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 posted on my old website, ZanWeb back in 2000-2001 (during the break between Series 2 and Series 3) so it might contain a few cultural references from that time. This story was originally named 'What If II' (after quite of bit of thought, I've come to the conclusion that 'What If 1' is way, way too bad every to see the light of day again) and 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

What If (Redux)
By Filbertfox


Chapter Twenty-one

In Manchester, it was cold and grey. Typically Monday morning weather to welcome the staff who arrived for the start of the eight-thirty shift. Amongst the cars arriving in the car park was Yvonne's. She parked it in her reserved space and turned off the engine before leaning forward to rest her head on the steering wheel. This morning she would see Karen for the first time since waking up next to her on Sunday morning. The prospect filled her with revulsion, horror and total pant-filling terror.

Yvonne had spent the whole of yesterday and last night trying to recall the events of Saturday night, but other than scattered images, the last thing she could clearly remember was Lauren leaving the pub. Maybe this selective amnesia was a good thing, she reflected, there was no doubt that if she could remember what had taken place in Karen's bed, she would be feeling a hell of a lot worse than she did now.

Yvonne was roused out of her thoughts by a series of frantic taps on the driver's window. She looked up and saw the Julies.

'What do you two want?' Yvonne snapped irritably as she climbed out of her car.

'It's Zan,' Julie S replied. 'Some bastard threw a petrol bomb through her living room window.'

'On Saturday night …' Julie J added.

'While her and Dominic were upstairs in bed.'

'Christ almighty!' Yvonne gasped. 'Are they okay?'

Julie J nodded. 'Dominic managed to get her and Jo – that's Zan's housemate – out into the back garden. She's in a right state, ain't she, Jue?'

'A right state,' Julie S agreed. She looked around shiftily before moving closer to Yvonne. 'Fing is, she reckons it's summat to do with the notes and stuff she's been getting. She asked us to tell you about it …'

'Because you'd know what to do.'

'Where is she now?' Yvonne asked.

'She's staying at Dominic's for the time being,' Julie S answered. 'The whole downstairs of 'er 'ouse is completely gutted, innit, Jue?'

Julie J nodded. 'Completely.'

Yvonne turned to lock her car door, mind already shifting up the gears as she re-formulated her plans. After a few seconds, things began to fall into place and she turned back to the Julies who were gazing up at her expectantly.

'Are Zan and Dominic in today?' she asked.

The Julies shook their heads in tandem.

'Dominic ain't rostered on and Zan's called in sick,' Julie J expained. 'Ain't surprising is it really?'

'So the only people who know what's happened are us three, Babs and Helen when she gets the absence sheet,' Yvonne deduced. She thought for a moment, nodded and then motioned the Julies closer. 'Okay, so this is what I want you to do …'

Nikki was locking her car when the Julies ran past her. She watched them enter the building and then glanced over at Yvonne who was walking by.

'What's up with Bill and Ben?' Nikki called.

'Operation 'Big Brother' is off,' Yvonne said, aware of Nikki's questioning stare as she reached into her pocket for her cigarettes. 'Some psycho threw a Molotov cocktail through Zan's front window on Saturday night. I'll bet you any money that it was that sick twat who's been sending her those poison pen letters.'

'Jesus!' Nikki exclaimed, horrified. 'Is she okay?'

'Dominic managed to get 'er and 'er flatmate out of there in the nick of time, apparently,' Yvonne replied as she jammed a cigarette into her mouth. 'You, me and the Julies are the only ones that know that, okay?'

'What you on about?' Nikki asked, her eyebrows furrowing in puzzlement.

'You and me are going straight upstairs to fill Helen in, while the Julies take care of the business end,' Yvonne continued as she lit her cigarette. 'They're gonna put it about that Dominic got burnt and then watch for reactions.'

Nikki stared at Yvonne in disbelief. 'Yvonne, we're talking about the Julies here, not Cagney and bloody Lacey!'

'Nikki, I know what I'm doing,' Yvonne said evenly

'And what about Helen?' Nikki asked. 'She'll flip her lid! There is no way she'll go along with something like this,' she protested. 'It's arson now right? So, it's in the hands of the police. Let them deal with it.'

'And we're gonna let them deal with it,' Yvonne said reassuringly. 'Ain't no harm in giving 'em a prod in the right direction while we're at it, is there?'

Nikki thought about this for a moment and eventually nodded. 'Okay,' she said reluctantly. 'But if I end up getting the cold shoulder in bed tonight, I'm going to blame you.'

They walked into the building and stood in silence as they waited for the lift.

'Oh yeah,' Nikki said eventually. 'What's all this I hear about a tequila race and you having to be manhandled into a taxi?'

Yvonne glared at Nikki for a brief moment before turning away and storming off in the direction of the stairs.

'What the bloody hell did I say?' Nikki asked no one in particular.

Helen found it hard to control the grin that appeared on her face whenever she thought about last night. Nikki had arrived at her flat in the afternoon straight from the airport and after a long bath together they'd gone straight to bed and spent the rest of the night there. At around midnight, Helen had been hit by a sudden wave of impulse and had asked Nikki to move in with her rather than going through all the hassles of looking for a place of her own. Almost immediately, Nikki had agreed.

It was reckless, impulsive and most probably the craziest thing she'd ever done, but the more she thought about it, the better Helen felt about it. Nikki's new job would mean her spending at least half of every week away, and what was the point in her wasting money on renting a flat when they both knew that they'd be spending what remained of the week together, anyway? Also on the plus side, the long absences would provide space for both of them, easing the tensions that were bound to crop up as they got used to the situation.

Helen looked up when someone knocked on her office door. A couple of seconds later, it opened and Monica popped her head into the room.

'Helen, the new IT Manager has just arrived,' she said.

Helen sat up straight in her chair and nodded. 'Okay, can you send him in please, Monica?'

As Monica left the office, Helen picked up the top file from the pile on her desk and opened it in front of her. She looked up when the door opened. However, her warm smile of welcome faded the moment she recognised the man who stepped into the room.

Helen stared at him with her mouth open. 'Yiannis?' she said in a squeaky voice.

He was similarly taken aback. 'Helen?'

'What are you doing here?'

'I'm your new IT Manager,' he replied, smiling as he approached Helen's desk. 'I was told to report to Helen Stewart at nine o'clock. That is you isn't it?'

Helen looked down at the open file in confusion. 'But I was expecting a … er … Steven Miller.'

'Steve?' Yiannis laughed as he said the name. 'I don't think so. He retired the same day I received notification of my transfer.'

'Shit!' Helen exclaimed, reaching for the telephone. 'Personnel must've sent the wrong file up. Take a seat …' she said, gesturing towards the chair on the other side of her desk. 'I'll give them a ring and find out what's going on.'

Helen punched in the telephone number for Claire Walker, one of her friends at Head Office. As she did so, she noticed that instead of sitting down in the chair, Yiannis had perched on the edge of her desk. Slowly, Helen leaned back in her chair as she heard Claire's phone begin to ring.

After what seemed like an age, Claire answered.

'HR, Claire Walker.'

'Hi, Claire. It's Helen.'

'My word!' Claire exclaimed. 'Two calls in two days. I am honoured.'

'This is regarding a personnel matter,' Helen said, keeping her tone crisp. She risked a quick glance up at Yiannis, and looked away immediately when she saw that he was smiling down at her. 'Our new IT Manager. I think there may have been a mix-up with the file you sent me.'

'Don't tell me you're disappointed with Zorba,' Claire said with a laugh. 'He's bloody gorgeous.'

'Claire, I was expecting someone called Steven Miller.'

'No, Yiannis Niarkhos,' Claire said, sounding puzzled. 'I put the file into the internal post myself.'

'I think you may have sent the wrong file,' Helen continued. 'Like I said, I'm sitting here looking at the personnel file for Steven Miller …' she flicked through the pages of the file, 'er, Senior Technician, Heathrow Terminal One.'

'Bloody hell!' Claire exclaimed. 'You know what I've gone and done. I had Steven Miller's file on my desk ready to send on to pensions. I must have stuck it into the envelope instead of Zorba's.' She paused and sighed. 'I'm sorry, Helen. I'll get the right file in the post to you straight away.'

'Thanks, Claire. Listen, I've got to go, but I'll give you a call tonight …' Helen couldn't suppress the huge grin that bloomed on her face. 'I've got some news.'

'Oh hello! This sounds like it might be something to do with wonder Wade.' Claire said sarcastically. 'Okay, speak to you later.'

'Thanks, Claire. Bye.' Helen put the phone down and looked up at Yiannis. 'Sorry about that. You were right. Head Office sent me the wrong file.'

'So, what next?' Yiannis asked.

'I'll ask our current IT Manager to come down to meet you,' Helen replied as she reached for her phone again. 'She can take you away and show you the ropes.' She felt a feeling of cold dread as she realised that it was only a matter of time before Nikki found out that Yiannis had walked her home on Saturday night. 'Doesn't sound like she's it yet,' Helen said, frowning as she heard Nikki's phone continue to ring unanswered in her ear.

'So, seeing as this is my first day, do I get to take the General Manager out for lunch?' Yiannis asked, smiling as he angled his body across the desk.

Helen shifted uncomfortably in her seat. She opened her mouth to turn him down, but closed it again with a snap when the office door opened and Nikki walked in.

'Helen, I …' Nikki stopped in her tracks when she saw Yiannis, eyes narrowing suspiciously as she saw how close he was to Helen. Her expression darkened further when Helen shot up out of her chair. 'What's going on?' she asked in a low voice.

'Nikki …' Helen stammered as she backed away from the desk. 'This is Yiannis Niarkhos, your replacement.'

'Looks like it … doesn't it?' Nikki snapped, turning her attention to Yiannis, looking him up and down critically. 'Who the bloody hell are you?'

