TITLE: Out of Context
PAIRING: Olivia Benson/Nikki Wade
RATING: Starts as a G/PG, will get to an R later on
DISCLAIMER: Can you imagine what would be gracing your TV screens if I owned either one of these characters? Can you? Alas, no. L&O characters are property of Wolf Productions; Bad Girl characters, of Shed Productions.
SUMMARY: Olivia Benson goes undercover at Larkhall Prison. Please note: This is an F/F pairing. Again, this is an F/F pairing. WIP until May 1st.
A/N: Tricky, tricky timeline here, particularly involving events on "Bad Girls". The closest I could get to it making sense would be season 3 of BG, but with the characters of Dockley, Denny and Dominic still on the show. Even then, for those who watch the show, a suspension of time disbelief will be necessary. SVU and BG actually run concurrently, so it is a season 3 Benson we see here. My thanks to romanmachine for the title and BG analysis, and for beta-ing it AFTER the entire opus was done. Thanks also to a bunch of people for getting me hooked on BG in the first place (residentgeek being one). Now, before this becomes an Oscar speech…
She stepped out of the truck and was immediately overwhelmed by the oppressive size of the century-old building. Stone and brick and mortar rose several stories above her head and surrounded her on three sides. Long shadows crawled across the pavement, though, as much as she craned her head, she couldn't locate the sun. Colour tended to swing towards the monochromatic and the rare glimpse of something other than grey tried in vain to be anything other than muddy brown. Take away the bars on all visible windows and the guards who were always present and the fact that this was a prison would still be as obvious as the sky was blue. It wasn't so much its appearance -although there was enough of that to convince you- it was a feeling. A feeling of dread and fear. As a cop, she was no stranger to prison; she'd just never been on the other side of the fence.
"Come on, princess, this isn't a tour."
The gruff, flat voice of the older female guard jolted Benson out of her reverie, and, clutching her clear plastic bag, she fell in step with the truck of new female prisoners as they filed into the building.
She barely sat down before the female guard, whose name tag said 'Sylvia Hollamby' barked, "Right then. Which one of you is Olivia Benson?"
"That's me," Benson answered, standing up.
"That's me, miss," Hollamby corrected.
Olivia opened her mouth to ask the woman if she was out of her mind, then remembered where she was and why. Nodding politely, she echoed, "That's me, miss."
As Olivia approached the counter, Hollamby gave her the once over, and, despite being a good six inches shorter than the brunette, somehow managed to look down her nose at her. "American, are you?" When Benson nodded, the guard huffed, "Well, you won't be getting any special treatment around here." She looked at the sheet of paper in the file. "You were sentenced at Ayesworth Crown Court for 18 months?"
"Yes." She wondered why the older woman was glaring at her, then quickly corrected herself. "Yes, miss."
"Date of birth, April 8th, 1969?"
The guard couldn't quite find fault with the tone, so she continued. "Right. Any special diet? Special religious requests?"
"None that I know of. Miss."
"Right. Take your things and follow Mr. McAllister through that door. A female guard will be there to take your clothes and do a thorough examination."
This caught Olivia off-guard. "You mean a strip-search?"
Hollamby rolled her eyes. "Yes," she sighed, "a strip-search. Though it never seems to do any good, what with all the drugs round here." She looked down at the file again. "You'd know a thing or two about that, wouldn't you, Miss America?"
"Come on, Olivia, this way."
Benson turned to the guard who had quietly directed her to the next room. He seemed like a personable guy, though a bit young for the job. "Thanks, Dominic," she read his name tag.
He coughed and smiled, "You'd best call me Mr. McAllister. Sorry. Prison rules."
"This place should come with an information booklet."
Smiling again, he said, "It does, in fact. You'll be given one when you get to see the Wing Governor." He saw the twitch of her eyebrow. "The warden of the wing, I suppose you'd call her."
Now it was her turn to smile. "Thanks, Mr. McAllister. Do you think I could get an English to American dictionary with that?"
"Ah, but then you'll have no fun trying to figure it out on your own." A female guard entered the room and Dominic gave her Olivia's information. Turning back to Benson, he said, "Miss Erickson will do the examination and Miss Grant will witness it. It's standard procedure, for your protection as well as the guards. Once the examination is complete, you'll be ushered through that door," he pointed to the left, "and taken to your room. You're lucky coming in this early; you won't have to spend time in the general dormitory. We'll be able to set you up in your permanent room straight away. You'll get up to see the Governor sometime within the next couple of days and will be given a personal officer at that time. Do you have any questions?"
