is still on the table how did you find out?'
Fenner leaned forward and dropped his cigarette end into Helen's coffee mug. 'Let's get one thing straight, whatever I know or don't know and however I it found out, you can't prove anything.' He stood up and leaned across the desk until his face was inches from Helen's. 'Unless of course you contact a medium and attempt to get in touch with Dockley from beyond the grave, all you have is conjecture. But then again, maybe you should have a chat with Wade. Maybe Harrison used to talk in her sleep.'
'If I find out you were involved in this '
'Well that's the thing, Helen, you're not going to.'
Helen leaned back in her chair when Fenner closed the door behind him. He was right of course. There was no way she could prove anything.
At the end of another long day, Helen prepared to leave the prison for a long soak in the bath and an even longer vodka and tonic.
The investigation was going nowhere. Although everyone agreed that Karen's decision to allow Polly Mitchell back onto G-Wing had been a mistake, and that some sort of showdown between her and Yvonne Atkins had been inevitable, it had been Shell's revelation about Kerry's identity that had forced the issue. This left Helen unable to prove that anyone had been at fault for the incident in the gym well unless she performed a miracle and managed to find some sort of evidence that connected Fenner to Shell's discovery.
Helen had started out on this investigation determined to uncover the truth, but now, she had no option but to provide the whitewash Area had been hoping for. Again, Helen was suffused with a sense of worthlessness. No matter how hard she tried to improve things within the Prison Service, she always ended up banging her head against a brick wall. It was times like these that made her wonder why she kept doing it, why she kept setting herself up for yet more frustration time and time again.
This wasn't the limit of her problems though.
Nikki's appeal was scheduled for the following morning. If all went to plan, in precisely seventeen hours' time she would be walking out of the appeals court a free woman, and no matter how hard she tried to occupy her mind with other things, Helen couldn't prevent herself from wondering about the implications of this. After everything that had happened, could she honestly consider embarking on a relationship with Nikki?
A knock on the door interrupted her thoughts.
The door opened slightly and a bottle of red wine appeared on the end of a grey suited arm.
Helen smiled. 'If that's Cabernet Sauvignon you can come in.'
'Uncanny.' Karen Betts stepped into the office and closed the door behind her. 'Something told me you might be in need of this.'
'Thank God for intuition,' Helen replied as she retrieved two glasses from her filing cabinet. 'Although something tells me you might be in need of it too.'
'Hopefully everything will get back to normal after tomorrow.'
'Nikki Wade's appeal.'
'I'd expect an eruption if she's successful.' Helen said, handing Karen a glass of wine. 'When Monica Lindsay was freed at appeal, it took days for the Wing to get back to normal.'
Karen sat down in the chair opposite Helen's desk. 'I can't seem to picture this place without Nikki. I know she can be a complete pain in the arse sometimes, but the confrontations we've had so far have certainly made life more interesting.' She smiled and took a sip of wine. 'The Julies asked my permission to put together a small leaving party for her this evening.'
'And you gave the go-ahead?'
Karen nodded. 'You should've seen the look on Sylvia Hollamby's face!'
Despite Hollamby's extremely vocal disapproval, the Julies, Barbara and Shaz assembled in Nikki's cell.
'You've got half an hour!' Hollamby barked as she left the cell.
Shaz wasn't the only one who raised two fingers at the departing Prison Officer's back.
Barbara surveyed the shocked faces of Nikki and the Julies and smiled. 'Well, somebody's got to take over as agent provocateur when you leave tomorrow,' she said to Nikki.
Nikki smiled and shook her head. 'You never fail to amaze me.'
'You ain't seen nothing yet!' Barbara reached into the pockets of her cardigan and produced two handfuls of miniature Smirnoff bottles.
'My God!' Nikki exclaimed. 'How many phonecards did you have to trade in for that lot?'
'Actually, Yvonne left me a stack of phonecards for precisely this reason,' Barbara explained as she handed the bottles out. 'Odd how she thought she wouldn't be here.'
Nikki smiled to herself but decided to stay silent. 'How did you get permission for this?'
'We 'ad a word wiv Miss Betts,' Julie J replied. 'D'int we, Jue?'
'You shoulda seen the look on Bodybag's kisser when she said yes,' Julie S added. 'Looked like she'd just been slapped wiv a wet trout!'
'And you could tell the difference how?' Nikki asked. 'You know, this is going to sound incredible, but I'll really miss winding her up.'
'You're cracked you are,' Shaz said, regarding Nikki with an incredulous expression. 'If I ever got out of here I wouldn't waste my time thinking about that fat cow.'
'No, you'd probably go straight to 'er 'ouse and throw a petrol bomb through 'er front window,' Julie J countered.
'Or blow Bobby up!' Julie S added before transferring her attention to Nikki. ''Ere, Nik, what's the first thing you're going to do when you get out of 'ere?'
'I dunno, hadn't really thought about it,' Nikki replied with a shrug. 'But I can probably see me making a beeline for a beer and a curry at some point tomorrow.'
Julie S rolled her eyes at Julie J. 'God! You really know 'ow to push the boat out don't ya, Nik?'
'Well what did you expect?'
'When were the last time you 'ad a shag?' Julie J asked. 'I tell you, the first thing I'm gonna do is get me a bloke.'
'Tell me about it,' Julie S nodded in agreement. 'If I 'ave to wait any longer I reckon it might 'eal up!'
'Is that all you two think about?' Barbara asked.
'Well it's alright for them two.' Julie S gestured to Shaz and Nikki. 'They can still get it in 'ere.'
Julie J leaned forward intently. 'Wot we really want to know is wevver or not you and Kerry did the '
'Horizontal tango.' Julie S finished her friend's sentence and joined her in staring at Nikki expectantly. 'Come on, Nik. You can tell us.'
Nikki lit a cigarette, and tried to ignore the warning look Barbara was throwing in her direction.
'Well?' Shaz prompted impatiently.
'No we didn't,' Nikki replied at length, frowning at the look of total disbelief on the Julies' faces. 'We didn't!'
'Shame,' Julie J commented. 'You could've visited her in the 'ospital.'
'Yeah, could've been such a beautiful friendship.' Julie S added.
Nikki drained her bottle of vodka and then threw it in the Julies' direction. 'I tell you two people I'm not gonna miss!'
Karen leaned forward and allowed Helen to refill her glass. 'So how's the investigation going?'
'Ah, so now we get down to the reason behind the friendly bottle of wine,' Helen replied. 'If I was a cynic I'd say you'd done this on purpose.'
'And are you a cynic?'
Helen smiled and took a long swallow of wine. 'I can't really talk about it, Karen.'
'Off the record?'
'Off the record, I think the Home Secretary's going to be very pleased with it. A nice whitewash to get the press off his back.'
'So no-one's at fault?' Karen frowned when Helen shrugged noncommittally. 'Helen, I appreciate the position you're in, but if my career is on the line I'd quite like to have advance warning.'
Helen thought for a moment and then nodded. 'The truth?'
'I've come to the conclusion that although your decision to allow Polly Mitchell back onto the wing didn't directly lead to the incident, it can't be discounted.' Helen sighed and looked directly at Karen. 'You made a serious error in judgement in not transferring her out of here after you discovered her smuggling drugs into the prison.'
'And your recommendation is what?' Karen asked bluntly.
'All I've done is present the facts. It's up to Area and the Home Office to decide what happens next. It's nothing personal, I assure you.'
'I know, you're right. Believe me. If I could turn the clock back '
'We all get like that sooner or later,' Helen said, relieved that Karen hadn't reacted angrily. 'Only in my case it was always sooner rather than later. At least you've got the support of the Number One.'
'And what's that supposed to mean?' Karen leaned forward, eyes narrowed. 'I got this job on merit, Helen. Not to mention seven years of walking the landings.'
'As opposed to someone like me who strolled straight into the job from University you mean? Christ, Karen! I thought you were different, but then I find that out deep down, you've got the same prejudices as Jim Fenner!' Helen knew she should've stopped there but anger was starting to boil up inside her. 'What do you do? Lie there afterwards and compare notes?'
'Are you inferring something, Helen?'
'Are you having a relationship with Jim Fenner?'
'Not that it's any of your business, but no I'm not!'