Yiannis slid off Helen's desk and took a step towards Nikki, hand extended. 'I'm Yiannis,' he said, 'You must be Nikki Wade. I've heard a lot about you.'

'Well I've heard absolutely nothing about you, mate,' Nikki said, shooting a pointed look in Helen's direction. She reached out to shake his hand briefly. 'I'd been expecting someone a lot older.'

'There was a mix-up at Head Office. They sent us the wrong personnel file by mistake.' Helen said quickly, wanting nothing more than to be alone with Nikki so that she could explain. 'Yiannis, would you mind waiting in the outer office?' she asked. 'I think Nikki wanted a word with me in private …' She looked over at Nikki who shrugged noncommittally, before folding her arms. 'Nikki?'

'Yeah, right. Whatever,' Nikki said sulkily.

Yiannis looked between the two women in confusion before nodding. 'Okay…' He walked over to the door, turning back to Helen just before he reached it. 'So, do I get an answer about lunch?'

Helen wished that the floor would open up and swallow her. Nikki now was staring at her open-mouthed, face dissolving into an expression of hurt and anger. Without giving herself time to think about it, Helen walked from behind her desk and over to Nikki. Placing a hand on the taller woman's shoulder, she turned to smile at Yiannis.

'Actually, Nikki and I have plans,' she said, gratified to see Nikki relax slightly.

It was Yiannis' turn to stare at Helen open-mouthed as realisation hit him. 'Oh … I see.' He looked down at the floor, clearly embarrassed. 'I really was barking up the wrong tree on Saturday night, wasn't I?'

Helen felt a sinking sensation as Nikki forcefully pulled away from her and then stalked over to the window. She stood there with her back to the room, shoulders twitching, her hands clenching and unclenching at her sides.

Yiannis grimaced and raised a hand to his forehead, clearly realising that he'd just put his foot in it. 'I'm sorry … I … er …' He flicked a glance at the office door. 'I … er … yeah. I'll go and wait outside.'

As soon as the door had closed, Helen rushed around the desk to explain. 'Nikki, please don't go jumping to conclusions. I can explain.'

'Explain what Helen?' Nikki snapped, not looking away from of the window. 'Must be a huge relief for you to know that you can still pull the boys.'

'Oh for God's sake, Nikki!' Helen exclaimed, feeling her own anger beginning to rise. 'He tried to chat me up when I was in the pub with Karen. He happened upon me again when I was trying to get her and Yvonne into a taxi and he walked me home. It only took a couple of minutes and I left him at the end of the driveway … that's all it was, honestly.'

'That's all?' Nikki raised an eyebrow sceptically. 'He didn't try it on or anything?'

Helen reached out to place her hand on Helen's arm in an attempt to soften the impact of her answer. 'Well yes, he did, but I make it clear that I was with someone, and I wasn't interested.'

'Well you obviously weren't clear enough,' Nikki snapped. 'He definitely thinks he's in with a chance. Shit, he was practically drooling over your desk.'

'Lorna Rose does the same whenever you walk into the room,' Helen pointed out coolly.

'It's not the same.' Nikki said assertively.


'Because you …' Nikki paused, trying to find the words to explain. 'You're the only woman I want. But you … you could decide that you want a man as well.'

Helen sighed and shook her head in disbelief. 'Christ, Nikki. I asked you to move in with me last night. Would I have done that if I was so fickle about what I feel about you?' Helen paused, allowing her words to take effect. 'If you don't trust me, then what's the point? We might as well put a stop to this right now.'

'You're right,' Nikki said, suddenly contrite. Slowly, she turned away from the window and reached out to take Helen's hands. 'I'm sorry. I do trust you, it's just …' She shook her head and exhaled heavily. 'I'm such a miserable, paranoid … jealous sod. I can't help but wonder how long it'll be before you work that out for yourself.' Nikki squeezed Helen's hands. 'I love you, Helen. I don't know what I'd do if I lost you.'

'Nikki, I'm not going anywhere. I promise. I love you too, you miserable, paranoid, jealous sod.' Helen returned the pressure of Nikki's hands before stepping into her arms, relieved that they'd managed to navigate their way through this latest crisis with only the minimum of fuss. 'We're getting better at this, have you noticed?'

'Well, we have managed to get plenty of practice in,' Nikki said as she wrapped her arms around Helen's waist. 'We're going to need it too if I'm moving in tonight.'

Helen pulled away slightly and looked up at Nikki with surprise. 'Tonight?'

'I thought that was what you wanted.'

'It is, I just didn't expect it so soon.' Helen smiled reassuringly. 'Believe me, I've been grinning like a lunatic ever since you said yes last night.'

'So have I,' Nikki agreed, pulling Helen closer. 'Only I'm a bit worried about how you're going to get on with Eric.' She smiled to herself as she imagined what Helen's reaction would be when she saw the five-foot rubber plant she'd once stolen on a bet.

'Who the hell is Eric?' Helen asked, frowning up at Nikki with mounting horror. 'You didn't mention having any pets.'

Before Nikki could explain, there was a brief rap on the door. Monica poked her head into the office and was forced to quickly avert her eyes and Helen and Nikki jumped apart.

'I'm terribly sorry,' Monica said. 'But Yvonne's in the outer office asking to see you. She says it's important.'

'Oh of course.' Nikki rolled her eyes, suddenly remembering. 'You're going to want to hear this, Helen.'

Helen regarded Nikki with suspicion. 'What have you been up to?'

'Nothing!' Nikki protested. 'Honestly!'

Helen looked over at Monica and nodded. 'Okay, you'd better show her in.'

Marilyn Fenner was reading the Daily Mail and drinking a cup of coffee at the kitchen table when she heard a soft thump in the hall as the post arrived. She looked up momentarily before returning her attention to the newspaper. This time of the day – the all too short hour between dropping the kids off at school and beginning the housework – was set aside as her 'personal time'. Nothing was going to interrupt it.

A while later, Marilyn closed the newspaper and then carried her mug over to the sink. It wasn't until she was rinsing the mug under the hot tap that she remembered that the post. After drying her hands on a blue-and-white checked towel, she went to fetch it.

There was quite a stack of mail on the door-mat … bills, junk mail, Jim's Angler's Times and, strangely, an A4 envelope addressed to her.

Marilyn placed the rest of the post onto the hall table and then studied the envelope closely. She frowned as she spotted the Moss Side postmark … she certainly didn't know anyone who lived there. After a moment's further consideration, she opened the envelope and pulled out some folded sheets of A4 paper and a letter.

Dear Mrs Fenner,

As you'll see, your husband is still shagging that bitch Shell Dockley.

Hope these pictures help to make things clearer.

Yours truly,

A Friend

Marilyn was aware that her hands were shaking as she unfolded the sheets of paper, feeling anger, revulsion and humiliation as she saw colour print-outs of pictures of her husband with another woman. From the position they were both in, it was obviously what they were up to. Her head wanted her to tear up the photographs, burn them … bury them … anything to stop the pain and anger that gripped her. But her hands wouldn't obey, and neither would her eyelids as she tried to close them.

The feelings of humiliation rose as she noticed that in some of the pictures, the woman was staring up at the camera. Her eyes were cold, her face totally expressionless and that just seemed to make it worse somehow.

Marily was forced to grab onto the banister as a surge of anger began to overwhelm her. Tears were threatening to fall from her eyes, but she was determined not to let them … not now … not yet. The crisis passed quickly passed, and determination took hold as she climbed the stairs. He wasn't going to get away with this!

Helen listened with mounting horror as Yvonne relayed her plans. Glancing over at Nikki, she saw that the other woman seemed to be preoccupied with fiddling with a stray thread on the cuff of her shirt.

'And you think this is a good idea do you?' she asked Nikki.

'I think it's obvious that we're employing whoever's been doing this,' Nikki replied, looking up from her shirt. 'Like Yvonne says, we've got more chance of finding her than the police.'

'And you're sure it's a woman are you?'

'Well it's pretty bleedin' obvious ain't it?' Yvonne said tersely, leaning forward in her seat. 'Zandra didn't start getting the notes until she started seeing Dominic.'

'And you think that it's someone with an unhealthy obsession with him?'

'Well if you don't call throwing a petrol bomb through someone's front window unhealthy then there's something wrong with you,' Yvonne commented.

Nikki flashed a warning look in Yvonne's direction. 'Listen,' she said, turning back to Helen. 'We're all agreed that you should contact the Police. In the meantime, if we can find out the name of the culprit, more's the better, right?'

'And just how do you propose to do that?' Helen asked sceptically.

'I've got the Julies putting it about that Dominic got burnt in the fire,' Yvonne explained. 'They're gonna watch for people's reactions and …'

'Hold on a minute,' Helen interjected, horrified. 'The Julies?'

'I know how it sounds, Helen, but …'

The door to the office flew open with such force that it banged against the wall. Helen, Nikki and Yvonne all jumped in their seats. Three heads snapped around to see Shaz almost fall into the room. Monica was close on her heels.

'I'm sorry,' Monica said. 'I tried to stop her.'

'What is it, Shaz?' Helen asked.

'Iknowwhodidit!' Shaz was so eager to get her words out that they came out as a jumbled series of squeaks.

'Shaz!' Shooting out of her seat, Yvonne grabbed the teenager by the shoulders and shook her. 'Slow down!' she snapped. 'Now, tell me what's happened.'

'I know who did it,' Shaz replied slowly, looking first at Yvonne and then over at Helen and Nikki who were standing on either side of the desk. 'I caught her on the webcam putting another one of those notes in Zandra's locker!'

Fenner stood at the glass partition that separated his office from the sales floor and drank a mug of tea. He pulled a face as he watched the Julies working their way around every single spur of desks. He'd been watching them ever since they arrived for work at eight-thirty, and as far as he could tell, they hadn't done a stroke of work yet.