She shook her head. "No, seems pretty straight forward."
"Good," he replied. "Just… keep your head down for a while, get used to how things operate, see how things work, yeah?"
"Right. Then I'll leave you to it."
The door clicked shut and Erickson slipped on her gloves. "Please remove your clothes."
As an officer of the law, Benson was well aware of the procedure from arrest to conviction, but it was only when she stood there, naked and exposed, her toes curling on the cold hard concrete floor, that she realized how it must feel, to know that this was it - life as you knew it was over. The finality of it must be the hardest thing, she thought, though the loss of individuality and dignity was probably a close second. By no means was she a prude when it came to nudity; her job hardened her over the years to barely blink at the sight, and she had nothing to be ashamed of regarding her own body, she knew. But this wasn't nudity, this was nakedness, and there was something incredibly demeaning about standing there in front of two women who couldn't have shown less interest in her as a person and only viewed her as another file.
When she was given her clothes, she was surprised to find she was allowed to wear what she brought in with her. She had thought the effort to wipe out individuality would have included some kind of generic prison uniform, but for whatever reason, this wasn't the case, and for that she was glad. She could see how easy it would be to forget who you were and what kind of life you had before prison, but this allowed the prisoner to hold onto one last tattered shred of that existence.
"Let's go," said Miss Grant. "Your room waits."
The unwelcome sight of Jim Fenner made his presence known in the doorway of the small cell.
"Barbara, get your things. You're moving."
The fifty-something prisoner looked up from her diary, her pen stopping in mid-word. "I beg your pardon?"
"Get your things, you're moving," Fenner repeated. "Come on, I haven't got all day."
Still stunned, Barbara stood slowly and began gathering her meagre possessions. Her cellmate, Nikki Wade lifted her head from her book and eyed the guard warily. "What's going on?"
The guard barely acknowledged her as he watched the older woman placing things in her bag. "If it was any of your business, Wade, I would have told you, wouldn't I?" He couldn't help the smirk that spread across his face and conceded the information, because he knew it would be to his benefit and not Wade's. "If you must know, we've got a shortage of cells on Basic, so until things rectify themselves, Barbara here is moving up to Enhanced."
The news got exactly the reaction he had hoped. Practically springing from the lower bunk of her bed and barely missing hitting her head on the metal bar, the lanky frame of Wade stood inches away from Fenner.
"Enhanced? She's going to Enhanced?" Quickly turning to Barbara, she apologized. "Sorry, Barbara, that's not what I meant."
Barbara, who had frozen in place upon hearing the news, could only shake her head and say, "No. No, that's quite all right, Nikki. I'm just as surprised as you are, I assure you."
"I've got a good three years on Barbara," Nikki argued, her attention back to Fenner. "If anyone should be moving up to Enhanced until things are fixed, it's me. I'm not even supposed to be sharing a cell!"
"And if Helen Stewart were still Wing Governor, I'm sure you'd get your way." The way Nikki's nostrils flared at his audacity was a joy for Fenner to behold. He knew the dig about her relationship with the former governor would get a rise out of her. "In the meantime, come on, love," he gestured to Barbara. "Get your things and let's go." As Barbara said her goodbyes to Nikki and walked out, Fenner turned back to Wade. "And I'd consider myself lucky if I were you. Betts gave you enough consideration to not put you in a four cell."
Nikki scrunched up her face in a grimace of fake sincerity. "I'll be sure to thank the governor the next time I see her in the food line."
"You do that," Fenner replied and tossed one more line in her direction before closing the door. "Enjoy your new cellmate."
"Piss off," she mouthed to the thick steel door before flopping back down on her mattress.
"You start in Basic," Dominic told her as they walked down the long corridor, stopping every so often to unlock and lock barred doors. "You'll be put in a two cell -two bunks per cell -and depending on your attitude and your progress, you could move up the wing to Enhanced." He unlocked and locked another door. "That's the top floor of the wing and that's single cell. You get it to yourself as well as more privileges within the prison." He was thorough with his information, but paused in his speech every so often to make sure Olivia understood it all.
"Got it," she told him.