'Strange isn't it? It's okay for you to speculate on my personal life but as soon as I make reference to yours '
'There's no comparison, Helen! I had suspicions that you were involved in a relationship with a prisoner in my care, that's quite different from whatever Jim and I ' Karen paused and exhaled heavily. 'Okay, if you must know, Jim and I were involved for a while but it didn't work out. I just couldn't get around the allegations Shell made about her assault.' She looked up at Helen and smiled slightly. 'I know you warned me, but after the Tessa Spall thing '
The contrite look on Karen's face took the edge off Helen's anger. 'We all make mistakes, Karen.'
Karen laughed around the cigarette she was lighting. 'Helen, you really have got a gift for understatement.'
Nikki sat back in her bunk and listened to the conversation that flowed around her. The Julies were now reminiscing about their attempt at amateur winemaking, their explanation growing wilder the drunker they became.
'I can't believe you actually got away with it!' Barbara exclaimed.
'Well we 'ad a couple of close calls d'int we, Jue?'
Julie S nodded at her friend. 'Bodybag copped we were up to somefing in the potting shed. Course, it d'int 'elp that Magnus bleedin' Magnusson 'ere decides to start sweepin' the grass while she was keeping watch.'
'You were takin' ages!' Julie J protested. 'What the bleedin' 'ell was I supposed to do?'
Julie S rolled her eyes and continued. 'So anyway, there's me and Nik fillin' the watering can with fruit and whatever when Jue knocks on the door. Turns out that Bodybag's sussed us.'
'So what did you do?' Shaz asked.
Julie S favoured Nikki with a significant glance. 'Well, I'm standin' there panicking and Nikki whips her top off. All of a sudden I'm standing there looking at 'er Bristols!'
'I had my bra on!' Nikki said in response to Shaz's complete hysterics. 'Anyway, it was the only thing I could think of at short notice.'
'You can imagine what it was like for me,' Julie J added. 'Bodybag opens the door to the potting-shed and there's them two standing there topless!'
'I bet Bodybag's face was a picture!' Shaz laughed.
'She looked like she'd just swallowed a canary,' Nikki said, smiling at the memory. 'Especially when I told her we were only having a quick feel.'
'She 'ad a good look at your whatsits though,' Julie J commented. 'You know, I always thought Bodybag might be a bit the other way.'
'Well how come she's always giving me and Denny hassle then?' Shaz interjected. 'One time she found us in the cleaning cupboard. We were just mucking around but from the way she went on about it, anyone would think she caught us shagging like rabbits!'
'Maybe she fancies you, Shaz.' Nikki leaned forward, regarding the teenager seriously. 'She was most probably jealous.'
'Bollocks!' Shaz howled.
'Now you mention it, I have noticed the way her eyes linger over you,' Barbara said, sharing a covert smile with Nikki. 'She always seems to be hanging around the showers whenever you're in there too.'
'Yeah, we've noticed it too,' Julie S said, nudging Julie J. 'Ain't we, Jue?'
''Ave we?' Julie J looked at her friend completely nonplussed until she received a kick in the shin. 'Oh yeah, we 'ave.'
Shaz considered the four women with mounting horror until she saw that the Julies were frantically trying to contain a fit of the giggles. 'Oh fuck off the lot of you!' she snapped when they all collapsed in hysterical laughter. 'I knew you were 'aving me on.'
'Yeah right!' Nikki scoffed. 'You should've seen your face!'
After a while, the laughter subsided and the five women were silent for a moment.
'So what d'ya reckon Yvonne's up to now?' Julie S asked eventually.
'Knowing Yvonne, she's probably flat out on a beach somewhere,' Nikki replied. 'Sipping cocktails and eyeing up the local talent.'
'Lucky cow,' Julie J said with a wistful sigh.
'I knew she'd escape sooner or later,' Julie S commented as she lit a cigarette. 'Bet she's been plannin' it since the first day she got 'ere.'
'Things just ain't gonna be the same without 'er, are they, Jue?'
'No they ain't,' Julie S agreed, looking up at Nikki. 'And it's gonna be a hell of a lot quieter without you around n'all.'
'What you actually mean is that you're going to have to find some other poor mug to go along with your crackpot schemes.'
'Ahhh, you know what your problem is, don't you, Nik?' Julie S said.
'You never could say no to us.'
'Yeah.' Julie J nodded. 'You know you love us.'
'Like a hole in the bloody head!' Nikki countered good-humouredly. 'Anyway, I've never been able to turn a woman down when she's begging for it!'
'You bleedin' wish!' The Julies chorused.
'So come on then Nikki, if you could shag one woman in here, who would it be?' Shaz asked, ignoring the disapprovingly look Barbara flashed in her direction. 'There must be someone.'
Nikki felt her chest tighten as she considered the obvious answer. 'I don't know,' she lied. 'I've never really thought about it.'
'Bullshit!' Julie S exclaimed. 'I fort you lot was really into women in uniform.'
'Yeah, I've always had a secret hankering to find out what Bodybag's underwear looks like.'
'Ewwwww!' Shaz grimaced and shuddered. 'Bloody great granny knickers with room enough for two!'
'You know, it's hard to imagine, but if she's got three kids she must've had sex at least three times,' Nikki said, smiling at the look of disgust on Shaz's face.
'Yeah, Constance, Gail and little Bobby Darren!' Julie J laughed. 'Christ, imagine what they look like wiv them pair as parents, eh Jue?'
'Little stunted gnomes wiv massive sideburns,' Julie S deduced.
Just then, the door swung open and Hollamby lumbered into the room. She frowned suspiciously when the five women in the room collapsed in hysterical laughter when they saw her.
'Come on you lot, let's be having you!'
Barbara winked at Nikki before looking up at Hollamby. 'In your dreams!'
Helen watched Karen as she lit a cigarette, debating with herself whether or not to voice her suspicions about Fenner.
'What is it, Helen?' Karen asked, seemingly reading her thoughts.
'Don't take this the wrong way, Karen, but did you tell Jim about Kerry?'
'No,' Karen replied, regarding Helen with suspicion. 'Why?'
'This is difficult, Karen, but ' Helen paused and took a deep breath before continuing. 'Kerry's real identity is still under wraps, so theoretically, the only people in Larkhall who should know about it are you, me and Nikki.'
Karen nodded. 'Where are you heading with this, Helen?'
'I managed to trip Jim up the other day when I interviewed him. I think he somehow managed to find out about Kerry.'
Karen stared at Helen, completely aghast. 'And you think ?'
'We both know what he's capable of, Karen,' Helen said seriously.
'But still ' Karen's voice trailed off and Helen could see that she was coming to the same conclusion. 'Do you have any proof?'
'No, but I do have an idea if you're up for it.'
Karen thought about this for a moment and then nodded. 'If you're right about this, I'll do whatever it takes.'
Nikki lit a cigarette and looked down at the black suit that was lying on her bunk. It was hard to believe that the last time she'd worn it was the day she'd been sentenced to rot away the rest of her life at Her Majesty's Pleasure. She sat down on the edge of the bunk and reached out to feel the expensive material. She'd just calculated that four years of personal spends wouldn't even buy one of the arms.
Nikki looked up and saw Barbara standing in the doorway. She nodded and returned her attention to the suit. 'Just thinking about the person who last wore this suit. She wore clothes like this every day, lived in a Docklands apartment and wouldn't be seen dead associating with people like the Julies. I often wondered how she coped in here.'
'You've changed,' Barbara said as she sat down next to Nikki. 'What's that old saying? Adapt and survive?'
'I don't ' Nikki paused to wipe away the tears that suddenly appeared in her eyes. 'I can't believe how scared I am.'
Barbara put her arm around Nikki's shoulder. 'It's bound to be strange at first,' she said reassuringly. 'But you will be okay.'
'I wish I had your confidence.' Nikki stood up and walked over to the window. 'It's hard to believe that in a few hours this place is going to be nothing but a bad dream.' She smiled humourlessly. 'But then again, knowing my luck, everything will go arse upwards and I'll end up back in here for dinner.'
'I can't work out whether you're being pessimistic, or indulging in a bit of wishful thinking,' Barbara commented.
'You want to know something really strange? Neither can I.' Nikki turned around and smiled. 'Call the men in white coats. I've officially flipped my lid!'
'So what are your plans after the hearing?'
'Trish has organised something at the club, so I'll probably get pissed and pass out. Oh, and if it isn't bad enough, Anna's housemates are going to be there to assess my suitability as a prospective candidate for communal living.'
'You're thinking of moving into shared accommodation?'
'I can't face living on my own. I think I'd go round the twist,' Nikki replied. 'I'm too used to performing my normal daily routine in the company of fifty women. Blimey! Sounds like a dyke's wet-dream doesn't it?'