Fenner's expression morphed into a scowl as he caught sight of Karen walk onto the sales floor. After pausing briefly at the duty desk to exchange a few words with Di, she continued towards his office.

'Do you mind?' Fenner snapped as Karen breezed through the door without knocking. 'The whole point of having a door is so that people have to knock on it.' He glared at her for a moment before plonking himself down in his chair. 'What do you want, anyway?'

'Your overtime records,' Karen replied sharply. 'You know … the same records I've been expecting for over a week now.'

'What's up with you? Get out of bed the wrong side this morning?' he countered, smiling smugly. 'Or did Atkins not manage to get it up for you last night?'

'One more puerile remark like that, Jim and I'll report you for sexual harassment,' Karen said coldly. 'Oh, and if those records aren't on my desk by the first thing tomorrow morning, I'll be taking it up with Tim Murray. Word is he's just looking for an excuse to kick you out on your backside!'

Fenner flinched when Karen slammed the door behind her and turned a baleful eye on the stack of paperwork on top of his desk. The phone rang and he considered it for a second before picking it up.

'Fenner,' he barked bad-temperedly.

'Jim, it's Bobby. Your wife's at the front-desk.'

Fenner frowned. Marilyn had never shown up at work unannounced before. He wondered if there might be something wrong with one of the kids and felt his heart begin to beat faster. 'Okay, tell her I'll be right down.'

In Nikki's office, Helen, Yvonne and Nikki gathered around a computer screen and watched as Shaz loaded the video stream she'd recorded that morning.

'I can't believe it!' Helen exclaimed as a picture of the inside of the locker room popped up on the screen. 'Putting a video camera in the locker room? Do you have any idea how many regulations that contravenes?' Furiously, she turned to Nikki. 'And you agreed to this?'

'If we can find out who this sick bastard is, I'd say the end justifies the means,' Nikki replied.

'Oh you would, would you?' Helen retorted, throwing her hands up in the air in a gesture of disbelief. 'I can't believe how stupid you've been!'

'Oh for God's sake, Helen!'

'When you two have finished having your little domestic, you might want to take a look at this,' Yvonne interrupted.

'Here it is,' Shaz said excitedly, pointing at the screen. 'There!'

Shaz paused the video stream just as a woman was placing a note into Zandra's locker.

'Fuck me!' Nikki exclaimed, looking over at Helen who was staring at the screen open-mouthed. 'I can't believe it.'

'Well, well Di Barker.' Yvonne said as she patted Shaz on the back. 'You've been caught on candid camera!'

As the lift doors opened on the ground floor, the first thing Fenner noticed was Marilyn pacing the foyer. The second thing was the look of pure hate on her face when she saw him.

'Marilyn? What on earth's the matter?' he asked, walking towards her.

'You bastard!' she screeched, charging over to him.

The last thing Fenner was expecting was the hand that appeared out of nowhere and slapped him around the face … hard.

'What the bloody hell was that for?' Fenner yelled, holding his hand to his face as he watched Marilyn pick up a holdall from a nearby chair. 'Marilyn?'

'I've just seen pictures of you at it, Jim. You can work the rest out for yourself!' Marilyn flung the holdall at her husband. It hit him directly in the stomach and knocked the wind out of him. 'Your shirts aren't ironed!'


Chapter Twenty-two

In Nikki's office, Yvonne and Nikki watched Shaz replay the video stream for the fifth time while Helen paced up and down in front of the desk.

'What I don't understand, is why she's still putting notes in Zan's locker after what she did on Saturday night,' Nikki reflected as she leaned back against the window sill.

'She obviously found out from somewhere that Dominic and Zan are okay,' Yvonne replied, turning her attention to Helen who was still pacing the room. 'Your knickers too tight or something?'

Helen stopped pacing and looked over at Yvonne. 'Pardon me?'

'Don't matter,' Yvonne replied, winking at Shaz who grinned in reply. 'You done well Shaz.'

'Sharon, can you leave the room please,' Helen said, stepping up to the desk with a look of determination on her face. 'And you Nikki, you've got to see to Yiannis remember?'

Yvonne grabbed hold of Shaz's arm just as she was about to climb out of Nikki's chair. 'You keep your gob zipped about this, alright? Oh, and before you do anything else, get down to the locker room and get rid of that webcam.'

Terrified by the menacing look on Yvonne's face, Shaz nodded mutely before fleeing the room.

Helen turned to Nikki who was still leaning against the window sill, arms folded. 'I thought I just asked you to do something, Nikki.'

'He'll wait,' Nikki replied, standing her ground.

Helen was at the point where she was about to lose control of the situation and her actions. She was not only angry with Yvonne for deciding to plant a camera in the locker room, she was absolutely livid with Nikki for agreeing to go along with it. She knew that if Nikki had any further involvement in this, she would only end up losing her temper. After the misunderstanding they'd had about Yiannis, another argument was the last thing they needed.

Yvonne seemed to sense this and turned to Nikki. 'Hop it, Nik. You go and do what you've got to do. Helen and me'll deal with this.'

Nikki nodded reluctantly. She walked over to the door and turned an apologetic look in Helen's direction before turning the handle.

Helen felt her bad temper evaporate immediately. Nikki resembled a scolded puppy, sloping away with its tail between its legs. 'Nikki, what time will you be bringing your stuff round tonight?'

'Hopefully about seven,' Nikki replied. She favoured Helen with a radiant smile before glancing over at Yvonne. 'It is still okay for me to borrow your car isn't it?'

'For Christ's sake, Nik! You've only asked me about fifteen friggin' times after all!' Yvonne snapped, raising her eyes to heaven. 'For the last time … yes! Now fuck off!' She waited until Nikki had closed the door behind her before turning to Helen. 'Right, how do you wanna play this?'

'We call the police and tell them what we know,' Helen replied. She raised her hand to her forehead, feeling the beginnings of a tension headache. 'Obviously, we can't tell them that we caught Di placing notes in Zandra's locker because of the webcam. That could prove to be a problem.'

'Why? We'll just tell 'em that we'd been watching the locker room from the outside, and noticed that Di was always in there just before Zandra received a note. As far as the police are concerned, only you and me knew this was going on. The less people they have to interview about it the better. I'll give Zandra a ring and tell her that if the rozzers ask, the only person she confided in was me.'

'And what if she's already told them that Nikki was involved as well?'

'Nah.' Yvonne shook her head. 'The Julies told me this morning that Zandra ain't told them nothing. She's waiting on me coming up with an idea.'

Helen sighed. Her headache was getting worse with every passing moment. 'Yvonne, your surname is not Corleone and this is a call centre, not La Cosa Nostra! I'd appreciate in future if …'

'Can we save the lectures for later? We've got to get our stories straight before you call the cops.' Yvonne said as she sat down in Nikki's chair. 'So, Zandra told me and I told you. Between us, we've been keeping an eye on the locker room.'

'Okay, so how come we didn't contact the police in the first place?'

'Because we thought we had more of a chance of finding out who it was ourselves,' Yvonne replied quickly. 'Of course, we always planned on telling them as soon as we found out.'

'So just what were you planning on doing if the original plan had worked?' Helen asked, her eyes boring into Yvonne's as she moved closer to the desk. 'If I'd never become involved.'

Yvonne didn't even blink. 'I would've called the police,' she replied, face totally expressionless. 'What else would I have done?'

Helen pursed her lips in response, not believing a word of it. 'I'll go and do what you should've done in the first place then, shall I?' She strode over to the door, pausing before she reached it. 'Oh, and when Shaz has retrieved the webcam I want it brought straight to my office. I won't have this place turned into You've Been Framed!'

Jim Fenner parked his car in the car park and turned the engine off. Wearily, he reached into his shirt pocket for his cigarettes.

Earlier on, he had followed Marilyn straight home, determined to get his side of the story in before she jumped to any more conclusions. In the past, he might have been able to talk himself out of something like this, but now she had photographic proof, it had unhinged her to such an extent that she wouldn't even let him in through the front door of his own house. Anger had gripped him and he had tried to force his way in, but then she'd said something that had made his blood run cold … her Mum and two brothers were already on their way over. Jim knew that he would be able to handle Marilyn's brothers … but her Mum? She had the temperament of a Rottweiler with its paw caught in a door, and the right hook of Mike Tyson in his prime. Fenner was absolutely terrified of her, and she had always hated him.

On the drive back to work, he had tried to figure a way out of his predicament, but the more he thought about it, the more he was sure that his marriage was now one hundred per cent screwed. If not now, it certainly would be when Marilyn's Mum got in on the act.

His mind started turning towards revenge on the person who had set this up. Dockley was the obvious suspect, but he was sure that if it was her, she hadn't acted alone. The most technical thing that Shell did on a daily basis was pull her knickers up. He couldn't believe for a moment that she'd managed to set a camera up.

So the big question remained … who?

Atkins. She's definitely psycho enough.

But Atkins wasn't technically minded enough to do something like this either. She always had Nikki in her office showing her …


As much as Fenner disliked Wade, he couldn't see her doing something like this. She might be an interfering dyke but something like this just wasn't her style.

So who?

Frustrated, Fenner slammed his hand down on the dashboard. He climbed out of his car, locked it and then headed back towards the building and to where the whole thing had started … the locker room.

Nikki was surprised to find that she actually quite liked Yiannis. He was funny, obviously good at his job, and from the stir he caused amongst the female employees as she gave him the grand tour of the building, it was obvious that his presence was going to put Fenner's nose right out of joint.

After hearing that Yiannis had tried it on with Helen, Nikki had prepared herself to be hostile. However, he'd disarmed her immediately by apologising for the misunderstanding, before vowing that as far as he was concerned, Helen was now out of bounds:

'You're together, and that's good enough for me. I'm not one of those Neanderthals who thinks that all a lesbian needs is a bloke to straighten her out,' he said before turning to smile at Nikki. 'And plus, I'm pretty enamoured with women myself. I can see where you're both coming from.'