"Good. If you have any questions, don't hesitate to ask your personal officer once you're given one or you can always ask me."
"You work the G-wing?"
"And how's that working out for you?"
He laughed at her directness. "Why don't we focus more on your adjustments here rather than mine?"
Without flourish, he held his hand out in the direction of a drab green door. "This is yours." When Olivia didn't move, he needlessly asked, "You've got everything?"
"What? Oh, yeah, sorry. I just…"
"Is this your first time then?"
"Well, I won't promise it will get any better, but keep out of trouble and you'll do okay. Come on, I'll do the introductions." He gently guided her to the doorway and leaned into the cell. "Nikki, you've got a new cellmate."
Resting against the hard stone of the cell, arms folded and cigarette dangling from her fingertips, she barely turned from the window to say, "Yeah, Fenner told me the good news."
"Give her a break, Nikki. You never know, you might like her." The guard ignored her snort of disinterest and went ahead with the introductions. "Olivia, that's Nikki Wade. Nikki, this is Olivia Benson." When neither of the two women spoke up, he said, "Right. Well, I'll leave you two to get acquainted."
Nikki Wade. Benson did everything not to swear out loud once she recognized the name. Nikki fucking Wade. Cop killer. Great.
Though McAllister had left, neither woman moved, one because of the unfamiliarity of the situation, the other, because she couldn't have cared less. Several minutes of this silent impasse went by before Nikki decided to give the woman a break. McAllister might be right; maybe she'd like her. Yeah, and she might wake up tomorrow in Windsor Castle. She brought the cigarette up to her lips and turned.
Her lungs held the smoke in longer than normal in order to give her brain time to knock her eyes from their stock-still gaze. Her heart might belong to Helen Stewart, but right now, her body had other ideas. Nikki wasn't the type to love lightly, but Helen had made it clear that it was over, hadn't she? While her heart and her body debated the point, her eyes flicked up and down the long frame of her new cellmate a second time just to make sure. Short dark hair, a jaw line you could cut paper on and lips that were the cause of her staring in the first place. Then, once she got lower than the neck… she barely registered the T-shirt/sweater combination Nikki herself wore on several occasions and went right to wondering if this Olivia got extra time for wearing those pants so tight. As Nikki's eyes went back up to the woman's face, she locked with a pair of eyes that were gloriously deep and brown. Yet there was something behind them- a distance and a scrutiny that made Nikki pause. She had never experienced it before, but she knew that she had been catalogued and categorized by this woman in the time it took to blink.
Finally exhaling the smoke, her acknowledgement came by way of a quip. "Sorry. I've been bunking with the Queen Mum for the last year and a bit. You're a bit of a shock to the system."
Despite her reservations, this got a small laugh out of the cop, who reached forward and extended her hand. "Olivia Benson."
Nikki looked down at the hand and smiled before shaking it. "We're not so much on the formalities here, except with the screws." When she saw Olivia's brow furrow, she realized the woman was trying to decipher what she said. "You're American?" Benson nodded. "Right. 'Screws', it's like another name for the guards, though I wouldn't recommend you call them that to their faces."
"Got it." The plastic bag crinkled in her left hand as she looked around the small room.
Nikki watched her until she realized the problem. "Sorry again. Not thinking. It's been a long time since I had a new cellmate. That cupboard is yours; mine's over there. You can put toiletries at the sink with mine, I don't care. Toilet's in the corner. Top bunk is yours."
Olivia nodded. "Thanks." She walked over to the empty cupboard and slowly began putting away her paltry amount of possessions. Nikki caught the sense of apprehension and tried to put the newcomer at ease.
"I won't tell you you'll get used to it - I wouldn't wish that on my worst enemy - but I will tell you it does get easier in a way."
Folding up her bag and putting it in the bottom drawer, Benson stood up and offered a small, but appreciative smile. "Thanks. Again."
"Yeah, well. Listen, I'm going to finish this fag somewhere else; give you some space to figure it all out. Then maybe if you're up to it later, I'll take you around, introduce you to some of the others."
She looked around the room a second time, as if there was more to see. "Yeah. That's probably a good idea."
"Okay then." Nikki stood in the doorway for a moment, wondering if leaving this woman was the best thing to do, but if she was going to get her head together, Benson had to do it herself and there wasn't going to be any better time. "Right. I'll close the door a bit; give you some privacy. God knows you don't get much of that around here." There was one more pause before she said, "Take it easy on yourself, Olivia."
