DISCLAIMER: Bad Girls and all its characters are property of Shed Productions. I am using them for fun, not for profit.You may also notice a couple nods to BTVS; for those I offer props to Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy. This story depicts a loving/sexual relationship between women. It is not suitable for anyone under age 18.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: I have also taken great liberties with the British Justice System.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
FEEDBACK: To lumar12[at]telus.net

The Potting Shed
By Christie


Part Fifty-One

As Helen continued to watch, Nikki opened the passenger door of her Shogun to allow the PO entry before climbing behind the wheel and driving off. Nikki explained her idea to Teatra as she drove them towards Kilburn. She had reserved them a table at Little Bay restaurant for half past five but, traffic being unusually light for a Friday afternoon, they arrived a few minutes early. Both women seemed a little nervous as they dined on a beautifully prepared meal. Nikki had chosen the duck with leek, honey and ginger and Teatra the breast of chicken in mushroom sauce with a tarragon mash. Nikki noticed that T had had more than her share of the Sancerre they had ordered and took that as a sign that she had no designs on driving.

It was only a quarter to seven when they arrived at Teatra's flat. "So, wha've you decided?" Nikki asked tentatively. "D'you want to drive yourself to mine or...?" she deliberately left the question open-ended.

Looking at the other woman squarely Teatra answered definitively, "No, Nik. I'm just going inside to pack my overnight case. I'll only be a tick." Teatra did not want to invite Nikki into the flat knowing the disgusting condition in which her flatmates usually left it. "And I like my eggs basted," she added.

The rains of the week before had abated and Nikki opted to stand outside her car to enjoy some of what would likely be one of the last nice evenings of the year while having her cigarette and awaiting Teatra's return. Though brutally aware of the implications, she found herself eagerly anticipating the evening ahead. If she had to move on, she could think of no one more enticing with whom to do just that than T. Barely ten minutes later Nikki opened her passenger door to admit an almost timid Teatra. They made the drive to Crouch End listening to Jazz FM and speaking little, each lost in her own thoughts. By a quarter after seven they had arrived at the terraced house. Nikki reached into the back of her four-by-four to retrieve Teatra's hold-all and the two women climbed the stairs towards Nikki's front door both anticipating the deepening level of intimacy which they knew lay behind it.

Not wanting to frighten Teatra off by advancing too quickly, Nikki offered, "Would you like a glass of wine?"

An equally perceptive Teatra nonetheless decided that a kiss would set the correct tone for the evening. She leant into Nikki tilting her mouth up to make contact with the tall brunette's. As Nikki closed her eyes, she virtually melted into the slightly shorter woman, giving Teatra's tongue licence to explore at will. Knowing that they had a whole night in front of them, T pulled away, keeping her arms wrapped around Nikki's neck. "I would love a glass of wine, but maybe while you open it I could have a quick shower. I've the stench of Larkhall all over me."

Nikki hoped that a shared shower might be in the cards for morning, but for the time being she was amenable to allowing Teatra to go it alone. She led the blonde upstairs and got her a fresh towel asking if she needed anything else. "Not right at the minute, but I'll be sure to let you know when I do," she flirted easily.

The sun had just set over the city and a dull grey lit the house. Nikki made her way downstairs to turn on some lights in the sitting room and draw the curtains. In a rebellion of sorts against what her life might have been had she been sentenced to a prison term, Nikki would always leave her windows uncovered through the day to encourage as much natural light as possible into the house. She decided to open a bottle of her favourite Spanish cava, immersing the bottle into an ice bucket, all the while hoping that a sparkling wine was not over the top. It was a celebration, of sorts, she thought. "Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end," she resignedly sang the Semisonic Closing Time lyric out loud. She sat patiently and waited for Teatra to descend the stairs.

Up in the bathroom a very nervous Teatra was dressing for the unknown. While she had indicated to Nikki that she was inexperienced at being with a woman, even that was misleading. Non-experienced was a more accurate descriptor. That being the case, however, there was nothing in this world with which she was more eager to acquaint herself. Especially at the hands of the exquisite Nikki Wade. "No pun intended," she laughed to herself. All cleaned up and freshly shaved Teatra made her way downstairs casually dressed in dark jeans and a fitted, fuchsia button-front shirt. She had left an extra button undone to draw attention to her not insignificant cleavage. Nikki stood when she arrived in the sitting room, approaching her and leaning in for a brief, if emotion-laden kiss. Making their way to the couch, it was evident that both women were inclined to take things slowly.

Nikki poured them each a flute of sparkling wine. They touched their glasses together and drank, Teatra revealing that she was well pleased with the choice.

"Dunno why I'm so nervous," Nikki admitted.

Having thought about little but this upcoming moment for the previous couple of hours, Teatra corrected, "Sure you do; you and Sort Of have only just split up yet here you are already planning on seducing me." She smiled, having decided that forthright was the way to play this scene. "And that's all right, more than all right, but you're feeling guilty. Twice. On the one hand you still feel like you'll be cheating on her and on the other you're worried about me, thinking that perhaps you're using me because you're on the rebound."

Recognising the wisdom of Teatra's words Nikki asked, "How'd you figure all that out?"

"I read a lot of agony aunt columns." Teatra worked at keeping things light.

"Look, T, I want you to know that I'm not using you. You're not Sort Of," Nikki was amused by the name they had adopted for Helen, "and I don't want you to be. I'll readily admit I've wanted you since the day I met you. I hope you know that. But if you want to wait, that's fine."

Their notion to take things slowly abandoned, Teatra stopped Nikki's noble efforts with an ardent kiss. Drawing the taller woman closer, she wove her hand through the back of her short, dark hair pulling her desperately into the kiss. Not needing any incitement Nikki's lips parted to receive T's enthusiastic tongue. While highly aroused by the blonde's aggressive advances, Nikki turned the tables and effectively used her greater height to flip them both into a lying position, Teatra loosely pinned under her. Breaking contact, confirming there were no objections, Nikki looked deeply into Teatra's eyes which were hooded with her own desire. They came together in another wanton kiss, hands roaming, seeking out new territory. Nikki began undoing the buttons of Teatra's shirt, looking for approval from the beautiful blonde who undid the next one herself in encouragement. Nikki let out a low moan upon seeing T's black lace enshrouded breasts before reaching out to run her thumb across the left, causing the nipple to pucker almost painfully. Not wanting the right breast to feel neglected, she leant forward and, using a thumb to liberate it from its lace constraints, ran a knowing tongue across the nipple, eliciting a moan of approval from Teatra. Not content with the access it was offering her, Teatra worked Nikki's black tee shirt upwards, demanding the prisoner lift her arms to facilitate its removal. Taking in what were arguably Nikki's finest assets – though her soulful eyes and sharp mind made it a tight race – T was overcome. A small gasp of pleasure escaped her as she moved forward to take in the full breadth of them. At the same time Teatra could not have been unaware of Nikki's right leg which had insinuated itself between her legs, pressing persistently into her hot centre. Undoing the button and zip of Teatra's jeans Nikki's fingers found their way inside the lace of T's knickers, exploring her innermost folds. "Oh, God," Nikki moaned when she discovered how aroused Teatra was. Sliding her fingers deftly over the other woman's clit, Nikki knew she needed to be inside her. Pushing down Teatra's jeans further gave her that extra bit of room she needed and she easily slid two fingers in. Teatra's sharp intake of breath let Nikki know when she had hit her G spot. As Nikki increased the speed of her thrusting hand she simultaneously used her thumb to stimulate T's clit. Not content with the attentions she was offering, Nikki leant forward and again took possession of Teatra's right nipple with her mouth. This additional bit of stimulation was all that was needed to push Teatra over the edge. Her insides clamped down on Nikki's fingers with an almost crushing force as she quietly rode the wave of the strongest orgasm she had ever experienced. She drew Nikki's face towards her again, bringing her in for a deep kiss in part to say thank you but also so as to not let the dark woman see the tears pricking her eyes.

When her breathing had returned to normal, Teatra could only mutter, "God, that was intense!"

In full agreement, Nikki said, "Yeah, it was but, I'm sorry; a quick shag on the couch was not exactly what I'd had in mind." She elaborated, "But you're so bloody gorgeous, I couldn't help myself. Let's take this upstairs." Grabbing the wine bucket, Nikki led an already very satisfied Teatra upstairs and introduced her to yet more of the finer points of, as Teatra called it, Sapphic love.


Part Fifty-Two

For the first time since beginning her executive MBA, Nikki bunked off school on the Saturday. Teatra did not have to go in to Larkhall and the forecast was calling for clear skies – the first in almost a fortnight – and temperatures that were supposed to reach an unseasonable twenty-five degrees Celsius. After a leisurely breakfast in bed – and a long shower together - they decided to play tourist and visit the newly opened London Wetland Centre in Barnes. Opening the Shogun's sunroof fully the two new lovers spent an enjoyable forty minutes driving to the centre arriving shortly after noon. They were too late to take advantage of the free eleven o'clock guided tour, deciding instead to wander slowly through many of the habitats of the forty-two hectare facility. By twenty after one they had made their way back to the cafe where they had a tea and found themselves unable to resist a swan-shaped puff pastry. They joined up with the two o'clock guided tour as it was leaving the courtyard and spent forty-five minutes sighting dozens of different varieties of birds, especially ducks which had begun their migration from Scandinavia and Eastern Europe. The number of reptile and amphibian species was equally impressive.