Although Nikki believed that he was genuine, there was still a tiny part of her that worried about what might transpire when he took over here, and she started her new job. But Helen was right … Nikki had to learn to trust her. Otherwise, as Helen had pointed out earlier, what was the point?

After visiting the canteen and the computer room, Nikki and Yiannis arrived on the sales floor. As soon as they walked through the door, all eyes turned to look at them.

Julie S nearly fell off the desk she was perched on as Nikki and Yiannis walked by.

'Bleedin' Nora!' She exclaimed, nudging Julie J who was telling another telephone agent about the fire at Zandra's house. 'Take a butcher's at the arse on that.'

Julie J looked up and gasped. 'Talk about tight,' she agreed.

'I bet he can crack walnuts between those cheeks!' Julie S said with a lascivious grin, practically drooling as she tracked Yiannis' progress across the floor. 'I suppose we should 'ave a word wiv Nikki about you know what.'

Julie S frowned, confused. 'Word about what, Jue?'

'You know,' Julie S prompted, pausing to look around shiftily. 'About that what Yvonne told us to do before.'

'Oh yeah!' Julie J nodded, suddenly realising. 'Come on then.'

The Julies caught up with Nikki and Yiannis just as they were nearing the duty desk.

''Ere, Nik!' The Julies chorused as they both grabbed an arm each.

Having spotted Di Barker sitting at the duty desk, Nikki appreciated the sudden interruption. At first, she wondered what all the panic was about, but then she noticed the way the Julies were looking up at Yiannis expectantly.

'Yiannis, meet Julie Saunders and Julie Johnston, otherwise known as the two Julies,' she said, grinning when she saw that the two women were looking up at him like pilgrims seeing Mecca for the first time. 'Julies, meet our new IT Manager, Yiannis Niarchos.'

'Pleased to meetcha,' Julie J said, leaning forward to shake Yiannis' hand. 'You Greek then are ya?'

'Half Greek,' he replied. 'Only I…'

'Oooh, remember that 'oliday we 'ad in Corfu that year, Jue?' Julie S interrupted. She nudged her friend, who was staring up at Yiannis transfixed. 'Jue!'

'What was that?' Julie J frowned and managed to drag her eyes away from Yiannis.

'That 'oliday in Corfu.'

'Oh yeah.' Julie J sighed, a faraway look on her face. 'All them dishy waiters!'

Nikki rolled her eyes at Yiannis who laughed. 'You get used to this,' she said before turning back to the Julies. 'Now, was there something in particular you wanted to talk to me about? Or were you just angling for an introduction?'

'Oh yeah.' Julie S nodded and then motioned Nikki closer. 'Yvonne told us that we should tell you or 'er if we saw anyone acting suspiciously … you know …' She touched the side of her nose and winked. 'Only we 'ave.'

Nikki nodded and turned back to Yiannis. 'Do you mind if I abandon you for a couple of minutes? Only this is really important.'

Yiannis nodded his agreement, relieved to be rescued from the Julies. Nikki winked at him and then looked around for somewhere that she and the two women could talk without being overheard. Noticing that Fenner's office was empty, she motioned the Julies to follow her inside.

Once inside the office, Nikki closed the door and leaned against it.

'So come on then,' she said, folding her arms. 'Out with it.'

'It's Di Barker …' Julie S began as she sat down on the edge of Fenner's desk. 'She's been acting dead weird, ain't she, Jue?'

Julie J nodded at her friend before turning to Nikki. 'Dead weird, yeah.'

'What do you mean by weird?'

'Well, we told 'er about Dominic,' Julie S explained, leaning forward conspiratorially. 'And she got this really strange look on 'er face.'

Nikki shrugged, unconvinced. 'She might just have the hots for him.'

'Yeah, but you didn't see what she looked like when I mentioned Zan's name,' Julie S continued. 'It was the creepiest thing I've ever seen.' She shivered dramatically. 'Just like 'Annibal Lector. Wannit, Jue?'

'You could almost see 'er 'ands closing round poor Zan's throat,' Julie J added, wrapping her arms around her body as she too succumbed to a shiver. 'Or sticking 'er pet bunny …'

'In a saucepan and boiling it.' Julie S finished her friend's sentence with a sigh, looking over at Nikki expectantly. 'So what do ya reckon, Nik?'

Nikki was forced to think quickly. Thanks to Yvonne and Helen excluding her from their crisis talks, she had no idea what the new plan was. In the end, she settled for shrugging noncommittally.

'I'll talk to Yvonne about it,' she said, turning to open the office door. 'But in the meantime, keep your gobs shut about this … all right?'

The Julies nodded in unison.

'Don't worry Nik …' Julie J said.

'You can trust us.'

'She knows something we don't,' Julie S said speculatively as soon as Nikki had left the office. 'Best not to rock the boat though, eh?'

Julie J had no idea what her partner in crime was talking about but nodded regardless. 'Fancy a brew, Jue?'

'Yeah, why not?' Julie S replied, jumping down off the desk when she noticed that Di Barker was looking over at them from her position on the duty desk. 'We'd better make it a quick one though or Di completely Barking'll be throwing petrol bombs at us!'

Shaz resented being ordered around by Yvonne. She itched to tell Denny about the developments of that afternoon, but she knew that if she did, she could expect more than just a ticking off. This was deadly serious.

The lift seemed to be taking its time this morning, and as she stood there and watched the numbers change on the digital display above the door, Shaz's mind began to wander. Suddenly, this wasn't just a trip downstairs to remove a webcam. This was a secret mission to steal a microchip from a top-security installation in the middle of Siberia. Now caught up in her imagination, Shaz flattened herself against the wall of the lift the second the doors opened on the ground floor.

Shaz peered around the open lift door and saw that the foyer was deserted apart from the presence of Bobby Hollamby behind the security desk. Automatically, he became a KGB officer, the umbrella propped up against the desk a Kalashnikov.

'This is gonna be tough, 007,' she whispered to herself. 'One wrong move and they'll be sending you back home in a box!'

Shaz took a deep breath before diving into a forward roll that brought her up against the side of Bobby's desk. She crouched there for a moment before making a break for the door on the opposite end of the foyer. As soon as she was through it, she flattened herself against the wall, her pulse racing and pounding in her ears as she surveyed the deserted corridor.

Slowly, she slid along the wall to the locker room door. A few steps later and she was there. After another deep pause to calm herself, she reached out with her arm and pushed the door open slowly. Finally, she was able to survey the layout of the room, seeing walls lined with steel rather than with lockers. By narrowing her eyes, she could see the red lines of laser beams criss-crossing the room, providing a security barrier approximately one and a half feet from the floor.

Pausing to double check that the coast was still clear, Shaz dropped to her knees and slowly lowered herself to the floor. Using her elbows and knees, she propelled herself towards the far wall. Progress was slow, but eventually she made it. Disregarding the friction burns on her hands, she rose to her feet and pressed herself against the row of lockers. Slowly, she began to inch her way towards the webcam.

Pulling herself up the locker was easy. As a child, Shaz had been able to climb further and higher up a tree than any of the boys in her school. Once on top, she reached for the webcam. However, just as she was congratulating herself for a job well done, the locker room door banged open. Shaz froze with fear when she spotted a furious-looking Jim Fenner striding towards her.

Fenner couldn't believe his eyes when he spotted the small camera Shaz was reaching for. His temper was already balancing on a knife edge, and this finally pushed him over the edge.

Fenner roared, a raw, primeval sound that reverberated around the room and tore into Shaz who tried to cringe into the wall and away from him as he lunged at her. She felt his fingers digging into the soft flesh of her left arm and thigh as he tried to pull her off the locker. She heard the faint scratching sound as her own nails tried to gain some sort of purchase on the smooth steel of the locker as his strength began to get the better of her. Suddenly, she was picked up and thrown across the room where she collided with another row of lockers. All of the breath left her body as she made impact, feeling a sharp pain as a padlock dug into her ribs. When she crumpled to the floor, the agony was so acute that she almost passed out.

'You bitch!' Fenner hissed through gritted teeth before kicking Shaz sharply in the stomach. 'You've totally fucked my marriage with your games!'

Shaz was now trying to pull herself into a foetal position. For some reason, the sight of this angered Fenner even more. He reacted by raining a series of hard blows down onto her shoulders and back. Once he thought she'd had enough, he picked her up by the neck of her sweater and slammed her up against the row of lockers.

'Come on, Shaz, you're just a kid,' Fenner said softly. 'There's no way you or Dockley could've come up with an idea like this on your own, so tell me, who was behind it?' When Shaz refused to speak, he slammed her up against the locker again. 'Tell me, or as God's my witness, I'll beat seven shades of shit out of you!'

Shaz raised her head. Fenner's face was swimming out of focus now and she just wanted the pain to stop.

'Don't piss me off Wylie!' Fenner persisted, increasing the pressure of his hands around Shaz's neck. 'Tell me!'

''Vonne,' Shaz slurred through a mouthful of blood.

'What was that? I didn't quite hear you.'

'Yvonne,' Shaz said with an effort. 'Yvonne set it up.'

At the mention of Yvonne's name, Fenner could almost feel the explosion as his internal pressure gauge finally blew. Shaz was nothing now and he dropped her without a second thought. He was barely aware of sound of her hitting the floor as he turned to leave the room.

Nikki and Yiannis were now coming to the end of the tour. As she led him down the corridor towards Karen's, she stopped in her tracks as she saw three men, one of them in police uniform, being ushered into Helen's office by Monica.

'What's all that about?' Yiannis asked as he came to a halt at Nikki's side.

'I have no idea,' Nikki lied, as she knocked on the door of Karen's office. 'You're about to meet the woman who'll turn into the bane of your existence. I'm sure you've probably heard tales of Ebeneezer Betts down at Head Office.'