Barbara chose to ignore this. 'What if they decide they don't like you?'
'I'll look for something else,' Nikki shrugged. 'I'm booked in a hotel for tonight anyway.' Turning, she threw her cigarette out of the window, grimacing slightly at the pain this movement caused. 'I always thought I'd be spending my first night on the outside with Helen.'
'Maybe you will.'
'Watch it Barbara, you nearly got hit by a low flying pig then!'
'Don't give up on her, Nikki.'
'I've put her through enough shit for one lifetime,' Nikki said sadly. 'Why would she want to get involved with a miserable fuck-up like me when she can find a nice, uncomplicated bloke down the nearest garden centre?'
'A defeatist attitude like that won't get you anywhere,' Barbara observed, shaking her head. 'Why not live dangerously for once and think positively?'
'What? And change the habit of a lifetime?'
With a wry smile, Barbara reached for Nikki's suit. 'Come on,' she said, rising from the bunk. 'I'd better help you get into this. We don't want you walking into that courtroom looking like you've just been dragged through a hedge backwards.'
'Thanks, Mum.' Nikki grinned and then walked over to put her free hand on Barbara's shoulder. 'You know I'm not exactly one for sentiment, but I'll miss you, you insightful old bugger!'
'Less of the old if you don't mind,' Barbara countered. 'And, I suppose I'll miss you too.' She reached up to squeeze Nikki's hand, her face now serious. 'I know we started off on the wrong foot, but I'll never forget everything you've done for me. I never would've survived this place without you.'
'Stop it! I'll start crying in a minute.'
'Sorry to interrupt such a touching moment, but you've got fifteen minutes until the off, Wade.'
Both women turned to scowl at Fenner who was standing in the doorway.
'You know Mr Fenner, I'd like to say that I'll miss you too, but to be completely honest, I think I'd rather chew on a handful of razor blades than see your ugly face again!' Nikki said.
'You're not out of here yet, Wade,' Fenner snapped in reply. 'So don't push it!'
Nikki watched Fenner storm off before turning back to Barbara. 'Now that I've taught you everything I know, I hope you're going to take over as chief Fenner baiter when I'm gone.'
Karen had collected her cigarettes and was just on the verge of leaving her office when Helen walked in.
'Whatever it is, you're going to have to be quick. I'm just on my way out,' Karen said.
'I'm taking Nikki to court, had you forgotten?'
'Oh, is that today?'
Karen raised an eyebrow but decided not to comment. 'What can I do for you?'
'I just wanted to check that you're still on for this afternoon.'
'And you're okay with everything?'
'Oh for God's sake, Helen! You'll have us synchronising our watches next!' Karen quickly checked her reflection in the window before shouldering her handbag. 'Are you sure you don't want to come with me to the appeal?'
'I'm really busy this morning,' Helen said defensively. 'Anyway, I think my work is over as far as Nikki's concerned.'
'I'll see you later then.'
Helen watched Karen walk over to the door. 'Wish her luck from me.'
Conscious of the shouts of 'good luck' ringing out from the landings, Nikki, accompanied by Barbara and the Julies, walked towards the wing gate.
'You look like you're about to go see Hughie,' Julie J said, looking up at Nikki's deathly white face.
''Ope you don't get car sick, you don't wanna be puking up over Betts,' Julie S added.
They reached the gate. Nikki stopped and looked around, at a complete loss about what to say.
Luckily, Shaz strolled over to break the silence.
'Whoever she is, give her one from me,' She said, punching Nikki lightly on the arm. 'Oh, and if you're anywhere near the hospital '
'Don't worry, I'm going to pop in and see Denny tomorrow,' Nikki replied. 'I'll give her your love.'
'Tell her not to go eyeing up any fit nurses.'
'I will do. Take care of yourself, Shaz.'
'You too.' Shaz grinned and then set off in the direction of the pool table.
Nikki turned back to the others. 'Well '
'Oh give us an 'ug '
'You soft sod!'
Nikki had to hold back a scream of pain when the Julies enveloped her in a dual bear hug. 'Look after each other,' she said. 'As soon as I'm settled I'll send you my address.'
'Bleedin' well make sure you do!' Julie S said as she pulled away from Nikki. 'We don't ' Her words trailed off when Julie J burst into tears. 'Looks like I'll be spendin' the rest of the day moppin' you up. Come on, let's go and get you some bog roll.' She put her arm around her friend's shoulders and smiled at Nikki. 'You take care of yourself, Nik and remember, we love ya.'
Nikki watched the Julies walk away, surprised by the tears pricking at her eyelids. 'I'm going to miss those two.'
Barbara looked up and spotted Karen waiting on the other side of the gate, tapping her foot impatiently. 'You'd better go.'
'Yeah, I suppose I better had.' Nikki glanced over at Karen who was very pointedly looking at her watch. 'I'll keep in touch.'
'Thanks.' Nikki leaned forward and kissed Barbara on the cheek. 'You know, I don't know what I'll do without you to keep me sane.'
'You'll be fine,' Barbara said firmly. 'Now go on.'
Nikki nodded at Karen who unlocked the gate.
'Okay Nikki?' she asked.
'Not really, but let's go anyway.'
Before leaving the wing, Nikki broke the unwritten rule by turning back for one last look, remembering all of the people who'd never made it out Rachel, Zandra, even Shell. As she caught Barbara's eye, Nikki thanked whoever resided upstairs that she was one of the lucky ones.
Just over two hours later, Nikki emerged from the courtroom and immediately lit a cigarette.
'My God!' Anna exclaimed. 'You look like someone who's just been sentenced to be hanged by the neck until you're dead, not someone who's just had their conviction quashed. Which of course, is all thanks to my superb skills as a barrister. I do hope you'll be recommending me to all of your friends.'
'Yeah,' Nikki replied absent-mindedly.
Anna rolled her eyes at Karen who smiled. 'I think I'll stick to drunk drivers in future. They're always pathetically grateful when you get them off.'
Karen glanced at her watch. 'I'd better go, I've got a meeting back at the prison.' She hesitated for a moment before holding her hand out to Nikki. 'I really hope I won't be seeing you again. Good luck with everything.'
Nikki shook Karen's hand. 'Thanks.'
Karen nodded and then walked down the corridor, passing Trish and Claire who both wore jubilant expressions.
'You wouldn't believe the number of journalists outside,' Trish said after hugging a totally unresponsive Nikki. 'For God's sake. Will you cheer up, Nikki?'
After seeing this, Claire settled for squeezing Nikki's arm. 'I hope you've got a statement prepared for the press.'
'Yeah, two words,' Nikki replied. 'Fuck off!'
'Nikki!' Trish exclaimed disapprovingly.
'Yeah, well the bastards were happy to see me sent down to rot for the rest of my life a few years ago so screw them. I haven't got anything to say.'
Claire raised an eyebrow at Anna. 'Well that's okay, Anna and I can handle them.'
Anna smiled at Nikki. 'All you'll have to do is stand there and dazzle silently.'
'Look, I don't mean to be funny or anything but is there a back way out of here?'
Claire exchanged another meaningful look with Anna. 'There's a fire exit just down those stairs.'
'I'll come with you.' Trish offered.
'No, I'd rather be on my own for a while,' Nikki replied, backing away from the three women. 'I'll see you at the club later.'
Anna put a restraining hand on Trish's arm. 'Let her go and be a miserable bastard. She'll be back once it sinks in.' She smiled and then linked arms with Claire. 'Are you ready for your close-up, Ms Walker?'
Jim Fenner was on his way into Karen's office when he ran into Helen. She had just emerged from the inner office with an armful of files.
'I suppose you're off home to celebrate,' he said. 'No doubt you'll be having a heavy night tonight.'
'Meaning what?' Helen asked.
'Meaning that now the lesbian lifer's on the loose you'll be using muscles you never knew you had. Been working on those tongue exercises I hope.'
Helen astounded Fenner by smiling. 'I'm sure Kerry will be pleased that she's out,' she said. 'I understand the two of them got quite close during the time she was here. Oh, and talking about Kerry, you'll be glad to know that she's out of hospital now.'
'Really? Well, with her being stitched up like a cricket ball and Wade's cracked ribs, their night of passion is going to be more damp squib than fireworks.'
'It's always puzzled me why you're always so interested in Nikki's sex life,' Helen commented. 'The way you carry on, anyone would think you were jealous.'