It was going on four o'clock when they contentedly made their way back to Nikki's four-by-four. They decided to stop by Kilburn to collect Teatra's car before continuing on to Crouch End. Both women had to work in the morning and T had vehemently refused Nikki's offer of a drive to Larkhall. Besides, she was going to need a change of clothes for morning. After stopping at Teatra's they continued on to Tesco's to pick up a few groceries for dinner before making their way to Nikki's. The prisoner could not remember having such a normal day in a very long time. It felt wonderful.

A corner was rounded in Helen's relationship with Thomas that same weekend as they went to the conference together. They drove up in Thomas's BMW, he having discovered a quaint pub along the route where they chose to stop for lunch. As they settled in with their pints, she admitted she was actually looking forward to the conference. He commented, "Then it'll be my turn to be bricking it."

Unable to believe Thomas could equate speaking at the conference with thwarting an uprising of convicted criminals, Helen was compelled to call him out. "Not quite the same scale," she pointed out somewhat caustically.

Feeling chided, he nonetheless countered, "No, but, well, standing up in front of some of the leading people in the field..." Glossophobia, or the fear of public speaking, is a real condition, after all. There does not even exist a term for fear of prison riots, he thought childishly, though some might call it common sense.

"He still doesn't get it," she thought. Aloud she strove to force him to see the absurdity in his comparison. "What? People who've actually come to hear you talk as opposed to a group of rioting prisoners?" she scoffed derisively. Deciding to go a smidge easier on him – he was trying so hard and had even made the effort to comb his hair – she added gently, "Anyway, you'll have me there to hold your hand."

"Well, if you put it like that..." he flirted, hoping there would be much more than hand holding in store for them over the course of the weekend. He was not disappointed as only one bed in their adjoining rooms got used; Helen's accommodations served simply as a room in which to change her clothes.

Thomas's talk had gone well and Helen treated him to dinner and drinks in London when they arrived back in the city Sunday night. They made their way back to Helen's Maida Vale flat after dinner, retiring into the living room with a chilled bottle of Stoli and a small portion of tonic. They chatted amiably, learning more about each other. Thomas divulged that he had married right out of university, a marriage which was destined to fail; she had had an affair with and left him for his best friend. Helen was a little more selective in the history she disclosed to Thomas. She was content to tell him about Sean but neglected to mention anything about her most recent, very significant relationship with a certain garden centre owner. Most surprising was Helen's discovery that Thomas came from a rather functional family: he had a brother and a sister to whom he still regularly spoke and his parents had just celebrated forty-five years of wedded bliss. And just when Helen was beginning to suspect that the notion of a happy family was a myth.

An hour and a half - and many ounces of vodka - later, Helen found herself moving closer to Thomas, taking his face in her hands and pulling him in for a protracted kiss. Enjoying her role as aggressor, she straddled him, discovering a rather obvious indication of his own interest in her ministrations. He quickly accepted her suggestion that they move it to her bedroom where she continued to take an assertive role.

Monday morning came much too early for both of them, and Thomas was thankful that they had put on a small load of laundry the night before, sparing him the need to have to go home to change before work. He decided that Helen had no right to be as animated as she was as they made their way through the labyrinthine halls of Larkhall. "How can you be so bright?" he demanded. "You drank me under the table. Well, that's the Scots for you..."

"Cheeky!" He loved the way her tongue slid behind her teeth when she smiled.

"The English stand no chance." One particular Englishman stood no chance against this Scot's charms, he knew that much.

They talked about the conference, Helen forced to admit that she had actually enjoyed it, especially Thomas's paper. He called her out, accusing her of having slept through most of it. Offering a line she often remembered her father attempting to use on her mother, Helen assured the good doctor that she had merely been resting her eyes, that maybe he needed to have his own eyes examined.

Ogling her up and down, thoroughly enjoying the view, he argued, "There's nothing wrong with my eyes."

She smiled coyly at his verbal and literal leer, appreciating the not-so-subtle compliment for what it was. Not prepared to go public with their relationship at work, they resisted a kiss goodbye but, before going their separate ways towards their respective offices, made plans to have lunch together at one o'clock. Arriving at her desk Helen was surprised to discover an application for transfer to another prison from one of her PO's. Despite the understaffing issues at Larkhall, Helen would inevitably do what she could to accommodate the request of her officer. Aware as well of the special circumstances surrounding this one, she would do her best to expeditiously effect a transfer, in spite of how badly that decision was going to be received by certain parties.

Wednesday afternoon found Nikki at Larkhall offering her penultimate talk of the year for the inmates. She looked around the bleak room at the disappointed faces of the prisoners who were lamenting the boredom to which they were about to be returned as Gina Rossi, Teatra and Jan Donaldson from E-Wing arrived to escort them back to their wings. T asked the other two officers if they could manage on their own, offering instead to escort Nikki to the gate; she had not seen the dark beauty since early Sunday morning and was anxious to have some face time with her, even if it had to be within the confines of the austere prison activity room. Once the room was cleared of inmates and officers, T looked coyly into Nikki's deep amber eyes and asked, "You could at least tell me you're happy to see me." At this Nikki strode the three paces to where T stood, pulling the blonde into her arms, capturing the prison officer's mouth with her own. The tall brunette gripped the back of Teatra's head, deepening the kiss, allowing tongues to do battle. Pulling back slightly Teatra caught her breath, saying quietly, "Well, I guess that qualifies as happy to see me." She raised her eyebrows seductively enticing Nikki to go in for another kiss. Just as the prisoner's hands started to migrate, the door was opened. The two women pulled apart quickly to see Helen standing in the doorway.

"Teatra, don't they need you on G-Wing? I'd be more than happy to escort Miss Wade to the gate." the Governing Governor said with authority.

"On my way now, Ma'am. Sorry." She looked over at Nikki apologetically and then was gone, knowing she would be seeing her in a couple of hours.

Once she'd gone Helen turned on Nikki, "What is goin' on?"

"I'd've thought that was blindingly obvious..." Sarcasm, thy name is Nikki Wade.

"Nikki, don't you think you should be concentrating on your appeal and not fooling around with one of my officers?" Helen knew how unreasonable that sounded as it left her mouth.

"Sorry if I'm being a bit thick here, Helen, but I thought you said you didn't want anything more to do with me," Nikki pointed out. Narrowing her eyes Nikki tried to look into Helen's soul. "We wouldn't happen to be just a teeny bit jealous, would we?"

Wondering if her ex was on to something, Helen nonetheless denied the accusation. "Don't be absurd!"

Choosing to adopt her petulant persona, Nikki bitterly pronounced, "Look, you've made it clear that you don't give a shit about me. Fine. So what I get up to has nothing to do with you anymore. Now, if you wouldn't mind escorting me to the gate..."

Silently the two women made their way to the exit. When they reached it Helen realised she had more to say. "Nikki..." she started.

The tall woman turned back, saying nothing. After five exasperating seconds she finally pressed, "Well?!"

"Be careful," was all Helen could say.

Unsure what the small Scot had meant by that, Nikki probed, "What?"

With no emotion evident on her face, Helen simply said, "You heard." The two women looked wistfully at each other before Nikki turned and made her way out the door. She climbed into her vehicle and ran a couple errands before returning to Larkhall to collect Teatra. They made their way to the Dog House, sight of their first evening together, for an early dinner after which Nikki drove the blonde prison officer home. T took a chance on her flatmates' housekeeping this time and invited Nikki in. The tagged prisoner had a good three quarters of an hour before she needed to leave for Crouch End and the women made the most of those minutes, T wasting no time, virtually dragging the other woman bodily into her bedroom. It was a very reluctant Nikki who drove away knowing that she would not be seeing Teatra again until Monday. The good looking blonde was leaving early the following morning to drive to Morden for her younger brother's Saturday wedding. While Nikki knew that T was by no means her soul mate, she was charming company who provided a much needed diversion from thoughts of Helen.

Nikki did not hear from Teatra all weekend, a fact which did not concern her overly. Catching up with family and friends can certainly be a time-consuming enterprise. It was with some enthusiasm, then, that the prisoner drove to Larkhall Monday to collect the woman she was seeing. She parked just outside the prison's gate, lit a cigarette and ambled over to chat with Ken at the gate lodge. "Hiya, Nikki, what're you doin' here?" the gate guard enquired affably.

In good spirits herself she answered, "Thought I'd spare Teatra the tube ride home."

Confused, Ken informed her, "She don't work here no more, love."

"You wha'?" Nikki was certain she had misunderstood. Surely Teatra would have mentioned...

"Transferred out this morning. Said Miss Stewart got her a promotion at a men's nick down south," he tried to explain. "I'm real sorry, mate." Ken found himself in an awkward position.

Though having seen the Peugeot in the lot, Nikki's eyes narrowed as she enquired, "Miss Stewart still in?"

He shrugged and looked about, "Ain't seen her leave. Yeah, her car's right there." He pointed. "You want me to ring her?"

Taking a deep breath, Nikki tried to control her emotions. "Yeah, please, see if she can spare me a mo'," she finally managed. Ken rang the Governing Governor's office and let her know that Nikki Wade was at the gate. Helen told him that an officer would be right down to escort her in. A few minutes later Nikki arrived at the closed door of Helen's office, led by Gina Rossi.

Knocking aggressively, Gina entered, announcing, "Miss Wade for you, ma'am."

Adopting her most professional persona, Helen instructed, "Bring her in, Gina."