Yiannis shook his head. 'No I haven't,' he replied. 'But I have to say, I'm intrigued.'

'Karen Betts, our Finance Manager,' Nikki explained, nodding towards the nameplate on Karen's office door. 'Go a penny over your overtime budget and she'll skin you alive!' She knocked on the door again, and then reached for the door handle, frowning when she realised that the office was locked. 'Probably a blessing in disguise,' she commented. 'We don't want you resigning on your first day.'

'Is she really that bad?' Yiannis asked.

'She's worse,' Nikki replied, feeling a sudden yearning for a cigarette as she recalled her regular clashes with Karen. 'Listen, I'm gonna pop downstairs for a fag. Why don't you wait for me in the canteen? I'll only be five minutes.'

'I'll come with you,' Yiannis said. 'As long as you blow the smoke in my direction though.' Smiling, he reached up to rub his upper arm. 'These patches only do so much.'

'I tried patches once,' Nikki confided as they started to walk back towards the lift. 'Totally useless! Not to mention completely impossible to light!'

They both laughed and then fell into a companionable silence until they reached the lift.

'I should warn you,' Nikki said as she pressed the 'Call' button. 'These are the slowest lifts in England, and if you have any sort of tendencies towards claustrophobia then I'd recommend the stairs. I've lost count of the number of times I've been trapped between floors.'

'Really?' Yiannis suddenly looked very uncertain. He swallowed uncomfortably as the lift doors opened in front of him.

'You okay?' Nikki asked. 'Want to take the stairs?'

Yiannis considered for a moment before stepping into the lift. 'So tell me,' he said, deciding to change the subject. 'What are the rest of the management team like?'

Nikki leaned back against the lift wall, folding her arms as she considered her reply. 'Yvonne's great,' she said at length. 'But just be careful how you handle her. Treat her with respect and you'll receive it in return.'

'You make her sound like Don Corleone!' Yiannis exclaimed as he looked up at the digital lift display, nervously watching it move through the floors.

'She's one of those people you don't want to cross,' Nikki continued, hiding a smile behind her hand as Yiannis jumped when the lift shuddered slightly. 'Oh, and be warned … she and Yvonne annoy the hell out of each other. Do yourself a favour and stay neutral.'

'What about your Ops Manager?' Yiannis asked as the lift doors opened. 'Now him, I've heard about …'

Yiannis' words trailed off as a blonde woman burst through the door opposite the security desk. Her eyes darted over to Nikki and she seemed to slump slightly with relief.

'Nikki, thank God,' she said.

'Karen?' Nikki asked, concerned. 'What the hell's happened?'

'It's Shaz,' Karen replied. 'I think she's been beaten up. She's in the locker room in a hell of a state. You'd better come and see to her.'

Without a moment's thought, Nikki broke into a run and flew down the corridor to the locker room. She was dimly aware of Karen and Yiannis trailing behind as he pushed the door open.

Shaz was lying on her side with her knees drawn up to her chest. She was shaking violently, and when Nikki crouched by her side and put a tentative hand on her shoulder, she flinched away. Nikki frowned and leaned over her, biting back her rising temper when she noticed that Shaz's face was covered in blood and that her lower lip swollen to twice its normal size.

'Shaz, I need to look at you,' Nikki said gently. 'I need you to show me where it hurts.'

Shaz didn't reply, she just drew herself into a tighter ball.

Nikki sighed and turned to look up at Karen. 'You'd better call an ambulance. I don't want to try moving her just in case.'

'I think you should know that when I came down here, I saw Jim Fenner leaving the room,' Karen said, raising her eyebrow slightly. 'He just stormed straight past me. I've never seen him that angry before.'

'Bastard!' Nikki snapped before she forced herself to take a deep breath. Losing her temper now would only upset Shaz even further. 'You'd better call the Police as well then.' She waited until Karen had rushed out of the room before turning to Yiannis. 'Do me a favour? Go and find Yvonne and get her down here right now.'

Yiannis nodded and backed towards the door. 'What do you want me to tell her?'

'Just tell her to get her arse down here!'

Yiannis left the room and Nikki turned back to Shaz. She had no idea what had possessed Fenner to beat her up, but she had a strange feeling that Yvonne was involved in it somehow.

In fact, Yvonne arrived back with Yiannis about thirty seconds later. She had been on her way outside for a cigarette when he ran into her in the foyer. She was out of breath when she charged into the locker room.

'What's happened?' she asked, panting as she crouched down next to Nikki.

'Well isn't is bloody obvious?' Nikki replied brusquely, glaring over at Yvonne. 'Shaz has just received a right good kicking thanks to that bastard Fenner.'

'Fenner?' Yvonne's face registered complete shock for a moment before she turned her attention to Shaz. Gently, she placed a hand on the teenager's shoulder. 'Shaz, did Fenner do this to you?'

Shaz nodded in reply. 'He caught me taking the webcam down.'

Yvonne jumped up and kicked a nearby locker. 'Bastard! I'm gonna fuckin' kill him!'

'Excuse me for interrupting, but can someone tell me what the hell is going on here?'

Yvonne and Nikki turned around. In the crisis they had both completely forgotten about Yiannis. Before either of them had the chance to explain, the door banged open and Karen ran into the room, completely out of breath.

'Ambulance is on it's way. So are the …' Karen paused when she saw Yvonne. Colouring slightly, she cleared her throat and then looked over at Nikki. 'Police.'

'You called the filth?' Yvonne shouted, staring at Nikki in disbelief. 'You stupid fucking cow! What are we gonna tell them about the webcam?'

'Webcam?' Karen interjected.

Yvonne and Nikki glanced over at Karen, but neither answered.

'Nice one, Nik.' Yvonne continued, folding her arms as she stared at Nikki accusingly. 'Helen and me just spent half the bleedin' morning getting our stories straight.'

Nikki pulled herself to her feet in order to confront Yvonne. 'Yvonne, what happened here has nothing to do with Zandra. It's bloody obvious! Fenner's a complete twat, we know that, but I seriously doubt that he'd smack Shaz around for the sheer hell of it! I know you've got something to do with this Yvonne. So, you either tell me now and we see if we can sort it out. Or you can wait and tell the police.'

'Oh, and you'd drop me in it would you, Nik?' Yvonne said, taking a step closer to Nikki, her posture menacing. 'You're not the type.'

'Yvonne, I don't give a shit to tell you the truth. Right at this precise moment, all I give a damn about is finding out why this,' she gestured at Shaz, 'has bloody well happened.'

Karen stepped forward and placed a restraining hand on Yvonne's shoulder. She flinched slightly when it was immediately shrugged off. 'Would someone mind telling me what the hell is going on here?' she asked, standing firm despite the murderous stare Yvonne turned in her direction. 'What do a webcam and Zandra Plackett have to do with Fenner beating Shaz up?'

'Zandra told us that she'd been receiving threatening text messages on her mobile phone,' Nikki explained, avoiding eye contact with Yvonne by crouching down to check that Shaz was still okay. 'The same sicko was also leaving poison pen letters in her locker, so Yvonne came up with the idea of installing a webcam in here so that we'd be able to catch them.'

'Presumably it was the same person who petrol-bombed Zandra's house at the weekend?' Karen deduced. She raised a disapproving eyebrow. 'Didn't you think that maybe something like this should've been brought to the attention of the police?'

'Yeah, I did.' Nikki stood up again, hands on her hips as she looked over at Yvonne accusingly. 'Only someone persuaded me to go along with the webcam idea! Though what any of this has to do with Fenner is totally beyond me.'

'Dockley just happened to come across me and Shaz when we were setting up the camera,' Yvonne admitted finally. 'She wanted us to film her shagging Fenner on camera. I think she planned on sending pictures to his missus.'

'You stupid fucking cow!' Nikki exclaimed, throwing her hands up in the air in a gesture of disbelief. 'I know Fenner's a tosser, but that's totally below the belt! And Dockley? Do me a favour, Yvonne!'

'Look.' Yvonne said, holding out her hands in a gesture of conciliation. 'I know it was a stupid thing to do but …'

'Stupid?' Nikki howled, rounding on Yvonne furiously. 'Do you have any idea what you've done? We only just managed to talk Helen round before. Now we're all going to be lucky to hold onto our jobs!'

'For God's sake, Yvonne!' Karen snapped, joining in with the attack. 'I really did think better of you. This is the sort of misguided, ill-thought out stunt that the Julies would pull!'

'Can I make a suggestion?' a voice said.

All three women turned to look at Yiannis who was leaning against a locker with his arms folded.

'There is an easy way out of this,' he continued. 'Get rid of the webcam.'

'Great idea,' Nikki said sarcastically. 'Only what are we going to say when Fenner tells the cops that he caught Shaz trying to take it down? Oh, and then there's the photos Dockley sent to his wife. You can't exactly argue with physical evidence.'

'So? It's his word against everyone else's,' Yiannis replied calmly.

'So how come he ended up knocking the stuffing out of Shaz then?' Yvonne asked.

'He just saw her in here and put two and two together.'

Nikki smiled and nodded. 'Yeah, and who's to say that Shaz was up there to get rid of the webcam anyway? She might have hidden something else up there.'

'Yes, like your brain.' Karen said to Yvonne who scowled in reply.

'Okay, first thing, let's get rid of this bloody camera,' Nikki said as she walked over to survey the locker in question. 'Yiannis, can you give me a leg up?'

While Yiannis and Nikki were occupied, Yvonne crouched down beside Shaz. 'Sorry we got you into this, love,' she said softly. 'But I need you to listen to me. If anyone asks, you don't know anything about a webcam, okay?'

Shaz nodded and mumbled something unintelligible.

'What was that?' Yvonne whispered, moving closer.