As soon as Nikki left, Benson ran her fingers through her short hair and sighed. Even though she knew Cragen and his counterpart at the Metropolitan Police Service had given her no more than four weeks for their undercover operation, the fact that there was a light at the end of the tunnel for her didn't diminish how quickly her surroundings could change her attitude from one of independence to one of submission. She could see how easy it would be to fall into a trap of depression and lose sight of the future. She wondered how Nikki adjusted to it.
Nikki Wade. Whatever her thoughts might be on why the woman was incarcerated, pictures didn't do her justice, Olivia admitted with a smirk. The fact that she was allowed to wear her own clothes helped, as Benson favoured the look herself, but Wade probably would have made the drab grey jumpsuit of Rikers proud.
'Jesus Christ,' she thought to herself, 'get a grip. It's a prison and you're undercover.'
She was on tiptoes, trying to look out the window when she heard a noise behind her.
"Look at this one, Denny. She's a sight better than Babs, ain't she?"
"Sure is, Shell."
Olivia turned and despite not knowing the younger curly-haired brunette, she recognized the other speaker immediately. Michelle Dockley. Yet another instance of pictures not doing the person justice; for while there were obvious similarities between the blonde in the photos and the blonde standing before her, pictures failed to capture the edge of psychotic tendencies in her eyes. They twinkled with some kind of malevolence, but beyond that, were dead.
"You getting comfortable, Livvy?"
Benson started at her name, not to mention the moniker, but shook it off. "As comfortable as I can in a place like this, I guess."
Denny made a face. "What kind of accent is that?"
"American," Shell told her with an exaggerated flourish in her voice. "Innit?" Seeing Olivia's raised eyebrow, Dockley sighed. "Isn't it?" she enunciated. "Excuse me while I find the clot a dictionary, Christ."
"She just called you an idiot," Denny helpfully told Olivia, who nodded her reply.
Shell rolled her eyes before getting down to business. "So you're in for a bit of possession, are ya, Miss Olivia Benson?" She saw the expression on the American's face and laughed. "The first thing you should get used to is the fact that I run this place. I find out what I want to know, and I get what I want to get. Got it?"
Benson nodded. "Believe me; I don't have anything you'd want."
"Don't you? You're in for possession," she stressed the last word. "Drugs. And you're tellin' me you didn't crutch anything in here?" Any semblance of playfulness she might have had was out of her voice. She stepped closer and the room got deathly quiet. Holding out a hand to her side, Denny stepped forward at the prompt and placed something in it Olivia couldn't quite see, but the glimpse of a sharp end gave her a hint. Something homemade, she was sure, but no less deadly.
"You'd best listen good, Miss America. Either you have something on you that I want, or you can get it for me. And if it means I have to de-crutch you in the shower, then it's all part of business, innit? Either way, I get what I want. So what's it going to be?"
Even in the small room it was difficult to keep an eye on both women, and when Benson took the split second to glance at Denny's position, Shell's hand flashed up, backhanding Olivia's face. A sharp pain burned across her cheek and she realized she was cut. When her palm came up to her face, she noticed Dockley's hand coming around again and Benson wasn't about to make the same mistake twice. As Shell's right hand approached, Olivia slid her left arm inside, gripping the blonde's forearm and pulling the lifer's nose right into Olivia's forehead. Dockley dropped the homemade shiv and reeled back, her lips moving to say something, but the shock only allowing a small squeak to escape. The only eyes wider in the place than Shell's were Denny's, who stood frozen in her spot. Benson reached over the blonde's right shoulder and grabbed a handful of hair. Pulling it down, she forced Shell onto her knees and picked up the shiv, which was nothing more than a plastic spoon handle, the ladle end broken and pointed. She leaned forward and pressed the tip against Dockley's throat. This snapped Denny out of her stupor and she stepped forward.
Olivia's head jerked up and stopped Denny in her tracks. "What's your name? Denny?" The younger woman nodded. "Denny, you look like a good kid. Just stay there, okay?" Denny nodded again and didn't move. "Now, Shell, I don't know how much damage this can do, but my cheek hurts like a son of a bitch, and I've been working out lately, so with just the right amount of force, who knows? Ever hear the expression 'born with a silver spoon in your mouth'? How would you like to die with one sticking out of your fucking throat?" Still out of breath, Dockley could only shake her head. "That's what I thought. Now, I listened to your business proposal and only understood half of it. Doesn't matter, because I have a proposal of my own. When it comes to drugs in this place, you're going to get them for me." Shell's eyes went wider. "I don't care what shit you've got on the side, but what I want, I get. Understand?"