Nikki started in right away, anger and hurt clouding her features. "You just can't bear to see me happy, can you? Why can't you just admit you're jealous?" Nikki's voice rose in anger. "'Cause you haven't got the balls, that's why! You're like a big kid: you don't want the toy and you don't want anyone else to have it either."

"Look, Nikki, you are way off and I've got nothing more to say on the matter. Now I've got a prison to run, so if there's nothin' else..." Helen offered coldly, wishing she could say more, but sworn by Teatra not to.

Nikki felt she was being dismissed but had no designs on going quietly. "And that's what you always do, Helen, isn't it? Play the power game. Don't want me to forget that you're the Governor and I'm the prisoner. 'I've got a prison to run. There are ethical issues. Don't you have a curfew?' I just never expected it would come to this, transferring someone I like to a prison out of town! Have you considered therapy? Christ knows you need it!" With that Nikki turned on her heel and hastily exited Helen's office. Gina, who had been waiting a respectful distance from the door - though not quite far enough to have not heard the row - escorted Nikki out of Larkhall.

Sitting in her four-by-four Nikki tried to reach Teatra on her mobile but was informed that her number was no longer in service. She knew that at some point, if she were unable to reach T, she would need to speak - less heatedly - with Helen, find out exactly what had happened. The prisoner arrived home saddened and confused. Upon looking through the post, however, she discovered an envelope with no postage stamp, on the front of which was computer printed 'Nikki' in a very common script. she tore it open, desperate to assuage her curiosity. Inside she found a typed message.

Dear Nikki,

By now you know that I've gone. Now, I know that your first reaction will be to want to lace into the Number One. Please don't do that and don't be cross with her. I was not ghosted out of my job, I requested the transfer. In fact the Number One did everything in her power to stop me leaving. She even offered to get me a promotion board here. I'm sorry - I was a coward and could not bring myself to tell you before I left.

There's a lot I need to tell you, a lot I should have told you before. You know about my ex, but what you don't know is that he's a nonce. It was discovered just after I started at my last place of work. In fact, initially I was charged as an accessory, but those charges were dropped. Thank God my employers believed me - and the courts - and I was able to keep my job, but the people I had been supervising soon learnt about it and my life was threatened. That's why I moved into the city.

Now comes the hardest part of what I have to tell you, Nik. One of my current co-workers – I won't tell you who - discovered my secret and threatened to reveal it to the women in our charge unless I helped him with something. He was looking for information to use against Sort Of. He was blackmailing me. I'm so sorry. He used me, made me make contact with you to get information for him about the two of you. He knows about the tube ticket. God, Nik, I'm sorry! And when I nearly made you miss your curfew, that was down to him as well. He thought if you were imprisoned, Sort Of would rise to your defence and then he'd have her. He truly has it in for her. I know I'm writing all this very cryptically, but I won't ever testify about any of this, so I can't allow there to be any link to me. He's really put the willies up me. I don't even know if my secret's safe now I've moved.

I know I've lied to you, Nik, and I can't hope you'll ever forgive me, but I need you to know that after that first week, after I got to know you, I told him to sod off, that I wouldn't do anything that would hurt you. And being with you, well, no one made me do that. Just you. It was the most free and alive I've ever felt. I hope you know that. You're amazing. I wish I could have found a way out of this shit pile, a way that I could still be with you, figure out what might have been, but I know I've broken your trust, a regret that will always haunt me.

One last thing: don't give up on Sort Of. I've always known how much she means to you, but I've also seen how much she still cares about you. She threw a raging eppie when she learnt I was going to have to break it off with you. I don't know if you two can ever get back what you once had, but I know you're better off in each other's lives than not. A bond that strong shouldn't be chucked away.

I can't apologise enough to you, Nik. If I could go back... But I have to move forward, move on. I wish all the best for you.

You'll always be in my heart,

T xx

Her trust and abandonment issues brought once again to the fore, Nikki sat back feeling hurt and betrayed by Teatra but, overriding even those powerful emotions, she was furious with Jim Fenner, for she knew he was the unnamed co-worker to whom Teatra alluded. Nikki knew how resentful he was of Helen and her position within the Prison Service but had previously been oblivious to the lengths to which he would stoop to discredit her. He would have been content to see Nikki in prison if it meant he could get one over on Helen. Of course Nikki knew that if she herself had not been so impetuous and irresponsible, the threat of prison would never have existed. She was furious with herself and adamantly refused to let Helen suffer for her misdeeds. Nikki would have to warn her of Fenner's obsession with ruining her, which would mean she would have to speak to her, which, in turn, would mean she would have to apologise to her. Again. Giving herself some time to get her emotions in check, Nikki waited almost two hours before ringing the Maida Vale flat, only to discover that its resident was not at home. Helen had had a difficult day at work with another riot nearly breaking out - this one when the prisoners discovered that one of the new inmates was a child pornographer - and did not arrive home until after eight o'clock. Undeterred, Nikki continued her efforts to reach the prison official, finally making contact shortly after eight.

She wasted no time. "I'm sorry."

"Nikki?" Helen questioned, though she would have recognised the rich timbre in her voice anywhere.

"Too many of our conversations start like that, I know, and it's all my fault, but, again, I really am sorry - about how I spoke to you today. I've learnt more about the situation with Teatra. I didn't have all the facts and... and I was wrong," the tagged prisoner blurted.

Taking a deep sigh, Helen admitted, "No, I'm sorry Nikki.e I wanted to tell you that she'd asked for a transfer, but out of respect for her as one of my officers, I couldn't. I really thought you should have fair warning, but it wasn't my call to make. So, I'm sorry." Helen paused. "D'you want to get a drink on Wednesday?" This was something that the two women had not managed to accomplish for almost two months and yet it seemed like the right time to re-establish the tradition.

"Yeah, I'd like that. D'you mind driving up north? I mean, well, my curfew..." Nikki stammered remembering the accusations she had hurled at Helen earlier about her power plays.

Without hesitation Helen suggested, "Why don't I come 'round to yours? I could pick us up a takeaway. Say six thirty?"

Nikki was touched by Helen's favourable reaction. After the way Nikki had spoken to her earlier in the day, she was surprised that the gorgeous Scot was even speaking to her. "That'd be super, Helen, thanks. Just one thing?" she said tentatively.

"What's that?" Helen was curious.

"No Sichuan." Nikki's mouth had still not recovered from Teatra's spicy takeaway choice.

Helen agreed readily, if cluelessly. "All right, no Sichuan... I'll see you Wednesday."

"'Night, Helen."

"'Night." Pleased with her spontaneous offer, Helen rang off. Perhaps it had taken Teatra's mistreatment of Nikki to make Helen recognise how protective she still was of the prisoner, but, despite her assertions to the contrary, the Governing Governor loathed the thought of having nothing more to do with her. The friendship they had striven to forge was still one of the strongest of Helen's life. She made her way to her home office and, opening up the top drawer, retrieved the ring Nikki had given her for Christmas.


Part Fifty-Three

Pacing around her kitchen on Wednesday night, wearing out a pattern in the tile floor, Nikki waited for Helen to arrive and was pleasantly surprised when her doorbell rang just after half past six. "This is as punctual as Helen's ever been," Nikki thought as she opened her front door. As strained as their relationship had been of late, Nikki was unsure how to greet her former girlfriend. Determined to rebuild a friendship of some ilk with Nikki, Helen leant in to give the taller woman a kiss on the cheek before venturing into her kitchen with their meal.

"I've warmed the oven to put the takeaway in if you'd like to have a cocktail before dinner," Nikki offered. "I've got vodka in the freezer."

"Sure, I'll have a drop. Lots of tonic," Helen accepted, knowing she would be having to drive. Nikki poured each of them a drink and led the way into her sitting room where the women took their customary places on opposite ends of the couch. Nikki's attention was drawn to Helen's right ring finger and a small but sad smile touched her eyes. She looked up into Helen's face and saw the same raw emotions reflected there. Both women knew that the ring was originally intended as a promise for their future, but that Helen was wearing it as a symbol of their friendship. As such it served as a glaring reminder of all they had lost.

Unprepared to examine that subject too closely at that precise moment, Nikki changed it, "We might as well talk about what happened with Teatra. Be best if you read her letter." She handed the cryptic printout to Helen who took her time digesting it.

As she read, Helen grew even more protective of Nikki than she had been previously. Knowing how far the emotionally scarred woman had come in her efforts to conquer her bitterness and cynicism, Helen saw the letter from Teatra as likely to undermine that forward momentum. "Oh, God, Nikki," Helen muttered despairingly when she read how the young officer had been enlisted to engage Nikki in a relationship. That Teatra had been charmed by the striking brunette, while enchanting, in no way detracted from her original purpose which was to bring ruin to both Nikki and Helen. The penny dropped for the Scot. "Fenner," she said simply. "It was Fenner who put her up to it."

Nodding her head resignedly, "Yeah, I imagine so. Bastard! Why doesn't he worry more about his own sodding life?" Nikki demanded rhetorically. "You've got to find a way to stop him, Helen."

"Don't worry, Nikki. The tube ticket doesn't mean anything on its own," Helen reassured her.

"I know. I just wanted you to be aware of how far he's willing to go," Nikki explained. "I just can't believe that T was using me all this time." Ashamed, Nikki spoke quietly, shaking her head.

"No, Nikki. You didn't see her before she left; she was heartbroken. If she could have thought of a way to fight Fenner, she'd have done it." Knowing first hand Nikki's charms, Helen asked softly, "How could she not fall for you?"