'Had to tell Fenner about you,' Shaz mumbled through her swollen lips. 'He was hurting me. I'm sorry.'

Yvonne smiled reassuringly and squeezed Shaz's shoulder gently. 'Don't you worry about that. Just remember about the webcam, yeah?'

'My locker, keys in my pocket,' Shaz said, wincing as she lifted her head up slightly. 'Box of bangers …. fireworks.'

Yvonne nodded, understanding. 'Okay, so you tell the police that you'd hidden them up there, and that you were climbing up to get them when Fenner came in, alright?' She smiled when Shaz nodded. 'Don't you worry. We're not gonna let the bastard get away with this.'

Yvonne carefully reached into the pocket of Shaz's jeans and came out with a metal key ring in the shape of a shark with three keys attached to it. The number on the locker key was 56, and Yvonne stood up and looked around for the corresponding locker. The inside of the locker was a mess, and Yvonne grimaced as she encountered half-eaten sandwiches, several copies of Playboy, an open can of Coke and a rotting banana before she spotted the box of bangers. She took the box out and smiled ruefully at it, wondering what sort of mischief Shaz had planned.

'What do you reckon she was gonna do with these?' Yvonne asked as she looked up at Nikki who was balancing precariously on top of the lockers.

'I don't give a shit,' Nikki replied irritably. 'Just pass me the bloody things before I fall off!'

'Alright, alright!' Yvonne grumbled, reaching up to hand the box to Nikki. 'Don't get your knickers in a twist!'

'It's not my knickers I'm worried about,' Nikki said as she replaced the web-cam with the box of bangers. She threw the webcam to Yiannis, who caught it deftly. 'You do realise that Helen's gonna go completely and utterly mental about this don't you?'

'So don't tell her,' Yiannis said, stepping out of the way when Nikki jumped down from the row of lockers. 'I don't think anyone in here will say anything.' He looked over at Karen who nodded reluctantly.

'I'm going outside,' Karen said coolly. 'The ambulance should be here soon,' she added. Pausing to flash a poisonous look in Yvonne's direction, she left the room.

Crouching down beside Shaz, Nikki reached for her hand. 'I'm sorry, Shaz,' she said, squeezing the teenager's hand.

'She okay?' Yiannis asked, leaning over Nikki's shoulder.

'I hope so,' Nikki replied with a sigh. Letting go of Shaz's hand, she turned to look at him. 'So, what do you think of your first day so far?'


Chapter Twenty-three

Helen sat behind her desk and studied the two men sitting opposite. Detective Sergeant Green was tall, broad shouldered and had the battered look of a rugby player. Detective Constable Talbot, meanwhile, was small, dark and looked shiftier than any of the criminals whose mug shots she'd seen on Crimewatch. The uniformed officer, whose name she hadn't caught, was a lot younger than his senior colleagues. He leaned against the filing cabinet directly behind them, a look of extreme boredom on his face.

She had relayed her story quickly. DC Talbot had taken what looked like extremely detailed notes, while DS Green asked her questions. Helen had never actually been in the position of having to talk to the police before, let alone lie through her teeth to them. She was therefore hugely surprised by the ease with which the story she and Yvonne had concocted between them flowed off her tongue.

Now, the two detectives were awaiting the arrival of Di Barker. Although DS Green had reassured her that he and DC Talbot would do all the talking, this was a meeting that Helen wasn't looking forward to in the slightest. After all, this was a woman who was suspected of throwing a petrol bomb through someone's front window. God only knew how she was going to react to being questioned by the police.

At that moment, there was a knock on the office door, and Helen found that she was holding her breath when it opened, and a very apprehensive looking Di Barker stepped into the room.

'Di, these gentlemen are DS Green and DC Talbot from Chester Road Police station,' Helen explained. 'They want to ask you some questions.' She gestured towards the spare chair next to DS Green's. 'Why don't you take a seat?'

Helen was shocked by the immediate change in Di. The easy-going, friendly woman, who was never without a smile on her face, turned a malevolent stare onto her that pinned her back into her seat. The detectives noticed it too and exchanged a quick glance.

Green waited until Di was seated before turning his chair to face hers. 'Ms Barker,' he began. 'Can you tell me how well you know Zandra Plackett and Dominic McAllister?'

'I know them both … of course,' Di replied coldly in direct contrast to the warm smile that crept across her face. 'I know Dominic better though. He and I are very close.'

'How close?' Talbot inquired.

'We're in love,' Di said in a syrupy voice, a faraway look in her eyes. 'He's asked me to marry him.'

Talbot looked at Green and raised his eyebrows as if to say, 'we've got a right one here Sarge!'

'I'm sorry, Ms Barker, I don't understand.' Green said, leaning towards Di with a look of puzzlement on his face. 'If he was engaged to you, why was he sleeping at Ms Plackett's house on Saturday night?'

'He's been trying to finish with her for ages,' Di replied without hesitation. 'She's very unstable. The last time he tried to end it, she threatened to kill herself.'

'I see.' Green smiled at Di and leaned back into his seat. 'Ms Barker, what do you know about an arson attack on Miss Plackett's house on Saturday night?'

'Arson?' Di looked from one detective to the other in confusion. 'The silly girl probably left one of her cigarettes lit or something like that.'

'Normally lights her cigarettes with a petrol bomb does she?' DC Talbot said sarcastically, earning a look of censure from his superior.

'Ms Barker, I'm going to have to ask you to account for your movements on Saturday night,' Green persisted.

'I was at home with my mother,' Di replied innocently. 'She's housebound you see. I spend most of my time with her.'

'And she'd be prepared to verify that you were with her?'

'She's very ill and I don't want her bothered,' Di said through gritted teeth, obviously on the verge of losing her temper. 'If I said I was with her, I was with her!' She smiled again, suddenly calm. 'I'm in love with Dominic. Why on earth would I want to harm him?'

'Maybe because you couldn't have him,' Talbot said, losing patience. 'For exactly the same reason you were observed leaving threatening notes in Ms Plackett's locker.'

'Me?' Di gasped, her expression one of total disbelief as she turned to Helen. 'Who saw me? It's not true.'

'I saw you,' Helen replied, forcing herself to maintain eye contact. 'So did Mrs Atkins.'

'And there are also the threatening SMS text messages that Ms Plackett has been receiving,' DS Green added, holding out his hand for the evidence bag that DC Talbot had just taken out of his jacket pocket. Green held the bag up, revealing a mobile phone with a Pink Panther cover. 'Ms Plackett saved a number of these messages. We've been able to track the source to a pay as you go mobile phone. Impossible to trace, of course … unless we find it.'

'It's nothing to do with me,' Di insisted, holding out her hands to make her point. 'I haven't even got a mobile phone, and I certainly didn't leave any notes in Zandra's locker.'

'Then there's no reason why you shouldn't consent to a search of your house then … is there?' DS Green said purposefully. 'If you didn't do it, then you've nothing to hide.'

Again, the change in Di was immediate and remarkable. She sprang out of her chair and confronted the two detectives.

'My mother is ill,' She said softly, the rationality of her words in direct contrast to her demeanour, lending them extra impact. 'I won't have her bothered.'

DS Green stood up, using his six foot plus height advantage to tower over Di. 'Then I'm afraid, Ms Barker, I'm going to have to ask you to accompany us down to the station.'

'I'm not going anywhere with you,' Di said brusquely turning towards the door.

DS Green was deceptively fast on his feet for someone so large. Before Di had chance to take another step, he had crossed the room. He now blocked her route to the door.

'I'm arresting you on suspicion of arson and intent to endanger life,' Green said. 'You do not have to say anything but it may harm your defence if you do not mention now, something which you later rely on in court. Do you understand?'

Helen found that she was holding her breath during the caution, nervous of Di's reaction. However, the woman surprised her again, and instead of the explosion Helen was expecting, she settled for nodding meekly.

'We'll take it from here,' DS Green said, hanging back as DC Talbot and the uniformed officer escorted Di through the door. 'I'll keep you informed of course.'

'Thank you,' Helen replied, standing up and walking around to the front of her desk. 'What do you …?'

Helen's question was interrupted by the uniformed officer. He stepped back into the office holding his radio.

'Sorry, Sarge,' he said. 'I've just heard over the radio that there's been an assault in the building.'

'Here?' Helen exclaimed, horrified. 'In this building? Who?'

'Sorry, Ma'am, I don't have any of the details,' the officer, before turning back to DS Green. 'They're sending a car over to the hospital and another one here.'

DS Green looked over at Helen with concern. 'Are you okay? You don't look well at all.'

'What do you expect?' Helen shook her head, surprised to find that she was laughing. 'I've just had one of my supervisors arrested for arson, and it now looks I'm most probably also going to have another member of staff arrested for assault. Can it possibly get any worse?'

Nikki and Yvonne saw Shaz and a frantic Denny into the ambulance before returning to the front of the building. Nikki sat down on the steps and reached into her jacket for her cigarettes. She offered the packet to Yvonne who took one.

'How long before the cops get here?' she asked Yvonne.

'What do I friggin' look like, Dixon of Dock Green?' Yvonne snapped as she bent down to light her cigarette from Nikki's lighter. 'How the bleedin' hell should I know? They'll get here when they get here. You just better make sure you got your story straight.'

'You don't have to worry about that, Yvonne,' Nikki said, dragging deeply on her own cigarette. 'I don't exactly relish the idea of going down for perverting the course of justice.' She looked up at the older woman, and shook her head disapprovingly. 'What on earth possessed you to go through with it? You don't usually give Dockley the time of day.'

'Because it's about time Marilyn found out what a twat her husband is.'

'Yeah, well I'm not arguing with that one, but sending her photos of him on the job with Dockley was a bit bloody extreme.'