At long last getting her lungs to work, Shell whimpered, "I can't help you. I've got nothing. I get it from other prisoners, I swear."
"That's not what I heard." Benson was please to see the confusion cross the blonde's face. "You're not the only one who finds out what they want to know. You've got someone on the outside feeding you drugs. We'll start there."
"But, but, I can't just call him out of nowhere; these things take time."
"Shell, you've gone from telling me you've got nothing to admitting you've got someone on the outside. I suppose that's a start for a compulsive liar." She pressed the shiv harder into the soft white flesh. "Shell Dockley gets what she wants. As long as it's what I want, we'll have no problems, understand?" She let go of Shell's hair and jerked her head back roughly. "And the next person who calls me 'Miss America' gets my foot up their ass. Does that translate?"
Nikki chose that moment to return to the cell.
Looking at the tableau before her, with Shell on her knees and a trickle of blood coming out of her nose, Olivia with a shiv in her hand, and Denny looking like she had shit herself, Nikki asked the only thing that seemed appropriate. "What the hell's going on here?"
Shell quickly stood up and brushed her knees. A hand came up to fix her hair and shaky fingers went to her throat. Choosing not to answer the question, she turned to Denny and said, "Let's go. We've got better things to do, don't we, Denny?" When the girl didn't respond, she repeated it louder, "Don't we, Denny?"
"What? Oh, yeah, right, Shell."
As soon as they were out of the cell, Denny looked at her friend and asked, "What did she mean about being born with a spoon in your mouth?"
"Shut it, Denny. Jesus."
"Looks like you're left holding the bag… and the shiv. Which, if you don't mind a piece of advice, I suggest you get rid of as soon as you can. The screws catch you with that and it'll be down the Block for you." Benson tilted her head. "Toss it out the window," Nikki suggested.
"Right, thanks." Olivia stood on the frame of the bottom bunk to see if there was anyone below before she dropped the homemade weapon. It was the little jolt that went up through the sole of her right foot when she hit the floor again that reminded her of the pain in her cheek. "Shit," she muttered as she peered into the small mirror on the wall. Picking up her small towel, she wet it under the tap and pressed it against her face.
The remnants of violence lingered like a mist and Nikki attempted to wipe it away with humour . "You know, for a second, I thought Dockley was going to give you an Aussie kiss." A look she was already recognizing crossed Olivia's face. "Aussie kiss. Like a French kiss, but down un… never mind."
Olivia's eyes narrowed until the pieces fell together. Pulling the towel away from her face, her mouth opened as the realization hit. "Right," she said with a small smile, "since you seem to be my resident translator, what does 'de-crutch' mean?"
Nikki's face darkened. "Is that what that psychopath said to you?"
"She mentioned it, yeah."
Sighing, she explained, "Crutching is a way of hiding drugs in an orifice that isn't your mouth, ears, nose or arse hole. I'll leave you to figure out what de-crutching means."
It didn't take Olivia long. "Jesus!"
"So, whatever the American equivalent is, did you do it?"
"Do what? Crutch drugs into the prison?"
"No!" She saw the flicker of doubt cross Wade's face, so she repeated it. "Believe me, I didn't bring any drugs in."
Seemingly satisfied with the answer, Nikki sat down on the bed and asked, "So what are you in for?"
Although she knew the answer, she volleyed the question back. "What are you in for?"
Nikki held up her hands. "Point taken. Sorry I asked."
She took another look at her cheek and, satisfied it had stopped bleeding, folded the towel and draped in on the edge of the sink. "Possession," Olivia stated simply, figuring she might as well come clean, or at least as clean as her cover allowed.
"What?" Wade asked, then realized she heard right. "Christ, a smack head. That's great."
"It's not like that."
"Then what is it like? No, wait," she stopped, her hand held up again, "I don't care."
"Marijuana," Olivia repeated. "Weed, pot, grass, Mary Jane -"
"-ganja stick, yeah, I got it, thanks," Nikki interrupted, though a ghost of a smile shadowed across her face.