Nikki tried to gaze into Helen's eyes, looking for a deeper meaning in her words but found that the smaller woman could not maintain eye contact. The two had their work cut out for them if they were going to find their way back to their erstwhile friendship, Nikki knew, but was willing to give it a bash as long as Helen was. Their lighthearted banter and flirting was likely down the pan, however, she acknowledged to herself, but many friendships are built on flimsier foundations. Besides, they had already developed a mutual respect for each other's integrity and compassion as well as an understanding of the eccentricities of the other. Wanting to keep the evening on as even a keel as possible, Nikki drew the subject away from Teatra. "I think a Gewurztraminer'll go nicely with the Thai." Helen agreed and the two women made their way to the kitchen to rescue their dinner from the oven. For the rest of the evening there remained a strained awkwardness between the two women, but they both hoped that, with time, this would pass.

Over the next couple weeks Nikki and Helen spoke several times. Helen had yet to find a way to tell Nikki about her relationship with Thomas, however, not wishing to cause the prisoner any undue pain, or so she told herself, though her relationship with Larkhall's new Senior Medical Officer was advancing apace. One Sunday night, just over a week after Helen and Nikki's reconciliation, Helen was enjoying an evening at the home of Dr Thomas Waugh. They had settled in front of the stone fireplace in his living room with a drink. As Helen was poring through his album collection she found The Clash's London Calling. She reckoned she had his number and accused him of believing himself a rebel, or at least he had in university. As if to prove himself, he lit a marijuana cigarette, taking a long drag off it.

She pinned him down, "Now, let's see... Nice, bright, middle class boy goes off to university, promptly forgets his studies, joins a union, thinks he's gonna change the world." Thomas laughed. "He spends the next few years protesting anything: poll tax, Wapping, Ireland..."

Taking another puff, he asked, "Don't tell me you've never wanted to stray, Helen." She smirked, thinking, if only he knew how far she had strayed but knowing she would never tell him. "Not even once?" He offered her the joint which she accepted.

Helen took a puff off the joint which began an aggressive spate of coughing. Squinting, Helen squeaked, "That's what crossing the line gets ya! I think I'll stick with what I know." She lifted her glass to him before taking a long swallow of her vodka tonic.

"These last couple of months have meant so much to me. I feel like my life's moving forward again." He paused. "Helen, I really -"

She had to interrupt. "Should we have one for the road?" She reached for the bottle of generic vodka.

"Don't you want to hear what I've got to say?" He had finally plucked up the courage – though it may have been augmented by alcohol and THC – to tell her that he loved her.

"Maybe a bit too much," Helen admitted. The two looked deeply into each other's eyes as Thomas leant in to capture Helen's mouth in his. She gave in readily, moving to straddle him and show him exactly how much.

The two travelled to Larkhall next morning somewhat tired but fully sated. When they split off from each other to make their way to their respective offices, Helen looked surreptitiously around for prying eyes before grinning lasciviously and leaning in to Thomas with a deep, promise-laden kiss. What she had failed to see was Jim Fenner's face reflected in the security mirror suspended in the corner of the ceiling.


Part Fifty-Four

Driven not to dwell on Teatra's departure, Nikki was pleased that the Christmas rush was underway at the shop. Her focus on her studies had slipped somewhat as well during her pursuit of the leggy blonde. Nikki jeered bitterly to herself as she realised that no effort on her part had ever actually been necessary. She should have been touched that T had preferred to leave Larkhall, to leave London, rather than hurt her further. Maybe someday Nikki would recognise the sacrifice Teatra had made to protect her and, by extension, Helen. Someday. For the time being, however, Nikki was happy for the distractions which the Potting Shed and her business courses afforded her. Having got credit for the courses she had taken at Southbank, she would be finished her EMBA at Christmas and wondered if there were any other classes she ought to think about taking. Nikki knew it would feel strange when, in just over a month's time, her sentence would be finished and she would be free to, well, to do anything she liked. After three years of living under a very strict protocol, she did not know how she would handle her newfound freedom. Further, she had been speaking to Claire Walker and it looked like the date for her appeal was to be scheduled for early November, thus coinciding with her release from her non-custodial sentence which was set for the third. Everything was coming together just as she had planned except that Helen was not there to share it with her, not in the way Nikki had envisioned anyway, making all her upcoming achievements bittersweet.

Learning how determined Jim Fenner was to discredit her, Helen became equally committed to seeing him forced out of his position of power in a women's prison. She took him to task when she saw him with his hand on Maxi Purvis's hip, accusing him of manhandling the prisoners. Though Thomas had been with her at the time, he had not seen anything untoward. Admitting that she might have overreacted, Helen, in an effort to explain why, showed Thomas the report she had written detailing Fenner's sexual assault against her. She argued that Fenner should not be allowed to be around women at all.

Behaving completely contrary to her 'Us and Them' character, Yvonne Atkins approached Helen with some information she had uncovered about Fenner. At first the inmate simply reminded Helen about the myriad things he had done which pointed to his corruption: his part in Yvonne's attempted escape and the cash he had received from Charlie for fixing up a conjugal visit for the Atkins couple. Dubious, Helen pointed out that no one would take Yvonne's word over an officer's. The prisoner smirked, further volunteering the news that he was collecting money from brothels for an inmate and right under Helen's nose. "That corrupt enough for ya?" she asked. A serious look masked Helen's face as she demanded proof. "I ain't actually got any, but I can get you a list of the brothels," the prisoner promised. The two women parted ways, Helen going back to her office to formulate a plan which, if she could pull it off, would mean she would finally see the back of Jim Fenner.

Helen met back up with Yvonne later to get the list of brothels owned by new inmate Virginia O'Kane who had arrived on the wing in a wheelchair. Helen reached out her hand for the list.

In typical fashion, Yvonne asked, "What's in it for me?"

With an exasperated sigh Helen reminded her, "I don't do deals with prisoners, Yvonne. You should know that by now."

Loath to get nothing for her efforts and knowing she held all the cards, Yvonne bandied, "And I don't make a habit of doing favours for Governors."

Helen would not be played. "Then don't," she said flippantly at which Yvonne rolled her eyes and looked away. "Look, I can make sure that this gets Fenner sacked, out the prison service for good without a penny of his pension to his name. Now surely that's payback enough?" she offered conspiratorially.

"The enemy of my enemy is my friend?" the prisoner suggested.

"Something like that, yeah," Helen agreed, causing Yvonne to break out into a smile and hand the paper over.

Helen spent the next ten nights parked outside any one of a number of Virginia O'Kane's brothels with Thomas in tow waiting for Fenner to show up. Their exhaustion was beginning to show as they had a row over their late-night activities. One morning after handing Helen a cocktail of vitamins to boost her energy levels one morning, Thomas goaded her into a fight, suggesting that Yvonne might simply be having some fun at Helen's expense, jerking her chain.

"She's not," Helen was adamant. "Look, Yvonne Atkins wants Fenner out of the Prison Service at least as much as I do. She's working with me, given me good information. I know Fenner will have to show one of these nights, but if you don't want to go with me on any more of these stakeouts-"

She really did not get it, did she? He leant forward contending firmly, "Helen, I want to go everywhere with you. And I want to help you lynch Jim Bloody Fenner, but I just don't know if this is the way." He offered, "Why don't you confront the old madam with what you've already got? Put the wind up her, let her know that you'll be contacting the police?"

Helen looked at him like he had two heads. "Because I'll I'd be doing is tippin' her off to cover his traces. She'd know that if I had any evidence I'd've gone to the police already, wouldn't I?" Not liking either the way she had looked at him or her contemptuous tone, Thomas got up to leave. Contrite, Helen reached out for him. "Tom..." she tried, but he was out the door. She hoped she would have a chance to speak with him before he left the prison; he was leaving for Bedford at half past ten to attend a half-day course called Suicide Awareness in Prisons. Helen would be on her own to watch the brothels.


Part Fifty-Five

It was Nikki's last 'Sod U' seminar of the season. As she stood thinking back on the previous six months she could not help but be grateful –as always - of her position at the front of the class instead of within the ranks of the imprisoned. Her good mood was interrupted, however, by the arrival of Jim Fenner escorting the prisoners in. He came directly over to her and, almost as though he had been reading her thoughts, insisted, "I still say you're on the wrong side of the bars, Wade."

She scoffed, "Takin' the piss, Fenner? Probably the only thing you could teach a course in."

"Actually, I'm a firm believer in education." Fenner was looking like the cat that had got the cream. "Especially for cons like you, Wade."

She looked at him like he was something she might have scraped off her shoe, offering a less-than-well-thought-out, "Piss off, Fenner."

He went on, looking smug, "No, I mean it; the more you can learn the better. For instance, did you know that your girlfriend, Miss Stewart, is shagging the new SMO?" Nikki glared up at him venomously, desperately praying that he was having her on yet knowing in her heart that he was telling the truth.

Nikki drifted through her seminar with her mind elsewhere, unsure even of what she might have said to the inmates. At the end of the seminar, once the prisoners were being led out, Helen herself arrived to offer to escort Nikki back to the gate. The two women had spoken earlier in the week with Helen forced to cancel their Wednesday evening out. She had explained, "This Brothel Watch has left me knackered, but maybe next week, yeah?"