'Of her?' Fenner let out a snort of laughter. 'I don't think so.'
Helen, still smiling, moved closer to Fenner. 'Or is it that you're just pissed off because you she got to Kerry before you could.'
'Much as I'd love to stand around listening to you talking complete bollocks, I actually have a meeting with Karen,' Fenner said, reaching for the door handle.
Helen quickly stepped into his path. Leaning back against the door, she blocked his access to the handle. 'Did you know that Kerry's put in a formal complaint about you?'
'Do what?' Fenner exclaimed, startled.
'You caught her in a state of undress quite a few times apparently,' Helen explained. 'Made more than a few suggestive remarks. You know, your normal brand of oafish behaviour.'
'Is that supposed to scare me? It's my word against hers.'
'Your word against hers and Nikki's actually.'
'Oh, and they're going to believe a con over me are they? I don't think so.'
'Nikki's conviction was quashed Jim,' Helen said, allowing herself a smile. 'She's now a respectable member of the public with an unblemished record.'
'You're enjoying this, aren't you?'
'In a word, yes.'
Fenner glanced around and then leaned in closer to Helen. 'Listen to me you stupid, tart,' he snapped. 'I got Kerry sorted. I can do the same for you.'
'Are you threatening me?'
'No, just stating a fact.'
'I knew you'd found out about Kerry somehow, but it wasn't until Karen remembered you escorting her up here after she walked in on her and Nikki where by all accounts they exchanged a few audible words that I realised how. You want to know what your biggest mistake was? Gloating to me about Karen's discovery. Both she and Kerry are adamant that they didn't discuss the incident with anyone else.'
'Have you finished, Miss Marple?'
'You know, I feel quite sorry for you,' Fenner sneered. 'All that hard work and yet you can't prove a thing.'
'Seeing as that's the case, Jim, for the benefit of my peace of mind, why don't you just admit it?'
'You know what my only two regrets are about this whole thing? Firstly, that I chose to tip Dockley off. I should've known that stupid bint couldn't do one simple thing without screwing it up. And secondly, that Atkins and the rest of the lesbian avengers interrupted before Mitchell could finish the job!'
Fenner started violently when the door to Karen's office flew open. The Wing Governor raised an eyebrow at Helen who nodded. He felt all of the blood in his body rush to his head when Helen produced a Dictaphone from her pocket with a triumphant smile.
'Hello, Jim,' Karen said, voice trembling with anger. 'Looks like we've got a lot to talk about.'
An hour or so after leaving court, Nikki found herself sitting on a park bench, staring aimlessly at the sky.
She supposed she should be leaping around for joy before returning to the club to sink a skin full of whatever champagne Trish had laid on for the release party. But champagne meant a celebration, and what was the point in celebrating when she had to face the rest of her life without Helen?
She was no longer under any illusions. Helen had made her position quite clear by not being there at the appeal. Nikki sighed hopelessly, wondering if she should just go straight out to the nearest gay bar, pick up the first woman who took her fancy, and then try and shag Helen out of her system. Nikki rejected the idea immediately. It was going to take more than a night of passion with a nameless stranger to get Helen out of her head.
But Helen wasn't her only problem.
The prospect of going back to the club was also causing a great deal of anxiety. The thought of celebrating her release in the same place her world had once crashed down around her ears seemed terrifying. The place would be full of old ghosts, and not only the ones who walked on the other side. How was she going to cope with seeing Trish with someone else? How was she going to cope with a club full of people, loud music, not being ordered to bed at some ridiculously early hour? How was she going to cope full stop?
Pull yourself together, Nikki!
Nikki smiled at the internal voice and immediately thought about Barbara. She could just imagine what she'd have to say about all of this.
After a moment's consideration, Nikki rose from the bench and then set off in search of a taxi.
Back at Larkhall, Helen sat in her office and stared into the depths of her coffee mug.
She'd just participated in a meeting with Simon and Karen, which had resulted in Fenner's suspension pending an investigation. She'd also just taken a phone call from Area, where her report into the deaths of Polly Mitchell and Shell Dockley had been extremely well received. Her career was going in the right direction for once so why did she feel so miserable? She knew the answer of course, but wouldn't allow herself to think about it.
With a sigh, Helen stood and reached for her jacket and briefcase. She jumped slightly when her phone rang again.
'Helen! Get your arse down here right now!' A voice yelled above the sound of loud music and laughter in the background.
'Where are you?'
'At Nikki's party!' Anna shouted in reply. 'Where the woman in question is sitting only a few feet away from me with a face like a wet weekend in Southend. And if that doesn't convince you to stop being so fucking stubborn, there's free champagne!'
'Anna, I've got plans tonight.'
'Bullshit! The only plans you have for tonight are the same as they are for any night straight home to drink a bottle of vodka in front of the television. Christ, Helen! Will you stop dithering like a Liberal Democrat and give the bloody woman a break?'
'I said I had plans.'
'What sort of plans?'
'That doesn't matter.'
'Oh I see, secret plans of the unable to think of a reasonable excuse at such short notice variety?'
'No I look Anna, I just don't want to alright?'
'You mean that?'
'Yes I do.'
Helen put the receiver down and stared at it. She wondered if Anna believed the lie but then realised that she didn't have the energy to care anymore.
Being in the club for the first time since Gossard's murder hadn't been the complete trauma that Nikki thought it would be. There had been a brief moment of hesitation when she'd first walked into the room where it had happened, but Trisha had obviously redecorated and refurbished the place a few times since, and Nikki found that she didn't have to try that hard to convince herself that the whole thing had happened somewhere else.
For the first hour, Nikki had been acutely aware of Trish's new girlfriend, Holly a tall, slender blonde shooting daggers in her direction from her position over near the DJ box. Nikki had responded by breaking the world record for the number of pints of lager sunk in half an hour and after that, found that she wasn't noticing much of anything.
After a while of accepting people's congratulations and holding a false smile so long her face had started to ache, she fell into conversation with a man who, if it was possible, looked even more miserable than she was feeling.
Across the room, Claire noticed that Nikki and her newfound companion were now engaged in a very animated looking conversation. She turned to Anna who was standing beside her.
'That bloke Nikki's talking to, I swear I've seen him somewhere before.'
Anna smiled around the cigarette she was lighting. 'That's Egg, one of my happy band of housemates. He was a year below us at University, remember?'
Claire nodded. 'Well he looks like he's managed to cheer Nikki up.'
'I'm amazed actually, it's the first time I've seen him smile since Milly moved out,' Anna replied. Although that's probably something to do with their topic of conversation.'
'What's that then?'
'Let's just say that I overheard the words sweeper system earlier and didn't stick around.'
'Poor Egg, he's met the woman of his dreams, someone who actually understands the offside rule and she turns out to be gay.'
'I thought my ears were burning,' a Welsh accented voice said.
Anna grinned at the man who'd suddenly appeared at her side. 'Have you spoken to your therapist about this rampant paranoia of yours, Warren?'
'What? You mean the whole world doesn't revolve around me?'
'Not unless you're Miles it doesn't.' Anna gestured towards Nikki with her glass. 'What do you think then?'
Warren looked over at Nikki and nodded. 'I like her, and Egg obviously does.'
'That's a yes then is it?'
'Well, we're going to have to get someone in to help with the rent sooner rather than later,' Warren replied. 'Unless of course you fancy sharing a cardboard box when the landlord evicts us next month.'
'I'll tell her later,' Anna said with a happy nod. 'You have to admit, it's got a nice rounded feeling about it one of each sexual persuasion.'
'Anna, as long as she pays her rent on time I couldn't care less if she shared her bed with a drag queen and an Old English sheepdog, as long as it's house-broken.'
'And there's nothing more annoying than an incontinent transvestite is there?'
The last person Karen expected to see when she opened her front door was Jim Fenner.
'I've got nothing to say to you!' she snapped before she tried to close the door in his face, only to be thwarted when he stuck his foot in the way. 'Jim, take your foot out of the door!'
'Karen, I'm not going anywhere until you speak to me. So unless you want to stand like this all night you'd better let me in.'
Karen relented and opened the door, allowing Fenner to step into the hallway. 'Whatever it is, you've got five minutes.'
'Any chance of a drink?'
'Don't push it, Jim.'
Fenner sighed and leaned back against the door. 'I know how bad this looks, but I can explain.'
'Explain what? That everything everyone ever said about you was right? That you're an evil, manipulative shit with no redeeming qualities whatsoever?'