'I'll tell you what's extreme, Nik, him taking advantage of kids like Rachel Hicks.' Yvonne's gaze was unwavering as she stared down at Nikki. 'And I'll tell you something. He better hope that the filth get their hands on him before I do, otherwise I'll rip his bollocks off and stuff 'em up his arse!' She took a long drag on her cigarette and glanced up at the building. 'You reckon Karen and Yiannis are gonna stick to the story?'

'Yeah, like either of them have a choice,' Nikki said sarcastically, relenting when she ended up on the receiving end of another hard stare. Then, Yvonne seemed to deflate. Nikki looked on, slightly perturbed as the older woman sat down on the stairs next to her.

'Can I tell you something?' Yvonne asked. 'And I mean if I tell you, you don't tell anyone, not even Helen.'

'What's up?' Nikki asked, raising an eyebrow.

Yvonne hesitated and stared down at the end of her cigarette intently. 'You know that me and Karen got pissed on Saturday night? Well, I … I woke up next to her on Sunday morning.'

'What? You mean you passed out next to her?' Nikki asked, confused.

Yvonne looked around shiftily and then motioned Nikki closer. 'No, I mean I woke up next to her … in her bed, with no friggin' clothes on,' she whispered, nodding when Nikki swung around to regard her open-mouthed, completely shocked. 'I can't remember any of it.'

'Shit, Yvonne!' Nikki exclaimed, aghast.

'Understatement of the friggin' century,' Yvonne said around a long drag on her cigarette. 'I know I was three sheets to the wind, but shagging another woman? I just can't get my head round it.'

'Well maybe it's best that you don't.' Nikki reached out to place a tentative hand on Yvonne's shoulder. 'The best thing you can do is try to forget it ever happened,' she said softly. 'Come on. I can't count the number of times I've woken up in a strange bed without any idea about how I got there. Just forget about it.'

'That's easy for you to say!' Yvonne snapped, shrugging Nikki's hand away. 'How would you react if you woke up next to Fenner?'

'I think I'd probably have a heart attack,' Nikki replied, shuddering at the thought. 'Can I ask you a question without you biting my head off?'

Yvonne sat up and looked over at Nikki suspiciously. 'What?'

'Are you even the slightest bit confused about the way you feel towards Karen?'

'I don't feel anything towards her,' Yvonne said firmly, regarding Nikki with a direct stare. 'Just because I enjoy having a drink with the woman from time to time, it don't mean I want to rip her knickers off.'

'Well there you go then. There's nothing for you to worry about … is there?'

Yvonne shrugged and threw her half-smoked cigarette away before pushing herself to her feet. She used her hands to brush the seat of her trousers. 'Like you say, I'm just gonna have to try and …' She paused when out of the corner of her eye, she spotted Helen emerging from the building. 'Stand by your beds. Here comes the Head Prefect.'

Helen shot up off the steps when she saw Helen. She threw her own cigarette away before turning to smile at the approaching woman.

Helen however, wasn't in the mood to return the smile.

'What on earth is going on?' Helen asked, looking at the two women accusingly. 'I've just heard about this assault. Who was it?'

'Shaz Wylie,' Yvonne replied, exchanging a guarded glance with Nikki. 'Fenner beat her up in the ladies locker room.'

Helen's face registered complete shock for a moment. 'Fenner?' she said, horrified. 'Why?'

'We don't know. Shaz wasn't exactly in a fit state to tell us,' Nikki answered, deciding to deflect Helen's question with another. 'Anyway, how come you know about it already?'

'Di Barker's just been arrested. One of the Policemen heard it over his radio and …'

'Well here come the cavalry now,' Nikki observed, seeing a Police car turn into the car park. 'I take it they smuggled Di Barking out the back way,' she deduced, turning back to Helen.

'Where's Fenner now?' Helen asked, ignoring Nikki's question.

'Long gone,' Yvonne replied. 'And if he's got any sense, he'll stay under the stone that he's crawled under. He's cooked his goose this time … big style.'

After a long soak in the bath, Helen pulled on a pair of tracksuit bottoms and a baggy T-shirt. Wandering through to the living room, she switched the TV on and collapsed on the sofa with a glass of Chardonnay. After a few minutes spent staring mindlessly at Deep Space Nine, she reached for the remote control and switched over to the local news. Sitting back, she pulled her legs up beneath her and stifled a yawn. It had been one hell of a long day.

After being patched up at the hospital, Shaz had given a statement to the police in which she named Jim Fenner as her attacker. Karen had made an equally as damning statement about witnessing Fenner leaving the locker room, just before she discovered Shaz. Fenner's whereabouts were still unknown, but his description had been circulated. The police detective Helen had spoken to seemed pretty optimistic that he would be apprehended within the next twenty-four hours.

DS Green had also been in contact with Helen. His search of Di Barker's home had unearthed the mobile phone she'd used to send the text messages to Zandra, plus the notepad she'd used to write the threatening notes. Even more disturbingly, Green had also discovered a shrine to Dominic in Di's bedroom. Di still hadn't been formally charged for the petrol bomb attack on Zandra's house – they were still awaiting the results of forensic tests on the boot of her car – but DS Green had reassured Helen that it was now only a matter of time.

Realising that it probably wouldn't be long before the news of both incidents filtered down to Head Office on the company grapevine, Helen had bitten the bullet and informed Tim Murray that one of her management team was wanted for GBH, and that one of her supervisors had just been arrested for arson. Although concerned, Tim had seemed to take the news in his stride. He then told Helen that he'd planned on phoning her that afternoon anyway. Simon Stubberfield had retired, and he wanted Helen to take over as General Manager permanently. Tim also confessed that he'd been looking for an excuse to get rid of Jim Fenner for a long time, and gave Helen free rein to appoint a replacement. Floating somewhere up on cloud nine, Helen had stammered her thanks and then gone off in search of Nikki to share the good news. However, Nikki had disappeared down the pub with Yiannis … more good news. Obviously, he and Nikki had managed to clear the air.

Suddenly, everything seemed to be coming together. She had Nikki and she had the job she wanted … a job that was going to be a great deal easier to do now that Fenner was out of the picture. Now all she needed to do was find a replacement Operations Manager. Immediately, Helen's thoughts turned to Dominic. He would be perfect, she decided, making a mental note to have a word with him first thing on Monday morning.

Helen looked up when she heard a key in the front door. She jumped out of the sofa to greet Nikki, only to come face-to-face with the biggest rubber plant she'd ever seen.

'Hiya, sweetheart,' Nikki said, grinning around the side of the plant. 'Meet Eric.'

'This is Eric?' Helen asked, folding her arms in a gesture of determination. 'No way Nikki! I'm not going to have this place turned into a scene from The Day of the Triffids!'

'Love me, love my rubber plant I'm afraid.' Nikki set the plant down before pulling Helen into her arms. 'Darling, you know I'd do anything for you, but Eric and I have been through a lot together. If he doesn't move in, neither do I. We come as a package, I'm afraid.'

'Go on then, I suppose you're worth it,' Helen conceded as she slid her arms around Nikki's waist. 'But if I wake up to find it shuffling towards the bed then it's going.' She reached up to kiss Nikki briefly before pulling away to examine the plant. 'How long have you had it?'

'About five years,' Nikki replied, wrapping her arms around Helen from behind. 'Me and the girls from the airport got pissed one night. Eric was sitting in the corner of the bar and looking very sorry for himself. Someone dared me to liberate him.'

'Liberate?' Helen looked up at Nikki and raised her eyebrows. 'You mean you stole it?'

'Semantics,' Nikki mumbled into Helen's hair. 'I love you.'

Helen felt a shiver travel along the length of her spine as Nikki began to kiss the back of her neck. It suddenly became a struggle to keep her mind on track. 'So what else should I be expecting?' she asked, squirming away from Nikki. 'A Venus flytrap? A six-foot inflatable banana? No … sorry, knowing you, it would be a six-foot inflatable woman.'

'Nothing so exotic,' Nikki replied as she reached into her pocket for Yvonne's car keys. 'Just books, CDs, clothes and stuff … in fact, I'm gonna go and bring the rest of the boxes up now and then go and drop the car back at Yvonne's.' She paused and smiled seductively. 'Because the sooner I get back, the sooner I can get you into bed.'

'If you think I'm going to spend the next few days tripping over boxes while you get your act together, you've got another thing coming! You're going to pick up a Chinese on the way home and after we've eaten, you're going to unpack,' Helen said firmly, as she pushed Nikki towards the door. 'Come on. I'll give you a hand unloading the car.'

Nikki grinned as she opened the door. 'Love it when you're bossy!'

Jim Fenner pulled up at a set of traffic lights, put his handbrake on and then reached for the half-empty bottle of scotch that was lying on the passenger seat.

He had been driving around for hours now, getting drunker and angrier with every passing moment, not only at the situation and the people who had instigated it, but at himself for losing control like that. He'd lost his wife now … and his career, and more than likely, had earned himself a stretch in Strangeways for GBH. Fenner took a long swallow of whiskey and felt it burn a trail of warmth down to his stomach.

His mind began to dwell on the woman who had caused all of the trouble. A woman who had taken every opportunity to belittle him in front of his staff … a woman who had humiliated him time and time again … a woman who had forced him to lose everything in his life that he cared about.

Well, Jim, you can honestly say that you've got nothing left to lose now.

It was time for Yvonne Atkins realise that she had to suffer the consequences of her actions, and he was going to enjoy every minute of it!

After over a month of living with Nikki and putting up with her loud music, allergy to washing-up liquid and the length of time she spent locked in the bathroom every morning, Yvonne had been looking forward to having her house back again. Now, as she sat alone in the kitchen, flicking through the Manchester Evening News whilst waiting for the microwave to finish nuking her chicken madras, she made a promise to herself never to allow her compassion to get the better of her common sense again. Nikki was a good friend, but she was a complete pain in the arse to live with … something Helen was going to come to realise before too long.