Brooding, Nikki barely acknowledged Helen's arrival and was making no effort to speak to her while tidying up the materials she had brought in for her talk. "Last class of the season, eh? I bet you'll miss coming in here," Helen suggested playfully. When she got no response from the tetchy brunette, she asked, concerned, "Did anything happen? A problem with one of the women?"

"No." Nikki's answer was delivered coldly.

"So, why're you bein' so nippy?" Helen asked outright.

Barely controlling her emotions, Nikki demanded, finally looking at the small Scot, "Is it true you're shagging the new SMO?" Taking Helen's non-reply and guilty expression as affirmation enough, Nikki accused, "I just thought you might've told me yourself... Instead of letting Fenner do it for you," she spat bitterly. Wishing she could make a dramatic exit but bound by the bolts and bars of Larkhall's corridors, Nikki was forced to allow herself to be escorted to the gate by Helen. The interim Governing Governor had nothing to offer in her defence, so the two women made their way to the exit in silence.

Returning to her office, Helen chose to defer examining her feelings about her encounter with Nikki, instead opting to reflect upon her earlier conversation with Thomas. She knew that he had made a valid point; she could not go on indefinitely sitting outside random brothels waiting for Fenner to show. The Governing Governor made her way to G-Wing, demanding that Yvonne get her more specific information. They needed to suss out exactly where Fenner would be on a given night. Giving it some consideration, Yvonne decided she knew how best to appeal to the madam. "Virginia, you and me need to have a word," she began, approaching the wheelchair-bound inmate.

Looking down her nose at the prisoner from London's East End, Virginia said in her most condescending tones, "I don't think we have one word we have in common."

Seemingly unfazed by Virginia's obvious attempt to disrespect her, Yvonne countered, "Oh, yes, we do," she paused, hissing, "darling... Money." The two women made their way into Virginia's first floor cell to speak privately. Yvonne managed to manipulate information from the old madam, leading her to believe that Yvonne's daughter, Lauren, had discovered that Virginia was being fleeced by her new man John Farmer, a rather weak pseudonym, Yvonne had concluded, for Jim Fenner. She told the other inmate that he was squeezing the girls for an additional ten percent.

"I reckon 'e sees you as 'elpless, weak," Yvonne looked down at Virginia's wheelchair and continued, "banged up in 'ere, sittin' in that thing." Having put Virginia on the defensive, Yvonne went on, matter-of-factly, "My Lauren's got a real good 'ead for business. She'd do a much better job runnin' things while you're in 'ere than your Mr Farmer and without takin' advantage of your... condition." Not entirely trusting Mr Farmer not to be double dealing, Virginia confided to Yvonne that there was to be a pick-up that night in Fellows Lane, suggesting that Lauren might like to make herself known to the receptionist. With a nod Yvonne left Virginia's cell... and waited for Helen to come looking for the information.

It was with great joy that Helen received the news of Fellows Lane. She hoped that her late nights would be done and, more importantly, that Fenner's days as an officer in Her Majesty's Prisons would be numbered. She made her way home early after work and had a quick dinner and a nap. She hated the way that she and Nikki had left things that afternoon and resolved to stop by the Crouch End house before staking out the Fellows Lane brothel. Knowing Nikki would be at home, Helen rang the bell just after eight o'clock. "Hiya, Nikki," she said sheepishly when the door was opened. "Can I come in?" Immediately the two women began to talk over each other, each offering her apologies. Nikki was sorry the way she had spoken to Helen who, for her part, apologised for not having told Nikki herself, for having resigned the other woman to hearing about her relationship with Thomas from Fenner. "I tried to tell you so many times... But I swear to you, Nikki, this ends it; I'll never let Jim Fenner screw anything over you again." Helen vehemently promised. "I'll do whatever it takes," she vowed.

A look of surprise came over Nikki's face as she recognised Helen's protectiveness. Trying to be gracious, Nikki enquired after Thomas. Part of Helen's desire to protect would have been to spare Nikki this conversation, but in response to her direct question, Helen was compelled to agree that the doctor was a good catch. As to whether the relationship was serious, Helen posited non-committally that time would tell; it was early days yet. Nikki offered the compunctious Scot a smile that did not quite reach her eyes. "Well, don't feel bad for me. I've got a new life waiting for me once this sentence is out the way. I've been in touch with Trish," Nikki lied to assuage Helen's guilt. Nikki nodded her head a few times, blinking furiously and hoping Helen could not see her eyes tearing up. Knowing she would not be able to hold it together much longer, Nikki started to stand, letting Helen know in no uncertain terms that their visit was concluded. "So, good luck, I guess," she managed tightly as she was opening the front door.

"Yeah. Thanks," Helen answered softly before turning on her heel and making her way to the pavement. Inside the terraced house Nikki slumped on her couch and wept while outside a petite Scottish woman sat in her little red Peugeot and did likewise, both mourning what might have been.


Part Fifty-Six

Helen had made her way to the Fellows Lane brothel by nine o'clock. She did not expect to Fenner to arrive that early, anticipating that he would want to collect that evening's takings as well, but she was not about to take the chance of missing him. It left her alone with her own thoughts for longer than she would have liked. She found herself thinking back, realising how much her life had changed. Two years previously she had been living with Sean, she had just begun work as a wide-eyed Wing Governor at Larkhall, and she had yet to meet Nikki Wade. "And here I sit, two years later," she thought to herself, "Sean is gone, my relationship with Nikki's over and I'm sitting outside a knockin' shop waiting for one of my officers to show up." She poured herself a coffee from her flask. Not content with such a brief synopsis, she decided to spend some time reflecting on the details which had led her to this place. Nikki's was a starring role which featured prominently in Helen's memories, likely because the final chapter seemed to have been written that day. As tempting as it might have been to think that the two of them would be able to remain close – as friends – Helen knew the reality would not resemble that at all. They were not friends. They would never be friends. It would always break Helen's heart to see Nikki with another woman just as Nikki's heart had been breaking tonight talking about Thomas. Helen had seen the tears welling up in the other woman's eyes. She did not want to bear the responsibility for any more of Nikki's pain.

He had never expected to be a forty-five year old, divorced man living in a bed and breakfast, granted only limited access to his two children, yet somehow that was the exact position in which Jim Fenner found himself. Bitter about the leftist changes that were desecrating the Prison Service, the opportunistic Principal Officer from Larkhall's G-Wing was always looking for a way to line his pockets, to improve his chances for early retirement. The brilliant notion of procuring a virtually passive income from the profits of Virginia O'Kane's brothels was truly inspired, if he did say so himself. Taking advantage of vulnerable cons was nothing new to him and he viewed the wheelchair-bound inmate as more defenceless than most, though he did respect the fact that she was managing to keep her business going from inside. How else would he have been able to exploit the old madam's enterprises? The late nights were a small price to pay for the rewards he was reaping. Sad to say, he really had nothing better to occupy his time.

It was with a song in his heart, then, that he left his room at the B & B to drive to Fellows Lane.

Over four hours after taking up her position outside the brothel, a very stiff and weary Helen received a phone call from Thomas. "Hiya," she answered her mobile's persistent ring. He almost demanded to know where she was, informing her that it was one o'clock in the morning. She yawned, "Is it?" looking down at her watch. "Okay, I'll call it a night," she informed him, ringing off. When she looked up, however, she noticed Fenner's arrival at the brothel. A few minutes later she was standing by his car waiting for him to come back out and looking forward to the confrontation that was to come. She was not disappointed.


Part Fifty-Seven

Fenner's mood had turned one hundred eighty degrees in less than half an hour. He sat in his maroon, 1996 Ford Taurus saloon cursing the day he ever met Helen Stewart and swearing to be rid of her once and for all over this. "No way that bitch is going to get the best of Jim Fenner," he thought. Even before he had started the engine of his car, a plan was formulating in his calculating brain. He would not be going down without a fight. "I'm gonna swing for that cow," he vowed.

Still on tenterhooks the following morning after a very restless night's sleep, Fenner made his way directly to Virginia's cell only to discover Helen already there. The previous evening a bucket of mop water had landed on Virginia's head causing the prisoner to jump up out of her wheelchair. "Mr Fenner, what a surprise," Helen offered sarcastically. "Have you come to gawp at the miracle?" she asked him, a smug smile on her face.

Virginia shrugged, "These things happen."

Helen quipped contemptuously, "Sure. Especially when a bucket's been dropped on your head." After a moment, she delivered a derisive, "Was there anything else, Mr Fenner?"

"No." Fenner's blood pressure was on the rise and he knew that this round had gone to Helen, but a man of his nature always had a redundancy scheme in the wings. He just had to implement his Plan B. Fenner was not worried. He just needed a moment alone with Virginia before he could cement it.

"Don't you want to discuss last night's takings with Virginia?" In lieu of an answer, Fenner turned abruptly and walked out. After an unsuccessful attempt to get Virginia to admit her collusion with Fenner, Helen had the inmate put into solitary for her own protection, insisting that she have contact with no one, neither prisoner nor officer. She did not want Fenner to have access to her, wanted him to be convinced that Virginia had dumped him in it.

"Or a Plan C," mused a very put out Jim Fenner when he learnt of Helen's latest attempt to thwart him. But a man who always walks life's decidedly grey areas in terms of morality and legality has to be quick thinking and adaptable; a new plan was already taking shape. He marched off to enlist the help of an accomplice, a fellow officer who owed him a large debt for which he was about to demand immediate repayment.