'You don't believe that, Karen,' Fenner moved forward and tried to take Karen's hands, frowning when she flinched away. 'Stewart framed me! Do you honestly believe that I'd actually tell Dockley about Harrison?'
'You admitted it!'
'I was winding her up!' Fenner snapped, beginning to lose his temper. 'She's so high and fucking mighty! She's had it in for me ever since she came to Larkhall because I don't fit into her caring, sharing, bloody do-gooding view of the Prison Service! In fact, she's so concerned about the inmates she ended up shafting one.'
'Not this again.' Karen rolled her eyes, exasperated. 'I've really had enough of your wild accusations. Just because you took advantage of the women in your care, it doesn't mean everyone's at it.'
'After all this time, you still believe a slapper like Dockley over me.'
'You're right, it comes to a lot when you believe a deranged Barbie doll over the man you used to love.'
'Just get out of here, Jim. It's making me feel sick just looking at you.' Karen reached out to open the door. 'You know what the worst thing is? I believed you, and if there's one thing I can't stand, it's being made to look like a fool.'
'Fine,' Fenner said. 'I'll go then shall I?'
'Well let's put it this way, either you leave under your own steam or I'll call Sun Hill. I'm sure there are a few officers there who would love to make your acquaintance.'
Fenner walked out of the door and then pressed against it before Karen could slam it shut. 'You won't win you know.'
'Face it, Jim, you're finished!'
Karen finally managed to close the door, leaning against it for support as she dissolved into tears.
It wasn't until the early hours of the morning that Nikki finally checked into her hotel room. After an abortive attempt to sleep on a mattress that was too soft, she started to raid the mini-bar, planning on working her way through its contents until she passed out.
An hour later, she was mindlessly watching MTV when the telephone rang.
'Ms Wade, I have a call for you,' the receptionist said. 'I'm afraid they didn't give a name.'
'It's okay, put them through,' Nikki replied, feeling a faint surge of hope as she heard the beep as the call was put through. 'Hello?'
Nikki heard a few seconds of silence before a click as the line went dead.
In another part of London, Helen replaced the receiver on the phone on her bedside table. After a moment's consideration, she took it off the hook and then retreated under the duvet.
Three months later
It was Friday afternoon and Nikki was preparing to leave the club. It was Warren's birthday and a party was planned back at the house that night. Despite Trish's misgivings, she had offered to provide the booze. Three crates of beer, assorted spirits and a gallon of white wine for Anna were now waiting by the back door to be loaded into the boot of her car.
Despite her initial worries about working with Trisha again, she'd been quite surprised by the ease with which she'd settled in at the club. She now spent most of her days immersed in the club's accounts, a job she'd always found strangely soothing in the past, and a job that Trish had been only too happy to hand back to her.
On the other hand, Nikki was finding it extremely hard to get along with Trish's new girlfriend Holly. For the first few weeks after her release, all she'd received was dirty looks and attitude. But as time went on and Holly realised that Nikki wasn't interested in winning Trish back, she eased up slightly. Nikki still found her pretty disagreeable: she was jealous and insecure, cross-examining Trish with the efficiency of an officer of the Gestapo if she was so much as five minutes late back from lunch. She was also exceptionally bad-tempered and was liable to hit the roof if the slightest thing went wrong. Nikki had to admit though, the club was running a hell of a lot more efficiently since Holly had taken over as manager, but that was probably a lot to do with the fact that the staff were too scared of her to show up late for their shifts or give free drinks away to their friends. Trish seemed to be happy with her though, so Nikki was prepared to carry on making allowances.
Despite all this, Nikki and Trisha had become close again. Their friendship seemed to have strengthened now that there was no longer anything physical between them, although Nikki did continually have to discourage her from setting her up on blind dates with eligible women.
Three months on and the only woman she did want to see hadn't contacted her once.
There had been so many times when she'd been on the verge of telephoning Helen, but she always ended up slamming the receiver down before she finished dialling the number. There had even been a few drunken occasions when she'd got as far as hearing Helen's phone ring, but she always cut herself off before it was answered.
Nikki knew that Anna saw Helen quite regularly, but fear of finding out that Helen didn't care, or even worse, had begun seeing someone else, prevented her from asking after her. Not that she saw much of Anna these days anyway. Since her success with Nikki's appeal, the barrister had been swamped with cases and hardly ever made it home from work before ten o'clock.
The ease with which Nikki had gotten used to life on the outside had been a lot to do with her new flatmates. At first, conscious of the age gap between them, she had mostly kept herself to herself, spending most of her time reading in her room. However, it hadn't taken that long before loneliness started to kick in with a vengeance. So she'd taken the plunge and began to mix with the others, finding herself enjoying their company almost immediately.
Egg was friendly and easy-going and she spent hours in front of the TV with him, discussing football and life in general over bottles of beer. Nikki, who'd never really felt the urge to develop a friendship with a man, was surprised by how close they'd become in such a short period of time. A big topic of conversation between them, mostly when drunk, was old relationships, namely, Helen and Egg's ex, Milly. Warren had nicknamed them the 'co-dependant club' for exactly this reason. Nikki also had a lot of time for Warren. He was a lot deeper than Egg, but similarly good company. She just wished he would stop trying to persuade her to talk over her prison experiences in therapy.
There was a knock on the office door. Nikki looked up to see Jackie, one of the bar staff, poke her head around the door.
'The Police are here to see you, Nikki.'
'The Police?' Nikki frowned when Jackie nodded. 'Okay, you'd better let them in then.'
A few seconds later, Kerry walked into the room.
'Bloody hell!' Nikki exclaimed. 'I nearly had a heart attack then!'
'Well that's great, you haven't seen me for two weeks and that's the greeting I get!'
'I'm sorry.' Nikki grinned and walked from behind the desk to hug the detective. 'I didn't think you were coming back until next week.'
'There was no point staying on really,' Kerry replied as she returned the embrace briefly before pulling away. 'If Yvonne is on the Costa del Sol, finding her is going to be like looking for a needle in a hay-stack.'
After months of checking airlines and customs authorities around the world, the Met had finally received a tip-off that Yvonne was living under an assumed name in the South of Spain. Because of her knowledge of the case, Kerry had been seconded to the regional organised crime squad and sent over there as part of the investigating team. Both women knew that there was no way Yvonne would be stupid enough to settle down on the 'Costa del Crime', but the Police were running out of ideas and were jumping on every lead, no matter how tenuous.
'Has there been any word on who leaked the location of the safe-house?' Nikki asked.
'None at all, and I would think it's pretty unlikely we're ever going to find out.'
Nikki caught sight of the clock and groaned. 'Shit, I'm sorry about this but I'm gonna have to go. You free for lunch tomorrow ?' She paused and thought for a minute. 'Actually, it's Warren's birthday today. We're having a party at the house for him tonight. Do you fancy coming?'
'I'd love to,' Kerry replied with a smile.
'You might have to turn a blind eye to a few spliffs though.'
'That's okay, I've been having this really bad temporary blindness problem recently.'
Nikki smiled. 'I'm not sure I'm going to be able to fit all of the booze in the boot of my car. Can I stick the rest in yours? I'll even make you a brew back at the house.'
Kerry rolled her eyes. 'God, you really make it hard for a girl to say no!'
After loading both cars with the boxes, Kerry followed Nikki back to the house.
Originally, Nikki had thought that she had seen the last of Kerry, suspecting that the detective might want to forget everything about her short stint at Larkhall. But a couple of weeks later, Kerry had phoned and they had met for a drink. After that, they got into the habit of seeing each other regularly. Even for dinner back at the house on a couple of occasions, which had obviously led to a lot of ribbing from Anna and Egg.
It left Nikki in something of a dilemma. She really liked Kerry, was hugely attracted to her and moving onto the next stage seemed like the natural thing to do. However, she also respected the woman and realised that entering into a relationship with her while she was still hung up on Helen wouldn't be fair at all. According to Warren, Nikki needed 'closure', and although she hated the term with a passion, she found that she agreed with him.
Back at the house, Nikki was surprised to find Anna in the kitchen and already getting stuck into the white wine.
'Looks like I'll be okay for the next five minutes,' she observed as she watched Nikki and Kerry carry the boxes into the kitchen. 'The only thing is, what are the rest of you going to drink?'
'How come you're home so early?' Nikki asked as she dumped a case of beer on top of the breakfast bar.
'Why?' Anna flashed an amused glance in Kerry's direction. 'Am I cramping your style?'
'No,' Nikki replied defensively.