When she said nothing more, Benson took it as her cue to continue. "I bought some here, went to a few parties, had a good time, forgot it was in my coat pocket when I tried to get through security at Heathrow."
Nikki frowned. "It's unusual you'd get time, though, isn't it? Most possession charges let you off with a fine and a warning."
Shrugging, Olivia replied, "Who knows? Maybe they thought they'd make an example out of me."
"Because you're a Yank."
"That's what my lawyer thinks. He's working my appeal through the US Embassy now."
"Well, that explains Dockley's interest in you."
"I take it she's the drug maven around here."
"Yeah, among other things."
Benson rubbed a finger across the top of her brow, as she tried to put the pieces together. "I wonder how she knew. I mean, she even knew my name."
"She's in with one of the screws."
"Not that McAllister guy."
Nikki shook her head. "No, despite whatever rough patches we've had, McAllister's one of the better ones around here. It's Fenner you've got to watch. He's as bent as a bottle of chips."
"I'm sure that's as bad as it sounds," she smirked.
"Yes, it is," Nikki replied, giving a smirk of her own. More seriously, she said, "It's good that you settled things with Dockley straight away. Just watch your step with her, all right? She's not in here because of a traffic violation."
"Okay." Benson bit the inside of her lip as she mentally weighed scales in her head. On the one hand, she knew this woman to be a cop killer, and her professional instinct was to be on guard. However, she also knew that the text in a file rarely ever told the whole story, and her personal instinct was to trust this woman. In the very least, she'd have someone on the inside watching her back, even if the woman didn't realize it.
Her gaze must have lingered too long on the floor, because Nikki said, "I can almost see the wheels turning."
Olivia looked up. "Sorry. I was just trying to figure out who I can trust in here and who I can't," she replied truthfully.
Nikki's expression hardened to stone. "Yeah, well, I'm no saint, but I'm not Dockley, either."
"No one's a saint, or we wouldn't be here."
"You've got me there."
Olivia didn't bother flipping the coin in her mind. She had already made up her mind, and would stick to it regardless of the risk. "By the way, thanks for everything; I appreciate it."
Nikki paused as if to question how Olivia came to her decision, but instead chose to let it pass. Deflecting the compliment, she said, "I haven't done anything. Besides, I saw what you did to Dockley. I wouldn't want to get on your bad side."
As she was beginning to recognize, there was often a spark in the eyes of Nikki that would completely undermine the feigned seriousness of her tone, and this was no exception. Benson returned the favour. "I meant it about that Miss America bullshit."
"Absolutely." Standing up and barely covering her grin, Nikki asked, "You up for having a look around?"
"No time like the present, I guess."
Nikki held the door open and said, "After you. Miss."
"Knock it off," Olivia threw over her shoulder as she walked out, with Nikki trailing behind with a smile.
"Let's go upstairs," Wade directed. As they ascended the steel grill steps, a few heads turned, but most went about their business. "We've got a fairly diverse population here," she explained. "A lot of women are on their first year, a bigger middle portion of women are near the end of their sentence, and there are a handful of lifers. We get old faces leaving and new ones coming in to take their place every day." When they reached the second level, Nikki gestured for Olivia to keep going. "I take it McAllister gave you the basic setup of the place?"
"So you know you're in Basic. It's for all sorts of prisoners. New ones, unruly ones, and sometimes, it's just about space. Second level is General. Pretty much the same as Basic, but more settled and an extra privilege or two. This is third level," she said as they arrived at the top. "Also known as Enhanced. All cells are singles, you get more V.Os - visiting orders - a few more quid and a nicer duvet."
"And it's okay for us to be up here?"
"Oh yeah. There's not much that's off-limits that isn't clearly marked." She pulled out a pack of cigarettes from her pocket and offered one to Olivia.
"No, thanks. I don't smoke."
Nikki's eyebrows rose. "What did you do, eat the grass?"
Olivia realized her slight misstep and quickly fabricated a response. "My lungs could never handle the cigarette smoke, if you can believe it. Too strong. Besides, those things will kill you."
"Yeah, well," Nikki drawled as she lit her smoke, "fags never got anyone prison time."
"Anyway, I suppose one vice is bad enough."
"Oh, I've got more than one," Olivia quipped, "cigarettes just aren't one of them."