The acting Governing Governor had only been sat at her desk for ten minutes when a knock was heard on the door. It was with a delighted smirk that she greeted a sheepish Jim Fenner. Helen held out her hand for his resignation. She bluffed, insisting that photos taken outside the brothel the previous night were being developed at that very moment. Helen assured her officer that she did not want to have to hurt Karen by bringing them to light. "Exactly!" Fenner exclaimed. "That's why I've come to you: I... I need time to figure out how to break the news to Karen, how to explain my sudden resignation." More out of a sense of duty to the G-Wing Governor than as a favour to Fenner, Helen agreed to give him until the end of the day, a compassionate decision which would come back to haunt her. "Thanks, Helen." He grovelled, "I know you don't owe me anything, but I want you to know that I appreciate how you're looking out for Karen." His disingenuousness was missed by Helen whose concern for Karen served to eclipse her common sense. Upon leaving Helen's office Fenner made his way back to the wing where he sought out Di Barker, a woman harbouring a secret- a huge secret of which Fenner was acutely aware and one which he would not hesitate to exploit.

Several weeks earlier Fenner had given Di a ride home from Larkhall. Just as he was about to drive off, he noticed that she had left something behind in his car. As he arrived at the other officer's front door to return her cardigan, he heard distinct sounds of a struggle inside. Steadfastly denying him entry Di endeavoured to convince him that it was just the telly, but he finally managed to push past her and into the house. He soon came across a bedroom door – with locks on the outside – which he tentatively opened only to discover an elderly woman bruised and obviously beaten, lying in her own filth. The astringent odour in the air was overwhelming as Fenner covered his nose and fought back the urge to lose his tea. He helped Di get her mother cleaned up and to hospital where their "Mum's taken a fall" story went unchallenged. Di's mother never moved back into her house, put instead into a care home, and Fenner swore to keep Di's history of elder abuse to himself. That was, of course, until he could use it to his advantage. That day had come.

Helen had made a habit of taking elevenses with Thomas. It was with a spring in her step at eleven o'clock that morning that she headed towards his office. She had waited a long time to see Fenner get his comeuppance and was cautiously optimistic that the day had arrived, though until she had Fenner's resignation in hand, she would not accept the congratulations the good doctor was bestowing upon her. For his part, Thomas was looking forward to pursuing a normal relationship with hazel-eyed beauty. "I've got a girlfriend more interested in massage parlours than in spending time with me, not exactly what my mother would consider 'normal'."

"What? Are you sayin' it's not normal to want to get Fenner by the balls?" Helen asked with a wicked grin.

Thomas smiled back at the small Scot, surrendering to his deep emotions, finally admitting, "I don't normally say this sort of thing, not when I'm sober anyway, but," he paused dramatically, "I'm totally in love with you."

Offering not a word she gazed at him affectionately before drawing him in for a passionate kiss. "I've gotta go," she finally managed, lifting herself up out of her chair and making for the door, Thomas's rephrasing of 'those three little words' suspended in the air.

As close an eye as Fenner had been keeping on Helen, he was well versed in her routines and dispatched Di on her mission at precisely eleven o'clock. By four minutes after she was looking through Helen's office, digging through her filing cabinet and desk looking for anything which would discredit the acting Number One. She did not have much luck but returned to the wing, catching up with Fenner at twenty past eleven. "Did you find anything?" he demanded without preamble.

At the risk of incurring his displeasure, she mumbled, "Not really, no." She paused theatrically before adding, "But I did find these." She triumphantly held up a set of house keys. They were the spare set Nikki had been using in the performance of her 'house girl' duties, the ones the tall prisoner had thrown back in Helen's face during their confrontation over Dominic. "They could be to her flat, if you could find out where she lives."

Looking like he had won the National Lottery jackpot, Fenner pocketed the keys. "Cover for me, Di; I'm taking a long lunch," he threw at her as he strode purposefully away. He made his way out to the car park and pointed his Taurus in the direction of Maida Vale.

Jim Fenner always hedged his bets and had the addresses of all of his co-workers inscribed in a small notebook along with other interesting titbits of personal information which he had accumulated over the years and which he kept in hopes that someday they might prove useful. Next to Helen's name he had written her address, his suspicions regarding her relationship with Nikki Wade and the information Teatra had given him about the tube ticket on Nikki's fridge. He knew he was on to something.

Cautiously looking around for nebby neighbours, Fenner let himself in to Helen's flat. Not taking the time to appreciate her decorating style, he began his search by looking for a desk. He discovered that the second bedroom doubled as Helen's home office and proceeded to rifle through the antique davenport, locating two very interesting pieces of writing hidden away in one of the pigeonholes. The first was a rather lengthy missive of a romantic nature which served to rouse both his libido and his disgust simultaneously. The second was decidedly shorter but left no doubt in his mind that the woman who was endeavouring to force him out of his job was guilty of not reporting a tagged prisoner in breach of her curfew, thereby knowingly abetting said prisoner in the commission of a crime. He needed just another scintilla of proof and he would have her. And he knew unquestionably to whom to turn in order to unearth it, as it were.

Teatra had been such a font of information that Fenner had felt sorry to let her go. He never bought into the song and dance that it had been Stewart's decision to transfer the young officer, but nevertheless chose not to follow through on the threats he had levelled against her. Perhaps a jealous Stewart had simply wanted to separate her "ex-girlfriend," Fenner nearly spat the word even as he thought it, from Teatra. Perhaps that ought to have been enough for him, just to put one over on that cop-killing bitch. Regardless, Teatra had fulfilled her mission nicely even as she tried to stonewall him, Fenner thought as he pulled in to the Potting Shed's car park. He knew that Wade was at her anger management that day – he commended himself for his thoroughness – leaving a very naive Alex at the mercy of a smooth-talking charmer such as he. "You must be Alex!" he exclaimed approaching the tall blonde. At her look of surprise, he continued, "Sorry, love. I'm Jim, a friend of Helen Stewart's." She shook his hand warmly. "Is Nikki in her office?" he enquired.

"Oh, no, she's just left for her, erm, for a meeting," Alex answered awkwardly.

Looking skywards Fenner shook his head, appearing to flounder. "Oh, right. Last Thursday of the month, innit? Damn, I should've remembered." He offered Alex his best lost puppy expression before submitting, "Look, have you got a mo' to talk? I'm worried about Helen."

Being a characteristically quiet time, a Thursday late morning in October, she suggested they could use Nikki's office. "She ain't in trouble, is she? Helen?" Alex prised, disquiet etching her features. She had got to know Helen quite well over the last two years and was fond of her.

With a deep breath and a frown Fenner admitted, "You could say that, yeah. The coppers've been sniffin' around, about that night... with Nikki. They haven't questioned you yet... about the part you played?" he bluffed, looking troubled.

Alex had barely thought about that night in over seven months and it had never occurred to her that she had broken the law by helping Nikki evade her curfew. She grew frightened and regarded Fenner as a confidante. "Wha'? You don't think I'll be in schtuk for what I done?"

Adopting his most compassionate demeanour, Fenner conceded, "I dunno, love. Why don't we start back at the beginning..." Believing Fenner to be on the same side as she, on the side of the two lovers, Alex recounted the entire story, how she had stayed over at Nikki's so the prisoner could take on her persona and make her way to Helen's flat, how the other two women had arrived in Crouch End several hours later – near two AM – and got into a row, eventually splitting up... An ecstatic Jim Fenner took in all the juicy details knowing he would not be the one resigning from Larkhall that day. Having got all he could from the young shopkeeper, Fenner took his leave, assuring her that, as long as she was willing to give an accurate account of events, it was probable that she would be safe from prosecution.

With one more ace yet up his sleeve, Fenner made his way back to Larkhall, his first stop the office of the Governing Governor. His luck continuing to hold, he found Helen in. "Have you brought me your resignation, then?" she demanded.

Fenner looked at her thoughtfully before answering, "No, Helen, I don't think I'm going to be resigning today."

She declared, "Then I guess we'll have to expose all your dirty little secrets..." Her threats fell on deaf ears.

Menacingly, Fenner retorted, "I don't think I'm the only one with secrets, love."

"I'm sure I don't know what you're talking about." Helen's confident demeanour began to crack.

In a calm voice Fenner argued, "'Course you do, guv. I'm talking about your night of passion with Nikki Wade. Found your little stash of love letters, didn't I? Now there's a woman with a lovely turn of phrase. Those plus the tube ticket..."

"A tube ticket?" Helen scoffed assuming a bravado she did not feel. "Now, come on, Jim, I don't have time for your bullshit. Hand over your resignation."

Fenner laughed mirthlessly, "I don't think so, but I'll be happy to run yours over to the Home Office, unless you'd like them to find out about how you aided and abetted a tagged criminal in the violation of her curfew."

Helen shook her head feigning ignorance. "Again, Jim, you'll have to explain just what you're on about 'cause I certainly don't know."

Tired of the game they were playing Fenner accused, "Oh, c'mon, Helen. We both know that on March eighteenth Nikki Wade defied her curfew and spent the night in bed... with you. I've spoken to Alex at the garden centre. She had quite a fair amount to say." Helen could only sit and listen to his account. "I've also a friend with public transport who can get me the CCTV footage showing a tall woman in a blonde wig with a bandaged hand at the Moorgate tube station at ten after eight, a full forty minutes past her curfew. Imagine what that could do to her chances for appeal. Not to mention the legal difficulties anyone who might have known about this breach of curfew could find themselves in." Check and mate, thought Fenner. "You won't fight me on this, Helen; you haven't got the bottle." He leant forward on her desk, staring down at her. "How do you want to go out?"