Anna turned her attention to Kerry, proffering the wine bottle. 'Drink?'
'No thanks.' Kerry shook her head. 'I'm driving.'
Meanwhile, Nikki was in a quandary. She was desperate to go to the toilet, but she didn't want to leave Kerry alone with Anna who was obviously in the sarcastic stage of early drunkenness. In the end, she decided she couldn't wait any longer.
'Anna, can you stick the kettle on?' she asked. 'I'm desperate for the loo,' she added as she ran over to the door.
'Has Nikki invited you to the party tonight?' Anna asked Kerry as she filled the kettle.
'Is that okay with you?'
'No problem at all.' Anna switched the kettle on and turned to smile at Kerry. 'Nikki's missed you while you've been away.'
'Has she?' Kerry frowned and leaned against the breakfast bar. 'I don't mean to be funny or anything, but I get the feeling that you're trying to find out what my intentions are.'
'Do you have any? Intentions I mean?'
'I probably would if Nikki wasn't still in love with Helen,' Kerry replied. 'She never talks about her, but she has this odd way of jumping about six feet in the air whenever her name's mentioned.'
Anna lit a cigarette and regarded Kerry in silence for a moment. 'Can you keep a secret?'
'Depends what sort of secret.'
'Helen's exactly the same, only she does talk about her all the time as a matter of fact.'
'Have you told Nikki that?'
'Helen asked me not to.'
'Bloody hell!' Kerry exclaimed, shaking her head. 'Those two need their heads banging together.'
'Believe me, I'd do it myself if I hadn't promised Helen I wouldn't say anything.'
Kerry smiled, suddenly understanding. 'But there's no reason I can't, is there?' She thought for a moment and then nodded. 'I've had a better idea, have you got Helen's address?'
Nikki returned from the kitchen a few minutes later only to find that Kerry had gone. She looked over at Anna suspiciously.
'Don't look at me.' Anna said as she drained her wine glass. 'She suddenly remembered she had to be somewhere. She said she'd see you later.'
Nikki nodded and then walked over to the sofa, collapsing into it with a martyred sigh. 'You gonna pour me a glass of that wine, or what?'
Stuck in traffic on her way home from Larkhall, Helen leaned forward and rested her head on the steering wheel feeling the beginnings of a stress-induced migraine.
Since the investigation into the deaths of Polly Mitchell and Shell Dockley, a lot of things had changed at Larkhall. Karen Betts had managed to hang onto her job by the skin of her teeth but had received a severe reprimand. She had been incredibly off-hand with Helen ever since.
Just after the investigation, Helen had been offered a policy making position within the Home Office, a significant step up the ladder for someone so young. Instead, she'd made the decision to stay on at Larkhall and had decided to use her sudden influence to push forward her plans to set up a dedicated lifers' unit at the prison. The plans had gone through quickly and G-Wing was allocated for the first phase of the experiment. Unfortunately, this meant that Karen was now answerable to Helen rather than Simon a situation that neither she nor the Number One liked one bit.
The job was challenging though, and while the conversion had taken place, Helen often found herself working fourteen hour days, a situation she was happy with because it kept her mind occupied, and off Nikki. When she did return home, Nikki was always waiting for her just inside the front door. No matter how much work she brought home with her, the memories would always be there hovering in the back of her mind rendering her unable to concentrate and later, unable to sleep.
Anna had told her many times that Nikki was still in love with her, and after these conversations, Helen would always resolve to contact her. But in the end, the old doubts would surface and prevent her from doing so. Not that it mattered now anyway. Helen had also found out through Anna that Nikki was spending a lot of time with Kerry, and although she couldn't blame Nikki for moving on, a large part of her seethed with jealousy and injustice whenever she thought about it.
She had tried to move on herself, but the few dates she'd been on had ended in complete disaster. This didn't of course prevent her friends from trying to set her up with eligible men. Take tonight for instance, she'd been invited to a dinner party at the home of a friend of hers and would probably spend the evening being chatted up or bored to death by the man they'd invited with her in mind.
As she pulled up outside her flat, Helen spotted a blonde-haired woman leaning against her wall. Her headache suddenly grew worse when she recognised the woman as DC Kerry Holmes.
After showering and changing into jeans and a jumper, Nikki arrived downstairs to find Egg and Anna in the middle of a disagreement. The barrister was leaning against the breakfast bar, the obligatory glass of white wine in her hands, and wearing a little black dress that showed off her amazingly long legs to perfection.
'I don't care how orgasmic it tastes, Egg, I'm not trying it,' Anna said firmly as she frowned suspiciously into the bowl Egg was holding out to her. 'It looks like sperm!'
'It does not look like sperm!' Egg protested, also staring down into the bowl. 'I don't know how many weird blokes you've slept with, but sperm doesn't have green bits in it!'
'Egg, I wouldn't care if it had sky-blue fucking pink bits in it! I'm still not trying it!'
'It doesn't look like sperm!' Egg said indignantly, scowling at Anna. 'Nikki, does this look like sperm to you?' he asked, holding the bowl out to her.
'Excuse me, but how the hell should I know what sperm looks like?' Nikki protested as she peered down into the bowl, seeing something that she could only describe as wallpaper paste with some sort of green herb in it. 'What is it anyway?'
'It's that dip I was telling you about ' Egg began.
'Whoa! Back up there!' Anna interrupted Egg, turning a predatory grin in Nikki's direction. 'What do you mean, you don't know what sperm looks like?'
'I mean I don't,' Nikki replied, shrugging her shoulders. 'And if that's what it looks like,' she pointed her finger at the dip, 'then I'm glad I never had the urge to find out!'
'Just taste it,' Egg pleaded as he brandished the bowl in Nikki's face. 'Come on please?'
Nikki looked around at Anna. 'I will if you will.'
'Oh for fuck's sake!' Anna exclaimed, reaching for a nearby plate of tortilla chips. 'If it stops Fanny-fucking-Craddock here from sulking all night.
Nikki reached for a tortilla chip and waited for Anna to take a scoop of the dip before following suit. They looked at each other cagily and then each bit into a tortilla chip at the same time.
Egg watched with mounting horror as Nikki and Anna pulled faces as they chewed. 'Well?' he asked, raising a hand to his forehead. 'What do you think?'
Nikki stopped chewing and reached for a nearby glass of wine, she took a deep swallow and grinned at Egg. 'Actually, it's not that bad.'
'She's right.' Anna agreed, elbowing Nikki in the ribs as she reclaimed her glass of wine. 'It still looks like sperm though!'
'You wait,' Egg said, pointing a spoon at Anna accusingly. 'One day I'll be discovered by the BBC and my sperm will be famous!'
'Egg, the only way you'll achieve fame is if people all over Southwark start dropping dead from E-coli and they trace it back to your restaurant,' Anna said dismissively. Reaching for her cigarettes, she opened the packet and pulled a face when she discovered that it was empty. 'Bugger. Back in a minute.'
Nikki watched Anna leave the room and then turned back to Egg. 'So, who's coming tonight?'
'The usual lot,' Egg replied as he walked over to the fridge and retrieved two bottles of Michelob, one of which he handed to Nikki. 'Oh, and Ferdy said that he and Lenny might come, and Miles is bringing Francesca should be good.'
Miles was quite a frequent visitor to the house whenever Francesca, a buyer for a department store, was away on business trips. He hadn't exactly endeared himself to Nikki on their first meeting when he'd taken one look at her and made the comment, 'this house is getting more like a refuge for screwed-up homosexuals with every passing moment'. As far as Nikki was concerned, Miles was an arrogant, pig-headed bigot with a silver spoon rammed up his arse, but because Egg and Warren liked him, she made an effort to be civilised in his company.
'You're not honestly going to use all of those chillies, are you?' Nikki asked, pointing at the huge pile of chopped red and green chillies on the chopping board.
'Have we got a fire extinguisher?'
'Don't mess with the master,' Egg said, around a swallow of beer. 'How come I always get hassle about my ingredients? Jamie Oliver doesn't.'
'You're not Jamie Oliver.'
'I could be.' Egg smiled at the thought. 'Just picture it Egg Cook, the naked chef.'
'More like the pissed chef.'
Egg laughed and returned his attention to the chopping-board. 'So, is that copper bird coming tonight?'
'You mean Kerry?'
'I wouldn't mind being arrested by her.' Egg looked up, smiling mischievously. 'Bringing her handcuffs is she?'