The microwave beeped to signal that her food was ready. She stood up and crossed the kitchen. Just as she was about to press the button to open the door, the doorbell rang.

Perfect timing, Nikki!

Yvonne sighed with irritation and abandoned her dinner. She took a step towards the kitchen door and stopped in her tracks when the doorbell sounded again and again … and again, followed by the sound of loud banging.

Yvonne's sixth and most suspicious sense suddenly went into overdrive. Adrenalin began to course through her body as she walked across to the fridge and reached behind it for one of three baseball bats she kept secreted around the house in case of an emergency. The bat felt reassuringly heavy and she held it in both hands as she crept across the kitchen.

Suddenly she heard the sound of glass smashing and then, the front door opening. A quick glance over at the kitchen table told her that her mobile phone was too far away. By the time she picked it up, whoever this intruder was would be right on top of her. Yvonne heard footsteps in the hall and grabbed the kitchen door handle in preparation, ready to slam the door in the intruder's face as soon as he got close enough.

Unfortunately, Yvonne had forgotten that the kitchen door opened inwards. All she succeeded in doing was slamming the door shut and signalling her presence to the intruder. She leaned against the door, using every ounce of her strength to keep it closed, but the intruder was strong and she found she was fighting a losing battle. Quickly, she stepped away from the door, holding the bat ready as she did so. This time, the intruder met with no resistance as he shouldered the door. The impetus sent him sprawling into the kitchen, where Yvonne awaited him.

As Yvonne swung the bat, she recognised the intruder and hesitated slightly. This gave him enough time to dodge out of the way of the bat.

'Bastard!' Yvonne shouted, advancing towards the intruder. 'I'm gonna fucking kill you!'

Jim Fenner stood his ground, biding his time until Yvonne came close enough for him to grab the bat. 'You've pissed me about for the last time, Atkins!' he said, his voice low and threatening. 'Have you got any idea what you've done to me?'

'Nothing you didn't bring on yourself,' Yvonne replied, taking another step closer. 'Now, I'm gonna give you up until the count of five to get out of my house, otherwise I'm gonna knock the fucking stuffing outta you, just like you did to Shaz.'

'Did you really think I was going to let you get away with this, Atkins?'

'One!' Yvonne said as she edged towards him.

'What is it with you? Too fucking ugly to keep a bloke so you take it out on the rest of us!'


Fenner saw his chance and made a lunge for the bat, managing to grab the end before Yvonne could swing it again. For a few seconds, they engaged in a tug of war until Fenner utilised his strength and weight advantage to wrestle the bat from Yvonne's grip.

It wasn't often that Yvonne allowed fear to get the better of her, but as Fenner began to advance slowly with the bat, she felt her body tense as it gave in to absolute terror.

'It's too bad for you that I've got absolutely nothing to lose now,' Fenner said, grinning as he lifted the bat. 'I've got a feeling that this is going to hurt you a lot more than it's going to hurt me.'

After she and Helen had carried her boxes and suitcases of belongings up to the flat, Nikki climbed back into Yvonne's BMW and turned on the engine. She was unable to resist revving it a few times, enjoying the smooth, powerful sound of the engine that made her hired Seicento sound like a food mixer.

Yvonne's house was only a five-minute drive away, and Nikki took advantage of the light traffic to push the car to its limits, pulling up in Yvonne's drive in record-breaking time. Her mind was so pleasantly occupied with the prospect of spending the whole weekend alone with Helen, that she didn't think twice when she saw another car in the driveway. It was only when she stepped onto the drive that she noticed that the car was Fenner's, and that the front door of the house was smashed in.

Nikki felt cold fingers of fear crawling down her spine as she surveyed the scene. Quickly she reached into the pocket of her jeans for her mobile phone. A quick phone call later and she had been assured that the police were on their way. Throwing the phone through the still open car door, she sprinted over to the house.

Nikki came to an immediate stop in the hall as soon as she spotted Fenner through the open kitchen door. He was advancing across the room slowly and she felt the blood freezing in her veins as she noticed that he was carrying a baseball bat. Realising that any sudden movement on her behalf would signal her presence, Nikki froze. She could hear her pulse thundering in her head as she started to inch slowly towards the kitchen. She was sure that Fenner would be able to hear it beating the closer she got.

Finally, Nikki reached the kitchen door. The world seemed to slow down into an action replay as she surveyed the scene and spotted Yvonne cowering against the fridge as Fenner swung the bat towards her. Then Yvonne spotted Nikki in the doorway and Fenner hesitated slightly when he noticed her eyes flickering towards the doorway. The hesitation afforded Nikki enough time to sprint into the kitchen, bellowing loudly as she jumped onto Fenner's back.

Fenner began waving the bat around wildly as he tried to dislodge Nikki, but she had her arm tightly wrapped around his throat. He was forced to drop the bat to free his hands to try and stop her strangling him. As he did this, Yvonne scrambled forwards and made a grab for the bat.

'You see this?' she said through gritted teeth as she brandished it in Fenner's face, now a deep purple through lack of air. 'I'm gonna jam it so far up your arse it'll dislodge yer teeth on the way out!'

Fenner responded by roaring and redoubled his efforts to dislodge Nikki. Summoning a last ditch burst of strength he managed to throw her off his back. Now absolutely incandescent with rage and completely blinded to the consequences, he turned and kicked Nikki in the side of her head with as much force as he could muster just as Yvonne brought the bat down on the back of his head.

Yvonne watched Fenner crumple to the ground and then threw the bat down. She knelt down check on Nikki who was totally motionless, except for a thin stream of blood trickling from the corner of her mouth.



Nikki woke and groggily, lifted a hand to her head. The side of her face felt heavy and when she touched it, the pain the contact caused was enough to bring tears to her eyes.

'I wouldn't do that if I were you,' a familiar voice said.

Nikki turned her head to see Helen sitting by the bed, regarding her with a mixture of disapproval and concern. She decided against a smile, correctly predicting that this movement would cause a similar level of pain, and instead, tried to speak. The agony was no less acute, and somewhere in the middle of it, her brain registered the fact that the only sound she had produced was a muffled grunt.

'Sweetheart, I know it's hard but you're gonna have to try not to talk,' Helen said softly, concern finally winning over disapproval as she leaned forward to take Nikki's hand. 'Your jaw was broken. They had to wire it back together.'

Just then, Yvonne walked through the door, face partly obscured by the biggest bunch of flowers that Nikki had ever seen.

'Bleedin' 'ell, Nik!' Yvonne exclaimed as she placed the flowers down on the end of Nikki's bed. She winced as she studied Nikki's face, the right side of which was all purple bruise and swollen to twice its normal size. 'You look like you just chewed on a mouthful of semtex!'

Nikki glared up at Yvonne, trying to signify that she held her solely responsible. Helen, equally as annoyed with Yvonne, leapt up out of her chair so quickly that it toppled over.

'This is all your fault!' Helen said angrily, pointing an accusing finger at Yvonne.

'Ain't my fault Fenner's a complete bastard,' Yvonne protested, turning a hard stare on Helen. 'I know you're upset, love, but you've got no right to take it out on me.'

'Well I'm sorry Yvonne, but …' Helen's tirade was cut short when she felt Nikki pulling at the sleeve of her blouse. She turned and leaned over the bed when Nikki motioned her closer.

'Fenner …' Nikki whispered out of the side of her mouth that didn't hurt. 'What happened?'

'Hopefully they've locked him up and thrown away the sodding key,' Yvonne said before Helen could reply. 'The coppers turned up just after I laid him out with the bat.'

'He's just down the corridor with severe concussion,' Helen added before turning back to Yvonne. 'Although the Police are very interested in finding out why he thought that you had something to do with a set of photographs that his wife received, showing him having sex with Shell Dockley.'

'Nothing to do with me,' Yvonne replied, her face totally expressionless. 'Anyone could've sent them. He's not exactly Mr Popular, is he?' She dismissed Helen by sitting down on the end of the bed, smiling over at Nikki. 'Karen rang earlier this morning and,' she frowned when Nikki raised a sly eyebrow, 'said she'd be in to see you later. I wouldn't feel too flattered. It's probably because she wants to brag about her date with Yiannis tonight.'

'Karen and Yiannis?' Helen exclaimed in a voice that was slightly louder than she intended. Realising her mistake, she darted a nervous glance at Nikki, who responded with a flicker of an encouraging smile. 'I didn't think he was her type,' she said to Yvonne.

'He's a bloke ain't he?' Yvonne said, not looking up. 'Anyway, I suppose I'd better leave you to it. I know when I'm not wanted,' she added, exchanging a glare with Helen. 'I'll be in to see you later, Nik.' She walked over to the door, pausing just before she reached it. 'Listen, Nik, I ain't that great at things like this … but thanks.'

Nikki waved in reply and watched as Yvonne closed the door behind her. She returned her attention to Helen who was looking down at her, an unreadable expression on her face.

'What?' she whispered.

'I don't think I realised just how much I love you until I saw you lying in that bed last night,' Helen replied softly as she returned to her chair and reached out to take Nikki's hand. 'I don't even want to think about what I would've done if …'

'Stop it,' Nikki said as loudly as she could without causing too much pain. 'You don't get rid of me that easily. I'm here for life.'

'Good.' Helen smiled and leaned forward to kiss Nikki's forehead. 'Because I want you to be.'

'You do realise what you're letting yourself in for don't you?' Nikki asked. She prevented Helen from pulling away by placing a hand on the back of her neck.

'I hope so. I wouldn't be here otherwise,' Helen replied, as she leaned forward and rested her head Nikki's chest. 'One thing I do know is that it's going to be ages before your jaw's back in full working order,' she raised her head slightly, 'which means no kissing.'

Nikki raised an eyebrow. 'Or anything else.'

Helen laughed and returned her head to Nikki's chest. 'Nikki Wade, you are so much trouble.'

The End

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