Knowing that Fenner had accurate information, Helen realised that she was done; she would jeopardise neither Nikki's appeal nor her own freedom over this situation. Her days with the Prison Service were finished. She had no recourse against Fenner's allegations and refused to see Nikki punished for her indiscretion. "What do you want, Jim?"

With smug satisfaction he said, "Your resignation... by end of day tomorrow... Oh, and I'll have the snaps along with as all the negatives from our little meeting last night." He deliberated over his demands. With a hateful glint in his eye Fenner assured her, "Face it, you're stuffed, love."

Recognising that Fenner held all the cards – she did not even have any photos from the previous night – Helen acquiesced. Begrudgingly, she vowed that her resignation would be tendered the next day. "But I'm going to hold on to my photos; they're all I've got to ensure that this ends here."

Helen's hands were shaking as she watched a very smug Jim Fenner leave her office, an office she was being forced to relinquish. Her concerns were not for herself; she would no doubt find another job, but she loathed the fact that she had failed in her efforts to remove Fenner from his position at Larkhall. He would be free to continue his mistreatment of the prisoners whose living conditions Helen had been striving so diligently to improve. She thought about her Lifers' Initiative and prayed that, even in her absence, it would manage to grow as she had envisioned. Mostly she dwelt on Fenner's victims: Rachel Hicks, who had paid the ultimate price, Shell Dockley and, as she thought about her own sexual assault, she could not help but consider his future victims, women Helen had been unable to protect. Her day certainly did not end up the way she had planned it. She decided to pack it in early.


Part Fifty-Eight

Following her anger management course Nikki went back to the Potting Shed where she was immediately set upon by Alex. Looking rather pale, the younger woman insisted that she needed to speak to Nikki on an urgent matter. The two made their way to the office, Nikki's curiosity piqued; she had never seen her insouciant employee so worked up. They took up seats beside the desk and Nikki urged, "What's got you so riled up?"

Taking a moment to decide where to start, Alex finally recounted, "Helen's mate, Jim, I think he was called, stopped in just after you left for your anger management."

"Jim Fenner?" Nikki interrupted brusquely.

Somewhat startled by Nikki's tone, Alex fired back tersely, "Dunno. Weren't wearing a name badge... He was tall, like, forty summink. Brown hair. But, y'know, bog standard."

Nikki was getting a horrible feeling in the pit of her stomach. She nodded, "Fenner. So, wha'd he say? Was he looking for me?"

"No. Said he was worried about Helen, that she could be in schtuk with the filth about your night of pash with 'er," she began before becoming overcome with fear for her own situation. "But then he said what I done, knowin' you were breakin' your curfew, that I done a crime! I can't be in the shit, Nik!"

Feeling hugely guilty for putting Alex through this, Nikki nonetheless felt infinitely worse for never even having considered the possibility. She had been so wrapped up in her own wants that she never once recognised the illegal nature of what she had requested of her employee, her friend. "Look, Alex, you're not gonna be dumped in it, I swear. Helen and I will protect you. Just tell me exactly what you said to Fenner, erm, Jim." The young shop manager took her employer through her entire conversation with Fenner, growing less distraught as she shared her burden. Nikki, on the other hand, was growing increasingly uneasy. With yet more reassurances to her young worker, Nikki finally sent her back out onto the floor. Sitting alone in her office the tall Potting Shed proprietor reflected upon what she had heard and pieced together a very accurate picture of the scenario. "Shit!" she railed at herself, her stomach in knots. "Shit! Shit! Shit!" She eventually picked up the phone to ring Helen but, despite it not yet being even four o'clock, discovered that Helen had already left Larkhall for the day. Nikki concluded that not finding her at work was likely for the best, that they ought to discuss what had happened face to face. She went out to her four-by-four and departed for Maida Vale hoping she would find Helen at home.

Thinking that the locksmith had made fantastic time, Helen responded to the persistent ringing of her doorbell. Instead of someone come to rekey her locks to prevent Fenner future access, she found Nikki on her doorstep. "Mighta known you'd've heard something," she started.

"Are you on your own?" Nikki asked as a means of invitation inside the flat.

With a nod and a sigh Helen confirmed, "Yeah, Thomas is still at work." She opened the door wide. Nikki failed to hide her almost visceral response to hearing the name of Helen's new lover. Helen could not help but notice the shadow that passed over the tall woman's amber eyes. "Will we ever stop hurting each other?" she wondered. Aloud she offered, "Tea? I've a pot on the go."

Accepting her offer Nikki followed the Scot into her kitchen where they doctored up their teas before heading into the living room. Taking her usual seat on the couch Nikki enticed, "Tell me exactly what's happened."

"What d'you know?"

Nikki let out a breath, "I know Fenner talked to Alex, put the wind up her."

Shaking her head at her own foolishness for allowing Fenner to best her, Helen related her story. "Well, you know about my efforts to nail him for his part in Virginia O'Kane's brothel enterprise." Nikki nodded her head encouraging Helen's narrative. "Yvonne Atkins tipped me off that he was going to be doing a pickup in Fellows Lane last night. After I left yours I waited for him in my car until near one o'clock. He finally turned up and I confronted him."

Concerned for Helen's safety Nikki asked, "You had Thomas with you, yeah?"

"No, he was on a course. I went on my own." Holding up her hand to quash any protests, she went on, "No, Nikki, I know what you're gonna say: Fenner's dangerous and I had no business goin' after him alone. And you're right, but we'd been surveilling him for almost a fortnight and I couldn't let this chance slip away," she forcefully explained. "Anyway, I bluffed him; he was getting right in my face, blustering, and all I could think to do was laugh at him, to encourage him to get as close as he could. I told him that I had a friend across the road with a camera. Got him to back down. He was really brickin' it when I told him it was Karen I was feeling sorry for, sharing him with a bunch of massage parlour tarts." Despite her initial disquiet, Nikki could not help but smile with pride at Helen's handling of the situation. "That's when he folded. I told him I wanted his resignation today or I would go to Karen and the police. It was over."

"So, how'd it go pear shaped?" Nikki knew there was much of the story she was missing.

Helen was still trying to wrap her head around that one herself. "Fenner reacted like any cornered animal; he fought back with everything he had. I stupidly gave him until end of day today because he conned me into believing he needed time to figure out how to break the news to Karen. Instead he broke into my office at Larkhall and found my spare keys which were just sitting in my desk. He let himself into my flat and went through my things. He found... he found the letters you'd written me, Nikki." At this she looked up at Nikki dolefully. That Helen had kept the letters tucked safely away told Nikki more than words could have how much Helen valued what they had shared. "And he already knew about the tube ticket on your fridge."

"Bloody Teatra!" Nikki exclaimed, mentally berating herself for ever becoming involved with the blonde prison officer.

With a bitter laugh Helen wished that were the worst of it. "Even with all that, he had no real proof. And what he did have, he'd trespassed into my flat to get, but he had information and a theory... and a young, trusting Potting Shed manager," she finished slowly.

"Alex," Nikki stated softly if unnecessarily.

"Alex," Helen repeated. "She confirmed all his suspicions, Nikki, told him everything, about your tag goin' on the blink, how you'd brought her home with you, ensuring she was wearing a Potting Shed jacket, how you'd put on a blonde wig and your own donkey jacket and taken a cab and then the tube to get to my flat. She told him that we got back to yours near two in the morning. He knows everything," she stalled before submitting, "and now he's demanded my resignation." Neither woman could believe how the tables had turned, and so quickly.

"Alex will lie for us!" Nikki insisted. "Deny she ever said anything to him. Then it'll just be his word against yours and you'll still be able to discredit him with the massage parlour information. He won't stand a chance!"

Helen shook her head resignedly. "I won't ask her to do that. I can't have her put herself on the line. Besides, Fenner says he's got a friend in public transport, someone with access to the CCTV tapes. Your disguise won't hold up under that scrutiny. Especially with your bandaged hand." The women were forced to concede their loss. "No, Nikki, it's no good. Fenner's got far too much over us."

Nikki had stood up and begun pacing. "Why does his luck hold out every bastard time?" she demanded. "And now all those women banged up and you not there to protect them. And it's all my fault." She was growing emotional. "I keep thinking if you'd never met me... if we'd never got involved. I just kept hurting you." Her tears were flowing unchecked.

Forcing the taller woman to stop pacing, Helen looked squarely into her tear-filled eyes, avowing sincerely, "I don't have any regrets, Nikki. And I don't want you to either. I wouldn't trade our time together for anything."

Nikki admitted quietly, "Y'know, I should be pleased that this ankle tag's coming off next week, but I almost don't care." She paused for a deep breath. "I know we're not together anymore. I know we're just friends, but you were always more than someone I fancied. You were my hope, my future. What good is freedom with nothing to look forward to?" The look in Helen's eyes said it all as both women became aware that they would never be able to carry on as friends. There was too much history which they would be unable to overcome.

Helen took Nikki by the shoulders and, almost cruelly – to both of them – insisted, "Listen, you've gotta forget about me and focus on moving forward. C'mon, promise me." Nodding almost imperceptibly, Nikki agreed. A ringing doorbell announced the arrival of the locksmith and brought an end to the women's conversation. Helen led the tradesman to the back of the flat, where he began working on the back door lock, before returning to Nikki who had donned her jacket at the front. Helen leant up and placed a chaste, if lingering, kiss on Nikki's cheek catching the corner of her lips with her own. "Goodbye, Nikki," she said with excruciating finality as she drew out of the embrace.