'I wouldn't know.' Nikki looked up when she heard the sound of a key in the front door. 'That'll be the birthday boy.'
'Bet you he's pissed.' Egg reached into his pocket and drew out some crumpled notes. 'Fiver?'
Nikki handed over a five-pound note when Warren stumbled into the room, a huge drunken grin plastered on his face.
'Where's the party?' he asked, draping his arms around Nikki's neck in an attempt to steady himself. 'Where's all the cock?'
Helen stepped out of her car and nodded guardedly at Kerry. 'Hello,' she said. 'What are you doing here?'
'I came to see you,' Kerry replied.
'Is this something to do with Jim Fenner?'
'No, it's personal. Something you'll probably want to talk about inside.'
Helen experienced a sinking sensation in her stomach as led Kerry up to her flat. Once inside, she dumped her briefcase in the hall and walked through to the kitchen.
'Can I get you a drink of anything?' she asked.
'No thanks,' Kerry replied as she followed Helen into the kitchen. 'I haven't got long.'
Helen decided against the vodka and tonic she desperately needed and instead, switched the kettle on. When she turned around, Kerry was studying her intently.
'Do you love Nikki?' she asked bluntly.
The question hit Helen completely out of the blue, and for a few moments, all she could do was stand there and stare at the detective in silence. 'Pardon me?' she managed to say eventually.
'I said, do you love Nikki? Simple enough question isn't it?'
Helen took a deep breath, forcing herself to remain calm. 'I heard the question, I'm just not sure what business it is of yours.'
'Actually, it is my business,' Kerry said as she leaned against the fridge and folded her arms. 'You see, I really like Nikki, and I know she likes me. The only thing stopping us getting together is you.'
Helen tried to fight the rising hope she felt. 'You mean you two aren't ?'
Kerry shook her head. 'She never says anything, but it's obvious that she's still in love with you,' she replied. 'I'm quite prepared to do everything I can to help her get over you, but ' Kerry shrugged. 'I suppose this is me trying to do the decent thing offering you the chance to stop being so pig-headed, and go and sort things out with her.'
The kettle had boiled but Helen made no acknowledgement of it. Finding that her legs were trembling, she sat down at the kitchen table. She glared over at Kerry and suddenly felt like slapping her. 'If she loves me, why did she have an affair with you back at Larkhall?'
'We didn't have an affair,' Kerry answered in a calm voice. 'She was upset after you told her that you were going to drop her from the Lifers' programme. We had a bit of an argument about you, and somehow, I ended up admitting how I really felt about her. One thing led to another and well ' Kerry looked down at the floor and sighed heavily. 'What happened between us,' she continued. 'It meant a lot more to me than it did to Nikki. She was angry and upset. She needed reassurance. I just happened to be there.'
'So why come here now and tell me all this?'
'Because no matter how deeply I care for her, I know that Nikki can't be truly happy while she's still so hung-up on you.' Kerry looked up, her eyes narrowing as they stared directly into Helen's. 'So, like I said, get your bloody act together and go and see her.'
'Look, whatever's happened, it's between Nikki and me,' Helen snapped. Rising from her chair, she turned to confront Kerry. 'I don't appreciate '
'This isn't getting through to you, is it?' Kerry said sharply, beginning to lose her own temper. 'So you're pissed off because Nikki didn't tell you the truth about what really happened at the club that night. What the bloody hell does it matter?'
'It matters because she obviously didn't trust me enough to tell me the truth!'
'Did you know that Nikki had convinced herself that if Charlie Atkins' heavies hadn't killed Gossard, then she probably would have? As far as she was concerned, she was just as guilty as the guy who stuck the bottle into his neck.' Kerry paused to allow the force of her words to take effect. 'But of course, you didn't give her chance to explain did you? You didn't know that talking to you finally made her realise that she had nothing to feel guilty about, that she wasn't a murderer.'
'I didn't realise,' Helen murmured, completely deflated.
'That's because you just thought about yourself it was all about you, how betrayed you felt. You don't know what it was like for her having to live through it all again, how she used to wake up terrified in the middle of the night.'
Kerry's contemptuous tone re-ignited Helen's anger. 'Why am I the one in the wrong here? Nikki's the one who was lying,' she countered.
'And of course, that's all that matters.' Kerry turned to walk towards the door, pausing just before she reached the hallway. 'Let's hope it makes you feel a bit better when you're lying on your own at night, because Nikki will be sleeping in my bed not yours.'
Rendered completely speechless by Kerry's parting words, Helen flinched when the detective slammed the front door behind her.
Predictably, as soon as Miles arrived at the party he began protesting loudly about the music being played by Paul, Warren's friend, who was the DJ for the night.
'For fuck's sake!' he snapped at Anna a few minutes after arriving. 'Talk about Night of the Living Disco!'
'Nice to see you too, Miles,' Anna replied, leaning over to kiss his wife, Francesca on both cheeks. 'I see you haven't managed to drag him up to adolescent level yet.'
'We're working on it.' Francesca winked at Anna when she saw the look of irritation on Miles' face. 'Although I do still find myself having to check his briefcase for conkers and sling-shots in the morning!'
'I'll leave you two comedians to it then shall I?' Miles grumbled before heading off to the kitchen.
'Where's your new housemate then?' Francesca asked once Miles had gone. 'Miles has described someone who's a cross between Jack the Ripper and Martina Navratilova and I must admit to being more than a little intrigued.'
'Well you know Miles, I think the trauma of meeting a real-life lesbian overloaded his brain-cell.' Anna looked around until she spotted Nikki. 'There she is, standing with Warren and Kira.'
'She looks very normal,' Francesca said eventually. 'How are you all getting along with her?'
'Great, which makes me think that Miles' problem stems from jealousy. He hates the idea of being instantly replaceable!'
Nikki looked up and realised that she was being discussed, after a moment's hesitation she wandered over to where Anna and Francesca were standing.
'Nikki, this is Francesca, Miles' better half,' Anna announced. 'Francesca, meet Nikki, our new found housemate and companion.'
'And saviour of your career, so Miles says,' Francesca said to Anna, before turning to smile warmly at Nikki. 'Nice to meet you at last.'
'Likewise.' Nikki shook Francesca's hand feeling slightly bowled over. Egg was right, she was gorgeous. 'I understand that you're a demon at Subbuteo.'
'One of my many talents.'
'I can quite believe it.'
A few minutes later, Anna excused herself from the conversation with a smile and wandered over to where Egg and Miles were standing in the kitchen.
'Looks like Nikki's a big hit with Francesca,' she said idly while topping up her wineglass.
Miles looked over, the look on his face one of outrage as he saw that the two women were now involved in what looked like a serious conversation.
'Bloody lesbians!' He howled in outrage. He prepared to storm over to intervene before he realised that Anna was laughing. 'What?'
'Christ, Miles! You're proof that modern man never evolved from the bash your woman over the head and drag her into the cave kicking and screaming stage!'
'Well what the bloody hell am I supposed to do when some rug-muncher's chatting my wife up?'
'As opposed to erupting like Mount Vesuvius you mean? Relax, Miles, they've just discovered they have mutual friends.'
'Well that's even more bizarre,' Miles protested. 'I know most of Francesca's friends. I also know for a fact that they wouldn't set foot in the type of dive her sort frequent.'
'Miles, you're such a wanker!' Anna snapped as she drained her wine glass. 'Sometimes I wonder what the hell it was I ever saw in you.' Slamming the glass down on the breakfast bar, she snatched the bottle of beer from Miles' hand and then stalked away.
'Well most of the time I wonder the same thing!' Miles shouted after her.
A couple of hours later, the initial buzz of the alcohol had turned into melancholy. Leaving the others to it, Nikki and Egg found refuge at the foot of the stairs.
'When I found out Milly was sleeping with O'Donnell, it was like when United sold Schmeichel,' Egg said sadly.
Nikki nodded, she'd heard this particular metaphor hundreds of times but she was yet to be bored with it. Sometimes, she thought that Egg was the only one who truly understood what it was like for her to be without Helen. He also understood what it was like to want someone constantly but to be too stubborn and fearful of rejection to do anything about it.
'They could attack as much as they wanted at the front,' Egg continued. 'The midfield could make mistakes, safe in the knowledge that the big guy was at the back to soak up the pressure, and give them a bollocking when he thought things had gone too far.' He sighed and took a long swallow of beer. 'Now I'm like Newcastle under Keegan. I move forward I attack but I'm wide open at the back.'