They spent several minutes in silence, each leaning against the railing, looking over and down to the mass below. Olivia watched women playing pool, having a cigarette, chatting in groups or just walking around. She wondered how long it took them to get used to the life.
Nikki was wondering what the woman beside her was thinking.
"You look deep in thought."
Dragging herself out of her thoughts, Benson glanced over at Nikki. "Hmmm? Oh, I was just thinking about the different coping skills people must have here."
"Ah, now you sound like a head doctor." When Olivia didn't say anything in reply, the cigarette dangled from Wade's lips. "You're not, are you?"
Although they hadn't worked her cover story in that much detail outside the drug angle, Benson figured she had heard Huang drone on enough times to be able to fake it. The closer it was to the truth, or at least her experiences, the easier it would be to remember it.
Nikki's eyes widened. "You are! You're a head inspector."
"Christ, I suppose I should watch what I say then."
"Don't." Benson looked right into Nikki's eyes. "Don't, please. I'm not going to analyse you, I promise."
"I hope not," she replied, "I couldn't afford you." They both looked below them again. "Well the good news is, this must be like Shrink Paradise for you."
"I'm sure there are a couple of books waiting to be written."
"Though I have to say, Olivia, you're the first head doctor I've known who could kick ass."
Benson laughed. "You know a lot of head doctors?"
"Besides you, no. Got me there."
"Single woman, living in New York. I took self-defence classes," Olivia explained.
The Brit nodded. "Makes sense."
"You ever been to New York?"
"I've never been anywhere." She took another drag of her cigarette before putting it out on the bottom of her shoe. "I'd love to go to San Francisco some day. You ever been?"
"One summer when I was in college. Best two months of my life."
Nikki sighed wistfully. "I'd love to go one day."
"Maybe you will."
"Yeah, well, right now, only in my dreams."
Olivia turned around and leaned back on the railing, her elbow resting on the steel bar. "So which are you?" Seeing her questioning look, Benson clarified. "You said a lot of women are on their first year, a bigger middle portion of women are near the end of their sentence, and there are a handful of lifers. Which are you?"
"Christ, you memorize everything I say?"
"Part of the job description," Olivia replied truthfully.
"Yeah, I suppose it is." Suddenly, Nikki wished she hadn't put that cigarette out so soon. Every time she felt on the spot, she got fidgety and never knew what to do with her hands. In an attempt to cover her restlessness, she draped her arms over the railing and clasped her hands together.
"Sorry, I shouldn't have -"
"Lifer," Nikki cut her off.
Though Olivia already knew the answer, she gave it appropriate pause before asking another. "How long have you been here?"
Wade looked at the American curiously. "You didn't ask me what I'm in for."
Benson shrugged. "Does it matter?" Tilting her head in the direction of the women below, she continued, "Drugs, theft, homicide, prostitution; we all get treated the same, don't we? Prison has a way of levelling the playing field." She had Nikki's rapt attention. "I don't think how we got in here is as important as what we do while we're in here and what we're going to do when we get out."
"That's very insightful, Dr. Benson."
Olivia scowled in feigned disapproval. "You're right, you can't afford me." The humour lingered between them, and then she said, "I mean it. I've seen too many people go through the system only to come out and re-offend two months later. It's a vicious cycle." It was an admission the cop felt comfortable in making, knowing her doctor ruse could cover it.
"Yeah, well, a day in this shit hole should knock sense into anyone," Nikki replied softly. "Once I'm out of here, that's it." She glanced around the wing and grimaced. "Only another 10 years, if I'm lucky." Not looking back, she started descending the stairs. "Come on, it's almost lunch. I'll make the introductions."
"As you no doubt noticed, you're responsible for your own dishware. One cup, one plate, one bowl, et cetera bloody et cetera. You lose it or break it or try to turn one into a weapon or crack spoon, it comes out of your weekly wage. And, as mentioned, the weapon will get you thrown into the Block, as will the crack spoon. Solitary, basically." Nikki gathered her things and looked at Olivia. "Got all that?"
"Cup, plate, responsible, crack, block, bloody et cetera."
Nikki came to a full stop in the doorway. "Are you taking the piss?" she asked incredulously.
The corner of Olivia's mouth twitched in amusement. "If it's what I think it is, yes."
"Bloody cheek! Not here four hours and already taking the piss. Come on then, Dr. Benson."