Their gazes lingered a moment longer until Nikki could stand it no more. She offered a strained, "Goodbye, Helen," before descending the steps towards her car and out of the gorgeous Scot's life. Nikki had known that this day was coming for quite some time, ever since their final split, actually; any attempt to maintain a simple friendship with Helen would have been a continual bittersweet twist of the knife. Nikki could not imagine a scenario where she would not be in love with Helen and, much as the thought of never having contact with her again was breaking Nikki's heart, the soon to be freed prisoner knew that a clean break would hurt far less than the series of agonies that said friendship would bring day in and day out. The thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to, Nikki thought, citing Hamlet. Any future associations would have only served as a torturous reminder of what they had had and what they had lost. A small part of her could not help but believe that Helen felt the same.


Part Fifty-Nine

As she slept that night, emotionally spent and with dried tears salting her pillow, Nikki clung to her belief that Helen was mourning as much as she. Nikki nonetheless awoke next morning refreshed and resolved that she would embrace life and look forward as Helen had dictated. A latent despondency continued, however, and would, she knew, for a long time to come, but she would forbear and get on with the business of living. She did her best to adopt a more cheerful attitude as an optimism she had not felt in months surged through her. The cynic in her would not be fully silenced, however, and it was in that frame of mind that she took an early morning call from Claire Walker, her solicitor. With mild trepidation she answered, "Claire, good morning."

"I'm not going to keep you in suspense, Nikki," Claire began. "They've set the date for your appeal; it's next Thursday."

Nikki was shocked. Of course she knew that preparations for her appeal were long in the works, but had given them little thought of late. "So soon?" she questioned, surprised by the short notice.

Claire laughed, "We're ready, so the sooner the better, I say. Now, we'll need to set aside some time early next week to go over your testimony again since we've not done so for a time. Do you have any questions?"

A million thoughts raged through Nikki's head, none of them cohesive. "Not for the moment, but perhaps once this news has sunk in I might. I've got your mobile number; can I ring you this weekend if I need anything?"

"Day or night," Claire assured her. "Now, look, I don't imagine it'll take more than a day, day and a half, so this time next week you could be exonerated."

"Thank you so much, Claire! I can't tell you..." Nikki was overwhelmed. Her potential acquittal was scheduled to coincide with her release. "What perfect synchronicity," she thought. "'Course if we'd started the appeal process earlier, how differently things might've turned out with Helen." She berated herself for these thoughts; her decision had been made to look forward not back.

"I've got to go and ensure that our key witnesses can make themselves available next week. Might you and I meet at your house four o'clock Monday to go over things?" Claire asked in her cultured tones.

"Well, I think I have a pedicure booked, but I'm sure I can reschedule," Nikki said dryly drawing an amused chuckle from the lawyer. "Monday at four, I'll see you then. And, Claire, thank you... for everything," Nikki added sincerely. After the two women had rung off Nikki found herself at a loss; her immediate impulse was to ring Helen who had been so instrumental in kicking off the appeal process, but that option was off the table.

Two days earlier when Nikki had indicated to Helen that she had a new life waiting for her once her sentence was out of the way, she had no way of knowing the foreshadowing nature of those words; the following day she had received a telephone call from Trish, ringing to suggest a coming out party, of sorts, scheduled for the evening of Nikki's emancipation. Despite their separation, Trisha had never forgotten the date and was now eager to welcome her erstwhile partner back into the real world, more eager than Nikki even knew, for Trisha was on her own again and looking to see if she and Nikki could recapture what they had once shared. Trisha was acutely aware, however, that Nikki had changed a great deal during their estrangement. While she maintained the same passion, integrity and strength of character that Trisha remembered, her volatility seemed to have lessened. She also appeared less guarded, more emotionally accessible than previously. Trisha crossed her fingers that they could find their way back to one another. Having been in love with Trisha for more than eight years, Nikki looked at a reconciliation with the tall blonde as a simple means of moving on, unintentionally using her as the rebound woman, much as she had done with Teatra. It seemed only natural, then, for her to ring Trisha's flat during her lunch break between classes – Nikki was well aware that Trisha would not have been to bed before two so would certainly not have rung any earlier– with her news.

"Oh, my God, Nik, that's brilliant! Almost like erasing the past three years." Trisha was sincere in her enthusiasm though Nikki knew that she could not fully appreciate the true significance of her exculpation, not just the greater freedoms it would allow Nikki but also the emotional relief she would gain from her release from the associated stigma. Trisha had not been around for the past three years to see the psychological toll the imposed sentence had taken on Nikki.

Nonetheless, the prisoner could not help but agree, "Looks like we may need to make the party twice as big, y'know, if I win my appeal."

"You'll win it, Nik." Trisha added sadly, "You should never have been convicted in the first place. I don't know why I didn't push you to appeal."

Replaying a conversation from the previous evening in her mind, Nikki assured her, "No regrets, Trish... I can honestly say I've got none." As much emotional trauma as she had suffered over the previous three years, still Nikki knew this was as true a statement as she had ever uttered. "Can we have an early dinner tonight?" she asked almost shyly.

"I've a beer order coming in at two, but then I don't have to be on the floor until eight. I could come up to yours? I'll bring a curry?" Trisha suggested helpfully.

Considering the offer Nikki countered, "No, I'll cook. It's a little wet for a barbecue, but I'll figure something out. I'm in class until half past two. A stop at Tesco's and I should still be home by half three, so you can stop in any time after."

A shocked Trisha commented, "You cook now?"

"Astonishing what being a shut-in'll teach you to do... All right, no, change of plans; I need to push the time back." Nikki decided she now had something to prove to Trisha and had revamped her menu idea. Knowing black truffles were in season, she had decided on a truffle and asparagus risotto to side stilton crusted medallions of beef. She knew she would have to make a stop at the greengrocer's at Borough Market in Southwark. "Let's make it half past four, yeah? Oh, and red wine's a good choice, a cabernet or a Nebbiolo, if you were wondering," she let Trisha know unsubtly.

Nebbiolo? Maybe she's changed more than I thought, Trisha contemplated to herself. Aloud she managed, "Half past four, I'll see you then."


Part Sixty

Subsequent to her conversation with Nikki Thursday afternoon, Helen did her best to throw herself wholeheartedly into her relationship with Thomas, much to his delight. They spent a gratifying Thursday night with Helen using sex as a distraction from her plight. Early the next morning, however, he could not help but try to wheedle her reasons for leaving Larkhall so abruptly out of her. As he was helping her clean out her office, he challenged, "It's just... I can't believe you'd throw the towel in. Is it Fenner? Has he touched you again?" he demanded as he watched her pack up her office Friday morning.

With a telling sigh she assured him, "Fenner played a part but, no, it's not like that."

"'Cause I'd take care of him myself," the doctor vowed.

"He hasn't, I told you!" she reiterated tersely, absently taking in his attire: brown pants with a wheat coloured corduroy jacket over an oversized lavender tee shirt. She rolled her eyes.

Giving her the once-over he declared, "Eh, well, there's something you're not telling me, I can read that."

Emotions already stretched to the breaking point she snapped, "Look, don't psychoanalyse me. I'm not one of your bloody patients!"

Softly he muttered, "Why're you keeping things from me? I don't understand." Thomas was in love with the diminutive woman and would have done anything for her, so he was at a loss to understand why she would not let him in, why she held him at arms' length when all he wanted to do was to help see her through this difficult transition.

"Because it could be more than you can handle right now," she finally acknowledged honestly. She added, "I just can't talk to you about this, not yet. But leaving Larkhall is the right decision. You just have to trust that," she insisted, ending their conversation because she had to go find Karen in her office. The G-Wing governor was to take over the duties of Governing Governor until someone could be found to assume the role permanently. Since Helen had only been in the position on an interim basis, the wheels had already been set in motion in this endeavour. In the Wing Governor's office Helen did her best to warn Karen off Fenner. "Watch out for him, Karen," she advised. "He's a misogynist bastard who's been playing you from day one." But he had the blonde thoroughly hoodwinked; Helen's admonitions fell on deaf ears.

The resigning prison official eventually made her way back through the labyrinth that was Larkhall to her office to finish up her packing. Thomas had been awaiting her return, desperate to finish their earlier conversation, and started in on her immediately, "Well, there's my betting days over. I just never thought you'd give up and let Fenner win."

Turning on him heatedly Helen hissed, "Okay, so he won. Rub i' in. Make me feel worse than I already do!" Coming to fully recognise how much Helen was being torn up, Thomas relented contritely all the while knowing he could not reverse the sting of his careless words. Unplacated, she continued on the attack, "Don't you think if there were any way I could stay...? I've been working my arse off trying to make thing better in here. I have gone to the wall fighting the shit in this service!" she reminded him, unable herself to believe that this was the end of the line. She threw the rest of her books into a box and took one last look around the office she was vacating.

"And resign if you want," he said though acutely aware she was not doing so because it was what she wanted. "It's your right." He picked up the heavier of the two boxes Helen had packed. "Come on, over a drink, yeah?" he suggested.

Taking a meditative look behind her she concurred, "Yeah, a right bevvy load." With that the two were away, Helen saying goodbye to Larkhall for the final time.

Part 61

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