Nikki and Egg looked up when Warren's cousin, Kira, and her boyfriend, Jo, rushed out of the living room. Between them, they were holding up a green-looking Warren.
'Watch out!' Kira yelled. 'Chunder boy's back in business!'
Nikki and Egg jumped away from the stairs to allow the trio free passage.
'Oh shit!' Egg exclaimed. 'He's not puked in the living room, has he?'
'Nah,' Jo called back. 'He did puke all down Miles' new shirt though!'
As if on cue, Miles erupted into the hall. 'Have you any idea how fucking expensive this shirt was Warren?' He turned to Egg and Nikki, both of whom were giggling. 'And I don't know what you two are fucking laughing at!' he added before running up the stairs after the others.
A few seconds later, the telephone rang and Nikki ran over to answer it, still laughing.
'Nikki, it's Kerry.'
'Bloody hell!' Nikki exclaimed. 'I'd given you up as a bad job.'
'Sorry I couldn't make it. I got called into work.'
Nikki strained to hear over the music playing, waving furiously at Egg who was making obscene gestures in the background. 'What's happened?'
'Another sighting of Yvonne,' Kerry explained. 'Morocco this time.'
'Morocco? Bloody hell! I suppose you'll be heading over there.'
'First thing tomorrow morning in fact,' Kerry replied. 'Which is why I'm phoning now.'
'Well, I'll see you when you get back won't I?'
Kerry paused briefly. 'Of course you will. Listen, I'm going to have to go. I'll give you a call in a couple of weeks, okay?'
'Take care. Have a safe trip.'
'Will do. See you, Nikki.'
Nikki frowned as she put the phone down. Although she couldn't put her finger on exactly what it was, there had been something very strange in Kerry's voice. Then the doorbell rang and as more guests arrived, Nikki put it to the back of her mind.
Nikki woke up at about eleven o'clock the following morning with cramp in most parts of her body and a head that felt like somebody had pulled her brains out through her ears. When she opened her eyes it became obvious that the source of the cramp had a lot to do with the fact that she had been sleeping on the floor of her bedroom. Further inspection revealed that she was wearing her pyjamas. So, she had obviously managed to change into them the night before only to pass out before she reached the bed.
For a few minutes, she lay there, not wanting to raise her head, knowing that when she did, the full force of her hangover would descend like a thunderbolt. The forces of nature couldn't be denied though, she needed the toilet, and badly.
Eventually, she pulled herself to her feet, grabbing onto the bedstead for support when a sudden wave of dizziness threatened to return her to the floor.
She found Warren asleep in the bathtub and after a moment's consideration threw a towel over his face before relieving herself. Then, she immersed her face in a sink full of cold water before braving a trip downstairs for coffee.
The living room and kitchen were like a bomb-site empty cans, glasses, bottles and overflowing ashtrays lying everywhere. Anna was sitting at the breakfast bar, moaning and clutching her head as she waited for a soluble painkiller to dissolve in a glass of water.
'Morning,' Nikki said, reaching over to switch the kettle on.
'That's a matter of opinion,' Anna mumbled in reply.
'What time did you get to bed last night?'
'God knows,' Anna replied, clutching her head. 'The last thing I remember was Warren's Shirley Bassey impression.' She picked up her glass and frowned at the contents before knocking it back in one. 'Christ! That stuff should carry a health warning!'
Nikki smiled and began to make a pot of coffee, looking up when the doorbell rang. 'Who on earth is that?'
'If its Jehovah's Witnesses, tell them to come back later, I'm not in the mood for a theological argument right now.'
'I'll get it then shall I?'
'You can do what you like,' Anna replied, sliding off the stool she was sitting on. 'I'm going back to bed.'
The doorbell rang again and Nikki clutched her head as she felt the chime echo painfully between her ears. Grumbling to herself, she went to answer it, preparing to rip the head off whoever it was for being inconsiderate enough to make a noise like that when she had a hangover. She opened the door. However, whatever angry comment she had prepared disappeared from her mind when she saw Helen standing on the doorstep.
'Somebody looks like they had a good night last night,' Helen said, amused the look of shock on Nikki's face. 'Well? Are you going to invite me in or what?'
Nikki stood back and allowed Helen into the hall. Now that the mind-numbing shock was wearing off, she became aware of the fact that she probably looked like shit. Helen however looked amazing: clad in jeans and a tight, dark-red T-shirt.
For a moment, they stared at each other. For the first time, separated only by a few feet of air rather than prison walls and bars. Nikki broke eye contact first and looked down at the ground, fighting the desperate hope that was rising within her.
'Do you er I'm just making some coffee. Do you want some?'
Helen smiled and nodded. 'You look like you need it.'
'Yeah, sorry, it was Warren's birthday party last night and I'm still a bit out of it.' Nikki crossed the hall, pausing just before she reached the living room door. 'Brace yourself. It's not a pretty sight.'
'You're telling me,' Helen said dryly as she observed all the signs of what must have been a raucous party the night before. 'The house I used to live in when I was a student looked a lot like this.'
'I like it.'
'Yes, Anna said you were fitting in really well.'
Nikki poured coffee into two mugs and handed one to Helen. She flinched as their fingertips touched. The brief contact sending a tremor through her that measured about eight on the Richter scale.
'Helen, what are you doing here?'
'I wanted to talk to you.'
'I was under the impression that there wasn't an us.' Nikki set her coffee down on the worktop and reached for the packet of cigarettes that Anna had left behind. 'Three months, Helen. You didn't even turn up at my appeal. Why have you suddenly decided that we've still got stuff to talk about?'
'Kerry came to see me last night.' Helen nodded when Nikki looked up suddenly. 'She basically told me to get my act together, or she'd help you to get over me.'
'Bloody hell! I can't believe ' Nikki's words trailed off as she realised just how difficult it must've been for Kerry to disregard her own emotions in order to force Helen to act. 'That must've been so hard for her.'
Helen nodded, resigned to the feelings the two women had for one another. 'She also told me that the only thing holding you back from her is the fact that you're still in love with me.'
Nikki was still shaken by Helen's revelation about Kerry. The initial warm wave of affection she felt towards her friend for being so unselfish began to dissipate as remembered back to their phone conversation the night before and how distant and final it had seemed. She understood now that it had been an attempt on Kerry's behalf to avoid any additional pain by bowing out of her life.
'And what makes you think I'm not over you?' Nikki snapped. 'A lot of water has passed under the bridge since the last time we talked. No sorry since you walked out on me!'
'Please don't,' Helen said softly. 'I came here to find out if there's still a chance that we can have some sort of future together. I don't want us to end up doing what we always do dredging up all the old arguments and disagreements until we both go round in circles and end up exactly where we started.'
'Do you think we can forget everything that happened and just move on?'
'I don't know,' Helen replied. 'But if there's a chance, no matter how slim, I want to take it.'
Nikki's heart was leaping after hearing Helen's words, but still, there was still a part of her that couldn't forget the hurt and frustration of the past few months. 'Helen, can we do this?' she said. 'Because I don't think I could stand it if we just ended up screwing each other up again.'
Helen responded by closing the distance between them. Nikki moaned softly when she felt a warm hand against her cheek.
'Nikki, look at me.'
Nikki obeyed, her heart thundering in her chest as she stared into a pair of hazel eyes that blazed with the intensity lost so many months ago. All of the uncertainty, hurt and frustration instantly disappeared, and the most incredible feelings of warmth and relief flooded through every part of her body. And in that moment, as Helen's lips touched hers, she finally believed that anything was possible.
After a few blissful moments, they parted.
'Do you think we can make this work?' Helen asked, reaching up to trace her fingers along the line of Nikki's cheekbone.
'I think we've answered that question, don't you?' Nikki replied, allowing her hands to creep around Helen's waist. 'But I'd rather we learnt to walk before trying to run.'
Helen smiled and leaned into Nikki's body, revelling in the warmth emanating from it. 'Well, it's not like we have to worry about time anymore is it?'
'That's a pity, I used to love those quickies in the art-room.'
'Don't push it, Nikki!'
'Don't worry, that's the last thing I want to do.'
'Well, seeing as you're in a good mood now, you can make me another cup of coffee,' Helen said, reaching for the mug she'd set down on the worktop a few minutes previously. 'This stuff tastes like swamp-mud!'
As Nikki turned around to obey, a postcard pinned to the fridge caught Helen's eye. She picked it up, frowning when she noticed its origin. 'Nikki? Who do you know in the Cayman Islands?'
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